What’s ISDS in the TPP? Very Scary!

If anyone needs more evidence why the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement shouldn’t be rushed through Congress on the “Fast Track,” which does not allow any amendments or improvements in the deal—just a take-it-or-leave-it, yes-or-no vote—read Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) column in today’s Washington Post.

While it’s pretty much a given that big corporations—not working people—have been the winners in free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and Central America Free Trade Agreement over the years, Warren exposes a frightening tool in the TPP that gives corporations unimaginable power over the United States’ legal system. Here’s how she describes the “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS, provision.

ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws—and to potentially pick up huge payouts from taxpayers—without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require America’s taxpayers to cough up millions—and even billions—of dollars in damages.

But that’s not the worst of it, she writes. The panel of arbitrators wouldn’t employ independent judges. Nope.

Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?

We know how that would turn out.

Here’s an example of how ISDS works, but keep in mind only international investors—by and large big corporations—get to use the special tribunals:

So if a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.

As Warren points out, ISDS is not a partisan issue: “Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal.”  For all of us.

Click here to read her full column.

Download a fact sheet on these “corporate courts” and share it with a friend or family member.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Terrible, Corporate-Backed Unemployment Insurance Cuts Move Forward In North Carolina

Tell NC lawmakers to drop their draconian, hurtful, immoral unemployment insurance proposal.

Republican legislators in North Carolina are pushing an extreme package of cuts to unemployment insurance.

The Senate committee in charge of the issue, the Revenue Laws Study Committee, voted to move the proposal forward on Tuesday. It will come to the General Assembly for a vote when they reconvene on January 30.

The proposal cuts the weekly maximum benefit by 35 percent, (even though the statewide average benefit is much less). It also reduces the number of benefit to a sliding scale between 12 and 20 weeks, even though the average length of unemployment is at an all-time high of 40 weeks.

In total, unemployment benefits would be slashed by $600 to $700 million annually. The reduction in benefits would be permanent.

“No state has ever cut their maximum benefit so severely,” said George Wentworth, senior attorney at the National Employment Law Project. Bill Rowe of the N.C. Justice Center called it “one of the most radical, if not the most radical [unemployment] proposals in the country.”

Republican legislators say the cuts are needed to retire North Carolina’s $2.4 billion debt to the federal government. But if North Carolina employers paid unemployment taxes at roughly the national average, there would be no debt – and no need for cuts. Despite claims that the plan is “balanced,” the responsibility for paying down this debt falls almost completely on unemployed workers, the majority of whom lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

The real reason legislators are pushing this plan? They are doing the bidding of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, the state arm of the national right-wing lobbying group. The Chamber cooked the plan up last year, and their political action committee donated to the campaigns of 17 out of the 20 members of the Revenue Laws Study Committee.

Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch was the hearing on Tuesday:

The most absurd moment of the public comment period came when the lobbyist for the N.C. Chamber of Commerce addressed the committee to praise the plan, a plan that he helped write in the backrooms over the last few weeks. Funny he didn’t mention the secret meetings in his remarks.

Not only The N.C. Justice Center writes:

Contrary to what has been said by some of our lawmakers, the proposed changes to our insurance system are dramatically out of line with our neighboring states, and would in fact move North Carolina toward the bottom of state rankings.

Here are more details of the proposal in question, via the News-Observer.

Stop the unemployment cuts – send a message now.

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