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ISDS: A Corporate Cluster Bomb To Obliterate Our People’s Sovereignty

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ISDS: A Corporate Cluster Bomb To Obliterate Our People’s Sovereignty


The Powers That Be are very unhappy with you and me. They’re also very unhappy with senators like Elizabeth Warren, activist groups like Public Citizen, unions like the Communications Workers of America and … well, with the majority of Americans who oppose the establishment’s latest free-trade scam.

Despite its benign name, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a cluster bomb of legalized “gotchas” that won’t bode well for the vast majority of Americans and for our small businesses. TPP empowers global corporations from Brunei, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and seven other nations to circumvent and even overturn our local, state, and national laws. Those moneyed elites are upset that rabble like us oppose their latest effort to enthrone corporate power over citizen power, and they’re particularly peeved that we’ve found TPP’s trigger mechanism — something called “Investor-State Dispute Settlements.”

That’s a mouthful of wonky gobbledygook, isn’t it? Indeed, ISDS is an intentionally arcane phrase meant to hide its democracy-destroying impact from us. It would create a system of private, international tribunals through which corporations (i.e., “investors”) could sue our sovereign governments to overturn laws that might trim the level of corporate profits that — get this — they “expected” to make.

These tribunals are not part of our public courts of justice but are totally privatized, inherently biased corporate “courts” set up by the UN and the World Bank. A tribunal’s “judges” are corporate lawyers, and they unilaterally decide whether the protections we’ve enacted for workers, consumers, our environment, etc. might pinch the profits of some foreign corporation.

This mess all started when the Dr. Frankensteins on our Supreme Court created a monster by declaring that a lifeless, soulless corporation is a “person.” But the corporate giants thought, “Why stop there?” So now, another coterie of Frankensteins is trying to transform multinational private corporations into “nations.” The secretly engineered Trans-Pacific Partnership magically endows private profiteering corporations with sovereign rights equal to those of real nation-states. Under TPP, a “corporate nation” — unlike individual citizens of real nations — could directly compel the U.S. or other countries to alter their laws in order to increase corporate profits. Of course, the Frankensteins dismiss such concerns as an “irrational fear,” claiming that no corporation would actually be able to force a country to change its laws.

To give you a look of what this is going to look like, let’s take a peek at what other corporate-written trade deals have done to the laws written in the USofA.

Remember that these Frankensteins say that no corporation outside our country can change our laws. Really? Well, just ask “Flipper” the dolphin. While not yet able to confront a nation directly, corporations can get their home governments to sue in the World Trade Organization to overrule another nation’s laws. That’s what happened to our “dolphin-safe” tuna labeling law. Most Americans oppose tuna fishing with nets that also catch and kill the loveable Flipper, so we have a law encouraging dolphin-free fishing methods. Tuna packers that comply can put “dolphin-safe” on their labels, thus giving consumers a marketplace choice. Free enterprise at work!

But some Mexican fishing companies got their government to complain that our label discriminates against their dolphin-slaughtering methods — and a World Trade Organization “compliance” panel ruled that our label is a “technical barrier to trade,” essentially overruling a law that We the People enacted.

And now, if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is approved, foreign corporations won’t have to get their national governments to intervene, for they will become governments. Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and the other revolutionaries of 1776 would upchuck at this desecration of our nation’s democratic ideals — and so should we. For the lowdown on this and to join today’s rebellion against the aristocracy of corporate elites, go to www.citizen.org/trade/.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com. 

Photo: Global Trade Watch via Flickr

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a nationally syndicated columnist and one of America's most prominent progressive voices. His column carried by more than 75 publications across the country. Prior to becoming a writer, Hightower served as Texas Agricultural Commission from 1982 to 1991.

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  1. charleo1 April 29, 2015

    Well, that didn’t take too long at all. Money=speech. Corporations=people. Politicians who legislate and appoint judges, are elected by “people.”. And finally, that big ugly overbearing government we all like to cuss. Can be reduced to a convenient, bathtub sized cabal of Plutocrats. Who, I’m absolutely sure, will do a much better job of governing than we the lesser people ever thought about. I know I’m getting worn out by all the back and forth bickering, and divisive partisanship, with it’s constant two, or three set of facts. This is going on. No, idiot, this is what’s going on! Now Congress, the press, and all legal political parties will be singing from the same hymnal. And finally, dare I say, peace will finally reign. Then, with the government sufficiently homogenized, energized, and downsized. All these billion dollar elections we have now. With all that corrosive money in our political process some of us were so worried about before? Can finally become a thing of the past. Whittled to a trickle of what it is now. And as a bonus, most of us will still be able to vote. We’ll just be spared most of those silly campaign ads. The message from politician, ‘A’ “The American values candidate: “We need a strong moral foundation, and stable corporate structure, to be a great Nation.” Politician, ‘B’ The human Rights candidate: “The freedoms of any democracy is based on the security provided by a strong corporate structure.” And who would dare disagree with either of these two excellent leaders? After all, they were chosen by the finest political process money can buy.

    1. Paul Anthony April 29, 2015

      Unfortunately, what you have described doesn’t sound much different from the two-party system we have now. When was the last time a politician from either party cared about what’s best for us?

      1. charleo1 April 29, 2015

        I can’t read their minds, or see what’s in their hearts of course. But honestly, it was probably about 1930, it was FDR. And he was a Democrat.

    2. dtgraham April 30, 2015

      What’s disturbing to me is that I can actually see that debate happening.

  2. Dominick Vila April 29, 2015

    The cluster bomb that is destroying our Constitutional rights and freedoms was dropped by none other than our beloved Supreme Court, when it ruled that corporations are people, and when decisions allowing indiscriminate political donations allowed special interests to control our electoral and policy making processes.

  3. Eleanore Whitaker April 29, 2015

    Nothing says bash and slash like Corporate agenda. The reality is that this all began when the US government started to “privatize” branches of government, removing citizens from any possible involvement with their own government. So much for the get rid of public employees by throwing the baby out with the bath water, right?

    Nothing in the US Constitution demands taxes be used for businesses. Now, the US government is nothing more than a servant of corporations using pathetic excuses like:A. We have to hand billions upon billions to corporations or they won’t hire or create jobs. Clue: They don’t and won’t. Hiring and job creation reduces profits.
    B. We have to hand them every dime of our tax dollars or they will take their wealth offshore…Clue: $67 TRILLION is already sitting offshore.
    C. We have to help corporations to stay competitive with the global business community. Clue: If the US is already Numero Uno…who is the competition?

  4. Urbane_Gorilla April 29, 2015

    This occurred under NAFTA:

    1999-06-18 Challenging one of California’s newest environmental protections, a Canadian corporation
    has filed suit to overturn the state’s ban on the gasoline additive MTBE, calling it a violation of free-trade rules.

    Less than three months after Governor Gray Davis moved to end the use of MTBE, the Vancouver- based Methanex Corp. announced Tuesday that it is using the North American Free Trade Agreement to seek $970 million in compensation for lost profits.

    The challenge under NAFTA’s little-known “investor rights” provisions packs a big legal punch. A similar lawsuit filed last year by a U.S. company forced Canada to overturn its ban on a gasoline additive that has been implicated in health problems.

    Other NAFTA suits are under way in the United States and Canada, seeking to overturn a wide variety of government regulations. Consumer and environmentalist groups warn that big business may be able to use NAFTA to gut decades of progressive legislation.

  5. John S. April 29, 2015

    Mr. Hightower:

    Thank you for enlightening your followers and readers about TPP.

    I have been trying to decide if I should oppose this proposed trade agreement/treaty or give the proponents the benefit of the doubt. However, the secretive, undemocratic nature of the TPP negotiations and the subsequent TPP document(s) makes me very uneasy about it. Your article has helped me understand the TPP trade agreement/treaty, and your comments have underscored my concerns about the TPP trade document. Americans can do better!!!

    President Obama, you can do better on this TPP agreement. Make this document public for full scrutiny by all Americans.

    Reminder: Sunlight is the best disinfectant to get rid of the bugs of misinformation!!!

  6. Alvin Harrison April 29, 2015


    I have been haranguing for years now that the Corp/1%, with their PACs, donations and lobbies have taken over our country. Lo and behold, they now want to be Nations of their own. Why, because as a “nation” they wield much more power than an individual like you or I. They discovered that a country can effect the laws of ANOTHER country by claiming the laws of YOUR country are effecting the ability of my country to prosper. Thus according to our trade agreements you must ignore our breaking of your laws.

    It all started because industries of country #1 got their governments to pressure the government of country #2 to give them a pass on laws the people of country #2 had passed to protect workers…or the environment etc…. because those laws cost them profit. So corporations decided…”We want that without all the complication of involving our government as a middle man”….after all, our government may not want to ask another country to sidestep it’s people’s wishes so we can make an extra dollar. So not only do Corporations want to be considered people in our courts…they want to be a whole nation of people with regards to another country’s courts and court system. Hey, but why stop there, why not set up a whole new court system to arbitrate any disputes, independent of ANY country’s court system. “We will even provide corporate lawyers to be the judges.” So now, they can break another country’s laws, have their own court system judge the fairness and accuracy of their claims and generally….just do whatever the hell they want…..world wide. Just like here in the USA.

    What could this mean: Almost ALL countries have either outright banned, or require stringent labeling of GMO food products like genetically engineered corn or soy. America has already lost this battle, and doesn’t seem to care…..YET. This law would allow the Kingdom of Monsanto to declare to a sovereign country: Your people’s ban on our GMO corn infringes on our “Corporate nation’s” ability to make a profit You must therefore allows us to defy what your people want and allow us to import, sell and infect your local crops with our seeds, thereby enslaving your country’s population because they must buy our seed to feed themselves. Oh and by the way, your courts have no say because this is between us “nations” so the new “nation free trade” court will decide the outcome. Do not comply and we will hit you with trade sanctions or throw you off of our Free Trade Partnership.” You know our bought and paid for politicians will go right along with this travesty.

    I do not understand why Corporations do not just go ahead and petition for “God” status. This would eliminate all this messy court stuff and legality issues. As Gods they can just command us to do their will and be done with it. We could worship them and their disciples the 1%….praise them for allowing us to live….and pray to them so that they keep providing us with their bounty, at a reasonable cost. The fact that many of us already have a God is a minor inconvenience….after all our God requires faith that there is a heaven and hell…Our new Corporate Gods will be right here to at least create HELL for us….faith not required.

  7. Fingerlakes54 April 29, 2015

    Wow–the author of this news item has exposed it all. Yep–Corporations intend to become governments–with their own armies and police forces. They have all the money in the world to pull it off also. They may have all the missing gold in the world. The trap is now set and all that it needs is this trade agreement to make it look legitimate. Our corporate laws should restrict voting rights in corporations and make it the same as current elections. By that I mean–instead of voting the number of shares you own–[100 shares equal 100 votes] to a stockholder has just one vote per stockholder. So If Goldman Saks owns 500,000 shares they would get only one vote and not 500,000 votes for owning 500,000 shares. It’s just one solution to re-balance power–I am sure there are 100’s more of ideas. Citizens speak up—it’s your money or your life.

  8. charleo1 April 29, 2015

    The President’s recent interview with Chris Mathews on the Trans Pacific Partnership, did little to allay my concerns on the trade deal. Who’s final elements are now being hashed out in an atmosphere of secrecy. At a table where the American People, and American Labor, are not in attendance. But multi-national corporations, and their bevy of lawyers, are. In an atmosphere where even members of Congress have been instructed to not talk publicly about the details. But, to quietly grease the skids on the thing, ASAP. President Obama stated that, “We will either help write the rules [on Asian trade] or the Chinese will. Clearly negotiating from a position of weakness. As, we will either negotiate a nuclear arms agreement with Iran, or the Russians will, by those parameters. Perhaps the President should level with the American people, and tell us, just how far in the crapper we are, if that’s the extent of leverage we now hold on these trade deals. The President assured us there will be rules on human rights, wages, and working conditions set for foreign workers, and mandates preventing environmental damage. Then what body enforces these rules, and mandates? If China objects to them, what then? Could it be true, our laws will be subject to overturn by a corporate court? Because their enactment might reduce member signatories expected profits? Do we the People still retain our Rights to an attorney anywhere in all this? I want to speak to my lawyer!

    1. dtgraham April 30, 2015

      Why does this all sound familiar all these years later?

      ‘You are meddling with the primal forces of nature, charleo1, and they won’t have it! Is that clear?! Do you think you’re merely trying to stop a trade deal? That is not the case. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity. It is ecological balance. You’re a person who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians, there are no Arabs, there are no third worlds. There is no west. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro dollars, Euros, Rins, Rubles, Pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today. You are meddling with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE charleo1.’

      ‘There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and Dupont; Dow, Union Carbide, Exxon, BP, Apple, Microsoft, Gazprom, Sony and UBS. Those are the nations of the world today. Are we getting through to you charleo1?’

      — Paraphrased from the movie Network.

      1. charleo1 May 1, 2015

        It serves me right. Coming on here, and asking someone to please level with me! And now I feel like crawling into my bathtub and opening up a major artery! Thanks, my friend. I guess I had it coming.

        1. 1standlastword May 1, 2015

          You better not! I mean it….;-)

          1. charleo1 May 1, 2015

            Thank God you’ve talked me out of it!

  9. highpckts April 29, 2015

    Bad idea! Period! We have no say, again!!!

  10. Proud Liberal April 30, 2015

    Eight Reasons To Purge Investor-State Dispute Settlement From Trade Agreements”

  11. 1standlastword April 30, 2015

    This is not the president I would have thought to go along with a trade deal that is so profoundly injurious to our nation and its citizens.

    Now I’m convinced that a political career is in fact a moral hazard! This could carry a taint for the Obama legacy worse than the Bush Wars for GW

  12. Eleanore Whitaker May 1, 2015

    Look at this for what it is…the corporate dream of using your tax dollars to keep them in business…and profits. Now really, can any country survive when the only business is buying and selling businesses? Can any country survive when Wall Street and the IMF and the Big 5 US banks are making all government decisions?

    Once labor is removed from any country’s priorities, the end result is mass poverty and hopeless for the future generations.

    Prediction: There will be an evolution in terms of the 2-party system…Conservatives and Labor…just as it has existed in other countries when laborer had no voice.


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