Sunday, October 23, 2016

Free Trade Is Never Free

While it is beginning to look like International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland's departure from CETA negotiations was more of a ploy than the end of talks, the hiatus at least gives Canadians the opportunity to once more reflect on its dangers, the same dangers that afflict other so-called free trade deals.

The fact is, free trade is never free. The surrender of sovereignty rights, about which I have written previously, is probably the most insidious aspect of such deals, given that corporations are granted the right to sue if national or subnational governments pass legislation that affects a corporation's right to make money. That includes legislation to protect the environment or mitigate climate change.

An analysis of the Trans Pacific Partnership yields this chilling truth:
"The Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism included in the TPP investment chapter grants foreign investors access to a secret tribunal if they believe actions taken by a government will affect their future profits. This provision is a ticking time-bomb for climate policy, because many government policies needed to address global warming are subject to suits brought before international investment tribunals. ...Other TPP chapters like the one covering trade in goods can be the basis for state-to-state suits challenging climate policies."
Here in Ontario, citizens were recently reminded of the consequences of corporate displeasure via the NAFTA investor dispute settlement provisions. Opting for some sober second thoughts, the province decided to put a moratorium on offshore wind turbine development, a pause that did not sit well with Windstream Energy LLC, the American company that had signed a $5.2 billion deal with Ontario. A fine of $25 million has been imposed after Windstream invoked its investor rights that were granted under NAFTA, but the fine is a mere precursor to future action.
At the end of September, a panel convened by the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration awarded $25.2-million in damages and almost $3-million in legal costs to Windstream, saying the province broke rules under the North American free-trade agreement when it put a moratorium on offshore wind developments in February, 2011, effectively scuttling the Windstream project.
The deal is still considered to be in force, and Windstream has every intention of making sure it comes to fruition:
“We have a contract here, and contracts don’t go away,” [Windstream director David] Mars said, even though the moratorium on offshore wind is still in effect.
In other words, taxpayers will have to brace themselves for further, much deeper compensation to the company in the future, unless Ontario gives in to the extortion NAFTA has made possible.

And despite free-trade cheerleader Freeland's ceaseless chatter about making the investor dispute settlement process more transparent, the unalterable fact is that the right of corporations to sue governments remains solidly intact.

I'll leave the final word to Noam Chomsky who, in this brief video, reminds us of some inconvenient truths we would do well to never, ever forget:

Friday, October 21, 2016

This Is Good News

I'll have more to say about this in the future, but for now, some good news for those who oppose free trade deals that sacrifice national sovereignty and jobs so corporations can be further enriched:
Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland has walked out of negotiations to salvage a major trade deal with the European Union, saying she is returning home because she feels the 28-member bloc is unable to reach an accord with Canada.

In fact, she said she considers it “impossible” for an agreement to be clinched.

The development throws the future of the Canada-EU trade deal into doubt and, coming only months after the United Kingdom voted to quit the European Union, is a blow to the EU’s efforts to demonstrate it is still moving forward as a viable entity.

The European Council has been unable to reach a consensus on approving the Canada-EU deal because Belgium is unable to give its assent. Politically-decentralized Belgium requires the approval of regional governments on major international agreements and the French-speaking Wallonia region has opposed signing the agreement with Canada.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

This Sounds Promising

Whether this will turn out to be another idea that holds great promise but then comes to nothing will only be known, I guess, in the future, but it does sound promising:
The danger of the ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth's atmosphere has become one of the most pressing issues of our age. As such, much research has been conducted to find ways not only to reduce it, but also in ways to remove it. This has led to many schemes that simply sequester CO2 underground, or store it in volcanic rocks. More ambitious schemes even aim to not only remove this gas, but to usefully employ it to create usable products, such as plastics and foam, or even to produce hydrocarbon fuels. Now scientists from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) claim to have produced one of the most usable of all chemicals – ethanol – in a process that is not only cheap, efficient, and scalable, but also conducted at room temperature.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Festivus Moment

Like me, some of you were probably great fans of Seinfeld, the "show about nothing." As such, you may recall the Festivus airing of grievances:

Well, in that spirit I would like to use this blog to air a grievance, and that grievance involves one of Canada's putative icons, Wayne Gretsky, aka., The Great One. For me, the emperor has no clothes.

Readers may recall that last year, during our federal election campaign, Gretsky, a resident of the U.S., took it upon himself to extol Stephen Harper, pronouncing the latter as "wonderful to the country" and "one of the greatest prime ministers ever." Ever since then I have avoided all products associated with his name, most notably his wine label. I am happy to add his new whisky to my boycott list.

Vindictive and petty? Perhaps. But it is also immensely satisfying to exercise my power as a consumer.

Wayne is dead to me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Love Note To The U.S.

From my jaundiced perspective, Canadians sending a 'love note' to America will only add to its unbearable hubris, seen regularly in its conduct on the world stage and in its claims to be the greatest country on earth.

Yet that is exactly what a Toronto firm called the Garden Collective is suggesting we do in a campaign entitled #TellAmericaItsGreat:
According to the Garden’s blog, the digital pep talk is meant as a balm to the “pretty scary realities” and “tremendous amount of negativity” exposed by the campaign, which continues for another three weeks.
However, given my low threshold for nausea-inducing saccharine sentiments, I shall refrain from uploading an inspirational video to buck up our neighbours to the south and stick with my core philosophy, which I think you might infer if you are a regular reader of this blog: "Better a bitter truth than a sweet lie."

Monday, October 17, 2016

The World We Ignore

I suppose it is the curse of consciousness that leads humans to see themselves as distinct from, and superior to, nature. It is a hubris that the natural world is paying a heavy price for, as we insist on placing our wants and needs above those of other forms of life. New research is showing how misplaced and misguided our sense of ourselves really is.

Those who read this blog regularly may know that I have written fairly often on nature and nature documentaries, the latter surely the easiest way for us, if we take the time from our busy lives, to reconnect with the wonders of the world around us. Moreover, if viewed seriously, such films can make us ask some hard questions of the lives we lead and the impact our acquisitiveness and self-centeredness have on the other creatures we share this planet with.

Last night I was reminded of these things as I watched the latest Nature of Things, entitled Conversations With Dolphins. Highly intelligent and self-aware, these creatures seem to possess amazing capabilities that, until recently, were believed to be the exclusive domain of human beings. Tool use, a teaching culture, precise communications and deductive reasoning are but four of the wondrous things these mammals are capable of.

What follows is a brief clip from the documentary, but I hope you take the opportunity to view the entire program. It may change your perspective on many, many things.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Kelie Leitch - Savant Extraodinaire

I see that Kellie Leitch has officially launched her leadership campaign:

As the campaign heats up, she can expect more of this:

And if that doesn't sate your appetite for this strange lady who would lead the CPC through bigotry and xenophobia, try this from Frank Magazine.