Courts Protect Right to Profit From Destruction

by Julia Conley

A week after the European Union announced its withdrawal from the controversial Energy Charter Treaty, which has been criticized for being one of many global agreements that allow fossil fuel companies to sue governments, a coalition on June 6th released an analysis showing just how lucrative such deals have been for firms whose emissions are wreaking havoc on the planet.

The Transnational Institute, the Trade Justice Movement (TJM), Power Shift, and the Institute for Policy Studies joined forces to unveil the Global ISDS Tracker, which includes data on more than 1,300 cases that have made their way to secretive tribunals set up by investor-state dispute mechanisms in treaties including the Energy Charter Treaty.

ISDS courts allow fossil fuel companies and other large corporations to sue governments for compensation over policies that harm their profits, such as regulations to curb planet-heating emissions or air pollution, which is responsible for one in five deaths worldwide.

Many judgments made by ISDS tribunals are kept secret, but the Global ISDS Tracker revealed that $114 billion in public funds have been paid out to investors across industries, with fossil fuel companies and investors raking in $80.2 billion of that.

Another $48 billion in public money is expected to go to fossil fuel firms from ISDS disputes in the coming years if current trends continue, said the groups behind the tracker.

Tom Wills, director of TJM, said the tracker proves what trade and climate justice groups have said for years: “ISDS is the secret weapon for fossil fuel companies against climate laws.”

“Corporate courts are also used to threaten governments not to give in to popular local or national demands for climate action,” said Wills. “This needs to be put to an end. The data show reform is urgently needed.”

The tracker includes the $15 billion compensation lawsuit filed by TC Energy against the U.S. government when President Joe Biden canceled the company’s permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil each day.

The largest ISDS claim currently being adjudicated is Zeph Investment’s case against the Australian government, which the firm says “effectively destroyed” its plans for a major mine, costing it $200 billion.

As Common Dreams reported last November, civil society groups have called on the Biden administration to dismantle the ISDS system within the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, with one campaigner arguing that ISDS was “created for and by powerful, well-organized corporations, and has served their interests almost exclusively.”

Lucía Bárcena, trade policy officer at the Transnational Institute, said eliminating ISDS in treaties should be a top priority for trade and climate justice campaigners in the coming years.

“In this challenging moment, when there is more climate action needed from states,” said Bárcena, “it is unbearable to have corporate courts that can wash all the efforts away.”

–=≈=–

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

–=≈=–

Dozens Arrested as Activists Target Citigroup for Bankrolling Climate Breakdown

by Edward Carver

To kick off a season of climate activism, Summer of Heat campaigners on Monday morning blockaded the entrances to Citigroup’s headquarters in New York City to protest the bank’s role in perpetuating climate breakdown.

The campaigners locked arms and held banners at the doors to the Citigroup offices, blocking hundreds of employees from entering, according to social media posts by Climate Defenders, one of the organizations behind the Summer of Heat. They are targeting Citigroup, owner of Citibank, because the conglomerate financed more fossil fuel expansion than any bank in the world in the eight years after the 2015 Paris agreement was signed. Monday is the first day of a series of nonviolent direct actions the organizations have planned under the Summer of Heat banner.

“The atmosphere is electric as hundreds gather to shut down Citibank’s Global HQ,” Climate Defenders announced on social media. “We are here to demand a future free from fossil fuels.”

“Big banks like Citi must stop financing fossil fuels and funding climate chaos!” Stop the Money Pipeline, one of the other convening organizations, wrote on social media.

Police have begun arresting some of the activists, video and social media posts from Climate Defenders and other organizations show. Renata Pumarol, deputy director of Climate Defenders, told Common Dreams that dozens had already been arrested by 10:50 a.m. ET on Monday, but didn’t yet have an exact figure.

The arrests were expected and didn’t dampen morale among the protesters.

“Arrests are happening now!” Stop the Money Pipeline announced on social media. “Our message is clear: If you keep funding the fossil fuel companies that are disrupting our climate and lives, we will disrupt your ability to do business.”

“Citibank is the largest investor in expanding fossil fuels,” a protestor wearing a lab coat with a Scientist Rebellion badge said as he was being arrested by police. “It is a crime. It is a crime against the planet.”

In support of the action, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) on Monday published an open letter to Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser calling for the bank to stop funding new fossil fuel projects.

“The financial industry must recognize the physical harms and economic risks it is exacerbating by enabling fossil fuel expansion and rapidly adopt new policies that align with a safer climate future,” the letter states.

UCS plans to hand deliver the message on Wednesday at a “Scientists Speakout” Summer of Heat event outside the Citigroup headquarters, its statement said. That’s just one of many upcoming events that organizers have planned.

“All summer long, we’re going to be shutting down and blockading the headquarters of Citigroup and other banks financing new coal, oil, and gas projects,” Alec Connon, co-director of Stop the Money Pipeline, told Common Dreams. “We’re calling on New Yorkers and people from all over the country to join us. The time to hold Wall Street accountable for its role in the climate crisis is now.”

–=≈=–

Edward Carver is a staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

–=≈=–

No doubt about it—Market Square Day was a huge success. Thousands of people flocked to Portsmouth on Saturday, to mill around, cheek to jowl, as is customary. Coronavirus? What in the world are you talking about?

–=≈=–

A $600 Billion Swindle: Study Makes Case to ‘Abolish’ Medicare Advantage

by Jake Johnson

A new academic analysis published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine details the enormous sums that privatized Medicare Advantage plans have cost U.S. taxpayers in recent years and calls for the abolition of the program, which has been massively profitable for the insurance giants that dominate it.

Citing the nonpartisan Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, the paper notes that Medicare Advantage (MA) plans have overcharged the federal government to the tune of $612 billion since 2007—and $82 billion last year alone.

MA plans—now used by more than half of the eligible Medicare population—utilize a range of tactics to reap larger payments from the federal government, which provides insurers a lump sum for each Medicare Advantage patient. The size of the payment depends on the enrollee’s health, which MA plans are notorious for portraying as worse than it is in order to receive heftier government payments.

“Paradoxically, despite those overpayments, MA plans spend 9 percent less on medical services than [fee-for-service] Medicare spends for comparable enrollees,” reads the new study. “If MA plans pay for less care, where do the overpayments go? Some pay for supplementary benefits, although plans do not disclose how much they spend on them, and MA enrollees do not get significantly more dental care or incur lower out-of-pocket dental costs than those in FFS Medicare. Instead, overhead and profit eats up the lion’s share.”

The study’s authors estimate that MA plans’ overhead from 2007 to 2024 was $592 billion, which is “equivalent to 97 percent of taxpayers’ $612 billion overpayments to them during that period.”

Dr. Adam Gaffney, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the lead author of the new study, said in a statement that “Medicare Advantage is a bad deal for taxpayers.”

“Money that could be used to eliminate all copayments or shore up Medicare’s Trust Fund is instead lining insurers’ pockets,” said Gaffney. “And the private insurers keep Medicare Advantage enrollees from getting needed care by erecting bureaucratic hurdles like prior authorizations and payment denials.”

Gaffney and study co-authors Drs. Stephanie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein—co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program (PHNP)—argue based on their examination of Medicare Advantage’s decades long history that “the time has come to declare MA a failed experiment and abolish it.”

“Medicare Advantage plans have, in effect, stolen hundreds of billions from taxpayers,” says David Himmelstein, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and a research associate at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “And the private plans’ schemes also raise seniors’ Part B Medicare premiums. Even seniors who don’t choose to enroll in Medicare Advantage are subsidizing the private plans’ profits.”

The study’s authors observe that the elimination of Medicare Advantage would allow the federal government to use the roughly $88 billion in estimated MA overpayments for the coming year to instead “upgrade benefits for all Medicare beneficiaries.” Traditional Medicare typically does not cover dental, vision, or hearing services, which often leads people to choose MA plans.

“A smarter, thriftier way to expand benefits and lower out-of-pocket costs is possible for all Medicare beneficiaries, but first, we must eliminate MA and double down on traditional Medicare, covering all enrollees in an expanded and improved Medicare program,” the analysis concludes. “That would be a good deal for patients and taxpayers.”

Wendell Potter, a former insurance executive who has become a trenchant critic of Medicare Advantage, told Common Dreams that he agrees with the study’s authors that MA “should be eliminated.”

“Not only has it never saved taxpayers a dime since it was created during the George W. Bush administration, but it has cost us $592 billion over the last 17 years because of the high administrative costs inherent in the program and the way insurers have rigged the system to get paid excessively every year,” said Potter, president of the Center for Health and Democracy.

“The program is so entrenched, and the companies have so much political influence over Democrats as well as Republicans through campaign contributions and lobbying, that eliminating the program will be a heavy lift, at least in the near term,” Potter added. “That means that proposals to reform MA that address overpayments and abuses like prior authorization are essential and important for reform advocates to support.”

–=≈=–

Jake Johnson is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams. This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

–=≈=–

Climate Change Talk on June 26th

Which would you prefer? Better public health, lower energy costs, or less global warming?

Why not all three?

Chris Skoglund, Director of Energy Transition for Clean Energy New Hampshire (CENH), will discuss how renewable energy can deliver on all three of those goals during a Community Talk on June 26th, at 7:00 p.m. at the Portsmouth Public Library. The event is being sponsored The Outreach Committee of the Portsmouth Democrats.

Mr. Skoglund and CENH strongly advocate for increased energy efficiency, strategic electrification of buildings and vehicles, and the development of local, affordable, clean energy generation.

To achieve these goals a utility infrastructure is also needed so that the entire state economy including homes, businesses, fleets, and state and municipal facilities, as well as industry can be decarbonized.

 “We should be acting with urgency to reduce our energy consumption and demand across all sectors of our economy, while at the same time increasing our instate and regional clean energy resources,” Skoglund says.

“These measures will not only help to improve our public health and reduce the drivers of global warming and climate change, but will also reduce the financial burden on customers resulting from dramatic swings in the cost of energy.”

–=≈=–

Ah, yes: Sunday afternoon in Market Square. A time and place where and when people traditionally gather to express their fervent hopes for… what? Genocide in Gaza? This world gets stranger all the time.

–=≈=–

500 Years Ago, Machiavelli Warned The Public Not To Get Complacent In The Face Of Self-Interested Charismatic Figures

by Vickie B. Sullivan

A United States president sought to remain in office after his term ended, maintains a worshipful following and has declared he will operate as a dictator only on “day one” if reelected. His cunning and manipulation of American politics and its legal system have, so far, blocked efforts to hold him accountable.

That sort of activity has been called “Machiavellian,” after Renaissance writer Niccolò Machiavelli, who lived from 1469 to 1527. He wrote a notorious little treatise called The Prince, in which he advises sole rulers—his phrase for authoritarians or dictators—as well as those who aspire to sole rule to use force and fraud to gain and maintain power.

But scholars of Machiavelli like me know there is much more to his analysis. His 16th-century writings discuss not only princely rule but also republican governments, in which citizens select leaders directly or indirectly for specified terms. He instructs republican citizens and leaders, including those of the United States, to recognize how vulnerable the governments they cherish are and to be vigilant against the threats of tyranny. Machiavelli’s advice is as relevant now as it was then.

Machiavelli’s republican experience

Machiavelli knew from experience and his extensive reading that there was a long history of nations with republican governments falling victim to ambitious individuals who sought to subvert their nations’ practices and institutions so they could rule alone and unchecked, with all others serving at their behest and on their authority.

For example, he was from the city-state of Florence in what is now Italy. Florence had had a republican tradition for centuries, but about 30 years before Machiavelli’s birth, banker and politician Cosimo de’ Medici had subverted that system. Cosimo had used his family’s wealth to propel himself to political power by exerting influence over officeholders so that he was the ultimate decision-maker.

Cosimo’s descendants inherited his political power. They briefly lost their grip on power just long enough for Machiavelli to participate for about a decade as an official and diplomat in a restored republic. Machiavelli was in office when the republic collapsed with the return of the Medici family to power.

Removed from office, Machiavelli wrote “The Prince.” He prefaced it with a dedicatory letter to the young member of the Medici whom the family had designated as the new ruler of Florence. Commentators have long disagreed about what Machiavelli sought by so obviously pandering to an autocratic ruler.

The ‘Discourses,’ Machiavelli’s republican writing

That puzzle is all the more perplexing because elsewhere Machiavelli expresses his commitment to republican government. He wrote another book, less well known and much less pithy than “The Prince,” entitled “Discourses on Livy.” In the “Discourses,” Machiavelli uses the work of the ancient Roman historian Livy to examine how the Roman republic was overthrown by a single leader.

At its founding, Rome was a kingship, but when subsequent kings became tyrannical, the Roman people overthrew the monarchy and established a republic, which had a remarkable history and lasted almost 500 years.

The Roman republic collapsed in 44 BCE when Julius Caesar declared himself dictator for life. Machiavelli wrote that Julius Caesar was the first tyrant in Rome, with the result that Rome was never again free.

Julius’ immediate successor Octavius, who assumed the name Caesar Augustus, ruled as the first of a long line of emperors.

Lessons from the demise of the Roman republic

The key lesson of Machiavelli’s examination of Roman history in the “Discourses” is this: A republic is fragile. It requires constant vigilance on the part of both the citizens and their leaders.

That vigilance is difficult to maintain, however, because over generations, citizens and leaders alike become complacent to a key internal threat that haunts this form of government. Specifically, they fail to grasp early enough the anti-republican designs of exceptionally ambitious citizens among them who harbor the desire to rule alone.

Machiavelli provides instructive examples of how Rome failed to protect its republican practices and laws against such a threat. When the republic was young, Rome allowed candidates to nominate themselves for high offices. This practice worked well because only worthy candidates put themselves forward. Later, however, the practice of self-nomination allowed into office those who wanted to promote their own popularity rather than respond to the needs of their country.

Machiavelli said that leaders and citizens devoted to the republic should have closed off this easy route to power to such candidates. But Rome failed to act. Because of its complacency, Caesar was able to build on the popularity that his predecessors had amassed and to transform Rome into a tyranny.

The point of no return

If republican citizens and leaders fail to be vigilant, they will eventually be confronted with a leader who has accumulated an extremely powerful and threatening following. At that point, Machiavelli says, it will be too late to save the republic.

Machiavelli uses the examples of Caesar’s assassination in Rome and Cosimo’s exile from Florence to underscore this lesson. In each case, the supporters of their respective republic, finally perceiving the danger of tyranny, initiated an attack on the people’s idol. In each case, that effort led not to a restoration of republican freedom but rather to its elimination.

In Rome, Augustus used the public’s sympathy and devotion for the martyred Caesar to seal the republic’s demise. In Florence, Cosimo himself was welcomed back from exile to become Florence’s leading man.

The fate of the American republic

For Americans, the question is whether, as a result of public complacency, the republic will be lost. Will the American republic fall to the same perils that Machiavelli identified in ancient Rome and Renaissance Florence?

Perhaps an opportunity exists to breathe new life into the nation’s republican practices and institutions. Perhaps there is still time to reject through elections those who seek office only to enhance their own power.

Or perhaps it is so late that even that approach will not work. Then, Americans would be left to mourn the demise of their republic and to affirm Machiavelli’s counsel that republics fail through complacency. Such an outcome for one of history’s most exemplary republics would stand as a wretched testament to Machiavelli’s political insight.

–=≈=–

Vickie B. Sullivan is Professor of Political Science, Tufts University. This work was published by The Conversation, and is reprinted here under a Creative Commons license.

–=≈=–

Better Old News, Than New Lies…

His Royal Corpulency

The news that Henry Villard has undertaken the task of electing Grover Cleveland is received with dismay by the friends of his royal corpulency in New York. Henry has the reputation of successfully ruining whatever enterprise or movement he undertakes.

–=≈=–

Newspaper copyright may be a good thing, but it seems somewhat superfluous from a practical standpoint. A newspaper that steals advertises its own turpitude, and the public treats it according to its deserts.

Boston Sunday Herald

The above was printed in a paper which regularly, week by week, steals nearly one-third of its personal page bodily from Town Topics, without credit and without changing a line or a word.

New Hampshire Gazette, June 16, 1892, pg. 4.

–=≈=–

The Senate of the United States

“The Senate of the United States,” said a veteran public official to me lately, as we sat in the Senate gallery looking down on this august collection of lawyers and business men, “is the most powerful, corrupt and falsely dignified body in the world, It can block all legislation coming over from the co-ordinate house; the president feels its mighty endorsing and confirming power daily, and is at its mercy in every nomination he makes; while even the Supreme Court is its plaything when law and legislation conflict. The rule senatorial courtesy is a part of our unwritten Constituton that is stronger than anything in the written fabric of our government. That rule shuts the mouths of seventy-five senators when the prejudice of one of their number objects to even the most reasonable nomination sent in by the president.

“The word of a senator is never contradicted in executive session, and by the rule must be believed and acted upon. These two institutions—the rule of courtesy and the executive session—are the undemocratic, un-American features of our government.”

– New Hampshire Gazette, June 16, 1892, pg. 8.

–=≈=–

A Strange Story

The following article was printed in the Eastern Argus of Portland, Me., last Friday, but the woman was evidently cunning enough to conceal her identity and the residence, as the description does not fit anyone here. Perhaps she came from Dover:

It was a peculiar sight this morning between twelve and one o’clock to see one of the deputies arm in arm with a distinguished looking lady going up Exchange street. She was about fifty years or more and possessed the gentlest and most refined manners that suggested good breeding. Her dress was of a decided stylish trim and made of costly goods and her gray hair lent the finishing touches to the appearance of a wealthy and respectable lady.

As a matter of etiquette the deputy had her arm, but she insisted as a diversion of formality by taking the deputy’s arm and so they continued up Exchange street. It was simply a morning walk to the station as she was found very drunk and trying to borrow a quarter from a genial newspaper man when interrupted by the official. It seems that the woman belongs in Portsmouth, N.H., and is said to belong in the upper ten, but she leaves home just so often during the year to get drunk and generally winds up her spree by borrowing where she can. What could have been her motive to come to Portland to get drunk. She ought to have known that Portland is a prohibition city.

The Secret Ballot

Editor of Chronicle: In your issue of Tuesday, the 14th inst., I read with equal surprise and pleasure that a vote was to be taken on the 20th inst. on the question of adopting the secret ballot for the municipal election in August. With surprise, because I was aware that several months ago the board of mayor and alderman “referred to the city solicitor for his opinion” a petition signed by a large number of citizens that such a vote be taken, and was unaware that the solicitor had ever rendered such report or that the board of alderment had taken any action thereon, no mention of such report or action having appeared in the published accounts of the meetings of the city government in any of the city papers.

…The question arises, “When did the board of aldermen decide upon granting the prayer of the citizens’ petition?” Was it at some specially-called dark-lantern session of the board, in order that the matter might be kept as quiet as possible, that the citizens in favor of a free and untrammeled ballot might not get aroused in regard to the question, and thereby enable the opponents of the secret ballot to steal a quiet march on them, and give an overwhelming “no” at the polls? …

– Independent Partisan

New Hampshire Gazette, June 23, 1892, pg. 3.

Misc.

The Gazette endorses in the heartiest fashion the communication in another column, and advises every citizen without regard to politics to vote for an honest, free ballot and a fair count, such as the secret ballot gives. …

Mr. Joshua M. Vaughan received another monkey from the south and it was put in the cage with Ben as the original member of the Simian family has been christened. …

Dr. T.W. Atherton arrived home from Concord, Friday evening, accompanied by his wife. He has fully recovered from his recent mental trouble….

New Hampshire Gazette, June 23, 1892, pg. 6.

Leave a Comment