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Gordon Campbell on how the Republicans just buried the TPP

Gordon Campbell on how the Republicans just buried the TPP

In case you were still holding your breath about the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, you can relax. For months, it has seemed increasingly unlikely that a Republican- dominated Congress would ratify the TPP, and the battle lines have now been drawn. Yesterday, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told the White House not to bring the controversial trade pact before Congress until after the presidential election has been resolved in November, 2016.

McConnell, who has expressed concerns about the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and has yet to take a stance, said President Obama is risking defeat of his signature trade deal if he tries to push for passage before a lame-duck session next year. “It certainly shouldn’t come before the election," McConnell told The Washington Post in an interview.

"I think the president would be making a big mistake to try to have that voted on during the election. There’s significant pushback all over.” Obama is already facing a slim margin of support in each chamber. With minimal support from his own party, Republicans who granted Obama fast-track authority on trade deals have said support didn't mean automatic passage for the TPP pact. “I think it would be a big mistake to send it up [for ratification].”

This doesn’t mean the White House won’t take the risk. Yet at the moment, the TPP looks as if it would be doomed if sent to Congress during 2016 in the midst of the election campaign that’s already well under way. Theoretically, some tactical campaign advantage might be gained by the Democrats in using the TPP as a weapon to expose Republican hypocrisy on this issue - but the Democrats are themselves deeply divided about the deal.

Among the Republican contenders, only Donald Trump has strongly and consistently opposed the TPP. Both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush voted in favour of giving Barack Obama fast track authority to pass the deal. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul voted against. During 2015, Cruz and Rubio ( in particular ) professed themselves to be strongly in favour of free trade in general and Rubio described the TPP mid-year in very glowing terms.

Yet the tide has now turned. In mid-November, Cruz argued that the TPP should not be voted on in a “lame-duck” session of Congress, which is basically the same point that McConnell made yesterday.

Here’s how Cruz put it :

“I’ll tell you, I am very, very skeptical about TPP” he said on the Laura Ingraham show. “This thing is six thousand pages… It is negotiated by a president who has undercut American workers at every level and I think it is a mistake to be undercutting the working men and women of this country.” Cruz also suggested that Congress shouldn’t have a lame duck session.

“And in fact, if a Republican wins in 2016, which I believe will happen, I don’t think we should have a lame duck session… No conservative would want a bunch of members who have just been defeated or [are] retiring passing big government liberal policies with Obama in office. TPP needs to be voted on when members are accountable.”

This doesn’t mean that in 2017, the process of gaining presidential fast track authority to pass the deal will have to be repeated. Surprisingly, those powers will carry over to the next President. For the next 12 months though, the TPP has almost certainly been shelved. Ironically and amusingly, the final straw for the Republicans turned out to be the investor-state dispute mechanisms contained in the TPP - and the threat that the exemptions to those ISD mechanisms ( on health grounds) may pose to Big Tobacco.

The deal includes a provision that gives countries more power to regulate manufactured tobacco products, such as cigarettes, as part of any efforts to protect public health. Under the exemption, companies can’t challenge tobacco control measures under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process.

The White House has argued that the tobacco provisions are narrowly focused on health issues and don't affect the trade of tobacco leaf. But the move has already led to the loss of Republican votes on both sides of the Capitol.

So…. the TPP is being shelved because the Republican Party want to be sure the world cannot be formally allowed, under its provisions, to pass regulations against the tobacco industry to protect public health. They want ISD, but without exemptions. Well, its not the reason that you or I would choose to stop the TPP, but it’ll do for now. Canada, BTW, will be very pleased that the TPP has stalled. It will get Justin Trudeau and his new and supposedly progressive Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland. off the hook for the time being

Clark and the UN job

So already, the gender card is being played in the Helen Clark campaign for the secretary-general job at the United Nations. That’s not a strong argument. Mainly because Eastern Europe ( whose turn it is to lead the organisation under the rotational system that’s currently in force, has several strong potential candidates – some of whom are women. They will almost certainly include Irina Bokova, who – like Clark - heads a major United Nations organization, UNESCO in her case.

The problem for Bokova is that the Americans don’t like her much –and that’s been partly because of her past attempts at taking an even-handed approach towards both sides of the Palestine issue.

In January 2014, UNESCO made headlines for canceling an exhibition about the Jewish people’s connection to the Holy Land due to Arab pressure. After an international outcry, the exhibition eventually opened on June 11 in Paris. However, from its original name, “The 3,500 year relationship of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel,” the words “Land of Israel” were removed as per UNESCO’s demand and replaced with “Holy Land.” A panel about Jewish refugees from Arab countries was also cut from that exhibition.

At the time, Bokova was accused of giving into to Arab pressure, but organizers of the exhibition later said she had regained their esteem by making public statements that could be characterized as strongly “pro-Jewish.”

Of late, Bokova has seemed to be buckling under US/Israeli pressure, and she may not be the ideal candidate. Yet if Clark is to have any real chance, it will be by running as the de facto American candidate, with her gender as a smokescreen for a US-led campaign to deny eastern Europe ( and by geographic proximity, the Russians) their rightful turn at the helm of the global organisation. Forgive me my lack of enthusiasm at the prospect.

Dawn of the Staple Singers

The late flowering of Mavis Staples’ career will – I hope – inspire many people to check out the brilliant early gospel tracks by the Staple Singers, where Mavis Staples is perfectly cradled by the family harmonies and by her father’s wonderfully innovative tremolo guitar. “Low Is The Way “ is a personal favourite dating from the very outset of the group’s career, and “ I Had a Dream” from the same sessions is almost as good.

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