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Gordon Campbell on the Treaty/TPP overlap, and Iowa

Gordon Campbell on the Treaty/TPP overlap, and the Iowa backwash

The people who point out that we already have investor-state dispute settlement provisions in other trade deals and ‘so far so good, we haven’t had to worry about them’ …man, that is such an absurd argument. When it comes to arms reduction and nuclear proliferation, do we say ‘Hey, we haven’t had World War III yet, so its OK to keep on building the bombs and spreading them around?’ No, we aim to restrict the prevalence of the weapons, we don’t make them easier to use, and we don’t try to claim that they ‘protect’ us. Meaning: the fears about the ISDS provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership deal are well-founded. The reality is that there is a sharp uptick in the occurrence of ISDS litigation in developed countries, and even the right wing likes of The Economist have been souring on the process for some time.

If you wanted to convince the public that international trade agreements are a way to let multinational companies get rich at the expense of ordinary people, this is what you would do: give foreign firms a special right to apply to a secretive tribunal of highly paid corporate lawyers for compensation whenever a government passes a law to, say, discourage smoking, protect the environment or prevent a nuclear catastrophe.

Countries with highly developed legal and constitutional systems – such as Canada – are regularly on the receiving end of ISDS litigation, with the Bilcon case being a classic example.

In Canada, cases such as Bilcon go to heart of the ability of governments to govern in the public interest. Why, in fact, do investors need ISDS mechanisms? Given that New Zealand has a well developed and efficient legal system, why can’t foreign investors take their chances in our local courts? That’s a fair question.

As the Economist also points out, countries around the world are backing off from ISDS and asking foreign corporates to respect the integrity of local courts to deliver them just remedies for compensation – and not reply on some stacked panel of corporate hired guns sitting in a room in Geneva. The ISDS mechanisms have outlived their original purpose – which was to protect firms from illegal expropriation by rogue dictators - and have mutated into a tool by which multinationals seek to limit the freedom of sovereign governments. So much for the TPP being a high quality deal for the 21st century. In reality, the TPP is a deal for the robber barons of the 19th century, and their modern ilk.

The other common TPP canard is that hey, since a (razor slim) majority of parties in Parliament are in favour of this deal, everyone should go home because the process is entirely democratic. Well, no. We do not have an elected dictatorship in this country whereby majoritarian rule can do whatever it likes and retroactively claim a mandate for its actions. Such a Parliament can indeed ram through laws, but it will do so only by debasing the currency of government, which requires transparency and consultation and some prior process of rational debate.

Democracy, in other words, is a two way street. The public will respect laws passed by law-makers who show a basic level of respect for the public. Nothing like such a process has occurred with the TPP. That’s why there is so much anger about it. Significant freedoms fought for by previous generations have been signed away, secretively. Even the deal’s proponents tend to lament the lack of transparency shown during the TPP process.

Is the TPP worth it? Misleading claims are being made about the extent of the benefits that the TPP will bring to this country - as if the deal was all sunny upside and as if any opposition to the deal can be attributed only to some irrational, atavistic hostility to ‘free’ trade. Yet even if the MFAT claims of a TPP-fuelled 1 % growth in GDP by 2030 and gains of X hundreds of millions in export volumes were true – and they’re highly dubious – such gains would be less than what a few points off the exchange rate would deliver. Meanwhile, as the Tufts University research has shown, the kind of economic models relied on by MFAT officials explicitly ignore – as their starting points - the competitive race to the bottom among members countries that the TPP will generate, and all of the related cuts to wages, job destruction and rise in income inequality that will come in the TPP’s wake. Really, the strongest arguments against the TPP are the economic ones.

The final outrage is that the Key government has chosen to sign away sovereign rights – whether it be via ISDS provisions or over IP patents, copyright terms etc etc – on the eve of the Treaty of Waitangi celebrations, and at the SkyCity casino in Auckland, which is the site of another of this government’s dubious deals. This piling up of provocations cannot be accidental. Quite cynically, the Key government appears to have chosen to deliberately link opposition to the TPP with Maori radicalism. Instead of an informed debate on the TPP on its merits, Key is calculating that far more political capital can be won in the heartland by inflaming the issue, and playing the race card on the TPP. Divide and rule. Tomorrow, it will be up to the TPP protesters to stand together in opposition to this kind of deal, and this kind of politics.

Finally…for some time now, Sharon Murdoch has been the best and sharpest political cartoonist in the country. On the eve of the Treaty commemoration, her brilliant cartoon on the Treaty/TPP issue say it all.

Iowa, and beyond….

Phew. So we, and Donald Trump, now know that Trump can’t shoot someone on the street and still get away with it. In Iowa, Trump shot only himself – in the foot – by taking victory for granted. Fair enough. When Ben Carson had briefly surged ahead of him in the Iowa polls last year, Trump responded: “How stupid are the people of Iowa?” Not a good way of endearing himself, and while attending church last Sunday in a belated attempt to woo evangelicals, Trump still couldn’t get it right. Reportedly, he mistook the communion plate for the collection plate, and reached for his wallet. Not smart in a state that (see below) takes its religion seriously.

Easy to be smart afterwards. What’s more impressive is being smart before the fact, as Slate magazine staff writer Jim Newell was when he wrote this last week:

If he skips the [Fox News] debate and ends up losing Iowa, he will look like a tactical fool who made the most boneheaded, avoidable error of the cycle. The impression that he has it all figured out, experts be damned, will begin to crack.

Crack it now has. And it is hard NOT to regard the Fox debate boycott – which was motivated by Trump’s petty feud with Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly – as the last straw. Marco Rubio picked up most of the late breaking votes (he surged eight points beyond even his last score in the final Des Moines Register poll) after shining on a Thursday night debate stage that was blessedly free of Trump, who had been sucking up all the available political oxygen.

But there’s more. According to entrance polling, some 64% of those who voted in the Iowa Republican caucuses (a) identified themselves as evangelicals and also (b) identified “voting for someone who shares my values” as being the main issue guiding their vote. Significantly, only 5% of them thought Trump shared their values, as opposed to the 43% who thought Ted Cruz did, and the 21 % who felt the same about Rubio. To Iowans, The Candidate For Change from New York City clearly wasn’t seen to be one of them. To them, “change” itself wasn’t an issue. Social conservatism was, and Cruz was seen to be their God fearin’ guy.

Trump will be more at home – and more akin – to the secular voters of New Hampshire next Tuesday. However, his aura of invincibility has now gone for good. And after New Hampshire – where Bernie Sanders’ likely victory on the Democratic Party side will be written off as regional affection for the senator from nearby Vermont – the campaign then moves southward for an extended period of time. That will benefit Hillary Clinton, and it will benefit Ted Cruz.

And what of Rubio? He is hammering away at the theme that only he can unite the Republican Party – which is code for reminding the Republican Party about why it hates Cruz, given his repeated willingness to attack and exploit his colleagues on every issue since 2012. By his actions and by choice, Cruz is an lone wolf outsider in the party that he aims to lead. Part of his electoral appeal is that he has been willing to run against a Republican mainstream that he is gambling will be left with no alternative. Yet as of yesterday , there is now a viable option : Marco Rubio. And if Rubio can stay within a reasonable 5 point distance of Cruz during these early weeks, it could become a long and lonely run for Cruz all the way to the Republican convention. Hard not to cheer at the prospect of these guys tearing each other apart. Remember when right-wingers knew how to sing from the same songbook ?

Gun Outfit

For the past five years at least, Dylan Sharp, Carrie Keith and their band Gun Outfit have been releasing knotty, semi-depressive songs imbued with a sense of disorientation. (Put it down to what the empty spaces of the Pacific Northwest can do to you.) This track from their late 2015 album Dream All Over has been my single of the summer. It has a pretty, ominous, hell bound glide that’s somewhat akin to the quieter moments of the late, lamented Gun Club. In some quarters, there is no higher praise.

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