Saturday, July 30, 2016

Article: Hillary has to cross the Trans-Pacific hurdle (Sunday Guardian)

By CLEO PASKAL | 30 July, 2016

If Clinton flips on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it could fundamentally rip the US Democratic Party apart.
MONTREAL: This past week, at its convention in Philadelphia, the Democratic Party officially chose Hillary Clinton as its candidate for President of the United States of America. Unlike the Republican Party and its candidate Donald Trump, the Democratic Party has consistently been supportive  of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Perhaps, opponents say, even too supportive. The start of the convention witnessed the very unusual resignation of the Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Wikileaks had just published thousands of Democratic Party internal emails showing, among others things, a clear bias against Clinton’s main challenger, Bernie Sanders.
Reinforcing the perception that the Democratic Party is tightly aligned to the Clintons, Wasserman Schultz was replaced by Donna Brazile, who had previously worked for Bill Clinton. Brazile was also a regular CNN contributor, adding fuel to the arguments put forth by Bernie Sanders’ supporters that not only was the Party backing Clinton, so was the mainstream media.
At the convention, Bernie Sanders, who didn’t have enough delegates to win the nomination, officially endorsed Hillary Clinton. After spending months explaining to his supporters what he thought was wrong with Clinton, he essentially ended up asking his backers to support her if only to block Trump. There was loud booing from the convention floor. Almost immediately, the hashtag #DemExit went viral. Evoking the idea of an “exit” from the Democratic Party, it captured the feeling among some Sanders supporters that the Party is rigged, and doesn’t listen to them, and represent them.
The question is how will that frustration evolve? The Party seems to be assuming that, in the end, it won’t matter. If the anger stays a diffuse discontent, it might be right. However, already it seems to be coalescing around one issue in particular, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. The twelve countries involved in the TPP are the US, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Combined, they cover around 800 million people, and around 40% of global trade.  The idea is to create a sort of single market that would pull the Pacific economic centre of gravity away from China. High profile US supporters include President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine. Clinton said she is against it, but some are not sure if that position is just one of political expedience given concern over the TPP within the Party rank and file.
The twelve countries signed the agreement in February 2016. For it to go into effect, it needs to be ratified by at least six of the countries, comprising 85% of the economic activity of the group by February 2018. That means both Japan and the US would have to ratify. Japan supports it. So it will likely be up to the next President of the US to see it through. Or to kill it.
Sanders was vocal against the TPP. Negotiated in secret, the voluminous agreement seems to have evolved into an old fashioned corporate agreement, covering over 18,000 tariffs and entire sectors such as intellectual property and pharma.  Sanders said the TPP could be hugely damaging to the US. Of particular concern was the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism that seems to allow for foreign corporations to challenge the laws of sovereign states in third countries. This might mean, for example, a private corporation could sue a country in a court outside that country, if it thought the country’s healthcare or education systems were detrimental to the company’s rights under the TPP.  The TPP may have started as a 21st century geopolitical construct, but as a result of the influences in the negotiations, some say it has become just 20th century old school geoeconomics. That risks undermining the whole geopolitical point as the hard edged US corporate interests could potentially alienate those who are supposed to be US political allies. For example, some groups in the Pacific are concerned that access to affordable medicine, for example from India, might be affected. That could cause domestic political discontent, potentially leading to instability. Similarly, some regional agricultural groups are concerned about long-term domestic food security if their sectors cannot be protected, again potentially contributing to instability during an already tense time in the region.
All this spilled over on the convention floor. The speeches by Biden, Kaine and even Obama were faced by demonstrators holding up anti-TPP signs. Anti-TPP demonstrators stormed the media enclave. And the TPP became the issue that coalesced Sanders’ supports and spurred the #DemExit movement.
There is support for their position among some major Democrats. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a friend of India, supported Sanders and is anti-TPP. She has also said: “I have raised and continue to see concerns with Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy.” She is very popular among the grassroots.
The Party is behind Clinton. What is less clear is how many members are still behind their own party. In particular, if Clinton flips on the TPP, it could fundamentally rip the party apart.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Article: Trump’s cards: immigrants, guns, police, terror, faith (Sunday Guardian)

As the real estate tycoon gets official Republican nod to run for presidency against Democrat Hillary Clinton, his priorities seem a curious mix of issues of all hues. 
This past week, at its convention in Cleveland, the Republican Party officially anointed Donald J. Trump as its candidate for President of the United States of America.
For much of the past year, as Trump went from strength to strength, the Republican establishment writhed in an attempt to wriggle out from his strengthening grasp. There was even talk of a contested convention. So understanding what actually happened in Cleveland is important not just to get an idea of how Trump might be as a candidate, or even President, but to understand the deep transformation within one of the two major political parties in the US.
There were, at the very least, three components to this convention: what did happen, what didn’t happen, and the coverage. But first, let’s get this out of the way. What does Trump think of India? So far, everything seems fine. In January, he told CNN, “India is doing great. Nobody talks about it.” And that’s been about it. Nothing much in the stump speeches, and nothing at the convention. So, now, back to the convention.
What didn’t happen was a successful revolt against Trump. Procedural efforts on the first day were quickly squashed. Ted Cruz’s attempt to instil doubt in Trump was booed from the floor. The party grandees who stayed away didn’t pull attention from the event. The threatened waves of violent protestors didn’t materialise. It was a largely peaceful, professional event, coalescing the vast bulk of the rank and file squarely behind their candidate. The Republican Party establishment may not have wanted Trump, but now Trump has the Republican Party.
Some of what did happen was completely predictable. For a candidate, even Trump, to survive Republican primaries in this post-Tea Party era, they are going to have to stick close to a set checklist. Pro-guns, pro-coal, pro-drilling, pro-conservative Supreme Court justices, pro-military, pro-police, pro-faith (ideally Christian), anti-immigration (primarily Mexican), anti-Obamacare, anti-tax, anti-terror.
Pretty much any candidate standing on that stage would have to profess to hold those beliefs. And, in his speech, Trump checked all those boxes. He also, as usual, doubled down on a few of them, including calling for a suspension of immigration from countries “compromised by terrorism” until “proven vetting” procedures are put in place.
Then Trump veered off into uncharted territory for a Republican Presidential candidate. And this is where it gets interesting. As opposed to the usually cautious Washington-speak coming out of both political parties, Trump openly called out China for currency manipulation, product dumping and intellectual property theft.
While Bill Clinton’s motto was “it’s the economy, stupid”, Trump was essentially saying that the “economy” can look like it’s booming because Wall Street is doing well, but, actually, for most people it’s not the economy, it’s “jobs, stupid”. Trump was not a “trickle down” man. Trump was pitching himself as a direct job creator—and he’ll take on China to bring jobs back the US. And, as a result, he said in the speech, he expects to pick up a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters.
Even more strikingly, speaking about June’s terrorist attack on a gay club in Florida that killed 49, Trump said: “As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ [lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, queers] citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology, believe me.”
For a Republican candidate to make a statement in support of LGBTQ citizens during the most important speech of the convention is unheard of. Many at the convention think homosexuality is a choice, and a sin. Trump didn’t do this to get votes. And it wasn’t a passing thought. Trump also had Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal, give a prime time speech just an hour or so earlier. Thiel had said: “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican but, most of all, I am proud to be an American.” Thiel got a standing ovation. While hewing to well trodden pathways, Trump also used the convention to carve out new paths for the Republican Party.
Also, as he did throughout the campaign so far, along the way he turned what traditional Republican politics would consider weaknesses into strengths. One of Trump’s seeming vulnerable points with “traditional values” and Evangelical Republicans is the fact he’s been married three times. Trump turned that on its head by shifting the focus to his five children, with whom he clearly has a strong bond, and who seemed to get along well with each other. More than any convention in memory, the Trump family presented as team, with all adult children making speeches. You vote for Donald, but you also get Ivanka, Donald Jr, Eric, Tiffany and, when he’s old enough, Barron.
Ewach of the children appeals to a different group. But the star is Ivanka. Ivanka made one of the most notable speeches in Republican convention history. She started off by saying to the stadium full of party faithful that she wasn’t particularly attached to any political party and votes for what is best for her family. Could you imagine Chelsea Clinton saying something similar? She then said she would fight for affordable childcare, maternity benefits and equal pay for equal work. Definitely not the usual Republican Party script. She got cheers and a standing ovation. It was an incredible, “only Trump”, moment.
So, how was all this covered? The majority of the media can’t seem to break out of the “Trump is racist/bad” narrative. As a result, the coverage gets reduced to single tone events. For example, the main news story around the world from the first day was “Melania plagiarised her speech from Michelle Obama”. Apart from giving a very narrow view of a full day of activities, what it does is make those who are following events for themselves feel increasingly disconnected from the media, and even more protective of their position. For them, for example, watching Trump’s loyalty as he stands by his wife, and even the speechwriter, in the face of the media onslaught, makes him even more popular.
This is what happened in the UK with Brexit. The majority of the media was so enmeshed with its desired outcome (remain), it became disconnected from ground realities, and possibly even pushed people into the opposing camp. It was then taken by surprise by the outcome.
The Trump platform is complex, with many facets. He is exceptionally good at identifying the concerns of voters, and neither he nor the voter seems too concerned at this stage about providing specific solutions. But for most Trump supporters, it doesn’t seem to matter. For many, just hearing their key issues voiced (especially combined with a dislike of Hillary Clinton) may be enough to get them to the voting booth. They may not support LGBTQ rights, but Trump is the only one “talking tough” on terror. They may not care about maternity benefits, but Trump speaks their despair when they walk into Walmart and see everything imported from China.
Even before the convention Trump showed he could rewrite the rules for Republican candidates. He picked a fight with Fox News. He bypassed the major party donors. He disparaged party stalwarts. And he won. Two years ago, no one in the US political scene would have thought that possible. Who knows what will be possible for Trump now? And who knows what sort of party the Republicans will have once he is done?
Cleo Paskal is the North America Special Correspondent for The Sunday Guardian

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Interview: Cleo Paskal on John Batchelor Show with Gordon Chang on India-Iran-Afghanistan (+Japan)

Cleo spoke with John and Gordon about the new agreement for India to help build a port in Iran with assistance from Afghanistan, and possibly Japan. Click here. It starts at 11.35.