Gordon Campbell on TPP talks and the election in Afghanistan

Column – Gordon Campbell

As negotiators gather in Ottawa this week for the latest round of talks on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, the opposition to (a) the TPP deal itself and (b) the Trade Promotion Authority needed to pass it into US law is increasing within …

Gordon Campbell on this week’s TPP talks and the election meltdown in Afghanistan

by Gordon Campbell

As negotiators gather in Ottawa this week for the latest round of talks on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, the opposition to (a) the TPP deal itself and (b) the Trade Promotion Authority needed to pass it into US law is increasing within the US Congress. This morning’s Washington Trade Daily reports that “several members of Congress said yesterday that a majority of the House oppose either one or both.”

Reportedly, four letters have been written by members of Congress to the White House warning against the non-transparent rules which will attempt to tie the hands of Congress when the legislation for the TPP and TPA come to the House floor. “The four letters include 190 separate House signatures – including 29 Republicans and 161 Democrats. Include a number of members now “sitting on the fence” on the issues, who are likely to vote against either or both measures and opponents will have a solid majority, commented Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn).

Those 161 (and counting) Democrats lining up in opposition to the TPP and TPA must be of concern to the Obama administration. The secrecy about what is on the negotiating table with the TPP is also hurting Obama, politically. “What it boils down to is that Congress is out of the picture,” added Rep. Louise Slaughter told the Washington Trade Daily:

Over the past two years, some two-dozen Congressional letters have gone to the Administration asking for more information on the TPP talks. Very few were ever answered or even acknowledged, WTD was told. Letters touch on several topics – the US Buy America law, currency manipulation, workers’ rights, access to medicines for poor countries, enforcement of environmental rules, human rights issues, “fast track”, intellectual property rights, financial regulations and food safety, among others.

Fears were expressed to WTD by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore) that the TPP “framework agreement” being touted for completion by November will back away from commitments on environmental protection. In 2007, the Bush administration conceded – in the so called “May 10 agreement” – that all future US trade agreements would contain enforceable environmental protections. Given that the TPP talks include countries engaged in illegal logging and the ivory trade, the lack of enforceable measures against such trade will only heighten Congressional opposition.

On other TPP fronts: Chile’s new, centre left government has been consistently lukewarm at best, to the TPP. Last week, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet indicated that Chile wanted to ensure the TPP did not create new trade problems for Chile, which already had free trade deals with most of the countries involved. From the Washington Trade Daily, for June 30:

Speaking at the Brookings Institution, Ms. Bachelet said that having a high standard TPP is especially important to her country, because Chile already has trade agreements with the other 11 countries. But those standards must respect national interests….The 12 countries negotiating the TransPacific Partnership [she said] have not yet found the “exact point” where “everybody wins,”

As for Japan…the US and Japan are continuing to conduct their own bilateral trade talks in parallel with the TPP, and have reached their own agreement on tariff levels. Japan is still considering whether other TPP countries will enjoy the same provisions. In Ottawa, this morning’s Japan News (via Yomiuri Shimbun) says that agreement has been reached in Ottawa on two of what are only the least contentious areas – child labour and slavery labour standards, and quarantine standards.

Aiming to reach a basic accord by the end of this year, the nations involved intend to settle discussions in less contentious areas while postponing such difficult matters as reform of state-owned companies.

Postponed again. At this rate, the hopes expressed by President Barack Obama that “some kind of draft” for the TPP would be ready for the next APEC meeting in November looks – as usual – highly optimistic.

Bush Wars
Obama must be feeling a bit like the coach of the Brazilian football team. Only a few months out from the mid term elections, could the international news be any worse? The foreign policy narrative for Obama’s entire presidency has been framed around him being the guy who successfully ended the wars of George W. Bush. Yet instead of the secular Sunni tyranny of Saddam Hussein….Iraq is now collapsing into a Sunni theocracy run by fanatics too extreme to be allowed into al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, the presidential elections that were supposed to be the prelude to a final US withdrawal have also devolved into chaos. Abdullah Abdullah has cried fraud after his rival Ashraf Ghani – who came second to Abdullah in the first round of voting – was declared the winner of the run-off election. Abdullah’s angry followers have been urging him to set up a parallel government. This is the second time that Abdullah has been the victim of electoral fraud by the friends of the Karzai government in Kabul. In late 2009, Abdullah withdrew from the runoff election, citing his lack of faith in the Karzai government’s ability to hold a “fair and transparent” second election. There were well-substantiated claims of rigged ballots and systematic fraud on that occasion as well.

How bad is this? Pretty bad. The war in Afghanistan has cost thousands of US lives and caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians. In 2012, the US reportedly spent over three times as much on Afghanistan as it did on Israel.

Afghanistan is heavily reliant on international funding and generous levels of support from the American government. In 2012, the American government dispersed about $10 billion dollars worth of economic and military aid to Afghanistan. To put this into perspective, the next highest disbursement was Israel with $3.1 billion. Over $2.5 billion of this aid was economic aid, with the rest being military. Afghanistan depends on American both for help with fighting the Taliban and funding national development projects.

If the United States were to withdrawal aid and military support, the central government would likely collapse. Right now, Afghanistan’s tax base is minuscule and American funding is necessary for funding day-to-day operations. With funding cut the government would no longer be able to pay its own bills and employees, and the military buffer keeping the Taliban away from Kabul would all but evaporate.

Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to placate and/or threaten Abdullah into not being such a sore loser. Abdullah has been told that an armed uprising against the election result or the declaration of a shadow government would not be tolerated by the US, which has threatened to turn off its funding if that happens. The last thing the US needs is for Afghanistan to unravel – like Iraq – along sectarian or tribal lines. Ashraf Ghani is a Pashtun, Abdullah is half Pashtun, half -Tajik. This time, Abdullah sounds as though he won’t back down. As many as 2.5 million fraudulent ballots are in dispute, and Abdullah is insisting that 11,000 polling stations must be investigated.

A grand coalition government in Kabul with a rotating presidency? Anyone keen on that?

High Timber’s Calling…
The 1930s and 1940s were the hey-day of The Sons of the Pioneers, but they were still turning up in big budget Hollywood movies (e.g. The Searchers) as late as the mid 1950s. The core of the group’s classic phase consisted of Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer and Leonard Slye – who changed his name, went solo and became famous as the cowboy singing star Roy Rogers. Nolan deserves to be more widely known, and not only for writing the group’s mega-hits “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”

Nolan was a great singer and – arguably – there has been no greater poet of America’s open prairies. Move over, Walt Whitman. Nolan’s songs convey a yearning for communion with nature, out on the range on horseback. Both the tracks below are somewhat lesser known items in the group’s massive repertoire. “Timber Trail” was written by Tim Spencer in the mid to late 1940s and features some terrifically exuberant whistling. Nice finale, too. “Chant of the Wanderer” came out in 1941 – it was on the flipside of “Cool Water” – and Nolan was at the top of his form when he came up with these ecstatic lyrics:

Take a look at the sky where the whippoorwill thrills
And the mountains so high where the cataract spills
Take a look at the falls and the rippling rills
Hear the wanderlust call of the whispering hills
The rippling rills! The cataract spills! The whippoorwill thrills!
……Let me follow the trail where the buffalo roam
Let a silver cloud sail where the setting sun shone
Let the lobo wolf wail in a broken heart tone
Let it storm, let it gale, still the prairie’s my home
A broken heart tone! The setting sun shone! The buffalo roam!
Ahhh-oooh …The prairie’s my home….

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0B-cUxk4Do&w=420&h=315]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5_Tn-fJ8Kc&w=420&h=315]


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