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Saturday, May 30, 2015


More than meets the eye

by Tom Sullivan

When a conservative politician uses some oddball term that makes my ears prick up, makes me cock my head like a dog and baroo, I have learned to dig deeper and not simply shrug it off. It is often a dog whistle. There's more going on than meets the ear.

So when President Obama went to bat for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, kept it out of public view, and seemed ready to go to the mat for an agreement that seems likely to hurt American workers, you would think I might have done the same instead of thinking it was just the neoliberal agenda. But when Mike Lux yesterday (Slavery? Really?) highlighted that, in pursuit of the TPP, the first African-American president was ready to oppose any moves by the Senate requiring Malaysia to put the brakes on its tolerance for slavery, something finally clicked. Perhaps there was more going on than meets the eye. I dug deeper.

First, Ryan Grimm at Huffington Post:

That measure would bar governments considered to be complicit in human trafficking from receiving the economic benefits of a fast-tracked trade deal. Menendez, the author of the provision, has described it as a human rights protection that will prevent U.S. workers from competing with modern-day slave labor. The administration has pushed against the provision, saying it would prevent Malaysia from participating in the deal, and eliminate incentives for the country to upgrade its human trafficking enforcement. Human rights advocates strongly support the language that passed the Senate on Friday.

The president argues that if the U.S. doesn't cut deals with these partner countries, China will, to U.S. disadvantage.

But you know all that. Mike Lux at C&L writes, "We're not going to object to slavery because a country that openly engages in it might trade more with China than with us? Doesn't this kind of blow up the whole 'most progressive trade agreement in history' thing?"

Then I came across this post from Gaius Publius at Down With Tyranny, referencing Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism:

Cue Antifa:

Malaysia’s membership in the circle of TPP nations is not vital because Malaysia — it’s vital because of the Malacca Straits, through which virtually all the shipping in that part of the world passes. It’s a bottleneck, a chokepoint, and if Malaysia is “driven into the arms of China” then China can close those Straits to shipping how, when, and as they please.

Which would neuter the US Navy in that part of the world, reducing them to observer status. When people at the Pentagon talk about America’s role as the world’s policeman, they are talking about the Navy’s ability to project overwhelming force wherever and whenever needed. The three little chokepoints world trade and shipping depend on are the Strait of Hormuz, the Straits of Malacca, and the Panama Canal. Taking one of those and giving control of it to China and Friends — or to anyone but the US Navy — puts the world’s policeman in a clown suit.

And Andrew Watts added yesterday:

In terms of geopolitics, a pseudo-science imo, there isn’t a more strategic chokepoint in the world. A quarter of the world’s shipping goes through the Straits of Malacca. Look at a list of member states of TPP and tell me this isn’t an anti-Chinese military alliance or there are alternative shipping lanes. The transportation routes via the Eurasian Silk Road is one way to circumvent this potential naval blockade but shipping via the sea has always been cheaper than shipping by land.

The only reason why business and intellectual property rights is apart of the deal is because Obama needs to bribe as many domestic power centers as possible to pass it. This is straight outta his Obamacare playbook. The reason for the secrecy is probably due to the military nature of the pact. in any case nobody wants the perception that this is preparation for some future Sino-American war.

But if I were a Chinese political leader in Beijing I would not trust any assurances to the contrary that come from Washington.

Strait of Malacca control was also one of the domino theory issues that contributed to the Vietnam War.

Correct. Which proves that the US military has always had it in it’s sights AND they’re willing to go to war for control over it.

Gaius has much more must-read background at Down With Tyranny. But he offers three possible (and non-exclusive) explanations for why Obama might accept being the "Slavery in Asia" president:

▪ One explanation is pretty simple. He thinks no one will notice, or if they do, they'll quickly forget. Pretty simple explanation, especially given that his best corporate friends control almost all of the messaging via corporate media.

▪ Another explanation is best expressed by Andrew Watt above. To repeat:

The only reason why business and intellectual property rights is [a part] of the deal is because Obama needs to bribe as many domestic power centers as possible to pass it. This is straight outta his Obamacare playbook.

That's actually very kind to Obama. It says that he's being a responsible president from a military standpoint, and bribing all major U.S. corporations — Nike, for example, corrupt as it is (do click) — to get the deal he needs because of solid national security concerns. As explanations go, this results in higher legacy points than the other ones do.

▪ The final explanation? He's simply cashing out, feathering his future nest, foaming his own landing, getting his meal ticket punched, setting the table for the feast of his 20 years of life — his post-electoral, Obama Global Initiative legacy-tour life. You can't ride the corporate stratospheric rails to Davos if corporate jet owners don't like you. You can't give speeches for $400,000 each (give or take) if you don't give the check-writers a reason to say thanks.

Having lived through the Vietnam War and having seen the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution debunked decades after it passed, I find the Straits of Malacca explanation compelling. Although I wonder how an ice-free Arctic Ocean might impact its importance for world shipping. (And the U.S. controls one side of the Bering Strait.)

Great, now we're probably going to hear insufferable chatter again from OFA about Obama playing multi-dimensional chess.

What a tangled web. I wonder, if we're going to raise a stink about entering a trade pact with a Malaysia that tolerates slavery, is Malaysia going to raise a stink about entering a trade pact with a United States whose past president the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal so recently convicted in absentia for war crimes? Guess it's a good thing the Senate didn't pass language excluding countries that engage in torture from joining the TPP.