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Gordon Campbell Key’s abuse of secrecy over Iraq & The TPP

Gordon Campbell on John Key’s abuse of secrecy over Iraq, and the TPP

For the past week or so we’ve been hearing a lot about the child-like side of our Prime Minister. So I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that if you put him on the mat in Dubai, he will say the darndest things. Here’s what happened. During his post-Gallipoli trade mission to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, the Prime Minister saw fit to babble away to a reporter from the Gulf News about the current whereabouts of the NZ troop deployment to Iraq. Some of our troops, it seems, are currently in the UAE.

This is the same sort of information Key has repeatedly refused to disclose to the New Zealand media, allegedly on security grounds. Yet how can it possibly be safer to identify the location of our troops while they’re in the Middle East and on the very doorstep of Islamic State – and yet somehow more dangerous to reveal even their departure date here at home in New Zealand?

The only sane answer is that the ‘security’ of the troops has never been the actual concern. What Key was trying to prevent was any political protest at their departure i.e the secrecy was about safeguarding his government’s political interests, not the security of the troops. To the point where Key seems blithely willing to reveal to Islamic State that our troops are travelling to the battlefield, via the UAE – and are having a substantial stopover there, en route to Iraq. If an ordinary member of the public revealed to the world what Key has just done, they would quite possibly be at risk of prosecution under our anti-terrorism laws. His rationale is classic :

In an interview with a local Dubai paper, Key confirmed some of the 143 personnel joining the fight against Islamic State are in the Gulf State but when questioned over his failure to disclose that to New Zealand media said that was because he considered it was "not newsworthy”…..

There is a word for countries where the public gets told only what their rulers deem to be newsworthy. Child-like isn’t it.

TPP and secrecy

Iraq is not the only arena of government policy where secrecy has proved to be a useful political tool. The Trans Pacific Partnership deal is now inching towards its Armageddon moment – ie, a vote in Congress on whether President Barack Obama will be given the ‘fast track’ authority he needs to clinch the deal without significant Congressional amendment. Typical. The details of the TPP trade pact have been hidden from the public… and now, this alleged Great Leap Forward is being insulated from meaningful democratic scrutiny. If Obama gets ‘fast track’ authority, there will be only a head count in the Great Hall of The People – I mean, Congress.

Even so, Americans – and their members of Congress - are still being given a level of access to the TPP texts that we wretched New Zealanders are being denied by our secretive Prime Minister. On Monday, Obama gave a long interview to the Wall St Journal that included this remarkable passage :

OBAMA : This issue of secrecy, by the way, is – is particularly of concern to me because the way we have set this up, the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement – where it is right now – it’s not closed, it’s not finished; we’re negotiating with 11 countries – but the text of what we have right now has been on file in Congress for weeks. Members of Congress have been able to go in there and take a look at it.

Now, what you’ll hear critics say is, but it’s not public yet.

WSJ : : Right.

OBAMA: Well, the way that the trade authority that is coming out of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Finance Committee and that will soon be voted on provides is that, if and when we complete an actual agreement, we’ve closed the text with these other countries, then for 60 days before I sign the agreement we have to post this up on the Web, the public will see it, every member of Congress will see it.

It will be debated for two months before I even sign the agreement. Once I sign the agreement, it’s going to take several months before Congress votes on the agreement. So there are going to be many months in which people will be able to look at every comma and period and semicolon in this deal. “‘

So lets get that straight. What Obama told the WSJ is that (a) right now, every member of Congress has full access to the TPP text as it has been negotiated thus far (b) the finalised texts will become ‘closed’ for other countries, but will still be open to debate in Congress (c) there will be a two month debate in Congress before Obama can sign the TPP and (d) following the presidential approval, Congress will get a further few months before it votes on the agreement and (e) before that happens, the public will have full access to the text of the document.

To state the bleedingly obvious : John Key is not giving New Zealanders anything like the same level of access to the current TPP text. Our MPs currently do not have access to the texts negotiated thus far. Moreover, the Beehive will be committing New Zealand to this document before there has been any full public disclosure of its contents, much less any meaningful debate. The New Zealand parliamentary debate and vote will be merely a rubberstamp for a fait accompli. Judging by what Obama told the WSJ, American law-makers already enjoy far more access and the American public will have far greater opportunity to scrutinise the TPP, before signing occurs.

Key needs to be far more open. If he can, he needs to use his fabled salesman skills to try and sell this deal, not pass it by stealth in the dead of night. Merely asserting that the TPP will benefit the country overall, is not good enough. Even a US business press that routinely supports the TPP has been challenging Obama of late to (a) identify the winners and losers from the TPP and (b) explain how he intends to compensate the losers.

Earlier this week for instance, Bloomberg News issued a stinging rejoinder to the pro-TPP economist Gregory Mankiw.

For one thing, Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith said, many observers are worried that the TPP is actually trade-restrictive in its IP provisions, and in that respect is not a free trade document at all. Moreover, Smith argued, the benefits of free trade can be very, very unequally shared, while the damage it does can be felt very widely :

…If the richest 1 percent of Americans gain $1 billion from a trade agreement and the other 99 percent lose $900 million, then [classic pro- free trade] theory says the country benefited overall. That outcome is perfectly consistent with Econ 101.

Most pro-free-trade economists, if you confront them with this fact, will say that this problem can be solved if we use re-distributive taxes to compensate the losers. This ignores that we often don’t know who the winners and losers are from any particular trade deal -- this is why you can’t buy insurance against the possibility of losing your job to a trade agreement. This also ignores that the tax system wasn't set up to carry out this compensation. And on top of that, many pro-free-trade economists, Mankiw included, are almost always opposed to tax increases.

In other words, Mankiw is giving the public a pro-trade argument that, even on its own merits, might be bogus. Econ 101 says that it’s possible that free trade might hurt the majority of Americans, and yet Mankiw doesn't seem to think the public needs to hear that fact.

Neither does John Key.

A Cure For The PM ?

Fittingly, there is a classic childrens book – Bread and Jam For Frances, by Russell Hoban – that holds out some hope for a possible solution to the hair issues the PM has been having.

Frances you see, loves bread and jam so much that she neglects her egg and vegetables. Bread and jam is just too tantalising for Frances to resist. To cure her, her parents finally resort to offering her bread and jam at all meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner – to make her sick of it, and free her from her addiction. And it works!

With that in mind, it could be helpful if dozens of pony-tailed New Zealanders – women and men alike – chose to descend on the Prime Minister at his future public engagements. Only by prolonged exposure to an excess of pony-tails can we hope to break his habit and render pony-tails safe for everyone, once again. In the meantime, ‘Pirate Jenny’ by Kurt Weill is arguably the ultimate fantasy about the revenge of the powerless. Jenny the chambermaid is really pissed off at how she has been treated. Over the course of her song, she dreams of masking the rich and powerful pay in blood for showing disrespect to workers in the hospitality industry. This live version from 1964 may be a little on the melodramatic side, but Nina Simone never did believe in doing anything by halves. ( https://youtu.be/V7awW5nrDHk )

ENDS

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