Gordon Campbell on the TPP | Lorde whinging about journalism

Column – Gordon Campbell

So after all the years of talk about momentum and claims that significant progress was being made – dutifully reported by the mainstream media – a conclusion to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal seems as far as away as ever.

Gordon Campbell on RIP for the TPP, and Lorde whingeing about journalism

by Gordon Campbell

So after all the years of talk about “momentum” and claims that “significant progress” was being made – dutifully reported by the mainstream media – a conclusion to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal seems as far as away as ever. If the TPP was going to be finalised this year, its last chance came last week, when US President Barack Obama was visiting Japan, and meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Supposedly, these two heavyweights would arrive at a fresh position on access to Japanese farm markets, and thereby undo the logjam on all the other points of contention.

Sure enough, claims of a “breakthrough” were reported last week, but – typically – those details were held back over the weekend lest they should torpedo the chances of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party of winning a crucial by- election on Sunday in a rural district. Once again, TPP secrecy (aka political expedience) was being deployed to subvert democracy. The LDP candidate won the by-election, and the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper noted how the lack of detail about the TPP had helped swing the result:

Considering that the Kagoshima Constituency No. 2 is in an area where the farming industry holds sway, it was fortunate [for the LDP candidate] that the Japan-U.S. talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership multilateral free trade framework that were held at the same time as the by-election campaign failed to come up with details about how to handle tariff rates, particularly on the highly sensitive “five important categories” of agricultural products.

As it turns out, the “breakthrough” was hardly worthy of the term. For all the heavying of Abe by Obama – reportedly at a dinner meant to be a bonding exercise, Obama skipped the niceties and chose to hassle Abe over the TPP – the outcome indicated just how far from completion this pipe dream still is. As the Washington Trade Daily reported on Monday, all the US and Japan have agreed on was how to talk about the issues to do with Japan’s farm markets that remain contentious:

Washington and Tokyo have agreed to parameters for tariff cuts on Japan’s most sensitive agricultural products. “The deeper the cut in the tariff, the longer time it may take to get there. And so we have a sense of what the packages might be and what the pathway forward is to us resolving this,” the official said. There are details to be worked out and agreement on some products is further along than others, he added.

Remember, these Japan/US talks are occurring only in parallel to the TPP negotiations themselves, which remain virtually deadlocked. So far, Japan has not shown any sign of significant budging on its agricultural areas, and these include the dairy access on which New Zealand’s concessions on the TPP largely hinge. On that score, it seems significant that Aussie farmers are upset about the pittances that Australian trade negotiators have wrung from the Japanese in their just -concluded bilateral trade deal with Japan. Here’s Tyran Jones, president of United Dairy Farmers of Victoria, dissing the outcome:

‘The bottom line is that in the first year, the benefit is somewhere in the region of $4.5 million…which is not a meaningful amount in terms of Australian dairy trade. It’s just an opportunity lost.’

Clearly, Japan is going to stubbornly defend its five ‘sacred’ farm products – including dairy – within the TPP. Japan is not the only problem. One could also mention that Chile’s new left wing government is less than enthusiastic about the TPP. Malaysia is still hostile to some of its key provisions about how SOEs should operate etc etc. And hanging over the entire deal is Obama’s failure to seek Congressional authority – also known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – to even negotiate a trade deal such as the TPP. Obama can always count on some support among Republicans on free trade issues. Yet this scorecard on NAFTA shows why Democratic activists are strongly opposed to going down that same sorry road again.

Given that the midterm elections are looming later this year, some of the superficial bipartisan support for TPA may also be an attempt by the Republicans to sucker Obama into what would be a divisive, bloody battle within a Democratic Party that remains deeply split over both the TPA and TPP, and which is increasingly hostile to free trade rhetoric in general. In this amusing clip from senior Republican senator Orrin Hatch, you can hear Hatch almost begging Obama to put more energy and effort into securing trade promotion authority this year.

At crunch, would the Republicans really deliver Obama a TPA victory – and with it, a conclusion to the TPP – so close to the midterms? Hardly. This would run counter to the years of Republican obstructionism on health care and every other issue, including (last year) the basic ability of the government to function. Theoretically, the Republicans might conceivably gain an advantage from being seen as coming to the rescue of a weak President unable to pursue trade policy – yet to date, the Republicans have shown no interest in using bi-partisanship as a tactical weapon.

Among the TPP participants, Obama’s failure to secure TPA – or even to pursue it vigorously – is being noted. Why should politicians in Malaysia or Japan or Chile or anyone else expend their precious political capital at home in the name of a TPP trade deal if the White House cannot deliver on any of its commitments? Good point. For now, the immediate future of TPA lies in the hands of Ron Wyden, the new chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Finance. Wyden has been one of Obama’s fiercest critics when it comes to the secrecy surrounding the TPP negotiations, and tech companies have lobbied him to oppose the granting of TPA powers to finalise the TPP.

Interestingly, Wyden has been willing to go far beyond what the Labour Party has called for here, when it comes to securing public access to the TPP and its negotiating texts before such treaties are finalised. Two years ago, Wyden even tried to legislate against trade treaties by stealth:

Senator Ron Wyden yesterday introduced a bill on the floor of the U.S. Senate demanding access to draft texts of international trade agreements under negotiation by the Office of the United States Trade Representative such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) that carry provisions that could severely choke off users’ rights on the Internet around the world…..The proposed bill, titled the “Congressional Oversight Over Trade Negotiations Act”, calls for all Members of Congress, together with all of their staff with proper security clearance, to be given access to “documents, including classified materials, relating to negotiations for a trade agreement to which the United States may be a party and policies advanced by the Trade Representative in such negotiations.”

That Wyden bill is still before the House. Like many other critics of the TPP from right across the ideological spectrum, Wyden is not anti-trade. A glance at his voting record shows that he has voted for every free trade measure that has come before the Senate.

Many such critics oppose the TPP because it is not a free trade deal. It is instead a package of measures – some of them trade restrictive – meant to advance US corporate interests, with a few bones on the side to entice countries such as New Zealand, given our known interest in securing better access to farm markets in Asia. However, last week’s Japan/US talks between Abe and Obama showed just how fanciful those gains to New Zealand really are. The TPP is promising to deliver us little – at considerable cost – over an extraordinarily long period of time. Isn‘t it time we called an end to the whole sorry charade, and launched a campaign to Bring Tim Groser Home…?

Lordy, Lorde
Interesting contrast between these two quotes by Lorde. Consider this one from last year, when she was defending her right to criticise Taylor Swift, etc:

In an interview with MTV, the ‘Royals’ singer said “I think there’s a funny culture in music that’s only happened over the last 15 years, that if you have an opinion about something in music that isn’t 100-percent good, you’re a ‘hater,’ even if you have perfectly reasonable grounds for that critique.”

And then this recent one….when she criticised other people for exercising that same right to critical analysis:

It bugs me how publications like Complex will profile interesting artists in order to sell copies/get clicks and then shit on their records? it happens to me all the time – Pitchfork and that ilk being like “can we interview you?” after totally taking the piss out of me in a review. have a stance on an artist and stick to it. don’t act like you respect them then throw them under the bus.

Right. Several things wrong with this beyond the obvious one rule for me, another rule for everyone else. For starters, Complex put Iggy Azalea on their cover eight months before criticising her album. Secondly, putting someone on a cover and interviewing them is a different process – or should be different – to critically evaluating their work. Advocating a rule whereby all people who get on the cover are guaranteed a positive review is to make journalism an extension of the artist’s publicity machine. There’s enough of that pressure – give us good coverage or you get no access – already in Hollywood.

Thirdly, did Pitchfork really smarm up to Lorde and then “totally take the piss out of me in a review” and throw her under a bus? Hardly. The Pitchfork review gave her Pure Heroine album a 7.3 out of 10. That’s a reasonable recommendation. Read the review here. I’m mystified why she thinks it was a pisstake e.g.:

In a moment when too many new artists seem afraid to offend or go off script, Lorde is an exciting contradiction: an aspiring pop star who’s had a major-label development deal since age 12 (she was discovered at a local talent show) but has retained a seemingly genuine iconoclastic streak.

Is she wants to know what being thrown under the bus by Pitchfork really feels like, she should ask the Pixies. They got the treatment here, and again, here. This tendency by successful artists to demand positive treatment from the media has to be resisted, whenever it raises its ugly head. Even when it chooses to justify subservience by disguising it as a call for “consistency”. Politicians, too, expect the same. The Australian journalist Bernard Zuel has patiently tried to explain to Lorde why publicity for an artist is – or should be – different from critical evaluation. Zuel is worth reading.

Sometimes an album gets slagged because it’s bad. It happens. No one at Complex could have predicted eight months beforehand that Iggy Azalea’s album would not live up to expectations. Maybe, we should be feeling grateful that Complex has been willing to risk its further access to Azalea, by daring to speak truth to power.


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