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Gordon Campbell on the death knell for the TPP

Gordon Campbell on the death knell for the TPP

It is unusual for anyone to vote for an early execution, but that’s effectively what President Barack Obama’s friends in the US Senate have just done by bringing forward a procedural vote related to the Trans Pacific Partnership. If all had gone well in Washington this morning, this so-called “cloture” motion would have stopped the TPP’s opponents from stalling and stone-walling, and would have enabled a Senate vote ( before the Senate rises on May 22 ) on whether to give Obama the “ fast track “ Trade Promotion Authority he needs to pass the TPP intact, and not expose it to the slow death of clause-by -clause votes and amendments put up by every legislator in Washington with an axe to grind.

Well, the White House gamble has failed, spectacularly. Obama not only failed to rally the 60 votes he needed to achieve cloture, he fell short by a wide margin. Only 52 Senators voted for it. Sure, the cloture vote was only a curtain –raiser. It was a vote on whether to talk about a TPA vote, rather than a vote on TPA itself. Yet it was supposed to flush out a bloc of Democrats who are (a) in favour of granting TPA powers and ( b) in favour of the TPP itself. It was supposed to generate momentum in the Senate, which has always been seen as the easier hurdle for Obama to clear on TPA, at least in comparison to convincing the House to bestow such powers. The reverse has happened. The TPA/TPP campaign has fallen at its very first, easiest hurdle.

Why? The storm clouds had been gathering all week. The Republican mainstream for instance, has always wanted to tack on a rider to the TPP to confront China for the way it gains trade advantage by manipulating its currency. The White House has always opposed using the TPP as a forum to attack China’s currency gambits, correctly sensing that this blunderbuss would be flatly rejected by a number of TPP members, and would kill the overall deal. Unfortunately for Obama, the currency issue re-surfaced with a vengeance during the last few days.

The Republicans were only half the problem. The crucial resistance to the TPP has been from among Democrats – and it has been led by the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, in unison with the Dems’ soon-to-retire Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. For over a year, Warren has marshalled a bi-partisan public assault on the TPP (a) by stressing to the centre-left the TPP’s likely destruction of jobs, wages and labour conditions via the outsourcing it will engender and (b) by stressing to Republicans the likely impact of the TPP’s investor-state arbitration panels, which she depicted in a series of fiercely worded newspaper op eds as usurping the Constitutionally-bestowed powers of US state and federal law-makers. Amusingly, Warren even found a Hillary Clinton quote denouncing ISDS panels, and used it publically. As in :

I’m not the only one worried about ISDS. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in her book last year: "We should avoid some of the provisions sought by business interests, including our own, like giving them or their investors the power to sue foreign governments to weaken their environmental and public health rules, as Philip Morris is already trying to do in Australia. The United States should be advocating a level and fair playing field, not special favors."

Warren emerges from this victory with her already powerful position in the Democratic Party even further enhanced. Once again, Warren has taken on the White House, and won.

The other big winner is Hillary Clinton. For the past month, Clinton has been avoiding taking a position on the TPP. It has been a tactical nightmare for her. If she opposes the TPP she would be seen as undermining a Democratic President : but the TPP is widely unpopular among the Democratic Party rank and file that she is aiming to lead into the election next year. Moreover, she would have risked sounding like she was joining the fray too late, and as a mere “me too” in Warren’s shadow. .

The TPP also presents Clinton with a more fundamental challenge. In her campaign launch video, Clinton had portrayed herself as the budding champion of ordinary Americans – the very people whom a wide swathe of own political party thinks would be put at risk by the TPP, just as a previous generation of Democratic voters felt betrayed by the NAFTA trade deal signed by her husband. Yet to fund her presidential campaign, Clinton is seeking and getting the support of the very plutocrats in Hollywood (and elsewhere in corporate America) who are among the TPP’s strongest advocates – especially when it comes to the deal’s intellectual property provisions. Having the TPP fall over without her needing to show her hand would be the best possible outcome for Clinton.

It’s a game of dominoes. If cloture fails, so – probably but not definitely – will the Senate vote on TPA, and so then will the vote in the House of Representatives. Failure on TPA opens up the TPP to Congressional scrutiny and amendments. Faced with this very real scenario, Japan and a number of other players will baulk at trade-offs that the US will not be able to match. Ironically, the US has been undone by the very same “hub-and-spoke” way it has negotiated this deal ie, as a daisy chain of bilateral deals with each TPP member country. The flaw was always that if the hub cracked and failed – as it has just done – all of the spokes will then fall in a heap.

Sixty Years On, Still Timeless

One of the gifts of Youtube is the way it has enabled the lost gems of popular music to find an audience. For example : among the doo wop close harmony groups of the 1950s, one of the prime sub-categories was a capella doo wop. Today, this stuff sounds timeless, mainly because there are no dated orchestral arrangements to drag down the pure beauty of the vocals.

The Velvet Angels were one such group. From Detroit, they never had any hits. In fact, these next two recordings were a couple of rehearsals, recorded by a friend in a hotel room, sometime during the late 1950s/early 1960s. These two tracks - “Take a Tip “ and “ I‘m In Love” - were among two of 19 tracks in all that the Velvet Angels recorded, before they broke up in 1964.

And while we’re at it, here’s another great example of a retrieved rehearsal recording from the same era. The Majestic Arrows were from Chicago, and this is the magical rehearsal track for their proto-feminist anthem “ I’ll Never Cry For Another Boy” ….

Crying on the inside while my poor heart bleeds

I’ll never cry for another boy…

Can’t you understand ?

I want to be my own woman…


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