POLITICAL COMPROMISE OR CORPORATE OVERREACH: ANALYZING THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP

By Michael Roderick
Staff Writer

As the 114th Congress of the United States of America is sworn in, all of the talk seems to be about how our president will get along with Congress now controlled in both houses by the conservative Republican Party. While the president has made some sort of stand on immigration, remains unwilling to sign a repeal of his health care bill and has taken issues with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, one area where he would be seemingly happy to compromise with the GOP is on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

The TPP, which President Obama was unable to fast-track through Congress last year, is simply a power grab by corporations and the established world powers at the expense of the economy, environment, sovereignty of states and the rights of individuals within the countries of the agreement. The TPP would limit labor regulations, empower corporations and weaken state oversight of industry, much like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) before it.

Obama has faced opposition from many labor groups, environmental activists and even members of the his own party, yet he is continuing the attempt to force the trade deal through without so much as allowing Congress a chance to fully vet the bill before it becomes international law. While there has been very little publicity surrounding the proposed trade deal which would affect around 40 percent of the world’s population, some details that have emerged raise legitimate concerns.

Buried in the agreement, which Senator Bernie Sanders claims has been “written behind closed doors by the corporate world,” is an Investor-State Dispute Settlement Clause which would allow for international corporations to undermine the laws of sovereign nations. This particular clause essentially endows corporate investors with the ability to take legal action against a state if they feel the state is in breach of agreement guidelines.

Many of you may be asking yourself what this means and why should we care. Don’t we elect representatives to deal with economic and labor issues for us? If the president garners the necessary votes in Congress to fast track the proceedings on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is likely that the two legislative chambers will have a simple yes or no vote on the agreement without the ability to amend in any way. This controversial tactic lacks transparency, and as the negotiation of this deal occurred with very little oversight, there is no accountability enforced by Congress as to what goes into the agreement.

In effect, our government would be handing over authority on how labor and commerce is conducted in our country, and around the world, to an international body. In short, if the United States decides that a particular practice should be disallowed, a corporation has the right to seek higher authority in an international tribunal.

While the focus has been, and should be, on the secrecy of the deal and its inherent ability to undermine the sovereignty of U.S. laws, there are many other facets to look at when analyzing this “bipartisan” agreement. Despite constant cries of their success, free trade agreements have actually hurt our economy in the past. We need only look at some daunting statistics from previous similar agreements to understand the need to walk away from TPP. [1] Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign points out that NAFTA turned a $1.6 billion trade surplus with Mexico into a $61.3 billion deficit. The Economic Policy Institute claims that this deficit has cost 879,280 U.S. jobs.

In a similar situation, following the Korea Free Trade Agreement, exports actually fell. As imports rose and exports fell in the first year of the agreement, the trade deficit grew by 30 percent. It has been estimated that this deficit cost the U.S. economy 50,000 jobs. This job loss is the result of the American manufacturing industry, which has boomed in countries where we signed trade agreements. These products are manufactured abroad, imported to the United States and then sold again by U.S. companies. The only members of the United States economy who benefit are the corporate interests, while thousands
of manufacturing jobs go to foreign labor markets.

Furthermore, if these statistics were not frightening enough, they only paint a small picture in comparison to what the TPP could do to our economy. The sheer scope of this agreement could lead to an outsourcing of hundreds of thousands of American jobs. [1] On that same point, opening up the markets to countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, and Chile could have a dire effect on wages here in our country. In a time when we are discussing raising our minimum wage and helping to pull our workers out of poverty, signing an agreement like this would have the opposite effect.

This type of agreement tends to alienate the public and sets the leaders at odds with each other in a competitive environment. Rather than harvesting the good will that it claims to build, agreements like the TPP and NAFTA merely act to perpetuate a state hegemon and an overclass of capitalists. Senator Sanders claims “while Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry and major media companies have full knowledge as to what is in this treaty, the American people and members of Congress do not. They have been locked out of the process.”

This overclass has every reason to want to deregulate industry and make it easier to move goods from one country to another with as little hindrance as possible. While I understand that the Obama administration does not want to hinder business, they must be careful not to allow that particular sector to do as they please to the detriment of the global workforce and economy.

If agreements like this are the only way for the President to work with the Republicans in Congress and have some compromise, it truly is not worth it. There is no shortage of great ideas and great products out there in this world; it is not necessary to compromise our rules, regulations, workers and wages in order to open up the markets and bring in new imports. Free trade agreements are an avenue that we have already travelled down, and they have not improved our economy. On the contrary, they have been detrimental to jobs, wages and even certain international relations. I implore you, Mr. President, please let the TPP fade away.

Image by GlobalTradeWatch

Notes

[1] Stamoulis, Arthur. “Trading Away the Future: An Analysis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership”. New Labour Forum 22(3) 30-37. New York. 2013.

ON CLIMATE, THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA ACT INTERNATIONALLY BUT THINK DOMESTICALLY

By Kristopher Klein
Staff Writer

Last month President Obama and the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, jointly announced a plan for both countries to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. The deal, hailed by western media outlets as ‘historic,’ is comprised of some very specific and ambitious targets for reducing emissions. However, climate and political experts on both sides of the Pacific have raised concerns about the ability and intention of both countries’ leaders to make good on their lofty commitments.

Ambitious Goal Setting

Under the agreement, the United States, which was previously planning to reduce carbon emissions by only 17 percent by the year 2025, would commit to reducing emissions to 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China would commit to achieve a peak in its CO2 emissions by the year 2030.

The deal in its current form would drive the United States to double the pace of its current emissions reductions program in order to meet the treaty’s deadlines.

In order to achieve its stated aims, China proposes that by 2030 it will generate 20 percent of its total energy needs from zero-emissions sources. For this to happen, China must provide an additional 800 to 1000 gigawatts of zero-emission energy capacity by 2030. That is more energy than all of the China’s current coal-fired power plants combined.

Fair To Both Countries

Critics of Obama’s agreement with President Xi claim that the deal puts China under less pressure to reduce emissions, because China must only cap emissions, while the United States must reduce emissions in a shorter time period. However, the agreement is likely to take heavy political and economic lifting for both countries.

Though the United States is currently the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, it has been an emitter for much longer than China. The United States began its industrialization in the 19th century and is responsible for around 26 percent of the current man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In comparison, China did not begin emitting significant amounts of greenhouse gases until economic growth picked up in the 1980s and is responsible for 11 percent of the atmosphere’s man-made greenhouse gases.

It seems only logical that China would take more time than the United States to reduce emissions. If China can cap its emissions by 2030, it will have done so just 25 years after the United States, a short timeframe relative to the course of both countries’ economic development.

Will Both Economies Be Able To Make Good On Their Promises?

President Obama will certainly face pushback on his emissions reduction goals, if not now then when he attempts to implement strategies designed to actually help the country reach these goals.

Even without political pushback, meeting the goals set in this agreement will require the use of tremendous government resources and the creation of market incentives. Meeting the goal of a 26 percent reduction of CO2 emissions will require an almost 75 percent decline in the use of coal-fired power plants by 2025, an incredibly demanding goal.

Chinese leaders will also face major obstacles in their attempt to meet the goals set out in this agreement. Xi Jinping, despite his influence as the President of the Republic, Chairman of the Central Military Commission and General Secretary of the Communist Party, will need the support of local bureaucrats in order to successfully implement programs that would help China reach these goals. However, local bureaucrats will be reluctant to implement policies when there is very little profit incentive.

Another barrier to implementing successful climate policies is the economy. The Chinese economy is slowing, and regulating the consumption of fossil fuels and the economic effects of such policies may prove too politically unpopular for the Communist Party to bear. A Tsinghua-MIT study shows that the use of a $38 per ton carbon tax could help China reach its reduction goals by 2030, which may hint as to what Chinese leaders may be planning.

However, if a carbon tax is the way Xi Jinping plans to achieve his stated aims, there should be some doubt about his ability to get the job done. A tax on carbon would most likely mean a rise in the price of energy for the Chinese market and higher prices across multiple industries that are energy intensive. The Chinese Communist Party and vested political interests may be unwilling to implement a tax that would squeeze the average Chinese household’s budget at a time when the Chinese economy is already slowing considerably.

In China, a slower economy means less legitimacy for the Communist Party. The idea that Chinese leaders would intentionally bind themselves to goals that could endanger internal stability seems farfetched. Chinese leaders have shown they are unwilling to compromise complete political control for the sake of any reform. They certainly would not start now for the sake of keeping the United States happy. The purpose of this agreement’s ambitions may lie not in the prospect of achieving the goals it sets, but in using the deal for political appearances and hoping for a residual effect.

Even Xi Jinping Needs Leverage

Given the general sense of malaise among Chinese bureaucrats when implementing environmental reforms, China’s president needs a significant amount of political force behind him. China has, for decades, run oil companies that are closely related to government politics and are even a part of the Communist Party’s bureaucracy. In order for Xi Jinping to push environmental reform and renewable energies, he will have to stick his nose right into the business of powerful Chinese politicians. To do this he will need international agreements, which he has much more control over than actual environmental policy initiatives, to leverage his party into putting more pressure on pro-oil industry executives.

Obama’s Motives In Using International Agreements

Obama now also has domestic incentives to achieve climate reform through international agreements rather than domestic legislation. Obama could have gone to Congress with programs designed to reduce carbon emissions. The EU, for example, has been reducing emissions unilaterally for decades. However, Obama has a unique opportunity, and little choice, given recent developments in domestic politics.

In November’s midterm elections, the Democratic Party lost control of the Senate and with it any agenda-setting power in Congress. This means that Congress is unlikely to soon take up any meaningful climate legislation of its own. Luckily the President has some tools, and among them is negotiating international agreements.

An article published in the Virginia Journal of International Law analyzes the President’s ability to use international agreements against a congressional majority. It suggests, “by providing the President with the exclusive power to negotiate the terms of the international agreement, the President has the power to determine which policy alternative will be matched against the status quo in a final vote.”

By drafting international treaties and announcing them to the media, the President is setting the Senate’s and the media’s agenda. The Senate will now need to have an up or down vote on the text of this emissions agreement with China, as Obama negotiated it. This means voting yes or no to specific policy initiatives on climate change, something Republicans were most likely trying to avoid. The media coverage this treaty has received also serves to set the public political agenda and focus public pressure around this issue, which might be helpful throughout the legislative process.

What Does This Mean For The Fate of This Agreement?

It seems likely that this agreement has been drafted and publicized less for the purpose of providing a meaningful path towards emissions reduction and more for leveraging international agreements for use in domestic politics. This treaty, should it be ratified, could be a very meaningful bit of symbolism and a useful tool in shifting political focus onto the issue of climate change. As for the specifics laid out in the agreement itself, I wouldn’t count on their timely realization.

Image by U.S. Embassy The Hague

FOREIGN FIGHTERS: SAN DIEGO RESIDENT KILLED FIGHTING FOR ISIS

By Emily Deng
Staff Writer

While the average person only sees the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the news from the comfort and protection of their own national boundaries, a surprising number of foreigners are becoming more involved in the crossfire. This includes former San Diego resident Douglas McAuthur McCain.

After a bloody battle between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and ISIS, the victorious FSA looted the bodies of downed ISIS fighters, unexpectedly finding $800 and an American passport in a fighter’s pocket. Identified by his distinguishable neck tattoo, White House officials confirmed the death of Douglas McAuthur McCain on August 26, 2014, a few days after the battle. McCain is the first American to die fighting for ISIS. The 33-year-old’s last place of residence was San Diego, California.

According to his Twitter feed, McCain converted to Islam ten years ago and adopted the name Duale Khalid. McCain’s tweets hinted at his increasing involvement with ISIS, which prompted surveillance from U.S. anti-terrorist investigators. On June 9, he wrote to an alleged ISIS member, “I will be joining you guys soon,” followed by a tweet the next day, “I’m with the brothers now.” A couple weeks later, he re-tweeted “It takes a warrior to understand a warrior. Pray for ISIS.” His twitter account @iamthetooth has since been taken down.

McCain’s criminal record, beginning in 2000, was spotted with nine arrests for minor offenses such as disorderly conduct and obstruction charges, but he first came to the attention of the federal government when he began associating with suspected jihadists in Minnesota. U.S. counterterrorism investigators began following McCain and believed he had joined a militant group before his death confirmed his involvement.

McCain was born in Chicago and moved to the suburbs in Minnesota where he was part of the 10 percent of African-American students at his high school. Many of his high school friends described him as a “joker” who loved basketball and PizzaHut.

He soon moved to San Diego, California where school officials confirm that he attended San Diego City College. He was an employee at the now-closed restaurant African Spice in City Heights and worshipped at Masjid Nur, the center of the black, Muslim community.

The State Department notified McCain’s family of his death the Monday following the battle. CNN interviews with McCain’s family expressed shock and confusion over McCain’s death. Their last correspondence was a week earlier through Facebook when McCain indicated he was in Turkey. His cousin Kenyata McCain claimed, “That’s not who he was. For him to be in Syria fighting for a terrorist group, that doesn’t make sense.”

In an interview with UT San Diego, an acquaintance from a shop near African Spice described McCain, “He wasn’t even very religious. He was just another American kid.” Mohamed Ali, who attended the same mosque with McCain in City Heights said, “This is just a big surprise to everybody.” Friends and family did not expect this and still do not understand how McCain got involved with ISIS.

While McCain’s family defends his upbringing as an “average American,” many Twitter responses and article comments express public outrage, calling McCain a traitor and “not a real American.” The aggressive response to McCain’s death demonstrates how many Americans continue to fear terrorist threats and are hypersensitive to individuals that deviate from their patriotic American ideal.

Amid public anger, the terrorist threat of ISIS has become a greater U.S. security concern with the beheading of American reporter James Foley. Obama has responded by expanding the air campaign against ISIS into Syria.

As an American who joined ISIS by choice rather than by captivity, McCain’s journey brings up the question – what is the significance of foreign fighters in ISIS? McCain’s death shows a shift in how ISIS and militant groups are utilizing foreign fighters. According to Richard Barrett of the security consultant Soufan Group, rather than train Americans for terrorist attacks in the United States or for propaganda purposes, ISIS now enlists them to fight in combat.

ISIS has become known for recruiting foreign fighters through social media. According to NBC News, authorities estimate 70 to 100 Americans fighting for ISIS. Americans from many backgrounds and ethnicities choose to join extremists groups abroad, making it difficult for officials to predict who is fighting for ISIS. Like McCain, most foreigners have no connection to Syria when they join; as examples, the New York Times lists half-Palestinian Moner Mohammad Abusalha from Florida who died in a suicide bomb attack and Nicole Lynn Mansfield who died with Syrian rebels.

As the first American to die fighting for ISIS, McCain’s story rippled through the country during the following week, but did not seem to make major headlines. His story was largely ignored and unknown.

However, McCain’s story shifts our understanding of ISIS as a far-away threat to one close to home in San Diego. We can no longer ignore the enormous influence of ISIS as a terrorist group solely in Syria, but as one of an increasingly international presence.

Beyond the week after his death, McCain’s story was lost in the black hole of internet news reporting, but I believe McCain provides evidence of the world’s rapid globalization and the influence of massive social movements across boundaries.

McCain’s death resonates with San Diegans and, to a larger extent, all Americans, as the news incites the fear that even an “average American” like McCain could join these far-away extremist groups. I am not recommending that we all live in fear that our neighbor will join the next extremist group, but the affairs of the greater international world should be no longer contained to what perceptions we see in the media. We have a responsibility to maintain a greater awareness of world affairs beyond our borders, as these issues are becoming increasingly globalized, transcending historical boundaries of race, religion and national identity.

Image by Kodak Agfa