Tag Archives: global politics

US Should Not Negotiate Free Trade Behind Closed Doors

global tradeMy Comments: Recently I was reminded that I appear to have strong opinions. This is usually accompanied by a rolling of the eyes, and to which I now hang my head, but without shame. On this topic, I’ve not had an opinion worth talking about until now. I hate it when people bitch and moan but can’t be bothered to offer an alternative which might be an improvement. (See GOP arguments against the Affordable Care Act)

Since I don’t have a visceral dislike of Barack Obama and voted for him twice, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt when he talks about the need for and benefits of the Trans Pacific Parnership or TPP. If he says it will be good for the US, I’m inclined to believe him.

But I’m also not inclined to ignore the push being made by the likes of Robert Reich, of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. I think of them as credible advocates for what is in our best interests going forward.

We do need trade deals to keep the US current with what is happening globally in the 21st century. And we need to make sure that they are focused first on what is best for you and I as citizens America and not just what is best for corporate America. Since the Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people, then it seems reasonable that we not be discriminated against just because our pockets are not as deep.

The TPP needs a new start with full transparency since, in my opinion, the idea is valid and NOT a total waste of time.

Mark Wu / May 26, 2015 / The Financial Times

Many Americans who think free trade can be good for them nevertheless doubt whether the same can be said for the international trade agreements that are actually being written, often in conditions of secrecy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement that the US is negotiating with 11 Pacific Rim countries, is a case in point. Beyond the few paragraphs on the White House website, most Americans have little idea what it contains. Even members of Congress have to go to a secure room in the basement to read the latest negotiating text.

The White House argues that a period of secrecy is necessary, to afford negotiators flexibility to cut deals. Once we have an agreement, officials say, there will be plenty of time for the public to debate its merits — and Congress can reject it. Yet sceptics are not convinced; last week Democratic lawmakers tried to prevent the Senate from so much as discussing a law that would give President Barack Obama broad authority to negotiate a deal.

It does not help that some Americans have greater insight into what is happening than others. The US trade representative consults with about 700 people while negotiations are in progress; most are from the private sector. This advisory system fuels fears that trade deals benefit corporate interests at the expense of ordinary Americans.

As a former trade negotiator, I know that so-called trade promotion authority and some degree of secrecy is vital for getting a deal done. But the current level of secrecy may be going too far. Instead of dismissing critics as misguided, the White House should strike a better balance between retaining flexibility for negotiators and keeping the public informed during the process.

Here are three proposals — developed with my colleague John Stubbs, a former senior adviser to the USTR — that would help restore this balance.

First, the administration should provide better accounts of US negotiating objectives. The EU does this already, publishing a two-page summary of its aims for each chapter of a trade deal, and sometimes releases its own negotiation proposals. By contrast, the USTR publishes only a terse paragraph for each chapter. It should be more forthcoming.

Second, the government should release information about proposals under consideration, provided our negotiating counterparts agree. It should solicit public comments on contentious proposals (there is no need to say which government put forward which proposal). This provides a mechanism to seek input from the broader public, rather than just select advisory group officials.

Finally, government reports of the economic benefits and losses associated with trade deals depend heavily on economic models. While the final reports of government economists are made public, the data and assumptions underlying these models often are not. Why not make that information available as well? Outside experts can re-run the model to show how the economic effects change under different conditions.

None of these proposals would hamper the ability of trade negotiators to do their jobs. Yet all three can help erase worries that the government is hiding something, and restore trust that deals are being negotiated in the broader public interest.

Outdated trade rules need to be revised. But America’s process for formulating trade policy is outdated, too. Citizens should be able to make informed decisions over whether a deal allows Americans to share broadly in the gains from trade. Supporters of trade deals need to realise that they too need to support greater transparency, if they are to rebuild a broader coalition in favour of trade.

America Could Have Been One Giant Sweden — Instead It Looks a Lot Like the Soviet Union

My Comments: This is a long, uncomfortable article that predicts how the world might evolve economically and politically over the next several decades.

My generation will have passed on soon, but regardless of your political stripes today, it will be different. If you want to take back America, or at least preserve what we have, you had better get in touch with your socialist side. Either that, or kiss your basic freedoms goodbye. Life simply does not stand still; never has and never will.

By John Feffer / May 26, 2015

Imagine an alternative universe in which the two major Cold War superpowers evolved into the United Soviet Socialist States. The conjoined entity, linked perhaps by a new Bering Straits land bridge, combines the optimal features of capitalism and collectivism. From Siberia to Sioux City, we’d all be living in one giant Sweden. It sounds like either the paranoid nightmare of a John Bircher or the wildly optimistic dream of Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, however, this was a rather conventional view, at least among influential thinkers like economist John Kenneth Galbraith who predicted that the United States and the Soviet Union would converge at some point in the future with the market tempered by planning and planning invigorated by the market. Like many an academic notion, it didn’t come to pass. The United States veered off in the direction of Reaganomics. And the Soviet Union eventually collapsed. So much for “convergence theory,” which like EST or cold fusion went the way of most crackpot ideas.

Or did it? Take another look at our world in 2015 and tell me if, somehow we haven’t backed our way through the looking glass into that very alternative universe — with a twist. The planet currently seems to be on the cusp of a decidedly unharmonic convergence.

Consider what’s happening in Russia, where an elected autocrat presides over a free market shaped by a powerful state apparatus. Similarly, China’s mash-up of market Leninism offers a one-from-column-A-and-one-from-Column-B combination platter. Both countries are also rife with crime, corruption, growing inequality, and militarism. Think of them as the un-Swedens.

Nor do such hybrids live only in the East. Hungary, a member of the European Union and a key post-Communist adherent to liberalism, has been heading off in an altogether different direction since its ruling Fidesz party took over in 2010. Last July, its prime minister, Viktor Orban, declared that he no longer looks to the West for guidance.

To survive in an ever more competitive global economy, Orban is seeking inspiration from various hybrid powers, the other un-Swedens of our planet: Turkey, Singapore, and both Russia and China. Touting the renationalization of former state assets and stricter controls on foreign investment, he has promised to remake Hungary into an “illiberal state” that both challenges laissez-faire principles and concentrates power in the leader and his party.

The United States is not exactly immune from such trends. The state has also become quite illiberal here as its reach and power have been expanded in striking ways. As it happens, however, America’s Gosplan, our state planning committee, comes with a different name: the military-industrial-homeland-security complex. Washington presides over a planet-spanning surveillance system that would have been the envy of the Communist apparatchiks of the previous century, even as it has imposed a global economic template on other countries that enables enormous corporate entities to elbow aside local competition. If the American tradition of liberalism and democracy was once all about “the little guy” — the rights of the individual, the success of small business — the United States has gone big in the worst possible way.
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What It Means to Be a Liberal

CharityMy Comments: I no longer make any apologies for being liberal. It does not mean I cannot embrace positions held by conservatives, but on balance, I see myself as being a liberal.

As much as anything, I identify this way as I refuse to live in the past. As I age, I have a longer past and while much of it was fantastic, it’s gone. I can only live in the present, and with diminished energy and time, want to spend it building a better future for my family and my community.

I’m convinced that attempting to replicate the “good” things in the past serves mostly to prove the idea that “bad” things come in 3’s. Yes, learn from the past, but for me, liberal means focusing time and energy on developing the conditions around us that will likely benefit ALL OF US. Sure, there will be mistakes. But in my capacity as a financial planner, I often use the phrase “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” Life is incredibly interesting, and if I have a regret, it will be that I won’t be here fifty years from now to see how it all plays out.

Aug 24, 2014 / By Clive Crook

You might wonder if there’s any point in even trying to define liberalism. Efforts to do so seem bound to fail. From the start, its meaning has been elusive and in flux. Today, no right-thinking person is against “liberal democracy,” and we mostly take “liberal capitalism” for granted — yet conservative Americans use “liberal” as a term of abuse and many left-leaning Americans would rather be called “progressives.”

It’s tempting to say that “liberalism” no longer means anything. This would be wrong. According to Edmund Fawcett’s new book, “Liberalism: The Life of an Idea.” Fawcett, a former colleague at the Economist, examines liberalism through time not as a fixed coherent ideology but as “a practice guided by four loose ideas”: acceptance of conflict, resistance to power, belief in progress and civic respect. This is a novel approach, and it turns out to be very rewarding. Fawcett has written a marvelous book.

He steers the reader through a fascinating historical survey of liberalism’s leading practitioners — meaning the thinkers and politicians who were guided, to a greater or lesser degree, by the four ideas. He ranges far beyond the usual cast of British and American principals. Indeed, his erudition would be daunting if he didn’t write with such verve. “Liberalism” isn’t an easy read, but it’s a pleasure.

Fawcett’s organizing bundle of four beliefs or attitudes is surprising at first sight because of what it seems to leave out. What about liberty? That’s where most accounts of liberalism start, and where a lot of them finish.

Fawcett explains why liberty doesn’t get you far in explicating liberalism: “Just about every modern rival to liberalism has claimed to stand somehow on the side of liberty.” (The Nazi Party’s charter program of 1920, he notes, called for “Germany’s rebirth in the German spirit of German Liberty.”) It doesn’t help that liberals can’t agree on what “liberty” is: Would that be negative liberty (“freedom from”), positive liberty (“freedom to”) or something else? The notion that liberty is the foundational goal from which liberals derive all the rest doesn’t wash, either. (For many liberals, equality counts at least as much.)

What, then, do liberals want when they say they want liberty? One thing is resistance to power, the second of Fawcett’s guiding ideas: not just political power, but economic and social power as well. Liberalism expects that power tends toward tyranny unless checked. Another thing liberals want when they say they want liberty is respect for people in their own right — also one of Fawcett’s guiding ideas. “Once embraced democratically, respect for people as such forbade power from excluding anyone from the circle of liberal protection.” He calls this “the democratic seed in an otherwise undemocratic creed.”

The practice of liberalism was also guided by the idea that social harmony was impossible. Goals were bound to conflict, but this disharmony could be channeled into competition, argument and exchange, which would make it a strength, not a weakness. Finally, liberal optimism and the liberal reading of history inclined practitioners to the view that change was both inevitable and, on the whole, for the better.

The four ideas are complementary in some respects and in contention in others. Liberals have always argued, and probably always will, about the weight that each idea should be given in relation to the rest, but it’s been a strength of the practice of liberalism that no one idea has been permanently granted preeminence. Of course, one of the guiding ideas — that intellectual conflict is inevitable — predicts that very outcome. Liberals exemplify it by arguing with each other, as well as with nonliberals and anti-liberals.

Fawcett’s four guiding ideas lend what could have been a sprawl of biographical sketches and wide-ranging intellectual history a satisfying and intelligible shape. What’s better, the more you think about them, the more sense they make.

In particular, they help you to see what liberalism isn’t. As Fawcett says, “The twentieth century was generous to liberalism with two defining Others, fascism and communism.”

Conflict over goals? Both insisted on a false unity. Resistance to power? Fascism exalted the power of nation and race, communism the power of the proletariat. Belief in progress? Sure, but they defined it in terms that excluded outsiders. Civic respect? If you opposed the program, you were worthless. Communism “was an extremism of hope, fascism an extremism of hate. They were nevertheless alike enough on those four counts to provide liberalism with a captivating image of itself in negative.”

Sadly, however, it isn’t true to say, “We’re all liberals now.” There is no lack of rival systems: state capitalism, militant Islam, elected autocracy, outright dictatorship. All of those, in different ways, reject one or more of the guiding ideas of liberalism. And anti-liberal strains of thinking are all too apparent in the U.S. and other liberal societies. Nonetheless, there is such a thing as liberal society, and liberalism really is a big enough tent to accommodate progressive liberals as well as Tea Party liberals.

Family quarrels can be bitter — but they’re still family quarrels.

Iraq’s Least Worst Options

asstooheavyMy Comments: If I had to personally make definitive decisons about the US role in the middle east, I have absolutely no idea what would be in our best interest. That’s why they don’t pay ME the big bucks.

But history has made us the world’s only policeman. Since I have no idea about what I’ll have for lunch tomorrow, knowing how any definitive decision will play out is also an unknown. You might have a clue, but you do not “KNOW”.

I’m willing to accept that Bush and/or Cheney had “honest” reasons for taking us into Iraq. If the reasons WERE “honest”, however, then their judgement as leaders is seriously in question. There was either bad judgment or their reasons were “dishonest”.

Today, the self styled Islamic caliphate called ISIS needs to be destoyed to the extent possible. But short of killing hundreds of thousands of people, military action is not going to do much good. The ones we don’t kill will be permanently pissed off, further jeopardizing our men and women and our future treasury. Money can be replaced, but not lives.

So I worry about it. But I don’t want to condemn or praise those seeking higher office today because they might have voted differently. What’s done is done. I’d much rather worry about what is in our best interest as a nation going forward.

The other evening I witnessed a fascinating dialog between Barney Frank and Chris Hayes. The conclusion I heard was an agreement that from time to time, intervention IS in our best interest and should be made. On the other hand, in hindsight, invading Iraq was a mistake.

Virtually all the “candidates” in the GOP fail to answer the basic questions posed to them about what we did in Iraq. Their confused answers means they are simply not ready for prime time. They had to have rehearsed their possible answers and yet still came across like deer caught in the headlights. Surely we can do better than that.

“If we want to defeat ISIS, we are going to have to accept some outcomes we don’t like.”   By Fred Kaplan / May 19 2015

The fall of Ramadi, the strategic center of Iraq’s Anbar province, doesn’t necessarily signal the triumph of ISIS, but it does mean that President Obama and various regional leaders can no longer dodge some uncomfortable choices.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s decision to let 3,000 Shiite militia men amass outside Ramadi to prevent ISIS from moving further eastward toward Baghdad (and even possibly charging into the conquered city to battle the jihadists head-on) is the clearest sign yet that there is no longer a viable Iraqi army. Its ranks have been whittled away by corruption, incompetence, sparse pay, and lack of allegiance to the Baghdad government.

Obama and his top generals have warned Abadi not to rely so heavily on Shiite militias, which are controlled by Iran. In the battle for Tikrit in March—in which ISIS forces were ousted by a coalition of Iraqi soldiers, Sunni militias, Shiite militias, Kurdish peshmerga, and U.S. bombing runs—American commanders threatened to withhold their air power unless the offensive was led by Iraqi soldiers and no Iranians were on the battlefield. The players complied (though they still quarrel over which faction was responsible for the victory).

But in Ramadi, where Iraqi troops and Sunni militias swiftly folded under fire, the pretense won’t hold. Shiite militias, mainly the Badr forces, will lead the way by default, and Obama will have to decide whether to hold back, out of some principle, or hold his nose and send in the smart bombs.

Before deciding what to do about Ramadi, Obama—or any other leader with a stake in the fight—first has to decide what outcome he prefers. Since all plausible outcomes are lousy, this means deciding which outcome sickens him the least.

Obama and the leaders of every nation in the region want to see ISIS crushed or contained. But they’ve gone about it half-heartedly because they dread the side effects of doing it with gusto. ISIS is as strong as it is, only because its leaders know and exploit its foes’ dilemmas.

For instance, one potent way of fighting ISIS would be to energize and unify the armies of Iran, Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds. These are the forces that fear ISIS the most and could fight it most effectively. But there are serious obstacles to forming this alliance. The United States and the Sunnis in the region (including Turkey, the Kurds, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf States) do not want to help Iran expand its influence. Nor do they want to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria; in fact, they want to see Assad toppled (preferably by the U.S. military, so they don’t have to bother). Meanwhile, the Turks don’t want to let the Kurds swell with too much swagger.

Finally, ISIS itself is a Sunni organization; it has thrived, especially in Iraq, by co-opting local Sunni tribes, whose leaders fear domination by Shiites (including Iraq’s Shiite-led government) even more. To beat ISIS requires neutralizing its sectarian appeal, and that means driving a wedge between the ISIS jihadists and their less militant Sunni enablers. But a coalition that includes Iran or Syria might push Sunnis more firmly into ISIS’s corner—and might keep such Sunni-led nations as Turkey, the Gulf States, and Saudi Arabia from joining the alliance to begin with.

Analysts have noted that mobilizing Shiite militias to fight ISIS in Ramadi would intensify sectarian tensions. This is true, but every option that involves fighting ISIS would intensify sectarian tensions. The real question is which options stand a chance of hurting ISIS the most while sharpening sectarian tensions the least. Or, from the standpoint of the United States and the anti-ISIS leaders in the region: Which options might hurt ISIS the most while raising the specter of side effects—the expansion of Iranian influence, the swelling of Kurdish separatism, the bolstering of Assad’s regime—the least?

A more basic question: How would these leaders rank the range of outcomes, including “ISIS wins,” “Iran controls southern Iraq,” “Assad survives,” “Assad is overthrown” (but by whom?), and the rest? Which outcomes are intolerable, which are merely disgraceful, and could the leaders live with some of the latter in order to preclude the former?

“Assad survives” is probably the biggest nonstarter, not least because he may be on the verge of falling. One word from President Vladimir Putin or Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Assad would be gone. The challenge is to give Putin or Khamenei an incentive to pull the plug. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent meeting with Putin in Sochi was held, in part, to explore possible terms of such an arrangement. The handshake must have been unpleasant, maybe even disgraceful, but if it leads to the ouster of Assad, which in turn would prod the Turks and Saudis to crack down harder on ISIS, it would have been worth the nausea.

The Middle East is a mess—the product, in part, of the post–Cold War disintegration of borders that were imposed by colonial powers nearly 100 years ago in the wake of World War I. The rise of ISIS, its ability to thrive even though it’s surrounded by powerful nations that dread its aspirations, is a symptom of this mess.

Those who believe that Obama caused these troubles, or that they can be solved by a few thousand American ground troops, are so naive and shallow that we can only hope that none of them wins the White House or advises the candidate who does. For one thing, “a few thousand ground troops,” in fact, means many more: They would need air support (including transport planes and helicopters), bases, supply convoys, and a headquarters, plus additional troops to protect the troops, bases, convoys, and headquarters.

For another, what are these troops supposed to do? And which would have the larger effect—the additional firepower that they could bring to bear against ISIS or the additional recruits that ISIS could rally to kill Americans in the name of jihad?

Logistics, intelligence, airstrikes to help local anti-ISIS forces on the ground—this is what the United States can best offer. Officers and analysts on the ground say that airstrikes terrify many ISIS fighters, who tend to attack in swarms, which provide concentrated targets for a bomb. These sources confirm a report in the New York Times that ISIS launched its crucial attack on Ramadi during a major sandstorm, when pilots (of airplanes or drones) could not have seen its movements on the ground below.

But even in clear weather, airstrikes alone aren’t sufficient. ISIS mingles with the locals (in some cases, they are the locals), making it hard for pilots to distinguish friends (or neutral innocents) from foes. Ground assaults are needed, too—by other locals, who are more likely to speak the language, understand the situation, and wrest away the allegiance of those in the ISIS’s grip or sway.

ISIS isn’t that mighty. It apparently took control of Ramadi with 400 fighters. The surrounding nations could easily rid the region of this gnatlike pestilence if they overrode their short-term fears with their long-term interests. This is easier said than done, of course. But there is no other solution.

A Bumper Sticker World

My Comments: A conversation last week with an attorney friend again revealed a world which is far more complicated today than seemed possible just a few short years ago. An expert in family law, he said tens of thousands of new laws have entered the books across these United States in the last three decades. It’s impossible to know the rules we are subjected to as we travel from one state to another. What is OK in Florida may not be OK in Tennessee.

So I understand the frustration of many who argue in favor of a simpler time. Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen. My solution is to stop worrying about what might have been and instead focus on what might be. That demands some creative thinking and a semblance of recognition about what today really looks like, who the stakeholders are and what steps to take to improve the chances my grandchildren have going forward.

For me, the first step is a willingness to step outside my comfort zone. How far are you willing to step?

Philip Stephens April 23, 2015

It is easier to say that Obama never gets it right than to come up with an alternative strategy.

On one thing everyone lining up for next year’s US presidential race can agree. Barack Obama has led from behind on the global stage. The president has been shy about deploying US might, accommodating of adversaries and reticent about standing up for allies. His successor in the White House, we are to believe, will restore America’s global prestige by standing up to China, facing down Russia and sorting out the Middle East.

An old friend in Washington, a foreign policy veteran of the Reagan administration, calls this a “bumper sticker” view of the world. He is right.

The chatter in an already crowded Republican field is that 2016 will be a “foreign policy election”. Republicans fear that a buoyant economy will narrow the range of domestic targets. National security offers obvious opportunities. The march across Syria and Iraq of the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has revived fears of new attacks on the US. Mr. Obama’s proposed deal with Iran falls short of the scrapping of Tehran’s nuclear program. Russia’s Vladimir Putin is menacing America’s European allies.

The 2016 hopefuls are as hawkish as they are inexperienced in foreign affairs. Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and the rest all promise to be tough-guy presidents. Even Rand Paul, who once flirted with isolationism, has hardened up the rhetoric. Mr. Bush blames Mr. Obama’s hesitations for the rise of Isis. Mr. Rubio, who marches under the old neoconservative standard of “a new American Century”, would slam the door again on Cuba. They are all against the nuclear deal with Iran.

Republican hawks are not alone. Hillary Clinton served as Mr. Obama’s secretary of state. Now she is running for the office he denied her in 2008. Admirers say she too would be more robust. Had she not argued for arming moderate Syrian rebels and for a reset of the reset with Moscow when Mr. Putin started throwing his weight around? Were she to set a “red line” there would be real consequences for those who crossed it. Mrs. Clinton, of course, is under attack from Republicans for the deaths of US diplomats in Benghazi. All the more reason to show her mettle.

Some of the criticisms of Mr. Obama’s approach to global affairs have a point. Most of them miss a bigger one.

In one respect, to say that the president has often been reluctant to throw America’s weight around is simply to describe the circumstance of his election in 2008. He inherited two wars — in Iraq and Afghanistan — and the US was losing both of them. George W Bush had tested to destruction the notion that American military power could remake the Middle East. Mr. Obama’s task was to get the troops home.

The charge against the president that half-sticks is that the imperative to end these military entanglements has encouraged him to be overcautious elsewhere. Officials who have served in the administration say he is slow to weigh the costs of inaction. Power is about perception as well as economic strength and military hardware. It is one thing to draw a tighter definition of America’s national interests; another to forget that if the US steps back in one part of the world, allies and enemies elsewhere draw their own conclusions.

The impact of Mr. Obama’s decision to allow Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to cross a red line was felt as much in east Asia as in the Middle East. China’s new assertiveness in the East and South China seas has been grounded in a calculation that the White House wants to avoid confrontation.

It is easier to say that Mr. Obama has never got it right than to come up with a strategy to tilt the balance back in the other direction. Risk-taking is not just about military force. The diplomacy with Iran has been bold. Save in the dreams of diehard neoconservatives, the US lacks the resources and political will for “generational projects” to transform the Middle East.

The Republican contenders do not want to admit that, relatively speaking, the US is weaker. You do not have to be a US declinist to observe the rising economic and military weight of China, India and others. Nor, with the end of the cold war, can foreign policy be framed as a simple fight between good and evil. Not so long ago, Republicans were talking about Islamic State as the big threat. Now the danger comes from Iran. And yet Tehran is a fierce enemy of the jihadis.

The neat lines drawn by the contest with communism have disappeared. The new international disorder is being defined at once by the return of great power rivalry — think of China and Russia — and, paradoxically, by the collapse of the post-imperial state system in the Middle East. The US remains the most powerful nation but, on its own, it is insufficient.

The case for Mr. Obama is that in seeking to deploy economic and diplomatic power, and to leverage US influence through multinational coalitions, he has recognized the complexities of this new landscape. The case against is that he has sometimes gone too far in drawing the limits of US power.

What has been missing is an overarching framework — a set of principles clear and practical enough to deter adversaries and to reassure allies. A grand strategy, in other words, that balances ambition and realism. Republicans used to have a reputation for such thinking. Now they prefer bumper stickers.

Remember Eric Snowdon?

My Comments: The more things stay the same, the more they change. Or at least I think that’s how the saying goes. I’ve had mixed feelings about Eric Snowdon from the beginning, wondering if what he did was not in our best interest as Americans who relish our freedoms. Our knee jerk reaction was to simply throw his ass in jail, assuming he could be caught.

A recent court ruling may not cause him to be exonerated, but will certainly put a different light on his having leaked classified documents to the world for publication.

May 12, 2015 by Elias Isquith

A few weeks ago, HBO broadcast a roundly celebrated interview between comedian John Oliver and Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor who became a controversial and world-famous figure after leaking an unknown number of secret U.S. government documents to the press. The interview was funny and wide-ranging, but the overall gist of Oliver’s questions cum critiques was that the Snowden revelations may be historical but have failed to trickle down to the general public. Oliver’s question to Snowden was, rather ironically, whether he was sure anyone was even listening.

Snowden held his own in the Q&A, but now that the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit has delivered a watershed ruling finding a key part of the Patriot Act not only unconstitutional but also illegal, one wonders if Snowden doesn’t wish the interview had been conducted just a few weeks later. Because while John Q. Public may still not have much of an idea of what “bulk collection” or “metadata” means, it’s clear that people in power — both in Congress and on the bench — are paying attention, and many of them have found Snowden’s revelations just as disturbing as he.

Recently, Salon spoke about the ruling over the phone with American University Washington College of Law Professor Stephen Vladeck, an expert on the law who focuses on issues involving national security, counterterrorism, the separation of powers and spying. In addition to discussing how the ruling affects Snowden’s legacy, our conversation also touched on the 2nd Circuit’s findings, the NSA reform movement and the likely near-future of the debate over privacy and mass surveillance. Our chat is below and has been edited for clarity and length.

How important is this ruling, really?

I think it’s important in a couple of different respects. I think one of the biggest reasons why it’s important is because up until this point, the phone records program had been repeatedly approved by the super-secret, one-sided Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). Now for the first time, adversarial litigation has prompted the courts to consider very carefully whether Congress really did mean back in 2001 to authorize such a sweeping collection of phone records; and the court unanimously says no. That’s a very big statement, and it’s very important. What happens going forward I think now depends on what Congress does in response.

Why is it that Congress is in the mix here? Why aren’t we going straight to the Supreme Court as the next step?
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The Left Is So Wrong On Trade

flag USMy Comments: When I first heard about the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and understood the broad outlines of the idea, I had no problem with it. Then along came Robert Reich, someone whose intellect I respect, saying it was terrible and should be scuttled. So I started looking a little closer, mindful I didn’t have access to the actual language.

The issue has now given the GOP another imaginary arrow to put down the White House. To my mind, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are a breath of fresh air, but are pandering to their base just like Ted Cruz is pandering to his base. I’ve concluded, as an economist and financial professional, that it will be, on balance, a good thing. Does it have flaws? Most certainly. Should they be fixed? Maybe.

The 21st Century is evolving rapidly, and there will be unintended consequences, but to argue that not advancing the TPP will somehow miraculously result in jobs returning the US is nuts. Maybe some CEOs will make hundreds of millions; so what? My professional gut tells me the left has overlooked the benefits and the real chance to boost economic growth in this country, in a way that has to happen. They are just as fixated on their personal bias as are those on the right.

May 14, 2015 / Froma Harrop

The left’s success in denying President Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership is ugly to behold. The case put forth by a showboating Sen. Elizabeth Warren — that Obama cannot be trusted to make a deal in the interests of American workers — is almost worse than wrong. It is irrelevant.

The Senate Democrats who turned on Obama are playing a 78 rpm record in the age of digital downloads.

Did you hear their ally, AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, the day after the Senate vote? He denounced TPP for being “patterned after CAFTA and NAFTA.” That’s not so, but never mind.

There’s this skip on the vinyl record that the North American Free Trade Agreement destroyed American manufacturing. To see how wrong that is, simply walk through any Walmart or Target and look for all those “made in Mexico” labels. You won’t find many. But you’ll see “made in China” everywhere.

Many of the jobs that did go to Mexico would have otherwise left for low-wage Asian countries. Even Mexico lost manufacturing work to China.

And what can you say about the close-to-insane obsession with CAFTA? The partners in the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement — five mostly impoverished Central American countries plus the Dominican Republic — had a combined economy equal to that of New Haven, Connecticut.

(By the way, less than 10 percent of the AFL-CIO’s membership is now in manufacturing.)

It’s undeniable that American manufacturing workers have suffered terrible job losses. We could never compete with pennies-an-hour wages. Those low-skilled jobs are not coming back. But we have other things to sell in the global marketplace.

In Washington state, for example, exports of everything from apples to airplanes have soared 40 percent over four years, to total nearly $91 billion in 2014, according to The Seattle Times. About 2 in 5 jobs there are now tied to trade.

Small wonder that Sen. Ron Wyden, a liberal Democrat from neighboring Oregon, has strongly supported fast-track authority.

Some liberals oddly complain that American efforts to strengthen intellectual property laws in trade deals protect the profits of U.S. entertainment and tech companies. What’s wrong with that? Should the fruits of America’s creativity (that’s labor, too) be open to plundering and piracy?

One of TPP’s main goals is to help the higher-wage partners compete with China. (The 12 countries taking part include the likes of Japan, Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and New Zealand.) In any case, Congress would get to vote the finished product up or down, so it isn’t as if the public wouldn’t get a say.

But then we have Warren stating with a straight face that handing negotiating authority to Obama would “give Republicans the very tool they need to dismantle Dodd-Frank.”

Huh? Obama swatted down the remark as wild, hypothetical speculation, noting he engaged in a “massive” fight with Wall Street to get the reforms passed. “And then I sign a provision that would unravel it?” he told political writer Matt Bai.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Warren insisted. Yes, in a twisted way, the hard left’s fixation over big corporations has joined the right’s determination to undermine Obama at every pass.

Trade agreements have a thousand moving parts. The U.S. can’t negotiate with the other countries if various domestic interests are pouncing on the details. That’s why every president has been given fast-track authority over the past 80 years or so.

Except Obama.

It sure is hard to be an intelligent leader in this country.