Monday, January 23, 2017

Trump Abandons Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama’s Signature Trade Deal

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President Trump signing memoranda in the Oval Office on Monday. He sharply criticized the Trans-Pacific Partnership during last year’s campaign, calling it a bad deal for American workers.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Trump formally abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Monday, pulling away from Asia and scrapping his predecessor’s most significant trade deal on his first full weekday in office, administration officials said.
Mr. Trump sharply criticized the partnership agreement during last year’s campaign, calling it a bad deal for American workers. Although the deal had not been approved by Congress, the decision to withdraw the American signature at the start of Mr. Trump’s administration is a signal that he plans to follow through on promises to take a more aggressive stance against foreign competitors.
In other action on a busy opening day, Mr. Trump ordered a hiring freeze in the federal work force, exempting the military. And he reinstituted limits on nongovernmental organizations that operate overseas and receive American taxpayer money from performing abortions. Republican presidents typically impose those restrictions soon after taking office, and Democratic presidents typically lift them when they take over.
The president’s withdrawal from the Asian-Pacific trade pact amounted to a drastic reversal of decades of economic policy in which presidents of both parties have lowered trade barriers and expanded ties around the world. Although candidates have often criticized trade deals on the campaign trail, those who made it to the White House, including President Barack Obama, ended up extending their reach.

What Is T.P.P.? Behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal That Died

The enormous trade deal became a flashpoint in American politics this year, inflaming a debate over international commerce and lost jobs. The election of Donald J.Trump as president has essentially killed it.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Mr. Trump said as he signed a document formalizing his decision. The withdrawal from the trade pact, he added, is a “great thing for the American worker.”
Aides signaled that Mr. Trump may also move quickly on renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. He is scheduling meetings with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, the two main partners in that pact, first negotiated by the elder President George Bush and pushed through Congress by President Bill Clinton. Nafta has been a major driver of American trade for nearly two decades, but it has long been divisive, with critics blaming it for lost jobs and lower wages.
Mr. Trump outlined his views in his Inaugural Address on Friday, when he promised an “America First” approach to the world. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” he said. “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”
He said that his policy would be to “buy American and hire American.”
The Obama administration arduously negotiated the Pacific trade pact over eight years. Under legislation passed by Congress, the accord could not be amended once completed, nor could it be joined without congressional approval. Mr. Obama never submitted the partnership for approval, understanding that a defeat in Congress would be worse than leaving the deal in hibernation.
In discarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or T.P.P., Mr. Trump tacked away from his Republican allies in Congress who have long supported such trade agreements. Speaker Paul D. Ryan worked closely with Mr. Obama to pass legislation granting the president so-called fast-track authority to negotiate the trade agreement over the objections of many Democrats. But amid opposition, Congress never approved the deal itself.
The agreement brought together the United States and 11 other nations along the Pacific Rim, including Canada, Mexico, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Australia, creating a free-trade zone for about 40 percent of the world’s economy. It was intended to lower tariffs while setting rules for resolving trade disputes, setting patents and protecting intellectual property.
Mr. Obama and his Republican allies argued that the pact would open growing foreign markets to American businesses. But Democrats, ultimately including Hillary Clinton, even though she had helped push negotiations forward as secretary of state, said it would benefit wealthy corporations at the expense of workers and the environment.
Mr. Trump sided with them, and he beat Mrs. Clinton in crucial Midwestern industrial states like Michigan and Wisconsin that had traditionally gone Democratic but have been hurt by changes in manufacturing over recent decades.
The president’s action on the deal came the same day he met with business leaders in the morning and was set to speak with union leaders in the afternoon. He will also meet with congressional leaders of both parties and hold a separate meeting with Mr. Ryan.

Things Can Only Get Worse - The New York Times

Things Can Only Get Worse - The New York Times:



 "If America had a parliamentary system, Donald Trump — who spent his first full day in office having a temper tantrum, railing against accurate reports of small crowds at his inauguration — would already be facing a vote of no confidence. But we don’t; somehow we’re going to have to survive four years of this."



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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Reading the Classic Novel That Predicted Trump

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“It Can’t Happen Here”: Poster for a 1936 adaptation.CreditUniversal History Archive/UIG, via Getty Images
The anxiety began well before the Cleveland convention, where the candidate of the “Forgotten Men,” the one who declared Americans “the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth,” seemed likely to clinch his party’s presidential nomination. Doremus Jessup, the protagonist of Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” sees something dark and terrible brewing in American politics — the potential for “a real fascist dictatorship” led by the up-and-coming populist candidate Berzelius Windrip. Friends scoff at this extravagant concern. “That couldn’t happen here in America, not possibly!” they assure him. But Jessup, a small-town Vermont newspaper editor and a “mild, rather indolent and somewhat sentimental liberal,” worries about the devastation ahead. “What can I do?” he agonizes night after night. “Oh — write another editorial viewing-with-alarm, I suppose!”
When Election Day comes to pass, Jessup learns that his editorials have not done the trick. The reality of the new situation feels unspeakably awful, “like the long-dreaded passing of a friend.” Jessup faces the presidential inauguration in a state of high distress, convinced that the nation is careering toward its doom, but that nobody — least of all his fellow liberals — can do much to stop it.
“It Can’t Happen Here” is a work of dystopian fantasy, one man’s effort in the 1930s to imagine what it might look like if fascism came to America. At the time, the obvious specter was Adolf Hitler, whose rise to power in Germany provoked fears that men like the Louisiana senator Huey Long or the radio priest Charles Coughlin might accomplish a similar feat in the United States. Today, Lewis’s novel is making a comeback as an analogy for the Age of Trump. Within a week of the 2016 election, the book was reportedly sold out on Amazon.com.
At a moment when instability seems to be the only constant in American politics, “It Can’t Happen Here” offers an alluring (if terrifying) certainty: It can happen here, and what comes next will be even ghastlier than you expect. Yet the graphic horrors of Lewis’s vision also limit the book’s usefulness as a guide to our own political moment. In 1935, Lewis was trying to prevent the unthinkable: the election of a pseudo-fascist candidate to the presidency of the United States. Today’s readers, by contrast, are playing catch-up, scrambling to think through the implications of an electoral fait accompli. If Lewis’s postelection vision is what awaits us, there will be little cause for hope, or even civic engagement, in the months ahead. The only viable options will be to get out of the country — or to join an armed underground resistance.
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Lewis’s second wife, the journalist Dorothy Thompson, provided much of the inspiration for “It Can’t Happen Here.” In 1931, she interviewed Hitler, scoffing at his “startling insignificance” when encountered face-to-face. Back in the United States, Thompson interviewed Huey Long, who had vowed to challenge Franklin Roosevelt for the presidency in 1936. She noted that Long’s populist message and swaggering style reminded her of Hitler, and according to Lewis’s biographer, Richard Lingeman, Lewis took the message to heart. A recent Nobel Prize winner, known for his superhuman productivity, Lewis churned out the entire manuscript of “It Can’t Happen Here” between May and August of 1935. The novel arrived in bookstores that October.
By that point, some of the immediate threat had passed. (On Sept. 8, 1935, Long was assassinated at the Louisiana State Capitol, one of the great political traumas of the 1930s.) Lewis’s book nonetheless sold 320,000 copies, becoming his most popular work to date. Reviewers agreed that the book’s success had little to do with its literary merits; though “a vigorous anti-fascist tract,” one critic noted, it was “not much of a novel.” What propelled its popularity was a sense of urgency, the worry that the United States — like the nations of Western Europe — might contain dark forces yet to be unleashed.
A slightly different sense of urgency seems to be fueling the book’s latest surge in popularity. We have already experienced some of what Lewis describes in the first third of the book: a blustery populist candidate rising, against all odds, to the presidency of the United States. Now the great question is whether or not we are moving into Lewis’s terrifying future.
The novel’s Everyman candidate, Berzelius (Buzz) Windrip, is hardly a perfect stand-in for Trump. A creature of the Great Depression and a Democrat, Windrip sweeps into office as a quasi-socialist, promising $3,000 to $5,000 for every “real American family.” His movement style evokes the hyper-militarization of Nazi Germany rather than the anonymous jabs of the Twitter mob.
Still, there are enough points of resonance to cause palpitations in the heart of any anxious 21st-century liberal. Like Trump, Windrip sells himself as the champion of “Forgotten Men,” determined to bring dignity and prosperity back to America’s white working class. Windrip loves big, passionate rallies and rails against the “lies” of the mainstream press. His supporters embrace this message, lashing out against the “highbrow intellectuality” of editors and professors and policy elites. With Windrip’s encouragement, they also take out their frustrations on blacks and Jews.
The architect of Windrip’s campaign is a savvy newsman named Lee Sarason, the novel’s closest approximation of Steve Bannon. It is Sarason, not Windrip, who actually writes “Zero Hour,” the candidate’s popular jeremiad on national decline. Sarason believes in propaganda, not information, openly arguing that “it is not fair to ordinary folks — it just confuses them — to try to make them swallow all the true facts that would be suitable to a higher class of people.”
This is where the novel comes to rest by Inauguration Day: Through a combination of deception and charisma, the feared Windrip ascends to the presidency while the nation’s liberals tremble. It is only after the inauguration, though, that “It Can’t Happen Here” takes a truly dark turn. Upon moving into the White House, Windrip immediately declares Congress an “advisory” body, stripped of all real power. When members of Congress resist, he locks them up without the slightest semblance of due process, the beginning of the end for American democracy.
The rest of the book describes one long, disorienting nightmare, a national descent into labor camps and torture chambers and martial law. The novel gains its energy from Jessup’s internal struggle, his regret at having done so little to stop it all while he still could. “The tyranny of this dictatorship isn’t primarily the fault of Big Business, nor of the demagogues who do their dirty work,” he realizes. “It’s the fault of Doremus Jessup! Of all the conscientious, respectable, lazy-minded Doremus Jessups, who have let the demagogues wriggle in, without fierce enough protest.” With this heavy hand, Lewis seeks not only to satirize American liberals, but to induce them to pay attention before it’s too late.
While the book skewers Jessup’s passivity, however, it does little to suggest viable modes of engagement under the Windrip regime, short of abandoning home and family and fleeing to Canada. Every time Jessup attempts some modest act of resistance, he is met with the ruthless repression of the state. When Jessup prints a righteous editorial, Windrip’s goons arrest him and murder his son-in-law. Jessup ends up as a toilet-scrubber in a concentration camp, beaten down but determined to carry on. Six months into his sentence, he escapes and joins the underground movement percolating in Canada — where, the book implies, he should have gone in the first place.
The one bright spot for the anti-Windrip forces is that things don’t work out particularly well for anyone else. Windrip never follows through on his pledge to restore prosperity and redistribute wealth, fueling conflict with his early supporters, who mostly end up dead or in jail. Even Windrip himself gets little of what he wants. As president, he insists on absolute obedience, “louder, more convincing Yeses from everybody about him.” After two years of this treatment, his crafty aide Sarason maneuvers the president into exile, only to be deposed himself a month later in a military coup.
By the book’s closing pages, Jessup has returned to the United States as a disciplined resistance fighter, organizing armed rebellions throughout the Midwest. His transformation illustrates Lewis’s most powerful message: When it happens here, everyone should be prepared to resist. But Jessup’s story also underscores how difficult it can be to sort out what to do at moments of swift political change and social confusion. In our brave imaginations, we undoubtedly do the right thing when fascism comes to America. In reality, we might not recognize it while it’s happening.

Foreign Payments to Trump Firms Violate Constitution, Suit Will Claim - The New York Times

Foreign Payments to Trump Firms Violate Constitution, Suit Will Claim - The New York Times:



"WASHINGTON — A team of prominent constitutional scholars, Supreme Court litigators and former White House ethics lawyers intends to file a lawsuit Monday morning alleging that President Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his hotels and other business operations to accept payments from foreign governments."



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In Beijing, and Washington, a Breath of Foul Air

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The scene in a Beijing park in December. The city’s air quality is routinely rated “very unhealthy.”CreditWang Zhao/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
When friends cautioned me about Beijing’s notorious air pollution recently, ahead of my first visit there, I brushed it off. It was an old story, and having grown up in northern New Jersey in the era of unregulated industrial air pollution and open garbage burning on the Meadowlands, I figured I could handle it. But I began to have second thoughts on the flight in from the north, when we crossed a mountain ridge and the clear air turned instantly to dense smog. It was still 20 minutes to touchdown.
After a day or two in the city, I felt as if I had taken up cigarettes. Same burned-out feeling at the back of the throat, with bits of airborne grit catching on the epiglottis. Same clearing of the throat by soft coughing. It got worse over the weekend, when regulations limiting cars on the road don’t apply. Coming back into the city on a Sunday afternoon was like a slow apocalypse. The air was a filthy brownish gray, and pedestrians, many of them wearing white face masks, walked hunched over as if through a rainstorm. Buildings emerged ghostlike from the haze a half-mile ahead and vanished again behind.
But I was a novice. It turned out that this was a relatively normal winter day for Beijing, with the air quality index at just 269. That’s rated “very unhealthy” by the World Health Organization, and many times worse than the maximum safe exposure level, but nowhere near those headline-making, sky-darkening days when the Beijing index has topped 700.
Back in New Jersey, the air quality index was generally under 50, and it reminded me how lucky we are to have relatively strong laws and regulations to protect our air. These are the same protections that President Donald J. Trump loudly promised during his campaign to undo on his first day in office. Indeed, the new Republican-dominated House of Representatives this month passed a Regulatory Accountability Act, which will give the new president power to roll back an array of governmental regulations, including 50 years of environmental protections — with as little public notice as possible. It could undermine even the Clean Air Act of 1972 and for the first time oblige regulators to put corporate profits ahead of public health.
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The disingenuous logic of this attack on bedrock environmental law is that clean air is a costly job killer and drives manufacturers overseas. But almost all studies of offshoring have found that domestic companies move abroad for a host of other reasons — mainly lower wages, tax avoidance and easier access to international markets. The cost of environmental regulations typically ranks far down the list.
The cost to business is in any case a secondary issue, as anyone struggling to breathe on the streets of Beijing quickly discovers. The more important costs are the ones the public pays, which are deeply personal, and often permanent: Air pollution kills an estimated 4,400 people every day in China — and, even with our existing regulations, 548 people a day in the United States, according to a 2013 M.I.T. study.
Companies also inevitably overstate the costs, especially when new pollution standards come up for consideration. The great debate in the 1980s, for instance, was about acid rain, the nitric and sulfuric acids from coal-fired power plants that were poisoning the Eastern Seaboard. Some industry opponents of the standards figured reducing these emissions would cost $5.5 billion to $7.1 billion a year — or, as one glib Reagan administration official put it, $6,000 for every pound of fish saved.
In fact, the first five-year phase of the cleanup cost less than $2 billion a year — and produced benefits of more than $118 billion a year, largely in improved human health and productivity. That’s because scrubbing acid-rain pollutants from smokestacks also removes large quantities of fine particle pollution, which otherwise penetrates deep into people’s lungs. The cleanup reduced the incidence of asthma and other illnesses, improved school and workplace attendance rates, and avoided thousands of premature deaths. What Mr. Trump denounced during a campaign speech to West Virginia coal miners as “these ridiculous rules and regulations that make it impossible for you to compete” actually kept Americans alive and made the country more competitive.
You don’t have to look far for other antipollution rules that have cost much less than predicted and produced overwhelmingly beneficial results for the American economy. Indeed, the federal Office of Management and Budget has consistently given its top cost-effectiveness rating to the Environmental Protection Agency, with benefits typically exceeding costs by a 10 to 1 ratio. That’s the same agency Mr. Trump has promised to get rid of “in almost every form.”
Among the E.P.A. measures the Trump administration wants to roll back is the Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants, which would shift production to gas-fired plants — and incidentally save American lives by further reducing fine particle pollution. The new fuel economy standards for the auto industry would cut gas costs for drivers and clean up the transportation sector that is now this country’s single largest polluter.
E.P.A. regulations make economic sense for two important reasons industry lobbyists (and their hired politicians) overlook when they stage their sky-is-falling complaints about cost. First, the new rules typically drive advances in technology and efficiency, making cost-effective what formerly seemed impossible. The result isn’t a job exodus; it’s a reshuffling, with productivity falling at coal-fired power plants, for instance, but rising at gas-fired power plants. Second, antipollution regulations move us away from the illogical idea that the unsuspecting public at large should pay the cost of pollution. Instead, that cost gets shifted onto the polluters themselves and into the price of the polluting product, exactly where it belongs.
The day I left Beijing last month, the worst smog of the winter was just beginning, with a “red alert” ordering half the city’s private cars off the road, shutting down dusty construction sites and suspending production in factories. Residents were advised to stay indoors. Regardless, old people would die, babies would be born prematurely and at reduced birth weight, and economic output would stumble. (Just a few days ago, China canceled development of more than 100 new coal-fired power plants.)
At the airport, a billboard depicted an improbably healthy young woman, ponytail flying in the breeze, eyes smiling over her face mask. A corrugated plastic tube connected the face mask to a portable oxygen machine strapped to her arm, as she jogged through a city choking on its own growth-at-any-cost philosophy.
My flight home took me in over northern New Jersey, and glancing out the window, I was startled by how clear the air seemed and how even Newark seemed to glitter in the night. Maybe there were people below willing to risk their health for better jobs, and no doubt there were people yearning for a better economy. But the lesson from China is that wrecking the environment is precisely the wrong way to get there.

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