Strategic Implications of the Transpacific Partnership

Document: Report to Congress on Strategic Implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

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On October 5, 2015, Ministers of the 12 Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries announced conclusion of their free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations. The agreement is one of the Obama Administration’s signature trade policy initiatives, an effort to reduce and eliminate trade and investment barriers and establish new rules and disciplines to govern trade and investment among the 12 countries. TPP proponents, including Administration officials, argue that the proposed TPP would have substantial strategic benefits for the United States in addition to its direct economic impact. They argue that the agreement would enhance overall U.S. influence in the economically dynamic Asia
Pacific region and advance U.S. leadership in setting and modernizing the rules of commerce in the region and potentially in the multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Congress plays a key role in the TPP. Through U.S. trade negotiating objectives established in Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation and informal consultations and oversight, Congress has guided the Administration’s negotiations. Ultimately, Congress would need to pass implementing legislation if the concluded agreement is to take effect in the United States. The geo- political arguments surrounding TPP are widely debated, as are the arguments about its  potential economic impact. To some, the TPP is an important litmus test of U.S. credibility in the Asia-Pacific region. As the leading economic component of the Administration’s “strategic rebalancing” to the region, the TPP, proponents argue, would allow the United States to reaffirm existing alliances, expand U.S. soft power, spur countries to adopt a more U.S. friendly foreign  policy outlook, and enhance broader diplomatic and security relations. Many Asian policymakers  – correctly or not – could interpret a failure of TPP in the United States as a symbol of the United States’ declining interest in the region and inability to assert leadership. Some critics argue that TPP backers often do not identify specific, concrete ways that a successful deal would invigorate U.S. security partnerships in the region, and that an agreement should be considered solely for its economic impact. They maintain that past trade pacts have had a limited impact on broad foreign policy dynamics and that U.S. bilateral relations are based on each country’s broader national interests.
The Administration is also pursuing strategic economic goals in the TPP. Through the agreement,  proponents argue, the United States can play a leading role in “writing the rules” for commerce with key trading partners, addressing gaps in current multilateral trade rules, and setting a  precedent for future regional and bilateral FTA negotiations or multilateral trade talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The core of this argument is the assertion that the TPP’s  potential components – including tariff and non tariff liberalization, strong intellectual property rights and investment protections, and labor and environmental provisions – would build upon the U.S. led economic system that has expanded world trade and investment enormously since the end of World War II.
Although most U.S. observers agree it is in the U.S. interest to lead in establishing global and regional trade rules, less consensus exists on what those rules should be, yielding some criticism on the strength and breadth of various TPP provisions. In addition, some argue that crafting new rules through “mega regional” agreements rather than the WTO could undermine the multilateral trading system, create competing trading blocs, lead to trade diversion, and marginalize the countries not participating in regional initiatives.

Hillary has no Message, then this Memo

FreeBeacon: MSNBC reporter Andrea Mitchell slammed Hillary Clinton’s campaign for its “pretty shocking” memo that it “defensively” released in anticipation of losing to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) in New Hampshire.

Sanders, as predicted by the polls, defeated Clinton there Tuesday night, with networks making the calls just moments after the final polls closed.

PBS reported on the memo:

Hours before official New Hampshire results appeared Tuesday, Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook conceded to staffers, supporters and some reporters that the Granite State race was lost, in a memo obtained by PBS NewsHour that urged the Clinton team to focus past February and on March.

“The first four states represent just 4% of the delegates needed to secure the nomination,” Mook wrote, “The 28 states that vote (or caucus) in March will award 56% of the delegates needed to win.”

The Democratic Party is “completely splintered,” Mitchell said.

“Hillary Clinton had the Democratic Party establishment,” Mitchell said. “She still has their endorsements, but he has out-raised her in January. He now will have a ton of money on those online contributions in February, and the Clinton team anticipated this with this three-page memo.”

Host Rachel Maddow interrupted to say that the memo “shocked” her.

“Is this normal?” Maddow asked.

“No, this is pretty shocking because it is a three-page memo from the campaign manager defensively explaining how they can come back and win the nomination in March with the delegate-rich first 15 days in March,” Mitchell said, her voice hardened.

Mitchell added she’d had it for a half-hour, showing the campaign pre-emotively wrote it in anticipation of losing to Sanders.

“Embargoed until 8:00,” Maddow said. “They knew they were going to lose.”


The gaping hole at the heart of Hillary Clinton’s campaign

WaPo: There are many stories one could tell about Bernie Sanders’ defeat of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. One is that Sanders has captured the prevailing sentiment among Democrats, a fervent desire for political revolution to unmake a corrupt system, and he will ride this desire all the way to the nomination. Another is that yesterday’s result was a function of some idiosyncratic features of that primary, particularly New Hampshire’s demographic homogeneity and the fact that independents are allowed to vote in the party primary; now that the race moves to states that better represent the Democratic Party, Clinton’s strength among Latinos and African-Americans will move her back into command for good.

Either of those stories might be true. But right now, the Clinton campaign has a much bigger problem than the story it wants to tell about New Hampshire. That problem is this: the campaign has no story to tell the voters about Hillary Clinton and why she should be president.

Having a good story doesn’t guarantee you victory, but nobody becomes president without one. The story has to contain three simple elements. First, it explains what the problem is. Second, it explains what the solution is. And third, it explains why this candidate, and only this candidate, is the person who can bring the country from where it is now to where it ought to be.

As Greg discussed this morning, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have very simple messages that are resonating with substantial parts of the base voters in each one’s party. Trump says that America is being played for chumps, and only a fantastic, luxurious individual like him can make us win again. Sanders says that the political system is corrupted by the influence of the wealthy and corporations, and a revolution delivered by an unsullied figure like him is necessary to break their stranglehold on our politics. Anyone who has paid attention to the campaign for five minutes understands what those messages are, whether you agree with either one of them or not.

Now tell me: what’s Hillary Clinton’s message?

She doesn’t have one. She doesn’t have a clear diagnosis of the problem the country faces, nor does she have an explanation of what the solution is, nor can she say why only she can bring about the better future voters are hoping for.

Of course, Clinton can make a persuasive argument for her preferred solution on any policy area you can name. She also has a strong argument for why Sanders is being unrealistic about much of what he wants to do, an argument I basically agree with. And if you asked, she could tell you all about her ample qualifications for the presidency. But it doesn’t add up to a coherent story.

What’s remarkable about this gaping hole in her candidacy is that she faced exactly the same problem eight years ago, and lost in part because she never solved it. Barack Obama told voters that our politics was being constrained by partisan bickering and small thinking, and only he, a new, inspiring figure, could forge consensus and bring the kind of change our future demanded. You might not think he succeeded in that, but at the time it was exactly what voters believed we needed. Far more than Obama’s specific policy ideas — which barely differed from Clinton’s at all — that vision and the way he embodied it was what drew first Democrats and then general election voters to him.

I’m a little reluctant to make this critique, because reporters and pundits are often too eager to play political consultant and tell candidates and operatives how to do their jobs, when there are more important things we could be talking about. And candidates don’t need more encouragement to oversimplify things and reduce all the complexities of policy and politics to bumper sticker-ready slogans.

Nevertheless, the fact is that human beings understand the world through stories, which help bring coherence to complex situations. And there’s no reason a campaign can’t offer voters both lengthy policy plans and a simple, broad structure that organizes them into an understandable whole.

Clinton’s campaign would argue that she has such a story to tell. In her speech in New Hampshire last night, she listed many of the problems she wants to solve and explained how she can solve them through commitment and hard work. Sources near to her tell Politico that now she will “push a new focus on systematic racism, criminal justice reform, voting rights and gun violence that will mitigate concerns about her lack of an inspirational message.” That’s directed primarily at African-Americans, the Democratic Party’s largest and most loyal constituency group, and the one no Democrat can win the nomination without. If Clinton can hold those voters, she can probably turn back Sanders’ challenge.

But that’s far from guaranteed, and it’s a message that only addresses some of the problems the country faces. In contrast to broad ideas like Sanders’ call for revolution or even Trump’s claim that we’re a country of losers, it can’t be easily and logically applied to any problem a voter might see as urgent. And it doesn’t tell you much about Hillary Clinton in particular, other than the fact that this is something she cares about.

There’s another successful presidential candidate we can remember who knew that being smart and experienced and having popular policy ideas wasn’t enough. His name was Bill Clinton, and he told the country that as an innovative thinker hailing from a place called Hope, this representative of a new generation could carry America out of its doldrums. He may have been more of a natural politician than his wife, but he also had a story to tell, one the voters found compelling. Hillary Clinton hasn’t told the country a story that connects their worries with her potential as a president. But she’d better find one soon.

Supreme Court Got it Right vs. Obama

This Supreme Court decision could place Obama’s Paris Climate Change Agreement in real jeopardy, and it should.

Supreme Court threatens Obama’s climate agenda

Politico: President Barack Obama will leave office next January with the fate of one of his biggest environmental achievements hanging in the balance.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday took the unusual step of blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s landmark carbon rule for power plants, throwing into doubt whether Obama’s signature climate change initiative will survive a legal battle before the high court.

The decision to grant the stay is no guarantee the justices ultimately will strike down the rule, but the development is a bad sign for EPA’s chances, and the agency’s foes quickly cheered the news, with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey calling it a “great victory.”

“We are thrilled that the Supreme Court realized the rule’s immediate impact and froze its implementation, protecting workers and saving countless dollars as our fight against its legality continues,” he said in a statement.

The White House vowed that the rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, will survive, saying it “is based on a strong legal and technical foundation.”

“We remain confident that we will prevail on the merits,” press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement late Tuesday night, adding that “the administration will continue to take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions.”

“We’re disappointed the rule has been stayed, but you can’t stay climate change and you can’t stay climate action,” EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said in a separate statement. “Millions of people are demanding we confront the risks posed by climate change. And we will do just that.”

The Supreme Court issued its short order putting the rule on hold at the request of states and companies that had asked the high court to intercede early — even though a lower court had already declined to do so.

The ruling was on a 5-4 vote, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — the court’s liberal wing — lining up against staying the rule.

Environmentalists quickly downplayed the stay, noting that it did not come to any conclusions about the legality of the rule itself.

“The Clean Power Plan has a firm anchor in our nation’s clean air laws and a strong scientific record, and we look forward to presenting our case on the merits in the courts,” said Vickie Patton, the Environmental Defense Fund’s general counsel.

The justices did not explain their decision, but the order indicates they believe the rule threatens imminent and irreparable harm. The states and groups challenging the rule noted that the Supreme Court last year identified a major flaw with an EPA regulation limiting mercury emissions from power plants only after that rule had started to take effect, and they urged the justices not to allow something similar to happen with the carbon rule.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has put the case on a fast track, with oral arguments scheduled for June 2. That indicates a ruling from that court in late summer or fall, and tees up a Supreme Court appeal for as early as 2017.

“The stay is a signal the Supreme Court has serious concerns with the Power Plan,” said Mike Duncan, head of the coal-supported advocacy group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

Coal-heavy utilities, mining companies and 27 states are among those suing to reverse the rule, which opponents say exceeds EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act.

The stay may only delay implementation of the rule by two or three years if EPA eventually triumphs at the Supreme Court. But it will keep the rule on hold into the next administration, increasing the chances that it could be undone if a Republican is elected to the White House this year.

At the very least, some efforts to replace power plants’ coal with cleaner-burning natural gas and carbon-free wind and solar power are likely to be delayed. And the stay could foreshadow an eventual court decision tossing out the rule altogether, which may severely limit how far the government can go in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

This is not the first big Obama environmental rule to be stayed during litigation. In late 2011, just two days before it was to take effect, the D.C. Circuit put a stay on EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which targets pollutants like nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide that float downwind across state lines.

The circuit later struck down the rule — but the Obama administration appealed to the Supreme Court and ultimately won the case 6-2, and the rule took effect three years after its original start date.

With the rule’s legal defense stretching into the next administration, the possibility of a Republican president casts a thick fog over the regulation’s future. All of the GOP candidates have repudiated the rule as a threat to the economy and vowed to overturn it, and a Republican president would have several avenues for kneecapping the Clean Power Plan, including simply accepting a possible circuit decision to strike down the rule without filing an appeal — a more likely outcome after Tuesday’s stay.

Environmental groups have quietly prepared for that possibility by preserving their own right to defend the rule in court.

A combination of Supreme Court rulings and scientific findings is likely to eventually compel EPA to regulate power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions in some manner, though the extent of such regulations is up in the air.

In the meantime, EPA’s foes will double down on their efforts to get the Clean Power Plan tossed out for good. Critics argue that the Clean Air Act does not allow EPA to require tools such as renewable energy mandates to control pollution, and they say the agency’s authority is limited to cutting emissions from coal plants themselves.

EPA counters that the law allows it to choose the best path forward, and that the agency should receive deference to interpret conflicting statutes that were passed by Congress and signed into law.

Coal producer Peabody Energy, represented by liberal law icon Laurence Tribe, has also raised several constitutional concerns over the Clean Power Plan, though it remains unclear whether the courts will be receptive.



Obama, don’t let secrecy be your legacy

Imagine what Congress does NOT know and then imagine what we, don’t know. Terrifying right?

Mr. Obama, don’t let secrecy be your legacy: Republican chairmen

Shrouding government action on everything from the environment to veterans health in darkness is a big step backwards.

USAToday: When President Obama took office, he vowed to run “the most transparent administration in history.” As his presidency draws to an end, those words would be laughable if the issue were not so serious.

At nearly every turn, this administration has blocked public disclosure and ignored almost every law intended to ensure open and accountable government.

Hillary Clinton’s private email server is just the latest, most public example. Numerous other incidents involve the concealment of documents, providing only partial information, slow-walking congressional requests and using private email accounts and secret meetings to avoid official records-keeping laws. These sorts of tactics have become common practice for this administration.

The most brazen examples occasionally get media attention: Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson created a fictitious email address under the alias name “Richard Windsor,” hiding official actions from public scrutiny. But more typically, the pervasive stonewalling does not make headlines.

Congress isn’t alone on the Obama administration’s enemies list. According to an analysis of federal data by the Associated Press (AP), the Obama administration set new records two years in a row for denying the media access to government files. According to the AP, “The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files.”

Moreover, in an unprecedented letter to several congressional committees, 47 inspectors general, who are the official watchdogs of federal agencies, complained that the Justice Department, EPA and others consistently obstruct their work by blocking or delaying access to critical information. Worse yet, the White House and Secretary Clinton refused to install an Inspector General during her tenure at the State Department.

It is the job of Congress and our agency watchdogs to ensure the federal government is efficient, effective and accountable to the American people. But time and time again, this administration has dismissed Americans’ right to know.

When Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucrats place themselves ahead of the veterans they are charged with serving, it’s Congress’ job to get answers. But VA’s stonewall tactics are interfering with this vital task. It’s been more than 18 months since the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs revealed VA’s delays in care crisis to the nation, yet the department is sitting on more than 140 requests for information from the committee regarding everything from patient wait times to disciplinary actions for failed employees. VA’s disregard for congressional oversight was on full display Oct. 21, when committee Democrats and Republicans voted unanimously to subpoena five bureaucrats VA had refused to make available to explain their role in a scheme that resulted in the misuse of more than $400,000 in taxpayer money. Later, at a Nov. 2 follow-up hearing, two of the subpoenaed VA employees invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

When the Internal Revenue Service improperly targets conservative organizations, it’s Congress’ job to get answers. When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives runs a failed and flawed sting operation intentionally providing hundreds of firearms to Mexican cartels, it’s Congress’ job to get answers. When events surrounding terrorist attacks in Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11 are hidden from the public, it’s Congress’ job to get answers.

But Congress cannot do its job when an administration refuses to turn over information. That’s why Congress has increasingly resorted to the power of the pen and has issued numerous legally-binding subpoenas to various Obama Administration agencies, including the Department of Justice, the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Office of Management and Budget, among others.

Whether it is the necessity of holding agency heads in contempt of Congress or pursuing civil litigation to gain access to clearly relevant material or the improper invocation of executive privilege or a new “confidential communications” privilege this administration made up out of whole cloth, Congress has been forced to spend far too much time and resources gaining access to documents which it is clearly entitled to.

But perhaps the honor of the least transparent agency in the federal government belongs to the EPA.

Everyone wants clean air and water. But Americans want environmental regulations to be based on sound science, not science  fiction or radical political manifestos. When the EPA refused to release the data it uses to justify its proposed air regulations, the historically bipartisan House Science Committee was compelled to issue its first subpoena in 21 years to retrieve the information.

Last year, the House passed the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015 to require the EPA to base its regulations on publicly-available data, not secret science. This allows independent scientists the opportunity to evaluate EPA’s claims and check their work.  Who could argue against using open and transparent science to support regulation? Answer: the Obama administration.

It’s not surprising that the non-partisan Center for Effective Government gave the EPA a grade of “D” in its most recent report for poor performance in providing access to information.

This administration has created an unprecedented culture of secrecy that starts at the top and extends into almost every agency. While Congress is being thwarted in its efforts at oversight, it is really the American people who lose when those entrusted to enforce the law believe and act as if they are above it. It’s time to come clean, Mr. President. Don’t let a lack of transparency be your legacy.

Obama’s Paris Climate Agreement to Cost Trillions

Obama’s Paris Global Warming Treaty Will Cost At Least $12.1 Trillion

A.Follett/DailyCaller: The United Nations Paris agreement to stop dangerous global warming could cost $12.1 trillion over the next 25 years, according to calculations performed by environmental activists.

“The required expenditure averages about $484 billion a year over the period,” calculated Bloomberg New Energy Finance with the assistance of the environmentalist nonprofit Ceres.


That’s almost as much money the U.S. federal government spent on defense in 2015, according to 2015 spending numbers from the bipartisan Committee For Responsible Federal Budget. The required annual spending is almost 3.7 times more than the $131.57 billion China spent on its military in 2014.

Bloomberg’s estimates are likely low, as they exclude costly energy efficiency measures. The amount spent to meet global carbon dioxide emissions reduction goals could be as high as $16.5 trillion between now and 2030, when energy efficiency measures are included, according to projections from the  International Energy Agency. To put these numbers in perspective, the U.S. government is just under $19 trillion in debt and only produced $17.4 trillion in gross domestic product in 2014.

American taxpayers spend an average of $39 billion a year financially supporting solar energy, according to a report by the Taxpayer Protection Alliance. The same report shows President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus package contained $51 billion in spending for green energy projects, including funding for failed solar energy companies such as Solyndra and Abound Solar.

Solyndra was given a $535 million loan guarantee by the Obama administration before filing for bankruptcy in 2011. Abound Solar got a $400 million federal loan guarantee, but filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after making faulty panels that routinely caught fire.

Despite relatively high levels of taxpayer support, in 2014 solar and wind power accounted for only 0.4 and 4.4 percent of electricity generated in the U.S., respectively, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Ironically, solar and wind power have not done much to reduce America’s carbon dioxide emissions. Studies show solar power is responsible for one percent of the decline in U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions, while natural gas is responsible for almost 20 percent. For every ton of carbon dioxide cut by solar power, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas cut 13 tons.

*** Really dude?

Protect the health of American families. In 2030, it will:

  • Prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths

  • Prevent 1,700 non-fatal heart attacks

  • Prevent 90,000 asthma attacks in children

  • Prevent 300,000 missed workdays and schooldays

Boost our economy by:

  • Leading to 30 percent more renewable energy generation
    in 2030

  • Creating tens of thousands of jobs

  • Continuing to lower the costs of renewable energy

Save the average American family:

  • Nearly $85 a year on their energy bills in 2030

  • Save enough energy to power 30 million homes
    in 2030

  • Save consumers $155 billion from 2020-2030

*** Climate Action Plan

Explore the infographic to learn about the progress we’re making to combat climate change, and read President Obama’s full Climate Action Plan here.