Author: Scott Johnson

TPP subdues humanitarian efforts

The Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP is one of the most expansive free trade agreements in history, encompassing 12 countries and 40 percent of the world’s economy, and it is currently awaiting Congress’ approval. The agreement largely succeeds in its prospective goal of empowering big business, but fails to effectively uphold purported goals of better working conditions and improved environmental protections for involved countries.

The free trade agreement fundamentally aspires to eliminate barriers to trade, particularly impediments such as strict domestic regulatory laws or tariffs and duties imposed on imports and exports. The agreement does intend to serve other goals than maximizing economic success, which has served to placate concern at the effects of unrestrained capitalism. One of these goals is a comprehensive environmental protection plan, aimed at mitigating the impact of climate change and carbon emissions.

One of the most egregious concessions allowed to corporations under the agreement is the ability to sue member countries for impeding a corporation’s profit. For example, government actions that might prompt a lawsuit include environmental protection laws and Wall Street regulations.

In other words, corporations can challenge laws designed to protect average citizens and the common good. Under the new system, unelected lawyers could grant verdicts that would compel our government to hand over taxpayer dollars to corporations without any chance of appeal. These proceedings would take place in private tribunal arbitration with no transparency or accountability. Given their newfound power, foreign and domestic corporations, including domestic corporations with outsourced labor , can make countries pay for trying to look out for their constituents’ welfare.

Another problematic aspect of the agreement comes from within corporate America, and who wins and loses from the deal. Some of the biggest beneficiaries are tech companies. Silicon Valley serves to profit greatly from the agreement’s stipulations, which would prohibit member nations from demanding a company’s source code as terms of allowing them to do business in their country.

While this is certainly a positive effect, the companies that lose the most from the agreement unfortunately will be manufacturers in more developed countries, whose jobs will flock overseas without tariffs in place. There is good to be found for certain industries; the tech giants will thrive, but it is not the tech sector that provides the most jobs, it is manufacturers.

Protectionist policies are what allow labor-intensive industries in countries that afford their workers a higher standard of living to be economically viable. The TPP endangers this, much as NAFTA and CAFTA, other free trade agreements in effect since the ‘90s, both of which have hurt American workers.

The TPP’s focus on climate change is one of the key issues that proponents of the agreement will tout as universally beneficial. It is true that the agreement will set stringent rules on illegal timber harvesting and illegal wildlife trade among other environmentally destructive actions, but the problem arises with enforcement.

It is naive to believe that the U.S. would sanction or somehow punish trading partners and allies such as Japan or Vietnam over environmental issues. The U.S. does not have a strong record when it comes to holding other nations accountable to environmental agreements. The agreement will also allow for nations to reduce carbon emissions at self-determined rates, allowing countries to set their own standards.

While this stipulation is rational, it has potential for trouble, as poorer countries are likely to delay or neglect their mission of carbon reduction more than richer countries, who can accomplish the task much more easily. With no means of enforcement, the environmental clauses of the TPP will be largely innefectual.

The TPP is an instance of economic interests overpowering humanitarian ones. The TPP is especially insidious in presenting a façade of environmental and workers’ progress while, in reality, it amounts to simply a corporate victory.

Scott Johnson ’18 (johnso16@stolaf.edu) is from Gladstone, Mo. He majors in economics.

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CNBC coverage reflects skewed focus of American politics

On Oct. 28, CNBC, the business-focused subsidiary of NBC hosted the third of a series of Republican presidential primary debates. Entitled “Your money, your vote,” the debate primarily focused on the economy.

One of the most notable remarks of the evening was made by Ted Cruz, accusing CNBC’s moderators, and the American media more broadly, of refusing to ask the potential candidates substantive questions, and rather goading them into personal attacks on one another.

This opinion registered significant applause the attendees at the debate that evening, which likely spurred the Republican National Committee to make the decision to suspend their partnership with NBC to air debates.

The RNC, chaired by Reince Priebus, agreed that the conduct of the debate was chaotic, and the moderation favored infighting between candidates rather than calm policy discussion.

I believe Cruz and Priebus are wrong on this point. The questions posed by the moderators were focused, often posing important and demanding answers that matter when considering who to elect as president. The real problem with the conduct of the debate is the way the questions often were couched, seemingly more for the entertainment of an audience than for educational purposes. Witty one-liners have little place in a debate between national leaders and even less so coming from the moderators of what should be a relatively dry event.

I don’t aim to criticize CNBC for pursuing ratings, that is the goal of any TV network, and while snarky comments might boost ratings, but this kind of atmosphere should be removed from politics. The election shouldn’t become a circus, even if it may resemble one at times. I don’t believe that CNBC’s questions were at all qualitatively worse than those by CNN or Fox during their debates, but the delivery of the moderators was often unnecessarily abrasive and leading.

One example that comes to mind was the “discussion” of Donald Trump’s tax plan. The moderators claimed that his proposed tax cuts would be a mathematical impossibility to implement without causing a swelling deficit.

This, in and of itself, is completely acceptable, but when the moderators then state that CNBC’s bipartisan experts found it similar to Trump trying to flap his arms to fly away from the podium, it becomes completely gratuitous.

I admit, the image of Trump’s fluttering arms made me chuckle, but the point of political discourse is not to entertain or amuse. The comparison is derisive and, although Donald Trump may be an unsavory character, something more professional or just a simple statement of the infeasibility of his fiscal policy would have proved much more appropriate.

I am not opposed to funny or pointed comments. Political debates are historically full of such interactions. The problem arises when moderators are the ones hurling insults at the nominees.

I’m not sure that CNBC did anything especially bad relative to the other networks to merit the boycott. I won’t go into the gory details but both the CNN and Fox Republican debates did much more to explicitly bait candidates into attacking one another.

Perhaps this third round of what became known as the “circular firing-squad” in the 2012 primary cycle, of Republicans slandering and degrading one another in primary free-for-alls has finally reached a breaking point for the Republican leadership.

Another option is that there was something in fact qualitatively different about the CNBC debate, although based on my exposure I wouldn’t know what it was. None of this really matters though.

The RNC’s decision sends a message that petty, below-the-belt wisecracks and zingers are not tolerated at these events. The Republican field in the last couple election cycles has grown cartoonish enough, especially considering the real-estate moguls and neurosurgeons as candidates, that the field does not need any help in attracting criticism.

Both viewers at home and the moderators themselves enjoy candidate back-and-forth. This bickering devalues our political system and turns the debates into spectacles. The long-term health of our political system requires more substantive discourse about issues that matter to American citizens.

Scott Johnson ’18 (johnso16@stolaf.edu) is from Gladstone, MO. He majors in economics.

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Iran Deal endangers regional stability 

Over this last summer, the P5+1 (U.K., U.S., Germany, Russia, China, France), the E.U. and Iran congregated in Vienna to lay down an undoubtedly important piece of international legislation. This group struck a landmark agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, they worked to address sepa- rate sanctions currently imposed by the U.N. Security Council, U.S. and E. U. on Iran in order to punish them for previous military research with radioactive material.

As influential as this agreement is, it is equally shortsighted and aspires only to delay the problems of nuclear proliferation rather than offer a long standing solution.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement, is an attempt to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and would lift existent economic sanctions on Iran. Both sides certainly agree that preventing access to nuclear weaponry to certain members of the international community is of paramount importance, and that prevention should cer- tainly pertain to a regime as malignant as the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran has consistently operated as a destabilizing force in the Middle East, beginning with the current regime’s rise to power in the sectarian Shia revolution of 1979. This current deal will then enable an increase in the resources Iran can access. The current sanctions extend beyond limit- ing Iran’s ability to purchase and import ura- nium enriching materials, and restricts their ability to export petroleum, a natural resource central to their economy.

Since 2012, the oil export sanction in Iran has cost $160 billion, and the U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew predicted in April that the Iranian economy would be 15 to 20 percent bigger if not for these sanctions. With all this capital freed in the wake of the agreement, it is natural to wonder how this new money will be spent. A look at the current way Iran spends money is revealing.

At this moment, an entire laundry list is available of ways that Iran is using their money and political clout to thwart peaceable relations amongst nations in the Middle East. The most glaring examples are Iran’s apparent obsession with the complete dissolution of Israel as an organized state and their attempt to bolster the regime of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, a man that has been a consistent human rights abuser, known for using Sarin gas and other war crimes.

This deal will merely delay Iran’s ability to produce weapons grade Uranium by 10 to 15 years in exchange for permanently lifting sanctions on Iran’s economy. With the eco- nomic relief brought by lifting the sanctions, the agreement will allow Iran more than ever to support their allies in the Middle East. These include the aforementioned al-Assad, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and the government of Iraq. On top of more eco- nomic power, the Iranians will also finally have freedom to increase their stockpile of conventional weapons, including systems that could aid the delivery of nuclear weapons, like Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.

The deal hinges on the assumption that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can successfully regulate Iran. By the time the terms of the agreement begin to expire, Iran will have what political experts call a “breakout time” of only a few weeks. The breakout time is a phrase to refer to how long it would take for Iran to enrich uranium to military levels. The terms of the JCPOA allow Iran to delay the IAEA inspectors of their facilities for 24 days, in other words, long enough for them to destroy evidence or finish making weapons before anyone can inspect their centrifuges.

Supporters of the deal will often point to the feasibility of a U.S.-led military strike as a backup form of enforcement, but to bank international policy on the ability to land a death blow to a country of Iran’s size in a few weeks, especially given the impregnability of some of their nuclear facilities, seems much too large a gamble.

Although the agreement is perhaps a valiant effort at containing nuclear proliferation, it falls well short of a permanent solution and is irresponsible to the U.S.’s regional allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. The agreement only offers a temporary solution to a permanent problem.

Scott Johnson ’18 (johnso16@stolaf.edu) is from Gladstone, Mo. He majors in economics.

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St. Olaf Sentiments: October 20, 2015

One of the first things I did when I arrived back on the Hill this year after moving everything into my room was go revisit my freshman dorm, Kildahl, which I knew had undergone renovations this summer. Despite having an idea of what modifications were made to the dorm, I still couldn’t help but find the transformation jarring: an elevator, lounges on every floor, new lounge furniture, carpeted floors! The class of 2019 will never understand how good they have it.

I can only imagine that anyone who’s been around to see his or her old residence hall renovated has thought something similar. Before I first arrived at St. Olaf, I had never seen the interior of Kildahl Hall, and boy I could see why. Every last piece of furniture bore witness to the stains of hundreds of different snacks and libations. The “cozy” hallways were lined with vintage wood paneling and a lighting that can best be described as dingy. Yes, I concede that we did have new bathrooms (the old central ones I’ve heard stories about were padlocked the entire year, thank goodness). Regardless, the rooms were small, almost everything was dated, oh and of course I can’t forget thinking by October of last year: “If I have to hear one more thing about Great Con, I’ll lose it.” I admit I didn’t know what an exegesis, plenary and declamation were; needless to say, my Great Con peers in Kildahl Hall quickly remedied me of my ignorance. In May of last year, I was eager to leave the small rooms and enthusiastic Great Con kids behind.

After three months away and a new dorm, it is only now that I’ve developed nostalgia and can see Kildahl Hall for the formative experience that it was. First off, Kildahl gave me my friend group. Like many others, some of my first friends (in my case, nearly all) at St. Olaf were made in the dorm where I lived. Secondly, being the only lounge available, the old Kildahl main lounge was truly unique, and with the rooms being so small, the lounge was always lively. Although I can appreciate what Kildahl looks like now, knowing what it was like for me made it tragic to return and see it so thoroughly changed, or “sterilized” as a friend of mine claimed.

My memories of Kildahl Hall are a testament to the intrinsic worth of experiences whether or not they are considered great in the moment. I’ll always want Kildahl Hall to be as it was, merely because it was such a large part of my freshman year. Kildahl Hall is like my parents (albeit maybe a little less important and a little more rectangular); only time has allowed me to appreciate what each has done for me. It is comforting to remind myself that some things will perhaps not change. Both beds in every room will still need to be lofted. New students will still have the “joy” of discovering that the rooms in Kildahl were initially intended as singles for first-years and that the singles for seniors in Ytterboe Hall are actually slightly larger.

Despite this, I still wouldn’t want to have lived my freshman year anywhere else.

johnso16@stolaf.edu

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Sanders supporters rally in new campus club

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign has been gaining momentum since it started. With hopes of a Sanders presidency, St. Olaf students have formed Students for Sanders, an organization to help Sanders in his presidential bid in the 2016 election cycle. The group, St. Olaf’s chapter of a nation-wide movement, made its first ever appearance at the Co-Curricular Fair earlier this fall.

“Our group is a student grassroots organization dedicated to helping Bernie Sanders win the primary elections,” Yishu Dai ’18 said.

Sanders has relied on grassroots efforts to support and fund his campaign. This campaign funding strategy is unlike any other candidate’s. His biggest competitor for the Democratic nomination is Hillary Clinton, who does accept donations from corporate organizations and super PACs.

Students for Sanders hopes to help the campaign by contacting a wide range of voters. Canvassing, phone banking and tabling are the most traditional ways to go about this.

Assuming a Sanders victory, the Students for Sanders group plans to continue through the primary elections and the 2016 presidential election.

“We are a group of people really excited about Bernie Sanders’ platform and want to see him become president,” Dai said.

The group has already participated in a couple of events for the Sanders campaign and hopes to engage other Sanders supporters.

“A few of us went down to Ames, Iowa for a Students for Sanders Summit and had a blast meeting fellow passionate student organizers,” Dai said.

Events like these have helped energize the group to participate in canvassing and other events in order to garner the support of constituents, especially in what are considered battleground states, like Iowa. After the summit, Students for Sanders was encouraged to help in this very key area.

“We canvassed the day after and knocked on 105 doors,” Dai said.

The club will travel to the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Des Moines to see Bernie Sanders speak. The organization is also offering the chance for students to go see Sanders speak in person, an opportunity that may not present itself in Minnesota anytime soon. The group is raffling tickets for the event. Anyone searching for more information about the group should contact Dai, Taylor Lightman ’16 or Samantha Wells ’17.

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