Mend the Gap

By Yong Kwon

While progressive economists and free trade ideologues alike have criticized Trump’s threats of a trade war against China, they caveat and demur when it comes to discussing the White House’s belligerence around the enforcement of intellectual property rights abroad – partly because there is a pervasive sense that emerging economies are engaged in some kind of abusive behavior. But scrutiny around foreign “theft” of intellectual property must take into consideration the broader context of how the underlying system was constructed and what its architects intended. Accordingly, Center for Economic and Policy Research co-founder Dean Baker perceptively reframed the discussion: “The issue here is who set the rules and what is proper payment.”

The fact of the matter is that the neoliberal trade system today reflects power disparities between nations, providing unequal benefits while hobbling efforts to respond to global needs, including food security, climate change mitigation, and improved educational attainment. This is a salient issue for the left, which advocates for shared prosperity through equitable distribution of the means of production – not just within the borders of any one particular country, but also across the world. Here, given the sway of the United States over the World Trade Organization (WTO), the American left is best positioned among global peers to push for change – with advocacy opportunities arising during negotiations of trade agreements that require Congressional ratification and the presidential administration’s participation in multilateral ministerial meetings.

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A Case for Transitional Justice

By Emma Steiner

The Trump administration has dissected, denounced, decried and dissolved many of the Obama administration’s actions. That the current president is so set on undoing his predecessor’s accomplishments should not keep those on the left from evaluating the Obama administration as well, especially through the lens of inaction. Why were no top-level bankers prosecuted for their role in the financial crisis of 2008? Why have so few Bush-era officials had to answer for their crimes, ranging from “enhanced interrogation” to the Iraq invasion? When bringing up Obama’s inaction, the standard response is: what else could be done? What would you have done? It is becoming clear that much more could have been done if not for the Obama administration’s lack of political will and optimistic desire to break continuity with the practices of the past. If sunlight is the best disinfectant, a failure to apply it leaves a festering wound, with complications that continue to amass.

In 2009, Obama was asked whether he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and potentially act against Bush officials who had committed crimes. He did not rule out the possibility, but said that his intention was to “look forward.” Very little action was taken until, in the wake of the 2014 torture report, Obama admitted, “We tortured some folks,” and his DOJ issued some memos denouncing extrajudicial interrogation. That was the full extent of action taken, and Obama’s administration went on to commit its own human rights abuses, ranging from escalation of drone warfare to full-scale NSA surveillance on Americans. Afraid of appearing partisan, the Obama administration looked the other way when it came to prosecuting war criminals and torturers. The lack of confrontation is coming back to haunt us.

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