Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Donald Trump Signs Executive Orders

I am not a Donald Trump supporter. But he knows how to make me happy!

In his first full workday in the White House, Trump issued presidential directives – two of which I approve of.

US President Donald Trump shows the Executive Order withdrawing the US from the TPP. Photo by Ron Sachs

First, as he himself had promised – he formally pulled the US of A out of the Trans Pacific Partnership. Before it has even begun.

Twelve countries, including Malaysia have signed up to the TPP – the crown jewel of Barack Obama’s international trade policy – in February 2016.

The TPP is nothing more than a political instrument – in that it is a deliberate attempt by Obama to try and isolate China, and to Malaysia, it offers minimal trade advantages.

On top of that, TPP is all about warped power relationships for dealing with many public policy issues.

If you don't believe me, then let’s examine one particular issue, i.e. human trafficking.

In 2015, the US Senate had approved language saying that “all countries in any new trade agreement must meet basic standards” for human trafficking.

As it happens, six of the 12 TPP countries have serious problems with the  problem. Of the six, only Malaysia failed to meet the Senate’s standard for inclusion in the TPP.

If you recall, we have had grave problems with this matter – and yet our authorities downplay its severity and deny its asperity.

Already, during that time, there were appalling press reports from Malaysia of mass graves and multiple bodies showing signs of torture discovered in and around the 28 camps where refugees were imprisoned in pens by human traffickers. For your info, that was the second massive discovery  of burial sites on the Thai-Malaysia border.

This was not just about human trafficking but also about pervasive corruption entrapping authorities on both sides of the border.

And let's not forget that PM Najib Razak too is suspected of corruption in a $700 million investigation led by the US Department of Justice.

So why should Malaysians be any more surprised when official corruption extends its covetous tentacles elsewhere – into human trafficking and jungle camps?

Really, Malaysia should have been excluded from the TPP. We don't deserve membership.

But on July 27, 2015, the US government upgraded its ranking of Malaysia regarding human trafficking, without justification or even explanation. And Malaysia suddenly finds itself qualified to stay in the TPP.

In fact, Reuters had reported that political pressure inside the State Department evaluation process pushed up Malaysia’s score. The reason is not hard to find. Political expediency.

The irony is that many, if not all of those captives were Rohingya refugees who had been sold from one human trafficker to another – the same runaways that Najib and his government are now screaming support! Hypocrisy!

Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/Agence France-Presse

I have always believed that the TPP promotes the interests of global investors, defining a version of globalization “of, by, and for the 1%”.
Therefore, I am elated Trump did what he did. Anyway, the deal was never approved by Congress so it has yet to go into effect in the country.

The “withdrawal” is more akin to a Trump decision to terminate ongoing international negotiations and let the deal wither and die.

Second, Trump issued a directive to federal agencies to cease new government hiring – the military being exempted. This order is part of Trump’s effort to reduce government debts and decrease the size of the federal workforce.

During his presidential campaign, he had often criticized government bureaucracy, and vowed to “drain the swamp” of corrupt governance.

Again, this situation is familiar to Malaysians because we see it too in our country – our civil service is growing and growing. And corruption slithers into every nook and corner.

Coming back to Trump – in both cases, he exercised his presidential power through unilateral executive orders.

While legitimate efforts take patience and a lot of time, a small flourish of a White House pen can often enact broad changes in government policy and practice. And Trump has wasted little time in taking advantage of this presidential privilege.

After all, his predecessor Obama had depended on executive orders to circumvent Congress in the later days of his presidency.

Trump merely copied Obama – not that he needed too. The Republicans already hold sway over both the Senate and the House of Representatives. In case you don’t know – it means single-party rule in Washington DC for at least two years.

On Monday, I went to Damansara Uptown for the Phoenix Toastmasters meeting. I was there to evaluate an Advanced speech from the Storytelling manual.

I also took part in the impromptu speaking session – and I was voted Best Table Topics speaker.

And I had my third “yee sang” – even before the Lunar New Year had begun!

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