By Kyanna Ouyang
Surprise, surprise. Superman is alive.
Yeah...we all saw that coming. The thing is, if he didn’t miraculously return from the dead, that would have been the biggest surprise DC has yet to offer.
For one, 2016’s Batman v Superman signed its own death warrant with that wholly unemotional finale—seriously, DC, why can’t you just let the dead rest in peace? Those pieces of vibrating s***—I mean, dirt—completely undercut any possibility of pathos in his absolutely mournful funeral scene. I walked out of that theatre not grieving Clark Kent, but the superhero film industry.
Yes, we understand, a Justice League movie without Superman is like a Disney film without a Prince Charming...oh, wait, ever heard of Moana? Ok, like Star Wars without Han Solo—do remind me, what happened in The Force Awakens? My point? DC needs to leave the stone age of the never-ending franchise where no one Ever. Really. DIES.
The complete inability to die is plaguing the blockbuster world, and what’s dying instead? Our sense of excitement, that rush of adrenaline, followed by a plummeting heart, sorrow tugging at our emotions that are too seldom invoked and all too often buried under the woes of 21st century: mountains of work, Trump, climate change, bees dying (look, if bees dying can stir up such despair, what more evidence does DC need to see that their fans are desperate for a good bawl?)
Superheroes are dropping dead like flies to this disease of immortality. Those we shed tears over—Loki, Groot, Nick Fury, even Batman—have all made miraculous recoveries. It’s hard to think of anyone who has remained six feet beneath the ground: Wolverine, a few X-Men, all coincidentally in parallel timelines or the future.
The superhero industry is not the only area of infection; the plague has long afflicted the neighboring industry of action as well. Bond’s invincibility against death might be the staple of his silver screen existence and perhaps the reason for his timelessness in the action corner of cinema, but the key is that he is the first and ideally, the only. The rest of them—Jason Bourne, John McClane, Neo, just to name a few--really don’t deserve that superhuman immunity against death (though Jason Bourne, or rather Matt Damon, has faced worse, namely being trapped on various planets). More recently, WHAT was going on with Colin Firth’s character coming back from hell in Kingsman: the Golden Circle? Seriously? The man was shot point-blank in the face! If somone can be impervious to a bullet through his brain, how can we even bother to care anymore?
It might seem like a catch-22 in this world of never-ending franchises: kill off a character and you might end up with no franchise at all. But it’s a worthy risk to swing the scythe. Han Solo’s tragic death is cause for celebration, as Harrison Ford repeatedly told us, not because we hated Han Solo, but because he was sacrificed to keep the Star Wars franchise real and in contact with the audience’s pent-up emotions. Even better, the complete demolition of the heroes of Rogue One was refreshingly depressing. Jyn and Cassian enwrapped in each other, after finally finding family, love and a home, swallowed by blinding light, imprints in the audience’s tear-filled eyes an image that is arguably more lasting than that of the ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda and Anakin watching in post-death bliss the merry celebrations at the end of Return of the Jedi. In summary, go Death, beat Life!
Superman or no Superman, Justice League will likely remain casualty-free. For one, solo movies are already in production: Aquaman is out next year, Wonder Woman 2 in 2019. The extended universe of DC is only just budding. On the other hand, Marvel fans have been pressuring for Iron Man’s death to keep the Marvel catalogue of superheroes dynamic. So, perhaps there’s one surprise we can look forward to.
By Kyanna Ouyang
For the past years, the right has cried that Europe is destined for Armageddon, thrust upon its path by immigration, bureaucracy, its welfare states and labor laws. Last year, even the most educated British demanded for “leave” in the Brexit referendum, declaring that since the European Union was headed for collapse anyway, the United Kingdom should flee as soon as possible.
Perhaps they are right. But, throughout the past few months, Austria, Holland, and now France, have stifled far right politicians who represented nativism, nationalism and anti-E.U. In doing so, these countries have defied the beliefs of E.U. skeptics.
Three weeks before Christmas, Alexander Van der Bellen, center-left, defeated Norbert Hofer, of the anti-immigration Freedom Party, by fifty-four per cent to forty-six per cent in the Austrian presidential election. In March, Mark Rutte, the center-right Dutch Prime Minister, soared to victory in a landslide election, as Geert Wilders, founder of the far-right, Islamophobic Party for Freedom, received a meager 13% of the vote.
Now, centrist Emmanuel Macron, founder of his neither-left-nor-right party En Marche!, won in a landslide victory on Sunday, May 7, grabbing 67% of the vote against Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front. Macron won the endorsements of his previous opponents, center-right Republican François Fillon and center-left Socialist Benoît Hamon, reminiscent of the election of 2002 when all presidential candidates who were eliminated after the first round supported center-right Jacques Chirac against Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, resulting in 82.2% of the vote for Chirac.
President François Hollande also expressed support for Macron, saying, “What is at stake is France’s make-up, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world.”
From one perspective, Sunday’s result was shocking and disruptive. For the first time in sixty years, neither of France’s traditional leading parties will have a candidate in a Presidential election. Meanwhile, Le Pen has cemented the position of the National Front, a longtime fringe party, as a major force in French politics. Hitting the campaign trail again on Monday, she declared that the election was a referendum on “uncontrolled globalization” and accused Macron of being “weak” on confronting terrorism.
From another perspective, however, Sunday’s result was reassuring for people who worry about the rise of extremism in Europe. Le Pen’s share of the vote was only five percentage points greater than the share her father, Jean-Marie, received in the first round of the 2002 Presidential election. She was bested by Macron, a thirty-nine-year-old former minister in the Socialist government of Hollande, who portrays himself as the head of a new movement occupying the middle ground, which he calls En Marche—On the Move. Appearing before his supporters on Sunday night, Macron said, “I want to be the President of all the patriots against the threat of all the nationalists.”
The message of these three recent elections is that, so far, at least, the European center has held—an outcome that seemed far from certain twelve months ago. In the first round of the Austrian Presidential election, last April, with the migrant crisis dominating the headlines, Hofer, who campaigned on the Trumpian slogan of “putting Austria first,” finished ahead of all the other candidates. In a runoff held a few weeks later, Van der Bellen, a former leader of the Green Party, narrowly defeated Hofer, but the results were annulled after allegations of voting irregularities. As late as August, opinion polls suggested that Hofer would win the rerun.
Wilders and Le Pen, who have worked together to create a far-right bloc in the European parliament, both got a lift from the Brexit vote. They both share a preoccupation with the threat of Islamist groups, peddle similar rhetoric about élitist politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels selling out the common people, and promised to hold referenda on membership of the E.U. in their respective countries if they were elected. (Hofer was a bit more circumspect on this last point. He said he’d a call referendum if the European Parliament took more power, or if Turkey joined the Union.)
A victory for any far-right candidate, but especially for Le Pen, would represent an existential threat to the E.U. Today, all across Europe, pro-E.U. politicians are hoping fervently that the populist wave has crested. Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg national who is the head of the European Commission, congratulated Macron on Sunday’s result and wished him “good luck for the future.” The German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said, “I am certain that Emmanuel Macron will be the next President of France. Great for Europe.”
After the surprises of Brexit and the U.S. Presidential election, it would be premature to endorse Gabriel’s prediction of the outcome of the vote on May 7th. But if Macron were to win—opinion polls currently show him leading Le Pen in a head-to-head contest by twenty points or more—the result would certainly provide some welcome breathing space for the E.U. Half of the Franco-German alliance that underpins the union would have been shored up. And the other half would be looking pretty solid, too. (It seems likely that September’s general election in Germany will be contested primarily between two pro-E.U. candidates: the center-right Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the head of the center-left S.P.D., Martin Schulz.)
For supporters of the European project, there is reason to be hopeful, but not to get complacent. Even if the threat of right-wing populism is held off this time, it won’t go away. Politicians like Le Pen, Hofer, and Wilders are odious, but they can draw support from a broad constituency of alienated and disaffected voters, who, like many Trump supporters in this country, believe the political establishment has ignored them.
In the European context, the challenge in confronting right-wing populism is threefold: restoring broad-based economic growth and job creation to the economy (the French unemployment rate is still at more than ten per cent, and the youth jobless rate is above twenty per cent); dealing with the issues of terrorism and migration from the Middle East and North Africa, which are associated in the minds of many voters; and boosting public support for the political institutions of the E.U., which many people see as remote and out of touch. If Europe fails to meet these challenges in the years ahead, popular resentment could increase further, and with it could come more support for the far right, bringing about the breakup that the pessimists foresee.
In France, Macron campaigned on a platform that he claimed was neither left-wing nor right-wing. It included cutting corporate and payroll taxes, reducing class sizes in schools, increasing military spending, opposing religious discrimination, and persuading Germany to adopt pro-growth policies for Europe as a whole. How important his individual policy positions were is debatable. His background as a technocrat and investment banker hardly made him an obvious candidate to take on populism. But, after the two traditional parties stumbled from exhaustion and corruption, he provided someone for anti-Le Pen voters to rally around.
Even if Macron does emerge victorious from the runoff election, there is no assurance that he will have sufficient support in parliament to fulfill his pledges, or that they would make very much difference. (The recent history of French politics is the history of reformers getting frustrated.) These are questions for the future, though. For now, Macron’s task is to finish the job and defeat Le Pen. Anyone who wants a stable Europe rather than one lurching toward the rebirth of nationalism that destroyed it in the twentieth century should wish him well on May 7th.
By: Kyanna Ouyang
In 2006, Brunei, Chile, Singapore and New Zealand signed into the Trans-Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement, also known as the P4 trade agreement, which set guidelines for trade in goods, rules of origin, trade remedies, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, barriers to trade, trade in services, intellectual property, government procurement and competition policy. After the United States agreed to enter into talks with the original Pacific 4 members regarding trade liberalisation in 2008, the negotiations became known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP focuses on significantly expanding free trade by reducing trade barriers, while facilitating global efforts in reducing the environmental harms of trade, and encompasses twelve countries as of now: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, United States, Vietnam, Chile, Brunei, Singapore and New Zealand.
A strong supporter of the trade liberalisation agreements, President Barack Obama regarded the TPP as a priority during his eight-year presidency from 2008 to 2016. Supporters of the TPP argue that the significant reduction of trade barriers, such as long-standing tariffs, guaranteed by the agreement will greatly benefit the United States economy. According to the Office of US Trade Representative, “With the elimination of TPP countries’ tariffs on manufactured products U.S. products will compete on a more level playing field with goods from TPP countries’ other free trade agreement (FTA) partners – including China, India, and the EU.”
Furthermore, economists project that the partnership will increase the productivity of all member countries. According to the Peterson Institute, “Overall, the TPP should boost the GDP of member countries by $285 billion over baseline projections. Japan and the United States would account[ing] for $181 billion of that total or 63 percent of the combined gains of the 12 participating countries.”
More importantly, the TPP provides smaller nations with the opportunity to build up their economies independently from China, thus increasing economic stability. Patrick Mendis of George Mason University explains that, “Economically, through trade engagement and transparency via the TPP, Washington affords smaller countries the opportunity to collectively rebalance asymmetries in bilateral trade with China without undermining China as a valued and vital trade partner.”
However, critics of Trans-Pacific Partnership warn of severe repercussions, both economic and environmental.
According to the Sierra Club, the TPP “would empower multinational corporations to sue the United States government in private trade courts over domestic laws.” Critics claim that the Lone Pine Resources case, where an American mining company successfully sued Quebec for passing a ban on fracking by citing provisions from the North American Free Trade Agreement, is evidence for how trade agreements, such as TPP and NAFTA, allow companies to ignore environmental regulation through taking advantage of investor protection provisions. The Sierra Club furthers that “the Department of Energy loses its authority to regulate exports of natural gas to countries with which the United States has a free trade agreement”; the automatic approval of liquefied natural gas export will hence increase fracking.
More importantly, for the most severe critics of the TPP, including former Democrat Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the gravest harm of trade liberalisation is hurting the poor. The core of the opposition is outsourcing, where lower tariffs between the US and developing countries with cheap labor will ultimately remove jobs from the United States. The Economic Policy Institute explains that “free trade agreements impact a lot more than exports—they increase imports and encourage outsourcing, which means fewer American jobs.” In fact, “According to industry projections, the U.S. could lose more than 600,000 jobs just in the auto and textile sectors due to the TPP” (The Communication Workers of America).
Moreover, not only will the TPP cause American job losses, it would result in greater income inequality. On the TPP, the Center for Economic and Policy Research finds that, “the median wage earner will probably lose as a result of any such agreement. [As a result] The long term losses have been 25 times greater than the potential gains of the TPP the median wage would fall 0.72 percent relative to the [current] median as a result of the TPP.” That is, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch predicts, “for 9 out of 10 U.S. workers, these tiny gains likely would be outweighed by a TPP-spurred [the TPP will spur an] increase in income inequality. The net result? A pay cut for all but the richest 10 percent.”
At any rate, the shocking results of the 2016 Election cast a shadow over the United States’ trade agreements as president-elect Donald Trump is stands strong in his anti-trade rhetoric. As of November 11, 2016, it was reported Washington will no longer pursue passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.