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Hydroxychloroquine Could Help Trump⁠—Politically

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Written by Nick Licata


 

trump thumbs up

This month, President Donald Trump boldly continued to promote the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a protection against being infected by COVID-19. In an almost off-handed comment during a briefing, he said he was taking it himself, although the size of the dosage was not mentioned. At the same time, a new study of 96,000 coronavirus patients on six continents taking the drug concluded that they experienced a 34 percent increase in the risk of mortality and a 137 percent increased risk of serious heart arrhythmias. Those findings would seem to answer Trump’s question of “What do you have to lose?” in encouraging people to take the drug.

The media, with CNN often in the lead, has kept hammering away at Trump’s apparent ignorance or hubris or just stubbornness in pushing the consumption of hydroxychloroquine as a possible way of stopping the pandemic. Their primarily liberal audience probably reacts with disgust at having such an irresponsible president leading innocent but desperate and frightened Americans down a path toward a measurable risk of heart problems or death. Liberals likely expect that it could only damage his chances of being reelected.

Not so fast; here’s why hydroxychloroquine is not a risk for Trump. Promoting a potentially harmful drug for treating Covid-19, is not moving the political needle. No number of experts testifying on CNN or MSNBC against the use of this drug will alter the mindset of Republicans as a whole. Surveys show they trust Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

For instance, the number of coronavirus infections has exploded from early March, when Trump disbanded the Directorate for Global Health Security and at the same time declared a national emergency around the coronavirus. The number of confirmed infections soared from twenty-nine on March 4 to over twenty-six thousand on May 4 according to the University of Washington’s IHME. Nevertheless, Republicans have been far less concerned with the coronavirus than Democrats or Independents. According to the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll taken on March 12–13, 2020, 60% of Republicans did not believe coronavirus was a real threat, while 50% of Independents did. Two months later in late May, 82.2 % of Republicans approved of Trump’s handling of the pandemic while only 12.5 % of Democrats did, according to a poll by FiveThirtyEight.

The pandemic could also hurt the Democrat vote more than the Republican vote in this coming November’s elections. Black and Hispanic populations account for a higher share of confirmed cases and deaths compared to their share of the total population according to a mid-April analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. It also found adults with low incomes are more likely to have higher rates of chronic conditions compared to adults with high incomes, which could increase their risk of serious illness if infected with the coronavirus. These populations are the most likely to be harmed by taking hydroxychloroquine because of the greater likelihood of complications coming from their well-documented poor health conditions. They also overwhelmingly vote for Democrats

The percentage of validated 2016 voters in these three groups reported voting as follows: Blacks 91% for Clinton, 6 % for Trump; Hispanics 66 % for Clinton, 28 % for Trump; people making less than $30,000 a year 53 % for Clinton, 41% for Trump. Since they are not part of Trump’s voting base, any complaints about their illnesses or deaths from using hydroxychloroquine will not likely result in the administration quickly responding or even publicly acknowledging it.

Most importantly, Trump’s promoting hydroxychloroquine shows that he can buck

the health experts who he strongly implies are providing foolish overprotective restrictions that are putting people out of work and out of business. He does not point to infection charts and lectures about the dangers of getting back to normal life. Instead, he comes across as just using common sense to promote a tried and true drug to give Americans a chance to get over this pandemic. He says I’m taking it, and I’m doing fine. Try it! His attitude of being bold and going forward has him applauding protestors in Michigan who want their restrictions lifted, by tweeting “Liberate” Michigan.

He understands that culture has far more influence than data in swaying the populace: how people perceive the pandemic determines their behavior more than what they know about it. He frames the pandemic as a cultural war between the elites and the people, not a dry discussion of the facts lead by academics. Remember Trump was a very successful producer of a popular TV reality show. He knows what grabs people’s attention. It is not tables with numbers on it. Thus, he promotes an unproven drug and refuses to wear a face mask. Not wearing one communicates that he is with those who want to move on and not dwell on the minutiae of health statistics.

Those statistics may actually work in his favor. While the death count will soon exceed 100,000 and the infection rate climbs over a million and a half, the flip side of those charts is that 90% of the population feels fine or in the same health condition they had before the pandemic. Less than 5% of the population has been tested with over 80% of those showing not being infected with the virus. And many of those infected may never show any symptoms. As a result, a false sense of security will continue to grow, since few people have relatives or close friends who have a confirmed infection.

Consequently, Trump has downplayed the need for testing because it is time consuming, costly, not reliable and most importantly it might highlight the extent to which the virus has spread. That would encourage the Democrats in office to continue restrictions on social and business interactions to avoid further infections and deaths. That is something Trump will not tolerate because he desperately needs to get the economy moving before November if he is to stand a chance of being reelected.

He must hold onto the democrats in the key swing states who voted for him. Many Democrats, according to a poll by Morning Consult, believe he was responsible for the strong economy before the pandemic hit. In 2019, just 49 percent of Democrats said Trump was responsible for the then-strong economy, but in the latest survey, 70 percent said Trump was responsible. He must not let them slip away as unemployment among them skyrockets.

As a calculating pragmatist, Trump is focused on the calendar. It doesn’t matter what the pandemic does after the election. Above all, people have to get back to work and receiving income before the election. He will either be president, in which case his strategy worked for remaining as president or if he loses, then the pandemic will be someone else’s problem.

The only effective counter to Trump’s narrative is to capture the cultural high ground by emphasizing that America is one community, not separate cultural tribes. That a united community protects everyone and not just the lucky healthy ones. It is also one that recognizes that protective measures must be designed to move toward normalcy in social and business activities, in a cautious and controlled fashion. The data supports such an approach.

Recently two studies released by universities identified an economic benefit of over $5 trillion results from saving lives across the country in an effort to slow the pandemic down, despite the massive hit to our economy through societal distance restrictions. But that rational approach is boring and too abstract for many people. Instead, this nation needs leaders who can stoke the American spirit of cooperation and trust among our citizens. When that spirit is overshadowed by individualism and personal protection, our society and republic splinters into factions and ultimately invites our nation’s collapse.

It’s Time for A Robot Tax

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Written by Nick Licata


It’s simple; the robot that replaces every worker or reduces their pay will be taxed.

robottax

The Robot Maria Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis

Taxing robots sounds unnatural, almost sci-fi like. While I use “robots’ to personalize automation, the reality is that workers, human beings, are being replaced by automation, often in the form of robotic functions in our major industries.

The coronavirus pandemic will push the automation of work into hyperdrive as a huge section of our employment force is laid off. As of May 7, 2020, over 33 million workers have applied for unemployment benefits out of a labor force of 165 million that peaked in February 2020.

The number of unemployed with no benefits will also go higher as federal aid is reduced because many will no longer be eligible. In 2016 there were about 26 million were nonfarm (unincorporated) sole proprietorships, with estimated three-quarters of them with no employees. Many of these people had not been eligible for unemployment insurance. Because of congress’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) self-employed workers, including independent contractors, can now collect unemployment benefits.

Those benefits will stop long before the pandemic does if the Republicans control either chamber of Congress in 2021. In the push to restart our economy, Republicans are resisting any continuation of funding for these workers. Companies are also facing more employees, particularly those represented by unions, requesting a safe work environment requiring protective measures like safe distancing. Meatpacking plants are just the most publicized example of this tension. Robots do not need safe distancing, nor do they organize for a safe work environment.

The pandemic’s long term impact will be an additional new incentive to automate work production and services. Business leaders have recognized the displacement of human labor by robotics for some time. Tesla co-founder and SpaceX founder Elon Musk told the World Government Summit in Dubai in 2017, “There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better (than a human). These are not things that I wish will happen. These are simply things that I think probably will happen.” To mitigate this trend other billionaires are promoting a tax on robots.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told online publication Quartz, that if a robot replaces a human worker, there should be a tax on robotics to offset automation’s societal effect. Gates said that replacing human labor with machines can have a positive impact if it frees up people to use their human empathy and understanding to help the many who need help to survive and enjoy life. However, the money to allow them to assist the larger community needs to come “from the profits that are generated by the labor-saving efficiency there; some can come directly in some kind of robot tax.”

Billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, said that robotics and artificial intelligence “is going to cause unemployment and we need to prepare for it.” In response to Gates’ robot tax suggestion, Cuban tweeted “There should be a tax and some should be paid in stock of the company.”

Their concerns are backed up by PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world’s Big Four accounting firms, which released a study in 2017 that estimates 38% of US jobs could be lost to automation by the early 2030s. Employees in the industries related to transportation, manufacturing, and retail would be the most likely to lose their jobs to robots. Meanwhile, in response to these concerns, Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said “I’m not worried at all,” and added that AI and robotics “aren’t even on their radar screen”.

However, Business Day columnist Kevin Roose, attending the 1919 World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, reported that executives there claimed that if they don’t automate jobs as quickly as possible, their competitors will. A spokesman for Cognizant, a technology services firm, described the conflict that these executives must address. On one hand they “absolutely want to automate as much as they can,” and on the other hand they are “facing a backlash in civic society.”

To address that backlash, businesses argue that “workers whose jobs are eliminated by automation can be “reskilled” to perform other jobs in an organization.” The unfortunate news for those fired is found in a January 2019 report by the World Economic Forum that estimated that only one in four can be profitably reskilled by private-sector programs.

Only a few politicians have shown interest in a robot tax. Former San Francisco Board of Supervisor Jane Kim had created a task force to explore an automation tax because income disparity in her district could be attributable to the use of robots. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also advocated for a robot tax during and after his presidential run. But such no robot tax has been pushed in Congress.

The huge number of unemployed workers has kicked our economy into the basement. Consumer demand, which accounts for 70% of our economic growth, has steeply declined. The result is a calamitous fall in sales and profits for most businesses, forcing them to lay off employees, which further erodes consumer demand. If total wages remain depressed, last year’s demand will not return for the foreseeable future. This will compel businesses to search for ways to reduce their costs. And, that swings the door wide open to automation, the silent killer of human employment.

Candidate Donald Trump ran on a platform of getting jobs back to those that lost them. Think of the coal industry. There were multiple causes for the decline in jobs in coal production, such as the competition from lower-sulfur Wyoming coal, or the production of cheaper natural gas, or world decline in demand for coal. Trump ignored them and emphasized government regulation while the Democrats focused on automation as the cause.

Trump just talked about getting back jobs, although there are now fewer coal miner jobs than when he got elected. Hillary Clinton’s approach was more honest and more tone-deaf. She bluntly said the nation was going to “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Her answer was a $30 billion plan to secure their health care and pension benefits, offer tax credits and job training, and economic development. Long on details, but no punch line: I’ll get the jobs back.

This is why a robot tax carries a better political message. It’s not the usual promise of the government spending more of your money to help the needy. It’s simple; the robot that replaces every worker or reduces their pay will be taxed. Automation does provide benefits: faster service and more production, and lower labor costs. But the savings are not shared with the employees. If automation does not produce additional work opportunities at comparable wages, then the consumer market shrinks, while profits increase. The result is wealth is concentrated among the owners and investors, while those working are cut free to seek lower-paying jobs.

A robot tax stops that trend by shifting a portion of business profits to the workers by funding a viable social net to protect their living standards and provide training for new jobs at equal or better wages. Now is the time for Congress and candidates this November to raise it as a serious attempt to resurrect our economy and save or create jobs for the millions who are unemployed now and perhaps for years to come.

The Next President Must Harness the Virus Debt for Economic Growth

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Historic Levels of Unemployment Claims and Business Shutdowns Have Required the Greatest Surge in Government Debt Since WWII

biden and trump

 

            Because of the Covid-19 pandemic the Federal government, with the support of both parties, has issued close to $3 trillion in government debt to stop the economy from cratering. However, this debt could also create an opportunity to expand our economy. First, let’s review how we got here.

            With stay-in-place laws and mandatory closing of most businesses, unemployment has skyrocketed. Before the pandemic it was at 3.5 percent on December 20, as of April 2020, the Economic Policy Institute has estimated that unemployment rate to be at 18.3 percent. Many economists using April’s Labor Department data predict that the unemployment rate could reach 25 percent this summer if the existing practices remain in force. That level would match the peak of the Great Depression in 1933. However, then it took three years not six months to reach that level.

            The health security measures taken so far by states and the federal government have also dramatically reduced the size of our 2020 GDP. Fitch Ratings predicts it will shrink by around 6 percent from 2019. This would wipe out all the growth that took place in the last two years.  The GDP has increased by 2.3 percent in 2019 and 2.9 percent in 2018.

            With numbers like these, both President Trump and Democrat leaders pushed for federal loans. Trump initially said in February, “I think that we’re doing a great job,” requesting $1.25 billion in new funding to address the coronavirus pandemic. However, the House Democrats passed the CARES Act ( Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (H.R. 748) at a much higher level of funding.

            In the first week of March, Congress with bipartisan support replaced that bill with a Phase 1 funding package totaling $8.3 billion to treat and prevent the widespread transmission and effects of COVID-19. By the end of March, a new Phase 3 added $2 trillion more and was passed by the Senate unanimously and in the House by voice vote, with Trump signing it the next day. Still waiting in the wings is CARES 2, which provides another half-trillion for emergency relief. It is scheduled for a House vote when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi determines that it is safe for the members to return to D.C.

            These loans are pumping up government debt to new levels. Previous government spending increases and tax cuts had already pushed U.S. government ratio of debt to the GDP to nearly 80%, the highest in over 60 years. It was only 35 percent at the end of 2007. Germany’s second-largest bank, Commerzbank, believes that the current coronavirus relief packages will push that figure to 96% by 2022.

            Although the Republicans are reluctant to push for the larger CARES 2 funding package, economists have been predicting that more support for workers and companies harmed by the pandemic will be required. However, with unemployment approaching an all-time high,
tax revenue will decline along with economic activity, pushing the government deficit even further.  Bernd Weidensteiner, one of the German bank’s economists, says that could well happen if Congress passes further aid packages and the economy does not revive quickly; US debt could then exceed the previous high of 106 percent set right after WW II.

The Next Administration Faces Two Options for Addressing Our Current and Growing Government Debt

Next year’s administration, whether under Donald Trump or Joe Biden, will face a huge federal debt due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There are two different approaches to take. On the whole, conservatives support paying off the debt as soon as possible to avoid inflation, while liberals support using debt to expand the nation’s services and economy.

Balance the Budget by Cutting Public Services

            This month the leaders of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) sent a letter to the top four leaders in both chambers saying that there is an “urgent need” to address the “fiscal health of our nation” because of the growing debt created by dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Their solution is to offset debt payments with spending cuts and to limit the growth of the federal revenue to 60 percent of the GDP.

            Their approach is similar to the conservative movement to pass a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment, which would require the federal government’s total revenues to be equal to or greater than total expenses. Inflation would be avoided by cutting or curtailing the growth of social spending, like social security and Medicare entitlement programs. That effort has been around since the 80s.

            President Ronald Reagan pledged in his first term to do “all I can” to get the Republican-dominated Congress to pass a resolution for a constitutional amendment to require balanced federal budgets. But in his two terms, he never proposed a balanced budget to Congress. Instead, he ran budget deficits as a result of providing business tax cuts. In particular, real estate developers benefited, like Donald Trump, who amassed $3.4 billion in debt by 1990, and was personally liable for a quarter of it. Meanwhile, during Trump’s presidency, our nation’s deficit is up nearly 50 percent from Obama’s last term by pushing big military spending increases and additional tax cuts.

            Bush, like Reagan, believed in a balanced budget but continued to run deficits. His cure was to make funding cuts in social spending that impacted Social Security, Medicare, and education. However, Democrat Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama also worked to achieve a balanced budget.

            Clinton vowed to reform welfare but in 1996 when the Republicans gained control of both Congress’s chambers and he faced an election for his second term, he signed off on Republican legislation. It ended six decades of federal guaranteed help to the poorest and turned over the responsibility to the states. In the process, he balanced the budget – by abandoning his initial proposal to increase welfare spending by $10 billion and instead cut it by nearly $55 billion.

            President Obama also pursued a balanced budget when he convened the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles “National Commission on Budget Responsibility and Reform” in 2010. It recommended a complete overhaul of the tax code, with the objective of lowering the debt-to-GDP ratio to 60% by 2023. Among its recommendations was increasing the normal retirement age to 69 by 2075, reducing federal retirement benefits, school loans, and farm subsidies. Congress never adopted it.

            New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, argues that conservatives use budget deficits “as an excuse to cut social programs” — for example, a number of states have made it much harder to collect unemployment benefits when their budgets shrink. State business tax revenue has been drastically reduced by measures to control the Covid-19 pandemic. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates states could suffer a collective shortfall of $500 billion through the fiscal year 2022. Unless they receive national assistance, they will have to eliminate services to both citizens and businesses.

            State assistance has been blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; he says it would cost too much. He said if states cannot afford to handle the coronavirus pandemic, they should declare bankruptcy. There is a certain irony in that suggestion since McConnell’s Kentucky is one of only four states where local and state debt exceeds 90% of their combined revenue. Despite Trump tweeting, “Why should taxpayers be bailing out poorly run cities and states, in all cases Democrat-run and manage…” three of these four states have fiscally conservative Republican governors.

Focus on Expanding the Economy, not Balancing the Budget

            Although cutting debt to achieve a balanced budget may still be pushed by Trump or Biden, the Covid-19 pandemic has created a new set of conditions.  An increase in federal debt may not be a problem but a means to sustain a growing economy. Krugman recently wrote, “While we will run very big budget deficits over the next couple of years, they will do little if any harm.”

             A report from the Brookings Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy came to the same conclusion. The world market is “awash in savings; people and institutions with savings are particularly eager to invest the money in U.S. Treasury debt right now.” This makes it “easier for the U.S. Treasury to borrow more without being forced to pay much higher interest rates;” And, “with interest rates at historic lows… investment demand is likely to be very low in the face of the uncertain economic outlook associated with the pandemic.”

            An industrialized country can have a ratio of government debt to GDP to be well over 100 percent, and still have a growing economy without excessive inflation. Artie Green of Cognizant Wealth Advisors suggests looking at Japan as a positive case study. It has the highest debt to GDP ratio in the world (currently 273%), its economy has been doing relatively well. Unemployment slid from 5% in 2008 to less than 3% in 2017 and its inflation rate has not topped 3% for the past two decades.

            Four academics from the U.S. and Europe in the field of economics issued a paper on why running a government budget deficit is stabilizing instead of destabilizing, if it is used to invest in full-employment strategies and assisting small businesses. Both the owners and their employees’ benefit. The owners receive financial assistance to keep their businesses alive and their workers employed during emergency conditions, like the pandemic or the last recession

            They point out that in past instances when the debt was expanded, like the Obama bank bailout after the 2008 crash, the Trump tax cuts and Coronavirus financial bailout, money was not used to finance new infrastructure, expanded employment, or improve living standards. Instead, most of it was given to the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors of our economy so that they could remain profitable.

            This approach, highlighted by the balance-the-budget mentality and sustained by the belief that financing investors will create good-paying jobs, has been pursued by both Republican and Democrat administrations. The result is a gradual but measurable shift in wealth from middle class working families to a thin slice of the population whose wealth is measured in billions of dollars.

            A report by Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies found that since 1980, the taxes paid by billionaires, measured as a percentage of their wealth, dropped 79%. He also found that after the 2008 financial crisis, it took less than 30 months for billionaire wealth to return to its pre-meltdown levels. But as of 2019, the net worth of middle-class families has yet returned to the 2007 level of wealth. “People went into the pandemic with the economic hangover from the Great Recession,” he says.

            In order to have a growing economy, the federal budget will need to lift up employee’s wages. Our economy is consumer-driven and dependent on small businesses for sustaining our workforce. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of American economic growth. Over 99 percent of America’s 28.7 million firms are small businesses and they create two-thirds of net new jobs.

The Nation Needs a Plan for Moving Forward 

            The next presidential administration must have a plan for dealing with the Covid-19 induced government debt. The Trump administration’s tax cut and Covid-19 government debt cut services to balance the budget. If Biden is to offer something different, he needs to articulate how our current debt does present a challenge but also an opportunity to sustain and expand our economy.

The closing down of businesses and the restrictions of personal travel have hurt small businesses and their employees. It has also slowed down the spread of the pandemic. But it has come with a huge economic cost, resulting in protestors across the country demonstrating against these protective measures. They have legitimate concerns, but their actions are promoted by interests that want to see government funding flow to those least in need of assistance.

That practice will continue to hinder middle-class incomes from keeping up with increasing living costs. It produces anger, resentment, and a willingness to support whoever is willing to take drastic steps to alter their slide away from a stable income and secure future. In other words, they support candidates, like Donald Trump, who run against the government because it has failed to protect them. Such leadership does not seek solutions but someone to blame: a deep state of elites, dangerous migrants, fake media, and government-funded scientists. It is a pattern we are now seeing in countries with weak democratic institutions, like a free press or an independent judiciary. These countries will either face social unrest or move to cripple those institutions that protect their citizens.

The U.S. does not have to go down that path. The next administration can choose to use our debt to create decent-paying jobs and update our aging physical infrastructures. The public, the voters, need to hear a plan. One that uses the federal budget to provide us both economic growth and a safer, healthier environment. We need a leader that moves beyond blaming others for our problems to one who corrals our debt as a resource, not a burden to fund such a journey. Biden must step up to that challenge if he is to be a viable alternative to Trump.

Trump Disrupts the Distinction Between Personal Loyalty & Constitutional Allegiance

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Written by Nick Licata

Trump has expanded his responsibility for dealing with a pandemic by firing federal government watchdogs.
trump scowl
           Donald Trump was elected president to disrupt our government and society; to drain the swamp.
           The specifics were vague, but the understanding was that someone had to change the “system”. As Trump said at the 2016 Republican nominating convention in Cleveland, “Only I can fix it.” And, he wants explicit loyalty to him from government employees as the means for doing that.
            While the coronavirus pandemic is ravaging our country, President Trump’s attention has shifted from deflecting responsibility for appropriately preparing for it to firing the institutional watchdogs that Congress had created to keep it informed of any department problems that could usurp their authority or endanger the public’s health.
            A bipartisan Congress established a network of independent watchdogs over various federal departments when it enacted the Inspector General Act of 1978. In an era when, despite party affiliations, there was a common recognition that congress needed to curb excessive presidential authority; the House passed it 388 to 6.
            The law clearly states that Inspector Generals were created, “to conduct and supervise audits and investigations” and “to provide a means for keeping … Congress fully and currently informed about problems and deficiencies relating to the administration of such programs and operations and the necessity for and progress of corrective action;”
            Congress in the past, has resisted presidents from interfering in the duties of IGs. President Obama’s administration attempted to do so when it issued a 2015 legal memo allowing departments to withhold some information from them. Senator Chuck Grassley, then Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, amended the existing legislation guarantying the IGs had access to “all records” of the agencies they oversaw. It was then signed into law by President Obama.
            On April 3, 2020, Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the IG for the intelligence community. He handled the whistleblower complaint that eventually led to Trump’s impeachment. Atkinson said the firing was retaliation for doing his job. A bipartisan letter of eight senators led by Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to President Trump followed the firing in less than a week. It accused him of not providing a sufficient explanation for firing Atkin and for apparently circumventing Congress’s authority by not providing proper 30-day notice.
            Trump did not break new ground here. President Obama in 2009, removed the IG for the Corporation for National and Community Service after that IG investigated an Obama supporter. Obama said he no longer had the “fullest” confidence in the IG. Trump said that he lost his “vital” confidence in his IG. Obama gave Congress a thirty-day notice, as did Trump, but both of them put the IG on administrative leave, effectively removing him from his position before the completion of the statutorily required notice period.
            Congress failed to fix this ability to bypass Congress’s authority back in 2009, by stripping out a key provision in the  House version of the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008.  The final bill became law, but it did not include the House’s “for cause” requirement for removing an IG for 9 specific reasons, such as Neglect of duty; Malfeasance; Knowing violation of a law, rule, or regulation; gross waste of funds; or Abuse of authority.
             So, the wording for firing IGs remained simply that an “Inspector General may be removed from office by the President. The President shall communicate the reasons for any such removal to both Houses of Congress.” As a result, presidents have fired IGs because they just darn wished to. President Reagan in 1981 fired all the watchdogs nominated by his predecessor, President Carter, a Democrat. After a fierce backlash, he reversed some of those dismissals.
            All presidents appoint “loyal” followers to key White House positions so that they can speak and act as freely as possible in pursuing any policy they choose. Such loyalty is to be expected. But Trump differs from former presidents, in that he has expanded his expectation of loyalty to offices that in the past were considered to be more bound to government rules and regulations than personal loyalty to the president.
            Loyalty has come down to executing Trump’s policy or instructions, regardless of what some musty, old rules may say. The assumption that federal employees should be personally loyal to him, puts employees in an awkward position. Do they follow an allegiance to the nation’s constitution and law, or do they maintain the trust of the president by supporting his decisions if they run counter to the law?
            Early in Trump’s first term, former Senator Jeff Sessions found himself in that dilemma. Trump appointed him as Attorney General after Sessions had been the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump’s candidacy. Sessions recused himself from his Department of Justice’s probe into whether Russia had interfered with the 2016 presidential election because a DOJ regulation forbid its officials from investigating campaigns of which they were apart. The session was a Trump campaign surrogate throughout the race and served as chairman of the campaign’s national security advisory board.
            In retaliation, President Trump said he never would have hired Sessions if he knew he was going to recuse himself, despite Trump knowing that if Sessions headed the investigation it would have violated that Department’s rules. Session defended his decision saying that the DOJ “needed to do its work fairly and impartially according to the law and Constitution”. Trump was outraged and removed Sessions; loyalty was more important than the law.
            Trump has fired several professional employees who have served under prior presidents who he considered disloyal for carrying out their legal duties.
            FBI Director James Comey had served in the administrations of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama and was overseeing the Russia probe. Comey claimed that in a personal meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, he was asked to end the investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, who was later found guilty and sent to prison. Two months after Sessions’ recusal Comey was fired.
            Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was appointed as an ambassador three times, twice by a Republican President, and once by a Democrat. She was abruptly told to come back to Washington from Ukraine “on the next plane.”
            In D.C. Deputy Secretary of State informed her that the President had lost confidence in her and the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove her, although he told her that she had done nothing wrong. Her office’s anti-corruption efforts raised concerns with Ukrainians who “played by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me,” Ms. Yovanovitch said. Trump’s attorney, Rudi Giuliani was representing the interests of some of these individuals. She was subsequently dismissed as the Ambassador to Ukraine before her term was over.
            Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, testified before the Trump impeachment inquiry because he had raised concerns that a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky threatened US national security.
            Afterward, Trump called him “insubordinate,” and said Vindman had reported his “’perfect’ calls incorrectly.” The Army said they would not investigate him for disciplinary action, despite Trump recommending that they do so because Vindman told  “horrible things” to the House investigators. Two days after Trump’s acquittal, Vindman was fired and escorted out of his White House office.
            Most recently Trump has begun focusing on IGs who might balk at carrying his political message on the coronavirus pandemic rather than just reporting factually on it. He attacked Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm after she released a report describing widespread testing delays and supply issues at the nation’s hospitals. In his tweeter account, Trump dismissed it as “Another Fake Dossier!” He mentioned that she served under the Obama administration, but did not note that she had also previously served under the Bush administration.
            More significantly, Trump removed Glenn Fine as the coronavirus relief watchdog. Fine had just been named by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee because he was the acting Pentagon IG.
             Since Trump did not have a say in that decision, he could not be assured that Fine would loyally publicize Trump’s role in fighting the pandemic. So, while Congress was out of town, Trump named a new acting official to Fine’s position, who automatically became the new watchdog of the federal government’s efforts to fight the pandemic.
            The president has the right to replace certain government employees, but they have constraints when those positions protect the public’s interests. Trump’s dismissal of ambassadors, justice department and investigation department directors, and IGs has revealed a pattern of firing those who do not follow his policies as opposed to following the law that frames their responsibilities.
            To avoid having these critical positions becoming fixated on being loyal to a particular president’s political agenda rather than having an allegiance to the constitution, Congress needs to pass new legislation. It should reintroduce the 2009 legislation requiring a president to only fire an IG for a specific cause. Also, they must not allow an IG to be suspended or put on administrative leave to circumvent Congress publicly reviewing his reasons for dismissing an IG before that person vacates the position. Unless Congress acts accordingly, government agencies will fall under the sway of a president that cuts off public scrutiny of mismanaged or corrupt agencies.
            Any candidate for president could endorse such legislation and pledge to get it passed during their first year. Nevertheless, regardless of who becomes president in 2021, Congress must recognize that they are the government branch that must check any president, Republican or Democrat, from corralling too much authority that could endanger the public’s safety and liberties.

Authoritarian Leaders Rejected the Danger of a COVID-19 Pandemic Because It Challenged Their Image

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Written by Nick Licata


 

     They responded in two ways, first ignoring it and then blaming others.

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A Brazilian government official (r) posing for a photo next to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at Mar-A-Lago who tested positive for the 2019 novel coronavirus.

In the current coronavirus pandemic authoritarian-oriented leaders, whether communist or capitalist, initially portrayed the virus as an insignificant danger. Once they could no longer ignore the mounting number of infections and deaths, they turned to deflect criticism to condemning the behavior of others. Their major concern was not protecting the welfare of their people but protecting their image as a leader whose control was above being challenged by men or nature.

Bad news resulting from natural events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly troublesome to them. The leaders of the two largest authoritarian nations, Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi, both initially downplayed the coronavirus pandemic and then accused others of their nation’s derelict response. And, the leaders of two of the largest democracies, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and our own President Donald Trump followed the same behavior of first ignoring the coronavirus problem and then blaming others.

On January 20, Chinese President Xi Jinping commented publicly for the first time on the virus and ordered “resolute efforts” to control the outbreak. However, a transcript of China’s most powerful decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, revealed that Xi was already aware of the virus on January 7. Two days later, the Chinese health commission said a 61-year-old man, had died of the virus. Xi did not inform his people about the spreading virus for two weeks while, according to his government, it infected close to 300 people.

Even within China’s tightly controlled mainstream and social media, word of a deathly virus was spreading too fast for the censors to shut down. Once Xi had to admit that there was a such a virus, he began to find someone to blame.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, tweeted that “It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.” Xi blamed local communist officials in Wuhan for not dealing with the virus after they had pointed to China’s top-heavy central government for not giving them the authority to act. Soon afterward, several top Wuhan and Hubei officials were fired for not acting fast enough to contain the virus.

Russia’s President Putin reacted in a similar fashion of initially downplaying the coronavirus. Through his control of the media, very few coronavirus infections were reported. As late as Sunday, March 22, CNN reported that Russia, with a population of 146 million had fewer confirmed cases than Luxembourg, with a population of less than 1 percent of Russia’s. A few days later he was assuring the public that the coronavirus was “under control”.

It was not until Saturday, March 28, Putin decided to close all of its borders and ordered all citizens to stay home for a week unless they provide essential services. His staff probably had gotten to him that the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported to the World Health Organization had more than doubled. Although no health experts have suggested a week’s confinement is anywhere close enough time needed to contain the virus from spreading.

Opposition posted on the internet that there were over 20,000 confirmed cases. Like in China, the government was removing any critical postings on social media. Fortunately for the public, Anastasia Vasilyeva, a doctor and leader of the non-government Alliance of Doctors union, was able to get out her claim that the authorities were using pneumonia and acute respiratory infection as a cause of sickness, not the coronavirus. Technically the authorities were correct because people don’t die from the virus, they die from the conditions that it produces, which is pneumonia and acute respiratory failure.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro was elected to office just 2 years ago on a very conservative anti-government platform. In the case of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, he denied its danger. He calls the coronavirus a “little flu” that largely threatens the old and vulnerable. On Sunday, March 22, he told his supporters, “Confront it like a man, not a boy!”

He has found Brazil’s democratic process detrimental to his own political goals. In particular, he ignored his health officials trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by publicly gathering small crowds in neighborhoods within Brazil’s capital.

Bolsonaro, on March 25, blasted as criminals the governors and mayors of Brazil’s largest states and cities for imposing lockdowns to slow the coronavirus outbreak. He explained to the media that “What a few mayors and governors are doing is a crime. They’re destroying Brazil.” He is seemed more concerned with meeting his campaign promise to revitalize their economy than protecting the public’s health. His Minister of Health said recently that if the government is unable to curb transmission, the country’s health system would collapse by the end of April.

President Trump is not an authoritarian, although he has admired the power they have within their own country. He had initially denied the coronavirus as dangerous and expected it to be over soon. On February 26th, Trump said  “we’ve done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum. We’ve had tremendous success —”. At that time, he proudly pointed out there were only 15 infections in the US. “As they get better, we take them off the list, so that we’re going to be pretty soon at only five people.” Two weeks later on March 12, we had 1,645 people infected with the virus. The next day Trump blamed Barack Obama for his own administration’s inability to adequately test enough Americans for the coronavirus outbreak, claiming “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

Trump first blamed China for our country’s slow response to the pandemic because he said they withheld information for two months about the coronavirus. However, the time-lapse between the first known death from the virus in China on January 9 and when Trump suspended entry into the United States by any foreign nationals traveling from China on January 30th, was less than a month. Without any evidence, Trump has repeatedly made the two months claim.

When some Democrats were critical of how he was implementing restrictions on travelers from China, he accused them of  “working the Impeachment Hoax. They didn’t have a clue! Now they are fear-mongering.” Trump also singled out Democratic Governors for not appreciating his efforts and told Vice President Mike Pence not to call them, “I say, ‘Mike, don’t call the governor of Washington. You’re wasting your time with him. Don’t call the woman in Michigan.’” Trump was upset that they were critical of him for not using federal authority and resources to provide emergency medical supplies and assistance to their states.

In all of these countries, including ours, the authoritarian-oriented leader has received a lot of support because they are perceived as strong leaders. Also, they either control the media or have ideological media allies that endorse their policies, so that the public gets to hear directly from the leader what he wants them to believe.

But, as COVED-19 spreads, even an authoritarian approach cannot demand an end to a pandemic in two weeks. Once the infections and deaths reach a certain point, they must introduce policies that acknowledge that they are not in total control. If there is any lasting effect from this health crisis, it may be a more knowledgeable electorate in democratic countries appreciating that an effective government is an institution, not a cult of supporters following a strong leader.

Trump’s State of Denial, Not the Deep State, kept us unprepared for the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Written by Nick Licata


 

I lay out how Trump’s consistent denial of the need to listen to government experts exposes his suspicion of a deep state conspiracy against him and has made this country unprepared to handle the coronavirus pandemic.

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Photo by Evan Vucci AP

 

President Donald Trump prides himself on being optimistic no matter how dire the situation. That is not necessarily a bad trait; it helps to get by in hard times. But deniability of past or repeated behavior when it results in harm to yourself or others is not a positive trait. In fact, as president of the USA, it endangers everyone. Trump’s State of Denial has led us to the current horrendous situation of not being as prepared as we could have been for the coronavirus, i.e. COVID-19.

For instance, South Korea announced its first coronavirus case just one day before the USA. Yet in the 7 weeks that followed, South Korea had tested more than 189,000 people, we had tested less than 2,000. We have a population over 6 times larger than them, to match their extent of coverage we would have tested 1.1 million people. As of March 21, less than a quarter-million in the US have been tested according to the John Hopkins School of Medicine The COVID Tracking Project. The Federal Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of March 23, had not publicly released the number of people who have been tested as of that date. Although at a press conference on that date a White House staff member estimated that 250,000 had been done.

The following are examples of Trump’s State of Denial and its negative impact on controlling the coronavirus pandemic.
TRUMP: “It’s something that nobody expected”
On Saturday, March 14, President Trump said that the coronavirus caught him and the world off guard. About a week later, on March 21, Trump repeated his denial of having any advance reason to expect a probable massive pandemic; “The magnitude is something that no matter who you were, no matter where you come from, nobody ever thought a thing like this could happen.”

Trump Was Given An Explicit Warning Of A Possible Huge Pandemic
In January 2017, as Trump was coming into office, the New York Times reported, “outgoing Obama administration officials ran an extensive exercise on responding to a pandemic for incoming senior officials of the Trump administration.” Trump has never denied this information being provided to him.
The New York Times also reported that in 2019 the Health and Human Services Department performed startling government simulations to show how underprepared the United States was for such a pandemic. Nothing was done in response. Department Secretary Alex Azar has mentioned these simulations at the White House Press Conferences.
TRUMP: “I don’t know anything about it”
At a March 13, 2020 press conference Trump said, “I just think it’s a nasty question,” when asked why he disbanded the Directorate, known as the “Global Health Security and Biodefense” team on the National Security Council, which was responsible for coordinating federal agencies’ response to a pandemic outbreak. “And when you say ‘me,’ I didn’t do it. … I don’t know anything about it.”

Technically Trump is right, he didn’t disband the nation’s only Health Security Team, John Bolton did.
Trump appointed Bolton to lead the National Security Council in April 2018. A month later, Bolton eliminated the team for pandemic preparedness. It was created in the aftermath of the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak to avoid seeing again a fragmented U.S. response and preparedness strategy and ended up costing U.S. taxpayers $5.4 billion in emergency supplemental funding.

On May 7th, 2018 Luciana Borio, director of medical and biodefense preparedness at the NSC, spoke at a symposium at Emory University “The threat of pandemic flu is the number one health security concern,” she told the audience. “Are we ready to respond? I fear the answer is no.”

Bolton said he intended to streamline the NSC, which it may have done, but at the cost of not having anyone around to coordinate a response to a pandemic so the country would not end up where they are now, repeating our Ebola experience. Bolton’s first step was to eliminate the team’s Director position and then disperse the team staff across other parts of the NSC which focused on other priorities; two of them went to the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate within NSC.

TRUMP: “I’m a businessperson,” he said in denying the need to fund scientists working on disease control.

During a February 26, 2020 briefing on his coronavirus response, Trump said he cut global health experts from federal staff and tried to slash funding for the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who try to spot and respond to epidemics. “Some of the people we cut, they haven’t been used for many, many years,” Trump said justifying those efforts. “I’m a business person — I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them,” he said. “When we need them, we can get them back very quickly.”
Shrinking government budget may be good unless it costs the public a trillion dollars later.

Trump’s logic of eliminating a government professional group to fight a pandemic runs counter to organizational consultants who point out that eliminating positions that are highly skilled do not result in cost savings but result in lager long term costs in finding replacements or teach new ones. On Jan 29, 2018, a coalition of global health of 200 organizations and companies sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking the administration to not cut funding to programs as essential to health and national security, warning there will be ever more costly outbreaks.

Two years later, on February 25, 2020, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, was in the Trump State of Denial, telling CNBC that the government had “contained” the coronavirus and would not seriously harm the economy. “I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all.” By March 212020, Kudlow switched to getting the Deep State to start spending more than $2 trillion to save our economy through a stimulus package in the Senate to stop a depression because of the coronavirus pandemic, which had never been “contained.”

TRUMP: He first learned about the coronavirus when he closed the border to China

At the White House, March 21 Press Conference Trump was asked “When did you first learn that this was going to be a problem? (in reference to the spread of the coronavirus). He responded, “When I learned I started doing the closing, so probably around that time. We didn’t know about it until it started coming out publicly, but I wish they could’ve told us earlier about it, because we could’ve come up with a solution. They (referring to the White House Coronavirus Task Force) read about it in the newspapers like everybody else.”
Why wasn’t our State Department functioning to inform Trump?

The reporter who asked that question should have followed up by asking “When did our Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, inform our State Department about a dangerous virus outbreak in the city of Wuhan?” The first death from an illness caused by a new lethal virus occurred there on January 11, 2020, as reported by Chinese state media The Xinhua news agency.

That information would have obviously been available to our ambassador and our foreign service corps. Did they inform Secretary Mike Pompeo? Or, as former Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch has accused the Trump administration, had our experienced foreign service personnel been dramatically reduced, because of a fear that there is a Deep State conspiracy to undermine Trump’s authority, that they were not functioning properly?

The next major event occurred on January 23 when Chinese authorities cut off Wuhan, a city of more than 11 million, by canceling planes and trains leaving the city. At this point, at least 17 people had died there. Were Trump and Pompeo still uninformed of this development?

It was not until January 31, that Trump said he became aware of the problem and suspended entry into the United States by any foreign nationals who had traveled to China in the past 14 days. That was one day after the W.H.O. declared a global health emergency, where 213 people had died and nearly 9,800 had been infected worldwide. How could he not have been aware for over two weeks that there was a new lethal virus spreading? Was it because he called this developing virus pandemic a “Chinese” virus that he optimistically believed would not affect America? However, since he had disbanded the group of experts two years prior who were trained to track such a threat, so who was around to warn him?

TRUMP: “It may get a little bigger; it may not get bigger at all,”

On February 26 at a White House Press Conference – Trump said regarding those with the coronavirus, “We have a total of 15, they’re in a process of recovering, with some already having fully recovered.” He was not including those on the cruise ship from Japan.

“We’re going to spend whatever is appropriate.  Hopefully, we’re not going to have to spend so much because we really think we’ve done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum.  We’ve had tremendous success — tremendous success — beyond what people would have thought.”

By denying that the coronavirus could manifest into a potential epidemic in the US, Trump decided, along with Fox News and some Republicans, to blame the Democrats and the media for creating panic.

Trump tweeted on February 26 “Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the “Caronavirus” (his spelling) look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible.” The next day Fox News Commentator Laura Ingraham called Democrats the “pandemic party” and trying to undermine Trump’s administration. That same day another Fox News Commentator Sean Hannity said the Democrats “sadly politicizing and weaponizing an infectious disease as their next effort to bludgeon President Trump.”

Trump continued to politicize the coronavirus at his campaign rally in North Charleston, S.C on February 28, by accusing the Democrats of “politicizing” the coronavirus, saying “This is their new hoax. Democrats will always say horrible things,” Trump said. “Democrats want us to fail so badly.”

On February 29 “It may get a little bigger; it may not get bigger at all,” Trump said in a national TV address at the time.

Trump’s antipathy toward the Deep State has reshaped the Republican Party’s character from being small-government advocates to a grievance coalition highly skeptical of government, borrowing Washington Post reporter Robert Costa’s description. That attitude was reflected by a number of Republicans echoing Trump and making light of a possible coronavirus pandemic. Trump’s leading Congressional defender Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), on March 8, dismissed concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and said on Fox News that “it’s a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant.”

It wasn’t until March 13 that Trump declared a national emergency, which would have been six weeks since he said he became aware of the coronavirus as a “problem”. The explosion of infections was so great by the time Trump declared a national emergency that the legendary GOP strategist Ed Rollins, who now chairs a pro-Trump super PAC, said, “The right underestimated this and thought the media was beating up on Trump again.”

Bottomline Of This Exercise

Any national leader must accept responsibility for their past actions and their publicized opinions, especially when it impacts the security of our nation’s health. President Trump’s attitude to the approaching pandemic has not been one of optimism but of denying the probability of its existence and of deflecting responsibility for appropriately responding.

The result may be why our nation now has the third-highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world, going from 1,645 people on March 12 to 43,000 as of March 23, a span of 11 days. And, we are still struggling to contain the outbreak and providing medical supplies to our state governments and hospitals as well as supplying the proper safety gear for our health care workers.

Competency is not determined by party affiliation, but by the performance of our nation’s leadership. The Trump Administration has not had a record of competency in fighting the coronavirus.

Does the Scandinavian Model support Bernie’s Socialist Message?

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Written by Nick Licata


 

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 Credit: WORLD BOOK map

And does it matter if it is not socialist, but would benefit the average American?

Washington Post Columnist Fareed Zakaria in an op-ed accused Bernie Sanders’s repeated exultation of the Northern European countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway as examples of the kind of economic system he wants to bring to the United States as being an unrealistic fantasy; Sanders either ignores or misunderstands their policies.

When it comes to supporting working people, Zakaria notes that none of these countries has a minimum wage. In addition, they have adopted a “flexicurity” policy that combines flexible labor markets that allow employers to hire and fire workers easily, without excessive regulation or litigation. Although that is balanced with favorable benefits.

Zakaria points out that while Sanders admires these countries’ economic policies, their tax practices do not match his intent that “Billionaires should not exist.” Sweden and Norway both have more billionaires per capita than the United States. Remarkably either they do not have inheritance taxes (Sweden and Norway) or are at 15 percent (Denmark). Meanwhile, the US level is at 40 percent.

Worse yet, Zakaria says that taxes in the Scandinavian countries fall disproportionately on the poor, middle and upper-middle class. For example, Denmark’s highest top income tax rate is 55.9% which is levied on anyone making 1.3 times the average national income, using that same formula in the US anyone making above $65,000 would be taxed at that level. Meanwhile, these states have a national sales tax, referred to as a value-added tax, of 25%, while sales taxes in the US average only 6.5%.

These facts could make for killer TV attack ads by Republicans against Sanders and democratic candidates from conservative areas if the message is to make the US like the Scandinavian countries without mentioning their benefits. John de Graaf, co-author of the best-selling book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemicsays that while he considers Zakaria’s description fairly accurate in many ways, it is deceptive in others.

For instance, these countries do have billionaires, but they have far lower rates of poverty and almost zero homelessness. They do not have official minimum wages, but the prevailing wages are set by union/government/business agreements, apply to almost all workers and are over $20 an hour, with most workers receiving very generous family, sick and vacation leave.

Even with high taxes, Scandinavians have quite high disposable incomes. Subsidies and “social housing” make housing affordable to all, and medical care is mostly free, although some co-pays and deductions do exist. When looking at workplace comparisons, Flexicurity is a popular system with businesses there, but it is coupled with very generous unemployment compensation, job training, workforce development, which companies pay for.
It is true that their corporate taxes appear lower than in the US but they are much better enforced — fewer loopholes. For example, data from 2010 showed while Sweden had an official corporate tax rate of 25% their companies ended up paying 22%. The US had an official rate of 35%, but an actual rate of 9%. Our approach breeds distrust in the honesty of our tax system.

To measure inequality in a country, a common metric is the GINI coefficient, with a lower score indicating greater equality in wealth among the population. The Scandinavian countries are close to 3.0 while the US is at about 4.5. Surveys comparing our citizens to theirs reveal that they are happier than Americans by a fairly wide margin, and much more secure in their lives.

The takeaway from Zakaria’s and de Graaf’s descriptions of the Scandinavian political-economic model is that calling those countries socialist is a stretch if not outright wrong. The Scandinavians and their leaders don’t consider themselves as living in socialist countries.
Socialism has many different faces depending on the angle of your view. From America, those countries may appear to be socialist. That is understandable given that our dominant political culture, which for well over a hundred years, has seen any government regulation of the marketplace and provision of economic assistance to the populace as socialistic.

Such an expansive definition of socialism renders the term useless as a guide for determining public policy. It leads to sloganeering, both pro and con, on any policy that alters the current economic structure of our nation. Ironically both Trump and Sanders, have pitched their main message as overhauling our economic system. But, in radically different ways. Trump’s message emphasizes that maintaining the racial order that benefits white ethnic groups is necessary for our security. Sanders wants greater economic equality to create better-living conditions for everyone. Trump calls his system capitalistic and Sanders calls his socialistic.

The problem that Sanders and the Democratic Party candidates face, is that the percentage of voters 45 and older is twice the number voting under the age of 29, as was shown in the most recent 2018 congressional elections as reported by the census data. The older set of voters have grown up with a negative image of socialism, and reinforced by past and current authoritarian governments that call themselves socialistic. In reality, China, Venezuela, and Cuba are not socialist, just authoritarian anti-democratic governments that provide some level of benefits to their populace that a free marketplace would not.

Sanders has and will continue to condemn all authoritarian governments, but that does not change people’s perception of socialism overnight. He is being forced to spend time informing the public on the difference between authoritarian versus democratic socialism, without being sucked into distinguishing the more than two dozen different kinds of socialism that, for instance, Wikipedia identifies. However, this educational effort is hindered by the fact that no matter how progressive, there is no economically developed, democratic country that calls itself socialist. Sometimes more progressive countries have Socialist Party governments and sometimes they don’t, but their democracies remain functioning with economics that reflects both capitalistic and socialistic elements, regardless of the change in their political leaders.

Sanders has defined his socialism as democratic socialism and points to the practices in the Scandinavian countries of what he is talking about. However, in many interviews he is more general, defining socialism as a democracy that has achieved economic justice, social justice, environmental justice, and racial justice. That describes an ideal state; one that does not exist now and may never exist. By Sanders saying he is a socialist, he is basically saying that he wishes to work toward those goals, much like what he sees the Scandinavian countries pursuing. But those goals do not inherently result in a socialistic country. They rather reflect the will of the voters within a democracy, not thrown out of balance by the influence of money.

Sanders’ political objectives are really reminiscent of those pursued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and before him Theodore Roosevelt, particularly when he ran as a populist candidate for President. This is despite Sanders’ admiring and producing a documentary on the socialist and union leader Eugene V. Debs, who garnered 6% of the vote in the 1912 general Presidential election. That was the highest watermark that any socialist presidential candidate has ever received. If Sanders wants to go much beyond that level, he must unite the Democrats as a presidential candidate. To do that he needs to reevaluate how he is crippling his own message by clinging to terminology that older generation voters have identified as poisonous to our freedoms. Instead, Sanders should echo the statement he made in the now-defunct magazine called Vermont Affairs in 1986, “…all socialism is about is democracy.”

Arguing that many Scandinavian public policies promote higher standards of living and happiness, is a strong rational argument. But, don’t sell those countries as socialist, which they are not. Having proportional electoral systems has resulted in all of them having coalition governments from time to time. Often those other parties are Christian parties and on occasion, those coalitions have even attracted the support of right-wing parties.

The bottom line is that Scandinavian countries maintain robust democracies providing services and policies that work to meet the social and economic needs of all of their citizens. That is the lesson that we can take away from their experience. And, it must be the political message of whoever is the Democratic candidate, if the Democrats are to energize people of all ages to vote in a new president who represents those values.

Could Putin actually prefer Sanders over Trump?

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Written by Nick Licata


 

Sanders presents a more stable and predictable adversary but with a foreign policy similar to Trump’s.

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Bernie Sanders at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., June 2019
Carlos Barria / REUTERS

An aide to Joseph Maguire, the outgoing acting director of national intelligence, briefed the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13 that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Donald Trump re-elected. Separately, the Washington Post reported that U.S. officials have told Sen. Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic contest, according to people familiar with the matter.

A number of Democratic Party leaders believe that Sanders may be promoted by the Russians because he is seen as the weakest candidate that Trump could face, and hence could help assure his reelection. That rationale runs counter to polls which show Sanders beating Trump in some of the most important states. Axios reports that a Quinnipiac Poll last week (Feb 16th to 23rd) showed Sanders beating Trump in Michigan and Pennsylvania. A CBS News/YouGov poll had Sanders beating Trump nationally.

There is also a common belief that the Russians support Sanders because they believe it would sow more divisions within the Democratic party than supporting any other candidate. Concerns about such divisions are coming mostly from party leadership and as of now, not reflective of any rumblings from the general membership. However, there are two other reasons that could explain why the Russians could support Sanders.

First, between dealing with a mercurial, spontaneous decision-making adversary or one that is methodical and stable, Sanders would appear to be the safer bet in not pursuing aggressive military moves. Although he would not be as deferential to President Vladimir V. Putin as Trump, he conceivably could be a more reliable steady negotiator.

But there is a more important reason for the Russians to promote Sanders above the other Democrats running for president. And, it has nothing with him being a democratic socialist. It has to do with his approach to a foreign policy being more similar to Trump’s than any other Democrat.

Sander’s past foreign policy positions parallel those of Trump’s. Both were opposed to the US invading Iraq, although Trump’s claim is suspect given that two months before the war, in a Fox News interview with Neil Cavuto, Trump expressed neither support nor opposition to the concept of invading Iraq. Meanwhile, Sanders lead the opposition to the war in Congress.

They both have pushed for pulling our troops out of Afghanistan. Sanders in an op-ed in Foreign Affairs wrote: “Withdrawing from Afghanistan is something we must do,”. Trump ran as the only candidate in 2016, of both Republicans and Democrats, who would remove our troops from that country but in his second year in office, he increased US military presence there. Now, facing reelection, he has resurrected his original promise to pull them out. Is he concerned that if Sanders is his opponent, Sanders will hammer Trump, like he did Hillary in committing our troops overseas fighting an “endless war”? That attack will cut deeper into Trump’s base than all the impeachment coverage that the Democrats generated.

Trump in an address to military members in 2017 complained that Americans were “weary of war without victory” and with a “foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and most importantly lives,” on trying to rebuild countries. Because Sanders is not a liberal interventionist, he is the strongest Democratic candidate that can win a fight with Trump on the need to rebuild our nation first before pursuing military ventures. And, he can accuse Trump of having failed in his promise to do just that.

Sanders, like Trump, has argued that the US has wasted billions in taxpayer dollars, allowing competitors such as Russia and China to exploit the “forever wars” and expand their political influence. This approach reflects Trump’s “America First” policy that would end US involvement in pointless wars in the Middle East and elsewhere and instead invest that money in rebuilding America’s economy. Sanders could pull off diplomacy oriented “America First” approach without Trump-like blustering tweets that have generated far more media coverage than foreign policy gains.

Russell Berman of The Atlantic aptly pointed out that “The U.S. has now elected two presidents in a row who were, or claimed to be, against the war. Sanders is hoping voters decide to pick a third.” It worked for Barak Obama, distinguishing himself from Hilary Clinton by his opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq from its outset. It worked again for Trump who claimed to be against the war. Now Sanders is in a position to do it again.

It is insightful to note that 11 percent of Sander’s supporters in 2016, said they voted for Trump. Since it is likely that many of these folks were opposed to foreign military incursions, could there be a similar percentage of current Trump supporters moving over to Sanders if he is seen as being able to pull us out of “endless wars”?

Sanders is interested in avoiding military conflicts, but also in reshaping the military budget. He likely would challenge Trump’s massive expansion of our nuclear weapons program. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that Trump’s next biannual expenditure in this area would increase by $92 billion over the previous estimate of $400 made in 2017, which was already 15 percent higher than the previous 2015 estimate.

While much of this money purchases additional tactical nuclear weapons, in reality, they have been practically useless in achieving political objectives in military conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq or Afghanistan. That funding could be diverted to building up our failing national infrastructure of roads and drainage lines, and pursue projects to build high-speed rail, and G5 network to catch up with other nations. These projects would provide jobs that voters of both parties would like to see. Let Trump defend spending billions on nuclear weapons while the country falls apart. Who is the strongest candidate willing and able to challenge Trump’s military budget as more lard than meat?

The Russians may still prefer Trump, but if there is a Democratic President, they may see Sanders as someone they can work within reaching agreements that Trump has been unable to achieve, like securing a lasting Iranian agreement.

More importantly, they need someone to revive their nuclear arms treaty with the US, which President Reagan created but President Trump ditched. Putin does not want to be dragged into another nuclear arms race. It didn’t go well for the Soviet Union; it busted their economy. It will not go well for Putin’s government either. He needs to negotiate with a national leader whose foreign policy is not erratic and tied too closely to that leader’s whims.

Could Putin be willing to see Trump dumped?

Trump’s Acquittal may Flip the Senate

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Written by Nick Licata


 

 

senate

US Senate in session

The Senate’s acquittal of President Donald Trump could flip the Senate to the Democrats.  That is because swing voters could be more negatively influenced by the Republican’s Senate trial than the Democrats’ House impeachment. Why is that?

Compare each party’s main critique of the other party’s performance. Republicans charge the House Democrats for not proving their case that Trump was guilty of abusing his power or obstructing congress. The Democrats charge the Republicans in the Senate for not allowing critical new testimony and previously denied documents to be shown in the trial.

For voters not glued to their TV, the positions come down to this: the Democrats could have done a better job, like pursing the courts to get testimony or documents, while the Republicans barred the Senate from receiving additional relevant information.

The Republicans have the weaker message in addressing the issue of fairness because it boils down to “the Democrats needed to do a better job”. That is a charge that all of us have been blamed for at some point in our lives. It is not unique; it is not a direct accusation of not being fair. The Democrats are accused of rushing the impeachment, but they are also accused of holding the impeachment too near the next presidential election. That’s a confusing attack. It undermines the Republican’s argument because they criticize the Democrats for taking either action, which in itself is not seen as fair.

On the other hand, the charge of not allowing witnesses who have spoken directly to the President is unique. It is simple to understand as a necessary condition for conducting a fair trial. The Republican’s defense of why testimonies were not necessary is fractured. Some like Senator Lamar Alexander, say no more information is needed. They admit that the President did try to get a foreign power to influence his election, but it doesn’t require his removal from office. It’s an explanation that undercuts the President’s position that he did nothing wrong.

Republican Senators will be heading into a quagmire of endless explanations of why they voted for no testimonies as more of John Bolton’s book reveals the President’s involvement. Plus, the courts will likely force the Trump administration to release more damaging documents. As the Republicans’ justifications become longer and more complex, the public will lose interest in the details and just remember what the Senate failed to do. A simple message always overshadows a complex one, particularly if a simple one is repeated and supported by a unified group.

As Chris Wallace of Fox News said, the Democrats “will be able to argue, … from now until November that this was a cover-up and that all the Republican senators who are up for re-election in 2020 were part of that cover-up.” The Democrats just need to remind the public that trials involve “critical” witnesses and the Republican Senators denied their appearance. That decision might have saved the election for Trump, but it might also help the Democrats flip the Senate.

The Democrat House Managers in the Senate Trump trial repeatedly stressed the need for Congress to check the growing power of a president. The Senate failed to do so, and in a caviler manner because they assumed that Trump’s support is critical for winning their primary elections. But his support isn’t a magic potion for winning their general elections.

Admittedly Trump’s rallies are huge. As the Iowa caucuses were about to begin, Trump visited the state. As reported by The Hill, Trump attracted 7,000 people in Des Moines, twice the size that attended Sen. Bernie Sanders’ rally in Cedar Rapids, which his campaign claimed was the largest held by any Democrat during this political cycle in Iowa.

However, Trump’s ability to get his candidates elected is limited. In the 2019 Alabama Senate Race, Trump supported Luther Strange in the Republican primary, he lost to Ray Moore, who Trump then supported. He lost to Democrat Doug Jones, the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama in 50 years.

A more telling measurement of Trump’s limited ability to help Republicans is to look at Trump’s endorsements of Republican Governor candidates in 2018 and 2019. Seven of his thirteen endorsed candidates going for an open seat or challenging an incumbent lost in 2018. Last year he endorsed in only four governor races, his candidate lost in three of them.

In the 2018 US Senate races, he did well with incumbents, but horribly with challengers, only four of his 14 endorsed candidates won. In 2019 there were no Senate races.

The Brookings Institute also did a study of how candidates fared in 2018 for House and Senate races where Trump and Democratic politicians endorsed them. Brookings tracked the PVI (partisan voter index) for the states or districts involved. Trump supported candidates in heavy Republican-leaning districts that measured R+7.6 whereas Biden chooses districts that swung districts with roughly divided support between the parties. Trump’s endorsed candidates won 56% of the elections, Biden’s won 76%. This is a pattern that could be repeated in statewide races where the urban higher educated voters, who have been steady conservative voters, are upset with Trump’s imperial behavior.

The takeaway is that since 2018 Trump’s ability to sweep other Republicans into office does not match his power to attract people to his rallies. That’s because Trump is a unique phenomenon to watch, but not a force in persuading swing voters to vote for his candidates. It appears that congressional candidates will be judged more on how well they have served or will serve in public office than whether Trump endorses them.

There is another unintended consequence of acquitting Trump that plays to the Democrats’ advantage. It mutes Trump’s image as a victim, which has energized his base of supporters to come out and save him. Now that he is a victor, there will be some relief among his core support and hence they could be less motivated to mobilize folks to get out and vote.

Meanwhile, Trump’s acquittal should stimulate Democrats to mobilize voters to do what the Senate refused to do. The public is on the same page as the Democrats. According to a January 28, 2020 poll by Quinnipiac University, 75% of voters said to allow witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial and 53% said President Trump was not telling truth about Ukraine. Although this is a national poll for all registered voters, it does show that Democrats have the potential to sweep up swing voters in key states to support Senators who would act as a check on Trump from further expanding his executive powers. If the Democrats run solid candidates to beat incumbent Republican Senators, they can campaign on stopping a Republican Senate from appointing one or two more Trump adherents to the Supreme Court.

The Trump Senate trial has provided the Democrats a platform for carrying a simple message: the public needs a functioning Senate. One that is a real government watchdog – not a guard dog for their party leader.

Senate Republicans have more to lose than the Senate Democrats in the Trump Trial

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Written by Nick Licata


 

 

Realistically the focus for the Democrats should be to sway public opinion, more than persuading the Republicans to convict Trump

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House Managers of the Trump Trial walking to the Senate

Now that President Donald Trump’s Senate Trial has begun there are some critical points to keep in mind in evaluating both the process and the likely outcome. All analysis, up to now, is based on the very low probability that 14 Republicans would break party ranks to convict Trump on the two articles of impeachment (Abuse of Power & Obstruction of Congress).

It is not likely they will abandon Trump, despite two recent developments. The nonpartisan Congressional General Accounting Office concluded Trump violated the law by withholding assistance to Ukraine. And, Lev Parnas, an associate of the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, said that Trump approved and directed public tax dollars to influence the election by asking Ukraine to investigate his potential main rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Republican senators won’t break from him because these “facts” don’t matter in their upcoming primary elections. It doesn’t matter if they lose liberal independents, they never had them, and in most states, they don’t vote in the primaries. As long as they can keep their core Republican primary voters, who are 90% plus behind Trump, they will win the primary.

But afterward, winning their general election could be severely jeopardized if the public perceives the trial as phony or not taken seriously by the Republicans. More importantly, the conservative independents, who are more Republican than Trumpites, could be swayed to vote for a Democrat who believes in the rule of law. That doesn’t mean those voters would necessarily go for liberal candidates, they could just sit on their hands and not vote. This is what makes the senate Republicans vulnerable, much more than their Democratic challengers.

For instance, there are 22 Republican senators up for reelection in 2020, while there are only 12 Democrats. Ballotpedia did an analysis of these races using the 2016 presidential election and race ratings from three of the top organizations analyzing the races (Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales) they identified 12 Republican incumbents and 5 Democratic incumbents as being potentially vulnerable. The Republicans have greater exposure.

The Democrats do not need to win the Senate trial by convicting Trump, no matter how much evidence that he should be. If the Republicans refuse testimony or admittance of documents, polls indicate that would alienate more voters than anything else. A poll taken ABC News and The Washington Post on December 10th, before the House voted for impeachment, showed 70% of

Americans believe that administration officials should be able to testify. That attitude crossed party lines; 79% of Democrats, 64% of Republicans and 72% of independents agree that Trump should allow them to appear in a Senate trial.

The struggle to control the trial’s image will not be a high drama TV event. The senators do not speak! Their questions or motions are submitted on paper to the presiding officer, i.e. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. He decides whether to bring them forward. If he refuses, he can be overruled by a simple majority of 51 senators. Almost all of the TV political pundits have made much of the 51 vote rule, which allows the Senate to create their own procedural rules for the trial. It gives control of the trial to the Republican since there are 53 of them.

There is a slight wrinkle in that description because the Standing Rules of the Senate details the rules of order of the United States Senate. Normally it takes a two-thirds vote to alter any of the 43 standing rules that were last adopted in 2000. These rules could serve as a possible hurdle for the Republicans, and they may seek to alter them to protect Trump.

In the past, both Democrat and Republican Senate majority leaders had employed a “nuclear” option, by using just a majority vote to permanently alter the standing rules. Both actions had to do with eliminating the 60-vote rule for approving federal judicial appointments, including Supreme Court nominations.

This means that the Republicans probably could exercise that authority; with 51 votes they could do anything. But if they use this nuclear option, it would appear to the public as an excessive force in manipulating the senate trial to Trump’s advantage. That could be the straw that breaks the public’s back in seeing the Republican-run senate trial as a fair one.

Most dangerous to the Republican senators seeking reelection this November, is that this move could dampen the support of their traditional conservative constituents to get out and vote for their reelection. Interestingly, one of the few mentions of the two-third rule being needed to change the senate’s standing rules was brought up by Fred Lucas, a reporter from the conservative The Daily Signal, which is funded entirely by The Heritage Foundation.

The conservative tradition is to respect the law and procedures. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejecting the request by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to have four White House officials testify during the impeachment trial is going to hurt the Republicans more than the Democrats. When the Republicans realize that problem, they will offer to repeat the process that was used in President Bill Clinton’s trial; having off-site testimony videotaped and then selected portions shared with the full senate.

Having live testimony with cross-examining, would make for a huge TV audience, but given the character of those testifying, the spectacle would likely confuse rather than educate the public on Trump’s guilt. Plus, there is no telling what they will say. In the Clinton senate trial, all of those testifying had done so before, so it was known what they were going to say.

The Democrats should propose having Chief Justice Roberts make the final decision on what portions of the videotaped testimony should be shared. Although the Republicans could overrule his decision, that action will be remembered by the public long after what was said in the testimony.

The bottom line for the Democrats, and the Republicans as well, is that their behavior will be judged as much as President Trump’s. Since he will not be present, the actions of the House Prosecution Managers and the President’s Defense Team will receive the immediate attention of the public watching and the media personalities commentating afterward.