Tag Archives: Congress Watch

Democracy’s biggest challenge is information integrity

By Laura Thornton – As the world watches the United States’ elections unfold, the intensity of our polarization is on display. This election was not marked by apathy. On the contrary – citizens turned out in record numbers, some standing in lines all day, to exercise their franchise with powerful determination and the conviction of their choice.

What is notable is how diametrically opposed those choices are, the divergence is not only voters’ visions for America but perceptions of the reality of America. It has long been said that Americans, like citizens elsewhere, increasingly live in parallel universes. Why is this? I believe quite simply it boils down to information.

While there are ample exceptions and complexities, in one universe, people consume a smattering of different news sources, perhaps one or two newspapers, some journals, television and radio broadcasts and podcasts. Many of the sources are considered left-leaning. These Americans tend to hold university degrees and vote for Democrats.

The other universe includes those who primarily get their news from one or two sources, like Fox News, and rely on Facebook and perhaps their community, friends, and family for information.  They lean Republican, and many are not university educated — the so-called “education gap” in American politics. The majority of Republicans, in fact, cite Fox for their primary source of news, and those who watch Fox News are overwhelmingly supportive of Republicans and Trump.  Both universes gravitate toward echo chambers of like-minded compatriots, rarely open or empathetic to the views and experiences of others.

There are obvious exceptions and variations. The New York Times-reading, educated Republican holding his nose but counting on a tax break. Or the low-information voter who votes Democratic with her community.

In the two big general universes, sadly the divide is not just about opinions or policy approaches.  They operate with different facts.  As Kellyanne Conway, former Trump advisor, famously put it, “alternative facts.” more>

5 Ways Joe Biden’s Presidency Will Affect Your Money – and How to Act Now

By Farnoosh Torabi – As with any new President, Joe Biden will have his work cut out for him when he takes the oath of office in January. And while his “build back better” plans are already laid out, it’s yet to be seen how much of an impact his administration can actually make on your finances.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s not behind us, so the recovery will be slow, which Biden has been clear about. Not to mention, with a very possible Republican Senate majority, many of the new administration’s initiatives could face serious pushback, if not a total squashing. The outcome will be determined in a couple months when Georgia’s two Senate run-off races happen.

In short, we can’t read far into what Biden is proposing and use it as a playbook for our personal finances today. “I’m not a big fan of people overhauling their finances or making moves on a presumption of something passing, simply because there are just too many unknowns,” Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst at Bankrate.com, told me on my podcast.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the major economic initiatives proposed by President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and how to interpret them for the sake of our financial well-being. As always, personal accountability will be just as — if not more — important than matters of policy. more>

Here’s how Biden could undo Trump’s deregulation agenda

Biden could use Trump’s playbook to reverse his regulatory moves on pollution, worker safety, health care, and more.
By Sarah Kleiner – Cutting workplace safety inspections. Allowing subpar health insurance plans to be sold to Americans. Permitting tractor-trailer drivers to blow past previous driver-fatigue limits. Waging war on birth control.

These deregulatory actions and others taken by President Donald Trump’s administration have adversely impacted the health and safety of Americans, as revealed in reporting for System Failure, an investigative series produced by the Center for Public Integrity and Vox.

Trump’s actions may not stick. Now that President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office in January, he has a few tools at his disposal to undo some of Trump’s regulatory maneuvers. Some could be more difficult to quickly put to use with a split Congress, however.

If Democrats take control of both houses of Congress, they’ll be able to quickly wipe out regulations pushed through in the last 60 legislative days of Trump’s term, because of the Congressional Review Act, part of the Contract With America that Newt Gingrich and House Republicans campaigned on in 1994.

But, while Democrats maintained control of the House, it’s still unclear which party will hold the majority in the Senate. All eyes will be on Georgia’s runoff for two Senate seats, which will happen in early January. Neither of the Republican incumbents, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, garnered a majority of the votes in last week’s election, forcing a runoff with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, respectively.

If Ossoff and Warnock ultimately prevail, it won’t be clear until January when the Congressional Review Act’s 60-day period began — because it all depends on how many days Congress meets between now and January 3, when its current term ends — but experts predict it started sometime during the summer. more>

America’s Foreign Enemies Mostly Hope for a Joe Biden Win; Allies Are Divided

Neewsweek – Nations around the world are watching the U.S. election with almost the same intensity as Americans at home, and while they can’t vote, they have passionate rooting interests.

During his four years in the White House, President Donald Trump has been accused of having a soft spot for the dictators of America’s enemies. Do those countries return the love? As the 2020 election looms, the leaders and citizens of both America’s allies and rivals are hoping for outcomes that may be surprising.

With the exception of North Korea, most U.S. adversaries such as Cuba, Iran, China and Venezuela are hoping for a Joe Biden win, while America’s allies are split. Germany, Japan and Australia would like to see Biden in the White House; India, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the U.K. hope Trump remains in power.

The former vice president’s chief asset appears to be his predictability: with few exceptions, even the nations hoping for a second Trump term think they can work with a Biden administration. And for some countries, like Russia, the optimal outcome is neither Biden nor Trump, but chaos. more>

Related>

US presidential election: last call for the liberal world order?

Some might have taken for granted the liberal world order of postwar decades. Until Donald Trump trashed it.
By Valerio Alfonso Bruno and Vittorio Emanuele Parsi – The pre-eminent theorist of liberal internationalism, from its origins to its prospects, G John Ikenberry, recently wrote that spring 2020 might well be considered by historians as the end of the ‘liberal world order’—the moment ‘when the United States and its allies, facing the gravest public health threat and economic catastrophe of the postwar era, could not even agree on a simple communiqué of common cause’. For Ikenberry, ‘the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic engulfing the world these days is only exposing and accelerating what was already happening for years. On public health, trade, human rights, and the environment, governments seem to have lost faith in the value of working together.’

May November 2020 then represent the last call for the liberal world order? In recent history, the elections of the president of the United States have represented decisive moments, not only for the country but for the dynamics of the international order tout court. Coming in the middle of a pandemic and counterposing two incompatible Weltanschauungen, the 2020 election may be of unprecedented decisiveness.

The liberal world order was built around a set of principles and institutions governing the international system in the aftermath of World War II. It was based on US leadership and operated through five core institutions: the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

For all its limits and weaknesses, during the cold war it granted economic development and security to a significant part of the world. ‘Free-market’ societies, conditioned by strong welfare policies, produced a long-term, if fragile, balance between economic competition and social cohesion.

The dynamic worked well until the 1980s. Thereafter, the foresight required to preserve such a fragile balance—based on postwar hindsight—gradually vanished. Liberal premises, such as equality of opportunity, and liberal promises, of a more equal, peaceful and wealthy world, became subverted by regressively ideological economics. A neoliberal world order has almost replaced the liberal one. more>

It’s the most important election in our lifetime, and it always will be

We never know how important an election really is until long after it’s over.
By Ezra Klein – “There’s just one month left before the most important election of our lifetime,” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden tweeted in early October.

Two days later, Sen. Bernie Sanders backed him up. “This is the most important election, not only in our lifetime but in the modern history of our country,” he said in Michigan.

In 2016, it was Donald Trump deploying the cliché. “This is by far the most important vote you’ve ever cast for anyone at any time,” he said.

I won’t be coy with my view: I think the most important election of my lifetime was 2000, and I’ll defend that view in this piece. But more interesting than the parlor game is the framework of this debate. What makes something the most important election of a lifetime? How would we know?

Before 2016, the campaign in which I heard the “most important election of our lifetime” talk most often was 2004, when George W. Bush ran for reelection against John Kerry. It certainly felt pivotal. It was a referendum on the Iraq War, which was built on lies and carried out by fools, and left Iraq soaked in blood. It was also a referendum on the hard right turn Bush had taken in office, away from “compassionate conservatism” and toward neoconservatism abroad, and a politics of patriotic paranoia at home.

Kerry lost that election. And yet, in retrospect, it clearly wasn’t the most important election of my lifetime, and it may even have been better that Kerry lost it. The ensuing four years forced Bush, and the Republican Party he led, to take responsibility for the disasters they’d created. The catastrophe of the Iraq War became clearer to the country, leading to a Democratic sweep in 2006. The financial crisis, which had been building for years, exploded, leading to Barack Obama’s election and the massive congressional majorities that passed the Affordable Care Act. more>

Reviving transatlantic relations after Trump

If Joe Biden were to win the White House, transatlantic relations could return to default or be transformed—with much depending on how Europe reacted.
By Max Bergmann – A political cliché is rehearsed every four years in the United States: ‘This is the most important election of our lifetime.’ Yet it is hard to think of a more important election in US history—rarely, if ever, has the country faced two such sharply divergent paths.

All its deep-seated divisions have been exposed in 2020. Covid-19 has foregrounded the jaw-dropping inequality, the frailty of a for-profit healthcare system and the impact of a generation-long, conservative effort to weaken the functioning of government. When Americans needed the state, the state couldn’t cope.

Economically, Wall Street hasn’t missed a beat but queues for food banks grow and ‘for lease’ signs populate vacant shop fronts. Socially, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and the subsequent protests—believed to be the largest in US history—brought into the mainstream a conversation on systemic racism and exposed the abusive nature of law enforcement, militarized and immunized from public sensitivity after ‘9/11’.

Globally, as Covid-19 struck, the US withdrew from the world, failing to lead or even participate in a transnational response. Indeed, in the midst of a pandemic, the administration led by Donald Trump pulled out of the World Health Organization, its ineptness an international embarrassment.

This does make the coming election existential. If Trump were to be re-elected president, all these trends would worsen—with dire implications for the transatlantic alliance. If not, it might be thought an incoming Democratic administration, facing such domestic turmoil, would relegate foreign policy to the second tier. But that wouldn’t be the case if Joe Biden were to prevail.

The crises of the last year have been humbling for the US and there is broad recognition that it will need allies and partners as never before. Biden would be a foreign-policy president. During the administration of Barack Obama he was a central and active foreign-policy player. His experience as chair of the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee was, after all, a major factor in Obama selecting him as running mate. For the last two decades, Biden has been consumed with international relations and his inner circle of trusted advisers are experienced professionals.

A new administration would therefore hit the ground running. The question is: where would they run to? more>

Trump took a sledgehammer to US-China relations. This won’t be an easy fix, even if Biden wins

By Hui Feng – Few would have thought a US-China relationship marked by relative stability for half a century would be upended in just four years.

But US President Donald Trump’s privileged tour of the Forbidden City in November 2017 by Chinese President Xi Jinping now looks like it happened in a bygone era, given the turbulence in the bilateral relationship since then.

The shift in the US’s China policy is no doubt one of the major legacies of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, alongside a renewed peace process in the Middle East.

When Trump’s daughter Ivanka said at the Republican National Convention that “Washington has not changed Donald Trump, Donald Trump has changed Washington”. This would certainly include its handling of China.

Although China’s rise had been a concern of the previous Bush and Obama administrations, it was the Trump administration that transformed the entire narrative on China from strategic partner to “strategic competitor”, starting with its National Defense Strategy report released just one month after Trump’s 2017 China visit.

This read, in part,

China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model and reorder the region in its favor.

This new way of thinking deemed the US’s decades-long engagement strategy, deployed since President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, a failure.

Prior to Trump, the US had sought to encourage China to grow into a responsible stakeholder of a rules-based international order.

But the Trump administration believes such “goodwill” engagement has been exploited by China’s “all-of-nation long-term strategy” of asserting its power in the Indo-Pacific region.

According to the Trump administration, this is centered on “predatory economics” in trade and technology, political coercion of less-powerful democracies and Chinese military advancement in the region. more>

Budget 2020: promising tax breaks, but relying on hope

By Peter Martin – Tax cuts aren’t the half of it.

The personal income tax cuts promised in the budget will cost A$17.8 billion over four years.

The measures aimed at supporting businesses – the temporary instant tax write off of capital investments, the temporary ability to use losses to reduce previous tax payments, the JobMaker hiring credit and the enhanced apprentice wage subsidy — will cost $26.7 billion, $4.8 billion, $4 billion and $1.2 billion.

That’s a total of $36.7 billion — a subsidy for private businesses without precedent.

The clumsy wording in the part of the budget that sets out strategy says the aim is to “drive sustainable, private sector-led growth and job creation”.

‘Driving private sector-led growth’

Driving private sector-led growth doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s easy to get a handle on what it means.

By itself, business isn’t in a position to drive much.

Even with the budget measures – even with the Australian Taxation Office allowing most businesses to write off everything they spend on equipment over the next two years – non-mining business investment is expected to collapse 14.5% this financial year and bounce back only 7.5% the next. more>

Have our governments become too powerful during COVID-19?

By Yee-Fui Ng – In the fight against the coronavirus, the Australian government has enacted a series of measures that have expanded executive powers. These include the use of smartphone contact-tracing technology, mandatory isolation arrangements and the closure of borders and businesses.

While Australians seem broadly supportive of this type of government control in times of crisis, critics have expressed concerns about the long-term implications of these measures for individual rights.

There are a few salient questions: how does executive power accelerate during a pandemic — and why is this a cause for concern? And what type of oversight of executive power should there be in a democracy?

The government of the day exercises executive power to implement programs and policies. Our democratic system dictates that the use of executive power is checked by the other two branches of government: the judiciary and legislature.

But in exceptional times of disaster and crisis, the executive government tends to take a pre-eminent role. Under our biosecurity and public health laws, governments can declare states of emergency and disaster, which give them significant coercive powers.

As crises such as pandemics, disasters or wars threaten the very existence of the nation, the rationale is the government needs these enhanced powers to protect the people.

By contrast, the parliament and courts tend to stand on the sidelines and reduce their scrutiny of these powers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an expansion of executive power at both the federal and state levels. more>