Tag Archives: Congress Watch

Restoring the manufacturing base in the US is the key to our prosperity

By Tom Conway – Eager to capitalize on opportunities in the dynamic renewable energy field, the manufacturing company Rotek secured incentives, hired additional workers and successfully launched production of the huge metal rings that keep wind turbines spinning.

But the boom quickly faded. The Aurora, Ohio, plant struggled to compete with unfairly traded, foreign-made products and ended up eliminating many of the jobs it created just a couple of years before.

Ensuring future prosperity will require not only stimulating a manufacturing resurgence but also stabilizing long-term markets for domestically produced goods and raw materials.

Fortunately, President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan provides an unprecedented opportunity to do exactly that.

The plan calls for historic investments in American infrastructure, including roads and bridges, schools and airports, locks and dams, water-treatment systems, communications networks, the electric grid and renewable energy projects, like the wind farms that workers at Rotek strived to supply. more>

Empire Politician

A Half-Century of Joe Biden’s Stances on War, Militarism, and the CIA
(theintercept.com)By Jeremy Scahill – “I’m not going to change,” Joe Biden said in his 2008 vice presidential debate with Sarah Palin. “I have 35 years in public office. People can judge who I am. I haven’t changed in that time.”

Never in U.S. history has the country had a president with the voluminous paper trail that followed Biden into the White House. Since the Vietnam War, Biden has been in public office for all but four of the past 49 years. He has cast thousands of votes, sponsored or co-sponsored hundreds of bills, and taken public positions on virtually every possible foreign and domestic policy issue. He has served long enough to make it possible to chart, in great detail, the evolution of his positions on a range of issues, to analyze his contradictions, and to draw conclusions about how he sees the role of Congress and the executive branch on the most sensitive and consequential decisions made by the government: decisions about war and organized state violence.

The Intercept conducted an exhaustive analysis of Biden’s political career, with a focus on his positions on dozens of U.S. wars and military campaigns, CIA covert actions, and abuses of power; his views on whistleblowers and leakers; and his shifting stance on the often contentious relationship between the executive and legislative branches over war powers. While many of Biden’s positions could be assessed by reviewing his sprawling voting record and public statements, evaluating some of his actions, particularly from the first few decades of his career, required poring over copies of the congressional record, speech transcripts, archival media reports, and declassified government documents, including from the CIA.

The picture that emerges is of a man who is dedicated to the U.S. as an empire, who believes that preserving U.S. national interests and “prestige” on the global stage outweighs considerations of morality or even at times the deaths of innocent people. It also reveals a politician who consistently claims to hold bedrock principles but who often strays from those positions in support of a partisan agenda or because he wants a policy adopted regardless of the hypocrisy or contradictions. Nowhere is this dynamic more pronounced than on U.S. wars.

The picture that emerges is of a man who is dedicated to the U.S. as an empire. more>

Disinformation Is Among the Greatest Threats to Our Democracy. Here Are Three Key Ways to Fight It

By Daniel J. Rogers – In October 2019, the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was asked what she thought historians would see when they looked back on the Trump era in United States history. Justice Ginsberg, known for her colorful and often blistering legal opinions, replied tersely, “An aberration.”

As President Biden’s administration settles in, many feel an enormous sense of relief, an awareness that the United States dodged a proverbial bullet. But how do we ensure that Justice Ginsberg’s prediction becomes reality? This is not an academic question; Trump’s recent speech at CPAC all but announced his desire to return in 2024. Only by recognizing the underlying reason he succeeded in the first place and by making the structural changes necessary to prevent someone like him from succeeding again can we head off this eventuality.

First, to understand what we must do to prevent the return of someone like Trump or even Trump himself, we first need to define what Trumpism really is and how it came to be. The seeds of Trumpism in America have been analyzed to exhaustion, but something specific emerged in 2016 that holds the key to Trump’s rise to power: Online disinformation.

Modern online disinformation exploits the attention-driven business model that powers most of the internet as we currently know it. Platforms like Google and Facebook make staggering amounts of money grabbing and capturing our attention so they can show us paid advertisements. That attention is gamed using algorithms that measure what content we engage with and automatically show us more content like it.

The problem, of course, emerges when these algorithms automatically recommend and amplify our worst tendencies. As humans, we evolved to respond more strongly to negative stimuli than positive ones. These algorithms detect that and reinforce it, selecting content that sends us down increasingly negative rabbit holes. Resentful about losing your job? Here’s a video someone made about how immigrants stole that job from you! Hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine? Here’s a post from another user stoking a baseless anti-vaccine conspiracy theory. Notice, of course, that truth is nowhere in this calculus—the only metric the algorithm rewards is engagement, and it turns out that disinformation and conspiracy theory make the perfect fodder for this algorithmic amplification. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Could the US raise $1 trillion by hiking capital gains rates?
By Natasha Sarin, Lawrence H. Summers, Owen Zidar, Eric Zwick – Capital gains taxes are a perennial issue in US tax-reform debates. Some people maintain that preferential rates on capital gains encourage entrepreneurship and capital formation, while others question whether these benefits are worth the costs.

What are those costs, exactly? It’s clear in terms of direct fairness costs: the wealthiest 1 percent of US households accounted for two-thirds of capital gains realizations in the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances. However, the fiscal costs, which are estimated by the Joint Committee on Taxation, are far less clear. In the parlance of policy makers, the JCT is considered the official “scorekeeper” that decides how tax legislation “scores” if implemented. The prevailing wisdom in the taxation-scorekeeping community appears to be that the revenue-maximizing rate for capital gains is about 30 percent, which is well below both current top marginal tax rates on other income and top rates currently under debate. But in a simple exercise, we estimate that increasing capital gains rates to match the ordinary income level could raise more than $1 trillion over a decade. This illustrates the need to rethink scorekeeping in the debate.

The prototypical example of a capital gain is a share of corporate stock. An individual who bought an $18 share of Amazon when it went public could sell that share today and pay taxes on more than $3,100 of appreciation.

If the revenue-maximizing rate is 30 percent, setting a rate too far above this level will actually reduce the total amount of revenue collected, as the gains expected will fail to materialize because the dynamic response of taxpayers will dramatically shrink the tax base.

Such a response could take the form of an investor retiming a stock sale to avoid realizing a capital gain event. This certainly happens, but we suspect that in most instances the investor doesn’t avoid paying taxes on that gain entirely, just immediately. The tax is simply postponed, in which case these behavioral effects are overstated, resulting in a potentially severe underestimate of the revenue at play. more>

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Updates from McKinsey

America 2021: Renewing the nation’s commitment to climate action
To America’s leaders, innovators, and changemakers; here’s how you can help build a low-carbon economy that is resilient, competitive, prosperous, and fair.
By Dickon Pinner and Matt Rogers – The new federal administration has arrived in Washington with ambitious plans to address the climate crisis—and in so doing, revitalize the US economy and reclaim a leadership position on the international stage. During their campaign, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted “the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy—one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide by no later than 2050 […] and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs.”

Their vision recognizes that the global transition to a low-carbon economy is well under way. The cost of many clean-energy technologies fell significantly during the past decade—as much as 90 percent for some renewable-energy projects. The capital markets are funding the use of these technologies at historically low costs of capital, thereby accelerating scale-up investments. A climate-friendly policy tilt is taking hold in many places. With China, Japan, and the European Union having announced targets to achieve net-zero emissions, more than 110 countries, accounting for more than 70 percent of global GDP, have made net-zero pledges. Of the US states, 23 have established emissions-reduction goals and 12 have instituted carbon-pricing policies. Groups representing prominent American companies have endorsed the use of market-based mechanisms to promote emissions reductions. Some large businesses, along with four former Federal Reserve chairs (including the new treasury secretary), have voiced support for a nationwide carbon tax. These trends are creating possibilities for American leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, competitive advantage, and economic growth.

With the wind at their backs, government agencies and private-sector organizations can continue advancing the new national climate agenda that’s been set in motion already. The stimulus and government appropriations bill of December 2020, which received bipartisan support, set out tax incentives and funding for energy innovation and climate-related programs. And within days of his inauguration, President Biden signed executive orders initiating the process to reenter the Paris Agreement, positioning climate as a foreign-policy and national-security issue and calling on federal agencies to coordinate an all-government push to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, purchase clean-energy technologies, support innovation, conserve nature, and create economic opportunities across America. 1 Making good on these intentions will require new information, products, operations, and market innovations from public officials and business leaders. To inform their work, this memo highlights four sets of practices with notable potential to deliver the prosperity, security, and social-justice outcomes that the administration has prioritized. more>

Public Sees Black People, Women, Gays and Lesbians Gaining Influence in Biden Era

Half of Americans say evangelical Christians will lose influence
pewresearch.org – As Joe Biden navigates the first few weeks of his presidency, Americans have distinctly different views of which groups will gain influence – and which ones will lose influence – in Washington during his administration.

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) say Black people will gain influence in Washington with Joe Biden taking office. Just 14% say Black people will lose influence, while 20% say they will not be affected.

Large shares of adults also expect women (63%) and gay and lesbian people (60%) to gain influence over the next four years. Only about one-in-ten expect each of these groups to lose influence.

Other groups expected to gain influence include younger people (54%), Hispanic people (53%), poor people (50%) and unions (48%). Relatively small shares – no more than about quarter – say any of these groups will lose influence during Biden’s presidency.

By contrast, evangelical Christians are expected to lose influence with Biden as president: 50% say they will lose influence, while just 9% expect them to gain influence; 39% say they will be unaffected.

By sizable margins, more Americans also say business corporations and the military will lose than gain influence, though about a quarter (24%) say corporations will be unaffected and 32% say the same about the military. more>

Why Immigration Drives Innovation

Economic history reveals one unmistakable psychological pattern.
By Joseph Henrich – When President Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act into law in 1924, he drained the well-spring of American ingenuity. The new policy sought to restore the ethnic homogeneity of 1890 America by tightening the 1921 immigration quotas. As a result, immigration from eastern Europe and Italy plummeted, and Asian immigrants were banned. Assessing the law’s impact, the economists Petra Moser and Shmuel San show how this steep and selective cut in immigration stymied U.S. innovation across a swath of scientific fields, including radio waves, radiation and polymers—all fields in which Eastern European immigrants had made contributions prior to 1924. Not only did patenting drop by two-thirds across 36 scientific domains, but U.S-born researchers became less creative as well, experiencing a 62% decline in their own patenting. American scientists lost the insights, ideas and fresh perspectives that inevitably flow in with immigrants.

Before this, from 1850 to 1920, American innovation and economic growth had been fueled by immigration. The 1899 inflow included a large fraction of groups that were later deemed “undesirable”: e.g., 26% Italians, 12% “Hebrews,” and 9% “Poles.” Taking advantage of the randomness provided by expanding railroad networks and changing circumstances in Europe, a trio of economists—Sandra Sequeira, Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian–demonstrate that counties that ended up with more immigrants subsequently innovated more rapidly and earned higher incomes, both in the short-term and today. The telephone, hot blast furnace, screw propeller, flashlight and ironclad ship were all pioneered by immigrants. The analysis also suggests that immigrants made native-born Americans more creative. Nikola Tesla, a Serbian who grew up in the Austrian Empire, provided George Westinghouse, a New Yorker whose parents had migrated from Westphalia, with a key missing component for his system of electrification based on AC current (Tesla also patented 100s of other inventions).

In ending the quotas imposed under the Harding-Coolidge administration, President Johnson remarked in 1964 that “Today, with my signature, this system is abolished…Men of needed skill and talent were denied entrance because they came from southern or eastern Europe or from one of the developing continents…” By the mid-1970s, U.S innovation was again powerfully fueled by immigrants, now coming from places like Mexico, China, India, Philippines and Vietnam. From 1975 to 2010, an additional 10,000 immigrants generated 22% more patents every five years. Again, not only did immigrants innovate, they also stoked the creative energies of the locals. more>

Was it a coup? No, but siege on US Capitol was the election violence of a fragile democracy

By Clayton Besaw and Matthew Frank – Did the United States just have a coup attempt?

Supporters of President Donald Trump, following his encouragement, stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, disrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Waving Trump banners, hundreds of people broke through barricades and smashed windows to enter the building where Congress convenes. One rioter died and several police officers were hospitalized in the clash. Congress went on lockdown.

While violent and shocking, what happened on Jan. 6 wasn’t a coup.

This Trumpist insurrection was election violence, much like the election violence that plagues many fragile democracies.

The uprising at the Capitol building does not meet all three criteria of a coup.

Trump’s rioting supporters targeted a branch of executive authority – Congress – and they did so illegally, through trespassing and property destruction. Categories #2 and #3, check.

As for category #1, the rioters appeared to be civilians operating of their own volition, not state actors. President Trump did incite his followers to march on the Capitol building less than an hour before the crowd invaded the grounds, insisting the election had been stolen and saying “We will not take it anymore.” This comes after months of spreading unfounded electoral lies and conspiracies that created a perception of government malfeasance in the mind of many Trump supporters.

Whether the president’s motivation in inflaming the anger of his supporters was to assault Congress is not clear, and he tepidly told them to go home as the violence escalated. For now it seems the riot in Washington, D.C., was enacted without the approval, aid or active leadership of government actors like the military, police or sympathetic GOP officials. more>

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>