Nel's New Day

January 20, 2020

Will Trade Deals Overcome Impeachment?

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has gloated about how good he is at making business deals; he even hired a writer for The Art of the Deal with his name as author. Last week, Congress signed a “replacement” for NAFTA, and DDT signed “phase one” in a trade deal with China. 

Former White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn said DDT’s tariffs “hurt the U.S.” and didn’t help trade deal negotiation. The steel and aluminum tariffs didn’t help the economy, said DDT’s former appointee, partly the reason he left his job. Cohn also said that tariffs didn’t help DDT pass either trade deal.

DDT maintained that China promised to make huge purchases of U.S. goods, including soybeans and pork, but the agreement has a loophole for China about “market conditions.” Skepticism about the deal caused soybean prices to fall, and tariffs on U.S. farm exports worth billions of dollars remain. U.S. farm goods sales to China in 2018 were $9.1 billion, a 50 percent drop from a year earlier and much lower than the peak of $26 billion in 2012. They have a long way to go.

The China deal failed to fulfill DDT’s campaign promise, to force China into changing its economic policies, the ones that DDT said disadvantaged workers and companies. Missing are any changes to China’s huge subsidies to Chinese companies which has greatly benefited the family of Elaine Choe, Transportation Secretary and wife to the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the agreement keeps some tariffs that cost U.S. consumers.

China also reinstated semiannual talks about reform and disputes that DDT had discontinued. Marc Busch, professor of international business diplomacy at Georgetown University, called the deal “more a cessation of hostilities, phase one, coupled with some barter” instead of a trade agreement. Other experts doubted whether DDT will achieve a “phase two.” Scott Kennedy, senior adviser and trustee chair of Chinese business and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called it a “very narrow deal. It’s far short of the administration’s original goals, and the US and the international community has paid a very large price for what is a relatively modest deal.” The next time around, DDT may not say that trade wars are good and easy to win as he swivels his focus to tariffs on France and Germany.

In the meantime, the “deal” that DDT made with China returns it to the status quo before he was inaugurated.

The number of DDT’s lies and misleading claims have spiked since he was inaugurated. Of the 16,241 falsehoods during his first three years, 1,999 (six a day) were in 2017, 5,689 (almost 16 a day) in 2018, and the remaining 8,155 (over 22 a day) were in 2019. Here’s a breakdown.

Many of these lies were in his speech to the Farm Bureau’s Annual Convention last Sunday in Austin (TX). DDT claimed that farmer income fell under President Obama when it topped out at the highest it’s ever been in 2013. Taking credit for the $30 billion increase in net farm income, he didn’t point out the $22.4 billion were government subsidies. Last year, farm subsidies hit their highest levels–$22.4 billion and one-fifth of farmer’s money—in over a decade during George W. Bush’s second term, bailouts going primarily to corporate farms. Farmer suicides increased under DDT, and equipment costs went up while farmers with smaller farm lost money.

DDT told farmers that he had also provided “unprecedented support” to the ethanol industry, but he had to change his policy after protests from Midwestern lawmakers and lobbying groups. The visa program also doesn’t allow for enough farmworkers. He falsely suggested that Canadian dairy tariffs were eliminated and that the deal with Japan to reduce tariffs on $7 billion of farm products was a “$40 billion deal.” 

DDT bragged at the conference that the GOP had never been stronger, a claim negated by shifts to Democrats since his inauguration. An awkward part of his speech came from his claim that he fought for farmers’ water rights and ability to control their own usage. DDT is presently suing to take land from ranchers and farmers to build his wall—some of the land owned since before Texas became a state.

DDT’s trade deal with Mexico and Canada keeps almost 90 percent of its predecessor, NAFTA, which DDT proclaimed “the worst trade deal ever made.” The other ten percent comes from the Trans-Pacific Partnership which DDT called a “disaster” and a “rape of our country.” The trade agreement raises auto prices and hurts the U.S. auto industry, according to a federal government analysis.

Both these deals increase trade barriers rather than removing them—and without providing great benefits. Instead of the GOP’s philosophy of anti-tax and pro-market, the Chinese deal does both. Tariffs (aka taxes) remain on $360 billion of Chinese goods, taxes that are paid by U.S. consumers, raise costs for U.S. companies to do business, and risk U.S. jobs. DDT’s tariffs tax products that U.S. manufacturers use to make their goods, and manufacturing has reacted by being in a recession for almost half a year. Despite farm subsidies that were double the amount of the 2009 auto bailout (which DDT constantly criticized), farmer bankruptcies went up 24 percent last year. And the auto industry paid back the loans they received.

Catherine Rampell described the effect of DDT’s trade wars after two years:

“They’ve fractured our international alliances, imposed tens of billions of dollars of new taxes on Americans, resulted in two expensive agricultural bailouts, multiplied farmer bankruptcies and landed the manufacturing sector in a recession.”

This week, DDT is spending another $3.4 million of taxpayer money to give a speech at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. To help spend the $1 million for lodging, some members of the White House entourage will be staying at the Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvédère, a historic luxury hotel near the city center. The Secret Service will pay more than $400,000 for agents to stay at the Bad Ragaz, a five-star resort featuring indoor and outdoor thermal spas. Costs on top of the $3.4 million are security expenses, salaries, and another $2.2 million for the Air Force round trip between the U.S. and Zurich and the Marine One helicopter between Zurich and Davos.

DDT landed at the resort today and then flies out after his speech (watch for more lies!) before the meeting does its business, working on the problem of climate change. His company includes Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, Labor secretary Eugene Scalia, and Transportation secretary Elaine Chao along with daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner. Last year, DDT canceled his appearance at the last minute because of the government shutdown, but still cost taxpayers $3.2 million in unused hotel rooms and rental cars.

His keynote speech tomorrow is on the opening day of his impeachment trial in the Senate. Republicans have a new defense for DDT beyond denial and the “so-what” response: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) came up with “things happen.” In one interview, he moved from DDT didn’t seek foreign election assistance to he did do that but it wasn’t important, and finished by calling DDT’s actions a “mistake” but who cares.

In “Is the Oath a Joke,” conservatives William Kristol and Jeffrey K. Tulis wrote about GOP senators who declared their votes in favor of DDT before they swore under oath to “do impartial justice”:

“Human beings will still be fallible, opinionated, even prejudiced. Indeed our Founders expected no less. But there is a big difference between lamentably falling short of the highest standard and actively scorning it. Might citizens press their Senators to summon up some buried residue of decency and a modicum of impartiality?”

The impeachment trial begins tomorrow at 1:00 EST, beginning with procedural questions. Senate Majority Leader McConnell issued draconian rules today that will likely be debated, for example 24 hours for each side over two days. The possibility of witnesses is still up in the air. Every dissension requires a vote with a simple majority for passing the proposals. The Senate has 47 Democrats and Independents. The vote on accepting witnesses comes after open argument from each side and 16 hours set aside for written questions from senators, according to McConnell. Schumer said that the rules “don’t even allow the simple, basic step of admitting the House record into evidence at the trial.”

The Senate controls the videoing of the trial which means limited views, and the setting will appear more like a courtroom than a legislative assembly. Reporters are permitted in seats above the central rostrum but cannot bring cameras, laptops, cell phones, or any other electronic devices. No cameras or media are allowed in closed session for Senate debate. TV correspondent are on the first floor of the Senate side. Outside the chamber, reporters are penned off behind a velvet rope. C-SPAN and the Fox network plan gavel-to-gavel coverage, and CNN will stream the proceedings online. PBS will cover the proceedings and return to it after the nightly NewsHour broadcast. Senators are not allowed to talk, tweet, or text. Questions must be written and handed to Roberts.

McConnell is desperately trying to get the trial over before DDT’s State of the Union speech on February 4. It is not unprecedented for a president to give that speech while tried for impeachment—Bill Clinton did it in 1999—but DDT lacks the self-control of Bill Clinton. DDT has already demonstrated an inordinate degree of fury and unreasonableness, far more than any other person occupying the Oval Office.

The next few days will not be peaceful ones in the Senate, and Chief Justice John Roberts may struggle with his judicial leadership.

December 22, 2016

Trump’s Cabinet: Follow the Money

Remember when Donald Trump (DT) accused of Hillary Clinton being owned by Wall Street? When he told his audiences that he would stop control by special interests? The election is over, he’s won, and he can do whatever he wants. The populists who voted for him can now watch him fill his Cabinet with “gazillionaires,” and the money guys are all from Wall Street—mostly from the failed Goldman Sachs, the “architect” of George W. Bush’s recession. Goldman Sachs is taking over the White House with political czar Steve Bannon, transition advisor Anthony Scarmucci, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Gary Cohn.

Running against Ted Cruz, DT said, “I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total control over (Cruz). Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton.” A DT campaign ad showed images of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and the narrator calls about “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.” As Sarah Palin said, DT is now surrounding himself with “crony capitalists,” whose goals are greater income inequality, poverty, offshoring, and—in the case of Ben Carson—homelessness.

Con man DT used his voters for marks so he can give the government to the top 0.01 percent, people born into wealth and privilege.

steve-mnuchinSteve Mnuchin’s self-serving policy priorities include more leniency for hedge funds through financial deregulation, greater tax cuts for the wealthiest people though tax reform, and reviews of trade agreements. He has no support for reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, separating commercial banks from speculative investment banks, after the law’s repeal in the 1990s led to the Great Recession of George W. Bush. The nominee for Secretary of Treasury was known for his “foreclosure machine” specialized in dispossessing the elderly and people of color, including a 90-year-old woman over a 27-cent error.

Mnuchin’s company, OneWest, foreclosed on 36,000 homes using robo-signing, a process of employees’ signing foreclosure documents without reviewing them. After the bank became mired in lawsuits, Mnuchin sold it for $3.4 billion in August 2015.  He made another $50 million by resigning from a media company two months before it filed for bankruptcy and then getting preferential payouts. Another $3.2 million came from the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme; he avoided repaying victims because his lawyers convinced a judge that too much time had passed before he got caught.

Steve Mnuchin was chief fundraiser for DT, raising millions of dollars for his campaign.

Goldman Sachs COO Gary Cohn talks on the phone as he waits for the start of a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Gary Cohn, Goldman Sachs president/COO and key architect of the 2008 financial crisis, has been named to head the National Economic Council which advises the president on economic policy. As the U.S. economy began to crash from mis-selling of banks’ risky assets and the excessive distribution of sub-prime mortgages leading to massive foreclosures, banks crashed because of consumer defaults. Cohn’s Goldman Sachs lost billions of dollars during the crisis that President Obama had to clean up, and the residential mortgage business, expanded by Gary Cohn, lost $1.2 billion of those losses. He apologized to Congress in 2010 for bad planning, but he personally earned over $60 million, not including shares, stock options, etc., between 2012 and 2015. DT has openly supported the housing crisis because he made money picking over the wreckage. Cohn laments the regulations created since 2008; this is his chance to give DT a gift of huge profits in a housing crisis that he could cause—again. Cohn’s position doesn’t require Congressional confirmation.

wilbur-rossWilbur Ross, another billionaire private equity investor, is DT’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce. He opposes regulations for businesses although 12 miners lost their lives in his coal mine after his company ignored repeated federal safety citations. When DT called his administration “the last shot for the miners,” he may have meant that literally.

Known as “the king of bankruptcy,” Ross specializes in flipping bankrupt companies for profit and selling them to overseas investors, often offshoring jobs and factories. After he purchased these companies, he moved $6.4 billion of their employee pension benefits to the rescue fund of the government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation so he could make company financials look better. He made $267 million for his involvement in the steel industry during the early 2000s; retired steelworkers lost their pensions and health care. In 2010, the China Investment Corporation, one of the country’s state-owned enterprises, put $500 million in Ross’ private equity fund. Ross’ part in foreclosures came from buying the second-largest servicer of subprime loans in the United States, American Home Mortgage Servicing.

mike-mulvaneyRep. Mick Mulvaney (SC), nominated as Secretary for the Office of Management and Budget, may be one of the scariest picks—and that’s saying a great deal! As the White House budget chief, the man who came to the House in the Tea Party wave of 2010 and helped create their Freedom Caucus, claims that the new administration will “restore budgetary and fiscal sanity back in Washington.”

Mulvaney’s definition of “sanity” is debatable. He helped lead the charge to close down the government in October 2013 and celebrated the event as “good policy.” Two years earlier, he championed the conservatives’ goal to push the nation into default during the debt-ceiling extortion. He argues that default and undermining the full faith and credit of the nation aren’t a problem. The next debt-ceiling crisis is March 2017, less than two months after DT’s inauguration and the same time as the budget deadline, postponed from last month. Congressional members seem to equate the two, but they are opposite: budgets are future spending whereas debts (including the raising the ceiling) means making payments on loans, not new spending. Mulvaney may not have read Section 4 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that reads that the “validity of the public debt of the United States . . . shall not be questioned.”

A strong supporter of a constitutional amendment that would force the federal government to maintain a balanced budget, Mulvaney’s priorities are defense first, followed by cuts in Social Security and Medicare. Mulvaney doesn’t believe in spending money for infrastructure or scientific research. That may be why DT has now said that he won’t enact his big plans for massive infrastructure projects “for a few years.” His excuse is that he didn’t know that the GOP is a party of small government.

In budget negotiations, Mulvaney makes the assumption that responsible Democrats want to protect people, and he’s doesn’t care about people. He said:

“I’ll play chicken with you every time. You think I am crazy, and I know you are not.”

His preference for currency is the bitcoin, digital currency easily erased and stolen, that is “not manipulatable by any government.” In a speech to the John Birch Society, he attacked the Federal Reserve because its actions have “effectively devalued the dollar” and “choke[d] off economic growth.” A reminder of the craziness of the John Birch Society is its claim that President Dwight Eisenhower was “a conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.” The Society believes that the Federal Reserve should be abolished because it’s unconstitutional and that “the only constitutional money is gold and silver coin.” For almost half a century, Republicans avoided the John Birch Society. Now it’s moving into the White House with the white supremacists.

ben-carsonBen Carson, nominated for Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, follows the policy of wiping out the mission of the agency he might head. Despite HUD’s goal of “affirmatively furthering fair housing” from the 1968 Fair Housing Act, Carson said that “government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse.” He compared the regulations to Communism and says that “poverty is a choice.” Public housing could be made unavailable to LGBTQ people because of Carson’s hatred for them. He blamed “mass killings” on same-gender marriage and compared same-gender couples to child molesters and people who practice bestiality.

Unlike his predecessors, Carson has no experience in housing or urban development and will resegregate neighborhoods. Despite proof that minorities are charged higher fees and rates than white borrowers with the same qualifications, Carson wants to weaken the Fair Housing Act because he considers it as “socialist experiments.” Carson’s confirmation would be a great financial boon to banks. What Carson could do to poor people with the help of a GOP Congress: put unfair requirements on assistance recipients; privatize public housing; abandon Obama’s anti-discrimination and housing integration efforts; slash spending; drop climate resiliency efforts; and neglect smart growth.

Businessman and investor Carl Icahn at a news conference where Lyft announced a partnership with the Chinese ride-hailing company Didi Kuaidi, in New York, Sept. 16, 2015. The partnership with China?s preeminent ride-hailing company will allow San-Francisco-based Lyft to operate in China for the first time. (Stephen Yang/The New York Times)

(Stephen Yang/The New York Times)

Carl Icahn, DT’s latest billionaire, will be acting in an “individual” capacity as “Special Advisor to the President on Regulatory Reform” instead of as a federal employee. That means Icahn has no reporting or confirmation requirements, answering only to Trump, and can keep all his money, achieving an unheard-of level of conflict of interest. Worth $20 billion, he can enhance his personal investments by picking the next chair for the Securities and Exchange Commission and help his oil refinery company by picking the next EPA administrator. Icahn has never seen a regulation that he didn’t want to get rid of, but he says that he has no conflict of interest because he won’t be “making any policy.”

DT’s picks for the Cabinet have already made billions by the loose regulation of the federal government. If confirmed, they will be able to enact more deregulation and enjoy far more private gain. After all, the GOP is a part of small government. Only the bottom 99.99 of people in the nation—60+ million of them DT voters—will suffer.

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