“The Secret Service and Labor Department have been warning states for months that criminal networks are trying to steal billions of dollars in federal pandemic unemployment aid. But the overburdened and antiquated state systems that send out the checks have been unable to stop a lot of the fraud.
Using huge databases of stolen personal information, cybercriminals based everywhere from Nigeria to London have pocketed an estimated $8 billion meant for people forced out of work due to the coronavirus so far, the Labor Department’s inspector general told states last month. The IG predicts that $26 billion in the federal aid programs alone eventually could be lost to fraud.”
“state workforce agencies, stymied by decades-old IT systems and flooded with applications, have been ill-equipped to find and prevent the fraud, which appears to be far more extensive than the usual attempts to bilk government programs.”
“the U.S. trade gap is on track to exceed $600 billion this year. That would be the highest since 2008, just before the global financial crisis.
The monthly deficit in U.S. goods trade with all other countries set a record high in August at more than $83 billion.
Trump has blamed the trade deficit on bad trade deals negotiated by his predecessors and unfair trade practices by other countries, but most economists disagree with that explanation.”
“A variety of factors contributed to Trump’s failure to eliminate the trade gap, which White House trade adviser Peter Navarro predicted in 2016 could be erased in one or two years.
Overall trade remains depressed compared to year-ago levels because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the massive U.S. government stimulus payments to businesses and consumers have helped U.S. imports recover faster than U.S. exports. That explains why the monthly goods deficit has increased from the average level of $73.3 billion in 2019.
However, even without the pandemic, Trump’s practice of piling tariffs on China and selected other products like steel and aluminum was never going to turn around the deficit, most economists agree.”
” The large U.S. trade deficit is fundamentally driven by larger economic factors — like the fact Americans spend more than they save and have to borrow from abroad to finance the difference”
“Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut in 2017 contributed to that problem by running up the U.S. budget deficit.”
“Looking at trade in 2019, the last full year of data, the overall U.S. trade deficit fell by less than 1 percent from the previous year to $577 billion. However, the bilateral trade deficit with China fell by a much more impressive 17 percent to $345 billion as importers turned to other countries such as Mexico, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and members of the EU.”
““We would say one of the big failures of the Trump administration with respect to trade policy is the failure to address currency misalignment in any kind of meaningful way,” said Thea Lee, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank aligned with union groups. “Putting a couple of sentences into the deal, but without a clear road map as to how it’s going to be instrumentalized, doesn’t really do very much.””
“Trump’s revised NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada does include strong protections for workers rights, which helped the pact win overwhelming approval in the Democratic-controlled House. But the fact that labor concerns were not addressed in the China agreement “just shows that the Trump administration is not driven by any principles in this area, but simply by political expediency,” Lee said.
The administration hails China’s agreement as part of the phase one trade deal to purchase $200 billion more of U.S. goods and services in 2020 and 2021, compared with the record it set in 2017.
But the data released on Tuesday shows that China is well behind on that goal. During the first eight months of this year, it had imported just $69.5 billion worth of U.S. farm and manufactured goods, compared to $80.2 billion in the same period in 2017.
U.S. farmers were hit so hard by Trump’s tariff war with China that his administration doled out more than $20 billion in emergency aid payments to help cushion the blow.
U.S. farm exports to China had reached as high as $25 billion annually a few years before Trump was elected. But they plummeted to $6.8 billion in fiscal 2019 after Beijing retaliated against Trump’s tariffs by raising its own duties on U.S. farm exports.”
“With the presidential election now just over two weeks away, President Donald Trump has mounted a frantic effort to ensure America’s farmers, a key Trump voting bloc, will support his flagging re-election campaign. In short, he’s shoving piles of cash their way.
The New York Times details the “gush of funds” Trump has promised U.S. farmers—with more on the way. Some say total farm subsidies could top $40 billion this year. The Times says the figure may be as high as $46 billion. Either figure would be a record.”
“Non-partisan observers have also labeled them political handouts. “The Government Accountability Office found last month that $14.5 billion of farm aid in 2019 had been handed out with politics in mind,” The Week reports. The Times, citing the same GAO report, also highlighted by some Democrats, shows farm subsidies last year appeared to be directed to “big farms in the Midwest and southern states,” mirroring at least some segments of Trump’s farm base.
That same base has been hit hard by tariffs championed by Trump. In 2018, I predicted (as did many others) that Trump’s international trade tariffs would spur retaliatory tariffs and harm U.S. farmers and consumers in the process. They did just that.
But because Trump’s tariffs hurt U.S. farmers, and because he wants them to vote for him again, he’s sending them cash. That cash even has a name. Last year, one farmer NPR food-policy writer Dan Charles spoke with says he and his fellow farmers have taken to referring to the tariff-induced subsidies as “Trump money.””
“This ad campaign, as dramatic as it is, is only the most recent instance of the executive branch blurring the line between informing the public and propagandizing it. It is a problem that our representative democracy has had a hard time dealing with for the past century. But since information is the lifeblood of democracy, it’s a problem we need to get a handle on if we’re going to have a chance of repairing our battered political system.”
“Arizona’s Supreme Court had five judges for 56 years. But on December 19, 2016, thanks to a GOP-authored bill that was opposed by every Democrat in the state Legislature, Republican Governor Doug Ducey held a ceremony in the Old Capitol building to swear in a sixth justice, and then a seventh.
In all, Ducey has appointed five of the seven justices on the state court, taking a personal interest in vetting candidates with questions designed to ferret out a fidelity to textualism and an inclination to uphold, rather than overturn or tinker with, the law. His appointments, including the addition of the two new justices, have eliminated the court’s progressive caucus and swung it from a more moderate conservative tilt to one that emphasizes libertarianism, populism, and law and order, in line with Ducey’s own views. And the ages of its younger members mean the court likely will stay that way for years.”
“at least 10 states have attempted to change the size of their courts over the past decade, with Arizona and one other state—Georgia—succeeding. And most of these efforts were spearheaded by Republicans.”
“GOP lawmakers pitched the idea of expanding the Arizona Supreme Court by arguing that businesses needed clarity on the law more quickly than five justices could provide, and that the growing state needed more voices on the bench to represent its diverse citizenry. While Ducey consistently has said he was not packing the court for political purposes, Republicans acknowledge they wouldn’t have proposed the change if it would have meant handing over two seats for a Democratic governor to fill.”
“A report from Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General in September found that the decision to accelerate the census schedule “was not made by the Census Bureau” and that it “increases the risks to obtaining a complete and accurate 2020 Census.”
“Senior career officials at the Bureau perceived that this decision resulted from the Administration no longer supporting the schedule extension, but ultimately they lacked visibility into this decision process,” the report read. “Bureau leaders continued to believe that the statutory extension was preferable, and would give the Bureau the best chance to create a high-quality, usable census.””
“Few states have a record as unblemished as Vermont.
The odds could have been stacked against the state. The virus arrived in Vermont during the first wave sweeping the country. It shares borders with some of the hardest-hit states and has the third-oldest population in the country.
But Vermont swiftly flattened its initial wave and has since gone weeks at a time without any new confirmed infections. Fewer than 60 people have died, giving the state the second-fewest deaths per capita behind Alaska, which has seen surging caseloads in recent weeks. If the country as a whole had the same per capita death rate as Vermont, the nationwide death toll would be 30,000 instead of more than 215,000.”
“While health experts say the state has likely benefited from its rural geography, other sparsely populated areas of the country that let their guard down were overwhelmed by the virus this spring and summer. That sense of complacency never took hold in Vermont, where a moderate Republican governor and a Democratic-led Legislature helped defuse partisan tensions that hampered the response elsewhere.
“Any state that’s going to succeed against Covid has got to have the compliance of the population, because every single thing you do is telling people to alter their personal behavior,” Mark Levine, Vermont’s health commissioner, said in an interview.”
“Vermont reopened slowly. The lockdown it put in place in late March is still gradually being lifted, restaurants and bars are still limited to 50 percent indoor capacity and even outdoor gatherings are still subject to a 150-person limit.”
“Local governments have authority to set their own stricter rules. Burlington, the state’s most populous city, reduced its outdoor gathering limit to 25 in late August when college students began returning to nearby campuses.”
“The state is also strict about visitors, requiring a two-week quarantine for people arriving from places with higher infection rates. And it invested early in testing and contact tracing and implemented a state-wide mask mandate early on.”
” Vermont’s experience has some similarities to Alaska, another predominantly rural state that until recent weeks kept the virus at bay through one of the country’s most proactive testing regimes and a strictly enforced quarantine requirement for travelers. But unlike Alaska, Vermont is just a few hours’ drive from New York City, the outbreak’s early epicenter, and that makes its performance even more noteworthy.”
“Washington state shows larger urban centers can mount an effective defense against the virus with rapid coordination and an early focus on vulnerable populations.
“Washington was the tip of the spear,” Riley said. “They were the first and had to make decisions really fast.”
The state in late January reported the nation’s first case of Covid-19, and the pathogen’s tear through a Seattle-area nursing home was the first indication of how thoroughly the facilities would soon be devastated nationwide. But the state quickly got its act together.”
“The state’s success stems from extensive data sharing, which helped health officials better target their response measures once state restrictions and business closures during the initial lockdown were eased. That meant a better view into where the virus was still lurking and knowing where to direct critical resources like testing, protective equipment and hospital surge capacity.”
“Washington health authorities understood early the need to protect the elderly, identifying people living in nursing homes and assisted living communities as particularly vulnerable clusters.
When Congress gave states a 6.2 percent bump to their federal Medicaid funds in March, Washington was among a handful of states that largely used the windfall to provide targeted aid to nursing homes, helping them pay for additional staffing, equipment and hazard pay. New York was not.”
“Sadly, as long as demand for air travel remains so deflated, there’s no way to avoid airlines restructuring and slimming down their payroll. Subsidies provided through the cover of payroll programs aren’t necessary to protect an industry that could restructure through bankruptcy. Airline bankruptcies aren’t the equivalent of an airline collapse. They can continue to fly safely during the process where a judge imposes a stay on creditors’ claims and gives the airlines breathing room until consumers are ready to come back.
Importantly, the bankruptcy process is fair. It shifts the cost of this crisis onto those airline investors who make good returns during good times and should shoulder the decreased value of their investments, instead of taxpayers. Without a bailout, airlines won’t just be flying the friendly sky, but the fairer sky—for all taxpayers”
“The case for repealing Trump’s tariffs is a strong one. The tariffs on Chinese imports have largely failed to bring about any of the benefits Trump promised, and both America and China seem to have already disregarded what little progress was made with the signing of a limited trade deal last year. The White House promised that tariffs would help rejuvenate American manufacturing, but the added costs from tariffs on industrial inputs were one of the chief reasons why the manufacturing sector had fallen into recession even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. America’s trade deficit with China, which Trump promised to reduce, is now larger than it has ever been.
When you add them all up, the tariffs are one of the biggest tax increases in recent American history, and the cost is borne—despite what Trump and his allies like to claim—entirely by American consumers and businesses. The administration has spent $28 billion just to fix some of the messes these policies have created for American farmers.
And while trade issues will probably never swing as many voters as culture war battles, people have noticed that the trade war isn’t going well. Nearly 70 percent of Americans say they are “concerned” about how tariffs are adding to the cost of household products—a cost that could be as high as $1,200 annually for an average household.”
“Meanwhile, Biden is pushing a dubious “Buy American” policy that would translate into a series of expensive and ineffective regulations in the name of economic nationalism. Over and over again, Biden and Harris have been happy to point out the many failures of Trump’s anti-trade policies, but they don’t seem willing to apply those lessons going forward.”
“Voters in Massachusetts and Alaska will decide in November whether they want to implement ranked-choice voting for some of their state races.
If voters approve, they’ll join Maine, which in November will be the first state to use ranked-choice voting for the presidential race.
In ranked-choice voting (sometimes called “instant runoff voting”), citizens don’t just select one of the candidates for an office (though they can if they want to). They are permitted to rank each of the candidates on the basis of preference.
To win a ranked-choice election, one must receive more than 50 percent of the vote, not just a plurality. If no candidate has a majority, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated from contention. Then the votes are tallied again. If you ranked the eliminated candidate as your first choice, your second choice is instead tallied as your vote. And so the process goes until a candidate gets more than 50 percent. “