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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

Republicans’ massive tax reform bill — largely a giveaway to corporations and the super wealthy — was supposedly justified by a massive boom in the American economy that would make everyone, not just the most direct beneficiaries of the cut, richer.

It hasn’t happened.

In fact, we’re not just missing out on a massive economic uptick. The stock market appears to be in absolutely dire straits, boomeranging wildly and hanging on by a thread, since the tax bill was passed.

“All the four major U.S. stock indexes declined at least 4.6% for the year through Friday — and they’re poised to all finish with negative annual returns for the first time since 2008. And the poor performance was broad-based: nine of the 11 sectors in the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 index are in the red for 2018,” explained Los Angeles Times reporter Jim Puzzanghera. “Just stuffing cash in the mattress, where its buying power eroded by the approximately 2% annual inflation rate, would have beaten the 7% loss incurred this year from a fund tied to the S&P 500.”

Puzzanghera noted several major factors currently spooking investors — the U.S.-China trade war, the administration’s “unforced errors,” the government shutdown, and coming fights with a divided Congress — that are all directly tied to President Donald Trump.

Experts have concurred that Trump himself is the source of serious economic headwinds.

“While it is almost always a mistake to read too much into the stock market, you do have a sense that there’s a new appreciation of political risk. For 2 years markets had a what-me-worry attitude: Trump might be crazy, but hey, he cut taxes,” said economist Paul Krugman in a recent series of tweets. “But lately the markets seem nervous. It’s not just that stocks are down; they’re down despite big increases in after-tax profits.”

He continued: “At a guess, it’s not just fear of what Trump might do, it’s fear of what he might not do: if and when something goes wrong, he’s likely to throw a temper tantrum rather than respond sensibly, and his advisors are the gang that couldn’t think straight.”

Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, made a similar point in recent comments, as Puzzanghera noted.

“The biggest single problem for the stock market is the president,” Shepherdson said.

Krugman has argued that while there did appear to be a short uptick in the market because of increased deficit spending under the Republican government — a tactic for boosting the economy that they decried when it was really needed after the 2008 financial crisis — those effects vanished quickly

“And the public, which never liked the tax cut, seems to be souring rapidly on the economic outlook — which can be a self-fulfilling prophecy in the short run,” he said.

On top of the disappointing and predictable failures of the GOP’s tax policy, Trump’s erratic governing style increases instability.  The fact that the stock market seemed so strong at the beginning of his term in office may have reflected the general view that, despite his bluster, Trump was prepared to govern as a relatively generic Republican. Now that tax cut euphoria has subsided, and Trump’s problems have been revealed to be both of style and of substance, investors are far less confident in the future.

Nothing could confirm that more clearly than the current government shutdown, triggered by an embarrassing dispute over Trump’s ridiculous “wall.”

“I think that the showdown over funding for the border wall is just an example of what we might expect in 2019 with this Congress as we head into a national election in 2020,” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at asset manager State Street Global Advisors, according to the Times.

 

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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