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Trump puts aluminum imports in 'national security' crosshairs

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President Donald Trump will sign an order on Thursday directing the Commerce Department to complete the investigation of potentially unfair trade practices by China, Russia and others as “soon as possible,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said. | AP Photo

The Trump administration has launched an investigation into whether to restrict imports of aluminum from China, Russia and other suppliers — including NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico — on the grounds that they threaten U.S. national security.

“Imports have been flooding into the aluminum industry,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters at a White House briefing on Wednesday evening in which he detailed the administration's second national-security-motivated trade probe in as many weeks.

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President Donald Trump will sign an order on Thursday directing the Commerce Department to complete the investigation as “soon as possible,” Ross said. Trump gave the same instructions last week in signing an order calling for an investigation into whether to restrict steel imports on national security grounds.

Free trade advocates criticized the actions, arguing that they could encourage other countries to begin blocking U.S. exports on national security grounds.

“When you go down this path of reverting to the national security exception, it really is the nuclear option in trade law,” said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “You’re basically saying, ‘You can’t argue with me. I think this is so important it threatens our national security.’ There’s no counterargument to that.”

The barrage of presidential orders comes as Trump nears the end of his first 100 days in office this week with little to show in the way of trade accomplishments, despite promising during the campaign to make big changes in trade policy.

In one sign of frustration, White House officials were said to be preparing an executive order on withdrawing from NAFTA , even though the Trump administration had already pivoted toward renegotiating the 23-year-old agreement rather than abandoning it. Asked about the potential NAFTA executive order, Ross dismissed it as “just a rumor — and my practice is to comment on things we’ve actually done or are doing, as opposed to commenting on rumors.”

But Ross told reporters that more national-security import probes could be coming for industries such as semiconductors and shipbuilding. “We’re obviously considering those," Ross said. "We’ve come to no conclusions as yet."

Ross, a former businessman who made his fortune turning around distressed companies, said import restrictions could be needed to ensure the U.S. continues to produce enough “high-purity” aluminum used in various military aircraft, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter, the F-18 and the C-17, as well as armored vehicles, combat vessels and missiles.

“The problem we have is there’s only one American smelter that produces the high-purity aluminum needed for these uses. Just one. And that company has been having some problems," Ross said. "They, in fact, filed a trade case against dumping on their own."

The Aluminum Association, the main trade group for the U.S. aluminum industry,

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Democrats turn the screws on border wall builders

Funding isn’t the only thing standing in the way of Donald Trump’s promise to build a border wall with Mexico.

Democrats in cities and statehouses across the country are pressing forward with a calculated, long-range effort designed to undermine Trump’s plan by turning the screws on the businesses that work on the project.

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In California, Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a measure to bar the state from awarding contracts to any company involved in the wall’s construction, while a bill to prevent the state’s massive pension funds from investing in those companies stands pending. Lawmakers introduced similar measures in New York and Rhode Island. The city of San Francisco is considering a blacklist, and Berkeley adopted one last month.

“Symbolism matters,” said Rhode Island Rep. Aaron Regunberg, who sponsored the punitive legislation in his state.

Percolating for weeks, the local measures have assumed renewed significance amid the funding negotiations in Washington. While Trump this week withdrew his demand that a government spending bill include money for a wall, the efforts have kept sustained and far-flung pressure on the issue — and put many building firms in the crossfire.

In agriculture-rich California, where many Republicans have long advocated a path to legal status for people in the country illegally, Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara framed the no-contract measure he authored as a litmus test on immigration.

“I’m not going to allow people to speak from both sides of their mouth,” Lara told his colleagues on Tuesday, after a lobbyist for California contractors complained that his clients were “getting caught in the crossfire” of the state’s feud with Trump. “You’re either for the wall, which means you are for the ideals that this president has set forth of divisiveness, of walling us off from the rest of the world. Or you’re not. It’s as easy as that.”

Divestment and no-contract measures have held significance primarily for their symbolic value since the time of apartheid, and even supporters like Regunberg acknowledge the effort doesn’t yet involve “enough investment capacity that maybe it could make a difference” in whether the wall gets built. New York Assemblywoman Nily Rozic simply called it a “statement of values.”

But for state lawmakers forced to hear — and perhaps vote on — no-contract legislation, said Bill Whalen, a former speechwriter for GOP Gov. Pete Wilson who is a Hoover Institution research fellow, “It puts a Republican in an awkward position on immigration.”

Trump hit the caps lock on Twitter one day after signaling an openness Monday to delaying negotiations on wall funding, asserting he would nevertheless follow through on a signature issue of his campaign.

“Don't let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL,” Trump wrote. “It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.”

Yet as Trump defended his fidelity to the wall against conservative critics — including radio host Rush Limbaugh, who said Trump was “caving” on the issue — many contractors remained wary

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Hillary’s First 100 Days: An Alternate History

Hillary’s First 100 Days: An Alternate History

On April 29, 2017, Hillary Clinton will complete her first 100 days in office as president of the United States. Or, at least that’s what would be happening right now if her campaign team could scrounge up a goofy mad scientist, a DeLorean and a map to Wisconsin (among other places).

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To some liberals, no doubt, the very notion of a second President Clinton’s first 100 days conjures visions of perpetual sunshine, a cancer cure and the invention of no-calorie chocolate. But how much would Washington, under a Democratic president and Republican-controlled Congress, have changed really? Below a good-faith guess at what those first few weeks in office really might have been like:

Day 1:

In a speech carefully prepared over many months, and drained of lines that might stoke controversy, Hillary Clinton calls for bipartisan unity, avoids laying out a detailed policy agenda and salutes an historic victory for women while former President George W. Bush struggles with his rain poncho. No comparisons are made at any point during the day between President Clinton’s and President Obama’s inauguration crowds. A Gallup poll published that morning shows her approval rating at a respectable 52 percent favorable, 39 percent unfavorable.

Day 2:

Bill Clinton’s office announces that he will officially be known as “The First Gentleman.” The Republican-controlled Senate swiftly confirms the vast majority of President Clinton’s nominees, most of them well-known Washington hands, including Secretary of State Joe Biden and Republican Lindsey Graham as secretary of defense.

Day 4:

In a lengthy piece in the New York Times , “sources close to former President Bill Clinton” credit him for his wife’s razor-thin election victory with an “eleventh hour strategy change” that focused on North Carolina and Florida.

Day 5:

In his first interview since the inauguration, Donald Trump tells the Washington Post that “terrible” campaign advisers told him to focus on Michigan and Wisconsin instead of crucial states of Florida and North Carolina. He blasts “horrible gutless Republicans” like Jeb Bush for abandoning him. In response, Bush tweets: “Grow a pair.”

Day 6:

Echoing the earlier piece in the Times, the Washington Post offers a tick-tock of the final weeks of the Clinton-Trump race, characterizing Bill Clinton as “the mastermind” of a narrow electoral vote victory. “Nobody understood the mood of the country better than he did,” says a source. “Not even Hillary.”

Day 7:

The White House announces that Bill Clinton, as first gentleman, will immediately embark on a months-long global goodwill tour, with stops in Bangladesh, Botswana, Ecuatorial Guinea and Timbuktu.

Day 8:

With the Republican Party in disarray, and plunging in popularity, two moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, announce that they will henceforth be independents. They will caucus with the Democrats, effectively giving them a 50/50 majority (with Vice President Tim Kaine the tie-breaking vote).

Day 11:

Chelsea Clinton is named senior advisor to the president and director of the brand new White House Women’s Empowerment Office. She takes an office

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The big winners from Trump’s business tax cut

Will the Trump administration’s proposed cut in small-business taxes create a windfall for the rich?

The new tax proposal released by the White House today—“the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared—promises to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, and also cut to 15 percent another business rate called the “pass-through” rate. This is how most of America’s small-business owners pay their taxes. By reducing it, Trump promises to put more money in pockets of America’s small business owners, allowing them to expand their operations and hire more workers.

But if it passes, that new lower tax rate is likely to benefit mom-and-pop businesses far less than it helps the ultra-rich. That’s because it’s actually the rich who earn most small business income. In 2016, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent of small businesses earned 50.8 percent of all small business income—and the slice at the very top, the top 0.1 percent of small businesses, earned a whopping 22.8 percent of the money. (The bottom 20 percent, in comparison, received just 4.1 percent of such income.)

The secret about small businesses in the United States is that the really profitable ones aren’t your mom-and-pop shops, the kind of local carpenter or family restaurant that politicians love to visit and talk about. Most of the money in the small-business tax category is earned by a tiny subset of extremely profitable businesses—many in finance—whose owners are in the top of the income distribution, and would be the largest beneficiaries of Trump’s tax plan.

When tax experts talk about small business taxes, they have something specific in mind: entities whose income is “passed through” from the business to the individual owner and taxed according to the individual side of the tax code. So-called “pass-through” businesses generally fall into one of three categories—S-corporations, sole proprietorships and partnerships. They aren’t always that small : S-corporations can have up to 100 shareholders, while partnerships can have an unlimited number of partners and hundreds or thousands of employees.

The pass-through structure has proven increasingly popular in the United States because of the country’s high statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent. Companies structured this way can “pass through” their earnings and have partners pay at their personal rates, which are often lower than they’d pay under the corporate tax system. And the tax rate on corporate owners can stack up: A company first pays its normal corporate taxes and then its owners—shareholders—pay investment taxes on their dividends and capital gains. As individual tax rates have fallen, the ability to pass income through to the individual side of the tax code, avoiding the corporate side entirely, has proven more and more enticing .

Thus pass-throughs have come to represent a growing share of the American private sector. According to a recent paper by Treasury Department economist Michael Cooper and seven co-authors that used administrative tax data, the

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Inside Trump's quiet effort to revive the health care bill

President Donald Trump’s health care reform died on a Friday in March, but Trump decided by the following Sunday that he wanted to quietly resuscitate the bill. “I’m going back to it. I’m not going to give it up,” he said the last weekend of March, according to a person close to the President.

That decision weeks ago set in motion a series of quiet maneuvers that have paid off in the new legislation now taking shape – which on Wednesday won the endorsement of the House Freedom Caucus, the conservative Republican group that tanked the first initiative.

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It’s still unclear whether Republican leaders have enough votes to pass the revised bill through the House, let alone the Senate. Republicans on Wednesday gave themselves same-day authority to fast-track any bill at the last minute, through Saturday. But the progress toward a deal has come just as Trump approaches his 100th day in office, a marker he’s eager to celebrate with a win.

Interviews with 12 White House and Hill aides revealed clear differences between the brute-force approach Trump took the first time around and the second effort, which has been led from the White House by Vice President Mike Pence. It’s featured less Presidential involvement, a softer sell to all sides and no fixed deadline – just the clear hope of getting a bill to the floor before Trump’s first 100 days were up.

In a series of conversations with Bannon, chief of staff Reince Preibus, Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney, and Vice President Mike Pence in the wake of the failed March health care negotiations, Trump conveyed that they should reach out to the Freedom Caucus, the moderate Tuesday Group, and House leadership to see if there was a way to save the bill.

But first, there was a cooling-off period, with no contact between Trump administration officials and Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows, according to a staffer. The Thursday after the collapse of the first bill, the president singled out Meadows and two other prominent Freedom Caucus members in a tweet: “If @RepMarkMeadows , @Jim_Jordan and @Raul_Labrador would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform.”

Meanwhile, White House legislative affairs director Marc Short was doing soul-searching with his team, which included drafting a memo on lessons learned from the first health care push. For future battles, they decided that the White House would have to drive the agenda, rather than letting Republicans in Congress take the lead. They also needed better coordination with outside conservative groups, which opposed the first bill and made clear to members of Congress that they would support anyone who bucked the president.

“I think a lot of people had the sense of not accomplishing our goal,” said Short. “I think there was a collective interest to revisit it.”

At the same time, Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows was opening talks with Tuesday Group co-chairman Tom MacArthur, according to another

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