Given that presidential nominees choose their running mates without any formal input from voters, how they choose can say a lot about the candidates and their views of their party and the country. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Perry Bacon Jr. and Julia Azari discuss the considerations former Vice President Joe Biden is making as he vets potential running mates — and what this says about his campaign.
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No politics, please! HK finance professionals impose self-censorship after security law – The Guardian
By Sumeet Chatterjee and Scott Murdoch
HONG KONG (Reuters) – A year ago, growing anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong were a hot topic in conversations among bankers, lawyers and other investment professionals in one of the world’s biggest and freest financial hubs.
On Thursday, two days after China imposed a controversial new security law on the city, you could almost hear a pin drop. Bankers were tight lipped, shunning any mention of the legislation over the phone or messaging apps in a sign of how much disquiet it has triggered.
More than half a dozen people Reuters spoke to said they chose not to talk about the impact of the law on their businesses with their colleagues and external contacts, though there had been no such official instruction from their respective organizations.
The sweeping legislation pushed the semi-autonomous city, which is the regional home for a large number of global financial companies, on to a more authoritarian path.
The law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
While it doesn’t directly impact the financial sector, its provisions including giving a special police unit extra powers of search, electronic surveillance and asset seizure that have stoked concerns among some professionals.
‘IT COULD CHANGE THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE’
Both Hong Kong and Chinese government officials have said the law is vital to plug gaping holes in national security defences exposed by months of sometimes violent protests against the local government and Beijing over the last year.
But critics fear it will crush freedoms and an independent legal system that are seen as key to Hong Kong’s success as a financial centre and a gateway between China and the world.
“I was on a call with Singapore colleagues this morning when one of them asked me about the law and its impact on Hong Kong,” said an executive at a regional insurance company, who like his peers declined to be identified citing the sensitivity of the matter.
“I had just started when my boss tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to move on to business matters. Later, all our team members in Hong Kong were told to strictly refrain from sharing opinion on this on calls and social media.”
While most financial professionals in Hong Kong have long been aware of being tracked by the world’s most sophisticated electronic surveillance system when they travel to China, they said they have had no such concerns or need for precautions in Hong Kong.
A corporate lawyer with an international law firm said that could change the way in which people in the former British colony “communicate and correspond” from now on.
“I think some people could become very careful in what they write on Whatsapp and Wechat … as a firm we are not writing anything in any correspondence like that (related to the law) but it could become an issue for some.”
Some of the professionals said that they were also reviewing their previous posts on social media related to the pro-democracy protests and the security law, and deleting ones they thought would be viewed as sensitive.
A senior Hong Kong-based wealth manager with an European bank said that he had been advised by his manager to minimize his conversations over messaging apps with his local clients about any political impact on markets and investments.
One financial analyst who was arranging a meeting in a café said it might need to be held somewhere more private if the conversation included the new security law.
“Walls have ears now,” he said.
(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee and Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong; additional reporting by Jennifer Hughes; Editing by Kim Coghill)
Four ways for Joe Biden to reset our polarized and dysfunctional politics – The Washington Post
Happily for Biden, the dramatic events of the past three months have upended the political landscape. With the primary debates now a distant memory, he has a second chance to lay out a new-and-improved policy agenda that is as radical as it is centrist, one that can serve as a foundation not only for winning the election but also governing the country thereafter.
So what would a radically centrist Democratic platform look like? Here are four ideas that are anything but mushy middle:
Obamacare for All
As citizens of Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands know, it is possible to ensure that everyone has high-quality, affordable medical care through a regulated system of private insurance and private health providers. Here in the United States, we already have the basic infrastructure to do it as well: the Obamacare exchanges.
Here’s how it would work: Give every American household a voucher to buy a comprehensive policy on a state or regional exchange for a premium of no more than 10 percent of the previous year’s income. Co-payments and deductibles also would be capped. Premiums would be lower for the elderly and waived for those with disabilities or households with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Medicare, Medicaid and employer-provided insurance would all fade away.
Let’s start with Medicaid, the health insurance plan for poor people that severely limits their choice of doctors, delivers disappointing health outcomes and, because it pays so little to providers, forces hospitals and doctors to overcharge everyone else. So why not let poor people choose from a variety of private insurance plans that compete for their business, just as happens for other Americans?
We already do that with the Medicare Advantage Program, which provides a single comprehensive policy to the 34 percent of seniors who select it and costs no more than traditional Medicare. With its separate programs for hospitals (Part A) and doctors (Part B) and drugs (Part D), each with different financial arrangements, traditional Medicare has become a confusing anachronism that creates perverse incentives and makes it hard to manage care for chronic conditions.
Getting health insurance from employers is another idea whose time has come and gone. Companies that offer it find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to chintzy companies that don’t. And it is based on a highly regressive tax loophole that costs the Treasury $150 billion a year. In an economy in which job switches and layoffs are common and millions of people work for themselves, tying health care to employers also discourages entrepreneurship, creates job lock and adds to economic insecurity.
With everyone getting insurance from the same exchanges, there would be dozens of insurers competing vigorously for customers in every state on the basis of price, service and health outcomes. The existing Medicare apparatus could be empowered to set caps on what doctors, hospitals and drug companies could charge and on insurance company profits. Wages would rise as companies no longer have to pay for insurance — that’s the consensus among economists. And having been relieved of their rapidly rising Medicaid costs, states could redirect hundreds of billions of dollars to education, infrastructure, housing and social services.
By my rough calculation, as much as $1 trillion of health-care spending would be shifted from states, businesses and households to the federal government, which, like in every other advanced country, could pay for it with a value-added tax — in effect, a national consumption tax. The current Medicare payroll tax could be abolished.
Right now, we tax corporate profits twice — once, at the corporation when the profit is made, and again when any of that profit is distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends or capital gains. This double taxation is economically inefficient and leads to rampant tax cheating.
The better solution is to tax all business profits — whether earned by a corporation, a small business, a partnership or sole proprietorship — at the same rate, and then give owners and shareholders a proportionate tax credit that they can use to offset personal income tax obligations. Experts refer to this as “integrating” the corporate and personal income taxes.
In the past, integration proposals from the business lobby were designed to reduce tax revenue and provide a windfall to businesses and the people who own them. A radical centrist version would do just the opposite.
The business profits tax could be set at 30 percent, well above the current 21 percent and close to the average in other industrialized countries. At the same time, the top individual tax rate could be raised from its current 37 percent to 40 percent and be applied not only to wage and salary income, but also to dividends and capital gains, now taxed at only 20 percent.
The same 40 percent rate also could be applied to inheritances valued at more than $500,000, even as the now hollowed-out estate tax is phased out. Unrealized capital gains, however, would be taxed at death, closing a gaping $50 billion-a-year loophole.
Under such a tax code, corporations would no longer be at a competitive disadvantage to LLCs and family-owned businesses. Corporate executives, business owners and private-equity managers would no longer pay a lower tax rate than the middle-class workers they employ. And billionaires would no longer be able to pass on fortunes to their heirs tax-free.
End class segregation in public schools
Although the Supreme Court declared that racial segregation of public schools was unconstitutional, it has never barred states from segregating public schools by class. And in too many metropolitan regions, they amount to much the same thing, with poorer black and Hispanic students clustered in failing inner-city school systems and richer, white students attending higher-performing suburban schools.
Because public schools receive much of their funding through local property taxes, schools in wealthier districts tend to have more resources and better teachers than poorer ones. But even in states where funding is relatively equal, there is ample evidence that segregating poor children in the same schools deepens their educational disadvantage. In class as in race, separate is inherently unequal.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As a condition of federal education funding, Congress could require states to create larger metropolitan-wide school systems with economically and racially diverse student populations that can equalize the distribution of resources and teaching talent. Using magnet schools, school choice, extensive busing networks and lotteries for the most sought-after schools, these school systems could ensure that no school winds up with a population that is overwhelmingly rich or poor.
National service, national dividend
The greatest threat to American capitalism and American democracy is the erosion of our social capital, the trust and responsibility we feel for each other and for the institutions that hold society together.
One way to begin rebuilding social capital would be to require all citizens to devote two or three years to national service sometime during their lifetime. Service could be performed when people are young, or after they retire, or sometime between. It could be provided through government programs such as the military, the Peace Corps or a reinvented Civilian Conservation Corps, or through an authorized nonprofit entity such as Teach for America, a local homeless shelter or arts group. Not only would such service improve the lives of our fellow citizens, but it also would give all of us a chance to meet, work with and live among people who are different from ourselves.
National service would reinforce the idea that we all have obligations to and responsibility for the country and each other. But it could also reinforce the idea that each of us has an equal claim on the nation’s bounty, tying national service to a national dividend that every citizen would receive. One way to do that would be for the government to set up a trust fund for every child born in the United States, to which it would contribute $2,000 every year until the child reaches 18. The money would be invested in a broad portfolio of U.S. stocks and bonds, so that by the time they set out in life, every young American would have around $50,000 that could be used to pay for college, start a business or put a down payment on a house.
I realize that at a moment when our politics is so polarized and the legislative process so dysfunctional, it sounds positively naive to imagine something so communitarian as national service tied to a national dividend — or for that matter, any of the other ideas on this list. But that is precisely why they would be so politically appealing, tapping into the deep craving among voters for initiatives that are practical and unifying and offer hope for the future. The administrative and financial details can be worked out later. For Biden, the more immediate challenge is to drag the political conversation out of an unsatisfying and unproductive rut by offering a set of bold, fresh ideas that promote equality and reinforce the feeling that we are all in this together.
In defence of the U-turn – in politics and life – Financial Times
U-turns tend to be humiliating events. When performing them in a car, there’s the shame of your GPS incessantly ordering you to turn around amid the angry honking of drivers’ horns; in government, the shaming is gleefully carried out by the media and the opposition.
Political U-turns are perceived to be so ignominious, in fact, that lawmakers seem to feel the need constantly to insist they are not guilty of them. “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning,” Margaret Thatcher told the Conservative party conference in 1980, seeking to show her strength and mark a conspicuous change from the previous Tory prime minister, Edward Heath, whose reversal on economic policy in the early 1970s had provided the original impetus for the metaphor.
We have certainly seen our fair share of government U-turns during this pandemic. In Britain, the most notable recent one was the decision to extend the provision of free meals to underprivileged children to cover the school summer holidays, after pressure from a campaign led by footballer Marcus Rashford. According to Hansard, the term was used in Parliament more often in June 2020 than in any other month ever, with the two dreaded syllables uttered a total of 69 times.
Yet the U-turn doesn’t seem to be something that those outside political circles deem particularly worthy of denunciation. Rashford himself said he was “grateful that the prime minister did change his decision”, and told the BBC he had thanked Boris Johnson personally.
It’s an example worth following: we should stop chastising politicians for changing their minds, and start cheering them for doing so instead. Rashford had pushed for something he believed in, and the government had listened. One needn’t imagine that Johnson’s about-face was motivated by anything other than public relations, but if it also leads to good politics, shouldn’t we be happy about that?
Contrary to its negative image, a U-turn is a sign of a healthy and functional democracy; a demonstration that a government is willing to listen and that the media, opposition parties and general public have the power to hold their leaders to account. As Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, put it to me: “Democracy isn’t just about an election every five years. It’s a continual process of back and forth: listening, calibrating and adjusting.”
In US politics, the U-turn is referred to as the “flip-flop”, but jeered just as often. An online store dedicated to “president flip-flops” offers punters the chance to wear contradictory statements from Donald Trump on each foot, so you can “go back on your word, one step at a time”. (We regret to tell you that all items are currently sold out.)
In the world of business, however, no such negative connotations exist — quite the opposite, in fact. Companies know that if their business model isn’t working, they must change course to keep shareholders happy. This is commonly referred to as a “pivot”, a term made famous by Silicon Valley, and tends to be welcomed by the market.
In our personal lives too, we tend to see those who are able to take criticism on board and adjust their behaviour accordingly as praiseworthy and broad-minded, while regarding those who are unwilling to listen to other opinions or advice as pigheaded or arrogant.
Political U-turns do carry potential hazards. Perform too many of them and you risk being seen as lacking in conviction and authority, even by your own party. That must be particularly abhorrent to the cabinet ministers who are sent out to defend the indefensible, only to be publicly humiliated hours later by a leader who says the policy was dreadful after all.
The main problem with U-turn shaming, though, is that the punishment is doled out at the wrong moment; we should be criticising our leaders before they change their policies, not afterwards. Yet the term continues to be used as a way of creating a juicy splash or headline, as it has since its concoction by William Rees-Mogg when editor of The Times.
Very often, this oversimplifies a complex narrative by creating a binary division between what the government had intended to do and the policy it would now be pursuing — a recent example being the alleged 180-degree turn on herd immunity. In so doing, it stokes tensions and divides us.
If we don’t start to destigmatise the U-turn, we are just encouraging our leaders to become more inflexible and dishonest, further breaking down trust in government. A new name for it might help. In Australian politics, the U-turn is known as the “backflip”. While that doesn’t feel quite right, given that one ultimately ends up in the same place facing the same direction, at least the overtones it carries are impressive, rather than embarrassing.
Whatever we call it, if we truly want better politics, with less tribalism and more robust debate, we need to learn to love the U-turn.
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