Trump pardon of Blackwater Iraq contractors violates international law: U.N.

Trump pardon of Blackwater Iraq contractors violates international law: U.N.


GENEVA (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s pardon of four American men convicted of killing Iraqi civilians while working as contractors in 2007 violated U.S. obligations under international law, U.N. human rights experts said on Wednesday.

Nicholas Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder, while Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard were convicted of voluntary and attempted manslaughter, over the incident in which U.S. contractors opened fire in busy traffic in a Baghdad square and killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians.

The four contractors, who worked for the private security firm Blackwater owned by the brother of Trump’s education secretary, were included in a wave of pre-Christmas pardons announced by the White House.

“Pardoning the Blackwater contractors is an affront to justice and to the victims of the Nisour Square massacre and their families,” said Jelena Aparac, chair of the U.N. working group on the use of mercenaries, said in a statement.

The Geneva Conventions oblige states to hold war criminals accountable for their crimes, even when they act as private security contractors, the U.N. experts said.

“These pardons violate U.S. obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level.”

By allowing private security contractors to “operate with impunity in armed conflicts”, states will be emboldened to circumvent their obligations under humanitarian law, they said.

The pardons were strongly criticised by many in the United States. General David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, respectively commander of U.S. forces and U.S. ambassador in Iraq at the time of the incident, called Trump’s pardons “hugely damaging, an action that tells the world that Americans abroad can commit the most heinous crimes with impunity”.

In a statement announcing the pardons, the White House said the move was “broadly supported by the public” and backed by a number of Republican lawmakers.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Peter Graff)

Photos of the Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley in 2020


Photos of the Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley in 2020


The disproportionate toll that COVID-19 is taking on the Black community brought environmental justice issues to the forefront during 2020. Calls for dealing with climate change and environmental justice were elevated by president-elect Biden, who spoke about endangered communities in the last presidential debate and on his campaign website, calling for environmental justice and “rooting out the systemic racism in our laws, policies, institutions, and hearts.”

That toll is apparent in Louisiana where I continued to document the struggle for environmental justice for DeSmog throughout 2020. These photos are part of an ongoing DeSmog series on the industrial corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans known as ‘Cancer Alley’ which hosts more than 100 petrochemical plants and refineries. Environmental racism and pollution have left fenceline communities especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

At the start of the pandemic, Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist Parish, a Cancer Alley community group, worried that the industrial sites around their homes might end up releasing even higher levels of air pollution since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it was relaxing some of its pollution reporting and monitoring rules for industrial plants due to the pandemic.

The group has been particularly concerned about the nearby Denka plant, which emits numerous toxic chemicals including chloroprene, a likely human carcinogen, that’s used to produce the synthetic rubber Neoprene.

Members of RISE St. James, another Cancer Alley community group focused on stopping new petrochemical plants from being built in St. James Parish, were alarmed about the conversations about racial disparity regarding the virus’s impact by Louisiana officials. They felt that elected officials, more often than not, failed to mention the role pollution plays in compromising the health of many African-American communities that are near refineries and chemical plants, a pollution burden that scientists say increases the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.

RISE St. James and allies have been fighting to stop the plastics manufacturing company Formosa from building its proposed $9.4 billion petrochemical complex that would likely more than double the toxic load in their already polluted air.

Despite so much heartache in 2020, we have seen some success in our fight for clean air this year,” Sharon Lavigne, the founder RISE St. James said on a call. “This year it is becoming clear that the law is on our side. Recent court rulings give me hope that victory will be ours.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on November 4 that the agency would reevaluate its wetlands permit for Formosa Plastics. And on November 18, state judge Trudy White sent critical air permits for Formosa’s project back to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), directing the agency to take a closer look at how the plastics facility’s emissions will impact the predominantly Black community living nearby.

Lavigne was also happy to learn on December 19 that a Louisiana district attorney chose not to prosecute her allies, Anne Rolfes and Kate McIntosh — environmental advocates with the Louisiana Bucket Brigade — for delivering plastic nurdles to fossil fuel lobbyists’ homes. They were facing federal charges for a stunt tied to a ‘nurdlefest,’ a December 2019 event in Baton Rouge aimed at raising awareness about plastics pollution.

But Lavigne is painfully aware she and others fighting for environmental justice in Cancer Alley can’t let their guard down. Earlier this month Governor John Bel Edwards announced that Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (MCC) is considering building a large Methyl methacrylate (MMA) chemical plant in Cancer Alley, and the state is offering the company $4 million incentives to do it.

1. Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James, with Pam Spees of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Anne Rolfes, founder of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, speaking to the press before a St. James council meeting where they asked the council to rescind a land use permit it granted to Formosa after a report was published showing the site has human remains that likely belonged to slaves on Jan. 21, 2020.

2. Wilma Subra, a technical advisor to the environmental advocacy group Louisiana Environmental Action Network going over data on reported chemical releases during the public meeting in Baton Rouge a week after the fire at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery on Feb.19.

3. Mary Hampton, President of the Concerned Citizens of St. John The Baptist Parish at a community meeting where David Gray, a regional EPA official, explained changes the agency is making to its ongoing air monitoring of chloroprene in St. John the Baptist Parish on Feb. 11.

4.Sharon Lavigne, the founder of RISE St. James, in St. James Catholic Church on April 8. 2020, where she told me: “Black people are being polluted the most in the 4th and 5th District in St James Parish, so of course we are hit the most by the pandemic. We are already hit by the pollution in the air. The pandemic adds to what we are already going through.”

5. Gail LeBoeuf, a St. James Parish resident taking part in a protest against pollution from petrochemical plants at the St. John the Baptist Government Complex on April 11.

6. Rep. Cedric Richmond speaking to Cancer Alley community members who protested in front of The New Orleans Advocate on April 24. Richmond, who has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in fossil fuel campaign contributions during his tenure representing the cancer alley area, announced Nov. 12 that he was giving up his seat and joining Biden’s White House team as a senior adviser.

7. Courtney Baloney, the owner of the Treasures of Life funeral home, in St. James Parish, ready to start work on the body of a confirmed COVID-19 victim on May 30.

8. A pregnant woman at a rally in Duncan Plaza in New Orleans on the first of seven days of protest in solidarity with George Floyd on May 30.  A coalition of social justice groups, led by Take ‘Em Down NOLA and the New Orleans Workers Group, took to the city’s streets, protesting Floyd’s murder and raising awareness of the many injustices plaguing people of color from May 30 through June 7.

9. Protesters fleeing from a line of police on the Crescent City Connection on June 3 after police began firing tear gas and projectiles at them. The tear gas was fired despite health experts warning that the use of tear gas, a toxic irritant that can cause long-term lung damage, may worsen the spread of coronavirus.

10. Anne White Hat, one of the Indigenous leaders of the L’eau Est La Vie Camp that fought against the Bayou Bridge pipeline, speaking at a rally across from Jackson Square on June 6 in New Orleans.

11.  Sharon Lavigne speaking at a Juneteenth ceremony at the site of a former burial ground for enslaved African Americans on the site where Formosa plans to build a petrochemical complex on June 19.

12. Mark Benfield (right), a professor at Louisiana State University, with Dr. Liz Marchio, a local scientist, collecting nurdles under a wharf in New Orleans on August 25.

13. Sharon Lavigne, the founder of RISE St. James at a permit hearing for YCI Methanol Plant in St. James Sept 10, 2020. YCI applied for permits that would let them dump 61 hazardous chemicals into the Mississippi River, right near two St. James drinking water intakes. YCI’s wastewater could affect everyone downriver from their plant, including residents of New Orleans.

14. Residents of Cancer Alley marching with supporters in Lutcher, Louisiana, on October 17 during a protest against Amendment 5, which appeared on Louisiana’s November 3 ballot. If passed, the measure would have allowed manufacturers to negotiate lower tax bills with local governments, giving the petrochemical industry a way to permanently avoid paying property taxes. The amendment was rejected by Louisiana voters.

15. Wilma Subra, technical advisor for LEAN speaking against air permit modifications requested by the Marathon refinery at a LDEQ public hearing on Nov. 10 in St. John the Baptist Parish.  If the modifications are approved, the company will be permitted to release more toxic pollution than it already does. Few community members came to the meeting due to the pandemic.

16. Anne Rolfes, founder of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade speaking against a permit modification sought by So LA Methanol, another plant poised to be built in St. James, at an LDEQ permit hearing on November 19.

17. New Orleans advocates for federal action to address the plastic pollution crisis projecting an anti-plastic message onto a New Orleans post office on December 7. Similar projections took place in San Francisco, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

LEAD PHOTO: Robert Taylor visiting the Zion Travelers Cemetery, next to the Marathon Refinery, in Reserve, Louisiana where some of his relatives are buried. 

All photos by Julie Dermansky for DeSmog

These Are Some Climate Stories That Flew Under the Radar in 2020


These Are Some Climate Stories That Flew Under the Radar in 2020


2020 wildfires

At the start of December 2020, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres spoke at Columbia University, appearing not before a packed auditorium as in years past, but before a “virtual” audience, making his annual State of the Planet address. “To put it simply,” he said, “the state of the planet is broken.”

Today, we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and already witnessing unprecedented climate extremes and volatility in every region and on every continent,” Guterres said.

Let’s be clear: human activities are at the root of our descent towards chaos,” he went on. “But that means human action can help solve it.”

The speech was a fitting postscript for a year that brought not just the Covid-19 pandemic, but also a pummeling of catastrophes worldwide, many related to climate change.

But amid those disasters and under an openly hostile-to-science Trump administration, momentum continued to quietly build — albeit excruciatingly slowly — away from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas and towards, perhaps, meaningful action to slow the climate crisis.

The past year may be a difficult one to look back on — but amid the crises, there are signs that long-entrenched powerful interests may in fact be dug in on shaky ground.

Unprecedented Disasters

2020 may well be the warmest year ever recorded, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced in mid-December.

Amid that heat came a seemingly unending series of climate-linked disasters, prompting the Red Cross Secretary-General Jagan Chapagain to warn in November that “climate change will have a more significant medium- and long-term impact on the human life and on Earth” than even Covid-19.

The U.S. was hit by a billion-dollar weather and climate disasters 16 times between January and September, according to NOAA — an average of one major catastrophe every 2.5 weeks for 40 weeks.

During this record-shattering Atlantic hurricane season that brought 30 named storms (the historic yearly average is 12), other multi-billion-dollar disasters barely registered in the national media. NOAA’s list includes eleven outbreaks of derechos, tornadoes, hail, or “severe weather” in the central and southern U.S., along with three named hurricanes (Laura, Sally and Isaias).

It was such a busy and crazy a year that a derecho that savaged the Midwest somehow flew under the radar, despite damage nearing $10 billion, and is barely remembered,” the Associated Press reported of the August events.

Grain bin at the River Valley Cooperative in Martelle, Iowa – the tallest structure in this town of 250 people – which collapsed onto itself, spilling thousands of bushels of corn to the roadway, due to derechos in August. Photo Credit: Phil Roeder, via Flicker. 

And while major storms themselves made headlines, the toxic pollution that followed in their wakes often barely registered in the national press — and at times, went unmeasured because monitors were offline.

Fires Around the World

In January, as Wuhan entered its first lockdown and quarantine and the first Covid-19 cases were diagnosed in the U.S., Australia was battling deadly bushfires that ultimately raged across an area twice the size of Florida.

By summer, it was the U.S. Pacific coast that was burning. A horrific fire season this year turned skies blood-red from California to Washington state.

San Francisco smothered in smoke, September 9, 2020. Credit: Christopher Michel, via Flickr

As of December 18, the National Interagency Fire Center had tracked 56,914 wildfires in the U.S., which burned across more than 10.25 million acres.

We’re seeing fires in places that we don’t normally see fires,” Crystal A. Kolden, a University of California, Merced professor of fire science, told the New York Times in September. “Normally it’s far too wet to burn.”

That’s in part because 2020 also brought an extraordinary — but relatively less discussed — drought that spread across a third of the U.S. “Compared to late 2019 and early 2020, when there was very little drought in the continental United States, this is quite an extreme single-year event that developed rapidly over the course of 2020,” Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said. “But if you look over longer time scales, I would argue this is really a continuation of a multi-decadal event that began around 2000. There have been some breaks, but the Southwest has been in more-or-less continuous drought conditions since then.”

Not only did California’s wildfires continue into December, but a third major wildfire system further south also burned this year while attracting less global attention. In Brazil, the Pantanal wetlands — afflicted by drought — caught fire repeatedly this year and burned rapidly, with the blazes consuming a quarter of the tropical wetlands in what the World Wildlife Fund* calls “one of the most biologically rich environments on the planet.”

And this summer, the Arctic, which has seen climate heating at roughly double average rates, not only experienced an abnormally hot summer — with temperatures in the Siberian town Verkhoyansk hitting 100.4°F, the highest temperature ever recorded within the Arctic circle — but the Siberian tundra then broke out in wildfires of its own.

Plummeting Fossil Fuel Prices

But amid all the crises, signs of a different shift have begun to emerge — one that may have some potential to alter the climate trajectory we’ve stayed on for decades.

The oil, coal, and gas industries went into 2020 in rough financial shape, generating the lowest returns in the S&P 500 in 2019 after underperforming compared to the rest of the economy for a decade. That was before the price of oil plunged — and even, for a very brief moment in April, dipped far below zero.

Take, for example, ExxonMobil, which has continually doubled down on fossil fuel expansions. “The company, for decades one of the most profitable and valuable American businesses, lost $2.4 billion in the first nine months of the year, and its share price is down about 35 percent this year,” The New York Times reported in December. “In August, Exxon was tossed out of the Dow Jones industrial average, replaced by Salesforce, a software company.”

Also in December, Exxon’s former CEO Lee Raymond, incidentally, quit the board of JPMorgan Chase, a role he’d held for more than three decades. Divestment campaigners at took credit for an ouster, calling it “a sign of the changing winds of financial institutions taking climate action seriously.”

Cheap Renewables

In contrast, renewable energy sources like solar and wind have proved to be relatively resilient — or, in the words of Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency, in November, “immune to Covid.”

Utility-scale renewable energy saw costs continue to fall, making renewable energy often cheaper than fossil fuels — and installations reflected that competitiveness. “For solar, for example, new U.S. residential installations will be basically flat for 2020, and new non-residential (commercial, industrial, and institutional) megawatts will be down from 2019’s tally,” The Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental organization, writes. “But large-scale projects have mostly been able to keep happening, boosted by favorable (but declining) tax incentives, and their successes will be enough to actually propel solar to a record year: We look set to have a total of more than 19,000 megawatts in new solar power capacity, 43 percent above 2019’s installations, and 20 percent above the previous record.”

Solar installer. Photo Credit: Tool Dude, via


Building electrification efforts also spread in 2020. As of December 2, Sierra Club tracked 40 communities in California that had made that commitment, and 50 more considering all-electric policies. While electricity is still mostly generated by fossil fuels, those efforts lay the groundwork for renewable energy and proponents claim they will help reduce a single-family home’s emissions by up to 90 percent within 30 years.

Exposing Risk

This year also saw investigative reporting into ways that, for example, automakers GM and Ford have known for a half-century that climate change was underway and failed to act. Journalists have also exposed the ways that PR firms like FTI Consulting used deceptive campaigns and front groups to spread pro-fossil fuel propaganda.

The impacts of climate change drew closer scrutiny from large financial institutions. “More banks are getting buyers in coastal areas to make bigger down payments — often as much as 40 percent of the purchase price, up from the traditional 20 percent — a sign that lenders have awakened to climate dangers and want to put less of their own money at risk,” the New York Times reported this summer. “And in one of the clearest signs that banks are worried about global warming, they are increasingly getting these mortgages off their own books by selling them to government-backed buyers like Fannie Mae, where taxpayers would be on the hook financially if any of the loans fail.”

That, of course, isn’t exactly a heartwarming story of hope — but it is a sign that efforts by fossil fuel companies to sow confusion and doubt on climate change are becoming less and less compelling to decision-makers.

Moving Forward

The year also saw Black Lives Matter protests become what the New York Times called the “largest movement in U.S. history” in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. This summer’s uprisings across the U.S. brought growing attention to widespread, institutionalized racial injustice — and echoed with the idea that, as marine biologist and Urban Ocean Lab founder Ayana Elizabeth Johnson put it in a June column in Time magazine, “we can’t solve the climate crisis unless Black lives matter.”

In 2021, in addition to taking a more intersectional approach towards environmental justice, climate activists have vowed to keep the pressure on the incoming Biden administration — which has promised to move the U.S. towards a net zero pathway. If it does so, the U.S. will join China, Japan and South Korea which all announced net zero emission targets this year.

This shift, according to the Financial Times, means that the Paris goals aren’t entirely out of reach. “‘If all these countries meet their long-term targets of net zero, then the Paris agreement goals are within reach again,’ says Niklas Höhne, professor of environmental systems at Wageningen University in the Netherlands,” as the FT reported in December. “Warming of 2.1C is now likely by the end of the century — much lower than seemed likely only a few years ago, according to analysis he has done with colleagues at the NewClimate Institute and at Climate Analytics, both non-profit research groups.”

The picture, of course, looks a lot more grim when you take into account countries’ questionable records of delivering on Paris pledges, the FT adds.

While this was a year of compounding and overlapping crises and tragedies, there is perhaps some glimmer of hope to be found in the fact that some of the past year’s under-reported stories could signify — depending on what we all do in the coming days — that structural shifts may be underway and that, as U.N. Secretary Guterres suggested, as 2020 comes to an end, some elements of the climate crisis remain unwritten.

*Updated 1/4/2021: The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) name has been corrected from “World Wildlife Foundation.”

Main Image: A wildfire at Florida Panther NWR, April 2009. Photo Credit: Josh O’Connor – USFWS.

Americans’ acceptance of Trump’s behavior will be his vilest legacy

Americans’ acceptance of Trump’s behavior will be his vilest legacy

Robert Reich                             December 27, 2020
<span>Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images


Most of the 74,222,957 Americans who voted to re-elect Donald Trump – 46.8%of the votes cast in the 2020 presidential election – don’t hold Trump accountable for what he’s done to America.

Their acceptance of Trump’s behavior will be his vilest legacy.

Nearly forty years ago, political scientist James Q Wilson and criminologist George Kelling observed that a broken window left unattended in a community signals that no one cares if windows are broken there. The broken window is thereby an invitation to throw more stones and break more windows.

The message: do whatever you want here because others have done it and got away with it.

The broken window theory has led to picayune and arbitrary law enforcement in poor communities. But America’s most privileged and powerful have been breaking big windows with impunity.

In 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy. The Street got bailed out while millions of Americans lost their jobs, savings, and homes. Yet not no major Wall Street executive ever went to jail.

In more recent years, top executives of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, along with the members of the Sackler family that own it, knew the dangers of OxyContin but did nothing. Executives at Wells Fargo Bank pushed bank employees to defraud customers. Executives at Boeing hid the results of tests showing its 737 Max Jetliner was unsafe. Police chiefs across America looked the other way as police under their command repeatedly killed innocent Black Americans.

Here, too, they’ve got away with it. These windows remain broken.

Trump has brought impunity to the highest office in the land, wielding a wrecking ball to the most precious windowpane of all – American democracy.

Trump has brought impunity to the highest office in the land, wielding a wrecking ball to the most precious windowpane of all – American democracy.

The message? A president can obstruct special counsels’ investigations of his wrongdoing, push foreign officials to dig up dirt on political rivals, fire inspectors general who find corruption, order the entire executive branch to refuse congressional subpoenas, flood the Internet with fake information about his opponents, refuse to release his tax returns, accuse the press of being “fake media” and “enemies of the people”, and make money off his presidency.

And he can get away with it. Almost half of the electorate will even vote for his reelection.

A president can also lie about the results of an election without a shred of evidence – and yet, according to polls, be believed by the vast majority of those who voted for him.

Trump’s recent pardons have broken double-pane windows.

Not only has he shattered the norm for presidential pardons – usually granted because of a petitioner’s good conduct after conviction and service of sentence – but he’s pardoned people who themselves shattered windows. By pardoning them, he has rendered them unaccountable for their acts.

They include aides convicted of lying to the FBI and threatening potential witnesses in order to protect him; his son-in-law’s father, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering, illegal campaign contributions, and lying to the Federal Election Commission; Blackwater security guards convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians, including women and children; Border Patrol agents convicted of assaulting or shooting unarmed suspects; and Republican lawmakers and their aides found guilty of fraud, obstruction of justice and campaign finance violations.

It’s not simply the size of the broken window that undermines standards, according to Wilson and Kelling. It’s the willingness of society to look the other way. If no one is held accountable, norms collapse.

Trump may face a barrage of lawsuits when he leaves office, possibly including criminal charges. But it’s unlikely he’ll go to jail. Presidential immunity or a self-pardon will protect him. Prosecutorial discretion would almost certainly argue against indictment, in any event. No former president has ever been convicted of a crime. The mere possibility of a criminal trial for Trump would ignite a partisan brawl across the nation.

Congress may try to limit the power of future presidents – strengthening congressional oversight, fortifying the independence of inspectors general, demanding more financial disclosure, increasing penalties on presidential aides who break laws, restricting the pardon process, and so on.

But Congress – a co-equal branch of government under the Constitution – cannot rein in rogue presidents. And the courts don’t want to weigh in on political questions.

The appalling reality is that Trump may get away with it. And in getting away with it he will have changed and degraded the norms governing American presidents. The giant windows he’s broken are invitations to a future president to break even more.

Nothing will correct this unless or until an overwhelming majority of Americans recognize and condemn what has occurred.

Trump reportedly wants to ‘inflict as much pain on Congress as possible’

Trump reportedly wants to ‘inflict as much pain on Congress as possible’

Tim O’Donnell                        December 27, 2020

President Trump still hasn’t signed Congress’ $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill, and the clock is ticking. Indeed, it’s looking more likely that he’ll veto it, or simply sit on it, unless lawmakers find a way to increase direct stimulus payments and cut some other items, like foreign aid, out of the package before a potential government shut down on Tuesday.

While Trump may genuinely want more significant individual payments, he’s faced criticism for waiting until after a bipartisan agreement was reached to make his opinion clear, surprising Congress and his own negotiating team led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the process. One source briefed by White House officials on the matter told The Washington Post, Trump — who has been frustrated by his election loss and the fallout from the coronavirus during his final year in office — is “just angry at everybody and wants to inflict as much pain on Congress as possible.”

Even Mnuchin, one of the few Cabinet members to make it all four years with Trump, seems to be on the outs with his boss. Per the Post, Mnuchin was excited about the agreement and believed the president would sign it, but was then reportedly blindsided by Trump posting a video last week in which he bashed the deal and its $600 checks.

“Loyalty and assistance to President Trump generally gets rewarded with humiliation,” Brian Reidl, a conservative policy expert at the right-leaning think tank, the Manhattan Institute, told the Post.

Exclusive: As Trump leaves office, 50% of Americans say he’ll be seen as ‘failed’ president

Exclusive: As Trump leaves office, 50% of Americans say he’ll be seen as ‘failed’ president

Susan Page and Sarah Elbeshbishi,           December 24, 2020

President Donald Trump leaves the White House next month with the country more sharply divided than when he moved in and amid caustic assessments of his record in office, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds.

Fifty percent of Americans now predict history will judge him as a “failed” president.

The survey, taken in the waning weeks of his administration, shows the risks of actions he is contemplating on his way out the door. Americans overwhelmingly say issuing a preemptive pardon for himself would be an abuse of presidential power, and an even bigger majority, including most Republicans, say he should attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration to demonstrate the peaceful transfer of power.

Trump hasn’t announced whether he will attend the inauguration Jan. 20, and White House officials say he has been weighing pardons for himself and family members. On Tuesday, he issued 20 politically charged pardons and commutations, with more expected to follow. Much of his energy since the Nov. 3 election has been spent seeking ways to overturn the results, making allegations of widespread fraud.

President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. Trump is traveling to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. Trump is traveling to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.


“The last four years have been lacking in compassion and empathy, lacking in anything other than advancing the personal interests of President Trump and his friends and allies and family,” said Babette Salus, 60, a retired attorney and Biden voter from Springfield, Illinois, who was among those surveyed. “There have probably been worse presidents, (but) I’m not sure there has been a worse one in my lifetime.”

The poll of 1,000 registered voters Dec. 16-20 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Paleologos on the Poll: A ‘cult president’? Breaking down Trump’s support

Asked how history would judge Trump’s presidency, 16% predict he will be seen as a great president, 13% as a good president, 16% as a fair president, and 50% as a failed president. Five percent are undecided.

“I’ll tell you what, 50 years out, Trump will be much better regarded than he is at the current time,” said David Cheff, 73, a Trump voter from Jacksonville, Florida. With the passage of time, he said, “Trump will look decent, for sure.”

“He had half the people loving him and half the people wanting him dead,” said Arsh Ganjoo, 19, a Biden voter from Great Falls, Virginia, who is a sophomore at the University of Texas. “I think he will be definitely taught in history classes and regarded as more of an anomaly rather than, you know, a great president.”

Trump’s ratings are more sharply negative than the ones Barack Obama, himself a controversial president, received when he left office four years ago. Then, a USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll found that half of Americans predicted history would view Obama in a positive light, with 18% calling him a great president and 32% a good one. Twenty-three percent called him a failed president.

Trump continues to hold a powerful position among Republicans, however.

While Americans by an overwhelming 70%-26% say it is time for Trump to concede the election now that the Electoral College has voted, Republicans by double digits, 57%-37%, say he shouldn’t.

Indeed, most Republicans are ready to vote for Trump again. If he is the party’s nominee in 2024, 71% of Republicans say they would support him, and another 16% say they would consider it. Just 10% say they wouldn’t.

That gives Trump the standing to dominate the GOP’s direction in a way no losing presidential nominee has done in modern times.

But Republicans aren’t convinced Trump, in the end, will run again. While 48% predict he will be the party’s nominee in four years, 35% say he won’t.

Losing in court but persuasive to some

Trump’s attacks on the election have failed in court but succeeded in sowing doubts about the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency, even though Republican and Democratic officials alike in battleground states have declared that the election was conducted fairly and honestly.

By 62%-37%, Americans believe Biden was legitimately elected president. The fact that more than a third of the electorate – including 78% of Republicans – say he didn’t legitimately win the office looms as a significant political hurdle, particularly for a president who will take office during a deadly pandemic and an economy in upheaval.

“Never ever, ever happened,” Allen Matthews, 42, a tech engineer and a political independent from Lone Tree, Colorado, said of Biden’s election. He repeated unfounded allegations, promoted by Trump but debunked by independent fact-checkers, that Biden was recorded as scoring nearly 100% of the vote in some battleground counties. “There’s absolutely no way that’s possible,” he said. “So, no, I don’t believe it was legitimate at all.”

In some ways, Biden’s standing has improved since his election. By 20 points, 51%-31%, those surveyed approve of the job he has done since the election. His favorable-unfavorable rating is now a net 10 points positive, 49%-39%. In comparison, Trump’s is 15 points negative, 40%-55%.

“It’s definitely time to try something else,” said Dalton King, 23, an oil field electrician from Loveland, Colorado, who voted for libertarian Jo Jorgensen for president. “There’s a lot of things that personally worry me, but what we’re doing now obviously isn’t working, so hopefully these new ideas and these new programs, whatever they come up with, will work out to the best.”

President-elect Joe Biden on Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.
President-elect Joe Biden on Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.


The coronavirus and its repercussions should top Biden’s agenda, voters say: 44% say his first focus should be controlling the spread of COVID-19. Another 26% say it should be creating and preserving jobs. Improving access to health care ranks third, at 12%.

No other issue breaks into double digits.

“I would like to have some hope,” said Susan Sadule, 59, a retiree from Easton, Pennsylvania, who voted for Biden. “We are still suffering the isolation, feelings of loneliness and depression, obviously, and I’m just filled on a daily basis with the sadness for all of the deaths” from the pandemic. She appreciates Biden’s bipartisan approach but worries it won’t work, given the capital’s divide.

“I like his temperament in that he wants to get along,” she said, but added that “it might be foolhardy unless there’s a change in the leadership in the Senate.”

By 66%-27%, those surveyed predict Biden will significantly dismantle Trump’s legacy, a view held across party lines. (The finding was similar to the expectation in 2016, 59%-30%, that Trump would dismantle Obama’s legacy.)

Views of the wisdom of doing that weren’t bipartisan, though. Among Democrats, 79% said dismantling Trump’s legacy would be “a good thing,” while 72% of Republicans said it would be “a bad thing.” Still, nearly 1 in 5 Republicans, 18%, said it would be “a good thing.”

Ranking Trump’s achievements and failures

Americans rank Trump’s economic record as his greatest achievement in office by far.

Nearly half of Republicans call the economy his greatest achievement, followed by foreign policy and his leadership in general. Among Democrats, half replied “none” when asked about Trump’s top achievement; economic policy was second, cited by 22%.

Trump’s leadership, in general, is his greatest failure, according to those surveyed, followed closely by his record on race relations. Republicans say his failure to “drain the swamp” in Washington is their biggest disappointment.

There is concern about some of the steps the president is now contemplating.

  • By 66%-24%, Americans say he should attend the inauguration of his successor next month. There is little partisan differences on that question: 65% of Democrats and 62% of Republicans say he should attend.
  • By 62%-25%, those surveyed say it would be an abuse of a president’s powers if Trump issues a preemptive pardon for himself. But most Republicans, 56%-24%, say it would be an appropriate use of his power.
  • By 58%-29%, respondents say it would be an abuse of his power to issue a significant number of pardons for his children, top aides and others.

When Trump took office four years ago, 59% told the USA TODAY poll that the country’s divisions were deeper than they had been in the past. That view has only intensified. Now, 67% say the divisions have gotten deeper. It’s a view held by overwhelming majorities across party lines.

As for Biden’s task ahead, “I think the No. 1 thing he needs to be able to do is unite Americans to move forward,” said Salus, the retired attorney from Illinois. “I think if he does that, everything else would probably fall in place OK.”

The Fine Print in a 5,593-Page Spending Bill: Tax Breaks and Horse Racing

The Fine Print in a 5,593-Page Spending Bill: Tax Breaks and Horse Racing

Luke Broadwater, Jesse Drucker, Rebecca R. Ruiz – December 23, 2020
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) departs a meeting at the Capitol in Washington late Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, with the top congressional leaders to discuss the omnibus package and COVID-19 relief. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times)


WASHINGTON — Tucked away in the 5,593-page spending bill that Congress rushed through Monday night is a provision that some tax experts call a $200 billion giveaway to the rich.

It involves the tens of thousands of businesses that received loans from the federal government this spring with the promise that the loans would be forgiven, tax free, if they agreed to keep employees on the payroll through the coronavirus pandemic.

But for some businesses and their high-paid accountants, that was not enough. They went to Congress with another request: Not only should the forgiven loans not to be taxed as income, but the expenditures used with those loans should be tax deductible.

“High-income business owners have had tax benefits and unprecedented government grants showered down upon then. And the scale is massive,” wrote Adam Looney, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former Treasury Department tax official in the Obama administration, who estimated that $120 billion of the $200 billion would flow to the top 1% of Americans.

The new provision allows for a classic double dip into the Paycheck Protection Program, as businesses get free money from the government, then get to deduct that largess from their taxes.

And it is one of hundreds included in a huge spending package and a coronavirus stimulus bill that is supposed to help businesses and families struggling during the pandemic but, critics say, swerved far afield. President Donald Trump on Tuesday night blasted it as a disgrace and demanded revisions.

“Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it,” he said in a video posted on Twitter that stopped just short of a veto threat.

The measure includes serious policy changes beyond the much-needed $900 billion in coronavirus relief, such as a simplification of federal financial aid forms, measures to address climate change and a provision to stop “surprise billing” from hospitals when patients unwittingly receive care from physicians out of their insurance networks.

But there is also much grumbling over other provisions that lawmakers had not fully reviewed, and a process that left most of them and the public in the dark until after the bill was passed. The anger was bipartisan.

“Members of Congress have not read this bill. It’s over 5,000 pages, arrived at 2 p.m. today, and we are told to expect a vote on it in two hours,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., wrote on Twitter on Monday. “This isn’t governance. It’s hostage-taking.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, agreed — the two do not agree on much.

“It’s ABSURD to have a $2.5 trillion spending bill negotiated in secret and then — hours later — demand an up-or-down vote on a bill nobody has had time to read,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.

The items jammed into the bill are varied and at times bewildering. The bill would make it a felony to offer illegal streaming services. One provision requires the CIA to report back to Congress on the activities of Eastern European oligarchs tied to President Vladimir Putin of Russia. The federal government would be required to set up a program aimed at eradicating the murder hornet and to crack down on online sales of e-cigarettes to minors.

It authorizes 93 acres of federal lands to be used for the construction of the Teddy Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota and creates an independent commission to oversee horse racing, a priority of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader.

McConnell inserted that item to get around the objections of a Democratic senator, who wanted it amended, but he received agreement from other congressional leaders.

Alexander M. Waldrop, CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said Tuesday that McConnell had “said many times he feared for the future of horse racing and the impact on the industry, which of course is critical to Kentucky.”

That the racing legislation — versions of which the industry had debated for years — passed as part of the COVID-19 relief bill was of no particular mind, Waldrop said.

“It just developed this way over the last several weeks,” he said. “The only approach left to us was a federally sanctioned, independent, self-regulatory organization. It was our only viable option left, and this legislation accomplishes that.”

But the tax provisions — including extending a $2.5 billion break for race car tracks and allowing a $6.3 billion write-off for business meals, derided as the “three-martini lunch” expense — have prompted the most hand-wringing.

The bill also lowers some taxes on alcoholic beverages.

No break is bigger, however, than the deductions that will soon be permitted under the Paycheck Protection Program. Businesses had been lobbying the Treasury Department and the IRS since the spring to deduct spending from PPP loans, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was firmly opposed, saying deducting expenditures from funds not considered taxable income violated “Tax 101.”

The PPP was the most visible part of the federal government’s coronavirus relief efforts in the spring to keep small businesses afloat. So far, the government has distributed more than $500 billion in loans, which could be forgiven and turned into permanent grants as long as the businesses use most of the money to pay workers and keep people employed.

In passing the law in the spring, Congress explicitly said that the PPP funds should not be included as taxable income — unlike, say, unemployment benefits.

Despite that largess, businesses wanted more. In May, the heads of the tax-writing committees — Sens. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Mass. — wrote Mnuchin urging him to reconsider his opposition.

“Small businesses need help maintaining their cash flow, not more strains on it,” they wrote.

But a Brookings Institution analysis said the change would help far more wealthy than mom-and-pop business owners.

“So there’s no cost on the way in and no cost on the way out — those two don’t add up,” said Richard L. Reinhold, the former chairman of the tax department at Willkie Farr & Gallagher and a professor at Cornell Law School. Congress could have simply expanded the PPP program, but instead it did it almost by stealth, through a tax deduction.

“That’s the part that is troublesome,” he said.

Although there had been discussion of limiting the deduction to PPP recipients below a certain income threshold, the final provision was made available to anyone, regardless of income.

The Small Business Administration this month released data showing that just 1% of the program’s 5.2 million borrowers had received more than a quarter of the $523 billion disbursed.

That 1% included high-priced law firms like Boies Schiller Flexner and the operator of New York’s biggest horse tracks, which received the maximum loan amount of $10 million.

“The year 2020 is going to be one of the most unequal years in modern history,” Looney said. “Part of the inequity is the effect of COVID, which hammered service sectors the most and allowed rich, educated people to work on Zoom. But the government totally compounded these inequities with their response.”

Yet in the end, only six senators, all Republicans, voted against the coronavirus relief package and spending bill, mostly citing fiscal concerns about runaway spending, while 85 House members — a mix of Democrats and Republicans — voted against its military provisions. The bill increased military spending by about $5 billion.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., opposed the military spending but voted for other aspects of the bill. He and his liberal colleagues had lobbied for direct payments for most Americans as part of a relief package, and he said he shared colleagues’ concerns about a lack of time to review the final piece of legislation.

“We need a better system to have members review online text as it is being drafted and have input,” Khanna said. “That said, leadership did keep us informed on almost daily calls about the essential aspects of the bills and the issues at stake.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., one of the leaders of the bipartisan group that pushed for a $900 billion stimulus, said leadership intentionally waited until the last minute to unveil final proposals.

“Leadership likes the process the way it is,” he said. “Wait until the deadline, and then there’s no input at all. They say, take this or not. I’m sick and tired of how this game has been played.”

That said, there was plenty for lawmakers to cheer for. They sent out news releases promoting preferred provisions like the ban on most surprise medical bills, the restoration of college financial aid for incarcerated people, and the restrictions on the use of powerful planet-warming chemicals that are commonly used in air conditioners and refrigerators. The bill also creates new museums honoring women and Latinos.

“What you see at the end of every Congress is a clearing of the decks,” said Josh Huder, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University. “It’s all the stuff we wanted to pass but couldn’t. Everybody would love for legislation to be passed individually, but that is really a function of a bygone era that is not coming back.”

“There’s a lot of good stuff,” he said, “but something definitely gets snuck in.”

Increasingly desperate, Trump turns to fringe figures, radical ideas

Increasingly desperate, Trump turns to fringe figures, radical ideas

People close to Trump are increasingly afraid of possible abuses he’d consider in his presidency’s final weeks.
U.S. Covid-19 Relief Talks Hit Snag Over Lawsuit Protections
The White House on Dec. 11, 2020. Al Drago / Bloomberg/Getty Images


Late Friday, Axios published a report noting that senior administration officials are concerned that Donald Trump is “spending too much time with people they consider crackpots or conspiracy theorists.” It wasn’t meant to be funny, but the phrasing was extraordinary in its own right.

The way it was framed, senior officials take it as a given that the outgoing president will spent some time with crackpots — the man is who he is — but as Trump’s term nears its end, the fear now is that he’s spending “too much” time with crackpots.

Macabre humor notwithstanding, these concerns are clearly well founded. NBC News reported over the weekend:

President Donald Trump held a meeting at the White House on Friday evening in which he discussed naming appellate lawyer Sidney Powell as a special counsel to investigate voter fraud in the election, a person familiar with the meeting confirmed to NBC News. Powell, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows took part in the meeting, as did retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s first national security adviser. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani participated by phone.


In case anyone’s forgotten, Sidney Powell’s conspiracy theories were considered so hysterically ridiculous that she was fired from Trump’s “elite, strike force” legal team last month.

Four weeks later, Powell’s work may be too bananas for the president’s lawyers, but not for Trump himself, who both met with her on Friday and told his team he’d like to see her make more television appearances. (Powell was also reportedly back in the White House last night, pitching ideas about absurd executive orders the president could issue in pursuit of her bonkers ideas.)

As for the nature of Friday night’s meeting, the New York Times described it as a “raucous” discussion in which Trump considered appointing Powell as a special counsel to chase anti-election conspiracy theories and broached the subject of an executive order that would seize control of voting machines.

Just as importantly, Michael Flynn last week raised the idea of the outgoing president imposing martial law on the United States and deploying the military to “re-run” the election. According to the Times‘ account of Friday’s meeting, Trump “asked about that idea.”

So, let’s take stock. The outgoing president, still furious about losing, huddled in the White House with a lawyer whose crackpot ideas were too extreme for his other lawyers, as well as a disgraced former foreign agent who’s open to the idea of martial law — which Trump found interesting enough to warrant an inquiry.

By all accounts, none of these lines of discussion gained traction, thanks at least in part to pushback from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone. But let’s not miss the forest for the trees: Donald Trump is less focused on exiting the Oval Office in 30 days and more focused on deranged scenarios.

And for people close to the outgoing president, Trump’s desperation is increasingly the source of genuine anxiety. CNN reported on Friday, for example, on an insider who “described an escalating sense of concern among Trump’s aides, even those who have weathered his previous controversies, about what steps he might take next as his term comes to an end.” Axios reported the same day, “Senior Trump administration officials are increasingly alarmed that President Trump might unleash — and abuse — the power of government in an effort to overturn the clear result of the election.”

A day later, the Washington Post added, “[O]fficials say privately they are worried about what might transpire in coming weeks, as the president becomes increasingly desperate.”

Note, these aren’t Democrats who are afraid of what Trump might do in his final weeks in office; these are Trump administration officials, many of whom are accustomed to the president’s usual nonsense, but who fear what’s next is qualitatively different.

Inauguration Day 2021 is 30 days away. Watch this space.

I’m Haunted by What I Did as a Lawyer in the Trump Justice Department

New York Times

No matter our intentions, lawyers like me were complicit. We owe the country our honesty about what we saw — and should do in the future.

Ms. Newland worked in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department from 2016-18.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times


was an attorney at the Justice Department when Donald Trump was elected president. I worked in the Office of Legal Counsel, which is where presidents turn for permission slips that say their executive orders and other contemplated actions are lawful. I joined the department during the Obama administration, as a career attorney whose work was supposed to be independent of politics.

I never harbored delusions about a Trump presidency. Mr. Trump readily volunteered that his agenda was to disassemble our democracy, but I made a choice to stay at the Justice Department — home to some of the country’s finest lawyers — for as long as I could bear it. I believed that I could better serve our country by pushing back from within than by keeping my hands clean. But I have come to reconsider that decision.

My job was to tailor the administration’s executive actions to make them lawful — in narrowing them, I could also make them less destructive. I remained committed to trying to uphold my oath even as the president refused to uphold his.

But there was a trade-off: We attorneys diminished the immediate harmful impacts of President Trump’s executive orders — but we also made them more palatable to the courts.

This burst into public view early in the Trump administration in the litigation over the executive order banning travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, which my office approved. The first Muslim ban was rushed out the door. It was sweeping and sloppy; the courts quickly put a halt to it. The successive discriminatory bans benefited from more time and attention from the department’s lawyers, who narrowed them but also made them more technocratic and therefore harder for the courts to block.

After the Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision upholding the third Muslim ban, I reviewed my own portfolio — which included matters targeting noncitizens, dismantling the Civil Service and camouflaging the president’s corruption — overcome with fear that I was doing more harm than good. By Thanksgiving of that year, I had left my job.

Still, I felt I was abandoning the ship. I continued to believe that a critical mass of responsible attorneys staying in government might provide a last line of defense against the administration’s worst instincts. Even after I left, I advised others that they could do good by staying. News reports about meaningful pushback by Justice Department attorneys seemed to confirm this thinking.

I was wrong.

Watching the Trump campaign’s attacks on the election results, I now see what might have happened if, rather than nip and tuck the Trump agenda, responsible Justice Department attorneys had collectively — ethically, lawfully — refused to participate in President Trump’s systematic attacks on our democracy from the beginning. The attacks would have failed.

Unlike the Trump Justice Department, the Trump campaign has relied on second-rate lawyers who lack the skills to maintain the president’s charade. After a recent oral argument from Rudy Giuliani, Judge Matthew Brann (a Republican) wrote that the campaign had offered “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence.” Even judges appointed by Mr. Trump have refused to throw their lots in with lawyers who can’t master the basic mechanics of lawyering.

After four years of bulldozing through one institution after another on the backs of skilled lawyers, the Trump agenda hit a brick wall.

The story of the Trump campaign’s attack on our elections could have been the story of the Trump administration’s four-year-long attack on our institutions. If, early on, the Justice Department lawyers charged with selling the administration’s lies had emptied the ranks — withholding our talents and reputations and demanding the same of our professional peers — the work of defending President Trump’s policies would have been left to the types of attorneys now representing his campaign. Lawyers like Mr. Giuliani would have had to defend the Muslim ban in court.

Had that happened, judges would have likely dismantled the Trump facade from the beginning, stopping the momentum of his ugliest and most destructive efforts and bringing much-needed accountability early in his presidency.

Before the 2020 election, I was haunted by what I didn’t do. By all the ways I failed to push back enough. Now, after the 2020 election, I’m haunted by what I did. The trade-off wasn’t worth it.

In giving voice to those trying to destroy the rule of law and dignifying their efforts with our talents and even our basic competence, we enabled that destruction. Were we doing enough good elsewhere to counterbalance the harm we facilitated, the way a public health official might accommodate the president on the margins to push forward on vaccine development? No.

No matter our intentions, we were complicit. We collectively perpetuated an anti-democratic leader by conforming to his assault on reality. We may have been victims of the system, but we were also its instruments. No matter how much any one of us pushed back from within, we did so as members of a professional class of government lawyers who enabled an assault on our democracy — an assault that nearly ended it.

We owe the country our honesty about that and about what we saw. We owe apologies. I offer mine here.

And we owe our best efforts to restore our democracy and to share what we learned to help mobilize and enact reforms — to remind future government lawyers that when asked to undermine our democracy, the right course is to refuse and hold your peers to the same standard.

To lead by example, and do everything in our power to ensure this never happens again. If we don’t, it will.

Erica Newland, counsel at Protect Democracy, worked in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department from 2016-18.

Who are you calling a socialist? Republicans are the real party of socialism in America

Who are you calling a socialist? Republicans are the real party of socialism in America

Steven Strauss, Opinion columnist               December 19, 2020


With Senate control on the line in two Georgia runoff elections next month, Republicans are claiming that President-elect Joe Biden and the Democrats are “socialists.” That’s their shorthand for government interference in the economy, corruption, failure to enforce the law, incompetence, and subsidizing people who should support themselves.

Let me suggest four areas where the incoming Biden administration, allied with serious conservatives, can fight “socialism” while upholding progressive values.

► Eliminate farm subsidies and farm support programs (which will cost $46 billion this year — up from $22 billion last year — and will account for about 40% of this year’s farm income) that interfere with agricultural markets. As Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute noted: “Agriculture is no riskier than other industries and does not need an array of federal subsidies.” Also from the Cato Institute: “About 97% of all farm households are wealthier than the median U.S. household. Farm income was 52% higher than median U.S. household income.”

I know of no progressive organization that supports these farm subsidy programs. However, America’s farmers are different from other Americans. They are 95% white and do one thing the majority of Americans refuse to do: Farmers overwhelmingly vote Republican (President Donald Trump may have gotten as much as 85% of the farm vote this year).

Tax subsidies that make no sense

► Eliminate the money-losing “socialist” National Flood Insurance Program. From the point of view of progressives (who believe climate change is a real and pressing concern), NFIP makes no sense. It encourages living in flood-prone areas (where progressives believe flooding will get worse due to climate change) by offering subsidized federal flood insurance. As the General Accounting Office noted: “NFIP premiums do not reflect the full risk of loss, which increases the Federal fiscal exposure created by the program, obscures that exposure from Congress and taxpayers …”

In 2017, Congress wrote off $16 billion in losses from this program. But by March 2020, it had already accumulated another $20 billion in losses. About 60% of NFIP policies were issued in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, which all voted for Trump this year.

U.S. Capitol building on March 25, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Capitol building on March 25, 2020, in Washington, D.C.


► Invest $10 billion per year to fund IRS tax enforcement, targeted at the very wealthy — those making over $1 million a year. According to a recent estimate by former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, University of Pennsylvania law professor Natasha Sarin and former IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti, this investment would yield about $100 billion a year in extra Federal tax revenues.

If you’re a conservative who thinks defunding police enforcement is a bad idea, you should think the same about the recent defunding of IRS tax enforcement (by cutting the IRS budget). The IRS budget shrank 20% in real terms from 2010 to 2019, while in the same period the U.S. economy grew about 25%. The result is that the number of audits of Americans making over $1 million per year declined by about 75%. At the same time, the IRS was pressured to focus its scarce resources on auditing low income Americans. Notably, the main driver of this IRS defunding is the GOP.

► Make states routinely subsidized by the rest of the country get their act together. Most American states are roughly in balance between what their residents pay into the federal government and what they receive back. A few states (mainly Democratic) are “maker” states (among them Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York) that pay vastly more to the federal government than they receive.

‘Taker’ states do bad job for citizens

Then there are states that get back a lot more than their residents pay in taxes. These “taker” states are mainly low-income states in the southeast, most of them dominated by Republicans. Given our progressive tax system and safety net, federal money tends to automatically flow to these states.

If you’re a conservative, transferring money from “makers” to “takers” is generally frowned on. If you’re a progressive, it makes sense to ask some hard questions about what’s going on with these “taker” states. Because, despite all the money these states receive, they don’t do a good job for their citizens.

Mississippi illustrates just how bad this situation is. Annually, Mississippi receives $19 billion more from the federal government than it pays into the system. Despite this support, Mississippi has the highest homicide rate, highest infant mortality rates and lowest median household income of any American state.

No socialist nightmare: Georgia, if you’re listening, ignore conservatives peddling socialist Senate hallucinations

It’s time the leaders in these poorly run states make changes to improve the lives of their citizens — hopefully while reducing their hefty dole from the rest of the country. If they are unwilling to reform, maybe federal money and programs should be cut off.

Some of what I’m proposing will require legislation, and the devil’s in the details. But if you’re an ideological conservative, you should be willing to work with the Biden administration to implement some or all of these proposals.

If you’re a hypocritical member of the GOP (that is, you want to keep using federal tax dollars to buy the farm vote for Republican candidates), and-or a Trumpist, you probably loathe everything I’ve proposed. But it’s time for the incoming Biden administration to pull back the curtain on which is the true party of socialism in America.

Steven Strauss is a lecturer and visiting professor at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.