Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Trump administration shows just how clueless it is about the middle class

By Henry Olsen
The White House is reportedly considering making a “middle-class tax cut” the centerpiece of its 2020 economic agenda. If that campaign goes forward, the administration would show just how clueless it is about what “middle class” means.
The Post reported Tuesday that White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow was leading the charge to create a “15 percent tax rate for the American middle class.” That sounds good — until you look at the actual tax rates middle-class families pay now. Most American families already pay less than 15 percent of their income in taxes, so a 15 percent rate would actually be a tax increase for most middle-class families.
Though Kudlow stressed that the administration was still in its preliminary stages of developing the tax cut, the proposed 15 percent rate suggests the White House is out of touch with real American families. Families don’t pay more than 15 percent until they earn more than about $80,000 in taxable income. Add the $25,000 standard deduction — the amount a family can earn without paying any tax — to that, and a family has to earn a minimum of $105,000 a year before they would save a penny with a 15 percent tax rate.
That might be middle class in the D.C. suburbs and in Kudlow’s tony hometown of Redding, Conn., where the median family income is more than $157,000 a year. But the national annual median family income is only $75,500, and it is much lower than that in the rural, Midwestern counties that propelled Donald Trump to the White House. Calling a tax cut that many middle-class families can’t get a “middle class” benefit would be one of the stupidest things a president could possibly do.
There is some political method to this madness. Trump has driven many higher-income voters away from the party, and these people were likeliest to be hit by the 2017 tax cut’s limitations on deducting state and local taxes. Cutting tax rates for these people would be a strategic move to win them back. That’s what a 15 percent rate would do — cut taxes by thousands of dollars per family for people in the upper middle class.
One can easily see why this would appeal to the well-to-do White House economic team who surely see the weakening GOP position in their neighborhoods every time they talk with neighbors. But it’s not a middle-class tax cut, and it might even be resented by the majority of actual Trump voters who are struggling more and voted for Trump in part because they resented America’s growing economic inequality.
There are plenty of tax cuts the administration could endorse if it is serious about helping the struggling and pinched working and middle class. To start, they could back Sen. Tom Cotton’s bill to refund revenues from Trump’s tariffs to average taxpayers. Cotton’s proposal could give as much as $485 a year to each family earning less than $168,000 a year in taxable income, and — unlike the 15 percent tax-rate idea — would give nothing to families earning above that. If you limited the refund only to taxpayers in the bottom two tax brackets, then almost no one earning six figures would get a dime, and each qualifying family’s refund check would be much larger.
The administration could also cut the payroll tax paid by all U.S. workers. While some might worry about this because most of the tax funds Social Security, a portion is reserved to fund Medicare’s hospital insurance program. That portion could be cut without endangering Social Security funding, and the lost revenue could be recouped by lowering the government subsidy that wealthy seniors receive when they’re on Medicare. Seniors earning more than $100,000 a year, for example, could surely afford higher deductibles and co-pays for their hospital stays and pay higher monthly premiums for their Part B than they currently do. That money could fund tax relief for the people who need money now just to support their families.
There are plenty of other ways the administration could cut taxes on middle-class families. It could lower the tax rate paid by families making less than $105,000 — currently 10 percent or 12 percent — to 8 percent. It could restore the personal exemption for families with more than two children because the standard deduction is lower than the poverty level for families with three or more children. It could also increase the federal child tax credit and make more of it refundable for families with very low incomes. Each of these proposals would give real tax relief to the people who need it most.
The administration is right to want to give tax relief to the middle and working class. But members of the president’s economic team need to get out of their bubble and discover who those people really are. Once they do, they’ll find loads of ways to use the tax code to help middle-class families make ends meet.

#ImpeachmentHearings #ImpeachmentDay - The Evidence of Wrongdoing by Trump Is Overwhelming

By Noah Bookbinder
The witnesses’ testimony on Wednesday was clear and alarming.
Impeachment is a constitutional procedure that should be reserved only for extraordinary times with the most extreme examples of abuse of power by a president. That is why, in our country’s history, only two presidents have been impeached.
But this is one of those times.
The evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump is overwhelming. The impeachment inquiry has been conducted so far in a sober, responsible way. As Wednesday’s hearing made clear, the witnesses are credible and clear, and the story they tell is alarming. All members of Congress are now compelled to listen to the witnesses and independently determine whether the president’s conduct warrants impeachment.
Mr. Trump used the immense powers of the American presidency to pressure an ally to open investigations that would help him personally. That much is clear just from the call memo of the July 25 conversation between President Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Any American who has not read the call memo should do so, because it is as shocking today to realize that Mr. Trump said the jaw-dropping phrase, “I would like you to do us a favor,” as it was the day it was released. He followed that by expressing his desire for Ukraine to investigate the 2016 election and the Bidens. That is sufficient in itself to prove unacceptable wrongdoing by the president.
But today’s testimony made clear that it goes much further. Two respected public servants — Ambassador William Taylor, an experienced diplomat and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, the State Department official overseeing European and Eurasian affairs — testified that the president and his personal attorney sought politically motivated investigations by the Ukrainian government into former Vice President Joseph Biden and allegations concerning the 2016 election (the latter references an unfounded conspiracy theory that Ukrainians, not Russians, were behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and the Ukrainians framed the Russian government to make it look like that country was working with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign).
Mr. Kent testified that the undercutting of dedicated career foreign service officers in Ukraine did great damage to our national security. Mr. Taylor testified that, from his experiences over several months, he developed a clear understanding that, at the direction of the president, nearly $400 million in taxpayer-funded military aid and the powerful optics of a White House meeting were conditioned on a public announcement of investigations personally helpful to Mr. Trump’s re-election efforts.
Like Mr. Kent, Mr. Taylor also said that the president’s interference in our support of Ukraine for political purposes was deeply damaging to national security. Furthermore, he emphasized the potentially deadly costs of the delay in military support: Ukraine’s conflict with Russia has resulted in 14,000 casualties, and “more die each week” in fighting in the eastern part of the country.
Pressuring a foreign power to investigate a political rival is, alone, a potentially impeachable offense. But Mr. Trump’s effort to condition needed military and diplomatic aid on investigations helpful to his personal political interests may also constitute bribery as contemplated by the Constitution for the purpose of impeachment. It also likely violates criminal laws, including the federal bribery statute.
The president’s allies in the House tried to distract from the devastating facts against him, but they do not hold up to even the briefest scrutiny.
The claim that there could not have been serious wrongdoing because military aid to Ukraine was ultimately released and Ukraine did not begin the requested investigations is laughable. The aid was released only after Congress discovered it had been held up and began angrily asking about it and as the scandal was emerging. The reported statements of senior Ukrainian officials also indicate that Ukraine’s government had reluctantly decided to publicly announce these political investigations and was rescued only by this scandal’s public emergence.
As important, today Mr. Taylor revealed stunning new information. He said that a staff member of his witnessed Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, call Mr. Trump the day after his call with Mr. Zelensky and that the staff member heard Mr. Trump ask Mr. Sondland about the status of “the investigations” — which witnesses have testified was shorthand for inquiries into the Bidens and the origins of the investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Taylor testified that his staff member heard Mr. Sondland say Ukraine was moving forward on those investigations and that Mr. Sondland said that the president “cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”
Similarly, President Zelensky’s statement that he did not feel pressured by Mr. Trump is hardly a silver bullet, given that he made it while seated next to the president at the United Nations. In fact, the evidence as a whole showed that the pressure worked and that Ukraine’s efforts to avoid getting embroiled in politicized investigations pushed by Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, were unsuccessful, and that Russia stands to potentially benefit from the interruption of United States-Ukraine relations (through, for example, a break in security support). Critically, Mr. Zelensky still has not received a White House meeting.
Finally, efforts to dismiss or smear witnesses testifying at the hearings ring hollow. Some of these witnesses’ testimony is firsthand, others is secondhand, as you would expect from anyone with knowledge of a piece of a multipart story. But their motivations are unimpeachable, their statements are clear, and when taken together, the account they have provided is devastating.
Members of Congress must listen closely to what these witnesses are saying: President Trump used the power of his office to pressure a struggling ally to conduct investigations for his own personal, political benefit.
They will face a vote as consequential to American democracy as any they have taken. The testimony spoken in these hearings, and the facts outlined by these witnesses, must be their only guide when they take that vote.
Not to do so is to allow the president to succeed in damaging our democracy.

Video Report - #ImpeachmentHearings #ImpeachmentDay - Top US diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor opening remarks at impeachment hearing

Video Report - Trump impeachment inquiry hearings - Day 1

Video Report - Highlights From The First #Impeachment Hearing

Balochistan has the Highest Unemployment Rate in the Country

A B Khan
Demographically the largest province of Pakistan, Balochistan, has a population of 12.34 million comprising of just 5.94% of the total population (207.77m) of Pakistan. Census 2017 revealed that the population of Karachi city alone is 14.91 million which is almost 2.57 million greater than the population of Balochistan. With such a small population, the province still faces a very big job deficit.
Due to a lack of employment opportunities in Balochistan, the youth of the province is more vulnerable compared to other provinces. Due to this unemployment, in June 2019, Nazar Muhammad a student of BS (Chemical Engineering) lost his life and was burned alive, on Kech highway, while transporting oil illegally to earn his living. The fate of Hidayat Ullah was not different from Nazar Muhamamd; he also lost his life while appearing in a marathon for the recruitment test of the Levis Sepoy in June 2019 in Ziarat. Similarly, in the month of July 2019, for the test of the vacant post of junior clerk, in District Khuzdar, several female candidates appeared. All these and many more cases which are not reported are proof that the burning issue of unemployment is soaring in the province and it needs to be addressed.
According to the Pakistan Labour Force Survey (2014-15), Punjab has 2.32 million unemployed population, Sindh has 0.66 million, KP with 0.51 million and Balochistan has 0.13 million. Clearly from the figures, Punjab has the highest unemployed population, but when we compare the unemployed population with the current total population to find out the percentage of unemployed population in each province, the scenario completely changes and the province with unemployed population of just 0.51 million becomes the most vulnerable having 4.13% of unemployed population.

To address the issue of unemployment and the sense of deprivation Aghaz e Haqooq package was announced for Balochistan by PPP government. Under the Aghaze Haqooq Package, one of the key points was that the Federal Government will create additional jobs for Balochistan and will strictly observe the provincial quota while providing employment to the province. Aghaz e Haqooq like other projects was made dormant with the passage of time and it all faded away in the time.
In 2013, PM Nawaz Sharif imposed ban on all recruitments and the posts to be filled under Aghaz e Haqooq were not advertised. In June 2013, Principal Secretary to CM, Naseem Lehri, was communicated in a reply from Joint Secretary (Establishment Division) Dr. Masood Akhtar that almost 4,000 posts under Balochistan Quota are laying vacant however the government has imposed ban on the recruitment. In September 2018, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Khan, informed the Senate that there are four thousand vacancies yet to be filled under the Aghaz e Haqooq. These posts were deferred and the tyranny of the province is that none of the political leaders asked or inquired about it.
Provincial and Regional quotas prescribed in 1973 has been reviewed from time to time and it has been decided by the Federal Government that following provincial quota shall be observed in filling the vacant posts in all Federal Government Organizations.
The premier recruiting organization of Pakistan, FPSC, follows the same recruiting policy for its recruitment. Unfortunately, the recruitment policy prescribed in the paper is not followed generally and especially in the case of Balochistan. The claim is not made on the basis of one’s perception rather on the basis of figures and statistics provided by the Establishment Division’s Annual Statistical Bulletin of 2017-18 (autonomous bodies, corporations).
According to the report, Balochistan has just 4.34%, against its due share of 6%, whereas Punjab, including Islamabad, has 56.06%, Sindh has 21.67% and KP has 14.82% share in the jobs of Federal Government corporations/autonomous bodies. According to the report, all three provinces are getting more than its recommended quota whereas Balochistan is the only province that is getting less than its actual share. The unusual thing in the report is that in table 5 “domicile wise working strength section”, Islamabad is mentioned separately from Punjab and in few cases, Islamabad alone is getting more number of jobs in different autonomous /corporate bodies than the province of Balochistan which is a clear violation of the provincial and regional quota.  
Article 38 (g) of the Constitution of Pakistan ensures that the shares of the Provinces in all Federal services, including autonomous/ corporate bodies, under the control of the Federal Government shall be secured any omission in the allocation of the shares of the Provinces in the past shall be rectified. Unfortunately, the political leadership of the province seems to be ignorant whereas the unemployed youth of Balochistan are helpless and cannot find any savior who can advocate for the right of these youth.

Balochistan: University students to be forced to wear a uniform from next year

The University of Balochistan has made it compulsory for all Bachelors and Masters students to uniforms on campus as the varsity grapple with a host of harassment accusations against its staff and administration.
According to details, the new uniform that will be enforced from March 1, 2020, requires male students are required to wear a white shirt, black pants and a tie with the university logo affix on it, while the female students are to wear grey shirts with white trousers and white headscarves.
‘No students will be allowed to enter university without the uniform,’ notification by the institution’s administration warned.
The university registrar has issued a notification and urged the students to purchase their uniforms from ‘Mothercare’ a shop located on Jinnah’s Road Quetta – the capital of Balochistan.
It has been claimed that the Balochistan High Court chief justice had instructed the university administration to make uniforms compulsory for students.
The administration of University has recently been subjected to heavy criticism after it was revealed that they have installed secret cameras in a different section of university and to record the activities of students and later used those CCTV footages to harass and blackmail female students.
Many female students have claimed that the administration was using their videos to blackmail them and asking for sexual favours in return.
The academic staff even revealed that secret cameras were placed inside switchboards and keyboards to monitor the student’s activities.
Prof Dr Javed Iqbal, the former vice-chancellor of the university, has even stepped down from his post until the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) completes its inquiry in the case.
The Baloch and Pashtun students’ organisation have been protesting against the university administration and demanding for the arrest and severe punishment of the culprits.
“While the harassment scandal still remains unresolved now the university has taken another controversial step to force the students to wear a uniform. It is a deliberate attempt to close the door of education to Baloch and Pashtun students.
“First they harassed and blackmailed our children now when they are caught; they are trying to cover their crimes with a uniform,” a worried father told Balochwarna.
It is pertinent to mention that after the harassment scandal, there have been reports of many female students returning home after their parents objected to the behaviour of the university administration and heavy presence of Pakistan army, FC and intelligence agencies inside the university.
Independent analysts believe that such extreme steps will discourage female students and Baloch parents who consider this acts an enforcing a dress on their children which is not culturally accepted.

#Pakistan - The price of tomatoes

AT a press conference called to tout the government’s achievement in stabilising the economy, and to announce the first stimulus measures since the period of adjustment began, the prime minister’s financial adviser, Hafeez Shaikh, found himself peppered, instead, with questions about the rise in prices of essential items.
Rarely has a government official found himself so much at sea in trying to field questions of such intimate importance to ordinary people.
When the responses given by Mr Shaikh sounded too vacuous, the questions became more pointed, ending, ultimately, with one reporter asking about the massive spike in the price of tomatoes, to which the adviser famously responded that, as per his information, tomatoes were selling for Rs17 per kilo in Karachi’s wholesale vegetable markets.
Rarely has so much been said in so few words.
In that one fleeting moment, videos of which went viral in a matter of minutes and made Mr Shaikh the target of derision around the country, we all saw the immense gulf that separates the rulers from the ruled in this country.
It is entirely possible that many of our worthy policymakers have hardly ever gone to the market to purchase tomatoes. It is equally possible that they are largely indifferent to the impact that the food price hikes have on the daily lives of tens of millions of people in this country, who have no choice but to spend more than half their household income on food for their family.But surely, our decision-makers should look beyond their mandate to fix the deficits in the economy and “create buffers”, to use the soulless parlance of the IMF, in the fiscal equation as well as the foreign exchange reserves.Surely, they should not be indifferent to how their policies will impact the population even as the financial managers try to correct the economic flaws.
Meanwhile, the macroeconomic stability that Mr Shaikh wants to underscore has actually been earned on the backs of the working and unemployed poor of this country. It is they who have made the heaviest sacrifice in the government’s slash-and-burn economic stabilisation effort thus far, and who have felt the greatest pain of these ‘demand compression’ policies.
Yet, once the buffers are created, and fiscal resources become available, they are to be spent on the rich first and foremost, in the old-fashioned hope that from there the wealth will trickle down to the poor. This is how Mr Shaikh was able to announce that Rs200bn will be spent to subsidise interest rates on loans for exporters, and Rs30bn would be similarly spent on loans for construction magnates. But for the poor, we see a package worth Rs6bn to be spent through the utility stores to make essential items affordable. The disparity is unmistakable, as is the terrible injustice behind it all.

'Plan B': Pakistan anti-government protesters leave capital to block roads countrywide

Syed Raza Hassan, Alasdair Pal
Anti-government protesters in Pakistan called off a two-week sit-in on the capital’s main highway on Wednesday but began what they called a “Plan B” aimed at crippling the country’s roads and ousting Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The protests, led by Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of the conservative Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) party, began with the “Azadi” (freedom) March on Oct. 27 from the southern city of Karachi.
Thousands of protesters reached the capital Islamabad on Oct. 31, where they have been holding a sit-in demanding Khan’s resignation and a fresh election, over allegations of electoral fraud and mismanagement of the economy - accusations the government denies.
On Wednesday, Rehman told supporters, who waved distinctive sticks in the black-and-white stripes of the party, to return to their home states to begin “Plan B”.
“Our strength is converged here, and our associates are out on the roads, they need your help and assistance,” Rehman told the crowd from the top of an articulated lorry that has served as a stage for nightly addresses to protesters.
“Your presence here has cut the roots of the government. In the next phase, we will demolish this trunk.”
Earlier on Wednesday, JUI-F workers holding party flags blocked the western Quetta–Chaman highway linking the country with Afghanistan, resulting in a long queue of trucks laden with goods, footage from private news channels showed.“The roads are already blocked with our workers but we are going to sit with them,” said Qutb-ud-Din, one of the many party supporters dismantling the makeshift tent camp in Islamabad. “We are going to begin Plan B.”Rehman is a veteran politician who can mobilize significant support in religious circles across the country, especially in the southern and western states of Balochistan and Sindh.If successful, the expansion of the sit-in could also disrupt Sindh’s capital Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city and its commercial hub.
Rehman’s campaign is the first concerted opposition challenge that cricket star-turned-politician Khan has faced since he won a general election last year, promising to end corruption and create jobs for the poor.
The protests come as the government is battling high inflation and a sluggish economy.
Khan ran on a platform of economic reform, but his government - like many of its predecessors - was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion bailout in July.The opposition says Khan’s government is illegitimate and is being propped up by the military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half of its history and sets security and foreign policy.The military denies meddling in politics and Khan has dismissed the calls to step down.

India to Kick off Military Exercise Involving 40,000 Troops Near Pakistan’s Border

By Franz-Stefan Gady
A corps-level exercise of the Indian Army will be held from November 13 to 18 in Rajasthan.
The Indian Army’s Southern Command will hold a military exercise comprising more than 40,000 troops from November 13 to 18 in the Jaisalmer-Barmer desert in Rajasthan, according to local media reports.The annually held exercise, dubbed Sindu Sudarshan-VII, will test the operational readiness and maneuver warfare capability of the Indian Army’s 21 Corps, one of service’s three so-called strike corps. A key component of the war games will be the fast mobilization of the corps, testing its ability to quickly strike deep into enemy terrain with ground forces supported by air power. The corps currently consists of two infantry divisions, one armored division, and three support brigades.
“The exercise aims to validate battle readiness and operational effectiveness of Sudarshan Chakra [21] Corps in an integrated air-land battle scenario,” a defense spokesperson was quoted as saying by the Times of India. “The exercise will showcase tanks and other armored vehicles duly supported by overwhelming land and air-based fire power conducting fully integrated operational maneuvers.”
The Indian Air Force and the Army’s Army Aviation Corps (AAC) will participate in the war games with an undisclosed number of combat aircraft.
The first part of the exercise was held in the middle of October and involved live fire drills conducted by BM-21 Multiple Rocket Launch Systems, K-9 Vajra 155 mm/52 caliber self-propelled tracked howitzers, and Rudra advanced light helicopters, next to others. The third part of Sindu Sudarshan-VII’ will also include live firing exercise held in the Pokhran Field Firing Range, Jaisalmer between November 29 and December 4.
The principal emphasis of this week’s portion of Sindu Sudarshan-VII will integrated air-land maneuver warfare. India’s limited war doctrine, known as the Cold Start or Pro-Active doctrine, foresees armored ground offensives into Pakistani territory supported by mechanized infantry formations and air power within 48-72 hours at the outset of a military confrontation with Pakistan.
“These Blitzkrieg-style operations would heavily depend on close coordination between the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force given the pivotal role close air support and overwhelming conventional firepower would play in such a campaign,” I wrote elsewhere. The Indian Army plans to eventually restructure a number of its corps into division-sized integrated battle groups (IBGs). This September, the Indian Ministry of Defense cleared the restructuring of the first unit, 9 Corps, into an IBG. Overall, the Army plans to stand up between 11 to 13 IBGs. As I explained:
“[E]very IBG will consist of three to six infantry and armored battalions and two to three artillery regiments, next to air defense, logistical, signal, and headquarter units — overall 5,000 to 8,000 troops. Consequently, the size of the IBGs would fall in between an undersized Army division and brigade (2,400 to 3,200 troops) in terms of manpower (a division on average has a strength of around 20,000 troops).”
The IBGs will be an integral part of the Indian Army’s offensive military doctrine and are also discussed in the service’s Land Warfare Doctrine released earlier this year.