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  • Politics
    National Review

    Biden Brain Trust: Forget the Billionaires, Guillotine the Corporations

    Buried beneath the laundry pile of new left-wing regulations the Biden administration hopes to push is a previously obscure idea whose time may, regrettably, have come: the federal corporate charter. For decades, anti-capitalist legal theorists have advocated national licensing requirements for corporations — charters that government officials could revoke for alleged misbehavior. We may soon see what that idea looks like in practice.With President-elect Biden moving quickly to staff his new administration, many observers are wondering how radical his appointees are going to be. We may not see Senators Elizabeth Warren (D., Ma.) and Bernie Sanders (I, Vt.) in the cabinet (if for no other reason than their Senate replacements would be named by Republican governors), but we will likely see many new senior federal officials in their mold. CNN reported this week that “Elizabeth Warren's fingerprints are all over the Biden transition, much to Wall Street's dismay.” Our friends on the Street are wise to be dismayed.We can get a good idea of what Warren-style officials would want by looking at the senator’s own Accountable Capitalism Act, an admittedly aspirational piece of legislation introduced in August 2018 as Warren herself was preparing to run for the Democratic nomination for president. The very first item that Warren’s office listed in its press release on the bill is the provision for a federal corporate charter, which would cover any American company with more than $1 billion in annual revenue.The Accountable Capitalism Act would require such corporations to reject the traditional obligation — and long-standing legal precedent — to maximize value for shareholders and instead embrace a “stakeholder” model that “obligates company directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders,” including “communities in which the company operates.” The bill would also create the Office of United States Corporations at the Department of Commerce, which would have the authority to punish any company deemed insufficiently solicitous to stakeholder interests.The legislation invites state attorneys general to petition the director of the Office of Corporations with the names of firms that they consider unworthy. The director would then have it in her power to revoke the charter of any corporation, giving the company in question one year until its ability to operate expires. The only escape from the verdict of the Office of Corporations would, apparently, be a direct appeal to Congress. Warren’s office describes the process by which a company would use its one-year countdown-to-destruction “to make the case to Congress that it should retain its charter.” This special act of Congress, setting aside a particular charter revocation, would be a sort of reverse Bill of Attainder for the corporation in question.Proponents of this “corporate death penalty” assure us that it is not a radical or untested method of regulating business, pointing back to the early days of the republic, when corporate charters were more limited in issuance and duration, and throughout the 19th century, when they were much more frequently revoked by state officials. There was a time, they remind us, when being allowed to form a corporation at all was a special privilege that monarchs and legislatures extended only to enterprises that were judged to be “beneficial to the public interest,” rather than to any old group of investors seeking to pool their resources.Left-wing critics are certainly correct that it was more difficult to form a corporation in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but returning to such a system would hardly be an improvement. One of the many things that we can be proud of in American history is the gradual move away from an economy in which citizens have to beg the government for preference and permission and toward a system in which citizens are generally allowed to conduct their peaceful business as they see fit. During the 19th century we shifted from a system under which the grant of a corporate charter was a one-off special favor, and adopted what was, in effect, a “shall issue” presumption that allowed people to form and operate corporations — as the legal phrasing goes — for “any legal purpose.” Turning the clock back would be social regress, not reform.Senator Warren’s legislation would put the continued existence of every large corporation in the country in the hands of a single sub-cabinet-level political appointee, empowered to determine whether a firm’s “misconduct” had “caused significant harm” to customers, employees, shareholders, or business partners. That last item seems like an odd inclusion, and it could be the worst. Any company that does business with your company and doesn’t like your latest terms could attempt to haul you before the federal Office of Corporations firing squad as a way of playing hardball. Even if unsuccessful, such a review could torpedo the share price of the target company.What price would a company pay if its very existence were on the line? Almost anything short of being legally dissolved suddenly becomes plausible, which is why a future Director of the Office of Corporations would quickly become more powerful than the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and even the President himself. The ability to bend the corporate titans of Wall Street and Silicon Valley to your will with the mere suggestion of a charter review would make the ring-makers of Mordor blush: It would permanently institutionalize regulation by shakedown and eliminate due process for shareholders.Suppose, for example, that a left-wing Office of Corporations director decides that ExxonMobil has caused “significant harm” to the global environment by contributing to climate change. Say goodbye to the $150 billion of wealth owned by Exxon’s shareholders. But don’t stop there: Who is to say that the director of President Josh Hawley’s Office of Corporations won’t decide that Apple has done “significant harm” to national security by collaborating with Communist officials in China? There goes another $2 trillion. Hope you weren’t planning to retire anytime soon.The Accountable Capitalism Act isn’t going anywhere in Mitch McConnell’s Senate, but runoff elections in Georgia and a challenging 2022 map for Republicans could change that. Even if the GOP manages to maintain a majority in the upper chamber, supporters of a free and growing economy need to mobilize now to head off ideas like this before they get the “pen and phone” treatment from an incoming administration that has already telegraphed its willingness to make policy without the agreement of Congress.

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  • Health
    The Conversation

    China beat the coronavirus with science and strong public health measures, not just with authoritarianism

    I live in a democracy. But as Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself longing for the type of freedom I am seeing in China. People in China are able to move around freely right now. Many Americans may believe that the Chinese are able to enjoy this freedom because of China’s authoritarian regime. As a scholar of public health in China, I think the answers go beyond that.My research suggests that the control of the virus in China is not the result of authoritarian policy, but of a national prioritization of health. China learned a tough lesson with SARS, the first coronavirus pandemic of the 21st century. How China flattened its curveBarely less than a year ago, a novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, with 80,000 cases identified within three months, killing 3,000 people. In late January 2020, the Chinese government decided to lock down this city of 11 million people. All transportation to and from the city was stopped. Officials further locked down several other cities in Hubei Province, eventually quarantining over 50 million people.By the beginning of April, the Chinese government limited the spread of the virus to the point where they felt comfortable opening up Wuhan once again. Seven months later, China has confirmed 9,100 additional cases and recorded 1,407 more deaths due to the coronavirus. People in China travel, eat in restaurants and go into theaters, and kids go to school without much concern for their health. Juxtapose that to what we are experiencing in the U.S. To date, we have confirmed over 11 million cases, with the last 1 million recorded in just the last one week alone. In September and October, friends from China sent me pictures of food from all over the country as they traveled around to visit friends and family for the mid-autumn festival and then the seven-day National Day vacation week. I envied them then and envy them even more now as Americans prepare and wonder how we will celebrate Thanksgiving this year. What China learned from SARSWe Americans are told that the freedoms Chinese now enjoy come at the expense of being subject to a set of draconian public health policies that can be instituted only by an authoritarian government. But they also have the experience of living through a similar epidemic.SARS broke out in November of 2002 and ended in May of 2003, and China was anything but prepared for its emergence. It didn’t have the public health infrastructure in place to detect or control such a disease, and initially decided to prioritize politics and economy over health by covering up the epidemic. This didn’t work with such a virulent disease that started spreading around the world. After being forced to come to terms with SARS, China’s leaders eventually did enforce quarantine in Beijing and canceled the week-long May Day holiday of 2003. This helped to end the pandemic within a few short months, with minimal impact. SARS infected approximately 8,000 worldwide and killed about 800, 65% of which occurred in China and Hong Kong. The Chinese government learned from SARS the important role public health plays in protecting the nation. Following SARS, the government improved training of public health professionals and developed one of the most sophisticated disease surveillance systems in the world. While caught off guard for this next big coronavirus outbreak in December 2019, the country quickly mobilized its resources to bring the epidemic almost to a halt inside its borders within three months. What can the US learn from China?Knowing that there were no safe or proven treatments or an effective vaccine, China relied on proven nonpharmaceutical interventions to conquer the epidemic. First and foremost was containing the virus through controlling the sources of infection and blocking transmission. This was accomplished through early detection (testing), isolation, treatment and tracing the close contacts of any infected individual. This strategy was aided by the three field hospitals (fancang) the government built to isolate patients with mild to moderate symptoms from their families. Strict quarantine measures were also central to preventing the spread of this epidemic, as it was with the SARS epidemic in 2003. This was paired with compulsory mask-wearing, promotion of personal hygiene (hand-washing, home disinfection, ventilation), self-monitoring of body temperature, universal compulsory stay-at-home orders for all residents, and universal symptom surveys conducted by community workers and volunteers. What else could the US have done to be prepared?SARS exposed serious weaknesses in China’s public health system and prompted its government to reinvent its public health system. COVID-19 has exposed similar shortcomings in the U.S. public health system. To date, however, the current administration has taken the exact opposite approach, devastating our public health system. The Trump administration made major cuts to the budgets of the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The last budget submitted by the Trump administration in February 2020, as the pandemic was beginning, called for an additional reduction of US$693 million to the CDC budget. This affected our ability to prepare for a pandemic outbreak. In the past, this preparation included international partnerships to help detect disease before it reached our shores. For example, the CDC built up partnerships with China following the SARS epidemic, to help contain the emergence of infectious disease coming from the region. At one point the CDC had 10 American experts working on the ground in China and 40 local Chinese staff, who mostly concentrated on infectious disease. Trump started slashing these positions shortly after taking office, and by the time COVID-19 broke out, those programs were whittled down to a skeleton staff of one or two. [Research into coronavirus and other news from science Subscribe to The Conversation’s new science newsletter.]The Declaration of Alma Ata guaranteed health for all, and not just health for people governed under a specific type of bureaucratic system. The U.S. has been, and can be, just as dedicated to protecting the health of its people as China under its authoritarian government. We demonstrated this during the Ebola epidemic, with the launch of a whole government effort coordinated by Ron Klain, who has been appointed White House chief of staff under President-elect Biden.This effort, which included a coordinated response with both African nations and China, improved preparedness within the U.S. and ultimately helped to save hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. A reduction in funding for our public health infrastructure, under the Trump administration, was a divestment in the health of the American people and should not have happened. A new administration that places public health at the helm, once again, will I hope prove to us that health is not just something that can be protected under an authoritarian government, but is in fact a right for all.This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Elanah Uretsky, Brandeis University.Read more: * Poor US pandemic response will reverberate in health care politics for years, health scholars warn * Experts agree that Trump’s coronavirus response was poor, but the US was ill-prepared in the first placeElanah Uretsky does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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  • Politics
    CBS News Videos

    New report details Trump administration's efforts to seize thousands of acres of land for border wall

    A new government watchdog report is detailing the Trump administration's efforts to seize thousands of acres of land to build a border wall. It found that as of July, officials had acquired 135 sections of private land. CBS News immigration reporter Camilo Montoya-Galvez joined CBSN to break down the report's findings.

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