TOPIC: politics
Issue 14
February 10, 2019
Why We Like Howard Schultz

It is not obvious why (voters), sick of Mr Trump’s antics, would warm to a Democrat offering a different set of implausible promises. “If we try to out-crazy the policy announcements of a troubled president, we will do nothing to restore confidence,” warns Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. - The Economist

On January 27th, Howard Schultz, the founder and former CEO of Starbucks, announced his interest in running as an independent candidate in the 2020 election for President of The United States. TQC hopes he formally declares himself a candidate. From the due diligence we've done, Schultz appears to be center-left on social issues and fiscally to the center-right. In our view, this is exactly the prescription this great nation needs at this time.

At The Quintessential Centrist, we are transparent about our views. We pride ourselves on being malleable and open when new ideas, proposals, or policies merit serious consideration. We are open to respectful debate and welcome the prospect of having our minds changed. Indeed, if a counter-party offers a superior argument underpinned by facts and empirical evidence, we will (as we have done in the past) alter our views.

As most of our readers are aware, Howard Schultz is the man responsible for turning Starbucks into a international success story and, in the process, created a new coffee culture in America. In addition to paying better wages (before service industry wages became a political talking point) and offering affordable health care options, Schultz provided an opportunity to all his employees -- both part time and full time -- to advance their education tuition free via a partnership with Arizona State University's online program. In short, Schultz is a socially liberal, fiscally centrist self-made businessman who advocates both for his workers and for meaningful social causes. And unlike the current businessman currently occupying the Oval Office, Mr. Schultz was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Schultz was born to a poor family in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, NY. He grew up in a housing project with his two siblings, a homemaker mother and father who became a truck driver after serving in the US Army. Schultz learned the value of hard work at a young age and has since carried those values throughout his incredible life. When Schultz was a young boy, his father had an accident that left him unable to work. The family was left with no steady source of income, and no health care insurance. To help, Schultz worked a series of odd jobs. He attended Canarsie High School and was later awarded an athletic scholarship from Northern Michigan University. He was the first member of his family to attend college.

On the fiscal side, here are a few prudent and responsible positions Schultz takes:

*Supports a progressive tax code: people who earn more should pay a higher rate of income tax. We agree. That said, he also understands that excessive taxes and regulation thwart economic growth and stifle job creation. We also agree. He should know. He's created over 300,000 jobs, the majority of which are in the United States.

*Believes paying his employees a living wage is both ethically correct and good business practice: Schultz paid his baristas a living wage well before it was politically fashionable to do so. As a result, Starbucks' employees earn above average wages vs. their peers. Schultz has delivered on the notion that by treating his workers well via higher pay and benefits, they would be more productive and create a value-enhancing experience which would yield greater customer satisfaction and increased brand loyalty. In that, he has been proven correct.

*Opposes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (AOC's) proposal to raise the marginal tax rate on earnings in excess of $10 million to 70%. Ms. Cortez claims her plan will only affect the richest sliver of Americans. We vehemently disagree. In our view, Ms. Cortez seems blissfully ignorant of the fact that a disproportionate number of people who would bear the burden of her tax plan are responsible for creating a disproportionate number of jobs in America. Impose a 70% marginal tax on those families, and you take away their economic incentive to create employment opportunities for working Americans. Under AOC's tax plan, the richest sliver of Americans will certainly be worse off. And so will the 99%. Like Mr. Schultz, at TQC we believe that people who earn more should pay more, but a progressive tax code should be applied with a degree levelheadedness and proportionality.

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Issue 16
February 24, 2019
Where We Think Trump Is Right

We believe Donald Trump represents many of the worst elements of capitalism (at The Quintessential Centrist, we believe that despite its flaws, capitalism is by far the most effective system, besting socialism, communism, or any other "ism"). TQC will not consider endorsing Trump in the 2020 presidential election unless his opponent is a radical like Elizabeth Warren or socialist like Bernie Sanders.

The President of the United States must hold himself to standards that are materially above of what is expected of an ordinary citizen, regardless of the circumstances. Trump certainly has not adhered to the higher level of personal conduct that is a non-negotiable precondition to serve as Chief Executive of the United States. Frequently, his behavior is indicative of somebody who is thin skinned and downright infantile; this does not even include his terrible habit of tweeting about high level policy issues. To be sure, he has denigrated the office and further polluted the very swamp he promised to clean up; an impressive feat given the long lineage of ethically challenged men and women who have served in both chambers of congress.

As we have reiterated in past issues, at The Quintessential Centrist, our platform promotes civil discourse irrespective of political leanings. This, more often than not, involves highlighting and examining some uncomfortable hypocrisies. And it almost always involves rejecting overly-simplistic black-and-white binaries. In the past, TQC has supported both Democrats and Republicans on specific issues. On those occasions where we focus on specific politicians, our analysis is predicated on three important “P’s”: person, polices and principles, and not the party with which they happen to be affiliated.

Before illustrating where in our view President Trump is correct, we would like to preface those arguments with the following:

Overall, we are not Donald Trump supporters. We did not endorse Trump in ’16. This author did not vote for Trump (or Clinton) in the last presidential election. We explained why we favor centrist Howard Schultz and encouraged him to declare himself a formal candidate in our February 10th issue.

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Issue 17
March 3, 2019
AOC

Two weeks ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) succeeded in disenfranchising her constituents, including many of her supporters, and bragged about it:

“Anything is possible: today was the day a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers & their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed, its worker exploitation, and the power of the richest man in the world.”

Of course, AOC was referring to her "successful" grassroots campaign to protest Amazon corporation's efforts to establish a beachhead, and thereby 25,000 quality jobs and ancillary benefits, in Long Island City. Not only were AOC’s efforts misguided, they were selfish and undemocratic; 70% of New Yorkers actually supported Amazon building a headquarters in their city. Even progressive New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio challenged Cortez:

“As a progressive my entire life — and I ain’t changing — I’ll take on any progressive anywhere that thinks it’s a good idea to lose jobs and revenue because I think that’s out of touch with what working people want….I came up watching the mistakes of progressives of the past, unfortunately what happened in this city when it almost went to bankruptcy in the 1970s. I saw all the times progressives did not show people effective governance and all the times progressives made the kinds of mistakes that alienated working people…”

Fellow Democrat and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo chimed in:

“…a small group [of] politicians put their own political interests above their community – which poll after poll showed overwhelmingly supported bringing Amazon to Long Island City…”

One thing is for certain, congressional freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is certainly a sophomoric operator with whom to be reckoned. As a sitting congresswoman, she is in a position of power and influence. Regrettably, that authority, as we saw with Amazon, can be abused and used to the detriment of the very people she claims to champion.

Other than President Trump, no other U.S. politician has recently been so successful at generating controversy through a combination of self-serving misinformation, scaremongering and willful ignorance as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Though some on the far-left cannot seem to get enough of Ms. Cortez, she has repeatedly contradicted herself, showed a stunning lack of basic knowledge (or willful deceit) and proved to be highly hypocritical in her personal conduct. In AOC’s reality, it is ok if she is incorrect as long as she is wrong for the right reasons. Her message should supersede facts, which should not matter as much when living in President Trump’s America.

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Issue 19
March 17, 2019
TQC & TAXES

The Quintessential Centrist believes in a progressive tax code. People who earn more should pay more. However, a progressive tax code must be applied with levelheadedness and proportionately. We agree with the position taken by many on the right side of the aisle who argue against excessively high marginal tax rates. A disproportionate number of people who would bear the burden of all in marginal tax rates over 50% and / or be subjected to “wealth taxes” proposed by politicians on the left, are responsible for creating a disproportionate number of jobs in America. We must be prudent so as not to impose a marginal tax so burdensome that it takes away job creators' economic incentive to offer employment opportunities for working Americans. That is suboptimal for all Americans. It is important to keep in mind: most higher earning individuals in the United States already do pay significantly more taxes, as they should.

We align ourselves with many on the left side of the aisle who argue that although marginal tax rates are higher on the wealthy, it is unjust that certain rich individuals can use the tax code to their advantage and lower their tax rate to a level lower than what working class Americans pay, in some cases to 0%. Hedge Fund managers, Family Office principals and Private Equity partners are typically wealthy individuals. By utilizing “carried interest,” they can reinvest profits back into their respective entities vs. paying ordinary income tax on short-term capital gains. Real estate investors often use 1031 exchanges to roll proceeds from property sales into new physical assets thereby shielding their gains from income tax. At TQC, we do not begrudge those individuals for utilizing the existing tax code to lower their tax bill; any rational person would do so.

It would be an understatement to assert that the United States Tax code is mired in complexity. Its sheer verbosity and length (4 million words across tens of thousands of pages) is testament to its convolution. The code is so granular, complex and cumbersome that it takes dedicated accounting and legal professionals years of diligent study to master the various opacities of it. After weeks of due diligence, TQC was at best able to skim the surface in assessing and appreciating all the nuances of a tax code so large, it is bigger than the Holy Bible. No such irony because perhaps only God himself can fully comprehend it.

When laws are overly cumbersome and complex, it typically means that those with money and influence, especially the political kind, can exploit them. Again, we find nothing nefarious in paying as minimal an amount of tax within the confines of the law. However, an individual who is compelled to pay an attorney over $1,000 an hour to study page 328, paragraph 3, line 5 of a tax code, is likely to have earned a significant enough income whereby they rely on complex legal maneuvers to shield those earnings from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Here are but a few of the most egregious and regressive loopholes in the U.S. tax code that we feel are unfair to the vast majority of salaried, tax paying individuals across various tax brackets.

Step Ups:

"Step-ups" allow those lucky enough to inherit stocks, bonds, real estate and certain closely held businesses to avoid paying tax on these securities or assets. Instead of paying taxes on any gains from the time the assets were originally purchased, the “step-up” (in cost basis) allows the beneficiary or heir to use the current market value of the given asset. Therefore, if the beneficiary sells any of these assets, they are taxed on the difference between the price at which they inherited them at and the value they received from selling them. Scratching your head? Here is a back of the envelope example of how this works. In 1982, the stock price of IBM traded between ~$5 and ~$10 per share. Let’s assume an Investor X purchased 10,000 shares of IBM for $7 or $70,000, tucked them away and held the shares until they died this week. The closing price of IBM on Friday, March 15th was $139.43. Beneficiary Y inherits the shares, and then sells the stock for the current market price of $139.43. He smiles when $1,394,300 dollars appears in his brokerage account. Instead of paying taxes on the difference between the price Investor X paid for IBM and the price Beneficairy Y sold IBM for, because of the “step-up,” the heir pays nothing and keeps the entire $1,394,300 for himself. Here is another simplified example, this time using real estate. Let’s assume Real Estate Investor X purchased a piece of property for $1,000,000 and held it for 15 years, until her death last month. During the tenure of her ownership, she leased the site to a tenant. Upon her death, the property passed onto her daughter. The property is now worth $1,750,000. The daughter decides she does not want to be a property owner and liquidates it for its current market value of $1,750,000. Instead of paying taxes on the difference between the price Investor X paid for the property and the price her daughter sold it for, because of the “step-up,” her daughter pays zero tax and retains the entire $1,750,000 herself.

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Issue 3
November 18, 2018
Kavanaugh Should Have Been Disqualified, But Not For the Reason You Might Think

The confluence of events leading up to and following President Trump’s election created a tinderbox in the run up to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Be it Trump and certain incorrigible, bombastic supporters or certain members of the extreme left, who are equally as unreasonable, common sense and rationality - the sensible middle where compromise is often discovered – have been relegated to irrelevance.

At The Quintessential Centrist, we believe that Judge Kavanaugh should have been disqualified from serving on the Supreme Court; but not because of the allegations of sexual assault lodged against him. Ironically, it was Kavanaugh himself who created serious doubts as to his suitability to serve on the top court.

While numerous studies have concluded that the number of "unfounded" assault/rape accusations is only ~8% - and this low percentage is not surprising given the shame and humiliation victims are often subjected to when coming forward – we must also consider and put the following into perspective: Anybody can accuse anybody of anything, at any time and at any place. Consider that approximately 250 million adults live in the United States. Not only is it then reasonable to assume that one extremist individual might fabricate a story about somebody else in order to derail his or her career; we’d argue given a population of over 250 million people, it's unreasonable to assume that at least one person would not do so. Hence, even though false accusations are not representative of the overwhelming majority of sexual assault claims, given the sheer number of people who reside in America - and with that the possibility of malfeasance - we must be fair and reasonable when examining the circumstances of each and every claim.

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Issue 32
June 23, 2019
Their Right, Wrong Venue

Last month, Megan Rapinoe, co-captain and star midfielder on the U.S. Women’s national soccer team, indicated that she would continue protesting the national anthem during the upcoming World Cup tournament. Rapinoe called it a “good ‘F you’” to the Trump administration. In fact, regardless of who eventually succeeds President Trump, Rapinoe stated, “I’ll probably never put my hand over my heart. I’ll probably never sing the national anthem again.”

Ms. Rapinoe was inspired in part by Colin Kaepernick, a mixed-race former NFL quarterback who in 2016 began sitting and then kneeling (to show more respect to current and former military personal) during the national anthem before games. That season, Mr. Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem before each regular season game arguing that he would not “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color” and vowed to continue his protest until “the American flag represents what it’s supposed to represent.” Other NFL players joined him.

Said Ms. Rapinoe of Kaepernick’s actions, “Colin Kaepernick very much inspired me, and inspired an entire nation, and still does, to actually think about these things.” Many people credit Colin Kaepernick with being a catalyst that reinvigorated a national movement to protest racial injustice, civil rights violations and other forms of mistreatment of African Americans and other minorities.

Many athletes like Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe are quick to assert that protesting the national anthem is by no means a sign of disrespect to members of the U.S. Armed Forces, many of whom gave the ultimate sacrifice, in order for Mr. Kaepernick, Ms. Rapinoe or any American to exercise their right to free speech. However, many servicemen and women, as well as Americans in general, view it as just that, and take strong exception. At TQC, we have no reason not to take Kaepernick and others at their word. Yet we also can understand and appreciate how our military and ordinary citizens alike could be offended by their actions. To note, President Trump didn’t help bridge the divide when he asserted that “NFL owners should ‘fire’ players who protest the national anthem.”

At TQC, we support the right of anybody to protest the national anthem or anything else they see fit; as long as it’s done in a peaceful way. We stand firmly behind all Americans and their cherished right to organize against and reject anything they deem unjust. That said, while we have no issue with Mr. Kaepernick and Ms. Rapinoe’s actions, and in fact commend them for fighting for a cause they wholeheartedly believe in, we think the venues used to lodge their protest are inappropriate.

Current reality is a 24-hour news cycle full of rage, vitriol, violence and controversy. Furthermore, “reality” television and various social media platforms serve as a tinderbox for spats, allowing them to escalate to the point where an entire nation is consumed by taking sides and lobbing insults - often at perfect strangers - back and forth.

Most people attend sporting events for leisurely entertainment. Watching our favorite sports teams allows us a window to get a reprieve from it all. Often, children accompany their parents to the ballfield to root for their favorite teams and see their heroes in action. Spectators, most of which are ordinary Americans making ordinary salaries, spend a large percentage of their disposable income to purchase tickets, in part to take a break from the stresses that encompass life, to be entertained, spend time quality with their children, and watch their favorite players compete. As such, a professional football game, soccer match, or any sporting event is the wrong forum for a political protest.

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Issue 39
August 18, 2019
"Yes Hello, I'd Like To Cancel My Equinox Membership"

Last week, there was a social media tweet storm followed by a sprinkle of “protestors” who made a conscious decision to cancel their Equinox membership and / or stop paying for SoulCycle classes because Steve Ross – a passive investor in the aforementioned entities – hosted a fund raiser for Donald Trump at his home in Long Island.

At TQC, we respect the right of Equinox members to cancel their membership in order to keep their discretionary dollars from somebody they (apparently) disagree with politically, or for any reason for that matter. Unfortunately, for some of the protestors whose objective it was to financially impair Mr. Ross, quitting the gym won’t make a dent in his wallet. However, it could materially impact the bank balances of the employees – often young men and women of modest means - who work at Equinox.

Many Equinox employees are hardworking students working to subsidize their education or are young trainers trying to make contacts with the goal of building of a client roster to grow their book of business. It is a shame that if anybody is to bear the brunt of a cancelled gym membership, it’s going to be them.

Additionally, in our view, many of the protestors’ angst are misplaced. We have never met Steve Ross; everything we know about him we learned from indirect sources. That said, 99% of the people who canceled their gym membership have never met Steve Ross either, and know next to nothing about the man, other than that he supports Donald Trump. In this case, a better allocation of their discretionary dollars would probably go to supporting a politician that stood for what was important to them or perhaps donating the money or their time to a charitable cause of their choice.

If You Support Donald Trump, That Makes You a Morally Corrupt Person?

In our February 24th issue, we posted an article titled Where We Think Trump is Right. In it, we reminded our readers that:

“Our platform promotes civil discourse irrespective of political leanings. This, more often than not, involves highlighting and examining some uncomfortable hypocrisies. And it almost always involves rejecting overly-simplistic black-and-white binaries.”

In 2016, Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by ~3 million votes. That said, ~63 million people or ~47% of people who casted a ballot, voted for Mr. Trump. There are certainly a minority of Trump supporters who are unabashedly racist, and another sub-sector of Trumpists who might harbor racist views but don’t actively promote or act on them (we would be remiss not to point out that racist views do not just apply to Trump supporters and the far right. Some Clinton supporters and current radical Democrats are racist, too). That said, to lump 63 million adult Americans who support Donald Trump, toss them (and Steve Ross) into one bucket and label them uncaring, stupid or racist etc., is ignorant and simply wrong in its own right.

At TQC, we do not support Donald Trump, but we do stand behind a few of his policies when they make sound sense. We also believe that somebody can support Trump and be a perfectly law abiding, tax paying, charitable-giving, community-building, socially-accepting, job-creating, generally decent human being, as Steve Ross appears to be. Indeed, just because somebody is a Donald Trump supporter, doesn’t necessarily make that person evil or morally corrupt. However, an argument could be made that anybody who thinks it does, is closed minded and divisive themselves.

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Issue 42
September 15, 2019
License...To Shampoo

Every election cycle lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle often campaign on vague platitudes, pretending to be change agents who will finally catalyze transformative action on a range of issues like:

“Making the American dream accessible again.”
“Providing opportunities to all Americans.”
"Ensuring our children don’t bear the burden of our profligacy.”
"Supporting middle class wage growth.”
"Making education affordable.”
"Lowering the cost of healthcare.”
"Preserving the planet and protecting our resources.”

And so on...

Aside from a shrinking minority of centrists in Washington who actually work to build consensus across party lines, Republicans and Democrats have their own distinctive ideas about how to facilitate these grand plans. Unfortunately, the only consistent aspect of all these respective ideas is that they are overly grandiose, lack important details, economically unviable and politically dead on arrival. So in the run up to election day, we are promised the same things we hear in every election cycle but rarely, if ever, witness any substantive action once lawmakers are voted in to (or out of) office.

What if we told you there was a simple way to translate these grand intentions into reality with a politically sensible approach that would be agreeable across party lines? There is. And it cost nothing.

Democrats and Republicans can and should work together to repeal unnecessary and prohibitively expensive occupational licensing laws. When being licensed is in the public's interest, reciprocity agreements between states should be enacted. Lawmakers should also eliminate arbitrary education requirements for most trades. In doing so, they would actually endorse the economic and fiscal pillars that underpin conservative arguments while also appealing to progressive and egalitarian causes underpin liberal viewpoints.

License to…Shampoo

In the 1950’s, very few (~5%) professional occupations required a license at the state level. Today ~30% of all professional occupations require some sort of license across the 50 states in the union. The result: a complex, grossly inefficient web of inconsistent state and local laws pertaining to professional licensing. A report prepared by the Obama Administration’s Council of Economic Advisers & Department of Labor highlighted the fact that “over 1,100 occupations are regulated in at least one state, but fewer than 60 are regulated in all 50 states – suggesting that many of these requirements may not be necessary."

In the majority of states, a person must have a high school diploma or a GED to become a barber. This arbitrary requirement is absurd, unnecessary and discriminatory. Why would earning a high school diploma (or GED) make anybody more (or less) qualified to cut somebody’s hair? Solving basic algebra won’t render someone more qualified to eradicate a split end or sculpt a mohawk. There is no causal relationship to suggest this. This onerous requirement merely prevents somebody from practicing a trade and earning a decent wage.

Barbers aren’t likely to be replaced by robots anytime soon. Pursuing a career as a barber ostensibly allows those who are seeking to make an honest living to do so. Prohibiting someone from becoming a barber because they lack a degree is senseless and discriminates against people who lack the aforementioned academic credentials.

On October 8th, 2017 the former senior senator from Tennessee Bob Corker tweeted, “It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center.” True as that might be, at The Quintessential Centrist, we cannot help but point out the irony in this tweet. For in the state of Tennessee, “permission to shampoo hair requires taking two exams, at a cost of $140, plus a $50 annual fee. On top of that, someone must take 300 hours of training ‘on the theory and practice of shampooing,’ at a cost of upwards of $3,000 for the tuition." But here is the kicker: no facility in the state currently even offers a course in 'shampoo tech.' Effectively, their only options would be "a) to go through the more rigorous and expensive process (1,500 hours and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition) of obtaining a cosmetology license, or b) to wash hair illegally…(and) face up to six months in prison and a $500 criminal fine, or a $1,000 civil penalty…” Apparently, the adult day care business is flourishing quite nicely in the Volunteer state.

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Issue 45
October 6, 2019
The "Gig" Is Up

On September 11th, lawmakers in California passed a bill that requires most companies to classify contract workers as full time employees. The law is slated to take effect January 1, 2020. When it does, per the parameters of the legislation, Uber and Lyft drivers will be deemed employees with a minimum wage guarantee, workers compensation, sick leave and unemployment benefits. The bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D), stated that, “it will help workers, not Wall Street and their get-rich-quick IPOs.”

At TQC, while we are not sure which companies Ms. Gonzalez is referencing – Uber was founded in 2009 and didn’t go public until 2019 and the timeline was similar for Lyft - we have no reason to believe that she is being insincere in her effort to help drivers. Unfortunately, what Ms. Gonzalez and CA Governor Gavin Newsom (D), who lobbied intensely in favor of the bill, do not seem to comprehend or want to concede, is that the vast majority of Uber and Lyft drivers ply their trade on a part time basis, by choice. Many drivers have other full-time jobs and drive occasionally for extra money. Some drivers are students looking to earn pocket money between classes or study hall. Other drivers juggle multiple responsibilities and pick up a shift or two during a little downtime. A retiree might even get behind the wheel to stay active and engaged with his or her community.

The minimum wage guarantees embedded in the Golden State’s legislation ring hallow. While the majority of Uber and Lyft drivers in CA do not work full time via standard 8 or 10-hour shifts, the vast majority of those drivers that do already earn considerably more than minimum wage.

The legislative changes to be enacted in CA will probably have a deleterious effect on drivers and consumers alike. The most important benefit Uber and Lyft offer drivers is flexibility. Their respective platforms allow drivers to work when they want, where they want and for as long (or short) as they want and not on a rigid schedule dictated by management. If drivers become fulltime employees as mandated by California law, the aforementioned ancillary benefits will cease to exist, the appeal of working as a driver will decrease and the cost of ride will increase. Said Lyft communications director Adrian Durbin:

“Only ‘a small fraction’ of Lyft’s roughly 325,000 drivers in California will keep working if the law takes effect. Some experts reckon ride fares could rise by as much as 30%.”

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Issue 52
November 24, 2019
Touchy Subjects

According to the United Nations, between 1 and 2 million Chinese citizens comprised of mostly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are currently interned in "re-education camps” Xinjiang, China. Supposedly, these de-facto concentration camps were created in or around 2015 under the regime of current Chinese President Xi Jinping. His government’s alleged primary objective: to change “the political thinking of detainees, their identities and their religious beliefs via indoctrination and torture.” Purportedly, these facilities are staffed by armed guards, surrounded by walls and fences and are under 24-hour surveillance. Allegedly, almost none of the internees were granted a trial. This makes sense; because according to sources, the vast majority of the prisoners housed in these facilities have never actually been accused of or convicted of any offense.

Remarkably, despite lawmakers from both sides of the political divide imploring President Trump to stand firm in his negotiations with China, and 24-hour news coverage about China, tariffs and trade, there has been minimal coordinated global action to mitigate these purported human rights violations. Is the reason because it’s not worth an American politician’s time to allocate resources to the Uyghurs' cause? Because reporting on alleged events in Northwestern China attract scant interest (and eyeballs) that drive advertising revenue? Or is it because there is a lack of hard evidence about these “re-education” facilities and what allegedly transpires in them, or combination thereof?

Due Process

You might have noticed that we’ve taken special care to preface potentially inflammatory statements with “According to,” “Supposedly,” “Purportedly” and “Allegedly. Reason being, we do not have any conclusive proof to corroborate them. That said, there is a reasonable amount of credible evidence, albeit from a small sample size, that they could be accurate.

In an article originally written by David Stavrou published in Haaretz Magazine with a moving excerpt reprinted in TheWeek, former detainee Sayragul Sauytbay detailed her experience and what she says she witnessed on a routine basis inside China’s re-education camps.

According to Ms. Sauytbay, prisoners are routinely:

· Shackled

· Shaved

· Starved

· Raped

· Electrocuted

· Beaten

· Brainwashed

· Housed in cramped quarters

· Fed soup and bread

· Forced to defecate in a bucket

· Forced to recite Communist Party songs

· Forced to say “I am Chinese,” and “I love Xi Jinping”

· Forced to serve as guinea pigs for medical experiments

Precedence

Earlier this month, Republican Senators Jim Inhofe and Roger Wicker implored President Trump to take an even more defiant stance on Chinese intellectual property theft. In a joint statement, they said “if Chinese companies are allowed to remove the profit incentive for standards-based wireless research with repercussions, we will soon face the globally undesirable reality that the only companies conducting this research will be those in non-market economies that do not share our values or have our best interest in mind.”

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Issue 57
January 12, 2020
Qassem Soleimani

On January 3, 2020, President Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani while his convoy was en route from Bagdad International Airport. We believe this decision was correct.

Noted former CIA analyst and current congresswoman, Elissa Slotkin (D-MI):

“If you worked on the Middle East over the past 20 years you dealt with the growing organization and sophistication of Soleimani’s covert and overt military activities, which have contributed to significant destabilization across the region. What always kept both Democratic and Republican presidents from targeting Soleimani himself was the simple question: Was the strike worth the likely retaliation, and the potential to pull us into protracted conflict?”

Slotkin is rightfully wary of Soleimani’s killing being a catalyst that drags the United States into yet another open-ended military conflict. The risk of a protracted, full on war is also something we take very seriously. Wars are typically started by wealthy people carrying briefcases, and fought by poor people carrying machine guns. For behind every news headline and data point(s) are human beings. Young men and women, some not old enough to legally enjoy a beer but nonetheless fighting for something they most likely know little, if anything, about. Undeniably, Trump’s strategic act of aggression increases the probability of a direct military engagement with Iran. All things considered, we feel strongly that the odds of a drawn out confrontation with Iran is quite low. The successful strike carried out with surgical precision to eliminate a dangerous foe, was worth the risk.

Qassem Soleimani’s Legacy & Why It Was Correct To Act

Gen. Qassem Soleimani was the highest ranking and commanding officer of the Quds Force, an elite division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In January of 2011, Soleimani officially became a “Major General,” a title bestowed upon him by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini, who described Soleimani as a "living martyr." That same year, Major General Soleimani was officially labeled a terrorist by the Obama administration. The following year, the European Union sanctioned Soleimani for participating in “terrorist acts.” It is a widely accepted view that Qassem Soleimani oversaw and/or at least had his hand in most major terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East.

Qassem Soleimani has been at war with America for over two decades. His actions have resulted in both casualties and the maiming of hundreds of U.S. and allied troops. As the years progressed, Soleimani and his comrades had been increasingly willing to engage both hard and soft targets. Their rational for this belligerent overconfidence: recent history had suggested that the risk of a U.S. response was almost nil. In particular, 2019 was a busy year for him. At Soleimani’s behest, Iran shot down American drones, attacked the U.S. embassy in Iraq, disrupted oil tankers in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz and launched a missile attack that destroyed key Saudi oil infrastructure.

At TQC we haven’t shied away from criticizing Donald Trump for many of his provocative shenanigans. But Trump did not create this crisis, the seeds of which were sown when he was still hosting a reality TV show, nor did he hit first, he hit back. And only after hundreds of dead troops were sent home to their parents in coffins draped with an American flag. The “luckier” victims of Soleimani’s actions did not die; they returned home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) minus their limbs that were blown off courtesy of the improvised explosive devices (IED) Soleimani had his underlings strategically place along key roads.

The indisputable truth is that Qassem Soleimani was a terrorist who detested the United States and all that America represents. He was responsible for over 600 American casualties, hundreds more allied deaths, and thousands of American and allied injuries that rendered some survivors disabled and disfigured. If the aforementioned offenses are not worthy of retaliation, what is?

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Issue 59
January 26, 2020
Trump's Impeachment

On January 7, 1999, William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, became only the second sitting president in US history to be officially impeached. Prior to Clinton’s impeachment, the last (and only) president to be bequeathed with that distinction was Andrew Johnson, in 1868. (On August 4, 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned before he was officially impeached). The charges of perjury and obstruction of justice levied against Clinton stemmed from an extramarital affair with then-White House intern, Monica Lewinski. On February 12, 1999, the Senate deliberated President Bill Clinton’s fate. He was acquitted of both charges, apologized to the American people, and went on to complete a successful second term. (Andrew Johnson was also acquitted. Thus far in this country’s history, a sitting president has never been removed from office following impeachment.)

Captivated

I vividly remember my whereabouts when the senate voted to exonerate Clinton. It was a few days before the annual Mardi Gras celebration; a collection of friends and I decided to travel from our respective colleges and meet in New Orleans to partake in the festivities. We watched the news unfold at an off-campus house near Tulane University.

Time seemingly stood still. Imagine, college students in the midst of America’s biggest party in The Big Easy suddenly ceased exchanging beads, beers, and DNA and watched the television intently, with a tinge of nervous energy. That day many Americans remember where they were and what they were doing. The entire nation was captivated by this important event, a seminal moment in American history as the president’s fate would soon be decided.

Fast Forward ~20 Years

On December 18, 2019, Donald Trump became the third president to be impeached. His trial is currently ongoing. As expected, political bigwigs from both parties have dug in their heels. News correspondents dutifully report on the day’s relevant events. And political junkies are glued to their device of choice to absorb as much up to the minute news that can permeate their brains. But for many, the default reaction to Trump’s impeachment has been a collective shrug of the shoulders. Indeed, the most remarkable aspect of President Trump’s impeachment proceedings, is how unremarkable the news is to most Americans.

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Issue 62
February 23, 2020
Pardon Me

The United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, gives a sitting president unlimited power to pardon or commute sentences of those convicted of federal crimes. While both are forms of clemency, a presidential pardon is full legal forgiveness for a federal crime. A commutation reduces the sentence for, but does not absolve the conviction of, a federal crime. (A sitting president cannot pardon individuals or commutate sentences of people convicted of state crimes; these powers are granted to the respective state’s governor or pardon board).

On February 18th, 2020, President Trump pardoned seven people. Three notable figures included in this group are Michael Milken, Bernard Kerik and Edward DeBartolo Jr. Trump commuted the sentences of four others, the most controversial of whom is Rod Blagojevich (D), the former governor of Illinois and primary focus of this article.

Michael Milken

Financier widely recognized as the individual responsible for promoting the market for high yield bonds or “junk bonds” to finance leveraged buyouts in the 1980s. During the latter half of that decade, Milken was paid over $1 billion dollars at investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, a record for the era. In 1989, Milken was charged with racketeering and securities fraud related to an insider trading investigation. He took a plea bargain and acceded guilt to certain securities violations, though not insider trading. Under the terms of the deal, Milken was sentenced to a decade behind bars (later reduced to 24 months), fined $600 million dollars & banned from the securities industry for life. Since his release from jail, Milken has given large sums of money to various charitable causes related to medicine and medical research. According to Forbes, he is currently the worlds 606th richest person with a net worth of $3.7 billion dollars.

Bernard Kerik

A law enforcement professional who joined the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in 1986, Kerik was the commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections from 1998-2000 and served as New York City’s Police Commissioner from August 2000 until December 2001. Following the 9/11 attacks and subsequent invasion of Iraq, President George Bush choose Kerik for several mandates in Iraq. He is widely credited with doing an excellent job under difficult circumstances. The United Nations (UN) noted that Kerik's team made "positive interventions in a number of areas.” In 2003, Bush nominated Kerik to lead the newly created Department of Homeland Security; however, Kerik later withdrew from the process and admitted that he hired an illegal immigrant as a nanny. Kerik was later investigated by state and federal authorities for unrelated violations. As a result of those probes, in 2006 he plead guilty to two misdemeanors. In 2009 he plead guilty to more serious charges, including tax fraud. He was sentenced to 4 years in a federal penitentiary.

Edward DeBartolo Jr.

Not only a successful real estate investor who sold his company to Simon Property Group, DeBartolo also owned the San Francisco 49’ers for 23 years. He was extremely well liked by both players, whom he treated like family, and most fans. During his tenure, the 49’ers won five Super Bowls (1982, ’85, ’89, ’90, ’95) and amassed the most wins within a 10 year time frame in NFL history. In 1992, DeBartolo was accused of sexually assaulting a cocktail waitress in Menlo Park, CA. He was never charged with a crime; the case was settled out of court. DeBartolo’s most serious legal trouble stemmed from an extortion case involving the former governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards. Edwards wanted $400,000 from DeBartolo in exchange for a river boat casino license. DeBartolo failed to report this to authorities. He was charged and later plead guilty to failing to report a felony. In exchange for testimony against Edwards, DeBartolo was given two years of probation and fined $1 million dollars. He ultimately pulled out of the casino project. The National Football League also imposed its own financial penalty and barred DeBartolo from controlling the 49’ers for one year. In 2000, he ceded control of the team to his sister, Denise.

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Issue 64
March 8, 2020
The Democratic Primary

Over last two weeks, we have witnessed a tectonic shift in the fortune of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination and the opportunity to defeat Donald Trump in the November 2020 presidential election. After Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) suspended her campaign following a disastrous third place finish in her home state, the field was reduced to just two formidable candidates: Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President, Joe Biden.

In rapid succession, candidates dropped out of the running. Mayor Pete Buttigieg ended his campaign on Sunday, March 1st. A day later, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) dropped out. Michael Bloomberg followed, announcing his retirement on Wednesday, March 4th. (Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Andrew Yang left the contest earlier on.)

Ms. Warren has yet to formally endorse a candidate; she will probably do so in the near term. Neither has Andrew Yang, who might be unwilling to do so unless that candidate supports universal basic income, a cornerstone of his economic plan. But Senators Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg and a few other fringe candidates have all thrown their weight behind Mr. Biden. These former democratic nominees put ego aside for the sake of the Democratic party and united to support the former VP. They believe in the rapidly emerging political reality: Mr. Biden, a centrist, has the best chance of defeating Donald Trump in a general election.

We agree, as do the betting markets. Punters currently make Joe Biden a 1 to 7 favorite to secure the Democratic nomination. Senator Sanders is currently a 7 to 1 underdog. Hillary Clinton, who has not even announced her candidacy, is currently trading at 16 to 1. With respect to the general election, currently bookies make Trump a 2 to 3 outright favorite, no matter who he ultimately ends up running against. That said, as of now, in a hypothetical head to head competition, oddsmakers see Trump easily trouncing Bernie Sanders while Joe Biden would prove to be a more formidable adversary.

Moving Forward

There is now a clear distinction between the leader of the 'progressive' wing of the party - represented by Bernie Sanders, and the moderate wing of the party, embodied by Joe Biden.

We reject Bernie Sanders. His ideas are outlandish and he is not a proponent of capitalism. However, capitalism - when subject to reasonable rules and regulations - is the system that has made the U.S. both an economic and military powerhouse. It is the system which, through competition, innovation and creative destruction, expands the economic pie. Let us be clear, the current state of capitalism in America certainly has its flaws – oligopolies in the technology sector that stifle competition are a glaring example of one – but they can (and should) be remedied. Socialism, especially the kind Senator Sanders espouses, is a flawed system unto itself.

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Issue 67
April 19, 2020
Longing For Kennedy

Our title would suggest that the subject of this week’s piece is former President John F. Kennedy. It is not. The subjects of our 67th issue are former Supreme Court justice, Anthony Kennedy and an important U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision pertaining to the state of Wisconsin’s democratic primary.

While the judges who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court are brilliant legal scholars and accomplished professionals, they like many individuals have a particularly difficult time separating their legal opinions from their own prejudices. Presently, conservatives hold a one seat majority on the Supreme Court. (It is disheartening that we even need to preface this point; judges are expected to be apolitical.) Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh & Clarence Thomas represent the conservative block. Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor lean left. Consequently, many important decisions are rendered 5-4, across political lines.

Last week, yet another 5-4 decision was delivered, this time around voting technicalities in the state of Wisconsin. Unless somebody is a legal junkie or political hack deeply intertwined in the nuances of specific states’ voting laws, it would be an afterthought. Unsurprisingly, it went unnoticed in most of the country. However, the case was critical. And is a microcosm of why we desperately need centrist, open minded justices, especially on the Supreme Court.

What Happened

In plain English, devoid of legal jargon and other overly technical terms, the following is what transpired in Wisconsin: During the state primary, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sought to extend the time that ballots could be postmarked / mailed-in beyond the state’s constitutionally mandated April 7th deadline. The crux of their argument was that voters should not have to risk heading to the polls during the apex of the coronavirus epidemic.

(Crucially worth noting is Republicans generally prefer a lower voter turnout, as it tends to help them in elections. Conversely, Democrats prefer a higher turnout at the polls. The reasons for which go well beyond the scope of this post.)

A district court granted the DNC relief; ballots could be postmarked by April 13th. Unsurprisingly, the Republican National Committee (RNC) sued to block the extension. The SCOTUS took up the case. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the man who succeeded Anthony Kennedy, penned the majority’s 5-4 decision across political lines, in favor of the RNC. To that end, voters in the state of Wisconsin who did not postmark a ballot by April 7th were forced to go to the polls despite the heightened risk of communicating and or becoming infected with COVID-19.

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