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.
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.
A remarkable event took place in Washington last month; Congress passed a substantive piece of bipartisan legislation. In fact, prior to the passage of the SECURE (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) Act on May 23rd, by a margin of 417 to 3 in the U.S. House of Representatives, the only notable piece of recent legislation that was enacted with the blessing of both parties on the hill was the First Step Act, a sensible prison reform bill, signed into law by president Trump on December 21st, 2018. The SECURE Act still needs to be reconciled and voted on by the Senate; but the consensus is that some form of the bill will easily pass.
We commend Congress for passing a bi-partisan bill, an extraordinarily rare feat during this hyper-divisive time. Unfortunately, our lawmakers, the majority of whom have accomplished few things consistently but fail the American people by absolving their responsibility to work together, have failed their citizens yet again. This time, Congress let their constituents down by perversely doing exactly what they’ve been rightfully lambasted for not doing: working cohesively to pass meaningful legislation.
In its current form, the “SECURE Act” is disadvantageous to the tens of millions of working Americans and small business owners who contribute to Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). But before we delve into the reasons why, it would behoove us to frame why IRAs, while sometimes used by wealthy Americans, are often a preferred retirement vehicle for small business owners, the self-employed, and working Americans that do not have access to 401k's. For the sake of simplicity, we will focus on the two most commonly used IRAs: Traditional IRAs and ROTH IRAs, named after the deceased Delaware Senator and World War 2 Veteran William Roth, who spearheaded the effort to create the retirement product that has benefited millions of working American's and their heirs.
Each year, single individuals are allowed to contribute up to a fixed amount of money into IRAs. For the tax year 2019, IRS rules dictate that individuals can contribute up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you are over 50 years old). Although similar, there are two important differences between a Traditional IRA and a ROTH IRA. The money contributed to a Traditional IRA is tax deductible, whereas contributions to a ROTH IRA do not qualify for a tax deduction. However, while Traditional IRAs are tax deferred until redeemed and then taxed as ordinary income (the theory being, at retirement, the account holders' tax bracket will be lower than it was when they were working) ROTH IRAs grow and are cashed out tax free.
On October 27, President Trump announced that U.S. Special Forces, at his behest, carried out a heroic raid in northern Syria that resulted in the death of one of the most savage terrorist leaders to date. As U.S. troops closed in, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS, detonated his suicide vest taking three of his presumed-children with him. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. had also taken out al-Baghdadi's likely successor, Abu Hasan al-Muhajir.
At The Quintessential Centrist, we have often been critical of our Commander in Chief. His judgment is often lacking; his behavior, unbecoming and sometimes downright embarrassing. However, the aforementioned events deserve the heartiest of applause.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Since ISIS declared its caliphate in 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi commandeered over at least 140 terrorist attacks in nearly 30 countries in addition to those carried out daily in Iraq and Syria. He was as vicious as he was dangerous. Notorious for brutally torturing his victims, including fellow Muslims, al-Baghdadi was responsible for the genocide of Yazidis and Christians. His cruelty included forcing these groups into sexual slavery. He ordered mass beheadings of many others including foreign journalists and aid workers from the U.S., the U.K. and Japan. He burned a Jordanian pilot alive in a cage. The list goes on.
The ISIS leader's reign of terror extended to Western targets inspiring the Paris, Nice, Orlando and Manchester terror attacks to name but a few. He inspired countless smaller, yet equally horrific lone-wolf attacks globally in the forms of shootings, slashings and car ramming incidents. Al-Baghdadi left hundreds of thousands of Yazidis, Christians, and Muslims a “heads” he wins “tails” they lose choice: join him and his barbaric comrades or flee their respective homelands and become refugees.
The point cannot be overstated: the world has much to rejoice at the demise of al-Baghdadi. Unfortunately, the authoritative Washington Post chose to eulogize the barbaric terrorist with a headline that read: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”
As if Mr. Baghdadi were merely a university professor and dean of a famous seminary who just happened to succumb to a long battle with cancer. The "obituary" went on to read that "when al-Baghdadi first rose as a leader of ISIS, he was a relatively unheard of 'austere religious scholar with wire-frame glasses and no known aptitude for fighting and killing.’"
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?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.