Coronavirus, Domestic Policy

Protecting America and Its Workers

[With] the recent discoveries of physicians and neurologists, engineers and economists, the public can formulate minimum occupational standards below which, demonstrably, work can be prosecuted only at a human deficit. [We] hold that all industrial conditions which fall below such standards should come within the scope of governmental action and controlled in the same way that subnormal sanitary conditions are subject to public regulation and for the same reason – because they threaten the general welfare.

Theodore Roosevelt, Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech at Progressive Party Convention, August 6, 1912

Hospitals at crisis care levels. Children increasingly infected and hospitalized by the new Delta COVID-19 variant. States forcing businesses to assume the risk of employee and customer infections due to masking prohibitions. 

President Biden’s vaccination plan attempts to address these new threats from the coronavirus pandemic. Americans are understandably weary of all of the restrictions and frustrated by the failure of our federal and state governments to develop a clear path out of them. The way to examine the necessity of the plan is to ask three questions:

  1. Is it a good idea?
  2. Is it legal?
  3. Is there a better way to do it?

Is it a good idea?

As I said in my post Wasting America’s Moment, the vaccination program is an effective and uniquely American response to the pandemic. Vaccinations significantly reduce the likelihood of hospitalization and eliminate the risk of death not only for recipients, but also potentially for the unvaccinated. They are also our best way to achieve a return to normality in life by allowing business and government to reopen by lessening their liability for workers compensation and customer liability.  The toll on our children should also concern us and supports a masking mandate in at least elementary schools.

Is it legal?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1974 grants the Federal government the power to regulate workplace safety to reduce workplace hazards, including illnesses.  This law has existed for over three decades and it’s legality has repeatedly been upheld.  In particular, section 6 (c)(1) gives the President through the Department of Labor’ Occupational Safety the right to issue Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) when employees are exposed to “grave danger from exposure to substances or agents determined to be toxic or physically harmful or from new hazards, and (B) that such emergency standard is necessary to protect employees from such danger.  29 U.S.C. § 655(c)(1). This cannot be done by mere executive order.  The proposed ETS must be reviewed by an advisory committee, drafted and then published in the Federal Register.  While it becomes immediately effective at upon publication, it expires after six months if not renewed through the usual notice and comment procedure under the federal Administrative Procedure Act. See this description of the process on OSHA’s website.

Thus, it will be at least a week before any rule or mandate is adopted. Based on the statement from the White House, the rule will allow employees to escape the vaccination requirements through weekly negative COVID-19 testing. Many other issues will need to be addressed and the President has met with business and labor leaders to begin to resolve them.  They will also be hashed out by the advisory committee.

Is there a better way do it?

The new emergency standard is unique since it will apply not just to certain industries, but to to almost every type of workplace in the nation.  Imposing a mandate of this breadth should be the province of the Congress, not an administrative agency.  Acting through legislation instead of an OSHA rulemaking would have allowed the administration to include measures that are outside of the agency’s power, such as providing federal financial support for the small number of employees who may suffer adverse reactions to the vaccine.  Even more importantly, it would have forced Republicans and Democrats in Congress to confront the issues, both specious and valid, about our pandemic response.  Such a debate would have exposed the weaknesses in both the anti-vaxxer and permanent lockdown camps, which may be why both sides want to avoid it. The eventual result would not fully satisfy either the Dr. Anthony Faucis or Rep. Marjorie Green’s of the world, but it might satisfy the average American trying to run his or her life in a responsible and caring manner. 

Nevertheless, we appear to be stuck with the OSHA emergency standard as the only likely method of spurring vaccinations and stopping the surge in the current Delta variant of COVID-19. If opponents want to be helpful, they will start demanding that the Biden Administration set a clear metric for when vaccination and masking mandates will end. What number they pick – whether it is cases, hospitalization rates or death rates – matters less than the simple courageous act of making a decision and setting a goal for the American people to rally around. Only then will we move beyond irresponsible political rhetoric and see the light at the end of this dark tunnel. 

Antitrust & Trade Regulation, China, Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy, International Trade, Nationalist Theory, New Nationalism News, Politics, Realist Theory, Uncategorized

New Nationalism News

AUGUST 10, 2021

Repeal of Iraq War Authorizations

The forever war in Iraq is now close to officially ending. A bipartisan bill to repeal both the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF) has cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and may have the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate. The bill has previously passed the House.  Now we must repeal the 2001 AUMF that authorized not just the war in Afghanistan, but also the ill-conceived “War on Terror” that spawned American military interventions across the globe.

Chinese Purchase of American Farms

This article from the American Conservative magazine tells how the Chinese are taking advantage of the decline of the family farm to buy up American farmland and agricultural assets. It is one more example of the monopolization of our food production.  A bill has been filed in Congress to stop any further sales of farmland to China and prohibit currently-owned Chinese farms from receiving farm subsidies. It should be passed as soon as possible.

Wall Street’s Buying up of Single Family Homes

The owner-occupied home has been the bedrock of the American family for generations.  However, Wall Street investment firms are now using their financial clout to buy up single-family homes as rental properties. It is one of the drivers of high home prices.  We should be using our antitrust and federal tax laws to discourage their use of financial market power to monopolize the American Dream.

Wall Street is buying up family homes. The rent checks are too juicy to ignore – CNN

A Harvard Professor’s Praise of Nationalism

Prof. Stephen Walt of Harvard University is a leading advocate of the realist theory of international relations that I believe should replace liberal hegemony as the basis for our foreign policy (see this post). Here he gives faint praise to nationalism for its natural ability to unify societies to face challenges like the pandemic. Maybe he had to temper his support to avoid problems with his globalist colleagues. 

Watching the Olympics and Defeating COVID-19 Have Nationalism in Common (foreignpolicy.com)

Domestic Policy, Infrastructure

Building Back Unified

Road Sign from the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway

It goes without saying that I appreciate the value of highways. Fundamentally, they are the basis on land of the great network of trade routes which go to make up civilization.

Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in in the Montana Guidebook to the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway, 1921

A nation’s transportation network is among its most important sources of economic and geopolitical strength. Few knew this better than Theodore Roosevelt and so it was fitting that the first transcontinental highway was christened with his name after TR’s death in 1919 (see this guidebook from the Montana portion).  It was the precursor of the numbered US Highway system and eventually the Interstate Highway system. All of those projects were designed to unify America and brought Americans together through the experience of travel.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill recently agreed to between President Biden and the Congress is in the tradition of this drive for national unity.  The new bill addresses the sorry state of many of our roads, ports and other critical infrastructure while leaving more controversial issues for later legislation. It authorizes $550 billion in new money over five years along with another $500 billion in previously authorized expenditures (hence the $1 trillion price tag referenced in some news reports). Specifically, the new money will be spent in the following areas:

Transportation– $284 billion to be spent to repair roads, bridges, ports and railways

Utilities– $243 billion for upgrading electric power infrastructure and replacing old pipe to stop lead from leaching into municipal water systems. It also includes $55 billion to extend broadband Internet service to rural communities, which is desperately needed to spur healthy economic development here in the Western states.

Environmental Cleanup – The Superfund program for cleaning up hazardous waste sites, mines and wells has been moribund due to lack of funding. This bill would re-invigorate the program with $21 billion to begin this process anew.

Coincidentally, the $550 billion is almost the same amount spent to build the Interstate Highway System (in 1950’s and 60’s dollars). 

The President’s original proposal was a whopping $2.6 trillion that tried to force through Congress various human needs and climate change programs under the popular brand of “infrastructure”.  Much of this is necessary, but the attempt to enact it through under a deceptive title was divisive and ultimately futile. Both President Biden and the bipartisan group of senators should be congratulated for opting for a unifying bill instead.

The new compromise also grasps the nettle of insuring this program to strengthen our nation does not  weaken it by adding to the budget deficit. It would be financed by almost 500 billion in revenue transfers and new revenues, such as reinstating the Superfund tax on the chemical industry and tightening tax rules on cryptocurrency trading.   A plan to beef up tax enforcement on the wealthy that could have brought in as much as $100 billion was unfortunately dropped but may be included in a bill on the human needs legislation. 

After excoriating Republicans for being obstructionist, it is ironic to see the Democratic House leadership trying to obstruct this bill to compel the adoption of the more controversial climate change and social welfare spending through the budget reconciliation bill.  Our families and neighborhoods need help, but federal dollars will only paper over the underlying problems.  Immigration reform, reshoring manufacturing and education reform will do more in the long term to solve them.  Many Democrats and Republicans believe this as well.  The House leadership should join them rather than their Democratic Socialist wing and unify around this bill as the Theodore Roosevelt Highway and similar infrastructure programs of the past unified the country.