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Westlake Legal Group > News Corporation (Page 369)

China Targets the Coronavirus, and Farmers Pay a Price

Westlake Legal Group 31newworld-01-facebookJumbo China Targets the Coronavirus, and Farmers Pay a Price Politics and Government Economic Conditions and Trends Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Communist Party of China China Agriculture and Farming

The fifth day of the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell on Wednesday, is when people in China welcome the god of fortune into their homes. This year, business owners like Qiu Xiangjian would be grateful if the god merely helped them get by.

Mr. Qiu, a 50-year-old farmer in Jiangsu Province, woke up that day to some troubling news. To battle the coronavirus outbreak spreading across China, the provincial government had ordered businesses except those necessary for daily life such as utilities, pharmacies and supermarkets to close until Feb. 10.

He can’t sell his chickens to slaughterhouses or meat markets. He had only two days of feed left for his 40,000 chickens, but all the feed factories had been shut down. If he can’t stock up on feed, he will watch his chickens starve.

“For me, it’s not a matter of losing some money,” he said. “It’s a matter of losing everything.”

China’s giant and tireless business machine came to a sudden halt last week. Many parts of the country implemented official and voluntary lockdowns to combat the pneumonialike outbreak, which has killed over 200 people and infected thousands. Big companies like Apple, General Motors, Ikea and Starbucks are closing operations, changing the way they do business or preparing for financial hits.

They won’t be the businesses hit the hardest. Those would be China’s entrepreneurs — the farmers, shopkeepers, noodle stand owners and millions of others who delivered China out of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and turned it into an economic powerhouse.

Many were already struggling with China’s slowing economic growth and increased government meddling. The virus outbreak exacerbated the situation — or, as people in China say, added frost on top of snow.

“My goal for 2020 isn’t growth but survival,” said Zhang Huan, an investor and entrepreneur in Guangzhou, a port city just northwest of Hong Kong. “We’re all one or two months away from bankruptcy.”

Their problems could be felt around the world. China’s small- and medium-size businesses are an important part of its growth engine. Vice Premier Liu He, the country’s economic czar, has repeatedly said that they contribute more than half of China’s tax revenues, 60 percent of its economic output and nearly three quarters of its technological innovation.

The Chinese government has tried to ease their anxiety. Officials on Sunday ordered banks to go easy on people hit by the crisis who are struggling to repay their mortgage and credit card debt. It also encouraged more loans and lower interest rates for businesses that have been severely affected.

The guidance, was vague, however, and it doesn’t begin to address the breadth of problems.

Those problems go beyond officials forcing businesses to close. Routes from one part of the country to another have been frozen. Some cities require companies to pay employees for their idle time. Those efforts could help keep people content, but they still represent a cost for business.

Wang Chenyun, an internet entrepreneur, complained in his personal blog that the Shanghai municipal government not only extended mandated holidays to Feb. 9 but also required businesses to pay double wages to employees working from home.

“The Shanghai government pays too much attention to big enterprises,” he wrote. “It doesn’t care whether small businesses can survive.”

Their plight speaks to China’s lack of checks and balances. The Chinese government’s firm control of the levers of power lets it mobilize resources to build huge infrastructure projects and combat an epidemic. It can also empower officials to go too far. Without an independent court system or a free news media, businesses have few ways to protest a policy or ask for help.

Speaking out would be difficult even in better circumstances. Broadly, businesses from hotels, restaurants, department stores to farmers like Mr. Qiu believe Chinese officials are justified in moving forcefully and dramatically to stop the spread. (The government has also been criticized for its slow response and for punishing those who tried to sound early warnings, so it feels tremendous pressure from the public to act.)

But the government’s top-down, command-and-control approach to the economy doesn’t take into account the transformations within the country’s vibrant and dynamic economy, and may make it slow to respond to signs of distress from entrepreneurs.

New highways and rail lines have made even the most rural parts of China dependent on other places. Mr. Qiu, for example, has problems beyond closed slaughterhouses and supply sources. Even if he could find supplies in other provinces, roads are closed for all nonlocal vehicles. The roads to his village have been blocked with piles of dirt.

“If this continues, it will affect the chicken, eggs and the other meat supplies nationally in a few months,” Sun Dawu, a prominent businessman in Hebei Province who owns a company that supplies chicken farmers, wrote on Weibo, a social media site. “It can lead to market panic and affect social stability. I urged the government to take measures immediately.”

China depends more on consumption and personal services than factories than it did during the 2003 outbreak of SARS, another dangerous disease, which had a dramatic but short-lived impact on China’s growth.

Many of the country’s restaurants have closed for the time being. Haidilao, one of China’s biggest restaurant chains, shut down all of its 550 branches in the mainland. Beijing Dadong Roast Duck, a high-end chain, shut all of its 20 plus restaurants but two in Beijing.

“If things can’t resume to normal in two months, we’ll probably have to shut down our business,” Dadong’s owner, Dong Zhenxiang, said in an interview. He hopes the government can lower taxes, lower rent and provide some subsidies.

Travel is another hard-hit industry, since the Lunar New Year holiday, which began last Saturday, is usually the busiest travel season of the year. Mr. Sun, the businessman in Hebei, said that he had to close a hot spring resort and send all 1,500 workers on holiday. He estimated that he could lose over $7 million from that business alone.

Xu Zhihua, chief executive of sportswear brand Peak, wrote on his Weibo account: “The whole society has come to a standstill with almost zero consumption.” He worries that a lot of small- and medium-size companies won’t be able to pay back their loans. “Then the whole economy will be finished!” he added.

More broadly, the coronavirus crisis emerged at a time when many small and medium size business were already struggling. China’s growth has eased to its slowest pace in nearly three decades. The trade war with the United States has rippled through parts of the country. Many people complain that the state-run banking system won’t lend them money at a reasonable rate.

The Chinese government is also crowding them out. Big state-run companies are taking an increasingly important role in the economy, in a reversal of the trend of opening up to private enterprise that helped drive China’s success. The Chinese government interferes more online and increasingly demands that businesses pay greater heed to directives from the Communist Party.

As the coronavirus has spread, Beijing officials have taken a heavier hand to control prices. For example, the government in Baoding, in the central province of Hebei, fined a shopping mall company nearly $300,000 for selling cabbages and cauliflowers at higher prices. Of course, China is hardly alone in punishing price gouging, and it won public praise for fining some pharmacies for raising prices of face masks, which are in short supply all over China.

“If cabbages were easily available, the store wouldn’t be able to charge higher prices — nobody would buy it,” said Liu Xuanhua, an economist. “If the outbreak continues, our ignorance about the market economy could end with us having nowhere to buy vegetables.”

Some industries, like chicken farmers, are trying to get the government’s attention. Farmers have created a sort of social media campaign to petition the government to open special transportation channels for their supplies.

Even the agricultural bureau in Huangmei County in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, filed an official plea to the local virus prevention headquarters to ease traffic controls so local farmers could buy feed and medicine, according to a document circulated online.

Mr. Qiu, who hoists a Chinese national flag next to his enormous chicken coops and wears a national flag badge on his black winter coat, said he wholeheartedly supported everything the Jiangsu government had done to combat the virus.

“But I also have real difficulties that require the government’s help,” he said.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

How Private Equity Buried Payless

TOPEKA, Kan. — The financiers who had taken over Payless ShoeSource didn’t have much experience selling low-priced footwear, but they had big ideas about how things ought to be done. One was capitalizing on enthusiasm for the 2018 World Cup in the Latin American countries where the company had hundreds of stores.

When they saw an opportunity to buy a million pairs of World Cup-branded flip-flops, the money men turned shoe sellers overruled the midlevel supply managers at corporate headquarters in Topeka, who had pointed out a couple of problems.

First, the sandals mostly wouldn’t arrive on store shelves until after the World Cup was over.

Second, they were branded with the flags of countries like Mexico and Argentina — countries where Payless didn’t have any stores.

Ultimately, the flip-flops had to be unloaded at steep markdowns, one of many missteps at a company that by early 2019 would liquidate its stores in the United States and enter its second bankruptcy in rapid succession, putting 16,000 people out of work. (It emerged from bankruptcy last month, with its third ownership group in four years.)

As in any corporate failure, there is no one cause. Over seven years, Payless went through a wringer of private equity and hedge fund stewardship that left it with inadequate technology, run-down stores and no financial cushion to survive an era of upheaval in retail.

But the collapse of Payless is more than a story of one discount shoe company that couldn’t hack it in a changing business environment. It provides disquieting clues about one of the great mysteries of the modern economy.

Why hasn’t the finance-driven capitalism of the last few decades created faster growth? What if the masters of financial efficiency are making choices that don’t actually create the more dynamic, productive economy they promise?

In extreme cases, what if they don’t really know what they’re doing at all?

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_168060699_98f259d4-3803-43b3-b354-e98d6782e967-articleLarge How Private Equity Buried Payless United States Economy Topeka (Kan) Shopping and Retail Shoes and Boots Productivity Private Equity Payless ShoeSource Mergers, Acquisitions and Divestitures Layoffs and Job Reductions Hedge Funds

Last days of a Payless store in Illinois. All the U.S. locations have closed.Credit…Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The difference between economies that thrive and those that falter boils down to two related factors: how effectively capital is deployed, and how well corporations are governed.

When a nation’s savings are channeled toward worthwhile projects, and effective managers are put in charge of large companies, good things tend to result. When resources are devoted to boondoggles, and companies are run by incompetent cronies, everyone ends up poorer. Think of how much richer West Germany became compared with East Germany over the four decades the country was divided.

But there is no single answer to the question of what form of capital allocation and corporate governance works best. The United States has typically relied on stock and bond markets to determine which companies get money to invest, and on independent boards of directors to govern companies. Western Europe relies more heavily on banks. Japan and South Korea have relied on conglomerates in which families of companies help finance and govern one another.

In the last generation, the United States has experienced a revolution in how this corporate control works.

In the 1980s, the first generation of leveraged buyout kings — an industry now known as private equity — identified problems with American corporations. Many were poorly run, led by complacent boards of directors and executive teams reluctant to shake things up.

Buyout firms aimed to purchase those companies, fix what was holding them back, and profit by making them more valuable and selling them off again. All through the 1990s and early 2000s, this shift made billionaires of their founders and attracted trillions of dollars from investors.

Their imprint on the economy is enormous: Companies owned by private equity firms accounted for 8.8 million jobs in the United States in 2018, and 5 percent of G.D.P.

But if anything, that understates the scale of the financialization of American business, and the ways that management tactics of buyout kings have become the norm.

Some large hedge funds operate similarly to private equity firms, by buying and operating companies. One such fund, Alden Global Capital, controlled Payless from 2017 to 2019. Other hedge funds use votes to get executives of publicly traded companies to act more aggressively and thus increase returns to shareholders.

The result: Financial managers exert greater control over nearly all American companies than they once did.

Their willingness to cause some pain — to close factories, lay people off, renegotiate arrangements with longtime suppliers — is, many economists argue, a feature, not a bug. Society becomes richer over time by devoting resources to its most productive uses. The pain should be temporary, and in theory result in a more vibrant economy for everyone.

In 2012, private equity firms and hedge funds set their sights on the troubled retailing sector, and one set of investors made the pilgrimage to Topeka, where they acquired Payless.

Payless, founded in 1956 by two cousins in Topeka, Louis and Shaol Pozez, was a business built on an innovation: that shoe salesmen weren’t entirely necessary.

Rather than keep inventory in a back room and employ lots of salespeople, as department stores did, Payless kept boxes of shoes on open display in the store, where customers could help themselves to try on. It needed fewer workers for every pair of shoes sold, which, among other cost-savings measures, allowed it to keep prices lower than many competitors could. The company became a mainstay of the indoor malls and strip shopping centers that boomed in the second half of the 20th century.

By the time a private equity group led by Golden Gate Capital and Blum Capital, both of San Francisco, took over in 2012 in a $2 billion acquisition, Payless had 4,300 stores worldwide and $2.4 billion in revenue. But it also faced profound challenges.

Many malls and shopping centers were entering a death spiral, with falling foot traffic, store closings and underinvestment. People were increasingly buying shoes online, along with most everything else. Payless had underinvested in its information technology infrastructure.

It also had some distinctive strengths. In its 800-person corporate headquarters in Topeka, a former warehouse located between a women’s prison and a potato salad manufacturing plant, it had the personnel and systems to pull off an intricate feat of merchandising and supply chain management.

The company managed to commission the manufacture of millions of pairs of shoes, often imitating the look of more fashionable brands; ship them from factories in China, Vietnam and other countries to distribution centers in the United States; and then, just in time, get those shoes into the stores where they would most appeal to the customer base.

It did all this at remarkably low cost; its average pair of shoes sold for $17.

What needed doing was evident to Payless’s own managers and outside analysts alike: shutter underperforming stores, update others, and modernize its technology to compete in the digital age.

The new owners found a new C.E.O. in W. Paul Jones, a veteran of two retailers owned by financial engineers: Sears under the hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert and Shopko under the private equity firm Sun Capital Partners.

Mr. Jones had seen up close both the strengths and weaknesses of this form of financialized corporate control. “They’re incredibly valuable on the financial metrics of understanding how to get costs out of the business, how to be more streamlined, how to think about the organizational structure differently, how to find nickels and dimes throughout the organization,” and at getting maximum value out of real estate, Mr. Jones said.

“But they do not, do not, know how to operate a retail company,” he said.

That is to say, on the actual nuts and bolts of retail — creating a compelling shopping experience, with merchandise that buyers want — financial managers are out of their depth.

But he was confident that Payless under Golden Gate and Blum would be an exception. The new owners appeared to understand the business better than others in the private equity industry, Mr. Jones said, and they were committed to hiring a first-rate team of executives.

That optimism was conveyed to employees at the corporate headquarters in Topeka. Soon after the takeover, managers gathered in a small auditorium.

“Everybody was a little bit on edge,” Thad Halstead, a merchandise manager, recalled. “But it was positive. They were saying: ‘Our goal is to help you. We’re here to make sure you guys have the resources to succeed for the next hundred years.’”

Plenty of companies that go through this process do emerge better managed, with capital deployed more wisely.

The Carlyle Group, for example, took over Dunkin’ Donuts in 2006 and spun it off to public markets in 2011 financially stronger and with 2,800 more stores worldwide. The hotel group Hilton Worldwide nearly doubled the number of rooms it managed from 2007 to 2018, while under control of the Blackstone Group.

And some of the best research on how the buyout industry affects the companies involved suggests that, on average, they become more productive.

Steven J. Davis, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and five co-authors analyzed thousands of private equity buyouts between 1980 and 2013. Among other things, they found that in the two years after a firm was bought out, labor productivity — the revenue generated per employee — rose by 7.5 percent more than at otherwise comparable firms that were not acquired. The largest gains came at older and larger buyout targets.

This would seem to fit the story that the private equity industry tells about itself: that it is creating more dynamic, productive companies by running them more effectively than the traditional system of self-perpetuating boards of directors and publicly traded shares.

But there is a problem. During this same period in which American corporations have become more financialized than ever, the overall economy has had historically weak productivity growth.

In the 2010s, labor productivity — the amount of economic output per hour of work — has risen by less than 1 percent a year, the lowest of any decade on record (the data go back to 1947). It was 2.7 percent per year during the 1950s and 1960s, the high-water mark of the clunky, complacent, conglomerate-building era of American business.

That may not seem like a big difference, but sustained over time it has huge effects. At 1960s rates of productivity growth, incomes would be expected to double every 26 years. At 2010s rates, it would take 72 years.

The American economy has become markedly less dynamic. Fewer businesses are being started, and the newcomers are having less success unseating incumbents. Workers are less likely to change jobs, which suggests labor is not moving toward the most productive forms of work. Many major industries are becoming more concentrated among a few giants.

Mr. Davis, the University of Chicago economist, says these trends would be worse if not for the buyout industry.

“Private equity buyouts are a force pushing the other direction against the headwinds,” he said. “If you think the reallocation of jobs and capital and workers to more productive use is an important part of how we drive productivity growth and generate higher living standards, the role of private equity is more vital, because there seems to be less of that going on in the economy than 20 or 30 years ago.”

It also could be true that the slump in productivity and dynamism has nothing to do with the revolution in how companies are governed and capital allocated. The slump could result from fewer transformative innovations, for example — essentially bad luck.

But at a minimum, it doesn’t appear that the rise of this seemingly superior form of stewarding American business has created a more robust overall economy. And Payless offers some clues as to why.

The new C.E.O., Mr. Jones, and the rest of the executive team assembled by Payless’s new private equity owners in 2012 had a lot to do.

The company had modernized its logo and branding years earlier — but had been so stingy with capital spending that around 70 percent of stores still had 1980s vintage signs. The company’s outdated information technology systems updated inventory only once a day — making it impractical to offer buy-online, pick-up-in-store offerings.

Mr. Jones and his team started in on plans to upgrade technology, expand profitable international operations and invest in the high-growth areas of athletic footwear. But even with all those outdated stores and technology, capital spending remained only at levels comparable to the previous ownership: $75 million to $80 million per year.

Meanwhile, the company made huge payments to its private equity owners.

In the two-year period ending in January 2015, Payless generated $249 million in “Ebitda,” a common metric for operating profits; paid $352 million in one-time dividends to shareholders; and made $94 million in interest payments.

For every dollar that came in the door of the company in that span, it paid out $1.41 to its owners and 38 cents to its lenders. That left the company with less of a financial cushion to ride out any future challenges. And the future, as it turned out, held some major challenges.

In 2015, longshoremen at major West Coast ports went on a slowdown at the worst possible time for Payless: just as ships from Asia containing millions of pairs of discount shoes were steaming across the Pacific ahead of the crucial spring sales season.

Inventory waited offshore for weeks, creating a cascade of problems for the Payless supply chain: a pileup of out-of-season shoes that the company was able to sell only at deep discounts and with extra spending on marketing.

The resulting losses strained the company’s ability to repay its debts and led to credit downgrades. “It’s just this vortex that you’re stuck in, trying to get out of it,” Mr. Jones said. “And that’s what caused the crisis.”

But it was the financial structure of the company that made it possible for a labor disruption to push the company into that vortex. “Yes, taking out the money, in hindsight, made the business more vulnerable, susceptible, and in an environment of so much uncertainty that nobody understood,” Mr. Jones said of the dividend paid to shareholders. “In hindsight, we shouldn’t have done it.”

Golden Gate Capital said that it was focused on helping the company grow and that it was undone by powerful forces.

“We recruited a strong management team, and over $500 million was invested to support Payless’s turnaround strategy,” the private equity firm said in a statement. “Unfortunately, like many retailers, Payless ultimately faced challenges too strong to overcome without an operational and financial restructuring.”

Think about any company where you’ve worked. Suppose a new owner took aggressive actions to try to achieve immediate financial returns.

It might pay out cash on the balance sheet as dividends rather than let it sit around for a rainy day. It might rely more on borrowed money. It might raise prices abruptly, or cut payroll, or try to renegotiate deals with landlords and suppliers.

In other words, it might follow the private equity industry’s playbook.

And those efforts may create an apparent boost in productivity. So long as revenue and earnings rise faster than the amount of labor, it would look like a win for the overall economy, at least in the first few years.

But at the ground level, there would be no guarantee that the company was actually doing anything better. All those changes would make a company more profitable. But they wouldn’t necessarily result in a product that consumers preferred, or in a more effective deployment of workers and equipment.

Moreover, a riskier corporate balance sheet might be fine when things are going well, but increase the risk of a catastrophic failure when things go wrong — essentially hollowing out whatever productive capacity made the company successful to begin with.

Just maybe, in other words, what Payless went through in its run of private equity ownership wasn’t just one bad deal in one troubled industry, but a particularly clear example of what is holding the entire economy back.

Done right, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy is an opportunity for a company’s rebirth. It can shed the debts, lease obligations or onerous supplier contracts that might have gotten it in trouble.

The executives who led the company through its 2017 bankruptcy were confident they had done exactly that. The company shed about half of the debt on its balance sheet, closed about 700 underperforming stores, got its rent on remaining stores cut by as much as 50 percent, negotiated more favorable credit terms with suppliers, and formed a plan to invest in new technology and expand its profitable Latin American business.

“We were going the right direction, we had stability, we had a strategy, we had a team, and we had results,” Mr. Jones said. He said the new owners should have had at least four years of breathing room to get the business on track. Golden Gate Capital, in its statement, said, “When we exited Payless, we left it with a right-sized store footprint and meaningful earnings opportunities for future owners.”

“It’s the antithesis of what we’ve seen in other retail bankruptcies,” a restructuring expert, Christopher Jarvinen, told Reuters at the time.

Yet 18 months later, Payless was in bankruptcy court again. Its United States stores were closed.

What happened? Why did Alden Global Capital, the firm that took over Payless after the restructuring, fail so badly?

One answer is that it is hard to fix decades’ worth of problems quickly, even with the help of a bankruptcy court that can wipe out debts. For example, the Alden managers enthusiastically demonstrated a new system with which store employees could call up information on a tablet to see if desired shoes were available in another store.

That sort of thing was pretty standard in the retail industry in 2018. Yet many Payless stores had inadequate Wi-Fi for the tablets to be used. And the bankruptcy had fractured the company’s relationships with suppliers, many of them small Chinese manufacturers that had lost money when Payless experienced its cash crunch.

Former employees also described a series of mystifying errors by an Alden-installed leadership team with little or no experience in the retail industry. The chairman and interim C.E.O., Martin R. Wade III, was a longtime investment banker. His chief deputy, Jennifer Wild, was also new to the sector.

Executives from the earlier ownership were involved in the transition while the company was in Chapter 11; they recalled answering questions from the new team about some of the basics of retail supply chains and merchandising strategy.

Beyond their lack of retail experience, former employees said the Alden team cloistered itself in the executive suite and seemed to disdain the expertise of the staff in Topeka.

“What they thought was that people who live here are stupid, and that’s the way they treated us,” said Meghan Shreve, who was a manager in corporate communications. “It didn’t matter how great you were in your field or what other stuff you had done, it was, ‘You live in Kansas, so you’re an idiot.’”

Seeking to streamline the company’s supply process, the company shut down a lab in China where shoes were inspected before being exported. Instead, quality assurance workers inspected shoes in factories.

Bad orders began slipping through. At one point, a big order of shoes with mislabeled sizes — a size 6 shoe with size 3 printed on it, for example — showed up at the distribution center in Ohio.

“Missing one shoe can wipe out whatever you think you’re saving,” said Dustin Watson, a former planning and allocation manager.

Then there were the sandals. “Someone in Colombia isn’t going to buy Mexico-themed flip-flops, and they definitely won’t buy them if they don’t get there in time for the World Cup,” said Jason Tryon, a planning and allocation manager. Those concerns, he said, were ignored. “They became convinced that, ‘You guys don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

Mr. Wade, the interim chief executive during this period, said he and his colleagues had inherited a business in worse shape than it had appeared.

“The company had extremely deep flaws that had been building over the years,” he said. “One could argue that it was close to insolvency the day we took over.”

He said he had needed to “make terminations” with the Topeka staff “because we did not have runway and we needed to move quickly.”

He disputed the idea that his leadership group lacked retail experience, noting he had hired several seasoned executives and consultants. Moreover, he said, “the steering committee that hired me had their choice of at least 25 very experienced people whose whole careers were in retail.”

“So why me?” he said. “I believe they felt that they needed a leader; they needed someone who had experience changing culture, and who is not afraid of bringing in people with more expertise than he had in order to turn the company around.”

He attributed missteps like the World Cup flip-flops to the need to experiment and innovate — including successful efforts like a marketing stunt to trick fashion influencers into believing Payless shoes were from a luxury brand.

Payless is now a carcass of a company, with no stores in the United States and a relative handful of employees in a headquarters that once held 800.

There’s a certain model of capitalism under which this failure, painful as it was for those who lost their jobs, is a win over all. Strong, well-managed companies rise up and replace failures, producing a more competitive economy that benefits everyone over the long run.

But there’s an alternate way of viewing things.

For one thing, plenty of retail companies are doing reasonably well, making sound tactical decisions around store closings and smart investments in digital retail.

Payless wasn’t hopeless, said Beth Goldstein, a footwear industry analyst at NPD Group: “It would have needed significant investment and right-sizing, and it wouldn’t be up to the level of what it was 10 years ago, but there would still be a business.”

Instead, Ms. Goldstein concludes, much of the sales Payless once made migrated to just three other retailers: Walmart, Target and Amazon, including through its Zappos subsidiary.

What do the most successful markets look like? They feature lots of rivals in constant competition, always testing new strategies as they compete for workers, suppliers and customers. That’s what makes a truly dynamic economy, the kind where creative destruction of all types can occur.

The death of Payless eliminated several hundred well-paying corporate headquarters jobs in Topeka, as well as thousands more jobs in stores. And it hurt creditors, landlords and suppliers.

But it also left behind a discount shoe industry that is much more dominated by a handful of the biggest companies, which will have that much more power and incentive to entrench their advantages and keep dynamism at bay.

When you look at it that way, the private equity paradox is no more a mystery than why you hold on to plenty of cash for a rainy day, or why a Colombian doesn’t want Mexican-themed World Cup flip-flops after the World Cup is over.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

For Some Iowa Voters, Caucuses Remain A Barrier To Participation

Westlake Legal Group ap_521917788450-9e5135d9b5b87cad04d004483146e325080b16a9-s1100-c15 For Some Iowa Voters, Caucuses Remain A Barrier To Participation

Voters listen to instructions during a Democratic Party caucus in 2016. The party has been under pressure to make the process more accessible this year, but some activists remain frustrated. Patrick Semansky/AP hide caption

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Patrick Semansky/AP

Westlake Legal Group  For Some Iowa Voters, Caucuses Remain A Barrier To Participation

Voters listen to instructions during a Democratic Party caucus in 2016. The party has been under pressure to make the process more accessible this year, but some activists remain frustrated.

Patrick Semansky/AP

Marlu Abarca has lived in Iowa for a decade and says she now “identifies as an Iowan.” For the past few weeks she’s been attending training sessions to chair a satellite caucus site at the South Suburban YMCA in Des Moines.

Even so, she’ll have to miss work to participate.

“I have to take vacation to chair the satellite caucus,” Abarca, 28, said during a lunch break from her job at a Des Moines library.

Abarca is far from the only Iowan who has to make special arrangements to participate in Monday’s caucuses, or who may be unable to participate at all. To caucus, voters have to show up in person at 7 p.m. CT, at a specific location. They can expect to spend some time, multiple hours even, at that location.

That tends to pose problems for a lot of voters: parents who don’t have childcare options; employees who work irregular schedules and can’t take time off; and people with disabilities who may struggle to navigate a process that demands a lengthy amount of physical presence, often in a crowded room.

Iowa is home to more than 3 million people, but the most that have participated in a presidential caucus was about 240,000 for the 2008 Democratic contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. In 2016, slightly more than 171,000 people turned out for the Democratic caucuses.

“I think that there are more accessible ways to involve people in the democratic process. After being in Iowa for 10 years and identifying as an Iowan, I understand why being the first in the nation and having something like a caucus feels so special to Iowans,” Abarca said. “The Midwest is often left out in a lot of conversations nationally. So to get this type of attention is different… But we have to recognize that we inherently don’t have a society that’s inclusive and values people’s right to vote.”

With an eye toward making the caucuses more accessible for all voters, the Iowa Democratic Party has ushered in some changes, including early check-in and a streamlined process for voters to sort out their support for candidates. They’ve also expanded “satellite caucuses,” like the one that Abarca is leading in Des Moines.

That was the party’s way of extending access for people who cannot attend one of 1,678 designated caucus sites. All told, there will be 90 satellite caucus sites this year, most of them in Iowa. About a half dozen will be Spanish language satellite caucus sites, including the one Abarca is chairing in Des Moines.

She’s been attending meetings to learn how to run a caucus, something she’s never done before, and learning how to translate an already confusing process from English to Spanish. One thing that she and other organizers have encountered is the fact that the word “caucus” lacks a Spanish equivalent.

“It’s similar to the term ‘marketing,’ where in Spanish there’s no comparable word that would represent the idea of what marketing is. So the Spanish language has simply adopted the word ‘márketing.’ Very similarly ‘cau-kos’ or just ‘caucus,'” Abarca explained. “More and more Spanish speakers are becoming familiar with the term, but there’s no other word.”

Activists and organizers have raised concerns about language barriers, and note that while there are now Spanish language satellite caucuses, the roughly 194,000 Latinos in Iowa — some, though not all, speak primarily Spanish — are scattered across the state and may need access to interpreters to understand the process.

“For the first time in a caucus cycle we have a full time AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] and Latinx outreach director, and accessibility outreach director to help make sure all Iowans have the resources they need to caucus, including translation services at the caucuses,” said IDP communications director Mandy McClure in a statement that pointed out a number of other changes. “Expanding participation has been at the heart of all of these changes, and we will continue to work to look for ways to increase accessibility on caucus night.”

One group, the Latinx Iowa Caucus Education Project has been working for months to get more Latinos in Iowa to participate, circulating non-partisan videos to educate would-be participants on the process, which relies on person-to-person contact at community meetings.

The move to expand the satellite caucus program, which was piloted by the state party in 2016, came after plans for the “virtual” caucus program — which would have allowed caucus participation over the phone or through video chat. But the Democratic National Committee rejected that proposal last year over cyber security concerns. That means that even with the addition of satellite caucuses, Iowans must still show up in person to participate.

“Obviously, caucusing is an activity that requires a physical presence, so there in lies the crux of the problem with regard to a few different populations of people,” said Reyma McCoy McDeid, the executive director of the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living.

“When we talk about voter suppression initiatives that occur across the country, we tend to focus on one particular political party. But the fact of the matter is voter marginalization, voter suppression is a non-partisan phenomenon and the caucuses are, unfortunately, a fantastic example of that,” she added.

The Central Iowa Center for Independent Living, or CICIL, is also hosting a satellite caucus, specifically aimed at making the caucus process more inclusive. It starts two hours prior to the 7 p.m. start time typical in precincts across the state, will include food and childcare (including a caucus activity just for kids).

There will be quiet space with softer light for people who need a space with less sensory overload, and space to lie down for those who need it. Participants are being reminded that, while caucuses can be loud, passionate affairs, they should be mindful of their volume “for the sake of caucusers who experience neurodiversity, overstimulation or anxiety.” An American Sign Language, or ASL, caucus will take place in a different room.

Emmanuel Smith is also participating in a satellite caucus, one they petitioned to hold in the lobby of their apartment building.

Smith, who works for the advocacy group Disability Rights Iowa, uses a wheelchair and has chronic pain and fatigue. In 2016, it took more than an hour for them to reach their caucus site. Once they arrived, they found it was too crowded to maneuver through the crowds, even to use the restroom.

“Having a satellite location in my apartment building was one of the only ways I knew to at least give me a good chance of being able to attend,” Smith said in an interview at Disability Rights Iowa’s Des Moines office. “Not a guarantee, but prevent, you know, the long commutes and different issues I’ve encountered in previous years.”

The Iowa Democratic Party has worked to ensure that disabled Iowans have a better experience than in 2016, when many said they struggled to participate. They launched an online form for people to request accommodations and have recently added a new, disability director.

The national party has applauded these moves.

“I’m proud of the historic steps taken by the Iowa Democratic Party to increase participation and accessibility in the Iowa caucuses,” DNC disability council chair Tony Coelho said in a statement. “These efforts include hiring a caucus accessibility director, having satellite caucuses, and requiring every caucus location to meet accessibility standards. This didn’t happen overnight. This happened because of the leadership of the Iowa Democratic Party and the tireless work of disability advocates.”

The staff of Disability Rights Iowa and other advocates say that satellite caucuses are just a stop-gap, rather than a long-term solution.

“It’s like trying to fix your basement foundation with some masking tape,” said Annie Matte, voting outreach coordinator at Disability Rights Iowa,

They want to see more changes to the caucuses, including options that allow Iowans to participate without showing up in person like absentee ballots or proxy voting. Such options haven’t come into play because of fears that an absentee ballot would lead the caucuses to be considered a primary election by officials in New Hampshire, who oversee the country’s first primary and might try to jump ahead in the nominating process.

“There’s 300,000 Iowans with disabilities of voting age, so this is a big group of people,” Jane Hudson, the executive director of Disability Rights Iowa. “If they don’t have a voice because they can’t even participate in the first stage of picking presidents, they are really being disenfranchised.”

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Coronavirus infections increase, flight carrying passengers from China set to arrive in UK

A flight carrying 110 British and foreign nationals flew out of China on Friday and is expected to arrive at Royal Air Force Brize Norton in Oxfordshire at 1 p.m. (8 a.m. EST), according to the British Government.

“We know how distressing the situation has been for those waiting to leave,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a notice. “We have been working round the clock to clear the way for a safe departure. The welfare of those trapped and public safety have been our overriding priorities.”

The plane will then travel to Spain where the passenger’s home countries will take responsibility for them, the notice said. Chinese officials had originally blocked the flight on Thursday morning, which expected to leave Wuhan with 200 people.

Westlake Legal Group AP20031262481922 Coronavirus infections increase, flight carrying passengers from China set to arrive in UK fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox-news/health fox news fnc/health fnc David Aaro article 5b5da50e-33bf-5144-a03b-ac72795f68be

Travelers wear face masks as they prepare to board a train at the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020.  (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Meanwhile, people in China are defying a lockdown by leaving and entering a bridge over the Yangzte River in Hubei province — the country’s virus epicenter. It’s been on lockdown for vehicles, but people could still get out in “special circumstances,” according to Reuters.

Weeks after China announced the outbreak of the coronavirus, the international community has increased measures to prevent a widespread epidemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global emergency as it spreads to countries outside of China and the number of infected patients continues to grow.

Westlake Legal Group AP20030725910500 Coronavirus infections increase, flight carrying passengers from China set to arrive in UK fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox-news/health fox news fnc/health fnc David Aaro article 5b5da50e-33bf-5144-a03b-ac72795f68be

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), talks to the media at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.  (Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP)

Countries around the globe have increased travel restrictions to the infected mainland China and Hubei province — with the U.S. State Department increasing its advisory to level 4: “Do Not Travel.”

STATE DEPARTMENT, CITING CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK, RAISES CHINA TRAVEL ADVISORY: ‘DO NOT TRAVEL’

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have advised travelers to avoid all nonessential travel to the country.

Coronavirus has now infected more people in China than were sickened during the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. No deaths have been reported outside of the country.

Westlake Legal Group AP20030595268074 Coronavirus infections increase, flight carrying passengers from China set to arrive in UK fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox-news/health fox news fnc/health fnc David Aaro article 5b5da50e-33bf-5144-a03b-ac72795f68be

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

Here are the latest figures.

How many have been infected or have died?

The death toll from the virus has increased to 213 on Friday, with a total of 9,692 infected. The number of cases has increased more than tenfold in a week, with 43 new deaths reported on Friday, the most in a 24-hour-period.

TRUMP SAYS US WORKING CLOSELY WITH CHINA ON CORONAVIRUS

Where is the virus?

Roughly 99 percent of new cases have appeared in China with the vast majority of the cases in Hubei province and its provincial capital, Wuhan. The virus has been reported in at least 16 countries globally.

The United States currently has six cases of the virus: two in California, one in Arizona, one in Washington and two in Illinois, health officials say. The sixth case was confirmed Thursday in a Chicago resident, who is the spouse of the first confirmed travel-related case in Illinois. The new case marks the first in the U.S. that occurred via person-to-person transmission, CDC officials said.

The United Kingdom announced on Friday it has two cases of the virus, who are reportedly members of the same family.

“The patients are receiving specialist NHS [National Health Service] care, and we are using tried and tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus,” said Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer.

France — 5 cases

Thailand — 14

Australia — 9

Germany — 4

Canada — 3

Japan — 14

Malaysia — 8

South Korea — 6

Taiwan — 9

United Arab Emirates — 4

Vietnam — 4

Sri Lanka — 1

Philippines — 1

Nepal — 1

Malaysia — 7

Finland –1

Cambodia — 1

India — 1

Singapore — 13

Italy — 2

What are the current travel restrictions?

Officials at the CDC have advised travelers to avoid all nonessential travel to the country. The U.S. State Department raised its China travel advisory to “Level 4: Do Not Travel.” The U.S. expanded the screening of travelers arriving from Wuhan from five to 20 airports.

“Those currently in China should consider departing using commercial means. The Department of State has requested that all non-essential U.S. government personnel defer travel to China in light of the novel coronavirus,”  The advisory said.

HOW IS CORONAVIRUS TRANSMITTED?

Pakistan says they’re halting all flights to and from China until Feb. 2.

Singapore said it would ban travelers from China’s Hubei province.

The United Kingdom and New Zealand also advised their people against nonessential travel to China.

Russia has signed an order to close the border between them and China. They also blocked tour groups from China.

China has cut off access to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, trapping more than 50 million people.

Italy suspends all flights to China

South Korea urged an increase in its level of caution to “restraint” when traveling to China.

Hong Kong reduced half its flights and shut down rail service to mainland China.

United canceled all flights to China.

American Airlines suspended L.A. flights to and from Shanghai and Beijing.

AMERICAN AIRLINES SUED OVER CORONAVIRUS BY PLOT SEEKING TO CANCEL US-CHINA FLIGHTS

Delta airlines reducing flights to China from 42 per week to 21 per week

British Airways suspended all flights to and from mainland China.

Virgin Atlantic suspending operations to Shanghai for two weeks

Lufthansa suspending flights to and from China until Feb. 9

Air India and Seoul Air halting all flights to the country.

Egypt Air suspending all fights starting Feb. 1

Air France suspending all flights until Feb. 9

Finnair, Cathay Pacific, and Jetstar also stopping service.

Lion Air canceled 50 flights to China into February.

Air Canada suspending all direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai.

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Kenya Airways suspends all flights to China

The Associated Press contributed to the report

Westlake Legal Group AP20031262481922 Coronavirus infections increase, flight carrying passengers from China set to arrive in UK fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox-news/health fox news fnc/health fnc David Aaro article 5b5da50e-33bf-5144-a03b-ac72795f68be   Westlake Legal Group AP20031262481922 Coronavirus infections increase, flight carrying passengers from China set to arrive in UK fox-news/health/infectious-disease/coronavirus fox-news/health fox news fnc/health fnc David Aaro article 5b5da50e-33bf-5144-a03b-ac72795f68be

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Fox News Legal Analyst: GOP Senators Suppressing Truth If They Don’t Call Witnesses

Westlake Legal Group 5e33f1d1240000410d64ee31 Fox News Legal Analyst: GOP Senators Suppressing Truth If They Don’t Call Witnesses

Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano suggested in a column on Thursday that Senate Republicans are suppressing the truth by not wanting witnesses to testify in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.

“If the Senate is faithful to the Constitution, then Trump’s trial will be a search for the truth,” Napolitano wrote in the op-ed published on the conservative news network’s website, adding: “And those offering to tell the truth should be welcomed, not pilloried. How can the Senate be faithful to the Constitution if it suppresses the truth?”

Democrats need four Republicans to join them in voting to call witnesses, such as Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, who reportedly confirms the Democrats’ case against the president in his upcoming book. But Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) announcement Thursday that he will vote against allowing witnesses likely ensures that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will succeed in blocking witnesses. 

Elsewhere in Napolitano’s piece, titled “Trump’s impeachment trial should hear from witnesses offering to tell the truth” ― the former New Jersey Superior Court judge called out Trump’s legal team for spurious arguments in defense of the president.

“The president’s lawyers have misrepresented the separation of powers by arguing that when Congress and the president are at loggerheads over congressional demands for documents or testimony, it becomes the duty of the Congress to turn to the courts,” he wrote, adding:

That is a general proposition of law, yet an incomplete one, as it does not apply in cases of presidential impeachment where the House has more than primacy — it alone has power. Stated differently, the president has no legal or constitutional basis to reject House subpoenas when the House is conducting an impeachment inquiry.

Napolitano last week argued there was “ample” evidence to remove Trump from office over his Ukraine misconduct. 

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Why Many Progressives Say They’ve Come Back To Bernie Sanders

Westlake Legal Group gettyimages-1202107360_wide-bfb2d7b67b8b0926ab015dbcb09a341e9a9dae1c-s1100-c15 Why Many Progressives Say They've Come Back To Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) waves goodbye at the conclusion of a campaign event at La Poste on Sunday in Perry, Iowa. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

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Westlake Legal Group  Why Many Progressives Say They've Come Back To Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) waves goodbye at the conclusion of a campaign event at La Poste on Sunday in Perry, Iowa.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A year ago, some New Hampshire progressives, who had elevated Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to a decisive victory in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary there, told NPR they weren’t so sure they wanted to see him run for president again.

But with just days until the first votes of the 2020 presidential primary, in Iowa, it appears that progressives are coming back to Sanders. His polling has risen in recent weeks, as a number of progressive groups announced their support for him, and as many voters on the left ultimately decided to stick with him.

Burt Cohen is one such voter.

He’s known Sanders since the 1970s, and in the last presidential election, he was a delegate for the Vermont senator at the Democratic National Convention.

But Cohen was initially skeptical of a Sanders sequel.

“I wasn’t sure it was a good idea, to be perfectly honest,” the former New Hampshire state senator-turned-podcast host said recently. “What held me back a little bit was as Bernie says, ‘It’s not me, it’s us,’ and that so many other candidates were picking up what he was talking about.”

Many progressives said similar things at the beginning of this campaign cycle. They felt that issues that Sanders has championed, such as Medicare for All, were now part of the party’s mainstream debate.

But as the campaign dragged on, some voters, like New Hampshire gubernatorial candidate Andy Volinsky, began to have doubts about other candidates.

“I am not convinced that Sanders’ level of commitment to things like Medicare for All exists among very many other candidates,” he said.

Westlake Legal Group gettyimages-1196607230_wide-215c61343c417871164249a6ef5d00fec661b963-s1100-c15 Why Many Progressives Say They've Come Back To Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday. Stephen Maturen/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Westlake Legal Group  Why Many Progressives Say They've Come Back To Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks during a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday.

Stephen Maturen/AFP via Getty Images

In 2016, Volinsky was Sanders’ New Hampshire attorney. But this year, he took months to make a decision. He said he was impressed with Elizabeth Warren and even introduced her at a rally.

But he was worried that the Massachusetts senator is “not as readily accepted by working people as Bernie is.”

That was a common concern voiced by progressive voters who said they had considered Warren before coming back to Sanders.

“I had been for Warren back in 2015,” Cohen said. “I had a sticker on my car — ‘Run, Warren, Run.’ “

He said Warren would make a “terrific” president but, he said, Democrats need a candidate who can win back the voters the party lost in 2016.

“Frankly,” he said, “the Harvard, professorial style, I don’t know how well that would do in the Midwest.”

But that same concern is what led Bill Stelling away from Sanders, whom he supported in 2016, and toward Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., this year.

“One of the things about Bernie is that I don’t think he’s evolved very much since 2016,” Stelling, of Manchester, N.H., said. “He’s delivering exactly the same message, but the world has changed.”

This notion — that consistency might not always be a virtue — is perhaps progressives’ most common critique of the Vermont senator.

A Sanders-or-Warren family

“Maybe Bernie hasn’t changed, but the times have,” said Ron Abramson.

He and his daughter, Quincy, both supported Sanders in 2016. He held a house party for the senator. She volunteered for him.

But this year, they’re not in sync.

Ron wants a leader who can effectively govern and adapt if needed. He said that’s Warren.

Quincy wants drastic change. She thinks capitalism is the root of almost every problem in this country, so she told her dad how she sees Warren: “She does know how to work within the system more and play the game better and, for you, that’s pragmatic, and for me, that’s scary.”

Quincy Abramson is supporting Sanders again. She said she came to that decision partly because of how he speaks, compared with Warren.

“The feeling I get from the way Warren talks about going into office is, you know, ‘I have a plan for that. Vote for me. Trust me, and I’ll handle it,’ ” she said. “While Bernie’s is, ‘We have to do this together.’ “

But Ron Abramson is skeptical of his daughter’s interpretation of Sanders as a more collaborative leader.

“I appreciate that he has created a movement,” he said, “but there’s a fine line between a movement and a cult of personality.”

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Sen. Rob Portman: Brexit presents new opportunity for trade with Britain

Westlake Legal Group 694940094001_6117356833001_6117353828001-vs Sen. Rob Portman: Brexit presents new opportunity for trade with Britain Rob Portman fox-news/world/world-regions/europe/brexit fox-news/world/trade fox-news/world fox-news/opinion fox news fnc/opinion fnc article 47430a74-fa80-56da-9cb5-bdd4a92d5258 /FOX NEWS/WORLD/GLOBAL ECONOMY/Trade

Between the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and a substantial Phase One trade agreement with China, 2020 has already been an outstanding year for American trade. However, further opportunities are on the horizon to knock down barriers to trade and deliver wins for our workers, farmers and businesses.

A new opportunity arises as the United Kingdom finally leaves the European Union, drawing to a close a four-year-long process that has often been tumultuous and uncertain.

While much of the talk around Brexit has been focused on the challenges that this fundamental shift will bring, the newfound independence of the U.K. also creates the chance for a new bilateral U.S.-U.K. trade agreement that further brings together our two countries.

EU BACKS TERMS OF BREXIT DEAL, UK SET TO LEAVE FRIDAY

That’s why my colleague, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and I founded and now chair the Senate U.K. Trade Caucus. We are using this bipartisan caucus as a platform to bring together lawmakers and representatives from both governments in order to promote close and long-lasting economic ties between the U.S. and the U.K. In doing so, we are building support in Congress for a trade agreement between our countries.

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Thanks to our longstanding and deep economic ties, the potential benefits of a new trade agreement between our two countries are immense. The U.K. is the fourth-largest export market for American goods and services, and our seventh-largest trading partner overall with more than $200 billion annually in trade. What’s more, we are each the other country’s largest foreign investor, with total foreign direct investment more than $1 trillion per year.

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Still, the economic relationship between our two countries has not reached its full potential thanks to some remaining barriers to trade. As U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer noted in his negotiating objectives for the U.K., a new comprehensive agreement would aim to eliminate tariffs, expand market access for agricultural goods by eliminating restrictions on quota and non-tariff barriers, harmonize the services trade, and set bold rules for trade over the internet. As we saw with the USMCA just recently signed by President Trump, these provisions are achievable and worth pursuing.

My home state of Ohio would especially benefit from a new trade agreement with our neighbors across the pond. The U.K. is our fourth-largest trading partner, accounting for $1.7 billion in Ohio exports in 2018. In 2017, we shipped more than $750 million in aerospace and auto parts to British markets.

The last four years of Brexit have been difficult at times, but right now there is a rare opportunity to forge a better road ahead for both the U.S. and the U.K.

A comprehensive free trade agreement with the U.K. would bring other benefits, too. As a former U.S. Trade Representative, I witnessed some of the European Union’s protectionist trade policies that drag on economic growth.

Last May, I met in London with Crawford Falconer, the chief trade negotiator for the British government. We agreed that an independent U.K. would be an invaluable partner with the U.S. in advocating for changes to trade burdens like data localization requirements and geographical indications.

Beyond these economic considerations, it is worth noting that the U.S. has no better ally than the U.K. When we look back on the experiences of our joint history, we find that our shared values, as well as our common political and cultural traditions, are bonds that have endured.

A new trade agreement is more than mutually beneficial economics. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm this crucial alliance and demonstrate the role that trade agreements play as ballast for strategic relationships.

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The last four years of Brexit have been difficult at times, but right now there is a rare opportunity to forge a better road ahead for both the U.S. and the U.K. In fact, it was Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself who said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

I urge the Trump administration to take advantage of this opportunity and work toward establishing a comprehensive trade agreement with the U.K. In the meantime, I’ll continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the “special relationship” between the U.S. and U.K. will flourish for generations to come.

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Pelosi argues Trump ‘cannot be acquitted,’ suggests defense team should be disbarred

Westlake Legal Group Pelosi120619 Pelosi argues Trump 'cannot be acquitted,' suggests defense team should be disbarred fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/politics/senate fox-news/politics/house-of-representatives fox-news/person/nancy-pelosi fox news fnc/politics fnc Dom Calicchio d2f17ce2-9724-5822-88e8-26176f99a81e article

In scathing comments Thursday as her party appeared on the verge of defeat in the Senate impeachment trial, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued that President Trump “cannot be acquitted” if the trial lacks the witness testimony and documentation that Democrats have been seeking.

The San Francisco Democrat also fired on Trump’s impeachment defense team, saying they’ve “disgraced themselves” during this week’s trial and suggesting they deserve disbarment over their trial remarks.

The comments came hours before Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he would not back efforts by Democrats to have witnesses testify at the Senate trial – all but sealing an acquittal for Trump.

RICK SCOTT SUSPECTS PELOSI ‘TRYING TO HELP JOE BIDEN,’ HURT HIS DEM OPPONENTS WITH IMPEACHMENT

But Pelosi challenged whether that acquittal would be valid, in remarks that seemed a bid to undermine any Trump claim of victory.

“He will not be acquitted,” Pelosi insisted during her weekly news conference, according to Politico. “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial. You don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation and all of that. Does the president know right from wrong? I don’t think so.”

“He will not be acquitted. You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial. You don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation and all of that. Does the president know right from wrong? I don’t think so.”

— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Democrats have been seeking to have former national security adviser John Bolton, and possibly others, testify at the trial. Bolton, who was fired in September, is reportedly willing to provide testimony that could bolster the Democrats’ arguments that Trump abused his power by seeking a quid-pro-quo deal with Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Pelosi’s comments about Trump’s legal team were equally combative.

“I don’t know how they can retain their lawyer status, in the comments that they’re making,” Pelosi told reporters, according to The Hill. “I don’t think they made the case. I think they disgraced themselves terribly in terms of their violation of what our Constitution is about and what a president’s behavior should be.”

“I don’t know how they can retain their lawyer status, in the comments that they’re making. I don’t think they made the case. I think they disgraced themselves terribly in terms of their violation of what our Constitution is about and what a president’s behavior should be.”

— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi also accused other Trump allies of attempting “to dismantle the Constitution” in order to shield the president from conviction and removal from office over two articles of impeachment that the Democrat-controlled House approved in December.

“Some of them are even lawyers,” Pelosi said. “Imagine that you would say — ever, of any president, no matter who he or she is or whatever party — if the president thinks that his or her presidency … is good for the country, then any action is justified — including encouraging a foreign government to have an impact on our elections.”

“[That] is exactly what our Founders were opposed to — and they feared,” she added, according to The Hill. “I don’t think they made the case. I think they disgraced themselves terribly in terms of their violation of what our Constitution is about and what a president’s behavior should be.”

Pelosi’s comments about the legal team were largely a reaction to Wednesday’s assertion by Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz, that, “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

Much of the media was quick to attack Dershowitz’s argument, comparing it to former President Richard Nixon’s 1977 comment to British interviewer David Frost that all presidential actions, particularly on national security, were legally justified.

“Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” Nixon said.

Dershowitz pushed back on the criticism Thursday.

“I did not say or imply that a candidate could do anything to reassure his reelection,” Dershowitz wrote on Twitter, “only that seeking help in an election is not necessarily corrupt, citing the Lincoln and Obama examples. Critics have an obligation to respond to what I said, not to create straw men to attack.”

Dershowitz elaborated further during an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity.”

“The point I was making was about the senators,” Dershowitz said on “Hannity.” “What I said [was] if you have mixed motives if you are in the public interest and you’re trying to help the public, but you’re also trying to get re-elected, according to [Rep. Adam] Schiff and [Rep. Jerry] Nadler, that’s a crime.

Pelosi has faced her own share of criticism for stalling the impeachment process for about a month – by withholding the approved articles of impeachment from the Senate, seeking leverage in setting the parameters of the Senate trial — after initially calling for “urgency” while House panels were holding their impeachment inquiries.

President Trump and other Republicans argued that Pelosi slowed down the process at least in part because she viewed the Democrats’ chances of winning a conviction of Trump in the Senate to be weak.

“We know their case is not strong and now they want to change the rules,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends” in early January, referring to Senate Democrats’ call for witnesses at the trial.

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Late Thursday, the Democrats’ hopes of seeing Trump convicted took a severe blow when Alexander – one of a small group of Republicans thought to be sympathetic to approving witness testimony at the Senate trial – announced he opposed the effort.

Alexander’s decision made it unlikely that Democrats would attract enough Republican votes to win the argument for witnesses at the trial, making Trump’s acquittal all but certain.

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Lamar Alexander, Key G.O.P. Senator, Plans to Oppose Move for New Evidence

WASHINGTON — Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said late Thursday that although he believed that Democrats had proved their case that President Trump acted “inappropriately” in his dealings with Ukraine, he did not think the president’s actions were impeachable and would vote against considering new evidence in the impeachment trial.

Mr. Alexander’s statement was a strong indication that Republicans had lined up the votes to block a call for more witnesses and documents on Friday and press toward a quick acquittal in the third presidential impeachment trial in history. His opposition was a significant victory for the White House and Republican leaders.

“The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did,” Mr. Alexander said in a late-night statement after the conclusion of a second marathon day of questioning by senators. “I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday.”

In announcing his stance, Mr. Alexander effectively conceded that the president had engaged in a corrupt effort to leverage taxpayer money to advance his own political objectives — the basis of the abuse-of-power charge against him — but said he had concluded such actions were not impeachable. He called the second charge, obstruction of Congress, “frivolous.”

“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation,” he said in a statement released at 11 p.m. “When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.”

His announcement capped a day of intense lobbying both on the floor of the Senate and off as each side sought to appeal to a shrinking group of undecided Republicans. Shortly before Mr. Alexander declared his intentions, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, another moderate, became the second Republican to say definitively that she would vote in favor of considering new evidence, after Senator Mitt Romney of Utah.

Video

transcript

Questions at Impeachment Trial on Witnesses and Whistle-Blower

On their last day of questioning in the impeachment trial of President Trump, senators put Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in the middle of the fray.

“Senator from Kentucky?” “I have a question to present to the desk for the House manager Schiff and for the president’s counsel.” “Thank you.” “The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted.” “The question from Senator Warren is for the House managers: At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the chief justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the Supreme Court and the Constitution?” “I don’t think a trial without witnesses reflects adversely on the chief justice. I do think it reflects adversely on us.” “Senators for both parties —” “Senator from South Dakota —” “The question from Senator Portman —” “The senator from Wisconsin —” “Senator Brown and Wyden —” “Mr. Chief Justice.” “Senator from Alaska?” “May I send a question to the desk?” “Thank you.” “Why should this body not call Ambassador Bolton?” “The House could have pursued Ambassador Bolton. The House considered whether or not they would try to have him come testify and subpoena him. They chose not to subpoena him. And it will do grave damage to this body as an institution to say that the proceedings in the House don’t have to really be complete — you don’t have to subpoena the witnesses that you think are necessary to prove your case, you don’t really have to put it all together before you bring the package here, even when you’re impeaching the president of the United States, the gravest impeachment that they could possibly consider.”

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On their last day of questioning in the impeachment trial of President Trump, senators put Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in the middle of the fray.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Democrats would need four Republicans to join them in voting for a motion to consider additional witnesses and documentary requests. After Mr. Alexander and Ms. Collins made their positions clear on Thursday night, all eyes turned to a fourth possible Republican swing vote, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who said she would announce her decision on Friday.

Both parties deemed it nearly impossible that any other Republican senator would defect.

As the trial neared a critical turning point, both parties were already looking beyond the verdict and framing their arguments to voters ahead of the November elections.

“If the American people decide that they don’t like what’s happened here, that they don’t like the constitutional violations that have happened, that they don’t like the attack on a successful president for purely partisan political purposes, then they can do something about it, and they can throw them out,” said Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel.

Bracing for a likely defeat of their efforts to force witnesses to be heard at the trial, Democrats forecast what is likely to be their message after the verdict is reached, asserting that Mr. Trump’s acquittal would be illegitimate because the trial was flawed.

“He will not be acquitted,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, told reporters at her weekly news conference. “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial. You don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation.”

Even before Mr. Alexander announced his stance on witnesses, Senate Republican leaders projected confidence that they would line up the requisite votes, and privately plotted the trial’s endgame. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, spent much of Thursday toiling behind the scenes to cajole wavering moderates and stifle any move to prolong the trial by admitting additional evidence.

Asked about the looming vote as he arrived on Thursday morning to the Capitol, he told reporters: “I’m always confident.”

Ms. Murkowski appeared to be grappling with her position on Thursday evening. After the Senate broke for dinner, she submitted a question for Mr. Trump’s defense team asking why the Senate should not hear from John R. Bolton, his former national security adviser, who wrote in an unpublished book that Mr. Trump said he would not release the military aid for Ukraine until the country assisted in investigations of his political rivals.

She noted that account, reported on Sunday by The New York Times, contradicted Mr. Trump’s explicit denials that he had linked the military aid and investigations.

“This dispute about material facts weighs in favor of calling additional witnesses with direct knowledge,” Ms. Murkowski asked. “Why should this body not call Ambassador Bolton?”

But later, she joined with Mr. Alexander and other senators in asking Mr. Trump’s team if they agreed that even if Mr. Bolton’s account were true, the president’s conduct did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. They did.

The House Democratic prosecutors made their final pleas to call the former national security adviser as the vote drew closer.

“The truth is staring us in the eyes,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House manager. “We know why they don’t want John Bolton to testify: It’s not because we don’t know what really happened here, they just don’t want the American people to hear it in all its ugly, graphic detail.”

Mr. Alexander, a former education secretary and presidential candidate set to retire at the end of the year, met privately with Ms. Murkowski earlier Thursday evening when the trial broke for dinner and also informed Mr. McConnell of his decision.

He then returned to the floor and read a copy of “Impeachment: An American History” and hand-drafted a statement announcing a decision that even his staff did not yet know.

Mr. Alexander’s final statement made clear that he would vote to acquit Mr. Trump, as well, even if he did not condone his conduct.

“If this shallow, hurried and wholly partisan impeachment were to succeed, it would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist,” he said.

Ms. Collins gave far less insight into her thinking on the underlying charges, but said that she saw value in hearing more.

“I believe hearing from certain witnesses would give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case, resolve any ambiguities, and provide additional clarity,” she said in a statement released just before Mr. Alexander’s. “Therefore, I will vote in support of the motion to allow witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed.”

Earlier inside the Senate chamber, the usually scripted trial got off to a tense start on Thursday when Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, submitted a question that included the name of a person widely believed to be the C.I.A. whistle-blower whose anonymous complaint about Ukraine helped prompt the impeachment inquiry.

After studying the question card, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. refused to read it aloud, instead saying, “The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted.”

An indignant Mr. Paul then rushed out of the chamber straight to waiting television cameras to read the question aloud himself. He asked if the prosecution and defense teams were aware of reports that two government officials “may have worked together to plot impeaching the president before there were formal House impeachment proceedings.”

Mr. Paul’s move reflected how Mr. Trump’s conservative allies have sought to turn the tables on the entire inquiry, shifting the focus away from the president’s conduct and toward what they suggest was a conspiracy by his opponents to manufacture a basis for removing him.

The theme has been a favorite of the president’s, and is all but certain to figure prominently in his re-election campaign after his acquittal as he makes the case to voters that the impeachment effort was an affront to them as much as a challenge to him.

In a rare bipartisan question — one of only three out of more than 170 submitted — Ms. Murkowski and Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, asked that given the actions of any president are to some extent inherently political, how should senators distinguish between permissible political actions and impeachable ones.

Patrick Philbin, a deputy White House counsel, said trying to discern a politician’s motive “is very dangerous.”

“There is always some eye to the next election,” he said, “and it ends up becoming a standard so malleable that in reality really is a substitute for a policy difference: If we don’t like a policy difference, we attribute it to a bad motive.”

Mr. Schiff countered that impeachment was the appropriate “political punishment for a political crime” involving corrupt activity.

“If we go down that road” of ignoring a corrupt motive, Mr. Schiff said, “there is no limit to what this or any other president can do.”

The vote on Friday does not deal directly with individual witnesses or sets of documents. Rather, it will resolve whether the trial should even consider calling additional witnesses and evidence.

If a majority of senators vote no, Republican leaders could move the proceeding to final deliberations and a speedy up or down vote on each article of impeachment, possibly as early as Friday. If they vote yes, the trial would blow open and could become a free-for-all in which any group of 51 senators could band together to issue subpoenas for testimony and records of their choosing.

But senators in both parties were also bracing for the distinct possibility that the witness and documents vote could end in a 50-50 tie. Such an outcome would put Chief Justice Roberts in a difficult position. There is precedent, drawn from the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, of a chief justice casting a tiebreaking vote on a procedural motion. But despite Democratic hopes, Chief Justice Roberts is unlikely to want entangle himself in a dispute that has been so thoroughly politicized.

If the chief justice abstained from breaking a tie, the motion would fail.

Michael D. Shear, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

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Twitter Users Shred ‘Coward’ Lamar Alexander After Vote Reveal

Westlake Legal Group 5e33c74c240000b60d64ede7 Twitter Users Shred ‘Coward’ Lamar Alexander After Vote Reveal

And the word trending alongside his name wasn’t exactly a compliment: 

The House impeachment managers were hoping to summon testimony from former national security advisor John Bolton, who could speak to Trump’s attempts to use U.S. military aid to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals. Bolton’s upcoming book reportedly confirms many of the details.  

Alexander was considered the swing vote and his decision will likely ensure that no witnesses will be called. However, he claimed the point was moot: Trump’s actions, he said, were  “inappropriate,” but he could not be impeached for them.  

That didn’t sit well with his critics, who slammed the decision on Twitter and caused “coward” to trend along with Alexander’s name: 

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