I wonder if Lake Erie will die again

Donald Trump has decided that fossil fuels trump the environment:

The far-reaching order he unveiled Tuesday instructs federal regulators to rewrite key Obama-era rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions — namely the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s electric plants. It also seeks to lift a moratorium on federal coal leasing and remove the requirement that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

In sum, it amounts to a wholesale rebuke of Obama’s environmental efforts.

Several of the measures could take years to implement and are unlikely to change broader economic trends that are pushing the nation toward cleaner sources of energy than coal. But the order sent an unmistakable message about the direction in which Trump wants to take the country — toward unfettered oil and gas production, with an apathetic eye to worries over global warming.

This is stupid in terms of jobs because the number of jobs in the renewable energy is increasing:

Clean energy jobs have seen incredible growth in recent years, with solar and wind jobs growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. According to a 2015 report from the Environmental Defense Fund, renewable energy jobs in the United States enjoyed a 6 percent compound annual growth rate between 2012 and 2015. Fossil fuel jobs, by contrast, had a negative 4.5 percent compound annual growth rate over the same time period. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s fastest growing profession over the next decade is likely to be a wind turbine technician.

so this statement is true but in a stupid way:

“This is an important moment for EPA,” chief of staff Ryan Jackson wrote. “As the Administrator has mentioned many times, we do not have to choose between environmental protection and economic development.”

The Trump administration didn’t want to choose which, the environment or economic development, to make worse so it chose both.

Education under Trump

Democrats worried about how the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would be with student debt given that she had invested in a company that collect defaulted loans. They were right to be worried:

The U.S. Education Department late Thursday rescinded an Obama-era rule that prohibited student loan guaranty agencies from collecting jumbo fees from defaulted borrowers who quickly resume paying.

Currently, guaranty agencies — the bodies that administer federal loans made before 2010 — aren’t allowed to collect fees from borrowers who respond within 60 days to a default notice and then enter into (and honor) a repayment agreement. Those rules were put in place in July 2015.

The Obama-era rule on collection fees was linked to a court case that started in 2013, in which a borrower sued United Student Aid Funds (USA Funds) for hitting her with a $4,500 charge from a 16% collection fee. She owed $18,000 at the time her loans went into default, but she responded to USA Funds and agreed to a repayment plans.

This isn’t the final decision (they also link to the actual letter):

The two-page “Dear colleague” letter from the Trump administration walks back the department’s previous stance on the grounds that there should have been public input on the issue.

“The department will not require compliance with the interpretations set forth” in the previous memo “without providing prior notice and an opportunity for public comment on the issues,” the letter said.

I have a feeling they’re not going to be asking for any public input in the near future. This doesn’t affect loans that have been taken out recently:

The rule only applies to debt from the Federal Family Education Loan (often called FFEL loans) Program, which was phased out during Obama’s first term. The department started lending directly to student borrowers in 2010, so the rule won’t affect anyone who’s taken out loans in the past several years.

but I have a feeling that these loans directly from the Education department aren’t going to be around for much longer.

It also appears that the President might be thinking about reopening Trump University:

Less than a month after Betsy DeVos was sworn in as its top official, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday evening that it would delay until July 1 an effort to crack down on career training programs that load students up with unpayable debt.

The biggest winners: the more than 800 higher educational programs that claim to lead to “gainful employment” but flunked the department’s January excessive debt test—mostly for-profit art and cosmetology schools. These programs can now continue to recruit applicants (at least until July 1) without having to warn them about alumni’s oppressively high debt loads. The schools can also take this extra time to seek data showing that their graduates’ student loan bills are actually below the official “excessive debt” cutoff. That means bills must be no more than 12% of the average student’s gross earnings, as reported to the Social Security Administration, and no more than 30% of their discretionary income.

and:

As chief compliance officer for a corporate owner of for-profit colleges, Robert S. Eitel spent the past 18 months as a top lawyer for a company facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.

Today, Mr. Eitel — on an unpaid leave of absence — is working as a special assistant to the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, whose department is setting out to roll back regulations governing the for-profit college sector.

It appears that the only thing the Trump administration wants to teach you is: if you’re not rich we’re going to screw you.

Wellness programs don’t really work … except for employers

I’m a little slow on this but it seems companies really want to get genetic information on employees:

A little-noticed bill moving through Congress would allow companies to require employees to undergo genetic testing or risk paying a penalty of thousands of dollars, and would let employers see that genetic and other health information.

Employers got virtually everything they wanted for their workplace wellness programs during the Obama administration. The ACA allowed them to charge employees 30 percent, and possibly 50 percent, more for health insurance if they declined to participate in the “voluntary” programs, which typically include cholesterol and other screenings; health questionnaires that ask about personal habits, including plans to get pregnant; and sometimes weight loss and smoking cessation classes. And in rules that Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued last year, a workplace wellness program counts as “voluntary” even if workers have to pay thousands of dollars more in premiums and deductibles if they don’t participate.

That doesn’t sound very good but at least it helps the health of employees:

Rigorous studies by researchers not tied to the $8 billion wellness industry have shown that the programs improve employee health little if at all. An industry group recently concluded that they save so little on medical costs that, on average, the programs lose money. But employers continue to embrace them, partly as a way to shift more health care costs to workers, including by penalizing them financially.

and from here:

The so-called “Safeway Amendment” was added to the ACA. Now, if you fail, or refuse to take part in, your employer’s “voluntary” wellness test, it can increase your premium by 30 percent — or, if you’re a smoker who refuses to quit, by 50 percent.

There is no evidence that this new rule produced a significant drop in America’s health-care costs. And that isn’t terribly surprising — since Burd’s column was composed almost entirely of lies.

“[A] review of Safeway documents and interviews with company officials show that the company did not keep health-care costs flat for four years, the Washington Postreported in January 2010. “Those costs did drop in 2006 — by 12.5 percent. That was when the company overhauled its benefits … the decline did not have anything to do with tying employees’ premiums to test results. That element of Safeway’s benefits plan was not implemented until 2009.”

In other words, Safeway reduced costs for a single year by raising its employees’ deductibles. It didn’t save money by encouraging its workers to lead healthier lives — it saved money by making its workers pay a larger portion of their health-care costs.

Gee, it doesn’t help the employees but does help the employers. What a shock. And it gets better:

The privacy concerns also arise from how workplace wellness programs work. Employers, especially large ones, generally hire outside companies to run them. These companies are largely unregulated, and they are allowed to see genetic test results with employee names.

They sometimes sell the health information they collect from employees. As a result, employees get unexpected pitches for everything from weight-loss programs to running shoes, thanks to countless strangers poring over their health and genetic information.

So, to summarize, Obama and Congress were convinced to put a provision into the ACA that did basically shifted costs from the employer to the employee for little or no health benefits and now the GOP wants to expand that provision. You have to love it.

Who needs clean water?

Via here we get to see the priorities of the Trump administration:

The proposal would virtually eliminate annual Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding, slashing it from $300 million to $10 million among other cuts that would altogether reduce the EPA’s total budget by a quarter.

The Great Lakes funding cut is the largest total dollar reduction on a list that includes major cuts to climate change programs, restoration funding for Puget Sound and Chesapeake Bay, research into chemicals that disrupt human reproductive and developmental systems, enforcement of pollution laws and funding for Brownfield cleanups.

The plan also includes a $13 million cut in compliance monitoring, which the EPA uses to ensure the safety of drinking water systems. State grants for beach water quality testing would also be eliminated.

Other EPA cuts in the plan include a 30 percent reduction in state and local air grants from 2017 levels, a 24 percent cut to the overall budget, decrease of staffing by 19 percent, elimination of the Indoor Air Radon Program and state indoor radon grants, elimination of the Environmental Justice office and a reduction of environmental justice funds by more than 77 percent from 2017 levels, according to the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

Hey, remember when water pollution was so bad that rivers caught fire?

But it helps the rich

It seems the Trump administration is contemplating a tax break so corporations will repatriate cash:

Drug makers are promising to create tens of thousands of American jobs if President Donald Trump follows through on his promise to give them a big tax break if they “repatriate” cash they’ve stashed overseas.

The article points to a Senate report: repatriatingoffshorefundsreportoct202011wexhibitsfinal. Here are the conclusions in the executive summary:

1. U.S. Jobs Lost Rather Than Gained. After repatriating over $150 billion under the 2004 American Jobs Creation Act (AJCA), the top 15 repatriating corporations reduced their overall U.S. workforce by 20,931 jobs, while broad-based studies of all 840 repatriating corporations found no evidence that repatriated funds increased overall U.S. employment.
2. Research and Development Expenditures Did Not Accelerate. After repatriating over $150 billion, the 15 top repatriating corporations showed slight decreases in the pace of their U.S. research and development expenditures, while broad-based studies of all 840 repatriating corporations found no evidence that repatriation funds increased overall U.S. research and development outlays.
3. Stock Repurchases Increased After Repatriation. Despite a prohibition on using repatriated funds for stock repurchases, the top 15 repatriating corporations accelerated their spending on stock buybacks after repatriation, increasing them 16% from 2004 to 2005, and 38% from 2005 to 2006, while a broad-based study of all 840 repatriating corporations estimated that each extra dollar of repatriated cash was associated with an increase of between 60 and 92 cents in payouts to shareholders.
4. Executive Compensation Increased After Repatriation. Despite a prohibition on using repatriated funds for executive compensation, after repatriating over $150 billion, annual compensation for the top five executives at the top 15 repatriating corporations jumped 27% from 2004 to 2005, and another 30%, from 2005 to 2006, with ten of the corporations issuing restricted stock awards of $1 million or more to senior executives.
5. Only a Narrow Sector of Multinationals Benefited. Repatriation primarily benefited a narrow slice of the American economy, returning about $140 billion in repatriated dollars to multinational corporations in the pharmaceutical and technology industries, while providing no benefit to domestic firms that chose not to engage in offshore operations or investments.
6. Most Repatriated Funds Flowed from Tax Havens. Funds were repatriated primarily from low tax or tax haven jurisdictions; seven of the surveyed corporations repatriated between 90% and 100% of their funds from tax havens.
7. Offshore Funds Increased After 2004 Repatriation. Since the 2004 AJCA repatriation, the corporations that repatriated substantial sums have built up their 5 offshore funds at a greater rate than before the AJCA, evidence that repatriation has encouraged the shifting of more corporate dollars and investments offshore.
8. More than $2 Trillion in Cash Assets Now Held by U.S. Corporations. In 2011, U.S. corporations have record domestic cash assets of around $2 trillion, indicating that that the availability of cash is not constraining hiring or domestic investment decisions and that allowing corporations to repatriate more cash would be an ineffective way to spur new jobs.
9. Repatriation is a Failed Tax Policy. The 2004 repatriation cost the U.S. Treasury an estimated net revenue loss of $3.3 billion over ten years, produced no appreciable increase in U.S. jobs or research investments, and led to U.S. corporations directing more funds offshore.

So it worked very well for the rich. I can see why the Trump administration would be for it.

Let’s cut jobs so we can increase pollution

In a shocking move (or, you know, the opposite of that), the Trump administration has already taken down the page on climate change at whitehouse.gov (I’m taking this from the Vox article, because I’m not going to link to a Trump anything today):

For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.

Sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America. The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans. We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own. We will use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure. Less expensive energy will be a big boost to American agriculture, as well.

The Trump Administration is also committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.

Well, let’s look at the job report for the energy sector:

The 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) finds that the Traditional Energy and Energy Efficiency sectors today employ approximately 6.4 million Americans. These sectors increased in 2016 by just under 5 percent, adding over 300,000 net new jobs, roughly 14% of all those created in the country.

Hmm, looks like the energy sector is doing ok already.

Electric Power Generation and Fuels technologies directly employ more than 1.9 million workers. In 2016, 55 percent, or 1.1 million, of these employees worked in traditional coal, oil, and gas, while almost 800,000 workers were employed in low carbon emission generation technologies, including renewables, nuclear, and advanced/low emission natural gas. Just under 374,000 individuals work, in whole or in part, for solar firms, with more than 260,000 of those employees spending the majority of their time on solar. There are an additional 102,000 workers employed at wind firms across the nation. The solar workforce increased by 25% in 2016, while wind employment increased by 32%.

The 2017 USEER also shows that 2.2 million Americans are employed, in whole or in part, in the design, installation, and manufacture of Energy Efficiency products and services, adding 9133,000 jobs in 2016. (Energy Efficiency employment is defined as the production or installation of energy efficiency products certified by the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® program or installed pursuant to the ENERGY STAR® program guidelines or supporting services thereof). Almost 1.4 million Energy Efficiency jobs are in the construction industry. In addition, construction firms involved in the Energy Efficiency sector have experienced an increase in the percentage of their workers who spend at least 50% of their time on Energy Efficiency-related work, rising from 64.8 percent in 2015 to 74.0 percent in 2016. Finally, an improved USEER survey methodology identified almost 290,000 manufacturing jobs, producing Energy Star® certified products and energy efficient building materials in the United States.

Hmm, it looks like clean energy production is doing really well. It seems to be the wave of the future. Of course, this means Trump will concentrate on oil and gas, thus not only increasing the amount of pollution but allowing other countries to jump ahead in the sectors of energy production that are growing by leaps and bounds. Good job.

Republicans want to cut, Medicare, ACA, Medicaid, and Social Security

Let’s see what Republicans plan now that they hold the three parts of government:

Amid all the hand-wringing over Republican plans to eviscerate Medicare and Medicaid and repeal the Affordable Care Act, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the GOP has the knives out for Social Security too.

Johnson’s “Social Security Reform Act” changes the program’s benefit formula to provide modest benefit increases for the lowest-earning workers in the system— those who earned up to an annual average of about $22,105 over their lifetimes in inflation-indexed pay — with cuts for everyone else ranging from 17% to as much as 43%, compared with currently scheduled benefits, by 2080.

The act would cut way back on cost-of-living increases for retirees. It would do this by cutting out cost-of-living raises entirely for retirees earning adjusted gross income of more than $85,000 ($170,000 for couples) starting in December 2018, and using the chained consumer price index to calculate the COLA for all others. (The income threshold would be adjusted for inflation.)

Finally, the measure also raises the full retirement age, which is now pegged to reach 67 by 2022, to 69 by 2030. this means that workers taking early retirement, which is permitted as soon as age 62, would face a steeper cut in annual benefits for starting early.

Hey, that’s great news for all the working-class people that were so upset that they voted for Trump … if they wanted to make their lives worse.

Anyway, let’s move on to Russia:

Trump’s team lashed out at the agencies after The Washington Post reported that the CIA believed that Russia had intervened to undercut Clinton and lift Trump, and The New York Times reported that Russia had broken into Republican National Committee computer networks just as they had broken into Democratic ones, but had released documents only on the Democrats.

There are even some Republicans who say this is a bad thing:

The Republicans who lead the congressional committees overseeing intelligence, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security take the opposite view. They say that Russia was behind the election meddling, but that the scope and intent of the operation need deep investigation, hearings and public reports.

“We cannot allow foreign governments to interfere in our democracy,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and was considered by Trump for secretary of Homeland Security, said at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “When they do, we must respond forcefully, publicly and decisively.”

Of course Trump hasn’t been going to many of the intelligence briefings so he knows more about what’s going on than those that actually go. I assume that’s his argument.

Fun time to be an American and Trump isn’t even President yet.

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