Trump’s other Katrina

Not long ago, I posted about how badly things are going in Puerto Rico. It seems the Trump administration didn’t do much better in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey:

Nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with storm water surged out of just one chemical plant in Baytown, east of Houston on the upper shores of Galveston Bay.

Benzene, vinyl chloride, butadiene and other known human carcinogens were among the dozens of tons of industrial toxins released into surrounding neighborhoods and waterways following Harvey’s torrential rains.

In all, reporters catalogued more than 100 Harvey-related toxic releases — on land, in water and in the air. Most were never publicized, and in the case of two of the biggest ones, the extent or potential toxicity of the releases was initially understated.

and in some ways, the response was worse than after Katrina:

The amount of post-Harvey government testing contrasts sharply with what happened after two other major Gulf Coast hurricanes. After Hurricane Ike hit Texas in 2008, state regulators collected 85 sediment samples to measure the contamination; more than a dozen violations were identified and cleanups were carried out, according to a state review.

In Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters ravaged New Orleans in 2005, the EPA and Louisiana officials examined about 1,800 soil samples over 10 months, EPA records showed.

“Now the response is completely different,” said Scott Frickel, an environmental sociologist formerly at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Frickel, now at Brown University, called the Harvey response “unconscionable” given Houston’s exponentially larger industrial footprint.

The state of Texas didn’t want to be trumped (sorry) by the federal government lack of action, so:

As Harvey bore down on Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration decreed that storm-related pollution would be forgiven as “acts of God.” Days later, he suspended many environmental regulations.

What, you think the state of Texas cares about its citizens?

This is the way Trump adds jobs

President Trump is big, like most Republicans, on cutting regulations because, they say,  regulations cost jobs. The OMB, which is now run by the Trump administration, is mandated to put out a report on the costs and benefits of regulation:

OMB gathered data and analysis on “major” federal regulations (those with $100 million or more in economic impact) between 2006 and 2016, a period that includes all of Obama’s administration, stopping just short of Trump’s. The final tally, reported in 2001 dollars:

  • Aggregate benefits: $219 to $695 billion
  • Aggregate costs: $59 to $88 billion

By even the most conservative estimate, the benefits of Obama’s regulations wildly outweighed the costs.

According to OMB — and to the federal agencies upon whose data OMB mostly relied — the core of the Trumpian case against Obama regulations, arguably the organizing principle of Trump’s administration, is false.

Oops. A couple examples:

For example, new fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty engines had (in 2001 dollars) between $6.7 billion and $9.7 billion in benefits. But they cost industry $0.8 billion to $1.1 billion.

The MATS rule, aimed at reducing toxic emissions from power plants, had between $33 billion and $90 billion in benefits (in 2007 dollars, for some reason), but it cost industry $9.6 billion.

So the benefits easily outweigh the costs. But jobs:

The conclusion — which is in keeping with the broader literature, as I described in this post — is that there may be local and temporary employment effects from environmental regulations, either positive or negative, but at the aggregate national level, such regulations simply aren’t a significant factor in employment. Their effects are lost amid the noise of demographic shifts and macroeconomic drivers.

Oh, well that’s what the tariffs are for, to save jobs:

TTP estimates that the tariffs will, on net, cost about 146,000 jobs, two-thirds of which are production and low-skill jobs. This estimate doesn’t take into account any possible retaliation from our trading partners.

So, Trump’s moves to help the economy, cutting regulations and putting in tariffs, will have more costs than benefits and will cost the country jobs overall. That’s a win by Trump standards.

Banks are at it again

There was a large banking crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but by 1996 the FDIC was collecting no insurance premiums from the banks. Banks caused the largest recession since the Great Depression in 2008 and now it’s time to cut back on banking regulations according to Republicans and including some Democrats:

The core of the new bill exempts about two dozen financial companies with assets between $50 billion and $250 billion from the highest levels of scrutiny by the Federal Reserve, the nation’s central bank. Supporters argue that the legislation would bring much-needed relief to midsize and regional banks that were treated like their much larger counterparts under the 2010 legislation known as Dodd-Frank. Opponents say it would weaken the oversight needed to stave off the type of dangerous lending and investing that brought the U.S. economy to its knees.

“The Main Street banks, community banks and credit unions didn’t create the crisis in 2008, and they were getting heavily regulated,” Tester said, contending that “there’s not one thing in this bill that gives Wall Street a break.”

First, these are not community banks, they are some of the biggest banks in the country. Second, most banks helped to crash the world economy:

The crisis was fueled by risky investments at all levels of the financial system. Local banks and mortgage brokers offered subprime home loans to people who had little chance of keeping up with their payments, and then sold those loans to firms up the chain. They were in turn bundled by larger firms and used for a string of exotic financial instruments sold around the world. When homeowners defaulted on their loans en masse, the bonds they’d been bundled into — as well as other assets based on those bonds — collapsed in value, threatening to take the global financial system down with them.

And if there’s not one thing that gives Wall Street a break, why are they spending so much time and money to get this bill passed?

 

Trump’s Katrina

President Trump did a great job with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico:

Two months after Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, scores of people were still dying in its aftermath, new government data suggest.

The total number of deaths above average in September, October and November was 1,230, according to Alexis Santos, a demographer at Pennsylvania State University who obtained the data from the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics and conducted an analysis that he released to the Los Angeles Times this week.

Trump, of course, thinks he did a great job:

When President Trump visited Puerto Rico two weeks after the storm, he used the official death toll of 16 as evidence that his administration had been highly effective in dealing with the tragedy.

And it’s still an ongoing disaster:

Overall, more than 15 percent of power customers remain in the dark nearly six months after Hurricane Maria, which destroyed two-thirds of the island’s power distribution system. Officials have said they expect power to be fully restored by May.

Good job Trump.

The rich hate unions. Do you wonder why?

Corporations and the rich spend millions of dollars to try to get rid of unions:

In the summer of 2016, government workers in Illinois received a mailing that offered them tips on how to leave their union. By paying a so-called fair-share fee instead of standard union dues, the mailing said, they would no longer be bound by union rules and could not be punished for refusing to strike.

“To put it simply,” the document concluded, “becoming a fair-share payer means you will have more freedom.”

The mailing, sent by a group called the Illinois Policy Institute, may have seemed like disinterested advice. In fact, it was one prong of a broader campaign against public-sector unions, backed by some of the biggest donors on the right. It is an effort that will reach its apex on Monday, when the Supreme Court hears a case that could cripple public-sector unions by allowing the workers they represent to avoid paying fees.

Despite the fact that this hurts Democrats:

A recent paper by Mr. Hertel-Fernandez and two colleagues may foretell what Democrats can expect if Mr. Uihlein and his fellow philanthropists succeed. It found that the Democratic share of the presidential vote dropped by an average of 3.5 percentage points after the passage of so-called right-to-work laws allowing employees to avoid paying union fees. That is larger than Democrats’ margin of defeat in several states that could have reversed their last three presidential losses.

Democrats don’t seem to think that’s a big deal.

And if you think ‘liberal’ papers like the Boston Globe support unions look at the first paragraph of an article about Charter Schools trying to form a union:

Throughout Massachusetts, independently run charter schools have operated without unionized teachers, an intentional move that operators say gives them the flexibility to hire or dismiss teachers of their choosing and allows them to make other changes quickly without negotiating.

But that will likely end at two Boston charter schools.

This is not an opinion piece, it’s straight news. Notice the assumption that it’s the leaders who know what’s necessary, teachers will just obstruct that given the chance.

And the same is true of ‘liberal’ universities such as Tufts or Harvard. The graduate students at Harvard have been trying to form a union for a few years now, but have been stymied by Harvard. And they just decided on their next President, Lawrence Bacow, who vehemently worked against unions while at Tufts–against grad students:

Following a 2000 decision by the National Labor Relations Board to recognize graduate students as statutory employees, in 2002, graduate students at Tufts unsuccessfully attempted to unionize in conjunction with the United Automobile Workers.

“I believe it would be a mistake for graduate students to unionize,” Bacow wrote at the time. “The relationship between faculty member to graduate student is not one of employer to employee.”

They did not succeed until after he left. And he also worked against a union for administrative, technical, and clerical employees.

The Boston Globe has written several stories about Bacow, such as this one but none of them think this is important.

Unions are in almost as much danger as going extinct as right whales.

The Trump budget

Let’s look at some of the highlights of the Trump budget:

For example, the budget would cut $554 billion from Medicare spending over 10 years.

It also would make changes to Medicaid, the health program for lower-income Americans that is funded by the federal government and states. It would create a “market-based health-care grant” that could fund programs in addition to the traditional Medicaid program, a change that would lower Medicaid spending by about $250 billion over 10 years.

One program that would face the biggest reduction is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is a version of food stamps run by the Agriculture Department. The White House proposes cutting $214 billion from the program over 10 years, although Congress often fights about changing SNAP and rarely has enacted changes.

Kevin Drum adds in some more:

The Post Office loses $4 billion, primarily by giving them “the ability to address their expenses—including the cost of personnel.” In other words, by slashing pay and pensions. Low-income energy assistance is eliminated. Foreign aid is cut $5 billion. PBS funding is eliminated. Ditto for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. HUD loses $9 billion, including a $4 billion cut in rental assistance. Etc. etc.
On the mandatory spending side, the budget proposes cuts of $266 billion to Medicare over ten years. SNAP loses $213 billion. Obamacare is eliminated, of course. “Waste and abuse” will generate savings of $187 billion. Farmers lose $47 billion. Subsidized student loans go away, as does the student loan forgiveness program.

And yet it still increases the deficit by a lot:

The White House projects a large gap between government spending and tax revenue over the next decade, adding at least $7 trillion to the debt over that time. In 2019 and 2020 alone, the government would add a combined $2 trillion in debt under Trump’s plan.

And even to get that they assume very rosy projections that are unlikely to happen.

On the one hand this budget is meaningless since the recently passed budget doesn’t follow this plan, on the other this tells us what the Trump administration wants: massively increase defense spending even though the US easily has the largest defense budget in the world already; cut almost all domestic spending, especially that which goes to the non-rich and science; pass large tax cuts that mostly go to the rich and big corporations even if it explodes the deficit.

 

Trump administration thinks Equifax breach no big deal

So a breach at Equifax meant the personal files on 143 million people was stolen, but it doesn’t seem to be a priority to the CFPB under the Trump administration:

But Cordray resigned in November and was replaced by Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s budget chief. The CFPB effort against Equifax has sputtered since then, said several government and industry sources, raising questions about how Mulvaney will police a data-warehousing industry that has enormous sway over how much consumers pay to borrow money.

Three sources say, though, Mulvaney, the new CFPB chief, has not ordered subpoenas against Equifax or sought sworn testimony from executives, routine steps when launching a full-scale probe. Meanwhile the CFPB has shelved plans for on-the-ground tests of how Equifax protects data, an idea backed by Cordray.
The CFPB also recently rebuffed bank regulators at the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency when they offered to help with on-site exams of credit bureaus, said two sources familiar with the matter.

Now Equifax is being investigated by every state attorney general so they’re going to get punished, but shouldn’t the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau be working to protect the finances of consumers? Of course, Mulvaney thinks the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is also there to protect the finance companies so maybe he’ll open an investigation into people whose files were stolen–we wouldn’t want them to do something that might hurt Equifax.

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