Goodbye to the EPA

Science is bad for Republicans because it can show that things are true that interfere with the ability for businesses to do whatever they want, such as showing global warming is real. Therefore, they get rid of science:

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to dissolve its Office of the Science Advisor, a senior post that was created to counsel the EPA administrator on the scientific research underpinning health and environmental regulations, according to a person familiar with the agency’s plans.

The move is the latest among several steps taken by the Trump administration that appear to have diminished the role of scientific research in policy making while the administration pursues an agenda of rolling back regulations.

Separately Tuesday, in an unusual move, the EPA placed the head of its Office of Children’s Health, Dr. Ruth Etzel, on administrative leave, while declining to give a reason for the move. Agency officials told Etzel, a respected pediatric epidemiologist, that the move was not disciplinary. As the head of an office that regularly pushed to tighten regulations on pollution, which can affect children more powerfully than adults, Etzel had clashed multiple times with Trump administration appointees who sought to loosen pollution rules.

Republicans really want to get rid of the EPA but it’s popular so instead they just get rid of it piece by piece.

Another reason government regulations matter

Ronald Reagan snarkily said:

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.

This has become the Republican mantra, private business is always better and more trustworthy than government. Here’s a counter example:

The 50-year-old woman and her husband, 49, operated a so-called baby farm. That is, they earned a living taking in children whose parents were unable or unwilling to care for them. Over the course of three years, about 200 children were taken into their custody. Not all of them survived.

Joanne Hulbert, who studied the case as Holliston’s town historian, said the Reynolds farm was symbolic of the kind of dangers faced by abandoned and poor children during the 1800s.

“This wasn’t the only baby farm out there, this was just one of many,” said Hulbert. “And maybe [the Reynolds farm had] a more heinous history, the worst of the worst, but none of these places had any oversight.”

Even so, the baby farm system would continue for decades, and the risks children faced could be nightmarish. Amelia Dyer, who worked as a baby farmer in Britain during the latter half of the 19th century, is believed to have murdered hundreds of children during her spree. She was hanged in 1896. In New Zealand, Minnie Dean became the only woman executed in that country’s history when she was hanged in 1895 for murdering a baby in her care. Investigators reported also finding three dead children buried in her garden.

Even in Boston, the law that Reynolds inspired did not eliminate risks faced by children. In March 1895, the Globe reported on a baby farm on Shawmut Avenue where a child was “willfully exposed to a draft” and died so the farm’s operator could claim insurance taken out on the child.

This is what some businesses will do without oversight–it’s why rivers were so polluted they caught fire and Lake Erie was declared dead. Governments are far from perfect but at least they have some public oversight.

Trump administration: Criminal Banks shouldn’t get blamed

How friendly can the Trump administration be to banks? Pretty friendly:

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the nation’s main bank regulator, found “bank-specific instances of accounts being opened without proof of customer consent” as part of a review of more than 40 banks spurred by the Wells Fargo scandal, agency spokesman Bryan Hubbard told The Times in an email Friday.

However, the agency will not be naming the banks where it found potentially unauthorized accounts or providing details on banks’ specific conduct, he said.

Don’t worry, the spokesman for the OCC says it’s not a problem:

Though Hubbard said the agency would not release details of specific issues at specific banks, he did say that there were “isolated instances of employee misconduct with no clear connection to sales goals, incentives or quota programs.”

Hubbard said some banks showed they did not have proper controls in place while running short-term promotions, leading to cases where banks could not prove customers had authorized new accounts. In some cases, banks could not prove customers had given consent because of poor documentation, incomplete records or “technology issues,” he said.

Generally, Hubbard said the review did not find “systemic issues with bank employees opening accounts without the customer’s consent,” though most institutions did not take a “holistic” approach to managing risks associated with sales practices.

This is the same view that the police have for most criminals–if I only robbed one bank, they would give me a warning I assume.

And the Trump administration is just getting started:

Since taking over the OCC in November, Otting, a longtime commercial banker, has pushed to scale back rules and reporting requirements for banks, recently lifting restrictions — put in place by his predecessor — on banks offering small consumer loans. He’s also made it a priority for the OCC to rewrite federal rules that require banks to lend in low-income and minority communities.

A little history:

Before they reunited in Washington, Otting and Mnuchin were the chief executive and chairman, respectively, of Pasadena’s OneWest Bank, an institution built from the shell of failed mortgage lender IndyMac. Both Mnuchin and Otting faced questions about OneWest’s foreclosure practices during their confirmation hearings.

OneWest is the bank known for its foreclosures:

“Mr. Otting has no experience as a bank supervisor, but he has helped lead a bank that illegally foreclosed on working families and paid a multimillion dollar fine for defrauding the government,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a statement to POLITICO.


“Just like Mr. Mnuchin, Mr. Otting made a fortune profiting off of a foreclosure crisis that devastated millions of Americans, including countless Nevadans,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who hails from Otting’s home state, said in a statement.

Last month, a reverse mortgage subsidiary of OneWest, now owned by CIT Group, reached an $89 million settlement with the Justice Department for allegedly defrauding the government by seeking insurance payments from the Federal Housing Administration that it did not qualify for. The allegations cover the period between 2011 and 2016; Otting was CEO of OneWest from 2010 to 2015.

You can see why Otting doesn’t want to punish other banks. He’s just another Trump guy who cares more about big business than everyday Americans.

Really, it should be renamed the Business Financial Protection Bureau

How much more blatantly anti-consumer can the CFPB get under Mulvaney?

The head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau dissolved a group of outside experts that acts as a sounding board for the federal watchdog agency on important economic and financial issues as well as policy.

Bureau officials told the 25 members of the Consumer Advisory Board on a Wednesday morning conference call that they will be replaced and the board will be reconstituted, according to two board members who participated. An email to board members on behalf of Acting Director Mick Mulvaney confirmed the actions.

“Everyone on the board has been fired,” said Judith Fox, a professor of consumer law at Notre Dame Law School who sat on the board for three years.

Bureau officials said the board would be reconstituted in the fall, likely with fewer members than its current 25-person membership. None of the current members of the board, who typically serve three year terms, would be eligible to apply. Members of two other boards, one at serves issues with credit unions and another that serves small community banks, which also provide outside expertise, would also be reconstituted as well. In total, 60 members across the three boards were dismissed on Wednesday.

I’m going to take a wild stab at this and guess that the reconstituted boards will feature a much larger percentage of corporate members. After all, Mulvaney and the Trump administration has made it abundantly clear that they don’t care about everyday consumers.

Insurance companies and Medical Providers join forces to increase healthcare costs

It would seem that insurance companies and hospitals would be adversaries since, you would think, insurance companies want to pay the hospitals as little as possible. It seems that’s not true:

The Affordable Care Act kept profit margins in check by requiring companies to use at least 80 percent of the premiums for medical care. That’s good in theory but it actually contributes to rising health care costs. If the insurance company has accurately built high costs into the premium, it can make more money. Here’s how: Let’s say administrative expenses eat up about 17 percent of each premium dollar and around 3 percent is profit. Making a 3 percent profit is better if the company spends more.

And, of course, this means the typical patient gets screwed:

But Frank was startled to see that Aetna had agreed to pay NYU Langone $70,000. That’s more than three times the Medicare rate for the surgery and more than double the estimate of what other insurance companies would pay for such a procedure, according to a nonprofit that tracks prices.

Fuming, Frank reached for the phone. He couldn’t see how NYU Langone could justify these fees. And what was Aetna doing? As his insurer, wasn’t its duty to represent him, its “member”? So why had it agreed to pay a grossly inflated rate, one that stuck him with a $7,088 bill for his portion?

It’s not just out of pocket expenses:

Economist Priyanka Anand of George Mason University said employers nationwide are passing rising health care costs on to their workers by asking them to absorb a larger share of higher premiums. Anand studied Bureau of Labor Statistics data and found that every time health care costs rose by a dollar, an employee’s overall compensation got cut by 52 cents.

The reason they can do this is it’s almost impossible to get the actual cost of medicine beforehand:

Patients who want to know what they’ll be paying — let alone shop around for the best deal — usually don’t have a chance. Before Frank’s hip operation he asked NYU Langone for an estimate. It told him to call Aetna, which referred him back to the hospital. He never did get a price.

This is starting to be solved by sites such as Healthcare Bluebook and state laws mandating medical cost transparency. Hospitals and others are pushing back, such as filing a lawsuit in Ohio to stop the implementation of a transparency law or they often ignore a law such as one passed in Massachusetts.

 

Here’s how Trump protects workers

The Supreme Court ruled that workers can’t bring action collectively if they have an arbitration clause in their contracts:

The Supreme Court has sharply restricted the rights of American workers to join with others to challenge their company for allegedly violating federal laws on wages, overtime pay or civil rights.

The justices by a 5-4 vote Monday agreed with Trump administration lawyers and ruled employers may require workers give up their rights to join together in complaining if they are denied overtime pay or a minimum wage.

So, if your employer underpays all their workers by $10 a week they will have to push their claim individually. Good luck with that.

Now look which side each of the political parties were on:

Obama lawyers agreed with Democratic appointees on the National Labor Relations Board that labor laws from the New Deal era gave workers the right to join together to protect themselves. They pointed to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which said workers may join a union or “engage in other concerted efforts” to protect themselves.

Based on that law, they said companies may not enforce arbitration clauses that bar workers from joining together to challenge a company’s policies or work rules.

By contrast, Trump administration lawyers joined with pro-business advocates in favor of binding arbitration. They relied on the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, which said contracts that call for setting disputes through arbitration “shall be valid, irrevocable and enforceable.”

And who is it most likely to affect?

Labor law experts say that denying group claims will hurt low-wage workers in particular. They will have no practical way to challenge employers who fail to pay them overtime or a minimum wage, they said.

There’s the President, on the side of the common worker like always. As long as you define the common worker as rich business owners.

Justice Ginsburg dissented highlighting part of the NLRA:

Relevant here, §7 of the NLRA guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectivelythrough representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

The conservative justices twist the words to pretend that the highlighted part can’t possibly apply to arbitration because ‘reasons’. Good old-fashioned judicial activism is alive and well.

Anti-poverty programs work

Republicans continually want to cut programs that help the poor saying they don’t work. here’s a counterargument:

In each case, Weber and Wu found that the effect of each program has been materially underestimated by traditional measurements. That’s because the earlier estimates are based on Census Bureau surveys that underreport benefits from these programs. As a result, the authors say, the effects of food stamps and TANF are underestimated by one-third to one-half, and the impact of Social Security is underestimated by as much as 44%. Their research covered 2008-13, the period of the Great Recession.

Meyer and Wu find that Social Security alone has reduced poverty among the elderly by 75%; the other programs do more for non-elderly households, though at lower rates.

The official measurement indicated that the poverty rate fell by a scant 4.4 percentage points from 1960 to 2010, ending at 15.1%. Adjusting for flaws in the measurement however, Meyer and Sullivan determined that the percentage of Americans living in poverty had fallen by more than 26 percentage points, to about 4.5%.

The people who are poor are much better off because of these programs, this won’t matter to Republicans but maybe it will to others.

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