Tag Archives: Trump Administration

Contracting–What Were They Thinking Edition

One of the unfortunate things about the daily tweet-storms and other indignities coming nonstop from the White House is that they inevitably distract us from the multiple reports of more long-term, ongoing damage being done by this Administration.

Case in point: Puerto Rico, where last week’s explosion at a power plant has once again deprived those who had actually gotten their power back of electricity.

For that matter, Trump has shown far less concern for the inhabitants of Puerto Rico than he has for the sensibilities of aides who are having a “bad time right now” because word of their wife-beating emerged. (Of course, people in Puerto Rico are brown…) His appointees at FEMA have made “Heck of a job, Brownie” of  Katrina infamy look almost competent by contrast.

First, there was the award of a 300 million-dollar contract to a two-man firm (“coincidentally” from Ryan Zinke’s home town) to restore power on the island. That generated enough blowback that it was terminated, but not before the entire fiasco further delayed efforts to return Puerto Rico to a semblance of normalcy.

Now, we learn that this is who got a $156 million Federal Emergency Management Agency contract to deliver 30 million meals in a matter of weeks:

[Tiffany] Brown, who is adept at navigating the federal contracting system, hired a wedding caterer in Atlanta with a staff of 11 to freeze-dry wild mushrooms and rice, chicken and rice, and vegetable soup. She found a nonprofit in Texas that had shipped food aid overseas and domestically, including to a Houston food bank after Hurricane Harvey.

By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals.”

“Do not ship another meal. Your contract is terminated,” Carolyn Ward, the FEMA contracting officer who handled Tribute’s agreement, wrote to Ms. Brown in an email dated Oct. 19 that Ms. Brown provided to The New York Times. “This is a logistical nightmare.”

I am prepared to give FEMA a very dubious benefit of the doubt; unlike the power contract, I doubt this one was the result of “wheeling and dealing” or quid pro quo. My guess would be monumental incompetence–which has sort of become a hallmark of this administration. Whether corruption or incompetence is the explanation, however, Puerto Rican’s aren’t eating.

As a post to Daily Kos put it,

FEMA can’t claim to be an innocent victim here—Brown had a history of canceled government contracts for failing to deliver food to the prison system and for getting an order with the Government Publishing Office wrong. She also had no experience in this kind of disaster relief work. FEMA hired her despite having absolutely no reason to believe she could deliver what she was promising.

In more ordinary times, with more conventional Presidents–i.e., adults–the continued suffering of people in Puerto Rico would have been front-page news for months. With this Administration, however, the hits just keep on coming: ICE agents breaking up law-abiding families, Presidential aides accused of domestic violence, budget proposals to slash the already-inadequate safety net in order to fund the recent tax giveaway to the rich, an infrastructure “plan” that is equal parts fantasy and privatization…

Speaking of “thoughts and prayers,” I pray we aren’t all too emotionally fatigued by the daily doings of the Kakistocracy to vote in November….

No Ice Floes Handy?

According to legend, when their elderly became burdensome, Eskimos put them on ice floes and let them drift out to sea.

If I thought that Trump and his “best people” could read, I’d suspect they were emulating the Eskimos.

A week or so ago, a friend who no longer lives in Indianapolis was in town, and met my husband and me for breakfast. During the “catching up” talk that takes place when old friends haven’t seen each other for a while, we asked him what his wife was doing. He said she’d been working part-time as an advocate for nursing home patients–a position required as a condition of federal grants for nursing home care–but that the Trump Administration had eliminated the requirement, along with a number of other regulations intended to protect the sick and elderly residents of such institutions. So she was looking for another job.

I was pretty incredulous; why would even this benighted administration refuse to protect helpless old folks against the well-documented abuses encountered in numerous substandard nursing homes?

Turned out, however, our friend was right. I saw this article from The Hill not long after our conversation:

The Trump administration is reportedly rolling back the use of fines against nursing homes that have been cited for violations such as neglect or mistreatment.

The move comes after the nursing home industry requested the change in the Medicare program’s penalty protocols, The New York Times reported over the holiday weekend.

The American Health Care Association had argued that inspectors were too focused on finding wrongdoings at nursing homes instead of assisting the facilities.

A 2001 Congressional investigation uncovered reports of serious, physical, sexual and verbal abuse in a third of the nation’s nursing homes. That led to more monitoring and additional regulation. Since 2013, nearly 6,500 nursing homes have been cited  for one or more serious violations. Approximately two-thirds of those were fined by Medicare.

Nevertheless, the personnel installed by Trump at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services argued that the regulations and fines were counterproductive.

“Rather than spending quality time with their patients, the providers are spending time complying with regulations that get in the way of caring for their patients and doesn’t increase the quality of care they provide.”

A lawyer from the Center for Medicare Advocacy disagreed, observing that the revised regulations and diminished penalties have “pretty much emasculated enforcement, which was already weak.”

So let’s see….this administration wants tough penalties for street crime and drug use and illegal immigration, because Trump and Sessions say punishment is a deterrent to socially undesirable behaviors. But we don’t need to fine or otherwise punish the owners of nursing homes that mistreat their vulnerable inhabitants. (Sorry–I know the word “vulnerable” has been banned.) We can  gently suggest they desist, and maybe those bedsores will go away by themselves….

The regulations no longer being enforced weren’t imposed by some abstract, rule-happy big government bureaucrat; they were put in place because of evidence that far too many nursing homes were abusing and neglecting their elderly, incapacitated patients, and doing so with impunity.

Someone needs to explain to me just how forbidding elder abuse “gets in the way of quality care.”

Actually, ice floes might be more humane….

 

Trading On Myths

There is a relatively heated policy debate about the relative impacts of trade and automation on job creation. It’s an argument with rather obvious implications for policymaking, not to mention politics: one of Trump’s most successful campaign themes (a deviation from a longstanding GOP position) was his promise to “renegotiate” or terminate the trade agreements to which the U.S. was a party.

That attack on trade pleased many  working-class voters who were–and remain–convinced that changes to America’s workforce and the disappearance of well-paid manufacturing jobs can be attributed to those trade agreements. The reality is more nuanced, to put it mildly.

Whatever the relative impact of trade vis a vis automation, Trump is dangerously wrong about NAFTA, as the Brookings Institution has recently documented. (And yes, I know he’s “dangerously wrong” about pretty much everything, but this post is a discussion of trade policy.)

The title of the post is fairly self-explanatory: The trade deficit isn’t destroying jobs, but tearing up NAFTA will.

Here’s the reality: All advanced economies, regardless of changes in their trade balances, lost manufacturing jobs. The figure below shows the change in the share of workers in industry (which includes mostly manufacturing) versus the change in the trade balance as a share of total output for all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries between 1995 and 2010. The data point for the U.S., indeed, fits the White House narrative: During that period, the U.S. lost manufacturing jobs while its trade balance deteriorated (as all other countries in the lower left panel). However, that is not the story for most countries. In fact, Mexico increased its share of workers in manufacturing even though its trade balance also deteriorated during that same period. But most, importantly, most countries—in the lower right panel of the figure—lost jobs in manufacturing even if their trade balance improved. In short, the White House is trying to sell a fallacy that the trade deficit has destroyed American jobs.

Other research suggests that approximately 100,000 net job losses are attributable to NAFTA; that’s equivalent to about 0.1 percent of the U.S. labor force. On the plus side of the ledger, NAFTA has allowed U.S. companies to access new markets for their exports and reduce their costs of production. That has created more jobs, not fewer.

As the author of this report points out, there are better ways to help American workers–a more robust safety net facilitating transition to other jobs, or to early retirement, for example. We can argue about the approaches most likely to be helpful; what we shouldn’t be doing is basing policy on inaccurate data and (sorry!) “fake facts.”

After this round of negotiations, the likelihood of NAFTA overall surviving this process keeps decreasing. The U.S. government is walking on thin ice by keeping their focus on wrong facts. And if NAFTA collapses, it will bring down those who the administration is allegedly trying to protect: American workers.

TradeFigure

Indefensible

Although the United States and Europe have made impressive strides, both culturally and legally, in the battle against homophobia, that progress has by no means been global in scope.

Homosexuality is illegal in over 70 countries, and in 13 of them, the penalty is death.

Very few of the issues that come before the United Nations are straightforward, but on September 29th, members voted on a Resolution that should have been a “slam dunk” for the U.S. The motion called upon countries in which capital punishment remains legal  to take steps to ensure that the death penalty is not imposed “arbitrarily or in a discriminatory manner” or for forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual homosexual relations.

As numerous outlets, including Newsweek, reported,

The United States was one of 13 nations, including some of the most repressive nations on Earth, to oppose a United Nations motion condemning the death penalty for those in same-sex relationships, blasphemers and adulterers.

Incredible as it seems, the United States voted in Geneva against that United Nations motion.  We were joined by Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in voting  no. That’s the company we are evidently now keeping.

The measure passed anyway, with 27 votes, but that doesn’t make our vote any more palatable, or any less of a betrayal.

Rights activists have condemned the Trump administration and its U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, for refusing to back the measure, with the Human Rights Campaign slamming the decision as “beyond disgraceful.”

“Ambassador Haley has failed the LGBTQ community by not standing up against the barbaric use of the death penalty to punish individuals in same-sex relationships,” said Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global in a statement.

Susan Rice, ambassador to the U.N. under Barack Obama, said “shame on US!” in reaction to the vote.

“I was proud to lead U.S. efforts at UN to protect LGBTQ people, back in the day when America stood for human rights for all,” she tweeted.

The State Department denied animus toward the LGBTQ community, and defended the vote on the grounds of “broader concerns”– i.e., the resolution’s condemnation of the death penalty. (It called for countries which have yet to abolish the death penalty to “consider” doing so.) In the past, the U.S. has abstained from voting on condemnations of capital punishment, and we could easily have joined the seven nations that abstained from this particular vote. But we didn’t.

Abstention is one thing. A “no” vote is another. The U.S. has never previously voted against such resolutions.

Despite State Department insistence that the vote did not signal a change in U.S. support for the rights of LGBTQ persons,

The U.N. vote comes a week after the Trump administration argued in court that federal anti-discrimination law does not protect gay people from being fired by their employers because of their sexuality.

Nineteen states in the U.S. and two-thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty. In retaining capital punishment, we join countries like Uganda, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nations not exactly known for their enlightened view of human rights. We not only retain the death penalty, we use it. A lot. The U.S. executes more people than most other nations; according to Amnesty International,  of the 10 nations in the world that account for the highest number of executions, we rank seventh.

That enthusiasm for the death penalty, while incomprehensible to me, might have justified an abstention from the vote. It does not justify voting against the resolution. Claims that the vote isn’t a signal that the Trump administration is trying to roll back progress on gay rights ring hollow.

Not that an assault on yet another group despised by White Straight Conservative Christian Males should surprise us….

The Three “I”s

Let’s deconstruct the issue of economic growth.

If there is one thing all politicians support, at every level of government, it is growing the economy. Unfortunately, few of those political figures recognize the economic effects of their other policy preoccupations. Here in Indiana, that disconnect was on vivid display during then-Governor Mike Pence’s effort to privilege religious discrimination against LGBTQ citizens; it was equally obvious in North Carolina in the wake of the so-called “bathroom bill.”

It’s somewhat less obvious–but no less consequential–in Trump’s efforts to slash the budget and to drastically reduce immigration. A recent report from the Brookings Institution considered what it would take to achieve 3% growth in GDP, if that level of expansion is even possible: “There are three I’s that can do this: immigration, infrastructure, and investment.”

Infrastructure is the most obvious: not only does America desperately need to improve our deteriorating roads and bridges, not only do we need massive improvements to rail and public transportation, but cities and states across the country need the jobs a comprehensive infrastructure program would generate. As the Brookings Report notes,

Infrastructure jobs are disproportionately middle-class (defined as wages between the 25% and 75% percentiles, so this is the real middle-class and not the upper-middle class; there is no Dream Hoarding going on here).

Investment is harder to discuss, because far too many lawmakers fail to distinguish between investment and  routine expense. Conceptually, however, most of us understand that we must invest in order to grow–it’s the difference between payments on your home mortgage and the amount you spent at that fancy restaurant. Trump’s budget may not reflect that understanding, but many lawmakers do recognize the difference. Unfortunately, many self-identified “fiscal hawks” do not.

We need to increase our nation’s investment in research, development, and people. The federal government’s investment as a share of total research and development has fallen to multi-generational lows. Increasing the federal government’s investment will not bust the budget. Currently, the federal government’s entire investment in R&D (as measured by the OECD) is equal to only about one-tenth of our nation’s defense budget. Investments like these have proven track records of increasing economic growth.

When it comes to the importance of immigration to economic growth, however, American xenophobia is far more influential than economic reality.

Comprehensive immigration reform, such as the bipartisan legislation which passed the Senate in 2013 (Schumer-Rubio), would increase our nation’s work force, bring economic activity out of the shadows and into the mainstream, increase our nation’s economic and physical security, and boost our GDP. One estimate sees an increase in $1.5 trillion in GDP cumulatively over the next decade, as compared to the status quo. That same study contrasts with the deportation-only policy that appears to be favored by some in the Trump Administration, which would reduce economic output by over $2 trillion.  Even scholars from the CATO Institute argue that immigration reform could be used to boost GDP, with an earlier estimate of an increase of over 1.25% of GDP.

As another Brookings report notes,

President Trump claims that legal immigration levels should be cut in half and that greater priority should be placed on those with high skills. Both of these claims fly in the face of census statistics that show that current immigration levels are increasingly vital to the growth of much of America, and that recent arrivals are more highly skilled than ever before. Current immigration is especially important for areas that are losing domestic migrants to other parts of the country including nearly half of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

Well, that’s what happens when you elect a man who has no idea how the economy works, and for whom facts are meaningless…