Tag Archives: Trump Administration

“I Quit”

Principled people who can do so are fleeing the Trump Administration. Those who cannot afford to take the moral high ground–the government workers with mortgages to pay and children to educate–are valiantly trying to hold their agencies accountable to the rule of law.

Talking Points Memo, among others, has reported on the departure of one who just left: the top watchdog overseeing student loans.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Student Loan Ombudsman,” responsible for guarding student borrowers against predatory lenders and scammers, has resigned in a scathing letter aimed at acting CFPB director Mick Mulvaney.

“Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting,” Seth Frotman’s resignation letter, obtained by NPR, read. “Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

Not exactly surprising, in an administration where up is down, failure is success, accurate reporting is “fake news,” and corrupt practices are touted as “good business.”

Frotman’s job was to monitor and review of thousands of complaints from student borrowers. The Obama administration had introduced a number of regulations intended to protect those student borrowers against fraudulent practices; according to Frotman, Mulvaney and Betsy DeVos have worked “diligently” to eliminate those protections.

Frotman’s letter pointed to specific wrongdoing by Mulvaney, NPR reported, including the alleged suppression of a report from his office revealing that big banks were “saddling [students] with legally dubious account fees.”

In May, NPR noted, Mulvaney called for Frotman’s office to be incorporated into the Office of Financial Education, effectively proposing to remove Frotman’s office from direct enforcement actions and shifting it to an educational role.

Regarding another change — the Department of Education’s announcement last year that it would no longer share federal student loan oversight data with the CFPB — Frotman wrote: “The Bureau’s current leadership folded to political pressure… and failed borrowers who depend on independent oversight to halt bad practices.”

NPR has posted a copy of Frotman’s letter here.

My husband often reminds me that–while Americans are distracted by our demented President’s tweets, rages and sundry other embarrassing and destructive behaviors–his administration is busily dismantling the structures of accountable and legitimate governance–stacking the federal courts with right-wing ideologues, eliminating regulations protecting air and water quality, bleeding public schools of the resources needed to educate the country’s children, empowering theocrats, and weakening the rules that restrain the rich and powerful.

Even if November brings the hoped-for “blue wave,” and installs a Congress that takes its oversight responsibilities seriously, it will take years to restore both the rule of law and the American people’s ability to trust that their government is operating on their behalf.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

There are crimes, and then there are crimes.

Americans are currently fixated on the antics of a deranged President and the (almost daily) revelations of his closest associates’ corrupt and criminal behaviors. I’m certainly not immune, as anyone who regularly reads this blog can tell.

The problem is, while we are all distracted by the grade-B gangster movie taking place in and around the Oval Office, we’ve lost focus on what is surely the most egregious and damaging crime of all: the administration’s war on science and its sabotage of the fight against climate change, subjects I touched on yesterday.

We are already seeing the effects of our warming planet, but an irrational administration (populated with ex-lobbyists for fossil fuels and religious extremists who reject not only climate science but the theory of evolution) is intent upon rolling back even modest efforts  to move America away from greenhouse-gas-producing energy sources.

A consortium of scientists and environmental organizations is trying to re-focus our attention on the urgent need to move to clean energy–and the imperative of addressing what is clearly the largest challenge we face. 350.org, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Jobs for Justice and several other organizations are sponsoring nationwide “Rising for Climate” demonstrations on September 8th.

Indiana’s march will begin at the Statehouse at 10:00 a.m. The announcement points up Indiana’s “contribution” to the problem.

We, the people, are running out of time. Join us on September 8, 2018 to demand our elected officials take urgent action on human-driven climate change, protecting our health, moving to 100% renewable energy and creating local, equitable jobs for our city, state, country and planet.

Indiana is home to five of the top 22 worst greenhouse gas and toxic super polluter coal plants in the nation. Indiana is the second largest source of industrial greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States and exceed those from 187 countries (more info at www.superpolluters.com). The time to act is now.

We rise in solidarity on Sept. 8 with communities across the globe. We march in advance and in support of the Global Climate Summit in San Francisco. Elected officials in Indiana, hear our message: take action now.

The time for empty declarations of intent and unreasonable transition timelines has closed. It is time to make Indiana fossil-free and create sustainable, equitable jobs!

The march will end at Christ Church Cathedral, and will be followed by a Community Forum beginning at 11:30 AM.

Will these marches change the retrograde policies being pursued by people in the pockets of fossil fuel interests? Of course not. What they will do, however, is what the Women’s March(es) did: focus voters’ attention on important issues, and send lawmakers the message that millions of Americans care deeply about the environment and will vote to punish a criminal unwillingness to protect it. Marches will encourage further activism. They will encourage people who care about the environment to run for office.

And they will promote solidarity, and encourage people who may feel that they are lonely voices for sanity, by providing evidence that they are not alone.

What’s the old saying? A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step?

If you can, take a step. Rise for Climate on September 8th.

 

We’re All Endangered By This Administration

Is there a single environmental measure that the Trump Administration isn’t willing to ditch in order to benefit their cronies bottom lines?

Regulations to combat climate change? Nah. It’s a hoax–and if it isn’t, God will protect us. Efforts to insure that the residents of cities and towns (even towns inhabited by black and brown people) have clean air and potable water? Silly you! What about protecting the natural beauty of Alaska’s pristine landscape so that future generations can marvel at it (assuming it hasn’t melted)? How ridiculous, when our fossil fuel companies need to drill for oil…

Now, the Endangered Species Act is in the plutocrats’ crosshairs.As Elizabeth Kolbert writes in The New Yorker,

In the summer of 1973, the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries approved a version of the Endangered Species Act and sent the bill to the floor of Congress. To accompany the measure, the committee—now defunct—produced a report that offered the following analogy. Imagine that a copy of every book in the world had been deposited in one enormous building. Now imagine that a madman was somehow able to enter the building, light a bonfire, and incinerate part of the collection. The response would be outrage. At the very least, the administrators of the building would be censured; probably they would be replaced.

“So it is with mankind,” the report observed. Like it or not, humans had become the administrators of the planet: “we are our brother’s keepers, and we are also keepers of the rest of the house.”

“We are our brothers’ keepers” is obviously a sentiment that is utterly incomprehensible to Trump and the collection of incompetents and thugs who staff his administration.

Protecting the environment wasn’t always a partisan issue. Richard Nixon established the EPA, and during the signing ceremony for the Endangered Species Act, he said, “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.”

How times have changed!

Forty-five years later, there is a madman in the building. In fact, there are several. Last week, the Trump Administration proposed what the Timescalled “the most sweeping set of changes in decades” to the regulations used to enforce the Act. The changes would weaken protections for endangered species, while making it easier for companies to build roads, pipelines, or mines in crucial habitats. Under current regulations, government agencies are supposed to make decisions about what species need safeguarding “without reference to possible economic or other impacts.” The Administration wants to scratch that phrase. It also wants to scale back protections for threatened species—these are one notch down on the endangerment scale—and to make it easier to delist species that have been classified as endangered.

Representative Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who is the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee called the proposed changes “part of the endless special favors the White House and Department of the Interior are willing to do for their industry friends.”

Also in the past few weeks, congressional Republicans have introduced some two dozen measures and, perhaps more importantly, spending-bill riders aimed at weakening the Act. The version of the Pentagon budget that the House approved last month, for instance, included a provision that would have prohibited the Interior Department from granting protection to the sage grouse, a fantastic bird whose numbers have declined by an estimated ninety per cent since the nineteenth century. (The provision, which the Pentagon objected to, was stripped out a couple of days ago.

As Kolbert concedes, there are good reasons to modify portions of the Act, but no good–or even plausible– reason to weaken it.

The value of earth’s biodiversity “is, quite literally, incalculable,” the House report stated, back in 1973. “Sheer self-interest impels us to be cautious.”

Evidently, none of the thugs, vandals and crony capitalists who currently occupy positions of authority in this disastrous administration have grandchildren who will have to live in the world that will remain after their spree of despoiling and looting.

 

Don’t Look Behind The Curtain…

On the 12th of this month, media reported that HHS was deleting twenty years of medical guidelines from its government website.

The Trump Administration is planning to eliminate a vast trove of medical guidelines that for nearly 20 years has been a critical resource for doctors, researchers and others in the medical community.

Maintained by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality [AHRQ], part of the Department of Health and Human Services, the database is known as the National Guideline Clearinghouse[NGC], and it’s scheduled to “go dark,” in the words of an official there, on July 16.

Medical guidelines like those compiled by AHRQ aren’t something laypeople spend much time thinking about, but experts like Valerie King, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Director of Research at the Center for Evidence-based Policy at Oregon Health & Science University, said the NGC is perhaps the most important repository of evidence-based research available.

Why would the administration delete this information? Experts say it was a unique repository that got 200,000 visits a month.

Medical guidelines are best thought of as cheatsheets for the medical field, compiling the latest research in an easy-to use format. When doctors want to know when they should start insulin treatments, or how best to manage an HIV patient in unstable housing — even something as mundane as when to start an older patient on a vitamin D supplement — they look for the relevant guidelines. The documents are published by a myriad of professional and other organizations, and NGC has long been considered among the most comprehensive and reliable repositories in the world.

So what was the pressing issue that forced elimination of a well-regarded, well-used, totally unpolitical resource?

AHRQ agrees that guidelines play an important role in clinical decision making, but hard decisions had to be made about how to use the resources at our disposal,” said AHRQ spokesperson Alison Hunt in an email. The operating budget for the NGC last year was $1.2 million, Hunt said, and reductions in funding forced the agency’s hand.

Not even an archived version will remain.

It’s hard to credit the notion that fiscal restraints required the deletion. After all, our “President” is spending billions on such things as repainting Air Force One and requiring a military parade a la Third-World Dictators. Toward the end of the linked report, there’s a hint:

The NGC has a screening process designed to keep weakly supported research out. It also offers summaries of research and an interactive, searchable interface.

That gatekeeping role has sometimes made AHRQ a target. The agency was nearly eliminated shortly after its establishment, in the mid-90s, when it endorsed non-surgical interventions for back pain, a position that angered the North American Spine Society, a trade group representing spine surgeons. A subsequent campaign led to significant funding losses for AHRQ, and since then, the agency as a whole has been a perennial target for Republicans who have argued that its work is duplicated at other federal agencies.

Organizations writing the guidelines for the big drug companies are paid handsomely in order to promote the companies’ products. NGC’s process provided a vetted, evidence-based resource comparatively free of that kind of influence. Gee-I wonder why it became a target for the GOP?

In 2016, when former head of HHS Tom Price was still a Congressman, one of his aides insistently protested publication of a study that was critical of a drug manufactured by one of Price’s campaign donors. According to ProPublica, Price wanted the agency to pull the critical research down.

While Americans are transfixed and distracted by the antics of our demented (and probably traitorous) accidental President, the largely unrecognized and unseen functions of competent governance are being systematically dismantled.

Even if America survives this maniac and his cabinet of disreputable and incompetent tools, it will take generations to repair the damage.

More Than Chutzpah

There are a number of translations of the yiddish term “chutzpah.” Among the best-known is some variation on the following: chutzpah describes the gall of a person who murders his mother and father and argues that he’s entitled to the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.

The Trump administration may actually have gone that orphan one better.

After reluctantly beginning to comply with a court order requiring them to reunite families–to return the children to the parents from whom they had forcibly taken them at the border– the administration was going to charge the parents for the expenses incurred.

You want this kid back? It’ll cost you….

The judge was not amused.

A U.S. judge in California on Friday ordered President Donald Trump’s administration to pay the costs of reuniting immigrant parents with children separated from them by officials at the U.S.-Mexican border, rather than forcing the parents to pay…

“It doesn’t make any sense for any of the parents who have been separated to pay for anything,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who last month ordered that the children be reunited with their parents by July 26, said at a hearing in San Diego…

A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the administration over the family separations, said at the hearing that immigrant parents had been told by immigration officials they had to pay for their travel. One parent was initially asked to pay $1,900 to be reunited with a child, according to ACLU court papers. Trump administration lawyer Sarah Fabian called the judge’s order on paying for the reunifications “a huge ask on HHS,” referring to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fabian said those decisions were handled at the field level, adding that HHS, which houses the detained children, had limited resources.

“The government will make it happen,” Sabraw responded.

So according to an administration lawyer, expecting the government to pay the costs of  cleaning up an inhumane mess of its own making is “a huge ask.” As Ed Brayton commented, first they kidnapped these children, and now they want to charge a ransom for them.

Words fail…..