Tag Archives: regulations

Every Day In Every Way

it gets worse and worse. It has even been suggested that this is a strategy: the reason so few of the administration’s scandals remain “front page” reports for long is that they are superseded on a daily basis by evidence of even more damaging corruption.

Just the other day, in an effort to distract from the growing numbers of pandemic cases and deaths, the White House staged an event to announce the continuing exploitation of the environment. A bright red crane was set up on the south lawn and was shown “lifting the weights of regulation” while “the burden of regulation” was shown weighing down a blue truck.

When Trump spoke, he said they had cut “25,000 pages of job-destroying regulations,” saved the oil industry and cut auto standards, making cars cheaper and also “better, they’ll be stronger, and they’ll be safer.”

But what pleases him the most is that he’s “brought back” incandescent lightbulbs and improved the shower experience: “We made it so dishwashers now have a lot more water, and in many places, in most places of the country, water is not a problem … it’s called rain.”

Trump’s fossil fuel cronies at the EPA and the Department of National Resources have done incalculable damage to the environment. At the Department of Justice, William Barr is busily upending longstanding policies in favor of the “unitary executive” theory beloved by radical rightwing lawyers and former Vice-President Dick Cheney. 

As if Trump hadn’t done enough damage to America’s international reputation, his Secretary of State– Christian fundamentalist Mike Pompeo– is embarrassing us further.

Human rights advocates denounced as “dangerous” a draft report released Thursday by the U.S. State Department’s controversial Commission on Unalienable Rights that paints property rights and religious liberty as “foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure” while casting doubt on other liberties, including reproductive freedom.

“Make no mistake: this report was not designed with principles of equality, justice, and rights in mind. Instead, it serves as another stepping stone in the White House’s radical, isolationist, anti-rights, anti-scientific, religious agenda,” Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), said in a statement.

As those of you who follow such things know, Pompeo’s version of “religious liberty” is anything but the government neutrality required by the First Amendment’s religion clauses. If he had his way, the law would give all citizens the “liberty” to follow Evangelical Christian “moral” dictates. As Heather Cox Richardson described the document,

The report lays out a version of American history and human rights designed to appeal to the evangelicals who count Pompeo as their own. It begins by stating that the primary tradition “that formed the American spirit” was “Protestant Christianity… infused with the beautiful Biblical teachings that every human being is imbued with dignity and bears responsibilities toward fellow human beings, because each is made in the image of God.”

And don’t get me started on Betsy DeVos’ assault on the very idea of public education…

This broad-based attack on representative democracy and the common good isn’t just being enabled by Trump and his corrupt and incompetent cabinet. 

Greatly assisting in the demolition of constitutional government is the Most Evil Man in America: Mitch McConnell. 

Consumer and workers’ rights advocates are warning that new details of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits show just how far the Republican leader is willing to go to ensure corporations are not held accountable for endangering public health and safety.

“Congress must reject this dangerous proposal,” the National Employment Law Project said in response to a draft (pdf) of McConnell’s plan obtained by Politico and other outlets on Friday….

As the Associated Press reported, the Republican plan “offers a broad shield by requiring heightened pleading standards, stiffening burden-of-proof standards, and capping damages on awards. Employers would also be shielded from investigations by federal agencies.”

Every day, there’s a new report, making it virtually impossible to keep up with these assaults on the rule of law, fair play and what used to be considered basic American principles. 

Assuming–as hopeful people must–a blue tsunami in November, I hope someone is figuring out what we can do to keep Trump and his “best people” from blowing up the world between November 3d and January 21st.

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….

 

Lessons From Houston

I wonder if we will learn anything from the pictures of devastation coming from Houston.

Leave aside the contentious arguments over climate change, and the degree to which it contributed to the severity of the storm. There were other omens even denialists should have been able to appreciate. Last year, for example, a ProPublica/Texas Tribune investigation found that officials charged with addressing Houston’s obvious susceptibility to flooding had discounted scientists’ warnings as “anti-development.”

That reaction was so typically Houstonian.

For years, Houston has reveled in its “freedom” from “onerous, unnecessary regulations.” The city has no zoning, and its building codes are lax. As Newsweek has reported, Houston is “drowning in its freedom.”

The feeling there was that persons who own real estate should be free to develop it as they wish…In less-free cities, the jackbooted thugs in the zoning department impose limits on the amount of impervious cover in a development.

Houston’s allergy to “jackbooted thugs” like city planners and its preference for “freedom” over strict building codes is a longstanding feature of its politics. Whether that city’s powers-that-be will moderate their distaste for regulations that would mitigate future disasters remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the federal government–under our “pro-business” President– is moving away from prudence and toward Houston’s free-wheeling approach.

As Vox explains,

Since 2015, infrastructure projects paid for by federal dollars have had to plan ahead for floods and water damage. But when Houston and surrounding towns start to rebuild after floodwaters recede from Tropical Storm Harvey, they won’t be required to plan ahead for the next big storm.

That’s because on August 15, President Trump rolled back the Federal Flood Risk Mitigation Standard, an Obama-era regulation. The 2015 directive, which never fully went into effect, required public infrastructure projects that received taxpayer dollars to do more planning for floods, including elevating their structures to avoid future water damage and alleviate the burden on taxpayers.

Trump characterized his move as repealing an onerous government regulation and streamlining the infrastructure approval process. But he was criticized by both environmental groups and conservatives, who said it made sense to try to protect federal investments.

Between 2005 and 2014, the federal government spent an estimated $277 billion dollars responding to natural disasters like Harvey.

Obama’s flood risk mitigation regulation was intended to reduce those sorts of expenditures by prescribing certain standards for newly constructed infrastructure. Adhering to those standards might cost more money upfront, but requiring such flood mitigation measures would save taxpayers far more in the long run. According to experts, flood mitigation has a 4-1 payback.

No federal projects were ever built with the new standards, because it took years to go through the required public comment process before the rules were finalized. As federal agencies like FEMA and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development were waiting for final approval, Trump nixed the standards. And without that final approval, the agencies won’t be able to act on any of Obama’s recommendations.

“Had those regulations been finalized for FEMA and HUD in particular, they would have ensured that all the post-Harvey rebuilding complied with those standards, helping ensure that we built back in a way that was safer,” said Rob Moore, senior policy analyst at the National Resources Defense Council.

When the floodwaters recede and Houston looks toward repairing and rebuilding its damaged infrastructure, there very may well be state and local officials advocating for more mitigation projects. But there will be no incentive from the Trump administration to do so.

In fairness, Trump didn’t invent this “penny wise, pound foolish” mindset. It is part and parcel of the anti-government rhetoric that is carefully nurtured by politicians who would never conduct their personal affairs in a similarly imprudent manner.

It will be interesting to see what lessons–if any– the anti-regulation, anti-government, anti-science zealots take from the disaster that is Houston.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Government

I really shouldn’t read the Letters to the Editor.

A couple of days ago, I read one from a woman who applauded the government shutdown, because we don’t need all these ridiculous regulations of our foods, our businesses and our local governments.

It’s a familiar theme.

Later that day, we stopped for gas, and my husband noted that the gas pumps had a sticker denoting the date they were last inspected. “If the shutdown goes on much longer,” he said, “those pumps won’t get their next inspection. I wonder how long it will be before consumers get shorted–before the pump says one gallon but dispenses a bit less than that. It only takes turning a couple of screws.”

My more libertarian friends will undoubtedly respond that if that happened, eventually people would catch on and that station would go out of business. Maybe–after a lot of people paid for more gas than they received. Or maybe not, since people stopping at stations on highway interchanges or in unfamiliar neighborhoods are unlikely to be “in the loop” of local gossip.

Gas stations aside, I’d suggest that if the clueless author of that letter prefers not to die of botulism (I hear that’s pretty unpleasant), she should welcome those intrusive FDA food inspections. I might remind her that people working for government didn’t just wake up one day and decide–hey, wouldn’t it be fun to go inspect those pork chops!? A lot of people got sick and died, and a lot of other people demanded that government–the folks who work for us–do something about it.

Look–it is perfectly reasonable to keep an eye on government to ensure that it isn’t getting into areas it shouldn’t, or conducting itself in a less than businesslike fashion, or playing favorites. It isn’t reasonable–in fact, it’s a sign of terminal stupidity–to suggest that we really don’t need no stinkin’ government.

I have news for all these anti-government ideologues. Most Americans no longer go out to the back yard and strangle a chicken for dinner. We no longer live miles from our nearest neighbor, so we can’t just throw our garbage out back for the animals to eat. The days of settling our disputes via duels is long past. And in case you hadn’t noticed, women and minorities are no longer willing to meekly abide by a bunch of rules made by white guys to privilege white guys.

The world has changed.

Today’s America is densely populated and interdependent, and individuals have neither the time nor–god knows–the expertise to test our food for contamination, review the business practices of our merchants’ and bankers and candlestickmakers, put out  fires in our neighborhoods and saddle up with the posse when a bad guy robs the local liquor store. We have things called airplanes now, and they need to be inspected; we have cars and they need roads to drive on and rules to regulate their use.

For these and a zillion other reasons, we need government.

Get over it.

 

The Big Con

My husband and I were discussing the Council’s current standoff with the Ballard Administration–a dispute triggered by Ballard’s refusal to share budget information with the Council and other elected officials. That conversation brought back memories from our days in the Hudnut Administration; the then-Controller, Fred Armstrong, made himself available to Councilors, Department heads, the media….pretty much anyone who was interested in the intricacies of the budget. Fred would go on and on, explaining the numbers, funds, sources…

I don’t think anyone understood a word he said. I know I didn’t. It was the classic “bury them in bullshit,” and he was great at it. (He was also an incredibly competent public servant.)

Fred knew that most people don’t understand public finance. Our widespread fiscal ignorance is why Paul Ryan has been taken seriously, despite a budget that David Stockman, among others, has described as a “fantasy” and “devoid of credible math.” (Stockman, for those of you too young to remember, was Ronald Reagan’s very conservative Budget Director.)

Today’s candidates are counting on our ignorance of the most basic axioms of taxation and government revenue. It isn’t just that–as a colleague of mine put it recently–half of them clearly don’t know the difference between a marginal and effective tax rate. It’s that they engage in wishful, magical thinking.

Yesterday, I saw an ad for Mike Pence in which he promised to cut taxes “across the board,” and to establish an office of regulatory affairs that would resist federal regulations and return federal dollars.

I can’t decide if Pence is really that stupid, or he just thinks voters are.

There are legitimate issues around regulation–what is enough, what is too much. Reasonable people can differ over their assessments of particular rules. There is a pretty broad consensus that banking regulations were too lax, and that lack of oversight led to the Great Recession; there are certainly other areas where ham-handed regulatory policies have been distinctly unhelpful. But taking a position that all regulation is bad and must be resisted is insane. What about nursing home regulations that protect grandma from abuse? What about food and drug regulations that keep dog feces out of your beanie-weenies, or water purity standards, or building codes, or….Well, you get the point.

And how about that “cutting taxes across the board” and “sending the money back to the feds” promise?

Just how does our “I wanna be your governor” Pence propose to fund anything Indiana needs? Federal dollars pay for our roads, augment our (increasingly inadequate) police forces, and provide medical care for the indigent. They feed schoolchildren and support special education programs. Federal dollars fund small businesses (yes, it turns out that even the angry guy in the anti-Obama commercial who insists that he and his sons built their business all by themselves had an 800,000 SBA loan). The federal government funds 33% of Indiana’s budget; if we sent that money back and cut taxes, Indiana’s government would come to a screeching halt.

The Ryans and the Pences of this world are counting on our ignorance. They are con men, hustlers secure in their (unfortunately reasonable) belief that voters don’t know where their tax dollars go, don’t recognize when they themselves benefit from government programs, and have no idea how their government works or what it does.

Con artists are successful because they tell us what we want to hear, because they promise us we can have something for nothing. The ugly truth is that the people who fall for the con are the people who want to believe they can get something for nothing.

Pence and Ryan are as reputable as that Nigerian banker who will send you a million dollars if you can just front him a few thousand.