Health Secretary Resigns After Drawing Fire for Expensive Chartered Flights

From today’s New York Times by Peter Baker:

Tom Price, the health and human services secretary, resigned under pressure on Friday after racking up at least $400,000 in travel bills for chartered flights and undermining President Trump’s promise to drain the swamp of a corrupt and entitled capital.

Already in trouble with Mr. Trump for months of unsuccessful efforts to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care program, Mr. Price failed to defuse the president’s anger over his high-priced travel by agreeing to pay a portion of the cost and expressing “regret” for his actions.

“I’m not happy, O.K.?” Mr. Trump told reporters as he was about to head to his New Jersey golf club for the weekend, barely an hour before the resignation was announced. “I can tell you, I’m not happy.” He called Mr. Price “a very good man” but added that the secretary’s offer to reimburse the government for just part of the cost of the flights “would be unacceptable.”

The White House announcement of Mr. Price’s departure was spare, with none of the customary praise of his work or thanks for his service. The statement issued by the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said simply that Mr. Price had “offered his resignation earlier today and the president accepted.”

Mr. Trump tapped Don J. Wright, a deputy assistant secretary for health and the director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, to serve as acting secretary. Possible candidates for a successor include Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Read the complete article here.

Congress Must Act on DACA: The Dreamers Need a Vote, Not Talk

From today’s New York Times by David Leonhardt:

Paul Ryan offered some warm words about Dreamers. Marco Rubio went further, distancing himself from President Trump’s new immigration policy by tweeting a passage from the Bible. John McCain was blunter still, calling the decision “wrong.”

But words aren’t enough. They’re not nearly enough.

Ryan, Rubio, McCain and the other members of Congress have the power to do something in response to Trump’s decision to subject the 800,000 Dreamers — law-abiding people who entered the United States illegally as children — to potential deportation. Congress can pass a law that removes the threat hanging over them and lets them continue with their lives.

If Congress doesn’t act, yesterday’s expressions of concern are mere hypocrisy.

“I have zero patience for empty virtue signalling on this,” Susan Hennesseyof Lawfare tweeted, in response to Rubio. “You’re a member of Congress. Don’t tell us how sad and pious you are; pass a law.”

Greg Sargent of The Washington Post noted that Congress should pass a law quickly, given the uncertainty plaguing Dreamers.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, said Trump’s move had shifted Microsoft’s lobbying priorities. “The entire business community cares about a tax reform,” Smith told NPR. “And yet it is very clear today a tax reform bill needs to be set aside until the Dreamers are taken care of.” Smith also suggested Microsoft would try to block the federal government from deporting its Dreamer employees.

From the political right, Reihan Salam has argued that Trump’s move creates an opportunity for a bipartisan bill that both helps the Dreamers and rewrites immigration law to admit more skilled workers and fewer relatives of recent immigrants.

It would be easy enough for Congress to pass a simpler bill, focused on Dreamers. The House passed one in 2010. It also won 55 Senate votes — a majority but not enough to overcome a filibuster. Among those who didn’t vote yes: McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and two Democrats still in the Senate, Joe Manchin and Jon Tester.

In The Times, Javier Palomarez explains why he quit a Trump advisory board yesterday, Paul Krugman breaks down the economics of the decision and the Editorial Board offers its take.

For workers, voters, and consumers: SB384 to extend last call to 4am in CA

From today’s Los Angeles Times Editorial Board:

Last call in California is 2 a.m. That’s when bars, restaurants, nightclubs and any other businesses licensed for on-site liquor sales are legally bound to stop serving alcohol, and that’s when most of those establishments close for the night.

Why 2 a.m.? That’s just the way it’s been in California for the last 80 years, ever since the 21st Amendment ended the national prohibition on alcohol and states were left to set their own laws governing its sale and distribution.

California picked 2 a.m. as the appropriate time to stop pouring libations. So did Colorado, Iowa, Texas and about two dozen other states. Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia picked 3 a.m., while Alaska, Illinois and New York settled on 4 a.m. Several states, including Nevada and New Jersey, have no state limits at all on when alcohol can be sold. Many states also give cities and counties the flexibility to set their own local rules on alcohol sales. That’s why New Orleans bars can stay open 24 hours a day, while bars in nearby Baton Rouge have to close at 2 a.m.

The point is that there’s no firm science behind last-call laws, no data that prove that 2 a.m. is better than 4 a.m or 6 a.m. or any other time. The laws are more a reflection of a state’s history, its cultural practices and its politics. California is still hewing to a 1935 law dictating that alcohol sales stop from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., and that blanket prohibition no longer makes sense for cities with thriving music and nightlife scenes that compete for investment and tourism with the likes of New York City, Las Vegas and other late-night cities.

It’s time to give local governments more control over when, where and how alcohol is served. A city like Los Angeles, for instance, shouldn’t have to shut down its bars early each night in deference to a fusty, 80-year-old law. Letting responsible establishments in appropriate neighborhoods stay open later would help create a fun, bustling, vibrant, big-city atmosphere attractive to younger people and tourists — while also generating tax revenue, creating jobs and increasing the earnings of small businesses.

Senate Bill 384 would have California follow the lead of other states that have allowed cities and counties more authority to set rules on closing times. The bill would establish a process by which the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would allow certain bars, restaurants and nightclubs to sell alcohol between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. — if, and only if, the local government wants to allow extended hours.

There would be lots of hoops to jump through. The City Council or local governing body would have to submit a plan to the department that identifies when and where extended hours would be allowed, how law enforcement authorities would manage the effects and what transportation services would be available. The local authorities could decide to limit extended hours to certain commercial districts only, say, or to allow them only on weekends. The department would need to sign off on the plan. Then individual businesses would need to apply for permission from the ABC, which would require notifying law enforcement and residents within 500 feet of the establishment.

The hoops are designed to address concerns from law enforcement and community activists, who have successfully killed previous efforts to relax the 2 a.m. cutoff amid fears that later hours will lead to more drunk driving and raucous partying. Those are legitimate concerns, although advocates for the bill note that of the 10 states with the highest DUI-related fatalities, only three allow alcohol service after 2 a.m.

The reality is 2 a.m. is unnecessarily early for communities with busy restaurants, music venues and clubs, such as downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and San Francisco. Why should bars close at 2 a.m., especially if law enforcement can handle the additional patrols and taxis and ridesharing apps, like Lyft and Uber, give revelers more options to get home without a car? State lawmakers should support SB 384 and let cities and counties set a last call that works for locals.

Federal Judge Blocks Texas Effort to Suppress Minority Voters with ID Law

Yesterday a federal judge in Houston blocked the state of Texas from enacting a revised version of its “Voter ID Law.” Known as Senate Bill 5, the legislation was revised from previous attempts by the state legislature to implement a strict Voter ID requirement for voters to participate in elections. The previous version was, in part, struck down because it violated certain parts of the Voting Rights Act that prohibit voting rules and regulations that fall disproportionately on racial minorities.

In the decision, Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled that the revised law still barred voters from showing state or federal employee ID cards, and since those who lack the accepted forms of identification were “subjected to separate voting obstacles and procedures,” she wrote, “S.B. 5’s methodology remains discriminatory because it imposes burdens disproportionately on blacks and Latinos.”

With a growing Latino and Hispanic population set to eclipse the white conservative majority of Texas voters, the Republican party in that state has long sought to disenfranchise racial minorities from improving their participation rates in elections. The recent return to Jim Crow-style voting requirement laws in southern states is a clear effort to suppress minority voters in an effort to prop up the political power of white conservatives.

“Jim Crow-era tactics have kept Texas Republicans in power,” Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement.

In addition to Voter ID laws the anti-democratic policy of “gerrymandering” remains a significant obstacle to reforming elections in states across the country. The Republican party has taken steps to ensure the preservation of white conservative governorships and state legislatures by redrawing voting districts to favor their constituents, but such efforts are also under scrutiny. The U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear a case in Gill v. Whitford this fall reviewing recent changes by the Republican legislature in the state of Wisconsin to redraw its political map in an effort to marginalize racial and political minorities.

Head of AFL-CIO explains, “Why I Quit Trump’s Business Council”

From the New York Times “Opinion” Section, August 16, 2017 by Richard Trumka:

On Tuesday, President Trump stood in the lobby of his tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and again made excuses for bigotry and terrorism, effectively repudiating the remarks his staff wrote a day earlier in response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va. I stood in that same lobby in January, fresh off a meeting with the new president-elect. Although I had endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, I was hopeful we could work together to bring some of his pro-worker campaign promises to fruition.

Unfortunately, with each passing day, it has become clear that President Trump has no intention of following through on his commitments to working people. More worrisome, his actions and rhetoric threaten to leave America worse off and more divided. It is for these reasons that I resigned yesterday from the president’s manufacturing council, which the president disbanded today after a string of resignations.

To be clear, the council never lived up to its potential for delivering policies that lift up working families. In fact, we were never called to a single official meeting, even though it comprised some of the world’s top business and labor leaders. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. joined to bring the voices of working people to the table and advocate the manufacturing initiatives our country desperately needs. But the only thing the council ever manufactured was letterhead. In the end, it was just another broken promise.

During my January meeting with President Trump, we identified a few important areas where compromise seemed possible. On manufacturing, infrastructure and especially trade, we were generally in agreement. Mr. Trump spoke of $1 trillion to rebuild our schools, roads and bridges. He challenged companies to keep jobs in the United States. He promoted “Buy America.” He promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Here’s the thing: Working men and women have been promised the moon by politicians. Year after year. Campaign after campaign. Republican and Democrat. Too often, those promises have ended up being hollow; election year sound bites are often discarded as quickly as they are made. I told President Trump that this time must be different. I made clear that we would judge his administration on its actions.

Nearly seven months in, the facts speak for themselves.

President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill is nowhere to be found. And according to an analysis from the University of Pennsylvania, even if Mr. Trump did bring such a plan forward, his own budget proposal would wipe it out, leading to a net loss of $55 billion for highways, water facilities and public transit. President Trump has also remained silent on the future of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which requires contractors on federally assisted construction projects to pay their employees at rates prevailing in the communities where they perform the work.

What about Nafta? First, President Trump promised that the United States would withdraw. Then his administration sent a letter to Congress indicating the treaty needed only minor tweaks. Now renegotiation is underway with no clear principles for reform or negotiating goals in sight. Meanwhile, Nafta remains firmly in place.

Although President Trump has promised to protect the social safety net, his budget would slash $1.5 trillion from Medicaid, $59 billion from Medicare and up to $64 billion from Social Security over 10 years. It would strip funding for workplace safety research by 40 percent, even though about 150 workers die each day from hazardous working conditions. And it would force the people who make our government work to endure a 6 percent pay cut.

President Trump championed the Republican plan to gut health care and raise taxes on working people to line the pockets of the rich. And his executive orders that deport aspiring Americans and impose a religious litmus test for refugees are both morally bankrupt and bad economic policy.

Finally, rather than “draining the swamp,” President Trump has filled his cabinet with the authors and beneficiaries of our broken economic rules. He has elevated an anti-worker judge to the Supreme Court and appointed union-busting lawyers to the National Labor Relations Board.

His response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville was the last straw. We in the labor community refuse to normalize bigotry and hatred. And we cannot in good conscience extend a hand of cooperation to those who condone it.

In some ways, President Trump presented himself as a different kind of politician, someone who could cut through the gridlock in Washington and win a better deal for American workers. But his record is a combination of broken promises, outright attacks and dangerous, divisive rhetoric. That’s why we opposed him in the campaign. And that’s why he is losing the support of our members each and every day.

How to Restore Government Ethics in the Trump Era

From today’s New York Times by Walter Shaub, Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics:

Shortly after his inauguration, President George H. W. Bush counseled freshly minted White House appointees that, “It’s not really very complicated. It’s a question of knowing right from wrong, avoiding conflicts of interest, bending over backwards to see that there’s not even a perception of conflict of interest.” He paired this straightforward declaration with action, establishing unified standards of conduct for the executive branch and resolving his own conflicts of interest. These words and deeds set the tone for ethical governance.

Since the enactment of the Ethics in Government Act, our past presidents entered government with an appreciation for the importance of tone from the top. Though exempt from the conflict of interest statute, which bars other officials from working on matters affecting their financial interests, they all voluntarily divested conflicting holdings and put the proceeds in blind trusts or nonconflicting assets. They knew their exemption from the statute was not a reward for attaining high office but a pragmatic recognition that America needs its president engaged in urgent matters of state. By holding themselves to the same exacting standards as the rest of the executive branch, they sent a clear message to those serving under them.

This tradition came to an abrupt stop with President Trump. By continuing to hold onto his businesses and effectively advertising them through frequent visits to his properties, our leader creates the appearance of profiting from the presidency. As things stand, we can’t know whether policy aims or personal financial interests motivate his decisions as president. Whatever his intentions may be, the resulting uncertainty casts a pall of doubt over governmental decision-making.

This shift fundamentally changes the executive branch ethics program. I have been a student of that program since I first came to the Office of Government Ethics in 2001, appointed by Marilyn L. Glynn, then the office’s general counsel. Every past administration actively supported O.G.E.’s work and respected it for taking stands when necessary. That White House support provided the office with the leverage it needed to fulfill its mission.

I am not suggesting that it was always easy. Having served for much of my career on the front lines of the presidential nominee program, I regularly locked horns with nominees and White House lawyers in both the Bush and Obama administrations as we wrestled over our differing notions of how best to address ethical risks. Sometimes those deliberations were animated; occasionally they were heated. I am also sure that more than a few nominees felt bruised by the painful process of resolving their conflicts of interest. Even if we did not always agree, however, White House officials always understood that O.G.E.’s only goal — and, indeed, my only goal — was to protect the integrity of the government’s operations. The incidental beneficiaries of those efforts were the Bush and Obama administrations and the nominees we kept out of trouble. That’s why it is disheartening now to witness parts of the ethics program slipping away.

The Office of Government Ethics has been performing the same service it has always provided with respect to the current administration’s nominees. In fact, I have succeeded in moving President Trump’s nominees on average almost a week (six days to be exact) faster than I moved President Obama’s nominees during the last presidential transition, without compromising O.G.E.’s high standards. I am particularly proud of this accomplishment because this administration’s nominees generally hold far more complex financial interests than the last administration’s nominees, a circumstance that would normally be expected to slow O.G.E.’s work. Unfortunately, it has been harder to address other aspects of the lagging ethical culture in the current administration.

The cascading effects of the president’s departure from existing ethical norms have touched others in government. The tone from the top led one White House appointee to use her position to hawk the merchandise of the president’s daughter and another to endorse the president’s book. It led a cabinet official, whose recent wedding reportedly featured a chartered bus ride from the president’s hotel, to urge the public to see a movie he produced. The press secretary touts one of the president’s commercial enterprises as the “winter White House,” and the State Department has publicized it around the globe. A White House lawyer made the extraordinary assertion that “many regulations promulgated by the Office of Government Ethics (‘OGE’) do not apply to employees of the Executive Office of the President.” Appearing to echo this view, the Office of Management and Budget challenged O.G.E.’s authority to collect routine ethics records. Even some presidential nominees have pushed back against ethics processes with uncommon intensity.

Affected, too, is the very official charged with responsibility for White House ethics, the counsel to the president. His office recently ginned up ten unsigned, undated waivers, many of which seem intended to have retroactive effect, raising the specter of a possible effort to paper over ethics violations. Worse, the counsel appears to be both issuer and recipient of two waivers. His deputy also beat back a press inquiry regarding the applicability of ethics rules to one of the deputy’s former clients. In addition, his office has dragged its feet on responding to O.G.E.’s questions about appointees, despite the office’s statutory duty to review their disclosures and certify their ethical compliance.

Projecting their own cynical partisanship, some defenders of this conduct dismiss any expressions of concern — or, in my case, resignation — as politically motivated.Underlying my own expressions of concern, however, is fidelity to the principle that public service is a public trust. I would not have gone looking for this particular fight; it found me. I can assure those reciting the administration’s talking points that I have not enjoyed the attention, nor have I enjoyed watching the negative effects on the ethics program. As I told the Senate during my confirmation hearing in 2012, I am a true believer in the foundational principles of the executive branch ethics program. I am also acutely aware that the program owes a debt to both parties for its past successes and that it will take both parties to restore the program to good health. To advocate for the executive branch ethics program is to advance the nonpartisan mission of an essential institution of our representative form of government.

Defenders of the status quo also seem unwilling to acknowledge the existence of a problem absent clear evidence of significant violations. This argument risks legitimizing an approach of bare minimum legal compliance. The existence or absence of identified violations is not the only measure of an ethics program — no program can detect every violation and those detected are often hard to prove. At its heart, an ethics program acts as a prevention mechanism through systems designed to reduce the risk of violations occurring. Those systems depend on adherence to ethical norms.

Recent experiences have convinced me that the existing mechanism is insufficient. The Office of Government Ethics needs greater authority to obtain information from the executive branch, including the White House. The White House and agencies lacking inspectors general need investigative oversight, which should be coordinated with O.G.E. The ethics office needs more independence, including authority to communicate directly with Congress on budgetary and legislative matters. Because we can no longer rely on presidents to comply voluntarily with ethical norms, we need new laws to address their conflicts of interest, their receipt of compensation for the use of their names while in office, nepotism and the release of tax forms. Transparency should be increased through laws mandating creation and release of documents related to divestitures, recusals, waivers and training. Disclosure requirements can be refined and the revolving door tightened. These changes would give O.G.E. the tools it needs to address the current challenges and, perhaps more importantly, reinforce for presidents the importance of setting a strong ethical tone from the top.

FED Chair says risk of financial crisis increases if Trump deregulates economy

From today’s LA Times by Jim Puzzanghera:

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet L. Yellen told senators Thursday that the risk of another financial crisis would increase if some Trump administration proposals to roll back regulations were enacted.

In her second straight day of Capitol Hill testimony, she walked back her statement last month that she didn’t expect another financial crisis “in our lifetimes.”

“I think we can never be confident there won’t be another financial crisis,” Yellen told members of the Senate Banking Committee.

The U.S. has “done a great deal” since the 2008 crisis to strengthen the financial system, she said. That includes forcing banks to hold more capital to cover potential losses as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul law.

“It is important that we maintain the improvements that have been put in place that mitigate the risk and the potential damage,” Yellen said.

President Trump has promised to dismantle Dodd-Frank, which Republicans have said has been too burdensome for banks.

In a report last month ordered by Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin proposed sweeping regulatory reductions, including changes that would reduce capital requirements for the biggest banks.

Yellen said she would not favor reducing those capital requirements.

Read the entire article here.

House Republicans Are Trying to Pass the Most Dangerous Wall Street Deregulation Bill Ever

From Mother Jones, June 7, 2017 by Hannah Levintova:
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From the earliest days of his campaign, Donald Trump has opposed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Obama-era financial reform law passed in response to the 2008 financial crisis.  Trump has characterized it as a “disaster” that has created obstacles for the financial sector and hurt growth. In April, he repeated his promise to gut the existing law.
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“We’re doing a major elimination of the horrendous Dodd-Frank regulations, keeping some, obviously, but getting rid of many,” Trump said in a meeting with top executives during a “Strategic and Policy CEO Discussion,” which included the leaders of major companies like Walmart and Pepsi. He added, “For the the bankers in the room, they’ll be very happy.”
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The Republican Congress shares Trump’s dislike of Dodd-Frank and this week, the House plans to vote on the Financial CHOICE Act, a Dodd-Frank overhaul bill that will, as promised, make banks and Wall Street “very happy” if it becomes law, while undoing numerous financial safeguards for regular Americans. (CHOICE is an acronym for “Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs.”)
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The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), takes aim at some of Dodd-Frank’s main achievements: It guts rules intended to protect mortgage borrowers and military veterans, and restrict predatory lenders. It also weakens the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s ability to oversee and enforce consumer protection laws against banks around the country—upending a mix of powers that have helped the CFPB recover nearly $12 billion for 29 million individuals since opening its doors in July 2011. The bill also weakens or outright cuts a number of bank regulations enacted through Dodd-Frank to keep risky investing behavior in check in order to avoid the economic devastation of another financial crisis or taxpayer-funded bailout.

Read the entire article here.

Behind Trump’s Climate Policy Change? Oil Lobbyists and GOP Lackeys

The data is self-evident. Conservative politicians in the GOP don’t believe the science of climate change because they take the most money from oil and energy lobbyists. Notice they hedged their bets by donating significant amounts to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign?

However, Clinton would almost certainly have upheld the climate accord, since she helped pave the way for an international consensus of countries to reduce their carbon emissions during her tenure as Secretary of State.

Top 20 recipients of oil and energy money from lobbyists and industry executives. This is why Trump and the GOP do not support common sense climate legislation and oppose environmental protections for American citizens and future generations.

By Pulling Out on Paris, Trump’s Policy “America First” Means “America Last”

Today President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord signed by his predecessor President Barack Obama less than two years ago. At the time, the agreement was hailed as the single most important policy initiative for countries to curb carbon emissions in an effort to slow the massive and potentially cataclysmic climate changes that have been accelerated by human activity and energy pollution over the last 100 years.

In pulling out of the agreement, Trump fulfilled a campaign pledge based on soliciting the fear of working class Americans that they would suffer economically and stoking their false hopes that doing so would bring back jobs in destructive industries such as coal-fired energy plants.

The truth is coal suffers not merely from the fact that it is pollution heavy, but also from the fact that is costly to retrieve, refine, and burn—so much so that cheap and plentiful natural gas, and not the alleged bogey-man of environmental regulations, was the single largest factor leading to the market decline of coal and, to a lesser extent, oil.

So, pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement will not bring back jobs to those parts of the country that have historically relied on pollution-heavy technologies such as coal (in wide ranging places like West Virginia and Montana), and for that reason is economically inefficient and filled with false hope. What is worse, Trump’s policy change signals to the rest of the world that “American First” means American will no longer lead the world in making smart decisions to leave future generations with a habitable planet and ecology.

In short, Trump just said “Fuck You” to future generations who should be concerned about the lasting effects that relying on polluting technologies now will leave for our children and their children to clean up after we are long gone. Americans are rightly outraged, and we must work to ensure that this disastrous policy change is reversed—yet again!—in 2020.