How Shall Trump Kill Us? Let Us Count The Ways…

Just in the past week, I’ve come across several accounts of the Trump Administration’s war on regulation–you know, those pesky rules that impede commerce by denying businesses the “liberty” of selling shoddy and dangerous goods to an unwary public.

First, the Washington Post has reported on changes at the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The crashes were brutal. With no warning, the front wheel on the three-wheeled BOB jogging strollers fell off, causing the carriages to careen and even flip over. Adults shattered bones. They tore ligaments. Children smashed their teeth. They gashed their faces. One child bled from his ear canal.

Staff members at the Consumer Product Safety Commission collected 200 consumer-submitted reports from 2012 to 2018 of spontaneous failure of the stroller wheel, which is secured to a front fork by a quick-release lever, like on a bicycle. Nearly 100 adults and children were injured, according to the commission. The agency’s staff members investigated for months before deciding in 2017 that one of the most popular jogging strollers on the market was unsafe and needed to be recalled.

The manufacturer refused to issue a voluntary recall of the nearly 500,000 strollers, insisting they were safe when used as instructed. The agency sued.

Then Trump was elected.

 According to a review of documents by The Washington Post and interviews with eight current and former senior agency officials, the agency’s Republican chairwoman kept Democratic commissioners in the dark about the stroller investigation and then helped end the case in court.

The settlement did not include a recall or formal correction plan.

Paul Krugman’s column in the New York Times looks at food inspections.His column’s title– “Donald Trump is Trying to Kill You”–isn’t really an exaggeration. As Krugman notes, even if he’s a one-term president, Trump will have caused, directly or indirectly, the premature deaths of a large number of Americans.

Some of those deaths will come at the hands of right-wing, white nationalist extremists, who are a rapidly growing threat, partly because they feel empowered by a president who calls them “very fine people.”

Some will come from failures of governance, like the inadequate response to Hurricane Maria, which surely contributed to the high death toll in Puerto Rico. (Reminder: Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.)

Some will come from the administration’s continuing efforts to sabotage Obamacare..

But the biggest death toll is likely to come from Trump’s agenda of deregulation — or maybe we should call it “deregulation,” because his administration is curiously selective about which industries it wants to leave alone.

The administration recently announced plans to allow hog plants to take over a large part of what is currently federal responsibility for food safety inspections.

And why not? It’s not as if we’ve seen safety problems arise from self-regulation in, say, the aircraft industry, have we? Or as if we ever experience major outbreaks of food-borne illness? Or as if there was a reason the U.S. government stepped in to regulate meatpackingin the first place?

Krugman notes that the administration also wants to roll back rules that limit emissions of mercury from power plants, and has acted to prevent the EPA from explaining the benefits of reduced mercury emissions. But the Trump  Administration is very worried about supposed negative side effects of renewable energy, negatives which, as Krugman points out, “generally exist only in their imagination.”

Last year the administration floated a proposal that would have forced the operators of electricity grids to subsidize coal and nuclear energy. The supposed rationale was that new sources were threatening to destabilize those grids — but the grid operators themselves denied that this was the case.

An administration willing to “trust” pork producers insists that wind turbines cause cancer. This may just be because the President is monumentally ignorant (and clinically insane), but Krugman reminds us to follow the money.

Political contributions from the meat-processing industry overwhelmingly favor Republicans. Coal mining supports the G.O.P. almost exclusively. Alternative energy, on the other hand, generally favors Democrats.

Baby strollers, I assume, are manufactured by contributors to the GOP…one of the consolations of old age is no longer having a baby to stroll…

Thanks to growing up kosher, I still don’t eat pork. The rest of you might rethink that too.


Bought And Paid For….

As I have previously noted, I am a capitalist, an advocate of market economics.

Most members of today’s GOP are not.

In order to work properly, genuine capitalism requires regulation. Much as I hate sports analogies, this one fits: just as you cannot have a fair sporting contest without referees/umpires, you cannot have a working market economy without rules that ensure a level playing field. (You also have to distinguish between areas of the economy in which markets work and areas–like healthcare– where they don’t, but that is a subject for a different post.)

When people with little or no bargaining power have little or no choice but to do business with large, powerful institutions, government has an obligation to insure that the powerful are not taking advantage of the powerless. And that brings me to yesterday’s Senate vote to protect Wall Street from those annoying people from whom they profit .You will not be shocked to find that Mike Pence (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers) cast the deciding vote.

Vice President Pence cast a tie-breaking vote late Tuesday to block new regulations allowing U.S. consumers to sue their banks, handing Wall Street and other big financial institutions their biggest victory since President Trump’s election.

The rules would have cost the industry billions of dollars, according to some estimates. With the Senate’s vote, Wall Street is beginning to reap the benefits of the Trump administration focus on rolling back regulations it says are strangling the economy. The vote is also a major rebuke of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which wrote the rules, and has often found itself at odds of Republicans in Congress and the business community.

The issue is that fine print in the agreements that we consumers have to sign when we apply for credit cards or bank accounts– fine print that requires us to settle any disputes that may subsequently arise through arbitration, in which a third party generally favorable to the Big Guys rules on the matter, rather than going to court or joining a class-action lawsuit.

The CFPB rule would block mandatory arbitration clauses in some cases, potentially allowing millions of Americans to file or join a lawsuit to press their complaints.

After more than four hours of debate, the Senate voted 51 to 50 to block its implementation. Pence was forced to cast the deciding vote shortly after 10 p.m. when two Republicans, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Kennedy of Louisiana, opposed the resolution. House Republicans already passed legislation to block the rule, which now needs the approval of President Trump.

“Tonight’s vote is a giant setback for every consumer in this country. Wall Street won and ordinary people lost,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement minutes after the vote. The legislation “preserves a two-tiered justice system where banks can have their day in court but deny their customers the same right.”

Proponents of the roll-back trotted out the “usual suspects”–those slimy lawyers and their class-action lawsuits–and pretended that the rule wouldn’t really protect consumers and that it would infringe on our freedom to contract. (Because you can always negotiate your credit card terms with MasterCard…) There may be some lawyers who abuse the system (although courts have ways of punishing such abuses), but class action lawsuits are a very important tool for justice. They’re one of the very few ways consumers can force changes to unethical and predatory business practices.

Class action lawsuits allow large groups of people to seek small amounts they individually wouldn’t have time or money to pursue. Large companies employing legally questionable practices rely on the ability to make a lot of money by cheating individual consumers just a little, not enough to justify hiring a lawyer and bringing an individual suit.

Reading about the Senate vote, my husband asked me why any Senator would vote to roll back the rule. I suggested he look at where those Senators’ campaign contributions came from.

If markets are for buying and selling, the Senate is evidently a thriving marketplace.