The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

While we focus on the various obvious bathetic catastrophes (from blowing secrets to the Russians to the big man’s collapsing in a heap after a mere one day on the road) committed by the shitgibbon and his band of merry (but never gay — oh no! not that) men, it’s important to keep at least some attention on the rolling, very real damage the Trump administration wreaks on a daily basis.

I’m so far behind on a book project that I can’t really keep up, and I certainly can’t blog with anything remotely resembling depth and insight, so I’m going to try instead to throw up quick posts as various bits of policy news cross my magpie’s field of vision.

This morning’s treat comes via a Saturday story in FTFNYT.*  Under Scott Pruitt, it seems, the EPA has become the Captain Renault of environmental regulators: everything has its price, and the Captain is always eager to make a deal:

Devon Energy, which runs the windswept site, had been prepared to install a sophisticated system to detect and reduce leaks of dangerous gases. It had also discussed paying a six-figure penalty to settle claims by the Obama administration that it was illegally emitting 80 tons each year of hazardous chemicals, like benzene, a known carcinogen.

But something changed in February just five days after Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general with close ties to Devon, was sworn in as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Devon, in a letter dated Feb. 22 and obtained by The New York Times, said it was “re-evaluating its settlement posture.” It no longer intended to move ahead with the extensive emissions-control system, second-guessing the E.P.A.’s estimates on the size of the violation, and it was now willing to pay closer to $25,000 to end the three-year-old federal investigation.

The administration’s response?

The E.P.A. has not yet made a public response to Devon’s new posture, and Mr. Pruitt declined to comment for this article.

Want to bet on how it will turn out?

In just the last three months, with Mr. Pruitt in charge, the E.P.A. postponed a long-planned rule requiring companies like Devon to retrofit drilling equipment to prevent leaks of methane gas — a major contributor to climate change — and to collect more data on how much of the gas is spewing into the air.

The Interior Department, meanwhile, announced this month that it would reconsider a separate rule limiting the burning of unwanted methane gas from wells drilled on federal and Indian lands, a process called flaring. That announcement came the same day the Senate narrowly rejected industry calls to repeal the same rule.

Interior officials have also announced their intention to repeal or revise a contentious rule requiring companies like Devon to take extra steps to prevent groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, a drilling technique in which chemicals and water are forced into rock formations.

You get the idea. Pruitt has a history of working with Devon Energy; the administration has both a pro-extractive industry bias and powerful faction and the always reliable motive of f**king with anything that Obama accomplished.  Some of what the shitgibbon’s people aim to do can, no doubt, be delayed, obstructed, tied up.  Much, perhaps most will go through, at least over the next year or so, up until the pressures of the next election begin to bite.

So:  constant vigilance and trust no Republican. They’ll load up anything they can on anything they can, transferring public goods (clean air, clean water, anything not nailed down) to private hands.

Over to y’all.

*Publication of such stories  is why I continue to subscribe. Their political desk is…dodgy…but they still field more fine reporters than just about anywhere else I can think of. YM, as always, MV.

Image: Elihu Vedder, Corrupt Legislation, mural in the Library of Congress, 1896.



If You Don’t Know Who The Patsy At The Table Is, Dear Trumpkins…

...it’s you:

Again and again, President-elect Donald Trump presented himself as the coal miners’ candidate. During the campaign, he promised to bring coal back into the economy, and jobs back into struggling Appalachian towns.

But now some in coal country are worried that instead of helping, Trump’s first actions will deprive miners — and their widows and children — of the compensation they can receive if they are disabled by respiratory problems linked to breathing coal mine dust.

That’s because buried in the Affordable Care Act are three sentences that made it much easier to access these benefits. If Trump repeals Obamacare — as he vowed to do before the election — and does not keep that section on the books, the miners will be back to where they were in 2009, when it was exceedingly difficult to be awarded compensation for “black lung” disease.

coal_mining_18th_c

This is by no means a done deal, given that at least some coal-country legislators (Joe Manchin, for one) have declared their support for retaining this in whatever comes out of the health care catastrophe the GOP is determined to commit.  But McConnell is, as usual, mum on the matter, and if I were a coal mining family depending on the pittance they do get (top payment for a miner with three dependents: $1,289/month), I’d be getting ready not for hard times — they’re already here — but worse.

[update: obligatory post soundtrack]

The key change the ACA implemented in black lung cases was to shift the burden of proof: instead of a miner having to prove that the work caused the disease, under the new rules,

If a miner has spent 15 years or more underground and can prove respiratory disability, then it is presumed to be black lung related to mine work, unless the company can prove otherwise.

This wasn’t a case of free money all around. As reporter Eric Boodman writes,  “In 2009, 19 percent of claims for black lung benefits were successful; in 2015, that percentage had jumped to 28.” That’s a big jump — but hardly evidence that the black lung compensation process is a wild government grab of beleaguered coal company assets.

Those companies hate the rule, with a spokesman telling Boodman that it’s created “a supplemental pension program” rather than the compensation for occupational disease, which is as fine a bit of high priced turd polishing as I’ve seen in a while.

TL:DR?  Think of this as Mencken’s rule in action:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Trump voters in coal country — West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky — were promised their country back.

What will they receive?

The shaft, deeper and darker than any hole miners have dug in the hunt for what will continue to kill them where they stand.

Image: Léonard Defrance, Coal Mining, before 1805.



Trump Knuckles Under

Damn it, Trump! Per CNN’s breaking news headline:

Donald Trump signs GOP loyalty pledge, he says after meeting with RNC leader.

Reince Priebus isn’t butch enough to shake down a five-year-old for her lunch money, so what’s Trump’s angle here? I was almost starting to believe he was giving us a masterwork performance in civic trolling, but caving to Rinses Repeatus doesn’t jibe with that scenario…



Soundtrack for the GOP Debate

Couldn’t find a better choice than this:

 

I think they should cue up the change at about 1:20 for everytime the Donald or his tame scalp tribble commits an utterance.
BTW — in case you’re wondering, those are theramins inside the matryoshas.  And yes, the world is not only stranger than we thought, it is stranger than it is possible to imagine.  See also Florida.
 –
Alternative GOP appropriate musical suggestions, anyone?


One DB to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

Did you know the Koch Bros created an all-seeing Eye of Sauron-like contraption to turn its terrible, burning gaze on voters? And that the Koch Bros and RNC’s Reince Repeatus are now squabbling over the RNC’s master voter data file like a pair of horny frat boys over a bootlegged sex tape? It’s true!

Interviews with more than three dozen people, including top decision-makers in both camps, have revealed that the Kochs’ i360 platform for managing voter contacts — which is viewed by many as a superior, easier-to-use interface than what’s on offer from the RNC — is becoming increasingly popular among Republican campaigns.

The RNC is now openly arguing, however, that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over — some even say control of — the GOP.

“I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how,” said Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff.

You don’t say, Katie Walsh! Imagine how much worse it would be if well-financed individuals were able to just purchase candidates outright, like so many packages of Peeps? Oh wait…

Any guesses on who wins in this scuffle over the precious data?



Bernie Sanders Hauls in $1.5 Million in 24 Hours

Maybe there’s hope for the republic after all; via CNN:

WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders’ nascent presidential campaign announced Friday that it had raised more than $1.5 million in its first 24 hours, a number that far outpaces what Republican presidential hopefuls posted on their first day… [M]ore than 100,000 people signed up for the campaign and 35,000 people donated money….

Bernie raised more than Marco Rubio, Rand Paul or Ted Cruz collected on their first day, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that the corporate media has spent the last two years acting as if that trio of lightweights and lunatics are serious presidential contenders while treating anyone to the left of Susan Collins as a commie crank. 

The mister and I played a small part in Bernie’s surprisingly successful showing: We made our first political contribution of 2016 to Sanders’ campaign yesterday in the hope that his candidacy would drag Hillary Clinton a few centimeters leftward. Little did we guess we were droplets in a socialist cash tsunami!



Chumps, Marks, Fools And Suckers

Paul Waldman of the Washington Post notes that the right is up in arms over campaign finance reform and political action committees.  Up until now the screaming has been that the Obama administration was using the IRS to somehow “unfairly target” these groups as political motivation, something Republicans held a billion hearings about that were all smoke and mirrors.

Only it turns out Tea Party PACs actually were “legally” defrauding the hell out of their donors the whole time thanks to the Citizens United ruling.

In the last few years, political organizations of various kinds have proliferated, as all kinds of people seek to take advantage of the post-Citizens United world in which money can flow in so many directions. This has provided a splendid opportunity for the participants in an old game, one in which gullible conservatives are scammed out of their money by a seemingly limitless number of con artists.

Some of those con artists are obscure consultants and operators, but some of them are quite famous, which we’ll get to in a bit. But today, John Hawkins of Right Wing News released a report on a group of conservative PACs that took in millions of dollars in contributions in 2014, ostensibly for the purpose of electing Republicans, but spent almost none of it on actual political activity. Instead, the money went into the pockets of the people who run the PACs and their associates. Jonah Goldberg, reacting to the report, calls this the “right wing scam machine.”

Why, one would think these campaign finance groups should be targeted for increased scrutiny or something. Hawkins gives this situation:

For example, let me tell you how conservatives can be (and have been) ripped off by scam groups. Let’s say Ronald Reagan is still alive and someone starts the Re-Elect Ronald Reagan To A Third Term PAC. Because people love Reagan, let’s suppose that conservative donors pony up $500,000 to help the organization. However, the donors don’t know that Ronald Reagan has nothing to do with the PAC. Furthermore, the real goal of the PAC is to line the pockets of its owner, not to help Ronald Reagan. So, the PAC sets up two vendors, both controlled by the PAC owner: Scam Vendor #1 and Scam Vendor #2. Let’s assume it costs $50,000 to raise the half million the PAC takes in. Then, the PAC sends $100,000 to the first company and $100,000 to the second company to “promote Ronald Reagan for President.”

Each of the companies then goes out and spends $1,000 on fliers. The “independent expenditures” that show up on the FEC report? They’re at 40%. That’s because the FEC doesn’t require vendors to disclose how much of the money they receive is eaten up as overhead. The dubious net benefit that Ronald Reagan receives from an organization that raised $500,000 on his name? It’s $2,000. On the other hand, the net profit for the PAC owner is $448,000. Is that legal? The short answer is, “It’s a bit of a grey area, but, yes, it is legal.

Which is exactly what conservatives said they wanted, because when Democrats pointed out after Citizens United “Hey, we should probably then change the rules so that there’s more disclosure transparency in what PACs actually give to candidates” it’s people like Jonah Goldberg who happily called campaign finance reform (and everything else Democrats ever did) “liberal fascism” and an assault on “free speech” and went berserk when the Obama Administration turned to the IRS to try to see what the hell these PACs were up to and Democrats suggested that “Hey, we might want to bring in some regulation here.”

Mitch McConnell killed the DISCLOSE Act real quick last summer.

Now, you see, some conservatives think campaign finance reform might be a good idea.

Hoocoodanode?