Trump imposes steel, aluminum tariffs on U.S. allies and Europe retaliates

President Trump followed through on a threat to impose steep metal tariffs on U.S. allies Thursday, a long-awaited decision that analysts said moved the country closer to a trade war.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that Canada, Mexico and the European Union would be subject to a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum beginning at midnight on Thursday. Brazil, Argentina and Australia agreed to limit steel exports to the U.S. to avoid tariffs, he said.

“The president’s overwhelming objective is to reduce our trade deficit,” Ross said.

The decision was the latest by the Trump administration to project a more protectionist stance amid ongoing trade negotiations with China and other countries. But it drew a sharp rebuke and promises of retaliation from longstanding allies.

“These tariffs are totally unacceptable,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday. “These tariffs are an affront to the long-standing security partnership between Canada and the United States.”

European trade officials have previously threatened to respond to Trump’s move with  duties on U.S.-made motorcycles, orange juice and bourbon, among other things. Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, reiterated that position Thursday, saying Europe would impose duties on “a number of imports from the U.S.”

“This is protectionism, pure and simple,” he said.

The Mexican economic ministry said it would move to place tariffs on U.S.-made pork, flat steel, apples, cheese and other products.

Trump announced the tariff and aluminum tariffs in early March but offered temporary exemptions to the European Union, Canada, Mexico and a number of other allies. He extended those exemptions in late April, noting at the time it would be the “final” delay unless the countries agreed to other concessions.

“We are awaiting their reaction,” Ross said of the other countries. “We continue to remain quite willing, indeed eager, to continue discussions.”

The move promoted criticism from a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill, especially those with large agricultural industries.

“This is dumb,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. “Europe, Canada and Mexico are not China, and you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents.”

The decision comes days after the Trump administration announced $50 billion of new tariffs on Chinese imports, after officials had earlier said it was “putting the trade war on hold” with Beijing. Ross is set to travel to China this weekend to continue trade talks.

The Trump administration has relied on a 1962 law that allows countries to impose trade restrictions for national security purposes. The president has also justified the tariffs by pointing out “shuttered plants and mills” and the decades-long slide of manufacturing.

Several analysts said they are concerned the approach will have the opposite effect.

“The initial blows in the trade wars have finally landed,” said Eswar S. Prasad, former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China division and a professor at Cornell University. “It is now clear that Trump’s threats about trade sanctions are more than just bluster and are to be taken seriously.”

Prasad said the hard line approach might net Trump some short-term wins, but said “it could eventually result in the U.S. playing a diminished” role in global trade.

“He doesn’t have a strategy that’s going to lead to making American manufacturing great again,” said Robert Scott, a trade expert at the Economic Policy Institute. “There will continue to be a series of tit-for-tat battles.”

The U.S. imported 34.6 million metric tons of steel last year, a 15% increase from 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Canada was the top source of U.S. imported steel, accounting for 77%, according to the International Trade Administration. Mexican steel accounts for about 9% of U.S. imports.

The majority of that metal is used in construction, auto manufacturing and appliances.

The tariffs, as well as export controls agreed to by Brazil and others, will raise the price of steel and aluminum in the U.S., making domestic producers more competitive while adding to the price buyers of the metals must pay.

“We think that’s going to put the industry in real peril,” said Jerry Howard, president of the National Association of Home Builders. “We were very excited by the tax bill, but it turns out the tax bill giveth, and tariffs taketh away.”

Ann Wilson with the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association said its members are already paying tariffs on many of the components they import to make auto parts. Imposing additional barriers on the metals used to make those parts, she said, amounts to a “double tariff.”

“There is little doubt that the uncertainty and added costs the administration is creating will put U.S. investments and jobs at risk,” Wilson said.

Steel trade with Canada and Mexico is covered under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the president is relying on a provision of U.S. law that allows him to claim the imports represent a threat to national security.

Many observers believe the announcement Thursday is the latest effort to prod stalled negotiations over rewriting NAFTA, which Trump repeatedly promised to do during his campaign for president.

“This really is an attempt to strengthen the negotiating power of the U.S. when it comes to renegotiating NAFTA,” said Ned Hill, who teaches economic development at Ohio State University. “This is just very public, bare-knuckle negotiating.”

[USA Today]

Reality

Trump promised he would go after countries who “cheated” in trade, but we do not have a major trade imbalance with our friends and allies.

Trump working with Chinese president to help China’s ZTE ‘get back into business’

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping are working to give Chinese telecom company ZTE Corp “a way to get back into business, fast.”

“President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The Chinese technology company earlier this month suspended its main operations after the U.S. Commerce Department banned American supplies to its business.

As one of the world’s largest telecom equipment makers, ZTE relied on U.S. companies such as Qualcomm Inc and Intel Corp for components.

[Reuters]

ZTE is banned from selling devices in the US because they violated our own sanctions and sold equipment to Iran. Remember, just this week Trump thought sanctions on Iran are so important he left the Iran deal to impose new sanctions on the country.

Do you realize how insane this is?

The company reached a settlement in March 2017 with the Commerce Department and Treasury Department for $1.19 billion and the promise to terminate several employees and punish others.

ZTE disclosed earlier this year that while it had gotten rid of several employees, the company hadn’t properly reduced the bonuses of some workers, or issued letters of reprimand. The inaction wasn’t consistent with a progress report ZTE issued in July. It’s because of those false statements that the Commerce Department decided to act.

Trump says missiles ‘will be coming’

US President Donald Trump has tweeted that Russia should “get ready” for missiles to be fired at its ally Syria, in response to an alleged chemical attack near Damascus on Saturday.

“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'” Mr Trump said in his tweet.

Senior Russian figures have threatened to meet any US strikes with a response.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government denies mounting a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.

In one of his tweets on Wednesday, Mr Trump called the Syrian leader a “gas killing animal”.

In another, he painted a dark picture of US-Russia relations but said it did not have to be that way.

The US, UK and France have agreed to work together and are believed to be preparing for a military strike in response to the alleged chemical attack at the weekend.

[BBC]

Trump’s push to redo $1.3T spending bill he signed sparks GOP revolt

A regretful President Donald Trump wants to roll back spending in a massive omnibus bill he signed into law, but Republicans who helped craft the legislation are in open revolt.

“My attitude is, your word is your bond,” House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said, in his first public comments on the Trump plan.

Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) is among more than a half-dozen appropriators who have voiced skepticism about the Trump administration’s proposal to cancel billions in spending. Nearly all said they feared that it could erode the GOP’s bargaining power in future budget talks. Their objections represented another low point in an often-tense relationship between the cost-cutting White House and GOP members of Congress who write spending bills.

The skeptics included the newly appointed Senate Appropriations chief, Richard Shelby, who met with Trump on Wednesday.

“We need to look at what we agreed on with the other side and keep our word, keep our agreements,” the Alabama Republican told POLITICO just before his one-on-one with Trump.

He added that the Senate has had little appetite for the idea in the past: “Rescissions has never been a big thing over here.”

The White House is seeking to essentially take a scalpel to last month’s $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, scratching out any funding that Trump doesn’t personally back.

Budget experts have said a rescissions package of that scale would likely be unprecedented: One party’s leaders in Congress and the White House have never before unilaterally agreed to unravel a spending deal that has already been sealed.

“I think the whole rescission effort is unrealistic and dangerous,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a longtime appropriator, told reporters. “It’s hard enough to make a bargain around here. But you can’t break your word when you do. … You’d never have another deal ever.”

Multiple lawmakers, including Cole, said they don’t believe House GOP leaders are taking the idea seriously — despite Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s own involvement in the budget scheme. They think it’s really being pushed by Trump’s belt-tightening budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a former member of the House Freedom Caucus.

Most are doubtful that the cutbacks could even land a floor vote.

“It seems like this is just an exercise in appeasing the president and the Republican ‘no’ votes on the omnibus,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) told reporters.

“We could have made the original budget framework smaller. I would have been fine with that,” Dent said. But he cautioned that going back on the agreement now, months later, would have a “chilling effect” on future deals.

Republicans, particularly in the House, have little desire to revisit the unpopular spending deal, H.R. 1625 (115), in an increasingly dire midterm campaign cycle. The package included huge boosts to domestic funding, which GOP leaders worked hard to sell to their own members in the name of securing more Pentagon funding.

Ultimately, 90 House Republicans backed the spending bill, in part because they were promised cover by the White House.

But Trump’s 180-degree reversal on that deal left the Republican lawmakers who backed the omnibus feeling spurned. Trump further infuriated members of his own party after he threatened to veto the bill and accused GOP leaders of choosing to “waste money” in the bill.

Those same Republican leaders have sharply disputed Trump’s claim that there was no close scrutiny of spending. “When you put together a $1.3 trillion bill, you look into all these accounts,” Frelinghuysen said in defense of the bill.

“You don’t throw your friends under the bus who did exactly what you wanted them to do,” Cole said, calling it a “hare-brained scheme.”

Just one appropriator out of nine polled by POLITICO this week expressed interest in a rescissions package.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who oversees Agriculture spending, said he was “absolutely” open to the idea.

“We’re all just getting back, we gotta sit around the table and talk about it, but I don’t dismiss the idea at all,” said Aderholt, who is in a tight race to take over as House Appropriations chairman next year.

No lawmaker has seen any details out of the White House or GOP leadership about which programs would be cut. The Trump administration would have until mid-June to submit its request, after which it would be up to the House Appropriations Committee to turn the package into legislative language.

That work would need to be done at the same time the Appropriations panels are knee-deep in drafting bills for fiscal 2019, which begins Sept. 30.

And with an already abbreviated House calendar this year, lawmakers say there’s hardly time or interest to jump back into the previous fiscal year.

“We’ll see how that comes together. I’m not quite sure how that’s going to happen, but we’ll see if it does,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) said.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have accused the GOP of “buyer’s remorse” after the most recent spending deal. And Democrats are already cautioning that Republican efforts to walk back this year’s spending deal would be seen as an attempt to void the entire two-year budget agreement.

Without that agreement, which also delivered huge increases in defense spending, the Pentagon’s budget would actually shrink next year.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said he won’t decide whether to support a rescissions package until he sees the details. But he added that Congress’ spending panels tend to take the blame for the nation’s mounting debt — even though nondefense discretionary spending accounts for just 15 cents out of every dollar spent by the government.

“At Appropriations, we’re the most visible and easy target,” he said.

[Politico]

The Trump administration wants to let bosses keep their workers’ tips

The Trump administration has kept its promise to let companies do business with less government oversight. From the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Health and Human Services, the administration has rolled back rules on oil companies, banks, and health insurance companies.

Trump’s efforts could soon reach your neighborhood restaurant, barbershop, and nail salon. One of the administration’s major deregulation efforts is currently underway at the Department of Labor — and if implemented, it could potentially hurt millions of American workers who get tips as part of their jobs.

The agency is considering a new rule that would give employers unprecedented control over what to do with a worker’s gratuities. The rule, which the agency proposed in December, would repeal an Obama-era regulation that made official what had been the common view for decades: that tips are the sole property of the workers who earn them. It would essentially allow employers to use their workers’ tips for tip-pooling arrangements, provided their workers make the minimum wage.

If the new rule is finalized, it would be a boon to the restaurant industry, which has been fighting for years to control how servers’ tips are distributed.

“This is a major departure from how the DOL has always interpreted the law,” said Judith Conti, the federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project. “It sets policy for all tipped workers: parking attendants, car washers, airport valets, taxi drivers, hotel bellhops.”

The rule would have an immediate effect in at least six states, including Arizona and Nevada, where employers are required to pay the full minimum wage to all tipped workers. (Under federal law, the minimum wage for tipped workers is only $2.13; the full minimum wage is $7.25.)

But even states that don’t require the full minimum wage for tipped workers will be affected. Workers who earn the full minimum wage but still count on tips to supplement their pay — such as barbers and nail technicians — could see their take-home pay affected. (According to one estimate, there are 4.3 million tipped workers in the US.)

The rule would also create an incentive for some restaurant owners in those states to pay servers the full $7.25 hourly minimum wage. That might sound like good news for servers who make only the tipped-worker minimum wage of $2.13 per hour — but if those workers normally make enough tips to push their pay above $7.25, the new rule would allow their employers to take any tips they earn above minimum wage, effectively lowering their take-home pay. Including tips, the average hourly wage for restaurant servers in the United States was $11.73 in 2016.

The new rule would allow restaurant owners to do two things in particular. First, it would let employers collect the servers’ tips into a pool that would be shared with back-of-the-house workers — dishwashers, cooks, etc. — who have to be paid the regular minimum wage and aren’t typically tipped. Restaurant owners say that back-of-the-house workers should get a share of the tips because they contribute to a customer’s overall experience, but labor rights groups and servers argue that restaurant owners should just pay those workers better, instead of using servers’ tips to subsidize their pay.

But the second way employers could use the tips goes even further than expanding this type of tip pooling. The rule lists examples of how else employers could use a worker’s gratuities: to renovate their restaurants, lower menu prices, or hire more workers. In other words, it allows restaurant owners to keep the tips for themselves.

The proposal immediately triggered outrage among restaurant servers and labor rights groups, who flooded the Department of Labor with thousands of comments.

The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, estimates that the rule would likely transfer about $5.8 billion in tips each year from workers to their bosses — about 16.1 percent of all their tips. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta reportedly tried to hide an internal analysis showing that the rule could take $640 million from workers (an initial analysis showed it would actually take billions of dollars), according to a Bloomberg investigation. Now the agency’s inspector general is investigating the allegations.

“It’s really, really troubling,” said Sharon Block, a law professor at Harvard who worked at the Department of Labor under the Obama administration and who helped develop the Obama-era rule clarifying that tips were the property of the workers who earned them. “This is no small thing for people who really can’t afford to be subsidizing their employers.”

Despite the backlash, the Department of Labor is still considering implementing the new rule. A spokesperson for the department said the agency is currently in the process of reviewing more than 375,000 public comments it received.

[Vox]

Trump to consider elephant trophy imports on ‘case-by-case’ basis

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced last week that it will now consider all permits for importing elephant trophies from African nations on a “case-by-case basis,” breaking from President Trump’s earlier promises to maintain an Obama-era ban on the practice.

In a formal memorandum issued on Thursday, FWS said it will withdraw its 2017 Endangered Species Act (ESA) findings for trophies of African elephants from Zimbabwe and Zambia, “effective immediately.”

The memo said “the findings are no longer effective for making individual permit determinations for imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies.”

In its place, FWS will instead “grant or deny permits to import a sport-hunted trophy on a case-by-case basis.”

FWS said it will still consider the information included in the ESA findings, as well as science-based risk assessments of the species’ vulnerability, when evaluating each permit request.

The service also announced it is withdrawing a number of previous ESA findings, which date back to 1995, related to trophies of African elephants, bontebok and lions from multiple African countries.

The decision to withdraw the FWS findings followed a D.C. Circuit Court decision in December that found fault with the initial Obama-era rule, which banned importing elephant hunting trophies from Zimbabwe.

“In response to a recent D.C. Circuit Court’s opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its procedure for assessing applications to import certain hunted species. We are withdrawing our countrywide enhancement findings for a range of species across several countries,” a spokesperson for FWS said in a statement. “In their place, the Service intends to make findings for trophy imports on an application-by-application basis.”

A federal appeals court ruled at the end of last year that the Obama administration did not follow the right procedures when it drafted its ban on the imports. The court also said the FWS should have gone through the extensive process of proposing a regulation, inviting public comment and making the regulation final when it made determinations in 2014 and 2015 that elephant trophies cannot be brought into the country.

The agency used the same procedures as the Obama administration for its ESA determination in 2017 that led to reopening African elephant imports to the U.S. in November.

At the time, a FWS spokesperson said the reversal “will enhance the survival of the species in the wild.”

Following the fall announcement to overturn the ban, the Trump administration faced immense backlash, which played a role in leading the president to denounce elephant hunting and promise to re-establish the ban.

Trump in February called the administration’s initial decision to overturn the Obama-era ban “terrible.”

In an interview with British journalist Piers Morgan, Trump said he had decided to officially turn the order around.

“I didn’t want elephants killed and stuffed and have the tusks brought back into this [country] and people can talk all they want about preservation and all of the things that they’re saying where money goes towards well, money was going in that case, going to a government which was probably taking the money, OK?” Trump said.

Despite the president’s tweets and interviews, however, FWS and the Interior Department remained tight-lipped as to the status of the ban. Numerous requests for information to FWS from The Hill over several months were referred to Interior and left unanswered.

“The president has been very clear in the direction that his administration will go,” the FWS spokesperson said of the new memorandum. “Unfortunately, since aspects of the import permitting program for trophies are the focus of ongoing litigation, the Department is unable to comment about specific next steps at this time.”

Nine days before FWS added the reversal to the Federal Register, the Interior Department announced that it was establishing an International Wildlife Conservation Council to “advise the Secretary of the Interior on the benefits that international recreational hunting has on foreign wildlife and habitat conservation.”

Interior Department Spokeswoman Heather Swift said Tuesday that Zinke and the President’s positions remain unchanged.

“The recent FWS posting on the website does not break any promises. In response to a recent D.C. Circuit Court opinion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is revising its procedure for assessing applications to import certain hunted species,” she said.

The council will hold its first meeting next week on March 16.

[The Hill]

Trump Benefited From ‘Extraordinary’ Influx Of ‘Dark Money’ In Final Days Of 2016 Campaign

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop at the First Niagara Center, Monday, April 18, 2016, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Hillary Clinton’s electoral collapse in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign has often been attributed to former FBI Director James Comey’s 11th-hour decision to reopen an investigation into the Democratic nominee, or anti-Clinton ads on social media originating from Russian sources. But a new paper argues that a crucial and overlooked factor in Clinton’s lackluster finish was a huge influx of so-called dark money in support of President Donald Trump in the campaign’s final days.

“Dark money” is a term used to describe political spending by anonymous donors through nonprofits, which don’t have to disclose the names of the people giving them contributions. Thanks to a series of Supreme Court decisions around the end of the last decade, these organizations are now often used to fund political ads at key moments of campaigns. According to a working paper by Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen published by the Institute for New Economic Thinking this week, dark money was mobilized on behalf of Trump in the final weeks of the campaign at an unprecedented scale.

“What happened in the final weeks of the campaign was extraordinary,” the authors wrote.

“Firstly, a giant wave of dark money poured into Trump’s own campaign — one that towered over anything in 2016 or even Mitt Romney’s munificently financed 2012 effort … The gushing torrent, along with all the other funds from identifiable donors that flowed in in the campaign’s final stages should refocus debates about that period.”

At the beginning of November, nearly $13 million worth of dark money was spent supporting Trump, compared to roughly $6 million worth of such funding for Romney at the same time in 2012, according to the authors’ review of FEC and IRS data. That increase does not correspond with a rising amount of dark money between the two election cycles: total dark money spending actually fell to $181 million in 2016 from a high of $308 million in 2012.

The paper doesn’t identify how much dark money benefited Clinton during the course of the 2016 election, but her total fundraising nearly doubled Trump’s, $1.2 billion to $647 million. Trump also generated a record amount of small dollar donations for a Republican candidate.

[International Business Times]

Trump Administration Waives Punishment For Convicted Banks, Including Deutsche — Which Trump Owes Millions

The Trump administration has waived part of the punishment for five megabanks whose affiliates were convicted and fined for manipulating global interest rates. One of the Trump administration waivers was granted to Deutsche Bank — which is owed at least $130 million by President Donald Trump and his business empire, and has also been fined for its role in a Russian money laundering scheme.

The waivers were issued in a little-noticed announcement published in the Federal Register during the Christmas holiday week. They come less than two years after then-candidate Trump promised “I’m not going to let Wall Street get away with murder.”

Under laws designed to protect retirement savings, financial firms whose affiliates have been convicted of violating securities statutes are effectively barred from the lucrative business of managing those savings. However, that punishment can be avoided if the firms manage to secure a special exemption from the U.S. Department of Labor, allowing them to keep their status as “qualified professional asset managers.”

In late 2016, the Obama administration extended temporary one-year waivers to five banks — Citigroup, JPMorgan, Barclays, UBS and Deutsche Bank. Late last month, the Trump administration issued new, longer waivers for those same banks, granting Citigroup, JPMorgan, and Barclays five-year exemptions. UBS and Deutsche Bank received three-year exemptions.

In the year leading up to the new waiver for Deustche Bank, Trump’s financial relationship with the firm has prompted allegations of a conflict of interest. The bank has not only sought the Labor Department waiver from the administration, it has also faced Justice Department scrutiny and five separate government-appointed independent monitors. Meanwhile, the New York Times recently reported that federal prosecutors subpoenaed Deutsche for “bank records about entities associated with the family company of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.”

All of these interactions with the Trump administration and the federal government are transpiring as Deutsche serves as a key creditor for the president’s businesses.

Trump owes the German bank at least $130 million in loans, according to the president’s most recent financial disclosure form. Sources have told the Financial Times the total amount of money Trump owes Deutsche is likely around $300 million. The president’s relationship with the bank dates back to the late 1990s, when it was the one major Wall Street bank willing to extend him credit after a series of bankruptcies. In 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported Trump and his companies have received at least $2.5 billion in loans from Deutsche Bank and co-lenders since 1998.

The relationship has had problems. After the financial crash, Trump defaulted on a $640 million loan from the bank. Deutsche brought Trump to court, and the famously litigious real estate mogul countersued for $3 billion in damages, claiming the financial crisis was a “force majeure” event that Deutsche Bank helped create. But the rift was short-lived: the parties settled, the loan was repaid, and Deutsche was soon lending to Trump again.

In December, Bloomberg and others reported the bank had turned over financial records to special prosecutor Robert Mueller after his office subpoenaed the records as part of his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Trump’s lawyers have called that reporting inaccurate.

“We have confirmed that the news reports that the Special Counsel had subpoenaed financial records relating to the President are false,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said in a statement. “No subpoena has been issued or received. We have confirmed this with the bank and other sources.”

Less than three weeks later, the New York Times reported federal prosecutors had subpoenaed Deutsche Bank records related to White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Kushner and his vast business holdings. There is no evidence those subpoenas were related to Mueller’s investigation.

The subpoenas come less than a year after Deutsche Bank was fined $425 million by New York State for laundering $10 billion out of Russia.

All five of the banks granted waivers from the Obama and Trump administration were fined for their involvement in the LIBOR scandal that led to $9 billion worth of fines from regulators around the world. Deutsche Bank has paid $3.5 billion for its role in the scandal, more than any other bank. The scandal involved illegally manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate or LIBOR, which is used to set the cost of borrowing for a variety of financial transactions.

In 2015, Deutsche Bank pled guilty in the U.S. to wire fraud for its role in the scandal. Less than two years later, in the final hours of the Obama administration, Deutsche Bank agreed to a $7.2 billion settlement with the Justice Department for misleading investors in mortgage-backed securities between 2006 and 2007.

[International Business Times]

Trump changes Consumer Protection Bureau to Deregulation Bureau

Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, a month into his job moonlighting as head the CFPB, has rewritten the consumer watchdog’s mission statement. In a nutshell, the regulatory agency is now a deregulatory agency. Here’s the before and after:

Then: “The CFPB is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives.”

Now: “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by regularly identifying and addressing outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations, by making rules more effective, by consistently enforcing federal consumer financial law, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives.”

[Politico]

Trump moves to weaken black lung protections

President Donald Trump is considering weakening a regulation intended to protect the health of one of the demographics he has often claimed to care most about — America’s coal miners.

A notice labeled “Regulatory Reform of Existing Standards and Regulations; Retrospective Study of Respirable Coal Mine Dust Rule” was published on Thursday by the White House for the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The stated purpose of the reevaluation would be to determine how a 2014 rule passed under President Barack Obama regulating coal miners’ exposure to coal dust “could be improved or made more effective or less burdensome.”

When the rule was first implemented, it utilized new technologies and increased sampling in mines so that workers would have real-time information about dust levels. This would in turn allow both the miners and operators to minimize the chances that workers would be overexposed to coal dust, which has caused an epidemic of black lung disease among coal miners.

In spite of a 1969 law that increased coal mine safety requirements, more than 76,000 coal miners throughout America died of black lung disease between 1968 and 2014. Many of those deaths occurred among coal miners whose entire mining careers took place after the 1969 law had taken effect.

In response to the announcement that the coal dust rule would be reevaluated, the National Mining Association released a statement saying, “While we’ve not had any discussions with the agency regarding the retrospective study, we think it might shed valuable information on operation of the rule since its promulgation and ways it might be improved to provide further protection for miners while eliminating unnecessary implementation requirements for operators.”

Meanwhile a spokesman for mining company Murray Energy — whose owner, Bob Murray, was a major Trump backer in the 2016 election — released a statement saying that it is “pleased that the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration is reexamining the Obama administration’s Respirable Dust Rule, which fails to protect coal miners in any way.”

Although coal mining has been on the decline in Appalachia over the past few years, that isn’t as a result of Trump’s policies. Part of that is something Trump can’t control. And part of it is something Trump doesn’t want to control. The chief struggle facing coal miners is that natural gas, solar and wind power can outcompete coal due to their low cost and abundance. Making matters worse for coal miners themselves, the coal mining jobs are often the best-paying ones in their area, and job retraining programs have a spotty track record of actually helping individuals who use them.

This latest policy undermines Trump’s longstanding claim to be an ally of coal miners, which he bragged about when he pulled out of the Paris climate accord. “I happen to love the coal miners,” Trump proclaimed at the time.

Trump may have let his true feelings about coal miners be known during a Playboy interview in 1990, however.

“The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son,” Trump told Playboy. “If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination — or whatever — to leave their mine. They don’t have ‘it.'”

[Salon]

1 2 3 4