Based on the U.S. Supreme Court argument in the Wisconsin Gerrymandering case, I am optimistic that we may get some very much needed reform. To see why, click here for my commentary on TheHill.com.
I keep looking for ways to talk with supporters of the Administration. President Carter started the deregulation frenzy. That has become half of the Republican cut-and-deregulate refrain ever since, consistently repeated by the current White House and the Republicans in Congress. I’d like to focus on the things that will affect those of us who are, financially speaking, ordinary, middle-class Americans.
Here are changes the Administration and congressional Republicans are considering that affect working conditions:
- The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has been postponing and considering cutting down a Labor Department rule that limits “workers’ exposure [to] toxic material, which can cause a deadly lung disease.”
- The same White House Office is also “considering a proposal to roll back protections for workers in construction and shipbuilding.”
- Those rules allow our employers to save cash by risking our health.
- “The Working Families Flexibility Act … would give employees a choice between taking time off or being paid time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours in a week.”
- Either way, Republicans oppose changing overtime rules to raise eligibility for overtime above the current $23,660 per year.
- Those rules allow our employers to save cash by shortchanging us.
Here are some that affect the health of financially ordinary Americans:
- The Administraton has already taken steps to “roll back healthy school lunch standards”
- The new head of the FDA “has invested in or consulted for dozens of healthcare companies” which suggests that the Food and Drug Administration won’t be much help in preventing unnecessary complications and expenses.
- The House health care bill would eliminate Obamacare requirements that insurance plans cover prescriptions drugs and mental healthcare. Like all insurance, drug and mental health care coverage are intended to protect people from unplanned changes in the costs of survival.
- Senate Republicans narrowly lost an effort to roll back a regulation that “limit[s] methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling.” Methane is even more damaging to the climate than carbon.
- Those rules risk our health for the sake of other people’s profits.
On savings for retirement:
- “Trump’s Labor Department delayed the so-called fiduciary rule, ordering financial advisers to act in … [your] best interest[s] … [if you] are saving for retirement.”
- The CHOICE Act would allow the banks that brought us the crash of 2008 to opt out of regulations adopted after the crash and intended to prevent another. And the bill renames the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and “reduces its power to enforce pre-existing consumer protection laws.”
- Those rules risk our financial security for the sake of other people’s profits.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the Supreme Court show little respect for working men and women.
- With Breyer’s help they have blessed “Professional debt collectors … [who] built a business out of buying stale debt, filing claims in bankruptcy proceedings to collect it, and hoping that no one notices that the debt is too old to be enforced by the courts.”
- The Court continues to apply a 1925 statute intended for interstate business transactions to consumer contracts and the Court bars state regulation entirely.
What Republicans continue to give us is freedom for the boss and drudgery for the rest of us. As the old folk song has it, “same song, second verse, could get better but it’s gonna get worse.”
— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, May 16, 2017.
Barack Obama has been one of our most decent and intelligent presidents. I’ll miss him. Instead of simplification and slogans, Obama explained the complexities of everything from medical treatment to foreign policy. Instead of shooting from the hip, he studied problems carefully and reached mature, intelligent decisions.
But what will stick?
Starting with foreign affairs, Obama got most of the boots off Muslim lands. When Obama took office in 2008 we had close to 200,000 soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we have about 15,000 troops, combined, there and in Syria.
ISIS seems to have refocused on Europe but that’s still a problem for us. Europeans’ objectives are compatible with our own, so they are crucial allies, unlike the Russians. But Europe confronts many times more refugees than we do, with backlash and threats to democracy in several countries. American action in Syria added to the refugee flow, but much resulted from revolutions independent of us. More American militarization in the Arab world would inflame the refugee crisis and increase the terrorism directed at us.
Terrorists are fueled by militarization; nations are much more vulnerable to our military – that’s the difference between defeating Saddam Hussein, having him executed and trying to remain there. Trump may talk tough, but will he be fool enough to wade back into those trouble waters?
In Guantanamo, fewer than 60 prisoners remain of the nearly 800 who were imprisoned there.
Republicans dislike the Iran nuclear deal but so far they’ve nothing to show for their fears. Objections from the other signatories may prevent Trump from disavowing it. This may be the first real test of whether Trump has any grip on reality.
At home, Republicans have been yelling for years that they will tear Obamacare down the first chance they get. But their friends in the insurance industry will howl if they do, especially if Republicans leave features Americans like – a guarantee that you can get insurance, coverage for pre-existing conditions, tax credits for small businesses, etc. So it’s not clear what they’ll actually do. Obama took his health care plan from Mitt Romney’s Republican plan. I can think of improvements to the left of Obamacare, but not any that are more consistent with Republican free-market philosophy. Republicans are in a pickle.
Obama got a small stimulus soon after taking office. Terrified it might actually work, Republicans fought to keep it small. Obama’s stimulus worked, slowly, satisfying the cynicism of Congressional Republicans willing to hurt the country in order to make Obama look bad.
Dodd-Frank financial regulation still stands, reigning in a financial system that gambled with everyone else’s money and made a large number of us much worse off.
Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. One has become the conscience of the Court, the other quieter and more conciliatory. Together, they’ve made a the Court much more fair. The future depends on how long Ginsburg lives and how long Trump is in office. The difference Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan made could disappear in a heartbeat.
So, there’s a lot to celebrate in what Obama did or tried to accomplish. But I have real fears of what could be done in the effort to discredit him instead of making things better for the people of America.
— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, January 3, 2017.
I walked by a group talking about the election and a young woman was saying she would never vote for Hillary because of her personality – I forget the word she used. So I stopped and asked her if that was the most important thing in a candidate. She responded “Yeah” like wasn’t it obvious and went on talking. I moved on shaking my head about her naiveté. This president is going to have to deal with Russia, China, the Muslim world, climate change, and her personality is the issue? The next president is going to have to be cool under pressure, not shoot wildly from the hip, and understand the stakes, the pressures, the possibilities and the limitations of what we can accomplish, and her personality is the issue?
I know some people want to feel like they could have a beer with the president. I think George Bush would have been great to sit down with over a beer. From all accounts I think he’s probably a really nice guy, and easy to get along with. But he was so unprepared to deal with foreign affairs that he made mistakes that will reverberate for decades, if not centuries. I want someone who is preoccupied with what he or she needs to know – which doesn’t tend to make good drinking conversations.
I’ve never met Clarence Thomas but the people I do know who know him tell me he is a really nice guy to be around – including, despite the Anita Hill affair, some of the women who have worked for him. But I think he has been a disaster as a member of the Supreme Court. I did meet Chief Justice Rehnquist, more than once. Sweet guy, at least toward me. But I’m convinced he led the Court in disastrous directions. I’ve also met Breyer. He’s much more often on my side, so Steve, please take care of yourself and stay on the Court. But as far as I’m concerned, if I sat down with Breyer it would be all about business. I didn’t like his apparent manner. I say apparent because what do gestures and expressions or tones of voice really mean about someone’s congeniality when you don’t really know them?
Culturally we often think people who look over their glasses are being haughty – but former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance who wore reading glasses and generally looked over them when talking with me, was very helpful regarding things my office and I were trying to do on behalf of the disadvantaged, and in the process I learned to like him as much as I respected him, which was a lot.
I’m not sure I’d even want a president to take the time to have a beer with me. I’d want her to be focused on what she needs to know to manage any of the life and death problems that are on her desk. I know presidents do take time out to meet people and try to seem connected. But I don’t have the need to take their time. The most connected thing Obama has had to do is to grieve with the families that have lost loved ones, soldiers, children, spouses, and I know he has been as deeply affected by that experience as any president. He’s got more important things on his mind than chatting with me.
Lobby him? That’s not social; that’s business. Beer? That’s my problem, not hers. Personality? Give me a break.
— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, October 11, 2016.