Thursday, April 26, 2018

Trump's cabinet picks unraveling the fabric of America amidst a culture of corruption

You might remember my simple formula that describes Trump’s cabinet picks. For example, X-AntiX case study: EPA regs on the chopping block. “For a given agency X, pick as its leader someone who is fiercely antiX. Then sit back and watch the carnage.” I’ll get back to the EPA shortly.

I was worried about HUD Secretary Ben Carson, because doing nothing would violate my X/antiX rule. I should have kept the faith. It was just a matter of time. Carson was a bit slow to get started, but here he goes.

538’s Significant Digits email contains this gem.

35 percent
A Department of Housing and Urban Development proposal would hike the rents of people living in federally subsidized housing. Currently these residents have to pay 30 percent of their adjusted income as rent, but the new rules would hike that up to 35 percent of gross income. This will affect roughly half of the 4.7 million families who receive housing benefits. [The Washington Post]

The Post reported that HUD Secretary Ben Carson to propose raising rent for low-income Americans receiving federal housing subsidies.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed far-reaching changes to federal housing subsidies Wednesday, tripling rent for the poorest households and making it easier for housing authorities to impose work requirements.

Carson’s proposals, and other initiatives aimed at low-income Americans receiving federal assistance, amount to a comprehensive effort by the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to restrict access to the safety net and reduce the levels of assistance for those who do qualify.

And with that Carson has jumped on the AynRandian wagon with both feet, kicking those who are already down. That’s just the beginning of the Trumpian assault on the safety net.

Trump earlier this month signed an executive order directing federal agencies to expand work requirements for low-income Americans receiving Medicaid, food stamps, public housing benefits and welfare. …

The next two significant digits are reported by your Scriber.

Here’s a story by Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA administrator under President George W. Bush, and is a former governor of New Jersey.

Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is among Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. Influence is a valenced concept. Pruitt made the Time’s list for his negative, not positive, influence. [Scott Pruitt]

The Environmental Protection Agency has been instrumental in improving our nation’s air, land and water quality. From the inaugural Clean Air Act of 1970 to the Brownfields Program and Great Lakes cleanup, the EPA has established antipollution standards, cleaned up contaminated sites and provided safe drinking water to millions of people. These achievements merely scratch the surface of the EPA’s positive impact on the environment and human health at large.

Until recently, decades of scientific research on climate change formed the springboard for the EPA’s protective and effective measures. However, under the administration of Scott Pruitt, the agency is experiencing a new wave of policymaking—or rather, policy dismantling. (He has already dismantled the Clean Power Plan, which would have regulated carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector, and is now targeting vehicle-emissions standards.) If his actions continue in the same direction, during Pruitt’s term at the EPA the environment will be threatened instead of protected, and human health endangered instead of preserved, all with no long-term benefit to the economy.

And when Pruitt is not doing that stuff, he’s spending tax dollars feeding his paranoia with a 20-man security team, a supposedly secure telephone booth, and first-class air fare. Why first class? He is afraid of us - the people he is sworn to serve. Despicable.

That’s the number of bankers attending a talk by Budget Director Mick Mulvaney - who also doubles as acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Mulvaney lectured them on the desirability of spending lots of money on getting Washington to do their bidding for their bidness. He should know. As a congressman, Mulvaney had one rule for lobbyists: pay to play. Trump’s culture of corruption continues to surprise. [MSNBC/MaddowBlog]

With unusual candor, Mulvaney talks about selling access to lobbyists writes Steve Benen.

Mick Mulvaney. Donald Trump’s budget director and the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has been quite busy lately – but not in a good way.

The far-right Republican has not, for example, been busy protecting Americans’ financial interests. On the contrary, Mulvaney has effectively stopped all enforcement actions at the CFPB, while also taking outrageous steps to help the payday-loan industry.

Instead, Mulvaney has been busy moving in the opposite direction. He’s been working on changing the name of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection – critics believe he’s trying to lower the agency’s profile and make it less accessible – while also advancing a plan to make it harder for American consumers to file complaints against financial institutions suspected of abuses.

Mulvaney has also been busy giving advice to bankers on their political activities in the Trump era. The New York Times reported overnight:

He told banking industry executives on Tuesday that they should press lawmakers hard to pursue their agenda, and revealed that, as a congressman, he would meet only with lobbyists if they had contributed to his campaign.

“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mr. Mulvaney, a former Republican lawmaker from South Carolina, told 1,300 bankers and lending industry officials at an American Bankers Association conference in Washington. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Cynics who assume the worst of federal officials often suspect members of Congress sell access to lobbyists, but it’s exceedingly rare to hear a prominent politician brag about such corruption in public.

Indeed, as part of his presentation to bankers, Mulvaney talked about additional steps he wants to take to weaken the agency he leads, and he encouraged the financial industry to help him in this endeavor by making campaign contributions that would enhance their influence on Capitol Hill.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a federal policymaker describe a pay-to-play scheme in such explicit terms. It’s almost cartoonish in its malevolence: Mick Mulvaney, a uniquely powerful official, wants to undermine American consumers’ interests in order to help big banks, and to that end, he also wants the financial industry to buy politicians’ attention — which he believes is for sale based on his own previous conduct as a member of Congress.

This, according to Mulvaney, is key to lobbying success in the Trump era.

It’s been a very long time since Americans have seen a culture of corruption this brazen. There was a time when we’d expect to hear comments like Mulvaney’s picked up on a wire as part of a law-enforcement sting operation; now the nation’s budget director feels comfortable making comments like these in public, in front of a room full of corporate allies.

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