Single-payer healthcare gains traction with Democrats

The Hill

Single-payer healthcare gains traction with Democrats

By Lisa Hagen and Rachel Roubein      July 9, 2017

Democrats are increasingly committing to support single-payer healthcare, amid Republican attacks on ObamaCare and pressure from their party’s left-wing base.

What was once considered only a progressive talking point has gained traction as more Democratic candidates have been willing to embrace government-funded healthcare on the campaign trail and more House members have been signing onto the idea.

Single-payer isn’t just being discussed in liberal enclaves of the country like California, where a single-payer measure recently fell short in the state Assembly. It’s a hot topic in Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) Republican-leaning district, where all the Democratic candidates running in the primary have supported it.

The idea hasn’t won universal appeal in the party, but the spotlight has been shone on the concept of a government-run healthcare system as concerns mount over the Senate GOP’s plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, which would lead to 22 million more Americans without insurance.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) championed the idea of universal healthcare during his insurgent presidential campaign, and he’ll introduce his single-payer plan once the debate over ObamaCare ends.

Other senators — such as Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), two potential 2020 contenders — are getting on board with a Medicare for All proposal. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who faces a tough reelection in a state won by President Trump, said she’s a “maybe” on Sanders’s plan but “anticipates” supporting it, according to The Capital Times.

In the House, Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s (D-Mich.) Medicare for All bill has already netted 113 co-sponsors — nearly double the number of co-sponsors the legislation garnered last congressional session.

Key names are noticeably absent from the list, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). But other members of leadership, including Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), are co-sponsors of the bill.

“It’s nice to see many senators … and a variety of people in the House publicly stating for the first time on record that a single-payer system is the way of the future that we need to be working toward,” Shannon Jackson, the executive director of the Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution, told The Hill.

Warren has publicly encouraged Democratic candidates to campaign on the idea in 2018 and 2020. But even though the Democrats in Ryan’s likely safe GOP district are supporting it, other Democratic candidates in red states and districts have been more cautious about endorsing single-payer. Rob Quist, the Montana Democrat endorsed by Sanders, was the only candidate in this year’s House special elections to run on that platform.

“I think that the politicians who choose to run on a campaign that states and embodies that pillar of our platform will be successful and they will be able to connect with the people,” Jackson said.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows a modest increase in Americans’ support for the concept, with 53 percent of the public supporting all Americans getting their coverage through a single government plan.

That’s up from 2008 and 2009, when about 46 percent of the public held this position. A majority of the uptick in support has come from independents, Kaiser noted.

But in practice, Democrats haven’t been able to muster enough votes to pass a single-payer plan. In California’s state Assembly, moderate and progressive Democrats couldn’t agree on the proposal. While it passed the state Senate, California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D) ultimately tabled the proposal in his chamber.

“It’ll tend to be an issue that more left-leaning Democrats are willing to embrace,” said Dan Mendelson, president of consulting firm Avalere Health.

“In order to embrace that concept, you’ll have to be willing to defend the efficiency and effectiveness of a fully run government system, and there are many Democrats who are not going to do that and there are some who are.”

For Democrats, the increased talk about single-payer offers an alternative message to oppose the Senate GOP’s bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare, he said.

Under a single-payer system, all Americans would have health coverage, whereas the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 22 million people would become uninsured under the Senate GOP’s healthcare plan.

“I think what you see is the Democrats on the Hill are searching for a single unifying message to unite in opposition to what is happening presently in the Congress,” Mendelson said. “And that’s really what they’re looking for.”

Republicans have taken note, seizing on Warren’s request for Democrats to campaign on single-payer in an attempt to play offense in the healthcare debate as Republicans struggle with their unpopular plan.

But Republicans are seeing an advantage in Democrats’ embrace of single-payer, too. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is running auto-play Facebook ads that seek to tie the 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in states Trump won to Warren and government-run healthcare.

The Senate GOP’s campaign arm and the Republican National Committee have pointed to studies that say Medicare for All could cost as much as $32 trillion over a decade.

“I think that the idea that this is becoming our central focus is mistaken and one that our opponents are trying to put forward so they don’t have to talk about their age tax,” said a Democratic strategist with ties to Senate races. “What unites Senate Democrats is opposition to this disaster of a Republican bill.”

Some Republicans don’t see single-payer becoming a toxic issue for Democrats, arguing that those kinds of attacks are more of a “deflection tool” from the GOP’s own healthcare bill.

“It almost seems like it’s too wonky and not enough red meat to really make something catch fire,” a Republican operative in Washington told The Hill. “It’s hard to attack Democrats over single-payer healthcare when we can’t get our act together on repealing ObamaCare.”

Despite increasing talk of single-payer, Democrats haven’t agreed yet on a healthcare message for the 2018 midterms, in part because that will depend on whether Republicans manage to repeal ObamaCare.

“The [GOP] Senate bill is almost designed to make healthcare top-tier issue in the next elections,” said Larry Levitt, a Kaiser Family Foundation senior vice president.

“If the repeal and the replace bill is enacted and signed into law, Democrats will face a challenge as to what their healthcare message will be in 2018 and 2020,” Levitt said, adding that “it’s very likely that many Democrats would turn to single-payer as the next step.”

American farmers are facing a political paradox because of Republicans’ hard line on immigration

Business Insider

American farmers are facing a political paradox because of Republicans’ hard line on immigration

Dana Varinsky        July 8, 2017

  • US dairy farmers tend to be conservatives, but many depend on immigrant workers to keep their operations running.
  • Republicans’ tough stance on immigration has created a political rift between some farmers and their representatives.
  • This disconnect highlights the complicated place farmers hold in American politics.

MAURICE, Iowa — The congressman who has represented northwest Iowa for 15 years once suggested that Mexican immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes” from smuggling drugs across the border. He has been seen with a Confederate flag on his desk (though Iowa supported the Union Army), and he tweeted in March that the US “can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

He even built a model of a border wall on the floor of Congress in 2006 — nearly a decade before Donald Trump adopted the cause.

But on the farms that fill Steve King’s district, his constituents have more nuanced, complicated politics than the Republican congressman’s rhetoric might suggest.

Thousands of immigrants have moved to northwest Iowa in recent decades, attracted by farms and meat producers in need of workers willing to raise pigs, milk cows, or butcher animals. Between 2000 and 2015, the Latino population in Sioux Center, one of the larger cities in the district, more than tripled. According to the census, King’s district is now home to nearly 50,000 people who consider themselves Hispanic or Latino — about 6% of the area’s population.

That means that even some of King’s supporters — he took 61% of the vote in November — are being forced to reconcile their conservative politics with a business reality that has taken on a moral weight. They rely on immigrants, and some will go to extraordinary lengths to support them.

‘They’ve done everything as a citizen should’

Maassen Dairy sits on a rural, unpaved road in Maurice, Iowa, less than half an hour from the South Dakota border. The Maassen family started producing milk on the land with about 15 cows during the 1920s. Five generations later, that number has grown to more than 1,300, and the animals spend their days in a covered, open-air barn, a pile of food easily reachable through a metal gate.

Lee Maassen grew up on the farm and started working there full-time soon after he got married at age 20. He now runs the operation with his sons.

On nearly every issue, Maassen is a reliably conservative voter. He supported King and Trump in the latest election. He agrees with King’s positions on limiting environmental regulation, he said, and on what Maassen refers to as “morality issues” like abortion.

But on immigration, they diverge. For the past 30 years, the Maassen family has been hiring more and more immigrant workers — of the 26 employees currently at Maassen Dairy, 16 are immigrants, mostly from Mexico. The family has even sponsored many to apply for citizenship. Often, that involved accompanying the workers on the more than two-hour drive to the Mexican consulate in Omaha, Nebraska, since there isn’t one in Iowa.

Maassen estimates his family has successfully helped half a dozen immigrant workers become citizens since they hired their first Mexican employee in 1985.

“All of our workers, they’ve paid their full amount of federal income tax, full amount of state tax. They’ve done everything as a citizen should,” he told Business Insider. “So why shouldn’t they be granted that? That’s why we need some reform.”

Maassen knows, however, that his idea of reform doesn’t align with the one espoused by King and other Republican politicians — especially since Trump’s election.

“The stance is sometimes really negative: Anybody that’s not classified, an immigrant, we’re going to send them all back, we’re going to close down the border, whatever,” he said of those with hardline stances on immigration. “But I’m thinking, do you really understand what the full impact of that would be?”

Immigrants or robots

Farmers are fairly accustomed to occupying a unique, complicated place in American politics.

They make up less than 2% of the US population, but their work has a dramatically disproportionate effect on the country’s economy. Environmental regulations affect them heavily, yet a changing climate can threaten their livelihoods. They generally vote Republican, but plenty of crop farmers utilize government insurance subsidies, and many in the industry are wary of big business and increasing consolidation.

Plus, free trade has proved a boon for agriculture — the value of US dairy-product exports more than quadrupled from 2004 to 2014, and pork exports have increased nearly eleven-fold since 2000 — but farmers were left in a lurch after both Democrats and Republicans came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the 2016 election.

However, nowhere is farmers’ complex political position clearer than on immigration.

The Department of Agriculture estimated that only about 22% of the country’s crop farm workers in 2013 and 2014 were born in the US. Immigrants also permeate many other agricultural sectors that get less attention. Dairy workers aren’t employed seasonally. They don’t toil in fields picking delicate fruit like grapes or strawberries. And many don’t work anywhere near the Mexico-US border.

No nationally gathered statistics are available about laborers in livestock industries. But in a report put together for the National Milk Producers Federation in 2015 based on a survey of 1,000 dairy farms around the country, responses indicated that immigrants accounted for 51% of all dairy labor in the US, and that dairies employing immigrants produced 79% of the country’s total milk supply.

It’s the physical nature of dairy farming, Maassen said, that has made it almost impossible to fill positions with Iowa natives.

“We can’t find enough employees to fulfill the job role,” he said. “We need immigrant labor in order to do that.”

A crackdown on immigration would dramatically affect Maassen’s business — and the dairy industry overall. The NMPF report estimated that eliminating immigrant labor would cause the total number of dairy farms in the US to drop by over 7,000 and retail milk prices to increase by 90%.

“We’ve thought about that and considered what’s our disaster program if that would happen,” Maassen said of that worst-case scenario. “It would affect us greatly. We’d have to make some adjustments to how we’d hire the labor in order to do it. We’d have to switch over to all robots.”

Some dairy farms around the US have installed robotic milking machines to eliminate the problems that come from labor shortages and employee management. But for now, Maassen is sticking with his workers.

‘What more could one want, right?’

The cows at Maassen Dairy get milked three times a day, seven days a week. There are shifts around the clock.

Pilar Garrido spends her eight-hour shift in the farm’s milking parlor with two other employees, Mexican radio playing as groups of well-trained cows file onto elevated platforms. Garrido and her colleagues walk by each cow and coat her udders with a disinfecting cleaner, which stimulates the cow to let her milk down, the same way a nuzzling calf might.

After the cows have been cleaned and wiped, the workers attach milking tubes to each teat. The tubes pop off when the supply of milk is exhausted, and then the workers clean the udders once more before the cows leave and a new group is herded in.

“It’s hard because you’re working the whole eight hours, moving your feet, arms, the whole body,” Garrido, who emigrated to the US from Pachuca, Mexico, 15 years ago, told Business Insider in Spanish while the cows were being milked. “You arrive [home] wanting to bathe and go to sleep and not think about anything.”

Garrido and the others who do this work must power-wash the parlor several times per day. Other workers must also replenish the cows’ food and push it back into accessible piles. A few are in charge of herding the groups into the milking parlor. And then there are the cows ready for artificial insemination, since dairy cows are kept in a nearly permanent postpartum state. And there are the inevitable calves that need tending to.

Garrido said she grew up in a humble, country family and enjoys being with animals. But the work was all new to Mirza Salazar, who shares a shift with Garrido.

“I had an office career,” Salazar said in Spanish as Garrido tended to the cows behind her. She moved from Mexico City to Iowa in 2005, she said, because she had family in the area.

“Here, I learned to milk, about the outdoors, about maternity, I learned all of this,” Salazar said. “It’s very different. It’s tough. It’s simple, but it’s also humble, and it’s a job.”

Salazar and Garrido both fled abusive husbands — Salazar left hers in Mexico, and Garrido separated from hers in Chicago. Each is now raising kids solo. Garrido earns $11.25 an hour and manages to send money back to her parents in Mexico every month or two on top of providing for her kids.

“What more could one want, right? To improve and continue moving forward,” she said. “This is a lovely job, very honorable, and I like it.”

Fear, dialogue, and compromise

Step off Maassen’s farm, and there’s more fear. Garrido said she respected Trump and his decisions but had heard of many in the immigrant community losing hope.

“It causes a lot of remorse to go out into the street, and you don’t know if you’re going to return,” she said. “It’s almost as if you’re like, ‘Oh God, help me to get to work, and God help me to return home.'”

Maassen knows his employees have a heightened awareness of immigration politics since the presidential election. He, too, worries about Trump’s and King’s positions on the issue.

“I had some fear,” he said of King’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. “That’s why we met with Steve King a number of times, just to say, ‘Do you realize?'”

Maassen Dairy is part of an industry group called the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance, which has organized discussions between the state’s dairy farmers and their political representatives. Through those efforts, Maassen attempted to explain his situation to King a couple of years ago. He has also met with Republican Sen. Charles Grassley.

King did not return Business Insider’s request for comment on those meetings, and WIDA representatives said they didn’t believe the conversations led to any noticeable changes in King’s position. But Maassen believes the group did have some success in conveying to King what the consequences of an immigration crackdown would be for his voters. He thinks Trump, too, has been tempered since the campaign.

“Even from a conservative approach, there’s compromise being done already on that as we’re working through it, working for an alternative,” Maassen said.

He might be right — Trump told farmers at a roundtable in May that he would make sure his tough immigration-enforcement policies wouldn’t harm the agriculture industry. And despite King’s years of inflammatory comments, the congressman hasn’t succeeded in enacting many laws that have changed how Maassen goes about his business or his hiring.

That leaves Maassen free to base his vote on the other issues that matter to him — abortion, regulation, taxes. And it leaves King free to keep stepping into the bright spotlight of controversy, all the while hanging onto a decade-old model of a wall that’s unlikely to be built.

SEE ALSO: These robots are milking cows without any humans involved

NOW WATCH: Why organic milk lasts longer than regular milk

More: Dairy Agriculture BI Innovation Iowa

Law Professor: The obstruction of justice case against Trump is already a slam dunk

Business Insider-Slate

Law Professor: The obstruction of justice case against Trump is already a slam dunk

Samuel Buell, Slate  July 8, 2017

In the weeks since the New York Times reported that President Trump allegedly asked James Comey to drop a pending criminal investigation of Michael Flynn, there has been much debate about whether the president committed obstruction of justice.

Looking at the entire affair from the standpoint of strict legal analysis, there’s just one conclusion: All available evidence says he did.

Under such a plain legal analysis, of the sort my students and I conduct in the law school classroom, it is highly likely that special counsel Robert Mueller will find that there is a provable case that the president committed a federal felony offense.

The Justice Department, as well as many scholars, have opined that a sitting president cannot be indicted and tried for a crime. So the ultimate issue, whatever Mueller’s findings, will come down to the political question of impeachment. But Mueller’s determination will be critical because the crime of obstruction would be the most legally potent charge in any impeachment debate, as it was in the articles of impeachment against both Presidents Nixon and Clinton.

It’s worth looking at the already strong publicly available evidence, as well as the supposed flaws in that case. Even taking into account possible shortcomings, the current case for an obstruction of justice charge is crystal clear.

Looking at it from the perspective of a prosecutor or a law school class, the three basic legal elements of obstruction of justice are satisfied in this case. First, Trump’s alleged directive to his former FBI director would qualify as an effort to interfere with an investigation. Federal courts have said that virtually any act can create such liability for obstruction and that the act need not, by itself, be unlawful or even nefarious.

Second, Trump’s act allegedly was taken with a specific “official proceeding”-the potential prosecution of his former national security adviser-in mind as the object of the effort to obstruct.

It’s important to note that the relevant criminal statute prohibits obstruction of legal proceedings that might not yet be underway at the time of the offense but that could come to fruition-an investigation of Flynn was ongoing at that point, but there may not yet have been a grand jury.

As long as the suspect has a specific potential proceeding in mind-any possible prosecution of Flynn would do here-this requirement is satisfied.

Third, Trump’s alleged actions clearly indicate a “corrupt” intent, which federal court rulings have said is a state of mind meaning “with an improper purpose to obstruct justice.” There have been many federal cases in which efforts to derail or even slow a criminal investigation in order to protect associates were proven in court to meet this requirement. That is what apparently happened here.

There are other issues at play, of course. Some have argued that, elements of the crime aside, the president simply cannot be prosecuted for exercising his power to direct federal law enforcement priorities no matter how malevolent his intentions. This argument disturbingly equates the power to do something with the legality of exercising that power.

The Supreme Court has already acknowledged the inescapable logic that the president’s authority over federal law enforcement does not include the freedom to prevent investigation and prosecution of himself and his close aides, as presidential powers expert Richard Pildes has explained. The opposing line of argument would excuse a parade of horribles including, hypothetically, a president who ordered his FBI director to mire an election opponent in a costly and distracting investigation for political reasons, or a president who ordered the halt to a murder investigation that might implicate a staff member.

A related claim is that the existence of the presidential pardon implies the power to snuff out any investigation at any stage. But no sensible rendition of the constitutional framers’ intention could hold that their actual purpose was to grant the president a monarchical prerogative to ordain any legal outcome, on any subject, and at any time.

The principal defense to date from Trump and his advocates has been on the facts. They have denied much of the sequence of events laid out in Comey’s testimony and in press accounts about his contemporaneous documentation of the meetings in question. Even assuming that this defense eventually points to specific contested facts and somehow resolves the president’s own contradictory statements, the approach is going nowhere.

By the standards of federal criminal cases, Comey’s credibility-on recall, detail, résumé, demeanor, bias, intelligence, contemporaneous documentation, and other standard witness metrics-is exceptionally strong. After watching Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, no experienced federal criminal lawyer, speaking candidly, would say otherwise. The chances of impactful cross-examination are minimal.

Comey’s testimony also appears to be extensively corroborated. In addition to Comey’s own writings, which would be admissible as evidence if Comey’s credibility were attacked, President Trump allegedly made statements to others in the administration, to diplomats, and to the public that would bolster Comey’s account.

A prosecutor would also attempt to corroborate innocent details in Comey’s story as well as incriminating ones, including those that support the credibility of witnesses. For example, Comey’s testimony that he spoke with Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after his Oval Office meeting and asked not to be left alone with the president again was corroborated by Sessions himself.

Critically, the entire sequence of events-the alleged requests for “loyalty,” the strange White House dinner, the handling of Comey’s firing, the directive to Sessions and others to leave the Oval Office before the alleged Flynn request, even the president’s dealings with others, such as the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan-fit together to portray a consistent and compelling story about the president’s purpose in urging Comey to end the investigation of Flynn.

Another implausible argument advanced on behalf of the president is that his alleged statements to Comey about dropping the Flynn investigation were not a directive because the president said only that he “hoped” Comey would act accordingly. (Trump denies saying even this.)

As a matter of common sense, the argument that a person with immense power cannot mean to influence an underling when making a “mere” suggestion should strike anyone familiar with the milieu of The Sopranos as frivolous.

As a matter of law, expressing “hope” can constitute obstruction of justice. The judicial decisions in obstruction of justice cases are replete with examples of people prosecuted for attempting to influence others subtly and through less than direct orders.

Yet another uninformed point has been made by some that Trump did not actually obstruct the Flynn investigation: Comey took no action, and even after Comey’s firing, the matter goes on. There is probably no point on which the law of obstruction of justice is clearer: The crime consists of the effort to obstruct, not any actual obstruction. The obstruction statutes themselves include the words endeavor and attempt in their definitions of the offense.

In all the challenges to a potential obstruction case, there is only one issue of substance: whether the president can be proven to have acted with “corrupt” intent to obstruct justice when exercising his supervisory power over federal law enforcement personnel and their activities. Trump could try the novel argument that he lacked the “corrupt” mental state in his dealings with Comey because he believed himself to be exercising his lawful authority to control the enforcement of federal law.

The ultimate question is not whether President Trump thought he was legally allowed to cajole Comey about the Flynn investigation-ignorance of the law would be no excuse-but whether, when he did so, the president acted with a purpose that was “improper.”

Clearing the room before he allegedly raised the Flynn matter with Comey is strong evidence the president knew what he was doing was “improper.” It is also impossible to see how Trump’s purpose here can be deemed “proper” without placing the president above the law. Even the president’s keenest defenders must concede that attempting to stop the Flynn matter by offering a bribe to Comey or threatening his family, physically or economically, would have been improper.

Trump’s alleged actions were somewhat less flagrant here. But courts have ruled, for example, that an attorney can be charged with obstruction when engaging in conduct that would otherwise be ordinary and allowable for a lawyer-like filing lawsuits or giving advice to witnesses-if the lawyer does so for the purpose of protecting himself or his associates from prosecution.

Similarly, if a president wields his normally legal executive power for the purpose of halting the investigation of himself or his associates, he acts with an “improper purpose” to obstruct justice.

Moving to the specifics of this case only makes this clearer. Although strong norms place authority over Department of Justice investigations in the attorney general’s hands, a president might argue that he is entitled to order an investigation closed if he thinks it is a meritless waste of resources. But no evidence supports this as President Trump’s motive in this matter. He himself has reportedly said otherwise. In any event, if a live investigation places the president at serious personal risk, legally or politically, it is impossible for him to exercise independent judgment on the merits of the matter.

A last line of defense might be to concede the argument for a legal case for obstruction but claim that no prosecutor would bring it. Individuals who come in contact with criminal investigations commonly engage in behavior intended to thwart the government, with lying being the most common such behavior. Prosecutors let the vast majority of this stuff go.

This is different, though.

Intervention in a potential criminal case against a former top government official by the highest of government officials falls well toward the serious end of the obstruction spectrum.

The president, who swears a constitutional oath to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” should be held to the highest standard where it comes to interference with justice.

One thing is worth reiterating: The question of prosecutorial discretion on obstruction of justice will not be before Mueller while President Trump remains in office.

Given the near-consensus that a sitting president should not be indicted, any court of law in this matter will have to await a private citizen Trump.

So, Mueller will have no reason in the near term to go beyond stating that the president violated the law when he allegedly isolated Comey in the White House and pressured him to drop the Flynn investigation, and that there is a prosecutable case for that conduct. Members of Congress will then have to decide whether the president should be impeached for this crime-a matter of political not prosecutorial discretion.

Read the original article on Slate Copyright 2017

The President’s IKEA Cabinet Is Falling Apart Right on Schedule


The President’s IKEA Cabinet Is Falling Apart Right on Schedule

You get what you pay for.

Charles P. Pierce     July 6, 2017  

While the president* is overseas checking in with the home office, the ill-suited elves of his spectacularly unqualified cabinet are very busy at the job of dismantling their jobs, which is their only apparent function in this administration. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, for example, dropped by to visit some coal miners and laid a little ee-co-nomix on them.

There are not many people in this world who don’t understand the concept of a “glut,” but Perry apparently is one of them. Hell, with that kind of thinking, I’m surprised Perry isn’t the Treasury Secretary.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is busy getting sued by 19 state attorneys general because she’s delaying a rule enacted by the previous administration that made it easier for students to get their loans forgiven if their colleges were found to have been fraudulent. DeVos is dragging her feet here because she sees education as a profit center, and because phony for-profit educational “reform” is the only reason anyone ever heard of her. From NPR:

The filing by 18 states and Washington, D.C., asks a U.S. District Court to declare the Education Department’s delay of the rule unlawful and to order the agency to implement it. The states say they have pursued “numerous costly and time-intensive investigations and enforcement actions against proprietary and for-profit schools” that violated consumer protection laws.

(Point of Personal Privilege: once again, Maura Healey, the attorney general of the Commonwealth—God save it!—is out front on this issue. Her statement reads, in part, “Since day one, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans.” And fighting off grizzly attacks, one assumes.)

But, as you might’ve guessed, the real lasting damage is being done by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. His Department of Justice has decided that Texas is doing just fine at this whole voter suppressi…er…voter ID thing, as The Texas Tribune notes:

“Texas’s voter ID law both guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of Texas’s elections,” the filing stated. Federal lawyers were referring to Senate Bill 5, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month. It would soften a 2011 voter ID law — known as the nation’s most stringent — that courts have ruled purposefully burdened Latino and black voters. If allowed to take effect, the law would allow people without photo ID to vote if they present alternate forms of ID and sign affidavits swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining what was otherwise required. “S.B. 5 addresses the impact that the Court found in [the previous law] by dramatically reducing the number of voters who lack acceptable photographic identification,” the Justice Department argued, adding that U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos should “decline any further remedies.”

Of course, this is a complete reversal of the Obama DOJ’s efforts at curtailing the voter-suppression that was the true purpose not only of the original law, but of the inadequate fig-leaf of the state’s proposed changes. The Department of Justice is now on the other side and, somewhere in Jeff Sessions’ deepest heart, he knows what this is all about.

Respond to this post on the Esquire Politics Facebook page.

The huge gap between America’s rich and super-rich exposes a fundamental misunderstanding about inequality

Business Insider

The huge gap between America’s rich and super-rich exposes a fundamental misunderstanding about inequality

Pedro Nicolaci da Costa    July 7, 2017

Destabilizing levels of income inequality, once a problem reserved for developing nations, is now a defining social and political issue in the United States.

Donald Trump seized on the issue during the presidential campaign, vowing to become a voice for forgotten Americans left behind by decades of widening wealth disparities.

While America’s enormous gap between rich and poor and the sorry state of its middle class are well-documented, a less prominent trend tells an equally important story about the American economy: the divide between the well-off and the stratospherically rich.

This particular pattern is especially important since some economists and conservative commentators have tried to blame inequality on educational levels, arguing that those with college degrees have fared well in the so-called knowledge economy while those with a high school diploma or less lack the skills to do the jobs available.

Others, however, point to runaway salaries for top executives in industries like energy and finance as the key underlying drivers of inflation, which has been characterized by huge gains at the very top of the income distribution. Executive compensation is driven in large part by corporate boards that have cozy relationships with firms’ CEOs, rather than market forces.

From Aspen, Colorado, the New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote:

“There is a structural flaw in modern capitalism. Tremendous income gains are going to those in the top 20 percent, but prospects are diminishing for those in the middle and working classes. This gigantic trend widens inequality, exacerbates social segmentation, fuels distrust and led to Donald Trump.”

Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley and a preeminent researcher of inequality, wasted little time in countering the argument.

“Tremendous gains are not going to the top 20%. They are going to top 1%,” he tweeted at Brooks, adding that this is key to understanding the Republican Party’s agenda.

Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, makes a similar case as Brooks.

“The strong whiff of entitlement coming from the top 20 percent has not been lost on everyone else,” he wrote in a recent opinion piece. His book is titled “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It.”

Nicholas Buffie, an economic-policy researcher in Washington, eloquently took issue with the 20% argument in a blog he wrote when he was at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“The problem with this type of analysis is that it misleads readers into thinking that a large group of well-educated Americans have benefited from the rise in inequality,” Buffie said. “In reality, the ‘winners’ from increased inequality are really a much smaller group of incredibly rich Americans, not a large group of well-educated, upper-middle-class workers.”

In other words, blaming America’s wealth divide merely on educational differences may be easy, but not particularly useful.

The richest US families own a startling proportion of America’s wealth

Pedro Nicolaci da Costa    June 28, 2017

Distribution matters.

The United States has long taken pride in being the richest nation in the world. It remains so despite China’s quick game of catch-up and much larger population, at least when it comes to the broadest measure of a country’s economic output, gross domestic product (GDP).

Yet deep inequalities, which became a hot-button political issue in the wake of a deep recession and financial crisis that highlighted those disparities, paint a different picture of how well off most Americans really are.

Research from Berkeley economists has found incomes at the top 0.001% of the income strata surged a whopping 636% between 1980 and 2014, while wages for the bottom half of the population were basically stuck in place.

Critics of that body of work say its use of pre-tax data masks some of the equalizing effects of the tax code, and thus overstates inequality. If that were indeed the case, a look at the distribution of wealth as opposed to just income, while harder to measure, could be a better barometer as to the true state of America’s social divide.

This chart courtesy of Deutsch Bank economist Torsten Slok shows the picture with regards to wealth is even bleaker. The richest 10% of families are worth a combined $51 trillion, equal to 75% of total household wealth. To put that figure in perspective, US GDP totaled $18.5 trillion in 2016.

This eye-popping chart on inequality is a slap in the face of America’s middle class

Pedro Nicolaci da Costa     June 13, 2017

Why does the US economy still feel iffy to most Americans despite an eight-year economic expansion and historically low unemployment?

Look no further than this eye-popping chart of income growth between 1980 and 2014 courtesy of Berkeley’s elite-squad of inequality research, including Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman.

Featured in a recent blog from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, the graphic highlights just how stratospheric income growth has been for the very wealthiest Americans — and how stagnant, in contrast, wages have been for the rest.

That’s not a typo on the right. Incomes for the top 0.001% richest Americans surged 636% during the 34-year period. Wow.

There’s more. “The average pretax income of the bottom 50% of US adults has stagnated since 1980, while the share of income of US adults in the bottom half of the distribution collapsed from 20% in 1980 to 12% in 2014,” writes Howard Gold, founder and editor of GoldenEgg Investing, in the Chicago Booth blog.

“In a mirror-image move, the top 1% commanded 12% of income in 1980 but 20% in 2014. The top 1% of US adults now earns on average 81 times more than the bottom 50% of adults; in 1981, they earned 27 times what the lower half earned.”

Here’s a link to the full paper for the academically inclined.

Protesters opposing GOP health care bill descend upon lawmakers, some arrested

ABC Good Morning America

Protesters opposing GOP health care bill descend upon lawmakers, some arrested

Ali Rogin and David Caplan,  Good Morning America    July 7, 2017–abc-news-topstories.html

Protesters around the country on Thursday responded to lawmakers who declined to hold town halls by bringing their complaints straight to the doors of their elected officials’ offices.

From Arkansas to Arizona, supporters of Obamacare chanted, sang songs and in some cases, got arrested as they made their case against the Senate Republican health care bill.


The Arizona chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America, a grassroots PAC operating inside the Democratic Party, said five of its members were arrested at a gathering outside the Phoenix office of Sen. Jeff Flake after a building manager called the police, claiming they were standing on private property. ABC affiliate KGUN reported that the four women and one man were taken into custody for trespassing after they repeatedly refused to leave the private property.

Protesters chanted “Where is Jeff Flake!” and “Now’s the time to stand and fight! Health care is a human right!”

In Tucson, Pima County Sheriff’s deputies arrested two men at a health care-related protest at Sen. Jeff Flake’s office Thursday morning, according to KGUN. Deputies say the men were arrested just before 9 a.m. for reported threats. One of the protesters allegedly referenced the shooting of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, according to KGUN.


In Arkansas, protesters waited in Sen. Tom Boozman’s Little Rock office, but were told by a staffer to limit themselves to ten people inside the small waiting room.

“Let’s please be respectful of each other,” the staffer told the group.

“Well, we would like for our senator to be respectful,” a protester responded. “If you’re going to have constituents, and if he’s going to be the U.S. Senator, he should have an office where constituents can come sit and speak their minds!”

At Sen. Tom Cotton’s office, in the same building as Boozman’s office, other protesters sang pro-Medicaid songs, to the tune of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.”

And another protester told a Cotton staffer, “The legislation is supposed to make cuts to VA services … as a veteran Sen. Cotton should have other veterans in mind.” The staffer responded, “We appreciate your service. Thank you.”


Sen. Cruz was one of the few Senate Republicans to hold a town hall. Most of the questions at the event in Austin were on veterans’ health care, but he did have a few spirited exchanges with supporters of the ACA.

“I’m happy to have a conversation, but if we’re just yelling back and forth at each other, we can’t have that,” he told one heckler.

At the end of the event he thanked the largely friendly audience for a “respectful and spirited debate,” adding, “we may not have convinced each other but that’s part of the democratic process.”

Protesters, who chanted songs, also rallied outside of Sen. John Cornyn’s office in Austin.

Police were spotted escorting protesters away, and one of the officers was spotted frisking a male protester.


Obamacare supporters held a “Save Medicaid Rally” in Denver, where several hundred people showed up.

One female protester urged rally-goers to call Sen. Corey Gardner. “Call him at least once a day and tell him to vote no and to commit to us, before he leaves Colorado, to vote no on this ridiculous tax cut for the wealthy!” she said.

Activists at Sen. Corey Gardner’s Denver office didn’t get a face-to-face meeting, but they did get a 15-minute phone chat with their senator, who was not in the Denver area.

They told him they “demanded” that he vote “no” on the Senate bill — but Gardner said he couldn’t say how he would vote because the bill as presented is just a “discussion draft,” not the final version.

“I can’t commit yes or no,” he told the activists, from the Denver chapter of Democratic Socialists of America.


A few dozen protesters chanted and held signs outside Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in Lexington.

“Don’t get sick! Please die quick!” chanted protesters, mocking the GOP’s healthcare plan.


Sen. Jerry Moran was treated warmly by a crowd at a town hall in Palco that seemed largely supportive of Obamacare, because he opposes the current Senate GOP bill.

He had a few exchanges with the liberal members of the audience, but all of them were respectful. This was a crowd that clearly appreciated being among the few that actually had an opportunity to talk to their senator over this recess.

“If public hearings are not held in the Senate on the next Senate bill, will you withhold your vote?” one attendee asked Moran of the health care bill.

“I will not necessarily. That’s not the criteria. I know that’s not the answer you were looking for,” Moran responded.

“No!” she said back, though she listened attentively as he explained why that wasn’t the case.

Moran touched on the scarcity of Republican town halls.

“I’ve been told that it’s silly to hold town hall meetings,” he said. “You may not be my voters, but you are my constituents. And you deserve to have a conversation with me,” he added, to applause.

TwinCities Pioneer Press

Health care bill would have devastating effects on Minnesotans, Dayton says

S.M. Chavey, Pioneer Press         July 5, 2017

At a Minneapolis news conference Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, both Democrats, railed against the proposed health care bill in the U.S. Senate.

The Republican-written health care measure would unwind parts of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, and replace them with a less generous and, to backers, a less onerous health insurance program.

The bill threatens health insurance for an estimated 22 million Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO, a nonpartisan office, said the planned Senate health care measure would deliver a 35 percent spending cut to Medicaid, a program for people with low incomes, by 2036.

About 1 million Minnesotans are on Medicaid, with a further 100,000 on the state-run MinnesotaCare. That’s about 20 percent of the state’s population, Dayton said. The national health care bill under consideration would cost Minnesota $2.8 billion a year by 2026 and a total of $31 billion by 2030 — and that’s too big of a cut for the state to back fill, the governor said.

He and Ellison, who represents Minneapolis, urged Minnesotans to speak out against the bill.

“Quality health care is a right, and it should be treated as such,” Dayton said.

The U.S. House replacement for the federal Affordable Care Act passed by just two votes in May. The three Republican House members from Minnesota voted in favor of the measure. The five Democrats voted against it.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis said the measures being debated in Congress would create a more robust, affordable and nimble health insurance market.

“We undo the price controls, we undo the mandates, so young and healthy people can get back in the insurance pool with lower premiums,” said Lewis, in his first term representing Minnesota’s south-suburban 2nd District.

Lewis defended slowing the growth of Medicaid, saying that the able-bodied poor adults it expanded to cover under the Affordable Care Act shouldn’t be the program’s focus.

In the face of opposition from Senate Republicans, the Senate delayed a vote, originally planned for the end of June, on its replacement until after the July 4 recess.

“It’s not too late to raise your voice to stop this terrible Senate bill,” Ellison said Wednesday. “If we want to preserve ACA and even extend it and make it better, it’s time to raise your voice and to understand that we are right.”

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said the bill would affect Minnesotans in particular by removing federal funding from MinnesotaCare and by not giving Minnesota credit for the reforms it has made to Medicaid.

“If Congress and the president are serious about reducing health care costs, they should really look to states like Minnesota that have innovated and reformed the way we deliver health care for the people of Minnesota, and not punish us for the reforms,” Piper said.

Piper said Medicaid pays for almost half of substance-abuse treatment in Minnesota. Medicaid enrollee James Robinson, of Minneapolis, said Medicaid helped him work through his addictions.

“If it weren’t for the funding of some of these programs … there would have been no support system that saw the good in me and said, ‘You deserve to live,’ ” Robinson said at the news conference.

David Montgomery contributed to this report.

Is Trump mentally fit to be president? Let’s consult the U.S. Army’s field manual on leadership

LA Times  Op-ed

Is Trump mentally fit to be president? Let’s consult the U.S. Army’s field manual on leadership

By Prudence L. Gourguechon   June 16, 2017

Since President Trump’s inauguration, an unusual amount of attention has been paid to the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. That’s the measure, ratified in 1967, that allows for removal of the president in the event that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the office. What does that mean, exactly? Lawyers surely have some ideas. But as a psychiatrist, I believe we need a rational, thorough and coherent definition of the mental capacities required to carry out “the powers and duties” of the presidency.

Although there are volumes devoted to outlining criteria for psychiatric disorders, there is surprisingly little psychiatric literature defining mental capacity, even less on the particular abilities required for serving in positions of great responsibility. Despite the thousands of articles and books written on leadership, primarily in the business arena, I have found only one source where the capacities necessary for strategic leadership are clearly and comprehensively laid out: the U.S. Army’s “Field Manual 6-22 Leader Development.”

The New York Times published a letter signed by 35 psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. The letter suggests Trump’s “grave emotional instability… makes him incapable of serving safely as president.” (Feb. 21, 2017)

The Army’s field manual on leadership is an extraordinarily sophisticated document, founded in sound psychological research and psychiatric theory, as well as military practice. It articulates the core faculties that officers, including commanders, need in order to fulfill their jobs. From the manual’s 135 dense pages, I have distilled five crucial qualities:


According to the Army, trust is fundamental to the functioning of a team or alliance in any setting: “Leaders shape the ethical climate of their organization while developing the trust and relationships that enable proper leadership.” A leader who is deficient in the capacity for trust makes little effort to support others, may be isolated and aloof, may be apathetic about discrimination, allows distrustful behaviors to persist among team members, makes unrealistic promises and focuses on self-promotion.

A good leader ‘demonstrates an understanding of another person’s point of view’ and ‘identifies with others’ feelings and emotions.’

Discipline and self-control

The manual requires that a leader demonstrate control over his behavior and align his behavior with core Army values: “Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.” The disciplined leader does not have emotional outbursts or act impulsively, and he maintains composure in stressful or adverse situations. Without discipline and self-control, a leader may not be able to resist temptation, to stay focused despite distractions, to avoid impulsive action or to think before jumping to a conclusion. The leader who fails to demonstrate discipline reacts “viscerally or angrily when receiving bad news or conflicting information,” and he “allows personal emotions to drive decisions or guide responses to emotionally charged situations.”

In psychiatry, we talk about “filters” — neurologic braking systems that enable us to appropriately inhibit our speech and actions even when disturbing thoughts or powerful emotions are present. Discipline and self-control require that an individual has a robust working filter, so that he doesn’t say or do everything that comes to mind.

Judgment and critical thinking

These are complex, high-level mental functions that include the abilities to discriminate, assess, plan, decide, anticipate, prioritize and compare. A leader with the capacity for critical thinking “seeks to obtain the most thorough and accurate understanding possible,” the manual says, and he anticipates “first, second and third consequences of multiple courses of action.” A leader deficient in judgment and strategic thinking demonstrates rigid and inflexible thinking.


Self-awareness requires the capacity to reflect and an interest in doing so. “Self-aware leaders know themselves, including their traits, feelings, and behaviors,” the manual says. “They employ self-understanding and recognize their effect on others.” When a leader lacks self-awareness, the manual notes, he “unfairly blames subordinates when failures are experienced” and “rejects or lacks interest in feedback.”


Perhaps surprisingly, the field manual repeatedly stresses the importance of empathy as an essential attribute for Army leadership. A good leader “demonstrates an understanding of another person’s point of view” and “identifies with others’ feelings and emotions.” The manual’s description of inadequacy in this area: “Shows a lack of concern for others’ emotional distress” and “displays an inability to take another’s perspective.”

The Army field manual amounts to a guide for the 25th Amendment. Whether a president’s Cabinet would ever actually invoke that amendment is another matter. There is, however, at least one historical precedent. The journalists Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus tell the dramatic story in their 1988 book, “Landslide: The Unmaking of the President 1984-1988.”

Before he started his job as President Reagan’s third chief of staff, in early 1987, Howard Baker asked an aide, James Cannon, to put together a report on the state of the White House. Cannon then interviewed White House staff, including top aides working for the outgoing chief of staff, Donald Regan. On March 1, the day before Baker took over, Cannon presented him with a memo expressing grave concern that Reagan might not be sufficiently competent to perform his duties. Reagan was inattentive and disinterested, the outgoing staff had said, staying home to watch movies and television instead of going to work. “Consider the possibility that section four of the 25th Amendment might be applied,” Cannon wrote.

After reading the memo, Baker arranged a group observation of Reagan for the following day. On March 2, Baker, Cannon and two others — Reagan’s chief counsel, Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., and his communications director, Tom Griscom — scrutinized the president, first at a Cabinet meeting, then at a luncheon. They found nothing amiss. The president seemed to be his usual genial, engaged self. Baker decided, presumably with relief, that Reagan was not incapacitated or disabled and they could all go on with their business.

Much has changed since the Reagan era, of course. Because of Trump’s Twitter habits and other features of the contemporary media landscape, far more data about his behavior are available to everyone — to citizens, journalists and members of Congress. And we are all free to compare that observable behavior to the list of traits deemed critical for leadership by the U.S. Army.

Prudence L. Gourguechon, M.D., is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Chicago.

Damage From Wayward Weedkiller Keeps Growing

NPR   Food For Thought

Damage From Wayward Weedkiller Keeps Growing

Dan Charles    July 6, 2017

Two weeks ago, in a remarkable move, the State Plant Board of Arkansas voted to ban the sale and use of a weedkiller called dicamba. It took that action after a wave of complaints about dicamba drifting into neighboring fields and damaging other crops, especially soybeans.

That ban is still waiting to go into force. It requires approval from a committee of the state legislature, which will meet on Friday.

Estimates of dicamba’s damage, however, continue to increase. Since the Plant Board’s vote, the number of dicamba-related complaints in Arkansas has soared to 550. Reports of damage also are increasing in the neighboring states of Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi. The total area of damaged soybean fields could reach 2 million acres.

“I’ve never seen anything even close to this,” says Larry Steckel, a weed specialist at the University of Tennessee. “We have drift issues every year in a handful of fields, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Dicamba is not a new weedkiller; it’s been around for 50 years. It’s being used in a new way, though, because the biotech company Monsanto is now selling new soybean and cotton varieties that have been genetically altered to tolerate dicamba.

Farmers are spraying dicamba on those new crops, and they report that it’s working great, killing weeds that farmers have struggled to control lately.

The problem is, dicamba doesn’t always stay where it’s supposed to. In hot weather, dicamba turns into a gas that apparently can drift for miles. And soybeans that haven’t been specifically engineered to tolerate dicamba are extremely sensitive to it.

According to Steckel, soybean farmers in western Tennessee are in one of two camps. Perhaps 60 percent of them are spraying dicamba, because they invested in Monsanto’s new dicamba-tolerant crops. The rest, with soybeans that are vulnerable, likely have seen some fields damaged.

Steckel says it’s difficult to predict how much this will take out of farmers’ pockets. Some of the injured soybeans may recover and produce a normal-size harvest. Others probably will not. Some fields have been hit by drifting dicamba multiple times.

Tom Burnham, who farms land in Mississippi County, Arkansas, and across the state line in Missouri, is one of the farmers pushing for a ban on dicamba spraying. “This technology cannot be allowed to exist,” he says. “It cannot co-exist with other crops.”

In theory, if every farmer bought Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerant soybeans, then their crops all would be safe from dicamba drift. But Burham says “it’s ludicrous to expect everybody to plant this, just to defend themselves. And that doesn’t address vegetable growers, people with orchards, people with vineyards. They’re going to be economically harmed, too.”

Other farmers, meanwhile, who’ve bought dicamba-tolerant seeds and want to use the chemical, have argued for their right to spray dicamba.

Monsanto’s head of crop protection, in an interview posted on the site of CropLife, an industry website, said that farmers were still learning how to use dicamba safely. The current problems, he said, were “just part of the learning curve.”

Scott Pruitt’s short tenure as EPA chief already a scandal

Chicago Sun-Times Opinion

Scott Pruitt’s short tenure as EPA chief already a scandal

Sun-Times Editorial Board      July 5, 2017

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is not doing his job. Quite the opposite.

Rather than do the hard work of making our nation’s environmental regulations work better for business while still protecting Americans — always a difficult  balancing act — Pruitt wants to incinerate the rules, belching the resulting smoke into the atmosphere and tossing the residue into the nearest creek.

Day by day, he makes it clear he is in the wrong job.

On Monday, a divided federal appeals court shot down Pruitt’s ill-advised effort to delay rules designed to cut down on methane leaks, which contribute to global warming.

But if Pruitt has his way, that will slow him down only temporarily.

In his five months on the job, Pruitt has tried to block, delay or entirely uproot more than 30 environmental regulations. He is shredding the Clean Power Plan, designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. He wants to revoke plans to reduce pollution in waterways. He has ended a ban on a pesticide the EPA had found was dangerous to children. He has delayed a rule to stop chemical plant explosions and spills. He has become Donald Trump’s point man in undermining America’s compliance with the Paris climate change accord and wants to gum up the works by starting a debate on whether human-caused climate change is real.

As for going after any new threats to the environment? Not a chance.

Pruitt has a long history of unprincipled attacks on environmental regulations. When he was the attorney general of Oklahoma, he repeatedly sued to block EPA regulations that irked business interests. He signed letters to regulators that were written by industry lobbyists.

As EPA administrator, he mostly ignores the EPA’s career experts. In recent weeks, he has shown the door to 47 members of the EPA’s respected Board of Scientific Counselors. For advice, he turns instead to ex-lobbyists, anti-environment politicians and industry figures themselves.

The Trump administration’s environmental policies need a housecleaning.

Scott Pruitt’s EPA has spun out of control

The Dallas Morning News

Scott Pruitt’s EPA has spun out of control

Written by Dallas Morning News Editorial

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt continues to wield an ax to Obama-era environmental regulations, a ham-fisted effort that could come back to haunt consumers and the industries he’s letting off the hook.

In less than four months, Pruitt, formerly Oklahoma’s climate-change-denying attorney general, has rejected, delayed or blocked more than 30 environmental rules. And to make matters worse, he’s done it with scant input from EPA career professionals and relied on political appointees, former lobbyists and industry officials to shape policy.

So much for environmental protection in the public interest. It is natural that different EPA administrators will have different priorities, but previous ones at least demonstrated a commitment to the agency’s core mission.

Not Pruitt. He’s eviscerating Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a voluntary agreement to align states and industries behind a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Oil and gas companies are about to get a pass on plugging methane leaks from their wells, a blow against reducing greenhouse gases. Pruitt also has delayed compliance with a rule to prevent explosions and spills at chemical plants,  reversed a ban on the use of a pesticide that EPA scientists and doctors link to damage of children’s nervous systems, and wants to roll back Clean Waters authority over streams and small bodies of water.

A regulatory agency is supposed to be the cop on the beat and put its public protection mission ahead of corporate profits, ideological myths about climate change and expediency. When regulators allow an industry to go Wild West, people start getting hurt and corporations lose America’s trust. Corporations soon become vulnerable to criticism by activists, whether grounded in reality or not.  And when a disaster occurs, the predictable response is: Why didn’t regulators do their job?

Texas knows firsthand the hazards of lax regulation. The fertilizer explosion that virtually leveled the town of West in 2013 was ruled to have been intentionally set. Nonetheless, investigations cited numerous city, state and federal regulatory failures for contributing to the magnitude of the explosion and death toll.  Likewise, hydraulic fracturing became a flash-point issue both in Texas and in other states when gas industry bad actors paid too little regard to the environmental and societal concerns.

There is room for industry’s concern about the reasonableness of environmental regulations. No matter how well-intentioned, regulations trigger compliance costs. The answer is not Pruitt’s industry-friendly overcorrection.

The EPA, like other state and federal agencies, has had its share of regulatory failures. Nonetheless, Americans should expect that regulators will try to prevent dangerous excesses whenever possible.

The energy world has a big stake in sensible, strong dependable regulations that citizens can trust. The industry would be wise to not bask in these short-term “gains” and guide the EPA back to a more sustainable policy that recognizes that regulatory laxity is a recipe for corporate irresponsibility and eventually problems for all of us.

The lessons of  regulatory failures

Deepwater Horizon (2010): Offshore drilling companies in the Gulf of Mexico claimed they had adequate spill prevention and cleanup plans. They didn’t. Post-disaster reports showed that drillers cut corners and lax federal oversight and coziness with the industry insiders allowed those abuses to go unchecked. The entire industry faced delays and red tape in its wake.

West explosion (2013):  Although investigators ruled the ammonium nitrate explosion that virtually leveled the town West was intentionally set, other post-disaster reports indicated that numerous city, state and federal regulatory failures contributed to the magnitude of the disaster.

Fracking: Combine decades of mistrust of the oil industry with the refusal of natural gas and oil producers to go along with even the most benign regulations on fracking, such as disclosing the contents of chemicals used in the process, and grass-roots protests ensued. Now, the industry is banned from fracking in cities and regions across the country.