Tag Archives: federal

Trump Floats Nonsense Idea of Privatizing Airports and Dams

Mother Jones

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Philip Howard attended Tuesday’s infrastructure confab with President Trump. The Guardian reports on what he told them:

Donald Trump is considering privatising America’s airports and dams as part of an infrastructure building programme that could exceed past estimates of a trillion dollars….“America can do much more than it has, and can do what other countries in Europe and Australia have done, by harnessing private capital,” Howard said. “So it could privatise a number of assets such as airports and dams, and get a lot of capital from that, as well as increase the tax base.”

Hundreds of airports around the world have been privatised or partly privatised but, Howard noted, virtually none in America….Last year the Cato Institute, a conservative thinktank, published a paper that endorsed privatising the nation’s more than 500 commercial airports, which are currently owned by state and local governments and rely on the federal government for capital improvements.

Is Trump really thinking about this? Who knows. But I’m a little mystified. The federal government can’t privatize airports that are owned by states and cities. And even if it could, states and cities would get the money. So what’s the point?

I’d say Trump had four big domestic priorities when he took office:

Repeal Obamacare.
Cut taxes for the rich.
Spend $1 trillion fixing roads and bridges.
Build a wall.

The Obamacare effort has already crashed and burned. His tax plan apparently won’t work with Obamacare in place, so now he’s delaying that to take another run at health care. He doesn’t have anywhere near enough support for his infrastructure plan, which is why he’s desperately scanning the horizon for weird ideas to fund it. And the wall hasn’t gone anywhere yet. It may yet make progress, but even Trump admits it won’t cover anything close to the whole border.

On foreign policy, he’s crashed and burned on his immigration plan; reversed himself on Russia; launched a strike on Syria with no apparent follow-up plan; still has no proposal for defeating ISIS; caved in to China on Taiwan; and has gone soft on trade.

So what has he done? He’s signed a few bills reversing some Obama executive orders, but that’s about over since the easy stuff has an early May deadline. He produced a kinda-sorta budget, which was even deader on arrival than most presidential budgets. He managed to pick a name off a list and nominate him to the Supreme Court, something he apparently considers a helluva hard day’s work. Beyond that, he’s tweeted, convened some “listening sessions,” held a couple of rallies, watched uncounted hours of TV, played lots of golf, and generally developed a reputation as the laziest president in anyone’s memory. Is there anything important I’m missing here?

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Trump Floats Nonsense Idea of Privatizing Airports and Dams

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Airlines Treat People Like Dirt Because the Republicans in Congress Let Them

Mother Jones

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Policymakers reacted swiftly this week to the outrageous viral video of police officers forcibly removing an innocent passenger from an overbooked United Airlines flight. A new passenger bill of rights, including regulations on bumping people from flights, was announced on Tuesday—by Canada’s transportation ministry.

Here in the United States, at least one party has a long history of siding with the airlines at the expense of their passengers. “It’s an ongoing frustration that we haven’t had good cooperation on the Republican side,” says Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League. “Their constituents are being mistreated, just like Democratic constituents. I’m disappointed and frustrated.”

In 2016 alone, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced 22 different consumer-protection riders to a funding bill for the Federal Aviation Administration. Among other things, the proposals would have placed a moratorium on seat-size shrinkage, required more transparency about ticket fees and passenger complaints, promoted competition between airlines, and ensured that passengers had the right to sue airlines instead of being forced into arbitration. (See the complete list below.) None of the proposals made it through the GOP-controlled Senate.

“The degrading treatment of this United passenger is the latest example of a major US airline disrespecting passengers and denying them their basic rights,” Blumenthal wrote to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Tuesday. “Your agency must conduct a swift, sweeping investigation into United Airlines and the industry practices that led to this incident.”

Congressional Republicans delayed for years the passage of the handful of consumer protections that exist for airline passengers. During the George W. Bush administration, GOP senators killed a passengers bill of rights that, among other things, would have restricted how long people could be confined to a grounded airplane without food and drinks. In 2011, the Obama administration enacted a stricter version of the rule administratively, adding requirements that airlines reimburse passengers for lost bags, disclose extra ticket fees on their websites, and compensate bumped passengers financially.

“The Republicans can be viewed as the party of big business, whereas Democrats are more for personal rights and equality,” says Rainer Jenss, director of the Family Travel Association. One provision his group backed that requires airlines to let families with children sit together on flights free of charge became law last year—but only after it attracted support from a Republican congressman who’d had a family member get separated from his kids during a flight, Jenss says.

Not all Republicans, after all, are airline industry lapdogs. On Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked the TSA’s Chao to suspend the federal regulation permitting airlines to overbook flights and remove passengers as a result. “This conduct is abusive and outrageous,” Christie said in a press release. “The ridiculous statements, now in their third version, of the CEO of United Airlines displays their callousness toward the traveling public with the permission of the federal government.”

The airline industry, however, favors Republicans. In the most recent election cycle, United Continental Holdings gave them $547,000, versus $497,000 for Democrats—a split that roughly mirrors the industry’s spending patterns. The main airline lobbying group, Airlines for America, leans far more toward Republicans: It donated about $85,000 to Democrats in the latest cycle. It gave nearly six times that much (about $478,500) to Republicans and conservative groups, according to OpenSecrets.org. In 2015, Politico reported that House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) was actually dating Shelly Rubino, an Airlines for America executive. Republicans “are literally in bed with the industry!” says the National Consumers League’s Greenberg.

She hopes the United scandal will convince Republicans to end their love affair with Big Air: “I think Congress is going to be under a lot of pressure to take some decisive action because of what people saw in that video.”
______

Here’s what Sen. Richard Blumenthal proposed last year to keep airlines in check.
But not one of his amendments made it past Mitch McConnell et al.

A commission on airline competition
A Government Accountability Office study of international airline alliances and their immunity from antitrust laws
A moratorium on seat size shrinkage
A review of aircraft evacuation procedures
Establishing a private right of action under federal consumer protection law
Establishing a private right of action under state consumer protection law
Requiring research on ways to avoid toxic air on planes
Banning the use of e-cigarettes on commercial aircraft
Requiring air carriers to disclose ancillary fees to consumers
Requiring the Department of Transportation (DOT) to consider additional protections against canceled or changed reservations
Extending the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection through September 2022
Requiring an airline to forward all complaints to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division
Improving access to aviation consumer protection information
Modifying requirements for a study on air carrier fees
Modifying requirements for passenger seat assignment
Modifying requirements for the review of flight delays and cancelations
Permitting the DOT to investigate and take action on unfair and deceptive practices relating to travel insurance contracts
Authorizing state regulation and claims relating to reward program contracts and frequent flyer contracts
Providing refund of baggage fees when baggage is damaged during transit
Increasing the civil penalty amount for violations of aviation laws
Invalidating mandatory pre-dispute arbitration and class-action waivers in certain air travel contracts
Prohibiting carriers from limiting consumer access to carriers’ flight data

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Airlines Treat People Like Dirt Because the Republicans in Congress Let Them

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It’s Not Every Day That a Federal Judge Pens a Tribute to a Transgender Teen

Mother Jones

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Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender boy from Virginia, has had a rough few months. He’s suing for access to the boys’ bathroom at his high school, and in March the Supreme Court announced that it was kicking this landmark transgender rights case back to a federal appeals court.

Today, that appeals court rejected his request to expedite his case, which means it won’t be heard until after he graduates. But along with today’s order, Judge Andre Davis of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals penned a remarkable, must-read tribute to the teen, calling him a “brave individual” and quoting Dr. Martin Luther King:

Our country has a long and ignominious history of discriminating against our most vulnerable and powerless. We have an equally long history, however, of brave individuals—Dred Scott, Fred Korematsu, Linda Brown, Mildred and Richard Loving, Edie Windsor, and Jim Obergefell, to name just a few—who refused to accept quietly the injustices that were perpetuated against them. It is unsurprising, of course, that the burden of confronting and remedying injustice falls on the shoulders of the oppressed. These individuals looked to the federal courts to vindicate their claims to human dignity, but as the names listed above make clear, the judiciary’s response has been decidedly mixed. Today, G.G. adds his name to the list of plaintiffs whose struggle for justice has been delayed and rebuffed; as Dr. King reminded us, however, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” G.G.’s journey is delayed but not finished.

The tribute ends with a footnote of a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. Read the whole thing here.

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It’s Not Every Day That a Federal Judge Pens a Tribute to a Transgender Teen

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Are Conservative Economists Too Influential? Nah. It’s Worse Than That. But Also Better.

Mother Jones

Brad DeLong is unhappy that his faction of economists had so little influence on public policy during the Great Recession. But I think he makes a fundamental error:

Alesina and Ardagna and Reinhart and Rogoff each had more influence on what policymakers and journalists thought about the effects of fiscal policy than did Paul Krugman and company, (including me). While the Federal Reserve went full-tilt into quantitative easing (but not stamped money or helicopter money), it did so in the face of considerable know-nothing opposition. And the ECB lagged far behind in terms of even understanding its mission. Why? Because economists Taylor, Boskin, Calomiris, Lucas, Fama, and company had almost as much or even more impact as did Paul Krugman and company.

….The most salient relatively-recent example was provided by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff who argued that it was risky for a country to have a debt-to-GDP ratio greater than 90 percent….I think we have by far the better of the argument. There is no tipping point. Indeed, there is barely a correlation, and it is very hard to argue that that correlation reflects causation from high initial debt to slower subsequent growth.

Yet it is very clear that even today Reinhart and Rogoff—and allied points by economists like Alberto Alesina, Francesco Giavazzi, et al., where I also think we have the better of the argument by far—have had a much greater impact on the public debate than my side has.

Brad’s error is in thinking that any of these economists influenced public policy. They didn’t. Politicians and central bankers wanted to do certain things, so they highlighted research from economists who happened to agree with them. Roughly speaking, when Congress wanted to spend more money, it asked for testimony from the Brad DeLongs of the world. When it wanted to cut spending, it asked for testimony from the Reinharts and Rogoffs. Likewise, central banks have their own models and their own political pressures, and they responded to them. They didn’t really care what any academic economists happened to say about it.

This may sound depressing if you’re an economist. Who wants to be nothing more than a handy mouthpiece for whichever politician happens to like the policy implications of your particular beliefs? But in fact, the news isn’t so bad after all.

Brad’s post is titled, “Why Were Economists as a Group as Useless Over 2010-2014 as Over 1929-1935?” But they weren’t. If we had responded to the 2007-08 financial crisis the same way we did to the 1929-32 financial crisis, we’d still be waiting for a rerun of World War II to pull us back to normal. The reality was far less grim. We might not have responded ideally, but we responded a helluva lot better than we did in 1931. That’s why it was a Great Recession, not a Great Depression.

And the reason for that is economists. Over the past 70 years they’ve had a tremendous impact on public policy. Compared to 1931, even the austerians are basically ultra-liberals who are just a few degrees less ultra-liberal than DeLong and Krugman. For better or worse, economists have enormous influence, but it’s influence exercised over the course of decades. On that score, the Keynesians are overwhelming winners who have moved the center of gravity of the profession far to the left. It’s only within the current center of gravity that conservatives seemed influential on public policy in 2009-10. But that’s almost always the case. Wherever the Overton Window happens to be, the conservative end is usually ascendant. What really matters, though, is where the window is.

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Are Conservative Economists Too Influential? Nah. It’s Worse Than That. But Also Better.

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Republicans Just Voted to Let Internet Service Providers Sell Your Browsing History

Mother Jones

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The Republican-controlled US House of Representatives on Tuesday repealed privacy rules that would have required internet service providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable to get consumers’ consent before selling or sharing their web browsing data with advertisers and other companies.

“Consumers should be in control of their own information,” Rep. Jared Polis, (D-Colo.) said in testifying against the bill. “They shouldn’t be forced to sell and give that information to who-knows-who simply for the price of admission for access to the internet.”

The vote overturned rules passed in October by the Federal Communications Commission that tightened limits on what internet service providers (ISPs) could do with their users’ data. The rules, which would have taken effect later this year, required ISPs to notify consumers about the type of information they collect, and obtain their consent, before selling it to third parties. The rules also made ISPs more accountable for preventing data breaches.

The measure was passed on a 215 to 205 vote, with most Republicans in favor of the repeal and most Democrats against. It still needs to be signed by President Donald Trump before it will become law, though that appears to be a given after the White House expressed support for the repeal on Tuesday.

The repeal measure was originally introduced in the US Senate by Jeff Flake, (R-Ariz.), where it passed last week on a party-line vote. Flake has argued that the FCC rules could “limit consumer choice, stifle innovation, and jeopardize data security by destabilizing the internet ecosystem.” Ajit Pai, Donald Trump’s FCC chairman, has argued that the rules put ISPs at a disadvantage to internet companies such as Google and Facebook, which are able to harvest and monetize personal information more freely.

But privacy advocates say that stricter rules for ISPs make sense. “Google doesn’t see everything you do on the Internet (neither does Facebook, for that matter, or any other online platform)—they only see the traffic you send to them,” according to an explainer on the rules by Electronic Frontier Foundation. “And you can always choose to use a different website if you want to avoid Google’s tracking. None of that is true about your ISP… That’s why we need the FCC’s privacy rules: ISPs are in a position of power, and they’ve shown they’re willing to abuse that power.”

The acronym “ISP” should now stand for “Information Sold For Profit” and “Invading Subscriber Privacy,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) during last week’s debate over the bill in the Senate. “President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result from the Republican roll-back of broadband privacy protections.”

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Republicans Just Voted to Let Internet Service Providers Sell Your Browsing History

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