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Trump Appointees Permit Higher Soot Emissions, Increasing Covid-19 Mortality

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

A new Harvard study has found that long-term exposure to microscopic soot in the air appears to be associated with higher death rates from the coronavirus.

But Trump's EPA has recommended keeping the 2012 standards for microscopic soot that are linked to an estimated 45,000 deaths a year.

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Emails Show Current FAA Chief Coordinated Policy With Airline Lobbyists

More than two years ago, the man who is now acting head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Dan Elwell, got a work email from one of his former lobbyist colleagues. She wanted an update on the airline industry’s push to roll back rules on mishandled baggage and extra fees, among other Obama-era regulations.

“We are anxious to know when we’ll have a yes or no,” wrote Sharon Pinkerton, the top lobbyist for Airlines for America, in a Feb. 3, 2017, email.

Elwell, a former airline lobbyist himself who had worked with Pinkerton at Airlines for America, wrote back 31 minutes later. He said he had “checked with” the Department of Transportation’s top lawyer. “We’ll keep an eye on them.”

Elwell was working at the time on a secretive deregulation task force. Weeks after the emails, the industry got a yes and the regulations were nullified.

A month later, Elwell initiated another exchange. He emailed JetBlue executives, asking them for help with “an airport privatization issue.” He later asked if the airline had “any luck finding a JetBlue exec we can throw to the lions, er, I mean, introduce to a nice reporter to say nice things about airport privatization?” JetBlue, the airline lobbyist and the FAA then coordinated on talking points for a story about privatizing management of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Political appointees typically aren’t allowed to participate in issues that involve their former employer or clients they have worked for, as part of President Donald Trump’s ethics rules. But the rules did not apply to Elwell during his first few months at the FAA when he worked on the deregulatory team.

He had been classified as a kind of government consultant — a “special-government employee” — who isn’t bound by the ethics rules.

In a statement, the FAA said that Elwell “has no reportable conflicts of interest” and, as a special-government employee, “he was subjected to and complied with the same, stringent requirements and was engaged in no activities that posed a conflict of interest.” (Read the agency’s full statement.)

Airlines for America said in a statement: “As the voice of the U.S. airline industry, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t interact with certain regulatory and legislative agencies that work regularly with the carriers we represent. It is our responsibility to educate and communicate with organizations that work to make this the safest aviation system in the world.”

Elwell’s designation as a special-government employee also allowed him to continue his private consulting business even as he worked for the government. It’s unclear if Elwell did that. Virginia state records show his business was still incorporated through April of last year, but his financial disclosures don’t list any private income while he was in government.

What is clear is that Elwell continued strategizing with his former lobbyist colleagues even after he was no longer a special-government employee and rose up to the top ranks of the agency.

Elwell was named the FAA’s deputy administrator in June 2017. A month later, Pinkerton emailed Elwell, asking him to “weigh in on directly” on compliance issues contained in the FAA’s five-year funding bill.

Elwell wrote back that he would be “Happy to do it,” and he asked a subordinate to help “set it up.”

The emails offer a detailed picture of the tight connections between the airline industry and the government, while the FAA is facing increased scrutiny over its oversight after two crashes of the Boeing’s 737 Max.

“These emails underline why there’s a prohibition on private communications between new federal officials and old lobbying clients,” said Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “The tone, the clubbiness. The issue is that the inside group appears to be not the flying public. The inside group appears to be the airlines.”

Unlike most other oversight agencies, the FAA has a dual mission to both regulate and promote the airline industry, a combination that many observers have criticized as an inherent conflict.

Elwell is scheduled to testify Wednesday afternoon at a Senate committee hearing on airline safety. The emails were provided to ProPublica by the nonprofit Democracy Forward Foundation, which obtained them following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit last year with the Transportation Department.

Elwell began his career as a military pilot before spending 16 years flying for American Airlines. After stints on Capitol Hill and at the FAA during the George W. Bush administration, Elwell worked for two industry groups, including at Airlines for America. He started his own firm, Elwell & Associates, in 2015.

Elwell’s federal financial disclosure list his earnings at his consulting firm as $282,500 in 2016 and 2017 combined. It’s not clear who paid him. His federal financial disclosure forms do not identify individual clients, though doing so is required by law. “That’s garbage,” said Clark, the ethics expert. “The rules are clear. He should have reported those.”

The FAA did not respond to questions about the omissions. The disclosure estimates his net worth at between $2.1 million and $7.8 million.

After Elwell arrived back at the FAA under Trump, his wide-ranging email discussions with industry players included a push by lobbyists to intervene in government research.

In May 2017, the FAA’s assistant administrator for government and industry affairs, Katherine Howard, asked two of her government colleagues about the number of communities that had lost air service since deregulation. After wondering whether airlines might have the data, someone forwarded the email to Pinkerton, the airlines lobbyist.

Pinkerton forwarded the email chain to another Transportation Department official, Geoff Burr, who is also a former lobbyist, writing: “I share this with you as I believe we have a problem with the folks at the bottom of the chain…I’m a bit skeptical about why these chicas are urgently trying to answer this question.” Pinkerton seemed to referencing Howard and her two, female colleagues.

Elwell was then looped in and said he would look into it. (Elwell, Pinkerton and Burr did not respond to questions about the exchange.)

The emails also show Elwell’s admiration for industry players during some of their more challenging moments. He chimed in after United was forced to apologize in the wake of a viral video showing a passenger being physically dragged from a flight to make room for the airline’s own employees.

In an exchange with a United official following the confidential settlement between the airline and the passenger, Elwell wrote: “Looks like you guys have really taken leadership on this.”

“Crossing my fingers for a denied boarding flight. 😁,” he continued, an apparent reference to the kicked-off passenger getting a settlement.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

 

The Trump Economy Is No Great Success (And He Didn’t Build It)

Amid all the uncertainty about Donald Trump’s presidency, his admirers are sure of one thing: The economy is booming, and it’s because of him. We are riding a mighty wave of prosperity driven by his tax cuts, deregulation and business savvy.

The enthusiasm is contagious. “I’ve really liked what he’s done for the economy,” marveled Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. “Year One has been nothing short of excellent,” declared Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo. Blackstone Group Chairman Stephen Schwarzman said, “There are companies all around the world who are looking at the U.S. now and saying, ‘This is the place to be in the developed world.'”

They have some evidence to brandish: Economic growth picked up last year. The unemployment rate fell to 4.1 percent. The stock market soared by 27 percent during Trump’s first year.

So the bullish outlook is not entirely without basis. The economy is doing well in most respects, and Trump’s policies have contributed. Tax cuts are good for business, everything else being equal, and so is deregulation — though either may also have damaging consequences in the future.

But presidents don’t have nearly as much to do with our economic fortunes as Trump’s supporters believe. And if they do, those people owe Barack Obama a big fat groveling apology.

Trump is the classic example of a man born on third base who thinks he hit a triple. When he brags of low unemployment on his watch, he neglects to mention that under his predecessor, the rate fell from a peak of 10 percent in 2009 to 4.8 percent. When Republicans claim the Dow Jones industrial average as vindication, they forget that it tripled under Obama. Inflation, which they predicted would run out of control, was cut in half during his presidency.

The 2.3 percent real GDP growth Trump can point to in 2017 was better than the 2016 rate but worse than what Obama recorded in 2014 and 2015. Last year, the economy added 2.1 million jobs — which sounds good until you consider that it added even more in each of Obama’s last four years.

By two standards that Trump invoked on his way to the White House, he’s failing. The first is the trade deficit, which has grown since he took office. The second is the budget deficit, which fell from $1.4 trillion in Obama’s first fiscal year to $666 billion in his final fiscal year — and is projected to rise from $440 billion this year to $1 trillion by 2020.

Trump boasted on Twitter Wednesday: “Tremendous investment by companies from all over the world being made in America. There has never been anything like it.” Oh? From 2009 to 2016, new foreign direct investment more than doubled. Last year, it declined. Apparently, foreign investors are not feeling quite the same excitement they felt before Trump arrived.

If the standard GOP formula of tax cuts and deregulation is the key to economic progress, you have to wonder why it didn’t work for George W. Bush. Average annual GDP growth was higher during his tenure than during Obama’s, but Bush had a weaker record on job growth. The unemployment rate, which was 4.2 percent when he arrived, was 7.8 percent when he left.

The stock market declined in Bush’s first term and again in his second term, for a total loss of 25 percent. He also presided over a financial panic, a housing crash and the Great Recession, all of which struck with devastating force in the final year of his presidency and left the economy in a deep hole.

Much of what happened under Bush was not his fault, and much of what happened under Obama was not his doing. Presidents have only modest control over the enormous, unpredictable beast we know as the economy. Often they are not driving the bus but riding the train, fated to go wherever it takes them.

The Federal Reserve, Congress, foreign economies, wars and assorted unforeseen events play a role in raising or slowing growth. Simple luck and factors that may be invisible to everyone also affect outcomes. If and when the economy stalls, Trump and his fan club will deny responsibility.

For now, though, they are claiming successes that are nonexistent or greatly exaggerated. A year into his presidency, the Trump economy has yet to produce any better results than Obama did. And unfortunately, the economy doesn’t run on delusions.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

 

 

High Taxes, Regulations, And A Swell Economy

In the mythology of the right, California must fail. Its high taxes, strict environmental rules, and thick book of regulations are all ingredients in the conservative recipe for economic meltdown. That California is prospering nicely throws a pie in the face of its harshest critics.

To get around this clash of ideas and reality, an alternative version of California-going-down has been created. It is built on cherry-picked facts, numbers out of context and anecdotes. And the right continues churning out stories of companies “fleeing” California.

The conservative City Journal has devoted its winter issue to what’s wrong with California. One piece accuses “coastal elites” of destroying drought-plagued almond farmers by “privileging the needs of fish over the needs of people.” (What the fish need is a minimum water flow to their habitats to save them from extinction.)

Not to mess up a sweet fairy tale, but the “coastal elites” and the farmers are often one and the same people. The largest producer of nuts in the state is a company owned by Beverly Hills billionaires Lynda and Stewart Resnick. Hedge funds and banks have also gotten into the almond game, now that a lucrative Asian market has sent nut prices soaring. Thus, in the jaws of a multiyear drought, California “farmers” continue to plant water-gulping almond trees.

What else is wrong with California? A state minimum wage raised to $10 an hour from $9. That Wal-Mart is raising wages to $10 nationwide should offer a hint that $10 an hour is not extraordinarily high.

Zoning and environmental regulations have made California real estate quite expensive, especially along the coast. This is true, although having the Pacific Ocean on a long border hampers development, as well.

One reason zoning and environmental regulations make real estate more expensive is they also make it more desirable. One shouldn’t have to explain this to The Wall Street Journal, but one does after reading its commentary about “the mismatch between supply and demand” in California housing prices.

Actually, supply and demand don’t match or mismatch. Supply is supply, and demand is demand. When demand rises faster than supply, prices rise. That’s the law of supply and demand working as it’s supposed to.

The writer is obviously trying to say that imposing high standards for preserving the quality of life causes housing costs to rise. OK. Those who can’t pay the price — or who want bigger spaces — can and often do consider other parts of the country.

Though the decisions by Toyota and Occidental Petroleum to transfer their headquarters to Texas may energize California’s critics, they represent narrow slices of a bigger picture. A new study from Beacon Economics and Next 10 shows that California remains a powerhouse in attracting companies and well-to-do people.

In 2013, California ranked fourth in job creation by new businesses and fifth in creation of new businesses (a growth rate of 5.5 percent). From 2007 to 2014, 49,000 more people with a bachelor’s degree moved into the state from other states than moved out.

So is California an easy place in which to do business? It’s not. Is it a paradise for less skilled workers? Sadly, no. Few places are these days.

What the strong numbers do mean, Beacon partner Chris Thornberg told the Los Angeles Times, is “that being ‘business friendly’ is not the be-all and end-all of economic development.” He went on: “When you actually look at the data, you’ll find that as kooky as California is, it’s not a state that’s underperforming.”

Let the critics carp. But do correct them.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

Photo: Jimmy Emerson, DVM via Flickr