Undercover Cops Hired 118 Handymen, Then Arrested Them All for Not Having Licenses

“Occupational licensing, whether it’s of contractors or hair braiders, is often much more about protecting incumbent businesses and government licensing revenue than it is about safeguarding the welfare of consumers.

Operation House Hunters is a perfect illustration of this, with cops going to great lengths to manufacture licensing law violations that either wouldn’t have happened or wouldn’t have produced unsatisfied parties.

The more effort law enforcement spends entrapping handymen, the fewer personnel and resources they have to devote to deterring other, more serious crimes. “These sting operations rake in big money in fines and court costs,” Sammis says. “Catching real criminals actually committing a crime is much harder.””

China trade deficit shrinks as deficit with EU hits record high

“the deficit in exports versus imports from China shrank to $345.6 billion, down about 18 percent from a record high level of $419.5 billion in 2018.

But the U.S. trade deficit in manufactured goods with all countries was relatively unchanged in 2019 at close to $1.048 trillion because importers turned to other nations after Trump hit China with tariffs ranging from 10 percent to 25 percent.

Some of the beneficiaries of that shift included Mexico, Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and members of the EU.

The trade deficit with the EU hit a record $177.9 billion in 2019, while the gap with Mexico was a record $101.8 billion”

“tariffs Trump has imposed on approximately $370 billion worth of Chinese goods have increased costs for U.S. manufacturers”

“That helps explain both the slowdown in U.S. manufacturing output and slight decline in the manufactured goods trade deficit in 2019”

“The U.S. usually runs a surplus in agricultural trade. However, that surplus shrank to $23 billion in 2019, from $26.5 billion in 2018, at least partly because of the retaliation that China and other countries on American exports imposed in response to Trump’s tariffs.”

“One bright spot in the trade report is the sharp drop in the oil and gas trade deficit, which fell to $29 billion in 2019, from $69.5 billion in 2018, because of increased U.S. production and exports.

The oil and gas trade deficit reached as high as $317 billion in 2008, but has fallen steadily over the past decade because of new production techniques.”

“Trump still is mistaken to believe that the trade deficit is driven primarily by unfair foreign trade practices or bad trade deals, economists point out. Instead, other factors, such as the size of the U.S. budget deficit and the strength of the U.S. economy play a much bigger role in dictating trade flows.

“The irony is the stronger the U.S. economy is compared to our major trading partners, like the European Union and China, the more likely it is the trade deficit will go up because we will have stronger demand,” Griswold said. “The vast majority of economists would say that’s perfectly fine, but it does put this administration in an awkward spot.””

Power to the people: Bernie calls for federal takeover of electricity production

“Energy analysts, however, caution that Sanders’s 2030 plan would require a federal infrastructure investment not seen since the construction of the interstate highway system. To get close to Sanders’ 100 percent clean energy goal by 2030, researchers estimate the U.S. would need to add about 800 GW of wind and solar resources — about 25 times the amount the federal government expects to be built this year — along with ample amounts of battery storage and transmission. The Sanders camp forecasts that would cost about $2 trillion.

“Our best year for solar and wind — we’d have to multiply that by three and then sustain it for the next decade,” said Sonia Aggarwal, vice president at the analysis firm Energy Innovation, which advises world governments on their climate targets.

While turning the power grid over to 100 percent renewables presents significant technical difficulties, the clean energy deployment is “not out of the question,” Aggarwal said. However, Sanders’ plan to shut down nuclear power plants will make it “much more difficult.” The nation’s 60 nuclear plants generated more than half of U.S. carbon-free energy last year, but the Sanders campaign says it will phase them out by denying extensions of their operating licenses when they expire.

Many of those nuclear plants have licenses that expire after 2030, but Sanders expects the cheaper solar and wind power to drive most them into retirement. The stability those reactors provide to the power grid would be hard to replace with the variable output of the renewables, said Leah Stokes, assistant professor of political science at the University of California Santa Barbara.”

The biggest lie in Trump’s State of the Union speech

“The bad news for people with preexisting conditions is that this “ironclad pledge” is a lie. Trump and his administration have fought hard — in all three branches of government — to strip people with preexisting health conditions of the protections they enjoy under the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, if Trump has his way, those protections will cease to exist.”

” In 2018, for example, it handed down a rule expanding the use of short term insurance plans to that do not cover many services, and that may exclude people with preexisting conditions.

The mere existence of these plans can drive up premiums for people with expensive preexisting conditions, because these skimpy plans will lure healthy consumers away from more generous plans.”

“In Congress, meanwhile, Trump supported legislation seeking to repeal Obamacare or drastically water down its protections. One bill backed by Trump, the American Health Care Act, would have allowed many insurers to charge higher premiums — potentially prohibitively high premiums — to patients with preexisting conditions.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is currently asking the courts to repeal Obamacare almost in its entirety. If the courts ultimately embrace the administration’s position, that will mean that all of Obamacare’s protections for people with preexisting conditions will be struck down.”

New conservative climate plans are neither conservative nor climate plans

“Over the years, the terms “free market” and “limited government,” like so many conservative principles, have devolved into little more than rhetorical tics, bits of sloganeering that bear no resemblance to actual conservative governance.

What conservatives seem to have decided is that regulations, restrictions, or limitations — anything that might upset or inconvenience the corporations generating greenhouse gases — are the bad kind of big government and a bad way of picking winners and losers. Government subsidies, tax credits, and grants — anything that might benefit big corporations — is the good kind of big government and a good way of picking winners and losers.”

“There are plenty of models that show we will need carbon capture (both industrial and natural) to supplement other efforts to reduce emissions. We probably can’t hit our mid-century targets without it.

But there is no model in the world showing emissions falling fast enough with nothing but carbon capture, with fossil fuels continuing their current headlong expansion.

The fossil fuels that remain behind after deep decarbonization, the ones that still need their emissions captured and buried, will be a small vestige of the current fossil fuel regime. That is what every credible model shows. That is the cold, hard truth at the heart of the climate dilemma: There is no avoiding the imperative to reduce fossil fuel combustion and the social and economic disruptions that come with it.

Current Republican efforts to feign climate policy conspicuously fail to grapple with that truth.”

Trump called on Congress to pass a drug prices bill. Democrats reminded him they already did.

“The House bill — H.R.3 — has a few mechanisms for reducing prescription drug prices, but most notably, it would allow the US health department to directly negotiate the prices it will pay for up to 250 drugs every year. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated the bill would save Medicare up to $450 billion over 10 years because of those new negotiating powers. CBO has also projected about eight fewer drugs (out of an expected 300 over 10 years) would come to the market in the next decade because of the decrease in revenues for drug makers.

Despite Trump’s promises on the 2016 campaign trail that he would support proposals allowing Medicare drug negotiations, the White House threatened to veto the House plan. They called it a plan to institute government “price controls,” and said it would limit access to medicine, a favored talking point of the pharmaceutical lobby.

Even without this veto threat, H.R.3 is expected to be dead-on-arrival in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown no interest in taking up the bill.”

“Instead, Trump has aligned himself more with Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has advanced a narrower set of reforms from his perch as the Senate Finance Committee chair. (Grassley has also accused McConnell of sabotaging his bill, which moved out of Grassley’s committee with bipartisan support.)

His committee sent a bill to the full Senate in the fall, though it has languished there in the months since. It’s unclear if Trump’s quasi-endorsement — he did not call out Grassley’s bill directly Tuesday night, instead praising the senator generally for his individual work on the issue — will provide any new momentum for the plan. Grassley’s bill, as the Brookings Institution documented, achieves pricing reform through a mix of technical changes to the rebates that drug makers pay under Medicare and Medicaid as well as provisions to cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors.

Right now, neither of the bills seems on a fast track to anywhere. Part of this is because Trump’s interest in drug pricing has been scattershot at best, and many Republicans are reluctant to place too many new regulations on an innovation industry.”

Trump’s criminal justice record is more complicated than he claims

“To be fair, the First Step Act, Trump’s landmark criminal justice law, is commendable. More than 3,000 people have been released thanks to the law’s effort to take good behavior while incarcerated into account. And by retroactively applying the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine charges, over 2,000 people received sentencing reductions — 91 percent of them were African Americans, according to the Sentencing Project. 342 people have also been released into the elderly home confinement pilot program.

The problem, however, is that the Department of Justice has “attempted to block hundreds of eligible beneficiaries” and send those released back behind bars, according to the Sentencing Project.

It may not be too surprising considering that Attorney General William Barr had expressed his concerns about the First Step Act behind closed doors, according to the Washington Post. The publication found that Barr thought the early release could drive up crime numbers and put the administration in a bad light.

As a result, the department has tried to freeze applications or re-incarcerate former inmates by setting higher standards for their release.”

“beyond the disruption of the Justice Department, there’s a lot to be accomplished for the First Step Act to reach its full potential. Funding falls far short of the $75 million authorized by Congress. Many prisons lack both the space and money to hold vocational, educational, mental health, and substance abuse programming. And the government has yet to expand the Second Step Act, which promised to help break barriers in employment after release. Until all these issues are addressed, Trump’s criminal justice efforts — and the speeches he makes about them — remain lackluster.”

The real state of the union

“If you didn’t know American politics had been turned upside down by Trump’s election win, nothing in the macroeconomic data would suggest that anything at all happened in January 2017”

“That’s not to deny Trump any credit. He made a sensible selection for Federal Reserve chair and has presided over a healthy dose of fiscal stimulus, and his trade policies haven’t been as disruptive as the most alarmist critics warn. But at the same time, his tax cuts haven’t delivered the kind of investment boom he promised, and in general, all his record-setting economic numbers are continuations of previous trends.”

“Under Trump, we have seen a sharp slowdown in net immigration that has helped reduce US population growth to a trickle. The foreign-born share of the population, however, is not falling despite the immigration crackdown because American women are also having fewer babies.”

“The number of babies women say they’d ideally like to have isn’t declining; we are just seeing the gap between ideal fertility and actual fertility get bigger and bigger each year. According to surveys, the main reason is the high (and growing) cost of child care — a problem that a “good economy” alone doesn’t fix, since child care is so labor-intensive.”

Donald Trump didn’t need the wall

“President Donald Trump has spent three years molding America’s immigration system to primarily be concerned with keeping people out.

He built, layer by layer, impediments in Central America, at the border, in detention centers, and in the immigration courts that have made obtaining asylum nearly impossible.

He swept aside former President Barack Obama’s immigration enforcement priorities in favor of vastly expanding immigration detention and prosecuting every immigrant who crosses the border without authorization. The result is a punitive system that treats immigrants as criminals and places them in prolonged detention even if they don’t pose any danger to the public.

And he waged a quiet and effective campaign to reduce legal immigration — including expanding his travel ban to block immigration from Nigeria, the largest country in Africa. Under Trump, the legal immigration system increasingly rewards skills and wealth over family ties to the US, while shutting out a growing number of people from low-income countries.

When Trump lays out the start of his reelection-year argument in the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, his guests will include a senior Border Patrol official and the brother of a man who was killed by an unauthorized immigrant. His immigration record is likely to be one of his top talking points.

It’s true that Trump has run into some roadblocks: He’s behind schedule on construction of the southern border wall, a key messaging tool for his base. He hasn’t been able to appoint his preferred candidates to lead the immigration agencies. His attempts to pass immigration-related legislation in Congress have failed. And his policies have faced so much opposition in the courts that his administration has appeared to pursue a strategy of rapidly churning out new policies and hoping that at least some of them survive judicial review.

But while he might not have succeeded at building an actual wall to keep immigrants out, his policies have achieved the same end.”