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A Valentine update on corporate-state crime in an age of Trumpism

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On Valentine’s Day President Trump signed his third piece of legislation since taking office four weeks earlier. This one was a sweet gift for big oil and company. 

H.J. Resolution 41 nullifies a 2010 Dodd-Frank SEC rule that requires oil and gas companies to reveal the taxes and fees that they pay to foreign companies. 

In its two-decade-old existence, this is only the second time that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used to repeal a regulation. The new legislation repeals a rule meant to fight corruption in resource-rich countries such as Russia by requiring oil, natural gas, coal and mineral companies, on the US stock exchanges to disclose those royalties and payments that they make to other governments. 

Those supporters of the SEC rule, mostly Democrats, see the repeal of the rule as adding to and not cleaning up the Washington swamp, a victory for corruption and cronyism. 

As Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, stated earlier this month: “This kind of transparency is essential to combatting waste, fraud, corruption, and mismanagement.” Brown and other supporters of the rule claim that when the US takes a leading role on foreign payment transparency, other major nations are more likely to follow. 

This rare legislative repeal of a federal regulation is part of the aggressive deregulatory effort that the Trump administration and the GOP Congress are undertaking to roll back Obama-era rules on fossil fuel companies, financial institutions, and the environment. 

One of the major opponents of this SEC rule had been Exxon Mobil’s former CEO Rex Tillerson and now the Secretary of State. Reminds me of the time when the former CEO of Halliburton, Dick Chaney, then Vice President of the United States, was able to successfully lobby for the passage of The Energy Policy Act. 

Otherwise known as the “Halliburton Loophole” and signed into law by George W. Bush in 2006, this law exempted hydraulic fracking and oil and gas drilling from certain sections of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 and the Clean Water Act of 1972. 

At the afternoon signing ceremony in the Oval Office, President Trump, flanked by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), and other Republican lawmakers, stated that: “We’re bringing back jobs big league” to the plants, the mines, and to the energy fields. “A lot of people going back to work now.” 

In their “race to the bottom” approach to making America great again, the administration and its congressional allies explained that the SEC rule “imposes massive, unnecessary costs on the United States oil, natural gas and mining companies, putting them at a significant competitive disadvantage with foreign companies that do not have to comply.” 

Earlier at the daily White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, as he was trying to repel questions about “what the President knew and when did he know it” concerning the “resignation” the night before of his National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn, stated that the “misguided federal regulations such as the SEC rule” addressed by the joint resolution “inflict real cost on the American people and put our businesses, especially small businesses, at a significant disadvantage.”

Never mind that this repealed SEC rule only pertains to multinational companies, and has nothing to do directly with small businesses, like most of the rules under assault by the Trump Administration. 

Under Dodd-Frank the Security and Exchange Commission will still be obligated to write some kind of new transparency rule for extractive industries. However, under the CRA, the SEC cannot establish any rule that is substantially the same as one that has been overturned. That’s an interesting Catch-22. 

Although the new President has been in office for only one month, his legacy and that of the Republican-controlled House and Senate of 2016-2018 has begun to reveal its “much ado about nothing” approach to governing. Should Trump’s Administration survive the Russian investigations, he and the GOP will be free to exacerbate the domestic and foreign difficulties that they claim to want to fix. 

The early dysfunctionality of the Trump Administration or what the President prefers to call his “fine-tuned machine” has thus far passed no legislation. At his first major surprised 77-minute press conference on February 16 to defend and boast about his record so far, he also falsified the record letting us all know what a mess he had inherited at both home and abroad. 

At this point in time eight years ago, with a Democratically-controlled Congress the Barack Obama Administration had already passed a $1trillon stimulus package to address the financial crisis, had approved a measure preventing pay discrimination, and had expanded children’s health insurance. They had also laid the groundwork for the Affordable Care Act. 

As the President’s failed ban on immigrants has already demonstrated, his administration as well as the Republican Congress, despite all their savvy know how and ability to manipulate and subvert the workings of the democratic process, are pretty clueless when it comes to constructing anything positive for the American people, including an unnecessary wall between Mexico and the United States, which will at the end of the day remain a fence. 

Hence, when “push comes to shove” and they have to come up with something to offer that is better than The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and after voting how many times to repeal it over the past seven years, they have thus far come up empty-handed. 

After all, the Republican forte is about destroying and undoing things. Therefore, their efforts to roll back some of the rules of Dodd-Frank and various environmental rules and regulations that protect the consuming public will unfortunately occur. 

Similarly, if the President and the GOP get their way with the funding budget, say good buy to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, AmeriCorps, and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. 

Their proposed budget would also eliminate the Export-Import Bank, which since the 1930s has guaranteed loans to international customers of US companies. It also lists cuts to the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy that dispenses grants to reduce use. 

Finally, the Republicans will undoubtedly pass huge tax breaks for the very rich and corporate America alike, contributing further to gross inequality in wealth and well being in the United States. 

Once again, beginning with President Reagan, we will witness the failed neoliberal policies of trickle down and yes “voodoo economics” proving themselves to be counterproductive to the interests of the American people.

Gregg Barak, Ph.D., Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology, Eastern Michigan University 
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