Coal industry subsidies based on a pretext

I could hardly believe this story when I first read it in the New York Times.  It just seemed too bizarre to be true.  A  DOE proposal which subsidizes  coal usage  in power plants, whose extra cost  will be passed on to consumers in electric bills.  Bob Murray of Murray Coal must be very happy with this one, as his investment in Trump is paying off big time.

Per the NYT EdOp:

 Mr. Perry’s proposal could add around $11 billion a year to the cost of electricity, depending on how the rule is interpreted, according to four separate research reports. Yet it would do little to improve the electrical grid. That’s because less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of power failures between 2012 and 2016 were caused by fuel supply emergencies, according to the Rhodium Group, a research firm.

Aren’t the Republicans known for opposing bailouts of any kind?  This one is based on a pretext, that we have fuel supply emergencies causing power failure outages.  Or we will have in the future.   As stated in the New York Times:

During Hurricane Harvey in Texas, where Mr. Perry was once governor, coal-fired power plants had to switch to natural gas because their fuel became too wet to be moved.

Here are the facts.    About 66% of our electricity comes from the burning of two fossil fuels, natural gas and coal.   The rest comes from nuclear (~19%), hydroelectric (~6%)  and alternative sources (solar and wind).    What has hurt the coal industry is competition from natural gas.  Employment in coal mining jobs has dropped due to automation of the mines.   Environmental air quality regulations have made coal fueled plants more expensive, encouraging a switch to natural gas.

Here is why it is so bizarre.  Opposition comes from environmental groups which would be normal, as the proposal will increase coal consumption.  But, allied with the environmental groups are the big oil and gas companies,  who would be hurt by reduced natural gas demand.   So,  the new regulations are bad for the consumer, the environment and big oil and gas companies (which support Trump on many issues).

The DOE has fast tracked the proposal through the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) with 5 members.   Hopefully, they will not approve the DOE proposal.

Please read the New York Times article.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

The Trump Administration’s Coal Bailout

Electricity Customers in 31 States Could Foot the Bill for Perry’s Coal Bailout

Rick Perry’s plan to subsidize coal and nuclear plants is bonkers

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Destroying the Consumer Financial Protection Agency – Piece by Piece

Note- this blog was updated on December 8, 2017,  with a few corrections, and additional links. Still it’s all pretty damning evidence that Mulvaney has no interest in protecting consumers in real estate related transactions.  Obviously, neither does Trump.

Mike Mulvaney does not believe in the bureau he has been appointed to run.   In public statements, he clearly does not feel the government should be protecting the consumer in complicated financial transactions, typically mortgages.    He has declared it a “sad, sick” example of bureaucracy gone amok.  (see New York Times article)   Judging by the number of successful prosecutions in support of consumers,  it appears Mulvaney is wrong.

Nationwide Biweekly Administration (NBA)  was accused by CFPB of widespread fraud, involving more than 100,000 mortgage customers.  NBA has nothing to do with Nationwide Insurance, and its sole business is convincing mortgage holders that it is in their best interest to pay off their mortgages on a biweekly basis, resulting in 13 payments instead of 12,  which the company would pocket.

The scam involved false advertising, promising customers that Nationwide would reduce their  interest payments.  It involved mass mailings as as many as 33 million mailers were sent out.   Through billing the customers for  26 biweekly payments, the company would collect one extra monthly payment.   Nationwide retains the first mortgage payment as a setup fee which can be up to $995 according to the CFPB.   Plus they would add other service fees,  increasing their  mortgage payments to consumers.

It is an egregious ripoff and was found in violation of the laws and regulations protecting consumers. The CFPB alleges these practices violate the Telemarketing Sales Rule and the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition against unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices.  See the government’s lawsuit against Nationwide.

Daniel Lipsky is the founder, president, and sole owner of Nationwide.  He reportedly made 33 million dollars from the biweekly payment program.  Nationwide Biweekly website link is provided in the links.

CFPB sued Nationwide and had a partial victory in the lawsuit.   After lengthy litigation, a judge in September 2017 ordered Nationwide to pay nearly 8 million dollars in penalties.    This was far less the 77 million dollars that the CFPB had sued for, which included restitution to its customers.  See link at the end of this blog.

CFPB asked for a 8 million dollars in bond, while Nationwide appealed the verdict.  This is completely routine to help insure the payment to fraud victims.  The case was inches away from the finished line.

Mike Mulvaney  arrived last week, determined to make the agency less effective for now and whoever comes after him.  He ordered  bond request withdrawn destroying .  Victims may never get anything from the government’s lawsuit, after three years in the making.     According to the Quartz link:

The decision could allow Lipsky to re-open Nationwide, which still has more than 100,000 customers. If the new-look CFPB takes the same approach to his appeals, he may face no penalty at all.

Can you imagine how let down the victims of fraud and CFPB investigators must feel?  This action will embolden loan originators and con artists (like Nationwide Biweekly) to once again look for prey.

Not exactly making America great again!

Stay tuned,

Davc

Quartz: FALSE & MISLEADING,  The abrupt reversal that shows Donald Trump’s approach to consumer protection

NYT:  Consumer Bureau’s New Leader Steers a Sudden Reversal

Original complaint as filed by CFPB

We’re the CFPB. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a U.S. government agency that makes sure banks, lenders, and other financial companies treat you fairly.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit:

 

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/

Perhaps the future website will change verbs to the past tense.

Nationwide Biweekly Administration

I could not find the actual judge’s order, but this link provided the 77 million dollar value in the original lawsuit by CFPB.   It is written by an attorney who advises real estate professionals, so it has some bias.  CFPB makes allegations, and the courts then look at the evidence to decide appropriate penalties. Also note the opinion was as of September 17, 2017 before Mike Mulvaney took charge of the CFPB.

Mortgage-Payment Company Escapes Doom in Trial Against CFPB

Leandra English is still contesting Mike Mulvaney’s takeover of the CFPB:

http://freebeacon.com/issues/leandra-english-day/

Zimbabwe – What comes next?

Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe  resigned on November 21, 2017.  The military gave him a 24 hour ultimatum – resign or be impeached.  Although the clear path was resignation, he  refused to resign, thus the process of impeachment was initiated.   Certainly,  Mugabe saw the ultimatum as an affront to his authority, having been re-elected in 2013.  He was the semi-legitimate president as  many have reported it was a rigged election.   Key to his reign was the support of the military, but of course that changed.

Robert Mugabe came into office with a jubilant crowd cheering his victory in 1980 and went out the same way, with the crowd cheering his departure.   Anyone watching the news, could see the pure joy in Zimbabweans as their “beloved” president was shown the exit.

We are in the first round of a familiar  situation.  I’ve seen a similar situation first hand in Libya.    With the tyrant gone, there is celebration, a great feel of national unity, a hope for democracy, freedom of expression  and more equality.   With the oppressive leadership gone, there is an overly optimistic view that prosperity with more jobs is just around the corner.  Unfortunately,  it isn’t, because those who benefited from the regime are very active in re-establishing themselves.

Zimbabwe’s new president is Emmerson Mnangagwa  was appointed as  vice president from December 2014 to November 27, 2017.   But, is he really running the show, or is it the military?  The military forced  Robert Mugabe to resign, because he was setting up his wife, Grace Mugabe, to succeed him.   Mnangagwa promised  change and a new era of democracy.  He dismissed his cabinet, and in two key positions, installed military leaders, as explained in the BBC news story (see links).   According to the BBC:

Just two weeks ago many Zimbabweans were celebrating the so-called people’s commander – Gen Constantino Chiwenga – for leading the military takeover which led to the change in leadership. Now they wait to see whether he will be rewarded with a vice-presidency.

Next year, the scary part begins – elections.    As Mugabe reign ended, there are a lot of players on the sidelines,  looking to their next move.   I’m not just talking of political parties inside Zimbabwe,  but countries, including China, looking for new leaders who are foreign investment friendly.  All Zimbabweans know that just before the military coup,  Gen. Chiwenga was in China.  Was he informing them of the coup?  Or was he asking them for support, once the coup took place?  The real important question, is whether he will be rewarded for his efforts by being appointed Vice President.   Zimbabweans may be thinking there wasn’t really a change in government,  since the same military that backed Mugabe is now behind Mnangagwa.

China’s aggressive world trade strategy (“the new maritime  silk road”) is really about securing key seaports in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and then using these as hubs for commerce.   Where the Chinese government really plays a role is in the financing of this network, be it new ports, trains, or roads.   East Africa will be connected to West Africa  from Kenya to Angola by seaports, rail and roads.

The political dynamics of Africa used to be mostly  about what was going on inside the countries.  This hasn’t been true for decades, however there are likely to be many players trying to take advantage of the new regime.  I believe China’s economic might will have considerable sway in determining Zimbabwe’s future, and the long awaited freedoms, may have to wait longer.  President Mnangagwa knows what the people of Zimbabwe want, the big question is, can he deliver?

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

BBC Report:  Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa gives key cabinet jobs to military figures

There are many excellent reports on the internet on Robert Mugabe and the military takeover in November 2017.   For those unfamiliar with Zimbabwe and it’s history, this is an excellent summary:

Wikipedia:  Zimbabwe