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February 17, 2017

President Donald Trump displays with some regularity an interesting habit: forcefully jerking the arms of those he’s shaking hands with. In several examples, he is seen shaking someone’s hand, then pulling it toward him in a quick motion that sometimes seems to throw the hand-shakee off balance.

It happened with now-Vice President Mike Pence on election night.

It happened with Judge Neil Gorsuch on the night he was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And perhaps most famously, it happened with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the Oval Office.

It’s hard to say whether the arm-pull is a conscious decision Trump is making, or just an odd habit he picked up. But it’s likely he’s very aware of all of the cameras watching him, and wants to appear to give a very firm handshake — after all, we know how much he cares about hands.

Handshakes have an interesting place in society: Everyone knows the basics of shaking hands, and everyone knows how awkward and strange a bad handshake can be. To explore the psychology of handshakes a little more, I reached out to professor William Chaplin, chair of the psychology department at St. John’s University. Our conversation below, conducted by telephone, has been edited only for clarity.

Q: Let’s start out with the basics. Most of us shake hands with other people on a regular basis. What’s the psychology that goes into that moment? Is it more of a greeting, or a way to size up the people we meet?

Chaplin: So, the handshake is a very standard, very common, almost universal form of greeting, at least in Western cultures. In addition to just being a greeting, though, it does give a person an initial impression of what the other person is like. And we’ve all experienced handshakes that are sort of weak, or limp, and that may lead us to think that this person is not a very strong person, maybe shy, or we have a firm handshake, and that makes us respond more positively to the person. Or we may have a handshake where the person is clearly trying to communicate to us that they’re the dominant one, and I think all of those communications then influence how we interpret the other behaviors we see from that person as we continue to interact with them.

Q: You’ve done some pretty specific research into what people perceive as a “good handshake” when they meet someone. What are the factors that we look at, consciously or not, when evaluating someone’s handshake? And do good handshakes lead to making good impressions on people?

Chaplin: We found that these characteristics all correlated positively with each other. So somebody who completely grips the hand, which is one component, tends to also grip firmly, in the sense that they’re not just putting their hand there, but actively gripping — we found that those people tended to be more likely to look you in the eye, and that those people also tended to not just put the hand out there, but also actually shake it. And together, we called that our “firm handshake” or our “good handshake composite.” So there really are components that we could identify that led a handshake to make a better impression rather than a worse impression. It was usually all of those together that were important.

Q: Does the dynamic of a handshake change when cameras are present? For example, celebrities and public figures often have to perform this ritual in front of news cameras and photographers. Do hand-shakers approach those situations differently?

Chaplin: I think there are certainly circumstances in politics, maybe in sales situations, where the person doing the handshake really wants to make a particular impression, and they might try to modify their handshake to do that. I think that situation tells us less about the person, and more about what the situation is that they’re in. And as a result, because they’re rehearsing and thinking about it, it’s not naturally about them. Now, whether people are able to do that, and learn how to do a good handshake, is less clear. It’s not something that we studied.

But it might be very interesting to do a study where, instead of just having people come in and shake hands naturally, we deliberately say, OK, I want you to imagine that you’re about to meet the leader of another country, how would you try to make an impression on that person that you’re somebody they can trust, but also somebody who’s strong, and then see what people did? That might be interesting, and probably people are not always very accurate about thinking about what to do to convey certain impressions.

Q: Finally, does the way someone shakes hands actually say anything about them as a person?

Chaplin: We certainly found that people who gave a weaker, less firm handshake had ratings that were much worse, and we found that it was correlated with various personality traits like shyness, and introversion and social anxiety. So it’s not just that people are thinking about somebody, it actually seems related to some more negative characteristics that the person has. People with good handshakes tended to be more outgoing, more socially at ease, less socially anxious, not as shy and so on.

February 16, 2017
St. John’s University will move its graduate center to Hauppauge in June, leasing a new, modern location after selling its waterfront mansion and 170-acre campus in Oakdale for $22.5 million last September, university officials announced Thursday.

The Queens-based Catholic school signed a five-year lease on a one-story building in an office park at 120 Commerce Dr.

St. John’s, which has a total undergraduate and graduate enrollment of more than 21,000, has offered graduate courses through its School of Education at its Oakdale site since 1999.

 

About 300 students currently are taking courses there, and the university projects that more than 400 students will enroll in the fall semester, officials said. The school also has campuses in Manhattan, Staten Island and Rome, Italy.

“We are committed to continuing to provide quality graduate education programs on Long Island,” St. John’s University Provost Robert A. Mangione said in a statement. “This new, centralized location provides us with the opportunity to serve our current students and to expand the academic offerings at this site.”

University officials said the new Long Island Graduate Center will feature six state-of-the-art classrooms, video-equipped conference rooms that will allow for an interactive learning experience, offices for full-time faculty based on-site, student gathering spaces and space for special events.

St. John’s officials said the university has requested approval from its accrediting agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Courses currently under way in Oakdale will continue as planned. The university said it will move all of its Long Island operations to Hauppauge after the spring semester.

St. John’s has offered graduate education courses on Long Island since the school in 1999 purchased the property at 500 Montauk Hwy. in Oakdale for $14.3 million from the LaSalle Christian Brothers, who operated LaSalle Military Academy there for more than 75 years.

The site was the estate of Frederick Bourne, president of Singer Sewing Machine Co., from 1889 to 1905. The main structure on the campus, the Bourne Mansion, was built in the Georgian architecture style in 1897 and has sweeping views of Great South Bay.

The property was sold in September to Amity Education Group, which operates Amity University, one of the largest multi-campus colleges in India, which said it planned to open a school for international students.

February 16, 2017

TRUMP RISK FOR GOLDMAN? — No bank has fared better than Goldman Sachs in the early days of the Trump administration. Its’ shares just hit a record high on hope for deregulation led by the bank’s former president, Gary Cohn, now Trump’s economic right-hand man. Goldman has alums all over the place including Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, senior adviser Dina Powell and likely Treasury number two Jim Donovan, to name a few.

The way some inside Goldman look it, it’s simply good for the country for there to be capable and level-headed people like Cohn, Mnuchin and the rest around Trump. (They might not put former Goldman banker Steve Bannon in that category). These people, the thinking goes, can steer the president away from protectionism and a rabid stance on immigration, among other things


But there are risks here as well. Goldman is a bipartisan place filled with both Republicans and Democrats. But it’s never been a very Trump-friendly place. And a heavy association could theoretically anger people internally or hurt recruitment. And if Trump’s presidency fails badly, it’s got Goldman’s fingerprints all over it

Here’s John Gapper’s take in the FT: “When Robert Rubin resigned as co-head of Goldman Sachs to join Bill Clinton’s White House in 1993, he found ‘a sort of rugby scrum to get up close to the president’ in the Oval Office. Mr Rubin sat at a discreet distance … Gary Cohn … has no such reticence. …

“Mr Cohn has done nothing for Goldman’s reputation. … The idea is not for them to transfer from making money to making it easier for Goldman to make money. That is not how it should work, nor how it should look” Read more.

HERE’s one Goldmanite’s response to Gapper: “He understands intellectually that it's good for the country/world to have Gary at the White House but doesn't like his upfront, direct (un-FT) style. But hard to imagine that Rubin's genteel, understated manner would have been very effective in this West Wing.”

FIRST LOOK: ROOSEVELT ON TAX REFORM — The Roosevelt Institute has a new paper out Thursday on corporate and individual tax reform: “While the plan will make Trump’s cabinet of billionaires even richer, it won’t boost growth or create jobs for other Americans. In fact, the GOP tax plan could dramatically increase prices for many Americans, cutting into family incomes and leaving the vast majority of households worse off.

“By cutting taxes for the owners of big corporations and asking middle-class Americans to foot the bill, the Brady-Ryan tax plan will only increase the power and privilege of the richest Americans at the expense of everyone else. … 30 years of corporate tax cuts have only increased inequality and limited social mobility, doing nothing for corporate investment.” Read more.

PUZDER FALLS — Progressives finally scored a win on one of Trump’s Cabinet picks as Labor nominee Andrew Puzder withdrew after Senate Republicans made it clear to the White House that he wouldn’t have the votes. Puzder suffered multiple setbacks including reports of his employment of an undocumented immigrant and allegations of spousal abuse expertly chronicled by POLITICO’s Marianne LeVine, who rocked the Puzder story from the start. Puzder’s less-than-draconian approach to immigration also left him without allies in Miller/Bannon world.

Somewhat amazingly, White House spokesman Sean Spicer called it “ridiculous” that Puzder was “not given a hearing” and seemed to accuse Democrats of having a double standard for Trump and Obama nominees. But Puzder didn’t need a single Democrat. Republicans killed his nomination and Republicans denied him a hearing.

Here’s Burgess Everett, Tara Palmeri and Marianne with the full story of the Fall of the House of Puzder.

WHAT NEXT FOR FIDUCIARY RULE? — Cowen’s Jaret Seiberg: “We continue to expect the Department of Labor to delay the fiduciary duty rule despite [the] news … We believe the acting secretary can sign the order delaying the fiduciary rule. That should occur soon as Labor already has sent the draft to OMB for review. …

“President Trump is likely to nominate a new Labor secretary in the coming weeks. That person will not be confirmed before the interim final rule is issued. We would even be surprised if the President is able to nominate someone before Labor issues the 180 day delay”

SHOULD TRUMP HEAR FROM CONSUMER GROUPS? — St. John’s University law school’s Jeff Sovern emails: “You reported today that the president ‘will participate in a listening session with the Retail Industry Leaders Association and member company CEOs.’ You have reported a number of sessions in which the president met with CEOs. When will he hold a listening session with consumer advocates? The people who help the ordinary Americans the president pledged to work for during the campaign.”

MM’s answer is probably never. But it’s not a bad idea. Trump’s populism appealed to a lot of people who feel as screwed by big business and Wall Street as they do by Washington. Buffing up the “I’m with you” credentials by hearing from people other than CEOs is probably a good idea.

THE LAST TIME WE KICKED OUT MEXICANS — Michael A. Clemens in POLITICO magazine writes about the last time the U.S. tried large scale evictions of Mexican immigrants in the name of helping create jobs and lift wages in 1962: “What we discovered was a surprise: Excluding the Mexican braceros did not affect the wages or employment of U.S. farmworkers.” Read more.

This might be a good for one for Gary Cohn to print and stick on the president’s desk.

MILLER FOR TREASURY CoS — POLITICO’s Victoria Guida: “Eli Miller, a former top finance official for … Trump's election campaign, has been tapped as chief of staff of the Treasury Department … Miller, who worked closely with Mnuchin during his confirmation process, will manage the day-to-day operations of the department and the secretary's office.

“He will also advise on, coordinate, and review policy development within the department and with other agencies. He will assist and plan the ‘overall strategic direction’ of the department, according to the announcement. … Miler is a former aide to former House Speaker John Boehner.”

TRUMP GOES TO WALL STREET (AGAIN) — NYT’s James Risen and Matthew Rosenberg: “President Trump plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies … an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.

“The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president … Mr. Feinberg … has close ties to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law …

“Bringing Mr. Feinberg into the administration to conduct the review is seen as a way of injecting a Trump loyalist into a world the White House views with suspicion. But top intelligence officials fear that Mr. Feinberg is being groomed for a high position in one of the intelligence agencies” Read more.

TOP sentence from the Feinberg story: “Mr. Feinberg’s only experience with national security matters is his firm’s stakes in a private security company and two gun makers.”

GOOD THURSDAY MORNING — M.M. is making the rounds in D.C. the next couple of days. Painful to us that neither the Wiz nor the Caps will be playing at home. Email me on bwhite@politico.com and follow me on Twitter @morningmoneyben. Email Mary Lee on mlee@politico.com and follow her on Twitter @maryleereports.

DRIVING THE DAY — House Speaker Paul Ryan holds his weekly press briefing at 11:30 a.m. … House Financial Services insurance subcommittee has a hearing at 10:00 a.m. on “Assessing the U.S.-EU Covered Agreement” … Jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. expected to rise to 245K from 234K … Philadelphia Fed survey at 8:30 a.m. expected to dip to 18.0 from 23.6.

YELLEN SAYS BOND MARKETS ARE LIQUID — POLITICO’s Victoria Guida: “Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen … said corporate bond markets have sufficient liquidity, yet she sees conflicting evidence whether the Volcker rule might be working against that as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has suggested.

“‘It's difficult to come to a conclusion because by most metrics liquidity in corporate bond markets remains healthy,’ Yellen said at a House Financial Services Committee hearing … “This [Fed staff paper on the Volcker Rule] did find evidence of an impact on one particular area … It's an important question, and it's one we continue to look at,’ she added, saying the central bank does not intend to take action based on the report”

MARY JO WHITE GOES BACK TO WORK — POLITICO’s Patrick Temple-West: “Mary Jo White, the former chair of the [SEC], has rejoined Debevoise & Plimpton, the law firm said on Wednesday. White, who stepped down from the agency in January, worked at Debevoise from 2002 to 2013, when President Barack Obama nominated her for the SEC.

“White's decision to rejoin the firm is likely to stoke criticism from Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats about ‘revolving door’ conflicts-of-interest between Wall Street and its regulators. Andrew Ceresney, the SEC's enforcement director from 2013 to 2016, has already rejoined Debevoise, where he worked with White”

SPEAKING OF CRITICISM … Here’s Revolving Door Project’s Jeff Hauser: "Some people are saying Mary Jo White is ‘returning’ to corporate defense, but I believe it's more accurate to say she never stopped defending corporate America. The whipsawing of White's professional obligations may meet current legal requirements, but her rapid return to Debevoise (like Holder to Covington) reinforces skepticism Americans rightly have about our swampy government. Americans deserve dedicated public servants, not ambitious hacks.”

RETAILERS FIGHT BAT — POLITICO’s Brian Faler: “Retailers … took their campaign to kill a proposed tax on imports to … Trump, who may decide whether the controversial idea lives on in Washington's tax-reform debate. Executives from The Gap, Best Buy, AutoZone, JCPenney, Tractor Supply Co., Target, Walgreens, and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores warned Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and economic adviser Gary Cohn about the proposal's fallout on their finances.

“They rely on imported products and worry the tax, part of plans to create a ‘border adjustable’ business tax, will send their tax bills skyward. Trump is preparing a new tax-reform plan, and if it endorses the border-adjustment idea, it would breathe new life into a proposal that has come under heavy criticism in the Capitol. Conversely, Trump's opposition could sink the plan” Read more.

SCHNEIDERMAN VS CUOMO ON DFS — POLITICO’s Nick Niedzwiadek: “State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent a letter to legislative leaders … voicing his objection to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to expand the Department of Financial Services' power to enforce civil law.

“In the letter, Schneiderman called the bid ‘a wholly unnecessary overreach by the Executive and should be rejected by the Legislature,’ and added that his office was not consulted on the proposal” Read more.

NEW METHODS OF CREDIT SCORING — POLITICO Pro’s Colin Wilhelm and Lorraine Woellert report: “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is taking a closer look at how new methods of credit scoring could help those who may be missed by traditional measures of creditworthiness, and whether uses of alternative data may run afoul of consumer protections.

“In a request for public feedback published Thursday, the bureau said traditional credit scoring, which helps lenders predict whether a borrower can be trusted to make payments, leaves millions of people unable to qualify for loans.” Read more.

VERIZON-YAHOO DEAL — WSJ’s Ryan Knutson and Deepa Seetharaman report: “Verizon Communications Inc. and Yahoo Inc. are closing in on a revised deal that would reduce the price Verizon would pay for the internet company’s core business by about $300 million, people familiar with the matter said.

“The two companies also are discussing an agreement to share any future liabilities as a result of two massive data breaches Yahoo disclosed after the companies struck their original $4.8 billion deal in July, people familiar with the matter said.” Read more.

HOW PUZDER FELL — POLITICO Pro’s Tim Noah reports: “Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, two of the most powerful voices in President Donald Trump’s inner circle, were never strongly behind Andy Puzder as Labor secretary, believing he was too soft on immigration.

“So when Puzder’s nomination was teetering on the brink of implosion in recent weeks, that lack of support from the president’s top aides left Puzder, whose backing was already eroding in the Senate, with little choice but to withdraw his name, according to two sources close to Puzder.” Read more.

CHINA ENDS SIX-MONTH STREAK — FT’s Eric Platt report: “China ended a six-month streak disposing of its US Treasury holdings in December, adding to its position for the first time since last May as the country’s central bank seeks to manage capital flight.

“The country, which ceded its status as the world’s largest owner of haven Treasuries in October to Japan, added $9.1bn of US sovereign debt to its reserves in the final month of 2016, new data from the Treasury and Federal Reserve showed on Wednesday.” Read more.

SEC WEIGHS SLASHING INVESTIGATORS’ POWER — Bloomberg’s Benjamin Bain and Matt Robinson report: “The Securities and Exchange Commission’s interim chief has quietly initiated a review that could make it harder for government lawyers to open investigations into corporate wrongdoing, said three people with knowledge of the matter.

“Michael Piwowar, the Republican serving as the agency’s acting chairman, has requested an examination of what’s known internally as delegated authority, the people said. It gives senior attorneys across the SEC powers to start probes, inspect firms and sign-off on some financial products without seeking approval from Piwowar and the other politically-appointed commissioners who oversee the regulator.” Read more.

WALL STREET ‘GAME OF THRONES’ — POLITICO Pro’s Patrick Temple-West reports: “The nation's largest stock exchanges are squaring off against some of their most important customers over plans to raise fees, in what will be one of the first major disputes for President Donald Trump's financial regulators to resolve.

“The battle between financial companies and the venues where they trade stocks is shaping up to be one of the biggest on Wall Street and in Washington, pitting traders against the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. The two exchanges had a combined 27 percent share of the U.S. equity market in 2016.”Read more.

BOFA MISSES, GOLDMAN CASHES IN — WSJ’s Liz Hoffman and Tom McGinty report: “Unlike executives at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., whose options have by and large paid out, Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan this week will forgo 200,000 options, which accounted for about one-fifth of his total pay back in 2006.

“But some old options doled out in the mid-2000s — some of the last large options grants that remain on Wall Street — are now expiring, an event that separates executives into winners and losers.” Read more.

ASIAN STOCKS EDGE UP, DOLLAR RETREATS — Reuters’ reports: “Asian stocks edged up to fresh 19-month highs on Thursday, helped by an extended rally on Wall Street and strong U.S. data though the dollar stepped back after a recent bounce.

“MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was up 0.2 percent, rising to its highest since July 2015. It is up by a tenth so far this year partly underpinned by more optimistic earnings expectations and a gradual unwinding of bearish emerging market bets.” Read more.

TRADE WARS: Trade policy is at the top of the Trump agenda. What happens when the U.S. scraps its deals and starts pushing into America First territory? In a new series, The First 100 Days, The Agenda examines the biggest stories and the power players changing the world of trade. Our industry-leading team of policy reporters shares regular insights, daily updates and big picture stories on one of the biggest moving targets in global policy. Read more here.

February 8, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — On the night Judge Neil Gorsuch was nominated to fill Justice Antonin Scalia's seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, he was thinking about history.

"The towering judges that have served in this particular seat on the Supreme Court, including Antonin Scalia and Robert Jackson, are much in my mind at this moment," Gorsuch said in the East Room of the White House following his nomination by President Donald Trump.

In the year since Scalia's death last February, the court's empty spot has often been referred to as "Justice Scalia's seat." But as Gorsuch suggested, the seat's history actually goes back more than 150 years. The lineage includes seven men, all but one nominated to the seat by Republican presidents.

The group includes Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at the post-World War II Nuremberg trials, and two men who went on to become Chief Justice: William Rehnquist and Harlan Fiske Stone. Jackson and Scalia are considered among the best writers to have served on the court.

John Q. Barrett, a law professor at St. John's University in New York, said being nominated to the court is like moving into a historic house.

"It's sort of like ending up the tenant or the owner of a house that once was occupied by some great person," said Barrett, an expert on Jackson, the fourth man to hold the seat.

Jackson, who took a year off from the court to prosecute Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, was one of three justices to dissent in Korematsu v. U.S., a case that upheld Japanese internment during World War II.

Barrett said each spot on the court has a distinguished history and the seat's former occupants provide "cachet" or "a bit of an aura." But they're also happenstance. Justice Scalia loved that he wound up in the seat formerly held by Jackson, Barrett said, and citied Jackson as one of his heroes.

"I'll tell you who I like a lot. I like one of the predecessors in my seat on the Court, Robert Jackson ... I liked about him that he was usually on the right side of the case, which meant that he was usually adhering to the text," Scalia told Charlie Rose in 2012.

The seat Gorsuch would occupy if confirmed was created by an act of Congress in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War. The idea was to increase support for the Union on the court by creating a tenth seat, though later acts of Congress returned the court to its current nine members.

For the seat's first occupant, Republican President Abraham Lincoln chose Stephen J. Field, a Democrat he thought would be sympathetic to his reconstruction plans. Field went on to serve the longest in the seat, 34 years, making two unsuccessful runs for president while sitting on the court. Paul Kens, a political science professor at Texas State University who wrote a book about Field, said Field saw the law as malleable.

"He was pretty good at molding the language of the Constitution to fit his own personal philosophy," Kens said.

Later occupants of the seat included Joseph McKenna, who served four terms in Congress as a representative from California and was the first justice to own a gasoline-powered car, and John Marshall Harlan II, who wrote a Vietnam-era opinion that said the First Amendment protected a person who wore a jacket with a phrase that used an expletive to curse the draft.

Harlan Fiske Stone was the first occupant of the seat to be promoted to chief justice but served only five years in the new post. He had fatal a cerebral hemorrhage while announcing an opinion in 1946. More recently, the seat was held by William Rehnquist, a former Jackson law clerk. Known for his dissents while an associate justice, he worked to build consensus after becoming chief in 1986.

Like Gorsuch, who earned his undergraduate degree from Columbia University, other occupants of the seat have also had ties to the school. McKenna, the seat's second occupant, got further legal training at Columbia following his confirmation. And Stone, the seat's third occupant, was dean of the Columbia law school for more than a decade.

Gorsuch may be encouraged that most of the justices who have occupied the seat have spent a long time on the court — an average of about 25 years.

Not all justices feel a kinship with their seat-holders or even like their work. There seems to be no love lost between Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to join the court, and her successor Samuel Alito, whose appointment in 2006 moved the court to the right. Critiquing the court's Citizens United campaign finance ruling in 2010, O'Connor said: "Gosh, I step away for a couple of years and there's no telling what's going to happen."

Barrett, the Jackson scholar, cautioned against reading too much into the legacy Gorsuch might join.

"It's a nice talking point," he said of the significance of assuming another justice's seat. "It's kind of cool to imagine that person in their time, where you now are."

February 3, 2017

WASHINGTON — With President Donald Trump pulling the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and looking to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the new administration is tapping into festering anger that international trade pacts have devastated the country’s manufacturing base and left millions of blue-collar workers without jobs.

While acknowledging that trade agreements such as NAFTA, established in 1994, and the TPP, signed nearly a year ago, are often mixed bags that do in fact displace workers and incentivize companies to move some operations overseas, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and several economists say trade can benefit nations’ economies and improve overall standards of living.

But the trade agreements have to be fair.

“Ultimately, trade is good. Trade creates jobs, and you want to create jobs, but you want to encourage it in a way that provides for labor standards, that provides for environmental standards. … You want a scenario where both societies end up benefiting from trade,” said Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace.

Colecchi told the Register that two committees at the bishops’ conference were poised to oppose the TPP because it didn’t meet “some very basic criteria” the bishops use to analyze trade agreements. Among the concerns was that the TPP’s intellectual property-rights provisions would have made it more difficult for people in developing countries to access lifesaving medicines.

“The impact can be devastating,” Colecchi said.

Among several other principles the nation’s Catholic bishops and their staff use when analyzing trade agreements are whether the pacts have adequate labor protections for displaced workers and ensure people in developing nations with lower wages and safety standards are not exploited.

The bishops will oppose trade pacts that allow the United States’ agriculture sector, which enjoys subsidies and favorable policies from the federal government, to wipe out small farmers in developing countries. The bishops also point to dispute resolution mechanisms in the agreements that critics say multinational corporations can use to weaken a country’s environmental and labor standards.


“We would want a trade agreement that is fair to U.S. workers, that helps our economy to grow, but is also a win-win for other countries,” Colecchi said. “We want the other countries in the agreement to grow economically because that moves us toward a future that is good for all people.”

 

Widespread Opposition to TPP

Whether the TPP would have benefited the United States and 11 other nations in Central and South America and the Asia-Pacific is debatable. By the time Trump signed an executive order formally ending the United States’ participation in the pact, the TPP had become so politically toxic that even many pro-trade Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had come out against it.

“Most objections on the right to TPP were that a lot of jobs would be lost, while on the left they believed TPP gave big corporations a special court, which the companies could use to overturn national laws and policies,” said Charles Clark, an economics professor and senior fellow at the Vincentian Center for Church and Society at St. John’s University in New York.

Clark told the Register that trade agreements, the TPP in particular, are negotiated by corporate attorneys and are geared toward benefiting companies, not workers. One criticism of TPP was that its negotiations were not transparent.

“Even Congress didn’t know about TPP’s details until it was time to send it to them for a vote,” Clark said. “There were multiple reasons why this was a bad deal.”

In an interview with Breitbart News before the election, Trump called the TPP “insanity” and said the deal should not have been allowed to happen. The new president had similar words for NAFTA, calling it “the worst trade deal ever” and vowing to renegotiate its terms on the campaign trail.

NAFTA’s Effects

But since NAFTA — a 1994 accord that established trade and investment relations between Canada, the United States and Mexico — is a long-standing treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate, the president cannot withdraw the nation from the pact or unilaterally change its terms, said Jay Richards, a professor at The Catholic University of America's Busch School of Business and Economics.

“And it’s clear that it would have a significant effect, since it has been in place for so many years. In fact, voiding it might be so disruptive to trade and industry that it would harm our economy,” Richards told the Register.

The president’s rhetoric to the contrary, NAFTA has not caused huge job losses feared by critics, although its economic gains have been more modest than what its proponents envisioned, according to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service. Still, the reality is that, more than 23 years since NAFTA took effect, millions of jobs in Mexico and the United States depend on trade.

“With NAFTA, Mexico was able to change its economy to much more manufacturing, and they have been fairly successful with that,” said Clark, who accused Trump of looking to “destroy” Mexican manufacturing, which he argued would displace millions of Mexican workers, who would then move north across the U.S. border to seek employment.

“It’s the classic example of what economists call unintended consequences,” Clark said.

Trump has also threatened retributive tariffs on American companies that manufacture products overseas, which may please his base but have mixed results, analysts said.

“It is a regressive tax on the poor and for small businesses that depend on imported goods,” said Jesuit Father Richard McGowan, a professor in the Finance Department at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. Father McGowan said such a tariff, though, could preserve U.S. jobs, especially in the auto industry, and probably prompt large retailers such as Walmart to find other sources of cheaper goods.

“Most economists will be in favor of trade because overall production of goods and services will increase if you allow countries to produce that have a comparative advantage,” Father McGowan said.

Resonates With U.S. Workers

But the Republican president’s trade skepticism has resonated with millions of U.S. workers, as well as progressive union and labor organizations, who have seen factories in the Northeast and Midwest shut their doors over the last several decades and move to other countries.

Clayton Sinyai, a board member of the Catholic Labor Network, told the Register that the labor movement and the Church in the United States have been pointing to the hazards of profit-driven globalization for decades.

“Free-trade agreements that facilitate a race to the bottom, where nations compete for the favors of multinational corporations by reducing labor standards, slashing environmental and safety regulations, and reducing social investment increase economic inequality and ultimately hurt workers everywhere,” said Sinyai, who suggested that the recent election cycle marked a “remarkable turnaround” after decades of neglect by both major political parties.

“The president’s decision to withdraw from TPP and to review and revise NAFTA to better protect American workers represents an important opening, if the dialogue can be widened to include solidarity with workers in the global south, as well,” Sinyai said.

But while economists agree that international trade agreements inevitably result in some workers being displaced, they argue there are more factors at work, especially automation.

“At the same time that we’ve seen international trade, we’ve also seen technological changes, with manufacturers moving more toward robotics. Things like that are a little more subtle. They don’t get the big news you get when the U.S. signs a trade agreement,” said Thomas Gresik, an economics professor at the University of Notre Dame.

“There is no doubt manufacturing jobs have declined over the last several decades, in terms of the number of jobs. I would attribute that partly to international trade, outsourcing and offshoring, but I think it’s largely due to automation and greater technology,” said Richards, who argues that NAFTA on balance has been beneficial to the United States, Mexico and Canada.

“Trump seems to speak of international trade and trade agreements as if they are all cost and no benefit,” Richards said. “In fact, I think it’s much more of a mixed bag.”

Opportunity for China?

President Barack Obama’s administration supported the TPP, partly on geopolitical grounds that the pact would economically align member nations with the United States instead of China.

“China is already moving on this, to sign trade agreements with the same countries that we would have entered into the agreement with, and that will have the effect of diverting trade toward China,” Gresik told the Register.

Joseph McCartin, executive director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, told the Register that although the TPP was unlikely to offer much help to beleaguered American workers, its cancellation could cause larger problems.

“One characteristic of Trump’s moves on this and other issues is that they are impulsive and are not linked to a broader strategy,” said McCartin, who suggested that canceling the TPP does not itself create a strategy for lifting stagnant wages of American workers. He also said trade deals in general do not take Catholic social teachings very seriously.

“They do not tend to include workers’ representatives in their drafting,” McCartin said. “They have not resulted in the strengthening of real workers’ rights, such as the right to organize. Where labor protections are written into them, those protections tend to be flimsy and lack enforcement. Trade agreements have mostly benefited the elites of the nations that have engaged in them.”

In his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI wrote that the new context of modern international trade and finance had altered the political power of modern nation-states, exposing and straining limitations on their sovereignty.

‘Fair Trade, Not Just Free Trade’

While the U.S. bishops’ conference offers its list of principles to evaluate trade pacts, Richards argued that the principles do not really offer a concrete way to decide for or against trade agreements.

“I think you have to look at real economic outcomes. You don’t want outcomes where more people are harmed than others, for example, or in which the environment is degraded,” Richards said.

Colecchi, from the bishops’ conference, noted that the bishops, in January, released a background document on trade agreements that stressed that such pacts have consequences and moral dimensions, and so must be evaluated with reference to the effects they have on people of both developed and developing countries.

Said Colecchi, “It needs to be fair trade, not just free trade, and it needs to be trade which is win-win.”

January 24, 2017

Brian Browne comments on what Trump's presidency means for Staten Island.

January 23, 2017

Brian Browne speaks on the First 100 Days of the presidency.

January 19, 2017

(Reuters Health) - Treatment of high blood pressure is improving in the United States, but a new study suggests white people are seeing more improvements than black or Hispanic people.

Blacks and Hispanics were less likely to have their blood pressure under control, compared to whites, researchers found. Hispanics were also less likely than whites to be treated for the condition.

The new study shows public health efforts to improve blood pressure control are working, but "there are still disparities that still affect minorities," said senior author Dr. Edgar Argulian, of Mt. Sinai St. Luke's Hospital in New York City.

"It probably means we need to tweak those efforts," he told Reuters Health.The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends keeping systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading) below 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) should be below 80 mmHg.

High blood pressure - known as hypertension - can lead to stroke, heart problems, kidney disease and other health issues, according to the AHA. Doctors usually start prescribing medicine to lower blood pressure when a person's readings are consistently over 140/90 mmHG.

For the new study, the researchers analyzed data collected from 8,796 U.S. adults with high blood pressure between 2003 and 2012 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Blood pressure treatment and control increased during that time period, the researchers write in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Treatment rates increased from about 66 percent in 2003-2004 to about 77 percent in 2010-2012. The proportion of people who got their blood pressure under control increased from 33 percent to 45 percent over the same period.

White people tended to do better on a variety of measures, however.

About 74 percent of whites, 71 percent of blacks and 61 percent of Hispanics were being treated for their high blood pressure over the course of the study, the researchers found.

All three groups experienced substantial improvement in hypertension control over the course of the study. But while roughly 43 percent of whites had their hypertension under control during the study period, only about 37 percent of blacks and about 31 percent of Hispanics could say the same.

Doctors are treating blacks nearly as often as whites for high blood pressure, the researchers note, but blacks are still less likely to have the condition under control.

Black people are particularly predisposed to high blood pressure and more aggressive forms of the condition, said Argulian.

Unlike blacks, Hispanics were not treated as aggressively as whites for high blood pressure. They were also less likely to have their condition under control.

"There is no biological evidence to suggest that Hispanics are more vulnerable to loss of blood pressure control," lead author Dr. Anna Gu, of St. John's University in New York, told Reuters Health.

For Hispanics, factors like access to health insurance and language barriers may be obstacles to getting appropriate care, Gu said.

"One of the things we should get out of this study is what a bad job we’re doing controlling blood pressure across the board," said Dr. Leslie Cho, who directs the Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Cardiovascular Center in Ohio.

Doctors can be better at providing the best proven treatments for individual patients, said Cho, who was not involved with the new study.

For example, she told Reuters Health, high blood pressure among black people responds well to drugs known as calcium channel blockers and diuretics.

People should be encouraged to monitor their blood pressure at home, she added.

Argulian said treating hypertension is a complex issue that goes beyond merely giving patients pills to take. Blood pressure control needs to take into account many lifestyle factors like weight and diet, but also social factors like insurance access and ability to get and take medications, he said.

 

 

January 18, 2017

President-elect Donald J. Trump will soon face a stark choice: whether to protect consumers, the ordinary Americans he pledged to defend against a system he criticized as rigged — or to side with that system.

Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, including his willingness to stand up to corporate interests, such as the Chamber of Commerce and international banks, offers hope he will choose consumers. Indeed, some of Mr. Trump’s supporters saw no conflict between voting for both him and consumer protection laws. Voters in South Dakota, for example, where 61 percent of votes went to Mr. Trump, also adopted by a three-to-one margin an interest rate cap on payday loans. Similarly, a poll of 2,000 self-described Trump voters found that more than half wanted the president-elect either to expand the power of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or at least to leave it alone.

But Mr. Trump has appointed and nominated opponents of regulation to his new administration, and one of the features of his campaign was to complain about regulation, particularly the Dodd-Frank rules imposed on banks after the financial crisis. It is Dodd-Frank that created the bureau, and it has been a target of Republican lawmakers ever since.

Every weekday, twice a day, get the news driving the markets and the latest on mergers and acquisitions.

The president-elect’s conundrum is illustrated by Washington’s reaction to the sham accounts scandal at Wells Fargo, in which the bank’s employees were found to have opened accounts in customers’ names without telling them. During congressional hearings last fall, lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — savagely attacked the bank. But on the topic of redress for the bank’s victims, Congress has been divided.

Part of this division concerns the bureau. Created, as its name implies, to protect consumers, the agency required Wells Fargo to refund fees to affected customers and also fined the bank $100 million. But when consumers tried to recover additional damages, Wells Fargo wanted to block them from bringing class-action lawsuits. These customers had agreed to arbitration when they opened accounts. The agreements, which consumers could not hope to understand, barred them from going to court over disputes arising from the real accounts as well as over fake accounts.

Forced arbitration could prevent many, if not most, Wells Fargo customers from obtaining full compensation. That’s because consumers rarely invoke arbitration to recover amounts less than $1,000, according to a study by the consumer bureau. They simply give up.

The agency has proposed a rule to prevent financial institutions from using arbitration clauses to block class actions, but the rule has not yet been completed. If President-elect Trump sides with the banks, it may never take effect.

Supporters holding up oversized letters spelling “Trump,” as seen from behind flags at a campaign event in Austin, Tex., in August. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times
That’s because the House Financial Services Committee has voted to allow banks to continue to use arbitration clauses, even when it comes to accounts opened in consumers’ names without their knowledge, like the Wells Fargo accounts. The committee’s bill would also make it harder for the bureau to protect consumers like the Wells Fargo victims. If the bill becomes law, banks would face fewer restraints on misconduct.

And we’re not just talking about Wells Fargo’s customers. Though still an infant as government agencies go, the consumer bureau has secured nearly $12 billion in relief for about one out of every 12 Americans. That surely includes many of the people Mr. Trump meant when he talked about “protecting those who have no power.”

The agency has done all this in the name of consumer protection regulation. To some, regulation is a bad word, and certainly there are laws that have done little to protect consumers. But others have had considerable benefits. It may be inconvenient to be stuck behind a red light — a form of regulation — but think how much more difficult it would be to get around safely without traffic signals. Good regulations benefit society over all even though sometimes they frustrate people. That could help explain why, even though establishment Republicans may be unhappy with the bureau, polls show that ordinary Americans of both major parties regard it favorably.

Which brings us back to Mr. Trump. Will he side with consumers, or will he stand with the Wells Fargos of the world? It is hard to know. Rumors swirl that he will fire the agency’s director, Richard Cordray, and Mr. Trump has interviewed former Representative Randy Neugebauer of Texas for the job. Mr. Neugebauer is someone thought to be more inclined to protect banks than consumers.

If Mr. Trump chooses not to preserve a strong, independent bureau that protects consumers, he will have enabled his opponents in four years to attack him not only for failing to live up to his rhetoric, but for having become the leader of what he once condemned.

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