Upfront: Turkey Shoot

A grab-bag of holiday-season gratitude and gripes

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This week, we present a grab-bag of news, including an interview with U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman about religion.

A year ago, American families sat around the holiday table to share the turkey feast and the faded glory of a Norman Rockwell moment, and those families were fairly well split between shocked and elated by the Electoral College selection of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States of America.

The results of November  2016 stunned the conscience of a nation, if not a planet, and most days bring fresh evidence that Trump, as former President Barack Obama noted, is uniquely unqualified to hold the office of president. Most days also bring news that despite his ongoing lack of qualifications, and that his own cabinet secretaries have taken to calling him an idiot and a moron, Trump isn’t going anywhere. Power does not cede without a fight.

So there he is. We’re stuck with Trump for the time being. But is it fair to blame him for every last misery that has befallen this nation and state over the past year? Tempting, but no. From schools, to coal to small-time farmers: The Trump administration has taken the GOP’s anti-regulatory ambitions to new heights on behalf of Big Everything: Whether it’s energy, education or health care, the regulation frenzy is reminiscent of a Black Friday stampede at the local mall.

With that in mind, here are some recent developments around Marin that hint at the sick, dark heart of what the rolling experiment in Trumpism means this year, whether it’s his fault or not. The week began with a huge public dustup at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Obama-era federal agency whose hatred on the right rises to a Planned Parenthood level of viciousness. Earlier in November, the agency’s director, Rob Cordray, announced his resignation and set out to name an interim director. That’s his role and right, he says, under the legislation that set up the agency. Trump picked another fight and installed his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, to temporarily head the pro-consumer organization as the GOP sets out to completely destroy the CFPB.

John Hoffman, director of development at the California Reinvestment Coalition, pushed out a pungent press release this week in response to the latest power grab by Trump: “In a year of record bank profits, it is difficult to understand how installing a leader who has advocated gutting the CFPB could improve performance in the sector without bringing about the kind of corporate recklessness that led to the last financial crisis and devastated consumers. The appointment of Mick Mulvaney to lead the bureau is an overreach of executive power by the Trump administration, and a cynical attempt to bring the agency under the control of the banks and Wall Street firms it was designated to oversee.”

The agency provides the regulatory muscle to embolden lawsuits such as those launched by Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, and they’ve tried to rein in payday-lenders with their outlandish interest rates on loans taken against a future paycheck. The CFPB was born as part of the Dodd-Frank banking regulations following the 2008 crash at the hands of Republican leadership, and the agency is generally zeroed-in on nickel-and-dime stuff that may not matter much to the wealthy individuals currently in power.

The agency has brought complaints against Bay Area auto lenders over discriminatory lending policies at Toyota and at other dealerships, and helped win favorable judgments against Big Auto, along with trimming back outrageous bank fees and other “small print” stuff that screws the unwary consumer. For this, the CFPB has earned the enmity of the GOP and of Trump, who called it the worst thing ever and a total disaster. And the CFPB was just in the news last week after Trump’s minions canceled new regulations that would’ve made it possible for individuals to sue banks. Marin U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman has been supportive of about 90 percent of the work undertaken by CFPB, he says, noting that the emergence of Mulvaney as the agency’s nominal director represents “the return of caveat emptor” for American consumers. “And there’s no more ardent believer in caveat emptor than Mick Mulvaney.”

Cannabis Clampdown

It would be a slippery bit of veritas-quality fake news to accuse the president of complicity, but talk about Trump-style bad faith and the art of the bait-and-switch: When Californians voted to legalize recreational cannabis last year through Proposition 64, a key component to insure buy-in from medical growers and shadow mom-and-pop operations was to keep Big Ag out of the cannabis business so those people could get their proper leg up in the new economy. This was achieved by limiting the size of grows to a maximum of one acre, for five years. After five years, big-time operators would be allowed to plant as much cannabis as they wanted.

That plan went out the window recently, and cannabis advocates are howling at the betrayal undertaken by lawmakers who promised pot-populism for the little guy. There’s an interview in the North Bay Bohemian, our sister publication, this week with Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association. Allen says the new workaround will let farmers expand their acreage simply by gobbling up several smaller licenses, violating the spirit if not the letter of Prop. 64. “It is significant when private interests prevail over the public interest and our democratic process,” he tells the Bohemian. In other words: Very Trumpian.

“The small producer isn’t protected to the extent that they should be,” says Huffman, who says he holds out for “some hope for a correction at the state level,” to address the Trumpian switcheroo.

Godless Communism!

Evangelical Christians are peculiarly enamored of the pout-lip amorality of Donald Trump, while good-guy Huffman came out as a godless communist and nobody seemed to notice, except a few yahoos in the far-right media world.

OK, Huffman did not actually come out as a “godless communist. That is an exaggeration, much as “the largest crowd to ever attend an inauguration” was also an exaggeration. But a recent Washington Post feature on Huffman finds the liberal congressman describing himself as a “humanist,” as in “secular humanist,” as in, I don’t believe in God, but in the fundamental decency of people.

In the profile, Huffman wasn’t so much apologetic for an absence of a belief in God, as he was questioning His (or Her) existence. He left open the possibility for some sort of metaphysical relationship with the spirit world, and good for him for having an open mind.

Whether it’s Alabama mall-rat Roy Moore, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Sen. Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein or any number of California state politicians now running the sexual-harassment gauntlet and making headlines across the state—godless communism has emerged as the moral choice. Since every day of the week seems to bring new accusations directed at rich and powerful men who can’t keep their hands to themselves, it’s worth noting that none have been directed at Huffman, who is also a tree-hugger on top of the spiritually-aware liberalism he now embraces as a matter of public urgency.

Huffman says that he decided to not duck the religious question anymore after a year of soul-searching, thanks to Trump’s election. “The past year should have invited all of us to reflect on what we want to see happen in this world during our time on Earth and to see how we can make a difference. We’re not going to step back and let the democracy be hijacked by this president. People have been stepping up,” he adds, “in all kinds of important ways, our institutions have been rising to the challenge—Congress being the exception—and for me, personally, I’ve done my own reflection on how I want to make my mark. I see [religion] being misused and abused. There are an awful lot of principled, moral, non-religious people who have a lot to offer in public service and elsewhere.” Huffman says he came forward as a humanist, and that in doing so, he might encourage others to do the same.

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