Archive for the ‘Republican knavery’ category

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

May 22, 2017

While we focus on the various obvious bathetic catastrophes (from blowing secrets to the Russians to the big man’s collapsing in a heap after a mere one day on the road) committed by the shitgibbon and his band of merry (but never gay — oh no! not that) men, it’s important to keep at least some attention on the rolling, very real damage the Trump administration wreaks on a daily basis.

I’m so far behind on a book project that I can’t really keep up, and I certainly can’t blog with anything remotely resembling depth and insight, so I’m going to try instead to throw up quick posts as various bits of policy news cross my magpie’s field of vision.

This morning’s treat comes via a Saturday story in FTFNYT.*  Under Scott Pruitt, it seems, the EPA has become the Captain Renault of environmental regulators: everything has its price, and the Captain is always eager to make a deal:

Devon Energy, which runs the windswept site, had been prepared to install a sophisticated system to detect and reduce leaks of dangerous gases. It had also discussed paying a six-figure penalty to settle claims by the Obama administration that it was illegally emitting 80 tons each year of hazardous chemicals, like benzene, a known carcinogen.

But something changed in February just five days after Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general with close ties to Devon, was sworn in as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Devon, in a letter dated Feb. 22 and obtained by The New York Times, said it was “re-evaluating its settlement posture.” It no longer intended to move ahead with the extensive emissions-control system, second-guessing the E.P.A.’s estimates on the size of the violation, and it was now willing to pay closer to $25,000 to end the three-year-old federal investigation.

The administration’s response?

The E.P.A. has not yet made a public response to Devon’s new posture, and Mr. Pruitt declined to comment for this article.

Want to bet on how it will turn out?

In just the last three months, with Mr. Pruitt in charge, the E.P.A. postponed a long-planned rule requiring companies like Devon to retrofit drilling equipment to prevent leaks of methane gas — a major contributor to climate change — and to collect more data on how much of the gas is spewing into the air.

The Interior Department, meanwhile, announced this month that it would reconsider a separate rule limiting the burning of unwanted methane gas from wells drilled on federal and Indian lands, a process called flaring. That announcement came the same day the Senate narrowly rejected industry calls to repeal the same rule.

Interior officials have also announced their intention to repeal or revise a contentious rule requiring companies like Devon to take extra steps to prevent groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, a drilling technique in which chemicals and water are forced into rock formations.

You get the idea. Pruitt has a history of working with Devon Energy; the administration has both a pro-extractive industry bias and powerful faction and the always reliable motive of f**king with anything that Obama accomplished.  Some of what the shitgibbon’s people aim to do can, no doubt, be delayed, obstructed, tied up.  Much, perhaps most will go through, at least over the next year or so, up until the pressures of the next election begin to bite.

So:  constant vigilance and trust no Republican. They’ll load up anything they can on anything they can, transferring public goods (clean air, clean water, anything not nailed down) to private hands.

Over to y’all.

*Publication of such stories  is why I continue to subscribe. Their political desk is…dodgy…but they still field more fine reporters than just about anywhere else I can think of. YM, as always, MV.

Image: Elihu Vedder, Corrupt Legislation, mural in the Library of Congress, 1896.

Why I Hate The NY Times, Part [n]*

March 24, 2017

This paragraph:

There is most likely a middle way. Republican lawmakers might be comfortable with a system that shifts more of the costs of care onto people who are sick, if it makes the average insurance plan less costly for the healthy. But making those choices would mean engaging in very real trade-offs, less simple than their talking point.

“Republican lawmakers might be comfortable…”  Think of the assuptions not in evidence required to write that phrase.  Think also of the cluelessness in what comes next:  those who buy insurance are seen here in the Republican frame, as two binary populations, the healthy and the sick.

That would be  the “virtuous”  healthy paid less than the molly-coddled, feckless sick.  That the same people might occupy both identities at different points of their lives seems not to have occured to this Times writer, Margot Sanger-Katz — whom I’ve noted before has an odd willingness to couch her Upshot explainers in weighted and coded language.

As seems to be hers and several Times-folk’s penchant, much of the story from which I extracted above is perfectly fine, an actual explainer of what Essential Health Benefits do and why they’re important. She even notes that in a system without a required benefit package–

…the meaning of “health insurance” can start to become a little murky.

Well, yeah, as it doesn’t actually insure against unanticipated risks.  I’d take issue with the meekness of her critique here, that is, but at least she suggests to the fragile sensibilities of her tender readers that perhaps a minor problem might result here.

Which makes the passage I quoted up top both weird and revealing: cheap insurance for the healthy and soak-the-sick policies for those with the misfortune to suffer the ails that impinge on just about every human being, sometime or other is a pretty damn good example of a murky notion of health insurance.

That is: the habit of mind, the reflexive and seemingly unconscious acceptance of a right wing tropes that lead both to conclusions unsupported by the evidence and an inability to grasp what one has actually just said.  This happens a lot at The New York Times. Happened a lot there too, over the crucial months of 2016.  Which goes a long way, IMHO, to accounting for the predicament we’re in now.

*Where [n] is an arbitrarily large number.x

Image:  Codex Aureus Epternacensis, Christ Cleansing Ten Lepers, c. 1035-1040.

The Common Inheritance, The Common Defense

March 5, 2017

A bit of self promotion here, but I’ve got a piece in today’s Boston Globe that might be of interest to some here.

It’s a look at what the idea of the commons — not just the abstract, model commons of Garrett Hardin’s famous essay, but the historical commons as actually lived and used — can tell us about current problems.  The TL:DR is that commons are not inherently prone to tragedy, but that the preservation of communal goods requires…wait for it…communal action: regulation, self-regulation.

This is, of course, exactly what the Republican Party denies — more, loathes and condemns.  With Trump, they’re getting their way, but its vital to remember that the consequences that will flow from these decisions are not down to him, or simply so: the entire Republican power structure is eager to do this, and when we pay the price, we must remember who ran up the bill.

Anyway, here’s a taste from my piece.  Head on over to the Globe’s site if you want more.

The idea of the commons is deeply woven through the history of the English countryside. Shakespeare captured this idyllic approach to nature’s wealth in “As You Like It,” when the shepherd Corin explains to the cynic Touchstone the joys of his life. “I earn that I eat, get that I wear,” he says, adding that “the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze and my lambs suck” — in the unowned, readily shared Forest of Arden.

There can be trouble in such an Eden, as Hardin pointed out in an influential 1968 paper. Hardin asked what would happen if access to a commons were truly unfettered — if Corin and every other villager ran as many sheep as they could there. In such cases, Hardin argued, the endgame is obvious: Too many animals would eat too much fodder, leaving the ground bare, unable to support any livestock at all.

The evolution of resistance to antibiotics fits that story perfectly. The first modern bacteria-killing drug, penicillin, came into widespread use in 1944, as American laboratories raced to produce millions of doses in time for D-Day. The next year, its discoverer, Alexander Fleming, used his Nobel Prize lecture to describe precisely how this wonder drug could lose its power, telling the sad tale of a man who came down with a strep infection. In his tale, Mr. X didn’t finish his course of penicillin, and his surviving microbes, now “educated” (Fleming’s term), infected his wife. When her course of penicillin failed to eradicate these now-resistant microbes, Mrs. X died — killed, Fleming said, by her husband’s carelessness. It took just one more year for this fable to turn into fact: In 1946, four American soldiers came down with drug-resistant gonorrhea, the first such resistance on record.

Go on — check it out.  You want to hear about the great Charnwood Forest rabbit riot.  You know you do…

Image: Jacopo da Ponte, Sheep and Lambc. 1650.

Unlimber That Gas Mask

March 4, 2017

Amidst all the attention grabbing stuff — you know, just a president accusing his predecessor of high crimes — the Trump administration proceeds with impressive consistency with moves designed to make the world worse, Americans sicker/poorer, and their inner circle enriched.

Next week, it’ll be the air-we-breathe’s turn:

The Trump administration is expected to begin rolling back stringent federal regulations on vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming, according to people familiar with the matter, essentially marking a U-turn to efforts to force the American auto industry to produce more electric cars.

The announcement — which is expected as soon as Tuesday and will be made jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the transportation secretary, Elaine L. Chao — will immediately start to undo one of former President Barack Obama’s most significant environmental legacies.

During the same week, and possibly on the same day, Mr. Trump is expected to direct Mr. Pruitt to begin the more lengthy and legally complex process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Obama’s rules to cut planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The regulatory rollback on vehicle pollution will relax restrictions on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and will not require action by Congress. It will also have a major effect on the United States auto industry.

I don’t want to go all-apocalyptic on this news, in part because I want to sleep more than four hours tonight, and more because there are some secular processes underway that reduce the impact of Trump’s and Republican willingness to destroy the climate and give Americans respiratory diseases — think the long-term losing market battle coal is waging against everything else, and the advances in transportation tech that will help mitigate the license to ill being granted the domestic auto industry. (I’d note that those car companies based in countries that do impose efficiency rules will now get an advantage over the big three that could very likely hit the domestic industry hard in a decade or less…rather like the way Japanese car companies were poised to take advantage of the oil shocks of the 70s, to great wailing and gnashing of teeth in Detroit.)

But even with that rather meagre reed of hope, there’s no way to spin this as anything but craptastic news for both the global and every local environment.

Every act this administration takes; every law this congress takes is the fruit of a poisoned tree: an election manipulated by foreigners, and undermined by domestic law enforcement.  There’s no room for negotiation here.  Step one: 2018.

Image: Department of Defense. Department of the Navy. Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Gas masks for man and horse demonstrated by American soldierc. 1917-18

This Is How Republicans Are Going To Get People Killed

February 16, 2017

This happened:

A hearing in El Paso County in Texas went from ordinary to “unprecedented” last week when half a dozen Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents showed up at a courthouse where an undocumented woman was seeking a protective order against the boyfriend she accused of abusing her.

The woman, a citizen of Mexico who was living in El Paso had been driven to the courthouse by a victim’s advocate from the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse where she had been living.

She left under arrest.

This is a disgrace, and an incredibly dangerous one.

Most obviously: anyone w/out documents facing a threat from their partner, former or present, has just been told that the legal system, cops, anyone, are no longer available to them. They’re on their own. They’ve got a target on them, as their abusers now know that they can act without fear of official action.

Some of them will die. One third of the murders of women in the US are committed by an intimate partner.

640px-a_very_bad_man_-_ephraim_kingsbury_avery

Increasing the pressure to stay in an abusive relationship tees up more victims. Making it harder — or impossible — to seek official help locks people in danger.

The chilling effect extends beyond the home. If reporting a crime puts you in contact with officialdom; if agreeing to testify does so…and so on. You get the idea. The risks of trying to engage public safety resources have just shot up for immigrant and minority communities — from an already no-fun base.

ICE, Trump, and the Republican party: accessories before the fact to harm, murder and misery.

Every day, down every avenue, these folks have got to named, shamed, and fought.

Image: Unknown artist, A Very Bad Man — on the trial of Ephraim K. Avery for the murder of Sarah Maria Cornell. 1833.

Men Like Ravenous Fishes Feed On One Another

January 30, 2017

Here’s a three-year old video with sadly renewed resonance.

It’s Ian McKellen, delivering a speech from Sir Thomas More, a work from the early 1590s that passed through many hands, including, as author of the passage McKellen performs, William Shakespeare.  It speaks precisely to the predicament we face now, and (as McKellen notes) because it’s Shakespeare’s the demand it makes on us is to discover our humanity.

Would that more of our former friends across the aisle could not just hear him, but listen.

“What have you got?” indeed.

You’re Fired! and Ready to Go…Errr, P’raps Not

January 20, 2017

There’s much to be said about the still-unpossible fact that the shitgibbon is now president.  But in this day one of our national experiment in test-to-destruction governance, there’s something…missing.

That would be a government.  Or at least, an administration.

There are roughly 675 Federal positions that require Senate confirmation.*

There are some four thousand more jobs to be filled by direct appointment, and while many of those are minor, many are not.**

So that’s the hole. How far along is Trump to filling it?

Well, according to The Washington Post‘s tracker, Trump has so far sent 30 names to the Senate.***  None have been confirmed.  By comparison in 2009, six Obama cabinet nominees were confirmed as of the inauguration, and four more followed the next week.

And even if/when all those nominated so far do make it through the Senate process, they’ll be doing — or rather not getting done all the work of the senior management of their departments.

Foreign policy? We ain’t got none, for the time being, no matter how often Trump bellows “America First!”  There are no appointees at State below the secretary level. That’s not “none-confirmed.” That’s none, as in not a single deputy, assistant, or under secretary has yet been named.

We’ve got no boots on the ground either.  In a break with prior custom, Trump demanded the resignation of every serving ambassador as of today.  With only three as-yet unvetted, much less confirmed, ambassadorial appointments, and dozens yet to be made, the US is without its head-of-mission everywhere.  While it’s true that politically appointed ambassadors have professional staffs that are still in place, the fact remains that our international representatives aren’t there.

Same goes for the national security apparatus.  The odious and unfit Michael Flynn does not require Senate confirmation, so he’s on the job.  He’s got no help though:

Trump has made one other NSC appointment, tapping retired Gen. Keith Kellogg to be NSC chief of staff. And some reports indicate that Matt Pottinger, a former Wall Street Journal China correspondent who joined the U.S. Marines and grew close to Flynn, may become the NSC’s director for Asia.

It ain’t going to get any better any time soon.  Flynn’s in charge of filling out his org chart, and, as the same Politico article notes, he’s making a mess of it:   (more…)