April 1, 2018 --
Another week of watching our treasured American sense of governing unraveling facet by facet; under the direction of a madman who admires the way his pal Putin took over all power through assassinations and jailings. Despicable. As time goes on, he lends his touch to every aspect of governing with new developments on old established subjects.
Rather than write about it myself I recommend you reading it by these individuals who cover it so well.
NYT Editorial: At Pruitt's E.P.A.: No Studies, No Data, No Rules
The other day, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, took yet another step to muzzle the scientific inquiry that for years has informed sound policy at an agency he seems determined to destroy. He told his subordinates that they could no longer make policy on the basis of studies that included data from participants who were guaranteed confidentiality. Over the years, such studies have been crucial to establishing links between mortality and pollution, led to regulations and saved many lives. Limiting policymakers to only those studies with publicly available health data greatly narrows the field of research.
This got us to searching again (we’ve been here before with Mr. Pruitt) for the word that best describes the Trump administration’s hostility to scientific inquiry. “Disdain” jumps to mind. Fourteen months into his term, President Trump has yet to name a director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or any of the four associate directors authorized by Congress — jobs that have provided presidents for decades with unbiased counsel.
There’s another word: Fear. From the top down, the people who run this government seem absolutely terrified of scientific inquiry and the ways in which it could threaten Mr. Trump’s promise to ease regulations on fossil fuel companies and increase their profits, no matter the cost to public health and the planet. Think of it from Mr. Trump’s point of view. Why would he want a science adviser telling him that the link between climate change and the burning of fossil fuels is incontrovertible, that he should stick with the Paris agreement on climate change, that it’s a grave mistake to repudiate every one of President Obama’s efforts to slow the dangerous warming of the earth’s atmosphere?
Far better to stick his head in the sand, ostrichlike; do that, and the need for policies regulating greenhouse gas emissions or dangerous pollutants like soot and mercury magically disappears. Which is certainly Mr. Pruitt’s modus operandi. As Gina McCarthy, a former E.P.A. administrator, and her deputy for air quality, Janet McCabe, said in a recent Times Op-Ed: “Mr. Pruitt’s goal is simple: No studies, no data, no rules.”
Mr. Pruitt has been averse to science and fact from Day 1. Last fall, he announced that scientists who receive or had received federal research grants would be barred from serving on the agency’s nearly two dozen scientific advisory committees. The purpose, he said, was to eliminate conflicts of interest; the real purpose, it soon became clear, was to create vacancies that he could fill with industry experts and state officials pushing for lax regulations — people whose own conflicts of interest would be left unexamined. As Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists noted at the time, Mr. Pruitt’s claim that federal funding should exclude scientists from an E.P.A. advisory board while industry funding should not exclude them was on its face absurd.
Though the E.P.A. is the epicenter of denial, avoiding inconvenient truths is common practice elsewhere in the administration. Last year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reassigned Joel Clement, the department’s director of policy analysis and top expert on the impact of climate change in the Arctic, to an accounting job (Mr. Clement resigned in protest). Mr. Zinke also ordered the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine to cancel two studies that conflicted with the administration’s goal of expanding domestic fossil fuel production. One was examining the health risks of people living near surface coal mining sites in Appalachia; the other sought ways of strengthening the department’s oil and gas safety inspection program.
Even the official vocabulary of global warming has changed, as if problems can be made to evaporate simply by describing them in more benign terms. At the Agriculture Department, for instance, staff members are encouraged to use terms like “weather extremes” instead of “climate change.” Web pages about global warning have been removed, edited or buried throughout the government. Last week, lest there be any confusion in the hinterlands, E.P.A. staff members in regional offices received a list of talking points instructing them to tell people that “clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity” on global warming. This is vintage Pruitt: Sow doubt whenever possible about established science.
Mr. Trump’s economic advisers have reinforced this bias. His latest budget called for big funding cuts and in some cases elimination of programs aimed at protecting human health and building resilience against the effects of climate change — among them the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s coastal research program and the Energy Department’s energy efficiency and advanced technology programs. Congress wisely denied these cuts, thanks to hard work by Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leaders of the Senate and House. Whether their efforts do anything to change the mind-set of Mr. Trump and his lieutenants remains to be seen.
Mr. Pruitt is widely believed to be positioning himself for a run for governor in his home state, Oklahoma; he also seems to covet the attorney general’s office, and, astoundingly, is said to harbor presidential ambitions. But he and Mr. Zinke are unlikely to go anywhere soon, and as long as they have the support of the denier in chief, we can expect more disrespect for science and its practitioners.
Paul Waldman, WaPost: Why Trump’s rage at Amazon will remain impotent
President Trump is mad at Amazon. Again.
Axios reported Wednesday that Trump is “obsessed” with the Internet retailer, often telling people in private that it “has gotten a free ride from taxpayers and cushy treatment from the U.S. Postal Service.” Despite the fact that “it’s been explained to him in multiple meetings that his perception is inaccurate and that the post office actually makes a ton of money from Amazon,” Trump seems to believe that unlike other postal customers, Amazon ships its goods for free, or something.
And Thursday he hit the company again:
I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
We all know what’s really going on here. Trump couldn’t care less about whether a corporation is paying appropriate taxes, or about the income of the Postal Service, or the fate of mom-and-pop businesses. His rage at Amazon comes from one place: the company’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, the very newspaper you’re reading right now. That paper has reported extensively on Trump and his White House, reporting that paints a completely accurate and therefore highly unflattering picture of this president and the ongoing goat rodeo over which he presides.
But is Trump actually going to do anything about it? Some are certainly worried; after the Axios story came out Wednesday, Amazon’s stock took a tumble. The truth, however, is that because of the way Trump’s anger manifests itself and the way his administration works, Amazon is probably safe from his wrath.
Trump’s tweet about Amazon is loaded with inaccuracies that he has repeated many times. It’s true that for many years Internet retailers did not collect sales taxes, which worked to their advantage, and no company benefited more than Amazon. However, that’s no longer the case; Amazon now collects sales tax from customers in every state that has one (though it does not mandate that third-party sellers on its platform collect them). In addition, many states have passed what are sometimes called “Amazon laws” that require Internet retailers to collect sales tax whenever they ship to customers in those states.
As for Trump’s claim that the company uses “our Postal System as their Delivery Boy,” that’s a bit like complaining that people are hiring taxis to drive them around, or tricking plumbers into fixing their pipes for money. But Amazon’s shipping is not “causing tremendous loss to the U.S.”; in fact, Amazon has to be one of the Postal Service’s biggest customers. If Trump thinks the USPS should charge more for package delivery, he’s free to say so, but he hasn’t so far.
I should also note that Amazon, like all big corporations, has reason to thank Trump and congressional Republicans: Because of their corporate tax cut, the company got a $789 million windfall last year, helping it reduce its federal tax rate to zero.
All that aside, we don’t have to wonder whether Trump’s complaints about Amazon really stem from his antipathy toward The Post, because he has never made any attempt to hide it. He has linked the two many times in tweets complaining about the paper’s coverage; he even sometimes refers to it as “the Amazon Washington Post.”
If Trump really wanted to go after Amazon, he might be able to try. But he won’t.
We all know that Trump’s is an intensely personal presidency, driven by his impulses, his predilections and whatever happens to catch his attention on that morning’s “Fox & Friends.” There are some areas in which it’s relatively easy for him to translate those impulses into action. He can, for instance, fire his national security adviser and replace him with a guy he saw on Fox, or fire his Veterans Affairs secretary and replace him with his personal doctor. He can even launch a military strike because a foreign leader said something mean about him.
But targeting a corporation would take some time and planning. How would you go about it? In Amazon’s case you could pursue some kind of antitrust case, but then you’d have to involve the Justice Department, which oversees such actions. I’m 99.99 percent sure that if you asked Trump who his assistant attorney general for antitrust is, he wouldn’t be able to tell you.
The bureaucracy of this administration constitutes a kind of conservative deep state (kidding, sort of) whose cooperation would be necessary to implement such an initiative, and it would involve quite a few people and take a long time to carry out. That bureaucracy is extremely skeptical of anything that restricts the prerogatives of big corporations, and since undermining Amazon doesn’t serve any identifiable conservative goal, there would likely be strong pushback. And there was one opportunity to get in Amazon’s way, when it purchased Whole Foods last year. The Federal Trade Commission approved the deal quickly and with no fuss.
This suggests that even for a president as full of corrupt intent as this one, it may be easier to reward your friends — a contract here, an appointment for a buddy there — than it is to punish your enemies, at least in cases where punishing those enemies doesn’t serve the ideological agenda of everyone you’ve had to hire in order to fill out your administration.
Which means that Trump will continue to rail at Amazon on Twitter every time there’s a story in The Post that makes him look foolish, but he won’t really be able to do anything to punish the company. And that will only make him madder.
Charles M. Blow, NYT: Character Should Still Matter
In the throes of the campaign in September 2016, Mike Pence told a crowd at the Living Word Bible Church in Mesa, Ariz.:
“I’m old enough to remember back in the last Clinton administration where America really had a debate over whether character mattered to the presidency. We don’t need to have that debate again. We don’t need to have that debate again. Character matters to the presidency and Donald Trump will bring the highest level of integrity to the highest office in the land. You can count on it.”
This after a lifetime of Trump boasting about his sexual conquests, after years of him going on the Howard Stern show and saying the most debauched things, and just two weeks before the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape on which Trump boasted about kissing and groping women without their permission — in other words, sexual assault.
Pence’s proclamation was a lie when he said it, and is even more of a lie now. Trump is involved in litigation over sexual encounters on three fronts, including with the porn star Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels.
But the Daniels scandal is hardly making a dent.
As Politico reported Wednesday, “The data suggest Trump’s past behavior with women is already known among voters — and many are willing to overlook it.”
“Trump’s seeming imperviousness to the scandal is stunning given the opinions Americans profess to hold on issues of character. In the most recent Politico/Morning Consult poll, 91 percent said honesty is ‘very important’ for elected officials to embody in their personal life in order to carry out their official duties. Seventy-five percent said the same about morality. On the question of extramarital affairs, 80 percent said they were morally wrong. Despite all that, when asked directly about the Daniels scandal, nearly half of voters say it doesn’t change how they view Trump.”
Conservatives have twisted themselves into knots trying to excuse Trump’s vulgarities as acceptable and somehow set them apart from the supposed productivity of the man himself, somehow cleaving the sin from the sinner.
But, in the end, this just makes a mockery of their own sense of morality. This, of all issues, simply isn’t complicated.
He is a serial philanderer who treats women as disposable conquests. He is a man who cheats on his wives with mistresses and then cheats on those mistresses. He is a man who, multiple women have alleged, also sexually assaults women. And he is a man who lies about it all.
Somehow, some folks, mostly conservative ones, have found a way to look away.
They see judges, tax cuts, nationalism, a boatload of phobias and permission to be hostile to people whose lifestyles or very existence unnerve them. They count that as more value than the devaluation of American integrity that Trump represents.
But Trump’s behavior is neither normal nor right.
These scandals aren’t really about sex. Some of the women, like Daniels, say their sex with Trump was consensual. No, this is about cheating, lying and general boorishness.
According to some of Trump’s other accusers, this is also about assault.
Those issues can’t simply be brushed away. They matter. It is important that we get to the bottom of what happened here. It is not at all about prurience or puritanical sensibilities. It is about a civil duty to examine the character of the commander and to move for removal if that character is found wanting.
As John Adams wrote in 1765:
“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right, to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys and trustees.”
The “cause, interest and trust” of this country is being “insidiously betrayed” and “wantonly trifled away” by Trump. Those of us with the courage to say so must do just that.
Courage should still matter in America. We must insist upon it.
Eugene Robinson, WaPost: Trump has played his supporters for suckers
President Trump’s most urgent political problem doesn’t involve Robert S. Mueller III, Stormy Daniels, Vladimir Putin or the hundreds of thousands of voters who marched for gun control. Rather, it’s that his die-hard supporters might be starting to realize how thoroughly he has played them for suckers.
On immigration, the issue that most viscerally connects the president with his thus-far-loyal base, Trump got basically nothing in the $1.3 trillion spending bill he signed Friday.
The vaunted “big, beautiful wall” he pledges to build along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico? Trump got 25 miles’ worth of new wall, along with eight miles of new fencing. And the bill specifies that none of this tiny increment can be built using any of the prototype designs Trump so ostentatiously showed off.
The threatened punishment for “sanctuary cities” that show compassion for undocumented immigrants? Not in there. The money to hire 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents? Trump got enough for just 100, with the proviso that they all be administrative and support personnel working in offices, not in the field. The 20 percent increase in funding for detention centers that Trump asked for? Congress not only refused to authorize an extra penny but also went so far as to rebuke ICE for overspending its current detention budget.
The results sent conservative pundit Ann Coulter into paroxysms on Twitter, flying uncontrollably into all-caps mode. One tweet read simply: “CONGRATULATIONS, PRESIDENT SCHUMER!”
Coulter referred, of course, to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and indeed this spending bill in many ways reflected Democratic spending priorities more than Republican. Think of it this way: If I told you that the president just signed spending legislation that funds Planned Parenthood but not a border wall, you might wonder for a moment if Barack Obama were still president and this whole ridiculous Donald Trump thing had been just a long, profoundly disturbing dream.
Sadly, it’s real. But aside from his business-friendly tax cut and deregulation policies, Trump has offered little more than symbolic crumbs to his red-meat base. As Coulter wrote in a column: If “you’re a Trump voter, you’re scratching your head wondering what happened to those campaign promises that set him apart from every other Republican.”
Trump obviously didn’t actually mean much of the crazy stuff he said during his campaign, but his racism and xenophobia did seem sincere. On immigration, it’s probably the sheer incompetence of the Trump White House that has caused the president to go back on his word.
On the question of national security, Trump drew cheers at his rallies when he blasted prior administrations for miring us in long-running wars that had drained the country of trillions of dollars without making us any safer. He promised an “America first” foreign policy that ended attempts at nation-building abroad and instead focused resources and attention on domestic concerns.
Yet last week he boasted of having hiked defense spending to record levels. Trump has sent additional troops to Afghanistan and plunged the U.S. military into the Syrian civil war. And as his new national security adviser he is hiring John Bolton, a super-hawk you might remember from the George W. Bush administration. Bolton is the guy with the Yosemite Sam mustache who led the cheers for the Iraq War, saying, “We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction . . . .”
Trump has brutally ridiculed the architects of that war, so he and Bolton will have a lot to talk about. Better that they focus on the past than on the present, because Bolton appears determined to foment dangerous and ill-advised crises with both Iran and North Korea — perhaps at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in a MAGA hat holding up a sign that says, “Start two more wars!”
Trump clearly sees the political peril. He briefly threatened not to sign the spending bill, then caved and signed it, then vowed in a tweet that “I will NEVER sign another bill like this again.” To prevent a recurrence, he has demanded that Congress give him a line-item veto on spending bills and eliminate the Senate’s filibuster rule — neither of which is going to happen. So he will surely be presented with such legislation again.
There’s something Trump is as eager to hide as any entanglements with Russians and porn stars: The man who gave us “The Art of the Deal” couldn’t get Congress to approve a resolution supporting Mother’s Day. Even if he brought flowers.