Tag Archives: Pruitt

Why Religion Gets A Bad Name…

Polls suggest that the younger generation is far less religious than its predecessors, and it isn’t hard to see why. Religious double-standards are hard to miss; every day, I come across articles with titles like “Why Evangelicals Still Support Trump” and “Is Evangelical Christianity becoming a Cult?”

In all fairness, the (entirely appropriate) accusations of hypocrisy contained in these articles don’t apply to all Evangelicals, or to adherents of other religions, but the mismatch between what these “Christians” preach and what they practice is so obvious, so “in your face,” that it manages to besmirch the entire religious enterprise.

Case in point: Scott Pruitt. As Ed Brayton writes at Dispatches from the Culture Wars,

So far, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Scott Pruitt, considering that the EPA Administrator has been lurching from one scandal to the next. Pruitt had already distinguished himself with his preference for opulent, non-secure hotels while on official travel; with his predilection for first-class flights on taxpayers’ dime; with his insistence that he receive a 24-hour security detail fit for a king, comprising up to 20 bodyguards; and with the plush DC condominium he’s reportedly been renting, for a veryattractive $50 a night, from the wife of a Beltway oil and gas lobbyist.

The embattled Donald Trump appointee is currently the subject of at least two ethics investigations.

Today’s Pruitt controversy concerns a commemorative coin that the wanted the EPA to order.

Pruitt’s preferred design would delete the logo of the EPA he is trying to dismantle, and would instead feature some combination of symbols “more reflective of himself and the Trump administration.” ( I will ignore my impulse to suggest that a jackass might serve as such a symbol…) Among his suggestions were a buffalo, to represent  Pruitt’s state of Oklahoma, and an unspecified Bible verse to “reflect his faith.”

Perhaps the verse that reads “Thou shalt allow thy donors to pollute the air and water”?

I am not religious, but I have several friends who are members of the clergy. Their approach to their various theologies have a number of common elements.  My Christian friends believe they should love their neighbors as themselves; my Jewish friends are obliged to refrain from treating others as they would not wish to be treated. Other traditions teach variations of this Golden Rule.

There is an old adage along the lines of “show me how you treat other people and I’ll judge the value of your religion.” To which I would add, “show me your moral code, and how closely you follow it, and I’ll evaluate the sincerity of your professed beliefs.”

There has long been a clash in America between the “live and let live” morality embedded in the Bill of Rights–the Enlightenment belief that government power must not be used to impose obedience to religious commandments–and the Puritans’ insistence that everyone needs to live by their particular interpretation of their particular holy book, that “religious liberty” means “freedom to do the right thing, and government must insist you live in accordance with what (our religion says) the right thing is.”

The Puritans may originally have tried to live in accordance with the rules they were trying to impose on everyone else, but these days, they don’t bother. Today, they just want to be the ones making the rules. What began as theology has morphed into a fight for political dominance.

For these theocrats and posturers, “love thy neighbor” doesn’t require respect for the rights of others, or for the planet. It requires fealty.

No wonder the kids are turned off.

And The Hits Keep Coming…

Every day, it seems, the Trump Administration sheds an advisor who is–whether or not one agrees with that person’s policy preferences–seemingly sane, and announces yet another appointee who is either deeply corrupt or factually-challenged or both.

The war being waged on public schools, the blithe disregard for the consequences of a trade war, the evisceration of HUD’s mission to help the poor, the reinstatement of a failed and flawed drug war–all of this is depressing. But the assault on the environment, the rollback of regulations that protect American air and water, is arguably the most sustained assault on science and sanity.

This morning’s media reported on a speech made by Interior Secretary Zinke, in which he asserted (without evidence) that wind power was largely responsible for global warming.

Last week, we learned that Trump and Pruitt had nominated a Dow Chemical executive to run the Superfund program.

Today’s report of rampant corruption comes, not surprisingly, from the EPA. Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have nominated an attorney from Dow Chemical, one of the nation’s worst polluters, to run the Superfund program that cleans up after that company and many others.
In addition to his blog, Ed Brayton writes for a newspaper in Michigan, and his reaction to that nomination was based upon his reporting.

Dow is based here in Michigan and I’ve been reporting on them for many years. To call them environmental criminals is an insult to criminals. They are responsible for the enormous damage done by dioxins and furans, particularly in the Saginaw Bay area where their plants are located. The Tittabawassee River is massively contaminated, as are the soils around it. They have dragged their feet on cleaning it up for decades. Even the Bush-era EPA got so frustrated with them that they ended negotiations on just studying the problem in 2008. That contamination has spread from the Saginaw and Tittabawassee rivers into Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, helping spoil one of the world’s most important freshwater reserves.

The Hill reports that the entire administration is being stacked with climate change deniers.

Even as leading scientists, environmentalists and most Democrats accept research that shows climate change accelerating — and as some see it contributing to the two mammoth hurricanes that have threatened the United States this year — some in Trump’s administration have openly raised doubts.

Administrator Scott Pruitt has questioned carbon dioxide’s role as a “primary contributor” to a warming climate, something accepted by most researchers. He’s also called for a public debate over climate change science, a proposal that has caused scientists, environmentalists and former regulators to bristle.

“I think it’s going to have a chilling effect on science overall because it’s going to elevate those scientists who are in the vast minority and give them a stage that, frankly, they don’t deserve,” said Christine Whitman, President George W. Bush’s first EPA administrator, who called the proposal “shameful” in a Friday New York Times op-ed.

“It’s wasting taxpayer money and making it an even more difficult issue for the average person to wade through, which I think is part of the political agenda, to make the case that we don’t need to do anything about this issue.”

The EPA has removed its climate science website. Pruitt has put a political appointee in charge of reviewing grants, and that official is reportedly targeting grants that focus on climate change. The EPA keeps rolling back regulations that protect our air and water. The list goes on.

What is it that Neil DeGrasse Tyson says? Reality doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not.

There’s another saying: Reality bites.  And that doesn’t bode well for our children or grandchildren–or for the planet.

Reality Doesn’t Care Whether You Believe It (Part I)

La La Land isn’t just the title of a movie. Increasingly, it’s where our government officials live.

The Trump administration is debating whether to launch a governmentwide effort to question the science of climate change, an effort that critics say is an attempt to undermine the long-established consensus human activity is fueling the Earth’s rising temperatures.

This effort is being pushed by Scott Pruitt, the truly dangerous Secretary of the EPA, but other administration troglodytes are also involved.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who once described the science behind human-caused climate change as a “contrived phony mess,” also is involved in the effort, two officials said.

At a White House briefing this week, Perry said, “The people who say the science is settled, it’s done — if you don’t believe that you’re a skeptic, a Luddite. I don’t buy that. I don’t think there is — I mean, this is America. Have a conversation. Let’s come out of the shadows of hiding behind your political statements and let’s talk about it. What’s wrong with that? And I’m full well — I can be convinced, but let’s talk about it.”…

Other agencies could include the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and NASA, according to the official, all of which conduct climate research in some capacity.

And then there’s Florida. As CNN reports,

A new Florida law would let anyone in the state challenge, and possibly change, what kids are learning in school.

Any Florida resident can raise concerns about teaching material they find unfit for public school classrooms, according to legislation that went into effect Saturday. The bill was introduced in February by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, and was signed into law last week after passing with bipartisan support…

Supporters of the law have disputed material presenting global warming and evolution as “reality.” Others found certain reading material to be “pornographic.” And for some, US and world history textbooks seem biased and anti-American.

Impetus for the measure came from a conservative group called “The Florida Citizens’ Alliance.”  That organization  gathered testimony from “at least 25 people” (!) in favor of the legislation, and their reasoning (I use the term loosely) was predictable.

One woman took issue with evolution being taught as a “fact,” arguing that the “vast majority of Americans believe that the world and the beings living on it were created by God as revealed in the Bible.” Another person complained that history classes were making students “subservient” by teaching them about the president’s ability to issue executive orders.

Shades of Trump’s go-to response when his “facts” are challenged:  “a lot of people agree with me.” A lot of people still believe the earth is flat and that aliens landed and are buried in Roswell, New Mexico.

What’s that great Neil DeGrasse Tyson quote? Reality doesn’t care whether you believe it or not…

About That Fox and That Henhouse…

And the hits keep coming…

Major media outlets are reporting on the Administration’s most recent assault on science and the environment. According to the New York Times, 

The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spokesman, J. P. Freire.

The dismissals on Friday came about six weeks after the House passed a bill aimed at changing the composition of another E.P.A. scientific review board to include more representation from the corporate world.

The Washington Post reports that the Interior Department is overhauling the more than 200 advisory panels that inform how their agencies assess the science underpinning departmental policies, “the first step in a broader effort by Republicans to change the way the federal government evaluates the scientific basis for its regulations.”

Gee–maybe Jeff Sessions can emulate Scott Pruitt, and allow offenders to rewrite criminal law and incarceration practices–after all, who knows more about crime and punishment than those most immediately affected?

Trump has previously instructed Pruitt to shave 40 percent of the agency’s science budget and to eliminate or severely roll back the most important Obama-era regulations on climate change and clean water protection. Last week, when I was checking some clean water information, I found that the EPA had removed a significant amount of data on climate change from its websites.

Of course, anyone who cares about the environment–or scientific integrity–expected much of this;  Pruitt is a climate-change denier. Like most of Trump’s cabinet, he appears to have been chosen in order to dismantle the agency he heads. Betsy DeVos is an enemy of public education, Jeff Sessions has already moved to erode enforcement of civil rights laws.. the list goes on.

The administration has also announced plans to fill federal court vacancies with judges likely to do their bidding.

The only people who will benefit from the policies of this Administration are the rich and the large corporations chafing under “inconvenient” regulations–like the rules against dumping toxic materials  into nearby rivers and polluting the drinking water.

Public administration scholars have long been concerned with the problem of “capture”–the process by which regulatory agencies get “cozy” with representatives of the industries they regulate. Some of that is inevitable; especially when you are dealing with complex issues that are salient only to the industry being regulated, it’s understandable that the regulators and those subject to regulation will develop a relationship. That relationship doesn’t necessarily undermine the regulatory process, and it is important to listen to the voices of those being regulated–the voices of those with the most intimate knowledge of the effect of rules being promulgated.

Listening, however, is one thing. Letting the industry write the rules–or rewrite the science justifying the rules–is something else entirely.

In the Trump Administration, the fox apparently lives in the henhouse.

So You Want Your Country Back?

Yesterday, I attended Indianapolis’ March on Washington–one of the “sister” marches held all over the world. As anyone who listens to the news or has seen the photographs already knows, turnout was massive everywhere. At the Statehouse in deep-red Indiana, the crowd was huge; I’m told it was easily the largest demonstration in Indiana in the past twenty years.

There were lots of clever and poignant signs, but the one that summed up America’s situation for me read “Left or Right, We Know He’s Wrong.”

This was not a normal partisan election. It wasn’t a contest between candidates with different policy preferences, a contest between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. It was a battle between White Supremacists led by a dangerously unstable demagogue and time-honored, inclusive American values.

Trump has no political philosophy–he  isn’t remotely like the Republicans I served with “back in the day.” But then, most of those who call themselves Republicans today have nothing in common with the Grand Old Party I grew up with.

These rabid ideologues aren’t conservatives; they are a collection of reactionaries, oligarchs and bigots. Whenever I hear one of them piously intoning “I want my country back,” I want to respond “Well, I want the real Republican Party back!”

This New Yorker article made me nostalgic for the party I used to know….

The article was about Scott Pruitt, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the EPA, but it began by harking back to Bill Ruckelshaus, the first EPA Director. He was from Indianapolis, he was admirable, and he was typical of the GOP of which I was then a part.

In the early nineteen-sixties, a young lawyer named William Ruckelshaus was assigned to Indiana’s state board of health to prosecute cases of toxic dumping. At the time, it was commonplace for manufacturers to discard untreated industrial swill—ammonia, cyanide, pesticides, petroleum waste, slag from steel plants, “pickle liquor” (sulfuric acid)—into the nearest sewer, river, or lake. Sometimes, it formed piles of noxious froth nearly as tall as a house. “Those rivers were cesspools,” Ruckelshaus told me recently. He and his colleague Gerald Hansler, an environmental engineer, began touring the state in a white panel truck. They collected water samples and snapped photographs of fish corpses—bluegills, sunfish, and perch, poisoned by the effluent that gushed from industrial outfalls. Then they wrote up the evidence and brought charges against those responsible. Yet, however diligently they worked, their efforts were often regarded with suspicion by Indiana’s governor, who wanted to keep businesses from moving to states with even laxer environmental standards. “I just saw how powerless the states were to act,” Ruckelshaus recalled.

Ruckelshaus brought this lesson with him to Washington, D.C., in 1970, when President Richard Nixon appointed him to set up and run the newly created U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. From a modest cluster of rooms on L Street, Ruckelshaus led the agency in its first swift actions. After less than two weeks, he announced that the E.P.A. planned to sue the cities of Atlanta, Cleveland, and Detroit unless they made a serious effort to stop polluting their rivers with sewage. Later, he refused to give automakers an extension on their mandate to install catalytic converters in all new vehicles—a requirement that eventually resulted in large cuts to toxic, smog-forming emissions. And, in 1972, Ruckelshaus’s E.P.A. banned most uses of the pesticide DDT, a move that helped save a national icon, the American bald eagle, from extinction. More than four decades on, the E.P.A.’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act has averted millions of cases of respiratory disease and continues to save hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, according to a series of agency analyses. For the most part, urban rivers are no longer cesspools, and beaches once fouled with sewage are swimmable. Lake Erie is troubled but no longer deemed dead, as it was in the sixties. Lead levels in the coastal waters off Southern California have dropped a hundredfold.

Ruckelshaus, who is now eighty-four, has watched the ascent of Donald Trump with some trepidation. In August, he and William Reilly, the E.P.A. administrator under President George H. W. Bush, endorsed Hillary Clinton, lambasting Trump as ignorant of the G.O.P.’s “historic contributions to science-driven environmental policy.”

Science-driven policy. How quaint!

When I consider the Republicans I knew, like Ruckelshaus and Dick Lugar, and those I worked with, like Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut and Indiana Governor Robert Orr, I can’t help thinking that it isn’t just Trump. Appalling as he is, he’s the consequence of a party that has been transformed by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and the pathetic group of bigots and know-nothings who comprise what has been called the “lunatic caucus.”

We aren’t going to get our real country back–the America of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the America that welcomed “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”–unless we get a reasonable, respectable Republican party back.

The sign said it all: it isn’t left versus right. It’s right versus wrong. It’s the America I thought I inhabited versus a bleak and unfamiliar dystopia–and I want my America back.