Tag Archives: Trump Administration

Meanwhile…

The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert has a recurring segment he calls “Meanwhile.” It follows his monologue, which is usually devoted to the latest Trump insanity, and consists of lesser items he deems newsworthy, weird or amusing.

“Meanwhile” is a particularly apt word right now, because–meanwhile, as Americans are glued to the unfolding impeachment drama and the President’s increasingly unhinged responses to it–Trump’s corrupt and dangerous administration is busy destroying the agencies of our federal government.

Scientists are fired, and environmental protections eviscerated. Students are preyed upon by dishonest private “institutes” and “colleges” that the Department of Education encourages to operate with impunity. Public lands are handed over to private companies to despoil. Anti-discrimination rules meant to protect vulnerable Americans needing housing are weakened or eliminated. Refugees and immigrants continue to be abused. The head of the Department of Justice dishonors the Constitution and makes a mockery of the rule of law.

And every day, there is something like this: A crucial federal program tracking dangerous diseases is shutting down. As Vox reports,

Most of the deadliest diseases to affect humanity leap to human hosts from other animals. The 1918 flu pandemic likely came from birds. HIV likely jumped from a similar virus in chimpanzees and other monkeys. Recent Ebola outbreaks have come from bats, rats, and gorillas.

Ever since the 2005 H5N1 bird flu scare, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has run a project to track and research these diseases, called Predict. At a cost of $207 million during its existence, the program has collected more than 100,000 samples and found nearly 1,000 novel viruses, including a new Ebola virus.

But on Friday, the New York Times reported that the US government is shutting down the program. According to its former director Dennis Carroll, the program enjoyed enthusiastic support under Bush and Obama, but “things got complicated” in the last few years until the program “essentially collapsed.”

“Things got complicated” is evidently bureaucrat-speak for Trump Administration ignorance and incompetence. As the article points out, pandemics seldom make the news until they happen, and that is too late–what is needed is to understand and prevent them.

As researchers warn that a flu like the 1918 influenza outbreak could kill as many as 50 million to 80 million people — and as new technologies alter the landscape of biology research, making it possible to study diseases in new ways but also making dangerous research easier than ever — it’s important for the US government to treat pandemic risks as a serious priority..

The end of Predict is a symptom of a bigger problem: The US government isn’t taking the risk of pandemics as seriously as it should be, and it isn’t investing enough in spreading the expertise and best practices that might be needed in the case of a global pandemic.

“It is the prospect of another such pandemic — not a nuclear war or a terrorist attack or a natural disaster — that poses the greatest risk of a massive casualty event in the United States,” Ron Klain, the former White House Ebola response coordinator, wrote for Vox last year. And yet pandemic preparedness gets very little attention.

The day-to-day task of governing gets very little attention. (It is a concept clearly foreign to our ignoramus-in-chief.)

We’re all fixated on the antics and tweets of the head buffoon. Meanwhile….

 

 

“Liberty” To Inflict Harm

A mid-October ruling by a federal judge in Texas is a reminder of the ongoing attacks on separation of church and state, and the importance of a disinterested (i.e., non-ideological) judiciary.

A federal judge on Tuesday overturned ObamaCare protections for transgender patients, ruling that a 2016 policy violates the religious freedom of Christian providers.

Judge Reed O’Connor in the Northern District of Texas vacated an Obama-era regulation that prohibited insurers and providers who receive federal money from denying treatment or coverage to anyone based on sex, gender identity or termination of pregnancy.

It also required doctors and hospitals to provide “medically necessary” services to transgender individuals as long as those services were the same ones provided to other patients.

O’Connor, the same judge who last year ruled that the entire Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, said the rule violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Obama Administration had defended the rule, but–surprise!– the Trump administration refused to do so.

The Trump administration is working on a regulatory fix and has issued a proposed rule that would scrap ObamaCare’s definition of “sex discrimination” to remove protections for gender identity.

According to Texas news sources, Judge O’Connor–a George W. Bush appointee– is so reliably partisan that he has become a “go-to” favorite for conservative judicial activists. Attorneys General in Texas strategically file politically-charged cases in O’Connor’s court.

Mitch McConnell has been busy elevating people like O’Connor to the federal bench.

Of course, the fact that a judge has a reputation for bias doesn’t mean that any particular decision is wrong. (As the saying goes, stopped clocks are right twice a day.) So it’s important to explain what’s wrong with O’Connor’s definition of religious liberty.

Thanks to the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, churches and religious organizations are exempt from civil rights laws that violate their beliefs. Individuals, however, are not.

For culture warriors, protecting the right of churches to follow the dictates of their faith–even when those dictates are inconsistent with civil rights laws–isn’t sufficient. According to their argument, if they can’t fire employees they discover are gay, if they can’t refuse to rent apartments or provide services to LGBTQ folks, then the government is denying them religious liberty. (This is a variant of the argument that anti-bullying legislation infringes the “free speech rights” of the bullies.) They should be able to pick on gay people—or black people, or women, or Muslims–if they claim a religious motivation.

Obviously, an exemption for “religious motivation” would eviscerate civil rights laws.

The religion clauses of the First Amendment require that government be neutral between religions, and between religion and non-religion. But there are people who simply cannot abide the notion of a neutral government, people who experience “live and let live” and civic equality as affronts to the primacy to which they feel entitled.

In that worldview, a government that insists on fair play for gay people in the public sphere is a government that’s denying them religious liberty.

It’s not a new argument.

When Congress enacted the 1964 Civil Rights Act, opponents protested that being forced to hire or do business with women or people of color violated their religious liberty (their bible told them that races should be separate and women submissive). And it did limit their liberty. In a civilized society, our right to do whatever we want is constrained in all sorts of ways; I don’t have the liberty to play loud music next to your house at 2:00 a.m., or drive my car 100 miles per hour down a city street. And so on.

If you don’t approve of gay people, or African-Americans, or Muslims, or whoever—the Constitution says you don’t have to invite them over for dinner. You have the right to exclude those you consider “sinners” from your church, your private club and your living room.

Your shoe store or your hospital, not so much.

We live in a society with lots of other people, many of whom have political opinions, backgrounds, holy books, and perspectives that differ significantly from our own. The only way such a society can work is within a legal system and culture that respects those differences to the greatest extent possible. That means treating everyone equally within the public/civic sphere, while respecting the right of individuals to embrace different values and pursue different ends in their private lives.

When the government refuses to make everyone live by a particular interpretation of a particular holy book, that’s not a War on Christianity. It’s recognition that we live in a diverse society where other people have as extensive a right to respect and moral autonomy as the right we claim for ourselves.

The O’Connors of the world reject that fundamental civic equality, which is why they don’t belong on the bench.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Resistance Futile?

The Trump administration’s one area of consistency is its determination to lay waste to large areas of American government. Consumer protections have been hollowed out; the Department of Education favors for-profit private schools over the needs of public ones; public lands are being exploited and despoiled; the Department of Justice has been turned into a Presidential lapdog; and decades of diplomacy have been upended.

But arguably, the greatest damage has been to environmental regulation, as the administration has waged a relentless war on science and the EPA. Now, according to the Guardian, at least some scientists are fighting back.

An advisory panel of air pollution scientists disbanded by the Trump administration plans to continue their work with or without the US government.

The researchers – from a group that reviewed the latest studies about how tiny particles of air pollution from fossil fuels make people sick – will assemble next month, a year from the day they were fired.

They’ll gather in the same hotel in Washington DC and even have the same former staffer running the public meeting.

A spokesperson for the group said that Trump’s EPA has significantly weakened its science review process, and that the group intended to meet “as a public service” and  “tap our expertise and develop advice which we will share with EPA.”

It’s a noble effort. But…they are fighting people in a position to do substantial harm.

The Trump administration is accused by at least half a dozen whistleblowers of muzzling climate and pollution science.

The air pollution experts follow in the footsteps of a separate group that reassembled to call for the government to better prepare for climate disasters. Their advice will come as EPA conducts a scheduled review of its standards for particle pollution, the tiny specks that enter the lungs and cause breathing and heart problems that can kill.

Gretchen Goldman, research director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the regulation the “holy grail” for industry, and she said that’s why the Trump administration wants to weaken it by the end of 2020, before a new president might enter the White House.

Trump officials evidently plan to argue that particle pollution isn’t as bad as previously thought. That would allow the administration to accede to industry arguments and roll back environmental and health protections.

Trump’s EPA ended the particulate matter advisory board nearly a year ago. The agency also replaced many of the academic scientists on a broader science panel with scientists from industry and conservative states.

Earlier this month, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler selected a new group of “non-member consultants” to assist that panel with work on both particle pollution and smog. About half of the new consultants are linked with industry. Their recommendations to the panel will happen behind the scenes, rather than in public meetings.

“Behind the scenes,” environmental protections are being gutted, and respected, non-ideological scientists are being replaced by industry hacks.

Kudos to the scientists who are fighting back by meeting–at their own expense– in defiance of the administration’s willingness to fatten the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies at the expense of the people who breathe polluted air. It is a valiant effort to hold the EPA accountable to its mission, but it’s unlikely to persuade the bottom-feeders who currently run the agency, and whose “mission” is to render it toothless.

Unless the 2020 election returns governance to people who actually believe in governing rather than looting, resistance is probably futile.

 

Molecules Of Freedom? Freedom Gas?

Shades of George Orwell!

A few days ago, media outlets reported on the Trump Administration’s most recent effort to  fulfill Tallyrand’s famous dictum that “Language is given to man to conceal his thoughts.” Or, in this case, to deceive and mislead.

The Department of Energy appears to have a surprising new nickname for natural gas: “freedom gas.”

The unexpected new moniker made its debut in a press releaseissued Tuesday to announce the approval of additional liquified natural gas (LNG) exports from a terminal on Quintana Island, Texas. It also included the term “molecules of U.S. freedom.”

Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes unveiled the term “freedom gas” in the release, which notes that he highlighted the approval at the Clean Energy Ministerial in Vancouver, Canada…

Later in the release, Steven Winberg, the assistant secretary for fossil energy, said the department is promoting an efficient regulatory system to enable “molecules of U.S. freedom to be exported to the world.”

Gee, almost makes me nostalgic for “Freedom Fries”…

Inept–okay, hilariously stupid–as this may be, this most recent aggression against the proper use of language is hardly a new effort by the Trump administration. In December of 2017, employees of the Centers for Disease Control leaked a list of words that they had been newly forbidden to use: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

Evidently, the administration was operating on the theory that, if there isn’t a word, the reality the word is intended to describe no longer exists. (And if you can’t see a ship named the USS John McCain, the annoying military hero for whom it is named can no longer diminish Cadet Bone Spurs by his mere presence.)

Doublespeak is a term coined by (or at least closely associated with) George Orwell. It describes language that is intended to obscure, disguise or distort the meaning of words, and the Trump Administration isn’t the first to employ it.  (Remember when George W. Bush dubbed his roll back of air quality protections the “Clear Skies” bill?)

According to Wikipedia,

Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g. “downsizing” for layoffs and “servicing the target” for bombing), in which case it is primarily meant to make the truth sound more palatable. It may also refer to intentional ambiguity in language or to actual inversions of meaning. In such cases, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth. Doublespeak is most closely associated with political language.

“Downsizing” and “Clear Skies” are pretty effective uses of doublespeak. “Molecules of Freedom,” on the other hand, is just risible, and “Freedom Gas” sounds like a euphemism for farts. These silly labels are evidently meant to counter environmental concerns about fossil fuels, but they are more likely to trigger ridicule.

“Molecules of freedom” and ‘Freedom Gas” are gifts to late-night comedians.

Actually, this whole ham-handed effort at managing the language of public policy should remind sane Americans that we were lucky to “elect” Trump. We could just as easily have elected a white nationalist criminal autocrat who was smart, or at least competent–a Mitch McConnell type–who would have been able to effectively dismantle American democracy and destroy the rule of law.

We lucked out: we are reminded daily that our accidental President is an intellectually limited buffoon and that he has assembled a staff and cabinet that can’t even operate as a cabal.

Think Keystone Kops trying to be ruthless–while farting Freedom Gas.

 

 

 

America’s Heartless–And Misogynist– Administration

The Washington Post headline really says it all: “The U.N. wanted to end sexual violence in war. The Trump Administration had objections.”

BERLIN — When Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, and Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidiwere awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last October for their work to stop the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, there was widespread praise from all parts of the world, including the United States.

But when the Trump administration was asked this month to do its part, and to pass a U.N. resolution to end sexual violence in war, things suddenly looked a bit more complicated.

Until the end, international politicians and celebrities urged the United States to “stand on the right side of history,” as actor George Clooney said, and to “ensure [victims’] voices are at the center of our response,” as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and actress Angelina Jolie wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post.

But to no avail.

The U.N. Security Council finally passed a resolution, but it was significantly watered down, thanks to the Trump Administration’s insistence on deleting key portions. Needless to say, our European allies are furious. (Not that this administration has ever given any evidence of caring what our democratic and civilized allies think. Trump only kowtows to dictators and autocrats.)

So why, you might be asking yourself, would the U.S. government–even with Donald Trump in the Oval Office–object to a resolution against sexual violence as a tool of warfare?

If you think about it for awhile, it will make (sick) sense.

This utterly immoral position is entirely consistent with the misogyny and contempt for women and women’s rights that characterize today’s GOP. The administration objected to  references to reproductive and sexual health, references which might be understood as support for abortion.

The initial version of the draft resolution had stated that victims of sexual violence should be able to access services, which specifically included “sexual and reproductive health.” Amid objections, a subsequent version referred only to “comprehensive health services” for victims of sexual violence.

But for the Trump administration, even offering vaguely defined “comprehensive health services” for sexual violence victims went a step too far.

The U.S. position is thus that a woman who has been raped as an act of war and who finds herself pregnant as a result has no right to terminate that pregnancy.  Once again, we see that the “religious” doctrine espoused by the President, his Vice-President and his entire party classifies women as incubators, not humans entitled to and capable of self-determination.

Also removed from the final resolution were references to expanded U.N. monitoring that would keep track of violations of the resolution. That, in practice, could mean that perpetrators will have to fear less international scrutiny than originally planned.

To avert a U.S. veto, the passed resolution included only watered-down references to the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is supposed to prosecute war crimes but has recently found itself in a clash with the Trump administration after it considered investigating U.S. troops over the war in Afghanistan. Unlike most of the world, the United States never ratified the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty.

Although there has always been rape in war, the use of sexual violence as a systematic intimidation tool mostly emerged in the 20th century, and has grown alarmingly.

Between 1992 and 1995, Serb troops systematically raped at least 20,000 girls and women, according to the European Commission, which in a 1996 report detailed that “impregnated girls have been forced to bear ‘the enemy’s’ child,” thus exposing them to lifelong psychological scars.

“Sexual violation of women erodes the fabric of a community in a way that few weapons can,” the United Nations’ State of the World’s Children concluded the same year.

By 2008, U.N. member states had acknowledged in a landmark resolution that sexual violence in conflict had “become systematic and widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality.”

The administration of America’s despicable President–himself a serial abuser and accused rapist–has shamed the country once again.