Tag Archives: Trump Administration

Kakistocracy

Kakistocracy is defined as government by the least competent or suitable. To which I would add: most corrupt. And that corruption goes well beyond the White House, where Trump’s incompetence is on constant display.

Examples abound. The Guardian recently reported accusations that the FDA has “direct links” to the opioid crisis.

The Food and Drug Administration is sacrificing American lives by continuing to approve new high-strength opioidpainkillers, and manipulating the process in favor of big pharma, according to the chair of the agency’s own opioid advisory committee.

Dr Raeford Brown told the Guardian there is “a war” within the FDA as officials in charge of opioid policy have “failed to learn the lessons” of the epidemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people over the past 20 years and continues to claim about 150 lives a day.

Brown accused the agency of putting the interests of narcotics manufacturers ahead of public health, most recently by approving a “terrible drug”, Dsuvia, in a process he alleged was manipulated.

Brown’s accusations come at a time when the FDA’s credibility is low; it has been damaged by  the opioid crisis and by accusations that the agency has behaved less as a regulator and overseer of the pharmaceutical industry and more like a business partner of drug manufacturers.

The FDA was also embarrassed by revelations that officials responsible for opioid approvals were taking part in “pay to play” schemes in which manufacturers paid to attend meetings to draw up the criteria for approving prescription narcotics.

Things are no better at the EPA.

The EPA is in charge of ensuring companies and utilities follow national environmental laws. Its enforcement has actually been on the decline for the past decade and reached 10-year lows in the fiscal year 2017, according to the agency’s own data. But the numbers really plummeted between the fiscal years 2017 and 2018, according to the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, an advocacy group formed by university researchers to counter what they see as the Trump administration’s rejection of science.

The decline in enforcement is intentional, according to environmental groups and former EPA personnel.

“The administration has strongly sent a message, to the folks who do enforcement, that they should cut back on their role,” says Marianne Sullivan, a public-health professor at William Paterson University in New Jersey and an EDGI volunteer who conducted the interviews. “There are declining resources. There’s much more deference to industry.”

Less enforcement, of course, means–among other things– that more Americans may be exposed to lead, smoke, and other pollutants that the EPA regulates.

Here in Indiana, we have  two recent examples of the consequences of EPA non-performance. In Franklin, Indiana, residents attribute a cluster of childhood cancers to a toxic site identified years ago by the EPA–after which nothing was done.

And in the small town of Wheatfield, Indiana, toxic coal ash is leaching into the groundwater.

In Indiana, coal ash ponds are leaking at 15 out of 15 power plant sites tested. But the problem isn’t limited to the Hoosier State, which currently has the most coal ash dumps in the country. Based on the industry’s own data, 92 percent of all coal ash ponds and landfills tested under the new rule have contaminated groundwaterwith harmful levels of toxic chemicals like arsenic and boron. Oklahoma reported in June that 4 out of 4 sites tested had contaminated groundwater, while Illinois revealed in November that 22 out of 24 coal ash sites tested positive for groundwater contamination. In total, the U.S. is home to more than 1,400 of these sites, many of them filled with millions of gallons of toxic ash.

As news about the contamination leaks out, coal companies and electric utilities are desperate to water down the 2015 regulations, including weakening the reporting, closure, siting, and cleanup requirements in the new rule.

Last March, Trump’s EPA heeded their wishes, proposing to gut coal ash regulationsjust as the nation began discovering that many coal ash ponds and landfills are leakingtoxic pollutants into groundwater. The 2015 rule opened a door to a hidden disaster; weak regulators now want to slam it shut. And they’re just getting started.

To characterize the current administration as “just” a Kakistocracy is to be kind. If it isn’t also a criminal enterprise, it’s close.

Rejecting Science

Watching the Trump Administration, I am reminded that there are many kinds of collusion.

The dictionary defines collusion as secret agreement or cooperation for an illegal or deceitful purpose. The  Mueller investigation is pursuing a particularly egregious form–one that, if proven, would legally be considered treason. Americans are focused on that allegation to a degree that overshadows other activities by this Administration–activities that involve a more “homegrown”variety of collusion, and tend to carry less serious legal labels.

Trump’s war on science in cooperation with favored industries is, in my view, every bit as treasonous as his relationship with Russia.

The Guardian recently documented that assault.

Donald Trump’s administration is cutting programs scientists say are proven to protect Americans, from pollution safeguards to teen pregnancy prevention and healthier school lunches, with effects that could last for years.

Experts who have worked in the federal government under Republicans and Democrats say both have sometimes put politics ahead of science but none have done so as blatantly as Trump. And they warn the consequences could continue long into the future.

“It’s as egregious as I’ve ever seen it, starting from the very top with the president just denying the existence of science, manipulating the system on behalf of special interests,” said the former surgeon general Richard Carmona, who testified to Congress that the George W Bush administration pushed him to weaken or suppress public health findings.

Science writer Timothy Ferris has noted the connection between science and liberal democracy; in his book The Science of Liberty, he also documented the historical connection between anti-science and totalitarianism.  As he writes, new scientific knowledge exposes prior ignorance and error, a process that doesn’t pose a problem for democratic regimes, since fallibility is a given in such cultures, “but it leaves totalitarian leaders clinging to outmoded doctrines in a changing world.”  He quotes China scholar H. Lyman Miller,

Just as the scientific community operates according to anti-authoritarian norms of free debate…so science prospers in an external environment that similarly tolerates pluralism and dissent…Scientific dissidents espoused a strong form of liberal political philosophy that grew out of the norms of their profession.

The assault on science, on evidence and on the proper process for achieving reliable data is an assault on liberty and democracy. Refusing to act on the basis of scientific evidence that inconveniences political allies not only causes significant harm to public health and the environment, it is an attack on reason, progress and the rule of law.

In my view, such behavior is every bit as treasonous as taking orders from Vladimir Putin.

 

 

 

 

“I Quit”

Principled people who can do so are fleeing the Trump Administration. Those who cannot afford to take the moral high ground–the government workers with mortgages to pay and children to educate–are valiantly trying to hold their agencies accountable to the rule of law.

Talking Points Memo, among others, has reported on the departure of one who just left: the top watchdog overseeing student loans.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Student Loan Ombudsman,” responsible for guarding student borrowers against predatory lenders and scammers, has resigned in a scathing letter aimed at acting CFPB director Mick Mulvaney.

“Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting,” Seth Frotman’s resignation letter, obtained by NPR, read. “Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

Not exactly surprising, in an administration where up is down, failure is success, accurate reporting is “fake news,” and corrupt practices are touted as “good business.”

Frotman’s job was to monitor and review of thousands of complaints from student borrowers. The Obama administration had introduced a number of regulations intended to protect those student borrowers against fraudulent practices; according to Frotman, Mulvaney and Betsy DeVos have worked “diligently” to eliminate those protections.

Frotman’s letter pointed to specific wrongdoing by Mulvaney, NPR reported, including the alleged suppression of a report from his office revealing that big banks were “saddling [students] with legally dubious account fees.”

In May, NPR noted, Mulvaney called for Frotman’s office to be incorporated into the Office of Financial Education, effectively proposing to remove Frotman’s office from direct enforcement actions and shifting it to an educational role.

Regarding another change — the Department of Education’s announcement last year that it would no longer share federal student loan oversight data with the CFPB — Frotman wrote: “The Bureau’s current leadership folded to political pressure… and failed borrowers who depend on independent oversight to halt bad practices.”

NPR has posted a copy of Frotman’s letter here.

My husband often reminds me that–while Americans are distracted by our demented President’s tweets, rages and sundry other embarrassing and destructive behaviors–his administration is busily dismantling the structures of accountable and legitimate governance–stacking the federal courts with right-wing ideologues, eliminating regulations protecting air and water quality, bleeding public schools of the resources needed to educate the country’s children, empowering theocrats, and weakening the rules that restrain the rich and powerful.

Even if November brings the hoped-for “blue wave,” and installs a Congress that takes its oversight responsibilities seriously, it will take years to restore both the rule of law and the American people’s ability to trust that their government is operating on their behalf.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

There are crimes, and then there are crimes.

Americans are currently fixated on the antics of a deranged President and the (almost daily) revelations of his closest associates’ corrupt and criminal behaviors. I’m certainly not immune, as anyone who regularly reads this blog can tell.

The problem is, while we are all distracted by the grade-B gangster movie taking place in and around the Oval Office, we’ve lost focus on what is surely the most egregious and damaging crime of all: the administration’s war on science and its sabotage of the fight against climate change, subjects I touched on yesterday.

We are already seeing the effects of our warming planet, but an irrational administration (populated with ex-lobbyists for fossil fuels and religious extremists who reject not only climate science but the theory of evolution) is intent upon rolling back even modest efforts  to move America away from greenhouse-gas-producing energy sources.

A consortium of scientists and environmental organizations is trying to re-focus our attention on the urgent need to move to clean energy–and the imperative of addressing what is clearly the largest challenge we face. 350.org, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Jobs for Justice and several other organizations are sponsoring nationwide “Rising for Climate” demonstrations on September 8th.

Indiana’s march will begin at the Statehouse at 10:00 a.m. The announcement points up Indiana’s “contribution” to the problem.

We, the people, are running out of time. Join us on September 8, 2018 to demand our elected officials take urgent action on human-driven climate change, protecting our health, moving to 100% renewable energy and creating local, equitable jobs for our city, state, country and planet.

Indiana is home to five of the top 22 worst greenhouse gas and toxic super polluter coal plants in the nation. Indiana is the second largest source of industrial greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States and exceed those from 187 countries (more info at www.superpolluters.com). The time to act is now.

We rise in solidarity on Sept. 8 with communities across the globe. We march in advance and in support of the Global Climate Summit in San Francisco. Elected officials in Indiana, hear our message: take action now.

The time for empty declarations of intent and unreasonable transition timelines has closed. It is time to make Indiana fossil-free and create sustainable, equitable jobs!

The march will end at Christ Church Cathedral, and will be followed by a Community Forum beginning at 11:30 AM.

Will these marches change the retrograde policies being pursued by people in the pockets of fossil fuel interests? Of course not. What they will do, however, is what the Women’s March(es) did: focus voters’ attention on important issues, and send lawmakers the message that millions of Americans care deeply about the environment and will vote to punish a criminal unwillingness to protect it. Marches will encourage further activism. They will encourage people who care about the environment to run for office.

And they will promote solidarity, and encourage people who may feel that they are lonely voices for sanity, by providing evidence that they are not alone.

What’s the old saying? A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step?

If you can, take a step. Rise for Climate on September 8th.

 

We’re All Endangered By This Administration

Is there a single environmental measure that the Trump Administration isn’t willing to ditch in order to benefit their cronies bottom lines?

Regulations to combat climate change? Nah. It’s a hoax–and if it isn’t, God will protect us. Efforts to insure that the residents of cities and towns (even towns inhabited by black and brown people) have clean air and potable water? Silly you! What about protecting the natural beauty of Alaska’s pristine landscape so that future generations can marvel at it (assuming it hasn’t melted)? How ridiculous, when our fossil fuel companies need to drill for oil…

Now, the Endangered Species Act is in the plutocrats’ crosshairs.As Elizabeth Kolbert writes in The New Yorker,

In the summer of 1973, the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries approved a version of the Endangered Species Act and sent the bill to the floor of Congress. To accompany the measure, the committee—now defunct—produced a report that offered the following analogy. Imagine that a copy of every book in the world had been deposited in one enormous building. Now imagine that a madman was somehow able to enter the building, light a bonfire, and incinerate part of the collection. The response would be outrage. At the very least, the administrators of the building would be censured; probably they would be replaced.

“So it is with mankind,” the report observed. Like it or not, humans had become the administrators of the planet: “we are our brother’s keepers, and we are also keepers of the rest of the house.”

“We are our brothers’ keepers” is obviously a sentiment that is utterly incomprehensible to Trump and the collection of incompetents and thugs who staff his administration.

Protecting the environment wasn’t always a partisan issue. Richard Nixon established the EPA, and during the signing ceremony for the Endangered Species Act, he said, “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.”

How times have changed!

Forty-five years later, there is a madman in the building. In fact, there are several. Last week, the Trump Administration proposed what the Timescalled “the most sweeping set of changes in decades” to the regulations used to enforce the Act. The changes would weaken protections for endangered species, while making it easier for companies to build roads, pipelines, or mines in crucial habitats. Under current regulations, government agencies are supposed to make decisions about what species need safeguarding “without reference to possible economic or other impacts.” The Administration wants to scratch that phrase. It also wants to scale back protections for threatened species—these are one notch down on the endangerment scale—and to make it easier to delist species that have been classified as endangered.

Representative Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who is the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee called the proposed changes “part of the endless special favors the White House and Department of the Interior are willing to do for their industry friends.”

Also in the past few weeks, congressional Republicans have introduced some two dozen measures and, perhaps more importantly, spending-bill riders aimed at weakening the Act. The version of the Pentagon budget that the House approved last month, for instance, included a provision that would have prohibited the Interior Department from granting protection to the sage grouse, a fantastic bird whose numbers have declined by an estimated ninety per cent since the nineteenth century. (The provision, which the Pentagon objected to, was stripped out a couple of days ago.

As Kolbert concedes, there are good reasons to modify portions of the Act, but no good–or even plausible– reason to weaken it.

The value of earth’s biodiversity “is, quite literally, incalculable,” the House report stated, back in 1973. “Sheer self-interest impels us to be cautious.”

Evidently, none of the thugs, vandals and crony capitalists who currently occupy positions of authority in this disastrous administration have grandchildren who will have to live in the world that will remain after their spree of despoiling and looting.