Thursday, January 19, 2017

On Trump Administration: we know what is to come, the horizon is here ... by gimleteye

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US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) wrote an excellent OPED for the Washington Post the other day, "Republicans want to fight climate change, but fossil-fuel bullies won't let them." (Reprinted, below.) Yesterday on C-SPAN, Senator Whitehouse and other senate Democrats grilled Trump's choice to lead the U.S. EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. The confirmation hearing was a clear indication that Senate Republicans will not show any backbone with respect to a Trump executive branch.

It was instructive in another way, as well. Scott Pruitt is an important player in the GOP task of empowering states rights over federal authority. Never mind what is in Donald Trump's words or heart: since Ronald Reagan, the nation's biggest corporate polluters have been aiming to shift regulatory authority from the federal government to the states, where they (ie. Koch-funded legislatures) can most easily shape legislation and influence law.

Although Donald Trump promised American voters he would "drain the swamp" and "make America great again", if it is accomplished it will be by right-wing ideologues. Trump is turning, much like Florida Governor Rick Scott did, straight back to the GOP insiders who thrive professionally and financially on the swamp.

There is, among many voters, an unfounded hope that the Trump administration won't do much damage, anyway, because Trump lacks a mandate. Based on the Senate confirmation hearings, they are wrong.

The media did not feature the Pruitt confirmation hearings. For one, the media showed a real antipathy to environmental issues during the presidential campaign, despite the fact that climate change and global warming are defining policy, both social and economic, of our times.

Yesterday, Sheldon Whitehouse and his colleagues (notably including Kamala Harris, the junior senator from California) were unafraid to take Scott Pruitt into the weeds of EPA and environmental policy.

What emerged was a vivid picture of the future: ideologically pure states' rights advocates who will be, in the words of one senator, "plaintiff, defendant, judge and jury" to the wholesale dismantling of federal authority.

Although Pruitt did admit that climate change is real (Trump calls it, "a hoax invented by China"), although he did admit to a federal role in limiting air pollution that wrecks the quality of life and public health of states downwind from major polluters, questions by Democratic senators like Whitehouse showed that Pruitt will be a standard-bearer for what billionaire interests -- like the Koch Brothers and Florida's Fanjul Big Sugar oligarchs -- want: the devolution of regulatory authority to the level where they can best control outcomes: state capitols. Period, end of story.

Part of what is so disillusioning for Democrats, today, is that those of a certain age believed that the progress of the Obama terms, at least on issues of culture, race, and civil discourse, confirmed battles that were fought and won. For example, Obama's victory across the spectrum of American society and the achievements of African American culture was "a done deal", a shining example to other nations where ethnic, religious, and racial divisions still prevail.

This is also true of the environment where progress of the 1970's, including the creation of the nation's most important environmental laws (by Republicans), was viewed as a foundation to address the existential threats posed by climate change and the rapid loss of biodiversity.

In fact, on the environment it turns out that fossil fuel billionaires were just waiting to permanently shift federal authority in favor of states, including a concerted effort to shape the federal judiciary and U.S. Supreme Court with "constitutional advocates".

We know what is to come. The horizon is here.

Republicans want to fight climate change, but fossil-fuel bullies won’t let them
By Sheldon Whitehouse January 10
The writer, a Democrat, represents Rhode Island in the Senate.

Talking to my Senate Republican colleagues about climate change is like talking to prisoners about escaping. The conversations are often private, even furtive. One told me, “Let’s keep talking, but you can’t let my staff know.”

The dirty secret is that climate change is not really a partisan issue in Congress. Its history has not been partisan, with Republican senators such as John McCain, Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Lindsey O. Graham and Jeff Flake (as a House member) having introduced climate bills in the past. Climate change became partisan in 2010, shortly after the five Republican-appointed justices of the Supreme Court upended a century of law and precedent to issue the Citizens United decision, which rejected limits on corporate spending on political campaigns. The timing is not a coincidence.

Big-business interests, particularly the fossil-fuel industry, led the charge. That industry’s annual U.S. subsidy is $700 billion, according to the International Monetary Fund. With stakes that high, the incentive to protect the subsidy and the amount that the fossil-fuel industry can afford to spend on political influence are enormous, so the restraints of campaign finance and disclosure rules were particularly galling.

The justices allowed the fossil-fuel industry to roll heavy artillery out onto the political field, not just its previous musketry. Industry operatives brag about putting hundreds of millions of dollars into each federal election cycle, though undisclosed “dark money” and identity-laundering pass-throughs make this increasingly hard to track. Most recklessly, the five justices missed the point — or didn’t care — that anyone who is allowed to spend unlimited political money necessarily can threaten to spend unlimited political money. This atmosphere has quashed any Republican effort on climate change, silenced serious climate debate in Congress and ended progress, as desired and directed by the fossil-fuel industry.

Republicans are not idiots. On the Senate Armed Services Committee, they hear the military warn of climate change as a catalyst of conflict and a threat to low-lying military bases such as Norfolk and Diego Garcia. At their home-state universities, they see climate science in action. Those with coasts see sea levels rising and fisheries going awry; those with forests see pine beetles spreading and wildfires raging; those with farms see unprecedented drought and unprecedented cloudbursts. Republicans hear about climate science from national laboratories and national science and health organizations. They see overwhelming polling numbers showing young voters — even young Republican voters — in favor of climate action.

Republicans are trapped. The merciless might of the fossil-fuel industry’s new post-Citizens United political armaments is directed at them. After I gave a speech about the hoodlum politics of the fossil-fuel industry, a Republican friend approached me on the Senate floor and said: “What the hell are you complaining about? They’re spending more against us than they are against you!” I suspect they were at the time. The fossil-fuel industry knew that if it could bring a political party to heel, it could use that party to block progress.

A climate solution will require safe passage for Republicans through the political kill zone. Democrats can’t help with that. Environmental groups can’t help with that. Scientists can’t help either. It will take the corporate “good guys” to make that happen. Companies such as Walmart, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, Google and General Mills signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge and do great work inside their fences and sometimes out through their supply chains. But U.S. companies don’t lobby Congress for climate action and have never gathered to tell a Republican senator, “Look, we get what the fossil-fuel guys are threatening you with, but if you vote with us on climate, we will promise to have your back.”

Today, the stakes are higher, and we need reinforcements more than ever. President-elect Donald Trump is filling his administration with the likes of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, an ardent acolyte of the fossil-fuel industry, and ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson. (Take no comfort in Tillerson’s statements that climate change is real and that Exxon supports a carbon tax; that message was never delivered to the fossil-fuel industry’s political gun decks and is a perhaps a deliberate false flag.) Trump may have won the presidency, but the Koch brothers and their fossil-fuel polluter allies are swiftly moving in to run the show. Corporate America can no longer ignore the enforced stagnation on Capitol Hill.

Republicans aren’t cowards. Many will take the side of climate principle in a fair fight. But it is asking a lot of them to take a principled stand on climate when they don’t see one corporate friend ready to help them. That’s the climate battle’s other dirty secret: In Congress, on climate, corporate America is not even trying. That’s why the fossil-fuel bullies own the place.

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