Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The More Horseman of the Apocalypse

The cabinet of Donald Trump develops, and as it gels we get a glimpse into the shades and tones of a future where reality is politicized. What I had originally thought was a simple war on science has expanded to possibly include intelligence and diplomacy too. Anything that potentially conflicts with PeOTUS Donald trump’s world view or personal ego may be the focus of some kind of attack. However, the confusion and lack of actual information leaves everything in a fog of speculation.

I interact daily with MANY people who voted for Mr Trump. The one thing they have almost all said motivated them to vote for him was that he “told it like it was”. I have joked that his performance in the third presidential debate suggested that “it” must be a confused illogical jumble of sentence fragments, and the cabinet he is creating suggests that my attempt at humor may have been close to the truth of the mater.

"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." – 2012 Tweet by Donald Trump

I was, apparently, wrong about Myron Ebell being the presumptive Administrator of the EPA. Trump has nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Edward Scott Pruitt to the position instead. Pruitt is much less anti science than Myron, but, because of the special relationship Myron had with science, this is faint praise for Ed. Ed is actively promoting several lawsuits against the EPA on behalf of the state of Oklahoma. Most of the suits concern the EPA’s efforts at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” – “The Climate-Change Gang” Scott Pruitt and Luther Strange, The National Review 7 May 2016

Ed is more likely to get past Senate confirmation than Myron would be, so his nomination may be more a nod to political necessity than a shift from “nutty like squirrel poo” positions to just “squirrel poo”. Ed’s anti-science leanings are not likely to incur correction from Rick Perry who will be sitting at the same table in the seat labeled Secretary of Energy, and looking intelligent in his glasses.

Or maybe Rick Perry will not be sitting at the table as he has famously called for the elimination of the Department of Energy, and so there might not even be a chair labeled "Secretary of Energy"; at one point he was so convinced that the Department of Energy should be no more that he proactively forgot the name of the Department. Perry is famously against the acceptance of many parts of reality (like evolution or climate change or …), but like a good politician he frames his denials as championing of “Choice” and “Freedom”. This rhetoric resonates with that of the anti-science sentiments of Betsy DeVos who will be sitting at the table in the chair marked “Secretary of Education”.

Early speculation had placed shockingly anti-science former neurosurgeon and presidential candidate Ben Carson in the Secretary of Education seat, but apparently he will be sitting in the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development seat. I am not sure why Ben got the HUD chair. I think it has something to do with the fact that he is African-American and once even lived in a city. Though HUD Secretary is probably not a science-intensive position he should be able to contribute his voice to the reality-denying choir when inconvenient aspects of reality are being described.

Potentially counterbalancing at least one of the ideologically anti-science folks at the cabinet table is Trump’s pick for Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson. Rex is the sitting CEO of an actual technology corporation: Exxon-Mobil. Unfortunately Exxon-Mobil has maintained that the conclusions of scientific research, especially global climate change research, should be ignored when it is inconvenient. Rex appears to be able to distinguish between good science (that which profits Exxon-Mobil), bad science (that which is awkward to the growth of Exxon-Mobil), and the ugly science (That which might even cost Exxon-Mobil money). The Secretary of State is a highly influential position, but it, like HUD, does not have scientific interests as the centerpiece of its focus.

The Department of Health and Human Services controls not only the administration of healthcare programs like Medicare and Medicaid, but also the FDA, NIH, and the CDC. Congressman Tom Price R-GA has been nominated by Trump to sit in the HHS Secretary chair. Tom, like Ben, is a former MD who has turned into a politician. He is a vocal opponent of “Obamacare”, and his nomination is probably largely tied to a likely push to dismantle the ACA. His potentially more damaging anti-science leanings are inferred from those who support him. The Christian Right think he will resonate with the homophobic leanings of our VPe (Mike Pence) and others (like Ben and Betsy) to make responses to public health issues less blind to any possible association with what they see as immoral activity. Tom is also endorsed by the important-sounding largely anti-science group called the “Association of American Physicians and Surgeons”; they have interesting positions on Ebola, vaccines, and “alternative” medicine.

“Yet the CDC bureaucracy will continue to fund useless, sodomy-enabling local and state programs, unless grown-ups show up for work. Like possibly Tom Price.” – “Will Tom Price Clean Up Feds' HIV/AIDS Program?” Linda Harvey 7 December 2016 in MISSION: America

It is strange, on initial examination, that the name Heidi Heitkamp is being floated as Trump’s possible nominee for Secretary of Agriculture. The USDA is another department that focuses on modern scientific inquiry. Heidi neither looks like the women in Trumps life nor acts like the reflexively anti-science people he has already nominated for his cabinet; she is also a Democrat. There are strong political reasons to nominate Heidi though. Agribusiness donors like her, and pulling her out of the senate would empty a seat in the senate that would likely be filled by a Republican. Could she be a voice of reason in the cabinet? Will she really be nominated? The GOP has a majority and does not desperately need to take her senate seat now.

“Stop denying science and accept the fact that GMO ingredients are just as healthy as any other ingredient.” – Senator Heidi Heitkamp D-ND July 7,2016.

Another moderating voice might be prospective Science advisor Tom Massie. Tom is a really smart tech-savvy engineer turned politician. His views on science are eclectic at times, and he confuses his positions with political doublespeak. He supports labeling of GMO food and calls it making non-GMO seeds available to farmers. Would he be employed to champion science or to provide confusing language that obfuscates the motivations of the anti-science shock troops?

In addition to the metaphorical war on science one can see the drum set of actual war being set up in the cabinet: there is the snare drum of possible support for Russian military action, the bass drum of selective filtering of intelligence information (possibly left over from the famous reports of weapons of mass destruction we invaded Iraq to find), the hanging toms of re-framing Asian arena diplomacy to “make better deals, the floor tom, with its deep commanding tone, is probably reserved to sound out some action against ISIS, or Islamic terrorists, or maybe just some nebulous set of “bad people”, and  maybe "China" should be visualized as the hi-hat. Trump will have at least three rather hawkish former generals to take turns playing Keith Moon on his war set while the rest of the cabinet provides some regressive religiously-motivated melody of breaking culture.

“It will be convenient to have a name for the ideas which are esteemed at any time for their acceptability, and it should be a term that emphasizes this predictability. I shall refer to these ideas henceforth as the conventional wisdom.” – JK Galbraith in “The Affluent Society” 1958

With great power comes the potential for great screw ups. The history of the USA is ripe with abuses of presidential power that have negatively impacted the lives of many of its citizens. The cry of “Government Overreach” has heralded the creation of our current crop of demagogues; like our PeOTUS. The vehminence of the complaints might make one think for a moment that they are decrying the way Jackson handled the Native Americans, or Roosevelt handled the Japanese Americans, or the Jim-Crow laws of the 1950s, or slavery, or any one of the horrific somethings that abuse of federal power has burned into the history of the US.

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