Elections Have Consequences

Monday, the Dow fell 1000 points due to fears of Coronavirus contagion. Yesterday,  it continued to decline–to the tune of more than 800 points.. News outlets are suggesting that fears of a worldwide pandemic have dramatically increased the likelihood of a global recession.

According to one business publication (lost the link), what begins in China doesn’t stay in China.

As the COVID-19 outbreak disrupts economic activity – owing partly to the unprecedented quarantining of huge subsets of the population – there is reason to expect a sharp slowdown this year, with growth falling significantly below last year’s official rate of 6.1%. During the recent meeting of G20 finance ministers, the IMF downgraded its growth forecast for China to 5.6% for 2020 – its lowest level since 1990.

This could hamper global growth considerably, because the world economy is more dependent on China than ever. In 2003, China constituted only 4% of global GDP; today, that figure stands at 17% (at current exchange rates).

If the grim forecasts prove accurate, it will cost the economy a great deal more than Donald J. Trump “saved” by summarily terminating a promising research project aimed at predicting and minimizing pandemics (he undoubtedly terminated it simply because the Obama administration supported it.)

 The Hill recently reminded readers of Trump’s ongoing attacks on healthcare and medical research.

Last year Trump shut down a federal program called Predict that was established ten years ago as a response to the H5N1 bird flu outbreaks. Predict investigated and provided surveillance of infectious diseases and viruses, studied and discovered new diseases that are able to jump from animals to humans, developed testing to detect these viruses, and trained “medical detectives” on the ground across the globe. This federal ability to avert pandemics is now mostly gone, making our ability to contain diseases worldwide significantly more difficult.

Figuring out how to contain potential pandemics is obviously a high priority for rational public servants. In addition to concerns about public health, the specter of contagious disease tends to have a significant impact on economic activity, because fear causes healthy people to avoid traveling, shopping, and even going to work.

In 2018, federal public health workers had their paychecks slashed because of alleged “government delays” in setting up a payment system Congress had ordered and allocated money for years ago. Following the pay cuts — which were eventually restored, but still caused significantly and understandably decreased morale in the service corps — Trump announced that he would be cutting nearly 40 percent of the uniformed federal public health professionals who are deployed to disease outbreaks, natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

A beleaguered, demoralized and reduced U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will cripple our ability to respond to Coronavirus and other diseases like it. Overall, Trump is proposing to cut the doctors, nurses, engineers and public health professionals working for the federal government from 6,500 officers to “no more than 4,000 officers.”

There’s more–much more–as The Hill concluded.

Trump is also proposing drastic cuts this year to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health — key federal agencies that research and respond to public health emergencies — including a $838 million cut to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A proposed $2.6 billion cut to the Environmental Protection Agency would eliminate crucial programs that address climate change, which would be detrimental to public health as rapidly warming environments create petri dishes for the spread of viruses, and would also cut programs that monitor and restore water quality.

These cuts are unacceptable in the face of a growing global public health emergency.

It’s no wonder the Health and Services Resources Administration is in a panic and scrambling to develop an adequate response to the growing Coronavirus health emergency. A constant barrage of cuts, deterioration, weakening and outright elimination of America’s historically robust public health infrastructure has made us vulnerable.

While Coronavirus is our current concern, we should always be prepared to deal with public health concerns…. The Trump administration’s insistence on cutting programs that keep us healthy not only put people living in the United States at risk — it makes the world more dangerous for everyone.

The Trump administration should immediately reverse cuts to critical federal agencies in order to protect public health worldwide, and Congress should allocate more funds to combatting the current virus of concern.

Meanwhile, as we have starved the agencies that work to keep us safe and/or healthy, Trump’s payments to farmers–necessitated by the damage caused by his idiotic tariffs–now total twice as much as the automobile bailout. (And don’t get me started on what his incessant golf outings and children’s extravagant travel have cost us.)

Yesterday, from Fantasyland, Trump pooh-poohed concerns, and assured the world that America has it all under control.

Voting for an ignoramus because he resents the same people you do can really get expensive….


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.


Words, Words, Words…..

In My Fair Lady, Eliza sings “Words, words, words–I’m so sick of words…” Instead, she demands, “show me.”

These days, the way politicians use and misuse words is quite enough to “show” us.

Multiple media outlets have reported on the administration’s recent instructions to the CDC, forbidding the use of certain words in official communications. As an article from the Chicago Tribune reports,

Trump administration officials are forbidding officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases – including “fetus” and “transgender” – in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

Shades of Rick Scott’s edict banning the phrase “climate change” from Florida’s official vocabulary! (Unfortunately for the state, forgoing use of the phrase hasn’t stopped the water from rising…Damn pesky reality!)

This new mandate would be funny if it weren’t one more piece of (whoops!) evidence that government under Trump is unconcerned with (that word again!) evidence–or fact, or science, or–let’s be honest–anything we would recognize as actual governing.

As ridiculous and worrisome as this effort at Newspeak is, the apparent reason for the language ban is even more troubling. The emphasis on “alternative” language appears to be focused on the budget.

The ban is related to the budget and supporting materials that are to be given to CDC’s partners and to Congress, the analyst said. The president’s budget for 2019 is expected to be released in early February. The budget blueprint is generally shaped to reflect an administration’s priorities.

The New York Times report on this directive suggests that the reason for banning these phrases from the budget document is to increase the likelihood that Congress will respond positively to that budget–in other words, it’s an effort to avoid riling the anti-science, anti-evidence GOP Neanderthals who currently dominate Congressional lawmaking.

Given the amount of attention this ham-handed effort has attracted, it isn’t likely to be very effective. Far more terrifying–and sinister–is a quiet venture meant to distort and confuse the definition of “science” and the rules of “economics,” aimed squarely at current and prospective members of the judicial branch. (Evidently, packing the courts with know-nothings isn’t the only Trumpian assault on the courts.)

In early October, 22 state and federal judges hailing from Honolulu to Albany got a crash course in scientific literacy and economics. The three-day symposium was billed as a way to help the judges better scrutinize evidence used to defend government regulations.

But the all-expenses-paid event hosted by George Mason University’s Law & Economics Center in Arlington, Virginia, served another purpose: it was the first of several seminars designed to promote “skepticism” of scientific evidence among likely candidates for the 140-plus federal judgeships Donald Trump will fill over the next four years.

The lone science instructor was Louis Anthony Cox Jr, a risk analyst with deep industry ties whose recent appointment as chair of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s clean air scientific advisory committee drew condemnation in public-health circles. Since 1988, Cox has consulted for the American Petroleum Institute, a lobby group that spent millions to dispute the cancer-causing properties of benzene, an ingredient in gasoline, and is now working to question the science on smog-causing ozone. He’s also testified on behalf of the chemical industry and done research for the tobacco giant Philip Morris.

What was that line Humpty Dumpty uttered in Alice in Wonderland? “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.”

I know it’s still morning, but I need a drink.


La La La…I Can’t Hear You!

Remember when you were a kid on the playground having an argument, and felt you were losing? Remember sticking your fingers in your ears and going “la la la” as loudly as you could, in order not to hear what the other kid was saying?

Some of you who are reading this were probably  never that childish, and most of the rest of us have since grown up.

All except Congress.

A congressional ban on gun violence research backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been extended in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting that left 9 people dead.

As Public Radio International (PRI) reported recently, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee voted to reject an amendment last month that would have allowed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence.

The purported reason for the ban is that gun deaths are not “diseases.” Neither are cigarettes, but the CDC researches the health effects of tobacco. Guns certainly affect health; guns kill more Americans under 25 than cars. (More than 25% of teenagers ages 15 and older who die of injuries in the US are killed by gun-related injuries.)

The costs of gun violence are staggering: American taxpayers pay roughly $12.8 million every day to cover the costs of gun-related deaths and injuries. Total social costs have been estimated at 100 billion each year. That, of course, excludes the human losses.

The CDC used to conduct firearms safety research, but in 1996, the gun lobby persuaded Congress to restrict CDC funding of gun research; similar restrictions on other federal agencies followed.

Far from hiding its role, the NRA has publicly taken credit for preventing the research. In 2011, it issued a statement :”These junk science studies and others like them are designed to provide ammunition for the gun control lobby by advancing the false notion that legal gun ownership is a danger to the public health instead of an inalienable right.”

The CDC doesn’t do “junk science,” of course. And denying that guns pose a danger to public health is tantamount to an admission of insanity. But facts and evidence pose a special threat to the NRA extremists who no longer even reflect the position of most NRA members.

They can’t put their fingers in their ears, so–like the bullies on those long-ago playgrounds–they’re trying to deprive advocates of sensible gun control measures of data that they know would strengthen those advocates’ arguments.

It’s their version of “la la la–I can’t hear you.”