Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sunday Reading

Waiting Our Turn — Charles P. Pierce on the aftermath of Harvey.

CORPUS CHRISTI—The hotel had closed in anticipation of the storm from out of the sea. The storm had shifted north far enough that the city got brushed, but not hammered, the way Rockport and Port Aransas did. The hotel is still closed. There’s a note on the door and the lobby is empty except for some pumps that never were used. People who have reservations pull up to the door. They read the note, and look through the dusty windows at all the strange devices littering the floor, and then they drive down the access road a little further to one of the other hotels that are still open.

There are plenty of rooms available, even though it’s a holiday weekend and the fleshpots of South Padre Island are just off the road. Up the coast, off Galveston, at night, you can see dozens of red lights out in the Gulf, tankers and freighters who are waiting to be cleared to come into the port, pausing out there like the tourists who roll up to the abandoned hotel. There’s an adrenaline feeling of unfulfilled dread. It’s not like waiting for the next shoe to drop. It’s more as though people are waiting for the previous shoe to rise again.

For a week now, we have been treated to wonderful images of people helping people. There is some great journalism being done on these stories, particularly by the television people. But there is a nagging sense of being anesthetized by all the great video of National Guardsmen carrying abandoned dogs, or dialysis patients being loaded onto helicopters, or the hundreds of boats plying what once were fashionable neighborhoods in Houston. Behind the scenes, there is serious politics being played and, while there’s nothing enobling about a lot of it, it would be perilous to allow the vast human tragedy of this place to obscure what is being done, because the politics really is the next shoe to drop.

[…]

On Friday, David Sirota and the people at International Business Times, in association with Newsweek, have been diving deeply into the politics that led directly to the explosion and fire at the now-iconic Arkema chemical complex near Houston. Almost simultaneously with the floods and the fires, a federal court gave a win to Donald Trump’s conception of an Environmental Protection Agency in its quest to keep companies like Arkema from having to tell the people who live near its plant from knowing much of anything about what goes on inside it.

Arkema is already benefiting from the rule’s delay: In a teleconference on the crisis Friday, the company refused to release a map of its facilities or an inventory of the potentially hazardous chemicals at the beleaguered plant, as would be required by the heightened safety standards. The company argued that disclosing such information to the public could put the company at risk of terrorism threats, the Houston Chronicle reported. Under both federal and state law, the firms can elect to disclose such information, or not to.

Less than four months ago, Arkema pressed the EPA to repeal the chemical plant safety rule, criticizing the rule’s provisions that require chemical companies to disclose more information to the public. In a May 15 letter to the EPA, Arkema’s legislative affairs director wrote that “new mandates that require the release to the public of facility-specific chemical information may create new security concerns if there are not sufficient safeguards to ensure that those requesting the information have a legitimate need for the information for the purposes of community emergency preparedness.”

Arkema had friends in Texas state government, too. From IBT:

The American Chemistry Council also lauded Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton for co-authoring a letter slamming the chemical plant safety rule. The letter chastised the EPA for proposing to require chemical plants to more expansively disclose castatrophic releases of hazardous chemicals and berated regulators for requiring independent audits of facilities’ safety procedures. “To complicate matters further, EPA is demanding that the auditors have no relationship with the audited entity for three years prior to the audit and three years sullbsequent,” wrote Paxton and Louisiana Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry. “EPA is demanding that a professional engineer be part of the auditing team, that attorney client privilege cannot apply to the audits, and finding and reports be released to the public. It is difficult to fathom how this collection of burdensome, costly, bureaucratic regulatory requirements does anything to enhance accidental chemical release prevention…This unauthorized expansion of the program does not make facilities safer, but it does subject facilities to even more burdensome, duplicative and needless regulation.” Paxton received $106,000 from chemical industry donors during his 2014 run for attorney general.

This is how we got here. If we’re smart, we will learn from this and not do the same damn things allover again, but I think the odds are against that. Decades of propaganda pushing the message that government is some sort of alien entity—and that politics is its alien, beating heart—cannot be overcome that easily.

Katrina wasn’t enough to do it, so there’s no reason to expect that Harvey will be enough, either, not with virtually the entire Texas state government’s bone-deep commitment to that very message. The triumph of that message owes as much to its ability to create alienation and political apathy in the many as it does to its ability to create wealth for the very few.

We’ve forgotten what Pericles warned us about democracy when he looked around at the very first attempt at it. Just because you do not take an interest in politics, he warned, doesn’t mean politics doesn’t take an interest in you. We are those ships out in the dark now, waiting for somebody’s permission to come into port. Our politics, at the moment, is an empty hotel lobby with unused pumps.

The Missing Link — Josh Marshall on what Trump can’t do.

People with certain autism spectrum disorders have difficulty reading social cues which most people understand intuitively. Therapists have developed techniques which can help them learn through training what comes effortlessly to others. I can’t help thinking of this when I see President Trump touring Texas with his litany of jarring, tone-deaf or just plain weird comments. But the deficit in this case isn’t social cue cognition. It’s empathy.

There is, of course, a word for people who have an extreme inability to feel empathy: sociopath. It can also be certain diagnoses of what is called ‘malignant narcissism.’ But even that isn’t quite what gets my attention. Because many sociopaths are actually quite adept at demonstrations of empathy. They don’t feel it. But they can mimic the behavior. That’s what gets me. Trump can’t even pretend. Even your garden variety jerk politician can put on a show of hugs and supportive words. Trump can’t.

There are plenty of cases where Trump is cruel and awful. We’ve seen plenty of those. In those cases, his predatory, probably sociopathic nature is plainly evident. But everybody knows that during a natural disaster the President’s job is consoler-in-chief. You don’t have to be crazy cynical to realize that it’s often a chance for a chief executive to connect with people in a human way. It can gain them support. Trump also clearly realizes this and is actually trying. Maybe he doesn’t really care about supporting people. But he gets that he’s supposed to do this touring, hugging, saying the right thing thing. Since this was generally seen as a strong suit for President Obama, he probably wants to outdo Obama at it as well. But he can’t. He’s trying. But it is painfully obvious he doesn’t know how. It’s not just that he can’t outdo Obama. That’s no surprise. He can’t even go through the motions.

In addition to the basic body language he keeps saying things like “Have a Good Time!” to people stranded in a shelter. Or, ‘it’s going great‘ to people who’ve just lost everything. Or, look at this huge turnout to people who … well, you get the idea. When it comes to acting human or compassionate it’s like the part of his brain governing that species of behavior has been removed. It’s like watching a person who has profound social awkwardness in a meet and greet situation at a cocktail party. It’s painful. But again, with Trump it’s not social awkwardness. It’s a basic, seemingly fundamental inability not only to experience but even to fake the experience of empathy or human concern. That additional part is what is remarkable to me.

How Trump got this way I have no clue. But it’s the behavior of a very damaged or emotionally stunted person.

Let Them Stay — Noah Lanard in Mother Jones on Republicans who want to keep Dreamers in the country.  (How about paying them a living wage while you’re at it?)

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump will decide whether to keep in place Obama-era protections that allow nearly 800,000 undocumented young people, known as Dreamers, to work and study in the United States. As the controversial decision approaches, the policy—officially called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA—has received support from an unlikely group of people: prominent Republican politicians. They’re joined by Democrats, immigrant rights advocates, and the leaders of some of the country’s largest companies in calling on Trump to reject immigration hardliners’ demands to end the program.

DACA provides Dreamers with two-year, renewable permits that allow them to live the United States without being detained or deported. To qualify for the protection, Dreamers have to show, among other requirements, that they arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and have not committed serious crimes. The average Dreamer came to the United States at six years old and is now 25, according to a survey by University of California-San Diego professor Tom Wong.

Many Republicans have long argued that DACA, which is not a law but a 2012 executive action by President Barack Obama, is unconstitutional. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized DACA, calling it one of Obama’s “illegal executive amnesties.” But Trump softened his position after winning the election. “The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me, as I love these kids,” he said in February. In July, he repeated that it was a “very very hard” decision. Asked about the issue Friday, Trump said that “we love Dreamers”; he’s reportedly torn about whether to end DACA. Later on Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that a decision will be announced on Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation about when the decision would be made.

On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan became the most prominent Republican to pressure Trump not to end DACA, saying that the president should leave it up to Congress. “These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home,” he said in a radio interview. “And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution.” Ryan’s comments come one day after hundreds of CEOs and business leaders, including executives at Apple, Facebook, and General Motors, sent Trump an open letter calling on him to keep DACA in place.

Perhaps the most surprising statement in support of DACA has come from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, a Republican. In June, Slatery, along with nine other state attorneys general, threatened to challenge DACA in court if the Trump administration didn’t end the program by September 5, which is Tuesday. The White House announcement may be intended to meet the AGs’ deadline, but on Friday afternoon, Slatery announced that he’s changed his mind. “There is a human element to this…that is not lost on me and should not be ignored,” Slatery wrote in a letter addressed to Tennessee Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. “Many of the DACA recipients, some of whose records I reviewed, have outstanding accomplishments and laudable ambitions, which if achieved, will be of great benefit and service to our country. They have an appreciation for the opportunities afforded them by our country.”

Instead, Slatery suggested that Congress should consider a bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) that would give Dreamers a path to citizenship. “It is my sincere hope,” Slatery wrote, “that the important issues raised by the States will be resolved by the people’s representatives in the halls of Congress, not in a courtroom.”

Doonesbury — More from the Twit.

3 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

  1. I think the chances of Trump folding on DACA are pretty slim: a huge (as in “bigly!!”) portion of his platform, such as it is, is anti-immigrant — the Wall, the Muslim ban, the threats against “sanctuary cities,” increased enforcement by ICE — that’s who he is, that’s what he ran on, and that’s what his supporters cheered.

    And given that he’s completely lacking in anything identifiable as empathy, compassion, or even run-of-the mill decency, he’s not going to be swayed by any arguments relying on the human dimension of these kids’ situation.

      • Given that he’s been as unsuccessful at stacking the courts as he has at everything else, there’s hope. That’s really all we have left, as long as Congress is marching in lock step (although that’s starting to fall apart).

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