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Draining the Swamp, Building a New One, Then Repeat

Political corruption scandals, much like those “me too” sexual harassment and assault scandals that keep popping up, are a bi-partisan problem. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are immune to the all-too-human temptations of power, so the side with more power tends to be the one with the more scandals. For the moment the Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress and a putative member of the party in the White House, and they’re busily making the judicial branch Republican for the next generation, so it’s no surprise that mainly Republicans are getting pilloried in the political press these days.
The past week has seen a federal indictment of New York’s Republican Rep. Christopher Collins, who was the first congressional supporter of President Donald Trump’s candidacy and one of his most die-hard apologists, on some some pretty darned convincing insider-trading charges involving a company whose board he sat own while he also sat on congressional committees overseeing its industry. The week also saw Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Robert Gates admitting to various financial crimes during his pretty darned damning testimony against former business partner and one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who will later face another federal trial regarding his alleged shady and unregistered dealings with the Russian-backed Ukrainian government he represented.
All of which comes in the aftermath of the resignations of Trump’s picks to head the Health and Human Services Department and the Environmental Protection Agency resigning in the wake of mounting ethics allegations and some undeniably lavish spending on the taxpayers’ dime. Not to mention the ongoing “Russia thing” about Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and Trump himself, and an ongoing federal suit about violations of the constitution’s emolument clause, all of which is lately looking worse and worse by the daily developments.
There’s still a convincing argument to be made that the Democrats are at least as bad, or surely will be again just as soon as they inevitably regain power, and we well remember the satisfaction we once took in all the well-documtened outrages the Republicans once accurately pined on them. We’ll not join in the “lock ’em up” chants at the never-ending Trump campaign rallies, though, but we’ll try to be just as principled and objective in judging our putative fellow Republicans.
At this point no one in politics looks good, but we’re not chanting for any of them to locked up, and are instead holding out faint hope that America’s government will look more like it was described to us in civics class. Something in our post-lapsarian Judeo-Christian souls tells us that the temptations of power are irresistible, though, and the scandals will continue no matter which party is in power.

— Bud Norman

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Scott Pruitt has Been Drained From the Swamp

Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt resigned on Thursday, so apparently there are still some limits left on outrageous behavior even in the era of President Donald Trump.
Pruitt was a controversial appointee even by the standards of the Trump administration, for reasons that were both arguable and ultimately inarguable. His de-regulatory zeal infuriated the left and endeared him to the right, but his peculiar and expensive and blatantly corrupt way of going about it had led to a full 14 ethics investigations and ultimately left with few allies even on the right. Eventually even fellow Oklahoman and salwart Republican Rep. Jim Inhofe was telling Oklahoma City’s Daily Oklahoman that “I was getting kind of weak on him myself” even as he was assured the state’s biggest paper’s readers that in a recent phone conversation with Pruitt “We went over these accusations one by one, and it turns out they’re totally wrong.” Trump “tweeted” his fulsome praise for all the regulations that Pruitt had de-regulated, but he also mentioned in the same “tweet” that he had accepted Pruitt’s sudden resignation.
Way back in the good old days when we used to fulminate daily about the regulatory zeal of President Barack Obama and the broader left we consistently argued that some of the many thousands of regulations they were annually imposing were bound by statistical probability to be good policy, and that a larger percentage of them were likely to be an unnecessary burden on a free market economy that doesn’t really want to kill anybody, and we freely admitted we didn’t have the time or expertise to determine which of those thousands of annual regulations were which. In these desultory days of Trump and the right’s seemingly willy-nilly zeal of de-regulations we’ve figured that Pruitt was probably undoing a lot of bureaucratic nonsense, and making the occasional deadly mistake, but we still lack the time and expertise to say which is which, and for the most part we’ve gone along with Trump and Pruitt the rest of the current Republican party about it.
Still, we don’t see why Pruitt couldn’t have achieve dsuch arguably advantageous policies without charging the taxpayers for first class flights to far-flung vacation destinations, or sending taxpayer-paid staffers on such bizarre personal errands as securing a certain sort of hand lotion from a particular luxury hotel or acquiring a used mattress from a Trump-owned hotel, or trying to acquire a Chik-Fil-A franchise or some other lucrative occupation for his wife, or charge taxpayers for the “cone of silence” thingamajig from “Get Smart” or accept a sweetheart rental deal from lobbyists with business before the EPA, or have his underlings pay his hotel bills with their personal credit cards and never re-pay them,  or any of the numerous other ethics investigations he instigated. ByThursday afternoon, even Pruitt and Trump agreed that Pruitt ha to go.
For now the EPA will be run by the agency’s already Senate-confirmed deputy director, who seems to have the same de-regulatory zeal as Pruitt but none of his outrageous and capsizing  baggage, which will surely drive the left wing crazy and give a smug satisfaction to the newly-constituted right wing. Our guess is that Trump is by now wised-up enough to stick with that politically fortuitous status quo, that a lot of needlessly burdensome regulations will repealed along with a few that result in the loss of some farmer’s life, that most voters lack the time and expertise to say which regulations are need and which are unnecessarily burden some, and that by the time the mid-term elections come around next fall Pruitt will be happily forgotten.

— Bud Norman

The Sickly Orange River

The Animas River in southern Colorado is currently a sickly orange color, the result of three million gallons of toxic waste being dumped into it. Ordinarily the Environmental Protection Agency would be pursuing criminal charges against the greedy earth-hating corporation that caused such a catastrophe, but in this case the agency itself is responsible.
It was entirely accidental, just one of those unfortunate things that can happen when you’re using heavy machinery while investigating a mine site, and the people charged with protecting America’s environment say they feel just awful about it. This is apparently sufficient for the environmentalist left, which is currently rallying to the agency’s defense and placing the blame on the company whose mine was being so disastrously investigated, but they see more concerned more with the government than the environment.
All those companies that have been heavily fined and whose executives have gone to jail for lesser contaminations surely didn’t intend to despoil the environment, after all, and we can reasonably assume that they also felt awful about it. The EPA’s apologists will likely argue that it was acting for the greater good, rather than than greed that motivates those nasty old miners, but we would note that mining industry also serves an essential and arguably more important service than the EPA and that the EPA’s employees are at least as well compensated and as a typical Colorado miner. The consequences of of governmental incompetence can be just as devastating as those of corporate incompetence, although usually more so, and deserve even harsher condemnation
When a corporation encounters one of those unfortunate things that can happen when you’re moving heavy machinery around toxic materials, there’s an EPA and a Justice Department and a Federal Bureau of Investigation and an environmental left around to make so those responsible are held to account, but if it’s the EPA and the federal government that’s spilling three million gallons of toxic waste into a river and turning it a sickly orange and the environmental left is rallying to its defense there’s no real incentive for them to avoid such screw-ups in the future.

— Bud Norman

Skyrockets in Flight

The past month, for all its many flaws, was at least easy on the utility bills around here. Although a stubborn winter persisted into the usual spring it did not require us to run the gas-fired furnace at any point, and the few days of high temperatures had us opening windows but not running the electrified air-conditioning, so our energy costs fora the billing period seemed almost reasonable. We plan to savor the satisfaction of writing those two-digit checks we sent off over the weekend, because summer will soon be sizzling on the plains and the Obama administration is intent on making our bills skyrocket.
You could be forgiven for having missed the news, given the media obsession with that five-dangerous-terrorists-for-a-deserter swap the administration had announced a day earlier, but new rules imposed by presidential fiat that will cause electric bills to skyrocket were trotted out by the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday. The stated reason for these new regulations is to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent over the next 16 years, which we are promised will save thousands of lives otherwise lost to asthma attacks and reduce the rate of employee absenteeism, as well as rescuing the earth from global warming and the sexual infidelity that it seems to be causing in the more affluent neighborhoods of south Florida, but we don’t doubt that it also will also cause our air-conditioning expenses during the inevitable prairie heat waves to skyrocket. We base this on the assurances of President Barack Obama himself, who was candid enough during his ’08 campaign to admit that “under my plan of a cap-and=trade system electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket”
You could be forgiven for having missed that quote during the ’08 presidential race, too, as Obama spoke it in a rare moment of candor to a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board that was not inclined to publicize the outrageous boast and instead left it embedded two or three clicks away on a web site where it seems to have gone unnoticed even by the McCain for President for campaign. This led to a President Obama appointing an Energy Secretary who desired that Americans pay as much for a gallon of gasoline as their over-charged European counterparts, which also went unmentioned by most of the media during those heady days of hope and change, but those who were paying acute attention understood that the price of staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer and getting around all year would skyrocket. It’s not cap–and-trade, which even the filibuster-proof Democratic Congress of ’08-to’10 wouldn’t dare pass, but it’s the closest Obama can come  given the the rapidly diminishing restrains of the constitutional system.
In a Memorial Day radio address that was also widely overlooked, President Obama said the newly-imposed carbon emissions would have a salutary effect on the American economy. The theory, as it’s been explained to us by the grandees of the liberal press and the hirsute hipsters who frequent the same dives we do, is that raising the cost of the most readily available and cost-effiicient sources will spur an economic boom in the the currently unaffordable sectors but politically well-cnnected sectors of the energy sector, but none of these arguments promise continued lower utility bills. The  bills will also be higher for everyone we buy things forms, and we’ll not be the only ones buying less of what everyone has to sell when they raise prices to pay for skyrocketing electricity bills, but anyone with an alternative-energy scam who has made the requisite campaign contributions should do well.
Sooner or later we’ll relent to turn on the air-conditioning, even if we’re the hardy types who wait  several days into that annual stretch of 100-plus temperatures, but we’ll take some satisfaction in the political repercussions. The EPA’s never-mind-Congress rules are likely to help Republican candidates in embattled Kentucky and by now rock- olid West Virginia and other parts of coal country, as well as Indiana and other states where 80 percent of the electrical air-conditioning comes from coal, and even in the safest Democratic districts it will be hard to blame those swelling utility bills on the Republicans. Arguing that global warming requires such expensive measures will be harder while simultaneously arguing that a harsh winter was the reason for that little noticed contraction the economy during the lat quarter, and when even National Public Radio and the America Broadcasting System and CNN are playing up the deserter angle on that five-dangerous-terrorists-for-a-deserter-swap it’s going to be hard to sell that higher-energy-costs-are-good-for-the economy claptrap.

— Bud Norman