Saving a Bit of Reality

Every successful politician has a persona, and unsuccessful ones do too. Richard Nixon will always be Tricky Dick. Dick Cheney will always be Darth Vader. Mitt Romney will always be Richie Rich. Sarah Palin will always be… well, Sarah Palin. She somehow became a parody of herself, although Tina Fey helped with that a bit. Saturday Night Live had done the same thing with Gerald Ford decades earlier – Chevy Chase as Ford was always falling down those stairs. Ford, a genial sort, found that amusing. He didn’t mind, but Sarah Palin didn’t feel the same way about Tina Fey. Something changed. Republicans used to have a sense of humor about themselves and their party, but maybe they still do – there’s Lindsey Graham, not afraid to use a bit of self-deprecating humor now and then. He’s not defensive. He can be fun – so perhaps the problem is this generation’s angry conservatives. Political affiliation and ideology are not the same things – the one is an association of convenience and the other an unshakable values-set. One does not joke about one’s values.

And then there’s Donald Trump, and Mark Leibovich notes Senator Al Franken’s curious observation:

“Donald Trump never laughs,” Al Franken said.

This was the senator’s first observation to me on a recent afternoon. It was exactly three weeks from the day the punch line became the president-elect. And Trump’s mysterious absence of laughter had never occurred to me before, even though I’d spoken to him a fair amount and he has lived pretty much nonstop in our faces for 18 months, no end in sight.

Franken, the second-term Democratic senator from Minnesota and, before that, a longtime writer and performer on “Saturday Night Live,” has studied this. He provided commentary for MSNBC at the Al Smith Dinner, the Catholic charity fund-raiser in October where presidential nominees engage in good-natured ribbing of themselves and each other (Trump mostly skipped the “good-natured” part and was booed). “I wanted to see if Trump laughed,” Franken said. “And he didn’t. He smiled, but didn’t laugh. I don’t know what it is.”

That is curious, but perhaps it’s that insecure vindictive men, with the means to be perpetually vindictive, at no real cost, don’t laugh. They don’t even laugh at others. They attack – but he’s certainly not self-righteously defending his unshakable values. No one really knows what those are, if he has any. But he is mean and nasty. He attacks. That may be why he won the election.

That’s his persona – the bully, now our bully, in contrast to Barack Obama. That would be No-Drama Obama – cool, calm and collected, and courteous, and maddeningly analytical. He’ll always be Spock, from Star Trek. He’s stuck with that, just as Rick Perry will always be the loveable goofball. Oops. That word will always be associated with him.

On the other hand, even if Donald Trump may have never laughed in his life. he does have a sense of humor:

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Rick Perry to head the Energy Department, said two people familiar with the decision, seeking to put the former Texas governor in control of an agency whose name he forgot during a presidential debate even as he vowed to abolish it.

Perry, who ran for president in the past two election cycles, is likely to shift the department away from renewable energy and toward fossil fuels, whose production he championed while serving as governor for 14 years.

With the new secretary of state being the CEO of ExxonMobil slumming it for a few years, this will be an oil administration, but there was that oops:

The Energy Department was central to the 2011 gaffe that helped end his first presidential bid. Declaring that he wanted to eliminate three federal agencies during a primary debate in Michigan, Perry then froze after mentioning the Commerce and Education departments. “The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

Everyone laughed – he was toast – but there was this recovery:

Speaking to reporters once the event was over, he said, “The bottom line is I may have forgotten energy, but I haven’t forgotten my conservative principles, and that’s what this campaign is really going to be about.”

There was no real campaign for him after that, and there may have been a misunderstanding about the agency whose name he forgot:

Despite its name, most of the Energy Department’s budget is devoted to maintaining the nation’s stockpile of nuclear warheads and to cleaning up nuclear waste at sites left by military weapons programs. The department runs the nation’s national laboratories, sets appliance standards and hands out grants and loan guarantees for basic research, solar cells, capturing carbon dioxide from coal combustion and more.

Coral Davenport adds detail:

While Texas is rich in energy resources and Mr. Perry is an enthusiastic advocate of extracting them, it is not clear how that experience would translate into leading what is also a major national security agency. Despite its name, the Department of Energy plays the leading role in designing nuclear weapons and in ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal through a constellation of scientific laboratories.

About 60 percent of the Energy Department’s budget is devoted to managing the National Nuclear Security Administration, which defines its mission as enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science.

The administration manages the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile and runs American programs on nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism. The two men who served as President Obama’s energy secretaries were physicists, one with a Nobel Prize, the other a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Oops. Nancy LeTourneau adds more detail:

Ernest Moniz, Obama’s most recent Sec. of Energy, played a major role in negotiating the particulars of the agreement with Iran about halting their nuclear weapons program. It was also under his leadership and that of his predecessor, Steven Chu, that this administration hosted four Global Summits on Nuclear Security that, among other things, resulted in the removal and/or disposition of over 3.2 metric tons of vulnerable highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium material and the complete removal of HEU from 12 countries – Austria, Chile, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Libya, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Romania, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam. It is also helpful to keep in mind that it was Sec. Chu who provided oversight to the team of scientists brought in to end the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Don’t expect that from Mister Oops:

With Rick Perry, we get someone who has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&M who served as Agriculture Secretary in Texas and then went on to be their Governor from 2000 – 2015. This is not to say that Perry’s credentials are insignificant. But when it comes to the job of securing nuclear weapons or preventing the Gulf of Mexico from becoming toxic due to an explosion over 4,000 feet under water, I doubt very seriously that he is up to the task. As much as any other unqualified nominee Trump has proposed, this one could be dangerous.

He was good on Dancing with the Stars – for what that’s worth – which may be not much:

Environmentalists take a dim view of Perry. The former governor has repeatedly questioned scientific findings that human activity is helping drive climate change. In 2011 during a presidential debate, he compared the minority of scientists who challenged this assumption to 17th-century astronomer Galileo, who was persecuted by the Catholic Church after suggesting that the Earth revolved around the Sun, rather than the reverse.

“The science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put Americans’ economy at jeopardy based on scientific theory that’s not settled yet to me is just nonsense,” Perry said at the time. “Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact. Galileo got outvoted for a spell.”

Yeah, he said that, and said this too:

In his 2010 book “Fed Up!” Perry described the science showing that climate change was underway and caused by humans as a “contrived phony mess,” writing that those who embraced this idea “know that we have been experiencing a cooling trend, that the complexities of the global atmosphere have often eluded the most sophisticated scientists, and that draconian policies with dire economic effects based on so-called science may not stand the test of time.”

“Al Gore is a prophet all right, a false prophet of a secular carbon cult, and now even moderate Democrats aren’t buying it,” he added, referring to the former vice president and environmentalist. Gore met with Trump recently to discuss climate change.

Add this:

Later, during the 2012 presidential campaign, Perry said, “There are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects.”

In fact, the top 10 hottest years on record have all been since 1998, and 2016 is expected to be the hottest year since formal record-keeping began in 1880. The 2014 summary report for policymakers by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was endorsed by officials from nearly 200 countries, stated, “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic [human caused] emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.”


“There is no doubt that Rick Perry is completely unfit to run an agency he sought to eliminate – and couldn’t even name. Perry is a climate change denier, opposes renewable energy even as it has boomed in Texas, and doesn’t even believe CO2 is a pollutant,” League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in a statement. “Not only that, he is deep in the pocket of Big Polluters, who have contributed over $2.5 million to his presidential campaigns, a disturbing sign that they expected him to protect their profits in office, not do what’s best for the American people.”

Oh, it’s worse than that:

Perry sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the firm that is trying to complete work on the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Great Plains. Under President Obama, the Army Corps of Engineers recently decided to withhold a key permit from the company that is needed to finish the oil pipeline. The pipeline has drawn protests from activists who say that segment of the pipeline would disturb American Indian burial grounds and pollute the drinking water of the nearby Indian reservation.

The Energy Department has no role in any of that, but the writing is on the wall. Lawrence Krauss, the director of the Origins Project at Arizona State and chair of the board of sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and on the board of the Federation of American Scientists, sees that writing on the wall:

If one way to undermine science is to mindlessly dispute its methods and findings, another is to deprive it of funding, which is what Bob Walker, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign on space policy, is advocating. Walker wants to defund NASA’s earth-science efforts, which he has characterized as “politically correct environmental monitoring.” As the astrophysicist Adam Frank explained recently, NASA’s earth-monitoring programs, which incorporate at least fifteen earth-science satellites, do more than investigate climate change; they provide data relevant to agriculture, shipping, medicine, and more. In fact, they are essential for understanding and forecasting weather – which is not to be confused with climate – including extreme weather events that threaten people’s lives. Shutting NASA out of that research prevents it from anticipating and predicting events with wide-ranging consequences.

Soon no one will know when a hurricane is heading their way? Oops. It might be nice to save a bit of reality in all this, and that’s the plan:

Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.

“Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” said Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, who over the weekend began copying government climate data onto a nongovernment server, where it will remain available to the public. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”

They have to plan for that:

Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists, argued that Trump has appointed a “band of climate conspiracy theorists” to run transition efforts at various agencies, along with nominees to lead them who share similar views.

“They have been salivating at the possibility of dismantling federal climate research programs for years. It’s not unreasonable to think they would want to take down the very data that they dispute,” Halpern said in an email. “There is a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared, and scientists are doing their best to be prepared. Scientists are right to preserve data and archive websites before those who want to dismantle federal climate change research programs storm the castle.”

To be clear, neither Trump nor his transition team has said the new administration plans to manipulate or curtail publicly available data. The transition team did not respond to a request for comment. But some scientists aren’t taking any chances.

Perhaps this is war:

At the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco, where more than 20,000 earth and climate scientists have swarmed the city’s biggest conference center this week, an air of gallows humor marked many conversations. Some young scientists said their biggest personal concern is funding for their research, much of which relies on support from NASA and other agencies.

“You just don’t know what’s coming,” said Adam Campbell, who studies the imperiled Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica.

But others also arrived at the meeting with a strengthened sense of resolve. Campbell was planning to join hundreds of other people at a rally Tuesday, organized in part by the activist group, encouraging researchers to “stand up for science.” “People have felt a call to arms,” Campbell said.

It is war, a war on science, and Joe Davidson reports on the resistance movement in the specific agency where Mister Oops, late of Dancing with the Stars, is about to foxtrot in and take over:

Global warming – “it’s a hoax.”

Donald Trump has said that more than once.

So it’s understandable that the request by the president-elect’s transition team for the names of individual Energy Department employees and contractors who worked on the issue makes them worry that the trick could be on them.

“There is major concern amongst my members,” said Jeff Eagan, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) chapter at the department’s headquarters building in Washington. He’s also a 17-year Energy employee but was speaking in his union capacity. “I have received lots of calls, emails, messages expressing shock and dismay.”

Dismay seems appropriate:

Given civil service protections, it’s not likely department employees would be fired for working on climate change. There is good reason for concern, however. Trump advisers have urged him to fire feds faster, and Energy staffers know that protections for senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs have been weakened. But firing isn’t the only way to punish people.

“A greater concern would be that selected employees could be marginalized, i.e., ignored, by new leadership at the department solely based on unfounded conjecture that those employees cannot be trusted by the new political team,” said John Palguta, a civil service expert with decades of federal government experience. “The consequences for contract employees could be greater if a future decision not to renew a contract is influenced by the same unsupported speculation.”

Given that, they decided to tell Donald Trump to go fuck himself:

On the question of providing names, Energy officials resolutely rejected the request, while reassuring workers.

“The Department of Energy received significant feedback from our workforce throughout the department, including the National Labs, following the release of the transition team’s questions. Some of the questions asked left many in our workforce unsettled,” said Eben Burnham-Snyder, a department spokesman. “Our career workforce, including our contractors and employees at our labs, comprise the backbone of DOE (Department of Energy) and the important work our department does to benefit the American people. We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department.

“We will be forthcoming with all publically-available information with the transition team. We will not be providing any individual names to the transition team.” Burnham-Snyder’s email had the last sentence in boldface for emphasis.

Rick Perry will find his new job harder than dancing with those b-list stars. These folks prefer reality, and meanwhile, in Congress:

“I am alarmed by the questionnaire sent by the Trump transition team to the Department of Energy seeking the names of career civil servants who have worked on climate change policy,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking Democrat in the House. “This raises serious concerns as to the motivation of such a request and raises questions of possible retribution for following President Obama’s policies.”

“This looks like a scare tactic to intimidate federal employees who are simply doing their jobs and following the facts,” added Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “I am sure there are a lot of career scientists and others who see this as a terrible message of fear and intimidation – ‘either ignore the science or we will come after you.'”

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) did not respond to a request for comment.

Perhaps there was nothing for him to say, because of the implications:

NTEU President Tony Reardon said his Energy Department members were “stunned” by the transition team request.

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr., who also represents Energy employees, warned against “a return to the political witch hunts of the 1950s. President-elect Trump must instruct his transition team to cease this profoundly anti-democratic behavior immediately.”

It’s easy enough to hear the central question at any upcoming hearings about this – “Are you now, or have you ever been, a climate scientist?”

We’ve heard such questions before. Joe McCarthy wasn’t a lovable goofball. That didn’t go well, and this is the same sort of thing – say nothing, hide the data, and name no names – don’t rat-out your friends. This time, however, this is about saving a bit of reality, if possible. And remember, Trump doesn’t laugh – and Rick Perry is a dangerous goofball.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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