Roaming Charges: A Pruitt Runs Through It

Photo by Live Once Live Wild | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Live Once Live Wild | CC BY 2.0


Steve Bannon, the Trump Whisperer, sees his mission as the destruction of the administrative state. At a metaphorical level, one might precisely describe this project as a kind of bureaucratic strip-mining, where the internal viscera of federal agencies are extracted and the remains are left to subside in a heap of off-gassing toxic debris to poison whatever other federal workers remain in close proximity.

Target number one on Bannon’s hit list is the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency midwifed into being in 1970 by the most progressive president of the last 45 years, Richard M. Nixon, largely as a way to camouflage his own villainous pursuits. Recall that Nixon seemed to launch a new liberal initiative after nearly every illicit bombing run over Cambodia.

The EPA has long been viewed by the corporate right as a kind of rogue cop, prone to making uninvited no-knock raids on the mephitic operations of oil, coal and chemical companies. Protecting the environment is fine, as long as it doesn’t take a bite out of the bottom line. By the late 1970s, environmental regulations were enforced, often feebly, yet the EPA began to constrain the profits of the petro-chemical industry. This modest interference in the toxic trade would not be tolerated. The Agency’s days have been numbered ever since.

Bannon’s approach is to gut federal agencies from the inside-out: starve them for money, exile troublesome employees and infest the top offices with loyalists who view their own departments with disdain. To excavate the EPA, Bannon and Trump picked Scott Pruitt, who in his former post as Attorney General of the petro-state of Oklahoma, sued the agency 13 times. The briefs for many of these lawsuits were cribbed from policy papers written by lobbyists for the oil and gas industry—to save time no doubt.

Trump picking Pruitt to run the EPA is the equivalent Queen Elizabeth selecting Richard Dawkins, the apostle of atheism, to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury. He is now responsible for running the thing he despises most. Under Pruitt, the death of the EPA is likely to be a case of administrator-assisted suicide.

Pruitt, who is now under investigation in Oklahoma for lying about his use of a private email server for government work, has already made an oily imprint on the Agency in a few short weeks on the job. First, Pruitt, speaking in the molten drone of an Old Testament prophet, announced to the non-believers on the EPA staff his determination that–contrary to the paganistic conclusions of agency scientists–atmospheric “carbon dioxide” is neither a threat to human health (30,000 deaths a year per each degree of Celsius rising) nor a driver of global warming, if there is such a thing. (At this rate, the Trump Administration may soon re-classify carbon dioxide as a vegetable.)

Pruitt’s eyes dilate greedily at the prospect of removing any impediments to the pursuit of profit, thus his unrestrained excitement as he announced the President’s budget proposal, slashing funding for the already emaciated Agency by 31 percent.  One veteran EPA staffer told me that the reaction to the grim news among long-time employees was “like the scene in ‘Paper Chase’ when the law professor tells his class: ‘Look to the left, then look to right: one of you will be gone by the end of the year.’” She told me that the mood of the Agency, where she has worked as an air quality scientist for 25 years, most of it in The Region (aka, the decaying industrial zone of the Great Lakes), has never been more tense. “Pruitt wants most of us gone and replaced by oil industry mercenaries,” she said. A sinister new orthodoxy is descending over the EPA which will tolerate no dissent.

On the campaign trail, Trump prattled on and on about cracking down on crime. Apparently, this applies only to the kinds of pills you pop or weed you smoke. Apex predators, such as the oil and mining companies, are being freed to engage in unrestrained corporate “wildings,” as one regulation after another protecting people from poisoned air, water and food is abolished.  The latest example is Pruitt’s decision to reject a petition to ban Chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide that has been identified as a brain-melting neurotoxin linked to learning disabilities and memory loss.

Of course, the big prize came earlier this week when Trump invaded the EPA building to announce the end of the alleged War on Coal and the beginning of the War on Science, by signing executive orders that demolished President Obama’s rather timid and very tardy “clean power” agenda. Look at how big Trump’s signature was on those executive orders. It takes up half the page. The larger the scrawl, the more foul the con.

Trump surrounds himself with a mirthless crew, whose only jokes are made at the expense of others. On this day, the joke was on coal miners, that vanishing hard-working and cruelly-treated breed whose jobs Trump pledged to save. It was a bait-and-switch ploy, designed to feed the gluttonous tycoons of a dying industry that has abused the hills of Appalachia as savagely as it has its workers. These (increasingly non-union) miners, many of them battling black lung disease, and their families could be put to work for the next 10 generations remediating the damage from decades of unrestrained mining. Instead they are being offered a load of fool’s coal.

In trying to sell their sulfurous scheme, Trump and Pruitt wrapped themselves in one of the most pernicious oxymorons of our time: clean coal. But coal jobs aren’t coming back, no matter how easy Trump and Pruitt make it to blow up mountain-tops and bury hollows and valleys under piles of toxic detritus.

The age of coal is over. Trump’s cynical executive orders gutting relatively modest federal climate rules are merely a license to loot the wounded, maimed and dying.


Roaming Charges

+ Saudi Arabia has launched 90,000 airstrikes in Yemen since 26 March 2015. That’s 123 airstrikes every day, one every 12 minutes. (Weapons supplied by the US.)

+ The head of US Africa Command, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, is begging Trump to authorize offensive airstrikes on Somalia. Why more bang-bang against one of the poorest countries on the globe? If we don’t bomb now, Somalia may invade the US later…

+ The US State Dept. condemned the arrest of 100 protesters in Russia. I must have missed the department’s condemnation of the brutal treatment and arrest of Standing Rock protesters. Can someone please forward?

+ Anti-Iraq War President Trump, like his predecessor anti-Iraq War President Barack Obama, now brags about US forces “fighting in Iraq like never before.”

+ US airstrikes in Mosul killed more than 200 civilians. In its defense, the Pentagon claims, without a shred of evidence it must be admitted, that the women and children were being used as human shields by the bad hombres of ISIS. Maybe when Trump said he opposed the Iraq War, he was actually talking about “war.” Totally cool with killing 100s of civilians….

+ The Trump Administration is dropping human rights considerations as a precondition for arms sales to Bahrain. I can see the logic here. If you’re looking for a nation to bomb civilian targets on your behalf, why sell weapons to one that troubles itself about human rights?

+ Not so long Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg helped run a defense contractor called Cubic Global Defense, Inc, a company that Kellogg left in order to take the post of Trump’s chief of staff on the National Security Council. This week Kellogg’s former firm was awarded a $17.5 million contract to run a simulated war on North Korea.

+ Whenever there’s a “bi-partisan” investigation, you know there’s something really nefarious, usually involving an intelligence agency, that needs to be deeply buried.

+ It’s hard for the White House & GOP to whine with authenticity about privacy violations in the unmasking of names of Trump associates in NSA documents on the very same day they enacted a law giving away all of our browsing data…

+ Just how dumb is Rep. Devin “High” Nunes? He burned a highly sympathetic columnist, Eli Lake, by lying to him, a lie Nunes surely had to know was going to be unmasked within a few days. Lake shot back, fatally. (Lake, by the way, has raised important questions about domestic surveillance that few others are talking about.)

+ Just how dumb is Trump to want “High” Nunes leading his quickly unraveling cover-up?

+ Tim Kaine being Tim Kaine: “We can make health care better by lowering costs, improving the stability of the markets, & expanding access. GOP & Dems must work together.”  Sorry, Tim, “markets” and health care are antithetical…

+ Trump issued an executive order (which Obama waited until August 2016 to enact) this week abolishing federal anti-wage theft laws. Why? His blue-collar worker base begged him to?

+ Trump has spent 1 out of every 3 days since he’s been in office at one of his own properties: Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago or Trump International Golf Course in Virginia. This is how Trump goes to church.

+ Roger Daltry on HRC: “Let’s put it this way: when you say that middle America and the Democrats lost it, but Trump didn’t really win it — because Democrats threw it away by putting Hillary Clinton up. A dead dog would have won it against her.”

+ Roger Daltry on Trump: “His fucking haircut! He needs it cut and as my mother would say, ‘Wash your fucking mouth out.’”

+ Sen. Susan Collins, the mod Republican from Maine, inquired at the Senate Intelligence hearing on Thursday: “Were the Russians involved in Occupy Wall St.?” Of course they were, Susan, but in a less prominent way than their complete manipulation of the Standing Rock protests and Moonlight‘s shock win at the Oscars…

+ It looks like Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has been turned by the FBI. Wait until Tiffany snitches on Daddy…

+ Flynn in September 2016: “If you’re given immunity, it probably means you’ve committed a crime.”

+ I really feel deflated that Alexander Cockburn and Gore Vidal aren’t around to witness this singular moment in American politics. They would both be exultant at the prospects of both parties self-destructing simultaneously.

+ A report by the New America Foundation concludes that white Americans are the biggest domestic terrorist threat. This comes as no news to the Mohawk or Lakota, who know well that they always have been.

+ According to the FBI, white supremacists are infiltrating law enforcement agencies. Infiltrating? I thought law enforcement had been recruiting white supremacists since at least the days of the Slave Patrols?

+ Dick Cheney emerged from the shadows to pronounce his opinion that alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election might “be considered an act of war.” Clinton / Cheney 2020? Or perhaps Kamala Harris / Cheney 2020, since the new senator from California, a rising star in the dim firmament of the Democrats, favorably quoted Cheney’s “casus belli” remark during the Senate Intelligence hearings on the “Russian Connection©”…

+ I always read Justin Raimondo’s columns at This week Justin boldly asserted: “How stupid does the Birkenstock-wearing brain-dead bourgeois Democratic base have to be to fall for this Russian conspiracy crap? Pitiful.” Birkenstocks? More like Jimmy Choos….

+ Even the fanatically anti-Putin Masha Gessen thinks Dems & liberal media (MS-DNC) have gone off the Deep End….

+ Before he read Hegel, Engels or Marx, Lenin was radicalized by Goethe, Shakespeare and Pushkin. See Tariq Ali’s fascinating account of the young Volodya’s literary bookshelf.

+ Gallup, Presidential Favorability Ratings:

Nixon Watergate Hearings – 36%
GW Bush post Katrina – 40%
Reagan during Iran/Contra – 46%
Ford pardons Nixon – 50%
Trump today – 35%

+ Carly Fiorina is now calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the “Russia Connection TM”. Blowback for Trump saying “Look at that face!

+ The whale-killing season will begin in Norway on April 1st. Over the next few weeks, 900 whales will be killed, 90 percent of them female, most of those pregnant. If the slaughter of pregnant whales doesn’t curdle your conscience, what will?

+ Ezra Klein on the prospects for passing Trumpcare: “Paul Ryan is good at this kind of thing.” To be a world-class commentator, like his idol David Gergen, Ezra has to state the obvious over and over again without ever letting reality intrude.

+ Apparently more and more impoverished rural Americans, destitute and jobless, are filing disability claims to get them through the misery of long-term unemployment. Wait until Trump cuts off their disability checks to finance his border wall or makes them piss into a drug test tube to cash them…

+ For years, people have said that “Coke tastes like shit.” Finally we know why.

+ Still bitter over the fact that she lost her position as head of the DNC after she was exposed sabotaging Bernie Sanders’ campaign, Debbie Wasserman Schultz lashed out at Sanders this week, claiming ridiculously that “the Democrats are already a grassroots party.” Debbie, your roots are showing. Time for another dye-job.

+ In order to fulfill a Trump/Pence PR scam, the cash-strapped State of Indiana just forked over $7 million to Carrier, a reward for killing 1,500 jobs. That’s how corporate welfare works in God’s Country.

+ Forget Pizzagate, TSA is the real perpetrator of legalized child molestation

+ Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is now threatening to end all federal funds to police forces in sanctuary cities. This would a salutary move by Sessions, especially if it also ends funding for the Gestapo-like “Joint Terrorism Task Forces.”

+ The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental “Protection” is suing two small towns that banned the drilling of fracking water wells. The message: you either agree to poison yourselves or goddammit we’ll do it for you…

+ Speaking of child abuse, Huma Abedin is reportedly considering a reunion with her disgraced husband Anthony Weiner, who engaged in a sexting exchange with a young woman while his young son sat on the bed. Huma can’t help herself. She’s a Democrat. They always return to failed strategies, like this one: Democrats Double-Down on Suburban Mom Strategy that Doomed HRC Campaign…

+ Four out of five kids in Oklahoma City apparently can’t read time by the hands on analog clocks. Don’t fret. Betsy DeVos will fix this appalling situation by forcing all schools to use digital clocks! As my friend Geoff Kirk noted it’s all about keeping the kids safe. “Real bloodbath potential when you say, ‘Look out! Grizzly at 11 o’clock’ to a group of young students.”

+ Thomas Hodgson, Sheriff of Bristol County in Massachusetts, has called for the arrest of leaders of Sanctuary Cities. I feel conflicted about this. Certainly many mayors deserve to be arrested, but not for protecting undocumented immigrants.

+The anonymous punks of smear at ProporNot have now started throwing slanderous mud at Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, demanding that their stenographers at the Washington Post investigate whether Taibbi is “receiving Russian money.” If the Post wants to rehabilitate its own tattered credibility, it should instead reveal the source of PropOrNot’s funding.

+ Mike Pence has vowed never to dine alone with a woman other than his wife. That must explain the male-only meeting on the future of Planned Parenthood chaired by Pence. There is some speculation that Pence was placed on marital parole after attending a party in the FoxNews room

+ Trump has no detectable sense of humor. So it’s hard to tell if he’s joking, as in this quip on Friday during the presser on “trade crimes”: “I will tell you one thing, [Pence] has one hell of a good marriage going.” Pence cringed, but then he cringes at everything.

+ Sean Spicer’s press briefings are beginning to resemble gestalt sessions on the psych ward. Randle Patrick McMurphy where are you?

+ I was pleasantly reading a relatively informative piece on the legal definition of “Civil War” then skidded to a stop at this sentence: “David Armitage, the Lloyd C. Blankfein Professor of History at Harvard…”

+ Speaking of stopping in mid-sentence, there was a perfectly bland profile of Steve Bannon’s 25-year old mercenary Julia Hahn (now a special assistant to the President)  in the Washington Post, which contained this description of one the cruelest purveyors of global economic misery:  “It’s fair to say that nothing about Hahn’s time at Harvard-Westlake, a top prep school in Los Angeles, nor at the University of Chicago, one of higher ed’s great temples of liberalism…”

+ For the first time in 100 years, a wolf has been sighted in Nevada. Roam wild, buddy, but watch your ass, they’ll be gunning for you.

+ Stephen King’s It was one of the five scariest books I’ve ever read, along with Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Clive Barker’s Damnation Game, Tom Holland’s Lord of the Dead (featuring Byron as a very temperamental vampire) and, of course, In My Time by Dick Cheney. Whether the long-awaited film stacks up remains to be seen…

+ Gregory Corso:

I am a great American
I am almost nationalistic about it!
I love America like a madness!
But I am afraid to return to America
I’m even afraid to go into the American Express

—(From “The American Way”)

+ In today’s edition of CounterPunch, Peter Stone Brown digs into Triplicate, Bob Dylan’s latest excursion into American standards. I find these albums incredibly tedious, but Stone makes the point that perhaps Dylan is doing a kind of penance for helping to (almost) exterminate this kind of music in the 60s. Still I’d rather hear Dexter Gordon deconstruct “As Time Goes By” than Dylan, who might be better served going back to the great American songbook written in the roadhouses of the Delta in the 20s and 30s.

+ I’ve always loved the Texas blues queen Ruthie Foster. Now I love her even more….

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative by Florence Williams
Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week…

Live in Paris  by Sleater-Kinney
Got Soul by Robert Randolph & the Family Band
Tipico by Miguel Zenon
My Foolish Heart by Ralph Towner
Northern Passages by The Sadies

How It Is

Jeanette Winterson: “So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is.”

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3