Even Disguised, a Double-Barreled Shaft

Terry H. Schwadron

March 28, 2018

It’s bad enough when the government passes policy that’s just plain wrong.

We’ve seen in in such examples as trying to kill off Obamacare while promising a better health care system for all, or by pulling out of the Climate Accords.

But what we got yesterday was another double-barreled blast of government talk that just used language to try to cover up the real intent. That’s a double wrong — wrong on the policy, of course, but wrong on speaking in bureaucratic gobbledy-gook to explain in all as if the decisions were based on reason rather than partisanship.

I’m talking about separate Cabinet secretaries deciding to add a citizenship question to the U.S. Census that masquerades as a more accurate count while overlooking tax-paying undocumented workers and shifting the nation’s political balance, and another deciding that there are new definitions to “science” that will keep academic studies from representing acceptable evidence to justify clean air and water regulations.

I’m calling serious BS, as au courant expletive holds.

Both policy changes are wrong-headed and both will do measurable damage to the country. But adding insult to injury is the use of language that seeks to make each at least neutral, if not halfway reasoned.

As evidence that these efforts will churn up controversy, California was the first of several states, probably blue states, to sue the federal government over Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’s proposal to add the citizenship question, and academic scientific groups nationwide made clear that Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt does not understand what science is if he persists in his rule changes.

For myself, I see yet another in a continuing series of government moves that don’t even get the president’s desires done, that instead results in court cases that must intervene to divine with what Constitution all the president’s men were consulting when they came up with these proposals.

Let’s look at the two issues.

At the EPA, Pruitt is considering changing how it assesses scientific work to severely restrict the research used when drafting environmental regulations. Under the proposal, made public by The New York Times, the agency would no longer include scientific research unless the underlying raw data can be made public for other scientists and industry groups to examine, all in the name of “transparency,” according to the EPA.

In real life, The Times told us, that would have eliminated much of the most important environmental research in recent decades, including studies linking air pollution to premature deaths or work that measures human exposure to pesticides and chemicals. Those studies often rely on personal health information for thousands of individuals, who typically agree to participate only if the details of their lives are kept confidential.

So, scientists are saying that Pruitt is using such arguments, complete with good-sounding buzzwords about transparency, to undermine or eliminate much of the science that underpins modern environmental regulations. This is the same Pruitt who proposed a big public debate about Climate Change by “red” and “blue” teams who would argue the science as equals, as if there is such a thing.

Pruitt described the policy in an interview last week with The Daily Caller, a conservative news site. The proposal is based on legislation named the Honest and Open New E.P.A. Science Treatment Act, a bill that has failed to gain support in Congress for years despite having the support of the energy, manufacturing and chemical industries.

I prefer the Pruitt who steps up and just says forthrightly that he opposes regulations for corporations, to whom he has been turning to ask for input into what any regulation should say. I hate the results, but at least he takes responsibility. By contrast, this move is weasel-like.

In a Commerce Department memo, Ross, backed by the Justice Department, explained that reintroducing the citizenship question would offer better enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority population voting rights. Asking census respondents if they are citizens would help the government gather currently unavailable data on the population of people who are eligible to vote, the memo said.

The every-10-year-required Census mixes house visits and mailed surveys to produce a count that is used for distribution formulas for federal aid and programs, and as the basis for determining congressional districts. Simply put, including the citizenship question in 2020 will reduce response rates around the country among those immigrants who lack documents.

It is exactly that prospect of an undercount, particularly in states like California and New York, where there are an above-average number of immigrants, that is spurring legal action by state attorneys general. Political representation, power and federal dollars would be moved away from states with large immigrant populations to more rural, white districts nationwide.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra acted quickly in U.S. District Court to block the question from appearing on the census. “The Census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade. California simply has too much to lose for us to allow the Trump administration to botch this important decennial obligation.”

New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman cited the 14th Amendment and the enumeration clause of the Constitution as potential areas for legal challenges. “This move directly targets states like New York that have large, thriving immigrant populations — threatening billions of dollars in federal funding for New York as well as fair representation in Congress and the electoral college,” Schneiderman said.

Again, even though I’d hate to hear it, I would much prefer that Ross, U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and even the president just stand up and said honestly that they want all undocumented immigrants to leave. Let’s not pretend by listing Voter Act enforcement, which the Justice Department avoids in other areas, as lipstick on the immigration pig.

It could be me, but from where I sit, this Trump administration seems to have a bottomless barrel of bad policy ideas to pursue, all along the line of rewriting all lessons of history, culture, science, ethics, environment, civil rights and economics to justify policies that favor corporations and white, male privilege. Just come out and say it and don’t try to speak for me.





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