Empowering the monkey-man

We know that the American political arena is a difficult one. And while shutting off microphones in an attempt to silence opposition is not a tactic confined merely to the FOX News crowd, what is the Beltway equivalent of covering one’s ears, shutting the eyes tightly, and singing “La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la Mary had a little lamb little lamb little lamb!”

Welcome to the Bush White House. (What? Like you didn’t see that one coming?)

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.

The document, which ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status, was the E.P.A.’s answer to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required it to determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment, the officials said.

This week, more than six months later, the E.P.A. is set to respond to that order by releasing a watered-down version of the original proposal that offers no conclusion. Instead, the document reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.

Felicity Barringer reports for the New York Times that the administration has successfully pressured the EPA to drop large sections of its original report, including the assertion that strict regulation of motor vehicle emissions could produce between a half- and two trillion dollars in economic benefits over the next three decades.

Both documents, as prepared by the E.P.A., “showed that the Clean Air Act can work for certain sectors of the economy, to reduce greenhouse gases,” one of the senior E.P.A. officials said. “That’s not what the administration wants to show. They want to show that the Clean Air Act can’t work.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto, when asked about the differences between the reports, said, “It’s the E.P.A. that determines what analysis it wants to make available”.

Yet it is hard to take the word of an administration so broadly accused of tampering with scientific perspectives and results for purely political motivations. Indeed, the EPA determines what analysis it wants to make available, but what is the basis of its want?

White House pressure to ignore or edit the E.P.A.’s climate-change findings led to the resignation of one agency official earlier this month: Jason Burnett, the associate deputy administrator. Mr. Burnett, a political appointee with broad authority over climate-change regulations, said in an interview that he had resigned because “no more constructive work could be done” on the agency’s response to the Supreme Court.

He added, “The next administration will have to face what this one did not.”

Soothsayers are not required to predict this future. A best-case scenario requires any number of irresponsible presuppositions. For instance, would President Obama be enough of a political wizard to bestow some sort of courage unto a scarecrow Democratic Congress more prone to use their majority to pander to special interests than voters, or even abstract principles? If House Democrats are willing to hand immunity to lawbreaking telecoms and join the Bush administration’s siege against the Constitution for a few thousand dollars here and there, can we really expect them to stand up to the heavy-hitting heavy polluters? And what of Obama himself? His reversal on the FISA “overhaul” and retroactive immunity leaves us to wonder whether he will stand for the environment or the industry, the future or the now.

The next administration may well have to face what this one did not, but there is no guarantee that it will face the issue responsibly. There’s always room for Jell-O and, slouching toward extinction, there is always time to put off until tomorrow what seems politically inconvenient today.

Last year I deigned to lecture Elton John about certain ludicrous remarks he’d made in one or another English tabloid. Beneath the ridiculous extremity of his suggestions, though, was a valid concern about the lack of public demonstration. And while contributing factors are myriad, the truth is that the next administration ought to face large, frequent, and even raucous and disobedient protests in the streets. We, the people, must make our voices heard. Because, quite clearly, the 2006 election giving the Democrats a Congressional majority certainly wasn’t enough. Are the Democrats waiting for President Obama and a supermajority? Are they waiting for the people to stand up and make the point? What kind of gambles are these? Certainly, they are safe. The Democratic party may well be comfortable gambling on a President Obama. And perhaps they are not so foolish to try to ride public discontent with the GOP to a cloture majority in the Senate, but how long can they expect the people to wait? Indeed, how long can the people wait?

Doubtless, it is discouraging to observe the behavior of the Bush administration. And certainly, the lesson of the WTO and World Bank/IMF protests is that riots only compel the broader American public to lend sympathy to the Devil, but while the President has gotten away with ignoring any voice of opposition, we ought not pretend that the Democrats have not been taking notes. Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi have tried to justify their “compromise” over FISA and immunity; Barack Obama has rolled on the issue. And right now they have the example of a President playing “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”, and the only thing he has to do to pull that off, apparently, is not bother opening his e-mail.

We get what we deserve. And, to borrow a tired hyperbole, our children will get what we deserve. Don’t be fooled. It really has gotten this ridiculous. In what universe, save one of our own making, could someone say they were never told, and the reason they were never told is because they refused to open the goddamn e-mail?

The problem is that we cannot do the same. We cannot shut our eyes, plug our ears, and mutter endlessly, “This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening.”

Because it is. And it’s long past time we did something about it.

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