Saturday, December 29, 2018

2018 was a tutorial in American attitudes and the battle for its soul

This morning, at Tucson.com (the online version of the Daily Star, we are told that Trump EPA orders rollback of Obama mercury regulations. True, but the print version has this as its front page headline: “EPA: Health benefits not worth cost of cleaning coal plants”. I take the print version as a better indicator of what we, as a nation, have become.

Human health vs. coal profits

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has targeted an Obama-era regulation credited with helping dramatically reduce toxic mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, saying the benefits to human health and the environment may not be worth the cost of the regulation.

Mercury causes brain damage, learning disabilities and other birth defects in children, among other harm. Coal power plants in this country are the largest single manmade source of mercury pollutants, which enters the food chain through fish and other items that people consume.

The proposal Friday from the Environmental Protection Agency challenges the basis for the Obama regulation. It calculates that the crackdown on mercury and other toxins from coal plants produced only a few million dollars a year in measurable health benefits and was not “appropriate and necessary” — a legal benchmark under the country’s landmark Clean Air Act.

It’s … the administration’s latest proposed move on behalf of the U.S. coal industry, which has been struggling in the face of competition from natural gas and other cheaper, cleaner forms of energy. The Trump administration in August proposed an overhaul for another Obama-era regulation that would have prodded electricity providers to get less of their energy from dirtier-burning coal plants.

Janet McCabe, a former air-quality official in the Obama administration’s EPA, called the proposal part of “the quiet dismantling of the regulatory framework” for the federal government’s environmental protections.

Coming one week into a government shutdown, and in the lull between Christmas and New Year, “this low-key announcement shouldn’t fool anyone — it is a big deal, with significant implications,” McCabe said.

School children lives vs. guns for all

That’s another way in which we as a nation have self-defined ourselves. I’ve posted extensively on how our society has come to tolerate dead school children as a cost for guns for all. This is an example from November 2017 - “MAGA: Murder by American Guns Again shows our society’s criminal culpability”. You can go to the SkyIslandScriber.com and search for “J’Accuse” for a listing of related posts.

Is there any hope for a society in which human health - and life itself - is on the chopping block when it comes to corporate profits? The answer is a very nuanced one.

This isn’t us - but it is

In 2018, that is, according to Leonard Pitts Jr. at the Miami Herald (reprinted in this morning’s Daily Star), calling 2018, the year we lost ourselves.

Sure, we mourned for John McCain and Aretha Franklin, for example.

But the signature loss of this year was neither personal nor public. No, 2018 will go down as the year we lost ourselves. Although, granted, we’ve been losing ourselves for a while now.

Americans cherish a self-image as a people who, while they may make a wrong turn here and there, are ultimately noble, ultimately compassionate, ultimately selfless and ultimately driven and defined by vision, values and verities that make us unique among nations.

[That was] back before we were a nation where survivors of a mass shooting were derided as “crisis actors.”

A nation whose president defends Russia and Saudi Arabia against the American intelligence community.

A nation where the government ignored a government report forecasting dire climate-change consequences.

A nation where Republicans commit voter suppression and other acts of political thuggery in plain sight.

A nation that used tear gas against children in diapers.

To that list Scriber adds: A nation that accepts more mercury in our foods? A nation that thinks piles of dead school children is a cost we must bear?

But Pitts sees some hope.

This was the year women ran for office in blockbuster numbers, as Democrats won the House, picked up red-state gubernatorial wins and served notice. Because for all the talk of a blue wave, this was actually a wave of youth, femininity and color as Democratic voters sent to Congress its first Native American and Muslim women and the youngest congresswoman ever, a 29-year-old Latina activist named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Yes, 2018 was also the year Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke lost their races in Georgia, Florida and Texas, respectively, but even in that, they electrified the electorate, fracturing the conventional wisdom that a progressive agenda cannot gain traction.

The aforementioned political thuggery suggests the GOP knows better. You don’t try to stop people from voting (as happened in Georgia and elsewhere) if you don’t think their candidates can win. You don’t strip winners of power (as happened with Wisconsin’s incoming Democratic governor and attorney general) if you don’t fear what that victory means.

So yes, conservatives understand what happened here, and it has them scared. Liberals must understand it, too. It will lend them hope. And hope, one hopes, will breed new activism and involvement, will help people who may not have considered politics before to realize that they have the ability and the responsibility to create government that looks like all of us and reflects the majority’s values.

[Bruce] Springsteen was right. It’s going to be a long walk home. But at least now, for the first time in a very long time, we seem to remember the way.

On Thursday, January 3rd, the new Congress will have a strong Democratic majority. And 2020 presents another opportunity to remember the way and to let our actions be guided by our better angels.

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