Tag Archives: Pruitt

Something Amiss in AmazonLand

This may seem trivial in comparison with the latest Trump administration outrage, but given that he (and his right-hand grifter Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency) continues to do everything in his power, and not, to destroy the environment, it seems important to point out issues that can be solved by simple exercise of private willpower. When our leadership, with the apparent support of 90 percent of Republican voters, (per New York Times today) is committed to turning the world’s natural resources over to private exploitation, we must encourage every possible act of environmental offset as possible.

Thus, I note that I recently ordered from Amazon, my generally “preferred” online vendor of stuff, a set of five “button batteries.” They are each smaller than a dime, fit easily onto a small piece of cardboard, as shown in the featured photo above and hard to find now that Radio Shack is largely a thing of the past (the nearest “authorized dealer” is 66 miles from my apartment). They only cost $6.99 at Amazon so ….

The big deal here is that the card on which the batteries are set out measures 2.125 inches by 7.25 inches. The cardboard is thinner than the cardboard used in pressed and folded shirts (or used to be). As the photo shows, the box in which Amazon shipped this item was filled with 14 pockets of air-filled plastic to “protect” this piece of cardboard. The box in which it arrived, strapped with the usual Amazon-branded tape, measures 10.125 inches long by 7.125 inches wide by 5.25 inches high. That is, for those who have forgotten their math, is 378.74 cubic inches of container to hold a virtually indestructible item occupying just under .8 cubic inches of space.

Now, to be fair to Amazon, this item actually came from another supplier, like the bazillions of suppliers with which Amazon has contracts to provide its listed items directly to consumers. But, the costs of this excess packaging must inevitably be passed on to Amazon and thus ultimately on to the consumer. That’s bad enough, given the very limited choices I had to obtain this item, but the environmental costs of the waste inherent in this approach to distribution are also passed on to me and everyone else in ways we cannot detect but are necessarily quite real.

Amazon, as the big boy in this scenario, is responsible for the waste committed by its supplier community in fulfilling orders obtained by Amazon. There is a perverse incentive of some kind working here because it would be in the economic interest of the suppliers to save money on packaging. Amazon needs to decisively compel its suppliers to use the most efficient methods of packaging available. In the case of the button batteries, a small padded envelope would have sufficed.

Get the Popcorn Ready for July 2

Ars Technica reports (https://bit.ly/2kRp1y9) that a federal judge has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to provide documents on which Scott Pruitt, the Administrator of the agency, relied in stating, in March 2017, that carbon dioxide was not a major contributor to climate change. See https://bit.ly/2JowYWp Immediately after Pruitt’s statement, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed a Freedom of Information Act request for documents on which Pruitt relied in his conclusion which conflicts with the overwhelming consensus of scientific thought on the subject, including statements published by EPA itself before Pruitt assumed his position.

According to the Ars Technica report, the EPA refused the FOIA request and PEER sued the agency. On June 1, Beryl A. Howell, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a 19-page opinion ordering EPA to produce the documents by July 2 or explain why they can’t by July 11. https://bit.ly/2Jleztq

The opinion opens by observing that EPA’s own webpage contradicted Pruitt’s statement, yet “EPA has performed no search for and produced no records in response to the plaintiff’s FOIA request.” EPA stalled for over a year.

The judge would have none of EPA dissembling and stumbling attempts to shield the Administrator and avoid justifying the statements he made:

“Particularly troubling is the apparent premise of this agency challenge to the FOIA request, namely: that the evidentiary basis for a policy or factual statement by an agency head, including about the scientific factors contributing to climate change, is inherently unknowable. Such a premise runs directly counter to “an axiom of administrative law that an agency’s explanation of the basis for its decision must include ‘a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made,’” [case citations omitted] EPA’s strained attempt to raise an epistemological smokescreen will not work here to evade its obligations under the FOIA. [Opinion at 10]

In a major case of understatement, typical of judicial opinions, Judge Howell said:

“At the outset, EPA’s apparent concern about taking a position on climate change is puzzling since EPA has already taken a public position on the causes of climate change. The D.C. Circuit described as “substantial” the “body of scientific evidence marshaled by EPA,” which “scientific evidence of record included support for the proposition that greenhouse gases trap heat on earth that would otherwise dissipate into space; that this ‘greenhouse effect’ warms the climate; that human activity is contributing to increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases; and that the climate system is warming.”  [citations omitted]

And,

“EPA is construing the second part of the FOIA request far more broadly than the text supports in a thinly veiled effort to make the request more complex and burdensome than it is.”

And, finally,

“EPA has failed to demonstrate a viable legal basis for its refusal to conduct any search whatsoever in response to the plaintiff’s straightforward FOIA request. When the head of an agency makes a public statement that appears to contradict “the published research and conclusions of” that agency, Compl. ¶ 20, the FOIA provides a valuable tool for citizens to demand agency records providing any support, scientific or otherwise, for the pronouncement, and to oblige agencies to search for and produce any non-exempt responsive records. Compliance with such a request “would help ‘ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society.’”

If the EPA had devoted the time spent resisting the FOIA request on actually complying with it, the agency would have been finished with this matter long ago. Now the agency has been ordered to finish the search in a month and report shortly thereafter on remaining issues.

I cannot avoid the conclusion that the professional agency staff at EPA knows that the documents sought to support the Administrator’s claims re climate change simply don’t exist. They are doing what they can to protect Pruitt from himself, but Chief Judge Howell has seen through the smokescreen. Pruitt has no meaningful science or internal agency research to support his right-wing political position that, as his President and enabler Donald Trump would put it, “climate change is a hoax.” So, July 2, assuming EPA does not continue to resist by appealing to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, will be an interesting day of reckoning.

Why Are Pruitt’s Basketball Tickets Not a Bribe?

On June 3, the New York Times reported that Scott Pruitt was given access, allegedly at market value, to University of Kentucky basketball tickets in a section that is reserved for ticketholders who donated at least $1 million to the university. Other perks were attached to the tickets, including watching from the players’ entrance as the team entered the playing court. The “market value” apparently was $130 per ticket, paid in cash and there is no receipt. An email from the ill-named EPA Ethics Office approved the purchase in advance in the belief that it would be paid by check.

The seats belonged to Joseph W. Craft III, a coal executive who gave more than $2 million to the Trump presidential campaign. According to the NYT report, Craft met with Pruitt seven times or more during Pruitt’s first 14 months as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The “or more” results from the fact that the NYT has documents showing that Pruitt and Craft were scheduled to meet on two other occasions but, curiously, “officials would not confirm them.” The known and scheduled contacts occurred at meetings and speeches in Washington, Florida, Kentucky and Georgia.

As discussed at length in the NYT article, Craft has been aggressively pursuing the rollback of environmental restrictions on the coal industry. Pruitt, with the overt support of Donald Trump, has been happy to oblige, including, for example, repealing the Obama instituted Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and stopping enforcement of a rule prohibiting coal-powered plans from dumping toxic metals into rivers. The latter move was sought by a coal industry group on whose board Craft sits.

So, as you and your progeny experience worse air and water pollution and possible cancers and other adverse health consequences down the road, you have Scott Pruitt and Donald Trump to thank.

Returning to the main point of this post, I understand the notion that paying someone market value for an item can be seen as “not a gift” but a mere purchase like any other purchase. Clearly, when you buy something on Amazon, even at a discount from other available prices, no one would rationally argue that Amazon made a gift to you.

However, if you are exploiting a personal relationship with Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon, who is selling you an item at a market price but it is an item that cannot be bought anywhere else unless you are a person of similar economic standing and advantage as Bezos, that, in my view, is quite another matter. To put the obvious meat on that bone, if Bezos has tickets behind home plate for the World Series, and if Bezos wants something you have or you have the power to deliver or even materially influence on his behalf, it is clear, I suggest, that Bezos would have effectively bribed you by “selling” his World Series tickets to you, even if you paid full price. You could not have bought those tickets in the open market and, even if you could get them on, say, StubHub, it would be most efficient, not to mention friendly, to accept the offer from your pal, Jeff.

Here are the relevant elements of the basic federal bribery statute:

18 U.S. Code § 201 – Bribery of public officials and witnesses

(a) For the purpose of this section—

(1) the term “public official” means … an officer or employee or person acting for or on behalf of the United States, or any department, agency or branch of Government thereof ….;

(3) the term “official act” means any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy, which may at any time be pending, or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such official’s official capacity, or in such official’s place of trust or profit.

(b)Whoever—

(1) directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official… or offers or promises any public official to give anything of value to any other person or entity, with intent— [bold face emphasis added]

(A) to influence any official act; or

(B) to influence such public official… to commit or aid in committing, or collude in, or allow, any fraud, or make opportunity for the commission of any fraud, on the United States; or

(C) to induce such public official … to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official or person;

(2) being a public official … directly or indirectly, corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for: [bold face emphasis added]

(A) being influenced in the performance of any official act;

(B) being influenced to commit or aid in committing, or to collude in, or allow, any fraud, or make opportunity for the commission of any fraud, on the United States; or

(C) being induced to do or omit to do any act in violation of the official duty of such official or person;

(3) ….

(4) ….

shall be fined under this title or not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value whichever is greater, or imprisoned for not more than fifteen years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

(c)Whoever—

(1) otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty—

(A) directly or indirectly gives, offers, or promises anything of value to any public official … for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such public official … [bold face emphasis added] or

(B) being a public official … otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty, directly or indirectly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally for or because of any official act performed or to be performed by such official or person;

….

 (3) directly or indirectly, demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally for or because of the testimony under oath or affirmation given or to be given by such person as a witness upon any such trial, hearing, or other proceeding, or for or because of such person’s absence therefrom; [bold face emphasis added]

shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than two years, or both.

In case you’re wondering, 18 U.S, Code § 641 defines “value” as “face, par, or market value, or cost price, either wholesale or retail, whichever is greater.” The Department of Justice describes the two core sections of 18 U.S. Code § 201 as “bribes” versus “gratuities.” The critical difference is the lesser, but still significant, penalty for a “gratuity.”  https://bit.ly/2p2S0nU

I cannot claim expertise in the field of bribery of federal officials, but on the face of it, I do not understand how the sale, at any price, of restricted access tickets to a sports event is not the offer and acceptance of a thing of value and, in the obvious circumstances of this case and the relationship between Pruitt and Craft, therefore a bribe under 18 U.S. Code § 201. Add this to the long list of questionable actions by Pruitt, which have led to at least a dozen investigations into his conduct. I invite anyone with expertise in the area to enlighten me regarding how the sale of highly restricted sports tickets to the head of an agency that is being solicited to undertake acts in favor of the seller’s interests is not a bribe.

 

Scott Pruitt – Destroyer of Worlds

Do you know how many soldiers make up a platoon in the U.S. Army? While answers vary by source, there appears to be consensus around a size of 16 to 60 soldiers. Thus, the security detail demanded by Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s appointee as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, numbering at least 20 is the equivalent of having a full-time platoon of American soldiers for “protection.” Exactly what Pruitt is so afraid of remains an open question.

On the one hand, we have Pruitt stealing, in effect, from the public through a multitude of unjustifiable first-class trips, installation of a “secure phone booth” costing more than $40,000, and other over-the-top charges for his office rework. On the other hand (or is it the same hand?), we have a man who, before his appointment by Trump was firmly entrenched as a public official in Oklahoma with the industries seeking to exploit the environment for private gain, now using his federal office to further reward those same industries and companies.

Thinking of Pruitt’s tenure as EPA head brings to mind Robert Oppenheimer, a famous physicist who led the Los Alamos Laboratory and is credited, with others, as being the “father of the atomic bomb” for his role in the World War II Manhattan Project that created the first such bomb. After observing the test firing in New Mexico, Oppenheimer later said it drew to his mind the words from the ancient Hindu text, Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Pruitt, of course, appears to know little of science and to care nothing about it in any event. His worldview appears to be that Earth is here for one reason, the unlimited exploitation of its resources by mankind, through the vehicles of mining, logging, drilling, whatever it takes and wherever is desired. Thus, in the space of a little more than a year, Pruitt has:

  • spent millions on his personal around-the-clock security, including salaries ranging from $103,000 to nearly $162,000
  • slashed the working budget of EPA by about 30 percent;
  • claimed that threats against him have sky-rocketed, but there are no public reports of arrests or prosecutions;
  • flown on charter flights and first-class flights that included putting his security detail in first-class, with the excuse that being in first-class means they can exit the plane faster; when paying for his own travel, Pruitt flew coach;
  • rolled back auto fuel-efficiency rules;
  • promoted Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord;
  • directed payment of extraordinary bonuses of 30 & 52 percent to two close aides who joined him from Oklahoma;
  • taken adverse job actions against professional agency staff who questioned his spending/travel practices;
  • insisted that vehicles in his entourage use lights & sirens when moving through Washington streets to attend dinners;
  • rented a room from the wife of a lobbyist with business before the EPA;
  • denied, contrary to the evidence, that he authorized the excessive raises or that he approved the $43,000 installation of a sound-proof booth in his office, including biometric door locks and other security features more appropriate for a banana-republic dictator;
  • incurred frequent high-cost luxury accommodation charges, seeking approval after-the-fact;
  • accepted expense reimbursements from groups with business before the EPA;
  • rescinded, often with limited process, rules protecting the water, air and national parks, allowing uncontrolled exploitation of unique national resources without regard to the consequences.

In light of those and other legal/ethical lapses, the Washington Post has called for Pruitt’s firing, but Trump continues to support him because he is executing Trump’s plan to undo every environmental protection he can find. If there’s one thing Trump hates as much as exposure of his own corruption, it’s Obama-era environmental regulations. He wants them all gone and Pruitt is just the man to do his, and the exploitative industries’, bidding.

Pruitt is on par with the likes of Ben Carson, Trump’s appointed head of the Housing & Urban Development agency, for which Carson had zero qualifications, and Ryan Zinke, Trump’s appointed Secretary of the Interior, who repeatedly calls himself a “geologist,” based solely on having a college major in geology 34 years ago, and whose principal goal appears to be reducing the size of national parks so they can be exploited for minerals, oil and gas. Scott Pruitt sees his charge as clearing the way for unregulated commercial exploitation by private firms of the nation’s precious natural resources, including its clean water and air.

It is extremely unlikely that such a person would have been allowed to continue in office overseeing an agency whose legally established purpose is the exact opposite of Trump’s and Pruitt’s agenda. The Republican controlled Congress, however, continues to tolerate this situation and is thus complicit in the crimes against nature and humanity that this administration is perpetrating in the interest of enriching already wealthy corporations and individuals.

You have read it here before, but it bears repeating. We are facing a grave threat to our well-being as a people and as a country. Absent the bringing of criminal indictments and impeachment against Trump, the 2018 mid-term elections are the next real opportunity to regain the upper hand before it is too late. You should tell everyone you know that is capable of independent thought and reason why they must vote in November for Democrats, and why they must help others in need of assistance in getting to the polls and fulfilling their citizen responsibilities. This is not a drill.

Sources for this post: https://cnn.it/2vlJVOb; https://bit.ly/2J5LRwm; https://politi.co/2qD1hBg; https://wapo.st/2qFXBho; https://nyti.ms/2Eoc7iC;https://bit.ly/2JVc1De; https://bit.ly/2qfdACU; https://bzfd.it/2J6g0LZ; https://nyti.ms/2H40tiY; https://politi.co/2viE7F0.