Sunday, June 16, 2019

Last Call For He Blinded Science With Me

The autocratic purge of civilian science advisers from the US federal government has now gone into overdrive as the Trump regime is cutting federal agency advisory boards by at least one-third and probably by a lot more.

President Trump is directing all agencies to cut their advisory boards by “at least” one third.

The executive order issued Friday evening directs all federal agencies to “evaluate the need” for each of their current advisory committees.

The order gives agencies until Sept. 30 to terminate, at a minimum, one-third of their committees.

Committees that qualify for the chopping block include those that have completed their objective, had their work taken up by other panels or where the subject matter has “become obsolete.”

Another defining factor listed includes whether the agency itself has determined that the cost of operating the agency is “excessive in relation to the benefits to the Federal Government.”

Critics say the order is another administration attack on experts who provide scientific advice.

“For the past two years they have been shrinking and restricting the role of federal science advisory committees,” Gretchen Goldman, the research director with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “Now they’re removing the possibility of even making decisions based on robust science advice. It's no longer death by a thousand cuts. It's taking a knife to the jugular.”

There are an average of 1,000 advisory committees with more than 60,000 members, according to data from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), that cover a range of topics including disposal of high-level nuclear waste, the depletion of atmospheric ozone, addressing AIDS and improving schools.

They are often filled by people considered to be at the top of their fields who can provide important technical advice, and GSA said the boards and committees “have played an important role in shaping programs and policies of the federal government from the earliest days of the Republic.”

Friday’s order is the most dramatic step in the Trump administration’s escalating pushback to the advisory committees.

Getting rid of at least 20,000 experts in various fields is a guaranteed path towards a government that doesn't work, which is exactly what Trump wants in order to claim then that only he, Dear Leader, is qualified to run all aspects of the country.   Besides, Republicans don't want experts, they want lackeys.

The Return Of Revenge Of The Son Of Shutdown Countdown

The 2019 budget fight is fast approaching, and Senate Republicans and the Trump regime simply do not know how to handle House Democrats having the power of the purse strings.

Senate Republicans and the Trump administration are struggling to reach an agreement on a path forward on critical budget and spending issues, threatening not only another government shutdown and deep spending cuts but a federal default that could hit the economy hard. 
GOP leaders have spent months cajoling President Trump in favor of a bipartisan budget deal that would fund the government and raise the limit on federal borrowing this fall, but their efforts have yet to produce a deal. And the uncertain path forward was underscored a few days ago at the Capitol, when a budget meeting between key Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and senior White House officials left out Democrats, whose votes will be imperative to avoid a shutdown and an economy-shaking breach of the federal debt limit. 
“We’re negotiating with ourselves right now,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.). “The president, the administration, has some views, maybe, that are a little different sometimes than the Senate Republicans have. So we’re trying to see if we can be together as best we can.” 
The GOP dysfunction — coupled with a new House Democratic majority with its own priorities — leaves the sides much farther apart than they were at this point in last year’s budget process, which ended in a record-long government funding lapse. At the time, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, but negotiations stalled over funding Trump’s immigration priorities. 
Trump and Congress face a trio of difficult budget issues. Congress must pass, and Trump must sign, funding legislation by Oct. 1 to avoid a new shutdown. They need to raise the federal debt limit around the same time, according to the latest estimates. Failure to do so would force the government to make difficult decisions about which obligations to pay, and could be considered a default by investors, shaking markets and an economy already showing some signs of alarm.  And by year’s end, they also need to agree on how to lift austere budget caps that will otherwise snap into place and slash $125 billion from domestic and military programs. 
Senate Republicans and the administration thus far have not agreed on how to proceed on any of the issues, making it all but impossible for them to enter into substantive negotiations with Democrats. That has left the Capitol in a state of suspension over what the coming months will hold. 
“True to form, Congress and the White House seem to be intent on waiting until the absolute last minute to address all these issues that we’ve known about,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “Basically everything they could do wrong, they are doing wrong.” 
Tensions between key Senate Republicans and White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney have been on display for months, and GOP lawmakers and aides partially blame that frayed relationship for the halting pace of talks. Mulvaney was a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus before he joined the administration, first as White House budget director before becoming acting chief of staff, and he has advocated dramatic spending cuts opposed by lawmakers of both parties. 
Mulvaney has been slow to come around to the need for a bipartisan budget deal that would raise domestic and military spending caps, even after McConnell met privately with Trump last month and got the president’s blessing to proceed with such a deal, said a senior GOP Senate aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

In other words, absolutely count on a government shutdown this fall.  The only question is how long it will be, and how much damage Republicans will do to an already weakening economy.

Sunday Long Read: A Syria's Catastrophe

Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer goes to Syria to cover the civil war there for this week's Sunday Long Read, an indispensable piece on the bloody whirlwind that is the enduring humanitarian catastrophe of our generation. Twelve million refugees, a half-million dead, and a Byzantine proxy war mess that has irrevocably changed Middle Eastern politics and history forever, and most Americans simply don't have a clue.

There are four main types of Americans fighting on the ground in Syria: special forces soldiers, CIA agents, Islamic extremists, and anarchists. As I putter in a motorboat across the Tigris River one afternoon in May 2018, I have no idea which of these, if any, I will encounter in the weeks ahead. The Pentagon already told me I couldn’t tag along with its troops; the CIA doesn’t publicly admit to having anything to do with Syria; the extremists would be happy to see me dead; and the anarchists tend to be cautious about tipping off the feds that they are fighting in a foreign country.

I disembark with a handful of locals and walk up a gravelly slope to a small shack. Iraq, which I just came from, is on the opposite side of the river. Turkey is not far upstream. A man with a wrinkled, sun-worn face and an AK-47 asks for our passports.

I don’t have a visa. One month after I submitted my application for one, the Syrian government dropped a chemical bomb on a building in Ghouta, outside Damascus. The United Nations said it killed 49 civilians, including 11 children. As I was waiting for a decision, President Donald Trump tweeted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—“Animal Assad”—would pay a “big price” for the attack. Less than a week later, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France bombed several research and military buildings. The Syrian Embassy in Beirut emailed me shortly afterward: “We want to inform you that your visa request has been rejected due to the lack of objectivity in the reports approaching the Syrian crisis.”

But this border crossing isn’t controlled by the Assad government. It’s controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of militias backed by the United States and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. The SDF currently controls about 25 percent of Syria, an area known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. The area encompasses largely Arab regions as well as most of the predominantly Kurdish region Rojava. Most of the roughly 2,000 US special operations troops in Syria are based in the region, spread across about a dozen bases.

As the Kurdish border guard with the AK flips through my passport, his face brightens. “Are you American?” he asks. “You are holy to us! The Kurdish people love Americans!” He lights a cigarette and takes a drag. “If it was up to us, we wouldn’t let the Americans leave,” he says. “They would stay here forever.” He tells me Turkish troops occasionally fire mortars at their position, small reminders of what awaits if US forces withdraw.

“Will they leave us?” another man asks me. He is Arab.

“It’s not clear,” I say. Five weeks earlier, Trump had announced he was pulling all US troops out of Syria “very soon,” but he’d walked back his statement a few days later. It wouldn’t be the last time he would do so.

“Maybe they will leave,” the Arab man says.

“No!” exclaims the wrinkled border guard.

“We have oil, so much oil,” the Arab says. “Let them stay and take the oil.”

“If American and Western companies—not Russian companies!—came and explored the region, they’d find more oil than Iraq,” the Kurd says. “There is oil, there is gas, there is phosphorus, whatever you want!” A chorus of birds rises with the waning heat. “We do whatever the coalition tells us to do. Directly! If it wasn’t for the coalition, we wouldn’t be here.” Assad, Turkey, what’s left of the Islamic State, and many of the rebel groups that were armed and trained by the CIA want to see the end of this breakaway territory. “If someone defends you, aren’t you going to give your life and your children’s lives to him? That’s the law of the universe, my brother.

I've been digesting this piece since Wednesday and I have to say it's one of the best things I've read in years, this is Pulitzer-quality stuff here and while I often say "Read the whole thing" this is one time where I believe it's in your vital interests to do so.
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