Recent Readings for Dec. 9, 2016

December 9, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 9, 2016

• “Trump has declined many intelligence briefings offered to him according to Senate aide.” Trump is meeting with plenty of potential political appointees and holding rallies as part of a “Thank you tour,” but he apparently doesn’t think intelligence should occupy very much of his time. Writes CBS News’s Rebecca Shabad: “Even during the campaign, there were reports that Trump was at odds with what intelligence officials briefed him on. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas[,] the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in late October that he told Mr. Trump that Russia was trying to influence the U.S. election through hacking, but he said Mr. Trump rejected that information.” As I tweeted (with a typo!), “It’s hard to escape the feeling that President-Elrct [sic] Donald Trump just isn’t interested in working hard.”

• “The Last Line Of Defense: Federal Bureaucrats Wait Nervously For Donald Trump.” Jessica Schulberg and Amanda Terkel take a deep dive into the anxieties of several (anonymous) federal employees who “often have decades of experience and institutional knowledge that the incoming administration will need to ensure that the federal government doesn’t fall apart under the leadership of new, sometimes inexperienced, political appointees.”

“[W]e’re worried that our president might actually turn out be to a fascist,” one Department of Labor employee says. A worker at the Defense Intelligence Agency says colleagues wonder, “Am I going to be an unwitting enabler of war crimes under this administration?” Says a Democrat in the Environmental Protection Agency (about which see below), “I would take George W. Bush any day over this.”

• “What’s Pushing Down U.S. Life Expectancy?” Dina Fine Maron over at Scientific American interviews Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, over newly released 2015 data. An uptick in flu cases may have had a widespread effect, Anderson explains: “The flu can impact other causes of death, and it can cause people with existing chronic conditions to die from those conditions. So someone with heart disease who gets the flu, that flu can precipitate a heart attack, or exacerbate existing chronic lung disease or many other things. For people who are very ill and may be hanging on, they can die sooner than they may have otherwise.” Anderson also notes that accidental suffocation, both in bed and otherwise, may be responsible for an increase in infant mortality.

• “Infant Mortality Rose 1.3% Last Year.” U.S. infant mortality for 2015 showed 589.5 deaths per 100,000 live births. This drew the eye of Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum:

Infant mortality in the US is already far higher than it is in the rest of the developed world. It’s under 450 in France, Germany, and Britain, for example, and under 350 in Italy, Japan, and Norway. The only OECD countries with higher infant mortality rates have per-capita incomes less than half ours.

To make things worse, the rate of infant mortality among blacks is double what it is among whites and Hispanics. It’s a horror story — and apparently it’s getting worse. How is this possible?

I wonder how many questions about this issue senators are going to ask U.S. Rep. Tom Price when they consider his nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

• “Paul Ryan: Trump Can Steal All He Wants As Long As I Get Tax Cuts.” Jonathan Chait of New York magazine assesses House Speaker Paul Ryan’s laissez faire approach to oversight of the next presidential administration:

Ryan does say he has “confidence” in Trump to avoid self-enrichment, which is a comical statement. Governments don’t run on trusting leaders to do the right thing when nobody is looking. They’re supposed to have mechanisms of accountability. And what president-elect has provided less grounds for confidence in his lack of pecuniary motive than Donald Trump? This is a man who has engaged in business with organized crime domestically, and with corrupt regimes abroad, who routinely refuses to pay money he owes, who has engaged in flagrant self-dealing, and who habitually lies about absolutely everything.

My reaction: “We’re going to have the best kleptocracy in the history of the world. Big league!”

• “Trump’s EPA Pick Is Skeptical of More Than Just Climate Change.” Dear Leader has nominated Oklahoma’s attorney general, Republican Scott Pruitt, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which President Richard Nixon created in 1970. As Robinson Meyer of The Altantic notes, “[W]hat distinguishes Pruitt’s career is not just his opposition to using regulation to tackle climate change, but his opposition to using regulation to tackle any environmental problem at all.”

• “Trump EPA Pick: States Have a Right to Spew Pollution but Not to Legalize Pot.” Some Republicans embrace federalism and small government only until the point where it clashes with their personal beliefs. Case in point: Scott Pruitt, nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Slate legal correspondent Mark Joseph Stern shares the details of a 2014 suit Pruitt mounted in response to Colorado’s legalization of marijuana:

Pruitt had routinely argued that Congress lacked the power to regulate pollutants within his state. He had also sued to block the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, asserting that Congress had no authority to make states expand their Medicaid programs. But now Pruitt claimed that Congress did have the power to commandeer Colorado’s state Legislature and demand that its lawmakers recriminalize marijuana. In fact, Pruitt declared that Congress had a legal requirement to intervene in Colorado’s political affairs and force the state to criminalize a certain substance because his state didn’t like it.

Stern also notes that some of the lawsuits that Pruitt filed against the EPA “were literally written by fossil fuel companies.”

• “A Watchdog Bites.” Speaking of Republicans who don’t consistently believe in small government, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s attempts to name a new board of trustees for the University of Louisville has resulted in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placing U of L on probation. In September, as Doug Lederman of Inside Higher Ed notes, a state judge “blocked Bevin’s attempt to reconstitute the board, saying it violated state law designed to insulate public institutions from partisan politics.”

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