Oklahoma

The Pruitt Watch (Peat Fire)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

While the idea of a rioting dumpster fire experienced brief vogue among media commentators trying to describe the Donald Trump presidency, the slowburning, filthy corruption of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to describe something akin to a peat fire. The lede from the New York Times:

Since moving to Washington, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has attracted the attention of federal investigators because of his unusual association with lobbyists, including his rental of a condominium last year owned by the wife of a lobbyist with business before the E.P.A.

As a state senator in Oklahoma 15 years ago, Mr. Pruitt went even further: He bought a home in the state capital with a registered lobbyist who was pushing for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation rules—changes that Mr. Pruitt championed in the legislature.

And as with the condominium rental in Washington, Mr. Pruitt never publicly disclosed his financial relationship with the lobbyist, who, like Mr. Pruitt, lived in the home when in Oklahoma City on business.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)But if for some reason the Pruitt Watch seems frustrating, or even verges toward incomprehensible, perhaps the striking report from The Atlantic suggests a flashpoint:

As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a seemingly endless stream of scandal, his team is scrambling to divert the spotlight to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And the White House isn’t happy about it.:

In the last week, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic.

“This did not happen, and it’s categorically false,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.

To the other, an unnamed White House official claiming knowledge of the situation explained: “Absolutely nothing Scott Pruitt did would surprise me.” And, yes, that last might as well include, the prospect of the EPA Administrator simply persisting and enduring, though the article did not.

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Thoroughly and Properly Out of Control

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This is thoroughly and properly out of control.

First up—

A third top EPA official is leaving the agency amid intensifying scrutiny of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s travel, spending and condo rental.

Associate Administrator Liz Bowman, the top public affairs official at the Environmental Protection Agency, is leaving to become a spokeswoman for Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa.

Bloomberg reports on the third high-ranking departure from Scott Pruitt’s EPA this week. Liz Bowman came to the agency from a trade group called the American Chemistry Council, which in turn hires lobbyists on behalf of chemical manufacturers such as Dow, BASF, and Monsanto.

CNN adds particular detail from “a source close to Bowman”—

Bowman is the third top EPA official to leave the agency this week, following the resignation of Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, who headed Pruitt’s security detail, and Albert “Kell” Kelly, an Oklahoma business associate of Pruitt who led the agency’s superfund cleanup program. Unlike Bowman, both men had come under scrutiny for their role in the scandals swirling around Pruitt.

The source said she is leaving because she has two small children and wants to be able to spend more time with them.

—and postures what seems an obvious contrast. Another source, from EPA, pointed to the growing cascade of scandals, “said Bowman ‘broke her back trying to fight these stories the last few months'”.

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The Pruitt Watch (#swamped)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Photo: Jason Andrew/Getty Images)

The list from Steve Benen might, ‘twixt now and Monday, have become obsolete; it’s hard to tell, some days.

1. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s controversial travel habits.

2. The House Oversight Committee is also exploring the EPA chief’s use of public funds for first-class travel.

3. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s behind-the-scenes talks with the National Mining Association.

4. Pruitt’s exorbitant spending on an around-the-clock security detail is the subject of three inspector general investigations.

5. The House Oversight Committee is also examining the EPA chief’s security expenditures.

6. The Government Accountability Office has already investigated Pruitt for exceeding federal spending limits when he bought a $43,000 phone booth for his office.

7. The White House Office of Management and Budget is also investigating the phone booth.

8. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s use of funds set aside for the Safe Drinking Water Act and diverting the money to give generous raises to two of his top aides.

9. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s four-day trip to Morocco late last year.

10. The Government Accountability Office is investigating Pruitt’s ouster of scientists from the EPA’s science advisory committee.

11. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether Pruitt broke lobbying laws with comments he made to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.

12. The House Oversight Committee is investigating Pruitt’s living arrangement at a lobbyist’s condo.

13. And as noted above, the EPA’s inspector general is now also taking a closer look at Pruitt’s time at that condo.

Before the day was out, the msnbc blogger found himself adding to the list, sort of, noting a “controversy that should become the 14th” in a Reuters report describing a financial hardship waiver Pruitt’s EPA granted to an Oklahoma facility for a company owned by former Trump administration hand Carl Icahn:

The waiver enables Icahn’s CVR Energy Inc (CVI.N) to avoid tens of millions of dollars in costs related to the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The regulation is meant to cut air pollution, reduce petroleum imports and support corn farmers by requiring refiners to mix billions of gallons of biofuels into the nation’s gasoline and diesel each year.

And it does, you know, just keep going downhill.

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The Republican Character (Even More Fuckless)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This is unsurprising, though perhaps saying so risks overstating the point. Via Washington Post:

The EPA inspector general’s office announced in August that it had opened an inquiry into Pruitt’s frequent travel to his home state of Oklahoma. The internal watchdog at the time said its investigation was triggered by “congressional requests and a hotline complaint, all of which expressed concerns about Administrator Pruitt’s travel—primarily his frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayer expense.”

The probe was triggered in part by findings from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group that detailed through public records that Pruitt had spent nearly half of the days in March, April and May in Oklahoma. Initially, EPA investigators said they planned to audit Pruitt’s travel records, as well as those of his security and top aides, through the end of July.

But on Friday, the inspector general’s office said it would expand that inquiry to include all of Pruitt’s travel through the end of September, and not just trips to Oklahoma.

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Death and the Natural State

VIII. Adjustment.

This is the setup: The state of Arkansas wishes to execute eight people over the course of ten days in four doubleheaders of death overseen by a prisons regime that has never executed anyone at all, using drugs the state has never used before and have shown grotesquely problematic in neighboring Oklahoma, are about to expire, and, according to the manufacturers, do not appear to have been acquired legitimately. Rachel Maddow offered a six and a half minute overview last week.

That would have been Thursday evening. Friday and Saturday saw the whole plan come apart, with one execution stayed at least temporarily, and then a temporary restraining order against one of the intended execution drugs, compelling a federal court to halt all eight executions. This is Arkansas, though; NBC News brings the latest:

Lawyers for the Arkansas attorney general’s office worked feverishly on Saturday in an attempt to dismantle road blocks in the way of a historic spate of executions temporarily halted by court rulings.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson had ordered the execution of eight men over 10 days because one of the state’s lethal injection drugs was set to expire at the end of the month, but a series of court rulings Friday and early Saturday put that schedule in jeopardy.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge made it clear the state was unwilling to concede.

The former Land of Opportunity, naturally, is very much distressed that the courts should meddle with its opportunity excuse for homicidal spectacle.

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A Note on Politics and Accountability (NRA Responsible Rhetoric Remix)

Congressional candidate and Nevada Assemblyman John Oceguera (D-16).

One of the wilder variables in the American political discourse is figuring out just how inappropriate any given impropriety actually is, which in functional terms translates to just how wrong or outrageous the marektplace―citizens and voters―will deem any particular words or conduct. Alice Ollstein of ThinkProgress offers a tale that brings this seeming bit of superficiality into some reasonable degree of focus:

Just a few hours after congressional candidate John Oceguera announced he was terminating his lifetime membership with the National Rifle Association, the angry comments began flooding his inbox and Facebook page, calling him, among other slurs, a “pussy traitor,” “kool aid-drinking zombie,” and “libtard.”

“May be [sic] he can get an endorsement from the Muslim brotherhood?” mused one commentator, while another advised, “Castrate yourself.”

Sitting in his office on the western edge of Las Vegas, the former Nevada Assembly Speaker and Democratic candidate for Congress told ThinkProgress that the “vitriolic” reaction has only strengthened his resolve.

“The NRA does a lot of good things, like with hunting safety, but they’ve just become so stringent and won’t compromise on any issue,” he said. “It’s like you can’t say anything about commonsense gun reform without people screaming, ‘You’re taking our guns!’ or ‘You’re an idiot’ or a lot worse than that. When I made this announcement, I became enemy number one. But do I really want to belong to an organization where I can’t have an opinion that’s just slightly different?”

There are a number of superficial things we might say about candidates and causes, to the one, and the supporters thereof to another, but in this case we might ask a less common superficial question: President Obama has been expected, in some corners of the legitimate discourse, to account for all manner of idiotic notions; the New Black Panthers and the “Obamaphone” wannabe-scandals come to mind. There is this weird idea out there that any criticism of the president is denounced as racist. In various ways we often hold certain people or causes accountable for the words and actions of others, but this isn’t even a question of whether rock music turns children into mass-murdering Satanic maniacs versus the effects of normalized violent rhetoric on unstable elements within the culture.

Rather, this is like Obamaphone, or the New Black Panthers. Do those people represent the average Obama or Democratic voter?

Similarly: Does the abuse hurled toward Congressional candidate, Assemblyman, and former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera (D-16) represent the average responsible gun owner?

This is the point: If the answer is yes, then the United States of America are in serious trouble.

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Oklahoma Governance

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), in May 2015. (image: KFOR)

There are days, you know, when it is really easy to pick on an idea. Take Oklahoma for instance. Last week we learned about the strangeness of Oklahoma virtue, and then a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin (R) found himself blaming Texas for protests in Durant and Oklahoma City demonstrating support for the Confederacy as President Obama arrived.

Talk about a trifecta; this also happened:

Gov. Mary Fallin (R) and the GOP-led legislature announced they’re prepared to ignore the state Supreme Court, at least for now, while they consider new solutions.​

The Republican governor talked to reporters, saying roughly what you’d expect her to say: she’s “disappointed” with the court’s decision; she thinks they made the wrong call; etc. But as KFOR, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, reported, Fallin added one related thought that wasn’t expected at all:​

Gov. Fallin said she believes the final decision on the monument’s fate should rest with the people.​

“You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide,” she said.​

The KFOR report added, “Despite what the governor said, the three branches of government include the legislative, executive and judicial branches” ....​

.... We can certainly hope that Fallin, a former multi-term member of Congress, knows what the three branches of government are. Indeed, in Oklahoma, she’s the head of one of them – the one she left out this week.​

(Benen)

This is actually one of the big differences. Look, Democrats might well be just as middling, mincing, and incompetent as they seem, but, to the one, to the one, it’s nothing comparable to this, and, to the other, ritual equivocation would only obscure important considerations.

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Oklahoma Virtue

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

Oklahoma. Republicans. Of course they did:

The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever, to 46 million people. Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." Their stated reason for the policy is because "The animals will grow dependent on handouts and not learn to take care of themselves." Thus ends today's lesson in irony #OKGOP. (Oklahoma Republican Party, via Facebook, 13 July 2015)The Oklahoma Republican Party is under fire after a controversial Facebook post.

In the post, the Oklahoma GOP compared providing food stamp benefits for Americans in need to feeding animals at national parks.

“The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever, to 46 million people,” the Oklahoma Republican Party said on Facebook. “Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us ‘Please Do Not Feed the Animals.’ Their stated reason for the policy is because ‘The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves.’ Thus ends today’s lesson in irony #OKGOP.”

(Franklin)

The KFOR report notes the predictable negative reaction, including the obvious question about comparing people to wild animals, an invocation of the words of Jesus Christ, and an identifying conservative denouncing the “counterproductive” “disgrace” and “awful taste” of the post.

Which leaves only the other obvious question: What the hell is wrong with the Oklahoma GOP?

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Image notes: Top ― Detail of Lucifer, by Franz von Stuck, 1890. RightImage of Facebook post by Oklahoma Republican Party, 13 July 2015.

Franklin, Dallas. “Oklahoma Republican Party under fire after controversial Facebook post”. 14 July 2015.

Oklahoma

Detail of 'The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter', by Max Ernst.  Oil on canvas.  Paris, 1926.  (Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany)

This is a simple exercise in contrasts. Steve Benen explains:

… a major court ruling in Oklahoma, where state officials have been told to stop promoting one religion’s scared tenets on the Capitol grounds. The Tulsa World reported this week:

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday said the Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol must be removed.

The plaintiffs said its placement at the Capitol constituted the use of public property for the benefit of a system of religion, which is banned by the Oklahoma Constitution.

State law isn’t especially ambiguous. Section II-5 of the Oklahoma Constitution says public property can’t be used to benefit or support any “sect, church, denomination, or system of religion,” either directly or indirectly. When state lawmakers approved a monument to the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments, it was hard to even imagine how this could be legally permissible ....

.... The Republican-led state legislature has been a little hysterical since the decision was handed down, and state House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R) said impeachment proceedings against the Supreme Court’s majority “will be seriously considered.”

To summarize:

(1) Oklahoma state Supreme Court decides under clear dictate of law that a state-sponsored tribute to Christian faith is not permissible on capitol grounds.

(2) Republicans will seriously consider impeaching the justices in retribution for enforcing the law.

Oklahoma.

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Image note: Detail of, The Virgin Spanking the Christ Child before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, and the Painter, by Max Ernst. Oil on canvas. Paris, 1926. (Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany)

Benen, Steve. “This Week in God, 7.4.15”. msnbc. 4 July 2015.

The Rand Paul Show (Picking Up His Balls)

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to guests gathered at the Point of Grace Church for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. The Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian organization, hosted 9 potential contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nominations at the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“Perhaps the time has come to examine whether or not governmental recognition of marriage is a good idea, for either party.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

Because, you know, gay marriage is just the last straw.

No, seriously. The one and only Rand Paul:

The government should not prevent people from making contracts but that does not mean that the government must confer a special imprimatur upon a new definition of marriage.

Perhaps the time has come to examine whether or not governmental recognition of marriage is a good idea, for either party.

Since government has been involved in marriage, they have done what they always do — taxed it, regulated it, and now redefined it. It is hard to argue that government’s involvement in marriage has made it better, a fact also not surprising to those who believe government does little right.

Strangely, the Kentucky junior has no real grasp of political optics. We have heard this sort of talk before in Oklahoma, or as Mr. Paul noted in his special to Time, Alabama. But when it comes to the proposition that if you can’t make all the rules you’ll just pick up your balls and go home and pout, is that really a caliber of behavior we might reasonably describe as presidential?

There really isn’t any more time to adjust; Americans have had nearly two decades to accustom themselves to same sex marriage, and if they chose to spend those years bawling and stomping and fighting and pouting, why should everyone else have to wait even longer just so they can find new ways to pitch tantrums?

Is Mr. Paul capable of comprehending the optics, understanding just how ridiculous he looks striking this pose? Well, okay, of course he doesn’t; this is a guy who has trouble grasping the basics of plagiarism.

Stupid and petulant is no condition for mounting a presidential bid.

Oh. Right. Clown car, all that. He trails Bush, Walker, Rubio, and Carson. Maybe that’s the problem. Given the stupid factor in effect, Mr. Paul’s terrible shitty brat routine doesn’t really stand out as extraordinary, does it?

That still doesn’t mean the self-certified ophthalmologist has a clue about political optics.

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Image note: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks to guests gathered at the Point of Grace Church for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. The Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian organization, hosted 9 potential contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nominations at the event. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Paul, Rand. “Government Should Get Out of the Marriage Business Altogether”. Time. 28 June 2015.

Rubin, Jennifer. “Rand Paul has another problem”. The Washington Post. 8 November 2013.