Death of a Liberal and other stories

Death of a Liberalman

David Mamet’s announcement that he has foresworn “brain-dead liberalism” for a more Hobbesian strain of conservatism (“I do not think that people are basically good at heart”) prompted page three coverage in the Independent and nearly 400 posts on the Village Voice blog, which carried the original article. Amidst the consolatory Chekov extracts and “Welcome home David” back-patting, Jennifer Matsui wrote: “Now that he pisses into the same golden urinals as Steven Spielberg and air kisses mogul trophy wives at charity events, he can reveal his true colors while posing as a brave and principled "contrarian" a la Christopher Hitchens.” But with all quiet on the Hitchens’ front, Mamet was rather short of defenders. At least Gawker.com only criticised him for the poor style of his polemic: “He jumps willy nilly from point to point, anecdote to anecdote, losing his way every time.” Gawker, mind, was a little more wary of Mamet’s motives: “Maybe you more politically savvy, high-minded types can parse it better than I, but to me it seems to be just a weird, regressive attempt to publicise his new-ish Broadway play November., which may be wise in light of the cool reception revivals such as Speed-the-Plow have received in recent years.

Slave trader Winehouse?

Another week, another accolade for Amy Winehouse – and this time it’s “poster girl of drug abuse”, ‘awarded’ to Amy by the UN drug office’s executive director, Antonio Maria Costa. According to a report by the International Narcotics Control Board, the singer, and other substance-abusing celebrities are partly responsible for the rise in European cocaine consumption, which Costa compared to the slave trade for its potential to devastate West Africa. As Hecklerspray pointed out, “those poor people have got problems enough as it is without feeling the need to stagger round their villages in just their bra shouting "My Blakey!" all the time as well.” But the Telegraph’s Neil McCormick was somewhat baffled as to why the UN had only just managed to draw the link between drug-takers and music-makers (pray, where did Costa spend the 1960s?) and irritated that the argument had been so over-simplified: “Pop culture doesn't tell one story about drugs, it tells all kinds of stories, reflecting society as much as shaping it.” And of course, even if Amy is to repent, could the New Statesman’s Rachel Cooke really handle another celebrity penitential on a par with Alex James’ recent Colombia Panorama special?

Recent arrivals: the New York City Ballet, complete with 85 dancers and its own orchestra for a 14-night stint at the Coliseum. It’s taken more than 25 years, and the combined efforts of Sadler’s Wells and the commercial organisations Askonas Holt and Raymond Gubbay to procure them, but will Balanchine’s dancers justify the wait and £95 top-ticket price? Early reviews from the Guardian and the Times suggest yes.

Just through customs: Mr Lonely, Harmony Korine’s new film, which opens in the UK today. A Marilyn Monroe impersonator takes a Michael Jackson-alike to a Highlands retreat for celebrity seconds. Worth the view? See Daniel Trilling’s feature and Ryan Gilbey.

Ready for departure: not Terry Pratchett, who despite being diagnosed with early-onset dementia, intends to “scream and harangue while there is time”. The writer donated $1 million (£495,000) to Alzheimer’s research this week presumably because he’s fond of screaming.

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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