About 60 years ago, I said to my father, “Old Mr. Senex is showing his age; he sometimes talks quite stupidly.” My father replied, “That isn’t age. He’s always been stupid. He is just losing his ability to conceal it.” – Robertson Davies, New York Times Book Review (May 12, 1991)
The wonderful thing about having George Bush as president is that a commentator can write about the same subject repeatedly and it will always be timely and fresh. That is because when George Bush finds a bad thing to do, he does it repeatedly because he’s too sure of his own good judgment to notice that it’s a bad thing. One of his favorite things is hiding facts to protect myths. One of his favorite myths is that the war in Iraq is going swimmingly. Among one of many ways the myth is perpetuated is by not letting journalists photograph service personnel being brought home in coffins as they arrive at Andrews Air Force Base. Another, we have now learned, is not letting members of the press get near burial services taking place at Arlington National Cemetery.
According to a report in the Washington Post, at the burial of Lt. Col. Billy Hall, the family wanted the press in attendance to record the burial of one of the senior officers to be killed in Iraq and, by reporting on it, to honor Colonel Hall’s patriotism and sacrifice. Mr. Bush’s Pentagon believes Colonel Hall’s sacrifice can be better honored privately, the family’s wishes notwithstanding. Accordingly a yellow rope kept the press 50 yards from the grave site. A photographer complained there could be no pictures of the family without the yellow rope being in the way to which an employee of the cemetery responded: “This is the best shot you’re going to get”. When the reporters complained that the pastor’s eulogy, in which he presumably talked about Colonel Hall’s valor and sacrifice, could not be heard, the Arlington official responded by saying “Mm-hmm.” As a result, all the press could report to commemorate this brave man, father and husband was that it could not report anything. Mr. Bush likes it that way.
Another myth in which George Bush believes, is that in a well-run country politics should always trump science. The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report the end of April disclosing that science and ignorance (the latter clothed in garments purchased for it by Mr. Bush and his courtiers) have been in mortal combat during the Bush administration’s tenure and ignorance has proved its worth winning easily in many of the confrontations.
Focusing on the Environmental Protection Agency (an agency that has received attention in here), the report discloses that in a survey of the agency’s scientists more than half said there had been political interference in scientific decisions during the preceding five years. George Bush has been president for seven years and presumably the reason for interference during only the last five is that it takes a while for someone like Mr. Bush to figure out those areas in which commonly accepted scientific notions are deficient and should give way to political considerations.
In the survey fifty five hundred questionnaires were sent out and 1,586 scientists responded. More than half said they had observed political interference in scientific decisions made by the agency. Some said the interference came form the Office of Management and Budget for strictly political reasons. As a threshold matter that would seem a singularly inappropriate agency to be interfering in matters scientific until one realizes that if scientific decisions are to be made by the ignorant, it is a singularly appropriate agency to be making those decisions.
The Office of Management and Budget is not alone in thwarting science. According to the Washington Post report, when E.P.A. staff members came to the non-startling conclusion that greenhouse gasses were bad for public health, efforts at creating regulations halted after the White House received its findings. Mr. Bush also caused the agency to weaken its proposed limits on smog-forming ozone, he having apparently concluded ozone is not the problem the scientists believe it to be.
Following publication of the most recent survey, Jonathan Shradar defended his boss, Stephen L. Johnson, E.P.A. Administrator. Mr. Shradar said Mr. Johnson carefully weighs the input of staff in all agency decisions.
An example of how Mr. Johnson uses the scale to weigh agency decision can be seen in the decision to deny California the waiver it sought in 2007 to reduce tailpipe emissions by 2016 to 30% instead of to 40% by 2020 as mandated by the December 2007 Energy bill. The staff at the EPA was reportedly in favor of granting the waiver, being possessed of scientific knowledge and unencumbered by political considerations. Placing his thumb on the scientific scale, Mr. Johnson concluded his staff was wrong and denied the waiver.
Mr. Shrader told the Post that the findings in the Union’s survey would not change anything. That is very likely true-at least for the next eight months. Thereafter one can hope that science will once again be recognized as a valid field of study, the findings of which are entitled to at least as much, if not slightly more weight, than the conclusions of politicians led by the Grand Poobah in the White House.