Commentary

We Were Fixated on the Judge While Other Changes Were Afoot

By JOHN M. IMPERIALE | Oct 03, 2018

As a commentary writer, my essays are meant to do more than merely express my opinion. I try to persuade, or at least get others to think about an issue and consider my position. I love starting a dialogue. But I have not written anything, in The SandPaper or elsewhere, about Judge Brett Kavanaugh. His nomination to the Supreme Court is the most vital decision our nation has faced in many a year.

Why ignore it, then? Simple: Everyone’s mind is made up. No one listens, on either side. It is useless to debate. We are a nation divided, and this issue is a chasm as wide as any we have faced.

And while the media has gone full circus on the Kavanaugh show, key parts of our government are using the distraction to institute policy changes and make high-impact decisions with the hope that no one notices.

Please, take notice.

While the Senate was holdings its reality TV hearings, the House of Representatives used this time to pass another round of tax cuts aimed primarily at the rich, increase defense spending to record levels without regard to the federal debt, and pass a bill addressing the opioid crisis. That last item may seem like good news, except for the fact that many experts say that it does not go nearly far enough or provide ample funding. Perhaps if the media shone a light on the bill, we could judge better. But all of the lights are shining on the judge.

Oh, and the House then recessed until after the November elections. That’s right, they closed up shop and went home, earlier than any year in recent history, their work presumably done.

Here’s an item from deep in the news: Were you aware that the Environmental Protection Agency has a head of the “Office of Children’s Health Protection”?

Or it did.

The position was eliminated while we were hearing about the alleged sexual assault by a privileged young man.

Dr. Ruth Etzel, a pediatrician, epidemiologist and a leader in children’s environmental health issues for over 30 years, was asked to turn over her security badge and clear out her office. No reason was given for her dismissal. Of course, she will continue to be paid. She just can’t do anything at the EPA.

Dr. Etzel should not take it personally, though. The EPA also eliminated the Office of the Science Advisor. The role of this office was to provide scientific expertise to the administrator of the EPA for use in decision making. That would seem especially useful since the administrator of the EPA is a political appointee with no scientific background. But why let science interfere with decision making when it comes to things like the air we breathe and the water we drink? If your goal is deregulation, then just deregulate. Who needs an adviser for that!

Not to be outdone, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was able to bury beneath the avalanche of Kavanaugh coverage his decision to set the limit for refugees coming into the U.S. in the next fiscal year at 30,000, the lowest in history. The previous low? That would be this year’s 45,000. So a one-third decrease from the lowest of all time sends a direct message to the world: America is no longer a welcoming country. The average, before the current administration, had been 80,000. These are men, women and children who need America’s freedom and protection, and want to work in an economy that needs their labor.

Also in the news: A federal agency just reported that dozens of doctors hired by the government to screen immigrants have a history of “egregious infractions.” Welcome to America.

Another person loving the lack of attention is Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. That’s because a federal court just ruled against her efforts to rescind the “borrower’s defense.” This policy, which emanated from the Higher Education Act of 1965, would forgive portions of student loans when an individual was defrauded by a for-profit college. The government would then recoup the funds from the schools. Secretary DeVos vows to continue her fight for the rights of corrupt business entities, hopefully with little public notice. The secretary is also actively reversing rules that require colleges and university to fight sexual assault and harassment on campuses. How ironic, and sad, is that today?

Ryan Zinke also loves that the spotlight is not on him. As secretary of the interior he has found this to be the perfect time to abuse the National Antiquities Act of 1906. That law authorized the president to declare portions of federal land as “national monuments.” Sites such as historic landmarks, historic and pre-historic structures, and other land of historic or scientific interest would be forever protected. Presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have used the Antiquities Act to protect sites such as Bears Ears in Utah. The Grand Canyon, Teton, Acadia and Zion national parks all started out as national monuments.

The Interior Department is currently reviewing all of our national monuments with the stated goal of shrinking them, by presidential decree. The only problem, though, is that while the law gives a president the right to declare lands national monuments, it specifically does not allow a president to rescind any such previous designations. That is the purview of Congress, per our Constitution. But if all the public hears about is FBI investigations, then our protected wilderness will be at risk. And the courts will have even more work.

President Trump spoke at the United Nations in the middle of the Kavanaugh hearings. Therefore, little focus was put on his threatening tone, his comical boasts, and his general lack of diplomacy. Praising brutal dictators and criticizing our allies moved from the realm of Twitter to the international stage. No one seemed to care.

Hurricane Florence is yesterday’s news ... unless you live in the Carolinas. There the devastation and flooding are still very real. Has FEMA done enough? What more is needed to help the thousands who lost their homes and livelihood? If the media kept a little more light on the storm’s aftermath, maybe we would know the answers. And let’s not forget that Puerto Rico is still suffering from the damage done by Hurricane Maria.

Perhaps the press corps could ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the regularly scheduled White House press briefing. Or they could if she was still holding them. Since Aug. 22 there have been exactly two such briefings.

I know that it has been extremely hard over the last few weeks to think about anything except the fight over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court. It is the all-consuming news. It was important enough when it was simply a matter of would he or would he not overturn Roe v. Wade. Then it became a “Me Too” moment and a media circus, complete with “he said, she said” allegations, more old white men (senators) acting badly, sleazy lawyers (Michael Avenatti), riveting TV, heart-wrenching testimony, twists and turns (Jeff Flake), national grandstanding (Corey Booker), idiotic ranting (Lindsey Graham) and one overriding question: Can’t we, as a nation, do better than this?

Good question.

Here is another one: Do we care about everything else that is happening to our country?

John M. Imperiale of Harvey Cedars can be reached at johnmimperiale@gmail.com.

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