Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trumpocalypse 9: Everything you always wanted to know about the Department of Energy (But Were Afraid to Ask "Real" News Sources)

As you keep hearing news about 'fake news' and Russia 'stealing the election' and the like, keep in mind that (a) 'fake news' is only available because so often 'real news' is about superficial stupid stuff and makes no effort to understand the issues, and (b) unless Russia actually somehow forced or bribed people to vote for Trump/stay home for Hillary!, or faked up the votes [there is NO EVIDENCE OF EITHER] it cannot "steal" the election from anyone.

I was thinking about those things as I read this lead into a story on The Concourse headlined "Rick Perry's Glasses Qualify Him For Important Science Post, Building Nukes."

Rick Perry, a swaggering idiot who found a pair of glasses on the street one day, is about to become the head of the Department of Energy, according to CBS News. The Department of Energy’s job right now is to develop the next generation of nuclear weapons.

Is it, though? The blogger who wrote the article, Ashley Feinberg, goes on to compare the current Energy Secretary's qualifications with Rick Perry's, finishing up with:

Now, none of this would be as big of a problem if Obama hadn’t just agreed to a a massive modernization program of our existing stock of nuclear weapons. This program is going to cost somewhere in the range of $350-450 billion and take about ten years. And our big, dumb boy Rick Perry gets to kick the whole thing off, as he’s now responsible for the design, testing, and production of all nuclear weapons.

I'm no fan of Rick Perry's, and I think the country would in fact be worse off with him as President. But this sort of reductive news writing is every bit as pernicious as "fake news," because it essentially falsifies Rick Perry's record, Rick Perry's role as Energy Secretary, and the program Obama agreed to.

Let's start with Rick Perry's record and qualifications. Feinberg sums them up as:

In other words, Rick Perry is a figurehead on a few boards that very tangentially have to do with “energy.”

In reality, Rick Perry has a degree in Animal Science from Texas A&M.  Texas A&M is currently the 74th ranked college in the US News rankings of best colleges.  Perry also served 5 years in the Air Force as a C-130 pilot.

Politically, Perry began his career as a Democrat, first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1984, and worked for the Gore campaign in 1988.  He switched parties in 1989. When Perry ran for re-election as governor in 2006, he was endorsed by a prominent Texas Democrat.

Perry ran for Agriculture Commissioner in 1990; he 'narrowly' defeated the Democratic incumbent -- who at the time had his office embroiled in an FBI investigation into corruption that would eventually lead to three aides being convicted. The incumbent wasn't charged, but keep in mind: Democrats supported a man who at best was so out of touch that three of his aides could be taking bribes. He was re-elected to that position, then served as either Lieutenant Governor or Governor.  He has since also worked at the chief strategist MCNA Dental, the nation's largest privately-held dental insurance company.

Again: I am not a fan of Perry's, but falsely presenting his background is fake news of the sort that people like Ashley Feinberg credit with 'stealing the election.' "Fake news" is any news that creates a false premise, and lying can be done by omission as well as by commission. Feinberg lied about Perry's background, to create the impression that Perry was a himbo.

Then there's the Department of Energy.  Again, a few minutes of Googling shows how reductive Feinberg's article was, in a misleading way.  Here is the organizational chart for DoE:

The Department does, in fact, police nuclear weapons, but also nuclear reactor production for the Navy, waste disposal, and a variety of energy-related research projects. It has just over 106,000 employees, only 12,000 of which are actual federal employees; 93,000 people on DoE's payroll are contract employees.

Among the things DoE does that are far more concerning than nuclear weapons stockpiles are the Loan Guarantee Program; enacted in 2005 (under the last Republican president) this law was in part funding for 'green' energy projects, and in part clearing the way for natural gas fracking and in part a change in how public utilities were held. Obama voted for this law; Hillary! criticized him for it. Under Trump's DoE, we should be more concerned about a curtailment of green energy and climate change research than we should that Rick Perry will somehow bumble our nuclear weapons program, but it's not as cool, right Ashley, to write a headline about how Rick Perry's nomination may signal that the Trump administration might take a law Obama voted for and water it down so that funds don't go for greenhouse gas research? I'm pretty confident that we face far greater risks from loosening energy controls and use of coal and fracking than we do from rogue nukes.

By the way, did you remember that Hazel O'Leary was Bill Clinton's first Secretary of Energy? Her qualifications? She'd been a prosecutor, and had been both a consultant and the head of an energy commission. Those credentials are remarkably similar to Perry's.  While Feinberg faults Perry for sitting on the board of a company trying to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, O'Leary prior to her nomination had been an executive VP at Northern States Power Company.  Northern States was in the early 1990s trying to merge with a company that was building the controversial Point Beach Nuclear Plant in Wisconsin.


As for that "nuclear program" Perry will be in charge of? In July, the Washington Post reported that Obama "wants to cut back" on plans to spend $350,000,000,000 over 10 years modernizing our nuke program. 

By October, though, Obama had authorized a modernization program set to cost $1,000,000,000,000 -- nearly three times as much as the earlier proposal.  The New York Times, hardly a bastion of Tea Party politics, called the plan "unnecessary."

According to Arms Control.org, which Feinberg links to, some of the money will address "ethical lapses and poor morale" under the Obama administration. The overall modernization effort is too complicated to sum up in a brief note, which didn't stop Feinberg from doing just that.

So again: I'm not saying Perry is a good choice. I'm not saying he's a bad choice. What I'm saying at this moment is that the 'news' a lot of people will read about Perry and the Department of Energy will be fake and will omit those facts which are uncomfortable for people like Ashley Feinberg, and will inappropriately summarize facts people like Ashley Feinberg can't bother to get across to their readers as they race for pageviews.  Feinberg's article is no less propaganda than anything you'll read on Breitbart, and liberal media sources are also to blame for Hillary! losing the election.

1 comment:

Andrew Leon said...

First, I have no concern at all about the nuclear program. It's completely extraneous at this point. Nukes on hand are all that matter and, since Trump has nukes on hand, future nukes or anything to do with them having nothing to do with anything.

Second, I fully expect the Trump organization to go about undoing everything there is related to any kind of environmental standards, including "green" energy initiatives. There's going to be a drive back to oil and coal and screw the planet, and Perry is only there because he's someone Trump (or Bannon) believes will facilitate that.

Third, as I was making breakfast, I had a thought:
I don't think your criticisms of the reporter are probably fair. Not that they're not fair, but I think they probably miss what is actually happening. The problem is not an attempt by the reporter to mislead people; it's a problem of the reporter's own understanding. I think that gets at the problem with a lot of mainstream news: The news is limited by the average-ness of the people reporting it. They can't actually see the deeper issues, so they don't report it. At that point, again, it's not a media problem but a people problem. The problem that people just aren't very smart and don't like to think.