Sunday, May 21, 2017

Crackpot Lamar Smith Is Leading The Charge In The Republican Party's War On Science


It was a big ha, ha/LOL moment when the GOP House leaders decided to make crackpot Texas Christian Scientist Lamar Smith chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee. One Republican staffer told me "one of them" (presumably Boehner but he would;t confirm my suspicion) was "slightly drunk" and laughing so hard that he pissed in his pants and had to go change. Lamar Smith is a proud primitive when it come stop Science and uses his perch on the committee to chastise and attack scientists and to fundraise for himself by pushing anti-science dogma from, for example, polluting industries. Saturday morning, Sharon Lerner posted at The Intercept that Smith's problems with Science are becoming a problem for Austin and San Antonio area voters with Smith. "For most of his four years as chair of the Science Committee," she wrote, Smith "has served up more spectacle than policy. As arguably the showiest climate denier and opponent of environmental regulations in Congress, Smith has orchestrated climate change hearings that are the scientific equivalent of pro-wrestling matches."
Stacked with skeptics who mocked mainstream climate science, they offered virtually no chance for significant dialogue. Similarly, Smith’s challenge to the well-documented relationship between air pollution and lung disease was seen as little more than a craven nod to the energy companies that were responsible for that pollution. And his repeated use of his subpoena power has served mostly to attract attention and make life difficult for the scientists and government workers he has targeted.

But Smith, who has boldly argued against funding for an institute that studies the toxicity of substances such as lead and asbestos, and has rushed to the defense of Monsanto’s RoundUp, is no longer just throwing bombs from the margins. With Trump in the White House and Scott Pruitt at the helm of the EPA, Smith now has the power to turn his visions of regulatory rollback into realities.

Already this session Smith revived two bills that, before the election, had been dismissed as nuisances. The Honest Act, which grew out of a strategy developed by the tobacco industry, is designed to prohibit the EPA from using public health research; the other bill is crafted to allow industry representatives to serve on scientific boards. In March, both became law.

...Smith has always been well liked by the energy industry-- he has received more than $700,000 from the oil and gas industry over the course of his career, more than from any other sector-- but his newfound power has clearly delighted climate deniers, as evidenced by the hero’s welcome he received when he gave the keynote address at the Heartland Institute’s Climate Conference in March.

Not everyone is pleased with Smith’s successes on behalf of polluting industries. National environmental groups are beginning to target Smith for being “one of the worst climate change deniers in Congress,” as Craig Auster of the League of Conservation Voters described him. And just as he is reaching the height of his power in Washington, Smith is facing a wave of outrage from constituents in Texas that could present the first real challenge for his seat in 30 years.

In many ways, Lamar Smith is an odd choice to chair the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, a perch from which he has at least partial jurisdiction over NASA, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, FEMA, the U.S. Fire Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Energy, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

A lawyer who majored in American Studies and worked briefly as a business reporter before entering Congress, Smith doesn’t have a background or a degree in science. Like many Christian Scientists, he seems to eschew medicine. (Smith’s first wife, Jane, who was trained in the Christian Science practice of healing through prayer, died in 1991 in a Christian Science hospice, reportedly after refusing medical treatment.)

Smith often says he is seeking a return to “sound science” with his efforts to roll back regulation. But he is facing growing criticism from scientists and environmentalists around the country for making a mockery of the House Science Committee, or “the Exxon Committee on Science Fiction,” “the POTUS Ad Agency,” and “the environment-ruining dream team,” as some of its many haters on Twitter have referred to it.

The House Science Committee hasn’t always elicited such reactions. “It used to be a committee that was basically nonpartisan,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the ranking Democrat who has served for 24 years on the committee. “We always had meaningful dialogue,” Johnson told me. “But it’s gotten to the point where we are labeled as a scientific committee made up of people who don’t believe in science. This is the most extreme experience I have had.”

Perhaps no one is more familiar with that extreme partisan atmosphere than Michael Mann, a climate scientist who has been mocked and jeered by Smith. “He’s a henchman,” Mann said of Smith. Both men went to Yale, and Mann said he believes the Congressman is well educated and smart enough to know that what he’s saying about climate change isn’t true. “That leaves only two possibilities: First, that it isn’t the science he’s rejecting, it’s the implications he doesn’t like. The other possibility is that he’s doing the bidding of the powerful fossil fuel interests that fund his campaigns.” Either way, said Mann, “He’s setting the world back.”

A Republican from an oil state now serving his 16th consecutive term in Congress, Smith has never faced a serious electoral challenge. When he first ran for Congress in 1986, he won with more than 60 percent of the vote. The next time out, he got 93 percent. And he has enjoyed comfortable victories since. For four of those elections, the Democrats in his strangely shaped district, which includes San Antonio as well as parts of Austin and Texas Hill Country, didn’t even bother putting up a candidate.

The first visible signs that the political tide was beginning to turn emerged in October, when his hometown paper, The San Antonio Express News, declined to endorse his re-election bid. In an editorial, the paper took issue with what it called “his bullying on the issue of climate change.” The results of a poll published 10 days later showed eroding support for Smith, with 45 percent of voters saying they were less likely to vote for Smith after learning he had taken Exxon Mobil’s side in the dispute over the company’s handling of climate change.

But the real shift came on election day, when Trump got 52 percent of the vote in the 21st district. As elsewhere, many of those who didn’t vote for the president found themselves in an emotionally and politically heightened state. After seeing many of these distraught people in his office, a San Antonio therapist named Jason Sugg decided to start a support group. Ten people attended its first meeting in January. Four months later, more than 4,200 people have joined what has become the TX21 chapter of Indivisible, including some life-long Republicans who supported Smith in the past.

Perhaps the strongest indicator of the opposition to Smith is the extent to which it has attracted people who haven’t been politically involved before.

“He is making enemies of people who do not want to be activists, who would rather take home their six-figure salaries, drop a check in the collection plate on Sunday morning, and let someone with social justice expertise figure out what to do with it,” said Whitney Williams, one of Smith’s constituents and a member of the Indivisible group. In particular, Williams, a technologist, took issue with Smith’s attacks on government scientists, which “spark indignant fury among those of us who dedicate our lives to delivering the promise of technology.”
Goal Thermometer Last year, after Berniecrat Tom Wakely beat a conservative Republican-lite establishment candidate in the primary, the DCCC immediately turned away from TX-21 and refused to help his grassroots campaign in any way, even urging institutional Democratic donors to not contribute to Wakely's campaign. Running on a 3-prong platform of Climate change, Universal Healthcare and Income Inequality, he still managed to get more votes against Wakely than any other Democrat had ever done, spending just $70,407 to Smith's $1,718,933. Of all of the Democratic challengers to incumbent Republican members of Congress in Texas, Wakely's feisty activist-oriented campaign earned the most votes, running not as a Republican-lite operation as the DCCC tries to force candidates to do, but as an aggressive campaign fully aligned with Bernie and his platform. With the DCCC sourly sitting out the race, Blue America and Climate Hawks Vote were the only outside groups to help Wakely. Blue America contributed a mobile billboard:

We reach Tom this morning and asked if he had seen Lerner's piece. He sure had! And this is what he had to say about it:
A few nights ago I was up in Blanco County at a Citizen's Climate Lobby meeting and the screening of the documentary television series on climate change, Years of Living Dangerously. There were about fifty people there, all from the small towns and rural countryside that makeup the county. While I had heard of the series before, I never had actually sat down and watched it. To my surprise, there was a entire section in the film on how how to talk to rural religious voters in Texas about the connection between God, extreme weather and climate change. Katherine Hayhoe, a devout Christian and who is an atmospheric scientist and associate professor of political science over at Texas Tech University, narrated the section; and coincidentally, I had just spoken to Katherine last week about the very same subject: God, rural voters and climate change.

What Katherine told me reinforced what I had been taught in seminary: that to be a person of faith, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or someone like myself who is Unitarian Universalist, we are required to take care of the Earth. No matter how you understand God, or even if you don't believe in God, we are nonetheless entrusted to be stewards of this planet. We should all honor that by keeping our land, air and water as pure as we can. Unfortunately, there are way too many Sunday only people of faith, like Lamar Smith, who do not understand or care to understand, the connection between God, extreme weather and climate change.

God is pissed off right now at what we are doing with the gift given to us. Life destroying droughts, devastating hailstorms, merciless fires sweeping the world, melting icecaps, all signs that we are destroying the world day by day. Unless we stop and think about what we are doing, not just to ourselves today but to humankind seven generations from now, we will not only cease to know God's love and mercy , we will feel God's wrath. But it doesn't have to be this way.

We can and should immediately start reducing the world's carbon emissions. I, for one, am a strong advocate for moving from an oil and gas economy to a renewal energy economy. Renewable energy is our future and Texas can lead the way to this future. We produce more wind energy than the next three states combined and with my state's abundant sunshine, we are fast becoming a solar energy leader. My position is simple and clear, we can do nothing and just wait to see what effect climate will have on our world and our economy or we can, like we say in Texas, take the bull by it's horns. Acting now, by moving towards a renewal energy economy, we will create millions of new jobs, good paying jobs, with the positive side effect of stopping the adverse effects of climate change. Remember the old political saying, it's the economy, stupid. Something Lamar Smith simply doesn't understand.

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