Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Are We Really That Gullible?

                    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

                   Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Without question, there is a universe of difference between that which is coincidental and that which strains credulity to the breaking point.  Coincidence?  That's Thomas Jefferson and John Adams - the friendliest of enemies - dying within hours of one another on July 4, 1826 . . . the "Golden Anniversary" of American independence.  Coincidence?  That's Mark Twain being born on November 30, 1835 - the day Haley's Comet made its once-in-75-years appearance in the earthly skies - and then dying (as he predicted) upon its next appearance, April 21, 1910.  Coincidence? The first worker to die during the construction of Hoover Dam was J.G. Tierny on December 20, 1922. The last person to die during its construction was J.G. Tierny's son, who died on December 20, 1935 . . . thirteen years to the day.

Unlike coincidence, those things which strain credulity to the breaking point essentially test not only intelligence, but gullibility - which we shall define as "a failure of social intelligence in which people are easily tricked or manipulated."  Case in point: supply-side economics, which holds - against all proof or reason - that severely cutting taxes on corporations and the truly wealthy will foster far greater economic growth than anything ever dreamed of by Keynes, FDR or any Democrat who ever lived. This is, in essence, the philosophical foundation of the Reagan, G.W. Bush, and Paul Ryan economic strategies.  (It should be noted that the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s were so disastrous that he was forced to support what was at the time, the largest tax increase in American history.  Few remember that fact.) But despite the counter-intuitive nature of supply-side economics, it still has many, many adherents . . . especially among those it hurts most and helps the least.  Talk about straining credibility.  Just how gullible are we?

A second example of pushing gullibility to the very edge of reason is the current imbroglio over over the awarding of a $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico's hurricane-ravaged electrical grid to Whitefish Energy Holdings, LLC, a tiny, two-year old, two-employee company based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's hometown. Whitefish, Montana (population c. 7,300), a resort town in the Rocky Mountains of northwest Montana, is a place, like the mythical bar "Cheers," where "everybody knows your name." The company's founder is one Andy Techmanski, described on the company's website as ". . . a trained journeyman lineman with over 22 years of experience completing critical utility infrastructure projects worldwide."  Not only does Zinke know Techmanski; the secretary's son worked a summer job at one of Techmanski's construction sites. That  both Secretary Zinke and Techmanski) deny anything fraudulent or collusive in the $300 million deal is, to put it mildly, straining credulity to the breaking point.  Just how gullible do Zinke, Techmanski and the Trump Administration think we are?  Coming on the eve of the first indictments in the Trump/Russia investigation being made public, this is unquestionably a controversy (scam?) the administration neither wants nor needs.

The controversy goes beyond the Zinke-Techmanski-Whitefish connection; much of it focuses on the high rates Whitefish is charging for labor. The contract shows labor rates which are well beyond pricey: $240 an hour for a general foreman and $227 for a lineman. The per diems are also expensive: almost $80 a day for meals, and $332 a day for lodging. Employee flights are billed at $1,000 each way. For subcontractors (the bulk of Whitefish's workforce) the prices go even higher: a general foreman costs $336 an hour and a lineman, $319.  (Anyone interested in wading through the contract, put on your glasses, park  your credibility by the side of the road, and click this link.)

Not surprisingly, Presidential Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told members of the White House press corps in no uncertain terms that “This is a contract that was determined by the local authorities in Puerto Rico," and that both her boss and Sec. Zinke discussed the controversy during their meeting this past Friday.  Moreover, Sanders said,  the interior secretary steadfastly avowed he had no involvement in Whitfish's being awarded the $300 million contract. In a statement coming out of his office Zinke said "Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding of (sic) influencing any contract involving Whitefish [Energy Holdings] are completely baseless. Only in elitist Washington, D.C., would being from a small town be considered a crime." In a grammatically challenged addendum, Zinke noted that “Neither myself nor anyone in my office has advocated for this company in anyway (sic). After the initial contract was awarded, I was contacted by the company, on which I took no action. All records, which are being made available to appropriate officials, will prove no involvement.”

To be certain, there is something rotten in Whitefish . . . heretofore famous for being the home of the late Dodger Rookie of the Year Steve Howe and former Bulls/Lakers/Knicks/ coach Phil Jackson. This just might be the straw that breaks the political camel's back for '45 and his flying circus. Already, several Congressional committees are launching investigations into the deal. As of this past Friday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee  became the latest panel to probe the business deal. Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and ranking member Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) asked the Department of Homeland Security to review the contract to determine whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] will be responsible for reimbursing PREPA (Puerto Rico Power Authority)  the cost of Whitefish Energy’s work. Of all the putative scandals, political blunders and treating the federal government as just another subsidiary of the Trump Organization, this one could well turn out to be the sinful siren song which ultimately strands an administration on the shoal of political ruin.  For here, '45 and his "drain the swamp" henchmen may have gone too far by treating the citizenry just once too often as gullible stooges. There just cannot be that much mindless gullibility existing in America; no supposedly free nation can be home to so many so willing to accept such bilge. 

Even as this essay is reaching its conclusion, it may well be out of date: just a few minutes ago Fox News (!) reported that Puerto Rico's Governor,  Ricardo Rosselló has asked the board of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to cancel the contract with Whitefish Energy. Perhaps finally . . . finally, the administration has gone too far; has treated American gullibility as a bottomless pit of credibility. Let's all keep our eye on the ball . . . and demand that we begin being treated as citizens of worth, not as gullible, guileless cretins. 

America's future is at stake.

270 days down, 1,076 days to go.

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone