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Trump’s Ongoing Effort to Privatize the Weather

By renominating Barry Myers to head the NOAA, Trump continues his campaign to transfer public wealth to the private sector. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary reports.

As all observers have noted, just like the weather, the personnel of the Trump administration is constantly and unpredictably changing. Speaking of the weather, Bloomberg informs us that “After waiting more than a year to be confirmed as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Barry Lee Myers has stepped down from his job as AccuWeather Inc.’s chief executive officer.”

This may sound no less banal than saying “cool morning temperatures will give way to a warmer afternoon,” but this appointment has special significance. Myers was, until this appointment, the CEO of AccuWeather, which is described by The Washington Post as “a private, family-owned company that sells forecasts and weather data and generally tries to monetize things that taxpayers can get for free.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls itself a scientific agency, affirming its “commitment to science” and claiming  that science is “the foundation for all NOAA does.”

Myers has no scientific background. A former business attorney, he is what we might call a successful business opportunist, working alongside his brother, AccuWeather founder Joel Myers, to develop the enterprise. Bloomberg describes his mission in these terms: “Myers has led efforts to trim some of the agency’s weather offerings to give commercial forecasters more room to grow their businesses.” The article notes that he “may soon be in a stronger position to pursue those goals.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Room to grow:

Space or land that can be claimed by law or by force, justly or unjustly, in the interest of clearing it for exploitation by those who understand the opportunity and have no qualms about whose interests may by compromised in doing so. The concept can be metaphorically extended to areas of human activity.

Contextual note

In his latest contribution to civic reflection, an audio book called The Coming Storm, author Michael Lewis describes the business that the Myers brothers built. It consisted of “taking the weather data created at great public expense by NOAA’s National Weather Service, marketing it through apps, a website, and a TV network, and tailoring it for private clients like newspapers, ski resorts, and home improvement stores.” Bloomberg points out that in the interest of transparency, Myers has indicated that, if his appointment is confirmed, he would “sell his stake in the company and he would step down from the company, as would his wife, who serves as director for executive projects.” His brother Joel would be left alone, abandoned by the family, his sole consolation being that the Trump administration would unfailingly respond directly to all his needs and desires.

As it turns out, AccuWeather announced on January 4 that Myers had stepped down and sold his stake in the company. Unsurprisingly, the announcement came a day after the Senate failed to confirm his nomination. Equally unsurprisingly is this: “The White House has once again nominated Barry Myers to be administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” There is no indication yet when the Senate will vote on his confirmation.

Lewis sums up the logic of the situation, which reflects the logic of the entire oligarchic system:

“A private company, whose weather predictions were totally dependent on the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. taxpayer to gather the data necessary for those predictions, and on decades of intellectual weather work sponsored by the U.S. taxpayer, and on international data sharing treaties made on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer, and on the very forecasts that the National Weather Service generated, was, in effect, trying to force the U.S. taxpayer to pay all over again for what the National Weather Service might be able to tell them for free.”

Making Myers head of NOAA would therefore be, to use his own analogy, like putting the CEO of FedEx in charge of the post office, with the power to decide that it should cease to provide any services that compete with private courier companies. (Though to make the analogy complete, FedEx would already have free use of the post office’s trucks and distribution systems.) In October 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Myers as head of NOAA, a nomination quickly confirmed along party lines in committee but still awaiting Senate approval.

Historical note

The “efforts” Myers led “to trim some of the agency’s weather offerings” fall into the category of political lobbying. With the complicity of Republican Senator Rick Santorum, he attempted to push through a law in 2005 designed for the commercial benefit of AccuWeather. Michael Lewis reminds his readers that “Myers donated to Rick Santorum, who in turn introduced a bill in the Senate in 2005 that would have forced the NWS to issue forecasts only through ‘data portals designed for volume access by commercial providers’ (like, of course, AccuWeather) and would have effectively banned it from issuing any public information except immediate severe storm warnings.”

From the government’s official summary of the law, we learn that it:

“Prohibits the Secretary from providing or assisting other entities in providing a product or service (other than a product or service for the preparation and issuance of severe weather forecasts and warnings as described above) that is or could be provided by the private sector unless: (1) the private sector is unwilling or unable to provide such product or service; or (2) the U.S. Government is obligated to provide such product or service under international aviation agreements.”

The disingenuousness of the formulation typifies how lobbying achieves its purposes, particularly where it evokes the hypothesis that the private sector may be “unwilling or unable to provide such product or service.” A more honest formulation would be “unless AccuWeather gets tired of making money out of public investment.”

Bloomberg sees Myers’ purpose as allowing private companies “room to grow.” We might compare this with Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia (this author is currently in Prague) to ensure “Lebensraum” (living space; literally, “room to live”): “Bohemia and Moravia have for thousands of years belonged to the Lebensraum of the German people.” Similarly, all public investments in the US have for 200 years been designed to give private companies and their owners “room to grow.”

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.