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Sharpiegate

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has not had a confirmed leader since Trump took office in January 2017. Trump nominated Barry Myers, whose conflict of interest is so blatant that the government has preferred to confirm no one at all for the job.

On May 1, 2019, a business columnist for the Los Angeles Times discussed the nomination of Barry Myers, the former CEO of AccuWeather and the brother of the current CEO, for head of NOAA. The conflict of interest is that "AccuWeather allegedly has tried to restrict [NOAA's public activities], largely because services provided by the National Weather Service, a NOAA agency, compete with AccuWeather’s business model of offering similar services for a price." In 2005, the Myers family asked Sen. Rick Santorum "to introduce legislation that would have barred the National Weather Service from issuing any weather forecasts that could be issued by private businesses. The Weather Service would be limited to forecasting extreme events such as hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis."

Myers is not even a scientist, as all but one previous heads of NOAA have been. Rather:

'Myers has built his business by taking NOAA data paid for by the taxpayers and turning it into products that AccuWeather sells,' observes Andrew Rosenberg, a former NOAA scientist and manager who is now director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. 'There’s nothing wrong with that, but he’s also pushed for the idea that the government shouldn’t compete with private business.'

While Myers had already resigned his position as CEO and divested his stock shares, nevertheless AccuWeather remains his family business, and "the overhanging suspicion of a revolving-door appointment can’t help but undermine the public’s faith that an appointee is acting exclusively in the public interest," the LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik explained.

On September 1, 2019, as Hurricane Dorian made its devastating Category 5 landfall in the Bahamas, President Trump claimed that Alabama “would most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated." There was no evidence for this. Hours later, NOAA sent a memo to the National Weather Service, saying that staff should not "provide any opinion" and "only stick with official National Hurricane Center forecasts if questions arise from some national level social media posts which hit the news this afternoon." In other words: Don't contradict the president.
A NOAA meteorologist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution said the note, understood internally to be referring to Trump, came after the National Weather Service office in Birmingham contradicted Trump by tweeting Alabama would 'NOT see any impacts from the hurricane.'

The same meteorologist said: “This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast."

David Titley, NOAA's COO during the Obama administration, tweeted that he didn't "know how they [NOAA leadership] will ever look their workforce in the eye again. Moral cowardice." Jane Lubchenco, who was a NOAA administrator during the Obama administration, said: "This looks like classic politically motivated obfuscation to justify inaccurate statements made by the boss." Michael Halpern, a deputy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, asked, "If we’re politicizing the weather what is there left to politicize?"

After Trump tried on Sept. 1 to prove that he was correct by showing a hurricane map that had been crudely modified with a Sharpie to include Alabama in the hurricane's path, NOAA again "sent a similar message warning scientists and meteorologists not to speak out."

For six days — during which the weather in Alabama was "bone dry" according to the chief meteorologist at a CBS-affiliated news source in Huntsville — "Mr. Trump continued his relentless campaign to prove that he was right when he predicted that Hurricane Dorian could hit Alabama regardless of what the scientists said." On Sept. 6, NOAA's Birmingham, Alabama office took a stand contrary to Trump's position, issuing a tweet stating that Alabama would not be affected. In response to the NOAA dissent, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reportedly threatened to fire NOAA leadership. NOAA then issued an unsigned statement that disavowed the tweet by the Birmingham office. (Ross denies having made those threats, and the Commerce Department opened an internal investigation into the matter.)

On September 9, 2019, New York Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman wrote:

At first Sharpiegate, Donald Trump’s inability to admit that he misstated a weather projection by claiming that Alabama was at risk from Hurricane Dorian, was kind of funny, even though it was also scary — it’s not reassuring when the president of the United States can’t face reality. But it stopped being any kind of joke on Friday, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement falsely backing up Trump’s claim that it had warned about an Alabama threat.

Why is this frightening? Because it shows that even the leadership of NOAA, which should be the most technical and apolitical of agencies, is now so subservient to Trump that it’s willing not just to overrule its own experts but to lie, simply to avoid a bit of presidential embarrassment.

Think about it: If even weather forecasters are expected to be apologists for Dear Leader, the corruption of our institutions is truly complete.

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