Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Climate,Scott and Mitch McConnell

Blind and naked Ignorance
Delivers brawling judgments, unashamed,
On all things all day long.
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Merlin and Vivien

There are two ways to attack climate change. One comes from Rick Scott of Florida and the other from Mirthful Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. They attack the same problem with different weapons. It all revolves around what some people call “climate change.” For Rick Scott the words are anathema because they suggest there is such a thing. For Mitch McConnell, attempts to stop it are offensive because those attempts have an adverse financial impact on those who give him money for his campaigns.

The two words are meant to describe a phenomenon that many scientists say the world is undergoing. Reports from assorted Florida sources demonstrate how Rick Scott responds to his fear of the words. The most recent example was offered by Barton Bibler, the Land Management Plan Coordinator for the Division of State Lands in Florida. He was reprimanded for “Poor Performance”, “Insubordination” and “Conduct Unbecoming a Public Employee.” It all came about because of his use of the proscribed words at a teleconference in which he participated. From the bureaucratic gobbledy gook in the Reprimand it is hard to understand exactly what Mr. Bibler, did or failed to do to deserve the reprimand. In speaking with the Washington Post, however, Mr. Bibler explains his offense. He said that in the teleconference there was a discussion about reports dealing with climate change and Mr. Bibler opined during the teleconference that the Keystone XL Pipeline would negatively affect Florida. He was told by his supervisor to remove the words “climate change” from his minutes of the teleconference. His subsequent refusal to do so constituted “insubordination.” As Mr. Bibler explained to the paper’s reporter: “We should be talking about climate change. If we can’t, that’s absurd. And it’s harming our future.”

The governor’s office insists there is no ban on the words. Other state employees, however, confirm the fact that they have been forced to remove the words from reports they have prepared. One scientist said she was required to remove the words “climate change” from a state report on climate change. Doug Young, the president of the south Florida Audubon Society, told the Guardian newspaper that when undergoing training to become a presenter of a Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) power point presentation on Florida’s coral reefs he was told he couldn’t mention climate change in his presentation. A report from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting quote six people who said the DEP banned the use of the words “global warming” or “climate change.” The people quoted included a former attorney with the department’s office of general counsel. Both the agency and the governor’s office said there was no such policy in place although when asked to provide examples of where the phrases were used in DEP materials, no examples were provided. Mirthful Mitch (aka Merry Mitch because of his unfailingly cheerful demeanor) is less concerned with words and more concerned with action.

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued regulations that will reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants and force many of them to close. Those plants are the major source of greenhouse gas emissions and funds for Mr. McConnell’s campaigns. (In the last election cycle coal companies gave Mr. McConnell more than a quarter of a million dollars, more than any other candidate received from them.) Mr. McConnell’s home state of Kentucky is one of the largest producers of coal and if coal fired power plants are forced to close, it will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that adversely affect all of us, as well as the profits enjoyed by his supporters through the sale of coal.

There is no way the senate can block implementation of the EPA rules but Mr. McConnell has begun an effort to get states to block enforcement of the new rules by engaging in litigation. He has sent a letter to every governor in the country outlining a legal strategy they can follow to stop the rules from becoming effective in their states. By tying up implementation of the rules through litigation, states that follow Mr. McConnell’s road map guarantee that carbon pollution will continue unabated in their jurisdictions for the foreseeable future.

Alan Rusbridger is the editor of the Guardian newspaper who is retiring this summer after 20 years in that position. In an editorial in that paper on March 6, 2015, he said that one of his few regrets as he looked back at his tenure was “that we had not done justice to this huge, overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species. . . . So in the time left to me as editor, I thought I would try to harness the Guardian’s best resources to describe what is happening and what-if we do nothing-is almost certain to occur, a future that one distinguished scientist has termed as ‘incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organized, equitable and civilized global community.’” Messrs. McConnell and Scott have no interest in being members of an “organized, equitable and civilized global community” nor do they belong in it. It’s a pity that they are in positions where their lack of interest adversely affects so many.

Discuss this column [12]


Thursday, March 12, 2015

God and Gays

Cried all, “Before such things can come,
You idiotic child,
You must alter human nature!”
And they all sat back and smiled.
— Charlotte Perkins Gilman, In This Our World

It is a whole new approach to bigotry and it comes just as the country is celebrating 50 years since Bloody Sunday in Selma. Those who still secretly harbor a longing for the days when racial prejudice was accepted in many parts of the country will be kicking themselves for not having thought of it back then. I refer of course to the steps being taken by state legislatures around the country to give religious cover to those who continue to find satisfaction in asserting their superiority to others by invoking whatever God they happen to be worshipping. Those over whom the devout wish to establish their superiority are the members of the LGBT community. As this is written legislators in at least five states are considering legislation that blesses (my word rather than theirs) the actions of those who refuse to make wedding cakes for same sex couples, offer them employment or otherwise assert their right to refuse to serve members of the gay community.

In Georgia two different versions of what is called the “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” are being considered. If enacted they would give Georgians “the right to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a sincerely held religious tenet or belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or a central part or requirement of the person’s religious tenets or beliefs.” The bill has gotten through the senate judiciary committee but has not yet been set for a formal vote. In Mississippi a pro-discrimination bill provides that the state may not “burden” a person’s exercise of religion. The bill was passed unanimously in the state senate. It now awaits action by the state house. In Missouri Senate Bill 916 permits businesses to refuse service to anyone if “the refusal is substantially motivated by sincere religious belief . . . .” If God tells someone in Missouri not to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple the law will sanction the refusal. Notwithstanding the foregoing, not all the news in this arena is bad.

In Colorado a pro-bigotry bill which is described in its preamble as being for “the protection of a person’s first amendment rights in the enforcement of public accommodations laws, and, in connection therewith, protecting a person’s right to not be involuntarily compelled in speech, acts of artistic expression, or acts of religious expression” was defeated in committee. Had it passed the owner of a hotel could have refused to rent a room to a gay couple without being in violation of any law pertaining to making accommodations available to all. It would also protect the baker whose religious belief tells him it is wrong to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. A companion bill was also defeated. It was described as concerning “state freedom of conscience protection act” and specified that “no state action may burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability. . . .” This bill, too, would have protected the recalcitrant baker. Colorado was not the only state to decline to follow in the footsteps of Missouri et al.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill presented to her entitled the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” She said the vetoed bill that her Republican controlled legislature passed would have permitted business owners to refuse service to gay people on the basis of religious beliefs.
In Arkansas a conscience protection bill was proposed. If a person’s conscience told the person that serving a gay person was wrong the bill provided that the person and the conscience would not be subject to legal penalties for their refusal to serve such persons. Although it was passed by the Arkansas House of Representatives it did not receive the votes it needed in the Senate Judiciary Committee to get it to the full senate. Although it may still get to the Senate it probably is of little importance since Arkansas has no law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Thus, it would seem, in Arkansas discrimination against gays is permitted without the benefit of new legislation.

Thanks to the invocation of religious conviction it is clear that prejudice in the United States is getting new life insofar as the LGBT community is concerned. It is acceptable to those promoting prejudice because they attribute their bigotry not to themselves but to the God by whom they pretend to be guided. It’s safe to say their God probably finds that surprising. He shouldn’t. Much of the evil that takes place around the world is done in the name of the God the perpetrators claim to worship. It must be hard on Him.

Discuss this column [2]


Thursday, March 5, 2015

DHS as Sacrificial Lamb

Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others?
— Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

It all worked out beautifully and the way it was structured made it absolutely clear that the House of Representatives was not acting out of self interest when it finally decided to fund Homeland Security and put an end to end the stalemate that threatened to defund Homeland Security, an action that would have put the whole country at risk of all manner of bad things from which it is protected by that agency. Members of Congress were acting in the best interests of the entire country which is exactly what we have come to expect from our elected representatives. It also became obvious why it did what it did.

At first observers wondered why members of the House didn’t link passage of legislation to reverse the president’s executive order with respect to immigration, to its own compensation instead of to the compensation of the folk who work at Homeland Security. Almost all of them earn considerably less than members of Congress and it is fairly certain that the President consulted with absolutely no one in Homeland Security before issuing the executive order to which Republicans took such strenuous objection. Why members of Congress did what they did and what members of the House who were the last hold-outs were almost certainly thinking was that if they were threatening to withhold their own pay (instead of the pay of those in Homeland Security) it would make them look bad if and when they finally agreed to approve their own pay without reversing the executive order to which they so strenuously objected. Had they structured the deal so that their pay was tied to overturning the executive order, the impasse might have been short lived. More importantly, however, if their opposition proved to be short lived, people would have assumed it was because members of Congress were more concerned about their compensation than about their principles. Therefore, they decided it made more sense to hold those who work for Homeland Security hostage to its goals so its members would not be accused of having acted out of self-interest when they finally accepted the inevitable.

The folks at Homeland Security probably wonder why they, of all the governmental agencies funded by Congress, became participants in the budget vs. the immigrants fight. The answer is Homeland Security is a very small agency. As of October 2013 the federal government had 2,721,000 employees (excluding members of the armed forces). Only two hundred thirty thousand people work at Homeland Security. Of that number 200,000 are considered “exempt employees” whose work is “necessary for safety of life and protection property.” They are required by contract to continue work even though they receive no pay until the budget is approved at which point they receive back pay. “Exempt employees” include, among others, those who are part of the formal greeters at the nation’s airports as travelers pass through security. It also includes those who are the first to greet illegal immigrants shortly after they have crossed the border into the United States. Since “exempt employees” are required to show up for work even if they receive no pay checks until the standoff comes to and the public would not even notice that they were working for free. Making them work for free inconveniences only 200,00 employees rather than the general public and members of Congress understandably thought that a small price for them to pay in order to reverse the President’s executive order on immigration reform. Only someone unschooled in the mind of the mindless in Congress would be puzzled by the link. (If a shutdown had occurred, the remaining 30,000 non-exempt Homeland Security employees would have been sent home and would have received no pay for their days off.)

The foregoing proves only one thing. The love members of Congress have for the United States and the appreciation they have for the work done by Homeland Security employees, who make them and the rest of the country safe, is exceeded only by their dislike for the President and his executive order. To prove their dislike they were prepared to let Homeland Security employees be the ones to make sacrifices for their country so members of Congress could make political points for themselves.

As we now know, the entire affair had a happy ending. People who work at Homeland Security were not forced to work without pay until the standoff ended or, in the case of a minority, go home for an indefinite leave without pay. The President’s executive order remains in full force and effect and members of Congress can now return to the difficult, but self-imposed task, of governing by doing nothing on the few days they can bring themselves to stay in Washington each month. Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

Discuss this column [1]