Response to Charlottesville

Having lived in David Duke’s home state of Louisiana for two years, I can tell you what he did today. He woke up and got to work, as he has done every day since he decided to spread his message. The man neither paused nor did he let defeat deflate his drive or let success give him pause through all these years. He may be cheering and celebrating today yet he was on the phone, posting online, and planning his programs, intent on his goal just as he has done every other day.

He is a racist, a bigot, and an anti-Semite but the First Amendment protects his right to spew his hatred.

What about you? What about me? Do you and I have the same depth of passion, but for justice and right? After all, fighting for climate change legislation is tough in a fossil fuel world. Explaining racial injustice and raising awareness of the economic injustices of energy policies to communities that do not want to hear facts and reason is a stubborn climb. Holding proudly to one’s faith in a cynical world can be a daily hurt. Are you still fighting?

This missive is not about the Neo-Nazis and the White Supremacists though. This message is about those who have the passion to fight for what is right, good, and godly, about those who stand up to the evil and hate. These people are our family, our friends, acquaintances, workmates and our members-in-faith.

One died and nineteen more lay wounded in the Charlottesville confrontation. Many, many more though, people of all colors, creeds and faiths, marched; they held the lines, and shouted down the hatred. Their passion brought them forth and their courage kept them going. The citizens of Charlottesville refused to accede to hatred, to acquiesce to murderous rage. Instead they welcomed those who hold beliefs of equality, justice, and freedom for all of God’s children. Together, they gave the voices of hatred no quarter and no measure of comfort to broadcast their message of intimidation and confrontation.

Evil only expands when it is allowed, when people of goodwill do not stand as a bulwark against the malicious tide. Silence, apathy and vacuum are tacit permissions to continue to fill the streets with hate-filled rhetoric. The streets of Charlottesville were not silent though and intimidation was met with spirited determination.

What about you? What about me? Are we going to sink into the sofa cushions or lean back into our computer chairs, and watch passively as a few good souls contest a contagious fear and paranoia? Whether the summons is the Hindu call of Gandhi, the Christian call of Martin Luther King Jr., or the beckoning of the ancient Israelite prophets, the universal demand of justice is broadcasting loud and clear across the land.

Will you and I answer the call? Shall we answer with unequivocal passion?

“Then I heard the voice of my God saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? Then I replied, ‘Here I am; send me.’”  Isaiah 6:8

Here I am; send me.

A Lesson in the Demise of Senator Skelos

Former New York State Senator Dean Skelos is going to jail for steering government contracts to his son as well as constructing quid pro quo arrangements for his son. The man was president of the State Senate and now he is convicted felon. At a newsy level his story is just another corrupt politician in a state with a long history of government corruption; however, the Skelos drama was almost an immitigable tragedy for the environmental health of the state.

One of the contracts Senator Skelos was trying to steer to his son was a consultant’s post for a fracking consortium. The deal was contingent on the state legislature passing a bill allowing fracking and Governor Cuomo signing off on the bill. The bill passed, regulatory agencies waffled, and only at the last minute did the governor refuse fracking in the state.

In one of the depositions, Skelos stated something to the effect that nobody wanted fracking in the state anyway. For a sum of a few hundred thousand dollars, the senator was willing to ruin the groundwater across numerous counties affecting thousands of residents and to accelerate climate change with the release that much more carbon into the atmosphere. The greed is bad enough but there is more to consider.

The consequences of fracking cannot be remediated. There are no courses of action that can purge the contamination of aquifers due to fracking. Further, there is no method to recall and seal away the millions of tons of carbon that are released into the atmosphere by fracking. Fracking is destroying areas of the country for lifetimes to come at the least and accelerating possibly irreversible climate change, which is our worst fear. Skelos was willing to do this for $400,000.

At every stage of this fracking debate in New York State, citizens and environmental organizations fought hard, bring to bear the science, the community concerns, and the moral imperative to keep fracking out of the state. Skelos did not give a scintilla of a thought to the science though he did not dismiss it. Worse, he ignored it. He had no moral compass, meaning that all of those impassioned arguments against fracking were trivialized as well. He heard all of the rancor and discord, dismissing it all in a narrow quest for the money.

Those of us who fight for legislation based on climate science are a serious lot, taking upon ourselves this burden as a life or death issue. It is. Former Senator Skelos and his ilk repudiate our fight as if it is just another political skirmish, another opportunity for scoring political points or securing personal financial gain. Their approach is morally reprehensible. Humanists and God believers alike are repulsed for the same reason of short-sighted moral bankruptcy.

The lesson of Senator Skelos is that we cannot relent on the pressure we bring to bear. Dean Skelos was never going to listen but Governor Cuomo did. In any given legislative or regulatory push, we may never know where our voice of reason and merit will overcome the obstacles. So we push; we push everywhere. To friends and foes alike, let all take note that we will not stop until our planet is pulled back from the brink.

American Democracy 2014, part 2

The United States has the best Congress that money can buy. The funny thing about that statement is not the money, which is true, but the idea of the best Congress. The approval ratings for Congress among the polled population of the United States is in the ten’s or teen’s. If we were viewing Congress on Amazon or Zappos, we would not be clicking the “Buy” button.

Congress is not happy with themselves either. They will not sit in the same dining room with each other, nor exchange greetings in the hallway or even acknowledge the others’ existence except as caricatured villains. Why are they unhappy?

They have the same issue their constituents have – they despise the money that funds their legislative seat. Individual senators and representatives must spend hours each day raising campaign money. They must raise between $1,500 to $10,000 each day (analysts disagree on a number) to fund the ever more expensive, longer campaign season. Your legislators sit in a Democratic or a Republican campaign office just off of Capitol Hill every day trolling for money. They will spend more hours asking for money than they will spend legislating according to some commentators.

Almost everybody is unhappy with the system we have now. Almost everyone.

Our national legislators may be compared to hamsters on the wheel in a cage, a very nice cage to be sure. They have to keep going; they have to fill the campaign chest. They also have to write legislation and vote on it. People are on the other end of the phone telling the senators and the representatives how they should vote but it is usually not constituents. Constituents talk to the legislative consultants on staff. Their leadership is telling them how to vote for the sake of the party apparatus, which also needs money. Somewhere, far out there is in the field, is a press secretary telling the constituents that the representative and the senator is doing all he/she can to get it right for them.

The nature of American democracy is that there should be some money involved. People willing to put up money to fund a candidacy is a legitimate test of worth and electability. However, we are far beyond the reasonable test of money in campaigns. The extremely high bar for dollars that we have now has invalidated and corrupted what was once a worthwhile hurdle.

American democracy 2014 is the most expensive Congress that money can buy. We expect Congress to help us when it seems that we need to help them more.

American Democracy 2014

Every year I take High School students to Capitol Hill to lobby on issues of Social Justice. Watching the students engage and and argue their points with the legislative consultants in the offices is an uplifting experience. However, none of these students will be making donations to their legislator’s campaigns and that niggling fact pesters we as I walk the halls of the Canon and Rayburn buildings, especially after the Citizen’s United decision from the Supreme Court allowing corporations to make unlimited donations.

I was wrong. Citizen’s United did not change voting patterns in the U.S. Congress. The twist is that the voting patterns had already changed a dozen years earlier. A new study out of Princeton University compares opinion polls on issues and bills before congress with money spent by lobbyists in the employ of specific interests whose opinion was contrary to the constituents. The special interests won more often – a lot more often.

The radical conclusion of the new study is that the United States is no longer a democracy but an oligarchy. Legislation is passed that reflects the opinions of the very wealthy and disregards the opinions of the rest of the citizens.

The study is found here: http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf

A synopsis of the study is found here: http://www.commondreams.org/views/2014/04/14/us-oligarchy-not-democracy-says-scientific-study

The Symptom or the Source?

From India emerged a story of two women who were gang-raped and then hanged in the middle of the night in a rural hamlet. The local police were slow and hesitant to respond. Outrage across India has been vocal and the State finally stepped in. Arrests have been made. However, the estimate of the moment is that a woman is raped every half hour in India, mostly in the rural areas. Prosecuting one case of rape/murder does not appear to affect this criminal behavior.

The first solution, arrest followed by conviction, has failed to change behavior even though we think it should. Fear of punishment should prevent crime from happening. This is not the best model of morality, not doing something out of fear of getting caught, and it does not work in any case. There is little fear.

The source of the problem is that women are isolated and alone in a largely lawless, violent area. India is unable to impose law and order in these rural areas and therefore rapists will be deterred. Since the rapists cannot be stopped, the better solution is to change the women’s circumstance.

The solution is toilets. Yes, toilets. There are no privies in these rural areas and relieving of human wastes is done in the fields, in the open. Modest women will wait until it is dark to go out into the fields to relieve themselves, some in the middle of night for complete privacy. This circumstance makes women utterly vulnerable and indeed, this is when the rapes usually take place. A non-profit group is now installing outdoor toilets in these rural areas, allowing these women to relieve themselves during the day and under the watchful eyes of family.

The community is given the tools, in this case a sanitary toilet, to protect and police themselves. The land is still lawless but the women are safe. With the immediate threat to life averted, perhaps the Indian government will be able to address the issue of corrupt police forces and crimes against lower castes.