Tag Archives: UN

F**k The Planet

Back in 1992, when I became Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, I made it a rule to avoid using the word “outrageous” (a term which had evidently been a favorite of my predecessor), because I believed–and still believe– that when you label every policy or court decision with which you disagree outrageous, pretty soon no one pays any attention to you. You become the crank who cries wolf.

On the other hand, sometimes “outrageous” fits. It was the very first word that came to mind when I read this recent news item from PBS.

GENEVA (AP) — Almost every country in the world has agreed on a legally binding framework for reducing polluting plastic waste, with the United States a notable exception, United Nations environmental officials said Friday.

An agreement on tracking thousands of types of plastic waste emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of U.N.-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals. Discarded plastic clutters pristine land, floats in huge masses in oceans and entangles wildlife, sometimes with deadly results.

The framework will affect a broad range of products and industries, including health care, technology, aerospace, fashion, and the food and beverage industry. Refusing to get on board won’t allow the few non-signatory countries, like the United States, to escape its impact, because most of them ship plastic waste to countries that have signed on.

Norway led the initiative, which was first unveiled in September. As the report noted, the relatively short period of time from introduction to approval was a blistering pace by traditional U.N. standards–especially for an agreement that is legally binding.

The refusal of the Trump Administration to sign on to yet another global agreement–one that we will necessarily obey anyway–is simply a way of giving the middle finger to science, the United Nations, and our allies. It’s of a piece with Trump’s constant efforts to roll back domestic environmental protections. The President sneers when the threat of climate change is raised, and when it comes to protecting citizens from environmental hazards, his EPA demonstrates weekly that it is firmly in the pocket of chemical and fossil fuel companies.

The Trump Administration’s entire approach to environmental policy deserves to be labeled “outrageous.”

Contrast this fast and loose approach by people who evidently don’t care about the world their grandchildren will inhabit to the campaigns of the Democrats running for President, all of whom give evidence of taking environmental issues seriously.

Look, for example, at Jay Inslee’s campaign.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), candidate for the Democratic nomination for POTUS is near the back of the pack, polling at 1%. But his new Evergreen Economy Initiative is so very bold, matching the size of the response to the huge size of our climate crisis, that he has now moved into 2nd place in my own 2020 preferences. Warren is still first, but I hope she adopts a climate plan as bold as this. It dwarfs the Green New Deal.  The details are here.

It is not socialist, and does not rely entirely on governmental central planning, but it is a WWII sized effort based on the original New Deal.  It aims to revitalize Labor by repealing all “right to work” laws.It invests $9 Trillion in infrastructure (super high speed rail, better/smarter power grids, zero emission vehicles, green buildings, water conservation, etc.) and green energy production. It aims to get to a zero emission economy by 2030. The plan includes a carbon tax and plans to cap methane emissions and HFCs.

There is a “G.I. Bill” component aimed at coal communities to help them transition to new technologies and not be simply left behind (as they are now with all the coal plant closings).I think there needs to be a similar effort for places Alaska and the Gulf Coast to be quickly weaned off oil & natural gas.

Governor Inslee is highly unlikely to secure the Democratic nomination, but a number of the provisions of his bold initiative are likely to find their way into the platform of whoever does become the nominee.

Sometimes, the consequences of our choices in the voting booth aren’t terribly clear. That won’t be a problem in 2020. No one who cares about the environment, or the future of the planet (or, for that matter, human decency) can justify a vote for Trump or his enablers.

That word I tried so hard to avoid–outrageous– accurately describes both this utterly corrupt administration and the voters who continue to support it.

 

 

 

What is WRONG with these People?

The embarrassments just keep coming, and the continued descent into self-parody of a once-rational political party is painful to watch. It seems that every day brings a new “WTF moment,” another occasion to shake one’s head and contemplate the GOP’s penchant for self-destruction.

A couple of days ago, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled–a treaty modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Treaty would not have required a single change to current U.S. law; its ratification was, in a sense, a formality, intended to bring the rest of the member nations up to the standard set by the United States. Bob Dole came in his wheelchair to urge Republican Senators to ratify it. Dick Lugar and John McCain were among the eight GOP “defectors” who joined all of the Democratic Senators voting for ratification.

According to media reports, ultra-conservatives associated with the Tea Party, led by former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, opposed the treaty on the grounds that it threatened U.S. sovereignty and parental rights. Santorum, who has a daughter with special needs, argued that the treaty would effectively put the United States under international law and give the U.N. discretion over decisions about how special needs children are educated.

This, of course, is nonsense–part and parcel of the paranoia that characterizes the Right’s frantic rejection of anything connected to the United Nations and increasingly, Europe. Even Bob Dole and Dick Lugar couldn’t shame them--but then, how do you shame crazy? So–add the disabled to the growing group of constituencies–women, immigrants, gays, young people–that the party has infuriated.

Washington is hardly the only habitat of the legislative loon, of course. Here in Indiana, we breed dozens of them.

The Northwest Indiana Times captured a quintessential example, under a headline that deserves some sort of prize: “Indiana Senator’s Plan to Teach Creationism Evolves.”

State Senator Denise Kruse has sponsored some of the Senate’s most constitutionally-suspect measures. Most recently, he’s been trying to pass legislation that would require the teaching of creationism in public school classrooms. Last session, his measure passed the (overwhelmingly Republican) Senate, but House Speaker Brian Bosma killed it in the House. Bosma is a lawyer, and obviously is aware that the courts have settled this debate, holding that creationism is religion, not science, and cannot be taught as science.

Kruse told the Times that he would not submit a similar bill this time. No, he said, he “wants to empower students to challenge their teachers” and “to make sure what is being taught is true.” He will sponsor a bill require teachers to justify and support their lessons.

I don’t know what Kruse thinks happens in a classroom. Given his public pronouncements, it’s fair to assume he hasn’t been in many. But I can’t imagine a classroom where students don’t challenge their teachers, or a classroom where teachers aren’t absolutely ecstatic when they can share with students the evidence and research underlying the substance of their subject-matter. Does he think students come into the classroom for indoctrination sessions? That teachers hypnotize children, or pour pre-packaged lessons into the tops of their heads?

Since conspiracy theories seem to be the order of the day, here’s mine: someone is putting hallucinogenic substances in the food of Republican elected officials. And baby, those substances are strong.

Free Speech Means Free

Monday night, a student in my Law and Public Affairs class asked a question I get every so often. We were talking about free speech, and she wanted to know whether the right to say one’s piece extended to speech that “offended” people. It was pretty clear that she expected some variation of “well, no, there are limits.”

As I explained to her, among our cherished American rights, one that we don’t have is the right not to be offended. A right to expression that could be trumped by someone’s hurt feelings–or by a government concerned about someone’s hurt feelings–would not be a right at all.

This is the same point President Obama made forcefully in his speech at the UN yesterday. Speaking of the offensive video that sparked riots in the Middle East, he acknowledged that it was offensive–not just to Muslims, but to Americans. But he defended America’s approach to liberty, and denounced the notion that violence could ever be an appropriate response to even offensive or “blasphemous” speech.

The President also made a couple of points less often noted, but worth considering: In our globally-integrated, increasingly connected world, people without a tradition of free speech had better get used to hearing things they don’t like, because even authoritarian governments can no longer control expression. As technology improves, what little control they have will further diminish.

And a world where people respond irrationally and violently to speech that offends them is a world controlled by the worst elements of humanity, a world that has handed over to the haters the power to foment uprisings and debase civilizations. Such reactions to “offensive” speech are precisely what the speakers are trying to provoke–and by obliging them, those who disagree have given them power they could not otherwise attain.

In the U.S. and other countries with a tradition of free speech, we have learned that the most effective weapon against speech that offends us is to ignore it.