Monthly Archives: September, 2014

Sentencing Bob McDonnell, or…”Would you like fries with that?”

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Poor Governor Bob McDonnell! He is appealing his recent conviction of public corruption on grounds that his corruption was not nearly public enough. In the long list of questions people ask themselves after such disastrous, life changing events, (and an 11 count conviction on public corruption is nothing if not life changing) probably the most poignant is “what if?”

What if McDonnell had only paid Chef Tom Schneider properly instead of telling him to “take it out in trade?” Or what if ex-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli had not decided to prosecute Schneider (presumably in an effort to silence him) on grounds of stealing state property—property he allegedly was told to take by Maureen McDonnell? Then maybe Chef Tom would not have spilled the beans about McDonnell’s happy dance with Star Scientific’s Johnnie Williams to anyone who would listen. Or, put another way, what if McDonnell had not treated his help like second class citizenry? Why, he might still be waltzing around with Rolexes flashing, popping Anatabloc and taking midnight runs in Ferraris. It’s not like anyone else would have said anything.

But no. That’s not really his style. There’s a sense of aggressive entitlement that seems to have swamped McDonnell’s moral compass and caused him to assume a business as usual attitude toward a long list of indiscretions. Now, he must lie awake, sweating the days until his sentencing hearing, hoping they don’t send him packing to the big house for the foreseeable future, wondering “what if?”

But he just might get lucky. There are a few people, on both the left and the right, who think that putting Bob and Maureen in jail for a lengthy period of time is not ideal. Their arguments go something like this: Bob McDonnell, for all his venality, is not a violent criminal. It will cost the state nearly $ 40,000 a year to lock him up. And Virginia is in a budget shortfall anyhow, what’s the point? I tend to sympathize with this view, all schadenfreude aside, but there’s a part of me that still hesitates. What kind of example does that set, after all? Shouldn’t a religious family values conservative be held to account for soiling the good name of Virginia’s governorship and destroying his family in the process? If we let the Governor skip out on 11 counts of public corruption, what does this say to the rest of us? Especially, to the kid from Gilpin Court who is looking at ten years for trying to sell an ounce of weed?

So I was thinking about a suitable punishment the other day and really enjoying myself while imagining all the possible scenarios. Should we go all medieval and chain Bob up in stocks in Capitol Square, let him spend his days there as a counter example to public corruption? That was a pleasant thought, but then I realized we’d still have to feed him and potentially house him to some degree, at least during the winter months.

What was needed, I felt certain, was some way we could make an example of Bob without having to finance his life. If only we could do that, and at the same time make a political point that might help others. I was driving by a McDonald’s when it hit me. Maybe the name of the place clicked, or maybe it was just seeing the despondent look in the attendant’s eyes….

She had done nothing wrong, you see. She had likely spent the better part of her life in dead-end jobs, worked her way through high school, maybe even worked her way through college, but our economy is such that all she could find was this lowly service industry job. And, of course, adding insult to injury, this lowly service industry job hardly pays a living wage because minimum wage has been flat for the last decade thanks primarily to Republican politicians. And Bob is nothing if not a politician who believes in the beauty of the free market and hates the idea of government standard minimum wage laws that might actually make a livable wage possible…that’s when I knew.

I could just see him there. ‘Bob McDonnell’ embossed on a little golden name tag, hair still perfectly coiffed, “Would you like fries with that?”

So, please, don’t send Bob McDonnell to prison to live in country club, white-collar criminal comfort. We should let him get a real taste of hustling a menial job until he pays back his debt to society or, at minimum, the money he owes for his lawyer fees. My guess is that will be a few Happy Meals down the road.

This may also serve as an excellent reminder to treat everyone you meet with respect—even if they happen to be a service industry worker or a chef for the Governor’s mansion. After all, they might just be an ex-Governor, or someone who can do a Governor in.

And finally, maybe Republicans will start advocating a raise in the minimum wage if they know that they, too, might end up hustling fries like their one time front man? It’s worth a shot.

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And Galileo Wept

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In some ways, we’re brilliant. Take the Republican party, for example. Their representatives have declared that climate change isn’t real, evolution isn’t proven, rape isn’t a problem, birth control isn’t necessary, and guns are great. And they still keep getting elected. Not that political parties need to be immersed in the latest science, but to claim as Bobby Jindal recently did that he has no opinion on evolution because he’s not a biological evolutionist makes you wonder if he has an opinion on gravity, having never studied Newton. Or for that matter, what’s his opinion on the speed of light?

Alas, we are enveloped in waves of such sophistries. For politicians to parrot a climate denier’s implausible assumptions or some Missouri popinjay’s insistence that rape isn’t real, is to insist on the kind of ignorance that  must be actively sought after, applauded, advanced. In fact, this kind of ignorance must be so cleverly calculated that it can compel workers to vote against their own interest, over and over, like what happened recently in Tennessee when Volkswagen allowed its workers to vote for union membership and they voted it down while holding placards produced by Americans for Prosperity, an Orwellian named front group designed to bust unions, among other things. Funded by the Koch brothers, natch.

The media enables the sideshow, of course. Talking heads like George F. Will lend a patina of Edwardian styled class to what is at best an intellectual Happy Meal. This despite actual journalism going on in the same paper (the Washington Post) pointedly refuting George Will’s erroneous claims:

“The new evidence — including satellite data showing that the average multiyear wintertime sea ice cover in the Arctic in 2005 and 2006 was nine feet thick, a significant decline from the 1980s — contradicts data cited in widely circulated reports by Washington Post columnist George F. Will that sea ice in the Arctic has not significantly declined since 1979.”

Thank you Juliet Eilperin and Mary Beth Sheridan of the Washington Post, for pointing out the obvious, but gratitude aside, what kind of editorial hack would allow a columnist to essentially make up facts, or, at minimum, distort interpretation such that the column says the exact opposite of what the science is trying to convey? Fred Hiatt, at the Washington Post, for one. The Wall Street Journal editorial page for another. Then of course, Fox News. But even the so-called liberal media usually gets the frame wrong for science disputes. When Republicans say there is no such thing as climate change, and Democrats reply that climate change is real, CNN and the like say, “Look, Democrats and Republicans are fighting again,” which is a kind of truth, but Gravity is real and so is climate change. Why not point that out? Maybe, as a followup question, someone could ask Republicans what their feelings are on black holes and whether or not the Earth revolves around the sun?

Last weekend, well over 310,000 climate activists descended on NYC out of pure frustration with this phenomena (estimates range from 310,000 to over 500,000). For years now, as the science community has essentially screamed that climate change is real, is happening, is dangerous and will cause untold millions to suffer and cost untold billions, our conservative politicians essentially said, “Meh” or “I can’t hear you.” Or they presented disingenuous arguments like Republican congressmen Rep. Steve Stockman from Texas who claimed sea level rise will not be an issue because when ice melts in a glass of water it does not overflow, failing to realize that much of the ice on the planet is on land and would run into the ocean. Jon Stewart spent a bit of time at Comedy Central schooling him (after asking repeatedly, “are you fucking kidding me?”), which might be funny, only Stockman happens to sit on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee for the US House of Representatives; and, as such, guides our national agenda. This is rather like putting a six-year-old intellect in charge of our national science priorities. I say this with apologies to six-year-olds everywhere.

Not all Republican climate deniers are too stupid to breathe, however. Those with a glimmer of intelligence fall back on various dodges and rationales provided by lobbyists from energy companies and PR firms whose roots were formed deep in other, older protracted public relations battles around tobacco and cigarettes. The Royal Society conducted a survey that found ExxonMobil had given $2.9 million dollars to such American groups that “misinformed the public about climate change,” 39 of which “misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence”. In 2006, the Royal Society issued a demand that ExxonMobil withdraw funding for climate change denial. The institution was ignored. Between 1989 and 2002 the Global Climate Coalition, a group of mainly United States businesses, used aggressive lobbying and public relations tactics to oppose action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight the Kyoto Protocol. The New York Times reported that “even as the coalition worked to sway opinion [towards skepticism], its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.” The lobbyists, of course, remained undeterred—their job wasn’t science, after all, it was persuasion. And they were good at their jobs.

Thanks to such work, politicians have reversed their positions and moved away from supporting efforts to push for renewables and other ways to lessen our carbon footprint. Consider this: the 2012 Republican nomination battle saw Romney, Gingrich, and Pawlenty all disavow their past support for climate science and climate protection. In one debate, Pawlenty was challenged on his climate change efforts as head of the National Governors Association and governor of Minnesota, and he replied: “It was a mistake, and I’m sorry … You’re going to have a few clunkers on your record, and we all do, and that’s one of mine. … I made a mistake.” As Newt Gingrich took heat for a TV ad in which he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat together and spoke on behalf of climate action, he repeatedly declared it was “the dumbest thing I’ve done in the last four years.” Mitt Romney, who prioritized climate change action as governor of Massachusetts, used his speech accepting the Republican nomination to take a dig at President Obama’s concern over climate change, then repeated the line on Meet the Press, insisting: “I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet.”

Scientists came to a decisive view on the dangers of global warming in the 1980s, the Reagan era, when faith in the power of unfettered markets surged and it was harder than ever to make the case for collective action, market regulation and a strong role for the state. But tough national and international regulations is exactly what the crisis requires. Conservatives fought this not only because it aligned them with wealthy corporations whose deep pockets enabled their candidacies, but because it also aligned with their general principle that less government was always better.

Worse, though, in the world of the conservative ideologue, there’s a growing conviction that an environmental scientist is a potential 5th columnist. They call this the ‘watermelon’ theory on the environmental movement, green on the outside, red on the inside, because any effort toward stronger regulations is socialist, apparently. Does your organically cleaned washroom breed Bolsheviks? This is delusional, to be sure, but delusional world views have real world consequences. Galileo was sentenced to house-arrest and died a broken man in 1642. Shortly before he died, imprisoned and exhausted, Galileo denied what he knew to be true and finally agreed with the Catholic church: okay, whatever, the Sun revolves around the Earth. No oceans failed or worlds boiled into oblivion because of his capitulation, which, of course, will be the consequences of denying that anthropocentric global warming is real.

By the way, the Catholic church did not admit that they had made a mistake on that little matter of the Earth revolving around the Sun until 1992.