Friday, March 07, 2008

The real Christians

-- by Dave

I think growing up a religious minority in a community dominated by one faith (I was raised in a town that was, and I think still is, nearly three-quarters Mormon) must have made it easy for me to understand why we have a First Amendment separation of church and state.

It was always fairly obvious that the main bulwark it creates keeps the people who have the most votes from cramming their religious beliefs down everyone else's throat. And of course, in our town, Mormons were always rubbing up against church-state separation, especially in the schools, and that made me especially grateful. Visions of dress codes requiring us to wear white shirts and ties and ride bicycles danced in our heads.

Of course, if anyone should be sensitive to the matter of religious freedom and the utility of church-state separation, you'd think it would be Mormons, since probably no other modern American faith (besides Judaism) has such a clear history of enduring religious persecution. But I think Mitt Romney's Muslim-bashing of a few months ago revealed just how confused the issue is wherever religious conservatism in general can be found.

The modern religious right, which constantly has placed church-state separation under attack (even claiming, with great frequency, that it's a "myth"), really puts my old hometown Mormons to shame, though. I can't tell you how many times in the ensuing years "born again" Christians I've known, swollen with spiritual pride, have questioned whether or not I and others, mostly on the liberal side of the faith equation, are "real" Christians -- often based on narrow doctrinal standards that actually only exist within their own fairly narrow, cultic fundamentalist belief systems.

And when they do, I've thanked God that they don't have the means to force those beliefs down my throat. Yet.

I was reminded of this when reading about the pastor who is demanding that Barack Obama explain the detail of his faith, evidently still suspicious of his "Muslim background":
For his part, Schenck declared that he has no reason not to take Obama “at his word” regarding his Christianity … and then proceeded to question the legitimacy and depth of his faith, saying “The question becomes: How serious, how profound is the religious commitment that Barack Obama has made" considering that United Church of Christ to which he belongs has strayed dramatically from “historical, Biblical Christianity … from historic, moral Christian instruction.” Schenck also says it is interesting that Obama claims to “pray to Jesus” rather than “pray to God in Jesus’ name” and takes issue with Obama’s claim that his views on topics like civil unions and abortion don’t make him any less of a Christian, saying that “he owes the public a further explanation of that and most certainly religious people.”

Actually, he doesn't owe Schenk or anyone else any more explanation than what he's given. Because faith, in the end, has to be an innately private matter, a question of each person's "walk with God," as it were. And no one but God has the right to judge that.

Even the Mormons I grew up with understood that. After all, it's an article of faith for the Schenks of the world that they're not real Christians either.

But you know, I think they're just projecting again.

A friend in need

-- by Dave

An Idaho blogger I've been reading the past few years, Sara Anderson at F-Words, could really use our help. So I'm sending out the signal flares.

Sara was diagnosed a couple of weeks ago with a brain tumor. She underwent surgery earlier this week, and is now recovering.

As her husband Andy, who's now blogging in her place, puts it, the financial ramifications of these kinds of operations are frightening. Obviously, insurance only begins to cover this sort of thing.

Sara's bright, funny, and smart, and a real asset not just to the blogosphere but the human race. There's a donation button atop her site. Send her some love.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

First Adolf, Now Damien

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

If you thought the wingnuts had reached their nadir with the comparisons of Obama to Hitler, it’s important to remember: when it comes to the right, things can always get worse.

So this week we could find CNN’s Glenn Beck, in an interview with religious crackpot John Hagee, wondering aloud if Obama is the Antichrist:
BECK: Let me ask you, and this is — ’cause I got — I get so much email on this, and I think a lot of people do, and I’ve only got a couple of seconds. Then they say "Glenn, you in the media, you’ve got to wake up. Barack Obama’s making people faint and cry and everything else. And he’s drawing people in and — "

There are people — and they said this about Bill Clinton — that actually believe he might be the Antichrist. Odds that Barack Obama is the Antichrist?
Note that Beck somehow manages to not just overlook Hagee’s many outrageous remarks about other faiths, but also lets Hagee misrepresent the reasons that Catholic activists have called him a bigot: "I have criticized the Catholic Church for its past anti-Semitism. But I have also been very critical of the Protestants and their anti-Semitism, especially as led by Martin Luther," he says. "Standing against anti-Semitism does not make me an anti-Catholic."

In reality, Hagee has done much more than just criticize Catholic anti-Semitism. In his latest book, he writes: "The sell-out of Catholicism to Hitler began not with the people but with the Vatican itself."

He also has variously called the church "The Great Whore," an "apostate church," a "false cult system" and … you guessed it … "the "anti-Christ."

I guess that’s why he told Beck that Obama isn’t the anti-Christ. He’s already got some other entity in mind.

Not that an ever-incisive observer like Glenn Beck could be bothered to mention this.

Of course, no one really takes Beck very seriously, except for the CNN poobahs who’ve given him a national megaphone to spew his verbal smegma. But you know how these things work.

In couple of weeks, it’ll be on the tongues of the Village Idiots. Look for Tim Russert to grill Obama at some point about whether or not he has 666 tatooed on his ass.

After all, we were treated this week to the vapid maunderings of Maureen Dowd channeling Steve Sailer by depicting the Obama candidacy as being propelled largely by white guilt. And of course, the "Adolph Obama" theme first could be found out in wingnut territory before it came bubbling up in the mainsteam. Thanks to Beck, we’ve now skipped the fringe step and are broadcasting nutcase ideas to a mainstream national cable TV audience.

Next up: Obama is an alien!

A win for the cetaceans

-- by Dave

I've been trying to monitor the situation involving the Bush administration's attempts to bypass the law and proceed with its cetacean-killing sonar tests along the Pacific Coast.

This week there was an important victory on this front, picked up by Hunter at Random -- a court ruling requiring the Navy to stop with its current plans:
A federal appeals court has ruled that the Navy must protect endangered whales from the potentially lethal effects of underwater sonar during anti-submarine training off the Southern California coast, rejecting President Bush's attempt to exempt the exercises from environmental laws.

In a Friday night ruling rushed into print ahead of the next scheduled exercise on Monday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a federal judge's decision that no emergency existed that would justify Bush's intervention.

The Navy is engaged in "long-planned, routine training exercises" and has had ample time to take the steps that the law requires - conduct a thorough review of the environmental consequences and propose effective measures to minimize the harm to whales and other marine mammals, the three-judge panel said.

The court noted that the Navy has been conducting similar exercises for years, has agreed in the past to restrictions like the ones it is now challenging, and was sued by environmental groups in the current case nearly a year ago. The lower-court judge reviewed the evidence and found nothing to support the Navy's claim that the protective measures would interfere with vital training or hamper national security, the court said.

Past rulings have established that "there is no 'national defense exception' " to the National Environmental Policy Act, the court said. That law requires government agencies to review projects that might harm the environment and propose reasonable protective measures.

The best news for Northwesterners is that the court's action will also block similar tests in the waters of Puget Sound and elsewhere:
The ruling sets a precedent for federal courts in California and eight other Western states. One of those states is Hawaii, where a federal judge on Friday ordered similar restrictions on Navy sonar exercises off the Hawaiian islands. The ruling by U.S. District Judge David Ezra includes requirements to reduce sonar when whales are detected within certain distances or when conditions make monitoring difficult.

The Navy has completed six of the 14 large-scale training exercises scheduled off Southern California between February 2007 and January 2009. It decided not to conduct a full environmental review before the operations, saying it had already agreed to post lookouts for whales and taken other adequate protective measures.

In an August 2007 ruling, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of Los Angeles said the Navy's measures were "woefully ineffectual and inadequate" and would leave nearly 30 species of marine mammals at risk, including five species of endangered whales.

She said the Navy's own research shows that its use of mid-frequency sonar can damage the hearing of whales and dolphins, can interfere with their ability to find food and mate, and has been linked to the beaching of whales.

I'm sure our local killer whales would be relieved to know.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

How the Conservatives Got It Right

-- by Sara

As of this week, I'm halfway through my tenure as this quarter's blogger-in-residence over at the Campaign for America's Future. It's been quite a ride.

This week, I've put up Part II of a three-part series that's taking an in-depth look at the basic strategies the conservatives used to win (to the extent that they did win) the culture war. Mainly, it's about how they built their entire movement around the single goal of promoting the conservative worldview, which provides the cognitive foundation for every other program and policy on their agenda. Once we learned to see the world their way and accept their foundational assumptions about how it worked, they knew that getting the rest of their agenda passed would happen far more easily and naturally.

This plan was solidly grounded in the social sciences, and relied on understandings gleaned from social psychology, cognitive psychology, linguistics, and sociology. In other words: it was damned insightful and smart -- and there are a lot of useful lessons progressives can glean from it as we try to pull together a movement that will endure for the long haul.

You're invited to go take a look.

Part I
Part II
Part III will go up next Monday.

The Clinton Rules for the Obamas

-- by Dave

The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi -- who has a history of clutching her pearls over the thought of Democrats standing up to Republicans, and offering sanctimonious advice that's simultaneously bad -- weighed in this week on Michelle Obama:
If Michelle Obama isn't careful, she could get the Hillary Clinton treatment, circa 1992.

... Bill Clinton may have a tough time trying to define his role as "first laddie," but Michelle Obama also walks a delicate line. Smart, tough political wives like Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Laura Bush are acceptable; in public, they are adjuncts to the husband elected by the voters, even as they wield power behind the scenes. As first lady, Hillary Clinton openly crossed the line into politics and policy, often to harsh reviews.

Michelle Obama can expect more scrutiny from the right, from the sentiments expressed in her senior thesis -- "I will always be a black first and a student second" -- to her push for more African American faculty and students at Harvard Law School. So far, she isn't intimidated.

I hate to burst Vennochi's bubble, but both Obamas are going to get the Clinton treatment. It happened to Al Gore and John Kerry as well. And we've already seen it in action this week. It's really just getting underway now, but expect it to be operating at full tilt by midsummer.

What we're confronted with is a Beltway media mindset that is systemically hostile to Democrats while simultaneously coddling (and propping up) conservatives. It's just a fact of life, and an ugly one. And until self-hating "liberals" come to grips with that reality, they're doomed to irrelevance.

When government is good

-- by Dave

One of the staples of Republican politics since Reagan -- both at the national and the local levels -- has been to bash government as fundamentally "the problem" and to argue for tax cuts, deregulation, and other reductions in the reach of government as the solution to all our ills.

Well, as Rick Perlstein and Co. have been steadily documenting at The Big Con, it's mostly a load of hooey. While any massive bureaucracy is going to have built-in dysfunctions that have to be overcome, the reality of what we've experienced through the cumulative effects of conservative governance has spoken for itself: toxic toys and dead pets, Katrina, mine disasters, Enron, housing foreclosures ... the list of domestic disasters is endless.

And then there is the example of what happens when you get good governance.

Darryl at HorsesAss has a terrific post up about this, using our own Washington state as a prime example. As he explains, the right-wing anti-tax mantra has produced a string of initiatives all built on the notion that we need to cut back on government generally. It's used three basic claims consistently over the past two decades, really:
--The Washington state government performs poorly.

-- The state government hurts the business climate.

-- We are overtaxed for what we get out of our government.

The first two points, in fact, are simply not true:
In February, 2005 we learned just how good we have it government-wise. The Pew-sponsored Government Performance Project (GPP) graded Washington state a B+. From the individual scores, Washington ranked as the third best state government, with only Utah and Virginia doing better. When the report came out, we were in the midst of a contested gubernatorial election. The report seemed largely overlooked.

Last year we learned just how good we have it business-wise, when Forbes’ annual survey ranked Washington state number five in the nation for business climate. And Fortune magazine rated Washington the fourth best state in which to start a business—specifically citing our “low taxes”.

And earlier this week we learned how consistently good we have it government-wise when the 2008 GPP report was released. The 2005 results were not a fluke. Once again, Washington state ranks third behind Utah and Virginia. Our grade improved slightly to an A- overall. Individual grades were A- for money, A- for people, B+ for infrastructure, and A for information (see the full report for what these categories mean and how the grading was done).

Together these four reports strongly suggest that Washington’s government and business climate are near the top in the nation.

Darryl, as it happens, is a good number-cruncher, and he crunches the numbers and finds that Washington actually ranks sixth in national efficiency as far as returning value to its taxpayers -- which flatly contradicts the right-wingers' claims otherwise.

He concludes:
The perpetual whiners in this state who claim that our government is broken, inefficient, poorly performing, bloated, ineffective, incompetent, and expensive are wrong—they don’t know how good they have it. They’ve hunkered down so tightly on the compound that they’ve lost touch with reality.

The facts are plain and can be evaluated objectively…Washington state is one of the greatest values around in state government. And, judging by the recent increases in both the GPP scores and the Forbes rankings, Washington is not only a great value, but has been improving.

I've always thought we had it great here, but government hasn't been part of why I've thought that. Just goes to show how easily we can take these things for granted -- which is part of the problem, electorally speaking.

A different kind of rage

-- by Dave

One of the unpleasant facts about being a journalist is that sooner or later, you're going to be wrong and make mistakes. I've certainly made them here before, and doubtless will again. But as always, when it happens I do what I can to correct.

A couple of weeks ago I popped up a quick post about the rampage by an enraged citizen in the council chambers of Kirkwood, Mo., and suggested that it fit into a pattern of anti-government extremism playing out in a violent spiral as it often has in other locales. Even though the perpetrator was a black man, in most other respects this incident initially resembled those earlier incidents.

But it turns out that the matter is considerably more complex than that.

Brad Hicks has been looking deeper into the case, noting that Kirkwood has a history of being something of a "sundown suburb" (which we've discussed at length previously:
Fortunately, James Kirkwood's experiment had accidentally shown the way out of this dilemma. Kirkwood didn't buy into this idea, much, but all of the suburbs north of Kirkwood, the ones that were unsuccessfully trying to copy James Kirkwood's formula, revamped themselves as working class communities. Then the city of St. Louis not-to-gently encouraged the entire working class population of the north half of St. Louis to evacuate to north and northwest county, to make room for all-black tenements. To this very day, if you're black, and you want to live in a neighborhood that happens to be less than 10% black, good luck getting a realtor anywhere near St. Louis to show you a house, or a landlord to admit that there are any apartments for lease.

Moreover, there's evidence of a racial animus at play in the drama that played out last month, Hicks reports:
But unless they can show even one white contractor in Kirkwood who was treated the same way when he didn't immediately pack up his business and leave town, they still have something important left to explain, because the evidence is clear and unambiguous: for a span of roughly one year, the city of Kirkwood, and specifically one of Thornton's targets that night Public Works Director Ken Yost, absolutely was trying to put him out of business in an over-the-top campaign of harassment.

Hicks has done exemplary work on this case, and hopefully he will get answers to some of the questions he raises.

In the meantime, I'm glad to correct the record on this. (And a hat tip to Brennan.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The hate bubbles up

-- by Dave

If you want to get a good look at the corrosive power of bias crimes within a community, a prime example recently occurred in San Bernardino, where the increasing presence of neo-Nazis and other white supremacists has been noted in recent years:
A Calimesa man will stand trial on a hate crime charge in addition to murder and attempted murder counts, a judge ruled Monday.

Christopher Fulmer, 30, will be tried in the fatal Dec. 4 shooting of Joshua Morales, also 30, of Bermuda Dunes, and the wounding of a second man during a confrontation on a Yucaipa street, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville decided.

Fulmer's attorney, James Gass, argued that it was not a hate crime and said his client was defending others.

Yeah, right:
On Friday, when Fulmer's preliminary hearing began, Robert Alexander, a San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department homicide detective, testified that Gilbert Aguilar had told him that he was walking alone to a friend's house between 4 and 5 p.m. Dec. 4 when four white men confronted him at California Street and Avenue B.

According to a witness, the men used a racial slur when they saw Aguilar, who later identified one of the men as Fulmer. After exchanging words, Aguilar and the four men parted ways.

On Monday, sheriff's Detective Greg Myler said the four men went to a park where, according to witnesses, they were upset because Aguilar had not backed down, which they thought he should because he's Hispanic. They talked about wanting to beat him up and to teach him a lesson, Myler said. Witnesses described Fulmer as the leader, Myler testified.

Myler said a friend of Fulmer's who was at the park and involved in the confrontation told him they are part of a group that tries to start fights with Hispanics and blacks by making derogatory comments. The only reason the group confronted Aguilar was because he's Hispanic, Myler said, recounting the interview.

Deputy District Attorney Dan Detienne presented a group photo that shows Fulmer and others making a Nazi salute. Fulmer has a swastika tattooed on his chest.

Detienne argued Monday that Aguilar was targeted because he is Hispanic.

As we've been reporting, violent bias crimes against Latinos are rapidly increasing, doubtlessly fueled in large part by the ugly rhetoric of demonization used by both anti-immigrant activists and their media mouthpieces -- not to mention leading right-wing politicians.

Most of the work in dealing with these crimes is going to occur on the local level -- and fortunately, San Bernardino's police responded properly and professionally in dealing with this incident. But there are going to be many more of these coming down the pike, as evidenced by the increasing boldness of the overt white supremacists. Just wait until that prison population of Aryan Brotherhood members starts hitting the streets over the next few years.

It's important to remember that last year's federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act -- which met an untimely death at the hands of spineless Democrats -- was in fact predicated on enhancing the ability of local law enforcement to handle the extra burden that dealing with bias crimes entails.

And as I said at the time:
Let's face it: This legislation was tagged as a "gay issue" -- mainly because the opposition to it arose almost wholly from the inclusion of sexual preference as a category of bias, fueled by the homophobes of the religious right. And gay-rights groups were certainly in the forefront of pushing the bill. However, other progressives, including those directly affected by hate crimes, neglected to join in the fight to any notable extent. Where were the civil-rights groups, the immigrant-rights groups, the labor unions?

How was it possible, for instance, for thousands of African Americans to march on the Justice Department and demand hate-crimes enforcement, as they did last month, and have no one mention the pending hate-crimes law?

After all, the bill specifically addresses the very issue that lies at the heart of the "Jena 6" controversy -- namely, the failures of law enforcement to adequately enforce these laws. The legislation, as I've noted previously, is carefully written to emphasize helping local law enforcement do its job -- provide training, help identify bias crimes, provide funds for strapped prosecutors -- and it specifically defers to local jurisdictions. At the same time it makes it possible for federal authorities to move in when local law enforcement fails to do so, particularly in any of the seven states that have no bias-crime law.

Similarly, it's been hard to find much in the way of serious support for the Shepard bill from Latinos and immigrant-rights organizations. There have been exceptions: The Latino Coalition made an effort to support the bill, and Latino bloggers like Xicanopwr chimed in as well. Nonetheless, the support was surprisingly muted and not particularly broad, in spite of the fact that Latino immigrants have been among the chief victims of the recent spike in hate-crimes nationally reported by the FBI.

One has to hope that in the coming year, when this legislation comes up again, those Latino and African American civil-rights advocates will be linking arms with their allies in the GLBT community to get the job done. Because the cops in places like San Bernardino are going to need all the help they can get.

Another Story about Dick

-- by Sara

I'll step in here and second Dave's recommendation below of Rebecca Solnit's excellent piece on the devastating implications of the ongoing disconnect between arrogant urban environmentalists and (often justly) suspicious locals. I'd also like to offer, by way of example, a tale of how well this can work when it does work, and why it's so important to bridge this gap -- a long-ago episode in which the participation of one smart local gave environmentalists the piece they needed to win a battle that ultimately affected the entire ecosystem of the West Coast.

I grew up not far south of Mono Lake, a vast salt-water lake that's wedged in between Yosemite's eastern Tioga Pass gate and the California-Nevada border. Mono is one the continent's most ancient lakes -- a strange, sere and otherworldy landscape marked by lumpy columns of tufa, water so salty you simply float on it, and more birds than you've ever seen in one place in your life. (High Plains Drifter and Alien Planet were both filmed on Mono's shoreline, which gives you some idea.)

Remote and bizarre as it is, the lake plays a defining role in the life cycle of hundreds of migrating bird species. It's a major north-south migration depot that's relied on by birds migrating all the way from South America to Alaska. It's too salty for fish, but rich with algae, brine shrimp, and brine flies, which the birds rely on to fuel their further flight. Two large islands in the lake's center also served as the predator-free breeding grounds for about a third of California's seagulls (the rest are hatched at the Great Salt Lake -- the only two places these iconic coastal birds breed). An experienced birder could spent a weekend at Mono in June and add 70 or more birds to his or her life list. (I know, because I've done it.)

It was the birds that first brought a quiet young ornithologist, David Gaines, to the lake in the early 1970s. After he finished his degree at UC Davis, he moved to the lakeside town of Lee Vining (pop. about 250 at the time) to settle in and spend his life studying the lake's birds, and the larger ecology that supported them.

Gaines was the first one to notice that the lake was in serious ecological trouble. Millions of humans depend on Mono Lake, too: in 1941, it was appended as the new northern terminus of the long aqueduct system that brings the eastern Sierra's water to the taps of Los Angeles. The city had diverted four of the lake's five feeder streams into the aqueduct, leaving only one to feed the lake. About 15% of LA's water supply came from these four streams.

The one remaining creek wasn't enough to sustain the ecosystem, and evaporation did the rest. By the late 1970s, the lake had shrunk by a third. The surface level had dropped 45 feet, exposing a land bridge between the shore and the gulls' main breeding island that allowed coyotes to come across and devastate the chick population. The water doubled in salinity, to the point where it was getting too salty to sustain the algae and the brine shrimp. The hundreds of bird species that depended on the lake as a migration stop were arriving to find there were fewer safe places to rest, and less and less to eat. The loss of those birds would, in turn, affect ecosystems thousands of miles away. Mono Lake, we were learning the hard way, was an essental keystone in the ecology of the entire West.

Gaines formed an environmental organization, The Mono Lake Committee, to raise money for a legal fight to challenge LA's water diversions. The Audubon Society and the Sierra Club lent their support to the battle; and a noted San Francisco law firm volunteered to take on the case pro bono. Environmentalists in both Los Angeles and the San Francisco area went on high alert. Ultimately, the city of Los Angeles was sued for refusing to file the required environmental impact reports, for violating air quality standards (the alkaline dust rising off the exposed shoreline created horrific air pollution), and for whatever else the environmental attorneys could think of. Millions of dollars were raised. State officials were taken on tours of the lake. A public awareness campaign put "Save Mono Lake" bumper stickers on cars all over the west.

But the city of LA, which had gotten its way in the Eastern Sierra for 75 years, fought back hard. They had money, momentum, and nothing but time on their hands. What they didn't reckon -- what nobody on either side reckoned -- was the winter of 1982, which turned into the wettest winter anybody had ever seen.

There was so much water coming down the Sierra's eastern mountainsides that year that the aqueduct couldn't take it all. The LA Department of Water & Power was left with no choice but to let some of it run back down into the four Mono Lake feeder streambeds, none of which had seen anything but trickles in over 40 years. And that -- though nobody realized it at the time -- was the beginning of the end.

My mother, who was the water commissioner for the next county south of the lake (which was also suing the DWP for other reasons) still remembers the meeting. David was there, along with officials from Mono County, attorneys from San Francisco, and various concerned locals. It was their regular public task force meeting to coordinate strategy on all the various lawsuits both counties and the Mono Lake Committee had in play. In the middle of the discussion, one good old boy -- that would be our only Dick, a retired geezer who was a stalwart of the local fishing club -- stood up and asked to be heard.

"We've got 'em where we want 'em now," he declared.

We do? The commissioners, lawyers, and activists looked at him, puzzled and expecting an unnecessary digression from the matters at hand. Dick was known as concerned citizen -- but was not, shall we say, noted for his keen command of the issues.

"Yep. We do. The state fisheries law says you can't turn the water out of a stream if there's fish in it. All four of those creeks have fish in them now. So they can't take that water back out again."

Everybody suddenly woke up. This guy had to be kidding.

"No -- here it is." Dick fished a crumpled piece of folded yellow-pad paper out of his pocket, and read aloud the pertinent piece of an obscure early 1900's state fisheries code -- which he'd copied down, chapter and verse. The San Francisco lawyers scribbled furiously. The commissioners sat, stunned. The activists suppressed huge whoops of glee.

Dick was right. The lawyers went back to their Bay Area offices and quickly confirmed that that old code was still in force; and that there was no legal way the DWP could take the water back out of those streams, ever. The whole direction of the fight was transformed in that moment. From that time forward, the negotiation was not whether or not LA had the right to take the water; but how much water they'd be allowed to divert each year and still maintain the fisheries.

The battle for Mono Lake ground on for another ten years. But those who were involved with it remember the moment that old Dick stood up as the turning point. Until then, the legal argument had turned on enforcing the new bushel of environmental laws passed in the early 1970s. Nobody had thought to research the pertinent fish and wildlife or boating laws, some of which dated back into the 19th century. But those were the legal precedents that ultimately won the fight.

Once they were onto the fish-protection law, the attorneys kept digging -- and soon uncovered a another large body of old "public trust" laws that covered navigable rivers and lakes. In the end, the state Supreme Court ruled that Mono Lake was subject to the public trust laws regarding navigable waters; and that the DWP would also have to maintain and restore the fish habitat. In 1994, the State Water Resources Board ordered the city of Los Angeles to reduce diversions until the lake is returned a sustainable level and the habitats are restored. The lake level is now rising at about a foot a year, and is expected (barring drought) to meet a sustainable level by about 2015. The victory is still fragile, as both LA and other western states try to undermine the laws that supported the state's decisions; but for now, the lake is on track to be saved.

David Gaines didn't live to see that victory. He was killed in a truck accident in January 1988, leaving behind his wife and a baby girl. He was a friend, and I still think of him whenever I see the many birds -- nighthawks, jaegers, buntings, plovers, and wrens -- he taught me to find. But the fight he waged to save Mono Lake ended up saving the local economy as well. It put Lee Vining on the map as a tourist destination drawing photographers, hikers, and birders from all over the world. The town has more than doubled in size thanks to him. There are good jobs to be had in the restaurants, hotels, and interpretive centers -- all of which exist because this shy introvert who was far more comfortable with birds than people took on the monumental task of educating the country about the lake's unique ecological role.

Dave's work was embraced by the locals because his research and interpretive skills gave them a new and broader respect and reverence for a place they already loved. Though he could easily hae been the very kind of evil urban environmentalist that rural towns dread, he proved that this antagonism isn't inevitable. Dave didn't come on like an outsider coming in to show them a better way. His approach was more like that of a young, bookish pastor who made a permanent commitment to the community, and chose the place to be his own home. His job was to win hearts and minds for the preservation of the lake -- and he understood that the first piece of that task was winning over the souls of Lee Vining and Mono County.

That's why Dave would have been the first to give credit for the victory to the locals. He'd have told you about the courageous Mono and Inyo county commissioners who were game to take on LA City Hall, and stayed the course even when the legal fights threatened to drain the finances of those sparsely-populated counties. And he'd have special praise for the fishermen and hunters like Dick, who realized that the fight for the lake was their fight, too -- and then supplied the legal sling and stones that ultimately helped this particular David defeat the biggest Goliath in the country. If it hadn't been for the wider viewpoint provided by these locals, it's quite possible that the legal battle for Mono Lake would still be going on today.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Adieu fair Melanie

-- by Dave

Ah, what a shame. Melanie Morgan is leaving KSFO after 14 years of spewing bile over the northern California airwaves:
“It has truly been an honor for me to work at KSFO for the past 14 years. What I loved most about my time at KSFO was that it allowed me to connect with listeners and take action to make real changes in the world,” said Morgan in a written statement. “We never had a one-way dialogue with our listeners, and we never believed that we had to resolve ourselves to accept the status quo. We got out of our chairs, left our homes and offices, and circulated petitions, rallied for our troops and met with government leaders."

No doubt our friend Spocko should be pleased -- as should we all.

It's hard to tell at this juncture, but you'd have to think it's likely the pressure Spocko and others applied on Morgan's advertisers in fact had an effect. And that may be the best news of all.

Common-sense environmentalism

-- by Dave

I like to consider myself an environmentalist, but I almost never call myself one. Mainly because I really don't want to be associated with a lot of the people who do.

Because environmentalists are usually right about the facts of the issues they attempt to confront: global warming is a reality, the rape of the world's forests is a disaster in the making, corporate pollution is poisoning us, and the extinction of animal species is both an ecological and a human disaster. On the science and on most policy issues, the environmentalists are right.

But on the human front ... they leave a lot to be desired. And this in turn has a lot to do with why their rightness fails to translate into effective action.

The classic case, in my mind, is the way environmentalists in the Northwest have worked to bring a halt to the destruction of old-growth forest in the Lower 48 in the 1980s and '90s, but did so in such a way that they permanently alienated people who should have been allies in that fight: the residents near the forests that were being torn down.

Most of these folks worked in the timber industry, but few of them trusted their corporate bosses much at all. And the reality was that their bosses' rapine behavior -- especially the mass liquidation of forest stocks in the 1980s -- may have meant a short-term uptick in the local economies, but they guaranteed a future where scarcely any cutting or milling would even be possible, because the entire stock of cuttable woods would be gone.

But if you talked to urban environmentalists at the time (and even now), their attitudes about working people in those small towns was strikingly uniform: Those people were just anachronisms, and they should just work up fresh resumes (maybe go back to school) and go get jobs elsewhere. Indeed, a surprising number of them believed that the world would be better off if there just were no timber cutting at all.

It was clear that, as well as they might grasp some of the scientific realities of the issues (and not even those all that well, considering how many of them really believed the nonsense about halting all logging) they had little understanding of the human consequences of their argument. Many people who live in rural areas do so because that's what their ancestors did, and they log because that's how daddy and granddaddy and great-granddaddy made their livings; their family homes are not just dwellings, and they can't and won't just up and move into another one as if it were a condo. People who live in rural areas are often deeply rooted.

A smart approach for the environmentalists would have been to win these people in the true "grassroots" to their side -- arguing for maintaining the long-term viability of working forests by not overcutting, keeping jobs permanent, and requiring better working conditions and pay in the mills, as well as retraining for the sake of modernization. Argue for preserving wildlife habitat because, among other things, it helps improve hunting.

But culturally, they just couldn't do it because too many of those urban environmentalists couldn't help looking down their pert little noses at those poor redneck schlubs in the sticks.

I've seen this play out time and again. In the fight to save the last salmon runs on the Pacific Coast and restore them to a semblance of their historic levels, the environmentalists' obvious allies should and could have been the various fishing interests in the region, both commercial coastal fleets and the many sport fishermen who ply the region's rivers.

But those alliances have been few, rare, and fleeting -- mainly because environmentalists see fishing and hunting as, well, kinda icky things.

And because of that, the political victories likewise have been few and fleeting, and increasingly hard to come by.

Rebecca Solnit at Orion wrote a piece recently that took this problem on, and it should be required reading not just for every environmentalist, but for everyone who calls themselves a progressive or a liberal:
This one is about what happened afterward, when I and the Canadian environmentalists I’d been traveling with arrived at the nearest settlement, a logging town in the far northeast corner of British Columbia consisting of a raw row of buildings on either side of the highway to Alaska.

We were celebrating two weeks of rafting down the central river in that ungulate- and predator-rich paradise at the outpost’s big honky-tonkish nightclub, where the DJ kept playing country songs, to which all the locals would loop around gracefully, clasped together. But my compadres kept making faces of disgust at the music and asking the DJ to put on something else. He’d oblige with reggae, mostly, and we’d wave our limbs vaguely, dancing solo and free-form as white people have danced to rock-and-roll since the mid-1960s. Everyone else would sit down to wait this other music out. It was not a great movement-building exercise. How far were you going to get with a community when you couldn’t stand their music or even be diplomatic about it? I’ve been through dozens of versions of that scene over the years and got reminded of it last year by my letter from Dick.

He really was named Dick. From a return address in the exorbitantly expensive near–San Francisco countryside, he sent me a typewritten note about a section in a recent book of mine. He declared, “The country music parts of the US you love so much are also home of the most racist, reactionary, religiously authoritarian (i.e., Dominionist) people in the country. You don’t have to go far: just look @ voting patterns among rednecks descendants of the white yeomanry, if you wish to be polite) in the Central Valley. They love Bush and are very backward people by the standards of the Enlightenment. The Q might be, what is the correlation between country music and political backwardness, if any?”

What struck me about this was that most of these people, if they were to travel to another country, wouldn't walk into the local cantina and ask if they could listen to something other than those awful corridas or whatever the local music was. Because they'd understand that it was bigoted and arrogant of them to do so. Indeed, most of them would do their best to just absorb and enjoy the local culture. But not so with urban visitors to our rural areas.

As Solnit observes:
I grew up surrounded by liberals and leftists who liked to play the idiot in fake southern accents, make jokes about white trash and trailer trash, and, like the Canadian enviros, made gagging noises whenever they heard Dolly Parton or anything like her. If Okies from Muskogee thought they were being mocked, they were right, in part. This mockery was particularly common during the 1970s and 1980s, but it has yet to evaporate altogether—after all, Dick, who judging by his typewriter was around then, wrote me only last summer. My aged mother continues to make liberal use of the term “redneck” to describe the people I grew up among (though they were just suburban conservatives), and last summer I met a twentysomething from New York at a Nevada campout who told me he too was raised to hate country music. He was happily learning to love it, but late, like me.

This built-in bigotry affects the red-blue state divide in areas well beyond simply environmental issues: it affects how we deal with issues like agriculture and land use, cultural issues like abortion and gay rights and education, and economic issues like immigration.

It's time for this to change, and there are signs that it is. As Solnit concludes:
Fortunately, I think Dick might be a relic. There are particular organizations as well as general tendencies that make me hopeful. Among them are the resurgent interest in where food actually comes from, the growing tendency to condemn less and build coalitions more, and a stronger capacity for thinking systemically. And then climate change is an issue that could unite us in new ways as it makes clear how interdependent everything on this planet is, and the extent to which privilege and consumption are part of the problem. The solutions will involve modesty as well as innovation.

The anti-environmentalist right has shot itself in both feet in the past few years, losing credibility and constituency, and a smart and fast-moving left could make hay out of this, to mix a few fairly rural metaphors. It would mean giving up vindication for victory—that is, giving up on triumphing over the wickedness of one’s enemies and looking at them as unrecruited allies instead. It might mean giving up on the environmental movement as a separate sector and thinking more holistically about what we want to protect and why, including people, places, traditions, and processes outside the wilderness. It might even mean getting over the notion that left and right are useful or even adequate ways to describe who we are and what we long for (or even over the notion of rural and urban, as food gardens proliferate in the latter and sprawl becomes an issue in the former). We must also talk about class again, loudly and clearly, without backing down or forgetting about race. This is the back road down which lie stronger coalitions, genuine justice, a healthier environment, and maybe even a music that everyone can dance to.

This goes beyond environmental issues. Advocates for effective and real change need to understand that we're all in this together, and we can only make the change real by shedding our self-serving prejudices.