Friday, September 23, 2011

IDIOCY AND ADVOCACY

idiocy

Some good commentary from Timothy Egan....

Idiocy and Advocacy
By TIMOTHY EGAN at the NY Times.

The medical community was outraged after the Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann called a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer “dangerous,” and then passed on a know-nothingism from a stranger who said it could lead to “mental retardation.”

These health professionals were stirred to take a stand, as reported in a Science Times piece by my colleague Denise Grady, because ill-informed politicians can set back vaccination rates for years, ultimately leading to more premature deaths.

It would be nice to see this kind of collective corrective applied to other types of political malpractice as well — on the environment, for one.

Some of the leading Republican presidential candidates, stuffed with the best bad science that oil and coal companies can buy, continue to insist that global warming is a hoax. No matter that an overwhelming majority of climate scientists have long concluded that the earth is changing in a dangerous way, the deniers have found a home in Bachmann’s party.

And while it may be an applause line to bash professional consensus, gross misstatements can do real harm. If your neighbor said he was going to dump garbage on a sidewalk you both shared, you would hold him responsible for trashing the common ground. We should take the same attitude toward people who want to allow more poisons, carcinogens and greenhouse gases into the little orb we all inhabit.

“We look like a joke,” Bill Clinton said this week, on the growing crazy caucus of earth-unfriendly politicians. “If you’re an American, the best thing you can do is to make it politically unacceptable for people to engage in denial.”

With climate change, it’s easy to follow the money that bought the nutty opinions: big coal-burning utilities have the most to lose in the effort to curb greenhouse gases, and have been purchasing opinion and politicians as the urgency has increased.

It’s the same pattern with other environmental issues. New air pollution rules set to go into effect in 2012 could save 34,000 lives each year and prevent more than 400,000 asthma attacks, says the American Lung Association.

But these rules, and their enforcers, are being attacked by the Republicans who close their eyes to the obvious — that is, the earth’s increasingly foul meteorological moods. Newt Gingrich, who is never far from a bad idea, has called for the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency. Bachmann, whose ideas have roughly the same relationship with truth as a hot dog does with health food, has said similar things. And this week she went after new food safety regulations. Here again, Bachmann is taking positions that could harm, even kill, the rest of us: contaminated food causes 3,000 deaths a year in the United States and leads to 48 million cases of illness.

All of the above calls for defensive, rear-guard action against powerful forces and the politicians who “run from science,” to use the words of Jon Huntsman, the lone Republican voice for things even a third-grader knows to be true.

But the flip side is the need for advocacy and real passion on behalf of a cleaner, more healthy world. And on that front, President Obama has been with the clowns cleaning up after the horses at the end of the parade.
A number of Nobel laureates this week joined the voices of those calling on Obama to stop the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline from Canadian tar sands fields to the United States. It’s a messy deal no matter how you look at it. Midwesterners, including the Republican governor of Nebraska, Dave Heineman, are concerned about leaks into that great body of clean water that lies beneath the American midsection, the Ogallala Aquifer. The NASA scientist Jim Hansen compares the pipeline to a dirty needle from a fellow addict, our neighbor to the north.

I know that many in the environmental community look at Obama like a long-ago ex-boyfriend, one who’s gone corporate and never returns calls anymore. To his credit, he’s made real progress on curbing auto emissions by increasing fuel economy standards. The United States finally has a forward-looking auto sector, building smart, efficient cars here that can sell well in countries that are far ahead of us on this count.
But on most other environmental issues, Obama has been passive, silent or dismissive. It’s not enough for him to oppose bad people with bad ideas.

Next year’s election will be won by the passionate. Republicans can count on a Tea Party filled with rage and demanding to “take our country back.” Democrats will need more than lawyers, teachers, unions, ethnic minorities and liberal urbanites. They will need that army of door-bell ringers, mostly young, some of them hopelessly naïve, who believe in a world less trashed by the detritus of convenience-enhancing modernity.

These volunteers, who played a big role in Obama’s historic election, will go out in rain, wind and darkness, and they will take abuse and slammed doors, for no pay, and little reward or recognition. But they will not leave the house, or their Facebook pages, if all they have to defend is the status quo.

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