Category Archives: Random Blogging

If You Know What You’re Talking About, Shut Up!

Pardon my French, but you really can’t make this shit up.

The headline says it all: “House Passes Bill that Prohibits Expert Scientific Advice to the EPA.”

While everyone’s attention was focused on the Senate and the Keystone XL decision on Tuesday, some pretty shocking stuff was quietly going on in the House of Representatives. The GOP-dominated House passed a bill that effectively prevents scientists who are peer-reviewed experts in their field from providing advice — directly or indirectly — to the EPA, while at the same time allowing industry representatives with financial interests in fossil fuels to have their say.

Andrew Rosenberg is Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists; he wrote a letter to House Representatives stating what should be obvious to any sentient being:

“This [bill] effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are. Of course, a scientist with expertise on topics the Science Advisory Board addresses likely will have done peer-reviewed studies on that topic. That makes the scientist’s evaluation more valuable, not less.”

Two more bills relating to the EPA were set to go to the vote this week, bills that opponents argue are part of an “unrelenting partisan attack” on the EPA.

It isn’t just an attack on the EPA–it is part of an all-out attack on science, reason and scholarship. The U.S. House is a deeply anti-intellectual collection of Know-Nothings, proud of their ignorance and nativism. (We don’t need no smarty-pants scientists telling us the world is older than 6000 years….)

They’d repeal the Enlightenment–if they’d ever heard of it.

Be very afraid.

Not So Fast, Mississippi!

Doug Masson sort of summed up the Indiana General Assembly’s current legislative session when he posted “Indiana should change our slogan from “Honest to Goodness, Indiana!” to “Not so fast, Mississippi!”

Our lawmakers are back in session: engaging in childish vendettas against the lone Democrat who won statewide office, ignoring environmentalists and family farmers who oppose creating a constitutional right to use “effective” farming techniques (aka a “right to pollute” measure desired by the big corporate farms),  advancing a “religious” right to refuse service to LGBT customers, exempting charter and voucher schools from ISTEP….the embarrassing list goes on. And on.

Granted, Mississippi has a definite head start. One recent bit of news from the state that keeps “Hoosier” from meaning “bottom of the barrel”: a Justice Court judge in that state has just been accused of striking a mentally challenged young man and yelling, “Run, n—–, run.” (And yes, the elided word is just what you think it is.)

Reading about that incident was appalling enough, but as I read further, I discovered that in Mississippi, the only requirement to be elected judge of a Justice Court is a high school diploma. (There are those in the Indiana legislature who share Mississippi’s contempt for education, although we haven’t taken it quite that far. Yet.) After taking office, the judges are required to take up to six hours of training a year.

Six whole hours. Every year. That should compensate for the lack of college or law school.

It may seem that Mississippi has a lock on the batshit crazy medal–but back home in Indiana, we’re barely at the midpoint of a long legislative session. Don’t count Indiana out.


Is the Light Finally Dawning?

An article in the February 9th issue of The New Yorker reported that Aetna, a Fortune 500 company, plans to raise the pay of its lowest-paid workers, and improve employee medical coverage. The proposed increase is substantial—from twelve dollars an hour to sixteen dollars an hour in some cases.

Mark Bertolini, Aetna’s CEO, was quoted as saying it wasn’t fair for employees of a Fortune 500 company to be struggling to make ends meet.

It isn’t only Aetna.

A recent announcement from Ford Motor Company unveiled the carmaker’s plan to raise the pay of 300 to 500 of its entry-level workers by more than $19,000 a year, or nearly 50%. The announcement was heralded as another sign of the rebound of the U.S. auto industry, but its implications go well beyond that rebound. (Henry Ford would have understood; in 1914, he famously raised his workers’ pay to the then-unheard-of rate of five dollars a day. Turnover and absenteeism plummeted, and profits and productivity rose.)

Little by little, American businesses are recognizing that their own long-term interests are inextricably bound up with the welfare of their employees. That’s a lesson retailers like Costco learned long ago. I’ve previously quoted Business Week’s telling comparison between Costco and Walmart–Costco pays hourly workers an average of 20.89 an hour to Walmart’s 12.67.

Despite paying higher wages and offering more generous benefits, Costco not only nets more per square foot than Walmart, its prices are competitive with—and sometimes better than—those of Walmart.

Early last year Consumer Reports ran a very interesting chart comparing prices for the same brand of purchases like flour, coffee, tall kitchen bags, toilet paper and similar items.  Consumers compared the costs of store brands, Costco, Walmart, various regional chains and Walgreens for each item. Store brands, unsurprisingly, were cheapest overall.

Next was Costco.

As the New Yorker article noted, there are solid business reasons to pay workers more—turnover declines, and better-paid employees tend to work harder. There is also the question of fundamental fairness. American corporations pay their executives truly obscene amounts, while wringing every dime possible out of people who can least afford to work for poverty wages. When Bertolini announced Aetna’s decision, he talked about inequality and corporate responsibility, saying “For the good of the social order, these are the kind of investments we should be willing to make.”

When Charlie Wilson was President of General Motors, during the Eisenhower Administration, he supposedly said “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” What he actually said was “What’s good for America is good for General Motors.”

Wilson was right. Reducing inequality will be good for America, and what’s good for America is good for business.

My, My! I Think I Hit a Sore Spot

Yesterday, I pointed to a very bipartisan problem: the under-representation of women candidates slated to run for Indianapolis City-County Council (not helped by the “dumping” by each party of an incumbent female). Several commenters–all, I should note, men–protested via twitter that gender had nothing to do with the slating decisions.

As I responded to one of them, I’m sure that’s true–consciously. Neither party deliberately slighted women candidates, or intentionally applied different standards to male and female incumbents.

The key word is “intentional.”

In 1990, Wellesley College professor Peggy McIntosh wrote an essay about White Privilege, in which she observed that whites in the U.S. are taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on any particular group.

Men also tend to be unaware of their own privileges as men. See “The Male Privilege Checklist” for a rundown of unconscious assumptions that are true for men but not women.

A few of the 45 items on that checklist are particularly relevant here:

If I seek political office, my relationship with my children, or who I hire to take care of them, will probably not be scrutinized by the press.

Chances are my elected representatives are mostly people of my own sex. The more prestigious and powerful the elected position, the more likely this is to be true.

I can be loud with no fear of being called a shrew. I can be aggressive with no fear of being called a bitch.

My post yesterday was about those “invisible systems conferring dominance” and the systemic (albeit largely unconscious) attitudes those systems foster. Most of the women who commented “got it.”  A number of the men, didn’t.

I rest my case.