About That “Hoax”

I  think climate change deniers will eventually be defeated by challenges to our common lives that most of us don’t currently recognize.

As Paul Krugman has recently noted, one of those is sewage.

How many people do you know whose homes aren’t connected to a sewer line? Sewers and garbage pickup are among those (largely urban) amenities that folks fulminating about “socialism” rarely consider, but they are part and parcel of important collective public health measures.

They are also services that are rarer in some parts of the country than in others.

As Krugman reminds us, many American homes, especially in the Southeast, aren’t connected to sewer lines. They have septic tanks, and these days, more and more septic tanks are overflowing. As he notes, that’s both disgusting and a threat to public health.

The cause? Climate change. Along the Gulf and South Atlantic coasts, The Washington Post reported last week, “sea levels have risen at least six inches since 2010.” This may not sound like much, but it leads to rising groundwater and elevated risks of overflowing tanks.

The emerging sewage crisis is only one of many disasters we can expect as the planet continues to warm, and nowhere near the top of the list. But it seems to me to offer an especially graphic illustration of two points. First, the damage from climate change is likely to be more severe than even pessimists have tended to believe. Second, mitigation and adjustment — which are going to be necessary, because we’d still be headed for major effects of climate change even if we took immediate action to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions — will probably be far more difficult, as a political matter, than it should be.

At this point in my initial reading of the linked column, I rolled my eyes–because these days, anything and everything is more difficult as a political matter than it should be. When a significant percentage of the population insists on denying science, scholarship, logic, fact–opting to discount what their own “lying eyes” are trying to tell them–political gridlock is inevitable.

As Krugman points out,

Estimating the costs of climate change and, relatedly, the costs polluters impose every time they emit another ton of carbon dioxide requires fusing results from two disciplines. On one side, we need physical scientists to figure out how much greenhouse gas emissions will warm the planet, how this will change weather patterns and so on. On the other, we need economists to estimate how these physical changes will affect productivity, health care costs and more.

Actually, there’s a third dimension: social and geopolitical risk. How, for example, will we deal with millions or tens of millions of climate refugees? But I don’t think anyone knows how to quantify those risks.

Krugman, of course, is an economist, and he worries that the efforts so far to estimate economic costs of climate change have failed to take things like septic tank failures into account.

So what are we going to do about it? Even if we were to take drastic steps to reduce emissions right now, many of the consequences of past emissions, including much bigger increases in sea level than we’ve seen so far, are already, as it were, baked in. So we’re going to have to take a wide range of steps to mitigate the damage — including expanding sewer systems to limit the rising tide of, um, sludge.

But will we take those steps? Climate denial was originally all about fossil fuel interests, and to some extent it still is. But it has also become a front in the culture war, with politicians like Ron DeSantis of Florida — who happens to be the governor of one of the states at greatest immediate risk — apparently deciding that even mentioning climate change is woke.

Evidently, DeSantis’ definition of “woke” is “rational and informed.” Logic tell us that refusing to mention climate change–or the existence of gay people–won’t make either one disappear.

What will the politicians pandering to the frightened and angry folks frantic to reject any evidence of things they dislike or can’t understand–politicians like Indiana’s Jim Banks, who insists that climate change is a “hoax”– say when their constituents’ septic tanks fail? What will DeSantis say when significant portions of Florida are underwater. (I wonder who he’s blaming now for the rapidly growing inability of Florida residents to get property insurance–gay people??)

The disappearance of homeowners’ insurance and the failure of septic tanks are just two of the largely unanticipated–and logically inevitable– consequences of climate change. There will be others, no matter how many culture warriors like Jim Banks stand athwart reality yelling “hoax.”


Why Republicans Hate Higher Education

Most recent coverage of “elite” colleges and universities has revolved around the much-derided performances of three college presidents at a congressional hearing on campus anti-semitism. I addressed that testimony–and the basis for finding it unsatisfactory–yesterday.

But as an article from the Washington Post reminds us, 

This was not the week’s only development in the intersection of higher education and politics, however. An assessment from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and reporting from the Chronicle of Higher Education both delineated the extent to which the efforts of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to reshape education in his state have constricted educational opportunities, spooked instructors and threatened academic freedom. Those reports, despite affecting far more students, attracted much less attention.

The university system in Florida educates more than seven times the number of students in the three schools represented by those university presidents, and a report by AAUP summarizes the extent of the damage done by Governor DeSantis in his relentless attack on higher education in his state.

Academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance in Florida’s public colleges and universities currently face a politically and ideologically driven assault unparalleled in US history, which, if sustained, threatens the very survival of meaningful higher education in the state, with dire implications for the entire country.

The report detailed the legislative and executive efforts that resulted in changes not just to the leadership but also to the governing structures of the state’s universities–changes aimed at reversing efforts to expand diversity, and actually blocking the study of certain subjects, especially those implicating race.

As a number of media outlets have reported, professors are leaving the state in increasing numbers, and thanks to widespread recognition of what is happening to Florida’s universities, it has become difficult to recruit competent replacements.

The obvious question that arises is: why? What is the reason for the GOP’s animus toward higher education? Because–although DeSantis is “out front” in the assault– that animus is not confined to Florida. (For that matter, it isn’t confined to higher education–Republicans in numerous states have been waging an on-going war on the nation’s public schools.)

The linked article, written by Philip Bump, addresses the reasons for that animus.

It’s worth pointing out why this is a focus for DeSantis. Why is he trying to reshape higher education in Florida? What’s the problem he’s ostensibly trying to fix?
There are at least two clear, overlapping answers.

The first is that DeSantis, like many on the right, believe that colleges and universities deserve specific blame for the generally liberal political views of younger Americans. Young people are more liberal than older people, and young people are also more likely to have attended college. So it has become an article of faith on the right — despite a dearth of supporting evidence — that colleges are turning young people into liberals. And that, therefore, colleges need to be overhauled and their instructors scrutinized and purged.

This idea is not limited to colleges, it’s worth pointing out. The right regularly assumes that those who don’t share its politics must have been brainwashed somehow by someone. It seems likely that this is, in part, a function of the increasingly closed information universe in which the political right sits, the “epistemic closure” of right-wing media and rhetoric in which assumptions are often unquestioned and unchallenged. If every observer you track agrees with you about an issue and every source of information you consume is in consensus, anyone who disagrees must somehow have fallen victim to some liberal Svengali. Like a professor, say.

The other reason DeSantis is targeting higher education is that college education often serves as a proxy for being in the “elite,” a member of the nebulously bounded class of Americans that is viewed with disdain (or worse) by the political right. That’s particularly true of those who attended schools such as Harvard, a school whose name is functionally synonymous with elitism. House Republicans brought Ivy League presidents to answer questions about antisemitism in part because of reported incidents on their campuses and in part because they are ready-made punching bags for the Republican base.

There is something sad–tragic, actually–about people who are threatened by science, by empiricism, by the very process of intellectual inquiry. Worse still, those threatened people actively resent anyone who is engaged in that inquiry–but they especially resent those who excel in it.

Their motto might as well be “We real Americans don’t need no smarty-pants!”

The cult that was once a political party doesn’t just want to replace democracy with a theocratic autocracy. It wants to take humanity back to the Dark Ages, where the GOP base will feel comfortable.


I’d Have Sworn This Was Satire

This isn’t satire. I kid you not.

The DeSantis administration has proposed a rule for Florida’s public campuses that would prevent the teaching of issues “that polarize or divide society among political, ideological, moral, or religious beliefs.”

Back in May, DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 266, banning the state’s public colleges and universities from using public funds to “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, or promote or engage in political or social activism.” But the law, which took effect in July, never defined those terms, instead leaving that up to the Board of Governors that oversees those state schools. Now the board has done just that. In draft regulation obtained by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the board proposes that the ban apply to all campus programs and activities in which the college or university “endorses or promotes a position” on “topics that polarize or divide society among political, ideological, moral, or religious beliefs, positions, or norms.”

This idiocy is the logical outcome of redefining education as job training–a belief near and dear to contemporary Republican hearts. Just crank out worker bees–and for heaven sakes, don’t let them learn anything from our human history of deeply-contested political, ideological, moral or religious theories and beliefs!

UnderS.B. 266, Florida’s public colleges and universities are prohibited from offering general education classes that “distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics” or that include “theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States and were created to maintain social, political, and economic inequities.” The law also bars public higher education institutions from using state or federal funds for activities or programs that “advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion”—making Florida’s anti-DEI law one of the most restrictive of the dozens of such laws introduced across the United States. A DeSantis press release announcing the bill’s signing declared it is meant to “prevent woke ideologies from continuing to coopt our state universities and state colleges.”

I have a proposal: rather than this tortured effort to describe matters that will now be forbidden on campus, just reduce the bill to its essence: “Education will not be allowed.”

Think my snark is an over-reaction? Just look at the draft resolution:

In addition to defining “social issues” as “topics that polarize or divide society among political, ideological, moral, or religious beliefs, positions, or norms,” it defines “political or social activism” as “any activity organized with a purpose of effecting or preventing change to a government policy, action, or function, or any activity intended to achieve a desired result related to social issues, where the university endorses or promotes a position in communications, advertisements, programs.” “Diversity, equity, or inclusion,” meanwhile, “is any program, activity, or policy that promotes differential or preferential treatment of individuals, or classifies such individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

As several pundits have observed, today’s GOP is the party of projection: the Florida effort to control what is discussed in the state’s classrooms is precisely the “indoctrination” that they pretend is occurring under “woke” auspices.

How does one teach the Crusades or the Reformation or the colonizing of America without noting the religious beliefs that polarized people living at those times? How do you teach philosophy without examining the contending perspectives of the philosophers, or discuss the role of women in politics without reference to the social “norms” that originally denied women the franchise? 

Are efforts to prevent rape on campus evidence of “differential treatment” of women? Speaking of “evidence,” what does evidence that a university is “promoting equity” look like? (I always thought “equity” meant fundamental fairness–I guess we don’t want that on campus….)

Education is typically defined as the process of acquiring knowledge and developing the powers of reasoning and judgment. Education may also extend to the acquisition of specialized skills needed for a career or profession, but it is usually understood to require the development of critical thinking, differentiating it from mere job training and from indoctrination.

DeSantis is well on his way to destroying higher education in Florida.

He began with attacks on New College of Florida, a public liberal arts college that was forced to alter its curriculum and programs. DeSantis installed conservative ideologue and education foe Christopher Rufo as a member of the college’s board of trustees, and together they worked to “remake” New College, which immediately lost more than a third of its faculty–a fact DeSantis hailed as permitting the “replacement of far-left faculty with new professors aligned with the university’s mission.”

I don’t know what that mission is, but it sure isn’t education.


DeSantis Again…Sorry

I really hadn’t planned to write again about DeSantis–after all, the longer he campaigns, the worse he polls. Even in a field of distasteful alternatives, he’s unlikely to be the Republican nominee. But–as a Facebook meme recently put it–“Don’t complain about your problems. Some of us live in Florida!” 

DeSantis has succeeded at one thing: making Florida an example of what he and the MAGA GOP want to do to the rest of the country.

Let me begin by acknowledging that Florida insanity didn’t begin with DeSantis. Since 1987, the state has had a law forbidding cities and counties from passing regulations that are stricter than the state’s NRA-friendly firearms laws. The DeSantis administration has enthusiastically enforced that preemption–local officials have been threatened with $5,000 fines if they pass gun regulations, and a 2011 amendment that made it illegal to “mess” with gun laws–including discussion or resolutions by local councils.

When several communities filed suit against the portion of the law that penalized discussion, the DeSantis’ administration vigorously defended it and the state’s GOP-dominated Supreme Court upheld it.

It’s hardly news that DeSantis and MAGA Republicans are owned by the NRA. That’s been true for years. What is arguably new is the party’s abandonment of older “dog whistle” tactics in favor of out-and-proud bigotry.

DeSantis recently aired an anti-gay campaign ad that even some Republicans found offensive. According to Talking Points Memo, DeSantis attacked Trump for remarks TFG had made that–OMG!– seemed to be supportive of LGBTQ Americans.

The one minute and 13 second video starts off with a clip of Trump giving a speech at the 2016 Republican convention, saying, “I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens.” That comes alongside a montage of photos, screenshots of headlines and tweets and two Trump clips where he seemingly shows support for the LGBTQ+ community.

About 25 seconds in, the video takes a bizarre turn. As the background music changes we start seeing a montage of photos and videos of Desantis alongside images of shirtless men with six packs and scenes from several movies with over-the-top masculine male characters, including the 2004 movie “Troy” featuring Brad Pitt as Achilles, one of the greatest warriors in all of Greek mythology.

The Log Cabin Republicans (a group I find mystifying)  found it homophobic, and several journalists called out the spot’s weirdness.

“Truly one of the weirdest videos I’ve ever seen a politician put out. Also, splicing images of DeSantis alongside images of shirtless and masked men… does not quite send the anti-LGBTQ message apparently intended,” New York Times reporter Jonathan Swan tweeted.

The New Republic also considered DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ advertisement, concluding that “even by GOP standards, it’s frightening,” and predicting that it would usher in an era of ever-more blatant GOP bigotry.

Pete Buttigieg, as usual, said it best:

“I just don’t understand the mentality of somebody who gets up in the morning thinking that he’s going to prove his worth by competing over who can make life hardest for a hard-hit community that is already so vulnerable in America.” 

Well, ugly people do ugly things. But nicer people can and do respond appropriately. As Robert Kuttner reports in The American Prospect,

Florida stands to lose massive amounts of convention business. Much of that lost business, ironically, is concentrated in places like Miami and Orlando, which don’t share DeSantis’s views. The latest to pull out is the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, which had planned a fall convention for Miami, and has now moved it to Chicago, incurring a stiff penalty from the hotels.

Planners tend to be liberals, but lots of groups far removed from politics want to disassociate themselves from DeSantis’s crusade. The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) has moved its planned 2027 Global Surgical Conference & Expo from Orlando to Philadelphia. Around 7,000 nurses and exhibitors will no longer be helping the local economy. The organizers of Con of Thrones, a convention for fans of the HBO fantasy epic, canceled their Orlando convention, planned for the Hyatt Regency Orlando in August. The National Society of Black Engineers will also not be coming to Orlando in 2024, for a convention that would have brought 15,000 to the Sunshine State.

Kuttner identifies several other groups. He also distinguishes Florida’s situation from  the “bathroom bill” episode in North Carolina, where similar cancellations killed that measure.

In Florida, the culture war against LGBTQ people is purely a stunt by DeSantis, as the centerpiece of his national presidential campaign. It is hard to see how he might backtrack or compromise without looking even more like a lame opportunist…

The cancellations come on the heels of reports that Florida is also losing thousands of agricultural workers, thanks to DeSantis’ anti-immigration law.

So–don’t complain! You could live in Florida!


Florida Man

I am constantly confounded by the evident belief of Republican presidential candidates that the way to GOP hearts is be overtly autocratic, bigoted and/or “in your face” corrupt.

Which brings me–once again–to “Florida Man,” aka Ron DeSantis. (I am hopeful this will be the last time I focus on DeSantis, since my reading of his trajectory suggests he will not be the nominee…but hey! I was equally certain that no sane political party would nominate Trump, so my prognostication skills aren’t great…)

As we’ve seen with TFG,  this particular breed of politician exhibits what a friend used to insist was a prime motive for seeking political power: to help your friends and f**k  your enemies. We’ve seen this dynamic in DeSantis’ petulant efforts to punish Disney for daring to criticize His Majesty’s anti-gay bigotry.

An even more recent–and telling– exhibit, courtesy of Robert Hubbell:

Like other red states, Florida is doing its best to prevent car manufacturers from selling electric vehicles. This week, DeSantis signed legislation prohibiting “direct to consumer” sales of electric vehicles, a marketing approach that bypasses automobile dealerships. Elon Musk pioneered the “direct-to-consumer” approach and uses it exclusively to sell Tesla cars.

So, one would think that the Florida legislation banning direct-to-consumer sales of cars would be bad news for Tesla. But you would be wrong—because the legislation exempts Tesla from the ban. 

As a result, large auto manufacturers like Ford, GM, and Chrysler are prohibited from selling electric vehicles directly to the consumer, while Tesla is free to do so. It is amazing what a presidential endorsement can buy in Florida!

DeSantis’ has declared war on anything he considers “woke”–evidently, any effort to ensure equal treatment of, or information about, previously marginalized Americans. A recent post to Daily Kos shed light on DeSantis’ animus toward New College, a small liberal–“woke”– institution in the state.

The narrative has been that this is a small college that DeSantis is trying to take over for his culture war and leave it at that. It is true that DeSantis is effectively destroying Florida’s universities with the help of his supporters’ openly hostile resentment of higher education. And yes, he’s making Florida toxic to not just out-of-state students, but Florida’s own students and professors who are deciding it’s best to leave the state and go somewhere less oppressive. Not to mention the medical students who are canceling their residencies in Florida due to abortion laws. But there’s so much more than that.

To begin with, no outlet has even described the unique way New College operates. It’s modeled after the New College of Oxford University in England. There are no grades: all courses are pass/fail. The student is responsible for his or her entire course planning, and there are no required courses. There’s few organized sports, and no fraternities or sororities. This school is only for the most highly motivated students who have the maturity and intellect to chart their own path and create their own approved course structure. New College has always scored at the top of national rankings, such as The Princeton Review and Forbes; and has ranked fifth in U.S. News & World Report’s annual review of public schools for higher learning. It is a very small school, with under 1,000 students, but has produced more Fulbright scholars than either Harvard or Yale.

The post attributed DeSantis’ determination to transform New School “into a sham school catering to bigoted yokels” to something that occurred on its campus 10 years ago, and ties it into “the resurgent white nationalist movement in Florida.”

For a school that has produced some notable alumni, one of the ones they tend not to feature is a young man by the name of Derek Black. He is the godson of David Duke and the son of Don Black, the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Don Black founded the first neo-Nazi online forum and world’s most prominent white nationalist website, Stormfront.

When Derek Black came to New School, he was a committed neo-Nazi. The experience changed him.

In 2013, Derek sent a letter to the Southern Poverty Law Center that rocked the white supremacist movement to the core, and outraged the hate communities in Florida. The key phrase was this: “I do not believe advocacy against ‘oppression of whites’ exists in any form but an entrenched desire to preserve white power at the expense of others. I am sorry for the damage done by my actions and my past endorsement of white nationalism.”

DeSantis candidly admits he targeted the school for its “progressive culture.” That culture dealt a blow to  Florida’s white supremacist movement, and that movement is  a core part of DeSantis’ base.

And the core of today’s GOP.