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.”

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Jim Banks Is Wrong About Everything

In the run-up to Indiana’s primary election, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about far-right Congressman Jim Banks, and what I learned was pretty horrifying. Some of it was what we unfortunately have come to call “politics as usual”–financial shenanigans like the misuse of campaign funds. As I previously noted, an ethics watchdog has documented Banks’ use of a so-called “Leadership PAC” as a slush fund, allowing him to siphon funds from special interests into fancy meals, club dues and the like. (Yesterday, the Washington Post noted he has a million dollar home in Virginia, so elective office is evidently lucrative.)

More concerning are Banks’ culture war positions. Along with clowns like Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene, Banks has doubled down on a pro-Trump, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-liberty performative politics.

Banks has made no bones about his desire for a national ban on abortion with no exceptions, not even for rape, incest or life of the mother. He has an A+ rating from Pro-Life America, and a 100% lifetime rating from the National Right to Life Committee. His voting record on abortion/reproductive health can be accessed here.

When it comes to guns, Banks is opposed to even the most modest efforts to control the proliferation of firearms. He opposes a renewal of the ban on assault weapons, and also opposes a federal “Red Flag” law. He supports concealed carry and has voted against background checks for private sales. His voting record on gun issues can be accessed here.

Banks calls climate change a “liberal hoax,” and the Biden Administration’s environmental efforts “a war on energy.” The League of Conservation Voters gives him a 1% lifetime rating. His votes on the environment can be accessed here. 

When it comes to labor issues, Banks gets a zero rating from the AFL-CIO. When he served in the Indiana legislature, he supported “Right to work” legislation (dubbed by labor as “Right to work for less.”) On vote after vote in Congress, he has voted against labor; a list of those votes can be seen here. 

Banks is still fighting against any expansion of healthcare coverage, and rejects medical science. He voted against the most recent expansion of Medicaid and supports legislation that would ban vaccine mandates. He has voted to repeal the ACA, and against legislation that would prevent insurers from discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions.  A review of all of his healthcare votes is here.

Banks has voted repeatedly against efforts to fund research into the effects of marijuana. (Those anti-research votes track well with his “know nothing” approach to all issues.) Banks’ votes on issues related to pot are here.

Unsurprisingly, Banks is also an extremist on immigration. He supports finishing Trump’s wall, eliminating federal funding for sanctuary cities, and deporting “criminal illegal aliens.” He opposes legislation granting amnesty for any undocumented persons (presumably including children currently protected by DACA) and opposes any expansion of guest-worker programs.

Banks is an out and proud White Christian Nationalist. He created the “anti-Woke” caucus in the House of Representatives and introduced legislation to outlaw any remaining affirmative action in college admissions. He has been dubbed “Focus on the Family’s Man in Washington.” He opposes all DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) programs. He has been especially vocal in his opposition to gay rights generally, and to trans children especially– in addition to his “Anti-Woke Caucus,” he has supported efforts to ban trans people from the military, prevent trans women from participating in women’s sports, and prevent medical personnel from treating children for gender dysphoria. He recently sponsored a particularly odious bill that would prevent agencies charged with placing children in foster homes from taking measures to see that gay and trans children not be placed with foster parents who have religious objections to homosexuality, saying that refusal to place those children in such homes was discrimination against religion. (Discriminating against gay children is evidently fine…)

Banks consistently attacks educational institutions of all kinds. He has vowed to investigate the National Association of Independent Schools, focusing on the group’s role in political advocacy and its tax-exempt status. He has threatened to “expose” what he calls widespread political indoctrination in America’s public schools, and has claimed that lawmakers have a “moral duty” to investigate the use of academic accreditation associations as “political tools by leftist ideologues.”

When Banks was in the Indiana legislature, he voted to allow instruction in creationism and supported the educational vouchers that send tax dollars to private, overwhelmingly religious schools.

And of course, he’s described Trump’s trial as “rigged,” posting on social media that “New York is a liberal sh*t hole.”

Having a Neanderthal like Banks as a Congressman is bad enough. Electing him Senator would be worse.

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The Year Of The Woman?

Are we finally approaching that much-heralded (but thus far elusive) “year of the woman”–a year that, despite previous predictions, has yet to materialize?

Maybe. It’s happening in other countries, even those with a deeply “macho” culture–in Mexico, a woman has been elected President. In the U.S., twelve states currently have women governors.

Here in regressive, Red Indiana, the Democratic Party will run an all-women slate of statewide candidates, a first. I have previously written about my enthusiastic support for Jennifer McCormick, the former Superintendent of Public Instruction currently running for Governor. I have not previously written about Valerie McCray, who defeated Marc Carmichael, the candidate I supported for U.S. Senate, or about the contest between two other women–Destiny Wells and Beth White–who are the only candidates vying for the Attorney General nomination.

So let me get to it.

I’ve previously explained why Jennifer McCormick, who will face Trumper Mike Braun in November, would be an excellent Governor. If you visit her website, you will note that she is focused on issues that actually concern Hoosiers, unlike Braun, who–like all MAGA culture warriors–talks almost exclusively about the federal issues he did little or nothing to address in his six years as a Senator.

I recently sat down with Jennifer and her equally impressive campaign manager, and was encouraged to learn that, not only is she personally compelling and right on the issues, she is running a savvy, organized and well-thought-out campaign.

I have also had the opportunity to meet with Valerie McCray and her campaign manager, both of whom noted the extent to which Hoosiers–at least, Democratic-leaning ones– seem to be favoring women candidates this year. (Evidently, voters unfamiliar with either of the Democrats’ Senate contenders overwhelmingly opted for the female candidate.) That phenomenon failed to help Suzanne Crouch, the only woman vying for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination–a reminder of the parties’ very different attitudes toward women.

As readers of this blog know, in the primary, I supported McCray’s opponent– an older white guy. (I firmly believe that voters should support candidates based upon their individual merits, rather than voting for an identity. I’ve known some pretty reprehensible women politicians.) That said, I was very relieved to find that McCray, whom I’d not previously known, isn’t only right on the issues  (see her excellent website), but is also energetic, informed, and thoughtful. That said, McCray’s biggest asset is actually her opponent, Jim Banks, who represents the most anti-American, anti-woman, theocratic aspects of the MAGA movement. (As I intend to explain in upcoming posts, Banks is very consistent–wrong about everything.) 

If Valerie McCray’s biggest campaign asset is Jim Banks, Todd Rokita will definitely fill that role for the eventual Democratic Attorney General nominee. I have posted about Rokita’s multiple deficits several times; he has been a consistent embarrassment to the legal profession and to the Hoosier State. He was a disgrace as a Congressman and has ignored his professional and ethical obligations as Indiana’s Attorney General, using the position (and taxpayer dollars) to feed his considerable ego while pandering to the far, far Right of the GOP. (Recently, several state senators called him “a hammer in search of a nail.”)

The specific merits of these candidates is important. Their campaigns, their performance in debates and on the stump, their fundraising–all of those traditional elements will matter, and matter a lot. But in addition to the normal horse-race factors, I come back to the question with which I began this post: will this be the year of the woman?

How angry are America’s women? How motivated? How many women who haven’t previously voted will register and cast their ballots in November? How many “good guys”–men who aren’t threatened by women’s growing equality, who care deeply about the status and health of their mothers, sisters and daughters– will signify that support by voting Blue? 

Hoping for a year of the woman is most definitely not an attack on men. It is endorsement of an equal civic partnership that benefits both men and women– and a refusal to return half the population to the subordinate status demanded by the GOP’s White Christian Nationalists.

In Indiana this November, voters will choose between a statewide slate of three talented and accomplished women and three out-and-proud MAGA misogynists and theocrats. This won’t be an election in which differences are minor. It also won’t be an election affected by gerrymandering–you can’t gerrymander a statewide race. 

Here’s an idea: If everyone reading this who cares about civic equality and women’s rights would send a few dollars to each of these women, we could demonstrate widespread support for a Hoosier year of the woman.

If Mexico can do this, so can Indiana.

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What They’re Really Attacking

Most readers of this blog are familiar with the famous Martin Niemoller quote, uttered as the Nazis solidified control of the German government:

First they came for the Communists And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist Then they came for the Socialists And I did not speak outBecause I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

The reason that statement remains so powerful is because it focuses on an essential truth: a government that can pick and choose among its citizens, a government that can empower some while disenfranchising or mistreating others, is a government incompatible with–and threatening to– basic human liberties.

As a former president of the ACLU put it, “Poison gas is a great weapon until the wind shifts.”

And that gets me to my frequent warnings about the real danger posed by the MAGA worldview–a worldview shared by autocrats like Trump and theocrats like Alito. As I have repeatedly noted, the Dobbs decision didn’t just target women’s rights–it undermined the constitutional principle that prevents government from invading everyone’s individual liberties and dictating all personal behaviors.

It isn’t just Dobbs. 

Axios recently reported that Indiana is one of a number of Red states that is refusing to follow a federal regulation meant to protect the civil liberties of LGBTQ+ youngsters.

The U.S. Department of Education expanded protections for LGBTQ+ students under Title IX last month — but Indiana has told its schools to ignore the guidance.

Why it matters: Indiana is one of many states that passed legislation in recent years targeting the LGBTQ+ community, particularly children.

  • A 2023 law requires schools to alert parents if their child requests a change to their name or pronoun, which teachers fear could force them to out transgender students, and earlier legislation blocked transgender girls from participating in girls’ school sports.

Driving the news: Indiana’s Department of Education advised schools “not to change their existing policies” in a memo last month, as first reported by WFYI.

  • “IDOE is currently working with legal counsel to review these new regulations, which among other things expands the definition of “sex” in Title IX,” the department said. “At initial review, these draft regulations will undoubtedly have major implications for Indiana schools and students and will likely be subject to legal challenges.”

The fine print: The federal guidance adds protections against “discrimination based on sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.”

  • The deadline for schools to adopt the rules to remain compliant for federal funding is Aug. 1.

There will undoubtedly be a lot of criticism focused on the fact that this rebellious noncompliance threatens critically-needed federal funding for public education. But it threatens far more than that. It is yet one more assault on the rule of law. It reinforces the Rightwing conviction that disagreement with a law constitutes an entitlement to violate it.

People who don’t believe women should have the right to control their own bodies, who view LGBTQ+ folks as “sinners” or worse, who remain convinced that Whites are superior to other races–in short, people who find it appropriate for government to “come for” some category of “Other”–fail to understand that a government empowered to award or deny privileged status is a government inconsistent with individual liberty and the rule of law.

At the end of the day, that is what is at risk in the upcoming elections. If would-be theocrats like Mike Braun and (especially) Jim Banks prevail (and worse, if their fellow Christian Nationalists should return Trump to power), we will see these persistent attacks on disfavored minorities used to further erode everyone’s individual liberties.

If we look honestly at American history, it becomes obvious that “states’ rights” always meant allowing state governments to privilege some citizens at the expense of others. When Braun says he wants to return the question of inter-racial marriage to the states, when Banks proposes federal legislation to ban abortions with no exceptions, they are just saying the quiet part out loud.

If people like Braun and Banks and Trump are elected, the wind will shift in a profoundly unpleasant direction. And unless you’re a White Christian guy, the government will eventually be empowered to come for you.

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He’ll Have The Caviar…

One of the great benefits of this blog is the education I get from readers who share information with me–and a few days ago, I got a real eye-opener from a constituent of Indiana Representative Jim Banks.

I had heard of Congressional Leadership PACs, but I was unaware of what they are and how they differ from the SuperPacs and other anti-democratic entities organized following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC–a decision that vastly increased the role of money in politics.

It turns out that all PACs aren’t the same. Some put money into the politico’s campaign; others put it in his pocket.

According to the ethics group One Issue, Congressional Leadership PACs too often function as slush funds, allowing their beneficiaries to live a far more luxurious lifestyle than they could manage on a Congressperson’s salary.

I’d not previously heard of One Issue, a relatively new organization concerned with monitoring government ethics. It is described as the

leading crosspartisan political reform group in Washington, D.C. We unite Republicans, Democrats, and independents in the movement to fix our broken political system and build a democracy that works for everyone. We educate the public and work to pass legislation on Capitol Hill to increase transparency, strengthen ethics and accountability, reduce the corrosive influence of big money in politics, and bolster U.S. elections. Issue One’s ReFormers Caucus of more than 200 former members of Congress, governors, and Cabinet officials is the largest coalition of its kind ever assembled to advocate for political reform.

The report that was forwarded to me focused on the (mis)use of Leadership PACs/slush funds by current members of Congress. The PACs were established in 1978 as accounts that would be separate from the authorized campaign committees that candidates use to run for Congress. The money was intended for use by politicians wanting to assist political allies and like-minded candidates– vulnerable colleagues or candidates running in competitive House and Senate races. The FEC made it clear that leadership PAC funds weren’t to be used to pay for lawmakers’ own re-election campaign expenses.

Today, leadership PACs are not just used by those in leadership roles. Indeed, 92% of members of Congress have them. And while most members of Congress primarily use their leadership PACs to make political contributions, new research from Issue One and Campaign Legal Center shows that scores of lawmakers are not, in fact, using the bulk of the money they raise in their leadership PACs to assist other candidates, their parties, or other political groups.

Today, it turns out that many lawmakers don’t spend the money in these PACs to assist political allies or causes, as intended.

This report shines a light on the shocking reality that far too many politicians appear to be amassing money from special interests in their leadership PACs and then using that cash to enjoy perks of lavish living that are beyond the reach of most Americans — such as meals at fancy restaurants, trips to elite resorts, rounds of golf at premier courses, and more. While such spending is purportedly done for the purpose of political fundraising, this explanation rings hollow when just a fraction of the money raised goes toward political contributions. Instead, such spending patterns give the impression that some politicians are simply raising money at one posh location to pay for the next fundraiser at the next fancy destination — creating an endless fundraising cycle at luxurious restaurants and resorts, much of which is paid for by special interest money, with no cost to lawmakers’ own pocketbooks.

It turns out that leadership PACs are “underwriting lavish lifestyles for politicians.”

Issue One looked at the two-year period between January 0f 2019 and December of 2020, and focused on lawmakers who had spent inordinate amounts on tickets for sports events, dinners at expensive restaurants, country-club dues and similar “fundraising overhead.” The report meticulously listed what it had found for each Senator and Representative.

In Indiana, the report showed that Congressman Jim Banks had raised $4,287,776 from special interests for his “Leadership PAC” and that a mere 14% of his expenditures had gone for the ostensible political purposes of that PAC–far less than other Indiana lawmakers. (Even Mike Braun spent 79% of his slush fund on the activities for which such PACs were created, and other Indiana lawmakers exceeded Braun’s percentage.)

Nationally, that puts Banks among the top abusers of these slush funds.

Isn’t it interesting that politicians like Jim Banks who are single-mindedly focused on culture war issues–the pious pretenders who constantly point to their “Christian” values and attempt to impose their misogynistic views of “righteousness” on the rest of us–always seem to be the ones with their hands in various cookie-jars?

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