Instant Justice – Just Add Justices

Should we now admit defeat? The country has to be turned over to the troglodytes who wish to institute a theocracy? It certainly appears that way with the current composition of the Supreme Court. For as long as I can remember, conservatives have wailed about legislating from the bench, in courts as long ago as the Warren court. The Miranda decision was supposed to be just one of the rulings leading to the unraveling of our national fabric. And the decision to remove prayer from school was undoubtedly the worst thing since sliced bread ruined the nation’s palate. Never mind the original sin of the courts, which was to desegregate our nation’s schools. Who’d have thought the constitution meant what it said, in all instances.

Now we have a group on the court who appear to be willing to be led by a pair of unrepentant ideologues who insist if a phrase is not explicitly in the Constitution, it must be eliminated from the nation’s list of options. Privacy is an easy target. This was something known back in the colonial days, and since it was left off of the list of enumerated rights, our founders did not consider it important. Gone! And all of the other rights that follow from a right to privacy? Just waiting now for the right Texas court case to come around to take up those nasty topics of sodomy, birth control, and miscegenation.  I can’t wait to see Justice Thomas take up the case of an anti-miscegenation law an eager southern state attempts to implement as a way of overturning Loving v. Virginia. We’ll see if he really is a consistent conservative, or if he is an opportunistic hypocrite. Let me say he epitomizes the old saying of opening his mouth and confirming his stupidity. He was much better when he was the silent member of the Supreme Court. Of course, there were many of us who saw through him when his confirmation hearings showed his inability to function in a truly integrated workplace without revealing his overt misogyny. Would that we could have turned Thomas into another Bork. But no, and now thirty years after his promotion to the bench, he is spreading his poison to generations yet to be born.

We now are held hostage by a Supreme Court majority whose legitimacy is questionable. From Trump’s first appointment, who is only on the court due to a feckless Senate majority leader’s refusal to accept Obama’s nominee, to Cavanaugh, shown to be a shallow thinker who is also a liar, to Amy Cony Barrett whose nomination and confirmation were rushed through even before her predecessor was fully in her grave, these three now form the core of an unbeatable majority willing to follow whatever their predecessors on the court wish to attack. Just think, these three justices will likely be on the court long after my lifetime, and they will continue to spew their anti-democratic venom and call it judicial rectification for poor decisions of the past.

If we now must accept that even 50 years does not represent a long enough time for a decision to be fully integrated into our nation’s culture, what else can we look forward to? Certainly we’ve had segregated education for longer than we’ve had integrated education, so of course Brown must be reversed. And we must accept the principle of police infallibility (much like papal infallibility) so the last vestiges of Miranda must be erased. Of course, our founders could not consider modern communications, so we must obliterate our rights to use technology in our daily lives. That too must go! Only allowable modes of transportation were those which existed back in the late 1700’s. There’s probably some writer in the distant past who equated flying on broomsticks with true evil, so all forms of motorized transport going faster than a horse has to be made illegal. In fact, I can think of many of elements of our modern life which must be banished in favor of our constitution.

I have in the past advocated for a new national compact, which would be ratified through formation of a revised constitution. The need for such a compact, representing the social contract between individuals and the state, has never been clearer. Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against any type of modernity coming out from such an effort, due to the requirement of individual state ratification. As we now see, the number of states who wish to remain back in some ill-defined period of time when America was great, overwhelms the wishes of the majority of the population. Because of this, any product coming out from a constitutional convention will likely continue the backwards trend we’ve seen and experienced.  

There are those who are rejoicing at the decision of the court, and in their mind, a great evil is being expunged from this nation. As we have seen on the discussion on guns and school shootings, the solutions being suggested from the conservatives would lead to turning schools into armed camps, and convert teachers to becoming executioners. Similarly, the solutions regarding abortion will lead to converting medical providers to becoming the eyes and ears of the prosecutors, so we can live under the fear that a simple miscarriage can be converted into a miscarriage of justice. Any solution that calls for spending real money to deal with the problems will be shelved as either being unrealistic, or viewed as an expansion of government which all can see is unjustified.

Let me speak to the unrepentant Republicans now. This nation, and indeed, the world, will not return to the quaint image of the evangelical Christians, where women and minorities knew their place, and where the sins of adultery were enabled for those in charge of their flocks. We now live in a world knitted together through commerce and through culture. Instead of retreating into the past, it is our moral duty to shape the future so it becomes more just, and true American values can be held up as examples of good for the world to emulate. As it stands right now, the rest of the world is not laughing with us. It is laughing at us.

Are You Really Pro-Life? Take This Quiz

I am turning over this blog to my wife Carrie. This column appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail Editorial page on June 25. I’d add a link but everything is behind a firewall.

So, you say you’re pro-life. You already had the bubbly of your choice chilling before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday.  Not so fast! Take the Pro-Life Quiz to see if you really are.

  1. Do you support pregnant women receiving high-quality pre-natal care regardless of the woman’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  2. Do you support high-quality post-childbirth care for mothers and babies in the form of lactation consultants, visiting nurses, etc., regardless of the mother and child’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  3. Do you support adequate paid family leave for all families with newborns regardless of the family’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  4. Do you support high-quality childcare and preschool for all working parents regardless of the family’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  5. Do you support a high-quality public education system in which all teachers are paid adequately for the valuable work they do, regardless of the school community’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  6. Do you support the provision of high-quality healthcare for all families, regardless of the family’s ethnicity, location, or income level, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  7. Do you support debt-free post-high-school training for all young people who wish to continue their education, whether that be in a community college, vocational or trade school, or a four-year public college or university, even if it costs you in the form of higher taxes?
  8. Do you support reasonable gun safety legislation, enacted in an effort to help every baby born, regardless of the child’s ethnicity, location, or income level, stay alive long enough to complete school, even if that means you can’t have every gun you want?

If you answered “yes” to all the questions above, congratulations!  You are truly pro-life.  If you answered “no” to any question, then you are not pro-life.  You are a hypocrite, and you do not deserve the bubbly in your fridge.

Silent Spring at 60

Chemical structure of DDT

So I am only about 60 years late. I finally read Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, and since I worked for decades in the agricultural chemicals industry, I have some thoughts about this book and all that it has inspired. What I find amazing about Carson’s work is how applicable it is to the world of today.

Rachel Carson wrote about the effects of the first generation of organic herbicides and pesticides. Those molecules were brute-force bludgeons against insects and weeds, with little discrimination against target species and collateral damage. Her description of the effects of indiscriminate spraying, coupled with the effects of resistance building in the insect populations, is just as valid today as it was when the book was written. And the praise she had for integrated pest management was also well ahead of its time (or maybe we are just now realizing how right it was).

I chose to get involved in the agricultural chemicals arena. I accepted a transfer within my company, and one of the reasons was that the new generation of herbicides was manufactured at my new plant in West Virginia. It took a few years, but I was finally employed by the ag side of the plant. At that time our main herbicide was a truly specific offering, one that dealt with weeds but did not spread beyond where it was applied. It was something that fulfilled Rachel Carson’s dream, a chemical solution which did not cause collateral damage. Unfortunately, this was the time when Monsanto began to offer their solution of RoundUp Ready® products. These products offered the farmer a one-stop service, where they could spray a field with herbicide, knowing it would not bother the seedlings planted there which had been genetically modified for herbicide resistance.

We very quickly lost market share, and our good offering which I was proud of supporting, soon became yesterday’s news. We ended up licensing the technology for this genetically modified solution ourselves, and this allowed us to recapture a bit of market share though reducing our profits due to the licensing costs. But guess what? Farmers were supposed to vary their herbicides every couple of years to help prevent weeds from gaining resistance to the herbicide. The problem was that Monsanto offered such an easy solution for the farmers, what with its opportunity for no-till agriculture, very few farmers rotated herbicides. They tended to use the same one year after year.

Guess what happened? Weeds began to gain resistance. So now you had fields with certain intransigent weeds peeking up through the intended crops, and the agricultural chemical companies sought a solution. Even though we still offered our environmentally friendly herbicides, the lure of no-till agriculture was now thoroughly embedded in the minds of farmers. So the answer developed was to add resistance to a second chemical in the seeds of crops. Monsanto / Bayer came up with an offering where their plants were resistant to RoundUp® and Dicamba, and their chemical offering was a blend of those two chemicals. Unfortunately, Dicamba would evaporate, especially in the warmth of the southern US, and its effects were felt far from the application site, causing uncontrolled damage.  And, again, if farmers use this product exclusively, weeds will once again grow resistant to both chemicals. This will probably result in yet another chemical being added to the mix to aid the farmers in their attempt to eliminate tilling while still resulting in high crop yields.

I would have hoped that my company would have been more responsible, and come up with a solution requiring little additional chemical application. But no, my company’s preferred solution was to genetically modify the seed to become resistant to RoundUp® and one of the first generation of chlorinated hydrocarbons, 2,4 – D (2,4 – Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid). So the chemical arms race continued to run amuck, with the original goal of reduced chemical application long forgotten. I retired before this new product could be marketed, but I definitely did not like the direction we were heading towards.

The chemical race continues on insecticides as well. The first generation of broad-spectrum, chlorinated hydrocarbons, or the organophosphorus insecticides, were replaced by biodegradable compounds aimed at disrupting the life cycles of the insect targets. But even in the newer age of chemical warfare against insects, unintended consequences keep on popping up. The class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids has achieved broad use. Unfortunately, the effects on pollinators, both domestic honeybees, and wild bees, was much greater than expected. In addition, insects in general have been reduced, with unknown impact still to come from those portions of the ecosystem which depend upon insects for their food. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring may yet come about again, due to birds starving and being unable to raise new generations of young.

The dream of integrated pest management Rachel Carson espoused has yet to come to pass. Speaking as one who was greatly invested in the business, as long as there is profit to be had from chemical application, companies will prefer to go after that profit instead of solving the real problems facing society. We still have a long way to go before we come up with ways to co-exist with the natural world instead of trying to compete and conquer those species we consider as our enemies.

A personal note here – Rachel Carson received her undergraduate degrees at the Pennsylvania College for Women. This institution changed its name over the years to Chatham College. It is there where my wife received her bachelor’s degree with a double-major in music and English. She is proud of her college’s famous graduate. What’s more, it is apparent that the city of Pittsburgh, home to this educational institution, is also proud since one of the bridges in downtown across the Alleghany River is named the Rachel Carson Bridge. In Pittsburgh there are three bridges connecting the North Side to downtown. Those bridges are the Rachel Carson Bridge, the Andy Warhol Bridge, and the Roberto Clemente Bridge. Truly an iconic mix of honorees reflecting on the eclectic mix of people associated with the city of Pittsburgh.

Only 7 Years Ago? Seems Like Yesterday

Trump tower escalator. Photo credit by AP Images

It is hard to imagine, but it has been 7 years since a fateful trip down an escalator brought Trumpism into our national vocabulary. Now we will see if this political era was an aberration, or whether there will be an ongoing phenomena of selfish nationalism as a defining political belief. So many things have changed in the intervening years. For one thing, money was nearly free for much of the Trump era as interest rates hovered near zero. This nation and the world suffered from the most extensive viral infection we have seen in a century – though many people still do not think there was any unusual disease around them.

In many ways, the response to COVID provides an answer that Trumpism is not an aberration. If Trumpism is defined as a distrust of all forms governmental, along with a belief that our nation is better off going it alone and forgoing all international alliances, then no, Trumpism is not an aberration. An entire wing of the Republicans has always stood for isolationism, and a propensity toward conspiracy theories. As I grew up, it seemed those beliefs got segregated within self-contained enclaves, like the John Birch Society. We were able to laugh at those who believed in the imminent threat water fluoridation posed. But the Republicans writ large were able to subjugate this tendency since the existential threat of international communism seemed to be the primary motivation for foreign policy.

Once the communist threat imploded, the glue holding the Republican coalition loosened. Combined with downward economic mobility afflicting much of the nation’s interior, we emerged into a world where a significant portion of the population became convinced nothing good would ever come to them if the elites remained in charge. The wisdom of Donald Trump (gad – it hurts to write that phrase) was to reach out, if only in a superficial way, to that segment of the population and toss them a life preserver. That so many reached out for that life preserver, even when it was revealed to be covered with the slime of self-interest, carried Donald Trump to an improbable victory.

Once in office, he tried ineffectually to turn the levers of power to his advantage. Much to his chagrin, he found it was not possible to turn the ship of state, even in a single four-year term. He mistook this resistance to change to an entity he called the deep state. But he was able to establish his mark upon many of the governmental organizations, especially those with a conservative bent. Still, he found it impossible to totally restructure those portions of government with a liberal bias, and thus minimal change occurred in the groups who used science to govern their actions. Fortunately for us, the corruption and incompetence of Donald Trump enabled the deep state to survive a single term.

But if you view Donald Trump as someone who rode the currents to victory in spite of himself, the second generation of Trumpism offers hope to those who believe in the ultimate objectives of Trump. They come with the experience of running large organizations, and have survived the skirmishes politics throw up. Governors of Texas and Florida are well-positioned to ride the waves of anti-government sentiment still crashing on our shores. They are backed by legions of followers who self-segregate into media pools where only their own perspective is allowed. Nowhere was that more evident than in the decision of Fox News to not only ignore the prime time January 6 hearing, but in the secondary decision that organization made to forego any commercial revenue in the hopes of keeping fingers from switching inputs to other channels, where the hearing was playing.

So where we stand is at a precipice. It is still possible to convince a portion of this nation of the evil represented in the Republican position, while at the same time it is possible to evoke emotional support for those same positions in another segment of the population. But that is a key point. Only 20 million people watched the first January 6 hearing, and while those involved in television believed this was a huge crowd (it rivaled the audience for Sunday Night Football!), I myself was underwhelmed by an audience of 6% of the population of this nation who had enough interest to tune in for two hours. You must realize it will be the 94% who didn’t watch this coverage who will determine the outcome.

Those who will decide the course of this nation are not the people invested in politics. The ones who will decide are those who cannot see beyond their current economic conditions and view their vote as the only tool they have to right the wrongs they see in their own lives. You can try to convince them to vote in favor of principles, but high and mighty thoughts will be swallowed by the economic waves battering the shore. Many folks cannot see beyond those waves, and to persuade them of the impending death of democracy should they choose the party of autocrats is hopeless. What we must do is figure out a way to make more noise than the opposition. I am convinced it is necessary to yell, since it seems only cacophony can be heard over the drone of the trumpets. There’s a reason Twitter has such a small character limit to its posts – the national attention span can’t handle longer thoughts.

What this nation needs is not a better COVID vaccine. We need a vaccine against the idiocy and idolatry of Trumpism.

A Nation’s Selective Hearing

AP Photo -John Minchillo

We are at the dawning of the January 6 Committee public hearings. As one who lived through the Watergate hearings, I offer a little perspective. First, the hearings will reveal all of the ways in which our ex-President was complicit in attempting to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, which was a fair election and one he lost significantly in the popular vote. Second, it will lay to rest all of the pseudo claims about “legitimate political discourse” being an explanation for the storming of the Bastille which we saw the Trump supporters attempt.

Third, it will reveal we can believe our eyes, which for the most part were transfixed on the television as we watched the mob battle play out on that afternoon. It was not only as bad as we thought, it was worse. Plans were laid out weeks and even months in advance hoping for some way to circumvent the results of the election.

And fourth, our segregated media habits will result in no change in our contradictory beliefs, where a significant fraction of our population steadfastly refuses to accept the evidence of their eyes and ears. Instead, they will rely upon the soothing words of the Fox pundits as they decry the hearings as an attempt to cast aspersions on the perfect behavior of the last President.

Let me be perfectly clear here. The most recent President was someone who never accepted that he was the guardian of our constitutional system of government. Instead, he viewed the whole process as a way of enriching himself, his family, and his assorted cronies. Those around Trump either benefited financially (see Jared Kushner with his new wealth fund and its $2 billion “investment” from the Saudi’s), or politically, via the opportunity to serve as Senatorial nominees even though their terms in the administration were riddled with corruption and self-dealing. I remember the Cone of Silence that Mel Brooks Scott Pruitt had built to keep his discussions private. Now he nears admission to the Senate from the poor excuse for a state in Oklahoma.

The ex-President lost because many, many people rejected his attempt at instituting a dynastic regency. He did pick up more votes than his 2016 surprise success, but the opposition picked up millions and millions more. It was intended to be a personal repudiation of Donald Trump. Except, of course, he refused to acknowledge his failure. Here is a man (and I use that term advisedly) who managed to fail upwards in all of his endeavors. He mistook family money for self-worth, and he epitomized failure in American business, instead of the immense success his PR toadies insisted he represented.

Nowhere is there a clearer demarcation of the American populace than in the feelings surrounding our last President. Those who believe the gold-plated fantasy of Trump as business kingpin, still insist he performed admirably in office. Those who saw through the charlatan realize how fortunate we have been to emerge from the four years of incompetence and grifting this nation was subjected to.  

Now we still are under the man’s domination, as one of the two electoral parties of this nation cannot shake his influence. What is really scary is the rise of those who evoke Trumpism as their modus operandi, but with more competence. I remember Ron Desantis’s introduction to the nation, as his political advertisement ran showing him teaching his toddler how to build the Mexican wall with blocks. Unfortunately, since his election as Florida governor, he has shown how granting him power has unleashed his inner tyrant, with evil intent oozing out of every executive order he issues. At least with Trump we knew his staff did not understand how to wield the levers of power effectively. With Desantis, that is not the case. He is truly scary and a threat to all who revere the style of government we have inherited.

The worst part of the past administration is the complete lack of shamelessness, and lack of a sense of humor. It is impossible to get any member of the past administration to show shame, or a sense that they are subject to the rules governing all citizens. Witness Peter Navarro’s reaction to his arrest. And these idiots never seem to recognize that a substantial portion of the nation is laughing at them, not laughing with them. How you can come up with so many people who failed at basic humanity is beyond me. But that is the legacy of the prior administration, and we can only hope the upcoming hearings reveal the criminal faults with enough clarity that it at least possible to embolden those in charge of the justice systems, so we may finally see the Donald subject to a foreign concept – accountability.