October 3, 2006

Say the money just ain't what it used to be

Jeffrey Hersch, Katmandu Night

* Washington Times editorial. excerpt:

"The facts of the disgrace of Mark Foley, who was a Republican member of the House from a Florida district until he resigned last week, constitute a disgrace for every Republican member of Congress. Red flags emerged in late 2005, perhaps even earlier, in suggestive and wholly inappropriate e-mail messages to underage congressional pages. His aberrant, predatory -- and possibly criminal -- behavior was an open secret among the pages who were his prey. The evidence was strong enough long enough ago that the speaker should have relieved Mr. Foley of his committee responsibilities contingent on a full investigation to learn what had taken place, whether any laws had been violated and what action, up to and including prosecution, were warranted by the facts. This never happened.
Now the scandal must unfold on the front pages of the newspapers and on the television screens, as transcripts of lewd messages emerge and doubts are rightly raised about the forthrightness of the Republican stewards of the 109th Congress. Some Democrats are attempting to make this "a Republican scandal," and they shouldn't; Democrats have contributed more than their share of characters in the tawdry history of congressional sexual scandals. Sexual predators come in all shapes, sizes and partisan hues, in institutions within and without government. When predators are found they must be dealt with, forcefully and swiftly. This time the offender is a Republican, and Republicans can't simply "get ahead" of the scandal by competing to make the most noise in calls for a full investigation. The time for that is long past.

"House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations -- or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away. He gave phony answers Friday to the old and ever-relevant questions of what did he know and when did he know it? Mr. Hastert has forfeited the confidence of the public and his party, and he cannot preside over the necessary coming investigation, an investigation that must examine his own inept performance.

"A special, one-day congressional session should elect a successor. We nominate Rep. Henry Hyde, also of Illinois, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee whose approaching retirement ensures that he has no dog in this fight. He has a long and principled career, and is respected on both sides of the aisle. Mr. Hyde would preside over the remaining three months of the 109th Congress in a manner best suited for a full and exhaustive investigation until a new speaker for the 110th Congress is elected in January, who can assume responsibility for the investigation."

* From an interview of environmentalist Bill McKibben. excerpt:

Interviewer: I know you were an early adopter of hybrid car technology. And I suspect your house is heavily insulated and the refrigerator filled with locally grown food. But one attitude I've encountered time and again is that solving global warming is such a huge issue that nothing individuals can do will make a difference, so why bother? Any advice on how to break through the stubbornness?

McKibben: It's hard to break through that idea because, frankly, there's a deep mathematical logic to it. Individual action is a kind of calisthenics before the big event, which must be political. Only the kind of massive change that can be brought about through national (and, even harder, international) policy will really suffice to reduce the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. So the key is summoning political will - and the very act of coming together in a march, say, to demand that kind of action will help us to start feeling politically powerful again.

I wrote the very first general book about global warming, way back in 1989, and I've been working on it ever since. The science has grown grimmer in the past few years as we understand just how fast we're unhinging the Earth's system. There remains time to do something about global warming (not avert it, but keep it from getting any worse than it has to be), but we need very quickly to seize that moment. And I think that right now - because of Katrina, because of Gore's movie, because of our hot summer - is the best opening we've had in two decades.
Interviewer: If you rubbed a compact fluorescent bulb and the Eco-Genie popped out to offer you one wish - passage of a single piece of narrowly focused global warming legislation - what would you ask for?

McKibben: I think the rapid phase-in of a 40 mpg average for new cars. Because the technology is there to do it easily, because it would demonstrate to us that the change in our sacred lifestyles will be very small at first - and because it will give everyone the added benefit of saving some money on gas. Unless you drive a hybrid, you can't believe the number of people who sidle up to you at a gas station and ask some longing questions about exactly how far it goes on a tank of gas.
Interviewer: What kind of useful advice does a small-town/rural family like yours have for us urban dwellers?

McKibben: City dwellers, depending on how they live, are already the greenest Americans. New York City, because it's the least car-dependent city in the country, is our environmental champion in many ways. I think the biggest changes are needed where the majority of Americans live - i.e., the suburbs, a landscape that only sprung up because of cheap energy, and which will take real work to transform. The kind of semi-intact small towns and local economies that Vermont and some other rural places still possess are useful models - at least, that's one of the theses of my next book.

But the real lesson, and the one I hope this march will highlight, is that the technology we need above all is the technology of community. Vermont still has town meeting government - we're reasonably good at talking with each other. It's one reason lots of experiments have come out of this state: the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s, for instance, or for that matter, the Dean campaign. It's not that we're so liberal (we have a conservative governor; we've lost more people per capita in Iraq than any other state). But I think we're still pretty good at community, which is the underlying necessity for a more efficient and happier country. At root, dealing with global warming will mean sanding the edges off of some of America's hyperindividualism - and perhaps that will be just a little easier out in the country.

* "The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, and Balanchine ballets don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world." -- Susan Sontag


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