Reader Response

I got the following reply from a reader over my F@$% Fairness blog post.  I will post a link to my original blog at the bottom.  I actually encourage any of you that have intelligent arguments to make about what I have written to make them.  One of the models for this blog is Andrew Sullivan’s.  I like that he doesn’t have comments on his blog, which usually just lead to partisan bickering and name calling.  But what he does do is post the most intelligent reader comments that are in disagreement with him as the “dissent of the day.”  I do allow comments here
, but I must approve them before I post them, not to stifle debate, but to prevent the kind of ignorance that I believe actually is counterproductive to real debate.  Anyway here is the readers comment:

Jeff, There’s something overlooked in your comments, at least what’s expressed here. Trust funds, stocks/bonds, bank accounts, etc, are different than ranches. The death tax has destroyed more natural resources than all the bulldozers ever built. Those who inherit farms and ranches are forced to sell because, unless they’ve won the lottery, the only way they can pay the death tax is to sell their farm/ranch to a developer. So open space, and all its benefits provided to society … aquifer infiltration, riparian areas, wetlands, wildlife habitat, carbon sinks, oxygen production, aesthetics, rainfall runoff reduction and its cleaning, food, fiber, shelter, recreation, etc, etc, etc … are soon eliminated by becoming covered by asphalt and rooftops. And those who say that “proper planning” can escape this tax are, under certain market timings, swings and changes, full of shit. So if you want to help the environment, help keep open spaces open. There are ways to accomplish this, via carefully constructed and regulated conservation easements, etc, etc, but our “leadership” in BOTH parties won’t listen and/or are too dumb to understand, or has not so far. Finally, always remember there are two kinds of landowners: those who take from the land, and those who give to the land. Penalize the former. But, the latter should be encouraged via more appropriate policies than exist today. There’s much more to this discussion that is too complicated for my email skills, but happy to discuss any time.

I think this is a completely valid point, and one that I overlooked.  However, the only thing that I would like to add is that my original blog was more about the hypocrisy of people that are against the Estate Tax so that their children benefit from wealth, and also against social welfare of any kind for other children, and not necessarily a response to the Estate Tax itself.  If this was not made clear, I apologize.  One always realizes when one writes that, unless one would write till the end of time, given all the nuances and shades of gray of each subject, there are going to be small holes in every argument.  Here is a link to my original blog:

My Dad is in the New York Times!

My Dad got a letter published in the New York Times today!  I am very proud of him.  His name is Donald A. Brown.  He has long spoken about the ethical problems concerning our response to climate change.  My Dad was an environmental lawyer most of his life.  After that he taught at Penn State.  He now is a professor of sustainability ethics and law at Widener University School of Law.

Democracy for Sale

Last night was spent revising a paper that will appear as a chapter in an environmental book.  I wrote the paper with my girlfriend Abby, who is an Environmental Science and Policy graduate.  I have also been taking classes at St. Edward’s University in Environmental Science and Policy, though I have taken this semester off as my gig schedule has gotten too hectic.  The paper and the chapter are called Oceans for Sale.  It is about the ties between ocean acidification and the group the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is also known as ALEC.  The paper was based on a speech that Abby and I gave at an environmental conference in Costa Rica last summer.  She handled the complex scientific issues and I handled the politics. 

I want to lay down a little about ALEC, although I don’t want to give too much of the paper away as other people have invested a lot of time making this book happen.  ALEC is a group that tries to influence politicians, mostly at the state level, with a corporatist right wing agenda.  They are not a lobbyist group.  We will see why they are able to do away with the traditional notion of lobbyists in a moment.  They claim that they are into education and therefore are tax exempt. 

ALEC creates model legislation that legislators at the state level can use to base real legislation on once they go back to their respective statehouses.  ALEC holds conferences and flies legislators out to these conferences, which are often at nice hotels in nice places.  ALEC even goes as far as flying the legislators’ family out and provides them with daycare so a couple can have fun while they are visiting one of these conferences.  At these conferences they write this model legislation where the heads of corporations and the politicians have the same level of influence into what goes into them.  When the legislators go back to their respective statehouses the legislation they introduce often includes verbatim language from this model legislation.  Again this model legislation is written in part by corporations.  These corporations want bills that favor their economic interests. 

The reason why ALEC is not a lobbyist group is simple.  They don’t need lobbyists in the traditional sense.  The legislators become the lobbyists when they go back to their statehouses.  They are called Super Lobbyists.  These are people that are part of our government carrying out the work of corporations. 

The paper I wrote focuses on ALEC’s dubious environmental legislation.  Often when there is legislation favoring the fossil fuel industry and legislation that tries to stifle renewable energy, ALEC has a hand in it.  The fossil fuel industry is a big supporter of ALEC.  However, energy policy isn’t the only thing that ALEC has its hands in.  It helps past legislation on a whole host of issues that pertain to a corporate right wing agenda.  The Stand Your Ground law in Florida, made famous in the Trayvon Martin case, was based on ALEC model legislation.  Yep, the gun industry is also a big supporter of ALEC.  Anti-union and education legislation has also been influenced by ALEC.  I could go on and on. 

What this represents is the selling of our democracy.  Even if you are a Republican, you should be able to see how these practices are unethical, if not illegal.  They subvert the will of the people and give power to those who have the most money.  Whether you are a Republican or Democrat I would hope that you would want people in government that are passing legislation that is in the best interest of their constituents and not the corporations. 

Corporations at their worst will pillage the land and destroy the rights of workers.  They will align themselves with religion so long as religion suits their end goals.  However, as soon as they have everything that they want, when there is no more resources to mine, no more markets to exploit, when they can find cheaper labor elsewhere, they will move on.  We need legislators which, while not stifling the creativity of the market, protect us from its greatest excesses.  

Cutting Down 5,000 Trees

As I mentioned in a blog that I wrote last night, I am reading Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  Before reading the book I thought the book only told the story of Wounded Knee and the events leading up to the massacre there.  I did not realize that it told the larger story of destruction brought upon the Indian way of life.

In the beginning of the book it retells the story of Kit Carson helping to subdue the Navahos and the story of Canyon de Chelly.  Canyon de Chelly was a Navaho stronghold.  This story is told in greater detail in the excellent Hampton Sides book Blood and Thunder.  Even those of you that are not greatly interested in history books would enjoy Sides’s book.  It is written with the eye for detail and with the pace of a great novel.  This is not simply a collection of names and dates, but a story that Sides makes you feel as if you are witnessing.

The Dee Brown book reminded me how at one point, to starve out the Navahos, Carson had 5,000 of their peach trees cut down.  In order to make the Navaho come into the reservation Carson destroyed their crops and took or killed their livestock.  Canyon de Chelly was almost impregnable because of the geography there.  Carson, who and lived amongst the Indians at times, knew how to get results.

Every Indian tribe is greatly different.  Comparing the Navahos to the Comanche would be like comparing Italians to the Irish.  This is not a perfect comparison, but you get my drift.  In Texas, at least after reading S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon, it became clear to me that we had no right to take Comanche land, but once we occupied the same space as them, there was probably going to be bloodshed.  The Comanche were brutal to other Indian tribes, let alone to white settlers.  These were two civilizations that were not compatible.  That’s not to say there weren’t atrocities committed by whites in Texas, there certainly were.  Often Texans killed Indians without prejudice, whether they were the Comanche or not.  Peaceful bands of Indians often got killed because of Comanche atrocities.  A President of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau Lamar, of which there is still a street named after in Austin, had two pastimes that he loved:  killing Indians and poetry.  He did not care which Indians were killed.  The fact that we still have a street named after this man continues to confound me.

However, the history of the Navaho people is different.  The Navaho were much more inclined than the Comanche to try to reach an agreement with the whites.  We destroyed their way of life all the same.  I am writing this to say that I understand the tragedy of what happened to the Navaho.

But I want to get back to those peach trees.  I was thinking about how, in a much smaller way, the cutting down of those peach trees was its own small tragedy.  We, as a culture, have often found it all too easy to destroy Mother Nature.  The Indians as a whole, and it is really an injustice to write about them as a whole as I wrote earlier there is great difference between the tribes, lived in harmony with nature.  That’s not to say that there weren’t “good and bad” Indians and that they too weren’t capable of atrocities.  However, the Indians as a whole did respect nature and regarded it as something sacred.

We too often have seen this continent as something to exploit.  We have too often been willing to cut down the “Garden of Eden” if it led to short term economic gains.  This was true at the beginning of our country and it is often too true now.  Imagine the mindset of people who would cut down 5,000 beautiful trees just to see other people starve.  It is not hard to imagine this mindset living on in those nowadays who are all too willing to see nature destroyed if it leads to short term benefits.

If we are ever to turn the corner on environmental issues, many of which now threaten our civilization in the long run, we must rethink our relationship with the land.  It is important to learn about our history, so that we understand how we got to where we are.  If we don’t understand the tragedies of our past, we may blindly create new tragedies in our future.

Green Space and Blue Space

It’s pretty common knowledge that having green space, places to exercise, to get away from the hustle and bustle of life, places to reflect and relax, increases happiness and health in cities.  Today for the first time I read about blue space, that having lakes, ponds, or rivers in a city can also increase health and happiness.  This seems like common sense and appears totally logical.  However, I had never read this before or heard the term blue space.  I want to see if I can find any statistics and further information on this.  I’m interested in city planning and how the space around us can change our state of mind.  I know one of the reasons that I picked the city of Austin to move to was that it had a lot of green space in and surrounding it.  There are, as long as we are not in a drought, plenty of great streams and swimming holes.  Anyway, If you know anything about this I’d love to learn about it.  Please shoot me an email or leave a comment.  In the meantime I will be digging up what I can.

Don’t Feed the Alligators

I went kayaking in Florida one time and saw a sign that said, “Don’t feed the alligators.”  Are people crazy?  One minute you are six inches off of the water in your kayak trying to give an alligator a sandwich, and the next your sneakers are sticking out of the alligator’s mouth.  You would have to chalk that up to natural selection.

It is kind of like with global warming.  I live in Austin and can see the smog on certain days.  You can visually see when the air of the city has had too many chemicals pumped into it.  How would people think that our atmosphere as a whole is any different?  That we can just unleash an endless amount of chemicals into the air and nothing will ever happen.  If you mess with mother nature, mother nature will eventually mess with you.

I love traditional Japanese art.  I love it not only for the beautiful way that they use colors, but also for the way they put man in perspective with nature.  Man is smaller and more insignificant than in Western art.  He is at the mercy of the powerful force of nature.

You have seen bullfighting.  It can only be done so many times until eventually a matador has a horn up his ass.  Sooner or later if we don’t get smart, our luck is going to run out.  We have tempted fate long enough.


Oliver Stone and Jeju, Korea

“…Obama’s resupplied Japan with stealth fighters. Japan has the 5th largest military in the world. No one admits that. You call yourself a Self Defense Force…You’re the 4th largest military in the world, after Great Britain and China. The US is your full accomplice in this. You are some of our best buyers. We make you not only pay for the weapons we sell you, but we make you pay for the wars we fight.
We are bullies. You’re facing a dragon of great size and the dragon is not China, it’s the U.S. Four days ago, I was in Jeju, Korea, where South Korea…is destroying a UNESCO World Heritage site, destroying the land and inhabitants…they’re going to build the harbor so deep that the George Washington, the largest aircraft carrier in the world, carrying all kinds of nuclear missiles, is going to sail to Jeju. South Korea – armed to the teeth. Japan – armed to the teeth…Philippines…we’re back in Subic Bay…
We are looking for arrangements in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and I heard India…India was always non-aligned…This is very dangerous…This is like NATO. It began as a defense arrangement and became an offensive arrangement…
This year, the specter of war has returned to Asia…The spirit of World War II is being revived…So you can talk all you want about peace and nuclear abolition but the poker game is run by the U.S.”

I know several people in the environmental movement that were actually at Jeju, Korea.  My father was one of them.  I can’t attest to this whole statement by Stone, but I have heard the part about Jeju echoed before.

Deadwood and The Tea Party

If you want to learn about America, but aren’t a big history reader, watch the show DeadwoodDeadwood is a western that is set in the lawless town of the same name.  The show is about how society goes from chaos to order, and the economic, political, and cultural forces that create that order.  It is also a highly entertaining TV show that features a tremendous amount of sex, violence, and swearing.  It’s brilliant however.  I always say that the language on that show is Shakespeare with cursing.

My brother Ben and I have watched the series countless times.  I recently walked in on him watching it again and caught one of my favorite scenes.  A government official is in town and he has angered the masses by invalidating some of their mining claims.  The ignorant masses on that show are called hoopleheads.  The hoopleheads decide that they are going to seek vigilante justice upon the government official.  The official is in a cage in a local saloon for his own protection and the hoopleheads, lead by a racist drunk named Steve, are threatening him.  The official says, “You can’t fuck me, I’m the future.”  To which Steve replies, “Fuck you and fuck the future!”

It made me think of the Tea Party.  I’ve always thought that the base of the Tea Party has a right to be angry.  They have just misdirected their anger.  In the show the government official is making his decisions to invalidate claims because he is backed by the super wealthy George Hearst.  Hearst wants the claims for himself.  He is using the weak government official, who would never make such a power play by himself, for his own purposes.  The hoopleheads are directing their anger at the government official, who is pathetic and dislikable, but they should be banding together to take on Hearst.  Hearst turns out to be far more dangerous and detrimental to the town than any government official could be.

As careers disappear and livelihoods go up in smoke, the base of the Tea Party has every right to be angry.  However, their anger at the government is misdirected.  The government, even at its worst, is only as bad as it is because it has been corrupted by large corporations.  They are aiding, probably without knowing it, the further degrading of the government and the rise of corporate power.  It is in corporations’ interests to have the government become as weak as possible.  That way the government won’t pass those pesky regulations.  A strong government, with strong regulatory power, even as imperfect as it might be at times, is the only chance we have of using the force of law to stop these corporations from ruining lives.  They are the ones that are moving jobs overseas, poisoning the environment, ramping up the military industrial complex, and degrading our school systems.  Anger is a powerful thing.  How do we redirect it?

Hippies and Libertarians

I am still knocking the cobwebs off this morning.  However, I came across this great article:

It’s about how hippies and libertarians are coming together over solar power. I’ve long believed that there are certain environmental issues, if treated correctly, could bring certain fragments of the right and left together.  I feel like language and cultural differences sometimes divide people who often have common interests.  This is a promising turn of events and I hope to see more of it in the future.  Keep your fingers crossed.  Pray to your god of favor.


On the Beach at Night Alone

On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,
As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef of the universes and of the future.

A vast similitude interlocks all,
All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets,
All distances of place however wide,
All distances of time, all inanimate forms,
All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different, or in different worlds,
All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes,
All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,
All identities that have existed or may exist on this globe, or any globe,
All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann’d,
And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.

By Walt Whitman.  Our oceans are in danger right now because of many things including ocean acidification.  I think it’s important to remember that the ocean is a place of wonder.  So many times the environmental movement gets caught up on numbers and arguments about science.  These are important.  I am not denying the importance of a strong scientific debate.  I am only saying that it helps to remember sometimes that nature is an important place to people as conscious beings.  It has helped form our collective dreams.