Who Will Protect the Environment from the Director of the EPA?

pruitt-alec

People make mistakes. Institutions make mistakes. Government makes mistakes. Mistakes can be forgiven, especially when there is admission of the mistake, a sincere regret for the mistake, and desire and commitment to correct the mistake and make sure it does not happen again. As fallible human beings, mistakes are an unavoidable part of our existence, but we learn from them, and we try to do better. We can forgive honest mistakes.

As we experience the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, it is not possible to respond to such a disaster without making mistakes. There is too much chaos, too much water, too much complexity, too many unknowns for everyone to get everything right in the rescue and recovery efforts. We rightly accept this as long as there are no signs of gross negligence or unwillingness to make corrections.  We pull together, we do our best, we care for each other, and we try to make things better as well as we possibly can. We can forgive honest mistakes

The recovery from Hurricane Harvey is complicated by the fact that the Houston area is the most significant fossil fuel and petrochemical hub in the nation. Not only does this lead to rising fuel prices and in some areas problems getting access to fuel as many refineries are closed, it also makes clean up and recovery efforts far more difficult and dangerous owing to the toxicity of the flood waters. In addition to the toxicity of the water, at the time of this writing a chemical plant is on fire owing to a power failure and lack of refrigeration for its volatile chemicals. Officials associated with the chemical facility have not yet been able to clarify how toxic the smoke from this fire may be. We also know that numerous toxic superfund sites in the area have been flooded, and we do not yet know fully the effects on the environment or public safety. 

Such a situation requires significant cooperation not only in the rescue and recovery efforts, but also in the monitoring of the toxicity of the environment – water, land, and air, and the potential health effects of this toxicity. It is for such a situation as this that we have the Environmental Protection Agency to do the independent and objective work of monitoring the environmental impact and communicating their findings clearly and effectively to the public for its health and safety.

It is precisely for a time like this, when a natural disaster is wreaking havoc on one of the largest petrochemical infrastructure sites in the nation, that we need a committed and trustworthy director of the Environmental Protection Agency to assess and address the detrimental ecological and health effects of this disaster.

Sadly, and hopefully not tragically, we have Scott Pruitt as the administrator of the EPA, a person who has proven time and time again in his tenure as Oklahoma Attorney General and in his short tenure with the EPA that he will do anything the fossil fuel and chemical companies want him to do. In the past Pruitt has very literally taken his cues from industry interests, and in some cases he uses the exact language they want him to use to argue their case for them. He has filed lawsuits against the federal government and against the EPA on behalf of their interests. He has worked very hard for them, and that is what has landed him the position he has today, not his concern for environmental protection.

I hope that Administrator Pruitt will do the right thing in relation to the EPA’s response to the environmental effects of Hurricane Harvey, but if past behavior is a prediction of his present and future behavior, I am afraid that what Mr. Pruitt says and does, especially in relation to the fossil fuel and petrochemical industry aspects of this disaster, will need to be monitored very closely. The problem is that the very agency that needs to be monitoring his words and actions is the agency he directs.

If Mr. Pruitt makes honest mistakes in relation to this disaster, I imagine that the people will be able to forgive him, but if he continues the willfully dishonest actions of his past as he responds to this complex disaster, he will not deserve the forgiveness of the American people, especially those who are most vulnerable to the toxic environmental effects of what is now officially the largest rainfall event in United States history. Honest mistakes can be forgiven, but dishonest and malevolent actions should neither be forgiven nor forgotten.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Breaking of Covenant

Humans are causing the Sixth Great Extinction on Earth, but the schismatic Wesleyan Covenant Association within the United Methodist Church is more concerned about discriminating against people based on their sexual and gender orientation than it is about addressing climate change and healing and restoring our world. This misdirected concern is a breaking of our covenant to care for the earth and to work for justice and dignity of all persons. 

As we propel ourselves into climate chaos and an increasingly unlivable planet for human civilization as we know it, the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s outcry remains “but the gays!” It is as if all that is wrong or right with the United Methodist Church hinges on keeping LGBTQ persons from full inclusion. Their primary reason for existence seems be the preservation of a form of Methodism that will continue to keep LGBTQ persons from full  paricipation in the life of the church. They ignore that which is causing the greatest harm while obsessing over that which causes no harm, thus clearly violating John Wesley’s principle of doing no harm.

Future generations of humans will not lament that our generation did not do enough to exclude and discriminate against persons who are LGBTQ, but they will cry out in anger in the midst of horrific suffering that we did not do enough to preserve a livable climate for a flourishing human community on earth, our only home. As the planet becomes more and more unlivable, future generations will rightly wonder why churches spent more time trying to control sexual and gender orientation than they spent working for social justice, ecological responsibility, and climate justice. 

The Wesleyan Covenant Association’s claims of broken covenant by LGBTQ persons and their allies in the United Methodist Church is an overt attempt to shame them to adhere to discriminatory principles. This use of the notion of covenant is an affront to the covenant of a Beloved Community that works for justice for all people and cares deeply for all creation. This covenantal shaming divides us rather than reconciling our relationships  with each other and the earth. 

For such a time as this, the world needs so much more from our churches than what the Wesleyan Covenant Association is offering. The whole creation groans in travail and cries out in hope for healing, restoration, regeneration, renewal, and reconciliation. It does not need yet another voice of exclusion and discrimination that denigrates the dignity and sacred worth of all persons. The world needs churches to be models for the healing of our human and ecological community, not places for misguided religious excuses for bigotry in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

In Times Like These…

In Times Like These

In times like these, we have to help one another.

If you are like me, you are depressed that we live in a country that could elect someone like our current president. You knew the United States was deeply flawed, but you didn’t think it was so deeply soul sick as to elect someone who is so horrible in so many ways to be President of the United States.

If you are like me, you see how greed, cowardice, and lust for power have so weakened the systems that should be a check on someone like our current president. You see the reality that the Republicans will likely do nothing to bring this national nightmare to an end and will do almost anything to prolong it as long as it is in their self-interest to do so.

If you are like me, you see expressions of racism, religious nationalism, sexism, xenophobia, and antagonism towards persons who are LGBTQ and Muslim that you thought you would never see at this level at this time in our national experience.

It is easy to be so overwhelmed by all this and to simply want to give up; maybe just tend to our gardens and take care of our friends and family and avoid the toxicity of the established environment. Yes, gardening and taking care of our friends and family should be part of our response. It is part of resistance to the current established environment. But we must also find a way of taking care of each other on a larger scale and in the larger community of our society.

Freedom and justice have never been won easily or without a struggle in the history of humankind. Perhaps we thought that our big national struggles on these fronts were in the past, but they are not. They are here right now. Now is our time to take care of each other so we can join in this struggle together.

It is natural to be down. It is natural to want to give up. But people and the planet are counting on us to pick up the mantle and join the ongoing and urgent struggle for freedom and justice in times like these.

In times like these, we have to help one another.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Declaring Independence from Religious Nationalism


As I spend Independence Day weekend in New York City, I have been reminded of the tremendous diversity of our nation in what may well be the most diverse and international city in the world. I am reminded especially of our religious diversity as I walk down the streets of Manhattan and see persons from so many of the world’s religions and persons who see themselves as being part of no religion at all. 

Being in New York reminds me of the millions of persons who immigrated to America, many of whom came to Ellis Island just miles from where I am writing this, and many of whom came to escape various forms of religious oppression. In spite of this history, I have a deep concern that we as a country are on the brink of creating an American era of religious oppression if we continue down the path that our president wants to lead us in relation to our Muslim sisters and brothers, and if we continue to increase the fervor of religious nationalism that Trump has cultivated so effectively in his rise to power. 

Religious nationalism is neither good for religion nor good for the nation. There is nothing more toxic to human rights and social justice than the combination of religion and nationalism. When religion and nation see each other as instruments for their survival or expansion, true freedom is in peril.

Religious nationalism is an affront to the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves and a barrier to building the Beloved Community. Religious nationalism is also an affront to the ideal of equal protection of all people under the law. A nation that turns its laws against people based on their orientation to religion is no longer a nation of laws, for it is no longer basing its laws on justice and the equal dignity of all persons. As Saint Augustine and Martin Luther King Jr. have reminded us, an unjust law is no law at all. 

Loving God and country is great, but if you think people must believe in God the way you do to be in our country, that’s not great, it’s just oppressive. The legacy of religious nationalism is oppression, violence, executions, wars, crusades, inquisitions, colonialism, racism, slavery, pogroms, and genocide. Do not forget this as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr, and Donald J. Trump continue to lead the growing chorus of American religious nationalism.

As we observe the Fourth of July, may we turn away from religious nationalism and turn towards the vision of a country that strives to uphold the free exercise of religion for all people and the freedom of persons who identify with no religion as well. 

Patriotism is loyalty to the highest ideals and values of our country, not loyalty to a president who upholds neither and who uses a toxic combination of religion and nationalism to manipulate large numbers of people to gain, maintain, and expand his power. Freedom from religious nationalism is a central ingredient of our country’s identity and one of the many reasons so many have been drawn to the flame of liberty that has the potential to make our country as great as we hope it can be. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Not Here by Accident

How did we get here

We didn’t just get here by accident. By “here,” I mean:

  • a situation in which all three branches of the federal government are controlled by the large corporate interests represented by the Republican Party
  • a situation in which income inequality is greater than at any other time since before the Great Depression
  • a situation in which almost unlimited amounts of money can be used (often anonymously) to sway political processes
  • a situation in which our tax structure becomes evermore regressive and harmful to the poor and middle class
  • a situation in which laws are passed to make it more difficult to vote and in which some states are so gerrymandered that many seats in legislatures are practically permanently held by one party, while the politicians holding those seats often run unopposed
  • a situation in which unions have been decimated and the minimum wage is falling
  • a situation in which deregulation of financial institutions and industry in general has more momentum than protection of the environment, public health, and safety
  • a situation in which public schools are chronically underfunded, undervalued, and under siege by private corporate interests
  • a situation in which public institutions of higher education have gone from being almost fully publicly funded, to partially publicly funded, to barely publicly funded and thus more dependent on funding from the persons and powers that benefit from the established environment
  • a situation in which court appointments are blocked for political purposes with almost no negative political consequences
  • a situation in which insurance companies and healthcare providers are enriched by our healthcare system, while patients and their families are impoverished
  • a situation in which a greater percentage or our population is in prison than any other country in the world, with vast disparities in the incarceration rates for people of color as compared to those who are white
  • a situation in which women are underpaid and in which women’s healthcare is under-supported
  • a situation in which we treat drug use as a crime to be punished as opposed to a problem for both persons and communities that requires access to affordable and compassionate treatment
  • a situation in which a handful of corporations own most of the major media outlets and in which news is more often propaganda than not
  • a situation in which our religions, our race, and our places of birth are used to divide us (for the people and powers who benefit from the established environment know what will happen if we are not divided)
  • and a situation in which we are the only country in the world rejecting the global consensus of climate scientists that climate change is real and caused primarily by human activity.

No, we did not simply get here by accident. Our situation, our current established environment, is the result of planning, strategy, organization, and massive amounts of funding. It is the result of a major and well coordinated project of systemic transformation implemented by some of the most wealthy and powerful persons and corporations in our country and the world. Until we come to grips with the fact that we didn’t just get here by accident, we will likely never be able to recognize what it will take to move us from “here” to a future in which a more flourishing community is possible.

Moving from “here” to that more flourishing future will be one of the most difficult and challenging things we will ever do as a society, but it also has the potential to be the most life-giving, joyful, and world saving work that humanity has ever witnessed. One thing is sure – without this work for systemic transformation, the “here” we are now experiencing will only get worse. Our challenge, our mission, is to figure out how we are going to get from the “here” of our current established environment to the “there” of a more just, peaceful, participatory future. The good news is that the systemic change required to get there is possible.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

These Three Things for Oklahoma

oklahoma-flag

In conversation with hundreds of Oklahomans over the past couple of years and after years of analysis concerning systemic change in the Oklahoma context, I am convinced that Oklahoma needs three things to happen before we will be able to begin digging ourselves out of our current crisis, and these things are: 1.) the Repeal of State Question 640, 2.) the Restoration of the 7% Gross Production Tax on Oil and Gas, and 3.) the Implementation of Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting. All three of these together will not fully get Oklahoma where it needs to go for the creation of a flourishing human community, but without these three things, we will remain a glaring example of what happens to our social fabric when we cut taxes for the wealthy to the detriment of the common good and encourage the economic and political hegemony of the oil and gas industry.

The repeal of Oklahoma State Question 640 would allow the Oklahoma Legislature flexibility to raise state taxes to address Oklahoma’s budget crisis. State Question 640 was passed by a vote of the people in 1992 and requires a 75% vote in both the senate and the house of representatives of the Oklahoma Legislature in order to raise taxes. The effect has been multiple tax decreases over the past 25 years, mainly for the wealthy and large corporations, and no tax increases, even in times of severe revenue failure and budget crisis. Only one other state (Arkansas) has a threshold that is this high for approving tax increases. At the very least, we need to lower the threshold for approval, if not revert back to a simple majority vote. (See https://www.facebook.com/RepealOKStateQuestion640/)

Restoration of the 7% Gross Production Tax (GPT) rate on oil and gas is needed to save our schools and save our state from its revenue failure. Oklahoma’s effective tax rate on oil and gas production is 3.2%  and is one of the lowest in the country. Restoration of the 7% rate is essential to raising teacher pay and reversing the largest decline in general state spending on public education in the entire country since 2008. Oklahoma has the lowest teacher pay in the nation, and ranks fourth lowest in the nation in per pupil spending. Our neighbor Texas, by contrast, has an effective tax  rate of 8.3%  on oil and gas production and pays its new entry-level teachers about $20,000 more than Oklahoma. Over time Oklahoma has lost billions of dollars of revenue owing to our unnecessary tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. (See https://www.facebook.com/OklahomansForRestoring7PercentGrossProductionTax/)

Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting would strengthen participation in our democracy by allowing persons to vote for their candidate of choice in elections with three or more candidates without the concern that their vote would be wasted or contribute to the election of their least favorite candidates. This would allow political parties outside of the Democratic and Republican parties to gain more traction and to be taken more seriously in the political debate. It would likely also increase political participation of those citizens who do not feel represented by the two major parties. In such a system, you could give first preference to the candidate you really want elected. If he or she does not have enough votes to make the instant run-off,  your vote would go to your next preference on the ballot. (See https://www.facebook.com/RCVOklahoma/)

These three things (repeal of 640, restoration of the 7% GPT, and ranked choice voting) will at least give us a fighting chance for systemic transformation in our state, and for that very reason, those who benefit from the established environment will do almost anything to keep these three things from happening. If Oklahoma is to have a future other than becoming even more of a commodity colony than it already is, the people must take back their power through sustained participation in the political process to achieve these three things and then press on towards more systemic change for a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable Oklahoma.

Once these three things happen, it will be more possible to do what is necessary to generate adequate revenue for education, infrastructure, basic services, public safety, environmental protection, healthcare (including mental healthcare), and care for the least vulnerable among us.

Once these things happen, we can begin to focus on diversifying our economy and break the dominance that the oil and gas industry has over our economic and political processes.

Once these three things happen, we can build on the increased political participation that will come when people have more political choices and are able to vote for their first choice in elections without hurting their second choice or helping their least favorite candidate. Vibrant third parties will finally be able to gain traction to allow more diverse voices in our political process.

You can see why these three things will be resisted, which is the very reason we must do all we can to begin with these three things. It is possible…

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Love not Hate, Baseball not Bullets

Sometimes resistance to Trump can seem like an overwhelmingly daunting task. How does one resist a person who is so willing to lie, so willing to play outside of the normal rules of decent human behavior and interaction, so willing to smear the reputation of others, so willing to put millions of people in danger, so willing to use fear and hate to manipulate the public, and so willing to pursue propaganda that is most often demonstrably false yet still effective with his base?

It is a monumental task to resist Trump, but it must be done in such a way that it is grounded in the core values of love, inclusion, justice, and nonviolence.

When Trump lies, we must relentlessly illuminate his falsehoods with truth and evidence. When Trump plays outside the rules, we must use the rule of law and the justice system to block his course. When Trump attacks people’s character, we must work together and defend those who are standing for what is right. When Trump uses rhetoric and the power of his office to divide Americans and pit them against one another, we must join hands in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us and protect them from harm. When Trump uses fear and hate to incite exclusion and violence, we must use love and nonviolence to cultivate a beloved community. When Trump spews propaganda, we must follow a path of unwavering pursuit of the truth to educate and persuade others with integrity.

Resisting Trump is an immense challenge, but we must not become Trump-like in our resistance. The more we become like Trump, the less likely we will ever make our way through this dark time to a flourishing future. We must resist Trump, but we cannot lose our souls in the process.

The shooting at the Republican Congressional baseball practice makes it crystal clear why it is so important to stay true to nonviolence in both rhetoric and action. It is the only way to a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society and world. We have before us the choice that Martin Luther King, Jr. saw many years ago: Chaos or Community?

Love not hate, nonviolence not violence, inspiration not provocation, justice not vigilantism, bridges not bombs, baseball not bullets.

baseball

Reps. Cedric Richmond, Louisiana Democrat, and Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment