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“A Reality-Avoidance Scheme”: The Republican List Of Things You Cannot Say

You are, perhaps, already familiar with the Republican List of Things You Cannot Say. If not, here’s a quick refresher:

1. “Vagina.” That’s a definite no-no. Three years ago, Republicans in the Michigan statehouse banned Democratic Rep. Lisa Brown from speaking after she used the v-word.

2. “Condom.” The Bush administration sought to ban sex-ed teachers from mentioning the c-word or, indeed, any contraceptive method but abstinence.

3. “Gun.” A 2011 Florida law prohibits pediatricians from asking if parents have a g-word in the house. Mind you, they can ask about swimming pools, tobacco, seatbelts, lead paint and other potential home-based threats to children’s health. But not firearms.

To that list, a new term has now been added. In Florida, you may not say “climate change.”

Now, you’d think the Sunshine State would be using the double c-word quite a bit just now. Florida is, of course, a lowlands state, home to the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, i.e., the Everglades, and as such, one of the most environmentally vulnerable places in the country. That confluence of facts represents a challenge to which a governor can respond in one of two ways: 1) grapple with the problem and look for ways to solve it; or 2) ignore the problem and silence those who dare to bring it up.

Governor Rick Scott has chosen the second option. The state now operates under an unwritten gag order banning environmental officials from using the double c-word in any official email, correspondence or report to discuss the threat from human-caused planetary warming and rising seas.

The governor, for the record, denies any such rule exists. “It’s not true,” he told reporters last week. But Scott’s words are simply not credible in the wake of a withering report published last week by the Miami Herald. In it, multiple former state Department of Environmental Protection officials describe how they were, in fact, censored by their superiors. “We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said former DEP attorney Christopher Byrd.

No, the GOP is not the only party to regulate what its officials may say. Yes, the Obama administration has lately come out against language conflating Islam and terrorism in order, it says, to deny gangs of criminal thugs the legitimacy of religious underpinnings. You may or may not find that reasoning persuasive, but give the White House this much credit: The ban seems designed to make a philosophical point — not to forestall discussion of terrorism.

What we see in Governor Scott, on the other hand, amounts to little more than a reality-avoidance scheme, a way of not having a debate he cannot win and would rather not have. The governor has previously tried denying the reality of global warming. He has used the “I’m not a scientist” dodge that the GOP adopted in lockstep last year. But this may be his most effective means yet: Commandeer the language, rendering discussion impossible.

It is not, however, the debate about global warming that threatens to submerge downtown Miami, but global warming itself. It turns out that, contrary to what we believed as children, if you ignore a thing, it doesn’t go away. Often times, it simply festers and gets worse. And as guns, condoms and vaginas continue to exist despite GOP silencing, so too does the threat to Florida, the country and the planet from rising seas and temperatures.

Yet in the face of that existential danger, the GOP continues its strategy of sowing doubt, denial and delay. It is a depressing sign of our times that Florida’s governor exerts so much energy to manage the language of catastrophe.

Here’s a thought: Address the catastrophe and the language will take care of itself.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 18, 2015

March 19, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Global Warming, Rick Scott | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Man Of Mystery”: If You Don’t Ask, Rick Scott Won’t Tell

Rick Scott is our own man of mystery, Austin Powers without the hair mop and dance moves.

No Florida governor has ever operated with such jet-setting stealth, concealing so many details of his daily travels and contacts. He says he’s out working nonstop for the citizens of his adopted state, yet his official schedule is full of more gaps than the Nixon transcripts.

Occasionally, Floridians catch an intriguing glimpse of Scott’s shadow life. His secret hunting trip to a Texas game ranch courtesy of U.S. Sugar had been kept under wraps for more than a year before it was sniffed out by reporters from the Tampa Bay Times.

The governor still refuses to divulge who went with him, or whom he met. One known fact is that U.S. Sugar, an epic polluter of the Everglades, has donated more than $534,000 to Scott’s reelection campaign so far.

His recent predecessors regularly made public their detailed travel and work records, including political fundraising trips. Up until Scott took office, it was generally accepted that Floridians have a right to know where their governor is going, and why.

Whenever Lawton Chiles took a private plane to a campaign stop, his office released not only the names but also the phone numbers of other passengers on the aircraft. Both Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist, who’s running against Scott this year, often provided lists of who attended private meetings with them, and what subjects were discussed.

Since his arrival in Tallahassee, Scott has promised “transparency,” and on his first day signed an executive order restarting the Office of Open Government, which is supposed to help Floridians gain easier access to public records.

However, Scott’s concept of a public record is narrow, to put it kindly.

By using his own Cessna Citation instead of a state jet, he definitely saves the taxpayers money. He also conveniently shields himself from potentially embarrassing inquiries regarding his whereabouts.

The tail numbers of his plane have been removed from flight-tracking websites, so you can’t see where it’s heading or where it’s been. Scott and his staff won’t disclose even the most basic travel information — destination, times of departure and arrival — until days after the trip, if then.

Key details are typically blacked out, using a public-records exemption that was intended to shield “surveillance techniques” of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The FDLE provides security staff for the governor.

His secrecy obsession policy extends beyond his travel plans.

As part of his initial push for transparency, Scott launched Project Sunburst, which was supposed to makes available his state emails and those of his executive staff.

It would have been good for open government, if only Scott’s chief of staff (and then his successor) hadn’t ordered all employees to use private emails and cellphone texts when discussing sensitive matters.

The objective was to hide important policy-making from outside scrutiny, reducing Project Sunburst to a farce.

A suit by Tallahassee lawyer Steven Andrews has revealed that private emails were used by Scott’s top staff, and even his wife, to coordinate a $5 million project to re-manicure the entrance of the governor’s mansion and purchase nearby real estate for a “governor’s park.”

The planning was being done on state time, and the Republican-controlled Legislature obligingly allotted $2.5 million for the makeover.

For the rest of the funds, a “Governor’s Mansion Foundation” hit up major companies eager to stay in Scott’s good graces — including Florida Power and Light, Blue Cross Blue Shield and the GEO Group, which operates two state prisons.

“U.S. Sugar just came thru w check for $100k!!!” burbled the mansion curator to Scott’s deputy chief of staff, via private email.

A judge’s order was necessary before this interesting message and others were uncovered. It’s a matter of significant public interest when corporations that rely on state approval shower hundreds of thousands of dollars on a sitting governor’s pet project.

You think U.S. Sugar or FPL gives a rat’s azalea about the landscaping at the mansion? They gave the money for the same reason they write campaign checks — to purchase favor.

Scott won’t talk about this because he is, after all, a man of mystery.

Now you see him, now you don’t.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist, The Miami Herald; The Nationla Memo, September 2, 2014

 

 

September 3, 2014 Posted by | Florida, Republicans, Rick Scott | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teaparty Republican Governors Seek Big Cutbacks To De-Regulate The Environment

Gov. Paul LePage wants three million acres of North Woods forests opened to development. Weeks after he was sworn in as governor of Maine, Paul LePage, a Tea Party favorite, announced a 63-point plan to cut environmental regulations, including opening three million acres of the North Woods for development and suspending a law meant to monitor toxic chemicals that could be found in children’s products. Mr. LePage said workers’ and businesses’ interests should be defended “with the same vigor that we defend tree frogs.”

Another Tea Party ally, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, has proposed eliminating millions of dollars in annual outlays for land conservation as well as cutting to $17 million the $50 million allocated in last year’s budget for the restoration of the dwindling Everglades.

And in North Carolina, where Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in 140 years, leaders recently proposed a budget that would cut operating funds to the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources by 22 percent.

In the past month, the nation’s focus has been on the budget battle in Washington, where Republicans in Congress aligned with the Tea Party have fought hard for rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency, clean air and water regulations, renewable energy and other conservation programs. But similar efforts to make historically large cuts to environmental programs are also in play at the state level as legislatures and governors take aim at conservation and regulations they see as too burdensome to business interests.

Governor LePage summed up the animus while defending his program in a radio address. “Maine’s working families and small businesses are endangered,” he said. “It is time we start defending the interests of those who want to work and invest in Maine with the same vigor that we defend tree frogs and Canadian lynx.”

When Republicans wrested control across the country last November, they made clear that reducing all government was important, but that cutting environmental regulations was a particular priority. Almost all state environmental budgets have been in decline since the start of the recession, said R. Steven Brown, executive director of the Environmental Council of the States, which works with environmental agencies across the country. What has changed this budget season is the scope and ambition of the proposed cuts and the plans to dismantle the regulatory systems, say advocates who are already battle-hardened. “Historically, we’ve taken pride in being a leader in environmental quality in the Southeast,” said Molly Diggins of North Carolina, director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club. “But there is now such fervor to reduce the size of the environmental agency. The atmosphere is the most vitriolic it’s ever been.”

David Guest, the managing attorney for the Florida office of Earthjustice, a national environmental law firm, said Governor Scott’s budget was “the most radical anti-environmental budget” he had seen in two decades of environmental work. Comparing Mr. Scott’s proposed changes with those of Florida’s previous Republican governors, including Jeb Bush, he called them “a whole new world.”

The strategies have been similar across the affected states: cut budgets and personnel at regulatory agencies, prevent the issuing of new regulations, roll back land conservation and, if possible, eliminate planning boards that monitor, restrict or permit building development.

In New Jersey, for example, Gov. Chris Christie, another favorite among Tea Party loyalists, has said the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, which preserves more than 800,000 acres of open land that supplies drinking water to more than half of New Jersey’s residents, is an infringement on property rights. Mr. Christie has moved to shift power from planning boards and government agencies to administrative judges, political appointees who, environmentalists say, tend to rule more often in favor of developers’ interests.

In Florida, Governor Scott has asked to cut staff members to 40 from 358 at the Department of Community Affairs, which regulates land use and was created to be a control on unchecked urban sprawl. Lane Wright, a spokesman for Governor Scott, said the cuts would enable businesses to grow again in Florida. The governor “does care about the environment,” Mr. Wright said, “but feels it is more important to get people back to work.”

In the first round of federal budget fights, Republicans appear to have won some of what they sought: $1.6 billion in cuts from the E.P.A. and $49 million from programs related to climate change. But they fell short in other areas. Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal Washington policy group, said that by his calculation the Republicans had sought nearly $10 billion in cuts related to efficiency and renewable energy but got less than $3.7 billion. “The Democrats successfully defended investments in clean energy,” Mr. Weiss said.

The eventual outcome at the state level is much less clear. Florida and North Carolina’s budget battles are in the early stages. In New Jersey, where Governor Christie has been in office since 2010, he has held up stricter drinking water standards, saying he is waiting for further research by the E.P.A. And yet, in Maine, Governor LePage’s agenda has engendered such an angry response that the newly elected Republican majority in the State Legislature seems to be backpedaling from many of its strongest components. Mr. LePage’s proposal to open the woodlands has not yet been introduced as a bill. And this month the Legislature made a point of enacting a ban on a chemical detected in sippy cups. All but three legislators voted for it. (Mr. LePage has questioned whether the science is strong enough to support such a ban.) Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, acknowledged that Mr. LePage had not gotten everything he wanted, but pointed to some victories. The governor just signed a law that will reduce restrictions for building on sand dunes, and his proposal to provide incentives to businesses to police themselves on a variety of environmental regulations is still in the Legislature. “‘We will continue to move forward,” Ms. Bennett said.

By: Leslie Kaufman, The New York Times, April 15, 2011

April 16, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Businesses, Congress, Conservatives, Energy, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Global Warming, GOP, Gov Chris Christie, Gov Paul LePage, Gov Rick Scott, Governors, Greenhouse Gases, Lawmakers, Maine, Politics, Regulations, Republicans, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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