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Thursday, January 27, 2011

more for us

More evidence of Republican zealotry/insanity, as if more were needed: Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas wants to eliminate the state arts commission by spinning it off into a private entity. This would make Kansas the only state in the Union without a state entity to promote the arts. Even [fill in the state you like least] has a state arts commission. The state's annual budget for the arts: $574,000. The Kansas Arts Commission, which is not taking the governor's plan lying down, reports that the state would consequently lose
•$778,300 in direct funding from the National Endowment for the Arts

•$437,767 in indirect grants and services from Mid-America Arts Alliance, the Kansas Arts Commission's regional partner[.]
My math says that would be a net loss to the state of $642,067. Add the $200,000 that the state expects the spinoff to cost, and the total rises to $842,067. That's before taking into account lost jobs, lost taxes on those jobs, and so on, not to mention the impoverishment of Kansan society as creative professionals flee the state. I could, if I were inclined, supply copious, convincing data demonstrating the revenue boost that the arts supply to cities and states across the country, but that's not really the point today.

I am more interested in seeing this as an example of ideological opportunism by the Republicans. We don't need any more data to know that Brownback's costly plan forms no part of a genuine budget-cutting effort. He is simply using the state's economic downturn to carry on the Republican culture wars. (Let me also take this opportunity to remind readers that, as a U.S. Senator, Brownback supported a far-right Israeli plan to annex the West Bank and Gaza deport all Palestinians therefrom.)

In the past, I might have written letters to whomever in Kansas in defense of the arts commission. In college, I organized a postcard-writing campaign to support the National Endowment of the Arts. We generated over a thousand postcards to students' individual members of Congress, and this was during a summer term. And now? 63% of the Kansas electorate voted for Brownback last year. After his fourteen years in the U.S. Senate, they surely knew what they were getting. Making matters worse, the comments from local readers at the Topeka Capital-Journal's website mostly support Brownback's plan and sneer at the arts.

I feel for the good people of Kansas who may now lose the Topeka Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1946, and other cultural riches. But my sympathy is fairly limited, for this is exactly what the people of Kansas chose in their elections. This is democracy at work. If the people of Kansas want to be governed by anti-arts, anti-math maniacs, that is their right. The one note of solace that we can take from this sorry episode: there may be more arts funding for the rest of us, who support the arts not just in the comfort of our seats at the symphony but at the ballot box as well.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

shout it from the mountaintop

I have grown as weary of President Obama's premature compromises and bad salesmanship as the next Democrat. As I have pointed out elsewhere, his failure to trumpet his achievements is particularly keen in the matter of mining regulation. Case in point: the New York Times reported yesterday that the EPA has revoked the permit for a massive mountain-top removal coal project in West Virginia. According to the Times, 'It was the first time the agency had rescinded a valid clean water permit for a coal mine.' Yet somehow this major eco-political event has failed to become a major news item, nor should we expect to hear Democrats talk about it.

The permit was issued in 2007 by the Bush administation to the Arch Coal company to blast off the mountaintops over an area of 2,278 acres in order to mine the coal underneath. The millions of tons of debris would fill valleys, block streams, and pollute drinking water. The EPA's revocation comes in the form of a 99-page 'Final Determination' which you can read here.

Mining companies and West Virginia's 'Democratic' Senator Joe Manchin have unsurprisingly expressed outrage at the EPA's decision. Less interested parties have also objected, including the National Realtors Association, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association on the grounds that the government ought not revoke permits, i.e. do its job.

The authority for the EPA's revocation comes from 33 U.S.C. §1344(c), also known as §404(c) of the Clean Water Act:
(c) Denial or restriction of use of defined areas as disposal sites

The Administrator is authorized to prohibit the specification (including the withdrawal of specification) of any defined area as a disposal site, and he is authorized to deny or restrict the use of any defined area for specification (including the withdrawal of specification) as a disposal site, whenever he determines, after notice and opportunity for public hearings, that the discharge of such materials into such area will have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas. Before making such determination, the Administrator shall consult with the Secretary. The Administrator shall set forth in writing and make public his findings and his reasons for making any determination under this subsection.
To the EPA's credit, its Final Determination includes, amidst all its ecological and statutory data, a section on 'Environmental Justice'. In addition to noting the relative poverty of Logan County, West Virginia, it also sticks up for the idea of the commons:
The mountains affected by Spruce No. 1 Mine are an important cultural resource for many residents. In many cases the mountains have helped define their culture, and they are an integral part of their daily lives. For example, the mountain ridges of southern West Virginia have for over two centuries been viewed largely as a 'commons', where local residents have gathered wild medicinal herbs such as American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) (Hufford 2003). In many cases, collection of these wild herbs provides much needed extra income to local communities during times of unemployment or economic hardship (Bailey 1999). Removing these mountains may have profound cultural changes on the residents in the area, and so it is important that cultural impacts be considered as well.
What dumbfounds me about all this is why the Obama administration allows stories like this one to be buried on page A14 of the newspaper and absent from television news. The mining interests are surely blasting this news to their constituents. Every mineworker who was hoping for one of the project's promised 250 jobs has surely heard from aptly-named Arch Coal that the project has been blocked by a tyrannical, overreaching government run amok. The people not getting the story are the everyday eco-friendly liberals whose votes the Obama administation will need in 2012. And so it goes.

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