Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rant of the Week: Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior

So, western Colorado’s own Ken Salazar has been chosen by Barack Obama to be his Secretary of the Interior. The Department of the Interior has definitely been the most corrupt and dysfunctional department I’ve seen in my lifetime. The Bush administration is most definitely the most anti-environment administration in a long time, and I can’t wait to see this change. I thought Raul Grijalva would have been a good choice, but I also like Salazar.

Salazar might not be my favorite politician, and I don’t think anyone would argue that he’s not a moderate Democrat. I didn’t like a lot of the stuff Salazar supported, whether it was proudly introducing Gonzalez as the Attorney General, or voting for the torture bill and Bush’s wire taps. I could care less about these things though, as his positions on these issues definitely do not equate to his positions on public lands and environmental policies. All I care about is Salazar’s record on natural resource issues. That record is pretty good in my book. Ken listened to his constituents in western Colorado and fought hard to keep the top of the Roan Plateau free of oil and gas development. We went to Congress several times and tried to get move a legislative solution through to protect the Roan (even though he was unsuccessful). He even annoyed me a bit by spreading some of the lies and propaganda the enviro groups were selling about Roan Plateau (the untruth about how companies could have taped the gas resource from around the base of the plateau and how big game populations on a 36 square mile area would be “decimated” by 350 total acres of oil and gas-related disturbance). However, overall I see this as good news for the west. He’s also been a staunch opponent of the Bush administration’s rush to develop oil shale.

Apparently, some environmentalists and liberals are pretty miffed by this selection. Salazar is definitely pro-agriculture. Fortunately, I don’t think public lands grazing is an issue we have to worry all that much about. I’m not saying the BLM and Forest Service have a lot of work to still to do in that department, it’s just that I’d rather have him have ag interests close to his heart than other interest. Believe it or not, some ranchers are good stewards, and Salazar seems to have that ethos. More and more ranchers are also coming on board opposing irresponsible energy development. There are policies in place for good grazing management, and there are groups like Western Watersheds that sue the pants off of BLM every time they take a misstep. Salazar just needs to make sure ranching interests don’t get a special seat at the table and I’ll be fine with his cowboy hat.

I also hear he’s received a failing grade by animal rights groups. Again, I could give a rat’s ass. Just because he doesn’t support hundreds of thousands of non-native wild horses running unmanaged on public lands doesn’t equate to a weak commitment to the environment. In fact, I would argue the opposite. I also don’t have a problem with his pro-gun rights position. I’ve always been one to think western Democrats really strengthen their base by sensible support for the 2nd Amendment.

The New York Times editorial board printed an op-ed about Salazar’s appointment and received comments from folks in New Jersey and California that don’t surprise me. They’re disappointed that Salazar is not more progressive/radical, i.e. he is not in favor of ending grazing and energy development on public lands. Well, what a sellout! Come on people, look at the laws surrounding public land management that have been in place 80+ years. Uses are allowed on public land, and they’ll be waiting for many more years before someone closes off public lands to all but hikers and mountain bikers. They don’t want a Secretary of Interior, they want a complete overhaul of all our current environmental laws and policies. If this is the kind of change they're looking for, they wouldn’t be happy with anyone Obama appointed.

Critics angrily point out that someone who works for a mining association thinks Salazar is “fair,” as if this is a bad thing. Do you realize how much you sound like Gale Norton and Dick Cheney? Why is horrible for today’s DOI to completely discount the views of many Americans (environmental interests), but just fine if an extremist Sec of the Interior does the same thing in ignoring industry interests and interests of rural westerners who make a living from responsible uses of public lands? They advocate replacing one extreme ideology with another.

The biggest think Ken has going in his favor is his ability to bridge gaps, listen and weigh all viewpoints, and facilitate collaboration. I believe his experience in bringing people together to hammer out win-win solutions was one of the biggest reasons Obama chose Salazar. I know sitting down at the table with ranchers and/or oil and gas companies riles some folks, but after working on these issues for the past 5+ years, I’m a believer that in some situations collaboration is the way to go. Energy is the most important issue facing the US today, and he’s right where we should be on domestic energy development. He’s a strong advocate of renewable energy and will fight to keep important areas off limits to development and ensure energy development is done properly in areas where it is allowed. I also think science will play a prominent role in his department, and I hope his appointment will improve the morale of many DOI employees. Salazar brings a vide breadth of knowledge about natural resource Issues to the table, and I think Obama made a good choice appointing him as Secretary of the Interior.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Professional Rant of the Week: Enviros shun autoworkers

A spot-on rant by High Country New's Ray Ring regarding the lack of environmentalist support for autoworkers:

Enviros shun autoworkers

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rant of the Week: Gender and HIV/AIDS in Developing Countries

Monday December 1 was World AIDS Day. An article appeared in the Denver Post about gender and HIV/AIDS in developing countries:

For Women, AIDS Stigma Worse

What I thought would be a straightforward and non-controversial piece turned out to be anything but the case. I’ve pulled together some reader comments on the article:

The point is that all we hear about is the rights of women and girls....every politically correct media outlet produces volumes of this stuff...however little is said about women's responsibilities, nor the many instances in which men are discriminated against in our society. No reasonable person is against women having equal rights, access, etc., but in far too many cases it appears the goal is not equality but advantage. Pieces like Messer's are tedious, redundant, and one-sided. Let's REALLY talk about equality, including addressing those areas in which women hold clear advantages in society (the draft, the courts, child custody, etc).

Mr. Messer, if you would lay off the anti-male, anti-patriarchy propaganda, you might have something useful to say. As it is, you demonize men by blaming them for the AIDS crisis in Africa and India and propose to address that crisis by asking men to "partner with women in rejecting patriarchal structures and relationships." In other words, the AIDS crisis is caused by the evil patriarchy. Get rid of the patriarchy, and the AIDS crisis goes away.

That's Feminism 101.

You argue that men should "partner with women to reject patriarchal structures and relationships." In other words, we men should partner with women in the destruction of our roles as fathers. As a committed father, I reject that proposal.

We've done a lot of rejecting of "patriarchal structures and relationships" in this country. The result is a lot of single moms, fatherless kids, and absent dads--and the highest rate of incarceration in the world. That may be your idea of utopia, but it's not mine.

In short, this article is not about addressing the AIDS crisis, it's feminist propaganda. Too bad. By using the AIDS crisis to promote feminist ideology, this article impedes efforts to find a solution.
Here's the problem: the author wants us to have sympathy for women but remain unsympathetic to the plight of men. The author shows no sympathy for male victims of AIDS, but instead treats them (and the patriarchy) as the villains in this melodrama. He states that half of HIV victims worldwide are women. That's his proof that women have it worse than men. Gender equality is supposed to mean one thing: men have it worse. When men have it worse, things are as they are supposed to be.

Could someone give a concrete example of extreme patriarchal communities exacerbating the HIV/AIDS epidemic? And don't confuse bad male behavior with the patriarchy. There's a lot of bad male behavior in matriarchies, such as the de facto matriarchy that pervades much of the black community in the US, where most children are born to single mothers and most fathers are absent.


There are several more comments to this affect, even some more blatant sexist comments that don’t warrant discussion (“Why don't we all take a moment on Christmas day to morn all the children killed by there [sic] own mothers.” “As for a statement that women are sleeping around, if the woman is caught doing so she has opened herself to being stoned, not so the male.”)

The first distinction that needs to be made when addressing these criticisms of Messer’s piece is that this essay was not about women in America with HIV. It’s about women in developing countries with HIV. There is a very substantial difference.

Do these commentors want to talk about women’s responsibilities in India? It’s to work, work, then submit to their husbands and breed. Period. And they do that, whether they want to or not. Females are often treated as less-than-human. Everyone deserves basic human rights, and many women in girls around the globe aren't afforded anything but a life of slavery. Give me a break with child support. There is no child support in Zambia. There are no courts in Cambodia. While we can argue about women’s rights in the US, I think everyone can agree that women in America have come a long way compared to many other women around the world. Do these guys care to level the charge on women in India how they have so many “advantages?” Tell me how a woman in Zambia is actually SO lucky because of political correctness and courts and child support? We’re not talking about equal pay here, we’re talking about much more basic human rights.

I view some of these harmful behaviours of men as prevailing patriarchal attitudes ,not necessarily specific to individual men. I always hate to paint people as “ignorant,” but I think when a culture is so ingrained in a certain community, it’s less (but still some) of an individual’s fault and more the fault of the norms of that community. It is fully believed in many African communities that there is no such thing as raping your wife. This isn’t necessarily the fault of those individual men; they simply do not understand. It is quite socially acceptable in some circles for men to have one or more mistresses outside of marriage. These men are not bad people, they’re not evil, and I wouldn’t even say they hate women or intentionally disrespect their wives. They’re members of a culture that used to allow for multiple wives. A law was passed banning polygamy, but the culture still prevails. Sure, I guess it’s the fault of each individual man, and I don’t want to absolve anyone from individual responsibility. My point (and maybe Messer’s) is just that there are some prevailing attitudes that should be corrected if we want to see positive strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS in developing countries. I didn’t see this so much as blaming men, but pointing out a legitimate problem.

But there’s no doubt correcting some the problems he identifies will help. Let me just talk out loud for a minute. The two most basic root causes of HIV/AIDS spread in Africa/developing countries are 1) lack of information/not educated about the spread of the virus and 2) Not adjusting behavior to reduce risk. Frankly, I don’t buy it when people content education is the major problem. Maybe 10 years ago, but now there’s hardly a bush village in Africa that doesn’t know the basic information about HIV/AIDS. Someone who knows Congo, Benin, or Cambodia better than I do might dispute this fact, but from what I saw in East Africa, people know darn well that using a condom can help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. This is where the second root cause comes into play: they simply refuse to use one.

Let’s talk about infidelity, which is a root cause of the spread of HIV. Some women know that their husbands sleep around, and therefore the smart ones could refuse to sleep with their husbands. From what I’ve seen and read, women simply don’t have the right to refuse sex. Women cheat too, so they’re equally to blame, but at least it’s not common for women to go home and force their husbands to have sex with them. Similar situation for condoms. Men and women might both not want to use a condom, so equal blame there. But the distinction is that men make the decisions in the bedroom (and everywhere else), so if the woman wants to protect herself and the man doesn’t, she contracts HIV because she does not have the power to force him to use one. Again, I don’t see pointing this out as blaming men, I see it as an opportunity—empower women to be able to consent to sex under their conditions.

There’s an old story I heard a couple times in Kenya. I heard it from a member of the Kamba tribe, but it could fit for just about any community in Kenya or Africa. There’s this new husband who has no reason to beat his wife. His neighbors chastise him for this unpopular behavior. “We don’t hear you beating your wife, bwana,” they say. “You must beat your wife every night, for even if you don’t have a reason, she will think of one.” Still refusing to hurt his new bride, the husband returns to his wife and cooks up a plan. He ties a rope to two walls of his hut and hangs a rug over the rope. He takes out his “wife beating stick” and goes to work on the rug. He tells his wife to scream in pain. The next morning his neighbors complement him on good job he is doing with his new wife, and everyone is happy.

It’s pretty sad when a man has to think of an excuse for not abusing his wife. This is the life of too many women in Africa.

There are, however, a few things about Messer’s essay that bothered me. First of all, he generalizes and paints men with a wide brush. While communities in developing countries can be quite patriarchal, not all communities are. Of course, there are also differences between different men in these communities. Messer also makes several assertions that he backs up with no evidence. For example, he talks about how women do not receive the same quality health care as men. I’m not sure he’s correct in that assertion. Additionally, Messer appears to fall into the trap of imposing a western white women's feminist paradigm on developing countries. These women and girls need to decide for themselves what aspects of their lives they want to improve and must take the lead in making these changes. The role of outsiders should be to listen and offer assistance where necessary.