Historians back Cronon against Wisconsin witch hunt

March 31, 2011

Just the news, folks.  Just the news.

The Organization of American Historians Speaks Out on Academic Freedom and Defends OAH Member and University of Wisconsin–Madison Professor William Cronon

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 30, 2011

For more information, contact:
Katherine M. Finley, Executive Director
Organization of American Historians
112 N. Bryan Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47401
ph 812.855.7311; fax 812.855.0696

The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), led by President Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of History at Columbia University, issued the following statement on March 30, 2011, supporting academic freedom and deploring the recent efforts of Wisconsin politicians to intimidate OAH member and professor William Cronon:

The Executive Committee of the Organization of American Historians deplores the efforts of Republican party operatives in the state of Wisconsin to intimidate Professor William Cronon, a distinguished and respected member of our organization and currently the president-elect of our sister association, the American Historical Association. As a professional historian, Professor Cronon has used his extensive knowledge of American history to provide a historical context for recent events in Wisconsin. Requiring him to provide his e-mail correspondence, as the Republican party of Wisconsin has now done, will inevitably have a chilling effect on the capacity of all academics to engage in wide public debate. The timing and character of the Freedom of Information Act request for Professor Cronon’s e-mail correspondence leave no doubt that the purpose of this request is to use the authority of the state to prevent William Cronon from freely exercising his rights as a citizen and as a public employee.

Cronon, a professor of environmental and U.S. western history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has come under fire from the Wisconsin Republican party. A longtime member of the OAH and a former member of its executive board, Cronon is the incoming president of the American Historical Association. He has been thrust into the spotlight for his March 15, 2011, blog post and for a subsequent op-ed piece in the New York Times, critical of the Wisconsin legislature and Governor Scott Walker. The OAH Executive Committee believes that the action of the Wisconsin Republican party in requesting e-mails sent by Professor Cronon will have a negative impact on academics who engage in wide public debate.

For Further Reading

American Historical Association, “AHA Deplores Effort to Intimidate William Cronon,” online posting, March 27, 2011, AHA Today http://blog.historians.org/news/1293/aha-council-deplores-recent-intimidation-efforts-aimed-at-cronon.

William Cronon, “Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn’t Start Here),” online posting, March 15, 2011, Scholar as Citizen, http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/15/alec/.

William Cronon, “Wisconsin’s Radical Break,” New York Times, March 21, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/opinion/22cronon.html.

William Cronon, “Abusing Open Records to Attack Academic Freedom,” online posting, March 24, 2011, Scholar as Citizen, http://scholarcitizen.williamcronon.net/2011/03/24/open-records-attack-on-academic-freedom/.

Posted: Mar. 30, 2011


Now is the time for all good citizens to phone legislators for the sake of their country . . .

March 31, 2011

Ready to start dialing?  It’s time to dial to save your country.

MoveOn.org asks Texans to phone their U.S. senators for help:

Dear Ed,

Heads up: Congress is debating a budget plan that would be devastating to Texas. Will you pass this along?

Senators Kay Hutchison and John Cornyn need to hear from all of us about it right now, before they cut a deal in the next few days.

Please spread the word about all of these proposed cuts to Texas:

  • $98 million would be cut from federal funds for clean and safe water in Texas.1
  • 12,000 Texas children would be immediately cut from Head Start, which provides comprehensive early childhood development services for at-risk children ages zero to five.2
  • $391 million would be cut from Pell Grants, affecting all 664,000 higher education students with those grants in Texas.3
  • Job training and employment services would be effectively eliminated for 5,800 dislocated workers, 99,000 low-income adults, and 16,000 youths age 14 to 21.4
  • $10 million would be cut from law enforcement assistance, taking cops off the beat.5

It’s especially galling when the same budget protects tax breaks for corporations like GE and the very rich.

Just last night the news broke that Congress may be close to striking a deal on the budget. Now is the only time we can influence the outcome.

Can you call Sens. Hutchison and Cornyn and ask them to oppose these cuts in the budget? You can pick one of the cuts in this list to highlight in your call.

Senator Kay Hutchison
Phone: 202-224-5922

Senator John Cornyn
Phone: 202-224-2934

Click to report your call. Then pass this email along locally!

http://pol.moveon.org/call?tg=FSTX_1.FSTX_2&cp_id=1547&id=26722-5763840-yqXs_sx&t=2

The cuts that the Republicans are proposing would disproportionately hit those who can least afford it in Texas, and it’s up to us to stop them.

Thanks for all you do.

-Daniel, Amy, Milan, Tate, and the rest of the team

Sources:

1. “House Bill Means Fewer Children in Head Start, Less Help for Students to Attend College, Less Job Training, and Less Funding for Clean Water,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, March, 1, 2010
http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3405

2. “Projected Reduction in Children Served in Head Start Based on H.R. 1—Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution,” Center for Law and Social Policy
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=207278&id=26722-5763840-yqXs_sx&t=3

3. “House Bill Means Fewer Children in Head Start, Less Help for Students to Attend College, Less Job Training, and Less Funding for Clean Water,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, March, 1, 2010
http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3405

4. Ibid

5. Ibid

Want to support our work? We’re entirely funded by our 5 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Chip in here.

Meanwhile, the Texas House of Representatives scheduled the start of debate on H. 1 for Friday, April 1 — the budget resolution that would gut Texas schools and higher education, and set Texas on a course of decline that will make California’s troubles look serene by comparison.

NEA’s Texas affiliate, the Texas State Teachers’ Association, asks teachers to call their Texas representatives to weigh in against the drastic budget cuts (and you can call, too):

March 30, 2011

House Bill 1 is an assault on the public schools!

This Friday, April 1, the Texas House of Representatives is scheduled to begin debate on House Bill 1, its version of the state budget for 2012-2013. If this bill were to become law in its present form, it would cut almost $8 billion from public education and, with it, tens of thousands of school district jobs.

Unfortunately, this is no April Fool’s joke.

It is, instead, the proposal of a state leadership that would rather plug a huge hole in the state budget by firing teachers, packing kids into overcrowded classrooms and closing neighborhood schools than by adequately investing in our state’s future.

NOW is the time to call your legislator and let him or her know what these budget cuts will mean in your classroom, your school and your community. We must stop House Bill 1, and your call is critical!

To contact your state representative, call 800-260-5444, and we will connect you [That's the number for TSTA members, but try it -- I'll bet they'll accept your help!]. You can call any time, day or night, but you need to call before Friday. Leaving a voice message with your representative’s office is just as good as talking to a staff member.

It is important to include the following points in your conversation or message:

  • Your name, that you are a TSTA member and that you live and vote in their district.
  • An overwhelming number of people in your community – parents, teachers and other taxpayers – oppose cuts that would harm public schools.
  • Your own story, how laying off educators, cramming children into crowded classrooms and closing neighborhood schools would have a harmful impact on your students and community.
  • Ask your representative to find the revenue necessary to avoid harmful budget cuts, restore full education funding and end this assault on our public schools.

This will take only a few minutes of your time, and it will be time well spent. Your representative needs to hear from you before Friday!

Pick up your telephone and strike a blow for freedom, democracy, education and sanity in government.


Alan Alda speaks about the future of science communication, for NSF

March 28, 2011

After the long-running, ever popular television series M*A*S*H ended, star Alan Alda got roped into hosting a science program on public television for Scientific American. Alda discovered he really likes science.  He discovered he has a flair for talking about science, too.

With the constant discussion among scientists about how to overcome the War on Science, and especially how to combat the fruit loops, crank scientists, junk science purveyors and others who muddy the waters of understanding science, I thought this interview at a National Science Foundation function was interesting:

Alan Alda speaks about the future of science co…, posted with vodpod

Caption from NSF:

Alan Alda, award winning actor and Visiting Professor with the Center for Communicating Science, talks about his experiences with communicating science to the general public. Looking to close the gap between the scientific community and the public, Mr. Alda discusses what needs to be improved, and how science can be better understood.

Credit: National Science Foundation

Can Alda really do anything about saving science communication, rescuing it from the propaganda machines?


FOIA “request” in Wisconsin could be violation of whistleblower protection law

March 27, 2011

Wisconsinite Jean Detjen sent me a note correcting my misinformation:  Wisconsin does indeed have a whistleblower protection act.  The law protects Wisconsin state employees, against retaliation for disclosing information about wrongdoing.

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, University of Wisconsin

William Cronon, Frederick Jackson Turner Professor of History, University of Wisconsin - University of Wisconsin photo

My reading suggests that, since professors are not specifically exempted, Prof. Cronon, at the University of Wisconsin, is specifically protected.

If the University of Wisconsin gives that answer to the Wisconsin Republican Party, however, the Party will argue that it is not a government official prevented from retaliating against a government employee.  That would be ample reason for the state to deny the FOIA request of the Party flatly and completely.

There is another, potentially more pernicious angle here:  The Republican Party in Wisconsin is, in this case, an agent of the Republicans in the state legislature, those whose tails are on the line for violating Wisconsin law, and as Prof. Cronon outlines it, Wisconsin tradition and historical norms.  It’s likely that the Party is acting at the direction of legislators.

In short, it’s kind of an organized crime action.  I think that the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) would cover this sort of action — any retaliation for hire, or by an agent, which creates a pattern or practice of organized crime activities.  Worse for the Wisconsin Republicans, if there were an ambitious U.S. attorney out there somewhere, there is no scienter requirement on RICO actions — that is, there need not be a clear formation of criminal intent.  The mere actions of an organized crime group, even with no intent to break the law, can be a RICO violation.

Even worse for the Republicans, RICO is available for anyone to use.  Were I Prof. Cronon, and were the Republicans to press their FOIA request to court, I’d counterclaim in federal court with the RICO statute.

That’s a nasty escalation.  But in these days, in this case, where a state party organization has gone to the employer of a university professor to get his job after he merely reported history, I wouldn’t take chances that the Republicans would later play fair or nice.

Every step against Cronon, every press release, every statement from a legislator or party apparatchik, provides more evidence of the coordinated effort, and establishes further the “pattern and practice” of organized crime activity.

Maybe cool heads will soon prevail, maybe patriotism and love of the First Amendment will break out among Wisconsin Republicans, and they will retract their demand that Prof. Cronon deliver them all of his e-mails as a professor at  the University of Wisconsin.

Maybe badgers will fly.

“Badger” is supposed to be the mascot of Wisconsin’s top-flight university, not a tool of partisan politics.


Canada? It’s in North America? What?

March 27, 2011

And in other news that didn’t make most U.S. local newspapers today, the government of Canada fell yesterday.

Canada government falls, Politically-Illustrated

"The Conservative government in Canada was toppled on Friday after a vote of no-confidence passed in the parliament by 156 to 145." Cartoon at Politically Illustrated by Cam Cardow

You know:  Canada.  That nation north of North Dakota, the one that keeps Alaska stuck to the North American Continent.  Remember?   It’s got about 20% of the world’s fresh water.  Those guys who helped us whip Hitler on D-Day.

Oh, c’mon.  Google the place, will you?  It’s the nation where, when you go there, ‘those bastards with the drug problem south of the border’ is the United States.

No, no, it’s probably not important.  We buy a lot of our oil from Canada.  Canada is our biggest trading partner.  They buy a lot of the goods that we still produce here.

And the conservative government there, under a parliamentary system that kids in the U.S. are never tested on in Texas, lost a vote of confidence Friday, in Ottawa.

Ottawa?  It’s the capital of Canada.  No, Montreal isn’t even the capital of Quebec.

Oh, come on! Quebec.  Quebec! It’s the province of Canada with all the French speakers. Yeah, Quebec City is the capital of Quebec.

Ottawa’s in Ontario.  No, Ottawa is the capital of the whole nation, Canada.  Ontario’s capital is Toronto.

Lone Ranger?  No, Toronto has nothing to do with the Lone Ranger.  It’s the biggest city in Canada.

Anyway, to get back to the topic, Canada’s government failed.  Conservatives lost a vote because of ethics issues.

Ethics issues, conservatives.  No news there.  No wonder it wasn’t covered better.

Elections in May. You’d know this, if you read the blogs of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

As if anyone cared.

Hey, get this:  Ontario alone has more than 250,000 lakes, natural lakes.  In a good, very wet year, Texas has two, maybe three natural lakes.

You could look it up.

No, NATO won’t intervene.  Canada is part of NATO.

More seriously:

Energy- and environment-interested people should take note. Canada is our largest source of imported oil at about 2 million barrels a day — more than Mexico and Saudi Arabia imports combined — and we share two ocean coasts with the nation.  See what Susan Casey-Lefkowitz said at her blog:

Hopefully, whoever takes over next in Canada will be a bigger proponent of clean energy and fighting climate change than the Harper government has been. The Harper government has been a vocal proponent of tar sands oil expansion – pushing this dirty fuel in the United States and in Europe. In fact, the Harper government has been instrumental in undermining clean energy efforts at home and abroad all to promote the tar sands oil industry. A fresh approach in Canada gives the country a chance to get back to its green roots and to listen to its provincial governments such as Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia who have been developing innovative ways to promote clean energy and fight climate change. A fresh approach also provides an opportunity to lessen Canada’s dependence on the oil and gas sector and its heavy control over the Canadian dollar leading many to fear “Dutch disease.”

Clean energy and fighting climate change are critical issues now and in the coming decades. Hopefully, Canada can step forward as a leader on both in the future.

We can overlook the abuse of the word “hopefully” to extract important information, I think.  Did your local paper cover this story today?

More, resources:

 

 


Surely ALEC wouldn’t be purging e-mails that are now evidence, would they?

March 26, 2011

You could write a soap opera about this stuff.

You remember Wisconsin?  Remember the teachers, cops, firefighters and other public employee unions?

Of course.  And it’s still a mess.  Gov. Scott  “Ahab” Walker signed into law a bill that would have the effect of abrogating union contracts without any bargaining, but the skullduggery used to sneak the bill through the Wisconsin legislature opened the door to charges that Wisconsin open meetings laws were violated, and a judge has stayed the implementation of the law.

In the meantime, a Wisconsin historian stepped up to lend historical perspective to the whole affair.  He thought he was turning on some lights, but Wisconsin Republicans have treated it like great heat.

[Off-topic note:  Some creatures are negatively photo-tropic, which means they avoid light.  You know, like the way the cockroaches in your first New York apartment scattered when you'd turn on the light.]

So, just as Virginia Attorney General and Chief Inquisitor and Witch Hunter Ken Cucinelli tried with those pesky scientists who keep finding the global temperature rising, Wisconsin Republican legislators have turned on the historian.  Here’s how the  New York Times‘ editorial, “A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin,”  described it:

The historian, William Cronon, is the Frederick Jackson Turner and Vilas research professor of history, geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, and was recently elected president of the American Historical Association. Earlier this month, he was asked to write an Op-Ed article for The Times on the historical context of Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to strip public-employee unions of bargaining rights. While researching the subject, he posted on his blog several critical observations about the powerful network of conservatives working to undermine union rights and disenfranchise Democratic voters in many states.

In particular, he pointed to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group backed by business interests that circulates draft legislation in every state capital, much of it similar to the Wisconsin law, and all of it unmatched by the left. Two days later, the state Republican Party filed a freedom-of-information request with the university, demanding all of his e-mails containing the words “Republican,” “Scott Walker,” “union,” “rally,” and other such incendiary terms. (The Op-Ed article appeared five days after that.)

American Legislative Exchange Council.  ALEC, in K Street lobbyist parlance.

But, Dear Reader, do you see the potential problem here for Republicans in Wisconsin?  They have based their request on a Wisconsin law that prohibits private use of state-supplied e-mail — no politicking, no religious proselytizing.

What about all those ALEC e-mails to Wisconsin Republican legislators?  Sure, they’re more than fair-game for such a witch hunt, too.  And, since it’s the state Republican Party, and not a state or other public official making the FOIA request, surely that means the Republicans would not mind a similar request to cover contacts legislators had with the Wisconsin Republican Party, to the National Republican Party, or even ALEC itself.

Fair is fair, right?

ALEC generally has better lawyers than state legislators, and so we’d expect a group like that to recognize they could be in trouble.

Of course, purging of e-mails now would be a crime, a Watergate-style cover-up, destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice — after it’s become clear that there could be court action and claims of violation of law.

Jean Detjen provided links to the stories of the attacks on the distinguished Prof. Cronon over the last couple of days.  In a Facebook exchange, I noted that ALEC is fair game for such a witch hunt fishing expedition FOIA inquiry, too.

Don’t look now, Ms. Detjen said — but the ALEC site is down.

Server Error

The server encountered an internal error and was unable to complete your request.

JRun closed connection.

[Here’s a general link — try it, and let me know when the site is back up, if Paul Weyrich and the other ALEC-ians don’t skip to Brazil.]

Surely ALEC wouldn’t be illegally purging e-mails to Wisconsin, New York, Ohio, Texas, Idaho, Washington, California, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Florida legislators, would it?

Update:  As of this evening, March 26, 2011, the ALEC site is back up.  Why was it down?

The NYT editorial closed with this:

The party refuses to say why it wants the messages; Mr. Cronon believes it is hoping to find that he is supporting the recall of Republican state senators, which would be against university policy and which he denies. This is a clear attempt to punish a critic and make other academics think twice before using the freedom of the American university to conduct legitimate research.

Professors are not just ordinary state employees. As J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a conservative federal judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, noted in a similar case, state university faculty members are “employed professionally to test ideas and propose solutions, to deepen knowledge and refresh perspectives.” A political fishing expedition through a professor’s files would make it substantially harder to conduct research and communicate openly with colleagues. And it makes the Republican Party appear both vengeful and ridiculous.

Well, yeah, Wisconsin’s Republicans wouldn’t want to be caught stifling discussion, nor taking revenge on a whistle-blower — because certainly if Cronon’s e-mails are discoverable with an FOIA request, he is a Wisconsin state employee.  “Whew,” the Wisconsin Republicans might wheeze:  Wisconsin has no specific whistleblower protection.  Ah, the plot thickens:  There are general laws that would appear, to me, a no-longer-practicing-in-that-area lawyer, to offer some protections for any employee engaged in general political speech, or in speech protecting the employee’s rights, or in speech designed to shed light on a wrongful or wrongfully executed official act — that is, Cronon’s evidence showing the unsavory and potentially illegal links of legislators to businessmen and business groups, and the potential conspiracy issues of ALEC’s nationally-directed efforts to use state legislators to gut union laws.

I wish Ahab would just get Jesus and quit thickening the plot.

More, resources, links from Jean Detjen and others:

Obviously, big tip of the old scrub brush to Jean Detjen, in Wisconsin.


Annals of global warming: Records from Mauna Loa show continuing rise in atmospheric CO2

March 26, 2011

NOAA's Mauna Loa Observatory, NOAA photo, 1982, Cmdr. John Bortniak

NOAA's Mauna Loa Observatory, from NOAA At the Ends of the Earth Collection, 1982 NOAA photo by Commander John Bortniak

John Adams observed, and Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting, “Facts are stubborn things . . .”

Here are the facts on atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2):

 

Monthly CO2 levels since 1960, Mauna Loa Observatory (Scripps Inst of Oceanography)

Mauna Loa Observatory, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD (University of Calfornia-San Diego); CO2 concentrations in parts per million (ppm)

As described at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography site:

Description:
Monthly average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration versus time at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii (20°N, 156°W) where CO2 concentration is in parts per million in the mole fraction (p.p.m.). The curve is a fit to the data based on a stiff spline plus a 4 harmonic fit to the seasonal cycle with a linear gain factor.

Data from Scripps CO2 Program.

For perspective, here’s a chart from Scripps that shows why there is concern over current levels of CO2:

CO2 over the past 420,000 years - Scripps Institution of Oceanography

CO2 over the past 420,000 years - Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Resources, More:


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