Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Reading

Frank Rich — From the Smithsonian, where an exhibit was yanked because of pearl-clutching protests, to Capitol Hill, where DADT still rules, homophobia is still the bigotry that is acceptable in America.

It still seems an unwritten rule in establishment Washington that homophobia is at most a misdemeanor. By this code, the Smithsonian’s surrender is no big deal; let the art world do its little protests. This attitude explains why the ever more absurd excuses concocted by John McCain for almost single-handedly thwarting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are rarely called out for what they are — “bigotry disguised as prudence,” in the apt phrase of Slate’s military affairs columnist, Fred Kaplan. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council has been granted serious and sometimes unchallenged credence as a moral arbiter not just by Rupert Murdoch’s outlets but by CNN, MSNBC and The Post’s “On Faith” Web site even as he cites junk science to declare that “homosexuality poses a risk to children” and that being gay leads to being a child molester.

It’s partly to counteract the hate speech of persistent bullies like Donohue and Perkins that the Seattle-based author and activist Dan Savage created his “It Gets Better” campaign in which gay adults (and some non-gay leaders, including President Obama) make videos urging at-risk teens to realize that they are not alone. But even this humanitarian effort is controversial and suspect in some Beltway quarters: G.O.P. politicians and conservative pundits have yet to participate even though most of the recent and well-publicized suicides by gay teens have occurred in Republican Congressional districts, including those of party leaders like Michele Bachmann, Mike Pence and Kevin McCarthy.

Has it gotten better since AIDS decimated a generation of gay men? In San Francisco, certainly. But when America’s signature cultural institution can be so easily bullied by bigots, it’s another indicator that the angels Keith Haring saw on his death bed have not landed in Washington just yet.

More below the fold.

Carl Hiaasen — Florida fights for the rights of polluters.

Farms, mills and municipalities that use Florida waterways as a latrine got more good news last week from their stooges in Tallahassee. The latest battle to stop the enforcement of federal pollution laws will be paid for by state taxpayers.

Outgoing Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson — backed by Attorney General Bill McCollum — has sued to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing revised clean-water standards for Florida’s rivers, creeks and lakes.

Standing stoically in support of the polluters, McCollum and Bronson say the new water rules are too costly, and based on flawed science (interestingly, data provided by the state itself). Endorsing that lame position are their successors, Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner-elect Adam Putnam.

To hear all this whining, you’d think the EPA had ambushed Florida businesses with the new water regulations. Not even close.

Back in 1998, the EPA ordered all states to cut back pollution of so-called surface waters with damaging nutrients from farms, ranches, septic tanks and sewage-treatment facilities. The agency set a deadline of 2004 and then — in the anti-regulatory spirit of the Bush era — basically did nothing to follow up.

In 2008, environmental groups finally sued the EPA in order to compel enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act.

It’s not some new piece of radical legislation. It was born in 1948 as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and expanded significantly under Richard Nixon in 1972, and again in 1977.

Floridians who aren’t familiar with Clean Water Act can be forgiven, because it has never been taken seriously here by companies that dump massive volumes of waste into public waters, or by the politicians who are supposed to care about such crimes.

The Everglades wouldn’t be in its current dire condition if authorities at all levels hadn’t skirted and even ignored the law, permitting ranchers, sugar farmers and developing cities to flush billions of dirty gallons of runoff into the state’s most important watershed.

With good reason, after decades of getting their way, polluters became cocky and complacent. But they’re not stupid, and the writing has been on the wall for some time. The EPA has worked with the administrations of both Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist to come up with new water rules, often bowing to industry concerns.

Under fire in court, the EPA in 2009 finally agreed to set pollution standards for lakes and streams this year, with regulations for saltwater bays and estuaries to take effect in 2011. The agency estimates only about 10 percent of Florida’s farms and less than half the waste-treatment plants would be affected.

Still, the outcry from heavy industry and agricultural interests was instant and predictable, as was the agency’s response: another delay.

Both of Florida’s U.S. senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican George LeMieux, pushed for the EPA to back off, and polluters won a 15-month reprieve.

Heck, it’s only water.

Caveat Emporium follow-up — The on-line merchant who scared his threatened and stalked his customers, as noted in a previous Sunday Reading, has been arrested.

Federal law enforcement agents on Monday arrested a Brooklyn Internet merchant who mistreated customers because he thought their online complaints raised the profile of his business in Google searches.

The merchant, Vitaly Borker, 34, who operates a Web site called, was charged with one count each of mail fraud, wire fraud, making interstate threats and cyberstalking. The mail fraud and wire fraud charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The stalking and interstate threats charges carry a maximum sentence of five years.

He was arrested early Monday by agents of the United States Postal Inspection Service. In an arraignment in the late afternoon in United States District Court in Lower Manhattan, Judge Michael H. Dolinger denied Mr. Borker’s request for bail, stating that the defendant was either “verging on psychotic” or had “an explosive personality.” Mr. Borker will be detained until a preliminary hearing, scheduled for Dec. 20.

The arrest came eight days after The New York Times published a lengthy account of Mr. Borker’s campaign of intimidation against a woman named Clarabelle Rodriguez who had bought a pair of glasses from DecorMyEyes over the summer.

Doonesbury — Very Swift.

HT to CLW.