Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 4th, 2021

GOP Lawmakers Intensify Effort to Ban Critical Race Theory in Schools

leave a comment »

And they are making those efforts without even knowing what Critical Race Theory is. Stephen Kearse writes for PEW:

In April, Cheryl Harris, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, noticed an uptick in citations of her work. Sort of.

“My inbox started being flooded with very bizarre and rabid emails and voicemails attributing things to me that I’ve never said,” she recalled in a phone interview. “I’ve been in this scholarly business long enough to know that occasionally, somebody may pick up something that you write and take exception to it. But this had nothing to do with anything I had said, actually.”

Harris’ name was appearing in op-eds purporting to explain critical race theory (CRT), a decades-old vein of scholarship that she has contributed to and taught.

Critical race theory studies racism at the systemic level, examining how policies, laws and court decisions can perpetuate racism even if they are ostensibly neutral or fair. Since its emergence in the late 1970s and 1980s, the discipline has expanded to include researchers in sociology, education and public health.

It has lately come under fire by Republican lawmakers who assert critical race theory is un-American and racist, and argue it will further divide the country. Legislators in at least 15 states have introduced measures this session that would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory or related concepts in all publicly funded schools, sometimes including penalties such as dismissal of teachers or defunding of school districts, despite no evidence that it is being taught in any public school.

The measures are part of a full-throttle conservative push to restrict discussions of racism and inequity in the name of defending American institutions. A toolkit created by Heritage Action for America, an affiliate of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, states that “CRT weakens the public and private bonds that create trust and allow for civic engagement.”

The Center for Renewing America, a conservative think tank, created model critical race theory legislation for lawmakers to introduce that alleges equity, intersectionality, social justice, land acknowledgments and “woke” are racist terms. Both documents misstate the intent of critical race theory.

Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank, has written several articles disparaging critical race theory and has suggested that it could become a rallying cry for Republicans. “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory,’” he tweeted in March. “We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” Rufo was not available for comment.

Critics of the bills argue that the legislation amounts to censorship and worry that the broad language of the measures could chill the free speech of educators and students, as well as stunt the antiracist efforts inaugurated by last year’s nationwide protests against police violence and racial injustice.

“This isn’t just about critical race theory as a body of work. This is about any form of antiracist speech, because these are also the jurisdictions that are trying to pass restrictions on protest,” Harris said, referring to new curbs on public demonstrations that Republicans have pushed in response to Black Lives Matter.

‘Divisive Concepts’

The Trump administration launched the first broadside against critical race theory, issuing a September 2020 Office of Management and Budget memorandum that called for the cancellation of any federal spending related to critical race theory, White privilege or “any other training or propaganda effort.” Russ Vought, then director of the OMB and now president of the Center for Renewing America, wrote the memo.

That move was followed by an executive order later that month banning “divisive concepts” in federal workforce training. Citing training materials used in contractor courses discussing race taught at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and federal laboratories, as well as a Smithsonian museum graphic about Whiteness, the order did not mention critical race theory by name but warned of a “malign ideology” that promoted racism, sexism and scapegoating.

A California district court blocked the order in December, and President Joe Biden later rescinded it, but Republican state legislators have renewed the charge.

Missouri state Rep. Brian Seitz, a Republican, said in a phone interview that teaching critical race theory in schools would create “another great divide in America.” He introduced a bill that would ban critical race theory from all publicly funded schools, including universities, because it “identifies people or groups of people, entities, or institutions in the United States as inherently, immutably, or systemically sexist, racist, anti-LGBT, bigoted, biased, privileged or oppressed.”

Noncompliance would result in up to 10% of funding being cut until the violation was resolved. The measure died in committee, but Seitz plans to submit a new bill in next year’s session, he said.

Tennessee state Sen. Brian Kelsey also argued that critical race theory will split Americans. “Critical Race Theory creates divisions within classrooms and will cause irreversible damage to our children who hold the future of our great country,” he wrote in an emailed statement to Stateline.

When the Tennessee House and Senate’s anti-critical race theory bills went to conference committee, Kelsey proposed additional amendments, citing his days in law school and claiming to “know [critical race theory] very well.”

The resulting Tennessee bill, which was signed into law last month by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, bars schools from broaching a wide range of topics such as the existence of systemic racism, privilege, oppression and any criticism of meritocracy. It also grants the commissioner of education undefined discretion to withhold state funds from schools found to be in violation of the law.

“Instead of broadening our worldview, this legislation narrows it,” Jenny Miller, an elementary school librarian in Camden, Tennessee, told Chalkbeat. “How will this come across to teachers of color or those that are contemplating entering the profession?”

Bills introduced in Michigan and West Virginia also would impose penalties. Michigan’s measure would bar, in part, teaching that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the United States are “fundamentally racist.” Schools that violate the measure would see up to 5% of their funding withheld.

West Virginia’s is particularly far-reaching, declaring a “teacher may be dismissed or not reemployed for teaching, instructing or training any student to believe any of the divisive concepts.” Its definitions of divisive concepts include “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” and “an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.” Critical race theory advocates none of these beliefs.

Critics are alarmed by the latitude of these bills.

“Their language is broad enough,” said Emerson Sykes, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, “that an overzealous investigator or enforcer could easily implicate all kinds of discussions that are about what has actually happened in this country and what’s actually ongoing.

“Even asking students those types of questions on an exam could hypothetically run afoul of some of the really broad language in these laws.”

‘A Provocative Term’

School boards, textbook publishers, lawmakers and parents have long tussled over how American history should be taught in schools, clashing over the causes of the Civil War, the Vietnam War and the merits of multicultural education, among many other topics. But the critical race theory controversy has little connection to existing curriculums or school district policies.

There is no evidence that critical race theory, as defined by its originators, has been taught in any public school. Nor has a school board in any state cited critical race theory as an element of its curriculum.

A March joint poll by market research firm Leger and The Atlantic found that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2021 at 9:53 am

Whistleblowers Expose Corruption in Epa Chemical Safety Office

leave a comment »

Sharon Lerner reports in The Intercept:

MANAGERS AND CAREER STAFF in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention tampered with the assessments of dozens of chemicals to make them appear safer, according to four scientists who work at the agency. The whistleblowers, whose jobs involve identifying the potential harms posed by new chemicals, provided The Intercept with detailed evidence of pressure within the agency to minimize or remove evidence of potential adverse effects of the chemicals, including neurological effects, birth defects, and cancer.

On several occasions, information about hazards was deleted from agency assessments without informing or seeking the consent of the scientists who authored them. Some of these cases led the EPA to withhold critical information from the public about potentially dangerous chemical exposures. In other cases, the removal of the hazard information or the altering of the scientists’ conclusions in reports paved the way for the use of chemicals, which otherwise would not have been allowed on the market.

This is the first of a series of articles based on the four whistleblowers’ highly detailed allegations, which were supported by dozens of internal emails with supervisors, meeting summaries, and other documents. Together, the evidence they provided shows a pattern in which the EPA failed to follow the law that oversees chemical regulation, particularly the Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA, and depicts a workplace in which EPA staffers regularly faced retribution for following the science.

“The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention is broken,” the scientists wrote in a statement they provided to The Intercept and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “The entire New Chemicals program operates under an atmosphere of fear — scientists are afraid of retaliation for trying to implement TSCA the way Congress intended, and they fear that their actions (or inactions) at the direction of management are resulting in harm to human health and the environment.”

The four EPA staff members, who hold doctorates in toxicology, chemistry, biochemistry, and medicinal chemistry, said that they told colleagues and supervisors within the agency about the interference with their work. Each of the scientists also filed complaints with either the EPA’s inspector general or the Office of Science Integrity, which has pledged to investigate corruption within the agency. But because most of their concerns remained unaddressed months after they disclosed them — and because, in each case, the altering of the record presented a potential risk to human health — the scientists said they felt compelled to make their complaints public.

Maybe the Hazards Will Go Away

Elyse Osterweil, one of the four scientists, said she was at first reluctant to speak up about the intense pressure she faced from her supervisors to remove references to potential toxicity from the assessments of new chemicals. The assessments, which use animal studies to gauge a chemical’s potential risk to humans, can lead the agency to place limits on its use — or to ban it entirely. In the case of one substance that Osterweil was reviewing in February of this year, the animal studies suggested serious potential for harm. Rats exposed to a single dose of the chemical had become lethargic, lost weight, and had trouble moving. Some became comatose, and others died.

“Usually with this type of acute study, there are no effects,” said Osterweil. “So this was a red flag to me that we needed further information.” But when Osterweil said in a meeting that she needed more data to complete her hazard assessment report, one of her supervisors responded with a series of questions. “She kept asking me, ‘Look at the data, look at the data, look at it again, tell me what you see,’” Osterweil said of her supervisor. “I knew she wanted me to make the hazards go away, and she even said that: ‘Why don’t you take a look at the actual study data again, and maybe the hazards will go away?’”

Although she knew she didn’t have enough information to say that the chemical didn’t pose a risk, Osterweil seriously considered giving in to the pressure to deem it safe. “There was a time when I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should let this one go and just pick my battles,’” she said. “But I just couldn’t.”

A chemist named Martin Phillips faced similar pushback when he was assessing a mixture of compounds in January of 2020. One component of the product, which was to be used in cleaning solutions, is a chemical that caused birth defects and miscarriage in experiments on rats. Phillips and another risk assessor noted the developmental effects in the chemical’s hazard assessment, which must by law then be added to the chemical’s safety data sheet, a document the Occupational Safety and Health Administration uses to communicate risk to workers. But the company that had submitted the product for approval balked at the requirement. And the day after the assessment Phillips wrote was finalized, a representative of the company who had recently worked in the same division of the EPA met with several of Phillips’s colleagues and his supervisor, whom she had known from her time at the agency. Phillips wasn’t invited to attend the meeting. The following day, another assessment of the chemical was uploaded into the EPA’s computer system without Phillips’s consent or knowledge. The new version omitted the information about the birth defects and miscarriages.

When he learned of the new assessment, Phillips asked that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and there is danger to the public.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2021 at 9:41 am

Homeowner and Condo Associations Are In Over Their Heads

leave a comment »

Evan McKenzie, who teaches in the political science department and the law school at the University of Illinois at Chicago and is the author of two books about condominium and homeowner associations, writes in the Washington Post:

The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in Surfside, Fla., is a terrible tragedy. Besides the stories of the victims and their grieving loved ones, early attention has focused on the causes of the collapse, such as how the building was constructed, the effects of saltwater on reinforced concrete and whether the condominium association was properly maintaining the high-rise.

Those are important matters, but the disaster exemplifies a bigger problem, one that will still loom once we have answers about what went wrong in Surfside: The untrained, unpaid and unsupervised volunteer directors of the nation’s more than 350,000 condo and homeowners’ associations, armed with limited financial resources, are expected to deal with the unprecedented infrastructure challenges that climate change poses to their communities. And there is no reason to believe that they are up to that task.

More than 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in property administered by condominium and homeowners’ associations, nonprofits run by volunteers elected by the owners. These directors and officers are responsible for an estimated $7 trillion worth of private property and infrastructure, including high-rise buildings, private streets, parks, pools, sewer and water systems, lakes, garages, and many other building systems and amenities.

As condos and HOAs blossomed across the country in the last 50 years, little or no thought was given to the eventual effects of climate change, in terms of location or construction quality. The common-interest housing sector emerged in the 1960s as a way to put more people on less land, increasing developer profits and local property tax revenue. The model spread rapidly, and condos and HOAs are now the default options for new construction in many states, not just across the Sun Belt where they originated but in older metro areas as well.

Many locations are problematic from the outset. Developers often build in places that appeal to buyers but pose environmental challenges — such as on reclaimed wetlands or beaches next to rising seas, as in Surfside. Other developers place subdivisions at the top of artificial slopes that turn into mudslides in hundred-year storms, which now occur more often than they used to. Terrible disasters have struck neighborhoods built in areas that are prone to drought-induced wildfires. Local governments may approve these location decisions because they are great for sales and the property tax base, but they drop environmental issues right in the laps of condo and HOA boards.

Condo and homeowners’ associations were never designed or empowered to handle such conditions. These associations are essentially on their own, with virtually no support from any level of government. Although most of them operate well most of the time, paying for routine maintenance and repair has always been a challenge, long before climate change made things worse. For years, industry insiders have pointed out that although directors and officers are responsible for maintaining the property, most unit owners are notoriously unwilling to see their housing costs go up now to sock away funds for repairs in the future. Why, they ask, should they pay today so someone else can have a new roof long after they’ve moved out? Yet that is precisely what they are expected to do. Somehow, dozens, hundreds or even thousands of owners are supposed to overcome their self-interest and collective-action problems and commit to maintaining their private infrastructure in perpetuity.

Now the maintenance and repair responsibilities that condo boards struggle with every day, with varying degrees of success, are being amplified by the effects of global climate change. It is increasingly clear that owner resources and volunteer expertise are inadequate to meet the challenge of maintaining buildings, preventing and mitigating climate-related damage, and restoring property that is severely harmed or even destroyed.

The Surfside disaster is an instructive example of an association faced with environmental challenges beyond its means. The 12-story condo tower with 136 units was built 40 years ago on reclaimed beachfront wetlands, where the proximity of a rising ocean, saltwater and gradual land subsidence have been constant threats to structural integrity. A few years ago, engineers told the condo board that they had an expensive problem on their hands with deteriorating reinforced concrete. After much internal back-and-forth, the board recently assessed a total repair cost on the owners of $15 million. That averages out to more than $110,000 per unit for this midsize association, an eye-popping figure for any homeowner and one that would undoubtedly put many into foreclosure for failure to pay. Repairs were set to begin soon; residents were initially supposed to decide whether to pay their share of the assessment at once or in monthly installments by this past Thursday.

Some are claiming that the collapse could have been avoided if better maintenance had been done earlier. Maybe. But there are thousands of beachfront condos on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. We cannot expect all of them to be maintained consistently to industry standards with sea level rise, storm surge, land subsidence and a host of other coastal climate issues in mind. We know there will always be some that risk skipping maintenance, thinking the worst won’t happen there.

Sea level rise is not the only climate-related problem that places owners in harm’s way and that local governments and developers never anticipated. It is clear by now that climate change produces heavy rainfall, including hurricanes and so-called 100-year storms, that can cause major floodinglandslides and other stormwater-related disasters. Condo and homeowners’ associations have been severely affected by such events, and developers have been sued from coast to coast over their failure to anticipate them and build accordingly. Expensive litigation after the fact is no substitute for prevention, but it is unrealistic to expect condominium and homeowner associations to undertake costly anticipatory measures. They have neither the expertise nor the resources to do so. In most cases, they don’t even know where to begin.

Many other communities have been built near places prone to wildfires, which have taken on new ferocity in drought conditions fueled by global warming. The costs of safeguarding neighborhoods against these fires are daunting for owners and associations, and prevention is almost entirely out of their hands. In 2003, wildfires destroyed 331 homes in Scripps Ranch, an upscale San Diego-area neighborhood where developer-created HOA requirements for wooden “shake” shingle roofs accelerated the destruction. The San Diego City Council banned these roofs in new construction, including for people who wanted to rebuild their homes. Yet they faced intense resistance from Scripps Ranch owners over proposed building code changes intended to protect their homes against future wildfires, because implementing those changes would have been expensive. Owners in a fire-prone area might be understandably angry if their association required them to pay for new roofs, elaborate sprinkler systems, doors and windows with heat-resistant double-glazed material, and special fire-retardant house paint. If local governments encounter pushback when they require such measures, it seems unlikely that condo and homeowners’ associations would adopt them voluntarily.

In effect, condo and HOA developments are a huge experiment in privatization of local government functions, and sometimes the offloading of government responsibilities goes too far. We can expect a condo or HOA board to handle garbage collection, get the leaves and snow removed from private streets, and broadly live up to its responsibilities to residents. But when private communities took off in the 1960s, we didn’t even know what climate change was. We cannot . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2021 at 9:34 am

Taking a break for a day

leave a comment »

I just noticed that “a break for a day” ≠ a “daybreak.” In any event, I’ll be away for the day, going up-island to celebrate my grand-nephew’s first birthday. You may see a post or two in the next hour or so, and perhaps one late in the day, but for most of the day I’ll be offline.

I just spent some time updating my post on Breakfast Bites — I no longer eat them, but they were indeed very tasty and filling. If your diet allows, I recommend them.

Written by Leisureguy

4 July 2021 at 8:42 am

Posted in Daily life

%d bloggers like this: