Tuesday, June 23, 2015

It's a Start -- Why We Need to Talk About the Confederate Flag

A poem by Maya Angelou, at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial

Since the murder of nine African American people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the symbolism of the Confederate battle flag has rightly been a hot topic. The flag flies on the grounds of the South Carolina and Alabama state capitols, and is part of the state flags of Georgia and Mississippi. Elements and earlier versions of the flag can also be seen in the Alabama, Arkansas and Florida state flags.

This national discussion about the Confederate flag is long overdue. Some see the Confederate flag as a relic of a long-ago Civil War. The flag, however, has a much more recent history as a hurtful symbol of racism, segregation and violence.

The Dixiecrats

In 1948, President Truman -- a Democrat -- proposed civil rights legislation that included provisions to repeal the poll tax and make lynching a federal crime. The Democratic party also included a civil rights plank in that year's Presidential campaign. Southern Democrats who opposed these measures formed a segregationist political party known as the Dixiecrats, who adopted the Confederate flag as their symbol.

Although Truman was elected in 1948, the Dixiecrats won in Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana. The Dixiecrat party no longer exists, but the party's legacy continued in the form of resistance against desegregation. In the years that followed, people who happened to be African American and who simply wanted to vote, go to school or sit at a lunch counter faced intimidation and violence -- including four little girls who were killed in a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.

Desegregation Opponents

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its famous Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision. In that ruling, the Court overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson "separate but equal" doctrine and declared public school segregation unconstitutional. The Confederate flag once again appeared as officials in Southern states defied federal desegregation efforts.

In 1956, Georgia legislators voted to incorporate the Confederate flag in the Georgia state flag. John McKay, one of 32 legislators who opposed the flag change, stated that the flag "telegraphs a message." In April 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace ordered the raising of the Confederate flag over the state capitol. Wallace was about the meet with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to discuss the state's refusal to desegregate the University of Alabama campus. The Confederate flag still flies on the grounds of the Alabama and South Carolina state capitols.

Which leads us back to last week's senseless tragedy in Charleston, and the increasing recognition that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred and violence. Simply put, it has no place over government buildings or grounds. Political leaders from both parties -- including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley -- are finally acknowledging the public revulsion at this symbol. Walmart, Amazon and eBay are refusing to sell products that contain the Confederate flag.

A little late, but it's a start.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Air We Breathe

In his new encyclical on climate change, Pope Francis calls for "a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet." It is easy to feel helpless and hopeless when we hear predictions about global warming, ocean acidification, drought and extinctions. Hand-wringing is understandable as the very air we breathe seems fragile and in peril. This week, however, is a great time to speak, write and tweet to public officials on the subject of climate change -- and engage in that "new dialogue."

Congressional Climate Message Day, for example, takes place on Monday, June 22. Citizens can call or tweet their senators and representatives to support a fee on greenhouse gas emissions. On June 23, nine hundred volunteers for Citizens' Climate Lobby will meet with senators and representatives in Washington, DC to support the greenhouse gas fee. You can find out more about Congressional Climate Message Day here, on the Citizens' Climate Lobby website.

Solar energy producers - a key component in efforts against climate change -- are in jeopardy in many statesThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that coal and other fossil fuels are major contributors to greenhouse gases, which trap heat and lead to global warming. As the Snake River Alliance points out, solar and other renewable energy sources are vital as utilities phase out coal-generated power.

Here in Idaho, residents will attend a public hearing this week on a proposal from electric utility companies that could undermine competition form solar power companies. The utilities want the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to shorten the length of contracts with independent power companies from 20 years to two years -- a move that would make financing nearly impossible for solar power companies. The general public can attend the Idaho PUC hearing in Boise on June 24, or learn about submitting written comments here.

Wherever you live, you can speak up on behalf of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the creatures and plants that share God's creation with us. No need to travel or speak in front of large groups -- just take a breath and start where you are. Hope you'll join us!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

EPA Proposes Pesticide-Free Zones to Protect Honeybees

It's no secret that honeybees play a crucial part in creating our food supply, and that these pollinators have been dying at an increasing rate. From April 2014 to April 2015, commercial beekeepers reported a 42.1 percent loss of bee colonies, the second highest loss ever reported. Chemical pesticides -- particularly the class known as neonicotinoids or "neonics" -- are thought to be a major cause of these losses, known as bee colony collapse.

But there is some good news. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a rule that would create temporary pesticide-free zones to protect honeybees. The rule would prohibit the use of 76 active ingredients in pesticides, including neonics, on blooming crops where commercial bees are pollinating, according to Reuters.

Advocates on both sides of the issue have criticized the proposed rule. Environmentalists point out that the rule does not go far enough because it does not restrict the use of seeds treated with neonics. Pesticide manufacturers such as Bayer and Sygenta claim that mite infestations -- not pesticide use -- are the cause of colony collapse.

There is much evidence, however, to support the argument that neonics are a major factor in the loss of bees. National Geographic notes that neonics can make bees more susceptible to certain parasitic infections, and can alter bee behavior and prevent them from supplying their hives with food. According to a study published in Nature, bees even appear to become addicted to the neonic pesticides imidacloprid and thiamexotham.  

The new EPA rule could be in place by spring 2016. Yes, there is still more that we must do to protect bees. This proposed new rule by the EPA, however, is a positive first step in keeping these important pollinators alive.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Inspiration Around the Corner: The Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial

Statue of Anne Frank at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial

On Monday mornings, I enjoy walking along the Boise Greenbelt with a friend from church. The Greenbelt offers some tranquil scenes on the Boise River, such as the Pioneer Footbridge:

The highlight of today's walk, however, was the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial:

Designed by Idaho architect Ken Karst, the memorial blends the natural riverside environment with a 180-foot Quote Wall. You can read the words of poets, philosophers, children and others -- words of faith in humanity that echo Anne Frank's hopeful spirit. I particularly like this quotation from poet Maya Angelou:

Donor walls and pavers bear the names and thoughts of supporters of the memorial:

The memorial statue of Anne Frank portrays the young girl pushing back a curtain as if looking through a window. As I looked at the statue, I felt as though she was welcoming us to this place of hope and healing.

"In spite of everything, I still believe that people are truly good at heart."
Anne Frank

Idaho offers many natural and cultural attractions. If you visit the Boise Greenbelt, do take the time to visit the Anne Frank memorial. The experience will inspire you and stay with you long after you leave.