As the nation mourns the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, conservative media figures have attempted to appropriate his legacy and attribute to the beloved former president their conservative ideas and positions. This effort runs counter to Kennedy's stated positions, speeches, and other historical facts surrounding his presidency.
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby argued that LGBT workers don't need the protections afforded by the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), falsely asserting that the free market already provides an adequate check on workplace discrimination.
In his November 17 column, Jacoby noted that many Fortune 500 companies and prominent business leaders including Apple CEO Tim Cook have spoken out against LGBT employment discrimination. Reprising a common argument against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Jacoby contended that businesses should be free to decide whether to discriminate against LGBT people. In Jacoby's view, the fact that many businesses don't do so is sufficient to obviate the need for ENDA (emphasis added):
APPLE CEO Tim Cook, writing recently in The Wall Street Journal, urged Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would make it illegal under federal law for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Prejudice, Cook insisted, is bad for business. Indeed it is -- as defenders of free markets have pointed out for years, irrational discrimination tends to reduce an employer's profits. Far from strengthening the case for a new federal law, however, it seems to me that Cook's observation cuts the other way.
Thanks to the changes already produced by the marketplace, a significant addition to the Civil Rights Act is superfluous. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the influential gay-rights organization and a prominent supporter of ENDA, nearly 90 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 have explicitly banned employment discrimination against gays and lesbians. As of April, only about 60 companies on Fortune's list had not yet formally adopted such policies, and very few have actually voted against doing so.
Clearly there has been a sea change in the way Americans have come to think about employment discrimination against gays and lesbians. It would be surprising if that change weren't reflected on payday -- and sure enough, that's what the data show. Economists Geoffrey Clarke and Purvi Sevak, in a study just published in the journal Economic Letters, note that gay men in the 1980s and early 1990s had less earning power than straight men of comparable age, race, and education. By the mid-1990s that "gay wage penalty" had disappeared; in the years since 2000 it has turned into a wage premium. As far back as 2002, for example, gay men were outearning their nongay peers by 2.45 percent.
Is it logical to conclude from all this that the American workplace is so poisoned with bigotry against gays and lesbians that only a drastic change in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can end the oppression? Or would it be fairer to say that the vast majority of American workers have no desire to see colleagues hired or fired because of their sexual orientation -- and that the vast majority of US companies have no interest in letting sexual orientation become an issue? For years opinion surveys have documented near-universal support for gay rights in the workplace. The market is doing what markets have always sought to do: break down unreasonable discrimination by making it unhealthy for a business's bottom line.
New federal laws should be a last resort, when there is no other means of solving an urgent national problem. In a country of 300 million people, there will always be occasional incidents of bigotry and unfairness directed at people where they work, but plainly there is no urgent crisis in the treatment of gay and lesbian employees that Congress alone can fix. As it is, 21 states and nearly 200 cities and counties have followed the market's lead and enacted legislation barring employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Washington has more than enough on its plate. It doesn't need to add yet another protected category to the list of groups legally protected from private discrimination. That will only make federal cases out of even more disputes.
In a Boston Globe column titled "Cooler heads prevail against climate panic," Jeff Jacoby denounces what he deems to be "climate fearmongering" about the dangers posed by unchecked greenhouse gas emissions. I agree that hyperbole is often damaging to public discourse, however Jacoby should acknowledge that misleading and fallacious claims are of equal concern.
We could start with his own suggestion that those concerned about global warming engage in "end-of-the-world doomsaying" akin to Harold Camping's apocalypse prophesies. As a side note, Rush Limbaugh, who's known for his thoughtful and moderate rhetoric, said the same thing a couple weeks ago.
In his column, Jacoby forwards the claim that "rising carbon-dioxide levels" are not "anything to fear," citing physicist William Happer's assertion that "carbon is the stuff of life." Jacoby also quotes from Happer's statement that "about fifty million years ago" CO2 levels were "much higher than now. And life flourished abundantly." (For his part, Happer thinks that those concerned about climate change are far worse than Harold Camping -- they're more like Nazis.)
Jacoby's argument misrepresents the anxieties that so many, including the national science academies of 13 nations and the U.S. military, have about climate change. The existence of Earth or of life itself is not in question. Indeed, if that's the standard for taking action, then I can't think of any tragedy or injustice that would merit concern.
Rather, as scientists contacted through the Climate Science Rapid Response Team explained, climate change demands attention because it is altering the environments in which our societies operate faster than we are adapting, and the transition may be difficult, expensive, and painful in many cases -- all the more so if nothing is done to slow the changes and mitigate our vulnerabilities.
Happer's comparison to the Eocene epoch (56 - 34 million years ago) contributes little to the debate over whether global warming is a serious problem. As Purdue University's Matthew Huber explained via email, the world 50 million years ago was quite a bit different from the one we know, with "crocodiles, palm trees, and ginger plants near the North Pole," temperatures in continental North America that were 10-15°C warmer, and sea level "about 100m higher." Needless to say, these are not the assumptions upon which we have built our cities, economies, or food and water systems, and any rapid shift in the climate toward these conditions would cause major disruptions.
Recently, The Laura Ingraham Show hosted Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to make his oft-repeated claim that "80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by radical Imams." This claim has been repeated in various iterations by numerous right-wing media figures and anti-Islam activists for more than a decade, and the statistic appears to be entirely based on a single, unsubstantiated claim made by a Californian Muslim cleric in 1999. The cleric later admitted that his criteria of an "extremist mosque" was one that was "focus[ed] on the Palestinian struggle."
From the November 18 broadcast of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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