Archive for September, 2011

Debunking The Mammoths of MRA Mythology

Posted in Editorials on September 29th, 2011
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I’ve been reading a lot of r/mensrights lately, in part because they have occasionally linked to posts I’ve written, and also because I’m a glutton for punishment. I think that David Futurelle at Man Boobz does an excellent job of distilling what is going on with regards to MRA’s on the internet and taking the piss out of it. But there are a few premises I see repeated over and over that I would like to address.

One is what David calls, “We Hunted The Mammoth To Feed You” and it goes something like this – feminists have no right to complain about anything men do, ever because back in the caveman days, men did EVERYTHING and women sat on rocks eating bonbons. The problem is that this varied wildly from culture to culture. From wikipedia:

The notion that preagricultural hunter-gatherers would have typically consumed a diet relatively low in carbohydrate and high in protein has been questioned. Critics argue that there is insufficient data to identify the relative proportions of plant and animal foods consumed on average by Paleolithic humans in general,and they stress the rich variety of ancient and modern hunter-gatherer diets. Furthermore, preagricultural hunter-gatherers may have generally consumed large quantities of carbohydrates in the form of carbohydrate-rich tubers (plant underground storage organs).According to Staffan Lindeberg, an advocate of the Paleolithic diet, a plant-based diet rich in carbohydrates is consistent with the human evolutionary past.

However, great disparities do exist, even between different modern hunter-gatherer societies. The animal-derived calorie percentage ranges from 25% in the Gwi people of southern Africa, to 99% in Alaskan Nunamiut. The animal-derived percentage value is skewed upwards by polar hunter-gatherer societies, who have no choice but to eat animal food because of the inaccessibility of plant foods. Since those environments were only populated relatively recently (for example, paleo-Indian ancestors of Nunamiut are thought to have arrived to Alaska no earlier than 30,000 years ago), such diets represent recent adaptations rather than conditions that shaped human evolution during much of the Paleolithic. More generally, hunting and fishing tend to provide a higher percentage of energy in forager societies living at higher latitudes. Excluding cold-climate and equestrian foragers results in a diet structure of 52% plant calories, 26% hunting calories, and 22% fishing calories. Furthermore, those numbers may still not be representative of a typical Stone Age diet, since fishing did not become common in many parts of the world until the Upper Paleolithic period 35-40 thousand years ago, and early humans’ hunting abilities were relatively limited, compared to modern hunter-gatherers, as well (the oldest incontrovertible evidence for the existence of bows only dates to about 8000 BCE,and nets and traps were invented 22,000 to 29,000 years ago.)

An extreme version of this line of thought posits that, up until the Upper Paleolithic, humans were frugivores (fruit eaters), who supplemented their meals with carrion, eggs, and small prey such as baby birds and mussels, and, only on rare occasions, managed to kill and consume big game such as antelopes.

So when Paul Elam tries to make the case that women do not contribute anything of value to society because men kill whales, we can see how deluded he is. But if we are going to play “The Flintstones,” yes, men were out killing whales (or baby birds) but then women were the ones supplying the fruits, nuts and shoots which eventually led to agriculture.

It doesn’t end there of course, the argument continues that superior in their hunting skills, men invented EVERYTHING ELSE EVER. And while I cannot prove that women invented agriculture (It does logically follow that whoever was doing the gathering would gain an understanding of botany because they would need it to survive, just like the hunters would create more advanced spears, bows, etc.) we can prove that women have made significant contributions to our culture since history began to be recorded. And it’s not just Marie Curie.

There are scores of women scientists, artists and activists who shaped our world in countless ways, just like men do. Only the difference is that before the 1970′s they faced greater social and legal obstacles to do so – and so their contributions are even more extraordinary. Just to name one example, Rosalind Franklin lost out on her share of a Nobel Prize because of her gender.

I see a lot of posts complaining about women behaving crudely, or criminally, or cruelly. That’s because the fact that women are human, and can act just as despicably as men can, is in some way remarkable to MRAs.

The icing on the “We hunted the mammoth to feed you and then invented everything else” cake/screed, is something even uglier than the raw ignorance or their other arguments. A common MRA argument goes like this, since men are physically stronger than women, everything women have men could take away at any moment. To which I say, “No shit, Sherlock.” Does anyone ever think that women are every unaware at their relative physical weakness in relation to men, even for a second? Gavin DeBecker famously wrote,

At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.

That MRA’s drive this point home with repeated threats, the glamorization of MRA terrorists, and graphic fantasies of an apocalyptic future where women are all the slaves of men – reveals their argument – at its most basic level to be an appeal to force.

A large number of MRA arguments are based on making an appeal to force. And because of the quotation above, it is the best argument that they have. This is key to understanding their rhetoric, and to seeing past the anger and misogyny and nonsense. They are saying that because of their testosterone and muscle, they are right, and that they can enforce this rightness upon women at any given moment.

Both Sides Now – Way Off Base On HPV

Posted in Editorials, Podcast Reviews on September 28th, 2011
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As I previously posted, I am a fan of the podcast, “Both Sides Now.” I think it’s refreshing to hear a debate between right and left that isn’t about name calling. However, I was shocked to hear such ridiculous rhetoric coming from all three participants about the HPV vaccine while listening to the September 17 episode. I’m really starting to understand Amanda’s obsession.

Mary Matalin and Arianna Huffington insisted that it’s wrong for the government to mandate vaccinations – especially this one because it’s “a personal decision.” Matalin made a point that her daughter is still a virgin and Huffington said “it doesn’t make any sense at all…They’re 12 year olds!” Both seem to miss the point that the vaccine is supposed to be administered before the onset of sexual activity, and so it would be most appropriate for a 12 or 16 year old who has not had sexual activity with a partner yet.

Mark Green, the moderator, chimed in that it’s not a personal decision because the disease is “easily spread.” Matalin retorted “Then vaccinate men!” No one brought up that the vaccine has been approved for men for the past two years! Huffington said that if you don’t have it, you can’t spread it, which is hopelessly naive considering the amount of people who have HPV – the chances of getting it from one sexual encounter (including vaginal intercourse with a condom, oral sex, manual sex or even kissing) are very high. It sounds like she’s promoting abstinence – which unlike the Gardasil – stops working the minute you have sex.

Green inexplicably states that a girl “without a mother as good as Mary or Arianna” could have sex and get HPV – and he sounds astonishingly ignorant, for someone who expresses concern about issues pertaining to women and girls all the time. Just because a person has sex doesn’t mean that they had bad parents. Each one of the people on the panel has has had sex, (evidenced by the existence of their children) and Mark Green’s daughter has had sex (as evidenced by his proud proclamation that he is a grandfather)- was something wrong with the mothers of these pundits or with Mark Green’s parenting skills? Parents who raise healthy children will not, in all likelihood stop them from having sex. Parents who get the HPV vaccine for their children can make sure that when they do have sex, their children will not get vaginal, labial, cervical, penile, anal or throat cancer.

Mark Green then suggests that people opposed to the HPV vaccine are anti science, but then immediately drops the point when Matalin scoffs at him that “it’s not measles, it’s not Contagion and it’s not the Ebola virus, you have to engage in sex irresponsibly – one would hope that you would find out from their partner if they have an STD [before you have sex with them].” Matalin ignores the possibility of one acquiring the virus during from shaking or holding hands, while kissing, during a sexual assault, or from a cheating partner one wrongly believed to be monogamous.

Green states “but science says that it works” before backing off completely. He doesn’t elaborate on the concept of heard immunity which, campaign donations aside, is the practical reason why governments mandate vaccines. I would be interested in a conversation about why Matalin and Huffington think an individual’s right to refuse a vaccine overrides the plain fact that if we are all vaccinated, we protect the health of everyone. How is a mandate for a vaccine different from a mandate for seat-belts (passengers ejected from a car during a crash can hit other cars and cause another accident) smoking bans in restaurants (which Green did bring up but no one addressed) or laws against drunk driving?

Matalin did say that the vaccine was too new and untested to mandate. However it has been on the market since June 2006, for over five years. At what point would it become acceptably safe for her?

They all do agree that it is a good thing that the vaccine exists though, which, regrettably, is something to be thankful for in the current climate. I was very disappointed with this segment, and while it wasn’t the first time I have disagreed with the hosts, it was the first time I felt like the discussion was just as silly and uninformed as most of the noise on cable news.

Political Flavors Presents: The Greatest Movie Review Ever Posted On A Blog

Posted in Editorials on September 27th, 2011
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Adam and I finally got around to watching the latest from Morgan Spurlock, “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” a deliciously clever documentary about product placement – paid for by product placement.

The Greatest Movie draws attention to the ubiquity of advertising in entertainment, and while it is short on what consumers can do about this annoyance, it gives exclusive insight into the marketing strategies that place these advertisements. We see Spurlock speak with many companies about potentially buying into the film, and the reasons they accept or reject are telling. Some of the companies are skittish because of Spurlock’s controversial reputation and others simply don’t get what he is trying to accomplish. I found myself rolling my eyes at the folks who just didn’t get it because if I were in their shoes – I would jump at the chance to appear so smart and hip! I’ve never tried many of the products featured in the movie, but I do have a higher opinion of them now. I have no problem with earnestness in general, but it should be balanced with the occasional snark and levity.

Also of interest in the film, interviews with musicians about their decisions whether or not they license their music for commercials. The line between art and advertisement is blurring. I’ve been watching Nip/Tuck on Netflix and definitely was unable to suspend my disbelief when the characters had an argument about who took the last Yoplait.

A school district in Florida that allowed Spurlock to purchase advertisements for the movie inside their buses and sports field. Anyone who played little league knows what it’s like to be sponsored, but schools are taking it a step farther these days. My junior high and high schools had two billboards each outside the locker rooms advertising personal care products to boys and girls, and my university signed a contract with Coca-cola banning the sale of competing products on campus. I’m generally in favor of allowing schools to do what they need to provide the best education possible, but I would feel better about this if media literacy was a larger part of general education requirements. I did have some in my Home Economics class, but one week in the 8th grade is not nearly enough.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold presents is an entertaining and savvy look into the world of advertising and the way corporations are beginning to commandeer every aspect of our media.

Why Santorum Won’t Just Spit It Out

Posted in Editorials on September 26th, 2011
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I think that Rick Santorum’s statements about the repeal of DADT during the Republican debate were not just a revealing look into how conservatives view sex, but also a good example of how conservatives are using dog whistles.

I was having a discussion about this with a friend, and he asked me why the crowd would dare show such disrespect to a soldier, and how Santorum didn’t even thank him for his service. It’s obvious that their intolerance and bigotry have lead them to otherize gay and lesbian people, and so they don’t see the need to consider their feelings. They do not care that a gay or lesbian soldier would need to lie under DADT, the idea that they should consider the unfair predicaments it created does not cross their minds. And yet they know, on some level that this is not acceptable to express – so they get angry when a gay person dare put them on the spot and feel compelled to tap dance around the topic whenever it comes up.

As to why they don’t just come out and say what they are thinking and take the criticism as anyone else with a controversial opinion does, I think they prefer dog whistles for three reasons. It enables them to simultaneously proclaim that “gays are icky” pretend that they aren’t saying it and feel clever for not saying anything that can be directly attached, and finally feel brave and courageous for being so “un-PC.” Until we realize how much smug satisfaction the latter of these two points give conservative, we won’t be able to effectively argue against them.

Whether it is a better tactic to insist on clearer answers to questions or to simply point out their contradictions is open to debate. But we should keep in mind that conservatives are often speaking on multiple levels and we shouldn’t always take what they say literally without careful consideration.

Cinematic Titanic September 24, 2011 Best Buy Theater

Posted in Pictures on September 25th, 2011
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From left to right, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Frank Frank Conniff taking a bow before a cheering crowd at the Best Buy Theater. The Cinematic Titanic Live Show “East Meets Watts” was met with a standing ovation from their adoring fans on Saturday night.

Are Men Finished? Intelligence Squared Asks The Wrong Question

Posted in Editorials on September 23rd, 2011
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Tuesday night I attended Intelligence Squared’s debate “Men Are Finished” based on Hannah Rosin’s article of “The End of Men.” I remember my reaction to the initial article was along the lines of “What about Globalization? Isn’t this just the end of manufacturing? How much of the ‘man-cession’ is due to the wage gap?” These issues were touched on in the debate, but not in the depth I was hoping for.

This was my third Intelligence Squared debate, having attended “California is the First Failed State” and “The Two Party System is Making America Ungovernable” the first of which was even a bit wonky for my tastes and the second was extremely entertaining and intellectually stimulating.

I was prepared for a bit of silliness because debates about feminism can bring out total lunacy in some, but the mood was generally jovial and the debate was engaging and the best I’ve been to yet.

Initially, I was unsure as to why Rosin and Abrahms, the more feminist of the teams were arguing that Men Are Finished and that Hoff Summers and Zinczenko were saying they are not. I expected that the feminist position would be “Patriarchy has taken a blow, but men are just fine” and the converse to be that “Librul feminists have destroyed men.” I tweeted that this question is a little odd, because Feminism is not a zero sum game.

At the opening of the debate, the topic was clarified – Have we reached a tipping point where women can now expect to achieve the same accomplishments that traditionally have only been open to men? Have the changes of feminism been fundamental to society? If the answer is yes, then “Men are finished.” I think this is an oddly inflammatory way of stating a proposition.

Hoff Summers and Zinczenko argued that men and women are approaching equality because of feminism, and so men are not finished, they are simply equal. They did this with a heavy dose of “What about the menz?” David Zinczenko said that while there still is oppression in the world, “Male omnipotence ended in 1962.” Christina Hoff Summers argued that “If men are finished, we all are finished.”

Rosin and Abrahams built their case on all of the accomplishments women have made in the past half century and that traditionally female qualities are now just as valued or even in higher demand than traditionally male ones. Dan Abrahams cited many statistics about an alleged superiority of women – in legislating, in managing hedge fund portfolios even in diffusing potentially violent situations. I do not know if women who are in Congress and Wall Street are genuinely more talented than their male counterparts – I would argue that because of institutional sexism, only the best get to the top and that they must work much harder and achieve more to be taken as seriously.

The pro side was asked directly if feminism was a zero sum game, and they said no, of course not, but felt that the future looks brighter for women than men.

I did not get called on to ask a question, but there were two I was thinking of asking. First and most obviously I would have asked if the panelists thought that masculinity is finished – because I think a better case can be made for that. The other question I kept returning to was “Is Feminism over? Is there anything left for it to accomplish?” I had a feeling that the panelists might have said that it was over but for different reasons – Rosin and Abrahams because women are ascendant and Hoff Summers and Zinczenko because women are equal. However, they all did acknowledge remaining barriers to women’s success especially outside of the United States, so they might not have agreed so neatly.

I wasn’t exactly comfortable voting at the end of the debate that “Men Are Finished” but Rosin and Abrahams were miles ahead of their opponents in framing the debate. The argued that the decline of traditional gender roles has created a space where women can thrive and they are doing so when men – because of the decline of manufacturing and an increasing sigma against sexism are floundering. In world where brawn does not count for as much as it used to and where men are no longer automatically given deference, women have a chance to compete on more equal footing.

Hoff Summers and Zinczenko were not as grating as I expected them to be, but they came close. Their argument was convoluted – they were arguing that the proposition was preposterous, that men are disadvantaged by women’s recent gains, that society is too feminized now and it hurts boys, that men and women are equal AND that feminism has a long way to go. The frequent contradictions were did nothing to bolster their “separate-but-equal” “complementarianism” brand of feminism.

Patriarchy is not over, and even if it was, men, thankfully would not be. This debate, while it had its silly moments, was illuminating and made me feel hopeful about the future of feminism. The less feminist side of the panel frequently and strongly praised the gains women have made in years past and looked forward to a time without sexism. That we can all agree on these points is a great place to start.

Future Intelligence Squared Debate Topics Include “The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion” and “Too Many Kids Go To College.”

Goose Island Brewpub

Posted in Food and Drinks on September 18th, 2011
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During our trip to Chicago Adam and I visited the Goose Island Brewpub, Clybourn location. It’s set back away from the road in a cluster of stores. Once we found it though, we had a terrific time.

The food was excellent. I had a Black Earth burger, which was made from organic beef. The toppings complimented each other well. Since watching Food, Inc., I’ve made an effort to not eat beef that was not grass fed, and it was a pleasure to be able to indulge with my beer. Many of the ingredients the brewpub uses are from local farms which were listed on the menu. Adam got the Pulled Pork and also enjoyed his meal. We split an amazing dessert – chocolate malt cake with ice cream.

The Goose Island beer menu is serious business. The descriptions were detailed, down to the type of glassware used for each. The image above is of the 312 and the Hefeweizen. The 312 was about average. The Hefeweizen, however was notable in that the banana flavors were really distinct. The fruit flavor was delicious. Next I tried the Sofie, with hints of vanilla, white pepper and citrus, was just a perfect bliss of a beer. The overall experience reminded me of champagne, in the way the flavor and carbonation went together. I will definitley be on the lookout for it in the future. With dessert, we split a Pere Jacques, a darker Belgian beer. It complimented the chocolate really well. The beer was excellent, and it made a great meal even better.

Dinner at Goose Island felt like hitting the jackpot. Check it out if you get the chance. The brewpub was not sold to Anheuser-Busch with the Fulton Street Brewery. It’s a special place and I hope it stays that way.

The Solipsism of the Libertarian

Posted in Editorials on September 16th, 2011
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Amanda wrote about her incredulity that we are still having an argument about whether or not government should exist. As my recent long discussion with some internet libertarians* about the legitimacy of government is winding down, I know very well how much this debate can feel like smashing your forehead into a brick wall.

What I got out of the discussion is that even though libertarians admit that the government does lots of good things that improve people’s lives, they insist they have deeply principled moral objections to the idea of a government that has the power to put people in jail.

It’s similar to what can be observed of pro-lifers – they present themselves as just loving babies but what they really want is to control everyone else’s sex life. Libertarians claim they just love freedom but in the end they are just sullenly complaining that a any authority exists above themselves, no matter how pragmatic or democratic it is.

This prioritizing of one’s own smug self assurance of the moral high ground at the expense of every other person in the country is in no way superior to those who accept the legitimacy of the state to exist. It ignores and demeans all of the work put into our country (and others) by elected representatives and civil servants throughout history. It disgraces the memories of the people who died for the right to self-government. It leads to the questioning of a person’s touch with reality.

A person who denies the need for a government, denies the existence of the commons problem, which has been a subject for philosophers since the days of Aristotle. The solutions that they do offer have no rigor that would stand up to a competent policy analysis and no explanation of how they would be achieved aside from fiat.

Because I support the idea of a democratic republic like the United States, I was called “an authoritarian.” I reject this label outright. I am a liberal. There is a large middle ground between Authoritarian tyranny and Seasteading Solipsism. The argument that there is not goes like this: in a Democracy, some people will not vote for various reasons, and others who vote will not have their candidate or proposition win a majority. Therefore, those people will not get there way. Thus, they are oppressed. That every single person cannot get their way at all times, is not oppression. I do not see a difference between the communal solutions they propose and efforts already being made at a local level by small communities. Even if environmentalists (or any other group) is not getting results at the federal level, policy changes are often quicker at state and local levels. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the granting of same sex marriage rights in several states come to mind.

It was proposed that because a majority of Americans say the government operates “without the consent of the governed” that our government is illegitimate. Another commenter pointed out that the question forced people to speculate about what others think of the government, not whether the person being asked has given their consent. I would add that for the average person not interested in political philosophy the difference between whether or not you agree to the actions of the current slate of elected leaders versus whether you felt that the mere existence of the government in general was contrary to your will is probably lost.

Finally, I want to address the comparison of government to rape. Over and over in the thread, it was brought up that a person saying nothing, laying silently cannot be considered to have consented to sex. I gave this a lot of thought because on it’s face it appears to be a valid argument. But the government is not like a rapist. No one is born being raped, they way they are born a citizen of the United States. Rape is a specific action which one individual takes upon another without the victims consent, or despite her protests. The United States Government is an institution created by its citizens which, while oppressive at times, changes in response to their participation. A rapist can be identified and held responsible for his crime, similar to the way individual corrupt members of an administration may be. But the idea of the United States is not put on trial by it’s citizens in any significant way – even though they would have the power to do so by electing people into office who promised to disband it. That we continue to elect people to use the powers proscribed for them is testament to our consent.

*Some of the people defined themselves as Libertarians, others as Anarchists or Anarcho-Capitalists. As they were all arguing that the United States Government be abolished and not replaces with anything else, I am grouping them together.

September 11 is not a holiday

Posted in Editorials on September 12th, 2011
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Earlier this week, my husband and I talked about the possibility of writing 9/11 posts to put up yesterday. But neither of us had much to say. The Onion and Amanda Marcotte pretty much said everything that’s on my mind. My hometown newspaper published a list of people from the community who had died on that day with their pictures, which was heartbreaking, but I felt a loving and respectful tribute.

But throughout the day yesterday, I noticed that things have changed a lot. On September 11, 2002, I was a junior in college in upstate New York. I remember feeling so unbearably sad. I could not believe it had been a whole year. Still a Catholic, I went to afternoon Mass between classes, attended a short vigil where the University Student Government Executive Board read the names of alumni who had been killed and then later that evening, Adam and I went to a ceremony that the entire campus was invited to – we sat on a blanket outdoors, and there was an interfaith statement from a Christian Minister, Jewish Rabbi and Muslim Imam calling for world peace. Then a professor of Creative Writing read a poem she had written for the occasion. I wish I could find a copy of it somewhere but it does not seem to be located on the internet. One of the lines was “I hope that there is never any such thing as a September 11 Linen Sale.” My mother told me I was doing too much, but I felt like I had to pay my respects to the dead. And shortly after that I didn’t feel the need to mourn much longer. I did know one of the victims – a neighbor of mine from when I was a little girl. I also have a close family member who was and continues to be a first responder who has never been the same. But with time, I felt that I had expressed all I needed to express.

It is not my place to tell others how to mourn. Many have lost more than I have. But as Amanda rightly points out, it seems that the less someone was directly impacted, the more of a show they need to make about how they will “Never Forget.” (As if we ever could.) I have always found 9/11 merchandise bizarre and distasteful, but I was never quite so disgusted as I was on Saturday when, walking into my grocery store in New York City, I saw a display of red, white and blue flowers and balloons for people to purchase. Then on Sunday, driving through Queens, I noticed a bar with a banner outside that said “We remember those who gave their lives today. Thank you for spending 9/11 at [Name of Bar]” What’s next? 9/11 drink specials? A simple American flag would have been sufficient.

I believe that people should take some time for quiet reflection if they need to. My hometown on Long Island has a small ceremony every Memorial Day where the names of anyone from the town who was killed as a member of the military is read. Events like these, I have no objection to. People were gruesomely murdered and we should respect their memory. But when people start asking me “What are you doing for 9/11?” as they have this year, I feel a deep unease. September 11 is not a holiday. It is the anniversary of a terrorist attack. The dead should be  honored and remembered, but there is nothing to celebrate.

Senator Gillibrand Responds on Climate Change

Posted in Editorials on September 8th, 2011
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Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sent me a response to this letter.

Thank you for contacting me regarding your concern for the Clean Air Act, and your desire to protect the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other pollutants. I share your view on this issue and will continue to oppose efforts to undermine the Clean Air Act.

One of my top legislative priorities has been, and will continue to be, to ensure that New York’s families have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. I will continue to oppose attempts to overturn the EPA’s endangerment finding, strip the EPA of its lawful authority, or delay the implementation of Clean Air Act regulations set forth by Administrator Jackson.

We must continue to press for cleaner standards for the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. These plants, many of which are inefficient and scheduled to be decommissioned, must not be allowed to continue to operate under the lax standards that they now follow. We need to ensure that all newly constructed coal fired power plants meet emissions standards and that the plants that continue to operate abide by elevated performance standards. These outdated power plants represent the inefficient and carbon-intensive technologies that we must move away from in order to transition to a clean energy economy.

Thank you again for writing to express your concerns, and I hope that you keep in touch with my office regarding future legislation. For more information on this and other important issues, please visit my website at http://www.gillibrand.senate.gov and sign up for my e-newsletter.

I am very impressed with this thorough response. Kudos, Senator!