Michele Bachmann: Palin version 2.0? When it comes to gay rights, yes.

Is it possible that Michele Bachmann's position on gay rights makes Sarah Palin look sensible?

Back in 2008, then vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin referred to homosexuality as a "choice". This was hardly surprising. Palin had already established herself as a Bible-bashing "traditionalist". So for her to spout such ignorance in relation to being gay was about as surprising as hearing Nick Griffin mention that he doesn't care much for Muslims.

 

As much as this talk of the unholy homosexual "lifestyle choice" was expected from Palin, it was still abhorrent. I wasn't aware that I'd "chosen" to be gay -- thank you, Mrs Palin, for letting me know. How much more openly homophobic could a mainstream political figure afford to be? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Enter now Congresswoman Bachmann.

In a recent interview with NBC, which quickly became a YouTube hit, Michele Bachmann was played some audio from a speech she made at a 2004 educational conference. According to the Bachmann of seven years ago, homosexuality is, wait for it... "A part of Satan".

 

Can't we go back to it just being a "choice"? I'm gay, but I'm at least a little bit more comfortable with being told that I chose to be, rather than the soul-torturing lord of the fiery realms of Perdition having forced me into my sexuality with the business end of his fork.

But anyway, what did the 2011, potential president, Bachmann have to say about her 2004 self's little slur? "I'm running for president of the United States, I'm not running to be anyone's judge". But Congresswoman, surely you've already made a judgement, and not a very nice one at that? The interviewer replied with something along those lines, only to be told again by the squirming Bachmann that she "isn't anyone's judge".

Sadly, the interviewer didn't do a Paxman and demand that the Congresswoman answer the question properly, until she was curled in a foetal position on the floor, weeping and praying for oblivion. She pretty much got away with her pathetically evasive answer.

But enough of Bachmann's rhetoric, let's look at the facts. The Congresswoman has made clear that, if she wins the presidency, she will do everything in her power to reinstate the controversial 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy for the US military, which has only just been abolished.

 

Palin, on the other hand, made the news earlier this year when she re-tweeted gay conservative Tammy Bruce calling DADT "hypocritical". OK, so the former Governor of Alaska may not exactly have draped herself in a rainbow flag and joined the nearest gay pride parade, but compared to Michele "gays are from hell" Bachmann, she's starting to look very much like the lesser of two evils.

What's more, Palin supported the inclusion of gay Republican group GoProud in this year's national Conservative Political Action Conference. As it turns out, the group was altogether banned from the conference - so all the more props to Palin for having, albeit unsuccessfully, stood up for them.
This, in light of the fact that Bachmann voted 'NO' on enforcing against anti-gay hate crimes, means that Palin is starting to look more and more, well, reasonable.

In the same interview where Plain referred to homosexuality as a "choice", Bachmann's fellow 2012 presidential hopeful, bless her heart, said that she has a close gay friend. As pitiful and "I'm-not-racist-I-have-a-black-friend"-like as this is, I very much doubt that Michele Bachmann has ever knowingly met a gay person, let alone acquired a GBF.

It's bizarre to think that, with President Palin, gay rights would be quite considerably less doomed than with President Bachmann. Both women are staunchly anti-gay marriage, yet Sarah Palin, right at the back of her mind (such as it is) seems to possess some vague notion that it's OK-(ish) to be gay. Bachmann, on the other hand, is to gay rights what an over-excited, muddy puppy is to a pile of freshly washed white bed sheets.
Although a Palin or Bachmann presidency may look too unlikely to worry about, it's still sad that, in mainstream US politics, minorities are so often forced to look for the lesser of evils.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.