The Importance of Green Space

The following is a transcript of the remarks I prepared for this morning’s Constitution Cafe event about green space in American life at East Central High School:

I know that many of you- in your Social Studies classes- have learned about “Manifest 12524102_682124118597294_4396878881265881789_nDestiny.” At the founding of the American republic, our ancestors believed that it was America’s destiny to settle the entire continent- from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. At the time, our natural resources seemed inexhaustible.

But over 100 years later- after explorers settled the west and our economy underwent an Industrial Revolution- it was becoming more and more clear that a commitment to conservation would be necessary to protect not only our natural resources, but some of our national treasures.

By the time he took office at the beginning of the 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt was a committed conservationist. He wanted to leave pristine American land for posterity. So during his presidency, he protected more than 200 million acres of public land and dedicated or expanded six national parks.

In 1916- one hundred years ago this August- President Wilson created the National Park Service when he signed the National Park Service Organic Act.

I understand that a group of students was able to see the wonder of Big Bend National Park for the first time just last month. And there are many many other natural treasures I would encourage you to visit: from Shenandoah to Yellowstone to Yosemite to Redwood.

The National Park Service oversees 59 national parks, which will be preserved in their natural beauty forever. And I hope that each of you has the opportunity to enjoy one or more of them in the coming years.

I know that- at times- it seems like politicians can’t get much done. But protecting our green spaces is a priority for officeholders at all levels. And we are actually making a lot of progress.

The Let’s Move Outside campaign over at the U.S. Department of the Interior is committed to ensuring that all of our youth has an opportunity to play, learn, serve, and work outside. I know that there are some representatives from Let’s Move Outside here and hope each of you can get engaged with this worthy effort.

At the state level- just this past year- the Texas Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Bexar County State Rep. Lyle Larson that will increase funding at state parks.

And here locally there is a whole lot going on. Over the past decade, Bexar County, the San Antonio River Authority, and others came together and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the Riverwalk’s reach for miles to the north and to the south. This year, the City of San Antonio is spending $100 million on its Parks and Recreation Department. And last May, San Antonio residents approved $80 million to expand our citywide trail system by dozens of miles.

Why are we doing this? What makes citizens and representatives at each level of government so eager to invest heavily in stewardship and our park infrastructure?

One reason could be to improve our quality of life. Who among us doesn’t feel more at peace emotionally, intellectually and spiritually when we are with nature? I am sure that the students who visited Big Bend know what I am talking about.

Another reason could be to improve our health. In the past four years, I have been fortunate to lose a significant amount of weight. I attribute this weight loss to the investment our community has made in the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails and Riverwalk expansion projects.

Mayor Taylor is committed to the SA2020 goal of San Antonio being one of the healthiest communities in the nation and it now leading “Walk with the Mayor” events as part of her Fit City SA initiative. My boss, Councilman Nirenberg, shares her commitment.

But aside from improving quality of life and public health, there seems to be something deeply ingrained in us as humans. Do we feel a connection to the land around us? Do we feel that we have a responsibility to leave the natural wonders around us pristine for the generations that follow?

And this leads to even more questions. What is the role of stewardship? What can young people do to get involved?

There are no right answers to these questions. And before we get started on our conversations, I want to close with President Roosevelt’s observation that our “great central task” is leaving this land even better for our descendants than it is for us.”

 

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Constitution Day Remarks

Last night I had the privilege of giving the introductory remarks at A Conversation with the Constitution, a Constitution Day event at KLRN Studios sponsored by East Central Independent School District, Gemini Ink, and the San Antonio Public Library Foundation.

The text of the remarks:

Our American Constitution set the stage for an ongoing debate about what our democracy should be. There is no better way to honor that spirit than an examination 10666015_10102627616292848_5113669244400168228_nof the recent groundbreaking Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC, which we will be discussing tonight.

The seeds of this case were sowed over a century ago, when the United States faced many problems that might be familiar to some of you. There was unrest throughout Europe and the Middle East. At home, the gap between the richest and poorest was widening. Enormous corporations were exerting their influence over the American political system to protect their monopoly power.

A group of Progressive Era reformers led by President Theodore Roosevelt were able to minimize the political influence of corporations by prohibiting direct corporate contributions to political candidates. While this law has stood the test of time, you still meet people every day who feel that the deck is stacked in favor of corporations and lobbyists and against folks like you and me. A lot of them will cite the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision in Citizens United v. FEC as evidence of this.

Just as 100 years ago, folks are beginning to lose faith in the basic American bargain: that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will have a shot at success.But there is reason for optimism and a light at the end of the tunnel because the students in this room will solve our challenges just as the Progressive reformers addressed theirs.

The Citizens United case started with, of all things, a movie. Seven years ago, Senator Hillary Clinton was the front-runner over Senator Barack Obama to become the next President of the United States. In fact, many believed her to be “inevitable.” A small nonprofit group with funding from corporations called Citizens United wanted to release what they called a “documentary” film- one that was very critical of Senator Clinton.

Unfortunately for Citizens United, there was a law on the books that prohibited corporations from engaging in “electioneering communications.” This meant that corporations were not allowed to independently spend money to put an ad on TV or in a newspaper that was meant to endorse or oppose a political candidate.

The Supreme Court was asked to answer a simple question: Was the documentary an electioneering communication? As the court considered this, the issues became deeper and cut to the heart of our First Amendment. We’ve all learned that we are guaranteed free speech, but questions remain about what that actually means:

  • Does the First Amendment guarantee free, unlimited speech in all contexts?
  • Do corporations get the same constitutional protection that you and I do?
  • Should the First Amendment guarantee equal access to free speech?

There are those who believe that the law prohibiting corporate electioneering prevented corporations from exercising free speech rights. There are others who believe that too much corporate influence in our political system will corrupt it- and that this is a compelling reason to prevent corporate expenditures.

The Court decided that corporations can independently spend as much money as they want to support or oppose candidates, as long as it is independent. Corporations still can’t give money directly to the candidates themselves.

There is an old saying- “money in politics is like water on pavement- it will find its way into every crack and crevice.” Think about it, it’s true. Tonight, we will be discussing what role the government should have in regulating the flow of money into our elections.

We will not answer these questions tonight. In fact, we will likely walk out that door with more questions than we had when we walked in. That is the brilliance of the American Constitution. Happy Constitution Day.

Habits and New Year’s Day Links

The gym will be unbearably crowded today. That’s good, though. I hope that some folks make a habit out of their resolution tohabit exercise more. I can personally attest to one of the primary themes of Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, which I started rereading yesterday:

Typically, people who exercise start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. It’s not completely clear why. But for many people, exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.

Some links

Luke O’Neil laments the changing media landscape in Esquire:

This conflation of newsiness with news, share-worthiness with importance, has wreaked havoc on the media’s skepticism immune systems. It didn’t happen out of nowhere, it’s a process that’s been midwifed by the willful blurring of the lines between fact and fiction on the part of a key group of influential sites, that have, unfortunately, established a viable financial model amid the wreckage of traditional media.

Theodore Roosevelt was appointed NYC Police Commissioner at 36.
Theodore Roosevelt was appointed NYC Police Commissioner at 36.

Theodore Roosevelt came up through New York City politics. Roosevelt biographer Edward Kahn gives some advice to Mayor Bill de Blasio:

The new mayor must avoid self-righteousness and be willing to work with political opponents. Liberal or progressive groups in New York…have tended to adopt a shrill tone of moral superiority that played poorly to a wide audience. But Roosevelt was willing to compromise and build alliances beyond his base…Even when he targeted trusts as president, Roosevelt didn’t wage war on American big business. “The captains of industry,” he said in a 1901 address to Congress, “have on the whole done a great good to our people.” Praising your opponents before hauling them before the Supreme Court was classic Roosevelt.

Law professor Glenn Reynolds decries the stupidity of zero-tolerance policies in schools in USA Today:

When your kids attend schools like these, they are under the thumb of Kafkaesque bureaucrats who see no problem blotting your kid’s permanent record for reasons of bureaucratic convenience or political correctness.

But then again, according to Allison Benedikt, you are a bad person if you send your children to private schools:

Whatever you think your children need—deserve—from their school experience, assume that the parents at the nearby public housing complex want the same. No, don’t just assume it. Do something about it. Send your kids to school with their kids.

Ken White’s rebuttal to Benedikt’s limousine liberal manifesto:

I want to minimize the ability of people like Alison Benedikt, who tend to encrust government, to tell me how to raise my family or live my life. I believe in free expression, free worship, free conscience, personal responsibility, the rule of law, strictly limited government (and the strict limitation of people with clipboards and people with guns and badges, thank you very much), and that the best society is one in which free people make free choices, not one in which you allow the Alison Benedikts of the world to make the best interests of your children subservient to the best interests of a collective imagined by a smug self-appointed elite.

There seems to be mass hysteria when it comes to the so-called “student loan bubble.” In the Journal of Economic Perspectives, Christopher Avery and Sarah Turner conclude otherwise:

The claim that student borrowing is “too high” across the board can—with the possible exception of for-profit colleges—clearly be rejected. Indeed, media coverage proclaiming a “student loan bubble” or a “crisis in student borrowing” even runs the risk of inhibiting sound and rational use of credit markets to finance worthwhile investments in collegiate attainment.