Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Politicians

Candidates go PG-13 on the press

Rick Santorum
It may become part of the decathlon known as the Republican road to the White House -– to get down and potty-mouth about the news media.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum's base is probably cheering him to the rafters after he took a vulgar swipe at a New York Times reporter's question Sunday following a Santorum speech in Wisconsin to the effect that Mitt Romney's Massachusetts healthcare law made him "the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama."

After Santorum's remarks, New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny zeroed in on that remark, asking Santorum to elaborate:  "You said that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country. Is that true?"

Santorum asked, "What speech did you listen to?"

Zeleny asked again, and Santorum, jabbing a finger toward Zeleny, said "stop lying" and "quit distorting my words. If I see it, it's bullshit. C'mon, man, what are you doing?"

The next day, and evidently in a more cheerful frame of mind, he used the incident as a kind of campaign medal, telling the Fox News Channel, "If you haven't cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of a campaign, you're not really a real Republican, is the way I look at it." And he told CNN that he was making the case that Romney could not criticize President Obama’s healthcare law because Romney "wrote the blueprint" for it. "And to then say, you know, spin this as Rick Santorum said he's the worst Republican in the country." 

Candidates can never go wrong slamming the news media. Santorum may have been referring to an incident during the 2000 presidential campaign when then-Gov. George W. Bush, talking to his running mate Dick Cheney at a Labor Day event, was picked up by an open mike when he indicated the press corps and said, "There’s Adam Clymer, major-league asshole from the New York Times." Cheney evidently agreed and said, "Oh yeah, big-time."

Bush said he didn't realize the mikes would pick up his voice, but he did not apologize.

(Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry made a vulgar comment about a Secret Service agent during the presidential campaign, but he made it on the record to a reporter, after the agent on Kerry's detail accidentally knocked him down on a ski slope in Idaho. "I don't fall down. The son of a bitch" -- the agent -- ran into him, Kerry told the reporter. Different circumstance from Obama's gaffe to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, caught on an open mike in South Korea on Monday: "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.")

Maybe one of the most renowned press attacks was President Nixon's, heard on White House tapes siccing the IRS on L.A. Times Publisher Otis Chandler.

On Oct. 7, 1971, more than a year before election day, Nixon ordered the attorney general to check on whether Chandler's gardener was a "wetback," and mentioned that he had ordered an Internal Revenue Service investigation of the Chandler family. "I want this whole goddam bunch gone after.... Every one of those sons of bitches," Nixon said.

He also told the attorney general, John Mitchell, to have the Immigration and Naturalization Service raid The Times looking for illegal immigrants.

A day earlier, The Times had reported on 36 illegal immigrants taken into custody during an immigration raid at a tortilla factory owned by Romana Banuelos, whom the White House had just nominated for the position of U.S. Treasurer (she would become the highest-placed Mexican American in government).

The president told Mitchell that "as a Californian, I know. Everybody in California hires them. There's no law against it, because they are there, because -- for menial things and so forth. Otis Chandler -- I want him checked with regard to his gardener. I understand he's a wetback. Is that clear?"

The Times had decades earlier steadfastly supported and encouraged Nixon; in the midst of Nixon's 1952 ''slush fund'' scandal, The Times' headline had been "Sen. Nixon's Defiance of Smear Hailed."

And George McGovern, the Democrat running against Nixon in 1972, didn't say it to a reporter but to a heckler. McGovern leaned forward and whispered in the man's ear, "Listen, you son of a bitch, why don't you kiss my ass?"

Like Santorum, McGovern too made some political capital out of the incident.

By the next day, McGovern supporters were showing up at rallies with buttons reading "KMA." 


Santorum's faulty premise on healthcare reform

Dick Cheney's new heart awakens Times' letter writers

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: Rick Santorum speaks on March 25 at South Hills Country Club during a public rally near Racine, Wis. Credit: Gregory Shaver/Journal Times, AP Photo

Gov. Brown's tax-the-rich pitch looks like a winner

California Gov. Jerry Brown
Californians don’t actually hate taxes. They just don’t want to pay taxes.


No, that’s not a contradiction. As my colleague Anthony York reported in Sunday’s Times:

California voters strongly support Gov. Jerry Brown's new proposal to increase the sales tax and raise levies on upper incomes to help raise money for schools and balance the state's budget, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they supported the governor's measure, which he hopes to place on the November ballot. It would hike the state sales tax by a quarter-cent per dollar for the next four years and create a graduated surcharge on incomes of more than $250,000 that would last seven years. A third of respondents opposed the measure.

Brown's new plan, rewritten recently amid pressure from liberal activist and union groups that had a competing proposal, relies on a larger share of revenue from upper-income earners than his original measure. Correspondingly, it leans less upon sales taxes, which are paid by all California consumers. The poll shows that taxing high earners is overwhelmingly popular.

You see: Californians aren’t opposed to tax increases — as long as it is someone else being taxed.

You want to raise my taxes?  Over my dead body!

You want to raise taxes on the rich?  As Oliver Twist might say, “More please.”

Or, as The Times story said:

"These poll results illustrate that Brown was very smart to put together this initiative the way he did," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

Well, yes. Go ahead with all those “Gov. Moonbeam” jokes if you want, but Brown is no dummy. The state needs money. Republicans in the Legislature act as if raising taxes violates one of the Ten Commandments. Californians believe, wrongly, that they are taxed to death (or rightly, that the Legislature needs to get a grip on how it spends tax dollars).

The solution?  Pick on the rich. Because here’s what that strategy buys you:

Shirley Karns, 74, an independent voter from the Northern California town of Lakeport who backs the governor's new plan, said the wealthy should pay more.

"Those who have an unbelievable amount more than those who do not should contribute more," she said. "And on the sales tax, the more you buy, the more you pay. It's pretty tough on low-income people who have to pay an extra nickel here and there, but we've got to get the money from somewhere."

Shirley, we can safely assume, does not qualify for membership in the California millionaires club. (Nor, apparently, does she buy a lot of big-ticket items.)

Of course, these are just poll results. Poll results don’t matter as much as what happens when people step into that private little place called a voting booth. (See: L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, governor’s race, 1982.)

But with the state’s education system crumbling, its infrastructure eroding and its budget bathed in red ink, a tax increase certainly appears to be at least one part of the solution.

And here’s betting that most Californians will agree in November — especially if they’re not the ones who’ll feel the pain.


Dick Cheney's new heart awakens Times' letter writers

Justices take on healthcare reform law's 1st issue: What's a tax?

Mankind's great mysteries -- baldness and Amelia Earhart -- solved? 

— Paul Whitefield

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference at a Boeing plant in Long Beach. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Obama's shining 'If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon' moment

President Obama at the White House on Friday
"If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon."

With those 10 simple words, President Obama said so much on Friday.

Obama was at the White House -- introducing his nominee to take over as World Bank president -- when he was asked by a reporter to address the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

He also offered this somewhat stock comment:

"I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen. And that means that we examine the laws and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident."

Any president could have -- probably would have -- said that.

But it doesn't have the power of the "if I had a son" remark, or this:  

"Obviously this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids."

Never before has the killing of a young black man been quite so personal to one of our presidents. 

Oh, we've had presidents who did great things for civil rights -- Lyndon B. Johnson, for example.

But this is different. And it's one of the reasons that Obama's presidency is so historic, and so important to the United States.

Trayvon Martin is far from the first young black man to be killed in murky circumstances. The Times has reported on the troubling history of black residents and police in Sanford, Fla., where the shooting took place.  And The Times' editorial board weighed in on Florida's so-called stand your ground law, which may have played a role in this and a number of other shootings labeled self-defense in that state.

No, what makes this death notable is that this time our president -- and his children -- look like the victim. Heck, in other circumstances -- easily imagined circumstances, in fact -- one of them could have been the victim.

Obama did not judge anyone with his comments, did not label anyone. But when this president says, "I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out how does something like this happen" --– well, yes, any president could have said that, but there's a little something extra there.

The United States can be proud of the advances it has made in civil rights. Racism is nowhere near as overt and pervasive today.

But, of course, it's still there.

Only now, when our president speaks out about it, it's, well, personal.

And that's why it doesn't really matter if Obama is just a one-term president, or if he achieves little in terms of legislative triumphs.

Because of him, we as a nation will never be quite the same. In electing Obama, we have looked racism in the eye and said "no."  

And that's a great thing.  


'Obamacare' and the rationing myth

The Romney campaign's sketchy election strategy

Americans Elect -- bring democracy into the digital world

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: President Obama was asked about the killing of Trayvon Martin on Friday during a White House ceremony. Credit:  Haraz N. Ghanbari / Associated Press

Before the iPad, there was the Etch-A-Sketch, and I was an ace

Besides fortifying his boss' flip-flop credentials, Mitt Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom took me and lots of baby boomers on a nostalgia trip Wednesday when he likened the Romney campaign to an Etch-A-Sketch. As my colleague Morgan Little describes in more detail, Fehrnstrom suggested Romney could tack to the center in a general election because the campaign was like the red-bordered screen with the two white knobs.  "You can kind of shake it up," he said, "and we start all over again."

As a child, I developed two un-marketable skills: writing backward (also known as mirror writing) and drawing better on the Etch-A-Sketch than I could with pen and paper, which was pretty good. Somewhere in the clutter in my apartment is an Etch-A-Sketch a relative presented me a few years ago to see if I still had it. I did a not-bad self-portrait and signed my name. (I'm not in the league of Sketchers who can reproduce artistic masterworks.)

Etch-A-Sketches still exist. (They even have their own website.) But a lot of kids, if offered the choice, would probably choose an iPad. The Etch-A-Sketch, after all, has exactly one app.

It's too bad. The Etch-A-Sketch tested and taught manual dexterity and forced the Sketcher to mine his own imagination for images.

I also liked what will now be called the Romney feature: Destroying your work and starting over is a good habit for a writer, if not a politician.


Romney's car problem

Regulation or rule of law, Gov. Romney?

Americans Elect -- bring democracy into the digital world

--Michael McGough

Photo: Matt Ortega's Etch-A-Sketch Romney site is one of the many responses to a Mitt Romney aide's comments comparing the candidate's transition into the general election to the children's toy. Credit: Matt Ortega / www.etchasketchromney.com

Regulation or rule of law, Gov. Romney?

Mitt Romney
There's a line that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney must know well, the one about the vast difference between campaigning and governing.

He's in ''campaigning'' mode now. In a speech at the University of Chicago on Monday, the Republican presidential candidate was seeking his inner Ronald Reagan when he cited supply-side Nobel economist and University of Chicago legend Milton Friedman:

"Milton Friedman knew what President Obama still has not learned, even after three years and hundreds of billions of dollars in spending: The government does not create prosperity; free markets and free people do."

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

Well, after a fashion.

Regulations, he said, ''erode our freedoms.'' Yet much of the "freedom" he talks about for business and markets can't exist, much less thrive, without government.

Businesses don't want to do business in countries that don't have the government structures in place to protect them -- look at Iraq, for starters.

Businesses want to do business in nations that have law enforcement that isn't corrupt and court systems that can guarantee that contracts are enforced by laws, not by guns.

Businesses want a culture and a legal climate that operate by the rule of law, not by bribery or nepotism. They want a government that enacts and enforces regulations and laws that guarantee and protect intellectual property, patents and copyrights laws, and thus make it easier for enterprise and creativity to flourish.

Businesses also enjoy the advantages of publicly planned and publicly built and publicly maintained railroads and harbors and roads and highways that make the movement of goods and services and workers and customers possible. I don't see Wal-Mart constructing its own ports and railroads.

Businesses depend on deep-pocket, government-created, reliable infrastructure networks and systems like sewers and electricity and water. It's hard to do business in a place where power and water sources are haphazard, available for just a few hours a day. Businesses need to know that when a client or employee or they themselves flip on a light switch or flush a toilet or turn on a tap, the light comes on, the sewage is processed and cleaned and not dumped raw into the water supply, and the water that comes out of the faucet is potable and free of diseases that can weaken the health and therefore the buying power of consumers and workers alike.

Schools -- good schools -- can provide a competent workforce to businesses and prosperous customers to buy their products.

Business and government work hand in glove; good government is one big reason that business can work. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney crafted a climate protection plan, and he praised a regional greenhouse gas initiative as "good business."

Government can be the safety net for business at its best -- and its worst, protecting business from its own excesses and pitfalls.

Regulations can help to keep the public's -- meaning the customers' -- faith in business. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt created the precursor to the FDA, which gives consumers the confidence to buy the products, to eat the food and to  take the pills that businesses produce.

"Caveat emptor" only goes so far. If you choose an airline flying planes whose standards of construction and material quality are not quality-inspected, and the plane crashes, then you, the passenger, never get the chance to make the consumer's choice to fly another airline.

When tainted food gets into the food chain and people die (it's happened, from fast food beef burgers to spinach) people stop buying it until they hear reassurances -- not from the food producer but from federal inspectors -- that the problem has been found and addressed, and the food is safe to eat.

And business and consumers are the beneficiaries. People make choices about what restaurants are safer to eat in, what cars are safer to buy, even what amusement park rides are safe enough to put their kids on, in part because someone who doesn't work for the company that made those products -- a government inspector or regulator -- set some quality and safety standards, and enforced them.

There are similarities here to what I wrote when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger inveighed against taxation "in principle" -- and presumably the things taxes pay for. I suggested that if he really wanted to do without taxes, he, like all of us, would be faced with paving his own roads, pouring his own sidewalks and digging his own sewers. In which case, I said, I'd be over to borrow a shovel.


Romney's car problem

McManus: Will Romney be the GOP's Dukakis?

Americans Elect -- bring democracy into the digital world

--Patt Morrison

Photo: Mitt Romney speaks on economic freedom and the threat the U.S. deficit has for future generations at the University of Chicago on March 19. Credit: Tannen Maury / EPA

Gingrich and Karzai, a couple of never-say-die guys

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta with Afghan President Hamid Karzai

What is it about politics that makes some people lose all perspective?

Today's two examples come from near -- and far.

In the United States, we have Exhibit A, also known as Newt Gingrich.  

Exhibit B comes from Afghanistan: one Hamid Karzai.

Gingrich wants to be president, but he has no shot.  Karzai is a president, but if he's not careful, he will be shot.

Of course, one doesn't enter politics without a healthy -- some might say overinflated -- ego. The best politicians are, by nature, risk-takers. Where others hold back, they charge ahead.  It takes them to great heights sometimes but also brings great falls: see Clinton, Bill, and Nixon, Richard. 

(Thursday brought another reminder:  Former Illinois Gov. Rod Rod Blagojevich left Chicago for Colorado, where he'll be serving a sentence on corruption charges in federal prison.)

And ego certainly applies to Gingrich. Times staff writer Paul West on Thursday summed up Gingrich's motivation for staying in the GOP presidential race:

At 68, the former House speaker is making what figures to be his last fling at elective politics.  But it is his sense of himself as an epic figure that may well be what's keeping him going.

Gingrich hopes for a brokered convention, something that hasn't happened for decades but that appeals to the historian in him.  It may be a figment of his imagination, but it's a harmless fantasy -- unless you're Mitt Romney and hoping to wrap up the nomination.

Karzai, on the other hand, is playing a much more dangerous game.  On Thursday, Times staff writer Laura King reported from Kabul that the Afghan president "had demanded a quicker end to the Western combat mission and a pullback of NATO troops from rural areas."

Karzai's office said he told visiting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that by year's end, U.S. troops should be garrisoned only in large bases, abandoning outposts in rural districts like Panjwayi, the scene of Sunday's shooting deaths. 

"Afghanistan's security forces have the capability to provide security in the villages of Afghanistan," said a statement from Karzai's office.

Which makes one wonder what country Karzai thinks he's living in. Especially because the Taliban announced Thursday that not only was it suspending talks with the United States on the war but that it would be "pointless" to engage in any talks with the Karzai government.

Karzai's response?

The president also called for a significant acceleration of the handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, saying NATO should wind down its combat role in 2013 instead of 2014. "Our demand is to speed up this process, and authority should be given to Afghans," the presidential palace's statement said.

Perhaps Karzai could take a lesson from Gingrich and read up on his history.  Here's a name he might want to check out: Najibullah.

After the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan, Najibullah was president.  Forced from office during the ensuing civil war, Najibullah took refuge in the U.N. compound in Kabul for four years.  But in 1996, the Taliban seized power. 

A Times' story from Friday Sept. 27, 1996, records his fate:

The bloated, beaten body of the man who also once headed the hated Afghan Communists' security service was strung up from a lamppost outside the presidential palace, reports said.

The Times' Doyle McManus wrote Thursday that given recent events, President Obama needs a Plan C for getting out of Afghanistan.  So Karzai may get his wish for a sped-up withdrawal.  

But if that's the case, Karzai's name just might end up listed next to Najibullah's in the history books of the 21st century.


Murohama enshrined [The reply]

Save the American West [Blowback]

Big government won't build you a snore room, that's for sure

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, meets with Afghan President Hamid Karza in Kabul on Thursday. Credit: Mohammad Ismail / EPA


Al Gore, Sean Parker call for 'Occupy Democracy' movement online

Al Gore

Nothing gets my cynic juices flowing quite like hearing people call on the Internet to fix the political system.

Former Vice President Al Gore and online entrepreneur Sean Parker gave an overflow crowd at the South by Southwest trade show a pep talk Monday on the need to reform the political system, which Gore said is dominated by corporate interests. 

"Our democracy has been hacked. It no longer works, in the main, to serve the best interests of the people of this country," Gore said. "I would like to see a new movement called Occupy Democracy, where people who have Internet savvy remedy this situation."

If we expand Gore's group of deep-pocketed dominators to include unions (and in California, public employee unions in particular), then I think we can all agree that he has a point. The issue is whether Gore and Parker have a realistic solution. And their comments suggest that they don't recognize the role the Internet is already playing in the electoral polarization of the country, which is a major factor in the political system's inability to solve problems.

Here's how Gore described the current situation and its historical antecedents:

In the early days of the republic, the printing press was the most powerful means of communication, and just about anyone could use it to enter the public debate. Now, the essential fact of political life, at least on the national stage, is that costly television advertising plays a crucial role in winning elections. "Television creates a very different public square," he said. "It has gatekeepers. You can't get in to where you can address the mass audience."

As a consequence, politicians spend half their time in office groveling for money. Deep-pocketed corporations end up controlling the system because incumbents don't dare cross them for fear of losing their financial lifeline.

Again, that view conveniently overlooks the influence of powerful noncorporate interests -- for example, Planned Parenthood and the Service Employees International Union when Democrats are in power, and the National Rifle Assn. and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform when Republicans are in control. 

Continue reading »

What Sherwood Rowland taught us about science, and the Earth

Sherwood RowlandGood thing Sherry Rowland was working 40 years ago instead of now.

Otherwise, he might not have won the Nobel Prize, and we might all be a lot closer to dead -– as individuals, as a species and as a planet.

If UC Irvine chemist F. Sherwood Rowland, who passed away Saturday, had been starting his work now on how chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, damage the Earth's protective ozone layer, it might be getting the same kind of manipulated skepticism and politically cynical slamming that global climate change now receives.

As it was, Rowland had to battle and scrap for his carefully researched warnings to be believed, but within 15 years of publishing his findings, the nations of the world -- the United States among them -- agreed to phase out CFCs. Believe it or not, manufacturers had stopped using them even before the Montreal Protocol was signed.

The Nobel committee, in honoring Rowland and co-discoverer Mario Molina, said their work may have "saved the world from catastrophe." These guys should have been wearing Spandex superhero suits, for what their work accomplished.

In 1990, with the inspiration of C. Boyden Gray, who worked in both the Reagan and the George H.W. Bush administrations, a cap-and-trade law was up and running to control acid rain. But when it comes to global climate change, the current GOP generation mocks this market-driven solution as "cap and tax." 

I interviewed Rowland a couple of times, most recently half a dozen years ago, when the neo-paleo-anti-science crowd was in full-court press as naysayers on human-generated global climate change. Legitimate scientists with nuanced questions about data and formulas being used were lumped in with random cranks as "proof" that the body of scientific evidence is wrong and that science is no more than just another untrustworthy special-interest group.

Rowland told me he did get his share of attacks in the 1970s. You might say that. Radio Free Europe reported that a trade publication called Aerosol Age suggested he was a Soviet KGB agent, and DuPont took out full-page newspaper ads to question his chops.

Almost 20 years after his Nobel Prize, Rowland told me that "the planet is in for a rough century as we try to put together substitutes for the energy that we need in order to prevent very substantial climate change coming from rapidly rising temperatures."

Yet like global climate change, many of the obstacles to fixing our problems also look to be man-made. As I wrote a few years ago, the public doesn't like it when scientists engage in discussions that politicians recast as political, not scientific, and it doesn't like it when scientists detach themselves from "real world" concerns. Rowland remembered a sci-fi story from the 1950s, about a comet imperiling the Earth. Inside a lab, scientists were clamoring for a peek into a spectroscope; outside the lab window, people were getting fried by radiation right in their wingtips.

Rowland's work on CFCs and ozone was a model, just like the world's political response to it.

And in spite of the dire warnings that banning CFCs would tank the economy, guess what: American know-how and technology came up with an alternative, business embraced it and, whatever the dire warnings, our armpits don't stink, we still have spray paint and we've maybe bought the ozone layer up there a few more centuries.

If we down here don't mess our second second chance.


Obama's pump debacle

Refighting California's water war

To catch a Kony, cash won't cut it

Sherwood Rowland, the scientist who saved the world

--Patt Morrison

Photo: Sherwood Rowland is seen in 1989. He died at his Corona Del Mar home on March 10. He was 84. Credit: University of California Irvine / AP Photo

Voters aren't the only ones who need photo IDs

Eric Holder
Not surprisingly, the Obama Justice Department is opposing a Texas law requiring voters to show photo ID, claiming that it disproportionately disenfranchises  Latino voters. It's the latest example of a familiar trope: Democrats oppose voter ID, calling it unnecessary and discriminatory; Republicans support it, arguing that impersonation at the polls is a real, if hard to quantify, problem.  Not so coincidentally, racial minorities tend to favor Democratic candidates.

Neither of the warring narratives is totally satisfactory. It's plausible that members of economically disadvantaged minority groups are less likely to have, say, a driver's license. But I felt my eyebrows elevating at the Justice Department's estimate that between 175,000 and 304,000 registered Latino Texas voters lack driver's licenses or other state-issued IDs. Really? On the other hand, Republicans' fears of fraud at polling places seem forced. They have a point, though, when they say that it's anomalous that you need a photo ID to board a plane but not to vote.

It's crazy that 175,000 (or 304,000?) Texans of whatever background don't have  government-issued photo IDs and might have difficulty buying a plane or train ticket.  They need to get IDs, and the government should help -- regardless of what happens on Election Day. Like it or not, in 21st century America your face is your fortune.


L.A., brace for balloting

Listen to Villaraigosa, Mr. President

Romney's Southern strategy: Admit he's a stranger

-- Michael McGough

Photo: U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder has been an outspoken critic of the Texas law. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / AP Photo

Sherwood Rowland, the scientist who saved the world

F. Sherwood Rowland
It's not often you can say that someone saved the world -- and mean it literally.

But that's the case with F. Sherwood Rowland. The UC Irvine chemist, who died Saturday at 85, was one of three scientists who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry, The Times reported, for their work "explaining how chlorofluorocarbons, ubiquitous substances once used in an array of products from spray deodorant to industrial solvents, could destroy the ozone layer, the protective atmospheric blanket that screens out many of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays."

In hindsight, it seems straightforward: Bad stuff was eating away a vital part of Earth's environment. So get rid of it.

But it wasn't so simple in 1974, when Rowland and fellow scientist Mario Molina published their concerns in the journal Nature.

As The Times says, the findings "were met with scorn by the chemical industry and even by many scholars. For a decade, Rowland and Molina persevered to prove their hypothesis, publishing numerous scientific papers and speaking to sometimes hostile audiences at scientific conferences. It took almost 15 years for the international scientific community and chemical industry to accept the pair's findings."

Hmmm, starting to remind you of a little something called "climate change," is it?

But here's something of a vital difference between the ozone debate and the current climate change one:

Manufacturers began to phase out chlorofluorocarbons in the late 1980s, prompted by the discovery of an ozone "hole" over Antarctica that formed each winter in response to weather conditions and the falling worldwide levels of ozone. The Montreal Protocol, a landmark international agreement to phase out CFC products, was signed by the United States and other nations in 1987.

The protocol was proof that nations could unite to address common environmental threats, Rowland contended. "People have worked together to solve the problem," he said.

Rowland was right then.  Nations did unite to address a common environmental threat.

But have we taken that lesson to heart?  Will we accept the scientific consensus on climate change and work together to save the planet?   

Or will it continue to be a political football, at least in the United States, where too many politicians are opting for short-term partisan gains at the risk of the planet's future?

Donald Blake, a colleague of Rowland’s at UC Irvine, told The Times that Rowland considered the phase-out of CFCs his greatest achievement.

It would be a shame if Rowland won the ozone battle -- but the rest of us lost the war for Earth’s survival.


Is that a fracking earthquake?

Japan's 1,000-year-old warning

'Obamacare' plaintiff Brown's bankruptcy: Instant karma? 

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: F. Sherwood Rowland, shown in his UC Irvine lab.  Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times



In Case You Missed It...



Recent Posts
Reading Supreme Court tea leaves on 'Obamacare' |  March 27, 2012, 5:47 pm »
Candidates go PG-13 on the press |  March 27, 2012, 5:45 am »
Santorum's faulty premise on healthcare reform |  March 26, 2012, 5:20 pm »


About the Bloggers
The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

In Case You Missed It...