Updating a few stories we’ve been following: Federal government shutdown temporarily averted again with stopgap measure that avoids anti-science provisions; Virginia AG Cuccinelli’s Michael Mann inquisition goes to the state Supreme Court; Climate activist Tim DeChristopher interview following his guilty verdict poses the question of the limits of citizen obedience.

Federal government shutdown temporarily averted again

The Senate voting 87-13 on March 17 to approve a 3-week stopgap continuing appropriation bill to keep the government funded until April 8. The measure does not include the egregious appropriations policy riders that had been adopted by the House on February 19 in an earlier version of the continuing resolution. Thus, the House amendments to de-fund the IPCC, block NOAA from formally establishing its Climate Service, and slash science funding at several agencies remain unenacted, and unresolved.

The measure cuts spending by an additional $6 billion during the fiscal year that ends September 30. Earlier this week the House approved it with bipartisan support, but over the opposition of a significant and growing number of right-wing Republicans who seek to block further government funding unless draconian budget cuts are enacted for the remainder of fiscal 2011. Stay tuned as negotiations continue.

Earlier posts:

A federal “shutdown” isn’t really a shutdown – but it does harm science and society

House research budget cuts “would effectively end America’s legendary status as the leader of the worldwide scientific community” – Ray Orbach, Bush’s Energy Dept. Science Under Secretary

House votes 244-179 to kill U.S. funding of IPCC

Virginia AG Cuccinelli inquisition goes to state Supreme Court

Univ. of Virginia

The Virginia state Supreme Court has decided to hear the case in Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s ongoing bogus “fraud” inquisition seeking to obtain documents of climate scientist Michael Mann from his earlier years on the faculty at the University of Virginia. The New York Times reported on this development:

… In April 2010, Mr. Cuccinelli, a Republican and an outspoken skeptic of climate change caused by human activity, demanded that the university provide a vast trove of academic documents, including computer programs, data and thousands of e-mails to and from the scientist, Michael Mann, now a professor at Penn State.

The attorney general argued that the documents contained potential evidence that Dr. Mann had defrauded the state of hundreds of thousands of dollars by deliberately providing false information in his application for research grants. Dr. Mann denies the charges, and the university has fiercely contested the investigation, calling it an attack on academic freedom.

Last August, a state judge ruled that Mr. Cuccinelli had failed to provide even minimal evidence of fraud in his subpoena and that the attorney general lacked the authority to demand documents tied to federal grants, which supplied the bulk of Dr. Mann’s research funds.

Mr. Cuccinelli appealed the decision, and last week, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. …

But even if the e-mails and data are handed over, the attorney general will face another major hurdle: finding proof of a chargeable offense within them….

[I]in an interview several months ago, he conceded that his chances of finding evidence of financial fraud in Dr. Mann’s e-mails were indeed low. …

Earlier posts:

Cuccinelli’s radical right-wing star keeps rising at Virginia tea party convention

Michael Mann in Washington Post op-ed: “Get the anti-science bent out of politics”

Cuccinelli denialist witch-hunt is about political ambition, not climate science (Part 1 of 2)

Cuccinelli denialist witch-hunt is about political ambition, not climate science (Part 2 of 2)

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher on his guilty verdict, and the role of citizens vis-à-vis the power elite

Tim DeChristopher (photo by Chris Lyon)

Bill Mckibben writes (“As climate crime continues, who are we sending to jail? Tim DeChristopher?”):

Let’s consider for a moment the targets the federal government chooses to make an example of. So far, no bankers have been charged, despite the unmitigated greed that nearly brought the world economy down. No coal or oil execs have been charged, despite fouling the entire atmosphere and putting civilization as we know it at risk. 

But engage in creative protest that mildly disrupts the efficient sell-off of our landscape to oil and gas barons? As Tim DeChristopher found out on Thursday, that’ll get you not just a week in court, but potentially a long stretch in the pen.

Umbra Fisk did an interesting interview with Tim after his trial (posted in Grist and the UK Guardian). In her intro she says:

For those of you new to this story, Tim DeChristopher is one of my all-time heroes because of the creative, articulate actions he has taken to fight the political and economic forces behind climate change. He puts himself on the line for his beliefs.

He went to trial last week in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a unique direct action where he acted as a bidder at an oil and gas auction held at the end of the Bush administration.

Though the auction was later found to be fraudulent, DeChristopher was still held accountable. He was found guilty by a jury last week. He awaits sentencing by a judge, which will take place on June 23. DeChristopher now faces up to 10 years in prison.

Two excerpts from a longer interview:

Q. What gave you that impression that there would be a guilty verdict, or at what point did you feel that that could be the case?

A. I pretty much felt that way all along, and especially as things were slowly developing in the legal case. The judge ruling that I wasn’t allowed to use the necessity defense, and things like that. Not giving us access to information about what role the oil industry played in the indictment. With those rulings, it made it more and more likely that I was going to get convicted.

During the course of the trial, if you had seen the way that the judge was talking to the jury, and really drilling into their heads that they were not allowed to use their own conscience, telling them that directly and they had to listen to everything that he said, they had to follow his instructions, and really bearing down on them with that kind of institutional authority, directing them that they were just there to play this role and that they weren’t to use their own conscience, that certainly made me feel that I was probably going to get convicted.

Then, by the end of the arguments, when we weren’t even able to tell the jury that the auction had been overturned anyway, because the government wasn’t following their own rules, we weren’t able to tell the jury that I had successfully raised the money for the initial payment, and that we had offered that to the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] and they refused to accept it.

And, of course, the jury didn’t know anything about the prospective sentence that they were convicting me for. The fact that the jury went into deliberations not knowing any of that, to me, made the outcome pretty expected.

Q. [B]ecause you put a lot of stock in the idea of the jury, and spoke about that before your trial, just having an engaged jury — I’m curious how you feel about the system. Are you disappointed in the system? Does it work?

A. … Most of us know that we’ve probably passed the point where we can avoid the collapse of our industrial civilization, and when we look at prior examples of collapse, the greatest atrocities weren’t because of direct impacts, it was because of what those in power did to try to maintain that power as it started to fall away, and what they did in the name of restoring order and security. …

I think as a climate movement, most of us should be aware that we can pretty well count on the fact that there will be some scapegoat chosen over the course of this century. Some laws that are passed that sacrifice one or several groups of people in the name of restoring order and security. The big question for us at this point is how we as citizens are going to respond to that, what we as citizens are going to be willing to do to our fellow human beings in the name of just following the law. When the government tells us that it’s not our job to question whether that law is right or wrong, as the judge did in this case to the jury, I think we need to be prepared for that moment, and make a more conscious decision of what we want our role to really be. …

Earlier posts from 2009:

Update on defense strategy in the Tim DeChristopher monkey-wrench BLM oil lease case

Jim Hansen rallies for monkey-wrench activist Tim DeChristopher at his arraignment today in Utah

Should Utah student activist Tim DeChristopher go to jail for nonviolent monkey-wrench tactics?