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A head in the sand is never a good thing

Ostriches get a bum rap. They don’t, in fact, bury their heads in the sand because they think that hides them from predators.

Think about it: A flightless bird weighing about 250 pounds and standing six feet tall at the shoulders wouldn’t have survived for the past 20 million years if it was that dumb. No, ostriches poke into the sand briefly to rotate the eggs they’ve left there to incubate, and to chow down on the tiny pebbles that help them digest food.

So let us be done with this libel of an honorable bird, and instead praise the fact that ostriches avoid being lunch for leopards and crocodiles and such not by self-delusion, but by using their evolved skills – namely by peering about from their admirable height, running really fast and kicking fiercely.

Humans, on the other hand, stick their heads in the sand.

Not literally, you know, but in the sense of that unfortunate ostrich analogy. We routinely bypass our evolved skill of reasoning by refusing to accept empirically verifiable reality. As a species, our capacity for denialism is unsurpassed.

Take, for example, climate change. Absent big lifestyle changes – including getting rid of fossil fuels and reducing our wasteful consumption habits – the earth faces a future of political upheaval and relentless human suffering caused by climate disruptions. Science shows us that’s true.

So I don’t get the right-wing backlash aimed at businesses that are responsibly taking environmental issues into account — that are considering environmental, social and governance issues (so-called ESG) in determining where to invest.

I thought capitalists would consider it smart to invest in companies that have a clear eye on the future. But this denialism is being fueled by MAGA-wing Republican politicians, who say companies that pay attention to ESG issues are “woke,” and that’s bad.

But that ignores two facts: First, companies are responsibly preparing for their future – and, thus, they’re protecting investors – when they are open about the challenges they face in protecting natural resources and advancing human rights, diversity and compliance with the law. Second, companies with high ESG performance have in recent years generally yielded higher returns for their investors than what’s delivered by the overall market.

But now we find out that the anti-ESG campaign by those right-wing pols is costing taxpayers many millions of dollars. That’s because some states led by Republican governors have recently blacklisted the biggest Wall Street banks from underwriting their public debt – which is how you finance paving highways and building schools and such – because those big, successful banks are consciously investing more heavily in firms that pay attention to better environmental, social and governance practices – to ESG. And the smaller firms that ignore ESG criteria, and which are thus favored by the hard right, typically don’t get taxpayers the lowest possible borrowing costs.

That means the anti-ESG stance of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and their ilk, is actually imposing a hidden tax in their states. DeSantis and Abbott: those guys are sand-eaters.

Researchers last year calculated that in Texas alone, the state’s municipal borrowers are paying as much as $532 million more because of the Republicans’ campaign against smart investing. The story is the same in Florida, where DeSantis’s “anti-woke” campaign included an attack on Disney after the company stood up for the rights of its LGBTQ workers.

And get this: Texas has barred Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase from handling state investments because of the firms’ support for gun safety regulations and alternative energy. Florida considers training in diversity, equity and inclusion to be the kind of action that warrants blacklisting.

How can a supposed small-government conservative tolerate that use of government to meddle in a company’s own business? Isn’t it illegal – it’s certainly unethical – to allocate tax dollars for political gain? And, you know, it’s an affront to common sense, not to mention an attack on capitalism and a drag on economic growth.

Maybe those “anti-woke” conservatives missed the part of the writings of Ayn Rand, the patron saint of the right, who warned that we are free to ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.

And if you are inclined to give a pass to the “anti-woke” politicians because they seem for some reason less offensive to your own political bias than their alternatives, it might be good to remember this: Truth is threatened not just by those who deny it, but also by those who ignore the deniers. A head in the sand is never useful for long, as any clear-eyed ostrich knows.

Rex Smith, the co-host of The Media Project on WAMC, is the former editor of the Times Union of Albany and The Record in Troy. His weekly digital report, The Upstate American, is published by Substack.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Rex Smith, the co-host of The Media Project on WAMC, is the former editor of the Times Union of Albany and The Record in Troy. His weekly digital report, The Upstate American, is published by Substack."
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