Portrait of a Flip Flopper: Mitt Flips on Mercury

Yesterday, Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney waded into the “current” Congressional battle to clean up power plants, taking the side of industry over public health.

It is a sad day on a number of levels.  Not only is a Presidential candidate turning his back on millions of children in favor of his dirty air backers, but he is also turning his back on his legacy as an environmental leader during his tenure as Massachusetts’s governor from 2003 to 2007.  

In 2003, then-Governor Mitt Romney stood in the shadow of a power plant and chastised the industry for their toxic emissions that were killing people.  He stated in 2003, “Massachusetts has been a national leader in the effort to clean up our oldest and dirtiest power plants. The implementation of these new mercury standards, coupled with major reductions in other air pollutants now underway, will ensure that the citizens of the Commonwealth will breathe the cleanest air possible.”

His campaign’s statement shows that candidate Romney is willing to say anything, do anything, and promise anything to please his dirty air backers.



Come Clean Dirty Thirty

Most people are familiar with the slogan “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas.” Well…this may come as a surprise to you, but it seems that this mantra is also taking a hold on some of the Senators you send to Washington. NRDC Action Fund is here to shed a bright light under the cloak of secrecy on the latest group of elected officials, who we’ve dubbed, the “Dirty Thirty.” They may think what happens in Washington, stays in Washington, but you deserve to know better.

With Congressional approval ratings at an all time low, it’s no wonder the “Dirty Thirty” are playing games with Senate rules to keep their support for repealing clean air safeguards which protect our kids. This secret group is being lead and kept hidden by Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma.

These critical safeguards protect our families from mercury and dozens of other toxins spewed by U.S. power plants. Wouldn’t you want to know if your Senator was supporting this type of attack on the air we breathe? That’s why we sent a letter to Senator Inhofe demanding that he release the names. Thus far, he has not done so.

We think it’s time for Senator Inhofe and his “Dirty Thirty” to come clean with their constituents and explain why they are willing to legislate Vegas style by rolling the dice with our public health protections. Join us in asking Senator Inhofe to release the “Dirty Thirty” by visiting www.thedirtythirty.org and by tweeting: @inhofepress: come clean on #thedirty30 senators who oppose life-saving clean air protections: http://www.thedirtythirty.org

What happens in Washington directly impacts the health of you and your family. Together we can tell our representatives to stop gambling with our health and to come clean about their stances on these issues.



Plug In Day, 2012 Needs Organizers NOW!!!

National Plug In Day will be held on Sunday, September 23, 2012, and is an unprecedented nationwide observance drawing global attention to the environmental, economic and other benefits of plug-in electric vehicles through simultaneous events staged in cities nationwide.

Plug In America, the Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association are teaming up to plan for this effort, which will sound the bell through plug-in parades, tailpipe-free tailgate parties, test-drives and other grassroots activities.

The goal of National Plug In Day is to get owners of plug-in cars together with the general public. The general public can then talk to the owners of these vehicles and hear what the cars are like to live with in the real world. We are hoping that this will motivate more members of the public to consider a plug in vehicle for themselves the next time they are thinking of purchasing a new vehicle.

It is my hope that this year’s event move from being solely United States observance to being an event that includes many more cities in the U.S. and many international one as well. To make this happen we need organizers everywhere. The Sierra Club is offering assistance to what they call “City Captains.” City captains will be the point of contact for organizing the National Plug In Day event in a particular city.

Below the fold is an Email with contact information to get started.



There's more...

What Did Obama Mean by Change?

No reporter has ever asked him as far as I know. I don't know if any will ask this time around. What did you mean by "Change" anyway? He ran a whole campaign on it and does anyone really know what Barack Obama meant he was going to change?


I'm in the camp that he hasn't changed a damn thing. People will counter with Lilly Ledbetter. It's a lovely law, but does anyone really believe that's what was meant by the grandiose statement "Change"?

Of course I use Lilly Ledbetter as a symbol. President Obama obviously has more accomplishments than that. He really did change the laws and many people's perceptions on gay rights for example. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is history. The government is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act. And the President of the United States is finally for gay marriage. But did people really think Senator Obama meant he would change gay rights legislation? Is that what the 2008 election was about?

A little bit of financial reform (which so far has proven to be as ineffectual as progressive critics predicted) certainly doesn't qualify as "Change." Thirty million more Americans insured -- maybe, hopefully, by 2014 -- is a good thing. Is it transformational? Has Washington changed as we know it? Have we gotten "Change"?

Here is the common sense interpretation of what "Change" is -- changing the way Washington works. In fact, this is exactly what was promised, specifically by Barack Obama. He even made a campaign ad about it: http://www.youtube.com/...

That's an example of the same old game playing in Washington. I don't want to learn how to play the game better; I want to put an end to the game playing.

And by God, what have you done to that effect? I would venture to say, almost without refutation, absolutely nothing. Even the most ardent Obama supporter can't in good conscience or sound mental state argue that President Obama has changed the way Washington works. He's just played the game a little better, if you're being charitable on how you keep score on that count.

But here's what should really burn you up -- he hasn't even tried. Not even close. Has there been a single piece of legislation backed by the White House that would stop the way lobbyists or big corporate interests or any special interest groups buy our politicians? In 93% of the cases, the person with more money wins their Congressional race. Democrat or Republican. Obviously the controlling factor is not ideology, party or even votes. It's money. And it's obvious.

And the president has done what to "Change" that?

Nonetheless, I'm insanely optimistic and naïve. So, I say we give him one more chance. But there is no way you should just trust him and hope for the best. He has to actually do something this time instead of just hanging a campaign placard up.

Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky has introduced a bipartisan bill that would amend the constitution to say that money cannot control our elections. Will the president make this one of his top priorities? Will he campaign on it? Will he do everything in his power to pass it if he is re-elected?

If he does, then we should let bygones be bygones. The slate is wiped clean and God bless second terms and the concept of redemption. If the president makes a real effort on the campaign trail to emphasize this as one of his core issues, then progressives should turn out to do everything they can to get him elected, whether it's voting, donating or volunteering. We're not asking for much in return -- just deliver on your original promise.

On the other hand, if he can't even do this, then it's obvious that the Democrats will never, ever help us. It will be painfully clear that they are part of the same corrupt system and have no interest in ever changing it. In fact, they love that system because it is what keeps them in office.

But this is not a decision for me to make. It is for the president. Which way will he go? Will he continue to play small-bore politics? Will he continue his rhetorical games and hope we don't realize that he is being too clever by half? Will he play the same old Washington games and hope to play them just a little better? Or will he actually lead and bring us real change?

Despite all the broken promises and all the cute political tricks, I still have the audacity of hope. I'm just waiting for President Obama to put it out one last time, so we can really go to war against Washington -- all of it. Democrats and Republicans alike. The public has a pox ready for both of their houses and only one man has the antidote. Let's see what he does.

Watch The Young Turks Here and Here


Raiding Opportunity

The ink’s barely dry on the historic settlement of “robo-signing” and other abusive foreclosure practices by five big banks. But, already, some states are raiding the settlement funds to finance activities having nothing to do with preventing foreclosures or preserving homeownership. Their actions are a second slap in the face to millions of Americans who were wronged by lender misconduct and inadequate consumer protections. They are unjust, shortsighted, and, quite possibly, illegal.

The $25 billion settlement between 49 state attorneys general, the Obama administration, and the nation's five largest mortgage companies announced its intention “to remediate harms allegedly resulting from the alleged unlawful conduct of the [banks].” The National Association of Attorneys General explained that “the settlement addresses past mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure abuses and fraud, provides substantial financial relief to borrowers harmed by bank fraud, and establishes significant new homeowner protections for the future.”

The settlement has produced some important and positive changes. It is aiding many struggling homeowners by reducing their mortgage principal to fair and affordable levels and allowing them to refinance at today’s lower rates. It requires covered banks to provide a single point of contact for homeowners, mandates adequate staffing levels and training, and ends “dual-track foreclosures,” in which servicers foreclose on homes while still negotiating loan modifications with their owners.

But alongside those positive steps, a growing number of states are diverting funds from the settlement to fill general budget gaps and for other unrelated purposes. Georgia and Wisconsin acted swiftly to raid their settlement funds, over the protests of lawmakers and advocates who supported the deal. California, Missouri, Nebraska, and others are following suit. According to the non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica, states have already diverted $974 million from the settlement to reduce budget deficits or fund unrelated activities.

Diverting settlement funds away from home opportunity is a new violation of the American people’s trust. The data company RealtyTrac predicts as many as 1 million new foreclosures this year—nearly 200,000 more than in 2011. Every penny of settlement resources should be invested in heading off that catastrophic outcome while mitigating the effects of foreclosures that have already occurred.

Raiding settlement funds is also shortsighted, because supporting home opportunity is an investment in our economy, including state budgets. Proven strategies like principal reduction, housing counseling, and own-to-rent programs aid struggling homeowners, to be sure. But they also improve neighborhood home values, increase state and local tax revenues, reduce the need to maintain abandoned properties, and relieve the burden on social service agencies.

A coalition of housing and consumer protection groups that includes The Opportunity Agenda and the National Council of La Raza has released aCompact for Home Opportunity detailing over two dozen initiatives that can prevent foreclosures, ensure fair housing and lending, and rebuild the American Dream. Virtually any item in the Compact would be a valid use of settlement funds. But dumping those funds into states’ general coffers is irresponsible and outrageous.

It may also be illegal. The diversion of funds violates the stated purpose of the agreement, as well as its spirit. The wronged American homeowners who are, in legal parlance, the third-party beneficiaries of the agreement may have a right to demand proper usage of settlement funds.

In many states, moreover, diverting settlement funds has a racially discriminatory effect on minority homeowners and former homeowners. While most victims of bank misconduct are white, homeowners of color were disproportionately and intentionally targeted by brokers and lenders for flawed loans, and are overrepresented amongst those facing foreclosure. People of color represent less than 20% of the population in Wisconsin, for instance, but over 40% of the population in Milwaukee, where exploitation of homeowners was concentrated. The numbers in Georgia are similarly stark. Dumping settlement funds into the general treasury again disadvantages these homeowners struggling to regain their footing.

All of the states covered by the settlement have an obligation under the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, respectively, to affirmatively further fair housing, and to avoid discriminatory patterns in their programs and activities. The diversion of funds may violate both of those provisions. Everyone agrees that much more is needed to restore home opportunity around the country. But the settlement was an important step in the right direction. Diverting the resources that it produced violates the letter and spirit of the settlement, squanders an historic opportunity, and harms the very Americans whom the settlement was intended to help. It should not be allowed to stand.



Memorial Day 2012: A Lesson Not Yet Learned



Today is Memorial Day, the last day of the three-day weekend. Veterans and community groups will remember those who died in battle and, as they have done for more than a century, will place small flags on graves.

But, for most of America, Memorial Day is a three-day picnic-filled weekend that heralds the start of Summer, just as Labor Day has become a three-day picnic-filled weekend that laments the end of Summer. 

There will be memorial concerts and parades. The media, shoving aside political and celebrity news, will all have stories. Among those who will be the first to patriotically salute those who died in battle are those who enthusiastically pushed for them to go to war.

Each of the extended weekends also provides forums for politicians to stand in front of red-white-and-blue bunting to deliver political speeches they hope will make the voters think they care about veterans and the working class—and if it helps their election or re-election campaigns, so much the better.

The first Memorial Day was May 1, 1865, when hundreds of freed slaves, missionaries, and teachers held a solemn ceremony to honor the Union soldiers who died in a Confederate prison camp in Charleston, S.C. That memorial evolved into Decoration Day and then in 1882 to Memorial Day. The last Monday in May now honors all soldiers killed in all wars.

There haven’t been many years when the U.S. wasn’t engaged in some war. Some were fought for noble purposes, such as the Revolutionary War and World War II; some were fought for ignoble purposes, such as the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars.

The U.S. is currently engaged in winding down the longest war in our history. The war in Afghanistan had begun with the pretense of a noble purpose—to capture the leaders of al-Qaeda who created 9/11. But, that war was nearly forgotten while the U.S. skip-jumped into Iraq, which had no connection to al-Qaeda, 9/11, or any weapons of mass destruction. It did have a dictator who allowed torture against its dissidents— but so did North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and dozens of other countries that the Bush–Cheney war machine didn’t consider.

No, it was Iraq that became the focus of the White House Warriors. It wasn’t long before the U.S. commitment in Iraq was more than 10 times the personnel and equipment than in Afghanistan. It was a commitment that had left the U.S. vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters, as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita within a month of each other proved. The Bush–Cheney administration had diverted funds from numerous public works projects, including reinforcement of the levees in New Orleans, to increase the U.S. presence in Iraq. By the time Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, National Guard troops and their equipment, including deep water vehicles, were in Iraq.

Also in Iraq was now al-Qaeda, which Saddam Hussein had managed to keep out of his country; and a civil war, as Iraqi political and religious groups fought for control.

Barack Obama, as promised in his campaign, did end the war in Iraq, and reasserted American presence in Afghanistan, sought out and killed Osama bin Laden, and then created a way for complete U.S. withdrawal from combat.

The Bush–Cheney Administration had figured a maximum cost of $100 billion for what they believed would be no more than a two year war. The financial cost of the wars has been almost $4 trillion, according to an investigative study by researchers at Brown University. The $4 trillion includes rampant corruption and no-bid contracts to numerous companies, including Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s home for several years.

But the real cost is not in dollars but in lives. The war is being figured not by names and their lives but by numbers. The war in Afghanistan as of Memorial Day has cost 3,016 American and allied lives. The American wounded, some of whom will have permanent disabilities or may die lingering deaths from those wounds, is now at 15,322. In Iraq, 4,486 Americans died; 32,233 were wounded. There are no accurate estimates of the number of civilian and enemy deaths and wounded, but the numbers are in the hundreds of thousands.

“War represents a failure of diplomacy,” said Tony Benn, one of the most popular politicians, who served in the British parliament for more than 50 years, including several years as leader of various cabinet departments.

In wars throughout the world, there will be more deaths today and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that and every day thereafter. And once a year, Americans will honor the deaths of young men and women sent into battle by intractable politicians, supported by media pundits and a horde of civilians with the wisdom of asphalt who have not learned the lessons of Tony Benn.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the anti-war movement and the cost of war.]


Day One

Recently Mitt Romney rolled out two new ads touting what he plans to do on his first day on the job if elected President. Both are filled with some lofty goals to say the least, with the scariest part being that he may actually believe he accomplish all these tasks on day one.

For the sake of time, I will set aside the ad mentions of overturning the Affordable Care Act and introducing tax cuts/reforms and just focus on two of the big hitters, approving Keystone Pipeline and repealing job killing regulations.

In the midst of all the pomp and circumstance of the inaugural activities, these ads want us to believe that Mitt Romney will make approving the Keystone Pipeline and the repeal of regulations his top priorities. So even with all the other issues facing our country, he’s going to make building a pipeline that transports dirty tar sands oil from Canada, through highly sensitive areas of our country, to the already endangered Gulf Coast his first act as President? And as his next act he will repeal all the regulations he deems job killers? Will there be any regard for considering that some regulations are good, can actually create jobs and are meant to keep us safe? And the really pressing question, will this be before or after he picks out his power tie and presidential cufflinks for his ceremonial walk down Pennsylvania Avenue?

On one hand, these ads are hard to believe and can probably just be chalked up to campaign rhetoric and the willingness to make promises, which probably can’t be kept (especially since Congress doesn’t care about “Day One” or “Day Three Hundred”).  In fact, the only way he could probably make this kind of promise happen is if he pays for it to become a reality. 

The scary thing is that he could. These ads could be plausible because Romney is seeking counsel from the likes of Harold Hamm. Hamm, who serves as Romney’s top energy advisor, is the billionaire chairman and CEO of Continental Resources. And, just one month after assuming his role as energy advisor, contributed nearly $1 million to the pro-Romney Super PAC. Raising legitimate questions about his influence with candidate Romney and how those ties could benefit his company.

The saying goes “you are who you associate with.” For Mitt Romney this seems to be not only true, but could become our reality if he is given a day one. 




No More Excuses on Relief to American Homeowners

Read also: Home Opportunity Initiative

One by one, the excuses have fallen. Yet Edward DeMarco, acting head of FHFA, the agency that runs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, still fails to offer the most effective relief available to American homeowners struggling with mortgages held by those entities. Economists, housing experts, and members of DeMarco’s own staff have concluded that reducing to affordable levels the principal owed on at-risk mortgages is effective in reducing foreclosures and their destructive fallout. But, inexplicably, he’s been unmoved by the mounting evidence.

Two weeks ago, after hinting at a possible change of heart, DeMarco punted on the question, saying it needed more study and stating that such a policy question “should be determined by Congress.” But the evidence is too clear, and the stakes are too high, for further delay. It’s time for Mr. DeMarco to either act in the nation’s interest or get out of the way.

While many parts of our economy have gradually improved over the last several years, foreclosures are on the rise in regions around the country. The foreclosure data company RealtyTrac has predicted that one million American homes may enter foreclosure in 2012. An estimated 12 million Americans currently owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, meaning that millions more are at risk.

Fannie, Freddie, and DeMarco’s agency have an oversized role to play in addressing the crisis, since the entities are assumed to own or back roughly 3.3 million underwater mortgages and help set trends in the larger market. By including principal reduction among the tools they use, they could help millions of Americans save their homes while making sustainable payments toward the actual value of their property.

The American people essentially own Fannie and Freddie after a $150 billion bailout. Even before that, the entities were tasked with providing stability and affordability to the nation's mortgage finance market. FHFA’s mission similarly includes supporting housing finance, affordable housing, and a stable and liquid mortgage market, as well as promoting Fannie and Freddie’s safety and soundness.

The calls for principal reduction are growing louder, with evidence increasingly demonstrating that those interests all point toward principal reduction. It results in fewer foreclosures, as compared with alternatives like loan forbearance (delaying loan obligations) that FHFA has authorized. In addition to the obvious benefits to struggling homeowners, reducing foreclosures improves neighborhood home values, prevents abandoned and blighted properties, and saves cash-strapped municipalities the costs of upkeep and enforcement.

Many private lenders have been reducing principal obligations on their own, recognizing it’s often the best way for them to recoup their investment. Moreover, the strategy was a significant part of the Attorneys General settlement over “robo-signing” and related bank misconduct.

Reports have emerged that even FHFA’s own internal analyses show principal reduction is in the interest of both underwater homeowners and Fannie and Freddie. Documents recently obtained by the Congressional Progressive Caucus reportedly show that DeMarco’s agency studied the question in 2009, decided it was worth trying, worked with a major lender to develop a detailed pilot, and then abruptly canceled it in July of 2010 for what the Caucus says were ideological reasons.

To be sure, principal reduction is not a silver bullet. A range of aggressive solutions are necessary to address America’s foreclosure crisis, restore ravaged neighborhoods, and put our national economy back on track. Indeed, a coalition of housing and public interest groups that includes The Opportunity Agenda, National Council of La Raza, and the National Fair Housing Alliance has released a Compact for Home Opportunity highlighting over a dozen actions that government, private industry, and individuals can take to turn things around.

Principal reduction may be only one of those actions. But it’s an important one. With a million American homes at risk of foreclosure, the time for action is now.

What You Just Said Hurts My Head

We’re all familiar with the feeling of cognitive dissonance, when suddenly we’re forced to hold two contradicting ideas in our heads. Maybe we’ve just heard unflattering news about someone we respected, or have been presented with facts that challenge a deeply held worldview. As any communications expert will tell you, we tend to deal with this kind of dissonance by simply rejecting the new information as incorrect, unreliable, or purposefully misleading.

NPR recently ran a story on this topic that went a little deeper, exploring how partisan beliefs interacted with challenging facts. Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan and Georgia State’s Jason Reifler began looking into why it is, for instance, that Democrats currently believe the president has little control over gas prices, while six years ago they believed that President Bush could do something to lower them. Republicans have just as predictably switched position on this issue. Partisans, it seems, can reject facts they earlier believed – facts that probably don’t mean much to them, really – in order to stay aligned with their party loyalty.

Party loyalty is one way to describe a more deeply held worldview, but I think an even better term is core values. We belong to certain political parties because they have become a stand-in for those values. So we reject or accept facts that question or support our party loyalty (the president has little control over gas prices) because doing so reinforces our belief that our core values are right. And that we are right. President = party = core values = core identity. So it’s important to us that our party's president does the right thing.

So how do we approach audiences armed with facts that are likely to contradict their firmly-held beliefs? NPR reports:

Nyhan and Reifler hypothesized that partisans reject such information not because they're against the facts, but because it's painful. That notion suggested a possible solution: If partisans were made to feel better about themselves — if they received a little image and ego boost — could this help them more easily absorb the "blow" of information that threatens their pre-existing views?

Nyhan said that ongoing —and as yet, unpublished— research was showing the technique could be effective. The researchers had voters think of times in their lives when they had done something very positive and found that, fortified by this positive memory, voters were more willing to take in information that challenged their pre-existing views.

Interesting, and useful if you’re talking one-on-one and know your subject enough to evoke such specific memories. But what about messaging to the masses? I think the answer is values again. By appealing to people’s notions of what we as a country hold dear, and how those values make us our best selves, we give them a bit of an ego boost.

For instance, the topic of immigration can cause many audiences a fair amount of cognitive dissonance. The dominant narrative tells us that many immigrants are criminals just for being here, and are taking jobs from native-born Americans.  Of course, the facts don’t support either of these storylines. But many an immigration advocate will tell you that simply relaying to folks that being here without papers is a civil, not criminal, violation; or that study after study shows that immigrant workers have no affect on unemployment rates, does not change minds. But what if we made people feel a little good about themselves first? Could they better handle the dissonance?

We could start by reminding people why immigrants want to come here –for opportunity, because of our freedoms, to be a part of something we all love. We can remind people of the other aspirations that most of them believe make this country great: our values of treating people equally and fairly, our values of community and voice, our ambition to make things better and try new things.

Now clearly, those stories can go in a number of different directions and cause their own dissonance, particularly among progressives. Sure, we value equality, but then why do we stand for income and racial disparities? And doesn’t our ambition sometimes cause us to leave whole groups of people behind? No, we don’t always live up to our aspirations. But they’re still good ones. And they do make a lot of people feel good about the country, and perhaps as an extension, themselves.

Like any messaging strategy, opening conversations with values is no silver bullet guaranteed to ease the way for all challenging ideas. But if we know that throwing facts at people doesn’t work (and actually pains them), we need to rethink how we use those facts. Otherwise, they’re not just useless, but actively harmful to the cause.

When Politics Becomes the Game

The NRDC Action Fund just released a book called Reckless about the House Republican majority that cast more than 200 votes against environmental safeguards last year. We aren’t the only ones dismayed by the rise in GOP extremism. Republican leaders are too.

This week, two esteemed conservative thinkers published a must-read op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem.” Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote:

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Mann and Ornstein are no lightweight centrists; they are the Republicans of the Republicans. If they see fault in their party’s lurch to the far right, then you know things have gotten out of hand.  

Their piece made me realize just how many lawmakers seem to have forgotten why they serve. This is true of Republicans and Democrats alike, but the Republicans have cast themselves as the Party of No and made the defeat of the other side their primary goal. No one actually wins this kind of game. Instead, we end up with one big loser: the American people.

Citizens send lawmakers to Washington to govern, not to play chicken. GOP’s obstructionism may score points with their base, but it prevents Members from actually doing the work of government and administering the public’s shared resources including roads, schools, clean air and water.

Most of the public servants I know—from Hill staffers to PTA presidents—pursue their line of work because they want to make things better. Politicians who see victory in paralysis seem to have lost sight of that goal. They have become like the young boy who dreams of playing in the NBA, but gets so focused on the machinations of what it takes to make it that he loses his love of the game. I get it. Institutions like Congress can grind people down. But that’s why we need leaders to stand up and offer inspiration—not nay saying.

The proliferation of negative ads is a symptom of this larger trend. Every political operative will tell you: campaigns use negative messages because they work. They lodge in people’s minds and deliver votes. But here is what’s different this year: PAC money. A new post by Paul Blumenthal includes some stunning statistics:

“While spending in support of one candidate nearly doubled from $19.14 million in 2008 to $36.59 million in 2012, spending against other candidates by independent groups exploded by 680 percent, from only $6.97 million in 2008 to $47.28 million in 2012.”

PACs are fueling the antagonism of an already polarized election cycle. When my two children are fighting, I don’t step in and raise the heat by saying: “Son, don’t you remember how your sister stole your ball? Or “Honey, he hit you first, didn’t he?” The PACs are the equivalent of a mother reminding her children why they hate each. If you stand in the way, you will never find resolution.

Then again, some companies behind the PACs don’t want resolution. Bloomberg News recently reported that 81 percent of anti-Obama ads focus on energy. Americans for Prosperity—a group supported by oil companies—spent more $16.7 million between January and March on negative ads attacking Obama’s energy policies.

Oil companies benefit from a paralyzed political landscape. If Congress can’t pass any laws, then companies don’t have to clean up their pollution, invest in low-carbon technologies, or give up their generous tax breaks. The American people, however, are stuck with the dirty air, the extreme weather events, and the wind turbine factories moving to China.

Candidates who make clean energy a central part of their platform can correct that imbalance. Clean energy is about job creation, competitive advantage, clean air, health families, and keeping our troops out of harm’s way. It’s about building things, not destroying them.

That’s what makes it a powerful antidote to current political antagonism. Lawmakers may debate the best way to promote clean energy or confront climate change, but the fact remains that expanding the clean economy will benefit America. Isn’t that why lawmakers serve in the first place?




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