2 Dem Senators Cave On Oil Subsidies

Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Begich (D-AL) are defending subsidies for big oil companies.


Weekly Pulse: Don’t Snort Bath Salts, Kids

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

According to Robin Marty of Care2.org, today’s young whippersnappers are snorting bath salts and plant food to get their kicks. I knew I was getting old when I had to check the media to find out about the latest youth drug menace.

But, before you go and blow your allowance at the Body Shop or the garden center, keep in mind that “bath salt” and “plant food” are just euphemisms that web-based head shops use to sell these amphetamine-like drugs , according to a 2010 report by the UK Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The active ingredients of this legal high are mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV).

Despite what the media would have you believe, these designer drugs are not ingredients in common household products. You cannot get high on actual bath salts or plant food. Sorry. Gardeners, if you bought exotic imported “plant food” online, and it arrived in an impossibly tiny packet, don’t feed it to your plants.

Anti-choice black op linked to James O’Keefe

At least a dozen Planned Parenthood clinics across the country have recently been visited by a mysterious, self-proclaimed “sex trafficker” who was apparently part of a ruse to entrap clinic employees. Planned Parenthood reported these visits to the FBI.

In each case, the man reportedly asked to speak privately with a clinic worker, whereupon he asked for health advice regarding the underage, undocumented girls he was supposedly trying to traffic.

Jodi Jacobson reports at RH Reality Check:

[Prominent anti-choice blogger] Jill Stanek and other anti-choice operatives, including Lila Rose of Live Action Films are effectively claiming responsibility for sending  pseudo “sex traffickers” into [Planned Parenthood] clinics, and also warn of “explosive evidence,” of which they of course present…..none. They appear to have no credible response to exposure of their efforts to perpetrate a hoax on Planned Parenthood.

As Jacobson points out, sex trafficking is a very real problem. And a sex trafficking hoax diverts time and resources that the authorities who could be hunting down real traffickers. She adds:

Victims of sex trafficking, after all, also need sexual health services because they are effectively being raped regularly and are more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections and experience unintended pregnancies. Does this help them get treatment?

Lila Rose of Live Action Films is a former associate of right wing hoaxster James O’Keefe, who orchestrated a sting operation against the social justice group ACORN. O’Keefe was sentenced last year to three years’ probation for scamming his way into the offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in January, 2010.

Sex, lies, and the classroom

To mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the National Radio Project presents a discussion of sex ed in American schools, federal funding for sex ed, and advocacy by interest groups and parents. Guests include Phyllida Burlingame of the ACLU and Gabriela Valle of California Latinas for Reproductive Justice.

Hot coffee!

Remember the woman who sued McDonald’s after she spilled a hot cup of coffee in her lap? Corporate interests made Stella Liebeck into a national joke, even though she won her suit. Hot Coffee is a new documentary that tells the story behind the one-liners. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews Ms. Liebeck’s daughter and son-in-law.

McDonald’s corporate manuals dictated that coffee be served at 187 degrees, in flimsy styrofoam cups. A home coffee maker usually keeps the brew between 142 to 162 degrees, and most people pour their Joe into something sturdier than a styrofoam cup. If you spill that coffee on yourself, you have 25 seconds to get it off before you suffer a 3rd degree burn. Whereas if you spill 187-degree coffee on yourself, you’ve got between 2 and 7 seconds.

Companies are expected to produce products that are safe for their intended use. McDonald’s was serving coffee to go, through drive-through windows, with cream and sugar in the bag. By implication, it should be safe to add cream and sugar to hot coffee in a car. In the pre-cup-holder era, millions of Americans were probably steadying their coffees between their legs to add cream and sugar every day. A responsible restaurant would not dispense superheated liquids in flimsy to-go cups. Indeed, McDonalds’ own records showed that 700 people had been scalded this way.

In 1992, the plaintiff was a passenger in a parked car, attempting to add cream and sugar to her coffee while steadying the cup between her knees. When she opened the lid, the cup collapsed inward, dousing her with scalding coffee. The 79-year-old woman sustained 3rd degree burns over 16% of her body. She needed skin grafts to repair the damage. Initially she only sued to recoup part of the cost of the skin grafts. But the judge who heard the case was so outraged by McDonald’s disregard for customer safety that he urged the jury to award punitive damages.

Another theme of Hot Coffee is how medical malpractice caps are forcing taxpayers to cover the medical costs of people who are injured by negligent health care providers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.



Weekly Mulch: Why the Senate Climate Bill is Doomed

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), though down one man, finally released their stab at climate legislation this week. One of the most crucial sections in the bill covers off-shore oil drilling, an issue that was supposed to help solve the tricky math of reaching 60 votes. But since the Deepwater Horizon rig sank in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling has become a wedge issue.

Just a few weeks ago, off-shore drilling could have been a point of compromise around which Senators could rally votes to pass the climate bill; now the bill had to strike a new balance to mollify both potential allies who oppose drilling, like Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and those who support drilling, like Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). The draft that Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman released this week allows for expanded drilling but gives states veto power over new projects.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who worked on the bill, said that he had not seen the changes his two colleagues had made since he dropped out of the drafting process—but he looked forward to reviewing their work. Although Sen. Kerry says he thinks the bill can pass,  without support from Sen. Graham or another Republican, chances are slim.

Next steps

Now that the two Senators have released the bill, the only work that remains is to pass it.

“I think climate change legislation is dead,” writes Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. His explanation:

“There’s not enough time for a bill to go through the committee process, get passed by the Senate, sent to conference, amended, and then passed by the full Congress before the midterms, and after the midterms Democrats will probably be reduced to 53 or 54 members in the Senate.”

Not everyone agrees that the bill’s chance are so dire, though.

“I think the chances are roughly as good as they’ve ever been in the Senate: low but non-trivial,” says Grist’s David Roberts.

Kerry’s argument

But should green-minded politicos root for the bill’s passage at all? Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman worked closely with energy companies while drafting the bill, and the resulting legislation balances the need to reduce carbon emissions with the interests of prime polluters. The bill includes incentives for old energy industries like coal and natural gas, for instance, and exempts farmers from carbon caps.

On Wednesday, Sen. Kerry made his case to left-leaning environmentalists. “A comprehensive climate bill written purely for you and me — true believers — can’t pass the Senate no matter how hard or passionate I fight on it,” he wrote for Grist. The bill they have, he wrote, can pass, and that victory outweighs the compromises in the legislation.

Responses from the left

On Democracy Now!, Phil Radford, the executive director of GreenPeace USA, said that most environmental groups have given the bill little more than a “tepid endorsement.” Radford squared off on the show with Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress, who supports the bill.

“This will be the first bill ever passed by the Senate, if it were to pass, that would put us on a path to get off of fossil fuels,” Romm said.

The two men were also divided over issues like the impact the climate bill could have on international negotiations.

They agreed, though, there is room for improvement; the only question is whether the politics of climate change will allow for the passage of a stronger bill any times soon. As Kevin Drum wrote, “If you think this year’s bills are watered down, just wait until you see what a Congress with a hair-thin Democratic majority produces.”

Coal and natural gas

Tripping up environmentalists now, though, are the hand-outs to dirty energy industries. The coal and natural gas industry could both benefit from the provisions of the Senate bill, for instance.

On GritTV, Jeff Biggers, a writer and educator who covers the coal industry, explained his frustration:

“The climate bill is a nice first step and a very well meaning effort for someone like Sen. Kerry who’s been working on this issue for 20 years. But at the same time, because of the massive big coal lobby that has poured millions of dollars into lobbying congress on this climate legislation…there are all sorts of little panders and loopholes and exemptions.”

“What we see in this bill is that Sen. Kerry and Lieberman want to ensure coal’s future,” he said.

The booming natural gas industry also had a hand in shaping the bill and benefited from it. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club favor natural gas as an energy source over coal, and as Kari Lydersen reports in Working In These Times, the industry is driving job growth at a time when the economy needs a boost.

But as Alex Halperin reported last month for The American Prospect, in the places where drilling is occurring, like Ithaca, NY, activists are arguing that the environmental risks could outweigh those economic benefits.

Drill or be drilled

That devil’s bargain—risking natural resources for jobs in the energy industry—went the wrong way for the Gulf Coast, and states like Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida are paying the price even before the oil hits shore.

As I report in AlterNet, the Gulf’s economy could lose billions of dollars and is suffering already from the misconception that its beaches are tarred with oil. With this catastrophe still fresh in voters’ minds, the Senate climate bill proposes pushing new drilling initiatives 75 miles offshore and giving affected states veto power over these projects.

Depending on how long the memory of the Deepwater Horizon spill lasts, politicians could have a good reason to veto drilling. Public News Service reports that 55% of Floridians now oppose off-shore drilling, “almost a complete reversal from one year ago.”

Blame game

Certainly no one is stepping up to take responsibility for the explosion off the coast of Louisiana, as the Washington Independent reports. At a hearing this week, officials from British Petroleum, which was operating the well, Transocean, which owns it, and Halliburton, which was doing contract work that may have caused the problem, all denied wrongdoing and pressed the blame on each other.

It’s starting to look Halliburton played a key part. “The focus is increasingly shifting to the role of Halliburton, which poured the cement for the rig, as well as for another operation that spilled oil off the coast of Australia last August,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. The company apparently did not place a cement plug that would have kept gas in the well before emptying it of the mud that was holding in the flammable gas.

Anyone living in a state that could have new drilling off their coast should keep this catastrophe in mind if their politicians are given the option of vetoing new projects.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.



Weekly Pulse: Who are Landrieu's Alleged Phone Tamperers?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The four young men arrested last week for allegedly attempting to tamper with the phones at the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) have ties to Republican politicians, conservative think tanks, radical campus activists, and even the intelligence community.

It appears that Landrieu was targeted, at least indirectly, because of her stance on health care reform. Two of the men posed as telephone repairmen while a third taped them with his cell phone. A fourth alleged accomplice was arrested in a car a few blocks away.

Right wing operative James O’Keefe, famous for posing as a pimp to “expose” unethical behavior at the anti-poverty group ACORN, claimed that he and his crew were trying to expose a problem with the phones at Landrieu’s office which were keeping constituents from reaching her.

Constituents getting a busy signal?

O’Keefe says they wanted to embarrass Landrieu by exposing whatever was wonky about her phones, but that justification strains credulity. Defenders of the four implied that Landrieu’s people might have somehow disabled their own phones to avoid angry constituents. Supposedly, these citizens wanted to express their outrage at Landrieu’s decision to vote for the Senate health reform bill in exchange for a line item to give Louisiana an additional $300 million federal health care dollars.

Some callers have reported trouble getting through to their representatives. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports that members of the Tea Party movement have complained to her about not being able to get through to their members of congress. She tried calling some senators and also had a hard time getting through to a real person.

Now that he’s out of jail, O’Keefe is furiously spinning his activities as investigative journalism gone awry, according to Justin Elliott of TPM Muckraker. O’Keefe told Sean Hannity in an interview that these tactics were standard journalistic tools. But let’s be realistic, here. Impersonating a repairman to covertly access a Senator’s phones is more Watergate burglar than Woodward and Bernstein.

O’Keefe’s activist theater

O’Keefe and his buddies are political operatives who come out of the world of right wing campus organizing, as Dave Weigel reports for the Washington Independent. Over the years, they’ve earned notoriety by using various forms of political theater and media to advance their issues. O’Keefe and Ben Wetmore, a fellow activist who let the alleged tamperers crash at his house before the Landrieu operation, even got married to each other to illustrate that shady people can marry each other for benefits, just like with straight marriage. On his now-defunct blog, Countermedia, Wetmore urged conservative activists to target seniors with a health care robocall featuring a Barack Obama impersonator.

The Landrieu crew is no stranger to more traditional forms of conservative politics, either. O’Keefe and Wetmore both formerly worked for the conservative Leadership Institute, a group that funds political training for right wing activists. Fake repairman Robert Flanagan interned for Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and a GOP congresswoman. O’Keefe was revealed to be on the payroll of the right wing news site Big Government at the time of his arrest.

The Landrieu incident is a continuation of their campaign to use guerrilla video for political dirty tricks. O’Keefe became famous last year for videos that appear to show him dressing up as a pimp and soliciting questionable advice from ACORN staffers. The video touched off a panic that led to ACORN’s federal funding being yanked.

Links to the intelligence community

Maybe they hoped to make the news rather than break it. The men are charged with attempting to tamper with Landrieu’s phones, not just observe them. As I reported for AlterNet last week, one of the alleged tamperers has longstanding ties to the intelligence community.

In 2008, Stan Dai was the deputy director of a recruiting program for aspiring spies at Trinity Washington University. As Sahil Kapur reported in Raw Story, this program was funded by a $250,000 grant from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Yesterday, Laura Flanders interviewed Dr. David Price and me on GRITtv about the links between O’Keefe’s crew and the intelligence community. Dr. Price is an anthropologist who studies the relationship between the intelligence community and academia. He has been keeping a close eye so-called “centers of academic excellence” funded by the intelligence community on college campuses.

Right now, most of what we know about the incident comes from a single affidavit from an FBI officer and leaks from law enforcement. We’ll probably learn a lot more about the men and their motives if they go on trial.

‘Very, very close’ to passing reform

In other health care news, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told participants on a conference call yesterday that Democrats are “very, very close” to passing health care reform. According to Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly, who was on the call, Pelosi signaled that the House will not pass a bill until the Senate passes a list of modifications to be reinserted during budget reconciliation. Brian Beutler of TPM DC reports that progressives shouldn’t get their hopes up for reviving the public option: Pelosi conceded that a public option lacks the necessary support in the Senate.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Did Wiretappers Target Landrieu Over Health Care Deal?

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

The conservative videographer who donned a pimp suit to embarrass the anti-poverty group ACORN was arrested in New Orleans, LA for allegedly conspiring to bug the office of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.

It’s not clear why Landrieu was targeted, but many suspect that she was singled out because she played a pivotal role in advancing health care reform.

Filmmaker James O’Keefe and three other men have been charged with been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony, according to Justin Elliott of TPM Muckraker. At RH Reality Check, Rachel Larris notes that, if convicted, the four could face up to 10 years in prison.

Like chum in the conservative shark tank

Landrieu, a conservative Democrat, negotiated an extra $100 million in Medicaid funds for Louisiana in exchange for allowing the health care bill to come to the senate floor. Accepting health care for the poor in the interest of health reform was like chum in the conservative shark tank.

Rush Limbaugh called her the most expensive prostitute of all time. “She may be easy, but she’s not cheap,” crowed Glenn Beck. It got so bad that Democrats call on Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) was called upon to denounce the chorus of conservatives attacking his fellow Louisiana senator as a prostitute. (Correction: Vitter did not call Landrieu a prostitute.)

O’Keefe must have realized that an exposé of Mary Landrieu would be a hot commodity.

“This is Watergate meets YouTube,” said Mother Jones Washington Bureau Chief David Corn said on MSNBC’s Hardball last night.


Health care reform in limbo

The arrests could not have come at a better time for the Democrats. Health care reform is in limbo as congressional leaders plan their next move after losing their filibuster-proof majority. The bugging scandal is deflecting attention from tense internal negotiations.

Brian Beutler of TPMDC reports that the House Democrats are converging on a strategy to get reform done: The House will pass the Senate bill and the Senate will fix it through budget reconciliation.

The Republican counter-strategy

While the Democrats agonize over what to do next, that senate Republicans are honing strategies to thwart any Democratic attempt to pass health care reform through budget reconciliation, as Dave Weigel reports in the Washington Independent. The reconciliation process allows both sides to vote on unlimited number of amendments. GOP leadership is hinting that if Dems take the reconciliation route, they will be forced to vote on every politically embarrassing amendment the opposition can dream up.

The stakes are high. In the American Prospect, Paul Starr reminds progressives that there’s till a lot worth fighting for, even without a public option. For all its faults, the Senate bill would still cover 30 million uninsured Americans, expand Medicaid, end discrimination based on preexisting conditions, and set up exchanges designed to keep rising insurance premiums in check.

A memo for reform

Finally, our sources tell us that Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly is making quite a stir on Capitol Hill with his memo advising the House Democratic caucus on the need to forge ahead with health care reform. In 1994, conservative commentator William Kristol wrote a health care memo to Republicans that became the backbone of their anti-reform strategy, even up to the present day. Benen hopes his memo will be a useful counterweight for Democrats. Benen warns the Democrats that it’s far riskier to fail than to pass reform that doesn’t please everyone.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.


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