Weekly Mulch: Fighting the Joe Millers of the World

 

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Joe Miller, Sarah Palin’s choice candidate for one of Alaska’s Senate seats, does not believe in climate change. That didn’t bother Alaska voters: this week, Miller bested Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the state’s Republican primary.

If that weren’t worrisome enough, it also emerged that the fossil fuel industry spent eight times more than environmental groups on lobbying in 2009, the year the House passed the climate change bill. It’s been a bad year already for environmental causes, and as the November election edges closer, progressives might want to start working overtime to regain momentum on climate and energy issues.

Murkowski was solidly against the idea of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulating carbon. But she was willing to talk about cap-and-trade programs, and at the very least, she was willing to admit climate change was happening. Depending on how November’s election shakes out, the shift towards climate-denial in Congress may only worsen. A slew of Republican candidates are convinced that, as one put it, “only God knows where our climate is going,” as Care2 reports.

A tougher tomorrow

Current political trends bode badly for the planet. If Congress couldn’t pass climate legislation while are in Democrats control of the House and Senate, there’s little hope that lawmakers will step up when facing opponents who don’t believe in climate change.

Carla Perez has a few ideas about how progressives and environmentalists can fight back — and they begin with accepting that, yes, giving up fossil fuels would mean sacrifice, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Perez, a program coordinator at social justice group Movement Generation, appeared recently on National Radio Project’s Making Contact and imagined how life would look without fossil fuels:

No iPods. No iPads. No plasma TVs. No motorized individual vehicles. No plastic bags. No pleather boots for $9.99 from Payless…. Then again, no island of plastic twice the size of Texas. No plumes of sulfuric acid over Richmond, California. No skyrocketing rates of cancer and diabetes concentrated in native and people of color communities all over the world. No spontaneous combustion of flames off of contaminated rivers.

“How bad would it be?” she asked.

Target practice

To move from iPods to environmental justice, though, people like Perez will have to keep politicians like Joe Miller out of Washington. In an interview with Yes! Magazine, Riki Ott, a marine biologist and Exxon Valdez survivor, makes a good point about the challenges that environmental advocates face.

“This BP disaster, like the Exxon-Valdez, is more than an environmental crisis—it’s a democracy crisis,” Ott says. “Right now we’re playing the game: Going through regulatory arenas, tightening some laws. But that’s not good enough. The real question is, how do we get control of these big corporations?”

Electing politicians that don’t take corporate money or listen to industry lobbyists will help. Another way to move away from the dominance of fossil fuel companies is offering real alternatives to using their products.

Brave new NOLA

In New Orleans, in the five years since Katrina hit, the people rebuilding the city have worked to create greener alternatives, as Campus Progress reports. Here’s just one example:

Go Green NOLA encourages homebuilders to think small, since smaller homes use less energy. The group also makes suggestions such as installing windows and insulation systems with special attention to local weather and climate — think: humidity, and lots of it—and using shade trees and other landscaping to help beat back the southern sun.

Change can happen without devastation preceding it. In Massachusetts, the Green Justice Coalition worked to ensure that environmental justice provisions made it into the state’s $1.4 billion energy efficiency plan, The Nation reports. What’s more, the coalition made certain that Massachusetts citizens would feel the impact of the new plan directly:

There will be a financing plan to make energy-saving home improvements more affordable. Many of the 23,300 jobs to be generated by the plan will go to contractors who pay decent wages and meet “high road” employment standards. Finally, four pilot programs across the state will test a radically new outreach model by going door to door and mobilizing low- and moderate-income families in building greener neighborhoods.

Women lead the way

Progress doesn’t happen on its own, of course. At RH Reality Check, Kathleen Rogers suggests that female leaders make all the difference. “Women get the connections between climate change, public health and economic growth, because climate change is disproportionately affecting women,” she writes. “A new generation of women entrepreneurs, leaders and civil society, have demonstrated the potential for being the solution to the climate crisis. But they must be mobilized and given an opportunity to influence government and business.”

Rogers is right. Leaders are out there. Just listen to the whole of Carla Perez’ comments on Making Contact. The Green Justice Coalition’s Phyllis Evans also gets it. And even Sen. Murkowski was willing to work on climate change compromises, on some level.

Of course, it’s not just women who can lead the country and the planet away from current environmental and democratic crises. Paths forward are emerging; anyone can follow them.

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.

 

Quick Hits

Here are some other stories making the rounds today:

As I reported last week the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was looking at altering how it awards its Electors. Today, the Massachusetts Legislature approved a new law intended to bypass the Electoral College system and ensure that the winner of the presidential election is determined by the national popular vote. The full story in the Boston Globe.

In the wake of the largest leak of military-related documentation in history, the Congress approved funding for the wars in South & Central Asia. To his credit House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey, who had managed the $59 billion war funding bill, voted no in a final protest and helped to take another 101 Democrats with him but the bill still passed by a 308 to 114 margin. Twelve Republicans voted against the measure. As Politico reports "the scene was in stark contrast with just a year ago when but all but 32 Democrats supported a still larger $105.9 billion war funding measure for Afghanistan and Iraq operations." Still, the Obama Administration officials said the outcome showed that the classified leak had not jeopardized congressional support for the war and noted that the Senate had passed the money with no objection. The New York Times has more on the story.

The financial editor of The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes on how British bankers are buying up rare copies of an obscure book on the mechanics of Weimar inflation published in 1974 looking for clues on financial behaviour and the velocity of money. The great fear is really a deflationary asset spiral but these are preceded by inflationary spikes.

Over at The New Republic, Noam Scheiber does the calculus and finds that it points to the confirmation of Elizabeth Warren as head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Yesterday, Matt Yglesias argued that nominating Elizabeth Warren would go a long way to breaching the gulf between many progressives and the Obama Administration.

Hail the size of golf balls fell across parts of South Dakota today. Pictures from the NOAA.

The Obama Race to the Top education program continues to move forward. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia were today named as finalists on Tuesday in the second round of a national competition for $3.4 billion in federal financing to support an overhaul of education policies. More from the New York Times.

Cigarette sales in California continue to plummet reports the Los Angeles Times. Californians bought 8.1% fewer cigarettes in fiscal 2009 — which ended June 30 — than in fiscal 2008.

The Republican Machine Vs. The Coakley Campaign

It’s been a fairly long time since Attorney General Martha Coakley famously lost Massachusetts to State Senator Scott Brown. A look back at the race gives an insightful view into the Republican machine, and how Republicans are often quite effective when campaigning.

Mr. Brown ran a classic Republican campaign. He effectively painted Ms. Coakley as lazy and unwilling to campaign, a politician who didn’t care about Massachusetts, who simply assumed that Massachusetts would vote Democratic because it always did. Every minor mistake Coakley made – a stupid statement here, a word spelled wrongly there – was turned into further support for this theme.

These are classic Republican tactics; they are the bread and butter of the Republican machine. Senator John McCain’s campaign spent all summer creating controversy out of nothing. For instance, he ran an ad accusing Senator Barack Obama of not visiting the troops; one of the images in the ad originally showed Mr. Obama draining a three-pointer in front of – guess what – the troops. Mr. McCain’s ad then photoshopped the troops out. In the end Mr. Obama’s campaign, with the helpful aid of Fox News, spent an entire week engulfed in artificial controversy.

Martha Coakley fell victim to similar tactics. She famously didn’t know who Curt Schilling was, for instance – a mistake Mr. Brown used to paint her as elite out-of-touch. Yet being familiar with sports has absolutely nothing to do with being a good Senator or making decisions that affect the country’s well-being. President George W. Bush was a devoted sports fan; that didn’t make him a good president.

Republicans also attacked Ms. Coakley for misspelling Massachusetts in an ad – another variation on the “Martha doesn’t care about Massachusetts” theme. In reality the misspelling occurs for one second in the credits; it isn’t even noticeable unless it’s specifically pointed out to an individual. Chances are that the misspelling had nothing to do with Ms. Coakley; it was probably the fault of a tired staffer running low on sleep. Perhaps more pertinently, if a crisis occurs and the United States is under grave threat, being able to spell “Massachusetts” will not save the nation.

The problem was that Ms. Coakley’s campaign never bothered to point any of this out. It never worked to counter Mr. Brown’s narrative, to say that knowing Curt Schilling’s name has absolutely nothing to do with being a good Senator. Instead, Ms. Coakley essentially ran a turn-out operation, desperately urging Democrats to vote rather than characterizing Mr. Brown’s narrative as wrongheaded. Nationally, Democrats panicked and ran around like chickens with their heads cut off.

In light of this analysis, it comes not as a surprise but almost as expected that Ms. Coakley performed as she did.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

MA-09: Update on Progressive Mac D'Alessandro vs. ConservaDem incumbent Stephen Lynch

If you haven't already, please join Mac's Facebook group and please, please, please contribute to Mac through ActBlue!

The big news this past week out of MA-09 is that progressive challenger Mac D'Alessandro will make the Democratic primary ballot against anti-choice, anti-health care reform ConservaDem incumbent Stephen Lynch. He submitted 5,000 signatures to city and town clerks offices by the May 4 deadline. As long as at least 2,000 are certified valid (should be no problem with 5,000 submitted), Mac submits the 2,000+ certified valid signatures to the Secretary of State by June 1 and he'll give voters a choice against ConservaDem Lynch.

Mac took to YouTube to thank his grassroots supporters for their help making the signature drive a big success: Progressive Democrats across the country have reason to be active in this race. There were 34 House Democrats who ultimately opposed health care reform; and Lynch's vote was among the most perplexing:
Then there are the real head scratchers. Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-NY) and Stephen Lynch (D-MA) famously abandoned the reform push late in the game, after having voted for the House bill. Lynch, in particular, went on a very public crusade of opposition to the bill from the left, and cast his vote despite pleas from President Obama and AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka that he vote with the party.
Of the 34 anti-health care reform Dems, some are running for other office (Senate or Gov), some are retiring, but most are running for re-election. Best I can tell though, few if any have serious primary challengers. MA-09 will provide progressive Democrats nationally with an opportunity to send a message to a ConservaDem who abandoned one of the Democratic Party's central pillars - expanding access to health care and moving toward truly making quality health care a right instead of a privilege.

That appears to be why Mac's campaign has found itself on MoveOn.org's radar screen as a viable primary challenger worthy of progressive support:
In the wake of Rep. Stephen Lynch's vote against health care reform, many progressives have expressed frustration with him—and now he's facing a serious primary challenge.

Mac D'Alessandro is the New England Political Director for the progressive Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and he's pledging to "be on the side of consumers and workers, and not on the side of health insurance companies and big banks."
So get in the game! Now that Mac has demonstrated grassroots strength through the impressively successful signature drive, he has to raise money - and ConservaDem Stephen Lynch starts off with a $1.3 million campaign war chest. So, please, please, please head over to Mac's ActBlue page and contribute as generously as you can!

Here is some background on Mac, from his Facebook group:
Mac D’Alessandro of Milton, Massachusetts, has spent his career fighting on behalf of working families. For the past nine years, Mac has worked for the Service Employees International Union, most recently as New England Political Director. Prior to working for the SEIU, Mac worked for Greater Boston Legal Services, directing legislative efforts to help families combat poverty. Mac earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Human Ecology and Environmental Policy from Rutgers University and his Juris Doctor from Boston College Law School. Mac, 40, is married to Jennie Mulqueen, an early childhood arts educator, and is the proud father of five-year-old Sophie and three-year-old Atticus.

Weekly Mulch: Oil rig sinks, as does Senate climate bill

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Two disasters flared up this week, one environmental, the other political. Off the coast of Louisiana, oil from a sunken rig is leaking as much as five times faster than scientists originally judged, and the spill reportedly reached land last night. And in Washington, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) jumped from his partnership with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) just before the scheduled release of the draft of a new Senate climate bill.

The trio had worked for months on bipartisan legislation on climate change. After Graham’s defection, his partners promised to press on, but the bill’s chances of survival are dimmer.

The next Exxon Valdez?

As Grist puts it, the spill off the Louisiana coast is “worse than expected, and getting worser.” The oil rig sank on April 20, and since then, oil has been pouring out of the well and into the Gulf of Mexico.

British Petroleum (BP), which operates the rig, along with the Coast Guard and now the Department of Defense, has pushed to contain and clean up the spill. The problem is deep under water and difficult to measure, but by mid-week, experts estimated that it was gushing 5,000 barrels a day from three different leaks.

Interior department officials said the spill could continue for 90 days. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum looks at a couple of estimates for how much oil could end up in the Gulf and concludes, “An Exxon Valdez size spill might only be a few days away.”

The federal government has rallied to respond. Administration officials have traveled to Louisiana, and  both the executive branch and the legislative branch have announced investigations into the spill. But, as Care2 writes, the White House is saying that the explosion should not derail plans for future drilling.

“In all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, according to Care2.

New drilling, no regulations

Just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced that the government would open up areas off the East Coast for offshore oil and gas drilling. The proposal already had some opponents, and the spill makes the politics of new drilling that much trickier. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports that White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner acknowledged the issue, along with energy experts around Washington.

“This reopens the issue: Is the risk worth the reward?” Lincoln Pratson, a professor of energy and environment at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, told Sheppard.

And even though BP is relying on the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense for help managing this spill, the company is pushing back on efforts to minimize those risks, Lindsay Beyerstein reports for Working In These Times.

The company “continues to oppose a proposed rule by the Minerals Management Service (the agency that oversees oil leases on federal lands) that would require lessees and operators to develop and audit their own Safety and Emergency Management Plans (SEMP),” Beyerstein writes. “BP and other oil companies insist that voluntary compliance will suffice to keep workers and the environment safe.”

Climate bill catastrophe

The country might also have to rely on companies’ “voluntary compliance” with measures to combat global warming: Congress doesn’t seem likely to pass a bill regulating carbon any time soon. Sen. Kerry and friends were supposed to release their version of climate legislation Monday, but over the weekend, Sen. Graham backed out. His reason? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had floated the idea of prioritizing immigration reform, which Graham argued would undermine work on energy legislation.

“It seems like the senator…has a bit of an attitude problem,” wrote The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana. “He storms out of climate talks because Democrats have dared consider working on two things at once? The degree to which movement in the Senate hinges on this single, mercurial senator, seemingly the only one whose agenda includes something more than stymieing Democrats, is remarkable.”

Call the clean up crew

After Graham’s announcement (Arana called it a “hissy fit”), congressional democrats scrambled to prove that the climate bill was not knocked entirely off course. On Monday, Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman met with their wayward colleague; by Wednesday, Sen. Reid had promised that he would “move forward on energy first;” and by Thursday, Kerry and Lieberman had asked the EPA to start evaluating the bill’s environmental and economic impacts.

Although a draft of the bill was supposed to come out on Monday, no one has seen it. At Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard reports that even the EPA, which is supposed to analyze the bill, hasn’t received the full draft.

“According to the EPA, the senators submitted a “description of their draft bill” for economic modeling,” she writes. “The agency confirmed in a statement to Mother Jones the senators “have not sent EPA any actual legislative text.” The agency is determining whether it has enough information about the bill to produce an analysis of its economic and environmental impacts.”

Despite assurances from the Senate leadership, it’s not clear if climate legislation will come to the floor this year or, if it does, that it will pass.

Not a disaster

There was one bright spot of news for environmentalists this week: the United States will build its first off-shore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. The project, called Cape Wind, has a host of opponents, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided to approve it. The scale will be smaller than originally planned—130 rather than 170 turbines, the Washington Independent reports—which could mollify critics who worried about its visual impact.

Cape Wind is a prime example of how clean energy projects can still cause harm or anger the people who live in their shadow. The Texas Observer recaps opposition to clean energy projects: A working-class neighborhood fought against efforts to build a biomass plant in their town, and won.

“Despite some activists touting these projects as solutions to global warming, and politicians promoting them as the key to economic prosperity, renewable energy projects tend to have their own sets of problems for local residents,” reports Rusty Middleton.

Biomass is one thing: burning materials like waste wood might produce fewer greenhouse gasses, but a biomass plant still dirties the air around it. But if the choice is between an off-shore wind farm that could mar a pleasant vista or an off-shore drilling operation that could spill gallons of oil onto your coast, it seems clear which is the better option.

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.

 

 

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