Weekly Mulch: Climate Deniers Set to Freeze Progress in Congress

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

A chill is coming to Washington. A wave of climate change deniers were elected to office this week, and come January, we can expect a freeze in all reasonable and productive discussion about the fate of the planet.

Last year, the political discussion about climate change and carbon regulation was complicated and bogged down, but at least it was happening.

Who are the deniers?

Grist has pulled together a list of the climate deniers headed into power in the Senate. “Overall, the Senate next year will be more hostile to climate action than ever before,” the site’s staff says.

If these climate-denying legislators came from deeply red states, Tuesday’s results might not be so shocking. But many of them represent swing states, or states that might be red in presidential contests, but that have previously elected Democrats to Congress.

Farewell, moderation

These latter states include North Dakota, whose new senator, John Hoeven, made Grist’s list, and Indiana. Also on the list are Marco Rubio, from Florida, Kelly Ayotte, from New Hampshire, and Pat Toomey, from Pennsylvania.

Perhaps most disheartening is the replacement of Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) with Senator-Elect Ron Johnson. Johnson is to the right of the independent-minded Feingold on a host of issues, but as Mother JonesAndy Kroll writes, “What landed Johnson in headlines earlier this year was his claim that climate change wasn’t created by humans but instead was the result of ’sunspot activity.’

The new climate “science”

Sunspot activity is just one explanation that newly elected Republicans have grabbed onto to explain the very real phenomenon of climate change. Care2’s Beth Buczynski has rounded up a few choice quotes from these new leaders:

“With the possible exception of Tiger Woods, nothing has had a worse year than global warming. We have discovered that a good portion of the science used to justify “climate change” was a hoax perpetrated by leftist ideologues with an agenda.” —Todd Young, new congressperson from Indiana

“There isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth.” —Roy Blunt, new senator from Missouri

There are more where these came from.

In denial

What does this shift mean? In short, that the United States and our environmental policies will be limping forward and falling behind the rest of the world as international communities try to deal with climate change. As Brian Merchant writes at AlterNet:

…the current crop of GOP politicians have adopted a somewhat united ideological front opposing not only climate legislation, but the general notion of climate science itself. Nowhere else in the world has a leading political party availed itself of a position so directly in opposition to science — indeed, today’s GOP is the only party in the world that incorporates climate change denial as part of its political platform.

On the domestic front, writes The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia, that means that even unambitious legislation, like the renewable energy standard, stands little chance of passing. As it’s currently written, the renewable energy standard would require a certain percentage of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources. In reality, it would not even push clean energy production to grow faster than market forces alone would. The main purpose of passing a standard would be to signal to clean energy investors that the government supports their work.

In other words, in the current legislative climate, our leaders wouldn’t even get behind legislation that is just a sign of support for clean energy and the jobs it would create.

Zombie Climategate

Instead, the House’s leadership plans on spending its time staging a show trial of climate science. The chief executor of this strategy will be Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is set to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Change.org’s Jess Leber explains:

From his new position, the former car-alarm company owner plans to raise false alarm about climate conspiracy theories. As Nikki Gloudeman wrote, just a few weeks ago Issa vowed to make investigating “Climategate”—the climate pseudo-scandal that’s already died 1,000 deaths—a top oversight priority should he win the committee.

In theory, Issa would be investigating a series of emails, sent by British climate scientists. Climate skeptics argue the emails prove that scientists are falsifying evidence of climate change. Extensive investigations have already debunked those claims.

In short, environmental leader Bill McKibben had the right idea back in September. Anyone who’s interested in advocating for climate change action in this country would do well to stop trying to convince Congress to do its job. Our leaders won’t be listening.

The best path forward may be to start convincing the American people, in the hope that, two years from now, they’ll vote for candidates who have a clue.

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.

 

 

Is Anyone Else Frightened By Tea-Partiers in Congress?

Recently, I've come to the realization that it is inevitable we are going to have a few tea party "patriots" in Congress after the midterm elections tomorrow.  Whether it be the rabble-rousing 5 o'clock shadow known as Joe Miller in Alaska, or fundamentalist Floridian Marco Rubio, a candidate bearing the tea party dark mark will no doubt find themselves inside the hallowed halls of the Capitol building.

The regressive, and sometimes radical, views of candidates like Miller are what genuinely scares me a bit when discussing their potential to get elected into the major legislative body of our United States of America. Miller holds strictly conservative, and many times embarrassing, views on homosexuality.  He came under fire earlier in October when it was leaked that he had an anti-gay activist on his campaign's payroll. 

According to Miller's campaign disclosure forms, Miller has paid Terry Moffitt of High Point, North Carolina, $2500 for consulting services. Moffitt is not known as a political consultant. But he is a man of many interests. He's been a dean at a Christian high school (where hetaught creationism), and he has traveled around the world to promote Christianity. (He refers to himself as the "Christian Indiana Jones.")

Moffitt's Family Policy Network runs a project called "Hope for Homosexuals"  that encourages "practicing homosexuals to 'come out' of that destructive lifestyle, and to 'come home' to the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ…While the homosexuals celebrate their perversions, they are confronted with the truth that there is hope for deliverance in Jesus Christ."

Source: Mother Jones

And then you have people like John Raese, who is currently running on the Republican ballot in West Virginia for Senate.  Raese believes we don't need public education, and therefore is in favor of abolishing the Department of Education.  This is a horrible and preposterous idea, and for a state like West Virginia it would be detrimental to the entire education system.  West Virginia would fall even further down the education ladder.  What would happen to the children who receive free and reduced lunches at schools that are publicly funded? Raese's plan is a "voucher" system with many private and charter schools being instituted.  Nobody knows where the money will come from.  The kids who can't afford it will, I suppose, not attend school.

Raese is also in favor of getting rid of the minimum-wage, Department of Energy, and would rather make money than create jobs.  Class act. 

Are these really the kind of people we need in Congress?  No, but unfortunately some of them may be on their way to Washington.

 

Midterm Elections in the Public Discourse

Pollsters are almost entirely focused on the upcoming elections.  Many are predicting substantial victories for the GOP, and analyze what is driving or curbing the enthusiasm of the electorate.

Harvard Poll:  Millennial Generation's Enthusiasm is Waning

There's more...

Campaign Cash: Corporations Get More Power, Political Parties Get Less

 

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

War chests from right-wing billionaires and corporate titans are funding tremendous portions of political activity, from the so-called grassroots activism of the Tea Party to the streamlined lobbying assaults of the nation’s largest corporations.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s wildly unpopular ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, secret election financing by elites is exploding, even as the public visibility of such electoral purchasing power evaporates.

 

Corporations get more freedom as political parties get less

As Jamelle Bouie emphasizes for The American Prospect, election funding from political committees and non-profits is already up 40 percent from 2008 levels. But the oft-cited the liberation of the corporate purse was accompanied by less-well-known constraints on political parties themselves. While corporations like Wal-Mart and Bank of America are free to spend as much as they want attacking or promoting specific candidates, the political parties themselves cannot.

As Bouie notes, this scenario further rigs the electoral game in favor of the wealthy and corporations. Candidates who know that their party can’t help them out become even more dependent on corporate cash during elections. And while few entities are less popular right now than the Republican and Democratic parties, they are ultimately accountable to their voters. They reach out to a broad array of individuals across the country, while corporations merely advance their own interests.

Political parties—however imperfect—can serve as a check on such destructive corporate influence. Citizens United has made that check much weaker. As Jesse Zwick writes for The Washington Independent, political parties used to dominate independent election spending. This year, for the first time, thanks to Citizens United, front-groups and corporations have taken the lead.

The Tea Party “grassroots” movement is anything but

Billionaires are on the attack, exploiting campaign finance loopholes to prop-up phony “grassroots” political movements. The most egregious—and successful—effort has been waged by David Koch, a long-time GOP fundraiser who is now backing major Tea Party organizers. Koch is the executive vice president of Koch Industries, Inc., which refines and distributes petroleum and other raw materials.

As Adele Stan details in her latest in-depth expose for AlterNet and The Nation Investigative Fund, Koch has found ways to funnel money to the Tea Party in just about every way imaginable. But it’s most sinister maneuver was the establishment of two right-wing front groups that keep their donors anonymous. After Citizens United, we’ll never know how much money Koch is funneling to the Tea Party, and his front groups—FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity—provide the same cover for other elites.

How much cover? Americans for Prosperity brags that they’ll spend at least $45 million on the 2010 elections, while FreedomWorks plans to throw in another $10 million.

As Stan emphasizes, these two groups are the major organizers of all things Tea Party. They provided logistical organizing for Glenn Beck’s 9/12 rally, held over 300 rallies against health care reform and hosted “voter education” workshops pushing the glories of deregulation to anyone who would listen. They even have an unofficial partnership with Fox News, hosting conservative Fox personalities at their rallies, which are, in turn, promoted by Fox programming. Glenn Beck is even featured in advertisements and fundraising pitches for FreedomWorks.

The anonymity provided by Koch’s front-groups is critical to the Tea Party’s appeal. In popular media, the Tea Party is often described as a grassroots coalition of ordinary, mad-as-hell citizens. That image is hard to sustain in the face of a wildly expensive top-down campaign orchestrated by billionaires. As Stan explains:

The armies of angry white people with their “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, the actual grassroots activists, are not the agents of the Tea Party revolt, but its end users, enriching the Tea Party’s corporate owners just as you and I enrich Google through our clicks.

Of  course, Koch isn’t the only man operating anonymous front-groups. The Citizens United decision allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of their own cash directly influencing elections. But so long as that money is laundered through a third-party, they can keep these expenditures out of the public eye.

Oil giants dominate U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Nobody has exploited this loophole more aggressively than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying clearinghouse for the nation’s largest corporations.

The Chamber doesn’t just rely on domestic donors. It also accepts cash from dozens of foreign corporations. As Kate Sheppard explains for Mother Jones, no less than 14 foreign oil giants belong to The Chamber, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual dues alone. This is important, because as sweeping and destructive as Citizens United was, it did not grant foreign corporations the right to spend on U.S. elections.  There’s nothing xenophobic about that—it’s a U.S. election, after all, and foreign firms don’t have to live with many of the social and ecological consequences of U.S. deregulation. The Chamber insists it has accounting devices in place to separate its funding and keep its operations within the law, but so far, it hasn’t explained how these work.

But ultimately, as Sheppard and her MoJo colleague Nick Baumann note, the influence of domestic corporations on the American political process is equally sinister as foreign corporate influence. If the narrow interests of a U.S. corporation hijack our democracy with campaign war chests, that can be just as bad as subjecting our democracy to the whims of a foreign corporation. Whether the Chamber’s foreign funding follows the letter of the law or not, the organization is still running a destructive campaign to further entrench corporate power in our political system—and shield those same corporate titans from public accountability.

And the existing campaign finance regulators aren’t even enforcing the meager laws that do exist to curb legalized bribery. As Jesse Zwick explains in another piece for The Washington Independent, three recent appointees to the Federal Election Commission have waged an all-out war to mire the agency in gridlock, preventing it from cracking down on straightforward abuses.  President George W. Bush actually named former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX)’s campaign finance lawyer to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). His term has expired, but getting new FEC commissioners confirmed by the Senate in the face of Republican filibusters appears nearly impossible. So Delay’s lawyer, Donald McGahn, is still working to keep campaign finance laws from being enforced, and succeeding.

Democracy is not a corporate bidding war. Corporate cash belongs in the board room, not the voting booth.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, 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, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Stop Panicking, The Sky Isn't Falling

It was a rather disturbing diary headline earlier this week: “Charlie Cook says Democrats will lose the House.” But it wasn't quite as disturbing once I read the actual article in question.

Is the progressive sky falling?

Hell no.

The full quote from Cook shows that he’s just blowing smoke and has no numbers to back up his claim.

 

I’ve spent the last couple of days talking to some of the brightest Democrats in the party that are not in the White House. And it’s very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don’t lose the House. It’s very hard. Are the seats there right this second? No. But we’re on a trajectory on the House turning over.

A trajectory? Hell, trajectories can change. Give me numbers, not opinions. Unemployment will still be high in November, but between the new jobs bills and the slow recovery, it shouldn’t be as high as it is now. Hopefully with Obama’s new spine, some form health care reform will have passed and voters will realize that Grandma is still alive.

The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato was one of the first to predict a bad year for Democrats, but is holding steady at bad year, not terrible year. Perhaps his colleagues, like Cook, are trying to make up for not being the first to play Chicken Little by escalating to Chicken Huge. Either way, here’s the take from Isaac Wood, House Race Editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

Some pundits are already predicting the GOP could even take back the House, which would require a net gain of 40 seats this November. To put that into perspective, in the past sixty years there have been thirty House elections, but only four have resulted in either party gaining 40 seats or more. In fact, over the past thirty-five years (and sixteen House elections), only once has either party picked up 40 seats or more. That year, of course, was 1994 when Republicans came to power following a net gain of 52 House seats.

While the Crystal Ball believes 2010 will reverse Democratic gains at all levels, there is still no convincing evidence that a GOP wave will deliver Republicans the majority in the House. Examining history and House races on a district-by-district basis shows instead that Republicans are headed to a more typical, if better than average, midterm year, picking up between 24 and 30 seats as the Crystal Ball has predicted since September. The average pick-up in a midterm year (since 1946) is 22 seats and Republicans should exceed that, but the magic number of 40 still seems out of reach, as of February.

The Senate picture is also looking up. We’ll lose seats, but poll trends are encouraging as Democratic candidates gain ground in several states. In New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte leads Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes 46-39, but Hodes is closing, having narrowed the gap from 49-40. In New York, Harold Ford has done wonders for Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand, who has narrowed the gap against former Republican Governor George Pataki from 51-38 to 47-41. Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher is also cutting into former Rep. Rob Portman’s lead in Ohio. Nationally, if one disregards Rasmussen (which doesn’t use live pollsters), Democrats still maintain a narrow edge on the generic ballot. And let’s not forget, though he’s not above 50% in every poll, the party’s leader does have a net positive rating.

Am I cherry picking these numbers? With the exception of the president’s approval rating and the generic ballot, yes, of course. The overall electoral picture is bleak. But, just because the sky is dark doesn’t mean it’s falling. This is not the time for progressives and Democrats to panic. It is the time to demand that Congress get serious about financial reform, filibuster reform, clean energy, and health care, and it is the time to start identifying progressive candidates worth our time and donations. I’ve already given money to Matt Dunne in VT-Gov and Jack Conway in KY-Sen. Paul Hodes in NH-Sen is next, and possibly Russ Feingold in WI-Sen, given that Hodes and Feingold are two of the three Senate candidates so far endorsed by the Sierra Club (as well as dozens of House races). I’m thrilled to see the oft-maligned Michael Bennett leading the way on reconciliation, and have always been a fan of Kirstin Gillibrand, who is now taking the lead on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

With a bit of elbow grease and good messaging, we can limit our losses such that, with filibuster reform, we’ll still have the capability for good governance. We’ve already got some good candidates. So, the next time you feel panic, reroute that energy into something more productive.

Diaries

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