2010 - %3, July

Did Obama Kill the Climate Bill?

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 6:35 PM EDT

Update: Kate Sheppard reports on what actually made it into the  Senate's energy package.

The Senate's climate bill is officially dead. And given that Democrats will almost certainly hold fewer seats in Congress next year, major action on the climate is unlikely to be revived anytime soon. Andrew Revkin, Joe Romm, and Tim Dickinson place a fair share of the blame on Obama. From Dickinson's widely-quoted Rolling Stone piece yesterday:

Handled correctly, the BP spill should have been to climate legislation what September 11th was to the Patriot Act, or the financial collapse was to the bank bailout. Disasters drive sweeping legislation, and precedent was on the side of a great leap forward in environmental progress. In 1969, an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California – of only 100,000 barrels, less than the two-day output of the BP gusher – prompted Richard Nixon to create the EPA and sign the Clean Air Act. But the Obama administration let the opportunity slip away.

Early on, Obama failed to challenge blowhards such as Senator Jim Inhofe who distorted the science of global warming. Revkin points out that the president has not invited researchers and climate analysts to the White House (as even Bush did). And after BP's well blew out, Obama's infamously milquetoast address from the Oval Office never connected the disaster with the need for a cap on carbon. All of this wasn't for a lack of pressure from his allies. Nine high-profile environmental groups wrote a letter to the president pleading that "nothing less than your direct personal involvement" will break the logjam in the Senate. Al Gore ultimately said what Obama wouldn't:

Placing a limit on global-warming pollution and accelerating the deployment of clean energy technologies is the only truly effective long-term solution to this crisis. Now it is time for the Senate to act. In the midst of the greatest environmental disaster in our history, there is no excuse to do otherwise.

Of course, there's always an excuse in Washington. Voting for a climate bill might hurt the reelection prospects of swing-state Democrats. The Senate, exhausted in the wake of its tough votes heath care and financial reform, might have never overcome a filibuster. And, to be fair, Obama has already done more for the climate than any president before him. But no matter: The confluence of a huge Democratic congressional majority and a huge ecological catastrophe wrought by the fossil fuel industry could have presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rewrite the rules of climate politics. With a little bit of leadership. Unfortunately, a little bit of leadership on the climate is more than we've got right now.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Wars Don't Make Heroes

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 4:04 PM EDT

Consider a strange aspect of our wars since October 2001: they have yet to establish a bona fide American hero, a national household name. Two were actually "nominated" early by the Bush administration—Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old private and clerk captured by the Iraqis in the early days of the American invasion and later "rescued" by Army Rangers and Navy Seals, and Pat Tillman, the former NFL safety who volunteered for service in the Army Rangers eight months after 9/11 and died under "enemy" gunfire in Afghanistan.

Both stories were later revealed to be put-up jobs, pure Bush-era propaganda and deceit. In Lynch's case, almost every element in the instant patriotic myth about her rescue proved either phony or highly exaggerated; in Tillman's, it turned out that he had been killed by friendly fire, but—thanks to a military cover-up (that involved General Stanley McChrystal, later to become Afghan war commander)—was still given a Silver Star and a posthumous promotion. Members of his unit were even ordered by the military to lie at his funeral, and he was made into a convenient "hero" and recruitment poster boy for the Afghan War. Both were shameful episodes, involving administration manipulation and media gullibility. Since then, as TomDispatch regular and retired lieutenant colonel William Astore points out, US troops as a whole have been labeled "our heroes," but individual heroes have been in vanishingly short supply.

"We Know We Don’t Have the Votes"

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 3:27 PM EDT

Update: What's in the package, plus Josh Harkinson on Obama's role in the demise of the climate bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has officially ruled out the possibility that a carbon cap, even a scaled back version, might make it into the energy package that he plans to bring to the floor next week.

"It's easy to count to 60," Reid told reporters Thursday. "I could do it by the time I was in eighth grade. My point is this, we know where we are. We know we don't have the votes."

It's not like we didn't see this coming; it's been clear for quite some time now that there wasn't an appetite for the measure, even among Democrats. But there remained some hope that a less-ambitious carbon reduction plan could make it in the package, which is also expected to include a renewable energy standard, oil-use reduction measure, and new regulations on the oil industry. But Reid's comments are the final death blow for climate legislation, at least for this Congress.

In remarks following the announcement, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the biggest champion of this issue in the Senate, tried to put a hopeful spin on the situation, pledging to try to push a carbon cap at a later date. While the bill Democrats will bring to the floor next week is an "admittedly narrow, limited bill," Kerry said his work on climate will continue.

"Even this morning, Senator Lieberman and I had a meeting with one Republican who has indicated a willingness to begin working towards something," Kerry said. "Harry Reid, today, is committed to giving us that opportunity, that open door over the next weeks, days, months, whatever it takes to find those 60 votes. The work will continue every single day."

I'll have more on what actually made it into Reid's package soon.

Update on contents of the package here

Chart of the Day #2: Small Business Fears

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 3:21 PM EDT

Via Ezra Klein here's a survey of small businesses that's been conducted by the National Federation of Independent Businesses for the past few decades. The question is: What's your single most important problem? (It's broken up into two charts so you can see all the trends clearly.) In the early 90s it's taxes. In the mid-90s it's regulation. In the aughts it's insurance. And today? It's poor sales.

It's true that fear of the regulatory environment has gone up slightly over the past year, but the problem driving lack of hiring and investment is still crystal clear: lack of demand. If people were buying more stuff, businesses would be expanding.

This is just one data point, but it's a telling one. Even with the massive propaganda campaign that's been underway ever since Obama took office, small businesses still mostly don't seem very concerned about the changing regulatory environment. Mainly they're concerned about the economy sucking. If we want them to start expanding and hiring, that's what needs to be tackled.

Quote of the Day: Spending Cuts and Elections

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 2:50 PM EDT

From Rep. Paul Ryan (R–Wisc.), on why Republicans are so reluctant to endorse the spending cuts in his Roadmap for America:

They're talking to their pollsters and their pollsters are saying, "Stay away from this, we're going to win an election."

Points for honesty. But what really makes this reticence remarkable is that even Ryan doesn't really propose much in the way of spending cuts in his roadmap. He continues to get lots of praise for being one of the few conservatives to put his money where his mouth is, but the truth is that his plan mostly just sets spending caps. With some minor exceptions, it doesn't go the critical next step and propose the actual cuts that would allow us to meet his caps.

But most Republicans won't even endorse that. They figure that might endanger their election chances. I imagine they figure right.

Fixing California

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 2:28 PM EDT

Conor Friedersdorf asks a tough one:

I’ve got a question for Kevin Drum. You and I presumably agree that California Republicans and Democrats are both exceptionally awful, so much so that it’s hard to even think about this state’s politics without despairing. Indeed, I’ll bet that despite our differences in political philosophy, we could hammer out some mutually agreed upon changes that would result in a 600 percent improvement in public policy.

But I also bet we’ll wind up voting differently come November. The last time Democrats controlled the statehouse and the governor’s mansion, Gray Davis and the legislature incurred some egregiously unsustainable costs related to state employees, whose unions are such a powerful interest group here. I’ll be the first to acknowledge the utter dysfunction of California Republicans, our current governor very much included, but I’m terrified to death that the end of divided government is going to maximize the chance that more catastrophic craziness passes into law. And I find it very hard to believe that unified government under Jerry Brown and the current legislature is going to bring about any significant reforms.

Am I wrong?

Wrong? The word hardly has any meaning in this context. A choice between imperious zillionaire Republican Meg Whitman and Democratic retread Jerry Brown is like being asked to choose between dog food and cat food for dinner tonight. Since I'm a cat person, I guess I'd choose cat food because I get to watch my cats lap it up adoringly every night. But that's not much of a reason, is it?

I have no idea what to do. California is broken and there's no political will to fix it. And by "political will," I don't mean that politicians are unwilling to fix it (though they are). I mean that the people of California are unwilling to fix it. Blaming things on our politicians feels good, but we the people are every bit as fractured.

And look: it's not just Sacramento. I live in Orange County, ground zero for conservatism in the Golden State. In 2001, right after 9/11, the county board of supervisors unanimously voted to increase pensions for public safety workers by over 50% in a single stroke. Sure, the authorization for the increase was contained in a bill passed by the legislature and signed by Gray Davis. But guess what? Everyone bellied up to the bar, including the supposed fiscal hawks of The OC.

So would things be any better if the former CEO of eBay became our governor? It's hard to see how. Whitman apparently doesn't have the leadership chops to even risk talking to the press, let alone the leadership chops to bring some semblance of order to a legislature that's (a) hopelessly divided and (b) governed by insane rules that practically guarantee deadlock. Would Jerry Brown do any better? I doubt it. But on non-budget issues at least he's more likely to be on my side of things. So there's that.

Bottom line: I don't know what to do. If Arnold is to be believed, our shiny new redistricting and open primary laws will change things starting in 2012. I can't wait.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Enviro Links: The Climate Bill Dies (Again), BP Admits Doctoring Photos, and More

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 2:26 PM EDT

Today in climate news:

Majority Leader Harry Reid is not going to include a cap on carbon dioxide pollution, reports The Hill. We'll have more on the rest of the bill soon.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her weekly press conference that she remains proud of the House's effort to pass a carbon cap last summer, and will push for it to be included in a conference bill this year.

In oil disaster news:

Response workers are preparing to evacuate the area around the spill site as a tropical storm approaches. Evacuation would put work on the relief wells on hold for 10 to 14 days, according to incident commander Thad Allen.

BP admits to doctoring a photo of the command center to make its response team look more busy.

BP hates puppies and kittens.

The other big four oil companies are forming a $1 billion joint venture to plan rapid response to potential future spills. BP is not a part of this new party.

China is dealing with its own catastrophic oil spill.

And in other environmental news:

Big Oil has been lobbying to weaken sanctions against Iran.

The Washington Independent reports on how the nuclear licensing process is raising the risks of proliferation.

After the BP Catastrophe: Gauging the Impact for 10 Politicians

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 1:54 PM EDT

The local environment has been ruined and the regional economy has been decimated. Now, some elected officials are finding that the Gulf oil spill is a political catastrophe, too. But for every Joe Barton who managed to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, there are officials who may come out of this crisis without so much as a drop of oil on their careers. The Atlantic takes a look at the fortunes of 10 politicians affected by the incident in this slide show.

This post was produced by The Atlantic for the Climate Desk collaboration.

Help Me Understand the Right. Really.

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 1:33 PM EDT

The fantastic outpouring of conservative resentment following the Shirley Sherrod case (miscellaneous example, one of many, here) is remarkable. In one sense, it's nothing new. We all know that conservatives have felt for a long time that an omnipresent liberal media is stacked against them; that race hustlers have made an industry out of accusing them of bigotry; that coastal elites sneer at them; that Hollywood forces its liberal social agenda on them; that their kids are indoctrinated every day with liberal shibboleths by politically correct schoolteachers and university professors; that global warming is a hoax designed to give liberal technocrats control over the economy; that multicultural cabals hate heartland Christians; and that, just in general, liberals operate in a relentlessly bullying, thuggish manner and conservatives just sit there and take it.

On an intellectual level, I can sort of get this. If I were a conservative Christian I'd be unhappy with the increasing secularization of society and the 60s-era Supreme Court decisions that largely removed religion from the public square. If I were a white guy stuck in a sucky job and heard stories of blacks being given preference in promotions and school placements, I'd be pissed. If I were socially traditional and my school district insisted on a curriculum that endorsed tolerance of gay lifestyles, I'd be horrified. If I only heard the Fox News version of Climategate, it would seem like truly terrifying proof of a massive global conspiracy and fraud.

But on an emotional level, it just seems nuts. So I wish that I could figure out a way to feel it. To understand it. I wish I could somehow do the "Black Like Me" thing. (Explanation here if you're too young to remember this.) But how? What would it take to somehow enter this world and actually try to feel what so many conservatives apparently feel? Since I almost totally lack empathy I probably couldn't do it in any case, but could anyone? What would it take to truly understand what's going on here? Because, if anything, it seems to be getting even more virulent and I find myself increasingly unable to understand it.

I don't know why I'm writing this. I'm just feeling increasingly estranged from the political world these days, as if it's some kind of nightmare that's taken over our national psyche and refuses to let go — and I'm forced to participate and can't wake up no matter how hard I try.

I dunno. I'm burbling. Just getting something off my chest that I can't really explain. Sorry. Maybe I just need a vacation. Anyone know of any nice spots?

Confessions of a Journolister

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 12:42 PM EDT

It's shocking that progressive journalists have progressive ideas and share them with other progressive journalists.

Wait, no, it's not? Then I suppose I am misreading the series of stories in the conservative Daily Caller that have revealed the exchanges of the now-defunct Journolist, a supposedly off-the-record listserv for nearly 500 journalists and policy wonks, most of whom were progressive. (My deep dark confession: I was a member, mainly a lurker; I haven't posted anything in years. And, truth be told, when I did post it usually was to promote a column or article I had written, seeking links.) The Daily Caller and other conservatives have depicted the Journolist gang as practically a secret society coordinating the so-called liberal line in the media. But an ex-Daily Caller reporter was part of the group—which has gone unreported on by the Caller.

Sarah Palin today called Journolist participants "sick puppies" and has pointed to the Daily Caller's articles as proof that anti-free-speech libs control the mainstream media and have subverted it for their own nefarious purposes. But that's a foolish analysis, for equating the Journolist group—predominantly self-identified liberals writing or working for self-identified liberal outfits—with the MSM is absurd. The listserv was mainly a fun place for folks to kibbitz, trade ideas, and argue over published pieces. Think of it as a bar for journalists—without the booze, but with the occassional brawl. Sure, some participants wrote intemperate comments, just as they would mouth off in a tavern with friends, colleagues, or antagonists. Journalists—liberal and conservatives—do hold strong opinions and often are not shy about sharing. While I do not begrudge the Daily Caller the fun copy it has obtained by gaining access to Journolist archives—I would certainly write stories about a similar conservative listserv if I could—this is not an instance when a conspiracy has been exposed (especially since Politico and others have already written about the existence of Journolist).

The latest Journolist piece hit close to home, for it features a headline based on a Journolist comment made by Nick Baumann, a reporter in Mother Jones' Washington, DC, bureau. (See Nick's take on the Journolist flap here.) The article zeroes in on the hours following John McCain's announcement that Sarah Palin would be his running mate. Journolist was exploding with comments from members wondering what was behind this odd selection and what was the best way to write about it—and to attack it. (Hey, they're liberals.) In years past, this sort of conversation would have happened in a restaurant or hotel lobby—presumably the bar next to the lobby—where reporters would gather. In this instance, it occurred electronically. I believe that at the time I was in a rented house in St. Paul—the site of the GOP convention—with Baumann and Jonathan Stein, another Mother Jones reporter (now a grad student in California). Like good journalists, we each immediately began to contact people (in Alaska and elsewhere) who could explain this choice or who could tell us anything interesting about Palin. While doing this, Nick and Jonathan participated in the ongoing Journolist conversation about Palin.