2010 - %3, October

European Companies Spend Big to Block Climate Action in US

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 10:12 AM EDT

Some of Europe's biggest polluters are dumping money into US politics, in an effort to undermine progress on climate and energy. The oil giant BP, the chemical company BASF, the cement and concrete manufacturer Lafarge, and pharmaceutical company Bayer were among the biggest donors. Combined, European companies gave $240,200 to senators who blocked climate action, which accounted for 78 percent of their total campaign donations this year.

The figures were released in a new report from the Climate Action Network Europe on Monday, using data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The information, said CAN Europe, shows what "appears to be a coordinated effort by European polluters to influence United States climate and energy policies through targeted donations to candidates who oppose action on climate change." (Foreign companies, through their US-based subsidiaries, are able to give to candidates via political action committees—and this year their spending has soared.)

A large chunk of that money—$107,200–went to candidates who deny that climate change is a problem, like Senators James Inhofe (R-Okla.). But Democrats who acknowledge the problem yet still block action also made out well—with Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) leading the pack at $47,500. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), architect of several legislative attempts to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, also received $16,000 from the companies surveyed by CAN Europe.

Other big recipients of the EU largesse: Jim DeMint (R-SC) at $13,000, John Cornyn (R-Texas) at $11, 000, John Barrasso (R-Wy.) at $10,000, Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) at $10,000, Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) at $10,000, Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) at $9,500, Orrin Hatch (R-Idaho) at $8,000, David Vitter (R-La.) at $7,500, Richard Burr (R-NC) at $7,000, James Inhofe (R-Okla.) at $6,000, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) at $5,500, and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) at $4,500.

Bayer, the German pharmaceutical giant, gave $108,100. The UK-based oil titan BP made $25,000 in campaign donations, with $18,000 of that going to senators who blocked action on climate change. This is particularly notable, as prior to the oil spill, BP was one of the companies that the bill's authors were touting as supporting climate legislation. A number of these companies have said publicly that they support action on climate, but their campaign spending actively undermines action.

As CAN Europe points out, this funding serves their purposes on multiple levels. The EU has been out ahead of the rest of the world in acting on climate change, aiming to cut emissions 20 percent by 2020. Countries have proposed increasing that target to 30 percent, but many of these companies, through groups like Business Europe and the Alliance for a Competitive European Industry have pushed back. Their big argument? The EU should wait until laggard countries like the US pass climate laws before they take more aggressive action. The failure to act in the US also handcuffed global action in Copenhagen last year. Thus, subverting US climate action serves their greater purpose of stopping tougher action in Europe, too.

“It’s appallingly hypocritical for these European polluters that are supporting anti-climate crusaders in the US to simultaneously fight against strong climate legislation in Europe, based on the false premise that the EU can’t make meaningful emissions cuts without the US on board," said Tomas Wyns, CAN Europe senior policy officer.

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AZ's Anti-Immigration Mastermind Takes Aim at Voter Fraud

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 10:07 AM EDT

Kris Kobach—the mastermind behind Arizona's sweeping immigration law—is now poised to become Kansas' next Secretary of State. As I reported a few months ago, the Republican anti-immigration lawyer has focused his entire campaign on voter fraud, playing up fears that illegal immigrants are stealing the vote and pushing for a new law that would require voters to show photo ID at the polls. Kobach now leads his Democratic opponent by 18 points.

Via TPM Muckracker, here's Kobach explaining his vote-stealing fears in full detail:

"Voter fraud is a very real problem in Kansas. Election crimes have been documented across the state--from fraudulent registrations, to vote-by-mail fraud. As the activities of ACORN have demonstrated, organizations that promote voter fraud have burrowed into every corner of our country," he writes on his web site. "In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive…Our voter rolls must be purged of thousands of deceased individuals, illegally-registered aliens, and felons."

Numerous independent studies have found that voter fraud is an exceedingly rare phenomenon. But it's a convenient target for conservative activists like Kobach, who's built his career crafting anti-immigration laws across the country.

If he succeeds in becoming Secretary of State, Kobach will have a substantive impact in the ways that votes are counted in 2012, crafting rules about how voters are registered and elections are run. In response to the rise of conservative candidates like Kobach, liberal groups like the George Soros-funded Secretary of State Project have tried to fight back by supporting Democratic candidates in swing states. That group raised the specter of the tea party in their latest fundraising letter*, warning that if conservative-backed candidates win, "vote suppression, demands for excessive ID requirements, and sheer hysteria would rule the day in 2012."

CNN, Fox Biz Spotlight Foreclosure King

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 8:20 AM EDT

David J. Stern, the Ferrari-driving foreclosure king of Florida and the focus of my recent investigation, "Fannie and Freddie's Foreclosure Barons" ("Home Wreckers" in the November/December print issue), has been getting ample attention lately. In addition to my story on him, his "foreclosure mill" law firm, and others like it, news outlets like ABC News, Bloomberg, CNNMoney, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal have all run stories on the allegations of fraud and wrongdoing, or former employees' startling recollections of the firm's operations, or the lavish gift-giving going on within the firm, according to former paralegals and staffers.

Now, even the big TV networks are getting in on the act. On CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 program, reporter Drew Griffin reported on Stern's firm and some of the more conspicuous examples of Stern's vast wealth. Here's the segment:

And on Fox Business, Gerri Willis of "The Willis Report" offered her own take on David Stern's largesse, which, as I reported, also includes a $15 million waterfront mansion and a 130-foot yacht named "Misunderstood." Below is a screenshot of Willis' offering on Stern; you can watch the full segment here.

Rising Son: Vieux Farka Touré

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 6:15 AM EDT

Vieux Farka Touré, the Malian guitarist who played at the opening of this year's World Cup, has made a stunningly speedy ascent onto the world music scene. His own history is inseparable from his family heritage of Malian Western fusion. His father, Ali Farka Touré made the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists list by bringing the world's attention to the correlation between Western Saharan music and American blues, now often referred to as "Desert Blues."

But Vieux is no mere shadow of his father. In fact, Ali initially discouraged him from pursuing a musical career, but relented after realizing his son's talent. The younger Touré has made a name for himself by reinventing the fusion his father created—bringing funk, reggae, and jam music to the desert-blues genre and carrying this new sound worldwide. I recently asked Touré about growing up Touré, Malian society, and the music he likes to listen to.

Mother Jones: Your father encouraged you to go into the military rather than follow him in music. How come? And why did he have kora master, Toumani Diabate train you, rather than training you himself?

 
 

The Ancient Sounds of Khayyam Ensemble

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Poetry and Persian music are like needle and thread, the melody acting as a guide for the poetry’s narrative fabric. This marriage of the two art forms is ancient, and so are the instruments used. Consider the ney, a long reed-flute played by Kamran Thunder of Khayyam Ensemble, a San Francisco Bay Area group named after the Sufi poet Omar Khayyam. The instrument is believed to date back up to 5,000 years, which makes it one of the longest continually played instruments known—you'll find in depicted on the wall of Egyptian pyramids.

Many times during Khayyam's recent performance at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage, the ney accompanied vocalist Aryan Rahmanian’s rendition of the great Sufi poets Rumi, Hafez, and Saadi, along with a few lyrics penned by Thunder. The tone of the seven-holed flute can oscillate between the sound of a young girl wailing and the deeper rustle of a whispered lament. The flute’s sorrow is so universally recognized that Rumi wrote about it in the revered Masnavi more than seven centuries ago (as translated by Erkan Turkman):

Listen to this Ney that is complaining
and narrating the story of separation.
Ever since they have plucked me from the reed land,
my laments have driven men and women to deep sorrow.
I want someone with a heart pierced by abandonment
so that I may tell him about the pain of my longing.
He who falls aloof from his origin
seeks an opportunity to find it again

 
 

Bhangra Boy: Panjabi MC's Culture Mixtape

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 5:18 AM EDT

If you’ve ever been to an American club with a bunch of Desi guys, you won't have to ask whether it's Panjabi MC's "Mundian Tu Bach Ke" thundering through the speakers. Immediately, a circle forms. Everyone sends one arm up, finger pointing at the ceiling, one leg pointed toward the center—like children doing the hokey-pokey. Then everyone circles around hopping on one leg. This is the bhangra dance. It may seem like an act of cultural peacocking in the context of a Western pub scene, but it's actually a propos, considering the British-Indian MC's influences. Né Rajinder Singh Rai, he adopted his stage name after fans started calling him "the Indian emcee." There's no such language as "Indian," he told them. His lyrics are Punjabi, the mother tongue of his family, which hails from the north Indian state of Punjab. The bhangra sound amalgamates his heritage with Western hip-hop, blending music and beats from both cultures into an undeniably exotic and danceable mix. But it was a guest appearance by Jay-Z in the abovementioned song from his 2003 album Beware that first got him noticed in the States. With his latest album, entitled The Raj, set to release on iTunes this week, we tracked down Mr. MC to talk about his favorite music, his artistic idols, and bhangra culture.

Mother Jones: How is your music received by Punjabi elders and your family back in India?

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Foggy With a Chance of Increased Unemployment

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 5:03 AM EDT

In "Will Obama Put Up a Fight?" MoJo DC bureau chief David Corn traces how Obama has struggled to connect with voters on their fears and uncertainties about the economy. By spending too much time on health care, underestimating his opponents, and banking too much on banks, Obama failed to engage his base and lost control of the narrative. "It wasn't just what Obama did, but how he did it," writes Corn. "He did not effectively present voters with the key question: How would—how could—a post-industrial, post-dot-com, post-Big Finance economy work?" The results from a recent New York Times/CBS poll reveal some of this voter confusion; 57 percent of those polled did not think Obama had a clear plan for solving the nation's problems, and 53 percent didn't think he had a clear plan for creating jobs.

Unfortunately for Democrats struggling to engage their constituents on November 2, voter confusion about the economy at election time can actually hurt the economy even more. Dennis Jacobe, chief economist for Gallup, suggests that the mere presence of the midterm elections could have a negative impact on consumer spending and employment. Jacobe points to a graph of the increasing unemployment rate (see below), and writes:

Often, political opponents disagree not only about what has caused the poor economy, but also on how best to get it going again. This political rhetoric may generate even more confusion and uncertainty as the midterm elections draw near and more Americans listen carefully to the political debates. If true, this could mean the economy will get worse in the weeks ahead as political debate exacerbates economic confusion. Of course, whether it means things will get better following the elections is a whole different discussion.

Graph courtesy of Gallup.com

 

Attack of the 50-Foot Palin

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

It's not that there aren't enough clues on the cover of the new issue of Mother Jones—the headline, for one—but since you asked: Yes, that is a full-throated homage to the B movie classic Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. If you're like us, your knowledge of American cinema doesn't extend to the full plot of this 1958 gem, but suffice to say that it involves a wealthy heiress, Nancy Archer, who after an encounter with an alien is found on the roof of her pool house and soon grows into a giantess. She goes searching for her no-good husband and his mistress, Honey Parker (!), and mayhem ensues. We liked the image because of the subtle historical echoes and... oh, who are we kidding: We liked it because the poster is awesome. WikimediaWikimedia(The echoes, though, are there: 1958 was an election year, in a recession, that dealt President Eisenhower's party a big string of defeats and launched the Senate careers of, among others, Gene McCarthy, Robert Byrd, and Edmund Muskie.) 

MoJo's creative director Tim Luddy encouraged illustrator Zina Saunders to follow the poster out the window in tone and feel, tweaking only the landscape to look more suburban. Saunders (who has cranked out a number of terrific Palin illustrations in the last couple of years) took the assignment very seriously, at one point sending a picture of Palin in her beauty-contestant days to confirm that she'd gotten the proportions right. She also made an animated version. Behold (this might take a sec to load):

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 25, 2010

Mon Oct. 25, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

A U.S. Soldier, center, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team stands in front of a destroyed truck in the Salar Bazaar in Wardak province, Afghanistan, Oct. 18, 2010. The truck was destroyed during a battle between Afghan National Army soldiers and insurgents. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Sean P. Casey/Released)

Could Cutting Emissions Cost You Your Job?

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

Since the Senate couldn't manage to pass a climate bill, this election day all eyes will be on California, where a ballot measure—Proposition 23—could make or break AB32, the country's most aggressive law to cut planet-warming emissions. Supporters of Prop 23 say they're just worried about the economy. They claim that reducing emissions could lead to the loss of 1.1 million jobs, cost the average small business more than $49,000, and "devastate budgets of California social service agencies" due to lost tax revenues. But the biggest spenders on the Prop 23 campaign have been out-of-state fossil fuel interests—hardly a disinterested party in the debate. So are their claims at all legit? Can cutting emissions really lead to a net loss of jobs?

The 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB32, requires that the state decrease emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020—an approximate 25 percent cut from current levels. Implementation of the plan is supposed to begin in 2011, but Prop. 23 would delay the start of the law until unemployment in the state falls below 5.5 percent and stays there for four consecutive quarters. Given the economic downturn around the country and the 12.8 percent unemployment rate in California, that could take quite a bit of time to pull off. (In fact, the state has only hit that goal three times since 1970—well before people were worrying about global warming.)

But there's little evidence that cutting emissions would increase unemployment. A study released earlier this year by Navigant Consulting for the Renewable Electricity Standard Alliance indicated that a federal renewable electricity standard that required 25 percent of electricity come from renewable sources like wind and solar power could create 274,000 jobs nationally. A Congressional Budget Office study of federal proposals to cut greenhouse gases found only a "modest" impact on GDP. And while there would be job loss in the fossil fuel industry or other industries that are heavily reliant on those dirty energy sources, new jobs would be created in other sectors. Indeed, CBO concluded, the "churning of jobs that would be spurred by climate legislation would be small compared with what normally occurs."