2012 - %3, May

Energy Companies Say One Thing, Do the Opposite on Climate Change

| Wed May 30, 2012 12:29 PM EDT

Many large corporations are saying one thing and doing another on climate change, the Union of Concerned Scientists found in a study released Wednesday.

The group examined the role that 28 publicly-traded companies played in two significant efforts to address climate change: the EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health, and the 2010 ballot initiative in California to suspend the state's own climate law. (Here are links to the executive summary and the full report). 

UCS found that many oil and electric companies were actively engaged in efforts to obstruct climate policy. Chesapeake Energy, Tesoro, Murphy Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Valero Energy, and Peabody Energy were consistently opposed to dealing with climate change: both their PR and their actions worked against new, science-based laws to cut greenhouse gases.

Other companies were less straightforward about their positions. ExxonMobil put out corporate PR that was positive about climate policy while engaging in actions that undermined efforts to deal with climate change. For example, its contributions to anti-climate-action lawmakers outweighed contributions to pro-climate-action lawmakers by a ratio of 10 to 1.

ConocoPhillips, another oil giant, touted on its website that it "recognizes that human activity … is contributing to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that can lead to adverse changes in global climate." The company has given money to the Nature Conservancy, and it was a member of groups like the Carbon Disclosure Project, U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Sounds like a friend of the environment, right?

But while it was touting its supposedly green positions and alliances, ConocoPhillips also submitted comments to the EPA suggesting that there is a "high degree of uncertainty" about the negative effects of climate change on public health and well-being. It pulled out of USCAP right before climate legislation was supposed to go before the Senate, and established a campaign to get its employees to actively lobby senators against the bill. ConocoPhillips spent 15 times as much money electing anti-climate-action lawmakers as it did on pro-climate-action lawmakers. And it was a dues-paying member of groups like the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the US Chamber of Commerce that spent huge sums opposing climate action.

The report isn't all bad news. Nike, for example, got high marks for consistency in its statements and actions, like resigning from the Chamber of Commerce in protest of its anti-climate work. The company also signed onto a letter to President Obama supporting climate legislation, and spent three times as much money on pro-climate-action politicians. Nuclear giant NRG Energy was also consistent in its messages and actions in support of climate action.

As UCS notes, their findings are limited by the lack of transparency in the business world—in other words, much of what these corporations do behind the scenes is not clear. So the report covers just a small portion of what these companies have been up to on climate.

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Where's Mitt Romney's Long-Form Birth Certificate?

| Wed May 30, 2012 11:11 AM EDT
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

On Tuesday, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney released his birth certificate. The timing was fitting—it came the same day he was scheduled to appear at a Las Vegas fundraiser hosted by Donald Trump, the real estate magnate and reality television star who has spent much of the last year promoting conspiracy theories about President Obama's place of birth and his intelligence.

Just one problem: The document released by Mitt Romney's campaign is titled "Certificate of Live Birth." This is, to be clear, the same thing as a birth certificate (it just has a couple of extra words in there and the order is flipped around). But according to three years of commentary from top conservative media and politicos, it's not enough. "There's a difference between a birth certificate, apparently, and a certificate of live birth," said Fox News host Jeanine Pirro in a segment last April on the President's supposedly missing paper trail. The President's certificate of live birth, reported Fox and Friends host Steve Doocy, "is not the exact birth certificate." Sarah Palin suggested that the certificate of live birth was insufficient proof of citizenship.

As one leading conservative activist put it, "A 'birth certificate' and a 'certificate of live birth' are in no way the same thing, even though in some cases they use some of the same words." That was Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, Michigan Democrats circulated a video of Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who's seeking the GOP Senate nomination in that state, proposing the creation of a federal birther committee to inspect presidential candidates' birth certificates and determine their veracity. "[W]e lost that debate in 2008, when our presidential nominee said, 'I ain't talking about it,'" Hoekstra says, in response to a question about Obama's birth certificate. Obama did released a certificate of live birth in 2008, so presumably Hoekstra deemed that insufficient.

We missed the press release from Trump, Palin, and Hoekstra demanding Romney come clean with his long-form birth certificate. Maybe they sent it to the wrong address? I'd just hate to think that this four-year-long muckraking quest for more documentation of the President's place of birth was all just a cynical race-baiting ploy or something.

Scott Walker's Campaign Doles Out $100,000 to Legal Defense Fund

| Wed May 30, 2012 10:14 AM EDT
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

The secretive "John Doe" investigation that has led to criminal charges for several of Gov. Scott Walker's former aides just entered its third year, and it shows no sign of ending soon. Reinforcing that notion are new campaign finance reports showing that, in May, Walker's campaign directed $100,000 to a legal defense fund used to pay the governor's costly bills for the attorneys representing him in the John Doe probe.

In the past six weeks, Walker's campaign has directed a total of $160,000 in campaign funds to his defense fund. Walker's campaign must get donors' permission before sending their money to the defense fund; Walker nor his aides have disclosed which donors approved the transfers. Walker is represented by Milwaukee attorney Michael Steinle and Chicago lawyer John Gallo, a specialist in "representing criminal defendants and grand-jury targets," according to his biography.

The John Doe investigation, begun by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm in May 2010, has focused on the activities of staffers in the Milwaukee County executive's office during Walker's tenure. In January, prosecutors charged two Walker appointees, Tim Russell and Kevin Kavanaugh, for allegedly embezzling $60,000 meant for a veterans support group. Later that month, two more Walker aides were charged with using a secret email network to do political work for Walker while on the clock for the county.

Walker, for his part, has denied knowing anything about the allegedly illegal activities of his staffers. He claims to be cooperating with John Doe prosecutors and denies that he is a target of their investigation. "I've had a high level of integrity," Walker said at last Friday's recall debate referring to the John Doe probe.

Walker's opponent in the June 5 recall, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, has repeatedly hammered Walker over the John Doe probe. In public statements and radio ads, Barrett has called on Walker to release emails that could shed light on his knowledge of what went on in the Milwaukee County Executive's office, while questioning Walker's honesty and integrity. "We need Scott Walker's emails to see where [the John Doe probe] ends," says one Barrett ad. "Because we deserve to know the truth before the election."

Corn on MSNBC: Obama vs. Romney on Foreign Policy

Wed May 30, 2012 9:49 AM EDT

Mother Jones' DC bureau chief David Corn joined Martin Bashir on MSNBC on Tuesday to discuss some of the Romney campaign's foreign policy talking points.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. Follow him on Twitter.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 30, 2012

Wed May 30, 2012 9:38 AM EDT

Spc. Michael Sanchez, a gunner with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, loads an M2 .50-caliber machine gun before his gun truck leaves base on a combat logistics patrol to resupply a combat outpost May 26, 2012, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. The M2 is considered a heavy machine gun. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.

Pot, Hookers, and LaRouchies: Another Night in Texas

| Wed May 30, 2012 8:58 AM EDT
US House Candidate Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas).

Mitt Romney won the Texas Republican primary on Tuesday, clinching the Republican presidzzz zzzzzzzz zzzzzz. Sorry. It just wasn't that suspenseful. But while Mitt's big win—and Ted Cruz forcing David Dewhurst into a runoff in the Republican Senate primary—will grab most of the headlines, it was the down-ballot races in Tuesday's election that actually made the most news.

Here are seven things you may have missed:

  • An Anti-Drug War progressive knocked off an eight-term incumbent: In El Paso, progressive Beto O'Rourke beat eight-term Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes, and he did it without running away from the issue that brought him to prominence—the War on Drugs, which he considers to be an utter failure. Washington might not be able to talk about weed without making dumb pot jokes, but in far West Texas, they may have turned a corner. The other lesson from this race is that it's possible to survive an attack ad featuring you falling on the floor and being spanked by a female colleague. I'd say that in no other nation is this story even possible, but that'd be an obvious affront to Italy.
  • The Internet couldn't stop Lamar Smith: The Republican author of SOPA pretty much guaranteed himself a 14th term in the House after dispatching web entrepreneur Richard Morgan and Oathkeeper Richard Mack. That was despite the best efforts of the folks at Test PAC, the first PAC organized and operated by the Reddit community. Test PAC ended up spending $11,000 on television ads and bought a billboard on I-10, but that's chump change against a powerful incumbent. Ultimately, the infusion of cash from outside groups Test PAC was clamoring for never came.
  • Jim DeMint giveth and he taketh away: Sen. DeMint (R-S.C.) is claiming victory after his candidate, Ted Cruz, garnered just enough vote to trigger a runoff primary in July. But his magic, such as it is, is fleeting. Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, a bow tie-wearing black Republican, was DeMint's pick to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison two years ago and considered a rising star. But Hutchison never quit her job after losing to Rick Perry in the governor's race, and Williams decided to run for Congress in the open 25th district. Without DeMint's backing this time, he finished 6th in a 12-man field and didn't even crack double digits.
  • A LaRouchie won a House primary: Two years ago, Kesha Rogers won the Democratic nomination for Texas' 22nd congressional district and the state party vowed it would never happen again. Why? Because Rogers is an acolyte of Lyndon LaRouche, and has campaigned on the platform of impeaching President Obama (also, a bit more pragmatically, saving NASA). LaRouche is kind of a nut, as this 2004 Washington Post story makes clear. Texas Democrats, understandably embarrassed by Rogers' popularity, made an effort to educate voters this time around, to no avail—Rogers won by 91 votes. Here's a photo of Rogers holding up a poster of Obama with a Hitler mustache. I think the operative hashtag here is #DemsInDisarray.
  • Texas' top birther is done: State Rep. Leo Berman (R) is famous in these parts for introducing a bill demanding that President Obama produce his birth certificate and for attempting to ban Islamic Shariah law. (He also sponsored a secession rally.) But he's a lame duck after losing to challenger Matt Schaefer. Per the Texas Tribune: "Berman, who is battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma, had said that he was retiring after the last legislative session but decided to run again after meeting Schaefer, whom he described as arrogant."
  • Karma's a real you-know-what: Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley lost in his bid for re-election. Why should you care? Because Williamson was the D.A. at the center of two of the state's most egregious criminal justice scandals in the last decade. For six years he refused to allow DNA testing that would have exonerated Michael Morton (who was serving life with the possibility of parole for the murder of his wife). Bradley was also responsible for scuttling the 2009 investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, whom arson experts believe could not have set the fire that killed his two kids.
  • Craig James "Killed Five Hookers At SMU," his political career. The ESPN college football analyst and former Southern Methodist University star found himself on the wrong end of the most potent Google-bomb this side of Santorum during his failed GOP senate run. Search for his name on the web and you'll find some variation of the phrase "Craig James Killed Five Hookers at SMU." Like so:
  • This Google bomb is merely a product of the larger problem, though, which is that no one really likes Craig James—not football fans; not Texas Tech alumni, who blame him for getting their program's best-ever coach fired. (Texas Monthy's Bryan Curtis had a nice sketch of James last month.) For all those shortcomings, however, he did end up with a super-PAC, Real World Conservatives, willing to chip in $120,000—donor to date unknown—on his behalf.

 

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Can BPA Make You Fat?

| Wed May 30, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

The food industry likes to portray obesity as a matter of personal responsibility: People who eat too much gain weight, and it's their own fault.

That view willfully neglects the role that industry marketing, particularly to children, plays on shaping people's food habits. Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that exposure to certain industrial chemicals in food, often at very low levels, changes the way people metabolize calories and can lead to weight gain. While no one would say that these chemicals, known as obesogens, are the sole cause of rising rates of obesity in the United States, they may well be contributing significantly to it.

Occupy the Pews

| Wed May 30, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

It looks like it's going to be a long hot summer. The Christian News Service reports:

Having organized 43 plaintiffs—including the archdioceses of New York and Washington and the University of Notre Dame—to file 12 different lawsuits against the Obama administration last Monday alleging the administration is violating the religious freedom of Catholics, the Catholic bishops of the United States are now preparing Catholics for what may be the most massive campaign of civil disobedience in this country since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and early 1960s.

"Some unjust laws impose such injustices on individuals and organizations that disobeying the laws may be justified," the bishops state in a document developed to be inserted into church bulletins in Catholic parishes around the country in June…

The bulletin insert reminds Catholic parishioners that the bishops have called for "A Fortnight of Freedom"—which they have described as "a special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action"—to take place from June 21 to July 4.

In case you're wondering, Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches has been covering the "Fortnight for Freedom" for a while. (I'm still wondering if anyone in America will understand what a fortnight is…) They may be disappointed in the turn out, however. While I'm sure there are plenty of conservative Catholics who will join the cause, it's not a majority opinion among the flock:

Catholics overall are generally more supportive than the general public of the contraception coverage requirements. Nearly two-thirds (65%) say that publicly held corporations should be held to this requirement. Roughly 6-in-10 report that religiously affiliated social service agencies, colleges, hospitals, and privately owned small businesses should be required to provide health care plans that cover contraception. Less than half (47%) say churches and other places of worship should be required to provide this coverage.

White Catholics make few distinctions between churches and other religiously affiliated employers. Less than half of white Catholics believe that churches (43%), religiously affiliated colleges (43%), social service agencies (44%), and hospitals (48%) should be required to include contraception coverage in their insurance plans. However, a majority of white Catholics believe that non-religiously affiliated employers, including privately owned small businesses (55%) and public corporations (61%), should be required to provide employees with contraception coverage.

They may be able to muster a campaign of civil disobedience with the help of evangelical protestants but the problem is that the Catholic Church is the church that employs large numbers of people in non-church institutions. On the other hand, they signaled some time back that they were going to enlist like-minded private employers in their fight (a signal that Roy Blunt heard loud and clear when he filed his Amendment allowing a "conscience" opt-out in the name of religious freedom.)

It remains to be seen if this will turn into massive civil disobedience. And it's hard to know exactly how they define such a thing. But it certainly sounds as if it's something beyond employers refusing to comply with the Obamacare rules. I can hardly wait to see what they have in mind.

Heather Digby Parton is guest blogging this week while Kevin Drum is on vacation.

Is the California Condor Out of the Woods?

| Wed May 30, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

This post was originally published at Scientific American.

Condor chick being fed by condor feeding puppet Wikimedia CommonsCondor chick being fed by condor feeding puppet Wikimedia CommonsThe population of endangered California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) hit an important milestone last month, reaching a high of 405 birds—quite an achievement for a species that was down to its last 22 individuals just 25 years ago.

California condors—North America's largest birds, with a wingspan of up to 2.8 meters—were almost wiped out by poaching, DDT and lead poisoning before all of the remaining birds at the time were brought in from the wild in 1987. Captive breeding programs have increased the number of condors dramatically since then, and according to the April 30 census cited by The Oregonian, there are now 226 California condors living in the wild in California, Arizona and nearby Baja, Mexico. An additional 179 birds live in zoos and breeding centers. The population has increased more than 20 percent in the last two and a half years alone.

But condors still face threats on several fronts, chief among them the continued use of lead bullets by hunters in Arizona. California banned lead ammunition in the condors' habitats in 2007, but efforts to limit its use in Arizona have so far failed. Condors, as scavengers, eat the carcasses of animals killed by lead ammo (or the "gut piles" of innards left behind by hunters) and often die as a result. At least 22 of the condors released in Arizona have died from lead poisoning, according to a report from MSNBC. Up to 95 percent of the birds in the state have lead present in their blood, and a painful and sometimes fatal process called chelation is often used to remove the lead from their bodies in both states.

No Disclosure, Please, We're Contractors

| Wed May 30, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Earlier this month, the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee approved the Keeping Politics Out of Federal Contracting Act (KPOFCA), which would prohibit the government from forcing federal contractors to disclose campaign spending and lobbying expenditures as a condition for keeping their contracts. In response, 14 watchdog groups are urging senators to block the bill, condemning it as a "pay-to-play" political maneuver that would make it easier for corporations to peddle influence in the shadows.

The bill is the latest chapter in a debate over transparency for the companies that rake in more than $536 billion in federal contracts annually. In April 2011, the Obama administration drafted an executive order (PDF) that would have required corporations bidding on federal contracts to disclose any political spending greater than $5,000, including money given to dark-money groups such as the Chamber of Commerce that do not disclose their donors. Following staunch opposition from Republicans and the Chamber, President Obama hasn't acted on the order.

Meanwhile, a rider attached to the 2012 Omnibus Appropriations bill preempted the order by prohibiting the government from requiring corporations to reveal their political spending as a precondition to bid on federal contracts.