2012 - %3, November

4 out of 5 House "Flat Earthers" Get the Boot

| Thu Nov. 8, 2012 6:06 PM EST

Climate-lovers are happy about some of the hawks elected on Tuesday. But they're also cheering the unceremonious dismissal of several congressional climate villains. That includes four of the lawmakers that the League of Conservation Voters deemed the "Flat Earth Five" and spent $3 million to unseat:

1. Ann Marie Buerkle, a Republican from New York's 24th district. In 2010, Buerkle unseated Democratic incumbent Dan Maffei. But in a rematch this year, Maffai came out on top. Buerkle was a major target for environmental groups, thanks to her comments in a 2010 debate that "a lot of the global warming myth has been exposed." Cap and trade, she said, is a "tax on energy … based on some specious global warming. Whether or not there's real global warming has not been determined."

2. Francisco Canseco, a Republican from Texas' 23rd district. Canseco lost to challenger Pete Gallego in a race that included fights over rare eyeless spiders and the dunes sagebrush lizard. Canseco was not happy when the League of Conservation Voters went after his climate denial, telling a Christian news site, "It is really counterproductive to have a debate about whether or not there is climate change … What we should be having is a debate about policies that are promoted and implemented in the name of climate change and that negatively impact opportunities for our citizens and kill jobs."

3. Dan Lungren, a Republican from California's 7th district. Lungren, a four-term incumbent, appears to have lost his reelection bid to Democrat Ami Bera, though he is not conceding yet. He's wishy-washy on climate. "There is no doubt that there is global change, climate change," he said in a September debate. "The question is who causes it and is it caused predominantly by human activity."

4. Joe Walsh, a Republican from Illinois' 8th district. Walsh lost to Democrat and combat veteran Tammy Duckworth on Tuesday night, after a race that got pretty ugly. LCV targeted Walsh over his comments like "man's potential role in global warming has not been definitively determined." He has also said he thinks the government's only role in climate change should be to fund more science (which he would likely continue to ignore), and he thinks the Environmental Protection Agency "ought to be scrapped."

The fifth member of the "Flat Earth Five," Republican Dan Benishek of Michigan's 1st district, won by a narrow margin. Benishek, a physician who took office in 2011, says he's not really sure about this whole climate change thing. "I'm not sure how significant global warming is," he said at a debate last month. "You have to be very skeptical of science, OK?"

To be clear, there are still plenty of climate deniers in the House—these four just happen to be some of the loudest. "It's not just that these guys are deniers, but they're vocal in leading the charge against action on global warming," said Navin Nayak, LCV's senior vice president for campaigns. "The point of [the campaign] was to send a message. We took five races that were competitive and put real money behind trying to beat these guys."

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Romney Adviser: Not a Single Person on the Campaign Thought He Would Lose

| Thu Nov. 8, 2012 5:45 PM EST

Romney advisers are telling CBS News that there wasn't one person on the Romney campaign who saw the loss coming, and the GOP presidential candidate was "shellshocked" by the results. Here's what they have to say: 

  • "We went into the evening confident we had a good path to victory...I don't think there was one person who saw this coming."
  • "There's nothing worse than when you think you're going to win, and you don't...It was like a sucker punch."
  • Romney "was shellshocked." 

The CBS story indicates that the Romney team even bought into the "unskewed polls" theory, believing that the polls dramatically underestimated Republican turnout and overestimated Democratic enthusiasm. 

This report comes after other indications that the Romney campaign was disregarding polling data. On election night, the Romney campaign told the press it didn't have a concession speech prepared. Karl Rove went against Fox News and questioned whether Ohio was going to Obama, contradicting overwhelming electoral analysis. And Wednesday, Romney's website briefly displayed a page indicating he had won the presidency before it was taken down. 

Should the Romney campaign have listened to New York Times analyst Nate Silver instead of Fox News

 

 

Karl Rove Claims Obama 'Suppressed the Vote' by Running a Negative Campaign

| Thu Nov. 8, 2012 5:44 PM EST

Karl Rove's meltdown over the battle for Ohio made for interesting television Tuesday evening, but in spite of his poor call on the election and despite the fact that Rove's two electioneering PACs spent $170 million almost entirely on losing candidates, the former Bush adviser isn't letting up. He's even got a whiteboard to argue his case! (See the above clip.)

His latest? Obama won the election "by suppressing the vote," Rove opined Thursday on Fox News, with a straight face. This doesn't mean armed thugs turning Republicans away from the polls, mind you. According to Rove, all one needs to do to suppress the vote is run some negative ads.

"They effectively denigrated Mitt Romney's character, business acumen, experience," he said. Of course, by these standards every presidential candidate since Thomas Jefferson hired a writer to smear John Adams as "mentally deranged" has "suppressed the vote." Indeed, Rove and his colleagues at Fox News and other conservative media have been "suppressing the vote" the entire time Obama has been in office. It's amazing Obama won in 2008 after all the Republican "vote suppression" that went on that year.

McKibben Seeks to Build on Post-Sandy Climate Momentum

| Thu Nov. 8, 2012 5:15 PM EST
McKibben and his crew at the tour's Seattle stop last night.

If there's any good to come out of Hurricane Sandy, it could be that the storm provided a platform for several big-name politicians—Andrew Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg, and as of Tuesday night President Obama—to finally connect the dots between extreme weather and climate change. But although the polls show extreme weather to be a top motivator for getting folks interested in climate change, the challenge for activists is always how to convert short-term interest in a particular disaster into long-term awareness.

This week environmental activist and author Bill McKibben has set out to do just that, with a wide-ranging bus tour that seeks to use Sandy as fresh ammunition in an ongoing fusillade against Big Oil, principally by urging individuals, universities, and governments to divest from fossil fuel companies.

"I'm as hopeful as I've felt in 25 years of working on climate change," McKibben said Thursday morning from his narrow bunk on the bus, barreling down the open road somewhere south of Tacoma, Wash., en route to a biofuel re-fueling station. He and seven organizers will live on the bus for the next month as it wends its way from the Bay Area to New York and back to Salt Lake City. "At least it feels now like we're fighting back, and we've found the right people to fight back against."

The tour has been in the works for some time, and was crafted as a vehicle for the statistics-based "Do The Math" campaign that has been McKibben's primary shtick since his July article in Rolling Stone. Among the chief numbers:

  • 2°C: the amount of warming the world can safely handle—already, humans have raised the earth's temperature by 0.8°C.
  • 565 gigatons: the amount of carbon dioxide we can put in the atmosphere before we reach that level of warming—which, at our current rate could happen in just the next 16 years.
  • 2,795 gigatons: the amount of carbon we'd release if we burned all the world's fossil fuel reserves, worth some $27 trillion.

The tour will also be a chance for green-minded policy wonks to start putting their heads together for the big challenges of a second Obama presidency, starting with what promises to be a heated re-launching of the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, which the president will likely make a final call on in the coming months.

For now, McKibben wants to get as much mileage as possible out of Hurricane Sandy, which showed "there's no way to escape climate change," he said. "The most powerful island on earth was overwhelmed, and everyone knew it."

Obamacare's Incredible High-Wire History

| Thu Nov. 8, 2012 2:48 PM EST

Now that the election is over, it's safe to say that Obamacare has survived. And that officially gives it the distinction of having the diciest history of any major law in American history. It passed the Senate by zero votes in 2009. It survived constitutional challenge thanks to a single last-minute switch from Chief Justice John Roberts in 2012. And it weathered the Republican threat of repeal five months later when President Obama won reelection by a narrow 51-49 percent margin.

If any of those things had changed by even a hair, Obamacare would be dead. Surely no big law in history has come that close to extinction that many times, has it? It's a real survivor, Obamacare is.

5 Climate Hawks Who Won on Tuesday

| Thu Nov. 8, 2012 2:48 PM EST
Screeeeeeee!

Climate-minded voters were pleased to see President Obama reelected on Tuesday, and to hear him call out "the destructive power of a warming planet" in his victory speech. But they also scored some notable wins in state houses and Congress this year. Here are five "climate hawks" that will take office in 2013.

1. Jay Inslee, Washington state's new governor (most likely). Inslee, a Democrat, who has represented Washington in the House of Representatives since 1993, has long been a champion of renewable energy and sound environmental policies. In 2007 he coauthored the book Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy, on that very subject. He was a member of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming (back before the Republicans nixed it) and the co-chair of the House Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition. He was also a key figure in shaping the climate bill that passed the House in 2009. As governor, he has pledged to continue that leadership.

2. Martin Heinrich, New Mexico's next senator. Democrat Heinrich defeated Republican Heather Wilson in the race to succeed retiring Senator Jeff Bingaman. Heinrich authored the Clean Energy Promotion Act, a bill that would have expanded the number of renewable energy projects on public lands. (It didn't pass, but it was a nice idea.) Before joining Congress he was a board member of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and was appointed to serve as the state's Natural Resources Trustee, who oversees the assessment and protection of the state's resources.

3. Angus King, Maine's next senator. King, an independent, is drawing attention because he won't say whether he plans to caucus with the Democrats or the Republicans. But environmental groups are certain that he will be a strong voice for climate action, based on his record as governor of Maine. After leaving office, he went into the wind energy business, building a 50-megawatt wind farm in Oxford County. He won endorsements from the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club.

4. Pete Gallego, the next congressman from Texas' 23rd District. Gallego, a Democrat, defeated Republican incumbent Quico Canseco in this very close House race that featured fights about Jesus and a rare, eyeless spider. An outside group sent a mailer to voters accusing Gallego of siding with "left-wing extremists" in the debate over protecting this spider's habitat from the construction of a new highway. Gallego won the endorsement of the League of Conservation voters based on his record of, in his own words, promoting a "robust, environmentally-friendly economy."

5. Carol Shea-Porter, the once-and future-congresswoman from New Hampshire's 1st District. Shea-Porter served two terms in the House but lost her seat to Republican Frank Guinta in the tea-party surge of the 2010 election. She reclaimed it on Tuesday, rallying support with a poignant appeal for action on global warming: "If Americans want to fix this climate change problem, they will first need to fix Congress in November."

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Don't Let the Door Hit You, Rep. Pete Stark

| Thu Nov. 8, 2012 1:45 PM EST

In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle sized up Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat then serving out his 16th term, thusly: "Only a politician who assumes he has a job for life could behave so badly on a semi-regular basis by spewing personalized invective that might get him punched in certain East Bay taverns." That was nine years ago. But Stark, comfortably situated in a deep-blue East Bay district, really did seem to have the seat for life, affording a level of job security that allowed him to comfortably do things like threaten to throw reporters out of windows and call a female Republican colleague a "whore."

In 2011, though, California introduced a new open primary system, in which the top two finishers advance to the general election regardless of their party—which meant that, for the first time in forever, Stark faced serious competition. The result: A six-point loss on Tuesday to Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell.

Stark, though, didn't go out quietly. In a desperate bid for a 21st term, he launched a campaign built on a series of totally unsubstantied claims about his opponent, the local media, and anyone who crossed him. Via the San Francisco Chronicle:

In the latest episode raising questions about the erratic behavior of California’s longest standing Congressman, a former California State Assembly Majority leader said Tuesday that East Bay Democratic Rep. Pete Stark erupted in an angry tirade—questioning his sanity, threatening his livelihood and even vowing to call social workers to check on his kids—after he informed Stark he would endorse his opponent in the November general election.

Elsewhere, he launched 100-percent false arguments at the Chronicle itself, sourcing the claims to his 16-year-old son:

In a Tuesday meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, [Stark] wrongfully accused Debra Saunders, a Republican who writes the paper's "Token Conservative" blog, of having donated to the campaign of his primary opponent, Eric Swalwell. When asked to provide evidence for his claim, Stark paged through a pile of research materials (which he oddly said had been prepared by "a 16-year-old investigative reporter"—his own son) before admitting he had incorrectly named Saunders. He then tried to point to former Dublin City Councilwoman Claudia McCormick and claimed she worked for the Chronicle, but that was wrong, too.

Also:

This week, Castro Valley real estate broker Otto Catrina said Stark made a false charge about him. Catrina contacted a lawyer.

Catrina said he was shocked when his phone started "ringing off the hook" this week after he was named in an attack mailer from Stark that claimed he was one of the "shady," big-money "developers" who have donated to Swalwell, a Dublin city councilman.

"I've never developed anything in my life," said Catrina, who is on the board of directors of the California Association of Realtors.

Despite the fact that allegations that Swalwell was being bribed by developers were unsubstantiated, Stark erupted at his opponent during an April debate:

Stark, still seated at the dais at the Hayward City Council chambers, reportedly called Swalwell a "fucking crook" as they shook hands.

When contacted later by phone, Swalwell confirmed the exchange with The Citizen while adding Stark also called him a "slimeball" and told him "you're going to jail."

That was in addition to calling his opponent a "pipsqueak" and a "junior leaguer."

Why Isn't There a Republican Version of the DLC?

| Thu Nov. 8, 2012 1:01 PM EST

There are a small number of prominent moderate Republican apostates around. David Frum. Andrew Sullivan. Ross Douthat on certain subjects. But given the obvious need for the party to rein in its crazies, why isn't there an apostate organization that fills the same centrist niche the DLC filled for Democrats in the 80s? The perfect person to explain this would be Ed Kilgore, who was policy director for the DLC back in the day, and apparently someone at the New Republic read my mind and assigned him to write a column about this. It's an insightful look at what motivated the creation of the DLC and why something similar isn't likely to happen on the right. Ed lists five reasons, and I was especially intrigued by #2:

Alienated elected officials. The DLC’s real “base” was among congressional, state and local elected officials—not just in the South, but in every competitive state and region—who feared the national party (and the interest and constituency groups that were thought to control it) were in the process of dragging them towards defeat. The dominant Republican office-holders today at every level are products of two GOP landslides—1994 and 2010—that were accompanied by an aggressive, ideologically conservative message. On that basis, there's no reason to think that any Republican revolt against the “presidential party” will be “centrist” in any tangible way.

The whole piece is worth a read. The Republican Party desperately needs an active, creative DLC of its own, but if Ed is right, it simply doesn't have the internal incentives to support one. For the foreseeable future, it will remain Michele Bachmann's party, not Mitt Romney's.

Conservative Media Lie To Conservatives Because That's What Conservatives Want

| Thu Nov. 8, 2012 12:50 PM EST

On Election Night, I tweeted that Republicans shocked about Mitt Romney's loss Tuesday should be angry at a conservative media that misled them about the former Massachusetts' governor's chances. 

In the waning days of the race, much of this manifested in raising doubts about the polls and comical exaggerations about the possibility of a Romney landslide. Rush Limbaugh told his millions of listeners that "everything except the polls points to a Romney landslide," but the problem went beyond mavens like Limbaugh to afflict more well-regarded political analysts like Michael Barone and George Will. The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost wrote, "I am not willing to take polls at face value anymore. I am more interested in connecting the polls to history and the long-run structure of American politics, and when I do that I see a Romney victory." Analysts like Karl Rove—who through his stewardship of outside spending groups had a clear financial interest in giving upbeat assessments of Romney's chances—were given prominent perches to hoodwink the viewers of Fox News and the readers of the Wall Street Journal. And as Media Matters' Simon Maloy documents, Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's pro-Romney blogger, expressed a far less sanguine view of campaign events after the election than she did when she covered them in real time

The problem goes beyond the conservative media, however—even Republican-leaning pollsters like Rasmussen and Gravis Marketing proved poor predictors of the final outcome, while results from some Democratic-leaning firms like Public Policy Polling were actually closer to the final result than traditional powerhouses like Gallup.

All this has reopened the debate about "epistemic closure," the term libertarian writer Julian Sanchez used* to describe the closed universe from which conservatives receive their information, in which those who deviate from the official party line are deemed apostates who are to be excommunicated. Erik Kain, writing at Mother Jones, says this is in part a business model: "There's big money in controversy, and controversy is what the Glenn Becks of the world do best."

Ideology can place blinders on everyone, of course—I don't know how many liberal friends I've tried to talk out of their affinity for rent control—but the incentives for misleading one's audience are not evenly distributed across the left-leaning and right-leaning media. The Romney surge after the first debate didn't translate to a widespread liberal belief about systemic bias among polling firms, for example. Much of the conservative media is simply far more cozy with the Republican Party than its Democratic counterparts (as exemplified by the numerous Fox hosts and contributors who moonlight as Republican fundraisers), which makes necessary detachment difficult. Having an opinion isn't an obstacle to good journalism or analysis, but no one wants to derail their own gravy train. Departing from the party line, particularly if one does so in a manner that seems favorable to Obama, would be to reveal one as an apostate, a tool of liberalism. There were independent-minded conservative analysts who diverged from this trend, but few were listening to them.

I think the business model theory works, but I would suggest that the problem lies not just with outlets like Fox but also with their audiences. That is, I think my original tweet, blaming the conservative media for misleading the readers who depend on them, doesn't capture the fullness of the problem. Conservative media lies to its audience because much of its audience wants to be lied to. Those lies actually have far more drastic consequences for governance (think birthers and death panels) than for elections, where the results can't be, for lack of a better word, "skewed." 

Perhaps that will change. Dean Chambers, the gay-baiting proprietor of Unskewedpolls.com, one of the alternate universes conservatives retreated to in order to reassure themselves of a Romney victory, told Business Insider that Scott Rasmussen, the owner of a Republican leaning polling firm "had a lot of explaining to do." He's not the only one. 

*Correction: Sanchez didn't coin the term; he was the first to use it in this context. 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 8, 2012

Thu Nov. 8, 2012 12:37 PM EST

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team and soldiers of the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force during a field training exercise on Oct. 31. US Army photo.