2010 - %3, June

Jobs: A Silver Lining for Democrats?

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 9:00 AM PDT

Democrats have been vowing to make the 2010 elections all about jobs, jobs, jobs. And yesterday, the GOP dealt the Democratic Party—as well as the nation's economic recovery—a big blow by voting down the Senate jobs bill. By week’s end, some 1.3 million Americans will lose unemployment benefits, which had been extended by the federal government given the ongoing recession. By the end of the year, many states will begin a painful process of budget bloodletting that’s likely to axe hundreds of thousands of jobs in both the public and private sectors. The bill's failure will make it that much more difficult for Democrats to prevent voters from turning against them out of anger about the sluggish economic recovery.

But the New York Times points to a potential silver lining for jobs in key battleground states that could give Democrats a potential boost this fall. The story notes that the largest number of swing House races are happening in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio—places where jobs are actually bouncing back more quickly than in the rest of the country. And concrete improvements in these districts could end up having more of an effect on voters' mindsets than overall economic trendlines. Michael Luo explains:

All three states, coincidentally, are considered to be on the leading edge of the nation's recovery. Since December, they have added jobs at a faster rate than the country as a whole and even led the country in the total number of jobs added in April. One reason is that manufacturing, a traditional backbone, has been on the rebound; another is that these states generally did not suffer as acutely as other regions from the housing boom and bust.

While much attention has been paid to the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, political scientists have found little correlation between that measure and midterm elections results. Instead, they have found more broad-based indicators, particularly real personal disposable per capita income, which measures the amount of money a household has after taxes and inflation, to be better gauges.

The story notes, moreover, that "voters' memories tend to be short,” citing political science research showing that economic conditions between the second and third quarters of an election year (between April and September) matter the most.

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Eco-News Roundup: Friday June 25

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 8:00 AM PDT

Cough, Cough: Did the anti-vaccine activism help create a whooping cough outbreak?

Healthy Anniversary: On health reform's anniversary there's still lots of work to do.

View From Here: Healthcare has gotten a lot of media coverage, some of it confusing.

Coming Soon: A Democratic-led climate and energy bill is being debated.

Fast and Famine: In Niger, people are starving because they can't afford food.

Spill to Thrill?: Is Obama's new spill commission just a show?

One Man's Poison: BP's oily disaster may benefit "clean coal."

Raw Hides: An Iranian cleric calls dogs "un-Islamic" as Baghdad euthanizes strays.

Twilight Zone: Wingnuts ask if the Bermuda Triangle or the Jews caused the oil spill.

Worst Case: New info puts BP's worst case scenario at gushing 100,000 barrels a day.

Goon Squad: Local police are doing BP's dirty work for them, like harassing activists.

Drill, Baby, Drill: Louisiana Tea Partiers want more drilling and they made signs that say so.

The Toxicity of Harry Reid

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 7:58 AM PDT

"Rory's Education Plan." "Rory2010.com." "Paid for by Rory 2010."

If you didn't know better, you might think the Nevada gubernatorial candidate named Rory was a Brazilian soccer player, one of those guys with just one name on the back of his jersey. (Hey, it's World Cup season!) Well, not quite. "Rory 2010," if you don't already know, is the campaign for Democrat Rory Reid, the son of Nevada's most recognizable—and, for many, most loathed—politician: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Today, Reid officially launched his run for the Silver State's governor's office with an ad that's notable for, well, completely omitting his last name. The ad—which features a cast of cute little kids talking education reform, a major issue of Reid's, ahem, Rory's—just goes to show how toxic the Reid name has become amongst large swaths of Nevada voters. In a recent Rasmussen poll gauging the elder Reid's standing in his US Senate race, fringe conservative Sharron Angle leads Harry Reid by 7 percentage points. Even on Rory Reid's website, his ties to his father are completely scrubbed; Rory's bio page, for instance, reads like this:

As Chairman of the Clark County Commission Rory has managed a budget bigger than the state’s general fund for seven years, balanced it every year, and never raised taxes.

Rory, 47, grew up in Nevada attending public schools, as do his three great kids. He attended Brigham Young University, graduating with a dual degree in international relations and Spanish, and continued his studies there through law school. He and his wife, Cindy, have been married for 22 years.

Here's Rory's ad:

Enviro Links: Tea Partiers Love BP, Democrats' Climate Hug Fest, and More

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 5:26 AM PDT

In climate news:

I got the impression from yesterday's Senate caucus meeting on energy plans that Democrats spent the two hours doing trust falls and practicing their "Go team!" cheers, but reached little consensus on specifics for what their package will include. Politico, however, got the impression that Harry Reid plans to come out guns blazing with a tough climate and energy package. Next week will be interesting, in any case.

And in BP oil disaster news:

More on the despondent boat captain in Alabama who took his own life in despair over the Gulf oil disaster, and on the mental health impacts for many across the region.

Dave Weigel tries to get Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul to say whether or not he supports the $20 billion escrow fund to ensure victims of the spill are compensated. He tried three times in fact, but Paul just wouldn't answer.

In two decades, the Minerals Management Service collected just $21 million in fines from oil companies. And no, it's not because the industry is so safe and honest. As ABC News reports, "In the overwhelming majority of cases where workers were actually killed, there was no record of fines being paid. Where fines did occur, the maximum penalty was only $25,000."

Joe Scarborough asks Eric Cantor (R-Va.) why Joe Barton gets to keep his job as the top Republican on energy issues despite his BP butt-kissing last week (and subsequent apology for the apology and later unapology). Greg Sargent argues that it's because Republicans think any discussion of oil, including bashing Barton, is bad for Democrats since Obama hasn't stopped the spill yet (with his super powers, natch).

Did BP engage in organized crime? Some lawyers in the Gulf think so, and have filed suit alleging that the company gave false assurances that it could handle a worst-case scenario oil spill. Among list of crimes they think BP is guilty of: mail fraud and wire fraud. This is just the latest of now more than 200 suits filed against the company, Brendan DeMelle reports.

BP's in-house "journalists" have posted some real whoppers on the company blog, reports the Columbia Journalism Review. The "reporters" have been busy putting out BP propaganda: comparing BP to a humble taxi driver on Social Security and quoting locals who say "There is no reason to hate BP."

Shocker: Tea partiers still hate government, even when it comes to cracking down on BP for destroying the Gulf of Mexico and enforcing regulations to prevent something like this from happening again. "I think BP is being extremely generous and they should be commended for that," says one tea party organizer in Mississippi.

The other companies with a stake in the Deepwater Horizon have been busy avoiding liability for the disaster. Halliburton, who poured the cement for the well; Transocean, who owned the rig; and Cameron, manufacturer of the failed blowout preventer are building up their legal case to avoid any guilt in the incident.

And in other environmental news:

Beware of impostor organics from China.

Depression, Abuse, Suicide: Fishermen's Wives Face Post-Spill Trauma

| Fri Jun. 25, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

Inside a cool, shaded old plantation house in St. Bernard, Louisiana, we're all breathing in our favorite color and blowing out gray smoke.

This relaxation exercise is brought to a roomful of women by the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit founded in 2006 to provide rebuilding services to Katrina-ravaged St. Bernard Parish as well as offer "psychological rebuilding" through its wellness and mental-health center. Since the oil spill started, the organization has been looking to vastly expand its services to meet the area's latest mental-health crisis: the unrelenting depression falling on families living and working on the Gulf Coast. Everyone here except the three clinic workers and me is a fisherman's wife.

Michelle, the clinical coordinator running this early-morning support group, asks the five wives who have come what the St. Bernard Project can do to help them.

"I don't know, because I don't know what's gonna happen."

"We need work. For the wives."

"Whatever happens needs child care. If wives are gonna start workin', someone has to take care of the kids. A lot of fishermen have kids."

"The biggest issue is that our situation is unknown," a woman named Tammy says.* She is tough and broad and has a soothing husk in her voice like phone sex or five packs of cigarettes. Tammy is dressed in white and is eight months pregnant. I hope never to get in a bar fight with her. "They haven't stopped the oil, huh? This is like a time bomb. You can't prepare for what you don't know. But I can tell you right now that we need toilet paper."

The claims checks BP is supposed to be sending are eight days late, which means everyone's out of cash for necessities. The day before, cars lined up and down the nearby highway for a 38,000-pound food giveaway. This morning, like every morning, there was a line outside a church center in New Orleans East, in a part of town where stray dogs scavenge trashy lots and industry makes the air smell like burning toast. There, and at four other locations around Southern Louisiana once a week, Catholic Charities is giving out $100 grocery vouchers. Though they don't open until nine, sometimes it takes being at the doors by four in the morning, when it's somehow already hot, to get one, because they always run out. But you can't buy toilet paper with the vouchers—food only.

I remember that about the $75 grocery vouchers the Red Cross gave us as Katrina evacuees in 2005. The checkout clerk at a grocery store in Ohio wouldn't let me buy vitamins, and boy was I mad about that. Had I not already cried myself out at the Gap looking at a shirt that I already owned but might be underwater back home, I would have pitched a sobby fit in Giant Eagle.

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

Fri Jun. 25, 2010 2:00 AM PDT

 

Sgt. Tyler Clausing, a truck driver with Company E, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, hooks up a trailer to a Palletized Load System truck after dark, on June 11, 2010, at Camp Khalid, Iraq. Photo via the US Army photo by Spc. Michael J. MacLeod.

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Corn on "Hardball": Limbaugh Sides With BP

Fri Jun. 25, 2010 12:20 AM PDT

David Corn appeared on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss Rush Limbaugh's response to the BP disaster and the Republican Party's seeming inability to take a stand against Rush. Spoiler alert: "It's easier for a pelican to praise BP than it is for a Republican to criticize Rush Limbaugh."

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

Anti-Rape World Cup Condoms...With Teeth?

| Thu Jun. 24, 2010 3:03 PM PDT

Women can now arm their vaginas with a latex condom fitted with internal hooks to snare rapists. The Rape-aXe, shown at left, was invented by Dr. Sonnet Ehlers in South Africa to help curb the country’s alarming rape rate. She’s seeking donations to distribute the device during the World Cup, which is appropriate since about 317 South African women will be raped during one 90-minute game.

Basically, the Rape-aXe fits inside a woman’s vagina like a tampon. During penetration, it hooks onto the penis resulting in excruciating, debilitating pain for the attacker while allowing the rape victim to (hopefully) escape. Only surgery can remove the Rape-aXe from a penis once it’s attached, which will alert doctors (and the authorities) that the patient’s a likely rapist. A possible Rape-aXe ward installed in every hospital (My idea) sounds great, the hope being that once a few rapists get their wickers nicked, word would spread and cause other men to think twice before they assault women.

Jerry Brown's Clean Energy Revolution

| Thu Jun. 24, 2010 2:27 PM PDT

Trivia questions for energy geeks: Which state approved the country's first energy-efficiency standards for appliances? The first green building codes? The first big wind farms? And who was governor when all those fine things happened?

The answer is California under Gov. Jerry Brown—aka Governor Moonbeam— who just happens to be running for the office again, some 30 years later. Last week, Brown, the Democratic nominee, unveiled a clean-energy plan to put far more solar panels on California's rooftops, in addition to appointing a renewable energy czar and strengthening those sexy appliance standards.

Of course, plenty of politicians make lofty promises about ushering in an energy transformation, to little or no result. Like the last eight presidents, for example. But there's good reason to take Brown seriously.

"He's done it before. And really if you look across the landscape in American political history, there's nobody else that can say that," said John Geesman, who was executive director of the California Energy Commission during part of Jerry Brown's first stint in the governor's mansion. "Nobody at all."

When Fannie and Freddie Attack

| Thu Jun. 24, 2010 2:15 PM PDT

Few new ideas brighten the faces of clean-energy advocates as much as Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, the Berkeley-born financing tool that's spreading quickly throughout the country. The three-year-old model has put rooftop solar panels, high-efficiency furnaces, and other home improvements within reach of thousands of American homeowners, and there's hope it could reach many more, creating jobs along the way.

It works by allowing property owners to pay for energy projects through an addition to their property tax bill, paid back over 15 to 20 years. If the owner sells the property after, say, installing a $15,000 solar array, the unpaid balance is passed on to the new owner (who also reaps the electricity-bill savings). In this way PACE overcomes two major barriers to greening buildings: high upfront costs and fear that owners will lose out if they move before their investment has paid for itself.

The Obama administration has endorsed PACE with $100 million in stimulus-act funding. Twenty-two states have passed legislation allowing and encouraging municipalities to start PACE programs. San Francisco, Sonoma and Placer counties in California, and Boulder County in Colorado have all recently launched programs, and Los Angeles and San Diego are set to begin ones later this year.