2010 - %3, July

Sharron Angle's Jobs Plan Whiff

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 11:24 AM EDT

Heading into the 2010 midterms, there's no debate on the headline issue topping the marquee for the fall elections: jump-starting the US economy. At every turn candidates are burnishing their job-creation cred and touting plans to create jobs.

And then there's Sharron Angle, the Nevada GOP and tea party's pick to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The Washington Post relays a telling anecdote today about Angle fielding a jobs-themed question at a friendly campaign event:

A local actress named Dee Drenta asked Angle what she would do to help people find work. But instead of seizing what seemed like an easy chance to explain her jobs plan, the candidate revealed that she didn't have one.

"It really comes from the statehouse to incentivize that kind of stuff in our state," Angle said. "Truly, the lieutenant governor, Brian Krolicki, you should have this conversation with him. That's his job, to make sure that we get business into this state. My job is to create the climate so that everybody wants to come."

The woman gave her a puzzled look. "I'm sure you're probably planning on working with these people to do these things," Drenta said, hopefully. "Because it's the end result that matters, whether it's specifically in the job description or not."

Bzzt. Wrong answer. And this wasn't some reporter trying to ambush Angle or skew her words; it was a regular Nevadan at a women's business lunch in support of Angle. If Angle can't even make use of easy set-ups like Drenta's question, how is she going to respond to reporters? That is, if she ever gives the media a chance to talk to her: Yesterday, Angle walked out of a room full of reporters, even though she was asked to make herself available to the media, after just a three-minute speech on repealing the estate tax. A pregnant reporter even chased Angle out to the parking lot to try to get a question in. And Angle wonders why news reports about her campaign have been, well, a bit negative.

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Obama and Climate Change

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 11:18 AM EDT

Tim Dickinson has a long piece in Rolling Stone that largely blames the Obama administration for the collapse of climate legislation. The basic story is that the House passed a bill last year, but Obama decided to put his energy into healthcare reform instead, lost his 60-vote Senate majority a few months later, and then screwed the pooch by playing an insider game and blowing it:

Once again, however, the administration applied the same backroom approach it took to health care reform. Instead of waging a public debate to pit the American people against the corporate polluters, Obama gave the polluters a seat at the negotiating table....At first, climate advocates were resigned to the backroom deals, figuring they were necessary to achieve a greater good. "It looked like the only way to pass a bill," says a Senate staffer familiar with the negotiations, "was to make all of these horrendous compromises." But then the strategy backfired. "What that bill did was essentially write nuclear and coal into U.S. energy production for the next 10 to 20 years, instead of phasing them out," says Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. "And it didn't pick up any Republicans whatsoever."

....The disaster in the Gulf should have been a critical turning point for global warming....But the Obama administration let the opportunity slip away. On June 15th, the president — a communicator whom even top Republican operatives rank above Reagan — sat at his desk to deliver his first address to the nation from the Oval Office. It was a terrible, teachable moment, one in which he could have connected the dots between the oil spewing into the Gulf and the planet-killing CO2 we spew every day into the atmosphere. But Obama never even mentioned the words "carbon" or "emissions" or "greenhouse" — not even the word "pollution."

In a technical sense, I just don't buy this. I thought Obama's Gulf speech was lousy too, but there's no way it was ever going to be some kind of "turning point" in the fight for climate legislation. This has been a pure vote whipping exercise from the start, and the votes were never there. Aside from common sense, there are two big pieces of evidence for this. First, the House climate bill, even after massive compromises, passed by only 219-212. That is, it won by one vote in a chamber where Democrats hold a 35-vote majority. Second, when Lisa Murkowski's bill to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases came before the Senate, the vote against it was only 53-47. As Dickinson notes, six Democrats voted for it: Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, Ben Nelson, and Jay Rockefeller.

Aside from Lindsey Graham, there were never going to be any Republican votes for a climate bill. If we in the liberal community still haven't figured that out, we have rocks in our skulls. And it's almost certain that three or four of those six Democrats were simply unpersuadable too. Even a watered-down climate bill never had more than about 55 votes in the Senate, and even that's probably optimistic.

Still, Dickinson is right that Obama should have done more. Even if the bill lost anyway, he should have done more. It's his job, after all, to rally public opinion. But his unwillingness to do this is a mistake that goes back more than two years, not just a few months. Here's me back in 2008:

Make no mistake. Barack Obama's cap-and-trade plan to reduce carbon emissions may be technically one of the best we've ever seen, but it will raise energy prices. That's the whole point. So once the public understands that there's more to Obama's plan than green-collar jobs and serried ranks of windmills on the Great Plains, they're going to have second thoughts. And those congressional majorities, who face election in another couple of years, are going to have second thoughts too.

The right way to address this won't be found in any of Obama's white papers. There's a story there, if you dig deep enough, but it's long and complicated and relies on things like increased efficiency, consumer rebates, and R&D funding that pays off in another decade or so. In the short term someone is going to have to tell the public that, yes, there's some sacrifice required here, but it's worth it. Someone needs to come up with a garden-hose analogy to convince a financially stressed public that doing something for the common good is worth a small price.

That someone, of course, is Barack Obama, but it's not clear yet if he gets this. His speeches soar, but they rarely seem designed to move the nation in a specific direction. Is he pushing the public to support cap and trade even though it might cost them a few dollars? Or merely to vote for "change"? It's sometimes hard to tell.

The bully pulpit may be overrated, but even if it's not, it's a long game. FDR built up support for American intervention in Europe over years and years, and even at that it took the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor to finally rally the country behind him. Obama's in the same situation. His problem isn't that he worked an inside game on Capitol Hill or gave a weak speech after the Gulf spill, the problem is that he's barely talked about climate change for years. Even if he had, the spark that it takes to get something done might still not have come. But without it, it will never come.

Is Palin Tough Enough?

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 10:34 AM EDT

Sarah Palin attacked journalists yesterday as "sick puppies" for talking about her on a private email list when she was picked as veep candidate. But in that attack, she made a startling admission, as David Corn points out over at Politics Daily:

Palin "said the media became a key reason she decided not to finish out her term as governor."

Consider that for a moment. Eight months after the grueling 2008 campaign was over, Palin, by her own admission, was not tough enough to handle the media and had to quit her job as Alaska governor. After confessing that, how can she possibly present herself as presidential timber? If she allowed herself to be hounded out of office in Juneau by the big bad press, could she withstand the slings and arrows of the media while under pressure in the White House?

This part of her reaction to The Daily Caller article is a tell. Looking to scapegoat the media for her decision to quit -- a decision widely described at the time on the left and right as bizarre -- she displays her own weakness. Does a true commander in chief turn tail when "sick puppies" bark?

The rest is here.

The Jeff Greene-Climate Change Connection

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 10:17 AM EDT

It's been a bruising week for Jeff Greene, the billionaire "populist" running for US Senate in Florida. Greene, you'll remember, has quite the backstory: He made millions betting against the housing market before the subprime debacle; Mike Tyson was the best man at Greene's wedding; and his circle of friends and acquaintances has included celebrities like Heidi Fleiss and Lindsay Lohan. Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported on what appears to be a classic case of pay-to-play involving Greene and a member of the Democratic National Committee, Jon Ausman of Tallahassee, who endorsed Greene.

Now comes news that the next biggest threat to barrier reefs after global warming is, well, Jeff Greene's three-story, 145-foot yacht Summerwind. The St. Pete Times reports today that, five years ago, Greene's yacht dropped anchor onto one of the planet's most treasured barrier reefs off the coast of Belize. (Greene wasn't aboard at the time.) According to Belize environmental officials, the case remains open, and Greene or Summerwind's captain at the time of the incident face fines of up to $1.9 million if they ever return to that country. If they don't, then there's nothing Belize officials can do.

Greene's campaign denied to the Times that the reef incident ever occurred, even though Belize officials have a two-volume case file containing evidence of the episode. "Jeff Greene doesn't take a penny of special interest money, so career politicians are attacking him with ridiculous stories about something that didn't even happen five years ago on a boat he wasn't even on,'' a campaign spokesman told the Times. "That's our position. That's our quote."

The Public Option, Redux

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 8:30 AM EDT

Moments after what foes call "Obamacare" passed in the House this spring, Progressive Caucus cochair Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Ca.) vowed to bring back the so-called public option. The notion of a government-run insurance program was the biggest rallying point for liberals in the debate, but never made it into the final bill due to a conservative opposition railing against "socialized medicine." Woolsey has since made good on her promise, introducing a stand-alone public-option bill that has gathered 128 supporters so far, according to the Tribune.

Woolsey and her liberal colleagues admit that there's dim hope of passage, given the current political climate. And things are likely to be even more difficult in the next Congress, with Democrats predicted to lose upwards of 25 seats—and quite possibly the majority.

But I agree with Jonathan Chait, who argues that a public option is likely to become more popular, not less so, as the country continues to struggle with the escalating costs of health care. Supporters of the option say it will help contain costs and reduce the deficit; Woolsey has touted new data from the Congressional Budget Office that suggest it could save the government some $68 billion between 2014 and 2020, partly due to lower administrative costs.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday July 23

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 7:34 AM EDT

Not much environmental news from our other blogs this week, but here's what you missed.

Lucky Puppy: You'd think a bill supporting better conditions for puppies would be a no-brainer, right?

Punching Holes: Bloggers put holes into an "Obamacare" op-ed by WaPo's Robert Samuelson.

Desert Sons: AZ sheriff Joe Arpaio makes a new "tent city" for prisoners in the desert.

Gulf Wrestling: Drunken, cash-rich BP workers are causing chaos in small Gulf towns.

Corporate Perks: The secret BP hotline people in power call for free tickets.

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 23, 2010

Fri Jul. 23, 2010 2:51 AM EDT

 

US Army Cpl. Daniel Lehman, a rifleman with Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, provides security during a shura at a village in the Zabul province of Afghanistan, on July 19, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Senior Airman Nathanael Callon, U.S. Air Force.

Lame Duck Hysteria

| Fri Jul. 23, 2010 1:48 AM EDT

Charles Krauthammer writes today about the latest fever dream making the rounds among conservatives: the possibility that even after taking a drubbing in the midterm elections, Democrats will use their existing majority for one last hurrah in a lame duck session during December:

Assuming the elections go as currently projected, Obama's follow-on reforms are dead. Except for the fact that a lame-duck session, freezing in place the lopsided Democratic majorities of November 2008, would be populated by dozens of Democratic members who had lost reelection (in addition to those retiring). They could then vote for anything — including measures they today shun as the midterms approach and their seats are threatened — because they would have nothing to lose. They would be unemployed. And playing along with Obama might even brighten the prospects for, say, an ambassadorship to a sunny Caribbean isle.

....Card check, which effectively abolishes the secret ballot in the workplace, is the fondest wish of a union movement to which Obama is highly beholden. Major tax hikes, possibly including a value-added tax, will undoubtedly be included in the recommendations of the president's debt commission, which conveniently reports by Dec. 1. And carbon taxes would be the newest version of the cap-and-trade legislation that has repeatedly failed to pass the current Congress — but enough dead men walking in a lame-duck session might switch and vote to put it over the top.

I'm just stonkered here. Don't get me wrong: I'd be cheering from the sidelines if I thought Democrats could do any of this stuff. But the last time I looked, legislation still has to be passed by both the House and the Senate. And the Senate has only 59 Democrats, many of whom aren't reliable votes in any kind of session, lame duck or otherwise. So as long as Republicans stick together — and they will — and continue to filibuster everything — and they will — nothing of any consequence will pass.

This could be different if Democrats had passed a budget resolution this year and included reconciliation instructions in it. In theory, they'd then be able to pass spending-related measures with only 51 votes. But they didn't do that, so they can't. They need 60. And they don't have it.

So here's my question: who's crazy here? All the conservatives yammering on about this? Or me? Am I missing something here? Are last year's reconciliation instructions still valid until the end of the congressional session? Help me out, Stan Collender. What's going on?

Week in Review, Boring Stuff Edition

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 8:27 PM EDT

Although the political world has been consumed with Shirley Sherrod, JournoList, the Ground Zero mosque, and the New Black Panthers, it turns out a few other things happened this week too:

Just thought I'd mention it in case anyone is still paying attention.

Senate Energy Package: Wait, It Gets Worse!

| Thu Jul. 22, 2010 7:22 PM EDT

Just got confirmation from several Senate offices about what is actually going to be in the package Democrats put forward next week. In a nutshell, this is going to be a very tiny package, with little in the way of energy measures. I'm not even sure you can call it an energy package at this point.

Here's what we know is going to be in the package:

1. Oil spill response measures, including elimination of the liability cap for damages and granting the power of subpoena to the presidential oil spill commission.

2. Reforms to the Department of Interior division charged with overseeing oil and gas development, likely similar to the package Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has proposed.

3. $5 billion to spur the development of a natural gas truck fleet.

4. $5 billion to fund the HomeStar program, which will encourage construction of energy-efficient homes.

5. $5 billion for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

And that's it. Obviously, there's no carbon cap, that much we already knew. But there's also no other major energy efficiency standards, and, perhaps most importantly, no renewable electricity standard –not even the weak one included in the energy bill last year.

A Senate Democratic aide tells me that leadership backed off including a cap, which they thought would become the focus of Republican opposition in the absence of the much-demonized carbon cap.

Senate aides hoping to put a positive spin on the package note that it at least does not include any of the really bad measures that progressive senators were worried about, including major incentives for coal and nuclear power and the elimination of the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gases. It is also a package that Democrats are expected to support uniformly.

But, one aid added, "I don't think anyone around here is thrilled."

Read More: Josh Harkinson on Obama's role in the demise of the climate bill.