2011 - %3, August

MLK Jr. Memorial, Brought to You by BP?

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 4:00 PM EDT

Hurricane Irene has forced organizers to delay the dedication ceremony for the new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall, which was originally scheduled for this weekend. But before the cancelation, I was a bit surprised to see BP, of all companies, tweeting about it yesterday:

Well, sponsorship of a memorial to a civil rights hero is certainly better than befouling the Gulf of Mexico or killing polar bears. But doesn't it strike you as a little odd that BP—or any corporation, for that matter—is sponsoring a monument on the National Mall? Actually, it turns out that the monument has a long list of corporate sponsors—the General Motors Foundation, Chevrolet, the Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation, Aetna, Boeing, BP, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, GE, McDonald's, Travelers, and Walmart.

I'm not entirely opposed to corporations giving support for good causes. It just makes me uncomfortable that those corporations can use this as a badge of honor, evidence that they are responsible, compassionate members of the community. They can dump money on good causes instead of actually living up to the morals that Dr. King stood for.

I'm surely not alone in wishing that BP would, perhaps, also consider compensating the victims of the Gulf oil spill that they've ignored, many of whom are poor people or members of minority groups. Or McDonalds could serve healthier food in low-income communities. Or Walmart could offer decent wages and benefits to all of its employees.

I'm not really sure how common corporate sponsorship is for memorials on the Mall these days; I sent in a few questions to the foundation behind the memorial, but haven't heard back.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic is keeping track of other gripes about the MLK memorial.

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Koch Industries Fights Chemical Plant Safety Measures

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 3:59 PM EDT

Among the Koch Industries lobbying crew's many agenda items—climate change denial, school segregation, a right wing media takeover—is the company's fight against legislation that would raise US chemical plant safety standards to protect against potential terrorist attacks capable of harming millions of Americans.

A new investigation published by the Center for Public Integrity reveals the extent of Koch Industries' efforts to combat safety measures recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security:

The Center for Responsive Politics puts Koch at the top of its list of the 80-odd firms, local governments and other groups lobbying Congress to shape or prevent passage of a wide-ranging chemical security bill.…Chemical safety legislation has been one of Koch’s most important priorities in the last four years, during which the firm has spent $44 million lobbying in Washington on this and other issues.

Destructive environmental impacts and employee health concerns used to be the biggest risks chemical plants posed to their communities. But after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security became concerned with how attacks on these plants would harm the densely populated communities around them. The worst case scenarios the DHS found include chemical explosions, spills, and gas clouds that could either kill or seriously harm millions of people living in the plants' vicinities.

Newt Gingrich Fundraising Machine Shuts Down

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 2:50 PM EDT
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is running for president.

Newt Gingrich has officially lost the future. The former Speaker of the House raised $52 million over the last four years through his political action committee, American Solutions for Winning the Future—but now that Gingrich has jumped ship to run his own (floundering) presidential campaign, the 527 he founded and chaired has officially shut down. Per Peter Stone:

To make his bid for the GOP nomination, Gingrich had to sever his ties with the 527, as federal election law requires for candidates, and that proved to be a big blow to its growth and ongoing operations, [chairman Joe] Gaylord said...

The group was well known in conservative policy circles for promoting a "Drill Here, Drill Now," drive to increase the use of domestic energy resources and was invariably a sharp critic of government regulations. This year, the group created a website called noMoreObamaCare.com to spur GOP lawmakers to repeal the sweeping health care reforms that the administration signed into law in 2010.

One election-law expert wasn't surprised by the group's quick demise. "Some political organizations are like one man shows on Broadway," quipped lawyer Larry Noble of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in an interview with iWatch News . "Once the stars leave, the shows often fold."

As Alex Burns notes, Gaylord had initially planned to keep the PAC afloat while Gingrich ran for president; instead, it's become yet another casualty of his disastrous campaign.

Yep, That's BP's Oil

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 2:38 PM EDT

Remember last week when BP was like, "Oil leaking in the Gulf? What oil? Oh, that. We didn't do it."? Well, apparently the new leak off the coast of Louisiana really does belong to BP, and appears to be coming from the same well that unleashed 4.9 million barrels of crude on the Gulf last year.

The Press-Register reports today that tests have confirmed that the oil seen leaking last week matches the oil that leaked from BP's Macondo well. The paper took a sample, and sent it to Ed Overton and Scott Miles, two chemists at Louisiana State University who work on oil:

"After examining the data, I think it’s a dead ringer for the MC252 oil, as good a match as I’ve seen," Overton wrote in an email to the newspaper. "My guess is that it is probably coming from the broken riser pipe or sunken platform. ... However, it should be confirmed, just to make sure there is no leak from the plugged well."
In an emailed statement, BP officials wrote that the company had a vessel stationed at the site all day Thursday but never saw any oil.

But BP says they still don't think the oil is theirs:

"There is still no evidence that the oil came from the Macondo well," BP officials wrote in the emailed statement.

Well, I guess it's good to know that some things never change.

Jon Huntsman: The Democrat’s Republican

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 1:50 PM EDT

Thanks to a Republican presidential field crowded with hardline conservatives like Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Jon Huntsman is having a tough time selling himself as a credible, semi-reasonable, moderate alternative.

So it’s a little confounding that Huntsman's fundraising team in South Carolina—an ironclad conservative hotbed—includes a staunch foe of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, as Real Clear Politics reports:

One name that jumped out of the newly minted lineup of financial backers in the first-in-the-South primary state is John Rainey, a former head of the South Carolina Board of Economic Advisers and a two-time George W. Bush "pioneer," who bundled at least $100,000 for the Republican candidate in 2000 and 2004.

Rainey has called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding work that [South Carolina] Gov. Nikki Haley did for a consulting firm and a Columbia hospital, and he recently shared with a reporter his blistering denunciation of the Republican first-term governor, who is seen by many as a rising star in the Republican Party.

"I believe she is the most corrupt person to occupy the governor’s mansion since Reconstruction," Rainey told The Nation in June. “The Democrats got Alvin Greene; we got Nikki Haley. Because nobody bothered to check these guys out."

Huntsman's finance team also boats five people who have donated to Democrats. Of course, as RCP points out, donating to candidates of both parties is nothing new. But in a state with as unbroken a conservative streak as South Carolina's, Huntsman's reliance on a donor with such unadulterated haterade for Haley seems a trifle…unwise. Perhaps Huntsman's staffers think that Haley's sliding approval ratings mean she's no longer the potent political kingmaking force she was once thought to be.   

Still, given the fact that Huntsman has pegged his presidential fortunes to the South Carolina primary—and foregoing the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary—you have to ask just how far his pro-life, pro-business, anti-tax record can carry him. Especially with quotes like this one, from Dem strategist Tyler Jones, floating around: "This is why liberals in South Carolina love Jon Huntsman...He hates Republicans just as much as we do."

Rick Perry Pledges to Investigate Intimidation of Gay Marriage Foes

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 1:47 PM EDT
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a favorite to be the Republican presidential nominee.

On Wednesday, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a pledge to defund Planned Parenthood if elected President. On Thursday, he promised never to vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. On Friday, he kept the streak alive by signing another pledge—this one from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM)—to support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But the pledge actually goes much further than that, committing signees to a "appoint a presidential commission to investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters," among other things. Here's what's in it:

  • Support and send to the states a federal marriage amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman,
  • Defend DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] in court,
  • Appoint judges and an attorney general who will respect the original meaning of the Constitution,
  • Appoint a presidential commission to investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters,
  • Support legislation that would return to the people of D.C. their right to vote for marriage.

Really sweet of Perry to keep Washington, D.C. in his thoughts, one day after he called the city "seedy." As I noted before, Perry's two top rivals, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, have alread signed the pledge. Perry has faced criticism from the right—notably from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum—for initially calling gay marriage a Tenth Amendment issue that should be settled by the states, before quickly backtracking. Perry has also suggested gay people should live a life of celibacy, and supported a law that would make it a misdemeanor for gay couples to have sex. 

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Friday Cat Blogging - 26 August 2011

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 1:41 PM EDT

No theme today, just some nice pictures of the cats taken as the sun goes down and provides some lovely lighting. Enjoy. And for all of you on the East Coast, human and otherwise, stay safe from Irene this weekend.

Quote of the Day: All Tax Relief is Not Created Equal

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 1:12 PM EDT
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Buried in a New York Times story today on Congressional Republicans' opposition to extending a payroll tax cut that would mostly benefit the working and middle classes is this gem of a quote from Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor:

"All tax relief is not created equal. If the goal is job creation, Leader Cantor has long believed that there are better ways to grow the economy and create jobs than temporary payroll tax relief." [emphasis mine]

This is, on its face, an accurate statement. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office noted last year, some tax cuts boost the economy more than others—cutting the payroll tax cut for employers, for instance, provides more of an immediate jolt to the economy than cutting it for employees, as President Obama is now recommending. (Mind you, of all the policy options in Congress' toolkit, the CBO ranked increased aid to jobless workers as the most effective. That option is nowhere on the GOP's radar.)

Obama's payroll tax cut extension for employees would help the economy. "The increase in take-home pay would spur additional spending by the households receiving the higher income, and that higher spending would, in turn, increase production and employment," the CBO explained. Sure, households would save some of that money, but plenty more would be spent. Economist Mark Zandi (a former John McCain adviser) said in June that extending the payroll tax cut is a "reasonable" idea that would provide a much-needed short-term jolt to the economy. "Without that payroll tax cut this year," Zandi went on, "I think we'd be skirting recession now because of the higher energy prices."

Back to Cantor's flack and the GOP's "all tax relief is not created equal" talking point. So if payroll tax cuts for employees aren't the answer for  tax-cut-loving Republicans, what is? Well, let's take a look at their record and their jobs plans. Looming large, of course, are the GOP's beloved 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, which mostly benefitted the very wealthy and did little to stimulate the economy. Slashing taxes also features prominently in the jobs plans of GOP leaders such as Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan. In its analysis, the CBO ranked lowering income taxes dead last in its effectiveness.

Why, then, does the GOP support these ineffective tax relief plans? Could it be because the minority of wealthy Americans who do benefit are the same people who bankroll their campaigns?

Independents Finally Getting Fed Up

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 12:49 PM EDT

Jon Chait points out that the results of the latest Pew poll are pretty remarkable:

People always want leaders to compromise. It's amazing that a plurality wants Obama to confront the GOP more strongly. Want to see something even more amazing? You're seeing non-trivial numbers of Republicans say that Obama should stand up to the Republicans.

He's right. It's no surprise that liberal Democrats increasingly want Obama to fight back against Republicans, but that's not the real story here. The biggest shifts in attitude have come from the center. Take a look at the circled parts of the table: the entire middle of the political spectrum — liberal Republicans, independents, and conservative Democrats — is speaking pretty loudly here. They want Obama to fight back harder against the shouters in the tea party wing of the GOP.

As Chait points out, Obama is walking a tightrope: if he does get more confrontational, he risks losing ground in the areas where he's still viewed positively (trustworthy, well-informed, cares about people, etc.). But he better figure out how to walk it. His entire electoral strategy is based on winning the middle, and the middle is getting fed up.

You can see the full Pew poll here. It's interesting reading.

Image-of-the-Week: Hurricane Tracks

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 12:23 PM EDT

Tropical cyclone tracks worldwide, 1985 to 2005. Points show locations of storms at 6-hour intervals, using the color scheme from Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale (right). Credit: Nilfanion via Wikimedia Commons.Tropical cyclone tracks worldwide, 1985 to 2005. Points show locations of storms at 6-hour intervals. Credit: Nilfanion via Wikimedia Commons.

The North Atlantic may feel like the epicenter of tropical cyclone activity, but it's not, since it generates an average of only 10 named storms a year compared to 36 in the North Pacific. If you really want to escape the clutches of these monsters, the place to be is the South Atlantic. As you can see from this composite tracks map, the South Atlantic generated only one tropical cyclone in the 20 years between 1985-2005. Why the tranquility? Well, it's less a factor of colder ocean temperatures than strong vertical wind shear, which shreds big systems before they can form. Plus the the South Atlantic typically has no intertropical convergence zone (the Doldrums, in sailor speak) to drive large scale spin and thunderstorm activity.