Mojo - October 2009

Old Energy Interests Try Hand at 'New Media' to Defeat Climate Bill

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 9:00 AM EDT

There's another anti-climate bill advocacy group to watch out for: the Cost of Energy Information Project (CEIP). It's a new organization, but it's apparently organized and funded by a lot of the same old critics of climate-change policy.

CEIP is organized by Democratic lobbyist Morris Reid and Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a climate change skeptic and former big-time dirty energy lobbyist who was a key player in the Bush administration's climate and energy policy. Republican lobbyists Ed Gillespie (also a former Bush adviser) and Ed Rogers helped form the organization. "The group plans to reach outside of the Beltway to engage citizens who, organizers insist, have been excluded from the lawmaking process," reports the Washington Times.

CEIP's website includes a "cap-and-trade cost calculator" that is built on a deeply flawed report on the House climate bill funded by the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Council for Capital Formation. The group is apparently "backed by energy-producing interests," according to the Washington Times, but there aren't any details available on what those interests might be.

I also have to note the headline on the Washington Times piece—"Group uses new media in climate-change debate"—and point you to CEIP's website, possibly the ugliest to launch since 1998. Not only that, their "cap-and-trade cost calculator" also manages to forget Washington, D.C., and their deft use of "new media" includes...Twitter and email to senators. Slick!

They're also competing for the CEIP acronym with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the California Emerging Infections Program. Good luck with that!

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Some Evidence on the Reid Question

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 6:26 AM EDT

On Tuesday, I suggested Markos Moulitsas should spend a few extra bucks next time he surveys Nevada and ask Harry Reid-haters exactly why they hate Reid. A commenter named "kos" (the genuine article?) suggested that Mother Jones cover the cost. Thankfully, neither Kos nor MoJo nor yours truly will have to write a check after all. That's because on Wednesday, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) released the results of its latest Nevada survey, which offers support for the idea that at least some of the opposition to Reid comes from Democrats who think he's not liberal enough. Here's the most important data:

Among Independents who have an unfavorable view of Reid, 55% say it’s because he’s not progressive enough while only 40% think he’s too far left. Among Democrats with an unfavorable view, a whopping 92% say he’s not progressive enough.

62% of Democratic voters are not sure Reid should be the Democratic nominee in 2010, or think it should be someone new.

Seventy-two percent of Republicans with an unfavorable view of Reid think he's too far left, but that's no surprise. If Reid can hold Democrats and Independents, he'll win Nevada in a walk. And the data from this survey, at least, suggests that Reid should be moving left—not right, as Chris Cillizza has suggested. It looks like the Las Vegas Sun's J. Patrick Coolican (who somehow emailed these survey results to scoop [at] motherjones [dot] com before I got PCCC's press release) was right.

Fox News: Boycott or Not?

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 6:25 AM EDT

As David pointed out in his Politics Daily column Wednesday about the feud between Fox News and the White House, "Fox is just not worth a game of chicken." I would go one step further and suggest that, for all of its obvious flaws, Fox and its out-sized viewership are still very worth Obama's time.

Following statements by White House Communications Director Anita Dunn describing Fox as "opinion journalism masquerading as news," media watchdogs and left-wing pressure groups have turned up the heat on the network.  Yesterday, Media Matters sent around a press release drawing attention to Fox's use of outdated or dubious polls that suggested its audience is as balanced as its coverage famously claims to be. MoveOn is urging Democratic lawmakers to boycott Fox News.

The attention is not unwarranted. Dunn was merely voicing what every Daily Show viewer has known for years. The fastidious fact-checkers at Media Matters caught Fox News playing up last year's biennial news consumption survey from the Pew Research Center while ignoring its less favorable but more recent media attitudes survey and called out political analyst Dick Morris for quoted some unbelievable numbers on air.

A boycott, however, is the wrong kind of attention. The White House and MoveOn can call Fox News' coverage whatever they want: opinion journalism, partisan hackery or outright lies—all labels which have applied in the past. That's not cause enough for the Democrats to ignore Fox News and the millions of voters who watch it.

There is no denying the conservative bent of both the network's coverage and audience but it is also important for lawmakers and the White House not to forget that there is still sizable minority of self-described Democrats and Independents who tune into Fox News. As Media Matters notes, this section of the viewing audience is smaller than Fox claims—regardless, it is still too large to overlook. In its argument against disengaging with Fox, The Economist noted Ben Pershing's observation about the network's audience: "Maybe they're mostly 'right-leaning' but that doesn't mean they're 100 percent unpersuadable."

Obama and Democratic lawmakers need to be on the network interacting with Fox anchors (perhaps using some well-calibrated "dismissive humor," as David suggests) and the swing voters who are influenced by their unfair and unbalanced reporting. Like it or not, Fox News still matters. 

Senate Ponders Where To Send Cap And Trade Revenue

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 6:25 AM EDT

With most of Washington's attention focused on health care reform, it's easy to forget that Democrats are also working on a cap-and-trade bill to combat climate change. On September 30, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced their version of the cap-and-trade bill that passed the House back in June. But the Kerry-Boxer bill has a big piece missing: it says almost nothing about how pollution permits will be allocated. Grist explains why: "Doling out what is effectively a huge new pot of money is a subject of considerable interest to many senators, and it’s expected to help bring some recalcitrant Democrats on board."

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee discussed exactly this topic at a hearing on Wednesday. Kate Sheppard will have more on this later in the week, but here were a couple of the less constructive suggestions:

Can Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder Shut Down Gitmo?

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 6:24 AM EDT | Scheduled to publish Thu Oct. 22, 2009 5:00 AM EDT

Does being forced to listen to Bruce Springsteen constitute torture?

In truth, the guards at Guantanamo and other US military prisons overseas could have played detainees just about anything. Turn it up loud enough, set it to repeat enough times, and any song in existence—from metal band Doom's hyper-aggressive "Die MF Die" (lyrics: Die motherfucker die motherfucker die motherfucker... etc.) to Prince's "Raspberry Beret" to Don McClean's "American Pie" would suffice to disorient prisoners, mess with them, deprive them of sleep. As part of our March 2008 special report Torture Hits Home, we published a list including these songs and numerous others—the Barney theme, the Meow Mix cat food jingle—that were used by interrogators and guards to soften up their charges.

In December 2008, then Mojo staffer Jesse Finfrock reported that British human rights organization Reprieve had launched a campaign called zero dB (decibels) to fight such abuses; artists including Massive Attack and guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine—another name on our torture playlist—got on board to demand the US military stop using their songs. "It's difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you've put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture," Nine Inch Nails singer Trent Reznor wrote on the band's website days later. (NIN's songs were reportedly among those used to torture military contractor-turned-whistleblower Donald Vance.) "If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued," Reznor promised.

Today, he, Morello, and other prominent musicians—including megabands R.E.M. and Pearl Jam—took a step in that direction, attaching their names to a national campaign to pressure Congress to shutter Gitmo once and for all. They are also demanding that the government declassify documents related to the use of music in interrogations—a practice the United Nations has condemned. Among the other artists signing on are Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, T-Bone Burnett, David Byrne, Rosanne Cash, the Roots, Rise Against, and popular British crooner Billy Bragg. "Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney’s idea of America, but it’s not mine," Morello said in a statement announcing the effort. "The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 22, 2009

Thu Oct. 22, 2009 5:15 AM EDT

Spc. Justin Slagle returns to Forward Operating Base Lane in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter after an air assault mission in the Zabul province of Afghanistan, Oct. 15, 2009. (US Army photo by Spc. Tia P. Sokimson.)

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Need To Read: October 22, 2009

Thu Oct. 22, 2009 5:05 AM EDT

Today's must-reads:

Get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

TARP: The Pyrrhic Bailout?

| Wed Oct. 21, 2009 2:42 PM EDT

In his office's most recent quarterly report, Neil Barofsky, the Special Inspector General for TARP, reminds readers of the overall bailout funding at risk in the Treasury's TARP rescue so far—as much as $2.9 trillion, a staggering, unimaginable sum. But the SIGTARP's report doesn't dwell entirely on dollars and cents. Instead, Barofsky focuses on TARP's cost to the federal government's credibility in the eyes of the wary public.

The report, in assessing TARP's effectiveness, begins by saying what most of us already figured—that the bailout went a long way toward stabilizing the economy. It propped up financial institutions that, for good or ill, were integral to the financial markets, and brought "the system back from the brink of collapse." But beyond the financial markets, the report continues, many of TARP's programs have sputtered, including its homeowner relief initiatives (read: the HAMP program), and its effort to remove the threat of ticking-time-bomb toxic assets from the books of financial institutions. In short, TARP has largely succeeded in its chief aim—to avert complete financial meltdown—but struggled elsewhere.

But how pyrrhic was that victory? For one, as the SIGTARP report points out, Wall Street is already reverting back to the over-leveraged, risky, even reckless behaviors that helped bring on the crisis—and the government is egging them on. "The firms that were 'too big to fail' last October are in many cases bigger still, many as a result of Government-supported and -sponsored mergers and acquisitions," the report states. "Absent meaningful regulatory reform, TARP runs the risk of merely re-animating markets that had collapsed under the weight of reckless behavior."

Gov. Rick Perry's Death Penalty Dilemma

| Wed Oct. 21, 2009 2:24 PM EDT

Despite a significant reduction in capital punishments in the past decade, the United States continues to pour a lot of money into the controversial practice, according to a study by the Death Penalty Information Center. Citing the report, "Smart on Crime," Jim Ridgeway writes that "this is no small consideration for cash-strapped state governments."

Tell that to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who proved his fiscally conservative credentials in March when he refused $555 million in stimulus funds that would have covered unemployment benefits. The move backfired four months later, when Perry asked the federal government for a $170 million loan to cover his state's dwindling unemployment funds.

And by continuing his whole-hearted embrace of capital punishment, Perry continues to misspend Texas' badly needed cash. As the "Smart on Crime" study proves, Perry could save Texas a bundle by scaling back its execution program. Reducing executions could also divert criticism of Perry spawned by mounting evidence that Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004, was actually innocent.

But the swashbuckling politician—who in April suggested that Texas could secede from the Union—has only reaffirmed his embrace of the death penalty. "Our process works, and I don't see anything out there that would merit calling for a moratorium on the Texas death penalty," he said on Tuesday. As Zack Roth notes, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry's top challenger for governor in 2010 and a strong supporter of the death penalty, has criticized Perry on the issue. Still, she hasn't commented on the death penalty's economic or ethical dimensions, instead charging that Perry's handling of the Willingham case is "giving liberals an argument to discredit the death penalty."

Hawaii Schools to Close on Most Fridays

| Wed Oct. 21, 2009 2:08 PM EDT

Students in Hawaii who have dreamt of longer weekends and shorter school weeks just got their wishes granted. As a way to trim the state's ballooning education budget, a new teachers' union contract chops 17 Fridays off the remaining academic calendar for the state's 171,000 public school students, the Associated Press reports. The President's home state will now have  just 163 instructional days, while most states have 180.

The decision in favor of money saved, teacher layoffs prevented, and learning time lost comes as Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are calling for students across the country to spend more time in the classroom. The President said recently that he wants students to stay late or come in on weekends because "the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom." Meanwhile, Hawaii already ranks near the bottom of the national education achievement barrell in terms of its test scores.

More than 80 percent of Hawaii's voting teachers approved the new contract and its 17 furlough Fridays, but the decision has many parents and education advocates up in arms. Some working parents are scrambling to find day care, while parents of special-needs students are threatening to sue the state. "It's just not enough time for kids to learn," Valerie Sonoda, president of the Hawaii State Parent Teacher Student Association told the Associated Press. "I'm getting hundreds of calls and e-mails. They all have the same underlying concern, and that is the educational hours of the kids."

Hawaii is not alone in its teaching budget cuts. California, Florida, and New Mexico have also asked teachers to take unpaid furlough days, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. But few if any furlough days in other states fall on dates that would otherwise have been used for classroom instruction.