Mojo - November 2009

Graham Censured for Sensible Climate Stance

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 1:36 PM EST

The Republican Party of Charleston County, S.C. on Monday voted to censure Sen. Lindsey Graham over his support for climate legislation and his willingness to work across party lines on the issue.

The Republican has often worked with Democrats in Congress, but Charleston County Chairwoman Lin Bennett says his work on climate legislation is the last straw.

The party resolution passed Monday says Graham has weakened the Republican brand. Bennett expects a similar resolution to be introduced at the state GOP convention next year.

Bennett called his views "out of step with the beliefs of Republican voters."

Graham hasn't been able to catch a break back home lately. The American Energy Alliance, a shadowy group backed by dirty energy interests, has spent $300,000 on television, radio, and online advertisements in the state lambasting Graham for supporting "a national energy tax called cap-and-trade."  

UPDATE: Plum Line has the full resolution from the Charleston GOP, which we've reprinted in full below the fold.

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Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Next Year?

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 1:08 PM EST

Next year's defense bill will probably include a provision repealing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," policy, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told the Advocate on Wednesday. Kerry Eleveld has the fascinating details:

Frank said he has been in direct communication with the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, and other Congressional leaders about the strategy for ending the 1993 ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Though some moderate Democrats have recently expressed concern about repealing the policy during a midterm election year, Frank said resolve at the White House has never wavered. "The Administration is totally committed to this and has been from the beginning," he said.

Anecdotally, Frank recalled an incident earlier this year when Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a statement to reporters suggesting that repeal was still an open question.

"There was a point where Gates said, 'If we repeal "don’t ask, don’t tell,"'— and the next day he said, 'When we repeal "don’t ask, don’t tell,"'" said Frank. "That's because Rahm called him up. The White House has been consistently committed."

If the administration wanted, it could almost certainly put off DADT repeal until after the midterms without suffering a significant political price. The fact that, according to Frank, the White House is choosing to push for repeal before the midterms suggests that gay rights may be part of of the administration's political strategy. One can make the case that focusing on certain social issues could actually be the right move for Democrats in 2010.

Despite conventional wisdom, not all social and moral debates play to the Republicans' advantage. The Terri Schiavo fiasco in 2005 turned many voters against the Republicans. Interfering in that most private of family battles made the GOP look out of touch and reactionary. The most negative stereotypes about Republicans center around social issues: that they are bigoted and hateful and reactionary. If Democrats can make voters think that congressional Republicans fit that stereotype, Democrats will win.

This is not 1993. The country has changed dramatically in a decade and a half. Three-quarters of Americans, including 66 percent of conservatives and 64 percent of Republicans, think gay people should be allowed to serve in the military. Many of the "Obama surge" voters are young and definitely pro-gay rights. A fight over something many of them believe is an issue of basic fairness could get them to the polls. The move will fire up the Christian right in opposition, but the far right is already enraged—they'll be at the polls regardless.

Of course, if the Obama administration does think that DADT repeal is a good election-year issue for Democrats, gay people would undoubtedly feel icky to be used as a political football yet again. (The timing is also cold comfort for the gay servicemembers who will be fired between now and whenever Congress gets around to overturning the policy.) But it would be a real shift in American politics if it could be convincingly demonstrated on a national scale that supporting gay rights can help politicians instead of hurting them.

Cantwell's Alternate Climate Bill

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 1:00 PM EST

Having cleared the Environment and Public Works committee, the cap-and-trade bill is now being considered by Sen. Max Baucus' finance panel, which has jurisdiction over how carbon permits will be allocated. But at a hearing on Thursday, committee member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) signaled that she thinks cap and trade contains too many opportunities for manipulation of carbon markets, and instead wants to offer her alternative—a proposal for a "cap-and-dividend" scheme. 

Cap-and-dividend works by only limiting emissions by "upstream" industries—that is, the first sellers of fossil fuels, like oil refineries and coal mines. All pollution permits under the cap would be auctioned, and most of the revenues would be returned to energy consumers. As with cap-and-trade, the limit on emissions becomes stricter over time.

Now Cantwell may have a chance to offer elements of her bill for consideration. "When the right time is there we'll certainly be putting ideas on the table," she told reporters. The dividend idea, Cantwell said, "would be something that the committee want to discuss and have a lot of input on."

Cantwell has a far better acronym than the Kerry-Boxer bill—hers is called the "Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal– or CLEAR, for short. In part because her proposal only covers first sellers, her bill is more concise than the cap-and-trade proposals, coming in at just 32 pages. By comparison, the chairman's mark of the Kerry-Boxer bill is 925 pages, and Waxman-Markey totaled 1,427 pages in the end. Granted, legislation is by nature complex and brevity does not necessarily make good policy. But at a time when complicated, inscrutable market structures have wreaked havoc on our financial system and distrust about climate legislation doling handouts to big business runs rampant, the appeal of something simple and direct is clear.

Right-Wing Talkers Exploiting Ft. Hood

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 11:04 AM EST

Over at PoliticsDaily.com, I have a column noting how right-wing TV and radio ranters have been exploiting the Fort Hood tragedy to sow division and bash political foes—while accusing liberals and Democrats of using the event to divide the nation. It's a mind-bending development. A few examples:

* Chris Plante, a Rush-wannabe with his own radio show, says that liberals are "trying desperately to convince America" that Nidal Hasan, the presumed shooter, was "just a crazy guy who spent too much time around deployed soldiers and caught [post-traumatic stress disorder] and oh he happened to be a muslim [sic], but we should ignore that. We shouldn't jump to conclusions." On his show, he has repeatedly declared that Hasan shouted "Allahu Akbar!" before firing on his comrades—even though it's not been confirmed that Hasan did so. Isn't that a bit divisive?

* Syndicated talker Laura Ingraham also claimed it was a fact that Hasan was "screaming Allah-u-Akbar" —as she argued that Hasan had been moved to kill by his "religious fervor" (read: Muslim religious fervor).

* Sean Hannity proclaimed, "There is a chance our government knew all about" Hasan and "did nothing because nobody wanted to be called an Islamophobe." Yet there's no evidence of that. And given that the US government has been arresting alleged Muslim radicals in the United States and bombing Islamic jihadists in Pakistan, it seems top officials are hardly inhibited by the fear of being branded Islamophobes. Hannity has also blasted the Obama administration for not catching Hasan before his killing spree, bellowing, "What does it say about Barack Obama and our government?" Actually, it says nothing about Obama. Two terrorism task forces learned that Hasan had been in contact with a radical imam in late 2008 and subsequently did nothing, after an analyst concluded Hasan's contacts with the imam were consistent with research he was conducting.

* Rush Limbaugh, of course, has gotten into this act. He first blamed Obama for the event, contending that Obama's policy moves had pushed Hasan to become a killer. Then he slammed Obama for not calling the Fort Hood an act of terror.

Nothing like a national discussion based on reason and evidence, right? My column on this is drawing an unusually high number of comments. I can just imagine how calm and rational they are.

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Exit Wounds: Defending Our Vets

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 8:00 AM EST

Another Veterans' Day is upon us, and there's perhaps no more appropriate time to pause and consider the challenges facing our 23 million military vets. There's the obvious: wars on two fronts, which affect our troops-to-be-vets and the VA system at large, and the Ft. Hood massacre, which magnifies the severity of dual (and expanding) wars, being fought by a beleaguered and traumatized fighting force.

Today will be full of symbolism and remembrances, but there are also real policies being negotiated on Capitol Hill that can help support vets in the long-run. Two weeks ago, President Obama signed a bill to keep funding steady for veterans' health care services during protracted budget negotiations. Yesterday, Sen. Tom ("Dr. No") Coburn (R-Okla.) continued to be the roadblock on a $3.7 billion bill that would expand mental care and offer home assistance to wounded veterans, citing "wasteful spending" in his opposition to the bill. This was the same day that the VA settled a lawsuit pending over a two-tour Michigan vet with PTSD who died after an overdose; his family said the VA failed to hospitalize him or enter into a mental-health facility.

Mental- and other health-care funding, troop levels in Afghanistan, the state of our taxed VA system, these all have residual effects on vets today and vets tomorrow. And we can Support Our Troops with banners and bumper stickers all we want, but when it takes a domestic attack on a military base by one of our own for Texas to ramp up mental health funding for its veterans, we all must not be paying close enough attention.

Have a look at some of Mother Jones' coverage over the past few years on the state of veterans' affairs. These are stories that investigate all fronts, from ex-torturers back stateside, photos of hidden caskets (and of the hidden-from-sight injured), to a military with combat fatigue, and the Pentagon's PTSD problem. There's more, and we can do more. Look around, tell us what you think. 

 

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Need To Read: November 11, 2009

Wed Nov. 11, 2009 6:50 AM EST

Today's must reads salute our veterans:

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Cofer Black Disputes Blackwater Bribery Story

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 12:44 AM EST

Cofer Black is disputing the New York Times' blockbuster Blackwater story. On Tuesday evening, the paper reported that in December 2007 the company (which now goes by Xe) schemed to bribe Iraqi officials "to silence their criticism and buy their support" in the wake of a shooting frenzy in Baghdad's Nisour Square that left 17 Iraqis dead. According to the Times, Black, a veteran CIA counterterrorism official then serving as Blackwater's vice chairman, learned of the payout plan "from another Blackwater manager while he was in Baghdad discussing compensation for families of the shooting victims with United States Embassy officials."

Alarmed about the secret payments, Mr. Black cut short his talks and left Iraq. Soon after returning to the United States, he confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, who did not dispute that there was a bribery plan, according to a former Blackwater executive familiar with the meeting. Mr. Black resigned the following year.

Remembering East Berlin and the End of the Little Red Cars

| Wed Nov. 11, 2009 12:05 AM EST

In this week’s 20th anniversary celebrations of the “fall” of the Berlin Wall, two images predominate: First,  Ronald Reagan stands before the Brandenburg Gate, intoning “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Next, throngs of jubilant Berliners stream through Checkpoint Charlie, while others clamber atop the Wall or hack at it with sledgehammers, often to the musical accompaniment of David Hasselhoff. Based on these images, you’d never guess that there were more than two years separating these two events–and you’d certainly never know how little they actually had to do with one another.

The mainstream media this week has been full of homages to what they call the ”speech that ended the Cold War.” Some news outlets–along with Angela Merkel and the German people themselves–have had the decency to acknowledge that Mikhail Gorbachev had something to do with it, as well. Either way, most accounts attribute the destruction of the Wall to actions and policies that came from the top, from the leaders of the two great Cold War powers.  Largely forgotten or ignored are the ordinary citizens who for years had gathered in the churches of the GDR, placing themselves at great personal risk as they peacefully and persistently worked for change.  

I caught a glimpse of this grassroots movement when I went to East Berlin in the first days of October 1989, a month before the Wall was breached. Along with Sylvia Plachy, the photographer, and Bettina Muller, a young West German journalist, I was ostensibly covering the 4oth anniversary of the GDR; actually, we were there to cover the growing pro-democracy movement. For the better part of the decade, dissidents had been meeting in protestant churches in Leipzig and Dresden, as well as in Berlin–initially to protest the arms race, and later to advocate for political reform. These churches were tolerated by the government and allowed to provide a protective cover for the opposition–although, like everything else in the GDR, they were closely monitored by the Stasi. 

Coal Group Misrepresents Veterans

| Tue Nov. 10, 2009 4:49 PM EST

The coal front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity has been in hot water lately for employing an astroturf group that forged letters to Congress opposing the House climate bill—and then for possibly lying under oath about their position. Now ACCCE is in trouble again—for misrepresenting the views of two major veterans groups in an email hyping coal's role in energy security.

The email, sent in anticipation of Veterans' Day, argues that coal can play a vital role in reducing America's dependence on foreign oil and cites two groups—VoteVets and Operation Free. The problem: both of those groups are strong supporters of climate legislation—in part because of the national security threats posed by global warming—while ACCCE has been working energetically to undermine a bill.

Here's the email:

With Veterans Day around the corner, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on all the military personnel who are involved in ensuring our country is protected.

Energy security is one issue that has become increasingly important to our veterans. In fact, national veterans groups Votevets and Operation Free are urging the government to become more energy independent and less reliant on foreign oil.

We can do this by using the abundant domestic fuels we already have. With more than 250 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves, the United States has more coal than the Middle East has oil.

We need to start putting our coal to use - and technologies such as hybrid-electric cars and cleaner, more efficient power plants are making it easier for us to do that.

"This is insulting to all of the Veterans who are fighting to protect America’s national security by supporting clean, American power," wrote David Solimini, Operation Free's media director, in a blog post.

"Carbon pollution causes climate change, and that makes world a less stable, more dangerous place," Frankie Sturm, communications director for Operation Free, told Mother Jones. "As if that isn't bad enough, it's simply unacceptable that the ACCCE would politicize Veterans Day to safeguard its own profit."