The must reads about Massachusetts and other news. And Massachusetts:

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On Wednesday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski could move to block the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide—and environmental groups are waging a last-minute campaign against the Alaska Republican by highlighting her ties to fossil fuel interests.

As we noted last week, last fall Murkowski drafted an amendment limiting the EPA's power with help from two energy industry lobbyists and former Bush EPA staffers. A Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility investigation into campaign records last week found that Murkowski has received $126,550 in campaign contributions from clients of those lobbyists since 2004, including big players like Duke Energy and Southern Company.

The National Wildlife Federation Action fund is running television ads in Alaska and Washington, DC. The ads accuse Murkowski of putting the "polluter lobby" first, rather than the needs of the state.

Friends of the Earth is running radio ads in Alaska claiming that Murkowski "is more interested in working for Washington lobbyists and special interests than she is in protecting Alaska's way of life." MoveOn is also rallying its members around the country on the issue.

Murkowski could introduce a measure to block EPA regulation during a Senate debate over unrelated legislation that would raise the national debt ceiling.

UPDATE: Martha Coakley has conceded. David Corn has more.

Most observers seem to think that Scott Brown, the Republican candidate, will be the next senator from Massachusetts and serve out the remainder of Ted Kennedy's term. But as Josh Marshall writes, even if Martha Coakley ekes out a victory, today is a "critical gut-check moment" for President Barack Obama. Now that he's facing political trouble—in Massachusetts of all places—how will the president react?

The reporting on Obama's plans for the State of the Union address, scheduled for Jan. 27, suggest that the White House will double down on the kind of moves that have irritated liberals and demoralized his base. According to Politico, the president plans to unveil a budget that features "real fiscal austerity measures" that will "draw flak from both sides of the aisle"—code words for a contraction in government spending that left-leaning economists like Paul Krugman say will only add to the country's economic woes. Over at the Atlantic, Marc Ambinder also warns of further disappointment for the left:

[I]f, through some combination of White House pressure and magic the House CAN pass the Senate health care bill within the next few days, the circumstances surrounding its passage will not redound to the benefit of Democrats. Liberals will be angry—and they'll be even angrier at the White House's austerity budget that's due Feb. 1. And they'll be even ANGRIER when they realize that the White House will redouble their efforts to make peace with Republicans on budgetary and spending issues.

Still, not everyone sees dark days ahead for liberals. Kevin picked out a different passage from the same Politico article:

"The response will not be to do incremental things and try to salvage a few seats in the fall," a presidential adviser said. "The best political route also happens to be the boldest rhetorical route, which is to go out and fight and let the chips fall where they may. We can say, 'At least we fought for these things, and the Republicans said no.'"

Kevin thinks showing "some fight" in the wake of a Massachusetts loss might turn out to be a "blessing in disguise." And sure, such a strategy might help Obama. It may even save some Democratic seats come November. But will emboldened rhetoric help the White House actually enact any liberal policies? It's no coincidence that the increase in "fight" is coming at the same time that it's going to be increasingly hard for the administration to actually acheive anything of substance. Senators like Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are already suggesting that Obama should move towards "the center." With Brown in office, Obama will have trouble doing the tough stuff. He'll be turning to rhetoric—and turning rightwards on "budgetary and spending issues"—because he'll have to. If this is a blessing, it's pretty well disguised. 

As I reported earlier, it looks likely that Virginia Democrat Jim Webb will support Republican Lisa Murkowski's efforts to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide emissions. Webb's office won't state whether he has or will formally sign on to Murkowski's measure. But it just issued a statement to Mother Jones explaining that the senator opposes EPA regulation of greenhouse gases—not on environmental grounds, but due to his concerns about the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches:

Senator Webb has shared with Senator Murkowski his concerns about the EPA's latest finding, concerning the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions, in the absence of clear congressional involvement and direction. Since his campaign for the U.S. Senate, one of Senator Webb’s principal themes has been to restore and maintain the proper balance of power between the executive branch and Congress. Senator Webb advanced similar arguments, concerning congressional engagement and approval, in August 2008 during the Bush Administration’s negotiation of the Iraq Security Agreements.

He has said on related issues for many years that the regulatory power of the executive branch is derived specifically from the legislative branch. It should be applied narrowly and in strict conformity with the Constitution and clear legislation enacted by the Congress. An executive branch decision to broadly interpret a legislative statute—especially one involving sweeping implications for our country—without such direction from Congress is inappropriate.

By citing the Iraq Security Agreements, Webb is referring to the attempt by the Bush administration in 2008 to unilaterally forge a long-term security arrangement with the government of Iraq. This comparison—and Webb's contention that the administration would be abusing executive authority by using the EPA to restrict emissions—is an inaccurate one: The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA has been granted the authority by Congress, via the Clean Air Act, to regulate carbon dioxide.


A country programmatically gripped by fear—yes, that's us for more than eight years now.  Fear of terrorism to be exact, even as truly terrible things happened in this land and elsewhere, from hurricane Katrina in 2005 to last week's devastating Haitian earthquake, which should have put our fears into perspective.  But no such luck.

Since 9/11, the thought of "terrorism" has seized the US by the throat.  People who are terrified of flying for fear of a terrorist attack are perfectly willing to drive a car to the nearest mall without a passing worry, even though traffic fatalities indicate that this is a relatively dangerous act.  There were a staggering 34,000 fatal crashes in the US in 2008, 12.25 fatalities for every 100,000 Americans, and carmakers are now intent on featuring ever more immersive Internet-linked "infotainment systems" on dashboards.  These are sure to up the distraction level and lead to more deaths on the highway, and yet the country is barely focused on this fact. And mind you, despite all the attention, not one American died in a terrorist attack on an airplane last year.  In fact, Nate Silver of the website recently crunched a few numbers and came up with the following:  "the odds of being on [a] given [airplane] departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade."   

In recent years, the coal industry has worked hard to convince us that coal is "clean." Now, they're going one step further and claiming that it's "green." Last week, a veteran climate change denialist pushed this idea to Obama administration officials and congressional staffers.

In a policy briefing sponsored by the United States Energy Association, Fred Palmer, a coal industry lobbyist and notorious climate change denier, touted the wonders of "green coal" as a "path to zero emissions." Greenpeace's new PolluterWatch program—a kind of oppo research team targeting global warming skeptics and energy interests—managed to sit in on the talk, which it said was attended by close to 100 administration and congressional staffers and policy experts.

Palmer has a solid history of undermining climate science on behalf of big polluters. He's the head of government affairs at Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal company, and was formerly president of the Western Fuels Association and chairman of legal affairs for the National Mining Association. 

At the Western Fuels Association, Palmer headed the Greening Earth Society, which claimed that increased emissions would actually help ecosystems and economies. He even argued in an interview that "every time you turn your car on and you burn fossil fuels and you put CO2 into the air, you’re doing the work of the Lord."

Kevin already addressed this on his blog, but if you haven't read Scott Horton's latest story on the Gitmo "suicides," you should. In December, I wrote about a Seton Hall report that hinted that three detainee suicides at Guantanamo Bay in 2006 weren't actually suicides. Now Horton has on-the-record sources suggesting that the detainees were killed in a previously undisclosed off-site facility called "Camp No," and the murders were covered-up. In any sane media environment, this would be front-page news everywhere, and a congressional investigation would already have been launched. Anyway, read it.

On Friday I reported that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has picked up a Democratic co-sponsor for her efforts to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. I haven't been able to conclusively pin down who that is, but a number of Hill sources are pointing to Virginia Democrat Jim Webb.

Several Democratic offices have pointed to Webb, as have environmental lobbyists working to block Murkowski's measure. Webb's office has not responded to requests for confirmation or comment.

It wouldn't be that surprising if Webb joined Murkowski's effort. Last month Webb lambasted the Obama administration for pursuing an international deal on climate change in Copenhagen before the Senate had passed a climate bill. At the same time, he has pledged to vote against the cap-and-trade bills circulating in Congress. In November, Webb announced that he's co-sponsoring a alternative climate bill with Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander. That measure shuns a cap on carbon—the mechanism designed to ensure that emissions actually get cut—and instead pushes piles of money toward nuclear energy, biofuels, carbon capture and storage, and renewable energy.


Once known as Wall Street's top cops fighting white collar crime, the Securities and Exchange Commission came under intense public scrutiny for failing to catch Bernard L. Madoff in the multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme to which he confessed more than a year ago. In hopes of regaining some of its star power (read: dignity) the SEC announced last week that it plans to reorganize its enforcement division into specialized, topical groups and implement a new initiative that would offer rewards to those who assist SEC investigations in a substantial way.

Madoff is already behind bars, but the SEC's metamorphosis into a make-shift prosecutor's office may help them nail some Madoff's relatives, friends and business associates—the people who also made out with your millions but who have not yet seen the inside of a jail cell. Check out the current issue of Mother Jones for a rundown of which Madoff crony pulled $15 million from her Madoff LLC accounts just weeks before Bernie's "confession," which minion used his company card to invest in a hair blow-drying salon, and a whole host of other outrageous details that will reignite your passion to help the SEC put these people behind bars. 

Here's an excerpt:

In a workplace where pricey suits were the norm, Bernie's Marlboro-smoking right-hand man dressed in jeans and sneakers, but he was so gruff when investors called him with questions that many simply stopped calling. Frank DiPascali helped invent and perpetuate Madoff's phony trading scheme; his take included a mansion in Bridgewater, New Jersey, a pair of Benzes in the driveway, and a monster fishing boat whose captain had his very own Madoff AmEx. The only true insider indicted as of press time—others included rubber-stamping accountant David Friehling and two IT guys charged with providing tech support for the scam—DiPascali faces up to 125 years upriver. Sentencing is set for May. In the meantime, from jail, he's helping the FBI make sense of company records and build cases against as yet unnamed coconspirators.

Read the full piece for more on The Wife: Ruth Madoff, The Sons: Mark and Andrew Madoff, The Brother: Peter Madoff, The Niece: Shana Madoff, and more.

US Army Capt. Patrick Mitchell mans the air guard position inside a Stryker armored vehicle enroute to Taktehpol, Afghanistan, Jan. 4, 2010. Mitchell is assigned to the 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment. (US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II.)