Mojo - January 2010

Graham: Not a Climate Wussypants

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 5:38 PM EST

As noted earlier, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is taking heat from the right-most members of his party for his stance on climate change legislation. But at an event in his home state yesterday, Graham held firm on his belief that addressing climate change "is a worthy endeavor" – even for Republicans.

"I have come to conclude that greenhouse gases and carbon pollution is not a good thing," Graham told the crowd in Columbia, S.C. yesterday. "All the cars and trucks and plants that have been in existence since the Industrial Revolution, spewing out carbon day-in and day-out, will never convince me that's a good thing for your children and the future of the planet."

"Whatever political push back I get I'm willing to accept because I know what I'm trying to do makes sense to me," Graham said. "I am convinced that reason, logic and good business sense, and good environmental policy, will trump the status quo."

Of course, there's been plenty of fretting over what Graham wants in return for his support for the bill (I have engaged in some of that myself). But he really has put himself out there on an issue that most in his party either actively deny is happening or otherwise just ignore. And as a thanks, he's taking jabs from the tea partiers (who have called him a "wussypants," "girly-man," and "half-a-sissy") and getting censured by Ron Paul acolytes. Not that legislators automatically get a gold star for simply believing in basic climate science, but Graham should get some credit for standing firm on climate amid the attacks from the right.

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Cape Wind Delay a Big Win for Dirty Energy Interests

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 4:35 PM EST

Cape Wind, the hotly contested proposed offshore wind farm in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, suffered a major setback on Monday when the National Park Service (NPS) announced that the site should be eligible for protection as a historical place. While the decision is being touted as a victory for two Massachusetts Native American tribes, the big winners may well be the dirty energy interests that have been working for nearly a decade to block the project.

The determination that the Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, which Andy Kroll wrote about over on Blue Marble, is only the latest setback for the proposed 24-square-mile, 130-turbine wind farm that would be the first offshore project in the US.

The New York Times gave a good rundown on this latest roadblock, which was spurred by a request from two local tribes that claim the turbines would impede their religious practice by blocking the view of the sunrise and intrude on historic burial grounds. But what the Times fails to mention is that the bulk of the opposition to Cape Wind over the years has come from a multimillion-dollar campaign backed by oil and gas money—not Native Americans trying to protect territory they regard as sacred. At the forefront of the effort has been William Koch, who alone has spent more than a million to oppose the farm via a group called the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

Koch is the founder and president of the Oxbow Group, and has made his fortune off mining and marketing coal, natural gas, petroleum, and petroleum coke products. He's the son of Fred Koch, founder of oil and gas giant Koch Industries, and brother of David and Charles Koch—who have supported conservative groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy (which later merged with another group to form FreedomWorks) and Americans for Prosperity, which has campaigned against both climate legislation and health care reform. Bill Koch used to work for the family business, but split off in the early '80s, prompting a nasty feud with his brothers business that dragged on for nearly two decades. In that time, however, he built a dirty energy empire all his own, which has helped fund his Cape Wind crusade.

The Alliance was founded in 2001 with the sole purpose of defeating the wind farm. Koch, a billionaire fossil-fuel tycoon and yacht enthusiast, has given at least $1.5 million to the Alliance and related efforts to defeat the project (as of 2006, that is—how much he's given since then is unknown), which would be visible from his home in the Cape Cod town of Osterville. Doug Yearley, the former CEO of mining giant Phelps Dodge and a member of Marathon Oil's board of directors, was also highly involved in the Alliance up until his death in 2007.

Koch and his wealthy friends in the area are responsible for more than 90 percent of the contributions to the Alliance, and fundraising documents released in 2006 showed that those major donors gave between $20,000 and $1 million each. In just the last three years the Alliance has brought in $8.6 million, according to its IRS forms. It has spent $2 to $3 million a year to fight Cape Wind. In a 2008 fundraising letter to its wealthy supporters, the Alliance promised that it "will do what whatever it takes to win. We will never allow Cape Wind to become a reality." Despite all the income from well-heeled dirty energy interests like Koch and Yearley, the Alliance describes itself on its tax forms as a "nonprofit environmental organization."

Dem Casting Call: Who Will Replace CO Gov. Bill Ritter?

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 2:32 PM EST

Part of the Democrats' black Tuesday, which included a set of rough retirement announcements, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter has decided not to run for a second term. This ignited a flurry of speculation about which of the state's Dems will attempt to fill the one-term governor's place. On Twitter, Mark Ambinder reports that the White House is pushing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to go for it. But Obama pulled Salazar away from his Senate seat just last year to join the administration, and it would be a shame to send him back so soon. (Though the idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Secretary of the Interior is chuckle-worthy, to say the least.)

So let's take a look at the state's in-house candidates. The top contender seems to be Andrew Romanoff, the state Rep. who has already launched a 2010 Senate primary campaign against Sen. Michael Bennet. Bennet was appointed to complete Salazar's term last year, but he must win the seat for himself this November. 

Some have suggested that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper would be a good fit. Hickenlooper has long been rumored to be a potential Gubernatorial candidate, but declined to run against Ritter in 2006 to replace the term-limited Republican governor Bill Owens, saying "I would not be unraveling the fabric of collaboration." Asked on the phone by a local reporter if he would run this year, Hickenlooper responded that his cell phone was running out of batteries. 

Former Rep. Scott McInnis, the leading Republican in the field, has said that both Romanoff and Hickenlooper are too Denver-centric and would have trouble mounting a state-wide challenge. And the McInnis team is stepping up its game. "We beat the varsity team a little earlier than we thought we would," said a McInnis spokesman. "They've got to go to plan B, or the b-team."

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Will the Revolving Door Take Dorgan to Coal Country?

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 1:59 PM EST

One nugget buried in Byron Dorgan's official statement on retirement caught my attention: the three-term senator plans to do work on energy policy from the private sector after finishing his term.

Although I still have a passion for public service and enjoy my work in the Senate, I have other interests and I have other things I would like to pursue outside of public life. I have written two books and have an invitation from a publisher to write two more books. I would like to do some teaching and would also like to work on energy policy in the private sector.

It's a fleeting mention, but it's indeed interesting, as Dorgan remains one of the key potential votes on cap-and-trade legislation. He has thus far not been very enthusiastic about voting for a bill. "I’m in favor of taking action to reduce CO2 emissions and to protect our environment. But I don’t support the 'cap-and-trade' plan now being debated in the Congress," he wrote in an editorial in The Bismarck Tribune last summer.

His biggest interest when it comes to cap-and-trade: protecting coal. He has been among the staunchest advocates for coal in the Senate. "We need a future in which we continue to use our most abundant resource, and that’s coal," said Dorgan during debate of the energy bill last year.

Coal-fired power plants produce more than 90 percent of North Dakota's power, and the state has the largest lignite coal deposit in the world. Lignite mining is the state's fifth-largest industry, bringing in roughly $3 billion each year. Electric utilities have been Dorgan's fourth-largest contributor over his career, at $426,207, and energy and natural resources companies have also given him more than $829,000.

Now, he's also been an advocate of wind power, which is also abundant in his state. So there's always the chance that he will go on to consult on wind policy. But it seems most likely that the revolving door will drop him off in coal country. And if that is the case, it seems to indicate that Dorgan would be even less likely to vote for a cap-and-trade plan this year that would hurt the coal industry.

Blind Ben and the Fed

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 12:59 PM EST

In his column today, the New York Times' David Leonhardt takes to task the Federal Reserve and its chairman, Ben Bernanke, for not acknowledging that they inexplicably missed the housing bubble, and questions the Fed's ability to spot future bubbles. In the wake of Bernanke's speech this weekend in which he deflected blame for the crisis and instead pointed to lax regulation as the culprit, Leonhardt rightly notes, as many others have, the numerous occasions in the lead-up to the crisis when Bernanke and his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, rejected the idea of a housing meltdown and the broader crisis to follow. Like Bernanke saying "We've never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis" in 2005, or that Fed officials "do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy" in 2007. Ouch.

Still, near the end of his column, Leonhardt begrudgingly concedes that the Fed "does seem to be the best agency to regulate financial firms." Say it ain't so, Dave.
 

Lindsey Graham Censured for Climate Stance, Again

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 11:44 AM EST

A second county Republican Party in South Carolina has voted to censure Sen. Lindsey Graham over his work on cap-and-trade legislation and his willingness work across party lines on issues like climate, bailing out the banks, and immigration.

The Lexington County Republican Party voted 13-7 in favor of a resolution censuring Graham on Monday, and called on the state party to rescind support for the senator, because his "positions do not reflect a complete belief in the South Carolina Republican party platform and do not serve the interests of South Carolinians." The resolution was sponsored by Talbert Black Jr., a county party member who had previously served as the interim state director for Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty campaign group, which gives a good sense of the stripe of conservatives running the Lexington County GOP.

Graham, the resolution states, has "repeatedly demonstrated contempt and belligerence towards those members of the Republican Party who support freedom, a Constitutional government, and the Republican Party platform."

His support for a cap-and-trade bill to address climate change and his willingness to work with John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), "reiterates his support for government intervention in the private sector in direct contradiction of the Republican principle of free markets, as stated by the Republican party platform," says the statement.

The Republican Party of Charleston County also voted to censure him in November for his stance on climate policy and his willingness to work with Democrats on key issues.

Graham responded to the most recent rebuke on Tuesday night, dissmissing the country chapter as "fringe elements" representing the "Ron Paul movement." He criticized what he called the "misplaced priorities" of the county GOP. "I do believe in finding common ground to solve hard problems," said Graham, "but there are some elements of my party and others that want complete agreement all the time."

"The 13 people who support this resolution are Ron Paul supporters," Graham said. "They didn't vote for me before and they're not going to vote for me next time, and I understand that."

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More on Dodd, Dorgan

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 11:25 AM EST

Sen. Tim Johnson will be the senior Democrat on the banking committee after Dodd leaves Congress. (Official photo.)Sen. Tim Johnson will be the senior Democrat on the banking committee after Dodd leaves Congress. (Official photo.)On Twitter, Reuters' Jim Pethokoukis points out that Chris Dodd's retirement is (like everything) "great news for banks." It will make South Dakota's Tim Johnson, who likes banks even more than Dodd, the senior Dem on the banking committee. "And Byron Dorgan was a big Glass Steagall guy," Pethokoukis writes. Indeed—Dorgan was one of several lawmakers who gave earily prescient quotes to the New York Times when the bill was repealed ten years ago. As Kevin wrote in the most recent issue of the print mag, the banks already own the Hill, so while these retirements are good for Big Finance, they don't mark some big transition—they simply reinforce the status quo.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), another hated enemy of liberals, also benefits from Dodd's retirement, since Lieberman probably won't have to face the very popular Richard Blumenthal in 2012.

Dodd's retirement is bad news for Merrick Alpert, who was running what Nate Silver describes as a "competent campaign" but who lacks name recognition and probably can't fend off Blumenthal. (Mother Jones' Ben Buchwalter interviewed Alpert last month.)

Over at TAPPED, Monica Potts wonders "why the White House fought for [Dodd] until the very end." That's easy: Dodd and Biden are close friends, and if Dodd had stayed in, Biden would probably have kept fighting for him all the way through to election day. I won't be surprised when the Times and the Post do their play-by-plays tomorrow or Friday if it turns out that the Veep played a key role in convincing Dodd to give up the fight.

On the Dorgan front, DougJ at Balloon Juice has a truly epic email from a former Dakota senate staffer who gives the R-rated explanation of why Silver immediately moved the North Dakota race to the top of his "most likely to flip" list. It's probably too profane for a family blog, but you can read it over at Balloon Juice.

Richard Pombo Rides Again!

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 7:08 AM EST

Richard Pombo is back on the political scene. The squat, nepotistic, buffalo-killing, whale-hating, freeway-speculating, junket-taking, national-park-peddling, Abramoff-courting California rancher who became the nation's worst-ever chairman of the House Resources Committee is running for Congress, three short years after voters booted him from office. Bad sequels aren't just the stuff of Westerns.

For years, Pombo topped environmentalists' Most Wanted list. In 2006 the League of Conservation Voters named him chairman of its "Dirty Dozen." Rolling Stone called him "Enemy of the Earth." His long-running efforts to gut the Endangered Species Act and open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling ultimately came to naught, but he pushed through Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative and effectively derailed a government investigation of Pacific Lumber owner Charles Hurwitz, then the nation's leading logger of old growth redwoods. In 2006, Defenders of Wildlife chipped in more than $2 million to help Democratic novice Jerry McNerney unseat him.

The political winds had been changing in Pombo's Central Valley congressional district as it became a bedroom community for the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet his environmental record probably hurt him less than his ties with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In an election year fixated on corruption, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington named him one of the 13 most corrupt members of Congress.

Since then, Pombo has stayed true to form. In 2007, he took the reins of the Partnership for America, an organization funded by utilities, oil, coal, mining, logging, and agricultural groups that sought to gut the Endangered Species Act (it now appears defunct). Around the same time, he became a senior partner at Pac/West Communications, a PR firm that had held a fundraiser for him and created Astroturf groups to trumpet support for his plans to strip environmental laws. The Pac/West website tries to put a greener face on Pombo, featuring a Q&A in which he gushes that Africa's "natural beauty and abundance of wildlife is awesome."

Rather than challenging McNerney to a rematch, Pombo intends to replace retiring GOP congressman George Radanovich in a district deeper in the Valley. He'll face fewer environmentalists there but more friction from business interests and his own party. Radanovich and the California Chamber of Commerce have already endorsed State Sen. Jeff Denham for the job. And Denham's success fending off a 2008 recall effort pushed by leading California Democrats earned him points with the party faithful. Still, Pombo counts deep political connections in Washington. It may be a close race, and it will be interesting to see if and when environmental groups wade into the fray.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 6, 2010

Wed Jan. 6, 2010 6:33 AM EST

A paratrooper with 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division (Advise and Assist Brigade), deployed in Iraq since August 2009, uses an online video-chat program to talk with his wife and children back at Fort Bragg, N.C., during the Christmas holidays, 2009. Operation Homelink, a nonprofit organization that works with corporate donors to link families and their deployed soldiers with computers, partnered with Dell Computers to donate 75 computers to families of 1/82 AAB paratroopers prior to its deployment. (army.mil.)

Need To Read: January 6, 2010

Wed Jan. 6, 2010 6:20 AM EST

Today's must reads:

  • Obama: Undiebomber Could Have Been Stopped (NYT)
  • DC Circuit: Pretty much anyone can be detained without charge (SCOTUSBlog)
  • Home Sales Down; Everyone Panics (NYT)
  • 21 Experts Seek Meeting with WaPost Chair Don Graham Over Possible Ethics Problems With "Fiscal Post" Collaboration (OurFuture.org)
  • Ford Sales Up (WaPo)
  • Iceland Leader Vetoes Plan to Pay Equivalent of $13 Trillion To Foreigners Who Had Saved Money in Iceland's Failed Banks (NYT)
  • Glenn Greenwald slams Politico for not challenging Cheney's statements on Obama administration's terror policies (Salon)
  • The Case Against Allowing C-SPAN Cameras Into Health Reform Negotiations (Wonk Room)
  • Andy Kroll on the curse that seems to have settled on the "Cape Wind" project (MoJo)
  • Did TSA post honeypot tweet to catch security directive leaker, using blogger's account? (BoingBoing)

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