Mojo - November 2010

The Coming Assault on Climate Science

| Tue Nov. 9, 2010 10:25 AM PST

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has made no bones about the fact that he plans to "investigate" climate science and climate scientists when he chairs the House Oversight Committee in the next Congress. Same goes for Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who wants to keep the Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming alive only so he can make a mockery of the science.

So it was somewhat bizarre that Greg Sargent headlined a post yesterday, "GOP leadership cool to hearings into 'scientific fraud' underlying global warming." The post says that Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who hopes to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, doesn't plan to hold hearings on the science of climate change—only on the Environmental Protection Agency's planned regulations for greenhouse gases, the stuff that's warming the planet.

Where to begin? Well, first, this ignores that Issa has stated very clearly that he intends to hold hearings on the subject, among the 280 hearings he has planned for 2011. We also have Sensenbrenner looking to rehash the science, though he, too, framed it as a regulatory oversight mission rather than an investigation of the science in an op-ed in Roll Call yesterday. "Now that Republicans have retaken the House, the Select Committee is more qualified than any other Congressional institution to ensure the administration doesn't bend to unrealistic international demands—and that the EPA doesn’t attempt to do what Congress wouldn't," he wrote.

Here's the deal though. The idea that hearings about EPA regulations are not going to be about the underlying science is patently absurd. Barton and Sensenbrenner want to paint this as all about jobs and whether greenhouse gas regs are worth any possible cost to the economy. But neither Sensenbrenner, nor Barton, nor the vast majority of their Republican colleagues think that the planet is warming due to human activity. Thus, they will never agree that the EPA is right in their finding that greenhouse gases are a threat that needs to be regulated, or that any action is "worth" it, whether from the EPA or Congress. Barton and friends reject the fact that, under the direction of the Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, the EPA determined that greenhouse gases do in fact pose a threat to human health and well-being and thus the agency is legally obligated to take action to reduce those emissions. Barton has been clear that he wants to go after the endangerment finding—which, by nature, is an assault on the scientific conclusion that these gases are warming the planet and putting humans in harm's way.

Sargent's post hints at the fact that the economic approach is just a different, more strategic way of coming at the issue, without recognizing that these same Republicans don't think global warming is an issue in the first place:

Separately, the GOP leadership is apparently aware what a circus hearings into the allegedly fraudulent science underlying global warming would be -- and how it would play into Dem efforts to paint Republicans as hostage to extremists.
"It's just not the best strategy," a senior GOP aide says. "The most effective way to fight the national energy tax is to talk about the economic effect and jobs."

So GOP leaders realize that painting this as an assault on the science will only come across as loony to the American public, most of whom recognize that climate change is a threat. They're shrewd enough to recast it as an economic issue, but all that doesn't change the fact that we're endangering ourselves by not taking action. Denying that is an assault on science, no matter how they frame it.

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The Glass Ceiling for GOP Women

| Tue Nov. 9, 2010 10:08 AM PST

Republicans have trumpeted the rise of their party's female candidates this election cycle, going so far as to brand 2010 "the year of the woman." But within the ranks of the GOP itself, women still lag far behind in leadership positions in Congress. Politico reports:

Despite electoral gains in the lower ranks, women have had virtually no success penetrating the inner circle of the Republican congressional hierarchy.

There are already signs that Speaker-in-Waiting John Boehner (R-Ohio) is trying to do something — on Monday, the GOP created a special freshman leadership position, and the insiders' pick for that job is rising star Kristi Noem of South Dakota.

But the gender numbers are still startling: There are 56 female Democrats in the current House, and there will be 51 in the new chamber. There are just 17 Republican women in the House, with at least seven joining the new majority — only about 10 percent of the Republican Conference. There will be one GOP House chairwoman in the new Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and one woman in the leadership ranks — Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who will keep the No. 5 slot as vice chairwoman.

To put it in other terms, the House GOP has managed to improve its percentage female members from 5.6 percent to 9 percent of the caucus. But, by comparison, Democratic women have gone from 22 percent to 25 percent of the caucus, coming significantly closer to achieving parity. Under Nancy Pelosi's leadership, moreover, Democratic women rose to key leadership and committee chair positions.

Republican women have often risen to the greatest prominence off Capitol Hill. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Mn), for instance, has amassed a huge popular following—and demonstrated her fundraising prowess—through the talk show and tea party circuit. But Rep. Jeb Hensarling has quashed her long-shot bid to join the House GOP leadership as conference chair. Sarah Palin's career as the right's most famous agitator really took off after she left the Alaska governor's mansion. There are some signs of progress elsewhere, as Republicans Nikki Haley in South Carolina and Susana Martinez in New Mexico will become the first female governors of their respective states. But too often—in Washington, at the least—GOP women have yet to shatter the glass ceiling within their own party.

Wall St. to Hijack Reform?

| Tue Nov. 9, 2010 9:29 AM PST

Any time a big industry pledges to "shape" reform, no matter how innocently they couch that pledge, you'd be wise to watch out. Yet shaping reform is exactly what Wall Street has in mind, as a conference hosted on Monday by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), a top lobbying group for the financial services industry, made clear.

In addition to vowing to "shape" new financial regulatory reforms, passed by Congress in July, attendees of SIFMA's event complained about anti-Wall Street "rhetoric" and promised to take on one of the tougher pieces of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill—what's called the "Volcker Rule," which would tamp down banks' risky trading for their own benefit (as opposed to trading for their clients) and limit their investment in far riskier hedge and private equity funds.

As Reuters reports, the financial industry sees the Volcker Rule as ripe for "shaping":

[SIFMA president Tim] Ryan last month said his group was not seeking to roll back key parts of Dodd-Frank, though inevitably there would be areas of the law that industry will want changed...

Congress laid down some parameters for regulators on defining "proprietary trading"—or trading for banks' own accounts unrelated to customer needs—but left room for banks to retain some in-house trading operations in an area where drawing clear lines will be difficult.

"The important aspect of this set of rulemaking will be how regulators define what activities are deemed 'proprietary' and thus prohibited," Ryan said. "Our focus here is to help Treasury determine what qualifies as proprietary trading."

Ryan's statements come as his group is already seeking to delay and water down the Volcker Rule. Last week, SIFMA asked regulators for a second study of the Volcker Rule after the first scheduled one is completed in January, which would postpone the rule's implementation.

At least one Wall Street denizen has already conceded to the Volcker Rule. Last month, the proprietary trading team at Goldman Sachs decamped to the firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, the powerhouse private equity firm.

Numerous senators, meanwhile, are pressuring financial regulators to enact the Volcker Rule as fully as possible. In a letter penned last month, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wrote to regulators that lawmakers "provided you with a clear mandate and broad authority to act. The American people are now relying upon you to fully carry out the law." Even former Fed chairman Paul Volcker himself is pushing hard to ensure a broad interpretation of the rule. Time will tell who wins the fight to preserve or defang the Volcker Rule.

Texas Rep. Introduces "Arizona-Style" Immigration Law

| Tue Nov. 9, 2010 4:00 AM PST

How excited are Texas Republicans to file their own Arizona-style immigration reform? This excited:

[State Rep. Debbie] Riddle set up some folding chairs and pitched a make-shift campsite outside the floor of the Texas House of Representatives beginning on Saturday afternoon to make sure she was the first in line when the chief clerk's office opened for early filing this morning. She spent both Saturday and Sunday night sleeping on the lobby floor.

"A visitor that walked by told me that I reminded them of the kids that camp out for Duke basketball tickets in Durham, North Carolina," Riddle said. "It was eye-opening to realize that people think it's normal to be passionate about something like college basketball, but odd to be passionate about your state's politics."

Hook 'em. The main prize, as Riddle brags on her website, was HB 17, which more or less parrots Arizona's SB 1070, allowing police to check the immigration status of anyone they pull over for a traffic stop. Another proposed bill requires parents of public school children to provide proof of citizenship (pdf) and/or immigration status, which would then be forked over to the state, as part of an effort to "identify and analyze any impact on the standard or quality of education" from illegal immigration. Yet another bill seeks to crack down on "sanctuary cities." Riddle, who made a name for herself as the Paul Revere of the "terror baby" menace, also introduced two bills (one that would increase the penalty for driving without a license, and one requiring valid ID in order to vote) that took on immmigration indirectly.

As I noted last month, it's no sure thing that immigration reform will pass in the Lone State State, where the party's biggest donors would prefer to see inaction. But after a landslide election (GOPers gained 44 seats in the Texas house) and with the base so fired up its leaders are literally squatting on the floors of the legislature, don't expect conservatives to back down so easily.

And Now for an International News Break...

| Tue Nov. 9, 2010 4:00 AM PST

Editors' Note: Laura McClure is traveling in Liberia this month on an IRP Gatekeeper Editors trip organized by the International Reporting Project (IRP). The IRP, formerly known as the Pew International Journalism Program, is a nonprofit dedicated to filling gaps in American media coverage of international issues.

Need a break from tea party nuttiness? MoJo's got you covered. I'm here in Liberia this month—along with 10 US-based editors from outlets such as NPR, the Washington Post, and The Root—to see how a country rebuilds after a gruesome and protracted civil war. Soon I'll introduce you to born-again warlords, former child soldiers, General Peanut Butter—a potential 2011 presidential candidate—and Jewel, the ex-wife of charismatic war criminal Charles Taylor. You'll also meet some of the inspiring women who brought peace to Liberia and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first female president. Gods and WiFi willing, I'll be blogging once daily over on The Rights Stuff about all that, plus human rights, women's health, and whatever shiny culture factoid I pocket that day in Africa. Please join me online the next few weeks. It's going to be fun.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 9, 2010

Tue Nov. 9, 2010 3:30 AM PST

Soldiers with Special Operations Task Force - South prepare to load an all-terrain vehicle on to a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in preparation for a rapid offload during operations Oct. 1 in the Maruf District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Photo by Spc. Jesse LaMorte, Special Operations Task Force - South

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Morning in America Again for Islamophobes

| Mon Nov. 8, 2010 3:55 PM PST

Almost two years and one disastrous election later, we're still waiting for the other Barack Obama to make an appearance, and from the gab coming out of Washington right now, it looks like we'll be twiddling our thumbs a bit longer (if not forever). Once again, the sweet talk of compromise and bipartisanship is on the lips of the president, but not, of course, on the lips of top Republicans. Talk about consistency!

Right now, all the news chatter is about domestic policy (health care, tax cuts, etc.), but count on the Republicans—Rand Paul aside—to light out after the president sooner or later at least as hawkishly on foreign policy as they have domestically. Already, Senator John McCain and others are preparing the ground to launch what's likely to become a jihad against Obama's civilization-busting "mistake" in announcing a vaguely "conditions-based" drawdown of vague numbers of US troops in Afghanistan for July 2011. And that's just a start. On a whole host of issues from the Iraq and Afghan wars to Israel, Iran, and North Korea, buckle your seatbelts and hold onto your hats. The critical weather in Congress, especially in the House, is going to get fiercer, and a president with a most un-Harry-Truman-ish tendency to placate is unlikely to stake his fighting future on foreign policy.

Illinois: The Dems' Redistricting Revenge?

| Mon Nov. 8, 2010 11:43 AM PST

black and white map of IllinoisFlickr/Towboat Garage (Creative Commons).

Chicago News Cooperative's James Warren has a good piece on Democrats' prospects in Illinois, one of the few states where they will control the redistricting process:

Unlike the number of State Senate and House seats mandated in the Illinois Constitution, United States Congressional districts are determined by population. Other states have gained more population in the past decade, so Illinois will surely drop a seat, to 18, after final census data arrive.

The process has many permutations. But if you’re in Las Vegas, place a wager that one of the ebullient newbie Republican representatives — Robert Dold, Randy Hultgren, Adam Kinzinger, Robert Schilling or [Joe Walsh, the tea partier leading Rep. Melissa Bean] — sees his district vanish before the 2012 election.

Illinois will present some appealing redistricting opportunities for Dems. But even the power to draw the boundaries of Illinois' 18 seats is really cold comfort in a year when Republicans will draw 164 districts—and Dems could draw as few as 47. That's right: Illinois alone could represent more than one-third of the seats that Dems will get to draw. The party got more bad news over the weekend, as control of the Colorado house shifted to the GOP. Dems had been optimistic that they could hold control there. Now they'll have to compromise with Republicans in drawing the map for the seven or eight congressional districts Colorado will have in 2012.

The Colorado loss brings the maximum number of districts the Dems can draw down to 81—and that's only if they can prevail in the New York state senate and the Oregon house and convince Rhode Island's ex-Republican governor to approve their redistricting plan there. If they fail in those three tasks, Arkansas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, and West Virginia will be the only states they get to redistrict besides Illinois. 

Quote of the Day: Lucentis vs. Avastin

| Mon Nov. 8, 2010 10:09 AM PST

I love this News of the Weird summary of this New York Times article:

Treatments for Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Lucentis ($2,000 an injection) or the equally effective Avastin (off-label: $50). Problems: (a) Lucentis thus costs Medicare (i.e., you) a bargeload of money. (b) Both drugs are made by the same company. (c) That company, somehow, for some odd reason, prefers that patients use Lucentis and therefore offers a "promotion program" (i.e., bribes) for doctors to prescribe it. (Bonus: The bribes are legal.)

Stay classy, pharmaceutical industry!

Fighting Back on Climate: Don't Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight

| Mon Nov. 8, 2010 10:02 AM PST

As my colleagues Kevin Drum and Kate Sheppard have noted, a group of 700 climate scientists plans to start pushing back harder and more publicly against climate change skeptics. Kevin offers a few words of warning:

I hope these guys are well trained. They need to know the science cold, they need to be aware of the standard denialist talking points, they need to stick to the facts religiously, and they need to have good media training. They won't be going up against amateurs and the rules of the game won't be set by the Marquess of Queensberry.

Unfortunately, I doubt any of the preparations that Kevin suggests will actually be made. People who don't have backgrounds in politics regularly underestimate how difficult it actually is. Climate skepticism is serious business, and it's well-funded by some of the richest and most powerful corporations and individuals in the world. There's real money at stake here, and the skeptics are not going to mess around or play nice. In fact, they're probably thanking their lucky stars that this is happening, because there's a very real chance that this will backfire on climate scientists. It will be easy for skeptics to simply point to the climate scientists' "coming out" as proof of the conspiracy that they've long alleged. And there's a good chance that some climate scientist will make a rookie mistake. You can bet that at least one of them will say something silly at a conference or on cable television that will be taken out of context, replayed on YouTube, and and which will continue to fuel the fires of denialism for the next decade and a half.

I understand why the scientists are doing this. What they were doing before (trying to focus on the science, and having faith the truth would out) wasn't working, and they see a moral imperative to warn the world of impending disaster. It may be too little, too late.

UPDATE: Now Kate reports that the original Los Angeles Times story that launched all this was wrong: the group of 700 climate climate scientists planning to push back isn't actually planning to push back. She also explains why that's troubling.