Monday, November 25, 2013

Only 3 of 9 Dems on the House Intel Committee Want to Rein in Drone Strikes

On Thursday, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence finished its markup of the FY14 Intelligence Authorization Bill.

I would like to call your attention to two committee votes in particular.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09) offered an amendment to ban certain strikes. Rep. Schakowsky recently hosted a hearing with Rep. Alan Grayson, Rep. Barbara Lee, and CODEPINK with the families of drone victims. I could not find the text of the amendment, but I would surmise that it related to the use of signature strikes, which Schakowsky has criticized in the past. It could have also regarded double tap strikes.

I often describe signature strikes as like stop-and-frisk, where instead of getting stopped and frisked, you get killed by a flying death robot. Signature strikes kill unidentified targets chosen because of patterns behavior that are similar to those of militants.  However, in conducting these strikes, the administration labels all males above age 18 ("military age") as militants after the fact. As we all know, you can't tell a 17 year-old from an 18-year-old. So, effectively, if you have passed puberty, the White House sees you as fair game in a tribal area in Pakistan or Yemen. Remember, these people have not been charged with any crime, and the White House has no evidence of their having committed a crime. But they will be killed anyway in a shameless example of profiling. (That doesn't even begin to address the killing of women and children as false targets or "collateral damage.")

How did Jan Schakowsky's amendment do? The Committee voted it down 17 to 3.

The 3 supporters were all Democrats: Luis Gutierrez (IL-04), Ed Pastor (AZ-07), and Schakowsky herself.

The other six Democrats on the Committee all opposed it:

Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Mike Thompson (CA-05)
Jim Langevin (RI-02)
Adam Schiff (CA-28)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Terri Sewell (AL-07)

All of the Republicans voted no as well:

Mike Rogers (MI-08)
Mac Thornberry (TX-13)
Jeff Miller (FL-01)
Mike Conaway (TX-11)
Pete King (NY-02)
Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02)
Devin Nunes (CA-22)
Lynn Westmoreland (GA-03)
Michele Bachmann (MN-06)
Tom Rooney (FL-17)
Joe Heck (NV-03).
Mike Pompeo (KS-04) was not in attendance, but we can all assume how he'd vote.

Adam Schiff offered an amendment to require that U.S. agencies involved in drone wars produce annual reports in which they account for all deaths in U.S. drone strikes overseas and identify the civilians and alleged combatants killed. The amendment already passed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Schiff issued the following statement on the amendment:
“The production of this report will require minimal resources, but will provide a modest but important measure of transparency and oversight. It will help to fulfill the promises made by the President in his May 2013 speech at the National Defense University. As the President articulated, when we order a drone strike, ‘there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set.’ Never the less despite our best efforts these strikes unfortunately do result in civilian casualties and the death of innocents who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps that is unavoidable and simply the nature of fighting the enemy we confront, an enemy that places no value on civilian life. But what we can do is be accountable and transparent, both with ourselves and with the world. And as the President pointed out in his NDU speech, ‘There’s a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports.’ This amendment would help narrow that gap.”
The amendment failed 5 to 15. 

As before, Schakowsky, Gutierrez, and Pastor (all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) voted for it. Adam Schiff, its sponsor, and Jim Himes did as well.

The other four Democrats on the committee oppose such simple transparency measures:

Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Mike Thompson (CA-05)
Jim Langevin (RI-02)
Terri Sewell (AL-07)

All Republicans, of course, opposed it.

These amendments may get another chance when the bill comes to a full House vote.

Friday, November 22, 2013

If Obama Says He Wants to Cut Social Security, But Liberals Don't Believe Him, Do His Comments Exist?

Obama, to the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, Tuesday, 11/19

THE PRESIDENT:  Actually, Larry and I, and most of my economic team -- in fact, all of my economic team -- have consistently maintained that there is a way to reconcile the concerns about debt and deficits with the concerns about growth.

What we know is, is that our fiscal problems are not short-term deficits.  Our discretionary budget, that portion of the federal budget that isn't defense or Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid, the entitlement programs, is at its smallest level in my lifetime, probably since Dwight Eisenhower.  We are not lavishly spending on a whole bunch of social programs out there. And in many ways, a lot of these programs have become more efficient and pretty effective.
Sorry, O, but having the smallest discretionary budget since Eisenhower isn't something of which to be proud. You can't complain about sequestration cuts and extol record low social spending.

Defense, we spent a lot from 2001 to 2011, but generally we are stabilizing.  And the Pentagon, working with me, have come up with plans that allow us to meet our security needs while still bringing down some of the costs of defense, particularly after having ended the war in Iraq and on the brink of ending the war in Afghanistan.
You want to stay in Afghanistan until "2024 and beyond." That's not "on the brink" of being over.
Also, there's that thing about the Cold War being over and the U.S. not facing any existential threats. Yeah, that. Remember that?

So when we talk about our deficit and debt problems, it is almost entirely health care costs.  You eliminate the delta, the difference between what we spend on health care and what every other country -- advanced industrialized nation spends on health care, and that’s our long-term debt.  And if we’re able to bend the cost curve, we help solve the problem.

And we could balance the budget with a genuinely universal system such as those in other advanced industrial countries.

Now, one way to do that is just to make health care cheaper overall.  That’s I think the best way to do it, and that’s what we’ve been doing through some of the measures in the Affordable Care Act.  There are some other provisions that we could take that would maintain our commitment to seniors, Medicare, Social Security, the disabled, and Medicaid, while still reducing very modestly the costs of those programs.

To me, that's code for chained CPI and means testing, both of which he wants.


And here he is again saying that he and Republicans see largely eye-to-eye on social insurance. (Remember when he said that in the first debate?)

If we can get beyond the tactical advantages that parties perceive in painting folks as extreme and trying to keep an eye always on the next election, and for a while at least, just focus on governing, then there is probably 70 percent overlap on a whole range of issues. A lot of Republicans want to get infrastructure done, just like I do. A lot of them believe in basic research, just like I do. A lot of them want to reform entitlements to make sure that they’re affordable for the next generation; so do I. A lot of them say they want to reform our tax system; so do I.

Three Horrible Energy Bills Pass the House, Are DOA in the Senate

I report on the three energy bills that went through the House here and here.

Is Mary Landrieu (D-Oil and Gas) Next in Line for Energy Chair?

With several big Democratic retirements next year, we will see some new Committee chairs in the next Congress.

Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, will be retiring, and Jay Rockefeller, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Committee, will be retiring as well. Ron Wyden, then, is poised to take over the Senate Finance Committee chairmanship, one of the most powerful roles in the Senate. According to a short National Journal profile on the senator back in June, his aides have said that he would jump at the opportunity to take the chairmanship.

Ron Wyden is currently chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The second-ranking Democrat in the Committee, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, will be retiring. The next in line for Energy would be Mary Landrieu. For anyone concerned with the current and future health of the planet and of its people, that should be a horrifying prospect.

Mary Landrieu, the Democratic senator from Louisiana, holds the honor of being the only Democratic senator with a lifetime League of Conservation Voters (LCV) score below 50%. She may even be the only Democrat in either House to have a lifetime LCV score below 50%; anti-environment Democrats like John Barrow (GA-12), Mike McIntyre (NC-07), and Jim Matheson (UT-04) all manage to pass 50%.

Mary Landrieu has consistently been one of the top recipients of oil and gas money in the Senate. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, she is the third largest recipient of oil and gas contributions this election cycle--and the biggest Democratic recipient. During the 2008 election cycle, she was the top congressional recipient of contributions from BP and expressed no intention of returning said contributions after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"Campaign contributions, from energy companies or from environmental groups, have absolutely no impact on Sen. Landrieu's policy agenda or her response to this unprecedented disaster in the Gulf," Saunders wrote. "The Senator is proud of the broad coalition she's built since her first day in the Senate to address the energy and environmental challenges in Louisiana and in the nation. This disaster only makes the effort to promote and save Louisiana's coast all that more important."
Campaign contributions have no impact on her policy agenda? Yeah, sure.
She is currently among the top 10 congressional recipients of money from the fracking industry--and the only Democrat to make the list. What an honor!

I searched her website for discussion of climate change, an issue with which all senators should be concerned--especially senators on the Energy Committee. The only statement I found was one criticizing the President's climate plan for being too hard on fossil fuel industries:
"The President and I have very different views on how to tackle the challenges of climate change. We both want to protect the environment, but I believe that overzealous regulations are harmful to our economy.

"I wish the President today would have instead approved the Keystone Pipeline to create new jobs here at home. And any call to single out the energy industry, including oil and gas, for increased taxes is unwise and counterproductive to economic growth. We should be encouraged that America's emission of CO2 has declined to its lowest level in two decades, and emissions have fallen 13 percent in the last five years alone.
This, of course, fits with Senator Landrieu's "Energy Security" page, which reads as a paean to oil and gas. 

The page begins,
Energy security is paramount to America’s economic health and to our national security. If the U.S. is to become more energy independent and more energy secure, we must aggressively develop our domestic resources, including oil, gas, nuclear, and coal. However, we must also invest heavily in new technologies, alternative fuels, and in efficiency measures at the same time.
She never elaborates on the "new technologies," "alternative fuels," and "efficiency measures" she claims to support. They are simply not important enough to her. It is also unclear whether "new technologies" doesn't just refer to carbon capture and sequestration (part of the chimera of clean coal) and whether "alternative fuels" doesn't just refer to biofuels like ethanol
Her first section is an endorsement of offshore oil drilling and a marked failure to learn from the BP oil spill.
Returning our Gulf to work Following the Deepwater Horizon Spill, the issuance of permits for new offshore drilling has been painfully slow, and continues to lag behind pre-spill levels. Senator Landrieu is a strong proponent of increasing domestic energy production and is working to reverse this trend. The Senator has pushed for a more efficient permitting process; an essential step in allowing companies to return to their pre-spill levels of productivity. Senator Landrieu strongly opposed the 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling and defacto moratorium on shallow water drilling imposed April 2010. She successfully fought for it to be lifted two months early.  

She continues to fight for a clear, understandable set of regulations which will clear the current backlog of drilling permits and allow responsible operators to begin new exploration. This will protect thousands of jobs in our state which depend on the offshore oil and gas industry, and will help to ensure the energy security of our nation.

This return to productivity is vital not only for the future energy security of our nation, but also for the more than 300,000 Louisianians employed, directly and indirectly, by the oil and gas industry. In December of 2011, the Senator successfully blocked legislative language in the bill funding the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) that would have further slowed the permitting process, and has made clear her expectation that the prompt consideration of permits should be among the agency’s key priorities.
Her second section deals with the allocation of revenues from offshore drilling, which, again, she praises:
A Fair Share for Louisiana
Louisiana is a recognized leader in domestic oil and gas production.  The Gulf Coast produces more than a quarter of the Nation’s domestic oil and natural gas.   Seventy six percent of America’s offshore energy production takes place directly off of Louisiana’s coast.  For more than 50 years, oil companies produced that oil and gas and sent billions of dollars in royalties to the Federal government—but none to Louisiana, even though our coastal marshlands bore the brunt of the impacts. Thanks to Senator Landrieu’s leadership, Louisiana will receive a fair share of the revenues derived from these precious mineral resources.

In 2006 Senator Landrieu worked with then-Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., to pass the Domenici-Landrieu Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA). For the first time, this law secured a fair share of offshore oil and gas revenues for Louisiana. This independent revenue stream is expected to provide Louisiana billions of additional dollars in coming decades for flood protection and coastal restoration projects. Phase one of GOMESA brought more than $6 million into Louisiana for 2009 alone. Phase two will bring in ever increasing amounts beginning in 2017. It also provides significant funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which funds the creation of parks and outdoor recreation areas across the country.

The Domenici-Landrieu Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act will serve as a template for similar measures around the country – and that will enhance U.S. energy security.   Senator Landrieu believes that a system that shares the benefits of offshore drilling with the coastal states will foster more domestic energy production while helping to restore coastal areas around the country.
Last--but certainly not least--comes a paean to natural gas. Landrieu, as she proudly points out, is a founding member of the Natural Gas Caucus.
Natural Gas In 2009, Senator Landrieu started the Senate Natural Gas Caucus with Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-GA.  This bipartisan group of Senators works to better understand the role of natural gas in producing clean, affordable and secure American energy.

Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel and is a plentiful resource in the United States.   Louisiana is home to the Haynesville Shale, a massive deposit that industry experts estimate contains between 7.5 trillion and 20 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The Haynesville Shale has played a key role in the rapid expansion of natural gas production in the United States, an expansion that could see the U.S. potentially become a net exporter of natural gas.

Senator Landrieu recognizes that an increase in natural gas production will benefit the economy.  The natural gas industry currently directly employs 1.3 million people; more than the coal, wind, solar, or nuclear industries.  The United States used $154 billion worth of natural gas in 2010 and increased domestic production will allow American companies to harness this demand to create even more jobs, benefitting our state and national economy.  Senator Landrieu knows that when we produce oil and natural gas in America, we produce jobs in America.
Her only mention of wind and solar is derisive: "The natural gas industry currently directly employs 1.3 million people; more than the coal, wind, solar, or nuclear industries." She has nothing positive to say about either. 

I'll end with a question for people who know more about Committee politics than I do: If Ron Wyden becomes Finance chair and Mary Landrieu gets re-elected, is there any way to block her from taking Energy chair?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Senate Votes Down Two Gitmo-Related Amendments. What Would They Have Done?

I took the time to read through the two Gitmo-related amendments that the Senate (rightfully) voted down last night. You can see my take here.

No, Robert Reich, Henry Ford was not a positive, progressive example for Walmart

Let’s start with a fun game. It’s called “Henry Ford or Hitler?”

Quote One: “Unions are organized by Jewish financiers, not labor.”

Unfortunately, I think my title gave the answer away.
Earlier today, I saw an article by Robert Reich on Salon, cross-posted from his blog, entitled "What Wal-Mart can learn from Henry Ford."

"What can Walmart learn from Henry Ford?" I asked myself. Well, it could learn how to use violent thugs to terrorize unions. But, of course, that wasn't Reich's suggestion:

Walmart could learn a thing or two from Henry Ford, who almost exactly a century ago decided to pay his workers three times the typical factory wage at the time. The Wall Street Journal called Ford a traitor to his class but he proved to be a cunning businessman.

Ford’s decision helped boost factory wages across the board — enabling so many working people to buy Model Ts that Ford’s revenues soared far ahead of his increased payrolls, and he made a fortune.
Reich presents Ford as a foil to the Waltons, as an example of an "enlightened" or "progressive" capitalist, so to speak. If he wanted a better foil for Walmart, he could have just gone with Costco.

I may not have been as bothered by the praise of Henry Ford had I not just read another article on Salon ("They spawned the 1 percent: How Washington and Lincoln explain inequality today" by Edward McClelland) using the same Walton-Ford frame, also offering the latter as an example of enlightened capitalism. That article tried to compare Henry Ford to Abraham Lincoln as men representative of a democratic, as opposed to feudalistic, spirit:
As president, Lincoln oversaw a war that destroyed the power of the Southern plantation owners with whom he had so long quarreled. His victory lasted just over 100 years, until the Southern states regained control of the federal government, and began reimposing Washington’s aristocratic way of life on the nation. To understand the difference between Lincolnomics and Washingtonomics, let’s consider two of the most successful businessmen of the 20th century: Henry Ford and Sam Walton. Ford falls into the Lincolnian tradition, Walton into the Washingtonian.

Born in what is now Detroit during the Civil War, Ford understood the value of an economically empowered workforce. He turned traditional economic assumptions upside down by treating laborers not as commodities, but potential customers. Before Ford, planters and industrialists had profited by paying the lowest possible wages and charging the highest possible prices. Ford doubled his employees’ wages, to $5 a day, and used assembly-line efficiencies to produce cars they could afford to buy. His philosophy, which came to be known as Fordism, was fundamental to the development of the modern middle class. And although Ford resisted labor unions, once the United Auto Workers was forced on him by two Lincolnian politicians — President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Michigan Gov. Murray Van Wagoner — he granted it the most generous contract of any automaker, even allowing dues check-offs and the closed shop.
If you resist unions and only grant concessions when forced to after the intervention of the governor and the president, there is nothing enlightened or democratic about your business model.

This extolling of Henry Ford as a model of "progressive" capitalism is not unique to these articles. It's quite common. The president does it. If Henry Ford is our model capitalist, then our standards have really fallen.

Let's learn some more about how Henry Ford ran his business. I've extracted some passages from Greg Grandin's excellent book Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City. The book itself focuses on Ford's eccentric (and fairly creepy) attempt to recreate an American industrial town in the heart of the Amazon. However, for context, Grandin discusses Ford's history in the States.

Yes, Henry Ford raised his workers' wages, but he did not do so without conditions:
…So Ford conditioned his Five Dollar Day plan with the obligation that workers live a wholesome life.

And to make sure they did, the carmaker dispatched inspectors from his Sociological Department to probe into the most intimate corners of Ford workers’ lives, including their sex lives. Denounced as a system of paternal surveillance as often as it was lauded as a program of civic reform, by 1919 the Sociological Department employed hundreds of agents who spread out over Dearborn and Detroit asking questions, taking notes, and writing up personnel reports. They wanted to know if workers had insurance and how they spent their money and free time. Did they have a bank account? How much debt did they carry? How many times were they married? Did they send money home to the old country? Sociological men came around not just once but two, three, or four times interviewing family members, friends, and landlords to make sure previous reports of probity were accurate (Grandin 38).
By the mid-1920s, the authoritarianism always inherent to such “liberal paternalism” had grown as Ford created a regime based on two primary tactics: the "speedup" and fear.

The first, the speedup, entailed working his employees so hard that they became little different from the machines on which they worked:
The first tactic was the speedup, which pushed the idea of synchronized assembly lines to the limits of human endurance and made working for Ford, as one employee put it, a ‘form of hell on earth that turned human beings into driven robots.’ ‘The chain system you have is a slave driver,’ wrote the wife of one worker to Ford…..Every day it seemed like the belt moved a little faster, as performance technicians, armed with stopwatches, shadowed workers, figuring out ways to shave off seconds here and there from their motions. Intellectuals and social critics began to draw attention to the dehumanization of the line. ‘Never before,’ wrote a contemporary observer, ‘had human beings been fitted so closely into the machines, like minor parts, with no independence or chance to retain their individual self-respect.’ Ford’s factory turned workers into ‘mere containers of labor, like gondola cars of coal. They arrived full; they left in the evening as empty of human vitality as the cars were empty of coal. The trolleys which crawled away from Highland Park at closing time were hearses of the living dead.’ (Grandin 69)
If destroying the will of workers didn't succeed that way, well, there was always outright terror:
Fear was the second tactic, needed to forestall the discontent that such a system inevitably generated. It was instilled largely by Harry Bennett, a former pugilist but inveterate brawler who presided over the company’s so-called Service Department, nominally the employment office but in reality a three-thousand-member goon squad—described by the New York Times as the ‘largest private quasi-military organization in existence’—made up of spies and thugs armed with guns, whips, pipes, blackjacks, and rubber hoses otherwise known as ‘persuaders.’ … The terror spread out from Dearborn to encompass Ford’s dispersed assembly plants as Bennett cobbled together an interstate consortium of antiunion toughs. In Dallas, Texas, for instance, Bennett converted the Ford plant’s champion tug-of-war-war team into a security unit, headed by one ‘Fats’ Perry, who by his own estimation handed out scores of savage beatings. ‘If it takes bloodshed,’ the plant management told its workers during a forced mass meeting, ‘we’ll shed blood right down to the last drop’ to keep the plant union free (70).
Fear, of course, does not just stem from physical violence. Ford had his own mini surveillance state operation.
Bennett claimed that one in three line workers was an informer. ‘The whole city,’ recalled one union organizer, ‘was a network of spies that reported every whisper back to Bennett,’ allowing him to stalk workers not just within the Rouge’s gates but in their ‘private life as well.’ He carried out Ford’s edict that workers stop drinking, even in their own homes, and forced workers, at the pain of losing their jobs, to buy a Ford car.” (70-71)
Henry Ford as a model of enlightened capitalism? I think I'll pass.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Reuters Investigation Sheds Light on the Pentagon's "Epic Waste"

I highly recommend reading the Reuters investigation into the Pentagon's finances, "Unaccountable: The High Cost of Bad Bookkeeping." The second installation in the series, "Behind the Pentagon’s doctored ledgers, a running tally of epic waste," came out today. It looks at how the Pentagon has been falsifying records for the past two decades because of mismanagement, corruption, and overextension.

I want to highlight a few passages that caught my eye, but you should read the full piece.

The eye-catching lede:
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania - Linda Woodford spent the last 15 years of her career inserting phony numbers in the U.S. Department of Defense’s accounts. Every month until she retired in 2011, she says, the day came when the Navy would start dumping numbers on the Cleveland, Ohio, office of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Pentagon’s main accounting agency. Using the data they received, Woodford and her fellow DFAS accountants there set about preparing monthly reports to square the Navy’s books with the U.S. Treasury’s - a balancing-the-checkbook maneuver required of all the military services and other Pentagon agencies.
The Pentagon's open flouting of the law:
Because of its persistent inability to tally its accounts, the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China’s economic output last year.
In its annual report of department-wide finances for 2012, the Pentagon reported $9.22 billion in “reconciling amounts” to make its own numbers match the Treasury’s, up from $7.41 billion a year earlier. It said that $585.6 million of the 2012 figure was attributable to missing records. The remaining $8 billion-plus represented what Pentagon officials say are legitimate discrepancies. However, a source with knowledge of the Pentagon's accounting processes said that because the report and others like it aren’t audited, they may conceal large amounts of additional plugs and other accounting problems.

The secretary of defense’s office and the heads of the military and DFAS have for years knowingly signed off on false entries. “I don't think they're lying and cheating and stealing necessarily, but it's not the right thing to do,” Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said in an interview. “We've got to fix the processes so we don’t have to do that.”
Double standards:
Congress has been much more lenient on the Defense Department than on publicly traded corporations. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, a response to the Enron Corp and other turn-of-the-century accounting scandals, imposes criminal penalties on corporate managers who certify false financial reports. “The concept of Sarbanes-Oxley is completely foreign” to the Pentagon, says Mike Young, a former Air Force logistics officer who for years has been a consultant on, and written about, Defense Department logistics.
Waste in trying to control waste:
The Air Force’s Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System was supposed to take over the Air Force’s basic accounting functions in 2010. To date, $466 million has been spent on DEAMS, with a projected total cost of $1.77 billion to build and operate it, an Air Force spokeswoman said. The system lacks “critical functional capabilities,” and its “data lacks validity and reliability,” according to a September 2012 Defense Department inspector general report.

It now isn’t expected to be fully operational until 2017.
Lack of oversight:
Spotty monitoring of contracts is one reason Pentagon personnel and contractors are able to siphon off taxpayer dollars through fraud and theft - amounting to billions of dollars in losses, according to numerous GAO reports. In many cases, Reuters found, the perpetrators were caught only after outside law-enforcement agencies stumbled onto them, or outsiders brought them to the attention of prosecutors.

In May this year, Ralph Mariano, who worked as a civilian Navy employee for 38 years, pleaded guilty in federal court in Rhode Island to charges of conspiracy and theft of government funds related to a kickback scheme that cost the Navy $18 million from 1996 to 2011. Mariano was sentenced Nov. 1 to 10 years in prison and fined $18 million.
Mariano admitted that as an engineer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island, he added money to contracts held by Advanced Solutions for Tomorrow. The Georgia-based company then paid kickbacks to Mariano and others, including friends and relatives.

Mariano was charged more than five years after the allegations against him first emerged in a 2006 civil whistleblower lawsuit in federal court in Georgia that had been kept under seal. Court documents suggest one reason why the conspiracy went undetected for so long: The Navy not only gave Mariano authority to award money to contractors; it also put him in charge of confirming that the contractors did the work. The Navy never audited any of the contracts until after Mariano was arrested, a Navy spokeswoman confirmed.
Congress in 2009 passed a law requiring that the Defense Department be audit-ready by 2017. In 2011, Leon Panetta sought to raise the standard to audit-readiness by 2014. The Pentagon, as Reuters explains, is not on track to make its deadlines. 

While Republicans go on and on about the minimal waste and fraud in safety net programs like SNAP or Social Security Disability Insurance, they, of course, ignore the "epic" waste and fraud in the Pentagon. Unfortunately, though, both parties share the blame in letting the Pentagon go unaudited as it amasses ever larger budgets passed by strong bipartisan majorities.

Do you know how the Republicans have a stereotype of the government as full of bloated federal bureaucracies that suck up taxpayer money and grow larger and larger with no accountability? Yeah, that's the Pentagon, but I don't expect to see them acknowledge that any time soon.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Who Represents the Illinois Town Just Razed by a November Tornado?

As many of you have probably already seen, the Midwest is facing severe weather, with the town of Washington, Illinois, already hit very badly:
"A confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado" was spotted near Washington, Illinois, located about 145 miles (233 kilometers) southwest of Chicago, the National Weather Service said.

Photos taken at the scene showed structures were reduced to rubble and houses ripped open in Washington, Illinois.
"There is a lot of debris," Sara Sparkman, a spokeswoman for the health department of Tazewell County, Illinois, where Washington is located, told The Weather Channel. "We do know that shelters are being set up in some of the communities because people are being displaced out of their homes because of the storms that hit."

Sparkman added that the storm had caused damage in Washington and Pekin, south of Peoria.

It came out of a fast-moving storm system that was headed toward Chicago and threatened a large swath of the Midwest with dangerous winds, thunderstorms and hail, U.S. weather officials said.

Tornadoes don't normally occur in the Midwest in November. Peak-tornado season there occurs in June and July. And, as we know, climate change increases the frequency and severity of such storms.

When I saw the tragic destruction of Washington and the ties to the broader issue of climate action, I wondered, "Who represents those towns in Congress?"

Republican Aaron Schock:

What do we know about Schock's record on climate issues?

He voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
Congressional Summary: Amends the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from promulgating any regulation of the emission of a greenhouse gas (GHG) to address climate change. ----Excludes GHGs from the definition of "air pollutant" for purposes of addressing climate change.
----Exempts from such prohibition existing regulations on fuel efficiency, research, or CO2 monitoring.
----Repeals and makes ineffective other rules and actions concerning GHGs.
He's signed the "No Climate Tax Pledge" put forth by the Koch Bros' Americans for Prosperity:
"I pledge to the taxpayers of my state, and to the American people, that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue."
He also co-sponsored the Free Industry Act:
Amends the Clean Air Act to: (1) exclude from the definition of the term "air pollutant" carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride; and
(2) declare that nothing in the Act shall be treated as authorizing or requiring the regulation of climate change or global warming.
Aaron Schock also voted against the Hurricane Sandy relief bill earlier this year.

I will be curious to see his response.

In the meantime, stay safe, Midwesterners!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Something's Missing From Obama's Weekly Address on Energy. Oh, yeah, Climate Change.

When I noticed that the president delivered his weekly address on "our energy future," my first thought was "I wonder if he'll address climate change at all." The question of energy and the question of climate change (or global warming, whichever term you prefer) are inextricably linked. Although there are many arguments to be made in favor of switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy like solar and wind, the climate-related arguments are perhaps most urgent:
In their starkest warning yet, following nearly seven years of new research on the climate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said it was "unequivocal" and that even if the world begins to moderate greenhouse gas emissions, warming is likely to cross the critical threshold of 2C by the end of this century. That would have serious consequences, including sea level rises, heatwaves and changes to rainfall meaning dry regions get less and already wet areas receive more. ....
In a crucial reinforcement of their message – included starkly in this report for the first time – the IPCC warned that the world cannot afford to keep emitting carbon dioxide as it has been doing in recent years. To avoid dangerous levels of climate change, beyond 2C, the world can only emit a total of between 800 and 880 gigatonnes of carbon. Of this, about 530 gigatonnes had already been emitted by 2011.

That has a clear implication for our fossil fuel consumption, meaning that humans cannot burn all of the coal, oil and gas reserves that countries and companies possess. As the former UN commissioner Mary Robinson told the Guardian last week, that will have "huge implications for social and economic development." It will also be difficult for business interests to accept.
How many times did the president directly invoke climate change or global warming in his address? You guessed it. Zero. 
Let's look at the transcript of this address:
Shortly after I took office, we invested in new American technologies to reverse our dependence on foreign oil and double our wind and solar power.  And today, we generate more renewable energy than ever – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it.  We produce more natural gas than anyone – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it.  And just this week, we learned that for the first time in nearly two decades, the United States of America now produces more of our own oil here at home than we buy from other countries.

That’s a big deal.  That’s a tremendous step towards American energy independence.
Right at the start, we see the frame that Democrats seem to have adopted over the past ten years: reducing our dependence on "foreign oil," rather than reducing our dependence on oil itself.  As the IPCC report shows, humanity needs to start leaving the oil in the ground if we want to guarantee our own future.

He then lauds the increase in natural gas drilling. Natural gas is often touted by its boosters, including Secretary of Energy Ernest Monitz as a "bridge fuel," but the life cycle GHG emissions for shale gas are actually greater than those of coal. The methane leaks resulting from natural gas drilling undo much of the climate gains it could offer. Climate issues aside, the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas extraction has led to a rise in earthquakes and groundwater contamination. The administration also has a troubling record of censoring EPA reports showing the dangers of fracking.

In the push to "drill, baby, drill," the Obama administration has actually protected fewer public lands than George W. Bush, Clinton, George H. W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan.

After speaking of gains in energy efficiency (a good thing by all means), he alludes to climate reasons, but he fails to give the issue the directness or urgency merited.
Here’s another thing.  Between more clean energy, and less wasted energy, our emissions of dangerous carbon pollution are actually falling.  That’s good news for anyone who cares about the world we leave to our kids.
In the narrative arc of the address, this sounds like a subsidiary reason or benefit, with energy independence being the main goal. This part is just an added benefit. And there's no acknowledgement of the fact that the expansion of fossil fuel development, which he just praised, hinders this goal he claims to have. 
I'd also take up a minor issue with the phrasing of the sentence "That's good news for anyone who cares about the world we leave to our kids." It should be good news for everyone; there is a universality that's missing, and such a lack of universality makes it sound like "those who care about the world we leave to our kids" are just a faction. I may be overreading this, but with speeches, precision of language is very important.

Obama's address also buys into the dominant myth that endless economic growth and a sustainable future are anything but irreconcilable, but that's a far more pervasive blindness.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Corruption at this Democratic Fundraiser Will Make You Laugh...But Then It Will Make You Cry

Last night, in my hometown of Philadelphia, President Barack Obama attended a fundraiser to raise money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). The fundraiser aimed to raise a million dollars for the DSCC.

Huffington Post reported on this event, and this part immediately caught my eye:
The event, which will take place at the home of Comcast executive vice president and major Democratic fundraiser David L. Cohen, is co-hosted by credit card and energy mogul Richard Vague. The fundraiser will feature Obama and Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.). Bennet is head of the DSCC; Pennsylvania does not have a Senate contest in 2014, but does have many wealthy donors.
First of all, it is worth noting that neither Bob Casey nor Michael Bennet is up for re-election in 2014. But that's just a digression. 
What is really revealing is the host: Comcast executive David L. Cohen.
What was Cohen doing back in February? Why, he was hosting fundraisers for Pennsylvania's Tea Party Republican governor Tom Corbett!
A major Pennsylvania Democratic donor has announced that he will back Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's bid for reelection in 2014, according to multiple state news outlets. As first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen hosted a January fundraiser for Corbett at his Philadelphia home that helped net the governor $200,000 for his reelection campaign.

"I expect to support Gov Corbett," Cohen told the Inquirer in an email message this week.
The Naked Philadelphian, a blog covering Pennsylvania politics, also reported on Cohen's decision to fund the incumbent governor's reelection. A source close to Comcast who attended the fundraiser told the blog, "Comcast is a business in the state of Pennsylvania. They need to be able to talk to both sides." Comcast is headquartered in Philadelphia.

This is not Cohen's first time reaching a hand across the aisle. He has donated to powerful Republicans in Washington, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.); Rep. Fred Upton (Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.
 Nor is it Cohen's first time giving to Corbett, according to campaign finance data available through the National Institute of Money in State Politics. In his 2008 bid to be reelected state attorney general, Corbett received $1,500 from Cohen.
And how about back in June? He was hosting a fundraiser for PA's Tea Party Republican senator Pat Toomey!
Democratic powerbroker David L. Cohen has already crossed party lines to raise money for Republican Gov. Corbett.

Now, the executive vice-president of Comcast is holding a fundraising reception at his home for Pennsylvania Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.
“Pat Toomey is a smart and gutsy legislator, and exactly the kind of person we need in Washington,” David L. Cohen wrote in an email soliciting attendees and donors for the event. He said Toomey, elected in 2010, has made a “noticeable mark” in the Senate, and praised him for championing legislation that would have extended background checks to firearms purchases made at gun shows.
Comcast is also a powerful and reactionary force in Philadelphia politics. Recently, it was one of the biggest opponents of Philly's attempted paid sick leave legislation:
The biggest opponent of the bill is Philadelphia-based telecommunications giant Comcast. Almost all of the $108,429.25 Comcast spent on lobbying in 2011 was in opposition to paid sick days. It also is a major contributor to Mayor Nutter, contributing $7,500 to his campaign in 2011 and an additional $8,500 in 2012.

Comcast is also heavily involved with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or "ALEC," and has representatives on both the Communications and Information Technology Task Force and Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. As the Center for Media and Democracy reported, ALEC has had opposition to paid sick days on its agenda since 2011 -- specifically, state bills that would preempt local paid sick day efforts -- and ALEC members have consistently been vocal opponents to the common-sense legislation in almost every city and state it has emerged.
This fundraiser really exemplifies the corruption of the Democratic Party, doesn't it? The plutocracy finds ready friends on both sides of the aisle. 
If you live in PA (I don't any longer), give Casey's office a call and ask him why he's going to fundraisers hosted by one of Pat Toomey's donors. I'd be curious what kind of response--if any--you get.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Single Payer "Disruptive," Mr. President? Only to Insurance Companies' Profits.

When I was reading the transcript of Obama's speech on the Affordable Care Act today, two (adjacent) passages stood out to me in their disingenuousness.
And so, what we did was we chose a path that was the least disruptive to try to finally make sure that health care is treated in this country like it is in every other advanced country: That it's not some privilege that just a certain portion of people can have, but it's something that everybody has some confidence about.
First of all, the Affordable Care Act does not guarantee that health care is treated in this country as it is in other advanced countries. Because the government still has a self-imposed ban on negotiating for drug prices and because it provides outrageously long patents to pharmaceutical companies, our prescription drug prices are far higher than they are in other countries. Moreover, the ACA will still leave 30 million Americans uninsured and could end up exacerbating the problem of underinsurance. Because of such underinsurance, it will be at best a weak palliative to the problem of medical bankruptcies. Furthermore, those advanced countries that don't have a national health insurance plan, e.g. Switzerland, tend to have a market dominated by nonprofit, rather than for-profit, insurers. And that creates a completely different incentive structure. 
So, does the ACA do some good? Yes, it does. Allowing children to stay on their parents' plans until age 26, the Medicaid expansion, the medical loss ratio, and the increased funding to community health centers were all good steps forward. However, it does not do enough to fix the structural problems with the American health care system and to bring it on par with those of the rest of the advanced world. It just tinkers around the edges.
And, you know, we didn't go far left and choose an approach that would have been much more disruptive. We didn't adopt some more conservative proposals that would have been much more disruptive.
Here Obama is striking his usual "adult in the room," "middle ground" posture, in which he tries to place himself above the realm of politics in this supra-partisan sensible "middle." He calls approaches further to the left of the Affordable Care Act too "disruptive." Frankly, the only thing that Medicare for All (single payer), a Medicare buy-in, or a public option would have disrupted was corporate profit. 
Let's look at the first of those options, the one the administration discarded from the start: single payer, or Medicare for All.

First of all, it would provide all Americans with the same basic but robust health insurance.

Second, it would be fiscally responsible. According to the interactive Health Care Budget Deficit Calculator over at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the U.S. could balance the budget in basically 10 years if it had adopted a health care model like that of any other advanced industrial country.

Third, it would be good for business. A single payer system would reduce labor costs and help make small businesses more competitive. By providing health security to everyone, it would promote entrepreneurship and innovation in a myriad of other sectors, by making people more willing and able to take risks.

But it would be bad for the profits of the health insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies. And, of course, they're just too important to disrupt.

Last Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Jim McDermott (WA-07) introduced the American Health Security Act, with the strong support of the AFL-CIO. Sam Farr (CA-20), Judy Chu (CA-27), Keith Ellison (MN-05), Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), Lacy Clay (MO-01), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Barbara Lee (CA-13), and Jim McGovern (MA-02) all co-sponsored the legislation as well. John Conyers's Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act has an additional 42 extra co-sponsors.
As Congress discusses "fixing" the Affordable Care Act, I would hope that these and other progressive legislators fight to make health care reform more progressive and more universal.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

151 House Dems Tell Obama "We Won't Fast-Track TPP"

Earlier today, Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) and George Miller (CA-11) led a group of 151 Democrats, 3/4 of the caucus, in expressing their concern with the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiation process and opposing the fast-track authority that the president wants for the final deal.

The text of their letter is below:
Dear President Obama: We write to express our serious concern with the ongoing negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement (FTA), a potential agreement of tremendous consequence for our country. Specifically, we remain deeply troubled by the continued lack of adequate congressional consultation in many areas of the proposed pact that deeply implicates Congress’ constitutional and domestic policy authorities.

For some time, members of Congress have urged your administration to engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the numerous issues being negotiated.  Many have raised concerns relating to reports about the agreement’s proposed content.  While your Administration’s goal was to sign a TPP FTA at the October 2013 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, we believe that to date the process has failed to provide adequate consultation with Congress.
Such opportunity for input from Congress is critical as the TPP FTA will include binding obligations that touch upon a wide swath of policy matters under the authority of Congress.

Beyond traditional tariff issues, these include policies related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, competition, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, e-commerce, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.  

In light of the broad scope of today’s trade agreements, it is even more vital that Congress have a fulsome role in shaping these pacts’ terms. Given our concerns, we will oppose  “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority or any other mechanism delegating Congress’ constitutional authority over trade policy that continues to exclude us from having a meaningful role in the formative stages of trade agreements and throughout negotiating and approval processes.

Congress, not the Executive Branch, must determine when an agreement meets the objectives Congress sets in the exercise of its Article I-8 exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade.   For instance, an agreement that does not specifically meet congressional negotiating objectives must not receive preferential consideration in Congress.  A new trade agreement negotiation and approval process that restores a robust role for Congress is essential to achieving U.S. trade agreements that can secure prosperity for the greatest number of Americans, while preserving the vital tenets of American democracy in the era of globalization.

Twentieth Century “Fast Track” is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements and must be replaced.  The United States cannot afford another trade agreement that replicates the mistakes of the past. We can and must do better.

We are deeply committed to transforming U.S. trade policy into a tool for creating and retaining family-wage jobs in America, safeguarding the environment, maintaining consumer protection and improving the quality of life throughout the country.   We look forward to working with you to ensure that Congress and the Executive Branch are working together to meet that critical goal.

It's easier for me to list the Democrats who did not sign than to list those that did. So, here you have the list of the Democrats who DID NOT SIGN the letter.

Mike Thompson (CA-05)
Doris Matsui (CA-06)
Ami Bera (CA-07)
Nancy Pelosi (CA-12)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Tony Cardenas (CA-29)
Xavier Becerra (CA-34)
Susan Davis (CA-53)
Dian DeGette (CO-01)
Jared Polis (CO-02)
Ed Perlmutter (CO-07)
John Larson (CT-01)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
John Carney (DE-AL)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23)
Joe Garcia (FL-26)
John Barrow (GA-12)
Mike Quigley (IL-05)
Tammy Duckworth (IL-08)
Bradley Schneider (IL-10)
Bill Foster (IL-11)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Steny Hoyer (MD-05)
John Delaney (MD-06)
Chris Van Hollen (MD-08)
Richard Neal (MA-01)
Mike Capuano (MA-07)
Sander Levin (MI-09)
Lacy Clay (MO-01)
Gregory Meeks (NY-05)
Charlie Rangel (NY-13)
Joe Crowley (NY-14)
David Price (NC-04)
Mel Watt (NC-12)
Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Marc Veasey (TX-33)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
Suzan DelBene (WA-01)
Rick Larsen (WA-02)
Derek Kilmer (WA-06)
Adam Smith (WA-09)
Denny Heck (WA-10)
Ron Kind (WI-03)

If your representative is not on the list, give him or her a call.

This letter came on the same day that Wikileaks released the text of one of the most controversial chapters of the TPP, that dealing with intellectual property rights. The chapter reveals the US's efforts to restrict Internet freedom and access to lifesaving medicines throughout the Asia-Pacific region as well as at home.

In a press release, Public Citizen minced no words in its condemnation of the TPP:
"The Obama administration’s proposals are the worst--the most damaging for health–-we have seen in a U.S. trade agreement to date. The Obama administration has backtracked from even the modest health considerations adopted under the Bush administration,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s global access to medicines program. “The Obama administration’s shameful bullying on behalf of the giant drug companies would lead to preventable suffering and death in Asia -Pacific countries. And soon the administration is expected to propose additional TPP terms that would lock Americans into high prices for cancer drugs for years to come.” ...

“This supposed trade negotiation has devolved into a secretive rulemaking against public health, on behalf of Big Pharma and Big Tobacco,” said Maybarduk. “We understand that the only consideration the Obama administration plans to propose for access to affordable generic medicines is a very weak form of differential treatment for developing countries,” said Maybarduk.

“It is clear from the text obtained by WikiLeaks that the U.S. government is isolated and has lost this debate,” Maybarduk said. “Our partners don’t want to trade away their people’s health. Americans don’t want these measures either. Nevertheless, the Obama administration – on behalf of Big Pharma and big movie studios – now is trying to accomplish through pressure what it could not through persuasion.”

“The WikiLeaks text also features Hollywood and recording industry-inspired proposals – think about the SOPA debacle – to limit Internet freedom and access to educational materials, to force Internet providers to act as copyright enforcers and to cut off people’s Internet access,” said Burcu Kilic, an intellectual property lawyer with Public Citizen. “These proposals are deeply unpopular worldwide and have led to a negotiation stalemate.”
Remember how candidate Obama campaigned against NAFTA, calling its effects "devastating," and then switched his position a few months later?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Chris Christie, New Jersey's Sitcom Dad Governor

On Tuesday, after Chris Christie won re-election in New Jersey (not without the help of the institutional corruption of the NJ Democratic Party), Susie Madrak of Crooks and Liars described him as a sitcom personality:

Seeing Christie described as a sitcom governor made me immediately think of Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners.

Christie looks kind of like Ralph Kramden and, like him, he's famous for "endearingly" verbally threatening women.

Upon reflecting that, I realized how Chris Christie reminds me of a sitcom trope: Ralph Kramden/Fred Flinstone/Homer Simpson/Peter Griffin/etc. His persona is that of the loud, rather obnoxious, narcissistic, sometimes outright malicious, "funny" fat guy whom we are supposed to love because he is supposedly "good at heart" despite the damage he always causes and his lack of consideration for others. Barbara Buono evoked the Alice/Wilma/Marge/Lois archetype of the fitter, more intelligent, more compassionate, but by no means passive, woman who points out the man's flaws and often gets accused of being "shrill" or "not fun" because of it.

We don't disagree, of course, with sitcom mom. We know what she says is right. But sitcom dad, no matter how narcissistic he is or how much damage he causes, is just such a "lovable guy." He's the one you "want to have a beer with."

We expect so little of the sitcom dad that we heap excessive praise on him when he displays rare shows of "leadership" or competence in the face of crisis, and we redeem his failings.

NYT Editorial Board Praises TPP for Environmental and Labor Protections...Which Don't Exist

The New York Times continued its too-frequent habit of stenography for the White House. This bad habit was on full display in NYT editorial board's paean to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The NYT editorial board was really excited about the prospect of this managed trade deal:
Officials from the United States and 11 other countries bordering the Pacific are trying to complete a trade agreement by the end of the year that could help all of our economies and strengthen relations between the United States and several important Asian allies. But hard bargaining lies ahead.

The Obama administration said it wants a “next-generation” agreement that, in addition to lowering tariffs, lowers investment restrictions, improves labor rights, encourages environmental protection and reduces government favoritism of state-owned businesses. That is an ambitious agenda considering that more than 150 countries are struggling to complete a much simpler deal at the World Trade Organization.
As CEPR economist Dean Baker has frequently pointed out, formal trade barriers like tariffs and quotas just aren't very large anymore. (And I think we all know that the U.S. is not going to change the quotas of its appalling agricultural policy.) 
Baker has also regularly noted how the TPP approach to prescription drugs belies any claims to "free trade":
The gap between free trade and the agenda of the TPP is clearest in the case of prescription drugs. The U.S. drug companies have a major seat at the negotiating table. They will be trying to craft rules that increase the strength of patent and related protections. The explicit purpose is to raise (as in not lower) the price of drugs in the countries signing the TPP.

Note that this goal is the opposite of what we would expect in an agreement designed to promote free trade. Instead of having drug companies at the table, we might envision that we would have representatives of consumer groups who would try to negotiate rules that could ensure safe drugs at lower prices. Instead of using a “trade” agreement to try to push drug prices in other countries up, we could actually use trade to bring the price of drugs in the United States down to the levels seen elsewhere.
Public Citizen has consistently been the best resource for information about the TPP as the negotiations have continued under the shroud of secrecy. Public Citizen has gained most of its information through leaks because the administration has been even less transparent than the Bush administration in its negotiations.  The administration has prohibited Congressional staffers from reviewing the full text and from discussing its specific terms with trade experts and reporters.  The corporations that would benefit from the TPP have been, of course, embraced with open arms into the negotiations, and labor and civil society groups have been allowed into talks only if they promise to keep all negotiations confidential and not publicly speak out against them.
On the point of transparency, I refer you to Senator Elizabeth Warren who voted against US Trade Representative Michael Froman because of such lack of transparency:
I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.

I believe in transparency and democracy, and I think the U.S. Trade Representative should too.
One might wonder why the administration has been so secretive, but when you find out about the details of the TPP from the leaks so far, it's easy to see why they don't want the public to know. 

Considering that the New York Times praised the president's purported emphasis on labor and environmental protections in trade deals, let's address that point because it's where the TPP is perhaps most destructive.

The main reason why so many corporations have been championing the TPP is its enshrinement of corporate power and privilege as against national and popular sovereignty in the TPP:
Under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) "free trade" agreement, foreign firms would gain an array of privileges:
•    Rights to acquire land, natural resources, factories without government review
•    Risks and costs of offshoring to low wage countries eliminated
•    Special guaranteed “minimum standard of treatment” for relocating firms
•    Compensation for loss of “expected future profits” from health, labor environmental, laws (indirect or “regulatory” takings compensation)
•    Right to move capital without limits
•    New rights cover vast definition of investment: intellectual property, permits, derivatives
•    Ban performance requirements, domestic content rules. Absolute ban, not only when applied to investors from signatory countries A major goal of U.S. multinational corporations for the TPP is to impose on more countries a set of extreme foreign investor privileges and rights and their private enforcement through the notorious “investor-state” system. This system elevates individual corporations and investors to equal standing with each TPP signatory country's government- and above all of us citizens.

Under this regime, foreign investors can skirt domestic courts and laws, and sue governments directly before tribunals of three private sector lawyers operating under World Bank and UN rules to demand taxpayer compensation for any domestic law that investors believe will diminish their "expected future profits." Over $3 billion has been paid to foreign investors under U.S. trade and investment pacts, while over $14 billion in claims are pending under such deals, primarily targeting environmental, energy, and public health policies.
(Emphasis added) 

Who needs democracy when you have "private individuals...entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament"?

The Sierra Club has been particularly critical of the TPP because of its undermining of domestic environmental regulations. Big polluters have used the investor-state process to weaken or void democratically passed legislation. Corporations such as Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical have launched more than 450 cases against 89 governments, with 70% of the money paid out going to oil, gas, and mining industries.

The Sierra Club has also pointed out how the TPP would increase the use of fracking:
One of the dirtiest secrets of the TPP is its potential to pave the way for dramatically increasing fracking across the United States.

How the TPP could increase fracking
In order for the United States to export natural gas to another country, the Department of Energy (DOE) must first conduct a thorough public analysis to determine whether those exports are consistent with the public interest. This analysis is critical to understanding the environmental and economic impacts associated with natural gas exports and to building a deliberate energy policy that protects the interests of the American public.
Unfortunately, the DOE loses its authority to regulate exports of natural gas to countries with which the United States has a free trade agreement that includes so-called “national treatment for trade in gas.”

The TPP, therefore, could mean automatic approval of liquid natural gas (LNG) export permits—without any review or consideration—to TPP countries. And many TPP countries would likely be quite interested in importing LNG from the United States. This is particularly true of Japan—the word’s single largest LNG importer—which has formally announced its intention to join the talks.

Already, the DOE is considering applications to export approximately 45% of the total U.S. domestic gas production. Exporting this volume of US LNG would in turn mean increased fracking, the dirty and violent process that dislodges gas deposits from shale rock formations. It would also likely cause an increase in natural gas and electricity prices—up to three times their current price by some estimates—impacting consumers, manufacturers, and workers, while increasing the use of dirty coal power.
The TPP could also potentially outlaw GMO labeling. 
On the labor front, the TPP would also prohibit the "Buy America" laws that some states and municipalities have passed recently:
The TPP’s procurement chapter would require that all firms operating in any signatory country be provided equal access as domestic firms to U.S. government procurement contracts over a certain dollar threshold. To implement this “national treatment” requirement, the U.S. would agree to waive Buy America procurement policies for all of the firms operating in the TPP countries.

Some corporate TPP proponents argue that this is good for America because these rules would apply to all signatory countries, so U.S. firms would be able to bid on procurements contracts in other countries on a national treatment basis. The notion that new access for some U.S. companies to bid on contracts in the TPP countries is a good trade-off for waiving Buy America preferences on U.S. procurement is ridiculous: Taking even the most favorable cut on other countries’ markets, the total U.S. procurement market is more than seven times the size of the combined procurement market of the current TPP negotiating parties: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
I'd also refer you to last week's episode of Moyers & Company, in which Bill Moyers interviewed Naked Capitalism's Yves Smith and CEPR's Dean Baker on the TPP. 

I'd recommend calling your representatives or senators to get them to oppose the fast track trade authority for the TPP, something which will likely come up to a vote soon.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Who Was the Last President to Outpoll Non-Voters?

Many of you probably either read or read about Russell Brand's manifesto in the center-left British magazine New Statesman. One thing that irked me about the piece was Brand's disregard for voting--his refusal to do it and his encouragement of others not to vote as well. If Brand was disgusted with the Labour Party after Tony Blair hollowed it out, he could have voted for the Greens. The UK Greens, like the Greens in the US, are not a large party, but they do exist. I don't know where Brand is registered, so I can't analyze the particular candidates from which he had to choose; however, not all Labourites are Blairites.

In the 2010 general election in the UK, only 65% of the population showed up to vote. That missing 35% could have helped usher in a Labour-Lib Dem coalition instead of a Tory-Lib Dem coalition. Would a Labour-Lib Dem coalition be perfect? No. Would it be better than the current coalition? Yes. If the Greens managed to get enough votes, you could have even had a traffic light coalition (green-yellow-red).

Looking at turnout numbers got me thinking about elections here in the U.S., considering how low are turnout rates always are. And that led to the titular question of this diary:

Who was the last president to outpoll non-voters?

We'll work backwards to find the answer.

In determining this, I decided to use "voting age population" (VAP) rather than "voting eligible population" (VEP) because the former is more readily available for elections from many decades past. I used the turnout numbers provided by the American Presidency Project. Professor Michael McDonald of GMU has analyzed the relationship between the two turnout measures, and his graph shows that they began to diverge in the 1980s. Using the voting age population (which includes non-citizen residents, those barred from voting because of criminal history, etc.) as the denominator will deflate the turnout percentage a bit--but not enough to significantly affect our findings.

In the last election, voter turnout was only 53.6%. That means that, of the voting age population (VAP), 46.4% did not vote, 27.4% voted for Obama, and 25.3% voted for Romney. That's right. All of that media coverage and money, and Obama didn't even get the votes of 30% of the voting age population (or, if you check, the voting eligible population).

According to the the data from here and here, Minnesota and Wisconsin were the only states in which both candidates outpolled non-voters among the voting age population. Obama also outpolled non-voters among the voting age populations of DC, Iowa, Maine, and New Hampshire. Both Obama and Romney outpolled non-voters among the voting eligible population of Colorado. Obama also outpolled nonvoters among the voting eligible populations of Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont; Romney, Iowa and New Hampshire.

......Continued over at the Daily Kos

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Pew Poll Highlights Interesting Intrapartisan Divides on Climate Change

Yesterday, Pew released a new poll on public knowledge of climate change. The intrapartisan divides were perhaps the most interesting part.

From their overall results, 67% of those surveyed believed that there was solid evidence that the earth is warming. 44% (2/3 of that group) attributed the warming mostly to human activity, and 18% (roughly ¼ of that group) attributed it to natural patterns.

26% of overall adults said that there was no solid evidence, with about the same percentage claiming that we “don’t know enough yet” as claiming that it’s “just not happening.”

As has been consistently the case, there are clear divides between Democrats (and Democratic-leaning Independents) and Republicans (and Republican-leaning Independents). Among the center-left crowd, 84% agreed that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming, and three-fourths of those (64% of the total center-left) attributed the warming to human activity.

We see an interesting divide within the Republican Party, as Pew chose to divide the center-right into Tea Party-identifiers and non-Tea Party identifiers. Among the Tea Party crowd, 70% denied the existence of solid evidence for global warming, and 41% of the Tea Party crowd claimed that global warming “just isn’t happening.” More people said that we “don’t know enough yet” than acknowledged global warming, with only 9% of the total Tea Party crowd recognizing the impact of human activity.

Among the non-Tea Party identifying right, 61% acknowledged that the earth is warming. A slim majority of that contingent (32%) attributed global warming to human activity, whereas about two-fifths (24%) attributed it to natural patterns. 30% of the non-Tea Party center-right crowd claimed that there was no solid evidence, with slightly more leaning toward the argument that scientists don’t know enough yet than toward the claim that global warming is categorically not happening.

The contrast between the two factions produced an interestingly balanced overall picture among the right-of-center world: 46% acknowledging global warming, 46% not—and relatively even splits among the four explanations.

I would caution people, however, against exaggerating the significance of the 61% number among the non-Tea Party right. Only 32% of the non-Tea Party right attributed global warming to human activity. If you don’t view human impact as the main cause, you aren’t likely to agree with prescriptive solutions based on mitigating human impact. The “natural patterns” argument is often espoused by the so-called “moderates” in the Republican Party who don’t want to look as anti-science as the denialists while still adhering to a form of “soft denial.” If you believe that natural patterns alone (or mostly) drive global warming, then you can deny the need to make the systemic changes to energy, agriculture, transportation, land use, consumption patterns, etc., that are needed. You might support some "resilience plans" to address the effects, but if you support any preventative action, it will probably be the costly and ineffective idea of geoengineering.

There is a glimmer of optimism in the graph showing opinions over time, considering that Republican and Democratic numbers are both ticking upwards slightly. Independent numbers, for whatever reason, have dipped recently, but across party affiliations, there has been a significant rebound since 2009-2010, the height of the misinformation campaign.

However, if we start discussing climate politics again (as we were doing then), I’m sure that the numbers will swing downwards again as the fossil fuel-funded denial machine comes back into full swing. The high point was still in 2006, after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out in theaters and the issue received its most extensive media attention to date (without as strong of a "he said/she said" political frame, such as that which it received in subsequent years).

It’s interesting to note that more Democrats than ever before (in the span of polling) acknowledge that human impact is the driving force behind global warming. Independent and Republican recognition peaked in 2006 but has recovered partially from the lull in 2009-2010.
I found the data on the effects of education to be particularly noteworthy as well.

As you can see, there is a huge gap (29%) between Democrats with a college education and Democrats without a college education on the question of human impact. Education, however, had minimal effect on Republicans and Independents.

I've read about this correlation between scientific literacy (education) and increased acknowledgment of human influence on climate among Democrats before; however, past polling has at times shown a negative correlation between scientific literacy and belief in human impact on climate among Republicans ( the "smart idiot" effect).

The success of the fossil fuel-funded skepticism-denial machine shows in the responses to the question of whether scientists “generally agree” that human activity causes global warming. As anyone on Daily Kos should know, about 98% of climate scientists (if not more) believe in anthropogenic climate change.

 Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus, only 54% of the public thought that scientists “generally agreed” on the matter, with 37% saying that they didn’t. 71% of Democrats—too low in my opinion—correctly recognized the existence of such consensus, with 23% denying it. 41% of Republicans acknowledged the existence of scientific consensus, whereas 48% denied it.

Independents broke in favor of reality (52% to 39%), but not nearly as much as Democrats did. The skepticism-denial misinformation campaign has achieved quite a bit, not without the help of a scientifically illiterate media trapped in a false balance paradigm.

Who are the Columnists that Matter the Most to Obama? All Men, Mostly White, Mostly Middle-Aged

Dylan Byers of POLITICO currently has a piece up called "President Obama, off the record", which looks at the president's relationship with his favorite columnists, the ones whose opinions he thinks matter.

Who are the columnists whose opinions matter to Obama?
The off-the-record meetings are held over coffee around the long wooden conference table in the Roosevelt Room, just off the West Wing lobby. Participants vary depending on the issue of the day, but there are regulars. Brooks, the New York Times columnist, is a frequent guest, as is Joe Klein of Time Magazine. From The Washington Post: E.J. Dionne, Eugene Robinson, Ezra Klein and Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor. On foreign policy: the Post’s David Ignatius, Bloomberg View’s Jeffrey Goldberg, and the Times’ Thomas Friedman. He also holds the occasional meeting with conservatives. This month, he met with Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer, Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot, and other influential representatives from the right.
The "Off the Record with Obama" team is, of course, an all boys' club--not surprising amidst frequent claims of a "boys club" mentality from women in the White House. 
With one exception--Eugene Robinson---all are white.

And, with the exception of White House stenographer Ezra Klein, all are middle-aged (or older).

David Brooks: 52
Joe Klein: 67
E. J. Dionne: 61
Eugene Robinson: 59
Ezra Klein: 29
Fred Hiatt: 58
David Ignatius: 63
Jeffrey Goldberg: 48
Thomas Friedman: 60
Charles Krauthammer: 63
Paul Gigot: 58

Byers further describes these meetings:
The sessions, which have become more frequent in Obama’s second term — he held at least three in October — provide a stark contrast to the combative, sometimes cantankerous relationship between the White House and the press corps. They also serve as an alternate means of shaping the debate in Washington: a private back-channel of genuine sentiment that seeps into the echo-chamber, while Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, delivers largely scripted responses in the public briefings. Obama holds the occasional off-the-record meeting with top White House correspondents, but they are few and far between — a fact that rankles some members of the press corps. (POLITICO has attended off-the-record sessions with the president.)

At the same time, these bull sessions give validation to an oft-heard critique: that Obama prefers the law school salon to the bully pulpit — that he would rather be regarded as smart by the people he regards as smart than be feared by the opposition or seen as effective by the people he governs.
He sometimes even solicits their opinions:
The president appreciates the back-and-forth exchanges at the sessions, past participants told POLITICO. He even occasionally asks aides or administration officials what a specific columnist thinks about an issue. Sometimes, the aide will then reach out to the columnist to ask his or her opinion, which has had the unintended effect of spurring the columnist to write a piece expressing his thoughts on that very issue.
His foreign policy friends are all hawks and neocons. 
Eugene Robinson, Ezra Klein, and E. J. Dionne are all moderately liberal--although Ezra is a bland technocrat. I don't believe any of the other individuals can be called "liberal" in any serious fashion (and I think I'm stretching it to include Ezra).

More troublingly, this man takes Thomas Friedman and David Brooks seriously. That should give you pause. Honestly, if he wanted Friedman's opinion, I think the Thomas Friedman Op-Ed Generator would be a FAR better debate partner.

That he takes Fred Hiatt seriously---the WaPo editorial board is always gunning for war or for benefit cuts--is equally troubling.