Friday, October 31, 2014

34 House Democrats Urge Obama to Abandon Bush Torture Policies

Two weeks ago, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was considering upholding a controversial Bush administration interpretation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture:
When the Bush administration revealed in 2005 that it was secretly interpreting a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” as not applying to C.I.A. and military prisons overseas, Barack Obama, then a newly elected Democratic senator from Illinois, joined in a bipartisan protest.
Mr. Obama supported legislation to make it clear that American officials were legally barred from using cruelty anywhere in the world. And in a Senate speech, he said enacting such a statute “acknowledges and confirms existing obligations” under the treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty, and now, President Obama’s legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view. It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.
The administration must decide on its stance on the treaty by next month, when it sends a delegation to Geneva to appear before the Committee Against Torture, a United Nations panel that monitors compliance with the treaty. That presentation will be the first during Mr. Obama’s presidency.
State Department lawyers are said to be pushing to officially abandon the Bush-era interpretation. Doing so would require no policy changes, since Mr. Obama issued an executive order in 2009 that forbade cruel interrogations anywhere and made it harder for a future administration to return to torture.
But military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects.
The internal debate is said to have been catalyzed by a memo that the State Department circulated within an interagency lawyers’ group several weeks ago. On Wednesday, lawyers from the State Department, the Pentagon, the intelligence community and the National Security Council met at the White House to discuss the matter, but reached no consensus.
In other words, design a loophole so large that all of your atrocities become legal.

Yesterday, 34 members of the House Democratic caucus wrote to the president encouraging him to abandon the Bush administration's interpretation of the Convention---as he once said that he would.

Here are the 34 signers:

Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03)
Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
Jackie Speier (CA-14)
Mike Honda (CA-17)
Sam Farr (CA-20)
Judy Chu (CA-27)
Adam Schiff (CA-28)
Karen Bass (CA-37)
Mark Takano (CA-41)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)
Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)
Alan Grayson (FL-09)
Alcee Hastings (FL-20)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Danny Davis (IL-07)
Jim McGovern (MA-02)
Donna Edwards (MD-04)
Chris Van Hollen (MD-08)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Jerry Nadler (NY-10)
Carolyn Maloney (NY-12)
Charlie Rangel (NY-13)
Jose Serrano (NY-15)
Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
David Cicilline (RI-01)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Steve Cohen (TN-09)
Lloyd Doggett (TX-35)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)

Dear Mr. President,
We are writing to express our strong support for interpreting the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment as applying overseas to all persons wherever they are located. This standard is consistent with your promise that you made to the American people both while you were a senator and a presidential candidate, and consistent with your actions early in your presidency to ban the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during interrogation.
The United States of America is a beacon of hope and aspirational model of government for billions of oppressed people across the world. Unfortunately, according to news reports, your administration is considering reaffirming the President George W. Bush Administration’s misguided and dangerous interpretation of the Convention—as not applying to all persons under effective control of U.S. authorities—when the United Nations Committee Against Torture convenes in Geneva in November. We urge your Administration to send a strong signal that it opposes torture by taking a clear position on this issue.
As senator, you supported legislation banning cruel or inhumane treatment of all individuals within U.S. custody, both inside and outside of U.S. borders. You specifically declared that this standard was important due to the obligations our nation has under the Convention Against Torture. You unequivocally continued to advocate for this standard as you sought the U.S. presidency, as you noted soon after being elected: “I was clear throughout this campaign and was clear throughout this transition that under my administration the United States does not torture.”
We shared in the worldwide support for your decision in 2009 to issue an executive order that forbade cruel interrogations anywhere and made it harder for a future administration to return to torture. The decision to issue that executive order so early in your Administration sent an unambiguous signal that the United States had learned from its mistakes and had turned from its use of torture. Since that executive order, there has been no evidence that torture is an effective tool for gathering reliable intelligence. Rather, the evidence is clear that the use of torture only harms America’s reputation and fuels international resentment.
The Convention Against Torture had the full support of President Reagan, President George H. W. Bush and President Clinton—and not one of them supported the misguided interpretation at issue now. To the contrary, Abraham D. Sofaer, who negotiated the United Nations Convention Against Torture for President Reagan and continued as the State Department’s top lawyer under President George H. W. Bush, wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2005 that neither president intended to restrict enforcement of the cruelty ban to within U.S. territory. That kind of territorial restriction, as Sofaer put it, “would fundamentally undermine the treaty’s purpose.”

Indeed, at the time of advice and consent, both President Reagan’s Administration and the U.S. Senate took the position that treaty provisions—including the ban on cruel treatment in “any territory under [a state’s] jurisdiction”—applied not just within America’s sovereign boundaries but to ships and aircraft as well as U.S. special territorial, maritime and aircraft jurisdictions. The negotiating history of the treaty reflects the same—the negotiators rejected a proposal limiting it to inside state borders.
The Bush Administration’s misguided interpretation isolated us from our allies and put us in the dubious company of abusive and authoritarian governments. We urge your Administration to break with this harmful legacy, affirm the Convention Against Torture applies overseas, and renew America’s leadership on the right of all people to freedom from torture.
It is rather depressing that members of Congress even have to write to the president on this---and that there were not more signers.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

LCV-Backed Susan Collins Still Won't Comment on Obama's EPA Carbon Regulations

I have criticized the League of Conservation Voters' endorsement of Susan Collins in past diaries. The single most important vote that Collins will cast on the environment is her vote for Majority Leader. She will be voting for Mitch McConnell, and that should disqualify her from support.

So, for that matter, should her support for the Keystone XL pipeline in my opinion. She has a lifetime score of 67% with the LCV, which is only impressive if you are grading on a curve.

On Monday, Republican senator Susan Collins and her Democratic challenger former executive director of ACLU Maine Shenna Bellows faced off in a debate.

In one of my favorite moments of the debate, Bellows attacked Collins for her overstating her pro-environment record:
BELLOWS: The League of Conservation Voters rated you a D. It’s the strongest score of any Republican in the US Senate, which demonstrates the stakes and what could happen if Republicans were to gain control of the Senate. But it’s still a D.
Bellows then went on to note that Collins still has not made any statement on Obama's proposed carbon regulations. If she is such a pro-environment candidate, shouldn't she have something to say? 
Collins began by going back to a prior point of debate about a bill she introduced in 2011 (the EPA Regulatory Relief Act) to exempt biomass boilers from the Clean Air Act. In other words, she began by not answering the question.
COLLINS: So it appears that my opponent still would have imposed those original EPA regulations on biomass boilers industrial boilers that schools, hospitals, our wood mills all rely on. That’s just irresponsible. And EPA modified them because they knew they were far too expensive and in some cases not technically possible.

Here's how the LCV describes the House companion bill to what Collins proposed:
[T]he so-called EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011....would indefinitely delay long-overdue air pollution control standards for industrial boilers and incinerators, which act as small, in-house power plants and emit toxic air pollution including mercury--a potent neurotoxin especially dangerous to pregnant women and children--and cancer-causing dioxins.  These facilities are the nation's third largest source of mercury emissions.  Every year these standards are delayed would mean up to an additional 8,100 premature deaths, 52,000 asthma attacks, and 5,100 heart attacks.
Then when Collins got to Bellows's actual question, she still didn't really answer:
As far as the president’s new regulations on carbon pollution, I have voted repeatedly to allow EPA to regulate carbon pollution, but these regulations are in the initial stage, and I want to hear what the stakeholders have to say. That’s the way the process works. You get comments on proposed rules, and that leads to better rule-making. And it would be irresponsible to take a position before that process has been completed.
Collins was just defending her prior effort to delay a proposed rule by the EPA. That was intervening during the comment period. Apparently, to Collins, it was okay then, but somehow "inappropriate" now. Susan Collins just doesn't want to say anything so that she doesn't have to irritate the LCV and EDF on one side or her oil and coal baron friends on the others. And that's not leadership. Maine can do better.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MI-06 Could be a Key Democratic Pick-Up....But the DCCC is Sitting Out

Last Tuesday, National Journal had an article on the congressional race in MI-06: "Is Michigan's Most Powerful Republican Really in Political Danger?"

The piece offers reason to believe that he very well might be:
Upton, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is facing the most credible Democratic opponent of his career, and a late infusion of outside money has energized Democrats on the ground. Still, there's been little polling or non-anecdotal indicators to prove the race is winnable. But even if Upton prevails this year, his opponents hope to at least put him in the conversation of future Democratic targets—and lay the groundwork for a better-financed 2016 campaign in a presidential year that offers a strong climate for Democrats.
And if, as some have speculated, Upton calls it quits in 2016 when term limits end his Energy and Commerce tenure, Democratic efforts this cycle could leave them well-positioned to contest what stands to be a wide-open race.
Western Michigan University professor Paul Clements is the 13th Democrat to test Upton's electoral mettle, and, his backers say, the best. A newcomer to federal politics, he has more than doubled the fundraising of any previous Upton challenger. Veterans of previous Democratic campaigns in the district call Clements's operation the first "professional" challenge they've seen.
Clements's prowess has garnered interest both inside the district and out, but anyone who wasn't paying attention before certainly raised their eyebrows this month when an outside super PAC announced plans to pump nearly $2 million into efforts to oust Upton. The group, Mayday PAC, aims to target politicians beholden to moneyed interests. On Oct. 9, it named Upton among its handful of targets for the 2014 cycle.
The late swarm of money has excited local Democrats—who say the race was competitive even before the cash infusion—and left consultants wondering whether a district long excluded from any toss-up rankings could really oust its powerful incumbent without much warning.
MI-06 is a district that should be a swing district in Congress. Obama lost by a narrow margin (48.9% - 50.2%) in 2012 and won the district, albeit with slightly different lines, in 2008 (53.1% - 45.2%). It has a Partisan Voting Index of R+1. And its representative is a guy whom the LA Times described as the biggest enemy of the Earth in Congress. And it has a good candidate in Paul Clements
However, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has ignored the seat entirely.
According to FEC filings, Paul Clements has received all of $0 from the DCCC. Mike O'Brien, who challenged Upton in 2012, also received nada from the DCCC.

According to Howie Klein (of Blue America and the blog Down With Tyranny), Steve Israel, DCCC co-chair, has actually done worse than nothing: he has actually been turning away potential donors from the race. Howie noted earlier today that Israel told the League of Conservation Voters to not spend money in the race.

Thankfully, groups like Climate Hawks Vote, the aforementioned Blue America, and Mayday PAC have been involved. Climate Hawks Vote, for instance, has been on the ground since Labor Day and is the only environmental group involved in the race. (The LCV, which should be far more interested than it is in taking out Upton, donated to Clements once in June and--from what I can tell--never since.)

This ignorance of potentially competitive seats by the DCCC, however, is unfortunately routine for the DCCC.


Wisconsin's 1st district is home to Paul Ryan. However, it's not as deep red as a district as you would expect. Obama lost the seat in 2012 by only 4.2 points (47.4% to 51.6%). However, Obama won the district in 2008 by 2.7 points (50.8% to 48.1%).

A purple district with a Republican representative who is basically synonymous with granny starving in Democratic messaging--sounds like a great target?

You'd think. But Democrats, for all of their attacks on the "Ryan budget," they don't attack Ryan.

In 2012, Rob Zerban decided to take on Paul Ryan. The DCCC gave him a whopping $10 (an "in-kind" contribution for "email services when he began his campaign).

Zerban is aiming for a re-match this year. The DCCC again is ignoring the race. They have contributed nothing.


Florida's 27th district, home to Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has a PVI of R+2. Obama won the district 53.1% to 46.4% back in 2012.

However, the DCCC didn't contest the seat. There was a name on the ballot: Manny Yevancey, who was little more than a placeholder. Yevancey never filed with the FEC, meaning he raised less than $5,000. This year, Ros-Lehtinen is running unopposed.


We see the DCCC's incompetence as well in Pennsylvania's 7th district, home to Republican Pat Meehan. The district is not as friendly to Democrats as it once was because of Republican gerrymandering, but it is still an R+2 district. Obama lost 48.5% to 50.4% in 2012 although he won it (when it was more compact) in 2008 51.2% to 47.8%.

However, the DCCC just isn't interested in winning this suburban Philadelphia district. The only money George Badey, the 2012 candidate, received from the DCCC was $50 in in-kind contributions. Mary Ellen Balchunis, who is running this year, has received $0 from the DCCC.

Long Island Incumbent Protection Racket

The best example of the corruption at the DCCC has to be what I like to call the "Long Island Incumbent Protection Racket."

Steve Israel (NY-03) and Pete King (NY-02) are in adjacent districts. And both districts are purple. In 2012, Obama won NY-02 by 4.4 points (51.6% - 47.2%) and NY-03 by 2.6 points (50.8% to 48.2%). NY-02 has an R+1 partisan rating, and NY-03 has an even rating.

Given that, you would think that these would be the sites of some of the most hotly contested races. You would be wrong.

As far as I can tell, the DCCC and the NRCC have decided to cut their losses and each keep one seat. They do not fund challengers in the other.

Vivianne Falcone, who ran against Pete King in 2012, received $0 from the DCCC.

Pat Maher, who is running this year, has never filed.

Stephen Labate, who ran against Steve Israel in 2012 and 2014, has gotten $0 from the NRCC.


Steve Israel was in charge of the DCCC in 2012. He had one job: win back the House. He failed. Why does he deserve to keep his job?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Detroit Free Press Explains Why Rick Snyder is a Horrible Governor...and Then Endorses Him

Last year, the Newark Star-Ledger wrote one of the most nonsensical endorsement editorials I have ever read. They called Chris Christie "overrated" and "fraudulent" and said that his policies are and will continue to be destructive to the environment and low-income families. And then they said he should be re-elected because Barbara Buono is too close to the unions and not close enough with the party bosses.

However, the Detroit Free Press may have one-upped the Star-Ledger with its endorsement of Rick Snyder for re-election.

I break it down over at the Daily Kos.

The takeaway?

Rick Snyder might be bad for schools, bad for women, bad for the environment, bad for the LGBT community, bad for democracy, and bad for low and middle-income families, but at least he doesn't like unions.

That's editorial boards for you. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

NYT Endorses Cuomo in Hope that He Will Do Things He Will Never, Ever Do

As was inevitable, the New York Times editorial board finally endorsed Andrew Cuomo for re-election.  The Times had sat out the primary. They endorsed Tim Wu, Zephyr Teachout's running mate, but refused to endorse Teachout.

In their primary non-endorsement, the Times editorial board criticized Cuomo for his failure to deliver upon ethics reform and for his bias toward the interests of the rich. Here's how that piece ended:
Having walked away from his most important goals, he should not be surprised if many Democrats walk away from him on Sept. 9.
Now, just under two months later, the Times editorial board has decided that it wants four more years of Cuomo. 
The endorsement contains both understatement and an impressive degree of self-delusion.

Regarding understatements, it was amusing to see the Times toss Cuomo's focus on the interests of the rich as a mere aside:
His budgets have been on time, and though his tax policies have favored the wealthy, he managed to get higher credit ratings for the state for the first time in decades.
Contrast the tone of that line to this passage from their non-endorsement:
The budget efficiency came at a price, however. His first budget cut education by $1.5 billion, and later ones failed to give the schools what they needed. Though he pleaded poverty, he imposed an unnecessary property tax cap and refused to extend a tax surcharge on the state’s wealthiest. In January, he proposed yet another damaging tax cut, one that would largely benefit the wealthy and threaten more state services. He highhandedly dismissed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for a city tax on the wealthy to pay for universal prekindergarten, instead substituting a pre-K plan with far less guaranteed financing.
But what's more eye-catching about the piece is the sheer level of delusion:
The decision not to endorse in the primary between Mr. Cuomo and his challenger, Zephyr Teachout, a national expert on political corruption and campaign reforms, reflected our disappointment with Mr. Cuomo’s failure to make good on his promise — made four years ago — to clean up Albany. It is our hope that, if Mr. Cuomo is elected to a second term, he will devote the next four years to achieving genuine, meaningful reform of Albany’s political culture, which remains mired in corruption.
(Emphasis added) 
Yes, the guy who disbanded his independent anti-corruption investigation after it started looking into the actions of some of his supporters.

And contrast this request...
His first order of business should be to use his political muscle to change the sham campaign finance laws that have turned Albany into a place that best serves moneyed interests and the politicians in hock to them.
That means reducing contribution limits to candidates; ending unlimited donations to party “housekeeping” accounts; and prohibiting contributions from limited liability corporations, which are used by corporations and individuals to give essentially unlimited amounts of money to candidates. And the most crucial reform is public financing for campaigns — the best way to inject competition into legislative races now almost controlled entirely by incumbents.
.....with this reality:
Mr. Cuomo himself has benefited from lax rules that have allowed him to raise nearly half of the $45 million for his campaign mostly from the developers and lobbyists giving $40,000 or more. Mr. Cuomo has said that while he supports reforms, the Legislature refuses to play ball. He could set a decent example for Albany lawmakers by refusing to take tainted, albeit legal, pots of money himself. That might allow him to shame the Legislature into acting; now, lawmakers can point to his finances and jeer. Reforming his own practices might also help restore his reputation after his sudden shutdown of the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, which had started looking into issues that may have involved his political supporters. A United States attorney has now taken up that work.
Another major disappointment was Mr. Cuomo’s failure to veto redistricting maps in 2012. Those maps were designed by legislators to thwart competition and harden the status quo in Albany. A state constitutional amendment on the November ballot — Proposal One on revising the state’s redistricting procedure — would undoubtedly make things worse. Mr. Cuomo should stop pushing for this deeply flawed measure.
His first order of business should be to use his political muscle to do something that he clearly has no interest whatsoever in doing

As Buzzfeed's Andrew Kacynski noted on Twitter earlier, the Times has a clear case of Stockholm syndrome.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Yes, Republicans are to Blame for CDC Cuts. But So Are Democrats.

The DCCC has recently started to incorporate Ebola into its advertising, blaming the GOP for cutting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) budget.

Republicans certainly deserve blame for slashing the budgets for the CDC and the NIH (National Institutes of Health). But so do Democrats. Austerity has been a bipartisan affair.

One of the most noteworthy pieces of legislation for entrenching austerity was the Budget Control Act of 2011.

The Budget Control Act, the result of the showdown over the debt ceiling, imposed arbitrary budget caps on federal departments and set the stage for the additional arbitrary cuts of sequestration (which was used as a threat to force the congressional "super committee" to create a deficit reduction plan of its own).

The Budget Control Act split the Democratic caucus in the House. 95 Democrats voted for it, and 95 Democrats voted against it.

73 of the 95 supporters are still in the House:

John Barrows (GA-12)
Karen Bass (CA-37)
Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Tim Bishop (NY-01)
Bob Brady (PA-01)
Lois Capps (CA-24)
John Carney (DE)
Kathy Castor (FL-14)
David Cicilline (RI-01)
Lacy Clay (MO-01)
Jim Clyburn (SC-06)
Gerry Connolly (VA-11)
Jim Cooper (TN-04)
Jim Costa (CA-16)
Joe Courtney (CT-02)
Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Danny Davis (IL-07)
Susan Davis (CA-53)
Ted Deutch (FL-21)
John Dingell (MI-12)
Lloyd Doggett (TX-35)
Anna Eshoo (CA-18)
Chaka Fattah (PA-02)
John Garamendi (CA-03)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Luis Gutierrez (IL-04)
Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01)
Brian Higgins (NY-26)
Jim Himes (CT-04)
Steny Hoyer (MD-05)
Steve Israel (NY-03)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Eddie B. Johnson (TX-30)
Bill Keating (MA-09)
Dan Kildee (MI-05)
Ron Kind (WI-03)
Jim Langevin (RI-02)
Rick Larsen (WA-02)
Sandy Levin (MI-09)
Dan Lipinski (IL-03)
Nita Lowey (NY-17)
Stephen Lynch (MA-08)
Jim Matheson (UT-04)
Carolyn McCarthy (NY-04)
Gregory Meeks (NY-05)
Mike Michaud (ME-02)
Bill Owens (NY-21)
Bill Pascrell (NJ-09)
Nancy Pelosi (CA-12)
Ed Perlmutter (CO-07)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Jared Polis (CO-02)
Mike Quigley (IL-05)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-02)
Bobby Rush (IL-01)
Loretta Sanchez (CA-46)
Adam Schiff (CA-28)
Kurt Schrader (OR-05)
Allyson Schwartz (PA-13)
David Scott (GA-13)
Terri Sewell (AL-07)
Brad Sherman (CA-30)
Albio Sires (NJ-08)
Jackie Speier (CA-14)
Mike Thompson (CA-05)
Niki Tsongas (MA-03)
Chris Van Hollen (MD-08)
Tim Walz (MN-01)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23)
Frederica Wilson (FL-24)

As you can see, the list includes most of the Democratic leadership: Pelosi, Hoyer, Israel, Wasserman Schultz, Van Hollen.

3 of them--Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM)--are now in the Senate.

The situation was even worse in the Senate, where only six members of the Democratic caucus had the principles to vote against it from the left. (Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted against it, but that was because it didn't cut the deficit enough.)

And don't forget: that bill could not become law without the president's signature.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Stop Asking Candidates Whether They "Believe in" Climate Change. That's Not the Real Question.

As debate season is now upon us, we've gotten to learn--anew--that many Republicans doubt, deny, or downplay the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

Here's Paul Ryan in a recent debate:
One of the sharpest differences came when the moderator asked each candidate if he thought human activity is to blame for changes to the planet's climate. "I don't know the answer to that question," Ryan said. "I don't think science does, either."
Mitch "I'm not a scientist" McConnell evaded the question in a debate yesterday, as he has on other occasions. 
Here's CO-SEN candidate and current House rep Cory Gardner evading the question last week:
Gardner was asked during a debate in Denver with Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) to give a simple answer as to whether "humans are contributing significantly to climate change." Pressed multiple times, he declined to say, insisting it was too complicated for a one-word answer.
"Well, I've said all along, climate is changing --" Gardner began.
He was reminded by debate moderators that he was supposed to say "yes" or "no," and then would have the opportunity for expansive comments later.
"Look, this is an important issue and I don't think you can say yes or no," Gardner replied.
The moderators again said he would get a minute later to explain his answer.
"I believe that the climate is changing, I disagree to the extent that it's been in the news," that man has contributed to climate change, Gardner finally said, interrupted by the clearly pro-Udall crowd.
I'm sure I could find many other examples from candidate Q&As or debates. However, the problem is that they are being asked a stupid question.

No self-respecting moderator should be asking candidates whether or not they "believe in" anthropogenic climate change. They should be asking candidates how they plan to respond to it.
Asking the question "Do you believe in anthropogenic climate change?" gives a certain veneer of credibility or respectability to the "no" answer, a credibility or respectability which it does not deserve. We do not need to be discussing whether climate change is real or whether it is human-influenced. We know that. And we know that we need to act.

Asking the real question--how to address climate change--presents an opportunity for substantive policy discussions, something often lacking in these candidate forums and televised debates. And it puts candidates from both parties on the spot. If Republicans are going to hedge about the reality of climate change, don't give them an easy out. Make them deny the factual premise of the question and look like a fool for doing so. Democrats and the rare moderate Republican do not deserve gold stars for acknowledging anthropogenic climate change. They need to be putting forward meaningful solutions to this multi-faceted crisis.

We don't need to be debating science. We need to be debating ethics and policy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Richard Trumka Wants Democrats to Be More Populist. Richard Trumka Also Backs Republicans.

An article in The Nation yesterday talked about the work AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has been doing on the campaign trail and how we would like to see Democrats be more populist and put more emphasis on economic fairness.
The midterm elections are twenty-seven days away, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has been keeping a relentless road schedule campaigning for Democratic candidates. One thing he’d like to see more of: talk about basic economic fairness issues.
“I think more populism, or more focus on the economic issues, would be helpful,” he told a small group of reporters at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, DC. “I think it would help drive turnout as well. I think the candidates that focus only on negative things, doing everything negative, have a real danger of having their base go flat.”
Trumka said that in talking to workers on the campaign trail, he frequently confronts a problem that has bedeviled Democrats in many past midterms: apathy. Union members wonder why it matters if they vote.

“They say that at the plant gate, at doors, on the telephone,” Trumka said. “I try to explain to them that the economy is not like the weather. Those that are in power, and those that want to be in power, want us to believe the economy is like the weather—there’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t bother. But the economy…it’s nothing but a bunch of rules. And those rules decide the winners and losers, and those rules are made by the men and women we elect. That’s why this election is important.”
However, when reading this, I could not help remembering the work that Trumka is also doing to keep the House in Boehner's hands. 

Back in June, the AFL-CIO formally endorsed Republican Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02), who scored a 72% on the Tea Party scorecard organized by progressive group Americans United for Change. He has only a 53% lifetime score (62% for 2013) with the AFL-CIO. That's a D- and an F. By contrast, all but 27 members of the Democratic caucus have a lifetime A. (Then 21 B's, 5 C's, and only one D--the horrible Jim Matheson.)

The AFL-CIO even made the UAW rescind its endorsement of LoBiondo's challenger Bill Hughes, Jr.

Back in April, Richard Trumka even wrote a letter to DCCC chairman Steve Israel (mentioned in the link above) asking him not to target LoBiondo. The letter has since been taken down from the NALC's website, but you can still read it in USW Local 1999's newsletter from April if you so desire.

I don't know a lot about LoBiondo's challenger, Democratic Bill Hughes, Jr. But from what I can see on his site, he would be a far better friend to labor than LoBiondo. And unlike LoBiondo, he won't be voting for John Boehner as Speaker.

League of Conservation Voters Endorses Republican Who Voted Against Them 75% of the Time Last Year

I get irritated when environmental groups like the League of Conservation Voters endorse Keystone XL-supporting Democrats like Kay Hagan or Mark Begich.

I get even more annoyed when such groups back Keystone XL-supporting Republicans like Susan Collins. At least Hagan and Begich are the more pro-environment candidates in their races. Collins is not. Her Democratic challenger--Shenna Bellows--would have a far better environmental record. Collins's LCV score from last year was 69%, a D+. All of the New England Democrats in the Senate had A's, if not A+'s.

Well, at least Susan Collins, with her D+, is still technically passing. I can't say the same for the LCV's latest endorsement: New Jersey Republican Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02).

Last year, LoBiondo had an LCV score of 25%. That means he voted against the environmental position 75% of the time. This year so far, his score is 42%. Again, still a whopping F.

Let's look at some of the recent things he voted for this year.

Attacking public protections and public lands
Representative Dave Camp (R-MI) sponsored H.R. 4, the so-called Jobs for America Act – a radical package of bills that threatens vital health and environmental safeguards and our public lands. This omnibus bill includes several attacks on the regulatory process that would help empower polluters by delaying or shutting down the implementation of critical public health and environmental safeguards, which would mean more premature deaths, illnesses, and other health impacts on the American people.  This legislation also includes two bills that would have significant negative impacts on our nation’s natural resources by decimating our forests and effectively eliminating public review of hardrock mining activities on public lands.
Weakening the Clean Water Act
Representative Steve Southerland (R-FL) sponsored H.R. 5078, the so-called Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014, which would allow the continued dumping of pollution into our small streams and wetlands by preventing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers from moving forward with their proposed Clean Water Rule. This commonsense rule would clarify Clean Water Act protections for the small streams, wetlands, headwaters, and tributaries that impact the drinking water of over 117 million Americans, support businesses and recreation, and are crucial habitat for wildlife. H.R. 5078 would stop this rule in its tracks, closing the public comment period and ensuring the voices of polluters trump demands for clean water. However, this radical bill goes even further and prohibits the EPA and the Army Corps from ever developing any “substantially similar” rule or guidance to protect these crucial waterways. This extreme language would ensure that these waters remain vulnerable to pollution for the foreseeable future and further undermines the Clean Water Act.

Deregulating pesticide use

Representative Bob Gibbs (R-OH) sponsored H.R. 935, the so-called Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2013, to prevent the EPA from protecting our waterways from the discharge of toxic pesticides that can contaminate drinking water, harm aquatic species, and work their way up the food chain. This legislation would stop EPA’s commonsense permitting practices for applying pesticides directly to waters that fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, and would instead rely on a federal pesticides law that isn’t designed to follow individual applications of pesticides. Given that almost 2,000 U.S. waterways are already impaired by pesticides, this legislation would further jeopardize water quality and pose a risk to public health.
Slashing funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency and increasing spending on fossil fuels and nuclear
House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Michael Simpson (R-ID) introduced H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015, which moves us backward on energy and environmental policy by slashing funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency while boosting funding for dirty fossil fuel and nuclear generation technologies. Although the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the country, climate deniers in Congress added more harmful amendments to the bill which attacked the science of climate change as well as the government’s ability to assess the real costs of these impacts and the benefits of improving energy efficiency and limiting carbon pollution. In addition, the bill contains dirty water policy riders that would limit the Army Corps of Engineers’ ability to safeguard the waters Americans depend on for drinking, swimming, fishing, and flood protection.
Blocking funding for climate modeling in DOE
Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) offered an amendment to H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015, which would block all funding for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Climate Model Development and Validation program. This extreme amendment would prevent DOE from improving the reliability of climate models that are necessary to understand and predict the threats climate change poses, including sea level rise, extreme weather events, and drought.
Preventing federal agencies from assessing the risks and costs of climate change
Representative David McKinley (R-WV) offered an amendment to H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015, which would prevent federal agencies from assessing the costs and dangers posed by climate change. This extreme anti-science amendment would make it more difficult for these agencies to take part in studying or planning for the increase in extreme weather associated with climate change. It would also block these agencies from participating in the National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and any analysis of the cost of carbon pollution.
Undermining the Clean Water Act....again
Representative Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) offered an amendment to H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015, which would undermine the Clean Water Act and jeopardize the waters Americans depend on for drinking, swimming, fishing, and flood protection. This amendment would repeal part of the Clean Water Act that currently provides limited exemptions for normal, on-going farm practices and discharges of dredged or fill material related to the maintenance of drainage ditches, and expand these exemptions in a way that would encourage new wetland and stream destruction. For example, a highway department cleaning out a maintenance ditch could dump excess material into a pristine lake, filling it in or obstructing its water flow without requiring any review under the law.
Banning the government from considering the social cost of carbon
Representative James Lankford (R-OK) offered an amendment to H.R. 4923, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015, which would force federal agencies to turn a blind eye to the economic costs of climate change. Climate change is already costing communities billions of dollars each year across the country, but this anti-science amendment would prevent the government from weighing the costs of extreme weather and other climate change impacts or the savings from any government actions to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon pollution.
To his credit, he once had decent LCV scores (for a Republican). From 2000 to 2009, his annual LCV score ranged from 63% to 90%. But since 2010, it's been straight F's. When the party lurched right, LoBiondo lurched with it. And he's not coming back.

Despite the fact that NJ-02 is a blue district (Obama won 53.5% of the vote in 2012), Democrats have often ignored the seat. However, LoBiondo has a challenger this year (Chris Hughes, and the race is looking increasingly competitive. A poll from just a few days ago put it at 47% LoBiondo - 42% Hughes.

Rather than helping to flip a district (or just sitting out the race), the LCV is helping to elect John Boehner as Speaker.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Jim Webb: More Reagan Democrat than Progressive Populist

Although Hillary Clinton is widely seen as the formidable frontrunner in the Democratic presidential primary in 2016, many progressives would prefer to have a candidate who is less hawkish and less close and connected to Wall Street and business elites. I would include myself in such a faction. Personally, I would like to see some debate and reflection within the Democratic Party, and I don't think that a Joe Biden or a Hillary Clinton would offer that. Let a thousand candidates bloom. (And by a "thousand," I mean no more than 5.)

Some progressives have attached their hopes to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has expressed no interest in running. She's not particularly interested in foreign policy, a big part of the presidency, and I don't think she'll run. I'm perfectly happy to see her continue to be my senator.

Some like to tout Brian Schweitzer, former governor of Montana. However, someone as ardently pro-gun, pro-coal, and pro-oil as Schweitzer seems an odd choice for the populist left.

The latest "anti-Hillary" in the news is Jim Webb, the former senator from Virginia and Secretary of the Navy under Reagan.

The DW Nominate ideological scoring system is not perfect. It offers lifetime scores, not session scores, so it cannot reflect political evolution. Also, by looking at roll call votes, it ignores all of the things that never made it to a vote, as well as all of the jockeying and trading that makes a bill what it is before it even reaches that vote. Although imperfect, it is better than most, and with someone like Webb, the first flaw is neutralized. He only served one term.

The DW Nominate system scores members of Congress from -1.00 (most liberal) to 1.00 (most conservative). For the 112th Congress, Jim Webb clocked in at -0.193, between Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Tom Carper (D-DE). He is listed to the right of Max Baucus (D-MT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Some progressive.

However, it is useful to look at what he said and what he did, rather than just a quantified abstraction.
Jim Webb voted with Republicans and Joe Lieberman to oppose the Democrats' plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for only the first $250,000 in income. Webb wanted millionaires to get their full tax cuts, too.

Jim Webb thought that the problem with the Affordable Care Act was that it wasn't bipartisan enough. You see, Obama should have tried harder to win over some Republicans. Never mind that Senate Republicans were involved in the process of crafting the bill.

In 2012, Jim Webb was the only Democrat to vote against extending reduced interest rates for student loans. He was a staunch student loan reform in general.

His record on the environment is spotty. Jim Webb voted in favor of voiding the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard for power plants, authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, and significantly expanding offshore drilling. And he voted against closing tax loopholes for big oil companies and extending clean energy tax incentives.

Jim Webb is an unabashed Confederate apologist.

Unsurprisingly, then, he strongly opposes affirmative action.

And Jim Webb is a strange choice for an "anti-war" candidate. The former senator believes in the rightness of the Vietnam War and regards the anti-war left with dripping, red-baiting contempt. He supports keeping the option of pre-emptive military strikes on Iran on the table. He does a lot of saber-rattling toward China. When he opposes a war (e.g. the Iraq War), it is not out of a vision of a cooperative, pluralistic, humanitarian internationalism. It is out of a foreign policy realism that views such a war as a strategic error. Now, that's better than supporting such a war. But it's not an anti-war position, nor an anti-imperial one.

Frankly, we can do a lot better.