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“The Gas-Price Conspiracy Theory”: Republican Paranoia Strikes Deeper

Stop, hey, what’s that sound? Actually, it’s the noise a great political party makes when it loses what’s left of its mind. And it happened — where else? — on Fox News on Sunday, when Mitt Romney bought fully into the claim that gas prices are high thanks to an Obama administration plot.

This claim isn’t just nuts; it’s a sort of craziness triple play — a lie wrapped in an absurdity swaddled in paranoia. It’s the sort of thing you used to hear only from people who also believed that fluoridated water was a Communist plot. But now the gas-price conspiracy theory has been formally endorsed by the likely Republican presidential nominee.

Before we get to the larger implications of this endorsement, let’s get the facts on gas prices straight.

First, the lie: No, President Obama did not say, as many Republicans now claim, that he wanted higher gasoline prices. He did once say that a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions would cause electricity prices to “skyrocket” — an unfortunate word choice. But saying that such a system would raise energy prices was just a factual statement, not a declaration of intent to punish American consumers. The claim that Mr. Obama wanted higher prices is a lie, pure and simple.

And it’s a lie wrapped in an absurdity, because the president of the United States doesn’t control gasoline prices, or even have much influence over those prices. Oil prices are set in a world market, and America, which accounts for only about a tenth of world production, can’t move those prices much. Indeed, the recent rise in gas prices has taken place despite rising U.S. oil production and falling imports.

Finally, there’s the paranoia, the belief that liberals in general, and Obama administration officials in particular, are trying to make driving unaffordable as part of a nefarious plot against the American way of life. And, no, I’m not exaggerating. This is what you hear even from thoroughly mainstream conservatives.

For example, last year George Will declared that the Obama administration’s support for train travel had nothing to do with relieving congestion and reducing environmental impacts. No, he insisted, “the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.” Who knew that Dagny Taggart, the railroad executive heroine of “Atlas Shrugged,” was a Commie?

O.K., this is all kind of funny. But it’s also deeply scary.

As Richard Hofstadter pointed out in his classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” crazy conspiracy theories have been an American tradition ever since clergymen began warning that Thomas Jefferson was an agent of the Bavarian Illuminati. But it’s one thing to have a paranoid fringe playing a marginal role in a nation’s political life; it’s something quite different when that fringe takes over a whole party, to the point where candidates must share, or pretend to share, that fringe’s paranoia to receive the party’s presidential nod.

And it’s not just gas prices, of course. In fact, the conspiracy theories are proliferating so fast it’s hard to keep up. Thus, large numbers of Republicans — and we’re talking about important political figures, not random supporters — firmly believe that global warming is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy involving thousands of scientists, not one of whom has broken the code of omertà. Meanwhile, others are attributing the recent improvement in economic news to a dastardly plot to withhold stimulus funds, releasing them just before the 2012 election. And let’s not even get into health reform.

Why is this happening? At least part of the answer must lie in the way right-wing media create an alternate reality. For example, did you hear about how the cost of Obamacare just doubled? It didn’t, but millions of Fox-viewers and Rush-listeners believe that it did. Naturally, people who constantly hear about the evil that liberals do are ready and willing to believe that everything bad is the result of a dastardly liberal plot. And these are the people who vote in Republican primaries.

But what about the broader electorate?

If and when he wins the nomination, Mr. Romney will try, as a hapless adviser put it, to shake his Etch A Sketch — that is, to erase the record of his pandering to the crazy right and convince voters that he’s actually a moderate. And maybe he can pull it off.

But let’s hope that he can’t, because the kind of pandering he has engaged in during his quest for the nomination matters. Whatever Mr. Romney may personally believe, the fact is that by endorsing the right’s paranoid fantasies, he is helping to further a dangerous trend in America’s political life. And he should be held accountable for his actions.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 22, 2012

March 23, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Energy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Passive Resistence”: GOP’s War On Free Speech Intensifies

Dems have been faulted by conservative journalists for excessive political hyperbole in using the term “war on” in connection with GOP campaigns against unions, young voters, people of color, undocumented workers and women. Call it what you will, there shouldn’t be much doubt that Republicans are dedicated to undermining the political and citizenship rights of these groups.

Not content to wage a war on voting against pro-Democratic groups, it now appears that Republicans have declared a war on free speech as well. We had a staff post yesterday on the draconian anti-picketing bill now making it’s way through the Republican-controlled legislature in Georgia. Today DemocraticDiva Donna Gatehouse has an equally-disturbing blog, “AZ Legislature Attacks Civil Liberties” up at AFL-CIO Now. As Gatehouse explains:

…Women’s and reproductive rights groups will undoubtedly be at the state capitol to speak out against numerous shocking and intrusive anti-abortion and anti-contraception measures before the legislature this session. The GOP majority is apparently so frightened by this prospect it’s trying to make it a Class 1 misdemeanor to engage in “passive resistance.” Common nonviolent protest tactics such as going limp when the police try to remove you from an area or chaining yourself to something could get you up to a six-month month jail sentence.The deadline to introduce new bills has passed but Arizona has a maneuver, called a “striker,” that permits legislators to introduce bills beyond it. They strike out all the language in a previous bill and replace it with a new, and often totally unrelated, bill. It’s supposed to be reserved for real emergencies but it’s used for all kinds of bills, and usually to railroad them through the process with little time for public comment or debate. In this case, the “emergency” is lawmakers facing the unbearable thought of citizens calling attention to their outrageous and undemocratic agenda in the public square.

Phoenix blogger Steve Muratore reports that the “no passive resistance” bill is the idea of Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Scottsdale), who has a long background in law enforcement.
…Apparently, he testified that law enforcement officers are at risk of harm from Occupy protesters who passively resist…What harm? A hernia? Not if they lift with their knees as they’re supposed to.

Given the chance, today’s GOP would make criminals out of American heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, who tapped the power of nonviolent protest to strengthen America’s rights of free expression, freedom of assembly and free speech. During Dr. King’s lifetime, there were some Republican leaders of patriotic integrity who stepped up and took a stand in support of the first Amendment rights of protest and free speech. It appears that none who can meet that standard remain in today’s GOP.

By: J. P. Green, The Democratic Strategist, March 21, 2012

March 23, 2012 Posted by | Civil Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Discriminatory Election Laws”: The GOP Assault On The Voting Rights Act

Last week the Department of Justice denied preclearance to Texas’s law requiring voters to present photo identification under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires states and jurisdictions with a demonstrated history of passing discriminatory election laws to get approval from the DOJ for any change to laws governing the time, place or manner in which an election is conducted.

Within days Texas filed a challenge in federal court arguing that Section 5 is unconstitutional. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott maintains that the federal government exceeded its authority and violated the Tenth Amendment when it passed the measure.

Conservative opponents of civil rights are eager to see that challenge succeed. Writing in National Review—which opposed the civil rights movement—vice chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights and conservative scholar Abigail Thernstrom argues that Section 5 is outdated. National Review’s evolution on the subject is the standard conservative slither on civil rights. First you oppose it. Then, when society has evolved and you look like a bigot, you accept it. Then, as soon as humanly possible, you argue it was necessary at the time but no longer is.

“The Voting Rights Act was absolutely essential in ending the brutal regime of racial subjugation in the South, but it has become a period piece—anti-discrimination legislation passed at a time when southern blacks were kept from the polls by violence, intimidation, and fraudulent literacy tests,” writes Thernstrom. “Those disfranchising devices are as unlikely to return as segregated water fountains.” Thernstrom focuses most of her argument on the question of redistricting, and she argues that increasing residential integration and ethnic and socioeconomic diversity within minority communities makes the creation of majority-minority districts either unnecessary or impossible. “The notion of a ‘black community’ as the foundation of a black legislative district is also becoming an anachronism.”

There are two separate arguments being advanced by civil rights opponents: that Section 5 is unconstitutional because it falls outside the federal government’s enumerated powers, and that it is bad policy. Both are bogus. Section 5 is clearly constitutional, and we very much need it to protect the right to vote.

When Texas votes for seats in the House and Senate or the presidency, the results affect every American. Thus it is in the national interest to insure that elections are conducted fairly. “Not having discrimination in the electoral process is important to all of us,” says Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau.

Congress has the authority to regulate national elections, and it has the power under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution to protect the rights of African-Americans from state governments. “Congress has broad authority to regulate procedures for federal elections under Article I, Section IV of the Constitution,” notes Daniel Tokaji, an election law expert at Ohio State University. “Because Texas ID requirement would apply to federal elections, we don’t even need to get into the question of whether Section 5 falls within Congress’s Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment power.” While Tokaji agrees that imposing federal power over redistricting may raise some constitutional questions, the Texas complaint maintains that the federal government has no business telling states not to disenfranchise their citizens.

Moreover, contra Thernstrom, southern blacks are indeed being kept from the polls today. Case in point: the Texas voter ID law itself. Blacks and Latinos in Texas are disproportionately likely not to have driver’s licenses other forms of state-issued photo identification, as are poor people and the disabled. As the DOJ noted in making its decision, “According to [Texas’s] own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification.” Texas did not collect data for African-Americans. But national studies have shown they too are less likely than whites to have the requisite ID. The DOJ has also recently denied preclearance to a similar law in South Carolina for the same reason. (South Carolina is also suing the DOJ, but they are not claiming that the law is unconstitutional, only that it is being incorrectly applied.)

This is not an isolated incident. Every time the VRA is renewed, Congress documents that it is still needed by examining allegations of vote suppression. “[Section 5] has stopped laws from going into effect that would restrict minority participation,” says Nancy Abudu, senior staff counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. The most recent renewal was in 2006, when Republicans controlled both Houses of Congress and the White House, so it can hardly be characterized as a Democratic power grab. “[In 2006] Congress did a very good job of collecting the evidence of why Section 5 remains necessary,” says Abudu.

“The only places covered by Section 5 have a history of discrimination,” explains Shelton. “Every state under Section 5 was reviewed carefully for its record and complaints. [Opponents] are right: it is an extraordinary measure to take that is inconsistent with states’ rights. But these are states that have proven bad behavior. The law is protecting the participation of all eligible Americans.”


By: Ben Adler, The Nation, March 21, 2012

March 23, 2012 Posted by | Civil Rights, Constitution | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Roiling The Political Waters”: Supreme Court Has Made Ugly U.S. Politics Even Uglier

The Supreme Court has done the impossible by making American politics even worse than it already was. The bomb that the court dropped on campaigns was the infamous Citizens United decision.

This year the court will decide two cases that will have an immediate effect on federal and state elections. Monday, the court will begin to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Next stop for the nine justices is a ruling on the constitutionality of the Arizona law that restricts immigration. Both cases could roil the political waters.

But the court’s 2010 Citizens United decision has already changed the complexion of this year’s campaigns. The basis of the court’s decision to allow unlimited corporate political spending was that a corporation is a person and therefore is entitled to freedom of speech under the First Amendment. If a corporation is a person why hasn’t Gov. Rick Perry executed BP for the death and destruction it caused in the Gulf Coast? God knows, real people in Texas have been fried for less.

The court’s Citizens United decision made a bad system even worse.

After the 2008 presidential campaign Americans were already horrified at the negativity of political campaigns. They ain’t seen nothing yet. The extra money that Citizens United has pumped into the political system has exponentially increased the number of negative ads on the air. Voters in the early primary and caucus states are completely shell shocked and the super PACs for congressional campaigns are still waiting in the wings. Former Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign and super PAC that supports it, Restore Our Future, have a great good cop, bad cop combo. The Romney campaign took the high road while the Romney Death Star completely obliterated former House Speaker Next Gingrich’s candidacy. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

The avalanche of negative ads has predictably driven turnout down. During the 2008 Democratic slugfest between then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, voter participation increased. But because there are a lot more negative ads on the air now in the GOP contest, turnout has been down. Because of the scale of the electronic mud wrestling match, the images of all the GOP candidates are soiled. Maybe Mitt Romney’s Etch A Sketch can scrub his image but it won’t be easy to do in the two short months between the GOP convention and November 6.

The rise of the super PACs has also been a godsend for single issue politics. The Gingrich presidential committee ran out of money a couple of months ago and the only thing keeping the former speaker on life support is the more than $20 million that casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his family has given to the Gingrich-supporting super PAC Winning Our Future. Adelson’s cause is blind American support for anything Israel wants to do, even if those actions threaten our national security. Wall Street bankers and billionaires who have shunned the president because of his efforts to tame corporate abuses have donated millions of dollars to the Romney-supporting super PAC.

Citizens United has also allowed individual millionaires to have a lot of influence on the candidates. Sheldon Adelson is an obvious example the ability of one wealthy person to get a hook on a candidate but there are others. Bob Perry is millionaire Houston homebuilder who funded the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth PAC, which badly wounded John Kerry in 2004. The U.S. Navy should have rewarded the Massachusetts senator another Purple Heart for the beating he took from Swift Boat Veterans. Perry has donated $3 million to the Romney super PAC. Energy investor and noted birth control expert Foster Friess has been a generous donor to the super PAC that supports former Sen. Rick Santorum, The Red, White and Blue Fund. Friess frequently appears standing next to the candidate on the podium at campaign events. So much for Santorum and Friess obeying the law that forbids coordinated strategy between the two of them.

There was a time when the Supreme Court did everything it could to avoid the “political thickets.” That approach has gone the way of of moderate Republicans and clean campaigns.


By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, March 22, 2012

March 23, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Hooked On Oil”: No Magic Bullet For The Price Of Gas

As they ruminate at the pump, Americans may have finally figured out the new global deal on gasoline: there’s no magic bullet to bring prices down as long as the United States remains hooked on oil.

No matter how many billions of dollars oil companies rake in, the world market, not individual oil producers, sets the price of oil. Likewise, there is little, if anything, U.S. presidents—or their political opponents—can do to ward off $4 per gallon gasoline.

The reality is that oil supply concerns in Iran, Nigeria, and other trouble spots married with heightened oil demand in China, India, and other burgeoning nations will largely determine what Americans pay for gasoline. We can drill doggedly in our own backyards, but the price of gasoline will remain more a matter of speculation over externally-driven factors than tapping new sources of oil at home.

America is at an oil crossroads, emotionally and financially. We can continue griping about gasoline and maintain false hopes of controlling crude oil prices. Or we can face the truth, stop subsidizing oil with hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and abandon extreme efforts in search of new oil supplies. Surviving $4 gasoline depends on sipping oil and providing fuel substitutes, not subsidizing and promoting petroleum production.

As the world’s largest oil consumer, home to a transportation system that is a whopping 94 percent dependent on oil, the United States is precariously positioned. Conventional thinking—the more we drill at home, the better off we’ll be—is dangerously misguided. No matter where in the world oil is found, the price is tied to the global market.

Moreover, much of the heavier new oil supplies found in the western hemisphere yield diesel and fuel oil that is destined primarily for export markets. New heavier oils are not well suited for consumption by American cars and jets. So drilling closer to home will do much more to pad the oil industry’s deep pockets than bring down prices at the pump.

Since business-as-usual isn’t likely the answer, and may make matters worse, it’s time for unconventional thinking.

America is desperately in need of an oil policy that reduces dependence on petroleum, regardless of the source. The more fuel efficient our cars become and the faster we diversify into new transportation fuels, the brighter our energy and economic future will be.

President Obama already set in motion the first part of the solution. Tomorrow’s cars and trucks will consume less fuel than those they replace. And despite rising gas prices—or perhaps because of it—automakers’ new vehicle line-ups contain some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in industry history.

In the next five years, new cars and trucks will use 20 percent less fuel per mile driven. And by 2025, new cars will average about 50 miles per gallon, nearly double levels initially mandated for 1985. Sticking to the president’s plan, or even accelerating it, will be key.

But there is much more to be done. America can no longer rely on oil alone to fuel mobility. We need to step up the transition to oil alternatives by moving to hybrid-electric and electric vehicles, and using advanced biofuels.

Electricity can be generated by a diverse array of clean energy sources, leaving oil out of the power mix. And biofuels can be made from many different nonoil sources, including algae, grasses, woody crops, wastes, and various other nonfood feed stocks.

High gasoline prices help motivate the shift away from oil. But a market transformation will take direct policy action, for example, through a price stabilizing oil security fee or other fiscal measures. Oil is entrenched in America. Moving away from perpetual oil dependence to a robust, diversified fuel system will take clear, enduring policy action.

Americans are justifiably anxious about what the future holds when it comes to gasoline prices. But many motorists are beginning to appreciate that anger over pump prices will not relieve pain at the pump. Nor will political promises.

Oil markets have globalized to the point where prices are beyond our control. Given oil’s dangerous monopoly power over our mobility, it’s time to entirely reinvent our habits, innovate technologically, and adopt bold new policies aimed at reducing the use of oil and substituting instead of subsidizing and searching for oil. This is how America will ultimately survive $4 gasoline.


By: Deborah Gordon, U. S. News and World Report, March 22, 2012

March 23, 2012 Posted by | Energy, Oil Industry | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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