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“A Cudgel For The Oil Industry”: Chevron’s Lobbyist Now Runs The Congressional Science Committee

For Chevron, the second-largest oil company in the country with $26.2 billion in annual profits, it helps to have friends in high places. With little fanfare, one of Chevron’s top lobbyists, Stephen Sayle, has become a senior staff member of the House Committee on Science, the standing congressional committee charged with “maintaining our scientific and technical leadership in the world.”

Throughout much of 2013, Sayle was the chief executive officer of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies, a lobbying firm retained by Chevron to influence Congress. For fees that total $320,000 a year, Sayle and his team lobbied on a range of energy-related issues, including implementation of EPA rules under the Clean Air Act, regulation of ozone standards, as well as “Congressional and agency oversight related to offshore oil, natural gas development and oil spills.”

Sayle’s ethics disclosure, obtained by Republic Report, shows that he was paid $500,000 by Chevron’s lobbying firm before taking his current gig atop the Science Committee.

In recent months, the House Science Committee has become a cudgel for the oil industry, issuing subpoenas and holding hearings to demonize efforts to improve the environment. Some of the work by the committee reflect the lobbying priorities of Chevron.

In December, the Science Committee, now chaired by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), held yet another hearing to try to discredit manmade global warming. In August, the committee issued the first subpoena in twenty-one years, demanding “all the raw data from a number of federally funded studies linking air pollution to disease.”

Though Chevron has gone to great lengths to advertise a lofty environmental record, the company continues to break air pollution laws while quietly backpedalling on its prior commitments to renewable energy. A Bloomberg News investigation reported that Chevron estimated that its biofuel investments would return only 5 percent in profits, a far cry from the 15 percent to which the oil giant is accustomed, and quietly moved to shelve renewable fuel units of the company. In California, Chevron is battling the newly created cap-and-trade system for carbon pollution. And in states across the country, Chevron has lobbied and provided financial support to a range of right-wing nonprofits dedicated to repealing carbon-cutting regulations, including the low-carbon fuel standard.

Earlier this year, Dow Lohnes’ lobbying practice merged with Levick, a public affairs firm.

 

By: Lee Fang, The Nation, February 21, 2014: This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Big Oil, Congress, Environment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Vampire Slayer Election”: Democrats’ Best Weapon For Midterms, Fear Of A Red Senate

We’ve known for a long time now that the Democrats have a lot of Senate seats to defend in red states where Barack Obama’s approval numbers aren’t much higher than George Zimmerman’s—indeed, in these states, surely lower.

But I feel like the fear has just set in here in the last couple of weeks; that is, Democrats coming to terms with the possibility-to-likelihood that they might lose the Senate this November, and after that, the utter bleakness of a final Obama two years with both House and Senate in GOP hands, saying no to anything and everything except, of course, any remote whiff of an opportunity to bring impeachment charges over something.

Republicans need a net pickup of six seats. Democrats are trying to defend incumbent status in six red states (North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Montana, West Virginia, and Alaska); also in two blue ones (Michigan and Iowa). They’re hoping for upsets in two red states (Georgia and Kentucky).

You’ll read a lot about Obamacare and the minimum wage and the War on Women and everything else, and all those things will matter. But only one thing really, really, really matters: turnout. You know the lament: The most loyal Democratic groups—young people, black people, single women, etc.—don’t come out to vote in midterms in big numbers. You may dismiss this as lazy stereotyping, but sometimes lazy stereotyping is true, and this is one of those times.

So how to get these groups energized? Because if core Democratic voting groups turn out to vote in decent numbers, the Democrats will hold the Senate. Two or three of the six will hold on, the Democrats will prevail in the end in Michigan and Iowa, and either Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky or Michelle Nunn in Georgia will eke out a win. Or maybe both—if Democratic voters vote. And if not? Republicans could net seven, eight.

The other side will be motivated: They’re older, white, angry that Obama continues to have the temerity to stand up there and be president, as if somebody elected him. This will be their last chance to push the rage button (well, the Obama-rage button; soon they’ll just start pushing the Hillary-rage button). But what will motivate the liberal side?

I call this the vampire-slayer election. I’ll explain that farther down. But first, let’s hear from Matt Canter, deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, making his team’s most plausible case for why 2014 isn’t destined to be a repeat of 2010.

Canter acknowledges that the Democrats talk about “field” in every off-year election. But now, he vows, “This is the year we’re going to say it and mean it.” In the 10 states I mention above, Canter says, the goal is to spend $60 million on field operations alone, with an aggregate 4,000 paid staff in those states. It’s called the Bannock Street Project, after the street that housed the campaign HQ of Michael Bennet, the successful Democratic Senate candidate in that state in 2010. Bennet, you might recall, was one of the few Democrats not running against witches who held on to beat a Tea Party GOPer. The effort will be to quasi-nationalize what happened in Colorado then.

Look also, Canter says, at what happened in Montana and North Dakota in 2012. In both of those states, Obama was getting walloped by Mitt Romney—by 14 and 20 points, respectively. And yet, Democratic Senate candidates won in both states. Turnout was much higher in these two states: It was 53.4 percent nationally, but 59.4 in North Dakota and 61.5 in Montana. In both cases, Jon Tester and Heidi Heitkamp ran well ahead of Obama and are senators today.

Canter says the operations in those 10 states will look like this. Every voter in those states—yes, every single voter in those 10 states, he says—will be given two scores on a scale of 1 to 100: a support score and a turnout score. So if Molly Jones in Paducah is a 58 likely to support the Democrat and 38 likely to turnout, she can expect a lot of contacts from field operatives this fall.

But… contact her saying what? This is where I was a little less impressed by the things Canter had to say. I think he makes a plausible logistical argument. The Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota examples are real things. So are 60 million simoleons and 4,000 operatives. But they still need a compelling, unifying message. This is where we get to Buffy.

One of the all-time great Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes was Season 3’s “The Wish,” when a female demon grants Cordelia, the classic senior-class Queen Bee-beeyatch, one wish. Cordelia wishes instantly that Buffy Summers—who makes her life far more complicated than she wishes it to be—had never come to Sunnydale. The wish is granted. The next thing you see is, indeed, what would have happened to Sunnydale if Buffy, the vampire slayer, had never hit town. The high-school population is reduced by more than half. There’s a 6 p.m. curfew. Those who remain live in fear. The vamps have taken over. It’s a death town.

See where I’m going here? That’s Washington if the Republicans get the Senate. Vamp town. Imagine if Ruth Bader Ginsberg retires. If the Republicans control the Senate, will they even give a mildly left-of-center Supreme Court nominee a hearing? What about less high-profile federal judgeships across the country? How many of those are going to go vacant? If a Cabinet official or high-ranking sub-Cabinet member resigns, will they even permit the position being re-filled? Remember—41 of the 45 current GOP senators voted against confirming Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. And he was a former senator. And a Republican one at that!

Picture the mad Darrell Issa having a counterpart in the Senate to launch baseless investigations. It’s one thing for the House to be banging on about phony IRS and Benghazi scandals, but the Senate doing it is another matter entirely—far more serious. You really think a Republican Senate won’t? And I haven’t even gotten to regular policy. You think a GOP House and Senate combined won’t try every trick in the book to pressure Obama to fold on Social Security and Medicare?

The unique 2008 election aside, fear is a much better motivator in politics than hope. Democrats need to make their base voters see vividly the potential consequences of a GOP Senate majority and live in mortal fear of it. That and $60 million just may stem the tide.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, February

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Election 2014, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Protected Class Isn’t A Privileged Class”: No, Employment Protections Aren’t Like Segregation

Since the 1960s, federal law has recognized various protected classes. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color or religion; the 1990 Disabilities Act on the basis of disability. It should be screamingly obvious that a “protected” class isn’t a “privileged” class — but apparently it isn’t.

In recent years, progressives have been lobbying for an Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would make it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Opponents have advanced various arguments against it, including the notion that it will subject schoolchildren to discussions of homosexuality and that it’s a recipe for lawsuits.

Another bogus claim is that ENDA would create “special” rights for gays and lesbians.

On Tuesday The Las Vegas Sun ran a story on Republican State Assemblyman Crescent Hardy, who’s campaigning to represent Nevada’s 4th Congressional District in the House. It explained that Mr. Hardy opposes ENDA because: “When we create classes, we create that same separation that we’re trying to unfold somehow. By continuing to create these laws that are what I call segregation laws, it puts one class of a person over another. We are creating classes of people through these laws.”

Yes, he went there: He not only compared employment protection to segregation, he said such protections are a form of segregation.

It’s possible he got this idea from The Heritage Foundation. In November Ryan T. Anderson of Heritage argued that ENDA “does not protect equality before the law; instead it would create special privileges that are enforceable against private actors.”

Actually ENDA prohibits “preferential treatment or quotas” and merely makes it illegal for an employer to fire an employee just because he’s gay.

This idea that protections against discrimination put “one class of a person over another” has surfaced in other areas, too.

As I wrote not long ago, Fox’s Martha MacCallum deployed this type of reasoning when she called the Paycheck Fairness Act a “special handout” for women. So did Justice Antonin Scalia when he called the Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement.”

 

By: Juliet Lapidos, The New York Times, February 20, 2014

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Segregation | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not Ready For Prime Time”: E-mails, Charges, Probes! Chris Christie? No, Scott Walker

The political and pundit class loves to identify “outsider” candidates for the presidency, looking in particular to governors who have not been tarnished by the compromises and corruptions of Washington. But the trouble with being an “outsider” candidate is that, eventually, you face the same sort of scrutiny as the insiders.

Just as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suffered a blow when the media started to examine the extent to which he mingled politics and governing, so Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is now taking a hit that will inspire serious doubts—even among his admirers—about whether he is ready for the political prime time.

The release of 27,000 pages of e-mails from the seized computers of a former Walker aide who has since been convicted of political wrongdoing, along with more than 400 documents from the first of two major probes into scandals associated with Walker’s service as Milwaukee County executive and his gubernatorial campaigns, is shining new light on the extent to which the controversial governor’s legal, ethical and political troubles will make his transition to the national stage difficult.

The e-mails offer a powerful sense of how Walker and his aides appeared to have blurred the lines between official duties and campaigning when he was seeking the governorship in 2010—taking actions that would eventually lead to the convictions of key aides. Walker, who has steered hundreds of thousands of dollars from his campaign account into a legal defense fund, has not been charged with wrongdoing himself. But the e-mails and legal documents paint a picture of an elected official who was so focused on political positioning that he felt it necessary to order daily conference calls to “better coordinate” between aides in his Milwaukee County Executive office and campaign staff.

Walker’s county aides used a secret e-mail routing system to coordinate campaign events and fundraising, and to trash the woman who would eventually serve as Walker’s lieutenant governor as “the bane of your existence.” They circulated crude, sometimes racist messages. And as news outlets sifted through the e-mails, they found one from a top Walker appointee, administration director Cynthia Archer, telling another aide who had accessed the secret network that she was now “in the inner circle.” “I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW…” wrote Archer.

Scott Kevin Walker identified himself on e-mails as “SKW.” Indeed, among the thousands of e-mails released Wednesday was one from a top Walker aide—Tim Russell, who has since been convicted and hailed. In it, he forwards a link to video of Chris Christie yelling at a reporter with the line: “skw should talk like this.”

The largest paper in Wisconsin, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which endorsed the governor in the past, featured a banner headline on its Thursday edition that read: “Records Link Walker to Secret Email System.”

Walker—who the e-mails reveal thought “9 out of 10 requests [from reporters] are going to be traps” and ordered his county aides to generate “positive and bold stories”—was scrambling Wednesday to dismiss the download of e-mails and legal documents as “old news.” A particularly defensive governor griped about all the attention to the e-mails and documents, saying, “these people are naysayers who want things bad to happen in Wisconsin so they are going to be circling again today. It’s exactly what’s wrong with the political process that they’re hoping for something bad to happen in Wisconsin. It’s not.”

At the same time, the Republican Governors Association—which is chaired by Christie—made a six-figure television ad buy in Wisconsin to protect the governor’s position in a 2014 re-election race where polls show him leading but with support levels below 50 percent.

The e-mails and documents—which media outlets have sought for months—were released by a judge dealing with ongoing legal wrangling over the conviction of former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch for misconduct in public office.

Rindfleisch did not just work for Walker before he was elected governor. She was also associated with him after he took his state post, as a key fund-raiser who traveled with the governor while he raised money nationally. And her name has been linked to a new John Doe probe that reportedly has focused on wrongdoing by individuals and groups that backed the governor’s 2012 campaign to beat a recall vote.

That’s not exactly “old news.” And it comes at a particularly unfortunate moment for Walker, who cannot have been happy with a Wednesday Washington Post headline that read: “Scott Walker, eyeing 2016, faces fallout from probes as ex-aide’s e-mails are released,” and “E-mails may spell trouble for Scott Walker.” Or a Thursday New York Times report that said the emails and documents portray Walker as “having presided over an office where aides used personal computers and email to conceal that they were mixing government and campaign business.”

There’s no question that Walker wants to be considered as a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Even as he seeks re-election this year, he has been busy touring a new book that conservative commentators say “reads like one gigantic presidential trial balloon,” making the rounds of the same talk shows once frequented by Christie, and maintaining a relentless schedule of national appearances to aid Republican candidates and raise money.

With one-time GOP front-runner Christie mired in scandal, pundits who don’t know much about Walker like to imagine that he might be the next “shiny penny” for Republicans seeking a candidate from outside Washington.

But Walker’s national prospects have never looked as good as his admirers imagine. Even after Christie’s downfall, the Wisconsinite was wrestling with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal for last place in most state and national polls of likely Republican caucus and primary voters.

Now, just as Christie faces fallout from an aide’s revealing e-mails, so Walker faces fallout from an aide’s revealing e-mails. The circumstances may be different, and Walker has certainly tried to present himself as a less politically contentious figure than the governor of New Jersey. But when the headlines in Washington are talking about a governor facing “fallout from probes,” and the governor in question is not Chris Christie, there’s a good chance that even the most ardent Republicans will start noticing the tarnish on their shiny penny.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, February 19, 2014

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, Scott Walker | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The End Game For Democracy”: The Creeping Expansion Of Corporate Civil Rights

Last week, The Wire creator David Simon told Bill Moyers that the legal doctrine that spending money on political campaigns is an act of political speech protected by the First Amendment poses the greatest threat to American democracy. “That to me was the nail in the coffin,” he said. “If the combination of the monetization of our elections and gerrymandering create a bicameral legislature that doesn’t in any way reflect the will of the American people, you’ve reached the end game for democracy.”

He’s right. Not only does money as speech allow those with the fattest wallets to drown out the voices of average citizens, as John Light points out, it also gives wealthy donors an effective veto over policies that enjoy majority support. But it’s important to understand the other ways that the expansion of civil rights for corporations can conflict with the public interest.

As Simon observed, the notion of corporate personhood isn’t inherently problematic. The concept that companies are “artificial persons” is necessary because you can’t enter into a contract with an inanimate object, and you can’t take an inanimate object to court if that contract is breached.

Problems arise when these soulless artificial persons demand constitutional rights that were designed to protect real, flesh-and-blood people.

Those demands have a long history. As author and commentator Thom Hartmann detailed in his book, Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights, the end of the Civil War brought with it the beginning of a battle for corporate rights under the 14th Amendment, which was intended to confer full citizenship on newly freed slaves.

For several decades, efforts to gain 14th Amendment protections for corporations were stymied by the courts. But in the 1880s, with the help of a court clerk Hartmann described as “a dicey character,” a corrupt federal judge named Steven Field — who had his eye on a White House run — managed to get that right codified in the law on behalf of “very wealthy and powerful guys who ran the railroads and who were the richest men in America,” as Hartmann put it in a 2010 interview.

It wasn’t the only right corporations would gain during that period. According to Hartmann, in the first half of the 19th century, corporations were required to make their books open to the public. By mid-century, they were only required to disclose their finances to the Secretary of State of each state in which they were incorporated. But in the early 20th century, they successfully claimed that even those requirements violated their Fourth Amendment protection against searches and seizures without probable cause.

In the 1970s and 1980s, corporate lawyers became more aggressive in pressing for civil rights. David Gans, civil rights director for the Constitutional Accountability Center, told BillMoyers.com, “What we’ve seen in the last four decades is a huge expansion of claims that corporations are entitled to various individual rights that were long seen as the birthright of the Declaration of Independence.”

The biggest shift was in the realm of First Amendment rights. “In the 1970s,” said Gans, “there were lots of cases claiming that corporations had First Amendment rights both in the area of commercial speech — prior to that, the Supreme Court had long held that it could be extensively regulated — and in the area of political speech.

“Those claims brought us eventually to Citizens United,” Gans continued, “and now we’re seeing new claims — in Hobby Lobby, for example, that corporations have a right to religious exercise, which is really a fundamental matter of human dignity and conscience, and it’s a right that corporations have never even claimed. ” Hobby Lobby is one of several corporations suing to overturn Obamacare’s mandate that employer-based insurance cover a basket of preventive care including contraceptives.

Charlie Cray, director of the progressive Center for Corporate Policy and co-author (with Lee Drutman and Ralph Nader) of The People’s Business: Controlling Corporations and Restoring Democracy, said that First Amendment claims on commercial speech have been central in dozens of regulatory fights — from GMO and bovine growth hormone labeling requirements to tobacco point-of-sale advertising to limits on media consolidation.

But so far, corporations have had less success pressing for other constitutional rights. In the 1980s, for example, Dow Chemicals sued the Environmental Protection Agency, claiming that its aerial surveillance of one of the company’s plants constituted a warrantless search and violated the Fourth Amendment. But the court ruled that the EPA was acting within its regulatory authority, and that Dow had no legitimate expectation of privacy.

Nonethelesss, Charlie Cray tells BillMoyers.com that claims of corporate rights can conflict with the public interest even without being litigated. “A lot of this goes on at the regulatory level,” he said. “Corporate lawyers claim that their rights are being violated and regulators with limited budgets will often back off rather then engage in protracted litigation.” Those bizarre pharmaceutical ads with the lengthy list of awful side effects are a good example — the FDA loosened restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising largely in response to drug companies’ First Amendment claims.

And it’s a slippery slope. “A couple of years ago, the idea that corporations would claim they’re entitled to the free exercise of religion would have seemed outlandish,” said David Gans, “but here it is, dividing the lower federal courts and about to be heard by the Supreme Court. It is hard to predict where they’ll go in the future.”

 

By: Joshua Holland, Connecting The Dots, Bill Moyers Blog, February 18, 2014

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Democracy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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