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“The Overestimation Of The Power Of Coal”: The Politics Of Coal–And Other Mythic Government-Sensitive Industries

At TNR, Alec MacGillis has a useful analysis of the declining power of the coal industry in what we are used to calling Coal Country, in states ranging from Virginia to Illinois (and extending to very different coal-producing states out west), but centered in West Virginia and Kentucky, where we are led to believe the Obama administration’s new utility regulations are going to be political death for Democrats. The simple facts are that not that many people work in or are dependent on coal mines anymore:

Take Kentucky, the focus of much of the punditry, given the close race between Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Coal-mining employment in the Bluegrass State has plunged by more than half in the past three decades, from 38,000 in 1983 to under 17,000 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. (Nationally, there are 78,000 people employed in coal mining—well less than half as many as are employed in oil and gas extraction, and not much more than the number of people employed in logging.) To put that in perspective: the auto manufacturing industry in Kentucky employs three times as many people as the coal industry does today. When is the last time you heard pundits making grand predictions about how new auto-industry regulations would affect Kentucky “Car Country”?

MacGillis points out that the overestimation of the Power of Coal was one of the strategic mistakes made by the 2012 Romney campaign, which thought hyperventilation over the “War on Coal” might tip Virginia and Ohio into its column (and to be fair, the Obama campaign spent a lot of time promoting the largely illusory future of “clean coal”).

But Alec also acknowledges that the mythic significance of coal outstrips its actual importance to the economies of Coal Country:

[T]here’s no question coal’s grip on politics in Kentucky extends beyond actual employment figures—it is part of the state’s cultural identity, part of the holy trinity that also includes horses and bourbon. That explains why, as the Times notes, a Republican congressional candidate recently savaged his opponent for being anti-coal in a Kentucky district that has not a single coal-mining job in it.

I would add that expectations of politicians to support policies friendly to mythic industries tend to be very strong, though not as much as when liberal environmentalism and conservative hostility to government subsidies began to cut into purely parochial attitudes. I recall that way back in 1972, a big issue in the race that eventually lifted Sam Nunn to the Senate from Georgia was incumbent David Gambrell’s failure to trade a vote for a Boeing SST project in exchange for Washington State support for Lockheed’s C-5 airlift project, which really only directly affected a relatively small portion of Georgia but was integral to its perceived future as a military-industrial superpower. More recently, one of America’s great political rituals has been the requirement that presidential candidates who want to compete in the Iowa Caucuses pledge to support the continuation of ethanol subsidies (in the 2000 cycle, this was George W. Bush’s first action after formally announcing his candidacy), and long-standing hostility to ethanol kept John McCain from seriously contesting Iowa in both 2000 and 2008).

With coal, of course, the normal ideological proclivities of Democrats and Republicans have made support for and opposition to carbon emissions regulations largely a no-brainer. And that might well be true if Coal Country really was a big economic bloc, or if hardly any coal was being mined or burned at all.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Coal Industry | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“They’re Not Scientists…Or Mathematicians”: Face It, Republicans Are Really, Really Slow Learners

Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker John Boehner made clear that the Republican Party has a new line in response to questions about climate change: they don’t feel “qualified” to know whether or not to believe scientists and the available evidence. “I’m not a scientist,” Florida’s GOP governor told reporters.

Apparently, they’re not mathematicians, ether.

For example, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Science Committee*, yesterday issued a statement condemning the Obama administration’s climate policy, vowing to “fight the president and his administration every step of the way to stop this unprecedented power grab.” (The White House is acting under congressionally approved legislation, endorsed by the Supreme Court. How this could possibly be a “power grab” is unclear.)

Blunt’s statement went on to get specific, pointing to evidence from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that Americans will pay “almost $290 billion more for electricity between 2014-2030” as a result of Obama’s policy, adding, “Missouri consumers would pay on average $65.4 billion more between 2014-2030, on average $11 billion more per year.”

Roll Call’s Steven Dennis took a closer look and concluded that Blunt’s math is “spectacularly wrong – and even internally inconsistent.”

Missouri is covered in part by three different regions, Blunt’s spokeswoman, Amber Marchand, explained in an email. Blunt’s office totaled up the costs for all three regions – including parts of 25 states – and divided by three to come up with Missouri’s supposed costs of $65.4 billion.

That’s not how math works.

The Blunt release then kept the $11 billion total yearly costs for all three regions – remember, parts of 25 states – and assigned them all to “Missouri consumers.” … It’s simply wrong to take regional costs – and certainly not the costs for three regions covering 25 states – and ascribe them all to Missouri.

Of course, the Missouri Republican wasn’t the only one struggling with math yesterday.

Speaker Boehner, also relying on the hilariously wrong U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, argued, “The president’s plan would indeed cause a surge in electricity bills – costs stand to go up $17 billion every year. But it would also shut down plants and potentially put an average of 224,000 more people out of work every year.”

As Glenn Kessler discovered, none of this is true, either.

Note that the EPA rule said that the agency would seek a reduction of 30 percent. But on page 15 of the Chamber report, the Chamber says it assumed the rule would impose a 42 percent reduction…. Given the significant difference between the emission targets in the proposed rule and the assumptions in the Chamber report, Republicans should have avoided using the Chamber’s numbers in the first place. We understand that they believe the negative impact will outweigh any positive impact but even by the Chamber’s admission, these numbers do not apply at all to the EPA rule as written.

Some might argue this was only an innocent mistake, but the EPA last week in a blog post on the Chamber’s study noted that it would not require carbon capture technology for new natural gas plants…. That should have been a tip-off that some of the Chamber’s assumptions were shaky — and that it would have been a good idea to double check what the rule actually said before firing off a statement.

 * Update: Blunt’s office contacted me to note that the Senate committee that oversees science policy is formally known as the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The Missouri Republican is a member.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“In The Name Of Free Speech”: The Supreme Court Has Given Us A Government Of, By, And For The 1 Percent

In case after case, the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court have held unconstitutional all efforts—state as well as federal—to restrain the corrosive influence of limitless individual and corporate expenditures and contributions in our electoral process. They do this in the name of free speech.

In their view, the First Amendment absolutely guarantees the wealthiest Americans the right to spend as much as they like to manipulate the American political system to their advantage. According to these justices, as long as the wealthiest Americans do not directly bribe politicians to vote in their favor, the Constitution demands the flow of money is beyond regulation and that the rest of us must simply let the chips fall where they may.

This conception of the First Amendment and of the American constitutional system is truly perverse. By defining “corruption” so narrowly, these justices have missed the central point of self-governance—our elected representatives are supposed to be responsive to the will of the majority.

I don’t mean to suggest, of course, that our elected officials are supposed to slavishly obey the will of the majority. Sometimes, the majority is wrong, and it is the responsibility of our elected officials—and our judges—to reject certain policies even if they are supported by the majority.

What our elected representatives are absolutely not supposed to do, however, is to reject the values and preferences of the majority of our citizens in order to curry favor with a small cohort of extremely wealthy individuals who are eager to leverage their wealth to gain control of our government. And this is so even if their money corrupts the system in ways that are more subtle than overt bribes. The vast majority of Americans understand this point clearly. Our five conservative justices do not.

Of course, this would not matter very much if the wealthiest Americans shared the values and preferences of the majority of American citizens. If their values and preferences were aligned with those of most other citizens, then this would not be much of a problem. In fact, though, there is no such alignment. On a broad range of issues, there is in fact a sharp divergence between the views of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and the other 99 percent.

Recent surveys reveal, for example, that 78 percent of Americans believe that government should guarantee a minimum wage high enough to keep a worker’s family above the poverty level, but only 40 percent of the wealthiest Americans agree; 87 percent of Americans believe that government should spend whatever is necessary to ensure that our children can attend good public schools, but only 35 percent of the wealthiest Americans agree; 81 percent of Americans believe that a top priority of government should be to protect the jobs of American workers, but only 29 percent of the wealthiest Americans agree; 68 percent of Americans believe that government should take steps to ensure that every American who wants to work has the opportunity to do so, but only 19 percent of very wealthiest Americans agree; 78 percent of Americans believe that our government should ensure that students who cannot afford to go to college can nonetheless manage to do so, but only 28 percent of the wealthiest Americans agree.

Still, none of this would matter if the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans had only 1 percent of the influence in the political process. It is natural, after all, that people disagree about these sorts of issues, it is natural that rich people might hold different views on certain issues than people who are not rich, and it is quite proper for these issues to be worked out through the political process.

What is distressing, however, is that our political system does not work that way. Because of the extraordinary power of money in the electoral process, and thanks to the decisions of our five conservative justices, the very wealthiest Americans have a wildly disproportionate influence on our political process.

According to a recent Russell Sage Foundation study, almost 70 percent of wealthy Americans contribute regularly to political candidates, roughly half are in regular contact with members of Congress, and more than a fifth affirmatively “bundle” their contributions with other wealthy individuals. In the 2012 election cycle, a total of 99 Americans (mostly billionaires) provided 60 percent of all the individual Super PAC money spent by candidates.

Of course, none of this would matter if money did not affect outcomes. But it does. In 2012, 84 percent of the House candidates and 67 percent of the Senate candidates who spent more money than their opponents won their elections. Although money cannot dictate the outcome of elections, it matters, and it matters a lot—which is why candidates spend inordinate amounts of time scrambling to raise it and why the wealthiest Americans spend it so “generously” to elect their favored candidates.

But even this might not matter if our elected representatives disregarded the source of their campaign funds and, once elected, sought to represent the interests of their constituents—rather than the interests of their largest donors. Unfortunately, recent research (PDF) by the political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University shows that it doesn’t work that way.

To the contrary, what they found is that, although average Americans tend to get the policies they want when those policies correspond with the interests of the wealthiest Americans, when their views diverge from those of the wealthiest Americans, they usually lose and the preferences of the wealthiest Americans carry the day. Most of the time, in other words, the 1 percent gets its way. Indeed, as Gilens and Page observe, when the preferences of the average American conflict with the preferences of the top 1 percent, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near—zero,… impact upon public policy.”

In rather sobering terms, Gilens and Page conclude that, although Americans “enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular election, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread [opportunity to vote], we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

And this, say our five conservative justices, is demanded by “freedom of speech.” This is so, they insist, despite the fact that the First Amendment was designed, first and foremost, to preserve, protect, and support an effective system of democratic governance.

As James Madison wrote in Federalist 52, the whole point of our system of governance is to make our elected officials dependent on the will of “the people”—not on the will of the “top one percent.” What we are witnessing is a severe and unprincipled corruption of the American political system, and it is mortifying that this corruption is being carried out not by self-interested politicians, but by the justices of the Supreme Court—in the name of the First Amendment. Can the irony really be lost on them?


By: Geoffrey R. Stone, The Daily Beast, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | Democracy, Electoral Process, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Obama Reflects On A Sacred Rule”: We Don’t Leave Our Men Or Women In Uniform Behind

The political discourse over the last few days has been rather surreal. It seemed hard to imagine that the release of an American prisoner of war would spark a fierce partisan backlash, but the announcement that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been freed from his Taliban captors in Afghanistan seems to have done exactly that, with much of the right condemning the move.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz warned his allies, “Attacking the actions that led to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a surefire way to lose in 2014,” but so far, conservatives have ignored the suggestion.

President Obama, in Europe this week, spoke to reporters while in Poland this morning and responded to the burgeoning controversy.

“The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule and that is we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind,” he said. “We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange to recover Sgt. Bergdahl.” […]

“I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought it was detrimental to our national security,” he said. “We will be in a position to go after them if they are engaging in activity that threatens our defenses.”

There have been multiple reports that Bergdahl may have been a deserter at the time of his capture. And though we don’t yet have all of the details about what transpired, the president made clear that some of those details aren’t quite relevant to the underlying principle.

“Let me just make a simple point here: regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that,” Obama said.

I’m not sure why so many on the right find this hard to understand.

The United States prioritizes the return of American POWs. It’s just what we do. What if the troops were captured due to their own negligence? It doesn’t matter. What if they were taken prisoner as a result of incompetence? It doesn’t matter. What if they gave up their post? It doesn’t matter.

Even by the standards of our contemporary discourse, the past few days have been hard to believe. U.S. officials secured the release of an American prisoner of war and for much of the right, the first instinct was to condemn the president. The second instinct was to condemn the prisoner. And as yesterday unfolded, the third instinct was to go after the prisoner’s dad.

I don’t expect much from the far-right, but this is surprising.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, said in a joint statement that the prisoner swap that led to Bergdahl’s release “may have” adverse consequences and could put U.S. forces “at even greater risk.”

It’s difficult to say with certainty whether their warnings have merit. But Glenn Thrush asked a good question on Twitter overnight: what endangered the U.S. homeland more: a prisoner swap or invading Muslim country based on fake intelligence resulting in tens of thousands of deaths?

Predicting what U.S. foreign policies “may have” adverse consequences and/or could put U.S. forces “at even greater risk” is tricky, but if we’re making a list, I can think of a few things that would come above “prisoner swaps.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | POW's, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“One Twisted Sister”: Wingnuts’ War On The Troops, The Ugly Lesson Of Bowe Bergdahl And Sarah Palin

After nearly five years, Bowe Bergdahl, a 28-year-old Idahoan and the last remaining American POW in Afghanistan, is finally coming home. The Obama administration made the announcement during the weekend, framing the deal that swapped Bergdahl for five Taliban-affiliated Guantánamo Bay prisoners as an example of two U.S. promises: to leave no man behind and to finally, mercifully, and after nearly 13 long years, begin to end the war in Afghanistan. For Bergdahl and his family, the move is a blessing. For those who doubt the administration’s commitment to ending the war, it is a reassurance. And for the loudest members of the far right, it is a mistake, a capitulation, a disgrace.

Their argument, in brief: By agreeing to trade prisoners of war with the Taliban, Obama made the U.S. look — what else? — weak. “You blew it again, Barack Obama, by negotiating away any leverage against the bad guys,” wrote the perpetually enraged Sarah Palin on her Facebook page. The deal, argued Palin, had “destroyed troop morale” while causing “Osama Bin Laden’s partners in evil crime” to “joyfully celebrate.” What really infuriated the half-term governor and former vice presidential candidate, though, wasn’t so much Obama’s actions as Bergdahl’s. The price the administration paid for liberating him, Palin intimated, was simply too high. He didn’t deserve it. How come? Because he expressed “horrid anti-American beliefs” and deserted his fellow soldiers prior to his capture.

As you might expect from any Palin story, there are some issues. For one, whether Bergdahl found himself under Taliban control because of bad luck, as the administration claims, or because he decided to abandon his post is up for debate. (And keep in mind that, even if he had deserted, that hardly makes it ethical for the government to abandon him to his captors.) For another, Palin’s note about the deal lacks some crucial information — like the fact that the men released from Guantánamo will have to spend at least a year in Qatar, or that the U.S.’s impending cessation of the war in Afghanistan would necessitate the release of the Gitmo detainees anyway. But for all it lacked in terms of responding to this relatively simple news story in an informed, accurate and insightful way, Palin’s angry Facebook missive was great in one respect: It was a perfect example of what happens when soldiers refuse to live up to the far right’s fantasies.

We’re all familiar with how conservatives — but especially extreme ones like Palin — deify, romanticize and claim ownership of the men and women in the armed forces. We all remember the 2004 Republican National Convention, when President Bush all but dusted off that iconic green “Mission Impossible” flight suit in order to portray himself and his party as the sole guardians and stewards of the military. We all remember the countless times during the Bush years when a Republican or a conservative would ask an antiwar Democrat or liberal why they so hate the troops. We expect to see right-wingers genuflect before the Platonic ideal of an American warrior. We expect to hear more stories about Marine Todd.

Less understood is that when a member of the military fails to adhere to the far right’s rigid formula of what a soldier should be (nationalistic, religious, obedient; conservative) right-wingers like Palin come down on them like a ton of bricks. Where they once were heroes of almost mythic proportion, now they become charlatans — or maybe even traitors. During these moments, the far right’s hatred for the apostate soldier can only be understood if it’s recognized as a mirror image of their usual reverence. It’s not just that Sarah Palin is disappointed with Bergdahl for loathing the war in Afghanistan so much that he was “ashamed to be an American”; it’s that she now considers Bergdahl to be someone who is worth so little that the president’s acting to secure his life and liberty is, effectively, an insult to the rest. You know that old truism that nothing can turn to hate as quickly as love? This is what that looks like in politics.

It’s not just Bergdahl and Palin, either. Think about how much the far right loathes John Kerry, how ruthless and vitriolic was its campaign to discredit him in 2004. That had much to do with base tribalism, of course; Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president and thus, to some degree, inevitably the temporary locus of all evil. But it also had much to do with the fact that Kerry first made a name for himself as perhaps the ultimate apostate soldier of the modern era, the man who showed that you didn’t have to be a draft-dodging longhair to consider the war in Vietnam a sinful mistake. John Kerry was a soldier, a decorated soldier, and yet he didn’t consider (the draft-dodging) John Wayne the exemplar of American virtue. His comeuppance for that transgression was a long time coming, but when it came, it was, even for politics, remarkably nasty.

But if you think this might all have more to do with partisan politics and believe, perhaps, that the far right’s hatred for Bergdahl and Kerry says more about the current president and secretary of state than anything else, there are plenty of other, less prominent examples. There’s the veteran who was publicly accosted by gun fetishists for having the audacity to be a military man who nevertheless thinks there’s a right and a wrong way to own a gun. There’s the soldier who failed to live up to the far right’s definition of warrior sexuality and was booed in response. There are the parents and brother of Pat Tillman who, once they stopped being useful props for a story of noble martial sacrifice and started asking justifiably angry questions, transformed into “graceless” and clueless pawns of anti-American filmmakers. There’s Cindy Sheehan.

Taken together, the far right’s dehumanization of the American soldier is clear. If he or she is willing to promote the Sarah Palin version of patriotism, honor and masculinity (or at least allow themselves to be used for that purpose), they are not human beings but rather legends and gods. And if they refuse, they lose their humanity once more, now becoming contemptible beyond all measure. Either way, they are not individuals — complex and mysterious and sacred — but rather means to an end that is, fundamentally, about their self-styled defenders’ ideological satisfaction. This, it seems to me, is an exceedingly twisted way to support our troops.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | POW's, Sarah Palin, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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