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January 12 2011

02:27

David Koch Denies Climate Change, Appears Bewildered When Asked About Citizens United by ThinkProgress

Lee Fang from ThinkProgress had the chance to conduct an impromptu interview with billionaire polluter magnate David Koch of Koch Industries last week in Washington.  Despite the best efforts of Americans For Prosperity president Tim Phillips to end the interview by pestering Fang and his cameraman continously, Fang succeeds in getting Koch to answer several questions.  In part one, Koch acknowledges there are "some extremists" in the Tea Party, but that most of them are "normal people like us" - where "us" equals the handful of people worth $21.5 billion or more.

In part two, when asked about Americans For Prosperity's work to confuse public understanding of climate change, and about his own grasp of climate change science, David Koch delivers a barely comprehensible response demonstrating his need to brush up on the usual climate denier arguments.

FANG: Why does Americans for Prosperity focus so much on the science of climate change? I’m just curious why they spread so much information that denies the existence of climate, of global warming?

KOCH: Well… I think it’s uh, regulating CO2 excessively is going to put — uh really damage the economy.

FANG: Do you believe in climate change yourself, Mr. Koch?

KOCH: Climate does fluctuate. It goes from hot to cold. We have ice ages.

FANG: But do you believe carbon pollution affects climate change? [Koch shrugs]

Watch:
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In part three, when asked by Fang about the Supreme Court's horribly flawed decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which granted corporations unlimited financial influence over political campaigns, Koch at first does not even recognize what Fang is talking about, appearing confused and turning to Tim Phillips to see if he knowhs what this "Citizens United" thingy is.

FANG: What do you think of Citizens United? Has it helped your influence?

KOCH: Citizens United?

FANG: The Supreme Court decision.

KOCH: Oh.. Hm… [...]

Isn't it nice to see how well-informed the billionaire Koch is about vital aspects of America's crumbling democracy?

Fang then asks Koch to comment about the secretive meeting that Koch Industries sponsored last June in Aspen which drew Glenn Beck, the Chamber of Commerce and other wealthy polluters.

At that point, Koch decides that it's time to find his escape vehicle and abruptly walks away.

Watch:

 

November 16 2010

22:17

Pittsburgh Bans Natural Gas Drilling Over Fracking Threat

The Pittsburgh City Council today unanimously adoped a first-in-the-nation ordinance banning corporations from drilling for natural gas within city limits, a direct response to the threats to drinking water and public health posed by hydraulic fracturing methods used widely by drilling companies to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

Pittsburgh City Council President Darlene Harris said her biggest concern about natural gas fracking involves the threat to people's health posed by water contaminated by Marcellus drilling. She noted that the gas industry's claims about creating the thousands of jobs isn't worth the risk.

"They're bringing jobs all right," Harris told CBS News. "There's going to be a lot of jobs for funeral homes and hospitals. That's where the jobs are. Is it worth it?"

Beyond its innovative approach to fighting the fracking threat, the ordinance - drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) - seeks to limit the claim of "personhood" by corporations and to elevate the rights of property owners and other living, breathing citizens above the interests of corporations.

According to Pittsburgh Councilman Doug Shields, who introduced the measure, “This ordinance recognizes and secures expanded civil rights for the people of Pittsburgh, and it prohibits activities which would violate those rights.  It protects the authority of the people of Pittsburgh to pass this ordinance by undoing corporate privileges that place the rights of the people of Pittsburgh at the mercy of gas corporations.” <!--break-->

CELDF summarizes the main threats posed by fracking in the Marcellus shale region:

"Energy corporations are setting up shop in communities across Pennsylvania, to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation.  The gas extraction technique known as “fracking” has been cited as a threat to surface and groundwater, and has been blamed for fatal explosions, the contamination of drinking water, local rivers, and streams.  Collateral damage includes lost property value, ingestion of toxins by livestock, drying up of mortgage loans for prospective home buyers, and threatened loss of organic certification for farmers in affected communities."

This is a great bit of news in the fight to hold the natural gas industry accountable for its dangerous fracking activity.  Far too many communities in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. have had their water supplies, health and property rights threatened by natural gas development. 

Congratulations to Pittsburgh for taking a stand. With the foolish rush to rapidly expand natural gas drilling well under way, it will take a lot more communities speaking up to defend themselves in order to alert the rest of the country that natural gas is hardly the energy panacea its proponents claim.

Photo: Domestic water well explosion in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

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November 12 2010

17:51

Assessing the Midterm Damage in DC

As the dust settles on DC, many are now wondering what toll the midterm results will take on climate science and energy policy. The initial signs are ominous.

Rep. Joe Barton of Texas is angling for chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee where he could further favor his friends in the fossil fuel industry. Barton strongly apposes Congressional efforts to cut carbon emissions, telling NPR last week, "There will be no cap-and-trade bill ... It's not just endangered, it's extinct." He also accepted almost $400,000 in contributions last year from electrical utilities and the oil and gas industry.

Barton embarrassed even some of his Republican colleagues when he apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward during his testimony to Congress after the Gulf oil spill. If the optics of Barton chairing the energy committee are too odious, the runner up will likely be Fred Upton of Michigan - perhaps not a major improvement.

Both men voted against clean energy legislation. Upton has also vowed to kill the Congressional Select Committee on Climate Change, saying "the American people do not need Congress to spend millions of dollars to write reports and fly around the world. We must terminate this wasteful committee."

But is Congress considering the implications of climate change really such bad investment? The climate committee cost about $8 million per year. This is less than one percent of what scientists believe climate change could cost the US economy - about $1.8 trillion per year - if we chose to ignore it.<!--break-->

Ignoring climate change is bad enough. There are others in the Republican caucus and Tea Party who now want to use their advantage in the House to hold hearings on the "scientific fraud" behind global warming. Why would such a witch-hunt suddenly a priority given the dismal state of the US economy and record home foreclosures across the country?

It might have something to do with the massive infusion of fossil fuel cash into the US political process. Since 1999, the coal, oil and gas industries have spent more than $2 billion lobbying Congress. In the last eighteen months alone, these three industries have shelled out a staggering $543 million in their Congressional lobbying efforts - almost twelve times more than the renewable energy sector.  

The recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to pour unlimited anonymous money into influencing elections no doubt had an impact on some of the races. At the time, President Obama warned the ruling was ""a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans."

That cacophony is bound to get a lot louder for the next two years, and does not bode well for climate science or energy policy in America.

November 04 2010

21:02

Special Interests Enabled By 'Citizens United' Spent $186 Million To Influence U.S. Midterm Races

The success of GOP and Tea Party-backed candidates in the 2010 U.S. midterm elections was enabled by a massive influx of secretive spending thanks to the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.

A new analysis by the Sunlight Foundation identified $126 million in unrestricted funds spent during this midterm without any disclosure of whose money it was. That figure represents more than a quarter of the total $450 million spent by outside groups on the midterms.

Sunlight Foundation notes that:

"Add the $60 million spent by groups that were allowed to raise unlimited money, but still had to disclose, to the undisclosed money and the total amount of outside money made possible by the Citizens United ruling reaches $186 million or 40 percent of the total spent by outside groups."


The two leading GOP shadow groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS - both founded and guided by GOP veterans Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie - are reportedly "gloating" over their influence on the elections. The two groups spent more than $38 million on attack ads and misinformation campaigns to defeat Democratic candidates.

NBC News reports that "a substantial portion of Crossroads GPS’ money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls."
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The result? "Republican candidates won nine of the 12 Senate races and 14 of 22 House races where American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS spent money."

The Citizens United ruling opened the floodgates for unrestricted Wall Street and corporate money to pollute U.S. elections, creating a recipe for negative attack ads to demoralize voters and secure wins for business-friendly candidates.  

Sunlight Foundation senior writer Paul Blumenthal notes: "the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling allowed this election to be the costliest and least transparent midterm in recent history."

Unless Congress acts to require disclosure of funders who bankroll the front groups and attack ad squads, the 2012 presidential race and every U.S. election to come will be tainted by unaccountable special interest money.

That's bad for American democracy, no matter what party you associate with.

 

November 02 2010

20:29

Outcome of U.S. Midterm Election Already Clear - Polluters Win Again

While U.S. voters head to the polls today - and everyone from Fox to Politico to your uncle on Facebook becomes a pundit trying to predict the results - the outcome is already crystal clear: polluters have won again, handily.

With the advent of now limitless corporate donations polluting the democratic process thanks to the Supreme Court's insane ruling on Citizens United, dirty energy interests, Wall Street fat cats and lobbyists will run America for the foreseeable future.

Corporations have long enjoyed the advantage of spending a tiny amount (compared to their enormous profits) to influence the entire political system, buying future access and favors that pay off for years to come, simply by driving contributions to their favored candidates in every contest from local zoning board races to governors to U.S. Senators.

But thanks to Citizens United, corporate influence is now far more invasive and impactful. Polluters can freely run attack ads and vicious smear campaigns against climate hawks, deploy their front groups to mislead voters on everything from health care to global warming, sponsor ballot initiatives to kill clean energy progress, and generally play fast and dirty with zero accountability for their actions. 
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The result: the tragic collapse of American democracy, in the words of my friend and former boss Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (For a bit of solace this election day, check out David Robert's excellent interview with Bobby at Grist detailing why all is not yet lost in the war against carbon cronyism.)

I'll conceed readily that Citizens United isn't the only problem threatening U.S. democracy.  There's also the matter of participation, or lack thereof, among the public. It doesn't help matters that less than half of eligible voters in the U.S. typically cast a ballot in midterm elections. So at least make sure all your friends and family get to the polls today - and encourage them to remain active in holding their leaders accountable. Elections are just step one in the process.

Putting on my own pundit hat for a minute - hey, everyone's doing it - I predict voters wil beat down outrageously obvious polluter-funded initiatives like California's oily Prop 23 and Prop 26, and ignore the insanely loud shouting of Christine O'Donnell supporters to deny her a seat in Congress - perhaps chiefly for the fact that she has zero experience or qualifications to be there, but also because of her stupefying denial of science and reason.

But let there be no doubt about it. A lot of the anti-science candidates - whose antics on the campaign trail have made for humorous, if horrifying, spectacle - are about to become anti-science lawmakers with a vote in Congress.  That spells disaster for climate and energy policy, and all other legislative efforts that rely on a respect for facts and a willingness to negotiate. 

The anti-science caucus is coming to a Congress near you, and we have polluters and wealthy corporate fat cats largely to thank for it.

February 10 2010

18:55

PolluterHarmony: A Match Made In Washington

Congressmembers, are you too busy being indentured servants to corporations to find love?

Lobbyists, did that pickup line about healthcare flop with your beloved Senator?  Well, have you heard the one about “clean coal” yet?

Polluters, are you too shy to admit the things you’d like to do to Rep. Joe Barton

Well, you are all in luck.  Today marks the launch of PolluterHarmony.com, a new online matchmaking service designed to help dirty polluters and their lobbyists find that perfect politician to live forever in holy mmm…
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Forget Citizens United, PolluterHarmony knows all about uniting citizens, like the match made in heaven between Koch Industries and Sen. James Inhofe.

Speaking of below the Beltway… PolluterHarmony knows that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Rrrow!-AK) likes it dirty, as dirty as it gets in fact.  She’s on the receiving end of $111,296 in contributions from coal interests in the 111th Congress. 

Kert Davies, director of PolluterWatch.org, the masterminds behind PolluterHarmony, notes in his blog on Huffington Post that PolluterHarmony.com is “a dating service dedicated to helping polluter industry lobbyists, CEO's and propagandists match up with willing public officials, making it even easier to buy and sell influence, sabotage global warming solutions and derail our clean energy future.”

Wow, I never imagined that such connections could be made any easier than they already are. 

PolluterHarmony proves that anything is possible! 

So, all you D.C. polluticians, why wait for all that snow to melt?  “Start your long-term collusion today!”

January 22 2010

21:19

When Corporations Rule The World (thanks to the Supreme Court)

With its ruling in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Supreme Court has granted corporations even further unfettered access to destroy the fundamental Constitutional protections against corporate control of government.  The Chamber of Commerce and ExxonMobil must be thrilled.

The title of David Korten’s excellent 2001 book about the rise of corporate control in  America popped into my head as I read the depressing news about the Supreme Court’s gift to corporate America (as if they need another handout from U.S. taxpayers). 

Corporations, Wall Street and other special interests can now spend as much as they want on commercials and literature to call for the victory or defeat of federal political candidates.  Unlike previously acceptable “issue ads,” candidates can now be mentioned by name, as long as there’s no coordination with the candidates or campaigns.

The decision, a 5-4 vote, overturned a 20-year-old ruling barring such ads.

Fossil fuel interests, rejoice.  Working American families, not so much.  Efforts to create good-paying green jobs, transition to a clean energy future and ambitiously address global warming just got a lot harder.
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Consider the power corporations already have over our democracy.  For instance, the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate Industries spent over $132 million on political contributions to presidential candidates in the 2008 election.  THat was one industry sector, one race, $132 million.  Sure, it was a presidential race, so the stakes were high.  But consider that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $123 million lobbying the federal government in 2009, with no presidential race in sight. That was before the Chamber pledged to wage its "most aggressive" election fight ever in 2010, and put out the call to Big Business to pony up $100 million to do it.  The Chamber already spends upwards of $300,000 per day on lobbying.   

How many individuals could match that kind of spending power?  And now that the limits to this largesse have been removed, how will We The People ever compete with corporations to choose our leaders?

Thankfully, President Barack Obama seems to understand the danger of this ruling to our participatory democracy:

“With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington — while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.”

Whether the Obama Administration can do anything to stop this assault on democracy remains to be seen.  But the immediate consequences were spelled out clearly by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY):

“This activist and far reaching decision is even worse than we had feared. This opens the floodgates and allows special interest money to overflow our elections and undermine our democracy. The bottom line is, the Supreme Court has just predetermined the winners of next November’s election. It won’t be the Republican or the Democrats and it won’t be the American people; it will be Corporate America.”

On the flip side of the coin, look at the elation of Republican corporate lapdogs like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

“For too long, some in this country have been deprived of full participation in the political process. With today’s monumental decision, the Supreme Court took an important step in the direction of restoring the First Amendment rights of these groups by ruling that the Constitution protects their right to express themselves about political candidates and issues up until Election Day. By previously denying this right, the government was picking winners and losers. Our democracy depends upon free speech, not just for some but for all.”

“First Amendment rights?”  McConnell lacks even a basic understanding of corporate personhood, which, contrary to popular belief, was never decided by the Supreme Court, as Thom Hartmann explains brilliantly in his must-read book Unequal Protection.  While the solutions described in Hartmann’s book must be rapidly embraced and deployed, now more than ever, the Supreme Court’s decision this week makes that work harder. 

The campaign spending floodgates aren’t just open, they’ve been torn out entirely.  Corporations, Wall Street and other special interests can now dump millions, even billions, into the campaign coffers of whomever will do their bidding.  There is already an ample supply of willing corporate cronies in Congress.  Now there will be nothing but.

As Keith Olbermann put it yesterday in his segment “U.S. government for sale”:
Right now, you can prostitute all of the politicians some of the time, and prostitute some of the politicians all the time, but you cannot prostitute all the politicians all the time. Thanks to Chief Justice Roberts this will change. Unless this mortal blow is somehow undone, within ten years, every politician in this country will be a prostitute.

This is a Supreme Court-sanctioned murder of what little actual Democracy is left in this Democracy. It is government of the people by the corporations for the corporations. It is the Dark Ages. It is our Dred Scott. I would suggest a revolution but a revolution against the corporations? The corporations that make all the guns and the bullets?

Maybe it won't be this bad. Maybe the corporations legally defined as human beings, but without the pesky occasional human attributes of conscience and compassion maybe when handed the only keys to the electoral machine, they will simply not re-design America in their own corporate image.

But let me leave you with this final question: After today who's going to stop them?


That question will not be answered in a single day, or even a year, but its answer must somehow be 'We The People.'  Corporations have an even greater advantage now spending wise, but we still have the truth on our side.  Let’s get to work.

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