Monday, May 24, 2010

Obama administration continuing to issue drilling permits

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is NOT halting off-shore oil drilling, that not only is it still issuing permits, some of the permits are for even deeper wells than the one now gushing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling
new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental
waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits
for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted,
according to records.

The records also indicate that since the April 20
explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental
waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of
which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before
it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Asked about the permits and waivers, officials at the Department of the
Interior and the Minerals Management Service, which regulates drilling, pointed
to public statements by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, reiterating that the
agency had no intention of stopping all new oil and gas production in the gulf.

...these waivers have been especially troublesome to environmentalists
because they were granted through a special legal provision that is supposed to
be limited to projects that present minimal or no risk to the environment.

At least six of the drilling projects that have been given waivers in
the past four weeks are for waters that are deeper — and therefore more
difficult and dangerous — than where Deepwater Horizon was operating. While that
rig, which was drilling at a depth just shy of 5,000 feet, was classified as a
deep-water operation, many of the wells in the six projects are classified as
“ultra” deep water, including four new wells at over 9,100 feet.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The only political issue that counts

I believe the only political issue that counts is removing money from elections. Until our elected officials are free from the need to solicit bribes—that is, campaign contributions—our country’s policies are going to be skewed towards the interests of large business. The interest of the average American will not count.

Two articles in today’s New York Times made the connection between Congress and business explicit.

In “Debit Fee Cut is Rare Loss for Big Banks,” about an amendment by Senator Richard Durbin to financial legislation that would regulate fees paid by retailers to banks for the use of debit cards, “Lobbyists for the wounded but formidable banking industry made clear to some senators that this decision would affect future campaign donations, according to people who participated in those conversations.” In other words, vote in favor of this amendment at your peril.

The other article describes President Obama’s speech on Friday about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “Obama Vows End to ‘Cozy’ Oversight of Oil Industry.”

Mr. Obama reiterated that he intended to break up the beleaguered federal Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling, “so that the part of the agency which permits oil and gas drilling and collects royalties will be separate from the part of the agency in charge of inspecting oil rigs and platforms and enforcing the law.” That way, Mr. Obama said, “there’s no conflict of interest, real or perceived.”

David Rothkopf, a former Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration, said that Mr. Obama was trying to walk a fine line between capitalizing on populist anger over the oil spill and alienating the business community, which he needs for his jobs agenda.

“I think one of the risks associated with his rhetoric on the spill is that it hardens the divide between the Democratic Party and the business community,” Mr. Rothkopf said. “And that’s something that while it seems to be in the spirit of the moment now, could have serious ramifications come election time.”

That, he said, could result in money from corporate America going to the Republican Party.
For some reason the conservative Washington Post editorial page has allowed Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor and publisher of The Nation, to publish a weekly op-ed column. Last week she wrote about this issue, and about another bill sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin which would radically change our electoral system. "How to turn Congress Inc. back to just Congress."

What is the biggest scandal of 2010 so far?

Allegations of fraudulent misrepresentation from Goldman Sachs? An oil spill that poses a threat to our environment and economy for generations? Mining operators freely ignoring safety violations and treating workers as disposable?

Each of these is bad. But perhaps the biggest political scandal is the one that aids and abets these others -- the pay-to-play system that buys up Congress, pollutes our political system with special-interest cash and deep-sixes the kind of bold reform agenda that we voted for and need.

The health-care industry has contributed more than $200 million to congressional candidates in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Is it any wonder that there was no public option in the final bill, or that Medicare isn't able to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors the same way the Veterans Administration does for veterans?

This legislation, the Fair Elections Now Act, would sever ties between big-money campaign contributors and members of Congress, who, in the Senate, must raise an average of $27,000 every week they are in office in order to run competitive races. The bill would bar participating congressional candidates from accepting contributions larger than $100 and allow them to run honest campaigns with a blend of small donations and public matching funds.

Sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), the bill has 18 Senate co-sponsors (12 of whom signed on since the Citizens United decision) and 149 bipartisan cosponsors in the House. Activists are hopeful there will be a House vote as soon as this summer, and Durbin reportedly will push for the Senate to take it up after the House does.

Fighting for this bill is good policy and good politics. A recent Greenberg/MarkMcKinnon found that voters support the Fair Elections Now Act by a 2-1 margin, 62 percent to 31 percent. Independents support it 67 percent to 30 percent. Is there a candidate in the country who wouldn't gain votes by saying, “I want a political system in which someone who doesn't take more than $100 from anybody can run a competitive race for Congress. I want a political process that makes Congress listen to their constituents and allows them to ignore the lobbyists with fat checks in hand”?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tom Toles: the Difference between Liberals and Conservatives

Not only is Tom Toles a brilliant editorial cartoonist, he is an intriguing and funny writer. He has started a blog to accompany his daily cartoons on the Washington Post website, and today he had a wonderful statement about the difference between liberals and conservatives:

Everybody thinks I'm a liberal and I don't argue the point, but here's what the term means to me and always has. A liberal is someone who looks at a problem and is willing to consider trying a solution other than traditional ones. There. Can we all be liberal now?

And what of conservatism? It has become an irreconcilable pairing of the longing for past forms of Americana and devotion to the free market, which is even more ruthless in destroying those beloved forms than liberals are. Throw in pretending to want to cut spending, but habitually not proposing specific things to cut. So, can we all stop pretending to be conservative now?

No? Not until liberals are willing to check back on their efforts and see what actually works and readdress what doesn't? Okay, it's a deal! That was pretty easy, now wasn't it?

I wrote a column a little over a year ago discussing the difference between liberals and conservatives; I've copied it here.

The Giving Spirit (published Dec. 23, 2008)

Christmas is known as the “season of giving.” While pondering the difference between liberals and conservatives recently it occurred to me that perhaps one way to look at the difference is in terms of giving. I think this is the motivation of liberal philosophy: To give. To give opportunity to all people. To give all people a decent life.

If you look up the two words in the dictionary, besides their political meaning they have other meanings; “liberal” means “given freely or abundantly, generous” and “characterized by willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal portion” while “conservative” means “restrained” and “cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.”

Just to be clear from the start: this doesn’t mean I think people who are politically conservative are personally ungenerous. This is manifestly untrue in my experience.

Some conservatives might point to studies that “show” conservatives are more personally generous than liberals, but a close look at these studies demonstrate that it is religion that makes the difference in giving, not political beliefs. Religious people give more to charity, and religious liberals give as much as religious conservatives.

What I mean is that liberalism has a more generous outlook towards sharing the fruits of freedom and prosperity.

Liberals have pushed for the inclusion of everyone, the extension of freedom to all, equality of rights for all. One hundred and fifty years ago liberals—at the time their party was called Republican—fought for the rights of people of color. One hundred years ago liberals fought for the rights of women. Sixty years ago liberals fought again to give equal rights to black people. Now liberals are fighting for the equal treatment of homosexuals.

Conservatives have resisted every one of these fights for freedom. A conservative who is a strict constructionist would, I guess, want to restrict voting to wealthy white men again.

Liberals want to broaden the number of people sharing in the prosperity of our nation. Liberals have promoted such innovations as the minimum wage, the forty-hour workweek, and Social Security which helped to create the middle-class. Liberals have supported the labor unions, which were a major component of the great American prosperous decades of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Conservatives have fought every one of these tooth and nail. Do you remember the bitter struggle to get the Republican Congress to raise the minimum wage during the booming 1990s? If you’ve forgotten the trade-busting tactics of conservative hero Ronald Reagan, watch a film by Barbara Kopple, “American Dream,” a documentary about the strike at a Hormel meat-packing plant in the mid-1980s.

Liberals advocate giving everyone an equal opportunity. Liberals have created programs such as Head Start, free school lunches, and welfare to help the poor better their children’s lives. They’ve created mandates for such things as handicap access to make sure no one is left out of participating in life.

Once again, conservatives hate these programs. Remember Reagan suggesting the school lunch program could save money by labeling ketchup a vegetable? Or describing the welfare queen with her Cadillac?

Liberals want to give everyone the right to express themselves; they are tolerant of others. This is why the great urban centers of our country are far more liberal than the rural areas, because when you live around millions of people you have to learn to get along with people who are different.

If you spend an hour listening to conservative talk radio or Fox television, you will become acutely aware of the extreme lack of tolerance on the part of today’s conservatives for any point of view other than their own.

Maybe most important, liberals offer hope for a better future. Liberals are also called progressives because they believe in progress, evolution, improvement, change for the better.

I’ll quote from an authoritative source—William F. Buckley (from his book Up From Liberalism)—for what conservatives believe: “Conservatism is the tacit acknowledgement that all that is finally important in human experience is behind us; that the crucial explorations have been undertaken, and that it is given to man to know what are the great truths that emerged from them. Whatever is to come cannot outweigh the importance to man of what has gone before.”

What a dismal philosophy! All the good times are passed and gone, to quote the old folk song. What a repudiation of the natural world, where all is growth—even death and decay is growth in another form. I can’t imagine not believing that the human race continues to grow as it progresses through time, that we learn and evolve in our cultural and psychological expressions (not to mention our technology), that we have great unimagined experiences ahead of us every bit as important as any in the past, and that we have fantastic adventures lying in store for us as the human race learns to live together on this small planet.

Sure liberals have made mistakes. Sure some of their programs have had unintended consequences, such as welfare contributing to the breakdown of the black family, or efforts to promote tolerance devolving into political correctness. But…….the reason liberals are called “bleeding-hearts” is because they have a heart for giving.