Archive for the ‘Kentucky Senate’ Category

We’re Sorry BP

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

A running theme of my writing for the past month or so had been what I call the obvious Democratic strategy of drawing distinctions between themselves and Republicans. To that end, Congressman Joe Barton’s statement last week played right into their hands. 

Thanks to the deal President Obama inked with BP last week, the victims of the BP oil spill won’t have to go through what people whose businesses were ruined by the Exxon Valdez spill did: 20 years of litigation that ended with the Republican Supreme Court slashing the amount of compensation paid to them.

To most people, this would seem to be an unalloyed positive development. But not to many Republicans.

At a hearing that was meant to grill BP’s CEO Tony Hayward on the causes and remedies for the oil spill, Congressman Joe Barton spoke of  a “tragedy of the first proportion.”

Okay, so far so good. Anyone looking at the oil washing up on Gulf Coast shores could agree with that.

Except that Barton wasn’t referring to the spill itself, but rather to the settlement that BP had agreed to under pressure from the White House. He wrapped up his remarks by saying to BP’s CEO:

“I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words — amounts to a shakedown, so I apologize.”

Well who cares what some Oil Patch Republican who is the largest recipient of oil money in the Congress says? Why is it relevant? Well, it’s relevant because this douchebag is the Ranking Republican on the Energy Committee. If the Republicans succeed in kicking out Nancy Pelosi, this guy will be the head of the committee that any legislation that involves energy needs to come out of.

In case anyone thought that he was an outlier, the “Republican Study Committee,” an organization whose membership includes 2/3 of the Republicans in the House, released a statement earlier in the day that called the pressure put on BP to create this fund “Chicago-style shakedown politics.”

Surprise! Rush Limbaugh was reading from the same playbook. He called the escrow account a “slush fund” and said that the money would probably be given to “ACORN type people or union activists.”

Michele Bachman (in the running for Dumbest member of Congress) called the fund to pay victims a “redistribution-of-wealth fund” and said:

“If I was the head of BP, I would let the signal get out there — ‘We’re not going to be chumps, and we’re not going to be fleeced.’ And they shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t have to be fleeced and make chumps to have to pay for perpetual unemployment and all the rest — they’ve got to be legitimate claims.”

Well fair enough, BP shouldn’t have to pay for illegitimate claims, but it makes you wonder about these people’s mindsets when they’re more worried about illegitimate claims than about the destruction of the ecosystem and the economy of the entire Gulf Coast for a period of years

But it’s all par for the course for Republicans. These people look at birds drowning in oil on our shores and shrug their shoulders, then they watch President Obama convince BP to voluntarily give up $5 billion a year for 4 years to compensate victims and call it “a tragedy of the first proportion.”

Like Tea Party Darling Rand Paul said (in an echo of Donald Rumsfeld), “accidents happen.”

Yeah, accidents happen when you work in an industry that has lax regulations and even more lax enforcement; accidents happen when you lead your competitors by a margin of 760 to 8, 2 or 1 on “egregious, willful” safety violations; and accidents happen when you’re behind on drilling a well and you encourage your employees to take shortcuts to save the company money.

Not to be outdone by Ron Paul in his defense of allowing corporations to abuse their power without the check of government, Sharron Angle, the Senate candidate in Nevada not only favors making Nevada the sole repository of nuclear waste in the country, but wants to abolish the Department of Energy, which regulates the storage of nuclear waste.

What could possibly go wrong?

If these guys have their way, the coastal waters of America would look like the coast of Nigeria, where some have estimated that they have endured the equivalant of the Exxon Valdeez oil spill every year for 50 years.

Like I said, there’s something to be said for drawing distinctions and the Republicans did a pretty good job at that this week. Americans would do well to think about this when they go to the ballot box this November. They might not like Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, but would they rather have a guy who thinks we all owe BP an apology running the committee that sets the regulations for them? Would they rather have a guy who says that it’s un-American to hold BP accountable for their toxic oil spill? Would they rather replace Harry Reid with a woman who thinks, in the wake of the largest environmental history, that the EPA is unconstitutional?

The distinctions are out there. They’re just waiting for someone to make them. As Frank Rich wrote in this weeks NY Times:

While the greatest environmental disaster in our history is a trying juncture for Obama, it also provides him with a nearly unparalleled opening to make his and government’s case. The spill’s sole positive benefit has been to unambiguously expose the hard right, for all its populist pandering to the Tea Partiers, as a stalking horse for its most rapacious corporate patrons. If this president can speak lucidly of race to America, he can certainly explain how the antigovernment crusaders are often the paid toadies of bad actors like BP. Such big corporations are only too glad to replace big government with governance of their own, by their own, and for their own profit — while the “small people” are left to eat cake at their tea parties.

Rahm Emmanuel has long been  pilloried by the Right for his statement that you should ”never let a crisis go to waste.” Well, this debate is long overdue. If the BP Oil Spill and the Casino-Capitalism-enabled Great Recession don’t provoke that debate, then the Democrats’ prospects for this years elections are even dimmer than originally expected. And we as a country will have succeeded in doing exactly that.

Let Rand be Rand!!

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

By now everyone has probably heard about Rand Paul’s tumultuous week.

Frank Rich sums it up nicely here.

If you missed it, the Rich article contains links to many of the essential parts. I suggest that you click on the Maddow link and follow it wherever it takes you (even to a defense of Paul from a conservative Christian group).

In his acceptance speech, Paul defiantly tied himself to the Tea Party. “The Tea Party Movement is huge,” he said. “The mandate of our victory is huge.”  Ignoring Tip O’ Neil’s maxim that all politics is local, Paul mentioned Kentucky just once and the Tea Party nine times.

He followed up the next day with an appearance on the Rachel Maddow show where he said that he had some problems with the most famous civil rights bill in American history, the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

It’s not like this issue came out of the blue, or Paul hadn’t thought about it before. He had commented on it during the campaign and when he was asked about it by Maddow, he said that he agreed with 9/10 of the bill, but disagreed with the section which disallowed discrimination in private businesses (which is a huge part of the law). Also, he has a written record, writing in a letter against the 1968 Fair Housing Act to his local paper in 2002:

“A free society will abide unofficial, private discrimination, even when that means allowing hate-filled groups to exclude people based on the color of their skin. It is unenlightened and ill-informed to promote discrimination against individuals based on the color of their skin. It is likewise unwise to forget the distinction between public (taxpayer-financed) and private entities.”

So this is no “gotcha” question (as Sarah Palin (surprise!) said this weekend on Faux News). It’s a legit question on how he views the powers of the body to which he is running for.

That being said, I have to disagree with many on the left’s characterization that this is mainly about race. I don’t believe that Rand Paul is a racist (at least I don’t have any evidence of that), but I do think that his “strict constructionist” view of the Constitution does put him way out of the mainstream and expose the reactionary views of many in the Tea Parties.

Basically, this philosophy comes down to a view that the Constutution doesn’t allow the federal government to impose regulations on individuals or private businesses within the states.

This is a fringe view and has been settled by the Courts for decades, which basically ruled that the Interstate Commerce Clause allows the federal government to enforce the Bill of Rights within the states. This may have been an end run around the Constitution at the time, but it has been accepted by a huge majority of people in the US (who don’t know anything about the Interstate Commerce Clause, but accept at face value that the Federal Government can enforce civil rights laws against busineses across the country who discriminate on the basis of race).

Under pressure from the national Republican party, Paul has moderated, saying that he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and isn’t in favor of repealing it. Even the most right wing Republican Senators were quick to say that they shared this view.

Since then, he has backed off a bit, saying on GMA that he believed the Fed’s had a right to set a minimum wage and cancelling his Sunday interview with Meet the Press, but he couldn’t resist one more wacky comment on Friday when he said that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s comment that his job was to keep his “boot on the neck of PB” was “un-American.” Given that a large majority of American’s probably believe that’s exactly where the Administration’s boot belongs after watching millions of gallons of crude oil spill into the gulf, it was a hell of a way to end the week.

I have to say that I am dissapointed that Paul is censoring himself these days. I think the debate would have been good for the country. At minimum, it would make the Tea Partier’s question how far they want go with their strict constitutionalism and expose what the consequences of an America that hewed to strict libertarianism would look like.

I’ll be interested to see how this plays out since there may be some agreement from the left on some of his policies (on military intervention and drugs). It will also be interesting (If he wins) to see how much his voting record differs from the hard line (American Taliban-cultural conservative) wing of the Republican Party.

I say: Let Rand be Rand!

The people of Kentucky deserve to know who they’re voting for and the American people deserve to know what this kind of unfettered free market capitalism and strict constitutionalism would look like.

Plus, it’ll make for an interesting debate and the country could use one right now.

Winds of Change

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Well, last night was a good night for people who think the system needs some shaking up.

Congressman and former Admiral Joe Sestak overcame a recent 25% deficit to defeat the party-changing Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania. Specter’s a good guy and he’s had a good career, but changing parties was too clever by half and Pennsylvania Democrats decided that it was time for him to go.

In Kentucky, Rand Paul back-handed Mitch McConnel’s vaunted Kentucky Machine, garnering the largest primary vote total of any Republican in Kentucky history for this office.

Paul comes straight from the Tea Party, but he’s from the libertarian wing of the movement, favoring small government, not focusing on social issues and skeptical of US military adventurism. How this split plays out on the right should be interesting.

On the Democratic side, Jack Conway got the nod, beating perennial loser Daniel Mongiardo. Conway was generally seen as the more progressive of the two candidates and the netroots thinks he could win this thing, but that sounds like a longshot. Still, Paul’s case isn’t helped by the fact that 43% of his opponent Trey Grayson’s supporters said that they would not vote for Paul in the general. 

In Arkansas, netroots favorite Lt. Governor Bill Halter performed significantly better than expected and not only forced conservative Dem Blanche Lincoln into a runoff, but came within a few percentage points of beating her. Many have said that this hurts the Democrats chance in the general election, but most people think that Lincoln is toast no matter what, so we might as well have someone who reflects Democratic values competing for the seat.

Perhaps the most interesting race was Pennsylvania’s 12th District, where longtime John Murtha aide Mark Critz won the special election for the seat that Murtha held for decades by 8 points against Republican Tim Burns. Critz is about as conservative as you can get for a Democrat (pro life, pro gun, anti-health care reform) but won an election in the only district in the country that voted for both John Kerry and John McCain. President Obama has a 35% approval rating in this district, but despite the fact that the Republican’s poured over $1 million into the race and tried to nationalize the election by tying Critz to Obama and Pelosi, they lost an election that, in the end, wasn’t even that close. 

Republican’s are trying to downplay this race, but you know that if they won, they would be trumpeting this as the first wave in a tsunami that will propel them to a majority in the Congress.

What does it all mean? Well, first of all, it means that people are fed up with politics as usual. The outsider candidates won in almost every primary contest. This was perhaps clearest in Pennsylvania, where Ed Rendel’s political machine and President Obama’s tepid support weren’t enough to propel Specter to victory. A few months ago, Sestak’s campaign looked like a fools errand and everyone thought that he should have stayed in the Congress or taken that Secretary of the Navy position that Obama’s White House offered him to stay out of the race.

Paul’s victory seemed just as improbable initially. He’s a doctor with no previous experience in politics and was opposed by Mitch McConnel’s supposedly formidable machine.

Finally, Pennsylvania 12 shows that this year may not be as easy to categorize as it seemed initially. The Democrats have now won 7 out of 7 House special elections and if they can find a way to hold seats in districts where Obama has a 35% approval rating, then they aren’t going to be in as bad a shape as everyone predicted. Congressional Democrats are at historic lows for approval, but the only group less popular is Congressional Republicans. PA 12 proves that you can’t beat somethin’ with nothin’ and it’s not going to be enough for Republicans to just tie Democrats to Nancy Pelosi and Obama.

What this ultimately means for our broken, polarized system is unclear.

But it sure is shaping up to be an interesting year.