IN TODAY'S RADIO REPORT: CO wildfire now most destructive in state history; Another chemical plant explodes, this time in LA; Supreme Court rules on TX v. OK water war; New oil spills in Brazil and Canada; PLUS: Mayor Bloomberg's $20B Sandy recovery and climate change plan for NYC ... All that and more in today's Green News Report!
IN 'GREEN NEWS EXTRA' (see links below): Methane leaks could negate climate benefits of nat gas boom; Too hot to live: grim long-term prediction; Will coastal cities follow NYC's climate lead?; 1970s pollution led to African drought; Tea Party takes on utility over lack of solar energy; 'Understory' fires burning in drier Amazon rainforest; White House delays environmental, energy rules... PLUS: NASA Finds ‘Amazing’ Levels Of Arctic Methane And CO2, Asks ‘Is a Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring in the Arctic?’ ... and much, MUCH more! ...
Gov. Chris Christie (R) could have made 24 New Jersey school teachers millionaires today. But, instead, he decided to spend the taxpayers money on a Special Election to fill the seat of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) this October, just three weeks before his own previously scheduled election in November.
"Party leaders sent around a list of the kind of budget cuts that Mr. Christie could restore with the money to be spent on the special election," the New York Times noted. "$10 million he cut from after-school programs for children in the state’s most troubled cities; $8.6 million in tuition subsidies for college students; and $12 million in charity care at hospitals. Just weeks ago, they noted, Mr. Christie vetoed a proposal to establish early voting, saying the price tag — $25 million — was too high."
"I don’t know what the cost is and I quite frankly don’t care," said the Governor who has pretended, since coming to office in 2009, to be a fiscal conservative. "We’re not going to be penny-wise and pound-foolish around here," he said cryptically.
"Despite the governor's public denials, Christie allies were concerned that if a special election coincided with the gubernatorial election, Democratic candidate Barbara Buono could benefit," reports National Journal. "With [Newark Mayor Cory] Booker as the favored Democratic Senate nominee, less-reliable Democratic voters, particularly African-Americans, would be more likely to show up at the polls. Even with a comfortable lead in the race, that's not a risk Christie welcomed."
Republicans, already incensed that Christie had the temerity to meet President Obama during a horrific natural disaster and not punch him in the face, are furious about it all.
While quietly working for a number of weeks prior to breaking the story of the Secret Koch Brothers Tapes and Christie's secret keynote stem-winder at their 2011 Summer Seminar, I recall, as I researched through hours of his speeches and various appearances, that this guy would have been the Democrats' worse nightmare had he decided to run for President in 2012. He was incredibly under-rated by Democrats who saw him only as a former Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney hack. He may have been a bald-faced liar, but he was really good at it, and really charming to boot, when he wanted (or needed) to be.
That, of course, was back when he was seen as a hard rightwinger (which he is, even today, as many have forgotten). Back when David Koch described him as "my kind of guy" after secretly meeting with him in New York City. Back prior to Christie's re-invention as a "reasonable bi-partisan Republican" --- a stroke of "luck" blown onshore by Superstorm Sandy and a common-sense willingness to not be a complete asshole while tens of thousands of his own constituents were literally drowning and/or fighting for their lives in the freezing cold, even if it was just days before a Presidential election.
That, in turn, earned him the eternal loathing of many of the base Primary voters in a party that hasn't a clue what's good for them, and stunningly high approval ratings from Democrats who may have forgotten who Christie really is, and just how opportunistically disingenuous he is willing to be.
His transparent edict today, declaring an extraordinarily wasteful Special Election only weeks before his own was already scheduled in the state, may remind Democrats about some of that, even as it further pisses of Republicans at the same time. But, at least just about everyone seemed happy to ignore his absurd protests that "There's no political purpose" to his purposely political move today. "The political purpose," he claimed with a straight face, "is to give the people a voice [because] the issues facing the United States Senate are too important not to have an elected representative making those decisions."
Yes, after waiting four months for that elected representative, the people of New Jersey simply couldn't have waited four months and three weeks. That would be a bridge too far. A bridge he'd be willing to sell you for about $24 million.
I don't have a whole lot to add right now to all of this, but it's a helluva fun story, so I figured I'd open it up to readers of The BRAD BLOG who may have some thoughts of their own to share on all of this. Will all be forgiven by the time the 2016 Primaries roll around? Will Christie be able to thread the impossible needle his party has created for him? Or will his rising star fall as quickly as it rose?
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UPDATE 6/6/13: Jon Stewart now takes his own whack at Christie right here...
Since the influence of the Koch Brothers on PBS --- PBS! --- as Jane Mayer documents in The New Yorker this week, helped, until now, to suppress this film and keep it from airing on PBS, I figure it could use all the exposure possible. So here's the trailer from Citizen Koch.
Best line belongs to former Republican-turned-independent Presidential candidate (and former LA Governor) Buddy Roemer: "Listen to me, America. They don't care about you, because you don't bring a check"...
Had Karl's error --- compounded by his "cover-up" even more than his original "crime" --- contained news that falsely appeared good for Democrats instead of for Republicans, he would have been hammered and forever discredited by the Right until finally fired by ABC News. But, alas, his completely false report on Benghazi benefited Republicans rather than Democrats, so no biggie, it seems. He gets to keep his career!
ABC's Karl, however, wasn't the only top-tier network newsman who blew it big time, further tarnishing the profession over the past week, not by a long shot.
He described "the misconduct that is uncovered" in the report as "inexcusable". He said that "Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it," adding that he "will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives."
Obama then announced that his Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, had requested and accepted the resignation of the Acting Commissioner of the IRS --- the man who wasn't even in that role during the period in question at the IRS --- "because given the controversy surrounding this audit, it’s important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward."
That all sounds very tough and decisive(!), but after having slogged through the full IG's report, I'm not sure what "misconduct" the President is actually referring to. That word would seem to imply that someone at the IRS was purposely or criminally misbehaving. They may have been, and further investigation may uncover such behavior, but if there was purposeful or criminal misconduct by anyone in the office, the IG's report doesn't seem to offer any actual evidence of it.
The IG's report offers evidence of much confusion, poor training, unclear directives and what seems to be pretty lousy, or, at least, extremely ineffective management at the department of the IRS tasked with approving or rejecting tax-exempt status for 501(c)(3) "charitable groups" and 501(c)(4) "social welfare organizations". Members of Congress, as well as government watchdog groups have long argued that many of those tax-payer subsidized organizations have abused the privilege and violated the legal restrictions on political activity by such groups. The abuse has been particularly widespread, they argue, in the wake of the Citizens United decision and the flood of largely unrestricted, often completely anonymous money funneled to those types of groups for often purely-political purposes.
Further investigation, including a criminal investigation promised by the Dept. of Justice, may uncover the type of "misconduct" the President claims to be outraged by, but the evidence for it is not found in the IG's report, no matter how much Republicans are currently suggesting the opposite.
Also NOT found in the IG's report:
Any evidence that "Tea Party" related groups were identified during this process for nefarious reasons;
Any type of identification, political or otherwise, for the groups whose applications were similarly flagged and delayed ("Tea Party" related groups made up only a minority, approximately 1/3 of the groups whose applications were delayed and held for further examination);
Any indication or evidence whatsoever that the White House, or anybody outside of the IRS units handling these cases, had anything to do with what happened;
Any response to the other question the IG's office was tasked by Congress to investigate, namely: "whether existing social welfare organizations are improperly engaged in a substantial, or even predominant, amount of campaign activity."
Allow me to offer some quick details in support of each of the bullet points above...
An ambitious election reform bill supported by state Democrats and the Colorado County Clerks Association, which is largely made up of Republicans, will soon land on the desk of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, despite the objections of Republican lawmakers and the state's extraordinarily partisan Republican Sec. of State.
The bill has now been approved by both chambers of the Colorado legislature --- along party lines in each --- but must be approved again in the House due to "technical" amendments from the Senate. But while it may be too late, partisans and lawmakers would have been wise to look carefully before leaping in support of this bill which offers both excellent reforms and reasons to be very concerned about one of its central provisions.
There's a lot of good, long-overdue provisions in the sweeping, 126-page bill [PDF] (mercifully summarized on pages 2 through 4). The key provisions --- and main points of contention --- are summarized this way by Tomasic:
House Bill 1303 seeks to expand voter participation mainly by establishing a system that includes same-day registration up to Election Day and that mails ballots to all eligible voters in the state. Under the proposed law, voters would choose whether to mail their ballots back to the clerks, drop them off at early voting centers or fill them out at the polls on Election Day.
Tomasic goes on to explain that the bill, dubbed "The Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act", is sponsored by Democrats in both the CO House and Senate, but it's "based on a plan approved by a large bipartisan majority of clerks who run the state’s elections county to county. The Colorado County Clerks Association reports that 75 percent of the 64 clerks in the state support the bill. The Association is anything but a left-wing cabal: At least 44 of the clerks, some 70 percent, are Republican officeholders."
The politics on this one may be understandably confusing to some --- particularly with a former Republican Sec. of State favoring the bill, and the current Republican Sec. of State ardently opposing it --- but the professed concerns of the latter (that the expanded registration provisions will lead to "voter fraud") are largely nonsense. While the advocacy of the former (pushing broad expansion of vote-by-mail ballots to every voter in the state) ignores very real fraud concerns...
A few seemingly remarkable items coming in via our Twitter feed today, all fueled by folks on the Right who are hoaxed into giving their hard-earned dollars to con-men...
• The crew at the pretend "news" site, Breitbart.com (specifically, Editor-at-Large Ben Shapiro) have successfully pushed a story about "Friends of Hamas" supporting SecDef-nominee, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) somehow into the mainstream Rightwing media. The problem with the story --- which is meant to help target the first Presidential cabinet nominee in history to ever be filibustered (much less by his own party!) --- is that "Friends of Hamas", the "scary-sounding pro-Hagel group", doesn't actually seem to exist, according to Slate's Dave Weigel.
• George Zimmerman, the Florida "hero" who claimed that he was just "standing his ground" after having stalked and shot unarmed African-American teen Trayvon Martin last year has a) Reportedly burned through $300,000 in donated legal defense funds and is now considering asking the court to declare him "indigent", so the state would have to pay for his defense and b) Gained some 105 pounds since his arrest last year, according to ThinkProgress today. (Yes, that is what Zimmerman looks like now, at the top of this article.)
• But the most bizarre story of the day must surely be David Corn's at Mother Jones, where his latest investigative report into the profiteering "non-profit" racket called FreedomWorks (one of the nation's largest and most powerful so-called "Tea Party" groups) documents a video said to have been created by the group, but never shown publicly, which "included a scene in which a female intern wearing a panda suit simulates performing oral sex on Hillary Clinton." As Corn himself felt necessary to mention in an Author's note: "The previous sentence contains no typos."
Keep sending in those bucks to the Rightwing scam-artists, wingnuts! No, you're not being played for suckers in the least!
How far to the Right has the Republican Party gone over the past few years? So far that they now seem to even consider Karl Rove a traitor to their cause.
As evidence, take a look at these headlines from Rightwing sites taking Rove to the woodshed this week in response to his recently announced plan to form the "Conservative Victory Project" Super PAC to keep "Tea Party" candidates who Rove feels can't win general elections, from winning Republican U.S. Senate primaries in the first place...
That's some serious blow-back from Rove's own base --- or what used to be his base. Yes, the hard right Brain of Bush is now far "to the Left" of his own party. Oh, well. Win by the sword, etc...
Rachel Maddow's full segment from Tuesday night, on the GOP's attempt to rebrand themselves and the civil war that seems to be ensuing --- particularly as two of the House's most extreme Rightwing loons, Rep. Paul Broun (GA) and Rep. Steven King (IA), each plan to seek their party's nomination for U.S. Senate in their respective states (Broun is really a piece of work, as Maddow details) --- follows below. Get your popcorn...
Palm Beach Post'sGeorge Bennet wrote last week about how so-called "Tea Party" groups seem to be running away from the "Tea Party" name in places like Florida.
The South Florida Tea Party, for example --- the one that helped launch the national career of Sen. Marco Rubio and hosted Donald Trump while he was initially pretending to think about running for President --- is changing their name to the National Liberty Federation.
"As Tea Party groups go," observes Steven Benen at MaddowBlog, "the South Florida Tea Party was one of the bigger and better organized outfits."
But it's little wonder these folks are running from the name. Their popularity, and their name brand, is now plummeting along with the fortunes of the Congressional Republican Party. As Bennet notes, even Rightwing pollsters like Rasmussen are finding that support for the "Tea Party" movement is absolutely cratering...
While the short answer is that it is no doubt protected against criminal prosecution by the Speech or Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution, one can't help but think of how the successive efforts by radical 'Tea Party' Republicans, first during the manufactured "fiscal cliff" crisis, and now by way of holding a figurative gun to the head of the nation's and world's economy, in order to extract concessions that would destroy the New Deal safety net (see two Jan. 14 segments of the Ed Schultz show below), resembles the crime of extortion, perhaps even treason.
For those of us who live in California, this latest round of GOP hostage-taking comes as no surprise. Year-after-year, the CA GOP utilized the Golden State's requirement of a 2/3 vote for passage of either spending or revenue enhancing measures as a means to force austerity, such as former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's draconian $15 billion cuts to education and health care. By refusing to pass a budget, the CA GOP at one point forced the state controller to issue $2.6 billion in IOUs. And, all during the CA GOP reign of economic terror, the Golden State's budget deficit expanded --- reaching an indebtedness in excess of $20 billion despite those massive cuts.
Democracy struck back. The percentage of CA voters who are registered Republicans dropped to less than 30%. During the 2012 election, CA voters passed a relatively progressive, revenue-enhancing tax measure supported by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) by a wide margin and the GOP's ability to hold the state hostage was eliminated when Democrats achieved a super-majority in the state legislature.
As a result, fiscal sanity was restored. CA is now on track to achieving a budget surplus even as $5.2 billion has been added to the state's school, university and health care budgets.
It is appropriate that President Barack Obama, who unfortunately lacks a record of holding fast to principle, has, so far, stated that he will not give in to the latest extortion demands concerning the upcoming need to raise the debt ceiling once again. But, given the nature of the far greater damage to both the U.S. and even global economy that could be wrought by the Congressional GOP's latest round of hostage-taking, can the nation or the world await a subsequent election to deal with extortion by an organization, the so-called 'Tea Party,' that is funded and controlled by the rapacious billionaires Charles and David Koch, whose Koch Industries was described by William Koch, David's twin, as a form of "organized crime?"
Two 1/14/2013 segments of MSNBC's The Ed Show addressing GOP hostage-taking on the debt ceiling follow below...
On Election Day this year, their own observers were barred from monitoring the polls in Franklin County, OH, after the county's bipartisan Board of Elections had determined that the group had "forged" and photocopied the signatures of candidates needed to allow the group's poll monitors access to precincts in the county during the Nov. 6 Presidential Election.
That's the same True the Vote who also used a fraudulent photo of an African-American woman holding up a (Photoshopped) sign reading "I ONLY GOT TO VOTE ONCE!" in a well-polished video used to announce their national launch back in 2010. (The real photo, before it was faked, reveals the woman holding up a sign at a Florida protest during that state's Presidential Election debacle in 2000. The sign actually read, ironically enough, "DON'T MESS WITH OUR VOTES".)
It's also the same True the Vote which claimed 501(c)3 non-profit status as a "non-partisan" charity, only to be found to be quite partisan indeed by a Texas court. Their lie about their non-partisan, not-for-profit status resulted in the group --- formed as an off-spring of the Houston-based Tea Party group calling itself King Street Patriots, by the same officers at the exact same address --- having to return a $35,000 charitable grant from a foundation which also backs the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.
So the group knows very well what actual fraud is. The problem, however, is that the Rightwing group enjoys dishonestly scamming their supporters by pretending that all "voter fraud" --- even absentee ballot fraud or voter registration fraud that doesn't even result in a vote --- is evidence that polling place Photo ID restriction laws are needed to combat a scourge of nationwide "voter fraud" being committed on a systemic basis by, of course, Democrats.
In the bargain --- as the successful pattern of Rightwing propaganda has long worked --- pretend "news" outlets such as Tucker Carlson's The Daily Caller go on to cite True the Vote's claims as if it was actual "evidence" supporting the dishonest agenda that both groups hope to forward. That's exactly what happened last week when The Daily Caller, in an article related to the battle over polling place Photo ID restriction laws cited a list of supposed "voter fraud convictions in 46 states" at True the Vote's website.
You'll be shocked --- SHOCKED! --- to learn that True the Vote's list not only doesn't include "convictions in 46 states", it doesn't even include one single conviction, prosecution or even allegation of the type of "voter fraud" that the polling place Photo ID restriction laws both The Daily Caller and True the Vote are advocating for are supposedly designed to prevent.
In short, both The Daily Caller and True the Vote are using fraudulent claims to push for laws to prevent "voter fraud". We told you you'd be SHOCKED!...
For two weeks since Election Day, we have been working to ensure every vote is counted accurately and fairly. We have made progress towards that goal, thanks to the dedication of our supporters and their unrelenting efforts to protect the integrity of the democratic process. While many questions remain unanswered, today I am announcing that I will take no further action to contest the outcome of this election.
While there are certainly still inaccuracies in the results, and the actions of the St. Lucie County and Palm Beach County Supervisors of Elections rightly raise questions in my mind and for many voters, after much analysis and this past weekend's recount in St. Lucie County, our legal team does not believe there are enough over-counted, undercounted or fraudulent votes to change the outcome of the election.
While a contest of the election results might have changed the vote totals, we do not have evidence that the outcome would change. Given the extremely high evidentiary hurdles involved in a successful challenge, I will not ask my generous supporters to help fund a drawn-out, expensive legal effort with little chance of success. Therefore, we will not contest the certification or challenge the seating of Congressman-elect Murphy.
Serving the people in the House of Representatives has been among the highest honors of my life, but this seat does not belong to me, or for that matter, to any individual. It belongs to the people.
I want to congratulate my opponent, Patrick Murphy, as the new Congressman from the 18th Congressional District. I pray he will serve his constituents with honor and integrity, and put the interests of our nation before his own.
With West's concession, however, there are still a few points to keep in mind moving forward...
It was a crazy weekend --- and that may be an understatement --- in St. Lucie County, Florida, as the fight continued over the questionable, completely unverified-by-humans, and extremely close computer-reported election results between Rep. Allen West (R) and Patrick Murphy (D) in the U.S. House race for Florida's 18th Congressional District.
Two things, if nothing else however, have become clear. 1) The Florida Democrats supporting the unverified computer-tallied results, which reportedly offer a slim margin in Murphy's favor, have become virtually indistinguishable from the Republicans who supported George W. Bush over Al Gore in the state during the 2000 Presidential Election debacle, and for the same, unjustifiable and partisan reasons. 2) Allen West has terrible and incompetent election attorneys.
Here's a recap of all that has happened --- and there has been quite a bit --- over the weekend, since we last covered the race on Friday, just after a St. Lucie Circuit Court judge denied West's motion demanding a retabulation of all eight days of Early Voting ballots in the county and just before the county's Canvassing Board took up the same issue shortly thereafter in what became a seven hour meeting of the board to determine how to proceed.
(And all of that in the wake of a previous partial retally of three out of eight days worth of early votes had resulted in the unexplained disappearance of some 800 votes when the same paper ballots were run through the same machines a second time due to unexplained "issues" with the electronic tabulation systems the first time around. That initial re-tally had resulted in a net gain of some 500 votes by West.)
The insane weekend events included a two-day machine "retabulation" of all Early Voting ballots in St. Lucie (one of three counties, along with Martin and Palm Beach, that make up FL-18); the discovery of more than 300 previously-untallied early ballots in the same county; new computer-reported tallies resulting in pick-ups by both candidates, for an overall gain of nearly 300 votes by the current leader Murphy; and a County Supervisor of Elections who ended up spending the weekend in the hospital...
Lisa Graves, of The Center for Media and Democracy [CMD], is "asking citizens to contact their Senator and demand hearings on the way 'dark money' has stealthily influenced the election." The CMD's proposal includes a specific demand that Charles and David Koch be subpoenaed to testify --- something which, Graves explains, the oil and chemical magnate brothers evaded some 15 years ago when U.S. Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) blocked efforts to force them to testify about their use of front groups to influence elections.
Unlike the GOP, whose calls for "Watergate-style" Benghazi hearings have been described as "political theater," the incoming 55-member Senate Democratic Caucus is in a position to conduct a broad and thorough set of hearings that could expose the ever-present threat to the very survival of democratic governance by what former Vice President Henry A. Wallace described as "the American fascist."
Coming within the context of near universal opposition to the flood of corporate money that drown out the voices of ordinary citizens, such hearings could also serve to catapult growing calls to not only overturn the infamous Citizens United decision but to end the concept of "corporate personhood" and establish that money is not "free speech."
A Circuit Court Judge in St. Lucie County today denied Florida's Republican Rep. Allen West's motion to order a re-tally of all Early Voting ballots in the county, after a partial re-tally of Early Votes last Sunday resulted in the disappearance of some 800 votes in the FL-18 U.S. House race between West and Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy.
It the second denial for West, a "Tea Party" favorite, in a Florida court room, where he had previously filed a motion to impound paper ballots and voting systems before all ballots had even yet been run through them.
"In denying West's motion," the paper said, "Vaughn noted the [St. Lucie County] canvassing board is considering the issue at a meeting this afternoon. The judge also said that West has other legal remedies - specifically mentioning a statute that allows a candidate to contest an election within 10 days of the final certification of results. That certification is scheduled for Tuesday."
Murphy's attorney argued in response that there was "no basis for a full recount of early votes and if the canvassing board orders a full recount of them, the Murphy campaign will go to court to try to block it."
"If the canvassing board were to decide that they want to do that without any evidentiary basis to do so, we'll be back before your honor with a motion for injunctive relief against them doing it because under the law the statute that we cited for your honor they have absolutely no right to do it," the Post quotes Murphy attorney Gerald Richman as arguing in court today.
No "evidentiary basis"? Really? A partial selection of ballots --- just the last three days of eight days of Early Voting --- are re-tallied by the same machines that tallied them originally, but give a completely different result the second time they are tallied and that isn't "evidentiary basis" for re-tallying all of the votes? If that isn't a basis for a full public hand-count of all ballots, I'm not sure what is. Unfortunately, without a court order, thanks to the state's Republican legislature following the 2000 Presidential Election debacle in that state, it's illegal to hand-count paper ballots once they've been tallied by an electronic machine.
[Update: See bottom of story for update on what happened at the canvassing board on Friday, and much more!]
I was on Thom Hartmann's TV show, The Big Picture, last night to discuss the FL-18 U.S. House mess where West currently trails Murphy by a very slim margin, according to oft-failed, easily-manipulated, paper ballot optical-scan computers made by three different private companies in the three different counties that make up Florida's newly redistricted 18th Congressional District.
As we've covered in detail here at The BRAD BLOG, a margin of some 2,400 votes out of some 330,000 votes tallied as of last Friday was dwindled down to just under 2,000 votes as of last Sunday when St. Lucie County --- one of the three, along with Martin and Palm Beach Counties, that make up FL-18 --- carried out a partial re-tally of Early Voting ballots due, they say, to an unexplained "issue" on the Diebold optical-scan systems used to tally those ballots in the county.
Nonetheless, at this time, West is still some 250 votes shy of a mandated state "recount" which is triggered when the margin is .5% or less. Currently, the margin is just eight one-hundredths of a percentage point shy of that mark, at .58%, with West having filed his court for an expanded re-tally of all Early Voting ballots in St. Lucie earlier this week. While his court motion had called for a full re-tally of all Early Votes in St. Lucie, the motion failed to request a re-tally of either Election Day votes, absentee ballots or any of the ballots in FL-18's other two counties, for unexplained reasons (the West campaign has not replied to our queries on that) as we also discussed on Hartmann's show...
West did file an amended complaint this morning before the hearing, seeking a re-tally of absentee ballots in St. Lucie as well, after the campaign claimed they had found "significant problems" with the records for some of those votes, charging that the number of absentee ballots in some precincts exceeds the number of voters listed as casting absentee ballots there...