A second person in two days has been arrested for demanding that Governor Pat Quinn meet with citizens about proposed fracking legislation. Southern Illinois resident Dayna Conner was arrested for refusing to leave the Capitol building Wednesday after two days of waiting outside his office with others who want a meeting.
Governor Quinn and members of the legislature brag about the fracking bill being negotiated with lobbyists from multiple interests groups. It’s how controversial issues are often dealt with in state government. Legislators vote after lobbyists from all sides emerge from a back room with a deal. Fracking negotiations were done behind closed doors by invitation only.
This time, citizens aren’t standing for it. Residents in fracking regions like Dayna Conner are demanding that they have a voice in a public process.
I spoke with Dayna earlier Wednesday outside the Governor’s office while she waited for a meeting. Here’s a short clip of why she felt her arrest was necessary.
She believes that citizens in regions threatened by fracking and grassroots activists haven’t been heard by the Governor and his coalition of lobbyists. After 18 months of citizens requesting a meeting, she says the Governor is siding with industry over residents in fracking regions.
After the bill regulating fracking passed the House Executive Committee, opponents told me they felt ignored and dismissed by their elected officials. Southern Illinois was represented in negotiations by the bill’s main sponsor, Representative John Bradley. He spoke about how much he cares for water quality in his area, but after taking thousands in campaign donations from fracking interests, he has zero credibility.
I noticed Reboot Illinois promoting this recent quote by Republican candidate for Governor Kirk Dillard.
“When I worked as Gov. Jim Edgar’s chief of staff, we turned a $1 billion deficit into a $1.5 billion surplus, all without an income tax increase.”
That got on my nerves. I guess the implication is that another Governor like Edgar could have balanced the current state budget without tax increases.
Let’s recall that Edgar served as Governor from 1991-1999. He entered office during a recession and governed during the Clinton economic boom of the ’90s. The recession decreased state revenue when Edgar first entered office. As the economy improved, tax revenues increased.
Of course Edgar balanced the budget and increased revenue! A monkey could have had a state budget surplus in the ’90s. Let’s also remember that the economy improved after Clinton raised taxes on the rich and increased the minimum wage; policies most Republicans oppose.
Remember the stories about rivers in Illinois earlier this year? They were about a long drought so bad it was slowing barge traffic on the Mississippi River down to a halt.
And here we are in spring with our rivers and half the state flooded. In fact, heavy flooding forced the closure of about a dozen locks on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Sections of both rivers have been closed to barge traffic.
I just took the train from Chicago to Springfield and I saw all kinds of water in places where it isn’t supposed to be. It’s bad.
(Photo Credit: Chris Young)
In the Quad Cities, WQAD TV news has a story about drought and flooding hitting a Christmas tree farm along the Rock River. Drought had killed 900 trees when they first covered the farm in July. Now, he has to visit his trees in a boat. He says he has never seen it go from one extreme to another this badly before.
As usual, almost no one in the press is pointing it out, but this is exactly what those nagging scientists told us would happen. They warned the Midwest would have more erratic, extreme and unpredictable weather, including more droughts, and more severe storms leading to flooding. A federal report on the impacts of climate change in the Midwest summarized:
The likely increase in precipitation in winter and spring, more heavy downpours, and greater evaporation in summer would lead to more periods of both floods and water deficits.
The 2009 report even warned that low river levels would cause problems for river traffic. It’s like they could see into the future. That report was either written by clairvoyant fortune tellers, or a group of scientists who really knew what the hell they were talking about.
So yes, we get both more flooding and more droughts thanks to climate change. Barge traffic is interrupted in both winter and spring.
At this point it’s more descriptive to go ahead and call it a Climate Clusterfuck. That’s what we’re dealing with from here on out.
More attention is given to the threat of rising sea levels on the coast, but the Mississippi River Valley is already being hit hard in ways that harm our regional economy, food supply, and safety. No one can say exactly what the weather would have looked like this year if climate change wasn’t happening, but we do know that if we really want more seasons like this and worse, then we should keep burning fossil fuels. Continue reading Illinois drought and flooding isn’t climate change. It’s a climate clusterfuck.
I didn’t know the Season 2 premier of HBO’s Girls was a monumental political event until it was covered like one by my favorite progressive magazines, TV shows, and national blogs. I was confused about why there was an avalanche of stories in political publications that don’t usually focus on entertainment.
Then I started looking at the bios of the writers. They were nearly all women in their 20s from New York, Massachusetts, and occasionally California, all with degrees from an Ivy League school or a similarly exclusive, expensive college where the wealthy send their children for finishing school. That’s, understandably, who you would expect to write a story about Girls, but I also noticed that the vast majority of stories I read in those publications come from people who share a similar background.
It’s no wonder. The shrinking news industry lays off experienced writers and reporters who are then replaced by more recent graduates at lower wages. With very few positions in the national press available, the top jobs go to writers with Ivy League degrees and the most impressive internship their parents’ connections could get them. Journalism is a fluid, fiercely competitive profession that increasingly appeals only to those who have the privilege of not needing to worry about job stability or supporting a family on their income.
Consequently, we have a national press and pundit corps filled with excellent, well-educated writers with relatively little experience and a background unlike most of their readers. They find it completely relateable and realistic to watch a show about a young woman living in the nation’s most expensive apartment market, whose major life crisis is that her parents might cut her off, making it marginally more difficult to live a lifestyle completely out of reach for 99% of the country.
The national press based in NYC and DC have long had trouble covering stories in “flyover country” and anything related to organized labor. It’s hard to see that getting better with a press corps who are more likely to have visited Denmark than a factory in the small town South. It might be why, for example, I see a string of national stories about fracking in New York, but rarely anything about the much more damaging impacts of coal mining in rural Illinois and Kentucky. Continue reading The Lena Dunham Press
The League of Conservation Voters released their 2012 scorecard, and it shows that the Illinois Congressional delegation is much greener today than it was last year. Most of those who had the worst environmental voting records were defeated in the 2012 election. One exception, who scored lowest of them all, wants to run for Governor.
Notoriously anti-environment, anti-science Congressmen like Bobby Schilling, Joe Walsh, and Don Manzullo (who all scored 6%) were defeated in the recent election, thanks in part to newly drawn districts.
The lowest scoring Democrat was Jerry Costello, who retired. We can hope for a better record from his replacement, Democrat Bill Enyart, but his pandering to the coal industry is discouraging. You would think more Southern Illinois politicians would have noticed that a coal-based economy has never brought stable prosperity to the region before, and it isn’t going to suddenly start now.
Two members of the Illinois delegation scored 100%! Northside Chicago Congressman Mike Quigley and my favorite Senator, Dick Durbin.
One Congressman holds the dubious distinction of earning 3%, the lowest ranking in Illinois: Aaron Schock. That surprised me because he ran for Congress as a pro-environment moderate. I thought he might have a record similar to Republican Tim Johnson, who at least scored 60%. It takes effort to have an even lower score than a climate-change denying zealot like John Shimkus.
I prefer celebrating Lincoln’s birthday, but the federal government has opted for a generic “Presidents Day” in honor of all former occupants of the office, both good and contemptible. So, for the sake of not repeating past mistakes, why not remember the worst Presidents America has had the misfortune to endure? After all, the tendency to focus on Presidents who had a generally positive impact creates a bias in the teaching of history that distorts our understanding of how the American government relates to its people.
My personal list of the worst Presidents includes:
5. Woodrow Wilson
4. James K. Polk
3. George W. Bush
2. James Buchanan
1. Rutherford B. Hayes
Elected in 1876, Hayes hailed from Ohio, the land of mediocre Presidents. He lost the popular vote and the disputed election was thrown to Congress. At least Congress followed the Constitutional way of dealing with contested elections, as opposed to the Supreme Court’s illegal usurpation of power in the Bush v. Gore decision that stole the 2000 election for George W. Bush.
To secure office, Hayes made an unholy alliance with conservative Southern Democrats in Congress. He agreed to end the reconstruction policies of U.S. Grant, effectively giving control of the South to vigilante terrorist groups and the old plantation aristocracy. Hayes ended federal protection of voting rights and allowed former traitorous Confederates to usurp states from legitimately elected reconstruction governments.
Not until Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson would America return to the sort of policies Grant used to secure the individual rights and liberties of all Americans, regardless of race. By prematurely cutting reconstruction short, Hayes ushered in generations of political fascism in the South. The stratification of wealth, concentration of power, and denial of basic human rights would keep the South in poverty for generations.
While walking through the exhibits, I thought back to Obama’s comments during the ’08 primary about the need for a more transformative presidency. He argued the Democratic party needs a President like Reagan, who changed the trajectory of American politics, as opposed to someone like Bill Clinton, who did not.
Some liberal blogs and Hillary Clinton’s campaign tried to gin up outrage by accusing Obama of praising Reagan’s conservative agenda. But, when touring the Clinton Library, it’s easy to see what Obama really meant.
Most of the accomplishments Bill Clinton brags about were undone within a year of George W. Bush taking office.
The Clinton budget surplus became Bush’s record deficits. Responsible fiscal and tax policies that were more fair to the middle-class were scrapped for Paris Hilton tax cuts and government run on credit card debt. Strong job growth gave way to the Bush recession. His reduction in the crime rate ended as soon as the next recession hit. A time of relative peace and good relations with most of the world was squandered by Bush’s war of aggression that made the United States more hated than it has ever been.
In contrast, the damaging aspects of the Clinton presidency are more enduring. Trade agreements destroyed the American manufacturing sector. Clinton’s lending and financial deregulation, done near the end of his presidency, contributed to the housing mortgage collapse. Deregulation left the media in the hands of a few mega-corporations, limiting the diversity of viewpoints in news and homogenizing American culture. All of these were touted as accomplishments in the Clinton Library.
Plus, one can’t ignore Clinton’s adoption of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, his failure to take meaningful action on climate change, and his lack of effort in pushing for universal health care after the ’93 failure. The truth is that Obama isn’t just cleaning up Bush’s mess. He’s also fixing the damage done by Clinton.
If Obama’s first-term accomplishments are defended against future efforts to dismantle them, they will profoundly change America. Consider:
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Reducing dependence on oil
Saved the US auto industry from collapse and pushed them to modernize their gas-guzzling fleet
Most significant re-regulation of Wall Street, lending, and credit cards since the New Deal
Largest investment in clean energy and efficiency projects in American history
Ended a war, began deescalation of another, and reduced the world’s nuclear weapons stockpile
Taking student loans back from the banks
Half a dozen EPA rule changes that will reduce pollution from coal
These are accomplishments progressives spent years fighting for; that previous Presidents have attempted and failed to achieve. The impact of these actions will be felt decades from now. If Obama goes on to effectively deal with climate change, he can easily be listed among the most effective Presidents in American history.
I loved being in Boy Scouts. Scouting gave me my first experiences with leadership, taught me important practical skills, led to strong bonds with good friends, provided positive adult role models, and helped inspire my life’s focus on environmental advocacy. It also taught me why the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay members is wrong.
Despite not being so good at tying knots, my time in scouting included holding a long list of positions. The last one was Troop Guide. I was older than most of the troop, but I was so close to completing my Eagle Scout badge that I decided to stick with it. The Scout handbook describes the Troop Guide’s duties:
The troop guide is both a leader and a mentor to the members of the new-Scout patrol. He should be an older Scout who holds at least the First Class rank and can work well with younger Scouts. He helps the patrol leader of the new-Scout patrol in much the same way that a Scoutmaster works with a senior patrol leader to provide direction, coaching, and support.
There was a more specific reason for my assignment. The troop had a problem with some of the younger Scouts being teased and treated badly. It was the sort of common behavior you’d expect from boys that age, but it did cause a couple of scouts to leave the troop. The Scoutmaster wanted me to help set the tone for the older Scouts and stick up for the younger kids.
I don’t remember teasing the younger Scouts before then, but I wasn’t paying much attention to them either. I hung out with the older guys. Socializing too much with the newbies wasn’t cool.
I started spending more time talking with the new Scouts after accepting the position and tried making them feel welcome in the troop. Once or twice I gave the older kids a hard time about their teasing. After that, everyone started rethinking their behavior and things got better. I think I did a good job.
It was a church-sponsored troop and I heard about a comment one of the younger Scouts made in Sunday School class. The students were asked to name people who stand up for justice. One of them said my name. He may have been playing teacher’s pet since my mom was giving the Sunday school lesson, but I was very proud to know someone thought of me that way because of how I acted as Troop Guide.
I was disappointed to read that Ray LaHood will be leaving as Secretary of Transportation, partly because it’s nice having one who’s personally familiar with infrastructure needs in my native central Illinois, but also because transportation is a great overlooked success story of the Obama administration. Who would have guessed that a Republican in the cabinet would bring so much joy to the hearts of tree-huggers and good planning gurus?
In an excellent Huffington Post interview, LaHood talks about high speed rail, bicycles, livable communities, and everyone owning an electric car by 2025. That puts him about ten years ahead of other central Illinois Republicans.
“Look, we are behind on high-speed rail,” he said. “But because of the president’s vision and because of the work of those of us here at DOT, we have come a long way … As long as President Obama is in the White House, whoever sits in this chair will have high-speed rail as one of their top priorities.”
In contrast, Republican Congressmen from downstate Illinois, including Aaron Schock, John Shimkus, and Bobby Schilling rode the wave of obstruction by speaking against high speed rail and voting against the rail stimulus funds that were spent in their district. Despite their lack of help, Amtrak trains on the Chicago-St. Louis line are now going faster, and their on-time performance has improved dramatically.
Small changes with big local impacts
LaHood gave the short definition of livable communities: “If you don’t want an automobile, you don’t have to have one.” That’s a revolutionary idea in many places like my hometown (Springfield, Illinois) where it’s nearly impossible to live and work if you don’t own a car. Changing the focus federally at Transportation has a huge impact on how cities conduct their planning and what sort of projects are funded.
For example, an outdated focus was a problem with Springfield’s community study on rail. They didn’t study which location was best for passenger rail, where a multi-modal transit center could spur the most economic growth, or which spot is more pedestrian friendly. They viewed rail only in terms of how it inconveniences automobile traffic. Nothing happens overnight, but the changes LaHood made at transportation will keep nudging backward looking officials with 30 year old ideas about transportation in a new direction as they make decisions for the future.
One of Obama’s best comments during the Presidential debates was that the long term solution on oil is to reduce demand. Otherwise, we can stop drilling on the Gulf Coast, but we’ll just get oil from tar sands or a country with even worse environmental protections instead. That’s one reason why several rounds of fuel efficiency and alternative fuel standards are so important. Continue reading Transportation will be one of Obama’s most enduring legacies. Thanks, Ray!
Since Obama took office, I’ve been disappointed to observe that a significant segment of left punditry prizes their ideological hang ups over accuracy. The third party left, whether Green, Libertarian or Socialist, campaign for their party by ignoring anything positive Obama does and exaggerating every negative. They feel they need to undermine support for the two major parties at all costs. Those who advocate direct action tactics in place of electoral politics, do the same. Some progressive Democrats join the chorus, made hardened cynics by years of disappointing third-way politics.
It has become clear that we can’t rely on many of these pundits for honest commentary or an accurate picture of what’s really going on. They always push the same message of disappointment and cynicism, even when there’s reason to celebrate a victory. It’s the same pattern of placing ideology over reality that we see from Fox News.
We know what to expect from Fox, conservative talk radio, and House Republicans. Anything Obama supports, they oppose, even if they supported it the week before. Their commentary is a non-stop parade of speculative accusations and exaggeration. It’s important that we call out and rebut those voices on the left who engage in the same behavior, lest we mirror the echo-chamber in a bubble that the talk-radio cult of the right has become.
I could catalog a long list of examples over the past four years, but today, I’ll stick with the most recent episode. A pundit-blogger complex of hysteria has emerged around threats to Social Security and Medicare. No doubt, we must speak up to protect these programs that are under assault, and Obama must be pressured to stand by them. There’s indication that he’s at least willing to negotiate with Republicans who want to fundamentally change both programs. But, the effort to defend has escaped into the realm of fantasy by the pundits who cry wolf.
The reality of what Obama says on Social Security and Medicare are things most progressives support. He speaks about minor reforms, like lifting the income cap on paying into the system. He does not publicly advocate major cuts or the privatization schemes favored by Republicans. Despite the lack of any discernible effort by Obama to attack either program, there’s a mountain of anonymous-source stories and tortured interpretations of vague statements to prove that Obama is out to put grandma in the poor house!
We were told the Simpson-Bowles “cat food commission” was proof that Obama was leading the assault on Social Security. That turned out to be a false alarm. The cuts they proposed were not large, and would have made the system more progressive by increasing benefits to low-income retirees. They even proposed lifting the income cap on paying into the system, which is the only change Social Security really needs. But, Obama refused to support even those minor changes because the recommended cuts were too deep. To my knowledge, none of the pundits who predicted the deficit commission was part of Obama’s secret plot to destroy Social Security admitted to their error. They readied for the next scare.
Next, we were told Obama was selling out retirees in the debt ceiling fight. Once again, it didn’t happen.
Most recently, they were sure Obama was itching to deeply cut Social Security and Medicare. Not just because he was forced to negotiate with a Republican majority in Congress who hate the middle class, but because, as Cenk put it, it’s what he really wanted all along. Cenk and others similarly minded would have us believe that, despite years of plainly expressing strong support for Social Security and Medicare, Obama has been waiting for just the right moment to leap out of the shadows, revealing his true self, thirsting for the blood of poor seniors! Does he remind you of NRA leaders who convince fearful gun owners that Obama is just waiting for the right moment to take everyone’s guns away? Continue reading The Fox News of the left: Pundits who forgot their concern for Social Security and Medicare after Obama strengthened both