Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidates Callis, Gollin, Green Talk Climate Change, Fracking

WillinoisThe three Democrats running in Illinois’ 13th Congressional district primary recently answered my questions about climate change and energy issues. It’s one of the hottest Congressional races in the nation since freshman incumbent Republican Rodney Davis narrowly won with merely 46.5% of the vote in 2012.

The central Illinois district is a complicated place to talk energy. Coal mining is no longer a major employer, but the industry still wields social and political influence beyond its economic impact. It contains the resting places of the two most significant coal mine union organizers in American history, Mother Jones and John L. Lewis. It’s also a farming district with agribusiness giant ADM based (for now) in Decatur. The metro-east St. Louis region is a center for refineries.

The 13th district also includes over a dozen colleges with young and educated voters increasingly concerned about climate change as the urgent crisis of our time. Environmentalists are organizing to become a bigger political player, particularly in response to the threat of increased coal mining and fracking.

All three Democratic candidates agree on the need to address climate change, promote clean energy, and protect the public from the negative impacts on fracking. Their responses reveal where they differ on details.

The Gollin and Callis campaigns asked for questions in writing. What follows are their responses in full.

First, George Gollin’s response:

Q: Rodney Davis has questioned the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to the climate crisis. How would you differentiate yourself from Davis on the issue of climate change?

A: The scientific evidence for climate change is strong and alarming. It demands our immediate and continuing attention: we must reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Climate change poses an existential threat to our civilization, and it is irresponsible of Mr. Davis to pretend that this is not the case.

Q: Do you have a preference for how Congress should tackle the climate crisis, such as cap-and-trade, a carbon tax, more stimulus spending on clean energy and conservation, or another approach?

A: The problem needs to be attacked simultaneously from many different directions. I support a carbon tax, as well as a crash program to further develop solar, wind, and fusion energy sources. I also support addressing the problem of radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel from conventional fission reactors using “accelerator driven subcritical fission transmutation,” which shortens the cool-down time of the spent reactor fuel by a factor of one hundred, while releasing substantial amounts of usable energy.

Q:Do you support ending federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, including President Obama’s call to eliminate oil subsidies?

A: I support ending subsidies.

Q: Several studies have brought the climate change benefits of natural gas into question due to methane leaks. Do you see natural gas a solution to climate change and how would you address the environmental threats of fracking proposed in Illinois?

A: I am glad that we are using more natural gas and less coal to generate electricity–this reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But the problem of methane leakage is worrisome, and in need of constant oversight and tough regulation. I do understand the economic benefits of producing energy at home.

This is a perfect example of why we need more scientists in Congress. I don’t think we know enough about fracking, and I think that’s partly on purpose. I will push for legislation to require all fracking operations to disclose in advance the chemicals and other substances pumped into the ground, and to require continuous testing of groundwater, and publication of the test results.

I will also call on the National Academies of Science and Engineering to make a comprehensive study of the state of the science on the seismic and environmental risks of fracking. The study would yield a definitive report on the reliability of the geology and other analyses used to determine the risks of fracking, including how realistically we can assess the risks of groundwater contamination, induced seismicity, methane leakage from well heads, and–perhaps most importantly–how well fracking operations can be regulated in the face of a Republican Party which will try to cripple oversight by withdrawing funding for regulatory agencies.

If the conclusion is that the safety of fracking operations cannot be firmly established, or maintained in a hostile political environment, then I would immediately cosponsor legislation to ban fracking. And even if the NAS concludes that it can be done safely, I would cosponsor legislation requiring full disclosure of the contents of fracking fluids, and the results of pre- and post-fracking water assays. I would also sponsor legislation requiring the termination of fracking operations should regulatory oversight become inadequate because of funding cuts. I would sponsor legislation requiring a fracking operator to pay the costs of enforcing regulation, and the costs of mitigating any environmental problems attributable to fracking.

If careful, honest scientific analysis shows that we cannot prove that fracking is safe, then we should ban it. Let’s get the science figured out.

Next, the response from Ann Callis:

Q: Rodney Davis has questioned the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to the climate crisis. How would you differentiate yourself from Davis on the issue of climate change?

A: I believe in the vast scientific evidence that man-made pollution is contributing to climate change. This winter has shown us the volatility of our current weather, and by looking at 30 year trends there is no denying the rapidly changing environment. I will work to preserve our natural resources and protect the air we breathe and the water we drink. We must leave our world in a better place for future generations, and that starts with reducing pollution. Continue reading Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidates Callis, Gollin, Green Talk Climate Change, Fracking

Climate Change Is A Hoax? It's FALSE NEWS!

FalseNewsThere’s never a shortage of false news on the climate change front. This week is no exception with the climate deniers flooding the airwaves to counteract Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama as they seek to jumpstart the global discussion on climate change.

Secretary Kerry’s Asian tour included an announcement that China and the United States will work together on climate goals and the reduction of air pollution. He also delivered a major climate change speech in Jakarta when he point-blank branded those who continue to deny climate evidence as “shoddy scientists”.  President Obama addressed climate change and its increasing costs as he promised millions of dollars of relief to the drought-stricken San Joaquin Valley, despite the region’s Congressman being a member of the Flat Earth Society, as Secretary Kerry has taken to calling them. The President is no longer molly-coddling the issue, flatly stating that we must “combat carbon pollution that causes climate change.”  He also addressed the increasing costs of extreme weather and the need to “address increasing risks such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods, and crippling droughts on a regional basis.”

I thought that Marsha Blackburn would be a shoo-in for the queen of the Flat Earthers, but stunningly, real journalists with real educations beat her out. I don’t care who you are or whether you agree or disagree, but you know that the basic tenet of climate change is that the earth is warming.  No matter how many snowstorm jokes you tell, you understand temperatures can change weather and over a course of years, will change climate. Not so Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday or Kim Strassel of the Wall Street Journal. (And you want to trust her on the economy?)

Here’s the learned exchange that took place on Fox News Sunday, after Wallace wondered how the President could make a case for climate change in the parched west, when the east was “in the grips of a brutal winter”:

WALLACE: So, Kim, what is going to happen to the climate change/global warming movement? And maybe, you know, because I don’t – when did global warming become climate change?

STRASSEL: It became climate change when you couldn’t prove that there was much global warming anymore, you know. As the temperatures didn’t change.

It would be fascinating to know whether guest George Will was startled by this news, because his stated view earlier in the show was that, “Of course the climate is changing. It’s always changing. That’s what gave us the medieval warm period. That’s what gave us subsequent to that for centuries the brutal Ice Age. Of course it’s changing.”

So there you have it. Climate deniers can pick their poison. Either climate change is happening and there’s nothing can be done about it – or global warming and climate change is just a big old game of charades, nothing to see here, move along.

Compared to this exchange, Marsha Blackburn was an intellectual marvel in her debate with every kid’s favorite professor, Bill Nye the Science Guy.

You would think the man who taught us inertia and moving molecules and barometric pressure would be above reproach.  But Blackburn didn’t wait 30 seconds before attempting to belittle Mr. Nye by dismissing his life’s work as a scientist and engineer to that of an “actor”.  An actor? I guess she missed his work at Boeing, his contributions to the Mars mission, his Cornell professorship, his three honorary PhDs, and his directorship of the Planetary Society.  It shouldn’t be surprising; this is an important method of neutralizing the credibility of speakers for skeptical viewers. They don’t have to take the scientist seriously because the Congresswoman just gave them an excuse not to.

Then she pulled a different trick out of the hat, raising the names of trusted “liberal” sources promptly followed by taking quotes out of context to distort their views. I don’t know which strategy is more devious, flat out lying from your own mouth a la the Fox News guests, or putting your lies into the mouths of individuals who aren’t there to defend themselves. Continue reading Climate Change Is A Hoax? It’s FALSE NEWS!

Stormy Monday, 11/11/13

StormyMondayIf you’re reading this, either the fragments of the Gravity Ocean Circulation Explorer didn’t fall on you or you have an admirably hard head. The European Space Agency satellite ran out of fuel on October 21 and was predicted to crash late Sunday or early Monday. The ESA expects it to break up at an altitude of about 50 miles, resulting in a spray of debris centered over… well, they don’t really know.

If I got to choose a location for GOCE’s crash landing, I’d be tempted to pick room 2154 in the Rayburn House Office Building. Barring such celestial fallout, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will use the room Wednesday morning for yet another of what its chair, Darrell Issa, likes to refer to as “hearings” into the Affordable Care Act. (Far from being exercises in hearing, the proceedings have to date generally resembled the shambolic tribunal of orangutans convened to decide Charlton Heston’s fate in Planet of the Apes.)

To that end, Issa has subpoenaed Todd Park, Chief Technology Officer for the Obama Administration, to appear. Despite having nothing much to do – other than, oh, directing the repair and remediation of healthcare.gov, the site whose technical issues have caused such consternation to Issa and so many others who were completely opposed to Obamacare from the get-go – Park so far shows no sign of complying with the subpoena. It goes without saying that we haven’t heard the last of this, because of course when it comes to Darrell Issa, there is no last of this. Ever.

Speaking of never ending, Rick Santorum heads to Des Moines on Monday, ostensibly to shill for the forthcoming movie A Christmas Candle, produced by his new family-friendly film venture, EchoLight Studios. The fact that the Iowa caucuses remain the first noteworthy date on the presidential electoral calendar is, of course, a coincidence so remarkable that it’s almost a Christmas miracle. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 11/11/13

The Two Faces of Governor Quinn's Environmental Policy Puts Downstate Illinois in Danger

WillinoisGovernor Pat Quinn recently spoke at the annual dinner of the Illinois Environmental Council held in Chicago, where he was applauded as a longtime ally. His record as Governor reflects his commitment to clean energy and the environment. At least when he’s in Chicago.

When Quinn travels south, the tree-hugging Dr. Jekyll transforms into a dirty energy Mr. Hyde on issue after issue.

New Coal Plants

Environmentalists celebrated when Quinn vetoed a bill to provide rate increases for a coal-to-gas plant Leucadia Corp proposed in a heavily polluted area of southeastern Chicago.

But for southern Illinois, Quinn signed a bill to subsidize a similar coal-to-gas plant proposed near Mt. Vernon. When signing the bill Quinn claimed, “This important project will help revive the coal industry in southern Illinois.” The project eventually failed after plunging natural gas prices made it difficult for the company to find investors.

After taking opposite positions for the northern and southern ends of the state, what happened when a company asked for a mandatory rate increase to subsidize yet another coal gasification plant proposed in the central Illinois town of Taylorville? Quinn stayed publicly neutral.

Expanding Coal Exports

Leading climate change scientist James Hansen recently warned that burning all fossil fuels “would make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans.” At an event in Springfield, not long after becoming Governor, Quinn encouragingly called climate change the great challenge of our time.

Yet, earlier this year, Quinn bragged about setting a record for coal exports that made Illinois the fifth highest coal producing state. The release from Quinn’s office highlights efforts by his administration to build more coal export infrastructure and promote coal in foreign markets including, “supporting trade missions to the markets which represent the best prospects for Illinois coal, and potentially encouraging foreign investment in Illinois coal properties.” That will often mean nations with weak or non-existent pollution standards.

The Governor signed several bills to boost coal mining, including one to allow a surface mining operation in a state park, and another to ease the permitting process for strip mines. No, that’s not a joke. He actually leased 160 acres of a state park in southern Illinois for a strip mine.

As the expansion continues, residents in mining areas have to contend with a state Office of Mines and Minerals that’s notoriously cozy with industry and an EPA that will apparently issue a permit to even the worst mine proposed by habitual repeat offenders. Quinn’s failure to reform these agencies to better serve the public interest, rather than extraction special interests, is a disappointment to many residents in impacted communities.

People in poorer nations will experience higher cases of asthma, heart disease, birth defects, and learning disabilities among children as a result of burning Illinois’ high sulfur coal. Most Illinoisans may easily ignore those distant consequences, but not all of coal’s impacts can be exported. Destruction will continue in mining communities, and everyone will suffer the global consequences of climate change.

Clean Jobs for Northern Illinois – Dangerous Jobs for Southern

A recent report on green job growth included a graphic showing that all clean energy jobs created so far this year were in the northern half of the state. That didn’t happen by accident. Illinois’ economic development agency, DCEO, does good work promoting clean energy jobs in some areas. But, their agenda in southern Illinois is dominated by the Office of Coal Development (OCD).

The OCD oversees most of the millions in taxpayer subsidies Illinois gives the coal industry annually. The fund helps keep old, polluting coal plants running, and encourages officials in rural Illinois to stay focused on coal as an economic development strategy. Predictably, waiting for the mines to re-open has largely kept coal country in poverty compared to other parts of the state.

The same office oversees a state funded propaganda campaign that lies to children about coal. Quinn has ignored appeals to rework or end the educational program distributed in schools that tells children fairy tails of how safe and clean coal really is.

Coal is America’s deadliest power source. Many of those deaths are caused by air emissions that contribute to respiratory problems and heart disease. The death toll also includes mining accidents, like the recent one at a Peabody mine in Saline County. Twenty people lost their lives in mine accidents last year. And despite preventative equipment, Black Lung still kills hundreds of miners every year.

By allowing coal to set the agenda, Quinn is promoting safe, clean energy jobs for some of Illinois, while telling people further south they should be satisfied to base their economy on some of the most dangerous and deadly jobs in America.

A Massive New Assault on the Environment

Quinn’s most controversial action on energy is to enthusiastically launch the Illinois fracking industry, which will become one of the most expansive assaults on the environment in state history. Quinn brags that his fracking rules will create jobs while protecting the environment. But, even groups who supported the bill admit it’s inadequate. Residents will now be subjected to a massive science experiment as we wait for more proof that fracking can’t be safely regulated in a region prone to flooding and earthquakes.

greenwashQuinn had other options. As Governor, he could have supported a moratorium and pledged to veto anything else. He could have asked his staff to craft stronger regulations with or without support from industry. Instead, he asked industry lobbyists to write legislation and invited his allies in statehouse green groups to go along.

Some legislators and environmental groups who helped write the regulatory bill claim it had to be passed because fracking is already happening in Illinois. Supporting inadequate regulation was better than than a fracking boom with no safeguards in place. They cited “breaking news” of a single fracking well already operating (in a county where vertical fracking has been going on for many years) as a pressure tactic to quickly pass the bill. But, if industry spokespersons are to be believed, there was no danger of widespread fracking happening without passage of a regulatory bill.

A lobbyist supporting the bill for the Illinois Manufactures Association said, “Industry is not going to move forward until there’s a regulatory framework in place. Each well costs five to 25 million dollars so they’re not going to make that type of investment unless they know the structure they’re operating under.”

An environmental attorney quoted by the Chicago Tribune explained, ”If legislation doesn’t pass at some point this year, from the state’s perspective the risk is that the industry might invest elsewhere in other states that have more favorable conditions to invest in and develop these sorts of wells.” In the same article, the executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Energy Council claimed that, “without regulations in place, a tacit moratorium already exists.”

The head of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association said, “We agreed to the regulatory scheme because we felt like the alternative was a very real chance that we would end up with some type of moratorium.”

According to multiple industry experts, the most likely outcome of not passing a fracking regulatory bill this year would have been a continued delay of fracking, not the massive expansion of unregulated fracking environmentalists were threatened with. Continue reading The Two Faces of Governor Quinn’s Environmental Policy Puts Downstate Illinois in Danger

Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

Take-FiveONE: Death Becomes Them

Via The Hill, I recently discovered political scientist Eric Ostermeier’s fascinating curio cabinet of a blog, Smart Politics, published by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Among other topics, Dr. Ostermeier has recently scrutinized websites for House campaigns (nine incumbent House members did not have an active campaign website as of August 18), traced the historical arc of African-Americans elected to Congress (25 states have yet to elect their first black Representative, and nearly half of the African-Americans ever elected to the House were from a mere five states), tallied living former Senators (167, a whopping eight of them from Minnesota), and surveyed Spanish language content on official House websites (the sites of 36 Congressfolks, 31 of them Democrats, feature some).

Dr. Ostermeier is now three installments into a series focusing on “unusual deaths that have befallen members of Congress.” Given current Congressional approval ratings, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that “Unusual Exits” is among the year’s most popular political writing; if it isn’t, it should be. The newest installment looks at drowning, which has claimed 13 members of the Senate and House since 1808, although only two were in office at the time of their deaths. This follows on part 1, which looked at Congressional deaths “on or by railroads” (death toll 23), and part 2, which examined deaths by “accidental gunshots” (body count 6).

It’s lucky for House Republicans that blatant, bare-assed hypocrisy isn’t fatal. Take Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, who were quick to add their signatures to an emergency funding request by their state delegation following Colorado’s calamitous flooding. Back in July, the quartet endorsed a similar petition for a federal major disaster declaration after a rash of wildfires. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, except that the same four Representatives voted against disaster relief money for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. For added context, ThinkProgress helpfully notes that they’re all climate change denialists.

TWO: Squeaker of the House

John Boehner, crime boss of these and other Republicans in the People’s House, just vomited up some hypocrisy of his own with a web commercial that asks the musical question: “Why is the Obama Administration willing to negotiate with Putin on Syria… but not with Congress to address Washington’s spending problem?”

Since you asked, Mr. Speaker, I have a few guesses. Maybe it’s because the civil war in Syria has ominous regional implications, and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violates an accord ratified by 189 nations, and soon by Syria. Or it could be because Congressional Republicans haven’t negotiated anything in good faith with the Executive Branch since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Or perhaps it’s because the only spending problem in Washington (other than the perpetually ludicrous defense budget) is your party’s refusal to strengthen the recovery with further stimulus, adequate SNAP and unemployment benefits, and a federal minimum wage at least tenuously connected to reality. You know what? Let’s make it all of the above.

THREE: China Syndrome

You might recall a story from late August about a million cockroaches escaping from a farm in Dafeng, China. As loathsome as roaches are, I can’t begrudge them their instincts here, since they were being bred as an ingredient for traditional medicines. Besides, the escape wasn’t even their idea; the greenhouse where they were housed was compromised by a person or persons unknown, and the roaches did what came naturally, and scattered.

I didn’t really give the item a second thought until I read a National Journal story about a terrifying encounter in the basement of the White House press offices with a roach described by political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar as “the size of a small drone.”

Wait. Could the Dafeng “escape” have been faked? Could the White House incident be a beachhead for some sort of Red Dawn-style insectile assault? Could the press office cockroach have actually been a drone? Well, no, of course not, but the need for vigilance has never been greater. Mere days after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved Shuanghui International’s $4.7 billion purchase of US pork producer Smithfield Foods, Chinese authorities seized roughly 45,000 pounds of fake beef from a factory in Xi-an:

The pork was treated with chemicals, including paraffin wax and industrial salts, to make it look like beef…

The news will come as [of] particular concern to Xi’an’s large Muslim community, who may have been buying some distinctly non-halal beef.

Hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns 5.7 percent of Smithfield, had been working on an alternative buyout offer since early summer, but has abandoned the effort and will back the Chinese deal at a shareholder vote on Tuesday, knocking down one of the last remaining hurdles to completion of the transaction. Nobody brings home the bacon like Shuanghui International, even if they have to disguise it as flank steak. Continue reading Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)

Stormy Monday, 9/23/13

StormyMondayThe most compelling evidence yet for the non-existence of God was revealed earlier this month by Roll Call, which announced that Darrell Issa is now the richest member of Congress. Flush with his undeserved success, Issa flew to Libya yesterday, breaking an Oversight and Government Reform Committee rule he himself instituted that mandates all committee-sanctioned foreign junkets be bipartisan. While Issa frantically searches under every couch cushion in Benghazi for a smoking gun that will destroy the Obama Presidency, it sure would be a fine time to revoke his passport.

A government shutdown on October 1 remains a distinct possibility following last Friday’s passage by the House of a continuing resolution that would fund government operations through mid-December, but also defund Obamacare. Despite Ted Cruz huffing and puffing about a filibuster, the Senate will no doubt remove the provisions related to the Affordable Care Act and punt the bill back to the House, probably this week. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but assuming the worst seems an increasingly safe bet.

The House resolution includes a “death gratuity” payable to the widow of Senator Frank Lautenberg in the sum of $174,000, a common though not automatic Congressional perk. If the gratuity makes it into a bicamerally-approved version of the resolution, I expect Mrs. Lautenberg will probably steer the money to some worthy cause or another. She certainly doesn’t need it; her late husband’s net worth has been estimated at $57 million.

Having botched the continuing resolution, the House might also hork up a debt ceiling bill this week, according to reptilian Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor is on record as saying it will include a provision to “delay” the implementation of Obamacare for one year, and another to ensure completion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Plus a bunch more provisions to do other bad things. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/23/13

Republicans Revive EPA Tractor Dust Conspiracy Theory to Gut Environmental Protections

WillinoisThe EPA wants to regulate tractor dust. Can you believe that? It’s getting to the point where a man can’t even drive his tractor down a dirt road without big government getting in the way!

That’s what Congressman Rodney Davis wants you to believe anyway. It’s a good soundbite and the fact that it’s complete nonsense hasn’t stopped some politicians from peddling this conspiracy theory no matter how many times it’s debunked.

Davis sponsored an amendment to let the Department of Agriculture comment on EPA regulation. In speeches and press statements, he argued that EPA is out of touch with rural America by reviving the old yarn that they want to regulate tractor dust on dirt roads.

Congressman John Shimkus was telling this dusty story back when Rodney Davis was still on his staff. Since then, the EPA administrator has said several times that there’s no plan to consider regulating tractor dust, and multiple news organizations have debunked the talking point. At this point it should be absolutely clear to everyone that it simply isn’t true.

Undeterred by reality, there’s even a bill called the “Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act.” What it actually does is prevent EPA from enacting regulations of soot and particulate matter that are only applied to major sources of industrial pollution, not farms. These are pollutants, often from coal power plants, that cause lung disease, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and other deadly health problems.

In other words, this has nothing to do with protecting rural America. Politicians who talk about tractor dust regulation want rural Americans to fight for the coal industry’s right to kill them a little faster. Continue reading Republicans Revive EPA Tractor Dust Conspiracy Theory to Gut Environmental Protections

Stormy Monday, 6/24/13

This afternoon, the Senate will probably attempt a vote on an omnibus amendment to the comprehensive immigration bill, following last week’s agreement on inclusion of border security measures. If the amendment passes, the bill moves one large step closer to Senate approval. This coincides with a TV ad sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce debuting today, featuring Rand Paul and Marco Rubio (and someone named Paul Ryan) pitching the need for reform to skeptical Republican viewers. Presumably, Rubio was plenty hydrated before the cameras rolled.

Yesterday, Paul told CNN’s Candy Crowley that the failure of his proposed amendment granting Congress final authority to decide if border security is adequate will lead him to vote against the bill. Pendejo.

Speaking of immigration, Edward Snowden is said to be seeking asylum in Ecuador, aided by legal advisers provided by WikiLeaks. The leaker’s passport has supposedly been revoked, but he traveled to Russia on Sunday from his previous fastness in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, Massachusetts voters will fill John Kerry’s Senate seat with either Democratic House veteran Ed Markey or self-described “moderate Republican” Gabriel Gomez. The latest polls put Markey up by eight to 12 points, which Gomez tacitly acknowledged on Fox News over the weekend by discussing his intention to make another run for office if he loses this one.

With Congress as useless on climate change as it is on most other issues, the President will lay out a series of executive measures in a Tuesday speech at Georgetown University. Details of the speech have been closely guarded, but the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline will apparently not be part of the subject matter, and might not be announced until 2014. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/24/13

Illinois drought and flooding isn't climate change. It's a climate clusterfuck.

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.

Take Five (Zero Worship edition)

ONE: I Just Can’t Quit Her

She might be an obscure political footnote waiting to happen, but Michele Bachmann will always be heroic to me. Even among her fellow House Republicans, few would even try to yearn to aspire to attempt to emulate her straight-up weirdness, seemingly involuntary lying, and relentless misunderstanding of pretty much everything about everything. Unlike wannabes such as the suspiciously non-contiguous Sarah Palin or the implosion-primed Nikki Haley, Bachmann is truly the GOP’s current It Girl.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, Bachmann kicked off the 113th Congress by unsuccessfully trying to repeal Obamacare. Yes, that’s something the House Majority does compulsively at this point, like meth or knuckle cracking, but Bachmann brought a whole new level of earnest sincerity to this nasty habit:

That’s why we’re here because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens. Let’s not do that. Let’s love people, let’s care about people. Let’s repeal it now while we can…

ThinkProgress managing editor Igor Volsky covered himself completely with dust and glory in his enviably nimble reporting on Bachmann’s speech:

Moments after calling for the complete repeal of a law that will extend health care coverage to 30 million Americans, Bachmann claimed that her belief in Christ inspires her to care “for the least of those who are in our midst.” After she completed her remarks, fellow Republican Rep. Michael Burgess (TX) observed that the Minnesota Congresswoman “has a way of stating these things that none of us are capable of.”

Yes, she certainly has a unique way of going about all kinds of things, so unique that the Office of Congressional Ethics has apparently developed something of a fascination with it:

The Daily Beast has learned that federal investigators are now interviewing former Bachmann campaign staffers nationwide about alleged intentional campaign-finance violations… investigators have allegedly asked about allegations of improper transfer of funds and under-the-table payments actions by Bachmann’s presidential campaign…

In a piece last weekend, Charles M. Blow of the New York Times insisted:

People like Bachmann represent everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. She and her colleagues are hyperbolic, reactionary, ill-informed and ill-intentioned, and they have become synonymous with the Republican brand. We don’t need all politicians to be Mensa-worthy, but we do expect them to be cogent and competent.

Sorry, but please speak for yourself, Mr. Blow. I expect no such thing, at least from Republicans.

As for you, Michele Bachmann, long may you run, be it for office or from the law.

TWO: Pride and Prejudice and Piss and Vinegar

Bachmann isn’t the ’12 cycle’s only failed Republican hopeful still attracting headlines. Two of her primary rivals are at the center of a fascinating new story by Joshua Green of Businessweek:

As Mitt Romney struggled in the weeks leading up to the Michigan primary, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum nearly agreed to form a joint “Unity Ticket” to consolidate conservative support and topple Romney.

Damn. As much as I loved seeing Barack Obama and Joe Biden beat Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, I reckon I’d have loved seeing Obama and Biden beat Gingrich and Santorum just a little more. Or should that be Santorum and Gingrich?

… the negotiations collapsed in acrimony because Gingrich and Santorum could not agree on who would get to be president.

Poor bastards should have called me; I could have told them the only one who would get to be President was the guy who already had been for four years.

Like Gingrich, Santorum has fallen back on public speaking gigs, continuously augmenting an already lengthy record demonstrating why he’s unfit to hold any elected office, of any kind, anywhere, ever. Santorum, essentially, is very hard to distinguish from a vile little bigot:

… during a speech in Naples [Florida]… Santorum… said he found that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama lacked leadership in defending the U.S. against the threats of radical Islam.

“I’m not talking about all Muslims, just like I’m not talking about all Christians and all Jews. The Christian faith, the dominant religion in the west, and the Islamic faith, come down to two men, Jesus Christ and Mohammed,” he said.

“Jesus did not fight, rule or reign. Mohammed fought, killed, ruled, conquered and governed,” Santorum said.

In a clear indication that Santorum slept through every stinking thing that happened in the world from his regrettable birth in 1958 right up until the moment he took the stage, his grubby little stem-winder included this astounding pseudo-observation:

“We are about to hand off to our children, grandchildren, the most destabilized, threatening world we’ve ever seen,” he said.

Ironically, he would have been eloquently correct had he been talking about catastrophic climate change, but Santorum is on record as a stalwart climate change denialist, who once sneered on the campaign trail:

“… an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.”

Vexing as you and I might find it, Santorum’s refusal to go away is a timely morale boost for the vile little bigot wing of the Republican Party (often referred to simply as “the Republican Party”) since said wing might soon have to adjust to the tragedy of life without vile little bigot Gary Bauer. Bauer might be irrelevant now to all but three or four other Republicans – who are probably related to him – and he quite possibly spends most of his time floating in a jar of formaldehyde on a shelf in a dark K Street basement, but he spoke Tuesday at a DC march organized by the National Organization for [some] Marriage, waving his stunted little saber valiantly at the Republican Party and the spring sky over the National Mall, and declaring the preservation of marriage inequality his personal line in the litmus:

“… if you bail out on this issue, I will leave the party and I will take as many people with me as I possibly can.”

I guess I’m a sentimental fool, but somehow I find it touching that Gary Bauer is still out there on the front lines of the 21st century, fighting to keep a Republican Party recklessly flirting with the 20th stuck firmly in the 19th. And the Unhappy Warrior has company, such as the equally post-relevant Mike Huckabee:

When asked by the website Newsmax “if he sees the GOP ever pivoting and backing gay marriage,” Huckabee admitted they might.

“And if they do, they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk…”

As someone who’s been suggesting they take a walk for years now, I for one can’t wait.

THREE: Neighborhood Watch

Speaking of raging bigots, the festering sore on the body politic known as the Westboro Baptist Church is still widely acknowledged as an on-point answer to the question: What’s the matter with Kansas? But Fred Phelps’ hatemongering Topeka “church” couldn’t deter a decorative new neighbor from settling in right across 12th Street, a gay-rights center, complete with rainbow-painted clapboard and a conspicuous Pride flag:

The center is the work of a roving do-gooder named Aaron Jackson, a 31-year-old community-college dropout whose other projects have included opening orphanages in India and Haiti and buying a thousand acres of endangered rain forest in Peru. This year, his charity, Planting Peace, also intends to de-worm every child in Guatemala.

While Planting Peace works for a worm-free Guatemala, the folks across the street will be equally busy. Currently, they’re gearing up to picket not only the Final Four at the Georgia Dome, but Kansas City concerts by Bon Jovi (who apparently “stood by silently” while gay people “took over this nation”), Itzhak Perlman (for killing Jesus), Carrie Underwood (for “promoting sin and shame”) and Fleetwood Mac (because “singer Stevie Nicks proudly joins fellow sodomitical harlots Lady Gaga, Cher and Madonna as a well known ‘gay icon’”).

Is it just me or is Sodomitical Harlots the greatest band name ever? Oh, and call me petty, but why, when I simply want to know what the Westbores are up to, do I have to wander around 10 of their deeply hideous websites? Why can’t they just put everything together under one convenient URL, like GodHatesEveryoneButUs.com? Continue reading Take Five (Zero Worship edition)