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

Racist, sexist attack against Congressional candidate a reminder of opponent's subtle appeal to prejudice

That didn’t take long. An Illinois Republican party official made a racist and sexist attack against Erika Harold two weeks after she announced her Congressional primary campaign against a Republican incumbent. The ugly comments by the chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party have gotten plenty of coverage so I won’t repeat them here. Conservative talk show hosts are advised to wait a week before going back to arguing that racism is no longer a problem in America.

Her opponent in the Republican primary, freshman incumbent Rodney Davis, did the right thing by removing the official’s name from a list of supporters on his website and asking him to resign as party chair.

The episode reminded me about a piece of Davis campaign literature I wrote about last year as an example of “othering” or as I like to call it, fill-in-the-blank-prejudice. A Davis campaign representative handed it out during a 9-12 & Take Back America event in Montgomery County, which is now looking for a new Republican chair.

During campaign season, 9-12 groups were usually careful not to make overtly racist slurs, but the movement includes plenty of appeals to a vague sense of America as they know it being under attack by this new socialist black President and his scary allies. So, it’s no wonder that the Davis campaign would give the group literature claiming that he’s one of them. It says Davis will represent “Our America” where people put in an honest day’s work.

DavisUsvThemThe card doesn’t need to tell a 9-12 group in an overwhelmingly white small town who those other people are from somewhere else where they don’t put in an honest days work and who aren’t part of “our america.” They can fill in the blanks. This the same crowd who claim that most of their state tax dollars are being taken from rural downstate and spent in Chicago because that’s where most of the welfare recipients live. Of course, that belief is absurd since much of rural Illinois is poor and most of the state’s millionaires and Fortune 500 companies are located in the Chicago area. Continue reading Racist, sexist attack against Congressional candidate a reminder of opponent’s subtle appeal to prejudice

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.

Is Rodney Davis being honest about his relationship with George Ryan? (IL-13)

My patience has worn thin listening to Rodney Davis complain about campaign ads on his ties to convicted former Governor George Ryan. Davis claims the ads by DCCC are misleading, but Davis has never denied the basic facts: that Davis worked for George Ryan and was on Ryan’s clout list. If you look at the bigger picture, Davis’ denials smell funnier than the original ads.

Davis says the ads are false because they call George Ryan “Governor,” while Davis worked for Ryan only while he was Secretary of State. That’s irrelevant nitpicking, especially since Ryan was convicted for what he did as Secretary of State. Davis further refutes the ad by saying he was a low-level, anonymous employee who never took favors from George Ryan. He doubts that Ryan even remembered his name or knew who he was.

As I wrote before, Davis was granted a leave of absence from his job with the Secretary of State’s office to run for State Representative in 1996. That’s a pretty big favor not available to people in most normal jobs.

I decided to do a little fact-checking with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Davis donated $200 to the Ryan campaign fund in December of ’96, shortly after losing his campaign for State Representative. There was no reporting requirement for smaller donations at that time, so there may have been additional unrecorded contributions, such as low-dollar tickets to fundraisers.I tried to confirm that the donation isn’t from a relative in Taylorville with the same name but the Davis campaign isn’t very responsive to me right now. Regardless, I found something much more interesting.

Campaign finance reports from the time period Davis ran for State Representative aren’t online, so I went to the state election office in Springfield to pick up a copy. I scanned some of the results and uploaded them here. As I looked through the documents, I googled the names of large Davis contributors from outside Taylorville. In most instances, I found that those individuals were working for George Ryan.

Davis raised thousands in campaign contributions from managers he worked with in Ryan’s Secretary of State office.The most generous donor was Craig Roberts, who was serving as a high-ranking aid to George Ryan and would later become Chief of Staff to Congressman John Shimkus.  Over the campaign, he gave a series of donations and in-kind contributions totaling over $4,700.00. That’s pretty generous for someone taking a public salary.

Others include April Cook, who contributed a series of donations and in-kind contributions coming to $579.63. She worked in the Secretary of State human resources division. Jane Vredenburgh, an executive assistant to the Secretary of State, made multiple donations adding up to $650.00, and in later years would be a major Shimkus donor as well. Deb Detmers was manager of the Indexing Department where Davis worked, finance director of the Ryan campaign fund, and later moved to the Shimkus staff. She helped Davis too, making in-kind contributions.

Judging by the items donated, it appears that management staff were helping Davis host fundraising events. One wonders how many other Secretary of State employees made smaller, unreported donations at Davis campaign events hosted by their coworkers and bosses.

All of this by itself isn’t necessarily anything sinister. It’s not unusual to raise political funds from co-workers. Davis and his donors may even have left Ryan’s office to work for Shimkus because they were bothered by corruption in the office. But, if that’s the case, then why not say so? Why the amnesia routine?

What makes it significant is the context of what was happening in the Secretary of State office under George Ryan. Employees were expected to buy campaign fundraising tickets and do political work, sometimes on state time. As one article put it: “In offices all over the state, employees came to believe that their careers, evaluations, promotions, and pay increases all depended on their ability to raise campaign contributions for their political patron, then-Secretary of State George Ryan.”

Davis donated to the Ryan campaign fund at a time when employees were pressured into doing so. In fact, the supervisor of his department, Deb Detmers, testified in court that she was pressured to meet quotas for selling fundraising tickets to employees she supervised. Continue reading Is Rodney Davis being honest about his relationship with George Ryan? (IL-13)

Rodney Davis makes wacky claim that climate change stopped 16 years ago (IL-13)

How did I miss this whopper?! Republican Congressional candidate Rodney Davis claimed during a radio interview that climate change stopped sixteen years ago.

Clearly, you can tell that’s true because over the last several years we definitely haven’t had an unusual degree of extreme flooding along the Mississippi, no extreme droughts, and no Frankenstorms. Oh yeah, wait, those things are happening more often and it’s exactly what scientists told us to expect as a result of climate change.

You can listen to his comment after the 42:00-minute mark during a Focus interview on WILL public radio. A caller asked Davis how he plans to deal with climate change (no, it wasn’t me this time). Davis answered by claiming that, according to recent reports, “global warming stopped about sixteen years ago.”

Then he launched into his usual repetition of the Exxon/Koch Brothers talking point that there’s still a debate about whether man-made pollution is causing the crisis. It’s the argument climate change deniers have retreated to now that it’s impossible to ignore the change that’s already happening. As always, he dodged saying where he stands on whether man-made pollutants are the problem. He has gone through the entire campaign refusing to tell which side of that debate he’s on.

The caller interrupted Davis to tell him “that’s absolutely wrong” about climate change stopping, and challenged him to talk to a Nobel Prize winner at the University of Illinois about the scientific reality. That guy deserves a gold star. He may have been referring to a Professor of Atmospheric Science, Don Wuebbles, an outspoken, internationally recognized expert on climate issues who’s right here in central Illinois.

I googled the wacky claim about global warming stopping sixteen years ago and discovered it has been making the rounds on right-wing blogs and talk radio shows like Glenn Beck’s. It started with discredited writer Davis Rose publishing an article in a conservative British tabloid, which claimed there’s a report showing global temperatures stopped rising in 1996. The original report came from the British Met office.

The Met Office is the British version of the national weather service. They wrote a brutal, detailed response to what they describe as “misleading information” in the article. Here’s my favorite part: Continue reading Rodney Davis makes wacky claim that climate change stopped 16 years ago (IL-13)

Congressional candidates Gill, Davis occupy same stage but different realities. IL-13

Democrat David Gill and Republican Rodney Davis shared the same stage for their debate last night, but they’re clearly not living in the same reality. Let’s review a few issues.

Debt and Taxes

Rodney Davis started the debate by saying his top issue is cutting the national debt. His plan for doing so is to cut taxes. Seriously. He wants to reduce revenue to bring down the debt. He doesn’t believe in that arithmetic thing Bill Clinton was talking about.

Later in the debate a student question asked the obvious. Are spending cuts alone without a tax increase enough to deal with the debt, and what, specifically, would you cut from the budget?

Davis again repeated the magical debt-reducing tax cut theory that worked so well for George W. Bush. He didn’t name any specific spending cuts he would support. He told the university audience that his unspecified spending cuts would free up more money to spend on student financial aid for college.

In a single debate, Davis claimed that everyone will get tax cuts, that tax cuts will reduce the deficit, that only things you don’t like will be cut from the budget, and all the spending you do like will still be increased. Also, everyone gets a unicorn that farts glitter.

David Gill said he supports ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but does not support any tax increase on the middle class. Unlike Davis, he named something specific he would cut. Gill thinks we should already be out of Afghanistan and that military spending can be cut as we withdraw.

Gill’s plan of proposing specific cuts in a bloated part of the budget, and expiring the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy could be described as a reality-based strategy to cutting the debt. Counting on trickle-down tax cuts to magically grow the economy, as Davis suggests, is exactly how we got the debts of the Reagan and Bush years.

Energy and Climate Change

The moderators didn’t bring up climate change, but David Gill did twice. First, he brought up the droughts that hit farmers hard this year and spoke about the need to keep things from getting even worse due to climate change. He later said he takes a science-based approach to the issue, and that it’s a real problem we need to deal with.

Gill says that if we’re going to subsidize energy sources that it should be clean tech development rather than subsidies going to oil and dirty energy. He brought up the dirty industry dollars going to the Davis campaign several times, including donations from Exxon, Exelon, and the Koch brothers.

Davis debated both Gill and his own flip-flopping positions on energy. First, he said he opposed federal support to clean energy projects like Solyndra. When asked directly about the clean energy tax credit for wind, he said he supported it, even though he opposed them just last week. Later he went back to attacking federal spending for clean energy yet again.

Davis flip-flopped three times in under an hour, and never said a word about climate change. He doesn’t appear to believe in either science or arithmetic.

Health Care Choice

Rodney Davis repeatedly used the fear tactic of telling people that universal health care will result in the government dictating their choice of doctors and health care decisions. He believes a “market-based” insurance system will give people the freedom to choose their own doctors and health care options. It gets truly bizarre when Davis supports this argument by pointing to his own experience while being on a government, taxpayer-funded health care plan provided by his federal government job. Continue reading Congressional candidates Gill, Davis occupy same stage but different realities. IL-13

Rodney Davis sides with climate change conspiracy theorists. Would kill green jobs in Illinois. (IL-13)

It finally happened! During an interview with the State Journal-Register editorial board, Rodney Davis was asked if he accepts the scientific consensus behind climate change.

The question came near the end of their interview with the three candidates in the 13th District Congressional race (at 53:00 in the video online). It was finally discussed after independent candidate John Hartman scolded the SJR editorial board for not asking about an issue as important as climate change. When asked if it’s man-made, Hartman spoke about the broad scientific consensus that man-made pollution is driving the climate crisis.

David Gill reinforced the position on his campaign website, saying, “It’s not a question of belief, it’s a question of what is. The science is extremely clear on this. It’s very, very real and it’s a grave threat. Irreversible damage is already taking place now. The failure of the Exxon-Mobil funded politicians in Washington D.C. to address it appropriately is perhaps the biggest mistake that we’re making.”

Gill didn’t mention that his Republican opponent, Rodney Davis, already took the maximum allowable campaign contributions from Exxon and the Koch brothers PAC. Both Exxon and the Koch brothers funded deceptive propaganda campaigns to spread doubt about the science of climate change. Does Davis represent the views of his corporate sponsors who try to undermine science?

Davis claimed that, “I think we all agree that climate change is reality. There’s a debate between how much of it is man-made and how much of it is due to natural causes.”  He didn’t say where he stands in that debate.

Once again, Davis dodged saying plainly what he believes about climate change science. Furthermore, his claim about the debate is misleading. There’s broad scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are driving greenhouse gasses far beyond normal levels, causing the planetary emergency we face now.

After it became impossible to deny that climate change was already happening, the deniers switched to the “natural causes” argument in an attempt to cast doubt on the scientific consensus. Davis is repeating the misleading talking points used by the fossil fuel industry and their puppets like Glenn Beck, James Inhofe, and John Shimkus. He passed on the opportunity to distinguish himself from the anti-science conspiracy theorists who support his campaign.

Davis even brought out the old straw-man argument I often hear from coal industry spokesmen, that we can’t power the country on wind and solar alone. Back on planet reality, no one is seriously proposing we try doing that in the near future. What people do propose is that we create jobs by quickly building a lot of new clean energy. Unfortunately, Davis made it clear in his interview that he opposes meaningful policies to expand wind and solar.

When pressed about what tax loopholes he would close, Davis said “I would like to take away the energy tax credit that gave us the Solyndras of the world.”

First of all, Solyndra made news because it defaulted on a Department of Energy loan guarantee, not because it received a tax credit. Second, Davis personally spoke in favor of a loan guarantee from the same Department of Energy program for a proposed coal plant in Taylorville that was five times bigger than Solyndra’s loan. Continue reading Rodney Davis sides with climate change conspiracy theorists. Would kill green jobs. (IL-13)

Nasty Republican attack site complains about negative campaigning. Order a Dr. Radical.

I’ve heard that Republicans have a guy following around Democratic Congressional candidate David Gill in surgical scrubs and calling himself “Dr. Radical.” The Illinois Republican Party (where Gill’s opponent, Rodney Davis, used to be Executive Director) has a website to match, complete with a cartoonishly bad photoshop job of Gill putting on a surgical glove, as if he’s about to perform a colonoscopy.

The website is mostly full of gross distortions about Gill wanting to end Medicare, when the reality is that he would essentially extend it to everyone. But, the best part is when this sophomoric, ugly campaign site accuses David Gill of “not running a positive campaign.” Seriously!

Dr. RadicalThis made me laugh for a good ten minutes. Isn’t that the perfect conservative talk-radio style attack? The site is saying, “We expect you to run a positive campaign while we call you childish names and lie about your platform.” It reminds me of Mitt Romney’s recent whining that Obama is running a negative campaign after Romney spent the past year lying about Obama’s record. Davis and Romney want everyone else to follow the rules they ignore.

It’s standard operating procedure for talk radio conservatives to accuse Democrats of anything shameful that Republicans are in the process of doing. My favorite was during the Mark Foley Congressional page scandal when Fox News kept bringing up a similar 30-year-old scandal involving a Democrat. Was that supposed to be an excuse for Foley?

Another example is when you have a candidate, like Rodney Davis, who wants to put everyone’s health care in the hands of the private insurance industry, which obviously wouldn’t include a public program like Medicare. Falsely accusing Gill of wanting to end Medicare is a tactic to blur the distinction between the two candidates. Now, reporters who want to seem balanced will write headlines like “both campaigns accuse the other of attacking Medicare” and the issue is successfully obfuscated. The tactic usually works. Continue reading Nasty Republican attack site complains about negative campaigning. Order a Dr. Radical.

Rodney Davis has more trouble answering questions again, and again, and...

A pattern is emerging in Rodney Davis’ campaign for Congress (IL-13). He’s trying to run without answering tough questions or taking clear stands on controversial issues. He mostly attends private Republican events and has so far avoided public forums where he would have to answer difficult questions.

When a reporter asked about his previous support for the Ryan budget he said he supported some parts but not others. But, he wouldn’t say which parts. When asked if he supported the parts that cut Medicare he “didn’t want to get boxed in” by taking a position.

Then he scurried away when I asked him about climate change during a press conference about flooding. How does someone rationalize holding a press conference about flooding along the Mississippi and NOT talk about climate change?

When people posted dozens of questions on his campaign page asking for his position on climate change his campaign ignored them and deleted every single question, no matter how politely worded. During a press conference on energy policy (held at a gas station outside the district) he still managed to avoid explaining whether he shares the anti-science, conspiratorial views of his former boss, John Shimkus.

Back in June he walked away from a voter who asked if he supports the Ryan budget and ignored a group who asked if he would support a minimum wage increase.

This Tuesday, Action Now gathered outside Davis’ $250 a plate fundraiser at the Illini Country Club. They asked, once again, why Davis is holding private events outside the district instead of answering tough questions.

Action Now has an online petition asking Davis to hold a town hall meeting in Springfield. It makes the modest request that Davis: Continue reading Rodney Davis has more trouble answering questions again, and again, and…

FaceMob Floods Congressional Candidate Rodney Davis with Climate Change Questions. Still No Answer. (IL-13)

If you were watching Rodney Davis’ campaign Facebook page Sunday afternoon you would have seen a flood of questions from citizens asking where he stands on climate change. They’re still waiting for an answer.

I wrote about Davis ignoring my question and hurrying away when I asked if he thought floods and droughts are getting worse due to climate change. That’s not the only question he’s dodging. He attends very few public forums where he will have to answer questions from the public, and he won’t get specific about where he stands on many major issues. Would he respond to citizens on his campaign Facebook page asking about climate change, the great challenge of our time?

I repeated my own question about floods and droughts.

Mr Davis, you didn’t answer my question about whether you think floods and droughts in Illinois are getting worse because of climate change. It will be devastating to farmers, residents, and the regional economy if the extreme weather disasters we’ve had the last few years become the new normal. Do you acknowledge the scientific consensus that man-made pollutants are contributing to climate change and what would you do to solve the problem?

Dozens of questions by others were posted on his page.

My respectful questions were removed quickly and I was banned from commenting on his Facebook page again. That didn’t surprise me. After a while, every mention of climate change by anyone was deleted as quickly as it was posted. Even the most politely worded questions were removed, like this one:

Thank you for putting forth an energy policy but I’m unclear about your stance regarding climate change. Since I will likely not be able to attend one of your appearances, might you be able to respond in this forum? Thanks so much.

That got deleted.

Many more excellent banned questions can be viewed at my Flickr set. I captured many, but not all, before they were removed by the Davis campaign. My favorite was posted on a comment about a campaign sign in a soy field.

Wonder where he stands on climate change? Rodney are you going to answer ever? It might help out the bean field?

Questions in response to the energy plan posted on his main campaign website haven’t been removed yet. I’m sure they’ll get to those after they read this blog post so catch them while you can. A couple of voters there let Davis know they aren’t happy about their questions on Facebook being ignored and removed. Continue reading FaceMob Floods Congressional Candidate Rodney Davis with Climate Change Questions. Still No Answer. (IL-13)