I mentioned a few days ago that the scandals surrounding uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff were reaching deep into the Interior Department. Those scandals are complex and varied, and I know most people are tuning out. But a great (and darkly amusing) story in Salon today breaks it down for you. In 2000, Interior Secretary Gale Norton established a group called the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA) to advance the Bush administration's (anti-)environmental agenda. It was headed by Italia Federici, a minor Republican functionary. In private, Federici established a close relationship with Abramoff. He funneled her large contributions, in effect stolen from the Native American tribes he represented. In return, she ... well, she did all sorts of things for him:
Here's an amusing little story, though I don't know how much of it is local-news hype: Apparently, insurance fraud by SUV owners in California is on the rise. Gas prices are so high some folks are desperate to shed their gas guzzlers. So they torch 'em and report 'em stolen. It's auto-eco-terrorism! (Hat tip: reader B.T.)
So you know that massive Republican budget-cutting bill that was pulled from the floor last week for lack of votes? The one that may or may not include drilling the the Arctic Refuge and a massive giveaway of public lands? Its prospects are not looking good. The legendary Republican discipline and unity were already looking shaky last week. But earlier today, a massive Labor-HHS spending bill (with its attendant huge cuts in education and home-heating assistance) was voted down on the floor of the House. Not pulled off the floor for lack of votes, mind you, but voted down. The vote was even held open for a half hour (an odious and increasingly common tactic for R leadership) and they still couldn't wrangle the votes. The is the first floor vote the R's have flat out lost in a long, long time. It's a big deal. It demonstrates the ongoing breakdown of the Republican coalition. And it makes the prospects for an extremely contentious budget-cutting bill (later this week!) quite dim. Good news for those concerned for environmental protection. There's more on the Republican meltdown on The New Republic's new(ish) blog The Plank here and here. Update [2005-11-18 8:24:48 by David Roberts]: Well, that will teach me to prognosticate. The House passed the bill this morning. Sounds like it was a barrel of fun, too.The budget debate was marked by acrimony and personal attacks. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) mocked the deficit-minded "Blue Dog" Democrats, calling them "lap dogs." Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) called the youthful, redheaded Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) a "Howdy Doody-looking nimrod."Now we'll have to see how things play out in the House-Senate committee.
Right now a massive $70 billion tax-cut bill is working its way through the Senate. (You will recall that Congressional Republicans split the budget bill in two, so the first bill would be pure spending cuts -- thus getting them coverage in the press for "courageously" cutting spending to rein in the deficit -- and the second pure tax cuts, to please all their normal constituencies. The latter being much larger than the former, the net result is a massive expansion of the deficit.) Energy prices being what they are, Congresscritters feel pressured to Do Something. Rather than any substantive changes in energy policy -- kind of blew that chance with the grotesque energy bill -- they're settling for symbolic smacks to the wrist of Big Oil. I won't get too far into the weeds of various proposals, since none of them will survive House-Senate conference committee and none would make a very big difference if it did. I'll just do the bloggy thing and extract a few absurdities from the press coverage. Here's one from The Wall Street Journal:
Assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks Craig Manson, whose memorable interview with Grist put our readers in full frosh, has resigned. Lord only knows how they'll be able to replace him.
According to a study by the World Health Organization appearing in this month's Nature, global warming is responsible for 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses a year, primarily in poor countries that contribute very little to it.
So how about this stuff with Josh Connole? For those who haven't been following: In 2003, about 125 SUVs at SoCal car dealerships were burned and vandalized. Slogans like "Fat Lazy Americans" and "ELF" were left behind. Of course, as we all know this is not mere property destruction, not mere crime, but "eco-terrorism." So the FBI was brought in and they starting looking for likely suspects. They found a vegan, commune-living, Iraq-war protesting, electric-car driving, fossil-fuel hating activist, and arrested him. Except, oops: "So they immediately started following him around and then when they arrested him they said, 'You've got some red paint on your pants and we think it matches (the paint used in the attacks)," [Connole attorney John] Burton said. "So they took his pants and flew them back to FBI headquarters for analysis, where it turned out to be catsup." In the meantime, Burton said, Connole spent four days in jail, often chained to the floor and repeatedly urged by FBI agents to confess. Meanwhile, the guy who really did it wrote a letter to the L.A. Times, mocking the feds for getting the wrong guy. Now, from the tone of the coverage, I think the idea is that we're all supposed to be upset that the feds are surveilling people based on their political activity -- and in fact, that Connole was arrested based purely on his politics. But that slightly misses the point.
Well goodness, there's lots of news afoot today. Unfortunately, this blogger is a) only working half-time, and b) deathly ill, recalling fondly when breathing through the nose was an option. So I doubt I'll get to all of it. But let's start with the oil-exec/energy-task-force mini-scandal. The revelation here is not that Cheney's task force included oil execs -- did anyone ever doubt that? -- or that Bush administration energy policy is grossly skewed in favor of fossil fuels. The proof is in the pudding on that score. The notable things here are three: 1. As Adam wisely notes: Why would they lie? It wasn't illegal to meet with Cheney's task force, or even improper -- they were invited, after all. Cheney has battled for the executive branch's right not to reveal who was there, but there's no reason the participants themselves can't reveal they were there. Why lie about it? Unless, of course, you feel guilty. Unless you feel like you rigged national energy policy in your favor, and don't want the nation to find out about it. 2. As both Sam and Matt wonder, why is lying to Congress such a casual thing these days? It used to be kind of a big deal. Now oil execs apparently think nothing of it. It's unlikely this will even rise above the current din of scandal. 3. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) made a point of not swearing in the executives (although it's still a crime to lie to Congress, under 18 USC 1001). Did he know beforehand they were planning on lying about this? His stated rationale -- not embarrassing them -- is pretty flimsy. Apparently Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) -- into whose face the execs lied -- aren't going to let this die quietly: U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) will lead Senate Democrats TODAY in demanding that oil company executives return to Congress and testify under oath in light of ongoing concerns of gas price-gouging by oil companies at the expense of hard-working American families. They will also call on the Justice Department to investigate into the alleged false statements made at a joint Senate Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing last week. Stay tuned. (See also this post from Carl Pope, about his surreal Potemkin visit to the White House in 2001.)
Okay, this has nothing at all to do with the environment, but it would just be cruel to deny our readers the pleasure: Head over to Think Progress and listen to a clip from the new song "Bush Was Right" by The Right Brothers, soon to be in regular rotation on MTV -- unless dastardly liberal bias prevents it! (Seriously, listen to the sound clip. It will make your day. Possibly your year. Perhaps your life.)
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