Slag Heap | Pittsburgh City Paper

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Local bank benefits from lack of environmental interest

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 12:46 PM

Today's Post-Gazette carries a reprint of a New York Times story about how banks are becoming increasingly wary of financing environmentally destructive mining practices like mountaintop removal. 

As the story puts it:

Blasting off mountaintops to reach coal in Appalachia, or churning out millions of tons of carbon dioxide to extract oil from sand in Alberta are among environmentalists' biggest industrial irritants. But they are also legal and lucrative.

For a growing number of banks, however, that does not seem to matter.

After years of legal entanglements arising from environmental messes and increased scrutiny of banks that finance the dirtiest industries, several large commercial lenders are taking a stand on industry practices that they regard as risky to their reputations and bottom lines.

The story notes how numerous banks -- including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley -- are taking a second look at mountaintop removal. Some are refusing to finance mining enterprises that use the practice, like Massey Energy. 

What neither the P-G nor the Times says is that among the banks who haven't stopped financing mountaintop removal is our very own PNC. And in fact, PNC is the target of considerable environmental ire. 

Both stories note a report issued in May by the Sierra Club and the Rainforest Action Network, studying nine banks that were "the primary lenders  for firms engaged in mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia." That report identifies PNC as the top financier of the practice, and gives it an "F" grade for lacking a publicly available policy on scrutinizing the practices environmental merits. (The bank apparently did not respond to the environmentalists' requests for information.) 

This should come as no surprise to anyone who was Downtown during last year's G-20, or to readers of this blog. Actually, come to think of it, it's hard to say which of those audiences would be smaller, so let me revisit the story.

Back in September, one of the lesser-noted demonstrations attending the global economic summit was staged by environmentalists upset at PNC's backing of mountaintop removal. The bank has a policy of not discussing its clients' business, so they didn't exactly confirm the accusations. But it's not hard to find evidence of its numerous financial dealings with companies like Massey Energy. Our very own Charlie Deitch wrote a follow-up story based on environmentalist complaints a few weeks after the summit wrapped up.

At that time, the Rainforest Action Network told us that although PNC's influence cropped up in "an awful lot of our documents as having ties to ... mountaintop removal," the bank was "not one of the top 10 banks that we are looking at." 

Since then, as other banks have scaled back their lending, PNC's profile has only grown. As the folks at the Rainforest Action Network said in a press release just a few days ago:

[E]ven as the nation’s largest banks have severed ties with Massey Energy, owner of the Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where an explosion in April killed 29 workers, PNC has maintained its financial support of the embattled company...

Over the past two years, Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo– the four largest banking institutions in the U.S. – have all adopted enhanced environmental review procedures for financing MTR mining and construction of coal-fired power plants ... None of these banks currently provide funding to Massey Energy, according to the Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club.

Yet according to RAN, PNC has become the largest U.S. financier of [mountaintop removal] mining companies, providing $500 million in loans and bond underwriting to the coal industry, with an estimated $80 million going directly to MTR mining operations in Appalachia.

PNC has issued a statement boasting of its environmental sensitivity, but as we noted last year, its focus is almost entirely on green building practices. There's some nice stuff about office recycling policies too, which is great. But neither in discussions with City Paper nor in statements elswhere, have I heard the bank really address the issue head on. 

Then again, hardly anyone has asked. A Google search of "PNC" and "mountaintop" turns up no shortage of environmental groups decrying the bank's role ... but in the Post-Gazette, I find only two relevant stories connecting the words. One dates back to the G-20, and says nothing about the bank's role in the process. The other, ironically, is a story about how online activism doesn't always change corporate behavior. PNC's role is mentioned briefly, about halfway into the piece; the paper doesn't dig into the accusations, nor is PNC called upon to respond to them:

There also is a push on to pressure PNC Financial Services Group to avoid lending to companies involved in mountaintop removal mining. A recent report by the Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club criticized the Pittsburgh bank for being active in the business but not having an investment policy to address the issue, unlike Credit Suisse, which the group said adopted a policy last fall to "promote responsible mining practices that protect the environment, ensure worker health and safety, and engage the public through consultation and disclosure."

There's been some blogging about the issue and a couple of demonstrations, enough to associate the topic with the company's name on an Internet search.

Coverage in the Tribune-Review appears to be no better, but what stands out about the P-G is that its coverage of Massey Energy -- the recipient of that PNC financing -- has been fantastic. (It was, for example, recently lauded by the New York Times editorial page.) But while the P-G has been very aggressive about pursuing Massey, it has asked nary a question of the bank next door. And while the paper regurgitates a Times story about all the banks around the world that have stopped funding Massey ... it has devoted no effort to talk to the local bank continuing with business as usual.

Which, when you think about it, is a little conspicuous.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Christian Coaltion issues 2010 scorecard

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 at 5:06 PM

It's the moment we've all been waiting for: The Christian Coalition has released its scorecard ranking the voting records of seated Congressfolk.

I'll give you three guesses as to which Pennsylvania Democrat got the coalition's highest ranking. 

You can grab the scorecard yourself if you like; the site will ask you for an e-mail address and your state of residence, but as far as I can tell, you can lie about both. If you're reading this blog, chances are the Coalition regards you as a henchman of Beelzebub anyway -- they ought to EXPECT to be deceived.

Or you can just load it up from here

Among the Pennsylvania delegation, I'm happy to report that Bob Casey -- despite his pro-life Catholic status -- scored a palty 10 percent from the Coalition. That's actually better (or worse, from the Coalition's perspective) than Arlen Specter's 20 percent. Nice work, Bob -- keep those saints weeping.

On the House side, it's no surprise that Republicans scored much better. Four of them scored perfect 100s -- including Tim Murphy, who represents suburban areas surrounding Pittsburgh. On the Democratic side, meanwhile, five scored perfect zeros ... including Joe Sestak, the party's nominee for Senate. 

And which Dem scored the highest? Who else but Jason Altmire, whose 70 narrowly bested the 67 posted by newcomer, and heir to John Murtha, Mark Critz. 

It probably goes without saying that these scorecards are asinine. For example, one of the Coalition's litmus tests was on an amendment to the healthcare bill sponsored by Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn: Among other things, the measure "would have reduced health care costs by preventing fraudulent payments for prescription drugs, prohibiting coverage of erectile dysfunction drugs to child molesters and rapists."

So ... do people who voted against amendment actually support Viagara for sex offenders? Of course not. Coburn's amendment was a transparent attempt to torpedo healthcare reform, using a wrinkle in parliamentary procedure to force Democrats to either vote against the amendment, or restart much of the legislative process on the rest of the bill. 

I don't expect anything better from Coburn. But to treat this measure as a key test of a candidate's morality -- when it was nothing more than a political gambit -- sort of demeans the Christian Coalition's seriousness. If that's even possible.

After all, the coalition also insisted that a moral Senator would vote in favor of a measure "bann[ing] the use of federal COPS funds fo sanctuary cities not obeying the federal law with regards to illegal aliens." Put aside whether it's fair to deny people access to police protection because of their elected officials' stance on immigration. A case can be made that the Christian Coalition's position on immigration is, well, unbiblical. 

After all, Leviticus -- which the coalition often cites for its precepts denouncing homosexuality -- says very clearly that non-natives should be welcomed:

And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Just remember that business of treating strangers "as one born among you" the next time you hear a Tea Partier talk about overturning the 14th Amendment. It's not just that the "Religious Right" is wrong. It's that it's not even religious

Phoning it in for the 2010 elections

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 at 12:31 AM

So I was on the listening end of two phone calls yesterday that summed up this November's election. In a nutshell: Democrats are reaching out to new voters with a message of optimism and hope. Republicans are reaching out to their traditional base with a message of fear and anger. 

Guess which side is expected to rack up big wins this fall? 

The first call took place yesterday afternoon. It was a conference call with reporters convened by state Democratic Party Chair Jim Burn, Congressional candidate John Callahan, and Kerri Axelrod of Organizing for America, the outgrowth of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. 

The talk was upbeat. This weekend, we were told, Democratic volunteers will be knocking on some 400,000 doors -- part of "the unprecedented grassroots activity happening around this state." The goal, Burn told reporters, was to reach out to independent and newer voters, "some of whom only went to the polls for the first time in 2008."

"I'm very excited about this," Burn said. "We're reaching out to our core voters, in addition to those  who voted for the first time, to engage them about our ... mid-term candidates."

It's admirable that Democrats are trying to reach out to voters caught up in the revolutionary spirit of 2008. The problem is that they are trying to harness that boundless, optimistic energy in support of candidates like ... Dan Onorato.

I'm not here to slag on Onorato. I think he's a skilled politician, and when I pick up the paper in the morning, I'm not expecting to read some wince-inducing disclosure about him. There are plenty of officials you can't say that of. But it's hard to imagine Onorato lighting the fire of political newcomers. The only time I've ever seen young people excited about Onorato, in fact, was at his campaign kickoff -- and they were on hand to protest.

And it seemed ominous that during the conference call, we were supposed to hear from campaign organizer Greg Myers -- but apparently he couldn't be brought to a working phone. Hard not to see a metaphor in that.

Burn rolled along with such setbacks as best he could. When a reporter asked about whether get-out-the-vote efforts were especially important "given what every poll shows ... is an enthusiasm gap," Burn answered that while he was cognizant of the polls, Democrats took all elections seriously. That struck me as a sobering thought. (You mean the party was giving its all in 1994 too? Uh-oh.) But Burn, of course, has the unenviable job of trying to solve problems like the "enthusiasm gap" without really conceding that they exist.

The Republican strategy, meanwhile, runs the opposite direction: scare voters shitless about problems that don't exist. 

I can say that because last night I got another call. This one was a prerecorded phone message from my old pal Dick Morris, and the people at Citizens United. (Yes, that Citizens United.)

I'm not exactly sure how I got on the Citizens United list, but it's not an isolated incident: In recent days, I've also received a heartfelt phone message from Newt Gingrich. At some point in my travels, I guess, I indicated a willingness to learn more about batshit right-wing talking points. Conservatives just assumed the rest. I understand something similar may have happened to Ken Mehlman. 

That the calls are chock full of unmitigated horseshit goes without saying. Gingrich, for example, called to let me know that it will be "up to good solid conservatives like you and I" to overturn Obama's "plans to overturn the United States into a socialist country." He also had a book he very much wanted me to read.

Last night, meanwhile, Morris too told me that if we elect a GOP majority this November, we can reverse "the socialist agenda that Barack Obama has put into effect." 

For starters, he said, a GOP majority could roll back healthcare reform. And you know what that means, right? "Public funding for abortion, gone," Morris said. "Death panels -- gone."

Well, I'll say this much: If Republicans take back both houses of Congress, it's true you won't have to worry about death panels. Then again, you don't have to worry about death panels even if they don't regain control of Congress -- because there aren't any death panels, for fuck's sake

It's actually embarrassing to have to write that last line. I mean, you and I not only know this -- we knew it a year ago. And whatever we may think of healthcare reform, we were probably relieved that the "death panel" argument, at least, was over. But for a lot of Republicans out there, it isn't over. 

Republicans aren't offering a political vision. They're offering a delusion instead, and hoping no one will notice the difference. But as of yet, I haven't heard anything from Democrats to compete with it. 

I mean, I assume Democrats will soon be launching the scary Pat-Toomey-wants-to-privatize-Social-Security-and-throw-Nanna-out-into-the-street ads. Such ads are scary, appeal to a Democratic base of supervoters -- old folks who would prefer not to be thrown out into the street -- and have at least a passing acquaintance with the truth. (Republicans aren't dumb enough to screw this generation of retirees out of their benefits, but over the long term, Pat Toomey is a greater threat to Social Security than Barack Obama is to capitalism.)

Then again, maybe Democrats won't use the issue: They seem to have a hard timing punishing Republicans who make reckless, offensive, and demonstrably false statements about Social Security's viability. The message we're getting is ... you can't trust Republicans with elected office, but they'll do nicely for a Presidential commission charged with ensuring the long-term viability of a beloved government institution. 

But I guess that we're all supposed to gamely ignore that stuff. I got an e-mail from Barack Obama's spam robot the other day -- look at all the name dropping I'm doing in this post! -- asking if I would "commit to voting in the 2010 elections." Campaign veteran David Plouffe followed up with a blast e-mail of his own, reminding me that "Studies have shown that when people pledge to do something they're much more likely to follow through" -- a fact that "helped us make history in 2008." 

"Yeah, sure, I'll make that pledge," I wrote back. "Just like the president pledged to repeal Don't Ask/Don't Tell. That's good enough for you, right? I mean, you feel comfortable taking my word on that, don't you? After all, as you say, 'when people pledge to do something, they're much more likely to follow through.'"

That e-mail went right into somebody's "junk items/lefty whining" folder. And rightfully so, I guess. In the end, you have to hope that whatever the Democrats' shortcomings, these e-mail campaigns and door-knocking efforts are enough to stem the tidal wave of bullshit emanating from jokers like Newt Gingrich. 

I just wish, though, that Republicans had a little less imagination -- and Democrats had a little more. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hagel and Sestak go to the mountaintop, see promised land

Posted By on Tue, Aug 24, 2010 at 1:44 PM

This may be as close as politics gets to a kumbaya moment in the entire 2010 election season.

This morning, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a moderate Republican, endorsed Democrat Joe Sestak's bid for Senator.  

Few Pennsylvanian's could pick Hagel out of a line-up, of course, and he retired from the Senate in 2008. But the event was freighted with significance. Hosted near a statue of George Washington confabbing with Indian chief Guyasuta, the point of the event was to distinguish the moderate politics of Hagel -- and by extension Sestak -- from the tea-party right. 

"When heavy winds blow ... you want steady guys at the tiller," Hagel said, later adding, "I have never felt ... that trying to degrade your opponent really has any value."

More than once, Hagel denounced the emergence of "reckless" and "irreponsibile rhetoric," and said that Americans "want responsible leaders who speak responsibly."

Hagel was clearly not endorsing Sestak's stance on all the issues -- "I don't know all of Joe's positions [and] I suspect I disagree with him on a number of things" he acknowledged -- but rather a less divisive approach to political discourse. He lamented the possibility that people might be "intimidated out" of politics "by all this wild rhetoric." 

Implicit in all this, of course, is that Sestak's rival, GOP nominee Pat Toomey, is part of the problem. While Toomey has moderated his message this election season, he's long been the choice of the GOP wing that never forgave Rick Santorum for backing Arlen Specter in 2004. But when asked by a reporter to comment on Toomey's own record, Hagel demurred, calling Toomey "a good man [whose] views are his views."

Sestak picked up on the theme. He lauded George Washington for being "willing to reach out to the other side," as demonstrated by the sculpture nearby, and pledged to do the same. In fact, Sestak sounded sincere enough that local politico John DeFazio spoke up from the audience, urging Sestak not to go easy on his rival: Toomey, said DeFazio, "was a terrible Congressman for the middle class and the poor."

DeFazio needn't have worried. Even as Sestak and Hagel were speaking, the Democratic National Committee was sending out a blast e-mail that noted

an Associated Press story reporting that Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul got money from the operator of a pornographic Web site. the reason it mattesr here? Republican Senate nominee Pat Toomey also got $4,800 from the site's owner ...

Toomey's campaign hardly hurried to distance itself from the donor in question. 

"We have over 50,000 indivudal donors," Toomey campaign spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik told the AP. "Many of those supporters do not agree with Pat Toomey on every issue ... We're happy to have those supporters, even if we differ on some issues."

Well, I'll say this: The fact that Pat Toomey relies on smut peddlers for financial support may be the one thing he and I have in common. 

But political cycnicism was intruding even before Hagel and Sestak made their appearance. Some have wondered about Hagel's motives. The Washington Post, for example, has suggested that Hagel's support was really a "me for me"  endorsement:

... [I]t seems clear that Hagel's endorsement is more about his own future political prospects than those of Sestak. The simple fact is that Hagel is virtually unknown in Pennsylvania and his endorsement of Sestak won't even register with most Keystone State voters.

But, endorsing a Democrat in a high profile Senate contest could well help Hagel -- sending a clear signal to the Obama Administration about the very loose ties that he retains to the Republican party.

Hagel has made no secret of his interest in serving in the Obama Administration ...

After the press conference broke up, I asked Hagel to respond to this characterization of his motives.

"What's to respond to?" he asked. "I came out here for Joe Sestak. The White House didn't ask me to come here. Joe Sestak did."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Marcellus Coalition shale memo ... as seen in City Paper (and now the P-G)!

Posted By on Fri, Aug 20, 2010 at 10:53 AM

Today's Post-Gazette follows up on a story I broke earlier this week: The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents natural-gas drillers who've taken an interest in Pennsylvania, is lining up legislators behind such causes as ...

  • lower taxes for the industry
  • less leverage for local officials trying to regulate drilling in their communities
  • "encouraging" government agencies to find expanded uses for that good ol' Marcellus shale gas.

This and more is part of the industry's "holistic" -- or should I say "hole-istic"? -- agenda for reshaping state law to be more drilling-friendly.

I hope to have more on the memo, and the implications of some of its proposals, later today. In the meantime, though, I thought I might as well post the memo itself, for anyone interested. 

UPDATE: The folks at the Marcellus Shale Coalition kindly took the time to notify me that the Scranton Times Tribune reported on this memo's existence on Aug. 10. Apologies to my brethren in Scranton if I slighted their work.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Marcellus Shale Coalition cancels summit where protest was planned

Posted By on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 1:00 PM

The Marcellus Shale Coaltion has quietly cancelled a "shale gase summit" originally planned for Oct. 1.

And by "quietly," I mean that for all appearances, it's as if the summit was never scheduled at all. The coalition Web page that once touted the summit now produces a 404 error. (Though a cached version of it can be found here.) No other mention of it appears on the site.

The summit was billed as a chance for "key stakeholders to showcase and highlight the Marcellus Shale’s economic and energy production potential." It was said to be attracting CEOs from big gas producers like Chesapeake Energy and Range Resources. It was also, however, likely to attract a sizable protest from people opposed to natural-gas drilling in the state. 

Travis Windle, a spokesman for the coaltion, confirms that the event has been cancelled. What role did the protest play in that decision? "None whatsoever, actually," he says.

Instead, he says, the event was called off due to "a host of logistical issues" including several competing events. Chief among them is the "DUG East" convention being held in Pittsburgh just over a month later. That event is slated to include at least one of the same keynote speakers -- Range Resources CEO John Pinkerton -- and Windle says the events would "be pulling from the same pool of attendees" as well. Another shale event is slated for a few days before the DUG conference.

This still raises the question about why the event was not so much cancelled as "disappeared." You might expect the Coalition to notify people that their event had been called off -- rather than, you know, simply scrubbing the website and acting as if it never happened. 

Windle says that those who were interested in the event were notified, but "we didn't think it was necessary to issue a statement" beyond taking the web page down.

So if I'm a protester, I guess, I'm sending out "change the date" cards and planning my activities on Nov. 3-4 instead. And I'm hoping that gas wells are as easily dispensed with as the Oct. 1 conference was.

Friday, August 13, 2010

No longer laboring under delusions about Murphy

Posted By on Fri, Aug 13, 2010 at 11:22 AM

Bit of a knock Tim Murphy, the Congressman whose posturing on Medicaid and education spending I made fun of just a few days ago.

The state AFL-CIO is endorsing his long-shot rival, Democrat Dan Connolly. 

Now ordinarily, labor backing a Democrat wouldn't be much of a story. (And in fact, Allegheny County's labor council backed Connolly back in spring.) But labor unions have typically supported Murphy; when the state AFL-CIO backed him in 2006, for example, the organization noted that he'd voted their way on labor issues nearly three-quarters of the time. It endorsed him in 2008 as well. (A year in which his voting record earned a mere 48 percent from the American Conservative Union, down from a 76 rating over the course of his career.)

Is this going to turn the race around? Ehhhhhhh ... 

Connolly himself surely knows the challenges here. He was the finance director for Murphy's last challenger, Steve O'Donnell. O'Donnell earned some labor support too, but got creamed despite Connolly's own online-circulated claims that  he had "a real chance" to win.

And O'Donnell had more grounds for optimism: In 2008, the prevailing winds were blowing in favor of the Democrats. That's not true this year. And as Connolly's letter noted back then, there were some ethics-related allegations making the rounds against Murphy. None of that amounted to anything, and it's ancient history now. 

And just as O'Donnell did, Connolly faces a serious fundraising gap: Murphy has a 10-to-1 fundraising advantage.

So yeah, there's plenty of reason to be pessimistic, especially since vast swaths of the 18th district probably don't know Dan Connolly's name. But on the bright side, at least labor now seems to have Tim Murphy's number.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tea Party shenanigans: what a tangled web we Weaver

Posted By on Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 2:11 PM

Early this week, the Tribune-Review reported the interesting news that John Krupa -- a "Tea Party" candidate for governor -- received assistance from supporters of ... Democrat Dan Onorato:

Members of unions that endorsed Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, as well as one of his campaign workers, helped get Tea Party candidate John Krupa onto Pennsylvania's gubernatorial ballot for November's election, state records show.

... Among those who gathered signatures are officers of building trades unions, whose statewide organization unanimously endorsed Onorato on June 9 ... Another Krupa petition circulator, Heather Damron of Lehigh County, was paid $1,000 by Onorato's campaign for his petition drive four months earlier.

The Corbett campaign, naturally, touted the Trib's coverage, identifying the paper as "Dan Onorato's own hometown newspaper" and quoting a typically witty Trib editorial asking "Smell a political rat? Or should we say an OnoRATo?"

Indeed, it's shocking to hear that Democrats might be using the Tea Party movement to covertly advance their own political interests. That's supposed to be what REPUBLICANS do.

Witness, for example, the heavy tie-ins between GOP stalwarts and last year's Tax Day protest in Market Square. (The connections are also debated roundly in the comments section of this post.) 

Or witness the political affiliations of Patti Weaver. 

Weaver is the most prominent face of the Tea Party movement in Pittsburgh. She has, in fact,  been quoted in the Post-Gazette about Krupa's candidacy earlier this week:

[S]ome tea party activists are wary of [Krupa's] candidacy.

"The Pittsburgh Tea Party Movement is the largest tea party group in Pennsylvania and you would think John Krupa would have had the courtesy to contact us to put himself on our radar screen if he was going to legitimately use the tea party name," Patti Weaver, a key organizer of the local group, said in a e-mail. "I have never heard of John Krupa and don't know anything about him. While our organization does not endorse anyone, I, personally, would say, 'Don't vote for him.'

"I have spent a year and a half as a volunteer developing the tea party name and John Krupa is hijacking it," she added.

What the story doesn't say is that Weaver apparently has another political affiliation: She's listed as a member of the Republican Party's state committee, representing Allegheny County voters in Senate district 38.

I have called and e-mailed Weaver about her dual role, and have not heard back from her. (I did, however, verify with the state Department of Elections that the Fox Chapel address on her campaign documents matches the one used on many Tea Party missives.)

ADDED: And in fact, Weaver got back in touch with me to say she "wanted the position so I could understand exactly how the party works and why [it] has been endorsing candidates that don't have tea party values."

But at first blush, it'd be kind of hard to square a GOP role with the Tea Party "Declaration of Independence" -- which contends that the movement is "INDEPENDENT of the Republican Party, which has in the past manipulated its Conservative Base to win election after election and which then betrays everything that Base fought for and believed ... We demand the Republican Party understand that we reject its attempts to co-opt us."

I'm not accusing Weaver of trying to co-opt the movement -- still less of seeking to "hijack" it. For one thing, she seems only to have been elected to the Republican commtitee this spring -- AFTER she was well into her tea party activism. (If anything, she may be trying to co-opt the GOP.) In any case, it's no secret that tea party sympathies are more closely aligned with Republicans; the GOP, in fact, clearly does see tea partiers as members of its base.

But all this begs the question: What does it mean to be part of the "tea party" in the first place? And if this "independent" movement's principal local spokesperson is an active member of the GOP ... what difference does it make if its gubernatorial candidate was backed by Democrats?

After all, the "tea party" phrase itself is just a label, slapped on an inchoate movement. A movement, in fact, that takes pride in its incoherence. Again, to quote from its "Declaration of Independence":

Many seek to define this Movement, to use it, to lead it, to co-opt it, to channel it, to control it, to defeat it. WE WILL NOT LET THIS HAPPEN.

Of course, the Declaration burns hundreds of hundreds of words trying to "define this Movement" anyway. (As I've mentioned before, the document is longer than the original Decleration itself.) But even so, if no one has the right to use, lead, define, or channel your movement ... it's not really a movement at all, is it? So what's to hijack?

Is Dan Onorato's camp trying to split the conservative vote by giving voters another conservative choice this fall? I'd be willing to bet on it. He was willing to engage in machinations to get people off the ballot, so helping to put someone on it would be no great stretch. But even if he's muddying the November ballot, he's clarifying something else: how absurd it is to speak of an independent tea party "movement" at all. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tim Waits For No Man

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 11:07 AM

I know it's been awhile since I've been blogging regularly -- I blame summer vacations, administrative responsibilities, and the onerous task of manufacturing consent. But jeez -- apparently it's been so long that since I last blogged, US Rep Tim Murphy (R-South Hills) has morphed into a champion of the poor

Stranger still, he's doing so by voting against funding their health benefits. 

Yes, that's right. In Congress this week, Murphy voted against a bill to help states pay the bills for education and healthcare for the poor. The measure, which President Obama signed on Tuesday, will provide Pennsylvania with $668 million to help pay for Medicaid benefits, and another $388 million to save the jobs of K-12 teachers. Most Republicans voted against the measure, most Democrats -- including those from our area -- voted for it. 

Why would Murphy vote against a measure bringing more than a billion dollars to his state? Be assured that it's not because he's a heartless Republican. No, it's because he cares too much:

The Majority holding power in Congress only offered a choice between cutting food stamps or cutting healthcare for the poor. The burden is placed on the backs of those already weakened by poverty ...

It is outrageous that in midst of a recession with 15 million Americans unemployed and families struggling to make ends meet, that we are taking funds meant to help the needy to balance state budgets. Expecting the poor and our children to bear that burden is totally unacceptable, insensitive and cruel.

Everyone agrees that for the sake of our children’s education we don’t want teachers placed into the unemployment line. But it is unacceptable to cut the food stamp program to pay for teacher retention. There are alternatives to pay for these priorities and I stand ready to work with my colleagues on this issue.

Oh, those heartless Democrats! Are they really forcing poor people to choose between medical care and food? That's what we have Republicans for! 

Murphy is referring to the fact that in order to pay for this additional spending, Democrats have promised -- at least on paper -- to cut food stamp spending. In 2014. And they have indeed caused an outrcry among advocates for the poor as well as progressive politicians (David Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, called the cutbacks "plain wrong.")

But a bit of perspective. As House speaker Nancy Pelosi -- star of so many Republican attack ads -- puts it:

Under the bill, effective March 31, 2014, food stamp benefits will return to the levels that individuals would have received under pre-Recovery Act law.  This modification is estimated to save $11.9 billion over ten years.  House Democrats will work to restore this funding before the cuts are implemented in 2014.

First, note the date. Murphy charges Dems with taking food from the mouths of the poor "in the midst of a recession." But the cuts won't go into effect for nearly four years. And Democrats are hoping to restore funding before they ever take effect.

Considering that Dems could lose control of the House this fall -- that is a gamble with poor people's health. It's bad policy. But as Pelosi's statement makes clear, the extra food-stamp money being cut would never have been available in the first place if it weren't for the Democratic economic stimulus bill passed in 2009.

And I probably don't even need to point this out ... but Murphy voted against the stimulus act in the first place. (He did so, again, because he cares too much: "Our nation cannot afford massive spending in areas that do not directly lead to job creation, but instead grows government at a time we should reduce spending in order to avoid future tax increases.") In other words, he originally opposed the increased food-stamp spending he professes to be so concerned about today. 

And what of Murphy's hopes of finding "alternatives to pay for these priorities," and his concern that the burden "not be put on the backs of  those already weakened by poverty"? There's actually a really simple alternative: Roll back George Bush's tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Hike rates on capital gains. Restore the tax on seven-digit inheritences. Problem solved. Right? 

Wrong. Surprise, surprise -- Murphy doesn't want to burden THEM either. 

The specter of a huge $683 billion tax increase is on the horizon if Congress does not extend or make permanent the lower taxes that American families and workers now have. By 2011 American families will see higher taxes on income and investments, the child tax credit cut by $500, and the return of the marriage penalty tax. Small businesses would see higher taxes on equipment purchase and the resurrection of the hated Death Tax. 

Murphy, like most Republicans, favors making premanent Bush-era tax cuts -- which the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has found benefited the wealthy. The "Death Tax" also predominantly benefits the children of the wealthy. So while he professes to be worried about the burdens on the poor today, he's all about protecting the perogatives of the wealthy. 

To my eyes, the whole food-stamp cut looks like a bit of accounting gimmickry anyway. Democrats are paying for increased spending today by promising cuts in spending down the road ... cuts they flatly admit they hope not to make. And presumably the only reason they are going through this charade is they want to avoid being accused of defict spending by Republicans. Republicans like -- surprise! -- Tim Murphy:

I will also support legislation that stops the tax, spend and deficit culture in Washington that is so pervasive in the powers that run Congress, and is hurting our economy and jobs.

Political hypocrisy is nothing new, of course. What sets Murphy apart is how good he is at it. His ability to have it both ways on issues like this one -- or on "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus bill -- is a key part of his political success. Democrats have a hard time toppling him, at least in part, because he's so good at sounding like a Democrat. Even when he's voting against them.

ADDED: The campaign of Dan Connolly, the Democrat running against Murphy in the upcoming election, has fired off this statement:

Yesterday, Tim Murphy voted for multinational corporations that ship jobs overseas and against critical funding that will create or save the jobs of teachers, police officers and fire fighters here in Pennsylvania. The legislation, passed almost exclusively with Democratic votes was paid for by closing loopholes in the foreign income provisions of the tax code which gives corporations incentives to outsource American jobs.

Tim Murphy has been voting in lock step with the Republican leadership in Washington against the interests of the people of southwestern Pennsylvania. In November Pennsylvania voters will give Tim Murphy his pink slip so that he can go work with the corporate interests he so prefers the company of.


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