Jim Inhofe

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The axe is about to fall in Washington DC, and as tomorrow’s budget sequester rapidly approaches, many Senators are looking for agreement on a way to soften its impact. Laura Litvan and Brian Faler of Bloomberg report:

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma will introduce this week a measure that would let military service chiefs move around funds within the Pentagon’s budget this fiscal year, according to his spokeswoman, Donelle Harder.

Beginning March 1, the government faces $85 billion in across-the-board cuts over seven months — half of it from defense — unless President Barack Obama and Congress agree on an alternative.

“It buys time for a better fix” for the cuts, Harder said of Inhofe’s proposal. Lawmakers in his party are seeking an elusive consensus on how to deal with the reductions, known as sequestration.

Inhofe’s measure, to be co-sponsored by Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, also would provide flexibility this fiscal year to domestic agencies facing cuts.
Inhofe’s proposal faces opposition from Republicans on the defense panel, including Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. They back an alternative introduced by Ayotte that would delay sequestration for one year by requiring a 10 percent reduction in federal personnel through attrition and a pay freeze for lawmakers.

With Inhofe in the news this week, I decided to look at some of his major campaign contributors using OpenSecrets.org.

Inhofe’s top donor was Koch Industries, the Kansas multinational with interests in petroleum, chemical, fiber, finance and many other areas. Run by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, the corporation has poured billions into fighting the regulation of energy and financial derivatives; they’ve contributed nearly $100,000 to Inhofe. Likewise Murray Energy (second), a coal mining corporation run by Robert E. Murray, lobbies frequently against mining regulations; it has contributed $66,000 to global warming denier Inhofe. Inhofe has also received numerous donations from oil and gas companies such as ConocoPhillips (11th), Oklahoma City’s Devon Energy (16th), and Chevron (19th); as well as fossil fuel users like the United Parcel Service (fifth), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (15th), the National Automobile Dealers Association (17th), and railroaders Union Pacific (20th).

Inhofe, a licensed commercial pilot who’s had run-ins with the Federal Aviation Administration, had funds dropped into his campaign from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (third) and Fort Worth, Texas, based American Airlines (fourth).

The Senator gets funds from several professional trade associations: the National Association of Realtors (sixth); the American Medical Association (eighth); the Associated General Contractors of America (12th); the National Beer Wholesalers Association (13th); and the American Bankers Association (18th).

Rounding out his top-twenty list are the National Rifle Association (seventh); telecom multinational AT&T (ninth); a business called Golden Rule Financial (tenth); and military and aerospace contractor Lockheed Martin (14th).

Boxer briefing

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Will Mother Earth become Martyr Earth? On Valentine’s Day, to avert that prospect, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced legislation to combat global climate change through the tax code. As Raju Chebium of USA Today reported:

Under the proposal, companies would pay $20 per ton of carbon or methane they emit. The tax would increase by 5.6% for each of the next 10 years. Burning coal, oil and gasoline releases carbon. Methane is the byproduct of natural gas, which is cleaner than the other fossil fuels and is coming in wide use across the USA.

Sixty percent of the revenue would go to pay monthly rebates for citizens and legal U.S. residents who are bound to face higher electric bills as utilities pass on the tax to consumers.

The rest would go toward “weatherizing” 1 million homes each year to make them more energy-efficient, increasing renewable-energy supply by setting up new wind- and solar-power projects, and creating a fund to attract private investment for clean-energy development.

Coal, oil, and natural gas producers as well as electrical utilities predictably oppose the measure. And despite his speeches about the dangers of global warming, President Obama looks unlikely to support Boxer’s proposal either. Ben Geman of The Hill reported yesterday:

Jack Lew, the White House nominee for Treasury secretary, says President Obama’s second-term vow to confront climate change will not lead to proposals to tax carbon dioxide emissions.

“The administration has not proposed a carbon tax, nor is it planning to do so,” Lew said in written responses to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which will vote on Lew’s nomination Tuesday.

Carbon taxes or fees are generating new interest among climate advocates and some liberal lawmakers, especially amid debates about how to curb the deficit and overhaul the tax code.

Lew’s answer is the latest of several Obama administration pledges not to propose a carbon tax.

“We would never propose a carbon tax, and have no intention of proposing one,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in mid-November.

Given industry opposition, it’s hardly surprising that energy corporations aren’t at the head of the line to donate to Boxer’s campaigns. Instead, as OpenSecrets.org shows, she receives significant donations from liberal issue donors, tech and media corporations, and lawyers and lobbyists.

Boxer’s top donor, giving over a million dollars since 1989, was EMILY’s List, the political action committee for pro-choice Democratic women. Other prominent, issue-oriented contributors are pro-environmental group the League of Conservation Voters (fourth) and arms control advocates the Council for a Livable World (tenth). The University of California (second) has bestowed over a quarter million on the California Senator; the State of California (seventh) and Stanford University (16th) also made generous donations.

The world’s four largest media corporations appear on Boxer’s list: Time Warner (third) gave over $200,000; Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (sixth) pitched in $122,000; Walt Disney Co. (eighth) gave $95,000; and Viacom (14th) gave $74,000.

Boxer receives more money from lawyers and law firms than any other industry, and several individual firms appear on her top twenty list, most based in her home state. These include class action kings Girardi & Keese (fifth), Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy (ninth), and Milberg LLP (11th); corporate lawyers Latham & Watkins (13th); personal injury lawyers Greene Broillet & Wheeler (15th); and general practice firm O’Melveny & Myers (18th).

Other significant donors to the California Senator are high tech businesses such as San Jose network equipment manufacturers Cisco Systems (12th), San Diego semiconductor makers Qualcomm (17th), and Japanese electronics megafirm Sony (19th). Oakland health care consortium Kaiser Permanente (20th) also made her list.

Death on denial

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It ain’t a good week to lick metal outside. Zero Fahrenheit left Minnesota days ago (though it returns today) and zero Celsius won’t be back till possibly Saturday. This sudden frigid reminder of the Januarys of my youth comes thanks to a split in the polar vortex that sent Arctic air down to cover much of the northern US.

The cold snap brought with it reminiscences. I listened to two old-timers in the locker room at the Y bemoan the closing of schools yesterday; they walked to school in sub-zero weather all the time. And indeed, I thought, when I was growing up in Iowa, a couple skin-freezing winter weeks were expected. Iowa City shut down if temperatures dropped to twenty below, perhaps, but a mere zero degrees? We simply bundled up.

Are winters really warmer these days, or is it just that I’ve turned forty-five and the geezers turned seventy? Apparently, though age may have made us prone to criticize, it hasn’t affected our memories — there really are substantially fewer cold days in Midwestern winters now than before, going back sixty years. Summers are getting warmer too, around the world.

Denial of the global warming trend has greatly diminished as year after year of record warm temperatures build up. Instead, carbon industry supporters have shifted to finding non-anthropogenic causes, claiming the rise is not brought about by human activity. They commonly point to the sun as the likely culprit — even though solar activity has been decreasing while temperatures have increased over the past 30 years.

But there’s a far more insidious type of denial that even those who recognize the human role in climate change succumb to — the denial that it’s a major crisis, that it will alter the biosphere catastrophically. Right now global warming seems to be treated mostly as a political football tossed between left and right, with cheerleaders mocking their opponents and major media outlets covering the whole shebang like a bowl game. With the corporate media’s bias toward balance, the opinions of the most informed sources on climate change are rarely reported, as their predictions are so terrifying they’re considered unreasonable. Instead, the popular debate falls between well-funded right-wing think tanks and politically cautious intergovernmental panels, suggesting climate change will only mildly affect human activity and the world at large.

A disaster is unfolding right before us, and as we always do, we’re shutting our eyes to it, treating it as a locker-room debate. It’s understandable: when there’s no solution, there’s little solace in facing reality. But climate change, like our own deaths, will arrive sooner than we think, and despite our demurrals.