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Monday, November 3, 2008

Thanks for Changing the Climate, Here's Your Reward

This article was originally published on on Monday, November 3, 2008:

Congress, worried that the war on Iraq might actually end one day, has turned its attention to funding the war on the environment. This week the House acquiescently passed the auto companies' bailout -- or as we are supposed to call it, "bridge loan" - memories already dimmed of the auto execs' flying to D.C. in private jets last month.  The only reason the auto giants are not getting a check on Monday is that the Republicans in the Senate have since voted against the bill.

But, like the unpleasant memories in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Democrats' memories seem to have been erased, and we heard nary a peep about all the times the car companies have sued and testified and spent a lot of energy to defeat any government limits on their planetary destruction. California has been especially affected by their litigiousness, as the state has tried to lead the way with progressive standards to curb auto emissions. In fact, the auto companies are in litigation against California right now. State Attorney General Jerry Brown asked Congress to place a very reasonable restriction on the bridge loan: that California and other states be ensured the authority to set auto emissions standards at the California level, which would make the lawsuit against the California government groundless.

This is not a minor lawsuit that the attorney general's office doesn't have to devote many resources to -- it's a monster lawsuit in which 21 car companies have joined forces, and that definitely includes the Big Three who have had their hands out: GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler. (And don't rest too easy on the Prius good vibes; Toyota is part of it, too.) It sure seems that if car companies are going broke  after years of Machiavellian scheming to stave off fuel efficiency -- as depicted in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? -- then the very least their sugar daddy should require is that they don't waste millions on a lawsuit to avoid having to follow the law. If the bailout is altruistic and intended to help the 'little people', then the California government should not be having to spend money to defend the right to enforce its own laws when clinics and schools are hurting for funds and people are losing their homes.

GM is one of the companies claiming to be on the verge of bankruptcy right now, and they figure prominently in Who Killed the Electric Car, as they aggressively remove their own electric cars from the road, hide them, and then physically crush the vehicles for fear that people might actually buy them. After finalizing auto bailout legislation for the Senate on Weds., Senator Chris Dodd (the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs) issued a public statement: "I wish that these companies had not gotten themselves into this situation." Yes, and we also wish that they had not gotten us and the planet into this situation, Senator.  Is that the best you can do? Reward them for it?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can never remember that she herself actually is a California representative, under the impression instead that she's Head Chauffeur at the ranch in Crawford, so maybe it shouldn't be surprising that she came out in the forefront announcing the need for this particular handout. It wasn't Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Bush didn't have to pre-empt prime time; she was the mouthpiece. Since the White House has threatened to nix the auto bailout if there's any tough love in it, and Pelosi seems to think the White House is doing us a favor, she decided not to rock the boat. Now that the Republicans in the Senate have refused to fall in line, she's whining to about the Senate vote: "To have just 32 Republicans, you think, 'Why don't we write our own bill?'" In short, she's disappointed that Democrats' sacrifices weren't appreciated.

I think we're all scratching our heads wondering why you didn't write your own bill, Congresswoman, instead of passing a bill for the White House's tastes. This is the White House which, amidst so many other offences it's almost impossible to keep track, directed the EPA to oppose California's emissions law in the first place. Because California was proposing tougher restrictions than the feds, the state needed a waiver to bypass the federal law, and the EPA refused, even though 17 other states wanted to follow the same standards. The Bush White House's environmental policy, in short, is to actively violate states' rights in order to aid the oil and auto companies in their quest to pollute. (One would think the purpose of the waiver requirement was to grant some allowances to states having trouble meeting strict environmental standards, not to stop them from protecting the environment.) Bush's EPA has strenuously fought to do everything possible to enhance global warming, even against a Supreme Court ruling that put the P back in EPA. With all of this back and forth motored, if you will, by the auto companies, you would think Pelosi would be concerned, especially since fellow Northern Californian Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, publicly demanded that EPA head Stephen Johnson resign back in July, and also requested U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey begin a Dept. of Justice perjury investigation against him.

Instead, Pelosi's complaint to Politico about the Republicans' obstruction of the auto bailout bill highlighted how she tried to accommodate the White House. It's Dec. 12, 2008, and she's still under the impression that bending over backwards for the least popular president anyone can recall is a virtue! Will somebody please tell her there's a Democratic majority in both houses? About to be replaced after the holidays by an even larger Democratic majority in both houses? Oh yes, and I think the new president is a Democrat, too?

But it gets better. The other anti-environment White House proviso to which Pelosi buckled under is that the auto company rescue be paid for from a fund to build greener cars.

I'm not kidding.

Not only was Pelosi fine with giving money to an industry that considers one of its business expenses a protracted lawsuit against California taxpayers, but she is actually letting the White House plead poverty now (though they never did when demanding that Congress fund the war, reward reckless Wall Street operatives, or cut rich people's taxes). But now all of a sudden it's necessary to raid the fund set aside to produce cars that are more environmentally friendly. Granted, Pelosi initially "resisted using" the green fund, ABC News reports, and I'm sure she'll be the first to mention that when asked about it (unless she's able to avoid answering the question.)

However, afraid that she wouldn't get the job as Silverware Burnisher at Bush's new home in "whites-only" Dallas suburb Preston Hollow, she "changed her mind under White House pressure."

Not to criticize ABC News (not about this story, anyway), but they could have just borrowed their reporting from any report filed about Congress during the last two years: Isn't "Pelosi resisted but changed her mind under White House pressure" always the theme? I think we could add a word to the dictionary: PELOSI, v.: "to initially resist and then change one's mind under White House pressure." We could install a Commemorative Barometer at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and name it "the Pelosi", so its reading can change with White House pressure in perpetuity. In years to come, any political history scholar who is able to find a single instance during the Bush Administration when Pelosi did not "change her mind under White House pressure" will automatically become famous.

By contrast, Jerry Brown showed what bold, creative leadership actually looks like shortly after being elected state attorney general by launching a lawsuit against the car companies for contributing to global warming. A judge dismissed the suit, but you don't have to win every struggle to make the attempt worthwhile. The pro-war crowd certainly believes in the nobility of fighting to the finish on the battlefield. (The Democratic 'leaders' in Congress, whose arguments against the Iraq War were based on what they thought would make the smoothest sound bites, argued only that we were losing, not that the war is immoral or illegal, thus allowing the 'fighting against the odds' mentality to perpetuate the war.) And now the Republicans in the Senate have just shown an astonishing ability to make a stand -- only 10 of them voting for the auto bailout - even against their own President.

It seems as if, were it not for the Republicans, the next thing we'll see is Big Tobacco asking for a handout, complaining that the cost of damaging public health has really put a crimp in their style.

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