Dirty South Bureau

October 15, 2010

Voting records on energy issues, Louisiana candidates in Nov 2, 2010 federal elections

Filed under: energy,environment,Louisiana,New Orleans Politics,The Feds — christian @ 10:41 pm

I’ve talked a lot on this blog of late about the importance of energy and environmental issues in the November 2, 2010 congressional elections, and I feel like it’s time to back that up with some data. Things like party lines are not always indicators of the way an elected official will vote on a particular issue, though for Republicans, voting patterns on party lines have been more clear lately.

So how do the candidates we are going to vote for in the November 2, 2010 election measure up on energy issues? Obviously I have my own opinions about which policies are the most important, but I decided it would me more complete and fair if I used the list of legislation collected by Project Vote Smart for the last two years. Here we go:

Louisiana Senatorial Candidates

U.S. Representative Charlie Melancon

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – yes
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – yes
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – yes
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – yes
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – yes

U.S. Senator David Vitter (incumbent)

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – no
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no vote taken
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – folded into HR3534 – see below
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – folded into unrelated bill*
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – no vote yet
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – no vote yet

* – it would be unfair to rank a vote on this bill, as Cash for Clunkers became an amendment to a much larger spending bill in the Senate, so the vote by Vitter could have been for or against the larger bill, not this amendment.

Louisiana Second District Congressional Candidates

U.S. Representative Joseph Cao (incumbent)

HR1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“stimulus package”) – no
HR2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act (“cap and trade”) – no
HR5851 – Whistleblower protection for offshore oil workers – yes
HR2751 – “Cash for clunkers” – yes
HR3534 – Offshore drilling regulations – no
HR4875 – Energy efficiency loans – no

Louisiana State Representative Cedric Richmond

Now, this is going to be a little different. Cedric Richmond has been in the Louisiana legislature, where the bills are different, and VoteSmart had no records, so I took a sampling of the bills that renewable energy advocates the Alliance for Affordable Energy supported in 2009, and added the solar tax credit passed in 2007.

2007 HB90 – solar tax credit – yes
2009 HB858 – expands eligibility for the solar tax credit – no
2009 SB224 – allows for construction of municipal finance program for solar and energy efficiency – yes
2009 HB733 “green jobs” tax credit – yes

Legislation sponsored in 2009:

H.B. 850 – Providing incentives to utility-scale renewable energy producers. Bill died in committee.

So there’s my data, as objective as I could find. The objective part ends here.

Analysis

Key national bills: I personally think the stimulus (HR1) was the creme de la creme of progressive energy bills. The $23 billion for renewable energy projects has funded renewable energy projects in most states. The investments in regional passenger rail are critical to reducing petroleum usage, and hell, reducing traffic. Section 1603, which turned the federal solar tax credit into a grant has been critical for the solar industry since tax equity funding dried up with the recession. But don’t take my word for it – ask the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Second in importance I would rank HR 2454, the “cap and trade” bill. However, do not mistake that for an endorsement. The bill was over a thousand pages long and full of loopholes, but never mind that – cap and trade was the worst carbon regulation idea that has ever been taken seriously. I’m personally much more fond of greenhouse gas regulation at the EPA level, or at least a “cap and dividend” approach, as was sponsored by Chris Van Hollen (D-Delaware), that would refund the proceeds of the program to American public in our tax refunds. Better yet is the national renewable portfolio standard that Senator Udall (D-New Mexico) has proposed.

However, HR 2454 was a key bill and a barometer of how much a candidate supported the idea of carbon regulation. Needless to say, none of the three candidates who could have voted on it from Louisiana supported it.

The other bills, while important, kind of pale before these two, large measures.

Now, for an analysis of candidates – Melancon is a Blue Dog who is not progressive on energy issues. Nonetheless, he is the only one of Louisiana’s seven congressmen who voted for the stimulus. That was, in the words of our Vice President Joe Biden “a big f***ing deal”.

Vitter is a loyal member of the party of No and would have voted against ACES if he had the chance. While there isn’t much to see from his voting record, besides the “No” vote on the stimulus, that is because most of these bills couldn’t even make it to a vote in a Senate which has set a new bar for obstructiveness.

Joseph Cao: Cao voted as a loyal Republican on party lines in key energy votes, voting against the stimulus, cap and trade, and most every other key vote for the Obama Administration. That means that he was a disaster for progressive energy policies.

Cedric Richmond: Hard to say by the votes alone. I’ve seen the Louisiana Legislature vote almost unanimously on any uncontroversial bill that comes out of committee. So in Richmond’s “yes” votes, he was joined by nearly every other member of the Louisiana house.

However, I would also note the bill that he sponsored, H.B. 850. While the bill hadn’t a snowball’s chance in hell given the budget war between Jindal and the Legislature and never made it out of committee, it was by far the most aggressive bill I saw in that session for expanding renewable energy in the state. Judged by his legislative record, Richmond appears very supportive of progressive energy policies, and even a leader.

Feel free to comment, particularly if you have any other votes that you think should be tracked, or if you want data for other federal races in Louisiana.

October 13, 2010

Breaking down what is meant by colonialism

Filed under: Uncategorized — christian @ 10:38 am

Its funny how some times situations in your personal life interact with larger phenomenon in the world. In my case, I’ve been observing a lot of what went on in Post-Katrina New Orleans, particularly the influx of well-meaning outsiders (like myself, though I lived here before the storm), many of them from the Northeast (not like myself) to the region. I’ve also noted how a lot of people just don’t seem to be able to grasp certain power dynamics and their consequences – particularly those in a position of relative privilege or power.

Which intersects with the work that I am doing on Longite Petro-Populism. My co-author Brian Marks and I argue that the formation of the state’s economy around mineral extraction results in under-development. But all of these terms and concepts around under-development and colonialism seem to be simply more intellectual gobbledy-gook to most people.

This morning I tried to sit down and sketch out the basic tenets of this system. I left the framework general, but feel free to substitute specific terms, like North and South, whether we are talking about the United States North and South, or the global North and South.

1. Why is it that not only classes of people, but some regions of the world are wealthy and others are poor?

2. Could it be because some regions physically remove the wealth from other regions?

3. Could it be that this removal of wealth, and the formation of an economy and a society around the export of wealth, results in long-term retardation of the economic and societal development of these regions?

4. Could it be that this removal of wealth is accompanied by attitudes on behalf of the extractors, a certain paternalism, and an attitude of intellectual and moral superiority?

5. Could it be that the residents of these extracting regions are also divided by classes of exploiters and exploited? Could it be that even the exploited in the privileged regions benefit from the wealth of the regions that have been exploited? Could it be that the exploited in the privileged regions also identify with their region, and carry the attitudes of their exploiters?

6. Could it be that later, when residents of the extracting regions arrive in the under-developed regions, believing that they are assisting with those regions’ development, that the residents of the privileged regions carry with them the same attitudes? Could it be that this is why such “assistance” rarely results in meaningful improvement for the residents of the under-developed regions?

October 5, 2010

American fascists

Filed under: Other — christian @ 6:02 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the term “fascist”, perhaps because it keeps coming up in political discussions or because of the bizarre media spectacle of having this term applied to our first black president. Sadly, the term is rarely used correctly. Even when leftists used the term in the 1960′s and 1970′s, it was more a derogatory euphemism than a real analysis of a political form.

And this seems to be the nature of use of the word in contemporary culture – everyone uses it and no-one seems to know for sure what it means. It is used to conjure up an image of total state control, of mustachioed leaders, of forced work camps and mass exterminations, of evil in a political sense. It has been applied not only to Obama, but to Saddam Hussein, Nixon, and really anyone powerful we don’t like. And I think this lack of understanding and analysis makes it easy to use in this way – as the verbal form of a rotten tomato to throw at a hated figure.

Some of the difficulty may lie in the movements that created it. Mussolini, who adopted the use of the Roman fasces, a symbol of political and legal authority, was not known as a systematic political thinker. He basically borrowed from where-ever he wanted to create an opportunistic political form. However, European fascist movements from their era of greatest power – the 1920′s, 30′s and early 40′s – have remarkably similar characteristics, and I think it is not only possible but important to recognize what fascism was.

Fascism as a potent mass movement is tied to a particular era and geography – a European political phenomenon from the inter-war period. This is not to say that fascist groups do not exist today, or that a resurgence of similar movements could not occur – in fact they may be occurring. But we don’t have true fascism yet, not as state power and certainly not as a potent international movement.

Much of my analysis of fascism comes from a study of the 20th century, and in particular I recommend Phillip Morgan’s Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945 (Routledge 2003), as the most comprehensive study of the phenomenon I’ve found. Morgan looks at fascist regimes in Italy, Germany, Hungary and Romania, as well as movements in Yugoslavia, France, England and other nations including tiny movements in Scandinavia – basically the entire range of European fascists at the time. It is important to note that all these movements have similar characteristics, and borrow from each other.

A definition of fascism

Given the lack of true consensus by scholars, I want to put forward a definition of fascism that I feel is most accurate – and if you disagree, feel free to comment. Fascism is a mass political movement and/or regime with three characteristics: 1. militarism, and an attempt to re-create society based on military norms and forms of organization, 2. overt racism, with a racialized “in-group” and persecuted “out-groups”, and 3. authoritarianism plus a mass political leader with a cult of personality. These characteristics were true of every major European fascist movement and regime, but also define our popular understanding of those regimes.

So are is the American Nazi Party fascist? They sure are trying to be, but with all due respect to their victims, they have always been a marginal force, not a mass political movement. Was Franco a fascist? Not really. As a brutal military dictator he resembled fascists of the time, and Morgan and I may have different reasons for not considering Franco a fascist, but my argument is that since overt racism was not a central part of Franco’s program he’s not really quite a fascist. Though this was probably no consolation to his victims.

Beyond those two clearly confusing cases, if we think of the number of people the term fascist has been inaccurately applied to, the list is quite long.

Let’s take a few examples. Was Stalin a fascist? No, he was the intensely brutal head of an extremely powerful 20th century Communist nation. He didn’t have to be a fascist to kill millions of Russians. However, Stalin was still prevented by the dominant communist ideology to allow racism to be a central feature of his regime. Militarism, authoritarianism and a slave system using the unpaid labor of political dissidents was enough for Stalin.

Now we get into more difficult terrain. Was Leander Perez, the mid-20th century political boss of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, a fascist? As an aggressively racist authoritarian political leader he sure was close. But Perez never tried to reorganize Plaquemines upon military lines. He didn’t need to. One main thing that makes brutal 20th century racist political leaders in the Deep South something other than fascists is that they didn’t need militarism. Informal violence against black individuals and communities worked fine for their ends. They never raised armies to invade Washington. Maybe they knew better.

A note on corporatism

Mussolini once stated that fascism is the union of corporations and the state. As I mentioned before, Mussolini was hardly a categorical political thinker, and I take such a comment (as much as I like to quote it) as a missive. It is true that corporatism was the economic program of European fascist regimes, and fit into the fascist schema. However, corporatism exists in many other systems that have nothing to do with fascism, and though inconsistent, in contemporary usage we tend to be talking about these other characteristics.

Lance Hill’s incorrect characterization of Huey Long

One reason I am writing this is that my work on Huey Long has been plagued by inaccurate representations of the man coming from many people who should know better. While I have tremendous respect for Lance Hill, particularly for his work on the Deacons for Defense, his description of Huey Long as a “bayou fascist” is particularly noteworthy for its flagrant substitution of euphemism for accurate terminology.

Long’s regime was authoritarian and he certainly was a mass political leader with a cult of personality. But since his political movement was not founded either on militarism (he didn’t enlist for the First World War; when asked about it he said he “wasn’t mad at anybody”) or overt racism, he is hardly a fascist. Using the national guard in New Orleans doesn’t count and it is a disrespect to the legitimate victims of fascism to use this term for a regime that started providing free school books to black students and didn’t kill anybody (Long’s assassination was the only political murder associated with his rule in the state). Long mobilized poor whites not against African-Americans but against the rich – hardly a fascist basis for a political movement.

Sure, Louisiana was (is) a racist state, and supporters including Perez were close to being fascists, but that hardly makes Long the equivalent of a Hitler or a Mussolini. One out of three – personal rule by a mass leader with cult of personality – does not a fascist make.

Fascists in America

I am not the only one to note that fascism never really caught on here. Perhaps it is our distrust of European political ideas. Perhaps it is because America has distinct if similar political forms to Europe, and we tend to use European political terminology.

However, movements similar to fascism can be found emerging in the American right. In particular, Arizona’s right-wing anti-immigration movement may be the closest thing we have seen to a real fascist movement in this country. The Tea Party also has fascist tendencies – though its messaging is notably unclear and inconsistent. The militarism – including the strong emphasis on bearing arms, even bringing them to demonstrations, the support of wars against the Muslim “enemy” and the militarized border – is a start. The racism and authoritarianism are absolutely there, with Arizona’s new legalized racial profiling, and the constant demonization of immigrants and Muslims, as well as appeals to restore order to the nation, which I can only guess would be the order of Gestapo and work camps, which immigrant detention centers resemble more and more.

The way that right-wing political leaders and agitators talk about immigrants in this country is very similar to Nazi anti-Jewish, anti-Roma (Gypsy) and anti-immigrant propaganda. In both cases, leaders mobilize masses, including small businesspeople and a downwardly mobile middle class, many of whom are suffering from very real economic crises, to blame racialized “out-groups” for their economic circumstances and the state of their nation. Under the Nazis, such propaganda was blatantly racially oriented. In the United States, white Anglo “Americans” are mobilized against overwhelmingly Latino immigrants and Muslim Arabs, with less overt mention of race – though religion is clearly mentioned. But the realities are clear, if nowhere else than in the racial profiling that Arizona is attempts to enshrine as law.

The only thing that keeps these groups from being real, bona-fide fascists is the lack of a charismatic mass leader. Sarah Palin is too much of a joke – like Alessandra Mussolini (grand-daughter of Il Duce), who broke up the far-right grouping in the European Parliament ranting about Romanians, she may be more of a liability than an asset to her movement. A real fascist leader would have at least held on to the governorship of Alaska to use as a springboard, but Palin seems to be more of a Paris Hilton than a Hitler. Even skilled agitators like Glen Beck fail to make the cut.

So perhaps this lack of leadership on the right (similar to the American left, frankly) is the only thing that keeps us from having a true, home-grown fascist movement. Thank God for small favors. However, it is important to note that many of those who are painting mustaches on Obama are, in fact, very close to being fascists themselves, with all the racism, militarism and authoritarianism, masquerading as patriotism and self-reliance, fueled by a frenzy of fear-based messaging. Do not underestimate them. Historically, that has been a fatal mistake.