Progress

I’ll be honest – mostly, I go to these things to try to find a job. However, I’m going as a blogger this year (I get in free, and I’m sleeping on a friend’s couch) for one main reason: this debate on progressives in the Obama era. Darcy Burner is one of the few people in the progressive movement to whom I can relate, and I’m really looking forward to this event:

The Campaign for America’s Future has held an annual conference every year, and typically the attendees would discuss how conservatism has failed and how their leaders can be brought out of power. The next iteration of the CAF conference, titled “America’s Future Now” and scheduled for June 7-9 in Washington, will have a much different focus – an open discussion among the progressive community about how to best position itself in an age of governing.

“The progressive community is somewhat divided, between the folks who think Obama is doing everything he can against a broken political system, and the folks that think he’s not doing enough, and that we need an independent force to push him,” said Bill Scher, the Online Campaign Manager for CAF. “We’re going to have that debate at this conference.”

Scher highlighted a session called “The Great Debate: Progressives in the Obama Era,” where Executive Director of the Progressive Congress Action Fund Darcy Burner and Executive Director of the Center for Community Change Deepak Bhargava, who sit on opposite sides of the aforementioned divide, will argue how best to achieve progressive goals in the Obama age. This will be followed by community discussions and opportunities to engage on the question, which overhangs virtually the entire conference. “No matter where you line up in that debate, we need to come together and engage” on it, said Scher. “Are we the wingman of the Obama Administration or an outside pressure force?”

As you may have noticed, I no longer see working for the immediate needs of the Democratic part as an effective strategy, so it’ll be interesting to hear what other people have to say.

Huh

Imagine. The Tea Party members are too wacky for Rick Santorum!

HARRISBURG – Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a potential Republican presidential candidate, warned Monday that conservatives should be wary of the libertarian strain of thought in the tea party movement.

Santorum was responding to a question about Kentucky Republican Senate nominee Rand Paul, who last week said he disagreed with the idea that the federal government should have a right to bar private businesses, such as restaurants, from discriminating on the basis of race, as it did in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“I don’t think the libertarians have it right when it comes to what the Constitution is all about . . . or when it comes to our history,” Santorum said at the Pennsylvania Press Club. “When there are clear wrongs in society, injustice in society – sure, you handle it at the local level if you can – but when the local and state governments are in cahoots with the injustice, then the federal government has to step in and do something.”

Surprise

Who could have known that putting the oil industry in charge of the country for eight years would turn out to be a disaster? Fortunately, we will be looking forward, not back, and there will be no consequences other than a stern finger wag for these fellows:

The agency in charge of overseeing the United States’ oil reserves was plagued with gross mismanagement that in at least one case allowed the companies being inspected to fill in their own audit reports, an Inspector General’s report will reportedly reveal this week.

Regulators overseeing oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico reportedly allowed oil company officials to fill in their own inspection reports. According to the internal probe being released this week, oil officials sketched out their answers in pencil and turned them over to federal oversight officials, who then traced their answers in pen.

And as if that wasn’t enough, a Louisiana inspector from the Minerals Management Service purportedly admitted to investigators that he’d used crystal methamphetamine, and may have been high on the illegal stimulant during a drilling inspection.

The Inspector General’s report was previewed Tuesday in the New York Times. The report is sure to set off a bombshell in Washington, where Congress is probing how a massive and still-growing oil leak was allowed to happen in the Gulf of Mexico. None of the reports findings directly address the lead-up to the spill from the sinking of Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon rig in April, but they certainly draw a picture of a watchdog asleep — or high — at the wheel.

The report also found that during the tenure of President George W. Bush, from 2005 to 2007, “inspectors accepted meals, tickets to sporting events and gifts from at least one oil company while they were overseeing the industry,” the Times said.

Pennsylvania, Land of Giants

See? It’s not just me:

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania legislature lives in a ” ‘time warp’ of public corruption” and needs to make sweeping changes to its operations, including cutting staff, instituting term limits, and going part-time, according to a damning report by the long-running state grand jury investigating corruption in the state Capitol.

The 34-page report, delivered to top legislative leaders Monday afternoon, describes a culture that has allowed corruption to flourish, in many cases unchecked. It also finds that campaign-related work consumes an enormous amount of time for many state employees.

Among other recommendations, the grand jury said the legislature could become a part-time body and still complete its work. That, in turn, would allow it to cut staff and salaries, the report said.

The report also proposed that all hiring be done by a nonpartisan human resources department to prevent “partisan hires” by the four legislative caucuses.

Those party caucuses, Democratic and Republican, came in for scathing criticism in the report – especially regarding the source of their funding.

“Taxpayer-Funded Political Caucuses Must End,” says a heading of a section of the report.

In addition, the grand jury recommended that special leadership accounts be eliminated or, at the least, that all expenses be made available to the public.

Some of the changes would require changes to the state constitution.

As the report put it: “The grand jury calls upon the General Assembly to leave its ‘time warp’ of public corruption and pass legislation . . . to address the rampant public corruption of the General Assembly. The people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, whom the elected legislators are supposed to serve, deserve no less.”

The report noted that grand jurors sought the expertise of Alan Rosenthal, a political science professor at Rutgers University who has studied U.S. legislatures for 40 years.

Rosenthal concluded that the Pennsylvania legislature had not caught up with ethics and accountability standards that most other states have adopted.

The “time warp” quote comes from Rosenthal’s testimony: “It’s still doing what all the states did in the 1950s and 1960s.” He noted that the laws against spending public money on campaigning had been enacted by legislators. “For them to be expected to obey the laws . . . is not asking a lot of your legislature.”

Fox, Meet Henhouse

Heckuva job, Ken!

In the weeks since BP’s Deepwater Horizon well started spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, there’s been increasing attention to the “cozy” relationship between the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and the oil industry it’s supposed to regulate. How cozy? Just last summer the Obama administration tapped a BP executive to serve as a deputy administrator for land and minerals management.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last June appointed Sylvia V. Baca to the post, which did not require Senate confirmation. The appointment follows eight years at BP. From her MMS bio:

Baca had been general manager for Social Investment Programs and Strategic Partnerships at BP America Inc. in Houston, and had held several senior management positions with the company since 2001, focusing on environmental initiatives, overseeing cooperative projects with private and public organizations, developing health, safety, and emergency response programs and working on climate change, biodiversity and sustainability objectives.

As Director of Global Health, Safety, Environment & Emergency Response for BP Shipping Ltd. in London, Baca led a worldwide team to develop innovative and proactive energy and the environment initiatives. Among her accomplishments, she oversaw health, safety and environmental outcomes for an $8 billion ship building program, resulting in the youngest, greenest and most technically advanced fleet in the world. The project has received numerous awards for its safety and environmental advancements.

Baca is also an excellent example of the revolving door between government and industry that MMS has been accused of facilitating. From 1995 to 2001, she was an assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Department of Interior before leaving to work for the oil giant.

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