TN-LEG: Never Take Votes For Granted (UPDATED)

This is a fantastic story.

Last night, the Tennessee legislature was thrown into chaos after the Republican majority failed to elect a Speaker of the state House of Representatives.

In the Tennessee House, the Republicans have 50 seats and the Democrats have 49 seats, giving the GOP a 1-seat majority. Normally, votes for Speaker are party-line affairs, meaning that the GOP should have elected their choice for Speaker by 1 vote.

But enter Rep. Kent Williams, a moderate Republican. See, during the last election, Williams’ fellow Republicans bullied him to take more right-wing positions, going as far as threatening a boycott his family’s business if he didn’t comply.

Understandably, Rep. Williams didn’t enjoy being pushed around by his fellow Republicans. And the Democrats in the TN House knew this. So, they approached Williams and asked if he wanted to be Speaker. He said yes, and with both his vote and the votes of the entire Democratic caucus, Rep. Williams defeated the Republican Party candidate for Speaker.

Of course, Rep. Williams is still a Republican, but he’s far to the left of most of his colleagues. And now that he’s in charge, he’ll appoint a bunch of Democrats as committee chairmen, something that wouldn’t have happened had the Republican-backed candidate been elected Speaker.

So now the Tennesee Republican Party, despite having a majority of seats in the House, will be denied the Speakership for two years because they took Kurt Williams’ vote for granted. So not only is this a great tale of brilliant political maneuvering, it’s also a lesson in hubris that the TN GOP won’t soon forget.

UPDATE: Here’s a video segment of the vote.  Note how nasty the Republicans get toward Williams:

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“Clean Coal”

Still dirty:

Just-released independent water sampling data from the Tennessee coal ash disaster has shown alarmingly high levels of arsenic and seven other heavy metals, including cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and thallium.

“I’ve never seen levels this high,” said Dr. Shea Tuberty, Assistant Professor of Biology at the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Lab at Appalachian State University. “These levels would knock out fish reproduction … the ecosystems around Kingston and Harriman are going to be in trouble … maybe for generations.

[…]

Arsenic levels were especially worrisome. “From the water samples you gave us, we had anywhere from 35 to 300 times that [EPA] level” of 10 parts per billion for drinking water, said Tuberty to Upper Watauga Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby, who floated a kayak around the “ashbergs” on Decmber 27, five days after the disaster.

After testing for presence of 17 elements that are regulated by the EPA for drinking water, the Appalachian State University team of Tuberty and Dr. Carol Baybak found that the three water samples and one sediment sample provided by volunteers from the Waterkeeper Alliance and Appalachian Voices showed that “eight of them popped out as significantly higher than they should have been for drinking water.”

The test data can be found here.

[Emphasis Added]

The coal industry is spending millions of dollars advertising “clean coal,” despite the fact that clean coal technology doesn’t yet exist and questions remain as to whether the waste from burning coal can be adequately contained as to make coal “clean.”

But for a small fraction of the money spent advertising “clean coal,” the coal industry could have avoided this catastrophic environmental damage.  How can we trust the coal industry to be able to deliver “clean coal” if they can’t build and maintain a simple fly ash retention pond?

We should be divesting in coal and investing in developing, building and implementing naturally clean sources of energy.  All the workers in the coal industry should be retrained and redirected into green-collar jobs, because the sooner we transition away from fossil fuels, the better off our environment–and our economy–will be.

Clean Coal (UPDATED)

Still doesn’t exist:

Workers face “several weeks’ worth of work” to clean up 3.1 million cubic feet of fly ash dumped across hundreds of acres after a retention pond collapsed early Monday morning at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston steam plant.

No injuries have been reported, but one house was swept off of its foundation and onto the road, and huge piles of a mixture of water, mud and ash covered Swan Pond Road in Roane County.

“We’ve got a mess,” said Tom Hamby of the Roane County Highway Department. “The problem is, you don’t know what’s under this stuff.”

[…]

The 40-acre pond was used by TVA as a containment area for ash generated by the coal-burning steam plant, [TVA spokesman Gil] Francis said. An earthen wall gave way just before 1 a.m., flooding the road and railroad tracks leading to the plant.

Remember, you can’t make coal burn clean.  The idea behind clean coal is that the environmentally-harmful wastes created by burning coal–including mercury, ash, CO2 and other greenhouse gasses–can be contained in a way that will eliminate their impact on the environment.

If coal plants can’t contain polluted water sitting in a retention pond, how are they supposed to contain the billions of tons of carbon dioxide produced per year? And, even more importantly, why should we invest our tax d0llars in trying to clean up a dirty technology when we could just invest that money in creating natural, clean, renewable sources of energy?

UPDATE: Here’s aerial footage of the flood:

Roadblock Republicans Want To Destroy American Automakers (UPDATED X4)

Good news: last night, the auto industry bailout was passed by the House of Representatives 237-170.

Bad news: some Republicans in the Senate are likely to filibuster the legislation.

Look, it’s not great that we need this bailout. But this is an entire American industry we’re talking about, an industry that millions of people rely on to pay for their homes and to keep food on their families’ tables.

None of this money is going to be given away–the funds involved in the bailout are loans that the auto companies are going to have to pay back. Plus, in order to even get the money the auto industry is going to have to follow guidelines that will help steer them back toward long-term viability.

While some Republicans are advocating chapter 11 bankruptcy, it’s a terrible option for auto industry workers. Chapter 11 would allow automakers to void their union contracts and discard their pension obligations. If they go into bankruptcy, automakers would be forced to cut employee pay and benefits, including pension obligations, effectively pulling the rug out from under thousands of retirees nationwide.

Of course, Republican opposition to the bailout isn’t surprising–leave it to the GOP to wreck the economy and then stand in the way of Democrats cleaning up their mess.

And, of course, there’s a big reason Republicans are lining up to kill the bailout–cash.

Alabama’s Richard Shelby has been one of the leading opponents of the auto bailout. But what Shelby won’t tell you is that Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota all have manufacturing plants in Alabama.

Tennessee’s Bob Corker is also one of the biggest opponents of the bailout–in fact, he’s been tasked with writing alternate legislation. Incidentally, Tennessee is home to both Toyota and Nissan manufacturing facilities [UPDATE: Volkswagen is also building a plant in Chattanooga, slated to open in 2011.]

In other words, some of the biggest Republicans opposing the rescue of the American auto industry have a vested interest in seeing American automakers fail.

Everything these Roadblock Republicans do to stop the bailout should be viewed with suspicion. These guys aren’t on the side of American workers–they’re on the side of foreign auto manufacturers. The Republicans are willing to sell out millions of Americans in exchange for big fat campaign contributions from Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz.

Meanwhile, Democrats are being responsible and are fighting to save millions of American workers and retirees. And fortunately for them–after January 20th–being responsible and doing the right thing for America’s middle class will get a lot easier.

UPDATE: And I’m not defending the stupid business practices of American auto companies. They’ve made a lot of mistakes, everything from opposing better fuel efficiency and mileage standards to continuing failed product lines and, most reprehensibly, outsourcing jobs overseas.

But the bailout is necessary–allowing the big three to go bankrupt would further damage our already-devastated economy. And, like I said, millions of Americans–who had nothing to do with the poor business decisions of these companies–rely on automakers for their livelihoods.

I see the bailout as an opportunity for the federal government to step in and guide the big three back toward better business practices. This is a chance to reform an entire industry in a way that will benefit current and future workers.

And, of course, I’m disgusted at the Republicans for their duplicity–they’re pretending to oppose the bailout on principle, when in reality it’s just about sucking up to potential campaign contributors.

UPDATE II: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint is also pledging to oppose the bailout.

And where is BMW’s American manufacturing operation located?

Spartanburg, South Carolina.

UPDATE III: Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn is another Republican standing in the way of the bailout.

And who moved into Oklahoma in 2006?

China’s Nanjing Automobile Group:

Brien Thorstenberg of the Ardmore, Okla., Chamber of Commerce says he plans to be among the first to buy one of the reborn MG Coupes about to be built in his hometown.

The Chamber’s development authority won the checkered flag by convincing China’s Nanjing Automobile Group to build the fabled MG sports car at southern Oklahoma’s Ardmore Airpark. It will be the first Chinese automotive plant in the United States.

[…]

To lure Nanjing, Oklahoma offered incentives, including spending $15 million on the Ardmore Airpark to allow it to land the 747 cargo planes needed to fly in large car parts. The airpark will become a foreign trade zone.

[…]

Nanjing knows it will pay a premium to build cars outside its home country. It is going to locate its global headquarters in Oklahoma City. A new research facility will be located in Norman at the University of Oklahoma, and the company expects to soon break ground on the assembly line in Ardmore.

This is somewhat like shooting fish in a barrel.

UPDATE IV: What Digby said:

But let’s be clear what’s going on here. A bunch of Southern-state Republicans (including, amazingly, Diaper Dandy David Vitter), from right-to-work states, want to push GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy to bolster the foreign auto presence in their home states. Kentucky has a Ford factory but they also have a Toyota plant in Georgetown, so [Minority Leader Sen. Mitch] McConnell’s on board.

Serious People

It looks like that the adults will soon be back in charge:

No one could remember a meeting quite like this.

President-elect Barack Obama met with the nation’s governors Tuesday to hear their tales of economic pain – and won some points by telling Republicans in the room that he welcomed disagreements, “so feel free,” one participant recalled.

[…]

The gesture went over well with the GOP executives, many of whom were getting their first chance to take the measure of the new president up-close, including two who may challenge him for the White House in four years.

Obama used the hour-plus session today to discuss the upcoming stimulus package, and he pledged to partner with the chief executives as they grapple with budget deficits wrought by the economic downturn.

[…]

But for the most part, the governors, meeting at historic Congress Hall in Philadelphia for the annual meeting of the National Governor’s Association, were taken with Obama’s openness, policy depth and just that he showed up to engage in a real back and forth, a move none could recall on the part of a newly elected president.

[…]

“The contrast with our meeting with the sitting president was fairly stark,” said Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, recalling a “much more controlled” environment with President George W. Bush.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the incoming head of the DGA, was more blunt: “Just to have an administration, a president, a vice president, who listened, engaged, and came to meeting prepared — it’s a brand-new idea.”

(h/t Steve Benen)

Republicans aren’t serious people; they haven’t been for a long time.

They turned our political system into a game, twisting nearly every issue into a change to score points for their team.  They acted like their actions wouldn’t have any consequences.  They sat by while our country collapsed around them and tried to blame everyone but themselves for it.  The worst of them wrapped themselves in the flag and attacked anyone who criticized them as disloyal or unpatriotic. The last eight years have been a sad lesson in just how childish and petty our politics can become.

But now we have an incoming President who is treating being President of the United States like a the serious job it is.  We have someone willing to tackle tough issues and implement the best solution instead of twisting the situation to his own political benefit.  We have someone willing to listen to dissenting opinions and willing to find merit in opposing viewpoints.

The adults are back in charge again.  Let nobody forget how poorly the GOP governed from 2001-2009 and let nobody forget how it took a massive Democratic majority to right their wrongs and clean up their messes.