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Presidential Debates Silent On Climate Change: A first Since 1988?

The past 17 years have been hotter than 1988 — the hottest year ever recorded at the time. Crushing impacts like drought, wildfires, flooding, sea level rise, and ocean acidification are now hitting American communities… Remember Storm Sandy? And all the previous female mad hurricanes?

The US presidential debates needed badly a Sandy to discuss climate change: She came a week late! An climate was thrown out of the window from the organized debates by the polluter multinationals…

In solidarity with the climate activists marching in the streets in Florida, and those blockading the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Texas, leading climate activists from Bill McKibben to Jane Fleming Kleeb have added the CLIMATE SILENCE twibbon before the final presidential debate.

Brad Johnson published on Oct 22, 2012:

1988. That was the year of James Hansen’s now famous congressional testimony on climate change.

And it was also the first year that climate change came up in the presidential debate cycle.

On October 5, 1988, Chicago Tribune reporter Jon Margolis asked Vice Presidential candidates Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle about climate change and fossil fuels:

We’ve all just finished – most America has just finished one of the hottest summers it can remember. And apparently this year will be the fifth out of the last nine that are among the hottest on record. No one knows, but most scientists think, that something we’re doing, human beings are doing, are exacerbating this problem, and that this could, in a couple of generations, threaten our descendants’ comfort and health and perhaps even their existence.

The follow-up Question was: “As Vice President what would you urge our government to do to deal with this problem? And specifically as a Texan, could you support a substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels which might be necessary down the road?”

Both agreed that it was time to act. 

In 1992, vice presidential candidate Al Gore shamed Dan Quayle and James Stockdale with an impassioned call to action on climate change as they promoted myths of scientific uncertainty;

In 1996, Jack Kemp attacked Gore for sowing “fear on climate”;

In 2000, Gore made an even stronger case for action as Bush questioned the science;

In 2004, Kerry blasted Bush’s anti-scientific record;

In 2008, even Sarah Palin described how climate change was damaging Alaska

In a debate with John McCain, Barack Obama blasted McCain’s efforts on climate change for their insufficiency:

So it’s easy to talk about this stuff during a campaign, but it’s important for us to understand that it requires a sustained effort from the next president.

Watch a compilation: youtube

Today, the science of climate change is incontrovertible.  Instead of a substantial reduction in the use of fossil fuels, consumption and pollution have grown exponentially.

And, yet, if Barack Obama and Mitt Romney don’t discuss climate change tonight, it will be the first time since 1988 that the issue was ignored during a presidential debate cycle.

In 2012, however, the candidates and the moderators are locked in a conspiracy of silence.

The moderators think only “you climate change people” care that the candidates talk energy, the economy, and national security without mentioning the greatest threat to civilization.

The Obama campaign hopes environmentalist voters will be satisfied with targeted messages and offhand mentions in campaign rallies, while the president focuses swing-state attention on a drill-baby-drill, Mr. Coal, all-of-the-above message.

Romney’s silence on climate change allows him to maintain the support of the carbon barons that rule the Republican Party, while still being able to act on the national stage like something other than a pro-pollution conspiracy theorist.

In short, both candidates are more concerned with the political strength of the fossil-funded Tea Party than either the outrage of environmentalists or the immorality of treating climate catastrophe like a fringe concern.

The refusal of the candidates for president and vice president to confront climate change is a clarion call for anyone who cares about the fate of humanity. We shall be represented by two of the four men for the next four years — their choice of silence in the face of calamity renders us mute as a nation.

We have no choice but to redouble our efforts in demanding that our politicians, corporate leaders, and the media recognize that global carbon pollution is the single greatest threat to our economic well being, our health, our national security.

For the past two months, members of Forecast the Facts, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen, Energy Action Coalition, and other groups have been protesting the climate silence of both candidates.

We will continue that protest today.

In Florida, young people are marching to the debate location to demand that Romney and Obama break their silence. Across the internet, people are covering their profile pictures with duct tape, symbolizing how the men who call themselves leaders have taken away our voice.

While we can’t guarantee that those in power will respond, one thing we can guarantee today, tomorrow, and every day hence: we will be heard. Please take a moment to join us.

Brad Johnson is the campaign manager of Climate Silence.

Microcosm of US democracy? The Rules for presidential Debates?

Secret collusion between the two parties, funded by corporations, run by lobbyists: all the ingredients are there…

I watched a couple of these presidential Debates, and I couldn’t get interested: Not a single nerve in me got excited. There must be good reasons why  I felt lethargic, even with all my good intention to feeling engaged.

From the hundreds of hot issues to be discussed and vented out to the millions of citizens, how to balance the Federal Budget and grow the economy was the main selected topics to be confronted with…

As if balancing State’s budget is the same as balancing Federal budget!

These balancing gimmicks in Federal budgets have been disposed of six decades ago: Once the federal government want more spending leeway, all it has to do is launch a preemptive war so that Congress and Senate sign to increase the level of budget deficit so that the government can abuse of additional disbursement of tax payers money, and basically, the money printing machines in the Federal Reserve start churning out worthless dollars 24 hours a day.

The only worthy statements in these debates are acknowledgment that the the US sovereign debt has reached $16,000 billion (a number no president in exercise would have admitted), and that no matter who is elected for the next term, the deficit will shoot to $20 trillion. An amount that represents a third of the total federal worth in State property, which will have to be sold in order to pay back the national debt…

Glenn Greenwald published in The Guardian on October 16, 2012 under “The lame rules for presidential debates: a perfect microcosm of US democracy

President Barack Obama walks past Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate. Photograph: AP

President Barack Obama walks past Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate. Photograph: AP

“The way the two major parties control the presidential debates is a perfect microcosm of how political debates are restricted in general. Though typically shrouded in secrecy, several facts about this process have recently come to light and they are quite instructive.

I was on Democracy Now this morning along with George Farah discussing the ways these debates, designed to cast the appearance of fostering vibrant exchanges, are actually intended to constrict the range of debated views as much as possible.

My segment (and the transcript to it) can be seen here, but it was the commentary of Farah – who is a genuine expert in the history of presidential debates – that I found revealing.

He described how the two political parties in the 1990s joined forces to wrest control over the presidential debates, away from the independent League of Women Voters, which had long resisted the parties’ efforts to shield the presidential candidates from genuine surprise or challenge.

Now run by the party-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates, these rituals are designed to do little more than ” eliminate spontaneity” and “exclude all viable third-party voices”.

Citing a just-leaked 21-page “memorandum of understanding” secretly negotiated by the two campaigns to govern the rules of the debates, Farah recounted:

“We have a private corporation that was created by the Republican and Democratic parties called the Commission on Presidential Debates. It seized control of the presidential debates precisely because the League was independent, precisely because this women’s organization had the guts to stand up to the candidates that the major-party candidates had nominated. And instead of making public these contracts and resisting the major-party candidates’ manipulations, the commission allows the candidates to negotiate these 21-page contracts that dictate all the fundamental terms of the debates.”

Gawker’s John Cook has an excellent breakdown of the 21-page memo.

In his piece, entitled “Leaked Debate Agreement Shows Both Obama and Romney are Sniveling Cowards”, Cook details how the rules imposed on these debates demonstrate that, above all else, “both campaigns are terrified at anything even remotely spontaneous happening.”

Under this elaborate regime, the candidates “aren’t permitted to ask each other questions, propose pledges to each other, or walk outside a ‘pre-designated area.'”

Worse, “the audience members posing questions aren’t allowed to ask follow-ups (their mics will be cut off as soon as they get their questions out). Nor will moderator Candy Crowley.”

The rules even “forbid television coverage from showing reaction shots of the candidates”.

All of this means, as Farah put it:

“The town hall debate we’re going to see tonight is the most constrained and regulated town hall debate in presidential debate history. The first town hall debate was introduced in 1992, and no one knew what anyone was going to ask, none of the audience members were going to ask. The moderator could ask any follow-up questions. It was exciting, and it was real.

“Well, President George H.W. Bush stumbled in response to an oddly worded question about the federal deficit, and the candidates – the campaigns have panicked and have attempted to avoid that kind of situation from happening again. In 1996, they abolished follow-up questions from the audience.

“In 2004, they began requiring that every single question asked by the audience be submitted in advance on an index card to the moderator, who can then throw out the ones he or she does not like. And that’s why the audience has essentially been reduced, in some ways, to props, because the moderator is still ultimately asking the questions.

“And this election cycle is the first time that the moderator herself is prohibited from asking follow-up questions, questions seeking clarification. She’s essentially reduced to keeping time and being a lady with a microphone.”

Making matters worse still, the Commission is run by lobbyists and funded by large corporations.

As Zaid Jilani writes today, the two Commission co-chairmen are former GOP Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. and former Clinton spokesman Michael D. McCurry. Fahrenkopf is one of the nation’s leading lobbyists for the gaming industry, while McCurry advises a long list of corporate clients including the telecom industry.

The debates are paid for by large corporate sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch Companies.

As Jilani writes, “in the past, the tobacco industry, AT&T, and others have all been sponsors.” And as Farah describes, with all that sponsorship comes the standard benefits:

“FARAH: ‘First, the just nice advertising, of course. They get to – you know, Philip Morris sponsored one of the presidential debates, paid $250,000 and got to hang its banner in the post-debate spin room that was seen throughout the country. But more importantly, they get access, and they get to show support for both major parties.’

“AMY GOODMAN: ‘The major parties on their podiums have Bud Light on the podium?’

“FARAH: ‘Not yet. We’re getting there. We’re getting there, Amy. But they get to show support for both major parties. How often can corporations find a way to make a single donation that strengthens both the Republican and Democratic parties and get a tax deduction for that kind of donation? So it’s a rare contribution. And it also gives them access. They get to go to the actual debate themselves and rub shoulders at private receptions with the campaigns and their staff.'”

Meanwhile, the moderators were selected to ensure that nothing unexpected is asked and that only the most staid and establishment views are heard.

As journalism professor Jay Rosen put it when the names of the moderators were unveiled, using terms to describe those views that are acceptable in Washington media circles and those which are “fringe“:

“In order to be considered as a candidate for moderator you have to be soaked in the sphere of consensus, likely to stay within the predictable inner rings of the sphere of legitimate controversy, and unlikely in the extreme to select any questions from the sphere of deviance.”

Within this one process of structuring the presidential debates, we have every active ingredient that typically defines, and degrades, US democracy.

The two parties collude in secret: They have the same interests and goals. Everything is done to ensure that the political process is completely scripted and devoid of any spontaneity or reality.

All views that reside outside the narrow confines of the two parties are rigidly excluded. Anyone who might challenge or subvert the two-party duopoly is rendered invisible.

Lobbyists who enrich themselves by peddling their influence run everything behind the scenes. Corporations pay for the process, which they exploit and is then run to bolster rather than threaten their interests.

The media’s role is to keep the discourse as restrictive and nonthreatening as possible while peddling the delusion that it’s all vibrant and free and independent and unrestrained.

And it all ends up distorting political realities far more than illuminating them while wildly exaggerating the choices available to citizens and concealing the similarities between the two parties.

To understand the US political process, one can just look to how these sham debates are organized and how they function. This is the same process that repeats itself endlessly in virtually every other political realm.




June 2023

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