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Silver Lake
8,347 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The Tea Party Targets... Sustainable Development?

If you believe conservative activists, smart growth is really a global conspiracy to herd Americans into "human habitation zones."
By Stephanie Mencimer on Thu. November 18, 2010 3:00 AM PDT

First, they took on the political establishment in Congress. Now, tea partiers have trained their sights on a new and insidious target: local planning and zoning commissions, which activists believe are carrying out a global conspiracy to trample American liberties and force citizens into Orwellian "human habitation zones."

At the root of this plot is the admittedly sinister-sounding Agenda 21, an 18-year-old UN plan to encourage countries to consider the environmental impacts of human development. Tea partiers see Agenda 21 behind everything from a septic tank inspection law in Florida to a plan in Maine to reduce traffic on Route 1. The issue even flared up briefly during the midterms, when Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes accused his Democratic opponent of using a bike-sharing program to convert Denver into a "United Nations Community."
In the tea partiers’ dystopian vision, the increased density favored by planners to allow for better mass transit becomes compulsory "human habitation zones."

Agenda 21 paranoia has swept the tea party scene, driving activists around the country to delve into the minutiae of local governance. And now that the midterm elections are over, they're descending on planning meetings and transit debates, wielding PowerPoints about Agenda 21, and generally freaking out low-level bureaucrats with accusations about their roles in a supposed international conspiracy.

Virginia activist Donna Holt is among those who believe that Agenda 21—unveiled during the UN's "Earth Summit" in 1992—is really a plot to curtail private property rights and deprive Americans of precious constitutional freedoms. In reality, the document will do nothing of the sort, but it has nevertheless been the target of conspiracy-minded UN haters for years. Holt and other tea partiers are taking their cues from people like Henry Lamb, a WorldNetDaily columnist and founder of Sovereignty International and Freedom21, groups designed to fight Agenda 21 and its ilk. He has been arguing for decades that the UN is secretly plotting to herd humans into crowded cities so that the rest of the world can be devoted to wildlife preservation. (Lamb declined to comment for this story because back Mother Jones once included him in a story called Wingnuts in Sheep's Clothing, and another article that described his role in Astroturf lobbying against the Kyoto treaty.)

Holt has also has relied on the research of Tom DeWeese, the founder of the American Policy Center and a climate change denier whose group has been funded by Exxon. DeWeese's organization hosted a conference in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, this summer attended by many tea partiers, which featured sessions on Agenda 21. Schooled by such activists, Holt, the Virginia coordinator of Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, has set to work spreading the word about Agenda 21 and the evils of sustainable development. She's finding a very receptive audience among tea party groups, who she believes are going to make sustainable development the next target of their activism.

"I'm overwhelmed with tea party leaders who have asked me to come and speak to their groups," she says. "They're calling on me to form a coalition, to put up a dedicated website." She says tea partiers understand that "there is a global agenda to actually abolish private property and abolish the Constitution for that matter." If sustainable development is fully implemented, she says, "This basically will turn us into a Soviet state."

In the tea partiers’ dystopian vision, the increased density favored by planners to allow for better mass transit become compulsory "human habitation zones." They warn of Americans being forcibly moved from their suburban dream homes into urban "hobbit homes" and required to give up their cars and instead—gasp!—take the bus to work. The enemies in this fight are hidden behind bland trade-association names like the American Planning Association or ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability).

Shortly after the midterm elections, a Maine tea party group blasted out a call to arms to its members: "Red Alert! Agenda 21 is coming on full force to the Mid coast area!" The notice implored members to show up at a November 10 meeting in Rockland sponsored by the Maine Department of Transportation. The group warned that the agency was:

implementing the sustainable development/Agenda 21. This is the hard core agenda 21 derived from…the United Nations, and we need to make a BIG presence to show our outrage and anger at this. This is the centralized planning for the de-industrialization of large segments of Maine, and the relocation and isolation of the population into human habitation zones. Plan on attending the meeting and express your outrage at this. We need to stop this NOW before it gets out of hand.

What UN-inspired outrage was on the table for the meeting? A proposal to improve development and reduce traffic around Route 1, which runs up the eastern coast of the state. Stacy Benjamin, the DOT project manager, says that four or five people she and her colleagues have never seen before showed up at the meeting. During the public comment session, the activists questioned the DOT representatives about Agenda 21. "None of us had ever heard of it," Benjamin says, laughing, "but we learned a lot about Agenda 21. They had handouts." The tea partiers also posed questions about "human habitation zones," she says, noting that they were polite and interested in what the committee members had to say.

The scene in Maine is repeating itself across the country. Only sometimes the activists are less polite. One planning consultant I spoke with, who requested anonymity, recalled a recent meeting where he was on the receiving end of tea party rage. "I got called a communist," he says. Someone in another tea party-heavy area recently told him, "We don't need none of that smart growth communism." The people he's been encountering are new to the process, short on solid facts, and many are "spitting mad." Combined with what they see as an "elitist" bent in planning consultants, he says, it makes for a toxic and intimidating mix for local officials who aren't used to being accosted by conspiracy theory wielding activists.

The local planning fights reveal a little-understood characteristic of the tea party movement: its inherently suburban nature. Not only does the movement's agenda derive from a hostility to what it sees as elites, but it's also hostile to the places those elites live—namely, cities and more densely populated areas—which makes sustainable development a natural issue for activists. Call them the newest pro-sprawl lobby.

In Virginia, Holt is trying to whip up tea party opposition to a comprehensive development plan being drafted in Chesterfield County, where she lives near Richmond. She believes such plans will, among other things, ban cul de sacs, and she happens to live on one. So far, though, she hasn't made much progress with the county. "They don't want to hear from us," she says. "They think we are wackos with tinfoil hats."

Indeed, while the UN conspiracy talk makes it easy to dismiss the tea partiers as nutters, that doesn't mean they won't derail local development projects. Take what transpired recently in Tampa, Florida, where tea party activists helped defeat a widely supported measure that would have funded light rail and road improvements in Hillsborough County. In the lead-up to a ballot initiative on the penny-per-dollar sales tax increase to fund the project, the local conservative paper, the Tampa Bay Examiner, ran a series on Agenda 21 plus commentary suggesting that the "smart growth" principles underlying the light rail proposal were simply "cover for an agenda to transfer American sovereignty to various tentacles of the United Nations."

And the Florida tea partiers are just getting started. The Tampa 912 project, which often works in tandem with tea party groups, organized members over the summer to attend project briefings on another transportation plan for high-speed rail in the state. After a July meeting, the group's chairman reported back on the powwow with great skepticism. She said supporters claimed that:

the high speed rail project will conserve 1 million acres of environmental lands and cause 44% less land to be consumed. How does a train running down the middle of I-4 do all that? The answer is by "compact development" aka "smart growth", aka "New Urbanism", aka "Traditional Neighborhood Design", aka "Transit Oriented Development", aka "Livable Communities", aka "Sustainable Development." These are all names meaning the same thing: they are anti-suburban, high-density dwelling design concepts that are part of the UN's Agenda 21 and will make single family home ownership for our posterity unattainable.

In Florida, the tea partiers have had some help in such fights from Ed Braddy, the executive director of the American Dream Coalition, which opposes smart growth and other standard components of modern land-use planning. Braddy, who has dubbed cars "personal mobility machines," has become a popular speaker on the tea party circuit. A former Gainesville city commissioner, he believes the rail fight in Florida, along with the involvement of the tea partiers on sustainable development issues, is the wave of the future.

"The tea party is receptive to our argument," he says. Regardless of whether people believe that Agenda 21 is a UN plot (he doesn't), tea partiers recognize the evils of sustainable development. "It's almost an instinctive thing," he says. "People know that living in a suburban development and driving to work is not an inherently bad thing. Living in tiny cramped apartment surrounded by noises, so you can hop a bus is not intrinsically superior. "

When the tea partiers bring that perspective to local government, they have the potential to make a significant impact—far more than they might have on, say, a congressional health care bill where high-paid lobbyists dominate. It’s clear that they are starting to realize that, too.

Silver Lake
8,347 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
It's the reality that we live in. They live in a world out of context with history. Most people that I know don't take them seriously and think that these people are apeshit crazy. But this is the country that elected Dubya twice. Anyway even if they won't be taken seriously on the national stage (and no Kentucky, W. Virginia and Alaska don't count as the national stage) they could cause a lot of damage at the local level. It wouldn't be the first time in history that a fringe and regressive element of society actually could through a steady strategic plan gain power by hobbling the top from actions at the bottom. If these people don't get what they want they absolutely have the potential to turn violent. The fact that Glen Beck asked them to keep their hateful posters and signs at home or for the media to not show them is proof that basically they are peddling a very dangerous message of hate, paranoia and fear.

Silver Lake
8,347 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Earmark Ban Goes Down to Defeat in the Senate

The Senate just voted down the Republican proposal to ban earmarks.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was pressured to change his tune on earmarks but the ban still went down in defeat. Image: ##

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was pressured to change his tune on earmarks but the ban still went down in defeat. Image: iPolitics

The proposed ban was met with profound ambivalence in the transportation community. Some, like Rob Sadowsky, Executive Director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, worried that a ban would remove a primary funding mechanism for bike-ped projects.

The day after the election, Sadowsky told BikePortland, “While earmark funding on surface appears to be a poor way of managing a democracy, our projects, particularly trail projects have historically done very well through earmarks.”

Meanwhile, other reformers say earmarks are wasteful because they’re not strategic. Rather than creating a national plan for targeted infrastructure projects that would link into a regional or national network, earmarks fund scattershot programs throughout the country. Those who call them “pork” say the primary strategy behind earmarks is to get members re-elected.

House Republicans have already given up earmarks, and pressure was high after the election to make it official. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was bullied into becoming a reluctant ban supporter.

The proposed ban needed a two-thirds majority to pass the Senate. It barely got one-third: the vote was 39 in favor to 56 against. Only seven Democrats voted for the ban, and only eight Republicans voted against it.

Some political observers noted the irony of Republicans pushing to remove a power lever from the legislative branch and handing it over to the executive branch. After all, if Congress doesn’t allocate the money, Obama-appointed agency officials will.

Silver Lake
8,347 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
House climate panel to be axed

House Republicans will scrap the committee set up by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to investigate global warming, the panel’s top Republican announced Wednesday. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) made official what many had already expected*— the GOP majority will axe the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which Pelosi created in 2007. “This hearing will be the last of the select committee,” Sensenbrenner announced. Committee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called Wednesday’s hearing to give witnesses a chance to warn of the perils of climate change before the GOP launches efforts next year to roll back the Obama administration’s climate policies. Sensenbrenner, a vocal climate change skeptic, had pushed to keep the panel alive to probe the White House’s energy policies. But it was seen as unlikely that GOP leadership would devote resources to the panel created by Democrats at the same time that they called for scaling back government spending. The Wisconsin Republican may still play a key role in leading investigations into climate science next year. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who is vying for the chairmanship of the Committee on Science and Technology, told POLITICO Tuesday he’d like to see Sensenbrenner lead the panel’s climate science probes. Markey, meanwhile, assured Republicans that he and others will battle from the minority to slash global warming emissions. “We are not going away because the problems that climate change presents are too dangerous too urgent for us to disappear into the abyss of cynicism and loss,” Markey said. “We are not going away because China, India, and Germany are not going away as competitors for global energy dominance. We are not going away because the national security threats from our continued dependence on foreign oil are not going away.”

Silver Lake
8,347 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
G.O.P. Bloc Presses Leaders to Slash Even More

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders confronted pressure from conservatives on Thursday to take more aggressive steps to cut federal spending, with a large group of lawmakers calling for outlays to be slashed by $2.5 trillion over the next decade, far more than the party has sought so far.

The latest on President Obama, the new Congress and other news from Washington and around the nation. Join the discussion.

The proposal, from the Republican Study Committee, a conservative bloc that counts more than two-thirds of House Republicans as members, calls for immediate reductions of at least $100 billion, compared with cuts in the current fiscal year of up to $80 billion being sought by party leaders.

“We want more,” said Representative Mick Mulvaney, a freshman from South Carolina.

The $2.5 trillion in cuts would exclude the military, and would not touch the big entitlement programs, Medicare and Social Security. As a result, its effect on the entire array of government programs, among them education, domestic security, transportation, law enforcement and medical research, would be nothing short of drastic.

Committee leaders said this was appropriate and necessary, given the government’s $14 trillion debt and annual deficits at their highest levels since the years just after World War II.

The cuts would require the agreement of the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House, which is highly unlikely.

The study committee proposed generally reducing agency budgets to their levels in 2006 — the last time Congressional Republicans controlled the budget process — and then freezing them, with no annual inflation adjustments. It also recommended slashing the federal workforce by 15 percent and canceling pay raises for five years, for a total of $2.29 trillion in savings.

It did not specify how each agency would carry out the reductions.

The study committee’s proposal includes an additional $330 billion in cuts to specific programs, including Amtrak, foreign aid and even the Washington subway system.

The proposal, while not specifically endorsed by the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, or other leaders, offers the clearest picture yet of the cuts envisioned by Republicans as they seek to rein in spending, which they view as a mandate given to them by voters in November.

“I have never seen the American people more receptive, more ready for the tough-love measures that need to be taken to help fix the country,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the study committee.

Some fiscal experts said the proposal was untenable, because it would cut much of the federal government nearly in half by 2020, including agencies like the Education Department. Some targets, like Amtrak, would potentially be put out of existence, they said.

The fight over federal spending levels is the highest priority for the new Republican majority other than repeal of the Democrats’ health care overhaul.

And while party leaders said they welcomed all proposals for cuts, the pressure from the right — including Tea Party-backed members and other new lawmakers elected on a platform of fiscal restraint — threatened to complicate the battle with the Obama administration and to set unrealistic expectations among grass-roots conservatives eager to scale back government.

Even before the midterm elections, party leaders issued a “Pledge to America,” promising, without providing details of which programs would be cut, to reduce nonsecurity discretionary spending to 2008 levels, a cut that Mr. Boehner had initially pegged at about $100 billion for this fiscal year.

But with a temporary spending measure in place until early March — more than five months into the fiscal year — Republican leaders, including the Budget Committee chairman, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, have said that a more realistic goal would be cuts to 2008 levels prorated for the remainder of the fiscal year, or about $60 billion to $80 billion.

Conservative lawmakers, however, said that was not enough.

“Speaking with many of my freshmen colleagues, for us, myself included, the pledge, the $100 billion, was simply a start; it was simply a floor,” Mr. Mulvaney, the South Carolina freshman, said at a news conference to unveil the study committee’s proposal. He added: “Anybody who is up to speed on budget issues should be scared to death by what’s happening with the debt and the deficit in this country. If you’re not losing sleep over it, then you’re simply not paying attention.”

Some Republicans warned that the country was in danger.

“The greatest threat to the security and prosperity of the United States is our debt,” said Representative John Campbell of California, a member of the study committee. “We are much closer to the Greece, Ireland, Spain precipice than I think any of us would like to believe.”

A spokesman for Mr. Boehner, Michael Steel, said that Republican leaders were focused on fulfilling the pledge first. “Our immediate goal is to cut spending to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus levels,” Mr. Steel said. “That’s what we pledged, and that’s what we’ll fight for. But that will be the beginning, not the end.”

Mr. Boehner was not alone in praising the study committee’s efforts without backing its plan.

“I applaud the Republican Study Committee,” the House majority leader, Eric Cantor of Virginia, said in a statement. “I look forward to the discussion on reducing spending that our country so desperately needs.”

Mr. Cantor said Republicans would also seek to end the system of financing presidential candidates and national party conventions with federal matching money. He said that the House would vote on the proposal next week and that it would save $520 million over 10 years if enacted.

The formal work on spending issues is scheduled to begin on the House floor next week when Republicans take up a resolution directing Mr. Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman, to set spending parameters at 2008 levels. The vote on that resolution is scheduled for Tuesday, just hours before Mr. Obama is due on Capitol Hill to give his State of the Union address and is intended to put Republicans squarely on offense in the spending fight.

Mr. Ryan has not put forward a specific plan for cuts. He is awaiting updated data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on current spending. He also did not endorse the study committee’s plan.

Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, who served with Mr. Ryan on Mr. Obama’s commission on lowering the national debt, said in an interview that the study committee’s plan was ill-conceived and unworkable because it focused only on cuts to discretionary spending and not on overhauling the tax code or addressing entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.

“The commission had about a trillion and a half of cuts, which I thought was at the edge of what could be done responsibly,” Mr. Conrad said in an interview. “They obviously have chosen to go beyond the edge.”
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