Joe Manchin Is American Politics
AS A LINE of October thunderstorms pushed away away a lingering autumn heat wave from the Northeastern United States over the weekend, Sen. Joe Manchin, the millionaire coal broker who is West Virginia's only Democratic federal legislator, was letting it be known that he will not allow President Joe Biden's spending plan to pass unless the central provision to slow down climate change is stripped out of it. Today, with temperatures rising back to the mid 70s in the nation’s capital, Mother Jones reported that Manchin is threatening to quit the party if everyone else doesn’t agree to cut the spending bill to his satisfaction (Manchin then told reporters the report was “bullshit, spelled with B-U-L-L, capital B”).
Basic theories of ethics and government might suggest that a person who collects half a million dollars a year in personal profit from the coal and gas industry, as Manchin does, ought to be blocked from influencing policy on fossil fuel emissions, if not sent to prison for trying to do so. Instead, under the actual ruling principles of the United States, Manchin is currently the most powerful authority on climate matters in the country—which would make him probably the second most powerful in the world, behind Xi Jinping.
Manchin's power is entirely negative, but to say that is simply to repeat the fact that he is a member of the United States Senate. The Senate cannot—or will not, which is the same thing—even convict an impeached president for abuse of power, or for calling down a mob to attack Congress in its own chambers. It certainly is not set up to penalize fossil fuel companies for continuing to do the business they were built to do.
Institutional corruption, like global warming, is what happens when complacency and greed work together over time, in a mutually reinforcing relationship. Things get a little bit worse, and worse than that, and then the whole system slips out of control, till you have Joe Manchin at the choke point deciding how far global temperatures will rise.
Manchin's corruption is so broad and obvious it would be funny, if he weren't in a position to dictate the limits of the entire Democratic agenda. His news page at the money-in-politics muckraking site Sludge is a cavalcade of ridiculous factual headlines:
As Manchin was getting to work on revising the climate provisions of the spending bill in September, the New York Times described the situation straightforwardly:
He profits personally from polluting industries: He owns stock valued at between $1 million and $5 million in Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage firm which he founded in 1988. He gave control of the firm to his son, Joseph, after he was elected West Virginia secretary of state in 2000. Last year, Mr. Manchin made $491,949 in dividends from his Enersystems stock, according to his Senate financial disclosure report.
Now, Mr. Manchin is preparing to write the climate portion of the budget bill in a way that would keep natural gas flowing to power plants, according to people familiar with his thinking. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss it.
Mr. Manchin does support some climate measures proposed by Mr. Biden, but is working to ensure they protect and extend the use of coal and natural gas.
Protecting and extending the use of coal and natural gas is the precise opposite of what a climate measure needs to do. There is no way to integrate Joe Manchin's priorities into an effective policy for controlling carbon. Therefore there will be no effective policy.
After describing how Manchin is in constant contact with a power-company executive who believes a rapid change from coal to clean energy is too demanding, the Times added this:
Mr. Manchin is also listening closely to his constituents. Earlier this month, the senator spent two days at the annual meeting of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, convened at the lavish Greenbrier resort, where “people were lining up to talk to him about this,” said Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and another old friend of Mr. Manchin’s. “This is something that has been talked about in West Virginia business circles probably every day within the last two or three weeks.”
These are, plainly enough, Manchin's constituents: the leading businesspeople in West Virginia, gathered at a luxury resort. These are the people who are sitting with him to substitute their judgment for that of 330 million other Americans about how the country should respond to the overheating planet (and how much social spending to strip from the rest of the bill).
Manchin did not come by this much influence all by himself. He is only in a position to ruin the next decade of global emissions goals, for the sake of his personal fortune and those of his friends, because other people chose to put him in it. Fifty Republican senators are sitting by, absolutely committed to letting Manchin throw his weight around. Most of them are as fully devoted as he is to protecting fossil fuel profiteering, but it would take only one of them breaking ranks to change the entire situation—a Mitt Romney, say, if he cared to be a faithful steward of God's creation, or if he were worried about his numerous grandchildren dying in wildfires.
But Mitt Romney is a Republican, and the Republican Party has defined its entire agenda as stopping Democrats from doing anything. Democrats could in theory overcome this if they simply used their hard-won and endangered current majorities to grant Washington D.C. residents their long-overdue full representation and admit the District as a state, thereby adding two presumably Democratic senators to create a less easily thwarted 52–50 majority.
That, though, would require Manchin—and his fellow non-cooperating Democrat, Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema—to first break the filibuster, and then to vote for statehood. And Manchin is publicly opposed to both. As far as he is concerned, the current system is working exactly the way it should.
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IN RESPONSE TO the news in Indignity Vol. 1, No. 27 that American bumblebees are missing from eight states, reader Andrew Larson wrote in to share the update that the American bumblebee is now only missing from seven of those states: one day after we published the bumblebee news, the Boston Globe reported that the Rhode Island Bombus Survey had announced the finding of one American bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus) at an undisclosed location in Rhode Island, the first to be seen in the state since 2009. Thank you, Andrew, and congratulations to Rhode Island and to the bumblebee.