A Banner Weak for the Climate Bill

The day before the Senate began hearings on HR 2454, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fired up the troops with this call to arms: "As a legislator, everything is negotiable."

Indeed. And we saw how that process worked in the House. The Obama administration's tough beginnings melted like a snowman in December under the heat of industry lobbying. Oil. Coal. Agriculture. They all demanded concessions. They all got them.

Many progressives are holding their noses and supporting the "kludge of a bill" for a variety of reasons, all thoroughly debated throughout the blogosphere at this point. The only real news on this front is the action taken today by Greenpeace -- scaling Mt. Rushmore and unfurling a banner that exhorts President Obama to hang tough in this fight.

It was a beautiful sight.

But it will take more than that to get the job done. A blogger at 1Sky rightly points out that "grassroots pressure will be essential" in keeping the climate bill intact, let alone in making it stronger.

Yesterday's hearing before the Senate's Environment committee, was typical Kabuki Theatre. Committee Chair Barbara Boxer warned viewers to prepare for the GOP Hymn #137, "No, We Can't."

Republican Senators spoke early and often about the need to add billions for new nuclear power plants -- not that global warming is real, mind you, but, well, just because...

There are several committee hearings left (including more before Boxer's committee) and time for a grassroots movement to grow under the banner demanding a stronger bill. But that will take more concerted action than supporters have shown so far.

 

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

Overtreated

David Leonhardt's column today suggests that maybe I'm not quite as out of touch as I thought I was about the realities of healthcare for most people.  His piece is about slow-growing, early-stage prostate cancers, and to make a long story short, it turns out there are lots of different treatments for it but pretty much zero evidence about which one works best.  However, the price tags range from about $2,000 for doing nothing ("watchful waiting") to $50,000 for the latest whiz bang proton radiation therapy.

But here's the tidbit that caught my eye:

A fascinating series of pilot programs, including for prostate cancer, has shown that when patients have clinical information about treatments, they often choose a less invasive one. Some come to see that the risks and side effects of more invasive care are not worth the small — or nonexistent — benefits. “We want the thing that makes us better,” says Dr. Peter B. Bach, a pulmonary specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, “not the thing that is niftier.”

When I read about healthcare, pretty much the only thing I hear is that everyone wants infinite amounts of it.  And they always want the latest and greatest stuff.

Not me.  My motto is, "That healthcare is best that cares the least."  Or something like that.  Basically, I prefer to get the minimum reasonable amount of healthcare possible, and I have a strong preference for the simplest, oldest, best-known treatments.  I'm not exactly a fanatic about this, but generally speaking I think that most new treatments turn out not to be nearly as effective as we think, and the more time you spend around hospitals the better your chances of catastrophe.

Does that make me an outlier?  It seems like it.  But maybe the difference is just information: I read an awful lot about this stuff, and it's convinced me that there are dangers to overtreatment just as there are dangers to undertreatment.  Leonhardt's "fascinating series of pilot programs" suggests that with better information, more people might agree.

T. Boone Pickens Scraps Plan for Massive Wind Farm

T. Boone Pickens' $10 billion plan to build the world's largest wind farm on the Texas panhandle has been scrapped. The high-profile project had benefited from the "Pickens Plan" media blitz in the lead-up to the 2008 elections, when the oil tycoon spent millions on TV ads promoting natural gas and wind power.

Though Pickens was lauded in the media at the time as an environmental hero, I was among a few reporters who questioned his motivation for building the wind project. His early plans would have used a right-of-way for the windmills' power lines to bring water from the Ogallala aquifer to cities downstate, draining a vast region of a fragile reserve. Pickens ultimately failed to find a buyer for the water, then faced a drop in energy prices due to the recession. In December, his Mesa Power LP put the wind project on hold before announcing last week that it would abandon it in favor of several smaller projects.

In making the announcement, Pickens cryptically cited problems associated with building his own power lines. It's odd that he can't tap those already being built to the Panhandle by the Texas Public Utility Commission. The Dallas Morning News reported that the lines "won't follow a path that Mesa had suggested" but didn't elaborate. Did Pickens' power lines fail because they needed the accompanying water pipeline to be profitable? A spokeswoman for Pickens didn't return a call.

 

Torture For Thee, But Not For Me

Glenn Greenwald was on NPR yesterday to talk about their policy of refusing to call torture by its proper name, and while he was waiting to go on he listened to NPR's ombudsman explaining their policy:

She also said — when the host asked about the recent example I cited of NPR's calling what was done to a reporter in Gambia "torture" (at the 20:20 mark) — that NPR will use the word "torture" to describe what other governments do because they do it merely to sadistically inflict pain on people while the U.S. did it for a noble reason:  to obtain information about Terrorist attacks.  That's really what she said:  that when the U.S. did it (as opposed to Evil countries), it was for a good reason.

Jeez, that Glenn.  Always exaggerating.  For the record, here's what she actually said about NPR's piece on Gambia:

In that case, these were strictly tactics to torture him, to punish him, versus in the United States, and the way that it's used, these are tactics used to get information.  The Gambian journalist was in jail for his beliefs.

Wow.  She really did say that, didn't she?  When other people do it for other reasons, it's torture.  When we do it for our reasons, it's not.

You don't usually find people willing to say this quite so baldly.  Congratulations, Alicia Shepard.

Staff Sgt. Ronal Cantarero (right), from Belton, Texas, and Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Snyder, from Pontiac, Mich., sit down and watch their children's high school graduation live in Belton, Texas, through a video teleconference from Camp Taji, Iraq. (Photo courtesy army.mil.)

No Agreement on Climate

Apparently the G8 meeting in Italy won't produce any agreement on climate change:

As President Obama arrived for three days of meetings with other international leaders, negotiators dropped a proposal that would have committed the world to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by midcentury and industrialized countries to slashing their emissions by 80 percent.

.... The breakdown on climate change underscored the difficulty in bridging divisions between the most developed countries like the United States and developing nations like China and India. In the end, people close to the talks said, the emerging powers refused to agree to the limits because they wanted industrial countries to commit to midterm goals in 2020 and to follow through on promises of financial and technological help in reducing emissions.

“They’re saying, ‘We just don’t trust you guys,’ ” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group based in the United States. “It’s the same gridlock we had last year when Bush was president.”

The basic problem isn't the 80% reduction by 2050, which is supported by both Obama and congressional Democrats.  The problem is the 2020 goal.  Right now, the Waxman-Markey climate bill requires a 17% cut by 2020, but that's from a baseline of 2005.  Depending on how you crunch the numbers, that works out to a cut of only 0-4% from 1990 levels.

The Europeans, conversely, want to see a 20% cut from 1990 levels by 2020.  Obama, presumably, sees no chance at all of getting Congress to agree to that, and the Europeans aren't willing to compromise their more stringent goals.  So for now, no agreement.  And Copenhagen is only five months away.

Solar Blimp to Debut on English Channel

Here's another bright, green idea to save the world.

Within the next few weeks, a solar powered blimp sponsored by the French Projet Sol'r will fly across the English Channel. The timing is a clear homage to Louis Bleriot, the first person to fly across the channel in an airplane on July 25, 1909. When Bleriot embarked on his flight in his rinky dinky airplane, few could have imagined the advances in flight technology that would soon take us to the moon, or send hundreds of civilians across the world within hours.

This month's blimp flight, a century later, will mark an exciting era of exploration into the practical uses of alternative energy. For now, the significance of this project is mostly symbolic. But with transportation companies looking for new ways to cut costs, and the government threatening to crack down on emissions, the flight could indicate whether cutting out traditional fuel and deflating carbon emissions will become part of the equation.

Healthcare in Extremis

Megan McArdle argues that if healthcare reform includes a public plan, it might mean a reduction in service for a lot of people with severe problems:

Surely the point of worry is that many millions of people will be forced into the public system, because its existence will encourage their employers to dump their health care plans.  Since private systems have so far found it virtually impossible to deny many treatments for long, this will mean that millions of budget constrained people will find themselves with less available treatment than before.

....This is not a crazy worry.  What America is best at is delivering a lot of complicated care in extremis, and "quality of life" treatments.  What European countries are best at is delivering a lot of ordinary care for the sorts of things that afflict people from 0-50, which is why most of the Europhile journalists writing about Europe genuinely have very good experiences to report.  I'd rather be here to have a hip replacement, but I might rather be in the Netherlands to have a baby.  Doing something moderately ordinary here is a hassle.  Doing something extraordinary there is often not possible for the overwhelming majority of citizens, though that depends on what, and in what system.

Boy, I'd sure like to see some backup for that.  If by "extraordinary" Megan means the most extreme 0.001% of procedures, then maybe she's right.  Maybe.  But nothing I've read about Western European healthcare systems makes me believe that there's any substantial difference between the way they treat severe illnesses and the way we do it.  And no systematic difference in success rates for such treatment either.  Nor should this come as a surprise, since most extreme medicine is practiced on older patients, who are covered by a public plan both here and in Europe.

No system is better at everything than any other system.  There are always tradeoffs.  But the overall evidence is crystal clear: European state healthcare systems, taken as a whole, provide better care than America's hodgepodege system at about half the price.  If we adopted their approach and combined it with American funding levels, we'd have a system better than either.  And rich people who wanted to pay for massive amounts of special care not covered by the state would still be free to do so.

Anyway, speaking of healthcare, the 24-hour bug I thought I had yesterday seems to be more like a 72-hour bug.  Blah.  Blogging will probably be a little light today again.

Dodd: Biting the Hands That Fund Him?

When Chris Dodd's first quarter campaign disclosures were released this spring, revealing that just five of the hundreds of donors to the veteran senator's reelection bid were residents of his homestate of Connecticut, the political attack ads basically made themselves. One, released by one his Republican challengers, features a map showing the home states of his out-of-town contributors and the amounts derived from each locale: $90,000 from Massachusetts, $100,000 from Maryland and New York, $81,000 from Texas. And then, as game show style music plays, the zinger: just $4,250 from residents of the Nutmeg State.

Here at Mother Jones, Jonathan Stein and I focused on another aspect of Dodd's first quarter disclosures: the fact that, with his political future in jeopardy, the five-term senator and chair of the powerful Senate banking committee appeared to be receiving a personal bailout from his friends in the finance industry.

Despite his waning appeal in Connecticut, Dodd's fundraising effort picked up steam in the first three months of 2009. He raised just more than $1 million during the quarter, according to federal campaign disclosure records. Almost a third of that money—at least $299,000—came from banking and investment executives, financial industry trade groups, and finance-oriented political action committees (PACs). An additional $68,000 came from lobbyists, many with clients on Wall Street. And that doesn't count the formidable financial support Dodd has received from insurance and health care interests.

Gonzo Finally Gets A Job

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been the butt of many jokes over the past year thanks to media reports suggesting that he was unable to secure gainful employment after his disasterous tenure in the Bush administration. Sadly, it looks like those jokes will have to stop, as the Harvard Law grad has landed a teaching gig for the fall at a prestigious institution of higher learning: Texas Tech, in Lubbock, Texas. The guy once predicted to be the first Latino Supreme Court justice won't be teaching law or anything like that. Instead, he'll headline a poli-sci course on contemporary issues in the executive branch, based, apparently, on what little he can remember of it.