If the Senate does not pass a cap and trade bill this year—a prospect that seems increasingly likely—the Obama administration may start pressuring legislators by moving to regulate CO2 itself.

Yesterday, as leading Senate Democrats announced they were putting off introducing a cap and trade bill, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson let it be known that her agency would probably classify CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act "in the next months," triggering her ability to regulate it without approval from Congress. The so-called "endangerment finding," long sought by environmentalists, was announced in April but has yet to be formalized. It would hypothetically allow the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases much as it does other forms of air pollution, by capping point-source emissions and fining polluters.

Jackson and President Obama have said that they prefer letting Congress regulate greenhouse gas emissions instead of doing it through the executive branch, a process that might prove more cumbersome and disruptive to the economy. Still, with conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans under intense pressure to block or water down the bill, Obama might gain a strategic edge by getting more specific about how he'd tackle the issue if they don't. That could in turn give some legislators political cover, allowing them to tell their corporate overseers and conservative constituents that voting for the bill was in their "best interests"—a way of averting something even stricter. (Indeed, even the hint of the threat has already swayed one prominent Republican, Grist notes).

Would that approach mean much bigger political risks for Obama? Of course. But it might be worth it: By 2012, when Americans realize that their electric bills haven't skyrocketed, gas doesn't cost $4 a gallon, and coal miners are still employed, Obama's stance on global warming might be old news, or even a plus at the ballot box.

I'm generally pretty well disposed toward David Brooks.  We wouldn't run the country the same way, but he's not a zealot and he's usually not boring.  For a biweekly columnist, that's not bad.

But today's column feels like it came straight from Sarah Palin's PR shop with just a light rewrite:

Anxiety is now pervasive....The public’s view of Congress, which ticked upward for a time, has plummeted....There are also warning signs in the Senate....The public has soured on Obama’s policy proposals....Driven by this general anxiety, and by specific concerns, public opposition to health care reform is now steady and stable. Independents once solidly supported reform. Now they have swung against it.

Etc.  You'd think that Obama had been working in a vacuum or something.  There's not even the briefest mention of the primary cause for all this: the deliberate decision by the Republican Party to hand over the reins to its most extreme wing and adopt a scorched earth counterattack to Obama's entire agenda.  He agreed to cut the stimulus package by $100 billion and put 40% of it into tax cuts.  That cut no ice.  Democrats proposed a cap-and-trade proposal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions because it uses market mechanisms instead of crude command-and-control directives — and then adopted hundreds of compromises to water it down.  Didn't matter.  Max Baucus has been "negotiating" over healthcare reform with Republicans in the Senate for months and Obama has been careful not to criticize.  But that turned out to be a charade.  Tim Geithner's financial bailout plan was limited and business friendly.  No matter.

Independents haven't "swung against" healthcare reform.  They've been the target of a massive campaign of lies and demagoguery.  Brooks says that Obama needs to embrace "fiscal responsibility, individual choice and decentralized authority," but every time he's done that it's gotten him nowhere.  In fact, just the opposite: for the most part these proposals just invite blistering counterattacks from supposedly conservative Republicans.

And contra Brooks, Obama hasn't moved to the left.  He's done almost exactly what he said he'd do during the campaign — sometimes to my chagrin.  So what accounts for an entire column on this subject that doesn't even mention the Republican opposition?  Beats me.  I guess Brooks just finally got tired of reading pieces like this.

UPDATE: Here are the jaw-dropping photos. NSFW.

Drunken brawls, prostitutes, hazing and humiliation, taking vodka shots out of buttcracks— no, the perpetrators of these Animal House-like antics aren't some depraved frat brothers. They are the private security contractors guarding the US embassy compound in Kabul.

These allegations, and many more, are contained in a letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday by the Project on Government Oversight, which has been investigating the embassy security contract held by ArmorGroup North America (a subsidiary of Wackenhut, which is in turn owned by the security behemoth G4S). The contractor was the subject of a congressional probe earlier this summer that found serious lapses in the company's handling of the embassy security contract, which internal State Department documents said left the embassy compound "in jeopardy." Nevertheless, the government opted to extend the company's 5-year, $189 million contract for another year. 

As writer Anna Lenzer found out first-hand, Fiji's government is run by a military junta that's suspended the national constitution and delayed elections for years. The dictatorship took power in a 2006 coup and has used the excuse of "emergency rule" to extend its reign indefinitely. Three years has been enough for the Commonwealth, however, which has suspended Fiji's membership until its government re-installs democracy.

The Commonwealth, made up of 53 former British colonies and territories, said it suspended Fiji's membership after the government failed to meet today's deadline to set a date for democratic elections. The elections were to be held before October 2010, but as Fiji only continues to insist it will hold elections in 2014, the Commonwealth lived up to its word and suspended it. Although Fiji was kicked out of the Pacific Islands Forum earlier this year, the Commonwealth may hold a bit more sway as it provides funding to the nation, and allows them to compete in the Commonwealth Games. Both funding and athletic participation are suspended until Fiji meets the Commonwealth's requirements.

Leaving Afghanistan

George Will, after running through the immense difficulties of nation building in Afghanistan, says this:

Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

One of the things I never seem to hear much about is what the generals think would happen if we withdrew from Afghanistan.  If the answer is that the Taliban is likely to take over completely, that's one thing.  But if it's more likely that the Taliban and the central government would continue fighting, with the Taliban maintaining control over a limited area of the country and the central government maintaining control over the rest, that's quite a different outcome.

If, after eight years, the Karzai regime is so weak that the former is likely, then our task is probably hopeless and we should withdraw in the way Will suggests.  But if the latter is more likely, would it really be necessary to go that far?  Why not offer to lease Bagram from the Afghan government for a billion dollars a year, offer some additional money in military and rebuilding aid, and then continue the mission of fighting al-Qaeda from there while leaving the Taliban to Karzai?  We know how to protect a military base from an insurgent force like the Taliban, and fighting from there would be a helluva lot easier than trying to do it from offshore.

This is probably a hopelessly ignorant suggestion.  Does anyone ever try to maintain a military base in a country riven by civil war?  I'm not sure.  But it would be interesting to hear the experts chime in on this.

A reader from outside DC writes to disagree about healthcare policy stories being too complicated and slow moving to get a lot of air/print time:

Engaging health care stories aren't too complicated for newspapers in the flyover states. They've been doing the personal health bankruptcy stuff for months and folding it into the larger picture.

It ain't that complicated, this is what papers do outside of D.C. They look at an important public issue and, realizing it's complex, dry or technical, figure out ways to make it interesting and easy to understand. They find local people and talk to them and report what they hear in ways that people who live around there absorb.

....As a big fan and daily reader, I am chagrined with your simplistic analysis of why the press corps is bungling the health care story. It's an absence of will, direction, hustle and journalistic acumen — a dearth of basic story-telling skills and common sense — that binds these D.C. sycophantic editors and reporters to everyone in DC. But it is not because the story is too complicated.

Anyone else from outside the Beltway care to chime in on this?  Is coverage of healthcare policy really better in Des Moines than it is in the Washington Post?

The Federal Trade Commission's new rules banning certain types of robocalls may have gone into effect today, but these regs won't stop deceptive political calls like the ones blanketing Nebraska presently. The calls—the work of Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing group that has played a key role in organizing tea party and town hall protests—urge Nebraskans to pressure Senator Ben Nelson, who's come under fire by liberal groups for his far-from-enthusiastic position on the public option, to "kill" health care reform.

Greg Sargent reports:

The calls inform recipients that reform would "put Washington in charge of all health care," a misleading reference to the possible inclusion of a public option, and would "cut Medicare by $500 billion," a claim that’s also been widely denounced as misleading...

"Senator Ben Nelson is playing an important role in this debate," the call says, according to a script provided to me by AFP after I was tipped off to the call. "Would you be willing to call Senator Ben Nelson and tell him to vote for the Filibuster and kill the health care bill?"

If the caller responds affirmatively, the operator recites a number for one of Nelson’s district offices. "Please tell Senator Ben Nelson to vote for the Filibuster and kill the health care bill," the call continues. "Can I confirm that you will make this call within the hour?"

Nelson has refused to rule out joining GOP filibusters on major legislation, though he’s also suggested he probably won’t filibuster on health care. The call is a sign that anti-reform forces still view Nelson, who has refused to back a public option, as a potential ally with Republicans in the quest to "kill" reform.

 

I'm experimenting with a different style for this morning's must-reads. Please give feedback.

  • Ahmadinejad Coming To America (WaPo)
  • Top US General in Afghanistan Will Probably Ask For More Troops (WaPo)
  • Cameron Todd Willingham Was Executed. Was He Innocent? (New Yorker Investigation/NYT Editorial/Bob Herbert Op-Ed)
  • Top Health Insurance Lobby Won't Say What Its CEO's Co-Pay Is (MoJo)
  • FDIC Head Opposes Super-Regulator (NYT Op-Ed)
  • UN Chief Reaching Out To Dictators (WaPo)
  • Henry Waxman Going After Insurance Companies (FDL)
  • Bruce Bartlett On Why He's Anti-Republican (David Frum's New Majority)
  • Cheney: Screw The Law (MoJo)
  • Dukakis For Kennedy's Senate Seat? (Boston Globe Op-Ed)
  • Advice For Obama From A Reaganite (David Corn/AOL Politics Daily)
  • Virginia GOP's Gubernatorial Candidate's Thesis Demonstrates Deep Discomfort With Modern Society (WaPo)

I post goodies like these throughout the day on twitter. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

The summer of 2009 hadn't even begun when Marcia Powell, a 48-year old inmate at Arizona’s Perryville Prison, was baked to death. Powell, whom court records show had a history of schizophrenia, substance abuse, and mild mental retardation, was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution. At about 11 a.m. on May 19, a day when the Arizona sun had driven the temperature to 108 degrees, she was parked outdoors in an unroofed, wire-fenced holding cell while awaiting transfer to another part of the prison. A deputy warden and two guards had been stationed in a control center 20 yards away, but nearly four hours had passed when she was found collapsed on the floor of the human cage. Doctors at a local hospital pronounced Powell comatose from heat stroke, and she died later that night after being taken off life support. Two local churches stepped in to provide a proper funeral and burial.
 
Arizona Department of Corrections director Charles Ryan said the guards had been suspended pending a criminal investigation. But just yesterday, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner ruled the death an accident, caused by "complications of hyperthermia due to environmental heat exposure." This despite the fact that Powell had blistering and first and second degree "thermal injuries" on face, arms, and upper body. 
 
Ryan also expressed “condolences to Ms. Powell’s family and loved ones”–a strange statement, considering Ryan had made the decision to quickly pull the plug on his comatose prisoner because, he said, no next of kin could be found. In fact, as Stephen Lemons of the Phoenix New Times has reported, Powell was judged an “incapacitated adult” and placed under public guardianship–but her guardians were not consulted before the ADC elected to let her die. Lemons also noted some unsavory chapters in Ryan’s recent career:

Ryan’s own bio on the ADC Web site touts that he was “assistant program manager for the Department of Justice overseeing the Iraqi Prison System for almost four years.” Ryan was contracted by the DOJ to help rebuild Iraqi prisons, one of those being the notorious Abu Ghraib.

Following Powell’s death, Ryan banned most uses of unshaded outdoor holding cells in Arizona, except in “extraordinary circumstances.” Most Southern states already restrict their use. But baking in the sun is only one of many ways to die in America’s prisons in the summertime. Recent years have seen scattered reports of heat-related prison deaths in California and Texas, among others. The prevalence of mental illness among the victims may be linked to anti-psychotic drugs, which raise the body temperature and cause dehydration, and at the same time have a tranquilizing effect that may mask thirst.
 
In 2006, 21-year-old Timothy Souders, another mentally ill prisoner, died of heat exhaustion and dehydration at a Jackson, Michigan prison during an August heat wave. For the four days prior to his death, Souders had been shackled to a cement slab in solitary confinement because he had been acting up. That entire period was captured on surveillance videotapes, which according to news reports clearly showed his mental and physical deterioration.

September already. Rabbit rabbit. Here's today's environment, health, and science stories from beyond the Blue Marble:

Could cap-and-trade become the new health care? Kevin Drum on what might happen if conservatives start treating climate change legislation the way they have health care reform.

Torture docs called to account: A physicians' group says medical personnel who violated professional ethics or the law under the US torture program should be prosecuted and/or lose their license and society memberships.

Forget Fiji: And get yourself a reusable Mother Jones water bottle instead. 

Bad wrap: Think you're just eating the food inside the package? You could be ingesting chemicals from the wrapper, too.

Solar energy from outer space: Not as sci-fi as you might think.