2009 - %3, September

Chamber Backs off "Scopes" Comment

| Wed Sep. 2, 2009 1:48 PM EDT

A few days after I made fun of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for saying it wants a hearing on climate change that would be "the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st Century," the group has backed off the comment. Chamber vice president Bill Kovacs blogs on the National Journal website:

My "Scopes monkey" analogy was inappropriate and detracted from my ability to effectively convey the Chamber's position on this important issue.

What is the Chamber's position on this important issue? According to Kovacs, the Chamber is not one of the business lobby's "Climate 'deniers,'" but is simply against an "endangerment finding" by the EPA--a conclusion that greenhouse gasses are a threat and should therefore be regulated as pollutants. As I stressed yesterday, the endangerment finding serves as a powerful political club for the Obama administration in pushing the cap and trade bill that the Chamber opposes.  "[O]ne can be against an endangerment finding and still supportive of strong, effective action to reduce carbon emissions," Kovacs writes. "Indeed, the Chamber's platform of technology, efficiency, and a global approach would actually do more to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions than a finding by EPA ever could."

Assuming that's true--and there's no real evidence it is--when did "technology, efficiency, and a global approach" and an endangerment finding become mutually exclusive?

I continue to be appalled that the Chamber, which represents 3 million businesses, some of whom disagree with its stance on cap and trade, is run by people as short-sighted and blatantly dishonest as Kovacs. Even as he distanced himself from the "Scopes" comment and the "climate denier" label, he rolled out a list of "uncertainties" about human-generated climate change, ending in a mention of "the saga of Alan Carlin, the EPA whistleblower whose internal report criticizing the data behind the endangerment finding was ignored." As has been thoroughly addressed here and elsewhere, Carlin is an economist, not a climate scientist, and his report was read and discounted--"ignored," if you will--because it was based on false assumptions and flawed data. That the nation's largest business lobby is really that stupid doesn't bode well for the future of American commerce.

 

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Quote of the Day

| Wed Sep. 2, 2009 1:37 PM EDT

From David Axelrod, commenting on how his boss plans to knock some heads and get engaged in the healthcare debate any day now:

It’s time to synthesize and harmonize these strands and get this done.

Well, that's either cunningly brilliant or terminally vapid.  I'm not sure which.  I guess it depends on whether Obama ends up passing a healthcare bill or not.  If he doesn't, his decision to keep his distance from the fight until the very end will be judged as harshly as Clinton's decision to write a 1000-page bill and dump it on Congress.  If he does, that same decision will be judged a brilliant coup.  Personally, I think it has a pretty good chance to be the latter.  We'll see.   More here.

Simple Reform

| Wed Sep. 2, 2009 1:00 PM EDT

Andrew Samwick thinks Democrats have done a lousy job of selling healthcare reform, and it's hard to argue with that.  But then he goes on to ask for evidence that any of the bills currently moving through Congress are better than a simple reform consisting only of:

1. Community rating
2. Guaranteed issue
3. Ex post risk adjustment
4. An individual mandate, with Medicaid for a fee as the backup option

I've seen a bunch of criticisms along these same lines, and I don't really get them. Granted, the bills now on the table have more to them than just these points, but not a lot more.  The core of all of them is insurance industry reform (#1-3) combined with subsidies for low-income families (#4).  With the exception of the much-debated public option, the additional stuff lies in the details (the subsidies aren't all Medicaid, children get treated differently than adults) or in modest expansions of Samwick's list (out-of-pocket caps, tax credits for small businesses).  The fact is that current reform efforts are already fairly modest.

Unless, of course, I'm misunderstanding Samwick and he means "Medicaid for a fee" literally.  That is, no subsidies and no attempt to expand coverage to the currently uninsured at all.  If that's the case, then the answer to his question is "Because they expand decent health coverage to millions of poor people."  If it's not, then I'm not quite sure what the problem is.  Putting the public option aside for the moment, are the additional details in the House and Senate bills really so abominable that he thinks they should torpedo the whole project?  Why?

Adaptation to Allow More Katrinas?

| Wed Sep. 2, 2009 12:54 PM EDT

The debate over climate change mitigation versus adaptation rose to a boil this week as the World Climate Conference kicked off in Geneva, vowing to bring adaptation front and center. Speaking about this new focus, WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud stressed the importance of addressing the impacts of climate change that are already inevitable, like the rise of sea waters and the spread of diseases like malaria.

Following the release of California's Climate Adaptation Strategy last month, Tony Brunello of the California National Resources Agency told me that "it used to be that you'd get slapped in the face for talking about adaptation...it was seen as doing nothing and taking away from mitigation efforts." But, he said, anti-adaptation ferver has mostly died down as it has become clearer that mitigating climate change without bracing for impact is no longer realistic.

This week, however, that debate has grown more contentious, as some environmental writers and activists have pointed out adaptation's bargain with the devil: because resources are limited, it will undoubtedly divert funds from mitigation. Calling adaptation a "cruel eupmemism," Climate Progress writes that this increasing focus on adaptation is unrealistic, irresponsible, and could allow, rather than prevent, more disasters like Hurricane Katrina across the world:

Tea Party off Broadway

| Wed Sep. 2, 2009 12:52 PM EDT

We've heard a lot about the antics of astroturfers opposing health care reform at angry town hall events across the country. But rarely to do we get to see these events in the flesh. And even more rarely than that, do we experience the performance along with music and dancing. TPM shows us that video from an event sponsored by the "Tea Bag Express" that will visit 33 health care reform protests nationwide until it arrives in Washington DC on September 12. This is amazing:

The Latest on Sarah P.

| Wed Sep. 2, 2009 12:01 PM EDT

Just the other day I was thinking, "I wonder what's up with Sarah Palin? I haven't heard any good Palin gossip lately."

Well, Vanity Fair to the rescue.  In "Me and Mrs. Palin," Levi Johnston unburdens himself and tells his version of what life was like in the Palin household after the election:

Sarah was sad for a while. She walked around the house pouting. I had assumed she was going to go back to her job as governor, but a week or two after she got back she started talking about how nice it would be to quit and write a book or do a show and make “triple the money.” It was, to her, “not as hard.” She would blatantly say, “I want to just take this money and quit being governor.” She started to say it frequently, but she didn’t know how to do it. When she came home from work, it seemed like she was more and more stressed out.

Does this sound believable?  I'm not sure.  But it does sort of sync up with this report from Politico a couple of days ago:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin this week will begin accepting and rejecting the more than 1,070 invitations she has received for paid speeches and political appearances since she resigned from office, aides said.

....She’s about 85 percent finished with her book, due out this spring from HarperCollins. Then she’ll begin looking through the inch-and-a-half thick file her lawyer, Robert Barnett, has built of offers for network and cable pundit gigs, documentaries and business opportunities.

Levi also says that when Palin first heard Bristol was pregnant, she insisted over and over that they keep it a secret and then allow her and Todd to adopt the baby when it was born.  I confess that I'm not sure this passes the credibility test either.  But he's pretty clear about it.

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Embassy Guards Gone Wild: The Pictures (NSFW)

| Wed Sep. 2, 2009 10:09 AM EDT

Warning: The pictures you are about to see are graphic—and may result in you swearing off vodka (and other varieties of hard liquor) permanently. The Project on Government Oversight provided me with a series of photographs—a dozen in all—that depict the bacchanalian goings on at Camp Sullivan, home to the ArmorGroup personnel who guard the nearby US embassy compound in Kabul. On Tuesday, POGO sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton detailing a host of explosive charges relating to ArmorGroup's management of the embassy contract, including evidence of "near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates." According to POGO, "witnesses report that the highest levels of AGNA management in Kabul are aware of and have personally observed—or even engaged in—these activities, but have done nothing to stop them."

As you'll see below, POGO really wasn't exaggerating when it spoke of the "Lord of the Flies environment." Here's the jaw-dropping proof:

The cover shot for a soon-to-be-released Contractors Gone Wild: The Asses of Afghanistan video?

Need To Read: September 2, 2009

Wed Sep. 2, 2009 7:34 AM EDT

Today's must-reads:

  • US Increasing Troop Strength in Afghanistan (LAT)
  • Afghanistan's President Forged Votes, Opponents Say (NYT)
  • Misbehaving US Embassy Guards in Kabul: Animal House In Afghanistan (MoJo)/State Department Responds to Allegations (MoJo)
  • The Torture Docs the CIA is Still Withholding (FDL)
  • Anderson Cooper Headed to Afghanistan (MediaBistro)
  • Va. Gubernatorial Candidate's Crazy Thesis (MoJo)
  • The Rationales for Passing Health Care Through the Reconciliation Process (WaPo/Ezra Klein)
  • Maria Bartiromo Asks 44 y/o Congressman "If Medicare's So Good, Why Aren't You On It?!" (TPM)

I post articles 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.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 2, 2009

Wed Sep. 2, 2009 7:27 AM EDT

Senior Airman Bryce Kester looks out the ramp of a C-17 Globemaster III during a supply airdrop for a forward operating base in Afghanistan, Aug. 27, 2009, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Airman Kester is a loadmaster from the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, and deployed from McChord Air Force Base, Wash. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday September 2

| Wed Sep. 2, 2009 7:05 AM EDT

Pitching Healthcare: How does the media make it accessible?

Greening the Big Easy: Four years later, New Orleans is a lab for green construction. [Time]

Whale Tale: Who needs Moby Dick? Not American students, some argue.

Lead It Be: Lead guidelines for toys are fine, but they hurt second-hand goods market.

Moving Mountains: The UK's Royal Society says if we don't stop emitting GHGs soon, geoengineering may be our only option. [Science Daily]

World on Fire: New info shows climate change is responsible for half of the wildfires in the Western US.

Bionic Brains: A new microchip that bypasses blocked nerves might offer movement to the paralyzed someday. [New Scientist]