2009 - %3, November

The Thanksgiving Doc Dump

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 8:30 AM PST

One of the big pieces of news that came out of Eric Holder's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday was Holder's promise that the long-awaited Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility report on torture will be out by the end of the month. In practice, that means that the report will probably come out next Wednesday evening (the night before Thanksgiving), next Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving), or, best-case scenario, this evening.

It's called a doc dump, and you don't have to tolerate it. Whenever the report does come out, come here and help us read through it. If we can teach the administration that the things they don't want covered are going to get covered no matter what, then maybe we won't have to deal with the doc dump so much in the future.

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How We Pay for Big Pharma's Malpractice

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 8:15 AM PST

The main reason we can't get a health reform bill enacted is because the pharmaceutical and insurance industries aren’t happy with their piece of the action. This despite the fact that when politicians talk about cutting costs, what they really mean is cutting services to us so these two big industries can enhance their profitability.

One reason drug companies need additional revenue is because employee whistleblowers have found the nerve to report the industry's crooked business practices—leading to multi-million dollar payouts to injured patients plus fines for legal violations. "I was trained to do things and did things that were blatantly illegal," David Franklin, a Parke-Davis whistle-blower, told the Boston Globe in 2003. "I knew my job was to falsely gain physicians' trust and trade on my graduate degree. If he was a cardiologist, I was an expert in cardiology. If he was a neurologist, I was an expert in neurology." Under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers themselves stand to make millions of dollars for turning in their bosses.

But in the end we're the ones who pay for drug company malfeasance—in the form of higher prices. And when it comes to health care reform, we'll pick up the tab for their underhanded dealings in the form of reduced medical care—especially in the Medicare program—negotiated by our representatives in the name of fiscal restraint.

In early November the Indianapolis Star ran down some of the big payouts by the drug companies:

Bush Administration Officials Defend Holder's Decision on KSM

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 8:13 AM PST

Jim Comey and Jack Goldsmith, who both served in the Justice Department during the Bush administration, have an op-ed in Friday's Washington Post defending Eric Holder, Obama's Attorney General. Comey and Goldsmith say Holder's decision to try 9/11 "mastermind" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court was "reasonable," because military commissions really aren't everything the right is cracking them up to be:

[Critics of Holder's decision] place undue faith in military commissions as an alternative to civilian trials.... Tne reason commissions have not worked well is that changes in constitutional, international and military laws since they were last used, during World War II, have produced great uncertainty about the commissions' validity. This uncertainty has led to many legal challenges that will continue indefinitely -- hardly an ideal situation for the trial of the century.

By contrast, there is no question about the legitimacy of U.S. federal courts to incapacitate terrorists. Many of Holder's critics appear to have forgotten that the Bush administration used civilian courts to put away dozens of terrorists, including "shoe bomber" Richard Reid; al-Qaeda agent Jose Padilla; "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh; the Lackawanna Six; and Zacarias Moussaoui, who was prosecuted for the same conspiracy for which Mohammed is likely to be charged. Many of these terrorists are locked in a supermax prison in Colorado, never to be seen again.

Goldsmith and Comey also say that concerns about the KSM trial making New York a more attractive target for terrorists are unwarrented, since "If al-Qaeda could carry out another attack in New York, it would." The column should be politically useful for Holder and the Obama administration ("even Bush administration officials defend our decision"). Read the whole thing.

Obama Nation Raising Money Off Palin "Lies"

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 8:07 AM PST

It probably had to happen. The Obama gang is raising money off Sarah Palin—and her "lies."

On Friday morning, Organizing for America, the offshoot of the Obama presidential campaign (which works within the Democratic National Committee), sent out an email to the millions of people on its mailing list, noting that Palin has lied about President Barack Obama's health care reform efforts—remember her accusation about "death panels"?—and has continued to attack Obama and his health care plan while on her book tour. According to the email, the Obama crew believes Palin has the power to affect the national debate on this issue: "Whatever lie comes next will be widely covered by the media, then constantly echoed by right-wing attack groups and others who are trying to defeat reform."

The letter, signed by Mitch Stewart, the director of OFA, warns that Palin will be peddling disinformation about the White House health care reform plan on Fox News (with Sean Hannity) and on other conservative outlets. It asks for five bucks, so OFA can amass a $500,000 warchest to be used to "push back against Sarah Palin and her allies."

Whether Palin is running for president or not in 2012, the Obama strategists clearly see her as a useful foil. With book sales indicating there are hundreds of thousands of Americans who are quite keen on her—and willing to shell out money to support her petty get-'em-back crusade—OFA is about to determine if there are similar numbers of Americans who want to pay a few dollars to join an anti-Palin campaign. It might have struck gold.

The full fundraising letter is after the jump.

The Coal Industry's $47 Million PR Spending Spree

| Fri Nov. 20, 2009 4:00 AM PST

The coal industry's major lobby group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, shelled out a stunning $47 million last year on lobbying, advertising and "grassroots outreach" efforts to fight climate legislation and tout the benefits of "clean coal." Its efforts to actually develop clean coal technology, however, were a lot less impressive.

ACCCE's most recent IRS filing, obtained by Greenwire (sub. req'd), lists the contributions to the coalition by the nation's biggest coal companies. Arch Coal Inc., Consol Energy Inc., and Peabody Energy Corp. each chipped in $5 million; Foundation Coal Corp. gave $3 million, Southern Co. $2.1 million, and American Electric Power Co. Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. (which has since left the group) gave $2 million. ACCCE is among the biggest spenders when it comes to influencing the debate on climate and energy.

But for all their expensive efforts to sell the public on the wonders of clean coal, ACCCE isn't working quite as hard to make the technology a reality. The coalition's members have committed the comparatively paltry sum of $3.6 billion to research the technology between 2003 and 2017, according to an April report from the Center for American Progress. That's just $257 million on average each year to develop the technology to capture and sequester carbon. To put that in perspective, ACCCE's members made a combined total of $297 billion in profits between 2003 and 2008—meaning, as the report notes, that they're spending less than two cents on clean coal research for every $1 of profit.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 20, 2009

Fri Nov. 20, 2009 3:58 AM PST

Members of the rifle detail perform a 3-volley salute during 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment's memorial service for nine Marines and one sailor killed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Hundreds attended the memorial service Tuesday morning that took place between Hangars 1 and 2 aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii. (US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga.)

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Need To Read: November 20, 2009

Fri Nov. 20, 2009 3:56 AM PST

Today's must reads:

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Everyone's Getting Testy

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 11:56 PM PST

The Washington Post reports that tempers are getting short on Capitol Hill.  And not just among Republicans:

President Obama's allies in the Congressional Black Caucus, exasperated by the administration's handling of the economy, unexpectedly blocked one his top priorities, using a legislative maneuver to postpone the approval of financial reform legislation by a key House committee.

....The House committee had been set to vote to send the final piece of its regulatory reform package to the House floor after months of debate. That is, until the committee's chairman, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), told a shocked committee room that passage of the bill would be delayed until Dec. 1 because the Congressional Black Caucus wanted the administration to do more to help African American communities suffering in the economic decline.

....Congressional aides said the caucus's concerns are similar to those of the Democratic Party's liberal wing. Caucus members are pushing for legislation that would directly lead to new jobs by providing tax benefits, for example, that would provide incentives for home renovations and funding for new infrastructure projects. They also want to extend health-care and unemployment benefits.

Apparently the White House is well aware of all this, but if "congressional aides" are correctly describing the situation, what exactly is the problem here?  If the CBC wants these pieces of legislation, why not introduce them?  Surely their beef is with their own leadership more than it is with the White House.  Last I heard, Congress is still allowed to originate legislation even if the president isn't enthusiastic about it.

The Chamber's Sick Swine Flu Lobbying

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 4:39 PM PST

See update below.

The US Chamber of Commerce, which has been busy this year fighting everything from climate change legislation to health care reform to financial regulation, has taken on a new battle: It's come out against congressional measures intended to curb the spread of the H1NI virus, which has sickened 22 million Americans since April and killed an estimated 3,900 people.

The bills, introduced in the Senate by Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and in the House by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and George Miller (D-Calif.), would provide American workers with five days of paid sick leave. The provision would sunset after two years, but the idea is to keep swine flu carrying workers from infecting their collleagues and adding to the epidemic.

Chamber Vice President Randel K. Johnson told the New York Times that they oppose paid sick leave because "the vast majority of employers provide paid leave of some sort." Except, many employers don't--one third of workers don't have any paid sick leave. Less than half of service-sector employees have paid sick leave, and only 39 percent of construction and farming workers get leave. Low-wage workers are the least likely to have paid sick leave, and the most likely to come to work sick because they need the money.

Yet the lack of paid sick leave is causing many people to go to work while ill, despite admonitions to stay home. This is a particular concern for service-sector employees, like waiters, child care providers, and health care workers who interact with the public as part of their job and can easily transmit the virus to others.

The Chamber insists that a global epidemic is not a good reason to start treating employees like human beings all of a sudden. "The problem is not nearly as great as some people say," said Johnson. "Lots of employers work these things out on an ad hoc basis with their employees."

The Service Employees International Union is now circulating a petition against the Chamber, asking them to "cease lobbying" against the measure.

UPDATE: Over on the Chamber's blog, the group argues that they have not formally opposed this legislation in particular, and believes that SEIU is attacking them unfairly.

"[T]he U.S. Chamber recognizes that this issue has many dimensions and is exploring whether legislation in this area would be helpful to employees without overburdening employers and limiting their options to provide benefits tailored to their workplace," they wrote.

Kerry to World Bank: Don't Be Dirty

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 3:42 PM PST

John Kerry gave a barn-burner of a speech at the World Bank on Wednesday, laying into  development banks for pouring massive sums into dirty energy projects in poor countries. "Reducing energy poverty and combating climate change cannot be mutually exclusive challenges," said Kerry. "We won't solve climate change unless we also seriously tackle energy poverty, and we haven't really solved energy poverty if we ravage our planet in the process."

World Bank and other development banks notoriously pay little or no attention to the carbon footprint of the energy projects they fund. Since 1994, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks and export credit agencies have directed $37 billion to the construction or expansion of 88 coal-fired power plants, according to an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) study released earlier this year. This sum was matched by approximately $60 billion from private funders and local governments—bringing the total investment in dirty energy projects to more than $100 billion.

Those 88 plants will spew 791 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Yet the Bank classifies 40 percent of its energy lending as "low carbon" even if the recipients of its loans are massive coal plants. Why? Because the new plants pollute a little less than the old ones. Financing such projects, EDF concluded, is "hamstringing the fight against global warming."

Kerry was unusually agressive in his critcism of development banks. "There is no excuse," he said, for the Inter-American Development Bank's decision to back two new coal-fired power plants in Brazil. And the World Bank, he argued, should take the lead by including emissions as a key criteria when deciding which energy projects to finance. Kerry called on the Bank to weigh not only estimates of construction and operation costs when funding new projects, but also projected emissions. The Bank should also work harder to present low-carbon alternatives to its aid recipients, and fund clean energy projects whenever possible.