2010 - %3, March

Major Utility Quietly Quits "Clean Coal" Group

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 10:15 AM EST

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the beleaguered coal lobby group, quietly lost a significant industry player last November, Mother Jones has learned.

Progress Energy, a North Carolina-based utility, decided late last year to not renew its membership in the multi-million dollar group that promotes so-called "clean coal," a spokesman confirmed. The departure was not made public, but the group recently disappeared from the list of ACCCE members.

"We look at all of our memberships in these industry groups every year," Drew Elliot, a Progress spokesperson, explains to Mother Jones. "We look at what we need to do and how that compares to frankly how much it costs to be in them." Apparently, ACCCE no longer made the cut.

2009 was not a great PR year for ACCCE. It came to light that the group had paid a shady subcontractor to send forged letters to members of Congress lobbying against the cap and trade bill. Then, one of the organization's vice presidents may have lied under oath about the group's position on climate legislation. The group was also busted for misrepresenting a veterans group in an email. ACCCE came in at No. 3 on our Dirty Dozen of climate change denial in December, winning third place for its efforts to curry support for the as-yet non-existent technology of "clean coal" while their VP of communications refuses to say whether coal contributes to global warming.

There were several high-profile departures from ACCCE last fall over its discordant climate policy. Electric utility giant Duke Energy and Alstom, a French company that makes components for power plants, left in September.

Progress paid $1 million to ACCCE in 2008, putting the company among the group's biggest contributors. But the company has been backing away from coal of late, announcing in December that they are shutting down 11 coal-fired power plants. Instead, they would move toward natural gas, a less greenhouse-gas intensive fuel source. A state paper hailed the move as evidence of "the beginning of the end of the era of cheap coal."

Elliot noted that while coal remains about half of its energy mix, Progress sees natural gas as a bridge fuel to cleaner energy sources and has been moving its infrastructure in that direction. "We are taking steps to reduce our carbon emissions," said Elliot. "Technological advances that can help us produce electricity cleaner and cheaper are going to be what our customers expect us to embrace."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Who Misses George W. Bush?

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 9:50 AM EST

Last month, a photo of a billboard in Minnesota started circulating on conservative blogs. The billboard bears an image of George W. Bush next to the words "Miss Me Yet?" Oliver Willis ("Like Kryptonite to Stupid") has already given the official lefty response to the billboard's question. And  Minnesota Public Radio's Bob Collins first reported the billboard's origins:

Mary Teske, the general manager of Schubert & Hoey Outdoor Advertising reports, "The Bush Miss Me Yet? billboard was paid for by a group of small business owners who feel like Washington is against them. They wish to remain anonymous. They thought it was a fun way of getting out their message."

Various people have stepped forward around the country to claim credit—the latest was a gentleman in upstate New York from what I can tell in his e-mail. But, it's all local, folks.

Now one of my favorite conservative email lists, the Patriot Update, is trying to get in on the "Miss Me Yet?" action. Like its sister organization, the Patriot Depot, Patriot Update uses its email list to hawk conservative-themed books and memorabilia. Now the two groups have launched a petition campaign. Their goal is to get one million people to sign each of two letters—one saying that people "miss" former President George W. Bush, and another demanding that President Barack Obama stop "blaming Bush" for the country's problems. They've even reserved a primo domain name—missmeyet.com. I'm reluctant to promote the effort, which will get a lot more people on the Patriot Update's email list and probably make its owners a boatload of money on t-shirt and bumper sticker sales, but it's funny in a sad sort of way, so whatever:

Should he stay or should he go? | US Military photo.Should he stay or should he go? | US Military photo.The Patriot Depot & The Patriot Update are launching a national "Miss Me Yet?" campaign! There's no doubt that President Bush was born in America and that he loves his country. During his presidency, Americans felt safe. Evil men feared his resolve. On the other hand, Barack Obama has been circling the globe and apologizing for the very nation that elected a minority to President. Plus, he's going to let Bush's tax cuts expire and raise even new taxes on the middle class to pay for his bankrupt social programs.

Americans who voted for "hope and change" are feeling buyer's remorse. In honor of President George W. Bush and the conservative cause, we're pleased to introduce the new "Miss Me Yet?" Bumper Sticker and T-shirt! We're also asking you to sign a "We Miss You" Letter to President Bush and a "Stop Blaming Bush" Letter to Barack Obama. Click below to see the letters and sign your name at the bottom. Our goal is to deliver 1 million signatures to each man.

In the two-plus days since the petition launched, 7,500+ folks have decided they miss George W. Bush. Even if the petition organizers get to a million, that will still only represent a tiny portion of the population. But don't count Bush nostalgia out. Because sadly, we already know how badly America misses W.: In December, 44 percent of voters polled by PPP said they'd prefer Bush to his successor. If those poll numbers are even close to right, there are a lot more than a million people who might be willing to sign the Patriot Update's petition.

The Best NYT Lede Ever?

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 9:45 AM EST

There's something wrong with the first sentence of this recent New York Times story about white anti-abortion activists trying to recruit black people to join their cause:

For years the largely white staff of Georgia Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group, tried to tackle the disproportionately high number of black women who undergo abortions.

The next sentence explains that the staff of Georgia Right to Life "found it difficult to make inroads with black audiences." That makes sense. Hassling women who want to get abortions is bad enough. But tackling them?

What Makes A Quote?

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 8:52 AM EST

I received an interesting email from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), a liberal pressure group, in the wake of last week's "bipartisan health care summit":

"President Obama gave Republicans one final chance, and the verdict is in: Bipartisanship is dead. It's clear that no Republicans will vote for health care reform. So Senate Democrats should pass the highly popular public option through reconciliation. Starting tomorrow, we will ramp up our pressure on Senate Democrats to do the will of the people—and do what's best for America's health care system—by passing the public option into law."

[Note: The link above is a substantive part of the quote, alleviating the need to spell out the poll numbers. If doing web reporting, we respectfully ask that you consider it part of the quote.]

I added the emphasis. A reporter who uses that quote should probably let her readers know that it's making a legitimate claim—the public option is highly popular. But I'm not sure readers are used to assuming that links contained within quotes are "part of the quote." I can't remember encountering a similar situation before. At the very least, journalists who use the link as suggested should figure out a way to convey to readers that the link is part of the quote, and not an editorial addition on the part of the journalist.

Reconciliation and the Filibuster

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 8:35 AM EST

An acquaintance of mine who works on the Hill had this as his away message recently:

Ok Republicans, how about we agree not to use reconciliation, and you agree not to filibuster?

It's a good point. The media tends to treat reconciliation, the process Democrats may use to pass "fixes" to the Senate health care reform bill by majority vote, as a "controversial" process. Republicans have been describing reconciliation as basically a parliamentary "trick." It's true that reconciliation isn't in the Constitution—it was created in the 1970s. But the filibuster, which creates a sixty-vote requirement to end debate in the Senate, isn't in the Constitution either.

Coverage of the Democrats' pursuit of reconciliation should note that, absent Republicans' use of the filibuster, Democrats would be highly unlikely to use reconciliation. They wouldn't need to: if the GOP doesn't filibuster, bills can pass the Senate by a simple majority, as the framers intended. And Republicans who criticize the Democrats for pursuing reconciliation should be asked whether they really think the Dems would be using it if the GOP didn't plan to filibuster.

Is Neal Katyal a Terrorist Sympathizer?

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 8:05 AM EST

Last week, I received an email that tried to argue that Obama Justice Department officials who represented terrorism suspects in their (often successful) suits against the government are "terrorist sympathizers":

Commander Kirk S. Lippold, former Commander of the USS Cole and Senior Military Fellow at Military Families United released the following statement regarding Attorney General Eric Holder’s admission that nine or more DOJ employees currently setting policy on enemy combatants have defended terrorists prior to joining the Department: 


"I was deeply troubled today by Attorney General Eric Holder’s admission that at least nine or more employees of the Department of Justice used to defend the terrorists in our own court system. These same employees now set our nation’s policy on terrorist detainees. To move from defending terrorists in court to setting national security policy for detainees at the Department of Justice is an inexcusable breach of ethics and common sense."

This attack is focusing on people like Neal Katyal, the lawyer who won Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the case that struck down the Bush administration's military commissions system.

Is beating the Bush administration in court an offense that should disqualify someone from government service? Of course it isn't. This whole situation is, of course, ridiculous. The main line of attack is fatally flawed. No one wants to "defend terrorists." The people in the Obama DOJ who once fought the Bush administration on detainee issues were defending terrorist suspects—people who had been accused by the government of planning committing terrorist acts. And a lot of those folks turned out not to be terrorists.

Spencer Ackerman is somewhat more colorful in condemning this smear job. In a post titled, "And Oh By The Way, Did You Notice NEAL KATYAL ISN’T WHITE?????," Spencer writes:

This “Gitmo Nine” fucking bullshit is beneath the dignity of all thinking people. There is not a single shameful thing about representing a Guantanamo detainee. And singling out Neal Katyal — only a fucking tool or a racist will deny the racial overtones in suggesting that brown man at the Justice Department is a terrorist sympathizer. Katyal is a proponent of creating national-security courts, for Christ sake, something absolutely appalling to civil libertarians.

Between this situation and the rejection of Craig Becker, a nominee for the National Labor Relations Board, because he was too "pro-labor," you're seeing right into the heart of what Washington is like. Members of Congress like to pretend that their opposition to various nominees are appointees is based on concerns about those people's qualifications or temperment. Sometimes, those concerns are real. But most of the time, Republicans oppose Democratic appointees and Democrats oppose Republican appointees because they disagree with the appointees' politics. Many people would argue that there's nothing wrong about fighting for labor unions or representing a Guantanamo detainee. But in some Republican circles, doing either could make you a pariah.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Have One on Joanna Newsom

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 8:00 AM EST

Joanna Newsom
Have One On Me
Drag City


Joanna Newsom's new triple (!) disc has been shrouded in secrecy for the past two years, and now that it's finally out, well, it was worth the wait.

The northern California musician has been playing the same old harp since age 12, and sees herself as the musical offspring of home-state artists CSNY, Joni Mitchell, and the Byrds. But Have One On Me is a departure from her past work. Newsom's nasally voice, so off-putting to some listeners of her first albums, is now mostly angelic—due ironically to a vocal injury last year. There's also more percussion and a deeper cache of instrumental layers here. She wrote her own harp and vocal arrangements, while Ryan Francesconi, who plays guitar, long-necked lute, banjo, mandolin, and soprano recorder on the album, arranged and engineered the recordings.

Each of these 18 songs—only three of them clock in at under five minutes; six are eight-plus—is a leg of her musical trip through the Golden State. The nice parts of it, that is: black bears and beetles and all that. When you come and see me in California / You cross the border of my heart, she croons.

This album can function as background music if you want it to, but what's most intrusive—and interesting—is the multiplicity of texture. From lutes and harps to horns and electric guitars, it unfurls surprises on the first few listens: Check out "Soft As Chalk," "Easy," and the title track. Newsom describes Have One On Me as "more direct and more open" than past records. Which might be true, but her seraphic vibrato is still there if you listen for it. 
 

Can Consumers Trust Treasury?

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 7:45 AM EST

By proposing a Bureau of Financial Protection within the Treasury Department as opposed to an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency, is Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), the Senate's architect of financial reform, dooming the future of consumer protection? As a leaked outline of his watered-down plan for consumer protection (PDF) shows, Dodd plans to give more power to the Treasury, whose internal agencies already regulate national banks (the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency) and thrifts at the state and federal levels that were at the forefront of the mortgage meltdown (the Office of Thrift Supervision). The OCC and OTS, both at the center of the regulatory lapses before the crisis, offer a glimpse of why Dodd's plan could spell disaster for consumer advocates lobbying for tougher reforms and better regulation.

The much-maligned OCC and OTS, you'll remember, sided with lenders in the run-up to the meltdown, kept lowering the regulatory bar for the institutions they monitored, and let countless cases of fraud and wrongdoing occur under their watch, as numerous media reports have shown. Under the OTS' watch, three of the biggest banks its was supposed to be regulating were shut down in 2008, including Washington Mutual—the largest bank failure in history. An OTS regulator was even demoted for approving backdated documents from IndyMac making the bank look healthier than it was. (IndyMac failed two months later.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for March 1, 2010

Mon Mar. 1, 2010 7:00 AM EST

war photo 022810

Spc. Daniel Kennedy, from Decatur, Ill., a gunner for C Troop, 2nd Squadron, 13th Cavalry Regiment, works with Department of Border Enforcement guards from the Zaafran Border Fort on assembling one of their crew-served weapons. Photo via the US Army.

Are Your Business Trips Killing the Planet?

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 6:30 AM EST

Since we all know by now that air travel takes a giant toll on the earth, maybe you've been resisting those impossibly cheap last-minute weekend getaway deals. Good for you. But what about business travel? For most of us, flying for work falls into the category of "those emissions aren't my fault because my boss made me do it." But a recent study (PDF) by England's Cranfield University found that most companies aren't doing their part in cutting back on flying time. In fact, they're planning even more air miles.

Almost two-thirds of the businesses surveyed (all were UK based) were expecting to increase their air travel budget in the next fiscal year. When lead researcher Keith Mason and his team asked professionals about the reasons for their most recent business trip, 20 percent said it was simply "to get out of the office."

If your company plays fast and loose with the plane tickets, consider pointing out potential travel cuts to your superiors. "A significant amount of travel is for training and in-company meetings," says Mason. "You don't need to press flesh when you are meeting other people that work in your company." Encourage the folks in charge of the office tech budget to invest in high-quality telecommuting software instead of hacking the cheap or free downloads. Take video chat: If there's a delay, or the picture's fuzzy, or you're always losing the connection, your officemates are more likely to get frustrated and quit using the technology. (Only half of the offices in Mason's study were using business-quality videoconferencing software.) If the environmental angle doesn't convince your boss, try mentioning the savings: In the long run, telecommuting will be much cheaper than plane tickets.

If there's really no way around air travel, the single most important thing you can do is to fly economy instead of first class. The Cranfield researchers found that first- and business-class seats are often twice the size of economy seats—which means half the passengers creating the same amount of emissions. Yes, those two giant armrests are much more comfortable than your sleeping seatmate drooling on your shoulder, but the more people crammed onto the plane, the lower the per-passenger emissions. If you're booking your own flights, know that some airlines are greener than others.

Another interesting tidbit: Mason and his colleagues point out that every little bit of weight reduction on flights counts. Though they haven't crunched the numbers, the team speculates that airlines eliminating unnecessary stuff onboard—extra baggage and catering and duty-free shopping trolley—could make a difference in emissions, too. Passengers can help by packing light. And, says one Japanese airline, don't forget to pee before boarding!