Only a few days after the Copenhagen climate conference ended, the UN announced plans to overhaul its climate negotiations process. That's because if the recent climate talks illustrated anything, it's the extent to which the current treaty framework—an unwieldy process in which consensus among the 192 participating countries is near impossible—no longer serves its intended purpose of guiding nations toward meaningful, rigorous emissions reductions. "We will consider how to streamline the negotiations process," said UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Monday. "We will also look at how to encompass the full context of climate change and development in the negotiations, both substantively and institutionally."
The world has changed considerably—economically, ecologically, socially, etc., etc.—since the existing UN treaty process was set into motion after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit where countries drafted the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the international treaty that each subsequent Conference of the Parties, or COP, attempted to build on and improve. (Copenhagen was the 15th conference, hence the COP15 moniker.) But whereas the original UNFCCC treaty got away with carving the world into overly simplistic categories—essentially, a) industrialized countries, b) developed countries, and c) developing countries—the world has evolved considerably since then; across a country like India, where "development" is the decades-old rallying cry, you'll find economies and societies industrialized, developed, and developing, all within one nation's borders. Rigid categories like the UN's, then, hardly capture the complexities of today's global economy.
Perhaps, then, the best thing to come out of Copenhagen was clear evidence that the UN's treaty process is outdated and needs fixing. Any new negotiations framework should better balance the needs of the developing world against the developed, and streamline the process so that, like Kyoto before Copenhagen, the fate of a far-reaching, crucial, monumental treaty—that is, if we ever get one—isn't decided in the waning hours by a few world powers.
GOLDMAN SACHS CEO turned Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson wasn't the first, or the last, to use the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington. Here's a short list of Obama officials who got their start in the private sector—many, like Paulson, at "Government Sachs."
CURRENT ROLE IN WASHINGTON
PREVIOUS ROLE ON WALL STREET
Deputy secretary of the treasury (Tim Geithner's No. 2)
Exec at one of the largest insurance and investment firms
For allthefurorover Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone story on Obama's economic team, you couldn't argue with the basic thesis put forward: At the very least, Obama has surrounded himself with powerful Wall Street-centric thinkers and bankers and leaders who dictate his Wall Street-friendly economic agenda. Instead of using the financial meltdown to implement radical and necessary changes, Taibbi writes, "What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place." In May, Simon Johnson described this very revolving door between Washington and Wall Street in a more articulate and less, well, Taibbian piece for The Atlantic; Johnson called Wall Street's takeover "the Quiet Coup."
In our hard-hitting Wall Street package in the new January/February issue of Mother Jones, I put some names on that image of the Washington-Wall Street revolving door. As you'll see, these aren't all midlevel, pencil-pushing bureaucrats. Some of the Wall Street alums now in Obama's upper ranks include:
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's deputy and his chief of staff;
Obama's own chief of staff and chief economic adviser;
the head of TARP;
and the managing executive of the SEC's enforcement division.
Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse. Check out the list of names here, and be sure to check out all of our financial stories as they come out.
What is the Midwest? Where does it start and where does it end? Who lives there? Despite having lived in the Midwest most of my 23 years—albeit in Michigan, which can get away with the "Mid-" but scarcely the "-west"—I've struggled to answer those basic questions about a place I thought I knew quite well. I've asked fellow Midwesterners, but they offer little clarity: The Midwest starts, traveling westward, in Ohio and ends in Kansas, they say, or picks up in West Virginia (Appalachian country to me) and ends in Utah (Utah?!). That the Midwest is manufacturing country, where people make and build things the rest of the US needs (though nowadays that could define China as well). That in the Midwest, and in Kansas in particular, one friend told me, people spoke the clearest, truest form of American english, a claim I've yet to fully understand but nonetheless made me feel proud of where I came from.
For a much more eloquent depiction of my beloved Midwest, I defer to photographer Lara Shipley, based in Missouri. Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, over at The Atlantic, features a series of her photos on the Midwest, and as a completely unbiased Midwesterner, I highly recommend them to all. They remind of Robert Frank's The Americans, but set entirely in the American Midwest. The photos posted, with a mini-essay by Conor Friedersdorf, are especially evocative of the region's economic decay, as manufacturing jobs have been wiped out and unemployment far exceeds the national average in parts of states like Michigan and Ohio. (For another great photo essay on the Midwest, be sure to check out Mother Jones' "End of the Line," a great photo essay by photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier and writer Charlie LeDuff from our Sept/Oct 2009 issue.)
Shipley's Midwest photos are quiet and eclectic, gritty and darkly funny. They're more than worth ten minutes of your time.
Is the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that blocked commercial banks from participating in riskier investment banking, set for a revival? That's what a new piece of legislation, introduced yesterday by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), would do, forcing major changes to financial titans like JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America.
Reestablishing the firewall between commercial and investment banking poses a dilemma for banks such as JPMorgan Chase, which snapped up Bear Stearns' trading operations earlier this year, and massive Citigroup, which includes more staid consumer banking branches as well as riskier trading operations. The already controversial, shotgun-wedded Bank of America and Merrill Lynch relationship wouldn't survive if Glass-Steagall was revived, either. And you can throw Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo into that mix, too. The McCain-Cantwell legislation would give such institutions a year to break up their different banking arms.
The Depression-era law, you'll remember, was abolished in 1999 by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, one of the most significant pieces of deregulatory legislation in the past few decades, paving the way for the emergence of financial behemoths like Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup (though Citi received somewhat of an exemption to grow even before 1999). It's a long shot at this point, but bringing Glass-Steagall back would be a watershed moment for financial regulation and major step toward scaling back the excesses and ridiculous risk-taking of the past decade or so. At the very least it would protect consumers' savings from use in banks' riskier operations.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) is going to introduce similar legislation in the House, the Wall Street Journalreported Wednesday. Hinchey tried to get his bill into the House's big financial-reform package earlier this month, but Democratic leadership blocked him.
Since the Senate probably won't take up financial regulation until early 2010, it's unclear how soon the McCain-Cantwell legislation will get its day in the sun. It could be tucked into the Senate's financial regulation plans, or introduced as an amendment later in the sausage-making process. Either way, it's a promising idea and an encouraging start to the Senate's financial overhaul.