After a controversial draft of a climate treaty was leaked from the host Danish government earlier this week, questions were raised about Danish leadership (host nations usually play a crucial role in the talks, i.e., Japan in 1997 at COP3 Kyoto) and the strength of a final Copenhagen treaty. Because the Danish draft allows much higher per capita emissions up to 2050 than previous drafts, and because it gives the UN a lesser role in climate financing for poorer nations, developing nations reacted harshly to the leaked draft, including staging impromptu protests in Copenhagen.
Today, though, the Los Angeles Timesreports that major developing nations actually helped craft the same draft they're protesting:
Developing countries including China, India, Brazil, Algeria, Ethiopia and Bangladesh had "input into the process and product" of the proposed agreement, the source [with "deep knowledge of the negotiations"] said.
Representatives of those nations knew about the agreement's most controversial provisions, including commitments for greenhouse gas reductions by developing countries and a reduced role for the United Nations in climate policy, well before the summit began. It was unclear if everyone in the room agreed to every provision.
As many have pointed out, the Danish draft was largely perceived as developed countries applying some pressure on their poorer counterparts as part of the negotiation process. "The rich countries are demanding something in return for the dollars they are promising to spend," the Financial Times' Fiona Harvey recently wrote, "rather than doing what some developing countries and many NGOs demand, which is to give that money for free as 'reparations' for the damage they have already done to the climate." But if several major developing countries had a hand in the Danish text, then perhaps that's evidence of some early agreement bridging the developed-developing chasm—which, if you remember, pretty much sunk the Kyoto Protocol from a US perspective—on what language could make it into a final, necessary treaty.
At this point, it's hard to understate how much of a bust the Obama administration's Making Home Affordable program has been. As I've written before, the centerpiece of that initiative is the Home Affordable Modification Program, a $75 billion effort to work with lenders, servicers, and homeowners in order to lower home mortgage payments; when the program was rolled out in March, the administration projected it could help 3 to 4 million struggling homeowners.
Fast forward ten months to yesterday’s testimony by bailout chief Herb Allison. HAMP, Allison told the House financial services committee, has helped "thousands of borrowers" receive permanent changes to their mortgages. That's it? Predicting this response, Allison went on to say, "Although we know that not every borrower will qualify for a permanent modification, we are disappointed in the permanent modification results thus far. We all need to do better at converting borrowers to permanent modifications."
If you recall, the Congressional Oversight Panel, led by Elizabeth Warren, reported (PDF) this fall that as of September 1 the number of permanent modifications was a meager 1,711. For a program with $75 billion at its disposal. Bearing in mind the COP's findings, if the total permanent modifications—i.e., real, sustainable help for homeowners—is still in the thousands as of Allison's testimony yesterday, then maybe it's time to state the obvious: This program is a failure. The administration should cut its losses, ditch HAMP, and find a better use for billions of taxpayer dollars in solving our still-roiling housing nightmare, where foreclosures remain at record levels and experts see the pain continuing well into 2010.
A senior director for Amherst Securities Group who testified alongside Allison yesterday said as much, insisting that HAMP won't help a majority of the homeowners it was intended for. The director, Laurie Goodman, insisted that HAMP was "destined to fail," adding, "If policies continue to kick the can down the road—working with a modification problem that does not address negative equity—delinquencies will continue to spiral with no end in sight."
At the end of a week in mid-October when the Dow Jones soared past 10,000, Goldman Sachs recorded "just another fantastic quarter" with a $3.2 billion quarterly profit, JPMorgan Chase raked in a cool $3.6 billion, and a New York Timesheadline declared"Bailout Helps Revive Banks, And Bonuses," I spent a Saturday evening with about 100 people camped out in a northern California parking lot. A passerby, stealing a quick glance, might have taken the crowd for avid concertgoers staked out for tickets. There was, however, no concert here—just weary, huddled souls, slouched in vinyl folding chairs, covered by blankets, windbreakers, and knit hats against a late autumn chill.
A ragged line of them wound through the lot outside the entrance to the Cow Palace, a dingy arena decades past its prime on the southern edge of San Francisco. These people, and thousands more like them who had streamed into the arena all day long from as far away as Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, were unemployed, broke, bankrupt, or at their wit's end. They were here waiting for help—for their chance to make it inside the warm arena to participate in "America's Best Mortgage Program."
For these homeowners, the last shot at saving their homes—and their personal version of the American Dream—lay under the glow of the floodlights in a expanse where tiers of brown and yellow seats encircled a desk-lined floor more accustomed to livestock shows and rodeos. This was, in fact, the latest stop on the "Save the Dream" tour, a massive homeowner-relief event organized by a consumer advocate group, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA).
Here's an experiment: Ask someone of my generation (I'm 23) to name a few jazz artists they like. If they're not fans, ask them to name any jazz artist at all—good or bad, older or more recent, doesn't matter the instrument. Expect to hear responses like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, possibly Wynton Marsalis, maybe Louis Armstrong or Thelonious Monk, and—well, that's about it.
Mention the names Art Farmer or Jimmy Smith or Art Blakey, or any of the other stars on the latest installment in the Jazz Icons DVD series, and you'll cue up shrugs and blank stares. But rather than bemoan the fact, let's instead stress the importance of the latest Jazz Icons set—fourth in this series—which preserves a collection of timeless, masterful 1960s concerts featuring some of the best damn playing (on drums, piano, hollow-body guitar, flugelhorn, you name it) audiences had ever heard.
The US Chamber of Commerce, the massive business organization that's taken a shellacking in the media lately for its climate-change stance (among other things), apparently can't take a joke. Last month, prompted in part by Mother Jones' coverage of the Chamber's shenanigans, the Yes Menheld a phony press conference purporting to be the Chamber and announcing the group's about-face on climate matters; now, the Yes Men-turned-PR-flacks said, the Chamber would be eagerly supporting climate legislation on Capitol Hill. The real Chamber, however, was far from pleased—so much that they're suing the Yes Men for the stunt.
While the ensuing legal action may be novel, the spectacle of political prankery has a rich history. From Joey Skaggs' infamous New York "Cathouse for Dogs" to the phony pundit Martin Eisenstadt of the 2008 election, there's no shortage of memorable pranks in this country, as Dave Gilson describes in his new story "Jumping the Snark" in Mother Jones' November/December print issue. But more importantly, Gilson asks, are these kinds of clever hoaxes a dying art?
Gone are the days of Skaggs and cultural icon Abbie Hoffman; now we have the CollegeHumor "prank war" and Bruno and Borat—funny, but lacking the weight of the hoaxes of yore. Pranks, Gilson writes, "have morphed from an outlet for political and artistic outsiders into another form of popular amusement," where everyone can try to be a prankster and the better organized gags are used to peddle Taco Bell.
Which isn't to say the prank is dead; it's just evolving, Gilson says. "Just as Sacha Baron Cohen's first three personas have gotten stale and the Yes Men are searching for a new gig," he writes, "so will the current crop of predictable pranksters be pushed aside by a new batch of jokers who've concluded that it’s better to light a stink bomb than curse the darkness."
Find Mother Jones' ongoing coverage of the Chamber of Commerce here.
Read about how climate activist prankster Tim DeChristopher put one over on the Bureau of Land Management here.