2009 - %3, October

Hate Crimes Measure Changes Dem, GOP Positions on War Funding

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 4:45 AM PDT

The Senate approved groundbreaking hate crimes legislation that includes violent crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation in addition to race, color, religion and national origin. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named after two men who were brutally killed in 1998 for their sexual orientation and race, respectively, was attached to a defense spending bill that allocates $680 billion for the Pentagon’s 2010 budget.

"Too many in our community have been devastated by hate violence," said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese in a press release. "We now can begin the important steps to erasing hate in our country."

But the issue was much more complex for senators. Though "supporting the troops" generally takes precedence for Republicans, 28 voted against the DOD budget, which includes a 3.4 percent military pay raise and funding to promote a second engine for the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

"It's a shame that this piece of legislation was added to a bill that’s supposed to be about supporting our troops," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who opposed the measure.

In another surprising move, liberal Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) was the lone Democrat to vote against the bill. In a statement, Feingold said that despite the bill's "important provisions," which include the hate crimes legislation, "it does nothing to bring our open-ended and disproportionate military commitment in Afghanistan to an end or to ensure that our troops are safely and expeditiously redeployed from Iraq."

To sum up: a measure protecting gay people from violent crime was enough to cause Republicans to pull their typically solid support for the troops and cause most Democrats to approve the bloated war funding they opposed vociferously during the Bush years.

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Make Your Own MoJo Climate Cover!

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 4:25 AM PDT

Impatient? Skip this post, start playing with the app!
 
Still here? Okay. If you're sick of the political inaction (or worse) on the most important issue of our time; if you think your kid or your cat is the cutest ever; if you really need to one-up those relatives who always send out those perfect family greeting cards; or if you're frustrated by stick-figure cover models made possible only via the magic of Photoshop; well, Mother Jones is here to help.
 
We've made an app that lets you put your kid/cat/aunt/whatever on the cover of our issue devoted to the political and economic changes that climate change will bring. Send it to your friends, your members of Congress, even President Obama. We'll feature some on our site (if you give us permission, of course).
 
This is just one (fun) part of our efforts on this topic. We're also pulling together a broad collaborative effort between many prominent news organizations to cover this topic better than any of us could on our own. (Read an interview on this initiative here.) In a few weeks we're sending 350.org founder and MoJo contributor Bill McKibben, MoJo DC bureau chief David Corn and reporter Kate Sheppard to Copenhagen to cover the global climate talks. There, they'll team up with other news organizations, and even comedian Eugene Mirman, to give the conference the kind of fearless coverage it deserves.
 
We need your help to support our coverage. To send Bill, David, and Kate to Cophenhagen and keep the heat on. Imagine what it would mean if we hadn't exposed how ExxonMobil has been funding climate change denialists. Or how the US Chamber of Commerce inflated its membership numbers as part of its anti-climate initiative (reporting that's been hailed by the Washington Post Rachel Maddow, and the New Yorker, among others). Or why seemingly disparate weather issues have scientists so worried.
 
So please consider donating to Mother Jones. As a nonprofit, we depend on you to respect and support the kind of work we do. And when it comes to the climate, all of our futures hang in the balance.
 
Oh, and... go make your cover! And if you like it, tell your friends.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 23, 2009

Fri Oct. 23, 2009 4:19 AM PDT

Cpl. Daniel P. Collins, a squad leader with Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan, watches over the Marines from 1st platoon as they clear a field. Collins and his Marines conduct patrols in Lakari village in an effort to disrupt insurgent resupply routes. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Michael Curvin.)

Need To Read: October 23, 2009

Fri Oct. 23, 2009 4:17 AM PDT

Today's must-reads:

Get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. 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.)

Eco-News Roundup: Friday, October 23

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 4:00 AM PDT | Scheduled to publish Fri Oct. 23, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

Environment, science, and health news from around the site:

Mining minister mystery: A senator anonymously blocked Obama's appointment of Joseph Pizarchik, who has a history of favoring coal industry interests, as head of the Office of Surface Mining.

Chamber plays the blame game: The US Chamber of Commerce says its misleading membership claims were "hardly our fault."

Where will all the permits go? The Kerry-Boxer climate bill has a big piece missing: It says almost nothing about how pollution permits will be allocated.

Obama's radioactive regulator: Why did the White House pick a cheerleader for nuclear energy to oversee the industry?

What's in it for us? Here's what it'll take to get the fence-sitters to approve the climate bill.

Hey Prius people! Ditch the Chamber! The liberal activist group MoveOn is pressuring Toyota—maker of the eco-status-symbol Prius—to leave the embattled US Chamber of Commerce.

Your friendly neighborhood climate-bill critics: The Cost of Energy Information Project (CEIP) is a new organization, but a lot of the same old critics of climate-change policy are behind it.

House Approves Solar Roadmap 310-106

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 5:13 PM PDT

"Clearly," said CJ Karamargin, "we have an issue here that cuts across some of the divisions in Congress."

Just as clearly, Karamargin, press secretary to Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), was understating events. By a vote of 310 to 106 -- nearly a 3:1 margin -- the House of Representatives today passed the Solar Technology Roadmap Act, introduced by Rep. Giffords. The bill authorizes $2.25 billion to help fund solar power research, development and demonstration projects. It also directs the Secretary of Energy to create an eleven-person committee to advise where those funds would be best spent.

 

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Fixing the Banks

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 4:15 PM PDT

Martin Wolf explains how he'd fix the banking system:

First, create a set of laws and institutions that make it possible to bankrupt any and all institutions, even in a crisis. Second, make financial institutions safer, with much higher capital requirements, against all activities. Third, prevent off-balance-sheet activities. Fourth, impose dynamic provisioning. Fifth, require huge cushions of contingent capital. Finally, cease to favour debt-finance, throughout the economy.

This is very sensible sounding: the first item is a backstop in case the others don't work, and four of the remaining five items are aimed at reducing leverage throughout the banking system.  (Dynamic provisioning is the exception.  It might be a good idea, but it's not directly related to reducing leverage.)  Now extend this to the rest of the financial system and make sure to write the rules with no wiggle room, and you're done.  Piece of cake, really.  Any other problems you'd like solved?

Third Time's the Charm?

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 2:56 PM PDT

Back in 1998, Long Term Capital Management, the most famous hedge fund on the planet, blew up and nearly took all of Wall Street down with it.  It was pretty spectacular.  But what was even more spectacular was what happened next: less than a year after LTCM's collapse, its founder, John Meriwether, started up a new fund.  And people invested in it!

Well, fine.  It was a more innocent time, after all, and there were people who really believed that LTCM had just run into a once-in-a-century spell of bad luck.  Can't blame a guy for that.  But last year Meriwether's new fund went belly up too.  So that's twice.  He must really be a pariah now, right?  Right?

Hedge fund manager and arbitrageur, John Meriwether, is setting up his third fund, The Financial Times reported. The man behind Long-Term Capital Management is making the move just three months after he chose to close his second fund manager, JWM Partners.

I guess you saw that coming, didn't you?  But it's even worse than you think:

JWM Partners closed last year after losing 44% amidst the market turmoil of 2008. Hedge funds typically have "high water marks" which means that investors don't pay performance fees to the fund manager in subsequent years unless the fund surpasses its highest point. Thus, the solution for fund managers whenever they have a bad year is to liquidate, wait a bit, and form a new fund?!?! Anyone who was invested in the old fund and the new fund thus pays fees twice: you paid when JWM Partners reached its high water mark, and now you'll pay again if/when Meriweather Cubed (not the real name) manages to make money — the same money JWM Partners effectively lost after reaching its high water mark.

Damn.  Words fail.  Via Felix Salmon.

DOI's Polar Bear Problem

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 2:40 PM PDT

Congratulations, polar bears! You've just won 200,541 square miles of Alaskan habitat... maybe. After being sued by several environmental groups, the US Fish & Wildlife Service announced today that polar bears may receive what's thought to be the largest critical habitat ever. Too bad just earlier this week the Minerals Management Service announced that they'd approved Shell to drill in some of those those same 200,541 square miles. So what's it gonna be? Oil, or bears? Right now, that's to be determined. Fish & Wildlife will open a 60-day public comment period on the bear habitat proposal, but doesn't have to make a final decision on whether to actually award the land under the Endangered Species Act until June 30, 2010.

The proposed polar bear habitat, if it gets awarded, is extensive enough to encompass summer and winter sea ice, terrestrial denning areas, and islands. The terrestrial portion is in the Northern part of Alaska, some of it within a 20 mile radius from the US-Canada border, and some of it within a 5 mile radius of Barrow and the Kavik River. The sea ice/water portion extends over the Continental Shelf and includes water up to 300 meters deep. Under the Endangered Species Act, now that the polar bear is finally listed, the government must designate critical habitat.

But that's not stopping the State of Alaska: this week it filed a supplement to its 2008 lawsuit  contending that the government didn't really listen to its concerns before listing the polar bear as endangered. In a press conference yesterday, Alaska's attorney general said the state was doing "a good job in protecting the species," and that the government's models predicting further sea ice declines were "flawed." A representative from the Center for Biological Diversity, quoted by the AP, begged to differ

"We are really disappointed to see that the state of Alaska is continuing to deny the science of climate change... It is ironic in a state that is feeling the impacts of global warming before everyone else that the state would take this position that can only hurt Alaskans." 

 

India Stands to Lose Most at Copenhagen

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 1:32 PM PDT

Few countries have as much to lose from global climate change as India. The nation's water supply is largely dependent on rainwater from the Asian Monsoon and meltwater from Himalayan glaciers. Both are severely threatened in a changing climate.

Yet today Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India will not sacrifice its development for a new climate change deal in Copenhagen. Sadly, Singh is following a long line of short-sighted leaders failing to see that development will be not only arrested but reversed in the severe climate change scenarios looming if Copenhagen fails to yield a consequential decision.

In the next issue of MoJo, due on the stands in a few days, Bill McKibben writes that Copenhagen will be the most important diplomatic gathering in the world's history. The truth is, few people are more dependent on its outcome than the people of India—the 1 in 7 on Earth who will suffer more than you and me—even though my country produced the majority of greenhouse gases plaguing the world now.

Why? Because 1.2 billion Indians are already living at the far edge of their nation's ability to provide. There is not a molecule of buffer zone built into their supplies of water and food.

It's unfair. India should not have to sacrifice its development because my country got its development. But planetary systems are dispassionate and indiscriminate. They will make India pay for problems India did not make.

So Singh can stubbornly say he will not sacrifice his nation's economic development for a climate change deal in Copenhagen. But what he's really saying to the people of India is: Screw you.

Meanwhile, TreeHugger reports that India's Environment Minister, Jairam Ramash, is urging Singh to reduce national emission to COP15 without financial commitments and technological support from the US and other rich nations. Some in India see the future worth fighting for.

I've just returned from India, from that brief glorious moment when the monsoon switches off and the air is washed clean. But it only lasted 48 hours. The miles and miles of bumper-to-bumper coal trucks I saw snaking their way through the mountain roads of Meghalaya continued to deliver their loads. The people continued to burn this coal on their way to economic prosperity—to what may well rank as the shortest-lived economic prosperity in history. A glorious 48 hours of halcyon promise before the hammer falls.

When I flew away from India, the Asian brown cloud of coal smoke and diesel had coalesced, obscuring the sun and other stars, obscuring the sight of India from the air.