2009 - %3, October

Farm Lobby's Estate Tax Handouts

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 2:01 PM EDT

If you thought the ag lobby only cared about cows, think again. As Kevin Drum explains in his article for the November/December 2009 issue, the farm lobby has it in for any climate bill that would limit their emissions. Not only that, they'll keep on lobbying despite their successes.

The ag lobby isn't just interested in climate, though. They're also very concerned with the estate tax. Major players like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the American Farm Bureau have loudly expressed their support for a bill currently in committee, HR 3905,  which would keep estate taxes at 2009 levels indefinitely. At 2009 levels, only estates worth $3.5 million ($7 million for couples) or more would be taxed at 45%. If Congress does not pass a bill, the 2009 levels would be suspended in 2010, and in 2011 estate taxes would be back where they were under George W. Bush in 2001: a 55% tax on all estates worth $1 million or more. However, today House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he expects the House will amend or revise the estate tax, but he didn't specify exactly how. If Congress passes HR 3905, all estates under $5 million would be exempted from the "death tax," as the NCBA calls it, and the taxation rate would be reduced from 45% to 35%.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Valley-ism

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 1:31 PM EDT

The Washington Post has a big story today about Matthew Hoh, a former Marine who served in Iraq and then joined the Foreign Service earlier this year to work in Afghanistan.  He resigned last month after becoming disillusioned with the war.

First off, here's the basic timeline of Hoh's service:

He arrived in Zabul following two months in a civilian staff job at the military brigade headquarters in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. It was in Jalalabad that his doubts started to form....By the time Hoh arrived at the U.S. military-run provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in the Zabul capital of Qalat [in July], he said, "I already had a lot of frustration. But I knew at that point, the new administration was . . . going to do things differently. So I thought I'd give it another chance."

I confess that this makes me a little skeptical about the whole story.  Hoh "already had a lot of frustration" after two months?  And he quit two months after that?  Unless Hoh is the fastest learner on the planet, that really doesn't seem like enough time to get very far up the learning curve.

Still, everybody the Post talked to has a ton of respect for the guy, and his critique is pretty simple and specific:

Hoh was assigned to research the response to a question asked by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during an April visit. Mullen wanted to know why the U.S. military had been operating for years in the Korengal Valley, an isolated spot near Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan where a number of Americans had been killed. Hoh concluded that there was no good reason. The people of Korengal didn't want them; the insurgency appeared to have arrived in strength only after the Americans did, and the battle between the two forces had achieved only a bloody stalemate.

Korengal and other areas, he said, taught him "how localized the insurgency was. I didn't realize that a group in this valley here has no connection with an insurgent group two kilometers away." Hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups across Afghanistan, he decided, had few ideological ties to the Taliban but took its money to fight the foreign intruders and maintain their own local power bases.

"That's really what kind of shook me," he said. "I thought it was more nationalistic. But it's localism. I would call it valley-ism."

Hmmm.  Afghanistan was a tribal region in the 90s too, but the Taliban still managed to take over a pretty big chunk of the country and provide al-Qaeda with an operating base.  Valleyism won't necessarily keep that from happening again.

Still, Hoh's evaluation is pretty orthodox.  I basically think he's right, and apparently so does Richard Holbrooke, who told the Post, "I agreed with much of his analysis."  What's less clear is what he thinks we ought to do about it.  So I'd be interested in hearing more from serious Afghanistan bloggers and analysts: Is Hoh right?  And if so, what's the answer?

Obama Admin Announces $3.4 Billion for Smart Grid

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 1:04 PM EDT

Barack Obama on Tuesday announced $3.4 billion in funding for smart grid technology, the largest investment in energy grid modernization in history.

"There's something big happening in America in terms of creating a clean-energy economy," Obama said, adding that there is much more to be done.

The funds will be used to deploy "smart meters," a digital technology that delivers information on energy usage to both customers and to utilities. For homeowners, this would be a display in the house that gives a readout on electricity use, which is in turn connected to the electricity providers so they can better coordinate their energy delivery.

The investment was announced during Obama's visit to Florida Power and Light’s DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia, Florida. FPL received a $200 million grant, which will be used to install 2.6 million smart meters and other technologies designed to cut energy costs for customers. This kind of investment will help build a "smarter, stronger and more secure electric grid," Obama said.

Grants were awarded to 100 different companies as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, for projects in every state except Alaska. They're matched with $4.7 billion industry funding, so the total investment is worth more than $8 billion. The White House also released a map of the locations for the smart grid projects.

The Anti-Denialism Deniers

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 12:25 PM EDT

In the LA Times today, Jonah Goldberg takes on the global warming movement:

The push in Congress for a huge new carbon tax is a dangerous farce. Yes, it's true that CO2 levels and global temperatures have risen since the Industrial Revolution, and that's something to take seriously. But the political reality is that truly meaningful global restrictions on CO2 emissions in the near future simply will not happen, and pretending otherwise is a waste of time, money and political capital.

....That's the case Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner make in their book, "SuperFreakonomics," which is already being torn apart by environmentalists horrified at the notion they might lose their license to Get Things Done as they see fit.

Is the atmosphere getting too hot? Cool it down by reflecting away more sunlight. The ocean's getting too acidic? Give it some antacid.

The technology's not ready. But pursuing it for a couple of decades will cost pennies compared with carbon rationing.

I've read a million anti-warming diatribes in the past few years, but something about this one irritated me more than usual.  I think it was the desperately flip tone.  Goldberg clearly doesn't want to be part of the outright denialist school — they're a wee bit too vulgar, I suppose — but he wants to deny nevertheless.  So he tosses out a few jokes, takes on the weakest possible arguments for addressing climate change (they want to kill your dog!), and then latches on to Levitt and Dubner's new book as a supposedly sober and scientific way of advocating total inaction.  Never mind that Levitt and Dubner themselves, as well as everyone quoted in their book, has stated clearly that CO2 reduction is essential, should be pursued with vigor, and that geoengineering research should be done in addition to, not instead of, greenhouse gas reductions.

And this, whether or not Levitt and Dubner intended it, is the problem with their book.  They may include sentences here and there implying that geoengineering is a last resort, not a first one, but that's very clearly not the lesson most people have taken away from their discussion.  The lesson most people have taken away is the one that Goldberg obviously took: we should throw a few billion dollars into 18-mile sulfate tubes, stop worrying about global warming, and get back to business.  L&D really owed it to their readers not to allow anyone to reasonably leave with that interpretation.

As for Goldberg, he wonders somberly why public belief in global warming has declined lately and decides (natch) that it's the Democrats' fault for actually trying to do something about it.  The fact that his side of the aisle has waged a blistering, no-holds-barred denialism war for the past few years apparently has nothing to do with it.  But he should be more willing to take credit for a job well done.  Conservatives hate international treaties, they hate business regulations of any kind, and they hate Al Gore.  Convincing the public that global warming is just a liberal fraud is sort of a trifecta for them.  Nice work.

The Bad News About the MRAP-ATV

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 11:42 AM EDT

Today's war photo of the day is of a brand-new mine-resistant, ambush-protected all-terrain vehicles (MRAP-ATV or M-ATV) sitting at Kandahar airfield in Afghanistan. The very first M-ATVs designated for use in Southern Afghanistan arrived last Thursday, October 22. (The first batch of M-ATVs arrived earlier this month.) Think about that for a minute. It's taken eight years to start getting US soldiers in Afghanistan vehicles that can both protect them from roadside bombs and maneuver on the country's rough terrain. The good news, according to defense secretary Robert Gates, is that thousands more M-ATVs will arrive in theater over the next year. But you have to wonder how many lives could have been saved if the military had prioritized fighting the current war (instead of building F-22s for the next war) back in 2001, and you have to wonder whether all this effort is coming too late.

Quote of the Day

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 11:16 AM EDT

From Jon Kingsdale, director of the Massachusetts health insurance exchange, on reining in healthcare spending in America:

If you're going to do health-care cost containment, it's going to have to be stealth. It's going to have to happen before any of the players understand what's happening.

Well, either stealth or main force, anyway.  If the former doesn't work, eventually we'll resort to the latter whether anyone likes it or not.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Chamber Sues the Yes Men

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 8:15 AM EDT

The Chamber of Commerce is suing the Yes Men over the parody press conference the group pulled off last week.

The Chamber has filed a civil complaint in the US District Court of Washington, DC, accusing Yes Men Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos (also known as Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, respectively) of trademark infringement, unfair competition and false advertising. The Chamber's suit also lists several members of the DC-based activist group the Avaaz Action Factory as co-defendants. The conduct of those who organized the event was "destructive of public discourse," the Chamber argues.

As the Yes Men have a new film in theaters currently, The Yes Men Fix the World, the Chamber also alleges that the prank was part of a "comprehensive scheme to promote their movie by wrongdoing against the plaintiff"—rather than an event meant to call attention to the organization's views on climate change.

"The defendants are not merry pranksters tweaking the establishment," said the Chamber in a press release issued with the suit. "Instead, they deliberately broke the law in order to further commercial interest in their books, movies, and other merchandise."

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 27, 2009

Tue Oct. 27, 2009 7:48 AM EDT

A new mine-resistant, ambush-protected all-terrain vehicle, built specifically for the mountainous Afghan terrain, parks next to a larger MRAP, MaxxPro Dash. The first M-ATVs designated for Southern Afghanistan arrived at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, by air transport, Oct. 22, 2009. (US Army photo via army.mil.)

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday October 27

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 7:41 AM EDT

News from our other blogs on healthcare, nature, the environment, and energy.

President's Choice: Obama may or may not have the leverage to push one public option ahead of the pack.

Sneak of the Week: Are Democrats "sneaking" a public option through the Senate?

Big Ag: Kevin Drum has a new piece on the farm lobby and why it's wrecking the climate.

Happy Caturday: Inkblot and Domino, now cover models.

Penny Saver: EPA finds Kerry-Boxer climate bill would have low cost to households.

Apples v. Oranges: Kerry-Boxer is weaker than Waxman-Markey despite better GHG targets.

Reid's Option: On what a Harry Reid public option would look like, and if it could fly.

Clean(er) Coal: Government moves ahead with clean coal projects, despite scrutiny.

Climate 101: Kate Sheppard gives the ins-and-outs of Boxer's climate proposal.

Opting Out: Reid's public option, opt-out included, moves closer to reality.

 

 

Need To Read: October 27, 2009

Tue Oct. 27, 2009 7:36 AM EDT

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.)