2010 - %3, April

Eco-News Roundup: Friday April 23

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 12:52 PM EDT

The big news: we won a National Magazine Award! Our September/October 2009 issue, which centered around a feature on Fiji Water's greenwashing, was one of three that won an award for "general excellence." And now, the week's environment and health stories from our other blogs:

Earth Day: Meet the Climate Desk, a new collaborative journalism project on climate change.

Bill Boost: Sen. Kerry & Co. say they have support they need for climate bill.

Cancer Coverage: Women diagnosed with breast cancer got their insurance yanked.

Checkup: A month later, more people are in favor of healthcare reform.

Batter Up: Study alleges putting cartoon character on broccoli makes kids like it.

State's Rights: States only have to put up 20% cost of Medicaid expansion.

New Salt: Salt with differently shaped crystals could reduce sodium intake.

Oil Flip Flop: Oil companies say they will back Kerry's climate bill.

Bringing Up Baby: How could parents forget a baby in a car? Easily, unfortunately.

Publicly Pregnant: MTV's "16 and Pregnant" takes an unrealistic view of the subject.

Bug Off: Malaria continues to be a health problem for people around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Obama and His Discontents

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 12:50 PM EDT

David Brooks writes today that all the old left-right wars are back in full swing even though we were all promised differently back in 2008:

The country had just elected a man who vowed to move past the old polarities, who valued discussion and who clearly had some sympathy with both the Burkean and Hamiltonian impulses. He staffed his administration with brilliant pragmatists whose views overlapped with mine, who differed only in that they have more faith in technocratic planning.

Yet things have not worked out for those of us in the broad middle. Politics is more polarized than ever. The two parties have drifted further to the extremes. The center is drained and depressed. What happened?

History happened. The administration came into power at a time of economic crisis. This led it, in the first bloom of self-confidence, to attempt many big projects all at once. Each of these projects may have been defensible in isolation, but in combination they created the impression of a federal onslaught.

Given Brooks' temperament and policy preferences, I'm not surprised that he's discouraged. Still, I really don't understand his basic complaint here. It's true that Barack Obama has a cautious, pragmatic character, but he was also pretty clear during the campaign about what he wanted to do. Let's roll the tape: Healthcare reform. Climate change. A drawdown in Iraq. A stimulus bill. A surge in Afghanistan. More drone attacks in the AfPak region. Ending DADT.

And what has he devoted most of his time to? Healthcare reform. Climate change. A drawdown in Iraq. A stimulus bill. A surge in Afghanistan. More drone attacks in the AfPak region. Ending DADT.

He's also added financial reform to that list, which didn't get a lot attention in 2008 for the obvious reason that we were right in the middle of a financial meltdown and it was too early to figure out what needed to be done on that score. But under the circumstances, surely Brooks doesn't begrudge a focus on this? And surely he doesn't think that it could have been put off much longer than it already has?

Not really. His real complaint, apparently, is this: "Each of these projects may have been defensible in isolation, but in combination they created the impression of a federal onslaught." But I don't think that's true. Remember: Rick Santelli's famous tea party rant from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange was broadcast 30 days after Obama's inauguration and the movement was in full swing a couple of months later. There was no "federal onslaught" at that point, there were just a bunch of smallish things working their way through Congress plus two big ticket items that Obama was pushing hard for: the stimulus bill and healthcare reform.1 The first — compromised in size and including plenty of tax cuts — was, surely, something that no responsible president could have avoided and that any responsible opposition should have accepted. The second was the cornerstone of Obama's campaign, and it was — by a good margin — the most moderate healthcare overhaul that any Democratic president had ever proposed.

So yes: the impression of a federal onslaught was "created." But beware the passive voice. It was created very deliberately by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the Republican opposition. Which is fine. That's their role. But they created it not over an "onslaught," but practically before Obama had even done anything. The only way for Obama to have avoided this fight, then, would have been to almost literally give up his entire domestic agenda. And even that probably wouldn't have done it.

The nature of the opposition to a liberal domestic agenda was always clear, and there was never much Obama could do about it. If you don't like that agenda, that's fine. But it's wrong to pretend that the hysterical opposition it's produced is somehow uniquely Obama's fault. It was inevitable from the day he was elected, and its source has always been perfectly clear.

1The Waxman-Markey climate bill passed the House in June, but then stalled and went nowhere for the next year. It never got the kind of attention that healthcare or the stimulus did.

Obama Slams "Misguided" AZ Immigration Bill

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 11:38 AM EDT

President Barack Obama has strongly denounced a "misguided" Arizona immigration bill that would give police unprecedented authority to question and arrest people because of their immigration status. Obama said Friday morning that the legislation would "open the door to irresponsibility by others" and "threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe," Politico reports. Obama added that he has instructed his administration to closely monitor the civil rights implications of the bill.

The president also suggested that the Arizona bill—which the state's GOP governor, Jan Brewer, has until Saturday to sign or veto—pointed to the urgent need for federal-level immigration reform. "If we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country," Obama said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have also indicated that a comprehensive immigration overhaul could happen this year, even ahead of a climate and energy bill.

In fact, Obama reached out this week to Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and other Senate Republicans to ask them to consider supporting immigration reform. And in a conference call Thursday night, Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who released his own reform bill last year, reiterated the need for GOP backing in the House as well. Estimating that an immigration bill would gather about 200 or 205 Democratic votes, Gutierrez said, “We’re going to need about 20 Republicans. This is not rhetoric from the Democratic Party trying to slip and slide away, it’s just true—we have to go and find them.”

Rights Stuff to Read

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 11:30 AM EDT

It's been an exciting and unsettling week:

Obama ended hospital-visitation discrimination for gays. The first lady went to Haiti, and there are pictures!

The Supreme Court decided not to hear the case of a man on death row whose judge and prosecutor were literally in bed together.

A 10-year-old girl in Mexico is being forced to carry the child of her molesting stepfather.

No one knows why maternal mortality's going up among African Americans in NYC.

Free speech won some additional protection, although at the expense of rodents who get crushed by chicks in high heels for fetish videos.

Berkeley students can now wipe their asses with John Yoo's ethics.

The Non-Nuclear Nuke

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 11:12 AM EDT

For years the Pentagon has been wrestling with a problem: when you get intel telling you that a high-value terrorist has been located somewhere, how do you take him out? They aren't likely to stick around at the target location for long, so you need something that can (a) get there quickly and (b) cause a lot of damage once it does. Bombers and cruise missiles take hours. Local forces, even if they're in place, aren't always lethal enough. What to do?

One answer is to use ICBMs. Not nuclear-tipped ICBMs, but missiles with a big conventional payload. The Obama administration is apparently planning to revive this idea, and Noah Shachtman explains why it's crazy:

Over and over again, the Bush administration tried to push the idea of these conventional ICBMs. Over and over again, Congress refused to provide the funds for it. The reason was pretty simple: those anti-terror missiles look and fly exactly like the nuclear missiles we’d launch at Russia or China, in the event of Armageddon. “For many minutes during their flight patterns, these missiles might appear to be headed towards targets in these nations,” a congressional study notes. That could have world-changing consequences. “The launch of such a missile,” then-Russian president Vladimir Putin said in a state of the nation address after the announcement of the Bush-era plan, “could provoke a full-scale counterattack using strategic nuclear forces.”

I guess I can imagine possible ways to fix this. I just can't imagine any good ways. Even if the Russians and Chinese and Indians and Pakistanis are provided with some reliable way of identifying non-nuclear ICBM launches, they could never be sure that the United States hadn't figured out some way to fool them. So they'd always be on a short fuse. And do we really want to make that particular fuse even shorter than it already is?

Sometimes bad ideas are just bad ideas. This really seems like one of them.

Climate Bill Gets a Boost

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 10:50 AM EDT

The KGL team — that's senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman for those of you not up to speed with current Beltway lingo — anounced yesterday that they've gotten key business support for their climate bill:

The Edison Electric Institute — whose members generate the bulk of the nation's electricity — and two of its influential CEOs, Exelon's John Rowe and Duke Energy's Jim Rogers, will declare their support Monday, sources said. While Kerry did not name the three oil companies, a source familiar with the negotiations said Shell, BP and ConocoPhillips would back the climate measure.

And why did these folks decide to support the bill? Here's the big payoff:

The bill will preempt both the states' and EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, as long as emitters comply with the standards outlined in the measure. The EPA will monitor and enforce compliance with the law.

That's pretty much been the plan all along: use the threat of EPA action to gain support from Republicans and the business community. It seems to be working on the business community, so the only question left is whether it will work on Republicans. Normally I'd say no, but the threat of EPA action is quite real and might prompt the GOP's business wing to put some serious pressure on them to get this bill passed. That will mean standing up to the "carbon taxes are tyranny" crowd in the tea party movement, but in the past the business wing of the party has usually won these kinds of showdowns. It's still not clear if there's enough time on the congressional calendar to pass a climate bill this year, but at least the odds are now a little better. Kate Sheppard has more details here.

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Dem Defectors on Wall Street Reform?

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 10:35 AM EDT

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), has set the stage for a full Senate debate on the financial reform bill to begin Monday evening. Reid's decision to charge ahead on overhauling Wall Street—and not let closed-door talks drag on—drew fire from Republicans, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.), who said a Monday cloture vote "would be unfortunate in view of the fact that both sides of the negotiations say that progress is being made." That said, Reid's push looks to be dividing Senate GOPers, who can't seem to agree on a unified strategy on financial reform, the Wall Street Journal reports. A bigger question, though, is whether all of Reid's own Democratic brethren stand behind his latest plan.

While numerous Dems took to the Senate floor yesterday to stump for the finance reform bill, an animated Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said that not only were Republicans objecting to Reid's push but admitted that some "on the majority side as well" didn't necessarily want a Senate-wide debate so soon. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the majority whip, told Roll Call last week that he, too, wasn't sure whether all 59 Democrats supported the bill. That could mean Reid, Dodd, and other top Democrats merely need to twist a few more arms to ensure everyone's on board. Or are there some Senate Democrats not ready to take the financial reform battle to the floor?

Greece Hits the Panic Button

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 10:10 AM EDT

The soap opera in Greece is nearing its final stage:

Describing his country’s economy as “a sinking ship,” the Greek prime minister formally requested an international bailout on Friday, an unprecedented step that will test the bonds of the European Union.

....“The time has come for us to ask our partners in the E.U. to activate the mechanism we formulated together,” he said, referring to an emergency aid package arranged two weeks ago. The plan foresees up to €30 billion, or $40 billion, in loans from Greece’s euro-zone partners, as well as up to €15 billion from the International Monetary Fund.

....The announcement means that money from the I.M.F. can be expedited once the board of the fund has approved the terms. The fund is expected to provide €12 billion, according to E.U. officials. “We are prepared to move expeditiously on this request,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the I.M.F. managing director, said in a statement issued in Washington.

The IMF money is just a stopgap. The real question is how quickly the EU will approve its part of the rescue and whether it will fix Greece's problems anyway. "The markets are betting on the country going bankrupt," one Greek official told the Wall Street Journal, and once the markets do that they generally don't stop, bailout or not. My guess is that speculators are going to start a regime of betting-with-extreme-prejudice pretty quickly, and it's not at all clear that even €40 billion will be enough for Greece to defend itself from that. And then Portugal will be up to bat. Stay tuned.

Kerry: Industry to Back Climate Bill

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 10:05 AM EDT

When Sens. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman release their climate bill on Monday, they expect to have the backing of three of the five major oil companies, Mother Jones has learned. In a conference call with a coalition of progressive business leaders on Thursday evening, Kerry said he believes those companies will "actively participate in supporting this bill." He hopes the other big oil companies will at least hold their fire on the bill, and added that he believes the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry's major trade group, will call off its ad campaign attacking the legislation.

Kerry also said that the Edison Electric Institute—the main trade group representing utilities—will support their measure. "We are bringing to the table a significant group of players who were never there for the Waxman-Markey bill," Kerry said. (Whilie Edison supported Waxman-Markey, it was opposed by several big oil companies and API).

Read the rest of this post on Blue Marble.

Why Obama Needs To Name Names

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 9:22 AM EDT

After President Barack Obama on Thursday delivered a speech on Wall Street reform in which he decried the "battalions of financial industry lobbyists descending on Capitol Hill, as firms spend millions to influence the outcome of this debate," I noted that the president had done "what too many politicians often do when they describe how special interests game Washington; he stayed vague." That is, he named no names. He didn't call out the specific firms, CEOS, or lobbyists trying to thwart the financial regulation reform legislation he's pushing. Today, ThinkProgress shows why it would be important if Obama did that: because, naturally, the lobbyists themselves refuse to out themselves.

As Obama was delivering that speech in New York City, financial lobbyists were holding a fundraiser in Washington for Senate Republicans. The obvious goal: help those who have been helping Big Finance block Wall Street reform. ThinkProgress reports:

The invitation to the fundraiser, obtained by the Party Time blog of the Sunlight Foundation, shows that the it was hosted by lobbyists Wendy Grubb, Kirsten Chadwick, Scott Reed, and a variety of corporate PACs. Grubb is a top lobbyist for Citigroup, a bank that took taxpayer TARP funds and has yet to repay them. Chadwick, a former staffer to Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), is a lobbyist for Zurich Financial Group, a financial services conglomerate.

ThinkProgress, along with several other journalists, waited outside of the fundraiser at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) building. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) walked quickly past reporters into his car, refusing to take questions. Both Sens. Cornyn and George Lemieux (R-FL) dodged reporters by driving into the NRSC’s underground lot. Although ThinkProgress tried to ask both GOP lawmakers and the other attendees of the fundraiser about regulation reform legislation, only Charlie Black spoke to us. Black is a longtime corporate lobbyist who now represents a variety of investment banks, including Goldman Sachs, within a trade group called the "Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association."

ThinkProgress attempted to talk to the attendees of the event, but everyone other than Black refused to even provide their names.

And that's on this delicious video:

 

According to Obama, these guys are attempting to thwart legislation that is essential for the security of the US economy. The public ought to know who they are.