Eco-News Roundup: Friday, October 9

Green-ish news from our other blogs:

Whose line is it anyway? If you wondered how the US Chamber of Commerce came up with its hard-line climate policy, you're not alone: Chamber insiders say its board of directors and its committees never formally endorsed the policy.

Scum artists: Some slimy algae biofuel companies have promised impossible amounts of oil based on speculation, raising millions from unwitting investors.

Don't try this at home: In Copenhagen cars are taxed an astonishing 180 percent. Think that'd work back in the States? Dream on.

Baby steps for healthcare reform: The Congressional Budget Office says the new bill pays for itself over ten years, pays for itself over 20 years, covers 94% of the population, and reduces Medicare spending by over $400 billion.

Chamber's "green" die-hards: Nike left. Apple's history. So why are these six "green" companies sticking it out in the US Chamber of Commerce?

Calorie labels make New Yorkers hungry: NYC's new law requiring calorie counts on chain restaurant menu boards doesn't appear to be making any difference.  In fact, it might be causing people to eat more.

Green building codes save the Danes big bucks: But in the US, Republicans claim similar legislation would have "global warming gestapo" storming your home and forcing you to be more efficient.

Danes heart bikes: Why Copenhagen might be the most bike-friendly city in the world

Is there a doctor in the house? Well, no. And the shortage of physicians could derail new reforms, public option or no.

Denmark's green island: Just 4,100 people live on the island of Samsø, which over the the course of 10 years has converted almost entirely to fossil-fuel free energy.


U.S. Army Spc. Zackery Cely provides security from a tower on Forward Operating Base Lane in the Zabul province, Afghanistan, Oct. 5, 2009. Cely is assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Tia P. Sokimson.)

Need To Read: October 9, 2009

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.)

Getting Afghanistan Right

In the Washington Post today, Rajiv Chandrasekaran has an inside look at the Obama administration's long deliberations over how to deal with Afghanistan.  Jason Zengerle says it's full of details that "make the Obama administration look more than a little inept."  Michael Crowley wonders how Obama's first review, back in March, "came up so embarrassingly short."  Matt Yglesias says it "makes the Obama administration look pretty foolish."

I'm not so sure.  Here's Chandrasekara's gloss of how last March's recommendation that we adopt a counterinsurgency strategy was intepreted at the time:

To senior military commanders, the sentence was unambiguous: U.S. and NATO forces would have to change the way they operated in Afghanistan. Instead of focusing on hunting and killing insurgents, the troops would have to concentrate on protecting the good Afghans from the bad ones.

And to carry out such a counterinsurgency effort the way its doctrine prescribes, the military would almost certainly need more boots on the ground.

To some civilians who participated in the strategic review, that conclusion was much less clear. Some took it as inevitable that more troops would be needed, but others thought the thrust of the new approach was to send over scores more diplomats and reconstruction experts. They figured a counterinsurgency mission could be accomplished with the forces already in the country, plus the 17,000 new troops Obama had authorized in February.

So the civilians screwed up.  They wanted counterinsurgency on the cheap, but that was never in the cards. Now they're scrambling to regroup.

Except that's not really what Chandrasekara says.  Later he explains why the March task force members thought that Obama's previous commitment to send 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan was sufficient:

Encouraging the view that a massive influx was not needed were statements from the overall U.S. and NATO commander at the time, Gen. David D. McKiernan, who said he had shifted his troops toward counterinsurgency operations. He was not asking for more forces beyond the 21,000 Obama had agreed to, plus 10,000 more in 2010, which the Pentagon told the White House it could address later in the year.

"Typically, you defer to the field for the resource needs," said one senior official involved in the review. "In March . . . we thought we had a handle on what McKiernan thought he needed."

A military official familiar with McKiernan's thinking said his request for 30,000 troops last fall was tempered by a belief that the Bush White House would reject it outright if he asked for more. As it was, Bush tabled the request, leaving it to Obama.

...."The military was not ready at that point to come to the president and say, 'Here's the number we think it's going to take,' " the person familiar with the conversation said. "They were satisfied that what they had put on the table at the beginning of the administration met their requirement for the moment."

If Chandrasekar's account is correct, the fault isn't really with the Obama administration at all.  It's with the military: McKiernan was on board with the counterinsurgency strategy but didn't indicate that he needed more troops to implement it.  Maybe this was because he was gun shy thanks to his experience with George Bush, maybe not.  But one way or the other, he didn't ask for more troops.  And considering the obvious political sensitivity of a troop increase, you just can't plausibly suggest that he somehow implied he needed one even though he never quite said so outright.  If he wanted more troops, he would have said so.

Later, of course, McKiernan was pushed out and a new commander took a fresh look at what resources were needed.  But that hardly reflects badly on Obama, and it doesn't really sound like anyone screwed up back in March.  Long story short, the military changed its mind about troop levels between March and September, and now Obama has to decide how to respond to that.  I don't really see a case for ineptness here, and I, for one, am perfectly happy that Obama and the generals are taking their time to hear everyone out and try to get things right this time around.  After eight years of futility, it's not as if a few more weeks to hash out internal differences and get some real consensus is a bad thing.

Glenn Beck vs. the Murder Meme

Is Glenn Beck a murderer? No, of course not. But that hasn't stopped a LOL-seeker from setting up the satirical site Glenn Beck Raped And Murdered A Young Girl In to taunt the emotionally fragile Fox host with a dose of his own brand of argument by innuendo. As it explains: "We're not accusing Glenn Beck of raping and murdering a young girl in 1990 — in fact, we think he didn't! But we can't help but wonder, since he has failed to deny these horrible allegations."

A few weeks ago, Beck sicced his attorneys on the site and asked the Internet gods (i.e., the World Intellectual Property Office) to transfer its URL to him. In a nice twist, his lawyers alleged that the site both rips off Beck's brand and is "plainly libelous, plainly false" and therefore "is likely to cause confusion for consumers"—presumably consumers who think Beck has set up a site to spread scurrilous rumors about himself. What Beck and his lawyers don't get is that they're not trying to shut down a website; they're trying to shut down an Internet meme. And that's why they're about to get a steaming helping of FAIL.

Ralph Lauren Apologizes (Sort of) for its Anorexia Ad

I don't need to rehash the censorship feud between popular website Boing Boing and Ralph Lauren. You can read about the first part here and the second part here. But today Boing Boing reports that the clothier has owned up to its Photoshop hatchet job on model (she has a name now!) Filippa Hamilton. "After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body," Polo Ralph Lauren admitted in a statement today, according to Extra

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The drive for financial reform in DC seems to be fast losing momentum. Enter Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, who has long been an advocate for working families and a critic of predatory lending. As chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the finance bailout—Capitol Hill’s top finance cop—she, along with TARP watchdog Neil Barofsky, has blasted wasteful bailout spending and the finance industry’s lack of accountability. But her top goal is the creation of a Consumer Finance Safety Commission that would do for loans what the Consumer Products Safety Commission does for toys and blenders. The White House has endorsed her proposal, but will Wall Street kill it in Congress? David Corn has the story—plus some intriguing dish on Warren’s rapport with White House adviser Larry Summers.

Modern Journalism Watch

The Financial Times is now basing front page stories on Facebook postings from Sarah Palin?  Seriously?  Did Rupert Murdoch buy them too while I wasn't watching?

Is Joe Arpaio the New George Wallace?

Once again, "America’s Toughest Sheriff" Joe Arpaio of Arizona's Maricopa County showed the U.S. Justice Department who's boss this week. In what the New York Times called an "angry, rambling outburst" at a press conference Tuesday, Arpaio vowed to continue his controversial immigration raids under the authority of state laws, even though Justice Department officials instructed his deputies to stop making immigration arrests in the field.

This blatant defiance of federal law is reminiscent of another American anti-federalist, George Wallace, the governor who famously blocked two black students from entering an Alabama State University auditorium in 1963, nearly ten years after Brown v. Board of Education. Wallace stood firmly against desegregation even after the federal government mandated it. Now, Arpaio seems to be taking a page from his playbook in matters related to immigration.

The statute currently in question is section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which enables local officials to enforce immigration laws with the approval of the Department of Homeland Security. Jennifer Allen of the Tucson-based Border Action Network explains that either party can opt out of the agreement, as DHS did partially earlier this week. So, she said, it is now illegal for Arpaio to continue his immigration raids without the approval of DHS. "There are no state-level laws that say you can set up a check point in a predominantly low-income Latino neighborhood and start pulling people over left and right for insignificant pretenses." 

With the US Chamber of Commerce weakened by recent defections over its climate policy, its foes are moving in for the kill. Or at least milking the whole thing for some laughs. From the SEIU comes this tale of thwarted romance:


H/T Pete Altman's Switchboard Blog.