World leaders passed two major milestones in the pursuit of an international climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol over the weekend, both without resolving any of the major areas of disagreement before their final meeting of 2009 in Copenhagen.

The finance ministers of the G20 nations met over the weekend for a summit that was supposed to produce plans for financing climate change adaptation and mitigation in the developing world. And last week there were key meetings in Barcelona as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the last meeting of the working groups ahead of the Copenhagen summit, which begins Dec. 7. Unfortunately, neither event produced the much needed progress.

Finance ministers were unable to come to a deal, as Reuters reports that "talks got bogged down in a row with large developing countries about who should foot the bill." The United Kingdom, which hosted the meeting, wanted to reach a deal to provide $100 billion to cover the costs of climate change in the developing world up until 2020. But in the end, they could only agree "to increase significantly and urgently the scale and predictability of finance to implement an ambitious international agreement."

The statement is not very specific, and it's not the kind of commitment that developing countries are saying is necessary to ensure their participation in a deal. Leaders promised a real agreement on financing would come at this meeting at their last summit in Pittsburgh in September, and securing an assistance package was seen as a crucial step ahead of the December meeting.

The meetings in Barcelona weren't much better. Talks ended in a stalemate, with US negotiators unwilling (and, frankly, unable, given the ongoing Senate debate) to offer concrete emissions reductions targets and downplaying hopes for a deal this year.

Developing nations didn't take the delay sitting down. On Tuesday, delgates from 50 African nations walked out in protest of rich nations' unwillingness to commit. Talks resumed after a day-long boycott, but in the end the African bloc called the goals from developed nations "unacceptable" and demanded least 40 percent cuts below 1990 levels by 2020. The rest of the developing world, known as the Group of 77, maintained that the US and rich nations were repeating empty rhetoric rather than making meaningful commitments to curbing emissions.

"Non-performance, non-deliverance and non-commitment by the developed countries is acting as a brake for any meaningful progress," said Sudanese delegate Lumumba Di-Aping, whose country currently chairs the G77. "We need a real change of heart and mind by the developed countries."

Writing about the Ft. Hood massacre, one of Jonah Goldberg's readers offers the following: "I would say that an act which is unexpected and carried out with the intention to kill indiscriminately for the sole purpose of punishing those who do not hold your beliefs is an Islamic terrorist act."  Goldberg responds:

I am very uncomfortable with the idea that I might sound like I'm trying to diminish the guy's crimes. He committed treason and murder. It was a cowardly act. If we are at war, then it was a war crime.

But I think the reader's definition of terrorism might move us into dangerous territory. In Pakistan, we launch missiles at people's homes with civilians in or around them to take out al Qaeda leadership. But I wouldn't call that terrorism. I'm just uncomfortable with the word terrorism metastasizing into "anything the bad guys do to us." Why not call what Hasan did a war crime? Terrorism is a war crime but not all war crimes are terrorism.

I think that's right, and it's nice to see some pushback from the right on this.  There's a lot of evidence to suggest that Nidal Malik Hasan was (a) quite mentally disturbed and (b) motivated by religious beliefs, but that doesn't make what he did a terrorist act.  Unlike, say, a suicide bomber in Jerusalem, there's hardly even a hint that he was trying to make any kind of political statement.  There was no note, no videotape left behind, no explanation while he was shooting, no nothing.  What kind of terrorist does that?

In the never-ending ethics scandal that is Bonner and Associates, today's news is that their independent ethics adviser, American University professor James Thurber, is severing his relationship with the group—and may never have been formally retained at all.

This comes less than a week after Thurber took out a full-page ad in Roll Call praising Jack Bonner and raising questions about the how ethical their new ethics adviser could really be.

Thurber now tells Roll Call it was a "mistake" and a "lapse in judgment" to run the ad, which was taken out at his behest on behalf of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. The ad praised Bonner for "over 15 years of teaching excellence" and ran soon after Bonner testified before Congress about the forged letters his group sent to Congress.

To make matters worse, many of the people name-dropped in Thurber's ad as "notable guest lecturers" in Bonner's grassroots lobbying workshop were not even notified about the ad before it ran. Many of them are, understandably, "outraged" to have their names appropriated to support someone whose firm is currently under investigation for lying to Congress. While Bonner was apparently given a sneak-peak of the ad before it ran, the folks listed were never asked about appearing in the ad.

Not only is Thurber ending his relationship with Bonner, he now says that there was never a contractual agreement for him to advise Bonner in the first place. "I mentioned to Mr. Bonner his need for ethics training for his staff.... There was no contractual arrangement for me to be involved with Bonner and Associates pro bono or otherwise," he said in a statement.

But in his testimony to Congress last month, Bonner said that the group had retained Thurber as an "independent Ethical Standards Advisor," part of the five-step plan for quality control they were supposedly instating. Thurber, Bonner said, is "well-regarded as maintaining the highest ethical standards and independence" and would be retained to "review our policies and work with us to continue to improve our internal quality control system to the highest standards."

Bonner's spokesperson tells TPMmuckraker that Thurber must either be speaking "in error" or "probably didn't remember" agreeing to be their adviser. "Professor Thurber told us that he would provide ethics training without fee, and he has now told us that he has decided he will not do that."

It's hard to decide which looks worse for Bonner—that they would retain an adviser who so flagrantly violated a reasonable understanding of ethics and independence with the ad, or that the group apparently lied to Congress about retaining him in the first place.

The American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, has published an article on its website calling for Muslims to be barred from military service. Bryan Fischer, AFA's Director of Issues Analysis, argues that the Fort Hood shootings are a signal that "It it is time to stop the practice of allowing Muslims to serve in the U.S. military":

[T]he more devout a Muslim is, the more of a threat he is to national security. Devout Muslims, who accept the teachings of the Prophet as divinely inspired, believe it is their duty to kill infidels....

Of course, most U.S. Muslims don't shoot up their fellow soldiers. Fine. As soon as Muslims give us a foolproof way to identify their jihadis from their moderates, we'll go back to allowing them to serve. You tell us who the ones are that we have to worry about, prove you're right, and Muslims can once again serve. Until that day comes, we simply cannot afford the risk. You invent a jihadi-detector that works every time it's used, and we'll welcome you back with open arms.

This is not Islamophobia, it is Islamo-realism....

And just as Christians are taught to imitate the life of Christ, so Muslims are taught to imitate the Prophet in all things. Yesterday, Nidal Malik Hasan was simply being a good Muslim.

You can read the whole thing here. Fair warning: It's a vast wasteland of stupid. I don't think I need to waste time responding to its "points": if you can't immediately see how bigoted it is, there's no way I'm going to be able to convince you otherwise.

If you're looking for a more reasonable view, here's Gen. George Casey, the Army's chief of staff, who definitely knows more about the Army than this clown:

"Our diversity... is a strength. As great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well."

Right on.

Ezra Klein writes today about Nancy Pelosi and the politics of voting in the House of Representatives:

On June 26, Pelosi passed cap and trade out of the House. Many considered it a huge, unforced error. The Senate wouldn't consider the bill for many months, if it ever took it up at all. Health-care reform was in full swing. And Pelosi had just forced her most vulnerable members to take an incredibly difficult vote.

....Talking to congressional Democrats over these past few months, Pelosi's decision to push cap and trade came up in almost every conversation. Coaxing support from vulnerable members who hadn't yet forgiven the leadership for cap and trade had, according to some of these sources, become one of the biggest obstacles to health-care reform.

I confess that I never understood the problem that swing-district House members had with this.  If I were a vulnerable congressman, I'd want this vote taken as far before the midterm elections as possible.  If it turns out to be a risky and ultimately wasted vote because the Senate doesn't act, well, at least it was a risky vote 17 months before next November.  That's an eternity.  A vote in June is a lot less likely to be a salient campaign issue than, say, a vote in December or January.

In any case, as Ezra says, Pelosi's early vote now looks very smart: "It's virtually impossible to imagine the House passing cap and trade in the coming months, not after the exhausting health-care reform battle and not as the midterm election draws closer."  The whole thing is now out of the way and largely forgotten unless the Senate passes a bill, and if that happens, at least House members will be voting next year on something real.  It's a lot easier to talk yourself into taking a risk for a real accomplishment than it is merely to make a quixotic point.

For years, a shifting alliance of activists here in California has been pressing the idea of calling a constitutional convention to try and cut through the partisan tangle in Sacramento.  Unfortunately, since only the legislature can call a constitutional convention, the partisan tangle in Sacramento stands in the way of cutting through the partisan tangle in Sacramento.

But the effort has picked up steam lately, with a couple of ballot initiatives being filed that would (a) allow the people to call for a convention and (b) call a convention.  If backers can get a million signatures for these initiatives, they'll be on the ballot next November.  Unfortunately, the public isn't yet on their side:

Backers of an overhaul of California's government, who hope to leverage disgust with Sacramento into support for changing how the state raises taxes and spends money, have a difficult path ahead, according to a new poll of California voters.

....Voters don't want the tax code overhauled in the ways that many fiscal experts promise would tamp down the wild revenue swings that have led to a constant state of budget crisis in California. They don't want the Constitution changed to allow a simple majority of lawmakers to push a budget onto the governor's desk, as most other large states allow. And they don't want the state to touch Proposition 13 property tax restrictions, even if residential property taxes would remain strictly limited.

The problem is that the partisan tangle in Sacramento is basically a reflection of California itself. My fellow residents have no desire to pay higher taxes and no desire to cut services in any significant way, and they're apparently willing to destroy the state before finally admitting that they can't have both.  But we haven't quite reached that point yet, and the purpose of a constitutional convention is simply too clear to be covered up: backers want the legislature to have the power to raise taxes.  The anti forces will have absolutely no trouble making that clear, and that in turn means that these two initiatives are almost certainly doomed.

But we'll see. It's possible — unlikely but possible — that things will deteriorate enough in the next year to make Californians realize that they don't have many choices left.  There's not much left to be squeezed out of higher education without simply abandoning it completely; K-12 is inviolate; nobody seems willing to get rid of our insane sentencing laws and fantastic prison population; public employee unions have no intention of moderating their pension demands; and taxing marijuana isn't going to get the job done.  All those things have been true for years, though, and the battle lines are pretty much the same today as they were a decade ago.

So what's left?  Beats me.  But unless some kind of catastrophe drives home the scope of our problems to 50% + 1 of our citizens next November, it's hard to see how anything changes.  Maybe the initiative backers need to hire Roland Emmerich to produce a few ads for them.

ABC News says that "US intelligence agencies" knew for weeks that Army Major Nidal Hasan, the suspect in the Fort Hood shootings, had tried "to make contact with people associated with Al Qaeda." The piece also reports (citing an unnamed "senior lawmaker") that the CIA has "so far" refused to brief Congress about whether it had prior knowlege of any connections between Hasan and Al Qaeda.

Over at Talking Points Memo, Mother Jones alum Justin Elliott reports that the CIA is denying that it refused to brief Congress—but Elliott says nothing about whether the CIA contradicted the ABC piece's core claim about the intelligence community knowing that Hasan had been trying to make contact with Al Qaeda.

Bottom line: the situation is still very unclear, but since Hasan is now awake and talking, we'll probably know more very soon.

This isn't exactly a forgotten part of history, but still, it's nice to see reporter Mitchell Koss reminding us today that although the fall of the Berlin Wall was the most dramatic aspect of the end of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, it wasn't the original trigger.  In the LA Times today, he writes about the changes in Hungary between a visit in 1987, "when it seemed as if the Soviet presence in Eastern Europe would last for a thousand years," and a visit two years later:

By 1989, when I returned, everything had changed. When I visited that same embassy the first week of March, a U.S. official talked openly to us — and presumably to the KGB eavesdroppers — about how, as the impending March 15 demonstration seemed to get bigger, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was not responding to pleas for instruction from Hungary's communist rulers. "We don't know what to make of it," he said.

....It all began to come into clearer focus two months later, when Hungary removed the barbed-wire fence along its border with Austria and told guards not to shoot those who wanted to cross. Months after that, the Berlin Wall fell, and two years later the Soviet Union dissolved, albeit with fewer memorable images. Before the decade was out, Viktor Orban, one of the mildly rebellious students whom we'd interviewed in 1986, had become prime minister of Hungary.

In retrospect, some things that seemed puzzling at the time now seem so clear. The embassy wondered why Gorbachev was ignoring the Hungarian leaders' plea for assistance. But as it turned out, his not responding was central to all that happened next. Months later, he also didn't take the calls from panicky East Germans seeking guidance for how to react when the wall was breached. He had decided to disengage, and that made all the difference.

By 1989, the Soviet Union was so far in hock to western banks that they basically had Gorbachev by the balls.  He couldn't afford a repeat of 1956 or 1968, and when that became clear the jig was up.  Hungary went first, Berlin followed, and within a few months the Iron Curtain was on the ash heap of history.  In the end, it was hard currency, not ICBMs, that brought down the empire.

The Economist's Democracy in America blog has a good item today on the offshore wind farms that are planned for the waters off Cape Cod and the stereotypical liberal elitist folks from Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Cape who are trying to block them:

There's a modestly sympathetic way to read this kind of resistance, and it has to do with the way that environmentalism straddles different strands of American romanticism, which can sometimes conflict with each other. Historical preservationism and the romantic mythologising of indigenous cultures have both played valuable roles in American culture, and they grow from the same "On Walden Pond" roots as environmentalism itself. And that's all fine and good; but CO2 is at 370 ppm and rising. Enough is enough. If we are to have any hope of reducing carbon emissions, we are going to have to change our energy infrastructure. That requires some modicum of willingness to tolerate public action that affects one's own lifestyle. If we can't even get an offshore wind-farm project running, after eight years, because of a bunch of wealthy, self-indulgent whiners, there is absolutely no hope for reducing carbon emissions, and the heirs of those privileged preservationists will be able to watch the sun rise over the pristine Atlantic waters covering what used to be Nantucket Island.

DiA also points to an editorial on the subject that appeared in the New York Times last week. Unfortunately, our friends at the Economist either forgot about or are not aware of the definitive take on this controversy: a Daily Show report from over two years ago. The Kennedy-bashing dates the segment, but it's pretty brutal and dead-on:

Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard will have more on the Cape Wind project in a blog post later today.

Rep. George Miller's 90-second speech mocking the GOP health care plan got me thinking about how political information gets disseminated. The 2008 presidential campaign demonstrated that YouTube creates some interesting incentives for politicians. Before YouTube, if you wanted your point to reach the largest possible audience, it was crucial that you fit in some real "zingers" that could be turned into quotes in newspapers or sound bites on the evening news. Your argument and the structure of your speech (or the structure of your questioning of a witness at a hearing) didn't matter as much. 

In the YouTube era, people's attention spans for political speech are actually slightly longer. It's not just that people will watch Barack Obama, by all accounts a great orator, give a 40-minute speech on race. It also seems that people will watch five minutes of Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who is no Barack Obama, blasting the Federal Reserve. They may even be willing to watch 90 seconds of George Miller, a powerful but fairly obscure legislator, criticizing Republicans. And the realization that people are okay with watching those sorts of things has affected television. When I interviewed him last month for a profile in the next issue of Mother Jones, Grayson said that he specifically aims for short, YouTube-friendly speeches—and those speeches are short enough and fiery enough that they sometimes end up being played, unedited, on national television. Here's what he said when I asked him how he deals with what he sees as the media's fixation on manners:

Since we are speaking directly to the audience these days, it doesn't really matter. I consistently give speeches no longer than two minutes. Very few of my colleagues in congress do that. The result of that is that every once in a while we get lucky and the entire speech is played without editing on national TV, so I'm able to communicate directly to a national audience without the mediation of the media.

Miller's speech follows that mold. This is a good thing. The more people get to see what Congress is actually like, the better.