Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) officially rolled out their climate bill on Wednesday, with a large rally on the Capitol lawn. But noticeably missing from both the bill and their rhetoric was any reference to cap and trade. Instead, they're calling it a "Global Warming Pollution Reduction and Investment" program -- and they're promoting the energy and national security benefits rather than the emissions reductions goals.

"This is the beginning of one of the most important battles we will ever face, as legislators and as citizens," said Kerry, who was flanked by military officers and backed by a giant American flag. Climate change, he said, will act as a "lit match on the kindling of an already dangerous world," and energy dependence means American money is going to "jihadists, terrorists in different countries."

"We know clean energy is the ticket to strong, sustainable economic growth," said Boxer.

The senators touted the bill's provisions to expand the use of natural gas and nuclear power, two major changes from the Waxman-Markey legislation passed by the House in June. While the House bill would also likely spur development of those energy sources, the Senate bill includes titles specifying how they would be expanded. The senators also stressed that the bill includes a good deal of support for the development of controversial "clean" coal technology.

"It recognizes that there is is no one silver bullet that is going to solve this problem," said Kerry.

Their full bill, weighing in at 821 pages, closely mirrors the various leaked drafts that were circulating yesterday, and, in most respects, Waxman-Markey. It aims to reduce emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, and will cover approximately 7,500 major emissions sources around the country.

Notable differences with the House bill include the explicit support for nuclear and natural gas, as well as limits on the price of pollution permits—which Boxer is calling "a soft collar." To reduce price volatility, it puts in place a lower limit of $11 per credit and an initial upper limit of $28, which would trigger the release of additional reserve allowances. The portions of the bill on allocation of permits and use of the revenue that their sale generates remain blank, however, and are expected to be hotly contested as the debate moves forward. The Finance, Agriculture, Commerce, and Foreign Relations committees are expected to play a role in shaping those and other provisions.

 

Catblogging News

Attention cat fans: We recently redesigned our thrice-weekly email newsletter into three separate newsletters.  One of those newsletters is based around yours truly, and you know what that means: catblogging.  Or, I guess, catlettering.

Or something.  In any case, we've decided that once a week is plenty of exposure for Inkblot and Domino, so we're soliciting photos of guest cats to appear in the newsletter.  If you want some temporary stardom for your adorable furball, just email a photo to:

cats@motherjones.com

Include a couple of sentences of description (names, ages, what they're up to, favorite tricks, whatever else you feel like) and we'll select one each week.  Dogs are welcome too!  And if you want to sign up to receive the newsletter, you can do it here.  Sign up for one, two, or all three.

Health Reform Rocker: We're Number 37!

It should no longer be any surprise to anyone that our most exceptional nation spends more on health care per capita (by a huge margin) than other countries. And that the quality of US health care, in spite of—or rather, because of—all our sweet gadgetry, ranks embarassingly low. Didn't see this the first time out, but my dad forwarded me this YouTube video of Huffington Post contributor—and Jonathan Mann imitator?—Paul Hipp rocking out on this issue. Which is kinda funny, since my dad never listens to rock 'n' roll, and rarely forwards me stuff. But he is a health policy expert. So anyway, here's "We're Number 37" (woo-hoo!).

 

 

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Quote of the Day

From an "industry expert" explaining why Sarah Palin is having trouble booking speeches at $100,000 a pop:

The big lecture buyers in the US are paralyzed with fear about booking her, basically because they think she is a blithering idiot.

I don't understand this.  Since when is being a blithering idiot any kind of drawback for a politician on the lecture circuit?

GOP Calendar Girls

Have a thing for ladies of the GOP? Then why not purchase the 2010 "Great American Conservative Women" calendar?

Set for release Friday, it features such right-wing luminaries as Ann Coulter and Bay Buchanan, clad in white shirts and bathed in soft light. The target audience appears to be young women—students get it for free. Apparently, the idea is to encourage the youth of America to speak out against gay rights (like calendar girl Carrie Prejean, above), call feminism evil and embrace the atomic bomb (like Phyllis Schlafly), or just generally act insane (like Michelle Bachmann).

Noticeably absent: Sarah Palin.

Watch the behind-the-scenes video below:

Russia-Georgia Postmortem

A long-awaited EU report on the causes of the Russia-Georgia war last year has finally been released.  The New York Times reports the reaction from both Russia and Georgia:

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, told reporters in Brussels that the central finding concerned Aug. 7, and that he hoped it would prompt foreign leaders to withdraw their support for Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili. The report provided “an unequivocal answer to the main question of who started the war, and it says squarely that it was Georgian massive shelling and an artillery attack which marked the beginning of large-scale hostilities.”

In Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, Temuri Yakobashvili, the minister of reintegration, said the report exonerated Georgia because it emphasized the long-term buildup of tensions. “This report will kill the Russians’ spin that it was Georgia who started the war, and it will finish all these notions and speculations about who started the war,” Mr. Yakobashvili said. “The first line of this report states that the war didn’t start on Aug. 7.”

That's my kind of report: one that resolves nothing.  But in fairness, how could it?  Its conclusions were pretty obvious to everyone aside from hardened ideologues long ago: Russia spent years trying to goad Georgia into war, and in August of last year Georgia finally took the bait.  In a situation like that, who you blame is almost entirely a matter of who you feel like blaming.

So there's no knockout blow here.  Still, I give it to Russia on points.  Georgia was hardly innocent in all this, but Russia's goals were pretty clear all along, and they obviously kept escalating tensions until they got the reaction they wanted.  They deserve all the condemnation they got for that.

EPA Announces Toxics Reform

Last night the ballroom of San Francisco's historic Fairmont Hotel was packed with excited 40-somethings. Environmentalists like Sierra Club head Carl Pope (wearing a florescent yellow baseball cap) and representatives from organizations like Earthjustice and NRDC hobnobbed noisily. The buzz was so loud, it could have been made by 15-year-olds waiting to see Miley Cyrus. Instead, it was EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson who showed, and gained two standing ovations for her speech.

During Jackson's speech, co-sponsored by the Commonwealth Club and PG&E, she revealed that the nation's 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) would be overhauled. Jackson, whose academic background is in chemical engineering, said that the program is still mired in using old science, and its enforcement tools are "cumbersome." As outlined by Jackson, the TSCA reform would reset scientific reporting standards, put the burden of proving safety on manufacturers instead of on the government, give the EPA more enforcement authority, and fund green chemistry R&D. In particular, Jackson mentioned the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (found in baby bottles), phthalate esters, and lead as targets of increased enforcement.

How Crazy Are We?

Do baseball players make a greater number of spectacular plays than they did 30 years ago?  Of course not.  It just seems like it because ESPN packages them all up for us every evening on SportsCenter.  These days, we get to see every spectacular play, not just the ones in the games we happen to watch.

David Post calls this the ESPN Effect and wonders if it applies to politics:

All I hear from my left-leaning friends these days is how crazy people on the right are becoming, and all all I hear from my right-leaning friends is how crazy people on the left are becoming, and everyone, on both sides, seems very eager to provide evidence of the utter lunacy of those on the other side.  “Look how crazy they’re becoming over there, on the other side!” is becoming something of a dominant trope, on left and right.  It is true that we’re seeing more crazy people doing crazy things on the other side (whichever side that may be, for you) coming across our eyeballs these days.   But that’s all filtered reality; it bears no more relationship to reality than the Sportscenter highlights bear to the game of baseball.

My very, very strong suspicion is that there has never been a time when there weren’t truly crazy people on all sides of the political spectrum doing their truly crazy things. Maybe 1% or so, or even 0.1% — which is a very large number, when you’re talking about a population of, say, 100 million.  They didn’t get through the filters much in the Old Days, but they do now.  All this talk about how extreme “the debate” is becoming — how, exactly, does anyone get a bead on what “the debate” really is?  In reality?

Is he right?  Are Fox News and Twitter and the blogosphere and talk radio the collective SportsCenter of politics?  Or are people really crazier than they used to be?

Or is it even worse than that?  SportsCenter mostly just records what happens.  (It might also play an active role in producing more spectacular plays because players are eager to make the night's highlight reel, but that's a small effect.)  But in politics it's worse.  Not only might people act crazier in order to get on the news, but seeing all those crazy people might drive the rest of us crazier too.  So maybe at first this was just the ESPN Effect, but over time it became a vicious circle and now there really are more crazy people around.  I sure feel crazier these days.  How about you?

USGS Weighs In on Samoa, Indonesia Earthquakes

More than 100 people are thought dead in the Samoan Islands after yesterday's tsunami, and another 75 are already believed to have perished in Indonesia, where thousands are still trapped after a 7.6 quake this morning.  Why was one island devastated by the quake but spared the wave while the other survived the shaking only to watch entire villages swept out to sea? We called the geo-nerds at the United States Geological Survey's Earthquake Information Center to find out.  

According to USGS geophysicist John Bellini, both quakes occurred along the Australian plate, one of the most geologically active areas in the world. At 8.0 and 7.6 respectively, both where huge—though only a fraction of the size of the 9.2 earthquake that caused the 2004 tsunami. The Samoan quake occurred when a piece of the Pacific plate was forced beneath the Australian plate, an event that has enormous tsunami potential.  

"That displaces a lot of water," Bellini explained. "Plus, it was very shallow."  

The Indonesian earthquake was nearly three times as deep, caused when the Australian plate and the Sunda plate nudged past each other at a whopping 65 millimeters per year. Not close enough to cause a tsunami, but strong enough to level much of Padang, a city of 900,000 in West Sumatra. 

"The shaking would cause buildings to collapse," Bellini said. "A cinder block building would just be flat."

The South Pacific is the beating heart of the infamous "Ring of Fire", the veined circle of plate boundaries that define the planet's most seismicly active zones. There, major earthquakes are a fact of life. 

"We record big earthquakes there every day," Bellini said.  

You can't say this enough: While members of Congress are busy protecting us from the inefficiency and danger of government-run health care, they're receiving top-notch taxpayer funded health care—seemingly without complaint. The LA Times recently detailed the benefits: A choice of 10 insurance plans and access to a wide network of doctors and HMOs. Plus, they "get special treatment at Washington's federal medical facilities and, for a few hundred dollars a month, access to their own pharmacy and doctors, nurses and medical technicians standing by in an office conveniently located between the House and Senate chambers." ABC News has more on that in-house clinic for lawmakers, officially known as the Office of the Attending Physician:

Services offered by the Office of the Attending Physician include physicals and routine examinations, on-site X-rays and lab work, physical therapy and referrals to medical specialists from military hospitals and private medical practices. According to congressional budget records, the office is staffed by at least four Navy doctors as well as at least a dozen medical and X-ray technicians, nurses and a pharmacist.

Sources said when specialists are needed, they are brought to the Capitol, often at no charge to members of Congress.

Explains a former doc from the Congressional clinic, patients who can't get treated on-site get referals to top specialists all over the country. "You would go to the best care in the country. And, for the most part, nobody asked what your insurance was." And the cost? $503. A year.