In recent years, the coal industry has worked hard to convince us that coal is "clean." Now, they're going one step further and claiming that it's "green." Last week, a veteran climate change denialist pushed this idea to Obama administration officials and congressional staffers.

In a policy briefing sponsored by the United States Energy Association, Fred Palmer, a coal industry lobbyist and notorious climate change denier, touted the wonders of "green coal" as a "path to zero emissions." Greenpeace's new PolluterWatch program—a kind of oppo research team targeting global warming skeptics and energy interests—managed to sit in on the talk, which it said was attended by close to 100 administration and congressional staffers and policy experts.

Palmer has a solid history of undermining climate science on behalf of big polluters. He's the head of government affairs at Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal company, and was formerly president of the Western Fuels Association and chairman of legal affairs for the National Mining Association. 

At the Western Fuels Association, Palmer headed the Greening Earth Society, which claimed that increased emissions would actually help ecosystems and economies. He even argued in an interview that "every time you turn your car on and you burn fossil fuels and you put CO2 into the air, you’re doing the work of the Lord."

I, Pollster

I missed this when it was first reported a few days ago, but it's genuinely interesting news from the Rasmussen polling folks:

The pollster’s newest venture, Pulse Opinion Research, will allow anyone to commission a scientific, nationwide poll for the price of an IKEA sofa. Have a long-lasting feud about what America really thinks about a topic? Settle it for $600.

“Soon, anyone can go to the [Pulse] website, type in their credit card number, and run any poll that they wanted, with any language that they want,” said Rasmussen. “In effect, you will be able to do your own poll, and Rasmussen will provide the platform to ensure that the polling includes a representative national sample.”

....The birth of Pulse has roots in frequent requests for Rasmussen to do commissioned polling. Rasmussen Reports has historically turned down outside clients in order to preserve its independence. However, to capitalize on demand, Rasmussen decided to license his polling methodology to a separate firm, Pulse Opinion Research, which plans to launch its online services sometime in February.

The interesting part of this is the potential for quick, inexpensive polling on unusual topics. Want to find out whether a bold liberal pitch persuades more Americans to support healthcare reform than a more centrist appeal? Commission a couple of quick polls with your own pet ideas and find out.

And the dark side?1 Well, if I'm rich enough to afford it, I could commission a dozen polls on the same subject and release only the one with the results most favorable to my cause. Even if the polls themselves are honestly done, you're almost certain to get a swing of ten points or so just by random chance, and if you manipulate a few other factors you can probably do even better. The opportunities for mischief are legion.

On the flip side, the opportunities for swallowing your own spin are also legion once you head down that path. But I doubt that will stop many people. A new era in polling is upon us, folks.

1One of them anyway. The other dark side is that this becomes a huge fad and we are all bombarded by robopolling calls on a daily basis. Soon we get so sick of it that no one will pick up the phone to talk to a pollster at all, and the entire industry is destroyed. That actually might not be so bad. Unfortunately, I don't suppose it's likely to happen.

Kevin already addressed this on his blog, but if you haven't read Scott Horton's latest story on the Gitmo "suicides," you should. In December, I wrote about a Seton Hall report that hinted that three detainee suicides at Guantanamo Bay in 2006 weren't actually suicides. Now Horton has on-the-record sources suggesting that the detainees were killed in a previously undisclosed off-site facility called "Camp No," and the murders were covered-up. In any sane media environment, this would be front-page news everywhere, and a congressional investigation would already have been launched. Anyway, read it.

Haiti and Obama

Tyler Cowen, in an apparent effort to make me even more depressed than I already am, suggests that for all practical purposes, Barack Obama is now president of Haiti. And it might end up being his Waterloo:

Obama now stands a higher chance of being a one-term President.  Foreign aid programs are especially unpopular, especially relative to their small fiscal cost.  Have you noticed how Rush Limbaugh and others are already making their rhetoric uglier than usual?  It will be a test of the American populace; at what point will people start whispering that he is "favoring the other blacks"?

Just as it's not easy to pull out of Iraq or Afghanistan, it won't be easy to pull out of Haiti.

Maybe you thought health care was a hard problem.  Maybe you thought that cap and trade would make health care look easy.  This may be the hardest problem yet and it wasn't on anybody's planning ledger.  Obama won't have many allies in this fight either.  A lot of Democratic interest groups might, silently, wish he would forget about the whole thing.

Mass starvation wouldn't look good on the evening news either.  What does it mean to preside over the collapse of a country of more than nine million people?  It's Obama who's about to find out, not the increasingly irrelevant Rene Preval.  Everyone in Haiti is looking to President Obama.

This actually sounds overwrought to me, but I wouldn't post it if it didn't also have at least a small ring of truth to it. In fact, aid to Haiti, both in dollar and military terms, is likely to be small enough that it never becomes a big political flashpoint. And the sociopathic Rush Limbaugh aside, congressional Republicans, I think, will have a hard time making an issue of it. My guess: America will spend a billion dollars a year in Haiti for the foreseeable future and keep maybe a brigade or two of troops there. Conditions will continue to be dire, but not so dire that they affect American politics. That combination will be enough to keep it under the political radar and off the nightly news once the initial media coverage has worn off.

On Friday I reported that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has picked up a Democratic co-sponsor for her efforts to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. I haven't been able to conclusively pin down who that is, but a number of Hill sources are pointing to Virginia Democrat Jim Webb.

Several Democratic offices have pointed to Webb, as have environmental lobbyists working to block Murkowski's measure. Webb's office has not responded to requests for confirmation or comment.

It wouldn't be that surprising if Webb joined Murkowski's effort. Last month Webb lambasted the Obama administration for pursuing an international deal on climate change in Copenhagen before the Senate had passed a climate bill. At the same time, he has pledged to vote against the cap-and-trade bills circulating in Congress. In November, Webb announced that he's co-sponsoring a alternative climate bill with Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander. That measure shuns a cap on carbon—the mechanism designed to ensure that emissions actually get cut—and instead pushes piles of money toward nuclear energy, biofuels, carbon capture and storage, and renewable energy.

 

California has finally decided to lay down the law to HMOs:

The regulations by the California Department of Managed Health Care, in the works for much of the last decade, will require that patients be treated by HMO doctors within 10 business days of requesting an appointment, and by specialists within 15. Patients seeking urgent care that does not require prior authorization must be seen within 48 hours.

Yes, that's right. After seven years of negotiations, HMOs have finally agreed that patients shouldn't be kept waiting more than two weeks to see a doctor, and not more than two days for urgent problems. And that's for people who have insurance coverage. Best healthcare in the world, baby, best healthcare in the world.

 

Once known as Wall Street's top cops fighting white collar crime, the Securities and Exchange Commission came under intense public scrutiny for failing to catch Bernard L. Madoff in the multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme to which he confessed more than a year ago. In hopes of regaining some of its star power (read: dignity) the SEC announced last week that it plans to reorganize its enforcement division into specialized, topical groups and implement a new initiative that would offer rewards to those who assist SEC investigations in a substantial way.

Madoff is already behind bars, but the SEC's metamorphosis into a make-shift prosecutor's office may help them nail some Madoff's relatives, friends and business associates—the people who also made out with your millions but who have not yet seen the inside of a jail cell. Check out the current issue of Mother Jones for a rundown of which Madoff crony pulled $15 million from her Madoff LLC accounts just weeks before Bernie's "confession," which minion used his company card to invest in a hair blow-drying salon, and a whole host of other outrageous details that will reignite your passion to help the SEC put these people behind bars. 

Here's an excerpt:

In a workplace where pricey suits were the norm, Bernie's Marlboro-smoking right-hand man dressed in jeans and sneakers, but he was so gruff when investors called him with questions that many simply stopped calling. Frank DiPascali helped invent and perpetuate Madoff's phony trading scheme; his take included a mansion in Bridgewater, New Jersey, a pair of Benzes in the driveway, and a monster fishing boat whose captain had his very own Madoff AmEx. The only true insider indicted as of press time—others included rubber-stamping accountant David Friehling and two IT guys charged with providing tech support for the scam—DiPascali faces up to 125 years upriver. Sentencing is set for May. In the meantime, from jail, he's helping the FBI make sense of company records and build cases against as yet unnamed coconspirators.

Read the full piece for more on The Wife: Ruth Madoff, The Sons: Mark and Andrew Madoff, The Brother: Peter Madoff, The Niece: Shana Madoff, and more.

US Army Capt. Patrick Mitchell mans the air guard position inside a Stryker armored vehicle enroute to Taktehpol, Afghanistan, Jan. 4, 2010. Mitchell is assigned to the 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment. (US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Francisco V. Govea II.)

To begin with, please vote today if you live in Massachusetts. Now, the must read stories from the long weekend and the morning papers:

Get more stuff like this: Follow Mother Jones on Twitter! You can check out what we are tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.

 

I've been posting dispatches from Jon Pageler, an old friend and MoJo board member who's in Haiti with a relief effort put on by his company, Diageo. It's an interesting window into the logistics of getting aid to Hatians, as well as into the media. Apologies that these have been posted out of order, that's how I've been getting them. Read the account of his first day here. Day three is here.

Day Two in Haiti. Very long. Made much longer by the fact that oversize military craft were idling next to us all night. Not just idling, since things were moving so fast, they never powered down. Some of the guys found an open door to the jet way; they are sleeping there now. They seemed much more rested than us.

The pace of the military plane arrivals slowed dramatically during the day but is beginning to pick up again. I can't imagine that things will be as intense as last night however. Lots of private aid charters are coming in. Rented 727s and 707s by aid organizations and some governments. Other governments have either brought in 777s or used their military planes.

Many countries are here. Dominican Republic, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, UK—to name just a few. The news media is all here as well. Diane, Sanjay, Anderson, Katie, even Geraldo. Pecking order seems to have been established as CNN is staying at the Plaza Hotel. Now what that means in Port-au-Prince I do not know, but it certainly causes other news organizations to roll their eyes.

As we predicted last night, based on the cargo of all the planes coming in, search and rescue (and security) was the emphasis of the day. Although we also understand that cleaning up the streets and removing the dead was a high priority as well. Clearly some of the heavy equipment brought in last night was used for that.
 
Our day was mostly an airport day. We had a good run of dispersals although things seemed to start a bit late. Combine island time with poor to non-existant telecommunications and, well, you get the picture. But by noon we were loading World Food Program trucks in bucket brigade fashion, enabling us to move nearly 15 tons of materials in just over an hours time, all the while with cameras blazing, mostly foreign press. The shot was one of the few "shots of the day" that is until Hilary came in. Once the trucks were loaded we travelled via convoy to the UN compound and home to the Ado's distribution enter for inventory and re-packaging. We will be making deliveries tomorrow, with a focus on the affected families of NGO workers.

Afterward, we hustled back to the airport to meet a plane with medical supplies and to complete the final disbursement. Some went to the Red Cross, some to a local hospital that we will visit tomorrow, and some to Diageo's Learning for Life program.

Early in the evening last night, we got word of an orphanage that was really in need. We had directions and drivers at the ready to get us there but at the last minute the orphanage pulled the plug. They felt that the situation outside the gates was too severe to risk bringing food in, despite the dire need of the children. Then we heard that CNN did a profile piece on the orphanage's situation and soon after our attempts to communicate with them became extremely difficult. Their email was jammed and the already hopeless cell service had become non existent. But our Bridge Foundation cohort back in Miami managed to get things back on track and after many fits and starts they managed to get a driver down to us. You could see the look of appreciation on their faces—they brought several volunteers to help load the truck.  Hopefully we will be able to visit that orphanage at some point in the future.

At the airport, things have been changing. Water has begun to flow much more freely. Until early this evening everyone on the tarmac, including military personnel, were on the hunt for water but then all of a sudden it just seemed that pallets of it were available everywhere.

On the outbound side we've seen convoys of stretchers being walked into planes. Clearly they are moving the wounded to better hospitals. The search and rescue teams are back but they have their own camp on the other end of the airport from us, where we are planning to camp tomorrow night when the others arrive. But more on that tomorrow.

Clara Jeffery is co-editor of Mother Jones. Follow her on Twitter @clarajeffery.