Comedian Eugene Mirman, Grist’s special correspondent in Copenhagen, joined tens of thousands of protesters for the a rally and march during the UN Climate Change Conference. Amidst a colorful display of activism at Parliament Square, Eugene tackles the big issues. He talks to everyone, including protesters protesting the protest. He also speaks with a VERY cute dog.

This video was produced by Grist as part of the Copenhagen News Collaborative, a cooperative project of several independent news organizations. Check out the constantly updated feed here. Mother Jones’ comprehensive Copenhagen coverage is here, and our special climate change package is here.

[We interrupt our Copenhagen coverage for this week's Econundrum:]

This year, my Christmas shopping goal was simple: No gadgets. But I’m beginning to think an electronics-free Christmas might be harder to achieve than I thought: According to Amazon’s weekly list of top-selling Christmas gifts, grown-ups are going crazy for Kindles, while kids are clamoring for something called Chuck My Talking Truck (“Not only does Chuck have over 40 spoken phrases and sounds, he also drives to you when called and shakes his bumper and dump bed while chatting and ‘working.’”) Creepy.

Doubting my ability to resist booty-shaking dump trucks, I decided to prevail upon the MoJo hive brain. Courtesy of our smart, thrifty, and eco-minded staff, here are ten greener alternatives to Amazon’s top ten gifts. (If the idea of buying more stuff doesn’t appeal, sit tight till next week: DIY gift ideas are on their way.)

1. Instead of: Baby Einstein Takealong Tunes
Try: Animal Dolls are huggable plush toys based on kids’ drawings. Made of organic materials, 100 percent compostable. Completely free of “high quality and enjoyable classical melodies.” ($24.99 at animaldolls.com)

2. Instead of: Hoover Vacuum Cleaner
Try: A National Parks Pass. No lint in the great outdoors! ($80 at nps.gov/fees_passes)

3. Instead of: Bakugan 7 in 1 Maxus Dragonoid Figurines
Try: Anyu, the organic cotton ice pixie who hails from a polar ice cap. And you know what evil forces are at work up there. Just imagine the dramatic play possibilities. ($22.46 at greenfeet.com)

4. Instead of: Givenchy PLAY Eau de Toilette
Try: A pretty Japanese Furoshiki. Wear it, giftwrap with it, or carry your lunch in it. ($9-$34 at furoshiki.com)

5. Instead of: Amazon Kindle
Try: Something retro: A used book. Bonus points for a childhood favorite, or a cool one that’s gone out of print. (prices vary; try your local bookstore or powells.com)

6. Instead of: Lego Ultimate Building Set
Try: BPA-free tea set made from recycled milk jugs. ($25 at potterybarnkids.com)

7. Instead of: Bare Escentuals Make-up
Try: Something frivolous: Mercy Corp's Women’s Leadership kits. “Give women the resources to turn their ideas and energy into successful small businesses.” ($50 at mercycorps.org/mercykits)

8. Instead of: Levi’s Jeans
Try: Recycled shirt from Stella Neptune. I like this one, which features a jaunty skull wearing a slightly askew crown. ($68 at stellaneptune.com)

9. Instead of: Crocs
Try: Acorn Eco-Wrap Slippers, made of earth friendly fibers, including hemp, wool and yak. ($25.74 at sierratradingpost.com)

10. Instead of: Playskool’s Chuck My Talking Truck
Try:  Recycling truck from Green Toys, Inc. Made in the USA from recycled milk jugs; shipped responsibly. Never too early to learn proper sorting. ($21.95 at greenfeet.com)
 

Climate change skeptics can no longer complain that the mainstream media has glossed over ClimateGate. Yesterday the Associated Press published a virtual exegisis of the 1,073 emails stolen from climate researchers at East Anglia University. It was written by five AP reporters who reviewed more than 1 million words between them and then sent the juiciest passages to seven experts in research ethics, climate science, and science policy. The experts were underwhelmed, to say the least. "None of the e-mails flagged by the AP and sent to three climate scientists viewed as moderates in the field changed their view that global warming is man-made and a threat," the AP reported. "Nor did it alter their support of the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which some of the scientists helped write."

The AP examined an email that is cited more often than any other by global warming skeptics, a message in which climate scientist Phil Jones says: "I've just completed [climatologist] Mike's [Mann] trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years [from 1981 onward] and from 1961 for Keith's to hide the decline [in temperature readings]." Skeptics have cited the message as evidence that climatologists are cooking the books, but the AP saw it differently:

Jones was referring to tree ring data that indicated temperatures after the 1950s weren't as warm as scientists had determined.

The "trick" that Jones said he was borrowing from Mann was to add the real temperatures, not what the tree rings showed. And the decline he talked of hiding was not in real temperatures, but in the tree ring data which was misleading, Mann explained.

Mark Frankel, director of scientific freedom, responsibility and law at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, saw "no evidence for the falsification or fabrication of data, although concerns could be raised about some instances of very 'generous interpretations.'" Dan Sarewitz, a science policy advisor at Arizona State University, added: "This is normal science politics, but on the extreme end, though within bounds." (And that's coming from a guy who works at the same university where climate researchers have taken more than $1 million from oil, coal and utility interests).

Ultimately, the AP found no evidence that the emails revealed a "culture of corruption," as some Republicans have claimed. The story makes clear that the climatologists were under siege from lawsuits and FOIA requests from skeptics eager to twist their raw data. Despite these pressures, the emails show that the scientists respected their critics so long as they were professionals who published through the peer-review process and not Internet cranks eager to feed a "den of disinformation." 

David Roberts has a good short summary of the first week of the Copenhagen talks (even shorter summary: lots of sound and fury signifying nothing much) and says this is the only really big story to emerge so far:

The one significant new feature of this treaty round is the emergence of a distinct voice for small island nations and the poorest states—the folks for whom climate change is an existential, not just economic, problem. Inside the talks, this manifested in the tiny island state of Tuvalu’s call for a new, post-Kyoto treaty that would require mandatory reductions not only from rich countries but from the biggest and fastest-growing developing nations, including China and India. It would also set 1.5 degrees C as the target for limiting the rise in global temperature, rather than the 2 C agreed upon in previous talks (and still maintained by big emitters). This amounts to the first big public eruption of the simmering tensions between major developing countries and their smaller/poorer brethren. Whereas China and India want to shelter their economic development above all else, Tuvalu, well, might go under water soon.

Read the whole thing.

In August, I wrote about the Obama administration's flawed $75 billion homeowner rescue effort, the Home Affordable Modification Program, and therein introduced readers to Florida homeowner Kristina Page. Page's mortgage company, Saxon Mortgage Services, first told her it hadn't heard of HAMP. Then, when Saxon finally admitted Page into the program, it lost her paperwork and told her multiple times to send more copies of the same information even though she knew the name of the employee who'd signed for the originals.

Page eventually made it into HAMP's trial period, a test run during which she had to make to three lower payments on time to qualify for the permanently lower, more affordable payments. After the test run, Page's mortgage company, per HAMP's guidelines, re-examined her financial information and recalculated what her permanent mortgage payments would be. Here's where, like so many other homeowners, Page ran into trouble. "As I feared," she recently wrote me, "the permanent payment is much higher than the trial period estimate payments." On the face of it, her new monthly payment will be $40 less—hardly much help when you consider the mess Page's been through to participate in HAMP.

It gets worse. Here's why, in Page's own words, Saxon gave her higher—and as it turns out, incorrectly calculated—HAMP payments:

I couldn't figure out how they had our income so high, so as I told you I contested the numbers. Saxon called this morning and I explained my problem. [The Saxon employee] checked into it and called me back with this gem. She said, "The extra income is because there is a letter in your file stating your sister Samantha will be contributing $1300 per month toward your household income"...I am an only child...I don't have a sister Samantha or any other sister. She [the employee] apologized profusely and even said, "This is all our fault"...I almost dropped the phone.

Ad Update

In case you're interested, here's an update from the LA Times on efforts to turn down the volume on TV commercials.  As near as I can tell, it's the exact same story we all read six months ago.  Anna Eshoo's bill is still winding its way slowly through Congress; it's still wildly popular with ordinary people; it's still being opposed by Republicans; and the ad industry is still "working to address the problem," with progress expected any day now.  Just thought you'd like to know.

Obama and the Bankers

Speaking of Obama and Wall Street, here's the latest.  After last night's attack on "fat cat bankers" on 60 Minutes, Obama held a White House meeting with top financial CEOs today that the Wall Street Journal said "was expected to clear the air between the president and the financial sector."  Good to hear!  The New York Times added this:

Mr. Obama, who has faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for being too close to Wall Street, called Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and 10 other big banks to the gathering as anger over last year’s bank bailouts continued to percolate. The president will address the size of salaries and bonuses, an official said, as he seeks to impress upon bankers that they have a “special responsibility” to consumers.

“We have to get them off the sidelines and get them to play a more active role in our economic recovery,” Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said on Sunday. “They play an essential role in helping the economy grow.”

Look: bankers are going to keep making lots of money as long as the financial sector makes a lot of money.  That's just the way the business world works, and all the jawboning in the world won't change that.  If Obama really wants bonuses to come down, he needs to propose regulations that will shrink the profitability of the financial industry.  If he does that, bonuses will come down naturally.  If he doesn't, they won't.  He'll get — at most — a bit of short-term posturing designed to relieve public pressure until everyone forgets the whole thing and bankers can go back to business as usual.

So: fewer meetings and more regulations, please.

Sometimes a little public outrage goes a long way. On Wednesday, Rick Warren, the California mega-church pastor who delivered the invocation at President Obama's inauguration, ended his uncomfortable silence on anti-gay legislation in Uganda by condemning (via YouTube) a proposed measure that would make homosexuality punishable by death. (Warren's Twitter feed suggests he’d been a bit more active behind the scenes). That same day, citing pressure from Ugandan pastors—Warren is huge there—politicians temporarily dropped the proposal. Ugandan President Yoweri Musevini's spokesman issued a statement blaming outside activists for derailing the legislation:

"The Anti-Homosexual Bill 2009, yet to be tabled on the floor of parliament, has attracted unnecessary hullabaloo," said the spokesman. "Some Western countries, with their characteristic condescending attitude, are already threatening to cut aid if that bill is passed into law." (h/t Episcopal Cafe)

Taibbi, Round 2

Matt Taibbi is a hard guy to defend.  He exaggerates, he misinterpets, and he uses bad language.  Sometimes he gets his facts wrong.  If I knew what was good for me, I'd just leave it at that and jump on the bandwagon that says his brand of journalism is beyond the pale.

But I'm an idiot, so I won't.  For example: Taibbi says that what unites Obama's economic team is that they're all proteges of Robert Rubin.  I've already said that I think this is a bad interpretation, but Taibbi's underlying point is still a good one: this is a very mainstream group that's overly sympathetic to Wall Street and unwilling to push for really substantial regulatory reform.  Ezra Klein defends them this way:

What unites not only Obama's economic team, but his whole White House, is not its emphasis on rich people. It's the emphasis on people accustomed to dealing with Congress....It's rather difficult to say what these people do and don't believe, as their whole world is finding 218 in the House and 60 in the Senate, and every word, action and policy brief is squarely aimed at that goal.

That leaves two questions worth asking about them: First, are they more or less liberal than the 218th most liberal congressman and the 60th most liberal senator? Second, are they good at their jobs? That is to say, are they good at bringing 218 congressmen and 60 senators into line behind reasonably good policy?

I'm just not sure this works.  It does matter what these people do and don't believe.  Speaking for myself, I'd really like to know whether we have a progressive administration that's hemmed in by Congress or if we have a mainstream administration that pretty much agrees with the 60th most liberal senator in the first place.  If it were the former, we'd at least be hearing leaks that they wanted to propose hard-hitting regulations but eventually decided not to on tactical grounds.  But we haven't.  The regs that came out of the White House earlier this year were mostly pretty soft, and there was very little sense that anyone in the West Wing had been arguing to open the negotiations with Congress from a more forceful starting position.

Now, I suppose one argument is: who cares?  "We don’t want to tilt at windmills," Obama said last June, and hell, maybe he's right.  But that takes things too far.  It suggests that Congress has all the power and Obama virtually none.  I agree that Taibbi should have emphasized Congress, and congressional Republicans in particular, more than he did, but surely it makes a difference if the president stakes out  a courageous position in the first place?  If he gets the public on his side, that's got to count for something.

But he never really even tried, and I think that's largely due not to political considerations, but due to the fact that his team didn't really want to stake out a more audacious position.  Neither did Obama.  He reappointed Ben Bernanke with barely a second thought, after all, which certainly suggests that he's basically OK with Bernanke's general view of the economic world.  And while it's true that in one sense there's nothing new here — Obama was pretty obviously a fairly mainstream guy all throughout the election — he's also the guy that promised at every opportunity to change the way Washington works.  He's the guy who met with bankers and made sure we all knew that he told them he was "the only thing between you and the pitchforks."  He's the guy who tells 60 Minutes that he didn't run for office "to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street."  He may be mainstream, but he's certainly doing his best to sound otherwise.

So sure: Congress is a problem.  But so is the White House.  So is the Fed.  So is the SEC.  And that's the whole point.  They're all problems.  Taibbi chose to illustrate this colorfully, and sometimes that color gets in the way of a coherent narrative.  But dammit, at least he's telling the story, and there are damn few others who are even trying to tell it in popular, long-form venues.  As soon as they do, maybe we can all toss Taibbi on the ash heap and take turns raining down curses on him.  Until then, he's what we've got.

History is Rhyming

The LA Times reports today that the Obama administration wants to expand the war in Afghanistan to include drone attacks on Pakistani cities the size of San Francisco:

The prospect of Predator aircraft strikes in Quetta, a sprawling city, signals a new U.S. resolve to decapitate the Taliban. But it also risks rupturing Washington's relationship with Islamabad.

The concern has created tension among Obama administration officials over whether unmanned aircraft strikes in a city of 850,000 are a realistic option. Proponents, including some military leaders, argue that attacking the Taliban in Quetta — or at least threatening to do so — is crucial to the success of the revised war strategy President Obama unveiled last week.

"If we don't do this — at least have a real discussion of it — Pakistan might not think we are serious," said a senior U.S. official involved in war planning. "What the Pakistanis have to do is tell the Taliban that there is too much pressure from the U.S.; we can't allow you to have sanctuary inside Pakistan anymore."

Boy, those comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam just get more facile and ridiculous every day, don't they?