Connecticut's embattled Senator Chris Dodd has had a bad year. The democratic chairman of the Senate Banking Committee has been attacked for his ties to economic villains like Countrywide Financial and AIG, and is often cited as one of the most vulnerable Dems seeking reelection in 2010. Hoping to thwart some of this criticism, Dodd reportedly said this spring that he would donate gifts he received from a dozen AIG executives and their spouses to charity. But this week the Center for Responsive Politics reports that thus far, Dodd has neglected to donate the $56,000 in question and that he's even backing down from his original promise. Dodd supporters claim that that he only intended to return funds he received from AIG executives following the bailout. "Sen. Dodd has taken no AIG contributions after the bailout, and in fact, none since September 2008," Connecticut Democratic Party Communications Director Colleen Flanagan told CRP's politics blog Capital Eye.

True, Dodd shouldn't have to make up for money he received before AIG went asunder, but if he didn't get any post-bailout funds then why promise the donations in the first place? This, more than anything, gives amunition to Dodd's critics, including a cohort of Republicans, eyeing his seat in 2010.

So what did Dodd actually promise? CRP rounds up press reports from earlier this year:

US Army Spc. Leo Leroy gets a kiss from Regina Leroy and a bow-wow welcome from dogs Yoshi and Bruiser at a homecoming ceremony on Fort Hood, Texas, Nov. 28, 2009. Leroy, assigned to E Forward Support Company, 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, returned after a year in Qayarrah in northern Iraq. (US Army photo by Spc. Sharla Lewis.)

Need To Read: December 9, 2009

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Here's good news for the planet: Sarah Palin has become perhaps the leading US foe of the Copenhagen summit and efforts to redress climate change.

While on her book tour, the governor-who-quit has been Twittering regularly about her adventures. Most of her tweets have a God-bless-America tone:

* Privileged 2 now meet w MN folks w families n Alaska;1 realizes how intimate r nation is as we travel&hear of connections all Americans have

* Headed to Walter Reed hospital this morn to meet wounded warriors;will give them msg of support from patriots who love these selfless troops

*Flying 2 Dallas now where bus meets us 2 get early start tomrrw w 1000s of good Texans who are lot like Alaskans:independent/bold/patriotic

But when she's not tweeting about all the wonderful Americans she meets across the wonderful United States, Palin has been zapping out Twitter messages about global warming--or the lack thereof:

* Stand by for Facebook entry on Obama's climate change "experts" & their latest shenanigans. Thank God "Climategate" truth is being revealed!

* Leave chilly TX(poor evidence of global warming today)4 Virginia event&speech tonite n DC;Glad Todd got 2 lv construction project 2 join us!

*Copnhagn Climate Summit;Obama should boycott in light of bogus "findings"Public leary re:snake oil science,he must take stand on climategate

* 2 much of "global warming" agenda is merely to halt responsible developmnt;sound science must b foundation 4 Copnhagn decisions,not politics

On Wednesday, as the Copenhagen conference was under way, she published an op-ed in The Washington Post, denouncing the climate change crowd, claiming (errantly) that the so-called Climategate controversy proves there's no significant scientific consensus, and asserting climate change is not connected to human activity: "while we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes." (Actually, the issue is climate change, not weather change.)

Palin is supplanting Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) as the nation's most prominent climate change denier. Her stance is nothing new. On Palin's first day as John McCain's running-mate in 2008, she said in an interview, "I'm not one though who would attribute [climate change] to being man-made." This past July, she wrote a Washington Post op-ed decrying the pending cap-and-trade legislation, without once referring to climate change. In that recent Facebook note she tweeted about, Palin contended, "we cannot primarily blame man’s activities for the earth’s cyclical weather changes. The drastic economic measures being pushed by dogmatic environmentalists won’t change the weather, but will dramatically change our economy for the worse." She went on:


A break from the Copenhagen news now to note a quietly momentous development regarding one of the largest and longest-running class action lawsuits in American history. I first wrote about the mind-boggling intricacies of this suit, brought by Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet banker of incredible courage and tenacity, in MoJo four years ago.

It took 13 years and four named defendants (Cobell v. Salazar, Cobell v. Kempthorne, Cobell v. Norton, Cobell v. Babbitt) spanning three presidents (Clinton, Bush II, Obama), for Elouise Cobbell to win her suit againt the federal government for mismanagement of the Individual Indian Trust.

In a nutshell, the feds lost or otherwise never paid hundreds of thousands of Indian plaintiffs the monies owed them on lands they owned but were "managed" by the government for their mineral rights (think: oil wells) and agricultural rights for more than 100 years. Cobell's forensic accountants estimated the government owed the Indians $176 billion.

Well, today, at long last, a settlement was reached with the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Treasury for a fraction of what Cobell believes the Indians were owed. Nevertheless, the federal government has now agreed to create on behalf of the Individual Indian Trust:

  • A $1.4 billion Trust Accounting and Administration Fund
  • A $2 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund
  • A $60 million federal Indian Education Scholarship fund to improve access to higher education for Indian youth
  • Plus a commitment to appoint a commission to oversee and monitor specific improvements in the Department’s accounting for and management of individual Indian trust accounts and trust assets, from now on

The settlement is believed to be the largest ever against the federal government and dwarfs the combined value of all judgments and settlements of all Indian cases since the founding of this nation. That's the good news.

But as Elouise Cobell says:

"Indians did not receive the full financial Settlement they deserved, but we achieved the best Settlement we could. This is a bittersweet victory, at best, but it will mean a great deal to the tens of thousands of impoverished Indians entitled to share in its financial fruits, as well as to the Indian youth whose dreams for a better life, including the possibility of one day attending college, can now be realized."

 

A couple of months ago — if not earlier — it became pretty clear that this week's Copenhagen conference wasn't going to produce the big climate treaty everyone had been hoping for.  Ever since, participants have been trying to figure out how to salvage things, and today Jonathan Pershing, the Obama administration's deputy special climate change envoy, took his crack at the spin machine.  David Corn reports:

Speaking to about 200 people from various environmental groups, Pershing made the case that a non-binding political agreement — in which the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases would pledge to take various actions to reduce their own emissions — would be more effective than a treaty establishing firm and legally enforceable commitments, according to several people who attended the session.

....Pershing, a well-known scientist who has worked on climate change for decades, maintained that a binding treaty — which would mandate emission reductions and contain penalties for noncompliance — could easily stall. It would have to be ratified by the U.S. Senate (which would require 67 votes) and winning Senate approval would be no easy feat for the Obama administration. (The Senate does not yet have the 60 votes need to block a filibuster of pending climate change legislation.) Other nations also would have to approve it. He pointed out that the 1997 Kyoto global warming accord, which the US Senate never approved, took five years to be ratified around the world. If Copenhagen did produce a binding treaty, Pershing said, it would be years before it could go into effect. In the meantime, emissions would continue to flow. A political deal, he contended, could kick in immediately

As spin goes, I suppose this isn't bad.  It's true, after all, that the prospect of getting 67 votes to approve a climate treaty in the Senate is piss poor.1  So perhaps this really is our only realistic alternative.  Still, it's the Obama administration's biggest climbdown yet, and one that suggests that Obama believes Waxman-Markey is the best we're going to be able to do in the near term.  Unfortunately, he's probably right.

1Though there's always the possibility of ratifying it as an executive agreement with only 60 votes, as NAFTA and other international agreements have been.

On an ABC news segment about healthcare tonight, Jonathan Karl said, "Democrats in the Senate are more optimistic on this than I have seen them in a long time."  Why?  Because they think they've struck a deal that can get 60 votes.  Most reports I've seen agree on the basics, including this one from Brian Beutler:

As has been widely reported, one of the trade-offs will be to extend a version of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan to consumers in the exchanges. Insurance companies will have the option of creating nationally-based non-profit insurance plans that would offered on the exchanges in every state. However, according to the aide, if insurance companies don't step up to the plate to offer such plans, that will trigger a national public option.

Beyond that, the group agreed — contingent upon CBO analysis — to a Medicare buy in.

That buy-in option would initially be made available to uninsured people aged 55-64 in 2011, three years before the exchanges open. For the period between 2011 and 2014, when the exchanges do open, the Medicare option will not be subsidized — people will have to pay in without federal premium assistance — and so will likely be quite expensive, the aide noted. However, after the exchanges launch, the Medicare option would be offered in the exchanges, where people could pay into it with their subsidies.

It appears as if liberals lost out on a Medicaid expansion that would have opened the program up to everybody under 150 percent of the poverty line. That ceiling will likely remain at 133 percent, as is called for in the current bill.

In addition to the new insurance options, the group has tentatively agreed to new, and strengthened, insurance regulations, which the aide could not divulge at this time.

So: an OPM-administered national plan, a weak triggered public option, a limited Medicare buy-in between 55-64, and some new insurance regs.  If this sticks, it's actually better than I expected.  I always figured we'd get a triggered public option and nothing more.

Of course, this still has a long way to go, and abortion is still a sticking point.  But for now, the prospects for healthcare reform are looking as good as they ever have.  Keep your fingers crossed.

The slight prospects for a deal at Copenhagen are already being pinned largely on the US and China. But with Obama's hands tied behind his back partly by the US Congress, with China already demonstrating leadership on renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts, and with both the developing and developed world hanging on Beijing's every word, the success or failure of Copenhagen will in large part depend upon China.

In a sense, Copenhagen isn't just about agreeing to agree on future carbon cuts or aid and technology transfer to developing countries. It's about how countries position themselves to lead the dialog going forward. Now's China's chance to shine, and we have to hope that it will.

The crucial role that China can play at Copenhagen hasn't been lost on China's negotiators or leaders. For decades they led a country notorious for its flagrant disregard for the environment, and with deep suspicion of foreign opinions. But for a handful of years, starting mainly with the awarding of the Beijing Olympics in 2001, China's government has grown determined to show the world it's cleaning up. And not just because it looks good. A cleaner environment will make real money, and prevent the social and political fallout that could come with continued environmental disaster.

Not surprisingly, China sees Copenhagen as its best opportunity yet at illustrating its commitments to the environment. If environmental controls were once at odds with the government's sense of self-determination and confidence, such controls are now becoming firmly part of that sense of power.

If climate change was once an excuse for the first world to (quite hypocrtically) tell China how to behave, now it's seen as a chance for China to show the rest of the world how to behave. To borrow Al Gore's (somewhat mistaken) formulation about the word 危机 weiji, the country that once looked like a paragon of crisis now exudes opportunity. And China's leaders, masters of both pragmatism and propaganda, may recognize that better than anyone.

Whatever the outcome may be of the climate negotiations -- and between China's and the US's still modest carbon targets, much remains to be done -- the best overall result of Copenhagen will be a China that's more confident than ever on the world stage. Combined with the country's booming economic and political (to say nothing of military) power, that kind of confidence is a great asset to both Beijing and the rest of the world. Whether you're talking about renewable energy or currency policy or political freedoms, the last thing anyone needs is a big important and strong country with a chip on its shoulder. That sense of insecurity only serves to isolate, antagonize and estrange -- and turn global concerns like climate change into merely political sore spots.

The dangers of China's historical inferiority complex were summarized in a great article last year by Orville Schell in the New York Review of Books. Schell, head of the Asia Society's center on US-China relations, describes the ways in which a national narrative of humiliation has served the power interests of China's leaders, at the often untold expense of its people. The country's "century of humiliation" was the subtext of the nasty international back-and-forth that ensued following the riots in Tibet last year, he observes, and of its vigorous and somewhat ugly reach for the most gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

To be sure, China had much to be proud of as a nation at the glorious opening ceremony. And yet, as Schell quotes Xu Guoqi, author of Olympic Dreams: China And Sports, 1895-2008, "Through their coverage and handling of the Beijing torch relay, the West seemed to remind the Chinese they were still not equal and they were still not good enough."

But climate change -- once a bitterly divisive issue between China and the west -- could ferry China and all of us out of this narrative. At a meeting at the Asia Society recently about US-China cooperation over carbon capture (US pays, China builds, both sides benefit), I heard Schell invoke a new vision of China:

China's rise has been accompanied by America's decline. This does have one very good effect: for the first time in 150 years, we find this Sino-US relation playing field, which used to be like this - [he held his hand diagonally] in terms of pop culture, politics, soft power -- more like this [hand horizontal]. But this new leveling means we will cofront each other with new equality... The Chinese strength, its new confidence, and a level playing field, comes with a prospect for a better relationship.

 

A better relationship will be crucial on all fronts, not least the climate one. For all the competitiveness of a global low carbon economy, climate change is ultimately not a zero-sum game. Like China, it's a crisis that could be an opportunity. By increasingly putting pragmatism before propaganda, Beijing is showing it recognizes that. If it can locate the leadership to get the developing world to follow suit, and enter into cooperation with the developed world with a greater sense of confidence, China will shed its status as the world's environmental villain. That would inspire even greater confidence in the future among both African leaders and US senators.

If China assumes the role it's earned at Copenhagen, for perhaps the first time on the world stage, it can demonstrate the great responsibility that comes with its great power. In doing so, it would be remaking much more than its image.

This story was reported for Treehugger 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 all know polar bears are suffering from a melting Arctic. We know they're being found far out at sea, far from shore. Some have been seen drowning.

Well now it turns out the loss of their mobile ice islands isn't the only problem. A warming world may well be poisoning them too. In ways no one  imagined.

Here's how: A new study in the journal Polar Research has made the important finding that polar bears feed from one of two different food webs. Each contains mercury. But one is worse than the other.

  • The phytoplankton food web derives from the free-floating single-celled plants inhabiting the sunlit layer of ocean.
  • The ice algae food web derives from the microscopic plants living on the underside of the icepack covering the frozen ocean.

The researchers figured out which was worse by teasing data from hundred-year-old museum samples of polar bears. They analyzed late-19th- and early-20th-century polar bear hair for the chemical signatures of nitrogen isotopes, carbon isotopes, and mercury concentrations.

In other words, they took a look back in time to the period before anthropogenic mercury emissions escalated ferociously.

What they discovered was that the polar bears who get most of their nutrition from the phytoplankton-based food webs carry heavier mercury burdens that those who feed primarily on ice algae-based food webs.

A finding that does not bode well for polar bears living in an increasingly iceless world.

Listen up, Copenhagen. It's not about the weather.
 

Who needs a binding global climate treaty?

That was essentially the message delivered by Jonathan Pershing, the Obama administration's deputy special climate change envoy, when he held an off-the-record briefing for US nongovernmental outfits at the Copenhagen climate summit on Tuesday. Speaking to about 200 people from various environmental groups, Pershing made the case that a non-binding political agreement—in which the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases would pledge to take various actions to reduce their own emissions—would be more effective than a treaty establishing firm and legally enforceable commitments, according to several people who attended the session. Pershing's comments mark a significant effort on the part of the United States to reshape the climate negotiations underway in Copenhagen. Though the Copenhagen session was initially conceived as the gathering where a hard-and-fast treaty would be crafted, there is now no chance of that happening. Pershing was trying to turn the absence of such an accord into a plus.

This story continues here.

This story was reported for Mother Jones 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.