Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are expected to unveil the draft of their climate bill on Wednesday, but other legislators are already lining up to talk about what they'd like to see changed in the bill. It's already looking like there will need to be substantial revisions on the manufacturing and trade side if they're hoping to break the deadlock in the Senate.

E&E reports that the bill is not expected to include the language in the House bill that focuses on how to protect trade-exposed and energy-intensive industries like cement, steel, refining, paper, and glass. These provisions are seen as key to getting the votes of many Midwestern, industrial-state Democrats.

"It's going to need a lot of work," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), told E&E. "My understanding is they did not include the House language on manufacturing ... But I've been talking to them about it. They are very open to it. They are in no way dismissive."

Brown is seen as a leader in the Senate on these issues, and perhaps a bellwether for how a vote on a climate bill might turn out. He's a progressive Democrat from a manufacturing and coal-dependent state, who in June 2008 voted against the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. After that vote, he vowed his support for climate action—but only if a proposal insulated states like Ohio.

 

When Congress passed the Medicare prescription drug plan in 2003, it provided two ways for seniors to get access to pharmaceuticals: they could enroll directly in a prescription drug plan or, via Medicare Advantage, they could enroll in an HMO that offered drug coverage.  Medicare Advantage, of course, has long been controversial because the government provides subsidies to HMOs to participate, which means that it's more expensive to taxpayers than standard Medicare.

Still, Medicare Advantage enrollees enjoy extra benefits.  The program also provides incentives for HMOs to enter new areas and compete with each other.  So it's not as if the subsidies are being completely wasted.

But it does turn that they're being mostly wasted.  Austin Frakt, a health economist at Boston University, provides the dismal numbers:

My work (with Steve Pizer and Roger Feldman) shows that for each additional dollar spent by the federal government (taxpayers) on the program since 2003, just $0.14 of it can be attributed to additional value (consumer surplus) to beneficiaries....

What do we make of the other $0.86? That goes to the insurance companies but doesn’t come out “the other end” in the form of value to beneficiaries. In part it pays for the additional benefits themselves and in part it is captured as additional insurer profit.

Conversely, standard prescription drug plans provide more than a dollar of benefit for each dollar spent.  Roughly speaking, these plans cost taxpayers about 75 cents for each dollar of value they provide.

Bottom line: if healthcare reform cuts back on Medicare Advantage, the effect on retirees would be tiny.  Putting even half of the cuts back into standard prescription drug plans would almost certainly make everyone better off except for insurance companies.  The full paper is here.

The Republican strategy for defeating health care boils down to a game of smoke and mirrors, with conservatives scamming seniors into thinking that reform will be bad for them. In fact, most of the proposed changes to Medicare would be positive. As the New York Times explained in a Sunday editorial, " the various reform bills now pending should actually make Medicare better for most beneficiaries—by enhancing their drug coverage, reducing the premiums they pay for drugs and medical care, eliminating co-payments for preventive services and helping keep Medicare solvent, among other benefits."

That’s not to say there won’t be cuts. The Times points out:

The Obama administration and Congressional leaders are hoping to save hundreds of billions of dollars by slowing the growth of spending in the vast and inefficient Medicare system that serves 45 million older and disabled Americans. The savings would be used to help offset the costs of covering tens of millions of uninsured people.

One of the main reasons for the confusion that reigns over all things health care right now is the Democrats’ refusal to make a clear case for reform.They aren't willing to go after the real enemies of affordable health care for all: drug and insurance companies. And so as usual, the ideological vacuum left by the Democrats is being filled by Republican misinformation and fear mongering.

Environmental news from Mother Jones' other blogs and around the world.

How Hot?: WaPo article changes expected climate change temperaure rise.

Public Costs: How much exactly would that public option run us?

Cutting CO2: The recession is seriously slowing our CO2 emissions. [LiveScience]

Incoming: The Senate may see a climate bill soon after all, thanks to Boxer and Kerry.

Climate Forecast: Kate Sheppard fears climate fatigue may be setting in for policy-makers.

Big Plans: Some want to make a new, international, WTO-like climate body.

Big Spenders: China and Korea spend the most on green projects. [Planet Ark]

Subsidies Begone: G20 is moving forward with cutting subsidies for fossil fuel producers.

Chamber Defections: Companies are fleeing the US Chamber of Commerce over its climate policy.

High Expectations: A statement tries to downplay expectations of Obama at Copenhagen.

Crowd Survey: Checking the crowds at the G20 protests, Twitters and all.

Cantor's Choice: The GOP can have a full-scale plan, but not without involving the Feds.

 

Some stories you may have missed over the weekend:

Bank of America stonewalls on providing Congress with recordings of phone calls from Countrywide to members of its VIP loan program

The revamped Recovery.gov site goes live today.

New York Times columnist, Nixon speechwriter and scrupulous grammarian William Safire passed away.

The Washington Independent's Daphne Eviatar finds evidence that interrogation of a teenage Guantanamo detainee violated even the anything-goes interrogation standards devised by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel.

How the Fed completely, utterly failed—in fact didn't even try—to monitor subprime lending.

David Corn and Obama transition chief John Podesta debate whether Copenhagen is dead or just in big trouble.

Why are the Russians so good at chess?

The Washington Post got really spooked by Twitter.

The Taliban in their own words.

David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman, Nick Baumann and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. YOu can follow me here. (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

 

Let's pretend that Monsters of Folk is, true to its tongue-in-cheek name, actually a supergroup. The first rule of supergroup appreciation is that you have to pick your favorite member. Sometimes it's a tricky choice: Nelson, Lefty, or Lucky Wilbury? Willie, Johnny, or Waylon? In Monsters of Folk, you have your pick of four artists who are neither real folkies nor real rock stars: M. Ward, Conor Oberst, Jim James, and Mike Mogis. Before even picking up their self-titled disc, my money was on M. Ward. I still have his Transfiguration of Vincent and Post-War on heavy rotation and even though his recent efforts have gone a bit soft (the inoffensive Hold Time and She & Him, a collaboration with the adorable yet Auto-Tune-worthy Zooey Deschanel), I'm a sucker for his melancholy pop.

Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst would be my runner-up, but only because I've never really listened to James' My Morning Jacket because the phrase "jam band" is often in proximity to its name, fairly or not. Bright Eyes' I'm Wide Awake It's Morning was great, but I have a low tolerance for Oberst's earnest warbling. And I must confess I have never heard of Mike Mogis (a member of Bright Eyes, and as the M.O.F.'s pinch hitter-slash-engineer, its Jeff Lynne, to borrow a Wilbury). So doing some quick supergroup mental math, I figured if M.O.F. was half as enjoyable as an M. Ward album, I'd be content.

Q: I heard stadium concerts are carbon nightmares. So do I have to skip U2 next time they’re in town?

A: In July, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne slammed U2 for its massive 360˚ tour. “Those stadium shows may possibly be the most extravagant and expensive (production-wise) ever: $40 million to build the stage and, having done the math, we estimate 200 semi trucks crisscrossing Europe for the duration,” he wrote on his blog. Ouch—especially for a band that bills itself as socially responsible. An environmental consultant calculated that that the tour’s carbon emissions were equivalent to flying all 90,000 attendees at one of their London concerts to Dublin.

A tour like U2’s creates about 15 pounds of CO2 per audience member per concert, not including the carbon created by getting to the show. But few people attend more than a few truly extravagant live shows every year—most of the music we hear is recorded.

A recent study found that downloading music online creates between 40 and 80 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than buying a CD at a store, depending on how you get to the store and whether you burn and package your disc after you download it. In general: Assuming you drive to the music store, buying three physical CDs has 1.5 times the carbon footprint of attending a U2 show. For the same amount of carbon, you could download about 10 albums.

Tip: Don't burn downloaded albums onto CD. If you do, you're only creating 40 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than you would by buying a CD at the store. Sans physical CD, that figure jumps to 80 percent.

The bottom line: See your favorite band rock a stadium every few years—but download their albums online instead of buying a CD.
 

Quote of the Day

This is from Binyamin Appelbaum's front-page story in today's Washington Post about the Fed's unwillingness to regulate subprime lending by affiliates of commercial banks:

"There was a long period when things were going very well and regulation was viewed as something that got in the way," said Alice Rivlin, the Fed's vice chairman from 1996 to 1999 and now a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The Fed also minimized repeated warnings about mortgage lending abuses in part because it was an institution dominated by big-picture economists focused on the health of the broader economy rather than the problems faced by individual borrowers.

[Former Fed chairman Alan] Greenspan said in an interview that he did not think the Fed was suited to policing lending abuses because of its focus on broader issues, but he added, "I'm not sure anyone could have done it better." He said the administration's plan to create a consumer protection agency was "probably the right decision."

Greenspan is exactly right.  This is more than just the usual issue of regulatory capture (though it's that too).  The Fed is a bad choice to regulate this stuff because their first priority is always going to be macroeconomic stability.  That's exactly as it should be, but it means that regulating consumer products will simply never be anything more than an afterthought for them.

The same is true for virtually every other existing regulator too: they already have settled missions and settled cultures that value specific tasks.  Consumer lending regulation isn't one of them, so it will never be able to compete effectively for attention.  The only place it has a chance of succeeding is at a new agency in which everyone from top to bottom considers it their primary mission in life.  That's what a strong CFPA brings to the table.

Will it eventually be captured by the industry it's supposed to regulate?  Sure.  And then we'll have to try to fix things again.  But no solution is eternal, so that's hardly a good reason not to act.  We should set up a CFPA that's as strong as we can make it; that has its incentives aligned as precisely as we can align them; and that has an institutional base of power that allows it to actually get things done.  It won't be perfect, but it will be a lot better than anything we have now.

The Meltdown List

Off the top of my head, here's a list of the various things people have blamed for last year's economic meltdown:

1. Housing bubble
2. Mortgage securitization mania
3. Massive growth of complex credit derivatives
4. Mortgage fraud, growth of NINJA/liar/HELOC/option ARM/etc.
5. Asian savings glut
6. Long-term current account imbalances
7. Ratings agency flimflam
8. 2007-08 oil shock
9. Overuse of leverage on Wall Street
10. Easy money policy from Fed
11. Reliance on bad risk models (VaR, CAPM, etc.) that led to consistent undervaluation of risk
12. Too much debt (both household and financial sector)
13. Government efforts to increase homeownership
14. Repeal of Glass-Steagall

I don't have any particular agenda here.  I'm just collecting reasons, and obviously there's quite a bit of overlap on this list already.  But I'm still looking for more!  If I'm missing anything that a significant number of people think had a significant effect, please leave it in comments.

UPDATE: Added from comments:

15. Pay practices that provided incentives for risky behavior
16. Greenspan/Bernanke put (i.e., the widespread belief that the Fed would bail out any big bank that failed)
17. Inadequate regulation of shadow banking sector
18. Poor bank capitalization regulations that allowed too much off-balance-sheet risk

John Podesta posted a response to my article on a statement he co-wrote that I characterized as a signal the Obama administration has concluded that producing a comprehensive global warming treaty at the upcoming Copenhagen summit will not be possible and that alternative measures must be pursued. Here is Podesta's reply in full:

While Mother Jones’ David Corn is an excellent reporter, he is a lousy tealeaf reader. Mr. Corn misread a recent article by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and myself in advance of the G20 summit, incorrectly concluding our purpose was to downplay expectations on behalf of the Administration. Mr. Corn’s interpretation of our piece is inaccurate. Dr. Pachauri, one of the world’s foremost advocates for strong global action on climate change, and I both recognize that significant challenges remain in advance of the U.N. summit in December. But we are confident that the international community is poised to make substantial progress on climate change in Copenhagen, and that the U.S. is now in a position to exercise renewed leadership in pursuit of a best-case climate scenario.

The purpose of our September 23 piece was to emphasize the importance of climate change in advance of the G20 meetings and encourage the world’s top emitters to seize an important opportunity to take concrete steps to move forward in advance of December’s summit. It is not news that the divide between the unwieldy groups of developed and developing countries have stalled climate talks in the past and that they are drifting again. It is, however, noteworthy that major emitters have recently utilized new channels — the Administration’s Major Economies Forum, for example, as well as the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue — to lay the groundwork for a new climate agreement in Copenhagen. We think this is an important development and should be pursued whenever opportunities, like this week’s summit, arise. Our piece urged leaders at the G20 to pursue concrete actions prior to Copenhagen on issues such as financing arrangements, technology cooperation, and deforestation prevention to increase the chances of success in December.

Even in the midst of global economic crisis, climate change has remained at the top of the agenda both in the United States and in key countries around the world. There is broad consensus that the effects of climate change are not only real, but will be devastating to developed and developing countries alike if the international community fails to agree on a global emissions reduction strategy soon. The road ahead is not without obstacles, which our piece pointed out. But the fate of Copenhagen is far from sealed — and it is my strong belief that the Obama Administration is committed to doing all it can to lead the world into a low-carbon, clean energy future.

It still seems to me that by declaring that the pre-Copenhagen talks are at an "impasse" and that the prospects of reaching a treaty is "grim"—possibly realistic assessments—Podesta and Pachauri, two champions of countering climate change, are assuming that the climate summit will fall short of what's been the perceived public goal (a comprehensive global accord that leads to a serious reduction in emissions) and are now pushing for alternative mulitlateral actions and decisions that would mark real progress in redressing climate change (though perhaps not as much progress as a full-fledged and tough treaty). This might be a reasonable approach—maybe the only option—given the well-known conflicts in the pre-Copenahgen negotiations and the US Senate's inability to produce climate change legislation prior to the gathering. But if the Obama administration—which Podesta helped set up—has reached a similar conclusion, that would indeed be noteworthy and represent something of a shift (even if a necessary one) in its efforts to address global warming.