Getting to 17%

The Waxman-Markey bill requires a 17% drop in carbon emissions by 2020.  Joe Romm explains how we can get there:

Clean energy deployment from the stimulus....carbon dioxide emissions will be some 2% lower in 2020 than in 2005....Obama’s recent fuel economy deal....Let’s call that another 2% emissions drop....Then we have Waxman-Markey itself.  It achieves huge energy efficiency savings....That’s another 5% drop.

....Let’s say 1% of the target will be met with domestic offsets....Let’s say 1% of the target will be met with international offsets....cofiring biomass....2% of the 2020 target.

That's about 13% already, and the rest of the reduction can be met simply by utilizing existing gas-fired electric plants at a higher rate than we do now:

It now appears likely that, thanks to unconventional supplies, natural gas alone could meet a great deal of the Waxman-Markey CO2 target for 2020 — without requiring gobs of new power plants to be sited and built or thousands of miles of new transmission lines.

....Today, dirty coal plants are being “dispatched” (or utilized) to provide electricity by grid operators first, while natural gas plants that could provide electricity with far lower emissions of carbon dioxide remain unutilized or underutilized — even though their electricity costs are only slightly higher.  This is occurring in at least two regions of the country, according to a major under-reported May study by the Energy Information Administration, “The Implications of Lower Natural Gas Prices for Electric Generators in the Southest.”  A cap on CO2 emissions and even a low price of CO2 will switch the dispatch order, generating large emissions savings at low cost (if the gas is available, as now seems likely).

Joe suggests that a carbon price of around ten bucks a ton — which is pretty low — is all that we'd need to motivate utilities to change the dispatch order of their plants enough to meet the rest of the 17% target.

Bottom line: meeting the Waxman-Markey targets for 2020 is pretty easy.  We'll have over a decade to start getting ready for the harder measures it takes to make serious cuts.  Doom mongers, take note.

Blackwater (renamed "Xe") has been kicked out of Iraq. Baghdad has revoked its operating license, and the State Department cancelled its long-standing private security contract earlier this year, replacing it with competitors DynCorp and Triple Canopy. But ridding Mesopotamia of Erik Prince and his hired guns is apparently not that simple. According to a lawsuit (PDF) filed Wednesday in the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, Blackwater continues to operate in Iraq under the mantle of Greystone Ltd., one of an array of smaller sub-companies under the Blackwater/Xe umbrella. (Dan Schulman and I wrote an in-depth piece about Greystone and its practice of hiring Third-World mercenaries for duty in Iraq in the March/April 2008 issue of Mother Jones.)

The contract in question is with a State Department-funded group called the International Republican Institute (IRI). Nominally nonpartisan, it claims to be promoting good governance and the rule of law in Iraq. In reality, the organization's leadership is heavily populated with Republicans, including Senator John McCain, who serves as chairman of the board. Bill Sizemore of reports that, between 2005 and 2007, the IRI paid Blackwater $17 million annually for security services, almost a quarter of the group's $75-million annual budget.

Ken Lewis, the CEO of Bank of America, has been called on to the carpet: he'll be testifying at a hearing of Ed Towns' Oversight and Government Reform committee today. The Service Employees International Union passes on ten questions it thinks committee members should ask Lewis:

1. How can you commit to pay for former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo’s legal defense—“a million a month” according to Bloomberg—while Bank of America announced layoffs for 35,000 employees and refuses cost-of-living raises for its lowest-wage workers?

2. Why do you nickel and dime your lowest paid workers (tellers earn $10.50/hour without access to affordable health insurance) at the same time you shower lavish perks and deals for executives and traders?

3. As Bank of America employees speak out about unpaid overtime and a predatory sales culture, what do you plan to do to improve employment practices?

4. Given dismal economic performance, low-staff morale, and a core business model of pushing debt on consumers, what has Bank of America done to meet its stated goal of being "the world's most admired company?"

5. After reportedly receiving tax breaks, and more than $195 billion in bailouts, government guarantees, and taxpayer-funded healthcare for its workers, what is Bank of America’s plan to reduce its dependence on the U.S.taxpayer?

6. After being bailed out by hard-working taxpayers facing the toughest economic times since the Great Depression, do you think it’s right for Bank of America to lobby against laws that would helps working families—like the Employee Free Choice Act, healthcare reform, and credit card reform?

7. As you argue against any laws that would create greater transparency in the industry, could you tell us what other calamities on your books you are hiding? First it was the Merrill Lynch deal—what’s the next shoe to drop?

8. During your time as CEO, at what point did cutting costs and gouging customers with unnecessary products and skyrocketing fees become more important than customer satisfaction?

9. At a time when people are struggling, have you considered lowering banking and overdraft fees that are already higher than many other non-bailed-out banks?

10. Why do you create incentives for Bank of America employees to push further debt on customers?

This should get good. You can watch live here.

Today's photo is from Afghanistan.U.S. Army Spc. Benji McHugh works security from the ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter over Khost, Afghanistan, May 26, 2009. McHugh and the Chinook crew are assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Prentice C. Martin-Bowen.)

On Tuesday night, my friend Lisa sent me an e-mail with "Amazing clip!" in the subject line. In the e-mail, she included a link and wrote: "This is the best clip ever! Zack Morris brought back to life!" Knowing that Lisa can be a drama queen, I waited a full 36 hours before checking out the e-mail. When I did, I was amazed. I had no idea that Jimmy Fallon had dedicated a significant amount of his life to organizing a Saved By The Bell cast reunion. In my mind, the whole Tonight Show switcheroo has already been trumped by Fallon's single-handed endeavor.

I'd always hoped to meet my childhood idol Zack Morris, and actor Marc-Paul Gosselaar's brilliant in-character appearance on Fallon's show kept my dream alive. For those of us born in the mid-1980s, Saved By The Bell gave us the scoop on high school from the time we entered kindergarten. And while no show is perfect (Chuck Klosterman famously critiqued SBTB's  "Tori Paradox" in his book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs), I believe SBTB flirted with perfection.

Three Bayside Tigers cheers to Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, and the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon production team. Without further ado, here it is:

Hindi cinema, long dismissed by the West as melodrama with a soundtrack, is the largest film industry (by volume and global popularity) in the world. Those so inclined can laugh, cry, and swoon their way through three hours of lush scenery, arch comedy, and catchy music in theaters across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the former Soviet Bloc, not to mention Canada, the UK, and the borough of Queens.

So why have so few Americans ever seen a Bollywood movie? If you're daunted by the prospect of sorting through 900 films per annum, consider this your beginner's guide to Bollywood.

Below, a 5-video cheat sheet of what to see first.

The AMA has announced that it will oppose the creation of a public option in any kind of healthcare reform.  This is not exactly a shocker, since the AMA has opposed pretty much every step toward national healthcare ever proposed — including Medicare.  Remember Operation Coffee Cup?

Still, they really ought to have better reasons than this:

In comments submitted to the Senate Finance Committee, the American Medical Association said: “The A.M.A. does not believe that creating a public health insurance option for non-disabled individuals under age 65 is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs. The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans.”

If private insurers are pushed out of the market, the group said, “the corresponding surge in public plan participation would likely lead to an explosion of costs that would need to be absorbed by taxpayers.”

The AMA's love affair with private insurance companies is truly a thing of wonder.  It's like these guys have collective Stockholm Syndrome.  Or collective battered wife syndrome.  Or something.  Given how much misery private insurers cause for most doctors, I sometimes wonder what they'd have to do to finally cause the AMA to turn on them. Start paying all claims in zlotys?  Demand that doctors have bar codes tattooed on their foreheads?  Insist that all waiting rooms show nothing but reruns of House?

Probably not even that.  Doctors must figure that the more pain private insurers cause them, the more it shows they really love them.  So back to the arguments, such as they are.  (1) A public plan wouldn't drive out private insurers unless it turns out that private insurers are actually less efficient than the post office.  In which case they'd deserve it.  (2) Nor would a public plan restrict choice — unless the AMA's members deliberately tried to sabotage it by refusing to participate.  (3) And there would only be a surge in signups if the public plan turned out to be a better deal, which would likely mean lower overall costs even if a greater percentage of those costs was paid for out of taxes.

But who cares?  Honestly, if the graybeards of the AMA didn't oppose a public plan it would probably make me rethink my support for it.  The fact that they are opposing it just means that all is right with the world.

UPDATE: Apparently the AMA is backing off slightly on its opposition to a public plan. They now say they're willing to consider "a federally chartered co-op health plan or a level playing field option for all plans" — whatever that means.  Sounds like pretty weak tea to me.  I think we can still safely say they're opposed to anything that would have a serious chance of being effective.

Yesterday Operation Rescue, the national anti-abortion group based in Wichita, announced that it wants to buy murdered abortion doctor George Tiller's clinic and convert it into a "memorial to the unborn." The national media dismissed the announcement as a stunt, but it most certainly isn't. 

In 2007 I reported a piece for this magazine about how anti-abortion groups have created similar memorials around the country. The story focused on Operation Rescue's efforts to convert a different abortion clinic in Wichita into what is now its national headquarters. When I visited, Operation Rescue director Troy Newman explained that he'd purchased the building through a front group. That approach makes yesterday's announcement a credible threat. If Tiller's family puts the building on the market, they might have to sell to someone they know or closely investigate the buyer to keep the building out of Newman's hands.

"What better way to show that we are winning and demoralize the enemy," Newman told me in 2007, "than by shutting down an abortion mill, throwing out the tenants on their face, and taking it over as our headquarters? You lose, we win."

Beyond the chest thumping, these kind of takeovers--which have also happened in Tennessee and Louisiana--are part of a long-term strategy of the anti-abortion movement. The approach ultimately enables a softer appeal to the millions of women who've already had an abortion. At the Wichita memorial, Newman told me in 2007, they'd be able to reflect, mourn, memorialize—even name their "babies"—and take action: "Not only can I see a plaque here with my baby's name on it, and cry here because I killed my baby here," he imagined visitors saying, "but these people in this building are dedicated to ending the holocaust, and I can join with them hand in hand."

Some pro-choice advocates admit their movement has been slow to tackle the question of healing. Only in the past several years have hot lines such as Exhale and Backline begun providing women with postabortion counseling services. Owning Tiller's clinic--and thus the right to tell its story--would be a powerful way for Operation Rescue to redefine what healing means in this case. If his past clinic takeover is any indication, it will probably involve grisly "tours" in which he will point out supposed blood stains.


The Un-Bailout

Banks that want to exit the TARP program have to do more than just pay back the money they received from the government.  They also have to buy back the warrants they issued as part of the initial deal.  But some bank CEOs are unhappy about this, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase says that the Treasury should cancel half the warrants it holds "out of fairness." Tim Fernholz isn't amused:

Are you kidding me? The taxpayers went on the line to bail the banks out during a financial crisis produced by the banks' own excess, and now they think that debt should be canceled "out of fairness." Yikes. Luckily, the Treasury seems to be growing into a tougher negotiator after some initial criticism from Congress, and may be thinking about auctioning the warrants to third parties to drive up prices further. Or, if the banks don't want to buy them back right now, they can remain under stricter regulatory supervision until the entire financial regulation apparatus is overhauled this summer.

Unfortunately, Dimon has a point, thanks to the way that Henry Paulson decided to handle the bailout in the first place.  Instead of pumping money only into troubled banks, he insisted on pumping money into all the big banks, whether they wanted it or not.  Ever since, this has given some of the banks a pretty justified excuse for complaining about the restrictions they were placed under, and this is just more of the same.  Why should Dimon have to buy back a bunch of warrants when he was an unwilling participant and only surrendered them in the first place because Paulson insisted on it for the good of the country?

Now, as it happens, there are some pretty good reasons for going ahead and making JPMorgan pay up.  They may not have wanted the TARP money, but they made (and continue to make) eager use of zillions of dollars in other Fed and Treasury programs.  So shed no tears for them.  That said, we wouldn't even be having this discussion if Paulson had handled the bailout better.  His excuse at the time for the scattershot approach was that he didn't want to single out any particular bank for TARP funds since that would advertise to the whole world that they were insolvent and might lead to a market panic.  But no one was fooled.  The market knew perfectly well who was in bad shape and who wasn't.  And when Citigroup and Bank of America went back to the well a second time — an obvious sign of distress — the markets just yawned.  There was no panic, no selloff, no nothing.  Ditto for all the smaller banks that have accepted TARP money.

What's more, a more targeted approach would have cost less.  Instead of $125 billion, the first-round tab probably would have run to something like $60-70 billion or so.  It would have been a better deal all around.

But that's not what happened, so now Jamie Dimon and his pals get to mouth off about how unfair life is.  Thanks, Henry.

Crap Fish

Farmed fish taste like crap. Now we know they're crap for the environment too. Consider this: Steelhead trout bred in hatcheries are so genetically impaired that even if they survive and reproduce in the wild their offspring are significantly less successful at reproducing.

The study in Biology Letters suggests adding hatchery fish to wild populations could hurt efforts to sustain the wild runs.

The data reveal that fish born in the wild from hatchery-reared parents averaged only 37 percent the reproductive fitness of fish with two wild parents. Fish born in the wild from one hatchery-reared parent and one wild parent averaged only 87 percent the reproductive fitness

Most significantly, these differences were detectable after a full generation of natural selection in the wild.

The problem arises from the fact that fish who do well in the safe world of the hatcheries are selected to be different from those that do well in the predatory real world.

And, no, using wild fish as brood stock each year does not solve the problem. Exactly that type of steelhead were used in this study. Yet apparently even one generation of hatchery culture produces strong negative effects on wild fish.

The implications reach far beyond steelhead. Captive breeding is a cornerstone of recovery efforts for many endangered species. This study raises doubts that such programs actually work.

This research was based on years of genetic analysis of thousands of steelhead trout in Oregon's Hood River in field work since 1991. Scientists genetically fingerprinted three generations of returning fish to determine who their parents were and whether they were wild or hatchery fish.

That's the beauty of long-term research. May we fund more of it.

Want to know what's better to eat—if you must eat the wildlife of the sea? There's even an iPhone app to guide you through the menu.