Australians Vote Today: A Turning Point for the World?

| Fri Nov. 23, 2007 7:12 PM EST

r140170_481726.jpg Want a sneak preview of America-2008? Australians are voting today on 11 years of John Howard's ghastly ungreen rule and Kevin Rudd is predicted to become Australia's leader—a man who's declared the fight against global warming to be his main priority. The Telegraph reports:

The Labour Party leader said that he would immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, describing it as the "number one" priority. "Australia needs new leadership on climate change. Mr. Howard remains in a state of denial," he said. He would personally represent Australia at a United Nations climate change meeting next month in Bali to discuss the next stage of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. He also promised that by 2020, a fifth of Australia's energy needs would come from renewable energy sources. Until a partial conversion this year, Mr. Howard has been a climate change skeptic [sound familiar?]. . . the latest poll indicates that Mr. Rudd is set to win with 54 per cent of the vote compared to Mr. Howard's 46 per cent.

If true. Well, halle-bloody-lujah. It will be no small victory. Aussies are the highest per capita greenhouse emitters on the planet. They're our fellow anti-Kyotoers, and likewise suffering hellacious droughts and wildfires. Where they lead, we can follow.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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China Surges Ahead In Renewable Energy

| Fri Nov. 23, 2007 6:32 PM EST

175_lg.jpg Griping about China's exploding fuel consumption? (Who isn't?) Check this out. The Worldwatch Institute reports that ambitious Chinese energy targets, supported by strong government policies and manufacturing prowess, may enable China to leapfrog the rest of the industrialized world in renewable technology in the near future. This even as it conducts breakneck expansion of economy via its reliance on coal.

In Powering China's Development: The Role of Renewable Energy, Eric Martinot and Li Junfeng report that China will likely achieve, and may exceed, its target of 15% energy from renewables by 2020. Furthermore, renewables could provide more than 30 percent of the nation's energy by 2050.

The nations of the world invested more than $50 billion in renewable energy in 2006. China alone is expected to invest more than $10 billion in new renewables in 2007, second only to Germany, and double the amount the US invested in 2006. China's production of wind turbines and solar cells doubled in 2006, and is poised to pass world solar and wind manufacturing leaders in Europe, Japan, and North America in the next three years. China already dominates the markets for solar hot water and small hydropower.

Still not enough. But moving in the right direction. Evidence of understanding. Unlike here at home.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Wal-Mart Sues Brain Damaged Employee As Reward for Giving Her Health Insurance

| Fri Nov. 23, 2007 11:58 AM EST

Just when you think that Wal-Mart had already exhausted every last possible strategy for screwing over its employees, here comes this story in the Wall Street Journal. Deborah Shank, a Wal-Mart employee gets into an accident with a semi and ends up permanently brain-damaged a few years back. Her Wal-Mart health insurance paid her medical bills, but she also sued the trucking company for damages. She wins $700,000, which after legal fees and expenses, nets her about $400,000, which was put in a trust to pay the nursing home she now lives in.

But Wal-Mart gets wind of the settlement and turns around and sues Shank for $470,000, the money its insurance company paid for her care from the accident. Now, the woman is reliant on Medicaid and Social Security and Wal-Mart apparently got a much needed windfall.

Wal-Mart isn't alone in such behavior. Insurance companies seizing lawsuit winnings from catastrophically injured Americans is a common practice that gives lie to the notion that anyone gets rich off a personal injury lawsuit these days, as insurance companies often get first dibs on any judgment or settlement in such cases. But Wal-Mart's cruelty, as always, is extreme in this case. Not only is Shenk profoundly disabled, but while her family was fighting off the company in court, her son was killed while fighting the war in Iraq. Not even bad PR like this, apparently, can eke out a drop of compassion from the retail giant.

A Few Things I'll Give Thanks For

| Wed Nov. 21, 2007 8:59 PM EST


Tofurky. According to the Washington Post, the meatless Thanksgiving dinner-in-a-box hit the market twelve years ago, after founder Seth Tibbott endured a nasty holiday bout with a stuffed pumpkin and a rock-hard gluten roast. Well, your suffering was worth it for the rest of us, Seth, because Tofurkey tastes great.


Thanks to Lloyd Alter at Treehugger for his list of Five Climate Change Events To Be Thankful For:

1. Al Gore and the IPCC won the Nobel Prize. 2. The 1st CAFE standard in 22 years was passed in the Senate. 3. All the democratic presidential front runners have proposed a comprehensive energy plan, asking for large carbon dioxide emission reductions. (but some still love coal) 4. The 4th IPCC Synthesis report was a blunt and urgent call for action. (though it's not pretty) 5. Public Opinion is shifting: 3/4 of Americans would make lifestyle changes or pay energy and carbon taxes.


Thanks for the fact that Hassan Mashriqui of Louisiana State University, a place intimately familiar with the effects of monster hurricanes, gave Bangladesh emergency officials storm-surge maps 24 hours in advance of Cyclone Sidr. Maps so detailed that local agencies were able to take advance action, saving countless lives.


Thanks to Plenty for news that the Democratic Republic of Congo is setting aside an 11,800-square-mile reserve for endangered bonobos—our closest relatives in the primate world, sharing an amazing 98.4% of our DNA, found only in the DRC, the only primates to live in a peaceful, matriarchal society. Now suffering from the bushmeat trade. Eat them? Hell, we need to invite them to mentor us.


A European Space Agency's OSIRIS satellite photo of the Earth at night.

Thanks for the fact that we are still here. We haven't destroyed everything (yet). We might still learn to be a better species and cherish this amazing world we are so incredibly lucky to be part of.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Publisher Softens McClellan Excerpt, But Doesn't Help Bush

| Wed Nov. 21, 2007 4:30 PM EST

whathappened.gifThe news of former White House spokesman Scott McClellan's tell-all memoir, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What's Wrong With Washington, hit the blogosphere full force this week, with a two-paragraph excerpt generating most of the excitement. This publicity play on the part of PublicAffairs Books may have worked too well, however, and the publisher's founder and editor-in-chief, Peter Osnos, is now trying to contain the storm he helped create.

On the PublicAffairs website Monday, McClellan wrote about the Scooter Libby-Valerie Plame scandal, saying in 2003 that while exonerating Libby and Karl Rove, he had "unknowingly passed along false information." He then goes on to specifically implicate President Bush and Vice President Cheney, saying they, along with White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and Libby and Rove, were involved in the spreading of this false information.

Osnos has told NBC, however, that McClellan isn't saying that Bush lied and intentionally misled the public. Apparently those remarks were part of an unfinished manuscript, and McClellan is working under an April deadline. According to Osnos, Bush didn't lie to McClellan; in fact, Bush was himself unaware that the information that he was giving McClellan, mainly that Rove and Libby had nothing to do with the Plame leak, was false.

While Osnos' clarifications may be intended to smooth things over and say that Bush didn't lie, the unintended consequences are questions regarding who actually has the power in the White House. If Bush was giving false information to McClellan, then he must have been given false information, by Cheney, Rove, Card, or all three. So even if Bush comes out of this safe from investigation, he still ends up looking like a clueless puppet.

—Andre Sternberg

Falwell's FBI File

| Wed Nov. 21, 2007 4:16 PM EST

The Washington Post has gotten a copy of the late Jerry Falwell's FBI file. It's mostly filled with threats made against the Moral Majority founder, but it has some humorous moments, including the part where the FBI dispatches investigators to infiltrate Cincinnati's gay bars in search of one of the alleged threat-makers. Read more here.

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Meet the New, Old Newt Gingrich

| Wed Nov. 21, 2007 4:13 PM EST


What to make of the former gentleman from Georgia? Newt Gingrich devolved from being an outspoken member of the Sierra Club to helming a House of Representatives renowned for its hostility toward the environment. Now Gingrich has coauthored, with conservation professor and former zoo CEO Terry Maple, A Contract with the Earth, a tome released this month that calls for an era of environmental stewardship, albeit one driven by markets, science and technology. The chapter headings quote Emerson, Jacques Cousteau, John Muir and others, including revered Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, who wrote the book's foreward.

Is Gingrich jumping on the hottest (no pun intended) national trend to keep himself in the game? Or is he merely bouncing back to his old views now that he's unencumbered by intense political pressures? To wit, Gingrich's voting record on conservation and pro-environment measures deteriorated fairly steadily during his years in Congress, according to the annual voting scorecards of the League of Conservation Voters. When he was a newbie in 1979-80 (tail end of the Carter era), the League gave him a 44.5 percent score--pretty darn good for a Republican. Gingrich fared nearly as well during the Reagan years (1981-1988), with an average score of 39 percent.

But then something happened: His LCV scores from 1988 (Bush I) through 1994 (Clinton mid-term) fell to a dismal 11 percent on average. In '94, the year Gingrich rode his Contract with America to the speakership of the House, he was awarded a big fat zero. ...

The Gays Have Won Republican Minds; Hearts to Follow?

| Wed Nov. 21, 2007 3:26 PM EST

The users of Conservapedia care about one thing, and one thing only.

Republicans Candidates Who Beat Cancer Would Be Terrible for Fellow Cancer Survivors

| Wed Nov. 21, 2007 2:55 PM EST

Fact of the day: Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and John McCain are all cancer survivors, but all are putting forward health care plans that would likely deny coverage to other cancer survivors who are not seeking insurance through government or job-related plans. Cancer survivors, even if they have been cancer-free for years, are regularly denied health insurance when they try to purchase it as individuals. Fact of the day 2: Republicans are jerks.

(H/T Think Progress)

Examining Mike Huckabee's Fiscal Record: It's Very Un-Republican

| Wed Nov. 21, 2007 2:11 PM EST

huckabee_mouth_open.jpg Mike Huckabee is the Republican in the presidential race who spends the most time talking about middle Americans—their health care needs, their lack of job security, the crumminess of the schools that educate their children, etc. His attention to these seemingly left-of-center issues—and the lengths to which he went to act on them as governor of Arkansas—has gotten him branded as an irresponsible tax-and-spender by some parts of the GOP establishment. Bob Novak, for example, called him a member of the "Christian left."

So with the help of the magnificent, let's take a look at Huckabee's financial record.

Huckabee claims to have cut taxes "almost 94 times" while Governor. (An odd construction, but whatever.) He adds that he saved "the people of Arkansas almost $380 million." That's true. Huckabee cut taxes 90 times from 1997 to 2005, reducing state revenues by $378 million.

But Huckabee also presided over 21 tax increases, none of which he mentions on the stump. And those tax increases totaled much more than $378 million. According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, the "net tax increase under Huckabee's tenure was an estimated $505.1 million," adjusted for inflation.

Spending did go up under the Huckabee regime—the state budget was $10.4 billion in his first year as Governor (again, adjusted for inflation), while it was $15.6 billion in 2006. So he is, technically, a tax-and-spender. But Huckabee balanced the Arkansas state budget every year he was governor (balancing the budget is a requirement under Arkansas state law) and in the end, Huckabee had a positive effect on the state ledger: He faced a $200 million deficit in 2002, but ended his term with a $844.5 million surplus. That's a billion dollar turnaround, taxing-and-spending be damned.

A bit more, after the jump.