Why Some Enviros Hate Obama's EPA Pick

eastickmarr.gif Only a few of Obama's cabinet nominations have received any criticism during this transition period; most have been fuss-free. But Lisa Jackson, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection since 2006 and Obama's pick to head the enervated Environmental Protection Agency, has been slammed by an environmental nonprofit called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that has blasted her in the toughest terms, calling her incompetent, weak, and unaccomplished.

Other environmental groups are cheering Jackson as she heads to the Senate for a confirmation hearing on Wednesday. But PEER has produced pages and pages of research (PDFs available here) that it claims serve as an indictment of her 31-month tenure as the Garden State's top environmental officer. The organization points out that in 2006 Jackson said publicly that "developing a new ranking system to prioritize" polluted sites due for cleanup was "the most important thing" her department was working on. Without a ranking system for the state's more than 15,000 contaminated sites — the longest such list in the nation — her department could not identify New Jersey's most dire pollution problems. But, PEER complains, Jackson never delivered a ranking system and then proposed to outsource clean-up responsibilities to private contractors. Jeff Ruch, the executive director of PEER, says, "She never developed a coherent plan. This was supposed to be her specialty, because the time she had spent previously at the EPA was spent on toxic cleanup. But she never displayed any expertise in a way that was helpful."

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It was a foregone conclusion that Secretary of State aspirant Hillary Clinton would sail through her confirmation hearing on Tuesday morning. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a club, and whatever their disagreements, it's members love to see their own rise to the top. (President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden were also Committee members.)

The hearing was a classic game of political softball, in which Clinton's examiners gushed over her wonderful achievements and wished her well. Many used the occasion to win television time for their own pet projects: Indiana Republican Richard Lugar talked about nonproliferation; Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski urged action on the Law of the Sea Treaty; California Democrat Barbara Boxer discussed women's rights; and many others—including Massachusetts Democrat, former presidential nominee, and disappointed Secretary of State hopeful John Kerry—brought up the issue of Israel's ongoing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Surprisingly, there was almost no mention during the morning's opening round of questioning about former President Bill Clinton's Global Initiative and the potential conflicts of interest inherent in his wife's ascendance to the country's top foreign policy post; the organization relies, in part, on funding from international donors. Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, among the relative few to even mention the Global Initiative, suggested that rather than complicating Clinton's nomination, it illustrates her and her husband's deep engagement in the world. (Yes, but as AP reports today, there is evidence of Senator Clinton intervening at least six times during her years on Capitol Hill on issues directly affecting firms that later donated to her husband's foundation.)

The election of George W. Bush came as a boon to the tobacco industry. Cigarette companies helped pay for his election, and Bush repaid them handsomely once in office. Right off the bat, in 2001, his Justice Department tried to derail a major federal racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco companies before it went to trial. A few years later, the administration tried to scupper the first international tobacco control treaty (which the U.S. still hasn't ratified). And in 2007, Bush issued two of the 12 vetoes of his entire presidency to twice kill off bipartisan legislation to increase health insurance coverage for poor kids. Why? Because it would have raised taxes on cigarettes.

What a difference an election makes! Today, President-elect Obama announced his selection of William Corr as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Corr is currently the executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a major foe of Bush's favored industry. More important than his public health advocacy, though: Corr actually has extensive experience with health care policy, a key component of HHS's responsibilities and one of Obama's top priorities. Corr started his career running nonprofit health clinics in Appalachia, and, in a major departure from the last eight years, he has actually worked inside the agency he's been chosen to run.

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The Washington Post has the full lineup for this Sunday's Obama inaugural celebration concert at the Lincoln Memorial, and it's something, alright. Take a deep breath for the alphabetical list: Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Garth Brooks, Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles, John Mellencamp, Usher, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, U2, will.i.am and Stevie Wonder. Whew. Legend and Brooks aren't really up my alley, but you know, this isn't a bad concert, even without Please-Can't-You-Just-Be-President-Right-Now Obama dropping by. Of course, they had to give it a terrible name: "We Are One." Blergh! The first time I glanced at this story, I read it as "We Are the World" and just about had a heart attack. As long as they don't have a "We Are One" theme song, we should be okay. The 90-minute concert will be broadcast on HBO, except it'll be some sort of free version of HBO that will, I guess, just show up on our TVs somehow. Hooray, new president, but this better not interfere with the Flight of the Conchords premiere.

If that unintentional tribute to The Lion King is too mainstream for you, the Beastie Boys will headline a concert at D.C.'s 9:30 club on Sunday, except theirs has an even worse name: "Hey, America Feels Kinda Cool Again." Well, it felt cool, until you guys said that. Sheryl Crow will be slumming over there as well after her We Are One appearance, along with Citizen Cope. Scheduled for January 19 is Jay-Z, who will perform at the 2,000-capacity Warner Theater. Actual inaugural balls on January 20 abound, including an "Urban Ball" hosted by Ludacris and Big Boi and featuring David Banner, Lil Jon and more; a Legends Ball with Chaka Khan and George Clinton; and an MTV "Be the Change" party [edit: whoops, that was cancelled]. Plus there's the Party Ben We Are Watching It All From the Couch event, which promises to be very exclusive.

The Truthiest New Show on Television

THE TRUTHIEST NEW SHOW ON TELEVISION....Over at TNR, Jeffrey Rosen reviews ABC's Homeland Security USA: "Every segment inadvertently reminded us why DHS officers spend so little time protecting the homeland against violent threats: Investigations that begin by looking for terrorists come up short, so officers have no alternative but to snag people for non-violent crimes." Good to know.

Stimulus Math

STIMULUS MATH....Jonathan Stein points me to a Washington Post story telling us that Barack Obama has decided to ditch the $3,000-per-job tax credit that was part of his original stimulus proposal. Good. It was a dumb and almost certainly unworkable idea. But there's also this:

Obama advisers said further adjustments may be made to the president-elect's tax priorities, including to a proposed $500 payroll tax credit for individuals. Many Democrats have criticized Obama's idea of distributing the benefit over 12 months, saying it would amount to about $20 per paycheck for workers who are paid every two weeks. They would prefer to distribute the credit over a shorter period.

I'm basically with Obama here. But I'd actually suggest something different: make the credit bigger, pay it out over two years, and have it automatically decline. For example, how about $2,000 paid out quarterly over two years? The credit would be $400 in the first quarter, $300 in the second and third quarters, and so on until you get down to $100 in the eighth and final quarter. This front loads the stimulus now, when it's most needed, keeps it going throughout the expected length of the recession, and makes it predictable enough that people know they can count on it. It might also strike a good balance between the amount of the stimulus that gets spent vs. the amount that gets saved. Worth a thought, anyway.

Much has already been written about Fox's 24 and its role in mainstreaming the use of torture. (The show's protagonist, Jack Bauer, is a frequent and effective torturer.) But the seventh season of the show, which premiered Sunday, seems to be turning away from the incidental normalization of torture (in which torture was shown to be necessary and effective but was rarely discussed) and is now instead making an explicit argument for the use of torture. I won't spoil much about the two-episode premier by telling you that Jack Bauer was called before a Senate hearing to account for his "crimes," but was conveniently pulled away at the last minute because of a pressing national security matter. Kevin Drum also watched on Sunday. He writes:

[I]t's obvious that the show is going to deal head on with the subject of torture this season... Is there any way for this end other than badly? After all, here in the blogosphere we opponents of torture like to argue that we don't live in the world of 24, guys. And we don't. But Jack Bauer, needless to say, does live in the world of 24. And in that world, there are well-heeled terrorists around every corner, ticking time bombs aplenty, and torture routinely saves thousands of lives. What are the odds that it won't do so again this season — except this time after lots of talk about the rule of law blah blah liberals blah blah it's your call blah blah? Pretty low, I'd guess. Hopefully the writers will surprise me.

After watching the third and fourth episodes of the season on Monday night, I'd be pretty surprised if Kevin is surprised by the writers. Over at Kevin's blog (where there's a great discussion going on in the comments), commenter Cuttle gets it exactly right, and is worth quoting at length:

Two pieces on the front page of the Washington Post's Sunday "Outlook" section illustrate some of what's wrong with the terms of current debates around health care costs and health care for the elderly. The juxtaposition of these two commentaries, which appeared side-by-side under a photo of a sunset and the heading "The Dying of the Light," sends an insidious message about the need for "rationing" treatment to the very old and very sick: To keep health care costs from bankrupting our society, it suggests, we may have no choice but to pull the plug on the geezers.

The Post feature is only the latest of a growing volume of commentary on so-called age-based health care rationing. Even beyond any core ethical questions, the problem with these discussions is what they too often fail to mention: the role of private profits in creating, or at least seriously exacerbating, the supposedly intractable problem of health care costs. Like everything else in the public debate over health care policy, the "dying of the light" has become subject to the lying of the right, where corporate interests trump even questions of life and death.

Bush's Mistakes

BUSH'S MISTAKES....Noam Scheiber points to an interesting passage from President Bush's press conference yesterday. The subject is whether he made any mistakes in office:

I believe that running the Social Security idea right after the '04 elections was a mistake. I should have argued for immigration reform. And the reason why is, is that — you know, one of the lessons I learned as governor of Texas, by the way, is legislative branches tend to be risk-adverse. In other words, sometimes legislatures have the tendency to ask, why should I take on a hard task when a crisis is not imminent? And the crisis was not imminent for Social Security as far as many members of Congress was concerned.

As an aside, one thing I proved is that you can actually campaign on the issue and get elected. In other words, I don't believe talking about Social Security is the third rail of American politics. I, matter of fact, think that in the future, not talking about how you intend to fix Social Security is going to be the third rail of American politics.

This is sort of fascinating on a few different levels. First: that Bush somehow thinks immigration reform would have been less contentious than Social Security. In what universe? He may not read blogs, but surely he and Karl Rove were at least dimly aware of what Rush Limbaugh and the dittoheads all thought about this? Is he really this out of touch with the base of his own party? Or does he just not want to admit to himself what that base is really motivated by?

Second: that he thinks he campaigned on the issue of Social Security reform. But in fact he barely mentioned it. One of the very reasons his proposal flopped (though certainly not the biggest reason) is that it came out of the blue. He spent most of the 2004 campaign talking about national security and tax cuts and whatnot, and then as soon as he won he suddenly announced that a massive Social Security overhaul was at the top of his agenda. If he had campaigned on it, he either would have learned quickly what a loser his privatization plan was or else ginned up some support for it. But he didn't.

Third: Bush is still a political animal. His motivation for immigration reform was to lure Hispanics into the GOP fold, as he had successfully done in Texas, and his failure to do that still resonates with him as one of his biggest mistakes. He continues to find it hard to fess up to any kind of real policy errors (cf. Katrina during the same press conference), but he's far more open to taking blame for failures in electoral strategy, which is sort of the game-playing side of being president and head of the party. In the end, apart from his tireless infatuation with being a "war president," I think that's always been the part of the job that animated him more than any other.

Printing Money

PRINTING MONEY....Ben Bernanke says the Fed still has "powerful tools" at its disposal to fight the recession even though interest rates are already down to zero. Felix Salmon is unimpressed:

The natural response to this is simple: if you still have powerful tools at your disposal, why haven't you used them already? And why did you enact that final rate cut to zero, which necessarily comes accompanied by all manner of nasty consequences in the repo markets and at money-market funds? That decision certainly made it seem as though the Fed believes a marginal further reduction in the Fed funds rate is still far more effective than any of its other policies.

If I had to guess, I'd say that Bernanke believes there's a price to be paid for taking extraordinary measures, and it's a price he'd rather not pay unless he absolutely has to. Printing money may be within his authority, but there's no surer way of admitting that literally everything else has failed and you're now on your last legs. I don't blame him for not wanting to go there if there's even the slightest chance he doesn't have to.