Mojo - July 2009

Don Calzada de la ExxonMobil

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 1:20 PM PDT

A study by a Spanish economist showing that as many as 20 jobs are lost for every “green job” created, has been criticized by the Spanish government as being “simplistic” and “reductionist” and based on “non-rigorous methodology.”

The study (here in pdf) by associate professor Gabriel Calzada, who has received funding from a variety of corporations including ExxonMobil, has been sited frequently by GOP members of Congress in opposing cap-and-trade provisions in a federal climate bill — most recently by Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on green jobs held this morning (July 21, 2009).

Looking exasperated following Crapo’s comments, Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced into the record an evaluation by the Spanish government that takes the Calzada report to task.

The government document includes this letter sent on May 20th to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) from Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, Spain’s Secretary of State for Climate Change, expressing the official Spanish government view of the Calzada paper. It’s available here in it’s original form as a pdf file.

A second part of Boxer's submission is a document produced by the government of Navarra, a small region in northern Spain that the journal Nature dubbed, "one of the world's wind-energy giants."

As the Navarra report shows, Calzada has the story backwards.

Sixty-five percent of the electricity used in Navarra comes from renewable sources -- primarily wind -- built over the last twenty years. Over those years, the region went from having the highest unemployment rate in Spain to having the lowest rate, today.

"Under President Obama's leadership," the report concludes, "the United States' decisive support of renewable energies...will aid in rapidly overcoming the current economic crisis..."

The full Navarra report can be downloaded here (pdf).

Still, just because Calzada's methodology have been slapped-down and his links with global warming deniers exposed, don't expect the GOP faithful to stop quoting him. The study is harder to kill than Rasputin.

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Why Did the Feds Bury Data on Cell-Phone Dangers?

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 1:14 PM PDT

Last October, we reported what the New York Times has now discovered—something we've all probably suspected, but had little hard data to go on: that driving a car while yakking or texting on an electronic device is an extremely risky proposition. And that the hands-free laws many states have enacted are of little value, a politically expedient solution that is unlikely to save lives, but lets lawmakers seem to be doing something without incurring the wrath of the powerful cell phone industry.

The moving story by Mother Jones contributor Myron Levin involved the plight of the Teaters, a Michigan family whose 12-year-old (pictured) was killed by a chatting motorist, and his father's determination to get some answers. The driver, Levin reported, "had clear skies and good visibility. She was sober. And yet she had failed to process a whole string of visual cues. To Dave Teater, this made no sense at all—so he began to do some research." Key to Levin's story was the quashing, by top Transportation Department officials, of an extensive report on cell-phone driving risks that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) had intended to make public.

Editing Sarah Palin

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 11:17 AM PDT

Vanity Fair sics its edit staff on Sarah Palin's rambling, sophomoric resignation speech and creates a sea of ink.

Charges Dropped Against Gates

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 10:25 AM PDT

Prosecutors in Cambridge, Mass., won't pursue charges against Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Harvard scholar arrested last Thursday after trying to enter his own house.

UPDATE: Gates spoke to the Post Tuesday afternoon and told them, understandably, he's "outraged."

Senate Votes Down the F-22

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 9:57 AM PDT

The Senate just voted to cut funding for the plane. The final vote count was 58-40. 

Support for the Levin-McCain amendment stripping F-22 funding was looking iffy last week, so the White House's eleventh-hour lobbying effort must have paid off. One key swing vote was Sen. John Kerry, who was expected to support the plane, but ultimately voted to end its production—he was one of the very last senators to vote.

Also worth noting: Among those who voted to keep the production line running was Sen. Daniel Inouye, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where the bill moves next. (Apparently a phone call from Joe Biden wasn't enough to change his mind.) Over in the House, defense appropriations committee chair Rep. John Murtha already preserved money for the plane in a mark-up behind closed doors last week.

Smart People Talking

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 8:27 AM PDT

Listen (and watch!) as Dayo Olopade and John McWhorter talk about Sonia Sotomayor, "wise Latinas," and race in America. They are really smart and interesting. (The first clip is mostly about Sotomayor, the second one is broader):

(via Conor Friedersdorf)

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Defending the F-22

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 8:07 AM PDT

The Senate is debating the Levin-McCain amendment to terminate the F-22 fighter jet right now, although if you joined the debate halfway through you might be forgiven for thinking that they were talking about an economic stimulus bill.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) just delivered a real stemwinder opposing the amendment. His main point: killing the F-22 will cause the loss of up to 95,000 jobs in the middle of a recession. Now Sen. Murray of Washington is talking about the importance of protecting "family wage jobs." Both devoted a few sentences, at most, to the actual purpose of the plane.

A few points:

* No jobs will be lost mid-recession because even if the Senate approves the McCain-Levin amendment, the production line won't shut down until 2011.

* Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-22, has said that it can shift many workers to another of its planes, the F-35. The DoD nearly doubled its order of F-35s in this budget. Now, it's almost certain that some workers will lose their jobs for geographical reasons—Lockheed may add jobs in Texas, for instance, where much of the F-35 work is done, but shed them in New England, where a lot of F-22 manufacturing occurs. But the overall economic effect of cutting the program is not the disaster Murray and Dodd are claiming it to be. The DOD estimates that the F-35 will create 44,000 new jobs in 2010—many more than the number of people who are directly employed on the F-22. A Lockheed Martin executive told market analysts last year that workers on the F-22 assembly line can be redeployed to other planes and that the company's portfolio is "probably good as we've ever been." Even the plane's most vigorous congressional defender, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga) has conceded that "jobs is probably not going to be an issue."  In fact, the Center for American Progress estimates that the overall effect of the Obama budget could bring a net increase in direct defense jobs.

Max Baucus Couldn't Possibly Be Influenced By Campaign Donations

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 7:40 AM PDT

Today's Washington Post offers a rundown of the huge amounts of lobbyist and industry cash Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has raised recently by virtue of his key role in drafting health care legislation. Baucus raised some $3 million from the health and insurance sectors between 2003 and 2008, according to the Post. The Senator refused to comment for the article, but his spokesman, Tyler Matsdorf, offered up this gem:

[Sen. Baucus is] only driven by one thing: what is right for Montana and the country. And he will continue his open process of working together with the president, his colleagues in Congress, and groups and individuals from across the nation to get this legislation passed.

If members of Congress don't like the public questioning what drives them, they could always set up a robust public financing system for elections and stop taking corporate and lobbyist money. Until then, people are going to wonder about what motivates them when they take millions of dollars from the industries that are most affected by their legislation.

Tell Us How You Really Feel, Elizabeth Warren

| Tue Jul. 21, 2009 7:25 AM PDT

Elizabeth Warren, the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel (the group keeping an eye on the bank bailouts), has a long post on the Baseline Scenario about President Barack Obama's proposal for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency that would regulate financial products. It's worth reading in full, but I noticed that Warren was incredibly explicit about the problems with the current regulatory system:

For decades, the Federal Reserve and the bank regulators (the OCC and the OTS) have had the legal authority to protect consumers.  They have brought us to this crisis by consistently refusing to exercise that authority.

Stephanie Mencimer wrote about this very phenonomon back in January. It's an argument I've heard from economists like Dean Baker: the regulators had the authority to take steps to stave off the crisis—they just didn't use that authority. It's certainly interesting to hear that same argument coming from Warren. She thinks the regulators didn't do their jobs because of "two structural flaws" in the system:

The first is that financial institutions can now choose their own regulators.  By changing from a bank charter to a thrift charter, for example, a financial institution can change from one regulator to another.  The regulators’ budget comes in large part from the institutions they regulate.  If a big financial institution leaves one regulator, the agency will face a budget shortfall and the agency will likely shrink.  Knowing this, financial institutions can shop around for the regulator that provides the most lax oversight, and regulators can compete by offering to regulate less.  Regulatory arbitrage triggered a race to the bottom among prudential regulators and blocked any hope of real consumer protection.

The second structural reason that prudential regulators failed to exercise their authority to protect consumers is a cultural one: consumer protection staff at existing agencies find themselves at the bottom of the pecking order because these agencies are designed to focus on other matters.  At the Federal Reserve, senior officers and staff wake up every morning thinking about monetary policy.  At the OCC and OTS, agency heads wake up thinking about capital adequacy requirements and safety and soundness.  Consumer protection issues are—at best—an afterthought.

Warren thinks that an independent consumer financial protection agency would go a long way towards addressing those flaws. If it somehow gets past industry lobbyists and actually becomes law, we'll get a chance to see if she's right.

UPDATE: There's also a YouTube video, apparently:

Henry Louis Gates Jr. Arrested Breaking Into His Own House

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 12:11 PM PDT

Apparently Henry Louis Gates, Jr., noted Harvard professor, was arrested trying to get into his own house:

Black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. is accusing a Massachusetts police department of racism after being arrested while trying to get into his locked home near Harvard University.

Police say they were called to the home Thursday afternoon after a woman reported seeing a man try to pry open the front door.

They say that they ordered the man to identify himself and that Gates refused. According to a police report, Gates then called the officer a racist and said, "This is what happens to black men in America."

Sources tell Mother Jones that Gates hung up pictures of his family everywhere. (Skip to around 3:40. The language is NSFW):