Mojo - September 2009

Alan Grayson Gives GOP an Apology, Of Sorts

| Wed Sep. 30, 2009 11:17 PM PDT

So yesterday, as you've likely heard, hot-rod Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) says the Republican health care plan is one that encourages people to "die quickly." The GOP takes offense and demands an apology.

So this afternoon he does, apologize. To the dead.

From Roll Call:

Citing a statistic that 44,789 Americans die each year because they don’t have health insurance, Grayson said, “That is more than ten times the number of Americans who died in the war in Iraq, it’s more than ten times the number of Americans who died on 9/11. …It happens every year.”

Grayson added in another apparent dig at the GOP, “We should care about people even after they are born.”

Of course, Grayson's real target is the Fed, Bernanke et al. He's just getting warmed up.

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EPA Seeks to Narrow Scope of Greenhouse Gas Regulations

| Wed Sep. 30, 2009 3:35 PM PDT

In case there wasn't already enough news on the greenhouse gas regulation front today, the Environmental Protection Agency also released new proposed rules that will move the agency another step closer to regulating emissions.

Under the proposed rule, only sources emitting more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year would be regulated under the Clean Air Act. That would cover big emitters like coal-fired power plants, large manufacturers, and refineries. The so-called "tailoring rule" would exempt smaller sources like buildings, small farms, hospitals and schools.

The rule is significant, as it brings the EPA another step closer to regulating emissions. Following up on the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act, the EPA determined in April that greenhouse gas emissions do indeed pose a threat to public health and welfare. The agency is expected to finalize that decision any day now, which will trigger regulation under the act.

Boxer and Kerry Eschew Talk of Cap and Trade in Climate Bill Rollout

| Wed Sep. 30, 2009 2:14 PM PDT

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) officially rolled out their climate bill on Wednesday, with a large rally on the Capitol lawn. But noticeably missing from both the bill and their rhetoric was any reference to cap and trade. Instead, they're calling it a "Global Warming Pollution Reduction and Investment" program -- and they're promoting the energy and national security benefits rather than the emissions reductions goals.

"This is the beginning of one of the most important battles we will ever face, as legislators and as citizens," said Kerry, who was flanked by military officers and backed by a giant American flag. Climate change, he said, will act as a "lit match on the kindling of an already dangerous world," and energy dependence means American money is going to "jihadists, terrorists in different countries."

"We know clean energy is the ticket to strong, sustainable economic growth," said Boxer.

The senators touted the bill's provisions to expand the use of natural gas and nuclear power, two major changes from the Waxman-Markey legislation passed by the House in June. While the House bill would also likely spur development of those energy sources, the Senate bill includes titles specifying how they would be expanded. The senators also stressed that the bill includes a good deal of support for the development of controversial "clean" coal technology.

"It recognizes that there is is no one silver bullet that is going to solve this problem," said Kerry.

Their full bill, weighing in at 821 pages, closely mirrors the various leaked drafts that were circulating yesterday, and, in most respects, Waxman-Markey. It aims to reduce emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, and will cover approximately 7,500 major emissions sources around the country.

Notable differences with the House bill include the explicit support for nuclear and natural gas, as well as limits on the price of pollution permits—which Boxer is calling "a soft collar." To reduce price volatility, it puts in place a lower limit of $11 per credit and an initial upper limit of $28, which would trigger the release of additional reserve allowances. The portions of the bill on allocation of permits and use of the revenue that their sale generates remain blank, however, and are expected to be hotly contested as the debate moves forward. The Finance, Agriculture, Commerce, and Foreign Relations committees are expected to play a role in shaping those and other provisions.

 

USGS Weighs In on Samoa, Indonesia Earthquakes

| Wed Sep. 30, 2009 9:37 AM PDT

More than 100 people are thought dead in the Samoan Islands after yesterday's tsunami, and another 75 are already believed to have perished in Indonesia, where thousands are still trapped after a 7.6 quake this morning.  Why was one island devastated by the quake but spared the wave while the other survived the shaking only to watch entire villages swept out to sea? We called the geo-nerds at the United States Geological Survey's Earthquake Information Center to find out.  

According to USGS geophysicist John Bellini, both quakes occurred along the Australian plate, one of the most geologically active areas in the world. At 8.0 and 7.6 respectively, both where huge—though only a fraction of the size of the 9.2 earthquake that caused the 2004 tsunami. The Samoan quake occurred when a piece of the Pacific plate was forced beneath the Australian plate, an event that has enormous tsunami potential.  

"That displaces a lot of water," Bellini explained. "Plus, it was very shallow."  

The Indonesian earthquake was nearly three times as deep, caused when the Australian plate and the Sunda plate nudged past each other at a whopping 65 millimeters per year. Not close enough to cause a tsunami, but strong enough to level much of Padang, a city of 900,000 in West Sumatra. 

"The shaking would cause buildings to collapse," Bellini said. "A cinder block building would just be flat."

The South Pacific is the beating heart of the infamous "Ring of Fire", the veined circle of plate boundaries that define the planet's most seismicly active zones. There, major earthquakes are a fact of life. 

"We record big earthquakes there every day," Bellini said.  

The Real Public Option: Congress' Private Medical Clinic

| Wed Sep. 30, 2009 9:13 AM PDT

You can't say this enough: While members of Congress are busy protecting us from the inefficiency and danger of government-run health care, they're receiving top-notch taxpayer funded health care—seemingly without complaint. The LA Times recently detailed the benefits: A choice of 10 insurance plans and access to a wide network of doctors and HMOs. Plus, they "get special treatment at Washington's federal medical facilities and, for a few hundred dollars a month, access to their own pharmacy and doctors, nurses and medical technicians standing by in an office conveniently located between the House and Senate chambers." ABC News has more on that in-house clinic for lawmakers, officially known as the Office of the Attending Physician:

Services offered by the Office of the Attending Physician include physicals and routine examinations, on-site X-rays and lab work, physical therapy and referrals to medical specialists from military hospitals and private medical practices. According to congressional budget records, the office is staffed by at least four Navy doctors as well as at least a dozen medical and X-ray technicians, nurses and a pharmacist.

Sources said when specialists are needed, they are brought to the Capitol, often at no charge to members of Congress.

Explains a former doc from the Congressional clinic, patients who can't get treated on-site get referals to top specialists all over the country. "You would go to the best care in the country. And, for the most part, nobody asked what your insurance was." And the cost? $503. A year.

Nike Resigns from Chamber Board

| Wed Sep. 30, 2009 7:05 AM PDT

Yet another blow to the US Chamber of Commerce today, as Nike announced that it is resigning from the board of directors because of the group's views on climate change policy. The Chamber was already in a tailspin this week, attempting to reclassify their position on climate policy following the departure of three major utilities.

"Nike believes US businesses must advocate for aggressive climate change legislation and that the United States needs to move rapidly into a sustainable economy to remain competitive and ensure continued economic growth," Nike said in a statement. "As we've stated, we fundamentally disagree with the US Chamber of Commerce on the issue of climate change and their recent action challenging the EPA is inconsistent with our view that climate change is an issue in need of urgent action."

Nike said in their statement that they will maintain membership in the Chamber in order "to advocate for climate change legislation inside the committee structure" and because they believe they "can better influence policy by being part of the conversation." They will, however, "continue to evaluate" their membership moving forward. Here's more from their  statement:

It is important that US companies be represented by a strong and effective Chamber that reflects the interests of all its members on multiple issues. We believe that on the issue of climate change the Chamber has not represented the diversity of perspective held by the board of directors.

The country's largest electric utility, Exelon, announced on Monday that they are leaving the group, following the recent departures of California utility PG&E and New Mexico utility PNM.

Nike is also a member of a business coalition advocating for comprehensive climate change legislation—Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, or BICEP for short.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 30, 2009

Wed Sep. 30, 2009 5:04 AM PDT

A Marine with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit spends his final moments with his family before deploying on the USS Bonhommen Richard Sept. 24. Service members with the 11th MEU had the opportunity to bring their families and loved ones on board the amphibious assault ship before it left San Diego Bay. (US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jeffrey Belovarac.)

Need To Read: September 30, 2009

Wed Sep. 30, 2009 4:30 AM PDT

Today's must-reads are America's next top pundit:

Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Chamber of Commerce Goes on Spin Cycle

| Tue Sep. 29, 2009 3:01 PM PDT

The US Chamber of Commerce now wants you to know that they really do support climate legislation—just not any legislation they've ever seen. The group issued a statement on Tuesday arguing that their views on climate change "are mainstream, commonsense views" that "are shared by a broad majority of the American people, the business community, and a growing number of Democrat and Republican legislators."

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce continues to support strong federal legislation and a binding international agreement to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change," said Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue in the statement. He also posted a new op-ed on the Chamber's site that was notably toned down from the "Let's Put a Lid On Cap-and-Tax" piece he penned in July.

The Democrats' Split Personality Disorder

| Tue Sep. 29, 2009 1:31 PM PDT

They are the best friends of the health insurance industry. They are fiercest foes of the health insurance industry.

I'm talking about Senate Democrats. On Tuesday afternoon, five Democratic members of the Senate finance committee—Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Blanche Lincoln, Bill Nelson, and Tom Carper—voted with all ten Republicans on the panel to defeat Sen. Jay Rockefeller's amendment, which would set up a public health insurance plan to compete with private plans. These Democrats provided the winning margin in the 15-8 vote to kill a measure much dreaded by the health insurance companies. Such firms had plenty of reasons—billions, you might say—to celebrate what this band of Democrats did. On a subsequent vote for a weaker public option amendment offered by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, Nelson and Carper returned to the Democratic fold and supported it, but Baucus, Conrad and Lincoln again sided with GOPers and defeated it.

At the same time Democratic senators were undermining a key Democratic initiative and helping out the insurance industry, the communications center for the Senate Democrats was zapping out a long email—headlined, "Insurance Companies: Profits Over People"—detailing the evils perpetuated by private health insurance companies: