Mojo - September 2009

Maybe You Should Call Someone

| Tue Sep. 22, 2009 2:48 PM EDT

This press release from Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is made of win:

Congressman Barney Frank today responded to a misinformed partisan attack by the Massachusetts Republican Party, in which the GOP criticized Frank for missing a procedural vote to deny funding for ACORN.

Frank has missed the vote because he was attending the Medal of Honor ceremony for Sergeant First Class Jared Monti of Raynam, which was held yesterday afternoon at the White House.  Monti received the honor posthumously for his heroic actions in battle in Afghanistan.

This morning, the Wall Street Journal printed an editorial harshly criticizing Frank for missing the vote.  The Massachusetts Republican Party echoed the Journal’s attack in a release sent to the press this afternoon. 

Neither the Wall Street Journal nor the Massachusetts GOP called Frank’s office for explanation, nor did they note that Frank was at the ceremony despite the fact that it had been widely reported in the press.

Frank expressed deep disappointment that some would use his absence for partisan political purposes.  "I find it deeply disturbing that the people who loudly criticized me in print did not even call my office to ask me about the situation.  I would like to offer them the courtesy which they refused to offer me – I will ask their opinion.  What do they think I should have done – attend the Medal of Honor ceremony, or a vote?"

It's time for a blogger ethics panel.

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What Obama Told the UN on Climate Change

| Tue Sep. 22, 2009 1:44 PM EDT

Barack Obama sought to affirm the United States' desire to address climate change on Tuesday in an address to the United Nations, an attempt to demonstrate his commitment to action despite dimming hopes that Congress will pass a new law before the Copenhagen climate talks in December. While he touted the efforts the US and other countries have made thus far, he was also upfront about the difficulties that lay ahead in negotiations.

"We understand the gravity of the climate threat," Obama told the gathered leaders. "We are determined to act, and we will meet our responsibility to future generations."

His remarks sought to highlight what the US has been able to accomplish this year even without passing a cap on emissions. "I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history," said Obama, citing investments in renewable energy and efficiency through the stimulus, the extension of tax credits for renewable energy, the development of offshore wind, and the recent announcement of new emissions standards for automobiles.

"And already, we know that the recent drop in overall US emissions is due in part to steps that promote greater efficiency and greater use of renewable energy," he said (though he didn't add that it's in large part due to the dismal economy and a fuel-switching at some power plants). He also cited the House passage of a cap on emissions, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's work on an energy bill, which will likely be paired with a cap-and-trade bill.

Obama also pledged that at the G20 meeting later this week, he would work with other leaders to "phase out fossil fuel subsidies so that we can better address our climate challenge." And he cited the administration's additional efforts to work with other major emitters through six meetings of the Major Economies Forum this year and partnerships with nations with China, Brazil, India, Mexico, and other nations.

"Taken together, these steps represent an historic recognition on behalf of the American people and their government," said Obama. "But though many of our nations have taken bold actions and share in this determination, we did not come here today to celebrate progress. We came because there is so much more progress to be made."

Obama noted that the United States has a responsibility to provide financial and technical assistance to developing nations for clean energy technology and adaptation. But he also called on rapidly-growing developing nations—i.e., China and India—to "do their part as well."

"They will need to commit to strong measures at home and agree to stand behind those commitments just as the developed nations must stand behind their own," he said. "We cannot meet this challenge unless all the largest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution act together."

Yet he cautioned against over-optimism about the path forward on international negotiations, and cautioned against allowing "the perfect to become the enemy of progress" in crafting a new treaty. "As we head towards Copenhagen, there should be no illusions that the hardest part of our journey is in front of us," he said. "We seek sweeping but necessary change in the midst of a global recession, where every nation's most immediate priority is reviving their economy and putting their people back to work. And so all of us will face doubts and difficulties in our own capitals as we try to reach a lasting solution to the climate challenge."

He urged nations to be "flexible and pragmatic," and to "work tirelessly in common effort" in the next months, with only 15 days of negotiations left ahead of the December summit in Copenhagen.

"The journey is long. The journey is hard," he said, "and we don't have much time left to make that journey."

Will Ferrell Stands Up for Health Insurance Companies

| Tue Sep. 22, 2009 12:53 PM EDT

The voice for the voiceless:

Auditing the Auditors: Contractor Oversight AWOL

| Tue Sep. 22, 2009 12:51 PM EDT

This explains a lot: Little league teams have more players than the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) has staffers overseeing how military contractors are spending the government's money. Contract transactions have spiked 328 percent since 2000, but there are presently a mere 14 contracting officials monitoring them.

It wasn't always this way. As of 1994, the military's contracting agency had 102 staffers reviewing the purchases, subcontracts, and other expenditures by the companies on the Pentagon's payroll. These numbers are contained in the latest report [PDF] by the congressionally chartered Commission on Wartime Contracting, which investigated how the primary agencies responsible for Pentagon contracting—the DCMA and the Defense Contract Audit Agency—are handling their oversight responsibilities. The report, which also found the DCAA is "under-resourced," blasts the agencies for their lackluster performance on this front, concluding that the lack of personnel "has resulted in a spiraling down of business-system oversight in contingency contracting." The commission is puzzled how it got to this point: "The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been going on for many years and the Commission is at a loss to understand why leadership has not aggressively pursued additional staffing until recently."

The World's First Global Debt Clock

| Tue Sep. 22, 2009 9:49 AM EDT

World leaders are gathered today at the UN General Assembly to discuss reforming the international financial system, laying the groundwork for a global climate change agreement and many other costly and contentious issues. They would do well to remember the money that has already been wasted through inaction (and costly wars) by consulting the Economist Intelligence Unit's new Global Debt Comparison tool.

Featuring the EIU's reams of data on countries around the world from as far back as 1999 and economic forecasting stretching out through 2011, this nifty display allows one to compare public debt per capita, public debt as a percentage of GDP, total public debt, and the yearly rate of change in debt. As of this morning, the clock rang in at an eye-watering $35 trillion…and growing. Check it out!

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 22, 2009

Tue Sep. 22, 2009 5:00 AM EDT

The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) and the Brazilian frigate BNS Liberal (F 43) transits in formation during a group sail. Harry S. Truman is underway participating in Joint Task Force Exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Danals/Released)

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Need To Read: September 22, 2009

Tue Sep. 22, 2009 4:59 AM EDT

Today's must-reads #hiredkatesheppard:

  • Clinton on Gore: "I Thought He Was In Neverland" (MoJo)
  • FDIC may borrow from banks (NYT)
  • President Obama’s Favorite Four-Letter Word To Describe The Media (Mediaite)
  • Gulliver in Afghanistan (Andrew Sullivan)
  • Olympia Snowe's Amendments (Ezra Klein/WaPo)
  • Can Obama Appease U.N. on Climate Change? (Kate Sheppard/MoJo)

I post items like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow me, of course. And awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. 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.)

Clinton: Don't Ask Dems to "Commit Suicide" With Climate Bill

| Tue Sep. 22, 2009 1:32 AM EDT

Speaking with a group of bloggers on Monday ahead of his fifth annual summit of leaders from government and the private sector, President Bill Clinton said the US risks looking like "yesterday's country" if it does not approve a binding limit on greenhouse gases this year. His remarks come just before the United Nations climate summit on Tuesday and the start of the fifth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. The summit serves as forum for innovators and funders to collaborate on international projects, with a focus on economic development, human rights, health, and environment. Climate change has been among the top issues at the summit in recent years.

"I still think the president should try really hard to pass climate change legislation this year, in addition to health care," he said. Without passing it, he said, the U.S. will appear "long in the tooth... We need to be tomorrow's country."

The key, said Clinton, is to "disprove this myth that still has a grip on many members of Congress, that [action on climate] is a net negative to the economy... It's a huge myth that still has a stranglehold," he said, citing nations like Sweden, Denmark, and the United Kingdom who are on a path to meet or exceed their goals under the Kyoto Protocol that have maintained economic stability.

Clinton rattled off potential jobs created by climate policy and the potential of efficiency, noting half of the 2020 emissions-reduction goals that global leaders have discussed could be met by efficiency alone. He said President Obama's stimulus plan could easily have devoted another $100 billion for those areas. 

Acknowledging that many Democrats from coal, oil, and manufacturing states may be hesitant to vote for a bill perceived as a threat to their home-state industries, he said it's key to show the benefits of climate policy. "The number one thing we have to do is make sure we don't lose any Democrats because they really actually believe it's bad economics," he said. He recalled the BTU tax, backed by his administration, that passed the House without any Republican support as part of a budget bill in 1993, only to be dropped in the Senate. Republicans used the tax as a bludgeon against Democrats who voted for it, using the issue effectively in the 1994 elections that brought the first GOP House majority in 40 years.

"[Democrats] won't worry about it politically if we can prove it's good economics," said Clinton. "We shouldn't ask them to commit suicide. I wouldn't want them to do again what they did in '94."

Can Obama Appease UN on Climate Change?

| Mon Sep. 21, 2009 6:56 PM EDT

As Josh noted earlier, with climate action stalled out in the Senate, President Obama faces a difficult task Tuesday morning as he addresses the United Nations summit on climate change in New York. With hopes for a Senate cap-and-trade bill this year seriously dampened, Obama must convince world leaders that the United States can be a productive participant in treaty negotiations this fall even without a solid commitment from Congress.

The meeting, convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, will bring heads of state and government together to dig in on a new climate change treaty. The goal, said Ban, "is to mobilize the political will and vision needed to reach an ambitious agreed outcome based on science at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen." It comes alongside the UN's annual, two-week-long General Assembly, and just ahead of Group of 20 meetings in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday, where climate will be one of several issues on the agenda.

Many leaders—including US climate envoy Todd Stern—are now downplaying the idea that Copenhagen will lead to a final agreement, which buys the US more time to pass a bill. But even if Copenhagen is no longer seen as the final step in the process of negotiating a successor to Kyoto, UN leaders are maintaining hope that these fall summits can bring world leaders closer to agreement on issues like near-term emissions cuts for both industrialized and developing countries and the level of funding industrialized countries will devote to help poorer nations adapt to climate change and invest in clean tech. Obama's address will likely be seen as an indicator of just how serious the administration is about pushing Congress toward action in the coming months.