Mojo - September 2009

Largest Electric Utility in US Drops Out of the Chamber of Commerce

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 12:13 PM EDT

Yet another blow for the Chamber of Commerce today: The largest electric utility company in the US vowed this morning that it would not renew its membership in the chamber because of its opposition to global warming action.

Exelon Corp. CEO John Rowe dropped the news in a speech before the annual meeting of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). "Exelon is so committed to climate legislation that Rowe announced during today’s speech that Exelon will not be renewing its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to the organization’s opposition to climate legislation," the group said in a press release this morning.

This marks the third major departure from the Chamber over climate policy in just over a week, following the exit of California utility PG&E and New Mexico utility PNM. Exelon is a member of the US Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of environmental and business leaders advocating for a climate bill in Congress.

Rowe appeared in ads in support of a climate bill earlier this year. "I’m a utility CEO—not who you’d expect to be for a cap on carbon pollution," Rowe said. "But a smart cap will overhaul our economy by shifting us toward clean, American-made energy. And a smart cap will control costs and protect your family’s budget."

Rowe is also a big conservative funder, and has donated $10,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee for each of the past two years.

I wonder if William Kovacs, the chamber’s senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, is regretting that "Scopes monkey trial" comment yet.

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Trade Likely to be Flash Point in Senate Climate Bill

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 11:38 AM EDT

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are expected to unveil the draft of their climate bill on Wednesday, but other legislators are already lining up to talk about what they'd like to see changed in the bill. It's already looking like there will need to be substantial revisions on the manufacturing and trade side if they're hoping to break the deadlock in the Senate.

E&E reports that the bill is not expected to include the language in the House bill that focuses on how to protect trade-exposed and energy-intensive industries like cement, steel, refining, paper, and glass. These provisions are seen as key to getting the votes of many Midwestern, industrial-state Democrats.

"It's going to need a lot of work," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), told E&E. "My understanding is they did not include the House language on manufacturing ... But I've been talking to them about it. They are very open to it. They are in no way dismissive."

Brown is seen as a leader in the Senate on these issues, and perhaps a bellwether for how a vote on a climate bill might turn out. He's a progressive Democrat from a manufacturing and coal-dependent state, who in June 2008 voted against the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. After that vote, he vowed his support for climate action—but only if a proposal insulated states like Ohio.

 

How Dems Let the GOP Win on Health Care

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 9:59 AM EDT

The Republican strategy for defeating health care boils down to a game of smoke and mirrors, with conservatives scamming seniors into thinking that reform will be bad for them. In fact, most of the proposed changes to Medicare would be positive. As the New York Times explained in a Sunday editorial, " the various reform bills now pending should actually make Medicare better for most beneficiaries—by enhancing their drug coverage, reducing the premiums they pay for drugs and medical care, eliminating co-payments for preventive services and helping keep Medicare solvent, among other benefits."

That’s not to say there won’t be cuts. The Times points out:

The Obama administration and Congressional leaders are hoping to save hundreds of billions of dollars by slowing the growth of spending in the vast and inefficient Medicare system that serves 45 million older and disabled Americans. The savings would be used to help offset the costs of covering tens of millions of uninsured people.

One of the main reasons for the confusion that reigns over all things health care right now is the Democrats’ refusal to make a clear case for reform.They aren't willing to go after the real enemies of affordable health care for all: drug and insurance companies. And so as usual, the ideological vacuum left by the Democrats is being filled by Republican misinformation and fear mongering.

Need To Read, September 28, 2009

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Some stories you may have missed over the weekend:

Bank of America stonewalls on providing Congress with recordings of phone calls from Countrywide to members of its VIP loan program

The revamped Recovery.gov site goes live today.

New York Times columnist, Nixon speechwriter and scrupulous grammarian William Safire passed away.

The Washington Independent's Daphne Eviatar finds evidence that interrogation of a teenage Guantanamo detainee violated even the anything-goes interrogation standards devised by Bush's Office of Legal Counsel.

How the Fed completely, utterly failed—in fact didn't even try—to monitor subprime lending.

David Corn and Obama transition chief John Podesta debate whether Copenhagen is dead or just in big trouble.

Why are the Russians so good at chess?

The Washington Post got really spooked by Twitter.

The Taliban in their own words.

David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman, Nick Baumann and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. YOu can follow me here. (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

 

Is Copenhagen Dead? Podesta Replies

| Sat Sep. 26, 2009 6:47 PM EDT

John Podesta posted a response to my article on a statement he co-wrote that I characterized as a signal the Obama administration has concluded that producing a comprehensive global warming treaty at the upcoming Copenhagen summit will not be possible and that alternative measures must be pursued. Here is Podesta's reply in full:

While Mother Jones’ David Corn is an excellent reporter, he is a lousy tealeaf reader. Mr. Corn misread a recent article by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and myself in advance of the G20 summit, incorrectly concluding our purpose was to downplay expectations on behalf of the Administration. Mr. Corn’s interpretation of our piece is inaccurate. Dr. Pachauri, one of the world’s foremost advocates for strong global action on climate change, and I both recognize that significant challenges remain in advance of the U.N. summit in December. But we are confident that the international community is poised to make substantial progress on climate change in Copenhagen, and that the U.S. is now in a position to exercise renewed leadership in pursuit of a best-case climate scenario.

The purpose of our September 23 piece was to emphasize the importance of climate change in advance of the G20 meetings and encourage the world’s top emitters to seize an important opportunity to take concrete steps to move forward in advance of December’s summit. It is not news that the divide between the unwieldy groups of developed and developing countries have stalled climate talks in the past and that they are drifting again. It is, however, noteworthy that major emitters have recently utilized new channels — the Administration’s Major Economies Forum, for example, as well as the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue — to lay the groundwork for a new climate agreement in Copenhagen. We think this is an important development and should be pursued whenever opportunities, like this week’s summit, arise. Our piece urged leaders at the G20 to pursue concrete actions prior to Copenhagen on issues such as financing arrangements, technology cooperation, and deforestation prevention to increase the chances of success in December.

Even in the midst of global economic crisis, climate change has remained at the top of the agenda both in the United States and in key countries around the world. There is broad consensus that the effects of climate change are not only real, but will be devastating to developed and developing countries alike if the international community fails to agree on a global emissions reduction strategy soon. The road ahead is not without obstacles, which our piece pointed out. But the fate of Copenhagen is far from sealed — and it is my strong belief that the Obama Administration is committed to doing all it can to lead the world into a low-carbon, clean energy future.

It still seems to me that by declaring that the pre-Copenhagen talks are at an "impasse" and that the prospects of reaching a treaty is "grim"—possibly realistic assessments—Podesta and Pachauri, two champions of countering climate change, are assuming that the climate summit will fall short of what's been the perceived public goal (a comprehensive global accord that leads to a serious reduction in emissions) and are now pushing for alternative mulitlateral actions and decisions that would mark real progress in redressing climate change (though perhaps not as much progress as a full-fledged and tough treaty). This might be a reasonable approach—maybe the only option—given the well-known conflicts in the pre-Copenahgen negotiations and the US Senate's inability to produce climate change legislation prior to the gathering. But if the Obama administration—which Podesta helped set up—has reached a similar conclusion, that would indeed be noteworthy and represent something of a shift (even if a necessary one) in its efforts to address global warming.

G20 Disappoints on Climate

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 7:58 PM EDT

Hopes for a significant breakthrough on climate change at the G20 were dashed Friday with the issuance of a final communique that was even more underwhelming than the drafts that leaked earlier in the week.

The final statement from the leaders called for greater focus on climate change, but included no new specific commitments. "We underscore anew our resolve to take strong action to address the threat of dangerous climate change," said the statement.

On financing for developing countries for climate change adaptation, mitigation, and technology development, they emerged with essentially the same agreement that they made in Italy in July, calling on their finance ministers to come to the next meeting with "a range of possible options for climate change financing to be provided as a resource to be considered in the UNFCCC negotiations at Copenhagen."

The most notable agreement was perhaps an expression of shared interest in ending fossil fuel subsidies, though there were no specifics offered to that end either. Instead, the leaders merely  pledged to "rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption," keeping in mind the need to transfer some of those subsidies to programs that support those most economically vulnerable to fuel price increases.

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A Lost Decade for America's Housing Market?

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

While the broader economy might be showing signs of improvement, the US housing market remains a disaster. And if a recent Moody's analysis holds true, real estate could remain that way for the next decade or more, and even longer in states devastated by the housing meltdown, like California and Florida. "For many reasons, the rebound will be disproportionately small compared to the decline," Moody's analysts said this week. "It will take more than a decade to completely recover from the 40 percent peak-to-trough decline in national home prices." The hardest-hit states, meanwhile, "will only re-gain their pre-bust peak in the early 2030s."

Ouch. This kind of analysis suggests that America's economic recovery will be a protracted one, looking more like a W than a V. Granted, the Moody's projection looks at us returning to housing-bubble peaks, when in fact the housing market needn't—indeed, shouldn't—return to the overinflated prices that preceded the collapse. Its analysis, nonetheless, goes to show that normalcy in the housing market is a long way off—bad news, given that real estate plays such an integral role in our economic health (if this crisis taught us anything, it taught us that).

The G-20 Protests: Taking it to The Tweets

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

While the leaders of the Group of 20 met in Pittsburgh this week to discuss a climate treaty and banking regulations, a few thousand demonstrators hit the streets to speak out on a variety of issues, from Tibet to trade.

The protests paled in comparison to the 1999 WTO melee in Seattle. But they were notable for their use of technology to organize and raise hell. Organizers compiled a list of potential protest spots on Google Maps. The list was comprised mostly of banks and food chains, including 11 Starbucks locations. (Which once again raises the question: What does breaking windows at big-name retailers have to do with sending a message to world leaders?) Protesters also used Twitter to spread the word. The G20pgh feed, run by the Pittsburgh G-20 Resistance Project, has been particularly active. One tweet from last night read, "RIOT POLICE MARCH DOWN FORBES, SENDING STUDENTS SPRINTING TOWARD TOWERS. TEAR GAS SHOT AT CROWD." Another: "POLICE JUST PILED OUT OF BUDGET TRUCKS. SOUND CANNONS BEING FIRED AT CROWD. COPS HAVE GAS MASKS ON." The Resistance Project also boasts more than 750 supporters on Facebook.

Is Copenhagen Dead?

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 3:00 PM EDT

Is the Obama administration giving up on reaching a comprehensive international climate change agreement this year? A statement released on Friday by John Podesta, who headed Barack Obama's presidential transition, is a big hint that the White House is looking to dramatically downplay expectations.

In the statement, Podesta, the head of the Center for American Progress, and Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, declare, "The world's leading economic powers remain inactive in preventing an increase in the serious impacts of climate change." The pair do not explicitly criticize the United States and the Obama administration. But their statement suggests that the Obama administration has not succeeded in leading the major global powers toward effective action:

While current impacts of climate change may not have reached alarming proportions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that will happen soon enough if we do not take early action. What is causing increasing concern, as the December UN climate summit in Copenhagen draws ever nearer, is the continuing deadlock in political action to deal with this challenge.

Podesta and Pachauri note that the commitment reached last July by G-8 countries—including the United States—to reduce global greenhouse emissions by 50 percent by 2050 is not sufficient and that the ongoing negotiations in advance of the Copenhagen conference do not "reflect this imperative."

The two paint a bleak picture of the road to Copenhagen:

Chamber of Commerce Takes Another Swing at CFPA

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 2:30 PM EDT

As MoJo's Andy Kroll noted yesterday, lawmakers and Obama administration officials have agreed to cut the “plain vanilla” provision from legislation establishing the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), an office that would safeguard consumers by regulating financial products.

But apparently this dilution isn't enough for those set against regulatory reform—in particular the Chamber of Commerce, which earlier this month launched a $2 million ad campaign claiming, among other things, a local butcher couldn’t extend credit to his customers without government interference if the CFPA is created. However, according to CNN, a memo on the CFPA by House Financial Services Committee chair Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) "makes it clear that lawmakers don't want to regulate merchants and retailers who give their customers credit or layaway plans."

Yesterday morning, a small group of the bill's opponents gathered at the Chamber of Commerce's headquarters in Washington DC to try another line of attack. The keynote speaker, Sen. Walter Minnick (D-Idaho) who sits on the committee that will determine the bill’s fate, expressed his dissatisfaction with the creation of an additional regulatory agency. (He also thanked the Chamber for its good behavior at a Senate hearing on the proposal on Thursday: “I was just delighted that none of your members were throwing shoes.”)