Mojo - September 2009

Palin Talks Tough to China

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 2:39 PM PDT

In Sarah Palin's speech at a conference of investors in Hong Kong, she made a number of unorthodox moves. One was to deliver sweeping criticism of President Obama in a country with which the US has a rather sensitive relationship. Another was to attack a policy embraced by her running mate in last year's election, John McCain. In the speech, Palin lambasted the Obama administration's decision to end production of the F-22 fighter jet. McCain (along with Carl Levin) championed this decision in the Senate, playing a leading role in bringing down the plane. But still that wasn't the only graceless note Palin struck. At a speech in Hong Kong, Palin says she opposed ending the F-22 program...because of the military threat posed by China:

Despite the need to move men and material by air into theaters like Afghanistan, the Obama Administration sought to end production of our C-17s, the work horse of our ability to project long range power. Despite the Air Force saying it would increase future risk, the Obama Administration successfully sought to end F-22 production—at a time when both Russia and China are acquiring large numbers of next generation fighter aircraft. [emphasis mine.]

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Senate to Vote On Vitter's Anti-Climate Czar Amendment

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 12:40 PM PDT

GOP Sen. David Vitter recently tweeted that the Senate will soon vote on his amendment blocking the use of federal funds for any policies initiated by the White House climate czar (a.k.a. White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy director Carol Browner): "Vote on my amendment to block Obama czars in an hour. If your against Obama's czars let your followers know."

Vitter's measure is one of about 50 being considered as the Senate prepares to pass the appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. If Vitter's right, the Senate should be voting on his amendment any minute now. We'll let you know what happens.

Update: The amenedment failed.

G20: Punting On Climate Funding for Poor Countries?

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 11:00 AM PDT

The number one priority at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh this week will be the economy, for obvious reasons. But the assembled leaders had earlier signaled that they'd tackle another thorny subject with massive financial ramifications: raising money to help poor countries deal with climate change. This important negotiation now seems to be slipping further and further down the G20 agenda. But if world leaders don't address it soon, we'll get stuck with a bill that makes the bank bailouts look like chump change.

Adaptation financing is emerging as a key leverage point in the run-up to Copenhagen. Poor countries will try to make additional funding a condition for signing on to any deal. Rich countries will try to use the lure of money to get developing nations to make concessions.

This is a dangerous game, because money for adaptation is vital in its own right. McKinsey recently released a major study of the economies of countries that are especially vulnerable to global warming—and which are already losing up to 12 percent of annual GDP to existing climate events. Some areas in these countries will one day become unliveable. But the study found that between 40 to almost 100 percent of their national economic losses that are projected to be caused by climate change by 2030 could be averted by adaptation measures—like putting homes in flood-prone areas on stilts or improving irrigation and soil technology in drought-stricken regions.

Murkowski's EPA End Run Fails

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 11:00 AM PDT

Sen. Lisa Murkowski's attempt to block EPA regulation of greenhouse gases is DOA.

Although Murkowski (R-Alaska) will be introducing her amendment to the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill on the floor of the Senate later today, Joe Romm reports that her attempt to undermine the Clean Air Act will not come to a vote. As Kate Sheppard pointed out yesterday, the legally questionable provision would have been another setback during what the UN is optimistically referring to as "climate week."

The provision was condemned not only by more than 30 environmental groups but also raised the ire of centrist legislators such as Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). Yesterday at the Council on Competitiveness, Warner criticized the amendment for "simply putting off an inevitable decision." He specifically rebuked the supposed economic concerns Murkowski cited in proposing the amendment and suggested that it "not only sacrifices American leadership but—equally important—it sacrifices our ability to get on board with...what I believe would be the greatest wealth-creation sector and job-creation sector in the next quarter century."

The possibility of EPA greenhouse gas regulation has survived another day, but getting a comprehensive climate bill through the Senate before Copenhagen still looks difficult, if not impossible.

Fiore Cartoon: Worldwide Domination

Thu Sep. 24, 2009 10:41 AM PDT

What if the world dealt with the Nazis of yesterday the same way we deal with the scourge of climate change today?

Watch Mark Fiore's re-vision after the jump:

Interim Kennedy Replacement: Incongrous Pick?

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 9:50 AM PDT

Over at the Sunlight Foundation, Paul Blumenthal runs down the resume of Paul Kirk, the ex-DNC chair and close Kennedy family friend who has been named to temporarily fill the late senator's seat. Given Kirk's background as a drug company lobbyist and ties to a top financial and insurance firm, Blumenthal notes, he seems like a slightly incongruous pick—even on an interim basis—with health care and financial reform topping the congressional agenda.

Some of Kirk's recent career highlights:

Kirk is the CEO and Chairman of Kirk & Associates, a business consulting company, and sits on the board of both an insurance company, The Hartford Financial Group, and a timber and real estate company, Rayonier, Inc. Kirk also previously worked as a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company, Aventis.

...

Kirk sits on the Compensation and Personnel Committee for The Hartford in charge of employee compensation and executive bonuses. While compensation fell significantly from 2007 to 2008, this did not keep The Hartford from escaping criticism for compensation policies. Ramani Ayer, CEO and Chairman of The Hartford, was named by Forbes Magazine one of the most overpaid executives in 2008...

...

In 1999, Kirk represented the pharmaceutical company Aventis as a lobbyist for Sullivan & Worcester. Kirk listed on his lobbying disclosure forms “FDA reform” as the sole issue and the Senate as the only body he was lobbying. In 1997, Congress passed and the President signed into law the FDA Modernization Act. One provision of the bill sought to curb red-tape and regulation to streamline the drug approval process. After the bill’s passage pharmaceutical companies and their lobbying arm, PhRMA, complained about the FDA’s speed at implementing the legislation and continued existence of some regulatory barriers. In 1999, the Senate held hearings on the subject with PhRMA President Alan Holmer told the Senate Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee that the legislation “fails to provide the regulatory relief Congress intended and actually codifies some of the agency’s prior-approval practices that Congress wanted to eliminate.” Kirk’s focus on “FDA reform” for Aventis was likely related to the complaints about the FDA Modernization Act and its implementation.

UPDATE: Here's Public Citiizen's Craig Holman commenting to the Boston Herald on Kirk's appointment: "Obviously, this is a conflict of interest and raises serious concerns. It is distressing. There were many qualified people."

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Will G20 Take to Obama's Fossil Fuel Pitch?

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 5:30 AM PDT

Barack Obama has indicated that at this week's G20 summit in Pittsburgh his administration will urge member countries to end subsidies to fossil fuels—which receive upwards of $67 billion from governments around the world. But exactly what he means by that is not yet clear.

The administration's plans to push the issue of subsidies leaked last week in a letter by Obama adviser on international economic affairs Michael Froman. Froman indicates that the US should call on members of the G20 to eliminate all fossil fuel and electricity subsidies, as a "logical step in combating global climate change." From the letter:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 24, 2009

Thu Sep. 24, 2009 5:24 AM PDT

U.S. Army Soldiers wait in the early morning for two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to pick them and bring them to a nearby town to conduct a patrol in Taji, Iraq, Sept. 18, 2009. The Soldiers are assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division's Company F, 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Travis Zielinski.)

Need To Read: September 24, 2009

Thu Sep. 24, 2009 4:41 AM PDT

Today's must-reads jumped out of the pot:

  • HIV Vaccine Shows Promise (Bloomberg)
  • David Paterson Opens Up (NYT)
  • Bill McKibben: Is Obama Even Trying on Climate? (MoJo)
  • Glenn Beck: Frog Murderer (MoJo)
  • Someone In Creigh Deeds' Campaign Thinks Honesty Is The Best Policy (WaPo)
  • Clinton Compared Gore to Mussolini? (MoJo)
  • How Richard Posner Became A Keynesian (The New Republic)
  • The Spy Who Loved Hamas (MoJo)
  • Jack Shafer: "Sometimes it takes an outsider like Andrew Breitbart to show the press corps the way." (Slate)
  • Things That Make Claire McCaskill's Head "Pop Off" (MoJo)
  • Obama Echoes Bush on State Secrets? (MoJo)
  • Sen. Inhofe's Climate Sceptic Road Show (MoJo)

Follow me! 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.)

 

Score One for Predatory Lenders

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the proposed regulatory body that would shield Americans from risky loans, predatory bank fees, and other sneaky financial practices, looks like it's going to die a slow, painful death. Yesterday, lawmakers and Obama administration officials agreed to cut a major provision from the legislation that would create the agency by removing a provision that would have required banks and other financial institutions to start offering "plain vanilla" products to consumers. (A "plain vanilla" mortgage, for instance, would include a fixed interest rate and a stable term of, say, 30 years.) Now, that provision is gone. "There has been a lot of concern that if you invest the government with the ability to decide what’s appropriate here and there, that will lead to less competition and choice," said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

This move bodes poorly not just for the future of the CFPA but financial regulation in general. The plain-vanilla provision would have protected consumers from the kinds of deceptive financial products, such as adjustable rate mortgages, that precipitated the current economic mess, as well as predatory products like credit cards loaded with hidden fees. It wouldn't have gotten rid of these financial products, so consumers who wanted them would still have to do their own due diligence. But the plain-vanilla provision could have helped those consumers who aren't financially savvy enough to handle an option ARM or simply don't have the stomach to wade through the fine print of a mortgage contract.

Gutting plain vanilla marks a victory for big business and their allies in Congress, who see it as a major step toward to grounding the CFPA altogether. The US Chamber of Commerce, the biggest business lobby, has shown it will stop at nothing to "kill the bill"—and it has the firepower to do just that, having spent $23 million this year on lobbying (almost twice as much as the second-ranked organization). And the CFPA doesn't have a lot of friends among the regulators, either. The FDIC and the Fed don’t want the CFPA because it would encroach on their turf and steal some of their regulatory thunder.

To be sure, we need the CFPA, which would provide crucial consumer protection that the financial meltdown showed to be glaringly absent. But it's the clear the agency, which is backed by Congressional Oversight Panel chair Elizabeth Warren, now faces a staggeringly uphill battle. And even if it does make it into law, the agency might be stripped down to the point where it's toothless and useless, if this latest cut is any indication.