Mojo - October 2009

Fiore Cartoon: Obama's Preemptive Nobel

Thu Oct. 15, 2009 10:07 AM PDT

What if Obama won other presumptive awards besides the Nobel? Like a MTV music award for future lyrical speeches, or an Oscar for best future imaginary screenplay adaptation of The Audacity of Hope?

Watch Mark Fiore's vision of these and other preemptive prizes after the jump:

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Hearing on Forged Letters to Congress Delayed

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 9:24 AM PDT

The Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming hearing investigating the role of Bonner & Associates and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity in forged anti-climate bill letters sent to members of Congress was postponed on Thursday. The delay came after Ranking Minority Member Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) raised concerns that the committee had not been provided with witness testimony 48-hours in advance, as required by House rules.

Sensenbrenner was heard very loudly questioning committee staff about the issue before a full hearing room. Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called off the hearing shortly thereafter, saying that there had been "a procedural mistake." "In order to be fair to all members in terms of their ability to examine everyone's testimony ... I think the correct decision is that we will postpone this hearing until next week," said Markey.

The delay comes as other media are picking up on some of the more scandalous aspects of the story. I reported back in August that both Bonner & Associates and ACCCE know about the forgeries well before the House vote on the climate bill, but did nothing to inform the members of Congress who had received the fraudulent letters. In a written statement I obtained at the time, ACCCE said it was made aware of the forged letters on June 24, 2009—a full two days before the House narrowly passed the climate bill.

 

Carville vs. the Teabaggers

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 8:14 AM PDT

Commentator/consultant/celebrity James Carville and Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg are going after the Teabaggers. Tomorrow the two are releasing a report based on focus groups that apparently will show that portions of the GOP base have moved into a conspiratorial, far-right alternative universe. A press release issued by the pair on Thursday morning previewed the findings: "The study explored the relevance of the 'race issue' among these voters and revealed they're not just critical of President Obama, but worried he is deliberately trying to deceive the American public in order to advance a secret socialist agenda." This sounds like a polite way of saying that the conservative Republican base contains a significant number of whacked-out Obama-haters whose views are shaped by racial bias. Cue Glenn Beck.

Investors Urge Companies to Distance Themselves from Chamber, NAM

| Thu Oct. 15, 2009 5:47 AM PDT

Investors are now jumping into the battle against the Chamber of Commerce's climate change denial, asking the heads of major businesses to distance themselves from the Chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers, which has also opposed climate legislation.

On Wednesday, a group of of 43 institutional investors and related organizations submitted a statement to the CEOs of 14 companies. Walden Asset Management and Green Century Capital Management are leading the group of investors.

The notice asks companies "to address their disagreement with the chamber and NAM on climate change policy by withdrawing membership, publicly disclosing their disagreement, or asking the associations to refund the portion of their dues used to lobby on the issue."

"While some companies, including [yours], have articulated a business rationale for a national policy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, … membership in NAM/Chamber sends a starkly contradictory message," they wrote.

The group is targeting Air Products & Chemicals, Alcoa, American Electric Power, Boeing Co., Caterpillar, Cummins, Deere & Co., DTE Energy, Entergy, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Lockheed Martin, Whirlpool, and Xerox Corp.

The investors, which collectively represent $16 billion in assets, include: Boston Common Asset Management, Catholic Health East, Catholic Healthcare West, Clean Yield Asset Management, Domini Social Investments, Green Century Capital Management, MMA Praxis Mutual Funds, Pax World Management Corp., The Russell Family Foundation, Trillium Asset Management and Walden Asset Management.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 15, 2009

Thu Oct. 15, 2009 4:59 AM PDT

U.S Army Soldiers cross the Arghandad River to assist Afghanistan police on a humanitarian mission in Kashani village in Zabul province, Afghanistan, Oct. 9, 2009. The Soldiers are assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment. (U.S. Army photo by Specialist Tia P. Sokimson.)

Need To Read: October 15, 2009

Thu Oct. 15, 2009 4:38 AM PDT

Today's must-reads:

Get more stuff like this: Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does 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.)

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Fix the Climate, or the Kid Gets It

| Wed Oct. 14, 2009 9:36 PM PDT

Let's see. In climate news today, we have Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announcing that you can get a climate bill through the Senate—so long as you include billions in loan guarantees for nuclear plants (because, well, the market thinks they're lousy investments and won't finance them. Safety issues aside.). Meanwhile Big Ag becomes the latest industry to launch a campaign to kill what measly climate legislation is on the table (never mind that farmers in general, and the heartland in particular, are likely to see some of global warming's worst effects). The Freakonomics guys muddle the issue with junk science. We're headed for a potential debacle during the global climate talks in Copenhagen, and virtually no one in Washington can really be bothered to pay attention to the issue anyway because health care reform is sucking up all the oxygen. Great!

So what is it going to take to get action on this issue? You know the answer—we all do: It's going to take popular pressure, aka politicians feeling that they have to produce something on this issue to get reelected. And that, in turn, takes convincing Americans that something we care about is actually at risk here. 

And of course something is. Climate change poses the greatest danger not to polar bears, not to glaciers or beaches, but to our kids. Their world, if you read the scientific predictions, is one where the Southwest is a dust bowl; 30 percent of the planet's species go extinct; 200 million people become climate refugees. And those are the relatively moderate scenarios--there are also the scientists who, looking back over millions of years' worth of geologic evidence, suggest that the last time we had carbon levels like those we're headed for now, sea levels were 80 to 130 feet higher than they are today. 

That's grim stuff, which is why, most of the time, our reaction is "quick, give me something else to think about!" But the love of our children is a powerful force, and it has motivated enormous change in the past. It hasn't become a real factor on this issue—but what if it did? As Clara and I write in our editors' note for the upcoming issue of Mother Jones, which is almost entirely devoted to this topic: 

"We still have the power to shape their future. Just for perspective: The entire sum required to buy off Third World opposition to carbon caps is around what we spent to bail out Fannie, Freddie, and AIG. And hey, Europe's on the hook for at least half. Our kids will measure us by how long we tarried. What will we tell them?"

To dramatize this point, we did something unusual for this special issue: We printed four different covers, featuring four different children and four different headlines. Now it's your turn. Next week, on the eve of International Day of Climate Action, we'll debut an app that lets you put your own picture (of your kid, yourself, your cat, your pet lizard) on our cover, and share the image with your friends and your members of Congress. There's also a contest to create new headlines for the climate cover—we'll feature the best on our home page. 

Meanwhile, today is Blog Action Day, which means that nearly 8,000 blogs from all around the world are posting climate-change content today. One of the first entries comes from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. What's he got to say? 

Like every parent, I want to leave a safe and secure world for my children. And I want to be able to look them in the eye because our generation stood up for their future.

Hint, hint, White House Blog: President Obama, no doubt, would agree.

You can follow me on Twitter here. Clara tweets here. Our DC bureau chief, David Corn, tweets, as do our colleagues Daniel Schulman, Nick Baumann, Kate Sheppard, and Rachel Morris. And of course you can follow Mother Jones itself. 

 

 

House Overwhelmingly Approves Iran Sanctions Enabling Act

| Wed Oct. 14, 2009 2:46 PM PDT

By a margin of 414-6, the House of Representatives approved the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which will allow individual states and local governments to opt out of international investments that fund Iran. For months, the US has been on the verge of reprimanding Iran for developing its nuclear program, an action that many say threatens Israel. The bill's author, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, says it ensures "that Americans who are deeply concerned about the prospect of Iranian nuclear power, and other aspects of Iranian governance, that they are able to act on those (concerns)."

In a press release, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was quick to applaud the vote:

Facing the urgent and time sensitive need to change Iranian behavior or face even more difficult choices, the United States and our allies must exhaust every economic, diplomatic and political tool to pressure and persuade the Iranian government to end its illicit nuclear program as the U.N. Security Council and the International Community have repeatedly demanded.

The bill's overwhelming support indicates that another AIPAC priority, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, could also sail through when California Rep. Howard Berman re-introduces it later this month. As detailed in Robert Dreyfuss' story about the decline of the hard-line American Israel lobby in the September/October issue of Mother Jones, Berman tabled the bill in order to give President Obama a chance to pursue diplomacy with Iran. But in a Washington Post op-ed last month, Berman said that it was time for the United States to consider placing stricter sanctions on Iran and announced that he would re-introduce the bill.

As speculation about Iran's nuclear program mounts, this wave of sanctions will surely arouse international debate about US/Iranian relations and global nuclear non-proliferation. But first, the Senate must approve the bill.

Big Ag Looks to Plow Under Senate Climate Bill

| Wed Oct. 14, 2009 1:39 PM PDT

The American Farm Bureau Federation is pointing its pitchforks at the Senate climate bill with a major new lobbying campaign, "Don't CAP our Future."

The Farm Bureau has been voicing opposition to climate action since the House passed a bill in June, expressing discontent with the concessions that they helped secure in that bill for agriculture. Now they're urging members of the agriculture community to oppose the Senate bill—and raising doubts about whether climate change is a concern.

"Activists claim there will be droughts, floods, loss of species and more, if the Senate does not pass the Climate Change bill. But their bill wouldn't even help the climate," they argue on their website, instructing members to write letters to their senator. "The fact is politics is driving the need for passage—not facts! The cap-and-trade bill does nothing for Climate Change—it's simply a tax on U.S. energy that gives other countries a free pass. That's wrong. This is the kind of policy we ask you to stand against today."

According to a memo emailed to Farm Bureau members and obtained by Mother Jones, they're also urging state bureaus to hand-deliver to their senators' in-state offices farmer-style hats—or, if you prefer, "farmer caps"— bearing a AFB sticker opposing the legislation. They're also sending starter kits for the campaign to their state affiliates by November 6.

Using the familiar farmer cap and the "Don't CAP Our Future" message sticker to brand the cap with opposition to the issue, state Farm Bureaus can influence your Senators with a visual impact. The farmer caps plan is designed to be used in the state and multiple events.

In addition, the Bureau has created an "action center" that will be used to target specific senators, a petition that members can sign, and a form letter to send to senators:

The Ugly Truth About 401(k)s

| Wed Oct. 14, 2009 12:39 PM PDT

Back in the spring, Mother Jones published an issue with cover line “Who Ran Away With Your 401(k)?” and a series of articles about America’s broken retirement system. This week Time magazine has a cover story by Stephen Gandel that’s worth reading, even though by now it’s stating the painfully obvious: It’s called “Why It’s Time to Retire the 401(k)”:

The ugly truth…is that the 401(k) is a lousy idea, a financial flop, a rotten repository for our retirement reserves. In the past two years, that has become all too clear. From the end of 2007 to the end of March 2009, the average 401(k) balance fell 31%, according to Fidelity. The accounts have rebounded, along with the rest of the market, but that’s little help for those who retired — or were forced to — during the recession. In a system in which one year’s gains build on the next, the disaster of 2008 will dent retirement savings long after the recession ends.

 In what must seem like a cruel joke to many, the accounts proved the most dangerous for those closest to retirement. During the market downturn, the 401(k)s of 55-to-65-year-olds lost a quarter more than those of their 35-to-45-year-old colleagues. That’s because in your early years, your 401(k)’s growth is driven mostly by contributions. You control your own destiny. But the longer you hold a 401(k), the more market-exposed it becomes. It’s a twist that breaks the most basic rule of financial planning.

And don’t think that the problem is solved by the stock market’s partial rebound, or pronouncements that the recession is over. As the Economic Policy Institute has pointed out, the retirement crisis preceded the recession, and will endure long after it’s over:

Only half of full-time workers have a retirement plan through their employer, and coverage is much lower for part-time workers. Participating in a plan doesn’t mean a worker is adequately preparing for retirement. The median 401(k) account balance was only $25,000 in 2006-$40,000 for workers approaching retirement age. In other words, half of those who had a 401(k) were nearing retirement with less than $40,000 in their account.

Even before the stock market slide, the average person with a 401(k) was on track to retire with only 20-40% of what they need to maintain their standard of living.

The Economic Policy Institute, Pension Rights Center, and others are part of a new initiative called Retirement USA, which “is working for a universal, secure, and adequate retirement system to supplement Social Security for those workers who are not in plans that provide equally secure and adequate benefits.” Based on the current effort to achieve universal health insurance, it’s clear whatever they come up with will arrive too late to help present-day geezers like myself. (Death panels, anyone?)