Mojo - November 2009

Kerry to World Bank: Don't Be Dirty

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 5:42 PM EST

John Kerry gave a barn-burner of a speech at the World Bank on Wednesday, laying into  development banks for pouring massive sums into dirty energy projects in poor countries. "Reducing energy poverty and combating climate change cannot be mutually exclusive challenges," said Kerry. "We won't solve climate change unless we also seriously tackle energy poverty, and we haven't really solved energy poverty if we ravage our planet in the process."

World Bank and other development banks notoriously pay little or no attention to the carbon footprint of the energy projects they fund. Since 1994, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks and export credit agencies have directed $37 billion to the construction or expansion of 88 coal-fired power plants, according to an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) study released earlier this year. This sum was matched by approximately $60 billion from private funders and local governments—bringing the total investment in dirty energy projects to more than $100 billion.

Those 88 plants will spew 791 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Yet the Bank classifies 40 percent of its energy lending as "low carbon" even if the recipients of its loans are massive coal plants. Why? Because the new plants pollute a little less than the old ones. Financing such projects, EDF concluded, is "hamstringing the fight against global warming."

Kerry was unusually agressive in his critcism of development banks. "There is no excuse," he said, for the Inter-American Development Bank's decision to back two new coal-fired power plants in Brazil. And the World Bank, he argued, should take the lead by including emissions as a key criteria when deciding which energy projects to finance. Kerry called on the Bank to weigh not only estimates of construction and operation costs when funding new projects, but also projected emissions. The Bank should also work harder to present low-carbon alternatives to its aid recipients, and fund clean energy projects whenever possible.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Al Qaeda: No Longer a "Direct" Threat

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 4:06 PM EST

Is al Qaeda no longer a profound threat to the United States?

In testimony to a House homeland security subcommittee on Thursday, Peter Bergen, a terrorism analyst, al Qaeda expert, New America Foundation fellow, and Mother Jones contributor, said: 

Al Qaeda today no longer poses a direct national security threat to the United States itself, but rather poses a second-order threat in which the worst case scenario would be an al Qaeda-trained or -inspired terrorist managing to pull off an attack on the scale of something in between the 1993 Trade Center attack, which killed six, and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, which killed 168.

Bergen added:

[A] key reason the United States escaped a serious terrorist attack has little to do with either the Bush or Obama administrations. In sharp contrast to Muslim populations in European countries like Britain -- where al Qaeda has found recruits for multiple serious terrorist plots -- the American Muslim community has largely rejected the ideological virus of militant Islam. The 'American Dream' has generally worked well for Muslims in the United States, who are both better-educated and wealthier than the average American. More than a third of Muslim Americans have a graduate degree or better, compared to less than 10% of the population as a whole.

Bergen is no naive optimist, ready to declare victory in the never-ending war on terrorism. But imagine if his measured view of the al Qaeda threat were to be fully incorporated into political discourse and government deliberations. Meanwhile, I wonder if the neocons and other hawks will come after him for daring to suggest that the al Qaeda danger be regarded realistically.

You can read his full testimony here.

Fiore Cartoon: Terrorist Lockdown

Thu Nov. 19, 2009 12:31 PM EST

A rundown of how terrorism is handled in the US:

--Rudy Giuliani, John Boehner: Wuss!

--American justice system: Tough!

See how these and others fare in satirist Mark Fiore's cartoon below:

Crashing the Chamber of Commerce's SF Conference

| Thu Nov. 19, 2009 7:00 AM EST

Yesterday, the US Chamber of Commerce came to San Francisco to hold a "government affairs" conference. SF is, of course, Mother Jones' home turf, but sadly, we weren't sent an invitation—probably because of this, this, or this.

The Chamber's contentious relationship with its chorus of critics didn't keep a polar bear, a big street puppet, and a crowd of burly union members from gathering to give the business lobby what Greenpeace campaigner Lauren Thorpe called "a good San Francisco welcome." At a park near the Fairmont Hotel, where the Chamber was meeting, the ususal lunchtime crowd of women walking shih tzus was was replaced by a sea of placards. Labor leaders denounced the Chamber for opposing health care reform, the Employee Free Choice Act, and green jobs. "I don't think it's a stretch to say they are so 20th century," Danny Kennedy, cofounder of Sungevity, San Francisco’s largest residential solar company, said through a bullhorn. "We have to go kick them into the dustbin of history where they deserve to be."

With that, the chanting crowd marched to the Fairmont. It was joined by San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a Green Party member, who called upon the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which was attending the event, "to boldly stand up and say that what the US Chamber is doing is wrong." 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 19, 2009

Thu Nov. 19, 2009 5:57 AM EST

US Army Capt. Dustin Snare blows the Ghallarhorn, a Nordic war horn, kicking off the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Detroit Lions during the viewing party on Contingency Operating Base Basra, Iraq, Nov. 15, 2009. Snare is the battle captain for the 34th Infantry Division's operations section. (US Army photo by Spc. Samuel Soza.)

Need To Read: November 19, 2009

Thu Nov. 19, 2009 5:55 AM EST

Today's must reads:

Get more stuff like this: Follow Mother Jones on twitter! You can check out what we are tweeting and follow the staff of @MotherJones with one click.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Heads-Up On Health Care

| Wed Nov. 18, 2009 3:11 PM EST

The rest of today promises to be big for health care reform. At 5:00 p.m., Sen. Harry Reid plans to explain the Senate's merged health care bill to his Democratic colleagues at a caucus meeting. The bill will probably be unveiled to the public later in the evening, and the crucial Congressional Budget Office "score" of the bill—estimating its costs and benefits—is expected sometime today, too.

TPM's Brian Beutler reports that Reid may adhere to the 72-hour rule for public comment on legislation before trying to pass a motion to proceed with debate—something that requires 60 votes and will be the first big test for the Senate bill. Beutler also reminds readers that a Republican stunt calling for reading the entire bill aloud is likely to delay actual debate until after senators return from next week's Thanksgiving recess.

You can expect all sorts of ludicrous comments, misinformation, and silliness about the Senate bill all over cable television, the internet, and the print media starting, well, just about now.

US, China Climate Talks: Getting Warmer

| Wed Nov. 18, 2009 2:50 PM EST

World leaders may have failed to lay the necessary groundwork to sign a climate treaty in Copenhagen. But some good news did emerge from President's Obama's trip to China this week. Obama's meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao on Tuesday provided a few hopeful clues that the world's two heavyweight polluters are inching toward a climate consensus.

China and the US account for roughly 37 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so what they decide to do about climate change will determine the success or failure of a global treaty. Following the meeting, Obama said that he and Hu had agreed that any treaty at Copenhagen should have an "immediate operational effect." He added, "We agreed that each of us would take significant mitigation actions and stand behind these commitments."

Of course, with any international negotiation the devil is in how you define vague terms like "significant mitigation actions." Obama and Hu's announcement was short on specifics, although a joint statement said they had agreed to collaborate on, among other things, designing electric and other clean-fuel vehicles, improving the energy efficiency of building stock, and developing carbon-capture-and-sequestration for coal plants, according to the New York Times.

But perhaps the most significant development was that the leaders appeared to agree that China and the US can take different paths to reducing emissions. Hu touted the acknowledgement that the two nations could have "common but differentiated responsibilities." Translation? This language allows for a scenario in which rapidly developing countries like China commit to reducing emissions—but not at the same level as developed nations.

Was Holder's KSM Decision Political?

| Wed Nov. 18, 2009 2:30 PM EST

Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Justice Department's decision to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 plotters in civilian courts was bound to be contentious. Senate Republicans didn't disappoint, moving quickly to accuse Attorney General Eric Holder of putting politics ahead of national security by prosecuting KSM blocks away from where the twin towers once stood. Holder stood his ground. "There was not a political component to my decision," he insisted.

It's true that at first glance, Holder's decision doesn't seem to have much to do with politics. The Justice Department's current plans—to try some terrorist suspects in the US court system but not others—are drawing fire from both liberals and conservatives. Influential commentators like the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder have argued that the decision is so politically toxic it must be non-political. "If this is politics, it's really dumb politics," Ambinder writes. "And that's why it's probably not politics."

Ambinder argues that Occam's razor—the logical principle that the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct—supports his theory. But Occam's razor suggests that Holder, like every Attorney General before him, considers the political ramifications of all his decisions before he makes them. It would be truly remarkable for any AG to do otherwise.

When you think about it, the Obama administration's decision on how to deal with terrorist suspects—upsetting both the left and the right—fits in perfectly with the Andrew Sullivan theory of Barack Obama. Sullivan believes that Obama and his team play the long game (Obama claims as much in interviews) and don't worry too much about the short-term politics of their decisions. Bringing people like KSM to trial doesn't have much public support right now (just 29 percent of Americans support this move, according to a recent Rasmussen poll). If you want to bring terror suspects to trial in the future, you're going to need to change the paradigm. But wholesale change—trying all of the Gitmo detainees in federal court—could be politically disasterous. So you start with a few, high-profile trials—provided you firmly believe they will result in convictions and ultimately bolster support for working within the US justice system to try more terrorism detainees. You take some knocks now from civil libertarians who are upset that you're only trying five people in federal court and from conservatives who are upset that you're trying anyone. But neither side is truly enraged because neither side has truly lost. Meanwhile, you're changing the only minds that matter—those of the American people.

The administration's strategy is already demonstrating its short-term political usefulness, too.  As the judiciary committee's ranking Republican member, Alabama's Jeff Sessions, interrogated Holder on Wednesday morning, the AG repeatedly brought up his decision to send Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the accused planner of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, to a military commission. In essence, Holder used the al-Nashiri decision as a shield against conservative criticism. Every time Sessions hit him for transferring KSM to federal court, Holder brought up the administration's continued use of the military commissions. You can bet that when the administration gets hit from the left over al-Nashiri, they'll bring up the KSM trial. Either way, they'll have a counterargument. Being in the middle can have its benefits. The only charge they'll have trouble rebutting is one of inconsistency.

Archives To Proceed with CSI-ish Watergate Test

| Wed Nov. 18, 2009 2:14 PM EST

In July, I was the first to report that the National Archives was considering conducting high-tech forensic tests on two pages of presidential records that could provide key clues to one of the great political mysteries in US history: what was on the 18 1/2 minutes of White House tapes suspiciously erased during the Watergate scandal? Last year, Phil Mellinger, a one-time National Security Agency systems analyst and Watergate researcher, made an intriguing discovery—that meeting notes written by H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon's chief of staff, seemed to contain a gap corresponding to the gap in the recording of the infamous June 20, 1972 conversation during which Nixon and Haldeman discussed the Watergate break-in. Mellinger asked the Archives to test other pages of Haldeman notes from this meeting to determine if indented writing could be found on these pages. The goal would be to find impressions indicating what Haldeman had written on possibly missing pages that covered the part of the conversation obliterated from the tapes. On Wednesday, the National Archives announced it was proceeding with the testing Mellinger requested.

Here's the press release:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The National Archives and Records Administration announced today that it is convening a forensic document examination team to study two pages of the handwritten notes of H. R. Haldeman, a chief of staff to President Richard M. Nixon, 1969-1973. The notes are among the permanent records in the holdings of the National Archives.

The two pages of notes under investigation were purported to have been created during Mr. Haldeman's 11:30 A.M. meeting with President Nixon on June 20, 1972, in the Executive Office Building, three days after the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. This is the same meeting in which 18 1/2 minutes of tape-recorded conversation between Mr. Nixon and Mr. Haldeman were erased, prior to the White House tape recorded conversations being turned over to Judge Sirica in response to a subpoena from the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.

The National Archives has assembled the examination team in attempt to clarify some mysteries surrounding the June 20 meeting, of which Mr. Haldeman's notes are the only extant account. Historians and scholars have long speculated on the subject of that meeting. The team will attempt to determine whether there is any evidence that additional notes were taken at the meeting that are no longer part of the original file.

Instrumental examinations of the documents will include Hyperspectral Imaging at the Library of Congress to study the ink and to possibly reveal latent or indented images on the paper; Video Spectral Comparison (VSC) of the ink entries and paper substrates; and Electrostatic Detection Analysis (ESDA) to reveal indented images that could correspond to original handwriting on these or other pages - present or no longer present - among documents from the Haldeman files.

Team members include experts from the Library of Congress Preservation Research and Testing Division, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Forensic Science Laboratory, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Forensic Science Laboratory.

The National Archives will announce the test results in a press availability event as soon as the testing is complete. The expected time-frame is early 2010.

My original article was headlined "CSI: Watergate." Indeed. Good luck to the real-life forensic experts working this caper.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.