Mojo - November 2009

Webb Calls for Massive Nuclear Investment Instead of Cap and Trade

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 3:32 PM PST

Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia threw another wrench in the Senate climate debate on Monday, announcing that he is cosponsoring an alternative bill with Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Their solution to the climate problem? A massive handout to the nuclear industry.

"This is an issue that cries out for not only for bipartisanship but constructive leadership," said Webb, apparently not recognizing that there is already a serious bipartisan effort underway in the Senate.

Webb signaled that he is not likely to vote for the climate bill that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is working on with Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), despite the fact that it is expected to include generous support for nuclear energy. The existing House and Senate climate bills are too "enormously complex," Webb complained to reporters, concluding: "In its present form I would not vote for it." 

A massive investment in nuclear power, however, is something he and Alexander can get behind. "We believe there's a more bipartisan interest in clean energy in the Senate than it would appear when you take a look at the climate change debate," said Alexander, who opposes a cap-and-trade bill. "Speaking for myself, I don't want to see us get so stuck on climate change that we don't move ahead on the things we can agree on."

Alexander and Webb's bill would provide $100 billion in loan guarantees for "carbon-free electricity," which would mostly go to new nuclear plants. Their bill would also provide $200 million per year for five years to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to speed up approval of new reactors, another $100 million each year for 10 years for education and training for nuclear workers, and $50 million each year for 10 years to research how to extend the life of existing reactors. They aim to double the use of nuclear power in the next 20 years, and estimate that the total cost to the government over that period would be $20 billion.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Corn on Stephanopoulos: Gitmo, AfPak, and Sarah Palin

Mon Nov. 16, 2009 12:40 PM PST

In case you missed it, our Washington Bureau Chief David Corn did us proud on This Week with George Stephanopoulos over the weekend. He joined fellow journalists Gwen Ifill, George Will, Bob Woodward, and David Brooks at the roundtable to talk Gitmo, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and of course, Sarah Palin.

The Nation's Ari Melber thought it was interesting. You probably will too, if you prefer informed discussion over soundbites. Although... even if you like soundbites, you should still give it a listen, because David Brooks calling Sarah Palin "a joke" is kind of golden. Check it out.

The 9/11 Trial and the GOP

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 11:17 AM PST

Sarah Palin is freaking out about the 9/11 suspects being tried in New York:

The trial will afford Mohammed the opportunity to grandstand and make use of his time in front of the world media to rally his disgusting terrorist cohorts. It will also be an insult to the victims of 9/11, as Mohammed will no doubt use the opportunity to spew his hateful rhetoric in the same neighborhood in which he ruthlessly cut down the lives of so many Americans.

China's Currency "Manipulation"

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 11:13 AM PST

Monday's New York Times op-ed page featured two columns arguing that China's policy of manipulating its currency to keep its exchange rate with the dollar constant is causing big problems for the United States and the rest of the world.

Here's the necessary background, via Paul Krugman: "Most of the world’s major currencies 'float' against one another. That is, their relative values move up or down depending on market forces." The renminbi (a.k.a. yuan), China's currency, is the main exception to the rule—China's leaders purposely weaken it by buying vast quantities of dollars.

"A heavily undervalued renminbi is the key financial distortion in the world economy today," write Niall Ferguson, a history professor at Harvard, and Moritz Schularick, a professor of economic history at the Free University in Berlin. "China has carried out what amounts to a beggar-thy-neighbor devaluation, keeping the yuan-dollar exchange rate fixed even as the dollar has fallen sharply against other major currencies," writes Krugman. Both columns urge President Barack Obama to address the issue with Chinese official during his visit to the country this week.

Both Krugman and the Ferguson-Schularick duo argue that China's management of the renminbi-dollar exchange rate is artificially deflating the yuan's value, making Chinese exports more attractive in places like the United States and making exports from all other countries less competitive—and keeping America's trade deficit with China massive. Ever wondered why everything is "Made in China?" This currency manipulation, Krugman and Ferguson/Schularick say, is a big reason why.

So it would almost certainly be in America's interests to get China to stop fiddling with the currency markets. Unfortunately, no one really knows how to do that. Here's the key paragraph from Ferguson and Schularick:

Call it the 10:10 deal: the Chinese get 10 percent growth; America gets 10 percent unemployment. The deal is even worse for the rest of the world — and that includes some of America’s biggest export markets and most loyal allies. The question is: What can the United States offer to make the Chinese abandon the dollar peg that has served them so well?

Ferguson and Schularick seem to think that the Chinese authorities' principle worry with letting the yuan appreciate is that their dollar reserves would be worth less. That's not nearly broad enough. The Chinese authorities' main priority is the survival of the current political regime. Maintaining high levels of growth and low levels of unemployment are crucial to achieving that goal—and that requires keeping Chinese exports cheap.

Chinese leaders are simply making a rational calculation. Until someone convinces them that the economic cost to China of keeping the yuan artificially cheap exceeds the economic benefit, they're going to keep on doing it.

Coal Country Dems Dig In Against Climate Bill

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 10:04 AM PST

More bad news for the climate bill? Fourteen Senate Democrats wrote to party leaders last week objecting to the legislation circulating in the Senate—and the letter's signatories included some lawmakers generally assumed to be reliable "yes" votes for the bill.

The letter, sent to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, bill co-authors John Kerry and Barbara Boxer, and Finance Chair Max Baucus was signed by senators from 14 Midwestern, coal-dependent states—including Minnesota's Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, who are usually counted among Democrats supportive of climate legislation. The other signatories were Tom Harkin of Iowa, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall of Colorado, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Russell Feingold and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Roland Burris of Illinois, and Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

In particular, the senators oppose the way that carbon credits are allocated in the House and the proposed Senate bill, arguing that it unfairly harms states who rely on coal for their energy needs. Their concern is that the House bill and the Senate bill that advanced last week would make higher-emitting utilities—those that burn coal—pay more under cap and trade. Under the House and Senate proposals, the formula by which local electricity distributors recieve free credits is based 50 percent on their total energy sales and 50 percent on their total emissions. The coal state senators want the allocations to be based 100 percent on emissions—meaning that utilities that emit more would get more free credits.

A Wrinkle in (Russian) Time

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 9:20 AM PST

Frustrated with his lack of political power (and the fact that no one in the western media will ever refer to him without mentioning Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in the same breath) Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has decided to do something drastic. Peter the Great invented the civil service. V.I. Lenin streamlined the Cyrillic alphabet; the man who has so far distinguished himself as an attractive and well mannered sock puppet will singlehandedly take on Russian time.

Russia currently has eleven time zones, a number Medvedev would like to see slashed by two-thirds. If his rather ambitious plan succeeds, only four will survive. 

As surreal as it sounds, there's actually a long history of time-tampering in world politics. China has just one time zone (though until 1949 it had five) making it the largest country in the world where everybody still eats dinner at the same time. Two years earlier, India and Pakistan separated themselves by half an hour (because heaven forbid it be the same time in Delhi and Lahore). Wedged between superpowers India and China, Nepal finds itself fifteen minutes ahead of the former and an hour and 15 behind the latter. 

Throw in Daylight Savings Time and things get weirder still. Most countries in Asia and Africa don't observe it. Europe, North America and the Middle East generally do. Perhaps strangest of all is the row DST has stirred up in Iran, where President Ahmedinejad banned it in 2006, only to be overruled the following year by his parliament (DST was reinstated in 2008). Only time will tell whether it remains. 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Remembering Sarah Palin

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 8:49 AM PST

This is Sarah Palin's big week. Her book is out. She's doing Oprah and Barbara. She's got a bus and is hitting the road (Ft. Wayne, Grand Rapids, Roanoke) on a book tour that looks more like a campaign swing. And her fans say this is a moment—yet another moment—in which she can redefine herself and set up a presidential run. Well, maybe. As I note at PoliticsDaily.com, polls show that while 76 percent of Republicans want her to be a national political figure, only 45 percent of Americans have that desire. And up to 71 percent of the public believes she's unqualified to be president. There's a Palin Gap between GOPers and the rest of the county. It's hard to see how a few fun moments with one or two diva talk-show hosts will change these numbers.

Past is prologue. And given Palin's past, the potential for a turnaround seems low. Mark Murray, the savvy deputy political editor of NBC News, has compiled a useful reminder of her greatest—or worst—hits of the past year.

* Immediately after the presidential contest was over, McCain campaign officials told reporters about Palin committing apparent acts of insubordination, like her unprecedented (and rejected) request to deliver her own concession speech

* In March, Levi Johnston—the father of her grandchild—announced that he and Palin’s daughter, Bristol, had ended their relationship

* In April, Palin’s spokeswoman criticized Johnston’s tell-all appearance on the “Tyra Banks Show,” saying: “We’re disappointed that Levi and his family, in a quest for fame, attention and fortune, are engaging in flat-out lies, gross exaggeration and even distortion of their relationship.

* Also in April, the Alaska legislature voted to reject Palin’s pick for state attorney general, Wayne Anthony Ross, who had been criticized for calling gays and lesbians “degenerates.”

* In June, after comedian David Letterman made a crude joke about one of her daughters, Palin fired back calling his comments “sexually perverted,” while her husband Todd said, “Any 'jokes' about raping my 14-year-old are despicable.” Letterman later apologized.

*Also in the summer, Vanity Fair published a devastating article that recounted her troubles during and after the presidential campaign.

* And after all of that, Palin shocked the world in July when she resigned from office—with some 18 months left in her first term.

Palin offered a rambling explanation for her retreat from Juneau: "A good point guard...drives through a full-court press, protecting the ball, keeping her head up because she needs to keep her eye on the basket. And she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win. And that is what I'm doing."

Murray notes that her resignation did not end the embarrassments:

* In August, the Alaska legislature voted to override her veto of $28.6 million in federal stimulus funds.

This fall, in that attention-grabbing special congressional election in New York, she led the charge of national Republicans endorsing the third-party conservative candidate over the more liberal GOP nominee. But that divide helped a Democrat win the seat.

Last month, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 27 percent of Americans have a positive view of her. That was a drop of five points since her resignation, and 19 points since John McCain picked her as his running mate.

Can a book tour boost Palin's credibility as a possible presidential candidate? That's a tough mission—especially when the book being pushed is called Going Rogue. How many Americans want a rogue president? No doubt, Palin will sell a lot of books. But there's still plenty of doubt that Palin can sell Palin.

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

World Leaders Punt on Climate Pact

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 8:43 AM PST

With negotiators set to meet in Copenhagen in less than a month and an agreement still far from reach, world leaders agreed on Sunday to delay a final deal on a climate pact until 2010. So what does that mean for the ultimate chances of a global treaty—and of climate legislation in the US?

T-Paw, Deer Hunter

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 7:57 AM PST

The Democrats are trying to push this story about Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor and 2012 hopeful:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has taken a drubbing from hunters for not tracking down a deer he shot on opening day of Minnesota's firearm deer season.

A headline on deerhuntingchat.com calls the possible presidential candidate a "slob hunter" for wounding a deer on Nov. 7 and then leaving for a Republican fundraiser in Iowa before the animal could be found.

One contributor wrote: "What kind of slob hunter goes out opening morning and shoots a deer knowing full well you won't have time to retrieve it or tend to it? One whose presidential ambitions override his hunting ethics, that's what kind."

The-deer-hunting-guide.com says: "A responsible hunter, who is also an ethical hunter, will be prepared to spend hours trailing a wounded deer; even come back the next day if needed. You must make every effort to retrieve a wounded animal. It's the right ethical thing to do."

Pawlenty's buddies tried to track down the deer later, but couldn't find it. According to the story, T-Paw had only bagged one deer before the Iowa hunt. If he's jealous of Sarah Palin's hunting prowess, though, he's on the wrong track. Everyone knows that the toughest hunters gun down wolves from helicopters. That, or they hunt quail. T-Paw doesn't stand a chance.

Murder in Mendota

| Mon Nov. 16, 2009 5:01 AM PST

Things have gone from bad to worse in the beleagered town of Mendota in California's Central Valley. Nicknamed the Canteloupe Capital of the World, it was once at the heart of the region's booming agricultural economy. 

Mendota (which also happens to be the setting for much of Josh Harkinson's piece about California's ongoing water crisis) was thrust into the limelight in March of this year, when unemployment there peaked at 41 percent. A bitter feud over water rights pitted growers and farm workers—onetime enemies—against environmentalists and the federal government. Meanwhile, an area the size of the City of Los Angeles went fallow.  

Today, unemployment is still at 36 percent. In August alone, the community food bank distributed more than 2.5 million pounds of food to increasingly desperate workers, and the numbers keep getting worse. "It's a tremendous volume," said foodbank head Dana Wilkies. "Almost all these folks are impacted by the agricultural sector. They're farm workers, they're truckers or packers or people who run small businesses in those communities who were reliant on their customer base." 

Even Governor Schwarzenegger's long awaited water bills, signed into law this week,  won't change anything for the 2010 season. And without torrential rain and heavy snowfalls in the Sierra, there's little hope on the horizon. 

Then, two weeks ago, the tiny town of 9,000 and shrinking was rocked by the brutal slaying of four-year-old Alex Mercado, whose body was found stuffed into a clothes-dryer in the home of a 14-year-old neighbor thought to have sodomized him and drowned him in a bathtub.  He confessed and will be tried as an adult for the crime, which could carry up to a 47-year sentence. 

"I just screamed at what I saw," said Elsa Castro, the suspect's mother. "No one will ever understand how I feel about what happened."

Yet another nightmare in the Cantaloupe Center of the World.