Morning light streams across a farm field in Fahama, Iraq, as Soldiers with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division dismount from their vehicles to search the area for caches of weapons and explosive materials. The BCT is securing rural areas for upcoming elections. (US Army photo by 1st Lt. Joshua Risher.)

Need To Read: December 21, 2009

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As Copenhagen sputtered to a stop, Hillary Clinton made a surprise announcement that the US would give $100 billion annually to help poorer nations cope with climate change, but only if China and other nations would make their voluntary emissions limits binding. The "get China on board" meme continued with President Obama's speech. His speech was longer than those of other countries, and Bill McKibben thinks he positioned super-polluting nations against poorer, would-be super-polluters. David Corn noted that Obama seemed frustrated, and said that despite America's good intentions, if China isn't on board, they won't really matter. Henry Waxman agreed, saying that although he though Obama's speech was more unifying, China's willingness to make compromises was very key. For a while, it looked like Copenhagen would end without any resolution. But since Obama's speech, China and the US met in one-on-one sessions, and other nations rallied round to at least put together some non-binding resolutions. The result: the Copenhagen Accords.

As the final text of the Copenhagen Accords gets hammered out, Kate Sheppard gave a detailed analysis of what meaning it could have if Congress isn't on board. Six of Congress's finest GOP members made a splash in Denmark, espousing "unorthodox" positions on CO2 and warming, such as the IPCC is not interested in science and that global warming is a money-making scam. Unfortunately, these six aren't the only Americans who don't believe in climate change.

Update: At 3 am, leaving them just enough time to get to the airport, David and Kate filed a must read piece on how Obama's deal with the big emitters happened and whether it is something to cheer or jeer.

In his post, reflecting on the fleeting chance of a global climate agreement, Nick writes, "there simply isn't much precedent in human history for comprehensive global agreement on tough issues." I disagree. As the Montreal Protocol to prevent the depletion of the ozone layer and the tattered Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have (thus far) proven, when the world has a profitable solution or nuclear-armed gun to its head, it can agree to do the right thing.

The effort to close the polar ozone holes is an imperfect but instructive global success story. The ozone hole was caused by one type of industrial chemical (chlorofluorocarbons) with limited commercial applications. A profitable replacement chemical made the shift to a planet with fewer CFCs comparatively easy. Climate change is vastly more complicated but there are still ample opportunities for profit from the reworking of the world economy, which is required to prevent widespread catastrophe.

The world succeed in avoiding a nuclear holocaust largely because of a military doctrine known as "mutually assured destruction" (the acronym of which was, appropriately enough, "MAD"). One problem with global warming is that while climate chaos is assured, it will be unevenly distributed across the globe. As African negotiators in Copenhagen have pointed out to little avail, countries in the global south will bear the brunt of the effects of global climate change—despite little historic responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions that are slowly baking the globe. The disproportionately assured destruction climate change will produce weakens the negotiating positions of these already disadvantaged nations. Case in point: developed nations secretly negotiated for a politically acceptable agreement to only raise global temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius—a scenario that would turn southern Africa into a massive desert.

Indeed, avoiding nuclear war is easier than halting climate change. For starters, fewer nations are in possession of nuclear warheads. Although a troubling number of nations of have joined the nuclear club in recent years—Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and, if it continues on its current path, Iran—it remains easier to discuss nuclear non-proliferation than it does cutting the use of fossil fuels, which have powered the world economy for much of the last 200 years. Furthermore, when a nuclear bomb wipes out an entire city, there is no denying the explosion. The scientific and economic cases for combating climate change are rock solid, but the fear factor is not the same. Flooding and severe storms happened before scientists documented global warming and snow will continue to fall (somewhere) in a hotter, more dangerous world. Short of a hurricane wiping out New York or Beijing, it is difficult to imagine a universal consensus committed to stopping climate change on par with sentiment opposing nuclear war.

Although repairing the ozone hole and avoiding nuclear war prove that international agreement is possible, it is clearly no easy task. For the world to collectively combat climate change, international leaders must establish conditions where where someone can profit or everyone is exposed to massive, previously unimaginable destruction. Unfortunately, with the Copenhagen climate summit winding down, it is the latter option that seems more likely.

I love this sentence from David's wrap-up of Obama's "no deal" speech at Copenhagen:

American environmentalists appeared stunned, as they grappled with the implications: maybe collective global action to address global warming is not possible.

I can understand being stunned at the irresponsibility and shortsightedness of refusing to address climate change. But being stunned at the poor prospects for "global collective action" on anything, let alone something as politically difficult as reducing carbon emissions, seems almost tragically naive. There simply isn't much precedent in human history for comprehensive global agreement on tough issues. If the negotiators at Copenhagen had somehow forged a consensus to take concrete steps to fight climate change, it would have been a monumental achievement. But failure, however disastrous, is anything but surprising.

1st Lt. Pat Barone, a platoon leader, and Sgt. Daryl Appling, both with Company D, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, explain to Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement soldiers how to conduct tactical patrols at night along the Iraqi-Syrian border, Dec. 9. At rear with an Iraqi soldier is Jordanian interpreter Rami Tamimi. (

Need To Read: December 18, 2009

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Friday is the last day of the Copenhagen climate talks, and the success of the conference could all come down to one tiny number: half a degree Celsius. While 102 countries have called for a limit on temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius, the most powerful nations refuse to back down from a 2 degree target. But when a leaked document revealed that proposed emissions target weren't even in the ballpark of limiting warming to 2 degrees, all that squabbling over half a degree seemed a little silly. So is it possible that Bill McKibben and his team over at were right all along?

Amidst all the fuss, noted climate change denialist James Inhofe graced the Bella Center with his presence on Thursday. The former chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committeee had previously planned to bring an entire "Truth Squad" of GOP lawmakers to the climate summit. But in the end all he brought was himself and a gaggle of press handlers who told each reporter in the room that the senator was in town and later delivered a printed copy of his talking points.

Follow the last crucial hours of the Copenhagen talks here.

Plenty of countries have created excellent health care systems largely through regulation--so why can't we seem to do the same? The French and Japanese health care systems, for example, do not exclude private industry. They are not socialist in any sense of the word, and even retain a role for private insurance companies. What each system consists of is a regulatory apparatus that serves as the instrument for carrying out national policy–which is ensuring high quality health care for all the country’s citizens at a reasonable cost. The regulation works because you can’t get around it, and because it was designed–and actually operates–in the public interest.

To achieve anything similar in the United States, however, would require a virtual revolution in how things work. Our system of government regulations isn’t really what we think of as regulation at all. Rather, it throws up a facade of rules, which corporations walk right through. And no wonder, since although the regulations are supposed to be arrived at independently and designed for the public good, corporations have long had a hand in writing them, as well, thanks to the power of lobbying, campaign contributions, and the revolving door between business and government.

Rather than being enacted to protect the public from the limitless greed of private industry, many regulations are actually passed in support of corporations. The worst example is probably the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is just a clubhouse for Wall Street. Another top contender is the Food and Drug Administration. The basic legislation passed by Congress in the 1930s and updated in the early 1960s set policy governing the sale and use of drugs, which demanded that companies demonstrate the proposed product is safe and efficacious. But that policy directive was quickly abandoned. Today the drug manufacturers breeze through the FDA, setting their own rules for use, establishing their own prices, and exercising their monopoly rights within the patent system which in the case of pharmaceuticals is  maintained for their benefit.

An excellent article in the December Harpers, “Understanding Obamacare”by Luke Mitchell,  provides a clear understanding of how the  American system of regulation in the corporate interest works. “The idea that there is a competitive ‘private sector’ in America is appealing, but generally false,” writes Mitchell. He continues:


This morning, more than 60 janitors, security guards, window cleaners, and other working folks marched in front of Wells Fargo's San Francisco offices to protest the $150 billion in bonuses, benefits, and compensation the six largest banks in the US are giving executives this year. The SEIU-organized protest comes just days after Wells Fargo and Citibank announced they'd be repaying the last of their TARP funds, and in doing so, avoid government scrutiny on executive pay and risk assessment. Though the TARP funds (plus interest) are on their way to government coffers, it's not enough for working people of California, who continue to be outraged at record bank bonuses. Down at Wells Fargo HQ, the anger was hand-written on signs reading "Bank of America: You're Overdrawn," "Arrest those Bank Robbers," and "Theft is Theft! Throw Banksters in Jail!"

"This is your money," said Marvin Webb, a minster at Richmond's Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, to the crowd. "This is money we invested, this is money we deposited, this is money that they're using to pay for bonuses." The money doesn't just go to pay bonuses, it pays mortgage middlemen to foreclose on properties still undergoing loan modification. Gina Gates, who spoke at the event, said she took her money out of Bank of America after they foreclosed on her home, despite the fact she was willing to pay off the balance left on her mortgage. "If they can't take care of our money, why are we giving it to them?" she asked.