Mojo - January 2010

Gallows Humor on Climate

| Fri Jan. 29, 2010 2:57 PM EST

Climate change was apparently a laugh line in Barack Obama's State of the Union on Wednesday. Here's a video, where the laughter at the line, "I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change," is audible.

It's hard to tell whether Republicans are laughing at the idea of global warming, or if Democrats are laughing at Republicans for being skeptics:

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Osama bin Laden Goes Green?

| Fri Jan. 29, 2010 11:11 AM EST

Is Osama bin Laden moving from holy warrior to eco warrior? The leader of al-Qeada is now expressing concern about climate change. Or, at least a desire to blame the United States for climate change. Surely this will only lead to more politicization of an issue that clearly doesn't need to get any more polarized. A. Siegel at Get Energy Smart Now tries to preempt the torrent this is likely to prompt:

That bin Laden is able to, via his distorted lens, gain a glimpse of reality and understand that climate change is a serious issue meriting attention doesn’t suddenly make climate change unreal even though there will be those who seize on this to say things like "bin Laden is against it, therefore I’m for it …"

While bin Laden's foray into climate is a bit unexpected, he's apparently seizing on an opportunity to exploit tensions between the US and other countries nonplussed with the current state of climate affairs (see: Venezuela, Bolivia, Sudan). It also shows how desperate he is for international support, as Spencer Ackerman notes. And while living in a cave might give him some green cred, I'm going to go out on a limb and say annihilating the infidels isn't really good evidence that you care about the future of humankind.

Need to Read: January 29, 2010

Fri Jan. 29, 2010 8:07 AM EST

 The must-read stories from around the web and in today's papers:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 29, 2010

Fri Jan. 29, 2010 8:00 AM EST

we're still at war 012810

Army Staff Sgt. Chad Melanson, Provincial Reconstruction Team-Kunar security forces member from the Nevada National Guard's 1st Squadron, 221st Calvary Regiment currently assigned to Camp Wright in Asadabad, Afghanistan, speaks with other members of the security team prior to a night patrol of the camp's perimeter on Jan. 24. Photo by US Army.

Corn on Olbermann: Palin and the Tea Partiers

Thu Jan. 28, 2010 10:35 PM EST

David Corn appeared on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann to discuss Sarah Palin's recent scuffles with the Tea Party movement.

 

Key Senator's Health Care Reform Booster Shot

| Thu Jan. 28, 2010 7:01 PM EST

Democrats' efforts to pass health care reform depend on a filibuster-proof procedural maneuver called reconciliation. If Senate Democrats can use this process to pass a package of adjustments to their version of the health care bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she can muster enough votes to approve the Senate legislation in the House. But for this to work, Sen. Kent Conrad has to be with the program. The centrist North Dakota Democrat chairs the Senate Budget Committee, which handles reconciliation measures. Other centrist Democrats, such as Missouri's Claire McCaskill, have  expressed qualms about the plan. But in a brief conversation with reporters on Thursday afternoon, Conrad slammed Republican obstructionism and vigorously defended the use of reconciliation to pass important legislation.

The Senate "was not designed to have everything require 60 votes," Conrad said. "It wasn't designed to prevent important action on the problems facing the country." If a supermajority is effectively necessary to pass any piece of legislation, he added, this "puts a great deal of pressure on going to more of a reconciliation process to deal with things."

Conrad argued that it's not possible to use reconciliation—which requires merely a straight majority vote—to win passage of an entire comprehensive health care bill, as some progressives have advocated. (There are assorted rules that prevent this.) But Conrad noted that he's open to using this legislative maneuver to make limited, though significant, changes to a measure the Senate has already passed—provided that certain procedural kinks could be ironed out.

Those procedural issues involve which body would take the opening step in this legislative dance—the House or the Senate. House Democrats want the Senate to pass its changes to its health care measure first. (Otherwise, they could end up voting for a Senate bill containing provisions they don't like and then get stuck with it, should reconciliation fizzle.) Senate Democrats, however, aren't sure they can approve through reconciliation changes to a bill that hasn't yet been approved by the House. "We are being asked to pass a piece of legislation that amends another piece of legislation which does not exist yet," a Senate aide told Greg Sargent yesterday. "We are having problems with the [Congressional Budget Office] and parliamentarian on that front." The Senate just wants the House to "back off," Sargent reported. Parliamentary experts for the Democratic leaders on each side of Capitol Hill are now trying to sort all this out.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech didn't provide any guidance on how congressional Democrats should proceed. One House Democratic leadership aide told Mother Jones that the top Democrats on the House side assume that Obama is hesitant to tell the "touchy" Senate how to do its job at such a critical juncture. The absence of any reference to reconciliation in Obama's speech, he insists, was no indication it is off the table.

Conrad, for one, didn't sound like a man with doubts about the idea. He said, "Frankly I think we have to reconsider the rules by which this body is governed," because the Senate "is in danger of becoming dysfunctional," and "there's going to be a building demand in the country to change the system."

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Graham: Obama Admin "Very Pro-Nuclear"

| Thu Jan. 28, 2010 5:22 PM EST

Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a nuclear champion who is leading efforts to pass energy and climate legislation on the conservative side of the aisle, described the Obama administration on Wednesday as the most pro-nuclear of those he has worked with during his two terms in the Senate. Graham told reporters that Obama's energy secretary, Steven Chu, has "probably been the easiest secretary of energy to work with since I've been up here," adding, "He's a very pro-nuclear guy."

Graham said that Chu had been "incredibly helpful" in heralding the "nuclear renaissance" Graham wants to bring about. Chu has headed efforts to speed up the nuclear loan gaurantee program, which Graham would like to see expanded in a climate and energy bill. The loans would use taxpayer dollars to back a massive expansion of nuclear power that the private sector has been reticent to support given the expense and high default rate for these investments. Graham also wants to see nuclear power included in the new federal renewable electricity standard, which would require utilities to drawn a percentage of their power from renewable sources. Including nuclear concerns many environmental advocates because nuclear energy is neither renewable nor a new technology, and the RES is intended to boost use of energy sources that are actually renewable, like wind and solar.

Chu has been at the forefront of the administration's efforts to expand nuclear power, and has been working to set up a blue-ribbon commission that will focus on nuclear fuel issues. And while some Republicans have been critical of Chu for not moving fast enough on nuclear, he has promised to do more. "I'm pushing it as hard as I can," Chu told senators last week.

President Obama, too, gave the nuclear industry top billing in the energy portion of his State of the Union address on Wednesday night, to the surprise (and chagrin) of some environmentalists.  He began his remarks on climate with a call for "a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country." (That didn't stop the Viriginia's Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell from accusing the administration of "hindering nuclear energy expansion" in his rebuttal.)

Environmentalists also criticized Obama for explicitly voicing support for oil, gas, coal, and biofuels in his speech—with no mention of wind, solar, or other renewable sources of energy. "President Obama's support for all these dirty energy sources was a big win for corporate polluters and their Washington lobbyists, but it was a kick in the gut to environmentalists across the country," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth.

Enviros Aim to Unseat Sen. Lincoln

| Thu Jan. 28, 2010 4:17 PM EST

Is Blanche Lincoln the dirtiest member of Congress? The League of Conservation Voters thinks so. The group named the Arkansas Democrat the inaugural member of their 2010 Dirty Dozen—a list of top targets for environmentalists to unseat in the next election.

Lincoln is "one of the worst Democrats in the US Senate," said Tony Massaro, the League's senior vice president for political affairs. He cited Lincoln's opposition to climate legislation and her support for efforts to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions as reasons that Lincoln is the first person to be named to their 2010 list (the rest will be released in the coming weeks.) Lincoln has received a lifetime voting score of just 49 percent on environmental issues from the organization—the lowest of all Democratic senators up for reelection this year.

Massaro pointed to a recent poll from Democratic polling firm Benenson Strategy Group that found that 55 percent of Arkansans support passing a bill that includes a cap on carbon dioxide pollution and measures to expand use of renewable energy. "She is out of step with the majority of people in Arkansas," said Massaro.

Lincoln's chances of reelection look tenuous at best, as she has come under fire from Arkansas Republicans for her support of health care reform. At least five Republicans are expected to file to run in the primary, and more may jump in before the March 8 deadline. The state Democratic Party has been openly considering whether another Democrat might fare better in the election.

The League of Conservation voters spent $1.5 million during the last election cycle targeing Dirty Dozen members, and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on individual races. Half of the candidates they've targeted to date lost their election bids.

The League is also going after Steve Pearce, a GOP candidate for New Mexico's second congressional district. He represented the district from 2003 to 2009, and made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 2008. He has a 3 percent lifetime voting record from the organization.

UPDATE: Lincoln's office issued a statement defending her environmental record on Thursday afternoon, calling LCV a "liberal" and "extremist" group and vowing that "threats from outside special interest groups will not deter her from remaining a strong and independent voice for Arkansas."

"I have built a practical, common-sense record on energy and environmental issues while working closely with Arkansas environmental advocates," said Lincoln. "Threats from extremist groups from outside our state tell me I'm doing something right for Arkansas."

Inside Af-Pak's Black Sites

| Thu Jan. 28, 2010 4:00 PM EST

Anand Gopal, a war correspondent in Afghanistan for the Wall Street Journal and formerly the Christian Science Monitor, has a superb, year-long investigation out today on the US' raids, "black site" detention cetners, and "Black Jail" at the Bagram air base in eastern Afghanistan. The story, co-published by TomDispatch.com and The Nation magazine, is the first of its kind to report on the shadowy counterterror and torture methods used by the US in Afghanistan, a war led in large part by a general, Stanley McChrystal, who made a name for himself leading these same kinds of under-the-radar missions. For his report, supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, Gopal interviewed dozens of Afghans, some of whom had either been kidnapped and tortured themselves (and lived to tell about it) or who knew people who'd been disappeared or killed during this night-time raids.

As Gopal points out, these kinds of missions undermine the US' entire presence in Afghanistan:

Sometime in the last few years, Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan's rugged heartland began to lose faith in the American project. Many of them can point to the precise moment of this transformation, and it usually took place in the dead of the night, when most of the country was fast asleep. In the secretive U.S. detentions process, suspects are usually nabbed in the darkness and then sent to one of a number of detention areas on military bases, often on the slightest suspicion and without the knowledge of their families.

This process has become even more feared and hated in Afghanistan than coalition airstrikes. The night raids and detentions, little known or understood outside of these Pashtun villages, are slowly turning Afghans against the very forces they greeted as liberators just a few years ago.

In addition, he reports on the presence of a "Black Jail" at Bagram air base and nine official holding jails in Afghanistan, known as Field Detention Sites, usually comprised of a few cells walled off with plywood and used for interrogation purposes. Gopal's story retells the experiences of individual Afghans who were detained and tortured by US forces:

One of these former detainees is Noor Agha Sher Khan, who used to be a police officer in Gardez, a mud-caked town in the eastern part of the country. According to Sher Khan, U.S. forces detained him in a night raid in 2003 and brought him to a Field Detention Site at a nearby U.S. base.  “They interrogated me the whole night,” he recalls, “but I had nothing to tell them.” Sher Khan worked for a police commander whom U.S. forces had detained on suspicion of having ties to the insurgency. He had occasionally acted as a driver for this commander, which made him suspicious in American eyes.

The interrogators blindfolded him, taped his mouth shut, and chained him to the ceiling, he alleges. Occasionally they unleashed a dog, which repeatedly bit him. At one point, they removed the blindfold and forced him to kneel on a long wooden bar. “They tied my hands to a pulley [above] and pushed me back and forth as the bar rolled across my shins. I screamed and screamed.”  They then pushed him to the ground and forced him to swallow 12 bottles worth of water. “Two people held my mouth open and they poured water down my throat until my stomach was full and I became unconscious. It was as if someone had inflated me.” he says. After he was roused from his torpor, he vomited the water uncontrollably.

This continued for a number of days; sometimes he was hung upside down from the ceiling, and other times blindfolded for extended periods. Eventually, he was sent on to Bagram where the torture ceased. Four months later, he was quietly released, with a letter of apology from U.S. authorities for wrongfully imprisoning him.

The piece is absolutely worth reading in full. It sheds light on the secrecy surrounding these detention centers, the torture taking place in this facilities, and the fear among Afghans of being the next person swept up in a violent night-time raid—all crucial elements of the US war in Afghanistan that haven't been reported anywhere else yet without which our understanding of the Af-Pak war is incomplete.

Kerry to Enviros: Be More Like Tea Partiers

| Thu Jan. 28, 2010 3:27 PM EST

Should climate campaigners take a page from the Tea Party playbook? That was the suggestion of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) yesterday, who is heading up efforts to pass an energy and climate bill in the Senate.

"If Tea Party folks go out there and get angry because they think their taxes are too high, for God's sake, a lot of citizens ought to get angry that they're being killed, and our planet is being injured by what is happening on a daily basis with the way we provide our power and our fuel and the old practices we have," said Kerry in a speech on Wednesday at a clean energy forum. "That's something worth getting angry about, and I think it's time for people to do that."

"I want you to go out there and to start knocking on doors, and talking to people and telling people, 'This has to happen,'" Kerry told the gathered representatives from labor, environmental, and agricultural groups.

Asked by a reporter afterward whether he thinks the Tea Partiers have something to teach climate activists, Kerry backtracked a bit. What he and other advocates in the Senate need to do, he said, is draw from the lessons learned in the fights to pass the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. "We have done this before. We just have to get back to basics and make it happen again."

But Kerry was clearly frustrated at the lack of visible citizen advocacy for his efforts to pass climate and energy legislation. In theory, public support for tackling climate change is strong. As polls released last week by both the Democratic polling firm Benenson Strategy Group and Republican pollster Frank Luntz have affirmed, Americans overwhelmingly support both a cap on carbon dioxide pollution and a shift to renewable energy sources.

But, as a Pew Research Center poll released earlier this week found, Americans rank global warming dead last out of a list of 21 priorities for the Obama administration. While support for the concept of addressing climate change is high, there isn't much enthusiasm for actually doing anything in practice. Maybe there is a thing or two clean energy advocates could learn from the Tea Partiers.