Mojo - January 2010

Murkowski Seeks to Thwart EPA Emission Regulations (Again)

| Tue Jan. 5, 2010 4:21 PM EST

The Environmental Protection Agency signaled last month that it intends to move forward on regulating greenhouse gas emissions, in the absence of a new law governing the planet-warming gases. But if Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski gets her way, the EPA won't get very far.

The ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee wants to tack an amendment onto unrelated legislation dealing with the statutory limit on the public debt that would curb the EPA's ability to regulate emissions. The move comes after the agency last month finalized their finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health, a necessary first step to moving forward on regulations.

Murkowski has been among the most active opponents of EPA regulation of greenhouse gases of late, despite stating repeatedly that she does want to see action taken to cut emissions. "I remain committed to reducing emissions through a policy that will protect our environment and strengthen our economy, but EPA's backdoor climate regulations achieve neither of those goals," Murkowski said last month. "EPA regulation must be taken off the table so that we can focus on more responsible approaches to dealing with global climate change."

Murkowski's measure is expected to go up for a formal vote on Jan. 20. Murkowski made a similar move last September, but was not successful. That particular measure was to have been added to an appropriations bill, and would have called for a year-long "time out" on EPA action regulating stationary sources of emissions, like power plants, manufacturers, and refineries. It would have blocked work on regulations at the agency by prohibiting the use of any agency funds for that purpose, though the EPA would have been allowed to move forward on regulations of emissions from automobiles and other mobile sources.

Murkowski's spokesperson said yesterday that there has not yet been a decision on whether to offer the same amendment, or something similar. At this point, all her office can say is that it will deal in some way with EPA regulation of emissions.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

What Afghans Really Think

| Tue Jan. 5, 2010 12:46 PM EST

In the Western media, the views of Afghanistan's political leaders and news of their latest political debacles—President Hamid Karzai's standoff with the Parliament over his 24 cabinet nominations the most recent example—tend to dominate over all else; few and far between are the perspectives of those at the opposite end of the power structure, the Afghan citizens.

Which is why the Kabul-based Asia Foundation's most recent "Afghanistan in 2009" report [PDF] released yesterday, based on a poll of more than 6,400 Afghan people from all over the country, is so valuable, offering a fascinating and useful snapshot of the Afghans' views as the latest conflict in their war-torn country escalates. The poll's subjects range from war and gay rights to security and the economy. If I had to choose the single most encouraging subject that emerges from the poll, it would be the growing support for women's rights in Afghanistan. 28 percent said women should be able to work outside their home (up from 2 percent in 2006), even though Taliban forbid this, and in general, 67 percent of respondents think women should be allowed to work. 87 percent of respondents also said educational opportunities should be open to both sexes.

C-SPAN to Congress: Let Us In!

| Tue Jan. 5, 2010 12:04 PM EST

 When President Barack Obama was campaigning for the job in 2008, he vowed that he would bring greater transparency to government—especially when it comes to health care reform legislation:

We'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.

Now C-SPAN is asking precisely for that. Its CEO, Brain Lamb, has sent a letter to House and Senate leaders, requesting that his network be permitted to broadcast the final negotiations, as the two chambers work out the differences between each body's version of the legislation:

As your respective chambers work to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate health care bills, C-SPAN requests that you open all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings, to electronic media coverage.

The C-SPAN networks will commit the necessary resources to covering all of these sessions LIVE and in their entirety. We will also, as we willingly do each day, provide C-SPAN’s multi-camera coverage to any interested member of the Capitol Hill broadcast pool. 

The proceedings of conference committees—the House-Senate gatherings that merge and finesse different bills into a final measure—usually occur behind closed doors. And The New Republic has reported that the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate have decided in this case to skip a conference committee and hold informal negotiations instead, in order to avoid legislative procedures that Senate Republicans could use to stall the deliberations. That would make the process even more secretive. Yet Lamb argues:

President Obama, Senate and House leaders, many of your rank-and-file members, and the nation’s editorial pages have all talked about the value of transparent discussions on reforming the nation’s health care system. Now that the process moves to the critical stage of reconciliation between the Chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American.

He has a point. But Lamb shouldn't expect Obama to lean on his fellow Dems in Congress to grant C-SPAN its wish. Last July, Obama was asked about his campaign pledge:

Q: You promised that health care negotiations would take place on C-SPAN and that hasn't happened....Are you fulfilling your promise of transparency in the White House?

He replied:

With respect to all the negotiations not being on C-SPAN, you will recall in this very room that our kick-off event was here on C-SPAN. And at a certain point, you know, you start getting into all kinds of different meetings. The Senate Finance Committee is having a meeting. The House is having a meeting. If they want those to be on C-SPAN, then I would welcome it. I don't think there are a lot of secrets going on in there.

That was a dodgy answer. Obama's "kick-off event" was not part of the negotiations. And there are always "secrets" when legislators come together in private to slice and dice the sausage. Lamb is right to press Congress to show citizens how this important bill is being finalized. But he sure shouldn't count on filling any programming holes with broadcasts of these proceedings. 

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

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 5, 2010

Tue Jan. 5, 2010 6:46 AM EST

A US Army CH-47F Chinook helicopter sling-loads a Humvee over Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Dec. 25, 2009. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Aubree Rundle.)

Need To Read: January 5, 2010

Tue Jan. 5, 2010 6:28 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.

 

Is Whole Foods Bad for the Planet?

| Tue Jan. 5, 2010 6:01 AM EST

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has probably brought more people to organic foods than anyone else in the United States. And many of the folks shopping at his markets undoubtedly consider themselves to be environmentally aware. They might even believe that by purchasing their groceries at Whole Foods outlets they are doing their part to help the planet. But certainly many of them would probably be startled to learn of of Mackey's position on climate change: he's a global warming denier.

In a recent New Yorker profile of Mackey, the Whole Foods chief argues that there is no scientific consensus regarding the causes of climate change. He lists Heaven and Earth: Global Warming--the Missing Science, a skeptical take on warming, as one of his recent favorite reads. He frets that the "hysteria about global warming" will cause the United States "to raise taxes and increase regulation, and in turn lower our standard of living and lead to an increase in poverty." He adds: "Historically, prosperity tends to correlate to warmer temperatures."

Mackey, of course, is wrong about the absence of a scientific consensus, and his theory that warmer temperatures produce prosperity is, to say the least, wacky. But his embrace of climate change denial is not truly a surprise, for Mackey is an unabashed libertarian, opposed to the very idea of "regulation" and "taxes," no matter their purpose. He may be the vegan CEO of the country's largest natural market chain, but he voted for Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr last year--because Ron Paul wasn't on the ballot. There's long been a debate over whether Mackey is a do-gooder or a simply a profiteer in disguise. (The whole sock-puppeting incident made him seem more of a bizarre egomaniac than anything else).

Though many of his shoppers are concerned about personal and planetary health, his latest revelation so far has gotten scant attention. But when Mackey penned an anti-health care reform op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last August, it spurred a swift call for boycott from progressives. "Whole Foods has built its brand with the dollars of deceived progressives," proclaimed the the "Boycott Whole Foods" Facebook page, which had 33,829 members at last count. "Let them know your money will no longer go to support Whole Foods' anti-union, anti-health insurance reform, right-wing activities." A website promoting the boycott also sprang up. Mackey's anti-labor positions have also triggered considerable ire, after he compared having a union to "having herpes." But there's yet no virtual call to eschew Whole Foods because of Mackey's global warming position.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

US Lifts HIV Travel Ban

| Mon Jan. 4, 2010 4:50 PM EST

Good news: The US government finally lifted the HIV travel ban today. Established in 1987, the ban had kept HIV-positive visitors and immigrants out of the country.

Under pressure from president Ronald Reagan, the US Public Health Service originally added AIDS to a list of "dangerous and contagious" diseases. Senator Jesse Helms then extended a helping hand with the "Helms amendment," which added HIV to the exclusion list. Reagan and Helms themselves, naturally, were not included on the list of dangerous and contagious diseases.

Believe it or not, repeal of the ban began during the second Bush administration as part of larger legislation for global HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Congressional leaders like John Kerry, Barbara Lee, and Gordon Smith saw that the US ought to set a global example by ending a policy based on inaccurate information and stigma surrounding the disease, and pushed for repeal as part of the July 2008 President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The plan ultimately contained a provision that removed the ban from statute, returning regulatory authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Steve Ralls at the Huffington Post writes more about the lift, and about two travelers from the Netherlands who can finally visit friends and family in the US. Read a more thorough background on the ban and its repeal here.

Any thoughts, MoJo readers? Is the lift, as some people say, a hopeful new sign for US immigration policy in general? Will the GOP find a way to leverage this against Obama, like they did with the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253?

Follow Evan James on Twitter.
 

The Airport Scanner Scam

| Mon Jan. 4, 2010 2:45 PM EST

Editor's Note: For a different take on body scanners, check out Kevin Drum's post on the subject.

Scan, baby, scan. That’s the mantra among politicians at all levels in the wake of the thwarted terrorist attack aboard a Detroit-bound passenger jet. According to conventional wisdom, the would-be “underwear bomber” could have been stopped by airport security if he’d been put through a full-body scanner, which would have revealed the cache of explosives attached to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s groin. 

Within days or even hours of the bombing attempt, everyone was talking about so-called whole-body imaging as the magic bullet that could stop this type of attack. In announcing hearings by the Senate Homeland Security Commitee, Joe Lieberman approached the use of scanners as a foregone conclusion, saying one of the "big, urgent questions that we are holding this hearing to answer" was "Why isn’t whole-body-scanning technology that can detect explosives in wider use?" Former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff told the Washington Post, "You’ve got to find some way of detecting things in parts of the body that aren’t easy to get at. It’s either pat downs or imaging, or otherwise hoping that bad guys haven’t figured it out, and I guess bad guys have figured it out."

Since the alternative is being groped by airport screeners, the scanners might sound pretty good. The Transportation Security Administration has claimed that the images "are friendly enough to post in a preschool," though the pictures themselves tell another story, and numerous organizations have opposed them as a gross invasion of privacy. Beyond privacy issues, however, are questions about whether these machines really work—and about who stands to benefit most from their use.

As I documented in my book The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, airport security has always been compromised by corporate interests.When it comes to high-tech screening methods, the TSA has a dismal record of enriching private corporations with failed technologies, and there are signs that the latest miracle device may just bring more of the same.

After Flight 253, Should Obama Ramp Up on Terrorism Politics?

| Mon Jan. 4, 2010 11:00 AM EST

Simon Rosenberg, who heads the New Democratic Network, has an interesting take on the failed Christmas Day terrorism attack. He notes that this bungled al Qaeda-linked attempt to blow up an airliner flying to Detroit from Amsterdam "could radically impact Washington's agenda in 2010" and "may very well knock other important priorities off the legislative calendar." That calendar is already overflowing with the completion of health care reform, financial reform, climate change legislation, and Obama's top priority for the election year of 2010: jobs, jobs, and jobs. But Rosenberg contends this could be a blessing: 

Rather than fighting the consolidation of the 2010 agenda it may be in the interest of the governing party to embrace it, and not look defensive, as if they have other things they would rather be talking about. Peace and prosperity drive most elections in the US, and 2010 may end up being no different. The Republicans are already jumping on the Christmas Day attempt, and will no doubt spend the year ahead trying to reorient the national discussion to an area—national security—they feel will advantageous for them. But given their actual record in the decade just past, and the extraordinary mess they left for others to clean up, the Republicans may rue the day the debate became about national security, for there is no way to have this debate without talking about the epic foreign policy and security failures of the Bush era, something they simply cannot disown.

So rather than wishing this new issue environment away, the President and the Democrats might decide rather to make it their own, and spend their political year making their case for how they hope to bring peace and prosperity to a country desperately seeking it.

Perhaps. The problem that Democrats may encounter is that it is easy for Republicans to out-war them. If President Barack Obama does embrace this issue as a top-of-his-list priority, regardless of the actions he takes, GOPers will claim it is not enough and he should do more (such as keep Gitmo going). It doesn't matter that Bush, Cheney & Co. screwed up big-time on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the battle against al Qaeda. When it comes to national security, it's too easy for demagogues to out-shout anyone who takes a reasonable approach. Certainly, Obama must do everything he can to make sure air travel is safe—and to demonstrate that protecting Americans is the top priority of this White House. (His initial response was far more fierce than George W. Bush's reaction to the infamous shoe bomber.) But Obama will have to keep pushing ahead on other fronts: the economy, climate change, health care, Afghanistan, financial reform. An opportunity or not, Flight 253 has handed Obama's over-burdened presidency yet one more heavy obligation.

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

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 4, 2010

Mon Jan. 4, 2010 6:05 AM EST

Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. displays some holiday spirit Dec. 21, as he speaks to the Soldiers of 1st Armored Division in Germany, about their role in their upcoming deployment to Iraq and how the Afghanistan troop surge will affect it. (army.mil.)