Give up on passing cap-and-trade in the Senate

I have been ready to pull the plug on the climate change bill for a while now. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which narrowly passed the House last June, gave too much away to polluting industries and wouldn’t increase renewable energy production beyond what we are likely to see if no bill passes. More broadly, Mark Schapiro’s recent piece in Harper’s Magazine argues persuasively that a cap-and-trade system lets some people make a lot of money selling fake emission reductions.

Climate change legislation can only get worse in the Senate, where too many senators are beholden to corporate interests in the energy and agricultural sectors. Even before the Massachusetts special election brought the Democratic caucus down to 59 seats, key Senate Democrats were either asking for more giveaways to coal-burning utilities or begging the White House not to pursue the cap-and-trade system at all.

This month Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan predicted that the Senate will pass a stand-alone energy bill to expand energy production in various ways without capping greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, you can count on the Senate to throw more money toward boosting fossil fuel production than renewable energy.

I agree with those who say we need comprehensive federal action to fight global warming, but the environmental movement needs to adapt to the realities in Congress.

Last year dozens of environmental groups focused their staff energy and mobilized volunteers to advocate for a sweeping climate change bill. This year we need to focus resources on where the real battle lies. Instead of urging citizens to sign petitions and call their senators about cap-and-trade, which is looking like a dead letter, we need to fight for the strongest possible renewable electricity standard in the energy bill.

More important, we need to block efforts to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Last month the EPA took a big step toward regulating global warming pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski has introduced a resolution to overturn the EPA rules and has three Democratic co-sponsors so far. Stopping Murkowski’s effort should be a top priority for environmentalists.

One complicating factor: some environmental groups have received grants to support advocacy on climate change legislation. I would encourage charitable foundations and other large donors to be flexible about how such money is spent. Cap-and-trade is going nowhere. Let environmentalists focus on the real fights in Congress this year.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.

Final note: Murkowski is at war with the EPA even though she represents Alaska, one of the states most affected by global warming. Is she stupid, corrupt or both?

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Past time for Geithner to go

UPDATE: Cenk Uygur asks and answers a very good question: Why is Fox News leaving Geithner alone?

Let’s hope the latest scandalous revelation about Timothy Geithner will bring a rapid end to his service as Treasury secretary:

Jan. 7 (Bloomberg) — The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, then led by Timothy Geithner, told American International Group Inc. to withhold details from the public about the bailed-out insurer’s payments to banks during the depths of the financial crisis, e-mails between the company and its regulator show.

AIG said in a draft of a regulatory filing that the insurer paid banks, which included Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Societe Generale SA, 100 cents on the dollar for credit-default swaps they bought from the firm. The New York Fed crossed out the reference, according to the e-mails, and AIG excluded the language when the filing was made public on Dec. 24, 2008. The e-mails were obtained by Representative Darrell Issa, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The New York Fed took over negotiations between AIG and the banks in November 2008 as losses on the swaps, which were contracts tied to subprime home loans, threatened to swamp the insurer weeks after its taxpayer-funded rescue. The regulator decided that Goldman Sachs and more than a dozen banks would be fully repaid for $62.1 billion of the swaps, prompting lawmakers to call the AIG rescue a “backdoor bailout” of financial firms.

“It appears that the New York Fed deliberately pressured AIG to restrict and delay the disclosure of important information,” said Issa, a California Republican. Taxpayers “deserve full and complete disclosure under our nation’s securities laws, not the withholding of politically inconvenient information.” […]

Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the e-mail exchanges were “troubling” and that he supports holding congressional hearings to review them.

I’ve been hoping for the last year that President Obama would ditch Geithner sooner rather than later. President Obama didn’t react publicly to the November report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which slammed Geithner’s conduct during the AIG bailout. But it’s clear that Geithner wasn’t looking out for the public interest in his last job and never should have been promoted to his current position.  

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Lots of links for a snowy day

Many Iowans will be leaving work or school early today, or perhaps not going in at all, as the season’s first big winter blast rolls in. Here’s plenty of reading to keep you busy if you are stuck at home.

Global news first: The United National Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen opened yesterday. To follow news from the proceedings, I’m reading the team of Mother Jones bloggers in Copenhagen. The Open Left blog will also post regular updates from Natasha Chart and Friends of the Earth staff who are on the ground. If you prefer a mainstream media perspective, check out The Climate Pool on Facebook, which is a collaboration among major news organizations.

Also on Monday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson signed off on two findings that will pave the way to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. This action follows from a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA. More background and details can be found on the EPA’s site. Environment Iowa explains the significance of the EPA’s action here. An expert panel surveyed by Grist disagreed on whether the EPA’s “endangerment finding” would affect the Copenhagen talks.

The most important reason I oppose the current draft bills on climate change kicking around Congress is that they would revoke the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide. Chris Bowers explains why that would be disastrous here.

Uganda is considering a horrific law that would subject homosexuals to long prison terms or even the death penalty. One Iowa is collecting signatures on a petition to Senator Chuck Grassley, asking him to speak out against this law. Grassley’s never going to be a gay rights advocate, but he should agree that criminalizing homosexuality is wrong. Grassley is involved with “The Family,” which is connected to the proposed bill in Uganda.

On the economic front, President Obama is expected to announce plans to use about $200 billion allocated for the Wall Street bailout to fund a jobs bill Congress will consider soon.. The Hill previewed some of the measures that may end up in that bill.

Some economists who met with Governor Chet Culver yesterday think Iowa has already reached the bottom of this recession. I hope they are right, but either way, policy-makers should listen to their ideas for reforming Iowa’s budget process. I’ll write a separate post on this important development soon. Here is the short take:

The state could base its spending on a multi-year average, such as the previous three years, or five years or seven years, said Jon Muller, president of Muller Consulting Inc., a public policy and business development consulting firm based in Des Moines.

“The way it’s always worked, when times are really good, we increase spending and we cut taxes,” Muller said. “And when times are bad, there’s pressure to increase taxes and decrease spending. And that all happens when the demand for government is at its highest,” Muller said.

The multi-year idea would flip, he said.

“In good times you would be squirreling money at way a little at a time. And in bad times, you could continue to increase spending to service the growing demands of a recession.”

It would require state lawmakers to not touch the reserves, even in times of plenty. But it would also reduce the need to tap into reserves just to get by during rainy days, the advisers said.

Regarding budget cuts, the Newton Independent reports here on a “plan to reorganize the Iowa Department of Human Services operations under two deputy directors, six rather than nine divisions, five rather than eight service areas, more part-time offices and the elimination of 78 currently vacant positions” (hat tip to Iowa Independent). Click this link for more details about the proposed restructuring.

On the political front, John Deeth analyzes possible changes the Democratic National Committee is considering for the presidential nomination process. Jerome Armstrong had a good idea the DNC won’t implement: ban caucuses everywhere but Iowa. No other state derives the party-building benefits of caucuses, but just about every state that uses caucuses for presidential selection has lower voter participation than would occur in a primary.

I haven’t written much on health care reform lately, because recent developments are so depressing. Our best hope was using the budget reconciliation process to pass a strong bill in the Senate with 51 votes (or 50 plus Joe Biden). Now that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has taken reconciliation off the table, we’re left with a variety of bad compromises to get to 60 votes in the Senate. I am not convinced the final product will be any improvement over the status quo. It will certainly be worse for millions of Americans required to buy overpriced private health insurance. If there’s a quicker way to neutralize the Democrats’ advantage with young voters, I don’t know what it is.

Speaking of health care reform, Steve Benen wrote a good piece about Grassley’s latest grandstanding on the issue.

Speaking of things that are depressing, John Lennon was shot dead 29 years ago today.  Daily Kos user noweasels remembers him and that night. Although Paul’s always been my favorite Beatle, I love a lot of John’s work too. Here’s one of his all-time best:

Share any relevant thoughts or your own favorite Lennon songs in the comments.

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Bailout yields record pay on Wall Street

Americans won’t be happy to learn that Wall Street salaries may be higher this year than they were before the current recession began:

Major U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their employees about $140 billion this year — a record high that shows compensation is rebounding despite regulatory scrutiny of Wall Street’s pay culture.

Workers at 23 top investment banks, hedge funds, asset managers and stock and commodities exchanges can expect to earn even more than they did the peak year of 2007, according to an analysis of securities filings for the first half of 2009 and revenue estimates through year-end by The Wall Street Journal.

Ian Welsh wrote a depressing post at Open Left yesterday:

All they did was throw cash at the problem, without dealing with the underlying issues, which is why they didn’t manage (as Jerome points out) to kickstart ANY net private spending.  They didn’t break up major banks.  They didn’t allow bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgages.  Their mortgage program kept hardly anyone in the house.  And their money for financial firms did not increase lending by one cent. […]

This is going to be the worst “recovery” of your lifetime, unless you’re in the financial sector at a relatively high level.  Bank profits have recovered but ordinary people are not, in a generation, going to see a full recovery from this clusterfuck – employment will not recover to pre-recession levels before the next recession, and I don’t expect it to recover after that recession either.

At this point, in fact, I am expecting this to turn into a double dip recession-this “recovery” will not have any significant legs.

Continuing George Bush’s Wall Street bailout policy will prove to be a costly mistake for President Obama. Watch the Huffington Post Investigative Fund’s interview with Neil Barofsky, who “monitors a dozen separate bailout-related programs that now account for nearly $3 trillion in financial commitments.” Among other things, his research has confirmed that the bailout did not increase lending to the business sector.

Republicans pretend that Iowa Democrats are to blame for all our economic troubles, but the factors impeding employment growth are nationwide problems, like falling wages and major banks cutting back on loans to small businesses.

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