Tomorrow, the Senate Finance Committee will resume its mark-up of health care reform legislation. Last week, Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) said that the insurance industry is “running certain people in this mark-up.” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) made clear he was one of those individuals when he called for a provision that would allow health insurance lobbyists “at least 72 hours” to read the bill. An analysis by The Wonk Room finds that, of the 534 amendments that have been offered to the Committee’s bill, at least 47 of them directly reflect the health insurance industry’s wish list. Igor Volsky has put together this video compilation showing Republican senators making the insurance industry’s arguments:
UK Met Office: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon.”
Finally, some of the top climate modelers in the world have done a “plausible worst case scenario,” as Dr Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts at the Met Office Hadley Centre, put it today in a terrific and terrifying talk (audio here, PPT here).
No, I’m not taking about a simple analysis of what happens if the nation and the world just keep on our current emissions path. We’ve known that end-of-century catastrophe for a while (see “M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F“). I’m talking about running a high emissions scenario (i.e. business as usual) in one of the few global climate models capable of analyzing strong carbon cycle feedbacks. This is what you get [temperature in degrees Celsius, multiple by 1.8 for Fahrenheit]:
Nice to see that a major company, the electrical utility Exelon, is going to drop out of the Chamber of Commerce over the Chamber’s opposition to climate change legislation. Obviously, there’s a business angle in this for Exelon, but in general the irresponsibility of the American business class on this issue has been striking and any sign of a step in the right direction is welcome. There are, clearly, certain specific businesses that might be better off under a “do nothing” scenario about climate change but there’s no way to avoid the reality that corporate executives as a whole would, just like the rest of us, ultimately be worse off in a world of catastrophic climate change. And of course executives have children and grandchildren who (I like to think at least) they presumably love and care about.
It’s striking how German business doesn’t really seem to have this view. When we talked to the Federation of German Industry their angle on climate policy was basically that they wanted to shift things around to be as favorable to them as possible. But they appeared to be perfectly willing to accept “curb emissions to avoid climate catastrophe” as a controlling constraint on the policy options. This seems like common sense—even once you accept that constrain there are still a lot of hows and whys that you would expect business interests to fight over. But the idea that the masters of the economic universe are somehow going to just shrug off a huge increase in global temperatures doesn’t make sense.
Nations largest utility pulls the plug on the Chamber over climate denial. Exelon CEO Rowe says, “Putting a price on carbon is essential, because it will force us to do the cheapest things, like energy efficiency, first.”
“The carbon-based free lunch is over. But while we can’t fix our climate problems for free, the price signal sent through a cap-and-trade system will drive low-carbon investments in the most inexpensive and efficient way possible,” said Rowe. “Putting a price on carbon is essential, because it will force us to do the cheapest things, like energy efficiency, first.”
“Inaction on climate is not an option,” said Rowe. “If Congress does not act, the EPA will, and the result will be more arbitrary, more expensive, and more uncertain for investors and the industry than a reasonable, market-based legislative solution.”
Exelon issued a press release today announcing CEO John Rowe’s decision to leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It includes the above excerpts from his speech calling for immediate action by Congress.
More and more utilities have cut the power to the Chamber (see “Will last company to leave the Chamber’s Boardroom please turn off the lights!“) — though they have been in the dark a long time (see “Chamber admits calling for ‘Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century’ was dumb “” but it still apes the deniers“).
Okay, enough puns. Here’s the background, from Wonk Room:
National Journal noted over the weekend that a new coalition of business groups — which includes the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — is starting to criticize the Obama administration’s plans to regulate the vast, unregulated derivatives market, “much to the relief of several big Wall Street banks that had been waging a lonely and uphill lobbying effort.”
The group is calling itself the Coalition of Derivatives End Users, and Wall Street derivatives dealers reportedly “appreciate all the help they can get from corporate end users to ease new curbs.” “End users are very important,” one banking lobbyist said, “because they have the most credibility.”
There are, of course, absolutely legitimate reasons to use derivatives to hedge against fluctuations in various markets. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the world of derivatives is almost exclusively dominated by a few big Wall Street banks, who are dealing in derivatives as an end, not a means. In fact, 97 percent of the derivatives held by U.S. commercial banks are in the hands of just five banking behemoths — JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo — who are not using them the way an airline does.
Felix Salmon today pointed to this data from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which shows that while end-users have reduced their derivative exposure to a seven-year low of $2.4 trillion, Wall Street dealers have upped theirs to an all-time high of $187.6 trillion:
As Salmon wrote, “what has happened in recent years that derivatives dealers now need $78 in nominal derivatives exposure for every $1 in end-user exposure? When Adair Turner talks about ‘profitable activities so unlikely to have a social benefit, direct or indirect, that [banks] should voluntarily walk away from them’, this is surely a prime example of what he has in mind.” BNET’s Alain Sherter, meanwhile, put it this way:
Bankers will say, as they have for years, that derivatives help financial firms manage risks. So they do. But they also help companies make money. The issue isn’t whether derivatives have constructive uses, such as in hedging risk — it’s whether derivatives are more useful in generating profits. If so (and it is so), that can lead to banks acting recklessly, especially when they’re under enormous pressure to boost their financial results.
Michael Greenberger, an adviser for Americans for Financial Reform, said that he believes the end-user complaints are “inspired by banks emphasizing the small, short-term costs of new regulations to their customers against the long-term financial interests of the public at large.” And allowing a huge market to remain in the shadows can only work against that long-term interest.
On Saturday, a user on Facebook posted a poll asking, “Should Obama be killed?” The blogger GottaLaff spotted the poll yesterday and called the Secret Service, which has now launched an investigation. “We are aware of [the poll], and we will take the appropriate investigative steps,” said Darrin Blackford, a Secret Service spokesman. “We take these things seriously.” Facebook has taken down the offensive poll and disabled the third-party application that was used to create it. Barry Schnitt, Facebook’s spokesman for policy, also told ThinkProgress that the company was following up with the developer to make sure that the application has “better procedures in place going forward to monitor their user-generated content.”
Earlier today, while former National Republican Congressional Committee communications director Karen Hanretty and former Dick Gephart campaign manager Steve Murphy agreed that more enforcement measures should be put in place to make sure undocumented immigrants don’t benefit from health care reform, Fox News anchor Greg Jarrett took a more practical stance. Hanretty, who is opposed to even letting undocumented immigrants purchase health insurance with their own money at full cost, was in accord with Murphy who would like to see the government “expand the background check” on undocumented immigrants in the workplace. Jarrett pointed out that it doesn’t really make sense to hurt American taxpayers out of a spitefully stubborn commitment to making undocumented immigrants suffer:
HANRETTY: What this represents are two really big problems that this White House has. First of all, the idea that Democrats are out there suggesting that this particular health care bill should provide health care to illegal immigrants flies in the face of what President Obama said.
JARRETT: Let me just stop you there. Two points to be made. First of all, the government isn’t going to pay for it. The illegals would have to pay for it themselves. We would simply allow them access to it. And second of all, taxpayers, in the long run, would save money. Now, I gotta tell ya, I betcha most of our viewers right now are saying — wait, I can save money? That’s worth exploring.
HANRETTY: Your viewers are not saying that. I wish we had a live poll right now. I guarantee you that if you went out there right now and polled the American public and said should we allow illegal immigrants to buy into a government health care program, there would be a resounding no throughout America. This is a political noose around the necks of Democrats.
MURPHY: I completely agree. We’re not going to allow illegal immigrants to buy into this health care plan. So we should simply expand the background check into a universal background check and solve the problem once and for all…
HANRETTY: I can agree with Steve on on that.
JARRETT: I can’t believe you guys agree and I disagree. I’m on the side of taxpayers saving money.
He may be outnumbered, but Jarrett is actually right. As Christopher Beam of Slate points out, taxpayers are already paying for undocumented immigrants to get health care, but in the least efficient way. Currently, sick undocumented immigrants (or anyone else who’s uninsured) have little recourse other than the emergency room. That means that minor and treatable conditions are neglected until the patient is at death’s door. It also means that taxpayers pay millions and millions of dollars for costly emergency visits that could have been prevented. Furthermore, if undocumented immigrants were allowed to participate in the exchange and purchase affordable private health insurance at full cost with their own money, it would also pool risks and lower the premiums of everyone else participating in the health care system. Most immigrants are healthier and incur less health costs than US citizens, so their self-financed participation wouldn’t just save money, it would make health care cheaper for those who need it.
Murphy’s proposal to drag employment verification into the health care debate would involve sidetracking health care reform with a conversation about how to fix the nation’s broken immigration system. Most lawmakers who discuss something along the lines of a “universal background check” are referring to some sort of national ID system like the one tenuously set up by the REAL ID Act, or a web-based verification system like E-Verify. REAL ID might be repealed, and E-Verify is estimated to have a 4% error rate which could accidentally leave millions of US citizens not only uninsured, but also unemployed.
Besides the purely sensible argument there is to be made against denying consumers the ability to purchase something they need and are willing to pay for, ultimately, there’s also a humanitarian argument to be made in favor of providing affordable health care to those who need it. However, regardless of whether lawmakers want to make the lives of undocumented immigrants easier or harder, the debate should take place in the context of immigration reform instead of being used as a wedge to weaken and block health care legislation. Though it should be noted that in the case of health care and beyond, the more undocumented immigrants are brought into the system, the more they will be allowed to contribute to it.
It should probably be noted that the German edition of the Pirate Party scored a pretty respectable two percent of the vote in their debut election. That would have been good enough for a Bundestag seat or two were it not for the rule that you need five percent of the vote to get counted in Germany’s proportional system. Many countries operate with a lower threshold. The Swedish version of the Pirate Party snagged a seat in the most recent European Parliament elections. The Pirates’ main issue—intellectual property—is probably best addressed at the European level and people are more inclined to vote for minor parties in European elections anyway, so you could imagine them building on this to elect some MEP’s from Germany in the future.
The Pirates strike me as more of an American-style “third party” than a European-style minor party. The difference, in my mind, is that rather than becoming stable junior partners in coalitions, what successful third parties do in the United States is get coopted by someone bigger who poaches their issue and their supporters.
At any rate, the case for substantial reform of intellectual property policy is quite strong on the merits, the issue is in fact crucially important as we move more and more into the digital economy, and yet no mainstream party anywhere in the world wants to touch it. So a little outside agitation seems to me to be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Energy and Global Warming News for September 28: G20 leaders agree to phase-out fossil fuel subsides; China sees emissions trading in next economic plan
World leaders gathered in Pittsburgh for the Group of 20 summit agreed Friday afternoon to phase out fossil fuel subsidies over time, approving language that does not outline a specific timetable for the phase-out and makes clear that poorer citizens may still receive help in paying their energy bills.
But the wording of the statement, championed by the Obama administration, signals the world’s most influential nations are taking an initial, tentative step away from the fossil fuels that power their economies.
“We commit to rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption,” the statement said. “As we do that, we recognize the importance of providing those in need with essential energy services, including through the use of targeted cash transfers and other appropriate mechanisms. This reform will not apply to our support for clean energy, renewables and technologies that dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The United States and many other countries around the world provide financial aid — in the form of both direct payments and tax breaks — to help produce oil, natural gas and other fuels that produce carbon dioxide, which has contributed to rapid climate change over the past half century. According to the Environmental Law Institute, the U.S. government provided $72 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry between 2002 and 2008.
Right-Wing Conference Tells Activists To Get Their Guns Ready For ‘Bloody Battle’ With Obama The Nazi
At the How To Take Back America Conference last weekend, conservative speaker Kitty Werthmann led a workshop called “How to recognize living under Nazis & Communists.” Announcing the panel in a column preceding the conference, talk show host Janet Porter gushed how Werthmann’s description of Austria in the 1930s is a “mirror to America” today — noting “They had Joseph Goebbels; we have Mark Lloyd, the diversity czar.” The room was packed over capacity to hear Werthmann, who grew up as a Christian in Austria and serves as Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum South Dakota President.
During her session, Werthmann went through a litany of examples of how President Obama is like Adolf Hitler. She noted that Hitler, who acted “like an American politician,” was “elected in a 100% Christian nation.” Although she failed to once mention Antisemitism or militarism, Werthmann explained how universal healthcare, an Equal Rights Amendment, and increased taxes were telltale signs of Nazism. Werthmann also warned the audience:
If we had our guns, we would have fought a bloody battle. So, keep your guns, and buy more guns, and buy ammunition. [...] Take back America. Don’t let them take the country into Socialism. And I refer again, Hitler’s party was National Socialism. [...] And that’s what we are having here right now, which is bordering on Marxism.
Werthmann noted that her Nazism speech is gaining popularity. She not only has delivered it to several tea parties, but has been asked by “a group of bankers” to address them this month.
Before the event, ThinkProgress asked Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), one of several Republican members of Congress also speaking at the conference, to autograph Werthmann’s DVD about National Socialism. She happily obliged: