I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.
That’s Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the warming-deluge connection. I interviewed him a couple weeks ago about Tennessee’s 1000-year deluge aka Nashville’s ‘Katrina’.
Last week, while hosting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, President Obama called the blockade of Gaza “inherently unstable” and promised $400 million in foreign aid for “housing, school construction and business development.” Since Israel’s deadly raid on the humanitarian flotilla to Gaza last month, conservatives have been desperately trying to paint Obama as anti-Israel, and they predictablyseized on the aid package.
In an interview Friday with Fox Business’ David Asman — who asked in a recent blog post, “Is the president funding terrorism?” — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claimed that the aid “rewarded” Hamas, and that it showed Obama was siding with Iran and Hamas over Israel:
BACHMANN: I also don’t think it was a a good signal for the president to give $400 million in aid to Gaza. He had a choice to make last week. The president had a choice between standing with Benjamin Netanyahu, or standing with Ahmadinejad and Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization. This should not have been a difficult choice, but the President chose to stand with Hamas and then they were rewarded this week with $400 million in aid. Gee, you don’t think that will embolden them to take future aggressive actions against Israel, do you? [...]
ASMAN: Are you going to start up some sort of congressional investigation to look into this, because it would literally be against the law to contribute money to an organization that funnels money to terrorists. [...]
BACHMANN: And again, I’m against sending this $400 million to Hamas. I think it’s a very foolish thing to do to reward them for these aggressive actions that were taken last week.
Just about every part of Bachmann’s argument, from the facts to the conclusions, is wrong. First of all, the $400 million Obama promised goes to Gaza and the West Bank, and the majority of it will almost certainly go to the larger West Bank. Secondly, none of the money will go to Hamas. The funds will instead be distributed through NGOs and the U.N., as has been U.S. policy in Gaza for some time.
Moreover, Bachmann’s claim that the aid package means Obama “chose” Hamas over Israel is complete nonsense. Beyond that fact that Obama has repeatedly stressed his support for Israel, U.S. aid to Israel easily dwarfs that to the Palestinian territories, and aid to Israel has actually increased under Obama. This fiscal year, the administration budgeted $2.7 billion for Israel, while it plans to give $2.85 billion in FY 2011.
Beyond this, Bachmann’s claim is based on the false suggestion that aid to Gaza is unprecedented. President Bush continued to fund humanitarian operations in Gaza, even after Hamas won an election and took control in 2006. As the New York Times noted soon after Obama took office, “By seeking to aid Gazans but not Hamas, the administration is following the lead of the Bush administration, which sent money to Gaza through nongovernmental organizations.” Under Bush, U.S. giving nearly doubled to the U.N. agency which provides services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, and neighboring countries. The Bush administration increased aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees from $137 million in FY 2006, when Hamas took over, to $268 million in FY 2009, Bush’s last budget.
Bachmann doesn’t explain how aid for school construction in Gaza will help President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, but considering that she called Obama’s supposed appeasement of the country “worse than Neville Chamberlain” two days before the administration led the U.N. in passing the strictest sanctions yet on Iran, she probably can’t explain it.
Some news reports and conservative blogs have characterized the government’s new regulations about how insurers can preserve their so-called “grandfathered status” — under which they will be exempt from some of the law’s benefit standards and regulations — as a departure from President Obama’s promise that if you like the coverage you have, you can keep it:
- NY POST: Bottom line: Sebelius means to dictate what your insurance plan must look like almost from day one, no matter how you get your coverage.
- HOT AIR: Their strategy for letting you keep your plan if you like your plan is to include a “grandfather clause” that would exempt current plans from consumer protection requirements so long as copayments and deductibles are below certain limits. The problem: If your insurer alters the terms of the plan in the normal course of business and those limits are crossed, it’s no longer a grandfathered plan and the new consumer-protection benefits suddenly become mandatory — which means an exciting new monthly premium when your insurer inevitably passes the costs of those benefits on.
- INVESTORS BUSINESS DAILY: Internal administration documents reveal that up to 51% of employers may have to relinquish their current health care coverage because of ObamaCare. Small firms will be even likelier to lose existing plans.
If you’re “keeping a plan you like,” you like it because you believe it works. It offers the right benefits for the right price. If employers or insurers violate the grandfather protocols, they’re either slashing your benefits or jacking up your deductibles or co-payments. They’re tipping the balance in the cost-to-benefit ratio and selling you a faulty product; you’ll pay dearly once you need to actually use the coverage you thought you liked.
In the same way that the government requires automakers to meet certain safety standards and design specifications, insurance issuers and employers will have to abide by new benefit and consumer protection minimums. They shield consumers from drastic benefit cuts or cost shifts. And by discouraging insurers and employers from making these changes, the new grandfather regulations help you like what you have.
Arizona’s harsh new anti-immigration law, SB-1070, has already prompted an “exodus of people — both legal and illegal residents” — from the state. Of more concern, however, is the controversial immigration law’s impact on Arizona’s housing market recovery. Real estate advocates explain that before the housing market crashed, “thousands if not tens of thousands of people who are not legal residents…purchased houses” in Arizona. In Phoenix, AZ, eager lenders “didn’t check documentation” when issuing loans and many people involved in real estate operated on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Although the law has yet to go into effect, there are worries that the increasing departures will have a negative impact on Arizona’s housing market:
“Estimates are that there are several hundred thousand undocumented aliens residing in Arizona,” said Phoenix housing analyst Mike Orr, publisher of the Cromford Report, a daily housing-research report. “If the law has the intended effect and these people do leave, then both population and demand for housing will probably decline.”
Since the state’s employer-sanctions law passed in 2007, [Margie] O’Campo said she’s seen many undocumented homeowners lose homes to foreclosure, either because their lenders won’t work with them or because they can’t sell and want to leave the state. The 2007 law makes it illegal to knowingly hire undocumented workers in the state.
A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security found that “more than 100,000 illegal immigrants left Arizona in 2008, more than any other state. Metro Phoenix foreclosures and apartment vacancies both jumped that year.”
As the conference committee reconciling the House and Senate’s respective financial regulatory reform bills gets down to business this week, it will be starting with the Senate’s text as the base. When it comes to crafting a regulatory regime for derivatives — the risky instruments that played a large role in the economic crisis, and particularly in the downfall of AIG — this is a good thing, as the Senate bill is much stronger.
Strong derivatives reform will place as much derivatives trading as possible onto public exchanges (like that used for stocks) and force all customized trades that can’t go onto an exchange through a clearinghouse (which ensures that both sides of the trade have adequate collateral). The trouble with the House bill is that it contains a whole host of exemptions to the exchange and clearing requirements, which could allow financial companies that are only using derivatives to speculate to slip through, unregulated.
The financial services industry would, of course, like as many loopholes as possible to exploit down the road, and thus is trying to widen the exemptions. And House Republicans have been all too willing to play along, as evidenced by Rep. Spencer Bachus’ (R-AL) performance yesterday on C-Span’s Newsmakers.
Of course, the way in which you bring transparency to the derivatives market is by, you guessed it, moving trading onto exchanges. Exchange trading ensures that both buyers and sellers know what the going rate for a particular product is, and leaves an easy trail for regulators to follow if there is fraud or abuse. Bachus, meanwhile, seems to want to implement transparency by waving a magic wand.
Bachus is using the same tactic that the right-wing has employed throughout the debate over derivatives, singling out end-users (non-financial corporations that legitimately use derivatives to hedge risk) as the poster-children for increased regulation. But remember, 97 percent of derivatives are held by just five mega-banks and there are $78 dollars in derivatives for every single dollar that is used by a company to hedge against risk.
A transparent, functional marketplace that fully utilizes exchange trading will actually bring prices down for the very companies that Bachus is expressing such concern for. And as Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Gary Gensler explained, “exemptions will only come back to haunt us in the future”:
Every exemption for financial companies creates a link in the chain between a dealer’s failure and a taxpayer bailout. Every slice of the financial system that we cut out through an exemption could allow one bank’s failure to spread like fire throughout the economy. It is essential that financial reform does not allow loopholes that leave interconnectedness in the system.
If Bachus has a better idea, I’d love to hear it, but you can’t just snap your fingers and turn an opaque, non-functional market into a transparent one.
— Andrew Gelman follows up on asymmetry between Democrats and Republicans.
— If we committed to spending three times as much on defense as China and Russia combined, we’d need to cut spending.
Saturday night I found myself at a bar where their cocktail specials were based on 90s alt-rock songs. One was “Bittersweet Sympony” and the other “In Bloom”, a much better song though the drink turned out to be kind of gross.
Today on G. Gordon Liddy’s radio show, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) discussed Arizona’s new anti-immigration law and claimed President Obama’s criticism of it demonstrates “that he has a default mechanism in him…that favors the black person.” While majorities of Americans and Arizonans support the new law, King also claimed that even Latinos favor it and that support is only getting stronger, despite “quasi-militant” opposition to the law:
KING: They’re getting stronger there because people understand you’ve got to have the rule of law and, I’ll say, the radical quasi-militant Latinos that are leading this; they are willfully misinforming the American people. And by the way I think that starts right down the line from the President of the United States willfully misinforming the American people, the Attorney General doing the same thing. … [D]o I believe them or do I believe my lying eyes when I read the language and understand that this doesn’t…promoteracial profiling. In fact it prohibits it.
It’s odd that King is somehow concerned about racial profiling now given that just last month he was saying that it “had better be used” to enforce immigration law and combat terrorism. And the Iowa congressman is wrong, Latinos overwhelmingly oppose Arizona’s new law.
The new health care law grandfathered health plans in existence before March 23, 2010 — the day reform became law — and exempted existing plans from many of the new regulations, benefits standards and consumer protections. But the exclusion comes with conditions. If the plans make changes that undermine the spirit of the health law and significantly burden enrollees with lower benefits and increased costs, they have to come into compliance with all reform provisions.
- Insurers will lose their grandfathered status if they cancel coverage when a person becomes ill or impose lifetime limits on benefits.
- Insurers will lose their grandfathered status if they eliminate all benefits for a particular condition or if it increases deductibles or co-payments by more than the rate of medical inflation plus 15 percentage points.
- Insurers will lose their grandfathered status if an employer reduces its contribution so that its share of the total cost of coverage declines by more than 5 percentage points.
- Insurers will lose their grandfathered status if they increase co-payments for doctor’s visits to $45, from $30 — a 50 percent increase — while medical inflation was 8 percent.
- Insurers will lose their grandfathered status if they increase the amount consumers to pay as percentage of the bill.
- Insurers will lose their grandfathered status if they reduce the cap for covered services each year.
If these rules sounds like good things for consumers, it’s because the government is trying to discourage insurers from reducing health care benefits and increasing costs. Ultimately, the goal of reform is to phase down the number of insurers protected under the grandfathered provisions and bring all plans in compliance with the new rules and regulations. It’s in the government’s interest to prevent insurers from using the two different sets of rules to segment “good” and “bad” risks (that could result in higher costs for older and less healthy enrollees) and free itself from the burden of having to maintain and enforce two separate regulatory systems — one for grandfathered plans and one for plans issued after March 23, 2010.
In addition to its ideological elements, the climate change issue has a substantial regional/geographic component. Which is to say that there’s significant state-to-state variation in per capita CO2 emissions, meaning that certain states would be net losers under carbon pricing policy unless special provision were made for them. And, indeed, it’s no secret that Democrats from high-emissions midwestern states are somewhat hesitant to act and eager to try to cut deals that might protect local industries. What’s been less noted is the reverse phenomenon, the large number of Republican Senators from states with per capita emissions below the 20.6 metric tons per person that represents the national average.
Without some kind of active enthusiasm for comprehensive climate legislation from members of this block, it’s very difficult to imagine this problem being tackled. And at the moment, the enthusiasm is entirely absent. But at some point the Republicans from these states are going to have to ask themselves while they’re lining up with dirty energy interests against science and good sense when those interests aren’t even key factors for their citizens.
Despite the serious unanswered questions about the safety of offshore drilling the BP spill has highlighted, a number of prominentconservativeleaders have doubled down on their calls for an immediate expansion of drilling, even before the investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is complete. One such leader is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). His state has been hit the hardest by the Gulf spill, yet Jindal wrote a letter to President Obama earlier this month “criticizing his decision to implement a temporary moratorium of deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico” and calling for more drilling now.
In an interview with ThinkProgress this morning, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said Jindal’s call for more dilling in the wake of the disaster would make this his “last term in office,” if he was a West Coast governor:
TP: So I’m curious about your response is to Republicans, conservatives, such as Governor Jindal whose state is clearly being ravaged by the Deepwater Horizon spill, but is still calling for more drilling tomorrow. [...]
MERKLEY: Well I can tell you, if he were governor on the West Coast, it’d be his last term in office. Becasue the senators all came together on the West Coast unanimously — all six, California, Oregon, and Washington — and said that drilling is not in the best interests of our states. … So we don’t want drilling at 30 miles, we don’t want it at 50 miles, we don’t want it at 100 miles, because that oil may end up both foul our commercial fisheries, our ecosystems, and our coastlines, and it’s not a risk worth taking.
Merkley and the five other senators representing the West Coast came together last month to propose legislation that would permanently ban new drilling in the Pacific. They want to restore a moratorium on new leases for offshore drilling in federal waters that was in place from 1981 to 2008. The West Coast has experienced the dangers of massive oil spills first hand. In one of the biggest spills in American history, 200,000 gallons of oil gushed from a well off of Santa Barbara, California for 11 days in 1969. This “environmental nightmare” prompted the congressional moratorium that Merkley and the other senators are trying to reinstate.
ThinkProgress spoke with Merkley before an event at the Center for American Progress on the need to reduce our dependence on oil.