Monday, September 28, 2009

The Tyranny of Protest and Climate Change Pragmatism


At last week's G-20 Summit, the city of Pittsburgh created a security perimeter and sanctioned protest areas in an effort to balance security concerns with first amendment rights to free speech.

The protests started well before the G-20 summit began, on Wednesday September 9, Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl was already being besieged by irate protestors. Although the G-20 summit inconvenienced Pittsburgh businesses, commuters, and residents, the loudest and most persistent complaints came from protesters. When confronted by laws, some protest groups challenged through the courts, when this failed they denied the court's legitimacy. While some protest groups were threatening to sue the city because of delays in the issuance of permits, CodePink, one of the G-20 activist groups, was interpreting Pittsburgh's camping restrictions as an infringement on free speech.

Protestors had been planning to wreak havoc on Pittsburgh businesses for some time. Leading up to the summit an online map of "targets" was produced by the G-20 Resistance Project showing the location of all area Starbucks stores. Tactics like this drove patrons away from Pittsburgh businesses, according to Robert Arnoni, president and CEO of Specialized Security Response Inc, "fear of protests like those that rocked April’s G-20 in London and fear of the unknown are all fueling the momentum to stay away."

These concerns forced many businesses to take expensive precautions against protestor violence. Targets like FirstEnergy Corp.’s Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station felt compelled to take unspecified “extra steps” for the G-20, spokesman Todd Schneider said. With security measures in place to protect key infrastructure, cyber security firm Solutionary was guarding computer networks for more than a dozen area companies from vandals or “hacktivists.”

Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper had nearly 900 officers and an additional 3,100 extra police officers helping with security. However, despite the large police presence, pepper spray, "beanbags," and sound cannons, anti-G20 protestors succeeded in rampaging through the center of Pittsburgh assaulting police and smashing shops. Rioting continued through the evening rush hour as masked protesters armed themselves with stones, bricks and bottles and hurled them at police and local businesses.

Some of the protesters assembled in Pittsburgh were clearly seeking a confrontation with police. In one incident, several hundred protesters clashed with Police after they ignored repeated warnings to stop their unsanctioned march. Apparently these protesters do not recognize the validity of city permits nor did they acknowledge the right of police to declare an unlawful assembly. In another incident riot officers intervened after about 1,000 protestors, led by hardliners wearing masks and helmets, began another unsanctioned march towards the conference venue.

The anarchist march that started in a park in the working class Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville, was led by a banner reading "No Hope in Capitalism." The organizers of this march did not have a city permit and ignored police orders to disperse. As reported by Time, during the three-hour trek protesters pushed Dumpsters downhill toward law enforcement, smashed the windows of a Boston Market and Mini car dealership, along with 17 banks and other businesses. As the pepper spray cannons began unloading on the unruly crowd, one of the protestors was heard shouting, "Let's make them use all that shit!"

Police Cmdr. Kathy Degler said the protestor's plan was to "cause widespread, sporadic problems in very different places throughout the city to sort of draw out our police resources."

The irony is that while protestors complain about the police presence they fail to acknowledge that it is their anti-capitalist violence that has forced summit organisers to increase security. Protestors sometimes speak about the need for cooperation, however, their violence and criminality is antithetical to that end. The drive towards COP 15 does not benefit from the association between climate change activism and bloody riots. Green has come of age, the movement must dissociate itself from its adolescent tendencies or risk alienating the vast majority.

Most appear to see the value of the G20 meetings, as reported in the Pittsburgh Grassroots Examiner even Pittsburgh's labor unions signed on to the G-20 Partnership.

The anarchist's disdain for the G-20 has some unlikely allies. The conservative Heritage Foundation is one of a small number of groups that share the anarchist's desire to do away with the G-20. Conservative writer James M. Roberts makes the case for ending the G20 in an article entitled "Pittsburgh Should Be the Last G-20 Summit,"

In mood, G-20 protests are not all that different from conservative "tea-parties." Although the anarchists and the conservatives may not agree on economic policy, they are very much alike when it comes to their love of protest and support for revolution.

A quick review of the signs that protestors were carrying at the G20 reveals a similar tone to the kind of vitriol that is passing for commentary in the US health care debate. The extreme left destroys businesses and the right undermines important legislation and threatens that the next time its followers march on Washington they will bring guns.

The similarities between anarchists advocating for the environment and the conservatives advocating for their own self-interest does nothing to garner public sympathy for an international agreement on climate change.

Rabid protests from anarchists and conservatives are impediments to a more sustainable future and in the current context of economic and environmental crises, this abuse of the first amendment is entirely inexcusable.
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

The State of Climate Change Negotiations

The Copenhagen Conference (COP 15) is now only a little more than two months away. There is precious little time to broker an international agreement on climate change. Although there were some important promises made at last week's G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, climate change negotiations are progressing at a dangerously slow pace.

Japan and China have indicated that they are prepared to make significant cuts to their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. China pledged to improve energy efficiency, and for the first time China pledged to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions in proportion to economic growth (carbon intensity) but failed to provide specific numbers.

The new Japanese Premier has offered a 25% reduction in GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2020. The climate change legislation that was passed by the House of Representatives in the spring agrees to a 17% reduction below 2005 levels by 2020.

In the US there is growing scepticism that climate change legislation can get through the Senate this year. Despite the passage of the Waxman-Markey Bill in the House of Representatives there is a backlog of contentious legislation in the way. Health care and regulatory reform legislation must pass through both chambers before the Senate will vote on climate change.

Getting enough votes in the Senate is going to be difficult as the politics of climate change tends to divide legislators along regional as opposed to party lines. While Republican opposition is reflexive, many Democrats from coal and manufacturing states are also resistant to climate change legislation.

At the G20 in Pittsburgh, US President Barack Obama introduced the idea of phasing out fossil fuel subsidies over time, to help improve energy efficiency and "transition to a 21st-century clean energy economy."

The word currently spends $300 billion a year to subsidized fuel prices, this keeps prices low and boosts demand leading to more emissions. According to data from the International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it is estimated that eradicating such subsidies would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent by 2050.

"Overall, I still feel better than I did a week ago," said Kim Carstensen, head of the World Wildlife Fund's Global Climate Initiative. "We had 100 leaders in the U.N. in New York come together and they actually talked about climate change in a significantly committed way. We have the door open."

However the G20 did not advance discussions about the difficult question of financial aid for developing nations. This is the main climate question the G20 must resolve. Unless they can find a way to finance developing nations carbon emission reductions, there will be no global deal to combat climate change.

As Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and author who heads the climate advocacy group 350.org said,."Climate financing is going to be absolutely key if we're going to have a deal in Copenhagen."

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Climate Change Week: China Showing Leadership America Must Follow

This has been a busy week for those involved with combating climate change. Today world leaders are meeting at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh. With the Copenhagen Convention (COP 15) now only a bit more than two months away, leaders are seeking ways to find an international agreement on a climate change strategy.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon hosted the UN's Global Climate Summit before the UN General Assembly in New York. President Hu Jintao also unveiled China's impressive plans to fight climate change, leading UN climate chief, Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to predict that China would become a world leader in fighting global warming. This announcement could appease some of those who harbour suspicions about developing emitter nations.

There is a great deal of money being invested in sustainable initiatives all around the world. Dollars and Sense reports that Jubilee's G20 assessment indicates that there are $180bn in carbon-friendly stimulus dollars, Despite international initiatives, the US and China must be part of the solution to limit emissions. Given the fact that these two nations account for 46% of global carbon dioxide emissions, the rest of the world's efforts will all be in vain if we do not see real action from the US and China.

Both presidents Hu Jintao and Obama are seeking agreement on cuts in global emissions and China's new carbon intensity goals are an important step forward. However, the ongoing rancorous health care debate in the US is confounded with so much misinformation that it may make passage of climate change legislation difficult before December. The G20 can encourage the passage of legislation in the US by sending a wakeup call and shaming them onto a more sustainable course.

Mr de Boer suggested that China’s announcement could help President Obama to muster domestic support for US action on climate change. Although hopeful that the US Senate will pass climate change legislation before the end of the year, Mr de Boer said it was not essential to pass the legislation ahead of COP 15, “If the US representative comes to Copenhagen and signs up to a target, that is good enough for the international community,” he said. “He does not have to show his credit rating. People will take him at his word.”

The British Energy and Climate Change Secretary said there was reason to be optimistic that a deal could be reached at Copenhagen. There does appear to be considerable desire to find agreement on a climate change deal. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said “If it is necessary to clinch the deal, I will personally go to Copenhagen to achieve it — and I will be urging my fellow leaders to do so too,” he wrote in Newsweek magazine.

Earlier this week President Obama delivered his first address to the UN General Assembly, promoting cooperation in the fight against climate change. He pledged the US would lead by example, and called on other nations to find common ground, however he did not provide any details on the crucial issue of how he intends to work with the Senate to pass climate change legislation.

Some US business leaders appear to understand the importance of immediate action, KPAX reports that a group of 100 Montana business leaders are urging the state's US Senators to support climate and energy legislation.

When domestic policy favors clean energy, it generates tremendous economic activity and drives innovation. Even if America ignores the economic incentives, as a matter of competitive necessity, the US will need to catch up with the Europeans, Japanese, and increasingly, the Chinese. With state plans to spend on low carbon energy on the rise all around the world the Senate must clear the road to COP 15 by passing climate change legislation. The G20 will play an ever increasing role in the management of the environment, the question is will the world's largest economy be amongst them.
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Social Media and the Green Message: WWF Global Online Event

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is using Twitter to stage a global online event today. Titled "What a Difference a Day Makes," the goal of the event is to encourage people to share the ways in which they help to make the world more sustainable.

The WWF is an international non-governmental organization that focuses on conservation, research and restoration of the environment. It is the world's largest independent conservation organization with over 5 million supporters in more than 90 countries, Their efforts contribute to approximately 1300 conservation and environmental projects around the world.

The group's mission is "to halt and reverse the destruction of our environment." With the "What a Difference a Day Makes" event, the organizers are seeking to draw attention to the fact that all around the world people are recycling, conserving, and making ethical purchasing decisions. The overarching message is that millions are engaged in efforts to create a sustainable world, and together we can make a difference.

This WWF campaign is similar to the annual Earth Day event celebrated on March 28. Earth Day organizers asked participants to report their green actions online. This year's event logged almost one billion acts of green. An April 22, Earth Hour is another annual global campaign. Event organizers asked people to show their support for the green economy by shutting off their lights for one hour at 8:30 PM local time. Although these events are often maligned by eco-purists, as reviewed in an article entitled "Silencing Earth Day Critics," such comments are unproductive and unwarranted.

Sustainable global events like the ones cited above illustrate that social media can be a humanizing force. Because hundreds of millions of people are easily accessible at any given moment, social media has extraordinary reach. The need for collective action on the environment makes social media ideal for the dissemination of the green message.

To participate in the WWF campaign post a message to Twitter with the tag #wwf24 about the sustainable things you do in your day, and the organizers will add you to the map.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Pittsburgh's Green Economy on Display for the G20 Summit

Managing climate change and decreasing unemployment are two interrelated issues on the G20's agenda this week. Pittsburgh is the host of this G20 summit, and was once at the center of America's industrial heartland, now the city is being reborn as a great example of the new green economy.

Tomorrow, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon hosts the UN's Global Climate Summit before the UN General Assembly in New York and on Thursday and Friday, leaders from the world's 20 largest economies will assemble in Pittsburgh.

Although world leaders are convening to review global issues, some grassroots organizations in Pittsburgh are using the week to rally citizens to clean up the city and raise the profile of green. At the end of the summit on Friday September 25, the Pittsburgh Day of Service is organizing a day of "clean-up and beautification" in several city neighborhoods.

In an exclusive interview entitled "Obama calls Pittsburgh a model for the future" the Post-Gazette revealed that Pittsburgh was chosen as the site for the G20 summit because President Obama wanted "to show the world its successful economic transition."

"This is a recognition that Pittsburgh is a world-class city," President Obama said. "That it represents the transition of the U.S. economy from [an] industrial state to a mix of strong industry -- steel -- but also now biotech and clean energy. It has transformed itself, after some very tough times, into a city that's competing in the world economy.

"So to have the G-20 summit, which is really becoming the forum in which an interconnected 21st-century economy is discussed and the architecture is shaped, having that conversation take place in Pittsburgh I think is very appropriate because it shows the direction that our economy is moving."

Pittsburgh's schools like Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh offer increasingly green programs. With industries like solar power, Pittsburgh has one of the largest green collar work forces for a US city of comparable size.

There are dozens of publicly traded companies in the solar sector with a market capitalization of about $50 billion. Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package includes more than $60 billion in clean energy investments, much of which has not yet had an impact on the street. The real boom will come when the cost of renewable energy sources like solar are competitive with traditional sources of electricity.

In the short term, retrofit jobs may be the jobs with the strongest demand, however, the growth of solar energy production and other renewable energy sources could be significantly advanced if the proposed cap-and-trade legislation is ratified by the US Senate.

Pittsburgh is a city with a sustainable vision and as such it is a model for the world. As Klaus Kleinfeld, the president and CEO of Alcoa Inc said, "Rather than turning to protectionism as the global economy shifted during the 20th century, Pittsburgh leveraged its human capital, invested in developing new technologies and embraced globalization. G-20 leaders can find inspiration in the city's success as they take stock of the current economic recovery and set an agenda to help restore global growth."

The green economy not only minimizes the degradation of the planet, it creates jobs that pay more, enhances energy independence, and reduces the trade deficit. However, the passage of the the American Clean Energy and Security Act in the Senate is crucial for the city of Pittsburgh and the future of the global green economy.
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sustainable Water Purification Technology to Be Unveiled During G20

One Pittsburgh business is taking advantage of the G20's high profile to share a new green water purification technology. Contaminated water kills millions each year and water purification processes draw on limited energy resources. The lack of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities contribute to hunger, diseases and poverty. Water related projects are also amongst the greatest recipients of foreign aid money and account for hundreds of billions of dollars in international aid.

TechBurger reports that Pittsburgh-based non-profit organization, Project Eviive will hold an event to announce a new water cleaning technology developed by Epiphany Solar Water Systems (SWS).

The press event will be held on the lawn behind the Carnegie Science Center during the G20 summit taking place in Pittsburgh this week. Speakers will include Tom Joseph, founder of Epiphany SWS and the designer of the solar powered Epiphany E3 Solar Water purification and de-salination system. Epiphany's breakthrough technology purifies any water using only solar energy. This technology provide portable, simple, low-cost sustainable water purification.

One of the co-chairs of Project Eviive, Amy Joseph stated, “We are less than a week from launching Project Eviive and couldn’t be more excited. Water is one of our most critical commodities for survival. Out of desperation, many communities are forced to accept contaminated water and the consequences that follow. It is no coincidence that we chose the G20 meeting as the time to unveil this life-saving and life-changing technology.”

The other co-chair, Eddie Edwards indicated that this technology offers a solution to potable water management that could significantly reduce the resources currently invested in water purification. “According to the World Health Organization, the world could save up to $500 billion in aid over the next 10 years if the problem of water sanitation was solved in the developing world. This is real money that could be deployed to build infrastructure and economic development,” Edwards said.

To learn more, visit http://www.projecteviive.org/.
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Local Business Promotes Green Agenda for G20 in Pittsburgh

As world leaders prepare to convene in Pittsburgh for the latest round of G20 talks one business has found a unique way of promoting the green agenda.

Technology publication TechBurger reports that a large commercial retail energy supplier, Pittsburgh-based Direct Energy Business is preparing for the G-20 Summit with a contest showing that Pittsburgh businesses are committed to sustainability.

Direct Energy Business is encouraging businesses to proudly display the fact that their electricity usage has been greened for the G-20 summit.

Local businesses can register to win $500 in cash for displaying an "Imagine a Greener City" poster.

The poster asks the question, "Can You Image a Greener City?" Then answers, "We Can. My Business is Green for the G20."

“The contest is meant to encourage businesses to think about their own sustainable business practices,” said Dave Grupp, spokesperson for Direct Energy Business. “We, as a city, have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set an example for the world, and having city businesses proudly they are green is a powerful statement.”

Full contest rules and more information about the greening of the city of Pittsburgh can be found at http://www.greeng20.com/.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Global Cooperation Ahead of COP 15

The financial and climate change crises are spurring unprecedented levels of global cooperation. In less than one week leaders of the G20 will be meeting in Pittsburgh, and in less than three months leaders will convene in Copenhagen for COP 15, the last hope to manage climate change.

An international group of environmental scientists and economists warn that under current governing models the number and scale of human-caused crises are "outrunning our ability to deal with them." The researchers indicate that, "The core of the problem is inducing cooperation in situations where individuals and nations will collectively gain if all cooperate, but each faces the temptation to free-ride on the cooperation of others."

At next week's meeting in Pittsburgh, G20 finance ministers are expected to report on climate financing issues. The G8 has already set ambitious targets for climate protection and pledged billions of dollars in aid for developing countries.

World leaders seem to be getting the message. At the conference in L'Aquila earlier this year, instead of fat black limousines, participants were ferried about in small white electric cars. "Never before have the choices we made as nations working together produced such co-ordinated action to sustain and create jobs. So no one should underestimate the progress made by the G20 working together," the British PM Gordon Brown said.

The Major Economies Forum (MEF), which included the G8 nations, the G-5 nations, plus Australia, Indonesia and South Korea all agreed that global temperatures should not rise by more than an average of 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. By agreeing to cut their emissions by 80% or more by 2050, wealthier nations are showing signs of much needed leadership.

The IMF is also playing a stabilizing role in the global economy. The IMF understands that although the crisis orginated in developed nations, it is having the most visible impact on the emerging market countries. To help address this disproportional impact, the IMF’s Executive Board approved a package of measures that will sharply increase the loan resources available to low-income countries. Up to $17 billion in zero or low interest loans will be made available through 2014.

“This is an unprecedented scaling up of IMF support for the poorest countries, in sub-Saharan Africa and all over the world,” said IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a statement accompanying the July 29 announcement. “We are responding with a historic set of actions in terms of support for the world’s poor. The new resources and new means of delivering them should help prevent millions of people from falling into poverty. All this represents a historic effort by the Fund to help the world’s poor.” Strauss-Kahn said. He added that there would be greater emphasis in Fund-supported programs on poverty reduction and growth objectives across all its new lending instruments, including targets to safeguard social and other priority spending.

The leaders of the G20 are laying the framework for international cooperation. Angela Merkel told the German parliament, "[like an] overarching roof," the G20 will be the future format for determining the world economic order.

On September 15 in a speech at the Brookings Institution, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke offered his thanks to world leaders for their cooperation. According to Bernanke, the high level of global cooperation was one of the landmarks of the financial crisis.

In much of the world, these efforts appear to be paying off as we continue to see positive economic data and ample liquidity in the financial system. Last week the global equity markets were buoyed by news that G20 ministers have pledged to retain policies targeted at easing the recession.

As we count down to COP 15, we are seeing a flury of activity. However ongoing disagreement between developed nations and emerging countries is slowing progress. Due to concerns about the pace of negotiations, European foreign ministers recently announced they were increasing their diplomatic efforts within the EU and abroad.

“Time is now short and the need is urgent,” British Foreign Minister David Miliband said earlier this month at Copenhagen University. His Danish counterpart, Per Stig Moeller, said the EU “must also do all it can to engage key players.”

As Gordon Brown said, at next week's G20 Summit in Pittsburgh concerted international co-operation is again required." To this end the British PM has proposed a new global compact "based on a strong political commitment of mutual co-operation and set in place a new era of global economic management."

Timely international efforts have helped to manage the financial crises. The same urgent focus needs to be brought to bear to reach an agreement on a global climate deal.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Van Jones Succumbs to Republican Pressure

White House Green Jobs Czar Van Jones was forced to resign despite his profound knowledge of the green economy and his impressive resume of vision and leadership.

Republicans attribute his forced resignation to a petition he signed in 2004 and a disparaging comment he made about Republicans. When Rebublican Vice Presidential candidate Dick Cheney made a similar comment in 2000, he was subsequently elected Vice President.

More recently Rep. Joe Wilson screamed "you lie" during the President's televised address to Congress and received little more than a proverbial slap on the wrist. Yesterday the Associated Press reported that Joe Wilson has refused to apologize on the House floor. Although Van Jones repeatedly apologized, Republicans were unswerving in their efforts to force Jones' resignation and on Labor Day weekend they succeeded in bringing him down.

The Washington Post quotes Van Jones as saying, "On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide."

The health care debate has only highlighted the fact that Republicans are not interested in the issues, they appear more interested in undermining this President and his legislative agenda. With Republicans pledging to make health care reform, "Obama's Waterloo," their partisan interests are increasingly evident.

Rather then engage in a rational debate they cannot win, the Republican strategy is based on lies and misinformation. Others may have a more personal axe to grind, the Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck--the same man who called the President a racist--led the right's media drive against Jones.

In an article entitled, "Conservatives March on Washington" Alex Koppelman indicates that a crowd of between 60,000 and 75,000 people gathered in front of the Capitol on Saturday for an anti-Obama rally that was part Tea Party and part Glenn Beck's 9/12 Project.

"[T]here were certainly a lot of people there who seemed like they'd fall under the "nuts" category....There was one with a sign that asked, "Whose spirit is in the White House?" and included photos of Adolf Hitler, Karl Marx, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Obama. Another sign borrowed the Joker Obama poster...adding a Hitler mustache to the president's face; underneath the image were the words "Obamacare is Eugenics." One man held a sign reading, "Transparent? I see through your socialist lies, fool."

One woman pulled Koppelman aside, but declined to give her name for fear of Obama's "snitches," she explained."I studied Nazi Germany, I read the story of how they took over. From the very beginning I heard it with Obama ... I've studied the camps. That's why people are here, because they're afraid of the death camps that are coming." The woman also said she believed liberals had "voted for a hijacker ... voted for al-Qaida,"

"Many of those signs linked the presence of those czars to Communism -- it was unclear if any of the protesters holding them were aware of the real history of Russia, in which the Communists overthrew and replaced the czars."

Opposition to health care and the resignation of Jones does not bode well for the Senate’s vote on the clean energy act. Thanks in large measure to Republican distortion and misrepresentation, it is evident that some Americans are very confused about the President's legislative agenda.

Another Associated Press report indicates that Jones, "understood that he was going to get in the way" of President Obama's agenda, said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs ."What Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual." Obama's top political adviser, David Axelrod, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Jones "showed his commitment to the cause of creating green jobs in this country by removing himself as an issue."

Like Jones, many Democrats have worked selflessly towards crucial changes that will improve the lives of Americans. Conversely Republicans appear transfixed by their efforts to undermine change.

A couple of Republicans who contributed to Jones' resignation are quoted by the Washington Post as offering some rather ironic advice. "[Jones'] extremist views and coarse rhetoric have no place in this administration or the public debate," (Rep. Mike Pence). "Can the American people trust a senior White House official that is so cavalier in his association with such radical and repugnant sentiments?" (Senator Christopher S. Bond).

It is the Republicans who are proving they have no place in a civil debate, nor can the American people trust a party that looks to the "radical and repugnant" views of men like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

Rush Limbaugh has infamously indicated that he wants the Obama administration's economic policies to fail. A political TV ad released by Americans United for Change, asked viewers to "just say no to the politics of Rush Limbaugh." This is sound advice, for eight years Republicans deceived the American people and the world, now they are using the same tactics to malign the Obama Administration. Van Jones' comment describing the Republicans is sadly accurate.

Political partisanship is one thing, but with important legislation pending enough is enough, we must put an end to the subterfuge and "say no" to Republican lies.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama on Health Care Reform

The outcome of health care reform will impact upon the President's entire legislative agenda. As Frank O'Donnell, president of the activist group Clean Air Watch said, the healthcare debate "has basically sucked all the oxygen out of the room."

The proposed health plan is crucial for the physical and economic well being of Americans, it is also vital for the American Clean Energy and Security Act.

As the late Ted Kennedy wrote, this is not merely about the "details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

Passing health care reform is important in its own right, but it is also important because its failure will impede passage of future legislation, and failure to pass the clean energy act represents an even greater threat to the health and security of Americans.

Recently U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world was "heading toward an abyss" without swift action to reduce carbon emissions. However, if health care reform succeeds, it will be a hopeful sign for the clean energy act.


Below are excerpts of President Obama's health care address to a joint session of Congress on September 9, 2009.
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When I spoke here last winter, this nation was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month. Credit was frozen. And our financial system was on the verge of collapse...But thanks to the bold and decisive action we've taken since January, I can stand here with confidence and say that we have pulled this economy back from the brink.

But we did not come here just to clean up crises. We came here to build a future. So tonight, I return to speak to all of you about an issue that is central to that future -- and that is the issue of health care.

I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last. It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform. And ever since, nearly every President and Congress, whether Democrat or Republican, has attempted to meet this challenge in some way.

Our collective failure to meet this challenge -- year after year, decade after decade -- has led us to the breaking point. Everyone understands the extraordinary hardships that are placed on the uninsured, who live every day just one accident or illness away from bankruptcy. These are not primarily people on welfare. These are middle-class Americans.

We are the only democracy -- the only advanced democracy on Earth -- the only wealthy nation -- that allows such hardship for millions of its people. There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage. But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem for the uninsured. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won't pay the full cost of care.

Then there's the problem of rising cost. We spend one and a half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren't any healthier for it. This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages. It's why so many employers -- especially small businesses -- are forcing their employees to pay more for insurance, or are dropping their coverage entirely. It's why so many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to open a business in the first place, and why American businesses that compete internationally -- like our automakers -- are at a huge disadvantage. And it's why those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it.

Finally, our health care system is placing an unsustainable burden on taxpayers. Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close. Nothing else.

Now, these are the facts. Nobody disputes them. We know we must reform this system. The question is how.

Since health care represents one-sixth of our economy, I believe it makes more sense to build on what works and fix what doesn't, rather than try to build an entirely new system from scratch.

Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses; hospitals, seniors' groups, and even drug companies -- many of whom opposed reform in the past. And there is agreement in this chamber on about 80 percent of what needs to be done, putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been.

But what we've also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have towards their own government. Instead of honest debate, we've seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise.

Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned. Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together, and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do. Now is the time to deliver on health care.

The plan I'm announcing tonight... will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance for those who don't. And it will slow the growth of health care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government. What this plan will do is make the insurance you have work better for you.

Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition. As soon as I sign this bill, it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it the most. They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime.

We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care.

Now, if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who don't currently have health insurance, the second part of this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices. If you lose your job or you change your job, you'll be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you'll be able to get coverage. We'll do this by creating a new insurance exchange -- a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices. . . for those individuals and small businesses who still can't afford the lower-priced insurance available in the exchange, we'll provide tax credits, the size of which will be based on your need...

[The] irresponsible behavior [of not having heath care insurance] costs all the rest of us money. And that's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance. Likewise businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still can't afford coverage, and 95 percent of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements.

I have no doubt that these reforms would greatly benefit Americans from all walks of life, as well as the economy as a whole. Still, given all the misinformation that's been spread over the past few months, I realize that many Americans have grown nervous about reform. So tonight I want to address some of the key controversies that are still out there. Some of people's concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost...

Prominent politicians [who make charges that are] cynical and irresponsible...lie, plain and simple.

My guiding principle is, and always has been, that consumers do better when there is choice and competition. That's how the market works. Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business.... I just want to hold them accountable. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. It would only be an option for those who don't have insurance.

And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have. But I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice. And I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.

First, I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits -- either now or in the future....Second, we've estimated that most of this plan can be paid for by finding savings within the existing health care system, a system that is currently full of waste and abuse.

In fact, I want to speak directly to seniors for a moment, because Medicare is another issue that's been subjected to demagoguery and distortion during the course of this debate...And that is why not a dollar of the Medicare trust fund will be used to pay for this plan. The only thing this plan would eliminate is the hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud... Now, these steps will ensure that you -- America's seniors -- get the benefits you've been promised. So don't pay attention to those scary stories about how your benefits will be cut....

Reducing the waste and inefficiency in Medicare and Medicaid will pay for most of this plan. Now, much of the rest would be paid for with revenues from the very same drug and insurance companies that stand to benefit from tens of millions of new customers. And this reform will charge insurance companies a fee for their most expensive policies. Now, add it all up, and the plan I'm proposing will cost around $900 billion over 10 years -- less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and less than the tax cuts for the wealthiest few Americans that Congress passed at the beginning of the previous administration.... it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.

But know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than to improve it. I won't stand by while the special interests use the same old tactics to keep things exactly the way they are. If you misrepresent what's in this plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it the most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true. That is why we cannot fail. Because there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed.

[In a letter written by Ted Kennedy] shortly after he was told that his illness was terminal...he expressed confidence that this would be the year that health care reform -- "that great unfinished business of our society," he called it -- would finally pass. He repeated the truth that health care is decisive for our future prosperity, but he also reminded me that "it concerns more than material things." "What we face," he wrote, "is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."

For some of Ted Kennedy's critics, his brand of liberalism represented an affront to American liberty. In their minds, his passion for universal health care was nothing more than a passion for big government. On issues like these, Ted Kennedy's passion was born not of some rigid ideology, but of his own experience. It was the experience of having two children stricken with cancer. That large-heartedness -- that concern and regard for the plight of others -- is not a partisan feeling. It's not a Republican or a Democratic feeling. It, too, is part of the American character -- our ability to stand in other people's shoes; a recognition that we are all in this together, and when fortune turns against one of us, others are there to lend a helping hand; a belief that in this country, hard work and responsibility should be rewarded by some measure of security and fair play; and an acknowledgment that sometimes government has to step in to help deliver on that promise.

This has always been the history of our progress. In 1935, when over half of our seniors could not support themselves and millions had seen their savings wiped away, there were those who argued that Social Security would lead to socialism, but the men and women of Congress stood fast, and we are all the better for it.

In 1965, when some argued that Medicare represented a government takeover of health care, members of Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- did not back down. They joined together so that all of us could enter our golden years with some basic peace of mind.

You see, our predecessors ... understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited.

I understand how difficult this health care debate has been. I know that many in this country are deeply skeptical that government is looking out for them. I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road -- to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term. But that is not what the moment calls for. That's not what we came here to do. We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it's hard. I still believe we can replace acrimony with civility, and gridlock with progress. I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history's test. Because that's who we are. That is our calling. That is our character.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Climate Change Optimism

There is much work yet to be done if we are to meet the December deadline for a global agreement on a climate change strategy. Many obstacles must be overcome before we can hope for an agreement in Copenhagen. The fact that we have yet to find the formula to finance the fight against climate change is one of the important hurdles that must be addressed. Finding a way to bring all 190 nations onboard is an unprecedented challenge but we are seeing positive signs.

The recent G20 communique reveals that the G20 finance ministers are working towards regulating the banking industry. Finance ministers are planning to restrict the banks' ability to house their questionable "assets" in off-balance sheet vehicles. This will prevent banks from hiding their toxic holdings from shareholders and regulators, a technique that contributed to the financial crisis approximately one year ago.

Global markets seem to have responded well after the meeting of G20 finance ministers last Friday and Saturday. Although the American and Canadian markets were closed for the Labor Day holiday on Monday the MSCI World Index of 23 developed countries advanced 0.9 percent and CFD Trading reports that all Asian markets advanced.

Yesterday, in response to helpful signs from Japan, China and India, the head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, Yvo de Boer exclaimed in a telephone interview "The outlook is brightening. I'm more confident than I've been before."

Progress has also been made on the thorny issue of financing a climate change strategy. In L'Aquila, Italy on July 10, leaders of the world's 17 largest economies announced that they will develop financing proposals that will be discussed and acted on by leaders at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. In a written statement, Alden Meyer, Strategy and Policy Director at UCS said the announcement, "gives us hope that with sufficient political will, such an agreement is not out of reach."

Claire Melamed, the head of policy at ActionAid UK, said, "The current financial crisis offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to think beyond the usual solutions. If, as many governments, philosophers and economists would have us believe, aid is both a moral imperative and something that benefits both givers and recipients in the long run, then perhaps it is time to place it on more stable and less political foundations."

We are moving towards increased international aid and tighter standards of governance, at least in theory. Effective regulation requires even application of new financial rules while understanding that nations have differing opinions and needs. Despite obstacles and difficulties, climate change and the financial crises continue to drive unprecedented international cooperation that serves the public good.

“Neither the economy nor the banking system can flourish efficiently without international cooperation,” said British Finance Minister, Alistair Darling.

We are in the process of counting down to COP 15 in December. After Pittsburgh, the next round of UN talks will be in Bangkok at the end of September, with a week in Barcelona in early November before the Copenhagen talks begin early in December.

It will be hard to meet the December deadline when so many issues remain to be worked out. Not the least of which is the fact that developing nations are expecting wealthier nations to reduce emissions by an average of at least 40 percent by 2020.

However, as de Boer said, "we are moving in the right direction -- nothing wrong with the direction, something left to be desired in terms of the pace."

We are making progress, but with less than 3 months remaining before COP 15 we are rapidly running out of time.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Curbing Banker's Bonuses and Climate Change


Heads of state are responding to the widespread public outcry over the perception of excessive compensation in the banking industry. The French president Nicolas Sarkozy is leading the way with strict new bonus rules.

In Australia bank executives stand to lose more than $50 million in annual bonuses if the current government bans short-term incentive payments in the financial services sector. This is a reiteration of the G20 meeting in April, where leaders called for curbs on bonuses.

However, if restrictions on bonuses in the financial services sector are to mean anything they will have to be agreed upon internationally and this is very unlikely.

Politicians are trying to win political favor by taking advantage of prevailing anti-banking sentiments. They know full well that their feigned indignation will not forge an international agreement to curb bankers pay. To illustrate the point, Sarkozy's promise of tough regulations comes with the all important caveat that they not be enforced without global agreement.

Dutch banks have also introduced a new code of conduct that includes capping executive bonuses. However, this new Dutch approach does not force banks to curb bonuses nor does it come with legal sanctions as banks need only explain why they have chosen not to comply.

As British finance minister Alstair Darling said last Thursday, "Banks need to be responsible about pay and bonuses and one of the things that is concerning me is that when you tackle banks about this they say that if you do something here, the Americans, the Swiss, or the French ... will poach our people."

Even in the unlikely event that legislation is passed in both the EU, and the US, there will always be nations without such stringent sanctions and these countries will claim the most talented people.

"Government has got a legitimate interest in making sure that you don't encourage behaviour that is damaging, but I think that is just one part of what we need to do to get the banking system going again," Darling said. "There is a generalised concern. What we need to do is make sure that we introduce legislation that actually works, that actually helps and strengthen our banking system," he concluded.

Regulation is required to limit excessively risky lending, and many see merit in employing other regulatory channels beyond legislation. Last week in Britain the financial regulator known as the Financial Services Authority (FSA) published a bankers' pay code and according to the British finance minister, the FSA is "the obvious vehicle to use."

These kinds of capital rules will hurt banks' profits and restrict their lending ability. Efforts to curb banker bonuses are a ruse. As Lord Turner pointed out, “insisting that someone ‘does something’ about bonuses is a populist diversion.”

COP 15 is now only 3 months away, and while political rhetoric scores points with a disgruntled public, it siphons energy away from the tremendous efforts required to find consensus on climate change. Instead of pandering to voters by pretending to curb bankers pay, world leaders should be working towards real consensus on climate change.
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