greenpeace executive director Senator Lieberman: Industry’s Bag Man on Climate Change


Climate Progress is happy to introduce John Passacantando as a new guest blogger. John is one of the top climate activists of the decade, having recently stepped down as Greenpeace USA’s executive directorYou can read about his legacy (so far) here. I have known John for a long time, and he is not one to pull punches, as you’ll see. Welcome, John!

tunnel escape willie sutton 792447 Senator Lieberman: Industry’s Bag Man on Climate Change

Why do crooks rob banks? Because “that’s where the money is,” according to the infamous 20th century bank robber, Willie Sutton. Today’s cash source for crooks is not the banks, but the American public. With every new revelation of million dollar bonuses and payoffs to big corporations, Americans feel like it’s the bankers who are robbing us blind.

Just in case the financial loss wasn’t distressing enough, some members of Congress are now supporting plans that would give big energy companies the next round of publicly financed bailouts, in the name of combating global warming. The leader of this approach is that perennial friend of corporate welfare: Senator Joe Lieberman.

Here’s the background: To reign in climate change we must limit the amount of carbon entering our economy from the oil, coal and gas industry. Capping carbon encourages users to conserve by making the cost of using it more expensive. President Obama promised to implement a carbon cap. This carbon cap is regulated by selling pollution permits to producers and importers for the amount of carbon they bring into the economy.

Those permit sales amount to trillions of dollars over the life of the program. The money received from the permit system can be spent in different ways. It can be largely handed back to the American people, which is what President Obama is advocating in his proposed budget. This would ease the financial burden for American families who are hit with higher energy costs.

The other way the money can be spent is by sending it to different industries, interest groups and even foreign countries. The theory behind this concept is to try and put the money into good causes - even drive some of the climate solutions that we need, like developing new energy efficient technology.

The problem with the latter approach is explained in a recent report released by The Center for Public Integrity. The report explains that “more than 770 companies and interest groups hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change in the past year [2008]… an increase of more than 300 percent in the number of lobbyists on climate change in just five years, and means that Washington can now boast more than four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress.”

I ran Greenpeace US from 2000 - 2008, I know about thirty of those lobbyists are from environmental groups who are pushing for various ways to genuinely solve climate change. That leaves 2,310 others who are primarily interested in one thing: scooping up the loot.

So now the giant money grab fest is on. Duke Energy, General Motors, Shell, Excelon, Conoco Phillips, Chrysler, BP and many more want us to give them the carbon permits. Free. These corporations argue that they will pass the savings along, helping out real folks. We are talking about utilities and oil companies here. The last believer in benevolent CEO’s is probably Jim Cramer in his Mad Money World.

The President’s budget director, Peter Orszag, said that giving away permits would be “the largest corporate welfare program that has ever been enacted in the history of the United States.” While the American people could use a bailout, we do not need a welfare program for energy companies.

Enter corporate bag man, Senator Joe Lieberman. Sen. Lieberman is assigned to feint concern for the little guy, while attempting to deliver trillions of dollars worth of public assets to these companies. Consider what he told the Washington Post last week:

The 25-member U.S. Climate Action Partnership, that includes major corporations and a handful of environmental groups, has its own plan that would give away 40 percent of allowances to local coal-intensive utilities that would then keep rates low. How fast those allowances would be phased out is something on which the group cannot agree.

[JR: See also "NRDC and EDF endorse the weak, coal-friendly, rip-offset-heavy USCAP climate plan".]

That approach has the support of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), co-sponsor of three earlier cap-and-trade bills that failed to win Senate approval. Lieberman plans to form a bipartisan group of senators with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who co-sponsored two of those earlier measures.

“I see myself as a coalition builder,” Lieberman said. “I don’t think you can have a 100 percent auction. For fairness and the political viability of a proposal, we have to give assistance to the industries most affected by the major change we’re proposing.”

[JR: McCain's vote may well ultimately be needed to pass a climate bill, but the 2008 campaign showed McCain "is not serious about clean energy and he has increasingly walked away from the global warming issue." Giving away the store beforehand is simply a losing negotiating strategy.]

When the big energy CEOs start talking about looking out for us, we grab our wallets. When Sen.Lieberman talks, you hold your wallet even tighter. He has repeatedly tried to deliver boondoggle global warming legislation, directing cash to all sorts of corporate constituencies. Lieberman has consistently built his efforts around greenhouse gas emission reductions that wouldn’t do enough to solve the problem.

For a generation, some of our largest corporations paid flacks to deny mainstream science and convince the public that global warming wasn’t happening. Fully documented at Major papers — like The New York Times and The Washington Post — dutifully reported the industry’s manufactured debate. Policy bogged down. Now, the stalling is over. We’re going to get real climate legislation. Of course, the big corporate company line shifts to meet the needs of this new day. What are they saying? It’s like something out of a bad 22nd century Western — Give us your money, or we kill the planet. If they don’t get the public’s cash, they say they won’t support cutting greenhouse gases, plain and simple.

Climate change cannot be solved by paying off utilities or major corporations. Sure, AIG wants bonuses and Duke Energy wants free pollution credits. However, we the people get to say “no.” We need a plan that supports the little guy financially, while also taking steps to save the planet.

We need Congress to reject this next round of corporate giveaways, and support a plan that returns the auction money to the American people, like President Obama’s budget proposes.



First published as a guest blog at Climate Progress.


Stress Tests: Saturday Night Live Explains

by John P on May 12, 2009

 Stress Tests: Saturday Night Live Explains


The case I will be making in this blog and forthcoming book is that when we lift out of these economic ashes, the dinosaurs that we rode in on will not accompany us to the promised land.  Banks “too big to fail” will come along only as decayed remnants of a long-gone era, like the steam locomotive in the Smithsonian.  The best proof is the fake “stress tests” that the US Treasury Department ran on the top banks to show us that they are in good shape.  Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s spin didn’t make the banking sector stronger but it sure gave the country a good laugh.  Saturday Night Live’s recent skit tells the story of the results better than can any economist.


Earth Day Gets No Respect

by John P on April 22, 2009

rodney dangerfield Earth Day Gets No Respect

Grist hates Earth Day because it thinks every day should be Earth Day. Don’t let us have the luxury to pick up some litter one day a year and forget the 300 unnecessary trips to Home Depot the rest of the year. Fine, but kind of cranky. As an aging Italian male, I am working on cranky.

I’ve got a different grievance, however. There’s no @#$&ing enforcement with Earth Day. Anyone can claim anything on Earth Day.

Sure, there are other, similarly co-opted holidays. Thanksgiving marks the day before the country’s biggest shopping day. But hell, the Pilgrims never had any real power anyway, plus weird shoes and a boxy boat. How about President’s Day, with those stupid ads of Abe Lincoln selling Chevys? Those Presidents are dead, so we can’t expect them to enforce anything.

Think about it: On Christmas, Jews and Muslims don’t try to drive an agenda that the Christians picked the wrong guy.  Nah, they let it slide.  Leave the day alone.  On Yom Kippur, non Jews don’t walk around claiming the whole “Ten Days of Repentance” is a waste of time.  No way, non Jews give them their space.  How about Muslims? Nobody makes fun of Ramadan, not even Jon Stewart.

Which brings me back to Earth Day. It could have been the day we get all mushy and reverent about our Earth Mother, she who gives us our very breath. But no, it’s the perfect time for a libertarian think tank to press its campaign against the scientific consensus that has proven global warming is happening and that human activities are causing it. That’s right, the Cato Institute has been led by climate skeptic (that means somebody who thinks the Earth is flat) Dr. Patrick Michaels into questioning every conclusion about global warming. Oh yeah, and taking a little backsheesh from the fossil fuel industry at the same time.

Pat Michaels has long used out-of-context data to try and confuse the public about global warming. He said global warming wasn’t happening, then he said it was good for us, then he said it was minimal. Now he is using his perch at the Cato Institute, founded on free-market principles, to question the consensus on global warming in newspaper ads. In the Chicago TribuneLos Angeles TimesNew York Times,Washington Post, and Washington Times, CATO is running a full-page ad that starts with this line from President Obama—“Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear.”—and then screams in large font, “With all due respect Mr. President, that is not true.”

A long list of Ph.D. scientists have signed on to the ad, supposedly to add heft to the contrary opinion. Unfortunately for Cato, the list is wrought with professional global-warming naysayers and discredited academics.

Between the signer who espouses the view that chlorofluorocarbons are the cause of any warming trends, and the ones who dabble in known pseudoscience, to the one who attacks evolution, drawing frequent connections between evolution and Nazism, these so-called scientists are fringe, to say the least.  In fact, Greenpeace research director Kert Davies—an expert on following the money of the fossil fuel industry to paid global warming skeptics—says that of the scientists listed in the ad, 29 of them show up in his database as discredited, perennial naysayers.

Michaels has pushed Cato to interpret libertarianism as inclusive of crackpot science.  This I said in a letter to Ed Crane, founder and president of Cato.

It’s no wonder some of us have gotten sick of Earth Day.

So I found a way to deal. Earth Day is the day I litter. Throw the McDonald’s wrappers right out the window. Take unnecessary trips in my car, leave lights on, pretend that nuclear power is safe and that the waste magically goes away, that coal is clean and the tops of mountains are not blown off to mine it. I let the water run while I shave—ahhh, that stream of pure, hot water … endless.


The Coming Showdown with the Oligarchs

by John P on April 18, 2009

I am not talking about the Russians or the Mexican drug cartels or the latest band of terrorists, I am referring to the oligarchs, the small number of elites, who control our government.  The showdown will come in three distinct fights.  

1. The Obama Adminstration is going to have to get Goldman Sach’s hands out of the US Treasury.  They have taken billions directly and indirectly through AIG, orchestrated their own bailout through their men placed in our government, famously Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and even used its influence over our government to decide which entities should fail and which should be bailed — competitors fail, entities which owe them money get bailed out.  Yet the economy is still rotten for most people.  It will be near revolutionary if President Obama can extricate these thieves from our government.
2. The climate fight is upon us.  Congressman Henry Waxman has introduced a fairly weak version of his once fine principles to address global warming.  The energy industry is either opposed, like ExxonMobil, or open to dealing with climate change as long as the regs are weak and the taxpayer loot that flows into its coffers is huge, like Duke Energy.  Can we stop global warming AND avoid the blackmail from these corporations?  Again, it will be quite a feat if Congressional Democratic leadership can give us a bill fair for Americans that is also based on the science.
3.  Health care reform.  Large hospitals now employ hundreds of administrators to avoid paying for various medical procedures, on a par with the insurers who take premiums but don’t want to pay your medical bills, caught in the middle are the Americans ensnared in the health care system.  The drug companies have damaged a generation of people by pushing drugs they knew to be unsafe and for symptoms they can’t help.  Health care reform means health care based on the needs of people and their health care practitioners.   Not HMOs, not lawyers.  
Three big fights.  One weak democracy.  


Trickle Down Economics Works!

by John P on April 11, 2009

 Trickle Down Economics Works!


Twenty-seven years after the implementation of trickle-down economics a man on the bottom has just received ten bucks as reported in the Onion. At this rate the dough Summers and Geithner are giving to the bankers, auto companies and Wall Streeters should get to us by 2036. Hang in there.


The Financial Markets: Our New God

by John P on March 27, 2009

southpark 265x300 The Financial Markets: Our New God

Liberated from the tyranny of King George III, having fought back the Axis Powers, the Evil Empire, America once stood for freedom.  But there is a new god, and a tyrannical one at that.  Paul Krugman writes today ”that top officials in the Obama administration are still in the grip of the market mystique.  They still believe in the magic of the financial marketplace and in the prowess of the wizards who perform that magic.”

Meanwhile, George Soros said to a standing room only, call the fire department, overcapacity crowd at the New America Foundation’s economic growth conference yesterday that we are in the midst of a popping “super bubble” one that has been in the making for a generation, enabled by a false ideology, “market fundamentalism.”  This is a teaser for his latest book, just released, “The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What it Means.”
Busy?  No time to read the latest books?  My favorite economics blog, Calculated Risk, put up a video link of a snippet of a South Parkepisode that explains economics better than Krugman does.  Full episode here, for graduate economics students, click onMargaritaville.  Apologies to Jimmy Buffett.


Big Inflation Virtually Inevitable

by John P on March 26, 2009

Paul Volcker 1 Big Inflation Virtually Inevitable

The Federal Government’s hell-bent for leather desire to thaw the credit markets has now put the worry of inflation front and center.  When the cryptic former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker begins to warn of “all these dollars coming tumbling down on us” if we continue the easy money, we should pay attention.  At a recentWall Street Journal conference Volcker, who successfully tamed the inflationary cycle of the 1960s and 1970s, make this critique of the Federal Reserve: “I get a little nervous when I see the Federal Reserve announcements that they want to have the amount of inflation that’s conducive to recovery.  I don’t know what ‘the amount of inflation that’s conducive to recovery’ would be appropriate.  I’d much rather they say that they want to maintain stability in the currency, which is conducive to confidence and recovery.”

In other words, when the government wants to stimulate the economy, it should do it with its ability to tax, borrow and spend.  The Federal Reserve, in Volcker’s world, has but one job, maintain the value of the currency.  Which Volcker seems to think it is not doing, nor does Warren Buffet, who predicts the “onslaught of inflation” in his 2008 letter to his shareholders.


geithner bear bailout Geithner Bails Out Wall Street, Ignores Main Street

Last Laugh of the Financial Elites

Wall Street boomed yesterday, apparently driven by institutional investors who have been given the deal of their lifetimes by Treasury Secretary Geithner. Big investors will be able to buy toxic assets, created by the banks and AIG, with a 93% subsidy from the same American taxpayers who got #$%ed over in the first place - investors will get big gains if the assets recover, and suffer no losses if this whole thing continues to sink.

This plan has one primary objective, get the stock market going again. The Treasury Secretary has made it his job to rescue the stock market. Not the housing market, not the millions of people who are losing their homes, not main street, just Wall Street. This plan gives huge subsidies to investors to take the toxic assets off the books of the banks so that the bank stocks will go back up. It is very difficult to see how that trickles down to a small business loan or a new home mortgage. In fact it takes the same kind of creative gimmickry we once saw from these same bankers to imagine this latest two trillion dollars doing anything but giving a temporary bump to the stock markets.

Enjoy the bump boys, it cost us dearly.


First published at Huffington Post.


Some of the biggest polluters in the country sent a promising signal a few months back when they came together as the US Climate Action Partnership with a unified proposal to solve climate change. While it was weaker than scientists say it needs to be, and loose on just how much these companies planned to enrich themselves if their proposal actually became law, it was nevertheless a breakthrough and a couple of environmental groups even supported it.

But smart skeptics know to be wary. Why? Because in the legislative game, when trillions of dollars in permits for the right to emit carbon dioxide are at stake, many of these companies follow a distinct pattern. The CEOs make sweet public pronouncements about caring for the earth, earnestly written by corporate affairs officers who may have even studied at fine places like the Yale School of Forestry. But when it comes down to crafting the legislation behind the doors of congress, the CEOs send in an entirely different team — cynical, hard-bitten lobbyists who know how to get what their companies need to maximize quarterly profits. It’s that simple. And their favorite tool is cash, in the form of campaign contributions.

So when we want to estimate how sincere a company is in its commitment to stop global warming, we have to go past the nice speeches. It’s important to look at the recipients of the campaign contributions and then ask, where do these members stand on the policies proposed in the CEOs speeches?

A quick analysis answering just this question was just released by non-profit group Clean Air Watch. Elizabeth Kolbert called it “Donating to the Deniers” on The New Yorker. It shows the companies of US CAP funneling more than a half-a-million dollars into the campaign coffers of congress’ biggest climate deniers for the 2008 election cycle; Rep. Barton ($106,500), Rep. Boehner ($162,500), Rep. Cantor ($109,500), Sen. Inhofe ($50,500) and Sen. McConnell ($99,000). Those trying the hardest to do something about global warming didn’t fare so well; Rep. Markey ($8,000), Rep. Pelosi ($47,500), Rep. Waxman ($8,000) and Sen. Boxer ($12,200).

This is hypocrisy for sure, the only question then, is from which side of the CEOs mouth are the lobbyists getting their orders when the details of any climate plan are being finalized. Any bets?


First published at the Huffington Post.


Best Response to AIG Bailout

by John P on March 18, 2009


Commentary on the AIG bailout from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show.