MOMENT OF TRUTH IN COPENHAGEN
1. CHINA POISED TO VETO ANY DEAL | Beijing may kill any chance of agreement. China has been signalling for days its antipathy to a possible deal it sees favoring the West. If Copenhagen wasn't the glorified trade show it is, Beijing would long ago have been cajoled into helping forge a new regime it can live with. Without China's signature, Copenhagen will amount to a mere testing of the waters. And maybe that's a prerequisite to the real talks next year. For those of you keeping score at home, Reuters highlights the likeliest Copenhagen outcomes.
The German chancellor has been a forceful adovcate of an ambitous Kyoto II.
2. LOOKING AHEAD | A two-tier process will emerge over the next few months. Ahead of next year's real, bet-the-Earth talks, the rich nations will agree in backroom deals to a set of ambitious, binding emissions-reduction targets. And the poorer ones will align on less challenging and non-binding "guidelines," or a mere "blueprint." One has heard "blueprint" a lot this week. In the months ahead, conciliatory leaders will emerge to informally head each faction. I'm betting it will be the re-elected Angela Merkel for the advanced economies. (Gordon Brown is a lame duck; Sarko is mercurial). Among the poorer nations, a working group of, say, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Chile and South Africa might help bring less-advantaged nations to an agreement.
2. FINANCIAL BREAKTHROUGH AT CLIMATE TALKS | Agreement on $22-billion fund for poor nations. Yesterday, Japan alone pledged a stunning $19 billion to help less-advantage nations with reforestation and other projects to curb global warming. Europe already is in for $10.6 billion. U.S. will help raise $100 billion between now and 2020 from variety of domestic and foreign sources. Money won't bring the likes of China around to tougher reduction targets. But the funding does show Western goodwill going into next year's final negotiations on Kyoto II. Recall the Japanese also picked up most of the tab for the Persian Gulf War.
Demonstrators in Copenhagen.
3. PITY OBAMA AT THESE TALKS | Rare among the world leaders in the Danish capital today, Obama's hands are tied. Most of his peers, heading rich and poor nations alike, lead parliamentary majorities (Angela Merkel) or ruling coalitions (Stephen Harper) that can impose a Kyoto II that they agreed on next year. Same obviously goes for the many dictators. Obama, by contrast, must have any treaty he agrees to ratified by the Senate. That's the same Senate that was highly unlikely to ratify the original Kyoto, so that the pro-Kyoto Clinton didn't even bother asking. And the same Senate that effectively killed Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations, which was toothless without the U.S. as a member. Given the collective sway of today's GOP and blue-dog Democrats, getting Senate passage of next year's formalized replacement for Kyoto will be very tough sledding.
4. HARPER ARRIVES WITH NOTHING TO CONTRIBUTE | Pretty much nada. We do hold some kind of record with the demonstrators who give out the Fossil of the Day awards. Our emissions-reductions targets fall short of other advanced nations. And earlier this week we began seeking special dispensation for the Athabasca tar sands eco-disaster. Here's how we've been holding our heads up in Scandinavia. Whenever asked why we're even there, Canadian officials point out that when asked about Canadian obstructionism, the chief U.N. climate-change negotiator hastened to say Canada is playing a "constructive" role. What the heck was he supposed to say? Until this things is over, and certain causes are well and truly lost, everyone's playing a constructive role. What's faintly amusing is that the government has talked itself into believing it is being constructive. (Cartoon: H/T The Progressive Rambler.)
A Greenpeace activist trots past the Danish parliament.
5. RABBLE | Much silliness on parade. And I'm not talking about the over-caffienated protesters. To understand why some nations, conspicuously the U.S., hold the U.N. General Assembly in contempt, observe the nonsense when the Assemby goes on a road trip. Among the scores of world leaders in Copenhagen, there have been the predicatable, irrelevant anti-Israel tirades from the Iranian delegation. We've had Hugo Chavez's paranoic rants about "Western imperialis," And the topper, Robert Mugabe scolding rich countries that "burp and belch" out greenhouse gases while expecting poor countries like his to join in repairing the damage. Like Polanski and Pinochet, the genocidal Mugabe should have been hand-cuffed while there was the chance and led off to the nearby Hague for trial as a war criminal. (See Sarah Lawson's review of Douglas Rogers' The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe.)
RECORD NUMBER OF AMERICANS WITHOUT HEALTH INSURANCE | CDC says almost 20% of U.S. population - or almost 60 million Americans - went without health insurance at some point since January 2008. Crisis is compounded in U.S. system since insurance usually is tied to jobs, and 15 million Americans are unemployed during the current epic recession. Millions more are "under-employed" in low-paying part-time jobs without health and other benefits. Another 45 million people lacked insurance when the recession began. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's report comes as Congress debates Obama's top domestic initiative of reforming the $2.5-trillion healthcare system, including mandatory universal health insurance.
Central bankers Mark Carney of Canada and Ben Bernanke of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board.
TALE OF TWO ECONOMIES | Canada risks housing boom, U.S. remains mired in slump. Mark Carney, governor of Bank of Canada, is now likely to begin raising rates a little earlier than forecast, by next spring. Record housing prices across Canada are a sign economy might start over-heating (!) Good for him in spotting even a hint of an emerging housing bubble. Speaking of Ben Bernanke, who didn't spot the unprecedented U.S. housing bubble that tipped the world into its worst recession since the Dirty Thirties, he by contrast is expected to keep Fed's key rate at record low of 0.25% until late next year, maybe into 2011. Why is obvious: persistent high unemployment and sluggish consumer spending means the U.S. economy still needs Fed's assistance. Time's Person of the Year? Okay, I grant Bernanke, a stumbler at the outset, eventually was helpful in restoring financial-markets stability beginning late last year. But equally so was Hank Paulsen, and for that matter, George W. Bush, who championed the unpopular but very necessary $700-billion bank bailout package. Time appears to be honoring the arsonist who returned to help douse the flames. Greenspan, the guy with the matches and bucket of mid-grade gas, also was a Time Firebug Person of the Year. I would have chosen Madoff. Not only the spectacular size of his Ponzi scheme ($60-odd billion) but the 20-some-years' duration.
U.S. HOUSE APPROVES MINI-STIMULUS | More aid to states, curb teacher layoffs. Garners not one GOP vote. And plenty of deficit-shy Dems vote against bill's extension of jobless benefits, among other salves to a wounded nation. Man, these folks don't get it. A walk through the ocean of their collective economic intelligence would scarcely get your feet wet. The bill will likely will die next year in the Senate, which is even more averse to spending when the economy's on its back. Well, people get the government they deserve. The chattering class is working from Mitch McConnell's talking points on the deficit spectre, Out in the real world, 15 million Americans are out of work, and the real jobless rate - including people who've given up looking, is 17.5%. Apparently those folks aren't writing their elected officials, or throwing plaster replicas of the Milan Duomo at perma-tanned John Boehner.
PETE ROSE NOW A SHOO-IN FOR HALL OF FAME | Tiger Woods is AP's athlete of the decade. Followed by Lance Armstrong, who gets a pass on his performance-enhancing drug use, and Roger Federer, who proves that nice guys finish third. Reuters columnist argues at least the Woods scandal will teach deep-pocket sponsors not to hitch their wagons to celebrities. And I am a monkey's uncle.
AFGHAN DETAINEE WHISTLEBLOWER'S RIPOSTE | Richard Colvin returns fire against Tory slurs. Never thought I'd agree with Norman Spector on anything, but he makes sense calling for a public inquiry. Yesterday, seven Tory MPs shut down a subcommittee probing the Canadian Forces' detainee-handover practices to Afghan National Army torturers, forcing its cancellation. Hmm. Earlier this week, "Environment Minister" Jim Prentice watered all over developing-world delegates who boycotted a Copenhagen-summit meeting, accusing them of impeding progress on talks. No one will ever accuse Team Harper of having a sense of irony.
PELOSI ON NON-WARPATH | Funding for Afghan mission will have to come from GOP votes. Which will happen, if pro-Afghan-war McCain has his way. Abdicating leadership, Pelosi says it will be Obama's job to sell the Afghan mission funding. This enables Sen Jon Kyl (R-Az) to deny obvious truth of GOP obstructionism, saying: "It seems to me that we've been more supportive of the president on some issues than his own party." Well, one issue. If only there was a Dem brain trust, to create and maintain a united front. But where would they get the brains? From a Rottweiler breeder.
BANK OF AMERICA GETS NEW CEO | No outsiders willing to take the job. Insider Brian Moynihan (shown) gets the nod to run U.S.'s largest bank. Previous experience fixing problems in retail, other units. Celebrity CEOs stayed away in droves because of pay cap applied to bailed-out banks. So this will be a test if the presumably peanut-sized compensation for Moynihan will result in BofA slipping under the waves - which the current orthodoxy on pay-for-performance would dictate. Heaven help the excessive-pay crowd if Moynihan presides over a stunning turnaround, which I would not bet against. Insiders typically make better CEOs. BofA's in much better shape than that other Wall Street basket case, Citigroup. And BofA's geographic and product diversity eclipses its N.A. rivals.
LAUGH OR CRY? | A book 99 years overdue is returned to New Bedford Public Library. The Massachusetts library says the fine comes to $361.35 - a penny a day since 1910 - but decides not to impose it. My big question: Did anyone read the book while it was signed out all that time? The volume in question is, Facts I Ought to Know About the Government of My Country.
QUOTE OF THE DAY | "There was no progress overnight in consultations on how to consult." -an unidentified official at Copenhagen tells Reuters this morning that this is not the end. This is not the beginning of the end. This is not even the beginning of the beginning. (With apologies to Churchill.)
Courtesy The New Yorker, Dec. 14 edition.
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