To be a modern Republican in good standing, you have to believe — or pretend to believe — in two miracle cures for whatever ails the economy: more tax cuts for the rich and more drilling for oil. And with prices at the pump on the rise, so is the chant of “Drill, baby, drill.” More and more, Republicans are telling us that gasoline would be cheap and jobs plentiful if only we would stop protecting the environment and let energy companies do whatever they want.
Thus Mitt Romney claims that gasoline prices are high not because of saber-rattling over Iran, but because President Obama won’t allow unrestricted drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Meanwhile, Stephen Moore of The Wall Street Journal tells readers that America as a whole could have a jobs boom, just like North Dakota, if only the environmentalists would get out of the way.
The irony here is that these claims come just as events are confirming what everyone who did the math already knew, namely, that U.S. energy policy has very little effect either on oil prices or on overall U.S. employment. For the truth is that we’re already having a hydrocarbon boom, with U.S. oil and gas production rising and U.S. fuel imports dropping. If there were any truth to drill-here-drill-now, this boom should have yielded substantially lower gasoline prices and lots of new jobs. Predictably, however, it has done neither.
Why the hydrocarbon boom? It’s all about the fracking. The combination of horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing of shale and other low-permeability rocks has opened up large reserves of oil and natural gas to production. As a result, U.S. oil production has risen significantly over the past three years, reversing a decline over decades, while natural gas production has exploded.
Given this expansion, it’s hard to claim that excessive regulation has crippled energy production. Indeed, reporting in The Times makes it clear that U.S. policy has been seriously negligent — that the environmental costs of fracking have been underplayed and ignored. But, in a way, that’s the point. The reality is that far from being hobbled by eco-freaks, the energy industry has been given a largely free hand to expand domestic oil and gas production, never mind the environment.
Strange to say, however, while natural gas prices have dropped, rising oil production and a sharp fall in import dependence haven’t stopped gasoline prices from rising toward $4 a gallon. Nor has the oil and gas boom given a noticeable boost to an economic recovery that, despite better news lately, has been very disappointing on the jobs front.
As I said, this was totally predictable.
First up, oil prices. Unlike natural gas, which is expensive to ship across oceans, oil is traded on a world market — and the big developments moving prices in that market usually have little to do with events in the United States. Oil prices are up because of rising demand from China and other emerging economies, and more recently because of war scares in the Middle East; these forces easily outweigh any downward pressure on prices from rising U.S. production. And the same thing would happen if Republicans got their way and oil companies were set free to drill freely in the Gulf of Mexico and punch holes in the tundra: the effect on prices at the pump would be negligible.
Meanwhile, what about jobs? I have to admit that I started laughing when I saw The Wall Street Journal offering North Dakota as a role model. Yes, the oil boom there has pushed unemployment down to 3.2 percent, but that’s only possible because the whole state has fewer residents than metropolitan Albany — so few residents that adding a few thousand jobs in the state’s extractive sector is a really big deal. The comparable-sized fracking boom in Pennsylvania has had hardly any effect on the state’s overall employment picture, because, in the end, not that many jobs are involved.
And this tells us that giving the oil companies carte blanche isn’t a serious jobs program. Put it this way: Employment in oil and gas extraction has risen more than 50 percent since the middle of the last decade, but that amounts to only 70,000 jobs, around one-twentieth of 1 percent of total U.S. employment. So the idea that drill, baby, drill can cure our jobs deficit is basically a joke.
Why, then, are Republicans pretending otherwise? Part of the answer is that the party is rewarding its benefactors: the oil and gas industry doesn’t create many jobs, but it does spend a lot of money on lobbying and campaign contributions. The rest of the answer is simply the fact that conservatives have no other job-creation ideas to offer.
And intellectual bankruptcy, I’m sorry to say, is a problem that no amount of drilling and fracking can solve.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 15, 2012
Let’s take a look at sex and state legislatures.
Never a good combo. Lawmakers venture into murky waters when they attempt to deal with the mysteries of human reproduction. The results are generally short of scientific. Once, when I was covering the Connecticut House of Representatives, a bill introduced at the behest of professional musicians, “An Act Concerning Rhythm Machines,” was referred to the Public Health Committee under the assumption that it was about birth control.
That was a long time ago, but a definite high note. Normally when these matters come up in a state capitol, the result is not chuckles.
New Hampshire, for instance, seems to have developed a thing for linking sex and malignant disease. This week, the State House passed a bill that required that women who want to terminate a pregnancy be informed that abortions were linked to “an increased risk of breast cancer.”
As Terie Norelli, the minority leader, put it, the Legislature is attempting to make it a felony for a doctor “to not give a patient inaccurate information.”
And there’s more. One of the sponsors, Representative Jeanine Notter, recently asked a colleague whether he would be interested, “as a man,” to know that there was a study “that links the pill to prostate cancer.”
This was at a hearing on a bill to give employers a religious exemption from covering contraception in health care plans. The article Notter appeared to be referring to simply found that nations with high use of birth control pills among women also tended to have high rates of prostate cancer among men. Nobody claimed that this meant there was scientific evidence of a connection. You could also possibly discover that nations with the lowest per capita number of ferrets have a higher rate of prostate cancer.
Bringing the prostate into the fight was definitely a new wrinkle. But it’s getting very popular to try to legislate an abortion-breast cancer link. I suspect this is at least in part because politicians in some states are being forced to stretch to find new ways to torture women who want to end an unwanted pregnancy. It’s sort of like gun control — once your state already has guaranteed the right to wear concealed weapons into bars and churches, you’re going to have to start getting really creative to reaffirm a commitment to the Second Amendment.
Last year, South Dakota — which has a grand total of one abortion provider — instituted a 72-hour waiting period, plus a requirement that the woman undergo a lecture at one of the state’s anti-abortion pregnancy counseling centers.
This law is tied up by litigation. While they’re waiting, the legislators have improved upon their work, requiring the doctor to ask his patient — who may have already traveled for hours, waited for three days and gone through the counseling center harangue — questions including what her religious background is and how she thinks her family might react to the decision to end the pregnancy.
“South Dakota has taken the I.R.S. audit model and applied it to women’s reproduction,” said Ted Miller of Naral Pro-Choice America.
But about this cancer business.
“Now we’re seeing why legislatures getting into the practice of medicine is dangerous,” said Barbara Bollier, a Republican state representative in Kansas, where a bill requiring doctors to warn abortion patients about the breast cancer connection is pending.
Bollier is a retired anesthesiologist, who also formerly taught bioethics. If you wanted to have a résumé guaranteed to drive you crazy in the Kansas State Legislature, she’s got it.
We had a very interesting discussion over the phone about good science — what makes a reliable study, and how an early suggestion of a possible connection between abortions and breast cancer was overtaken by larger, better studies that showed no evidence of a link whatsoever. All of this has been shared with the Kansas Legislature, to no effect whatsoever.
Bollier has her finger on the moral to all this. When faced with a choice between scientific evidence and their personal and political preferences, legislators are not going to go with the statistics. I have warm memories of the committee of the Texas House of Representatives that last year rejected a bill to require that public school sex education classes be “medically accurate.”
Let’s refrain from discussing how the people who are preparing to legislate medical science are often the very same ones who scream about government overreach when health experts propose taxing sugary beverages.
Just try to envision yourself in a doctor’s office for a consult. Then imagine you’re joined by a state legislator. How many of you think the situation has been improved? Can I see a show of hands?
By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 16, 2012
Liberated from the fiction of actually trying to become president, Gingrich has become his truest self — a gleeful saboteur.
If there’s one thing we know about Newt Gingrich, it’s that he is a visionary. We know this because he tells us so, over and over again.
Even Gingrich, however, cannot quite envision a future in which he becomes the 2012 Republican nominee by securing a majority of delegates in advance of the convention this August. Instead, he has an altogether more revolutionary plan, as he told Greta Van Susteren on Wednesday:
I think it’s very possible we’re going to be at the end of all the primaries on June 26 and have nobody at 1,144.
And then we’re going to have a conversation about who would be the best person to defeat Barack Obama, and equally important, who’d be the best person to solve America’s problems and to move us in the right direction.
So next week in Louisiana is only half-time. We literally have half of all the delegates left to come. And I think we’ll keep picking up delegates. It’s a three-way race, I think, at the present time. I’m third among the three, but we’re continuing to campaign, continuing to develop ideas. And I have a hunch that just as has happened in the past, the more we watch Romney and Santorum fight, the more attractive I’ll look and the more I will regain strength as people look at my solutions, rather than politics as usual.
I don’t pretend to be a traditional politician. I’m somebody who wants to really have very large-scale change in Washington.
In various reports, Gingrich and his supporters continue to insist that he has no plans to quit the race. “I don’t care,” he said in another Fox interview Tuesday, in response to the question of whether he felt pressure to leave.
There has been much analysis of whether Gingrich remaining in the race helps Mitt Romney (by taking votes away from Rick Santorum) or, rather, helps Santorum (by taking delegates off the table and making it harder for Romney to get to the magic number of 1,144). I am agnostic on that question, though I tend to think Santorum overestimates his chances in a one-on-one with Romney.
But there is something frankly delightful, to coin a phrase, about seeing Gingrich totally unleashed in this way. No longer must he maintain the thin fiction of running a campaign with the actual, realistic goal of becoming president. He is free to act as a pure agent of chaos.
By: Molly Ball, The Atlantic, March 15, 2012
A cleansing bout of craziness in 2012 could be just what the GOP needs.
I’m talking about a nominee so far to the right that conservative populists get their fondest wish—and the Republican Party is forced to learn from the result. Namely, that there is such a thing as too extreme.
The dangerous groupthink delusion being pushed in conservative circles over the last few years is that ideological purity and electability are one and the same. It is an idea more rooted in faith than reason.
If Mitt Romney does finally wrestle the nomination to the ground, and then loses to Obama, conservatives will blame the loss on his alleged moderation. The right wing take-away will be to try to nominate a true ideologue in 2016.
But if someone like Rick Santorum gets the nomination in an upset, the party faithful will get to experience the adrenaline rush of going off a cliff together, like Thelma and Louise—elation followed by an electoral thud.
This could be educational. After all, sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you recognize your problems.
Giving a self-identified “full-spectrum conservative” theo-con like Santorum the nomination would mean we’d really have a “choice, not an echo” election in November. Republicans would be forced to confront the fact that talk about Satan attacking America, negative obsessions with homosexuality, contraception and opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest alienates far more people than they attract.
Our politics are looking more and more like a cult because of unprecedented polarization—any issue where there is deviation from accepted orthodoxy leads to an attempted purge. It is absurd that clownish conservative caricatures like Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain were briefly elevated to the top of the polls while more sober-minded presidential candidates with executive experience like Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman Jr. failed to gain any traction. The result is the weakest Republican field in living memory.
That the conservative favorite from 2008 is now derided as a RINO says more about the rightward lurch of the Republican Party than it does about Romney. You reap what you sow.
The Tea Party driven win of 2010 seems to have taught some in the GOP that firing up the base with extreme anti-Obama rhetoric leads to victories, and so candidates like Gingrich happily comply with talk about “Kenyan anti-colonial” mindsets and “secular socialist machines.” The obvious fact that this works better in comparatively low-turnout, high-intensity midterm elections than in the broader, more representative turnout of presidential years has been ignored, willfully or otherwise.
Likewise, it’s been scrubbed from many conservative’s memories that the Tea Party in 2010 used libertarian appeals to attract independents—avoiding more polarizing social issues and instead keeping a tight focus on fiscal ones like reducing the deficit and debt.
But in the wake of 2010, we’ve seen the social-conservative agenda reemerge with a vengeance, because Republican legislators in statehouses and Congress made it a priority. Not surprisingly, this has alienated independents, women, and young voters outside the conservative tribe.
But in a tribal time, ideological apparatchiks have outsize influence. They come to debates armed with their own facts. In their Kool-Aid-laden retelling of recent political history, unsuccessful GOP nominees like John McCain lost because of his independent center-right profile (rather than a backlash against the excesses of the Bush administration or the nomination of Sarah Palin). Barry Goldwater’s 44-state loss to Lyndon Johnson in 1964 is recast as a triumph because it allegedly led to Reagan’s landslide … 16 years later. Nixon’s 49-state win in 1972 is stripped from the history books as winning candidates with shades of gray in their resume—Ike’s successful center-right two terms, George H.W. Bush’s country-club conservatism, or even W’s 2000 call for “compassionate conservatism”—are ignored as ideologically inconvenient.
Goldwater would be attacked as a RINO today for his rejection of the religious right, his wife’s cofounding of Planned Parenthood in Arizona, or his early support of gays serving in the military. Some conservative activists turned on Reagan during his White House years (the editor of the Conservative Digest memorably wrote in the early ’80s, “Sometimes I wonder how much of a Reaganite Reagan really is”). Almost by definition, absolutists oversimplify, turning everything into a fight between angels and devils.
Giving conservative activists everything they want in a presidential nominee would ultimately be clarifying for the Republican Party. It would break the fever that has afflicted American politics turning fellow citizens against one another. It would restore a sense of balance, recognizing that it is unwise to systemically ignore the 40 percent of American voters who identify themselves as independent or the 35 percent who are centrist. After all, a successful political party requires both wings to fly.
There’s nothing like losing 40 states to refocus the mind.
By: John Avlon, The Daily Beast, March 16, 2012
First, a bill that gives immunity to doctors who lie to couples about the results of their prenatal tests in order to prevent them from getting an abortion. Now, a bill that would give your boss the green light to fire you for using birth control. You think I am kidding? I wish. For a decade now, Arizona insurance companies have been required to provide coverage for contraception just like other prescriptions. But, because they saw an opening to score some political points, some politicians there are suddenly moving to take that coverage away from women and their families.
And we aren’t talking here just about exemptions for religiously affiliated employers like Catholic hospitals and universities. We are talking about authorizing secular, for-profit employers to deny a woman coverage for birth control if the employer doesn’t believe that she and her partner should be allowed to have sex without getting pregnant. Yup, that’s right. If the owner of the Taco Bell where you work opposes birth control, Arizona legislators want to give him a legal right to deny you insurance coverage for your pills.
Sadly, that isn’t even the half of it. You may want to sit down for this one. Arizona legislators know that whether or not her insurance covers it, a woman may get the prescription she needs to prevent an unintended pregnancy. They want to give her boss the right to control that too. The bill they are pushing would not only allow employers to take the insurance coverage away, but it would also make it easier for an employer who finds out that his employee uses birth control to fire her. You heard me right . . . to fire her. And I thought Rush Limbaugh’s comments were as low as you could go on this one.
The Arizona bill has, incredibly, already passed one house, but we can still stop it. We’ve seen what can happen if we make our voices heard. So, if you’ve had enough; if you think the decision about whether to have a child is one for you and your partner, not your boss and your senator, I urge you to speak up now. Tell the legislators in Arizona to stop playing politics with women’s health and put personal and private decisions back in the hands of a woman and her family.
By: Jennifer Dalven, Reproductive Freedom Project, ACLU Blog, March 12, 2012