Cue the igloos.
The winter blizzard set to paralyze the East Coast has given climate change deniers the perfect opportunity to proclaim, once again, that global warming is a hoax, that several feet of snow prove the planet is as cold as ever, that the Earth is flat: You can tell by looking outside. Common sense.
During a similar snowstorm in 2010, the family of one of the nation’s leading flat-earthers, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., built an igloo on the National Mall. His daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren deposited a sign across the structure that read “Al Gore’s New Home,” in mockery of one of the saner voices on the risks of climate change.
This latest storm has produced plenty of igloo material but no evidence that Gore is wrong. Sorry, but the Earth is, in fact, a sphere — no matter what you see as you look out your bedroom window. Similarly, the planet is warming — no matter how cold it is outside your bedroom window.
Earlier this month, climate scientists released a report saying that 2015 was the warmest year on record for the planet, shattering the previous record that had been set by a very warm 2014. El Niño’s winds contributed to last year’s heat, but the bulk of it is a consequence of human activity, scientists said.
By now, the science is settled. Shouldn’t we be talking about solutions? Shouldn’t our politicians be leading a national discussion about ways to build on the climate accord that President Obama signed in Paris?
One of the most promising answers is a carbon tax, a way to raise prices on the fossil fuels that create much of the environmental havoc. A price hike would help to discourage use by everyone, from the executives at coal-fired electric plants to motorists who drive alone to and from work.
A carbon tax is even more compelling in this era of rapidly falling petroleum prices. While cheap gas helps the family budget, it simply encourages us to use more of it. And, oddly, it even encourages car buyers to skip the smaller, more efficient models and opt for bigger gas guzzlers. At the end of 2015, fuel economy for new vehicles was falling, likely reflecting more purchases of pickup trucks and SUVs, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.
It might seem perverse to suggest a carbon tax — or “fee,” as some prefer to call it — just as average households are getting a break from gas prices. After all, the American middle class is still struggling with wage stagnation.
But those households need not be penalized. There are already detailed plans for protecting low- and middle-income households from the budget pinch of a carbon tax, which would affect not only gasoline but also home energy prices.
The bigger problem is that a carbon tax has no chance of passing a recalcitrant Republican Congress, many of whose members still insist that climate change isn’t real. The few GOP moderates who had, in the past, acknowledged human-caused climate change — New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, for instance — dare not say so anymore.
It hasn’t always been this way inside the Republican Party. As The Wall Street Journal has noted, “Republicans, not Democrats, first championed market-based systems to control pollution.” In 2008, GOP nominee John McCain and his Democratic rival, Obama, had similar proposals for a carbon tax.
Nowadays, though, the carbon tax is anathema to an irrational Republican electorate. Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, has said that any GOP candidate who supported a carbon tax “would be at a severe disadvantage in the Republican nomination process.” That helps explain why not a word has been uttered in support of it.
But that’s no reason to give up. Environmentalists and their allies have to keep plugging away at rational solutions, playing the long game. There really is no choice. Global warming is a crisis, no matter how big a blizzard batters the East Coast, and no matter how many igloos the Inhofe clan builds.
By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; Featured Post, The National Memo, January 23, 2016
There is a constant flow of headlines these days confirming the mess we’ve made: “Looks Like Rain Again. And Again”; “Alaska Will Keep Melting”; “Climate Change a Worry to Central Bankers, Too”; “Warning on Climate Risk: Worst to Come.”
This is far from a natural phenomenon. A handful of corporate interests are causing these catastrophes. Oil, coal, auto and a few other industrial powers have profited for decades by spewing fossil fuel contaminants into the world’s atmosphere.
Some experts were speaking out about this mess nearly 40 years ago:
“There is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” wrote James Black in 1978.
“Over the past several years, a clear scientific consensus has emerged,” said Roger Cohen in September 1982. “There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the Earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere.”
The significance of these early calls to action is that they came from Exxon!
Inside Climate News revealed in an investigative series released this fall that the oil superpower (now infamous for its relentless campaign of lies to discredit climate science) was briefly a paragon of scientific integrity. From 1978 through the ’80s the corporation’s research headquarters were a buzzing hive of farsighted inquiry into the “greenhouse effect,” as the process of climate change was then called.
But in 1988, the elegant space inhabited by principle was suddenly invaded by the indelicate demands of profit. Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s renowned climate expert, testified to Congress that fossil pollution of Earth’s atmosphere had already surpassed the crisis point. “Global warming has begun,” Hanson concluded.
Then the United Nations’ intergovernmental panel on climate change issued an authoritative study in 1990 concluding that the warming was happening and the cause was emissions from fossil fuels.
With that, Exxon dismantled and defunded its research team. Ever since, it’s been the shameful, self-serving leader of a voodoo “science” campaign to keep the world hooked on the fossil fuels that provide its profits.
Their strategy was to create an incessant noise machine, fueled with hundreds of millions of industry dollars, to spread the false narrative that scientists are “uncertain” about climate change. In a confidential 1998 memo, ExxonMobil’s senior environmental lobbyist stated the Orwellian goal of this corporate campaign: “Victory will be achieved when … average citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science,” and when “recognition of uncertainty becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’”
Their many tactics included: forming a lobbying combine in 1989 to sow doubt among public officials about the need for government action; placing a very costly, decade-long series of essays in newspapers denigrating the very scientists it previously nurtured and the science reports that it published; and trying to get the government’s chief global warming official to decry the uncertainty of climate research (then, when he refused, got the incoming Bush-Cheney regime to fire him). They also made their CEOs into hucksters of bunkum, with such lines as “the earth is cooler today than it was 20 years ago” and “it is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of next century will be significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now” and “what if everything we do, it turns out that our (climate) models are lousy, and we don’t get the (rising temperatures) we predict?”
If these denials of reality sound familiar, that’s because they’re exactly the same ones we’re now hearing from such Einsteins as The Donald (who recently tweeted, “I’m in Los Angeles and it’s freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax”), The Cruzer (who claimed that climate change is a liberal plot for “massive government control of the economy … and every aspect of our lives”) and Jeb (who said, “It’s convoluted. And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant”).
The deniers are not only on the wrong side of science and history, but also on the wrong side of most voters. A New York Times poll taken last January found that only 13 percent of our people (and only 24 percent of Repubs) said they would be more likely to vote for 2016 presidential candidates who contend that climate change is a hoax and America should keep burning oil and coal. A September poll by three GOP firms found that 56 percent of Republicans agree that the climate is changing and 72 percent support accelerating the use of renewable fuels.
The real power, and our great hope, is in the People’s rebellion: marches, civil disobedience, trainings, teach-ins and other actions to pressure leaders to put people and the planet over corporate profiteering, while also raising global public awareness about the crucial need to get off of fossil fuels and into renewable energy. As 350.org puts it, “Politicians aren’t the only ones with power.” So the coalition will be in the global streets, on the Internet, in schools, churches and all other available forums, to rally you and me to save ourselves.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, December 16, 2015
“A Consequential President”: Obama’s Record Makes Him A Major Historical Figure In Ways Most Presidents Are Not
In early January 1999, as President Clinton’s penultimate year in office was getting underway, columnist George Will could hardly contain his “disgust” for the Democrat in the White House. He published a piece condemning Clinton – one of many similar columns for the Washington Post conservative – but he did so in a very specific way.
Clinton is “defined by littleness,” Will said, adding, “He is the least consequential president” since Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.
It’s arguably the harshest of all possible criticisms. All presidents quickly grow accustomed to a wide variety of rebukes, but no one ever wants to be dismissed as inconsequential. It’s another way of saying your presidency is forgettable. It doesn’t matter. History won’t judge you unkindly because judgments require significance, and you’re just … irrelevant.
More than a decade later, President Obama has also received his share of criticisms, but it’s probably fair to say “inconsequential” is an adjective that no one will use to describe his tenure.
We talked the other day about the remarkable stretch of successes the president has had just since the midterm elections, and it led Matt Yglesias to note the “incredible amount” Obama has accomplished over the last six years.
It has been, in short, a very busy and extremely consequential lame-duck session. One whose significance is made all the more striking by the fact that it follows an electoral catastrophe for Obama’s party. And that is the Obama era in a microcosm. Democrats’ overwhelming electoral win in 2008 did not prove to be a “realigning” election that handed the party enduring political dominance. Quite the opposite. But it did touch off a wave of domestic policymaking whose scale makes Obama a major historical figure in the way his two predecessors won’t be.
I agree, though I’d go a bit further than just his two more recent predecessors and argue that Obama’s record makes him a major historical figure in ways most presidents are not.
This isn’t even a normative argument, per se. Obama’s critics, especially on the right, can and should make their case that the president’s agenda is misguided and bad for the country. A leader can have a wealth of accomplishments, but those deeds must still be evaluated on the merits.
What Obama’s detractors cannot credibly claim is that those accomplishments do not exist. By now, the list is probably familiar to many observers: the president’s Recovery Act rescued the country from the Great Recession. His Affordable Care Act brought access to medical care to millions of families. Obama rescued the American auto industry, brought new safeguards to Wall Street, overhauled the student loan system, and vastly expanded LGBT rights.
He improved food safety, consumer protections, and national-service opportunities. He signed the New START treaty, ordered the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, reversed a failed U.S. policy towards Cuba, and used the Clean Air Act to make strides in addressing the climate crisis. He brought new hope to 5 million immigrants living in the United States, moved the federal judiciary in a more progressive direction, and helped restore America’s standing on the global stage.
The list goes on and on.
Yglesias is right that neither Clinton nor Bush can point to a similar litany of policy breakthroughs, but truth be told, very few presidents can. Note than when Paul Krugman praised Obama in his Rolling Stone cover story a couple of months ago, he used two distinct adjectives: “Obama has emerged as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history.”
All of this comes with two meaningful caveats. The first, as noted above, is that being “consequential” is not evidence of an a priori good. One can acknowledge a president’s accomplishments without liking them (or him). Tom Brady may be a consequential quarterback, but if you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re probably not impressed.
The second is that there’s a degree of fragility to some of this record. Next year, for example, Republicans on the Supreme Court may very well tear down the American health care system. In time, they may also derail Obama’s climate agenda. Congressional Republicans will spend the foreseeable future chipping away at everything from immigration progress to Wall Street safeguards. And if the nation elects a GOP successor for Obama, the next president may very well undo much of what this president has done.
But at least for now, we probably won’t see any columns about Obama similar to what George Will said in 1999.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 19, 2014
On a day when we pause to consider those things for which Americans ought to be thankful, I feel obliged to mention my appreciation for many of the things that Barack Obama has accomplished as President of the United States, and my profound relief that he is in the Oval Office rather than any of the Republicans who sought to displace him.
On this day, it seems appropriate to reflect not only on Obama’s considerable achievements, but on how much worse our situation might be if his opponents had been in control of events from January 2009 until now.
With our continuous immersion in harsh commentary from factions and ideologues across the spectrum, a mindless negativity tends to dominate assessments of his presidency. He is certainly more flawed than his most zealous supporters would ever have admitted six or seven years ago, which is why some of them are disproportionately disappointed today; he has made regrettable mistakes in both policy and politics; and, as we saw in this month’s midterm election, he has suffered declines in public confidence that injured his image and the fortunes of his party. His approval ratings remain low.
And yet, whatever his fellow citizens may feel, the undeniable truth is that Obama righted the nation in a moment of deep crisis and set us on a navigable course toward the future, despite bitter, extreme, and partisan opposition that was eager to sink us rather than see him succeed.
So I’m thankful that Obama was president at the nadir of the Great Recession, rather than John McCain, Mitt Romney, or any other Republican who might have insisted on austerity and prevented the stimulus spending that saved us from economic catastrophe. It wasn’t large enough or long enough to prevent the human suffering of unemployment, but it was sufficient to bring recovery, more rapidly than most countries have recovered after a major panic.
The simple proof may be found in the record of growth that outpaced every other industrialized country in the world – a record that seems even more impressive because the crash began here, as a consequence of irresponsibility and criminality in American financial markets. Undergirding the stimulus was his courageous decision to bail out the automotive industry, denounced as “socialism,” saved at least a million jobs and prevented the further deindustrialization of America.
I’m also thankful that Obama – a politician who respects science and listens to scientists — was president as we began to encounter the difficult realities of climate change. Having declared his determination to double the production of renewable energy in this country, he has far exceeded that objective already. Under his guidance, the federal government has acted against excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, required automakers to double their fuel economy by 2025, ordered agencies to achieve sustainability in operations and purchases, and invested tens of billons in smart electric grids, conservation, and clean fuels.
I’m thankful that he oversaw passage of financial reform, despite his overly cautious failure to prosecute the financial felons who caused the crisis and his refusal to take down any of the big banks. Like the stimulus and the auto bailout, the Dodd-Frank Act is imperfect but useful and necessary – and wouldn’t have occurred if the bankers and their most abject Republican servants had been fully in charge.
I’m even more thankful that he pushed through the most extensive and generous reform in American health care since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act – which, despite its troubled debut, has proved to be a remarkable success. It isn’t Medicare for all, but Obamacare is insuring and protecting millions of Americans who would otherwise be subject to the Tea Party Republican policy, pithily summarized by that mob screaming “let ‘em die” at the GOP debate in 2012. Health care costs are falling, Medicare’s solvency has improved, and millions more of the country’s poor and working families are covered by Medicaid, in spite of Republican legislators and governors who would, quite literally, let them die.
Finally, I’m appreciative of many other policy decisions Obama has made – promoting human rights by ending anti-gay discrimination in the military, banning the Bush era tolerance of torture, outlawing unequal pay for women, and most recently his executive order on immigration. I’m grateful that he is seeking peace through negotiation with Iran, instead of going directly (and insanely) to war as McCain or Romney would almost surely have done. I’m glad he had the guts to order the operation that finished Osama bin Laden.
None of this diminishes the president’s political errors, his sometimes naïve attitude about “bipartisanship,” his excessive deference to the national security and defense establishments, or his persistent susceptibility to wrongheaded cant about entitlements and deficits.
But he remains admirably cool under attacks that would madden most people. He refuses to mimic the cynical, mindless, and ugly conduct of his adversaries. He still proclaims American values of shared responsibility and prosperity, of cooperation and community, of malice toward none and charity for all.
In different ways, those ideals were epitomized by the presidential founders of this national holiday – George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt – and their persistence is reason for thanksgiving, too.
By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, November 27, 2014
“Government Is Not Just About Sugar”: The GOP Helps Americans Appreciate The Importance Of Government
There’s a lot of terrible news for Republicans inside the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, but one of the worst bulletins is this: Americans are becoming more appreciative of government.
The poll shows that 52 percent of respondents said that government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people. That figure is up four points since June, and is at the highest level since July of 2008, when it stood at 53 percent.
The economic crisis was building during the summer of 2008, and people were growing increasingly weary of President George W. Bush’s laissez-faire attitude. Barack Obama’s more optimistic vision of government’s possibilities became infectious and helped propel him to victory, but after he took office, the popularity of government, as measured by that question, quickly fell and has been below 50 percent for most of his presidency.
Now it is back up, and Republicans have only themselves to thank. There’s nothing better than shutting down government to remind people of how much they need it. The television footage of shuttered offices and national parks, as well as people who are suffering because of lost wages and federal assistance, has had a significant effect.
So did the 2008-2009 recession and its aftermath. More people came into the government’s orbit, seeking assistance or benefiting from stimulus money, including much of the automobile industry. The poll showed that nearly a third of respondents said their family was personally affected by the current shutdown, compared to only 18 percent during the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996. The budget crisis has even made health care reform substantially more popular than it was just a few weeks ago.
This is one of the great existential fears of the right, of course, and is one of the few things uniting the various ideological wings of the Republican Party. Mitt Romney complained about the 47 percent of Americans who were “dependent on government,” and Senator Ted Cruz recently accused Mr. Obama of trying to get Americans “addicted to the sugar” of his health care law.
But this week, Americans know that government isn’t just about sugar. It’s a necessary part of their lives, and Americans expect it to be there when the private sector lets them down, as it did during the recession and as it has done on health care for so many years. Now as the Republicans’ abysmal new approval ratings show, voters are also gaining a clearer picture of precisely who in Washington is letting them down.
By: David Firestone, Editors Blog, The New York Times, October 11, 2013