"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Congratulations Republicans!”: On Climate Change, Republicans Are Truly Exceptional

Speaking at the climate conference in Paris today, President Obama noted a way in which America is different from all other nations. Around the world, he said, concern about climate change “spans political parties.” Said Obama:

“I mean, you travel around Europe and you talk to leaders of governments and the opposition, and they are arguing about a whole bunch of things. One thing they’re not arguing about is whether the science of climate change is real and whether or not we’re going to have to do something about it.”

Nowhere else among the world’s major nations (and maybe the minor nations, too, though I don’t claim to be familiar with all 200 of them) is there a political party representing half the electorate which is adamantly opposed to doing anything to address climate change. So congratulations, Republicans: you have made America truly exceptional.

It’s important to note, however, that there is diversity of opinion within the GOP on this issue — to a point. At one end you have the denialists, who believe that climate change is not occurring at all. The people who believe this also tend to believe that the fact that it still snows in the winter constitutes proof that climate change isn’t happening, which shows the intellectual rigor they bring to this question. This group includes not only the notorious Sen. James Inhofe and a gaggle of less prominent congressional knuckleheads, but also presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee.

At the other end you have a few lonely Republican voices saying that climate change is a real problem that we should do something to address. Included in their number are two of the presidential candidates, Lindsey Graham and George Pataki. But the broad majority of the party’s elected officials fall into what we might call the uncertainty caucus. When you ask them whether climate change is happening, they say, “Maybe, sure, who knows?” Is it caused by human activity? “It’s possible, could be, how can we say for sure?” What should government do about it? “Absolutely nothing.” So while they might not sound as deranged as the denialists, their policy prescription is the same.

And while their argument in the past has always been that we can’t confront climate change because moving away from fossil fuels would destroy the economy, they’ve shifted their focus in recent weeks. Now when you ask the GOP presidential candidates about the issue, the response you’ll get is more likely to be, “How can we worry about climate change when ISIS is about to kill us all!!!” This is how the candidates have responded not just to President Obama’s belief in the seriousness of climate change, but to his mere attendance at the Paris conference, as if he should have instead stayed home to spend his time filling Americans with fear of terrorism.

“This is the president once again living in his fantasy world rather than the world as it actually is,” said Chris Christie with his characteristic contempt. “He really believes that folks are worried about climate change when what they really care about now is the Islamic State and Syria and terrorism.” Marco Rubio brought his perspective: “Let me just say no matter how you feel about the issue of the environment and climate and changes to climate, there’s no way any reasonable person could conclude that the most immediate threat we face to our security is what the climate is going to look like in 25 or 30 years.”

It’s easy to believe that terrorism is a greater threat to Americans than climate change, because everyone can conjure up a vivid and terrifying image of what terrorism looks like. And though there’s always the possibility that a future terrorist attack could kill large numbers of Americans, the actual number of Americans killed here at home by jihadi terrorists since 9/11 stands at 26, which, as I keep saying, also happens to be exactly the number of Americans killed this year alone by lightning strikes.

The deaths caused by climate change, on the other hand, are complicated to estimate with precision, don’t show up in YouTube videos, and don’t have the kind of dramatic violence that gets presidential candidates thumping their lecterns. But those deaths are real nonetheless. According to a 2012 report commissioned by the governments of 20 nations, climate change kills 400,000 people a year worldwide, mostly through hunger and the spread of communicable diseases. The World Health Organization estimates: “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.”

You might say, well, that’s obviously terrible, but it really isn’t about national security. But the Department of Defense, not exactly a place where you find a lot of tree-hugging hippies, would beg to differ. Here’s how they described a recent report they produced on the topic:

The report reinforces the fact that global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.

The report finds that climate change is a security risk because it degrades living conditions, human security, and the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations. Communities and states that are already fragile and have limited resources are significantly more vulnerable to disruption and far less likely to respond effectively and be resilient to new challenges.

In other words, climate change will produce the contexts in which threats to U.S. national security will fester and grow, which is just one of the reasons that the Republican policy position — do nothing — is so dangerous.

But here’s an interesting thing about that position: not only have they failed to persuade the American public that they’re right, they haven’t even persuaded their own voters. According to a new New York Times/CBS poll, not only does two-thirds of the public overall support the U.S. joining an international treaty to reduce carbon emissions — something that almost every Republican elected official vehemently opposes — but a healthy 42 percent of Republican voters support it as well, with 52 percent opposed. And a majority of Republicans said they’d support a policy to limit carbon emissions from power plants. That’s what President Obama’s Clean Power Plan does, and Republicans in Congress are desperately trying to kill it.

The rightward drift of the GOP during the Obama years is a complex story, with many different causes and effects. There are issues on which the party’s voters have gone right along with its leaders, producing a mass consensus that mirrors the elite consensus. But on climate change, it appears that the politicians’ ability to persuade their voters has been incomplete at best. Not that that means the politicians are going to change any time soon.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 1, 2015

December 4, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Climate Science, Paris Climate Conference | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“It’s Time To Amend The Constitution”: Orrin Hatch Is Third In Line To The Presidency!

The swearing-in of a new Congress is often marked by precipitous climbs and sudden tumbles. Last week, former Senate Minority Obstructionist Mitch McConnell realized his lifelong ambition of becoming majority leader; his rival Harry Reid backslid to his old role in the minority (though not before a less figurative fall sprinkled a little injury over the insult); and more than a dozen Republican senators took over as committee chairs, which contributed such marvelous ironies as global warming skeptic James Inhofe becoming America’s top gatekeeper for environmental legislation.

One of the most consequential changes, however, has passed virtually without comment. Coinciding with the rise of the new Republican majority in the upper chamber, Utah’s archconservative Senator Orrin Hatch is now the Senate president pro tempore. That means that he’s been transformed overnight from a minority-party graybeard to third in line to the presidency.

Most Americans probably didn’t realize that the good people of Beaver, Daggett, and Juab Counties had selected a possible future president for the rest of the country back in 2012, when they reelected Hatch to a seventh term. He is now the second Republican, behind Speaker John Boehner, in line to succeed the Democratic president and vice president in the event of their deaths, incapacitations, or resignations. Here is convincing proof, even more than the vice presidencies of Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle were, that the voters, our political parties, and America’s entire system of government don’t really take the issue of presidential succession seriously.

It almost never matters who the Senate president pro tempore is. The position is basically a constitutional quirk arising from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the body occasionally had to call on a designated lawmaker to substitute for its normal presiding officer, the vice president. That function declined in importance over the last 60 years as veeps began to embrace a larger role outside the Senate. Thereafter a tradition arose to entrust the meager duties of the office (you get to sign legislation and administer oaths) to the longest-serving member of the majority party. That practice has frequentlyone might even argue necessarilyresulted in the appointment of enfeebled old men from small states, often not of the president’s own party, to a position just a few heartbeats away from the big office.

Hatch is 80 years old, and he takes over the job from the comparatively spry Pat Leahy, a 74-year-old from Vermont. The two presidents pro tempore before Leahy were Hawaii’s Daniel Inuoye and West Virginia’s Robert Byrd, both of whom died in office at the ages of 92 and 86, respectively. Keep in mind that the oldest president in history, Ronald Reagan, left the White House at 77 already showing signs of the Alzheimer’s disease that would swiftly put an end to his public life. It’s flatly dangerous to put men of such advanced years anywhere near the Oval Office without the kind of rigorous medical vetting that presidential candidates receive during campaigns; if they assumed control over the government, it would almost certainly occur during a time of national crisis that would tax their abilities to the extreme.

Even if Hatch’s health and faculties could be guaranteed, his ascent would still mean the retroactive disenfranchisement of tens of millions of Democratic voters nationwide in favor of a vastly smaller group of some 600,000 Hatch voters from his home statethis at a time when national unity would be of paramount importance. This is doubly true of Boehner, a perfectly capable man whose entire congressional district consists of less than 800,000 people.

It may seem fanciful (or morose) to speculate on the subject of succession. After all, no Speakers outside of The West Wing have risen to replace a fallen president, let alone Senate presidents pro tempore. But we’ve lived far more dangerously than we ought to be comfortable with. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln originated in a plot to decapitate the government by also killing the vice president and secretary of stateone that very nearly succeeded. To pick an example of more recent vintage, United Airlines Flight 93 came within a forty-minute flight delay of wrecking the United States Capitol or White House. After 9/11, the joint Brookings/AEI Continuity of Government Commission issued a set of recommendations to help our succession process better reflect an age of global threats that strike without warning. Its counselto cut congressional and more junior cabinet secretaries out of the picture, as well as establish protocols for the appointment of temporary members of Congress and the judiciaryhas gone thus far unheeded.

The group’s best suggestion was its most provocative: Instead of concentrating our entire crop of possible successors within the small area around Washington, where they are clearly vulnerable to a devastating act of terrorism, the president should select a small group of prominent Americans around the country who could be regularly briefed and prepared to step into power should the need arise. These figuresstate governors, former cabinet officials, or other successful government administratorscould even be put forward by candidates during a presidential election, giving the public the partial opportunity to review and approve the choices (and providing political reporters and strategists with even more fodder). In the name of prudence, democracy, and a better news cycle, we should implement this planand for the same reasons, we should get elderly, out-party members of Congress some other ceremonial job.


By: Kevin Mahnken, The New Republic, January 16, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Orrin Hatch, Presidential Succession, Senate President Pro Tempore | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wrong Once Again”: Republicans Are Furious About Obama’s Climate Breakthrough With China

Republicans are furious that President Barack Obama has cut a historic deal with China to lower both countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just spent his reelection campaign claiming that China would never curb its emissions, so the U.S. shouldn’t either. Many other Republicans have argued the same. And yet China just proved Republicans wrong by committing to reach a peak level of carbon pollution by 2030the first time the world’s largest polluter has set a deadline for lowering emissions.

Republicans won’t admit they were wrong, of course. They’ve already moved on to their next talking point. Remarkably, the party that’s become synonymous with climate-change denial has avoided any mention of it this time. A statement from McConnell’s office stressed only that Environmental Protection Agency regulations hurt coal jobs:

Our economy can’t take the President’s ideological War on Coal that will increase the squeeze on middle-class families and struggling miners. This unrealistic plan, that the President would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs. Easing the burden already created by EPA regulations will continue to be a priority for me in the new Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner stated:

This announcement is yet another sign that the president intends to double down on his job-crushing policies no matter how devastating the impact for America’s heartland and the country as a whole. And it is the latest example of the president’s crusade against affordable, reliable energy that is already hurting jobs and squeezing middle-class families. Republicans have consistently passed legislation to rein in the EPA and stop these harmful policies from taking effect, and we will continue to make this a priority in the new Congress.

Even Senator James InhofeCongress’ most vigilant climate-change denierneglected to mention what he really thinks of global warming. He emphasized that this deal lets China get away with not making any real cuts, while the U.S. will have to cut up to 28 percent of its emissions by 2025:

In the President’s climate change deal, the United States will be required to more steeply reduce our carbon emissions while China won’t have to reduce anything. It’s hollow and not believable for China to claim it will shift 20 percent of its energy to non-fossil fuels by 2030, and a promise to peak its carbon emissions only allows the world’s largest economy to buy time. China builds a coal-fired power plant every 10 days, is the largest importer of coal in the world, and has no known reserves of natural gas. This deal is a non-binding charade. The American people spoke against the President’s climate policies in this last election. They want affordable energy and more economic opportunity, both which are being diminished by overbearing EPA mandates. As we enter a new Congress, I will do everything in my power to rein in and shed light on the EPA’s unchecked regulations.

That’s not true. This climate accord marks the first time that China has publicly committed to any limit on carbon, at all. As a developing and rapidly growing economy that bears little responsibility historically for climate change, China can rightly argue it won’t act unless the U.S. does. To discredit this deal as a “non-binding charade” is simply misleading; these commitments may be formalized next year at an international meeting in Paris. The announcement now is meant to build momentum for these talks, and convince other countries to put forward their own ambitious targets.

The hardest parthow to move both countries’ giant economies away from fossil fuel dependencecomes next. Republican opposition will be firm, even if their excuses shift away from climate-change denial.


By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, November 12, 2014

November 17, 2014 Posted by | Carbon Emissions, China, Climate Change | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Limits Of Presidential Photo-Ops”: A Bipartisan Hunger For More Political Theater, Just For The Sake Of Symbolism

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), this week, on a presidential photo-op at the U.S/Mexico border:

“If it’s serious enough for him to send a $3.7 billion funding request to us, I would think it would be serious enough for him to take an hour of his time on Air Force One to go down and see for himself what the conditions are,” Cornyn told reporters.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), three years ago, on a presidential photo-op at the U.S/Mexico border (via Chris Moody):

“What Sen. Cornyn is looking for, President Obama cannot deliver with another speech or photo op, and that’s presidential leadership. Words matter little when there is no action,” said Kevin McLaughlin, a Cornyn spokesman.

I’ll confess that this is one of the unexpected political hullabaloos of the week. It’s not at all surprising that policymakers in both parties are taking the border crisis and the plight of these poor children seriously, but it was hard to predict that much of the political conversation would focus less on a proposed solution and more on whether or not the president literally, physically makes a symbolic gesture by going to the border itself.

Much of the overheated rhetoric has come from the far-right – Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) inexplicably said the president “disrespects our military” by not going to the border – but it’s not entirely partisan. Some congressional Democrats have added to the criticism.

“I hate to use the word ‘bizarre,’ but … when he is shown playing pool in Colorado, drinking a beer, and he can’t even go 242 miles to the Texas border?” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell yesterday.

As best as I can tell, no one in either party has said exactly what they want Obama to do at the border, other than just go there for some undefined period of time before leaving. It appears to be a bipartisan hunger for more political theater, just for the sake of symbolism.

President Obama, at least so far, is pursuing a very different approach.

After meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and a variety of officials in Dallas yesterday, the president held a press conference in which the very first question was on this topic. “There are increasing calls not just from Republicans, but also from some Democrats for you to visit the border during this trip,” the reporter noted. “Can you explain why you didn’t do that?” Obama replied:

“Jeh Johnson has now visited, at my direction, the border five times. He’s going for a sixth this week. He then comes back and reports to me extensively on everything that’s taking place. So there’s nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on.

“This isn’t theater. This is a problem. I’m not interested in photo ops; I’m interested in solving a problem. And those who say I should visit the border, when you ask them what should we be doing, they’re giving us suggestions that are embodied in legislation that I’ve already sent to Congress. So it’s not as if they’re making suggestions that we’re not listening to. In fact, the suggestions of those who work at the border, who visited the border, are incorporated in legislation that we’re already prepared to sign the minute it hits my desk.”

For the president’s critics, this wasn’t good enough. I’m not sure why.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 10, 2014

July 13, 2014 Posted by | Border Crisis, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama Reflects On A Sacred Rule”: We Don’t Leave Our Men Or Women In Uniform Behind

The political discourse over the last few days has been rather surreal. It seemed hard to imagine that the release of an American prisoner of war would spark a fierce partisan backlash, but the announcement that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been freed from his Taliban captors in Afghanistan seems to have done exactly that, with much of the right condemning the move.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz warned his allies, “Attacking the actions that led to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a surefire way to lose in 2014,” but so far, conservatives have ignored the suggestion.

President Obama, in Europe this week, spoke to reporters while in Poland this morning and responded to the burgeoning controversy.

“The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule and that is we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind,” he said. “We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange to recover Sgt. Bergdahl.” […]

“I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought it was detrimental to our national security,” he said. “We will be in a position to go after them if they are engaging in activity that threatens our defenses.”

There have been multiple reports that Bergdahl may have been a deserter at the time of his capture. And though we don’t yet have all of the details about what transpired, the president made clear that some of those details aren’t quite relevant to the underlying principle.

“Let me just make a simple point here: regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop. We don’t condition that,” Obama said.

I’m not sure why so many on the right find this hard to understand.

The United States prioritizes the return of American POWs. It’s just what we do. What if the troops were captured due to their own negligence? It doesn’t matter. What if they were taken prisoner as a result of incompetence? It doesn’t matter. What if they gave up their post? It doesn’t matter.

Even by the standards of our contemporary discourse, the past few days have been hard to believe. U.S. officials secured the release of an American prisoner of war and for much of the right, the first instinct was to condemn the president. The second instinct was to condemn the prisoner. And as yesterday unfolded, the third instinct was to go after the prisoner’s dad.

I don’t expect much from the far-right, but this is surprising.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, said in a joint statement that the prisoner swap that led to Bergdahl’s release “may have” adverse consequences and could put U.S. forces “at even greater risk.”

It’s difficult to say with certainty whether their warnings have merit. But Glenn Thrush asked a good question on Twitter overnight: what endangered the U.S. homeland more: a prisoner swap or invading Muslim country based on fake intelligence resulting in tens of thousands of deaths?

Predicting what U.S. foreign policies “may have” adverse consequences and/or could put U.S. forces “at even greater risk” is tricky, but if we’re making a list, I can think of a few things that would come above “prisoner swaps.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | POW's, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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