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“The Science Is Settled”: In Spite Of What You See Outside, Global Warming Is Real

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

January 24, 2016 Posted by | Carbon Emissions, Climate Change, Global Warming | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The EPA Messed Up The Animas River”: But The Real Threats Are Still Private Industry And The GOP

The American Southwest suffered a serious environmental crisis last week, after an Environmental Protection Agency effort to clean up old mining waste went disastrously awry, breaching a containment dam and releasing millions of gallons of contaminated water into the Animas River. The city of Durango and San Juan County in Colorado, as well as the Navajo Nation (the largest Native American reservation in the U.S.), have declared a state of emergency, instructing their citizens to stay out of the water and avoid using it for agriculture or drinking for the time being.

It’s a giant screw-up by the EPA, which is scrambling to fix the problem. Yet it’s one that could not have happened without a monstrous failure of private industry, which means it bears directly on the 2016 presidential race, in which environmental issues will play an important role. The Animas River debacle shows that Republican dogma — which says that pollution is basically no problem and that the EPA should be sharply restricted, if not abolished altogether — is tantamount to a pro-poisoning position.

Mining has long been a fixture of the Mountain West, but it has slowed considerably from the go-go days of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Much of that was hardrock mining of gold and silver, which require very dangerous chemicals and the processing of thousands of tons of ore. Colorado is thus littered with thousands of abandoned mines, and the Animas watershed was no exception, with 400 old mines.

This is a problem, because the mountain mines inevitably fill with water that has leached through the rock, carrying heavy metals and other toxins with it. Cleaning this up is very expensive, and mine companies would obviously prefer not to do it. Early mine investors were notorious for setting up a shell mining company, extracting the material while paying their executive class a fantastic salary, setting up a token cleanup operation (or forgoing it altogether), then declaring bankruptcy and starting all over again.

That’s the profitable, job-creating businessman’s solution to mining waste: just poison the neighborhood, then skedaddle. Hey presto, someone else’s problem!

However, as regulations became more stringent (especially thanks to the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts), things changed. In general, companies (like Anaconda Copper) now work with the EPA and local communities to clean up old sites, often at great expense.

It was one of those old pools of mining waste — around Silverton, Colorado — that the EPA was testing when it accidentally breached a containment dam and released the water. It’s been a big problem for years; the EPA and the mine company have pushed for Superfund designation (which would have made more money available for cleanup), while locals have resisted, fearing for their property values.

Again, clearly the EPA is at fault here. But it’s also worth noting that this spill is relatively minor compared to previous similar incidents, and that the dam would have likely burst on its own eventually. The question is what to do about it. Left to its own devices, it’s quite obvious what private industry would do: nothing. When it comes to environmental externalities, there is simply no alternative to some kind of government policy. And since the waste is already in place, there is no way to set up a Pigovian tax scheme that would deter such waste in the first place. It’s the EPA or bust.

Nevertheless, bust is basically the Republican position. At every turn during the Obama years, they have advocated for fewer environmental controls, greater freedom for corporations to pollute the environment, a cut in EPA funding, and attacks on the science that makes the regulations possible. During the 2012 campaign, the EPA’s “job killing regulations” became something of a Republican catechism. These days, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) wants to abolish the agency altogether, while Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chair of the Senate’s environment committee, has merely compared it to the Gestapo.

Ironically, new rules stemming from the Clean Water Act have been the subject of particular conservative ire of late. A minor update in a rule interpreting the Clean Water Act sparked furious Republican outrage, as well as a proposal to abolish the rule that would make it dramatically harder to regulate American rivers and streams.

On pollution, the magic of the free market is supposed to be what takes the place of sclerotic EPA bureaucracy. You only have to look back to the Gilded Age to see what a farcical idea that is. The Republican utopia is one where cities suffocate under a cloud of choking smog; where the hearts of American children pump lead-clouded blood; and where drinking water will be sacrificed to pad corporate profits.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, August 12, 2015

August 14, 2015 Posted by | Animas River, Environmental Protection Agency, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The State Of Republicania”: GOP Senators Appear Set On Their Own Breakaway Nation

The New York Daily News branded Senate Republicans “TRAITORS” in large type across its cover Tuesday, saying, “GOPers try to sabotage Bam nuke deal.”

That’s not quite right. It’s true that 47 Republican senators did their level best to bring us closer to war by writing a letter to Iran’s mullahs, attempting to scuttle nuclear talks with the United States. But Republicans aren’t exactly subverting the United States. It’s more as if they’re operating their own independent republic on Capitol Hill. Call it the State of Republicania.

Its prime minister, John Boehner, invited his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to criticize U.S. foreign policy last week before a joint meeting of the Republicania parliament. The American president wasn’t consulted.

Mitch McConnell, the Republicania home secretary, wrote an op-ed last week in the Lexington Herald-Leader explicitly urging states to refuse to implement a major new power-plant regulation issued by the U.S. government.

And now we have Tom Cotton, Republicania’s young foreign minister, submitting “An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” counseling Iran’s leaders that any agreement reached by the United States but not ratified by Republicania could be undone “with the stroke of a pen” (assuming the next president comes from Republicania).

But why stop there? Ted Cruz, serving as Republicania’s justice minister, could instruct the sergeant at arms to apprehend administration officials who testify on Capitol Hill and lock them below the Capitol crypt until they agree to more suitable policies. Jim Inhofe, Republicania’s environment minister, could undo recent efficiency improvements at the Capitol Power Plant, and the Capitol Police could become Republicania’s military, under the command of John McCain as defense minister.

Darrell Issa could serve as Republicania’s own J. Edgar Hoover, and Orrin Hatch could become its spiritual leader (the breakaway republic could abandon church-state separation and everything else in the Bill of Rights except for the Second Amendment). Thus could Republicania become a happy little city-state — a Luxembourg on the Anacostia.

There is a potential problem with this model, because Republicania would refuse to levy any taxes. But it appears that Cotton, the recently elected senator from Arkansas, has figured this out, too: He’ll get military contractors to bankroll the new nation.

On Tuesday, the day after his letter to Hezbollah’s masters became public, Cotton provided a clue about his motives: He’d had a breakfast date with the National Defense Industrial Association — a trade group for Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and the like.

You’re not allowed to know what Cotton said to the defense contractors. The event was “off the record and strictly non-attribution.” But you can bet it was what Dwight Eisenhower meant when he warned of the military-industrial complex.

The defense industry contributed more than $25 million in the 2014 election cycle and spent more than $250 million lobbying over that time period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. For the defense industry, this is a good investment: If Senate Republicans blow up nuclear talks, it makes war with Iran that much more likely — and nobody would benefit as much from that war as military contractors.

Alternatively, Republicania could raise revenue for their city-state by charging visitors for tours. That’s a viable option, because nothing at the National Zoo is quite as exotic as Cotton, who after just two months on the job has led his colleagues to break with more than two centuries of foreign policy tradition.

Cotton, appearing on CNN on Tuesday morning, maintained that his effort was not political. “Nor do I believe this letter is unprecedented,” he said — although the Republicania national archivists have not found a precedent.

Perhaps they will come up with an open letter from American legislators written to King George III in 1783 warning him that the efforts of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams might be undone with the stroke of a quill. They may uncover an 1898 cable from American senators to Maria Christina, the Spanish queen regent,cautioning her that many of them would remain in office “decades” after President William McKinley was gone. Or maybe they will uncover a letter from senators to Joseph Stalin in 1945, educating him on the constitutional separation of powers before he negotiated with Franklin Roosevelt at Yalta.

But Republicania archivists are unlikely to locate such documents, because they were never written.

Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), one of just seven Republican senators not to sign Cotton’s letter to the ayatollahs, said she thought it “more appropriate for members of the Senate to give advice to the president” and U.S. negotiators.

Spoken like a true American — which, in the corridors of Republicania these days, is nigh unto treason.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 10, 2015

March 16, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Tea Party Spawns GOP Nightmare”: How It’s Already Ruining The Party’s ’16 Strategy

If you’re understandably perplexed by the Republican Party’s apparent decision to enter the post-Obama era by nominating either another member of the Bush dynasty, or another version of Mitt Romney, there’s at least one way to think about it that might help explain the seemingly inexplicable. Put simply, the leaders of the GOP, the people who tend to be referred to as “the establishment,” fervently believe that in order to win in 2016, Republicans will have to convince voters that the party is once again what it was for much of the 20th century: safe, staid and, in a word, boring.

Of course, in a perfect world, Republicans would rather their presidential candidate be seen as a charismatic dynamo similar to Barack Obama in 2008 (or Ronald Reagan in the final weeks before Election Day 1980). But Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the party’s de facto chief strategist, would likely consider a GOP nominee who reminds voters of a suburban accountant nearly as good — especially after eight years of tumult under a Democratic president. Thus the appeal of your Jeb Bushes and Mitt Romneys — and thus the establishment’s aversion to more fire-breathing types like Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

The plan is obviously cynical, but it’s also pretty savvy. It’s a testament to not only how much attention the party leaders pay to controlling the media narrative, but also how little they pay to, y’know, actual policy. And if all the GOP had to do between now and November ’16 is keep troublemakers like Paul, Cruz and Mike Huckabee at a distance from the party’s nomination, you’d have to consider it in a strong position to win back the White House, on the strength of voter fatigue with the Democrats, if nothing else.

But here’s the problem: There’s this thing called Congress, which is now the full responsibility of the GOP. And while there are plenty of GOPers in Congress who care deeply about which party holds 1600 Pennsylvania, there are also more than a few who think they were elected to change Washington. They answer to conservative activists who will no longer trim their sails so a RINO can enjoy free flights on Air Force One. And some of the issues these folks want to talk about won’t jibe with that nice accountant-next-door narrative establishment Republicans have been building.

You could make an argument that this barely subterranean point of tension was brought closer to the surface on Day 1 of the new Congress, when the GOP decided to kick off a multi-part plan to manufacture a fiscal crisis for Social Security in order to, ultimately, push through benefit cuts to what is arguably the most popular government program in U.S. history. But you’d be on even firmer ground if you just focused on what the GOP’s been up to in the past week. Take the vote in the House on Thursday to drastically curtail federal funding for abortions (which is already paltry), which passed more or less on a party-line vote, and which the White House has already said it will veto if it ever reaches Obama’s desk. Symbolic and envelope-pushing measures intended to inspire a big fight over the right to choose is the kind of stuff that thrills the Tea Party, needless to say; but it’s not what you’d expect to hear from that nice accountant next door. And that goes double for weird and recurring ontological conversations about the definition of rape.

Or if you’d rather look at the Senate, where the aforementioned McConnell is nominally in control, think about Wednesday’s vote on climate change — namely, whether it exists and, if so, to what degree it’s humanity’s fault. While it’s true that only one senator, Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, felt compelled to disagree with the contention that the Earth’s climate is warming, most Republicans voted against a provision that would credit humankind with “significantly” contributing to the problem. That is, needless to say, wildly at odds with scientific consensus across the globe; and dismissing the conclusions of essentially all of the world’s qualified scientists is yet another thing your nice neighbor-accountant would be unlikely to do.

To be fair, the Senate vote on climate change wasn’t something Republicans in the Senate forced on McConnell. Instead, it was an example of the kind of thumb-in-the-eye procedural move that the Senate’s now-minority Democrats will be able to pull off every once in a while that has no legislative significance but can, at its best, make the difference between the parties crystal clear. All the same, whatever short-term damage Democrats were able to inflict on the GOP paled in comparison to that which it brought on itself, in the form of Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe’s contention that those who think anthropogenic climate change is a reality are disrespecting God. Which is, again, not the kind of talk the GOP establishment wants to hear during this current, boring-is-best rebrand.

Now, the chances of anyone remembering any of these stories a few years from now are admittedly rather slim. So the point isn’t to say that Republicans won’t be able to succeed in 2016 because of one of the countless nutty things Inhofe’s said. What these stories underline, though, is that GOP leadership is going to find, for the umpteenth time in recent years, that persuading voters who’ve come to associate Republicans with the Tea Party that the days of Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush have returned will be much easier said than done.

Indeed, it’s a safe bet that the sentiment behind this Thursday quote from Republican congressman Charlie Dent, a relative moderate, will be echoed more than a few times by the GOP establishment between now and the next presidential election: ”Week one, we had a Speaker election that didn’t go as well as a lot of us would have liked. Week two, we spent a lot of time talking about deporting children, a conversation a lot of us didn’t want to have. Week three, we’re debating reportable rape and incest — again, not an issue a lot of us wanted to have a conversation about. I just can’t wait for week four.”

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, January 23, 2015

January 26, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Matter Of Routine”: The Republicans’ Lust For Impeachment

If you attack the president repeatedly for law-breaking, executive overreach and deceiving the public and Congress, do you have an obligation to impeach him? This is the logical question Republicans are now trying to duck.

There is a reason why impeachment is a big deal in Washington this week. It’s not just because a call to defend President Obama motivates the Democrats’ base, although it surely does. John Boehner is having trouble countering fears that House Republicans will eventually try to oust the president because the speaker’s colleagues have spent years tossing around impeachment threats as a matter of routine.

At issue are not merely the open demands for throwing Obama out from Sarah Palin, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) and many others on the right wing. The deeper problem lies in the proliferation of loose impeachment talk linked with one overheated anti-Obama charge after another.

As far back as May 2010, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the allegation that the White House had offered then-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) a job so he wouldn’t oppose Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican-turned-Democrat, “is in fact a crime and could be impeachable.” (Sestak beat Specter in a primary and then lost to Republican Pat Toomey.)

During a hearing on “Operation Fast and Furious” in December 2011, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) accused the Justice Department of withholding information and said that “if we don’t get to the bottom of this,” Congress might have to resort to the “only one alternative” it had, “and it is called impeachment.” In this case, involving a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sting operation that went wrong, the impeachment threat was directed at Attorney General Eric Holder. Indeed, 20 House Republicans filed to impeach Holder.

In May 2013, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that, because of allegations of a White House Benghazi coverup, “people may be starting to use the I-word before too long” about Obama. Also in 2013, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) said it would be his “dream come true” to author Articles of Impeachment against the president, while Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the nation was “perilously close” to circumstances that might require impeachment.

Only space limitations prevent me from multiplying such examples.

Boehner claims that “this whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president’s own staff and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill . . . trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year’s election.”

But if impeachment is a sudden Democratic invention, why did the New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer write a detailed news story in August 2013 under the headline: “Ignoring Qualms, Some Republicans Nurture Dreams of Impeaching Obama”? Why did my Washington Post colleague Dana Milbank publish an equally fact-rich column in December 2013 titled: “Republicans see one remedy for Obama — impeachment”?

Boehner’s other difficulty is that, in defending his lawsuit against Obama, which the House approved Wednesday on a near-party-line vote, the speaker has used arguments that could as easily be invoked to justify impeachment.

“In the end, the Constitution makes it clear that the president’s job is to faithfully execute the laws,” Boehner wrote on CNN’s Web site in early July. “And, in my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws when it comes to a range of issues, including his health care law, energy regulations, foreign policy and education. There must be accountability.”

So what will Boehner do on behalf of “accountability” if the suit fails? Is it any surprise that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), when pressed on Sunday by Fox News’s Chris Wallace, declined to rule out impeachment?

Yes, Democrats are happy to use the danger that the House will go there, by way of dramatizing the GOP’s refusal to work with Obama on issue after issue and the right wing’s open hatred for a president they cast simultaneously as a power-hungry lawbreaker and a weak steward of the nation’s interests. But the underlying cause is a breakdown among conservatives of the norms and habits that governing requires in a system of separated powers.

The last time the country reelected a Democratic president, House Republicans impeached him despite strong public opposition. With many in the ranks already clamoring for a replay of those glory days, it’s fair to wonder if Boehner will hold fast and resist the impeachment crowd this time. His record in facing down his right wing is not encouraging.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 31, 2014

August 1, 2014 Posted by | GOP, House Republicans, Impeachment | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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