Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski told a local newspaper yesterday that she regrets her vote for the so-called Blunt amendment, the GOP’s alternative to President Obama’s rule requiring employers to provide contraception coverage as part of their health care insurance plans. Under the amendment, which the Senate tabled with the help of just one Republican, employers would have been empowered to deny coverage of health services to their employees on the basis of personal moral objections.
“I have never had a vote I’ve taken where I have felt that I let down more people that believed in me,” Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News’ Julia O’Malley, claiming that the amendment’s language went “overboard”:
“If you had it to do over again, having had the weekend that you had with women being upset about the vote, do you think you would have voted the same?” I asked.
“No,” she said.
Murkowski said she believes contraception should be covered and affordable, except when it comes to churches and religiously affiliated organizations, like some universities and hospitals. She sponsored a contraception coverage bill as a state legislator in 2002. That bill exempted “religious employers.” She said her position hasn’t changed.
“I have always said if you don’t like abortion the best way to deal with it is to not have unwanted pregnancies in the first place,” she said. “How do you do that? It’s through contraception.”
I pointed out that her support for birth control conflicts with the Catholic mandate against it. “You know, I don’t adhere to all of the tenets of my faith. I’m a Republican, I don’t adhere to all of the principles that come out of my party,” she said. “I’m also not hesitant to question when I think that my church, my religion, is not current.”
Murkowski called the Blunt Amendment a “messaging amendment” that “both sides know is not going to pass” and said “Republicans didn’t have enough sense to get off of it.” She also condemned Rush Limbaugh’s deragatory comments about a Georgetown law student testifying in favor of greater access to birth control. “I think women when they hear … mouthpieces like that say things like that they get concerned and they look to policymakers,” she said. “That’s where I feel like I have let these women down is that I have not helped to give these women the assurance they need that their health care rights are protected.”
Before the vote, ThinkProgress repeatedly called Murkowski’s office to ask how she would vote on the Blunt measure, but her office did not return our requests for comment. Retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) was the only Republican to oppose the measure.
Other stories below: Spread of infected ticks linked with global warming; Antarctic plants under threat from invasive species
Google is stepping up wind-power purchases to reduce emissions, even as it devotes most of its renewable energy investments to sun-related projects, a trade-off aimed at reining in costs as the company seeks higher returns.
Google drew 30 percent of the energy it consumed last year from renewable sources, virtually all of it from wind, up from 19 percent a year earlier. Yet of the $917 million that the company has invested in renewable-energy projects, about two-thirds?or $622 million ?is channeled toward solar.
Wind power is at least 50 percent cheaper than solar energy, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That explains why Google, which consumes 2.26 million megawatt-hours of electricity a year, mainly for data centers that run its billions of Web searches, increasingly prefers wind.
A new study has documented the rapid growth in Canada of ticks that can cause Lyme disease, and global warming is thought to be a factor.
Ticks capable of carrying Lyme disease went from being almost non-existent in populated areas in Canada in 1990 to now being in 18 per cent of such spots east of Saskatchewan, and this is expected to reach 80 per cent by 2020, says the paper published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology.
The report did not specifically link global warming with this trend, but lead researcher Patrick Leighton, of the University of Montreal’s faculty of veterinary medicine, said rising temperatures are thought to be a reason.
“My opinion is that there probably has been an increase in the spread [of ticks] due to the warming climate,” he said.
While Grover Norquist?s conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) decided to host a conference to speak out against solar and renewable energy in general, the industries didn?t notice. They steamrolled forward last week, gaining more ground internationally as well as domestically.
The libertarian think tank, AEI, held a conference Feb. 24, called ?Clean, Green, Renewable: What Could Go Wrong?,? where economists Timothy Considine, and Benjamin Zycher argued against renewable energy. The two argued that incentivizing renewable energy is not in the public?s interest and will cost the U.S. This is despite the continued falling costs of renewable energy, and Zycher actually argued that the cost of solar power rose 63 percent since 2001.
That seems to fly in the face of exactly what the solar industry?s been doing over the last few years, which is significantly lowering the cost of solar. And those cost reductions continue through a variety of efforts collaborative and otherwise. For instance, the SunSpec Alliance recently announced its first round of awards for companies and organizations that are working to reduce the cost of solar power through standardizing certain aspects of technologies.
The economic cost of disasters in 2011 was the highest in history ? with a pricetag of at least $380 billion, mainly due to earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, a U.N. envoy said Monday.
Margareta Wahlstrom, the secretary-general?s special representative for disaster risk reduction, said the figure was two-thirds higher than the previous record in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck the southern United States.
In addition to the earthquakes, Wahlstrom said major floods in Thailand and other countries caused extensive damage.
?The main message is that this is an increasing ? very rapidly increasing trend with increasing economic losses,? Wahlstrom said.
I happen to think carbon dioxide re-radiates energy within the infrared spectrum. I also believe combustion of a million years of fossilised carbon within the space of a year, as well as deforestation of large tracts of the world?s forests, is likely to lead to a material increase in carbon dioxide within the atmosphere. All other things being equal, I think this is likely to lead the Earth?s atmosphere to trap greater amounts of the sun?s energy, leading to an increase in global temperature. I also think that if we make emitting carbon dioxide more expensive and harder to do, we?ll reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we emit and moderate temperature rises.
Does that make me a communist?
If the climate continues to warm and development doesn’t slow down, the first avian calamities are likely to the California black rail, the California and Yuma clapper rails, and a few species of coastal song sparrows.
In the first study of its kind, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, an environmental bird organization, and the California Department of Fish and Game have created a guide prioritizing bird species most at risk from climate change.
The study was published Friday in the journal Public Library of Science.
According to the researchers, it is well known that climate change and rising sea levels pose a threat to sensitive bird populations, but this information is generally not included in lists identifying endangered or at-risk bird populations.
A senior official in the British Royal Navy came to Southern California last week with a message about how climate change can affect political stability. Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti is climate and energy security envoy for the United Kingdom. He said most people think about a warming climate solely as an environmental problem.
?We haven’t really in the past thought of it as a potential security issue,? Morisetti said. But he added that he observes that changing. He’s traveling with a counterpart from the U.S. Navy to colleges and military bases to make the case that global warming deserves attention as a military and political issue.
Climate change, he said, ?can act as a threat multiplier in those parts of the world where tree’s already stresses ? food, water, health, and demographic challenges, often in countries where governments don’t have the capacity and resilience to look after their citizens. And it can act as a catalyst for conflict and therefore increase the risk of instability.?
Gasoline prices are keeping up their record-setting ways.
California drivers paid an average of $4.358 for a gallon of regular gasoline, up 6.6 cents from a week earlier, the Energy Department said Monday. That’s a fresh record high for this time of year and is 48.4 cents above the year-earlier price.
Nationally, the average rose 7.2 cents to $3.793, also a record for this week, according to Energy Department statistics. A year earlier, the average U.S. price was 27.3 cents lower.
Retail gasoline prices have jumped so quickly that some experts are rethinking their predictions on how high fuel prices could go in 2012. In California and across the nation, prices are already above levels analysts weren’t expecting to see until May.
With its federal license in hand, a Maine-based tidal energy company is ready to install its underwater power system for the first time on the floor of the ocean.
Ocean Renewable Power Co. aims to begin installation of its first grid-connected power unit in mid-March at a 60-acre site in Cobscook Bay at the nation’s easternmost tip.
The first unit capable of powering 20 to 25 homes will be hooked up to the grid this summer, and four more units will be installed next year at a total cost of $21 million for the project, said Chris Sauer, president and chief executive officer of the Portland-based company.
From its perch in a spacious brand-new headquarters blocks from the White House, the Cato Institute has built on its reputation as a venerable libertarian research center unafraid to cross party lines.
Now, however, a rift with one of its founding members ? the billionaire conservative Charles Koch ? is threatening the institute?s identity and independence, its leaders say, and is exposing fault lines over Mr. Koch?s aggressive and well-financed brand of Republican politics.
The rift has its roots, Cato officials said, in a long-simmering feud over efforts by Mr. Koch and his brother David Koch to install their own people on the institute?s 16-member board and to establish a more direct pipeline between Cato and the family?s Republican political outlets, including groups that Democrats complain have mounted a multimillion-dollar assault on President Obama. Tensions reached a new level with a lawsuit filed last week by the Kochs against Cato over its governing structure.
Every year, thousands of tourists flock to Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier for majestic views of frozen H2O. This week, many have been treated to a rare glacier collapse.
Around 2,500 tourists watched and cheered as the 97-square-mile glacier splintered and ice crashed down, according to The Telegraph. The BBC notes that the glacier reaches a massive 230 feet (70 meters) into the air, at times growing large enough to separate Lago Argentino, the lake in which it floats, in half.
Alien species are invading Antarctica from as far away as the Arctic ? and could fundamentally alter ecosystems in the world’s last relatively untouched continent, an international team of scientists has reported.
The risks from these biological interlopers ? seeds and plant material carried in on the shoes and clothing of well-meaning scientists, ecotourists and support staff ? will increase as the icy content continues to thaw because of climate change, the scientists reported Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
People think of Antarctica as a pristine wilderness, but that is fast changing, said lead author Steven Chown of Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Over the last few decades, human activity there has increased dramatically. During the 2007-08 summer season, about 33,000 tourists and 7,000 scientists (including support personnel) made landfall there, bringing unintended ecological consequences, Chown said.
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I’m sure there are some people out there who feel a nostalgic affection for Kirk Cameron from his time on Growing Pains. Or who are as crazy as I am and got brainwashed through repeated viewings of Listen To Me, the goofiest debate-team-solves-the-abortion-debate-romantic-comedy-that-Roy-Scheider-did-for-the-paycheck ever. But no matter which category we fall into, I think we can all agree that Cameron, an evangelical Christian who’s increasingly chosen to make niche movies for that audience ranging from Left Behind to Fireproof, has largely retreated from the mainstream conversation. So I wonder if it might have been wiser for GLAAD to save its energy when Cameron declared, predictably of equal marriage rights that “I think that it’s unnatural. I think that it’s detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization.” It’s one thing to push back when major figures in the mainstream conversation give credence to views that are on their way to permanent residence on the fringe. It’s another thing to elevate someone who has specifically dedicated himself to a niche to the national conversation by condemning him.
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Michele Bachmann — the woman who in 2004 described the gay “lifestyle” as “sad” and “part of Satan” — feigned ignorance at the harshness of her own anti-gay rhetoric and told CNN’s Piers Morgan last night that “the rhetoric is far worse against people who stand for traditional marriage. If anyone gets attacked in this country, it’s people who stand for traditional marriage”:
MORGAN: Yes. But you see, I was also taught to respect and be tolerant towards people who didn’t agree with those beliefs. And I think that America, with this movement on gay marriage and so on, just has to come a time when people who have strong religious beliefs, like you, like Kirk Cameron, actually show people like the gay community tolerance and a bit of slack, and say, I don’t agree with it, but nor am I going to demonize you. That’s all I’m getting at.
BACHMANN: I would like to see the lack of demonization for those of us who stand on sincerely held religious beliefs. It’s overtime. That’s where you see the demonization of people who stand on their beliefs.
MORGAN: So respect on both sides is what we need to get to?
BACHMANN: Of course.
Watch the segment:
Bachmann also stuck up for actor Kirk Cameron, who has come under fire for telling Morgan that gay people are “unnatural.” “You just brought up Kirk Cameron right now and his comments. He’s the one who is getting trashed right now,” she said. Asked to respond directly to Cameron’s comments, Bachmann dodged the question and tried to end the discussion: “Honestly, I think I have had enough of the conversation. I think it’s time to move on. I think we have beaten this horse to death.”
The House very nearly broke a sweat yesterday, with a grueling two-hour debate and voting schedule. Between 5 and 7 pm last evening, they debated three suspension bills naming federal buildings and a post office, passing two by voice vote, and one in a 362-2 cliffhanger. Then, in a stunning display of ambition, they also passed on voice vote two resolutions authorizing preparations for the next inaugural ceremonies in 2013.
The Senate held no roll call votes yesterday, but passed the day with some unanimous consent housekeeping, and the initiation of the Rule XIV process for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act passed by the House last week.
Looking ahead to today:
Today in the House, one more suspension bill, and then the start of debate on the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development, and Oh Yeah, Totally a Bunch of Rural Jobs Act. You can tell they really mean it!
You might not normally think that the debate of a pretty narrowly-focused bill like this would take all day, but it's one of the few bills actually coming to the floor with a relatively open rule for debate, which means they don't really know how many amendments are going to be offered (they need only be printed in the Congressional record a day ahead of time), and the debate will be open for members to use pro forma amendments to claim extra debate time, as well. That means that if you flip on C-SPAN, you might catch members making motions "to strike the last word," and being granted five minutes of debate time for doing so. When they're operating under open rules, any amendment can get five minutes of debate time. "Striking the last word" technically means deleting the last word of the previously pending amendment, thereby creating a new and different amendment for the purposes of debate, and renewing the five minute limit for a whomever made the motion. There's no actual vote on the amendment with the last word removed, so there's no problem there. It's just a mechanism for giving out extra debate time while still keeping some structure to things. The point is, nobody knows how long this will go on for. Sometimes people like to take advantage of the free debate. Other times, even free debate isn't enough to interest them. Like, perhaps, when the subject is Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development, for instance.
The Senate is slated to make another attempt to invoke cloture on a Reid substitute amendment to its transportation bill at 12:30 today. Has there been enough movement in the backroom dealing to get to 60 votes? Well, if its any indication, the day's schedule calls for an immediate break following the vote for the party caucus lunches, followed by the consideration of two judicial nominations when they return. So what do you think?
Truth is that they might just as well have scheduled things that way even if they thought they had the votes, though we might have expected to see the two judicial nominations taken care of first, if they thought they could spend the afternoon making progress on transportation. What's the holdup? Although there were 85 votes for cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill, Republicans were having too much fun offering things like the Blunt anti-contraception amendment, and presumably want to do more of the same before they'll agree to let the government build any roads and infrastructure. That, after all, could possibly lead to some economic benefits, which this president cannot be allowed to have. So instead, the Senate will bicker about whether or not they should be allowed to rifle through your medicine cabinet, for freedom. You know, so that the government doesn't come between you and your doctor.
So that's it. That's the day you're paying for in Congress. Enjoy!
Today's floor and committee schedules appear below the fold.
Cross posted from The Stars Hollow GazetteThis is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.Find the past "On This Day in History" here.March 6 is the 65th day of the year (66th in leap years) in[...]
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If current polls are right, Mitt Romney could wrap up the GOP nomination tonight. He's set to sweep the Northeast; faces no competition in delegate-rich Virginia, where Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich aren't even on the ballot; and his standing is rising in the southern states where he once looked vulnerable. He's edged ahead of Santorum in recent polls of Ohio, where the former Massachusetts governor has been gaining steam in the past few days. Tennessee?a state in which evangelicals dominate?looks like it will end up a three-way tie between Santorum, Romney, and Gingrich. As Slate's Dave Weigel put it yesterday: "This was what the Romney campaign always wanted and expected ? It was Super Tuesday that was supposed to kill the Santorum grassroots campaign, with the live-off-the-land candidate unable to campaign in every state, unable to match Romney's ad spending."
When Romney does land the knockout blow?whether it comes tonight or later this spring?a torrent of competing narratives will pour forth from the media. Writing at The Washington Post, Jonathan Bernstein cautions against one plot line that is sure to emerge: that Romney's victory somehow serves as a sign that Republicans have rejected their extremist instincts and discarded their concerns with social issues. As Bernstein notes, there isn't any meaningful difference between Romney and the rest of the field when it comes to the topics near and dear to conservatives:
The problem with this theory is that all that's really at stake is how, and how frequently, Republican candidates talked about abortion, birth control, and other such issues. In their actual positions on these issues, none of the candidates who ran this year (other than libertarian Gary Johnson and, in some cases, libertarian Ron Paul) differed at all. As far as I can tell, Mitt Romney has the exact same position on gay and lesbian rights, on church/state issues, on abortion, and, yes, on contraception as Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, or even Michele Bachmann.
There's plenty of evidence that Romney has more moderate tendencies than his firebombing opponents. But that matters little for his presidential campaign; Romney's entire political history is defined by his ability to adopt the beliefs of the voters he is courting at the moment, and 2012 has been no different. This go-around, the former Massachusetts governor has latched onto every conservative hot button issue?in just the past week he has backed the Blunt amendment that would allow any employer to deny birth control coverage and answered a small child's question by hawking with the best of the neocons, claiming that Iran "will have a nuclear weapon" should Obama be re-elected.
Romney's typical stump speech has been nothing more than empty pro-America platitudes paired with the typical anti-Obama rhetoric?he's cut out any material that might indicate differences from the standard Republican fare. If, as appears likely, Romney becomes the Republican nominee, it will be because he has spent the past year convincing his severely conservative bona fides that he is one of them?not the party coming around to his moderation.
From the GREAT STATE OF MAINE
The Roundtable Gathers?
Host: Welcome back to our exclusive Super Tuesday coverage here on the Shiny Object Network. Chet, let's go to you first: what should people be watching for tonight?Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold... [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]
Chet: My gut tells me that the most important races to watch tonight are in Alaska, Georgia, Ohio, Virginia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Vermont. And we'll be focusing on those states like a laser as the evening progresses. That's where the action is, I suspect.
Host: My thoughts exactly. Wendy, what's your take?
Wendy: I look at it slightly different. Instead of the states, I'll be watching the candidates to get a feel for which way this thing's headed by staring into their souls. I went to school for that, y'know.
Host: Soul staring. Terrific, terrific. Marty, how 'bout you?
Marty: I'll be watching to see how Republicans screw it all up. Lost ballots, people turned away at the door, changing rules at the last second, results that end up in the election commissioner's spam folder, miscounts, ignoring complaints until they come back to bite 'em in the butt. That's what I'll be watching: the complete and utter train wreck that the Republican primary system has become so famous for.
Host: You are so?smart. You really are. I mean that. We got the best in the business around this table, ladies and gentleman, we really do. Let's bring in Republican strategist Appleton Vanapple. Appleton, it's gonna be a wild, topsy-turvy night for Republicans. What are you watching for?
Appleton Vanapple: I can't speak for the individual campaigns, but what I'm watching for tonight are things like hints, clues, inklings, signs, suggestions, omens, wild guesses?anything that might point to results one way or the other.
Host: That is so good. That is so good!!! That's why you're here---you make us think about this stuff! And on the other side of the aisle is Democratic strategist Murray McFaddle. Obviously, Murray, Democrats are hoping that Santorum or Romney or Paul or Gingrich wins tonight so you can trounce 'em in the general, but what'll you be watching for?
Murray McFaddle: I think you guys are missing the big picture. It's not about the states or the candidates or the clues. It's about the graphics. The pie charts, the bar charts, the crawls, the checkmarks next to giant photos of the candidates' heads. Do we have functional holograms? Is the set lit with swirls of blue and red mood lighting? And I think you also have to pay close attention to the network's theme music, because theme music can make a real difference in what we're watching and how we're watching it.
Host: And come tonight we'll know who's at the "top of the charts" and who's a "one-hit wonder." HaHaHa!
Entire roundtable: HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa!!!
Host: Does politics run through our veins or what! Coming up next: what not to watch for, when our Super Tuesday coverage continues here on the Shiny Object Network?