Women’s health care has dominated political discussions as GOP-controlled state legislatures consider legislation to extremely curtail women’s access to abortions and right-wing leaders claim the Obama administration is infringing on religious liberty for requiring employer insurance plans to cover contraception at no charge (even though accommodations exempt churches and religiously affiliated institutions).
But it seems that some Republicans think their party has gone too far. Yesterday, Virginia legislators backed away from a “personhood” measure and the state’s conservative governor removed his support for an extreme ultrasound bill. Even Pat Buchanan, a leader on social issues within the party and a former GOP presidential candidate, this morning warned that Republicans like Rick Santorum are overreaching in their opposition to contraception.
On C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, Buchanan described the debate over contraception as “beyond the political realm”:
I think if you get down into where [Santorum's] been discussing it on the merits and demerits of contraception…that’s a moral issue. [...] We talked about that in college endlessly, but I think you move into an area where people don’t understand yet and where it’s beyond the political realm. And I think that’s where Santorum has gone and gotten himself. He’s gotten himself tied up in some of these arguments, and I don’t think he’s handled them with clarity.
Watch the video:
And Buchanan weighed in on the ultrasound legislation from which Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) had backtracked earlier this week. “I can understand why McDonnell did what he did,” he said. “To support that invasive procedure would probably politically costly undeniably, and Gov. McDonnell is not a foolish politician.”
When even Buchanan, who has his own history of extreme opinions, thinks it’s a wise move to back away from an anti-abortion measure, social conservatives have gone too far in their opposition to women’s health.
At the end of this year, the United States will confront a trifecta of difficult fiscal challenges: The Bush tax cuts will be set to expire; the defense budget and spending on civilian programs will face a $110 billion sequester; and a new extension of the federal debt limit will be looming.
At the same time, the evidence will be clearer than ever that urgent action is needed to protect our nation and the world from irreversible climate change. The overwhelming scientific consensus will have grown even stronger. And if 2011 is a harbinger of our future, record-breaking droughts and storms will have again afflicted our nation ? at immense cost in lives and property damage.
These fiscal and environmental problems may appear unrelated. But as a bipartisan group of current and former members of Congress, we want to propose a new idea: These seemingly intractable challenges are easier to address together than separately….
If budgeting is ultimately about choices, enacting a policy that reduces dangerous air pollution while providing hundreds of billions of dollars in debt relief should be a no-brainer. No other policy would do as much for our economy, our security and our future as putting a price on carbon.
That’s the opening of a bipartisan Washington Post op-ed on how a price on carbon could immediately help America address two of its biggest long-term problems, global warming and the national debt. The authors:
Democrats Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey represent California?s 30th District and Massachusetts?s 7th District, respectively, in the House of Representatives. Republicans Sherwood Boehlert and Wayne Gilchrest formerly represented New York and Maryland districts, respectively, in the House.
As I first reported last May, a “high and rising price for carbon pollution has emerged as a credible deficit reduction strategy.”
Then in July, I pointed out, ”The only plausible scenario now for seriously addressing US greenhouse gas emissions in a way that would enable a global deal and give us some chance of averting catastrophic multiple, simultaneous climate impacts is for a serious carbon price to be part of the post-2012-election budget deal.”
Now 4 members of Congress, 2 Ds and 2 Rs, have stated the obvious: Since higher revenues must be part of any grand bargain to address the debt, a price on pollution makes the most sense. And yes, Yes, I’m aware the two Republicans ain’t in Congress any more. Ya gotta start somewhere!
Here is more of their argument:
The best approach would be to use a market mechanism such as the sale of carbon allowances or a fee on carbon pollution to lower emissions and increase revenue. Using these policies, the United States could raise $200 billion or more over 10 years and trillions of dollars by 2050 while cutting carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, providing transition assistance to affected industries, and supporting investments in clean-energy technologies.
Such a policy would have enormous benefits beyond its fiscal contributions. As the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences concluded last year, ?The risks associated with doing business as usual are a much greater concern than the risks associated with engaging in strong response efforts.? Inaction on climate means more intense and frequent heat waves, more droughts, more flooding and more loss of coastline. Delaying action just until the end of the decade will quadruple costs to the global economy, according to the International Energy Agency.
A market-based policy would be a catalyst for international action, help protect U.S. families from ecological disasters and level the playing field for clean-energy sources such as wind and solar. It would spur research into and development of electric batteries, carbon capture, storage technologies and the like.
And it would provide urgently needed certainty for business and industry. During the past Congress, the chief executives of leading energy, chemical and manufacturing companies endorsed comprehensive climate legislation. They told us that they have deferred hundreds of billions of dollars of investments until they know what they will be required to do to protect the planet. And they said that delay in addressing climate change puts our country?s competitiveness in jeopardy, allowing China to race ahead of the United States in building the clean-energy industries of the future.
We recognize there are several ways to raise revenue through climate policies. Our goal is not to propose a particular policy solution but to start a discussion. It is a testament to the enormous power of the oil and coal lobby that climate-change policies have been dismissed as a viable option for deficit reduction. We believe that must change.
I think it is safe to say that this is not a high-probability outcome, but it is non-zero.
I don’t think, however, a debt deal is going to include anything that looks like a tradable carbon allowance — either cap-and-trade or “cap-and-dividend.” A “fee” is much more likely because of its simplicity. The vast majority of the money raised would have to go to deficit reduction for this to be politically viable.
I’m not certain that a deal has to extend out to 2050 — as that requires a very big bite for everyone to swallow. These debt and deficit deals tend to be 10 years and that would be fine. It gets us through 2020 and that means Obama could actually deliver on his Copenhagen pledge of a 17% reduction by 2020 with even a modest starting price (as I explained 3 years ago).
If such a deal were possible at the end of 2012, I don’t think politicians would be less inclined to continue a carbon price in 2022, when the entire nation and the world have another decade of warming and ice melting and drought and extreme weather and almost another billion people to feed — and when the cost of key entitlement programs really start to kick in.
What’s interesting is that there is some genuine bipartisan support for this approach. I’ll excerpt my May 2011 post, since it has the key details. The Peter G. Peterson Foundation funded six groups from across the political spectrum to put forward plans addressing our nation?s fiscal challenges. All the plans are here. The Center for American Progress plan, ?Budgeting for Growth and Prosperity? brings the deficit below 2% of GDP within 6 years and fully balances by 2030.
The CAP budget does so while boosting clean energy research and deployment funding roughly $10 billion a year ? and instituting a high and rising CO2 price. You can read a summary of it here.
The CAP strategy probably isn?t a big surprise to Climate Progress readers. But what is remarkable is that the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) takes a strikingly similar approach on the revenue side ? a high and rising CO2 price! As AEI?s plan, ?A Balanced Plan for Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth,? explains:
Replace energy subsidies, credits, and regulations with carbon tax
Subsidies for ethanol and other alternative fuels would be abolished (basic research on renewable energy would be funded on the same stringent terms as other basic research). As discussed above, business and household energy tax credits would be abolished. Regulations designed to lower greenhouse gas emissions would be repealed.
Instead, a tax on greenhouse gas emissions (?carbon tax?) would be imposed. The tax would be similar to Revenue Option 35 in the Congressional Budget Office?s March 2011 Budget Options book, but would be implemented as a tax rather than as a cap?and?trade program. The tax would take effect in 2013 and be phased in at a uniform pace over five years, so that the 2017 tax equaled the level prescribed for that year in the CBO option, slightly more than $26 per metric ton of CO2equivalent. As prescribed in the CBO option, the tax would thereafter increase at a 5.6 percent annual rate through 2050.
This is actually higher than the CAP price, which is $22 a ton of CO2 in 2017 [$81/ton of carbon], and which rises a bit slower, but still triples in a quarter century.
Again, I don’t think a deal needs to go out to 2050, though if it were only 10 years, then I’d recommend having the deal at least hold the CO2 price at the 2022 level when it expires, rather than zeroing it out entirely. These CO2 prices are certainly more than enough to hit the 17% reduction in 2020 — even if natural gas prices were much higher than today.
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) budget blueprint takes a similar approach to CAP, using carbon pricing to meet the Waxman-Markey targets with ?half of the revenue from proposed carbon pricing earmarked for energy rebates and tax credits for low-and moderate-income populations? to ?fully offset the higher cost of energy for the lowest 60% of earners.? The Roosevelt Institute Campus Network strategy uses the same escalating carbon tax as AEI in their plan.
The Bipartisan Policy Center did not table a new plan. They used their November 2010 plan, which comes close to endorsing a high and rising carbon tax. It uses a Debt Reduction Sales Tax (DRST) otherwise known as a sales tax. The ?Task Force considered alternative sources of revenue that could be phased-in to help reduce the DRST?. Of the alternatives considered, a tax on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion received the greatest ? though not unanimous ? support. The specific option that the Task Force examined would have introduced a tax of $23 per ton of CO2 emissions in 2018, increasing at 5.8 percent annually.? Ultimately they did not endorse a carbon tax in November.
Only the Heritage Foundation plan makes no mention of carbon pricing.
All in all, this strikes me as a big deal. Not too long ago, the political acceptability of any carbon pricing was viewed as virtually non-existent, a ?third rail? for the foreseeable future. Now you have major policy groups from across the political spectrum seriously entertaining not just any carbon pricing, but a high and rising price sufficient to substantially reduce US emissions and put us on the path needed to meet our obligation as part of an overall global deal aimed at 450 ppm or stabilization near 2°C.
As the bipartisan op-ed concludes:
The ?grand bargain? talks collapsed over the summer and the ?supercommittee? failed in the fall for largely the same reason: The debt-reduction alternatives then on the table ? raising taxes, cutting Social Security and Medicare, or carving deeply into defense and discretionary spending ? were too politically painful. These alternatives will not magically become more attractive a year from now.
That is why we believe the time is right to begin considering new options. If budgeting is ultimately about choices, enacting a policy that reduces dangerous air pollution while providing hundreds of billions of dollars in debt relief should be a no-brainer. No other policy would do as much for our economy, our security and our future as putting a price on carbon.
I would underscore that raising personal income taxes to balance the budget is very, very unlikely to happen, except perhaps for the wealthy, and that isn’t anywhere near enough to close the budget gap even with entitlement reform. Also, raising the corporate income tax to balance the budget is very, very unlikely to happen — heck, everyone seems to be talking about lowering the corporate income tax now.
So I do think the chances of a price on carbon pollution being in the ultimate grand bargain are non zero. But as I said in July, it’s not plausible unless Obama becomes as much a salesman for that approach as he has for debt reduction in general.
Jesse Kelly, who was the 2010 GOP nominee in Arizona’s eighth congressional district and is running again to fill former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ (D-AZ) vacant seat this year, made the comment on Wednesday at a Tucson Tea Party rally in front of a crowd of approximately 500.
Kelly brushed off concerns about fossil fuels because “we have so much here in this country.” After noting that technology has increased the available supply of oil worldwide, Kelly told the audience that “apparently it is the renewable resource we’ve all been talking about!”
KELLY: I do find it laughable when they talk about the energy crisis, the energy shortage, when we have so much here in this country. We have so much coal, so much oil, so much natural gas, we have everything we need right here. Three decades ago, they told us there were 800 million barrels of oil existing in the world. Today, because of technology, there’s over a trillion. So apparently it is the renewable resource we’ve all been talking about!
Whether joking or not, it’s little surprise that Kelly would go to bat for the oil industry. He does not believe man-made global warming exists, dismissing it in 2009 as “junk science” that seeks to “destroy [our] way of life”. In his campaign last cycle, Kelly took tens of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry, including maxed-out contributions from Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
Still, Kelly did propose one possible solution for our nation’s energy needs: eliminating tofu. From a town hall meeting in 2010:
It’s no secret we could be 100 percent energy independent. We have all the supplies we need in this country if we just get the tofu eaters out of government at this point in time and put in some actual real Americans who believe in oil and coal and natural gas and nuclear and all these other things.
The St. Petersburg parliament in Russia held public hearings about the so-called anti-gay propaganda bill today, that supporters claim would ban ?propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexualism and transgenderism? to minors. The measure has already passed two readings and is expected to received a third and final vote on February 29th. Governor Georgiy Poltavchenko will have 10 days to sign the bill.
Anti-gay proponents packed the hearing in their favor, Russian LGBT groups report, as organizers publicized the event only yesterday, and filled the audience with clerical and Russian nationalist organizations. The groups distributed flyers on the “Statistics on homosexuality,” which said that “homosexuals spread infections”, “homosexuals lead perverted lives,” and “homosexuals commit many crimes.” Experts also testified to the “perverse and sinful nature of homosexuality, calling for forced treatment or isolation of gays” and the audience responded with “insults and calling gay people perverts, faggots, and subhuman.”
Watch the full hearing (in Russian) here:
The measure would fine groups or individuals who promote homosexuality, pedophilia, or transgenderism to minors. The updated version includes fines that are 10 times higher than when the bill was first brought before the city?s legislature in November.
The anti-gay legislation has been condemned by the international community and is in violation of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention for Human Rights, the Council of Europe Recommendations and other decrees. Lawmakers in Moscow are said to be considering similar bans.
Earlier this month, Wendy Long, a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas who has previously suggested that everything from child labor laws to the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters is unconstitutional, indicated that she might run for the senate seat currently held by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Long has now officially filed papers to begin her run.
Mitt Romney’s speech this afternoon to the Detroit Economic Club at Ford Field started off poorly with an embarrassingly below-capacity crowd and only got worse when he made a couple of awkward gaffes towards the end. First, he repeated his bizarre and widely-mocked line about liking Michigan because “the trees are the right height.” Then, he played into the out-of-touch patrician narrative he’s trying to shed when he said his wife drives not one, but “a couple of Cadillacs.” Watch it:
Rick and Karen Santorum claimed that fears about how the Affordable Care Act would affect their youngest daughter’s medical condition inspired them to embark on their campaign for the presidency and suggested that the law would ration care to sicker or disabled Americans. “What did it for me was Obamacare,” Karen said in explaining her support for Rick’s decision to pursue the White House on Glenn Beck’s show. “Because we have as you know a little angel, little Bella, special needs little girl, and when Obamacare passed, that was it, that put the fire in my belly.” Rick agreed, arguing that the law would ration care based on the “usefulness” of an individual:
BECK: How much of a danger are the most vulnerable in our society if Obamacare actually kicks in and the whole bell curve…
R. SANTORUM: It’s all about utilization, right? It’s all about how do we best allocate resources where they are most effectively used? [...] Government allocating resources best on how to get the best bang for your dollars and it’s all about utility. It’s all about the usefulness of the person to society, instead of the dignity of every human life and the opportunity for people who love and care for people to give them the best possibility to have the best possible life.
But the Affordable Care Act actually prevents insurance carriers from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions (and disabilities), prohibits health plans from putting a lifetime dollar limit on benefits and specifically invests in programs for people with disabilities. For instance, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has “announced $2.25 billion to extend the existing Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration Program, which is designed to facilitate people with disabilities staying in their communities instead of being placed in institutional settings” and has provided additional funding for aging and disability resource centers and other programs for sicker Americans. This why groups like the American Association of People with Disabilities, National Organization For Rare Disorders, and The Arc of the United States not only support the law, but have filed an amicus brief in its defense.
Fortunately, the ACA already prevents insurers from limiting or denying benefits to children, meaning that Bella would be able to find insurance coverage if the family loses their policy.
In the latest of its quarterly reports on the Iranian nuclear program (PDF), the U.N. nuclear watchdog said that Iran is expanding its uranium enrichment capacity and has not provided IAEA inspectors with an explanation for a significant quantity of missing nuclear material.
The report, which comes on the heels of two days of talks between International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and Iranian officials, details how IAEA personnel were denied access to the Parchin military facility and failed to get answers about the role of foreign experts in Iran’s nuclear research:
The Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
The new report reiterated the IAEA’s concerns — stated at length in its Novermber 2011 report — about Iranian non-compliance, particularly as it relates to possible nuclear weapons work, referring again to “serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.”
“There’s nothing that’s really unexpected,” said Peter Crail, a nonproliferation analyst with the Arms Control Association, in an interview with ThinkProgress. The Iranians are “sort of steadily moving ahead.”
He noted that though latest generation centrifuges were reported as installed for the first time, they were in early stages of development and Iran appeared to still be tinkering with earlier generation centrifuges. “This (report) was more of a standard update of where the program is,” he said. “As expected, they are still making progress in installing things, but there’s no massive expansion or breakthrough development.”
While the IAEA again raised concerns about lack of access, expanding production, and a quantity of unaccounted for nuclear material, the report doesn’t indicate Iran is any closer to deciding on building a nuclear weapon. The absence of such an assertion is in line with reported U.S. intelligence estimates and statements by top military and intelligence officials.
Since the November report, the greatest change in Iran’s nuclear program, according to inspectors, has been the stepped up enrichment of uranium. The Natanz nuclear facility is now operating 52 cascades — each containing 170 centrifuges — up from 37 in November, and the Fordow facility is now refining Uranium to a 20% concentration with almost 700 centrifuges.
In January, Iran informed the IAEA of revisions in its intentions at the Fordow enrichment plant to include enrichment to 5 percent, in addition to the 20 percent enrichment that can be more easily upgraded to weapons-grade fissile material. “I’m not clear exactly what that means,” said ACA’s Crail. “But if Fordow isn’t dedicated only to 20 percent (enrichment), it also may suggest that they are willing to halt 20 percent because they are hedging with the facility by doing two types of production.”
The IAEA also raised concerns about 19.8 kilograms of unaccounted for uranium “related to conversion experiments carried out by Iran between 1995 and 2002.” The discrepancy in measurement amounts was previously reported, but Iran again refused to answer questions about the missing quantity. Asked in the February meetings between the IAEA and Iran, the new report said, Iran stonewalled:
Iran indicated that it no longer possessed the relevant documentation and that the personnel involved were no longer available… The discrepancy remains to be clarified.
Diplomats told the Associated Press the quantity could be enough to work on weapons. ACA?s Crail said, however, it wasn?t ?nearly enough? yet to actually make a bomb, though “because it’s in uranium metal form it may be useful for carrying out warhead R&D (research and development).”
The report will likely raise tensions between Iran and the West over the former’s nuclear progress, which it insists is for peaceful purposes.
Documents from the Heartland Institute have revealed the right-wing think tank is crafting a campaign to question climate science in classrooms. Although Heartland has proudly admitted its anti-science agenda, it has tried to cast doubt on the authenticity of the documents. Today, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote to the Heartland Institute to request original copies of the documents so that Congress can assess Heartland?s corporate-funded efforts to influence science education.
After the MPAA refused to change the rating on Bully, a documentary about the impact of vicious anti-gay harassment on teenagers, from an R to a PG-13, Harvey Weinstein, whose company is releasing Bully, has suggested that it might be time for him to depart the MPAA. Weinstein is a showman par excellence, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s using the ratings system as a way of bringing attention to the movie. But he’s also correct that the ratings system isn’t working to truly get people the information they need to make decisions about what movies their children should see, and in setting standards for which content children absolutely shouldn’t be able to see without their parents present.
First, we need to move beyond the contradictory ideas that ratings simultaneously need to be responsive to community standards, and that they also should be consistent over time. It’s much more important that ratings be responsive to contemporary community standards, broadly defined, than it is that they be consistent from the onset of the ratings system until the present day. If we were still abiding by the standards of the 1947 People v. Wepplo decision that declared material obscene ” “if it has a substantial tendency to deprave or corrupt its readers by inciting lascivious thoughts or arousing lustful desire,” most American popular entertainment couldn’t be marketed or made at all.
More importantly, the American public as a whole isn’t actually served by holding on to certain old standards. A significant majority of Americans believe that gay couples should at least be able to get the legal protections of civil unions, and we’re edging towards a majority of Americans supporting equal marriage rights. It doesn’t serve the interests of that majority to treat depictions of sexual contact between gay couples differently than depictions of those same acts between straight couples?it serves a minority who are resistant to the consensus that the rest of the country has reached about the normalization of gay couples.
It also doesn’t particularly serve the public interest to have the only grounds for a movie to be moved from R to PG-13 even if the profanity it in would normally trigger an R rating is if “based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous.” That doesn’t leave any room for precisely what Bully is trying to accomplish: illustrate that certain language is the opposite of inconspicuous, that it’s pernicious, and damaging, and that it can take lives. One would hope that most American parents believe that it’s appropriate to communicate to their teenagers that harassing their peers to the point of suicide is a worthy goal and one that doesn’t have to?and in fact shouldn’t?wait until children are of age.
We need a ratings system that more clearly breaks down the reasons parents might find a movie unsuitable for their children, and that provides some sort of context for tagging a movie with those elements. I’ve long thought it might make sense to have a universal ratings system that applies across popular media so parents don’t struggle with the different, and not particularly analogous, systems that are used to label music, movies, television, and video games. And while I don’t think it’s perfect, the television ratings system that appears before programming begins and breaks ratings down into discrete and clear elements seems to me to be the one that provides parents with most information. Parents expose their kids to different things at different rates?I might let my kids hear mild curse words before I let them see Darth Vader cut Luke’s hand off?and they should be given information consistent with that. It’s very, very difficult to reconcile efficiency in label with the goal of providing as much context as possible to parents, but we need more than a single tiny box with several letters in it to truly serve the needs of communities and individual families.
Linda Holmes raises a vital point about Bully that illustrates the difficulty of getting a ratings system right. In theory, it would be good for every student to see a movie about the worst consequences of bullying and harassment with an adult who can help talk through its lessons, be that teacher or parent. But there are also students who may be struggling dreadfully with these issues who might not be safe seeing the movie with a parent or teacher because those people are among their tormenters. We live in a day and age when teachers can use the platforms they have to make life harder for gay students, and when gay teenagers have disturbingly high homelessness rates because their parents are not always supportive. When the ratings system is based around parental decision-making rather than an impossible-to-reach standard of audience wellbeing, it’s going to flounder in cases this one.