2011 - %3, February

What Does Fred Upton Actually Think About Climate?

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 3:45 PM EST

Fred Upton really, really does not want to talk about climate change. Last week the new chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce introduced draft legislation that would permanently bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The measure has also been introduced in the Senate—Upton co-authored it with the Senate's biggest climate skeptic, James Inhofe (R-Okla.). But on Tuesday, Upton repeatedly dodged the question of whether he thinks the climate is warming and whether greenhouse gas emissions are causing it.

While the Michigan Republican has, in the past, stated that greenhouse gas emissions should be addressed, he's retreated from that position since taking over the helm of the powerful energy committee. (That shift came amidst criticism from some in Upton's party that he was too moderate.) On Tuesday, reporters at a National Journal forum repeatedly asked Upton what he actually thinks about climate change. After several attempts to avoid the question, the congressman finally settled on a response. "If you look at last year it was warmest year in last decade," Upton said. "I accept that. I do not say it is man made."

"Even if cap and trade had been enacted it would not change the temperature by even a tenth of a degree anywhere in the world," he continued.

Upton says his bill to block EPA regulations on the matter is just about giving the power back to elected officials, rather than a government agency. "Congress ought to have a role in looking at those regulations, not a bureaucracy," said Upton. He referred back to the climate and energy bill that the House passed in 2009, which the Senate never acted on, and accused EPA of ignoring the legislative process. "What EPA is now trying to do is act like it passed," said Upton.

Actually, EPA is acting because Congress didn't act. And in the absence of a new law, the agency is compelled to regulate carbon dioxide emissions because the Supreme Court directed it to do so. The Obama administration said repeatedly over the past two years that it preferred a new bill specifically dealing with climate change—and by all accounts the House bill was designed to be much, much more flexible and industry-friendly than regulations under the Clean Air Act. (In fact, cap and trade was a Republican idea created for that very reason). So no, the EPA isn't acting like the bill passed—quite the opposite, really.

So what's the point of Upton's bill then? "We want the Congress to do the job, not the EPA," he said. But asked whether a Republican-led House of Representatives would do anything on the subject, Upton admitted climate change legislation was "a non-starter."

On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Energy and Power will hold its first hearing on Upton's "Energy Tax Prevention Act." EPA administrator Lisa Jackson is due to testify. It should make for quite a show.

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Centrist Dems Plot Against the Mandate

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 2:13 PM EST

Politico reports that a few centrist Dems are planning to do what centrist Dems always do:

A handful of moderate Senate Democrats are looking for ways to roll back the highly contentious individual mandate — the pillar of President Barack Obama’s health care law — a sign that red-state senators are prepared to assert their independence ahead of the 2012 elections.

....And it’s not just health care. The senators are prepared to break with the White House on a wide range of issues: embracing deeper spending cuts, scaling back business regulations and overhauling environmental rules. The moderates most likely to buck their party include [the usual suspects....]

Second things first: on non-healthcare issues, I understand this entirely. Red-state Democrats want to demonstrate their moderate bona fides in order to shore up their right flank before the 2012 election. This is standard behavior, completely predictable, and might even work.

But on healthcare, I wonder what they could possibly be thinking? The individual mandate can't simply be rolled back, it would have to be replaced. And there are ways to do that. But there's no way that any Republicans will ever vote for any of them. Their base wouldn't stand for it, it would wreck their chance of having the Supreme Court throw out the whole thing, it would tacitly accept that PPACA is here to stay, and it would provide political cover for vulnerable Democrats. Hell, Republicans wouldn't even vote for repeal of the 1099 provision last year — a move that virtually everyone in both parties supported — because it might have taken a slight bit of tea party pressure off of Democrats. And that was after the election. There's just no way that a repeal of the invididual mandate will gain even the slightest traction among conservatives. The whole thing reeks of desperation.

Politics being what it is, it's vanishingly unlikely that there will be any substantial changes to PPACA until after the 2012 election and after the Supreme Court rules on the mandate. Until then, Republicans will hold out hope that they can use it to fan the flames of tea party fury and either (a) win the 2012 election or (b) win the Supreme Court case. Or both! Only once that's over, and PPACA is fundamentally here to stay, will it be possible to enact any improvements to the law.

Bullying and Social Status

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 12:19 PM EST

And now, in news you can use, here's the latest headline on the social sciences front:

Study links teenage bullying to social status

I'm glad we cleared that up. And in fairness, the article leads off with an admission that this study has merely "confirmed an axiom of teenage life." What's more, there was this interesting tidbit:

[Robert Faris] found that the teenagers' propensity toward aggression rose along with their social status. Aggressive behavior peaked when students hit the 98th percentile for popularity, suggesting that they were working hard to claw their way to the very top. However, those who were in the top 2% of a school's social hierarchy generally didn't harass their fellow students. At that point, they may have had little left to gain by being mean, and picking on others only made them seem insecure, Faris said.

This also makes sense, and it's slightly less obvious than the main result. However, it's not clear that the causality is being properly placed here. It's possible that making it into the top 2% finally makes you secure enough not to bully, but I think it's more likely that it's the other way around: only the fairly secure kids ever make it into the top 2% in the first place. Everybody picks up on insecurity, and insecure kids just don't have the confident personalities that get you all the way to the top of the heap. More studies, please.

Quote of the Day: Omar Suleiman

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 12:04 PM EST

From the LA Times, on newly minted Egyptian vice president Omar Suleiman's dedication to democracy:

U.S. officials privately acknowledged that there is no guarantee that Suleiman, a former intelligence chief closely aligned with the military, is committed to substantial reforms.

Ya think?

Is China's Crash Near?

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 11:19 AM EST

China is still trying to get its bubblicious economy under control:

China staged its third interest rate increase since October on Tuesday, the latest sign of the authorities’ intensifying efforts to temper the blistering pace of economic growth and prevent already worrisome inflation levels from escalating further. The central bank in Beijing raised its benchmark one-year deposit rate by a quarter of a percentage point, to 3 percent.

....Data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Jan. 20 put the pace of growth at 10.3 percent for 2010 — up from 9.2 percent in 2009 — significantly above what analysts had expected. Inflation came in at 4.6 percent for December — well above what the authorities are comfortable with — and could rise further, economists believe. As in many other emerging economies, rapid growth has combined with easy credit and inflows of cash from overseas to push up asset and consumer prices this year.

Plus there's this:

The state-run news media in China warned Monday that the country’s major agricultural regions were facing their worst drought in 60 years and said Tuesday that Shandong Province, a cornerstone of Chinese grain production, was bracing for its worst drought in 200 years unless substantial precipitation came by the end of this month.

World wheat prices are already surging and have been widely cited as one reason for protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. China has been essentially self-sufficient in grain for decades for national security reasons, and any move by China to import large quantities of food in response to the drought could drive international prices even higher, creating serious problems for less affluent countries that rely on imported food.

Obviously this could cause problem for other countries, as the Times notes. But I'm also working on the assumption that China's measures to control its economy are too little too late, which means that a shock to China might also be the catalyst that bursts China's bubble, and does it abruptly rather than gradually. Unfortunately, I continue to consider it likely that China in 2011 is similar to the United States in 2007, with disaster looming around the corner. We did too little to head it off then (though by 2007 it would have been too late even for more extreme measures to be effective), and I suspect China is doing too little to head it off now.

Yes, I know I'm wearing my pessimist hat this morning. Hopefully that's all there is to this.

Well-Spent Dollars in Afghanistan

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 11:00 AM EST

I had a really patriotic experience while reading one of the stories from our current issue that just went live on the site. It's about a tough Afghan prosecutor, Maria Bashir, who's trying to protect the rights of her countrywomen even though that means she needs more protection than anyone. A few pages (print-version-wise) in, this little piece made me super proud to be an American:

In a city where the council of clerics has issued a fatwa against women leaving the home without an appropriate male escort, [Bashir] began to feel alone and exposed. She requested around-the-clock security, but the government refused. She asked for a bulletproof car and was denied. Then, in 1997, her house was bombed.

Now, as she leaves her office, Bashir's clicking heels keep pace with the rolling gait of four armed guards—hired by the American government, not her own.

U! S! A! I was so overcome with pride in American power, which doesn't come so easy to war-haters in wartime, that I actually choked up a little. I have a similar experience when I watch the part in The Saint when Elisabeth Shue is running away from evil Russians and hurtles herself toward the American Embassy guards yelling "I'm an American! Open the gates! Open the gates I'm an American!" and then they do and then she's safe in the arms of corn-fed soldiers and anti-communism.

You should read the article. It's heartbreaking, but somehow simultaneously hopeful.

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Glenn Beck's Collision Course at Fox

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 10:57 AM EST

In his PoliticsDaily.com column, David Corn notes that Glenn Beck—as he promotes the conspiracy theory that "uber-leftists" and Islamic extremists are plotting together to destroy the West—is in trouble on the right, with conservatives decrying his nuttiness. (Yes, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush are part of the grand cabal. You hadn't heard?) This week, neocon titan Bill Kristol (a fellow Fox Newser) slammed Beck:

[H]ysteria is not a sign of health. When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. He's marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s.

Beck fired back at Kristol, maintaining that Kristol doesn't "stand for anything anymore." But, as Corn points out, Beck's real probem may not be Kristol, but Fox:

Beck's problem, though, is not that Kristol has finally realized Beck is preaching nonsense. It's that now Beck has to expand his conspiracy to include Kristol, a prominent Fox News contributor, as either an active participant in the mighty plot or an unseeing buffoon exploited by the evil masters. And not just Kristol, but everybody else at Fox News who doesn't report and decry the Bush-assisted Islamic-communist plot against the United States. For Beck to be true to his cause, he will have to assail other conservatives who don't join him, for, my friends, this is about survival.

Beck cannot sustain his conspiracy mongering without roping into the conspiracy those on the right who either dare to challenge him or who are too dumb to see what's what. And that includes the rest of Fox News. After all, how could Bill O'Reilly, during his pre-Super Bowl interview with President Obama, not ask the president about his role in the left-Islam plot to create a caliphate? O'Reilly must be in on it -- or a naif. And the rest of the Fox network, too! If Beck is serious, his conspiracy theory must engulf the network that pays him.

Meanwhile, Fox faces a challenge: How long can it continue to air the ravings of a fellow denounced by sane conservatives? I once was a commentator at Fox News and worked with Roger Ailes. The guy likes to make money; he likes to cause trouble. But he also likes to be regarded seriously. (Ditto for Rupert Murdoch.) Beck is making it increasingly tough for Fox to claim it is a reality-based outfit (even by its standards). As Beck veers more into Bircher-land, can Fox stand behind him?

....As Beck becomes increasingly unhinged and lost in conspiracy-land, he may well become a litmus test for the right -- and a measure of whether the leaders of Fox News care about any claim to respectability. Should Fox throw him out of the coop, Beck will still have a cult-like following that he can service via his syndicated radio show, website, and books -- and still make tens of millions of dollars a year. He won't crawl off to an undisclosed location. But he will no longer have the imprimatur of the right's main media outfit. And what better confirmation that the conspiracy is vast, oh so vast.

Meanwhile, Time's Joe Klein has reported that he's hearing stuff: 

I've heard, from more than a couple of conservative sources, that prominent Republicans have approached Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes about the potential embarrassment that the paranoid-messianic rodeo clown may bring upon their brand. The speculation is that Beck is on thin ice.

No doubt, that ice is thin because lefties and Islamic meanies have figured out how to direct global warming.

Rick Perry Runs For President, From Budget

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 9:00 AM EST

At this time last year, Arizona was facing a catastrophic budget crisis, the byproduct of building an entire economy on a real estate bubble that finally burst. It was a pretty daunting challenge, and so legislators chose to take their minds off of things by inventing new problems, and then solving those instead. As Ken Silverstein noted in Harper's:

Lawmakers have turned racial profiling into official policy...Another new law bans the funding of any ethnic-studies programs in the public schools, while a third prohibits "intentionally or knowingly creating a human-animal hybrid." Lawmakers declared February 8 the "Boy Scout Holiday," took time out to discount fishing-license fees for Eagle Scouts, and approved a constitutional right to hunt.

Mischief managed. Now, a similar situation is playing out in Texas. The Lone Star State faces a $25 billion budget deficit in 2010, so naturally, Gov. Rick Perry has put the legislature to work on a package of entirely unrelated emergency items. Politico says this means Perry's running for president, in which case his agenda is great fodder for potential primary voters. It's less great, however, for women, immigrants, and poor people. Here's a breakdown:

Feral Pig Diaries Day 1: Moonshine and Teen Swine

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 6:00 AM EST

This week, I'm reporting from outside Savannah, Georgia, on my first-ever hunting trip. We're after invasive feral pigs, which have proliferated over the last decade in much of the southeastern US, competing with native species for food and wreaking havoc on land with their rooting. I'm hanging out with Jackson Landers, who aims to whet American appetites for invasive species like hogs, lionfish, geese, deer, and even spiny iguanas by working with wholesalers, chefs, and restaurateurs to promote these aliens as menu items. Read my introductory post (wherein MoJo takes a field trip to the shooting range) here. Read my post from Day 2, "Do Hogs Like Supermarmet Danishes?" here, and my post from Day 3, "OK, but How Does Wild Hog Taste?" here. A word to the squeamish: The Feral Pig Diaries do contain a few graphic images.

The forecast called for rain all day in Savannah on Monday, but we weren't about to let a little precipitation come between us and the hogs. So we rose early and headed out on the hunt. I'll tell you all about what happened. But first I'd like to introduce my hosts:

This is Jackson Landers, a.k.a. the Locavore Hunter. Jackson quit his job in insurance a few years ago to write books about hunting and teach people how to do it at his home near Charlottesville, Virginia. Right now, he's really into hunting and eating invasive species. Jackson is a great teacher—I know because my temporary apprentice hunter license required me to basically stay glued to his side all day. He's also a genuine animal nut; his critter knowledge is vast. Some things I learned from Jackson today, in no particular order: why you have to lasso alligators instead of shooting them (like Rasputin, gators have a way of resisting death); where you're most likely to find armadillos that carry leprosy (near the Gulf coast); and how country music got its twang (imported by American cowboys returning from stints rounding up wild cows in Hawaii, where they enjoyed the sound of the local slack-key guitar. I don't really know if I buy this one.)

This is Jackson's father-in-law, Bob. He used to hunt a lot, though these days, he says, he pretty much sticks to shooting the pests around his property near Charlottesville, where he raises chickens and plans to buy a few pigs this spring. He makes planting and harvesting potatoes sound like a piece of cake, and would like to try his hand at shitake mushrooms. He's also an all-around nice guy and believes that no slice of pizza is complete without a meat topping.

This is Baker Leavitt, whose family owns the former horse farm where we're hunting, a thousand acres of dirt roads, fields, and woods strewn with Spanish moss. Baker says feral pigs have done a number on the land in the last few years, eating low vegetation, rooting, and wallowing. Baker grew up in Savannah, with plenty of hunting and riding horses (till he got thrown). He worked in local real estate till the market went south, and now he's in grad school in New York City. A few days before I came, Baker sent me an email from his Blackberry that said, "You ready to bust some hogs??" (Ready as I'll ever be.) And then, when he read my blog post about us hippies at the shooting range, he sent another: "No stinky patchouli!" Don't worry, Baker, I left that and my incense at home. After the jump: gory-ish images (but they're not too bad).

Ohio, Texas Duel for Most Restrictive Abortion Law

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 6:00 AM EST

Anti-abortion groups in Ohio are pushing for the passage of a state law banning abortions if a doctor is able to detect a heartbeat in the fetus—which would significantly limit the time period when a woman can obtain a legal abortion.

A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks after conception. Currently, abortions are generally legal through the second trimester of pregnancy—up to 24 weeks (and longer in cases where the woman's life is at risk, though that depends on state laws). Ohio state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican, plans to introduce his "Heartbeat Bill" on Wednesday, according to a press release issued on Monday. The Associated Press reports that 40 of 99 state representatives have signed on as cosponsors.

Among the groups advocating for the measure is the national anti-abortion group Faith2Action, and the group's president, Janet Porter, says "it will be the most protective law in the nation." The group is rallying anti-abortion activists to send thousands of red balloons to the statehouse this week in a show of support for the legislation. Their website promoting the bill includes a horrible knock-off of Nena's "99 Luftballoons" featuring dancing babies—actual babies, not 6-week-old fetuses—as well as some images of sonograms that make them appear to be dancing. The site does not, however, include text of the actual bill that Wachtmann intends to introduce this week.

Anti-abortion activists and bill sponsor Wachtmann—who chairs the House Health Committee—are hoping to once again use Ohio as a model for other states. They point to the fact that the state legislature was the first to pass a "partial-birth abortion" ban in 1995. Other states followed suit, until a federal law was passed and later upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Ohio bill arives as the Texas legislature is considering a bill that would require women to have a sonogram before they can have an abortion—and if the fetus has a heartbeat, would force the woman to listen to it. A committee in the Texas Senate is set to begin hearings this week after Gov. Rick Perry (R) fast-tracked the sonogram legislation by deeming it an "emergency" item. At the federal level, House Republicans have also been moving to dramatically restrict access to abortion by attempting to redefine rape and drafting a proposal that would doctors to refuse to provide abortion services even when the woman's life is at risk.