Age-Old Tradition Felled by Climate Change

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Today's New York Times reports that sugar makers in Vermont—maple syrup farmers, that is—can no longer rely on generations-old traditions to tell them when to tap the trees. Maple season has moved up at least a month and become shorter, sugar makers say. The U.S. used to make 80 percent of the world's maple syrup and Canada, 20. Their roles have now reversed as the maples thrive in the northernmost reaches of their traditional range.

Maple trees not only produce the sweet, delicious sap; they also provide the most exquisite of fall foliage.

Short answer: Nothing. Actually, that's not fair: Less than nothing. The Department of Energy predicts that, if nothing were done to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. would produce just under 9 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2020. The Administration claims that if nothing were done, emissions in that year would be closer to 10 billion tons. With Bush's all-voluntary restrictions, emissions will be exactly what the DOE says they would be, anyway. Addressing Bush's plan, David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the New York Times, "If you set the hurdle one inch above the ground, you can't fail to clear it." But the better metaphor is digging a one inch trench then setting the hurdle an inch above the ground.

The estimates come from the draft of the United States Climate Action Report, a final version of which was promised for the summer of 2005. Explaining the delay, officials blamed "the recent departures of several senior staff members running the administration's climate research program." (Don't you wonder why they'd quit?) The officials also said "no replacements had been named." Survival of the species on the line and the Bush administration is too busy firing nonpartisan U.S. attorneys to staff the climate research program.

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, according to his offiicial biography, is dedicated to "improving health care access and affordability, protecting the sanctity of all human life...." Not quite, if you consider his hat trick that could wipe $60 million of the HIV/AIDS prevention program. Coburn added a provision to the recently renewed Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Act that will divert $60 million from the Centers for Disease Control's HIV/AIDS prevention budget over the next three years into a fund for which no state qualifies.

The HIV Early Diagnosis Grant initiative mandates that $30 million of the CDC's prevention budget be set aside each year for states that meet a particular set of guidelines for HIV testing. The problem is that not one state meets these specific guidelines. However, the $30 million will be taken out of the CDC's budget, regardless.

Under the Early Diagnosis Grant program, states could receive money if they provide voluntary HIV testing of pregnant women and universal testing of newborns, and voluntary HIV testing at sexually transmitted infections clinics and at substance abuse treatment centers.

In anticipation of a loss of funds, the CDC has requested an additional $30 million in its 2008 budget. George W. Bush has already cut state and local prevention grants by $21 million since 2003. Laura Hanen, Director of Government Relations for the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, reports that HIV/AIDS advocates had asked Coburn for a compromise that would allow any unused portion of the $30 million to return to the CDC's prevention budget each year, but he will not budge.

Diana Bruce of the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families defends Coburn as "a senator who cares a lot about HIV/AIDS" issues, but says that his initiative is misguided. "There already is a massive effort to prevent mother to child transmission ...the CDC has its own prenatal transmission programs," Bruce said.

I think the Republican strategy in the 2008 election is to flip-flop so many times, the public becomes completely immune to it. It'll be a massive paradigm shift in which people go from seeing flip-flops as indicative of weakness in character (see Kerry, John) to seeing flip-flops as politics as usual. (I'm only half kidding.)

MoJoBlog has documented McCain and Romney's flip-flopping and pandering over and over and over. So very many times, I'm starting to doubt I have the stomach for it. Not to be outdone, Rudy Giuliani is getting in on the act.

A top Rudy advisor has told the conservative National Review that Rudy opposes public funding for abortions. That's very different from Rudy's position in the 90s, when he ran for office touting his support for public funding.

This isn't the first time Rudy has pulled a U-turn on abortion. Earlier this month, he told Sean Hannity that he opposes late-term abortions, which is funny because once in 1999 and once in 2000 Rudy said very clearly he supports a woman's right to a late-term abortion. And when asked about the issue again in 2000, he said, "All of my positions are firm. I have strong viewpoints. I express them. And I--I do not think that it makes sense to be changing your position."

Hey! It's Another Democratic Plan for Iraq!

Well, what do you know! The Dems have another plan for Iraq.

House Democratic leaders have coalesced around legislation that would require troops to come home from Iraq within six months if that country's leaders fail to meet promises to help reduce violence there, party officials said Thursday.

The plan retains some of the Murtha plan -- readiness standards for about-to-be-deployed troops and the like, read more here -- and hits on some other goals as well.

As of Thursday, the proposal was on track to add an extra $1 billion to step up efforts in Afghanistan. Money also would be added to improve health care for veterans and help wounded active-duty troops, as well as provide relief for hurricane victims.
The legislation also would require Bush to seek congressional approval for any military operations in Iran.

Excuse me if I'm underwhelmed. In the last month alone we've seen a bunch of Democratic plans for Iraq go by the wayside because of lack of support or party infighting. I do give the Democrats some credit, however. On the campaign trail in the fall of 2006, Republicans hammered them for criticizing Bush's plans for Iraq without offering any of their own. Now, in an extremely bumbling fashion, they're hashing it all out. I just wish someone had done the heavy lifting before the new Congress convened in January, so we wouldn't have all this back and forth.

2006 Congressional Vote Ratings Released

I'm going to spoil the big surprise up front: Barack Obama is more liberal than Dennis Kucinich.

Now the context. National Journal has put out a series of lists in which they rate every lawmaker in the House and Senate on how they voted in 2006. (There's a link on the Mother Jones News and Politics page, your home for 2008 presidential coverage and general Washington news.) You can see the most liberal and most conservative members of Congress. You can see where Lieberman stands (not the most conservative Dem). And perhaps most interestingly, you can see where the presidential candidates fall.

The New York Times political blog dug a little deeper and found lifetime ratings. The results?

On a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the most liberal, here are the Dems:

Senator Barack Obama: 84.3
Representative Dennis Kucinich: 79.4
Senator Christopher J. Dodd: 79.2
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton: 78.8
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr.: 76.8

On a scale of one to 100, with 100 being the most conservative, here are the Republicans:

Representative Duncan Hunter: 82.5
Senator Sam Brownback: 81
Representative Tom Tancredo: 75.9
Senator John McCain: 71.8
Senator Chuck Hagel: 71.5
Representative Ron Paul: 51.7

Due to lack of votes in Congress, certain contenders for the nominations are left off.

Without Question, the Best Story of the Day

Headline spotted on Wonkette:

"Swiss Accidentally Invade Liechtenstein"

Classic. From the story itself:

What began as a routine training exercise almost ended in an embarrassing diplomatic incident after a company of Swiss soldiers got lost at night and marched into neighboring Liechtenstein.
...
Interior ministry spokesman Markus Amman said nobody in Liechtenstein had even noticed the soldiers, who were carrying assault rifles but no ammunition. "It's not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something," he said.
Liechtenstein, which has about 34,000 inhabitants and is slightly smaller than Washington DC, doesn't have an army.

Man, can you imagine being a PR guy and getting a call in the middle of the night from some military official who says, "Listen, we just accidentally invaded a defenseless little postage stamp of a country; go explain it to the press." You know you're in for a rough day.

Yesterday I blogged about a new health care plan from Oregon senator Ron Wyden. He's helping push along the universal health care trend by proving that coverage for all is economically feasible and morally necessary.

And it looks like more and more Americans are seeing it that way, too. A new poll from the New York Times says that 84 percent of Americans support expanding a government program to make sure all children have health care -- universal health care jr., as it were. Support lags just slightly on the subject of adults. "Sixty percent, including 62 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans, said they would be willing to pay more in taxes" to pay for universal health care for every American. "Half said they would be willing to pay as much as $500 a year more."

Americans are even willing to forego future tax cuts. "Nearly 8 in 10 said they thought it was more important to provide universal access to health insurance than to extend the tax cuts of recent years; 18 percent said the tax cuts were more important." That 18 percent really loves their money. And I'm assuming they already have some pretty decent health care.

By the way, the fact that Obama, Clinton, and Edwards have all expressed support for universal health care while the Republicans have remained silent has really made this the Democrats' issue. If you remember, in Bush's State of the Union he had a fairly reasonable health care proposal. That seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Only 24 percent said they were satisfied with President Bush's handling of the health insurance issue, despite his recent initiatives, and 62 percent said the Democrats were more likely to improve the health care system.

Also, it's worth pointing out that Romney helped state Democrats pass a form of universal health care in Massachusetts, but because of his recent rightward shift that he thinks is necessary to attract the Republican base, he has dropped any mention of the effort from his campaign. Might want to rethink that one, Mitt.

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Here's one of the mysteries of the media world: Newspaper chains routinely make profits that Fortune 500 companies only dream of—we're talking 20% plus here—and yet everyone says newspapers are about to go the way of the horse and buggy. What's up with that? As Eric Klinenberg explains in "Breaking the News," in our current issue, there's actually no disconnect between fat profits and the demise of the great American newspaper. In fact, the cutting back on reporting and content to wring more money from newspapers is what's killing them. Nope, the Internet isn't to blame. (Though newspapers—and magazines [ahem]—still have a thing or two to learn about making money online.) Klinenberg, the author of the just-published Fighting for Air, takes a close look at the ongoing Los Angeles Times debacle, a case study in how to turn a world-class newspaper into a shadow of its former self, all in the name of satisfying shareholders and equity-chasing investors.

Klinenberg's article is worth checking out even if your fingers haven't been smudged with newsprint for years. Because even if you're an online-only, blog-reading, indy media type, you still need newspapers whether you realize it or not. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're doing the kind of reporting that blogs can't. Or as Kevin Drum explains in his companion piece, "Why Bloggers Need the MSM":

In fact, blogs and the MSM [mainstream media] are symbiotic. Blogs at their best improve on MSM reporting both by holding reporters to account and by latching onto complex topics and talking about them in a conversational style that professional reporters just can't match. But the blogosphere would shrivel and die without a steady diet of news reporting from paid professionals.

Even if newspapers printed on dead trees disappear, we're still going to have to get our daily news somewhere. Back to Klinenberg:

"What's really at risk here is not the future of newspapers but of the news itself. While our democratic culture could survive the loss of the daily paper as we know it, it would be endangered without the kinds of reporting that it provides. It's the journalism, not the newsprint, that matters."

These stories are just part of a larger package that includes Sridhar Pappu's look at the implosion of the LA Times, plus an interview with former LAT editor Dean Baquet, and a nifty chart [PDF] of media mergers and acquisitions from AOL-TimeWarner to Google-YouTube. Check it all out here.

On Tuesday, the city commissioners in Largo, Florida voted to dismiss City Manager Steve Stanton because he is in the process of changing from a man to a woman. The mayor of Largo and one commissioner voted to retain Stanton, but the other five commissioners voted to fire him. According to the Human Rights Campaign, this move is in direct violation of the city's own non-discrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

Stanton has served as City Manager for fourteen years, and was apparently a respected employee. Pam's House Blend points out that the leader of the campaign to get Stanton dismissed was Pastor Charlie Martin of the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. First Baptist brags about being racially diverse, but obviously draws the line at other types of diversity. It's mission statement includes "We are all made in the spiritual image of God," but maybe that needs to be modified just a tad.

Martin believes that if his congregants have to call Steve "Susan" (were they really calling him "Steve"?), the religious freedoms of Christians will be compromised. Another minister said, "If Jesus was here tonight, I can guarantee you he'd want him terminated. Make no mistake about it." These members of the clergy have company among Largo's citizens. Or, as one person said, "As a resident of Largo for over 40 years, I'm very disturbed that our city manager is planning a sex change. In my view this would be disruptive to Steve Stanton's ability to conduct city business."

You figure it out. He was fine when he was Steve, but as Susan, he will not be competent. Of course, all women are accustomed to hearing they are not as competent as men, but this particular case is as extreme as it can get.

No news yet as to whether Stanton will take action against the Largo city commission.