|January 29, 2007|
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Until last week, President Bush had never uttered a word about global warming in a State of the Union address. But on Tuesday, facing an American public that overwhelmingly believes the earth is warming and a new Congress resolved to curb this warming, Bush shifted gears, devoting a whole half-sentence to “the serious challenge of global climate change.” Bush’s sound bite has set off a wave of accolades and positive media attention. “Bush Goes Green?” asked Time magazine, while the Washington Post declared on the front page that “Bush’s commitment to fight global warming in his State of the Union address this week has echoed around the world.” Sen. Lisa Murkowsi (R-AK) called it “a very strong signal.” Actually, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes today, despite “hints and hopes that the speech would be a Nixon-goes-to-China moment,” Bush’s speech “ended up being more of a Nixon-bombs-Cambodia moment.” Bush’s boldest-sounding energy proposal — to replace 35 billion gallons of gasoline with “alternative” (rather than renewable) fuels by 2017 — relies on coal-based fuel, a product that “could nearly double global warming pollution per gallon of fuel” compared to petroleum-based fuels we use today. Meanwhile, Congress is making bold and unprecedented steps towards addressing the climate crisis, even as the scientific case for global warming receives another powerful boost. This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the “main international scientific body assessing causes of climate change,” will issue its “strongest statement yet linking emissions from burning fossil fuels to rising global temperatures.”
BUSH SHIFTS FROM OIL TO COAL: The primary energy goal announced in last week’s State of the Union was to reduce U.S. gasoline usage “by 20 percent in the next 10 years.” The Washington Post notes the fine print: “Administration officials said that the goal is 20 percent below projected annual gasoline usage, not off today’s levels,” meaning “that carbon dioxide emissions from transportation fuels will drop only slightly from today’s levels.” Moreover, to meet this goal, the administration wants to revise the Renewable Fuel Standard to allow gasoline derived from coal — “a method now being championed by governors and senators from coal-producing states” — to count against the standards. The problem is that “refining and then burning a gallon of gasoline derived from coal would send nearly twice as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a conventional gallon of gasoline and would thus be a disaster for global warming.” In other words, using coal-based transportation fuel in a Honda Civic would cause it to produce carbon emissions equivalent to a Hummer H3 run on conventional gasoline. Even if the president’s proposal relied on clean renewable fuels, the gains would be insufficient to meet the substantial threat of global warming, since “passenger vehicles account for only one-fifth of [carbon emissions].”
BAD IDEAS IN RESERVE: The president’s other energy proposal was “to double the size of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which insures against the risk of an oil supply disruption.” But as the Washington Post notes, “In the face of the danger of oil price shocks, what matters is not the size of oil reserves in the United States but the size of such reserves globally.” Last year, the National Security Task Force on Energy issued a report calling on the Bush administration to encourage China and India to formally enter the International Energy Agency (IEA), whose oil stockpile requirement “ensures that oil importing member countries build and maintain strategic reserves.” The Post writes, “U.S. energy security depends…on whether India has a reserve that it could tap in the event of a sudden shortage: If it doesn’t, India will respond to a shortage by buying more oil on world markets, forcing up global oil prices and hitting motorists on the Beltway. Mr. Bush’s unilateral solution — build a bigger oil reserve at home — is hugely expensive and less likely to be effective” than bringing China and India into the IEA.
CONGRESS ACTS: While Bush remains tentative, others are acting. Tomorrow, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will hold her first global warming hearing as chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, one that “promises to be a star-studded affair with presidential candidates and dueling views about how to take on the complex challenge of curbing greenhouse gas emissions.” In the House, Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow investigating “political interference in the work of government climate change scientists.” Earlier this month, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced bold plans to create a Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and to introduce energy legislation based on the committee’s recommendations by July 4, Independence Day. House Energy Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI), who has been less aggressive on combatting global warming issues, first claimed the panel would be as useful as “feathers on a fish.” He has come around to support the committee, however, and will “jump into the fuel economy debate whole hog next week with a hearing on the president’s plan to raise corporate average fuel economy standards.”
CLIMATE CRISIS REALITY CHECK: A draft of the IPCC’s new report increases the odds of humans being the primary cause of post-1950 global warming from “likely” (66-90 percent) to “very likely” (more than 90 percent). Continued global warming is predicted, leading to a “huge disruption to agriculture, more floods, heatwaves, desertification and melting glaciers.” The impact will be catastrophic, “forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee their devastated homelands, particularly in tropical, low-lying areas, while creating waves of immigrants” — dubbed climate refugees — “whose movements will strain the economies of even the most affluent countries.” Noting the consensus-based nature of the report, one British climate expert says, “The really chilling thing about the IPCC report is that it is the work of several thousand climate experts who have widely differing views about how greenhouse gases will have their effect. Some think they will have a major impact, others a lesser role. Each paragraph of this report was therefore argued over and scrutinised intensely. Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very conservative document – that’s what makes it so scary.” Indeed, “many top U.S. scientists reject [the] rosier numbers” offered in the new report, which foresees “smaller sea level rises than were projected in 2001 in the last report.” According to scientists, those calculations “don’t include the recent, and dramatic, melt-off of big ice sheets” in Greenland and Antarctica. In 2002, Antarctica’s 1,255-square-mile Larsen B ice shelf “broke off and disappeared in just 35 days. And recent NASA data shows that Greenland is losing 53 cubic miles of ice each year — twice the rate it was losing in 1996.”
IRAQ — CHENEY FALSELY CLAIMS BUSH HAS ‘SHORED UP HIS [POLITICAL] POSITION…SPECIFICALLY ON IRAQ’: In an interview with Newsweek, Vice President Dick Cheney falsely claims that President Bush’s Iraq escalation speech delivered on Jan. 10 “shored up his position�?specifically on Iraq.” Cheney said, “My sense of it is that what’s happened here now over the last few weeks is that the president has shored up his position with the speech he made a couple of weeks ago, specifically on Iraq.” But polls taken after the Iraq escalation address indicate that public support for the Iraq war and for Bush’s strategy continue to fall. For example, in the week after Bush’s speech, USA Today reported, “Poll: Bush’s new Iraq strategy fails to rally public support.” Similarly, the Washington Post reported, “Poll: Bush’s new Iraq strategy fails to rally public support,” and CBS noted, “Poll: Americans Not Swayed By Iraq Plan.” Bush’s job approval ratings have taken a hit as well. In December, both CNN and Washington Post polls reported he had a 36 percent rating. In their most recent polls, Bush has fallen to 34 and 33 percent respectively.
HEALTH CARE — WIDE ARRAY OF EXPERTS SLAM BUSH’S HEALTH CARE PLAN: In his weekly radio address, President Bush called on Congress to take up his health care plan, “employee health benefits would, for the first time, be treated as income and would be subject to income and payroll taxes, just like wages.” Bush claimed opponents of the plan were giving a “reflexive” response, but experts from across the political spectrum have voiced their doubts. “It’s not solving the uninsured problem and it’s not solving the cost problem, so it’s not really advancing what we need to have happen,” said Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health policy research organization. “The tax proposal would have the effect of driving people to the small-group insurance market — a market that has proved unstable,” Richard J. Umbdenstock, president of the American Hospital Association said. The executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said his members “had serious concerns” about the plan. Today, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported the proposal “could reduce Social Security benefits for many Americans because the deduction would apply not only to income taxes, but also to payroll taxes that go to Social Security.” The one group who will benefit the most from the plan are the insurance companies, as the plan “might provide a boost to managed care providers such as UnitedHealth Group Inc., Wellpoint Inc. and others looking to increase their enrollment numbers.”
ADMINISTRATION — HANDPICKED U.S. ATTORNEYS HAVE STRONG CONSERVATIVE CREDENTIALS, LACK LOCAL CONNECTIONS: Since last March, nine U.S. attorneys have been pushed out of their jobs and replaced by conservative loyalists handpicked by the Bush administration. Several of these ousted prosecutors were working on high-profile cases, such as Carol Lam, who ran the investigation into the corruption of former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA). The San Diego Union-Tribune noted that Lam appeared to be the “victim of strong-arm political pressure from Washington, where officials apparently wanted to hand her job to a partisan operative.” While some of the newly appointed U.S. attorneys have strong legal credentials, many have had little experience as prosecutors and “most of them have few, if any, ties to the communities they’ve been appointed to serve.” For example, Tim Griffin, the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, was a protege of Karl Rove and an official at the Republican National Committee. Jeff Taylor, U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., was an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch(R-UT) and served as counselor to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Attorney General John Ashcroft. U.S. Attorney in Kansas City John Wood is married to Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Julie Myers, whose father is former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Richard B. Myers. Jean Paul Bradshaw, former U.S. attorney under President George H.W. Bush, criticized this administration’s political maneuvering: “Under Reagan and the first Bush administration, we worked very hard to push the power out to the locals.”
A recent trip to Iraq has made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “even more certain of her view that moving troops out of Iraq is the best way to bring stability to the region.” After meeting the past three days with scores of U.S. military commanders and regional political leaders, she said, “I believe redeployment of our troops is a step toward stability in the region.”
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) had planned to sit down over the weekend with Sen. John Warner (R-VA) and hammer out a consensus, bipartisan resolution opposing Bush’s escalation in Iraq. “But Warner, who has been making backroom deals for 28 years in the Senate, informed Biden late on Thursday: No deal.”
146: Number of levees nationwide that the Army Corps of Engineers “says pose an unacceptable risk of failing in a major flood.”
Iran’s ambassador yesterday “outlined an ambitious plan on Sunday to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq,” including assuming major responsibility for Iraq’s reconstruction, “an area of failure on the part of the United States.”
$1.2 billion: Amount the Defense Department spends on recruitment efforts each year. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan straining the armed forces, the Pentagon is coming up with creative ways to encourage young people to serve. One such proposal “that’s been floated is allowing the military to recruit foreigners in exchange for U.S. citizenship.”
Three U.S. troops and 100 civilians were killed in Iraq yesterday. At least five students were killed after a mortar shell crashed into a girls’ secondary school.
In addition to hundreds of thousands of people who converged on the National Mall to protest President Bush’s Iraq escalation plan, thousands more protested in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities on the West Coast.
And finally: Will Sweden hand out virtual visas? “Sweden will set up a virtual presence in the popular online world ‘Second Life’ to spread information about the Scandinavian country and attract more young visitors, officials said.” Swedish Institute Director Olle Wastberg said his country “will be the first country with an official presence” in the virtual world.