Barriers to achieving US climate goals are more political than technical
On Earth Day, April 22, President Joe Biden hosted a global summit on climate change to emphasize that the United States is back in the game on climate policy and to encourage greater climate ambition among other countries. Just over 100 days into his administration, Biden has largely put his cards on the table in terms of his climate goals and his plans to reach them. The big question is whether he will be able to overcome stiff political challenges on one of his core issues.
THE BIDEN CLIMATE COMMITMENT
A little background on the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is helpful here. It has a “bring your own goals” structure. Each member country makes a pledge of emissions reductions that it will deliver, called a nationally determined contribution (NDC). The sum of these pledges is the “meat” of the agreement. Pledges submitted in advance of the 2015 agreement were not sufficient to achieve its overall goal — limiting global average temperature rise to less than 2°C, ideally to less than 1.5°C. However, the agreement requires NDC updates every five years with the idea that they will become more ambitious over time, driven by technology improvements and cost reductions, along with peer pressure. Those updated, ideally more ambitious, NDCs are due before the COP26 conference in early November this year.
Director – Energy Security and Climate Initiative
President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement, but Biden rejoined the agreement on his first day in office. Since Biden’s election and inauguration, the new U.S. NDC has been a hot topic of discussion among climate experts and concerned citizens worldwide. And it is finally here, issued on April 21 in advance of the Earth Day Climate Summit. Announcing the NDC provided the Biden administration with an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to climate action, to domestic voters and the wider world.
In the months since the election, environmentalists have generally agreed that the U.S. NDC needed to be at least a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030 (from a base year of 2005, the peak year for U.S. greenhouse gas emissions). They got their wish — the NDC pledges 50% to 52% reductions from 2005, which totals out to reductions of 39% to 45% from 2020 emissions. But the question I’ve been asking myself is, how? Nine years is a short time for such a profound transformation.
The NDC itself doesn’t have a lot to say about the policies that will be used to achieve reductions, instead describing the sectors with significant emissions and potential ways of abating them. This is normal — the European Union submitted its own NDC in December 2020, but the implementation plan is still under consideration and expected to be issued in June. (The U.S. NDC is less ambitious than the EU’s, which promises similar percent emissions reductions, but from the smaller baseline of 1990.)
Several studies, including from the University of Maryland Center for Global Sustainability, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Asia Policy Institute and Climate Analytics, describe how the U.S. could achieve the level of reductions pledged in the NDC. The plans describe different combinations of policy mechanisms, but demonstrate that the pledged reduction is achievable — albeit very challenging.
Unlike in the European Union, a nationwide price on carbon is off the table for now. A carbon price, through a tax or a cap and trade program, would require legislation from Congress. And such legislation has no chance of passing the current Congress. Without a price on carbon, sector-specific policies must carry the burden of reducing emissions.
SECTORAL EMISSIONS REDUCTIONS
For the most part, the Biden administration has already proposed the programs it plans to use to achieve the emissions reductions pledged in the U.S. NDC. The American Jobs Plan that the White House issued on March 31 is the closest thing to a “climate bill” we’re likely to see before the 2022 midterm elections. It contains a number of elements that would contribute to significant emissions reductions. Additional reductions are likely to come from programs that the administration can implement on its own, without Congress.
Lee Atwater’s Secret Papers
07 May 21
An infamous Republican political operative’s unpublished memoir shows how the Party came to embrace lies, racial fearmongering, and winning at any cost.
t’s a Washington axiom that when a power player dies, their influence and secrets do as well. One night this spring, my phone chimed with a text message that showed otherwise. Sally Atwater, the widow of the legendary Republican political operative Lee Atwater, had died. She had been married to the bad boy of the G.O.P. during the Reagan and Bush years until his untimely death, thirty years ago. The Atwaters’ eldest daughter, Sara Lee, who lives in Brussels and is a Democrat, invited me over to her parents’ home to read through cartons of papers from her late father, whom I knew well when I covered the Reagan White House. They included seven chapters of Lee Atwater’s unpublished draft memoir, which had remained untouched since he succumbed to brain cancer, in 1991, at the age of forty, and at the height of his political career.
The house on a quiet street in Northwest Washington was the kind of tidy, brick place that bespeaks proper family life. The scene inside was something else. Its first-floor rooms were filled with a jumble of cardboard and plastic containers, overflowing with manila folders, crammed with everything from the former Republican Party chairman’s elementary-school papers to his dying thoughts, dictated to an assistant during his final days.
Some of the memorabilia was surprising. Despite Atwater’s well-deserved reputation for running racist campaigns, there were friendly private notes and photos of him with Al Sharpton and James Brown, whose onstage acrobatics Atwater was famous for trying to mimic in his own blues-guitar performances. There were also personal notes from underground-film stars of the John Waters era. According to his daughter, Atwater was a huge underground-film aficionado. While the Republican Party he chaired trumpeted family values and the Christian right, on the side he helped a friend open a video store in Virginia specializing in pornography, blaxploitation, and his own favorite genre, horror movies. Atwater experienced horror in his own life early. When he was five, his baby brother died of burns from an overturned vat of hot grease in the family’s kitchen. Atwater’s papers contained no mention of the tragedy, but he said that he heard the sounds of his brother’s screams every day of his life.
Atwater died before he could finish his memoir. What remains of it are hunks of yellowing typewritten pages, held together by rusting staples and paper clips. But the seven surviving chapters suggest that, far from dying along with him, the nihilism, cynicism, and scurrilous tactics that Atwater brought into national politics live on. In many ways, his memoir suggests that Atwater’s tactics were a bridge between the old Republican Party of the Nixon era, when dirty tricks were considered a scandal, and the new Republican Party of Donald Trump, in which lies, racial fearmongering, and winning at any cost have become normalized. Chapter 5 of Atwater’s memoir in particular serves as a Trumpian precursor. In it, Atwater, who worked in the Office of Political Affairs in the Reagan White House, and managed George H. W. Bush’s 1988 Presidential campaign before becoming the Republican Party’s chairman at the age of thirty-seven, admits outright that he only cared about winning, not governing. “I’ve always thought running for office is a bunch of bullshit. Being in a office is even more bullshit. It really is bullshit,” he wrote. “I’m proud of the fact that I understand how much BS it is.”
In the nineteen-eighties, Atwater became infamous for his effective use of smears. Probably his best-known one was tying Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, Bush’s Democratic Presidential opponent in 1988, to Willie Horton, a Black convict who went on a crime spree after getting paroled in the state. A menacing ad featuring Horton was a blatant attempt to stir fear among white voters that Dukakis would be soft on crime. At the very end of his life, Atwater publicly apologized to Dukakis for it. But Atwater’s draft memoir makes clear that he had already mastered the dark political arts as a teen-ager. In fact, it seems that practically everything Atwater learned about politics he learned in high school. It’s easy to see the future of the Republican Party in the anti-intellectual dirty tricks of his school days.
Born in Atlanta, Atwater grew up in a middle-class white family in South Carolina. His father worked in insurance, and his mother was a teacher. But from the start, Atwater was an ambitious and charismatic rebel, or, as he put it, a “hell-raiser.” While secretly gorging on history and literature—Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” was one of his favorite books—he went out of his way to seem unstudious at school. He sneered at the top grade-getters and student-government leaders. His aim, he wrote, was to be seen as too smart and too cool to care. In high school, the only office he sought was to be voted the “wittiest.” To that end, he tried every day to do something funny. “If it wasn’t funny, it at least screwed somebody up. Every damn day, I’d screw people up. And that’s fun and funny. And I pulled a lot of shit.” Over time, he organized a group of about a hundred students to disrupt the school at his command. When speakers came to assembly, Atwater would signal his followers to rise in unison and turn their backs for a few seconds, or cross their legs in synchronized motions, or break out in wild applause. But Atwater was cunning. He writes that there was a “secret to screwing everything up” successfully. He always “understood the line” that he needed to stay within in order not to get caught. The No. 1 lesson was to be “so subtle that they can’t nab you for anything.”
Atwater could be amusing. As he rose in American politics, candidates and reporters alike were drawn to his subversive sense of humor, despite themselves. But throughout his life he displayed more than a tinge of amorality. In his memoir, Atwater describes, without remorse, falsely accusing another student of instigating a fight that he had started, and remaining silent after the student was paddled twenty-five times. “I didn’t tell the truth worth a shit,” he admits. He describes organizing six hundred and fifty students to spew spit wads at a female official who, he writes, hadn’t “been screwed in 20 years.” The best moment, in his view, was when a fellow-student threw a glass of ice at her, “and it really hurt her which was the funny part.”
The first presidential campaign that Atwater managed was a bid to get a friend of his elected as student-body president—against the friend’s wishes. He created a list of false accomplishments and devised a fake rating system that ranked his friend first. He plastered the school with posters declaring his friend’s platform of false promises of “Free Beer on Tap in the Cafeteria—Free Dates—Free Girls.” The campaign took a darker turn when Atwater’s sidekicks stomped on the bare feet of a hippie-like student until his feet bled profusely. Afterward, the group threatened to do the same to younger students unless they voted for Atwater’s candidate. Atwater recalls that he privately revelled in the tactics, and was proud that he could participate in “intimidating” his fellow-students. But publicly he feigned concern, or, as he writes, “I was acting like Eddie Haskell saying, ‘My gosh young people, you could be next.’ ” His candidate won an upset victory, but the school declared it void owing to a technicality. “I learned a lot,” he writes. “I learned how to organize . . . and I learned how to polarize.”
Although Atwater’s adult professional rise was meteoric, toward the end of his life his double game of paying homage to Black cultural leaders while milking racism for political gain caught up with him. His appointment to the board of trustees at Howard University, in Washington, shortly after Bush won the White House, provoked an uproar on campus. The student newspaper at the prestigious and historically Black university denounced him, and the students occupied an administration building in protest. In his papers, Atwater complains that Jesse Jackson duped him, writing, “If there’s anybody on the political scene who’s done me dirty, it’s Jesse Jackson.” Atwater writes that Jackson talked him into resigning from Howard’s board with a promise to lionize Atwater for doing so. Instead, the day after Atwater agreed to resign, Jackson went to Howard and “just kicked my guts out.” Sara Lee Atwater, who loved her father but not his politics, finds it somewhat fitting that as racial politics evolved, “The trickster got tricked.”
In the final months of his life, when it was clear that he wouldn’t recover, Atwater lamented the dirty, divisive campaigns he’d run, and apologized far and wide for them. His memoir calls on politicians to instead follow the Golden Rule. Roger Stone, who formed an early consulting and lobbying firm in the Washington area with Atwater, along with Paul Manafort and Charles Black, remains unconvinced about Atwater’s spiritual awakening. “Lee was a great storyteller,” Stone told me in a recent interview. “But, in the end, he was just grasping at straws. The Atwater family disagrees and has no doubt that he became a Christian. But at that point he was also Buddhist, Hindu, and everything else.”
Stone, of course, has had his own checkered track record in Republican politics, including a 2019 conviction for lying, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice, during the Mueller investigation—all of which Trump pardoned. In Stone’s view, however, Atwater was more of an opportunist. “We both knew he believed in nothing,” Stone told me. “Above all, he was incredibly competitive. But I had the feeling that he sold his soul to the devil, and the devil took it.”
Among the bits of memorabilia that Atwater kept was a rejection letter from the admissions office at the University of South Carolina. Having been contemptuous of grade-grubbing, his high-school transcript by his own admission was far from distinguished. But, a half century later, Atwater’s personal papers have had more luck. According to his daughter, the university has offered to find room for his memoir and other records in its archives. The Republican Party, however, doesn’t need to study Atwater’s lessons. It’s still using his playboo
Fox News is playing a deadly game with its viewers, and death is winningMay 06, 2021 10:06am EDT by Mark Sumner, Daily Kos Staff
The United States has enough COVID-19 vaccine to cover every person in the nation—and then some. In every state, pharmacies and clinics are offering shots on a walk-in basis, no appointment necessary. States and localities are offering everything from free beer to a $100 cash payment for those ready to take a jab. Even so, just 57% of adults have been vaccinated, and even as the availability of vaccine has been increasing, the rate of vaccination has been steadily decreasing.
The reason is simple enough: Nearly half of all Republicans refuse to be vaccinated. The reason behind this reason is equally clear: a steady stream of conspiracy theories and false information designed to make the vaccine seem either ineffective or downright dangerous. And no one, on any sort of media, may be more responsible for fueling vaccine aversion than Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.null
Carlson seems to be feeling out the edges of the First Amendment each day, testing, probing, and practically daring anyone to do anything about it. In a way, Carlson is conducting an experiment, or challenge, like a diver plunging ever deeper into the sea without an oxygen tank. Only Carlson isn’t putting his own life at risk, or even his career—the Fox lawyers are surely standing by with stacks of paper and suitcases of money.
No. It’s everyone else’s life that Carlson is endangering. And on Wednesday evening, he plunged to new depths.
On his Wednesday program, Carlson again used his platform to push a variety of half truths and full bore lies concerning the vaccines. That included a statement that “3,362 people have died after getting the COVID vaccine in the United States.” He then extends this to “almost four thousand” after speculating over another 300-odd deaths not originally included. Carlson then helpfully breaks this down to “30 people a day” and then claims that the “actual number is almost certainly higher than that, perhaps vastly higher.”
Of course, over 146 million people in the United States have gotten at least one shot, and over 106 million have been fully vaccinated. That last number includes more than 38 million people over the age of 65. In the United States, an average of 2.9 million people die each year—a mortality rate of 869.7deaths per 100,000 people. Given that number, 1,269,762 people who have received the vaccine would be expected to die within a year of that vaccination for reasons that have nothing to do with the vaccine. So the number of vaccine recipients dying each day really should be “vastly higher” than 30. It should be more like 3,480. Because people die.
Conversely, if only 30 vaccine recipients are actually dying each day … then everyone should really hurry to get the vaccine, because it’s clearly a better medication than the fountain of youth mixed with the philosopher’s stone.
If Carlson left his statement there, it would be simply incredibly deceptive. In fact, Carlson would be engaged in a massive version of the kind of distortion that some of those trying to downplay the pandemic have claimed was going on in death reports. But Carlson didn’t stop there.
After referencing an unconnected paper on the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)—the apparent source of Carlson’s deceptive statistics—Carlson shows that, having been utterly disingenuous in one direction, he can pivot into being just as misleading in another. After popping off his “30 deaths a day” value, Carlson suggests that VAERS catches only 1% of vaccine events. Then … “So what is the real number of people who have been killed or injured by the vaccine? Well, we don’t know that number, nobody does, and we’re not going to speculate about it on this show.”
In a way, it’s a masterclass in stepping around the landmines of truth. Carlson never directly says that the vaccine is causing thousands of deaths a day. He just does everything he possibly can to plant that impression in the minds of his viewers.
There’s no doubt that Tucker Carlson is having a blast. He’s scripting up statements that scare the crap out of people, and doing it in a way that is designed to leave him an easy retreat if a lawsuit or angry prosecutor should happen his way. This is a game he’s playing, one that’s utterly dependent on the broad protections of the First Amendment and the cushy depth of Fox’s legal team. Carlson knows exactly what he can say and walk away sneering.
Unfortunately, other people are not walking away. In a nation where 100% of adults could be vaccinated and COVID-19 could genuinely be brought under control, over 46,000 people tested positive on Wednesday and 740 died—on top of the 3,400 who would have died normally. That’s the cost of the fun Carlson is having.
But somehow, that probably only makes him happier.
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