Opinion

The Great Debate

The bill for climate change is coming due

Americans have just endured one of the coldest winters in memory, so global warming may not be on their radar. But a new U.N. panel report has just refocused the public debate on a problem some scientists call the greatest threat facing the world.

There is trouble ahead for global agriculture, warns the influential Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if measures are not taken quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The panel, which synthesizes the findings of thousands of peer-reviewed studies every seven years, has issued a report card on the state of the planet.

The report card serves as a guide to policymakers and a basis for international deliberations, including the summit on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions scheduled to be held in Paris next year. The report will be officially released on Sunday in Yokohama, Japan, but an advance copy has been leaked.

This IPCC report predicts that by the end of the century, “hundreds of millions of people will be affected by coastal flooding and displaced due to land loss,” the majority living in island nations and in southern Asia.

The report goes on to link food price increases (like the 2010 spike in wheat prices that helped spark the Arab Spring) to climate change-related droughts and floods. It forecasts that prices will continue to rise as grain yields decline by as much as 2 percent per decade for the rest of the century, while demand is projected to rise by 14 percent per decade through 2050.

Corporate tax reform: California points the way

The arcane, outdated and inefficient U.S. corporate tax code is costing our country jobs, factories, industries and tens of billions of dollars of badly-needed tax revenue each year.

Our tax system is supposedly based on the idea that U.S. companies should pay taxes on all profits, no matter where they are earned. Yet this is undermined when companies are allowed to “defer” taxes on profits made in other countries until those funds are repatriated to the United States.

This loophole encourages multinational corporations to move production and intellectual property, such as patents and trademarks, out of the country. Or they juggle their books to make it appear that a major portion of their income is made outside the United States. Then they keep it abroad, expecting to persuade legislators to give them “tax holidays” that allow them to repatriate the funds with minimal tax consequences. (The last holiday in 2004 offered a 5.25 percent tax rate). This set of incentives has resulted in up to $2 trillion of profits staying out of the country to defer taxation. This amount grows every year.

Twitter use on the rise in #statecapitals

Twitter’s November initial public offering has been a success for the company’s founders and early investors. This reflects the market’s optimistic view of the company’s profit-making potential. For Twitter has transformed much of daily life — including how we get our news, communicate with others and participate in public discourse. (In fact, many media outlets now factor in what is trending on Twitter when covering news stories.)

Many politicians are now using Twitter to raise their profile. Most notable is the newest senator, Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Despite the fact that he was mayor of Newark, a city known for its high unemployment and high school dropout rates rather than good governance and policy innovation, Booker’s effective use of Twitter (1,446,106 followers) played a key role in making him a national political figure.

Twitter has significantly changed the way politicians get their message out and gauge public opinion. There are staffers at the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee whose job it is to count tweets. (No, really.) In addition to national politics, however, Twitter has transformed the way business is done in state capitals across the country.

Food fight: Vote on GMOs could alter U.S. food system

The citizens in Washington state are about to make a decision that could have a big impact across the nation.

They will be voting Tuesday on Initiative 522, which would require labeling of all genetically modified (GM) foods on state supermarket shelves by 2015. If early surveys are any indication, voters there may be about to deliver the food industry a major defeat. Two-thirds of Washingtonians told pollsters last month that they will vote yes on Initiative 522, though Reuters reports that more recent surveys have the gap closing considerably.

Washington, a progressive state that has been a pioneer in legalizing marijuana and same-sex marriage, may become the first in the nation to require that controversial genetically modified foods be labeled.

Post-Partisan: Fixing our ideological divide

As Americans examine the astounding dysfunction of their government, gerrymandering is usually cited as the prime culprit. This narrative offers a compelling villain: venal politicians who draw district boundaries for partisan advantage or to protect their own incumbency.

On the surface, it makes sense that manipulating district lines could be responsible for the increase in non-competitive, non-diverse congressional seats and the rise of ideologues who take radical positions without fear of voter retribution. But this ignores evidence that gerrymandering is only partly responsible for the current partisanship — and that eliminating it will not address the calamity we are witnessing.

No one disputes that congressional districts have become less competitive. During the last government shutdown in 1995, 79 of the 236 House Republicans represented districts that supported President Bill Clinton in his 1992 election. Today, only 17 of the 232 House Republicans represent districts that backed President Barack Obama — demonstrating more partisan consistency at the district level.

Court due to make second trip down the aisle

Near the end of his engaging and informative e-book on the Supreme Court’s recent same-sex marriage decisions, To Have and To Uphold, New York Times reporter Adam Liptak makes a prediction: “The day will come when the constitutional question [over the constitutionality of a ban on same-sex marriage] will return to the Supreme Court for some final mopping up, perhaps when the number of states still banning same-sex marriage has dwindled to a score or fewer.”

Though I agree with much of Liptak’s book, I think he’s wrong on this particular prediction: The constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage will return to the Supreme Court sooner rather than later — and it will happen while more than a score of states  still ban the practice. What the court does then is anyone’s guess.

There’s good historical precedent for Liptak’s prediction. Take the case of poll taxes, which required people to pay money (including back taxes) in order to be able to vote. The Supreme Court in 1937 upheld poll taxes, provided they were not applied in a racially discriminatory way. But states started doing away with them, and the country passed the 24th Amendment to ban them in federal elections.

Marriage equality: Not for states to decide

ILLUSTRATION: Matt Mahurin

The Supreme Court Wednesday struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — which denied federal benefits to married gays and lesbians—as discriminatory and a violation of equal protection.

The court, however, declined to address the question raised by another important case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, about whether the right to marriage extended to gays and lesbians nationwide.

So, are supporters of marriage equality better off without the Supreme Court declaring that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry?

California v. Texas in fight for the future

It is not a national election year, but the “red state versus blue state” wars continue. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recent foray into California, to lure away businesses and jobs, signals more than a rivalry between these two mega-states. The Texas-California competition represents the political, economic and cultural differences driving American politics today – and for the foreseeable future.

Texas and California are robust political and economic competitors. We don’t know which will be the template for the future. As California emerges from its economic and fiscal doldrums and some of Texas’ vulnerabilities become evident, it is now far from certain that Texas will emerge the victor.

California is a global hub for trade, tourism, culture and the manufacture of ideas and intellectual property. From high tech and biotech to entertainment, travel and logistics, the state’s brand transcends national boundaries. The Golden State tops the nation in agriculture. It also sets the pace on green energy development, which could lead to a dramatic increase in the state’s energy production.

Why do unions seek exemption from anti-stalking laws?

Valentine’s Day is a time when couples go out for romantic dinners and exchange gifts, while singles meet up in bars, hoping to make some bad decisions. Valentine’s Day is also a day when people with crazy ex-boyfriends or -girlfriends are reminded of how thankful they are for anti-stalking laws.

Every state has made stalking a crime. These laws help protect people who might otherwise live in fear. Yet labor unions have successfully, and disconcertingly, lobbied to be exempt from anti-stalking laws in at least four states – California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Nevada.

“The most glaring examples of union favoritism under state laws,” notes a 2012 U.S. Chamber of Commerce report, “tend to occur in criminal statutes and allow individuals who engage in truly objectionable behavior to avoid prosecution solely because they are participating in some form of labor activity.”

The inter-state job search migration

The Internal Revenue Service created a bit of a kerfuffle last week when it announced that it would no longer publish data on interstate taxpayer migration and the income they take with them. This would be a huge disservice not just to economists and policy analysts but to all Americans.

This IRS migration data provides the best evidence that low-tax, limited-government states attract employers, families and individuals, while states pursuing the same policies as the White House – higher taxes, bigger government and more onerous regulations – drive businesses and taxpayers away. It’s not hard to fathom why the Obama administration, despite its promise to be the most transparent in history, would want the IRS to stop publishing this damning evidence.

California, Illinois and Maryland, which have some of the highest tax burdens and biggest state governments in the country, may have finally realized the deleterious economic effects that come with following President Barack Obama’s approach to governance.

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