Opinion

Gregg Easterbrook

Rick Perry + Al Gore ≠ global warming logic

Nov 3, 2011 20:06 UTC

When Al Gore was in the White House, global warming was a disaster of the first order. Republican presidential candidates are now saying it is anything from a fraud to trivial.

Both sides claim sound science, and both are wrong. In politics, “sound science” means whatever supports your preconceived positions.

For American voters, climate change is an issue offering lessons in how to reject political nonsense on the extremes, and find the middle. If we can’t find the middle of a generation-long concern like climate change, one where modest steps are sufficient for the moment, how will we ever tackle immediate issues such as jobs, debt and the looming retirement of the Baby Boomers?

First, here are the positions of Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. (Herman Cain has not taken a position on climate change.)

Last June, Romney said in New Hampshire: “I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer” and that “humans contribute to that.” In New England, voters of both parties tend to support environmental protection. Romney’s June statement is similar to what George W. Bush said when he was president.

Politicians should stop crying “fire!”

Oct 27, 2011 20:52 UTC

The Senate just rejected President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on millionaires in order to “create or protect 400,000 jobs for teachers, firefighters, police officers and other first responders.” Whether the country needs more teachers and police is a fair question for debate. But firefighters? Firefighting is already featherbedded.

With stricter building codes, built-in sprinkler systems and the near-universal use of smoke detectors, incidence of structure fire in the United States has declined dramatically in the past generation. In 1985, there were about 2.5 million reported fires in the U.S. Since then, fires have declined steadily, down to 1.3 million last year. The report also shows that fire deaths are down from 6,000 in 1986 to 3,100 in 2010. That’s a 48 percent decline in both fires and deaths caused by fires.

Over that same period, the number of career (not volunteer) firefighters has risen from 238,000 in 1986 to 336,000 in 2010. That’s a 41 percent increase in publicly paid firefighters during the same period that safety technology has been able to decrease the occurrence of fire.

An election to anticipate

Oct 20, 2011 15:13 UTC

Tired of cookie-cutter political contests between hauntingly similar candidates? Then you’re going to like the upcoming race for one of the Senate seats in the late Ted Kennedy’s haunting grounds. Elizabeth Warren, best known for creating and fighting for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is hoping to challenge Republican incumbent Scott Brown. They’re both qualified, but they couldn’t be more different — personally or politically.

Brown, a former member of the Massachusetts state legislature, won a 2010 special election to complete the remaining term of the Senator Edward Kennedy. He is well-known for having been named “America’s Sexiest Man” by Cosmopolitan magazine, this distinction coming in 1982, when he was 22-year-old law student at Boston College. Brown spent many years in the Massachusetts legislature, and before that was the New England equivalent of a town councilman. He is well-qualified to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. Brown is conservative on most issues, calling himself a “Reagan Republican.”

Warren, a former Obama administration official, has declared for the Democratic nomination and is the favorite. She has been a law professor at Harvard and at the University of Pennsylvania, and is the author of a highly regarded book about middle-class living standards, The Two Income Trap. Warren is also well-qualified to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. She is left-wing on most major issues, to the left perhaps even of much bright-blue Massachusetts.

The former governor factor

Oct 13, 2011 20:25 UTC

If you’re thinking the jumbled Republican presidential field does not matter because whomever gets the nomination can’t win – think again. A Republican could well take the White House in 2012.

At this point in the 1992 election cycle, the elder George Bush held an 89 a 66 percent approval rating (update: on October 13, 1991, according to Gallup data on the Roper Center website). Back then, Democratic figures including Mario Cuomo did not enter the 1992 race because they thought the elder Bush was “unbeatable” – just as today many Republicans are not entering the race, thinking Obama is unbeatable.

But Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton, who, a year before his victory, was a low-name-recognition outsider with personal baggage.

A realistic Dream Act for all

Oct 10, 2011 18:32 UTC

Only in the bitter partisanship of our moment could Texas Governor Rick Perry be denounced because he expressed compassion. In the most recent Republican presidential debate, Perry was hammered for supporting a Texas law that allows illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition discounts at public universities. Now he has apologized for saying those who oppose helping illegals attend college “have no heart.”

Perry was right the first time! Anyone with a heart should support the idea of allowing illegals to qualify for in-state tuition aid – generically, Dream Acts.

California Governor Jerry Brown just signed his state’s Dream Act, putting the far-right Perry and the far-left Brown on the same side of a major issue. Now, the nation’s two largest states will allow illegal immigrants to attend public universities at subsidized tuition rates.

How to fix the flatline economy

Sep 29, 2011 15:40 UTC

The global economy doggedly refuses to re-start. Employment is flat, demand is flat, prices are flat, housing sales are flat, growth is nearly flat.

Stagflation and inflation, the old fears, have given way to the flatline economy. Sometimes flatlined patients can be revived. Clear! But what should the therapy be?

Republicans are responding to the flatline economy by demanding what they are programmed to demand — tax cuts for the upper class. Democrats are responding to it by demanding what they are programmed to demand — more government spending.

Conservatives who hate government, but want government jobs

Sep 22, 2011 16:16 UTC

All the leading Republican presidential contenders except Jon Huntsman are denouncing government, with high vituperation. Yet all have spent some to most of their adult lives as office-holders, enjoying the perquisites of government and pocketing some of the public spending they say they oppose.

This a bit like a used-car salesman claiming to be a consumer crusader or a high-class madam denouncing Internet porn. Why does anyone believe politicians who shake their fists against government while comfortably ensconced as government insiders?

Consider:

* Rick Perry, the putative Republican frontrunner. After college he joined the Air Force – an admirable form of service, and also a secure government job. Afterward, he spent seven years in cotton farming, where federal price supports insulate growers against free-market competition. Since then, Perry has been a government employee: first in the Texas state legislature, then as Texas Agriculture Commissioner, then lieutenant governor, then governor of Texas. Now Perry is campaigning for a federal job with a $400,000 salary and very substantial subsidized lifetime benefits.

Why we need to increase taxes on the rich

Sep 15, 2011 15:41 UTC

“President Obama announced plans Monday to fund his $447 billion jobs bill largely by raising taxes on wealthier families.”

Washington Post lead article on 9/13/2011

Bravo! It’s about time a national leader had the courage to use the T word. There is no solution to the federal debt fiasco that does not involve raising taxes on the well-off. Washington’s decade-long allergy to the word tax – or its reliance on silly euphemisms like “surcharge” or “revenue enhancement” – must end. Barack Obama did the country a service by putting this on the table.

Here’s the part the left will not like. Assume the president’s jobs bill is enacted, and is funded not by yet more borrowing but by raising taxes on the well-off. That will pretty much tap out “tax the rich” as a political strategy and rally cry. Unless the economy really takes off, further progress against the debt will need to come from entitlement cuts and raising taxes on the middle class.

Why federal construction spending doesn’t translate to GDP growth

Sep 8, 2011 15:54 UTC

On Labor Day, President Barack Obama vowed to put “our construction workers back to work rebuilding America ,” a theme he is expected to repeat in his address to Congress tonight.

There’s plenty of rebuilding to be done. But a combination of top-heavy bureaucracy, union rules, cost-plus profits and graft have made recent federally funded construction projects insanely expensive and slow. The result is more national debt without much contribution to economic growth. Consider:

*Boston’s Big Dig, mostly funded by the federal taxpayer though benefits went exclusively to Massachusetts, was supposed to take 10 years at a cost of $6.2 billion in today’s dollars. Instead it took 21 years and cost $22 billion.

The first bogeyman of the 2012 campaign

Sep 1, 2011 14:16 UTC

If an election is coming, that means each side needs a bogeyman. The Republicans have chosen first, and theirs is the Environmental Protection Agency. Michele Bachman calls the EPA “the job-killing organization of America,” promising to “padlock” its doors. Tea Party leader Eric Cantor says environmental rules are “job-destroying”. Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he “prays daily” for the EPA to be restricted.

Soon Democrats will choose their bogeyman – The Rich are the current frontrunner.

Elections often are dominated by bogeymen – Republicans claim Democrats don’t care about national defense, Democrats claim Republicans want to eliminate Social Security, that sort of nonsense. Environmental bogeymen are appealing to some factions because the issue involves regulatory arcana that hardly anyone understands, and because environmental subjects are poorly reported in the mainstream media.

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