Friday Reads

Good Morning!

We passed an ominous milestone recently. Have we crossed the Rubicon with climate change?

Monitoring stations in the Arctic have confirmed atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements exceeding 400 parts per million (ppm), far past the acknowledged safe limit of 350 ppm.

Global levels of carbon dioxide—the most prevalent heat-trapping gas—are around 395 ppm, but Arctic levels signal where global trends are headed, and scientists are confident that levels will soon eclipse this ominous milestone worldwide.

According to the Washington Post, Jim Butler, the global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colorado, said “The fact that it’s 400 is significant. It’s just a reminder to everybody that we haven’t fixed this and we’re still in trouble.”

Preceding the Industrial Revolution, global levels of carbon dioxide were believed to be around 275 ppm. The meteoric rise in carbon pollution is mainly attributed to fossil fuel dependence, such as burning coal and oil for gasoline. Forest depletion and oceanic biodiversity loss complicate matters by diminishing nature’s ability to absorb and repurpose carbon dioxide.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, former Vice President Al Gore wrote via email, “The news today, that some stations have measured concentrations above 400 ppm in the atmosphere, is further evidence that the world’s political leaders—with a few honorable exceptions—are failing catastrophically to address the climate crisis. History will not understand or forgive them.”

The UK Guardian reports that 28 top US corporations are working hard to block any action meant to prevent or stop climate change.

An analysis of 28 Standard & Poor 500 publicly traded companies by researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists exposed a sharp disconnect in some cases between PR message and less visible activities, with companies quietly lobbying against climate policy or funding groups which work to discredit climate science.

The findings are in line with the recent expose of the Heartland Institute. Over the years, the ultra-conservative organisation devoted to discrediting climate science received funds from a long list of companies which had public commitments to sustainability.

The disconnect in this instance was especially stark in the researchers’ analysis of oil giants ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, and the electricity company DTE energy.

But even General Electric Company, which ranks climate change as a pillar of its corporate policy on its website, had supported trade groups and thinktanks that misrepresent climate science, the researchers found.

Caterpillar Inc, despite its public commitment to sustainability, also worked behind the scenes to block action on climate change. The company spent more than $16m (£10.3m) on lobbying during the study, with nearly five times as much of that spent lobbying to block climate action than on pro-environmental policies.

Other big corporate players were fairly consistent with their public image. Nike and NRG Energy Inc lobbied in support of climate change policy and supported conservation groups.

Peabody Energy Corporation, which produces coal, was ranked the most obstructionist of any of the companies. It spent more than $33m to lobby Congress against environmental measures and supporting trade groups and think tanks which spread disinformation about climate science, the researchers found.

“The thing we found most surprising in doing this research is just how all 28 companies expressed concern about climate change,” said Francesca Grifo who heads the UCS scientific integrity programme. “But when we took a deeper look we found that a lot of the actions they took weren’t connected to the messages.”

The result of the disconnect was growing confusion about climate science, the researchers said. That made it more difficult to push for environmental protections.

Republicans continue to chip away at abortion rights. The House is zeroing in on “sex selection” abortions.  These are not a big issue in this country but could be a big issue for Republicans because the rhetoric almost always centers on Asian countries in a way that’s offensive to Americans of Asian heritage.

Republicans long ago lost African American voters. They are well on their way to losing Latinos. And if Trent Franks prevails, they may lose Asian Americans, too.

The Arizona Republican’s latest antiabortion salvo to be taken up by the House had a benign name — the Prenatal Non­discrimination Act — and a premise with which just about everybody agrees: that a woman shouldn’t abort a fetus simply because she wants to have a boy rather than a girl.

The problem with Franks’s proposal is that it’s not entirely clear there is a problem. Sex-selection abortion is a huge tragedy in parts of Asia, but to the extent it’s happening in this country, it’s mostly among Asian immigrants.

For Franks, who previously tried to pass legislation limiting abortions among African Americans and residents of the District of Columbia, it was the latest attempt to protect racial minorities from themselves.

“The practice of sex selection is demonstrably increasing here in the United States, especially but not exclusively in the Asian immigrant community,” he announced on the House floor Wednesday afternoon. He quoted a study finding that male births “for Chinese, Asian Indians and Koreans clearly exceeded biological variation.”

The Bill even has one of those weird Republican names like offensive missiles called “peace keepers.”  It’s called PRENDA or Prenatal NonDiscrimination Act.

The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), H.R. 3541, was defeated in a 246-168 vote. While that’s a clear majority of the House, Republicans called up the bill under a suspension of House rules, which limits debate and requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass. In this case, it would have required more support from Democrats.

Twenty Democrats voted for the bill, while seven Republicans opposed it. The bill would have needed 30 more yeas to pass.
Suspension votes are normally used for noncontroversial bills, but the GOP-backed measure was clearly controversial. Republicans have occasionally put controversial bills on the suspension calendar in order to highlight that Democrats oppose certain policies.

Boehner said he will try again later.  So much for the Republican lies about being all about the jobs.

Just when you think the state Republican groups can’t get more extreme you find out something like this item in Pennsylvania.

Republicans in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania have elected Steve Smith, a lifelong white supremacist with close ties to neo-Nazi groups and groups like Aryan Nations, to the county’s GOP Committee.

The elections, which took place in late April, were certified by the committee two weeks ago, and Smith notified supporters of his victory last week by posting a message to the online forum White News Now.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented Smith’s participation with known skinhead organizations like Keystone State Skinheads, (now Keystone United) which he co-founded in 2001. And his racist activism extends far beyond violent rhetoric as well, into actual violence:

In March 2003, he and two other KSS members were arrested in Scranton for beating up Antoni Williams, a black man, using stones and chunks of pavement. Smith pleaded guilty to terrorist threats and ethnic intimidation and received a 60-day sentence and probation.

Smith is also an active member of local Tea Party groups, a network that he used to gain support for his bid for the committee seat. According to the SPLC, Smith referred to the Tea Party as “fertile grounds for our activists.”

Our economy continues to have some of the highest poverty rates in the developed world.  Seven million kids and mothers are in poverty. Georgetown Law Professor and advisor to the Kennedys and Bill Clinton explains why this is so devastating to our country’s future as well.

Peter Edelman: Extreme poverty means having an income of less than half the poverty line. That’s less than $9,000 a year for a family of three. The stunning fact is that in 2010, there were 20.5 million people who had incomes that low. And perhaps even more disturbing — 6 million people have no income other than food stamps (SNAP). That means an income at one third of the poverty line or less than $6,000 a year for a family of three. You can’t live on that.

So, these are people who are really in extreme trouble. In fact, many of them will get out of extreme poverty fairly quickly, and that makes it even more inexcusable not to have a basic safety net for them when their income dips so low. How do they survive? We don’t really know. They obviously have to have the support in one way or another of family and friends– if they have such networks. They sleep on couches, they move around a lot. If they can find casual work to get a little extra money, they do. But they are in a very tough place. The percentage of people in extreme poverty has doubled since 1976, so it is getting worse.

Public benefits, which are not counted in official poverty figures insofar as they’re not paid in cash, make the situation a little better, but not much. The fact that there could be 6 million people who only have food stamps is because of another fact: that welfare –Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) —  is basically unavailable in many states in the country. In Wyoming, for example, 4% of poor children in the entire state — that’s 644 people including the mothers — receive cash assistance. In 19 states, fewer than 20% of poor children are receiving cash assistance. So that’s how you can have 6 million people living only on food stamps. About 7 million of those in extreme poverty are mothers and children. We can only imagine the damage that this does to the children. It really is a crisis, and very few people are aware of it.

So those are the stories that I’m following this week.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?