Friday, February 25, 2011

What I Read Today - Friday February 25, 2011

From: The New York Times

Run Mitch, Run

By DAVID BROOKS


On Feb. 11, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana met with a group of college students. According to The Yale Daily News, he told them that there is an “excellent chance” he will not run for president. Then he mounted the podium at the Conservative Political Action Conference and delivered one of the best Republican speeches in recent decades.

This is the G.O.P. quandary. The man who would be the party’s strongest candidate for the presidency is seriously thinking about not running. The country could use a serious, competent manager, which Governor Daniels has been, and still he’s thinking about not running. The historic moment calls for someone who can restrain debt while still helping government efficiently perform its duties. Daniels has spent his whole career preparing for this kind of moment, and still he’s thinking about not running.

The country also needs a substantive debate about the role of government. That’s exactly what an Obama-Daniels contest would provide. Yet because Daniels is a normal person who doesn’t have an insatiable desire for higher office, he’s thinking about not running.

Daniels’s Conservative Political Action Conference speech had a serious and weighty tone. He spoke for those who believe the country’s runaway debt is the central moral challenge of our time. Yet within government’s proper sphere of action, he said Republicans have to be the “initiators of new ideas.” He spoke of the program he started that provides health insurance for low-income residents, and the education program that will give scholarships to students in failing schools so they can choose another.

“Our first thought,” he said, “is always for those on life’s first rung, and how we might increase their chances of climbing.”

He also spoke of expanding the party’s reach. In a passage that rankled some in the audience and beyond, he argued that “purity in martyrdom is for suicide bombers.” Republicans, he continued, “will need people who never tune in to Rush or Glenn or Laura or Sean.” He spoke as a practical Midwesterner, appealing to hard-core conservatives and the not so hard-core.

Daniels’s speeches are backed up by his record. Since 2004, the 49 other states in the nation increased their debt levels by an average of 40 percent. Indiana has paid down its debt by 40 percent. Indiana received its first Triple-A bond rating in 2008, and now it is one of only nine states to have the highest rating from all three rating agencies.

At the same time, the business climate has improved significantly. Infrastructure spending is at record levels. The state has added jobs at twice the national average. For the first time in four decades, more people are moving in than moving out.

Daniels is famously a font of metrics, statistics and management stories. During his term, wait times at the Indiana motor vehicles bureau dropped from 40 minutes to under 10 minutes while customer satisfaction levels skyrocketed. Parents in Indiana will now receive report cards that give them a measure of how well their schools are doing.

Daniels appointed a bipartisan commission to reform the criminal justice system to save money and make sure incarceration rates actually promote public safety. Another bipartisan commission came up with 27 ideas to modernize local government.

In manner, Daniels is not classically presidential. Some say he is short (though others do not regard 5 feet 7 inches as freakishly diminutive). He does not dominate every room he enters. But he is not without political skills, in an offbeat sort of way. If you have some time, Google “Mitch TV” and you can watch a few episodes of the reality show his campaign produced during his gubernatorial races.

You will see him sidling up to Hoosiers in breakfast places and parking lots, unassumingly, more or less as an equal, talking mostly about whatever caloric monstrosity happens to be on offer (it’s Indiana). He’s personable and charming, but occasionally a tough message will slip out.

The best profile of Daniels was written by Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard. In one scene, Daniels is talking to a man who is separated from his family and trying to send them financial support. “Well that’s good,” Daniels says, “but what they really need is you.”

The man drops his head and swings it back and forth: “I know this, governor. I know this.”

Daniels has occasionally leveled that toughness on his fellow conservatives. He told Ferguson that Republicans should declare a truce on social issues until the debt crisis is taken care of. A few activists are still upset.

But Daniels is keeping his paramount focus on debt and responsibility. He couldn’t match Obama in grace and elegance, but he could on substance. They could have a great and clarifying debate: What exactly are the paramount problems facing the country? What is government’s role in solving them?

I hope Daniels gives us a chance to be part of that.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What I Read Today - Thursday February 24, 2011

From: The New York Times

Revenge of the Pomeranians

By GAIL COLLINS


Right now concerned citizens are probably asking themselves: What will happen if the federal government shuts down?

Also, why is the federal government in danger of shutting down? Whom can I blame for this? Does it have anything to do with what’s going on in Wisconsin? Did Congress pass a budget last year at all? Why not? And does this relate in any way to the report that Christine O’Donnell, the former United States Senate candidate from Delaware, may be joining the next cast of “Dancing With the Stars?”

Wow, you are really asking yourselves a lot of questions, concerned citizens. Calm down.

Right now, all around the country, federal agencies are making plans for an orderly way to shut down nonessential services if Congress fails to do anything to keep the boat afloat next week. The air traffic controllers will stay on the job, but I would not plan any visits to a national park if I were you.

Hundreds of thousands of nonessential federal employees will be furloughed, stuck at home without a paycheck and contemplating their nonessentialness. The economy will tank. Nobody is going to be happy.

Except perhaps some of the House members who prowl the corridors yowling about deficits like accountants on crack. They think they were elected to shut down the government, so the idea of closing nonessential services must sound like a day at the beach.

All hope for averting disaster lies with Speaker John Boehner, who used to be a strangely tanned blowhard but is now regarded as a beleaguered statesman. This just happened a few days ago, so you may not have gotten the memo.

Unfortunately, so far, Speaker Boehner has not been all that helpful. There is very little in Washington that can’t be explained by an episode of the original “Star Trek,” and Boehner is playing out the one where the Romulan captain prefers the ways of peace but is saddled with a crew that will mutiny if he fails to follow through on the plan to blow up the galaxy.

Our current problem began last year when Congress never got around to passing any appropriations bills. It’s not all that unusual for our elected officials to fail to complete their budgetary duties, but this was the first time they didn’t accomplish anything. Really, you’d think they would have issued a stamp to commemorate the achievement.

To keep the government going, the House and Senate passed resolutions ordering the agencies to keep doing whatever they’d been doing before. The latest resolution expires next week, and the new, transformed House wants to tell the agencies to do less. Last week, it passed a bill calling for a vast degree of lessness.

This happened without a whole lot of preplanning. Although the Republicans are obsessed with stopping illegal immigration, they cut billions of dollars out of border security and immigration enforcement. “Even with all the money in the world, the administration would not succeed in securing the border because they are not serious about it,” theorized Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

President Obama, who has actually done quite a lot about border security, says he would veto the House version, which would wreak havoc with everything from veterans’ health care to Head Start. So the clock is ticking. To make things even more dramatic, the Senate’s metabolism is unchanged, and everyone has gone home to enjoy a much-needed vacation after two exhausting months during which the senators passed a bill on the Federal Aviation Administration and congratulated Barbara Mikulski on being the longest-serving female senator.

One thing that never changes in Washington is the difference in metabolism between the House and Senate. Have you ever watched pet-rehabilitation shows like “The Dog Whisperer”? The House is the deranged Pomeranian that yelps and throws itself against the window and tears up the upholstery 24/7. The Senate, meanwhile, is like a narcoleptic Great Dane you can hardly rouse for dinner.

The senators are scheduled to get back into the swing of things on Monday with a reading of George Washington’s farewell address. Then the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has until Friday to come up with a plan. It’s quite a challenge. No doubt it was much on his mind when he made a big speech to the Nevada State Legislature this week and surprised everyone by demanding that the state have an “adult conversation” about its legal brothels. It did not appear to be the problem the politicians were expecting to tackle next.

Still, you can understand his eagerness to talk about something nonbudgetary. I can’t wait to move on to that question about Christine O’Donnell and “Dancing With the Stars,” which I am pretty sure will not require an argument about entitlements.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What I Read Today - Wednesday - February 23, 2011

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What I Read Today - Wednesday February 23, 2011

From:  The New York Times

If Not Now, When?

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN


What’s unfolding in the Arab world today is the mother of all wake-up calls. And what the voice on the other end of the line is telling us is clear as a bell:

“America, you have built your house at the foot of a volcano. That volcano is now spewing lava from different cracks and is rumbling like it’s going to blow. Move your house!” In this case, “move your house” means “end your addiction to oil.”

No one is rooting harder for the democracy movements in the Arab world to succeed than I am. But even if things go well, this will be a long and rocky road. The smart thing for us to do right now is to impose a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax, to be phased in at 5 cents a month beginning in 2012, with all the money going to pay down the deficit. Legislating a higher energy price today that takes effect in the future, notes the Princeton economist Alan Blinder, would trigger a shift in buying and investment well before the tax kicks in. With one little gasoline tax, we can make ourselves more economically and strategically secure, help sell more Chevy Volts and free ourselves to openly push for democratic values in the Middle East without worrying anymore that it will harm our oil interests. Yes, it will mean higher gas prices, but prices are going up anyway, folks. Let’s capture some it for ourselves.

It is about time. For the last 50 years, America (and Europe and Asia) have treated the Middle East as if it were just a collection of big gas stations: Saudi station, Iran station, Kuwait station, Bahrain station, Egypt station, Libya station, Iraq station, United Arab Emirates station, etc. Our message to the region has been very consistent: “Guys (it was only guys we spoke with), here’s the deal. Keep your pumps open, your oil prices low, don’t bother the Israelis too much and, as far as we’re concerned, you can do whatever you want out back. You can deprive your people of whatever civil rights you like. You can engage in however much corruption you like. You can preach whatever intolerance from your mosques that you like. You can print whatever conspiracy theories about us in your newspapers that you like. You can keep your women as illiterate as you like. You can create whatever vast welfare-state economies, without any innovative capacity, that you like. You can undereducate your youth as much as you like. Just keep your pumps open, your oil prices low, don’t hassle the Jews too much — and you can do whatever you want out back.”

It was that attitude that enabled the Arab world to be insulated from history for the last 50 years — to be ruled for decades by the same kings and dictators. Well, history is back. The combination of rising food prices, huge bulges of unemployed youth and social networks that are enabling those youths to organize against their leaders is breaking down all the barriers of fear that kept these kleptocracies in power.

But fasten your seat belts. This is not going to be a joy ride because the lid is being blown off an entire region with frail institutions, scant civil society and virtually no democratic traditions or culture of innovation. The United Nations’ Arab Human Development Report 2002 warned us about all of this, but the Arab League made sure that that report was ignored in the Arab world and the West turned a blind eye. But that report — compiled by a group of Arab intellectuals led by Nader Fergany, an Egyptian statistician — was prophetic. It merits re-reading today to appreciate just how hard this democratic transition will be.

The report stated that the Arab world is suffering from three huge deficits — a deficit of education, a deficit of freedom and a deficit of women’s empowerment. A summary of the report in Middle East Quarterly in the Fall of 2002 detailed the key evidence: the gross domestic product of the entire Arab world combined was less than that of Spain. Per capita expenditure on education in Arab countries dropped from 20 percent of that in industrialized countries in 1980 to 10 percent in the mid-1990s. In terms of the number of scientific papers per unit of population, the average output of the Arab world per million inhabitants was roughly 2 percent of that of an industrialized country.

When the report was compiled, the Arab world translated about 330 books annually, one-fifth of the number that Greece did. Out of seven world regions, the Arab countries had the lowest freedom score in the late 1990s in the rankings of Freedom House. At the dawn of the 21st century, the Arab world had more than 60 million illiterate adults, the majority of whom were women. Yemen could be the first country in the world to run out of water within 10 years.

This is the vaunted “stability” all these dictators provided — the stability of societies frozen in time.

Seeing the Arab democracy movements in Egypt and elsewhere succeed in modernizing their countries would be hugely beneficial to them and to the world. We must do whatever we can to help. But no one should have any illusions about how difficult and convulsive the Arabs’ return to history is going to be. Let’s root for it, without being in the middle of it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What I Read Today - Tuesday February 22, 2011

Make Everybody Hurt

By DAVID BROOKS


Over the past few weeks we’ve begun to see the new contours of American politics. The budget cutters have taken control of the agenda, while government’s defenders are waging tactical retreats. Given the scope of the fiscal problems, it could be like this for the next 10 or 20 years.

No place is hotter than Wisconsin. The leaders there have done everything possible to maximize conflict. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, demanded cuts only from people in the other party. The public sector unions and their allies immediately flew into a rage, comparing Walker to Hitler, Mussolini and Mubarak.

Walker’s critics are amusingly Orwellian. They liken the crowd in Madison to the ones in Tunisia and claim to be fighting for democracy. Whatever you might say about Walker, he and the Republican majorities in Wisconsin were elected, and they are doing exactly what they told voters they would do. It’s the Democratic minority that is thwarting the majority will by fleeing to Illinois. It’s the left that has suddenly embraced extralegal obstructionism.

Still, let’s try to put aside the hyperventilation. Everybody now seems to agree that Governor Walker was right to ask state workers to pay more for their benefits. Even if he gets everything he asks for, Wisconsin state workers would still be contributing less to their benefits than the average state worker nationwide and would be contributing far, far less than private sector workers.

The more difficult question is whether Walker was right to try to water down Wisconsin’s collective bargaining agreements. Even if you acknowledge the importance of unions in representing middle-class interests, there are strong arguments on Walker’s side. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, state-union relations are structurally out of whack.

That’s because public sector unions and private sector unions are very different creatures. Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest.

Private sector unions confront managers who have an incentive to push back against their demands. Public sector unions face managers who have an incentive to give into them for the sake of their own survival. Most important, public sector unions help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races.

As a result of these imbalanced incentive structures, states with public sector unions tend to run into fiscal crises. They tend to have workplaces where personnel decisions are made on the basis of seniority, not merit. There is little relationship between excellence and reward, which leads to resentment among taxpayers who don’t have that luxury.

Yet I think Governor Walker made a strategic error in setting up this confrontation as he did. The debt problems before us are huge. Even in Wisconsin they cannot be addressed simply by taking on the public sector unions. Studies done in North Carolina and elsewhere suggest that collective bargaining only increases state worker salaries by about 5 percent or 6 percent. That’s not nearly enough to explain current deficits. There are many states without collective bargaining that still face gigantic debt crises.

Getting state and federal budgets under control will take decades. It will require varied, multipronged approaches, supported by broad and shifting coalitions. It’s really important that we establish an unwritten austerity constitution: a set of practices that will help us cut effectively now and in the future.

The foundation of this unwritten constitution has to be this principle: make everybody hurt. The cuts have to be spread more or less equitably among as many groups as possible. There will never be public acceptance if large sectors of society are excluded. Governor Walker’s program fails that test. It spares traditional Republican groups (even cops and firefighters). It is thus as unsustainable as the current tide of red ink.

Moreover, the constitution must emphasize transparent evaluation. Over the past weeks, Governor Walker increased expenditures to pump up small business job creation and cut them on teacher benefits. That might be the right choice, but if voters are going to go along with choices such as these, there is going to have to be a credible evaluation process to explain why some things are cut and some things aren’t.

So I’d invite Governor Walker and the debt fighters everywhere to think of themselves as founding fathers of austerity. They are not only balancing budgets, they are setting precedent for a process that will last decades. By their example, they have to create habits that diverse majorities can respect and embrace. The process has to be balanced. It has to make everybody hurt.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What I Read Today - Tuesday February 15, 2011

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What I Read Today - Tuesday February 15, 2011

From: The New York Times

The Experience Economy

By DAVID BROOKS


Tyler Cowen’s e-book, “The Great Stagnation,” has become the most debated nonfiction book so far this year. Cowen’s core point is that up until sometime around 1974, the American economy was able to experience awesome growth by harvesting low-hanging fruit. There was cheap land to be exploited. There was the tremendous increase in education levels during the postwar world. There were technological revolutions occasioned by the spread of electricity, plastics and the car.

But that low-hanging fruit is exhausted, Cowen continues, and since 1974, the United States has experienced slower growth, slower increases in median income, slower job creation, slower productivity gains, slower life-expectancy improvements and slower rates of technological change.

Cowen’s data on these slowdowns are compelling and have withstood the scrutiny of the online reviewers. He argues that our society, for the moment, has hit a technological plateau.

But his evidence can also be used to tell a related story. It could be that the nature of technological change isn’t causing the slowdown but a shift in values. It could be that in an industrial economy people develop a materialist mind-set and believe that improving their income is the same thing as improving their quality of life. But in an affluent information-driven world, people embrace the postmaterialist mind-set. They realize they can improve their quality of life without actually producing more wealth.

For example, imagine a man we’ll call Sam, who was born in 1900 and died in 1974. Sam entered a world of iceboxes, horse-drawn buggies and, commonly, outhouses. He died in a world of air-conditioning, Chevy Camaros and Moon landings. His life was defined by dramatic material changes, and Sam worked feverishly hard to build a company that sold brake systems. Sam wasn’t the most refined person, but he understood that if he wanted to create a secure life for his family he had to create wealth.

Sam’s grandson, Jared, was born in 1978. Jared wasn’t really drawn to the brake-systems business, which was withering in America. He works at a company that organizes conferences. He brings together fascinating speakers for lifelong learning. He writes a blog on modern art and takes his family on vacations that are more daring and exciting than any Sam experienced.

Jared lives a much more intellectually diverse life than Sam. He loves Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and his iPhone apps. But many of these things are produced outside the conventional monetized economy. Most of the products are produced by people working for free. They cost nothing to consume.

They don’t even create many jobs. As Cowen notes in his book, the automobile industry produced millions of jobs, but Facebook employs about 2,000, Twitter 300 and eBay about 17,000. It takes only 14,000 employees to make and sell iPods, but that device also eliminates jobs for those people who make and distribute CDs, potentially leading to net job losses.

In other words, as Cowen makes clear, many of this era’s technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little additional economic activity.

Jared’s other priorities also produce high quality-of-life gains without huge material and productivity improvements. He practically defines himself by what university he went to. Universities now have nicer dorms, gyms and dining facilities. These improvements have not led to huge increases in educational output.

Jared is very health conscious and part of a generation that has spent much more on health care. This may help Jared lead a vibrant life in retirement. But these investments have had surprisingly little effect on productivity or even longevity.

For Sam, income and living standards were synonymous. But for Jared, wealth and living standards have diverged. He is more interested in the latter than the former. This means that Jared has some rich and meaningful experiences, but it has also led to problems. Every few months, new gizmos come out. Jared feels his life is getting better. Because he doesn’t fully grasp the increasingly important distinction between wealth and standard of living, he has the impression that he is also getting richer. As a result, he lives beyond his means. As Cowen notes, many of our recent difficulties stem from the fact that many Americans think they are richer than they are.

Jared is also providing much less opportunity for those down the income scale than his grandfather did. Sam was more hardhearted, yet his feverish materialism created more jobs.

Jared worries about that. He also worries that the Chinese and others have a material drive that he and his cohort lacks. But he’s not changing. For the past few decades, Americans have devoted more of their energies to postmaterial arenas and less and less, for better and worse, to the sheer production of wealth.

During these years, commencement speakers have urged students to seek meaning and not money. Many people, it turns out, were listening.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What I Read Today - Monday February 14, 2011

From: Crosswalk.com
(A Valentine's Day Devotion for couples)

Valentine's Day Massacre


You have not remembered the days of your youth but have enraged Me by all these things. EZEKIEL 16:43

It arrives so fresh off the heels of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it's easy to overlook. You've just barely gotten used to writing the new year on your bank checks. For all practical purposes, it's simply the typical weekday between February 13 and February 15.

But this is not a day for practical purposes.

This is Valentine's Day. And Sam forgot it.

Sam's wife had a card addressed to him, hidden in her top dresser drawer. Her gift to him was under her dresses in the closet. She waited for him to make the first move, to end this little dodge of his. There he was, sitting down to watch television at 7:30 at night as if he might be camped out there till bedtime... as if he'd actually forgotten what day this is!

Finally, at 10 P.M., when Sam had stumbled upstairs to brush his teeth, he found his wife sitting bolt upright in bed. Somehow the temperature felt noticeably cooler in that room than in the other parts of the house.

"What's the matter? What'd I do?" He did a super-quick scan of his usual offenses. Everything checked out.

"Tomorrow morning," she said through clenched teeth, "I expect to find a gift in the driveway that goes from zero to two hundred in less than six seconds. And it had better be there!"

With that, she snatched her pillow and blanket and trudged off, presumably to the downstairs sofa, leaving Sam standing there looking very unmanly, totally exposed as a Valentine forgetter. But his pride wasn't about to be threatened so easily.

The next morning his wife found a gift box in the driveway. She tore it open and looked inside.

It was a bathroom scale.

Sam has been missing since Friday.

DISCUSS
What is the kind of gift you like to receive on Valentine's Day?

PRAY
Pray that you both will be sensitive to one another's needs for romance and love on the other 364 days of the year.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What I Read Today - Saturday February 5, 2011

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What I Read Today - Saturday February 5, 2011

The Siege of Planned Parenthood

By GAIL COLLINS


As if we didn’t have enough wars, the House of Representatives has declared one against Planned Parenthood.

Maybe it’s all part of a grand theme. Last month, they voted to repeal the health care law. This month, they’re going after an organization that provides millions of women with both family-planning services and basic health medical care, like pap smears and screening for diabetes, breast cancer, cervical cancer and sexually transmitted diseases.

Our legislative slogan for 2011: Let Them Use Leeches.

“What is more fiscally responsible than denying any and all funding to Planned Parenthood of America?” demanded Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, the chief sponsor of a bill to bar the government from directing any money to any organization that provides abortion services.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t use government money to provide abortions; Congress already prohibits that, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. (Another anti-abortion bill that’s coming up for hearing originally proposed changing the wording to “forcible rape,” presumably under the theory that there was a problem with volunteer rape victims. On that matter at least, cooler heads prevailed.)

Planned Parenthood does pay for its own abortion services, though, and that’s what makes them a target. Pence has 154 co-sponsors for his bill. He was helped this week by an anti-abortion group called Live Action, which conducted a sting operation at 12 Planned Parenthood clinics in six states, in an effort to connect the clinic staff to child prostitution.

“Planned Parenthood aids and abets the sexual abuse and prostitution of minors,” announced Lila Rose, the beautiful anti-abortion activist who led the project. The right wing is currently chock-full of stunning women who want to end their gender’s right to control their own bodies. Homely middle-aged men are just going to have to find another sex to push around.

Live Action hired an actor who posed as a pimp and told Planned Parenthood counselors that he might have contracted a sexually transmitted disease from “one of the girls I manage.” He followed up with questions about how to obtain contraceptives and abortions, while indicating that some of his “girls” were under age and illegally in the country.

One counselor, shockingly, gave the “pimp” advice on how to game the system and was summarily fired when the video came out. But the others seem to have answered his questions accurately and flatly. Planned Parenthood says that after the man left, all the counselors — including the one who was fired — reported the conversation to their supervisors, who called the authorities. (One Arizona police department, the organization said, refused to file a report.)

Still, there is no way to look good while providing useful information to a self-proclaimed child molester, even if the cops get called. That, presumably, is why Live Action chose the scenario.

“We have a zero tolerance of nonreporting anything that would endanger a minor,” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. “We do the same thing public hospitals do and public clinics do.”

But here’s the most notable thing about this whole debate: The people trying to put Planned Parenthood out of business do not seem concerned about what would happen to the 1.85 million low-income women who get family-planning help and medical care at the clinics each year. It just doesn’t come up. There’s not even a vague contingency plan.

“I haven’t seen that they want to propose an alternative,” said Richards.

There are tens of millions Americans who oppose abortion because of deeply held moral principles. But they’re attached to a political movement that sometimes seems to have come unmoored from any concern for life after birth.

There is no comparable organization to Planned Parenthood, providing the same kind of services on a national basis. If there were, most of the women eligible for Medicaid-financed family-planning assistance wouldn’t have to go without it. In Texas, which has one of the highest teenage birthrates in the country, only about 20 percent of low-income women get that kind of help. Yet Planned Parenthood is under attack, and the State Legislature has diverted some of its funding to crisis pregnancy centers, which provide no medical care and tend to be staffed by volunteers dedicated to dissuading women from having abortions.

In Washington, the new Republican majority that promised to do great things about jobs, jobs, jobs is preparing for hearings on a bill to make it economically impossible for insurance companies to offer policies that cover abortions. And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, faced with an epic budget crisis that’s left the state’s schools and health care services in crisis, has brought out emergency legislation — requiring mandatory sonograms for women considering abortion.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What I Read Today - Thursday February 3, 2011

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What I Read Today - Thursday February 3, 2011

The Man With the Snow Job

By GAIL COLLINS


Our question for today is: Who is to blame for this weather?

This week, 70 percent of the country was looking at snow. Florida is the only state that has not seen snow this winter. But Florida has gotten icicles in the orange groves plus a new governor whose claim to fame was running a corporation that cheated the federal government out of enormous amounts of money. Florida’s not feeling all that superior.

Chicago’s snowfall was so huge that the news media ran out of things to attach to “snow” — thundersnow! snowpocalypse! snowmageddon!

The storm beat the world-famous blizzard of 1979. Really, if you’re going to be cold and miserable and inconvenienced, you might as well be setting a record.

The blizzard of 1979 is world-famous because Chicago’s snow removal efforts went badly, causing everyone to turn on then-mayor Michael Bilandic, who was kicked out of office six weeks later in the Democratic primary. Coincidentally, there’s a Democratic primary coming up this month, and candidates have been shoveling snow off cars and sidewalks all around the city.

Not content with snow removal photo-ops, Rahm (I Live Here!) Emanuel, a Chicago mayoral candidate, also wasted no time in sending off a storm-related e-mail, offering “a few helpful tips” on how to weather the weather. They included: “Don’t make any unnecessary trips outside.”

And: “If you must go outside, wear several layers of warm, dry clothing. Keep your extremities covered. Wear hats, gloves, winter boots and warm socks.”

People, if someone was preparing to walk off into 2 feet of snow without socks and boots, do you think an e-mail from Rahm Emanuel would make that person think twice? Let’s see a show of hands.

But I digress. We are sick of bad weather and looking for a dumping place for all our bad vibrations.

Ideally, we would like to blame one specific person — like the evil queen in the movie “Red Sonja” who used a magic orb to destroy entire civilizations with terrible storms until she was vanquished by Red Sonja and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that was a long time ago when Schwarzenegger was still saying things like, “If you yield only to a conqueror, then prepare to be conquered, Little Sonja.” Now, he is more likely to say, “Let’s fix the pension problem,” and California has been having terrible weather.

Nevertheless, I don’t think we can pin this on Arnold.

Al Gore, on the phone between plane flights Wednesday, of course, pointed to global warming. “Here’s a basic fact,” he said. “There is about 4 percent more water vapor in the atmosphere today than there was in 1970.” That extra water, he said, is because of warmer oceans and warmer air, and is returning to earth as extra-heavy rain and snow.

Remind me again why we aren’t fighting global warming? It’s win-win. Even if all the hordes of scientists are wrong in believing that human beings are causing climate change, the remedies would still be good for the environment and for energy independence.

We could always blame George W. Bush — that never gets old. But Gore declined to be helpful when it came to fixing blame. “I’m sorely tempted to throw out three or four names, but it wouldn’t be right,” he said, showing a depressing level of prudence for someone who was spending the day trying to get cross-country by airplane.

We could blame President Obama for doing health care reform instead of global warming, but Congress is even more afraid of the energy lobby than the insurance companies. The president seems to be planning to do what he can by regulation. That prospect makes Republicans so angry that they’re introducing legislation to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from using its powers under the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Obviously, there is nothing more nefarious than having the agency in charge of protecting the environment use the clean air law to keep harmful gases out of the atmosphere.

The Senate sponsor is James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who recently claimed that the supercold winter proves that theories about global warming are “an intellectual fraud.” We could blame Senator Inhofe, but he really isn’t all that satisfactory a villain. It’d sort of be like blaming nuclear proliferation on gophers.

Another opponent of E.P.A. action, Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, used to be aligned with the environmentalists — until he left his moderate House district to run in a Republican Senate primary and abruptly switched positions. Defending himself in a recent interview with Greenwire, Kirk claimed that there was no longer real support for a climate change bill because of “the personal and political collapse of Vice President Gore.”

In other words, environmental warrior Al Gore is responsible for the weather, as well as the pathetic wimpiness of Mark Kirk.

Let’s just think of it as the Senator Kirk snowpocalypse.