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Analysis: Political blockade colliding with climate change evidence

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The massive new study released by federal scientists Friday[1], like another landmark analysis in October[2] from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, identified an accelerating convergence of risks from a changing climate. Those threats range from heavier rainfall and deadlier heat waves to increased coastal flooding, transformed agricultural growing patterns and potentially severe reductions in economic growth.
In just the past few months, historically deadly wildfires in California and unusually powerful hurricanes[3] in the Southeast have punctuated the message that climate change is shifting from something that will disrupt American life to something that already is doing so.
15 takeaways from the US climate change report

Yet the results in this month’s election underscored the political standoff that has blocked a federal response to the gathering threat.
On one side, Democrats mostly committed to action against climate change regained the majority in the House of Representatives and recaptured control of several governorships and state legislatures. They made those gains largely by expanding their support in well-educated suburbs where more voters tend to express concern about the changing climate. The increasing tilt of their caucus into those suburban areas could even make it easier for the party to reach consensus for action than in 2009, when the House Democratic majority narrowly passed “cap and trade” climate legislation that sharply divided urban liberals from rural and exurban moderates.
But simultaneously, Republicans this month expanded their hold on Senate seats from the states most heavily invested in the existing fossil fuel economy, both as energy producers and consumers. With their power reinforced by the filibuster rule that allows 41 senators to block any bill, those high-carbon states now constitute a seemingly impregnable brown barricade against federal legislation to reduce the carbon emissions linked to climate change. Those same states have provided the core of the Electoral College support for President Donald Trump, who said Monday that he doesn’t believe the climate change report and who has systematically moved to rescind former President Barack Obama’s regulatory initiatives to reduce carbon emissions.
These divergent electoral trends frame the likelihood that even as the scientific consensus solidifies on the dangers of climate change, the US political system will further splinter in its response to it.
With control of the House, Democrats are planning a quick flurry of hearings to highlight climate change questions[4] and are debating whether to re-establish a special select committee to explore responses to the issue. Action in blue-leaning states is also likely to intensify. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation this fall committing his state to 100% carbon-free energy by 2045, and other newly elected Democratic governors[5] ran on similar commitments this year, including not only candidates in Southwestern states such as Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada but also Rust Belt battlegrounds including Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Maine, according to the League of Conservation Voters, which promoted the pledge. Fifty-five newly elected Democratic House members also signed the pledge for transitioning to carbon-free energy sources.
But in the Senate, where the Republican majority is centered on states that emit the most carbon, there appears to be no prospect for action. A succession of Republican senators responded to the blockbuster federal report last weekend with what amounted to shrugs of dismissal. And the Trump administration effectively has disowned the report, which was the product of a massive federal interagency effort.
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Patterns of energy use reinforce the general trend of American politics over the past quarter century toward an overlapping demographic and geographic resorting of the two parties’ coalitions. In all corners of the country, Democrats now run best in metropolitan areas that are experiencing high levels of demographic and cultural change and advancing fastest in the transition toward a digital, information-age economy. Simultaneously, Republicans have been consolidating their hold on non-metropolitan areas that remain preponderantly white, religiously and culturally traditional, and more rooted in the dominant 20th-century industries of manufacturing, energy production and agriculture.

The carbon divide

Why red and blue states divide over green policy

Carbon emissions, measured either per person or per dollar of economic activity, have emerged as one of the most revealing measures of that separation. Republicans now dominate almost all of the states that emit the most carbon per dollar of economic activity, most of them in the nation’s heartland. Meanwhile low-emitting states, primarily along the East and West coasts, have become the backbone of Democratic strength in Congress and the Electoral College. Carbon emissions thus follow the tracks of other divides between states that lean toward each party[6], such as the share of immigrants, college graduates or white Christians in the population.
That pattern is especially consequential in the Senate, where the two senators per state rule magnifies the influence of smaller, heavily rural states, which include many of the nation’s largest energy producers.
The federal Energy Information Administration ranks the states by the amount of carbon each emits to produce one dollar of gross domestic product[7]. Even before November’s election, Republicans controlled 32 of the 40 Senate seats from the 20 states that emit the most carbon per dollar of economic output.
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Then in the election, Republicans ousted three of the Democrats on that small list: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota (ranked second), Joe Donnelly in Indiana (ranked 10th) and Claire McCaskill in Missouri (ranked 18th). The only Democratic senators left from these 20 high-carbon states are Joe Manchin and Jon Tester, who won tough re-election campaigns in West Virginia and Montana, respectively; Doug Jones, who faces an uphill re-election in Alabama in 2020; and Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich in New Mexico.
In a mirror image, before the election Democrats controlled 32 of the 40 Senate seats from the 20 largely coastal states that emit the least carbon per dollar of economic output. Those numbers didn’t change in November, as Democrats gained one Senate seat from these lower carbon states (in Nevada) while surrendering another (in Florida). After the election, as before, Democrats control all 28 Senate seats in the 14 states that emit the absolute lowest amount of carbon per dollar of economic output — a list topped by New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Maryland, Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island.
Democrats also gained one Senate seat (in Arizona) from the 10 states that rank 21st through 30th in carbon emissions per dollar of economic output. Perhaps even more important for the party, four Democratic incumbents from these states who had appeared vulnerable after 2016 all won re-election: Sens. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. The two parties now split the 20 Senate seats from these middle tier states exactly in half.
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For 2020, the Democratic Senate targets are concentrated on relatively lower-carbon states. The Democrats’ two top targets in 2020 are likely to be Republican incumbent Sens. Cory Gardner in Colorado (which ranked 30th in carbon emissions per dollar of GDP) and Susan Collins in Maine (which ranked 28th). (On Monday, Collins, referencing the new federal report, tweeted out concern[8] about climate change.) Other top Democratic targets will include Republican-held Senate seats in Arizona (26), Georgia (31) and North Carolina (36). Texas (at 19) and Iowa (at 15) are the high emitting states most likely to reach the upper tier of the Democratic target list, though both could also fail to develop into serious races.
The Electoral College largely follows these same lines. In 2016, Trump won 19 of the 20 states that emit the most carbon per dollar of economic activity (with New Mexico as the only exception.) His Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, won 16 of the 20 states that emit the least carbon (with Georgia, Idaho, Florida and North Carolina as the exceptions.) Trump won all seven states that ranked 21st through 27th in emissions per dollar of economic activity, while Clinton carried the three states that ranked 28 to 30.
For 2020, the three states Democrats are most hoping to recapture from Trump are all in that middle group: Michigan (22), Wisconsin (23) and Pennsylvania (24). The party’s other top targets to flip cluster toward the bottom of the list, including Florida, North Carolina and possibly Georgia; among high-emitting states only Iowa, Ohio (21) and perhaps Texas might draw much Democratic interest in 2020, and none of those are guaranteed targets.

No cracks in the brown blockade

Despite their urban-rural split, Democrats passed a “cap and trade” bill to limit carbon emissions in 2009 the last time they controlled the House. But that bill could not advance in the Senate, and Republicans have rejected action on the issue since they regained the House majority in 2011.
Whatever the Democratic House majority does now, it is virtually certain Washington will not act on climate issues while Trump, who has at times called climate change a “hoax,” holds the White House. But even if Democrats can oust Trump in 2020, the high-carbon blockade in the Senate looms as an enduring challenge for any federal legislation to confront climate change, such as a “cap and trade” program, a tax on such pollution or federal requirements on states to generate more of their power from renewable clean-energy sources.
Just the 35 Senate seats Republicans now control in the 20 states that emit the most carbon per dollar of economic output, combined with their six from the states that ranked 21 to 26 on that list, would be enough to sustain a filibuster against climate legislation. These higher emission states could tilt even further toward the GOP in the coming years: In 2020, Democrats will face a tough fight to hold their Senate seat in high-emitting Alabama (ranked ninth), as well as a competitive, if less immediately threatening, contest for Sen. Gary Peters in Michigan. And few Democrats are sanguine about their long-term prospects in West Virginia or Montana after Manchin and Tester someday leave office.
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In the report released Friday, the federal agencies painted a dire picture of mounting risk to all areas of the country from the changing climate.
“High temperature extremes, heavy precipitation events, high tide flooding events along the US coastline, ocean acidification and warming, and forest fires in the western United States and Alaska are all projected to continue to increase, while land and sea ice cover, snowpack, and surface soil moisture are expected to continue to decline in the coming decades,” the authors wrote[9].
The report forecasts that the most severe changes could be felt in some of the regions, particularly the Southeast[10] and upper Midwest and northern Plains[11], that emit the most carbon per dollar of economic activity and elect many of the members of Congress most resistant to acting on climate change.
These increasingly tangible disruptions might create more political pressure in those states for action on the climate. More likely, any federal initiative to combat climate change for the next several years will need to find ways to circumvent the Senate’s brown blockade.

Ways around the filibuster

One option is executive branch regulatory action from a future president, like the rules on automotive fuel economy and power plant emissions that Obama imposed. But the five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices, who are generally suspicious of federal regulation, might limit the scope of such unilateral executive action. It’s also easier for a succeeding administration to undo regulations than it is to rewrite laws — as demonstrated by the contrast between Trump’s success at thwarting Obama’s climate agenda and his inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
These considerations explain why talk is quietly increasing among environmental groups about exploring ways a future Democratic Senate majority might use the reconciliation process, which allows legislation to pass with 51 votes, to address climate change. The reconciliation process is limited to bills with impact on the federal budget, but it provided the vehicle for two of the most sweeping legislative initiatives of recent years, the GOP tax plan approved last year and the ACA.
It’s possible that parliamentary obstacles could block the reconciliation route as well, leaving climate legislation still dependent on 60 votes to clear the Senate. That prospect raises a final option for how the climate debate could unfold in the years ahead. If the brown blockade continues to stalemate federal action even as the risks surge from rising seas, deadly wildfires and intensifying hurricanes, it may be that climate change is the issue that eventually causes the Senate to sweep away the venerable institution of the filibuster itself.

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Houston Recalls Legacy of George Bush, Its Lone Star Yankee and Senior Booster

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HOUSTON — Inside the airport that bears his name, George Herbert Walker Bush looks, at a distance, as if he’s wearing a cape.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue at the Houston airport shows Mr. Bush, who , Barbara Bush[4], who died in April at the age of 92. After Mr. Bush’s death on Friday, Houston lost its two most famous residents in the span of seven months.

“George H.W. Bush served with valor and integrity as the 41st president of the United States,” Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement. “But to Houstonians he was one of our most esteemed and relatable neighbors. He and his wife, Barbara Bush, were our sports teams’ biggest fans, and boosters for everything Houston.”

This was the man whose most memorable quote in years had to do with men’s hosiery. In 2012, as his fondness for wearing bright eye-catching socks was going strong, he explained that he simply “likes a good sock.” At his wife’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Mr. Bush wore a pair of socks with a colorful stack-of-books design, a tribute to Mrs. Bush’s advocacy work for family literacy.

In Houston and its surrounding suburbs, Mr. Bush had not only an airport in his name but a park, a high school and a few more life-size statues. Above Buffalo Bayou, a bronze statue of Mr. Bush looks out into the distance with his hand in his pocket, gazing at, of all things, James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s tennis partner at the Houston Country Club. The statues of the two close friends face each other in the downtown park, separated by about 100 yards, in Houston’s oddest and longest-running staring contest.

“All I can do now,” Mr. Bush told The New York Times in 2011 about the statue, “is hope that the pigeons will be kind and gentle.”

Charles C. Foster, a Houston immigration lawyer and a longtime friend of the Bush family, came up with the idea for the George H.W. Bush Monument, which was unveiled in 2004. Mr. Foster recalled the day he sat in Mr. Bush’s office at 10000 Memorial Drive and asked for his blessing for the project.

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Mr. Bush in 1970, when he was a congressman.CreditAssociated Press

“He looked at me and he sort of looked up at the ceiling,” Mr. Foster said. “He pointed to the ceiling and said, ‘Shouldn’t you wait until I’m up there?’ And then he said, pointing downward, ‘Or perhaps down there?’”

In 1990, Mr. Bush helped turn the eyes of the world to Houston.

As president, he brought thousands of reporters and foreign dignitaries to Houston that summer for the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations, an annual gathering of the world’s economic powers. The summits had been held in a number of global cities — London, Tokyo, Paris, Venice — and Mr. Bush made the case that his adopted hometown belonged among such world-class company.

Houston was scrappier back then. The city was rebounding from an oil bust in the 1980s that crippled the economy, and it tried hard to present its best, and cleanest, face to the cameras and the visitors, picking up millions of pounds of trash, repaving roads and enlisting the aid of 12,000 volunteers.

“That was huge for Houston,” Mr. Foster said of the 1990 summit. “When the president had a chance, he could have picked some mountain retreat. But he picked his hometown. He was well aware of the chip on our shoulders that we didn’t feel like Houston got the recognition that it should.”

Now, with 2.3 million residents (compared with 1.6 million in 1990), Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, known as much for its diversity as its energy-capital status. George Bush High School, part of the Fort Bend school district, is 43 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black, 12 percent Asian and 4 percent white. More than 90 languages and dialects are spoken in the district.

Early Saturday morning in the upscale Tanglewood area, Houstonians paused at the gates at South Post Oak Lane and North West Oak Drive — the entrance to the gated community where Mr. Bush lived. Someone draped an American flag in the center of the gates, decorated for the holidays with Christmas wreaths.

Shirley Matthews, 66, a lifelong Houstonian who lives nearby, walked up and took a picture of the memorial for her mother. “He was just a good person,” she said. “He wasn’t perfect. But it’s family, and we love each other.”

References

  1. ^ died at his home here on Friday (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ Read the obituary of George H.W. Bush. (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ the funeral for his wife (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Barbara Bush (www.nytimes.com)

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A Close Race, a Mysterious Ballot and Control of Alaska’s House at Stake

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With a crucial legislative seat in Alaska teetering toward a tie earlier this month, lawmakers in Juneau braced for the possibility of a coin toss deciding control of the state’s House of Representatives. Then a mysterious extra ballot emerged that threw the process into further disarray.

Amid several counts, the latest coming on Friday afternoon, a single ballot drew scrutiny across the state.

The state’s review board certified the race, between Kathryn Dodge, a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, a Republican, as a tie earlier this week, with exactly 2,661 votes going to each candidate. The extra ballot, for Ms. Dodge, could have settled the race for the Fairbanks-area district seat.

Later on Friday, the mystery appeared to have been solved — but the standoff over who won the election continued.

Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the state elections office, said that workers at Fairbanks’s No. 6 precinct told officials that a woman had come into the polling place to request a special needs ballot on behalf of her husband, who was outside in a vehicle.

The woman came back into the precinct. Her husband had made a mistake, she told the precinct worker, and needed a new ballot. She left behind the one he had already marked, thus making it a spoiled ballot.

The precinct chair told the worker who took the spoiled ballot to put it into a secrecy sleeve, “and that they would deal with it later in the day,” Ms. Miller said.

But instead, the spoiled ballot was put into a compartment with other questioned ballots.

Typically, Ms. Miller said, spoiled ballots are destroyed once they are accounted for. So, because the mystery ballot was found to be spoiled, it will not be counted, she said.

Still, that left the question of what happens if the recount that began on Friday afternoon ends in a tie — again.

Ms. Miller said that both candidates had five days to file a legal challenge to the results. And if the court decided the recount went as it should have, and the race was still a tie?

The prevailing candidate would be determined “by lot,” Ms. Miller said. “It could be a coin toss or some other way of deciding, as long as it’s random.”

It would not be the first time an Alaska race was determined by coin toss.

In 2006, State Representative Bryce Edgmon[1], a Democrat from Dillingham, beat the incumbent, Carl Moses. Mr. Moses’s name was drawn, so he got to make the call: Heads.

The state’s elections director at the time flipped an Alaska Mint medallion — the side with a walrus being heads and the side with the state seal being tails. It landed state seal side up.

Ms. Miller would not speculate about when the recount would be complete, but said both candidates were present, along with observers and officials.

Mr. LeBon did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Sara Harriger, a spokeswoman for Ms. Dodge, said in a statement that during Friday’s recount, one additional vote was found for Ms. Dodge and a challenged ballot was allowed for her opponent, Mr. LeBon, which meant that the tally stood at 2,662 apiece. Still tied.

Ms. Dodge said in a statement that she believed every legally cast ballot should be counted. “I just want everyone watching this process to take away a sense of confidence in our democratic system and a commitment to cast their votes in future races,” she said, “and knowing that their votes will matter.”

Ms. Dodge had said earlier on Friday that legal action “unfortunately” seemed probable.

“It’s certainly not what any of us expect when we set out to campaign, to find ourselves in a squeaker of this nature,” she said. “I hope we don’t have a coin toss. I don’t know quite what to say, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate way to settle an election.”

In Alaska, the repercussions of this race will be felt into the next legislative session, though party control of the House in Juneau will be far from clear-cut.

Political coalitions in Juneau do not always come down to party-line votes like in other state houses. Even if Ms. Dodge wins the race, Democrats would still not have an outright majority, and so members of the House will still be tasked with negotiating a coalition majority.

References

  1. ^ Bryce Edgmon (akleg.gov)

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3 Killed After Pickup Truck Fleeing Border Patrol Hits Tire Spikes and Crashes

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Three people in a packed pickup truck were killed on Thursday afternoon after the driver ran over tire spikes and crashed on a Southern California highway while trying to flee Border Patrol officers, the authorities said.

The officers turned on their vehicle’s emergency lights and began chasing the pickup truck on Interstate 8, near Boulevard, Calif., at around 4:20 p.m., according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. The authorities said they believed that the pickup truck had been illegally driven over the southern border and had crashed through an “iron bar vehicle barrier.” They said they identified it by matching a piece that was missing from the truck to one agents had spotted on the ground near the border, though they did not elaborate.

The pickup truck reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour, weaving between cars and bypassing others on the side of the highway, before it drove over spikes that the Border Patrol had placed on the road, the California Highway Patrol said. About a mile later, the truck spun out of control and flipped over, ejecting the nine people who were riding in the truck’s bed, the authorities said.

A woman inside the truck, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed, as were two people riding in the bed, the police said. Seven people who had “multiple serious injuries” were taken to the hospital, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said.

The driver, a United States citizen whose name was not released, was the only person wearing a seatbelt, the agency said. The California Highway Patrol took the man into custody, but it was not clear whether he had been charged. The identities of the passengers in the truck have not been released either.

“The investigation into the smuggling incident is ongoing,” the spokesman said in an email, “and the Border Patrol is fully cooperating with the CHP in their investigation of the collision.”

About an hour after the crash, the Border Patrol stopped another vehicle that officers believed had crossed over the border with the pickup truck, the agency said. The driver of that car was also arrested.

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