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New England editorial roundup

November 15, 2014

The Rutland (Vt.) Herald, Nov. 13, 2014

A climate change agreement announced by President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping underscores the continuing importance of the climate issue even as head-in-sand, anti-science politicians consolidate their hold in Congress.

Obama declared that the United States would emit 26 to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it had in 2005. China is pledged to reach a peak in carbon emissions in 2030. By 2030, Xi said, China would derive 20 percent of its power from renewables such as solar and wind power.

The refusal of the United States and China, the world’s two largest carbon emitters, to commit themselves to action on climate change has been a major roadblock in negotiations among the nations of the world to develop a global climate strategy. Now the leaders of the two nations are on record pledging themselves to decisive action.

Congress can stand in the way, and with Republicans now in the majority in the Senate, they will have more power to do so. After all, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is in line to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (once chaired by Sen. Robert Stafford of Vermont), has called global warming a “hoax.” This week he called the deal with China a “nonbinding charade.”

Yet China is choking on its own pollution, and public unrest is one factor in the nation’s movement toward new energy technology. The United States has made great strides in solar and wind energy in recent years, with the assistance of federal tax credits, but unless the U.S. maintains its commitment to renewable energy, China will capture the initiative in the development of renewable energy technology and the U.S. will end up importing all its solar panels from China.

For the United States to take on the challenge of climate change, its leaders have to be willing to confront the power of big coal and big oil. Obama has taken steps to curb emissions from coal-fired plants, but the Republicans in Congress can be expected to seek to undo new rules on coal plants. The flood of money swelling the coffers of candidates beholden to fossil fuel industries is a major impediment to action on climate.

Republicans continue to foster ignorance. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s mantra on climate issues is “I’m not a scientist.” As a national leader, however, he has an obligation to learn about science, even to become an expert on climate. Instead, as a senator from Kentucky he does the bidding of King Coal.

In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin has long emphasized the importance of the climate crisis and has supported the development of renewable energy. Budget difficulties have prevented the state from undertaking the kind of large-scale conservation measures that would cut back on energy used in our homes and businesses. It’s hard to fulfill our obligations to ourselves and our planet when budget writers begin each year having to make up a $100 million deficit. Getting the state’s budget in order would enable productive action in a number of areas.

The debate about climate change, Sen. Inhofe’s obduracy notwithstanding, is largely over. Each year is now the warmest year on record. The largest storm on record is always the most recent one. California’s landscape, agricultural potential and population patterns are under assault by a historic drought, as are dry regions around the world — such as Syria. Heat waves, wildfires, typhoons — all are fulfilling, or exceeding, the projections of scientists.

It’s impossible to know the extent to which the U.S. and China will honor the pledges of Presidents Obama and Xi. But climate change is now a reality in the world of big power politics, as well as business and economics. It is not a hoax. It is a driving issue of the day, recognized not just by scientists, but by business leaders, with their eye on the perils of the future, and by ordinary people, from the fishermen of Alaska to the almond growers of California. The American people are catching on. Will their leaders?

The Boston Herald, Nov. 13, 2014

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber’s insulting comments about Obamacare and the “stupidity” of American voters, recorded in 2013 but only widely publicized this week, reinforce the wisdom of the Supreme Court’s decision to take up another challenge to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Gruber, if you’ve missed the controversy, admitted to a crowd of academics that the architects of Obamacare (he was one of them) misled Americans to sell the bill. Speaking of the requirement that all individuals must purchase insurance or face a financial penalty, he said the bill “was written in a tortured way to make sure (the Congressional Budget Office) did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. ... ” he said.

Gruber also acknowledged, “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. ... Call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

We’d have gone with “justifiably skeptical” over stupid; then again we’re not Ph.ds engaged in a round of academic self-congratulation (And of course it was the Supreme Court’s own declaration of the penalty to be a valid tax —that saved the law from a previous challenge).

But it is Gruber’s acknowledgment that the bill “was written in a tortured way” that adds fuel to the argument that Obamacare supporters were so keen to get the thing passed that the sausage factory produced something, well, rather rancid.

That brings us to the current legal challenge, which focuses on the insurance subsidies granted to low-income Americans who purchase insurance through public exchanges.

The case now before the Supreme Court challenges the IRS rule granting subsidies to those who enroll in health plans through the federally-run exchange, noting that the law limits subsidies to enrollees in exchanges “established by the state.”

That is the plain language of the law, drafted and enacted by Congress and signed by the president. But because only 16 states established exchanges, the White House finds itself arguing, lest the entire scheme collapse, that the law doesn’t mean what it very clearly says it means.

The defense offered by Obamacare supporters amounts to, “Well, everyone knew what we meant.” But we don’t know that at all. Here we have more insight from Gruber, who cautioned back in 2012 that if states don’t set up their own exchanges?”(y)our citizens don’t get their tax credits.”

Obamacare supporters say they intended all along for the subsidies to apply in the federal exchange, a claim that the Supreme Court will now try to sort out. The justices should give due consideration to comments such as Gruber’s that suggest quite the opposite.

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