The Pentagon on Monday released a report asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. It also predicted rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises.
The report lays out a road map to show how the military will adapt to rising sea levels, more violent storms and widespread droughts. The Defense Department will begin by integrating plans for climate change risks across all of its operations, from war games and strategic military planning situations to a rethinking of the movement of supplies.
"The loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a group of contemporaries in Peru yesterday. "Destruction and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration."
The Pentagon's findings come on the heels of a related report from a leading government-funded military research organization, which found the "accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict."
Among the areas of concern are conflicts over natural resources, food scarcity, the effects of rising sea levels, and the potential for refugee crises.
Yesterday's report was, however, a little different. As the New York Times' report noted, "Before, the Pentagon's response to climate change focused chiefly on preparing military installations to adapt to its effects, like protecting coastal naval bases from rising sea levels. The new report, however, calls on the military to incorporate climate change into broader strategic thinking about high-risk regions -- for example, the ways in which drought and food shortages might set off political unrest in the Middle East and Africa."
In a political context, it's worth acknowledging that congressional Republicans not only oppose such "broader strategic thinking," they've also taken deliberate steps to prevent the Pentagon from even considering such concerns.
The Republican search for a legitimate Obama administration scandal has gone quite poorly. The right occasionally rolls out one new controversy or another, but in each instance, these stories fall apart rather quickly.
But for some conservatives, hope springs eternal. The Republicans' latest complaint even involves one of the federal agencies the GOP loves to hate, making it a two-fer -- the right gets to complain about the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency at the same time.
In June, President Obama announced an ambitious plan to address the climate crisis by reducing carbon pollution, and in July, the New York Timesreported that experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council helped provide a "blueprint" for the White House.
If that doesn't sound especially exciting to you, that's probably because you're not a congressional Republican. Coral Davenport reported over the weekend:
Congressional Republicans are investigating whether the Obama administration improperly colluded with a prominent environmental advocacy group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, as the Environmental Protection Agency drafted major climate change regulations.
The investigation, begun by Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, comes as Republicans continue a long-running effort to block President Obama's climate change agenda.
To help bolster the allegations of "improper" ties between the agency and environmentalists, the far-right lawmakers have uncovered "friendly emails" between EPA chief Gina McCarthy and her allies at environmental groups.
The fact that impeachment proceedings haven't already begun is clearly evidence of Republicans showing great restraint.
North Carolina's state legislature considered a resolution in 2007 expressing formal regret for the state's previous support for slavery. Republican Thom Tillis, now the state House Speaker and a U.S. Senate candidate, supported the resolution.
But as Daniel Strauss reported, Tillis issued a statement at the time elaborating on his perspective, connecting the resolution to his concerns about "reparations."
"This measure does not obligate legislative members to provide reparations. A subset of the democrat [sic] majority has never ceased to propose legislation that is de facto reparations and they will continue to do so as long as they are in the majority," Tillis said. "Federal and State [sic] governments have redistributed trillions of dollars of wealth over the years by funding programs that are at least in part driven by their belief that we should provide additional reparations."
"I believe there are several conservative democrats [sic] who are prepared join Republican [sic] in OPPOSITION to measures that propose new entitlements and reparations," Tillis added. "However, a vote against the resolution would most likely eliminate any chance that we would get support from more conservative members of the democrat party [sic] members to oppose such measures."
To be sure, this is plainly dumb. Indeed, it's arguably another "macaca" moment for the far-right candidate. Tillis' argument seemed to be that Republicans need not fear the slavery resolution creating the basis for reparations because, as Tillis argued, African Americans already receive "de facto reparations" in the form of public assistance.
In other words, while trying to defend his vote in support of a Democratic resolution, Tillis ended up making a racially charged argument about the social safety net. The Republican effectively said welfare and reparations are the same thing, which is clearly an ugly and ignorant charge for anyone, especially a U.S. Senate candidate, to make.
But there's a larger context that arguably makes Tillis' remarks slightly worse.
In recent weeks, the right's efforts to politicize the Ebola virus have focused on blaming President Obama for ... something. It's not entirely clear what Republicans disapprove of, though the party clearly hopes voters are terrified and that the politics of fear produce GOP gains in the midterms.
But as it turns out, there's another side to this coin, and suddenly, it's the left that's focusing on a way to connect Ebola to the political debate in a more direct way. Sam Stein had this report yesterday:
As the federal government frantically works to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and as it responds to a second diagnosis of the disease at home, one of the country's top health officials says a vaccine likely would have already been discovered were it not for budget cuts.
Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said that a decade of stagnant spending has "slowed down" research on all items, including vaccinations for infectious diseases. As a result, he said, the international community has been left playing catch-up on a potentially avoidable humanitarian catastrophe.
"NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It's not like we suddenly woke up and thought, 'Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,'" Collins told The Huffington Post on Friday. "Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would've gone through clinical trials and would have been ready."
That "10-year slide" is not an exaggeration. We learned this week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's emergency preparedness budget really has been cut roughly in half since 2006. Stein added that the budget for the National Institutes of Health hasn't fared much better, with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases facing particular budget heat over the last decade.
When politicians, usually on the right, talk about the importance of "cutting spending," they rarely say where, why, or to what effect. It's simply supposed to be an a priori good -- to cut spending, according to the rules of the game, is to have succeeded in an obvious way.
But we're occasionally reminded that budget cuts have consequences, and while emergency preparedness may seem like an easy cut for politicians when there is no emergency, those budgetary decisions sometimes look unwise as circumstances change.
And this week, it's given Democrats an excuse to try to turn the tables on Republicans who've been convinced that Ebola is a political winner for the GOP.
The political world's rules are coming into sharper focus. When a candidate flubs a process question -- issues related to electoral considerations that have little to do with actual substance -- the media is supposed to take that very seriously, possibly even characterizing it as disqualifying. When a candidate flubs a policy question -- dealing with issues that will make a material difference in people's lives -- the media is supposed to back off, occasionally even applauding his or her savviness.
With the rules in mind, the big story out of last night's Senate debate in Kentucky is probably supposed to be Secretary of State Alison Lundergran Grimes' (D) reluctance to say which presidential candidate she voted for in 2012 -- an issue the media has deemed extremely important, but which actually affects no one.
There was, however, arguably a far more important development last night: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R) total incoherence on health care policy. Benjy Sarlin reported overnight:
Turning to health care, McConnell struggled to explain how he squared his promise to repeal Obamacare with his claim that Kentucky could also keep its popular state health care exchange, which runs on subsidies provided by the law, and the state's Medicaid expansion, which was financed by federal dollars under the health care law as well. [...]
Pressed as to whether he personally supported maintaining the exchange if Obamacare were repealed, he responded that "it's fine to have a website, yeah."
No, actually, it's not. As we've discussed before, for most Kentuckians who visit the state-based exchange marketplace, there's a federal subsidy that makes insurance more affordable. For that matter, the coverage plans included in these exchanges are regulated heavily to guarantee consumer protections.
In other words, if McConnell succeeds in destroying the federal health care system, he'd leave his constituents with a "fine" website that would offer worse and more expensive insurance plans. Complicating matters, many Kentuckians learn they're eligible for Medicaid coverage through Kentucky's Kynect exchange. Destroy the law and Medicaid expansion disappears, leaving these families with nothing.
It's why McConnell's rhetoric last night can charitably be described as gibberish. With the health security of hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians on the line, this seems a tad more significant than whether Grimes voted for the president two years ago.
Rachel Maddow reports on how the Democratic Party seems ready to turn its back on President Obama despite his demonstrable successes, and wonders if this is typical of a natural political cycle or a specific political calculation. watch
Sam Stein, senior political editor and White House correspondent at the Huffington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about why some Democrats have forsaken President Obama in campaigning, in part because Republicans allowed few legislative accomplishments. watch
Rachel Maddow shares a new political ad that connects cuts in federal spending on disease research and control with lack of preparedness for an Ebola outbreak and considers the realities of U.S. readiness in contrast to prescribed protocols. watch
Dr. Angela Hewlett, infectious diseases physician at the Nebraska Medical Center, talks with Rachel Maddow about the strict protocols for dealing with Ebola and whether regular medical facilities can be reasonably expected to meet those standards. watch
Rachel Maddow, in teasing to an upcoming segment, notes that not even being responsible for a massive ecological disaster is enough to disqualify a corporation from asserting itself on a town's decision-making process. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on a lawsuit filed by a Democratic group against the state of Georgia in the matter of tens of thousands of missing new voter registrations as early voting has already begun and major state races are polling tied. watch
Back on twitter, feeling like I'm on the road to good health. Will be posting some thoughts this week. Endless gratitude for the good vibes.