TIME Environment

The Senate Discovers Climate Change!

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Never noticed that before: Welcome to the conversation, Senators Image Source RF/Ditto; Getty

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A landslide vote brings Congress's upper chamber into the 21st century—a little

Correction appended, January 24

Surely by now you’ve heard the big news: On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate—The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body Except For the Fact That it Never Really Deliberates Anything—passed a landmark resolution declaring that “climate change is real and is not a hoax.” The proposal passed by a nail-bitingly close vote of 98-1. Only Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, who heads the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, voted no.

The landslide victory thrilled the green community, especially since it included such anti-science paleoliths as Oklahoma’s James Inhofe and Florida’s Marco (“I’m not a scientist, man”) Rubio. But let’s not get carried away. For one thing, voting to acknowledge a fact that virtually every other sentient human on the planet long ago accepted is a little like passing a bill that declares, “Gravity is real” or “Fire make man hurt.” Not exactly groundbreaking.

What’s more, there was only so far the newly enlightened GOP was willing to go. Votes on two other measures—one that declared “climate change is real and human activity contributes significantly to climate change,” and one that made essentially the same point but without the word “significantly”—were blocked by Republican maneuvering. What’s more, the weak tea version of the resolution that did pass—sponsored by Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse—made it through only because it was a rider to the Keystone XL pipeline legislation. At this point, Republicans would likely approve a Puppies For Lunch rider if it would get Keystone passed.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, among the greenest of the greenies, responded to the GOP’s grudging concession with something less than unalloyed enthusiasm. “From Know-Nothingism to Do-Nothingism in the U.S. Senate,” it declared in a news release. And indeed, the 98 brave men and women who stepped forward to go on record with a statement of the patently obvious have given absolutely no indication that they are actually prepared to do anything about that obvious thing.

The GOP’s big wins in November certainly don’t make them more inclined to yield on what has become a central pillar of party dogma. But if science—to say nothing of the health of the planet—can’t move them, they should at least consider the unsavory company their fringe position is increasingly causing them to keep. Writing in The New York Times, Paul Krugman addressed climate deniers, supply-siders and foes of the Affordable Care Act as one counterfactual whole—people who are fixed in their positions no matter what the objective evidence shows. That may or may not be too wide a net to cast, but Krugman is right on one score:

If you’ve gotten involved in any of these debates, you know that these people aren’t happy warriors; they’re red-faced angry, with special rage directed at know-it-alls who snootily point out that the facts don’t support their position.

Krugman offers any number of explanations for this, with which reasonable people can agree or disagree, but his larger point—of an ideological cohort animated by rage as much as anything else—certainly feels right. I see it regularly in that least scientific but most pointed place of all, my Twitter feed. I’ve crossed swords with the anti-vaccine crowd more than once, and while some of them have found a way to be savagely nasty in the 140 characters they’re allowed, most of the anger is civil. They’re fretful and, I believe, foolish to have been duped by anti-scientific rubbish, but they’re at least fit for inclusion in the public square.

Not so the climate-deniers, who hurl spluttery insults, fill their feeds with the usual swill about President Barack Obama’s suspicious birthplace and the conspiratorial doings across the border in Mexico, and link to risible idiocy about how the global warming “conspiracy” is a “ploy to make us poorer,” whose real purpose is “to redistribute wealth from the first world to the third, an explicit goal of UN climate policy.”

Yes. Of course. Because it’s harder to believe in science than it is to believe that there’s a four-decade plot afoot that virtually every country in the world has signed onto, dragging virtually every scientist in the world along with them—none of whom have ever had a crisis of conscience or spilled the beans in a bar or simply decided to sell the whole sordid story to the press—and that only a rump faction in the U.S. knows the truth. Makes perfect sense.

If the Senate, even reluctantly, has made the tiniest baby step toward rational thought, that’s undeniably a good thing. “It starts by admitting you have a problem, just like many other areas of human life,” Whitehouse told The Hill. Outside the Senate chamber, however, in the country that is second only to coal-soiled China in CO2 emissions, the ugly, vein-in-the-temple anger remains. The GOP can continue to make common cause with this nasty crowd or, if it chooses, can finally, clear-headedly rejoin the ranks of reason.

An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Natural Resources Defense Council

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TIME 2016 Election

5 Things You Need to Know About Antonio Villaraigosa

Team Maria Presents A Benefit For Best Buddies
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attends the Team Maria benefit for Best Buddies at Montage Beverly Hills in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Aug. 18, 2013. Amanda Edwards—WireImage/Getty Images

Speculation is heating up that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa might run for an open Senate seat in California.

So far, Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris is the only candidate who has officially announced a bid for the seat that Sen. Barbara Boxer will vacate in 2016. But Villaraigosa, also a Democrat, has been actively exploring a run, taking meetings and seeking advice from people such as his successor, current L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

If Villaraigosa ran, it would set up a major fight between two Democrats in one of the biggest, most expensive blue states in the country — a prospect that many national Democrats hope to avoid. With other top contenders — billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom — also opting out, it could be the difference between a cakewalk for Harris or a real dogfight.

Here are five things you need to know about Villaraigosa:

1. His last name is a combination of his and his ex-wife’s. He was born Antonio Villar, and her name was Corina Raigosa. They joined their last names to create Villaraigosa.

2. Villaraigosa first ran for mayor in 2001 and lost. Two years later he won a seat on the city council and finally won the mayor’s office in 2005.

3. He has failed the bar exam four times (and never ended up passing).

4. He developed a benign tumor on his spine when he was a teenager that causes him recurring pain and has required two surgeries.

5. He has four kids.

 

TIME Congress

Only One Republican Senator Refused to Say ‘Climate Change Is Real’

Senate Luncheons
Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi speaks at a news conference after the Senate luncheons in the Capitol on Jan. 7, 2015 Tom Williams—AP/CQ Roll Call

And another denier of manmade global warming wiggles free of the Democrats' show vote

A Mississippi Republican was the only U.S. Senator to vote against an amendment declaring that climate change is real on Wednesday.

Roger Wicker, the incoming chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was the only no vote. The final vote was 98 to 1, with Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader from Nevada, not voting.

The amendment, introduced by Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, included only 16 words: “To express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax.” It was designed to highlight Republicans’ rhetoric that has run counter to the scientific consensus that the earth has been warming in recent decades.

But the stunt left some of the biggest deniers of manmade global warming some wiggle room. Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, voted for the amendment and asked to be a co-sponsor.

“Climate is changing and climate has always changed and always will,” said Inhofe, author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. “There is archaeological evidence of that, there is biblical evidence of that, there is historical evidence of that. It will always change. The hopes is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.”

Whitehouse said he hoped the vote would send “a signal” that the Senate “is ready to deal with reality.”

“I almost hate to use my minute because I am so eager to hear what is said during the minute that our energy chairman will follow me with,” said Whitehouse before the vote. “But I’m hoping that after many years of darkness and blockade that this can be a first little vote beam of light through the wall that will allow us to at least start having an honest conversation about what carbon pollution is doing to our climate and to our oceans. This is a matter of vital consequence to my home state … and to many of yours as well.”

Wicker’s office did not reply for comment. In the past, Wicker, the new chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has said that scientific data on rising global temperatures is not conclusive. “President Obama continues to defend his aggressive policies with assertions that global temperatures are on the rise — a notion challenged by scientists and scholars,” he said in a 2013 press release. “The recorded temperatures were much lower than the predictions from climate models often cited by the President and global warming activists.”

TIME

House Votes to Overturn Obama’s Immigration Policies

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 14, 2015, as lawmakers gather for a vote to fund the Homeland Security Department but will curb President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 14, 2015, as lawmakers gather for a vote to fund the Homeland Security Department but will curb President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Obama has threatened to veto the legislation

(WASHINGTON) — The Republican U.S. House voted Wednesday to overturn President Barack Obama’s key immigration policies, approving legislation that would eliminate new deportation protections for millions and expose hundreds of thousands of younger immigrants to expulsion.

The 236-191 vote came on a broad bill that would provide nearly $40 billion to finance the Homeland Security Department through the rest of the budget year.

Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics with national security at a time of heightened threats, and Obama has threatened to veto the legislation. Prospects in the Senate look tough, too.

But House Republicans, in a determined assault on one of Obama’s top domestic priorities, accused him of reckless unconstitutional actions on immigration that must be stopped.

“This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself,” said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. “The people made clear that they wanted more accountability from this president, and by our votes here today we will heed their will and we will keep our oath to protect and defend the Constitution.”

But Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., accused Republicans of “viciousness” for trying to make it easier to deport immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., called the GOP effort “a political vendetta,” adding, “It’s a reprehensible, reckless tactic which will compromise, has already compromised, the full and effective functioning of our Homeland Security Department” at a time of heightened security risks.

The immigration measures were amendments on the Homeland Security bill.

One of them, approved 237-190, would undo executive actions that Obama announced in November to provide temporary deportation relief to some 4 million immigrants in the country illegally. A second amendment would delete Obama’s 2012 policy that’s granted work permits and stays of deportation to more than 600,000 immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. That measure passed more narrowly, 218-209, as more than two dozen more moderate Republicans joined Democrats in opposition.

The changes Obama announced in November especially enraged the GOP because they came not long after Republicans swept the midterm elections, taking control of the Senate and increasing their majority in the House. Republicans pledged then to revisit the issue once Congress was fully under their control.

But even with Republicans in control of the Senate, the bill faces difficulty there, especially because House GOP leaders decided to satisfy demands from conservative members by including a vote to undo the 2012 policy that deals with younger immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

Republicans are six votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to advance most legislation in the Senate, and even some Republicans in that chamber have expressed unease with the House GOP approach, especially given the importance of funding the Homeland Security Department in light of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Some House Republicans acknowledged that the Senate was likely to reject their approach, perhaps forcing them in the end to pass a Homeland Security funding bill stripped of controversial provisions on immigration.

“They’re not going to pass this bill,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

Homeland Security money expires at the end of February so House leaders have left themselves several weeks to come up with an ultimate solution.

Immigrant advocates warned Republicans that Wednesday’s votes risked alienating Latino voters who will be crucial to the 2016 presidential election.

TIME 2016 Election

7 Things You Need To Know About Kamala Harris

2014 Variety Power Of Women Presented By Lifetime - Show
Kamala Harris is the current attorney general of California. Jason Merritt—Getty Images

Kamala Harris will launch her campaign Tuesday for the Senate seat from California, making her the first candidate in a large potential pool to officially step forward to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. (California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday that he won’t be running.)

Here are 7 important things to know about the current Attorney General of California:

1. As the daughter of an African-American father and an Indian mother, Harris is the first female, first African-American and first Asian-American Attorney General in California’s history.

2. President Obama once called her “the best-looking attorney-general in the country” – and was then forced to apologize for being sexist.

3. When she worked in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office for eight years after law school, Harris specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases.

4. She got her undergraduate degree from Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C.

5. She worked on Jesse Jackson’s campaign for President in the 1980s and had a “Jesse Jackson For President” bumper sticker on her car.

6. She was floated as a possible Supreme Court nominee if another seat opened up during Obama’s time in office.

7. Her name means “lotus flower” in Sanskrit.

TIME Congress

Longtime California Senator to Retire from Congress

Barbara Boxer
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., speaks during the Senate Democrats' news conference after the Senate's vote on the "Paycheck Fairness Act" in Washington on Sept. 10, 2014. Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

"I want to come home," Barbara Boxer said

Longtime California Sen. Barbara Boxer announced Thursday that she won’t run for reelection in 2016, setting the stage for one of the most expensive Senate races in the nation.

In a video posted on YouTube, Boxer, a Democrat who has been fielding rumors of her retirement for months, announced she would not seek a fifth term in the Senate. “I want to come home,” she told her grandson in the video. “I want to come home to the state that I love so much, California.”

“I am never going to retire,” she said. “The work is too important. But I will not be running for the Senate in 2016.”

Her announcement sets up a scramble in California politics, where the state’s “jungle primary” pits the top two primary finishers against each other in a general election regardless of party. Democrats already being mentioned for the seat include Attorney General Kamala Harris, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ruled himself out of contention hours after Boxer’s announcement:

Boxer’s campaign committee raised just $342,387 from Jan. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2014, according to Federal Election Commission records, a stunningly small figure for one of the most senior Democrats in the Senate from one of the wealthiest states. Before Republicans regained control of the Senate this week, Boxer was the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

In 2010, Boxer defeated former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina in the state by a margin of 10 percentage points.

TIME The Brief

#TheBrief: Meet the Freshman Class in Congress

The House will welcome 58 mostly Republican freshmen

Congress will swear in its most diverse group of lawmakers in U.S. history this week.

The newly formed group’s demographic breakdown is as follows: 104 women; 100 black, Asian, Native American, or Hispanic members; and Congress’ first black female Republican.

Age is also a diversifying factor. The youngest women elected to congress will be joining at 30-years-old, and several other young lawmakers will be joining her.

To find out more about the newest lawmakers in D.C. watch #TheBrief.

TIME politics

The Torture Debate Is Missing This: The Fact that We Did This Before

The Water Cure
A group of American soldiers applying the 'water cure' upon a Filipino insurgent during the Philippine-American War, circa 1900. From a book published in 1902. Interim Archives / Getty Images

We should be haunted by the history of the war we fought using torture in the Philippines more than a century ago

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Just over one hundred years ago, in 1902, Americans participated in a brief, intense and mostly forgotten debate on the practice of torture in a context of imperial warfare and counter-insurgency. The setting was the U. S. invasion of the Philippines, a war of conquest waged against the forces of the Philippine Republic begun in 1899. Within a year, it had developed into a guerrilla conflict, one that aroused considerable anti-war opposition in the United States.

The controversy was sparked when letters from ordinary American soldiers in the Islands surfaced in hometown newspapers in the United States containing sometimes graphic accounts of torture, and activists within the anti-imperialist movement pressed for public exposure, investigation and accountability. At the center of the storm was what American soldiers called the “water cure,” a form of torture which involved the drowning of prisoners, often but not always for purposes of interrogation.

In early 1902, the Senate Committee on the Philippines embarked on an investigation into “Affairs in the Philippine Islands.” While pro-war Senators on the committee tried to sideline questions of U. S. troop conduct, anti-war Senators, working closely with anti-imperialist investigators, provided a platform for U. S. soldiers to testify regarding the practice of torture, including the “water cure.” Their accounts triggered a response by Secretary of War Elihu Root that included the minimization of atrocity and the inauguration of court-martial proceedings for some soldiers and officers accused of torturing Filipinos.

Together, the Senate hearings and courts-martial precipitated, by mid-1902, a wide-ranging public debate on the morality of the U. S. military campaign’s ends and means. But the debate was over almost as soon as it had begun since, in July 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the war concluded in victory (in the face of ongoing Filipino resistance) and pro-war Republicans on the Senate Committee shut down the investigation.

When, during Michael Mukasey’s confirmation hearings in the fall of 2007, the status of “water-boarding” was widely discussed, I felt an eerie sense of familiarity. It prompted me to write an article for the New Yorker. The article did not attempt to argue that recent events are identical to those of the early 20th century, or that the history described here led to the present crisis. Rather, my effort was to haunt the present with this particular, largely unknown past.

Here it is important to indicate what separates present from past. At the turn of the 20th century, the “water-cure” was tolerated and under-punished but was not, as far as historians are aware, formally authorized at the highest levels in Washington. Late-Victorian Americans also appear to have been less squeamish about the use of the word “torture,” or were perhaps simply less seasoned practitioners of administrative word-play, than are contemporary Americans. And at the earlier moment, the advocates of torture did not invoke images of existential terror, such as the diversionary “ticking time-bomb” that proponents casually lob into the present exchange.

At the same time, past and present seem to come together in official declarations that U. S. military actions are dictated by the mandates of an “exceptional” kind of war against a uniquely treacherous and broadly-defined “enemy.” And at both moments, the alchemy of exposure and impunity produced a troubling normalization of the atrocious. Where Americans actively defend torture, or sanction it through their silence, it is their willingness to assimilate the pain of others into their senses of safety, prosperity and power that stretches the darkest thread between past and present.

Paul Kramer is a historian at Vanderbilt University and the author of “The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines.”

TIME Senate

Edward Brooke, 1st Black Elected U.S. Senator, Dies

Edward Brooke
The late Massachusetts Sen. Edward William Brooke in the Rotunda on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 28, 2009. Alex Brandon—AP

(BOSTON) — Former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke, the first black to win popular election to the Senate, has died. He was 95.

Ralph Neas, a former aide, says Brooke died Saturday of natural causes at his Coral Gables, Florida, home.

Brooke was a liberal Republican elected to the Senate in 1966 and served two terms. The only blacks to serve in the Senate before him were two men in the 1870s when senators were still chosen by state legislatures.

Brooke said he was “thankful to God” that he lived to see Barack Obama become the nation’s first black president.

Brooke was honored October 2009 with the Congressional Gold Medal. At the time, the president described Brooke as “a man who’s spent his life breaking barriers and bridging divides across this country.”

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