What the hell went wrong? For months now, environmentalists have been asking themselves that question, and it’s easy to see why. After Barack Obama vaulted into the White House in 2008, it really did look like the United States was, at long last, going to do something about global warming. Scientists were united on the causes and perils of climate change. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth had stoked public concern. Green groups in D.C.
All day Friday, there were two big, conflicting narratives floating around Capitol Hill about why there wasn’t yet a budget deal to keep the government open for the rest of the fiscal year. The Republican story: We’re still bickering over how much spending to cut. And the Democratic version: False! Both sides have basically agreed on an amount to cut—somewhere in the vicinity of $38 billion. The only holdup is that Republicans still want to slash federal funds for Planned Parenthood, and that’s an absolute no-go for us Dems. Someone had to be lying, right? But who?
Around 11 a.m. on Thursday morning, Nancy Pelosi fielded a question from a journalist who wanted to know the same thing everyone else wanted to know: How, exactly, are the talks over a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown faring? The former Speaker of the House paused—back when Dems had a majority, after all, she would have been smack in the center of those negotiations. But now?
In 1903, when the Fisk Generating Station in Chicago had its first steam engine turbine installed, engineers hailed the new coal-fired power plant as a marvel—“a monster in its day,” as one magazine put it. But, over the years, the boxy red-brick structure has become, in the eyes of many locals, a monster of a different sort.
It’s hardly a mystery why the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan is so horrifying—and so riveting. A country already savaged by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and 24-foot-high tsunamis is now facing the prospect of meltdowns at multiple reactors, with a handful of technicians risking their lives to avert further radiation leaks. But the crisis is attention-grabbing for another reason, too: The fear of nuclear disaster has long claimed a special hold on our collective psyche. Pro-nuclear advocates love to grumble that people are disproportionately, even irrationally, afraid of nuclear power.
Just how necessary is nuclear power? Lately, politicians around the globe have been asking themselves that question as they watch a small handful Japanese technicians race to prevent three reactors from spewing out radiation at the quake-ravaged Fukushima Daiichi plant. In recent years, a consensus had taken hold that the world needed many, many more nuclear plants to meet its low-carbon energy needs and avoid drastic global warming.
“I want to contribute to the world of ideas.” That was how Rick Santorum envisioned his political future back in 2007, two months after losing his Pennsylvania Senate seat by 18 points. The sentiment may have sounded strange coming from a Republican best known for his in-your-face social conservatism—the guy who chalked up the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal to Boston’s “cultural liberalism” and suggested that gay marriage could usher in “man-on-dog” relationships.
A quick recap of the standoff over the budget: Republicans want to snip off some $60 billion in government spending for the rest of the year. Democrats are arguing that the steep cuts cheered on by conservatives would hit essential programs that people actually need and use—good-bye Pell Grants, good-bye food-safety inspectors, good-bye well-functioning Social Security administration, and so forth. Worse still, economic forecasters—including Ben Bernanke have argued that slashing federal spending right now would drag down the economy.
Last May, the novelist Scott Turow published yet another courtroom thriller—Innocent, a sequel to his hugely popular 1987 debut Presumed Innocent. “I was lucky enough that it landed on the best-seller list,” he quips, as if there were ever any doubt. But the celebration didn’t last. Turow’s friends soon alerted him to the fact that knock-off e-versions of his novel were being offered at steep discounts on shady websites all over the Internet.
While the speeches by various conservative bigwigs at the annual CPAC conference in Washington, D.C., are always fun—who doesn’t love listening to Ron Paul rail against foreign aid or Mitt Romney explain that, unlike Barack Obama, he wouldn’t need to ask his Treasury Secretary for economic advice?—that’s not all that's on offer. Down in the basement of the Marriott Wardman Park is a convention hall lined with various groups hawking pamphlets and piles of swag.