In the USA..
Originally published January 11, 2013 at 8:51 PM | Page modified January 11, 2013 at 9:38 PM
Climate change moving faster than predicted
The draft report sums up what has become increasingly apparent: The country is hotter than it used to be, rainfall is becoming more intense and erratic and rising seas and storm surges threaten U.S. coasts.
By Neela Banerjee
Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON – The effects of climate change driven by human activity are spreading through the United States faster than had been predicted, increasingly threatening infrastructure, water supplies, crops and shorelines, according to a review of climate science and its effects by a federal-advisory committee.
A draft of the Third National Climate Assessment delivers a bracing picture of environmental changes and natural disasters that mounting scientific evidence indicates is fostered by climate change: heavier rains in the Northeast, Midwest and Plains states that have overwhelmed storm drains and led to flooding and erosion; sea-level rise that has battered coastal communities; drought that has turned much of the West into a tinderbox.
“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report says. “Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer.”
The draft report — more than 1,000 pages compiled by more than 300 experts during the past three years — sums up what has become increasingly apparent: The country is hotter than it used to be, rainfall is becoming both more intense and erratic, and rising seas and storm surges threaten U.S. coasts.
It arrives days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its annual State of the Climate Report, which noted that 2012 was the hottest year on record.
Together, the two major reports and a year of drought, wildfires, floods and freak storms have teed up for President Obama the chance to take substantial steps on climate change, environmentalists said.
The report explicitly addresses the most controversial question in climate change, saying that consumption of fossil fuels by humans is the main driver of climate change.
The report adds that the changes are already exacting an economic toll: “Infrastructure across the U.S. is being adversely affected by phenomena associated with climate change, including sea-level rise, storm surge, heavy downpours and extreme heat.”
The report details 13 airports that have runways that could be inundated by rising sea level. It mentions that thawing Alaskan ground means 50 percent less time to drill for oil.
And overall it says up to $6.1 billion in repairs need to be made to Alaskan roads, pipelines, sewer systems, buildings and airports to keep up with global warming.
Sewer systems across America may overflow more, causing damages and fouling lakes and waterways because of climate change, the report said.
With the White House working on so many economic, foreign and domestic policy fronts, it remains unclear if the president will use the scientists’ findings and the evidence to speak up more on climate.
The White House declined to comment on the climate report because it had not had a chance to review it. It also would not comment on specific on any specific efforts Obama might make to address climate change.
The National Climate Assessment report does not offer policy proposals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions or to help specific communities adapt to climate change.
Instead, it details the risks they face.
The final assessment will be issued in early 2014, and public comment on the draft will be accepted until April 12.
Material from The Associated Press and The Washington Post is included in this report.
January 11, 2013
‘Any Lawful Steps’ Urged to Avert Default
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — The Democratic leadership in the Senate asked President Obama on Friday to take “any lawful steps” available to avoid a default on the nation’s debt if Republicans continue to press their demand that an increase in the government’s borrowing limit be accompanied by spending cuts of the same magnitude.
“In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt-limit extension only as part of unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis — without Congressional approval, if necessary,” wrote Senators Harry Reid of Nevada, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Patty Murray of Washington.
The letter signaled an escalation in the war of words over the federal debt ceiling, which has already technically been breached, leaving the Treasury Department scrambling to meet the government’s domestic and foreign obligations. Lawmakers believe the bookkeeping flexibility will be exhausted by Feb. 15, at which time Washington would have to either default on its debt or shut down major expenditures.
Already, liberal policy experts have been trying to rally support for measures to go around the Republican blockade, from declaring that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment gives the president unilateral authority to raise the debt ceiling to calling for the minting of a trillion-dollar platinum coin that would be used to pay the nation’s debts.
“All Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, have a stake in ensuring that our country meets its legal obligations,” the Democratic leaders wrote. “Financial markets have long viewed securities backed by the full faith and credit of the United States as the most trustworthy in the world. This lowers borrowing costs for homes, cars, and college for all Americans and strengthens our economy. If we violate that trust for the first time in history, we will never fully regain it, and every American will suffer.”
Mr. Obama has said he will not negotiate on raising the government’s statutory borrowing limit, but without some extralegal maneuver, it is not clear how he can keep that promise. The House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, has not backed down on his demand that any increase in the debt limit include cuts at least equal in scope, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has also said the debt ceiling issue must be used to secure spending reductions.
“Senate Democrats cannot ignore their responsibilities for political convenience — and the American people will not tolerate an increase in the debt limit without spending cuts and reforms,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner.
Conservative Republicans say that even without an increase in the debt ceiling, the administration could continue to pay foreign and domestic creditors by ensuring that incoming tax receipts go first to paying off debts. To do that, however, huge and immediate cuts in government spending would be necessary, and global financial markets would almost certainly be rattled.
The Senate Democratic leaders did not suggest what “lawful steps” they had in mind. A Democratic aide said the senators would be inclined to have the president declare unilateral authority under the 14th Amendment, which says the debt’s validity “shall not be questioned.”
That, the aide said, would be more politically tenable than using the loophole of a trillion-dollar coin, issued under a legal provision that allows the Treasury to mint a platinum coin of any denomination. The coin would be deposited at the Federal Reserve, which in theory would then issue a line of credit against it.
But Democrats worry that the coin option would baffle voters. According to officials familiar with the drafting of the letter, top aides to Mr. Reid, the Senate majority leader, initially favored an explicit reference to the 14th Amendment. But in negotiations over the wording of their letter, the leaders opted for strategic ambiguity, to keep Republicans guessing and the president’s options open.
One of the main reasons for the letter was to bolster the president’s resolve, Senate aides said. In 2011, Mr. Obama dismissed the 14th Amendment option, telling reporters that his lawyers “are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.” This week when asked about the coin, the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said, “There is no Plan B, there is no backup plan. There is Congress’s responsibility to pay the bills of the United States.”
Democratic leadership aides said the Senate would probably take up legislation in early February that would allow the president to raise the debt ceiling on his own in set increments, perhaps of $1 trillion. Congress would have the ability to reject the increase, but that would take a two-thirds majority.
That plan was first used at the suggestion of Senator McConnell in 2011 to solve the last debt-ceiling impasse. Late last year, Mr. McConnell proposed it on the Senate floor again, but when Democrats called his bluff, he reversed course and blocked his own proposal.
January 10, 2013
Coins Against Crazies
By PAUL KRUGMAN
So, have you heard the one about the trillion-dollar coin? It may sound like a joke. But if we aren’t ready to mint that coin or take some equivalent action, the joke will be on us — and a very sick joke it will be, too.
Let’s talk for a minute about the vile absurdity of the debt-ceiling confrontation.
Under the Constitution, fiscal decisions rest with Congress, which passes laws specifying tax rates and establishing spending programs. If the revenue brought in by those legally established tax rates falls short of the costs of those legally established programs, the Treasury Department normally borrows the difference.
Lately, revenue has fallen far short of spending, mainly because of the depressed state of the economy. If you don’t like this, there’s a simple remedy: demand that Congress raise taxes or cut back on spending. And if you’re frustrated by Congress’s failure to act, well, democracy means that you can’t always get what you want.
Where does the debt ceiling fit into all this? Actually, it doesn’t. Since Congress already determines revenue and spending, and hence the amount the Treasury needs to borrow, we shouldn’t need another vote empowering that borrowing. But for historical reasons any increase in federal debt must be approved by yet another vote. And now Republicans in the House are threatening to deny that approval unless President Obama makes major policy concessions.
It’s crucial to understand three things about this situation. First, raising the debt ceiling wouldn’t grant the president any new powers; every dollar he spent would still have to be approved by Congress. Second, if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the president will be forced to break the law, one way or another; either he borrows funds in defiance of Congress, or he fails to spend money Congress has told him to spend.
Finally, just consider the vileness of that G.O.P. threat. If we were to hit the debt ceiling, the U.S. government would end up defaulting on many of its obligations. This would have disastrous effects on financial markets, the economy, and our standing in the world. Yet Republicans are threatening to trigger this disaster unless they get spending cuts that they weren’t able to enact through normal, Constitutional means.
Republicans go wild at this analogy, but it’s unavoidable. This is exactly like someone walking into a crowded room, announcing that he has a bomb strapped to his chest, and threatening to set that bomb off unless his demands are met.
Which brings us to the coin.
As it happens, an obscure legal clause grants the secretary of the Treasury the right to mint and issue platinum coins in any quantity or denomination he chooses. Such coins were, of course, intended to be collectors’ items, struck to commemorate special occasions. But the law is the law — and it offers a simple if strange way out of the crisis.
Here’s how it would work: The Treasury would mint a platinum coin with a face value of $1 trillion (or many coins with smaller values; it doesn’t really matter). This coin would immediately be deposited at the Federal Reserve, which would credit the sum to the government’s account. And the government could then write checks against that account, continuing normal operations without issuing new debt.
In case you’re wondering, no, this wouldn’t be an inflationary exercise in printing money. Aside from the fact that printing money isn’t inflationary under current conditions, the Fed could and would offset the Treasury’s cash withdrawals by selling other assets or borrowing more from banks, so that in reality the U.S. government as a whole (which includes the Fed) would continue to engage in normal borrowing. Basically, this would just be an accounting trick, but that’s a good thing. The debt ceiling is a case of accounting nonsense gone malignant; using an accounting trick to negate it is entirely appropriate.
But wouldn’t the coin trick be undignified? Yes, it would — but better to look slightly silly than to let a financial and Constitutional crisis explode.
Now, the platinum coin may not be the only option. Maybe the president can simply declare that as he understands the Constitution, his duty to carry out Congressional mandates on taxes and spending takes priority over the debt ceiling. Or he might be able to finance government operations by issuing coupons that look like debt and act like debt but that, he insists, aren’t debt and, therefore, don’t count against the ceiling.
Or, best of all, there might be enough sane Republicans that the party will blink and stop making destructive threats.
Unless this last possibility materializes, however, it’s the president’s duty to do whatever it takes, no matter how offbeat or silly it may sound, to defuse this hostage situation. Mint that coin!
January 11, 2013
Makers of Violent Video Games Marshal Support to Fend Off Regulation
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON — With the Newtown, Conn., massacre spurring concern over violent video games, makers of popular games like Call of Duty and Mortal Kombat are rallying Congressional support to try to fend off their biggest regulatory threat in two decades.
The $60 billion industry is facing intense political pressure from an unlikely alliance of critics who say that violent imagery in video games has contributed to a culture of violence. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. met with industry executives on Friday to discuss the concerns, highlighting the issue’s prominence.
No clear link has emerged between the Connecticut rampage and the gunman Adam Lanza’s interest in video games. Even so, the industry’s detractors want to see a federal study on the impact of violent gaming, as well as cigarette-style warning labels and other measures to curb the games’ graphic imagery.
“Connecticut has changed things,” Representative Frank R. Wolf, a Virginia Republican and a frequent critic of what he terms the shocking violence of games, said in an interview. “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do something.”
Gun laws have been the Obama administration’s central focus in considering responses to the shootings. But a violent media culture is being scrutinized, too, alongside mental health laws and policies.
“The stool has three legs, and this is one of them,” Mr. Wolf said of violent video games.
Studies on the impact of gaming violence offer conflicting evidence. But science aside, public rhetoric has clearly shifted since the shootings, with politicians and even the National Rifle Association — normally a fan of shooting games — quick to blame video games and Hollywood movies for inuring children to violence.
“I don’t let games like Call of Duty in my house,” Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said this week on MSNBC. “You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing Call of Duty and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real-life effects of violence.”
Residents in Southington, Conn., 30 miles northeast of Newtown, went so far as to organize a rally to destroy violent games. (The event was canceled this week.) Mr. Biden, meeting with some of the industry’s biggest manufacturers and retailers, withheld judgment on whether graphic games fuel violence. But he added quickly, “You all know the judgment other people have made.”
Industry executives are steeling for a political battle, and they have strong support from Congress as well as from the courts.
Industry representatives have already spoken with more than a dozen lawmakers’ offices since the shootings, urging them to resist threatened regulations. They say video games are a harmless, legally protected diversion already well regulated by the industry itself through ratings that restricting some games to “mature” audiences.
With game makers on the defensive, they have begun pulling together scientific research, legal opinions and marketing studies to make their case to federal officials.
“This has been litigated all the way to the Supreme Court,” Michael Gallagher, chief executive of the industry’s main lobbying arm, said in an interview, referring to a 2011 ruling that rejected a California ban on selling violent games to minors on First Amendment grounds.
Twenty years ago, with graphic video games still a nascent technology, manufacturers faced similar threats of a crackdown over violent games. Even Captain Kangaroo — Bob Keeshan — lobbied for stricter oversight. The industry, heading off government action, responded at that time by creating the ratings labels, similar to movie ratings, that are ubiquitous on store shelves today.
This time, with a more formidable presence in Washington, the industry is not so willing to discuss voluntary concessions.
Game makers have spent more than $20 million since 2008 on federal lobbying, and millions more on campaign donations.
Mr. Gallagher’s group, the Entertainment Software Association, has five outside lobbying firms to push its interests in Washington. And the industry has enjoyed not only a hands-off approach from Congress, which has rejected past efforts to toughen regulations, but also tax breaks that have spurred sharp growth.
Game makers even have their own bipartisan Congressional caucus, with 39 lawmakers joining to keep the industry competitive.
One of those lawmakers, Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, suggested that the focus on violent video games is misplaced. He called the games “a healthy form of education and entertainment for our family” and said ratings made it easy to keep inappropriate games from his children.
“We find it harder, though, to shield our children from the relentless, in-your-face glorification of violence promoted on our TV screens and in the movies,” he added. “It’s everywhere, and you can’t seem to find the remote fast enough.”
Executives cite 2009 research by the Federal Trade Commission crediting game makers for going further than any other media group to shield children from inappropriate material. Major retailers like GameStop consistently refused to sell “mature” rated games to minors, the commission found, and game makers usually did not market them to children.
The industry’s biggest political asset may be the 2011 ruling by the Supreme Court that found restrictions on the sale of video games to be unconstitutional.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, wrote that evidence linking games to violence was unpersuasive and that games had the same legal protection as violent literary classics like Grimm’s Fairy Tales or “Snow White.”
The scientific record is mixed.
Some researchers have found that games bring out real-life aggression, making players less empathetic. But other studies say the linkage is exaggerated and that game-playing does not predict bullying or delinquency.
The authorities have linked some past attacks, directly or indirectly, to the gunman’s fascination with violent games.
In the 2011 rampage in Norway that killed 77 people, for example, the gunman played Call of Duty six hours a day to practice shooting. In the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, which killed 12 people, the two teenage gunmen were said to have been obsessed with a game called Doom, featuring bloodshed and explosions.
There have been reports that Mr. Lanza, 20, the Newtown gunman who killed himself after his rampage, liked World of Warcraft and other violent games, as do many young men. James E. Holmes, 25, who is accused in last summer’s massacre at a theater in Aurora, Col., was a fan of the same game.
But the authorities in Connecticut and Colorado have not established a direct link between those attacks and the gunmen’s interest in those games.
Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.
A truly sick and demented society ........
January 11, 2013
Sales of Guns Soar in U.S. as Nation Weighs Tougher Limits
By MICHAEL COOPER
As Washington focuses on what Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will propose next week to curb gun violence, gun and ammunition sales are spiking in the rest of the country as people rush to expand their arsenals in advance of any restrictions that might be imposed.
People were crowded five deep at the tiny counter of a gun shop near Atlanta, where a pastor from Knoxville, Tenn., was among the customers who showed up in person after the store’s Web site halted sales because of low inventory. Emptying gun cases and bare shelves gave a picked-over feel to gun stores in many states. High-capacity magazines, which some state and federal officials want to ban or restrict, were selling briskly across the country: one Iowa dealer said that 30-round magazines were fetching five times what they sold for just weeks ago.
Gun dealers and buyers alike said that the rapid growth in gun sales — which began climbing significantly after President Obama’s re-election and soared after the Dec. 14 shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn., prompted him to call for new gun laws — shows little sign of abating.
December set a record for the criminal background checks performed before many gun purchases, a strong indication of a big increase in sales, according to an analysis of federal data by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group. Adjusting the federal data to try to weed out background checks that were unrelated to firearms sales, the group reported that 2.2 million background checks were performed last month, an increase of 58.6 percent over the same period in 2011. Some gun dealers said in interviews that they had never seen such demand.
“If I had 1,000 AR-15s I could sell them in a week,” said Jack Smith, an independent gun dealer in Des Moines, referring to the popular style of semiautomatic rifle that drew national attention after Adam Lanza used one to kill 20 children and 6 adults at a Newtown school. “When I close, they beat on the glass to be let in,” Mr. Smith said of his customers. “They’ll wave money at me.”
Mr. Smith said many people were stocking up on high-capacity magazines in anticipation that they might be banned. Two weeks ago, he said, a 30-round rifle magazine was $12, but it now fetches $60. Popular online retailers were out of many 20- and 30-round rifle magazines.
In Washington, Mr. Biden said the task force he leads is “shooting for Tuesday” to make its recommendations to President Obama about preventing gun violence. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the nation’s leading gun control groups, said its top priority was to close the loopholes that currently allow 40 percent of gun sales to be made without background checks.
Some groups that support gun control urged the White House not to focus too much energy on an assault weapons ban, which they said could be hard to persuade Congress to pass. Officials at Third Way, a left-leaning research group in Washington, urged the president to save his political capital for higher-priority goals like universal background checks and cracking down on gun trafficking.
Outside Greta’s Guns, a gun store in Simi Valley, Calif., about an hour northwest of downtown Los Angeles, several customers said that they opposed any assault weapons ban, but would support more thorough background checks.
George Gray, 60, who said that he already owned “more arms than arms to bear them,” said that he was in favor of more background checks. “If you own a weapon, you should be stable,” said Mr. Gray, who said he had come from Los Angeles to buy a gun for his daughter. “You should be accountable for your actions. I don’t mind stricter background checks. What we’ve done with the mental health in this country — these people used to get care and were in facilities. And in most of these instances, it’s been people with mental problems.”
Some customers at Greta’s said that they wanted to buy guns before any new gun control measures made it more difficult. Bob Davis, 64, said that he wanted a new pistol. “They want to take guns out of citizens’ hands,” he said. “So as a consequence I ordered a gun. And they’re not going to be able to get me a gun for like six months, because of the backlog. They can’t make guns fast enough.”
The gun industry expected a surge in sales even before the Newtown shooting. Gun sales rose after President Obama was first elected in 2008, and many manufacturers expected an increase in gun sales in the event of his re-election. “We believe the continued economic uncertainty and the outcome of the 2012 presidential election is likely to continue to spur both firearms and ammunition sales,” the Freedom Group, which owns Bushmaster, the company that makes the rifle used in Newtown, wrote in a financial report on the quarter that ended Sept. 30.
The possibility that the federal assault weapons ban — which lasted from 1994 to 2004 — might be reinstated was enough to spur sales of semiautomatic rifles with military-style features.
Dale Raby, who manages one of two Gus’s Guns shops in Green Bay, Wis., said his inventory of guns and ammunition was almost cleaned out, and that most of the interest was in AR-15-style rifles.
“I had almost fistfights over the remaining inventory of that type gun,” he said.
Joel Alioto, 44, an Iraq war veteran who lives in the area, said he recently sold an AR-15 rifle at a gun show for $1,700, more than three times what he had paid for it. “I think the shooting in Connecticut was a terrible thing,” said Mr. Alioto, who is unemployed. “But before the shooting the gun was worth 500 bucks. I don’t think I did anything wrong. I wanted to get my teeth done, get a computer and pay for my first year of Bible college.”
Brad Williamson, one of the owners of Quint’s Sporting Goods in Saraland, Ala., said the waiting lists for some products are double what they normally are — especially for guns that are mentioned in the gun control debate. “Whenever there’s a blip on the news about a particular model, the next day people want to come in wanting whatever they named,” he said. “When Biden makes his recommendation next week, you’re going to see another surge.”
At Georgia Arms in Villa Rica, Ga., west of Atlanta, the ammunition business was brisk, with dozens of the yellow bins that usually held ammunition empty. The Rev. Laurence Hesser, a pastor at Memorial United Methodist Church near Knoxville, stopped by because he had been unable to buy ammunition on the shop’s Web site, which halted sales because inventory was so low.
He likened the current run on ammunition to the rush to buy Twinkies last year after its maker, Hostess Brands, announced it was closing. “It’s the same thing,” he said. “When you are threatened with the possibility that you are going to lose something, you get a bunch of it.”
Reporting was contributed by Kim Severson in Villa Rica, Ga.; Trip Gabriel in New York; Ian Lovett in Simi Valley, Calif.; Campbell Robertson in New Orleans; and Michael D. Shear in Washington.
January 11, 2013
Trouble in Russia Over Ban of Adoptions by Americans
By ELLEN BARRY
MOSCOW — The moratorium on the adoption of Russian children by Americans, which began as a fight between two countries, began this week to look like a fight between Russians and themselves.
On Friday, opponents of the law were preparing for a demonstration on Sunday condemning legislators who had voted for the ban — organizers were calling it the “March Against Scoundrels” — and a top official at the governing party, United Russia, lashed out with unusual vitriol. Opposition “hysteria” over the adoption ban was useful, in a way, the official, Andrei Isayev, wrote on the party’s Web site, because it created a vivid distinction between patriotic Russians and others whom he witheringly called “citizens of the world.”
“All the enemies of Russian sovereignty have revealed themselves as ardent supporters of American adoption,” wrote Mr. Isayev, who sits on the party’s general council, adding that on Sunday, “the latter will go out to march for the right of unrestricted export of Russian children to America.”
“Let’s look attentively and remember the faces of the organizers and active participants of this march,” he wrote, calling Sunday’s event a “March of Child Sellers.” “Our task in the coming years is to drive them to the farthest edge of political and public life, to the middle of nowhere.”
President Vladimir V. Putin approved the adoption ban last month, in retaliation for a new American law aimed at punishing human rights abuses in Russia. In 2011, about 1,000 Russian children were adopted by Americans, more than residents of any other foreign country, but still a tiny number given the nearly 120,000 children in Russia who are eligible for adoption.
Anger over the ban may not be enough to reinvigorate a protest movement in Russia that has flagged recently, when it became clear the rewards would be meager and the punishments harsh. But the reaction is deepening a rift that began to open last year, after Mr. Putin decided to address himself to a conservative, loyal electorate in the hinterlands, turning away from the prosperous urbanites who were drawn to antigovernment rallies.
“The country is really dividing,” said Lev D. Gudkov, director of the Levada Center, a Moscow-based polling agency. Two-thirds of Russia’s population, he said, lives in villages and small towns where people get their information from television, which often reports that American parents are never punished for abusing children adopted from Russia. Polling by the Public Opinion Fund in late December showed that 56 percent of respondents approved of the ban.
The rest are city dwellers who increasingly graze the Internet for news, and are less and less dependent on the government. That group lurched back to life after its long winter holiday and mobilized against the ban. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta has gathered 130,000 signatures in favor of revoking the law; on Thursday it announced 100,000 signatures on a petition in favor of dissolving Parliament.
All week, prominent entertainers have been promoting Sunday’s march by posting video clips online in which they explain — often emotionally — why they are opposed to banning adoption by Americans.
“It’s a horrible story.,” said Liya Akhedzhakova, an actress beloved for Soviet-era comedies. “The most defenseless, unwanted children who are not quite healthy when they are born — they are not needed by anyone.”
Tatyana Dogileva, another actress, practically spat out her words about politicians. “They play their cruel, dirty games, and this is their business. But why do they get children involved in it?”
She went on to address Alina Kabayeva, a gymnast who now sits in Parliament and who years ago was rumored to be Mr. Putin’s mistress. “Alina, why did you vote for this law?” Ms. Dogileva said. “Aren’t you sorry for these children, these specific children? They will die there, Alina.”
Yevgeny S. Gontmakher, a social scientist, said Mr. Putin had made a gamble not unlike the one he made by arresting the oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky in 2004: Russian elites might disapprove, but they would get used to it, and a vast part of the electorate would not care much.
But he said the Kremlin would eventually suffer for the ban.
“In the long-term perspective, it is of course a loss, because there is 25 or 30 percent of society that has formed the opinion, because of these orphans, that politics has become immoral,” Mr. Gontmakher said. “It’s clear that a certain break has taken place inside these people. They may not say so during a public opinion poll, because there are elements of fear. But for these people the government has lost the last remains of its moral authority.”
January 11, 2013
Rockefeller Will Leave Senate After Five Terms
By ASHLEY PARKER
WASHINGTON — Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, a longtime liberal voice in Congress, announced on Friday that he would not seek a sixth term in 2014, providing an opening for Republicans to cut into the Democratic Senate majority.
The decision by Mr. Rockefeller, 75, who also served two terms as governor of West Virginia, was no surprise and came after he gave a Senate floor speech last June that angered the state’s politically influential coal industry. He is the first incumbent to announce he will not run in a challenging election cycle for Democrats who will be defending a seat not only in conservative West Virginia but in Republican-leaning states like Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and Montana.
Mr. Rockefeller would have faced his stiffest challenge since joining the Senate in 1985. Representative Shelley Moore Capito, a seven-term Republican, had announced her intention to challenge Mr. Rockefeller, and his retirement could spur more interest.
Speaking in Charleston, W.Va., with his wife, Sharon, at his side, Mr. Rockefeller said his decision to retire was not an easy one.
“As I approach 50 years of public service in West Virginia, I’ve decided that 2014 will be the right moment for me to find new ways to fight for the causes I believe in and to spend more time with my incredible family,” said the senator, who is chairman of the Commerce Committee and has played a critical role in fights to expand health care coverage. “For the next two years in the Senate, and well beyond, I will continue working tirelessly on behalf of all West Virginians. Championing those most in need has been my life’s calling, and I will never stop fighting to make a difference for the people who mean so much to me.”
The departure of Mr. Rockefeller, a great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the oil tycoon, will unofficially bring to a close the tradition of dynastic reigns of powerful American families shaping public policy. When Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island left the House in 2011 shortly after the death of his father, Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Congress did not have a member of the Kennedy clan for the first time in six decades. However, this month, Joseph P. Kennedy III, grandson of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was sworn in as a new congressman from Massachusetts.
Ms. Capito is the favored choice of many Republicans in West Virginia, though some conservatives have questioned her candidacy. She also comes from a political family. Her father, Arch A. Moore Jr., is a former governor of West Virginia, and a former rival of Mr. Rockefeller. In 1972, he beat Mr. Rockefeller in the governor’s race, only to lose to him in a rematch eight years later.
West Virginia, with its deep Democratic past, has not been represented by a Republican in the Senate since the late 1950s. While the state has increasingly trended Republican — President Obama did not carry a single county in the state — its other senator, Joe Manchin III, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin are both Democrats. Still, Republicans see a prime opportunity.
“Senator Rockefeller’s decision not to seek re-election makes West Virginia an even stronger pickup opportunity for Republicans in 2014,” said Rob Collins, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Voters next year will have a clear choice between a Democrat who will be a loyal vote for President Obama and Harry Reid as they try to kill West Virginia’s coal industry and bankrupt our country with reckless government spending, versus a Republican who will serve as an effective check-and-balance on their liberal agenda and work to get our country’s economy back on track.”
But Democrats, who had a very successful 2012 election cycle, said they would retain Mr. Rockefeller’s seat.
“While we will greatly miss him in our caucus, I am confident we can elect an independent-minded Democrat to his seat,” said Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Democrats maintain nearly a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans in West Virginia, and I know there are a number of leaders there who will consider taking this next step to serve their state.”
With the issue of gun control gaining increasing national prominence and likely to be an issue in 2014, the success of the Democrats here will hinge in part on Mr. Manchin and his willingness to fight hard for the seat.
The idea that Mr. Rockefeller, who has had health problems in recent years, would not seek a sixth term became widespread last June when he gave a Senate speech opposing Republican attempts to prevent regulation on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. The speech prompted outrage from business interests in West Virginia, a state that relies heavily on coal. At the time, Mr. Rockefeller warned that the coal industry needed to “face reality,” arguing that they “would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions.”
Mr. Rockefeller’s service as a Vista volunteer brought him to West Virginia in 1964 after graduating from Harvard University in 1961, where he made his home and quickly began his career in public service, joining the state’s House of Delegates in 1966. He championed liberal causes, supporting President Bill Clinton’s thwarted attempt at near-universal health insurance coverage and Mr. Obama’s successful Affordable Care Act nearly 20 years later.
Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.
January 11, 2013
Veterans and Senate Buddies, Until Another War Split Them
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
WASHINGTON — In the old days it was like a Senate buddy movie.
John McCain and Chuck Hagel traveled the world together, popped into each other’s neighboring offices on Capitol Hill and played pranks. Mr. Hagel, then a Republican senator from Nebraska, dropped by one Halloween wearing a McCain mask. Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, liked to jokingly fire Mr. Hagel’s staff. “Pack up your desks!” he would say. As Vietnam War veterans — Mr. McCain had been a naval officer and a pilot, Mr. Hagel an enlisted infantryman — they forged an even closer bond.
“John would call him sergeant — ‘Hey, Sergeant, come in, Sergeant!’ ” said Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is Mr. McCain’s closest friend in Washington. “They would salute each other.”
But as Mr. Hagel heads into contentious confirmation hearings to be President Obama’s secretary of defense, the two remain estranged over policy differences that started with the Iraq War, spread into bitter presidential politics and ultimately damaged, if not ended, a friendship. Some colleagues say the break between two stubborn iconoclasts has been exaggerated in the absolutist world of the capital, but no one disputes that the relationship has cooled dramatically.
“The Iraq war is where the policy differences became pretty difficult to deal with,” said Mr. Graham, speaking of Mr. McCain’s aggressive push for the 2007 surge of American forces in Iraq and Mr. Hagel’s unsuccessful fight against that escalation. “The worldview really began to diverge.”
The differences were on full display when Mr. McCain released a statement after Mr. Hagel was nominated on Monday saying he had “serious concerns” about the positions on national security Mr. Hagel had taken over the years. The two spoke the same day by phone in what an aide called a cordial conversation — one of at least 30 calls to senators Mr. Hagel has made this week in preparation for his hearing — but on Tuesday on CNN Mr. McCain had not changed his tone.
While “the friendship, I hope, is still there,” Mr. McCain said, he remained worried about Mr. Hagel’s “overall attitude about the United States, our role in the world, particularly in the Middle East, and whether we should reduce the Pentagon further.”
People who know both men say that at this point Mr. Hagel appears to have the votes for confirmation and that in the end Mr. McCain could well vote yes for the friend who was at his side during his unsuccessful 2000 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. But aides to both acknowledge the dynamic on Capitol Hill could change and that Mr. McCain — and others — will give Mr. Hagel a rough time. At the very least, they say, Mr. McCain remains bruised over Mr. Hagel’s decision not to support Mr. McCain when he became the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, and over a trip Mr. Hagel took with Mr. Obama to Iraq the same year.
“He was very angry about it,” said one of Mr. McCain’s 2008 advisers, who asked not to be identified discussing the complicated dynamics between the two. Mr. McCain “takes policy disputes very, very personally,” the adviser added. He described Mr. McCain’s current view of Mr. Hagel as one of “profound disappointment.”
Mr. McCain, 76, the son and grandson of admirals, and Mr. Hagel, 66, the son of a lumberyard worker who drank heavily and died when Mr. Hagel was in high school, first became political pals in 1996, when Mr. Hagel was running for the first time for the Senate.
Mr. McCain, who by then had been in the Senate nearly a decade and was nationally known, campaigned frequently for his fellow Vietnam veteran in Nebraska, much to the gratitude of Mr. Hagel and his staff. The two had similar personality traits: a sense of humor, brashness, bullheadedness and an aversion to Republican orthodoxy and hierarchy. By 2000, Mr. Hagel had returned the favor to become national co-chairman of Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign.
As one of only a small band of supporters in the Senate, Mr. Hagel was a regular on the “Straight Talk Express,” Mr. McCain’s rolling campaign bus party. He exulted with Mr. McCain during his upset victory in New Hampshire, roared back at a smear campaign against Mr. McCain in South Carolina and by the end of the primaries was a broker for an uneasy peace between Mr. McCain and the Republican nominee, George W. Bush.
Friends say the strains between the two began in 2002, when Mr. Hagel emerged as an early and acerbic Republican skeptic to the Bush administration’s plans for invading Iraq. Mr. Hagel voted for the resolution that authorized the invasion but rapidly became a critic of the Bush administration’s execution of the war. Mr. McCain was equally critical, but he saw the solution in an addition of more than 20,000 American troops, which Mr. Hagel opposed.
“This is a Ping-Pong game with American lives,” Mr. Hagel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2007. “And we better be damn sure we know what we’re doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder.”
Mr. McCain saw Mr. Hagel’s views as wrongly colored by the brutal combat he saw as an infantryman in the jungles of Vietnam, where he was wounded twice. (Mr. McCain was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and for the next five years was imprisoned and tortured by the North Vietnamese.) “I think he was very haunted by Vietnam,” Mr. Graham said of Mr. Hagel. Mr. McCain, he said, “doesn’t look at every conflict through the eyes of his Vietnam experience — you know, ‘We shouldn’t have been there, it went on too long, we didn’t have a plan.’ Fighting Al Qaeda is not fighting in Vietnam.”
Some former staff members insist that Iraq was not the divisive force between the two men that it has been made out to be and that they naturally drifted apart when Mr. McCain began campaigning again for president in 2007 and spent less time in Washington. Mr. Hagel left the Senate at the end of 2008.
“Although McCain disagreed with Hagel’s position, he never resented him for it,” Mark Salter, Mr. McCain’s former chief of staff and a top adviser in the 2008 campaign, wrote on the Web site RealClearPolitics this week, referring to the differences over the surge. The two just stopped socializing, he said, for no discernible reason.
“Not everything that happens in Washington fits into a neat narrative or affects history,” Mr. Salter wrote. “Sometimes it’s just another unremarkable occasion when people go their own way for their own quirky reasons.”
Others hold out the possibility of a rapprochement, however remote. “You have two guys who are hurt, and you know how guys are, they don’t make up unless there’s a woman around who forces them,” said one of Mr. Hagel’s former staff members who did not want to be identified discussing the conflict. “They would rather be friends than not, I’m quite certain of that.”
January 11, 2013
Flu Season Deaths Reach Epidemic Level but May Be at Peak, C.D.C. Says
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
Deaths in the current flu season have officially crossed the line into “epidemic” territory, federal health officials said Friday, adding that, on the bright side, there were also early signs that the caseloads could be peaking.
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaking on a telephone news conference, again urged Americans to keep getting flu shots. At the same time, they emphasized that the shots are not infallible: a preliminary study rated this year’s vaccine as 62 percent effective, even though it is a good match for the most worrisome virus circulating. That corresponds to a rating of “moderately” effective — the vaccine typically ranges from 50 percent to 70 percent effective, they said.
Even though deaths stepped — barely — into epidemic territory for the first time last Saturday, the C.D.C. officials expressed no alarm, and said it was possible that new flu infections were peaking in some parts of the country. “Most of the country is seeing a lot of flu and that may continue for weeks,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the C.D.C.’s director.
New outpatient cases — a measure based on what percentage of doctor visits were for colds or flu — dropped off slightly from the previous week, to 4 percent from 6 percent. The trend was more pronounced in the South, where this year’s season began.
Dr. Frieden cautioned that the new flu figures could be aberrations because they were gathered as the holiday season was ending. Few people schedule routine checkups then, so the percentage of visits for severe illness can be pushed artificially high for a week or two, then inevitably drop.
Deaths from pneumonia and the flu, a wavy curve that is low in summer and high in winter, typically touch the epidemic level for one or two weeks every flu season. How bad a season is depends on how high the deaths climb for how long.
So far this season, 20 children with confirmed flu tests have died, but that is presumably lower than the actual number of deaths because not all children are tested and not all such deaths are reported. How many adults die will not be estimated until after the season ends, said Dr. Joseph Bresee, the chief of prevention and epidemiology for the C.D.C.’s flu branch. Epidemiologists count how many death certificates are filed in a flu year, compare the number with normal years, and estimate what percentage were probably flu-related.
Many people are getting ill this year because the country is also having widespread outbreaks of two diseases with overlapping symptoms, norovirus and whooping cough, and the normal winter surge in common colds. Flu shots have no effect on any of those.
Spot shortages of vaccines have been reported, and there will not be enough for all Americans, since the industry has made and shipped only about 130 million doses. But officials said they would be pleased if 50 percent of Americans got shots; in a typical year, 37 percent do.
Dr. Bresee said that this year’s epidemic resembles that of 2003-4, which also began early, was dominated by an H3N2 strain and killed more Americans than usual.
Nevertheless, more Americans now routinely get flu shots than did then, and doctors are much quicker to prescribe Tamiflu and Relenza, drugs that can lessen a flu’s severity if taken early.
The C.D.C.’s vaccine effectiveness study bore out the point of view of a report released last year by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. It said that the shot’s effectiveness had been “overpromoted and overhyped,” said Michael T. Osterholm, the center’s director.
Although the report supported getting flu shots, it said that new vaccines offering lifelong protection against all flu strains, instead of annual partial protection against a mix-and-match set, must be created.
“But there’s no appetite to fund that research,” Dr. Osterholm said in an interview Friday.
“To get a vaccine across the ‘Valley of Death’ is likely to cost $1 billion,” he added, referring to the huge clinical trials that would be needed to approve a new type of vaccine. “No government has put more than $100 million into any candidate, and the private sector has no appetite for it because there’s not enough return on investment.”
At the same time, he praised the C.D.C. for measuring vaccine effectiveness in midseason.
“We’re the only ones in the world who have data like that,” he said.
“Vaccine effectiveness” is a very different metric from vaccine-virus match, which is done in a lab. Vaccine efficacy is measured by interviewing hundreds of sick or recovering patients who had positive flu tests and asking whether and when they had received shots.
Only people sick enough to visit doctors get flu tests, said Thomas Skinner, a C.D.C. spokesman, so the metric means the shot “reduces by 62 percent your chance of getting a flu so bad that you have to go to a doctor or hospital.”
During the telephone news conference Friday, Dr. Frieden repeatedly described the vaccine as “far from perfect, but by far the best tool we have to prevent influenza.”
Most vaccinations given in childhood for threats like measles and diphtheria are 90 percent effective or better. But flu viruses mutate so fast that they must be remade annually. Scientists are trying to develop vaccines that target bits of the virus that appear to stay constant, like the stem of the hemagglutinin spike that lets the virus break into lung cells.
During the 2009 swine flu pandemic, many elderly Americans had natural protection, presumably from flus they caught in the 1930s or ’40s.
“Think about that,” Dr. Osterholm said. “Even though they were old, they were still protected. We’ve got to figure out how to capture that kind of immunity — which current vaccines do not.”
At Friday’s news conference, Dr. Bresee acknowledged the difficulties, saying: “If I had the perfect answer as to how to make a better flu vaccine, I’d probably get a Nobel Prize.”