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Alternative energy noticeably absent from 2012 campaign

Although legacy industries like oil and natural gas have gotten the expected attention during this election cycle, often left out of the national conversation has been talk of alternative energy — once a key part of President Obama’s platform in 2008.

This pattern of omission changed to some small degree during the first presidential debate on Wednesday, when renewables received a few mentions as the candidates sparred on a number of domestic policy issues.

Notably, Obama said:

On energy, Governor Romney and I, we both agree that we’ve got to boost American energy production, and oil and natural gas production are higher than they’ve been in years. But I also believe that we’ve got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments.

Romney seized on Obama’s promise for further investment by noting what he sees as the administration’s failings on subsidies for alternative energy:

But don’t forget, you put $90 billion, like 50 years’ worth of [tax] breaks, into — into solar and wind, to Solyndra and Fisker and Tester and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don’t just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers, all right? So this — this is not — this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy secure.

Obama’s current platform calls for continued diversification of our nation’s energy portfolio. Governor Romney’s strategy, “Plan For A Stronger Middle Class,” focuses primarily on efficiency, with an emphasis on streamlined processes for permitting and less regulatory gridlock. Read All »

Leaked video reveals partisan nature of campaign season

Mitt Romney speaking at Andrews Field House at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. in January. Photo: AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The most talked about campaign story this week centers on videos posted by Mother Jones, which show a candid Mitt Romney speaking at a private fundraiser about issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear potential to the current administration’s “naive” foreign policy views.

Most of the subsequent media coverage has focused on the “dependent” video, in which Romney suggests that people who have voted, or will vote for President Barack Obama see themselves as “victims,” who pay no income tax and wish to rely on the government for life’s basic necessities: food, healthcare, “you-name-it.”

In response to the controversial clip, Romney said, “It’s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I’m speaking off-the-cuff in response to a question and I’m sure I could state it more clearly and in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that. And I’m sure I’ll point that out as time goes on.” Team Obama, for its part, released this campaign video in response.

But for all the hubbub about victimization and government handouts, another video in the Mother Jones set offers more insight into the current campaign cycle and to the political climate in Washington. Read All »

New bill bans ‘pray the gay away’ therapy for minors in California

Photo: Flickr/Jamison Wieser

Lawmakers in California have green-lighted a proposal to ban “reparative” therapy, also known as gay “conversion” therapy for children under the age of 18.

The bill, which passed 51-21 in the state’s assembly, requires Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s signature before it can become law. Brown has not yet indicated whether he will support the measure, Reuters reports.

Introduced by Senator Ted W. Lieu (D-Torrance), Senate Bill 1172 seeks to “protect children from sexual orientation change efforts” by barring minors from such programs — regardless of parental consent.

These proposed protections do not extend to children receiving pseudo-therapies from religiously affiliated institutions, which remain exempt.

“The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior,” the bill reads in its current form. “Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction.”

The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, known more commonly as NARTH, has pledged to challenge the bill in court, if and when it becomes law. NARTH is an organization committed to enabling individuals to “develop their heterosexual potential,” according to their position statements.

What do you think? Is the California legislature overstepping its bounds on family issues? Or, are lawmakers right to protect children from therapies based in stigma rather than science?

Is a beverage ban the answer?

Photo courtesy of the New York City Health Department's ad campaign.

Depending on whom you ask, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s controversial plan to limit the size of sugary beverages sold across the five boroughs is either a “significant move in addressing the health problems that are devastating the lives of thousands” or another example of the city’s “unhealthy obsession with attacking soft drinks.”

The plan sets a maximum size of 16 fluid ounces for non-alcoholic sugary drinks as well as self-service cups sold in establishments like movie theaters, stadiums and restaurants. The Board of Health will vote on the Mayor’s proposal this September.

Exempt from the proposed restrictions are sugary beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores that don’t sell prepared food. (For a closer look, the New York Times has this graphic illustrating which beverages would fall under the ban as it currently reads).

As Need to Know reports in this week’s episode, the New York City Health Department has also launched an aggressive ad campaign aimed primarily at children and young adults who are at risk for becoming obese. The ostensible goal is to change what kids eat — and especially what they drink — as a means to prevent the onset of obesity in adolescents. Read All »

Election 2012: What do you need to know?

In the run up to this year’s election, Need to Know has explored a range of issues that will impact the way Americans will vote this fall. From the future of nuclear power in the U.S. and the housing crisis in hard-hit areas like Nevada to addressing issues of fairness in our tax code, we’ve sought to cover the real issues that affect our viewers.

As NTK gears up to bring you more stories of how Election 2012 will affect communities all around the nation, tell us: What issues do you want to see covered? What stories are most important to you? Let us know on Facebook,Twitter, or in the comments below.

Putting a plug in America’s brain drain

Entrepreneurship and technological innovation are both key to America’s economic future. But as Brianna Lee noted back in August, the “country’s economic downturn and the American immigration system seem to be driving away many of the very innovators needed” to secure growth.

Here in the U.S., we’ve begun to see both “brain drain,” the emigration of American talent to foreign countries, and “reverse brain drain,” where immigrants educated in the U.S. return to their countries of origin. With opportunities in countries such as China and Brazil, it has become a challenge for American employers to retain top-tier talent.

There are two key factors to take into consideration. The first of which is the issue of how best to retain talented immigrants, who often study in the U.S. The visa to remain employed in America, the H1 B, is limited both in quantity and scope. Plus, the number granted has actually decreased in recent years. The New York Times reported, “Since 2004, there has been a growing gap between the number of H-1B visas sought and those granted, through a lottery. In 2008, companies made 163,000 applications for the 65,000 slots.”

The other factor important to the conversation is that American students continue to lag behind their global counterparts in Asia and Europe, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Scores from the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) confirmed this achievement gap: out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

The Economist looked at the resulting “talent mismatch” last fall, in an effort to explain the seemingly paradoxical trend where unemployment remains high, but skilled workers are in short supply. “Globalization and technological innovation are bringing about long-term changes in the world economy that are altering the structure of the labor market,” wrote Matthew Bishop.

So, readers: How do we spur innovation at home? And how do we stay competitive in the global race for talent?



A rising tide of anxiety?

Waist deep floodwaters in the home of Jess Dawson in Moree, Northern New South Wales, Australia in February 2012. Photo: AP Photo/Jess Dawson

Extreme weather — from Hurricane Katrina to the earthquakes in Japan – is captivating in the way that few things are, and its effects are oftentimes dramatic and devastating. So much so that rising tides and flooding can fade from view at times. But recently, Sir Bob Watson, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the U.K. told The Guardian that, “If you had to pick one particular issue I think the flooding issue is the most dominant.”

Flooding continues to wreak havoc around the world: from low-lying areas in the U.S. (like Norfolk, Va., which is the subject of our upcoming broadcast) to the island nation of the Maldives, where coastal erosion threatens to submerge the country under water.  When the waters rise, the mass exodus that ensues can lead to a trecherous journey for thousands of displaced people. Last year in Sri Lanka, flooding affected a million people, resulting in the death of 23. Monsoons in Pakistan in 2010 created ‘heart-wrenching’ disaster for some 20 million residents. (See images of the  flooded zones here.)

While the cause-and-effect link between human activity and climate change remains a hot-button issue, many scientists are in agreement that human behaviors have contributed to global warming. And a 2011 study in Nature directly linked rising greenhouse-gas levels with the growing intensity of rain and snow in the Northern Hemisphere, and the increased risk of flooding in the United Kingdom.

We want to hear from you about this issue. Do you live in a low-lying area threatened by floods? Do you think climate change has affected your habitat? If so, how?

Reaching across the aisle

They say we’re the most partisan electorate in a generation. But it hasn’t always been that way in our houses of Congress and our state Senate chambers. Cross-party relationships have spurred myriad legislation. Just today the New York Times published a video on Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney’s unorthodox partnership. One of the best examples of Democrats and Republicans coming together is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, later named the McCain-Feingold Bill after its spearheaders, Russ Feingold and John McCain.

Texas, a state known for its tough-on-crime position, has benefited from the work of two legislators crossing the ideological divide. State Sen. John Whitmire of the 15th district had long been an advocate of prison reform in the state. So when State Rep. Jerry Madden of the 67th district heeded Governor Rick Perry’s declaration that he wanted no new prisons built, the two created an unlikely coalition.

State Senator John Whitmire and State Representative Jerry Madden. Photo: Texas Senate Media

We chronicle this story and that of the reentry court system these two individuals have been able to set up for non-violent offenders to get out of jail and into rehabilitation programs. It’s a remarkable story both of bipartisan efforts but also of the power to alter the course of so many lives in the process.

Tell us, what do you think is the root cause of overcrowding in our prisons? What other issues could benefit from a bipartisan effort?

Reaching out to vets

Photo: Flickr/kmccaul

The important conversation on caring for our veterans has all too often taken a back seat this election season. Despite the nascent economic recovery, many returning soldiers continue to struggle to find good jobs. Homelessness also continues to be an agonizing reality for many vets.

The situation was noticeably dire in 2011, when the statistics showed the unemployment rate for young male veterans (18 to 24) was a whopping 29.1 percent (nearly double the national average for similarly aged males.) Though this number may be easing in tandem with the lowering national unemployment rate, tackling the original spike requires an ongoing effort. As for homeless female vets, their numbers have also increased (from 4 to 8 percent ) according to the GAO.

There are projects and advocates out there who seek to curtail the problem. The U.S. Dept of Veterans, for example, has a launched a contest calling on developers to create an app for volunteers to locate opportunities to connect vets with shelter, food and medical resources. And just this week, chronically homeless vets have moved forward with a lawsuit fronted by the ACLU.

Last year we showed you the “enduring sacrifice“ and economic difficulties facing today’s vets. This week we return to the issues of joblessness and homelessness, and look at how some of these individuals have fared in the time since we last talked to them.

Tell us, do you think we do enough for veterans of our most current wars and our historic wars? What more could we do to help veterans once they come home?