Video: If you’re a Republican and you believe in climate change, who do you vote for?

It’s not easy being green — and a Republican.

There was a time when it seemed like the GOP might be warming to the conclusion that scientists agree on nearly universally: That the planet is getting hotter, and that human activity is almost certainly responsible. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, filmed an ad with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi calling for action on greenhouse gas emissions. Mitt Romney, the GOP front-runner, indicated that he believed global warming was real, and that carbon emissions were the culprit.

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War with Iran? Sanctions, oil embargo and threat to close trade route add to tension

 

An Iranian missile test. Photo: AP

Is Iran the world’s greatest threat, or a feeble, paranoid regime made weak by economic sanctions?

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer. Republican candidates for president, for example, have warned of the grave consequences of inaction when it comes to Iran’s rogue nuclear ambitions, comparing the regime to the rise of Nazi Germany. In his victory speech after the Iowa caucus on Tuesday, Mitt Romney mentioned Iran before he mentioned the economy, saying, “We face an extraordinary challenge in America. You know that. And that is, internationally, Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry just down the road here.”

Romney called the Obama administration’s strategy one of “engagement,” parroting, albeit in slightly more genial terms, Rick Santorum’s claim that Obama has pursued a policy of “appeasement” with respect to Iran. As it turns out, however, the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the Obama administration and the international community may actually be working for the first time in decades, weakening an already insecure regime. The economic turmoil rippling through Iran, experts say, could lead the nation’s leaders either to cooperate with the international community or — if desperation takes hold — to lash out.

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Parking meter rates rise again in 2012

Photo: Flickr/Ed Fisher

Last year we travelled to Chicago, Ill., which privatized its parking meters in February of 2009 and to the city of Harrisburg, Pa., which is considering leasing its parking facilities to help pay down a staggering amount of municipal debt.

As the year starts, Chicagoans have gotten another reminder of why the parking meter lease has been so deeply unpopular. As Chicago enters the fourth year of its 75-year deal, fees have once again increased. Meter rates have risen from $5.00 an hour to $5.75 an hour in the central business district, effective twenty-four hours a day.

Meanwhile in Harrisburg, the financial fortunes of Pennsylvania’s capital city have become much more complicated. After rejecting the Mayor’s financial recovery plan, the City Council filed for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, against the mayor’s wishes. However, a federal court judge has since thrown-out the bankruptcy filing and the state has appointed a receiver, attorney David Unkovic, to take over the Harrisburg’s finances and implement a plan to pay the more than $300 million dollars in debt that the city owes.

Although the City Council rejected a plan to lease the parking system in 2008, a lease or sale of Harrisburg’s parking system, along with the sale of the trash incinerator that is the primary cause of the city’s crippling debt, appears likely to be included in any fiscal plan for Harrisburg. Leasing the parking system for an infusion of money upfront was included in both the State’s and the Mayor’s financial recovery plan.

But the new Harrisburg receiver, who has until February 6 to develop a plan, has pledged to be open-minded regarding city assets in looking for a solution. In an interview with the Patriot-News Editorial Board, receiver Unkovic said, “I am not coming into this with any assumptions. I am willing to hear which assets people think should be sold or leased.” And he added that, “one of my fundamental assumptions is that it is better off for the city if they lease or sell fewer assets rather than more assets.”

Watch our segment from September below:

Watch Privatizing infrastructure on PBS. See more from Need to Know.

What does the Santorum surge in Iowa mean for the rest of the Republican primary?

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, joined by wife Karen at his Iowa caucus victory party Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012, in Johnston, Iowa. Photo: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Imagine this: Three candidates, all with vastly different backgrounds and ideologies, engaging in a substantive national debate, the stage cleared of all side-shows and gimmickry. The Republican contest, and the battle for the soul of the GOP, narrowed to just three candidates, drawing sharp contrasts with each other on issues as disparate as foreign policy, civil liberties, health care, executive power and LGBT rights. Three candidates offering different visions for America’s future, and voters getting the chance to make an informed decision.

Or maybe Rick Santorum will just implode.

The former Pennsylvania senator’s near defeat of GOP front-runner Mitt Romney in Tuesday night’s Iowa caucus guarantees an unstable race going forward, one that has the potential either to drag on interminably or wrap up quickly if Santorum, like all the other anti-Romneys in the race, loses steam. The latter outcome, in fact, seems more likely at the moment, given Romney’s wide lead in the polls in New Hampshire, the next state to vote on the Republican primary. The most recent tracking poll from Suffolk University had the former Massachusetts governor at 43 percent, compared to just 5 percent for Santorum.

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Tim Tebow, Bill Maher and me

Bill Maher and Tim Tebow. Photos: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello and AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

In a bifurcated, dichotomized, split-down-the-middle, red-blue America, is it possible to be a fan of both Tim Tebow and Bill Maher?

I say yes.

Tebow, of course, is the God-fearing quarterback of the really-fun-to-watch (in the fourth quarter, at least) Denver Broncos. Earlier this season he used his legs and his guts to lead his team to an unlikely string of dramatic comebacks that almost overshadowed his trademark move: the on-field kneeling in prayer known as “Tebowing.” Maher, of course, is the atheist comedian who hosts the HBO show, “Real Time With Bill Maher.” His act frequently includes scathing jokes about religion that are the antithesis of Tebow’s public demonstrations of his faith.

Or are they?

You’ve heard the story by now. “Wow, Jesus just f*#@$d Tim Tebow bad,” Maher tweeted after the Broncos took a clobbering at the hands of the near-hapless Buffalo Bills on Christmas Eve. The Maher-haters responded with force. Reliably, a Fox anchor called him “disgusting, vile trash” in a tweet. The Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins hit him much harder, in the only spot that really hurts a comic: She said he’s not funny.

But for my money, saying Bill Maher isn’t funny is like saying what the Tebow-haters – among them “expert” commentators and even some NFL players and executives — have been saying for a good part of this season: that he isn’t a good quarterback. For example in early November, a Yahoo writer quoted a Detroit Lions player calling Tebow a “joke,” and others around the league describing him as “atrocious,” “terrible” and “completely exposed.”

Were the critics allowing their annoyance with his Tebowing to influence their evaluation of his football abilities?  God – or nobody, depending on your point of view – knows. Part of the criticism, surely, came from his detractors being unable to see past Tebow’s unorthodox style, which includes a bruising manner of running more characteristic of a linebacker than a quarterback, and, more damning, his being an awkward and often ineffective passer. But, to pull up a comparison from back in the day, when Joe Kapp led the Minnesota Vikings to Super Bowl IV, his bullish running and lousy passing were seen not as evidence of his being a bad player, but of the kind of grittiness and toughness that defines a winner. But in Tebow, those same scrappy traits are seen as evidence that he’s unfit for his job.

By far the most intelligent thing I’ve seen in print about Tebow was written by the fantasy football writer Chris Liss. Fantasy football (as many of you know, and just as many of you probably couldn’t care less about knowing) is a competition among fans who choose players to make up imaginary teams, and then compete against each by compiling those players’ statistics. It’s a cold, hard game of numbers, with no room for emotion or home-team rooting if you want to be good at it. In a post called “Long Live Tim Tebow,” Liss noted the Tebow criticism I cited above, and wrote:

I’m rooting for the guy, both because he’s an exciting player to watch with a unique style of play and because I like seeing the apologists for the conventional wisdom proven wrong yet again. And who cares what his religious beliefs are?

Not me. When Tebow scores a touchdown and the Tebowing ensues, it’s just part of the show. Just as when Bill Maher mocks Tebow in the most (well, probably not the most) coarse way possible, that’s just part of his show. Mahering, if you will.

The Post’s Jenkins asks whether or not the comedian would have made the same comments about Tebow had the quarterback been a Muslim. If you watch “Real Time,” you know the answer is that yes, he would have.  You’d also know that Bill Maher is funny. Just as if you watch football, you know that Tim Tebow is a good quarterback. I say thank God – or don’t, as you please – for them both.

Tom Casciato is the senior features producer for Need to Know.

Viral video hits of 2011

Time flies in a year – even more so during a presidential campaign. Too often, yesterday’s headlines fall by the wayside of our public memory. But in our modern-day wired world, the power of the online video has enabled us to capture the moments we often forget and briefly relive them … over and over again. Here, in no particular order, is a sampling of the viral videos that reflected and shaped this year in politics:

1. “Now is the time for action!” Herman Cain’s close-up smoking political ad


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Rochester tackles childhood obesity

WXXI News in Rochester, NY, examines whether the community’s efforts to fight childhood obesity are paying off. WXXI News Director Julie Philipp looks at the Childhood Healthy Weight Initiative and interviews Dr. Stephen Cook of the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Last September, Need to Know medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay traveled to Somerville, Mass., where town officials discussed an innovative anti-obesity program that produced promising results.


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Bringing broadband to rural America

This past spring, we aired a story about the gap between the United States and Europe when it comes to broadband access. Recently, Pioneer Public TV in Appleton, Minn., looked at a broadband divide closer to home by exploring the gap between broadband access in rural areas compared to urban areas within the United States.

While many Internet providers claim to give “broadband” access, the loosely defined term has left many Americans wondering if they’re receiving the best service. Specifically in rural communities, like those in midwestern Minnesota, companies providing “high-speed” Internet may only be granting users a moderately fast download speed, while upload speeds are severely lagging.
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Did politics trump science in the Obama administration’s ruling on Plan B for teens?

Plan B emergency contraceptive, otherwise known as the "morning-after pill." (AP Photo)

When President Obama lifted federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research early in his administration, he set a markedly different tone from that of the Bush years, declaring that scientific decisions should be “based on facts, not ideology.”

Nearly three years later, Obama has left many public health experts demoralized after his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, unilaterally overruled a recommendation by the Food and Drug Administration to make the Plan B emergency contraceptive, otherwise known as the “morning-after pill,” available to women under the age of 17 without a prescription. Currently, teenagers who are 16 and under need a prescription to obtain the pill, a requirement that will remain in place under Sebelius’s decision. This is the first time a health secretary has ever publicly rejected a finding by the FDA.

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