Public Policy Polling released the results of an interesting survey this week, which you probably heard a bit about — it dealt with public attitudes towards conspiracy theories (some of which weren’t really conspiracy theories). Not surprisingly, we learned that a lot of folks believe a lot of strange stuff.
But it’s worth appreciating the fact that this phenomenon isn’t limited to the general public. We’re occasionally reminded that federal lawmakers buy into some bizarre conspiracy theories, too.
We talked yesterday, for example, about the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations, and the oddity of watching Republicans align themselves with the position adopted by Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Let’s also take a moment, though, to highlight the GOP’s reasons for doing so. For example, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) appeared on a right-wing radio show yesterday, arguing that the treaty would “literally change” and “essentially repeal” the Second Amendment. This is patently ridiculous, but Fleming said it anyway.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose affinity for conspiracy theories is bordering on unhealthy, wrote a fundraising letter on the treaty for the National Association for Gun Rights that was truly crazy, even for him.
“I don’t know about you, but watching anti-American globalists plot against our Constitution makes me sick. [...]
If we’re to succeed, we must fight back now. That’s why I’m helping lead the fight to defeat the UN “Small Arms Treaty” in the United States Senate. And it’s why I need your help today.
Will you join me by taking a public stand against the UN “Small Arms Treaty” and sign the Official Firearms Sovereignty Survey right away? Ultimately, UN bureaucrats will stop at nothing to register, ban and CONFISCATE firearms owned by private citizens like YOU.
Paul’s letter added that the United Nations intends to “force” the United States to “CONFISCATE and DESTROY ALL ‘unauthorized’ civilian firearms,” while creating “an INTERNATIONAL gun registry, setting the stage for full-scale gun CONFISCATION,” which isn’t part of the Arms Trade Treaty and also isn’t sane.
But it does offer a reminder about why the politics of paranoia makes governing so difficult.
Reflecting on the hysterical opposition to the ATT, Greg Sargent raised an important point yesterday.
Republican Senators (and too many red state Dems) have fallen into line behind the NRA’s lurid claims not just about the treaty, but also about gun control, endorsing its paranoid and false claim that expanding background checks would create a national gun registry. With United States Senators eagerly feeding such fringe views rather than engaging in genuine policy debate, is it any wonder that it’s a major struggle to implement even the most modest and sensible effort to limit the ongoing murder of innocents, one that is supported by nine in 10 Americans?
I strongly agree, and the more I thought about it, the more I started noticing how broadly applicable this is.
We couldn’t pass a disability treaty because Republicans believed conspiracy theories. We can’t address global warming because Republicans believe the entirety of climate science is a giant conspiracy. We couldn’t pass bipartisan health care reform in part because Republicans were too heavily invested in the “death panel” conspiracy theory.
This problem, in other words, keeps coming up, and probably won’t get any better until the electorate sends fewer conspiracy theorists to Washington.
By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, April 4, 2013
I have always loved the story of the ad makers and dog food manufacturers arguing around the conference table. The actual makers of the dog food were convinced their product was full of all the right nutrients, pretty food coloring, right combinations of everything possible. The ad makers were really impressed with their ad campaign, the logos, colors, not to mention the exciting TV ads. The sales force was everywhere, all over the marketplace.
So, the head of the company screamed out—”why is our dog food not selling.” A wise lone voice: “the dogs don’t like it, sir, they won’t eat it.”
What the RNC has just done with their “what went wrong in 2012″ report is to ignore the fact that the public isn’t buying what they’re selling. They could point to advertising, they could point to their ground game and metrics, they could cry over changing demographics, they could condemn their polling samples, and they could criticize their process of debates and summer financial problems. They could even critique their candidate.
All that might be true—to a point. But the bottom line is this: the public didn’t like the dog food, they didn’t like what they were selling, they didn’t like the message. The Republican Party became captive to the extremists, and if you followed CPAC this weekend, it was all there in full force. From Donald Trump to Sarah Palin to Ann Coulter, this is not the path to a majority.
How can a party that is perceived as anti-Black, anti-Hispanic, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-middle class, ever hope to change the basic electoral dynamic by tinkering with process and techniques? The RNC has to deal with the fundamental problem: The Message. And they are ignoring that debate within the party. They have to fight it out. They have to decide who they are. They have to confront the divergent views and decide whether the Tea Party is dominant or a more reasoned, moderate view will take hold.
Can they moderate on gay marriage and issues like abortion and women’s health? Can they hold views that are pro-environment and truly confront climate change? Can they embrace real reform on immigration and stop focusing on bigger fences? Can they support a tax system that is fairer to the middle class and isn’t stacked toward the wealthy? Can they balance their approach to taxing and spending? Fundamentally, can they stop the incessant ranting against government and demonizing people?
As long as they are the “anti-party” they will be increasingly out of touch and represent the old, angry, white males—and there are fewer and fewer of them. It is all well and good that they try and get their tactics right but, like a turtle, they won’t make progress until they stick their necks out and have that battle for the soul of their party.
By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, March 19, 2013
In Missouri, it would be a felony to propose gun control. Oklahoma wants to protect students from science. Really
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wants Republicans to stop being the stupid party — but apparently the memo hasn’t gotten out to state legislatures around the country.
February has been a banner month for truly silly and anti-intellectual bills in state capitals across the country. Well, mostly across the South and Midwest. Some of these bills are based on the idea that birth control is poison, and that students should not fail for arguing in biology class that dinosaurs and humans coexisted. Others would stop gun control efforts by making it a felony to try to enact gun control.
This is not the Onion: Here are some of the actual proposals.
1. Let corporations vote!
In Montana, state Rep. Steve Lavin introduced a bill that would allow corporations to vote in local elections, taking the idea that “corporations are people” to new heights.
Think Progress reports that the bill was tabled earlier this month. But under the proposal, “if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the president, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote.”
2. Criminalize gun control!
In Missouri, state Rep. Mike Leara believes even proposing gun control should be illegal. So he has proposed legislation that would make it a felony for “any member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”
“I filed HB 633 as a matter of principle and as a statement in defense of the Second Amendment rights of all Missourians,” Leara told Buzzfeed. “I have no illusions about the bill making it through the legislative process, but I want it to be clear that the Missouri House will stand in defense of the people’s Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”
3. Birth control is poison
The full state Senate in Oklahoma will take up a measure to allow companies to strip birth control and abortion coverage from employer healthcare plans under a bill that unanimously cleared the committee level last week.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of state or federal law, no employer shall be required to provide or pay for any benefit or service related to abortion or contraception through the provision of health insurance to his or her employees,” the bill reads.
That would put the law in conflict with the Obamacare provision that mandates contraception coverage in employee group insurance plans, unless the company in question meets the religious organization that qualifies for an exemption.
The state senator who proposed the bill said the idea came from one of his constituents, identified as Dr. Dominic Pedulla. The Tulsa World calls him “an Oklahoma City cardiologist who describes himself as a natural family planning medical consultant and women’s health researcher.” He told the paper he stopped offering his insurance plan because it required contraception coverage.
“Part of (women’s) identity is the potential to be a mother,” Pedulla said. “They are being asked to suppress and radically contradict part of their own identity, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they are being asked to poison their bodies.”
4. Read Ayn Rand or stay in high school
The chairman of the education committee in Idaho’s Senate introduced a bill earlier this month that would make students read — and pass a test — on “Atlas Shrugged” as a requirement for a high school diploma.
Then he backed away from the bill, saying he was just trying to make a point. The senator, John Goedde, told the Idaho Spokesman-Review he was “sending a message to the State Board of Education, because he’s unhappy with its recent move to repeal a rule requiring two online courses to graduate from high school, and with its decision to back off on another planned rule regarding principal evaluations.”
Why that book? It “made my son a Republican,” he said, then adding, “well, he’s not a practicing Republican. But it certainly made him a conservative.”
5. Meanwhile, make the teachers question science
In Kansas, the state Board of Education will vote on new science standards this year, so the legislative jockeying has begun. A bill before the House Education Committee would make schools include evidence against climate change in science classes.
According to the bill, science teachers would be required to “provide information to students of scientific evidence which both supports and counters a scientific theory or hypothesis.”
As the Topeka Capital Journal notes: “The bill says instruction about ‘scientific controversies’ should be objective and include ‘both the strengths and weaknesses of such scientific theory or hypothesis.’ The only controversy identified in the bill is ‘climate science.’”
There is no specific sponsor on the bill, which carries the committee’s name. The committee is controlled by Republicans.
In Oklahoma, however, go right ahead and argue that humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time. On a 9-8 vote last week, the Oklahoma Common Education committee approved the so-called Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act.
If the bill becomes law, it would make it illegal for biology teachers to fail students who write papers against evolution, climate change and other theories with near 100 percent approval in the scientific community.
“I proposed this bill because there are teachers and students who may be afraid of going against what they see in their textbooks,” said state Rep. Gus Blackwell to Mother Jones.
By: David Daley, Executive Director, Salon, February 24, 2013
“The Ignorance Caucus”: Republicans Are Unable To Apply Critical Thinking And Evidence To Policy Questions
Last week Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, gave what his office told us would be a major policy speech. And we should be grateful for the heads-up about the speech’s majorness. Otherwise, a read of the speech might have suggested that he was offering nothing more than a meager, warmed-over selection of stale ideas.
To be sure, Mr. Cantor tried to sound interested in serious policy discussion. But he didn’t succeed — and that was no accident. For these days his party dislikes the whole idea of applying critical thinking and evidence to policy questions. And no, that’s not a caricature: Last year the Texas G.O.P. explicitly condemned efforts to teach “critical thinking skills,” because, it said, such efforts “have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”
And such is the influence of what we might call the ignorance caucus that even when giving a speech intended to demonstrate his openness to new ideas, Mr. Cantor felt obliged to give that caucus a shout-out, calling for a complete end to federal funding of social science research. Because it’s surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we’re trying to change.
Want other examples of the ignorance caucus at work? Start with health care, an area in which Mr. Cantor tried not to sound anti-intellectual; he lavished praise on medical research just before attacking federal support for social science. (By the way, how much money are we talking about? Well, the entire National Science Foundation budget for social and economic sciences amounts to a whopping 0.01 percent of the budget deficit.)
But Mr. Cantor’s support for medical research is curiously limited. He’s all for developing new treatments, but he and his colleagues have adamantly opposed “comparative effectiveness research,” which seeks to determine how well such treatments work.
What they fear, of course, is that the people running Medicare and other government programs might use the results of such research to determine what they’re willing to pay for. Instead, they want to turn Medicare into a voucher system and let individuals make decisions about treatment. But even if you think that’s a good idea (it isn’t), how are individuals supposed to make good medical choices if we ensure that they have no idea what health benefits, if any, to expect from their choices?
Still, the desire to perpetuate ignorance on matters medical is nothing compared with the desire to kill climate research, where Mr. Cantor’s colleagues — particularly, as it happens, in his home state of Virginia — have engaged in furious witch hunts against scientists who find evidence they don’t like. True, the state has finally agreed to study the growing risk of coastal flooding; Norfolk is among the American cities most vulnerable to climate change. But Republicans in the State Legislature have specifically prohibited the use of the words “sea-level rise.”
And there are many other examples, like the way House Republicans tried to suppress a Congressional Research Service report casting doubt on claims about the magical growth effects of tax cuts for the wealthy.
Do actions like this have important effects? Well, consider the agonized discussions of gun policy that followed the Newtown massacre. It would be helpful to these discussions if we had a good grasp of the facts about firearms and violence. But we don’t, because back in the 1990s conservative politicians, acting on behalf of the National Rifle Association, bullied federal agencies into ceasing just about all research into the issue. Willful ignorance matters.
O.K., at this point the conventions of punditry call for saying something to demonstrate my evenhandedness, something along the lines of “Democrats do it too.” But while Democrats, being human, often read evidence selectively and choose to believe things that make them comfortable, there really isn’t anything equivalent to Republicans’ active hostility to collecting evidence in the first place.
The truth is that America’s partisan divide runs much deeper than even pessimists are usually willing to admit; the parties aren’t just divided on values and policy views, they’re divided over epistemology. One side believes, at least in principle, in letting its policy views be shaped by facts; the other believes in suppressing the facts if they contradict its fixed beliefs.
In her parting shot on leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton said of her Republican critics, “They just will not live in an evidence-based world.” She was referring specifically to the Benghazi controversy, but her point applies much more generally. And for all the talk of reforming and reinventing the G.O.P., the ignorance caucus retains a firm grip on the party’s heart and mind.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 10, 2013
The Perils of Pauline melodrama over the “fiscal cliff” will drag on as Washington heads toward another “debt ceiling” faceoff that will climax over the next eight weeks or so.
This farce captivates the media, but no one should be fooled. This is largely a debate about how much damage will be done to the economic recovery and who will bear the pain. There is bipartisan consensus that the tax hikes and spending cuts that Congress and the White House piled up to build the so-called fiscal cliff are too painful and will drive the economy into a recession. So the folderol is about what mix of taxes and spending cuts they can agree on that won’t be as harsh.
Largely missing is any discussion of how to fix the economy, to make it work for working people once more. Just sustaining the faltering recovery won’t get it done. We’re still struggling with mass unemployment, declining wages and worsening inequality. Corporate profits now capture an all-time record percentage of the economy; workers’ wages have hit an all-time low. A little constriction, or a lot, won’t do anything to change that reality.
So how about a New Year’s resolution for Washington’s political class: Vow to focus on what can be done to fix the economy, rather than on how much to lacerate it. That would require dealing with causes, not effects. And those surely would include:
Inequality: Clearly — as even the International Monetary Fund has recognized — extreme inequality saps the effective demand needed for a robust economy.
We need to rebuild a middle class if we want to again have a vibrant, growing economy. That requires a lot more than repealing the Bush tax breaks for the top 2 percent. We should be lifting the minimum wage, empowering workers to bargain for a fair share of the productivity and profits they help to generate, and limiting CEO pay packages that give them multimillion-dollar incentives to ship jobs abroad or plunder their own companies. Congress and the White House might also imitate the Federal Reserve and keep pressing the stimulus pedal until we move much closer to full employment.
Catastrophic climate change: Gross domestic product registers growth when people go to work picking up the pieces after a climate disaster, but Americans suffer rather than benefit. It’s long past time for the United States to get serious about global warming, make the investments needed to capture a lead in the green industrial revolution that is sweeping the world, end the subsidies to Big Oil and King Coal, and help the movement to clean energy.
Fixing health care: The wrongheaded agonizing over whether to cut scholarships for poor students or lay off food inspectors ignores the gorilla in the accounting books. Our long-term budget deficits are a consequence of our broken health-care system. If we spent per capita what other industrial nations spend on health care (with, incidentally, better health results), we would be projecting surpluses. This isn’t about stripping 65-year-olds of Medicare; it’s about taking on the drug and insurance companies and hospital complexes that drive up our costs. Affordable health care is a right, not a privilege.
Rebuilding America. While Washington hyperventilates about cutting spending, the excesses of this conservative era have starved society of essential building blocks. A high-wage economy needs a modern, efficient, world-class infrastructure to be competitive. Families depend on effective governance for clean air and water, safe sewage, enforcement of occupational safety standards, world-class schools and more. Our debate has deteriorated to the point that a Democratic president brags that domestic discretionary spending — which covers basic public services from the Coast Guard to child nutrition — will be cut to a share of the economy not seen since Eisenhower. That is, in a word, goofy.
Why not at least begin an informed discussion of the services we need and the ways we can afford them?
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has started that discussion with its “Deal For All” — a smart mix of fair-share taxes and cuts designed to ensure that those who never benefited from “shared prosperity” don’t get whacked unjustly by the prevailing mantra of “shared sacrifice.”
Americans, sensibly enough, will grow more disgusted with Washington whatever resolution is reached on the fiscal cliff over these next weeks. Politicians will continue to fight about how much damage to do, not how to build what comes next. What the country needs is legislators who will focus on building rather than dismantling.
By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 31, 2012