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Hostility To Reason And Fact: At The Intersection Of Science And Politics

I’m one of many observers who’s made a fuss about Rick Perry’s hostility towards science, so let’s take a moment to consider Kevin Williamson’s argument that the issue is largely irrelevant. The National Review piece touches on a variety of points, but here’s the crux of the position:

Why would anybody ask a politician about his views on a scientific question? Nobody ever asks what Sarah Palin thinks about dark matter, or what John Boehner thinks about quantum entanglement. (For that matter, I’ve never heard Keith Ellison pressed for his views on evolution.)

There are lots of good reasons not to wonder what Rick Perry thinks about scientific questions, foremost amongst them that there are probably fewer than 10,000 people in the United States whose views on disputed questions regarding evolution are worth consulting, and they are not politicians; they are scientists. In reality, of course, the progressive types who want to know politicians’ views on evolution are not asking a scientific question; they are asking a religious and political question, demanding a profession of faith in a particular materialist-secularist worldview.

At a certain level, I can appreciate why this may seem compelling. The president, no matter who he or she is, has an enormous amount of responsibilities, but writing public school science curricula isn’t on the list.

But I think this misses the point. Put it this way: what are a president’s principal tasks in office? Aside from setting agendas, giving speeches, attending countless meetings, ceremonial responsibilities, fundraising, etc., a president is tasked with making a lot of decisions. Invariably, they’re tough calls — they have to be, since easier decisions are made elsewhere in the executive branch bureaucracy.

In order to make these tough calls, a president will be presented with a fair amount of information. If we’ve elected a capable person, he or she will evaluate that information well, exercise good judgment, and make a wise choice.

What does this have to do with science? Everything. Rick Perry is aware of the scientific consensus on modern biology, but he rejects it. He realizes what climate scientists have concluded about global warming, but he rejects them, too. What this tell us is that Perry, whatever his strengths may be, isn’t especially good at evaluating evidence. On the contrary, by choosing to believe nonsense after being confronted with reality, he’s apparently lousy at it.

And since most of what a president does all day is evaluate evidence and (hopefully) reach sensible conclusions, Perry’s hostility towards reason and facts offers a hint about what kind of leader he’d be if elected.

Consider another example. Perry was fielding questions from a Texas journalist who asked why Texas has abstinence-only education, despite the fact that the state has the third-highest teen-pregnancy rate in the country. Perry replied, “Abstinence works.” The journalist, perhaps wondering if Perry misunderstood the question, tried again, saying abstinence-only “doesn’t seem to be working.” The governor replied, “It — it works.”

This isn’t akin to flubbing a pop quiz on the basics of modern science. I don’t much care if a political figure has never seen a periodic table or struggles to understand how tides work. The point here is that Rick Perry seems unable to think empirically and weigh the value of evidence before reaching a conclusion.

Are these qualities relevant to a presidential candidate? I believe they are.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly, Political Animal, August 23, 2011

August 24, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Conservatives, Democracy, Education, Elections, Environment, Global Warming, GOP, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grover Norquist, The GOP, And The Payroll Tax Cut

For the last day or so, a few of us have been trying to get Grover Norquist’s group to say whether GOP opposition to extending the payroll tax cut — which Obama wants — constitutes a “tax increase” and a violation of Norquist’s infamous anti-tax pledge.

Norquist’s spokesman is now clarifying that the group isn’t yet willing to say.

Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes has been signed by virtually every Republican in Congress, and Norquist has clearly stated that the failure to extend the Bush tax cuts would constitute a “tax increase.” The question now is this: With Republicans now opposing an extension of the payroll tax cut, which impacts workers but not employers, will Norquist’s group also declare the GOP opposition tantamount to a tax increase that violates the pledge?

John Kartch, a spokesman for Americans for Tax Reform, tells me that “one would have to see the final legislation” before making the call one way or the other, in order to determine ”what is the net effect on total taxes.”

The problem here, though, is that this doesn’t deal with the possibility of the payroll tax cut simply expiring through Congress doing nothing. If Congress doesn’t extend the payroll tax cut, as Republicans want, it will simply expire on January 1st.

So it’s fair to ask whether Norquist’s group — which wields great influence over Republicans in Congress — thinks that Republicans who favor doing nothing and letting the payroll tax cut expire are hiking taxes and violating the group’s pledge. And for now, the group isn’t prepared to say.

By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, August 23, 2011

August 24, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Minimum Wage, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Evasion, Tax Increases, Tax Liabilities, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Class Warfare, Republican Style

Republicans have finally found a group they think deserves a tax hike: People who don’t make enough money to pay income taxes.

At the recent GOP debate, all the 2012 presidential hopefuls were unanimous in claiming they would reject a deficit-reduction deal if it contained a 10-to-one ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. But as Dave Weigel writes, the GOP’s supposed anti-tax zealots have been strangely unified in arguing that Americans who pay no income taxes — but pay a variety of other taxes — should see their taxes go up:

Republican politicians didn’t make this argument — until the Obama era. What changed? For decades, the “lucky ducky” number, the percentage of Americans that pay no taxes, never rose above 30 percent. The Bush tax cuts pushed it over 30 percent, but not too far over. Then, in 2008 and 2009, the economy collapsed. The government responded with, among other things, new tax deductions.

The result: The percentage of people paying no income taxes spiked up to 47 percent and stayed there. When the Tea Party started rallying in 2009, it wasn’t protesting higher taxes, because federal income taxes were lower, with more loopholes. It was protesting the perception that productive Americans were shelling out for an ever-expanding class of moochers. And Republicans have taken the Tea Party’s lead.

Of course, as Weigel reminds us, these people do pay sales taxes, payroll taxes, gas taxes and the like. As an April 2010 report from Citizens for Tax Justice explained: “Most of these other taxes are regressive, meaning they take a larger share of a poor or middle-class family’s income than they take from a rich family. This largely offsets the progressivity of the federal income tax.” Fat City!

This tax-the-poor attitude is widely held among Republicans, who are currently positioning themselves to oppose an extension of the payroll tax credit. After having demanded Obama extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Republicans are now fretting that the payroll tax cut will increase the deficit. Extending the Bush tax cuts increased the debt by far more than an extension of the payroll tax cut will, but that was worth it, because cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans is the GOP’s highest priority. It’s far more important than stimulating the economy by giving a tax break to people who might actually need the money.

Of course, we’re not supposed to call the GOP’s commitment to making sure the wealthiest Americans pay as little as possible in taxes   — and to increasing taxes on lower income folks — by its rightful name:  “Class-warfare.” That term only applies to socialists who think we ought to return to Clinton-era tax rates.

By: Adam Serwer, The Washington Post, August 23, 2011

August 24, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The GOP Is Fed Up With Its Choices

In theory, Democrats should be nervous about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to enter the presidential race. In practice, though, it’s Republicans who have zoomed up the anxiety ladder into freak-out mode.

To clarify, not all Republicans are reaching for the Xanax, just those who believe the party has to appeal to centrist independents if it hopes to defeat President Obama next year. Also, those who believe that calling Social Security “an illegal Ponzi scheme” and suggesting that Medicare is unconstitutional might not be the best way to win the votes of senior citizens.

These and other wild-eyed views are set out in Perry’s book “Fed Up!” His campaign has already begun trying to distance the governor from his words, with communications director Ray Sullivan saying last week that the book “is a look back, not a path forward” — that “Fed Up!” was intended “as a review and critique of 50 years of federal excesses, not in any way as a 2012 campaign blueprint or manifesto.”

One problem with this attempted explanation is that the book was published way back in . . . the fall of 2010. It’s reasonable to assume that if Perry held a bunch of radical, loony views less than a year ago, he holds them today.

Another problem is that as recently as Aug. 14, according to the Wall Street Journal, Perry responded to an Iowa voter who asked how he would fix entitlement programs by saying, “Have you read my book, ‘Fed Up!’? Get a copy and read it.

But Perry doesn’t give us time to plow through his tome, what with his frequent newsmaking forays onto the rhetorical fringe. He had barely been in the race for 48 hours when he announced it would be “treasonous” for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to increase the money supply before the 2012 election. If Bernanke did so, Perry said, “we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.”

The outburst allowed Ron Paul, who has spent years calling for the Fed to be abolished, to say of Perry: “He makes me look like a moderate.

Perry made no attempt to disavow his remarks about Bernanke. Whatever his campaign staff might wish, the candidate apparently does not warm to the task of disavowal.

Soon Perry moved on to the science of climate change, which “Fed Up!” dismisses as a “contrived phony mess.” Perry told an audience in New Hampshire that “a substantial number of scientists” have acted in bad faith, manipulating data “so that they will have dollars rolling in to their projects.” Perry added that “we’re seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

None of that is true. There is overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that human activity — especially the burning of fossil fuels — is contributing to climate change. Multiple investigations have found no evidence of fraud or manipulation of data. Unless Perry is ready to publish fundamental new insights into physical and chemical processes at the molecular level, his swaggering stance against climate science is all hat and no cattle.

“The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem,” candidate Jon Huntsman said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” — a declaration that makes me wonder how familiar Huntsman is with the political organization he seeks to lead.

Also in his first week of campaigning, Perry suggested that the military doesn’t respect Obama as commander in chief — and, when asked whether he believes Obama loves America, told a reporter that “you need to ask him.” This is music to the ears of the hate-Obama crowd on the far right. But mainstream voters, whether or not they support Obama’s policies, generally like the president, do not question his patriotism and want him to succeed.

“I think when you find yourself at an extreme end of the Republican Party,” Huntsman said of Perry, “you make yourself unelectable.”

He’s correct. But maybe we shouldn’t take his word for it, or Ron Paul’s word — after all, they’re Perry’s opponents. Maybe we also shouldn’t take the word of Karl Rove, who called Perry’s remarks “unpresidential,” since Texas apparently isn’t big enough for the George W. Bush camp and the Rick Perry camp to coexist without feuding.

Suffice it to note that two weeks ago, GOP luminaries were scrambling to find new candidates. And now, after Perry’s debut? Still scrambling, I’m afraid.

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 22, 2011

August 24, 2011 Posted by | Climate Change, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, Environment, Global Warming, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Independents, Medicare, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, Social Security, Swing Voters, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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