"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Welcome To The Age Of Denial”: In Today’s World, It’s Politically Effective And Socially Acceptable To Deny Scientific Fact

In 1982, polls showed that 44 percent of Americans believed God had created human beings in their present form. Thirty years later, the fraction of the population who are creationists is 46 percent.

In 1989, when “climate change” had just entered the public lexicon, 63 percent of Americans understood it was a problem. Almost 25 years later, that proportion is actually a bit lower, at 58 percent.

The timeline of these polls defines my career in science. In 1982 I was an undergraduate physics major. In 1989 I was a graduate student. My dream was that, in a quarter-century, I would be a professor of astrophysics, introducing a new generation of students to the powerful yet delicate craft of scientific research.

Much of that dream has come true. Yet instead of sending my students into a world that celebrates the latest science has to offer, I am delivering them into a society ambivalent, even skeptical, about the fruits of science.

This is not a world the scientists I trained with would recognize. Many of them served on the Manhattan Project. Afterward, they helped create the technologies that drove America’s postwar prosperity. In that era of the mid-20th century, politicians were expected to support science financially but otherwise leave it alone. The disaster of Lysenkoism, in which Communist ideology distorted scientific truth and all but destroyed Russian biological science, was still a fresh memory.

The triumph of Western science led most of my professors to believe that progress was inevitable. While the bargain between science and political culture was at times challenged — the nuclear power debate of the 1970s, for example — the battles were fought using scientific evidence. Manufacturing doubt remained firmly off-limits.

Today, however, it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. Narrowly defined, “creationism” was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as “creation science” and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.

Meanwhile, climate deniers, taking pages from the creationists’ PR playbook, have manufactured doubt about fundamental issues in climate science that were decided scientifically decades ago. And anti-vaccine campaigners brandish a few long-discredited studies to make unproven claims about links between autism and vaccination.

The list goes on. North Carolina has banned state planners from using climate data in their projections of future sea levels. So many Oregon parents have refused vaccination that the state is revising its school entry policies. And all of this is happening in a culture that is less engaged with science and technology as intellectual pursuits than at any point I can remember.

Thus, even as our day-to-day experiences have become dependent on technological progress, many of our leaders have abandoned the postwar bargain in favor of what the scientist Michael Mann calls the “scientization of politics.”

What do I tell my students? From one end of their educational trajectory to the other, our society told these kids science was important. How confusing is it for them now, when scientists receive death threats for simply doing honest research on our planet’s climate history?

Americans always expected their children to face a brighter economic future, and we scientists expected our students to inherit a world where science was embraced by an ever-larger fraction of the population. This never implied turning science into a religion or demanding slavish acceptance of this year’s hot research trends. We face many daunting challenges as a society, and they won’t all be solved with more science and math education. But what has been lost is an understanding that science’s open-ended, evidence-based processes — rather than just its results — are essential to meeting those challenges.

My professors’ generation could respond to silliness like creationism with head-scratching bemusement. My students cannot afford that luxury. Instead they must become fierce champions of science in the marketplace of ideas.

During my undergraduate studies I was shocked at the low opinion some of my professors had of the astronomer Carl Sagan. For me his efforts to popularize science were an inspiration, but for them such “outreach” was a diversion. That view makes no sense today.

The enthusiasm and generous spirit that Mr. Sagan used to advocate for science now must inspire all of us. There are science Twitter feeds and blogs to run, citywide science festivals and high school science fairs that need input. For the civic-minded nonscientists there are school board curriculum meetings and long-term climate response plans that cry out for the participation of informed citizens. And for every parent and grandparent there is the opportunity to make a few more trips to the science museum with your children.

Behind the giant particle accelerators and space observatories, science is a way of behaving in the world. It is, simply put, a tradition. And as we know from history’s darkest moments, even the most enlightened traditions can be broken and lost. Perhaps that is the most important lesson all lifelong students of science must learn now.


By: Adam Frank, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, August 21, 2013

August 22, 2013 Posted by | Climate Change, Science | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Scott Walker Of New Jersey”: Why “Moderate” Chris Christie Is Just As Conservative As The Kochs

Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) is a “moderate” the same way Moe from the Three Stooges was an academic: only in comparison to the other Stooges.

While his amicable embrace of President Obama during Hurricane Sandy and willingness to actually sign a bill related to firearms will give his 2016 GOP primary opponents fodder for attack ads, the governor doesn’t have to inflate his severely conservative credentials.

Christie is the Scott Walker (R-WI) of New Jersey, one of the bluest states in the union. His agenda is nearly indistinguishable from that of Wisconsin’s controversial governor, with a nearly identical dismal performance when it comes to job creation.

“From the time he took office at the beginning of 2010 to March of this year, the state’s performance on the measures tracked by Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States puts it 45th among the states,” Bloomberg‘s Christopher Flavelle reports. Wisconsin is ranked 43rd on the same scale. The Bureau of Labor Statistics currently rates Wisconsin 33rd in job creation. New Jersey is 38th.

The real difference between Walker and Christie isn’t their beliefs or their below-average success at creating jobs. The difference is Christie knows how to pose as a moderate. Walker’s dominant appeal is as an ideologue. Christie’s strength is he’s a politician.

But today’s Republican Party loves ideologues and is suspicious of those like Christie who just want to win.

After being shunned by CPAC and being branded the “King of Bacon” by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), New Jersey’s governor has embarked on an apology tour that began with him endorsing the Koch-loving Republican nominee to replace Frank Lautenberg in the U.S. Senate, Steve Lonegan – who will be trounced by Democrat Cory Booker so hard that Christie wasted millions of taxpayer dollars to make sure he wouldn’t be on the same ballot as Newark’s mayor. Next Christie will meet with some of the party’s biggest funders in the Hamptons.

Here’s five reasons why any questions they have about his loyalty to the conservative agenda can be answered by simply pointing to his record.

War On Unions

“Unions are the problem,” Christie said at a town hall earlier this year. And that’s been the subtext of much of what he’s done since he took office. He’s taken pride in calling his state teachers’ union “thugs” and celebrated his battles with public sector workers by posting them on his You Tube channel.

One of his biggest “accomplishments” as governor was to pair cuts with a suspension of collective bargaining for public sector workers.

Like Walker, he was able to crush resistance to his policies and take what he wanted from workers. And like Walker, the result was downtrodden public servants and a weak economy.

Tax Cuts

As he’s cut public spending, Christie has continually proposed Bush-like tax cuts that would mostly benefit the rich, even though New Jersey’s rich already enjoy a lower tax burden than the state’s working-class families.

He’s done this, even though his tax cut would create a deficit.

The governor also cut $1 billion from education to help pay for $2.3 billion in tax breaks for businesses, more than doubling in one swoop the amount of breaks corporations had received in a decade.

On a federal level, Christie supports the Ryan budget.

“It calls for a reduction in taxes that, if implemented, would likely give a disproportionate share of benefits to the wealthy,” The New Republic‘s Jonathan Cohn explains. “It calls for radically reducing discretionary spending, so that it is less than 4 percent of gross domestic product by 2050. And it calls for transforming Medicare into a voucher system.”

Starving Infrastructure

Like Scott Walker, Chris Christie immediately made news by canceling a large infrastructure project that would have brought jobs to his state and eventually relieved traffic and pollution.

The governor’s explanation for rejecting the federal funds turned out to be dubious and flawed. The New York Times‘ Kate Zernike explains:

The report by the Government Accountability Office, to be released this week, found that while Mr. Christie said that state transportation officials had revised cost estimates for the tunnel to at least $11 billion and potentially more than $14 billion, the range of estimates had in fact remained unchanged in the two years before he announced in 2010 that he was shutting down the project. And state transportation officials, the report says, had said the cost would be no more than $10 billion.

Mr. Christie also misstated New Jersey’s share of the costs: he said the state would pay 70 percent of the project; the report found that New Jersey was paying 14.4 percent. And while the governor said that an agreement with the federal government would require the state to pay all cost overruns, the report found that there was no final agreement, and that the federal government had made several offers to share those costs.

Christie’s true goal was to keep the funds the state had allocated for the project in order to prevent an increase on the gasoline tax that would have broken a promise. He also got to publicly reject the president, which is how you get ahead in the Republican Party.

Women’s Health

When people compare a potential Christie candidacy to “Rudy” Giuliani’s 2008 effort, they forget that Christie is avidly anti-choice — the first anti-abortion-rights candidate ever to be elected governor of New Jersey.

As governor, Christie has joined Scott Walker and Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) in an effort to starve Planned Parenthood, the organization that provides basic reproductive health care to millions of women.

Christie demanded $7.5 million in cuts to women’s health care, resulting in clinics treating 33,000 fewer patients in a year, explaining that the money was needed to balance the budget. Democrats have given him several chances to restore the cuts but he’s refused, citing costs.

Of course, spending $12 million on a special election so he wouldn’t be on the same ballot as Booker was no big deal to the cost-cutting governor.

Singlehandedly Stopping Same-Sex Marriage

Same-sex couples in New Jersey know there’s only one reason they can’t enjoy the benefits of marriage: Chris Christie.

Not only has he vetoed a bill legalizing equal marriage, he’s vowed to veto any future bill that lands on his desk and called the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act “inappropriate” and “insulting.”

Christie feigns moderation when he says that marriage should be on the ballot. What’s more cynical than believing that a person’s rights should be up for a vote?

When you’re a far-right Republican who has to win in a blue state, these are the kinds of things you end up saying.

And on this issue, Christie is to the right of David Koch.

Despite this, the governor has the Koch mark of approval.

“Five months ago we met in my New York City office and spoke, just the two of us, for about two hours on his objectives and successes in correcting many of the most serious problems of the New Jersey state government,” David Koch said, at a secret Koch brothers conference in 2011. “At the end of our conversation, I said to myself, ‘I’m really impressed and inspired by this man. He is my kind of guy.’”


By: Jasaon Sattler, The National Memo, August 21, 2013

August 22, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Conservative Dilemma In A Nutshell”: Carrying A Message Deliberately Designed To Line Their Pockets

Jim DeMint, the former firebrand senator from South Carolina who now heads The Heritage Foundation, has been on the speaking junket of late calling for the replacement of any Republican who has the good sense to oppose a purely symbolic and unwinnable vote on repealing ObamaCare. DeMint is an absolutist, and is revealing a sad truth about too many spokespeople for conservative causes these days: They play to an audience that does not understand (or does not care about) the demographic realities of electoral politics, and offer a message designed to line their own pockets rather than improve the party. This has to change if our party is to rise again.

Take DeMint. GOPers who are against the symbolic move to replace ObamaCare “should be replaced,” he says. DeMint also says he’s “not as interested in the political futures of folks who think they might lose a showdown with the president.” These remarks highlight two of the most fundamental obstacles to the GOP’s return to viability as a ruling party in this country.

Large swaths of the conservative base have come to believe that all conservatives in all states should be fire breathers like DeMint. But even if it would be good or desirable to run candidates like DeMint as the nominee in every race in America, the demographics of modern America make such a policy politically suicidal. Democratic elections mean that people tend to elect leaders that hold views that approximately resemble their own. The very qualities that make a DeMint clone wildly desirable in a dark red southern state like South Carolina make the identical person totally and completely unelectable in Connecticut, Delaware, or Nevada. And if you think my choice of those last three states was a coincidence, it was not, since the GOP has thrown away two slam-dunk Senate wins and one potential Senate win in recent cycles in those states by nominating a fire breather rather than a more “moderate” candidate in the general election.

This is basic politics. Almost any objective observer can look at the numbers and demographic realities and recognize the problem. That raises this question: Jim DeMint may hold some pretty extreme political views, but he’s no idiot, so why does he continue to spout this nonsense? The answer, as with so many things, becomes quickly apparent when we think about who he works for and what he is trying to do.

DeMint does not work for the Republican Party. He does not have the best interests of the GOP in mind when he goes on tour. Instead, DeMint is paid something close to $1 million a year to run the Heritage Foundation. The reason that Heritage is paying the former senator so much cash is because they expect him to raise a lot of it, as think tanks rarely generate revenue and therefore must raise money to survive. So make no mistake, in his present position, DeMint is concerned foremost not with the betterment of the GOP’s national position or the good of America, but the bottom line of the Heritage Foundation.

This leads us to a final question: What kind of person is apt to give money to a partisan think tank like Heritage? Your answer: Hyper-enthusiastic rich conservatives. And what these donors like to hear is their own beliefs echoed on television. They are less concerned with, you know, reality… or whether the GOP takes a Senate seat in Connecticut.

This last incentives problem is one that pervades the GOP. Right now, too many people are making too much money by being conservatives. Rush Limbaugh is a bright enough guy and he is an exceptional entertainer, but he knows that his core audience is hyper conservative and he plays to that audience exceptionally well. Same with Fox News: Their core viewers are über-conservative, Fox is in business to make money, and that means catering to the audience’s beliefs.

Sadly, the two problems play off of one another. Perhaps if DeMint and Limbaugh were not so busy looking our for #1 (and the organizations they represent), they might talk to their fans about what is and isn’t possible. In all likelihood, many of the true believers would embrace a compromise if it meant more conservatives rather than less. But to do so, Limbaugh and DeMint and Fox News would have to risk alienating some of their biggest fans, customers, or donors for the betterment of the party and, as we are so often reminded, they just don’t work for the party.


By: Jeb Golinkin, The week, August 21, 2013

August 22, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Guns Aren’t Different After All”: The National Gun Registry The NRA Warned You Against

A few months ago, conservative senators felt the need to kill a popular, bipartisan proposal on firearm background checks, and relied primarily on a single talking point: the proposal might lead to a firearm database. The very idea of some kind of national gun registry was so offensive to the right that the legislation had to die at the hands of a Republican filibuster.

It didn’t matter that the bipartisan bill had no such database. It didn’t matter that the bipartisan bill explicitly made the creation of such a registry a felony. All that mattered was that conservatives had a lie they liked, and which they used to great effect.

Four months later, Steve Friess reports that a massive, secret database of gun owners exists after all. But it wasn’t built by the Justice Department or the Department of Homeland Security; it was compiled without gun owners’ consent by the National Rifle Association.

It is housed in the Virginia offices of the NRA itself. The country’s largest privately held database of current, former, and prospective gun owners is one of the powerful lobby’s secret weapons, expanding its influence well beyond its estimated 3 million members and bolstering its political supremacy.

That database has been built through years of acquiring gun permit registration lists from state and county offices, gathering names of new owners from the thousands of gun-safety classes taught by NRA-certified instructors and by buying lists of attendees of gun shows, subscribers to gun magazines and more, BuzzFeed has learned.

The result: a Big Data powerhouse that deploys the same high-tech tactics all year round that the vaunted Obama campaign used to win two presidential elections.

The compilation of these kinds of lists is not uncommon. Entities ranging from political parties to media companies to marketing experts want to target — and sometimes micro-target — American voters/consumers and find great value in private, detailed databases.

But we’ve been told that guns are different, and that a sophisticated registry of gun owners represents some kind of threat to American norms and freedoms.

Indeed, we were told that by the NRA, which has created a sophisticated registry of gun owners.

The BuzzFeed piece added:

The NRA won’t say how many names and what other personal information is in its database, but former NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman estimates they keep tabs on “tens of millions of people.” […]

Some data-collection efforts are commonplace in politics these days, such as buying information from data brokers on magazine subscriptions and the like.

But several observers said the NRA’s methods reflect a sophistication and ingenuity that is largely unrivaled outside of major national presidential campaigns. While the organization took great umbrage in December when a newspaper published the names and addresses of gun owners in two New York counties, the group for years has been gathering similar information via the same public records as a matter of course.

Former NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman added, “It’s probably partially true that people don’t know the information is being collected, but even if they don’t know it, they probably won’t care because the NRA is not part of the government.”

And I suppose that’s the real trump card here. The right doesn’t want the FBI to know which Americans have firearms, but if the NRA secretly compiles such a registry, no problem.

As for why the NRA needs such a database, I imagine it’s simply a matter of marketing — if the far-right organization feels the need to get its political message to a specific audience, it needs to know where to find that audience.

So if you’re a gun owner who was somewhat surprised by targeting mailings that ended up in your inbox or robocalls that ended up on your answering machine, stop being surprised — the NRA knows more than you might expect.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 21, 2013

August 22, 2013 Posted by | Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ideology Meets Idiocy”: The GOP’s Obamacare Youth Hoax

It’s rare for a political party to trumpet a position that unintentionally reveals its myopia, incoherence and expediency. Yet such is the trifecta with the Republican campaign to call attention to Obamacare’s young “victims.”

Republicans are obsessed with the supposed injustice being done to some healthy young people who will effectively subsidize their sicker elders when Obamacare’s individual mandate takes effect.

The crusaders are nothing if not convinced of the righteousness of their cause. “The whole scheme is enlisting young adults to overpay, so other people can have subsidies,” Dean Clancy, a vice president at FreedomWorks, told my Post colleague Sarah Kliff. “That unfairness reminded us of the military draft.”

Conservatives are therefore urging young Americans to resist. “I’m burning my Obamacare draft card,” runs one theatrical riff from a group called Young Americans for Liberty, “because I’m too busy paying student loans to pay for somebody else’s health insurance.” Republican policy advisors have urged the party to make such child abuse a big part of their anti-Obamacare message.

Sounds like a sexy argument, except for one thing. Republicans seem to have forgotten where most people aged 19 to 34 get health coverage: from their employer. And at virtually every company, young people pay the same premiums as employees who are much older than they are and who get more expensively sick than they do. In other words, the evil cross-subsidy Obamacare’s foes are storming the barricades to roll back already exists, at vastly larger scale, in corporate America.

These youngsters are already in chains! They’ve been put there by the private sector! And, inexplicably, young employees have entered this servitude of their own volition. (To extend the GOP’s draft analogy, it turns out there’s a voluntary army of health care masochists from sea to shining sea.)

How could injustice on this scale escape the GOP’s searing moral scrutiny?

After all, the president is only hoping that about 2.7 million young people will purchase coverage in the new exchanges. But 20 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 34 get coverage from their employer right now, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

If you’re keeping score, that makes employer-based health care’s cross-subsidy about eight times more evil than Obamacare’s.

How does it work? Compare a typical, strapping young employee of 28 to her broken- down 58-year-old colleague. These two employees have very different annual health expenses. Yet under the nefarious plot known as “group health insurance,” they basically pay the same premiums. It turns out every big company in America is essentially a socialized health care republic, in which the young subsidize the old, and the healthy subsidize the sick — all of whom pay the same premiums for the same plans.

Similar dynamics explain why, in the federal health-care plan, spry 42-year-olds like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz subsidize 79-year-old geezers like Chuck Grassley and Orrin Hatch.

Maybe that’s why Cruz always seems so angry.

Of course, most people in civilized nations know and accept that this is how insurance works. But Republicans nowadays aren’t like most people in civilized nations. They think Obamacare is a form of injustice akin to slavery. Which makes employer-provided health care slavery on steroids. Where’s the outrage? If conservatives were consistent and principled, they would devote far more time and effort to liberating 20 million young Americans from the socialism baked into employer-based insurance and look past the Obamacare exchanges as a puny sideshow.

But, alas, conservatives are not consistent and principled, save for their consistent determination to hurt the president politically.

It would be better if all those smart GOP thinkers devoted their talent and energy to the question of how they would expand coverage to the 50 million uninsured — but to raise that question is to enter the policy cul de sac in all its delicious irony.

Because the answer to that question is RomneyObamacare, the only sound way (as Republicans rightly taught us) that a country can move toward universal coverage using private health plans. The GOP could offer a tweaked version with slightly fewer regulations. Or structure it to offer universal catastrophic coverage to save money. But if Republicans were serious, they’d offer the same basic reform architecture.

So Republicans choose not to be serious. And it shows.

In the end, the GOP’s Obamacare youth hoax shows how silly a party can look when a political focus on one corner of a policy leads it to latch on to “insights” that utterly miss the big picture. It’s a reminder, if we needed another, of how close the connection can be between ideology and idiocy.


By: Matt Miller, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 21, 2013

August 22, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: