[Note: Watts Up With That, one of the web's most anti-scientific blogs, is a finalist for the Weblog awards "Best Science Blog" (see "Weblog Awards duped by deniers -- again!"). Even more farcically, early voting suggests Watts has a chance of winning (see here). Since the fine science blog Pharyngula is doing well in the voting, I'd now suggest voting for it.]
In this post I’m going to present the general diagnosis for “anti-science syndrome” (ASS). Like most syndromes, ASS is a collection of symptoms that individually may not be serious, but taken together can be quite dangerous — at least it can be dangerous to the health and well-being of humanity if enough people actually believe the victims.
One tell-tale symptom of ASS is that a website or a writer focuses their climate attacks on non-scientists. If that non-scientist is Al Gore, this symptom alone may be definitive.
The other key symptoms involve the repetition of long-debunked denier talking points, commonly without links to supporting material. Such repetition, which can border on the pathological, is a clear warning sign.
Scientists who kept restating and republishing things that had been widely debunked in the scientific literature for many, many years would quickly be diagnosed with ASS. Such people on the web are apparently heroes — at least to the right wing and/or easily duped (see “The Deniers are winning, but only with the GOP“).
If you suspect someone of ASS, look for the repeated use of the following phrases:
In Feb. 2008, a military judge convicted Sgt. Evan Vela, a 24-year-old U.S. Army sniper, “and sentenced him to 10 years in prison for killing an Iraqi civilian who wandered into the hiding place where six soldiers were sleeping.” Vela, who was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge, was found guilty of planting an AK-47 on the dead Iraqi man’s body and of lying to military investigators about the shooting. According to a letter sent by the White House to Vela’s family, President Bush is now “strongly considering” a request to pardon Vela:
The father of an eastern Idaho soldier says he has received a letter from the White House confirming that his request that his son be pardoned by President Bush is being “seriously considered.”
Curtis Carnahan says he received the letter last week.
Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) have written letters to Bush on behalf of Vela, urging that the president grant him clemency. Crapo and Simpson argued that Vela “was simply following the orders of his superiors.”
Are there really any strong reasons for the 111th Senate to adopt Rule 22 (60 votes for cloture)?
I don’t really want to do an analysis of the short-term of the short term politics, spin, and ethics surrounding this issue beyond noting that back during the “nuclear option” fight I took an anti-filibuster line. Instead, I think it’s more useful to think in broader and more abstract terms.
The book that’s been most influential on my thinking in this regard is George Tsebelis’ Veto Players: How Political Institutions Work. One of the points he makes (no idea how original this is to him) is that one of the best ways to characterize different types of political regimes is in terms of how many veto points exist at which legislation can be blocked.
In a Westminster regime such as they have in the UK or Canada, there’s just one. The cabinet formulates a proposal, and then it needs to be voted on in parliament. And thanks to tight party discipline, things are basically never blocked. One variant on that is a system, such as they have in Israel or the Netherlands, that combines a unicameral parliament with cabinets that are invariably formed by coalitions. In a system like that, the threat of a parliamentary veto is more real and you can see government crises and collapses. In some countries, there’s an elected president who can veto legislative actions, which adds another veto point. And in some countries there’s a second legislative house whose concurrence is necessary to pass legislation.
The United States has all three of those things. It also has a system in which a bill generally needs majority support on relevant committees and subcommittees in order to pass. All told, that’s a lot of veto points compared to what you see in most democracies.
So that’s the context in which to ask whether or not it makes sense to have a supermajority requirement for many Senate votes. I would say “no.” Even absent the filibuster, our system would still feature an unusually large number of veto points, especially when you take our unusually robust system of judicial review into account. The supermajority requirement is at odds with our basic democratic norms, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with an example of it ever actually being used to protect the interests of some kind of put-upon minority, and I see no empirical reason to think that our systematically larger number of veto points is producing systematically better results than you see elsewhere. On the other hand, there’s good reason to believe that the large number of veto points makes it easier for narrow interest groups to block public interest reforms.
Club For Growth: Obama Should ‘Embrace A Stimulus Bill’ That Cuts Taxes For the Wealthy And Corporations
As The Wonk Room noted earlier, President-elect Barack Obama — in an attempt to garner conservative support — has directed about 40 percent of his proposed economic stimulus package toward tax breaks. These cuts, while appropriate if targeted correctly, are really not the best way to jumpstart the economy.
However, the anti-tax crusaders at the Club for Growth believe that Obama’s proposed tax breaks don’t go far enough, and that he should drop his cuts aimed at the middle-class to focus on cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy. From a press statement today:
The Club for Growth gives Barack Obama credit for including tax cuts in his stimulus bill, but urges the President-Elect to replace his tax credits with real, pro-growth tax cuts that will actually encourage work, investment, production, and a burst of economic growth…These include lower marginal income tax rates, lower corporate tax rates, and the elimination of the capital gains tax.
The Club for Growth closed by saying, “We urge President-Elect Barack Obama to embrace a stimulus bill that will actually live up to its name and stimulate the economy.”
However, the Club has put forth two competing assertions. It wants a bill that “actually” stimulates the economy, but the actions it proposes are the least stimulative ones that the federal government could take.
According to an analysis by Moody’s Economy.com, cutting corporate and capital gains taxes offers very little in terms of stimulative effect. For each dollar spent on a capital gains tax cut, there is only a 37 cent boost to GDP, while for each dollar spent on a corporate tax cut, the return is an even more paltry 30 cents. Compared to the $1.64 return on a dollar invested in extending unemployment benefits or the $1.73 return from a temporary increase in food stamps, this is chump change.
The reason for these differing returns is fairly simple: stimulus dollars are most effective when aimed at those who will use them immediately. Corporations and the wealthy don’t necessarily need to spend money, whereas a lower-income worker or someone who is unemployed is almost certain to use any available funds right away.
With the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), it became apparent that banks were hoarding the money, and thus the effect of the bill was diminished. The same could happen with an ill-conceived stimulus package, whereas properly targeted tax cuts — as well as, increased spending on infrastructure, aid to state governments, and supporting the social safety net — will have a much stronger effect.
For some reason, major op-ed page editors feel that it’s a good idea to publish op-eds expressing old discredited ideas from discredited figures like John Bolton. For his latest offering, Bolton puts forward what he calls a “three state” approach to the Palestinian problem, in which “Gaza is returned to Egyptian control and the West Bank in some configuration reverts to Jordanian sovereignty.” Matt Duss offers some response. Marc Lynch further observes that this idea is opposed by the government of Egypt, opposed by the government of Jordan, and opposed by the Palestinians. It’s a total non-starter.
It’s also worth appreciating the essentially circular logic behind the suggestion. Behind the “in some configuration” euphemism lies the fact that what Bolton is proposing is that Israel grab whichever choice slices of the West Bank settlers or the IDF want, and Jordan take over administering the rest. But why not just make this offer directly to the Palestinian leadership, rather than to the government of Jordan? Well, because no Palestinian leadership that wanted to stay in power would or could accept it. The idea is deemed too objectionable to the Palestinian population and to Arab sentiment writ large. But this exact same problem arises when you substitute “Jordanian leadership” for “Palestinian leadership.” The underlying problem of the unacceptability of this solution to Palestinian public opinion exists no matter who you put in charge. Putting this idea on the table is just a way of pretending to have an idea to offer while in fact you’re completely unwilling to grapple with the actual situation. If anything, trying to do this would probably make Israel’s security problems much worse by jeopardizing Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and (especially) Jordan as the existing regimes would be destabilized by the presence of the new populations. The idea here is that the government of Jordan could act on Israel’s behalf as the jailer of the Palestinians in a way that allows Israel to avoid moral and political culpability for them. But the Jordanians aren’t nearly that stupid, and I have some trouble believing that Bolton is actually stupid enough to think they might be.
Last month, the Hill reported that RNC chairman candidate Chip Saltsman sent out a Christmas greeting that contained a CD with the song “Barack the Magic Negro” on it. Several of Saltsman’s opponents were “shocked and appalled,” calling the move “in bad taste.” However, as the Hill later noted, “surprisingly,” the two African-American candidates for RNC chair — Ken Blackwell and Micheal Steele — had “been the easiest on Saltsman.”
Today, the candidates debated the future of the Party at the National Press Club and all agreed that the GOP needs to bring in more minorities. But in an interview with ThinkProgress after the debate, Steele said that Saltsman is detracting from this effort. He strongly criticized Saltsman’s decision to send out the “Magic Negro” song, saying “it doesn’t help at all” the GOP’s effort to bring in minorities to the party:
TP: A big theme on the panel today was how to get the GOP to embrace minority voters. Do you think that Mr. Saltsman’s CD that he released to the RNC members helps or hurts that effort?
STEELE: Oh it doesn’t help at all. Absolutely, it reinforces a negative stereotype of the party. [...] And so now we have a opportunity to step in the breach and clear that up and make sure that people appreciate and know that look, this is not representative of the party as a whole, this is not a direction that we want to go in or a system that we believe.
Some RNC members have said that Saltsman’s controversial Christmas greeting may have actually helped his candidacy for chairman. Politico reported that “some of those officials are rallying around the embattled Saltsman, with a few questioning whether the national media and his opponents are piling on.”
However, current RNC chair Mike Duncan disputed that notion today in a separate interview with ThinkProgress. “I disagree with them,” he said, adding that “we’re about addition as opposed to subtraction and bringing people into this Party and things that take away from that are bad for the Party.”
Indeed, during the debate, Saltsman himself said — without a hint of irony — that “we have done a very poor job in communicating any message from the Republican Party” to minority groups.
At today’s event, Steele appeared to have the most — or at least the most visible — supporters in the audience. People were holding signs and wearing Steele stickers and attendees loudly cheered after many of his answers. No other candidate had such a conspicuous turnout.
What’s on your mind today?
Beck’s response to violence in Gaza: ‘Can someone please retract the Jimmy Carter Nobel Peace Prize?’
On his radio show today, conservative talker Glenn Beck responded to the current violence in Gaza by arguing that former President Jimmy Carter should be stripped of his Nobel Peace Prize:
BECK: Can someone please retract the Jimmy Carter Nobel Peace Prize? Can someone please say, “You know what Jim, we gotta take that back. I don’t know what we were thinking, but there hasn’t been all that much peace there.” … Eh, I don’t think you get the prize for the peace when the peace didn’t really happen. … Can we take his peace prize back from him?
Despite Beck’s claims to the contrary, Carter contributed significantly to the Middle East peace process, brokering a lasting peace between Egypt and Israel in 1978. As Juan Cole said of the Carter’s Middle East peace legacy, “Jimmy Carter powerfully affected the destinies of all Egyptians and Israelis.”
The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes reports today that he and fellow conservative Bill Kristol met with President Bush last Friday for a lunch in the president’s “private dining room adjacent to the Oval Office.” According to Barnes, the “left-wing haters” are “going to be disappointed when they see his demeanor as he leaves his eight-year presidency” because Bush “appears comfortable with what he expects his legacy will be.”
Speaking of Bush’s legacy, Barnes reports that the president cited his push to privatize Social Security as his biggest domestic policy accomplishment:
On domestic policy, Bush was asked if he made progress in some areas for which he hasn’t and probably won’t get credit. Topping his list was his unsuccessful drive in 2005 to reform Social Security. Bush said his effort showed it’s politically safe to campaign on changing Social Security and then actually seek to change it.
He also said it was important to have raised private investment accounts as an attractive option in reforming Social Security.
It seems odd that Bush cited an unsuccessful effort as his biggest domestic policy achievement, but understandable given that he doesn’t have much else to consider. But not only was Bush’s drive to privatize Social Security an utter failure, the concept is also widely unpopular with the American public and if enacted, it would have had disastrous consequences for Americans’ retirement funds.
A recent Center for American Progress Action Fund report found that if a worker had retired on October 1, 2008 after 35 years of contributions to private retirement accounts, that retiree would have lost nearly $30,000 in retirement funds because of the downturn in the stock market over the last two years.
Part of the reason Bush’s push failed was that very few people actually believed he was trying to reform Social Security and instead thought he was trying to dismantle it. Even back in 2005, despite a lack of support for privatization, the Bush administration was insisting that their efforts were a “great success.”
Indeed, a recent CNN poll found that 62 percent of Americans oppose privatizing any part their Social Security taxes. But seeing that Bush regularly ignores what Americans think, its no wonder he thinks he doesn’t get enough credit for his privatization crusade.