Saturday, August 27, 2011

Are all Creationists Caricatures of Creationists?

I can't explain why this is popular on Memeorandum right now, but Bryan Fischer's caricature proof of creationism is too funny to be missed.

I admit that I was a little baffled while reading the article. The first paragraph reads as a fairly straight introduction to Fischer's interest in evolution and the timeliness of the satire article. The second paragraph appears to tip into tongue-in-cheek derision:
Perry’s [rejection of evolution] will help him, not hurt him, with the electorate. Even after almost a century of brainwashing and indoctrination in the government re-education camps called “schools,” only 19 percent of the general public believes that life developed without any assistance or direction from a Creator. That number drops to just eight percent among Republicans. That eight percent can happily throw their vote away on Mr. Huntsman, which will quadruple his total.
The first hint that the article is serious is the misrepresentation of the Theory of Evolution. The spiel is based around a jingoistic belief that evolution is anti-religous. You certainly don't need to reject a story of divine intervention into biological history to understand the process by which genetic frequencies change in species' populations over time.

Fischer follows his absurdist conflation of atheism and science with an appropriately sophomoric attempt at post modernist anti-empiricism.
Before we even start, we ought to notice that, if evolution is true, there would be no way to know it. Because evolution teaches that everything that exists is the product of the random collision of atoms, this logically includes the thoughts I am thinking about evolution. But if my thoughts are the product of the random collision of atoms, there is no reason to think that any of them are true — they just are. No one "random collision of atoms" can be said to be truer than another, any more than one randomly generated Rorschach ink blot can be said to be more correct than another.
That's a serious problem. It's exactly the problem that empiricism attempts to solve. By attempting to make predictions and refining those predictions based on experiments, the scientific method uses feedback from the physical world to verify or dismiss individual thoughts. That's how working theories are made. The alternative--Fischer's alternative in fact--relies purely on mental gymnastics to arrive at a truth value.

I suspect that Bryan Fischer means that the universe applies no normative value to the two thoughts, but that is very different from a truth value (ranging from true to false). Those truth values are only meaningful if there is some meaningful feedback from the universe. Again, empiricism the exercise of designing experiments to collect this feedback. Fischer rejects this process out-of-hand. His approach leads people into a barren desert so he can complain about a lack of water.

It would be convenient to leave aside dismissal of both physics and neuroscience (wrongly labeled here as 'evolution'), but that's precisely his argument. Fischer thinks it's necessary to reject any scientific discovery that overlaps with evolution. Ironic, because the rest of his self-parody relies on very badly misinterpreting basic assumptions that scientists make.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Romney Has No Path To Nomination

I think it's shocking that the media considers Mitt Romney a frontrunner in the Republican nomination battle. I don't mean this is the Jon Stewart-style "They're can't be a front runner when no one has voted." I mean that the fundamentals of the Romney campaign are incredibly weak.

Romney's perceived strength is that he is running the only fairly moderate campaign (besides John Huntsman, who is hardly running a campaign at this point). He has the entire center of the Republican party to himself. Tim Pawlenty was the only other serious contender for the middle (serious contender in that he was focused on that segment of the ideological specturm; he polled miserably). Romney clearly has the support of the Republican establishment, including the traditional conservative media. The feeding frenzy around Rick Perry over the last three days in the conservative legacy media and blog world has surprised right-watchers. Bachmann has received less opprobrium for similar morsels, probably because the conservative establishment never considered her a serious candidate (for a possible explanation see: gender). There's also the numerous pictures of Perry appearing to fire a gun in the air in the middle of a city.<

The Republican field is crowded far to Romney's crazy flank with no one to Romney's center. Huntsman is probably a little more conservative than Romney, but has no profile at this point. That should be good news for Romney. Conventional wisdom about the Republican party-as-stool holds that it has three legs: business interests, puritan social voters, and civil libertarians.

The Republican primary fight so far has been fought primarily among candidates among the latter two 'legs.' Bachmann, Perry, Santorum, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich all have supporters in both camps. They simultaneously argue that government involvement in personal lives is always bad, but that it should aggressively enforce conservative social ideas. The crush to the right in the primary field has left Romney alone with a wide ideological spectrum to appeal to.

The problem for Romney is that few Republican primary voters occupy that spectrum. Romney consistently places at 20% in the national GOP primary polling. His support is remarkably stable, and doesn't seem to be buffeted by other candidates' exits and entrances. Romney is in a similar position as Ron Paul. He has a group of core supporters, but little upside outside of that group. His voters likely won't turn out for another candidate, and the other candidates' supporters won't vote for Romney.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bachmann's a Bully

My guess is that outside campaign advisors told the Bachmann campaign to "pick a fight" with the media to make her look tough. I don't think those advisors meant that Bachmann's husband should try to pick a fist fight with a reporter and give a statement that a fifth grade bully might provide.

There have been a handful of other episodes where campaign workers have attacked journalists this year, most memorably with Joe Miller's 'security detail' of off-duty military who unlawfully detained a journalist.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reid's Nominations

Majority Leader Reid has announced his nominations to the Supreme Soviet Executive CommitteeUS Congress Super Committee. The Democratic Senators, and one twelfth of the panel will be Senators Max Baucus, Patty Murray, and John Kerry.

It's an interesting slate, with Baucus representing the right of the Democratic caucus and Kerry representing the center. Patty Murray as the DSCC chair also has brings the responsibility of not losing the Democratic Majority in 2012 to the table. Personally, however, Murray has the most to lose, just by virtue of heading the DSCC this cycle. All three of these senators are well insulated from political pressure. Baucus is next up for reelection in 2014. Murray is due for a reelect campaign in 2016, and John Kerry represents Massachusetts.

There's no good news for policy here. Max Baucus has consistently been on the wrong side of tax policy. He supported the 2001 round of the Bush Tax Cuts, the largest single discretionary cause of our deficit. He has supported the removal of the estate tax. Here's a headscratcher: why did the Hill call Max Baucus a liberal?

Murray, of course, represents Washington state. Boeing is Washington's big business interest, along with tech companies. Don't expect Patty Murray to look to intently for spending cuts to wasteful Defense initiatives or anti-competitive Buy-American spending items.

John Kerry is a fine Senator, and has been able to successfully reach across the aisle on many occasions. Two examples are the climate change act which was signed into law never got off the ground. He's probably the best bet for good policy from the Senate Democrats, but that also makes him the most likely to be ignored.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I am the Million Dollar Romney Donor

One of Romney's early political boosters is coming out today as the man who laid the untraceable million dollar golden egg in the Romney henhouse:
The anonymous donor behind the headline-making $1 million contribution to a pro-Mitt Romney super PAC is a former Bain Capital official with long ties to the candidate, who's asking the outside group to amend its filings, POLITICO has learned.

The check-writer is Ed Conard, who was a top official at Bain, the private-equity firm Romney helped create, and who has been a strong supporter of his over the years.

The donation, made to the super PAC "Restore Our Future" - which was founded by former Romney advisers and is able to take in unlimited contributions, but must report them to the FEC - showed up in the group's first round of filings. It was listed as coming from a W Spann LLC.

In a statement to POLITICO, Conard said, "I am the individual who formed and funded W Spann LLC. I authorized W Spann LLC’s contribution to Restore Our Future PAC.

"I did so after consulting prominent legal counsel regarding the transaction, and based on my understanding that the contribution would comply with applicable laws," he said. "To address questions raised by the media concerning the contribution, I will request that Restore Our Future PAC amend its public reports to disclose me as the donor associated with this contribution."
It really makes the point for campaign finance watchdogs, democrats, and people who value equal access to democratic communication means of communication. Romney's golden egg man was able to do all of this legally, within what is now normal in campaign finance. So if you have a few billion dollars, you can make an untraceable donation to a candidate of your choice without having anyone seeing your fingerprints on the bankroll in the candidates pocket.
It's times like this that I wish Sandra Day O'Connor hadn't resigned from the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Debt Ceiling Navel Gazing

Kevin Drum decides that the awful spending bill that Republicans extorted through Congress is liberals' fault. The premise of the article is kind of correct:
I think this is roughly correct. Public opinion is everything. Ronald Reagan was successful because public opinion supported him: he wanted to cut taxes and raise defense spending and so did big chunks of the public. He was leading in a direction that they already wanted to go.

But no matter how many times we try to kid ourselves with one poll result or another, liberals just don't have that advantage. The public is mostly in favor of raising taxes on the rich — though I suspect its support is pretty soft — but on the bigger issues they mostly aren't on our side. They think deficits are bad, they don't trust Keynesian economics, they don't want a higher IRS bill (who does, after all?), and they believe the federal government is spending too much on stuff they don't really understand. Conservatives have just flat out won this debate in recent decades, and until that changes we're not going to be able to make much progress.
When I say partially true, I mean that the things that Washington liberals talk about is not what local liberals talk about. Washington liberals talk about macroecomic Keynsian spending. Local level liberals talk about jobs programs, food bank supply levels, and schools.

Conservatives have a more shallow profile of issues, allowing for broader organizational reach and the ability to mobilize public support efficiently. The Tea party (originally stanidng for Taxed Enough Already), is a relatively simple organization. Despite apparent differences in goals among groups (social versus fiscal, anarchist versus corporatist), organizers have been able to convince them all that they suffer from the same ailment of high taxes.

Democrats, progressives, and liberals have been playing defense since 2010, and it's taken a huge toll on their ability to mobilize support. Labor stands alone as the one force that has been able to out-organize the Republicans this year, despite some decent mobilizations targeting Republican congerssional offices during the debt-ceiling hostage crisis.

Progressives need a broad statement of their current political direction. If Republicans can all unite behind 'taxed enough already,' Democrats can unite behind another raison d'etre. What united grassroots Democrats against Bush was the obvious failures of the administration to govern in an enlightened statesman tradition. From the invasion of Iraq based on poor intelligence and false pretense to the abandonment of New Orleans to the failure to address any real problems like climate change, health care reform, or preventing the Bush recession, the common strand was a feeling that Americans are 'under-served by government.'

Taxed Enough Already has a certain ring of truth to it. Everybody grumbles about their taxes. Everybody also grumbles about the inevitability of bad service at the DMV or opaqueness in dealing with Social Security benefits, or treatment at VA hospitals. Americans are under-served by their government.

This line of argument is uncomfortable for a progressive. Modern liberalism uses political tools to address the problems of inequality of opportunity. Yet this line of argument attacks the efficacy of government to deliver on its promises. This tension is a fiction, however. Just because Republicans attack the legitimacy of government action doesn't mean that progressives must defend government. Liberals are broadly interested in leveling the playing field and removing systemic inequality. Much of that inequality results from market failures, for which government is a solution. Much of that inequality results from the historical (or modern) political process. Government is simply an institutional arrangement of political power.

If that political power was vested with either the intent or incident of creating barriers to equal opportunity, liberals should not be afraid to call out that undemocratic arrangement of power. While democratic, progressive, and liberal activists focus on increasing public goods, they would do well if they were more pragmatic with where they begin. When liberals argue for a single-payer health care system or an adjustment of capital gains taxes, they leave the public behind. The public agrees with the premise that Americans are under-served by government, roughly treated by the market, and ignored by the powerful. Let's start the conversation there.

The public supported Regan's wish to lower taxes and spend on defense, (arguable), but they didn't necessarily agree with his push to lower the top marginal tax rate or his Star Wars boondoggle. Democrats can get the same broad support from the public if they can articulate a common cause that unites their various policy solutions:
We are under-served by government and abused by some bad corporations. Creating a single payer health care system will help government serve us better and prevent that abuse. We are under-served by government. It doesn't have the resources to stremline the VA system to better serve our veterans; we should raise the funds for this by taxing capital gains taxes an extra half percent.
The laundry list appraoch to politics doesn't work. Having 20 agenda points coming into office is a terrible way to hold a coalition together. Progressives need a unifying theme to bring them together if they're going to have any real impact on mass politics.