Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

When Ideology Confronts Personal Reality

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Increasing Healthcare Costs

I was getting my hair cut the other day. The guy doing the work owns the salon. He was complaining that his bill for healthcare insurance almost doubled from last year. He purchases his insurance through a well-respected local insurance broker. He has conservative verging on libertarian political views, so his immediate reaction was to blame the Affordable Care Act in general and President Obama in particular.

He was also upset at what he felt was poor service form his broker. They met in November and the broker couldn’t provide any detailed information about what it would cost for him and his wife to renew their policy. The next thing he knew, he received a bill in the mail in late December that he had to pay immediately if he wanted to continue his coverage.

I asked him some questions about the nature of his previous coverage. From his description, the silver plans might work just fine for him. I asked if he had gone to healthcare.gov to check out other options. He was surprised that you could do that sort of comparison shopping without creating an account. I assured him that he could and that he could also probably cancel his existing plan if he found something better. We agreed to check back in a couple of weeks.

Just out of curiosity, I checked the site too. I found that the MOST expensive plan listed there from his current insurance company was $200 less a month than the bill that he received. I found silver plans from other companies could REDUCE what he paid LAST YEAR by as much as $300/month.

It will be interesting to see what he thinks about the Obamacare the next time I see him and who he feels is to blame now for the sticker shock he experienced in December.

Long Term Unemployment Insurance

As we’ve been discussing in previous posts, Republicans are opposed to extending long term unemployment benefits because they feel that those benefits reduce the incentive of the unemployed to find a job. They believe that those who are unemployed CHOSE to collect their benefits rather than look for another job. They argue that eliminating those benefits will be just the encouragement that the unemployed need to get back to work.

Republicans have been under a lot of pressure from Democrats who don’t share their beliefs and feel that cutting off benefits is both cruel and bad economic policy. Republicans said they would consider passing an extension if the Senate could find a way to pay for it. Senate Democrats did find a way to pay for it, but Republicans didn’t like it. So now I guess the Republicans are saying that they would consider passing an extension if the Democrats could find a way to pay for it that caused the Democrats some pain. The result is another impasse with more people every week finding themselves without any benefits. Not surprisingly, some of those people are Republicans.

Here are a couple of quotes.

The standoff infuriates people such as Lita Ness, who lost her job as a civilian contractor at Peterson Air Force Base in August 2012 and just received her final check from the unemployment office.

“I’m registered as a Republican, but if they continue to use this not extending our (aid) I’m probably changing to Democrat,” Ness, 58, said as she took a break from a computer training class at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center. “People in our district who vote `No’ on this, I’m not going to support them.”

And

Others feel that after having contributed to society, they are now being abandoned by the government. “I paid my taxes. I’ve helped people my whole life,” said Barbara Greene, 59, who lost her job as a medical secretary in a hospital last year and expects her jobless benefits to end in March, “and now they’re just throwing me to the side.”

The spokesman for Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn who represents that district said, “It’s $6 billion, doesn’t do anything to create jobs. House Republicans remain focused on creating jobs and improving the economy.” It is easy for him to say this because he HAS a job. His constituents who are losing their benefits don’t share his belief that money spent on unemployment benefits is wasted on the unemployed.

The unemployed know this claim isn’t true. So do economists. The data that I quoted in an earlier post shows that unemployment insurance actually DOES create jobs. That’s because the benefits are spent immediately on goods and services. That spending flows into the hands of grocers, landlords, gas station owners, and other retailers. Every dollar of unemployment insurance generates $1.55 dollars of benefit to the local economy where that dollar is spent. No other private or government program is as efficient.

Rep Lamborn may still be re-elected to represent Colorado Springs in November, but fewer people are going to vote for him because they are beginning to realize that his ideology (smaller government and lower taxes) is not delivering the prosperity for middle class folks that he told them it would.

Climate Change

Three interesting studies came out recently with regard to climate change.

In the first, researchers found that opposition to the concept of climate change varied based on the weather. The hotter it was, the more support there was for the concept of human driven climate change. The colder it was, the more opposition to the concept. This has to do with the discovery that when it is hot, our memory reminds us of all of the other times we’ve experienced heat. Same thing when it’s cold.

What climate scientists predict, however, is that climate change will drive more extreme weather. Here in the upper Midwest that means MORE precipitation particularly in the winter and particularly at night.

But clearly that didn’t stop climate change deniers like Donald Trump who proved the studies point by tweeting, “We are experiencing the coldest weather in more than two decades-most people never remember anything like this. GLOBAL WARMING anyone?”

The reality, however, is that climate change is threatening Donald Trump’s home in NYC, his Casino’s in Altantic City, and his golf courses in Florida.

A second study documents the dramatic rise of sea levels on the east coast. They rose eight inches over the past 130 years. They are projected to rise another eight inches in the next 35 years. By 2100 that eight inches will become 36-39 inches.

Hurricane Sandy had a peak storm surge of 14 feet and caused $65B in damage. As the sea levels rise, less powerful hurricanes will cause similar damage more frequently.

Rising sea levels have already inundated barrier islands which protect the mainland from storm damage. An additional three feet of sea level change will eliminate most of the barrier islands on the east coast including Hatteras.

We are already seeing the financial consequences of this creeping disaster. Those with property in the expanding flood zone can’t get 30 year mortgages. Flood insurance has already going up dramatically and in some areas is no longer available from private sources. The federal flood insurance program is $24B in the red. Some Republicans, in an interesting turnabout, are demanding that the government DO MORE to protect commercial and residential interests in their districts.

The reaction in states like NC is to simply deny these changes. In 2012, the state legislature passed a bill banning state agencies from reporting sea-level data. Two weeks after that bill passed, a study from the US Geological survey documented that sea levels along the coast line from Cape Hatteras to Boston were rising at four times the global rate. You may have guessed by now that since 1980, NC leads the world in disappearing shoreline.

Same thing is going on in Virginia where the legislature budgeted money to study the problem, but only after all references to sea-level rise and climate change had been removed. In towns like Norfolk — where neighborhoods are already flooding repeatedly even in the absence of storms, and where some homes have become unsaleable — people are starting to pay attention.

“In the last couple or three years, there’s really been a change,” said William A. Stiles Jr., head of Wetlands Watch, a Norfolk environmental group. “What you get now is people saying, ‘I’m tired of driving through salt water on my way to work, and I need some solutions.’ ”

In the third study, an Iowa state poll of farmers added a question last year about whether or not farmers believed that climate change was real and human caused. Clearly this is a group that is politically conservative, deeply religious, and highly dependent on weather patterns for their living. Last year 67.7% answered yes. This year that jumped to 74.3%

Conclusion

We are finally seeing what happens when political positions arrived at through emotional decisions based on moral choices confronts undeniable reality.

Obamacare DOES save people money regardless of whether you are a liberal, a conservative, or a libertarian. The only difference is that it is difficult for conservatives and libertarians to accept that fact.

The unemployed AND the economy benefit from assistance. During times of economic downturn when job seekers outnumber jobs, unemployment benefits do not increase the unemployment rate. Putting money into the hands of the unemployed actually REDUCES the unemployment rate. Unemployment benefits help everyone regardless of whether you are a liberal, a conservative, or a libertarian. The difference is that it becomes increasing difficult for conservatives to claim that the long term unemployed have only themselves to blame, when they themselves join the expanding ranks of the long term unemployed.

Increasing sea levels is a fact. The sea doesn’t care if you are a liberal, a conservative, or a libertarian. The people who do care are those who finance and insure property. Their actions speak volumes about whether or not climate change is real. Property values in the affected zones are dropping. Banks are unwilling to make new long term loans. Insurance companies are raising rates, or canceling policies. Conservative evangelical Iowa farmers are including climate change predictions in their agricultural and livestock planning. Conservatives and libertarians are having to come to grips with the reality that ideology cannot hold back the tide or make it rain no matter how hard you try.

Frankenstein Party

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”
― Mary ShelleyFrankenstein

Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, made headlines earlier this year by telling his fellow Republicans that they needed to stop being the “stupid party.”

This week Republicans are demonstrating to the voting public that they not only rejected Jindal’s characterization, they embrace it.

Here’s how Tom Friedman describes it.

We’ve got messes aplenty abroad and the Republican-dominated House of Representatives is totally paralyzed. Indeed, the G.O.P.-led House has become a small-minded, parochial place, where collaboration is considered treason, where science is considered a matter of opinion, where immigration is considered a threat, where every solution is a suboptimal compromise enacted at midnight and where every day we see proof of the theory that America is a country that was “designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots.”

Before we proceed let’s recap to put this in perspective.  The Republican Party failed to win the White House in the last election even though voters were living through the worst economy since the Great Depression.  They failed to retake the Senate after winning the House in 2010 and even though there were more Democratic seats being contested than Republican.  They even lost the popular ballot for the House by 1.4M even though through gerrymandering they managed to retain their majority.

The past two elections proved that the Republican base is shrinking while the Democratic base is growing.  The Chairman of the Republican Party addressed this issue earlier this year.

The way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough…Focus groups described our party as ‘narrow-minded,’ ‘out of touch,’ and ‘stuffy old men.’ The perception that we’re the party of the rich continues to grow.

When Republicans lost in November it was a wake-up call….We know that we have problems. We’ve identified them, and we’re implementing the solutions to fix them.

If the last week is any indication, the Tea Party elected representatives in the house are still asleep.

In no particular order, here’s what we’ve seen.

SNAP cuts

The House cuts $40B cut from the food stamp program.  Conservative Republicans claim that there are people receiving food stamps that should be working, but the data doesn’t support that view.  The SNAP program (current version of food stamps) already has provisions which require those who can work to at least demonstrate that they are trying to find work or suffer the consequence of losing their benefits.

Studies have shown that SNAP is one of the most effective government programs we have.  It has an abuse rate of about 1%.  Most of that is private retailers buying SNAP benefits for cash rather than providing approved groceries.  It has a stimulus multiplier of 1.73, which means that every dollar of benefits generates $1.73 dollars in economic benefit.  That is the highest of any government program.  It’s better than corporate tax giveaways.  It’s better than military spending.  It’s better than bailouts and stimulus.

It also provides essential public health benefits to low-income people and that has an economic impact also.

The Trust for America’s Health, a health advocacy organization that focuses on disease prevention, warned recently of the consequences of cutting food stamps: “If the nation continues to underfund vital public health programs, we will never achieve long-term fiscal stability, as it will be impossible to help people get/stay healthy, happy and productive.”

Indeed, according to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “research shows that low-income households participating in SNAP have access to more food energy, protein and a broad array of essential vitamins and minerals in their home food supply compared to eligible nonparticipants.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “good nutrition can help lower risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis.” As it is, public healthcare expenses for diet-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease cost taxpayers more than $100 billion annually.

Cutting SNAP will impact the economy, cost jobs, reduce health, and increase the healthcare costs.  I’ve also posted that the stress associated with food insecurity actually affects brain development in children.  That inhibits academic success and ultimately affects employment prospects.  72% of those receiving benefits today are families with children.

We have enough food.  What we suffer from is a misguided ideology that suggests that benefits create a culture of dependency. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 30% of SNAP recipients worked in 2010, up from fewer than 20% in 1990. Most of the rest are either elderly, children, or disabled.

Fortunately the Senate will not pass this massive reduction in SNAP and a more modest reduction will likely emerge from the conference process.  House Republicans know that too.  This was an ideological vote to re-enforce the conservative Republican position that hungry people chose to be in that state because they are too lazy to find a job.

Defund Obamacare

This is a similar bit of Kabuki Theater.  Senator Ted Cruz was elected based on his pledge to defund Obamacare.  His rants and accusations finally goaded the House into action.  They passed exactly the bill that Cruz has been asking for.  That bill will expose what people have been silently saying for a while.  Cruz isn’t even close of having the votes in the Senate to accomplish what he promised to deliver.  He has already tried to lower expectations.

Harry Reid will no doubt try to strip the defund language from the continuing resolution, and right now he likely has the votes to do so….At that point, House Republicans must stand firm, hold their ground, and continue to listen to the American people.

Boehner would have none of it. He responded.

We’ll deliver a big victory in the House tomorrow. Then this fight will move over to the Senate — where it belongs. I expect my Senate colleagues to be up for the battle.

So at the end of the day, Cruz’s bluff is going to be called.  He doesn’t have the votes and will go down in flames as a result.

John McCain told CNN on Thursday: “In the United States Senate, we will not repeal, or defund, Obamacare. We will not. And to think we can is not rational.”

Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, said of the House Republicans’ strategy of threatening a government shutdown to force the defunding of Obamacare, “I think it’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of.”

Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, has said: “There isn’t anybody that thinks that Obamacare is going to get defunded. It cannot happen.” He added, “It is as impossible as anything can possibly be in Washington, D.C.”

Republicans may have gained some points in the process with their base, but the rest of country will be left scratching their heads over the spectacle.

Regulating Sexual Relationships

Finally last week in Michigan, Republican AG Bill Schuette argued in a brief supporting Michigan’s ban against same sex marriage that states have the obligation “to regulate sexual relationships between men and women so that the unique procreative capacity of such relationships benefits rather than harms society.”

This is really a simple calculation for any rational Republican.

How many of the 47M people receiving SNAP are going to vote for Republicans in 2014?

When the Republicans shut down the government or force the government to default on its debt obligations in an effort to stop Obamacare, how many voters are going to blame Democrats – particularly given what even some Republicans are saying?

Finally, how many people are going to support a party that claims the government has the right to “regulate sexual relationships”?

This is the logical conclusion of the cynicism that began with Nixon’s southern strategy.  Republicans exploited racial backlash to promote the economic goals of low taxes for the rich and deregulation.  They were remarkably successful in convincing low information whites to vote against their self-interests.  Instead they blamed four decades of middle class wage stagnation on the poor, liberals, and unions.  Sustaining this strategy, however, required morphing from racial fear to an embrace of fringe conspiracy group paranoia.  These fringe groups have always existed in US politics, but only gained credence as their apocalyptic fears of a black man in the White House came to pass.

Now the monster that Karl Rove and Fox News created to take back the House in 2010 and continue to promote the agenda of low taxes for the rich and deregulation has broken loose and is running amok.  Even Karl Rove can’t control it.

Any strategy to repeal, delay or replace the law must have a credible chance of succeeding or affecting broad public opinion positively. The defunding strategy doesn’t. Going down that road would strengthen the president while alienating independents. It is an ill-conceived tactic, and Republicans should reject it.

When ideology leads to extremism, it always demonizes its opponents.  Ultimately its opponents includes its previous allies.  It narrows its focus and base of support until it finally collapses under the weight of its own self-destructive rage.  Tea Party driven conservative Republicanism has reached this point.  They are willing to alienate hungry voters and shut down the government to demonstrate the purity of their ideology.  We will suffer the consequences of their actions between now and 2014.  Then voters will hold them accountable and the Tea Party will become another footnote in history.  Frankenstein died because he couldn’t figure out how to live in this world.  Tea Party-backed Republican Conservatism is going to suffer the same fate.

Sequester the Sequel

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

While many are suggesting that the first year sequester cuts weren’t that bad, they are generally unaware that the sequester bill included five years of scheduled across the board spending reductions.

So let’s take a look at what has happened already and then what is coming.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, over the first half of 2013, the federal government has subtracted 0.8 percentage point from GDP growth—this as the economy grew a paltry 1.1 percent in the first quarter and 1.7 percent in the second.

The CBO has projected that if the next round of sequester cuts were canceled, we would see another .7% in GDP growth and add another 900,000 jobs by Q3 2014.

As Business Week says, this isn’t rocket science.  “We’re living through the biggest contraction in federal spending in 60 years, and this is one of the weakest recoveries on record. Coincidence?”

Conservatives counter that every dollar that isn’t spent by the government goes back into the pockets of taxpayers.  The implications are that individuals will spend that money in the same ways that the government will, we will see the same growth, and we will be better for it because the government is inefficient and political.  The problem with this simplistic view is that in uncertain times like this individuals DO NOT spend their money.  Instead they reduce their debt and increase their savings.  Businesses respond to reduced demand by doing the same thing.  So we end up with a lot of cash sitting on the sidelines and economic growth slows, which is where we are today.

The CBO says we are operating 6% below our capacity right now.  That is $1T in economic capacity that is sitting idle because of lack of demand.  The problem, for anyone willing to take a look, is clearly NOT too much government spending.  It is too little consumer demand.

Here are a few more quotes if you remain unconvinced.

“The idea that spending cuts generate growth in a demand-constrained economy is nonsense,” says Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“To say the sequester is good for the economy is wrong on a scale that’s impressive,” says Neil Dutta, chief U.S. economist at Renaissance Macro Research.

“I don’t know how you can make that claim,” says Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group, who estimates that the sequester has stolen about 30,000 jobs from each month’s payrolls total since it was enacted in March.

If there is good news in this story, the economy appears to have survived the assault with a blunt instrument that the first sequester administered.  We are now in a position where the GDP can grow faster than the debt.  That means simple focus on short term economic growth will likely complete the recovery and put us back in a situation where debt as percentage of GDP is going down even though the debt in absolute terms may be going up.

So what is the Republican agenda?

First, threaten to shut down the government if Obama doesn’t repeal Obamacare.

Second, threaten to throw the government into default, if the Obama administration doesn’t agree to ANOTHER round of spending cuts in addition to what is already on the books.

So it doesn’t sound as though there is much political appetite at the moment to replace the sequester with something more constructive and there is certainly the possibility that it will get worse before it will get better.

That said, here’s a short list of the impacts we’re dealing with beyond those already mentioned.

States

This next round is going to impact states even more than the previous cut.  States will see $4.2B less in federal funding.  Targeted programs include public housing assistance, money for schools with low-income students, food inspection, scientific research grants, and environmental protection programs.  While states absorbed a $4.6B cut last year through reductions is staff in reductions in programs, this year they will be forced to start eliminating programs completely.

The other state complication is that most states are required by law to balance their budgets and the 2014 budgets have already been passed.  If the next round of sequestration is implemented, most states will start their fall legislative terms with significant budget shortfalls.

From a USA today article

“They are already in a difficult spot because they already have imposed major cuts to their schools and other public services,” Leachman said. “If they enter those legislative sessions having to deal with additional cuts in federal funding for schools or law enforcement or clean water or programs that help low-income families, that makes their job even more difficult.”

Pennsylvania budget secretary Charles Zogby said his state managed to get through the first round of sequestration budget cuts without massive cuts in personnel—but that may change. “Thus far, that hasn’t been part of the challenge. It may be in round two,” he said.

Headstart

Headstart, one of the most successful programs we have to alter the future of poor kids, is going to have to cut fall enrollment by 57K because of sequestration cuts.

Public Defenders

The federal public defender system has been decimated by the sequester cuts.  According to the WSJ, this ends up costing tax payers more than what has been saved through the cuts because our constitution guarantees that those who cannot afford an attorney will have one appointed for them.  When public defenders are not available, court dates are delayed and courts ultimately hire private attorneys.  We pay for all that.

Overburdened defenders also make mistakes and miss evidence that could have cleared their clients.  These mistakes create more appeals.  As Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer noted in March in congressional testimony about the effects in general of the sequester, it is “cheaper to have a decent lawyer in the first place.”

Medical Research

Even George Will decries the effects of reductions in basic medical research caused by the sequester.

For Francis Collins, being the NIH’s director is a daily experience of exhilaration and dismay. In the past 40 years, he says, heart attacks and strokes have declined 60 percent and 70 percent, respectively. Cancer deaths are down 15 percent in 15 years. An AIDS diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Researchers are on the trail of a universal flu vaccine, based on new understandings of the influenza virus and the human immune system. Chemotherapy was invented here — and it is being replaced by treatments developed here. Yet the pace of public health advances, Collins says, is being slowed by the sequester.

This will be, Collins believes, “the century of biology.” Other countries have “read our playbook,” seeing how biomedical research can reduce health costs, produce jobs and enhance competitiveness. Meanwhile, America’s great research universities award advanced degrees to young scientists from abroad, and then irrational immigration policy compels them to leave and add value to other countries. And now the sequester discourages and disperses scientific talent.

Forest Management

The sequester has also reduced our ability to manage our forests which has contributed to the unprecedented scale of wildfires that we’ve had to fight.

The Hazardous Fuels Reduction Program was $500 million last year, went down to $419 million this year under the automatic budget cuts, and has been proposed to go to $292 million next year.

“The fires that are ripping through Oregon and Idaho and California and the West are just proof that the fire prevention policy is broke,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said from Lincoln City.

“There are years of neglect. The fuel load builds up and it gets hotter and hotter on the forest floor. Then you get something like a lightning strike and a big inferno. Then the bureaucracy takes money from the prevention fund to put the fires out and the problem gets worse. The cycle just repeats itself again and again.”

This brings us to the basic question of why.

The only answer I can come up with is that Republicans have lost touch with reality.  They have won the war against debt.  Rather than take a victory lap and set themselves up for a potential change in control in the senate, they are determined to pump another bullet into the wounded economic recovery.

Their fantasy that cutting government spending would stimulate economic activity has failed.  We can now document the damage it did to the economy.  With the second round of sequester cuts looming, we have an opportunity to reduce the damage.  Just stopping the austerity program will have a positive economic effect.  But we can’t seem to even have a rational discussion on how to do that simple thing because of ideology and politics.

Since it is unlikely that Republicans will unilaterally abandon the ideology that is driving their actions, the only other possible solution is a political one.  If Republicans suffer another defeat in 2014 similar to what they experienced in 2012, maybe then the survivors will finally realize that there are real political consequences to imposing a minority agenda on an unwilling majority.

That was Then, This is Now

Monday, May 27th, 2013

A terrible tornado struck Oklahoma earlier this week.

The Governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin is sounding very similar to Chris Christie from New Jersey in calling for Federal assistance.  She is saying the FEMA is doing a great job, but Congress is moving much too slowly in authorizing additional aid for those in need as a result of this historically destructive tornado.

The two Senators from Oklahoma were some of those responsible for delaying the aid to Hurricane Sandy victims for two months.  Jim Imhofe called the aid to the victims of one of the most destructive hurricanes in our history, a “slush fund” because it included aid for victims outside of New Jersey.  His counterpart, Tom Coburn, held up aid for Sandy victims because he insisted that it be balanced by cuts to other spending.  When that didn’t happen, he voted against it.

He doesn’t have the same dilemma here because the scope of the damage in Oklahoma can be covered by the existing FEMA $11B budget.  But he neglected to say in his comments that he and Jim Imofe voted against the very FEMA funding that he is now suggesting are going to be the source of relief for his storm-ravaged state. He also has gone on record to say that if FEMA disaster recovery funds are exhausted before the end of the federal fiscal year (October), he will again require that any additional funding required to help others recover from any other natural disasters that may occur between now and then will have to be matched by other cuts in spending.

Sequestration which both Imhofe and Coburn supported included an 8.2% cut to the National Weather Service.  According to the organization representing weather service employees, that means there is “no way for the agency to maintain around-the-clock operations at its 122 forecasting offices” and also means “people are going to be overworked, they’re going to be tired, they’re going to miss warnings.”

Summarizing the problem, a letter from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce put it bluntly: “The government runs the risk of significantly increasing forecast error, and the government’s ability to warn Americans across the country about high impact weather events, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, will be compromised.”

While the NWS was able to provide 16 minutes notice of the storm which is three minutes more than the average, $24M of the of “slush fund” money authorized for Sandy relief went to the NWS for computer upgrades.  Those upgrades will improve forecasting and provide even more notice to those in the path of deadly weather.  This funding, however, will only bring us on par with the types of systems Europeans use to forecast dangerous weather.  They, for example, were able to forecast the path of Sandy more accurately than the NWS.  This is only a fraction of the funding, however, needed to create a state of the art system which, as Oklahoma proved, could save lives.

NOAA also has warned that our weather satellite system is aging.  We may be facing a 53 month gap if they fail before they are scheduled to be replaced.  The reason for this gap?  The Republican-controlled house cut $700B from the NOAA budget in the 2011 debt ceiling shutdown.  Those funds were restored earlier this year in the fiscal cliff compromise.  Both Imhofe and Coburn voted against the fiscal cliff compromise bill.

Finally, both Coburn and Imhofe are climate change deniers.  Coburn said there is, “no hard evidence to support global warming” and that it is “just a lot of crap.” Imhofe wrote a book entitled, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.  He supports the Dominion Theory which states that the whole concept of climate change is contrary to the Bible’s statement that God gave man dominion over the whole earth. So human activities can’t be detrimental.

Coburn and Imhofe are two of the top legislators supported by the oil industry.

What’s the moral of the story?

Spending cuts have consequences.  Our weather systems are aging.  Even though we suffer more deaths and property loss than any other country in the world, other countries have found a way to invest more money in more accurate equipment than the United States.

Private industry, non-profits, churches, and local government CAN’T provide all of the services that citizens need.

Government DOES have a role in the lives of its citizens.  Even conservatives are willing to admit this, at least when it is their state or district in need of help.

FEMA when properly staffed and funded CAN effectively respond to natural disasters.

When you cut funding for NOAA and NWS and when you politicize FEMA (as occurred during the Bush administration); people die.

Climate change is real.  The number of natural disasters has been increasing dramatically over the past decade.  Insurance paid out $35B in claims last year alone.  That’s $11B over the average.  This is at least one industry that is taking global warming seriously.

Eventually the American people and their representatives will come to the same conclusion.

Failure to Communicate

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

The Republican Party recently released an analysis of their shocking Presidential campaign loss last November.

“Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren’t inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital; our primary and debate process needed improvement,” Party Chair Priebus said of Mitt Romney and the GOP’s 2012 loss. “There’s no one solution. There’s a long list of them.”

The report outlines the need to reach out to women, African-Americans, Asian, Hispanic, and gay voters.  They are going to do this by hiring staffers across the country to begin engaging those communities.  They support comprehensive immigration reform, shortening the primary process with fewer debates, moving the convention date earlier in the summer, and investing in more technology.

“To be clear, our principles are sound, our principles are not old rusty thoughts in some book,” Priebus said, but the “report notes the way we communicate our principles isn’t resonating widely enough.”

Sally Bradshaw, a GOP strategist who was also on the committee, added that the GOP “needs to stop talking to itself” and needs to open the tent in order to win presidential elections in the future.

So the Republican Party is admitting that it can no longer win elections depending exclusively on the votes from old angry white men.  That is progress.

The problem is that they are blaming their loss on a failure to communicate.  They continue to insist that if women, minorities, young people, unions, and educated professionals voted for Obama ONLY because they didn’t understand what the Republican message really was.

A wonderful example of this delusional thinking is how Chairman Priebus handled the question of marriage equality.  He held up Republican Senator Rob Portman’s recent public support of same sex marriage as an example of this new philosophy of inclusiveness.

“I think it’s about being decent,” Priebus said. “I think it’s about dignity and respect that nobody deserves to have their dignity diminished or people don’t deserve to be disrespected.

“I think that there isn’t anyone in this room, Republican, Democrat or in the middle, that doesn’t think that Rob Portman, for example, is a good conservative Republican.

“He is. And we know that. … I think that party leaders have to constantly remind everybody that we can’t build a party by division and subtraction. We can only build the party by addition and multiplication. We get that and that’s going to be our endeavor.”

When asked if the Republican Party supported Portman’s position, Prebius said, “It’s his decision. It’s not a matter of whether I support his decision. I support him doing what he wants to do as an elected person and as an American. If that’s his opinion, then I support him having that opinion.”

In other words, the Republican Party is going to continue to oppose marriage equality but will allow some who hold opposing views on the subject to still call themselves Republicans.  The fact that this is newsworthy is testimony to the depths of the problem.

Conservative Republicans are so invested in their positions, that they can’t imagine why anyone familiar with those positions could oppose them.

They can’t imagine why women would object to being told that rape isn’t that bad, only whores use contraception, or if they become pregnant, regardless of the circumstances, they lose the right to make decisions about their own health.

They can’t imagine why Hispanic and Asian citizens object to being told that their efforts to fix a broken immigration system are just a thinly veiled attempt to secure amnesty for criminal behavior.

They can’t imagine why young people reject a party that says that homosexuality is sinful and college education should be available only to those who can afford it.

They can’t imagine why educated people reject a party that says that says that creationism is a science and climate change is a hoax.

The Republican Party doesn’t have a communications problem.  Voters clearly understand where the Republican Party stands.  The real problem is that voters REJECT Republican Party positions.

The best evidence of this is the most recent budget debate.  House Republicans passed a reworked version of the Ryan budget that voters had just rejected in November.  In fact, this new budget was, if anything, more cynical than the previous one.  If you recall, the campaign budget had a math problem.  This new budget solves some of the math problem by KEEPING the recently approved tax increases that Ryan and Romney campaigned so hard against.  It also kept the taxes included in Obamacare, which Ryan claimed were job killers, while repealing the rest of the healthcare bill.

The Republican Party doesn’t have a communication problem.  In fact, some of the steps they have recommended (fewer debates and a shorter primary season) may be intended to reduce the amount of information the party shares with the public.

The Republican Party has a philosophical problem.  They underestimate the intelligence of the American voter and their ability to tell the difference between what the party says and what it does.

Crazy Train

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

This has been a remarkable week for exposing the crazy side of conservative Republicanism.

Women’s Issues
Suburban women were a significant part of Obama’s winning coalition in 2008 and were also the reason why so many Tea Party Congressmen were elected in 2010.  So how are the Republicans doing with this particular voting block this year?

Look no further than Todd Akin the tea-party backed Congressman running against Clare McCaskill in the Missouri senate race.  He referenced a loony theory created by Dr. Jack C. Willke, the father of the antiabortion movement, that pregnancy from rape is rare.  This theory is important to the pro-life movement because it allows them to argue that the current exclusions of rape from abortion bans are unnecessary.  Not only is this whole concept deeply offensive to women across the political spectrum, but the theory has no basis in fact.

It has also shined a light on Paul Ryan’s record regarding women’s rights.  Ryan and Akin co-sponsored a bill which attempted to introduce this concept of “legitimate rape”.  Ryan’s 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee is the result of his support for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.  Ryan and Akin were also co-sponsors of the Sanctity of Human Life Act which sought to give a fertilized egg the same rights of “personhood” as a human being and would not only ban all abortions but outlaw some forms of birth control.

Ryan has said he will support the Romney position of allowing abortions in the case of rape, incest, or threat to the life of the mother.  Some women are already wondering what would happen if Romney were elected and then could no longer serve?

Climate Change
We are going through the worst drought in 60 years which deeply affects famers.  New scientific studies are released almost every week attributing this drought specifically to climate change caused by human activities.  Yet, John Shimkus of Illinois who heads the house subcommittee on climate change says there is nothing to worry about.  “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over,” he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length.

John Barton is on the same committee.  He’s the one who among other things apologized to BP because he felt the Obama administration was being too demanding following the gulf oil spill.  Barton cited the Almighty in questioning energy from wind turbines.  Careful, he warned, “wind is God’s way of balancing heat.”  Clean energy, he said, “would slow the winds down” and thus could make it hotter.  “You can’t regulate God!” Barton barked at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in the midst of discussion on measures to curb global warming.

Michele Bachmann and Jim Inhofe claim that global warming is a hoax.  Mr. Inhofe is a senior member on the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works.

Romney’s energy plan calls for increased oil drilling and relaxation of EPA regulations on the use of coal.  He promises North American energy independence by 2020 (assuming Canada still likes us by then).  He depends on a study by the Citigroup for his data but ignores the portion of the study which also recommends dramatic increases in conservation standards in order to achieve energy independence.

Finally Romney also promises freedom from foreign oil and cheaper gas.  As long as oil is a globally traded commodity, he can’t deliver on either of these promises unless he is willing to restrict domestic oil exports.  He’s said he won’t do that.  So though the US balance of trade may improve when the US becomes a net oil exporter, prices will still fluctuate based on international events that could affect supply, and we will still be burning foreign oil.

Education
Jack Kingston of Georgia, a 20-year veteran of the House, is an evolution denier, apparently because he can’t see the indent where his ancestors’ monkey tail used to be. “Where’s the missing link?” he said in 2011. “I just want to know what it is.” He serves on a committee that oversees education.

Romney has taken the position that college students don’t need the loan supports they currently receive.  His advice to a college student asking about how they are going to afford the costs of college is that they shop around for a cheaper college or borrow the money from parents and relatives.

Taxes
Romney does not want this election to turn on whether or not he releases his tax returns.  However he continues to assist the Democrats in keeping this issue in the news.  The latest evidence of this is from a talk he gave recently to a small business group.

“We’ve got to make it easier for small businesses,” Romney told a crowd of about 300 people at a high-dollar fundraiser in Minnesota. “Big business is doing fine in many places -they get the loans they need, they can deal with all the regulation. They know how to find ways to get through the tax code, save money by putting various things in the places where there are low tax havens around the world for their businesses. But small business is getting crushed.”

So not only did he echo Obama’s remark regarding the private sector, and effectively take that off the table as a future talking point for his campaign, but one of his recommendation for helping small business appeared to be easier access to tax havens.  This remark came on the heels of several reports on Bain’s practice of setting up tax havens for their customers and additional analysis of Romney’s public returns suggesting extensive use of off-shore accounts to avoid US taxes.

Budget
Romney has promised to balance the budget, but recently he also said he was going to add back $700B in Medicare spending which the Obama administration had listed as cost savings in the Affordable Care Act.  This $700B, as many have already pointed out, is coming from reduced re-imbursements primarily to hospitals who have agreed to the cuts in return for seeing a reduction in their costs for caring for the uninsured.  The other major source of that reduction comes from reducing the rates paid to insurance companies for the Medicare Advantage coverage since the Affordable Care Act also addresses many of the gaps in Medicare coverage that the Medicare Advantage plans filled.  I’ll address the whole Medicare issue in another more detailed post.  But Romney also hasn’t said how he hopes to pay for this additional $700B in spending and still keep his promise to balance the budget and reduce the deficit.  His math didn’t work before.  It has only gotten worse.

Birtherism
Romney has said that he doesn’t dispute Obama’s citizenship.  At the same time, he met with Donald Trump during the primaries and recently made a joke about his own citizenship in a talk in Michigan where he said “no one ever asked to see my birth certificate”.

Welfare
Romney’s claim that the Obama administration is dismantling welfare work requirements has been widely criticized as a thinly veiled bit a race-baiting.  It is factually inaccurate because if anything, the states requesting waivers of the current work rules were attempting to put MORE people to work rather than less.  Instead it was an appeal to the portion of the Republican base who distrust an African American President and the motivation of the African Americans who support him.

Conclusion
There are a couple of things going on here.

There is a segment of the Republican party that hold beliefs well outside mainstream America.  34% of conservative Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim.  51% doubt his citizenship.  50% feel that he is a socialist.  You can see that extremism in the Republican platform which includes a pledge to pass a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion without exception.  It includes the construction of a giant wall along the US border with Mexico, mandatory use of electronic verification by private employers, no support for a path to citizenship, the blocking of funds to universities offering in-state tuition fees to the undocumented, and an end to federal lawsuits against controversial anti-immigrant legislation such as Arizona’s SB1070.  There’s even language suggesting an annual audit of the Federal Reserve and a “gold commission” to investigate return to the gold standard.

Romney’s strategy to become President has shifted over the last month.  Some pundits say that his selection of Ryan had much more to do with needing to put Wisconsin in play than it did anything else.  That’s because many say that Romney can’t win Ohio.  Romney has to win one of the rust belt states to have any hope of a November victory and he was willing to put Florida at risk because of Ryan’s unpopular Medicare proposals in order to improve his chances in Wisconsin.

The other shift in Romney’s strategy is that he has refocused his attention on his base.  Selecting Ryan made it more difficult for him to win women, but it did guarantee a vigorous attack from Democrats.  That attack and Romney’s recent statements on energy, welfare, and birtherism all indicate that the focus of the rest of his campaign is going to be on turning out the Republican base.  He wants every Republican voter (including those with loony beliefs) so energized that they will be first in line when the polls open.  The added benefit is that a divisive campaign not only gets his base to the polls but also suppresses the less partisan undecided voters who may decide to just stay home because they are so disgusted with the whole process.

This scorched earth strategy  may work to get him elected.

It won’t leave much room for him to govern if he is successful.

I Think We’re All Bozos on this Bus

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

For those of you too young to remember, that’s the title of Firesign Theater‘s fourth album released in 1971. One of the founders of Firesign Theater, Peter Bergman, passed on recently.

While the album ponders man’s place in a world dominated by technology, I think it is also an appropriate description of the political theater surrounding gas prices.

First the facts, the price of gas has gone up $.26 over the past year. That’s around 7%. We’ve seen those sorts of price spikes before, but this time the rise was more rapid than it has been in recent past.

The Republicans, who have been frustrated with the improving economic picture, have seized on this issue to support their claim that the current administration’s policies are really hurting the economy rather than helping it.

The general theme that all of the Republican presidential candidates have used is that more domestic drilling will bring down the price of gas. Gingrich has gone so far as to promise to bring the price down to $2.50.

The truth is that this President HAS increased domestic oil production dramatically. The last time we produced this much domestic oil was 2003. As a result we are reducing our dependence on foreign oil, but the cost of crude on the open market has still gone up.

The other reality is that oil is a globally traded commodity. As a result, there is precious little any President can do to affect the price over the short term.  In fact the current run up in price has little to do with supply and everything to do with speculation.

From Politifact.com

“What can you do to change the market in the short term? The answer is not much,” said James Bartis of the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research group that provides independent policy analysis. “It takes many years to open up a new oil field, to prepare and get production from a new oilfield. Generally, I would say a decade is the minimum.”

So why are gas prices going up so quickly?

  1.  Speculators are concerned about the rising tensions between Iran, Israel, and the United States. In particular, the most recent jump in prices started more or less the same time as Republican candidates began talking about how they wouldn’t hesitate to attack Iran if Iran continued to enrich uranium.
  2. The growth of the economies in India and China are driving up demand for cars and gas. Oil companies are expanding their production capabilities in these countries because they see the opportunity for growth. They are REDUCING their refining capacities in this country because demand for gas in this country is going down – 7% in the northeast since 2005. When demand goes down, refineries lose money. When refineries lose money, they close, as two did last year in Pennsylvania, another did last month in the USVI, and a huge Philadelphia refinery will in July if a buyer doesn’t step up. If this last refinery does close, gas will go up in the Northeast because it will have be transported from the Gulf or overseas. Huge new refineries in India are already delivering 40,000 gallons of gas a day to customers in the Northeast.
  3. It is increasingly expensive to extract crude oil because all of the “easy” oil has already been pumped. That means more risk, more spills, and more expense. Domestic or international doesn’t matter. There is no “cheap” oil left in the ground.

While it may not be convenient for the Republicans to accept, the reality is that our best long-term options are not going to come from drilling another hole in the ground. They are going to come from more efficient use of our current resources and development of alternative energy sources and transportation options to replace fossil fuels.

That is best done by everyone getting on the same page regarding the components of a thoughtful energy policy.

Unfortunately, the clowns that populate the current political landscape seem incapable of having that sort of conversation.

 

Party Time

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

The Good News

In the words of Tom Friedman, “America is hard-wired to thrive” in this new world that is unfolding.

We are talking about a flat world where labor is going to flow, not just to the lowest cost markets, but to the most productive markets.  This is a hyper connected world where companies have the information they need to determine which investments give them the best chance to maximize their return on investment.  As an example, North America may become the cheapest place to manufacture energy intensive products (e.g. steel and aluminum) because of new domestic oil and gas discoveries.  Lower costs for raw materials combined with high tech manufacturing will allow our automation-enhanced high wage workers to out compete low wage low skill alternatives.

This is a world that will reward education, innovation, and those economies that can best develop and attract talent.  We are leaving the world where there are substantive differences between developed economies and developing economies.  We are entering a world where the differences will be drawn between those economies who celebrate imagination and those that stifle it.

Here’s what we have to do to dominate this emerging “creativity” economy.

The Cost

We have in invest in better infrastructure, post secondary education for everyone, a welcome mat for talented immigrants, regulations that encourage risk-taking while preventing recklessness, and government funded R&D to create new opportunities for the VC community.  Success depends on a strong public-private partnership where government understands its role, to make the world safe and fair for our businesses, and business understands its role, to compete aggressively, play by the rules, and grow the US economy.

We also have to address the two long-term challenges that could undermine our ability to grow this new economy – debt and entitlement obligations.  There is no silver bullet here.  The math is undeniable.  These two problems cannot be solved without raising more revenue (likely through taxes), trimming entitlements, and reducing expenditures (primarily defense).  We have to do all three.  Anyone who tells you that we can accomplish this by doing less is using “magical” thinking.  Magic may be entertaining, but it is only an illusion.

Finally, we have to embrace the changing energy landscape.  Regardless of the new discoveries of oil and gas in North America, we will not be able to “drill” our way to a new economy.  The most we can expect from those discoveries is more time to make the transitions away from fossil fuel that we all know must be made.  The next great global industry is going to be efficient use of our existing resources and development of new clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels.  The winners in this new economy are going to also be leaders in this new global industry.

The Bad News

We have a broken political system.

When Republicans say that they won’t accept $1 of increased revenue in return for $10 of spending cuts, they have cut themselves off from reality.  It simply is not possible to make the sorts of investments that we need to make and bring down the deficit and restructure entitlements with spending cuts alone.

Similarly, when the Democrats suggest that the only thing we need to do is raise taxes on the rich, they are also not telling the truth.  Entitlements also have to be restructured and spending cut.

The difference, however, is that Democrats don’t seem to have nearly the same hardened ideological positions as Republicans.  In all of the confrontations that have happened since the Republicans gained control of the house and veto power in the Senate, virtually every confrontation has resulted in Democratic concessions to craft a compromise.

Third Choice

Right now the only thing that both parties are offering the American people is more of the same.  They are in effect asking the voter to make a binary choice.  Either voters elect enough Democrats to overcome Republican opposition to the Democratic agenda.  Or voters elect enough Republicans to overcome Democratic opposition to the Republican agenda.

Both parties are guilty of “magical thinking” – suggesting that their flawed and partisan agendas are capable of addressing the needs of the country.  In fact it is compromise that extracts a rational set of legislation from ideological positions that are not practical.

The way that it should work, or at least the way that it has worked in the past is that both parties bring their agendas to the table and negotiate legislation which has some Democratic items, some Republican items, and some items that are in the middle.

The Democrats still seem willing to engage in those discussions.

The Republicans, however, have rejected compromise as an option because they claim it means compromising their ideals.  They have instead adopted a scorched earth strategy where they deliberately undermine the very institutions of government they took an oath to support.

If compromise is no longer part of the toolbox of the current set of Republicans, then we need a new set of Republicans.

We need are Republicans who are willing to fight for their ideas during the election cycles, but will also accept the results of an election.  If they win, they will work with the Democratic minority to govern effectively.  If they lose, they will engage in strategic compromises to advance the interests of country, rather than simply grind the government to a stop until the next election.

We need a Republican party that is going to offer a conservative rather than ideological vision of this new world.  We need a Republican party that is willing to engage the Democrats in an informed debate on the best fiscal, energy, immigration, and public-private partnership policies.  We need the sort of public dialog that educates voters on what the real issues and choices are.  Then we need a Congress willing and able to craft legislation based on election results.

Conclusion

Since it is unlikely that Republicans will voluntarily abandon their current ideological crusade, there really is only one other alternative.

They have to lose and lose badly. They have to lose so badly that those who have been driving this hard turn to the right, are banished.  They have to be crushed so badly that they are forced to engage in a fundamental reassessment of their strategy and values.  They have to be banished to the wilderness by voters and told not to come back until they have something better to offer voters.  They have to be beaten back to their senses and forced to re-engage with the Democrats rather than simply demonize them.  This loss has to represent a wholesale rejection of ideology and a demand by the voters for a return of the practical, thoughtful, conservative Republicans who brought us the interstate highways system, the EPA, and the Helsinki Accord.  Those Republicans can help create a new political structure where creativity rather than confrontation, ideas rather than ideology, compromise with an eye on the prize, lead us to the promised land of this new global creative economy.

Keystone Cops

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

 

The Keystone pipeline as been in the headlines lately as part of the “bargain” that the Republican Senators struck to pass an extension of the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits, and the current level of Medicare payments for physicians.

The Keystone pipeline is a project intended to cary crude oil extracted from tar sands in Canada to oil refineries in Texas.

The reason that the pipeline has been delayed is because it’s initial construction path took it through environmentally sensitive areas in Nebraska. Specifically, any oil spill in that area would threaten one of the largest supplies of underground water in the country. This aquifer supplies water to much of the upper Midwest.

Here’s what FactCheck.org said about the current status.

The president issued a statement supporting the delay, which the State Department announced Nov. 10, citing the need for an “in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska.” On Nov. 14 the developer announced it would change the route of the pipeline to avoid Nebraska’s sensitive Sandhills area, and said it was confident the project would ultimately be approved. On Nov. 15, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (a Republican) praised the State Department’s action and called the re-routing a “common sense solution.”

The Nebraska governor recently signed two bills that enacted the compromise agreed upon with the pipeline builder to move the route, and approved up to $2 million in state funding for an environmental study of alternate routes.

So what is it that the Republicans want?

There is a deal in place with the Republican governor of Nebraska to find a route that doesn’t put the Ogallala Aquifer at risk. Nebraska has agreed to foot the bill for the study. The pipeline company has agreed to change the route pending the outcome of the study. The study of alternate routes should take about a year.

It appears that the Republicans are attempting to force President Obama into a public declaration of his position on this project. If he approves the project, he will upset environmentalists. If he cancels the project he will upset economic voters who are interested in jobs growth. Right now he can remain on the fence and I think has a strong defense for letting Nebraska work this out.

The President has already said publicly that he would veto any legislation requiring him to approve the Keystone pipeline project before the planned environmental study is done. The current proposed language in the payroll tax extension passed by the Senate gives him an easy out. He simply has to declare that it is not in the national interest to approve the project today.

I think that this proves how desperate the Republicans are becoming to develop substantive issues that they can use in the 2012 election.

Paul Begala recently published an interesting analysis in Newsweek.

 I cannot think of a time when the economy declined but the president was not blamed—but this may be the first. If the Republicans were smart, they would do on taxes what they did on trade: quietly pass Obama’s proposals, knowing full well that even a million new jobs will not be enough to climb out of the hole Obama inherited. (Fourteen million Americans are unemployed.) The economy isn’t giving Obama enough jobs, but the Republicans are giving him the next best thing: a villain to blame for the poor economy. By killing Obama’s jobs agenda, Republicans may just save his presidency.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but so far the Obama team seems to be winning the tactical narrative battle. On the issue of jobs, the country wants the government to take action to create them. This is counter to the Republican claim that only private industry can create jobs. The country also appears perfectly fine with the concept that higher taxes on those making more than $1M a year should fund an expanded government jobs program. This is counter to the Republican claim that higher taxes on the rich will increase unemployment.

In this most recent payroll tax extension, for example, Obama successfully positioned himself as a supporter of tax cuts for the working man while Republicans were forced to oppose that tax cut if it meant raising taxes on the rich.

I think that this is going to be drumbeat from here through the election next year. Obama will continue to position Republicans as defenders of the rich and the status quo. He is certainly vulnerable to the attack that he is shirking his own responsibility for the past four years of economic pain, but as Paul Begala has pointed out, so far he has been successful in forcing the Republican party into positions where their actions confirm Obama’s narrative that they are the real villains.

Pray for Rain

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

First by way of disclosure, I do believe in the power of prayer.

I believe that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving.  A loving God does not punish His people.  We are His people – all of us.  We also have the ability to turn our backs on our Creator and choose to pursue our own path.  Not surprisingly, the further that path takes us from God, the more difficult it becomes for us because we start to live in a world of our own creation.  The world we create is one governed by fear rather than love because God, who knows no fear, is not there.  So we punish ourselves by choosing to live in our world rather than the one that God created for us.

It is prayer that brings us back into alignment with God.  As we humbly give up our own view of how things should be and accept that God has to have a better plan for us than we could ever create, things get better.

That’s why public prayers for rain don’t work.

A public prayer for rain suggests that somehow God isn’t aware that droughts kill crops and livestock, and hurt people.  But that doesn’t square with an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God who cares deeply for all His creation.  So something is out of whack here.  Either God is not who we think He is, or our perception of our circumstances is somehow skewed.  A more effective prayer is one that is personal and private.  One that reaffirms who God is and asks in deep humility and reverence for help in opening our eyes to God’s reality.

“And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” 2 Kings 6:17

The same thing applies to the perceived conflict between science and religion that some conservative Republicans have raised.

Science is not in conflict with God.  Science helps reveal the grandeur and precision of God’s creation.  There are laws which reliably govern the smallest particles to the largest galaxies.  This is God at work left for man to discover.

As a result, science is not in and of itself political or ideological.  Scientists are committed to a search for truth.  The scientific peer review process has a built-in bias to new solutions and new theories.  If someone has a disruptive idea and has the data to back up their claim, the scientific community engages to test both the idea and the data that the experiments created.  If others can independently reproduce the data from the experiments, the data is confirmed.  If the idea holds up to other tests with other data, the idea is also confirmed.

Sometimes people misconstrue open and frank debate over ideas as an indication that the idea itself is unreliable.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This whole process of robust questioning is what STRENGTHENS ideas.  Those that repeatedly survive challenges make the progress from theory to widely held belief.

So the theory of evolution and natural selection is widely and broadly supported by the scientific community even though there are some researchers who explore alternative ideas.  The same thing is true regarding climate change.  It is widely and broadly supported by the scientific community (97% at last count) as is the conclusion that these changes are the result of human activity even though there are some researchers who are exploring alternative ideas.

So when did science come into conflict with religion?  When scientific advances call some religious beliefs into question, those who hold those beliefs are going to object.  To be clear, scientists don’t generally seek to attack religious beliefs.  They are simply trying to explain how this wonderful creation of God works.

Galileo was engaged in the scientific process of trying to test Copernicus’ heliocentric theory of the universe using an improved telescope of his own design.  Using that telescope he discovered moons orbiting Jupiter.  He presented this new data in an attempt to convince the Catholic Church that their geocentric theory was incorrect.  They chose to persecute him as a heretic instead.  That’s because of the belief by the church that their understanding of the Bible required the earth to be at the center of the universe.  Ultimately the church had to admit centuries later that their interpretation of the Bible was wrong.

When Darwin proposed the theory of evolution, he was widely criticized as an apostate.  That’s because fundamentalists promoted a literal interpretation of the Bible which said that God created the first man Adam.  Most all progressive churches have no problem with evolutionary theory because they treat the Bible’s creation stories as metaphors.  Fundamentalist churches, however, continue to offer alternative theories which better align with their beliefs even though those theories have not survived rigorous scientific peer review.

Neither Galileo nor Darwin overtly attacked religion.  They were simply scientists doing what scientists do, take a set of data and build a theory to explain it.  Religion on the other hand was loathe to change and as a result mounted a vigorous defense.

Global warming doesn’t have quite the same arc of revelation and response.  The response here was by conservative politicians with close ties to the oil and gas industries.  They successfully leveraged the skepticism that already existed among fundamentalist Christian communities regarding ANY scientific study.  Global warming doesn’t directly call any fundamentalist belief into question.  But because of the efforts of conservative politicians, fundamentalist Christians who were already reluctant to accept ANY science as reliable, now oppose climate change simply because it is something supported by scientists and liberals.

The most convincing demonstration of the power of the convergence of fundamentalist Christian beliefs and conservative politics is Rick Perry.  The line between belief and politics is so blurred in his candidacy that he can hold beliefs such as questioning evolution and denying climate change and still be considered a serious contender for the office.  In fact his position that there should be MORE religion in politics is one of the reasons that he quickly jumped to the head of the pack.

So many of the republican faithful are passionate about these positions that it has required less conservative candidates like Mitt Romney to walk back their previous science-based positions on Climate Change and Evolution.  For example, only 21% of Republican voters in Iowa believe that the climate is changing.  Only 35% accept the theory of evolution.  Since willful ignorance seems to be a litmus test for Republican candidates, Mr. Romney is determined to pass that test in order to win the nomination.

These are now becoming dangerous waters because we may elect someone at some point in the future who either denies the value of scientific research or pretends to believe whatever will get him elected.  This leaves only ideology as the guiding principle for leading the country.  As we’ve seen in the recent debt ceiling debate, when people take ideological positions they reduce their ability to compromise.  The result is conflict and crisis rather than effective government.

Given the challenges we face over next decade, can we really afford to elect someone who is anti-science and anti-knowledge – someone who is guided by a set of principles so rigid and inflexible that they can’t be questioned or challenged?  I hope not.