Sunday, April 5, 2009

Awakening to Monsters

Liar Liar It's hard to think clearly when you're sleepy. It's harder still when listening to someone who is not talking sense.

In 2007 MIT Professor John Reilly co-authored a study [pdf] estimating costs of addressing climate change. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and other blundering elephants in the GOP recently seized on the study, took some numbers out of context, used some facile math, and trumpeted their alarming news that addressing climate change would cost every American household a "tax" of more than $3,100 per year. Professor Reilly wrote them a letter [pdf]:
It has come to my attention that an analysis we conducted examining proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Report No., 146, Assessment of U.S. Cap-and-Trade Proposals, has been misrepresented in recent press releases distributed by the National Republican Congressional Committee. The press release claims our report estimates an average cost per family of a carbon cap and trade program that would meet targets now being discussed in Congress to be over $3,000, but that is nearly 10 times the correct estimate which is approximately $340. [...] Our Report 160 shows that the costs on lower and middle income households can be completely offset by returning allowance revenue to these households.
Despite his efforts to explain their error and get a correction, the GOP just likes the scary tax meme too much. Many have criticized the GOP for knowingly lying about this, and yesterday their motive was called out (via):

Few except special interests and politicians who do their bidding would argue that limiting emissions that put human health and the environment at risk puts a burdensome “tax” on American families and businesses.
OK, I know what you're thinking--this must be a rant from one of the usual suspects, but no--surprise! It's in a press release from the Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP). Who?

Turns out the REP has been around since 1995 and their web site features the sensible tag line: "Conservation is conservative." I couldn't say it better myself. A quick perusal of their web site shows an interesting mix of positions, predictably supporting John McCain in last year's election, but also nakedly heretical positions on such subjects as conservative scepticism on climate change, the need to stop mountain-top destruction for coal, hope for less party lockstep with the fossil industry, and even how drilling in ANWR won't lower fuel prices.

The REP states they are "not affiliated" with the national or any state GOP entity, and, unsurprisingly, they get no financial support from any GOP entity either. Yet how refreshing to find that there is a reality-based faction of the GOP (via):

Conservatives, of all people, should not ignore basic principles of economics. Such tactics, which are designed to score political points and gain headlines, are a disservice to American citizens, who urgently need Congress to debate the climate issue constructively. Voters are counting on their elected representatives to work together across party lines to develop balanced legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lower America’s dangerous dependence on oil, and help us move more quickly to a more diversified, robust energy economy.
A blog entry by REP's policy director Jim DiPeso details the errors pointed out by Reilly to Boehner's willful distortions:

Mistake No. 1: Boehner and company confused the revenue raised by selling emissions allowances with the cost of reducing emissions, which are different concepts.

Mistake No. 2: The price of emissions allowances reflects the marginal cost of avoiding the last ton of emissions, but there are ways to reduce emissions that cost less than cutting out that last ton.

Mistake No. 3: The average cost of emissions reductions per household would depend mightily on how allowance revenues would be used. Would they be spent on residential energy efficiency incentives? Workforce retraining in coal country? Rebates for low-income households? Dividend checks for every legal resident? Those are only a few of the ideas on the table. Each individual option and combination of options would yield a different cost outcome. And Congress isn’t close to settling on an answer.

Mistake No. 4: This is the truly embarrassing one. An economics major who made a boneheaded slip-up like this would get a red “F” on his term paper. I’ll let Reilly explain the error: “The costs are borne over time and it is wrong to produce a simple average of such costs as that does not take into account the time value of money.”

This manifestly mendacious manipulation of the truth by GOP leaders was so egregious that the St. Petersburg Times gave them it a "Pants on Fire" rating on the PolitiFacts Truth-o-Meter saying:

If Boehner and McConnell had simply misstated the results of the MIT study, the Truth-O-Meter would have been content giving this one a False. But for them to keep repeating the claim after the author of the study told them it was wrong means we have to set the meter ablaze. Pants on Fire.

So, we have the Congressional GOP leadership misrepresenting a scholarly study to support a willfully ignorant and scientifically bankrupt position, using sophomoric economic analysis to frighten people, and refusing to back down in the face of proof of their falsehoods, even when exposed by conservative Republicans. All of this rather begs the question: What does it mean to be a conservative? Some political blogs have been remarking for a while that there is a growing divergence between "Republicans" and "conservatives" and some better-known conservatives who were not part of the GOP leadership stood on the sidelines in the last election following the clearly unconservative reign of George Bush. Bush and Dick "Deficits don't matter" Cheney have completed a 30-year long Republican co-opting of conservatives into a deeply radical agenda of (among other things) faith-based policy-making. The unifying intellectual framework of these Republicans has been a hostility to science that encourages violence to the truth. At long last conservatives awake from their sleep of reason to behold the monsters.

The American public is interested in leaders who recognize and operate in reality. The American public is interested and desires leaders. The American public is tired of outright deceit from politicians. And, as long as the Republican Party leadership is intent on rejecting reality, intent on pandering truthiness, and in obstructing, rather than leading, it won’t have an electoral future.
Wrote TulipFarmer in the comments:

There was a time when conservatives believed in good science and engineering - they called it "Yankee ingenuity". It was Yankee ingenuity that built bridges, sky scrapers, and won world wars. It grew food, and gave Americans the longest life span in the world. Climate change is like gravity, it is not something to debate, it is something to measure. And, it has been measured. We should measure it again, but debating it is not going to change those measurements. (We should also keep going out and getting better measurements of gravity.) What is worth debating is what to do about global warming. We need to be very smart about what we [do] with respect to global warming. There is no left and right, no Republican and Democrat, there is no "them and us", there is only smart and dumb.
Like in the old adage about cutting the Easter ham in half, conservatives have been allied with the Republicans for so long they hardly seem to remember the original reason why. An honest and lucid reappraisal would be timely if only to freshen conservative ideas and separate them from their use as shallow slogans to dress meaningless rituals to further the Republican quest of power for its own sake. If conservatives can truly awake and throw of the torpor of their suicide pact with the Republican party they may find political relevance for themselves and their ideas. Such an awakening would be good and welcome, and perhaps even lead, shall we say, to morning in America.

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