Tag: Rand Paul

Paul Officially In

Rand Paul has officially thrown his hat into the Presidential ring, unveiling his agenda and opening up a website. I don’t think Paul has much of a chance of the nomination or the Presidency, given some of his unorthodox views. And, for obvious reasons, I’m a little dubious of half-term senators running for President. But I do like having him out there. He’s another voice outside the GOP establishment. He brings to the fore a number of issues — mass incarceration, the War on Drugs, NSA surveillance, aggressive foreign policy — that the GOP needs to confront.

And … he drive the Left Wing absolutely berserk. Today’s stories have alternated headlines of “Paul’s no different from other Republicans” to “Paul is a crazy far out Republican”. They’ve been putting up factually challenged rants about how he wants to return us to the 19th century. They’ve been accusing him of being sexist based on a testy interview with Savannah Guthrie. The Left Wing has a lot invested in the idea that all Republicans are sociopathic, racist, sexist shitlords who only care about rich people. Paul is one of the biggest challenges to that.

But there’s something else I’m picking up on. One of my favorite responses to Paul’s candidacy has been from whichever semi-literate intern wrote Paul Krugman’s column today. He puts up an idiot’s version of the World’s Smallest Political Quiz and then claims, based on no data whatsoever, that there are no libertarians1. Everyone in America is either economically and socially liberal or economically and socially conservative. Because apparently the polls showing a large libertarian center don’t exist.

Why is American politics essentially one-dimensional, so that supporters of gay marriage are also supporters of guaranteed health insurance and vice versa? (And positions on foreign affairs — bomb or talk? — are pretty much perfectly aligned too).

Well, the best story I have is Corey Robin’s: It’s fundamentally about challenging or sustaining traditional hierarchy. The actual lineup of positions on social and economic issues doesn’t make sense if you assume that conservatives are, as they claim, defenders of personal liberty on all fronts. But it makes perfect sense if you suppose that conservatism is instead about preserving traditional forms of authority: employers over workers, patriarchs over families. A strong social safety net undermines the first, because it empowers workers to demand more or quit; permissive social policy undermines the second in obvious ways.

And I suppose that you have to say that modern liberalism is in some sense the obverse — it is about creating a society that is more fluid as well as fairer.

This is mind-bogglingly stupid. 40% of self-described Republicans now support legal same-sex marriage, including 60% of young Republicans. 60-70% of independents support same sex marriage. And despite claims by liberals, actual polls show that a clear majority of independents and the vast majority of Republicans oppose single-payer healthcare. So this “actually very few” people who support same sex marriage and oppose single-payer health is approximately half the electorate.

Mankiw:

Similar to Krugman, I would define a libertarian voter as one who leans left on social issues (such as same-sex marriage) and right on economic issues (such as taxes and regulation). I certainly put myself in that camp, and I don’t think I am as lonely as Krugman suggests. I meet lots of students with similar views (though, admittedly, Harvard students are hardly a representative sample of voters).

I also meet a lot of students with similar views at my big state university. Mankiw also reminds us that far “challenging traditional hierarchies”, the Democrats supported them up until about last week:

Many libertarian voters I know (including those students) often vote for Democratic candidates because they weight the social issues more than the economic ones. I usually vote for Republican candidates because I weight the economic issues more than the social ones.

One reason is that I don’t view the Democratic Party as a leader on social issues. Remember that Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Barack Obama was against same-sex marriage when he ran for President, and then he “evolved” (aka flip-flopped) on the issue. On this social issue and many others, our elected leaders are really followers. The leaders are the American people.

Why are so many liberals freaking out about Rand Paul? Why are so many reduced to sheer hysteria by the prospect of a “libertarian moment”? Because libertarianism and libertarian-conservatism put the lie to the liberal conceit, espoused above by Krugman, that Democrats are mavericks who challenge traditional hierarchies. I couldn’t imagine anything further from the truth. Democrats were the party of slavery. Democrats were the party of segregation and Jim Crowe (especially progressive hero Woodrow Wilson). Democrats support massive government power, including the surveillance state and Obama’s wars. They have only supported social change when forced. They bomb countries, they violate civil liberties, they jail people by the millions and they always, always seek to expand the scope and power of our government. That’s not being a maverick and challenging social hierarchy. That’s being a conformist. It was, in fact, progressive hero Woodrow Wilson who said, “Conformity will be the only virtue. And every man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty.”

Rand Paul isn’t a dangerous loon. And he’s not the antichrist. What he is is a heretic, challenging the religion that is Progressivism. We should be grateful they’re not calling for him to be burned at the stake.

Yet.

Paul says he is not a libertarian and his views would be best described as conservative. But he draw enormous support from libertarians and libertarian-conservatives.

Turkeys and Drumsticks 2014

For seven years running, I have taken advantage of the Thanksgiving Holiday to give out my awards for Turkey of the Year and Golden Drumsticks. The latter are for those who exemplify the best traits in our public sphere. The former are for those who exemplify silliness and stupidity. I rarely give them out to someone who is evil; they are reserved for those who regularly make me shake my head and wonder what they’re thinking. It’s a sort of “thank you” for making blogging easier.

We’ll start with the Turkeys of the Year. For reference, the past winners are:

2007: Alberto Gonzalez, Nancy Pelosi, Hugo Chavez

2008: Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin’s critics, Hillary Clinton, Congress, Joe Biden

2009: Mike Steele, Glen Beck, the State Department, Sarah Palin, Andrew Sullivan.

2010: Janet Napolitano and TSA, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, MSNBC, Lower Merion Schools, California Voters.

2011: Nancy Pelosi, Republican Presidential Field, Occupy Wall Street, Anthony Weiner, the Eurozone.

2012: The Culture Warriors, Unions, The Poll Unskewers, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, MSNBC

2013: Healthcare.gov, the Platinum Coin, the Shutdown Caucus, the National park Service, Fiscal Cliff Panic Mongers.

For this year, I picked:

Jonathan Gruber: #3 was in the lead most of the year. Then #2 took over earlier this month. But the millionaire consultant from MIT has to take the top prize now. The thing about Gruber is not that he made comments that support Halbig. It’s not that he helped create Obamacare. It’s not even that he called the voters stupid. It’s that he revealed the ugly reality that undergirds of much of the progressive movement in this country: the belief that Americans are stupid, that leaders are wise and that the latter must lead the former to good choices through deception, obfuscation and coercion. The most common thing I read on liberal message boards after Grubergate was “Hey, he’s right!” There is a large section of the Left Wing that thinks we need to be ruled by a technocratic elite. Gruber pulled back the veil. And that he looked like a horse’s ass into the bargain was just gravy.

Lamenting Democrats: In the wake of yet another electoral shellacking, the professional whining class went into overdrive, trying to find something, anything to blame for their loss. Random articles about science topics would start with lamenting that evil Republicans were taking over the Senate. Robert Reich screamed that Republicans might use reconciliation to do stuff (reconciliation being a legitimate tactic up until November 3). A thousand articles sprang up about “how to talk to your crazy right-wing uncle/parents/cousin/neighbor/imaginary friend at Thanksgiving about Issue X” (hint: don’t).

I’ve been disappointed by elections. But I hope I never get to the point where the results of an election make me gnash my teeth and rend my garments in such hilarious fashion.

Barack Obama: The only reason his approval ratings aren’t at record lows is because of mindless Democrat loyalty. The economy continues to improve despite the Republicans rejecting every “jobs bill” he proposes. His party got crushed in the election. And his response to this was to … implement immigration reform through executive action (polls show Americans support the policy, but oppose the means). His White House is also becoming famous for what are called “bad optics” and would be called scandalous if Bush were doing it: fund-raising while the Ukraine is in turmoil, having a huge dinner while Ferguson is burning, golfing right after a press conference on an ISIS beheading. He has earned the low poll numbers. And earned a place on this list.

Jim Ardis: Earlier this year, Ardis persuaded a judge to launch a raid on a house because one of the inhabitants was … mocking him on Twitter. He apparently still thinks this was a fine idea. Jim Ardis … meet the Streisand Effect.

(One infuriating note: a judge has upheld the drug charges that resulted from the raid finding drugs in the house. Because warrants to arrest parody account holders are apparently just fine.)

Paul Krugman: Another year for Krugman, another set of factually-challenged opinion pieces apparently written by unpaid interns. My favorite was his assertion that Halbig represented “corruption” in the courts, a claim the indispensable Walter Olson demolishes here. As several bloggers noted, Krugman was a big supporter of the Platinum Coin Caper, where he said, essentially, that we should concentrate on the letter of the law, not the spirit, the opposite of what he’s saying now.

Note, also. This year is coming a cropper for things Krugmans believes in. The Picketty analysis of inequality appears to be badly flawed. And Keynesian ideas are failing all over the globe.

Dishonorable Mention: Wendy Davis, whoever is doing PR for the Ferguson Police, the Ferguson rioters, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Secret Service, Mary Landrieu, Everytown USA.

Now the Golden Drumsticks, awarded to those who best exemplified what is right with the world. Here are the past awards, the first round from West Virginia Rebel.

2007: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ron Paul, Barack Obama, David Petraeus, Juan Carlos, Burma’s monks

2008: US Military, Jeff Flake, Ron Paul, Republican Governors, Barack Obama

2009: The American Fighting Man, Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd, George W. Bush

2010: The Tea Party, Chris Christie, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the Next Wave of Republicans, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, The American Soldiers

2011: Seal Team Six, Mark Kelly, The Arab Spring (ugh), the Technicians at Fukushima

2012: Down Ballots, The Sandy Responders, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, Mathew Inman

2013: Francis I, Edward Snowden, Rand Paul, The American Military, The Institute for Justice

For this year, I picked:

Ebola Responders: In the face of a colossal healthcare crisis and one of the most terrifying diseases out there, Africa has been flooded with volunteers risking their lives to help. Hundreds of healthcare workers in Africa, including Humarr Khan, have been killed trying to comfort or save the dying. Even in this country, we’ve seen nurses and doctors work hard to care for Ebola victims, including two nurses who were infected in Dallas and mercifully saved by modern medicine.

Here’s a little thing about me: I tend to dislike movies about dystopias. Not because I think a dystopia won’t happen or because I’m ignorant about the dark side of human nature. I dislike them because they usually ignore the flip side of human nature: our capacity to be generous, brave and compassionate.

Francis I: He continues to shake up the religious world while adhering closely to Catholic doctrine. My initial impression of him remains unchanged. He is just a good man.

Rand Paul: Paul gave a speech earlier this year that was a rebuke to the neocons: defining a foreign policy that defends our interests while avoiding senseless overseas debacles. He is pushing the Republicans toward reforms of our criminal justice system, our surveillance state and our War on Drugs. I’m a bit worried whether he’ll hold up to the pressure of special interests, especially if he has Presidential aspirations. But right now, he’s doing good.

David Brat and the Republican Candidates: “A monarch’s neck should always have a noose around it—it keeps him upright.” – Robert A. Heinlein. I’m not sure what to make of Brat at this point, but I think his defeat of Cantor is an important reminder to the Republicans of what will happen if the get stupid again. Among the other Republicans running for office this year, there was barely a gaffe to be heard. In fact, the biggest War on Women complaint was about Mark Udall, criticized by his own supporters for talking too much about the War on Women. In general, they stuck to the bread and butter themes of the economy, Obamacare and big government. Let’s hope they deliver.

The Supreme Court: It’s always a mixed year from the Court, but this year they gave us good decisions in Riley, Hobby Lobby, Harris v. Quinn, McCullen v. Coakley, NLRB v. Noel Canning, Town of Greece v. Galloway, Schuette v. BAMN and McCutcheon. They continued their streak of unanimously rejecting Obama’s power grabs. You can check on this year’s key decisions here. There are a few I had issues with but most were solid.

Honorable Mentions: marijuana decriminalization efforts, Scott Walker, Charlie Baker (anyone who defeat Martha Coakley gets a mention), the American military

Put your nominees in the comments. And I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving.

Want Help? Ask Conservatives

Everyone know that only Democrats care about minorities. Everyone knows that only Democrats care about the poor. Everyone know that only Democrats care about women. Republicans just like to cruise around in their limos laughing at the plight of those less fortunate than them. Meanwhile, Democrats can’t sleep at night because they are so worried about the oppressed masses. Right? Right?

Let me introduce you to Shaneen Allen:

Last October, Shaneen Allen, 27, was pulled over in Atlantic County, N.J. The officer who pulled her over says she made an unsafe lane change. During the stop, Allen informed the officer that she was a resident of Pennsylvania and had a conceal carry permit in her home state. She also had a handgun in her car. Had she been in Pennsylvania, having the gun in the car would have been perfectly legal. But Allen was pulled over in New Jersey, home to some of the strictest gun control laws in the United States.

Allen is a black single mother. She has two kids. She has no prior criminal record. Before her arrest, she worked as a phlebobotomist. After she was robbed two times in the span of about a year, she purchased the gun to protect herself and her family. There is zero evidence that Allen intended to use the gun for any other purpose. Yet Allen was arrested. She spent 40 days in jail before she was released on bail. She’s now facing a felony charge that, if convicted, would bring a three-year mandatory minimum prison term.

There is a wide prosecutorial discretion here (more on that in a moment) but it looks like the prosecutor is going to throw the book at her. Allen is the kind of person the Left is supposed to be in a tizzy over — a single working mom doing her best who is about to be crushed by the system. But the liberal Ecosphere has said little, if anything, about her. You know who is taking up her cause? If you said conservatives and libertarians, move to the front of the class. Here is National Review, for example, trying to make her case a national issue. True, this is because conservatives believe in gun rights and the second amendment. But they also believe in justice. And there is a growing awareness of the massive disparities in how gun laws are enforced.

As it turns out, Allen’s case isn’t unusual at all. Although white people occasionally do become the victims of overly broad gun laws (for example, see the outrageous prosecution of Brian Aitken, also in New Jersey), the typical person arrested for gun crimes is more likely to have the complexion of Shaneen Allen than, say, Sarah Palin. Last year, 47.3 percent of those convicted for federal gun crimes were black — a racial disparity larger than any other class of federal crimes, including drug crimes. In a 2011 report on mandatory minimum sentencing for gun crimes, the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that blacks were far more likely to be charged and convicted of federal gun crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences. They were also more likely to be hit with “enhancement” penalties that added to their sentences. In fact, the racial discrepancy for mandatory minimums was even higher than the aforementioned disparity for federal gun crimes in general.

This isn’t just a matter of black people committing more crimes. In cases where the prosecution is discretionary — such as the enhancement penalties — this is far more likely to happen to black criminals than white ones. And conservatives like Rand Paul have been making this point more and more forcefully of late.

Oh, speaking of Rand Paul … Just last week, Jon Stewart discovered civil asset forfeiture, the process by which the government can seize your property or money by alleging it has committed a crime (that’s not a typo; they literally charge the property with a crime). It will surprise no one that while asset forfeiture casts a wide net, it also has a tendency to fall heaviest on minorities and on poor people who can’t fight back. Anyone want to guess the party affiliation of the man who has proposed to overhaul asset forfeiture law and give people greater civil service protections?

The FAIR Act would change federal law and protect the rights of property owners by requiring that the government prove its case with clear and convincing evidence before forfeiting seized property. State law enforcement agencies will have to abide by state law when forfeiting seized property. Finally, the legislation would remove the profit incentive for forfeiture by redirecting forfeitures assets from the Attorney General’s Asset Forfeiture Fund to the Treasury’s General Fund.

It’s not perfect. But it’s a huge improvement over the existing regime, where local law enforcement can bypass state regs by turning the seized money over to federal agents, who take a cut and give it directly back the law enforcement agencies.

But there’s still more. Let’s move away from crime and toward poverty itself. Last week, Paul Ryan suggested a new set of policies to try to reduce poverty. He would consolidate numerous programs into block grants to the states, expand the EITC, reduce regulations and push criminal sentencing reform. Even some liberals are admitting these are good ideas. They will reward work and expand opportunity — the two things the poor need a hell of a lot more than slightly larger piles of government cash.

There’s been some controversy over Ryan’s proposal to have chronically poor people meet with councilors who will help them improve their lives. But as Megan McArdle points out, while the chronically poor are a small part of the poor, they consume a huge chunk of the benefits. And it is chronic generational poverty that is the true suffering. Ryan’s plan sounds a bit too paternalistic to me. But it’s got to be better than the absent father method our current system upholds where we just throw money at poor people and hope it will magically make them unpoor.

So in just the last week, we’ve seen conservatives oppose arbitrary ruinous enforcement of gun laws, oppose asset forfeiture and propose a new version of welfare reform (after the last one lifted millions out of poverty). You add this to the ongoing push for school choice and you have a platform that would greatly enhance freedom and opportunity for millions of people, most of who are poorer and darker-skinned than your typical Republican.

And the Democratic Party? Well, their big issue right now is trying to save the corporate welfare that is the Ex-Im bank.

Look, I’m not going to pretend the Republican Party is perfect on these issues or any other issue. And there are plenty of Democrats who support the above policies. What I am going to suggest, however, is that the caricature of the GOP specifically and conservatives in general as uncaring racist sociopaths is absurd.

Update: This isn’t strictly related, but you know how Democrats have been whining about the cost of higher ed and the burden it is imposing on the middle class? Well evil conservative Republican Mitch Daniels is not whining, he’s doing something about it.

Ending the Mandatory Madness

This is a positive step:

Today, by a vote of 13 to 5, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved what the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) calls “the biggest overhaul in federal drug sentencing in decades.” The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) last July, would cut mandatory minimum sentences in half for some drug offenses, make the reduced crack penalties enacted in 2010 retroactive, and expand the category of defendants eligible for sentencing below the mandatory minimums. “The Smarter Sentencing Act is the most significant piece of criminal justice reform to make it to the Senate floor in several years,” says Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office.

The Durbin-Lee bill does not go as far as the Justice Safety Valve Act, introduced last March by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Pat Leahy (who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee). That bill would have made mandatory minimums effectively optional by alllowing judges to depart from them in the interest of justice. The Smarter Sentencing Act is neverthless a big improvement. The crack provision alone could free thousands of prisoners serving sentences that almost everyone now concedes are excessively long. It would dramatically reduce the penalties for certain nonviolent drug offenses, changing 20-year, 10-year, and five-year mandatory minimums to 10 years, five years, and two years, respectively. It would allow more nonviolent offenders to escape mandatory minimums entirely by loosening the criteria for the “safety valve,” allowing two criminal background points instead of just one.

The massive sentences given to non-violent drug offenders are a big reason we now have two million people in prison. I have no problem with courts handing down big sentences to violent criminals; indeed there are some I think get off far too lightly. But when it comes to cases of possession and small-scale dealing, I see no purpose in forcing judges to lock up non-violent criminals for ridiculous amounts of time so they can learn to be real criminals.

I’m dubious that the House will act on this. But I wanted to post this to note who is behind it. The big sponsors are Rand Paul, whom the Left assures us in an evil racist Tea Party Republican, and Mike Lee, whom we are also assured is an evil racist Tea Party Republican. In fact, Mike Lee is such an evil racist Tea Party Republican that he delivered the evil racist Tea Party response to the State of the Union which, um, railed against corporate welfare, income inequality, NSA spying and the Republican establishment.

And yet these two evil racist Tea Party Republicans are advancing an issue that is (or used to be) of great importance to many so-called liberals. Thousands of people’s lives will be improved by this and most of them are of a different color than Mike Lee or Rand Paul. Most of the communities that would benefit are of a different social class.

Guess maybe we should pay more attention to some of those evil racist Tea Partiers, huh? Seems like they might have an idea or two.

Charles Ramsey and Ruslan Tsarni Should Get A TV Show

One of the almost refreshing things to emerge from the Boston bombing was Ruslan Tsarni. Uncle Ruslan didn’t waste a moment in front of the cameras, blasting his nephews as losers, expressing his love for America and conveying his embarrassment for what had happened. It was rare to see someone not going with the default “more in sorrow than anger” mood that tends to characterize these events. He said what I think a lot of people were thinking.

By now, you’ve heard about the three girls who were imprisoned in a basement in Ohio. A video interview with the neighbor who discovered and rescued one of the girls is rapidly going viral. It is worth a watch as he expresses amazement and what happened and uncorks a number of great spontaneous lines (“I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”)

I was thinking about this in the car this morning and realized just why those two videos are so much fun. It’s because genuine emotion and spontaneous expression are so rarely shown in the media. Our culture has become relentlessly programmed and focus-group tested. From “reality TV” that isn’t real to movies that are statistically tweaked for mass appeal, there’s a whole industry out there designed to crush spontaneity.

Our politicians have become so sanitized and so on-message that they have made the Information Age boring as hell. Everyone has the same talking points, everyone is on a script. Barack Obama is the apotheosis of this: everything he says sounds it has been passed through the political equivalent of Autotune.

Yeah, America. Boo, cynicism. Government can’t solve everything but it can solve many things. Bipartisanship. It’s all Bush’s fault.

Of course, Obama also illustrates why the media has become so dominated by focus-group blahness. On the rare occasions when Obama does speak off the cuff, he often sticks his foot in it (red lines, bitter clingers, etc.)

Chris Christie is the opposite of this in many ways. He’s always saying what he thinks and, often, what everyone knows deep down. But his honesty is often a double-edged sword. The same statements that make conservatives cheer make liberals cringe. And when he earnestly praised Obama’s Sandy response, the outcry was fierce. Rand Paul is the same way, often saying exactly what he means and contradicting his own party. But this has also made him enemies on the Left, particularly with some of his bumbling comments on racial issues.

But, as human beings, we are far closer to the Christie/Paul model than we are to the Obama one. No one sees an event — whether it’s something trivial or something momentous — and carefully maps out their feelings. They react. Sometimes they overreact. Sometimes they say things they don’t really mean. Sometimes they say and do things that contradict what they really believe. But we’re not media creatures and never have been.

Tsarni and Ramsey are a great contrast against a media that’s constantly wringing its hands over what drives men to do evil things and always telling us that horrible things could happen at any moment. Basically, neither man seems to give a shit about being “on message”. Uncle Ruslan was angry and appalled by the bombing. He didn’t somberly pontificate on what drove his nephews to kill and maim a bunch of innocent folk. He was outraged and said so. Charles Ramsey didn’t worry about whether someone would think his comments were racially insensitive. He was dumfounded by what had happened and said so.

More of this, please. Life isn’t scripted. Why should everything in the media be?

Rand Filibusters

It is midnight right now and Rand Paul is still filibustering John Brennan’s nomination over the issue of domestic use of drones. And good Lord, it is beautiful.

Some choice quotes:

When I asked the president, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It’s an easy question. It should have been a resounding, an unequivocal, ‘No.’ The president’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that.

If there were an ounce of courage in this body I would be joined by other senators… saying they will not tolerate this.”

So should we trust the President when he says, ‘I would never use the power wrongly, so why shouldn’t I have the power?’

I’m not saying that anyone is Hitler, don’t misunderstand me. But what I am saying that is…when a democracy gets it wrong, you want the law to be in place.”

Holder earlier said that they had no plans to use drones for domestic killing but reserved the right to use them in “extraordinary circumstances” which could mean anything. Paul is absolutely right to demand that the Administration answer questions on this.

Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Jerry Moran, Ron Wyden, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Saxby Chambliss, John Cornyn, John Barrasso, John Thune, and Mitch McConnell have given their support in the form of long questions that give him a break. Other senators are actually engaging him in debate. And really, it should be all 100 senators up there demanding answers from this Administration.

It’s rare that a politicians makes me proud. Rand Paul is making me proud right now.

Rand Paul, Cheapskate

In a day when even minor public officials feel like they need full-time bodyguards, private planes and police escorts, this is refreshing:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul says he will send a $600,000 check to the U.S. Treasury, returning the part of his operating budget as a senator that was not spent.

Paul made the announcement at press conference in Kentucky on Wednesday. According to a press release from Paul’s office, the sum is over 20 percent of the total operating budget.

I have no idea if this is unusual or how unusual it is. I would suspect that most senators max out their spending, but would like to see some hard figures on it.

In any case, while half a million isn’t much by government standards, it’s a nice gesture from the supposed crackpot from Kentucky. I’ve known a few other Senators who eschewed the trappings of office (Orin Hatch, George Allen) and practice what preach on government spending. We need more.

Coburn on the Move

Tom Coburn is on the warpath against the NSF for supposed wasteful spending on scientific research, citing such wasteful programs as running shrimp on treadmills and having robots fold towels as examples of NSF waste.

I’ve blogged on this subject before. NSF does not dole out research grants on a whim. They are, in fact, a paradigm of how government agencies can work. They stick to a strict budget. The rank proposals by peer review and then only fund the programs they have the money for. Regular reports are required to release funding in subsequent years. And funding is contingent on past performance. If Coburn had dug a little deeper, he would have found that many of these so-called wasteful programs are useful. The shrimp treadmill program, for example, is about monitoring the health of shrimp — shrimping being a multi-billion dollar industry. The towel folding experiment, while sounding trivial, was a key breakthrough in robotics. Even though folding towels seems simple, it’s a very complex task. Getting robots to do it is a big step toward getting them to do other things (and providing insight into how humans do complex tasks so easily).

To be fair, however, you will almost certainly find any list of government research grants to have more than its share of clunkers. Indeed, that’s the reason we have government-funded science — to put money into projects that don’t have an obvious and immediate payoff but may have big benefits down the road: the sort of high-risk, high-reward projects that can sometimes bump science along. Most scientific experiments fail, most scientific theories prove wrong. Scientific investigation often sounds dumb because … well, it often turns out to be dumb. This is why scientists get so defensive about ideas like AGW and evolution: because it’s rare to find a theory so supported by the available evidence.

The best thing to do is let NSF continue to control its budget. Accountability is always good. Let’s make sure there are no conflicts of interest and that money isn’t being put into clearly failed projects. NSF’s policy of publishing layman’s summaries of all approved research should be continued and highlighted. But micromanaging it is a recipe for disaster. As I said in the above linked post:

If we need to cut science funding to balance the budget—and I think it’s a bad place to start cutting—the way to do it simply to cut NSF’s budget and let NSF figure out what programs they can ditch. Maybe we can shift some gross budget items. But having 535 lawyers looking over scientists’ shoulders is bad medicine.

The worst thing about Coburn’s rant is that is has inflamed the usual suspects into claiming that the GOP hates science. In the middle of an otherwise good debunking of talking points, the above blogger says:

Republicans don’t like science and scientists because they are sources of data that are independent of GOP-approved propaganda mills like Fox News. Pesky scientists and academics are always popping up to dispute the Roger Ailes-approved buzz-quote of the day — on climate change, on health care, on the effects of poverty on the rapidly evaporating middle class, on the diversity of American families, and on the importance of funding basic research instead of commercially-driven ventures constrained by short-term considerations like ROI.

Today’s GOP has a visceral distrust of scientists for the same reason that it has a visceral distrust of the “lamestream media” (particularly deeply reported news organizations like The New York Times), teachers, organized labor, regulatory agencies, National Public Radio, and protest movements that are have not been astroturfed for Fox News’ cameras by Koch Industries: They’re not with the program, whatever this week’s program might be — more windfalls to Big Oil, justifying torture, or floating amendments to officially brand gay people as second-class citizens.

Science, you could say, has a built-in left-wing bias, because it does not appeal to simplistic notions of God, country, tribal supremacy, or any of the other lesser angels of our nature that the GOP finds handy for its get-out-the-angry-vote drives.

This is absurd. Ronald Reagan was a tremendous supporter of science as were both Bushes. Here, from the NSFs own website, is NSF’s historical funding, which has risen steadily, including when Bush and the Republicans controlled the government. There was a short (and ill-advised) spike in funding in 2008.

As for not being on the Fox News approved message: the only prominent politicians who are openly questioning the War on Drugs and the War on Terror — I mean, when there isn’t a partisan advantage to doing so — are Republicans like Rand Paul and Gary Johnson. Turn on Fox News and you’ll sometimes find someone like Andrew Napolitano vigorously disagreeing with the GOP on constitutional issues. John McCain and Jon Hunstman have both said they agree that climate change is occurring. McCain, you may remember, is such a marginal figure that he was the Republican President nominee in 2008.

Furthermore, the Left is more than happy to ignore science they don’t like. When The Bell Curve was published, the Left responded with anger, not debate. When Larry Summers, in the midst of discussing how to get more women into science, had the temerity to suggest that sexism was not the root cause of the gender disparity, the Left didn’t just dispute him; they hounded him out of office for blasphemy.

The Left continues to support climate-change related pseudo-science like food miles, locavorism, electric cars and corn ethanol. They continue to treat scientific ignoramus Algore as some kind of prophet. The Democrats have specifically buried reports they don’t like, such as those showing Head Start to be a failure and Obamacare-style reforms to drive up healthcare costs. They continue to flog welfare spending, “fair” trade and raising the minimum wage despite decades of research showing the disastrous effects of such policies. They ignored the parts of Climategate in which scientists tried to silence climate dissenters and have said nothing about unfair and brutal attacks on climate realists like Bjorn Lomborg.

Hell, right fucking now, they are running around claiming the spate of tornados is a result of global warming despite the dearth of any evidence supporting this position. They’ve even said that the null hypothesis should be that any weird weather is a result of global warming. They’re calling for states to make long-term plans to deal with AGW even though no one really knows what those long-term effects will be beyond unscientific “narratives” conjured up out of the imagination.

And frankly, the profligate spending of both parties is the biggest menace threatening science today. Just the interest on the stimulus would be enough to fund a complete second NSF.

But … the Republicans are determined to make it easy to fling these charges at them. Their positions on AGW and evolution open the door wide. They recently cut funds to overhaul our weather satellite system — a crucial part of hurricane prediction. Eric Cantor put numerous small scientific programs on the ridiculous You Cut website.

As long as the GOP continues to act as if science is the enemy, they will be accused of … seeing science as the enemy. As long as they continue to tolerate ignorant anti-science screeds from politicians who can’t be bothered to read the publicly available layman’s summaries of funded research that explain what the research is and why it’s being done, they will be branded this way.

And that’s a pity. Because science won’t survive in the hands of the Democrats either. Science is many things; but it’s never politically correct.

(As always, disclosure: I’ve been funded by NSF programs at various points in my career.)