Koch-funded climate change skeptic reverses course

 

 

 

Former climate change skeptic Richard A. Muller, in a New York Times op-ed, stepped back from his earlier dismissal of global warming. (Los Angeles Times / March 30, 2011)

By Neela Banerjee This post has been updated, as indicated below.

July 29, 2012, 12:28 p.m.

 

WASHINGTON – The verdict is in: Global warming is occurring and emissions of greenhouse gases caused by human activity are the main cause.

This, according to Richard A. Muller, professor of physics at UC Berkeley, MacArthur Fellow and co-founder of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. Never mind that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and hundreds of other climatologists around the world came to such conclusions years ago. The difference now is the source: Muller is a long-standing, colorful critic of prevailing climate science, and the Berkeley project was heavily funded by the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, which, along with its libertarian petrochemical billionaire founder Charles G. Koch, has a considerable history of backing groups that deny climate change.

In an opinion piece in Saturday’s New York Times titled “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic,” Muller writes: “Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

The Berkeley project’s research has shown, Muller says, “that the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.”

He calls his stance now “a total turnaround.”

[Updated, 4:17 p.m., July 29: Tonya Mullins, a spokeswoman for the Koch Foundation, said the support her foundation provided, along with others, had no bearing on the results of the research. “Our grants are designed to promote independent research; as such, recipients hold full control over their findings,” Mullins said in an email. “In this support, we strive to benefit society by promoting discovery and informing public policy.”]

Some leading climate scientists welcomed Muller’s comments, proof, they argued, that the science is so strong that even those inclined to reject it cannot once they examine it carefully.  Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said that Muller’s conversion might help shape the thinking of the “reasonable middle” of the population “who are genuinely confused and have been honestly taken in” by attacks on climate science.

On his Facebook page, Mann wrote: “There is a certain ironic satisfaction in seeing a study funded by the Koch Brothers – the greatest funders of climate change denial and disinformation on the planet – demonstrate what scientists have known with some degree of confidence for nearly two decades: that the globe is indeed warming, and that this warming can only be explained by human-caused increases in greenhouse gas concentrations. I applaud Muller and his colleagues for acting as any good scientists would, following where their analyses led them, without regard for the possible political repercussions.”

Muller’s conclusions, however, failed to sway the most ardent climate contrarians, like Marc Morano, a former top producer for Rush Limbaugh and communications director for the Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee who now runs the website climatedepot.com.  “Muller will be remembered as a befuddled professor who has yet to figure out how to separate climate science from his media antics. His latest claims provide no new insight into the climate science debate,” Morano said in an email.

Muller’s New York Times commentary follows research he did last year that confirmed the work of scientists who found the Earth’s temperature was rising. In the past, Muller had criticized which global temperatures were used in such research, contending that some monitoring stations provided inaccurate data.  Now, Berkeley’s research has weighed in on the causes of the temperature rise, testing arguments climate contrarians have used.

“What has caused the gradual but systematic rise of two and a half degrees?” Muller writes. “We tried fitting the shape to simple math functions (exponentials, polynomials), to solar activity and even to rising functions like world population. By far the best match was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.”

Muller asserted that his findings were ‘stronger’ than those of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental  panel. Yet,  neither Berkeley’s research from last year or the new findings on causality have been published in peer-reviewed journals, which has raised criticism and concerns among climatologists and contrarians alike.

Benjamin D. Santer, a climate researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a lead author of the 1995 U.N. climate report, said he welcomed the involvement of another research group into “detection and attribution” of climate change and its causes. But he also said he found it troubling that Muller claimed such definitive results without his work undergoing peer-review.

“If you go into the public arena and claim to have generated evidence that is stronger than the IPCC, where is the detailed, scientific evidence? Has he used fundamental new data sets?” Santer said. “Publish the science and report on it after it’s done.”

He added: “I think you can do great harm to the broader debate. Imagine this scenario: that he makes these great claims and the papers aren’t published? This (op-ed) is in the spirit of publicity, not the spirit of science.”

Elizabeth Muller, co-founder and executive director of the Berkeley project and Richard Muller’s daughter, said the papers had been peer-reviewed, but not yet published. But because of the long lead-up to publication, the Berkeley team decided to place its papers online, in part to solicit comment from other scientists. She said all the papers, including the latest, would be on the BerkeleyEarth.org website by Sunday evening.

“I believe the findings in our papers are too important to wait for the year or longer that it could take to complete the journal review process,” Elizabeth Muller wrote in an email. “We believe in traditional peer review; we welcome feedback [from] the public and any scientists who are interested in taking the time to make thoughtful comments. Our papers have received scrutiny by dozens of top scientists, not just the two or three that typically are called upon by journalists.”

 

Romney “I Want MORE”!

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Today Romney said that since he was, as he put it, a pioneer in outsourcing American jobs, he knows how to get jobs to come back to America.  He didn’t say how, or what his plan was, other than to cut taxes for people like himself. According to independent, non partisan sources,  Romney’s tax plan will cut taxes for the top 2 percent of the wealthy, but will cost the average taxpayer, i.e., the middle class, 2000 dollars.  He continues to refuse to release his tax returns, saying, “I paid taxes. Lots of taxes.” But we just have his word for that.  The Koch Bros have pledged half a billion dollars to defeat the President. They don’t do this because they love our country, they don’t. They have done this because they expect to make many more times that amount under a Romney administration. Remember, the super rich are NOT the job creators. Jobs in America are created by consumer spending.                                                                                                              In the 1930’s there was a gangster, played by Edward G.Robinson, who was asked, “What do you want, Rico?”He responded, “More. That’s it, I want more.”That should be Romney’s message as well, that is what his program consists of, more for people like himself.

America’s New Slavery: Black Men in Prison

The U.S. leads the world: it has the highest fraction of population in prison, 0.7% vs a world median of roughly 0.1%. With 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. hosts upward of 20 percent of the world’s prisoners. It imprisons more people per capita than any other country on earth. In 1980, there were about 220 people incarcerated for every 100.000 Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to 731. No other country even approaches that. The U.S. incarceration rate has roughly quintupled since the early 1970s. About 2 million Americans currently live behind bars. States like California now spend more on locking people up than on funding higher education.

The following article by Charlene Muhahmed fleshes out the statistics.  It is an important issue, for all of us, white black and brown.

By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent-

(FinalCall.com) – A new American slave trade is booming, warn prison activists, following the release of a report that again outlines outrageous numbers of young Black men in prison and increasing numbers of adults undergoing incarceration. That slave trade is connected to money states spend to keep people locked up, profits made through cheap prison labor and for-profit prisons, excessive charges inmates and families may pay for everything from tube socks to phone calls, and lucrative cross country shipping of inmates to relieve overcrowding and rent cells in faraway states and counties.

Advocates note that the constitution’s 13th amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery in the United States, but provided an exception—in cases where persons have been “duly convicted” in the United States and territory it controls, slavery or involuntary servitude can be reimposed as a punishment, they add. The majority of prisoners are Black and Latino, though they are minorities in terms of their numbers in the population.

According to “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” published by the Pew Center on the States, one in nine Black men between the ages of 20-34 are incarcerated compared to one in 30 other men of the same age. Like the overall adult ratio, one in 100 Black women in their mid-to-late 30s is imprisoned.

“Everyone is feeding off of our down-trodden condition to feed their capitalism, greed and lust for money. They are buying prison stock on the market and this is why they want to silence the restorative voice of Minister Louis Farrakhan, because he is repairing those who fill and would support the prison system as slaves,” said Student Minister Abdullah Muhammad of the Nation of Islam Prison Ministry.

The report states that the rising trend stems from more than a parallel increase in crime or surge in the population at large, but it is driven by policies that put more criminals in prison, extending their stay through measures like California’s Three Strikes Law.

Atty. Barbara Ratliff, a L.A.-based reparations activist, said the prison industrial complex’s extension of the slave plantation plays out in a pattern of behavior that Black people must study in order to survive. “I’m not talking about behavior of the individual incarcerate, but the pattern of treatment that digs into institutional racism. Corporate profit from prisons is no different than how slave owners received benefit from their labor, and that impact remained even after slavery. For instance, freed Blacks were arrested and put on chain gangs for their labor which continued to benefit slave owners, so this is no accident,” she said.

Inmates produce items or perform services for almost every major industry. They sew clothes, fight fires and build furniture, but they are paid little or no wages, somewhere between five cents and almost $2.

Phone companies charge high amounts for collect calls and inmate care packages can no longer be sent from families directly. Inmates must purchase products from companies to be sent in, which feeds capitalism, activists charge.

Although the costs of prisons is skyrocketing and consuming state budgets, money continues to be spent to push more Black youth into prison, activists assert. Many education and prison advocates charge there is a plot to populate U.S. prisons based on the dumbing down of America’s youth. Figures show those most likely to be incarcerated and to return generally have the lowest level of education. The report said, “While states don’t necessarily choose between higher education and corrections, a dollar spent in one area is unavailable for another.”

U.S. spending on prisons last year topped $49 billion, compared to $12 billion in 1987. California spent $8.8 billion on prisons last year and 13 states spend more than $1 billion a year on corrections.

Data from the National Association of State Budget Officers indicates:

• Vermont, Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut and Delaware spent as much or more on corrections than on higher education;

• For every dollar spent on higher education, Alaska spent 77 cents on corrections;

• For every dollar spent on higher education, Georgia spent 50 cents on corrections;

• On the average, all 50 states spent 60 cents on corrections for every dollar spent on higher education; and

• For every dollar spent on higher education, Minnesota spent 17 cents on corrections.

Between 1985 and 2005, Texas’ prison population alone jumped by 300 percent.

“All we have to do is follow the logic to see this connection between prisons and enslavement. When you look at prison costs and they say it cost $45,000 to house one prisoner, where does that break down? There’s only three square meals a day. The prisoners make their clothes and bedding in sewing factories and about 90 percent of the items they use in the prisons,” said Nathaniel Ali of the National Association of Brothers and Sisters In and Out of Prison (NABSIO).

He believes the majority of prison costs support guard unions and pay enormous base and overtime salaries of prison guards and other staff.

“They receive these exorbitant wages regardless of their education and training. You don’t have an I.Q.; all you have to have is the ability to be brutal” to command these wages through this new slave system, he said.

Mr. Ali said the public school system has become the feeder to prisons and their slave populations by increasing the heavy presence of school police and sheriffs on middle school campuses and penalties students face for often trivial offenses, other activists added.

Prison watch groups note corporate-owned prisons feed job-starved communities where businesses have disappeared. By incarcerating so many people, America deals with warehousing them and not finding out why they are incarcerated in the first place, advocates said.

“The fact is, it’s a business and a readily accessible, ‘free’ workforce removes prisons’ incentive to rehabilitate, especially those that are owned by corporations,” Atty. Ratliff said.

Laini Coffee, a self-described “unity activist” said, “At current trend, we could very well see the number of so-called free Blacks rival to the same number of those that are incarcerated. The answer is simple: Unity.”

How Bad Was Mitt Romney’s Prep School Bullying?

By |Posted Thursday, May 10, 2012, at 1:03 PM ET

Mitt Romney senior photo 1965

Mitt Romney senior photo 1965
Courtesy Cranbrook Schools.

In a must-read piece today, the Washington Post’s Jason Horowitz reports that Mitt Romney was a prep school meanie. The story, which Horowitz got independently from five of Romney’s former classmates, is that after spring break in 1965, Romney came back to Cranbrook, his all-male private school in Michigan, and noticed that John Lauber, a new student a year younger than him, was wearing his hair bleached blond and hanging down over one eye. Lauber generally got teased for looking different and seeming gay, though he was not out. Romney’s friend at the time, Matthew Friedemann, recalls that Romney said of Lauber, “He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” Romney kept complaining, and a few days later led a “prep school posse” that “came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground.”

Here’s the clincher: “As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.”

Remembering the incident, one witness told the Post, “to this day it troubles me.” Another called it “vicious.” Friedemann said he feels badly he didn’t try to stop it.  A fourth witness ran into Lauber at an airport bar three decades later and apologized to him. He says Lauber responded, “It was horrible,” and “It’s something I’ve thought about a lot since then.” Lauber, who was later expelled from Cranbrook for smoking a cigarette, eventually came out and lived a “vagabond” life, according to Horowitz, who spoke with Lauber’s sisters.  He died in 2004.

Through a spokeswoman, Romney at first called the story “exaggerated and off base.” On Thursday morning, he went on the radio to apologize. “I don’t remember that incident,” Romney said, laughing. “I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s, so that was not the case.”

Let’s assume that the details five other people (most but not all of them Democrats) keenly recall are true. How bad is this, as an example of bullying? Was this just the sort of thing that went on at boarding schools in the 1960s? Or does it show a troubling lack of empathy on the part of Romney? The short answer is that it’s both.

Slate founder Michael Kinsley graduated from Cranbrook in 1968, overlapping with Romney, and remembers the school as fairly progressive. He put the story about Romney into the category of things teenage boys do that they’re later ashamed of—not beyond the bounds of Cranbrook’s culture in those days, if also not good. “He missed an opportunity,” Kinsley said. “If he could go back, he’d have broken up that group rather than leading it.”

In lashing out at kids who were perceived as effeminate, Romney wasn’t alone. Horowitz recounts that when Romney shouted “Atta girl!” at another closeted gay student who tried to speak up in English class, he was using language of the sort even teachers employed. Kinsley says that’s plausible but not typical.

Mitt and George Romney on Commencement Day, June 1965

Mitt and George Romney on Commencement Day, June 1965
Courtesy Cranbrook Schools.

Technically speaking, the Post account doesn’t make Romney a bully. The academic definition of bullying is verbal or physical abuse that involves a power imbalance and that’s also repeated. We don’t have evidence that Romney went after Lauber more than once. But given the nature of the incident, it may be splitting hairs to absolve him of bullying. As the child abuse expert David Finkelhor has written, one-off acts of cruelty can also count as serious peer victimization and are very much worth addressing. If Romney was a high school student who did this today and got caught, he’d be punished, and for good reason. In retrospect, the idea that he got away with this act of cruelty while Lauber ended up kicked out of school for smoking seems unjust.

It’s telling that decades later, Lauber remembered the hair-cutting and said he’d dwelled on it. Though it seems to have been a lone act, it was one that could well have had a lasting effect: Lauber would have had to walk around shorn afterward, marked for everyone to see. And even if Romney didn’t see the incident as anti-gay, that subtext is significant for thinking about the impact on Lauber. LGBT students are still more likely to be bullied and victimized by other kids: In a 2009 national survey, 85 percent of kids who identify as LGBT said they’d been verbally harassed at school, 40 percent physically harassed, and nearly 20 percent physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation. The consequences have been laid out by researchers: Boys who are targets have higher levels of anxiety and depression. For girls, being taunted as a lesbian is linked to social withdrawal. Students who are harassed because of their sexual identity miss substantially more school and, in one study, earned lower grades. And in a study of young gay adults between the ages of 21 and 25, the ones who reported being bullied frequently in middle school and high school were over five times more likely to say they’d attempted suicide than the ones who hadn’t been victimized.

Romney, of course, wouldn’t have known any of this in 1965, and it’s not fair to hold him to today’s standard of awareness. The idea of homophobia wouldn’t have existed at Cranbrook then, Kinsley says. But it is fair to ask what rounding up a bunch of other students to pin a kid down and cut off his hair says about Romney’s sense of empathy. At that moment in time, he showed a startling lack of fellow feeling for John Lauber. This is the aspect of bullying I’ve found most disturbing, in my reporting on it. Experts say that when a powerful kid turns on a weaker one the way Romney did, he can experience a chilling cognitive shift, and come to see his victim as worthless. For a small number of kids who bully, this state of mind hardens, and they become people who can inflict pain without feeling compassion or remorse. Luckily, that is exceedingly rare. Most kids are pitiless one moment and then soften the next. Surely we can put Mitt Romney into this category. This high school incident of cruelty doesn’t mean that he is a cruel person.

At the same time, it does give the lie to this statement from his spokesperson: “Anyone who knows Mitt Romney knows that he doesn’t have a mean-spirited bone in his body.” However true that may be today, like plenty of other people, Romney did reveal a mean streak in adolescence. As a teenager, he apparently saw a kid who didn’t conform to his idea of normal and went after him, cruelly, methodically, and aggressively. It’s not surprising that Romney would have been a straight-laced, by-the-book kind of student who policed gender norms, to use the parlance of our time. But it is surprising that he was such a jerk about it.

It’s also worth pointing out, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has, that as a Yale sophomore in 1965, George W. Bush reportedly stuck up for a reputedly gay student.  Bush heard the student being called “queer,” told the taunters to shut up, and apparently also said, “Why don’t you try walking in his shoes for a while?” That’s the kind of instinctive compassion Mitt Romney failed to show when he was a few years younger than Bush was.

 

Vote Obama – if you want a centrist Republican for US president

 Because Barack Obama has adopted so many core Republican beliefs, the US opposition race is a shambles.

American presidential elections are increasingly indistinguishable from the reality TV competitions drowning the nation’s airwaves. Both are vapid, personality-driven and painfully protracted affairs, with the winners crowned by virtue of their ability to appear slightly more tolerable than the cast of annoying rejects whom the public eliminates one by one. When, earlier this year, America’s tawdriest (and one of its most-watched) reality TV show hosts, Donald Trump, inserted himself into the campaign circus as a threatened contestant, he fitted right in, immediately catapulting to the top of audience polls before announcing he would not join the show.

The Republican presidential primaries – shortly to determine who will be the finalist to face off, and likely lose, against Barack Obama next November – has been a particularly base spectacle. That the contest has devolved into an embarrassing clown show has many causes, beginning with the fact that GOP voters loathe Mitt Romney, their belief-free, anointed-by-Wall-Street frontrunner who clearly has the best chance of defeating the president.

In a desperate attempt to find someone less slithery and soulless (not to mention less Mormon), party members have lurched manically from one ludicrous candidate to the next, only to watch in horror as each wilted the moment they were subjected to scrutiny. Incessant pleas to the party’s ostensibly more respectable conservatives to enter the race have been repeatedly rebuffed. Now, only Romney remains viable. Republican voters are thus slowly resigning themselves to marching behind a vacant, supremely malleable technocrat whom they plainly detest.

In fairness to the much-maligned GOP field, they face a formidable hurdle: how to credibly attack Obama when he has adopted so many of their party’s defining beliefs. Depicting the other party’s president as a radical menace is one of the chief requirements for a candidate seeking to convince his party to crown him as the chosen challenger. Because Obama has governed as a centrist Republican, these GOP candidates are able to attack him as a leftist radical only by moving so far to the right in their rhetoric and policy prescriptions that they fall over the cliff of mainstream acceptability, or even basic sanity.

In July, the nation’s most influential progressive domestic policy pundit, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, declared that Obama is a “moderate conservative in practical terms”. Last October, he wrote that “progressives who had their hearts set on Obama were engaged in a huge act of self-delusion”, because the president – “once you get past the soaring rhetoric” – has “largely accepted the conservative storyline”.

Krugman also pointed out that even the policy Democratic loyalists point to as proof of the president’s progressive bona fides – his healthcare plan, which mandates the purchase of policies from the private health insurance industry – was designed by the Heritage Foundation, one of the nation’s most rightwing thinktanks, and was advocated by conservative ideologues for many years (it also happens to be the same plan Romney implemented when he was governor of Massachusetts and which Newt Gingrich once promoted, underscoring the difficulty for the GOP in drawing real contrasts with Obama).

How do you scorn a president as a far-left socialist when he has stuffed his administration with Wall Street executives, had his last campaign funded by them, governed as a “centrist Republican”, and presided over booming corporate profits even while the rest of the nation suffered economically?

But as slim as the pickings are for GOP candidates on the domestic policy front, at least there are some actual differences in that realm. The president’s 2009 stimulus spending and Wall Street “reform” package – tepid and inadequate though they were – are genuinely at odds with rightwing dogma, as are Obama’s progressive (albeit inconsistent) positions on social issues, such as equality for gay people and protecting a woman’s right to choose. And the supreme court, perpetually plagued by a 5-4 partisan split, would be significantly affected by the outcome of the 2012 election.

It is in the realm of foreign policy, terrorism and civil liberties where Republicans encounter an insurmountable roadblock. A staple of GOP politics has long been to accuse Democratic presidents of coddlingAmerica’s enemies (both real and imagined), being afraid to use violence, and subordinatingUSsecurity to international bodies and leftwing conceptions of civil liberties.

But how can a GOP candidate invoke this time-tested caricature when Obama has embraced the vast bulk of George Bush’s terrorism policies; waged a war against government whistleblowers as part of a campaign of obsessive secrecy; led efforts to overturn a global ban on cluster bombs; extinguished the lives not only of accused terrorists but of huge numbers of innocent civilians with cluster bombs and drones in Muslim countries; engineered a covert war against Iran; tried to extend the Iraq war; ignored Congress and the constitution to prosecute an unauthorised war in Libya; adopted the defining Bush/Cheney policy of indefinite detention without trial for accused terrorists; and even claimed and exercised the power to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield and without due process?

Reflecting this difficulty for the GOP field is the fact that former Bush officials, including Dick Cheney, have taken to lavishing Obama with public praise for continuing his predecessor’s once-controversial terrorism polices. In the last GOP foreign policy debate, the leading candidates found themselves issuing recommendations on the most contentious foreign policy question (Iran) that perfectly tracked what Obama is already doing, while issuing ringing endorsements of the president when asked about one of his most controversial civil liberties assaults (the due-process-free assassination of the American-Yemeni cleric Anwar Awlaki). Indeed, when it comes to the foreign policy and civil liberties values Democrats spent the Bush years claiming to defend, the only candidate in either party now touting them is the libertarian Ron Paul, who vehemently condemns Obama’s policies of drone killings without oversight, covert wars, whistleblower persecutions, and civil liberties assaults in the name of terrorism.

In sum, how do you demonise Obama as a terrorist-loving secret Muslim intent on empowering US enemies when he has adopted, and in some cases extended, what was rightwing orthodoxy for the last decade? The core problem for GOP challengers is that they cannot be respectable Republicans because, as Krugman pointed out, Obama has that position occupied. They are forced to move so far to the right that they render themselves inherently absurd.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/27/vote-obama-centrist-republican

           © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved

Conservatism Thrives on Low Intelligence and Poor Information

 First Published on :

 

There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood.

February 12, 2012  |  
 
 
 Self-deprecating, too liberal for their own good, today’s progressives stand back and watch, hands over their mouths, as the social vivisectionists of the right slice up a living society to see if its component parts can survive in isolation. Tied up in knots of reticence and self-doubt, they will not shout stop. Doing so requires an act of interruption, of presumption, for which they no longer possess a vocabulary.

Perhaps it is in the same spirit of liberal constipation that, with the exception of Charlie Brooker, we have been too polite to mention the Canadian study published last month in the journal Psychological Science, which revealed that people with conservative beliefs are likely to be of low intelligence. Paradoxically it was the Daily Mail that brought it to the attention of British readers last week. It feels crude, illiberal to point out that the other side is, on average, more stupid than our own. But this, the study suggests, is not unfounded generalisation but empirical fact.

It is by no means the first such paper. There is plenty of research showing that low general intelligence in childhood predicts greater prejudice towards people of different ethnicity or sexuality in adulthood. Open-mindedness, flexibility, trust in other people: all these require certain cognitive abilities. Understanding and accepting others – particularly “different” others – requires an enhanced capacity for abstract thinking.

But, drawing on a sample size of several thousand, correcting for both education and socioeconomic status, the new study looks embarrassingly robust. Importantly, it shows that prejudice tends not to arise directly from low intelligence but from the conservative ideologies to which people of low intelligence are drawn. Conservative ideology is the “critical pathway” from low intelligence to racism. Those with low cognitive abilities are attracted to “rightwing ideologies that promote coherence and order” and “emphasise the maintenance of the status quo”. Even for someone not yet renowned for liberal reticence, this feels hard to write.

This is not to suggest that all conservatives are stupid. There are some very clever people in government, advising politicians, running thinktanks and writing for newspapers, who have acquired power and influence by promoting rightwing ideologies.

But what we now see among their parties – however intelligent their guiding spirits may be – is the abandonment of any pretence of high-minded conservatism. On both sides of the Atlantic, conservative strategists have discovered that there is no pool so shallow that several million people won’t drown in it. Whether they are promoting the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the US, that man-made climate change is an eco-fascist-communist-anarchist conspiracy, or that the deficit results from the greed of the poor, they now appeal to the basest, stupidest impulses, and find that it does them no harm in the polls.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to what two former Republican ideologues, David Frum and Mike Lofgren, have been saying. Frum warns that “conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics“. The result is a “shift to ever more extreme, ever more fantasy-based ideology” which has “ominous real-world consequences for American society”.

Lofgren complains that “the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital centre today“. The Republican party, with its “prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science” is appealing to what he calls the “low-information voter”, or the “misinformation voter”. While most office holders probably don’t believe the “reactionary and paranoid claptrap” they peddle, “they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base”.

The madness hasn’t gone as far in the UK, but the effects of the Conservative appeal to stupidity are making themselves felt. This week the Guardian reported that recipients of disability benefits, scapegoated by the government as scroungers, blamed for the deficit, now find themselves subject to a new level of hostility and threats from other people.

These are the perfect conditions for a billionaires’ feeding frenzy. Any party elected by misinformed, suggestible voters becomes a vehicle for undisclosed interests. A tax break for the 1% is dressed up as freedom for the 99%. The regulation that prevents big banks and corporations exploiting us becomes an assault on the working man and woman. Those of us who discuss man-made climate change are cast as elitists by people who happily embrace the claims of Lord MoncktonLord Lawson or thinktanks funded by ExxonMobil or the Koch brothers: now the authentic voices of the working class.

But when I survey this wreckage I wonder who the real idiots are. Confronted with mass discontent, the once-progressive major parties, as Thomas Frank laments in his latest book Pity the Billionaire, triangulate and accommodate, hesitate and prevaricate, muzzled by what he calls “terminal niceness”. They fail to produce a coherent analysis of what has gone wrong and why, or to make an uncluttered case for social justice, redistribution and regulation. The conceptual stupidities of conservatism are matched by the strategic stupidities of liberalism.

Yes, conservatism thrives on low intelligence and poor information. But the liberals in politics on both sides of the Atlantic continue to back off, yielding to the supremacy of the stupid. It’s turkeys all the way down.

George Monbiot is the author Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning. Read more of his writings at Monbiot.com.

 
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Raising Cain

I think I can state with some certainty that my friends on the right are thrilled with the prospect of Herman Cain’s denouement. Last night the lovely, but possibly insane Ann Coulter said, “Our blacks are better than their blacks.” Democrat party spokesmen announced, “We don’t own any blacks. Ann Coulter is speaking for the Republicans.” The women that Cain allegedly harassed are asking to be relived from the confidentiality claim, so they can counter Cain’s claims that the charges were false. At any rate, after Cain’s early denials, “I know nothing about these allegations,” Then “I remember there were allegations, but I know nothing about the particulars” Then later “I don’t know if there was a settlement” then “There was a settlement, but it was called an agreement, that’s different.” And so on, ad nauseam, it appears that his campaign is effectively over, although he is still raking in the gifts, which is probably the reason for his campaign to begin with. For Democrats this is not good news, we like blacks, we liked Cain, he was entertaining, and he would have been easy to beat. For Republicans, who probably put out the story in the first place, this is wonderful. Republicans don’t care for blacks or other minorities, and the thought of having a black President NO MATTER WHO WON, kept neocons up at night, drenched with cold sweat. Now the race is Romney’s to lose. Can he do it?