The Price Of Ideology

In posts to this blog, I often criticize ideological rigidity. Hopefully, those criticisms come in a context that makes the meaning of “ideological” clear, but it may be worthwhile to focus on just what it means to be “ideological” rather than simply convinced of the likelihood that some phenomenon is true.

Ideology has a lot in common with prejudice, which means “pre-judging.” (We all know people who firmly believe that “those people” [insert your chosen group here] are lazy, unintelligent, shifty…whatever–and who dismiss any inconvenient evidence to the contrary.)

Ideology extends beyond such categorizing of one’s fellow humans, of course, and its most obvious characteristic is a stubborn refusal to adapt belief to evidence, and to change or at least modify one’s opinion when that evidence is too persuasive to ignore.

The problem, of course, is that persistent rejection of an unwanted reality usually prevents people from coping with very real problems.

The situation in Florida is an excellent illustration of the foregoing, somewhat abstract discussion. A while back, I came across a discussion of the impact of climate change on Florida residents and businesses. It began by focusing on the closure of assisted living facilities in that state as a result of huge increases in the cost of property insurance–not to mention the growing inability to even find a property insurer willing to write such coverage in Florida.

The state of Florida is incredibly vulnerable to climate change and to the newly numerous and severe weather events that change is triggering. Thanks to its shape and location, it is also uniquely vulnerable to rising sea waters–the Miami airport has spent some seven billion dollars “modernizing” and raising the elevation of the facility due to the speed at which Florida’s sea level is now rising. (Currently, by as much as 1 inch every 3 years.)

Right now, the most obvious effect of climate change on the state is the crisis of property insurance rates and availability.

It is not just business that is taking it on the chin. Floridians pay the highest home insurance rates in the country. The good old gator boys love to point out how expensive the Socialist Republic of New York is. But like all conservative rhetoric, it is vacuous self-congratulation with no foundation in reality.

Homeowners in the Sunshine State do not pay state income tax. But, while a married New Yorker earning $70,000 p.a. pays c.$2,726 in state income tax, a married Floridian living in a $300,000 house will pay c.$4,733 more ($6,366 vs. $1,633) than the NYer for home insurance.

Any effort to solve that crisis runs into DeSantis’ ideology–which denies the evidence every sensible Floridian can see.

Global warming denial is a state religion in Florida. As early as 2014, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection bosses banned their subordinates from saying “climate change” and “global warming.” Because, as everyone knows, the most effective way to tackle a problem is to deny it.

In March 2015, The Miami Herald reported what DEP employees had to say on the matter:

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013.

“That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.” Kristina Trotta, another former DEP employee who worked in Miami, said her supervisor told her not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in a 2014 staff meeting. “We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact,” she said….

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation deleting even the mention of climate change from state laws. It gets worse. As CNN reported:

The wide-ranging law makes several changes to the state’s energy policy – in some cases deleting entire sections of state law that talk about the importance of cutting planet-warming pollution. The bill would also give preferential treatment to natural gas and ban offshore wind energy, even though there are no wind farms planned off Florida’s coast.

The bill deletes the phrase ‘climate’ eight times – often in reference to reducing the impacts of global climate change through its energy policy or directing state agencies to buy ‘climate friendly’ products when they are cost-effective and available. The bill also gets rid of a requirement that state-purchased vehicles should be fuel efficient.

I’m not sure when ideology morphs into insanity…

A popular cartoon posed the question: what if there isn’t climate change and we made the world more livable for nothing?


More On Project 2025

In a weird way, it really doesn’t matter who heads up either the Republican or Democratic national tickets–because this election is rapidly becoming a referendum on the U.S. Constitution and what it means to be an American.

If Republicans win the Presidency and Congress, we are very likely to jettison the Constitution in favor of the provisions of Project 2025. The forces that produced Project 2025 represent the real power structure of today’s GOP; its members see Trump as a convenient “front” because he is ignorant, stupid (those aren’t the same thing) and interested only in garnering attention–thus easily manipulated. Should he be replaced at the top of the ticket, it would either be with someone equally malleable or with a Project 2025 true believer.

Fortunately, the Democrats–unlike the Borg (look it up)–don’t believe that resistance is futile. As Joyce Vance has recently reported, Democrats have created a task force to combat what can accurately be described as an extension of the January 6th coup attempt. The task force has been created by California Congressman Jared Huffman, who described its formation and purpose.

We started by getting leaders from groups across the political spectrum of our House Democratic Caucus to sign on – Progressives, New Dems, CHC, CBC, API, Pro-Choice, Labor, LGBTQ Equality, and, of course, the Congressional Freethought Caucus I co-founded with Jamie Raskin!  From there, several other members signed on, including two from leadership (Joe Neguse and Ted Lieu).  Our ranking Appropriator, Rosa DeLauro, just joined us this week, bringing the Task Force to 15 members, including some of the most effective communicators in Congress.

We’re working closely with experts from more than a dozen leading advocacy groups, including Accountable.US, Democracy Forward, Center for American Progress, ACLU, Protect Democracy, Court Accountability, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and more.

Our work plan starts with over half a dozen subject matter briefings for Task Force members and staff by the end of August.  We’ve already had the first two:  last week on messaging/communications, including some recent polling on Project 2025, and this week, an ominous briefing on how the various elements of Project 2025 link together in a very strategic attack on democracy and civil liberties.  As we complete these “deep dive” briefings, we’re developing and pushing out messaging materials for Task Force members, outside partner groups, and the media.  In September, we will have a big, congressional hearing-like event where we publicly roll out highlights of the various briefings in conjunction with the outside groups.  The hearing will feature testimony from leading experts and different Task Force members will take the lead in presenting different parts of Project 2025.  We believe this event will get a lot of attention and will distill Project 2025 for the American people in a way that helps them understand how radical and destructive it is, why it must be taken very seriously, and how we can stop it.

After added discussion about the task force plans, Huffman addressed the central issue: what would the enactment of Project 2025 mean for the American experiment?

As Huffman explained, Project 2025 is a sweeping attack on democracy and fundamental American freedoms–an attack on health care and reproductive liberty, social justice, the livability of our planet, and much more.

It aims to systematically dismantle our democratic checks and balances and consolidate unprecedented power in a second Trump presidency.  It’s truly a roadmap to make Trump, already an aspiring dictator, into a real one, and to impose a radical social/religious order on all of us.  It exudes an “any means necessary” philosophy, including the explicit embrace of dystopic authoritarian measures like domestic military deployments, detention camps, mass deportations, an unprecedented political purge of the federal workforce, political weaponization of federal law enforcement, and more.  These are my greatest concerns because they would end American democracy as we know it.

There are certainly other worrisome parts of Project 2025, including dramatically weakening public education (with a goal of ending secular public education), sweeping attacks on the environment and rollbacks of climate action, clear threats to our social and retirement safety net, and privatization schemes and other reckless giveaways to powerful special interests.

Rick Wilson has said that Project 2025 “polls like Ebola,” which explains why Trump is suddenly trying to dissociate himself from it, but Heritage worked with over 100 extreme Rightwing groups that are at the heart of Trump’s political base, along with several of the most loyal (and scary) members of the prior Trump administration –- Mark Meadows, Stephen Miller, Peter Navarro, and several others.

The GOP roadmap that is Project 2025 is breathtakingly clear. Those of us who want to keep the Constitution need to ensure that voters know where that roadmap would take us.


Heritage Makes It Explicit

When I was much younger, I would have bristled if someone told me to vote a straight ticket. I was one of those scolds who insisted that one’s duty as a citizen was to research the bona fides of all candidates, from President to coroner, and vote accordingly. And in a perfect–or even marginally better–world, I would probably stand by that assertion.

But we are in uncharted territory. Thanks, ironically, to decades of weakening political party structures and influence, the voting public has separated itself into two blocs, one of which is a more-or-less normal political party spanning a fairly wide range of policy preferences and engaging in relatively typical intra-party disputes, while the other has morphed into a cohesive racist cult that threatens the most fundamental bases of the American Idea.

The accuracy of that last paragraph is demonstrated by the fact that I don’t have to tell you which is which.

A vote for anyone in the cult is a vote for the goals of Project 2025, because even Republicans who are personally conflicted about or even opposed to the MAGA zealots have shown zero willingness to confront the crazies who are firmly in control of their party. Those who recognize the threat and retain their spines have all declared their intent to vote Democratic.

And let’s be quite clear about that threat. 

Heather Cox Richardson has described it accurately and succinctly:

Project 2025 stands on four principles that it says the country must embrace: the U.S. must “[r]estore the family as the centerpiece of American life and protect our children”; “[d]ismantle the administrative state and return self-governance to the American people”; “[d]efend our nation’s sovereignty, borders, and bounty against global threats”; and “[s]ecure our God-given individual rights to live freely—what our Constitution calls ‘the Blessings of Liberty.’”

In almost 1,000 pages, the document explains what these policies mean for ordinary Americans. Restoring the family and protecting children means using “government power…to restore the American family.” That, the document says, means eliminating any words associated with sexual orientation or gender identity, gender, abortion, reproductive health, or reproductive rights from any government rule, regulation, or law. Any reference to transgenderism is “pornography” and must be banned. 

The overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized the right to abortion must be gratefully celebrated, the document says, but the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision accomplishing that end “is just the beginning.” 

Dismantling the administrative state starts from the premise that “people are policy.” Frustrated because nonpartisan civil employees thwarted much of Trump’s agenda in his first term, the authors of Project 2025 call for firing much of the current government workforce—about 2 million people work for the U.S. government—and replacing it with loyalists who will carry out a right-wing president’s demands. 

The plan asserts “the existential need” for an authoritarian leader to dismantle the current government that regulates business, provides a social safety net, and protects civil rights. Instead of the government Americans have built since 1933, the plan says the national government must “decentralize and privatize as much as possible” and leave “the great majority of domestic activities to state, local, and private governance.”

It attacks “America’s largest corporations, its public institutions, and its popular culture,” for their embrace of international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union and for their willingness to work with other countries. It calls for abandoning all of those partnerships and alliances. 

The current head of the Heritage Foundation, Kevin Roberts, has remade what was formerly a Rightwing think tank into an organization focused upon “institutionalizing Trumpism.” Heritage has negotiated a formal partnership with Viktor Orban and is working to bring the neo-fascist policies of Hungary to the United States.

Unlike members of the MAGA base, Heritage and other Rightwing activists are well aware that Trump is an ignoramus wholly incapable of ushering in their desired policies; he’s basically a convenient tool.

In January 2024, Roberts told Lulu Garcia-Navarro of the New York Times that Project 2025 was designed to jump-start a right-wing takeover of the government. “[T]he Trump administration, with the best of intentions, simply got a slow start,” Roberts said. “And Heritage and our allies in Project 2025 believe that must never be repeated.” 

The only thing that will stop the completion of the January 6th coup and the remakng of America along the lines of a Rightwing wet dream is a massive and comprehensive rejection of the GOP, from top to bottom. 

If the French could do it, surely we can.


The Hoosier Theocrats

Sometimes, what’s intended as dark humor isn’t very funny.

During a discussion with a cousin who shares most of my political views, I admitted that the possibility of a Trump victory–especially now that the Supreme Court has eviscerated the rule of law–keeps me up at night. He counseled me to dial it back, to live with what comes. “And besides, we won’t have to worry for long, because they’ll line the Jews up and shoot us.”

Ha ha.

The folks that the late Molly Ivins dubbed the “chattering classes” are mostly focused on the very real threat of autocracy, of dictatorship should Trump prevail. Fair enough: the MAGA base doesn’t really have a coherent philosophy other than their firm belief that White Christian men should run the country and all we “Others” should go back to subordinate status (or–in the case of gay folks– the closet). Less attention has been paid to the theocrats in the movement–those who do have a specific and frighteningly clear agenda that revolves around using government to impose their fundamentalist religious beliefs on everyone else.

That First Amendment is so last century….

Here in Indiana, the Republican statewide ticket is uniformly theocratic; Micah Beckwith, candidate for Lieutenant Governor and Jim Banks, candidate for U.S. Senate, are “true believers.” Mike Braun, the gubernatorial candidate, hasn’t demonstrated any core beliefs other than his obviously firm conviction that he’s entitled to be important–apparently, he’ll happily echo whatever policy positions are most likely to win him public office, much like our embarrassing Attorney General, Todd Rokita, who is running for a second term. Rokita has made pandering to the MAGA base into an art form. In Indiana, since pandering requires obeisance to the MAGA theocrats, the entire ticket can legitimately be labeled theocratic.

How concerned should we be?

In a recent opinion piece in the Indianapolis Star, James Briggs considered a question posed by a reader: “how scary is Micah Beckwith.” His response:

I caution against treating political figures as scary. There’s enough to worry about in life without catastrophizing politicians.

That said, the media, myself included, have correctly framed Beckwith as an extreme figure on the right. He is an avowed Christian nationalist who believes in harnessing political and governmental power to enact an agenda in line with his rigid interpretation of Christianity. He’s also uniquely effective at pursuing that agenda, in large part because he has charisma and communication skills honed by his work as a pastor.

Briggs argued that, in the event the GOP wins Indiana in November, what Hoosiers have to worry about, “in order of greatest to least probability,” are

  • State government will get worse.
  • Beckwith will embarrass Indiana.
  • Laws could get more extreme.
  • Beckwith could become governor.

It’s hard to believe our legislature could get worse….

As Briggs notes, elective office means a wider audience. “When Beckwith says crazy things going forward — like that God sent the Jan. 6 rioters — people across the U.S. will hear about it and assume Indiana is just a bunch of Beckwiths. That’s embarrassing.”

Yes, Beckwith is a true believer and a loose cannon, but Jim Banks isn’t far behind.

Known as Focus on the Family’s man in Washington, when he isn’t using loose fundraising rules to amass personal wealth, Banks uses his position as a Congressman to pursue decidedly theocratic goals. He wants a “godly country” where federal law bans all abortions, with none of those wimpy exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother, and other laws reflect his vicious ongoing vendetta against LGBTQ+ people and especially trans children.

Well, at least Beckwith and Banks are sincere fundamentalist theocrats.

I have repeatedly posted about Todd Rokita, Indiana’s despicable Attorney-General. In his case, devotion to MAGA theocracy is transparently based upon political utility–my guess is that if he were to be politically active in a Blue state, his positions would align with those of Bernie Sanders. Of course, he isn’t in a Blue state, so he has consistently demonstrated his fidelity to the Beckwith/Taliban portion of the Republican party, hounding the doctor who performed an abortion on a ten-year-old rape victim, making an effort to obtain women’s private medical records, and endorsing a variety of far-Right, theocratic positions.

Indiana is often characterized as a state where voters will vote for a rutabaga if it has an R next to its name. In November, we’ll see whether that flippant description holds, or whether the extremely autocratic and theocratic positions of the GOP candidates causes Hoosier voters to turn to the competent, middle-of-the-road candidates nominated by Indiana’s Democrats.

I’ll post evidence of their bona fides after the Democratic state convention.


The Things We Know That Just Aren’t So…

Michael Hicks is an economist on the faculty of Ball State University. He recently published two columns in the Indianapolis Star that deserve widespread attention.

Hicks documents two inconvenient facts: more people move into high-tax areas than into low-tax precincts, and economic conditions in Blue cities and states are significantly better than conditions in Red parts of the country.

Hicks makes that first assertion in a column discussing the repeated mantra of candidates for Indiana’s legislature--elect me and I’ll cut property taxes! High property taxes are why Indiana keeps losing population! He points out that–despite the popularity of these proposals, property tax cuts would be highly unlikely to grow population, employment, GDP or household incomes. The data shows that population growth tends to cluster in high-tax places.

In Indiana, the 10 counties with the highest effective property tax rates alone accounted for 27,105 new residents since 2020, a whopping 61.3% of the state’s entire population growth. The 10 counties with the lowest effective property tax rates saw only 878 new residents, or less than 2% of the state’s growth.

I know many readers will recoil at this challenge to a long-held notion that lower taxes cause growth. However, it is a cold, hard fact that both population and employment growth is positively correlated with tax rates on income and property.

In Indiana, a 1% increase in the average tax rate leads to a 2% increase in population growth. That is simple mathematics.

Why would that be? As Hicks concedes, no one looks at tax rates and says “Let’s move to where taxes are higher.” What they do look at are indicators of quality of life–public services and amenities that will be available to them.

These are places where families judge themselves better off. If you live in a state where families are moving from low- to high-tax regions, your state is underinvesting in local amenities such as schools, parks, and public safety.

That reality–anathema as it is to those who view all taxation as evil–goes a long way toward explaining another phenomenon Hicks has discussed–the difference between the economic performance of Red and Blue areas of the country.

Nationwide, it is unambiguously clear that the U.S. economy is performing historically well. On every important measure — employment, wages, GDP, or wealth — the overall economy is not just performing at record levels, but also outperforming the rest of the world.

Robust national economic performance has benefits for every county and small town, but that does not mean every place shares equally in economic growth. There are plenty of places that continue to do poorly.

And the gap between them is growing. Rich places are, for the most part, getting richer and poor places poorer–in contrast to what has typically happened before. Moreover,

poor places are increasingly governed by Republicans and rich places by Democrats. The gap between rich and poor places might help explain the partisan differences in perceptions of the economy.

The regional differences are compelling across dimensions of rural and urban places, as well as between cities and rural areas.