Monday, May 28, 2007

Are You Kidding Me?

Mike Huckabee continues to struggle to stand out from the rest of the crowded Republican presidential field. His latest cry for attention is his suggestion that the Federal Income Tax should be replaced with a national sales tax (which he calls a "consumption tax"). Huckabee endorsed the so-called Fair Tax, which would eliminate the income taxes on both individuals and corporations, and replace it with a sales tax on all goods and services (including homes). The idea here is that the tax is voluntary--if you don't want to pay taxes, you don't spend your money. So, if you don't want to "voluntarily" pay taxes, you just don't buy food, or electricity, or that kidney transplant you've been eyeing. Of course, if you can afford to go to, say, Europe to buy things like medical care or a yacht or a summer home, no one there will charge you a sales tax.

Of course, everyone understands that sales taxes are regressive--they weigh heaviest on those who are least able to pay them. The Fair Tax people plan to get around this by paying a "prebate" to lower income people to offset the taxes they'll have to pay on necessities. Of course, the government will decide what constitutes "necessities"--won't it be nice to have someone else figure that out for you?

No one's denying that the current tax system is unfair and complicated, but you can be sure that a tax system endorsed by the likes of Neal Boortz and John Boozman isn't being put together to take care of poor working people. Huckabee loves regressive sales taxes--he opposed removing sales taxes on groceries while governor of Arkansas--but his record on taxes has been attacked by conservatives, so he is desperate to do something to position himself as a "true conservative" and to draw attention to his floundering campaign. This tax tactic worked well for Steve Forbes, didn't it?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The War on Science, Part 13,456

Surprise! Dubya's choice for Surgeon General of the United States, James Holsinger, just happens to be a crooked, incompetent, homophobe who--surprise, again!--is also a big donor to Republicans, including noted nutcase Jim Bunning. Thank God that our government has learned its lessons about cronyism, and that this guy has no chance of being confirmed. Right? Right?

The Man Who Wouldn't Be President

Al keeps saying he's not in the race. It's our loss. A fellow who doesn't want to play politics and who actually believes in science is just what we need. Seems like there ought to be some way to force the guy to run--some sort of mandatory presidential draft?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gone to Florida

For the next ten days, I'll be on a field trip to Florida. With luck, I'll have some interesting wildlife pictures when I get back.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Accountability" Is A Nifty Buzzword.

What is the purpose of a university? This probably seems like a silly question, but the answer is more complex than "to provide an education." State universities receive a large percentage of their funding from the state. What should taxpayers receive in return for their investment? Persons who earn a college degree can expect to make more money throughout their working lives, and in turn they'll have a positive impact on the economy of the state. Presumably this will be good for the businesses in the state, and all of the citizens.

So, a higher graduation rate is good for business, right? Apparently, Arkansas governor Mike Beebe thinks so. Beebe has announced his plan to tie funding of higher education in Arkansas to graduation and retention rates. This sounds great--everyone should be held accountable for doing their job, and it's the job of universities to educate. But of course this idea can have only one result--grade inflation.

College administrators are under a tremendous amount of financial pressure, all the time. Faculty members all feel that they're underpaid. Students and their parents all think that tuition rates are too high. Expenses go up every year. The chancellor at the university where I teach has to spend all of his time thinking about money--negotiating with the legislature for funds, listening to employees whining about their pay, planning maintenance and new construction, juggling unforseen expenses, schmoozing with donors. On top of these, he has to worry about competition from other state institutions--there is only so much money coming from the state, and every dollar that goes to the big University in Fayetteville is one that doesn't go to our little college.

One of the most surprising things about teaching at the open-admissions university where I work has been the complete lack of pressure to pass underserving students through the system. In fact, the opposite has been true--my colleagues and I have been encouraged to maintain academic standards. But how long can this last in the face of possible funding cutbacks? If a student receives low grades, he is much more likely to drop out, and every dropout is going to cost the university money. It's easy to see what has to happen--Ds and Fs will become a thing of the past. Sure enough, graduation and retention rates will go up. And the worth of a college degree will go down.

Governor Beebe's heart is in the right place; a better-educated populace can only be a good thing. This is just not the way to get there.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Another Creationist President?

Mike Huckabee doesn't think that belief in creationism or evolution matters to a potential President of the United States. He couldn't be more wrong. The "president" we have now has demonstrated time after time what happens when the most powerful man in the world doesn't understand, believe, or respect science or scientists. As Stephen Colbert likes to say, Bush makes his decisions from the gut and not the brain, and as Malcolm Gladwell pointed out on Colbert's show last week, that has put this country into a heap of trouble.

In the face of overwhelming evidence and a nearly-unanimous consensus from reputable scientists, Huckabee refuses to accept evidence of human-caused global warming:
Huckabee was a guest on the April 25 edition of Glenn Beck. In response to Beck's question about whether "global warming" was "real" or "not," Huckabee replied that as "a Christian" he "think[s] we ought to take good care of the Earth. ... But as far as blaming human beings for enjoying the environment, that's a little bit extreme."--Huckabee interview on the Glenn Beck show, quoted on the Media Matters website.
What happens, then, when the Greenland ice cap begins to melt? Will a President Huckabee refuse to take action? What if astronomers tell the Reverend President that an asteroid--invisible to the naked eye--is going to impact Philadelphia or Detroit? I think in this case, I'd rather have Morgan Freeman as president. The fact is, Mike Huckabee does not have the education necessary to understand how science works or what it says. He holds a degree in religion from Ouachita Baptist University; this qualifies him to be a Baptist preacher, but not to be making decisions on stem-cell research, the space program, global climate change, science education, or public health. We've had one president ignorant of science and the rest of the reality-based world. Haven't we learned our lesson?

You're Welcome, Wisconsin

They were here all last weekend, but I haven't seen them in a while. The rose-breasted grosbeaks that were hanging around my feeder have departed for the north--to Minnesota and Wisconsin and Ontario, there to do their yearly business of raising more grosbeaks to send back through next year. They winter in South and Central America (like I would if I could). They zip through every year, hanging around for a week or so, cleaning out my sunflower seed in a manic hurry, gathering up energy for their trip. As my friend Hipparchia has pointed out, I feel paternal toward these birds. I don't begrudge them a crop full of seed--they pay with their flashy colors and cheerful (if somewhat nondescript) song. I also don't begrudge the birders in Wisconsin the pleasure of enjoying "my" birds all summer long--I just ask that they take care of them while they're enjoying them.