Tag Archives: Todd Rokita

THIS Is What’s Wrong With America

A Facebook friend who lives in Todd Rokita’s Congressional district attended his recent Town Hall. In a post following the event, she reported on an exchange she had with the Congressman:

My question was “What evidence do you require in order to revise your opinion on climate change?”

His response was “No evidence could ever exist that would change my mind. It’s all Liberal science.”

If the constituent who posted this conversation transcribed it accurately–and I have no reason to doubt that–this is a disturbing and revealing admission. Don’t confuse me with facts. I’m a zealot who’s impervious to evidence. 

This one exchange is a (horrifying) example of what is wrong with Rokita, with today’s Republican Party, and –to the extent people of this ilk dominate our government–what’s wrong with American politics.

As appalling as I find the sentiment–“I’ve formed an opinion that cannot be altered by evidence or reality”–what is truly illuminating about this exchange is the immediate resort to labeling. Rokita and those like him find no need to engage in reasoned debate, no need to defend their positions; instead of providing grounds for their opinions, they simply dismiss opposing perspectives by labeling them “liberal.”

(Perhaps that response is inadvertent confirmation of the snarky observation that “reality has a well-known liberal bias…”.)

I cannot think of any position more disqualifying for public office–or for any responsible job–than one that refuses in advance to even consider evidence that might be inconsistent with one’s prejudices.

Of course, I shouldn’t be so surprised: evidence has never been Rokita’s strong suit.

Todd Rokita was the Indiana Secretary of State whose discovery of (vanishingly rare) “voter fraud” led to his championing of the state’s Voter ID law, which (entirely co-incidently, I’m sure) disenfranchised poor minority voters who had a deplorable tendency to vote Democratic.

I really never expected to live in a country where science and empirical research required defense, but evidently Luddites aren’t simply historical oddities. So later this morning, I will join other Hoosiers at the Statehouse to participate in a “March for Science.”

As the website for the March explains,

The March for Science is a celebration of science.  It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.  Nevertheless, the march has generated a great deal of conversation around whether or not scientists should involve themselves in politics. In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense?

People who value science have remained silent for far too long in the face of policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world. New policies threaten to further restrict scientists’ ability to research and communicate their findings.  We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely.  Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford.  We must stand together and support science.

The application of science to policy is not a partisan issue. Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone — without exception. Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions. At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers.  It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.

As Neil DeGrasse Tyson likes to say, science is true whether we believe it or not. What he implies, but doesn’t say, is that rejecting reality is a prescription for disaster–and so is continuing to elect people who find science unacceptably “liberal.”

 

Speaking of Jerks We’ve Elected….

Todd Rokita.

I knew Rokita was a partisan hack when he introduced Indiana’s Voter ID law, which he sanctimoniously declared was a “good government” measure intended to stop all that nasty in-person “voter fraud” that doesn’t really happen, rather than an effort to prevent “those people” from voting. But in a year when his party’s Presidential ticket is composed of a megalomaniac and a Christian Warrior, I’d sort of forgotten about him.

Last week, however, Rokita had a column in the Indianapolis Business Journal that reminded me why he shouldn’t be in public office.

Rokita was on a rant against the federal Department of Education for its “assault on profit-making.” Translation: how dare the department move against ITT. It hasn’t taken similar action against public institutions! (Rockita also threw in a snide criticism of the IBJ’s editorial board, which had blamed the federal action on ITT’s management.)

Boiled down to its disingenuous basics, Rokita’s argument was that the federal government, motivated solely by liberal animosity to for-profit ventures–had overstepped its authority.

Missing from his diatribe were those pesky little things called “facts.” For years, ITT overcharged students for a shoddy product (its credits wouldn’t even transfer to most other institutions).It enrolled students without regard for their ability to benefit from higher education, because We the Taxpayers were paying the very hefty freight.

State and federal agencies have been investigating ITT since 2002, and it  currently faces fraud charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission and a lawsuit from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It has been under investigation by at least 19 state attorneys general.

When U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. issued the Department’s decision to impose increased sanctions upon ITT, he emphasized that the move was not made lightly.

“Ultimately, we made a difficult choice to pursue additional oversight in order to protect you, other students, and taxpayers from potentially worse educational and financial damage in the future if ITT was allowed to continue operating without increased oversight and assurances to better serve students,” King wrote.

ITT was one of several for-profit “educational” endeavors ripping off both taxpayers and the students who left with substandard educations and huge loans to repay. Legitimate institutions of higher education, public and private, have been calling for more oversight of for-profit colleges for a long time.

To label this overdue regulatory action “liberal overreach” is (pardon my language) bullshit.

I can only assume that ITT or its shareholders are among Todd Rokita’s donors. Or his relatives. Or something. The only other explanation for so dishonest a column is abject ignorance.

I am grateful for one thing, though. The column reminded me why I have no use for Todd Rokita.

About Those School Lunches…

If only issues were as simple and uncomplicated as people think they are…

Indiana Representative Todd Rokita has proposed to ban the practice of providing free lunches to all students in schools where over 40% of the students are eligible for such lunches. He wants to limit the program so that only the students who qualify eat free.

Sounds reasonable enough; as Indianapolis Star editor Tim Swarins recently framed the issue in an editorial defending Rokita’s proposal, why should we spend tax dollars to feed children who (presumably) can afford to pay for their lunches?

Well, there are several reasons, actually, and the one that should be most compelling to Mssrs. Rokita and Swarins (had they bothered to investigate) is financial.

It turns out that the cost of managing the paperwork and processes required to verify who is and who is not eligible for the free lunch is not inconsiderable. In fact, I’m told that the time and effort previously spent determining and confirming continued eligibility often exceeded the cost of simply providing meals for all the children in schools where there are high percentages of impoverished youngsters. (In case you haven’t been in a school cafeteria recently, they aren’t getting filet mignon.)

There are also humanitarian concerns. In schools where children must demonstrate eligibility for the free lunches,  those who pay for their food with vouchers or other required identification are often stigmatized by their classmates. Not only is this demeaning for those children, studies suggest that it creates a disincentive to participate–with the result that some percentage of children from families that would clearly qualify simply refuse to apply.

It would be so gratifying if our elected officials–and those in the media who cover them–would take some time to actually investigate the issues involved, instead of jumping to the conclusion that any decision they don’t immediately understand must be wrongheaded and/or wasteful.

Of course, poor kids don’t have lobbyists….

Why Politicians Like Rokita are More Dangerous–and Anti-American–Than you Think

According to yesterday’s New York Times, pragmatism about climate change is beginning to trump politics at the local level. The article focused primarily on candidates in Florida, where rising sea levels and other consequences of global warming have become too obvious for local Republican candidates to ignore. But the article also quoted Carmel’s Mayor, Jim Brainard, who has defied his national party’s fealty to Big Oil (more than 58% of Congressional Republicans deny the reality of climate change) and who has worked actively to reduce Carmel’s carbon footprint.

“I don’t think we want to be the party that believes in dirty air and dirty water,” Mr. Brainard said, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency was founded under President Richard M. Nixon, a Republican.

Contrast Brainard’s eminently sensible approach with that of Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita, who recently told the Purdue Exponent that claims about global warming are still “under debate,” and that the belief in anthropogenic climate change is “arrogant,” because after all, who are we to think our human activities could change God’s climate?

When asked by a constituent about government subsidies for renewable energy sources like wind and solar, Rokita said that he respects “God’s green earth,” but that the private market should decide which energy sources receive funding.

Evidently Rokita  hasn’t noticed the massive subsidies we taxpayers are providing to the (enormously profitable) fossil fuel industry.

It would be easy enough to dismiss Rokita and the other dogged defenders of the energy status quo as politicians pandering to a know-nothing base. As a 2012 article from Scientific American pointed out, however, these anti-science attitudes not only threaten America’s economic future, they represent a dramatic–and dangerous–departure from traditional American values.

The Founding Fathers were science enthusiasts. Thomas Jefferson, a lawyer and scientist, built the primary justification for the nation’s independence on the thinking of Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon and John Locke—the creators of physics, inductive reasoning and empiricism. He called them his “trinity of three greatest men.” If anyone can discover the truth by using reason and science, Jefferson reasoned, then no one is naturally closer to the truth than anyone else. Consequently, those in positions of authority do not have the right to impose their beliefs on other people. The people themselves retain this inalienable right. Based on this foundation of science—of knowledge gained by systematic study and testing instead of by the assertions of ideology—the argument for a new, democratic form of government was self-evident.

The authors warned that the anti-science posture of contemporary politicians “reflect an anti-intellectual conformity that is gaining strength in the U.S. at precisely the moment that most of the important opportunities for economic growth, and serious threats to the well-being of the nation, require a better grasp of scientific issues.” Anti-science positions occur at both ends of the ideological spectrum, from anti-vaccine activists on the left to climate change deniers on the right.

By falsely equating knowledge with opinion, postmodernists and antiscience conservatives alike collapse our thinking back to a pre-Enlightenment era, leaving no common basis for public policy. Public discourse is reduced to endless warring opinions, none seen as more valid than another. Policy is determined by the loudest voices, reducing us to a world in which might makes right—the classic definition of authoritarianism.

The entire article is well worth reading, but I found this paragraph particularly  compelling:

“Facts,” John Adams argued, “are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” When facts become opinions, the collective policymaking process of democracy begins to break down. Gone is the common denominator—knowledge—that can bring opposing sides together. Government becomes reactive, expensive and late at solving problems, and the national dialogue becomes mired in warring opinions.

When Congressmen like Rokita substitute convenient and uninformed opinion for science and fact, they threaten both our planet and our democracy.

 

 

 

Dumb or Mean? You Decide…

I have been appalled by the heartless and ignorant rhetoric from our lawmakers about the refugee children who are in the U.S. seeking safety and asylum. It’s beyond ironic that most of it is being spewed by self-proclaimed pious “Christians.”

It’s bad enough that Indiana’s Governor–presumably playing to the GOP’s hysterically anti-immigrant base–wants these children returned immediately to their families. (Do not pass go, do not collect due process of law….) It’s beyond embarrassing that Republican members of Congress want the Administration to ignore the law, signed by President Bush, that sets out an orderly procedure for determining the children’s status– at the same time they are suing Obama for purportedly ignoring laws.

Now, one of Indiana’s Representatives has joined the reprehensible chorus.

According to the Northwest Indiana Times,

U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., suggested Monday that immigrant children from Central America could be carrying the ebola virus that has killed some 800 people this year in West Africa.

West Africa. Right next door to Central America. You really know your geography, Representative Rokita.  As the newspaper noted,

 No human ebola illness ever has been contracted in the Western Hemisphere and none of the 30,340 unaccompanied minors released this year to relatives or sponsors, including the 245 children placed in Indiana homes, have ebola, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The refugee agency notes on its placement reporting website that all children receive vaccinations and medical screenings before being released to a relative or sponsor and no child is released who has a contagious condition.

Rokita said he doubts that claim and suggested the better course would be to keep all the children together in one place — ignoring the fact that infectious diseases spread fastest among large groups.

The story quoted Rokita as warning that “if more children are released to Hoosier relatives, they’ll soon enroll in school and “ultimately your property taxes are going to go up.”

Because god forbid you’d pay a few cents more in property taxes to shelter and educate a couple of hundred frightened, dislocated children.

Now that I think about it, didn’t Jesus say  “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come unto me–but only if their papers are in order,  they can prove they don’t have ebola, and they won’t cost me any money”?

Yes, after listening to those good Christians Pence and Rokita, I’m sure that was the quote.