- Willard Sterne Randall, Jefferson: A Life
Thomas Jefferson must be doing a Triple Lutz in his grave right now. The author of the Declaration of Independence spent the last decade of his life focused on a project that serves as a fitting epilogue to all that he had contributed to the world. If American democracy may be viewed as a vessel to channel the power of free thinking people to actively shape and improve society, the University of Virginia was Jefferson's experiment in how to train people to become precisely the kind of citizens that democracy requires.
Just as one day Adolph Hitler would epitomize the opposite of free society through the hideous invention of the concentration camp, Jefferson capped off a lifetime of molding the concept of democracy by designing its model institution and incubator, the public university. So the University of Virginia is more than just one of the world's great centers of learning, more than the campus that the American Institute of Architects proclaimed in 1976 as "the proudest achievement of American architecture in the past 200 years." It is also a symbol of the freedom of thought, of democracy - and of the great man who planted those seeds in Virginia soil almost 200 years ago.
This is the institution now under attack by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
The Texan writes in praise of McDonnell's action allowing Virginia state police chaplains in public, state-sponsored ceremonies to invoke the name of Jesus Christ - in direct violation of a 2008 US Court of Appeals court order banning this practice. And Kidd has the nerve to make his case in the name of our favorite son, Thomas Jefferson. He writes:
The court's ruling was an unwarranted intrusion into Americans' religious freedom, and it certainly was not the kind of restriction that Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he drafted Virginia's Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), or even when he wrote of a "wall of separation" between church and state. Jefferson and the other Founders meant to keep the government out of religion's business, not to drive specific, "sectarian" religion out of the public sphere.
Cooch has gone so far to the extreme in his attack on academic freedom at the University of Virginia that even some climate skeptics are denouncing his actions. Per Andrew Revkin's DotEarth blog, these critics include Paul "Chip" Knappenberger, who writes:
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has placed scientists, past and present, from the state's public universities (a group that includes me) under notice: You may be prosecuted for your work. [...] In no way will the threat of a civil lawsuit move science along more efficiently. More than likely it will have the opposite effect as intimidation will result in fewer ideas being put forth.
Also Steve McIntyre:
This is a repugnant piece of over-zealousness by the Virginia Attorney General, that I condemn. [...] To the extent that Virginia citizens are concerned about public money being misappropriated, Cuccinelli's own expenditures on this adventure should be under equal scrutiny. There will be no value for dollar in this enterprise. [...] To the extent that there are issues with Mann or Jones or any of these guys, they are at most academic misconduct and should be dealt with under those regimes. It is unfortunate that the inquiries at Penn State and UEA have not been even minimally diligent, but complaints on that account rest with the universities or their supervising institutions and the substitution of inappropriate investigations by zealots like Cuccinelli are not an alternative.
1) Do your support or oppose Cuccinelli's assault on academic freedom?
2) If the latter, when will you make a public statement announcing your position?
Sorry, no mealy-mouthed evasions of the issue allowed this time. Freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression is not some minor issue - it is the lifeblood without with democracy cannot function. And it is by no means merely a progressive or Democratic issue. Conservative Supreme Court Justices in recent years have demonstrated such a strong commitment to the First Amendment that they have chosen to protect even such repugnant forms of speech as flag burning, videos showing violence against animals, and depictions of child pornography. Considering that, how can conservatives not support the freedom of scientists to conduct their research free from bullying by government officials?
Republicans, Tea Partiers, and other right-wingers talk endlessly about freedom and liberty. So let's put all of Virginia's elected Republican officials on record to see if - when faced with a case where academic freedom is openly threatened by state power - they will put their money where their mouth is. Governor Bob, of course, needs to be questioned most relentlessly, but all the officials below him need to be heard from too.
Virginia Democrats, led by Delegate Mark Herring, have taken a strong stand on this issue. But we cannot allow them to take their eyes off the ball. We need every Democrat in Virginia to speak out publicly against this outrageous act in order to keep the pressure on the McDonnell-Cuccinelli Administration and continually ratchet it up - until they back off.
I strongly encourage you to contact your own elected officials and ask these same questions. You can find contact information and links for all of them here.
We elect our leaders to safeguard our freedoms. Will they come through for us this time, or not?
Eighty years ago, Josef Stalin found a scientist he liked. This was bad news for the scientists who were not so popular with the Soviet leadership.
Trofim Lysenko, with Stalin's approval, directed the Soviet Institute of Genetics. He promoted the theory that characteristics acquired during an organism's lifetime can be passed on genetically to future generations.
This fit well with the communist objective of creating a "New Man". It did not fit quite so well with the truth.
Lysenko's theories would have been laughed out of the lab had he not found a sponsor willing and able to apply the full coercive power of government to reward those who supported Lysenko and punish those who disagreed. Thousands of scientists suffered under Lysenko, losing their jobs and often being imprisoned.
It takes enormous courage to "speak truth to power" when you have a tyrannically-minded leader using power to threaten the truth. Which brings me to Ken Cuccinelli.
Myth#1: The authors of these pieces are objective, disinterested scholars
Horse-hockey! Today's piece, "5 Myths About Green Energy", was written by Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute. Here are a few facts you should know about the Manhattan Institute:
- It was founded by Reagan's spymaster William Casey to promote "market-oriented principles", i.e., to give ultraconservative ideology the facade of academic rigor.
- It has included such "scholars" as Charles Murray, notorious for his book The Bell Curve, the thesis of which was basically white racial superiority. Another alumnus is David Frum, speechwriter for George W. Bush, who was responsible for crafting the most meaningless phrase ever to pass through a pair of presidential lips: "Axis of Evil."
- It has received funding to support tobacco industry positions from RJ Reynolds, Phillip Morris and Lorillard.
- Among its donors are the right wing Scaife and Koch Foundations - the latter known for funding climate denial and similar misinformation in support of its interests in the oil industry. (See Greenpeace's recent report, "Koch Industries Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine.").
Now just imagine you're an oil company and you want to discredit a competing product like - oh, say, "green energy". If you publish an ad with your corporate logo on it, your bias will be hard to conceal. But if you pay a right-wing think tank to write an article in a respected newspaper busting the "myth of green energy", you give your talking points that much more credibility. Such a deal!
Northern Virginians have lots of reasons to take pride in George Mason University, as a rapidly growing academic community named the #1 national university to watch in the 2009 rankings of US News & World Report, with Nobel Prize winning faculty and an occasionally great basketball team.
Unfortunately, GMU is also known as a "magnet for right wing money" which takes millions in corporate cash to run a network of centers to gin up and legitimate the latest ultraconservative talking points.
Now let me be clear: I strongly favor an academic environment that is open to debate and opinions from all across the political spectrum. But there is a difference between principled, reason-based academic stands and corporate-funded attempts to skew debate and provide a fig leaf to cover naked profit-based self-interest.
This brings me to the unfortunate role that our local university is playing in the political war over climate change. A lot of NOVA residents may not realize that GMU gives funding, support and - most importantly - academic legitimacy to some of the best known and most persistent deniers of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change - notably Patrick Michaels and S. Fred Singer. In doing so, GMU perpetuates the myth that there is widespread academic disagreement about the facts and causes of climate change when in fact there is not.
It showed Perriello talking with his constituents about the new health insurance law - talking with them as adults, which was mighty refreshing to see after a year in which calling your opponents "socialist" and prattling on about "tyranny" was treated as the height of reasoned debate.
As Perriello puts it:
...I think that those who are really passionate on either side have faded a little bit, and now the people in the middle are getting their turn to say, all right, walk me through it.
This is the law of the land now. And people get pretty excited when you go through things like extending the Medicare trust fund and bringing the cost of drugs down, allowing people into these exchanges to get cheaper health care, tax credits to small business. So, what you see is sort of a revival of the moderates in this debate. And I think people are liking what they see so far.
Talking about a law based on its actual features and merits - what a concept! Both the Congressman and the News Hour deserve credit for focusing on the facts buried deep beneath the hyperventilation.
And other politicians need to take a look at what makes Perriello such a great populist - simply breaking down the complexities of policy into clear English and hitting the pavement to talk with his constituents about it as often as possible. It's not rocket-science - it's called representative democracy and we're lucky to have a leader like him to show us how it's done. Go Tom!
All of Virginia - and much of the country - now knows that we have elected, not a conservative, but a radical to be our Attorney General. It is already clear that Ken Cuccinelli does not have a mainstream, sensible, moderate bone in his body. No, this man is determined to twist our government into a tool to realize the most extreme right-wing fantasies that only the looniest Tea Partier could ever dream up. After only two months in office, General Cooch has:
- Attacked the integrity of science and the necessity of environmental action by legally challenging the US EPA's finding that climate change represents a threat to human health;
- Attempted to reverse decades of American progress against discrimination by threatening Virginia colleges and universities that they have no right to enact policies of anti-discrimination against gays;
- Challenged the power of the Federal government to make our health care system work for people rather than insurance companies, by suing the Obama administration over the constitionality of the just-signed health care reform act.
There's no question that this guy is nuts and will do all he can to make Virginia the laughing stock of the world. The only question left for me is: HOW DO WE FIGHT HIM.