All posts by shekenne

Pence’s Pravda

Sometimes, the jokes just write themselves…

And they’ve been coming hot and heavy since Governor Pence announced his “news” bureau. Some of the best have been transmitted through twitter feeds with hashtags like “Just_IN_News” and “PencePravda.” Representative tweets: “Today’s top stories include a profile on Governor Pence’s barber, and a new study showing that in 2014, IEDC created all the jobs” and “@GovChristie you should start a state – run wire service too. I’ve already got a name for it: News Jersey.”

Matt Tully had some fun, too, suggesting how the Governor’s new “news bureau” might have covered past activities:

Take the governor’s mind-boggling decision in October to turn his back on an all-but guaranteed $80 million federal grant that could have funded preschool programs for thousands of low-income Indiana children. The likely Pence Propaganda Service headline: “Governor generously steers $80 million federal grant to the children of Iowa.”

On a more serious note, we might take this as yet another outpost on the unexplored frontier we all inhabit following the departure of most real journalism. Think of it as a new way station on the road to a brave new age of propaganda. Or, as an email blast from the Indiana Democratic party put it, just another manifestation of authoritarianism from the party of “limited” government:

From the party that tells you who to love, how to worship, and that science is bad, Governor Pence now wants to tell you what is and is not news.

This brazen attempt to fill the growing void of credible reporting with manufactured “news” is jaw dropping. Until this, I really thought Faux News was as low as we could go….

The one bright spot in this exercise has been the public’s reaction, which has been–how  shall I put it?– less than positive. The blowback has now caused Pence to protest (unconvincingly) that the whole thing has been a big misunderstanding. To which a wag onTwitter responded:

“Gov Pence today trademarked the phrase “understandable misunderstanding”. T-shirts & mugs with the slogan soon for sale at #JustIN store.”

Puh-leeze.

SB 500–Because Who Needs Oversight? Or Civics?

I have absolutely no idea why anyone would think Indiana needs a bill like SB 500, but State Senator Pete Miller (R-Avon) evidently thinks accountability is a communist plot–and civics a “frill.” He says his bill will “return local control.” The nonpartisan Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY) says what it will really do is remove accountability from Hoosier schools. A few of the (many) things this bill provides:

  • It makes accreditation of schools voluntary and removes requirements for school improvement plans, including schools that have been designated as needing improvement.
  • It removes any reporting of demographics of students or any reporting of suspensions or expulsions, including the reasons for the suspension or expulsion.
  • It establishes a “school data board” that will review all data collection requirements with the aim to “combine, streamline, or eliminate” data reporting by schools. No information will be able to be mandated for school data collection unless it goes through this cozy little committee first.
  • It removes school safety reporting requirements including suspensions and expulsions for alcohol, weapons and drugs.

The measure also removes a number of regulations related to student safety, bullying and mental health awareness. SB 500 entirely removes the current rule against cyber-bullying using a school’s computer, computer system or computer network.

What I find particularly outrageous at a time when Indiana ranks in the bottom tier of states in civic literacy and voter turnout, the bill also removes the requirement that instruction be provided in both public and nonpublic schools on the United States Constitution or the Indiana Constitution.

There’s much, much more. The bill eliminates parents’ ability to review instructional materials, and takes away a variety of other rights that parents have come to expect. But the major thrust of the bill is to stop making data on the schools’ academic and safety  performance available. As MCCOY notes,

Schools are required to compile and report certain types of data, particularly related to safety and discipline not only to protect students and inform parents and the public about how safe a school is, but also to ensure that they are providing high-quality education to all of their students and that certain students are not being left behind or excluded.

If they don’t have to report, parents and taxpayers will have no way of knowing how the schools are performing. I assume that’s the point. The GOP is constantly hyping school “choice,” but evidently they don’t want parents to have access to data that might actually inform that choice.

This bill is being heard Wednesday, January 28 at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Education and Career Development Committee in the Senate Chambers. Anyone who can attend should make every effort to be there.

To view the bill in its entirety, visit: http://iga.in.gov/legislative/2015/bills/senate/500#document-f7a3b2a7

 

When Partisanship Trumps Patriotism

When even Fox News anchors accuse John Boehner of a “major breach” of U.S. foreign policy, you can safely assume that Boehner has taken a giant step too far.

Both Chris Wallace and Shepherd Smith have joined other media commentators and harshly criticized both Boehner and Netanyahu for making secret plans to have the Israeli Prime Minister address Congress—to make a speech critical of the Administration’s Iran policies.

Long-standing rules of protocol for foreign visits require White House involvement and sign-off. In this case, the White House was not only bypassed, but as several media sources noted, the entire Administration was intentionally kept in the dark.

In a major departure from what used to be considered patriotic behavior, Boehner and the GOP have invited a foreign leader to use the floor of Congress to bash an American President.

The policies involved are irrelevant. Millions of Americans were deeply opposed to George W. Bush’s foreign policy decisions. If Democrats had invited a foreign leader to Congress, without letting the White House know, to deliver an address critical of Bush’s policies, Republicans—and most patriotic Americans, including Democrats—would justifiably have found that conduct close to traitorous.

It used to be a given that partisan politics stopped at the water’s edge; that in foreign affairs, we were all Americans. Our policy disputes, no matter how bitter, were rightly seen to be internal arguments. Until now, the behavior Boehner has exhibited would have been unthinkable—on both sides of the aisle.

I’m 73 years old, and I’ve followed politics closely for over fifty of those years. Never in my adult life have I seen a President subjected to the level of disrespect that has been shown to Barack Obama. Even FDR, who certainly aroused deep animosity, didn’t have to deal with the level of pure over-the-top hatred shown to this President. I can only conclude that the election of an African-American President has driven a substantial percentage of white America over the mental edge, to the point where they are willing to undermine their own country if that’s what it takes to show their contempt for its President.

This behavior has to stop.

Barack Obama is THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. Deal with it. Love him or hate him—agree with his policies or despise them—feel rage or elation over the fact that a black guy handily won two national elections—the occupant of the Oval Office is entitled to respect.

And We the People are entitled to public servants who understand that the rules apply to them whether their party is in power or not– who understand the need to put aside personal pettiness and partisan vindictiveness when they reach the water’s edge.

Wages, Poverty and Civic Participation

Pew’s Research Center recently noted that financial insecurity has a range of what it called “secondary effects” for communities, including diminished participation in civic and political life.

The question that immediately occurred to me was: is this a feature, or a bug?

Ever since Ronald Reagan identified government as the problem rather than the solution, the ascendant radical right has worked tirelessly (and successfully) to remove or reduce the social supports available to poor Americans through government.  At the same time, the GOP has worked to discourage or suppress the votes of those same Americans.

In today’s America, the financially secure have what political scientists call “voice.” Even before Citizens United and its progeny, the well-to-do could and did donate huge sums to favored politicians. The corporations that are “people”(!) can and do hire well-connected lobbyists to ensure that their interests are represented in the halls of power. As Pew has now pointed out, the financially secure are also much more likely to vote.

Voting is the only way financially insecure folks have voice. If enough poor people voted, it would be much more difficult to fashion a government protective of privilege. Keeping poor folks from the polls is thus in the (short term) interest of the well-off.

As Pete, who frequently comments here has pointed out, these aspects of our civic landscape are not the hallmarks of a democracy; they are the attributes of oligarchy.

One problem with oligarchy is that its goals tend to be both short-term and short-sighted.

If we don’t reverse course soon, if we don’t take the boots of the advantaged off the necks of the impoverished and give disheartened Americans a reason to participate in their own self-government,  that short-sighted focus on the next quarterly statement and disregard of the long-term good will take us all down.

Oligarchs included.

 

Bring Back Government

Washington Monthly recently reported on a new book by Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, and its review by John DiIulio.

Neither of them can be considered politically liberal. Fukuyama is best known for his book The End of History and his association with the rise of the neoconservative movement. DiIulio, late of George W. Bush’s Office of Faith Based and Community Organizations is, as the Monthly noted, a

scholar of government as an institution, and it is in that capacity that he expands on Fukuyama’s critique of modern governments, including that of the United States, as increasingly ineffective not because of excessive size, but because their bureaucrats serve too many masters, including client groups and private interests. And both Fukuyama and DiIulio hold that Americans’ distinctive mistrust of government has kept it from redeeming the hopes and plans of the Progressive Era reformers who sought to give the public sector its own sense of mission and esprit de corps.

DiIulio is concerned that “third party government”–the outsourcing of federal government responsibilities to state and local governments and to private contractors– is making government less accountable as well as less effective.

I have been making this point for years, along with many other scholars, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I agree with this diagnosis, and with DiIulio’s prescription:

There are many steps on the path to reversing America’s political decay by proxy. We need to reinvent federal grants-in-aid to the states, drain the federal for-profit contracting swamps, and wring more public value from grants to nonprofits. But we also quite simply need to hire more federal bureaucrats. The federal bureaucracy is more nearly the solution than the problem. In Bring Back the Bureaucrats, I crudely calculated that we need about one million more full-time federal workers by 2035 in order to serve the public, stop draining its purse, start improving performance, and create an actual system of national public administration.

Most reasonable people can see the problem that DiIulio describes very clearly:

America’s political decay is fed daily by public disdain for public servants and fueled each election season by bovine congresspersons in both parties who score points with voters by bashing “the bureaucrats” and “running against Washington.” The first step toward slowing or reversing America’s political decay is to recognize how for-profit contractors and other administrative proxies have rigged the system in their own interest, expand the federal civil service, and start treating federal bureaucrats as if our public well-being depended on them—for it does.

Unfortunately, the “bovine” folks in charge of Congress are so deep into batshit crazy territory, I doubt anyone will listen.