All posts by Sheila

The Real Obscenity

If your definition of “obscenity” is sexual, you can stop reading now.

Lockheed Martin recently held a conference for Defense contractors, at which they shared the “good news” about global conflicts.

Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Bruce Tanner told the conference his company will see “indirect benefits” from the war in Syria, citing the Turkish military’s recent decision to shoot down a Russian warplane.

Executives of OshKosh and Raytheon reported equally positive business prospects, noting “significant upticks” for sales of military equipment due to ISIS and unrest across the Middle East.

The last bit of good news for the contractors is the latest budget deal in Congress. After years of cuts following the budget sequester, the deal authorizes $607 billion in defense spending, just $5 billion down from the Pentagon’s request, which DefenseNews called a “treat” for the industry.

America’s infrastructure—our roads, bridges, electrical grid, water utilities, rail—is dangerously deteriorated. Our cities are struggling to hire sufficient police. Our schools lack supplies, our teachers are underpaid, and we can’t find the money for universal kindergarten, let alone day care. We have nothing that can compare to Europe’s public transportation systems, or China’s high-speed rail. Our right-wing lawmakers are furious that we are finally making basic medical care accessible, and they insist we cannot afford to continue social security and other social safety net programs at current levels.

But we can evidently afford to spend more than the rest of the world combined for defense, and the military-industrial complex about which Eisenhower warned us. We seem able to find billions for the armaments that keep defense contractors fat and happy, while we starve the “homeland” and citizens we are supposedly protecting.

That’s my definition of obscene.

We talk a lot about the growth of American inequality, and the focus of those conversations is usually on income–wage stagnation, the incredibly bloated salaries paid to Wall Street “movers and shakers,” a tax system that allows mega-millionaires to avoid paying their fair shares.

All of those issues are important. But in a properly functioning society, where all taxpayers do pay their fair share, government is responsible for using that tax money to provide a physical and social infrastructure serving all its citizens, rich or poor.

We recognize third-world countries by inequalities of infrastructure; they are places where the wealthy hire their own police or bodyguards, live in gated compounds where they pave the streets and landscape parks for their own use, while segregating themselves from the wretched surroundings inhabited by the less fortunate. Those countries often support and valorize highly privileged military establishments.

If, as most knowledgable observers claim, the threats America faces are significantly different than in the past—if those threats come primarily from non-state terrorists—we need fewer tanks and bombs and missiles, and more targeted and surgical strategies.

We can defend the legitimate interests of the United States without unnecessarily enriching the military-industrial complex, and without maintaining the current bloated and obscenely expensive defense establishment.



Indiana Legislative Folly….Rinse and Repeat…

Remember House Bill 1082? The “No Stricter Than” measure that would prohibit Indiana’s environmental agency from acting to combat local environmental threats if the proposed action was “stricter” than EPA standards?

I am not the only observer pointing to the real dangers--not to mention absurdity– of that measure, which has been moving inexorably through the legislative process.

The utter hypocrisy of the GOP on the EPA and environmental regulation was on vivid display last week in a Congressional hearing called to address the water crisis in Flint, Michigan:

In a House hearing last week, GOP lawmakers focused their outrage on the weakness of EPA regulations and actions that contributed to the Flint disaster. However, The New Republic has detailed their consistent opposition to its regulatory actions.

Republicans in Washington and Indianapolis constantly complain about EPA “overreach.” In one of the recent GOP debates, Jeb Bush called for sending EPA authority back to the states, and he is hardly alone. Indiana Governor Pence has been an ardent foe of virtually all environmental efforts, and has made the EPA a special target, despite the fact that Indiana’s air and water rank among the country’s most polluted.

For years, at the urging of well-heeled industry lobbyists and donors, Republicans have done everything they can to neuter the EPA and eviscerate its regulatory power— and now, when faced with an environmental crisis, Congressional Republicans have the gall–the chutzpah–to blame that crisis on “weak” EPA regulations.

At the very same time, back home in Indiana, Republican state legislators —still singing the lobbyists’ song—are insisting that EPA regulations are so strong that we shouldn’t allow state government to supplement them. Ever. No matter what.

You really can’t make this shit up.


An Impressive Start

Indianapolis’ new Mayor, Joe Hogsett, has hit the ground running, as the old saying goes. He has recruited an impressive team of people who understand how a city works, many of whom bring deep backgrounds to their duties (Kathy Davis and Troy Riggs come immediately to mind, and they aren’t the only ones).

He has also reached out in a bipartisan fashion, both to Republican Councilors and to the departing Ballard Administration (of which Riggs was a part). But I was very pleased to see that courtesy to his predecessor has not trumped willingness to revisit some of that predecessor’s more unfortunate decisions. One of those–a contract with Covanta that locks the city in until 2028–is evidently getting a second look.

According to the IBJ,

Hogsett said the city will take the next 90 days to “reassess” plans for the facility, called an Advanced Recycling Center, which was planned for Covanta’s existing Indianapolis campus near its Harding Street trash incinerator. Hogsett said Covanta has offered assistance to the city in that process.

I’ve written before about the very real problems with the Ballard Administration’s “recycling” agreement with Covanta. I put recycling in quotes, because there is good reason to doubt that Covanta’s untested process would actually produce the promised results. The contract calls for use of a process known as “Dirty Recycling” that would allow residents to throw all their trash into one receptacle; actual separation is to occur at the Covanta facility.

This is a process that is simply not suitable for use in many industries that purchase recycled materials.

There are several other aspects of the contract that raise eyebrows, from the manner in which it was negotiated (without the legally-mandated bidding process), to its duration, to provisions that actually punish the city if recycling rates improve. (Covanta has used our trash to generate steam under an arrangement negotiated during the Hudnut Administration; recycling is most definitely not their real goal.)

The re-examination is welcome–and another indication of the competence of the new administration.

A Not-So-Brave New World

So Trump took New Hampshire. A man who could hardly be more unfit for public office won a primary election held by one of America’s major parties.

This paragraph from a recent post on Political Animal pretty much sums up the situation–and the inability or unwillingness of the media to cover it accurately:

To make better predictions about electoral politics, traditional pundits need to look in the mirror and revise their assumptions about the electorate. Americans in both parties are afraid for their futures and fed with up the current system, the Republican Party has become far more extreme on the right than the Democratic Party on the left, and the GOP electorate specifically is far more demographically isolated and less interested in small-government conservatism and far more driven by racial animus, authoritarianism and cultural backlash than most centrist pundits care to admit.

Despite all the abuse aimed at the “lame stream media” and its perceived bias, most traditional media reporters and pundits have a deep-seated urge to be seen as “playing fair”—to focus on conflict, yes, but to avoid any impression that they are playing favorites. That determination leads to what has been called false equivalence: party A does something truly awful, and when party B does something wrong that most of us would consider far less troubling, the reporter paints them as equally wrongheaded. “They both do it.”

But they aren’t equivalent.

The truth is that today’s GOP bears virtually no resemblance to the party I worked for for 35 years.In 1980, I won a Republican Congressional primary; I was pro-choice, pro separation of church and state, pro public education. That would never happen today. Today’s Republican party is dominated by inflexible ideologues and proud know-nothings; it has become home to unashamed racists and would-be theocrats. The flaws of the Democrats—and there are many—pale in comparison.

There have been other times in America’s history when one or another party has “gone off the rails.” We can only hope that we are seeing the crest of this particular wave of paranoia and anti-intellectualism. (Kasich–arguably the only sane Republican candidate– did come in second.) But we can’t defeat the forces of fear and reaction unless we name them for what they are—unless we stop pretending that this is just another instance of “politics as usual.”

It isn’t. It’s ugly and it’s very, very dangerous.

Slightly Better Than Herpes….

Today is the New Hampshire primary. Before Marco Rubio’s robotic debate performance, he was expected to do well in New Hampshire, thanks to the perception that he is one of the more “moderate” candidates.

As John Favreau points out in some interesting observations about Rubio in the Daily Beast, that perception is erroneous.

It’s silly to pretend otherwise: As a Democrat, I’d rather run against Ted Cruz than Marco Rubio.

But that’s like saying I’d rather run against herpes than Marco Rubio. Of course I would. I don’t care that Ted Cruz may be smart and strategic. He’s also creepy and cruel, according to just about everyone who’s ever had the misfortune of knowing him for longer than 10 minutes.

Favreau notes the reasons that most Americans–at least, those who haven’t paid close attention to the train wreck which has been the Republican Presidential primary season–consider Rubio the candidate who could give Hillary (or Bernie) a genuine run for the office. He lists Rubio’s “positives,” including his youth, an appealing personal story and, given his background, a possible/theoretical  appeal to Latino voters.

Mostly, however, pundits attribute Rubio’s greater “electability” to a widespread perception that he falls into the “moderate” category. But as Favreau points out, that’s sort of like saying that next to Hitler, Mussolini was a moderate.

Because Trump and Cruz have moved the goalposts on what it means to be bat-shit crazy in a primary, the press will confuse Rubio’s moderate temperament with moderate policies, of which he has none. Rubio was once described as the “crown prince” of the Tea Party. He has a 100 percent rating from the NRA. He’ll appoint justices who will overturn the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision. He opposes abortion with no exception for rape or incest. He opposes stem cell research and doesn’t believe in climate change. He’d send ground troops to Syria and trillions in tax cuts to the rich.

It is extremely unlikely that anyone championing those policies can be elected President. Voter ID laws and SuperPacs can only do so much. Gerrymandering can insure control of the House of Representatives, but not the Presidency.

How has the party of Eisenhower, Nixon (who despite his flaws understood governance and foreign policy) and even Reagan (who would be far too liberal for the current party base) come to this? And what will the outcome be?

The real problem for all of us— Democrats, Independents and those rational Republicans who haven’t yet thrown in the towel— is that the implosion of a once-responsible, genuinely conservative political party is a body blow to effective government. This country desperately needs adult conversations, thoughtful consideration of different policy approaches to the actual, real-world problems we face and a nuanced understanding of the systems within which those problems must be addressed.

These people want to be important. They want to rule; they don’t want to govern.