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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.”


Bipartisan Business as Usual

Well, we seem to have averted yet another government shutdown. Congress has passed, and Obama has signed, a 1.1 trillion-dollar bill that will keep the government operating through September of 2015. (It isn’t a budget bill, however; the last time Congress passed an actual budget, rather than an “omnibus spending bill” was 1997.)

Several members of Congress have lauded the measure as reassuring evidence that partisans can, indeed, work together. Others have pointed out that when you are distributing goodies desired by those partisans—when your legislation is a “Christmas Tree” with “ornaments” benefitting lawmakers and special interests—co-operation is easier to achieve.

What are those Christmas “goodies”? Who will benefit from them and who will pay for them?

Elizabeth Warren has pointed out that the measure contains multiple Wall Street giveaways (not to mention repealing part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill), but cuts over $300 million from the Pell Grant program.

Merry Christmas! Bankers win, students lose.

The giveaways to Wall Street, including the measures that once again open the door to the trading practices that triggered the Great Recession, have been the subject of a great deal of public debate. Other “gifts” have flown under the radar. Democratic Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado recently highlighted one of those.

Pointing to research done by the government watchdog group, “Represent US,” Polis noted that the bill allocates up to $1,000 per month to subsidize Congress members’ cars. At the same time, the bill authorized the reduction of benefits being paid to retirees by struggling multi-employer pension plans.

Merry Christmas! Car subsidies for Congress, coal for pensioners.

There was more, of course—much more. Defense lobbyists scored a big win, with a provision to pay $479 million for warplanes the Pentagon did not ask for. Gotta keep those defense contractors in business, you know.

Too bad ordinary Americans didn’t have the benefit of those defense industry lobbyists. Generosity to the well connected didn’t extend to the millions of low-wage Americans who are still struggling in the wake of the recession. Among other things, the bill cuts $93 Million from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program. It cuts $300 million from supportive housing programs serving the homeless. Section 8 housing vouchers were funded at a level half a billion dollars below Administration requests.

And of course, there were lots of those last-minute “special” provisions so beloved by our lawmakers. The bill overrules the 70% of Washington, D.C. residents who recently voted to reform D.C. marijuana laws, puts taxpayers back on the hook for big bank bailouts by repealing laws that were put in place after the 2008 financial collapse, and gives billionaires the right to donate up to 1.5 Million to political parties of their choice. (That’s ten times the current limit, if you’re counting.)

And a cautionary note: if you’re on the road in 2015, look out for big trucks. Negotiators tucked a policy rider into the bill that suspends regulations that set maximum time periods behind the wheel, after which professional truckers had to stop and sleep.

This Christmas, We the People evidently get to choose between the rock of gridlock and the Deep Blue Sea of venal “bipartisanship.”

It’s a sea on which only those who have yachts can sail.




About that War on Science….

Roll Call reports  on the persistent efforts by the House GOP to discredit sound science and cripple environmental regulation:

House leaders have decided that one of the most important things they can do during the lame duck session is to vote on two bills that would cripple good, science-based policy.

The bills’ backers are pitching the legislation as an effort to create transparency at the Environmental Protection Agency. But the science the EPA and other agencies base their rules on is already an open book. These bills are about trying to stop the EPA from doing its job.

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Schweickert of Arizona, sounds innocuous enough; it requires the EPA to post all raw data on its website. The problem is, its definition of “raw data” includes information (about identifiable hospital patients, for example) that privacy laws prohibit the agency from disclosing. By requiring the EPA to do the impossible, the bill effectively prevents the agency from doing anything.

The second bill is even worse.

The EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, sponsored by vocal EPA adversary Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, would similarly erect pointless roadblocks for the agency. The Science Advisory Board, composed of some of our nation’s best independent scientists, exists not to advocate any particular policy, but to evaluate whether the best science was used in agency decisions.

This bill would make it easier for experts with ties to corporations affected by new rules to serve on the SAB while excluding independent scientists from talking about their own research. In other words, academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.

These bills can’t be excused as the product of good-faith disagreements. From their disingenuous drafting to the sneaky timing of their introduction, they are quite clearly efforts to keep policies from being based on the best available science.

There should be a special place in hell for people who are willing to jeopardize the health and well-being of millions of humans who inhabit this planet if that’s what it takes to protect their bottom lines.There should be an even hotter place for the political pawns willing to do their bidding.

I seem to recall that Dante’s 9th Circle of Hell was reserved for those guilty of Treachery–defined as those who betray a trust.


Not With a Bang, but a Whimper….

In The Hollow Men, T.S. Eliot wrote: This is the way the world ends…not with a bang, but a whimper.

After reading this description of America’s twenty looniest Congressmen/women, the quote seemed so apt….

How do you feel about facts? Do you hate them? Are they super annoying, like science? Are you frightened of communists, Muslims, and vaginas? Good news! This month, America is inaugurating a new class of elected representatives, and while some of them are bright, able politicians, a few of them are seriously looney. And they’ll be in good company.

Click through and read about these people we have elevated to public office. People we’ve entrusted with foreign and domestic policies that have real-world consequences.

Just shoot me…

No Doubt

Yesterday’s post dealt with the issue of arrogance, and the difference between religious faithwhich requires a certain suspension of doubt–and the sort of unquestioning certainty that leads to all manner of horrific acts in the name of religion.

Which leads us to a consideration of Dick Cheney.

Not that Cheney’s views appear to be founded in religion; from all appearances, the only person he worships–or respects– is the man he sees in the mirror (and I rather suspect that the man in that mirror is not the one most of us see).

Ever since the Senate released its report on torture, Cheney has been everywhere, defending the indefensible. It’s important to note that, while he has characterized the report as “crap,” he has not suggested that its descriptions of “enhanced interrogation” are inaccurate. He has not denied that 26 innocent people were falsely arrested. He has not denied that one of those innocent people died.

Instead, Cheney defends it all. He has expressed absolutely no remorse for any of it–not even the death of the innocent man. He insists he would “do it again.” Against the evidence of experienced interrogators, he insists that the tactics worked. Against the testimony of men who were themselves tortured, this man who never wore his country’s uniform insists he knows best how to conduct warfare. Against the consensus of the world community, he justifies the use of tactics America has historically condemned.

Because he’s right, and the rest of the world is wrong.

Cheney is a stark reminder of what evil really is–not a Satanic figure intentionally setting out to do harm, but power allied with un-self-aware moral arrogance.