Well, Look Who’s Calling Out Crony Capitalism!

Four friends have now sent me a link to this column from the Indiana Policy Review, penned (okay, typed) by Tom Charles Huston. It was surprising for a number of reasons.

For those who don’t remember, Huston was the national head of Young Americans for Freedom, back in the 60s when that college organization was considered radically conservative, and later–and more ominously–was the “mastermind” behind the Huston Plan to expand Nixon administration spying on the anti-Viet Nam war movement. After his stint in the Nixon White House, Huston returned to Indianapolis and practiced law at Barnes & Thornburg; he has been retired for several years now, and if he has participated in local policy debates these past few years, I’ve missed it.

That makes his column all the more interesting; it’s a slashing–and very effective–attack on the bill to provide a financing mechanism for the Indy Eleven soccer stadium. A bill sponsored by Huston’s nephew. A bill ardently desired by Ersal Ozdemir (who is described by Huston as “rapacious.”)

The assurance by the bill’s sponsor of transparency in financing the proposed soccer stadium rings hollow to anyone who hasn’t been asleep or on the take for the past seven years. Mayor Greg Ballard has refused to turn over documentation relating to either the special operations center lease or the financing structure for the proposed criminal justice center (both multi-million dollar deals) and has conducted as much of the public business in secret as his handlers thought he could get away with.

I gather from the Indianapolis Star report that taxpayers are expected to sleep better knowing that the legislators orchestrating this hand-out to special interests are committed to “making sure state taxpayers are at mitigated risk.” This is typical no-doze for idiots, but why taxpayers should be at any risk or who profits from this assumption of risk are not questions that interest a Star reporter.

I am undecided whether those pushing this scheme are in on the action or are simply reading from a script prepared by the lobbyists (which, incidentally, include every major lobbying outfit in Indianapolis).

Huston doesn’t mention it, but Ozdemir’s company, Keystone Development, employs Ballard’s former chief of staff. Lots of eyebrows were raised–and criticisms leveled–when Keystone got a sweetheart deal to build a parking garage (still underused) on a floodplain in Broad Ripple. Critics  pointed out that the city (over)paid to build the garage and also assumed the project’s risk, while the profits went to Ozdemir. (Crony capitalism at its finest: socialize the risk, privatize the profits….)

Others have noted that he walked away mid-construction from two libraries he’d contracted to build, forfeiting the bonds he’d posted on those projects. (Usually, if a contractor or developer forfeits even one bond, he’s toast–he can’t get another. Construction industry insiders don’t understand how Ozdemir has managed to keep operating after those defaults.)

Now the World’s Worst Legislature is in the process of enriching Mr. Ozdemir further, thanks largely to the fact that–as Huston points out–he’s hired lobbyists from every major firm in town. 

I may not have agreed with his politics, but when Tom Charles Huston is right, he’s right. And in his screed in Indiana Policy Review, he’s right.

 

 

 

If You Know What You’re Talking About, Shut Up!

Pardon my French, but you really can’t make this shit up.

The headline says it all: “House Passes Bill that Prohibits Expert Scientific Advice to the EPA.”

While everyone’s attention was focused on the Senate and the Keystone XL decision on Tuesday, some pretty shocking stuff was quietly going on in the House of Representatives. The GOP-dominated House passed a bill that effectively prevents scientists who are peer-reviewed experts in their field from providing advice — directly or indirectly — to the EPA, while at the same time allowing industry representatives with financial interests in fossil fuels to have their say.

Andrew Rosenberg is Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists; he wrote a letter to House Representatives stating what should be obvious to any sentient being:

“This [bill] effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are. Of course, a scientist with expertise on topics the Science Advisory Board addresses likely will have done peer-reviewed studies on that topic. That makes the scientist’s evaluation more valuable, not less.”

Two more bills relating to the EPA were set to go to the vote this week, bills that opponents argue are part of an “unrelenting partisan attack” on the EPA.

It isn’t just an attack on the EPA–it is part of an all-out attack on science, reason and scholarship. The U.S. House is a deeply anti-intellectual collection of Know-Nothings, proud of their ignorance and nativism. (We don’t need no smarty-pants scientists telling us the world is older than 6000 years….)

They’d repeal the Enlightenment–if they’d ever heard of it.

Be very afraid.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

One hundred and sixteen million dollars. That’s the amount that Education Week reports will be made available this year to Indiana’s voucher schools. Needless to say, that’s also the amount that will be taken away from Indiana’s public schools.

Two new reports detail the exponential growth of the state’s school voucher program: One is the annual report issued by the Indiana Department of Education, the other comes from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, which is based out of Indiana University’s School of Education.

The article notes that Indiana has been steadily expanding its voucher program since it was first created in 2011.

Recent changes include raising the threshold on income eligibility, lifting the participation cap on the program, and opening the program up to students who were already enrolled in private schools. For example, the legislature passed a bill in 2013 making students zoned to schools graded “F” in the state’s accountability system eligible for vouchers even if they had never attended their local public school.

For the current school year, fewer than 50 percent of students in the voucher program had previously attended a public school. In other words, we taxpayers have generously taken over the cost of private schooling for  parents who had previously been footing their own bills. At the same time that our public schools–especially in urban areas–are being starved of resources.

Voucher programs in Indiana and Ohio have some of the least restrictive income-eligibility requirements in the country.

And I’m sure it’s just a coincidence in our “buckle of the bible belt” state, but 94% of the schools participating in the voucher program are religious schools.

Honest to Goodness. Indiana.

Confirming Our Suspicions

A recent, anonymous article titled Confessions of a Congressman has been making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter; its author claims to be a current member of Congress.

Most of the “confessions” are anything but surprising. The influence of money and gerrymandering are obvious to pretty much any sentient being. But the author does flesh out the critique:

It is more lucrative to pander to big donors than to regular citizens. Campaigns are so expensive that the average member needs a million-dollar war chest every two years and spends 50 percent to 75 percent of their term in office raising money. Think about that. You’re paying us to do a job, and we’re spending that time you’re paying us asking rich people and corporations to give us money so we can run ads convincing you to keep paying us to do this job. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech and corporations are people, the mega-rich have been handed free loudspeakers. Their voices, even out-of-state voices, are drowning out the desperate whispers of ordinary Americans.

Without crooked districts, most members of Congress probably would not have been elected. According to the Cook Political Report, only about 90 of the 435 seats in Congress are “swing” seats that can be won by either political party. In other words, 345 seats are safe Republican or Democratic seats. Both parties like it that way. So that’s what elections are like today: rather than the voters choosing us, we choose the voters. The only threat a lot of us incumbents face is in the primaries, where someone even more extreme than we are can turn out the vote among an even smaller, more self-selected group of partisans.

The author faults a dramatic increase in party loyalty for much of what is wrong with the legislature; he says partisanship has turned Congress into a parliament, and–among other negative consequences–made service on congressional committees or other efforts to develop real expertise in an area of governance irrelevant (you have to vote with your party even if your knowledge of the issue suggests that other options are better).

That revolving door? The one that leads to K street and a lobbying career? It’s the highly desired pot of gold at the end of the public service rainbow.

The author ends by telling us two things we already know: the best and brightest don’t want anything to do with running for Congress; and we desperately need them there.

As he says, Congress has never been more than a sausage factory. The point is not to make it something it’s not: the point is to get it to make sausage again.

The Times They Are REALLY A-Changin’

At least, they are changing in Georgia. From the Georgia publication, GA Voice, we learn

If you didn’t think things could get anymore dramatic in the fight over the so-called “religious freedom” bills, think again. Michael Bowers, the infamous Republican former Georgia attorney general who was at the center of two of the state’s biggest LGBT rights cases, has been hired by Georgia Equality to help fight passage of HB 218 and SB 129. In other news, dogs and mail carriers have reached a truce, Jennifer Aniston was spotted antiquing with Angelina Jolie, and Batman is going in on a summer home in Cape Cod with the Joker.

This was the Bowers of the infamous Bowers v. Hardwick case upholding Georgia’s law against gay sodomy–a case that made criminals out of LGBT folks until it was finally overruled in Lawrence v. Texas. He is now working with Georgia Equality to fight discrimination against gay citizens and others–discrimination that he says these measures will protect.

It is no exaggeration that the proposed [measures] could be used to justify putting hoods back on the Ku Klux Klan. For decades, Georgia’s Anti-Mask Act has prohibited wearing masks in public.

The law was enacted to prohibit the Ku Klux Klan from wearing hoods in public, and by extension, to discourage participation in its activities. While this statute contains exceptions for holidays, sporting events, theatrical performances, and gas masks, it does not contain a religious exercise exception – because many Klansmen used religion to justify participation in the Klan.

But the proposed [measures] would create a religious exception that was purposefully excluded. Anonymous participation in hate groups would undoubtedly rise….

Here in Indiana, the same measure is sailing through the General Assembly.

Bower’s analysis reminded me that Indiana used to be “ground zero” for the Klan; I’d like to think we’ve evolved….that the times are also changing here.

I guess we’ll know once the legislative session concludes.