Contracting–What Were They Thinking Edition

One of the unfortunate things about the daily tweet-storms and other indignities coming nonstop from the White House is that they inevitably distract us from the multiple reports of more long-term, ongoing damage being done by this Administration.

Case in point: Puerto Rico, where last week’s explosion at a power plant has once again deprived those who had actually gotten their power back of electricity.

For that matter, Trump has shown far less concern for the inhabitants of Puerto Rico than he has for the sensibilities of aides who are having a “bad time right now” because word of their wife-beating emerged. (Of course, people in Puerto Rico are brown…) His appointees at FEMA have made “Heck of a job, Brownie” of  Katrina infamy look almost competent by contrast.

First, there was the award of a 300 million-dollar contract to a two-man firm (“coincidentally” from Ryan Zinke’s home town) to restore power on the island. That generated enough blowback that it was terminated, but not before the entire fiasco further delayed efforts to return Puerto Rico to a semblance of normalcy.

Now, we learn that this is who got a $156 million Federal Emergency Management Agency contract to deliver 30 million meals in a matter of weeks:

[Tiffany] Brown, who is adept at navigating the federal contracting system, hired a wedding caterer in Atlanta with a staff of 11 to freeze-dry wild mushrooms and rice, chicken and rice, and vegetable soup. She found a nonprofit in Texas that had shipped food aid overseas and domestically, including to a Houston food bank after Hurricane Harvey.

By the time 18.5 million meals were due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. And FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA’s solicitation required “self-heating meals.”

“Do not ship another meal. Your contract is terminated,” Carolyn Ward, the FEMA contracting officer who handled Tribute’s agreement, wrote to Ms. Brown in an email dated Oct. 19 that Ms. Brown provided to The New York Times. “This is a logistical nightmare.”

I am prepared to give FEMA a very dubious benefit of the doubt; unlike the power contract, I doubt this one was the result of “wheeling and dealing” or quid pro quo. My guess would be monumental incompetence–which has sort of become a hallmark of this administration. Whether corruption or incompetence is the explanation, however, Puerto Rican’s aren’t eating.

As a post to Daily Kos put it,

FEMA can’t claim to be an innocent victim here—Brown had a history of canceled government contracts for failing to deliver food to the prison system and for getting an order with the Government Publishing Office wrong. She also had no experience in this kind of disaster relief work. FEMA hired her despite having absolutely no reason to believe she could deliver what she was promising.

In more ordinary times, with more conventional Presidents–i.e., adults–the continued suffering of people in Puerto Rico would have been front-page news for months. With this Administration, however, the hits just keep on coming: ICE agents breaking up law-abiding families, Presidential aides accused of domestic violence, budget proposals to slash the already-inadequate safety net in order to fund the recent tax giveaway to the rich, an infrastructure “plan” that is equal parts fantasy and privatization…

Speaking of “thoughts and prayers,” I pray we aren’t all too emotionally fatigued by the daily doings of the Kakistocracy to vote in November….

Can We Spell Double Standard?

Over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton muses about the stark differences between Donald Trump’s response to accusations of wrongdoing against those he likes–rich or powerful white male cronies–and his attitude toward minorities who have actually been vindicated by the evidence.

As Brayton points out, when Trump finally commented about Rob Porter, a close aide who was forced to resign after reports that he had violently assaulted both of his ex-wives became public, his focus was all on the “rough time” Porter was going through–not a single reference to the women who had been beaten.

Well, we wish him well. He worked very hard. I found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well.

It’s a, obviously, tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it. And, certainly, he’s also very sad.

Now he also — as you probably know, he says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent. So you’ll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well.

“He says he’s innocent.” Of course, the ex-wives have released photographs of the bruises and black eyes, there are contemporaneous reports by people in whom the women confided at the time…but, just as Roy Moore deserved the benefit of the doubt, according to Trump, we should reserve judgment.

Same with Putin. He says Russia didn’t interfere with our election….and Trump tells us we should believe him. (“He was sincere.”)

Now let’s contrast that with how he treats young black men accused of crimes who were proven innocent because of DNA evidence. This involves the Central Park Five, young black and Latino boys accused of raping a jogger in Central Park. Trump had taken out a full page ad demanding the death penalty for them. But DNA evidence proved that they didn’t do it and a serial rapist who was already in prison for another rape admitted to the crime. Their convictions were overturned. And Trump’s response? “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.”

So for those keeping score at home: If you’re a powerful white guy and Trump is on your side, nothing you are accused of is ever true, no matter how much evidence there is for it. But if you’re a powerless person with dark skin, you’re guilty of whatever he decides you’re guilty of even if the irrefutable scientific evidence says you’re not. Very convenient, don’t you think?

Equal parts cronyism, racism and misogyny…and 100% despicable.

“Thoughts And Prayers” Again

The numbers are mind-numbing: More than 430 people have been shot in 273 school attacks since the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history occurred in the last five months.

Most sickening is the faux sympathy expressed by politicians who are wholly owned by the NRA–among them, Indiana’s Todd Young, and Florida’s Marco Rubio.

A friend’s post on Facebook was a far more honest reaction than the obligatory “thoughts and prayers” of politicians corrupted by campaign dollars : he professed surprise that parents who have lost children in these mass shootings haven’t taken violent action against politicians who– with NRA support– allowed their children to be murdered, and he warned that “Some day, unfortunately a distressed parent will decide that ‘since I lost a child perhaps politician X should lose a child or a spouse.’ These tragedies will only stop when there is meaningful gun control.”

Given the Administration’s daily assault on the rule of law and the norms of civilized behavior, reflected in elevated instances of racism, homophobia, anti-semitism and general hatefulness, that day may not be too far off.

Articles on gun ownership rarely point out that–despite the enormous number of guns in the U.S.–a majority of us do not possess them; America’s estimated 300 million firearms are largely concentrated among people who stockpile them. A significant number of those owners have an unreasoning, hysterical, and evidently all-consuming fear of being disarmed, which makes them a formidable part of the GOP’s increasingly rabid and unreasoning base.(Interestingly, gun sales–which had spiked due to fears that the scary black man in the White House was going to confiscate them–have declined significantly since Agent Orange was elected. Make of that what you will.)

I know of no one who advocates confiscation of guns. Not only would it be ridiculously impractical, but no one seriously advocates coming after the hunters, the people with legitimate security fears, or even collectors . There are plenty of steps that rational legislators could take to limit gun violence far short of confiscation, or even erosion of those precious (and exaggerated) Second Amendment rights.

Nicholas Kristof suggests an eminently reasonable approach:

Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns, and we don’t ban them! No, but automobiles are actually a model for the public health approach I’m suggesting.

We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them – and limit access to them – so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent since 1921.

Kristof says we should abandon the “gun control” terminology–which has a Pavlovian effect on fringe gun owners–and opt instead for “gun safety” or “reducing gun violence,”  using auto safety as a model. That model would include constant efforts to make the products safer and to limit access to them by people who are most likely to misuse them.

He lists a number of steps that already have broad public support: keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and people on the terrorist no-fly list, tightening background checks, ending immunity for gun manufactures–I strongly suggest that you click through and read all of his recommendations.

This one really resonated with me:

If someone steals my iPhone, it’s useless, and the same should be true of guns. Gun manufacturers made child-proof guns back in the 19th century (before dropping them), and it’s time to advance that technology today. Some combination of smart guns and safe storage would also reduce the number of firearms stolen in the U.S. each year, now about 200,000, and available to criminals.

And by the way– the next time I hear about a “good guy” with a gun, I’m going to puke.

As Kristof notes, there is overwhelming evidence that more guns and more relaxed gun laws lead to more violent deaths and injuries, no matter who owns the firearm. One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a gun in the house was associated with a significantly  increased risk of a gun death, particularly by suicide but also by homicide.

Our inability to act like adults when it comes to weapons is just one element of a frightening and dispiriting collapse of responsible government. When is the last time any of us used the word “statesman”? Instead, I’ve been hearing a different word–kakistocracy. It translates into “rule by the worst among us”?

A Lesson On Know-Nothingness

Paul Krugman recently delivered a lesson on “Know Nothingness”--both as historical reference and descriptive term:

If you’re a student of history, you might be comparing that person to a member of the Know Nothing party of the 1850s, a bigoted, xenophobic, anti-immigrant group that at its peak included more than a hundred members of Congress and eight governors. More likely, however, you’re suggesting that said person is willfully ignorant, someone who rejects facts that might conflict with his or her prejudices.

The sad thing is that America is currently ruled by people who fit both definitions.

The parallels between anti-immigrant hysteria in the mid-19th century and today are too obvious to require enumeration. Krugman does, however, enumerate several, pointing out that the countries considered “shitholes” in the 19th Century –especially Germany and Ireland–differ from those in Trump’s dark-skinned category today.

It isn’t just bigotry, of course. It’s profound ignorance.

But today’s Republicans — for this isn’t just about Donald Trump, it’s about a whole party — aren’t just Know-Nothings, they’re also know-nothings. The range of issues on which conservatives insist that the facts have a well-known liberal bias just keeps widening.

One result of this embrace of ignorance is a remarkable estrangement between modern conservatives and highly educated Americans, especially but not only college faculty. The right insists that the scarcity of self-identified conservatives in the academy is evidence of discrimination against their views, of political correctness run wild.

Those of us who work in the academy know firsthand that this accusation of discrimination is utter bullshit.

Case in point: my office in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs is on the same floor as that of professors in the Kelley School of Business. When I first joined the faculty, twenty years ago, a majority of those professors self-identified as fiscally-conservative Republicans. They continue to be conservative, but very few of them are still Republicans. When the party rejected science, evidence and scholarly research, they left.  As Krugman says of the science professorate, “When the more or less official position of your party is that climate change is a hoax and evolution never happened, you won’t get much support from people who take evidence seriously.”

But conservatives don’t see the rejection of their orthodoxies by people who know what they’re talking about as a sign that they might need to rethink. Instead, they’ve soured on scholarship and education in general. Remarkably, a clear majority of Republicans now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on America.

Krugman then points to research showing the growing importance of “clusters of highly skilled workers” who create what he calls “virtuous circles of growth and innovation.” Those clusters disproportionately emerge around universities.  In 2016, voters largely divided along educational lines, with the better-educated, rising regions carried by Hillary Clinton, and more rural, under-educated and less skilled regions going for Trump.

The anti-education, anti-evidence, anti-science voters who remain in the GOP are also disproportionately likely to express tribal, White Christian beliefs: creationism, rather than evolution, America as (their version of) a Christian Nation.

Newsweek recently reported

Evangelical Christians overwhelmingly support President Donald Trump because they believe he’ll cause the world to end.

Many have questioned why devout evangelicals support Trump, a man who has bragged about sexual assault, lies perpetually and once admitted he never asks God for forgiveness. Trump’s lack of knowledge of the Bible is also well-known.

Nevertheless, many evangelical Christians believe that Trump was chosen by God to usher in a new era, a part of history called the “end times”….  the time when Jesus returns to Earth and judges all people.

Are people who hold these beliefs representative of Christianity? No. Are they rare on most university faculties ? Yes, and for obvious reasons.

When knowledge and expertise are devalued, when empirical evidence is scorned, when the weighty and complex search for meaning that characterizes serious religiosity is replaced with superstition, rejection of reason and fear of the Other, the know-nothings have won.

 

Gerrymandering Is A Two-Sided Sword….

There’s an old adage heard among real-estate developers and businesspeople: If you owe the bank several thousand dollars, you have a problem; if you owe the bank several million dollars, the bank has a problem. Guess which debtor is most likely to be successful in renegotiating the terms of the loan?

So–I hear you asking–what in the world does that have to do with our currently dysfunctional GOP, or with partisan redistricting, aka gerrymandering?

Among the Republicans in Congress, there are plenty of “true believers”–fanatics and zealots of various types. (Honesty compels me to note that there are also some nut jobs among the Democrats, although not as many.) The crazies in the GOP, however, are widely outnumbered by people who do actually know better, people who have managed to get elected by playing to the ignorance and bigotries and extremism of voters who probably do not represent the majority of their constituents, but who can be depended upon to turn out, volunteer and vote.

The problem is, once they have energized that “base,” it owns them. The voters who make up the GOP base–in both senses of that word–demand fidelity to their passions, and their Representatives know it. That base controls a significant number of districts.

When the national Republican Party engaged in a wholesale redistricting coup after the 2010 census, that effort was wildly successful. (I have referred to the book “Ratf**ked” before; it sets out chapter and verse of “Operation Redmap.”)

Too successful.

There were two consequences of that wholesale gerrymander. The first was intended: Republicans won many more seats than their vote totals would otherwise have garnered. The second consequence, however, was both unanticipated and extremely damaging. The people elected to Congress from those deep-red districts the mapmakers created don’t feel any allegiance to the leaders of their party, or to reasonable or productive policymaking. They are only interested in doing the bidding of the voters to whom they are beholden, and avoiding a primary battle that–thanks to the gerrymander–can only come from the right.

The political reporters babbling on cable news consistently express surprise at the inability of the Republican part to govern, to control the factions that range from Hard Right to “wow, that guy’s a Nazi.” The answer is the success of their 2011 gerrymander.

The sane among them have a problem–and a choice.

If they have any integrity, they can follow their consciences, risk being primaried and defeated, or quit. (Every day, it seems, a GOP Representative announces a decision not to run again, and it isn’t hard to see why.) If they don’t have any integrity, they accept that they are wholly owned by the most rabid members of their base, and they simply pander accordingly. (In Indiana, we have a delegation composed entirely of True Believers and panderers. If you live in the state, you can decide who’s who.)

Unfortunately, this country needs two rational parties populated with adults in order to function. So not only is the GOP broken, our whole government is broken.

Happy Valentine’s Day…