All posts by Sheila

Getting to Know Mike Pence

Hoosiers have gotten to know Mike Pence during his tenure as our dense and divisive Governor; that familiarity was why he was on track to lose his bid for re-election. But the rest of the country is just now getting an in-depth look at what, in Pence’s view, passes for policy. 

One such recent “introduction” began with this overview:

Much has been made of Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s record on LGBTQ issues. In 2000, when he was running for U.S. representative, Pence wrote that “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ [sic] entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.” He also said that funds meant to help people living with HIV or AIDS should no longer be given to organizations that provide HIV prevention services because they “celebrate and encourage” homosexual activity. Instead, he proposed redirecting those funds to anti-LGBTQ “conversion therapy” programs, which have been widely discredited by the medical community as being ineffective and dangerous.

The real focus of the story, however, is on Pence’s longstanding war on a woman’s right to control her own reproduction–not just his efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood, or his signing of an outrageous, punitive and unconstitutional anti-choice law, but his less well-known diversion of millions of dollars in public funds that were supposed to provide food and health care for needy families to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers.

Gov. Pence, who declined multiple requests for an interview with Rewire, has been outspoken about his anti-choice agenda… . people in need of abortion care are forced to take significant time off work, arrange child care, and possibly pay for a place to stay overnight in order to obtain it.

This environment is why a contract quietly signed by Pence last fall with the crisis pregnancy center umbrella organization Real Alternatives is so potentially dangerous for Indiana residents seeking abortion: State-subsidized crisis pregnancy centers not only don’t provide abortion but seek to persuade people out of seeking abortion, thus limiting their options.

Adding insult to injury, the three and a half million dollars going to Real Alternatives came from TANF funds.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF is explicitly meant to clothe and feed children, or to create programs that help prevent “non-marital childbearing,” and Indiana’s contract with Real Alternatives does neither. The contract stipulates that Real Alternatives and its subcontractors must “actively promote childbirth instead of abortion.” The funds, the contract says, cannot be used for organizations that will refer clients to abortion providers or promote contraceptives as a way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Real Alternatives is an anti-choice organization run by a Pennsylvania lawyer who has no medical experience or background. The organization finances, and refers clients to, crisis pregnancy centers that encourage clients to carry their pregnancies to term and “helps” them decide between adoption or child rearing. “Counseling” and classes teach that abstinence is the only way to avoid unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The article is lengthy and well researched, and it accurately portrays the unctuous Mike Pence that Hoosiers know so well.

We can just hope that the rest of the country comes to know him as well as we do. Quickly.

On a Lighter Note…

Taking a “vacation” from my obsession with the state of our politics….

I was cleaning out my desk files in preparation for the upcoming semester, when I came across this PERFECT visual description of how a bill really becomes a law. It was shared with me several years ago by a government affairs professional.

Enjoy!

Sheila[2]

 

Choosing a Future

If there is one clear message that emerged from the just-concluded political party conventions, it is that, in November, Americans will choose not just between two sets of candidates, but between two very different visions of America and our future.

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction–not “space opera,” but explorations of where mankind might be headed, extrapolations of current trends that raise interesting, even profound, questions about the nature of humanity and society. So the opening of the most recent Star Trek movie prompted me to compare Gene Roddenberry’s vision to the portrayals of America and its future on display at the Republican and Democratic conventions.

Roddenberry’s creation has been remarkably durable: there have been several television series and movies, spanning a period of fifty years. There is a reason for that. His portrayal of a positive future and a mature humanity is immensely appealing.

On the starship’s bridge, diverse members of Earth’s population work amicably with a variety of representatives of other planets. There is respect for difference, for the right of crewmates from other cultures to live according to their beliefs, so long as they respect the Federation’s rules in return. That respect is incorporated in the Prime Directive, which forbids interference with other planetary cultures. (The Federation doesn’t engage in “nation building.”)

There is explicit respect for science, education, and intellectual achievement, and for mankind’s quest to learn—to “seek out” and “go where no one has gone before.”

There is recognition of the importance of a legal framework that safeguards the moral foundations of society and confers authority. But authority, in Roddenberry’s world, does not come from legal status. It is earned by demonstrated competence and superior performance, and is expressed with intelligence, maturity and empathy.

There could hardly be a more dramatic contrast to Roddenberry’s “kumbaya” vision and humanitarian values than the overwhelming fear and anger exhibited by Republicans in Cleveland.

At the Democratic convention, we got optimism and uplifting messages about America’s potential.

In Cleveland, we got name-calling and stereotyping; the values displayed by the GOP at its convention were the antithesis of those championed by Roddenberry.

Respect for science? The GOP not only rejected scientific consensus on climate change, a significant percentage want to replace the theory of evolution with creationism in public school science classes.

Respect for the rule of law? Trump has demonstrated a total lack of familiarity with the Constitution, and has championed policies that are patently unconstitutional. Meanwhile, convention delegates clearly supported Senate Republicans’ refusal to follow the Constitution and “advise and consent” to Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination.

In Cleveland, in marked contrast to the multi-ethnic, multi-species bridge of the Enterprise, a crowd of overwhelmingly white, predominantly older delegates tried to mask the extreme divisions in their party by focusing on the one thing that they hope can unify them: fear and hatred of the Other. Hatred of Hillary Clinton, of Democrats, of Muslims, of immigrants, of LGBTQ Americans.

Throughout the GOP convention, Donald Trump displayed an understanding of “leadership”  very different from Roddenberry’s. Trump confuses authoritarianism with earned authority; he’s a “tough guy” who doesn’t bother to display mastery of –or even acquaintance with–the issues at hand, a thug who disdains restraint, nuance and expertise, who proposes to dominate by demanding, rather than earning, respect, and who responds to even the mildest criticism with childish name-calling in lieu of reasoned response.

Jean-Luc Picard he’s not.

At the Democratic convention, speaker after speaker argued for American possibility, and appealed to the “better angels of our nature.” One paragraph of President Obama’s superb speech, in particular, made me think of Roddenberry:

I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, young, old, gay, straight, men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love.

Speakers at the Republican convention, in stark contrast, painted a picture of a dystopia in which our only option is to hunker down, arm ourselves against our fellow-citizens, and barricade America against the rest of the world.

In November, what we will really decide is which of these visions will shape our future.

Can We Talk About Trade? Probably Not.

When I teach policy analysis, certain barriers to sound analysis tend to recur. At least three of those barriers are pertinent to the current debate about America’s trade policies.

  • Americans tend to be inappropriately “bipolar.” Too many partisans, Left and Right, approach complex policy issues with a “bright line” ideology–doing X is either good or bad. Period. Their world is divided between good guys and “evil-doers,” (to use Bush the Second’s terminology) and there is no middle ground.
  • Although there are certainly some policies that are simply wrong, in most cases, the proper approach to analysis is to ask “how,” not “whether.” That’s because, in most cases, the devil really is in the details; otherwise good policies can fail because they are not properly developed or implemented, and otherwise problematic approaches can be rescued by careful development and thoughtful application.
  • In today’s America, increasing numbers of policy domains are complicated and highly technical. Even well-informed citizens are unable to make independent judgments about the best approach to such matters–examples include telecommunications, arms control, tax policies and multiple other areas. We are increasingly dependent upon experts in the field to assess proposed laws and regulations–and we are increasingly suspicious of the bona fides of those experts.

These challenges to sound policy analysis are front and center in the arguments about trade agreements like the TPP.

On the Left, we have a number of activists who believe that trade agreements inevitably cost American jobs, no matter what their content. This is demonstrably false. Outsourcing and poorly drafted agreements certainly undermine both domestic employment and compensation, but trade also generates jobs and economic growth. According to the U.S.Department of Commerce, in 2008 the United States exported nearly $1.7 trillion in goods and services, exports that supported more than 10 million full- and part-time jobs and accounted for 12.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). (If I find more recent data, I’ll update this post.)

On the Right, we have proponents who support any and all “free trade” proposals, no matter whether the agreements safeguard workers or the environment, and no matter how unbalanced the agreement, because “all trade is good.”

I haven’t followed all of the pronouncements, pro and con, about TPP, but in those I have heard, not one person on either side has identified provisions of that proposed agreement with which he or she agreed or disagreed. It was all or nothing–good or bad.

International trade is complicated, and the negative consequences that partisans cite aren’t necessarily the result of trade itself: the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think-tank, attributes a significant amount of manufacturing job loss to currency manipulation. EPI says that “Global currency manipulation is one of the most important causes of growing U.S. trade deficits, and of unemployment and slow economic growth in the United States and Europe.”

Like technology, trade both displaces workers and creates new kinds of employment.

My point is not to weigh in on the merits of the TPP. Like most Americans, I simply do not know enough–about the terms of the proposed agreement, about the likely cost-benefit ratio, about the context within which the agreement would be implemented–to come to a reasoned conclusion. Like most Americans, I must rely upon the evaluations of people whose expertise and knowledge I trust.

Which brings me to what I have come to identify as one of the most serious problems America faces: a public in which skepticism, cynicism, and a pervasive lack of trust is rampant. We don’t trust the media (or more accurately, we trust only the media sources that confirm our pre-existing biases), we don’t trust government (the result of thirty-plus years of anti-government rhetoric), we don’t trust members of that “other” political party, and increasingly, we don’t trust each other. We sure as hell don’t trust the experts–those elitists!

It’s hard to make policy in that sort of environment.

Can This Be True?

The Democratic National Committee’s server was hacked last week, and embarrassing (although not very surprising) emails publicly released. The obvious intent was to create division right before the Democratic Convention, and to feed suspicions about Hillary Clinton’s nomination.

Voters and pundits can draw their own conclusions about the contents of the emails. The more intriguing–and troubling–question involves the source of the mischief. A number of media outlets have noted that the FBI’s investigation is focused upon Russia and Vladimir Putin.

My first reaction to the suggestion that Putin might be interfering with America’s election was a very pronounced eye roll. (I’m not much for conspiracy theories. In a different context, that sounds like the sort of wild accusation Trump would come up with.)

And yet..the FBI says the hackers were Russian, and this article by Anne Applebaum in the Salt Lake Tribune does give one pause.

The secret plot to control America, launched from abroad, is an old theme in American pop culture. “The Manchurian Candidate,” a film made in 1962, imagined a Chinese scheme to engineer a coup d’etat. Aficionados of paranoid thrillers may also recall “Lucky Bastard,” a 1998 Charles McCarry novel, which featured a U.S. president controlled by a Soviet case officer who happens to be his wife.

But now it is 2016, truth is stranger than fiction, and we finally have a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, with direct and indirect links to a foreign dictator, Vladimir Putin, whose policies he promotes. And yet it is not secret, it is not a plot, there is no conspiracy. No one has been hypnotized or recruited by foreign intelligence. Just as Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, openly accepts Russian money, the Trump campaign advertises its Russian links and pays no real political price.

Applebaum details Trump’s considerable business connections with Russia, and his efforts to attract Russian investment in his real estate projects. As she notes , Trump has also surrounded himself with “people whose deep links to the corrupt world of Russian business would normally disqualify them from U.S. politics.” She cites campaign operatives, among them Carter Page, a foreign policy aide who has long-standing connections to Russian companies and who supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who worked for several years in Ukraine for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president ousted in 2014.

Although Applebaum doesn’t mention it, the LA Times reports that retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn,another close Trump advisor, flew to Moscow last year to attend a gala banquet celebrating Russia Today, the Kremlin’s propaganda channel, and was seated at the head table near Putin. Flynn is evidently a regular guest on Russia Today.

Russian state media is actively supporting Trump, and Applebaum says that whatever resources Putin is investing in Trump’s campaign, they are paying dividends.

For even if Trump never becomes president, his candidacy has already achieved two extremely important Russian foreign policy goals: to weaken the moral influence of the United States by undermining its reputation as a stable democracy, and to destroy its power by wrecking its relationships with its allies. Toward these ends, Trump has begun repeating arguments identical to those used on Russian state television. These range from doubts about the sovereignty of Ukraine — earlier this week, Trump’s campaign team helped alter the Republican party platform to remove support for Ukraine — to doubts about U.S. leadership of the democratic world. The United States has its own “mess” to worry about, Trump told the New York Times on Wednesday: It shouldn’t stand up for democracy abroad. In the same interview, he also cast doubt on the fundamental basis of transatlantic stability, NATO’s Article 5 guarantee: If Russia invades, he said, he’d have to think first before defending U.S. allies.

None of this, of course, is absolute proof that Putin and the Russians were behind the hack of the DNC. But it once again underlines the manifest dangers of Trump’s capture of the GOP–and the unthinkable consequences of a Trump Presidency.