Tag Archives: Pence

“Meanwhile”–Mike Pence Version

While we are transfixed by the latest “shiny object”–the latest betrayal of long-time allies, the emergence of emails documenting the White Nationalism of the White House, Trump’s approval of war crimes, the daily evidence that our President is quite insane, and of course the Impeachment hearings–the current administration stays busy behind the scenes destroying both democratic norms and constitutional barriers.

I have previously posted about a number of these assaults–generally, they are being led by the unqualified and ethically compromised individuals currently ensconced in cabinet and other administrative positions. Recent reporting, however, locates one such offensive in the White House itself: efforts by wannabe theocrat Mike Pence to further erode the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.

As ProPublica reports

Last November, a top Trump appointee at the U.S. Agency for International Development wrote a candid email to colleagues about pressure from the White House to reroute Middle East aid to religious minorities, particularly Christian groups.

“Sometimes this decision will be made for us by the White House (see… Iraq! And, increasingly, Syria),” said Hallam Ferguson, a senior official in USAID’s Middle East bureau, in an email seen by ProPublica. “We need to stay ahead of this curve everywhere lest our interventions be dictated to us.”

The email underscored what had become a stark reality under the Trump White House. Decisions about U.S. aid are often no longer being governed by career professionals applying a rigorous review of applicants and their capabilities. Over the last two years, political pressure, particularly from the office of Vice President Mike Pence, had seeped into aid deliberations and convinced key decision-makers that unless they fell in line, their jobs could be at stake.

Some five months before this email was sent, Ferguson’s former boss had been fired. The action followed a communication from Pence’s chief of staff, in which recipients were told that Pence was “displeased” with USAID’s work in Iraq, especially the agency’s decision to turn down Christian groups for aid.

The administration’s efforts to influence USAID funding worried professionals within the agency. Not only did it risk violating First Amendment prohibitions on favoring one religion over another, but there were practical concerns: if the U.S. was perceived as favoring Christians, that perception could–indeed, it probably would– worsen Iraq’s sectarian divides.

USAID regulations state that awards “must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization, or lack thereof.”

Despite the clear language of the regulations, USAID recently announced two grants to Iraqi organizations that had previously been rejected. According to the Pro Publica article, political appointees, rather than professionals charged with making these determinations, “significantly impacted” the awards.

Typically, such appointees have little to no involvement in USAID grants, to avoid perceptions of undue political influence on procurement.

One of the groups selected for the newest awards has no full-time paid staff, no experience with government grants and a financial tie that would typically raise questions in an intense competition for limited funds. The second organization received its first USAID direct grant after extensive public comments by its leader and allies highlighting what they described as a lack of U.S. assistance to Christians. The two groups — a charity that primarily serves Christian Iraqis and a Catholic university — were not originally listed as front-runners, according to a document seen by ProPublica.

The remainder of the lengthy article documents the measures taken by the administration–especially Pence’s office–to change the criteria by which funds would be awarded in order to benefit Christian organizations. It also reports on Pence’s “pushback” to warnings that favoritism to Christian organizations would run afoul of both the First Amendment and agency regulations.

Just more evidence that while we are transfixed by Trump’s bizarre behaviors and ungrammatical tweets, lobbyists are running federal agencies for the benefit of their former clients, faux Christians are undermining the Constitution and distorting foreign policy, the entire administration is undermining the rule of law…

And today’s GOP is fiercely defending all of it.







A Perfect Analogy

Amid the chaos and corruption of this administration, there is one positive thing we critics all need to concede: Trump, Pence and company have been gold for political satire.

He’s probably less well-known than  the large and appreciative audiences for John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, et al,  but Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has also been turning out some really excellent snark. And since the mood–at my house and on this blog–has been pretty depressed, I thought I’d share one of Milbank’s more recent columns.

This one was titled “American Pharoah Joins the Resistance.” American Pharoah, for those who (like me) don’t follow such things, is a Triple Crown winning horse. And Mike Pence recently alleged that the horse bit him. Hard.

I saw the initial report of Pence’s accusation, thought “good for the horse,” and promptly forgot about it. Milbank didn’t.

On Friday, Vice President Pence informed House Republicans that Triple Crown winner American Pharoah “bit me so hard” on the arm during a Kentucky visit last year that he (man, not horse) “almost collapsed.”

Some might disbelieve the vice president’s tale of American Pharoah carnage, because Pence said nothing about this grievous injury at the time and because the manager of the racehorse-breeding company said that if the “sweet” thoroughbred had bitten Pence, “I’d know it.” Pence did show people a bruise on his arm back then, but that could have been from one of the many times President Trump walked all over him.

I’ve never known a member of the Trump administration to tell an untruth, so I have no reason to disbelieve Pence’s harrowing account.

Sweet-natured or not, Milbank says there are several reasons the horse might have chosen to bite Pence:

Pence saw him and another stallion grooming each other, and American Pharoah worried he’d be sent to the glue factory.

Pence told the stud that sex is only between one stallion and one mare, whom the stallion should call “mother.”

Pence advised American Pharoah not to eat oats with a mare unless others are present at the same trough.

Alternatively, as Milbank writes, since horses are very hierarchical and alpha horses bite those they consider beneath them, perhaps Pharoah had seen how Pence is treated at the White House? Or had drawn conclusions about status from Pence’s nauseatingly obsequious behavior around Trump?

The column is all worth reading, but here is my absolute favorite paragraph. It’s a perfect analogy to this disastrous–almost comically destructive–administration:

Trump might not have American Pharoah’s speed, but their behaviors are similar. The comedian John Mulaney likens Trump’s presidency to a horse loose in a hospital: “No one knows what the horse is going to do next, least of all the horse. . . . So all day long you walk around, ‘What’d the horse do? What’d the horse do?’ The updates, they’re not always bad; sometimes they’re just odd. It’ll be like, ‘The horse used the elevator? I didn’t know he knew how to do that.’ The creepiest days are when you don’t hear from the horse . . . those quiet days when people are like, ‘It looks like the horse has finally calmed down.’ And then 10 seconds later the horse is like, ‘I’m gonna run toward the baby incubators and smash ’em with my hooves.’”


Pining For Those Enlightenment Entrails

Denis Diderot (Enlightenment philosopher, Jesuit, art critic and writer) is quoted as having said “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

The sentiment is a bit excessive, but I’m warming to it.

What got me going was a recent issue of a weekly newsletter I receive called “Sightings.” It is published by the University of Chicago’s Divinity School,  and is devoted to issues at the intersection of religion and society. A few weeks ago, the newsletter was titled, “Politics and Priestcraft: Oh where is our Voltaire?” 

It began:

In our postmodern, global, and increasingly divided society, few thin threads of shared conviction seem to bind us together. One of those spindly threads has been a rejection by many people of our Enlightenment heritage, which fueled democratic revolutions, helped to shape the US Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, and, at its best, ignited a drive for emancipation, both hither and yon.

The author acknowledged the recognized deficiencies of the times: yes, there was racism, sexism, exploitation, etc. etc. But there were also profound thinkers and witty philosophes, and as he noted

This Sightings is about an Enlightenment motif that is sadly missing in our public life, and dangerously so. Call this a “non-sighting” of the Enlightenment’s philosophes and their wit and satire against those politicians and priests—of all religions—bent on duping “we the people” and thereby upending democratic sovereignty. It’s a matter of fanaticism and tyranny of the mind. The question is: where’s our Voltaire?

This diatribe was prompted–we learn about halfway in–by reports about several conservative “Christians” who have  been peddling the notion that Donald Trump is a modern day King Cyrus, commissioned by God to re-Christianize America. (Actually, as the author points out,  America hasn’t historically been all that Christian.–  at least not if you are talking about churchgoing folks. But why let facts spoil a good story?)

Evidently,  “a charismatic preacher” named Lance Wallnau appeared on a television program that is currently being hosted by disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker (do these disgraced preachers ever just fade into the sunset? Evidently not) to hawk a Donald Trump/King Cyrus gold coin.

He claimed that the coin can be used as a ‘point of contact’ between Christians and God as they pray for the re-election of Trump in 2020.” My goodness, for a mere $45 you too can own this holy talisman to connect you with God, and it’s authenticated by a TV preacher to boot. Such folderol is rife in the religious world, of course… But so too is preying (not praying) on the desperate, the lonely, or those confused and losing hope.

And that brings us to Voltaire (and Diderot).

Such priestly, predatory actions were the target of Voltaire’s wit and that of other Enlightenment philosophes as well. For all of his gleaming faults, too many to recount here, Voltaire campaigned vigorously against superstition and fanaticism.

The author defines “priestcraft” as the use of “religious means” to secure power and to control people. (Priestcraft would be Mike Pence’s ostentatious piety as opposed to the genuinely religious passion of, say, an equally political William Barber.)

Priestcraft… can fuel secrecy, misogyny, and hatred even in the most public forums of social media. Friedrich Nietzsche, on this point a good philosophe, would say that it is driven by ressentiment, that is, feelings of hatred and envy that cannot be acted on and are therefore transmuted into self-abasement or, in the case of priestcraft, wily ways to gain and keep power. If that is the case, then, priestcraft within a democracy usurps the sovereignty of “we the people.” …

We do need to have the truth of conviction to combat priestcraft in all its forms, subtle and crude, and so reclaim some, though (rightly) perhaps not all, of our Enlightenment heritage. At stake is our freedom as a people, religious or not, and, for religious folks, clarity about what really deserves adoration. At least this is what a “non-sighting” of Enlightened social criticism seems to suggest. In Immanuel Kant’s words: “Sapere Aude. Dare to think for yourself.”

For myself, I think Diderot was onto something….

Theocrats At HHS

Readers from Indiana will understand why I found this recent Politico headline chilling: “How Mike Pence’s Mafia Took Over Health Care Policy.”

Pence, of course, could care less about health care, or policy of any sort that doesn’t advance his Christianist agenda. And he “serves” (or is that word “serviles”?) a President who has no discernible interest in any policy–or anything other than his own self-aggrandizement. So the fact that Pence has installed his preferred people at Health and Human Services tells us that health policy will be made on the basis of ideology, not science or evidence.

Behind the scenes, Pence has developed his own sphere of influence in an agency lower on Trump’s radar: Health and Human Services. It’s also the agency with the ability to fulfill the policy goal most closely associated with Pence over his nearly 20 year career in electoral politics: de-funding Planned Parenthood.

Numerous top leaders of the department — including Secretary Alex Azar, Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Medicaid/Medicare chief Seema Verma — have ties to Pence and Indiana. Other senior officials include Pence’s former legislative director from his days as governor and former domestic policy adviser at the White House.

“He has clearly recruited people connected to him who share his very extreme views on sexual and reproductive health care,” said Emily Stewart, the vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood. “This has been one of the most active administrations ever on rolling back reproductive rights and there’s no way that happens unless you have people in the White House driving the effort to put out policies at such a rapid clip.”

Before the courts intervened, HHS was getting ready to implement rewritten federal policies to curb abortion and–Pence’s wet dream– cut funding to Planned Parenthood. The new regulations would also have tightened the conditions under which Title X federal family planning grants are awarded, ensuring that clinics wouldn’t even be able to refer women to entirely separate abortion providers.

And in a nod to Pence’s longterm efforts to privilege religious bigotry, the agency this month boosted “religious conscience protections” for providers who refuse to perform certain medical services, including abortion, citing religious or moral objections.

The changes to Title X are the culmination of a battle Pence waged first as a member of Congress, then as governor and now in the White House. The Title X rules, which force providers of federally funded family-planning programs to separate themselves from abortion providers, are aimed squarely at Planned Parenthood, which relies heavily on such funding. The Title X changes don’t cut off Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood — although cutting off that big pot of money is on the GOP wish list as well.

Pence has installed a number of people at HHS who were part of his Indiana administration. As White House staff members have confirmed, from the very outset of the Trump administration, Pence had carte blanche to identify nominees he preferred  “particularly in roles Trump didn’t really care about,” as one GOP operative put it.

Even somewhat smaller projects appear to bear the vice president’s ideological imprint — for example, a recent HHS decision to grant South Carolina a waiver that allows foster care providers to reject potential families who have different religious beliefs.

These conservative and religious views have played into the administration’s foreign as well as domestic policy. Internationally, Trump and Pence have gone beyond even other Republican administrations in curbing access to abortion and contraception by expanding the so-called Mexico City policy barring U.S. foreign aid to groups that promote or provide abortion.

Trump is fixated on himself. Pence is fixated on imposing his peculiar version of Christianity  on America.

Neither they nor any of the criminals and incompetents they’ve installed as cabinet members and White House staffers care anything at all about We the People, the Constitution, or the Rule of Law.

If we don’t evict the whole crew in 2020, there may not be any going back.

A Master Class

In the space of a week, Donald Trump and Mike Pence have given us a Master Class in  cluelessness (Trump) and servility (Pence).

Pence was at his smarmy best when he dutifully defended Trump’s lunatic assertion that murderous “Middle Easterners” were part of that scary Caravan making its way to the border from Guatemala. Talking Points Memo named Pence their “Duke of the Week” for that one.

Every lackey willingly floating in President Trump’s orbit is handed their fair share of flak for their regular defense of Trump’s latest fallacious musings.

But Vice President and Trump hype man Mike Pence is the aide most often recruited to step in it. And this week, he dove in deep, defending Trump’s unfounded — and racist — claims that “Middle Easterners” were part of the caravan of Central American migrants heading to the U.S., spouting false statistics and then being forced to shove his tail between his leg and publicly walk back the comments.

Ever since Fox News began its non-stop coverage of the group of immigrants traveling toward the U.S., Trump and his flunkies in Congress and on TV have seized on the issue to get Republican voters worked up ahead of the midterms. Trump blamed the Democrats for “open borders” and tweeted threats to Mexico and Guatemala, signaling he’d cut U.S. aide to the countries if they didn’t block the group from approaching the U.S.-Mexico border. According to multiple on-the-ground reports, the migrants were escaping violence and poverty in Honduras and hoped to seek asylum in the U.S.

Pence insisted that during  the last fiscal year, authorities had apprehended “more than 10 terrorists or suspected terrorists per day at our Southern border. from countries that are referred to in as ‘other than Mexico.” With a straight face, he insisted that “countries other than Mexico” meant from the Middle East.  It also turned out that those apprehended were attempting to enter the country illegally at all ports of entry, not just the southern one.

So he’s a liar like Trump. (And don’t get me started about his attempt to use the term “Rabbi” to describe the Christian he trotted out to offer a prayer for the real Jews killed in Pittsburgh.)

Eventually, of course, our demented President had to admit he had “no proof” that there were people of Middle Eastern decent tagging along with the caravan. (“There’s no proof of anything but they could very well be,” Trump said, after he let Pence and others spend more than 24 hours defending his bizarre assertions).

Sure, and I could “very well” be a Martian…

Lest his “base” (in both senses of the word) miss the point of his attacks on those brown people trying to escape poverty and violence, Trump has promised to issue an Executive Order ending automatic citizenship for children of immigrants born on American soil. That’s ludicrous, of course–such a change would require a Constitutional amendment. The evidence suggests his base is too ignorant of the American Constitution to know that.

Of course, it’s entirely possible Trump doesn’t know it either–he’s given no hint of familiarity with the law or the Constitution.

Trump’s ignorance of law, facts, science, geography and the way the world works is more than equalled, however, by his inability to understand even the most basic obligations of the office he accidentally holds. I can’t say it any more plainly than Vox, in an article titled “Trump Has Passed Every Chance to Unite the Country during the Pipe Bomb Crisis.”

Once again, he has proven to be completely incapable of providing sober, mature, responsible leadership in a time of crisis.

After initially calling for “unity” in scripted remarks on Friday, the president turned his appearance at the White House’s Young Black Leadership Summit into a campaign rally.

He did his usual thing: He slammed Democrats, bashed the “fake news” media, and lambasted so-called “globalists.” Never mind that most of the bomber’s targets were top Democratic politicians, including former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and that one was CNN, one of Trump’s favorite targets for the “fake news” label.

Trump is a terrifyingly un-self-aware person; he is absolutely unable to take responsibility for anything. In a conversation with reporters, he refused to accept any blame for his rhetoric.

“Not at all, no. There is no blame. There is no anything,” he told reporters.

Asked if he would commit to toning down his rhetoric for a few days, he responded, “Well, I think I’ve been toned down. I could really tone it up. Because as you know, the media has been incredibly unfair to me and to the Republican Party.”

And when he was asked if he would call any of the targeted individuals–especially former Presidents Obama and Clinton–he said “probably not.”

In other words, he doesn’t even want to do the bare minimum a president is expected to do here: speak with the people targeted by a terrifying bomb threat and tell them he’s happy they’re safe.

Trump wasn’t interested in making a phone call–after all, that doesn’t generate media exposure. But he was insistent on going to Pittsburgh, a trip that would be covered by the media he pretends to despise, despite requests from the mayor and the community that he stay away and refrain from distracting from the funerals.

Like I say–a Master Class.