Wednesday, January 2

Didn't You Already Cover This?

Chris Sikich, "Mitch Daniels leaves Indiana the fiscal envy of the Midwest". December 31

LAST Saturday I spent thirty-six hours at a Catholic wedding. Which savvy readers understand means I was lucky it didn't include a Mass.

It was a 19th century working-class joint, with an excellent vaulted ceiling, middling stained glass, and statuary that might'a been passable if the place was a Macy's window or a Puerto Rican taxi. Well, no one has yet accounted for taste.

The highlight of the sennight's festivities--unless you count the time my Poor Wife turned to me and said, "Didn't he already cover this?", causing me to snort out loud--came when a short middle aged woman from the groom's side got up and read, with a pious petulance, from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 5. The bit about wives submitting to their husbands as the Church submits to Jesus.

After she stalked off (I don't think the assessment is too harsh. Most laypersons put in this position read like they're sounding each word out phonetically; she tossed the thing off like a challenge) the priest rose to announce that the passage wasn't supposed to've been read, and that it was his mistake.

Now, I figured right there that the odds were pretty good that I was the only one in the crowd who recognized his theological quandary, let alone actually enjoyed it; a Catholic priest had just explained that the words of St. Paul concerning marriage were inappropriate at a wedding. Or maybe "unfortunate". Or, at the very least, that it covered a detail which had been negotiated away earlier in the proceedings. He went on to explain--or "explain"--how the words of Paul weren't, you know, meant to be taken as meaning what they said. Nice racket. Very convincing, assuming you were already on his side.

"Tortured" would be a charitable way to describe the logic, and I wasn't feeling charitable. Apparently Paul wouldn't have told wives of his day to be subservient to their husbands because they already were. So go figure. The only possible reading, as Easterbrook might say, is that he was just explaining the whole Church/laity relationship in terms his contemporaries would understand. Slavery.

He explained "subservient" by referencing its Latin roots, which nearly caused me to snort out loud a second time.

Look, I understand that the Catholic Church is not, as an institution, the most fundamentalist of cults, but still: the admonitions of St. Paul are open for discussion? And as nice as it was to see gender equality get a small nod from the World's Leading Proponent of Female Inferiority, it doesn't change anything. Just provided me with a brief moment of amusement in 2-1/2 hours of discomfort. I was fucking owed that much.

And, one more time, appropriately on the holiest day of the college football calendar:  how much obvious lying and cheating is enough?

Which brings us to Mitch Daniels. There's been what I consider to be an unprecedented interest in recapping his governorhood on the part of local media. Or maybe it's the same as always, and I've just forgotten the hours spend limning Evan Bayh or Bob Orr. It's been hard to see his elfish wizard face above the fold on the Indianapolis Star (motto: Still Big Enough to Fold!"), or hear Jim "the Dean Broder of Indiana Politics" Shella recount his "once in a generation" tenure, and not wonder whether a little last somethin' somethin' was discovered at the bottom of Daniels' goody box.

We've gone over and over this, and I can keep it up if they can. The "Daniels Miracle" is a feat of storytelling, not an act of governance, one which began by misrepresenting the nature of the state's deficit [and, for good measure, shopping around the total amount as needed; it began at $200 million, rose as high as $800, settled in at $500 million after Daniels' reelection, and has risen to $600 for Sikich's piece despite the table reproduced alongside (and below)]. This is Indiana, not California. The modern Democratic party in Indiana is best described as "so-called". The state was not exactly at the forefront of social spending before Mitch rescued it. It was a bottom-dweller on unemployment and welfare, and in the bottom third on education spending for decades. But Daniels was allowed to present himself as Horatius at the bridge, fighting off the ravening and outdated hoardes of the Great Society with just his large brain and his budget axe. But it ain't so. That "$200 million and up", for starters, was the way Indiana did business, through Republican and Democratic administrations. The primary state budget was enacted every two years, in off-years (a practice going back to those glorious days when the General Assembly met only every other year). Whatever shortfall or windfall had resulted from the economic predictions now two years old were addressed the next time around. In 2005 that meant the assumptions of 2003. In other words, assumptions made before the full disaster of the Bush economy, and the Jobless Recovery (Mitch Daniels, Chief Architect) was known.

Playing politics with this is one thing; turning it into evidence of your Divinely Randian-inspired moral superiority is quite another. Daniels has consistently, and darkly, hinted at financial malfeasance on the part of his predecessors (the fifth-rate rockstar Evan Bayh, and the much-respected Frank O'Bannon, who died in office) without, of course, naming any, or being held to something approaching evidence. He insisted the legislature give him his own Inspector General in 2005, specifically charged with rooting out corruption in past administrations. To date that's amounted to the discovery, via anonymous tipster, that in 1998 someone swiped some lottery tickets when everyone was at lunch. Meanwhile his privatization and government outsourcing programs are rife with crony vulturism, there's the billion-dollar boondoggle at Family and Social Services--which only coincidentally kept payments from citizens for months--serious questions about the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, what once was the state Commerce department until the Randians got hold of it (let's repeat that: our state Commerce department is now a semi-private corporation which has replaced regulating commerce with cooking up rebate deals; can't be any harm in that, can there?)--and the $2 billion tab hanging over the heads of ratepayers for Mitch's late-period coal gasification scheme.

There was absolutely no question from the start that the Daniels administration's primary business was creating a PR campaign to counteract Mitch's disastrous track record at OMB. Mr. Budget Cuts! Sadly, We Can't Spend All The Money We'd Like To! No, Really, We'd Love To Increase Spending on Education, But It's Out of the Question, So Instead We'll Accomplish Miracles! This is not an argument. It's not a program, unless your goal is to burnish your image, "prove" something about your political philosophy, and collect a lot of money for not running for President. When Daniels had Republican majorities in both Houses he solved Indiana's budget crisis the way Procrustes solved the bedding problem. They cut what was necessary to show a surplus. Regardless. In times that alternated between a horrible economy and a vertiginous recession. Then crowed about the result.  (As a commenter at the Star put it, they patted themselves on the back for balancing the checkbook, ignoring the fact that they'd put their children on starvation rations.)

That Sikich piece runs to eight online pages, and most of it actually discusses the results of Daniels' scattergun. But the point is that this should be just the starting point. It's obvious there's no free lunch. Maybe Daniels did, as he keeps insisting, inherit a state budget with accounts in disarray. Maybe privatizing everything that wasn't nailed down was the answer. If so, that's the basic question. Not whether a slash-happy governor and his henchlegislature can turn Indiana from Enlightened Tennessee to Enlightened Alabama in a decade. The victory laps and carrier landings are a bit premature at best.

But add to that the fact that the Daniels administration has been lying, flat-out, about jobs creation from the get-go, has juggled state accounts and shuffled a lot of the burden back onto local governments, obscuring accountability, and that Daniels himself has been defensive and dismissive about the pounding undercurrent of crony shenanigans, when he bothered to reply at all, and you really have pretty good reason to question the contentions on their face, let alone debate the consequences. Yet a sidebar to the Star piece says this:
Indiana’s reserves climb

2003: $-91.5 billion (debt).
2004: $-198.5 billion (debt)
2005: $-78 billion (debt)
2006: $454.3 million
2007: $959.5 million
2008: $1.3 billion
2009: $1.3 billion
2010: $830 million
2011: $1.18 billion
2012: $2.15 billion
2013: $2.04 billion.

Source: Governor’s office
Source: Governor's office. Mission Accomplished.


Anonymous said...

Oh Riley, what a breath of fresh air after the slobbering sycophants write their false comparisons about "Their Man Mitch" which are enough to make you gag and heave. By the way, the folks at the local paper somehow managed to not mention how workers from certain counties couldn't apply for Honda jobs lest they possibly "organize" even though the state of Indiana gave Honda shitloads of $. THAT was in the F.W. Journal Gazette and the WSJ but somehow missed here. Also, missed was any look-see at the non-compete agreement for the tollroad in which the tolls start taking off oh sometime shortly after he's conveniently gone. And why they won't explain that Indiana is located in the Central Time Zone is beyond me but hey, I only deal with facts, something they seem to have great difficulty with!

cgregor said...

SO, what's it going to take to get YOUR viewpoint in front of the TV-watching (forget newspaper-reading) public? The conduct of Indiana politics over the last decade makes it apparent that nobody sees this side of the story.

Anonymous said...

And carrying on in the best traditional Indiana style...

It seems reasonable to assume that Mitch-style corruption will become more endemic and more public in the next four years - Mike Pence holds pretty much the belief in the free market fairy as Mitch, but he's not nearly as smart as Mitch.

Weird Dave said...

Can't people just look at those numbers and tell that they don't add up?

R. Porrofatto said...

How come they never talk about Daniels' other miracles? Like how he and Bush miraculously turned a surplus of $250 billion into a record $415 billion deficit in a little over two years. Or the way he projected the cost of the Iraq war to be around $50 billion and it miraculously mushroomed to about 40 times that. Compared to the loaves and fishes, that's better than Jesus.

mds said...

The only not-completely pitch dark side I can see in this is that Daniels will be a has-been by late 2015, without a platform (hehehehehe) to keep him in the public eye. Meanwhile, the waterboarding of budget arithmetic to get it to say what you want whether it's true or not, the serious tollroad gouging, etc, are thereby likely to hit the fan during the reign of Governor Mike "Stupid Is As Stupid Is" Pence. Not that it will do anything like affect his re-election prospects, but it might provide enough ballast to keep him from wasting everyone else's time a few years from now: "Flag lapel pin? Check! KJV Bible with the Gospels completely redacted? Check! Head? [Locates up own ass] Check! Time to go hang out in Iowa."