Political Oversight

The story begins as follows:

WASHINGTON — Republicans on the House science committee are making an unprecedented move to require oversight of the scientific research process, pushing a bill that would in effect politicize decisions made by the National Science Foundation, according to a draft of the legislation acquired by The Huffington Post. As part of the same effort, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, sent a letter to the NSF Thursday demanding that it provide supporting materials to justify research that its panels of independent scientists have approved.

The bill, titled the High Quality Research Act and authored by Smith, would require the director of the NSF to certify in writing that every grant handed out by the federal agency is for work that is “the finest quality, is ground breaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and … is not duplicative of other research project being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.” The bill has not been officially introduced, but HuffPost acquired a draft copy that Smith circulated among colleagues.

If you are having a problem getting your head around this it’s because it’s borderline crazy. Led by the Republicans — you know, the same folks who insist on teaching creationism as a science, who deny that DNA has anything to do with heredity, and who also think that climate change is a fiction — are going to insist that qualified scientists run their work past the expert eye of one or more of their members to make certain it warrants funding for research. That is to say, men and women who have spent 20+ years in school learning everything they can about their fields of expertise will now (if this bill becomes law) have to get approval from a group of ignorant no-minds whose only qualification is that they fooled a sufficient number of gullible voters into electing them to public office. As Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat from Texas who sits on the committee, noted in his response to Smith,

Interventions in grant awards by political figures with agenda, biases, and no expertise is the antithesis of the peer review processes. . . . By making this request, you are sending a chilling message to the scientific community that peer review will always be trumped by political review. . . . Your letter marks the beginning of an investigative effort, the implications of which are profound. . . This is the first step on a path that would destroy the merit-based review process at NSF and intrudes political pressure into what is widely regarded as the most effective and creative process for awarding research funds in the world.

This bill is merely in the early stages and one can only hope that it will be resoundingly defeated. But with this group of clowns presently in Congress one can never know for sure. Just when you think the country has sunk as low as it can possibly get it finds a deeper level of ignominy. I swear it is becoming an embarrassment to admit one is a citizen of this country. And don’t get me started on how far from the ideals set forth by the founders this group has managed to move us, from a Republic that nurtures public virtue to a country run by self-important, narrow-minded, professional politicians funded by wealthy special interests. One can only wonder what could possibly be next on the Republican agenda — aside from the Jim Crow laws they are pushing in various states, dismantling health care legislation, and their determination to rid the country of those pesky regulatory agencies that promote such things as good health.

The Filthy Rich

A recent story on AOL News is worth pondering:

Many conservatives have accused unemployment insurance of creating a population of slacker, couch-bound stoners (several states have made drug tests a requirement of benefits). But an analysis by Bloomberg has found that the ultimate pinnacle of hard work and success — millionaires — raked in almost $80 million in jobless benefits during the recession.

At its 2010 peak, the country paid out $150 billion in unemployment benefits, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And $29.9 million of that went to millionaires, according to Bloomberg. That year, almost 3,200 households that reported an adjusted gross income of more than $1 million received unemployment benefits, with an average take of $12,600. That’s 56 percent more than the $8,050 received by the average household filing for benefits, unsurprisingly so since jobless insurance is hitched to past salary.

At a time when there are thousands of folks in this country who don’t know where their next meal will come from and worry that they will soon be forced out of their homes and on to the street (if they haven’t been already), there are so many unsettling aspects to this story it is hard to know where to begin. It’s bad enough that the filthy rich continue to exploit their fellow humans as well as the earth in their single-minded determination to accumulate more money than they can spend in a lifetime. It is also disturbing to realize that these are the same people who complain that the lazy and unmotivated poor (as they see them) are the ones milking the governmental cow until it is dry when, in fact, they are filling their pails as fast as they can! These folks also complain about higher taxes at a time when the taxes for the wealthy in America are historically, and comparably, low — thanks to “trickle-down” economics. Further, these are the people who want to dismantle the EPA and other regulatory agencies so they have a clear path to more and more wealth while many of them are hiding their filthy lucre in Swiss bank accounts and planning to leave the country and live elsewhere when the bottom finally falls out.

In a word, many of the very people who complain the loudest and are the most aggressive in pressing Congress and legislators around the country to let them have their way are the ones who are doing everything they can to eliminate the middle class and cripple the economy that has made them wealthy. It’s time for Dante to come back from wherever he is spending eternity and write an updated version of The Inferno. It’s clear that these people will be there, it’s just not clear what their punishment will be. My suggestion is that they be forced to climb a tall mountain of hot lava in bare feet with heavy bags of gold on their backs only to reach the top and be required to go back and climb again. Forever.