I’ll make this follow-up to the December 24, 2020 post “Gullibles Travels” short and sweet.
Yesterday I received an email from a trusted and respected friend in which he echoed some of the right-wing fringe propaganda about the recent COVID relief legislation. Concerned that Congress had used the health crisis to pass a plethora of non-germane items, he forwarded an email which began, “A COVID relief bill should be for COVID RELIEF. It should be focused on the American People, who have spent the better part of a year struggling and hurting.”
For the record, nothing was attached to a COVID Relief Act. Quite the opposite. The relief provisions and appropriations related to the pandemic were attached to the Consolidated Budget Act of 2021 as Division M. It is 100 pages of the 5,593 page omnibus bill which funds every federal agency (with the exception of the Defense Department), clearly labeled as such in the Table of Contents as Divisions A through L. (Example: DIVISION A—AGRICULTURE, RURAL DEVELOPMENT, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2021.)
After I pointed out this email was just one more example of “Gullibles Travels,” my friend responded, “Really should be a law that limits a bill to one subject at a time or requires a statement that it includes multiple items.” No argument with the first part of his concern. It would be nice if congressional rules forbade non-germane amendments to bills. But that is not the case, and unfortunately such additions are often the only way to garner enough votes to assure passage. (The technical term for this practice is “logrolling.”) The second half of the sentence is an entirely different matter. Section 2: Table of Contents is a detailed outline of the legislation. To ensure the reader understood this was merely a compilation of separate appropriations bills, Section 3: References reads, “Except as expressly provided otherwise, any reference to ‘this Act’, contained in any division of this Act shall be treated as referring only to the provisions of that division.”
Now, I do not expect anyone other than policy wonks such as myself to put down their copy of the latest potboiler to peruse a 5593 page piece of legislation. But it does beg the question, “Where are normal people getting this misinformation?” This morning I got my answer.
On page B2 of today’s Washington Post and its website there is an article by Paul O’Donnell titled, “Dalai Lama’s reincarnation ends up in Congress’ $900 relief bill.” The lead paragraph states:
Among the hodgepodge of legislative loose ends that made their way into the $900 billion spending bill signed by President Trump on Sunday night was a significant update to the 18-year-old Tibetan Policy Act, strengthening U.S. support for Tibetan autonomy and religious freedom for followers of Tibetan Buddhism around the world.
Furthermore, the writer claims that the provision pops up under something called the Tibetan Policy and Support Act, a phrase that does not appear in the bill’s language. So what is the truth? On page 2627 of the bill, Section 618 covers “Diplomatic Representation Relating to Tibet,” which authorizes the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa, Tibet. Among the objectives for opening the consulate are assurances in support of “the aspirations of the Tibetan people.” Subsection (7)(a) states:
…oppose any effort by the Government of the People’s Republic of China to select, educate, and venerate Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders in a manner inconsistent with the principle that the succession or identification of Tibetan Buddhist lamas, including the Dalai Lama, should occur without interference, in a manner consistent with traditional practice; (page 2630)
Therefore, Mr. O’Donnell is half right. The act does include language to protect the status of the Dalai Lama. But it appears on page 2630 when all provisions of the COVID Relief Act/Division M are contained in pages 1815 through 1915. If a Washington Post reporter cannot get it right, how can we expect anything different from those who look to major mainstream media for their understanding of current events?
All good blogs require an analogy. During the impeachment debate, the question arose, “Is the president of United States a Russian agent or is he just an unwitting tool of Vladimir Putin?” The same can be said of the media based on this example. Do they unwittingly bring fringe lies and conspiracy theories into the mainstream or do they have a more nefarious agenda? This morning on MSNBC, Ali Velshi asked a New York Times reporter how she thought her job might change after January 20th. She admitted, “My bias is toward chaos.” Too bad her answer was not, “My bias is keeping readers informed honestly and accurately.”
Finally, I apologize for the length of this post. I guess it was not as short and sweet as I intended. But, if you want people to understand what is real and what is not, you need to take the time and effort to explain it to them. If not, you become complicit in the dumbing down of America. And those who promote fringe views of the world end up on top of it.
For what it’s worth.