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Morning Reads: The Spending Bill Has Some Holiday Gifts for Big-Money Donors

A roundup of some of the stories we're reading at BillMoyers.com HQ...

Morning Reads: The Spending Bill Offers Some Holiday Gifts

US President Barack Obama (L) stands next to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (C) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, after delivering remarks at an event commemorating the 150th anniversary of in Washington, DC, December 9, 2015. (Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images)

DEVELOPING –> “Martin Shkreli, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur and former hedge-fund manager who has been widely criticized for drug-price gouging, was arrested Thursday morning by the federal authorities.” Via The New York Times.

Now that we’ve had a chance to read it… –> The House is voting today on $629 billion in tax cuts — expected to pass almost exclusively with Republican votes — and tomorrow will vote on a $1.1 trillion spending deal. Paul Singer reports for USA Today that splitting the deal into two votes across two days allows legislators to save face: “That way, Republican conservatives can vote against the spending bill, Democratic liberals can vote against the tax bill, and both bills still pass and a government shutdown is averted.”

What’s in that spending plan? –> The 2,009-page spending bill is a mishmash, with some items outrageous to the Freedom Caucus on the right, others troublesome to activists on the left and a few that should upset everyone, except, perhaps, the wealthy interests funding the elected officials who snuck them into the legislation.

As noted yesterday, the spending bill will lift the four-decade-old oil export ban. The legislation also takes from the Obama administration two avenues for controlling the anonymously donated billions that will affect next year’s election. The legislation forbids the IRS from cracking down on supposedly apolitical nonprofits that in fact spend huge sums in politics and hide their donors. It also prevents the SEC from demanding that corporations disclose their political spending. “That means corporate management will be able to spend shareholder funds on politics without telling the shareholders, or the FEC or SEC, how much and where that money was spent,” explains Jay Riestenberg of the nonpartisan, good-government group Common Cause.

On the better-news side, the spending bill does not get rid of political-party spending caps, a move that Mitch McConnell had backed earlier, and also preserves Net Neutrality, despite Republican hopes of striking it down. And it assures 9/11 first responders that they will receive lifetime medical care.

Mistrial –> A majority-black jury in Baltimore deadlocked and could not reach a verdict in the case against William Porter, a policeman present when civilian Freddie Gray died after being arrested. The death sparked protests last spring. Porter had been “charged with manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment and misconduct in office; the state accused him of ‘callous indifference’ to Mr. Gray’s life for failing to call a medic after Mr. Gray asked for one, and for not buckling Mr. Gray into a police transport van, where he suffered a fatal injury to his spinal cord,” write Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Jess Bidgood for The New York Times. There is uncertainty as to whether Porter will be retried; in any case, the mistrial is “an unexpected twist that complicates the cases against five other officers facing charges” in the death.

Interest rates are going up –> That’s what the Fed decided yesterday. Rates had been near 0 since the start of the financial crisis, but will now increase by between .25 and .5 percent. At The Washington Post, Matt O’Brien argues that when other countries have made similar decisions, it hasn’t always worked out well.

Get them while they’re young –> “The Koch brothers are supersizing their already hefty investments into college students’ hearts and minds,” Dave Levinthal reports at the Center for Public Integrity. “A pair of private foundations led by the billionaire industrialists poured more than $23.4 million into US colleges and universities during 2014, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of tax documents recently filed with the Internal Revenue Service.”

Suspension of belief –> Larycia Hawkins, a professor at evangelical Wheaton College was suspended for writing on Facebook that Muslims, like Christians, “are people of the book… And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” A Christian, Hawkins had been wearing a hijab in support of American Muslims following a month of angry rhetoric and scattered anti-Muslim violence following the Paris attacks. Students are calling for her reinstatement and an apology from the school, write Manya Brachear Pashman and Marwa Eltagouri for the Chicago Tribune.

New climate denialism? –> Naomi Oreskes, author of the book Merchants of Doubt, an expose of how the fossil-fuel industry borrows strategy and experts from big tobacco, argues that there is “a new, strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says that renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs.”

Declaring victory –> Scott Walker has succeeded in his push to dramatically rewrite Wisconsin’s election laws, Amanda Terkel reports for The Huffington Post.

Tread carefully –> Adele M. Stan at The American Prospect: “If you find comfort in the notion of a Republican Party in disarray, you may wish to consider this: In chaotic times, chaos often wins. Chaos creates the power vacuum that sucks the unthinkable to the fore. It worked for ISIS, and right now it’s working for Donald Trump.”

Meet the new boss –> As previously speculated, Sheldon Adelson did in fact buy Las Vegas’s largest paper, the Review-Journal, for $140 million. Dan Primack reports for Fortune. The casino mogul and the paper haven’t always had the best relationship — he once sued columnist John L. Smith into bankruptcy, a story Smith told in 2013 at The Daily Beast. Nevertheless, it looks as if the journalists at the Review-Journal don’t intend to give their new owner a free pass.

Morning Reads is compiled by John Light and edited by Michael Winship.

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