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WATCHDOG NAMES THE WORST PEOPLE OF 2014

by Watchdog Staff

In a year of videotaped beheadings, school shootings, Russian invasions and annexations of eastern Ukraine (or, as Valdimir Putin calls them, staycations), Ebola, deadly Mexican cops, deadly American cops, Bashar al-Assad’s readiness to kill his Syrian fellows, Kim Jong Un’s funny/creepy hack of Sony Pictures, the release of those emails revealing that (a) Sony Pictures executives are closet racists and (b) (when they pulled the offending comedy film that irritated KJU) public cowards — in a year like this one, we’re saying, it’s easy to overlook the myriad outrageous acts of your local government bureaucrats. We’re not saying all those in government service are evil, nor even many of them. But they’re out there, the bad or merely incompetent. Watchdog.org’s national network of reporters find them. Every day, we produce investigative stories that reveal what Hannah Arendt famously called “the banality of evil” — the little ways in which otherwise average bureaucrats and others participate in acts that range from merely annoying or petty to downright homicidal.

Today, we reveal our No. 1 choice — a person whose simple, everyday cruelty shines out like a 12-gauge flare fired into a child’s brightly lit birthday cake.

At a time when the saccharine of holiday spirit may sometimes overwhelm you, we offer this pause, this respite, this refreshment: Watchdog’s incomplete guide to some of our least-favorite fellow Americans. —The Editors

AP file photo

AP file photo

ZAFFIRINI: Standing in the school house door.

1. TEXAS: Judith Zaffirini

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, never misses a vote, but she’s always working the system — from small-time cadgery to the big time: She and her husband and their team of attorneys keep busy gaffling a nine-figure estate entrusted to them by a pair of elderly sisters; The Zaffirinis have filed papers to disinherit the rightful heir. They fight nasty, too, hurling unsubstantiated allegations of sexual depravity at their opponents. In at least two cases, the Zaffirini crew has gotten wealthy old people later diagnosed with dementia to sign legal documents surrendering control of their estates and affairs. Zaffirini is also part of the problem at the University of Texas. Using her position in the state Capitol, she pulls strings to get people in, and defends a university administration that plies her with favors. Her own son, Carlos Zaffirini Jr., has become a symbol of the influence-peddling scandal at UT Law. Did he deserve to get into the prestigious school? Consider these numbers: A remarkable 95 percent of his peers at the UT law school pass the state bar exam the first time they take it. Carlos Zaffirni Jr. needed an equally remarkable four tries to pass it once. —Jon Cassidy

NO IDEA: Wright County Auditor Betty Ellis said she has no idea why the county had 100 dead people registered to vote.

NO IDEA: Wright County Auditor Betty Ellis said she has no idea why the county had 100 dead people registered to vote.

NO IDEA: Wright County Auditor Ellis.

2. IOWA: Betty Ellis

To be fair, Wright County Auditor Betty Ellis is only scary if you’re still among the living. The dead of Iowa may well consider her a hero. That’s because Ellis’s zombie-like inattention to her job of maintaining the voter rolls in Wright County kept a small army of the dead from being disenfranchised. In July, it was discovered that Wright County, which has only 13,000 living residents, had 100 dead people still registered to vote. Even Polk County, which has a population of 440,000 — and bureaucrats who move so slowly you’re tempted to check if they still have a pulse — had fewer of the dearly departed still registered to vote. Asked by Iowa Watchdog how Wright County’s voter rolls got into such an advanced state of decomposition, Ellis replied, “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.” The amount of incompetence buried beneath those words is scarier than any zombie apocalypse. MITIGATING FACTOR: Thinking about Ellis reminds us to reread Charles Willeford’s excellent novel, “New Hope for the Dead.” —Paul Brennan

AP Photo by Rogelio V. Solis

AP Photo by Rogelio V. Solis

EPPS:  Other people’s crimes pay!.

3. MISSISSIPPI: Chris Epps

Former Mississippi Department of Corrections commissioner Chris Epps is a modern twist on a Horatio Alger story. Beginning as a corrections officer, he became the state’s longest-tenured corrections commissioner. But on Nov. 6, Epps was indicted with Cecil McCrory, a former legislator and justice court judge, on corruption charges in connection to millions of dollars of support contracts with the state’s prison system. The culmination of a multi-agency investigation that spanned several years, the indictment alleges Epps steered corrections contracts to companies owned or represented by McCrory. He also allegedly lobbied a company that ran four state-owned prisons to hire McCrory as a consultant, with McCrory allegedly kicking back to Epps half of his income from those jobs. According to the indictment, Epps received more than $1 million in bribes and kickbacks. At the time of his arrest, he owned two S-class Mercedes-Benz sedans (the top of the Mercedes-Benz range), a massive house in a gated Rankin County community, and a beachfront condominium in Pass Christian. Federal authorities seized all of it after the indictment was unsealed.  —Steve Wilson

JENKINS:

JENKINS:

JENKINS: Not as scary as the people who released him.

4. NEBRASKA: Department of Corrections

Hoping to strike a blow for seven-term incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, Republicans ran TV ads placing Nikko Jenkins side-by-side with Terry’s Democrat opponent, state Sen. Brad Ashford. While Ashford’s critics painted him as a “soft-on-crime” state senator who all but allowed Jenkins to walk, voters knew the real culprit: Nebraska’s Department of Corrections. When it came to Jenkins, the DOC continually missed the obvious: Jenkins is seriously, dangerously mentally ill. Documents show he told multiple prison shrinks – not once, not twice but 23 times – http://watchdog.org/122846/report-nikko-jenkins-threatened-cannibalism-von-maur-repeat/ that the Egyptian god Opophus had directed him to “start killing people … rip someone’s heart out … cannibalize them and drink their blood.” Jenkins’ homicidal warnings began five years before his release last summer. Is he crazy? Not according to the DOC. They ordered Jenkins into solitary confinement, 23 isolated hours a day, and (wait for it) failed to treat his mental problems. When the DOC let him walk, unlike most politicians Jenkins kept his campaign promise. —Joe Jordan

WHITE:

WHITE:

WHITE: Former Chief of Gaffe.

5. COLORADO: Roxane White

It seems, at times, that nearly every problem in Denver or the state can be linked to Gov. (and former Denver mayor) John Hickenlooper’s favorite aide. A decade ago, White ran the Denver Department of Human Services when child protection workers decided to stop taking kids from many abusive parents. Predictably, many died or were severely abused. Instead of firing her, Hickenlooper promoted her to chief of staff when Coloradoans elected him governor. Since then she has been credited for Hickenlooper’s gaffes on stricter gun laws and his indecisive response to suspending the execution of a mass killer. Memos uncovered by Watchdog.org show she was responsible for pushing alternative-fuel purchases that legislative budget staff say may violate state law. For good measure, she ended her tenure by flipping off people at the governor’s re-election victory speech. The only good news for Colorado residents is White quit as chief of staff last month to go back into the non-profit sector. —Art Kane

Photo courtesy Oak Ridge Police Department's official website

Photo courtesy Oak Ridge Police Department's official website

AKAGI: Evidence? What evidence?

6. TENNESSEE: James Akagi

Alexander Heitman worked for the Oak Ridge School District until his death in 2011. Law enforcement ruled the death a suicide, but Heitman’s parents don’t believe it. They discovered police records showing their son, the school district’s supervisor of business services, approached the Oak Ridge Police Department two months before his death to report that someone was taking hundreds of dollars from the school district. One of those suspects told police she forged school district checks to buy methamphetamine. But Oak Ridge Police Chief James Akagi denies Heitman ever reported the school district thefts. At first, he was talkative — if not always precisely responding to the questions I asked, at least responsive. But when I asked him about the contradiction between what he said and what the police department’s own records show, Akagi refused to take my calls or emails. I managed to get his cell phone number and called him there, he answered — but as soon as I identified myself he said he couldn’t talk, said he would call back, and immediately hung up. He never called me back and he never again picked up his cell phone when I called again, nor did he respond to my texts. These days, no one in the Oak Ridge Police Department ever responds to requests for information about Heitman. MITIGATING FACTOR: It’s not just me: Following the Watchdog story, the British Daily Mail noticed my story tried to interview Akagi. The chief told them he had no knowledge of Heitman ever reporting any thefts to the police department.   —Chris Butler

McCAFFERY:

McCAFFERY:

McCAFFERY: Running for “sexual congress.”

7. PENNSYLVANIA: Pornogate

With a name like PornoGate, you know it had to be great. Or awful. The X-rated email scandal that rocked Pennsylvania politics this year led state Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery to retire, prompted the resignation of Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Christopher Abruzzo and generally sullied the reputation of the Attorney General’s Office, where much of the illicit emailing is alleged to have occurred. Attorney General Kathleen Kane pulled back the curtain – or the sheets — when she publicly confirmed that her office discovered the offending communications while reviewing the Jerry Sandusky scandal. While a slew of public officials apparently took part in the raunchy exchanges, McCaffery was the biggest — and most stunning — name, given his time on the bench. His colleagues on the state Supreme Court suspended him from his duties before he resigned. Chief Justice Ron Castille blasted McCaffery in a concurring statement, saying his colleague was a sociopath and had opened the court to “public ridicule” after forwarding pornographic emails, including a “video of a woman in sexual congress with a snake that is clearly obscene and may violate the Crime Codes Section on Obscenity.” —Andrew Staub

FORD:

FORD:

FORD: A one-size-fits-all approach to education.

8. FLORIDA: Andy Ford

The Grinch who stole Christmas has nothing on Florida Education Association president Andy Ford. Not even the Grinch had it in him to snuff-out the educational prospects of tens of thousands of poor children. Ford’s FEA, the state teachers’ union, launched two lawsuits (still ongoing) aimed at killing a tax-credit scholarship program and its recent expansion. The program currently affords 70,000 of Florida’s poorest students, mostly minorities, the opportunity to attend private school. Not a single tax dollar is involved. But, well, humbug! A separate program on Ford’s hit-list allows parents of severely disabled school children to use funding to obtain educational services and therapies outside of their assigned public schools. Ford’s argument: The state should increase all education spending so that economically disadvantaged parents wouldn’t send their children to better schools. He neglects to point out that K-12 funding in Florida hit a record $20.3 billion this year. A Florida Watchdog investigation found 45 FEA leadership employees made six-figures salaries — enough to escape the costs of a poor education. At $395,000 per year, FEA president Andy Ford stands alone as the highest paid union member in all of Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott earns just a third that amount — but collects just $0.01 per year. —Will Patrick

ROTHMAN:

ROTHMAN:

ROTHMAN: More politically than mathematically sound.

9. MINNESOTA: Mike Rothman

Rothman may hold one of the more obscure cabinet positions in state government, but the Minnesota Commerce Commissioner managed to make a name for himself anyway this year – for all the wrong reasons. A longtime Democratic insider, Rothman stayed under the radar — previously no challenge for him — until his 15 minutes of fame popped up in his boss’s re-election campaign. Under heavy political pressure to release rate hikes for Minnesota’s state health exchange premiums before Election Day, Gov. Mark Dayton assigned Rothman the tricky task of doing the math. Rothman did not disappoint, claiming the average Obamacare premium would rise a mere 4.5 percent. Turns out Rothman’s calculations were more politically, than mathematically, sound. Actuaries figured the premium hike at closer to 12 percent. It also emerged that Rothman may have twisted health care execs’ arms to dock their rates in the first place. But mission accomplished. The media touted Rothman’s misleading math statewide, as Dayton cruised to re-election. Rothman’s fairy-tale ending didn’t last long. Reports surfaced that the commish allegedly allowed politics to trump staff recommendations to pull funding on a nonprofit accused of misspending hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds. Rothman’s latest calculation may be his last as a bureaucrat. MITIGATING FACTOR: He joined Dayton in requesting the state legislative auditor investigate his actions. —Tom Steward

BRESCINI:

BRESCINI:

BRESCINI: The epitome of the arrogant university administrator.

10. NORTH DAKOTA: Dean Bresciani

It’s not hard to find bad guys in academia, but it’s possible that the epitome of the arrogant, spendthrift higher-ed administrator is North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani. In 2011 Bresciani accused lawmakers of making “eviscerating cuts” in his budget, comparing the state’s universities to “starving children.” In fact, the state has led the nation’s public universities in rising funding and increased spending by more than 38 percent from 2008 to 2014. Even as Bresciani has complained about funding shortages, he’s taken to living like a pharaoh. Bresciani traveled to Bismarck to complain to the Legislature about those alleged spending cuts in a private airplane that cost the university more than $300,000 per year to operate. During the 2013 session lawmakers passed a bill ordering the sale of the airplane, but that hasn’t put a dent in Bresciani’s lavish lifestyle. During the organizational session for the 2014 session, Bresciani showed up with his personal chauffeur/bodyguard who collects an $81,000 per year salary from the university. Meanwhile, student loan debt at NDSU has grown 125 percent over the past decade. May we recommend that the president enroll in NDSU’s COMM 485, “Crisis Communication in Public Relations”? —Rob Port

Shutterstock Image

Shutterstock Image

SMILE, YOU’RE ON COPS

11. VIRGINIA: Police spies

They’re watching me, and they’re probably watching you. A Watchdog.org investigation into the use of automatic license plate readers by Virginia police departments revealed some unsettling realities. The state’s former attorney general had already ruled that randomly photographing and storing license plate information without a warrant is illegal, after Virginia State Police had been captured — captured capturing photos of plates at political rallies. That didn’t stop police departments. When I requested records of my license plate under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act from the Alexandria Police Department, the police turned over 16 photos of my car at night — on the way to Bible study and parked in the private lot of her apartment complex. Police departments all over the commonwealth and even all over the country are doing the same thing. As a police officer drives, cameras on the car randomly capture and store coordinates and time stamps of citizens’ vehicles, keeping the records for months, years, or indefinitely. They say it’s a great tool for catching the bad guys, but as my case proves, it’s pretty good at catching the good guys too — one weapon in an arsenal that includes mine-resistant tanks, courtesy of surplus equipment from the military. —Kathryn Watson

12. PENNSYLVANIA: LeAnna Washington

WASHINGTON:

WASHINGTON:

WASHINGTON: “I am the f–– senator. I do what I f–– want.”

For eight years, former state Sen. LeAnna Washington had her own taxpayer-funded party-planning committee. The good times ended this year when a grand jury accused the Philadelphia Democrat of using her office for political and financial gain and Attorney General Kathleen Kane charged her with theft of services and conflict of interest. According to the grand jury, Washington used her Senate staff to plan her birthday gala, which doubled as a political fundraiser. That cost taxpayers upward of $100,000, according to the indictment. The grand jury report portrayed Washington as an iron-fisted boss, evident in her reaction to a staffer who confronted her about the campaign work. “I am the f—— senator, I do what the f— I want, how I want, and ain’t nobody going to change me. I have been doing it like this for 17 years. So stop trying to change me,” Washington allegedly told him. Washington later cut the staffer’s pay and eventually fired him, according to a grand jury report. He then provided information to law enforcement, helping lead to the charges that resulted in Washington’s resignation. She accepted a plea agreement that gave her house arrest but kept her pension intact. —Andrew Staub

AP photo

AP photo

Shumlin: Hired Jonathan Gruber, “helped” a neighbor.

13. VERMONT: Gov. Peter Shumlin

A gubernatorial term that began with a governor taking advantage of a mentally challenged neighbor couldn’t end well. When Vermonters learned that Gov. Peter Shumlin hustled Jeremy Dodge — a stammering food-stamp recipient with severe speech and comprehension issues — out of his home and property, they knew they were dealing with a bad apple. Shumlin, aware Dodge was facing a tax sale on a $233,000 property bequeathed by his deceased parents, “helped” the indigent neighbor by buying his home — for just $58,000. After a massive public backlash, Shumlin sheepishly backed out. Since that debacle, Vermont’s governor has proceeded to conceal the exorbitant costs of single-payer health care while claiming he would not raise taxes on “hard-working Vermonters.” With the election now behind him, Shumlin has announced plans to raise property taxes. Had the governor not abandoned single-payer this month, Vermonters would have had to shoulder impossibly high payroll and income taxes. The single-payer train wreck took a bizarre turn in July when Shumlin hired Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber to crunch numbers for Green Mountain Care. By November, Gruber had become a national villain for admitting he devised health care policies in a “tortured way” to take advantage of  “the stupidity of the American voter.” Gruber’s prior work for states like Colorado show his forecasts are no more reliable than the predictions of local weathermen. Fortunately for Vermonters, the death of single-payer means taxpayers’ wallets are safe once again — at least this holiday season. —Bruce Parker

TREASURER, MAYBE GOVERNOR: Rob McCord is the eighth Pennsylvania Democrat to throw his hat in the ring for 2014.

TREASURER, MAYBE GOVERNOR: Rob McCord is the eighth Pennsylvania Democrat to throw his hat in the ring for 2014.

McCORD: Only the best hotels for this watchdog.

14. PENNSYLVANIA: Rob McCord

Former Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord has called himself the state’s “fiscal watchdog,” but he stops barking when he’s off the leash — traveling on official business. Credit card records show McCord likes staying at the Omni William Penn Hotel, a Pittsburgh landmark that has hosted movie stars and presidents. It certainly isn’t the Best Western — no offense intended — and the rates prove that. On at least 10 occasions, McCord did not get the government rate at the Omni, costing taxpayers an average of $362 a night. He also racked up pricey hotel costs in the Big Apple and the nation’s capital, with some nightly rates topping $600 at a French boutique hotel in New York City. “The taxpayers should not be underwriting luxury accommodations for state business trips,” said Eric Epstein, coordinator of reform group Rock the Capital. It seems the state’s “fiscal watchdog” should agree, but McCord’s spokesman defended the expensive hotel choices, saying the treasurer stays near where he’s doing business to save on transportation costs. The spokesman also pointed to occupancy rates and elevated prices in cities as cost drivers and indicated that McCord’s travel expense have been lower than his predecessor. —Andrew Staub

Photo credit: State of Ohio

Photo credit: State of Ohio

KASICH: Ready for his close-up.

15. OHIO: Gov. John Kasich

Kasich was elected in 2010 as an anti-Obamacare crusader for limited government, decided in 2013 he could be a quantum politician, simultaneously against Obamacare and for the law’s expansion of Medicaid to able-bodied, working-age adults with no dependents. He captured the hearts of Ohio’s legacy press by asserting every vulnerable demographic in the state would benefit from his Obamacare expansion — and he didn’t need to convince the Ohio Republican Party, because he stacked party leadership with loyalists a year earlier. Kasich circumvented Ohio’s Republican-led legislature to expand Medicaid, and defends the policy by lying about its funding and insisting Christ compels him. After a landslide reelection win against a Democrat whose campaign redefined the word “disaster,” Kasich is now basking in the sort of soft-focus spotlight the D.C. press reserves for Republicans who grow government using rhetoric that makes future reform even more difficult. MITIGATING FACTOR: If Kasich runs for president, count on his thin skin and quick temper to betray him at the first sign of an effective critique from a primary opponent. —Jason Hart

AP Photo / Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King

AP Photo / Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King

GAB-FEST: Kevin Kennedy, Wisconsin’s top regulator, now getting regulated. (2012 photo)

16. WISCONSIN: The GAB

When it comes to abuse of power, sometimes it takes an agency. Such is the case with the “nonpartisan” Government Accountability Board, Wisconsin’s regulator of campaign finance and election law. The GAB – including the six retired judges who lead it and the 34 staff members who serve it – is embroiled in several lawsuits, one alleging the agency abused its authority and sent the bill to taxpayers. The state lawsuit charges that the GAB’s use of a secret John Doe investigation created a “Frankenstein’s monster” of stitched-together administrative rules and laws. And this monster was unleashed on dozens of conservative organizations on suspicion of campaign finance violations. Two judges have rejected the GAB’s legal theory. Attorneys for the plaintiffs suspect the GAB may have altered documents related to its special investigators. The allegation is that the agency may have attempted to hide its tracks, but got caught in the process of legal discovery. The lawsuit against the GAB described the agency’s alleged abuses as “terrible to behold” and called the “monster” a “creature that covertly collects sensitive information on political activities that do not — and cannot — constitute a crime, all while maintaining a nearly impenetrable shield of secrecy.” That’s scary. MITIGATING FACTOR: The GAB’s “labyrinthian” campaign finance rules are so contrary to the First Amendment that they made easy work for a federal appeals court in ruling that the rules are unconstitutional.  —M.D. Kittle

AP file photo

AP file photo

SAWANT: “Maybe we don’t need this economy.”

17. WASHINGTON: Kshama Sawant

Virtually unknown a few years ago, this self-declared socialist led the campaign to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 an hour this year, and leveraged that victory — and a proposed “millionaire’s tax,” “transit justice,” the nationalization of major corporations (including Microsoft, Boeing, and Amazon.com), and rent control — into a successful run for City Council. When confronted with evidence that raising the minimum wage would kill jobs for the very people Sawant claims she wants to help – minorities and young people – she responded with a kind of inside-the-box idealism: “If making sure that workers get out of poverty would severely impact the economy, then maybe we don’t need this economy,” she told New Yorker magazine. Karl and Che would be so proud.  In her most recent proposal to spend other people’s money, she’s demanding taxpayers fork over $100,000 to install public internet in Seattle’s tent cities, raising electric rates on business, and blasting her colleagues for not spending enough on welfare programs. MITIGATING FACTOR: She’s led protests against police brutality in the wake of controversial killings by police in New York and Missouri. —Dustin Hurst

BOWEN:

BOWEN:

BOWEN: Thanks to him, union workers get paid . . . less?!

18. WISCONSIN: David Bowen

Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen was seen by some as a champion of low-wage workers, persuading his county board colleagues to pass an ordinance requiring that all government-contracted workers be paid a “living wage.” It turns out Bowen’s law produced a side effect —boosting membership in the powerful Service Employees International Union. Bowen wrote the law with SEIU-affiliated individuals and accepted campaign contributions and continued support from the union. Ironically, the law includes a provision exempting county-contracted firms from the living-wage standard — if they force their workers to join a union. The county’s comptroller says the living wage will cost taxpayers more than $28 million over the next five years and possibly shut down a county agency that assists the elderly and disabled. And it could get even worse for taxpayers come January. That’s when Bowen will be sworn in as a new member of the state Assembly, a position he secured with help from SEIU campaign endorsements and contributions—Adam Tobias

Tim Larsen/Governor's Office

Tim Larsen/Governor's Office

‘SIT DOWN, SHUT UP': Gov. Chris Christie confronts a heckler before his 19-state campaign trip.

19. NEW JERSEY: Chris Christie

Does it get any scarier than President Chris Christie? In a meeting with potential supporters of a 2016 run for the White House, Christie was asked how he would deal with Russia’s Valdimir Putin. Comparing himself to Barack Obama, Christie said, Putin would know better than to mess with the New Jersey governor: “I don’t believe that given who I am, he would make the same judgment,” he said, mixing naivety with bluster. There’s a big difference between radioactive mushroom clouds in the sky and mushrooms on the governor’s pizzas. In the Garden State, the governor’s embarrassing double-standards are pretty obvious. Despite vowing to fix the public employee retirement system, Christie hired double-dippers while the state’s deficit grew to $170 billion. After promising transparency in government, he is playing hide-and-seek with his travel records. And his administration says nothing and hides much about a criminal investigation that implicated Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, his running mate and second-in-command. Nationally, Christie remains a strong contender for the GOP nomination, voters fascinated by his tough talk and bombastic persona – just as TV audiences are drawn to Tony Soprano, “Jersey Shore” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” —Mark Lagerkvist

AP Photo / Scott Applewhite

AP Photo / Scott Applewhite

COLLINS: Ebola scare? Blame the Republicans.

20. NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Francis Collins

During the Great Ebola Scare of 2014, when it seemed his agency had mishandled the first Ebola case in the U.S., the director of the National Institutes for Health did what anyone at the top of a federal bureaucracy would do: he blamed someone else. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Francis Collins said congressional budget cuts were to blame for the lack of an Ebola vaccine and the NIH’s ham-fisted response to the disease. He said the agency would “probably” have developed a vaccine by now if it hadn’t seen a “10-year slide” in support for research. Except the facts didn’t exactly back him up. Yes, the NIH had been mostly flat-funded since 2004 — if “flat” isn’t an increase, it’s also not a slide — but the agency’s budget has increased by 900 percent since 1970, and topped $30 billion this year. It’s really a question of priorities. And what have been higher priorities for the NIH over the past few years? How about studies that included feeding cocaine to Japanese quail, finding out why lesbians are fat and getting monkeys sexually aroused. MITIGATING FACTOR: Ebola wasn’t as big a deal as some in the media made it seemed, and has already mostly been forgotten here. So the NIH is free to continue blowing money on comic stuff with no real repercussions. —Eric Boehm

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