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The Special Olympics of Politics

President Donald Trump is famously loathe to concede defeat, no matter how apparent, but on Thursday he had to wave the white flag to the developmentally-challenged athletes of the Special Olympics. In the constitutionally-mandated presidential budget proposal that no one ever pays any attention to Trump proposed cutting federal funding for the games, and his Secretary of Education actually went and did it and made announcement, but after an afternoon of the resulting bipartisan outrage and scathing press coverage he was insisting he never suggested any such thing.
“The Special Olympics will be fully funded,” Trump told a cluster of reporters on Thursday. “I just told my people, I want to fund the Special Olympics … I’ve been to to the Special Olympics — I think it’s incredible, and I just authorized a funding.” If you ignore that Trump had submitted three budget proposals to Congress that would have defunded the Special Olympics if anyone was paying any attention, and that his appointed Secretary of Education had announced, he looks very big-hearted.
Trump is letting his appointed Secretary of Education take all the blame, and as we see it that’s also a shame. Betsy DeVos is the wife of wealthy executive in the controversial Amway company, who was a contributor to Trump’s campaign, and she came in to her post without any real prior experience for the job, and looked quite ridiculous in early interviews and confirmation hearings, and she’s always been one of Trump’s most controversial cabinet nominees, which is saying something. She’s a staunch advocate for school choice and voucher programs, and a staunch opponent of speech codes and expulsions on sexual conduct, which further enrages the left, but for pre-Trump conservative Republican reasons we rather like that about her. The arguments for these policies are more complicated than either DeVos or Trump can explain, and at first they do seem hard-hearted, but we’ll put that task off until another day. That Trump is throwing DeVos under the proverbial bus on this matter makes us like him even less, which is saying something.
The federal government’s current funding for the Special Olympics is reportedly $17.6 million so so, and we have to admit that we don’t really know much money that is, and wether it’s merely a sufficient or an extravagant amount to pay for a competition of developmentally-challenged athletes, given all the private donations this worthy charity surely brings in, but we do know it’s a mere rounding error in both the federal deficit that Trump has been ringing up and especially in the national debt we’ve been accruing for decades. There’s something undeniably heartwarming about those Special Olympians getting their moments of triumph, too, and we can see why even such an unapologetic fellow as Trump doesn’t want to be the heartless fellow who ended it.

— Bud Norman

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Retreat from the Commons

President Barack Obama dropped by Georgetown University for the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Tuesday, and it’s remarkable how much idiocy, hypocrisy, and truly frightening authoritarianism he could pack into a few briefs remarks.
The topic was poverty, which Obama is very much against, and he endeavored to explain why he hasn’t yet gotten rid of it. As it turns out it’s everybody else’s fault, especially people who belong to health clubs and send their children to private schools, and of course Fox News. With a few gazillion extra dollars at his disposal Obama could easily eliminate poverty, you see, but between the influence of those health club members and private school parents and Fox News the likes of House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell have become too stingy and mean-hearted to authorize the spending. “We shouldn’t pretend that we have been making those same investments, we haven’t been,” Obama said, adding ominously that “There’s been a very specific ideological push not to make those investments.”
As a graduate of Honolulu’s swankiest prep school and a couple of Ivy League institutions, who sends his own children to Washington’s swankiest prep school and does his girlish work-out routine in the very private gymnasium at the White House, Obama is perfectly positioned to see that “Part of what’s happened is, is that elites in a very mobile, globalized world are able to live together, apart from folks who are not as wealthy, and so they feel less of a commitment to making those investments.” We thought he might have been talking about the “folks” he runs into during his frequent vacations on Martha’s Vineyard, but so far as we can tell they all have good enough tax accountants that they can afford to Democrat, and there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough of them to comprise a significant voting bloc, so apparently such insidious affluence has trickled down to such middle class indulgences as health club memberships and parochial schools. “Those who are doing better and better, more skilled, more educated, luckier, having greater advantages, are withdrawing from the commons,” Obama explained. “Kids start going to private schools, kids start working out at private clubs instead of the public parks, an anti-government ideology then disinvests from those common goods and those things that draw us together.”
All of which is hooey. Those parents who send their children to private schools continue to pay the local property taxes and federal income taxes that are providing record amounts of spending on public education, and in our experience they’re as keen as anybody to get a greater return on their investment, and they even support charters schools and voucher programs and the other necessary reforms that Obama and his friends in the teachers’ unions are blocking. Those who pay for health club memberships continue to pitch in on the parks, even if the parks are getting more dangerous in this Obama age of policing, and we suspect that most of them are only anti-government to the extent that they’d like to be able to pump some iron or ride those silly exercise bikes or indulge in some other sort of self-improvement nonsense that isn’t available at the local playground. If such selfishness has engendered an anti-government ideology, it is only to the extent that most people still want to retain some private space of freedom, and it doesn’t seem to have slowed the seemingly inexorable pace of public spending.
There’s still Fox News, though, and it seems to have brainwashed an entire nation into believing that Obama shouldn’t be able to spend those extra gazillions of dollars. Noting with characteristic Alinsky-ite cynicism that politics is a matter of who the middle class can be made to blame for its troubles, Obama went on to say that “If you’re struggling — if you’re working but don’t seem to be getting ahead, and over the last 40 years sadly, I think there’s been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top or to be mad at folks at the bottom, and I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges, leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving got traction. And look, it’s still being propagated. I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu. They will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. They’re all like, ‘I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obamaphone,’ or whatever.” We mean, this is supposed to be like the greatest orator in history or whatever, but we find it unconvincing nonetheless.
Our meager entertainment budget doesn’t cover cable, so we were unaware that Fox News was now broadcasting a “constant menu” of Ebenezer Scrooge bah-humbugging about are there no prisons or workhouses, but we get out and about often enough that we don’t doubt they have any trouble finding enough “folks” who don’t want to work and just want a free Obamaphone to fill countless hours of programming. They could no doubt find some more sympathetic poor people to interview, although all the other media seem to have beat well-covered, but being so incorrigibly conservative they’d probably take note of the economic sluggishness and increased competition from illegal immigration and growing tax burdens that have occurred during the Obama years. Such dissent is preventing Obama from eliminating poverty, so he recommends that “We’re going to have change how the media reports on these issues.” That pesky First Amendment will no doubt complicate his efforts, although it isn’t proving much of an impediment these days, and the public’s preference for news that is corroborated by the reality they encounter while they’re out and about will also make the likes of Fox News reluctant to change its honest if poverty-inducing habits, but governments have managed to deal with this in places like Russia and Venezuela so surely America is up to the challenge.
If the government were make the common spaces more appealing and leave plenty of room for private space, and spend its educational dollars as wisely as the countries producing better students at a lower cost, and approach the problem of poverty with a realistic understanding about the various causes of the problem and to what extent the debilitating dependence that even the most well-intentioned programs create is one of them, we’re certain there would be less of that anti-government ideology going on out there. Easier to force the public into the commons and read them the latest government pronouncements, though, and the ones who have been properly educated in the public schools won’t notice the difference.

— Bud Norman

For a Few Billion Dollars More

The national nervousness regarding the Ebola virus seems to have gone up another notch with the latest case, but rest assured that the leading experts are all hard at work to limit the potential political consequences.
At first glance the disease’s introduction to the United States would seem a problem for the Democrats, who for multi-cultural rather than medical reasons have resisted a ban on travel from the countries where the Ebola virus has become epidemic. This and other missteps also undermine the Democrats’ argument on behalf of letting government handle every aspect of American life, bolster the Republicans’ argument that the government is a gargantuan fool, and distracts attention from free contraception and the recent availability part-time jobs and anything else the Democrats might prefer to talk about. Despite these obvious disadvantages, however, the Democrats are still hoping to score a few points with the Ebola virus.
The first small effort came from Van Jones, the former Obama administration “green czar” and a self-professed communist, who told his fellow panelists on the Cable News Network’s “Crossfire” program that “We can’t let the Republicans get away with some of the stuff they’re doing this week, just trying to bash Obama. Hey, you know, government is always your enemy until you need a friend. This Ebola thing is the best argument you can make for the kind of government we believe in.” We take this to mean that it is a legitimate function of government to protect the country from the outbreak of deadly diseases, which is such a reasonable argument that only the conservative straw men of Jones’ demented imagination would dispute it, and that the country should therefore rack up further debt to pay for the cell phone bills of Cleveland crack addicts and the phony-baloney “green energy” scams of the administration’s big contributors and all the rest of the pernicious nonsense that comprises the kind of government Jones believes in, which is complete non sequitur. The argument clearly needed some refinement, so the non-profit and allegedly non-partisan Agenda project has unveiled an advertisement in several states with close election races that explains how Republican budget-cutting is responsible for the Ebola virus’ arrival in the United States. The smart folks over at Reason persuasively makes the case the that funding for a variety of agencies devoted to preventing epidemics is hardly stingy, and we’d question the advertisements premises in any case. No evidence is presented that a few more billion would have made these programs any more effective, nor is the magic amount that would have kept the disease out of the country ever stated, and there’s always a conservative counter-argument that any necessary amount should have come out of the budget for the Cleveland crack addicts’ cell phones and those phony-baloney “green jobs” scams.
The argument that just a few more billion dollars of government spending would have the difference is growing less persuasive with each passing day and every billion added to the national debt, and is especially weak made on behalf to he current efforts to control an Ebola virus outbreak. A timely ban on travel from the infected countries would have prevented a brave young nurse from battling this usually deadly disease, and it would have been cost-effective.

— Bud Norman

Not Dead Yet

Two of the biggest stories in this week full of big news are little-known economics professor Dave Brat’s upset victory of Rep. Eric Cantor in a Virginia Republican congressional primary and the humanitarian crisis occurring inside the squalid makeshift detention camps in Arizona and Texas that are housing a recent flood of youthful illegal immigrants from Central America. Although separated by a couple thousand miles of America, the two stories are not unrelated.
Brat’s unprecedented primary victory over a House majority leader was caused by a number of factors, including a growing sense among the Republican’s conservative that its Congressional leadership has been too timid in resisting the president’s agenda and an occasionally successful insurgency by the “tea party” to make the GOP more conservative, but the issue of illegal immigration seems to have been the most important. Cantor had long been popular in the district, and was once a darling of the conservatives and a favored villain of the liberals for helping to maintain the party discipline that kept Obamacare from getting so much as a single Republican vote even at the height of the president’s popularity, and his occasional heresies and frequent caution since then would not ordinarily send such a high-ranking incumbent to defeat. Cantor had gone wobbly enough on the immigration issue to endorse amnesty for children, however, and although it wasn’t enough to placate the pro-immigration activists who stormed his headquarters after the race it was enough to lose a majority of his district’s Republican primary voters to a shoe-string campaign by a political novice who relentlessly stressed his longstanding call for strict border enforcement.
Several days of distressing headlines about the flood of children lured across the porous southwest border by that promise of amnesty to squalid, disease-ridden camps probably didn’t help Cantor’s cause. The fiasco hasn’t helped the broader pro-illegal immigration cause, either, and the conventional wisdom know holds that Cantor’s defeat will scare enough wobbly Republicans into line that the the slim chances of a “comprehensive immigration reform” bill being passed in the next two years have vanished. One can only hope this is true, but “comprehensive immigration reform” has more lives than movie monsters that keep crawling out of the grave and wobbly Republicans can just as easily be scared by the prospect of bad press and being called a racist by somebody. There won’t be any meaningful border enforcement for the next two years, no matter how successful Prof. Brat might prove, and the open borders faction won’t quit until those makeshift detention camps are popping up everywhere. They’re already spreading as far northeast as Massachusetts, and the issue already resonates as far east as central Virginia, but it’s nice to see a stiffening of the Republican spine.
The big upset also proves that there’s still some life left in that much-maligned “Tea Party” that has all the respectable folk riled up. This is good news, as the Republican spine needs stiffening on all the fiscal and economic and individual liberty issues that the movement espouses. They’ve taken their share of losses in the primaries thus far, but their winning percentage against far better-funded incumbents is nudging a lot of incumbents to the right and such a high-ranking scalp as Cantor’s will increase that salutary influence. This time around they also seem to be running better candidates who won’t make the rookie mistakes that cost winnable elections in the past, and Brat seems a particularly impressive nominee who should do well in the general election if the state and national party professionals are smart enough to donate a few extra shoestrings.

— Bud Norman

Lingering Headlines, Dwindling Hope

Some cynics have suggested that President Barack Obama’s release of five high-ranking terrorists from the Guantanamo Bay war prison in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was timed to detract attention from the scandalous mismanagement of the Veterans Administration that had dominated the headlines in the preceding days. If so, the stratagem seems to have succeeded. The prisoner swap isn’t following the script of  the heart-warming remake of “Saving Private Ryan” that the administration intended, and is instead getting panned by even the most supportive critics, who find the story less rousing when everyone in Private Ryan’s unit is telling anyone who will listen that he was a deserter whose desertion cost the lives of the other men, which has forced the administration to resort to slandering those men, but at least no one is talking about the VA.
They’re still talking about it in Congress, where a deal in the works to pass a bill that will fix everything that’s been wrong with the VA the past many years. According to the few reports still being filed about the issue, the bill would cough up another $2 billion and allow whoever was tabbed to replace that Gen. Shinseki guy to actually fire someone. Negotiations have apparently stalled over how much power the VA Secretary should have to fire someone, with those crazy Republicans and their private sector predilections insisting on unlimited discretions and those sober Democrats with their public sector principles insisting on three-week appeals and other proprieties. While the negotiations drag on honorable veterans dependent on VA care will continue to sit on off-the-books waiting lists to get medical care, but the truly compassionate will be relieved to know that Private Bradley Manning’s sex-change operation won’t be delayed during his stay in prison for leaking government secrets,
Leading the negotiations are Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and independent socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont, which also does not inspire hope, but we’re hoping that McCain’s tougher approach will prevail. our experience of institutions tell us that fixing the broken ones requires that somebody be fired, although it seems unlikely that anyone appointed by the current administration will be reluctant to do so even if given the authority. The authority to clean house seems more important than that niggling $2 billion, given that the VA’s funding has tripled since 2001 even as the number of veterans has declined from 25.5 million to 21.9 million. Some loyal Democrats are still grousing that the VA is underfunded, but veterans are a key Republican constituency and even their non-veteran voters tear up at the mention of military service, so “full funding” is one of the few campaign promises that Obama has actually kept. All those dollars spent divided by the much smaller number of veterans actually seeking care from the VA would amount to a substantial voucher check, which would allow those patients to fire at will any doctors putting them on a waiting list and find other providers for care far more essential than a sex-change operation, but that is probably too much to hope for from the current government.
The situation is infuriating enough that the administration would probably just as soon have us talking about that ill-advised and extra-legal prisoner swap, and there aren’t many other promising topics of conversation to take up. The economy leaves record numbers of Americans out of work and in poverty and on government assistance, more problems with Obamacare keep popping up, that lady from the Internal Revenue Service is still pleading the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions about the agency’s harassment of dissident groups, and from the increasingly bloody Ukraine to the rout in Syria to the still-chugging nuclear program in Iran to the latest Chinese aggressions in eastern Asia there is little to boast about. Even those kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls that Obama frequently mentioned in his recent triumphalist major foreign policy address at West Point are still in captivity. The outraged headlines shift from topic to topic with every few days, but none inspire any faith in the administration.
Nor does the news inspire any hope in the change that will comes from the administration’s broader aspirations. The prisoner swap was probably intended to make the administration’s long-stated goal of closing Guantanamo Bay more attainable by releasing its most dangerous prisoners, but the backlash makes any further releases a provocation to impeachment. That continuing mess at the VA raises doubts about the government’s ability to manage manage health care for the rest of the country through Obamacare, especially when the Democrats are so stubborn about firing anyone, and the liberal argument that these people know best and should be allowed to run every aspect of your life seems all the more implausible. That prisoner swap is proving a fiasco for the administration, but it still might be a useful distraction.

— Bud Norman