Draining the Swamp, Building a New One, Then Repeat

Political corruption scandals, much like those “me too” sexual harassment and assault scandals that keep popping up, are a bi-partisan problem. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are immune to the all-too-human temptations of power, so the side with more power tends to be the one with the more scandals. For the moment the Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress and a putative member of the party in the White House, and they’re busily making the judicial branch Republican for the next generation, so it’s no surprise that mainly Republicans are getting pilloried in the political press these days.
The past week has seen a federal indictment of New York’s Republican Rep. Christopher Collins, who was the first congressional supporter of President Donald Trump’s candidacy and one of his most die-hard apologists, on some some pretty darned convincing insider-trading charges involving a company whose board he sat own while he also sat on congressional committees overseeing its industry. The week also saw Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Robert Gates admitting to various financial crimes during his pretty darned damning testimony against former business partner and one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who will later face another federal trial regarding his alleged shady and unregistered dealings with the Russian-backed Ukrainian government he represented.
All of which comes in the aftermath of the resignations of Trump’s picks to head the Health and Human Services Department and the Environmental Protection Agency resigning in the wake of mounting ethics allegations and some undeniably lavish spending on the taxpayers’ dime. Not to mention the ongoing “Russia thing” about Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and Trump himself, and an ongoing federal suit about violations of the constitution’s emolument clause, all of which is lately looking worse and worse by the daily developments.
There’s still a convincing argument to be made that the Democrats are at least as bad, or surely will be again just as soon as they inevitably regain power, and we well remember the satisfaction we once took in all the well-documtened outrages the Republicans once accurately pined on them. We’ll not join in the “lock ’em up” chants at the never-ending Trump campaign rallies, though, but we’ll try to be just as principled and objective in judging our putative fellow Republicans.
At this point no one in politics looks good, but we’re not chanting for any of them to locked up, and are instead holding out faint hope that America’s government will look more like it was described to us in civics class. Something in our post-lapsarian Judeo-Christian souls tells us that the temptations of power are irresistible, though, and the scandals will continue no matter which party is in power.

— Bud Norman

So Long, Kathleen

We won’t have Kathleen Sebelius to kick around anymore, and we have to admit we’ll miss the pastime. We were heaping scorn on the woman long before the rest of the country got in on the fun, ever since she was elected Governor of Kansas 12 years ago, and her probably permanent departure from public life will make it hard to break the habit.
Sebelius resigned Thursday as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and although all the send-offs from the big papers and wire services were properly respectful they didn’t seem surprised. Given her undeniably botched roll-out of the administration’s all-important Obamacare boondoggle, as well as the extra-legal delays and waivers and other administrative sleight-of-hand, along with some dubious fund-raising schemes and some past tax questions and other problems the papers were obliged to mention, one might expect any responsible organization hold such a record to account. We were stunned to see it happen in the Obama administration, though, as it is habitually disinclined to admit failure.
Eric Holder has been at least as awful an Attorney General as Sebelius was a Health and Human Services Secretary, for instance, and he spent Thursday whining about how very unfair it is that he has to hear any criticism. No other Attorney General has ever been subjected to such harsh treatment, he griped, and one couldn’t help hearing a subtle suggestion that any white Attorney General could let loose armed thugs intimidating voters or declare that only victims of certain ethnic groups be championed by the Justice Department or be held in contempt of congress for stonewalling an investigation into his gun-running operation without anyone being so rude as to raise an objection. He did his whining to an organization founded by the notorious race-baiting, rabble-rousing buffoon Al Sharpton, which was predictably sympathetic, but we suspect an audience of Ed Meese and John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez and the rest of the past Republican Attorneys General would have been more skeptical.
At least Sebelius was willing to fall on her sword, and without resort to any insinuations that sexism had anything to do with it. Maybe she’s saving that for her inevitable memoirs, but for now it’s the sort of graceful departure the country once expected of its failed public servants. We can almost whip up a wee bit of sympathy for a one-time Kansas gal who was stuck with the unenviable job of implementing something so fundamentally flawed as Obamacare. She did shell out a gazillion dollars to some crony Canadian computer company for a widely-ridiculed web site, however, and just about everything else she did was capricious and corrupt, so it’s just a wee bit. Her reportedly voluntary but much-desired resignation was obviously intended to help in the administration’s effort to convince the public that the problem isn’t the law itself but just its previously inept implementation, so come to think of we can’t even give her much credit for that.
One of the shriller right-wing was angrily wondering the other day how this woman ever got elected as governor in such a conservative state as Kansas, and we declined his invitation to callers from the state to offer an explanation. The host is rather harsh, and we were concerned he might not want to hear that it happened because a recently triumphant and thoroughly revved-up religious wing of the Republican party won the nomination for a candidate so shrill and angry that Sebelius was able to pass herself off as pragmatic and reasonable and moderate sort of Democrat. She actually governed that way for her first time, or at least we don’t remember to being too riled about anything she did, and she stayed out of the news well enough to win re-election over another fire-breather. She then took a turn to the left, however, and was clearly looking to endear herself to the Democratic party’s liberal base rather than her own state’s more conservative voters. One low point came when the once-lovely little town of Greensburg was wiped out by a tornado, and Sebelius falsely claimed that recovery efforts had been hampered by a lack of National Guard equipment due to the Iraq War. The ploy worked well enough to gain Sebelius a prominent post in the Obama during its heady early days, and she no doubt thought that it would lead to even greater things, but her career now seems to have come to a more fitting conclusion.
Sebelius will likely find some sinecure on a corporate board or in academia or at some lucrative lobbying outfit, but the past talk of her presidential or vice-presidential possibilities won’t be repeated. The Democrats will be running another candidate for governor this year, and already have another pragmatic and reasonable and moderate sort of Democrat woman lined up for Lieutenant Governor, but we’re not expecting them to invite Sebelius to any of their campaign events.

— Bud Norman

All That Gun Talk

We just can’t shake a nagging suspicion that we’re being played for suckers every time we address the latest gun control frenzy.
There are plenty of other important issues to consider, after all. The economy is currently lousy, it’s likely to get worse after the upcoming “debt ceiling” debate is inevitably resolved by committing the country to yet another trillion or two of debt, and the taking of six American hostages by the supposedly routed al-Qaida terror group is just the latest reminder that the international situation continues to deteriorate. We also remain cautiously hopeful that all of the recent noise will ultimately amount to little. The most onerous of the proposed gun restrictions will likely face stiff resistance in Congress, including a key few Democratic senators facing re-election campaigns in rural states where many of the voters still bitterly cling to God, guns, and their God-given gun rights, and the numerous measures that President Obama has imposed by imperial edict are mostly such innocuous fluff as directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “lead a national discussion” about guns.
No one can seriously believe that the nation suffers a dire shortage of discussion about guns, or that the HHS Secretary has any gift to lead it to any fruitful conclusion, but for obvious reasons Obama would prefer that we continue to discuss guns rather than any of those other important issues. He’s touting some dubious poll numbers which indicate that he’s taking only popular stands on guns, he nonetheless gets to pose as a politically courageous crusader against the all-powerful gun nut lobby, most of the media are cheering him on in the most hysterical fashion, he’s got cute kids lined up for the photo op, it’s all going to cost only a trifling few billion dollars, and at a time when the American public is reportedly demanding that he do something he is indisputably doing something. All that other stuff is so much messier for the president, too, and requires doing something that is an actual solution.
Still, attention must be paid to the gun issue or there’s no telling what the government might get away with. Included in the president’s orders and his proposals to Congress are not only serious assaults on the fundamental right to self-defense but also a potentially dangerous erosion of other liberties.
Although Obama’s directives don’t go so far as New York’s recently enacted gun law, which requires all mental health professionals to report any patient that might conceivably become violent, he does make it clear that the federal government would be quite grateful for such information. Given that Obama seems intent on giving the federal government a monopsony on all health care professionals’ services such gratitude could well prove an irresistible inducement. Those who regard psychiatry as an essential medical science should be concerned that such an arrangement will discourage the mentally ill from seeking treatment, and perhaps even rehearse all those clichés from the abortion debate about the government coming between patients and their doctors. Those of us who take a more skeptical view of the whole mental health boondoggle are entitled to worry that all manner of mental health professionals will start reporting even the patients most unlikely to become just to inoculate themselves against liability just in case they are wrong.
There’s something unsettling, too, about Ocala’s directive that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigate “the relationship between video games, media images and violence.” That’s another topic that has already been discussed ad nauseum, but when the government starts to take such an official interest it could easily to lead censorship. The Hollywood lobby seems to have better standing with the president than the gun owner lobby, so we don’t expect any restrictions on the big budget blood-soaked cinema that our supposedly conscience-stricken nation seems to love, but it’s not hard to see how more humble fare could be affected. If that strikes you as paranoid we suggest you consult Nakoula Nakoula, the poverty row producer who was sent to prison on a parole violation after his low-budget video was panned by the administration as “vile and disgusting.”
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, alas, and it looks as if it will be required on several fronts in the coming months and years.

— Bud Norman

Prophylactic Government

They’re a bossy, intolerant, holier-than-thou lot, these irreligious people. Not all of them, of course, and we hasten to add that some of our best friends are godless heathens, but too many of the unchurched are self-righteously determined to impose their non-beliefs on everyone.

The latest example is a ruling by the Department of Health and Human Services that the “Obamacare” law requires all large institutions to offer their employees insurance covering contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients, even if those institutions are affiliated with religions that object to such practices.

News reports about the ruling have stressed its effect on Catholic institutions, and thus far the Catholic church has been the most vociferous in its criticisms, but people of all religions will likely feel threatened by the new policy. While most Protestant denominations and other faiths take a more permissive view of contraception than their Catholic brethren, at least as far as married couples are concerned, many churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples are as steadfast as the Catholics in their opposition to sterilization and abortion. All people who still cling to a faith in a power higher than government knows that there’s something in their creed that will eventually bring them into conflict with an unrestrained secular state, and we expect that many of them will decide that this is as good a place as any to draw a line.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the policy “strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventative services,” but it seems a strange equilibrium. The respect for religious belief is merely rhetorical, the increase in access to services is entirely tangible, and in the end people of faith will have to either pay for something they find sinful or stop providing needed services to the public.

That seems an appropriate balance to a post-religious sensibility, which marvels that anyone still believes in such archaic notions as the propagation of the species, and in the most fevered imaginations of the post-modern left it’s a necessary counterweight to the brutal theocracy of the “The Handmaid’s Tale” that is always looming yet never arrives. From a religious point of view it’s pure bullying by a government with no respect for religious freedom, and we hope that more than a few agnostics and atheists who cherish their liberties will also recognize the dangerous precedent being set by a policy that forces people to act contrary to their most cherished beliefs.

— Bud Norman