Reparations: paying for the sins of our fathers

Ezekiel 18:19-20

Ezekiel 18:20 / Jeremiah 31:30.

Ezekiel 18:20

On June 19, 2019, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on H.R. 40, a bill that would study the feasibility of and proposals for reparations for descendants of slaves in America.

That was also Juneteenth, a day celebrating the emancipation of black people and “reminding the country of its original debt, and the debts it has since accrued,” Vann R. Newkirk II wrote in The Atlantic.

What, exactly, do current and future generations of Americans owe for the long past transgressions of others against blacks? Have we all inherited our fathers’ guilt?

In Germany, the descendents of a Nazi sympathizer have been gtrappling with a similar question.

Acknowledging their father’s anti-Semitism, his Nazi sympathies and the abuses that took place at a business he owned in Germany during the Nazi era (that is now a multi-billion dollar holding company), Albert Reimann Jr’s children  concluded they needed to make amends.

The New York Times recently reported that the Reimann children are donating to institutions that assist former forced laborers under the Nazis and doubling the budget of the family foundation to fund projects that “honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and of Nazi terror.”

“I have to do something,” said Martin Reimann, one of Albert Reimann Jr’s grandchildren.

Do Americans need to “do something,” to make amends for slavery and its ugly aftermath and, if so, should it take the form of reparations?

What should we do because of the sins of our fathers? How much culpability do living Americans have for the persistence of slavery in their country for so many years, for allowing the ideals of reconstruction to be undermined and tolerating racist practices to persist?

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As far back as 1964, Whitney Young, Jr., executive director of the National Urban League, called for reparations of sorts, “a domestic Marshall Plan” for blacks comparable to America’s massive aid to Western Europe after WWII. “Disadvantaged for three centuries,” Young wrote, “American Negroes require compensatory benefits . . . “

Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, has argued, “To oppose reparations is to be racist. To support reparations is to be anti-racist. The middle ground is racist ground.”

Dr. Ibram Kendi speaks during Morning Meeting

“To oppose reparations is to be racist.”  – Ibram X. Kendi

 

“Only an expansive and expensive compensation policy for the descendants of the enslaved and relegated of the scale Lincoln proposed for the enslavers and subsidized could prevent the racial wealth gap from compounding and being passed onto another generation,” Kendi wrote.

There’s no question that the evils of slavery left a deep stain on America and that reconstruction and subsequent racist policies have done damage to American blacks. It’s also clear that this country must come to terms with its legacy of slavery.

But as Lance Morrow, a senior Fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, has said, a full-throated reparations debate in the United States will not be conflated with a positive and healing gesture; all it will do is “push the country to angrier extremes on either side, stimulating fresh antagonisms.”

Coleman Hughes, a black Quillette columnist, took a similar approach in testimony before the House subcommittee on June 19:

“If we were to pay reparations today, we would only divide the country further, making it harder to build the political coalitions required to solve the problems facing black people today; we would insult many black Americans by putting a price on the suffering of their ancestors; and we would turn the relationship between black Americans and white Americans from a coalition into a transaction—from a union between citizens into a lawsuit between plaintiffs and defendants.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-NH, has already taken a similar position.”First of all, its likelihood of getting through Congress is nil.,” he said in 2016. “Second of all, I think it would be very divisive.”

Even Barack Obama has questioned the feasibility and advisability of reparations.

“Theoretically, you can make, obviously, a powerful argument that centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination are the primary cause for all those gaps,” President Obama said to Ta-Nehisi Coates in an Oct. 19, 2016 interview for The Atlantic. “That those were wrongs done to the black community as a whole, and black families specifically, and that in order to close that gap, a society has a moral obligation to make a large, aggressive investment, even if it’s not in the form of individual reparations checks, but in the form of a Marshall Plan, in order to close those gaps.”

“It is easy to make that theoretical argument,” Obama said. “But as a practical matter, it is hard to think of any society in human history in which a majority population has said that as a consequence of historic wrongs, we are now going to take a big chunk of the nation’s resources over a long period of time to make that right.”

An attempt to decide on the specifics of a reparations program would also be a nightmare. Who would even be eligible? If it’s individuals, who alive today has suffered as a direct result of slavery?

Coleman Hughes accepts the merit of reparations paid to Holocaust survivors, victims of internment during World War II, and victims of the Tuskegee experiments, for example, “but not reparations for “poorly-defined groups containing millions of people whose relationship to the initial crime is several generations removed.”

It’s unfortunate that so many of those competing for the Democratic presidential nomination have chosen to embrace reparations. It may enhance their appeal to the left wing of their party, but it likely alienates many more people. And now that the reparations cat is out of the box, everybody and their brother may demand reparations for past injustices.

An April 2019 Rasmussen poll found that just 21 percent of likely voters think taxpayers should pay reparations to black Americans who can prove they are descended from slaves.

Fox News poll that same month found that 60 percent of Americans oppose paying cash reparations to descendants of slaves and only 32 percent support it.  Even a July 2018 poll by Data For Progress, a progressive think tank, found that 68 percent were opposed.

But some of the Democratic candidates endorsing billions in reparations must figure that African-Americans will embrace the concept, and African-Americans are a good share of likely voters in South Carolina, one of the early primaries, and on Super Tuesday, March 3..

Frankly, buying votes was much cheaper and made more sense when they only handed out free beer at the polls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should I stay or should I go: Bernie’s conundrum.

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Hillary Clinton and her allies want Bernie Sanders to withdraw from the race. For additional pressure, the liberal media, including Talking Points Memo,the Washington Post, Daily Kos and the NY Times are piling on in unison. With increasing vehemence, they all argue Sanders should quit because he can’t win the Democratic nomination.

“…Sanders’ campaign is now taking a scorched-earth approach toward its opponents—even if that means helping Donald Trump win the White House,” wrote David Nir in today’s Daily Kos.

Sanders’ continued presence in the race increases divisiveness in the party, his critics assert, makes it harder for Hillary to focus on Trump and forces Hillary to keep spending millions to secure her nomination that would be better spent in the general election.

On March 17, the New York Times reported that the previous week President Obama had privately told a group of Democratic donors that Sanders was close to when his campaign against Clinton would end and that the Democratic Party must soon come together to back her.

According to the Times, people at the donor event “took his comments as a signal to Mr. Sanders that perpetuating his campaign, which is now an uphill climb, could only help the Republicans recapture the White House.”

So let’s look at what Hillary did in her own 2007-2008 contest with Obama.

The objective of each of the candidates in the primaries and caucuses was to secure the support of 2,117 delegates, a majority, to the August 2008 Democratic National Convention.

At the end of 2007, Clinton led in the national polls with 42% of likely voters, over Obama at 23% and John Edwards at 16%.

On Jan. 3, Obama unexpectedly won the Iowa caucuses with 38% of the vote, over Edwards, 30%, and Clinton, 29%. That gave Obama 28 pledged delegates, Clinton 14 and Edwards 3.

At the conclusion of the next three primaries (New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina) on Jan. 26, the pledged delegate vote count was Obama 88, Clinton 46 and Edwards 3. This was after Obama won by a more than two-to-one margin over Clinton in South Carolina, taking 55% of the vote to Clinton’s 27% and Edwards’s 18%. After his shellacking, John Edwards suspended his candidacy on January 30, 2008.

With the Super Tuesday primaries looming, Senator Ted Kennedy endorsed Obama, a high profile endorsement that buoyed Obama’s hopes. On Tuesday, Feb. 5, with 23 states and territories and 1,681 delegates up for grabs, Obama captured 847 delegates and Clinton 834. That put Obama at 1036 pledged delegates and Clinton at 1056.

Earlier in 2008 it had been expected that the nominee would be known after Super Tuesday, but Obama and Clinton were essentially tied in pledged delegates.

During Feb. 9-19, Obama swept 11 state contests and expanded his pledged delegate lead by 120. By the end of February, Obama had 1,192 pledged delegates, Clinton 1,035. But Clinton led among super-delegates, 240 to 19.

In the March primaries and caucuses, both candidates hung in there, with Obama winning 210 pledged delegates and Clinton 205, putting Obama slightly ahead with a total of 1,562½ pledged delegates and Clinton with 1,421½.

 On March 29, Obama’s lead prompted Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, to call for Clinton to drop out of the race. “I think that her criticism (of Obama) is hurting him more than anything John McCain has said,” Leahy said. “I think that’s unfortunate.”

 As the contest continued into April, a consensus began to grow that Clinton didn’t have much of a chance to overcome Obama’s lead in pledged delegates. Coincident with that growing feeling, some Democrats began to argue that Clinton staying in the race was damaging Obama’s likelihood of success in the general election.

Clinton did go on to win in Pennsylvania, but Obama won in North Carolina and the two almost tied in Indiana on May 6. At that point, Obama led Clinton by 164 pledged delegates and there were only 217 pledged delegates left to be decided, leading to more calls for Clinton to drop out of the race.

Even comedians got in the act. “Hillary Clinton says she isn’t dropping out because there are still six states that haven’t had their Democratic primary,” said Conan O’Brien. “That’s right. Barack Obama’s favored in the states of Oregon, Montana and South Dakota, and Hillary is favored in the state of denial.”

Clinton’s fortunes deteriorated further on May 10 when Obama’s super-delegate total passed Clinton’s, making it even more likely that Clinton’s run was doomed.

But Hillary Clinton persevered.

It wasn’t until June 3 when Obama’s delegates from South Dakota and Montana primaries, plus his announcement of more super-delegates, put Obama over the majority needed for the Democratic nomination.

Still, it took until June 5 for the Clinton campaign to post a letter to supporters on its website saying Hillary would endorse Obama on June 7.

From my perspective, that pretty well sums it up. Bernie, ignore the calls to drop out coming from Hillary and her bought and paid for acolytes. Keep a-pluggin’ away.

 

                                       If the hills are high before

                                       And the paths are hard to climb,

                                       Keep a–pluggin’ away.

                                       And remember that successes

                                       Come to him who bides his time,—

                                        Keep a–pluggin’ away.

“Keep a-plugging away”, Lyrics of Lowly Life, Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Let them eat cake: the White House Correspondents Association dinner

Ninety-three murders of journalists have been documented in Mexico since 2000, according to Article 19, an international organization devoted to freedom of the press.

Want some names? In the first three months of 2016, there were 69 attacks against the press in Mexico, including the murders of three journalists: Marco Hernández Bautista, Anabel Flores Salazar and Moisés Dagdug Lutzow.

Anabel-Flores-Sala_2684761a

Mexican reporter Anabel Flores Salazar, a 32-year-old mother of two, was discovered on the side of the road half-naked with her arms tied behind her back and a plastic bag over her head. She worked as a crime reporter for the newspaper El Sol de Orizaba in the eastern state of Veracruz

 

But the journalists, politicians and celebrities didn’t let any of that get in the way of the revelry, schmoozing and self-congratulatory behavior at the White House Correspondents Association dinner on April 30.

Like at the Academy Awards, toned and tanned women in designer outfits posed for the cameras on the red carpet as they arrived. There were actresses Kerry Washington, Vivica A. Fox and Carrie Fisher (with her dog, Gary), models Karlie Kloss, Kendall Jenner and Daniela Lopez, even the entire cast of The View.

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Media and public policy expert Kendall Jenner at the White House Correspondents Association dinner, April 30, 2016. Source: perezhilton.com

 

All the talk after the splashy dinner, more like Anna Wintour’s annual Met Gala than a media event, was about comedian Larry Wilmore’s controversial remarks. None of the talk was about how the event affirmed the close, almost cloying, relationships between the politicians and the political press who cover the White House.

If you want an explanation for the precipitous across-the-board bipartisan decline in the public’s respect for the press, you have it in the White House Correspondents Association dinner.

When I handled public relations for a major corporation, a standard warning to employees likely to come into contact with the media was, “Remember. A reporter is not your friend.” That didn’t mean the media were your enemy, just that no matter how amiable they might be, their objective is to search out the news, to inform the public debate, not to serve as a marketing arm of the company.

The media in Washington, D.C. seem to have forgotten that.

The White House Correspondents Association dinner that began on May 7, 1921 as a somewhat stuffy black-tie event for 50 guests (yes, all men) has expanded to a 2620 guest dinner and a bacchanalia of parties stretching out over days.

A turning point in the dinner’s perception came in 2012 when respected NBC newsman Tom Brokaw said on “Meet the Press” that it was “time to rethink” the celebrity-focused occasion since it, in his words, “separates the press from the people that they’re supposed to serve, symbolically.”

“What kind of image do we present to the rest of the country?” Brokaw asked. “ Are we doing their business, or are we just a group of narcissists who are mostly interested in elevating our own profiles?”

If you wonder where Donald Trump came from, and even to some degree Bernie Sanders, this is it. The whole self-congratulatory White House Correspondents Association affair is a celebration by politicians and the press of their specialness, a reminder of why so many Americans feel abandoned and ignored by the elite decision-makers who live in their bubble of mutual admiration.

“…now it’s not just one night of clubby backslapping, carousing and drinking between the press and the powerful, it’s four full days of signature cocktails and inside jokes that just underscore how out of step the Washington elite is with the rest of the country,” wrote Politico before this year’s dinner. “It’s not us (journalists) versus them (government officials); it’s us (Washington) versus them (the rest of America).”

Clinton’s winning… and losing

Like the houseguest who overstayed her welcome, Hillary Clinton is losing admirers the longer she’s on the stage.

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She won a decisive victory in New York’s Democratic primary yesterday. You’d think the victory was evidence of her steady climb in popular approval, a sign of voters’ deep and growing affection for her.

But the closer she comes to victory, the more people dislike her.

In January 2013, just prior to her official resignation as Secretary of State on Feb. 1,  just 25 percent of voters from both parties held a negative view of Hillary.

By March 2016, a Wall Street Journal/NBC survey revealed that among voters in both parties, 51 percent held a negative view of Hillary and 38 percent held a positive view.

This month, things were considerably worse. An April 10-14 poll showed that among voters in both parties, 56 percent held a negative view of Mrs. Clinton and 32 percent held a positive view. The way things are going, nobody will really like her by November.

Her only saving grace, if you can call it that, is that no candidate on the Democratic or Republican side is seen favorably by more than 50 percent of registered voters.

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By the way, Hillary’s New York victory yesterday was less impressive than her performance in 2008. That year, when she won the primary against Barack Obama, she carried all but one of New York’s 62 counties.

This time, she lost all but 13 of New York’s counties to Bernie Sanders, an astonishing shift. What saved Hillary in the popular vote was that her wins were concentrated in populous urban areas, including Buffalo, Syracuse and New York City.

primarymapNY

Memo to Verizon strikers: you’re doomed

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are mining for union votes, so their pandering to the 39,000 Verizon strikers is par for the course.

Both greeted strikers yesterday at Verizon offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan. “This is just another major corporation trying to destroy the lives of working Americans,” Sanders said  in Brooklyn. “And today you’re standing up not just for justice for Verizon workers. You’re standing up for millions of Americans who don’t have a union.”

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Bernie Sanders addressing striking Verizon workers IN Brooklyn. “Thank you for your courage in standing up against corporate greed,” he told them.

 

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Hillary Clinton speaks to union leader, Denis Tranor, while she visits striking Verizon workers in Manhattan.

The full-throated proclamations of support from Clinton and Sanders don’t, however, change the fact that the jobs of most of the strikers are doomed.

That’s because, as was the case with a 2011 Verizon strike, many of the strikers service the company’s shrinking landline, or wireline, phone business, or the company’s FIOS network, where Verizon is trying to reduce its role. They don’t service Verizon’s Wireless network, which provides most of Verizon’s profits.

The striking workers are complaining about not sharing in Verizon’s profits, but ignoring the fact that they are not the ones generating the profits. Why in heaven’s name would Verizon want to go out of its way to accommodate the strikers when the customer base they serve is collapsing?

All the public back and forth accusations being covered in the media, which love conflict, obscure the simple fact that the business is changing and nothing the strikers or the politicians grasping for votes say will change that.

 

 

 

So much for free speech: the left and Chicago’s anti-Trump demonstrations

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A Trump supporter (R), confronts a demonstrator after Donald Trump canceled his rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago on March 11, 2016

With all the hyperventilating by major media about the chaos that forced cancellation of Donald Trump’s planned March 11 event in Chicago, there’s been little mention of the role left-wing organizations played in fomenting and supporting the clashes with the goal of shutting down the event.

Not only that, but an analysis of news coverage by ABC, CBS and NBC found that the protesters escaped nearly all blame. By a 15-to-1 margin, the networks blamed Trump, not the leftist protesters, for the campaign violence.

“The left’s coercive tactics aimed at shutting down speech with which they disagree are appalling and un-American, and they would be shocking were they not so commonly employed; Trump didn’t start that fire,” James Taranto wrote today,

Ignored by most of the media, anti-Trump progressives played a major role in spurring the turmoil.

Prior to the event, left-leaning activist groups and individuals aggressively recruited protesters to obstruct it.  Typical was a prominent Chicago activist, Ja’Mal Green, who posted on his Facebook page, “Everyone, get your tickets to this. We’re all going in!!!! ‪#‎SHUTDOWN”. (Not everybody on Facebook agreed with his tactics. One person commented, “…the ” shutdown” caused many fence sitters to jump into the Trump camp. Stifling freedom of speech for another while gloating over your free speech stand makes no sense.”)

After cancellation of the Trump event, an e-mail from MoveOn.org, a liberal advocacy organization, highlighted “the support we provided students in Chicago last night by printing signs and a banner and recruiting MoveOn.org members to join their peaceful protest.”

“We’ll support MoveOn.org members to call out and nonviolently protest Trump’s racist, bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, and violent behavior — and show the world that America rejects Trump’s hate,” the email read. “And to keep it going, we’re counting on you to donate whatever you can to cover the costs of everything involved — the organizers, signs, online recruitment ads, training, and more.”

Another e-mail from ThinkProgress.org, part of the Center for American Progress, founded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, was headlined “How Activists Mobilized to Shut Down Trump in Chicago”.

The e-mail noted approvingly that a student in the U.S. illegally had started a petition on MoveOn.org calling on the school to cancel the event, claiming that Trump’s visit was a “standards and safety issue” and that “I, and other students…are in direct danger.”

Then there’s People for Bernie Sanders, co-founded by Charles Lenchner, who was previously a founder of Ready for Warren, and Winnie Wong, a founding organizer of Occupy Wall Street who also helped launch Ready For Warren.

After cancellation of Trump’s Chicago event, the organization joyfully tweeted, “Remember the ‪#TrumpRally wasn’t just luck. It took organizers from dozens of organizations and thousands of people to pull off. Great work.” (Not all recipients of the tweet were quite as excited. One commenter said, “This is organized vigilantes against Trump/capitalism…”)

I’m not excusing Trump for his rhetoric, but reporters and the media need to do their job and report fully on the campaigns and the players, not just bury us in daily horse race stories, visuals without context and opinions masquerading as news. We’d all be better educated voters if they did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hillary and The Donald: Self-inflicted wounds

With Super Tuesday voting and other primaries and caucuses behind us, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the clear leaders in the Republican and Democratic races for their party’s presidential nominations.

But they are both damaged candidates and the parties have only themselves to blame for their success.

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Democrats have known for years that Hillary would be a seriously flawed candidate.

 “She has always been awkward and uninspiring on the stump,” a senior Democratic consultant once told the Washington Post. “Hillary has Bill’s baggage and now her own as secretary of state — without Bill’s personality, eloquence or warmth.”

 While her damaging e-mail scandal may be relatively new, Hillary has been associated with decades of personal and political contretemps, leading to a clear case of Clinton fatigue among the populace.

Equally troubling to the Democratic Party should be Hillary’s trust gap.

In a July 2015 Quinnipiac University national poll, 57 percent of respondents said Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, one of the worst scores among all the top candidates at the time. And her scores have gotten worse. In a subsequent Quinnipiac poll, 61 percent of respondents said Clinton is not honest and trustworthy.

In an August 2015 Quinnipiac University poll, “liar” was the first word that came to mind more than others in an open-ended question when voters were asked what they think of Clinton, followed by “dishonest” and “untrustworthy”. (“Arrogant” was the first word that came to mind for Trump, but that doesn’t seem quite as toxic)

In January 2016, a poll produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates put Hillary 12 points behind Bernie Sanders, 48-36 percent, in being seen as more honest and trustworthy, a deterioration from 6 points behind in Dec. 2015 and equal to Sanders in October 2015.

But Hillary’s problems as a candidate go even deeper.

“Voters see her as an extraordinarily cynical, power-hungry insider,” James Poulos said in The Week on Feb. 2. “She is out for herself, not out for Americans. Voters know it.”

This ties in with a long-held and widespread perception that Hillary and her family are just plain greedy, what with them hauling off $190,000 worth of china, flatware, rugs, televisions, sofas and other gifts when they moved out of the White House, taking money from all sorts of unsavory people and foreign countries for their Foundation, and charging exorbitant amounts for speeches.

David Axelrod, a political consultant who helped steer Obama to the presidency, noted in his book, “Believer”, that Hillary has two other main weaknesses: she’s a polarizing rather than a “healing figure,” and she has a hard time selling herself as the “candidate of the future” given her checkered past and long political resume.

And then, as Josh Kraushaar wrote in The Atlantic before Jeb Bush dropped out, “…pundits and donors alike are vastly overrating the prospects of two brand-name candidates for 2016 — Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush — and undervaluing the reality that the current political environment is as toxic as it’s ever been for lifelong politicians.”

Then there’s Trump

That, of course, takes us to Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s “Nightmare on Park Avenue.”

Isolated in their cocoons, party officials (and the political press) assumed an establishment candidate would emerge the victor. They denied to themselves and others for months that Trump would be a viable candidate for the Republican nomination.

Nobody was more smug in this assumption then Jeb!

He started early, rebuilding political connections, building a professional staff and laying the groundwork for a “shock and awe” fundraising blitz. But he faltered early and never regained his balance. He watched helplessly as his fund-raising advantage become a disadvantage, defining him as the establishment favorite when the Republican base was looking for a change agent.

Political leaders also overestimated voters’ desire for solid, traditional, steady candidates and too quickly dismissed Trump as a long-term threat. “Reality TV will gather a lot of interest and a lot of people enjoyed the celebrity of that, but for the last 14 years, I’ve had to live in the real world and deal with real world issues and come up with real world solutions,” former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said in mid-2015. “And that’s what the people I think of this country want out of the next president of the United States.”

Meanwhile, confident that Trump’s bombast, misstatements and insults would doom him, Republican Party leaders watched incredulously as he rolled over establishment candidates.

“Until recently, the narrative of stories like this has been predictable,” Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone. “If a candidate said something nuts, or seemingly not true, an army of humorless journalists quickly dug up all the facts, and the candidate ultimately was either vindicated, apologized, or suffered terrible agonies… That dynamic has broken down this election season. Politicians are quickly learning that they can say just about anything and get away with it.”

As Karen Tumulty wrote in the Washington Post, “Will Trump eventually cross a line — or do the lines no longer exist?”

The make-up and size of the Republican candidate field also has worked to Trump’s advantage.

There’s no love lost, for example, between most members of Congress and Ted Cruz. And with so many Republican candidates (17 at one point), voter preferences were atomized for too long and even now none of the remaining candidates are willing to drop out, preventing the emergence of a single challenger to Trump.

So here we are, facing the possibility of a Clinton-Trump election.

Just goes to show that Clarence Darrow was right. “When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progressives say “Nyet” to the free market

For all their bleating about conservatives wanting to constrain personal choice, as in their anti-abortion stance, progressives are quite comfortable limiting the choices of others themselves. The result is a kind of ruthless do-gooderism, forcing others to live their lives according to the narrow precepts of smug true believers who know best.

Take retail gun and music sales.

The members of the Trinity Wall Street Church, an Episcopal parish in New York City that champions progressive causes, want Walmart shareholders to have a say on whether the company should establish policies governing the sale of offensive items.

Gus for sale at Walmart

Gus for sale at Walmart

That would include products that are “(1) especially dangerous to the public, (2) pose a substantial risk to company reputation and (3) would reasonably be considered offensive to the community and family values that Wal-Mart seeks to associate with its brand.”

The church’s objective?  To force Walmart to remove from its shelves high-capacity rifles and sexually-charged or violent music.

What’s next, shareholder votes on stores stocking water pistols, banned or challenged books, white American Girl dolls, 50 Shades of Grey or American Sniper DVDs, gory video games like Gears of War 3 and Call of Duty Black Ops, or the “Plan B” contraceptive pill?

In essence, the church wants to substitute its judgment and the judgment of other left-leaning true believers for the free market.

Just like the plastic water bottle zealots.

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I’m no fan of paying for water in plastic bottles. For one, It’s obscenely expensive, compared with household tap water. Two-thirds of the bottled water sold in the United States is in individual 16.9-ounce bottles, which comes out to roughly $7.50 per gallon. That’s about 2,000 times higher than the typical cost of a gallon of tap water. Most often the bottled water isn’t of higher quality than tap water either and the containers generate tons of wasted plastic.

But progressives aren’t satisfied with urging people not to buy bottled water, to use a reusable water bottle instead. They want to go much further. “Rally your schools, workplaces, and communities to ban bottled water,” they implore.

Another case of progressives wanting to impose their values and choices on me.

Companies should be free to develop and market safe products and consumers should be free to decide whether to buy them. Banning stuff because some slice of the population opposes a product for ideological reasons is offensive.

And of course I can’t pursue this topic without talking about Hillary Clinton.

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Hillary wants to require that prescription-drug companies spend a set portion of their revenue on research and development, or forfeit federal support such as tax credits or research money.

Does Clinton really think the government should go so far as to instruct how private businesses spend their revenue, all in the name of a higher good as defined by Hillary? And Bernie says he’s the socialist in the race.

The VA and Portland’s road fee: two peas in a pod

More money. That’s the answer, says government. More money.

Portland has a problem with maintenance of its roads. So government does what government does best, it proposes spending more money. The city has “no alternative”, said Mayor Charlie Hales but to impose new street user fees on households, apartment complex owners, businesses and government agencies, including school districts.

The city claims it needs the extra money because revenue has been declining. But John A. Charles, Jr., President and CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute, took a closer look . Charles discovered that the city’s transportation revenue has actually been growing steadily and the city’s general fund has been flush. He concluded that it’s not a lack of money, but choices on spending priorities that has put the city in its current situation with road maintenance.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., a political debate is raging about what to do with the Veterans Administration, and more money seems to be the easy answer there, too.

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Democrats are already saying the solution to the VA’s problems is more money. At the same time they are attacking Republicans for opposing a VA bill earlier this year that would have addressed the crisis with more spending.

And Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has reintroduced a bill to reform the VA that copies the free-spending elements of a similar bill defeated in the Senate earlier this year,  including a provision that would open 27 costly new VA medical centers across the US and in Puerto Rico.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

But more money isn’t going to solve the VA’s problems.

A May 28, 2014 report on problems at the VA’s Phoenix, AZ Health Care System noted, for example, that while conducting its work in Phoenix, the staff and Hotline of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) “received numerous allegations daily of mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior by mid- and senior-level managers at this facility.”

The issues with excessive patient wait times identified in current allegations are also hardly new. The May 2014 report noted that since 2005, the VA OIG has issued 18 reports that identified, at both the national and local levels, deficiencies in scheduling resulting in lengthy waiting times and the negative impact on patient care. Each of the reports listed was issued to the VA Secretary and the Congress and is publicly available on the VA OIG website.

When the Senate failed to pass Sanders bill earlier this year it was principally because of Republican opposition, with Sanders’ cynically saying he hoped opponents would have the courage to face the vets they were depriving of care.

Other Democrats tried to position the party, which rarely sees a new spending bill it doesn’t like, as the pure for-the-good-of-the-people arm of the government, by raising the old “don’t play politics” argument. “Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation’s veterans?” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Can we show these heroes that – despite our differences – we will work as diligently toward getting them the benefits and care they’ve earned as they have worked for our nation?”

The problem is Sanders’ bill would have cost $21 billion dollars by vastly expanding existing programs and adding new ones, when the VA budget has already been growing like topsy.

The VA, with 151 hospitals and 821 clinics, already has an annual budget that’s more than double what it was a decade ago.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the VA budget increased in real terms from $45 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $150.7 billion in fiscal year 2014 and President Obama’s 2015 budget for the VA proposes an increase to $163.9 billion.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is already going the class warfare route in urging even more spending.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)

On Monday he blasted Republicans for favoring tax cuts for the wealthy over the health of vets and spending for the war in Iraq on “America’s credit card”  but not being willing to pay for the medical care of vets. All senators should support the Sanders bill regardless of its cost, he said.

With the country already facing more than $17 trillion in national debt and with annual deficits continuing to contribute to that debt, adding more debt just plain makes no sense, even if it is to serve honored veterans.

Equally, adding more veterans services and vastly expanding the pool of veterans eligible for VA services makes no sense when the VA is apparently incapable of professionally providing its services now to its existing caseload.

It would make more sense for Congress to restrain the growth of its potential clients, facilitate a shift of veterans with service-connected disabilities who don’t require specialized VA care to medical services outside the VA system, and address the serious cultural problems that have led to a dysfunctional VA bureaucracy and interminable waiting times for vets deserving of our nation’s care.

In addition, Congress owes it to our heavily indebted country to pay for any additional costs that may be incurred in connection with VA reform with real money. That would require hard choices on budget priorities. Sanders’ February bill proposed that the additional spending be paid for with overseas contingency operations funds used to fund the war in Afghanistan. His new bill would also place caps on overseas contingency operations funds . That money isn’t real savings because it wouldn’t have been spent anyway with U.S. Afghanistan operations winding down.

So watch closely as Congress tries to get out in front of the VA mess. There’s reason to be worried. As Will Rogers said, “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when a baby gets hold of a hammer.”