1 Under pressure from President Trump, who shouldn’t have appointed him in the first place, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned yesterday. He, along with other Trump officials, was under Congressional scrutiny for using expensive charter and military flights unnecessarily, costing taxpayers at a time when the administration is supposedly watching the budget. Under Federal Travel Regulations, officials are told to take the “most expeditious” means of transportation which “by no means should include personal use,” Chairman Trey Gowdy and ranking member Elijah Cummings had written to letter to Price, 23 other agency heads, and the White House. Price has spent more than $400,000 on taxpayer-funded private jet travel since May.
Price’s abuses included a $17,760 round trip on a charter jet to Nashville, where the HHS Secretary stayed less than six hours, including lunch with his son. The day before he resigned and a day after the President publicly expressed displeasure over the travel abuses, Price had apologized. “Today, I will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes. The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes,” Price said in a statement, adding that he will no longer take private planes while serving as Secretary. “No exceptions.” This was deceit, however. The repayment was just $51,887.31, a fraction of the true cost to the government. That was, as Price said, the cost of the secretary’s “seats” if had flown commercial.
Price is not the only Trump official whose travel practices and expenditures raise at least the appearance of impropriety, but if one had to be the symbolic whipping boy, Price was a great choice. He was also my choice back in January for “Trump Cabinet Appointee Most Likely To Make Money Off Of His Position.” In a post expressing disgust at Price’s appointment, I wrote,
“Last year, Price purchased shares in Zimmer Biomet, a medical device manufacturer right before he introduced legislation that would have directly benefited the company. Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares in the company last March, and then, less than a week after the transaction, introduced the HIP Act…to delay until 2018 a regulation that industry analysts believed would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet, one of two companies most affected by a regulation that limits payments for joint implant procedures. Not only did Price have a financial stake in the regulation he tried to stall,but after Price introduced his bill, Zimmer Biomet’s political action committee donated to the Georgia congressman’s reelection campaign.”
2. Losing one arrogant, travel-abusing high official may not be enough. It’s an interesting problem: is it fair to make one miscreant the focus of abuses that involve many? No; it’s also not practical, and therefore not responsible, to behead a significant portion of the Executive Branch because oversight was lax and an unethical culture had been allowed to take hold. I think Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin would be an excellent and deserving candidate to join Price as metaphorical head on a pike.
Shulkin took a 10-day trip to Europe this past July, for meetings with Danish and British officials about veterans’ health issues. He treated much of the trip as a vacation, taking in a Wimbledon championship tennis match, touring Westminster Abbey and taking a cruise on the Thames with his wife, whose expenses were also paid for by you and me. The federal government paid for the commercial flights for Shulkin and his wife, and provided a per-diem reimbursement for their meals and other expenses. How did Mrs. Shulkin rank reimbursements and taxpayer-funded airfare? A VA spokesman explained that she was traveling on “approved invitational orders” and had “temporary duty” travel expenses.
In other words: “Huminahuminahumina…”
This should make citizens furious. It’s pure arrogance and entitlement. These people know this is wrong, and do it anyway. It is a common, and despicable, practices by executives in all organizations. Shlkin didn’t have to go to this meeting; he wanted to go so he could get the U.S. to pay for his recreation. (None of the VA chiefs in the Obama Administration flew overseas.) This isn’t just the appearance of impropriety, it is impropriety.
3. Fox and others conservative media rushed to file the “Obama’s Cabinet was just as bad!” defense. This may or may not be true, but it is irrelevant. This is unethical conduct. It undermines trust in the government. Whether or not electing someone like President Trump to stop it makes any sense, resentment against this kind of casual, entitled, ruling class arrogance is one reason Trump was elected. The extravagant travel habits in the Obama administration were largely given a pass by the news media and received little publicity because, as I chronicled for 8 long years, the news media decided to support the fiction that The First Black President was Great regardless of what actually happened. Yes, it is true: now that a Repblican is in office, and not just a Republican, but a Republican from
the standards are different and the news media is suddenly outraged by many things they would have ignored and did during the Obama years. That doesn’t mean that Price, Shilkin and the rest, including the President himself, should be able to get away with this petty looting of the Treasury.
5. I am grateful to Fox for reminding me of one of Obama’s minions’ flagrancies that drove me crazy at the time, and no, it wasn’t Erik Holder using a government-owned Gulfstream to fly to the Belmont Stakes with his daughters, their boyfriends and two security officers at a cost to the government of $14,440. Holder only reimbursed the government $955 for that flight, essentially the same deal that got Price jettisoned. But there were so, so many other reasons Holder should have been fired…no, my favorite was L CIA Director and later Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, using government planes to commute from Washington to California nearly every weekend. Each flight cost taxpayers about $32,000, but Panetta only had to pay $630, the cost of an equivalent round-trip commercial flight. Policies require that the Defense Secretaries use a military plane for all travel, and Panetta had President Obama’s approval to fly home every weekend. This, you will note, flunked the Kant’s Rule of Universality. What if every official was permitted to fly home to distant families at government expense? Apparently Panetta refused to accept his appointment unless this was part of the deal, and as weall know, he was the only qualified American alive who could do the job.
I’m sorry: some mornings I warm-up by being sarcastic.
6. The rebooted “Will & Grace” arrived earlier this week, and as everyone expected, was a non-stop Trump-and-GOP-bashing orgy. (I had a sock draw to organize by shade, unfortunately, and missed all the fun). A fan of the old show wrote a critique in Mediaite that concluded,
“There used to be a time when politics stayed in politics and didn’t taint every other aspect of our lives. From Hollywood to our favorite sports, we simply can’t escape the left’s constant emotional freakout from the results of the 2016 election. We are running out of things that are sacred, of things that actually unite us. If we allow our vitriol for those who disagree with us to consume our everyday lives, then such societal pessimism will become the norm and civility and respect we once had for one another will be replaced by hostility and bitterness. It’s truly a shame that Will & Grace, a show I used to love, has become The Walking Dead to me.”
At least in that “resistance” poisoned post-apocalypse landscape, the Will & Grace characters can watch Jimmy Kimmel and the NFL.
Want to be really depressed? Read the comments on that essay. I dare you.
7. Finally, a brief note relating to the NFL Anthem Protest Ethics Train Wreck, which is still barrelling along, lowering the NFL’s ratings, improving President Trump’s, and doing nobody any good whatsoever. No, I don’t mean the revelation that Colin Kaepernick—you know, that heroic martyr who everyone who “takes a knee” is emulating–-gave $25,000 to a group named after a convicted cop-killer, nor am I referring to the attack by Yahoo sportswriter Greg Wyshynski on black NHL star P.K. Subban for saying that he would never “take a knee” during the National Anthem, because he has too much respect for the American flag. No, I’m referring to this commentary, by writer Andrew Klavan, regarding the protest and President Trump’s response to it. He writes, in his conclusion to a passionate blog post,
…To disrespect the flag is to say that America is the enemy, that America is the problem, that America must be “fundamentally transformed” before it is worthy of its citizens’ respect. For sixty years, the news media, Hollywood, and the academy have been selling us that second idea. Because they only speak to themselves and listen to themselves, they must have thought that they had succeeded in changing our minds and draining our love of country until we were as unpatriotic as they are. They must have thought they could get away with stripping our national games of their patriotic core.
Donald Trump caught them out and exposed them and exposed that they were wrong.
Don’t tell me he shouldn’t have done it. Every day, we hear our news media insult the people and push the leftist narrative. Every night, we hear one comedian after another insult the people and push the leftist narrative. In movie theaters, in pop songs, at award shows, in college classes, the same thing, every day. Donald Trump has the only voice loud and bold enough to override that ceaseless sneering propaganda. Donald Trump, that is, and the people.
I love the NFL. I love football. But I love America infinitely more. If they keep disrespecting our flag, I will never watch them again. Trump is utterly right about this and they are utterly wrong.
I think Klavan is wrong about the President. I do not think any President should be taking sides in disputes among citizens, even public disputes. For the exact same reason, I marked Trump as correct for refusing to choose one set of extreme protesters over another in Charlottesville. However, Klavan’s next to last paragraph gives me pause, and perhaps this is an unprecedented environment when a new standard of Presidential conduct is necessary. Ethics Alarms has defended the President’s attacks on the news media because it is failing its institutional duty to democracy, citizens need to know that journalism has become biased, partisan, and untrustworthy, and obviously it won’t tell the public that itself. Only the President has a large enough megaphone to do it, and it has to be done. And maybe, just maybe, the Left’s domination of education, popular culture, television, entertainment, the internet and the news demands a counter-weight that Klavan is applauding.
I’m not convinced.
But I’m thinking about it…