News Sips 1/18: Three Days, Commuting Chelsea, Hogan’s Budget, and HW Bush

Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the January 18, 2017 edition:

Three Days

There are only three days left until Donald Trump replaces Barack Obama as President of the United States. Mr. Trump will take office amid a flurry of Democrats from the House of Representatives who will be boycotting the Inauguration. While it is a convenient media narrative that boycotts are some kind of wholly new repudiation of Mr. Trump and that it stands in contrast to Inaugurations being “kumbaya” moments, the reality is that, Democrats have protested almost every other Republican Inauguration since, at least, Ronald Reagan.

It’s interesting, Republican lawmakers are far more willing to accommodate the peaceful transition of power with the reverence that it’s due (given the fact that, in the course of human history, it’s still a relatively novel idea). Democrats, on the other hand, have seemingly been more willing to take to the streets in protest. Certainly, this is not meant as a blanket accusation of “all Democrats,” but rather of what we will call the “organizing class,” or, the people who realize that they can increase their wealth, influence or power by fomenting discontent. In its own way, these manufactured protests almost have a comical element that reinforces capitalist doctrine: people finding a way to make money despite what others with less foresight may see as adversity.

Several of Mr. Trump’s nominees for key positions are on the Hill this week testifying before Senate committees including Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, Health Secretary Tom Price, EPA Administrator Pruitt, Wilbur Ross for Commerce, and Nikki Haley for UN Ambassador. Despite CNN and other less-reputable left-wing, for-profit media outlets running with the idea that every one of Mr. Trump’s nominees is somehow “controversial,” there’s a strong likelihood that each of Mr. Trump’s nominees will be confirmed on a fairly partisan vote. Remember: Democrats changed the rules from a 60-vote threshold to a 51-vote threshold during the Obama Administration when they controlled the Senate.

 

Commuting Chelsea Manning

As one of his final acts as President, Barack Obama commuted the sentence of Wikileaker Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning who has served nearly seven of a thirty-five year prison sentence. Manning, who had served in the military before his (at the time) arrest, gave military secrets to the information freedom group Wikileaks and was roundly condemned for being a traitor to American interests.

Manning has become a sort of ideological test, along with former defense contractor Edward Snowden and Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange for your outlook on the current state of the US Government. On the one hand, there’s the knee-jerk reaction that divulging operational intelligence and government secrets are designed at hurting the government and that it shouldn’t be tolerated (and that it helps America’s geopolitical rivals). The other perspective is that an overarching and intrusive Federal Government is keeping too many secrets from its people and has evolved into something like a surveillance state (thereby making leaking/hacking a quasi-patriotic endeavor).

The commutation of Chelsea Manning comes at an interesting time of tension between the outgoing Obama Administration and Russia. Though there’s really no evidence that Wikileaks and Russia are pursuing identical goals, it does appear that Russian entities have gotten information to Wikileaks for dissemination in order to influence the direction of American policies. Some, even on the big-government left, were left a bit baffled by Obama’s decision to commute a source of Wikileaks’ information when Obama had, only days before, railed against Wikileaks and its impact on American politics.

There’s, potentially, a rationale that is more basic than the high-tension espionage drama and threading the needle between being critical of Russia versus commuting Manning, and that is that Bradley Manning, while in custody, underwent a gender transition to become Chelsea Manning. It would appear from a cursory search, that Obama’s commutation of Manning would be the first for a transgendered person. It could very well be that Mr. Obama’s decision to commute the sentence of a high-profile transgendered individual is more about legacy than about espionage.

 

Hogan Sets Budget Battle

Governor Larry Hogan debuted the key points in his 2017 budget yesterday and will release the full document today. The budget will fully-fund education mandates and will work to continue to close budget gaps left by the previous Administration.

Importantly, Hogan’s budget is structurally balanced and does not raise taxes. The reason behind this appears to be Hogan’s decision to sue funds from the State’s Rainy Day Fund in order to reduce the State’s debt service payments. This is important because reducing the gap in the short term will allow for greater financial health and the ability to expand services in the future.

Importantly, along with the budget, the Governor proposed two pieces of legislation aimed at changing the way in which funds are allocated in the State. One would reduce the overall amount of mandated spending in order to increase discretionary investment (currently over 80% of spending is mandated). The other would make sure that new funding mandates aren’t created during good economic times. Simply, assuming that funding levels will remain constant has gotten the State in trouble in the past. The State will commit to spending money in the future without taking into account the fact that this may result in significant shortfalls in leaner economic times.

In all, the Governor’s legislative and budget priorities avoid a major fight with Democrats over funding (almost comically high) education mandates. There will, of course, be some fight about the budget (the Democrats want the Governor’s Mansion back in 2018 so they can prevent Governor Hogan from undoing decades of partisan gerrymandering after the 2020 census). However, Hogan is a savvy politician and understands that Democrats opposing a sober, realistic, budget are sure to find themselves on the losing end of the public relations battle.

 

George H.W. Bush Hospitalized

It was reported that former President George H.W. Bush, the 41st President, was hospitalized with shortness of breath. According to a spokesperson for Mr. Bush, he is expected to return home in a few days. We wish the former President well. Mr. Bush, who is 92, recently decided against attending the Inauguration of Donald Trump this Friday. The reason Mr. Bush gave for declining to attend was his health. As the oldest living President, Mr. Bush’s health has been of some concern in recent years, especially after a fall left him with a fractured bone in his neck.

Obviously, we join with people of good will wishing the 41st President a speedy recovery.

 

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Of course there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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