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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Subsidies for poets

Mark Steyn is at his best as he moves from ridiculing Harry Reid's lamentations for possible cuts to a cowboy poetry festival to the approach to government spending that so many of our politicians share.
What’s the big deal? It’s 50 grand, a couple of saddlebags in small bills. Not a large sum. But then when you’re Harry Reid staggering around in your trillion-gallon hat, it’s all small potatoes, isn’t it?

He and too many other Americans seem to be living their version of the old line: If you owe the bank a thousand dollars, you have a problem; if you owe the bank a million dollars, the bank has a problem. America owes the world $14 trillion, so the world has a problem.

And, if it’s the world’s problem, why bother our pretty little heads about it? I’m struck by the number of times I’ve been blithely assured by insiders in D.C. and elsewhere that “it’s not in China’s interest” to yank the rug out from under America: We don’t need to do anything drastic, because they won’t do anything drastic. I’m not so sure I could claim with any degree of confidence to know what China considered to be in its interest. But we have the planet’s most lavishly funded intelligence agency, so they’re bound to be on top of it, aren’t they?

In the new budget, there’s a request from the CIA for an emergency appropriation of $513.7 million. Great! A mere half-billion. That’s enough for 10,000 cowboy-poetry festivals. So what’s it for? Toppling Kim Jong-Il? Taking out the Iranian nuclear program?

Er, no. It’s an emergency payment to stop the CIA pension fund from going bankrupt next year with unfunded liabilities of $6.4 billion. The CIA failed to foresee the collapse of the Iron Curtain until it happened. It failed to spot that Pakistan was going nuclear until it happened. But, when the world’s most bounteously endowed intelligence agency fails to spot that its own pension fund is going bankrupt until it happens, I wouldn’t bet the future on anyone in the United States government having much of a clue about what is or isn’t “in China’s interest.”

That leaves America to calculate what’s in America’s interest. And Harry Reid seems to have figured that it’s in America’s interest (or, at any rate, his) to spend like there’s no tomorrow even as the clock chimes quarter-to-midnight. And, when the Complacent Caballero tells you that we cannot contemplate doing anything as “mean-spirited” as a $50,000 cut in a poetry festival, he’s telling you it’s over.
If Harry Reid is so upset about the cuts to that poetry festival, why not take some of the real estate profits that he and his family have earned during a lifetime of politics and pony up for the poets. No, that's not the way that Reid rolls. Why should individuals donate money when the the government can extract that money from taxpayers? It's the same mentality at NPR and PBS. Yes those increasingly common festivals and pleas for donations can bring in some money, but it would just be so much easier if the government paid for it.

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