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Ben Carson needs to check out Ikea

To Ikea, then, for Ben Carson, ...

Posted: Mar 2, 2018 8:16 AM
Updated: Mar 2, 2018 8:16 AM

To Ikea, then, for Ben Carson, whose ongoing refurbishment of the dining room at the Department of Housing and Urban Development -- apparently with the guidance of his wife, Candy Carson -- has hit the skids after growing complaints that it is gross, profligate and an egregious waste of public money.

The most eye-catching purchase made by Carson's office in the pursuit of improving his office is the acquisition of a $31,000 dining set. (I mean, seriously, why not this?) HUD's communications director confirmed Thursday that the order placed for this elegantly crafted set of furniture, which would go rather well in the dining room of a modestly sized country house in rural England, has been canceled.

Carson, startled as Bambi and twice as wobbly on his political feet, claims to have known nothing of the purchase. "I was as surprised as anyone," the HUD secretary said, failing to note that the main public reaction to details of his office's excesses was not surprise but a mixture of contempt and amusement that anyone could be so tin-eared toward the current political climate.

Now, there is a surface-level irony in a department responsible for developing housing being hauled up for developing its own housing rather too well. And the American people could be chuckling at it all the way to the statistics books, whereupon the laughing stops.

According to a 2016 report by the Center for American Progress, a quarter of Americans spend more than half their incomes on housing, yet 30 million housing units in the United States are deemed to be substandard. Substandard here does not mean that the dream of an antique Chesterfield set for the drawing room has yet to be achieved, or that the Persian rug could do with a shampoo since the purebred spaniel peed on it.

It means that millions of Americans live in cold, dilapidated or unsafe conditions without safe or adequate heating. You do not have to advocate a dictatorship of the proletariat to hope that public officials spending public money would have more sensitivity than the Carsons have shown in this instance, particularly when housing is his actual portfolio.

The Republican Party holds the presidency and Carson his job because a lot of people went to the polls imagining the swamp was going to be drained, not fitted with handcrafted bronze faucets and a bidet. And now look.

In Britain, where I live (and where we have a housing crisis of our own, thanks for asking), we had a version of #Carsonsideboardgate back in 2009, when a whistleblower leaked to the Daily Telegraph a comprehensive list of claims being made on the public purse by members of Parliament.

The list was alternately depressing and comical: a combination of cheapjack scams to boost politicians' pay and hilariously eccentric bills to the public for things that were, frankly, weird. The most famous was the Conservative MP Peter Viggers' claim for -30,000 of gardening expenses, including -1,645 for a "floating duck island" in his pond.

The expenses scandal was something of a watershed moment for public scrutiny of British politicians' pay and perks, which is now a toxic matter about which no one in office can say anything good. It did nothing of any major significance to improve the public finances: The UK currently runs a budget deficit of -8.7 billion a month, which no amount of furniture-skimping or duck-house canceling can hope to touch.

But the expenses scandal did provide a handy stick with which to beat politicians at a time when, in the aftermath of the financial calamity of 2009, it was felt that beating politicians would be a cathartic thing to do.

That feeling is still with us on both sides of the Atlantic: hence, the opprobrium in which Carson is presently held. Whether the rage over this dining set will metastasize into a full-fledged scrutiny of all US government officials' spending I doubt. After all, the 45th President is hardly a scrimper himself, on the public's dime.

And he was the one who was supposed to be pulling the plug on the swamp. Go figure.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36680

Reported Deaths: 1250
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds304154
DeSoto200920
Madison150839
Jones123149
Harrison118316
Rankin113719
Neshoba104577
Forrest104343
Lauderdale97281
Scott83115
Jackson80419
Washington75313
Copiah67516
Leake63520
Lee63022
Grenada6259
Oktibbeha62328
Warren60021
Holmes59841
Lamar5847
Wayne56819
Yazoo5667
Lowndes54917
Leflore53956
Lincoln53835
Pike51120
Lafayette5094
Sunflower5058
Panola4616
Monroe46036
Simpson4533
Covington4505
Bolivar41618
Tate39513
Attala38624
Newton37710
Adams36720
Pontotoc3636
Marion34912
Claiborne31511
Pearl River30832
Chickasaw30219
Winston30211
Marshall2973
Jasper2826
Noxubee2799
Walthall2748
Clay26211
Smith25612
Union25612
Coahoma2356
Clarke22825
Lawrence2162
Yalobusha2089
Tallahatchie1974
Montgomery1863
Kemper18414
Carroll18311
Humphreys17410
Calhoun1705
Hancock15213
Itawamba1478
Tippah14711
Jefferson1373
Webster13511
Prentiss1274
Tunica1263
George1253
Jefferson Davis1254
Greene11610
Alcorn1112
Amite1113
Tishomingo1091
Quitman1011
Wilkinson1019
Perry914
Stone772
Choctaw764
Franklin572
Sharkey480
Benton470
Issaquena111
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 54768

Reported Deaths: 1096
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson7012170
Mobile5061140
Montgomery4599112
Tuscaloosa274353
Madison25359
Marshall205012
Shelby176425
Lee164737
Morgan13975
Baldwin134111
Walker111332
Elmore107622
Etowah106914
Dallas10189
DeKalb10017
Franklin95016
Unassigned77728
Autauga71515
Russell7130
Chambers68530
Cullman6686
Limestone6653
Butler65529
Houston6417
Tallapoosa63069
Lauderdale6006
St. Clair5983
Calhoun5545
Colbert5286
Escambia5128
Lowndes49222
Pike4805
Jackson4422
Coffee4364
Covington43512
Talladega4177
Dale4061
Barbour4022
Bullock37810
Hale36323
Marengo36111
Chilton3452
Blount3311
Clarke3236
Wilcox3158
Marion30914
Winston3095
Sumter29713
Pickens2786
Randolph2759
Monroe2683
Perry2552
Conecuh2388
Bibb2271
Macon2229
Choctaw22012
Greene2009
Henry1573
Washington1529
Lawrence1460
Crenshaw1343
Cherokee1317
Geneva1010
Fayette901
Clay892
Lamar891
Coosa671
Cleburne481
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