I was in North Carolina last week. North Carolina is, I believe the only state in the union where the Monday after Easter is a state holiday to allow people to celebrate the twin religious ceremonies of the Christian Easter and the state high school basketball championships. 

As a committed basketball state, and since one of the local university teams was selected to play in the national college tournament (that produces, and I am not making this up, the lowest productivity of any regular work day in America) naturally there was some discussion about their trip to Dayton, Ohio to confront Temple, and then perhaps the winner of the Indiana-James Madison game.

One of the players interviewed on television disclosed that James Madison University was unknown to him as a college, but remembered that Madison was a “big name.”  “Somebody who signed the Declaration of Independence or the Emancipation Proclamation or something.”  If the odds were beaten, and North Carolina State faced a giant-killer that dispatched a number one seed, maybe he would look it up.

Upon returning home, I was greeted at the airport by my wife, who tells me that the desperation to do something about the kids who are failing elementary school in our little community has produced a proposal by our school board. To supplement the homework help and additional benefits already offered to these struggling children, we taxpayers are in discussions about also providing them with free summer school.  We will try almost anything to keep them advancing through the system which has the potential to give them a shot at a decent life in the 21st Century.

Summer school doesn’t come with a free breakfast and lunch, however, so it’s no sale so far.  First conversations about the extension of the educational safety net indicate that the parents of these at-risk children might not be willing to send them unless they get free meals.

As a comparison, a couple of Americans who founded and run Project Ethiopia are providing a corrugated roof and a concrete foundation for school buildings for young African children who don’t have one.  The parents, to get this help, pound rocks into gravel for the concrete, build the walls out of local materials and dig a 40-foot well by hand.

There is a lot of debate these days about taxpayer-provided benefits, which seem to beget twin torrents of statistics about need and “fair share” matched against warnings of what further dependency on the government could do to the economy and the American future.  Entitlement debates are mainly about the inexorable arithmetic these days. Perhaps they should increasingly be about a society that doesn’t appreciate its history or a basic human need for dignity satisfied by “earned success,” as Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute often puts it.

Also evident is the replacement of gratitude and determination in response to “a hand up” – the traditional standard for help by a community to its less fortunate members – with a less thankful instinct that views elimination of all inequalities as cultural and increasingly legal imperatives.

In the same way that the pursuit of happiness envisioned by the patriots who founded this nation has morphed into a demand, “charity” has undergone a transformation — first to “welfare,” and now to mandated benefits and transfer payments which reportedly comprise about half of nonmilitary federal spending.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius just last week offered her public opinion that the states who are nervous about expanding a troubled and expensive Medicaid benefit to more citizens will be eventually forced to knuckle under to provider pressure and the 100% federal match lasting until the end of the president’s term. The federal carrot sometimes turns quickly into a stick, as it did with serial use of lower speed limits, drunk driving laws and seat-belt use to threaten states’ federal highway money. Moreover, HHS is notorious for not granting permission to states that have developed programs that have been shown to be more effective in maintaining the public health, like our neighbors in Indiana, because they sometimes charge a small co-pay or use a deductible.

What happens if a “grand bargain” or something like that is struck on the federal budget, and the feds fall back on their share of the funding?

Well, several million more Americans have a bone to pick with their member of Congress, for openers.

The best-selling Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is all about a self-absorbed and demanding capital district that controls all production, including agriculture and mining, law enforcement and justice, and broadcast communications for all of the other districts in the nation.  I hope the Hunger Games series weren’t meant to be textbooks.

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