Advertisements

The Art of No Deal

President Donald Trump ran for office on a promise that his unsurpassed negotiating skills would deliver to a grateful America the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen. It hasn’t happened yet, and after an especially weird Wednesday in Washington, D.C., it seems unlikely to ever happen.
Trump had scheduled a morning meeting on the subject with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several other Democratic members of Congress, but according to everyone in the room he arrived 15 minutes late, didn’t shake any hands or take a seat, and left after saying there would be no deal on infrastructure or anything else until the Democrats called off all of their numerous investigations of him. After that he went to the White House rose garden for a 12 minute rant before the television cameras that was splenetic and boastful and untruthful even by Trump standards, and he reiterated his rhyming State of the Union threat that Congress couldn’t legislate until it ceased to investigate.
Schumer and Pelosi unsurprisingly made clear in their own statements to the media that they have no intention of halting the investigations, even if it means Trump doesn’t get to claim credit for the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen, and they seemed to mean it. Trump will run for reelection on the argument that he would have signed the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen if not for those darned Democrats’ stubborn insistence on their constitutional oversight rights, but Pelosi and Schumer were clearly unconcerned about that. In the two years that Trump had Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress nothing to do with infrastructure was passed, and the Democratic majority in the House and sizable Democratic minority in the Senate have far less incentive to give Trump something to boast about.
Which might be for the best, given the sort of godawful pork-laden and budget-busting monstrosity of a bill that the combined imaginations of Trump and Schumer and Pelosi probably would have concocted. On the other hand, America’s roads and bridges and airports and electric grids and telecommunications systems and all the rest of it are as always in need of repairs and upgrades, and even such old-fashioned laissez faire Republicans as ourselves have to admit that some federal assistance will be required.
There are other pressing problems that we must begrudgingly admit probably require federal solutions, too, but they’ll also have to await the results of the 2020 elections. In the meantime there are upcoming budget deadlines and the potential for a global economy-wrecking federal default on the nation’s financial obligations, and although one side or the other has always caved in just in time over the past many occasions this round could be different.
At this point both sides only care who will get the blame for whatever calamity that occurs, and each has reason to believe it will be the other side. Trump can be confident that his die-hard supporters will buy the sales pitch that he would have wrought Utopia if only those darned Democrats had stopped picking on him and acceded to all his demands, while the Democrats can rightly assume that the rest of the country will be more skeptical. Trump will rally the faithful by defying congressional attempts to subpoena his tax returns and bank records and the testimony of several former administration officials and family members, while the Democrats can endlessly and insidiously and reasonably speculate about what the president is trying so hard to conceal.
Our guess is that the Democrats will eventually get the best of it, with some help from a judicial branch that so far seems to be on their side, but we’ve occasionally been wrong about these things. By now we know better than to underestimate Trump’s wiliness, nor the gullibility of his die-hard supporters, nor the political ineptitude of the Democratic party.
So for now we’ll hope that the next bridge we cross will hold up, that the local efforts at flood control will suffice, our next airplane trip will be uneventful, and the lights and internet connection stay on here at the home office. We’ll also hold out fainter hope that whatever it is Trump wants to keep in the dark will eventually be brought to light, the Democrats don’t go too far crazy left with their next nominee,  the government eventually gets back to its usual ham-fisted attempts to address the nation’s more pressing problems, and the rest of a nation of free markets and free minds continues to muddle its way toward progress.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Infrastructure Trumped By the Latest News

This is “infrastructure week” at the White House, with the public relations emphasis on President Donald Trump’s trillion dollar plans to make America’s roads and bridges and airports and all that great again, but you might have not have noticed. We’re only aware of it because a few of the pesky journalists who remain fixated on Trump’s latest “tweets” and the Russia thing with Trump and Russia mentioned “infrastructure week” in passing as an example of how Trump’s policy initiatives are being lost in the news.
Some attention was paid on Monday to Trump’s proposal to privatize air traffic control, the first of a series of plans that are expected to include a lot of privatizing, but another blast of presidential “tweets” got far more ink and air time. Trump continued to pursue his longstanding “twitter” feud with the mayor of the besieged city of London, sneering at his “pathetic excuse” of correctly noting that Trump had quoted him out of context, so that took up some space. The president’s lawyers have for the past few months been defending his travel ban in various courts by insisting that it isn’t a travel ban, the same line taken by the White House press secretary and other spokespeople, but Trump also defiantly “tweeted” that it is indeed a travel ban, and blasted that darned Justice Department he runs for saying otherwise, so that was another reason to not talk about privatizing air traffic control.
The week has thus far been eerily free of any bombshell stories about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia, but fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate on Thursday, and the story about Trump’s decision to not block the testimony by claiming executive privilege was another distraction. The networks will be preempting their afternoon soap operas and game shows to televise the Comey hearing, just like they used to do back in the Watergate days, and it’s going to take one heck of an infrastructure proposal to push that off the front pages.
That’s no reason not to talk about privatizing air traffic control, but none of the few stories we found about it included enough information for anyone to draw any conclusions about whether it’s a good idea or not. So far as we can tell they won’t be selling the control towers at your local airport to the highest bidder, but rather shift the power from the Federal Aviation Administration to a private but non-profit group run by a board comprised of airline and aviation and airport executives and the representatives of their employees’ unions, and shift the costs from taxpayers to airline passengers.
We rather like that last part, as we fly as infrequently as possible, but none of the stories make clear how those corporate folks will do a better job of keeping airplanes from flying into one another than the government folks have been doing. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association endorsed a nearly identical bill introduced last year by a Republican congressman, but seven other unions have protested that it won’t keep any more airplanes from running into one another, and of course what little press there’s been about it has been predictably skeptical. In any case, it’s far too dry and complicated to keep anyone from talking about the “tweets.”
It’s impossible to tell from Trump’s vaguely grandiloquent campaign rhetoric what the rest of the promised one trillion dollars or more infrastructures proposals will include, and except for the air traffic idea nothing has been spelled out during “infrastructure week,” but we expect it will include selling some government sectors to the highest bidder and handing out a whole lot of money to other private businesses. That’s not entirely a bad idea, by our old-fashioned Republican reckoning, as competitive enterprises are usually more effective than government bureaucrats that are going to get paid no matter what, but even such an old-fashioned Republican as Abraham Lincoln conceded there are certain chores that only government can do. Each of the trillion or more dollars that Trump has promised to spend will have to be separately considered accordingly, but it’s awfully dry and complicated, and what with all “tweeting” and Russia thing with Trump and Russia that’s going to be tough to cram into a 24-hour news cycle.
By our old-fashioned Republican reckoning infrastructure is best tended to at the state and county and city and neighborhood level, and federal money should be spent to infrastructure needs rather than as a part of some cockamamie planned-economy scheme, and we instinctively worry that a trillion dollars or more of anything is an invitation to graft. Something in our old-fashioned Republican souls doesn’t completely trust this Trump guy, either, and if Yellowstone National Park winds up under the Trump or Kushner brands we’ll be as angry about it as any of our newfangled Democratic friends.
There’s definitely some infrastructure that needs spending on, and at some point the private sector will wind up pouring the cement and laying the pipe and doing all the real work, and we’ll hold out hope that Trump will devise an effective deal that works down to the local level and is also graft-proof and labor-friendly enough to peel away a few Democratic votes, and won’t wind up adding another trillion or more of debt.
Even if he does, though, everyone will probably talking about his latest “tweet.”

— Bud Norman

<

Frozen News

The big story these days is the weather, which is wretchedly cold. Temperatures haven’t yet reached absolute zero, that theoretical point at which all molecular activity is suspended, but they’ve gone low enough to slow down all the other news to a near halt.
There’s still plenty of work for the reporters to do, of course. Aside from the familiar television features where a parka-clad correspondent stands out in the weather and talks about how cold it is, there are interviews to be done with travelers stranded at snowbound airports, speculation to be made about how the big freeze might affect the agriculture and energy sectors, lists of school closings to be compiled for scrolling along the bottom of the screen, and all the other obligatory cold weather tales to be told. Now is an inopportune time for stories about global warming, which will be kept in editors’ “tickler files” until the first inevitable heat wave of next summer, but the Secretary of Health and Human seized the opportunity to encourage Americans to sign up for Obamacare before catching a cold, sportswriters can type with frost-bitten fingers about the brutal conditions at the National Football League playoff games, and there are any number of other cold-weather angles to be wedged into routine reports.
Which is not to say that there’s nothing going on in the world except the cold. Al-Qaeda has recaptured the Iraqi city of Fallujah that American soldiers and Marines once fought bravely to liberate, it is increasingly apparent that Obamacare is clearly not the cure for the common cold, and the newly-inaugurated commie mayor of New York City has begun his campaign to create a socialist utopia by banning Central Park carriage rides and conveniently freeing up the stables for a campaign donor’s new development, among other things. All of it is dispiriting, but it’s hard to get one’s blood appropriately boiling about it when the wind chill is well below zero. Whatever the next debacle the Obama administration is planning, they should unleash it now while the public is preoccupied with this even more dreadful weather.

— Bud Norman

The Unfriendly Skies

This is being written in an affluent suburban community somewhere within the endless of sprawl of the Philadelphia metropolitan area, rather than at our usual humble heartland location, and this radical change of venue was accomplished through the miracle of modern aviation. Air travel is one of our least favorite modern miracles, and we don’t recommend it to anyone, but sometimes it cannot be avoided.
Our aversion to flying is partly a simple old-fashioned phobia – we are strictly terra firma people, and as the old joke goes the firma the ground the less terra we feel – but modernity has also done much to make the experience ever more unpleasant. There are all the annoyances of that have been diligently added by the Transportation Safety Administration, of course, but also a number of indignities resulting from the democratization of airline travel.
At this late date there is no use complaining about the politically correct but logically indefensible policies of the TSA, but the right to do is included in the high cost of a ticket and we will therefore avail ourselves of the opportunity. Just before the security checkpoint we noticed a large display of items that are not allowed on board an airliner, which ranged from a hand grenade to a normal-sized can of shaving cream, and although the prohibition on hand grenades seemed sensible enough we could not fathom what threat our container of Barbasol Beardbuster might pose to our fellow passengers. Nor could we see any reason why we should be required to remove our shoes before being allowed on the plane, as they are ordinary footwear of little destructive force. We recall that several years ago somebody had weaponized a pair of sneakers he wore onto a plane, quite ineffectively as it turned out, but we also recall from the grainy press photos that he was conspicuously deranged-looking and of one of the more terrorism-inclined ethnicities, so we see no reason that TSA agents shouldn’t be allowed some discretion in deciding whose sneakers warrant further investigation.
The passenger arbitrarily singled out for more intensive scrutiny was a petite 50-something woman who looked to be of Native American ancestry, so she could hardly be accused of being a damn foreigner, and there was nothing about her demeanor that aroused our suspicions. She endured the groping and fondling and untoward wand-wavings of the TSA agents with the same resigned stoicism that her fellow passengers displayed when partly disrobing at the checkpoint, and although this is the pragmatic response to such nonsense we hope that the traveling public will eventually grow more restive. Not on our flight, of course, as that would cause insufferable delays, but at some point when we are happily ensconced at home.
Those TSA agents have become more efficient in harassing the people they are charged to protect, at least, and in short course we were on board the plane and heading towards Denver. Even the most casual students of American geography will immediately note that the quickest route from Wichita, Kansas, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, does not go through Denver, Colorado, but such detours are the burden of flyers from mid-sized cities with few direct flights to anywhere. The itinerary required a long hike through the immense Denver airport to another boarding gate some 50 or 60 miles away, or so it seemed, and took us through what looked to be an upscale shopping mall teeming with downscale customers. Our idealized notions of airline travel were formed back when George Jones and Tammy Wynette were proudly singing “We’re Not the Jet Set” as proof of their proletarian bona fides, but these days the jet set apparently includes even George’s and Tammy’s most beer-bellied and under-dressed fans. Everyone was talking on cell phones and hauling the latest in wheeled luggage, with that very self-important look that people have when engaging in such formerly elite behaviors, but clearly the glamour has gone from air travel. The inside of our plane to Philadelphia could have easily been mistaken for a Greyhound bus to Tucumcari, New Mexico, during the Dust Bowl, and we think we might have even spotted a carry-on goat or two, so it should not be surprising that airplane have largely disappeared from popular song ever since Merle Haggard sang “Silver Wings” all those years ago.
Having taken the precaution of staying up very late prior to our early morning departure from Wichita, which was made all the earlier by the irrational demands of the TSA, we managed to snooze through most of the flying. After an even longer hike through the even larger Philadelphia airport we were greeted by our Okie parents who have somehow turned into big-city Pennsylvanians. We have since commenced a week of family reunion and thanksgiving, and expect it will be well worth the trouble. It might even yield a few interesting posts on this strange and vexing part of the world, but if not we’ll try to think of something else to say.

— Bud Norman