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What Goes Unbuilt to Build a Wall

As every civic-minded American newsreader already knows by now, President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency to re-appropriate a few billion dollars from the defense budget to build a big beautiful wall along America’s southern border. By now you should also know that majorities in both chambers of Congress voted to block the action, but Trump vetoed it, and it seems unlikely that a super-majority in the Senate will be able to override it, and despite some court challenges Trump seems likely to eventually get some wall money.
We commend you for having followed it that closely, but if you’re as obsessively civic-minded a newsreader as we are you might want to know from where those few billions of dollars will likely be re-appropriated.
A couple of intrepid reporters at The Washington Post were curious enough to look into it, and although we’re supposed dismiss their findings as “fake news” from “enemies of the people” their conclusions sound plausible enough to us, and better sourced than what Trump usually has to say about what some people are saying. Much of the report is based on a list that the Defense Department reluctantly released under pressure from Congress that identifies $12.9 billion of military construction projects that been funded but not yet contracted, which according to the convoluted theories of the vaguely written law that Trump is invoking are fair game for presidential re-appropriation. The Pentagon has ruled out defunding the projects they expect to finalize contracts for within the year, which leaves only $4.35 billion available, and Trump has announced he expects to spend $3.6 billion of it on his wall, an a civic-minded newsreader can make an educated guess about which projects are most vulnerable.
There are 10 projects with a combined cost of $403 million slated for Puerto Rico, which has no electoral votes and has long seemed of little concern to Trump, so they seem likely to be slashed. The projects include a school for military children on former Air Force base and improved training for the Puerto Rican National Guard, which previous Defense Departments and congresses had considered important to the national security, but Trump will easily able to explain to the die-hard fans that $403 million worth of wall along a few miles of the southern border is more important than anything that might happen in Puerto Rico.
There’s another $745 million to be had from the European Deterrence Initiative, which includes 23 projects spread throughout Europe and was launched by President Barack Obama back in 2014 after Russia’s assaults on the sovereignty of Ukraine and Crimea, that’s surely a tempting slice of the budget to Trump. He can still tell the die-hard fans that no president has ever been tougher on Russia, and that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is a nice guy who’d never do anything to hinder American democracy, anything Obama did had to be wrong, and all those supposedly allied countries where the money was being spent are all taking advantage of us and laughing behind our backs. What’s more, none of those countries have any electoral college votes.
Another $258 is slated to be spent in Guam, which is mostly a strategically crucial military base but has no electoral votes, and the rest is spread out over eight states. The Washington Post generously provides a graph showing how much spending had been slated for each state, and without bothering to dig into what the projects are we assume the cuts will be made according to how many votes each state is expected to deliver in the next electoral college. That’s bad news for Washington and Maryland, good news for Texas, and probably the best news of all for states the Republicans hope they can possibly flip and suddenly have to worry they might lose. The math might require that some Republican district or another will take a hit, but Trump can still count on its Representative’s support.
Which is no way to appropriate money for the national defense, of course, but we suppose it’s always been so. The smart defense contractors always spread their work around the country just enough to sway congressional and electoral college majorities, the smart politicians always defend their home turf’s share, and we notice that a significant portion of Obama’s spending went to such reliably Democratic states as Washington and Maryland, even if we also notice that Boeing is still big in Washington and has always gotten its share based on merit. Even so, the politics of this particular moment seem especially peculiar.
For one thing, we’re not at all persuaded that a big beautiful wall along the entire southern border is a pressing national security need, much less the stuff of a state of national emergency. Our assessment of the worldwide threats to national security finds far more pressing needs, and the very official-souning “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the National Intelligence Community” seems to agree with us. According to all the polls everybody but the die-hard Trump fans are similarly unimpressed, and so are majorities of the people’s representatives in both chambers of Congress also disagree, even if they can’t muster a super-majority in the Senate to override a veto.
For another thing, the few measly billions of dollars that Trump intends re-appropriate will only pay for a relatively few miles of it, and much of that will be tied in legal fees fighting the landowners who have been happily living along an unwalled border objecting to the government’s eminent domain seizure of their private property. An affinity for private property and an aversion to government seizures used to be a defining characteristic of American conversation, which is yet another thing we don’t like about the politics of the moment.
Conservatives also used to believe in the Constitution, which gives the legislative branch the power to appropriate funds and doesn’t mention the executive branch doing any re-appropriating, and that’s even one more thing we don’t like about the politics of moment.

— Bud Norman

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Kansas, Kobach, Voter Fraud, and That Darned Popular Vote

There was a bewildering amount of news out there for an extended Fourth of July weekend, what with the Republicans’ health care reform efforts stalling and all the “tweeting” about other things about by the president, but it was the story about the newly created voter fraud commission that caught our eye. The issue of voter fraud has long been of general interest to us, now has some specific political implications right here in Kansas, and we’re not sure what to make of it.
So far as we can tell the voter fraud commission has been newly created because President Donald Trump believes some three million illegally-cast votes denied him his rightful popular vote victory in the past election, and he wants an official body to back up the “tweeted” claim. We’re not at all sure that anyone will ever prove that to everybody’s satisfaction, and note that a system so well-rigged it can manufacture three million votes wasn’t able to spread a mere hundred thou or so of them over the three states where they could have tilted the Electoral College outcome, but that’s no reason not to have a commission making sure that the voting in our democratic republic isn’t entirely on the square.
Some of our Democratic friends insist that although people might rob and rape and murder but no one has ever stooped so low as to commit voter fraud, but we’re not so sanguine about it. Historians have definitively documented several cases of past stolen American elections, including the one that elevated future President Lyndon Johnson to the Senate, in more recent years there were some reasonable suspicions about the razor-thin counts in a gubernatorial race in Washington and a Senate race in Minnesota, and except for that Florida re-count in the ’00 presidential race all the ties have gone to the Democrat. There really are an awful lot of non-citizens in the country, too, and we can’t vouch for each of them, but reasonably assume the minority of that might try to vote will vote for the Democrat, so we can’t blame the Republicans for wanting to restrict voting to eligible voters.
Three million ineptly dispersed votes are awfully hard to account for, though, and the Republicans are facing other political problems. The Democrats are protesting that in a zeal to limit voting to eligible voters the Republicans will wind up disenfranchising many eligible voters, most of them poor and minority people inclined to vote for Democrats, and thus far the courts have found that’s exactly what wound up in happening in North Carolina when the state’s Republicans passed its voter integrity law, and of course much of the media and the public are also sympathetic to the argument. The commission is run by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the latter being the the country’s most notorious Republican hard-liner on voter fraud, so we can’t blame the Democrats for suspecting that the commission is seeking federal laws along the same lines as North Carolina’s.
Several Democratic secretaries of state have defiantly refused to provide all of the information requested by the commission, and the president and several conservative news sources have plausibly inferred it’s because they have something to hide, but the Republicans also have a problem with several Republican secretaries of state who have been similarly defiant for very Republican reasons. Mississippi is hardly a fever swamp of Democratic liberalism, but its Secretary of State responded with a letter citing state’s rights and individual privacy and other concerns before advising the commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” Alabama, home of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also declined to cooperate with many of the requests for similarly southern reasons. Arizona, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Texas were also defying at least some parts of the federal order. Even Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was forced to confess to The Kansas City Star that the state’s very Republican privacy laws prohibited him from fully complying with own demands.
Up until Trump decided he’d been robbed of his rightful popular victory, Republicans generally believed that elections were a business handled at the state and county and precinct level, where things have lately been going pretty well for Republicans. This still seems reasonable to our Republican sensibilities, the last presidential popular vote notwithstanding, and we’re heartened to see that so much of the party establishment is also opposed to federalizing elections. We’re steadfastly for restricting voting to eligible voters, steadfastly opposed to disenfranchising even those eligible voters who might be inclined to vote for Democrats, and at this point don’t really care much about Trump’s pride.
We voted for Kobach both times he ran for secretary of our state, and we don’t regret it. The photo identification laws for voting and other election reforms he helped enact seemed commonsensical and proved not at all inconvenient, and despite the best efforts of the state’s Democrats they haven’t come up with anyone for the state’s media to interview who’s been disenfranchised as a result. Every time we vote we run into Democratic and Republican poll watchers we trust, and the local election officials are up for re-election every few years, and although we can’t vouch for California or certain parts of Philadelphia we have confidence in the system around here. Kobach’s critics like to note that in nearly eight years in office he’s only found nine convicted cases of voter fraud, which is nowhere near enough to affect even the closest races in this reliably Republican state, and even on a per capita basis can’t negate that three million vote loss in the last presidential popular vote, but we figure that demonstrates that his Jean Valjean-like zeal is working pretty well.
We’re not sure we want to impose that on Mississippi or even California, though, and we’re not sure if we’ll be voting for Kobach when he runs for governor next year. He’s still a steadfast proponent of current Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-and-budget cutting stands, which worked in theory but left the state with annual budget shortfalls in practice and were recently repealed when a coalition of Democrats and recently-ascendant moderate Republicans overrode his veto, and at this point we can see him losing to a moderate Democrat even in this reliably Republican state. We still like that economic theory of Brownback’s and expect it would work well in practice at some more fortuitous future date, but for now we’ll be happy to balance the books and avoid all the political acrimony our state has lately endured.
There’s also something unsettling about how Kobach seems intent on proving Trump’s unlikely claims about the popular vote, Republican principles about federalism and privacy and every citizen’s right to vote notwithstanding, and the party’s seeming unconcern with Russia’s obvious meddling, and we’re not sure how that will play with the rest of the state. Trump won the state by the usual Republican margins, and he has his defenders here, but those old-fashioned budget-balancing establishments types who prefer to avoid all the acrimony lately seem ascendant, and we’ll give them a good look before casting our votes in the gubernatorial primary.

— Bud Norman

Handicapping the Hypothetical

There’s always a lull in the news between Christmas and New Year’s Day, even in such a crazy election year as this, so the papers have fill to space with what might have been. President Barack Obama helped out on Monday by confidently speculating, in a widely quoted interview, that he would have won a third term if he’d run for re-re-election. The 22nd amendment to the Constitution prevented it, so he didn’t, but it nonetheless makes for interesting speculation on a slow news day. Donald Trump, who did wind up winning the race, of course helped out further by responding with one of his typically eloquent “Tweets”: “President Obama says that he thinks he would have won against me. He should say that but I say NO WAY! — jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”
Although we’re loathe to say any such thing about either of these loathsome men, we think that both can make a plausible case for their boasts.
Obama’s approval ratings are inexplicably high at the moment, despite his party’s loss, and far higher than Trump’s, despite the honeymoon bump a president-elect always gets in the fresh aftermath of a victory. Many of the economic numbers are also better than last time around when Obama beat a Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, and the awfulness of his foreign policy was just as apparent back then. Trump did wind up losing the popular vote by a whopping 2.8 million to a charmless old white woman with 30 years of scandals the press could not ignore, so it’s not hard to believe that Obama could have used his teflon-coated charm and undeniable political savvy to muster just enough young folks and black people in those three rust-belt states he won twice but where Trump’s razor-thin pluralities swung the electoral vote.
On the other hand, we suspect that Obama’s approval ratings can be explained by the fact that he’s mostly been out of the news lately, what with Trump’s illiterate “tweets” and other embarrassing antics taking up all the space. Given all the vastly more qualified candidates he thrashed on his way to that electoral victory, it seems quite plausible Trump could have dragged Obama down to the same unfavorable muck. Trump and all the rest of the Republican party ran on various platforms that were mostly defined by their opposition to the past eight years of Obama, and most of them did pretty well with it, so we can see how even Obama himself might have faced difficulties. At this point it’s hard to put much in the faith in the polls, too, and some of those seemingly rosy economic numbers are also fishy to a whole lot of people.
So there’s no telling how that hypothetical Obama versus Trump cage match might have turned out, and whose head would have been shaved at the end, but as long as we’re speculating about what might have been we will wistfully wonder how it might have been decided on the merits.
The headline employment rate is in undeniably better shape than when Obama took office just as one of the worst recessions ever was beginning a recovery, but the rebound has been historically weak and the less-mentioned U-6 rate of unemployment that includes the under-employed and part-timers and those who have given up on finding work still hasn’t fully recovered. Obama’s massive “stimulus package” of budget-busting infrastructure spending and other market interventions clearly didn’t do any good, but the combination of Trump’s promised tax cuts and even bigger infrastructure spending and meddlesome decisions about the hiring policies at Indiana furnace factories don’t appear any more promising over the long run. The stock market is still sky-high, but that has more to do with the Federal Reserve Board than either Obama or Trump, and we’ll have to wait to see how that might turn out. That Obamacare law is so horrible it should have run its eponym out office eight years when he was running against that Republican who didn’t go out of his way to offend women and minorities, but Trump said too many things about universal coverage and pre-existing conditions and how great things are in Scotland to make us confident things will get better.
The Islamic State turned out to be far worse than the jayvee team that Obama thought it was, and his ridicule of his final Republican opponent’s warnings about Russia looks ridiculous to the Ukrainians and every other country threatened by the rapidly re-organizing Soviet Union, and his deal with Iran seems destined to provide that apocalyptic suicide cult with a nuclear bomb. On the other hand Trump is promising to join forces with Russia to defeat the Islamic State while re-negotiating with the Russian’s good friends in Iran, meanwhile “tweeting” up a renewed arms race with the Russians, and he’s also “tweeted” his disdain for whatever the Central Intelligence Agency or the United Nations or Boeing or Lockheed have to say about it, so there’s no telling how that will end up.
In any case the Obama years are about to come to a decisive end, which will surely bring some good, and the Trump years are about to commence, which might not be all bad, and the both of them are apparently the boastful and thin-skinned sorts we would never trust with such a high office. Once you start to speculating the possibilities are infinite, but in all of them we find ourselves for voting that same quixotic third-party write-in candidate who never had a chance.

— Bud Norman

Recounting All the Craziness

Sometimes it seems this crazy election year will never come to an end. The weather around here has turned from a glorious indian summer to a windy chill since Election Day, but that awful presidential race is still being disputed and both sides are claiming its all rigged.
None of it is likely to change the apparent Election Day outcome that Republican nominee Donald Trump is the president-elect, and will be duly designated as such after the Electoral College meets next month, but in such as a crazy election year when something like that happens almost anything is still at least slightly possible. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s apparent Election Day lead in the popular vote has grown to nearly two percent as all the votes have been counted, Trump is “tweeting” that the popular vote was tarnished by millions of illegal ballots cast against him, three states where Trump won by 1 percent or less to give him is Electoral College majority are now being recounted due to a challenge by a third party candidate, with Clinton joining in on one of them, and as always there’s still a long shot the Electoral College will wind up doing something crazy like choosing someone less widely reviled than any of the aforementioned contenders.
Probably not, even in this crazy election year, but we’re bemused by the spectacle nonetheless. The third party nominee shelling out for the recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is the Green Party’s Jill Stein, whose 2 or 3 percent of the votes in each of those state could have swung them all to Clinton, and we can’t imagine why she’d shell out a few million dollars of Green Party funds to highlight that embarrassing fact. Green Party nominee Ralph Nader’s 1 percent in the Florida presidential race of ’00 would have overwhelmed George W. Bush’s infinitesimal 500-or-so vote victory that won him the Electoral College despite a popular vote loss in that crazy election year, which wound up causing quite a fuss, but at least even Nader had the good sense not to be party to the ensuing lawsuits.
The differences in the contested states this time around are in the thousands rather hundreds, and there aren’t any hanging chads this time around, or at least none that have been reported yet, but we expect the next few days of melodrama will still provide plenty of fodder for any conspiracy theorists who want to theorize that Trump somehow stole the election. The races in the contested states are very close, if not quite 500-votes-and-a-few-hanging-chads close, and with voting being a government-run business there will always be a certain of margin of error. There will be renewed debates about voter suppression and voter fraud, as well, and yet more argument about the hard-to-deny fact that Clinton won the popular vote.
Trump denies that she did win the popular vote, of course, and has taken to “tweeting” that it only seems so because of millions of ballots cast by illegal immigrants, the deceased, and other ineligible voters. His source seems to be Alex Jones’ “Infowars,” which is also the source for all those stories about the Twin Towers terror attack being an inside job and Barack Obama being born in Kenya and reptilian shape-shifters running the Illuminati’s secret world government, and plenty of Republican election officials around the country share our skepticism of the claim. We’re strong advocates for photo identification requirements and periodic reviews of the registrations, as well as other common sense protections against voter fraud, and we’re not ones to put anything past the Democrats, but we find it easier to believe that Clinton really did win the popular vote than that such an inept candidate somehow managed to slip an extra couple million votes into the boxes.
No matter how it all turns out, even in the craziest popular scenarios, we’re sure that much of the country will remain convinced it was all somehow rigged. They’ll have ample reason for it, too, and even that shape-shifting reptilian Illuminati theory will seem slightly plausible. Which is for the best, probably, because at the end of such a crazy election year as this we have to start considering all the possibilities.

— Bud Norman

An Balance of Power and an Imbalance of Everything Else

For some reason or another a few of the votes cast in this crazy presidential election year are still being counted, but by now it seems certain that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will win the popular vote by a comfortable margin. This doesn’t change the more salient fact that Republican nominee Donald Trump won by a similarly comfortable margin in the electoral vote and is thus the president-elect, nor should it, but the final tally of votes cast across the country is still a fact worth pondering.
This crazy election year has resulted in a slight Republican majority in the Senate and a more sizable majority in the House of Representatives, a recent Republican of unproven Republicanism in the White House, a good shot at a Republican majority in the Supreme Court for another generation, and a number of Republican governors and state legislatures and county commissions and small town councils and school boards not seen since the days of Calvin Coolidge. At such a moment of seeming political triumphalism as this, unseen since the eight short years ago when Democratic nominee Barack Obama became president with a more impressive electoral majority and the Democrats had a bigger edge in the House and a filibuster-proof advantage in the Senate and another generation of the Supreme Court suddenly within reach, something in our instinctively gloomy conservative soul is struck by the unavoidable truth that the GOP has now lost six of the past seven presidential popular votes.
Take a look at an electoral map of any of the past several presidential election years, not just this crazy one, and you’ll immediately notice that the Republican red portions take up far more space than the Democratic blue portions. That long swath of blue running down the west coast and the blue patch in the southwest and those usual blue suspects in the northeast have as many people packed into them as that vast red splotch, however, and although they’re now narrowly missing a couple of those rust-belt states along the Great Lakes it would be foolish to assume the Democrats and their popular vote plurality are a vanquished foe. The recent Republican of questionable Republicanism who is now the president-elect has often seemed eager to please that portion of the popularity market, and some of the more longstanding Republicans who won more votes in their states are already set to clash with their newly-fledged party leaders on a variety of issues, and there’s no telling what strange bed-fellowships might spare us from or lead us into the worst of it. It’s bound to be contentious, and as the president-elect might say, that we can tell you, believe us, OK?
We’ll hold out faint hope that the same crazy constitutional system that somehow resulted in this crazy election year will once again withstand such craziness. Surely the founding fathers didn’t intend the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, any more than they would have desired the election of Hillary Clinton to that office, but from our perspective in the middle of the country we think they were wise to devise a system that prevented those small but densely populated blue dots from imposing their will on those vast yet sparsely populated red splotches, and made it hard for either one to ultimately vanquish the other. California and New York can do any constitutional yet crazy thing they want to so long as we hayseed Kansans and our mere six electoral votes are free to pursue whatever craziness we might choose, as far as we’re concerned, and we still think that’s the best arrangement for 50 very different states striving to form a more perfect union. Our liberal friends here in Kansas won’t like it, and we’ve got a rock-ribbedly Republican brother stuck in California who’s just as disgruntled, and there’s no guarantee that anyone will like how those matters of unavoidably national interest are settled, but it might just turn out to be at least tolerable to everyone.

— Bud Norman

As Time Slowly Stretches Into Election Day

The craziest election year of our long recollection got even crazier over the weekend, as Friday’s announcement by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that their interest in Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s scandal-plagued e-mail is once again piqued by some newly-discovered evidence spilled over into the ensuing two days of otherwise slow news cycle.
All the polls were already showing that Clinton’s once formidable lead had tightened enough to clearly worry the more partisan Democratic press, so the FBI’s announcement set off something of a panic among the more polite publications. The news was impossible to ignore, or even keep off the very front page, and quite difficult to spin. There was no avoiding the words “e-mail” or “FBI investigation” in the early paragraphs, and of course the words “Anthony Weiner” were also bound to come up at some point in the story, and by now anyone who’s been following the improbable plot twists of this crazy election years knows that all of that amounts to bad news for the Democrats that can only remind voters of all the rest of the past 30 years of bad news. The Democratic nominee and her more stalwart defenders in the press could raise legitimate questions about the vagueness of that FBI director’s announcement, and why it comes at such a crucial point in such a crazy election year, but none of those questions would have ever come up if Clinton had only followed the sensible laws regarding a Secretary of State’s e-mail communications, and there’s no getting around the questions of judgment that raises, nor avoiding the questions of character that might explain her motives, so even those stalwart defenders of the Democratic nominee among the more polite press sounded slightly panicked.
As recently as the day before last Friday in this crazy election year they all seemed pretty cocky, with the previous news cycles being mostly about Republican nominee Donald Trump and all his accumulated scandals and hard-to-spin awfulness, and all the polls showing that aforementioned comfortable lead for Clinton. The words “grab ’em by the p***y” are also hard to keep out out of the news when uttered by a major party nominee, and the more impolite pro-Trump sort of press had their work cut out for them in trying to defend his attacks on the inevitable numerous women who came forward to say that he’d done pretty much what he bragged about, and when you throw in the rest of his attacks on prisoners of war and Gold Star families and his evictions of widows and three marriages and the four casino-and-strip-club bankruptcies and frequent heresies from both Christianity and Republicanism and geo-political and economic common sense along with the hard-to-miss buffoonery and boorishness and ignorance and almost daily weirdness that had made him the most unfavorably-regarded major nominee ever, so it was hard to dispute the left’s cockiness of just the day before last Friday.
But that was a long time ago, as we measure time in such a crazy election year as this, before the latest reminder that Democrat is arguably criminal and undeniably corrupt, and with eight seemingly eternal days left before the last votes are counted we remain as uncertain as ever as to how this will all turn out. Clinton still looks fairly safe on that stubbornly resistant-to-the-latest-nws electoral map, Trump clearly has the come-from-behind national momentum to provoke all that panic in the press, both candidates still have the most unfavorable ratings in the history of American political polling, and with eight excruciatingly long days left in this crazy election year there’s something bound to come out that would make such average voters as ourselves loathe them both even more. Clinton and her defenders might yet spin this into a favorable story, the same FBI director who until last Friday had been regaled by Trump’s defenders as a conspirator in a rigged system might prove it with yet another improbable plot twist, and the possibility of Trump providing yet another unfavorable news cycle does not seem at all remote.
At this point we’ll just wait and see which of these two awful people the rest of the country considers the less awful, and in any case we’ll wonder what the hell about this crazy election year in rueful retrospect.

— Bud Norman