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Two Big Disasters in Puerto Rico

President Donald Trump’s most strident critics seemed almost disappointed when two historic hurricanes battered Texas and Florida but things went about as well a one can expect. They well remembered how President George W. Bush, who they had also stridently criticized, had taken such a hit in polls numbers for all the things that went wrong after a hurricane battered New Orleans, but this time around Trump actually got a small bump up after the storms. Yet another hurricane has since battered Puerto Rico, though, and his critics are eagerly finding fault.
The hurricane brought winds that demolished thousands of buildings and rains that flooded most of the ones still standing with several feet of water, and it left the entire island and all of its three and half million inhabitants without electricity. Some of the hospitals and emergency personnel had generators and enough fuel to keep them functioning, but others didn’t, and an estimated 30 people died and hundreds of serious injuries were suffered and many thousands were left homeless and pretty much everyone was in need of food and potable water. Even the best of efforts wouldn’t be sufficient to the challenge, but there are arguments that this time around the efforts haven’t been the best.
The federal government began shipping supplies and rescue workers to the island just behind the storm, and Trump has boasted of the praise he’s received from the Puerto Rican governor, but the mayor of San Juan has tearfully complained it was insufficient and all the cable news networks have somehow found power to broadcast proof of the claim. Some of the deeper-digging stories tell of delays in getting much needed shipments to the island due to regulations that could be temporarily waived by executive order, such as the little-known Jones Act that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from carrying goods between United States ports, and given Trump’s enthusiasm for de-regulating anything he can that seems an oversight. According to news reports Trump is mulling signing those orders, and the military’s top hospital ship and lot more help is currently heading Puerto Rico’s way, and Trump is promising a visit to the island, but Trump’s critics will be able to note that came after a lot of bipartisan criticism and a Hillary Clinton “tweet” about sending the U.S.S. Comfort.
It didn’t help that Trump was “tweeting” five times as many “tweets” about National Football League players and the national anthem than he did about Puerto Rico, and that on one of those occasions he griped about Puerto Rico’s “broken infrastructure & massive debt,” and in another also made mention of the territorial government’s debt “to Wall Street banks which, sadly, must be dealt with,” and although he added that “Food, water and medical are top priorities — and doing well,” that did not play well in Puerto Rico. Trump bragged to the television cameras about the great reviews he was getting from the governor and other unnamed Puerto Ricans, but it only reminded the critics of Bush infamously saying “heckuva job, Brownie” to his soon-to-be-fired Federal Emergency Management Agency director.
This all came in the middle of yet another racial imbroglio that Trump has started up with the NFL and the National Basketball Association, too, so his critics are of course indignantly noting that the swarthy and Spanish-speaking population of Puerto Rico isn’t getting the same treatment as the slightly whiter and more English-speaking people of Florida and Texas. Many of the staunchest Trump supporters we know think of Puerto Ricans as the Sharks in “West Side Story,” and regard them as illegal immigrants with some convoluted legal loophole to be here, and Puerto Rico has no votes in the electoral college, so we have to admit there might be something to it.
Trump is quite right that Puerto Rico irresponsibly ran up an unsustainable debt, and did so without updating an electrical grid that would have been vulnerable to a much milder storm, and is generally almost as badly run as New Orleans and a hundred miles at sea to boot, but this hardly seems the right time to be making those arguments. The federal government has recently passed $20 trillion in debt on Trump’s watch, after all, and both Trump and his cabinet have also been profligate with the taxpayer’s dollar. Puerto Rico was enticed to borrow all that money when dollars started flowing in after the federal government briefly made it a sort of tax haven, was forced to close hospitals and schools and forestall infrastructure projects forbade it to declare bankruptcy on all that debt to Wall Street, and right now Trump shouldn’t be raising questions about he expects them to deal with it.
The good news is that massive shipments of aid and aid workers are on the way, federal dollars to get that power back on earlier than the expected six-month wait are being negotiated, that famous hospital ship is also on the way, and Trump seems to at last realize that he’s responding to an historic public relations disaster.

— Bud Norman

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The Days Grow Short When You Reach September

Labor Day went well around here, with the Wichita Wingnuts heading into the double-A American Association playoffs with a 4-1 regular season finale win over the Salina Stockade that featured several defensive gems, a hospitable old hippie friend of ours charbroiling copious amounts of bratwurst and burgers and other red Kansas meat while handing out Pabsts and blaring old Doors records on the sound system, and the weather was nice and hot. Still, there was no shaking that melancholy feeling the holiday always brings.
Although the autumnal equinox is still a couple of weeks away and the warm weather is likely to linger past that, today nonetheless marks the end of the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. School is back in session, Congress is ending its recess, and by longstanding social agreement everybody else also gets down to serious business. The rigorously timed violence of football has already started to supplant the more leisurely paced and gentlemanly sport of baseball, the white shoes and straw hats are replaced by more somber apparel, school buses are once again slowing traffic, and conferences are being convened all over to assess the various messes the summer has left us in, and what might become of it in the fall.
The reconvened Congress finds itself with plenty of work to do. Summer’s end brought a thousand-year-flood that left America’s fourth-most-populous city under several feet of water, so they’ll have to find some way to pitch in on the calamitous cost of that, which wouldn’t be easy in the best of circumstances. In these circumstances they also face hard and fast end-of-the-month deadlines to pass a continuing spending resolution to keep the government fully open and a debt-ceiling increase to pay for it, which is always hard enough even without a thousand-year natural disaster to help pay for, and that’s not to mention the nutcase North Korean dictatorship that’s been making increasingly plausible threats to start a nuclear war that would make that thousand-year-flood look like a minor inconvenience.
There’s also the complicating factor of Trump, and everything he’s been up to over the summer. The Republican-controlled Congress was never technically in recess, for fear that Trump would make some crazy recess appointment to inoculate himself from the ongoing congressional probes into “Russia,” and nothing that has transpired during their unofficial vacation has likely been reassuring to them. Trump threatened to force a government shutdown unless all the spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and whatnot included funding for his campaign promise of a border wall, which is a cause few other Republicans and absolutely no Democrats are willing to fight for, but that was before the thousand-year flood happened so there’s some hope Trump once again won’t make good on his threats. He’s also ramping up the anti-immigration rhetoric on other fronts, and although there are plausible arguments for some of them this probably isn’t the best month to be making them.
Throw in the nutcase North Korean dictatorship threatening a nuclear war and Trump’s intemperate responses, the leaks about “Russia” that are reaching thousand-year-flood levels, and the more open animosity between the Republicans in Congress and the relatively newly-fledged Republican in the White House, along with the ongoing fact that the Democrats are as always a complete disaster, and it looks to be an anxious September. The political consequences of not offering needed help to the flooded fourth-most populous city of the country or allowing the government to shut down its assistance would be dire, though, and the federal default that would shortly follow a failure to pass another damned debt-ceiling increase would be comparable to a nuclear war, so we’ll hold out hope that all the self-interested parties involved will reach some mutually beneficial agreement just ahead of the hard-and-fast deadlines.
In the meantime we have own bills our to pay, as we’re sure you do, and we’ll trust that most of the rest of us will somehow get down to such necessary business. There’s still some baseball left to provide solace, and not long after that ends basketball season starts up, with the Wichita State University Wheatshockers looking like a championship contender, and there will always be another summer, perhaps one more lazy yet not quite so hazy or crazy as the past one, and hope springs eternal.

— Bud Norman

The Other Steadily Dripping Flood

The historic and ongoing natural disaster in Texas and Louisiana has flooded almost everything else out of the news, except for a few stray reports about the nutcase regime in North Korea escalating nuclear tensions, so you might not have noticed that the steady drip, drip, drip of leaks about “Russia” is also approaching flood levels.
The past week has provided at least three new plot twists in the ongoing unnatural disaster, none of which are helpful to President Donald Trump. None are the evidence of impeachable offenses that his most strident critics have been hoping, but they all require some creative explaining from his staunchest admirers.
The Washington Post reported that the congressional investigating committees will soon have documentary evidence that in October of 2015 Trump signed a letter of intent for an ambitious skyscraper project in Moscow, which isn’t necessarily illegal but doesn’t look good. Trump was four months into his presidential campaign at the time, running on a strikingly Russia-friendly foreign policy platform and offering unusual praise for the country’s dictator and predicting on “Face the Nation” that “I think I would probably get along with him very well,” while indignantly denying any suspicion that it might be for self-interested reasons. At the time he categorically denied any business dealings with any sorts of Russians, seemed quite offended that anyone would suspect otherwise, so the skyscraper project he was pursuing with the apparent help of a Russian-mob connected associate who kept dropping the Russian dictator’s name in the ensuing e-mail chain might not be illegal but doesn’t look good.
If we know about that letter of intent it’s a safe bet that so does famously dogged special-counsel-into-the-matter Robert Mueller, who apparently already had enough reason to suspect other fishy deals between Russians and people near to Trump to obtain all sorts of extraordinary subpoenas and search warrants, and it’s another interesting plot twist that Politico reports Mueller has lately been working on the case with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The more attentive fans of the long-running Trump reality show might recall Schneiderman as one of the attorneys general who brought a civil case against Trump University, which ended with Trump paying a $25 million settlement but not having to acknowledge the undeniable fact it was pretty much a scam all along, and how Trump had frequently “tweeted” about what a “lightweight” Schneiderman is, so his reintroduction into the plot does not bode well.
There’s widespread press speculation that Mueller brought Schneiderman aboard because a few people who held high levels in the Trump campaign that he clearly regards as criminal suspects can’t get a presidential pardon on state charges, a concern heightened by Trump’s controversial pardon of an Arizona sheriff for seemingly political reasons last week, and that seems reasonable to us. Anyone Trump did preemptively pardon would forfeit a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, though, and Mueller seems to think he has even higher-level fish to fry this in this investigation, so it also seems reasonable that Schneiderman’s longstanding scrutiny of Trump’s New York-based and still wholly-owned business empire has come up with some hard-to-explain evidence of its own.
One of the people near to Trump that Manafort clearly considers a potential criminal suspect is the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has plenty of Russian connections from his lobbying-for-dictators business that he doesn’t even deny, and Mueller has enough reason to suspect Manafort of something or another that he persuaded a federal judge to grant an extraordinary pre-dawn search warrant on Manafort’s home, so of course Manafort was also back in the news. The National Broadcasting Company reported that the notes he took on his smart phone during a meeting he took with the president’s son and son-in-law and a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer and a couple of other fishy Russians, which are now in the hands of those pesky congressional investigations and presumably Mueller, and that they mention the word “donor.” Trump’s most staunch defenders described the meeting as meaningless, and pointed to everyone’s account that Manafort was staring at his smart phone the whole time as proof, but they’d also previously insisted that no one near Trump ever had any sort of meeting with anyone remotely Russian.
It might nor might not have anything to do with all this, but Bloomberg News also reported that Trump’s son-in-law and highest-level advisor Jared Kushner and his family’s still wholly-owned New York-based real estate empire is desperately seeking foreign financial aid to stave off bankruptcy. That happens to the best of families and isn’t illegal, we suppose, but neither does it look good.
Sooner or later the sun will shine down on the good people of Texas and Louisiana, and the hard work of recovery will commence, and we’re hopeful that politics won’t prevent the federal government from doing its part. All the drip, drip, drip from the Korean peninsula to the ongoing investigations in Washington and New York will sooner or later bob up above all the water on the front page, though, and don’t say you weren’t warned.

— Bud Norman

Taxes and Texas and Other Disasters

The news was largely swept away by the flood waters that continue to wreak havoc on Texas and Louisiana, but the Republican party has officially commenced the tax reform part of its legislative agenda to make America great again. President Donald Trump kicked it off with a little-heard speech in Missouri, and it’s probably for the best that such an inauspicious start was largely swept away the flood waters.
We’re the old-fashioned conservative Republican types who like our taxes low and government lean, and we’ve shared to a certain wary extent in the stock market’s giddy expectation that Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and a more-or-less Republican president might nudge the economy in that direction, but for now we’re warier than ever. The speech sounded all the same populist soak-the-rich themes that Trump expounded during his burn-down-the-establishment campaign, yet seemed to promise all the usual old-fashioned conservative promises about tax cuts for the rich along with everyone else, but didn’t explain with any specificity about how they’re going to pull that off, much less while keeping all those newfangled and old-fashioned campaign promises about reducing the budget deficit and eventually even the national debt.
We doubt that any of those darned newfangled Democratic liberals with their tax-and-spend ways were swayed, even that long-established Democratic Senator from Missouri that Trump threatened by name during a strikingly partisan oration, and we are not assured that even the needed entirety of those of Congressional Republicans will be on board. It largely depends on the details that have not yet been revealed, of course, but whatever they might prove to be they’re bound to offend either the populist of or traditional wings of the Republican party, and in any case won’t please of those darned tax-and-spend Democrats.
Even in a best-case scenario a massive tax cut to whoever without similar cuts in the entitlement programs that are driving the annual deficits and mounting national debt would lead a a temporary budget shortfall, especially with all the increased defense spending that every corner of the Republican party is proposing, and the debate is lately even more complicated than that. The short term budget shortfalls the as-yet unspecified Republican proposals presumably propose assume they’d be offset by the savings they’d realized from repealing and replacing the hated Obamacare law, which somehow didn’t happen despite Republican majorities in Congress and a more-or-less Republican president, and the cost is likely to swell after the fourth-most-populous metropolitan area in the United States finds itself under even more literal water than the president’s approval ratings.
The cost of gasoline is already up by about 25 percent around here after the city that provides a fourth of America’s energy was flooded, the extra five bucks that motorists are paying per fill-up won’t be going to any of the other businesses around here, and the national economy hasn’t yet started to feel the effects of its fourth-most-populous city being underwater. Though we wish them the best all those Republicans are wading into this debate with strong headwinds and few few victories to bolster them, and we expect their allies on the stock markets will be hedging their bets on the promises that had been made to them, which also won’t help. That’s not to mention all the already complicated talk about continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and funding for crazy campaign promise about building a tall wall across the entire Mexican border, along with the rest of the bipartisan craziness of late.
There’s also all that drip-drip-drip flooding about “Russia,” the latest nuclear saber-rattling from the nutcase North Korean regime, and a general sense that we’re all in the midst of one of those one-thousand year floods. A severe cut in America’s steepest-in-the-world corporate tax rates really is a good idea, even if they do pay an effective rate that’s more-or-less competitive after all the tax exemptions that might or might not be retained under the as-yet-undisclosed Republican proposals, but that’s a pretty dry subject given all the recent floods. There’s an old-fashioned conservative Republican case to be made that cuts in the top rates that will benefit the poor folks those rich folks will wind up hiring, but Trump promised that he and his fellow billionaires would take a hit without revealing the tax returns that would prove his claim, and he’s still a poor advocate for low taxes and lean government and old-fashioned conservative Republicanism.
Those darned Democrats and their tax-and-spend ways don’t seem to have any better ideas, so for now we’re bracing for one of those occasional thousand-year disasters.

— Bud Norman

Didn’t It Rain

While driving around with the top down on a perfectly sunny late summer afternoon in Kansas we were hearing on the radio about the historically bad weather down in Texas, and we couldn’t fend off a troubling twinge of survivor’s guilt. The fine folks in the fourth most populous city of our beloved country are under several feet of water, their inland neighbors have been battered by the tornadoes that were spun from the hurricane winds, and in more than 50 counties that have been declared disaster areas at least nine people have died with the count expect to rise, untold thousands have seen their lives’ work washed away, and it’s going to be a few years before anyone in the storm’s broad and densely populated path fully recovers.
The storm continues down there, too, recently adding those very fine folks in southwest Louisiana to its toll and maybe bringing enough rain to flood our even more very fine kinfolk who live on a usually lovely but occasionally flood-prone lake outside San Antonio. There’s nothing that any of us can do about it at this point but to pray, and we’ve crossed paths with enough tornadoes during our life on the plains to fully appreciate what a terrifying realization that can be, but we’re heartened to see that as usual everyone seems to be dealing with it as best as possible. So far, at least, no seems eager to muck things up further with politics.
For now the disaster is being attributed to what some theologians and all the insurance companies’ actuaries call an act of God, and for the most part our secular society is rightly more interested in dealing with the current crisis rather than trying to cast blame. No matter how much you might dislike President Donald J. Trump, which is probably not any more than we’ve come to dislike the guy, it’s not as if any President of the United States can halt the rise of the oceans. These days it’s hard to credibly blame anything on the embarrassingly impotent Democrats, and so far at least even Trump’s most staunch supporters are trying to blame them for all the rain that’s blow in from the Gulf of Mexico. No one we’ve noticed on either side of the political divide, we’re happy to see, is exploiting the inevitable human tragedy.
That probably won’t last long enough for the people in the storm’s path to fully recover, though. A few faint voices on the left are already talking about how the first hurricane landfall on America soil in long 12 years is proof of the catastrophic consequences of Trump’s climate change policies, while Trump’s staunchest supporters are already giving him full credit for the so-far relatively low death tolls that local and state and pre-existing federal agencies and the predictable heroic individual citizens have achieved, and we expect to hear more of these tedious arguments when the waters inevitably recede. After the land dries out there will still be contentious arguments about continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases, which now include a very pricy tab for storm recovery in the fourth most populous city in the country and 50 other counties and a recent presidential insistence that it also pay for a border wall that few people want and wouldn’t have kept a hurricane out, and that also looks pretty darned stormy.
In the meantime we’ll take heart from the video footage of Americans of all ethnicities and classes and sexes and all the rest of those categories rescuing one another from the almost biblical rains that had fallen on the just and unjust alike, and all those local and state and federal employees doing their part to make the best of it, and a certain sense that even in this secular age there are still a lot of Americans who are praying for the best.

— Bud Norman