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A Bumpy Landing in Scotland

The administration of President Donald Trump creates scandals at such a rapid rate even the most avid news readers can’t follow them all, which seems to work to its benefit, and Trump remains confident in his famous boast that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a supporter.
Over the weekend the Politico web site came up with a story that might well give even the most die-hard Trump fans cause for concern. According to Politico a C-17 military transport was on a supply flight from Alaska to Kuwait in April, and instead of refueling at one of the several usual military bases available on the trip it landed at a commercial airport located conveniently near Trump’s golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland, where the seven crew members spent their per diems on rooms for the night.
Trump’s talk radio and Fox News apologists will want to dismiss the story as “fake news,” but they’ll probably choose to ignore it. Politico is more reliably accurate than the president, the United Kingdom’s left-wing but reliable Guardian newspaper has corroborated reporting about the airport, and the House Oversight Committee says it has further proof and is demanding more information. So far the Pentagon is not denying the story, while the Air Force has acknowledged it’s launched an investigation, and given Trump’s well documented habit of funneling money from the taxpayers to his businesses it’s not at all out of the question..
So far the Pentagon is insisting it was no big deal, but the apologists will have a hard time making that argument. The Turnberry resort has been losing money since Trump bought it, and that crucially nearby airport has been losing so much money that the Scottish government has recently threatened to close it, so a seven member crew’s niggardly military per diems will be welcome at the resort and the $11 million that the Oversight Committee says the civilian airport has billed the military will certainly be much more appreciated. The fuel is less expensive at any of those military bases where the planes usually stop, as are the nearby lodgings, so it sure seems that somebody in the military or its civilian leadership decided that a civilian airport near Trump’s golf resort needed the money more than America’s national security.
The sums involved are chump change compared to the billions Trump is taking from the military budget to build the big, beautiful border wall he promised his cheering rally crowds the Mexicans would pay, but he’s got a remotely plausible national security rationale that the rally crowds will love. Using defense funds to prop up another of Trump’s failing businesses will be harder to explain.
Given how Trump boasts of his love for the military, and how it was “depleted” when he took office but has since been “un-depleted,” he should be taking the lead in demanding an explanation. So far he hasn’t, and the next time he’s answering questions in front of that noisy helicopter he flies in to his golf outings we hope someone from the “fake news” will ask why not.

— Bud Norman

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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

Crazy Possibilities in a Crazy Year

By all reliable accounts this past weekend’s Libertarian Party convention was quite an unconventional affair, replete with the party’s chairman stripping down to his underwear at the podium and the eventual nominee being heavily invested in the more-or-less legal marijuana industry, but in this crazy election year none of that is at all beyond the pale. The hypothetical ticket of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld was already poling at 10 percent before it actually won the  Libertarian nod, and in this crazy election year nothing that happened at the crazy convention seems likely to budge that significant number.
At least the party chairman didn’t boast about what was hidden by his underwear, as the Republican party’s presumptive nominee has done on a nationally-televised debate stage, and whatever quibbles one might with have the nominee’s dealings in a business that is still technically illegal according to federal law if not in the states where he is operating, it seems a rather small point in the post-legal age his thoroughly corrupt Democratic opponent and her lawless “Choom Gang” successor have wrought. The presumptive Republican nominee has run casinos and strip joints that were until rather recently illegal and social proscribed in most sane jurisdictions and still strike us as pandering to worse vices than marijuana use, and the crimes credibly alleged against the presumptive Democratic nominee involve national security, so that ten percent of the public willing to vote for someone they’ve never heard of might well persist even after they find out who he is.
At this point there’s no telling how that might affect what is shaping up as a close election. The Libertarian Party’s radically laissez-faire economic policy is the exact opposite of stubborn Democratic challenger Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander’s self-described socialism, but we expect that Johnson’s pro-dope stance will lure some of them away from from the presumptive Democratic nominee, who is so quintessentially establishment in this crazy anti-establishment year that she’s a former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State, and was awful in every single post. The Libertarians’ insane isolationist foreign policy is at this point no more worrisome than what the major parties’ presumptive nominees are offering, and unlike either of the major party nominees they’re at least for free speech if you want to gripe about it. In this crazy anti-establishment year there are a lot of otherwise Republican voters who are just tired of being bossed around, though, and aren’t nclined to be told “you’re fired” and “shut up” by some proudly bossy reality show star, so the Libertarians should peel off a few Republican votes as well, and even if both members of the ticket are twice-elected governors they’re still so far outside the mainstream they’re a deadlier  blow to the hated-on-both-sides “establishment” than either major party ticket..
In this crazy year it’s hard to tell how it will shake out, as there are bound to be other twists and counter-twists in the plot. The brilliant but ever-hopefudl Bill Kristol of the essential Weekly Standard is still clinging to some faint  hope that a third or fourth or fifth party deus ex machina will provide some plausible alternative to what the established two-party system has vomited up, and at this point in this crazy year one can only hold out such hope.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Episode of the GOP Turns

The latest episode of the long-running reality show that is the Republican presidential nomination race aired last night, and we found it most entertaining. There were the usual reality show spats, although more serious policy discussion than usual, and we think it even advanced the plot a bit.
The thus-far star of the series, real estate mogul and reality-show veteran Donald Trump, had a rough night. During the serious policy discussion part of the proceedings he was asked which leg of the nation’s nuclear triad he thinks needs the most attention, and he answered “the nuclear part,” allowing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to patiently explain “to those listening who might not be familiar with the terminology” that all the parts of the land-sea-and-air triad are nuclear. Eager to demonstrate that whatever he might lack in familiarity with defense terminology he makes up for in toughness, Trump also promised to not only kill any terrorists who attack the United States but to go after their families as well, thus ushering in the Cosa Nostra Doctrine of American foreign policy. He also sounded rather sanguine about the continued existence of the Assad regime in Syria, as well the benefits that delivers to an even peskier Iranian regime, and his “one thing at a time” explanation suggests he might not be up the multi-tasking that foreign policy sometimes requires.
Trump didn’t even fare well during the usual reality show spats, and judging by the live audience’s reaction his shock jock shtick seems to be starting to wear thin. During an entirely unnecessary confrontation with the increasingly irrelevant former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Bush got a far bigger round of applause that his dwindling number of supporters could have possibly provided by saying “You can’t insult your way to the presidency.” The never-back-down Trump even backed down from his recent criticisms of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ confrontational legislative tactics, which were widely criticized by the crucial conservative talk radio hosts who egged Cruz on, and we expect it disappointed the loyal Trump fans who are already concocting “birther” theories about Cruz while doing little to win over those put off by Trump’s own confrontational style.
Worst of all for Trump, the intriguing subplot involving Rubio and Cruz drew much attention. Both of the first-term Senators are quite good at this debate stuff, Rubio has lately displaced Bush as the “establishment” candidate while Cruz has become the most formidable “anti-establishment” alternative to Trump, so their frequent clashes made for good television. Cruz scored with jabs against Rubio’s past heresies on the all-important issue of illegal immigration, Rubio came off tougher on national security because of Cruz’ past opposition to some data-gathering programs that used to be an important issue, and our guess is that Cruz got the better of it.
Some of the supporting cast were also good, but we can already see them being written out of future scripts. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is also good at this debate stuff, and his background as a federal prosecutor on terrorism cases served him well in a debate focused on national security, and his tough-guy is far more charming than the others’, but he’s way too northeast for a party that’s dominated by flyover country voters to have a chance. Former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina turned in her usual strong performance, and she does tough guy as well as any of the guys, but at this point she seems to be running for vice-president. Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who has been dropping in the polls ever since the terrorist attacks on Paris and San Bernardino pushed security issues to the forefront of the campaign, probably helped himself with some credible answers in the serious policy discussion part and a reassuring promise that his nice-guy persona won’t stop him from inflicting some collateral damage if he’s forced to.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul were also involved, some reason for another, but we expect this will be their last appearance.
The best news was Trump’s seemingly sincere promise that he won’t launch an independent run if he’s denied the Republican nomination, which would have guaranteed that next season’s general election reality show would end badly for the Republicans. There’s still hope for a happy ending, and that’s what keeps viewers tuned in.

— Bud Norman

National Insecurity

President Barack Obama delivered a lengthy address on national security issues Thursday, and we are left feeling rather insecure.
There were a few lines in the speech calculated to curry favor with conservatives, including a nostalgic paean to the “long twilight struggle of the Cold War” that actually sounded pleased with the outcome, a much overdue acknowledgement that the Fort Hood shootings were an act of terrorism rather than “workplace violence,” and a humble admission that there are some crazy people out there who are eager to kill Americans even if Barack Hussein Obama is the president, but otherwise it was clearly intended to mollify the left. Much of the speech was devoted to same sneering criticism of the George W. Bush administration that used to wow the crowds back in the ’08 election, as well as some dishonest preening about how he has differed from his predecessor, such as laughable claim that he has “expanded our consultations with Congress,” and the headline-making announcements that he once again hopes to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, will be cutting back on his aggressive use of targeted strikes by armed drones, and has declared something akin to victory in the war against Islamist terrorism and will be winding it all down because “That’s what our democracy demands.”
Less clear is why the president feels the left needs mollification, given that it has thus far been willing to go along with anything he does. There has been some grumbling about the more robust aspects of Obama’s foreign policy at the furthest fringes of the left, such as the founder of the Code Pink group of peaceniks who interrupted the speech with some characteristically rude heckling, prompting the president to assure her that she would be quite satisfied with what he had to say once the speech proceeded, but they are an infinitesimal constituency and cannot be mollified by anything short of complete capitulation to America’s enemies. Perhaps the president simply wanted to talk about something other than scandals swirling around his administration, although he did end up mentioning the Justice Department’s scandalous probe of several organizations because of its putative ties to national security leaks and there was a desperate attempt to blame the Benghazi fiasco on budget problems.
Most lefties who manage to slog through the speech will be pleased with it, we suspect, but anyone a notch or two to the right of Code Pink will find a great deal to argue with. Obama once again asserted that the Guantanamo Bay detention center is provokes such outrage among Muslim moderates that it is causing more terrorism than it prevents, but he did not explain why incinerating a terrorist with a missile from a drone is less offensive to Islamist sensibilities nor did he answer any of the questions about what to do with the detainees that have kept the center open since he signed an executive order to close it way back in ’09. Obama’s schizophrenic indictment and defense of his own drone policy wasn’t convincing, either as an indictment or a defense, and because of his high-minded aversion to detaining or interrogating terror suspect it raised the question of what, if anything, he will be doing instead. He called for an increase in foreign aid, perhaps to further enrich the treasuries of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and similar emerging theocracies, but he was not specific.
Most worrisome was the part about how “This war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” The terrorists who are intent on striking at America see their efforts as just the latest skirmish in a war against the infidels that has raged since Muhammad launched his first jihad more than 1,400 years ago, but they are notoriously indifferent to history’s advice and at this point it seems unlikely they will end it just because that is what our democracy demands. There is always a way for one side of war to end it unilaterally, an old technique called surrender, and we hope that is not what the president has it mind.

— Bud Norman