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Distraction and Desperation

With less than six days before the midterm election polls close the news is even busier than usual.
Some lost and lonely loser in Florida stands accused of sending mail bombs to at last a dozen prominent Democratic politicians and activists, and another lost and lonely loser is in a Pennsylvania jail awaiting charges of slaughtering 11 Jews as they worshipped God in a Pittsburgh synagogue. An hilariously inept plot to frame the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” for ’70s-era sexual harassment has fallen apart, and is now the subject of a federal investigation of its own. There are the usual campaign issues, too, such an ongoing debate about mandating that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions which the Democrats seem to be winning and the Republicans are reduced to lying about. The economy continues to chug along well enough, but lately the stock markets have been up and down and mostly down.
Given all that, we’re not surprised that President Donald Trump is mostly talking about the impending invasion of Middle Eastern terrorists and Central American lepers who are marching the last 900 miles or so of their journey to America’s southern border, along with the rest of the invading army of dark-hued others who are already here. Trump is promising to send as many as 15,000 American troops to join the thousands of National Guardsmen and Border Patrol agents currently in place to turn back a few thousand unarmed and no doubt worn out asylum-seekers, and threatening to repeal the 14th amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship with an executive order. All the die-hard fans are cheering it on at Trump’s non-stop rallies and on certain conservative media, but to most of the rest of us it smacks of desperation.
The last invasion of the southern border by thousands of walking and unarmed asylum-seekers mostly petered out by the time it arrived at the border, with the usual Border Patrol contingent well able to handle the resulting 14 arrests for illegal immigration, and this one looks no scarier. Trump freely admits he has no proof that it’s being organized and funded some of those prominent Democratic politicians and activists who recently received pipe bombs in the mail, and none of those certain conservative media have yet to document any Middle Eastern terrorists or lepers, so more military power than we’re currently deploying against the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State combined seems an overreaction. We still like to think ourselves law-and-order conservatives, but we hail from a more hopeful era when even the most rock-ribbed Republicans thought that the border laws could be enforced without violating the Posse Comitatus Act or America’s treaty obligations to grant due process to the claims of asylum-seekers, and without building tent cities and orphaning children and all the other cruelties that today’s law-and-order crowd seem to crave.
Back in that more hopeful era the law-and-order sorts of rock-ribbed Republicans used to venerate the Constitution and insist it be interpreted according to its plain language, and to disdain the use of executive orders by power-grabbing presidents, but that’s no longer the case. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution plainly states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the state wherein they reside,” and way back in 1895, when there was a “Yellow Peril” that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act and long before the damned liberals infested the judicial system, the Supreme Court ruled that plain language meant that even though a impoverished cook named Wong Kim Ark was born to Chinese parents his birth on American soil had conferred him American citizenship. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the legal scholar who’s married to Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway and numerous other old-fashioned Republican types agree, and even many of the Republicans who think we would well be rid of birthright citizenship say that it shouldn’t be accomplished by the stroke of a presidential pen.
Trump in turn “tweeted” back that “Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the Majority rather than giving his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, something he knows nothing about!” The entirely autodidactic constitutional scholar then laid out his argument in two separate “tweets.”
“So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof.’ Many legal scholars agree …
“Harry Reid was right in 1993, before he and the Democrats went insane and started with the Open Borders (which brings massive Crime) “stuff.” Don’t forget the nasty term Anchor Babies. I will keep our Country safe. This case will be decided by the Supreme Court!”
Such elegant English prose is hard to argue with, but we’ll take a stab at it. Birthright citizenship might well be ended some day, and perhaps for good reason, but surely it makes some difference if it happens the constitutional way or or some other way. We have no more idea what “subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ than Trump does, but we suspect the Supreme Court of 1895 had a grasp of the concept, and we’ll dare Trump to say that only the citizens in the United States are subject to its jurisdiction. We’ll also note that White House press secretary couldn’t name of those legal scholars who agreed with Trump, and that don’t consider former Senator Harry Reid any sort of constitutional authority. The nasty term “Anchor Babies” refers to immigrants who bring their family into the country through the nastily-termed “chain migration,” and although that’s also a fair debate we’re disappointed that Trump prefers to discuss it in admittedly nasty terms. We’ll take Trump’s word for it that he’ll keep us safe, and we’ve little doubt that any executive-ordered alterations to the previous understanding of the 14th Amendment will be settled in the Supreme Court, and we’ll be interested to see how those plain-text originalists that Trump appointed rule on that.
In the meantime, Trump will have trouble distracting attention from all the rest of the news, little of which currently benefits his Republican party. The pipe bomber and the Synagogue shooter can’t credibly be blamed on the damned Democrats, as all the mail bombs were sent to his most frequent “tweet” targets, and he was snubbed by both Republican and Democratic public officials and some of the grieving families when he paid a consolatory visit to Philadelphia. The “Russia thing” chugs along, Obamacare is somehow polling better than the Trump tax cut, the stock market goes up and down, and that slow-walking invasion is still a thousand long miles away and the midterm elections are just five short days hence.

— Bud Norman

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With Eleven Long Days to Go

There are now just 11 days before some very consequential elections throughout the country, but there’s hardly any room for that on the front pages or even in the 24 hour news cycle. The number of suspected pipe bombs that have been sent to prominent critics of President Donald Trump is now ten, the Saudi Arabian government continues to provide fresh explanations for its brutal murder of an American resident, some five thousand refugees from Central America are continuing their thousand mile walk toward America’s southern border, and as usual President Donald Trump takes up a lot of the space.
Even so, we’ve been keeping an eye on several races of local and national interest. It still looks as if Democratic nominee and liberal dreamboat Rep. “Beto” O’Rourke will come closer than most Democrats typically do down there in Texas but will still lose to Republican incumbent Sen. “Ted” Cruz in their widely watched race. So far as we can tell from this distance the Democrats seem to have a very good shot at flipping a Senate seat in Florida, where all the polls show Tallahassee mayor and Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum leading Republican nominee Rep. Ron DeSantis.
There’s another intriguing Senate race in Arizona, where Democratic nominee Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is clinging to a well-within-the margin-of-error lead over Republican nominee Martha McSally. That Senate race in Tennessee is worth watching, too, as former Gov. Phil Bredesen has a good shot at beating of beating Rep. Marsha blackburn and becoming the state’s first Democratic senator since Al Gore. Not to mention a surprisingly close race for governor of Georgia between Democrat nominee and state Rep. Stacey Abrams and Republican nominee and Secretary of State Ted Matz.
For the moment the consensus of the pollsters and the pundits is that the Republicans have a very good of chance of retaining control of the Senate, while the Democrats have an even better chance of winning the House, and we’re inclined to agree. There are still 11 front pages and 24-hour news cycles to go, and God only knows what they might bring, but the early voting has already begun and certain trends seem likely to persist for a while.
So far, and for so far as we can tell, those trends are not favorable to the Republicans. The Republicans might well win most of the aforementioned Senate races, and in North Dakota Republican nominee Rep. Kevin Cramer seems a sure bet to unseat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and the fact that all of the Democratic incumbents were elected in the anomalous year of 2012 leaves them playing defense in several swing states and red states, but that should only make it all the more worrisome to Republicans that it’s so close. That far better chance all the polls and pundits give to Democrats to win the House should be all the more troubling to the Republicans, as it reflects the popular vote rather then the random chances of the electoral map.
Part of the problem is that the Democrats have been running some candidates with centrist pitches and made-for-TV-ads biographies, including veterans and business moguls and somehow unblemished records in public office, while the Republicans have chosen a few not-ready-for-prime-time contenders. Even for the sharper Republican candidate, several issues are breaking the Democrats’ way.
The Republicans seem to be getting less than their usual share of votes in the rural areas, too, and the news has plenty of farers on the record grousing about how the recent trade wars have severely reduced their income. A large number of well-educated suburban white women who usually vote Republican have abandoned the party in every special election since President Donald Trump was elected are expected to do so again, although that might well be a mere coincidence. The Democrats are also making political hay of the landslide popularity of that coverage-for-preexisting-conditions clause in Obamacare, and all the Republicans who once ran on their promise to repeal the law and reign in entitlement spending are reduced to lying that they certainly never meant to repeal that part, and that it’s actually those lying Democrats who want to kick out all those poor people with preexisting conditions and make cuts in Medicare. Meanwhile, the pipe bombs and the Saudi murder and the unarmed marching refugees still a thousand miles away from the border don’t seem to help, and neither most the news that Trump daily commands.
Several of the Democrats’ rising stars are young or black or Latino or Asian or women, and in the case of the surprisingly possible next governor of Georgia she’s both black and a woman, and even here in Kansas we’ve got a lesbian Native American kick boxer who seems to have a good chance of flipping a Republican House seat. Meanwhile the Republicans have mostly chosen the usual straight old white guys, except that white woman who’s slightly behind another white woman in Arizona and that white woman in Tennessee who lost the endorsement of pop chanteuse Taylor Swift and many of her fans to a straight old white Democratic guy. The Republicans’ current reputation as the Grand Old Party of straight old guys has made it quite popular with straight old white guys, but these days there are only so many of us, and some significant portion of us on both the right and the left would prefer a party that was more welcoming to freedom-loving and entrepreneurial and individualist individuals of every sex, class, race, religion, and sexual predilection, so it doesn’t seem a sound a long-term strategy.
Lying about the Republican party’s past opposition to mandating coverage of preexisting conditions won’t help, either, although we have to admit that reiterating the sound arguments Republicans once made likening it to buying home insurance while your house is on fire would probably once again go down in flames. The Secretaries of State who are running for governor against that black woman in Georgia and a white woman here in Kansas have both been credibly accused of suppressing the black and Latino vote, and although it might work in both of the very close races it’s not a long term solution to the Republican party’s problems, and could well be used against them down the road.
At this point we’re holding out for gridlock, with neither party able to impose it’s will on other, and with 11 long days to go we like our chances.

— Bud Norman

Trump and the Stubborn Persistence of Obamacare

For more than eight long years we griped almost every day about almost everything President Barack Obama did, and were especially critical of his crackpot Obamacare law. Lately we’ve been griping almost every day about almost everything President Donald Trump does, though, and we even have some gripes about he’s going about undoing one of the worst mistakes of Obama’s administration.
Despite Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and a Republican president in the White House, the Grand Old Party has thus far been unable to keep its seven-year-old promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, so Trump has chosen to hasten the crackpot system’s demise by executive action. First he signed an order that allows insurance companies to offer and consumers to choose low-premium but high-deductible programs that cover only catastrophic circumstances, which were previously disallowed by Obamacare, then he ordered a halt to federal subsidies for the low-income customers who have been forced to purchase the higher-premium but lower-deductible and more comprehensive coverage. Both moves would make perfect sense in an efficiently free market system of health care, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon, and both are admittedly designed to wreck the crackpot health care system we’ve wound up with instead.
Obama’s promises that Obamacare would save you thousands of dollars and allow you to keep your doctor and your plan and not add a dime to the federal deficit while covering everyone have since proved complete balderdash, just as we glumly predicted back when we were griping almost every day about Obama and Obamacare, but even then what our anti-authoritarian instincts most hated about the crackpot scheme was the tyrannical notion of government mandating that individuals purchase a product and then limiting their choices of what to buy. We’re therefore grateful that Trump that has struck a blow for the liberty of those young and healthy and relatively low-wage workers whose best bet on the health insurance market is a low-premium and high-deductible catastrophic plan, and we fondly recall those halcyon days when we were among them, but our middle-aged have to acknowledge that without their coerced subsidies the rest of the current system is destabilized.
An end to those federal subsidies for low-income workers stuck with the high-deductible coverage is on even more solid constitutional ground, as the crackpot Obamacare law didn’t include them and they’ve been paid all along by executive orders of very dubious constitutionality, but Trump proudly admits that it’s intended to hoist Obamacare on its own petard, although we doubt he’d recognize the Shakespearean reference. Without those subsidies many insurers will will have no choice but to pull out of many markets, leaving millions of Americans without any coverage at all, and millions more paying higher premiums for the plans they’re still stuck with under the still-existing Obamacare law.
Trump’s plan is that the resulting catastrophe will force the Democrats to come begging for some efficiently free market solution such as the Republicans have been promising for seven long years, which we’d much prefer over the long term, but in the short-term it seems unlikely to happen. The plan assumes that the public will blame Obama and his crackpot law’s inherent flaws, rather than Trump for faithfully executing it to the letter and thus blowing it up, and it seems a rare case when Trump has over-estimated the public’s intelligence. If Trump expects the congressional Democrats to be so moved by the plight of those uninsured and over-paying low income workers that they will come begging for a efficiently Republican free market solution, rather than allowing the press to pillory him for admittedly blowing things up and gleefully watching his approval ratings further plummet, we think he’s overestimating them as well. He can plausibly blame those congressional Republicans, but he won’t have anything to claim to credit for, and it will make a complicated mid-term election next year.
In any case we won’t be any closer to that efficiently free market health system we’ve yearned for far longer than the past seven years, what we’re stuck with instead will wind up imposing misery on millions of Americans earlier than necessary, and there will be plenty of blame to go around.

— Bud Norman