Theatre of the Absurd: The Trumped Up Border Crisis

It’s a new year but the only thing new about the president is his willingness to place even more weight on the phony facts he and his rabid right wing cohorts, like Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, have made up.

Some of these “alternative facts” support the idea that we now need a southern border wall so much that Trump has been willing to shut down much of the federal government for weeks, displacing hundreds of thousands of workers and weakening key services in hopes the Democrats will submit to his demands for wall funding.

That’s Trump’s idea of deal making:  You succumb to his demands or get blamed for an unwillingness to negotiate.

Trump hasn’t acted like the wall was an emergency through his first two years in office.  It’s an emergency now because the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter are calling him a phony for failing to act.  Since he can’t get his way with Congress,  calling the building of a wall an emergency may be his only way to escape the box he has placed himself in.

The matter would likely head straight to the courts, the government could be reopened and Trump can tell Rush and Anne and his base in general he really tried.

We don’t need a southern wall.  Trump needs one to quiet his critical supporters.  The Democrats are right to refuse to succumb, for the wall makes no sense.

Here are a few of facts from government sources that undermine his arguments for a wall:

1)  The overwhelming quantity of drugs come across the border at points of entry not through the wilderness that Trump wants to fence off.  Better search methods are needed, not a fence.

2)   Despite Trump’s claim of thousands of terrorist suspects coming across the southern border, federal government reports suggest it was more like six in the first half of 2018.  Yes, six.  Forty-some came across the northern border that nobody talks about.   Should we build a wall there, too?  And first?

3)  Most foreign terrorist suspects come into the country legally and then just overstay their visas.

4)  Since 9/11, the large majority of terrorists attacks in the U. S. have come from home grown types who have become radicalized not from foreigners infiltrating our borders.

Certainly we could use better border security, not to mention a more humane way of treating  the large increase of those simply seeking political asylum, but Trump’s wall seems to address none of these issues.  It is a fake answer to our real border problems, not only a wasted effort but one that distracts from real needs to be addressed.

The five billion or so dollars he is demanding to start the wall is really, just a start.  Estimates from 40 to 80 billion or more have been made for the total cost.  So, this fake answer to a phony problem is also going to cost us a fortune.

By the way, I watched a clip of Trump at the border being given a briefing by border security.  The officer was showing slides of a tunnel they recently discovered under a section of the wall already built.  Trump just sat there nodding as if unaware the border agent had just provided one more tunnel undermining his argument for a wall.

No matter to him.  It is all a Trump fabrication to shore up his base with a false solution to a mischaracterized problem.



Immigration Reform: How’s It Going?

At this point, the immigration bill appears likely to be passed in the Senate soon and then go to the House.   The bill, like most, is complex and I don’t pretend to understand its ins and outs, though I do know more about it than I will get into today and my sense is it would create a much better “system” than we have now.   Which wouldn’t be all that hard when you think about it.

Official portrait of United States House Speak...

Official portrait of United States House Speaker (R-Ohio). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But why bother getting into the pros and cons of the bill when the House Republican majority seems in such disarray that it is hard to imagine anything constructive happening in that chamber?

If you haven’t heard, Speaker Boehner could not deliver enough Republican votes to pass the relatively uncontroversial farm bill yesterday after indicating that he did have the votes, which reflects the chaos that is the House.

Of course, Boehner blamed the failure on the Democrats for not supplying enough votes themselves, but….. the point is a deal seemed to have been reached and then suddenly wasn’t.  If you recall, the Speaker has thought he has had the votes on at least one other measure in the past that wound up failing, which suggests a degree of underlying chaos in his caucus.

For the Senate immigration bill to even come to the floor of the House, Boehner as Speaker has to allow that to happen and, according to the Huff Post Tuesday, he said:    “[A]ny immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties’ support if we’re really serious about making that happen,” Boehner told reporters after a meeting with House Republicans. “And so I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans.”

Well, there is NO CHANCE that a majority of Republicans will support a bill, so unless he changes his mind about that, there is little left to say about immigration reform other than it will soon become a dead issue for the time being.

Now, could Boehner change his mind and let the bill go to the floor of the House and allow it to be passed largely by Democrats but with enough Republicans to make it through?   Well, I think there is a long shot chance he could?  Why?  Because the mishandling of the farm bill was one more embarrassment for the Speaker and he is a proud man who just might be willing to risk losing his Speakership to a Tea Party rebellion if able to get something noteworthy accomplished in the House that figures to benefit his party in the next presidential election.

It would probably be political suicide, but there are worse ways to go and it would be taking a bullet, so to speak, for the Republican Party at large as opposed to its right wing factions.    Simply put, if the Republicans are to regain the White House in the foreseeable future they will need more than the 30% of Latinos who voted for Romney in the last election.  And this immigration bill would help in that regard.

I admit that is just my fantasy, but as a horse player who has won on the occasional longshot, I’d bet two bucks with anyone that he does just that, though you will have to give me 20-to-1 odds.

Lose Ends: Austerity vs. Stimulus, Fiscal Follies, Guns, Immigration

Mandatory Vs. Discretionary Spending

Mandatory Vs. Discretionary Spending (Photo credit: Public Agenda)

Austerity vs. Stimulus:  If you read my previous post, you might be sick of this topic, or still in the process of reading some of the linked articles.   Had I known that day the Stephen Colbert was going to cover the Rogoff-Weinhard controversy that night, I would have saved what I wrote until after you watched his show.   With his usual well informed wit, he did a great job of  summing up the issue in an enjoyable way.   Check it out at Colbert Report.

Also, if you want ongoing updates, keep checking the Paul Krugman link in my Blogroll, as he has his teeth into it like a dog with a bone.

Fiscal Follies:  While economists debate the big issues of macroeconomics, congress mucks along keeping the government going with one patch work deal after another.   To recap:  Congress got over one hurdle awhile back by passing a continuing resolution to fund the government until the end of the fiscal year in September.  That’s one step to keeping it financed and functioning.

Actually helping the budget is the sequester, which made more-or-less across the board cuts in non-discretionary spending.  However, while helping the budget it hurts some and irritates others in the process.  With the reduction of air controllers, for example, there has been the expansion of airport lines and waits on tarmacs.  Ah, but today I heard about some bill making its way through congress to alleviate that situation by moving funds from somewhere else.   Ever hear of that old expression “borrowing from Peter to pay Paul?”  Ad hoc government is becoming our specialty.

The next big ad hock decision will be raising the debt ceiling again.  I have been saying that would come around late May, because the legislative deal in January indicated May 19.  But it turns out it also allowed Treasury  “extraordinary accounting measures to help delay hitting the ceiling”… so early August seems the time for the next shoot out at the OK Corral.   The Republicans have been developing a bill in the House this week aimed to shore up their position for the upcoming battle.

Gun Control:   I realize the issue is often talked about as “gun safety” these days,  so as not to rankle gun owners, but I’ll stick with “control” for now.   Everyone knows the Senate failed to pass a background checks bill despite numerous polls indicating nearly 90% of public approval.   President Obama has been blamed by some for not twisting enough arms to get the bill to the House, but as I argued in an April 12 post, that’s not who he is.

Perhaps he could stretch his norm, but why do it just to get the bill to the House where it will go nowhere?  I believe that as congress is now constructed (both in terms of people and procedures), very little of consequence will get passed before 2014.  But a “paper trail” will be developed for the 2014 mid-terms and Republican general recalcitrance might, just might alienate enough voters to tip the House back into Democrat hands and in turn the possibility of a functioning congress again.    With that in mind, this gun control setback might actually aid a later election win, if we can believe the overwhelming support for background checks in the polls.

Immigration:  Some sort of integration deal might come to pass because elements in both parties see it as advantageous to themselves.   The question is, assuming a bill gets out of the Senate, whether the Tea Party types in the House will be strong enough to stick a monkey wrench into any deal.  Will Speaker Boehner be willing and able to garner enough Republican support to combine with the Democrats to get something passed?  A column by Dana Milbank yesterday provides some insight as to how hard it is for House leadership to marshal the Republican troops.

So ends this thumbnail report on our creaky ship of state.

The Obama Way: The Politics of Being Reasonable

Barack Obama

Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

You wouldn’t want President Obama with you at a Mexican marketplace to talk down a merchant for a better price on a leather belt or a piece of pottery.  He wouldn’t want to start bargaining by beginning with a low ball offer in order to eventually settle with a good deal.  It wouldn’t be reasonable.  It’s not his way.  It’s not who he is.

His “way” often did not work well for him in his first administration, either, as he always worked for some kind of compromise on budget issues that would seem to a majority of us as more or less reasonable.  Some combination of spending cuts and tax hikes.

Politics usually revolves around leverage not reason, so political calculation often depends on making a convincingly do-or-die “immovable” line in the sand, so as to leave room for movement towards compromise later.  Each side does what’s reasonable only when they can’t think of something better.   In the traditional tug of war of deal making, Obama gave up lots of ground at the start, encouraging the Republicans to demand  even more making any kind of compromise impossible (*1).

However, this presidential term the Obama way is working better.    It is working better because he is playing both a small game and a big one at the same time.   An example of the small game is the gun control issue.   While a poor bargainer, Obama is a great campaigner.   The gun issue has been been turned into a well coordinated campaign, keeping the flame of Sandy Hook Elementary School alive in our collective consciousness.

Due to a Tuesday compromise agreement on background checks by a Sens. Manchin (D) and Toomey (R), there is a possibility that something akin to that will actually make its way through congress.    Still unlikely, but possible.  If  it does, it will be a success for Obama.  If it fails it will be one more indication of Republican inflexible resistance to being reasonable.  Prior to “the agreement”, 14 Republican Senators threatened to filibuster any gun legislation that would be brought up, despite not knowing what it might be, an example of how they contribute to this image.

Being the party that is inflexible and uncompromising is the image many Republicans want to change.   Meanwhile Obama’s big game is to engrave that obstructionist image ever deeper in our minds by the 2014 mid-term elections.   You can see it in everything he does.

In response to criticism that he held himself aloof from congress in his first term, he has been hosting dinner parties, like the one a couple of days ago for 12 Republican Senators.  How reasonable.  Also, he has a new budget out that aims at the center, angering some in his own party because of some cuts to entitlement programs, but it seems reasonable to many others like myself.   He has made some concessions to the Republicans, but they continue to want much more, seeming unreasonable in the process.

While I think Obama overplayed his hand regarding the pain the sequester will cause, it will hit home to more and more Americans in upcoming months and Republicans will likely be blamed more for that than Democrats, who were generally willing to scrap the agreed upon across the board cuts.

In short, I believe Obama’s way is working these days, likely to prompt small victories like some changes in gun control, or provide further proof of Republican intransigence when his reasonable proposals are rejected.   As such, even if Obama  suffers numerous setbacks in his agenda he might profit enough from adding new layers of paint to the Republican obstructionist image, so that the elections of 2014 will give the Democrats the control of the House back.

Enough of us might be sick enough of political gridlock by 2014, yes even in red districts and states, to put congressional control back in Democrat hands (*2).  As long as they seem much more reasonable than their opponents.  The Obama approach reminds me of an old boxing saying:  “If the right hand don’t get you, the left hand will.”


(*1)  To say Obama weakened his chances to reach a bargain by starting close to the middle does not exclude the possibility that the Republicans would have found reasons to resist any kind of compromise.   Recall the 2011 Republican presidential primary debate in which all eight candidates indicated they would not accept a deal of 10 dollars of spending cuts in exchange for one dollar in raised taxes.   With a mind set like that, where is there room for compromise?  If you have trouble recalling that event, click this link for a refresher course.

(*2)  Given gerrymandered congressional districts which favored Republicans in the last election, my argument may seem shear fantasy.   But the Republican party seems as fractured these days as Humpty Dumpty.   And I don’t see a way  for them to put the pieces back together.    They are not exactly big tent kind of folks.  They will muster support around their various little tents instead.  I think that lack of unity will help Democrats in 2014.