Pork is Not the Problem

It’s that time of year: Citizens Against Government Waste just released its annual “Pig Book,” a compendium and analysis of pork barrel spending, aka earmarks, by the US Congress in 2019.

Summary: Congressional appropriations for 2019 include 282 earmarks, up from 232 last year. The cost comes to $15.3 billion, up from $14.7 billion.

That sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But not nearly as much as one might think, in the scheme of things.

The federal government plans to spend more than $4.5 trillion in 2019. Those earmarks constitute a whopping one third of one percent of that total.

Critics of earmarks point out, correctly, that they’re used by members of Congress to direct federal spending to their own districts, not always with much “public good” justification (cue complaints about $500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum, $7.5 million for golf education, etc.)

True, all of it — but it’s baked into any political process. Whether formal earmarks exist or not, politicians will support bills that spend money in their districts, oppose bills that don’t, shill for their favored projects, and make deals to bring home the bacon.

And, it should be mentioned, earmarks do not directly increase total spending. They simply require that if Congress appropriates $10 billion for Purpose X, $1 million of that $10 billion be spent on Project Y.

The problem in that hypothetical isn’t the $1 million earmark, it’s the $10 billion appropriation.

The problem with the real numbers isn’t $15 billion in earmarks, it’s $4.5 trillion in federal spending.

If Congress has $9 million to spend on a fruit fly quarantine program and $3 million to blow on bad loans to ship buyers (among 2019 earmarks), Congress has too much money to spend on, respectively, Agriculture and THUD (Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development).

Congress DOES have too much money — money it takes from all of us via various tax schemes, and money it borrows in our names on the promise to bond-holders that it will beat us out of it, with interest, later.

Earmarks could be part of the answer to that problem.

If Congress specified in greater detail where and how EVERY dollar of EVERY appropriation must be spent, instead of just handing the dough over the executive branch under broad categories, we’d have a much better idea of where it was going — and be better prepared to protest, and bring pressure to bear against, wasteful spending.

It would also clarify “separation of powers” violations, such as President Donald Trump’s illegal and unconstitutional “emergency” misappropriation of  Treasury and Defense Department funds for his pet “border wall” project, making it easier to rein in presidential misbehavior.

Silly earmarks are fun to point out, but concern over them comes at the expense of addressing the bigger problem: The spending is too damn high.

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Congress’s Cowardly “Emergency” Rebuke

By the time you read this column, the US House of Representatives will almost certainly have passed the following Joint Resolution:

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, pursuant to section 202 of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622), the national emergency declared by the finding of the President on February 15, 2019, in Proclamation 8444 (84 Fed. Reg. 4949) is here-by terminated.”

The fake “emergency” in question powers US president Donald Trump’s plan to divert money appropriated for other purposes to  his pet “border wall” project (he used to swear up and down he’d find a way to make Mexico pay for the wall, but those days are clearly over).

The resolution’s chances of passage by the US Senate are not quite as good, but the possibility exists.

After which, there are the absolute certainties that first, Trump will veto the resolution and second, neither house of Congress will be able to drum up the votes needed to override that veto.

Most news accounts mention that last part, but emphasize the notion that this Joint Resolution constitutes a damaging “rebuke” to the president.

In fact, it’s just a cowardly way for Congress to avoid doing what it should do by pretending that it did “something,” then go back to business as usual while Trump proceeds merrily on his wall-obsessed way.

Congressional Democrats started talking up impeachment before Trump was even inaugurated. They’ve spent  two full years on various investigations of their own and on promoting the prospect that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would get them the goods.

Now Democrats have a majority in the House and Trump has served them up, on a veritable silver platter, a clear-cut, air-tight, irrefutable case for his own impeachment.

Twice in the last two months, Congress has denied Trump funding for his wall, weathering the longest partial “government shutdown” in US history rather than give it to him in December and denying it a second time with the funding bill he signed in February.

Congress saying “no” when the president asks for money is not an “emergency.” He only gets to spend the money they give him, and he only gets to spend that money on the things they’ve told him he can spend it on.

As Article I, Section 9 of the US Constitution puts it, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” That’s one of many provisions in the Constitution that make the US a representative democracy with separation of powers rather than a monarchy or dictatorship.

Trump’s declaration of a fake “national emergency” was actually a declaration that he is now an absolute monarch, a dictator, no longer accountable to Congress for his actions.

If that’s not covered by the Constitution’s “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” clause outlining grounds for impeachment, what is?

And if Congress isn’t prepared to respond accordingly, why should they — or we — bother with the continuing charade that they, or the law, matter at all?

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Don’t Follow a Sick Society

The more insane the majority of individuals in a society get, the more anti-social the sane people will appear to be.

At least that’s my story.

When everyone’s “solution” involves more archation, I’m going to reject their “solution” and seek my own path.

When I’m required to pretend people with mental issues are empowered to dictate the words I use, I’m going to seem unkind. Because I won’t comply.

If you believe the “climate change” debate centers around what government should (or shouldn’t) do about it, I’m going to reject your proposals. They are without validity, even if they would “work”. Nothing can trump natural human rights. Not even “necessity”.

I’m not going to pretend a political “solution” to anything is legitimate. Not “laws”, not bans, not anything.

I’m fed up with the clamor to find ways to count yourself a victim. Micro-racism, “misgendering“, microaggressions, cultural appropriation, and all the rest. I’m fed up with being told that violating me is the only way to solve some problem, whether real or imaginary.

I reject your control tactics. I reject your collectivism and your “intersectionality”. I reject your politics. It’s all BS.

If everyone wants to be a victim, they’ll find some way I’m victimizing them no matter how I try to bend over backward to accommodate them. So I’m not going to bend. They can take their victimization and choke on it.

I will not archate. I will not support those who do. I will try to defend those who are targets of archation. But I’m not going to pretend fantasy is reality to make crazy people feel better about themselves.

If that makes me “anti-social”, so be it.

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The Real Emergency Isn’t About the Wall; It’s About the Separation of Powers.

US president Donald Trump recently declared a “national emergency” under which he intends to divert money from the US Department of Defense’s budget and use it to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.

No biggie, Trump said as he announced the “emergency.” Happens all the time (59 other times since 1976, to be exact).  Purely routine.

But it’s not routine at all. It is, in fact, a declaration of presidential dictatorship that shreds the US Constitution’s separation of powers requirements.

Most presidential emergency declarations have been either on matters supposedly requiring immediate action which Congress could be expected to subsequently approve (for example, George W. Bush’s 2001 declaration of emergency in the wake of 9/11), or pursuant to policies already approved by Congress (for example, specific sanctions on countries already condemned by Congress to general treatment of that type).

Trump’s declaration is different — but there is applicable precedent to consider. We’ve been down this road before, just not quite so far.

In 2013, Republicans in Congress flirted with refusal to raise the  “debt ceiling” — a limit on how much money the federal government allows itself to borrow.

As  a deadline approached after which the US government would be in default to its creditors,  House Democrats urged president Barack Obama to ignore Congress  and raise the debt ceiling by emergency decree.

How are the two situations alike?

Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution assigns the power to “borrow Money on the credit of the United States” exclusively to Congress.

Article I, Section 9 of the US Constitution similarly empowers Congress to decide how money may and may not be spent: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

By unilaterally raising the debt ceiling, Obama would have become an outlaw, an extra-constitutional dictator rather than a president. Republicans pointed this out at the time. Fortunately, an 11th-hour deal averted the possibility of Obama following his co-partisans’ advice.

By asserting the “emergency” power to spend money on  a project that Congress has explicitly declined to fund by appropriation (multiple times, in fact), Trump has effectively resigned the presidency and declared himself an absolute monarch.

And THAT, friends, is a REAL emergency.

If Congress has any desire to save what’s left of the Constitution — and any political will to act on that desire — the obvious, immediate, and absolutely necessary next step is the impeachment of Donald Trump and his removal from the office of President of the United States. Nothing less will suffice, and the case against him is airtight.

Over the course of more than two centuries, the Constitution has frayed, and sometimes broken. Maybe it’s time to let it go. If that’s the case, I’d personally rather it gave way to something better than the banana republic style dictatorship the American presidency has descended toward in recent decades.

If Congress doesn’t make Trump the bottom of that slide, there is no bottom, and we are doomed to suffer through a dark new era of uncontested presidential tyranny.

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“Second Shutdown” Theatrics: Heads Trump Wins, Tails America Loses

Unless Congress and the Trump administration reach a new spending deal by February 15, the federal government will go back into “partial shutdown” status. As of February 10, congressional negotiators seem to be nearing agreement on a deal that includes about $2 billion in funding for President Trump’s “border wall” project. Trump, as before the recent shutdown, is seeking $5.7 billion.

My prediction: There are three ways this can come out. One is highly unlikely, and both of the other two would constitute a victory for Trump and a loss for Congress in general, even more so for congressional Democrats, and most of all for the American people.

Let’s get the unlikely outcome out of the way first: There’s probably not going to be another shutdown. Trump is going to sign whatever deal lands on his desk.

If the deal includes the $5.7 billion he’s demanding (it won’t), he’s obviously the winner. Expect a lavish White House Rose Garden signing ceremony, even if there’s snow on the ground.

If the deal offers a lesser amount (it will), congressional Democrats will have lost anyway, by buckling on their previous opposition to funding the wall at all. That’s a bad outcome for a new Democratic majority in the House. It signals a lack of political will to take on the Republican agenda.

Whatever amount the deal includes, Trump will sign it — and if it’s less than $5.7 billion, he’ll then follow through on his threat to declare a “state of emergency” and use existing military funding to make up the difference.

In doing so, he’ll throw yet another serving of red meat to his electoral base, acting as the strong-man figure they adore.

He’ll also add another boxcar to a long train of abuses & usurpations (as the Declaration of Independence puts it) by himself and previous presidents. His contemplated “state of emergency” tactic would seize executive power to do what only Congress, under the Constitution, may do (“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law”).

Not long ago, journalists might have labeled that situation  a “constitutional crisis.” But in the 21st century, Americans and American politicians have seemingly become desensitized to presidential rebellion against the Constitution, from George W.  “unitary executive” Bush’s use of “signing statements” to modify the content of bills passed by Congress, to Barack “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone” Obama’s claims of power to wage war in Libya, Syria and elsewhere without congressional approval.

The border wall is fast becoming more than just a morally bankrupt and economically stupid political ploy. It’s in the process of becoming yet another milestone on the road to the presidency as an openly proclaimed, and uncontested, dictatorship.

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Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?

US president Donald Trump says he’d be “proud” to take the blame or credit for a fake government shutdown. At issue: Whether or not a stopgap federal spending deal forces American taxpayers to fund his border wall fetish (he previously promised us Mexico would pick up the check).

For me, the situation feels like Christmas come early. I’m generally in favor of government shutdowns — even fake ones in which a few “non-essential” bureaucrats get sent home for a few days then get paid anyway — and 100% opposed to making the “constitution-free zone” near US borders even more like East Germany than it’s already been for decades.

Unfortunately, the whole thing is also about as real as Santa Claus.

In addition to being fake, any “shutdown” will be short. Congress is in “lame duck” mode right now, just stumbling along until new members (and new majority party in the House) take over in January and undo any December developments they don’t like.

As for the wall, it probably won’t get funded this month, but I bet we’ll see parts of it actually in place before the 2020 presidential election.

For one thing, there’s enough wiggle room in congressional appropriations that the chief executive can almost always find a way to pay for the things he wants most.

For another, Trump seems to have finally discovered a weapon that I’ve been pointing at since the fake government shutdowns of the 1990s. During these fake shutdowns, Republicans try to put the blame on Democrats and vice versa, with the winners being those more successful at shifting blame.

The way to really “win” a fake shutdown isn’t to successfully shift blame, it’s to successfully seize credit. Trying to shift blame and seeking a compromise looks like weakness. “Proudly” taking credit and refusing to bend looks like strength. And voters, as a rule, seem to value strength more than they value morality or intelligence. In politics, boldness tends to win the day.

If Trump sticks to his guns here, Democrats may find that they’ve painted themselves (and the next House) into a “try to shift blame” corner from which they will spend the next two years begrudgingly giving Trump everything he demands.

Those concessions may come with pretty “compromise” paint jobs but they’ll still amount to capitulations.  And that approach, in turn, will leave Democrats with a losing 2020 campaign strategy of whining that they had no choice.

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