Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Media's Crocodile Tears / The Middle East: Enough For Now / The Wall Debacle

Really It’s Not That Bad, Is It, Mr. Tapper? -- It’s been tough sledding for Mr. Gripes since Donald Trump’s election. How on earth is anything he chooses to write about going to compete – on an entertainment level -- with whatever that febrile, infantile brain of the President chooses to  bray about on any given day, or hour, for that matter.

After a long hiatus, I finally realize that the Trump Bizarro-World is a cornucopia of riches for snapping-turtle types like Mr. Gripes.

So, let’s get started:

At the outset, let’s acknowledge one certifiable fact about the circus we are so ravenously feasting on: the media, seemingly horrified and disgusted at the spectacle they’re experiencing up-close, will never acknowledge to stunned viewers that Donald Trump is an absolute godsend to all media: TV and radio ratings have jumped, newspaper subscriptions are going up; [Ironically, the ‘failing’ NY Times, gushing red ink, may prosper again due to Trump], and even stodgy, august publications like the New Yorker are seeing substantially larger subscription numbers.

What this means, predictably, are higher advertising rates, which will engender, naturally enough, larger profits for the entertainment/news corporations. The more outrageous Mr. Trump acts, whisper the TV stations and newspapers, the more the rapt, fascinated ‘viewing audience’ tunes in to see the Big Show -- and the cash rolls in. The media – the New York Times, CNN, the Washington Post, CBS, NBC, all of the giants – weep through crocodile tears.

And let’s not forget that not-happening, run-of-the-mill broadcasters -- Jake Tapper and Don Lemon come to mind -- by confronting Trump on occasion and acting so, so aggrieved, are raising their own profiles, which very likely will engender more lavish opportunities down the road. Mr. Tapper, for one, should send a ‘Thank You, Mr. President’ to the White House. 

Now to President Trump: we all are aware of his multiple shortcomings that will not serve him well as President – impatience, megalomania, rashness, greed, cruelty, ignorance, an inability to focus, mythomania [lying], lack of compassion, indolence, a bias toward authoritarianism, and a Manichean world view – but the one trait that stands out to Mr. Gripes is his, and I’m creating a word here, total in-educability. Mr. Gripes senses the President, in his term, probably will never bone up on essential policy issues, whether it’s North Korea, the Chinese military build-up, trade agreements, the burgeoning civil war in the Ukraine, or a thousand other issues. That task would involve solitary work and concentration, verboten to the Trump persona.  He’ll watch news on television, probably Fox, read a magazine or two [‘People’ and ‘Maxim’, most likely, certainly not ‘The Atlantic’], speak to his advisors, but never will he have enough information of his own to make intelligent decisions.

Mr. Trump prides himself on ‘winging it’, just as Mr. Gripes attempted to do when he had not studied for an exam. That particular methodology never worked for Mr. Gripes, and will not work any better for Mr. Trump. In fact, his rampant ignorance will most likely lead to emotional and irrational decisions. His final decisions may simply be based on the opinion of the last person he spoke to. Barack Obama, whatever his faults, did not make rash decisions; Mr. Trump, I’m afraid, will.  I dread the consequences.

The Middle East: Bye-Bye for Now -- Now, after all that, I bring up an issue in which Mr. Gripes finds himself in fundamental agreement with Mr. Trump: the Israel-Palestine quagmire.

First, some telling optics: the President met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a couple of months ago, and afterwards they held a press conference. Mr. Netanyahu sits to Mr. Trump’s right as Trump takes press questions on the Middle East. While Mr. Trump was babbling on, the look on Mr. Netanyahu’s countenance was priceless: he was the ‘cat that ate the canary.’ Smug, seemingly supremely content, almost gloating, the Prime Minister, after the hand-to-hand combat with Barack Obama for eight years, knew he finally had his yes-man in charge. ‘Man, after dealing with that bastard Obama for an eternity, this guy is going to be a piece of cake.’

As for the topic at hand, Mr. Trump announces --- very likely thinking, ‘I don’t know sh_t or even care  about this boring stuff’ -- that  he won’t take sides on the question of one state or two states, and then says, [I paraphrase] ‘in whatever form Israel and Palestine agree on a solution, that’s fine with me. Until then, the United States is hands-off.’ You know, when I heard that, I thought, ‘Trump’s absolutely right – why the hell should this country continue working our collective asses off to get these intransigent enemies to sit down and work out a peaceful solution, when nothing’s worked for 20 years?’

Hell, John Kerry, the feckless former Secretary of State, must have flown in circles around the Middle East 50 times trying to get a deal done, all for nothing. Enough already.  It’s not worth our time or attention until the parties themselves over there make an attempt to sit down and get serious about peace.

There are so many other dangerous, time-sensitive issues that have to be dealt with right now. Our energies should be focused elsewhere.

The ‘Wall’— A little bit of history: France built, between World War I and II, a fortification along the Switzerland-Luxembourg border to prevent another invasion from Germany.  Called the ‘Maginot Line,’ the French reasoned the wall was impregnable -- no longer would goose-stepping German troops come pouring over the open border. One problem, though: no fortification was built up north along the Belgian border.

Needless to say, the wall didn’t work – the Maginot Line is, infamously, one of the great follies of military lore. Germany, in 1940, invaded France by simply going around the wall to the south, through Belgium. Paris fell two weeks later, and all of France capitulated soon after. The well-deserved reputation of the French as military morons has stood to this day.

Well, Mr. Gripes is convinced history is about to repeat itself: the wall along the Mexican border that President Trump is planning to erect promises to be a multi-billion – many, many billions -- calamity, an unnecessary boondoggle that will surely line the pockets of some of Trump’s fat cat supporters, but serve no other purpose whatsoever. By the time it’s completed, the wall will be as useless as an appendix.

Let’s, first, break down some of the initial fanciful cost projections: in the White House budget,  the figure for the construction has been set at $5 billion. No one in the White House or Congress believes that figure for a moment. More reputable analysts who don’t have an ax to grind put the figure at $11 billion. And there’s not one word about the inevitable overruns: Mr. Gripes lives in New York City, just like Mr. Trump, and both of us know no major construction project is completed here without huge overruns of expenditures. Overruns are ‘baked’ into contracts here and elsewhere, as Mr. Trump surely knows. So, let’s double the figure to $22 billion. And that’s just for the construction.

I move on…..This is one huge project, covering about 2,100 miles of border. Some of that terrain is exceptionally rugged, and will be exceedingly difficult to ‘pacify’ even prior to any wall construction. That means an additional huge cost element to the project.

And what about the real estate along the border on which the wall will be built? The government has to negotiate prices for that land with the individual landowners. Indeed, through eminent domain, the federal government can take over privately owned real estate, but that doesn’t mean the whole process is going to be easy. And, once again, that means big delays, more lawyers, more litigation, more court dates, and another huge financial outlay. 

And, adding to the financial slaughter, President Trump has requested in his budget 15,000[!] additional border police, new judges and other personnel, which will lead to a brand-new federal bureaucracy, with all the attendant employee benefits and wages that promise to stretch out for decades.  And, of course, that means additional costs attached to the wall, and a few more billion added to the federal debt each year. 

Finally, perhaps the most salient point: by the time this monstrosity is finished, it’ll be outdated and essentially useless. Let’s suppose this takes 9, 10 years to build: no one has mentioned that technology advances, through much better functioning drones and space satellite surveillance, guarantee blanket electronic coverage along the entire length of the wall. Drones will take over the job of the wall in keeping out immigrants. No one will be unobserved coming over the border, purely via electronic means. Illegals crossing over will not stand a chance amidst all the cameras honing in on them, and capture will be virtually instantaneous. The wall will be obsolete on the day it’s completed – and stand for a very long time as another display of American idiocy and arrogance.

By Jim Israel, aka Mr. Gripes                         
April 18, 2017