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Other View: A well-broken promise

This appeared in Saturday’s Washington Post.

At his inauguration, President Donald Trump struck a grand note of economic nationalism: “We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.” Four days later, on Jan. 24, he ordered a restart to the Keystone XL oil pipeline; in the following weeks, he repeatedly implied that he had done so on the condition that the 1,200-mile tube linking Alberta, Canada, with refineries on the Gulf of Mexico would be constructed of American steel.

Well, promises were made to be modified. On March 2, the White House announced that the president’s strict “Buy American” rule does not apply to Keystone XL after all. This was only reasonable, given that the Canadian pipeline company had already stockpiled the necessary metal, about half of which was made outside the United States and half in Arkansas, by a foreign-owned firm, according to Reuters. The White House argued this was consistent with the fine print of the president’s Jan. 24 order directing the secretary of commerce to come up with a plan to require U.S.-made steel on all new pipelines: Keystone XL had been planned for almost a decade before then-President Barack Obama blocked it for environmental reasons, so it is not new.

Works for us! We never bought Trump’s Buy American shtick in the first place, any more than we did Obama’s similar provisos to various sections of his 2009 economic stimulus bill. Politically popular and (for certain sensitive national-security procurements) occasionally necessary though they may be, Buy American provisions generally make little economic sense.

To the extent they actually do succeed in identifying pure made-in-the-USA goods and requiring contractors to use them, whether they’re the best and cheapest available or not, they raise the cost of infrastructure and lower its quality. And given the prevalence of global supply chains for manufactured goods, it’s often not possible to identify such goods—at least not without expensive, time-consuming bureaucratic hassle of the sort Trump otherwise claims he’s trying to eliminate. It took Obama’s Energy Department well more than a year to complete the Buy American regulations for the stimulus bill’s energy-efficiency grant program.

What’s more, strict domestic-content rules can collide with the United States’ obligations under various international agreements requiring countries to provide fair access to one another’s procurement programs. It was never clear where Trump thought he derived power to dictate to Keystone XL, a private-sector project, in the first place. This certainly could have violated the spirit of the North American Free Trade Agreement, if not the letter. No matter how much Trump despises it, NAFTA is still the law of the land. Maybe that’s why his pipeline directive carefully insisted on Buy American, but only “to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law.” You could pump half the shale oil in North Dakota through that loophole.

To the extent it was not hollow, Trump’s pledge to Buy American would have been counterproductive. Thank goodness he didn’t keep it.

Letter: The teacher's fault

A current story in the Times-News featured a teacher who had resigned over allegations she taped a student’s mouth shut to keep him from interrupting while she was teaching. Much more is coming as competent teachers are crumbling under the stresses of unrealistic hoops placed before them as administrators brownnose distant edu-NAZIs as part of a career-enhancement move.

What some teachers are dealing with in our community is as challenging as in the “inner-city” stories we’ve been hearing about and should be governed by the same concern as attended the child labor laws of the last century. But, then, we don’t really care about teachers, do we? And, as long as respondents offer retorts like “There’s just no reason,” although they have no idea what disrespect, disobedience, and consistently aberrant behavior some teachers must deal with all day, every day, even in the middle grades of elementary school, nothing will change.

One respondent said parents don’t teach their children “proper manners.” Many parents don’t teach their children manners at all because they come from families who are three or four generations removed from understanding respect and manners, themselves. Parents once respected teachers and helped them prepare their children for being productive members of society, today many just support the idea that their child’s atypical, disruptive, and aberrant behavior must be the fault of the teacher. And when the teacher meets with a parent to discuss testing for ADD, ADHD, or other disorders, they’re met with denial after denial ad nauseam.

And all this is possible because parents have been allowed such power administrators just quake and are hesitant to deal with the real problems. Thus, the massively over-burdened teacher is the avenue of least resistance because administrators refuse to accept their rightful responsibility in the matter.

William Denham

Twin Falls

Krauthammer: Down the conspiracy rabbit hole

WASHINGTON — When he was Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz was once asked about the CIA’s disavowal of involvement in a mysterious recent bombing in Lebanon. Replied Shultz: “If the CIA denies something, it’s denied.”

Has there ever been a more dry, more wry, more ironic verdict on the world of espionage? Within it, there is admission and denial, smoke and mirrors, impenetrable fog and deliberate obfuscation. Truth? Ask the next guy.

Which is why my default view of espionage is to never believe anyone because everyone is trained in deception. This is not a value judgment; it’s a job description.

We learn, for example, from Tuesday’s spectacular WikiLeaks dump that among the CIA’s various and nefarious cybertools is the capacity to simulate intrusion by a foreign power, the equivalent of planting phony fingerprints on a smoking gun.

Who are you going to believe now? I can assure you that some enterprising Trumpite will use this revelation to claim that the whole storyline pointing to Russian interference in the U.S. election was a fabrication. And who was behind that? There is no end to this hall of mirrors. My rule, therefore, is: Stay away.

Hard to do with Washington caught up in one of its periodic conspiracy frenzies. Actually, two. One, anti-Donald Trump, is that he and his campaign colluded with Russian intelligence. The other, anti-Barack Obama-CIA-”deep state,” is that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower to ensnare candidate Trump.

The odd thing is that, as of today, there is no evidence for either charge. That won’t, of course, stop the launch of multiple all-consuming investigations.

(1) Collusion:

James Clapper, Obama’s director of national intelligence, who has been deeply and publicly at odds with Trump, unequivocally states that he has seen zero evidence of any Trump campaign collusion with Russia. Nor has anyone else.

The contrary suspicion arises because it’s hard to explain why Michael Flynn falsely denied discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador and why Jeff Sessions falsely denied having any contacts at all. That suggests concealment. But there was nothing inherently inappropriate with either behavior. So why conceal?

Suspicion, nonetheless, is far short of assertion — and a fairly thin basis for a major investigation, let alone for a special prosecutor. To prosecute what exactly?

(2) Wiretap:

The other storyline is simply fantastical. Congressional Republicans have uniformly run away from Trump’s Obama-wiretap accusation. Clapper denies it. FBI Director James Comey denies it. Not a single member of Trump’s own administration is willing to say it’s true.

Loopier still is to demand that Congress find the truth when the president could just pick up the phone and instruct the FBI, CIA and DNI to declare on the record whether this ever occurred. And if there really was an October 2016 FISA court order to wiretap Trump, the president could unilaterally declassify the information yesterday.

The bugging story is less plausible than a zombie invasion. Nevertheless, one could spin a milder — and more plausible — scenario of executive abuse. It goes like this:

The intelligence agencies are allowed to listen in on foreigners. But if any Americans are swept up in the conversation, their part of it is supposed to be redacted or concealed to protect their identity. According to The New York Times, however, the Obama administration appears to have gone out of its way to make sure that information picked up about Trump associates’ contacts with Russians was as widely disseminated as possible.

Under Obama, did the agencies deliberately abuse the right to listen in on foreigners as a way to listen in, improperly, on Americans?

If they did, we will find out. But for now, all of this is mere conjuring. There is no evidence for either the collusion or the wiretap charge. We are headed down a rabbit hole. An enormous amount of heat and energy will be expended, ending — my guess — roughly where we started.

What a waste. There is a major national agenda waiting to be debated and enacted. And there is trouble beyond the cozy confines of the capital that needs to be confronted. Self-created crisis can leave us distracted, spent and unprepared when the real thing hits.

It’s unquiet out there. North Korea keeps testing missiles as practice for attacking U.S. bases in Japan. Meanwhile, we are scrambling to install an antimissile shield in South Korea as early as next month. Fuses are burning. When the detonations begin, we’d better not be in the rabbit hole.