Sunday, February 12, 2017
Peeking at Washington through a seemingly permanent face-palm
Asset forfeiture and reading criminal-justice tea leaves
In the wake of President Trump's interjection into Texas asset forfeiture politics (see Grits coverage here and here), the Star-Telegram has a good article describing how the president's condemnation ironically energized proponents of the push rather than stymied it. “Bill Miller, an Austin consultant and lobbyist, said the Trump episode transformed civil asset forfeitures into a suddenly hot topic. 'It didn’t have any visibility until Trump sort of called it out,' Miller said. 'Now it sort of went from zero to 100 miles an hour.'” See also Maurice Chammah's Marshall Project story, in which some of our Right on Crime friends were quoted rebutting the President on conservative grounds.
An oddity about this story: When one delves into the details of Donald Trump's comments on asset forfeiture, as this column by Reason's Jacob Sullum illuminated, it turns out he doesn't really understand what it is or what's being criticized. The episode sowed concern even among conservative commentators, including the observation that, even if one believes he were joking, "It does nothing for public trust of either the president or law enforcement to be seen cavalierly laughing it up about abuses of power."
Adding to a sense that criminal justice policy is not particularly a presidential priority in an era when crime is low, Trump's three new executive orders on criminal justice invoked more sound and fury, but signified next to nothing. Compared to other executive orders like on immigration, these were complete snoozers.
OTOH, as Grits suggested last year, Trump's SCOTUS nominee will probably be better than Merrick Garland on criminal-justice topics (a low bar), just as Scalia was before him. Go figure.
Meanwhile, former Dallas Police Chief David Brown was among law enforcement officials this week proposing a more evidence-based crime reduction initiative to the President. No word what the President thought of it, but the agenda stands in stark contrast to Trump's discussion with Sheriffs earlier in the week.
Like much else throughout the Administration's early days, signals on criminal justice probably have created more confusion and chaos than clarity. It's easy to say what positions the President has taken, but next to impossible to discern what policies he'll pursue.
Where are defenders of Texas' economy?
Normally Grits focuses on criminal-justice topics, but this morning I've got a little time on my hands and find myself pondering questions of Trumpian policies and the Texas economy. Though Texans voted overwhelmingly for the president in November, his stated agenda amounts to a direct attack on Texas' economic vitality.
For example, it's fine to talk about mass deportations and ICE raids on the campaign trail. But in the real world, illegal immigrants make up a whopping nine percent (9%) of Texas' work force. That's one in eleven workers. In some industries, like agriculture, construction, landscaping, and domestic work, the proportion is much higher. Of course, calls for mass deportations are impractical and real-world outcomes will never match such rhetoric. But even doing it piecemeal by deporting people arrested for traffic tickets, or who commit some other minor offense, will create big and small shocks throughout the economy. That's in addition to disrupting families and diverting and perverting law enforcement priorities toward policing a population which commits few crimes. Bottom line, we've already seen this movie: the Obama Administration's experience shows this tactic will do scarce little to reduce criminal activity. So there's not a great upside considering the economic damage which could be done.
Second, the idea that so many Texas Republicans backed a man who would repeal NAFTA and replace it with protectionist tariffs has struck Grits from the get-go as foolish and detrimental to Texas' economy. It's hard to overstate NAFTA's benefit to Texas. Mexico built a superhighway system connecting both their exporters and Pacific ports to Texas' transportation systems at the border. The expansion of the Panama Canal ramped up activity at Texas ports. Thousands of manufacturing plants pump out product in the maquiladora districts along the border. Texans make a lot of money this way.
Tariffs would hack away at profits for hundreds of American/Texas companies and, all of this economic activity will slow if Trump slaps on a 20 percent import tax. Best case, Texans pay more for the same goods and services; worst case, that happens, plus hundreds of businesses close and many thousands of Texans lose their jobs.
Then there's our energy sector. With fracking already underwater because of low oil prices, the Trump Administration arrives with pro-coal agenda that amounts to a direct attack on natural gas produced in Texas. The only way to make the coal industry viable again is to subsidize it to such an extent that it can start to compete with natural gas. Such subsidies will harm Texas' already-reeling energy sector, but somehow Texas Trump supporters seem not to notice or care.
If Trump does all of these things in the near term, the outcome could rival the long, deep recession of the late 80s, when an oil bust and the collapse of the savings and loan industry devastated Texas' economy.
In my youth, one often heard it said that "all politics is local." But Texas' politicians, for reasons Grits cannot quite understand, appear uninterested in championing the state's economy, deferring instead to a New York billionaire's vision of the national interest at the expense of their constituents' pocketbooks.
For now, when all this remains speculative, I suppose Texas pols can get away with ignoring their constituents' economic interests. But in the medium term - certainly before the 2018 elections - one would be surprised if industries harmed most by Trumpian policies aren't looking for elected officials to provide their complaints a voice. Hell, I'm surprised it hasn't already happened.
RELATED: From a guest column at the Dallas News, "Worse than threatening a state senator is Trump's support for police taking people's stuff."
Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at 7:45 AM