The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Obama Used Tear Gas at the Border, Too

A member of the Central American migrant caravan runs from tear gas near the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, November 25, 2018. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the Obama administration’s history of using tear gas on the border; the ugly decade for General Motors takes another unexpected turn; the question of whether American voters punish politicians who solve problems instead of rewarding them; and another case of progressive activists focusing on the convenient targets instead of the responsible ones.

Tear Gas on the Border: Okay When the Obama Administration Does It, Apparently

From the coverage of the Customs and Border Patrol using tear gas, one could easily be led to believe that this was an unprecedented escalation in tactics from the Trump administration.


The same tear-gas agent that the Trump administration is taking heat for deploying against a border mob this weekend is actually used fairly frequently — including more than once a month during the later years of President Barack Obama’s administration, according to Homeland Security data.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has used 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, or CS, since 2010, and deployed it 26 times in fiscal 2012 and 27 times in 2013. The use dropped after that, but was still deployed three times in 2016, Mr. Obama’s final full year in office.

Use of CS rose again in fiscal 2017, which was split between Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump, and reached 29 deployments in fiscal 2018, which ended two months ago, according to CBP data seen by The Washington Times.

Border authorities also use another agent, pepper spray, frequently — including a decade-high record of 151 instances in 2013, also under Mr. Obama. Pepper spray, officially known as Pava Capsaicin, was used 43 times in fiscal year 2018, according to the CBP numbers.

A recent Washington Post article about the use of tear gas by the Border Patrol talks a lot about the Chemical Weapons Convention, the use of poison gas in World War I, and Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons — as if any of that is comparable to the use of tear gas. The Chemical Weapons Convention explicitly says, “Riot control agents may not be used as a method of warfare but may be used for certain law enforcement purposes including riot control.”

In 2008, the National Review crew was in Saint Paul, Minn., covering the Republican National Convention. Mark Hemingway and I were on our way to tape a “Red Meat” video — remember those? — when we encountered a clash between protesters and police in riot gear. Police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters and then . . . the wind shifted. Those of us watching the clash from what we thought was a safe distance away found ourselves with watery eyes and burning nostrils. (If you feel the need to simulate the experience, find your nearest pepper shaker, remove the cap, hold it right up against your nostril, and inhale deeply.)

It’s unpleasant. But if this tool is unacceptable for dispersing crowds, what tool is acceptable? Rubber bullets can kill people in the wrong circumstances. Water cannons evoke images of the violent crackdown on civil-rights protests. The aim is to avoid physical confrontation between police and the rioters as much as possible. examined the use of tear gas after the Ferguson protests in 2014:

“There are few immediate alternatives to tear gas for riot control. There are strategies to prevent riots, including better community relations, a less militaristic appearance, and improved training, all of which have been raised in relation to Ferguson. But once rioting is under way, police need tools to control it — and “even though tear gas is far from perfect,” said David A. Koplow, a Georgetown University law professor, “it continues to be used in that role because there’s nothing else better.”

The current effort to demonize the use of tear gas is offered by folks who don’t really want to see crowds of migrants rushing the border stopped.

Is Government Motors 2.0 Around the Corner?

Rough decade for General Motors, huh?

Years of declining sales and increasing costs bring it to the brink of bankruptcy as the Great Recession kicks off in 2008. Its representatives go to Washington, begging for cash. The new Obama administration creates a Task Force on the Auto Industry.

President Obama, his task force, and Congress come to terms with the company for a limited bailout in the middle of 2009, consisting of various restructuring moves and the government purchasing a lot of company stock and holding it for several years to restore investor confidence. GM closes Hummer, Saturn, and Pontiac. They sell off Opal and Saab. The company gets the “Government Motors” nickname.  Taxpayers provided “another $30 billion on top of the $19.4 billion it has already given GM to cover its losses and fund its operations, in exchange for a 60 percent equity stake in the new company after restructuring, as well as $8.8 billion in debt and preferred stock.”

When the government sold its first shares, President Obama boldly predicted, “American taxpayers are now positioned to recover more than my administration invested in GM.” But by the time the last share of GM stock had been sold in 2014, the government would announce it lost $11.2 billion — about a billion more than it had previously estimated. Its fair to wonder whether the bailout stigma did permanent damage to the company’s reputation.

That was a particularly awful year for GM, as that year the public learned that the company had been making cars with defective switches all along — a defect that led to 124 deaths.

The Obama administration’s task force’s job was to get an accurate portrait of GM’s assets, liabilities, and problems, and the source told Bloomberg Businessweek that year that GM’s board and the task force did discuss product-liability claims. In fact, the Obama administration bragged about the thoroughness of its review. But no matter how thorough the review was, the upshot was the same — at the precise moment that the president’s task force was supposedly confronting GM about a dysfunctional corporate culture that had brought the company to the brink of ruin, it accepted everything GM’s leaders told it about the safety of its cars at face value.

Still, even with the recalls, the scandals, the blistering congressional hearings, and the mocking of CEO Mary Barra on Saturday Night Live, General Motors returned to profitability and stability — or so everyone thought.

This week brought a bombshell:

On the first day back to work from the Thanksgiving holiday, the Detroit automaker confirmed plans to cut its salaried workforce by 15 percent, to dump most of its car models and to idle five plants in three states, two countries and its hometown.

GM’s latest restructuring details will ratchet higher pressure on rival Ford Motor Co. to detail its own workout plans. They’ll dramatically raise the stakes in next year’s national contract talks with the United Auto Workers, as bargainers haggle over the future of at least four U.S. plants. And the planned plant actions in Michigan and Ohio predictably are drawing rhetorical fire from President Donald Trump.

. . . Fat profits coming from one country are not enough to support a rapidly changing business model steeped in advanced technology. GM makes and sells more vehicles in China than it does in the United States, a trend now several years old and unlikely to change. And the automaker’s doubling-down on what it calls its “growth” plants for trucks and SUVs inevitably would come at the expense of traditional car plants and their hourly workers.

Remember how the Volt represented the future of post-bailout GM? Nevermind. “The automaker will no longer make the Volt semi-electric car and the Cruze compact sedan for sale in North America beginning in March, Chevy spokesman Kevin Kelly confirmed.”

Trump can thunder and rage about GM’s moves, and probably will do so quite dramatically. But he can’t really change the dynamics of what’s motivating the company to make these changes — shifts in consumer demand, and the increasing importance of the foreign market. No, consumers aren’t buying Volts and Cruzes in enough numbers to make them worthwhile — but apparently they’re not buying the Impala, Cadillac XTS, or Buick LaCrosse, either.

David Burge observes, “No elected official should ‘deal’ with GM, other than giving them wide latitude to sink or swim on their own decisions. But let’s face it, that horse left the barn in 2009, and now GM is a government agency in all but name.”

Trump will hate this move, as will Democrats. Will the federal government offer GM some sort of financial inducements to keep making cars that customers don’t want, just to save jobs in Detroit and Warren, Mich., Warren, Ohio and White Marsh, Md.?

Do Voters Punish Politicians for Solving Problems?

Victor Davis Hanson argues that the American electorate is . . . more or less a bunch of ingrates:

Never has suburban America done better economically. It certainly appreciates that North Korea is not threatening nuclear-tipped missile launches at the West Coast. It likes the idea that the U.S. is producing more oil than either Saudi Arabia or Russia. If polls are an indication, it certainly does not want throngs of illegal aliens crashing through the southern border. And it probably thinks that China has no business cheating its way to world dominance.

But suburban dwellers seem embarrassed, of late, that the solutions to these once intractable dilemmas came from someone with a dubious past and a habit of saying and doing things incompatible with their own suburban norms. And they are learning that Trump can no more stop tweeting or ridiculing than Shane could put down his guns (“There’s no going back”). I don’t think the sodbusters in later years ever put up a statue to Shane, the liberator.

Whether Trump rides out wounded in 2020 or 2024, he will likely do so as a lonely figure — and perhaps he will not be appreciated or even especially missed by the very people he benefitted.

VDH writes, “The hostile reaction to Trump is a sort of proof of his success.”

Does it follow, then, that if Trump was widely loved, it would be proof of his failure?

ADDENDUM: Over at the Corner, an observation about progressive activists who would rather chant and shout at store clerks and holiday shoppers than confront the fact that they were fooled by Democratic politicians that they’ve supported in the past.


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