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He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules!

What's the Will of the Voters got to do with Anything?

Value of our money going up in smokeThousands of Regular Votes « Five U.S. Supreme Court Votes

I won fair and square! Why don't you trust me? I've always been rich. Why would I steal any more of your money? I don't need it. I just leave all that stuff to the accountants my dad told me to use. Just trust me!
Still have more ideas for alternative titles and subtitles, but I have to draw the line somewhere, even without the help of an editor--the bane of the Internet is the lack of editorial guidance. The main title above actually goes back to the days of the elder Bush, when I noticed that there were worse problems in the world than the Kuwait invasion, but money was involved in that one, so it absolutely had to be resolved, and immediately. At least the elder Bush had personally earned enough money to firmly believe that protecting American wallets was important, but I still don't have a clue as to what the son really believes. Also, I'd love to hear either one of them sincerely admit to having made a mistake, Dan Quayle and DWI conviction notwithstanding.
Link to the Fringe Majority

This little piece started its twisted life as an inflamed essay, spinning off from some speculations about the dynamics of the American political process. But obviously the presidential election of 2000 is what got me to thinking about the topic. [Again?] In that more philosophic essay, I was basically looking for a small set of premises that can explain why it works so strangely these days. But for this little polemic I only need one premise to come to the conclusion that Al Gore won the presidential election, regardless of how it actually came out. That simple premise is that it was not the special will of the voters of Palm Beach County to throw out so many of their votes. Their will was that their votes would be treated just like all the other votes and counted just the same. No one expects the voting system to be perfect, but the errors are supposed to more-or-less cancel out, and this time they didn't.

The crucial result of the voting process in Palm Beach County was that a very high percentage of the ballots were ruled to be invalid. If the county was divided exactly evenly between Bush and Gore, it might not matter. But this large county voted over 60% for Gore and under 40% for Bush--call it a 20% differential, though it was actually larger. If the invalid votes came at random from a single population, they would have had almost exactly the same distribution--this follows because the sample sizes are very large. Actually, many of the voters claim that Gore votes were more likely to be lost, but that isn't important for my simplified analysis (unless someone very belatedly comes up with a persuasive reverse argument). It doesn't even matter what problem caused so many invalid votes. If the error probability was equal for all candidates, then those lost votes were mostly intended for Gore. Or to use the opposite perspective, if most of those ballots were valid--if the invalid votes had only been at the average level of error in the other counties of Florida--then Gore would have picked up that 20% differential, or around 5,500 votes in Palm Beach County, using the most pessimistic assumptions I could come up with. The largest margin ever claimed for Bush (before the first recount) was much less than that.

Of course Palm Beach does not all of Florida make, but the evidence is quite strong that the least accurate voting systems and the highest numbers of lost votes were in areas that mostly voted for Gore--so a more accurate assessment of the will of the voters would mostly recover Gore votes. The Bush strongholds mostly used more reliable voting methods, and their votes have accordingly been more accurately assessed--very little for Bush to gain from a more careful count in those areas [though it was eventually determined that even in those pro-Bush areas, the mistakes that cancelled votes mostly affected Gore votes, at least for those cases where the errors could have been detected and corrected]. The Miami Herald commissioned a comprehensive study going all the way down to the precinct level, and the final estimate was that Gore should have won by about 20,000 votes, if the actual will of the actual voters on the actual Election Day were the only criterion. The analyst considered a range of assumptions about the errors, but every plausible way you sliced it, the will was on Gore's side. Perhaps the surprising thing is that all the errors just barely tilted the visible result, but see below regarding the margin of error.

Just to review the controversial counting process, the first complete machine count showed a margin of less than 2,000 votes for Bush--which 'victory' was interestingly proclaimed by a cousin of Bush who worked at one of the major news agencies. (This public proclamation may have been important in creating the apparent 'possession' of victory, where "Possession is nine points of the law.") The legally required recount--again by machine--reduced the margin to about 900 votes, though the international absentee votes were still pending. Those absentee ballots were easily accounted for, though there were then some lawsuits about improper handling of other absentee ballots. Additionally, there were various claims of interference with voting, mostly in areas that tended to vote Democratic. But of course the big threat to Bush's victory claim was the Gore-supported push for more manual recounts. Basically, virtually all of the challenges involved enough votes to potentially affect the outcome of the election. Bush's handlers decided on the simple hard-line approach, relying on the 'nine points of the law'. They fought to block any challenge or recount that might reduce the margin of error, which actually made very good sense since it was only the cumulative result of MANY errors that gave Bush any lead at all. They had to defend every error--and it worked.

In spite of all the smoke and noise, some things are certain:

  1. There were errors in the voting in Florida;
  2. Some of those errors could be detected and corrected; and
  3. It is possible that reducing the margin of error could have changed the outcome of the election.

The legal squabbling went on for many weeks, though I believe that Gore's early suggestion of a careful statewide recount could have finished the process in two weeks. At that point in time, he couldn't know for sure how it would come out, but it would have been a far more open and definitive procedure than was actually followed.

In the end, the U.S. Supreme Court finally settled it by ruling 5-4 in Bush's favor. As of this writing, we still don't know how many errors could have been corrected if the ballots were carefully examined. Apparently the ballots will be examined, even though it will be very expensive. They are regarded as public documents, and even at $300/hour a number of news organizations are working together to examine them. The truth is supposed to be important, but it still seems like a lot of money for a moot point. For the sake of 'closure', I suppose it would be rather nice if they were examined and it was determined that they would not have changed the outcome--and after all, no one can really prove anything about the voters' will [though the exit polls that projected the Gore victory were probably more accurate than the ballots in this bizarre case]. Perhaps Justice Stevens said it best in his dissent to the final U.S. Supreme Court decision: "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law." My conclusion is that it's just a 'government of the lawyers, by the lawyers, and for the lawyers,' and I'm personally glad I'm not one of them.

What the Florida Supreme Court had finally said (before the U.S. Supreme Court overruled them) was that the margin of error should be reduced if possible, and that court felt it was still possible, even at that late date. I think it interesting that a dissent in that Florida opinion actually quoted John Allen Poulous as saying: gThe margin of error in this election is far greater than the margin of victory, no matter who wins.h Poulous is supposed to be a mathematician at Temple University, but I have been unable to find a more direct citation. Obviously, I think that in such a situation the Florida court majority was right to try to reduce the margin of error.

The U.S. Supreme Court basically ruled that there was no time to do this fairly--after having helped use up all of the time with various stays to block counting at the behest of Bush's lawyers. The court even set the deadline to define the exact amount of time allowed, after saying it was wrong for the Florida court to set arbitrary deadlines. However, that wasn't the only apparently illogical aspect of the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Most fundamental was probably their hypocrisy in claiming to be defenders of the states' rights--except in this case. Their own ruling even stated that this was a weird case and their ruling should NOT be taken as establishing any precedent--which is impossible, since EVERY ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court DEFINES precedent. Also add in the fact that three members of the majority had good grounds to recuse themselves, and it becomes even more obvious that this was a political decision extending all the way to the politics of the supposedly apolitical U.S. Supreme Court itself. Perhaps the most important factor was that several of the conservative 'justices' are reportedly eager to retire, and obviously would prefer their own replacements be named by a 'trustworthy' conservative like Bush. Everyone made various strange noises about protecting the equality of the votes, but the only votes that finally counted were those five votes of the U.S. Supreme Kangaroo Court majority--no recount required.

In passing, I'd like to reject one of the alternative hypotheses that seems to be going around among the lawyers. That hypothesis is that the voters are basically feeble-minded fools, which is why they could not make a definitive selection between two clearly distinct individuals. In particular, as regards Florida, there were a couple of issues that the voters did decide very clearly, but in ways that seemed very strange. For example, the voters in Florida strongly approved a proposal for a high speed train where no economic justification exists. In another venue, California is having electric utility problems that are surely related to the voters' decisions. My response is that these are symptoms of the problem--and the problem is that so many eligible voters don't. The voters are not 'feeble-minded fools', and a lot of the smartest voters, perhaps the same ones who should most be encouraged to express their opinions by voting, are the same ones who have figured out that voting is a pure waste of time--just a legitimization ritual for no real purpose. And given how the lawyers settled this election, it looks like they're right on target.

Another alternative hypothesis is that the ongoing media reports may have affected the results of the election. This is a VERY serious problem, especially given the numbers involved--large numbers of media viewers versus very small differences in the final vote counts in several states. If, while the polls are open, thousands of voters hear a projection one way or another, it may well influence the voting decisions of some of them, especially for people who think voting or not voting are about the same in importance. However, there is a big mitigating factor: Projections cut both ways--if some of the projected loser's supporters may then decide not to vote, so may some of the projected winner's, or maybe some of the projected loser's supporters will even decide to make extra efforts, and the hope is all these effects cancel, just as the ballot errors are supposed to. Still, I personally would support a ban on reporting projections until every poll had closed--even including the deadline for postmarks on absentee ballots. But I hold that the much larger problem is polling in general and 'leaders' who lead while constantly looking backwards at the latest poll results. And I think it would be impossible to ban polling in general, even if it is harmful--another one of those technologies that just has to be lived with.

Lastly, there's the hypothesis or criticism that Gore was weak or hypocritical for not starting with a statewide challenge rather than focusing on a few counties that he felt would be most helpful to him. I hope the way this decision was made will eventually be known, though it will be hard to find impartial and reliable data, and in any case, the 'general' is ultimately responsible for the outcome of every 'battle'. However I think there are a number of factors to consider here:

  1. Was Gore sincere in offering a statewide recount in his speech a week after the election? I think so, though that was already after the deadline for filing normal challenges. The actual challenge at that point was for Bush to agree to work together for the most accurate outcome--which was extremely unlikely given the actual situation.
  2. Time was very limited when the original decisions were made, leading to a bad tactical decision.
  3. A local response may have been seen as best for several reasons:
    1. To try to avoid escalation--which actually happened anyway and which resulted in the Supreme Court intervention.
    2. Resources to support recounts were limited, but there was pressure for a rapid resolution, suggesting local recounts.
    3. If a local recount shifted the results, then Bush would be forced to the defensive position.
    4. Gore may have hoped the Bushies would suggest the statewide recount and been planning to leap to agreement in that case. Gore may have even hoped to gain votes in the Bush areas [as actually happened]. In this case Bush would have been properly hoisted by his own petard.
    5. The largest voting problem WAS local, focused in Palm Beach County (though the Florida law actually does not allow a single county challenge).
  4. Gore knew that they were 'fighting' in hostile territory--the people responsible for counting and certifying the election results in this critical state were unabashed Bush supporters, most notably his brother as governor and his campaign co-chair as secretary of state.
  5. Because of the 'facts on the ground', it may not have mattered. Yes, Gore clearly--though rather narrowly--won according to the will of the voters, but the only available and admissible evidence of that will was the ballots, and the ballots had many errors. How many errors could have been detected and corrected?

Anyway, back to the boring mechanical questions. Most of the experts seem to think the punchcard voting system used in many of the primarily Democratic-voting counties of Florida have minimum error rates around 1.5%, while for the marksense forms used in most of the Republican-voting counties it's around 0.5%. The average error in Florida was around 2%, though there were reportedly a couple of small counties with invalid ballots in excess of 10%. That clearly reflects worse-than-best-case conditions, and most of the blame has been directed at confusing ballots in punchcard voting machines. The margin of victory in Florida appears to be around 0.015%, obviously much smaller than the average error. Actually, considering the Florida Supreme Court's last word on the matter, perhaps the margin of victory should be regarded to be around 150 votes. But this is fundamentally a peculiar election, when the total difference nationwide is only about 0.3% of the votes cast (in favor of Gore).

Oh yeah, one more major item. The election law in Florida says an election is supposed to accurately assess the will of the voters. It does not say the will of the smart voters, the young voters with good eyesight, the rich voters, the voters using marksense forms, or even the voters who agree with the governor. The law just says voters, as in ALL of the voters. Barring new evidence, the true will of the voters--both nationwide and in Florida--is clearly that Bush lost, but Bush's little brother is the governor of Florida and his will was for his big brother to win. Therefore, Bush 'won', though the matter was finally determined in the courts by deliberately IGNORING the ballots. Stealing elections is supposed to criminal, and someone is supposed to go to jail for crimes, but I bet that no one will.

A few predictions:

Since I'm in such a negative and inflammatory mood, I'm going to expand on the theme of this essay just a bit more, offering my guess as to why the presidency is so valuable these days--I've heard, though have trouble believing, that $6 billion was invested in this most recent campaign. I really can't understand it from the Democratic perspective. Perhaps they're just matching the GOP, or maybe they're just better at hiding what they're up to--certainly plenty of accusations from the Bush camp [but see note at right]. However, regarding the Republican motivations, my belief is that it's a simple matter of profit--but in the form of yet another style of legal theft.

My version is that after Reagan became president, his handlers were able to steal billions of dollars from previously sound banks and other financial institutions. That money has mostly been replaced at the taxpayers' expense, and now would be a fine time for another 'harvest', probably using some minor variation of the same technique. Basically what they did in the early '80s involved changing the regulations affecting the banks, and then they and their friends used their obviously deep understanding of the new regulations to borrow lots of money from the banks, mostly in the form of commercial real estate purchases secured by the land itself. As long as they could get more loans, each sale was able to raise the apparent value of the land. After all, the prices are supposed to reflect the value and each sale was at a higher price--though the hard cash for the deals was coming from the banks. At some point, the reality principle had to come into play, but that only landed on the last guy, the fellow who had paid the highest price. Everyone else in the chain was scot free. But the joke is not very funny, because even the last guy in the chain was working with borrowed money, and his most visible loss was when the bank foreclosed on a piece of land--which was now worth only a small fraction of what the bank had lent against it when its value was supposedly much higher.

In the end the banks had to eat the losses, but apparently could not be allowed to fail, as they deserved--so the taxpayers wound up picking up the tab.

Those EVIL Democrats!

Various accusations constituted an important part of Bush's campaign, but to me the funny and pretty much incomprehensible part is that most of them apparently fell into three categories:
  1. The ([envied?] Clinton) Democrats are a big-money party--just like the Republicans;
  2. The Democrats want a strong federal government that will abuse the states--even though Bush sought and required strong federal intervention to secure the presidency; and
  3. Bill Clinton has terrible personal problems--and it doesn't matter that Bush himself had (and maybe still has) more personal problems than Gore ever had.
Excuse me, but it seems like there's some more hypocrisy somewhere around here...

Yes, billions of dollars went somewhere, but it was all nice and legal, and almost no one went to jail for it. Another Bush brother (Neil, not Jeb the Florida governor) was actually nominated for the dishonor in an indictment in Colorado, but obviously it didn't stick, and as far as I know, no one even suggested Reagan could be held liable, though it happened on his watch and was supposedly his responsibility. My main prediction for this Bush presidency is that they'll work more quickly this time--their Congressional majority is rather shaky, but they should have two years of pretty complete freedom. Recently I spoke with someone who thinks that the specific form this time will involve securities and stocks, which actually makes pretty good sense. I suspect it will also involve the Internet, too, somehow disguised as legislation to facilitate online stock trading. The stock market has been pretty well detached from reality for a good while now, so if they could loosen up the regulations in some way so as to allow an increase of credit-based transactions, it could be done very much as with the real estate of the '80s.

One more prediction is war. The most likely venues would be Cuba or Iraq. Cuba seems safer, and is a kind of festering sore much too close to the body of America, at least in the perception of some folks. Still, Cuba should NOT be mistaken for Grenada or Haiti. A war in the Middle East is obviously much more dangerous, but young Bush may be thinking of taking care of what many regard as his father's failure to finish cleaning up that mess. However, the fortunes of war are always fickle...

A war might result as an accident resulting from North-Korean-style brinksmanship. Bush has already shown his 'macho' spirit, and there are certainly plenty of Bush supporters who want to play that game, but it's dangerous in the best of times, a real test of 'crisis management' ability. So far, Bush's apparent strategy for dealing with a crisis (in the election situation) is to tell someone else to deal with it while he heads back to his ranch. Looking at the Reagan example, I find little comfort in relying on his surrogates.
Bush likes to use a pseudo-Spanish phrase for his willingness to fight--to prove himself--, something like "mano o mano". The other manos have included his father, though of course Gore was the main recent focus. I guess we're supposed to hope that most of this was just drunken blathering, and now he isn't so "young and irresponsible."

A weird justification for hitting on Cuba is as some kind of payback for the Cuban refugee support that was so important in Florida. Kind of hard for me to imagine the precise reasoning that might be applied there, but the bottom line is that Bush reportedly gained about 30,000 Cuban votes as a result of the Elian Gonzales incident a few months ago, and obviously those votes could have kept the election away from the Bush-friendly U.S. Supreme Court. I rather doubt Bush as president could have handled the situation any differently, but fortunately it wasn't his problem--and his brother Jeb is much too smart to get involved. Also, Bush talks about reaching out to groups that have traditionally voted Democratic, so that sort of fits his fantasies, even though he is the purest kind of WASP. In spite of reportedly getting less than 10% of the Black vote, Bush has already appointed several Blacks to high positions--but it will be interesting to see how long they last.

However, I think the biggest motivating factor might be this weird presidential popularity thing. I'm sure Bush remembers his father's 90% popularity rating when he was slapping Saddam around. However, it's real easy to be popular when the kill ratio is around 1,000 to 1, which was probably a historical first--or a bogus war. We had the complete freedom to fight on OUR terms, using our air supremacy to attack at will until they got weak and thirsty and we got bored. It's not like there were any big mysteries in our tactics, so maybe the big mystery is what else Saddam was hoping for.

Anyway, having a high popularity rating has apparently become the most important objective of the American presidency, and everyone knows that wartime presidents are more popular. And therefore, I think the junior Bush would very much like to be a wartime president, one way or another. However, as is repeatedly stated by his supporters (!?), perhaps Bush's will won't matter since Bush mostly won't be calling any shots as he is guided through the complexities of life by his staff...

On this subject, there are many people who believe that the elder Bush somehow set up the whole Kuwait thing, relying on some kind of detailed psychological analysis of Saddam's probable behavior. I myself can't believe such conspiracy theories--or that anyone's behavior is THAT predictable--, but I do admit to wondering why Bush didn't finish the job. Desert Storm killed about 100,000 Iraqis--many buried alive--who mostly didn't want to be in Kuwait, but Saddam's Republican Guard that was so important in keeping those conscripts from deserting (and in keeping Saddam in power) mostly got let off the hook... If someone really had to be buried alive, I think we buried the wrong ones...

As already mentioned, real war is a risky business, and this is an area where Bush's lack of intelligence and desire to prove his manhood really worries me, even from far away. The big concern is of course the big country China. Bush probably has no real idea of why 'he' shouldn't go man-to-man against them. The obvious 'why not' is because it would be quite unpleasant and difficult if the field of battle was Taiwan, and yet it's quite possible the Chinese would feel a little counterinvasion was in order... After all, if Bush does something weird like invade Cuba since it's in our backyard, don't they have an even closer relationship with Taiwan?

Of course, any war wouldn't really be man-to-man any more than the election campaign was, with Bush carefully avoiding such real and personal confrontations as debates. Lots of other people would do the real fighting and ugly dying. Most of the suffering would probably be by Cuban or Chinese civilians, but why would Bush worry about them, anyway? They can't vote in Florida, can they?

In closing:

My conclusion? It doesn't seem to matter a whole lot, and I consider this Web page to be mostly a personal statement for the public record. But for emphasis, and just to make it nice and clear, let me state for the record that I regard Dubya as an amoral, illegitimate, and unelected resident of the White House, a minor hypocrite with lots of money that came with his family name. He has no detectable strong qualifications for any position of responsibility or authority. However, I also know I'm not the only one who feels this way, so maybe we should form a club and wish our votes actually mattered. In theory, I suppose Bush could be forced out of office because of the little detail of not winning the election, but I don't think it will happen--though I do think it would be a good thing, and it couldn't happen to a more deserving twit.

Trying to be optimistic, I'd like to think that all of this will somehow lead to some good outcome, that lessons will be learned, etc., etc. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I just don't think so anymore. After all, almost the same banking scam was used only a few years later in Japan, and it worked just fine. Besides unelected presidents like Ford and young Bush, the Republicans have in recent years given us national 'leaders' like Nixon, Agnew, Reagan, and Quayle, and yet the GOP remains quite viable and attractive to many voters. Dubya's nomination wasn't even based on any positive traits--his most important claim was simply that he could beat Al Gore. The less people change, the more they stay the same, and the standing joke of the Rice history department was that the only lesson learned from history is that no one learns any lessons from history. So when is theft legal? Apparently when you're the ones writing the laws. So much for Bush's ethical teachings.

The Punchline?

I've already made some some serious predictions, but for fun, I want to offer a few 'Bushisms' that might be possible nicknames for Bush, in keeping with his rude habit of pigeonholing other people and assigning them 'useful' nicknames--at least they're apparently useful for Bush.
A Bushism is a sort of semi-random combination of words that Bush frequently creates in rough correspondence to actual English words he can't remember.

"His Fraudulency", combining "fraud" and "His Excellency" (or "presidency"?), has already been taken by another Republican president, Hayes, and anyway fraud requires intent, but Bush is pretty much lacking in character and intent--the mechanics of the election were mostly accidental, though the final result was mostly controlled by lawyers' machinations and shenanigans.

The key words and phrases for Bush are obviously hypocrite, illegitimate office holder, spoiled rich kid, and puppet. Cheerleader is linked to his most distinctive 'qualification' for public office, and pompous wimp comes to mind, too. A strange mish-mash. So how about "The Illypocrit Mano" or "His Anointed Hypocrolency"? I can't see any good way to combine some of the other ideas in there, but maybe something about puppet strings?

Considering the crucial role of the U.S. Supreme Court in the process, they perhaps deserve mention for the sake of injustice... So much for oaths of office, eh? Maybe a reference to "the great communicator" should be included? Hmm... How about "the Illegit Hypocritator"? Naw, it doesn't sing.

Even though Bush loves to hang handy labels on other people, he doesn't seem to have any real traits to hang a label on. A lot of people like to call him Dubya, apparently from his middle initial, but most Americans have middle initials. Not much of a distinction there, unless the sloppy phonetic pronunciation is a kind of Bushism. Hmm... I wonder what nickname he uses for himself?

Eureka!! I've got it. He wasn't elected to the highest office--he must be the king! Hailstones to King George II. How's that for a conservative time trip--backward from King George III in 1776? Too bad he isn't gay, so he could be Queen George II. We'll just have to settle for his primperial lowjesty, King George II. And apparently we'll have to settle for him for four years.

Written: 19/11/2000
Hopefully closed out (except for the link section below): 13/2/2001
Okay, I couldn't resist--touched up again, mainly in the alternative hypotheses section (mass media effects and limited challenge by Gore): 29/4/2001

Here are a few interesting links that didn't get worked into the main part of the page. You quite likely got email about the strangeness of the U.S. Supreme Court decision and a call for a boycott of new court appointments. I think this is the original source, though this version is a bit longer than the one I received in email. For example, in this longer version he mentions some early public comments on the election by two of the Justices that revealed their partisanship in favor of Bush, in accord with the ruling they later made in Bush's favor.

Soon after the election there were many academic analyses of the strange results, especially in Florida. Possibly the first analysis of the anomalous Buchanan vote in Palm Beach County showed pretty conclusively that several thousand of Buchanan's votes were probably intended for the Democratic Party and Gore--following the long line from the left rather than the short arrow from the right.

The above link also connects to an entire network of academic analyses of various aspects of the election. The analyses of the mechanisms of voter errors were especially interesting. I'd estimate at least 80% of the analyses also concluded that Gore lost the most votes due to errors, but I'm biased and naturally found their presentations persuasive. However, some of the pro-Bush analyses were downright ridiculous. I recall one that argued from an assumption that larger populations are more likely to have unusual and unpredictable distributions, which is exactly the opposite of how statistics work. Another one had a fascinating fantasy about how some hypothetical little old lady could have been harassed--nay, practically tortured--into voting, thereby rebelling with a null protest vote. Amusing, but not very persuasive.

Below are some Web ring links, mostly to other anti-Bush pages. I've already found some new information from visiting a few of them. Nothing positive about Dubya, but that's only to be expected in such mostly slanted sources. Perhaps most interesting was the fudging around Bush's military service. To summarize, his family's influence got him into the National Guard, into a nice billet as fighter pilot, and out of any danger of going to Vietnam where he might have been shot. Then when it was less convenient, Dubya apparently simply blew off the last part of his military obligation. Fits in well with his first broken campaign promise, less than a month after moving to D.C. He promised to strengthen the military and increase the military budget, but then decided not to do so--guess that was less convenient, too.