Apropos Of Not Much

So I read the latest over at Talking Points Memo on the slow-rolling Republican “moderate” cave on the tax bill to Trump and the GOP’s I Got Mine/Tongue-Bath-A-Billionaire Caucus.  That led me to a Twitter rant born of despair and rage.

The TL:DR is that dominant-power decline has happened before, will happen to whoever comes next, and is well underway now.  None of this is new; none original.  It just bubbled up, and as misery loves company, I give you a slightly edited version of the rant below.

As the GOP prepares to transfer wealth up and gut national finances in the process, it’s worth reflecting a little on national power. US predominance is no law of nature. It emerged in specific historical circumstances, & it will erode (is eroding) within its historical moment.

Trump and GOP actions are powering that decline, from gutting US diplomacy to abandoning soft power/trade alliances to an over reliance on the trappings of military power on the international security side to an attack on the US’s domestic capacity to solve problems, propel economic growth, and secure good lives for the great mass of its people.

The attack on universities that is both part of GOP rhetoric and built into the tax bill, for example is an attack both on civic life (in the form of engaged and critical-thinking citizens) and on the dollars and sense of economic life. Universities are where research happens, ideas turn into companies and all that. Whack them and we become not just dumber, but poorer too.

More decline follows as the basic sequence of life gets made harder for more people. CHIP follies are making pregnancy and childhood more wretched and even deadly. Ongoing assaults on the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare do the same for all of us and if/when the GOP passes its tax bill, most Americans will see taxes and deficits go up, threatening Social Security and everyone’s old age.

This kneecapping of American well-being and power extends across the policy spectrum.  Crapping on the environment isn’t just a matter of not hugging trees.  Just ask the citizens of Flint, MI if bad water is just an aesthetic loss. Recall the LA of my childhood and consider whether air pollution is just a matter of obscured views and great sunsets, etc.

All of these (and many more) domestic policy choices actually make us poorer, as individuals and as a nation. One more example: we already have crappier infrastructure than many of our national competitors. Among much else, that means it can take us longer to get to work — which is both an individual cost and and a net weakening of the US economy as a whole.

These are hidden taxes, charges we pay not in cash, but in our ability to choose how to spend our lives. That cuts US productivity as a matter of GDP, and our contentment as a matter of GHQ (Gross Happiness Quotient) (I made that up. I think.)

None of this means American will (necessarily) collapse entirely. It just means we will be less well off and, in the context of national power, less able to act in the world as a whole. We won’t be able to afford as much (see Britain, post 1918), and…we will — we already — find ourselves with less moral capital, less ability to persuade and encourage fidelity and emulation abroad. (Again, see Britain, post 1918).

There’s real danger ins such decline.  See Putin’s post Soviet Russia for one approach to the loss of economic, military and ideological/moral power.

In that context, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Trump, backed by the GOP, launch into a second war of choice in an as many decades, with similarly awful consequences.

But, that said, even though nations find it hard enough just to muddle through a relative decline in international stature, the world goes on, in somewhat different order. That’s happening now. We can’t really stop it.

We do have a choice though — we can accept a relative decline that still has the US eagerly pursuing a rich and just future…

Or we can dive further the implications of the current GOP program, and watch as our politics become yet more of a zero sum game in which those with the most grab all the crumbs they can, leaving the rest of us to our own devices, while US power dwindles.

And that, by way of the long road home, leads me here: Trump’s GOP* is a fundamentally anti-American party. It is working as hard as it can to deliver wealth and power to a small constituency to the detriment of our national interest. That’s how an organized crime ring acts, not a party of government.

And with that….this thread.  It is open.

*And it is his party, or, if you prefer, he’s the predictable face of what that party has long been becoming.

Images: J. W. M. Turner, The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up1839.

after Hieronymous Bosch, The Hay Wain (central panel of a tryptich), between 1510-1520.



Random Thoughts about the Vietnam War Documentary

One of the things that I have been wondering about our involvement in the Vietnam War is how arrogant we were- at one point late in episode 2, Neil Sheehan mentions that “We thought we were the exceptions to history, the Americans. History didn’t apply to us.”

It makes me wonder- how did we get so arrogant so fast? We weren’t a global power until recently in the post WWII era. Or am I wrong about that? I never thought of the United States as a real global power until the 1950’s. I sort of thought of us as bit players throughout WW1 and up until the very end of WWII and our development of nukes. And we were damned near really humbled in Korea. How did we get the mentality that we can’t lose?

Or, again, am I just wrong about this?








Well That Was Certainly Worth all the God Damned Fuss

So it appears the conviction and abuse of Chelsea Manning served no purpose other than to fulfill our sadistic tendencies and send a message to others, because her leaks did nothing to harm American interests:

In the seven years since WikiLeaks published the largest leak of classified documents in history, the federal government has said they caused enormous damage to national security.

But a secret, 107-page report, prepared by a Department of Defense task force and newly obtained by BuzzFeed News, tells a starkly different story: It says the disclosures were largely insignificant and did not cause any real harm to US interests.

Regarding the hundreds of thousands of Iraq-related military documents and State Department cables provided by the Army private Chelsea Manning, the report assessed “with high confidence that disclosure of the Iraq data set will have no direct personal impact on current and former U.S. leadership in Iraq.”

The report also determined that a different set of documents published the same year, relating to the US war in Afghanistan, would not result in “significant impact” to US operations. It did, however, have the potential to cause “serious damage” to “intelligence sources, informants and the Afghan population,” and US and NATO intelligence collection efforts. The most significant impact of the leaks, the report concluded, would likely be on the lives of “cooperative Afghans, Iraqis, and other foreign interlocutors.”

You can read the document here.

The leaks exposed this, which I guess we just weren’t supposed to know about.

America, fuck yeah.

The folks at LGM say this article and I are full of shit.








Who are those people

Quinnipiac has a new poll out on Trump.  I am confounded by a subset of people:

President Donald Trump did something illegal in his relationship with Russia, 31 percent of American voters say, while another 29 percent say he did something unethical, but not illegal, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. The president did nothing wrong, 32 percent of voters say.

President Trump’s campaign advisors did something illegal in dealing with Russia, 40 percent of voters say, as 25 percent say they did something unethical but not illegal and 24 percent say they did nothing wrong.

The president’s job approval rating dips to a new low, a negative 34 – 57 percent, compared to a negative 37 – 55 percent in a May 24

So 60% of the public think he did something personally fishy with Russia. 65% of the public think his inner circle did something fishy with Russia. And yet only 57% of the country disapproves of his performance. So there are at least 3% of the country who think he is doing a good job and he is up to his eyeballs with Russia in at least an unethical manner. Who are those people?

Open thread…..



CMS incidentally drops the truth on monkey-wrenching

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a technical release concerning the payment of Basic Health Plan (BHP) funds to Minnesota and New York. They accidentally dropped an official government baseline of what they expected premiums on the Qualified Health Plans to have been absent significant monkey-wrenching.

For the trend factor we will use the annual growth rate in private health insurance expenditures per enrollee from the National Health Expenditure projections, developed by the Office of the Actuary… For 2018, the projected increase in private health insurance premiums per enrollee is 5.3 percent.

States running a BHP can elect to use this multiplier against 2017 Benchmark Silver or use actual 2018 Benchmark Silver premiums. It would be wise for New York and Minnesota to use the actual 2018 premiums for their local Benchmark Silvers because their insurers are pricing in significant policy risk into their premiums so actual premiums will result in a windfall for these two states’ BHP trust funds.

What I find interesting is that the CMS Office of the Actuary analysis finds that 5.3% is a reasonable national trend rate for 2018. That would imply that rate increases based on trend plus health insurance tax plus idiosyncratic local features should have been coming in between 5% and 15% depending on local circumstances for most regions. Anything above that is odd in the counterfactual universe of no monkey-wrenching.

But we live in a universe of at least strongly feared monkey wrenching so this gives us a good baseline to estimate the monkey wrench cost.

Music below the fold:

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Monday Evening Open Thread: Angry, Dumb & Credulous

Good thing for our national self-esteem that we know he lost the popular vote, because Trump’s a perfect representative of his in-every-sense “base”:

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus issued a stern warning at a recent senior staff meeting: Quit trying to secretly slip stuff to President Donald Trump.

Just days earlier, K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, had given Trump a printout of two Time magazine covers. One, supposedly from the 1970s, warned of a coming ice age; the other, from 2008, about surviving global warming, according to four White House officials familiar with the matter.

Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy. But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an internet hoax that’s circulated for years. Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it.

The episode illustrates the impossible mission of managing a White House led by an impetuous president who has resisted structure and strictures his entire adult life.

While the information stream to past commanders in chief has been tightly monitored, Trump prefers an open Oval Office with a free flow of ideas and inputs from both official and unofficial channels. And he often does not differentiate between the two. Aides sometimes slip him stories to press their advantage on policy; other times they do so to gain an edge in the seemingly endless Game of Thrones inside the West Wing.

The consequences can be tremendous, according to a half-dozen White House officials and others with direct interactions with the president. A news story tucked into Trump’s hands at the right moment can torpedo an appointment or redirect the president’s entire agenda. Current and former Trump officials say Trump can react volcanically to negative press clips, especially those with damaging leaks, becoming engrossed in finding out where they originated…

Sounds like Reince may be looking for the escape hatch. (And I suspect Michael Steele is lifting a glass of Baileys in his memory, cereal garnish optional.)

Speaking of people who aren’t qualified for the jobs they occupy, remember all those Very Serious Pundits who assured us that Trump’s “inexperience” didn’t matter, because he was gonna surround himself with quality advisors?…



Yates testimony open thread

Former Acting US Attorney General Sally Yates is due to testify at 2:30 PM EST on many things including what she told the Trump Administration about how the Russians had their hooks in deep (allegedly of course) into their National Security Adviser.

Open thread….

Here is the live stream: