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.



Nuclear Treaties Are Good

 

The 1950s and the 1980s were decades of nuclear fear. The arms race of the 1950s culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, after which institutions and procedures were put in place to cut back some of the causes of that fear. The Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty put nuclear tests underground, which made them more difficult and expensive and began to slow down the arms race. Better communications between American and Soviet leaders were developed. Treaties to limit the numbers of nuclear weapons followed.

By 1986, President Ronald Reagan and First Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev agreed that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. To that end, they put in place the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987 to remove a whole class of weapon that accounted for much of the fear in the 1980s. And then the Soviet Union crashed, and we believed that such concerns had ended. Read more



An important thing this evening

Get mad, stay mad and then be effective in doing something. Balloon Juice is adopting at least one district and perhaps more. We will be effectively active and angry.

UPDATE I will set up a CA-49 Nominee fund tonight for Act Blue



Ordnance Only A Mother Could Love

To follow up on DougJ’s post below (and to tread on Alan ADAM* Silverman’s turf):  American forces dropped a GBU-43/B bomb on a target identified as an underground ISIS complex.  The weapon, officially named the “Massive Ordnance Air Blast,” or MOAB, has the probably obvious nickname:  the Mother Of All Bombs.

It’s a no-doubt ginormous creation, with an effective yield of eleven tons of TNT.  It’s so large it is delivered by a variant of a cargo plane, the C130, and not the kind of aircraft more commonly used to deliver battlefield weapons.

A MOAB is not the ultimate bunker-buster, those weapons designed to penetrate well-hardened targets (silos, etc.) For our Vietnam vets, the analogous ordnance is BLU 82B “Daisy Cutter.”  In the open defense literature, the MOAB is at least in part a psychological weapon and in part a clear-the-ground device.  How useful it actually is against a cave complex is unclear, as this description suggests:

The weapon is expected to produce a tremendous explosion that would be effective against hard-target entrances, soft-to-medium surface targets, and for anti-personnel purposes. Because of the size of the explosion, it is also effective at LZ clearance and mine and beach obstacle clearance. Injury or death to persons will be primarily caused by blast or fragmentation. It is expected that the weapon will have a substantial psychological effect on those who witness its use. The massive weapon provides a capability to perform psychological operations, attack large area targets, or hold at-risk threats hidden within tunnels or caves.

There’s at least pretty good reason to believe that the use — its the first combat deployment ever  — was intended to send a message:

The strike comes just days after a Special Forces soldier was killed in Nangarhar province. Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, of 7th Special Forces Group, was killed Saturday by enemy small arms fire while his unit was conducting counter-ISIS operations, according to the Defense Department.

The fact that the U.S. dropped the MOAB in the same province where De Alencar was killed is probably not a coincidence, said Bill Roggio, of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“There might have been a degree of payback here as well,” Roggio told Military Times. “There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re killing your enemy.”

Whatever your response to that aspect of war, here’s the thing.  As Emily Tankin and Paul McLeary write in Foreign Policy, the use of the MOAB is one facet of the broader escalation of US military action across the Middle East and central Asia:
The news came the same day as a report that a coalition airstrike in Syria mistakenly killed 18 fighters backed by the United States.

The U.S. statement also said, “U.S. Forces took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties with this strike.” The U.S. military is reportedly currently assessing the damage from the bomb.

The strike in Afghanistan is part of a huge increase in the American air war in Afghanistan that started under the Obama administration, but has increased even more sharply under President Donald Trump. In the first three months of 2017, American planes have dropped over 450 bombs on targets in Afghanistan, compared to about 1,300 for all of 2016, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. The number of strikes in the first two months of the Trump administration more than doubled the number taken in the same time period under the Obama administration.

The FP journalists note that US military leaders “long bristled at the control the Obama administration exercised over small troop movements and sometimes individual targets.”  Donald Trump — and this is one promise he’s kept — seems to have unleashed  those commanders.  The result?

Well, it seems to me that the question isn’t whether der Trumpenführer will lead us into war.  It is, rather, how quickly the war that’s already bubbling will become recognized as such by the media, and the American people.

As for war aims? That’s the kicker, isn’t it.  Multi-ton bombs are headline-grabbers.  How effective they are, really, at counter-terrorism is, to my deeply un-expert mind…”unclear” is how I’ll put it.  The current spate of bombing and micro-deployments looks like a purely ad hoc approach to whatever our tactical or strategic goals might be in Syria, Iraq and, still, Afghanistan.  If there’s a logic — and I genuinely hope there is — it sure isn’t apparent to this citizen, in whose name (along w. 312 million of my closest friends) these small wars are being fought.

Over to y’all.

Image: Mary Cassatt, Maternité, 1890.

*type in haste, repent at leisure.



Numbers of Interest: “New database details White House officials’ finances”

From the Center for Public Integrity:

On Friday night, the White House began releasing financial disclosures for scores of key employees — including familiar names such as Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway and Chief Strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

Reporters from dozens of news organizations, including the Associated Press, the New York Times, ProPublica and the Washington Post, then compiled and reported on the documents, which the White House released one-by-one.

The Center for Public Integrity compiled data from those disclosures into a searchable, sortable database, which provide a window into the wealth, assets and business interests of many of the people closest to President Donald Trump. The Center for Public Integrity’s news developer, Chris Zubak-Skees, extracted these details from more than 90 reports, released in PDF format, using a software tool he created

No doubt all kinds of interesting details might be extracted; Bannon has a dozen lines on the database, but Jared Kushner has no fewer than 265



Unlimber That Gas Mask

Amidst all the attention grabbing stuff — you know, just a president accusing his predecessor of high crimes — the Trump administration proceeds with impressive consistency with moves designed to make the world worse, Americans sicker/poorer, and their inner circle enriched.

Next week, it’ll be the air-we-breathe’s turn:

The Trump administration is expected to begin rolling back stringent federal regulations on vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming, according to people familiar with the matter, essentially marking a U-turn to efforts to force the American auto industry to produce more electric cars.

The announcement — which is expected as soon as Tuesday and will be made jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the transportation secretary, Elaine L. Chao — will immediately start to undo one of former President Barack Obama’s most significant environmental legacies.

During the same week, and possibly on the same day, Mr. Trump is expected to direct Mr. Pruitt to begin the more lengthy and legally complex process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Obama’s rules to cut planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The regulatory rollback on vehicle pollution will relax restrictions on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and will not require action by Congress. It will also have a major effect on the United States auto industry.

I don’t want to go all-apocalyptic on this news, in part because I want to sleep more than four hours tonight, and more because there are some secular processes underway that reduce the impact of Trump’s and Republican willingness to destroy the climate and give Americans respiratory diseases — think the long-term losing market battle coal is waging against everything else, and the advances in transportation tech that will help mitigate the license to ill being granted the domestic auto industry. (I’d note that those car companies based in countries that do impose efficiency rules will now get an advantage over the big three that could very likely hit the domestic industry hard in a decade or less…rather like the way Japanese car companies were poised to take advantage of the oil shocks of the 70s, to great wailing and gnashing of teeth in Detroit.)

But even with that rather meagre reed of hope, there’s no way to spin this as anything but craptastic news for both the global and every local environment.

Every act this administration takes; every law this congress takes is the fruit of a poisoned tree: an election manipulated by foreigners, and undermined by domestic law enforcement.  There’s no room for negotiation here.  Step one: 2018.

Image: Department of Defense. Department of the Navy. Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Gas masks for man and horse demonstrated by American soldierc. 1917-18



You’re Fired! and Ready to Go…Errr, P’raps Not

There’s much to be said about the still-unpossible fact that the shitgibbon is now president.  But in this day one of our national experiment in test-to-destruction governance, there’s something…missing.

That would be a government.  Or at least, an administration.

There are roughly 675 Federal positions that require Senate confirmation.*

There are some four thousand more jobs to be filled by direct appointment, and while many of those are minor, many are not.**

So that’s the hole. How far along is Trump to filling it?

Well, according to The Washington Post‘s tracker, Trump has so far sent 30 names to the Senate.***  None have been confirmed.

Update: James Mattis and John F. Kelly have now been confirmed for Defense and Homeland Security respectively.

By comparison in 2009, six Obama cabinet nominees were confirmed as of the inauguration, and four more followed the next week.

And even if/when all those nominated so far do make it through the Senate process, they’ll be doing — or rather not getting done all the work of the senior management of their departments.

Foreign policy? We ain’t got none, for the time being, no matter how often Trump bellows “America First!”  There are no appointees at State below the secretary level. That’s not “none-confirmed.” That’s none, as in not a single deputy, assistant, or under secretary has yet been named.

We’ve got no boots on the ground either.  In a break with prior custom, Trump demanded the resignation of every serving ambassador as of today.  With only three as-yet unvetted, much less confirmed, ambassadorial appointments, and dozens yet to be made, the US is without its head-of-mission everywhere.  While it’s true that politically appointed ambassadors have professional staffs that are still in place, the fact remains that our international representatives aren’t there.

Same goes for the national security apparatus.  The odious and unfit Michael Flynn does not require Senate confirmation, so he’s on the job.  He’s got no help though:

Trump has made one other NSC appointment, tapping retired Gen. Keith Kellogg to be NSC chief of staff. And some reports indicate that Matt Pottinger, a former Wall Street Journal China correspondent who joined the U.S. Marines and grew close to Flynn, may become the NSC’s director for Asia.

It ain’t going to get any better any time soon.  Flynn’s in charge of filling out his org chart, and, as the same Politico article notes, he’s making a mess of it:   Read more