We all know that the most effective form of government is a powerful chief executive who inherited his position and never got a chance to fail. When times are tough, you want a rich kid with a long resume in the family business. That’s how my grandparents’ generation won World War II: their parents won World War I. But what happens when two Little Lord Fauntleroy types square off? If you were to pit, say, Fred Trump’s kid against the cleverest public-school graduates in New York, you know who would win. Same goes for Kim Jong Il’s kid against the savviest apparatchiks in North Korea. When two such people square off, though, the resourcefulness that comes from being sucked up to your whole life cancels out on both sides. They are left with only their positions to defend them, plus their unimaginable wealth. Today is Friday, and two of the biggest assholes in the world are ready to win a nuclear war. Won’t you pit hack against hack with me?
We all know it’s Thursday and that I therefore have a column in the Indy, and I do. It’s about how the University of Montana’s decision to lay off 35 lecturers guarantees it will inflict the most damage to its instructional capacity for each dollar saved. Lecturers get paid less and teach more—in many cases four or five classes a year. Cutting them to keep paying senior professors six figures to teach one and one maximizes the classes lost for each dollar saved. Something I failed to emphasize in the column was that the university is constrained, in this decision, by collective bargaining agreements that require them to fire the least senior teachers first. That policy makes a lot of sense from a labor perspective, but it also forces the administration to lose the faculty that get paid the least and teach the most classes. The university estimates it will save $900,000 by firing these 33 lecturers, at a rate of $27,272 apiece. It so happens that the former president of the university, who was asked to step down after the 25% drop in enrollment that occasioned these cuts, now teaches two chemistry classes a year in exchange for a salary of $117,000. You can read all about it here.
But shit man, wouldn’t you rather read about Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure? Pee-Wee isn’t just a reason to give money to Paul Rust. It’s also a touchstone of our eighties childhoods, which is weird because—even though Paul Rust is great—the Pee-Wee character kind of sucks. He has stopped amusing the modern viewer but remains hilarious to himself. This sense of disaster in the opening sequences makes the film all the more endearing in the end, though. Pee-Wee was never the point. The point was the act of making Pee-Wee: Paul Reuben’s insanely committed performance, a series of confidently campy choices from Tim Burton in his feature debut, the anarchic central character whothat has become utterly tedious and alienating, because he influenced our culture so much. Anyway, you can read even more of my incoherent speculation of Pee-Wee Herman in this essay, also in the Indy.
But why lose yourself in fantasy when real and hilarious shenanigans are happening right here in actual life? Missoulians who have not blocked me on Facebook may remember Wes Spiker from this guest column in The Missoulian, in which he condemns the soft treatment given to bicyclists and transients but praises the mayoral candidacy of Lisa Tripke. “Wes Spiker has been a Missoula city resident and property owner since October 1981, and a business owner since August 1983,” the bio lines say. They do not specify that his business, Spiker Communications, is also a paid vendor to the mayoral campaign of the aforesaid Lisa Tripke. Of the $12,000-plus in contributions the Tripke campaign has raised by July, per near $11,000 was paid to Spiker Communications. It kind of seems like they’re running their campaign, but Spiker assures Derek Brouwer that he doesn’t do campaign strategy:
In fact, media inquiries to the Triepke campaign are routed through a Spiker email address, and the agency sent out two campaign press releases in August. Asked if his firm is paid for consulting services, such as campaign strategy, Spiker initially replied, “Oh, God, no. No, no, not at all.” The Indy later requested to review campaign invoices. Spiker declined to provide copies, but did email a list of services the firm has billed Triepke for, including “campaign strategy.”
You’ve got to read that, right? The Indy rules. Missoula also rules, insofar as it is crookeder than a dog’s hind leg, but no one seems to be very good at hiding anything. We’re lucky to live here. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.
On Twitter this morning, Sen. Mark Heinrich (D-NM) alleged that there were “basic factual errors” in the recommendation on national monuments that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted to President Trump last month, including the claim that monument designation had reduced hunting access in New Mexico. According to local BLM staff, hunting access has improved under monument designation. Noting that these facts appear to contradict Zinke’s report, Heinrich asks John Ruhs, the Acting Deputy Director of the Bureau of Land Managment, whether the secretary’s office consulted local BLM officials before drafting its report. In this video, Ruhs said the secretary’s office did not consult local BLM officials. Neither did it ask the BLM to fact-check Zinke’s memo.
That memo was previously kept secret, but it leaked this weekend. In it, Zinke recommends shrinking 10 national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act by previous presidents, mostly Barack Obama. He also makes several assertions that Outside magazine describes as “lies.” To be fair, some of what Outside criticizes are not claims of fact. But taken altogether, Zinke’s memo suggests that he formed his plan to reduce national monuments first and went looking for evidence second.
Back in May, Energy & Environment News reported that Interior had suspended meetings with Resource Advisory Councils, the local groups that have advised on federal land management decisions since 1996. Zinke did, however, consult a different group of stakeholders: oil companies. According to personal schedules obtained by the Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, during the first two months after he was confirmed, Secretary Zinke held “more than a half-dozen meetings with executives from nearly two dozen oil and gas firms…including BP America, Chevron and ExxonMobil.” He also met with Bakken oil magnate and 39th-richest American John Hamm, who is head of the American Petroleum Institute.
Such meetings account for one of the most technically true claims in Zinke’s report to president Trump, that public comments on the issue of shrinking national momuments “can be divided into two principal groups.” That is correct only in the sense that 99.2% of public comments received by the Department of the Interior wanted the monuments to stay at their current size. The other 0.8% felt differently. But this dividing of the more-than-99-percent and the less-than-one-percent into “two principal groups” was not a deliberate attempt to mislead the president. Zinke must have believed that 0.8% was significant, because he sided with them.
Taken together, these behaviors suggest that the secretary had a conclusion in mind when he set out to gather information about national monuments. That conclusion coincided with the wishes of resource extraction companies and contradicted the preference of the general public. Despite Zinke’s statements about consulting “stakeholders,” he took active steps to stop hearing from local groups invested in land management decisions. He didn’t even bother to ask BLM if what he was telling the president was true. These behaviors suggest one of two scenarios:
- Interior Secretary Zinke is bad at his job, or
- Interior Secretary Zinke knew what the president would want to hear and told him that.
So is he a yes-man or an incompetent? Neither possibility comports with the image Commander Zinke has projected throughout his political career. Neither do the recommendations in his memo square with his professed commitment to preserving public lands. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for why Zinke proceeded according to the principle of Just Sayin’ Stuff in order to produce a factually inaccurate memo to the president, and why his actions during the first six months of his tenure as an appointed official in the executive branch have diverged so sharply from the values he professed as an elected legislator from Montana. I would like to hear them. I suspect we all would.
There’s something about the green marble background at the UN General Assembly that really puts Trump in his element. Normally it looks dated, like Astoria’s idea of opulence in the 1990s, but put an icon of self-aggrandizing greed in front of it and the whole thing comes together. It makes me want to get out my gold fork and knife and dig in to a copy of The Andromeda Strain. Anyway, decor is the only way Trump is in his element at the United Nations. He makes a jarring contrast with most other aspects of that organization, for example their commitment to world peace. This morning, he took advantage of his audience of world leaders to threaten North Korea, like so:
For those of you who can’t watch videos because you’re prisoners or something, here’s the fillet:
The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully, this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is all about. That’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.
The United Nations is the greatest force for peace in the world, and I call on it to fulfill its mission by restraining my murderous impulses. Let’s see how they do. These remarks call attention to another element of the Trump aesthetic that is totally out of place at the UN: mean nicknames. In addition to raising questions about how he understands the Elton John Song, referring to Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” seems very out of place here.
Mean nicknames made a kind of sense during the campaign, which explicitly set candidates at odds with one another. Trump’s basic promise was that he would bully politicians on behalf of ordinary people, so his insult-comic persona was likable, albeit from a limited perspective that I did not share. It makes no sense before a body whose object is international cooperation, though. I suspect that the UN would cause more problems than it solved if all the delegates called one another names. It’s hard to claim you want peace with North Korea when you antagonize its notoriously vain dictator and then threaten to “totally destroy” his country. But it’s not Trump’s job to prevent the war that two generations of his predecessors have successfully avoided. That’s up to the UN. Let’s see how they do.
The Senate passed a $700 billion defense bill this afternoon, because if there’s one thing that has really improved the fortunes of the United States in the 21st century, it’s war. War is going so good for us that we’re still fighting our longest one ever, in Afghanistan. We have not lost that war. It’s in overtime. We also did not lose our war in the country formerly known as Iraq, half of which is now a terrorist klepto-state. We just successfully invaded and then left our proxy government to collapse naturally. If you count Iraq as a tie and Afghanistan as undecided, our record in wars over the last 50 years is three wins (Grenada, Panama, Gulf War I), one loss (Vietnam), and one draw. On the other hand, if you consider it a losing effort to spend $2 trillion, nine years, and thousands of farm boys’ legs to replace Saddam Hussein with ISIS, and you’re not sure we’re on our way to becoming the first empire to subjugate Afghanistan, our combined record looks more like 3-3. Again, one of those is Grenada.
It’s a poor record for a country that spends almost as much on war as the next 14 highest-spending countries combined and—more to the point—more of its discretionary spending on the military than on everything else put together. Remember how Bernie’s free college was a pie-in-the-sky, let’s-get-a-pony idea? That would cost $47 billion a year. The Senate just voted to spend 14 times that on war. I’m not sure I’m getting 14 free colleges out of Afghanistan and Iraq, plus a missile defense system that has never been worked and wouldn’t need to if we could bring ourselves to take the high road with North Korea.
And yet, despite the alarmingly low value we get for our bonanza war spending, Americans have more confidence in the military than in any other institution. Congress? Only 12% of us think that works right. Newspapers and the criminal justice system languish at 23%, but a whopping 73% of poll respondents express confidence in the people who brought you Afghanistan and Iraq. The military is even more respected than the institutions in which Americans have the second and third most confidence, small business and the police. It’s almost as though we were living in a culture that worshipped violence, money and authority in that order.
The best part of this military spending package is that it passed the Senate 89 votes to eight. Only eight people in the world’s greatest deliberative body didn’t think it was a good idea to spend more money on war than we have in the past 17 years of lavish, unproductive war spending. Because whatever, right? Worst case scenario, we go bankrupt and kill a bunch of people.