Fuck it, let’s spend $700B on the military

Paul Ryan looks at a war that’s half bad.

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.

Gianforte, John Misty explore gap between the persona and the man

Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte and Magic Mountain

Last week, as Republicans in the House scrambled to pass a health care bill that would repeal and, in a manner of speaking, replace Obamacare, Greg Gianforte had no opinion. When reporters asked how the congressional hopeful would have voted, his spokesman said that he hadn’t read enough of the bill to say. But on the same day, in a conference call with lobbyists, Gianforte said he was “thankful” that the AHCA had passed the House.

That’s not necessarily a sign that the Republican candidate for Montanan’s only seat in the House says one thing in public and another in private. He didn’t say anything in public at all. But it’s troubling that the Gianforte campaign seems to believe it can stonewall the press but owes an answer to party lobbyists. You can read all about this discrepancy in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Montana’s special election is only two weeks away, and right now it looks like another contest of negatives.

You can be forgiven if you feel like election season is a nightmare that will never end, though. Perhaps you would prefer lighter fare, like my essay on/review of the new Father John Misty album. I’m a big fan of his last LP, I Love You, Honeybear. I like the FJM persona, a kind of alienated hedonist best described as an exaggerated version of how history remembers Lindsey Buckingham. But on the new album, the mask slips. Its critique of contemporary life is more pointed, and FJM the character seems to have lost a layer of irony in the process. It’s also almost all torch songs, even though the material is pretty dark. The result is a strange combination of easy listening and hard truths, like Jackson Browne meets Nick Cave. Anyway, it’s worth a listen. Whether you’ve liked FJM to this point or are just hearing about him now, it’ll be something new. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Alabama senate votes to let church form its own police force

Briarwood Presbyterian, right as a symbol of state power accidentally blew into the shot

When we think about the separation of church and state, we tend to worry about government becoming more like church. But maybe the real danger lies in churches becoming more like governments—by getting a piece of the state’s monopoly on violence, for instance. Yesterday, the Alabama state senate approved a bill to let Briarwood Presbyterian Church assemble its own police force. Briarwood police would be sworn officers with the same authority to carry firearms, issue citations and place people under arrest as, for example, university police. The difference is that they would be employed by a church. That’s tricky, since as police they would become expressions of state power. I’m using “tricky” here to avoid repeating the exact words of the ACLU of Alabama, whose executive director described the plan as “plainly unconstitutional.”

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Bill before Montana legislature would make breaking lease a felony

Montana Sen. Roger Webb (R-Billings)

In the last few weeks, the Montana legislature has heard a series of bills designed to strengthen the position of landlords. Roger Webb (R-Billings) introduced Senate Bill 239, which would charge with criminal theft tenants who vacate rental properties before their leases are up, as though they had stolen cash in the amount of the remaining months’ rent. Webb’s Senate Bill 255 would make state courts responsible for collecting judgments against tenants for unpaid rent—a duty which currently falls to the landlords themselves, as in other civil matters. Both of these bills introduce the possibility of going to prison for not paying rent.

Webb’s wife, Rep. Peggy Webb (R-Billings), has introduced her own bill to charge with criminal trespass tenants who do not vacate rental properties at the landlord’s request. Its wording is vague, but it seems to withdraw the longstanding right of renters to remain in their homes until eviction proceedings are resolved. Taken together, these bills give landlords authority comparable to that of state courts.

It may shock you to learn that the Webbs own rental property themselves. During an informal poll of the state house, approximately one quarter of their fellow representatives did, too. Nobody asked how many rent their homes, but one suspects the number is small. The kind of people who become state legislators are more likely to be landlords than tenants. And if you’ve ever talked to a landlord, you know they see tenants as a horde of conscienceless freeloaders bent on exploiting the landowning classes. All this is to say that the legislature has a warped perspective on the landlord/tenant relationship, and it makes sense that they would overestimate the degree to which it is unfair to people like, well, them.

But is this the kind of injustice government should right? The conflict between landlord and tenant is, for the most part, a conflict between people who own multiple homes and people who own none. By definition, society is working pretty well for landlords already. Must we add the force of law to the force of economics? You can read such pinko reasoning in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We won’t be back tomorrow with Friday links, because I’ll be driving all day. Likewise Monday, but Combat! blog will return Tuesday, clothed in righteous fire. Or my truck will explode. Only time will tell.

Breaking: Columnist allowed to make Pinkerton joke


One of my favorite things about writing for the local newspaper is how often strangers stop me on the street. “Do you know who fast you were going?” they ask. “Why are you drunk at 3pm?” Because I don’t need to contend with the red lights and flashing strollers of the eight or even the five hour workday. I write a column for the local newspaper! The plebes fall away like waves and then dock materials breaking across the prow of a ship.

Sometimes, though, they also ask me where I get my ideas. I say you don’t get ideas; you have to take them. They do not come from the touch of some temperamental muse, nor from some fanciful ethic of “hard work,” but rather from my psychotic determination to make Pinkerton jokes. I direct you to this week’s column in the Missoula Independent, which argues that a bill to grant liquor licenses to retirement homes is “great news for anyone who got 86’ed from Red’s after the Grizzlies won the conference championship against the Nevada Pinkertons in 1922.”

It’s the little things that make it worthwhile. No one could like this historical reference awkwardly crammed into a joke as much as I do, but Brad is a kind editor and lets me use the Indy’s ink to amuse myself. He also let me mansplain regulatory capture and use the word “dicks.” The whole Indy staff is pretty great. Why don’t you go to their website and read my column while absently clicking on all the ads? I’ll wait here until tomorrow, when we’ll be back with Friday links!