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.
Combat! blog has returned to Missoula, where the weather is suspiciously nice and normalcy resumes. I should warn you that we will only be operational for a short time. On Friday I drive down to Jackson, Wyoming to hang out with Stubble and his girlfriend, and I won’t get back until Tuesday, so this is pretty much the only regular blog post for a week. But how fine it is! Last week, the White House redistributed a column headlined “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why” in support of its proposed budget. The column, by Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri, was satire. Petri suspects that they didn’t actually read it but assumed from the headline that it supported their position. In this way, the Trump administration continues to operate as your aunt’s Facebook feed come to life.
One of the few images of former UM president Royce Engstrom left undestroyed
Enrollment at the University of Montana here in beautiful Missoula, Montana has declined almost 25 percent in the last five years. This drop roughly coincides with the tenure of President Royce Engstrom, who stepped down last week in a mutual decision with the Board of Regents that they announced. Here’s regent chief Clayton Christian:
After careful discussion and consideration, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom and I have decided that he will step down as UM’s president effective December 31. I asked President Engstrom to consider this transition at this time based on my belief that a change in leadership direction is the right step for UM going forward.
Sounds like an amicable discussion to me. Engstrom is probably just one of the many Americans who quit their jobs right before Christmas to focus on family. But maybe he got fired. If that’s the case, the most interesting phrase in Christian’s statement might be “at this time.”
Why now? Engstrom got through the first few years of declining enrollment, big cuts to teaching budgets, and a Department of Justice investigation with his job intact. So what prompted the regents to cut him loose last week, in the middle of the school year?
You can read my speculation on that and other subjects in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, which advances the piping-hot take that maybe a teacher should run the school. Never forget that when declining enrollment forced UM to lay people off last year, 98% of the planned cuts went to classroom instruction. Administrators don’t cut administration. But instruction is what UM is selling. Facing an enrollment crisis, the Engstrom administration decided to offer fewer services for the same price. Maybe there’s fat to be trimmed somewhere else. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!
Rep. Paul Ryan (R–WI) pretends to think about your birthday present, but you’re getting an iTunes gift card.
If you want to feel superior and depressed at the same time, read this New York Times story on the budget plan House Republicans submitted last week. The good news is that it balances the federal budget by 2025. The bad news is that it does so by assuming $147 billion in additional revenue from the “macroeconomic effect” of the budget itself. It also repeals the Affordable Care Act and the taxes that support it, but still includes $1 trillion in revenue from those taxes. Finally, it counts $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to social welfare programs. Don’t worry, though: there’s a $40 billion increase in defense spending next year, couched as “emergency war spending” so as not to violate the 2011 Budget Control Act. We’ll find the war later. As Rep. Rob Woodall (R–GA) of the House Budget Committee put it, “A budget is a moral document; it talks about where your values are.”
Japanese cat celebrity Maru fits in the box.
To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, some people see things as they are and ask why; others see things as they never were and ask why the media is lying. The world of theory is invariably preferable to the world of, you know, the world. We derive our broad principles from the specific around us, but explicit language feels more concrete and understandable—more true—than the details. So after we extrapolate our theories and take them to heart, we return to the real and identify the places where it doesn’t match theory as flaws. Today is Friday, or at least it should be, and anyone who tells me otherwise has screwed up the progression of days. Won’t you demand that the flesh be made word with me?