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.
Should not have eaten all those minnows
It’s semi-official: sequestration has failed. The actual mechanism is going to function just fine; come tomorrow, $85 billion in domestic and military spending cuts that nobody likes will automatically go into place, because Congress could not obey their own pre-commitment device. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Sequestration was supposed to be so awful that it would force Democrats and Republicans to agree on alternative deficit reduction strategies. Instead, after months of arguing and temporizing, our legislators have set themselves to the hard work of accepting that sequestration isn’t so bad after all. Congress is like a man who ties a string around his finger to remember to buy insulin and, after several months, loses circulation and has his finger amputated. Here are some other pre-commitment devices that didn’t work on Congress.
Sarah Palin, who loves babies and soldiers and America so gosh darn much
Yesterday we mentioned the warning that Sarah Palin issued, via Twitter, on the eve of the House health care vote: “Shocking new questions re:whether military healthcare plans r protected under Obamacare. How will underpaid troops afford their own purchase?” First of all, never was a medium so suited to an author as Twitter is to Sarah Palin. With its forced mangling of syntax, its elision of subjects and verbs, and the impossibility of backing statements with evidence built into its form, Twitter is to Palin was the aphorism was to Friederich Nietzsche. Second, the “shocking new question” to which Palin was referring was whether the TRICARE health benefits program for members of the military and their dependents would satisfy the insurance mandate that passed as part of Sunday night’s vote. The answer is: yes, obviously. TRICARE is health insurance—really good health care insurance, issued by the federal government as part of a single-payer system that stands as an argument for the public option Palin so vehemently opposes. The House bill specifically states that TRICARE will satisfy the mandate, and the White House issued a statement in August assuring us that TRICARE benefits would not be affected in any way by proposed legislation. The Senate version of the health care bill, however, does not specifically exempt TRICARE recipients from the mandate—just as it does not specifically exempt congressmen—and that’s what Sarah Palin is so terrified about. Won’t you allow her to terrify you?
ABC News reported yesterday that Michigan gunsight manufacturer Trijicon is inscribing references to Bible verses on sights it’s supplying to US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The company, which has a $660 million contract to provide illuminated targeting reticule systems to the Marine Corps, has been printing chapter and verse numbers at the end of their serial numbers—for example, “2COR4:6,” which refers to the verse in Second Corinthians, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Contemporary theologians have historically interpreted that verse as being about using hydrogen isotope phosphorescence to shoot an Afghan goatherder in the face.