After initially declaring his opposition to CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination for secretary of state, yesterday Senator Rand Paul announced that he would instead vote to confirm him. The junior senator from Kentucky is well within his rights to change his mind, but his explanation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Senator Paul laid out his reasoning on Twitter:
So, according to Paul, he can now support Pompeo for secretary of state because he agrees with President Trump that the Iraq war was a mistake and the United States should end its military presence in Iraq. But there are a few of problems with this explanation. First, while it’s great that Pompeo might now acknowledge that the Iraq war was a mistake, that would be more relevant if he were being confirmed for secretary of state in March 2003, not 2018. Second, and related, if mistaken beliefs about the use of military force are important, the relevant questions should be about American military involvement in Syria or a potential war with North Korea. Did Senator Paul ask the president or his nominee about the potential for further strikes on the Assad regime? Or America’s course of action with regard to North Korea should upcoming talks with the Kim regime failto achieve denuclearization? And third, while Senator Paul seems pleased that Pompeo now agrees with President Trump that the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan should come to an end, it’s unclear the president agrees President Trump given the open-ended military mission he committed the country tolast year.
Last year, journalist James Antle argued that Paul was working to stay in the Trump administration’s good graces—for example, voting to confirm drug warrior Jeff Sessions as attorney general—to prevent foreign policy hawks, such as Elliot Abrams and John Bolton, from joining the administration through his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While Trump personally nixed Abrams appointment to deputy secretary of state, Bolton is now national security advisor, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.
The plan Antle described, to the degree it ever existed, doesn’t seem to be going great.
While it’s possible the senator secured some concessions from the president that he did not include in his tweeted explanation last night, I wouldn’t hold my breath given the track record so far.
California’s landmark SB 827 died in the committee yesterday. The bill would have over-ridden local restrictions on the construction of high-density housing, near public transit. Even the measure’s strongest supporters acknowledged that it would be an uphill battle and that early defeats are to be expected. From the Mercury News:
In a statement issued after the vote, Wiener said the outcome was not a surprise, given the scope of the proposal.
“I have always known there was a real possibility that SB 827 – like other difficult and impactful bills that have come before – was going to take more than one year,” he said. “… I will continue to work with anyone who shares the critical goals of creating more housing for people in California, and I look forward to working in the coming months to develop a strong proposal for next year.”
I’m even more sanguine about it. The primary benefit of SB 827 isn’t that it would have alleviated the Bay Area’s housing problems. Indeed, the opposition is correct in its assertion that affordability would still be an issue even if SB 827 had been on the books for decades. Instead, the benefit is that it raises the profile of an issue that affects not only Northen California but the health of the nation as a whole.
Estimates suggest that land use restrictions are currently reducing US GDP by about 9%. That makes it one of, if not the most, costly public policy failure we face. That cost, however, is only likely to grow. Other estimates show that the productivity slowdown since 2000 can be completely explained by land use restrictions. This implies that under business-as-usual the cumulative costs grow exponentially over time.
Now as always, things that can’t go on forever, eventually stop. The economy and society adapt. So we shouldn’t expect this or any of other problems of this type will be, in themselves, catastrophic. What can develop, however, is chronic sclerosis that saps living standards and leaves us more vulnerable to intermittent crisis. Indeed, the Great Recession looks ever more like a consequence of this phenomenon.
The sooner we start to grapple with the policy and political tradeoffs the sooner this condition is likely to be relieved.
Phil Klay, a writer and U.S. Marine Corps’ veteran, has written two pieces over the past week that get at the heart of one of America’s civil-military dilemmas. The first, over at The Atlantic, is well worth a read. However, I’d like to focus on the second one, published over the weekend by the New York Times. In it, Klay discusses the role of veterans like himself in a country at war for more than a decade and a half.
Klay highlights the resentment that some military personnel—including himself as a young lieutenant serving warzone—feel about a society that pays little attention to its ongoing conflicts. He captures it in the sentiment: “While we’re at war America is at the mall,” noting the irony of how the phrase popped into his head while at the mall buying baby supplies.
The piece is not about any resentment on Klay’s part though, as he’s acknowledges that he’s been out of uniform far longer than he was in it and is comfortable in his civilian life. Rather, he focuses on the way the gap between those who serve has distorted our political discourse about the military as an institution and its use as an instrument of policy. In explaining at length how it has come to be that military opinion is seen in some circles as superior to civilian on matters related to the use of military force—or for some civilians, a political crutch they can lean on—Klay discusses at length the bizarre press conference given last year by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and retired Marine general, in the wake of the death of four American special operators in Niger. He writes,
He began powerfully enough, describing what happens to the bodies of soldiers killed overseas, and bringing up his own still painful memories of the loss of his son, who died in Afghanistan in 2010. He spoke with pride of the men and women in uniform.
But then, in an all too common move, he transitioned to expressing contempt for the civilian world. He complained that nothing seemed to be sacred in America anymore, not women, not religion, not even “the dignity of life.” He told the audience that service members volunteer even though “there’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate, but required.” He said veterans feel “a little bit sorry” for civilians who don’t know the joys of service.
To cap things off, he took questions only from reporters who knew families who had lost loved ones overseas. The rest of the journalists, and by extension the rest of the American public who don’t know any Gold Star families, were effectively told they had no place in the debate.
Such disdain for those who haven’t served and yet dare to have opinions about military matters is nothing new for Mr. Kelly. In a 2010 speech after the death of his son, Mr. Kelly improbably claimed that we were winning in Afghanistan, but that “you wouldn’t know it because successes go unreported” by members of the “‘know it all’ chattering class” who “always seem to know better, but have never themselves been in the arena.” And he argued that to oppose the war, which our current secretary of defense last year testified to Congress we were not winning, meant “slighting our warriors and mocking their commitment to the nation.”
This is a common attitude among a significant faction of veterans. As one former member of the Special Forces put it in a social media post responding to the liberal outcry over the deaths in Niger, “We did what we did so that you can be free to naïvely judge us, complain about the manner in which we kept you safe” and “just all around live your worthless sponge lives.” His commentary, which was liked and shared thousands of times, is just a more embittered form of the sentiment I indulged in as a young lieutenant in Iraq.
The key line in Klay’s argument comes more than halfway through: “Yet, if I have authority to speak about our military policy it’s because I’m a citizen responsible for participating in self-governance, not because I belonged to a warrior caste.”
Read the entire thing here.
Less than meets the eye, perhaps.
In a recent tweet, Bloomberg View columnist Noah Smith reminded us of a Pew Research Center poll on partisanship. The poll reveals that on the core issues that seem to define Trumpism, Democrats seem to have shifted more than Republicans.
Pew focuses particular attention on three issues: redistribution, race, and immigration.
Contrary to the premise of Bannonism, GOP support for redistribution is flat in the age of Trump and has fallen since its heights during George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism. This is a point that deserves to be explored at length, but around the mid-2000s the GOP tried to pivot towards an embrace of a larger welfare state. Indeed, Ryan plan’s for Social Security privatization included higher taxes and greater spending on Social Security in the short run.
Then came the financial crisis, the election of Barack Obama, and the rise of the Tea Party. These events convinced many GOP leaders—wrongly in my view—that compassion would cost them their base. Still, Democrats have shifted further to the left than Republicans have to the right.
On racial discrimination and immigration, the age of Trump has actually seen the GOP shift slightly left. More Republicans think racial discrimination is a serious problem and that immigrants represent a source of strength. Over the same period, however, these beliefs have entrenched themselves as Democratic orthodoxy.
In the film Inherit the Wind, the Clarence Darrow character says to the William Jennings Bryan character:
All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away—by standing still.
It is in this sense that the GOP seems to have shifted. For Democrats, the election of Obama heralded an era of rapidly changing perceptions. The GOP largely resisted this change and those Democrats, many older and midwestern, who found it hard to swallow, have switched to the GOP.
We should not confuse such changes, however, for a permanent schism. We saw this same sort of thing happen over gay marriage: a sudden shift on the left, followed by heel digging on the right, followed at last by a slow capitulation by the right.
Trump may be interested in rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Ana Swanson has the goods:
Mr. Trump’s decision to reconsider the deal comes as the White House tries to find ways to protect the agriculture sector, which could be badly damaged by the president’s trade approach.
China’s aggressive response to Mr. Trump’s tariffs is aimed squarely at goods produced in the American heartland, a region that helped send him to the White House. A trade war with China could be particularly devastating to rural economies, especially for pig farmers and soybean and corn growers. Nearly two-thirds of United States soybean exports go to China.
There are a lot of things going on here. One, the coordination of interests between farmers and international business has been a bedrock of right-leaning parties for over a century. Indeed, the main point of contention has been that farmers have tended to prefer easy money, in the past defined as paper currency or silver. On the other hand, international businessmen have preferred the stability of gold.
Modern currency markets mean that dichotomy no longer holds though—and what’s good for, say, Apple’s stock price is by and large good for an apple farmer’s bottom line.
This means that some element of Trump’s populist base is going to pressure him to adopt globalists ways when the rubber meets the road. It’s all well and good to blame the globalists for their woes, but when it actually comes to making policy, the unintended consequences rear their head. I strongly predict we will see the same kind of turnabout when it comes to immigration if the labor market can stay hot.
At the same time, to the extent that the President is able to find facesaving ways to completely reverse himself, it’s hard not to imagine that Larry Kudlow doesn’t have a big part to play in that. My biggest hopes were that Kudlow could sweet talk the President into doing economically friendly things. If he succeeds here that will be a major win.