I have to admit, reading about Afghanistan depresses me. As far as Bush Administration-initiated wars in the Middle East go, it was reasonably justified in terms of drawing a line from the Taliban to the terrorists who did 9/11. But that doesn’t mean it was smart, or that a few retaliatory bombings and then getting out wouldn’t have been the better plan, as now we essentially have to do what the Soviet Union and the British (twice!) among others tried and failed to do: build the Afghani state. We’re kidding ourselves if we think that the task there is anything other than this. Sure, generals can phrase it in terms of having to stop the terrorists in Afghanistan, but that task boils down to creating an Afghani state strong enough to deal with them, which means actually building an Afghani state, which is like creating a perpetual motion machine or any other theoretical thing that’s never existed. It’s just not going to ever, ever, ever happen. We’ve done sixteen years of trying with little to show for it, and that’s nothing compared to the centuries during which foreign cultures tried to impose a modern state structure onto Afghanistan and failed. For better or worse, it’s a feudal, agrarian, clannish territory with no real centralized authority, has been for ages, and it takes the arrogance of a bloated empire (or several) to think that they have the solution for this. Which, of course, we don’t.

I just don’t see a way this ends that doesn’t make the fall of Saigon look like a love fest. It was understandable if cowardly for Obama to just kick the can to the next guy, who’s obviously just going to escalate more and sink us even deeper into the quicksand. But it’s not going to change the facts.

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Hello Republicans,

I wish I could say otherwise, but I’m afraid to say that there’s really no way you can afford not to vote for the new American Health Care Act. The bill is a humanitarian travesty that would deprive millions of hard-won health care and further enrich the wealthy, but I assume these are features and not bugs to you, so let’s table that. To those of you uncomfortable with voting for it, just remember this: there is literally nothing your party can fuck up that won’t be rapidly forgotten. Nothing. So don’t be so frightened! You might as well vote for the AHCA knowing full well that it will fuck up American healthcare. The political consequences of this will likely be short-term and may be more manageable than you think. The long run consequences will be much worse, but as your sometimes bugaboo Keynes said, in the long run, we’re all dead (admittedly, an uncomfortably poignant term to use now, but nevertheless).

Let’s look at this objectively. During the early 2000s, you ran the whole government. You started a pointless war of choice in Iraq that has in all likelihood only begun to destabilize and wreck the entire Middle East. You directed the apparatus of the state to torture essentially because a fictional character did it. You also fell into the endless trap of bloated empires in trying to create an Afghan state, which in case you forgot is a conflict that we are still actively fighting. You enacted huge tax cuts that (along with Alan Greenspan’s monetary policy and Dubya’s homeowner policy) helped to inflate the real estate bubble. When it popped, quite a lot of people lost everything, though thanks to the credit card industry-giveaway bankruptcy rollback you implemented a few years earlier it was even worse on people than it would otherwise have been. You responded to that with calls for austerity, based on a crock academic study that you never really believed anyway, but which made the recovery even worse. In a halfway-sane country, your party and the your movement would have been out of power for a generation after compiling that record, untouchable, radioactive.

But this isn’t even a halfway-sane country.

Sure, passing the AHCA would be a disaster on par with the ones I mentioned before. But the funny thing is, with just a little bit of facile rebranding, the Republican Party bounced back faster than Alan Partridge. The media ate it up, inexplicably finding garden-variety Bush-era Republican Paul Ryan to be some kind of redemptive figure. You won the House back in 2010, and only a few years later you had the whole enchilada again. In fact, thanks to our broken media, your own fuckups have become advantages in a twisted way. Rather than emphasizing the obvious chain between the vacuum left by the Iraq War that ISIS filled, the media chose to bring back its Iraq War shtick, going full scaremonger a few months before the 2014 elections. Then there was the whole Donald Trump nonsense about the Iraq War that I don’t want to get into, but suffice it to say, while Hillary Clinton deserved tremendous blame for her Iraq War vote and her generally shitty record on foreign policy in general, it is utter insanity that she somehow wound up shouldering the entirety of the blame for the war, while the party that still reveres its architects has effectively escaped blame. Thanks to the media’s indefensible “both sides” policy, Republican fuckups must be matched with Democratic fuckups in order to keep balance. Its why Hillary Clinton’s emails got so much coverage: she clearly made a mistake, but the notion that this one mistake rated anywhere near Donald Trump’s top twenty is silly. The public, though, rewarded this malpractice with record donations and subscriptions. My point being that if you fuck up health care, they’ll need to compensate by seizing onto some Democratic failing or other, lessening the impact. And then you can use that momentum to blame it all on them. This is, sadly, a complete inevitability from our courageous media truth-tellers.

So why not pass the AHCA? You managed to evade blame among some parts of the public for the housing crisis by blaming it on black people and poor people generally rather than stupid rich bankers who didn’t even understand what they were holding, so surely the jackals of FOX News and talk radio are up to the task again with healthcare. Admittedly, the short-term losses are bound to be rough. The 2018 and 2020 elections could be as bad as 2006 and 2008 were, though probably not given gerrymander maps enacted since then. But even if they’re that bad, let’s face facts. Your rapid rebound last time provides an easy blueprint for the next time, too. The liberal resistance to Trump upped the ante from what the Tea Party did to Obama, so you can blame liberals when you up the ante even more. I know you like to do that. Most likely, the democratic nominee in 2020 isn’t going to be Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, but more likely some mediocre “safe” choice like Andrew Cuomo, who would be more than happy to work with you. I can already see it now: after all, we’re going to need all that money Andrew can raise to compete with the Koch Bros? (Never mind how that turned out in 2016, or 2004 for that matter.) Even if it’s not and Democrats get someone halfway decent like Kirsten Gillibrand or Sherrod Brown, you can simply obstruct them all the way again. That is what you do best, after all. You can count on Ross Douthat to write columns on how Donald Trump was such a reasonable compromiser by comparison to whoever his successor would be and why can’t a good man like Herbert Hoover be back in the White House again, David Brooks will inveigh against their agenda as being in violation of medieval values, cynical types like Mitch McConnell can talk about what a nice, reasonable man Barack Obama was in comparison to the new person, or whatever. You get the picture. Most importantly, no Democratic president will touch healthcare for another generation, and when they do, history tells us that the proposal will be even more modest than the one that came before. From Truman’s opening bid of single-payer insurance through ClintonCare and then the ACA, it keeps getting less ambitious, less generous. It’s pretty difficult to imagine something more modest than the ACA that could still be technically considered universal health care, but perhaps we’ll find out. At any rate, the backlash to a new Democratic president, the implications for future health reform, the off-the-charts amnesia of the public coupled with a broken media and your own propaganda machine, make this a pretty easy sell.

Admittedly, in the long run, this may not work out so great for you. The collapse of private insurance could well pave the way for single payer, since a major obstacle to that is loss aversion. Admittedly other obstacles remain (they’re called “doctors” I think, I’ve heard they like to make lots of money and don’t like making less money), but if there isn’t anything to lose, then “Medicare for All” becomes pretty damn appealing. And, ironically, the death of ObamaCare would be an absolute calamity to Trump’s white working class supporters, killing off many of the people who are willing to wage your class war against themselves because black people. That wouldn’t be so good for your electoral prospects, though given partisanship trends, one wonders just how many would actually turn against Trump over this. Then again, even if you lose some of those folks, at some point you’ll suddenly discover that a key minority is “truly American” in the same way that Irish and Italians weren’t a century ago, and that Eastern Europeans weren’t half a century ago, but now are. Pretty magical how quickly a group goes from being suspect and un-American to being humdrum as soon as Republicans court their votes. But in the end, the prospect of electoral losses, long-term brand decline, and, oh right, a humanitarian catastrophe–what does that compare to FREEDOM! And if there’s anything that spells freedom more than The Health Care Status Quo Ante of 2008, I don’t know what does.

–Lev

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I’m already getting really damn tired of writing about Donald Trump because it’s basically the same story all the time. There’s just nothing new there! In spite of what dimmer pundits may say, Trump has not become different at all in the past month and a half, he’s the same spoiled rich boy who was insulated his entire life from every consequence of his actions by wealth, celebrity, male privilege, etc. Whether the matter at hand is stiffing a contractor for services rendered or an errant pussy grab, he never had even the most basic of accountability mechanisms to deal with, not even public shareholders. He’s never had to develop an ethic of accountability and he never will. You might think someone could explain to him that as president his words carry a weight that they never did as a private citizen and that they may have consequences, but it’s plainly obvious he doesn’t have that someone around him, and it probably wouldn’t matter if he did. Fundamentally, leadership is not possible without accountability even if Trump were actually inclined to lead, and that’s not at all clear. Not really sure just how many different versions of this basic post I can write over the next four (?) years, but we’ll certainly find out.

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I probably spend more time reading and thinking about Mexican politics than most white Americans, which is to say, I spend a nonzero quantity of time on it. (Incidentally, I’m excited to visit the country in September for the first time in over a decade. Last time I went you didn’t even need a passport to get in.) The irony of Trump’s election being so premised on antipathy to Mexico is that America under Trump already resembles Mexico way more than has been the case in quite a long time: pseudopopulism that doesn’t deliver, bitter class warfare coupled with huge income inequality, and malignant but inept political leadership are all standard features of Mexican politics and culture. So to this end, I’ll recommend the tragicomic Mexican film The Perfect Dictatorship in hopes that it will inspire us all to think on this subject. It begins with a state governor being caught on tape accepting a bribe, then enlisting the country’s top media consultants to reframe his image, and it goes from there. It’s thinly veiled fiction in the manner of Z, which is also one to watch if you haven’t yet. Anyway, happy weekend.

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I was thinking the other day about what might have happened if Reagan and Clinton had served in each other’s presidential terms. Same fundamentals and everything, same big choices, just how they would have fared in the very different media environments of those eras. The effects on Reagan might not have been so dramatic, as his brilliance at flattering the egos of white America was really what got him ahead, and avoided the quite large number of administration scandals and failures he oversaw. The continued attention on that stuff in a cable news era would have probably made him a little less popular overall, but OTOH you know how the press is with a Republican president. It’s sort of like how the old NBA Jam video game would make it easier to make baskets if you got too far behind in the score. If Bill Clinton had been president during the 1980s, though, there’s reason to believe it would have been very different for him. The sex scandal would probably have been worse (though polls showed most people didn’t think Gary Hart should drop out after Monkey Business), but so many of the pseudoscandals like Whitewater would have been explored in a network nightly news broadcast and then just vanished. The press sustained attention on real scandals like Iran-Contra but there was not as much on the smaller ones. The networks only had 30 minutes minus commercials and they just couldn’t do it. There were downsides to that but also positives. (Also too, the much greater prominence of print journalism back then, plus the fact that the Republicans hadn’t yet figured out how to hack the media, etc.)

I guess my point is that cable news ruined politics and it’s a cancer that needs to be removed. FOX News is the worst example but it’s certainly not the only one, and its flaws are characteristic of all of them regardless of political stance. Also, while MSNBC has many of the people who do a decent job of it, I think it has to go too. The medium rewards braindead, emotive conflict and practically demands manufactured drama to fill all those hours, with the result that we get The Politics Show rather than politics. I feel like the 24 hours in which television pundits pretended we had an actual president says it all. After several weeks of reporting on Trump being an incompetent, bigoted, authoritarian prick, they decided they needed to worship him for a while because he gave a speech. That’s it, seriously. A speech. A thing presidents often do that rarely makes much of a difference. But Trump, whose only demonstrable talent beside staying one step ahead of the con is television, created a television moment. The pundits swooned for a day, creating some sort of nonsense narrative that Trump had ascended some milestone, that somehow a dramatic moment could undo the plainly disastrous first month of this. Then we came back to the reality, in which Trump is up to his neck in scandal and corruption, touching even probably the relatively innocent members of his administration. (Jeff Sessions is an asshole of the highest order but I don’t think he’s a Russian plant, though certainly as much a liar as Bill Clinton was in a legal sense.) The joke is on cable news pundits (though they are unlikely to acknowledge it as such), the Cillizza print media types who clearly want to replicate their mistakes, and the relatively small number of people who watch it. It would be all be an insulated circle jerk were it not for the unfortunate reality that it does drive reactions among politicos. So yes, while there is some baby among that bathwater, it does more harm than good and it needs to go.

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I have to admit that this article made me chuckle. I’ve been openly wishing for Feinstein’s retirement since these young punks were in grade school! In all seriousness, of course she could lose, though she’s not going to lose just because progressive activists want her to. This state never lacks for hungry, ambitious pols. We do have too many statewide elected offices, but per capita the amount of elected offices on the state rep. and up level is pretty small. Our state senate districts are bigger than congressional districts! So finding someone credible, and someone who provides the right contrast with DiFi, probably isn’t going to be all that difficult. Really, someone under 50 who’s never served in Washington and can win statewide should be able to run the right sort of outsider campaign. The question is really more one of best use of resources in a midterm with a lot more important targets. The utility of replacing a suboptimal Democrat with a better one is nonzero–you have to notch victories before earning respect–but in an election where there are a lot of vulnerable Democratic Senators and a whole lot of governorships up for grabs, it’s hard to justify the opportunity cost. I still occasionally read people griping about how primarying Blanche Lincoln in 2010 was the worst thing ever because it diverted resources from higher-tier races, which while I disagree is not entirely without merit (though why Democrats bailed out a dead meat incumbent who had helped spike a key policy is another question), but that was a cheap, small state, which California isn’t.

Unfortunately, I fear that the Indivisible pressure may make Feinstein come to believe that her moderation is all the more needed in this era. Then again, she’s never exactly been loved here and she’ll be 85 goddamn years old next election day, which means she may be made able to be scared into retirement with just the threat of a tough, grinding election. A little soft power may be exactly what’s called for here.

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My response to stuff like this is: where exactly is this secret Clinton wing that’s setting out to promote a very progressive candidate for DNC chair to sabotage progressives because reasons? Generally speaking, broad conspiracies oriented toward vague objectives with no apparent motives just don’t exist in reality, though these are the preferred kinds among people who traffic in such things as they can be endlessly revised. This one isn’t as bad as climate change denialism because the impacts are less harmful, but it’s about as dumb. It would seem that elements of the left need a villain, and that villain apparently has to be the Clintons, even though the Clintons are finished for good and are never going to wield any great influence again. (No offense to Chelsea Clinton, who is obviously going to try for public office at some point, but FDR’s sons never rose higher than the House and I doubt she will either, for largely the same reasons.) I mean, they’ll continue to have a platform, but the influence of Clintonworld died the moment there wasn’t another plausible Clinton president on the horizon: now it’s even worse off than Bushworld, which at least has a slightly plausible medium-term prospect in George P. Bush. Bill and Hillary will have about as much influence going forward as Jimmy Carter. And this isn’t to mention the absolute (and long-overdue) hammering Bill’s legacy took in the 2016 primaries. To act like they’re still colossi striding atop the party a la the late 1990s is so dumb, though until we all adjust to a post-Clinton Democratic Party, I guess that’s what we’re going to hear.

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Trump sometimes lets the truth about his inner workings shine through:

Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.

You see, “nobody” means him.  It’s the rare moment that unequivocally proves his narcissism and solipsism.  If he didn’t know it was complicated, nobody did.

Remember how he supposedly had a secret plan that was tremendous and was hands-down the best health care plan ever?  I guess such a plan never existed.  Shocker.  The man simply never gave even a fleeting bit of attention to how repealing the Affordable Care Act would actually work itself out.

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