The money the military spends on R&D today impacts the defense capabilities of the country decades from now.
Military spending, according to one theory of international relations, is directly tied to the necessary downfall of world powers. But as a Brookings report out last week makes clear, that doesn't mean wantonly slashing defense budgets is the way to go. In fact, there's reason to believe cuts currently on the table could have a disproportionate impact on the U.S.'s military edge.
Immanuel Wallerstein's theory of world-systems analysis holds that countries achieve hegemony by being very efficient at economic production. But maintaining hegemony involves what he calls the "expensive and abrasive" attempt to carry out a "political and military role." As soon as other states catch up in economic efficiency, the hegemonic power's "political clout" goes, and the state starts actually having to use its military instead of relying on threats. As Wallerstein explains, "Its use of military power is not only the first sign of weakness but the source of further decline."
In the current climate of budget cuts, therefore, it seems natural to want the country to scrap a few F-16s instead of, say, the public school system. Give our troops proper tank and body armor, runs the classic (and generally liberal) refrain, but ditch the "nano hummingbirds" -- and let's get rid of a few more warheads while we're at it.
Of course, it's more complicated than that, as most people acknowledge, and last week's Brookings report does a better than average job of explaining why.
This summer, when Democrats and Republicans finally reached their debt ceiling deal, it included $400 billion worth of cuts on national security. But due to other cuts on the table, we could be looking at roughly $1 trillion total. In short, it's a post-war pullback, and though the size of it, according to the Brookings report, "is not unusual by historical standards," it's happening in the midst of China's rise, North Korea's leadership hand-off, the menace of a nuclear Iran, and continuing unrest in the Middle East. But that's not even the main point of the report.
What the report highlights is that "the current wave of defense cuts is also different than past defense budget reductions in their likely industrial impact, as the U.S. defense industrial base is in a much different place than it was in the past." Cutting-edge technology is a big part of the United States' edge, both in actual conflict and as a deterrent, and thus what the signatories of the Brookings piece seem particularly concerned about is the procurement budget -- part of the so-called "investment accounts" -- along with research and development.
Right now, "Reagan-era weaponry is wearing out, and the recent increase in procurement spending has not lasted long enough to replenish the nation's key weapons arsenals with new weaponry" -- we've mainly been focusing on "filling certain gaps in counterinsurgency capabilities." Meanwhile, "unlike the period just after the Cold War, there are no obvious surpluses of defense firms, such that a natural paring process will find the fittest firms and ensure their survival."
In other words, the defense industrial base may be inefficient, but cuts won't make it fitter -- just leaner. The scary part about that is that industrial base health is a long-term thing, and the money the procurement budget is spent on today winds up determining the defense capabilities of the country much further into the future than, say, troop numbers in Afghanistan.
So how do you address that? The Brookings report puts out 10 questions to consider "as presidential candidates and other national leaders develop their platforms." They include ideas like fixed-price contracts, which signatory Dr. Robert Haffa, formerly of the Air Force and currently principal of Haffa Defense Consulting, explained to me over the phone are an attempt at making the defense industry more like other markets. But this is probably impractical -- when companies gives estimates in competing for contracts, they really have no idea what a given plane, for example, might cost to make.
Another idea is reforming regulations to make it easier for new companies to enter the defense contracting market. "It's difficult for a firm, an IT firm particularly, to sell to the Department of Defense because of all the regulations that attach themselves to every competition the Department of Defense takes on," Haffa explained. "It takes a huge amount of proposal money just to compete for a major program, and you have to be very knowledgeable about those regulations."
Reform, of course, takes a while, and the procurement and research and development budgets are likely to be slashed precisely because, as Haffa pointed out, "that's where the fast money is. They can be cut right now and have fewer F-35s."
But the message from the Brookings piece and its signatories is that this is, in a sense, simply externalizing the time cost, because we'll be living with the consequences of quick cuts for years to come. Defense spending is more like entitlements than ideologues on either side might like to admit. Reform is tricky, and quick fixes are tempting. Ultimately, the quick fixes are a type of punt. And that's exactly what modern political systems tend to reward.
The Arizona senator delivered an impassioned critique of partisanship, haste, and win-at-all-costs legislation, just moments after casting a vote to debate a bill that exemplifies all three.
It was a day of contradictions for John McCain: Returning from his own sickbed, he flew into Washington to vote to open debate on a bill that could strip others of their coverage. Met with a standing ovation on the Senate floor, he was also denounced fiercely for his vote in favor of debate, which allowed the bill to move forward after Vice President Pence broke a 50-50 tie.
And then there was the speech he delivered immediately after the vote. It was a surreal moment: a stemwinder denouncing fight-for-every-inch gamesmanship, hasty procedures, closed-door wrangling, and legislation that puts partisan gain over helping citizens, delivered moments after McCain cast the deciding vote to forward a bill that embodied every one of those tendencies.
“I hope that my story will help you understand the methods of Russian operatives in Washington and how they use U.S. enablers to achieve major foreign policy goals without disclosing those interests,” Browder writes.
The financier Bill Browder has emerged as an unlikely central player in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Sergei Magnitsky, an attorney Browder hired to investigate official corruption, died in Russian custody in 2009. Congress subsequently imposed sanctions on the officials it held responsible for his death, passing the Magnitsky Act in 2012. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government retaliated, among other ways, by suspending American adoptions of Russian children.
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who secured a meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, was engaged in a campaign for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, and raised the subject of adoptions in that meeting. That’s put the spotlight back on Browder’s long campaign for Kremlin accountability, and against corruption—a campaign whose success has irritated Putin and those around him.
The president addressed the quadrennial gathering like a campaign rally—talking to a group devoted to service as if it valued self-interest.
Donald Trump continued his ongoing tour of cherished American institutions on Monday night, delivering yet another jarringly partisan speech to an apolitical audience—this one, comprising tens of thousands still too young to vote.
During the campaign, his performance at the Al Smith dinner—where presidential candidates roast their rivals and themselves every four years—devolved into overt attacks on his opponent. Shortly after his election, he stunned CIA employees by delivering a campaign-style stump speech before the agency’s Memorial Wall. On Saturday, he surprised the crowd of uniformed personnel at the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford by imploring them to lobby Congress in support of his agenda.
Why is President Trump badmouthing his attorney general, why doesn’t he just fire him, and what does he hope to accomplish by pushing him out?
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has spent much of his career making enemies. The Alabaman’s strident views have won him plenty of detractors, from civil-rights activists to fellow members of the Senate. But in Donald Trump, Sessions believed he had finally found a champion and fellow traveler. Instead, it seems Sessions has found his most formidable enemy yet.
Trump is now on his second consecutive day of publicly humiliating the attorney general on Twitter, following an interview with The New York Times last week in which he said he wished he’d never appointed Sessions. The attorney general’s decision to recuse himself from investigation into Russian interference in the election infuriated Trump, who has repeatedly tried to end the investigation, including by firing FBI Director James Comey. Instead, Comey’s firing resulted in the appointment of a special counsel to take the case. Here’s Trump’s latest broadside against Sessions:
The internet’s favorite fact-checkers are caught in a messy dispute.
On Monday, the editorial staff of Snopes.com wrote a short plea for help. The post said that the site needed money to fund its operations because another company that Snopes had contracted with “continues to essentially hold the Snopes.com web site hostage.”
“Our legal team is fighting hard for us, but, having been cut off from all revenue, we are facing the prospect of having no financial means to continue operating the site and paying our staff (not to mention covering our legal fees) in the meanwhile,” the note continued.
It was a shocking message from a website that’s been around for more than 20 years—and that’s become a vital part of internet infrastructure in the #fakenews era. The site’s readers have responded. Already, more than $92,000 has been donated to a GoFundMe with a goal of $500,000.
Partly, it’s simple rage. Mueller threatens Trump. And when Trump sees someone as a threat, he tries to discredit and destroy them—conventional norms of propriety, decency and legality be damned.
But there’s another, more calculated, reason. Trump and his advisors may genuinely believe that firing Mueller is a smart move. And if you put morality aside, and see the question in nakedly political terms, they may be right.
The chances that Mueller will uncover something damning seem very high. Trump has already admitted to firing former FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation. Donald Trump Jr. has already admitted to welcoming the opportunity to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from people he believed were representatives of the Russian government. Even if Mueller doesn’t accuse anyone of a crime, he’s likely to paint a brutal picture. And that’s just on the question of election collusion and obstruction of justice. If Mueller uses Russia to segue into Trump’s business dealings, who knows what he might find. An all-star team of legal and financial sleuths, with unlimited time and money, and the ability to subpoena documents and people, have been let loose on the affairs of a man whose own autobiographer called him a “sociopath.” No wonder Trump is scared.
Without insurance, millions of Americans will find themselves in dire financial straits as they struggle to pay for medical services.
Senate Republicans are working to pass legislation scaling back government support for health coverage, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a vote on Tuesday to begin debate on a bill whose precise contents remain unknown. “Every Republican running for office promised immediate relief from this disastrous law,” President Trump said on Monday, referring to Obamacare. “But so far, Senate Republicans have not done their job in ending the Obamacare nightmare.”
Even without more specifics on the details of the legislation, one thing is clear: The options under consideration would increase the number of uninsured by 15 to 30 million over the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated. A consequence of this will be not only a loss of access to medical services, but an increase in financial crises for millions of American families. Insurance, after all, is also a financial product, protecting people from economic ruin.
There is plenty of reason to be confident that if ISIS could reliably and easily make a dirty bomb, they would do so.
In the last three years, I have not spent much time wondering whether ISIS has access to radioactive material. I know they have had access, because I had a hand in getting it to them.
In 2005, while working for an air cargo company in Mosul, I delivered a large wooden box, marked for consignment to the University of Mosul. To fly it in, we needed a special plane, an Antonov-12, whose cargo hold was cavernous compared to our usual 727s and DC-8s. The box contained, according to its air waybill, radiological imaging equipment for the university’s teaching hospital. The next day, workers from the hospital met me at my office, and I gently forklifted the crate into their truck. The load seemed off-balance, and I winced when I heard a corner of the box splinter as we strapped it down. But they drove away, and unless that million-dollar piece of medical equipment fell off the back of the truck and ended up strewn across the road, it probably made it safely to the hospital, where it was captured by ISIS nine years later.
Surprise eggs and slime are at the center of an online realm that’s changing the way the experts think about human development.
Toddlers crave power. Too bad for them, they have none. Hence the tantrums and absurd demands. (No, I want this banana, not that one, which looks identical in every way but which you just started peeling and is therefore worthless to me now.)
They just want to be in charge! This desire for autonomy clarifies so much about the behavior of a very small human. It also begins to explain the popularity of YouTube among toddlers and preschoolers, several developmental psychologists told me.
If you don’t have a 3-year-old in your life, you may not be aware of YouTube Kids, an app that’s essentially a stripped-down version of the original video blogging site, with videos filtered by the target audience’s age. And because the mobile app is designed for use on a phone or tablet, kids can tap their way across a digital ecosystem populated by countless videos—all conceived with them in mind.
Ninni Holmqvist’s 2009 book “The Unit,” newly reissued, imagines a world in which people who haven’t procreated are forced to make a different—ultimate—contribution to society.
“It was more comfortable than I could have imagined,” is how The Unit begins, with Dorrit, a single, impoverished 50-year-old woman picked up from her home in a metallic red SUV and transported to a luxury facility constructed by the government for people just like her. Her new, two-room apartment is bright and spacious, “tastefully decorated,” inside a complex that includes a theater, art studios, a cinema, a library, and gourmet restaurants. For the first time, Dorrit is surrounded by likeminded people and included rather than ostracized. At the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material, she’s one among a community of people who couldn’t—or didn’t want to—have children.
The cost is that, for the remaining four or five years of her life, Dorrit will be subjected to medical testing and will donate her organs one by one until her final, fatal donation. The Unit’s author, the Swedish writer Ninni Holmqvist, has imagined a society fixated on capital, but in human form. Those who have children or who work in fields like teaching and healthcare are seen as enabling growth; the childless and creative types like Dorrit, a writer, are deemed “dispensable,” removed, and forced to make their own biological contributions. The unit itself is a fantasy of government welfare for aging citizens (it offers delicious meals, culture, and companionship), but with a particularly sharp twist.