The Cracker Project


The rightward drift of the Republican Party over the last fifty years has transformed the GOP from the representative body of the professional and business classes to the party of racialized Heartland angst. This metamorphosis has transformed the Party’s prospects as an apparently permanent minority in mid-Century to an apparently permanent lock on real policy-making power in Washington and the States. Turns out it’s fun, easy, and profitable to convince relatively privileged people they are the victims of The Conspiracy Of The Undeserving.

The only downside to this wildly successful branding shift has been that the mostly white, largely rural customer base buying this particular make of offal is shrinking as a share of the population.

American Population by Ethnicity, 1990-2030

No corporation, no matter how successful, would voluntarily choose to tie itself exclusively or predominantly to a shrinking customer base. The chronic short-termism of American politics and the belief that Republican-dominated states can use gerrymandering and “anti-fraud” voter requirements to put off the date of reckoning have convinced a critical plurality of Republican voters and politicians that the Whitey Gambit is a sustainable strategy, but, you know, math.
Washington Post

Nevertheless, as time goes on and the clock tolls more ominously, Republican efforts to appeal to more and more middle-aged white people have produced some thoroughly extreme rhetoric and policy. The President* won office largely on his promise to build a “big, beautiful wall” on the Southern border for which Mexico would, somehow, pay. Muslims would be prevented from entering the country. The efforts of the previous President to reduce police harassment of young black and Hispanic men have been halted and largely reversed. Pundits have long projected that Republican Presidential candidates would need two percent more of the white vote every cycle to counteract the country’s demographic shift. These extreme policies seem to have done the trick. President* Trump got all the honkies he needed, barely.

I’m old enough to remember when the GOP thought it needed the support of non-white voters to hold power in the United States. The combination of safe seats, an increasingly extreme donor base, and continual fear of Primary challenges from the Right has served to counteract, you know, math. So, the Cracker Project goes on.



Ken Burns’ Vietnam War


PBS has been hyping the new film series from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick for nearly a year. While I have been anticipating the release, I also had a few concerns about the treatment the subject would get at their hands. Recent American television documentaries on the war have been a mixed bag.

Early in the previous decade, the makers of the popular World War II series Battlefield made a miniseries on the Vietnam War that dodged a lot of potential bullets. It was even-handed and adequately explained the political roots of the war while being very detailed on the military aspects of the conflict. The overall watchability of the series was hampered, however, by low production values, which also afflicted its Second World War predecessor. Its dearth of interviews,though, was a strength, leaving room for a coherent narrative.

Early in this decade, The History Channel aired its ‘Vietnam in HD’ series, which used pretty, remastered footage to great effect. Narratively, however, it might as well have aired on FOX News. The title was the most Vietnamese thing about it.

Late last decade, Burns and Novick produced their epic treatment of the Second World War, titled simply The War. It focused on four US towns, which gave it a weirdly narrow feel that seemed out of place in a show about a truly global war. This narrative gave the work a claustrophobic feel that, of necessity, left a lot out and, even worse, reinforced the erroneous American view of a US-centric conflict rather than correcting it. In that sense, it seemed an unnecessary project. The Burns trademark interview-centered narrative did nothing to mitigate these flaws.

After staying up too late on multiple nights to binge-watch Burns’ and Novick’s new 10-part, 18-hour PBS epic on the Vietnam War, I can happily report that these errors, for the most part, have not been repeated here. The political roots of the war; the American blindness to the multipolar nature of communism and the nationalist roots of the Viet Minh, North Vietnam, and the NLF; the memos that showed that American officials knew the effort to prop up an illegitimate regime in Saigon were likely doomed; the internal squabbles within North Vietnam over the pace and direction of the war: it’s all here. It also represents a more masterful grasp of tone and mood than we have seen from these filmmakers in some time.

In the first seven minutes of the Tet Offensive, starting about a half hour into the sixth episode, we are treated to a cascade of violent imagery of the NVA/NLF assault on Saigon, culminating in a lucidly hallucinogenic ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ playing over strategically timed footage of dead VC and civilians while the lyric ‘it is not dying’ reverberates through the recorded Leslie Cabinet, before abruptly segueing into Johnnie Carson telling us that his show would be postponed before going, without intro, into an NBC Special Bulletin. The result is a head-snapping lesson in how disorienting the Tet Offensive must have seemed to the miniskirt-enthralled masses at home. It’s a brilliant quarter-hour of film-making that rewards (or punishes) us for sitting through the previous ten and a half.

The series’ attempts to be even-handed occasionally cause it to pull some punches, but most of the offending moments are mediated through interviews with US veterans and former officials whose biases are all too clear. Communist atrocities are discussed, but so are American. Throughout is infused what I would call a Centrist narrative that the war was a mistake, with successive American administrations chained to a Manichean version of the Cold War and unable to see the Nationalist roots of the Vietnamese revolutionary movement. Antiwar movements in the United States are generally dealt with sympathetically, with the exception of the tendency to display NLF or North Vietnamese insignia at most antiwar rallies. Toward the end of the series, a great deal of attention is paid to American POWs and their role as subjects of the peace negotiations, a role that seems exaggerated given their infinitesimal number, when compared to the titanic suffering occurring everywhere in the theater. There may be some historical justification in that emphasis, as they did in fact play a part in the negotiations. In context, however, their suffering, however real, takes on the character of ‘First World problems’ when compared to the millions of Vietnamese dead in the conflict.

This series devotes more time and attention to Vietnamese voices, North and South, than other mass-market American television of the past. This pays off in a number of ways, fleshing out the narrative and giving a more complicated picture of the motivations of America’s friends and enemies than we have seen. There is some truly fascinating material here, from ARVN officers to South Vietnamese diplomats and a variety of North Vietnamese and NVA officers and combatants.

There’s no doubt that this series is worth your time. While it lacks a truly radical narrative, there is plenty here to indict an American regime that quite simply lost its mind and killed millions. It also contains many sincere American voices defending or questioning their actions in one of America’s worst moments.


What An Actual President Would Say About Charlottesville

President Donald J. Trump

The White House, USA, Parallel Earth

The tragic events of last weekend have saddened and angered every good American. The horrific violence, instigated by extremists whose hateful ideology belongs on the ash heap of history, has destroyed our complacency and forced me to address a problem I hoped would go away.

You see, even worse than the Confederate and Nazi flags, the hateful rhetoric and the violence that disturbed a beautiful college town, was the implication that these extremists were, at least in part, motivated by my election to come out of the darkness. The chants of ‘Heil Trump’ and ‘Sieg Trump’ have haunted me. The leaders of these vile death cults have invoked MY name, and I can no longer tolerate or ignore these provocations.

So, let me be perfectly clear. Mr. Duke, Mr. Spencer, and all who follow or emulate them: You do not speak for me. You do not speak for the tens of millions of loyal and decent Americans who came out in Primary and General elections all over this great country to cast votes for Donald Trump last year, and the tens of millions who continue to look to me for leadership. Hundreds of thousands of loyal Americans have died to destroy your regimes of hate and fear, and I will not dishonor their sacrifices with my silence in the face of their return. I do not want, no, I WILL NOT ACCEPT YOUR SUPPORT.

I have directed Attorney General Sessions to begin an inquiry into the feasibility of federal hate crimes and civil rights charges against the suspect in the fatal hit and run attack in Charlottesville on Saturday. I have sent a letter to the Speaker and Minority Leader in the House of Representative, and the leaders of the Senate, asking for their support to increase funding to intelligence units at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, specifically to combat white supremacist organizations and to determine their criminal and civil liability in these and other acts of terror.

Many have pointed out that my senior advisers, Mr. Miller and Mr. Bannon, have often expressed views in accord with the resurgent white supremacist movement. I find it hard to believe that they could sympathize with such odious views, but their record of statements and writings has caused millions of Americans to doubt their stance on hate and on justice for all Americans. While I still believe that these men are good Americans, no Americans can doubt where the White House stands on extremism and hate. Accordingly, I have reluctantly asked for, and received, the resignations of both men.

I have written a twenty million dollar personal check to my foundation, and will ask for donations from the public for four times that amount, to found an anti-extremism office that will fund groups and programs that help the victims of hate groups and assist former members in leaving their lives of hate and violence. I have asked my daughter Ivanka to lead that effort full-time.

There can no longer be any confusion. Hate has no home, and no friends, in the White House. While these groups have not had a monopoly on violence, and such acts will not be tolerated by anyone, Neo-Nazism, White Supremacy, and Fascism must and will be consigned to a sad chapter in our past.


God Bless America, and all Americans, and good night.

There Is No Mystery To Health Care

There are four models of health care financing in the world today. The Bismarck model, used in Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and Belgium, is built on employer-provided private insurance with subsidies and cost controls to make the system universal. The Douglas model, used in Canada, France, and Taiwan, establishes a universal public insurance model that includes all legal residents and is financed by taxation. The Beveridge model, as seen in the UK and Hong Kong, is built on public clinics and hospitals that all legal residents can access without payment at point of service. The fee-for-service model is the tyranny of the market: If you have money, you see a doctor; If not, you stay sick and die needlessly. What ALL of the countries that have fully implemented one of these models have in common is that they cost a lot less per patient than what we spend in the United States. What the first three models have in common is that they cover everybody AND cost a lot less. While they all have problems, those problems pale in comparison to the insane costs and needless suffering of the chaos in the American non-system.

The root of the problem with the US health care system is that we try to implement all four systems.

Veterans use the VA system, which like the UK’s National Health Service, offers state-owned hospitals and clinic staffed with government employees that provide care and medications directly for no or nominal cost. By directly providing services to patients, costs are kept very low, making it the cheapest part of the American non-system, despite the fact that its patient population is a high-risk subset of the population. That’s the Beveridge Model.

Americans with disabilities and those over 65 use the Medicare system. The poorest Americans may qualify for Medicaid, depending on which state they live in. Those systems are government-provided health insurance plans that pay largely private providers according to mandated rates for defined services, like Canada’s Medicare national health insurance. Unlike Canadian patients, American Medicare enrollees usually pay copays at the point of service. That’s the Douglas model.

Americans with white-collar jobs at large companies get their health insurance through work. They enjoy “community rating” and “guaranteed access,” meaning that they and their dependents cannot be denied coverage or charged more because of age or medical history. Employers and younger or healthier colleagues are in effect subsidizing the costs of covering older, sicker employers and family members. While each company is treated as a risk pool for purposes of establishing premiums, the private health insurance companies make a profit through risk arbitrage because of their much larger risk pool. If each policyholder could take advantage of the cost savings of unifying the whole risk pool of all private insurance companies, the result would look a lot like a national Bismarck-style system. In such a system, public plans or subsidies would cover the unemployed or those at small companies, while making prices uniform across the system as a whole to control costs.

Tens of millions of Americans fall through the cracks of these partial systems. Providers must maintain large staffs to navigate multiple billing systems. Networks of providers keep getting larger to provide more negotiating power with insurers, continually driving up prices of medical goods and services. All these interest groups hire armies of lobbyists to make laws and regulations absurdly complex, making services more expensive yet.

The whole premise of conservative political thought on health care reform in the United States today is that there is some combination of policies that will turn a fee-for-service model into a functional system, because markets. One of the major ideas of the conservative movement is that health insurance shouldn’t cover routine care, but should be like homeowner’s insurance or auto insurance, and only cover catastrophic events. The problem with this theory is that 46 percent of Americans couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency, it costs hundreds of dollars for the uninsured to see a doctor in this country and those most at risk from chronic disease would be those most likely to forgo primary and preventive care. This will dramatically increase the risk of illness among those least able to provide for their care and push them onto public health programs at the state level that will be cut or curtailed because the poor have no political power in America.

The Affordable Care Act is the most workable form of pro-market ideology in health care. Despite all the conservative apoplexy it has attracted, the intent of Obamacare was to implement a Bismarck model in the United States using the existing systems of employer-provided care and Medicaid, while filling the gap by creating new state-level risk pools to make the individual market operate like the group market as seen at large companies. The problems with that system are an indictment of the incompleteness of the ACA, not of the Bismarck model itself. The basic ideas in the ACA derive from conservative thought, originating at the Heritage Foundation and first implemented during Mitt Romney’s time as the governor of Massachusetts. It’s an attempt to provide something like universal coverage with minimal state intervention. Of course, conservatives are universally in favor of scrapping it, because reasons.

There isn’t some magical formula issuing forth from the ghost of Milton Friedman. If there was, it would have been found during the forty years in which conservatives have run the economics profession in the United States. The right-wing think tanks have published many thousands of papers in the search for such a model. Obamacare is the direct descendant of those ideas, using private insurance and the individual mandate to move toward universal coverage. Conservatives of both parties successfully defunded the risk corridors, killed the public option, largely scuttled the Medicaid expansion, and weakened the mandate, thus creating the actuarial problems the ACA has today. The purpose of all of that was to prevent the ACA from working, because if it did, it was feared that the resulting ideological dislocation would weaken the conservative movement. The fact that they felt this way about an idea that began life at Heritage highlights how extreme the American right has become.

The ugly truth is that there is no fifth model. There are four, and if you want a functional system, you have to implement one of them. The reason our system costs so much without delivering very much is that we have tried to implement all four simultaneously. There simply is no intellectually honest conservative approach to health care policy. The right claims to want to fix the incomplete Bismarck model we have, but really wants to replace it with a fee-for-service model, which would benefit only the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.


Justin Amash Is In Need Of An Ex-Lax

Nothing puts a smile on my face like killing my supporters!
Nothing puts a smile on my face like killing my supporters!

In an absurdly mendacious Facebook post, far-right ideologue and supposed Michigan Representative Justin Amash said, in effect, `y’all need to chill the fuck out!’:

The AHCA repeals fewer than 10 percent of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act. It is an amendment to the ACA that deliberately maintains Obamacare’s framework. It reformulates but keeps tax credits to subsidize premiums. Instead of an individual mandate to purchase insurance, it mandates a premium surcharge of 30 percent for one year following a lapse of coverage. And the bill continues to preserve coverage for dependents up to age 26 and people with pre-existing conditions.

I want to emphasize that last point. The bill does not change the ACA’s federal requirements on guaranteed issue (prohibition on policy denial), essential health benefits (minimum coverage), or community rating (prohibition on pricing based on health status). In short, Obamacare’s pre-existing conditions provisions are retained.

This is, (how should I put this?), ….

a bald-faced lie.

For all its faults, the Affordable Care Act cut the uninsured rate in half in this country, bent the cost curve down, saved at least 50,000 lives, and shaved at least half a trillion dollars off the 75-year debt projections.

What the new bill does change is significant. It ditches means-based and geographically-based subsidies altogether in favor of an age-based subsidy, so that Bill Gates would get a higher tax credit to purchase a plan on the exchange than I would. At least $600 Billion of the revenue that makes the ACA work is cut in the AHCA. The Medicaid expansions, about half of the ACA reduction in the uninsured, are phased out after 2020, affecting millions who will have little to no access to health insurance if this bill becomes law. That will cost tens of thousands of lives every year.

The changes in subsidies, the uncertainty of the non-statutory cost-sharing subsidies, and the phase-out of the Medicaid expansion will trigger a death spiral on the exchanges and for rural hospitals that will deny millions of Americans life-extending health care and cause immense quantities of needless suffering and death. At least 24 million of those insured on the exchanges and through Medicaid because of the ACA will lose coverage. The coverage losses from the exchanges are probably worth at least another ten thousand deaths a year. These losses will hurt Republican voters the most. Coverage loss maps show that the areas of greatest insured reductions are in some of the reddest places in America, like Nebraska, Kentucky, and Kansas.

Even for those who get health insurance through their employers or those of their family members, about 150 million, the bill has a serious problem. The states can petition this administration for exceptions to the mandated coverage provisions. They will get it. Then, there is a provision in the bill to allow large employers in any state to adopt the exemptions of the most backward state, so that employees of large companies can lose hospitalization coverage, or maternity coverage, or prescriptions, or whatever. I guarantee you will see at least some of this.

The idea that this bill makes no significant changes because somebody did a word count and found 90% commonality in the text is a childishly disingenuous dodge. It doesn’t take much textual change to cause suffering for millions.

And for what? To put some money in the pockets of a tiny handful of wealthy donors and to make a political point. Justin Amash is, how to put this delicately, ……

stunningly full of shit.

Blame the Framers

640px-Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_StatesOur Separation of Powers Presidential system is supposed to prevent any one person or small group from seizing control over American government. By constraining executive power with independent legislative and judicial branches that supposedly prevent abuses and excesses. Our federal system puts constraints on the power of the central government, reserving rights and powers to the States.

From the standpoint of the Eighteenth Century, the Separation of Powers system looked like it offered more benefits than problems. Disconnected from the rest of the world by one, and later two, oceans, the United States could afford to bumble and squabble. The only real threats were armed enemies, and nobody would prevent war against them.

The modern world is a different and faster place. Air travel, mass communications, modern weaponry, and a global economy have meant that problems move faster than our multiple veto points can move policy. Like many state systems, ours is designed for conventional interstate war, and that’s an obsolescent threat.

Not only can problems like climate change and gun violence fester and worsen while corporate lobbyists use our veto points to stop effective action, the lack of coherent policy breeds a dissociative type of politics where the bases of both parties see themselves as in opposition. The voters never get to see an ideology enacted, so festering ideological disputes are never resolved. As you can see in the contemporary conservative movement, the incentives are to become more and more extreme, using the language of oppressed minorities to ratchet the rhetoric more and more.

Now, even with one-party government, the State is paralyzed. We narrowly avoided a government shutdown over the weekend. Under conditions like these, it’s easy to see why every American-style government on Earth has collapsed into some kind of discontinuity, coup, crisis, or civil war. It’s also worth noting that, although our system was supposed to protect the people from excesses of government power, the United States has amassed a series of atrocities worthy of its status as a great power.

Won’t Somebody PLEASE Think Of The Childr … er … White People!?!

image.imgAmerican sociologist Arlie Hochschild garners immense praise for her articles and book detailing the reasons for Trump support among rural whites in Louisiana. Along with J.D. Vance’s acclaimed Appalachian memoir Hillbilly Elegy, Hochschild’s work was used as Exhibit A in the case that A Lack Of Empathy For Rural Whites Caused The Cataclysm of 2016. This has become the standard mainstream media line to explain what happened last autumn.

I don’t understand this idea that the rest of us lack empathy for rural whites. I’m a middle-aged suburban Southern white man, and the cultural and political influence of conservative rural whites was everywhere when I was growing up. A quarter of my state’s resident’s lived in my county when I was a teenager, but it took me an hour to drive 6 miles because the rural whites in my state refused to allow us to spend our tax dollars on mass transit and highway funding. The music and literature of rural whites was mandatory in my school and my home. My school had inadequate sex education because of the power of rural whites. I lived in a group home for awhile, and the rural white version of religion was mandatory. The staff used punishment to try to force me to adopt evangelical Christianity.

In the intervening years, the influence of Southern rural whites was, if anything, even greater. We had a teen pregnancy and STD boom for several years because rural whites imposed a ban on real sex education for suburban and urban youth. Rural whites imposed tax cuts and unnecessary wars that have burdened the federal budget and starved vital public services. How comfortable are you with that bag of pre-washed spinach right now? We’re still fighting the same battles over textbooks that we fought 40 years ago. We failed to restrain climate change to two degrees, very largely due to the political power of rural whites. Rural whites who work in agriculture are the recipients, directly or indirectly, of huge federal aid.

Compare all that to the national response to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem. Do you remember how the media treated the case of Tamir Rice? How about how the media treats any attack by a brown person as terrorism, but if the same act is committed by a rural white, he’s just a troubled person? Ask rural whites to sympathize with ANYONE else. If you think rural whites are struggling to cope with deindustrialization, ask the people of Detroit or Flint how they are doing.

While I understand the tactical purpose of this point, it makes no moral or political sense. The excessive deference to the preferences of rural whites is a major contributor to the dysfunction of our nation. I fail to see how doubling down on that particular error is going to fix anything.

Why It Matters That UAL 3411 was NOT Overbooked.

Millions of Americans watched in horror Monday as 69-year-old Dr. David Dao was forcibly removed from a seat on United Airlines Flight 3411 from O’Hare to Louisville for which he had paid in advance. He was knocked unconscious, suffered a bloody nose, and was dragged out of the aircraft. When the video went viral on social media, much of the professional press seemed to be employed by United Airlines. There were explanations for why flights must be overbooked, assertions that passengers can be removed for any reason, and arguments that, since four United crewmembers had to get to Louisville to operate a flight, removing four passengers from the flight was in the interest of the greater good. There were discussions of the regulations, defense of United’s property rights, and a general plea for passengers to follow the rules. This was certainly an improvement on United’s official attempts at damage control.

All of this was so compelling, it had only one tiny flaw: the central claim that supported the entire line of argument was, well, not actually true. The plane was not oversold, and even had it been, they would have had the right to deny boarding, but not to forcibly remove a passenger not in violation of the contract of carriage. The need to move crew from a delayed flight was, in fact, due to United’s mistake, and they didn’t have the right to forcibly eject passengers as a consequence.

The media’s response to this event and the long delay that will ensue until Dr. Dao is compensated speak to the culture of impunity for corporate wrongdoing in contemporary America. United has professional attorneys, managers, and PR flacks who can work full time to protect the interests of their company while ordinary citizens have jobs and responsibilities that will not permit them to secure their interests. Government has largely abdicated the job of tipping the balance toward consumers and workers. The result has been a steady drain of power, wealth, and influence toward the wealthy that is working to corrode our social cohesion. Whatever ideological objectives conservatives and neoliberals hope to serve will be undermined by a fragmented and mutually suspicious social order.

Not Much Ghost In This Beautiful Shell

I’m a big fan of Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost In The Shell franchise, a manga/animated feature/anime series juggernaut that’s been going. non-stop, for the last 22 years. It combines savvy military-style combat sequences like you might find in the best Masmune Shirow manga with a deeper and more interesting look into the nature of humanity and the effects of technological change on the “soul,” or “ghost,” in the parlance of the franchise.


The story revolves around an anti-cyberterrorism unit of the presumably Japanese government in the 2030s, which is led by veteran security bureaucrat Daisuke Aramaki and commanded in paramilitary and cyberoffensive operations by Major Motoko Kusanagi, formerly of the Ministry of Defense. The orginal manga and animated feature from the late 1980s through mid-1990s were groundbreaking explorations of the alienation of the human mind and spirit in a world increasingly dependent on information technology and the cyberenhancement of the brain and body. Most members of the team, with the exception of recent ex-cop Togusa, have a mix of human and cybernetic parts, with Maj. Kusanagi at the extreme with a completely mechanical body. Although she and everyone else assume that her brain was originally human, the creative ambiguity that the 1995 feature maintains on that score is a major source of mystery and tension in the story, helping to propel it through a mixture of hypnotic action and detailed procedural.


In the live-action feature I saw tonight, that mystery is dispensed with in the opening sequence, robbing the film of a good deal of its narrative power. There is a mystery about the main character’s origins, but it turns out to be a generic action-film kind of mystery, of a different order than the fascinating, labyrinthine story of the original. There seems to have been a certain carelessness in the story, in precisely inverse proportion to the obsessive care that was taken with copying iconic visual impressions from the original, and WOW, were they ever beautiful. One crucial scene involving a sanitation worker was arguably inferior to the original, but the rest are more arresting. This film is GORGEOUS. It was a little off-putting, however, because the scenes tend to remind the viewer that the original told a better story.

One of the annoyances of the film was an irritating pattern of contrived or silly plot points. Why can’t a direct neural connection to a hostile robot be ‘encrypted’ or firewalled? Why were a suspect’s restraints designed to permit suicide? Why was a private corporation allowed to send a combined arms battalion around a megalopolis, blowing stuff up and assassinating government officials? Why do the characters refer to our hero as “Major” when, in this film, she has had no military career, and why do they sometimes use it as a name and sometimes as a rank? If the vast majority of Newport City’s residents are cyberenhanced, why do they need expensive and power-intensive holographic advertising absolutely everywhere? Can’t the same thing be done in a cheaper and more personalized way in Augmented Reality in users’ existing enhancements?

The story is a very straightforward evil-corporation morality play with a villain we can spot in the first scene. This is a huge contrast from the original, in which we spend half the film following our heroes down a blind alley before they begin to piece together what is happening. If this were an original universe, the story’s silly and generic nature would hardy be worth noting, but in a franchise specifically aimed at intelligent and thoughtful Science Fiction fans, it’s a really weird choice. There’s still enough of the odd and alienated vibe from the original to turn off casual action fans, so the question really begins to assert itself: Who is this movie for, exactly?

Having said all that, I did enjoy the eye candy and the meticulously staged action sequences. Pilou Asbæk’s Batou and Takeshi Kitano’s Aramaki are high points. Scarlett Johansson is as watchable as ever in this, even if she’s an odd casting choice for all the obvious reasons. Hollywood has a famously voracious appetite for established content that can attract built-in fan bases in an increasingly crowded entertainment environment, but they might have bitten off more than they can chew with Ghost In The Shell.

Trump, Syria, And The Ford Principle

Historian Rick Perlstein, in his political history of the mid 1970s, The Invisible Bridge, points out that at many points of Gerald Ford’s partial term as President, he faced a dilemma:

This new presidency [Ford’s] was evolving a theme: Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t.

Rick Perlstein, The Invisible Bridge, Page 309

When President Obama, fresh off the triumph of removing his nation from the quagmire in Iraq and giving the order for the successful assassination of Al Quaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, was confronted with the catastrophe of the Syrian civil War, he was faced with a similar choice: He could do his best to ignore the war and its atrocities and preserve his accomplishment of diminishing our war-fighting in the region, or he could react to a probable no-win situation with deepening involvement in a chaotic free-for-all without apparent good guys where our strikes against the Assad regime would likely strengthen Islamic State or vice versa. When he misspoke about a ‘red line’ being the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian war, he was trapped. Defying most of the advice he received, and in the absence of support on the Hill, he decided to try to negotiate away Assad’s chemical weapons. As we can all see, that approach ultimately failed.

The galling thing is that if he had gone the other way and done what Trump is doing now, that would likely have failed, as well. IS was much stronger in Syria in 2014 than it is now, and any effective program of strikes against the regime would have strengthened Islamic State even more. Obama’s critics in both parties would have seized on the strategic error as evidence of his unfitness for office and military naiveté.

As it is, the consequences are likely to be open-ended. Syria is allied to both Iran and Russia, meaning that its retaliation could appear anywhere along the spectrum of escalation, from suicide bombings to nuclear war. Syria has retaliated against American interests for less in the past, from nightclub bombings to the destruction of the Marine barracks in Lebanon. The Syrian regime seems likely to have carried out the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, as well. The American government blamed Libya for those attacks, for what I believe to be political reasons. I’m convinced that Syria launched those attacks as part of a campaign to drive the United Sates out of the Middle East. Those acts were carried out in retaliation for far less serious offenses by the US against the regime than Trump’s attacks on Syria last night, and against a regime less desperate and less ruthless than the war-ravaged government led by Hafez’ younger son.

President Trump believed that decisive action would show him, despite all evidence to the contrary, to be a better President than Barack Obama. He might want to be careful what he wishes for.