President Trump surprised some people recently when he announced that the United States would be withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan. President Trump and I come from the Vietnam War generation and understand the mistakes that were made in those years. Good intentions gave way to mission creep. By the end of the Vietnam War, no one knew why we were there. Thousands died and for what? With a considerable amount of bitterness and frustration, we brought our soldiers home. For many years after the fighting in Vietnam ended, the American people continued to fight the aftermath of the war. Was it guilt or remorse, I do not know. It was a painful experience. As an example, it took several years of introspection before the American people finally came to the conclusion that a Vietnam War memorial was in order. President Trump is like many people who grew up during the Vietnam war who promised themselves to never let our politicians get us involved in a stupid foreign war ever again. Both Democratic and Republican politicians got the message. In a rare bipartisan agreement, both sides promised we would never get involved in a foreign war without a clear exit plan. We had learned our lesson or so we thought.
In the last twenty years, both the Republicans and the Democrats succumbed to the old ways. President G. W. Bush may have had good intentions in deploying soldiers in Afghanistan after 9/11 to pursue Osama bin Laden. In 2018 we have soldiers being deployed today who were not born when the initial fighting started. The time for a clear exit plan from Afghanistan has come and past. To the credit of the Obama administration, both President Obama and Vice-President Biden started the ball rolling at bringing our soldiers home. The problem is that the Obama administration screwed up the Iraq exit plan. The administration’s encouragement of the Arab Spring made a mess of the Middle East but in particular, Libya and Syria. With foreign policy disasters in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, the wind-down in Afghanistan was put on hold. We were so close and yet so far away!
What I did find surprising about President Trump’s announcement is that the only people applauding it are Libertarians and Trump supporters. The Syrian war is going to end soon and Bashar_al-Assad is going to run the Syrian government. President Obama’s argument for regime change in Syria is just not going to happen. The only question is what happens to the Kurds when the United States troops leave. I think the Kurds will do just fine. They are a battle-tested fighting force. The United States is not abandoning the Kurds as much as establishing a different relationship with them. There are solid foreign policy reasons why keeping the Kurds strong is in America’s best interest. Politically and militarily both Turkey and Iran have to come to grips with the Kurds. They are not going away and invading them will only embolden them. For the United States, the pullouts in Syria and Afghanistan are overdue. We may not get the pullouts right but if we learned from our mistakes in the Iraq pullout it will probably be close enough to claim success and move on. If our military industrial complex wants to endear itself with the American people, this would be the time to say we can cut our defense budget 5% like the domestic programs. That sounds like a win-win for the American people. We’re all in this together!
Last Sunday my wife and I caught the matinee performance of 13 Hours. As a war movie buff it reminded me of Black Hawk Down. It shares a lot of the same themes and is action packed. Although my wife and I liked the movie, it is not without its detractors. Washington Post columnist Ann Hornaday complains that the movie is political and then spends most of her movie review contrasting it with the recent Iran prisoner swap. I guess she misses the point that when the consulate is under attack, political negotiations like the Iran prisoner swap are no longer an option. When the security guards ran away during the firefight at the consulate, you are officially in the soldier’s world and that is what the movie is about. The writers at Hot Air were not impressed with her “political” argument either. Surprisingly I found the movie to be less political than I expected. If the movie included a cameo of either the President or the Secretary of State asleep during the battle or Susan Rice on the talk shows blaming a movie for the consulate attack, it would have strayed from the script and become political. Instead it focused on the courage of six men to save the Ambassador and his staff despite a lack of State Department and military support.
If the Bengals are going to win their first playoff game in a long time I want it to be against the Steelers. If the Bengals play mistake-free football and get a few big plays they can win. The Bengals will never be a Super Bowl contender until they beat the Steelers in a playoff game. The Bengals have to earn the respect of the Steelers before they can take the next step. If they beat the Steelers, they can beat anyone. I am hoping for a great game by both teams.
Ever since the latest GDP report said the economy grew at a 5% rate in the latest quarter I have been thinking of the theme song for the Jeffersons, Movin’ On Up. Surely With 5% growth everyone should be feeling a little wealthier like the Jeffersons. Here are some of the lyrics from that song.
Well we’re movin on up,
To the east side.
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin on up,
To the east side.
We finally got a piece of the pie.
The irony is that despite 5% growth I do not feel wealthier in 2014 and am pretty sure my wealth in 2015 will diminish even more. So I started exploring the GDP contributions and found that most of the gain in Real Personal Consumption Expenditures(PCE) is attributable to health care(23.8%).This is not too surprising since health care has growing faster than every other PCE category since I started working in 1976. As long as our politicians were unwilling to slow down health care cost increases, it was just a matter of time before it would be number one. What was surprising was that the next three largest contributors were Financial services and insurance(16.3%), Recreational goods and vehicles(14.1%), and Motor vehicles and parts(12.8%). Missing in action were those durable and non-durable stalwarts of clothing, furnishings, food, gasoline, and housing. Obviously this health care economy is a much different economy than the Jeffersons were enjoying in the 1970s. The “Jeffersons” in this economy are definitely not moving on up. That is when I started thinking about my number one financial problem for 2015, health insurance.
In a previous post I mentioned that my grandfathered insurance premium for January 2015 will be $479. This is up 18% from my 2014 insurance premium of $407 and up 54% from my 2011 premium of $311. The lowest cost bronze plan in 2015 would cost me $923. As a person whose last insurance claim was made in the 1990s I think the fair market value for my health insurance is probably around $311 and everything charged above that amount is the equivalent to a wealth redistribution tax. From the perspective of my employer I got a raise since they paid more for my services. Unfortunately for me my raise did not buy clothing, furnishings, or bolster my retirement savings. Instead it went to pay other people’s medical expenses and insurance.
Unfortunately for the Affordable Care Act supporters it is an easy argument to show that income inequality increases when the health care economy is based primarily on redistributing wealth between different parts of the middle class. It did not have to be that way. Reforming health care costs was an essential part of health care reform and an integral part in supporting a growing the economy and creating good paying jobs. Instead we see a health care system that is dominating the economy and is literally sucking the growth out of other sectors of the economy. It looks like we are in a race to the bottom. Milton Friedman would probably have this to say.
A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both.
I am just saying that a plane that takes off with a full tank, takes a sharp turn, turns off the transponders, and drops below radar coverage sounds pretty familiar. All that is missing is someone like Todd Beamer saying Let’s Roll!
Although it was not a surprising result KrebsonSecurity reported that the hackers who broke into Target used the network credentials of the HVAC contractor. Like most retailers when we see the HVAC contractor or other maintenance people in the building, we get out of the way and let them do their job with a minimum of supervision. I can understand in this interconnected world that the HVAC contractor and Target want to know immediately if the HVAC equipment has malfunctioned. I am surprised that the HVAC equipment evidently used the same network as the POS terminals. As a person who fills out the annual PCI questionnaire there are a lot of questions about segregating and securing credit card data. Giving network credentials to the HVAC contractor kind of defeats the goal of segregating the credit card data from non-essential personnel. It does make you wonder what the security folks at www.healthcare.gov are doing. As far as I can tell the web site security questions are still unanswered. It make me wonder what they have done and what still needs to be completed. Is there anything the www.healthcare.gov security folks can learn from the Target incident? If you believe that the exchange should be operating more like a business than an inept government program, this would be a good time to for the Affordable Care Act management to be more proactive and tell the public how secure their personal data is at www.healthcare.gov. Hmm… It’s beginning to look like another missed opportunity.
Here is an excellent post from Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post that provides background for the cause of 2008 financial crisis.
It is time for the Obama campaign to retire this talking point, no matter how much it seems to resonate with voters. The financial crisis of 2008 stemmed from a variety of complex factors, in particular the bubble in housing prices and the rise of exotic financial instruments. Deregulation was certainly an important factor, but as the government commission concluded, the blame for that lies across administrations, not just in the last Republican one.
In any case, the Bush tax cuts belong at the bottom of the list ”” if at all. Moreover, it is rather strange for the campaign to cite as its source an article that, according to the author, does not support this assertion.