Russia 31 July 2017.

Russia’s reclaiming of Crimea and its support for breakaway groups in eastern Ukraine led to American-led economic sanctions.  Putin’s sudden increased support for the Assad regime in Syria helped turn the tide in the civil war against American proxies.  Putin’s intervention in the American presidential election to the disadvantage of Hilary Clinton, led, first, to the expulsion of a number of Russian “diplomats” and, now, to the passage of further sanctions.

Vladimir Putin wanted Donald Trump elected president of the United States.  This is the gist of much of the explanation of the Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election.  Trump had said many positive things about Putin, especially in comparison to President Barack Obama.  As President, Donald Trump would take a softer line toward Putin’s effort to get Russia back on its feet.  In particular, Putin hoped for an easing of the sanctions imposed after the Crimean and Ukrainian initiatives.[1]  “That bet has now backfired spectacularly.”  A huge majority in Congress supported the new sanctions.  Putin responded by ordering 755 American “diplomats” out of Russia.

That order has been portrayed as a dramatic further step in a downward spiral of Russo-American relations.  However, there is a certain dissonance between the American and Russian discourse on these developments.  Putin’s public announcement of the reductions “was free of bombast,” said one White House official.  Putin’s order on staff reductions doesn’t take effect until 1 September 2017.  So, there’s time to talk.  Then the staff reductions could be accomplished in a number of ways.  David Sanger calculates that there are 1,279 people employed at the American embassy in Moscow and three consulates.  Cutting 755 people from 1,279 would leave 524 people.  Of the 1,279 current total staff, 934 are “locally employed” people (i.e. Russians in non-sensitive areas).  That would leave 345 “diplomats” in place along with 119 over-weight, chain-smoking cleaning ladies.  Then there are all sorts of other American government employees from non-diplomatic agencies.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former American intelligence official and now director of intelligence and defense projects at the Belfer Center of the Kennedy School of Government, took a dispassionate approach.  He told Sanger that “We’ve been in a new Cold War for some time now.”  In his view, on the American side, “emotions took over the [Russo-American] relationship” late in the Obama administration.  First “fear,” and now “anger” drive American policy toward Russia.  “The Russians would have preferred not to head down this path, but Putin didn’t feel he had a choice but to respond in the classic tit-for-tat manner.”

In contrast, the American discourse emphasizes grave dangers.  Angela Stent argues that “One of Putin’s greatest goals is to assure Russia is treated as if it was still the Soviet Union, a nuclear power that has to be respected and feared.”  Dan Coats, the former Republican senator and current Director of National Intelligence (DNI), says that Russia is “trying to undermine Western democracy.”  James Clapper, predecessor to Coats as DNI, warned of “the very aggressive modernization program they’re embarked on with their strategic nuclear capability.”

Putin is wicked, but he doesn’t seem stupid.  He seems to hate Hilary Clinton, but he couldn’t have her killed.  So, he settled for trying to harm her chances of becoming president.  He could hardly have supposed that Russian intervention in the American election would not be discovered.  So, he was willing to suffer the consequences.  Where do we want the Russo-American relationship to go from here?

[1] For one recent example, see David Sanger, “Putin’s Hopes for Relief Under a Trump Presidency Backfire Spectacularly,” NYT, 31 July 2017.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 29.

Unable to leave well enough alone, the Republican Senate leaders made yet another attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.[1]  Without having any commonly-agreed plan, they managed to get a formal debate started.  First, the Senate voted down a broad plan to repeal and replace.  Then it voted down a plan to repeal and give Congress two year to replace it with something else.  Then it voted down a “skinny repeal” that just got rid of the mandate.[2]  Despite its flaws, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helps—as well as vexes—many lower income Americans of both parties.  Opinion polls since the election have tended to show broad support for preservation of universal health insurance.  With a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate, the Republican leadership cannot force through any legislation that would alienate more than two Republican senators.  Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) come from states that may have a substantial number of people who want to vote Republican, but who also live in marginal economic circumstances.  Their opposition alone isn’t enough to block “repeal and replace”: Vice President Pence can cast the tie breaker.  However, one more Republican dissident—like John McCain—and the measure loses.  In either case, Murkowski and Collins get covered for the next election for having done the right thing.  So, the question becomes: how to fix the problems with the ACA, rather than trying to roll it back?

Donald Trump campaigned against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), calling it “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere.”  Once elected, he insisted on a renegotiation of the agreement.  This immediately became engulfed in the hysteria following Trump’s surprise election.  It also drew heat from Trump’s highly public spat with the president of Mexico.  Nevertheless, Mexico and Canada agreed to engage in a re-negotiation of NAFTA.  The negotiations are scheduled to begin on 16 August 2017.  Now the government has released a statement of its objectives for the negotiations.  Contrary to the worst fears of the immediate post-election Trump hysterics, the American objectives are solidly “mainstream ideas for furthering trade liberalization.”[3]  Generally speaking, NAFTA trade benefits the American economy even though it is often seen as the source of job-loss.  Reality proved more compelling than rhetoric.  Perhaps Trump and the Senate leadership should let Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (who oversees the NAFTA negotiations) run health-care reform?

Six months into his first term, President Trump began a major churning of his staff.  Sean Spicer had the reputation for being a decent guy.  Then he took the job as White House Press Secretary.  Six months of humiliating Hell followed.  Then, President Trump concluded that his image problems sprang from poor representation.  He hired Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.[4]  Spicer promptly resigned.[5]  Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Trump’s direct connection to mainstream Republicans, then got the heave.

Donald Trump governing as a non-party mediator still has—theoretical—potential.

[1] “Senate Republicans grapple with Obamacare repeal,” The Week, 4 August 2017, p. 7.

[2] The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that ending the mandate would leave 15 million more people without insurance.  This can be taken as an official measure of the number of people who buy insurance under duress.  It can be added to whatever number just don’t buy it regardless of the mandate to get a total number of people who are opposed to the mandate.  On the other hand, it can be subtracted from the numbers of those estimated by the CBO to be left without insurance issued on other versions of “repeal and replace.”

[3] “Issue of the week: A softer U.S. line on NAFTA,” The Week, 4 August 2017, p. 42.

[4] Scaramucci deleted Twitter posts in favor of gun control, action on climate change,, legal abortions, and ending use of the death penalty.  “Noted,” The Week, 4 August 2017, p. 18.

[5] “White House: Spicer’s out, “The Mooch” is in,” The Week, 4 August 2017, p. 18.

Oliver Wiswell.

My Dad was the finest man I’ve ever known, but he didn’t have a lot of formal education or refined taste in literature.   He read the novels of John D. MacDonald, C.S. Forester and Kenneth Roberts.  Cheap paperbacks you could buy in the Rexall drugstore on 45th in Seattle.  So I read them as well.  It was a productive use of my time.  Kenneth Roberts (1885–1957) started as a journalist, tried his hand at soldiering in the First World War (Siberia expedition), went back to journalism (Saturday Evening Post), and ended up as a historical novelist.

Roberts was a cross-grained guy.  Arundel (1931) and A Rabble in Arms (1933) celebrate Benedict Arnold—before the treason.  Northwest Passage (1937) centers on Robert Rogers, the subsequently disgraced American hero of the French and Indian Wars.[1]  Oliver Wiswell (1940) is a view of the American Revolution from the perspective of a Tory.  After Arundel[2] it is his best book.

In Oliver Wiswell the hero instinctively helps a man who is being tarred and feathered and ridden on a fence rail for dissenting from common opinion; helps treat the British wounded after Bunker Hill (one guy is gut-shot by a musket ball with a nail pounded through it); interviews New York Loyalists who have been driven into hiding in a swamp to escape their tormentors; hears of other Loyalists who have been imprisoned in the depths of Connecticut’s Simsbury mines; investigates the mass murder of American prisoners of war by their British guards in New York; wanders in disguise through the back-country in search of the troops that General John Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga[3]; travels for a while with the many people migrating West of the Appalachians to escape the war and the “Land of Liberty”; arrives in South Carolina in time to hear of the bloody civil war underway in the South and to participate in the Loyalist defense of Ninety-Six; learns of the American assault upon the civilized Cherokee; returns to New York to share in the whale-boat fights on Long Island Sound as Loyalists sought to escape the United States; and ends by helping found new colonies in Canada for the Loyalists.  So, reading this book could give you the idea that the American Revolution involved a lot of informal violence on both sides, but especially against the opponents of the “Empire of Liberty.”

While not an “academic” historian, Roberts did a lot of research for his books.  He consulted both published primary sources and the “literary” histories of an earlier time.  Like any journalist, he sought out dramatic human stories that illustrated larger patterns.

In recent years, academic historians have systematically exploited many more sources that were used by Roberts.  However, their books largely confirm what Roberts intuited.[4]  There was nothing gentlemanly or moderate about the Patriots’ war with the allies of the British Army.  Roger Parkinson, The Common Cause, examines how Patriots nurtured white fear and hatred of blacks and Indians as a way to bind people to the Revolution.  Kathleen DuVal, Independence Lost, shows how on the Southwestern frontier many hopes for the future—especially among the Indians–failed when the United States succeeded.  Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles, tracks the fate of losers red, white and black.  Holger Hoock, Scars of Independence, speaks directly to Robert’s theme of ruthless liberty.

All this emphasizes the achievement of the Founders in calming America after 1783.

[1] The first third of the book, on Rogers’ raid on the St. Francis Indians, is marvelous.  The rest is a dog.

[2] In one of the novels, an English noble-woman says “You live in a rundle?  Oh, you mean Arun-dell.”

[3] They were promised parole, but the Americans declined to fulfill this promise—or adequately care for their captives.

[4] See the discussion of books in Jane Kamensky, “Red, White, Black and Blue,” NYT Book Review, 21 May 2017.

Medicaid Essentials.

There is a good argument that the “welfare state” has been created out of changing social needs.  In 1965, as part of his “Great Society” effort to “complete” Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the law creating Medicaid.  The law extended medical insurance to the “deserving poor”: children, pregnant women, the disabled, and geezers unable to afford long-term care.[1]  By 2013, 57 million people were covered by Medicaid.[2]

In 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allowed states to extend Medicaid coverage to all those who earned 138 percent of the federal poverty level or less.  Some 31 states expanded Medicaid.  This added 17 million people to the Medicaid rolls.  Even though 19 states did not expand Medicaid, the total cost of the program rose to $574 billion in 2016.

Did the expansion of Medicaid improve health outcomes?  One might suppose that it would take a while to tell.  All the same, Harvard rushed out a study that that found a 6 percent drop in mortality among poor populations in states that expanded Medicaid after 2014.[3]  A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that there isn’t much difference between private insurance and Medicaid—except that Medicaid recipients are just as likely to get care that they wouldn’t have received otherwise.

The aging of the American population poses a huge challenge to Medicaid.  The chief problem is “long-term care”: home health aides and nursing home care.  Medicaid provides for such “long-term care.”[4]  Anyone who exhausts their savings paying for home health-care or a nursing home qualifies for Medicaid.  Better than 60 percent of people—mostly women because women tend to outlive men—in nursing homes are covered by Medicaid.  This amounts to 21 percent of total Medicaid spending and the share is only likely to grow.  About 18 percent of “Baby Boomers” will need nursing home care.  Most of them don’t have the resources to pay for it, so they will become public charges as they/we have been public charges throughout life.

Republicans wanted (and still want) to scale back spending on Medicaid.[5]  In particular, they want to roll-back the Obama administration’s extension of Medicaid to the “working poor” while leaving in place health coverage for the “deserving poor.”  In contrast, the vast majority (70 percent) of Americans favor maintaining Medicaid spending at its current level.

In the near term, there isn’t any real prospect of cutting entitlement spending.  It is a different question to ask if America can afford such spending.  The ACA loaded $875 billion in new taxes on upper income earners.  This seems to be the real source of funding for the ACA, rather than the revenues derived from “mandatory” insurance participation.[6]  The Republican “repeal and replace” plan would roll-back these taxes.  The House version would have cut spending by $834 billion.  Grimy though it may be, this turns into a debate over spending on an “undeserving” past versus spending on an uncertain future.  Boomers should have saved more.

[1] On the distinction between the “deserving” and Undeserving” poor, see http://www.herinst.org/BusinessManagedDemocracy/culture/work/deserving.html  It doesn’t matter if this is a nonsensical distinction.  In contemporary Democratic party ideology, ALL poor people are the “deserving poor,” as re many members of the middle class.  However, Republicans hold the White House, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court.  For that matter, it is clear that many conservative Democrats hold to the same beliefs.

[2] “The battle over Medicaid,” The Week, 23 June 2017, p. 11.

[3] Not to be callous, but over two years, the death rate declined by 6 percent and this is the result of extending Medicaid?  Is this reduced or merely postponed mortality or just a short-term deviation?

[4] Fat black ladies from the Caribbean, mon, sticking tubes in you and wiping your ass.

[5] People on Medicaid usually don’t vote Republican.  If the “reform” passes, they never will.

[6] My sons received forms for the last two years in which they were supposed to certify that they had health insurance.  However, they were not required to submit those forms with their tax returns.  That is the “mandate.”

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 28.

President Donald Trump’s foreign policy doesn’t seem that far off the mark: beat up on ISIS, try to square petty quarrels among the Gulf States, nudge the European NATO members to increase their defense spending to the promised levels before they talk about coercing the Russkies, figure out what to do about North Korea without blowing up the world, and start renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  The Democrats had turned against the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the election season, so the election of Hilary Clinton wouldn’t have made any difference there.  The Trump administration bailed on the Paris Climate Agreement, but the effects will be felt only at the margins and for a time.  Eventually, the United States will come back to supporting it.

The big problems have been in domestic policy.  What if the Republicans had chosen to work on something other than health care as their first order of business after the November 2016 election?[1]  What if they had gone with a big infrastructure bill?  Lord knows the country needs one, the Democrats have been just as neglectful as the Republicans on this matter in recent decades, and there could have been some kind of bi-partisan agreement on action.  Failing that, what if they had gone with a major tax over-haul?  Lord knows the country needs one, and there would have been lots of chances for horse-trading.

But no, the Republicans had to lead-off with efforts to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  They had made it their battle cry for years before Donald Trump became their president.  Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell failed to assemble the minimum number of votes for the latest iteration of “repeal and replace.”[2]  Now all the things that might have been done, but were not done, face a steep up-hill climb.[3]

Still, beyond all the chortling over Republicans’ self-inflicted wounds, lie two realities.  First, the health-care market places already had begun to contract for reasons rooted in the ACA.[4]  Second, during the Obama administration, a federal court had invalidated the subsidies that made health insurance marginally affordable.  So, Republicans may get one more chance to get it right.  They need to think anew and act anew.

In contrast, the domestic economy is a mess.  “Trumponomics” consists of cutting corporate taxes and federal regulation in order to stimulate business activity; reforming welfare to get more Americans back into the labor force; re-negotiating trade deals to achieve equity; and stimulating the energy sector by relieving the burdens upon coal.  This will result in a 3 percent economic growth rate, he says.[5]

Many economists believe that 3 percent growth is a fantasy.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) guesses that these changes will produce only 1.9 percent growth.  The American economy can grow only if it has an expanding labor force.  So, no border wall.

[1] In the same ways that the first Barack Obama administration might have sought an adequate stimulus bill, rather than shifting its efforts to the creation of a costly new entitlement program in the form of the Affordable Care Act while the country slogged through an inadequate recovery from the financial crisis.  Paul Krugman had argued that the Obama stimulus bill was half a s bog as it should be, spread over two years instead of front-loaded into one year, and included tax cuts that would be used to de-leverage rather than spent to stimulate the economy.  As best I recall, President Obama was reported (by Bob Woodward) to have remarked that “Look, I get the Keynesian argument, but the American people aren’t there.”

[2] “GOP’s “repeal and replace” bill dies,” The Week, 28 Jult 2017, p. 4.

[3] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tL1acYvpR_E

[4] The Democratic solution to this problem is ever-larger subsidies.  The budget effects do not concern them.

[5] “Issue of the week: Trump’s MAGAnomics” plan.” The Week, 28 July 2017, p. 34.

Lord Dunmore’s War.

From 1756 to 1763, Britain fought France for command of eastern North America.  Britain won, but then had troubles with its Indian and Anglo-American allies in that war.  The British government found itself ruling a multi-lingual, multi-racial empire in America.  French-speaking Catholic Canadians and Native Americans were suddenly joined with the English-speaking Atlantic Americans.  Were the Atlantic Americans to be the favored constituency or should the imperial government try to hold the ring between three equally valuable groups?  The latter made the most sense from a Justice perspective, and economic rationality supported Justice.  The fur trade with the interior regions generated wealth, while new wars would load the British government with more debt.  However, the Atlantic Americans bucked against imperial limits on their Westward drive, as they did against resistance from the Native Americans.

Trying to bring the territories of the Ohio Valley (western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky) under effective control, in 1768 the British signed the Treaty of Fort Stanwix with the formidable Iroquois Confederacy.[1]  The Treaty didn’t hand over to the British any lands actually occupied by the Iroquois.  It handed over lands used by the Shawnee and others as a common hunting ground.  The Iroquois had beaten all of these Native American peoples into submission in the many days ago.  The Shawnee didn’t like this deal (who would?) and weren’t anywhere as near afraid of white settlers or British soldiers as they were of the Iroquois.  So, trouble brewed, needing only an incident to set off a real war.[2]

Incidents began to accumulate from late 1773.  More and more Atlantic Americans crossed the Appalachians in search of trade, then of land.  A few of them bore names that ring out in American history: Daniel Boone, George Rogers Clark.  Most, though, are known only to specialist historians: Michael Cresap (1742-1775), Ebenezer Zane (1747-1811), John Gibson (1740-1822), and the awful Daniel Greathouse (1752-1775).  The migration led to conflicts in which the Native Americans got rather the better of it.

In 1774, the royal governor of Virginia, John Murray, Lord Dunmore, responded by launching two columns of militia totaling about 2,500 men into the Ohio country.  The basic, usually effective, strategy consisted of marching cautiously toward the home villages of the Indians; hoping that they would retreat to save their families; and then burning down the villages, burning any food stores, and burning the crops in the field.  The Indians then could starve at their leisure.  This kinda-sorta worked in what came to be called “Lord Dunmore’s War.”[3]  The Shawnee took advantage of the separation of the two militia columns to try to destroy the enemy in detail by concentrating against first one, then the other.

On 10 October 1774, at Point Pleasant in what is today West Virginia, the Shawnee attacked.  The Shawnee did a lot of damage to the militia column, but could not defeat it.  The day ended in a victory for the American militia.  On 19 October 1774, faced with the prospect of a militia advance on his villages, the Shawnee chief signed over most of his lands.

“Lord Dunmore’s War,” as it came to be called, opened the country south of the Ohio River to settlement.  At the same time, it did nothing to settle the question of the country north of the Ohio.  It also offered another warning to the Native Americans that their future could not be reconciled with that of the Atlantic Americans.  Future wars loomed.

[1] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2017/07/15/iroquois-confederacy/

[2] Glenn F. Williams, Dunmore’s War: The Last Conflict of America’s Colonial Era (2017)

[3] It certainly worked a lot better than did two later expeditions by the U.S. Army in 1790 and 1791.  Both of those ended in disastrous defeats.  See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2017/07/14/my-weekly-reader-14-july-2017/

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 27.

The third attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already died.  Last week, however, it seemed like it might work.  Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell tried adding inducements to win back “moderate” Republican senators.  Senator Ted Cruz added a proposal to require insurance companies to sell one full “Obamacare” policy in return for the freedom to offer more stripped-down policies as well.[1]  As is now known, McConnell’s effort to pull in votes from the two wings of the Republican party failed.

It is worth noticing several points that were not well articulated in the commentary.  First, critics claimed that the Cruz proposal would trigger a flight from the ACA standard policies on the part of younger, healthier (and often lower income) people.  That is, the ACA created not just an “entitlement” for some, but an irksome burden for many others.  Second, late in the Obama administration, a federal court held that the money for the insurance subsidies does not come from any Congressional appropriation.  Hence spending that money is illegal.  The Trump administration has not stopped paying the subsidies or hurried the case to the Supreme Court.  It seems likely that this Court would affirm the lower court.  In that case, the subsidies would stop and the market places would encounter some turbulence.  Third, the Republican party alone did not put Donald Trump into the White House.  Many traditionally Democratic voters switched side to vote for him.  Letting Mitch McConnell and other mainstream Republican decide the form of a new health-care law works against the interests of Trump’s own base.  He might do better to actually try to lead in conjunction with the Republican “moderates” and whatever Democrats he can pry loose.

The latter may not be so far-fetched as it sounds.[2]  First, Democrats have been debating whether the embrace of Bernie Sanders by many Democrats amounted to a sugar high.[3]  After the triumph of marriage equality,[4] transgender rights became an important liberal cause.  There are a great many gay people, but not a lot of transgender people.  Certainly their rights deserve as much protection as do those of anyone else.  However, was it politically wise to unleash the whole force of right-minded contempt on the many people who have not yet reached the point now occupied by urban liberal opinion?[5]  Then, you don’t see a lot of “We Oppose Our Local Police” yard-signs out there.  There are about 1,000 police shootings of civilians every year.  Focusing on a few high-profile cases, no matter how egregious they appear at first glance, may not be a winner.[6]  Democrats are divided over these and other issues.  The current chaos inside the Republican Party offers some of them a chance to actually accomplish something.  Much would depend upon Trump deciding to be president and Democrats shifting toward pragmatism.

[1] “Divided GOP haggles over health-care bill,” The Week, 21 July 2017, p. 5.

[2] “Democrats: Should they shift to the center?” The Week, 21 July 2017, p. 16.

[3] Meanwhile, in Venezuela,…

[4] Which I fully supported.  Why should gay people be the only ones with a socially-approved out?

[5] It is worth reflecting on how long it took for President Obama’s position on marriage equality to evolve.  An estimated 25 percent of people self-identify as liberals.  A recent survey of small town Americans reported that just over two-thirds of the respondents felt that they had different values from people in urban areas (probably why they’re still stuck in the boonies).  Almost as  many (56 percent) believe that the federal government does  more to help the cities than for people like them. “Poll Watch,” The Week, 30 June 2017, p. 17.  Hillary Clinton lost in the Electoral College, not in the popular vote.

[6] Of the 80 police officers arrested for fatal shootings since 2005, 28 have been convicted.  “Noted,” The Week, 30 June 2017, p. 16.  One can read this as a warning against a rush to judgement until all the facts come out.  Or you can read it as a sign that juries of ordinary citizens are reluctant to second-guess the police officers who protect their communities from other dangers.