Sorry, this will be long. Those not interested, please skip.
It is good to see you, and I hope that you and your family, friends, and colleagues are doing okay. Especially if you are still in the area that is now such a Covid hotspot, though you may not be, since you move so often. I hope you will stay as safe as you can.
An entire discussion about the military would probably be too far OT here, and if so we should probably refrain. (I would rather buy you and Ms. S. dinner in a year after we have a vaccine, if that were an option.) But since you ask:
I would be curious whether you would agree that the presence of so many contractors, whether mercenaries or support personnel, makes a big difference compared to many past wars and conflicts, and not always in a positive way.
I would wonder if you notice any problem persuading young soldiers (not officers) to reenlist, if they can earn three times more outside, presumably in a less structured, less rule-bound atmosphere.
I wonder if you have any opportunity to get an overview of how much a typical large military unit budgets to pay outside contractors vs. paying its own personnel, and how that works out even decades down the line with veterans' benefits, pensions, and health care.
I wonder if you would agree that young working-class soldiers were arguably better off in the past, when they could either stay in the service and make a good career of it, as a WW2 veteran family friend did, or use the GI bill to get a good education.
I wonder if you would be concerned about overspending in the federal budget, since outsourcing so many defense expenses probably makes it doubly difficult to audit them and be sure the military isn't grossly overpaying on noncompetitive contracts, as it has so often tended to do ever since Eisenhower decried the military-industrial complex.
And I wonder if you would entertain, not necessarily restoring the draft, but putting some kind of alternative service requirement for young men and women in its place, which could include not only domestic community service as the German system used to for men, but also filling some of those non-combat support roles overseas like food service and maintenance. It just seems to me that something like a draft might be useful in the long run, not only for reducing labor costs but for re-creating a service-oriented culture of inclusion and mutual support more like that of the 'greatest generation.' I realize that may not ever be practical, but it has been mentioned by various people and doesn't even seem to be a particularly partisan idea.
I'm astonished that you refer to 'the Hunter Biden laptop' as if it were a real object with a demonstrable provenance, as opposed to a shameless Murdoch tabloid story that bears all the hallmarks of having been planted by the Russians, with lowlifes like Giuliani as willing stooges and Ukraine as an all too convenient second victim. The story was evidently so dubious, in fact, that even the tabloid's own reporters were reluctant to print it, as they were unable to verify the claims.
If it were true that Hunter Biden had done something suspicious, unethical, or even illegal, it wouldn't necessarily surprise me, because he has obviously struggled with addiction and other issues and never really been successful in adult life. (Though I have some sympathy for him, apparently always having been the black sheep faced with the shining example of his saintly brother who could do no wrong and died young to boot.) He's clearly a potential embarrassment, perhaps not unlike Billy Carter. (Remember him?)
But I don't think that having an embarrassing relative would make any difference at all to the question of whether Joe Biden can lead the country. It seems blindingly obvious that, judged against Trump over the whole course of their respective lives, Biden is not only a more honorable, decent man, but also a more competent and more honest leader. And Biden clearly cares more about defending and protecting the most vulnerable elements in human society -- children (already born), young adults, women, workers, refugees, the ill and disabled, the elderly ... and now also all those at risk from global warming, which includes all future human generations. To me that also makes Biden a more faithful and genuine Christian, which matters to many Americans, even if (IIRC) not necessarily to you.
So really, a tabloid story about a laptop, against all that? I have to say I'm surprised you asked the question. But if a tabloid story is enough to make you vote Libertarian, so be it, although I think that would be sad.
If you ask about character, it still seems to me that you have to come back to which one of the two is a decent human being, and which one is just a jerk. I don't want to support either a bully or any of the GOP insiders who have licked the bully's boots.
I was sorry to see that Trump was mean again, this time to Martha McSally, of all people. But I have to say I hope Mark Kelly wins that AZ race, because he really does seem like a good guy, who can be strong and masculine without having to be mean. I hope there are more like him in the armed services.
Trump Has a Women Problem. These Senators Aren’t Helping.
To be in today’s Republican Party requires a particularly gross form of self-abasement. ...
Even with everything we know about President Trump’s deep and abiding disrespect for women, it was disconcerting to see him treat a U.S. senator — from his own party, no less — like a dog.
At a rally in Arizona on Wednesday, Mr. Trump made clear his impatience with sharing the spotlight, no matter how briefly, with Martha McSally, who is struggling in her race against Mark Kelly, a Democrat. “Martha, just come up fast. Fast. Fast,” he called from the stage, rotating his hand for emphasis. “Come on. Quick. You got one minute! One minute, Martha! They don’t want to hear this, Martha. Come on. Let’s go. Quick, quick, quick. Come on. Let’s go.”
Perhaps more disheartening than the president’s imperious call was the senator’s scurrying to his side. “I’m coming!” she cried, grinning brightly and giving him a jolly elbow bump. “Thank you, President Trump!”
Thank you? For what, exactly? For humiliating her in front of her constituents? Or maybe for reminding women everywhere that to be in today’s Republican Party requires a particularly gross form of self-abasement: choking down an endless stream of disrespect, vulgarity and outright misogyny to prove that you can hang with the Big Boys in all their retrograde, machismo-soaked Trumpiness?
No wonder the Republican Party is facing a gender gap the size of the Mariana Trench.
Ms. McSally wasn’t the only one having a rough Wednesday. Senator Kelly Loeffler, locked in a tight race in Georgia, stumbled into her own Trump-themed episode of shame. Asked about the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape — you know the one, in which Mr. Trump boasts about grabbing unsuspecting women in unacceptable places — Ms. Loeffler bobbed and weaved and, when pressed, insisted she was “not familiar with that.”
Hear that? It’s the sound of an entire nation guffawing at the absurdity of this claim. Or maybe the senator really is that clueless — the possibility of which should give Georgia voters pause. ...
Although in a slightly different category, let’s not leave out the awkward Wednesday moment had by Senator Susan Collins of Maine. In her final debate with Sara Gideon, a Democrat whom polls show running slightly ahead of Ms. Collins, the senator refused to say whether Mr. Trump deserved to be re-elected. “I’m not getting into presidential politics,” she demurred. ...
Such dodges are classic Collins, characteristic of the knots into which she often ties herself in an effort to not upset the party’s Trump-loving base while clinging to her reputation as an independent-minded moderate. It’s not that the senator is unwilling to call out the president when he says or does something she finds “inappropriate,” “improper” or just plain “wrong.” Her many and varied expressions of concern and disappointment have, in fact, become a running joke in political circles. But for all of Ms. Collins’s public agonizing, at key moments she has had Mr. Trump’s back, including her votes to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and to acquit the president of impeachment charges. Post-acquittal, she assured Americans that Mr. Trump had learned “a pretty big lesson” from the experience — a comment so ludicrous she promptly tried to walk it back. ...
Certainly, women senators are not the only Republican officials compelled to sacrifice their integrity and self-respect to keep Mr. Trump happy. (Two words: Lindsey Graham.) But for a party that for years has been grappling with a serious woman problem — both getting women elected and, more broadly, getting women voters to support its candidates — the sight of women senators constantly debasing themselves for this president sends an unfortunate message. Voters outside of the Trumpian bubble, including many of those “suburban housewives” already uneasy with the president’s methods, are unlikely to be won over by such displays.
Mr. Trump’s political brand has been built on a foundation of white grievance and sexist masculinity. He has worked to drag the entire party down that path with him. Republicans will be working to repair this damage long after he is gone.