Monday Edition


1. The Pentagon Under a Microscope

Defense officials got put through the ringer on budget issues last week when they testified before the House Armed Services Committee. (The Daily Caller)

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall said just 55% of F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin are able to conduct operations. And only 29% are fully mission capable, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., grilled Kendall on the “exorbitant” price the military paid for a bag of electrical bolts that cost the average American $100 a pop.

The Pentagon flunked its annual audit for the sixth straight year in November, a continuation of its struggle to keep track of finances. A new RealClearInvestigations report found that a lack of oversight led the Navy to exceed approved Ukraine spending by $399 million in 2022.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.: “The Pentagon has given too much power to the defense contractors that are bilking American taxpayers.”

There’s an undercurrent to some of the criticism: “America First” Republicans like Gaetz and Waltz have come out hard against military aid to countries like Ukraine. Pointing out waste in military spending (especially at a time when the national debt is skyrocketing) is a way to make their case against foreign aid.

Bubba’s Two Cents: Two things can be true —

1) In the grand scheme of things, defense spending has been declining as a share of GDP and is dwarfed by government spending on social services. So if we’re really concerned about all the money the government is spending, we might want to start there.

2) Waste and inefficiency are objectively bad, and it’s always good to call it out.

2. Checking In on China

Ahead of the 2024 election, concerns about China are ramping up.

Some recent developments:

  • A House panel committee released a report saying China is funding the U.S. fentanyl crisis by using tax rebates to incentivize fentanyl manufacturers and exporters.

  • The FBI said Chinese hackers have gained access to companies in key U.S. sectors and was planning “to land low blows against civilian infrastructure to try to induce panic.”

  • Chinese diplomats are reportedly lobbying U.S. congressmen to oppose a potential ban on TikTok.

  • Government officials say Chinese operatives are using misinformation to try to influence the 2024 election.

U.S. public opinion of China has fallen off a cliff in recent years.

President Biden recently called for higher tariffs on China, echoing Donald Trump’s campaign pledges.

Bubba’s Two Cents: Trump did a lot to bring the issue of China’s threat to America to the mainstream of politics. So much so, that China-skepticism is basically a bipartisan stance at this point. It seems like no matter who ends up claiming the Oval Office this year, we can expect a tough-on-China attitude.

3. Content Glut

It’s getting harder and harder to filter through the sheer glut of online content, and it’s forcing platforms like Google’s search engine to adapt to the new reality. (Business Insider)

Reddit visibility in Google search has skyrocketed as people look for results that are more human and helpful. It’s led to a big spike in organic traffic to Reddit, a social platform centered around niche forums and user generated content. The site’s traffic jumped from 132 million in August 2023 to 346 million by April 2024.

Chart: Business Insider

Many users say there’s been a decline in the usefulness of Google search as marketers and content creators have gotten better and better at gaming the algorithm. Studies have found SEO, affiliate marketing and AI-generated content are cluttering search results, pushing marketing-heavy and often irrelevant links instead of clear, authoritative sources.

Bubba’s Two Cents: In a recent tweet, X/Twitter owner Elon Musk said “legacy media can’t compete” with the new paradigm of “hundreds of millions of humans providing real-time, AI-assisted, interactive” content. He’s not wrong that there are lots of benefits to the crazy amounts of information being pumped out nowadays. But there’s also a downside to content glut, and Google search and X both suffer from it. When you have so much information coming at you it can become noise, and it gets very hard to filter it all and can make user experience a mess.

4. Be Careful What You Wish For

Speaker Mike Johnson infuriated “America First” Republicans over the weekend by pushing the passage of a multi-billion dollar foreign aid deal (including $60 billion to Ukraine) in the House, sparking buyer’s remorse among the same crowd that ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. (The Dispatch)

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., in October, days after he led the successful charge to oust McCarthy: “If you don't think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to ‘MAGA’ Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of [the MAGA movement] and where the power in the Republican Party truly lies, then you're not paying attention.”

Gaetz now: “Unfortunately, Mike Johnson did not provide an improvement over Speaker McCarthy on spending and foreign policy.”

Gaetz’s response to The Dispatch asking whether the speaker is still “MAGA” Mike Johnson: “It’s, uh, to be seen, I guess.”

Gaetz on who could do a better job: “I don’t know … Miss [Lauren] Boebert could do better.”

Bubba’s Two Cents: New York Times reporter Jonathan Swan hit the nail on the head with his take, saying, “The much-hyped right-wing overthrow of Kevin McCarthy because he was supposedly insufficiently America First (or something) resulted in... a massive bipartisan foreign aid package!” So, is this a turning point, where Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene and the like get pushed aside by more centrist, bipartisan deals? Maybe, but probably not seeing how things have generally been working the past few years.

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