Two Big Reasons Not to Vote for Trump

May 29, 2016
Fear his ignorance

W.J. Astore

Nuclear proliferation and global warming are two big issues that Donald Trump is wrong about.  They’re also the two biggest threats to our planet.  Nuclear war followed by nuclear winter could end most life on earth within a matter of weeks or months.  Global warming/climate change, though not as immediate a threat as nuclear war and its fallout, is inexorably leading to a more dangerous and less hospitable planet for our children and their children.

What does “The Donald” believe?  On nuclear proliferation, which only makes nuclear war more likely, Trump is essentially agnostic and even in favor of other nations joining the nuclear club, nations like Japan, South Korea, even Saudi Arabia.  When all countries should be earnestly working to reduce and then eliminate nuclear stockpiles, Trump is advocating their expansion.  (An aside: recall in a previous debate that Trump had no idea what America’s nuclear triad is; add intellectual sloth to his many sins.)

On global warming, Trump is essentially a skeptic on whether it exists (“hoax” and “con job” are expressions of choice), even as he seeks to protect his resorts from its effects. Along with this rank hypocrisy, Trump is advocating an energy plan that is vintage 1980, calling for more burning of fossil fuels, more drilling and digging, more pipelines, as if fossil fuel consumption was totally benign to the environment and to human health.

Along with his tyrannical and fascist tendencies, Trump is wrong on two of the biggest issues facing our planet today.  His ignorance and recklessness render him totally unfit to be president.

A Few Letters to My Dad during World War II

For Memorial Day, a reminder of the nature and costs of war, even a “good” (as in necessary) war like World War II

Bracing Views

My Dad in 1945 My Dad in 1945

W.J. Astore

My dad was in the Army in World War II.  He was a dental technician in an armored headquarters group and never went overseas.  But many of his friends did go overseas and saw combat.  What follows are some excerpts from letters sent to my dad.

Bill Zerby was attached to the 781 Tank Battalion, 7th Army, in France and Germany.  In December 1944, just before the Battle of the Bulge, Zerby wrote to my dad that:

“Here we have plenty of mud and rain and 24 hours a day the field artillery lays down a barrage with everything they have.  The outfit is making out pretty well so far.  One good thing these boys don’t believe in taking prisoners…. We all live in houses and have lanterns for lights.  Everything is blacked out at 5 P.M. till dawn.”

I’d like to…

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It Should Never Be Done Again: Hiroshima, 70 Years Later

President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima reminds us of the horrors of war. As Hans Bethe said, nuclear weapons should never be used again. The horrors are simply too great. Indeed, it’s time to eliminate nuclear weapons — they are weapons of genocidal murder.

Bracing Views

Hiroshima after the bomb Hiroshima after the bomb

W.J. Astore

August 6, 1945.  Hiroshima.  A Japanese city roughly the size of Houston.  Incinerated by the first atomic bomb.  Three days later, Nagasaki.  Japanese surrender followed.  It seemed the bombs had been worth it, saving countless American (and Japanese) lives, seeing that a major invasion of the Japanese home islands was no longer needed.  But was the A-bomb truly decisive in convincing the Japanese to surrender?

President Truman’s decision to use atomic bombs against Japan is perhaps the most analyzed, and, in the United States, most controversial decision made during World War II.  The controversy usually creates more heat than light, with hardliners posed on mutually opposed sides.  The traditional interpretation is that Truman used the A-bombs to convince a recalcitrant Japanese Emperor that the war was truly lost.  A quick Japanese surrender appeared to justify Truman’s choice.  It also saved tens of thousands of…

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The Pentagon’s Mantra: Spend, Spend, Spend

Pentagon-Money
It’s spend, spend, spend at the Pentagon

W.J. Astore

The United States is addicted to war — and to war-spending.  That’s the message of Bill Hartung’s latest article at TomDispatch.com.  Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, writes:

The more that’s spent on “defense”… the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used.  As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting. 

It’s not just that its books don’t add up, however.  The DoD is taking active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year — from using the separate “war budget” as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting wars to keeping the cost of its new nuclear bomber a secret.  Add in dozens of other secret projects hidden in the department’s budget and the Pentagon’s poorly documented military aid programs, and it’s clear that the DoD believes it has something to hide.

Having served in the military and DoD for twenty years and having read about it for twenty more, none of this surprises me.

Here’s the thing: In the Pentagon and the wider military, there’s absolutely no incentive to save money.  Indeed, the incentive is to spend as much as possible, because that is the best way to increase next year’s budgetary allotment. The military is filled with “Type A” officers whose job it is to spend, spend, spend, while fighting sister services for a bigger slice of the budgetary pie.  The more money you get for your program and service, the more likely you’ll get pats on the back, a medal or two, and a glowing promotion recommendation.

Next, Members of Congress.  Their incentive is also to spend — to bring home the pork to their districts.  And the most lucrative source of pork is “defense” spending, which has the added benefit of being easily spun as “patriotic” and in “support” of the troops.

Finally, the President.  His incentive is also to spend.  That’s the best way to avoid being charged as being “weak” on defense.  It’s also about the only leverage the US has left in foreign policy.  Just look at President Obama’s recent trip to Vietnam.  The headlines have focused on the US ending its 50-year arms embargo with Vietnam, as if that’s a wonderful thing for Americans and the Vietnamese.  As Peter Van Buren noted, normalizing relations with Vietnam by selling them lethal weapons is truly an exercise in cynicism by a declining American empire.

Whether it’s the Pentagon, the Congress, or the president, the whole defense wars and weapons complex is structured to spend the maximum amount of money possible while engorging and enlarging itself.  Small wonder it’s never passed an audit!

Making matters worse is how the Pentagon uses various shady practices (e.g. secret budgets) to hamstrung reformers seeking to corral the system’s excesses.  After detailing the Byzantine complexity of the budgetary process, Hartung concludes that:

If your head is spinning after this brief tour of the Pentagon’s budget labyrinth, it should be. That’s just what the Pentagon wants its painfully complicated budget practices to do: leave Congress, any administration, and the public too confused and exhausted to actually hold it accountable for how our tax dollars are being spent. So far, they’re getting away with it.

Put succinctly, the US National Security State may be losing its overseas wars, yet losing equates to winning when it comes to increased budgetary authority abetted by a Congress that prefers enablement to oversight.  And as any military officer knows, authority without responsibility is a recipe for serious abuse.

What Is So Awful about Donald Trump?

Evolution of Trump
Flip-flopping is not the biggest concern…

W.J. Astore

Donald Trump’s faults are legion.  But which ones are truly awful?

A crass womanizer who brags about his penis.  But wait a minute.  Lyndon B. Johnson was vulgar and crude and crass and a womanizer – and LBJ was easily eclipsed as a womanizer by John F. Kennedy.

A bigot who attacks Mexican immigrants and Muslims among other “undesirables.” But wait a minute. Richard Nixon railed against the Blacks and the Jews, among other “enemies” of Nixon’s righteous “silent majority” of Americans.

An ignoramus who knows little of foreign policy.  But wait a minute.  Many presidential candidates have lacked foreign policy experience (Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, to cite two recent examples).

A posturing tough-guy who supports torture for America’s enemies and the murder of terrorists’ families.  But wait a minute.  The Bush/Cheney administration freely used torture (they just called it “enhanced interrogation techniques”), and the Obama administration freely uses drones to “take out” terrorists and whoever may be with them (including innocent family members).

A serial liar who can’t be taken at his word.  But wait a minute.  Name any president, other than Jimmy Carter, who prioritized truth-telling.

A bully who bludgeons his opponents into submission.  But wait a minute.  Just think of LBJ, Nixon, and Dick Cheney (yes, he was a Vice President, but still).  These men were all bullies.

A shameless showman who exploits the media while professing to hate it.  But wait a minute.  Nixon despised the media; the media colluded with Kennedy to hide his negative qualities; and Obama has cozied up to the corporate media even as he’s actively prosecuted whistleblowers.

Focusing on Trump’s many “awfuls” is not the best way to defeat him, since America’s presidents have hardly been choir boys.  Put simply, Trump’s prejudicial attitudes toward women, minorities, and other groups or peoples he doesn’t like don’t mark him as exceptional, nor does his record of flip-flops on issues, as the American people have come to expect that politicians are basically liars.

Where Trump is vulnerable, I believe, is his tyrannical qualities.  Trump’s past behavior suggests he sees himself as above the law.  Put differently, he sees himself as a law unto himself.  And if he wins the presidency I simply don’t believe he’ll honor his oath of office to the U.S. Constitution.

Remember during the Frost Interviews when Nixon said, If the president does it, that means it’s legal?  That’s Trump in a nutshell.  Recall during the Republican presidential debates when Trump said the U.S. military would obey his orders regardless of their legality under the U.S. Constitution.  Yes, he later recanted that dictatorial position, but his initial answer revealed his essential nature: I’m in charge, I’ll do what I want, everyone else has to obey me.

Here “Star Trek” fans may recall an episode from the original series called “Space Seed,” featuring Ricardo Montalban as Khan.  A tyrant from Earth’s past, Khan speaks of unifying humanity under a strong leader.  Spock’s reply is telling: “Unify, sir?  Like a team of animals under one whip?”

Khan then waxes about the wonders of one-man rule, eventually blurting out, “We offered the world order!”  The Donald, today’s version of Khan, offers to make America great again.

Trump has the makings of a tyrant.  His approach to the presidency is fundamentally undemocratic.  His statements and behavior suggest if he becomes president he’ll do what he wants and expect others to fall into line, even the U.S. military, which swears its oath to the U.S. Constitution and not to any one leader.  At a time when Congress has abdicated its responsibility to declare war or to check executive warmaking prerogatives, a tyrant like Trump is an especially dangerous prospect as president.

Because of this, Trump is truly an awful choice for president.

The Afghan War: Questions Unasked, Answers Unsought, Victory Unattainable

saidtjawad_1945912591
Said Jawad, formerly Afghan Ambassador to the US

Daniel N. White.  Introduction by W.J. Astore

Now in its 15th year, the US war in Afghanistan continues to go poorly.  The drug trade is up, the Taliban is resurgent, and Afghan security forces are weakening.  Nevertheless, as Dan White notes below, Americans are told by their leaders in Washington that progress is steady, even if the usual Petraeus caveats (“fragile” and “reversible”) are thrown in about that “progress.” White recently had the chance to hear Said Jawad, Afghanistan’s former Ambassador to the US, speak about the war and his country’s relations with the US.  What he heard was not encouraging.  Sadly, the policy among America’s leaders is never to hear a discouraging word – or, never to share such a word with the American people.

Looming Failure in the Afghan War: It’s All Out in the Open

Dan White

A story from some actress about marriage and divorce always stuck with me, even if the actress’ name hasn’t.  She talked about how if you are head over heels in love with someone, or if you are pissed off at them and divorcing them, you still see everything about the person, good and bad.  Your vision doesn’t change with emotion, she said.  The only thing that changes is which aspects of that person you bring into focus.  Everything is out in the open for you to see, and you just choose what you want to focus on.  She’s right about that.  Not just in love, but in world events, too.

The Current Official Word (COW) from the Washington Beltway is that things are going as well as can be expected in Afghanistan.  That’s the official spin, and it hasn’t changed since the war began.  But other things are out there, in the open, and it’s high time we focused on them.

Afghanistan’s former Ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, gave a speech on “America’s Longest War: The Afghan Perspective” on April 5th at UT-Austin, at a Strauss Center for International Relations/LBJ School event.  Attendance at North America’s second-largest college campus for this event was about sixty; half the attendees were students while the rest were local residents, mostly affluent social security age or thereabouts.  (Rather piss-poor attendance for a war America’s leaders are calling “generational.”)

I talked briefly to the Ambassador beforehand—he was friendly and approachable, always good for a diplomat.  We talked about a book I was carrying, David Talbot’s The War Without a Name, which is the best book written in English to date about the French counterinsurgency war in Algeria, 1954-62.  This book was worth around $200 on Amazon back in 2004 or so, but I’d picked it up at the Half-Price slushpile for $2 the other day, and that fact probably showed something about how serious America was these days about wars, counterinsurgencies, and learning from history.  Ambassador Jawad nodded politely.  He declined my offer of the book as a gift; perhaps he knows the subject too well.

The Ambassador spoke for about 40 minutes.  His PowerPoint presentation wasn’t working; it is somewhat disturbing that the Ambassador has become a slave to PowerPoint like everyone in the US government nowadays.  I wasn’t expecting him to say much (the usual diplomatic discretion before an American audience combined with Beltway conformity).  But if you were paying attention, the Ambassador let drop in the forefront, in easy camera range, some things that normally stay in the deep dark background.

Ambassador Jawad was as upfront as a diplomat can be about Afghanistan’s complete dependence on US military and political support and his expectations that it would continue at the current level for the next several years.  This despite pronouncements from Official DC about our doing the contrary.  He mentioned several times that ISIL pays its soldiers about three times what his government pays theirs, and how this was a major factor in ISIL’s success.  Hmmm—I guess the three to one pay advantage trumps his army’s six to one numbers advantage.  The former Ambassador also complained about Pakistan’s providing sanctuary for the enemy forces, and expressed a desire that the US would pressure Pakistan to stop doing so. Saudi Arabia came in for its licks too, and the Ambassador urged that the US pressure the Saudis into doing something to stop the financial support their citizens (and government too, Mr. Ambassador?) are giving to ISIS/ISIL.  The Ambassador used the term ‘realistically’ several times about various actions Afghanistan or the United States could, and should, do.

One fact got dropped that I should have heard before, and that is that this past year was the bloodiest ever for the Afghan National Army and security forces.  This was the first year ever that the war did not go into hibernation for the winter; it ran the whole year round. Ambassador Jawad said that there were 7000 government forces killed this past year and that current losses ran 16 KIA (killed in action) daily.  I’d never heard this one before.  7000 KIA means a minimum of 21,000 WIA (wounded in action), a total of 28,000 casualties a year.  The Afghan National Army has an official strength of around 150,000 (actual troop strength is a different smaller number due to potted plant soldiers) with roughly 150,000 auxiliary/police.

Losses at this level are militarily unsustainable for very long.  I doubt anyone militarily knowledgeable would give the Afghan national forces more than two years before they collapse from losses at this rate.  This means things are going to fall apart there in Afghanistan like they did in Iraq, and soon.  There was not a sign of anyone in the audience catching this.  If they did, they were too polite to say anything.

The Q&A came up, and again I wasn’t picked for a question (actually, I was ignored, a story for another day).  Several faculty asked mostly pointless questions, and the student questions were wonkish policy-adjustment ruminations hewing to the Beltway line.  No sign of intelligent life there, Scotty.

After the event, I spoke to the Ambassador again.  He was apologetic about not selecting me for a question, delicately deferring blame, with much justification, to his host Robert Chesney.  I dumped the question I had in mind to ask during the Q&A and instead I asked him this, something that had bubbled up from deep inside me:

Mr. Ambassador, I’ve already pointed out to you the story of this book and how its cratering in price shows something about how much interest the US has in its war in your country.  Doesn’t this also show a distinct lack of competence in the US ruling elites, that they choose to remain ignorant about the biggest counterinsurgency war in the 20th Century, after this many years of failed wars?

And speaking of just how much real interest my country and countrymen have in your country and people, just look at the foreign aid amounts we’ve given to your country, a desperately poor country in dire need of everything, every last god-blasted handiwork of man there is, after four decades of war and devastation.  It took us five years before we gave your country five billion dollars in aid.  That’s peanuts and you know it.  You also have to know that it took us another three years more before we hit ten billion dollars in aid.  And certainly you have to know that aid like this is absolutely critically necessary and desperately time-sensitive for successful prosecution of a counter-insurgency, and doesn’t  the fact that we cheaped out and didn’t deliver this militarily essential aid in anything near a timely fashion show again the incompetence of this country’s military and political ruling elites?

Doesn’t it also again show how little regard we here have for your fellow countrymen and their problems?  Just look at our aid to Ukraine, instead.  We officially spent five billion up front, unofficially twice that, on the latest color revolution there, and that was all money going to white European politicians for them to piss away on parties, bribes, and Swiss bank accounts.  Doesn’t that show, decade and a half long war or not, just how little your country, its people, and our war there matter to the DC crowd?

Mr. Ambassador, you talked several times today about ‘realistic’ and ‘realistically’.   Shouldn’t you be more realistic about the fact that there’s been a decade and a half for us to pressure the Saudis and Pakistanis to cooperate and we haven’t ever yet so realistically that just isn’t going to ever happen?  Realistically shouldn’t you and your country adjust your policy plans and expectations to reflect this fact instead of calling still again for them?   Shouldn’t you and your fellow countrymen be more realistic about this country of mine and its government and peoples and its profound indifference to you and your war and our rather gross and obvious failings as a nation and as a people by now?

The Former Ambassador listened to all this politely, and then gave a little speechette about how America was a great country full of great people who could do anything they put their minds to.  I thanked him and left.

So just like that actress said, it’s all out in the open, and it’s just a question of if you want to focus on it and see it.   We don’t, it doesn’t look like the Afghans do either, and we all will act surprised when the big crackup in Afghanistan happens soon.  Our surprise will be genuine because our profound blindness certainly is.

Daniel N. White has lived in Austin, Texas, for a lot longer than he originally planned to.  He reads a lot more than we are supposed to, particularly about topics that we really aren’t supposed to worry about.  He works blue-collar for a living–you can be honest doing that–but is somewhat fed up with it right now.  He will gladly respond to all comments that aren’t too insulting or dumb.  He can be reached at Louis_14_le_roi_soleil@hotmail.com.

Plenty of Money for the Pentagon

101222_pentagon_605_reuters
Should we enlarge the military, buy more weapons, or fight more wars?  Heck, let’s do all three!

W.J. Astore

Inside the Washington beltway, the debate is never focused on making major cuts to the defense budget, then using that money to improve infrastructure, health care, education, and other projects that benefit all of us domestically. No: the debate is whether we should fight more wars overseas or buy more weapons and enlarge the military for those wars.

That is the lesson from the following summary at FP: Foreign Policy that I’m pasting below:

There’s a fight brewing over the 2017 Defense Department budget, and right in the middle of the scrum is how to use the $58 billion the White House has set aside to pay for military operations in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. The House of Representatives votes this week on its version of the bill, which yanks $18 billion from that account and uses it to buy more ships, dozens of fighter jets, and adding about 50,000 more troops to the rolls.

The White House and Pentagon aren’t happy about the whole thing.

On Monday, the Office of Management and Budget released a memo threatening a presidential  veto of the bill, calling the move a “gimmick.” The memo added, “shortchanging wartime operations by $18 billion and cutting off funding in the middle of the year introduces a dangerous level of uncertainty for our men and women in uniform carrying out missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere. ”

And there are lots of elsewheres. Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic, just to name a few. On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its own version of the 2017 defense policy bill, which rejects the House funding plan. The entire defense bill is $610 billion.

Indeed, there are lots of “elsewheres.”  And how are those “elsewhere” wars going for the United States?  As Peter Van Buren wrote on Sunday at TomDispatch.com, those wars have been repetitive disasters.

Peter-Van-Buren_4
Peter Van Buren

Van Buren, who learned firsthand about the folly and fruitlessness of US reconstruction efforts in Iraq while working for the State Department, writes that:

Starting wars under murky circumstances and then watching limited commitments expand exponentially is by now so ingrained in America’s global strategy that it’s barely noticed. Recall, for instance, those weapons of mass destruction that justified George W. Bush’s initial invasion of Iraq, the one that turned into eight years of occupation and “nation-building”? Or to step a couple of no-less-forgettable years further into the past, bring to mind the 2001 U.S. mission that was to quickly defeat the ragged Taliban and kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. That’s now heading into its 16th year as the situation there only continues to disintegrate…

Or for those who like to look ahead, the U.S. has just put troops back on the ground in Yemen, part of what the Pentagon is describing as “limited support” for the U.S.-backed war the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates launched in that country.

The new story is also the old story: just as you can’t be a little pregnant, the mission never really turns out to be “limited,” and if Washington doesn’t know where the exit is, it’s going to be trapped yet again inside its own war, spinning in unpredictable and disturbing directions.

The baseball-philosopher Yogi Berra coined the motto for recent US military efforts in the Greater Middle East: It’s like deja-vu, all over again.  The same saying applies to Pentagon budget “debates.” It’s never about how to save money, or what “defense” truly means to America. It’s always about how to get more money, and whether it should be spent on enlarging the military, buying more weapons, or fighting more wars.  The perfect trifecta is doing all three. Perhaps that’s the true “triad” of US defense policy.