The Pentagon’s Long Con

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Guess what?  “The Good Ol Days” never left us!  Just think of the new “cold war” with Russia and China and the U.S. military’s call for a $1.7 trillion “investment” in new nukes!

W.J. Astore

War is a racket,” wrote General Smedley Butler in the 1930s.  Dwight D. Eisenhower warned at the end of his presidency about the military-industrial complex and its misplaced, anti-democratic power.  Martin Luther King Jr spoke against militarism and the “spiritual death” he believed Americans were suffering from in the 1960s.  As MLK put it, we’ve become a country of guided missiles and misguided men, a generation maimed and mutilated by militarism, a country seemingly in a state of permanent war.  And let’s not forget James Madison’s warning about long wars as being pernicious to liberty and freedom.

I often find myself writing variations of what Butler, Ike, MLK, and Madison warned us about generations (or centuries) ago.  All I can say in my defense is that the message bears repeating.  We’ve become a country that celebrates “our” military and militarism, a country that leads every other country in the world in weapons sales, a country that spends enormous sums ($750 billion in 2020, if Trump gets his way) on “defense” that impoverishes health care, education, infrastructure repairs, and other areas of societal wellness.

Americans are warned about socialism by the mainstream media, but they’re never warned about militarism.  I wonder why?

America is the victim of a long con orchestrated by the Pentagon and the National Security State, as I explain today in my latest article for TomDispatch.  You can read the entire article here; what follows is an extract.  As MLK said, America needs a revolution in values; we must overcome our arrogance of power and set our own house in order.  But we can’t do that until we end our mindless militarism.

How the Pentagon Took Ownership of Donald Trump

Donald Trump is a con man. Think of Trump University or a juicy Trump steak or can’t-lose casinos (that never won). But as president, one crew he hasn’t conned is the Pentagon. Quite the opposite, they’ve conned him because they’ve been at the game a lot longer and lie (in Trump-speak) in far biglier ways.

People condemn President Trump for his incessant lying and his con games — and rightly so. But few Americans condemn the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state, even though we’ve been the victims of their long con for decades now. As it happens, from the beginning of the Cold War to late last night, they’ve remained remarkably skilled at exaggerating the threats the U.S. faces and, believe me, that represents the longest con of all. It’s kept the military-industrial complex humming along, thanks to countless trillions of taxpayer dollars, while attempts to focus a spotlight on that scam have been largely discredited or ignored.

One thing should have, but hasn’t, cut through all the lies: the grimly downbeat results of America’s actual wars. War by its nature tells harsh truths — in this case, that the U.S. military is anything but “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.” Why? Because of its almost unblemished record of losing, or at least never winning, the wars it engages in. Consider the disasters that make up its record from Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s to, in the twenty-first century, the Iraq War that began with the invasion of 2003 and the nearly 18-year debacle in Afghanistan — and that’s just to start down a list. You could easily add Korea (a 70-year stalemate/truce that remains troublesome to this day), a disastrous eight-year-old intervention in Libya, a quarter century in (and out and in) Somalia, and the devastating U.S.-backed Saudi war in Yemen, among so many other failed interventions.

In short, the U.S. spends staggering sums annually, essentially stolen from a domestic economy and infrastructure that’s fraying at the seams, on what still passes for “defense.” The result: botched wars in distant lands that have little, if anything, to do with true defense, but which the Pentagon uses to justify yet more funding, often in the name of “rebuilding” a “depleted” military. Instead of a three-pointed pyramid scheme, you might think of this as a five-pointed Pentagon scheme, where losing only wins you ever more, abetted by lies that just grow and grow. When it comes to raising money based on false claims, this president has nothing on the Pentagon. And worse yet, like America’s wars, the Pentagon’s long con shows no sign of ending. Eat your heart out, Donald Trump!

Eternal MADness

“So many lies, so little time” is a phrase that comes to mind when I think of the 40 years I’ve spent up close and personal with the U.S. military, half on active duty as an Air Force officer. Where to begin? How about with those bomber and missile “gaps,” those alleged shortfalls vis-à-vis the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s? They amounted to Chicken Little-style sky-is-falling hoaxes, but they brought in countless billions of dollars in military funding. In fact, the “gaps” then were all in our favor, as this country held a decisive edge in both strategic bombers and nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.

Or consider the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that served to authorize horrific attacks on Vietnam in retaliation for a North Vietnamese attack on U.S. Navy destroyers that never happened. Or think about the consistent exaggeration of Soviet weapons capabilities in the 1970s (the hype surrounding its MiG-25 Foxbat fighter jet, for example) that was used to justify a new generation of ultra-expensive American weaponry. Or the justifications for the Reagan military buildup of the 1980s — remember the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka “Star Wars”) or the MX ICBM and Pershing II missiles, not to speak of the neutron bomb and alarming military exercises that nearly brought us to nuclear war with the “Evil Empire” in 1983. Or think of another military miracle: the “peace dividend” that never arrived after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 and the last superpower (you know which one) was left alone on a planet of minor “rogue states.” And don’t forget that calamitous “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq in 2003 in the name of neutralizing weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist or the endless global war on terror that still ignores the fact that 15 of the 19 September 11th terrorist hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.

And this endless long con of the Pentagon’s was all the more effective because so many of its lies were sold by self-serving politicians.

Please go to TomDispatch.com to read the rest of this article.

The NFL Draft and America First

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What a spectacle!

W.J. Astore

Every year, I watch a little of the NFL draft, one of America’s most revealing cultural displays.  This year the draft was held in Nashville over two nights and one day.  The NFL claimed 200,000 people showed up in Nashville for the draft, and indeed the outdoor audience resembled a mass political rally.  Video boards and celebrities were everywhere.  Last year, I wrote about the draft here, and so I won’t repeat those arguments.  Suffice to say the draft is a massive commercial for the NFL and a massive exercise in nationalism.

Of course, the NFL is at pains to celebrate the military, and the military is at pains to boost recruitment, which lately has been disappointing.  So predictably there was a prominent pro-military display during the draft.  Early in the third round of the draft, there was a pause in the “auctioneering” of the athletes.  Nine troops walked out in dress uniform: three Marines, two soldiers, two sailors, and two airmen.  They stood at attention as the rally members chanted “USA! USA!” Then Lee Greenwood’s anthem came on: “God Bless the USA.”  And the assembled masses sang along.

It was an exercise in pure, unadulterated, propaganda.  “Proud to be an American,” indeed!

Last August, I wrote about sports and the military for TomDispatch.com, where I quoted this telling observation by Norman Mailer, which he made prior to the Iraq War in 2003:

“The dire prospect that opens, therefore, is that America is going to become a mega-banana republic where the army will have more and more importance in Americans’ lives… [D]emocracy is the special condition — a condition we will be called upon to defend in the coming years. That will be enormously difficult because the combination of the corporation, the military, and the complete investiture of the flag with mass spectator sports has set up a pre-fascistic atmosphere in America already.”

A pre-fascistic atmosphere: a mass rally of 200,000 fans (fanatics?), applauding troops in uniform and singing about how proud they are to be Americans, where at least they know they’re free, as college athletes get auctioned off to NFL mega-millionaire and billionaire owners, all captured on gigantic video boards on prime-time television.  Talk about making America great again!

Speaking of the Donald, Trump naturally had to get involved with the draft.  One pro-Trump player who was drafted (Nick Bosa) had criticized ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had taken a knee at several games to raise consciousness of violence against blacks.  Bosa had tweeted various insults against Kaepernick, calling him “Crappernick” and “a clown.”  Trump, showing his usual leadership skills, urged Bosa in a tweet to “always stay true to yourself,” concluding “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Ah, “greatness” has so many different meanings, does it not?  But something tells me America’s founders didn’t think “greatness” resided in the conjunction of sports, the military, corporations, and jingoistic shouts of “USA! USA!”

NFL: NFL Draft
American greatness on display

The Dream Democratic Ticket for 2020

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Clockwise from left: Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren.  Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Sergio Flores/Getty Images, Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images.

W.J. Astore

Now that Joe Biden is officially in the race, the dream Democratic ticket has emerged: Biden and Kamala Harris.

By “dream,” I don’t mean the Progressive dream.  I don’t mean the dream of working-class voters who are hurting.  I don’t mean the dream of Americans who are tired of never-ending wars that enfeeble our economy (and kill lots of people, mainly foreigners).  Those “dream” candidates are true Progressives like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard.  A Sanders/Gabbard ticket would truly shake things up, which is why it’s not going to happen, as much as I’d like to see it.

No — the corporate-loving DNC wants to preserve the status quo, wants to feed the military-industrial complex, wants big funding from Wall Street, and therefore favors status quo candidates like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

A likely scenario in 2020: Bernie Sanders wins the most votes and delegates, but Joe Biden emerges as a close second.  With all the other candidates (roughly 20 now) splitting the vote, no candidate has enough delegates to win in the first round at the national convention.  So the super-delegates (remember them?), the corporate tools, spring into action in the second and subsequent rounds of voting and throw their support to the “sensible, electable” candidate, in this case Biden.  But of course they can’t let an old white guy represent the “new” Democratic Party, and that’s where Kamala Harris comes in.  She’s black!  And a woman!  And makes noises that sound slightly progressive.  The perfect balanced ticket!  Shut up and color, liberals and Progressives.

Of course, if gaffe-prone Biden implodes, a distinct possibility, there are other safe white guys waiting in the wings to headline the ticket.  Mayor Pete?  Beto O’Rourke?

It’s all so sadly predictable.  And so too is Biden’s loss to Trump in 2020.

P.S.  To state the obvious, I hope I’m wrong about this.

Wikileaks and America’s Boorish, In Your Face, Diplomacy

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With the recent arrest of Julian Assange in London with the goal of extraditing him to the U.S. to face charges, I thought I’d revive this article that I wrote back in 2010.  Assange and Chelsea Manning helped to reveal war crimes by the U.S. as well as a pattern of boorish, imperious, “in your face” behavior by its officials and diplomats.

George W. Bush claimed that the terrorists hated us for our freedoms — but maybe they simply hate us for our behavior?  If we ride roughshod over the “little people,” they might just remember — and bite back.

Anyway, the main sin of Assange and Manning was embarrassing the powerful while shedding light on their behavior.  And the powerful know how to hang on to a grudge…

Written in 2010:

Boorish, “in your face” behavior is everywhere. Most of the time, I’m able to avoid it, or walk away from it.  Nevertheless, afoot in America is an astonishing sense of imperious entitlement. People are told they can have it all – heck, that they deserve it all – and to hell with anyone who raises an objection. Rugged individualism is not enough; roughshod individualism is the new American ethos.

Now, what has this to say about WikiLeaks? Take a close look at many of the State Department cables and tell me how you would feel to be on the receiving end of roughshod American imperiousness. So what if we kidnap the wrong German citizen and torture him? Not only do we have no need to apologize: We’ll even bully the German government into silence. And we can bully Spain too, if need be, to inhibit Spanish attempts to prosecute Americans for torture or murder. Need more information about the United Nations and its diplomats? Let’s not only spy on them in traditional ways, but let’s steal their passwords, their biometric data: Heck, let’s even take DNA samples from them. If they complain, too bad: They shouldn’t have taken a drink from the cup we offered them. And the list goes on: We’ll even strike secret deals with Britain to hide our cluster bombs.

In these memos, it never seems to be America’s fault. Being a loud and boorish and imperious American means never having contritely to say you’re sorry.

Are we oblivious? Do we just don’t care? Neither question will matter if the resentments we breed overseas find their way to America’s homeland.

Professor Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com.

After the Mueller Report, Should Trump Be Impeached?

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French Ambassador Araud: Like Louis XIV, Trump believes he is the state.

W.J. Astore

The redacted Mueller Report is out, and there’s plenty of evidence that President Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation, which he saw as a partisan “witch hunt.” Indeed, Trump was saved by his aides, who refused to follow his orders to impede the investigation and to fire Robert Mueller.  Predictably, Republicans still support Trump, whereas prominent Democrats like Elizabeth Warren are calling for impeachment.

Should Trump be impeached?  No, I don’t think so.

I’m no fan of Trump.  I think he disqualified himself as a candidate in 2016 when he said he’d issue illegal orders to the U.S. military, which his generals would be obliged to follow.  Trump is not a public servant; in fact, he’s not much of a leader, period.  His basic instinct is to divide and conquer.  He looks for toadies and yes-men.  He cares little for anyone but himself and his immediate family.  He’s a master of regressive politics, a fomenter of discord.  His idea of justice is everything for Trump.

In sum, I don’t reject impeachment because I favor Trump.  I reject impeachment since the process will consume Congress and the country.

We have much higher priorities to address in America.  People are hurting.  Congress should focus (for once!) on helping ordinary people, not chasing Trump down various rabbit holes.

The outgoing French ambassador to the U.S. put it well in a recent interview.  Comparing Trump to Louis XIV, Ambassador Araud said “You have an old king, a bit whimsical, unpredictable, uninformed, but he wants to be the one deciding.”  Part of his act is to humiliate his subordinates as a way of showing his “mastery” of them.  He saves his admiration for other “strong men” like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.  That’s who Trump is.

Trump’s an awful president.  But impeachment won’t kill him — it will likely make him stronger.  Put differently, Trump has already been convicted in the court of public opinion.  Even some of his followers recognize that Trump’s a con man who can’t be trusted.  The point is not to remove him via impeachment, but to defeat him in 2020 by offering a progressive vision rather than a regressive one.

Focus on helping the American people, Congress.  Leave the “old king” to his ignorance and whimsies.

The Death of Education in America

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Is American education becoming an exercise in mind-consumption? (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

W.J. Astore

Trump!  Mueller!  Collusion!

I know: who cares about the education of our kids as the redacted Mueller Report dominates the airwaves on CNN, MSNBC, and similar cable “news” networks?

I care.  I spent fifteen years as a history professor, teaching mostly undergraduates at technically-oriented colleges (the Air Force Academy; the Pennsylvania College of Technology).  What I experienced was the slow death of education in America.  The decline of the ideal of fostering creative and critical thinking; the abandonment of the notion of developing and challenging young people to participate intelligently and passionately in the American democratic experiment.  Instead, education is often a form of social control, or merely a means to an end, purely instrumental rather than inspirational.  Zombie education.

Nowadays, education in America is about training for a vocation, at least for some.  It’s about learning for the sake of earning, i.e. developing so-called marketable skills that end (one hopes) in a respectable paycheck.  At Penn College, I was encouraged to meet my students “at their point of need.”  I was told they were my “customers” and I was their “provider.”  Education, in sum, was transactional rather than transformational.  Keep students in class (and paying tuition) and pray you can inspire them to see that the humanities are something more than “filler” to their schedules — and their lives.

As a college professor, I was lucky.  I taught five classes a semester (a typical teaching load at community colleges), often in two or three subjects.  Class sizes averaged 25-30 students, so I got to know some of my students; I had the equivalent of tenure, with good pay and decent benefits, unlike the adjunct professors of today who suffer from low pay and few if any benefits.  I liked my students and tried to challenge and inspire them to the best of my ability.

All this is a preface to Belle Chesler’s stunning article at TomDispatch.com, “Making American Schools Less Great Again: A Lesson in Educational Nihilism on a Grand Scale.”  A high school visual arts teacher, Chesler writes from the heart about the chronic underfunding of education and how it is constricting democracy in America.  Here she talks about the frustrations of classes that are simply too big to teach:

[Class sizes grew so large] I couldn’t remember my students’ names, was unable to keep up with the usual grading and assessments we’re supposed to do, and was overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Worst of all, I was unable to provide the emotional support I normally try to give my students. I couldn’t listen because there wasn’t time.

On the drive to work, I was paralyzed by dread; on the drive home, cowed by feelings of failure. The experience of that year was demoralizing and humiliating. My love for my students, my passion for the subjects I teach, and ultimately my professional identity were all stripped from me. And what was lost for the students? Quality instruction and adult mentorship, as well as access to vital resources — not to mention a loss of faith in one of America’s supposedly bedrock institutions, the public school…

The truth of the matter is that a society that refuses to adequately invest in the education of its children is refusing to invest in the future. Think of it as nihilism on a grand scale.

Nihilism, indeed.  Why believe in anything?  Talk about zombie education!

What America is witnessing, she writes, is nothing short of a national tragedy:

Public schools represent one of the bedrock institutions of American democracy. Yet as a society we’ve stood aside as the very institutions that actually made America great were gutted and undermined by short-term thinking, corporate greed, and unconscionable disrespect for our collective future.

The truth is that there is money for education, for schools, for teachers, and for students. We just don’t choose to prioritize education spending and so send a loud-and-clear message to students that education doesn’t truly matter. And when you essentially defund education for more than 40 years, you leave kids with ever less faith in American institutions, which is a genuine tragedy.

Please read all of her article here at TomDispatch.com.  And ask yourself, Why are we shortchanging our children’s future?  Why are we graduating gormless zombies rather than mindful citizens?

Perhaps Trump does have some relevance to this article after all: “I love the poorly educated,” sayeth Trump.  Who says Trump always lies?

“Great-Power Rivalry” Is Back

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A carrier strike group is an enormous investment in ships, money, and manpower.  Its chief aim is sea control and power projection.  As its name suggests, it’s primarily an offensive force. (US Navy illustration)

W.J. Astore

Should we have a Department of Offense in place of a Department of Defense (DoD)?  Wouldn’t “Offense” be more accurate?  Perhaps in more ways than one?

Consider the revival of “great-power rivalry,” meaning China and Russia as America’s main rivals.  (Terrorists may be trouble, but you don’t necessarily need nuclear-powered carriers and stealth bombers to neutralize them.)  The new “cold war” is all the rage within the DoD, even though China and Russia are regional land powers, having little of the arsenal of global power projection in which the U.S. takes so much pride.

On this subject, the following snippet on Russia’s navy, courtesy of FP: Foreign Policy, is eye-opening:

The Russian military is considering decommissioning its only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, a Soviet era ship that has been beset by maintenance problems and whose reliability is so questionable that a tug boat follows it around on deployments.”

A sputtering and antiquated aircraft carrier that needs tugboats to get around: not much to fear there, America.

Like Russia, China has a single aircraft carrier, though there are plans to build one or two more.  Even if China does, the U.S. will still maintain an enormous lead on its “great-power” rivals.  Some rivalry!

The U.S. Navy currently has eleven fleet aircraft carriers, with two new ones under construction and a further two on order.  Indeed, to make space for all these new carriers, the Navy has plans to retire CVN-75, Harry S Truman, 20 years early, an idea even Congress finds silly.

But give the Navy credit.  They knew Congress would balk at early retirement for the Truman, which doesn’t mean they’re backing off on new carrier orders.  Instead, the Navy wants it all: two new carriers and a refurbished and refueled Truman.

Consider the following exchange between a senator and an admiral:

“If we were to give you more money, you’d keep the Truman in place, wouldn’t you? Would that be your druthers?” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked.

“Our druthers would be to not surrender a carrier that has 50-percent of its life remaining, but we would like to not do that at the expense of moving out on these other technologies that every assessment has told us” the Navy will need in the future, [said] Vice Adm. Bill Merz, deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems.

“So basically we should consider giving you more money, right?” Hirono asked.

Replied Merz, “yes, ma’am.”

You just have to love these admirals and generals.  The answer is always more money!

U.S. “defense” experts have always been most expert at getting the biggest slice of the federal budgetary pie.  That, and threat inflation.  Hence the appeal to a new cold war with China (primarily an economic juggernaut) and Russia (an energy giant with lots of nukes), even though the U.S. military clearly outclasses both countries in global dominance and “defense” spending.

The world of “defense” is just getting too absurd for me.  What next?  A U.S. carrier strike group deployed off the coast to defend our border with Mexico?  Our president did say we’re being invaded.  You heard it here first.