Joe Biden Is Running Again

W.J. Astore

And Likely Biden Will Be Running Away from His Record

Joe Biden is running for reelection, or so the major networks say, the formal announcement coming as soon as this Tuesday.

It’s been on my mind as I read Chris Hedges’s latest column in which he reminds us of Biden’s string of broken promises:

Democracies are slain with false promises and hollow platitudes. Biden told us as a candidate he would raise the minimum wage to $15 and hand out $2,000 stimulus checks. He told us his American Jobs Plan would create “millions of good jobs.” He told us he would strengthen collective bargaining and ensure universal pre-kindergarten, universal paid family and medical leave, and free community college. He promised a publicly funded option for healthcare. He promised not to drill on federal lands and to promote a “green energy revolution and environmental justice.” None of that happened.

Biden’s main appeal is simply that he’s not Donald Trump (or Ron DeSantis). He represents normalcy, if “normalcy” means dysfunction, division, and increasing levels of dystopia. He represents neither hope nor change but more of the same, and as Chris Hedges notes in his article, America can’t stand much more of that.

What’s interesting to me is the idea floated by Democrats in 2020 that Biden was willing to promise to be a one-term president, given concerns aired back then of his physical and mental decline, if such a promise would secure him the support needed to defeat Trump. That promise not to run for reelection, floated but never fixed in stone, is all but forgotten today as the DNC continues to sell the idea that Biden is perfectly healthy and superbly capable of serving as president until he’s 86 years of age.

But age is just a number nowadays, right?

RFK Jr. in 2017. He gets it.

A few days ago, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his candidacy as a Democrat. The immediate response by The New York Times was to smear him as being anti-science because he questioned the efficacy of vaccines while pointing out their risks. Basically, the NYT was angry at RFK Jr. for daring to deviate from party lines, which makes him even more intriguing to me.

Kennedy has spoken out powerfully against the permanent war state in America and the wanton wastefulness of empire, so he has my vote. Of course, the mainstream media will do its best to ignore him as well as Marianne Williamson, and when they can’t be ignored, they’ll smear them so that shuffling Joe Biden can continue in office as a figurehead, shoved along by his handlers, likely with ever decreasing dignity.

Most readers of Bracing Views, I think, are looking for true hope and change, and we know it’s not coming from the two major parties. Still, I hope readers will give candidates like RFK Jr. and Marianne Williamson a long look. It sure beats swallowing a little bit and voting for Joe again.

Stand Your Ground Shouldn’t Mean Blast Away

W.J. Astore

The death penalty shouldn’t apply to turning in the wrong driveway or knocking on the wrong door

As a follow up to my previous article, “Shootings Are Us,” I read a piece today on NBC News about “Stand Your Ground” and “Castle Doctrine” laws. The idea is that people can defend themselves if accosted (“stand your ground”) and if their property is invaded (“castle doctrine”). In America, however, defense often takes a deadly form because people reach for guns rather than, say, a baseball bat, and bullets are quite unforgiving to flesh, and more difficult for most to aim and control than a bat.

Perhaps we all need “Star Trek” phasers set to stun, but, seriously, the problem is that guns are designed to kill. You really can’t modulate their murderous potential. So we have all sorts of Americans shot and killed or wounded for the most innocuous of actions, such as turning down the wrong driveway, knocking on the wrong door, or getting in the wrong car.

Such mistaken actions shouldn’t be subject to a potential death penalty at the trigger-happy hands of mostly untrained and seemingly strung out men.

Reasonable self-defense laws make sense to me, but the so-called castle doctrine is part of the problem. It encourages us to see our houses (and other property) as castles, as fortresses, as something we should defend using murderous force. But is defending one’s property truly a sufficient rationale to take someone’s life? 

If a man knocks me from my bike and steals it, am I truly justified in pulling my gun and shooting him dead? Sure, I’d be seriously pissed at losing my bike, but I’d get over it. I’m not sure I’d ever get over shooting the bike thief and putting him six feet under.

A home intruder? I get it. I’d call 911 and do my best to keep my family safe. If a gun were handy, I’d get it, but I wouldn’t start blasting away as a first resort. Firing a gun at someone truly should be the last resort. And when you fire, you should always have a good idea what you’re shooting at. Too many times, the “home intruder” turns out to be a family member visiting unexpectedly or returning late, or perhaps even someone who’s lost or confused.

Uncle Ben to Peter Parker (Spider-Man): With great power comes great responsibility

Here, the lesson from Peter Parker’s gentle Uncle Ben comes to mind: With great power comes great responsibility. Guns represent great power, meaning you must exercise great responsibility when employing them. Far too often, America seems to have too many trigger-happy people, eager to use their power but none too eager to consider their responsibility.

So they blast away, then claim they were standing their ground or defending their castle. And given the law in many states across America, it just may be enough of a defense to earn them verdicts of “not guilty,” even when they kill innocents.

Shootings Are Us

W.J. Astore

Fear, Fantasy, Fun–and Guns

Shootings are all over the news today. A young woman killed in rural New York when she drove up the wrong driveway and the owner of the house came out blasting. A Black teenager shot and wounded when he mixed up an address and knocked on the wrong door in Kansas City. And a news flash from The Boston Globe this PM reporting that at least four people have been killed and three more wounded in two shootings in Maine.

America has so many deadly shootings on a daily basis that they hardly qualify as news anymore. What gives?

Ralph Yarl, shot and wounded when he mixed up an address
Kaylin Gillis, shot and killed in rural NY

No guns, no shootings, of course, but America is awash in guns, and no one is going to pry them from the hands of those who want them.

You’d think brandishing a gun would be enough of a threat, but far too often, those who have guns seem eager to use them as well. Why shoot at a car that pulls in your driveway, even as the car is turning around and leaving? Why shoot at a young Black man for simply walking up and knocking on the door? In both cases, the shooters pulled the trigger at least twice, and apparently used no warning shots or for that matter any other kind of warning. It’s shoot first, ask questions later, in this man’s America.

There’s a weird toxic brew at work here, I think. First, the guns themselves. I’ve fired plenty of them and they do give you a feeling of power. Second, fear. People are fearful. Sometimes the fear may be race-based, sometimes it’s something else, but there’s nothing like fear to paralyze the mind. Then there’s a fantasy element. Some people, mostly men I’m guessing, think they’re akin to Dirty Harry, blowing away bad people with their guns. Finally, sadly, some people just find guns to be fun, even when they’re pointing them at other people.

I know it’s more complicated than this, but fear, fantasy, and fun don’t mix well with guns. In America, guns are WMD: weapons of mass destruction. Because of their deadly power, they should be used only in the rarest of circumstances and as a last resort.

Yet Americans seem to be grabbing their guns and blasting away as a first resort and with no remorse.

Stay safe out there. And to those with guns, why not just call 911? Or keep your door locked? Do you really want to take the life of an innocent just because you felt afraid or angry and fancied yourself a vigilante?

Strange Factoid on the F-35 Jet Fighter

W.J. Astore

Would you buy a new car if its longevity was 40% of your old one?

When I was still in the Air Force, the F-35 was on the drawing boards as a fairly low cost, multi-role, fighter-bomber somewhat akin to an F-150 pickup truck. Being designed and built by Lockheed Martin and also having to meet the varying requirements of the U.S. Air Force, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, cost and complexity quickly escalated, so much so that an AF Chief of Staff recently compared it to a Ferrari rather than to a trusty and capable pickup truck.

That Ferrari comparison is apt with respect to cost, though even Ferraris may be more durable and reliable than the F-35.

How so? A friend sent along an article on the F-15EX Eagle II fighter.

F-15EX Eagle II. Not stealthy, but its lasts 2.5 times as long as the F-35

Now, I’ve been reading about the F-15 since I was a teenager in the 1970s. It’s a proven fighter jet but it lacks the stealthy characteristics of the F-35. But here’s the section that got my attention from the article:

Remember, the F-15EX has a 20,000-hour airframe life. The F-35A has an 8,000-hour airframe life. This is one way the F-15EX gets done dirty when people make comparisons between it and the F-35, often based on unit cost alone, which is about equal. We are talking about two-and-a-half times the airframe hours out of the box with the F-15EX. That is not a knock against the F-35A at all. The F-15EX is just a very mature aircraft that has been optimized for longevity over a much younger one.

I like the way the author tries to explain away the short airframe life of the F-35. Hey, it’s a young aircraft! What can you expect except a 60% drop in longevity?

How many of us would buy a car, a truck, or any other technology if we were told the new tech would last only 40% as long as roughly comparable older tech? Would Apple advertise a new iPhone battery as lasting only four hours when the previous version lasted ten hours? How many people would rush out to buy the “new and improved” iPhone in this case?

The F-35 has many issues, which I’ve written about here and here. Add a much quicker expiration date to the mix.

I’m assuming Ferrari is none too happy with its cars being compared to the F-35!

Learning Nothing from the Iraq War

W.J. Astore

20 Years Later, Basic Truths Remain Unspoken

What has America learned from the colossal failure of the Iraq War? Not what it should have learned, notes historian (and retired U.S. Army colonel) Greg Daddis at War on the Rocks. Daddis recently attended a 20-year retrospective symposium on the Iraq War, where he heard two distinctive narratives. As he put it:

Most, if not all, veterans of “Iraqi Freedom” told an inward-facing story focusing on tactical and operational “lessons” largely devoid of political context. Meanwhile, Iraqi scholars and civilians shared a vastly different tale of political and social upheaval that concentrated far more on the costs of war than on the supposed benefits of U.S. interventionism.

In short, the U.S. view of the Iraq War remains insular and narcissistic. The focus is on what U.S. troops may have gotten wrong, and how the military could perform better in the future. It’s about tactical and operational lessons. In this approach, Iraq and the Iraqi people remain a backdrop to American action on the grand stage. Put differently, the Iraqis are treated much like clay for Americans to mould or discard should they refuse to behave themselves under our hands.

So the “lessons” for America focus on how to become better, more skilled, manipulators of the “clay” at hand. Issues of right and wrong aren’t addressed. The morality or legality of war isn’t questioned. And Iraqis themselves, their suffering, their plight, even their say in determining their own futures within their country, is pretty much dismissed as irrelevant. And the same is largely true when considering the Vietnam War or the Afghan War; we matter, they don’t, even when we’re fighting in their country and spreading enormous destruction in undeclared and illegal wars.

As Mike Murry, a Vietnam veteran who comments frequently at this site, has said: you can’t do a wrong thing the right way. America’s Vietnam War was wrong; the Iraq War was wrong. There was no “right” way to do these wars. Yet, far too often, U.S. military officers and veterans, joined by far too many Americans who lack military experience, want to focus on how to wage a wrong war in a better, smarter, often more ruthless, way

Indeed, the narrative at times is reduced to “We lost because we weren’t ruthless enough, or we were about to win until the U.S. military was betrayed.” I wrote about this back in 2007 after I heard Senator John McCain speak on PBS.  Basically, his point was that if America lost the Iraq War (which we already had), it wouldn’t be the U.S. military’s fault.  It would be the fault of anyone who questioned the war. McCain, in other words, was spouting yet another exculpatory stab-in-the-back myth.

What can we learn from the Iraq War, then? Let’s start with these basic lessons: Don’t fight a war based on governmental lies and unfounded fears. Don’t fight illegal and immoral wars. Don’t fight undeclared wars. Don’t meddle in the societies of other people where you are seen as invaders and about which you are ignorant. Don’t wage war, period, unless the domestic security of the U.S. is truly threatened.

Those seem like the right lessons to me, not lessons about how to recognize insurgencies or how to respond more quickly to asymmetries like IEDs and ambushes.

In sum, learn this lesson: Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, were and are countries with rich pasts and proud peoples who were not about to submit to American invaders and agendas, no matter how well-intentioned those invaders believed or advertised themselves to be.

The U.S. Military’s Recruitment Problem, Solved!

W.J. Astore

It’s easy, really

The U.S. military is having a major problem recruiting new troops, notes Nan Levinson in an informative piece at As usual, the military has tried most everything. Lowering standards, especially on the ASVAB test. Boosting bonuses and benefits. Infiltrating high school (even grade schools!) with military programs tied to recruitment like Junior ROTC. More money for ad campaigns, using celebrities and catchy slogans. Hoopla at sports stadiums. Nothing’s worked.

Even extended Hollywood commercials for the military aren’t enough to get young Mavericks to join

But, being an out-of-the-Pentagon-box thinker, I have the solution: Downsize the military!

Why does America need a large standing Army given all the force-multipliers we’re buying for hundreds of billions of dollars each year? What large-scale war is America currently fighting? We pulled out of Afghanistan, out of Iraq (mostly), and should be downsizing our imperial footprint (or bootprint, if you prefer).

I know: Russia! China! We must be prepared!

Those seeking a conventional war with either of those two land powers in their spheres of influence should surely have their sanity checked. Land war in Asia? With nuclear powers? No thank you!

Come on, America. If fewer young Americans want to join the U.S. military, take this as a sign of the wisdom of youth. Wisdom of youth — a phrase not commonly seen, but possibly of great relevance to us all, as Levinson notes in her conclusion.

Want a better military with higher-quality recruits? Simply recruit fewer of them by being more selective and by downsizing inflated recruitment numbers. In other words, change the metrics to show a recruiting victory. The U.S. military, after all, has plenty of experience doctoring metrics (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.). 

Lower the quotas* and declare victory! Hooah!

*Warning: lowering the quotas may result in decreased funding from Congress and increased chances of avoiding wasteful wars. May also result in fewer command billets for generals. Warrior discretion is advised.*

Pentagon Leaks! Mass Shootings!

W.J. Astore

Another Morning (and More Mourning) in America

Yet another mass shooting, this one in Louisville, Kentucky, and once again I marvel at the language used to describe such occurrences. The shooting that left five dead at a bank was described as a “tragic event,” akin to a tornado, something that simply can’t be prevented. The “heroes” were the responding police officers, and they certainly deserve credit for their bravery in confronting the shooter and killing him (one officer remains in critical condition).

What is to be said that hasn’t been already said? We live in a violent society with roughly 400 million guns, and we’ve already seen 146 mass shootings in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Democrats, of course, advocate for an assault rifle ban or other half-measures, knowing that they won’t have to follow through since Republicans control the House and will block gun control measures.

Perhaps the folly of all this is captured by the Onion headline that they repeat for nearly every mass shooting: ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. That about covers it.

Turning to the Pentagon, leaked papers are on the Internet that reveal Ukraine’s position is tenuous in its war with Russia. To summarize quickly, Ukrainian air defenses are short on missiles, Ukrainian forces are short on ammo, and offensive prospects look grim for this year. Senior American officials expect continued stalemate in the war, even as “happy talk” of a smashing Ukrainian spring offensive toward Crimea is spouted in some circles of the mainstream media. The leaked papers also reveal apparent U.S. spying on allies such as South Korea, not exactly a good look for America.

What’s revealing is how the mainstream media takes the Pentagon’s side, basically deploring the leak of this classified information and calling for more censorship on the Internet. I take the opposite tack. In a democracy, government actions are supposed to be transparent to us. I want to know what my government is up to; we all should. Certainly, the media should want to know. Instead, we’re encouraged to side with the Pentagon, perhaps the most powerful and secretive agency of the government.

And so we learned that our government continues to spy on allies even as it continues to provide massive amounts of military aid to Ukraine in a war that is currently a grinding stalemate and about which senior officials are far more pessimistic in private than they are in public. Valuable information, I’d say, that shouldn’t be kept secret from us.

The juxtaposition of these two stories suggests a possible solution to both. America has far too many guns and far too much ammo in private hands. Ukraine needs guns and ammo. Is it time for a “guns and ammo” drive for Ukraine across America? “Save Ukraine—donate your assault rifles and bullets!” Yes, I’m joking. I guess the violent reality of America is making me more than a bit crazy.

Philip K. Dick on the Need to Confront Reality

W.J. Astore

Climate Change and Nuclear War Aren’t Going Away

A friend sent along an article on Philip K. Dick, the science fiction author whose works have been turned into Hollywood films like “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report.” Dick had this to say about societal trends toward narrative construction and information control:

“We live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations. We are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives. I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

Dick wrote this in the 1970s. If he were writing today, I’m guessing he’d add that he distrusted their motives as well as their power.

Philip K. Dick

False narratives and pseudo-realities are everywhere. Today at TomDispatch, Noam Chomsky highlights the false narrative that global warming simply doesn’t exist, or that it does exist but that it’s a completely natural process that humans can do nothing about. This is perhaps the most dangerous false narrative we face today. That we can simply ignore humanity’s impact on nature—which is convenient for those profiting from the exploitation of the earth’s resources, such as fossil fuels.

Another pseudo-reality we face is that America’s national security is constantly threatened by “near-peer” rivals bent on our destruction. This “reality” drives colossal military spending as next year’s Pentagon budget soars toward $900 billion. A related “reality” is that the world is made safer by more thermonuclear warheads and weapons, a false narrative that the Pentagon is betting on to the tune of $2 trillion over the next thirty years.

Why generate this pseudo-reality? Because the Pentagon gains power and corporations profit greatly. Meanwhile, regular working folk, whose lives could be improved and empowered by a $2 trillion investment in their health and well-being, are left to struggle and suffer. They are, in a word, disempowered.

I remain at a loss how Joe Sixpack’s life is made better by B-21 stealth bombers, Sentinel ICBMs, and Columbia-class nuclear-missile-firing submarines.

With Donald Trump’s peccadilloes once again dominating the news cycle, essential stories about climate change and Armageddon-enabling nuclear weapons are mostly ignored. We are encouraged to take sides, for or against, an aging con man and his payola to a porn star and a Playboy bunny; we are told this is a matter of grave national concern requiring wall-to-wall media coverage, even as natural disasters exacerbated by climate change surge around us and even as nuclear war grows ever more possible.

Time to face reality, America. As Dick also wrote, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Those nuclear weapons aren’t going away, nor is the threat of climate change.