Creator of Bracing Views. Contributor to TomDispatch.com, Truthout, History News Network, Alternet, Huffington Post, Antiwar, and many other sites. Retired AF lieutenant colonel and professor of history.
I’ve heard a lot of words and historical analogies applied to the Capitol riots. Was it a coup, an insurrection, a putsch? Was it like Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923? Or was it much more American, an exercise in White supremacy, more like a lynch mob, perhaps? M. Davout asks us to think more deeply about the past, as the Founders did, and turn to the Roman Republic and its own issues with mobs. Read on! W.J. Astore
Friends, Romans, Countrymen…Rioters?
In the days since the Capitol riot on January 6, pundits, politicians, and journalists have been underlining the shocking nature of the events of that day by comparing them to the sacking and burning of the Capitol by British troops during the War of 1812. Perhaps it is too big a stretch to compare the outcome of a military raid by a hostile foreign power to an attempt by a mob of US citizens to overturn a presidential election. A different historical precedent was suggested by Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado (D) in the hours after the Senate reconvened to finish its work of certifying the 2020 Electoral College vote. (The entirety of his remarks can be found between time signatures 27:49 and 33:15 here.)
A visibly shaken Bennet, who at one point in his remarks notes that, “there is a tendency around this place …to always believe that we’re the first people to confront something,” starts off by suggesting that when the Founders wrote the Constitution they were thinking about “what happened to the Roman Republic when armed gangs, doing the work of politicians, prevented [Roman citizens] from casting their ballots for consuls, for praetors, for senators. These were the offices in Rome and those armed gangs ran through the streets of Rome keeping elections from being started, keeping elections from even being called, and in the end because of that the Roman Republic fell and a dictator took its place. And that was the end of the Roman Republic or any republic until this beautiful Constitution was written in the United States of America.”
Putting aside some historical inaccuracies (e.g., Roman senators were not popularly elected), Bennet’s point about the importance of Roman precedent for the drafters of the Constitution and their concern about the destabilizing effects of popular mobs is largely right.
However, the lesson that Roman mobs would teach us in our contemporary moment is more complicated than warning of the threat mobs can pose to a constitutional order.
In the late Roman Republic, mobs were indeed politically mobilized against the constitutional order but oftentimes in pursuit of opening that constitutional order to the interests of the common people. Noted ancient historian Moses Finley wrote that, “it would not be far from the truth to say that the Roman populus exercised influence not through participation in the formal machinery of government, through its voting power, but by taking to the streets, by agitation, demonstrations and riots…” It is no small irony that the most (in)famous example of mob action in the Roman Republic was arguably in defense of the constitutional order when the populist tribunes Tiberius Gracchus and then his brother, Gaius, were defeated and killed by mob violence carried out at the instigation of Roman senators who felt their economic interests threatened.
When the histories of this time are written, will the attack on the Capitol be considered completely sui generis, unique and incomparable to other recent episodes of populist uprising? To be sure, the rioters in the Capitol were motivated by an unhinged demagogue telling a lie, unlike the BLM protesters against an unjust criminal justice system of last summer, or even the 2011-2012 Occupy Wall Street protestors against accelerating levels of politically dangerous social inequality. However wrong and pernicious the rightwing paranoia about the presidential election results was and is, it may become clear from an historical distance that the current instability of our constitutional system has as much, if not more, to do with the corruption of our political representatives by economic elites content to pile up obscene levels of wealth at the expense of the well-being of the rest of us.
Under the continuation of such a corrupted constitutional order, we can expect more popular uprisings, whether rationally motivated and aimed at reforming that order, or cynically incited and aimed at its overthrow. Only time will tell whether such protests, uprisings, and mobs will be in service of the Republic or of elites whose interests are contrary to those of the people.
M. Davout, an at-large contributor to Bracing Views, teaches political science in the Deep South.
I wrote my latest article for TomDispatch.com (below) before the Capitol riot, adding a quick reference to it at the last minute in the first paragraph. Events at the U.S. Capitol as well as other recent violent events in America lend credence to the idea we’re all prisoners of war of a sort. Global wars may be invisible to most Americans, but domestic ones are all too plain to see. How do we make our “great escape” from a culture of incessant violence and permanent war?
“POWs Never Have A Nice Day.” That sentiment was captured on a button a friend of mine wore for our fourth grade class photo in 1972. That prisoners of war could never have such a day was reinforced by the sad face on that button. Soon after, American POWs would indeed be released by their North Vietnamese captors as the American war in Vietnam ended. They came home the next year to a much-hyped heroes’ welcome orchestrated by the administration of President Richard Nixon, but the government would never actually retire its POW/MIA (missing-in-action) flags. Today, almost half a century later, they continue to fly at federal installations, including the U.S. Capitol as it was breached and briefly besieged last week by a mob incited by this country’s lame-duck president, ostensibly to honor all U.S. veterans who were either POWs or never returned because their bodies were never recovered.
Remembering the sacrifices of our veterans is fitting and proper; it’s why we set aside Memorial Day in May and Veterans Day in November. In thinking about those POWs and the dark legacy of this country’s conflicts since World War II, however, I’ve come to a realization. In the ensuing years, we Americans have all, in some sense, become prisoners of war. We’re all part of a culture that continues to esteem war, embrace militarism, and devote more than half of federal discretionary spending to wars, weaponry, and the militarization of American culture. We live in a country that leads the world in the export of murderous munitions to the grimmest, most violent hotspots on the planet, enabling, for example, a genocidal conflict in Yemen, among other conflicts.
True, in a draft-less country, few enough Americans actually don a military uniform these days. As 2021 begins, most of us have never carried a military identification card that mentions the Geneva Convention on the proper and legal treatment of POWs, as I did when I wore a uniform long ago. So, when I say that all Americans are essentially POWs, I’m obviously using that acronym not in a legal or formal way, but in the colloquial sense of being captured by some phenomenon, held by it, subjected to it in a fashion that tends to restrict, if not eliminate, freedom of thought and action and so compromises this country’s belief in sacred individual liberties. In this colloquial sense, it seems to me that all Americans have in some fashion become prisoners of war, even those few “prisoners” among us who have worked so bravely and tirelessly to resist the phenomenon.
Ask yourself this question: During a deadly pandemic, as the American death toll approaches 400,000 while still accelerating, what unites “our” representatives in Congress? What is the only act that draws wide and fervent bipartisan support, not to speak of a unique override of a Trump presidential veto in these last four years? It certainly isn’t providing health care for all or giving struggling families checks for $2,000 to ensure that food will be on American tables or that millions of us won’t be evicted from our homes in the middle of a pandemic. No, what unites “our” representatives is funding the military-industrial complex to the tune of $740.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 (though the real amount spent on what passes for “national security” each year regularly exceeds a trillion dollars). Still, that figure of $740.5 billion in itself is already higher than the combined military spending of the next 10 countries, including Russia and China as well as U.S. allies like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Not only that, but Congress added language to the latest defense bill that effectively blocked efforts by President Trump before he leaves office on January 20th to mandate the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan (and some troops from Germany). Though it’s doubtful he would have accomplished such goals anyway, given his irresolute nature, that Congress worked to block him tells you what you need to know about “our” representatives and their allegiance to the war complex.
That said, an irresolute Trump administration has been most resolute in just one area: selling advanced weaponry overseas. It’s been rushing to export American-made bombs, missiles, and jets to the Middle East before turning over government efforts to shill for America’s merchants of death to President Joe Biden and his crew of deskbound warriors.
Speaking of Biden, that he selected retired General Lloyd Austin III to be his secretary of defense sends the strongest possible signal of his own allegiance to the primacy of militarism and war in American culture. After all, upon retiring, General Austin promptly cashed in by joining the board of directors of United Technologies from which he received $1.4 million in “stock and other compensation” before it merged with giant weapons-maker Raytheon and he ended up on the board of that company. (He holds roughly $500,000 in Raytheon stock, a nice supplement to his six-figure yearly military pension.)
How better than selecting him as SecDef to ensure that the “military” and the “industrial” remain wedded in that famed complex? America’s secretary of defense is, of course, supposed to be a civilian, someone who can exercise strong and independent oversight over America’s ever-growing war complex, not a lifelong military officer and general to boot, as well as an obvious war profiteer.
War Is Peace
As Quincy Institute President Andrew Bacevich so aptly put it, “many Americans have made their peace with endless war.” Within America’s war culture, peace activists like Medea Benjamin and organizations like Veterans for Peace are seen as not just “radical,” but genuinely aberrant. Meanwhile, an unquestioning acceptance of the fact that this country is now eternally at war across significant parts of the planet is considered normal, even respectable. Certainly, not something to put real time or thought into considering.
As a result, warmongers like former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton are touted in some quarters as hard-headed realists. In seeing the world as a hostile place that Americans need to (but somehow, almost 20 years later, can’t) dominate means their heads are screwed on straight, unlike those screwy thinkers who advocate for peace. But as Dorothy Day, the Catholic peace activist, once said: “Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”
That Americans mostly refuse to see permanent war as filthy and rotten, or to think much about it or the “defense” budget that goes with it showcases the triumph of a broader war culture here. Whereas this country’s profligate and prodigal military complex has given us stunning failure after stunning failure overseas (just consider all those disastrous efforts to win “hearts and minds” from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq and on and on), it has proved stunningly successful in winning — or at least taming — hearts and minds in the homeland. How else to explain the way those trillion-dollar-plus “national security” budgets are routinely rubber-stamped by Congress with hardly a murmur of protest?
In the twenty-first century, Americans are suffering a form of cognitive capture in which war has become the new normal. As an astute reader at my blog, Bracing Views, put it: “Our desire to live without war is held in a stockade, and every day that we wake up and walk out into the yard that understanding is being broken down by the powerful monied elites.”
In America’s collective stockade of the mind, activism for peace is an aberration, while acceptance of the war state is second nature. Small wonder that Biden’s proposed cabinet and administration features so many neocon-style policymakers who made their peace with war, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or Libya and Syria (Antony Blinken as secretary of state; Jake Sullivan as national security advisor; retired general Lloyd Austin as secretary of defense; and Avril Haines as director of national intelligence). Biden’s hawkish picks avidly place their faith in U.S. military power. And they will be advising a new president, who once supported war in Iraq himself and talks not of reducing “defense” spending but of boosting it.
Perhaps you’ve noticed, in fact, how every president from George W. Bush in 2001 on has been proud to pose at some point as a “wartime” president. Perhaps you’ve noticed as well that this country can’t or won’t close Gitmo, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, flooded with prisoners from the global war on terror beginning late in 2001, men who will likely be imprisoned until death does us part.
Perhaps this is why the U.S. government “tortured some folks,” as President Obama put it in 2014, and abused Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. (Avril Haines, Biden’s proposed national intelligence director, once helped suppress evidence of just such abuse and torture.) Perhaps this is why every president starting with George W. Bush has unapologetically smited evildoers around the world via robotic assassin drones. (Remember, the drone assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Suleimani at Baghdad International Airport by one Donald J. Trump?) Perhaps this is also why U.S. bombing never seems to stop and those wars never end, even when a president comes into office promising that they will. After all, it’s so empowering to be a “wartime” president!
In his novel 1984, George Orwell put it simply enough when he coined the slogan “war is peace” for his fictional dystopian society. Randolph Bourne put it no less simply when, during World War I, he explained that “war is the health of the state.” Rosa Brooks, who worked at the Pentagon, put it bluntly when she titled her 2016 book How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything. What we have in America today is warfare as welfare, a form of man-made disaster capitalism, profitable for a few at the expense of the many.
Say it again: We are all POWs now.
The Time I Met a Real POW
In the early 1990s, when I was a young captain in the U.S. Air Force, I served as an escort officer for Brigadier General Robinson Risner. It’s not too much to say that Risner is held in awe in the Air Force. A skilled fighter pilot and Korean War ace, he was a colonel and on the cover of Time magazine in 1965, just as the Vietnam War was ramping up, after which he was shot down and became a POW. He later wrote The Passing of the Night, a harrowing account of the seven years he spent as a prisoner in the “Hanoi Hilton,” the sardonic name American POWs gave North Vietnam’s Hoa Lo Prison.
What sustained Risner through torture and those years of captivity was his Christian faith and patriotism. I vividly recall a talk he gave at the Air Force Academy about his experiences and how that faith of his had sustained him. I’ve never heard a more vivid evocation of the spirit of duty, honor, and country sustained by faith in a higher power. I was proud to have a photo taken with General Risner, as we stood next to the trophy named after him and annually awarded to the top graduate of the Air Force’s Weapons School, the AF’s Top Gun, so to speak.
Risner was gracious and compelling, and I was humbled to meet a POW who’d endured and overcome as much as he had. Yet, back then (to be honest), I never gave a thought to his actions as a fighter pilot leading bombing missions during Operation Rolling Thunder in Vietnam. Since the U.S. government had chosen not to officially declare war against North Vietnam, whether his missions were even legal should have been open to question. Lacking such an official declaration, one could argue that Risner and U.S. POWs like him did not enjoy the legal protections of the Geneva Convention. Using American terminology today, Risner might then have been termed an “enemy combatant” to be held indefinitely, as the U.S. today holds captives at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, POWs who have little hope of ever being released.
To your average American captured by U.S. war culture, objections here are easy. Of course, Risner’s bombing missions were legal. Of course, he deserved to be recognized as a POW and treated decently. America never goes to war without righteous cause, in this case the containment of Communism by any means short of nuclear weapons. The North Vietnamese saw it differently, however, perhaps because it was they who were being bludgeoned and flattened by U.S. military power.
My point is neither to praise Risner nor to bury him. Rather, it’s to bury war and the culture that breeds and then feeds on it. The more Americans facilitate war (largely by ignoring it and so giving it our tacit approval), the more Washington funds it, the more other people die because of “our” wars and “our” weaponry, the more this country becomes a POW nation writ large.
My Friend’s Button Again
Remember my friend’s button, the one that insisted POWs never have a nice day? As a POW nation writ large, it should apply to all of us. America won’t have a nice day again until it extricates itself from war in all its manifestations. There will be no nice day until Congress stops funding munitions makers and starts seeking peace and helping the sick and poor. There will be no nice day until Americans hate war with all the passion now saved for “patriotic” flag waving. There will be no nice day until presidents bless peacemakers instead of beseeching God to protect the troops.
So, the next time you see a POW/MIA flag outside a federal building, don’t dismiss it as a relic of America’s past. Think about its meaning and relevance in an era of constant global warfare and colossal military spending. Then, if you dare, ask yourself if you, too, are a POW of sorts — not in the strictly legal sense that applies to formal militaries in declared wars, but in the sense of this country being captured by war in all its death, destruction, and despair. And then ask yourself, what does America have to do, collectively, to break out of the POW camp in which it’s imprisoned itself?
Upon that question hinges the future of the American republic.
Copyright 2021 William J. Astore
Many thanks to UTEJACK for the “stockade” quote and the inspiration. Many thanks to Tori LaGarde for identifying the POW button in the 4th grade photo — and for the inspiration as well.
Combat myths matter to more than just military members. So do their ramifications.
I don’t have any personal war stories to tell. In my twenty years in the U.S. Air Force, I never saw combat. I started as a developmental engineer, working mainly on computer software, and morphed into a historian of science and technology who taught for six years at the USAF Academy. I worked on software projects that helped pilots plan their missions and helped the world to keep track of objects in Earth orbit. I taught military cadets who did see combat and served as the dean of students at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, where I saw plenty of young troops cross the graduation stage with language skills in Arabic and Pashto and other languages as they prepared to deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. But no combat for me.
I got lucky. As one friend, an Army colonel, told me: any day you’re not being shot at is a good day in the Army. The result, however, is that I can’t tell exciting war stories that begin: “There I was” in Baghdad, or Kandahar, or Fallujah, or the Korengal Valley.
But I was involved in computer simulations (“war games”) at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado near the end of the Cold War. The one I remember most vividly ended with a Soviet nuclear missile strike on the United States. As I watched the (simulated) missile tracks emerge from Soviet territory, cross the Arctic circle, and terminate in American cities, I had a momentary glimpse of nuclear terror. What if I ‘d just witnessed the death of millions of Americans on a monochrome computer screen? That’s a “war story” that’s stayed with me, and so I’m a firm supporter of eliminating all nuclear weapons everywhere.
That’s my “there I sorta was” story. Yet, whether you’ve served in the military or not, all Americans tell themselves war stories, or rather stories about America’s wars. The basic story most tell themselves goes something like this:
America is a good and decent country, our troops are heroes, that we wage wars reluctantly and for noble causes, and that our wars are almost exclusively defensive or preventive. We tell ourselves we don’t want to be bombing and killing in Afghanistan and Iraq and Somalia and Yemen and elsewhere, but we have to be. Bad people are doing bad things, and we need to fight them over there else we’ll have to fight them right here.
Yet what if the stories we tell ourselves are all wrong? What if we are the bad people, or at least the ones doing much of the bad things? And, even if those stories aren’t always wrong and we aren’t always bad, what are the costs of permanent war – all those “bad things” associated with war – to our democracy, what’s left of it, that is?
A book I return to is Every Man in this Village is a Liar: An Education in War, by Megan Stack. Stack was a war correspondent who witnessed the effects of war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. She focuses not on strategy or tactics or weaponry or combat but on the impact of war on people. And in her chapter on “Terrorism and Other Stories,” she reaches this powerful conclusion:
It matters, what you do at war. It matters more than you ever want to know. Because countries, like people, have collective consciences and memories and souls, and the violence we deliver in the name of our nation is pooled like sickly tar at the bottom of who we are. The soldiers who don’t die for us come home again. They bring with them the killers they became on our national behalf…
We may wish it were not so, but action amounts to identity. We become what we do. You can tell yourself all the stories you want, but you can’t leave your actions over there … All of that poison seeps back into our soil.
Nothing has changed since Stack’s book was published a decade ago. U.S. forces remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, still fighting that word, terrorism, even as there’s renewed talk within the Pentagon of a new cold war against Russia and China. A reboot of that Cold War I thought I’d witnessed the end of thirty years ago. (I even got a certificate signed by President George H.W. Bush thanking me for helping to win that war.) Could it be that real enemy doesn’t reside in Moscow or Beijing, but in us? As Stack continued:
And it makes us lie to ourselves, precisely because we want to believe that we are good … we Americans tell ourselves that we are fighting tyranny and toppling dictators. And we say this word, terrorism, because it has become the best excuse of all. We push into other lands, we chase the ghosts of a concept, because it is too hard to admit that evil is already in our own hearts and blood is on our hands.
As Americans we need to stop telling ourselves self-serving war stories and start telling much tougher ones about working for peace. We need to stop telling (and selling) stories about a new cold war and stop “investing” a trillion dollars in new nuclear bombers, missiles, and submarines. I’ve seen those simulated nuclear missile tracks crossing the pole and ending in American cities; that was scary enough. The real thing would be unimaginably terrifying and would likely end life on our planet.
What mad story can we possibly tell ourselves to justify the continued building of more ecocidal and genocidal weapons?
We humans are great storytellers but we’re not smart ones. Perhaps it’s the power of our stories that has led us to be the dominant and most destructive species on this planet. The problem is that we still tell far too many war stories and value them far too highly. Peace, meanwhile, if mentioned at all, is dismissed as fantasy, a tale to be told to children alongside stories of unicorns and fairies—which, to the first generation of voting age adults never to have known it, it sort of is.
Unless we smarten up and grow as a species, our collective war stories will likely be the death of us.
William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, is a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of critical veteran military and national security professionals.
It wasn’t exactly the storming of the Bastille or the sack of Rome, but yesterday’s scenes from the Capitol were disturbing enough to the self-avowed “most exceptional nation.”
If only the mob of protesters had shouted “We want affordable health care for all!” or “Racial equality!” or “Peace now!” or “Money for the poor!” instead of “USA! USA!” and “Trump! Trump!” as they marched through the Capitol on Wednesday.
But I suppose protesters who shout for health care, racial equity, and peace get clubbed and gassed, whereas Trump supporters by comparison get handled with kid gloves.
Trump, the law and order man, has always been unlawful, a man of disorder. As I wrote early in 2016, Trump disqualified himself from the presidency with his empty and dictatorial boasting. That he would incite a mob to gather at the Capitol to contest the election result was hardly surprising. What is surprising is how the Trump mob so easily breached the Capitol’s defenses, such as they were. In at least one case, it appears the police removed a barricade and let the pro-Trumpers in. Someone should be fired for this national humiliation.
It’s a small miracle that only one person was killed, an Air Force veteran who was reportedly shot in the neck as she tried to break into an inner chamber room. An avid Trump supporter who’d traveled from California, she’d be alive today if not for Trump’s selfish and reckless call for a protest at the Capitol.
Of course, predictable calls for Trump’s impeachment are coming from Squad members like AOC and Rashida Tlaib. Really. In two weeks, Trump leaves office. And you want to squander energy and time in yet another unsuccessful attempt to impeach him. At the same time, you won’t even fight for a vote on Medicare for all.
Once again, America will likely take the wrong lessons from these riots. The Capitol police will likely call for more money, more resources, more officers, more guns, more security cameras, more barricades, etc. There are already calls for more Internet censorship. Homeland Security funding will surely get a boost. And certain people will dismiss too easily the alienation and indignation of Trump supporters.
What I mean is this: Americans are upset. Angry. Alienated. Confused. And rightly so. And until our government serves the people instead of corporate, financial, and similar lobbyists and special interests, the potential for future mobs will remain. Donald Trump is a total buffoon, a shell of a man, a narcissist with ambitions centered always on himself and his self-image. But imagine a more skilled manipulator, one less narrowly focused on himself, one with a stronger work ethic, one with boundless ambition for power. Such a person could truly lead an insurrection or coup, and yesterday’s scenes suggest such a takeover would be easier than we think.
The answer is not more guns, more security, more police, nor is it impeachment. The answer is a government accountable to the people and for the people. If we don’t want our government to perish from this earth, it needs to be of the people, by the people, for the people. But it’s not, and until it is, a repeat of yesterday’s scenes, but on a much larger and more violent scale, will remain a possibility.
The Democrats have carried both Senate seats in Georgia, meaning the Senate is now effectively tied at 50-50, eliminating Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader and leaving it to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to be the Senate’s tiebreaking vote.
The question is: What will Democrats do with this (very weak) majority? Or, as Greg Laxer put it here, “BUT…do the Dems have sufficient internal discipline to pass any legislation remotely progressive or to seat a SCOTUS nominee deemed controversial?” Good question.
Of course, it’s not just about “internal discipline.” Joe Biden, a mealy-mouthed corporatist, is on the record as saying that nothing will fundamentally change under his administration. I don’t see him or Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer pushing for a progressive agenda. These “leaders” are DINOs, Democrats in name only, and it will be interesting to see if Biden & Co. even come through on their promise to elevate relief checks from $600 to $2000.
I’m glad Democrats won in Georgia, but not because I expect great things and transformative change from them now. Just look at what Obama/Biden produced in 2009 with a “supermajority” in Congress: a bailout for banks and corporations and Romneycare without a public option, later rebranded as Obamacare. Obama/Biden also saw the failed Afghan surge, the Libyan disaster, and a major escalation in drone strikes, among other warmongering acts.
So, why am I glad about Georgia? Because now Biden and Pelosi and Co. can’t blame Mitch McConnell for blocking all their “noble” efforts in the Senate. Now we’ll really see the priorities of Biden/Pelosi laid bare. And they both have very long and strong records of serving elite interests at the expense of regular people.
It’s good to see awful Republican candidates lose in Georgia; even better to see Mitch McConnell removed from his position of power and obstruction. Now what, Democrats? Care to help the poor while ending war? Or will you continue to serve the rich while making war?
These next two years will be interesting indeed. If Democrats don’t go big, they will go home, as in losing both houses of Congress in 2022. If past performance is indicative of future gains and losses, I’m not bullish on Biden/Pelosi producing big gains for Main Street USA. But I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
So far, 2021 is looking much like 2020. Nancy Pelosi is once again Speaker of the House, with progressive leaders like AOC extracting no meaningful concessions for their votes. Jimmy Dore had suggested progressives could use their leverage over Pelosi to force a vote in the House on Medicare for All, but of course the progressives caved and cravenly supported Pelosi, who like Joe Biden is against Medicare for All.
America, you will never get a single-payer, publicly-funded, health care system. If you can’t even get a vote on one during a pandemic that will soon kill 400,000 Americans, you will never get a vote. America’s health care system is a wealth-extraction system that profits off the sick and dying. That system simply will not change because politicians like Pelosi and Biden are bought and paid for. Short of a revolution or a truly progressive third party, Americans will continue to suffer bankruptcy and death due to our for-profit wealth-care system that puts profit before patients.
Trump, meanwhile, is conspiring along with a dozen or so sycophantic senators to contest the election he lost. Trump, who has the virtue of saying the quiet part out loud, pressured the Georgia secretary of state to “find” about 12,000 votes for him so that he could be declared the winner. This circus is the lead story in U.S. media today, as if Trump has finally put his foot in it. But he’ll soon pardon himself, I’d wager, and even if he doesn’t the incoming Biden administration won’t do anything to prosecute him on any charge.
In other news, Americans will have to be satisfied with means-tested $600 checks (don’t spend that all in one place), instead of the $2000 checks that Trump advocated for. Interesting, that princess of virtue, Nancy Pelosi, was perfectly satisfied with $600 checks until Trump demanded $2000. Only then did Pelosi mount a weak effort for the higher figure, which was quickly killed by Scrooge himself, Mitch McConnell. Suck on that, America.
Speaking of Trump failures and revealing moments in Congress, Trump’s veto of the NDAA (the Pentagon budget) was easily overturned, as America’s representatives professed their bipartisan support of “our” troops. I’ll believe in that “support” when Congress finally acts to end America’s disastrous wars overseas. Perhaps on the twelfth of never?
Finally, it was good to hear that Julian Assange will not be extradited to the U.S., though the judge’s ruling in the UK was made on the narrow grounds that the U.S. prison system is so oppressive that Assange would likely commit suicide here, given his current mental state. Of course, the U.S. government doesn’t care that much about prosecuting and imprisoning Assange. Assange, like Chelsea Manning, Reality Winner, and other whistleblowers, has been made an example of. This is all about intimidation of journalists and other potential whistleblowers, and it’s working.
Readers, what’s caught your eye in the opening week of 2021?
This week, Congress will attempt to override President Trump’s veto of the NDAA, the national defense authorization act, which in 2021 provides $740 billion to the Pentagon and its wars. As usual, there is strong bipartisan support for this massive war budget. Democrats will join Republicans in bowing and scraping before the military-industrial complex, even as they frame it in terms of “supporting” the troops and defending America. In short, Trump’s veto will not stand.
I’m so fed up with Democrats serving the war party, denying health care to all Americans, and so on that I finally changed my political party designation in my home state. I am now a no-party independent instead of a registered Democrat. (My wife joined me as she’s no fan of “handsy” Joe Biden and the refusal of “centrist” Democrats to help people in meaningful ways.)
Perhaps that’s what we all need to do. Reject the Republican and Democratic parties and fight for a political establishment that would put people first rather than billionaires and corporations. Short of revolution, I don’t see other options that promise meaningful change.
To my knowledge, the last major party presidential candidate who called for meaningful reductions in war spending was George McGovern. For example, McGovern called for a defense budget in 1975 of $54.8 billion, roughly $32 billion less than what the Nixon administration had proposed. McGovern, of course, had to couch this in terms of America still being a superpower with a nuclear arsenal that would be second to none, but at least he had the courage to talk of peace and of new approaches to foreign policy that would put diplomacy first instead of weaponry and war. What a loser he was, right?
If we applied a McGovern-size cut to today’s NDAA, we’d be talking about a “defense” budget of roughly $470 billion a year, still plenty of money, one would think, for the Pentagon to defend America. The $270 billion in savings could and should be applied to stimulus checks for Americans desperate for help in these Covid-disturbed times.
Imagine Americans getting a check from the government — a rebate of sorts — as a peace dividend! What would Americans rather have: a bunch of expensive F-35 jet fighters; ultra-expensive newer nuclear weapons on top of the ultra-expensive older ones; or some cash in pocket to buy groceries and pay their rent? I don’t know about you, but more F-35s and more nuclear bombers and missiles are not helping my bottom line.
To return to my changed political party affiliation: When a Democratic president-elect nominates a retired general and board member of Raytheon as the best person to exercise civilian oversight over the Pentagon, you know the Democratic party is a toady to the military-industrial complex and devoid of integrity as well as fresh ideas.
War? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Time for some peace dividends, America.
My dad liked to save things, so today I came across an old pamphlet from 1940 or so that contained the Pledge of Allegiance as it was then. Here it is:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
It’s a good pledge, I think, though it’s wordy and focused on a piece of cloth. How about something like this instead?
I pledge allegiance to our republic, our unity, and our love of liberty and justice for all.
I think that captures the meaning of the Pledge, assuming we feel the need to have one.
You’ll note, of course, what’s missing: the idea our nation is “under God.” That sentiment was added only in the 1950s in response to McCarthyism and fears of communism. If you’re committed to God’s commands, especially His call to love thy neighbor, you really don’t need to brag about it in the Pledge. Of course, many Americans believe in gods, or no god at all, so an inclusive pledge of unity shouldn’t mention god at all.
My father’s generation endured the Great Depression and helped to win World War II, arguably the last war America truly won, without constantly pledging they were “under God.” We should follow their example.
Addendum: When I last wrote a column on the Pledge, a savvy reader made this comment: I remember from grade school when Under God was added. It was shortly after Under Your Desks.
The comedian and activist Jimmy Dore has inspired a movement for a vote in the House on Medicare for All early in January 2021. (Here’s Jimmy Dore talking to Cornel West on this issue.) Go to forcethevote.org and sign the petition to put pressure on Progressive Democrats to withhold their vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker unless she brings Medicare for All (M4A) to the floor of the House for a vote. If not now, during a global pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans and caused nearly 15 million Americans to lose their employer-based health insurance, when are we going to consider M4A?
I rarely sign petitions. But my wife and I instantly signed this one. Americans supposedly live in the richest country in the world, yet we allegedly can’t afford to fund health care for everyone. It’s absurd. Not only that, it’s a crime against our common humanity. Which of you, if a friend or even a stranger came to you sick and asking for help, would seek to profit off this? Which of you, if a friend or even a stranger came to you seeking a diagnostic test to see if that lump was possibly cancerous, would seek to deny such a test as “not needed” or “not covered”?
It’s obscene that America’s health care system is based on the profit motive and the exploitation of the sick and dying. That it drives families into bankruptcy. That people sometimes die because they’re afraid to go to a doctor or the emergency room because it will cost too much.
Progressives say they want Medicare for All. A majority of registered Republicans and nearly 90% of registered Democrats say they want M4A. Why can’t Nancy Pelosi hold a vote on it? She claims to represent the people. That she even “feeds” them. Why isn’t she working to give the American people health care during a deadly pandemic that may cost as many as 600,000 Americans their lives? Is it because she doesn’t really represent us?
It’s not just about holding a “performative” vote on M4A. It’s about forcing the hand of Congress and seeing who the phonies are. Who wants to deny Americans M4A at this awful time? I’d like to know. I’m sure all Americans would like to know. And if Joe Biden is willing to veto M4A, as he’s said he will, I’d like to see that veto and his rationale for denying Americans the health care they so desperately need.
Again, if not now, when? If Progressives aren’t willing to force a vote on M4A during a deadly pandemic, when there’s deep suffering in America, when will they be willing to act?
We need to force them to act. Sign the petition, call your Member of Congress, and spread the word.
Update (12/26/20): In the comments section below, JPA made a strong argument for institutionalized corruption within America’s privatized medical system. With his permission, I’ve added his comment here so that more people will see it:
When people lump “doctors” into a homogeneous group that is a mistake because “doctors” are no more homogeneous than “cops” or “blacks” or “gays”. Most doctors want to deliver good patient care. Most of these hate the [American medical for-profit] system. However, a significant minority of doctors is quite happy with the current system and oppresses doctors who speak out against it. I work with a lot of healthcare professionals who are driven to depression or suicidal despair because they are trapped in a system which abuses them and their patients.
It is very likely that the tests ordered by the doctors who treated Maine’s brother were mandated to do so by the hospital’s electronic health record (EHR). EHR’s are mandated by law in large healthcare organizations ostensibly to improve patient care. In reality these make patient care more difficult and their real purpose is to run algorithms to determine the way to maximize the billed charges.
Doctors who work in hospitals are employees who are pressured to admit patients, do procedures, and run tests. If they don’t they can be fired, and their contracts usually contain non-compete clauses that prohibit them from working in the area. When someone has a family, and large student loan payments, then one is at the mercy of the employer. Very few people have the courage to stand up to that kind of pressure. Those who do often risk bankruptcy or divorce when the spouse realizes that they are not going to have the lifestyle they planned upon.
Or the hospital labels the physician as “disruptive” and other physicians who act as stooges for the hospital fabricate complaints that get the “disruptive” physician in trouble with their state medical board.
Here are the main things I hear from healthcare providers:
It is not possible to practice good medicine in the current environment
The pressure to meet corporate demands for revenue generation is contrary to good medical practice
Clinical guidelines are set by people/organizations with conflicts of interest
Upcoding, excessive testing, unnecessary procedures/screening/testing are expected and demanded
For-profit medicine does not work
Individual corruption occurs when a person behaves unethically. That is not the problem in American medicine. The problem in American medicine is institutional corruption.
1) Institutional corruption occurs when the laws, policies, and guidelines of a system are structured to enforce a set of values that is antithetical to the values the system is ethically obligated to express and uphold.
2) Health care professionals are obligated to place a higher value on patient care than on making profit.
3) The laws, policies, and guidelines of the American healthcare system are set up to prioritize making profit over providing patient care.
4) From 1, 2, and 3 above, the American medical system is institutionally corrupt.
This system is supported and maintained by a corrupt system of government. For further reading on this I recommend On Corruption in America by Sarah Cheyes.
President Trump says he will veto the NDAA that funds the Pentagon at $740 billion for FY 2021. Congress appears to have the votes to override his veto.
What caught my eye was part of Trump’s rationale for the veto: China. China will apparently be outraged when Trump vetoes the bill. Here’s the report (from the Guardian):
Trump says he will veto defense bill
Donald Trump once again said he intends to veto the annual defense authorization bill, setting up a potential veto override by Congress.
“I will Veto the Defense Bill, which will make China very unhappy,” the president said in a tweet. “They love it. Must have Section 230 termination, protect our National Monuments and allow for removal of military from far away, and very unappreciative, lands. Thank you!”
We just witnessed four years of red-baiting by the Democrats against the Republicans and Trump (“Moscow Mitch”?) with Russia as the Bad Red Guy. Prepare for four years of red-baiting by Republicans against the Democrats and Biden (“Hunter, Made in China”?) with China as the Bad Red Guy. The winner: the military-industrial complex. The loser: the American people, and perhaps the world.
Actually, Trump has a point about the NDAA inhibiting his ability to pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s too bad he didn’t focus on that and the issue of bipartisan support of endless wars.
But he had to hit the China gong, and it will resound loudly in the coming years. You know what they say about payback, Democrats …