The Death of the Democratic Party

W.J. Astore

How quickly the abnormal becomes normal.

If you had told me three months ago that Russia would invade Ukraine and that the U.S. response would be $54 billion in “aid,” much of it consisting of missiles, artillery, bullets, and other forms of weaponry, and that this huge amount of “aid” would be supported by every Democrat in the House and Senate, without exception, I don’t think I would have believed you.

Not a single Democrat is against spending more than $50 billion that will serve to feed a war rather than putting a stop to it?

$54 billion represents roughly 80% of what Russia spends on its military for an entire year. How much is the U.S. government prepared to spend if the war drags on for the next few months? Another $54 billion? More?

The Democratic Party can’t get all its members to vote for a $15 federal minimum wage, or for student debt relief, or more affordable health care and lower prescription drug prices, and similar promises made by Joe Biden as he ran for president in 2020. But weapons for Ukraine brings instant and total accord and rapid action.

Feeding the military-industrial complex and perpetuating war is more than a sad spectacle. It’s more than the death of the Democratic Party. It heightens the risk of nuclear war with Russia, because the longer the Russia-Ukraine War drags on, and the more the U.S. gets involved in it, the riskier the situation in Europe becomes. What’s needed is deescalation through negotiation, not escalation through more rhetoric about Putin being a genocidal war criminal who must go.

I’ve already witnessed the death of the Republican Party with its open embrace of Trump and Trumpism. And now I’ve witnessed the death of the Democratic Party with its open embrace of peace through war.

We are increasingly “a nation unmade by war,” to cite a book written by Tom Engelhardt. We refuse to sufficiently help the poor and homeless here in America even as we airlift megatons of weaponry for Ukraine to wage a war that will likely be that country’s curse rather than its salvation. Meanwhile, politicians in both parties use the war to justify even higher military spending in the next Pentagon budget. And if that war isn’t enough of a driver, the mainstream media broadcasts war games on TV that posit a major war between the USA and China over Taiwan.

People dismiss me when I say I’m voting Green or Libertarian, that I want to vote for someone who’s not a tool for more and more military spending and more and more war. The “smart set” tells me to vote for someone like Joe Biden because he’s not quite as bad as Trump. But if we keep doing this, voting for Joe or the like because Trump and his followers are “worse,” how will we ever free ourselves from incessant warfare and restore our democracy?

Isn’t it high time for that “political revolution” that Bernie Sanders spoke about?

Coda: I know: the Democratic Party probably died in the aftermath of George McGovern’s loss in 1972, after which party officials vowed never to nominate a peace candidate like McGovern again. It certainly died with the election of Bill and Hillary Clinton (two for the price of one!) in 1992. And it died a thousand deaths when Barack Obama won in 2008 and abandoned the political revolution he had briefly set in motion. Much like a Hollywood vampire, however, it keeps coming back from the grave, no matter how many stakes it drives through what’s left of its own heart.

Update (5/21): Happened to see this on “the Twitter” this AM:

Wednesday Worries

W.J. Astore

I’ve been meaning to post more about President Biden’s decision to throw $33 billion in weapons and money at Ukraine, followed by the decision in the House to boost that to $40 billion, and the vote that took place in which all Democrats, including the so-called Squad, voted for it, with a few dozen Republicans voting against. The implications of this are staggering. The U.S. has already committed more than $50 billion to the proxy war against Russia as Americans stagger under rising costs for everything.

We need Russia to attack the American working class — only then might workers in America get some financial relief from “their” government.

Democrats are “all-in” on being pro-war and pro-military (and pro-police, since Biden has called for even more police to be hired), leaving anti-war positions to a smattering of Republicans with various motivations. All credit to Senator Rand Paul for holding up the $40 billion Ukraine “aid” package. He wants an Inspector General to monitor and control how this immense sum of money will be spent for Ukraine. A smidgen of accountability — imagine that! I actually wrote a note to Senator Paul to salute him for this and for his opposition to the DHS Disinformation Governance Board.

More unaccountable billions for Ukraine and the military-industrial complex, more government censorship for Americans: a couple of worries for our Wednesday.

Anyhow, here are a few good articles I’ve been meaning to cite on this:

Caitlin Johnstone, “The Squad” doesn’t exist outside of social media https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/05/13/the-squad-doesnt-exist-outside-of-social-media/

The US House of Representatives has voted 368-57 to spend $40 billion on a world-threatening proxy war while ordinary Americans struggle to feed themselves and their children. All 57 “no” votes were Republicans. Every member of the small faction of progressive House Democrats popularly known as “The Squad” voted yes.

The massive proxy war bill then went to the Senate, where it was stalled with scrutiny not from progressive superstar Bernie Sanders, but from Republican Rand Paul.

This is because the left-wing Democrat is a myth, like the good billionaire or the happy open marriage. It’s not a real thing; it’s just a pleasant fairy tale people tell themselves so they don’t have to go through the psychological turmoil of acknowledging that their entire worldview is built on lies.

Glenn Greenwald:

The Bizarre, Unanimous Dem Support for the $40b War Package to Raytheon and CIA: “For Ukraine”

Video Transcript: “The US Anti-War Left is Dead. The Squad’s $40b War Vote Just Killed It.” Many Dems voting YES have long denounced exactly these sorts of bills. What happened?

What happened, indeed? Not a single Democrat has a principled stance against weapons and war.

Another article by Caitlin Johnstone details a war game on NBC News that addresses a war with China over Taiwan: https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/05/16/pentagon-funded-think-tank-simulates-war-with-china-on-nbc/

Funded by the American taxpayer!

And then there’s this article by Dan Froomkin: “CBS helps world’s biggest arms dealer hone his pitch”

CBS helps world’s biggest arms dealer hone his pitch

Here’s the beginning of Froomkin’s article:

You could see something new playing out on the Sunday shows this past weekend: Some TV news networks are starting to raise questions about whether the U.S. involvement in the Ukraine might have some downsides.

But not on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

After hearing from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who called for “more weapons, more sanctions” — and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova — who asked for “more military support, more sanctions” — “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan warmly welcomed Jim Taiclet, the chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, tossing him questions that weren’t even softballs, they were bouquets.

One can imagine how that might have come about. Earlier in the week, President Biden visited a Lockheed Martin factory in Alabama that makes Javelin anti-tank missiles, pitching his requests for $33 billion in aid to Ukraine and subsidies for American microchip production. So Ukraine and supply-chain issues were in the news, and Taiclet could address both.

But still, what it came down to was a major television network inviting onto its marquee news show the head of the largest weapons manufacturer in the world — the company that profits more from war than any other company worldwide — and not asking a single pointed question.

Watch the entire six-minute segment and ask yourself if state television in a totalitarian country would have done it any differently.

In the 1970s and into the 1980s, the mainstream media occasionally did challenge the military-industrial complex. Those days are gone. I no longer see articles that criticize waste, fraud, abuse, threat inflation, and so on. The mainstream media, like the Democrats, have become pro-war and pro-weapons and pro-Pentagon. Rare indeed do you hear any sustained criticism or meaningful opposition. (You do get posturing from the Squad, but only when their posturing has no effect on legislation and money.)

What good is freedom of the press when the press muzzles itself on issues that could very well lead to a wider war, even a nuclear one? Why is America shoveling scores of billions of dollars to sustain a bloodletting in Ukraine? What is our strategy to end this war, rather than simply prolonging it and profiting from it?

So I worry.

Tuesday Thoughts

W.J. Astore

Today, I parked behind a car that had a “Semper Fi” sticker for the Marines, an American flag sticker, another sticker that said “Don’t blame me, I voted for Trump,” and a final sticker that read: “The Media Is the Virus” (in place of Covid-19, I assume). It’s nice that people identify themselves so readily in America, thereby making it easier to avoid them. I’ve traveled to a few countries and I’ve never seen this proclivity for bumper stickers and the like replicated in other lands. What is it about Americans that we want our cars and trucks and SUVs to scream our views? Doesn’t matter if you’re “liberal” or a Trumper or what-have-you. Americans are very much in your face about their beliefs. Because, ah, freedom?

Who will win in 2022 and 2024: the woke Republicans, otherwise known as Democrats, or the unwoke ones who generally support Trump? And if you think Democrats like Joe Biden aren’t like Republicans, consider this: Biden is pro-police, pro-military, pro-war, and anti-worker in the sense that we’ve seen no increase to the federal minimum wage, no student debt relief, no meaningful health care reform, and no concerted effort to reduce inflation or to lower gasoline prices. As the rich get richer under Biden, generally the poor get poorer. Worked the same way under Trump and Obama, didn’t it?

If we judge Biden by his deeds as well as his words, he’s emulated the pro-business Republican-lite policies of Barack Obama, but with none of Obama’s charisma.

Isn’t it time America had a second party to choose from, rather than two right-wing factions of the same corporate uniparty?

Biden has a new press secretary who’s a Black female and a member of the LGBTQ community. Will it feel any better being lied to by her rather than a white female or the typical cis white male? As Cornel West noted, it’s not enough to put Black faces in high places if they’re just as committed to the Establishment as the typical cis white male. We need more than optical diversity in this country.

That said, I’d love to see more women in Congress (indeed, more women in all positions of power), and more diversity across America. But, again, if the “civilian” Secretary of Defense is from Raytheon via a career spent in the U.S. Army, does it really matter that he’s Black when he’s thoroughly a man of the military-industrial complex?

What if all NFL players wore peace symbols on their helmets rather than American flags? Would their heads explode first, or ours?

There’s no escaping the military-industrial complex. This weekend, I watched the Red Sox play the Rangers in Texas. There’s a huge blue and white ad for Lockheed Martin in the outfield; even worse, the company logo was superimposed on the pitcher’s mound! Every pitch, almost every play, was sponsored by my friends at Lockheed Martin, maker of the F-35 jet fighter, among other weapons. How heartening!

Trevor Story makes a play for the Red Sox as Lockheed Martin looms in the background

Remember those old commercials: baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet? Chevrolet has been replaced by Lockheed Martin, with our president visiting weapons factories to promote the Javelin missile. With our president shilling for weapons and with Congress shoveling more than $50 billion to Ukraine to sustain a devastating war, tell me again how Democrats are making the world safer and more secure?

What will be the next galvanizing cause that forces people into the streets? The last one was Black Lives Matter and protests against police brutality that briefly led to a “defund the police” moment, which really meant to decrease police militarization while allocating more funds for mental health, family counselors, and other non-violent approaches to defusing trouble. President Biden has already said the answer is to fund the police, not defund them. How is this a “democratic” message? How is this even remotely adequate as a response to the very real anger and grievances of the BLM movement?

Fifty years ago, George McGovern asked America “to come home.” To end foreign wars. To focus on our problems here. To cut the Pentagon budget and to refund the savings to the American people. Was he the last real Democrat to run for President? Why do you never, ever, hear about his ideas today?

Why has every president since Ronald Reagan used the office to cash in after leaving? Kudos to Jimmy Carter for being a true, humble, and honorable public servant, and for having a brother who briefly brought us Billy Beer.

What are your Tuesday thoughts, readers?

Dominating the World Stage

W.J. Astore

“Make love, not war!” on the helmet of Marine Corporal Billy Winn, Vietnam, 1967 (Photo by William Eggleston)

In the 1960s, in response to the Vietnam War, young Americans vowed to “make love, not war.” Ever since 9/11, if not before, America has a new vow: Make War, Not Love.

The American empire believes it must dominate the world stage. Partly this is due to hubris unleashed by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. As Colin Powell put it that year:

“We no longer have the luxury of having a threat to plan for. What we plan for is that we’re a superpower. We are the major player on the world stage with responsibilities around the world, with interests around the world.”

When you define the world as your “stage” and define yourself as a military and economic “superpower,” as the major player, a hubristic and militaristic foreign policy almost naturally follows. And so it has.

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I detail five reasons why America remains addicted to hubristic war; what follows is an excerpt that focuses on America’s vision of itself as the best and purest actor on the world stage. Please read the entire article at TomDispatch.com.

***

About 15 years ago, I got involved in a heartfelt argument with a conservative friend about whether it was wise for this country to shrink its global presence, especially militarily. He saw us as a benevolent actor on the world stage.  I saw us as overly ambitious, though not necessarily malevolent, as well as often misguided and in denial when it came to our flaws. I think of his rejoinder to me as the “empty stage” argument.  Basically, he suggested that all the world’s a stage and, should this country become too timid and abandon it, other far more dangerous actors could take our place, with everyone suffering. My response was that we should, at least, try to leave that stage in some fashion and see if we were missed.  Wasn’t our own American stage ever big enough for us?  And if this country were truly missed, it could always return, perhaps even triumphantly. 

Of course, officials in Washington and the Pentagon do like to imagine themselves as leading “the indispensable nation” and are generally unwilling to test any other possibilities.  Instead, like so many ham actors, all they want is to eternally mug and try to dominate every stage in sight. 

In truth, the U.S. doesn’t really have to be involved in every war around and undoubtedly wouldn’t be if certain actors (corporate as well as individual) didn’t feel it was just so profitable. If my five answers above were ever taken seriously here, there might indeed be a wiser and more peaceful path forward for this country. But that can’t happen if the forces that profit from the status quo — where bellum (war) is never ante- or post- but simply ongoing — remain so powerful. The question is, of course, how to take the profits of every sort out of war and radically downsize our military (especially its overseas “footprint”), so that it truly becomes a force for “national security,” rather than national insecurity. 

Most of all, Americans need to resist the seductiveness of war, because endless war and preparations for more of the same have been a leading cause of national decline.  One thing I know: Waving blue-and-yellow flags in solidarity with Ukraine and supporting “our” troops may feel good but it won’t make us good.  In fact, it will only contribute to ever more gruesome versions of war. 

A striking feature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that, after so many increasingly dim years, it’s finally allowed America’s war party to pose as the “good guys” again. After two decades of a calamitous “war on terror” and unmitigated disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and so many other places, Americans find themselves on the side of the underdog Ukrainians against that “genocidal” “war criminal” Vladimir Putin.  That such a reading of the present situation might be uncritical and reductively one-sided should (but doesn’t) go without saying. That it’s seductive because it feeds both American nationalism and narcissism, while furthering a mythology of redemptive violence, should be scary indeed.

Yes, it’s high time to call a halt to the Pentagon’s unending ham-fisted version of a world tour.  If only it were also time to try dreaming a different dream, a more pacific one of being perhaps a first among equals. In the America of this moment, even that is undoubtedly asking too much. An Air Force buddy of mine once said to me that when you wage war long, you wage it wrong. Unfortunately, when you choose the dark path of global dominance, you also choose a path of constant warfare and troubled times marked by the cruel risk of violent blowback (a phenomenon of which historian and critic Chalmers Johnson so presciently warned us in the years before 9/11).

Washington certainly feels it’s on the right side of history in this Ukraine moment. However, persistent warfare should never be confused with strength and certainly not with righteousness, especially on a planet haunted by a growing sense of impending doom.

Border Insecurity and Worthy Refugees

W.J. Astore

Today as I was checking out at Job Lots, the cashier asked me if I wanted to donate money for Ukrainian refugee relief.  I thought quickly of the $33 billion Biden already wants from us for Ukraine and politely said “no thanks.”

Then I read Todd Miller’s new article at TomDispatch.com on the security-industrial complex along the U.S. border with Mexico and reflected on all those people risking their lives to cross the border into America, most of them refugees from wars and climate change and violence and the like.  I’ve never been asked by a company or a cashier for that matter to contribute to their relief.  Indeed, when the issue of refugees comes up along the Southern border, it’s always about more money for Homeland Security and more border control agents and surveillance technology (including drones and robotic dogs, as Miller notes), all to keep the “bad” people out of America, all those “illegals” who allegedly want to take American jobs while doing violence to vulnerable Americans.

Remarkably, Miller notes in his article how the Biden administration is following basically the same approach to border security as the Trump administration. The only real difference is that Biden is relying less on physical walls and more on “virtual” ones (towers, sensors, cameras, drones, etc.). This is hardly surprising when you consider Kamala Harris went south of the border to deliver a singular message to would-be asylum seekers. Her message to them: Do not come.

Land of the free, home of the brave?

As Miller notes in his article, you can count on one thing: America’s border with Mexico will never be secure, no matter how much we spend, because insecurity and overhyped “threats” sell very well indeed.

Is America really the home of the brave, given our fears of invasions, whether from “dangerous” brown- and black-skinned people coming up from the south or all those gangster Russians and sneaky Chinese allegedly scheming against us?

If we want to help refugees facing violence and starvation, we don’t have to look as far as Ukraine. Depending on where you live in America, you might only have to look just beyond the wall or fence or surveillance tower in front of you. As you do, you might ponder why we’re not sending $33 billion to help them survive. Is it because they’re not killing Russians with American-made weaponry?

Joe Biden’s Early Report Card

Joe Biden and his alleged nemesis

W.J. Astore

Joe Biden’s been president for a year and a few months; it’s time to award him a provisional grade for his performance as president.  Here are a few factors to consider:

* Biden ended the Afghan War.  Sure, it was a disordered ending, a pell-mell evacuation, a calamitous collapse that saw Afghan innocents killed in a final drone strike (nothing new about that, I suppose).  But he did end a twenty-year war, so credit to him for that.

* Biden was able to pass an infrastructure bill, though it was disappointingly small.  Still, America truly needs to invest in its infrastructure (rather than, for example, nuclear weapons), so credit again to Biden.

* Biden kept his promise to nominate an African American woman to the Supreme Court.  The court is still overwhelmingly conservative, so her presence won’t make a critical difference to decisions, but dare I say, it’s about time the court looked more like the diversity of America.

* When Biden announced his candidacy, the first thing he did was meet with Comcast executives and other high and mighty media- and business-types.  He told them nothing would fundamentally change under his administration.  That’s a campaign promise he’s kept.

* Another promise Biden has kept is sizable increases to the Pentagon’s budget.  If you’re part of the military-industry complex, you’re probably more than satisfied with Biden’s budgets.

* Finally, some people assert that Biden has stood firm against Russia and Putin, marshaling the West against Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.  I beg to differ with this assertion, but more on that below.

Now, let’s look at where Biden has failed or proven to be a disappointment.

* Biden has kept none of his progressive promises, which is unsurprising, given his track record as a senator from Delaware.  No $15 federal minimum wage.  No public option for health care.  No student debt relief (just moratoriums on payments).  On these and similar issues, Biden’s defenders place the blame on obstinate “centrist” senators like Manchin and Sinema, or they blame the Senate Parliamentarian for ruling against the $15 wage increase due to a technicality.  It’s all special pleading.  When their own Senate Parliamentarian got in their way, the Republicans simply replaced that unelected person with someone more tractable.  Chuck Schumer could easily have done the same.  Manchin and Sinema can be cajoled or coerced if Biden had the will to do so.  But “centrist” Democrats adore Manchin and Sinema because they serve as convenient scapegoats for why Biden can’t be more progressive.

* Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan died a meaningless death, but, once again, this was more by design.  Recall Biden’s key promise that nothing would fundamentally change under his administration.

* Again, withdrawing from the Afghan War was a sound decision, but it was poorly implemented.

* The Russia-Ukraine War: Biden has gone all-in with his military approach to the war, meaning more money for the Pentagon, more weapons for Ukraine, harsh sanctions that hit ordinary Russians the hardest, and rhetoric that declares Putin to be a genocidal war criminal.  Diplomatic efforts have taken a back seat to efforts to effect regime change in Russia.  Some people may see this as tough and hard- minded; I see it as provocative and incredibly foolhardy.  Brinksmanship with Russia risks nuclear war, with Biden’s harsh rhetoric leaving little room for a negotiated settlement.  More than a few people see the U.S. as weakening Russia in a proxy war in which Biden is willing to fight to the last Ukrainian.  Toughness is not about more weapons and war; it’s about finding ways to build fewer weapons and to end war.

* Inflation is reaching new highs and many Americans are struggling economically, but Biden’s main approach here has been to blame Putin.  Unlike Harry Truman, the buck never stops with Joe Biden.

* The Biden team made a disastrous choice for his vice president.  Biden has no affinity with Kamala Harris, and Harris herself has wilted on the world stage.  High staff turnover suggests she’s a polarizing figure and a poor boss.  The only good thing about Harris, from the Biden perspective, is that people dislike her more than they do the president.

* Biden’s unpopularity.  Predictions for the midterm elections this November are dire for Democrats.  It’s possible, even likely, Republicans will regain both the Senate and House, leaving Biden a lame duck for his final two years in office.  Few if any Democratic candidates are seeking Biden’s support or planning to ride his coattails to victory.

* Biden’s mental status.  Biden will be 80 this November.  I’m not an expert on dementia.  But I’ve seen plenty of speeches by Biden where he’s become forgetful; when he can’t remember words; when he gets frustrated.  I feel for him.  He can read from a teleprompter but get him off-script and he becomes unpredictable and says nonsensical things.  Occasionally, he looks lost or at a loss.  Something similar was happening to Ronald Reagan in his second term.

Always looming in the background and foreground is the party of Trump.  To my mind, the best way to defeat rightwing popular authoritarianism is to have leaders who answer to the people rather than to corporations and oligarchs.  The Democratic Party is venal and corrupt, which allows Trump & Co. an opening to play a (false) populist card.  The Democrats, as presently led by Biden, Schumer, Pelosi, et al., are easy foils for authoritarian dipshits like Trump.

Trump would be far less dangerous if the Democrats actually believed and acted on their various campaign promises to help people rather than oligarchs and corporations.

The ultimate grade of Joe Biden’s presidency will depend on whether through his actions and inaction he gives Trump an opening to win the presidency in 2024.  Assuming Trump wins again in 2024, Biden’s final grade will be an “F.”

His provisional grade?  First, I’m not a Democrat.  Second, I despise Trump, a man totally unqualified to serve the public in any capacity.  Overall, my grade for Biden is a “C-,” and on less generous days I’m inclined to give him a “D.”  He is a man who’s often out of his depth, a man well past his prime, a man who perhaps shouldn’t have run in 2020 and who most certainly shouldn’t run again in 2024, given the demands of the presidency. (Recall that when Biden suggested a run for the presidency in 2020, Obama told him, You don’t have to do this, Joe. Not exactly an inspiring vote of confidence!)

What do you think, readers?  What grade has Joe Biden earned so far in your opinion?  

Higher Military Spending Leads to Less Security

W.J. Astore

What does “security” mean to you?  My dad had a utilitarian definition.  Born in 1917, he found himself in a fatherless immigrant family with four siblings during the height of the Great Depression.  To help his family survive, he enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 and served for two years, earning a dollar a day, most of it sent home to his mother.  For my dad, security meant a roof over one’s head, three square meals a day, and warm clothes on one’s back.  Food, shelter, clothing: it really was that simple.

Of course, you needed to pay for those bare necessities, meaning you needed a job with decent pay and benefits.  Personal security, therefore, hinges on good pay and affordable health care, which many U.S. workers today – in the richest country in the world – continue to scratch and claw for.  Another aspect of personal security is education because pay and career advancement within U.S. society often depend on one’s educational level.  A college education is proven to lead to higher pay and better career prospects throughout one’s life.

Personal security is in many ways related to national security.  Certainly, a nation as large as the U.S. needs a coast guard, border controls, an air force, a national guard, and similar structures for defensive purposes.  What it doesn’t need is a colossal, power-projecting juggernaut of a military at $800+ billion a year that focuses on imperial domination facilitated by 750 overseas bases that annually cost more than $100 billion just to maintain.  True security, whether personal or national, shouldn’t be about domination.  It should be focused on providing a collective standard of living that ensures all Americans can afford nutritious food, a decent place to live, adequate clothing, a life-enriching education, and health care.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood this.  In his farewell address as president in 1961, he warned us about the military-industrial complex and its anti-democratic nature.  Even more importantly, he called for military disarmament as a “continuing imperative,” and he talked of peace, which he tied to human betterment, and which he said could be “guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”  Ike knew that huge, offensive-minded military budgets constituted a theft from the people; even worse, he knew they constituted a betrayal of our national ideals.  A hugely powerful military establishment had “grave implications” to the “very structure of our society,” Ike presciently warned.  We have failed to heed his warning.

Ike, a former five-star U.S. general who led the D-Day invasion in 1944, knew the dangers of funding an immense military establishment

For Ike, true national security was about fostering human betterment and working toward world peace.  It was about securing the necessities of life for everyone.  It entailed the pursuit of military disarmament, a pursuit far preferable to allowing the world to be crucified on a cross of iron erected by wars and weapons manufacturers.

Tragically, America’s “councils of government” no longer guard against militarism; rather, they have been captured, often willingly, by the military-industrial complex.  The “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” that Ike was counting on to hold the line against incessant warfare and wasteful weaponry is largely uninterested, or uninformed, or uneducated in matters of civics and public policy.  Meanwhile, military spending keeps soaring, and the result is greater national insecurity.

In a paradox Ike warned us about, the more money the government devotes to its military, the less secure the nation becomes.  Because security isn’t measured in guns and bullets and warheads.  It’s measured in a healthy life, a life of meaning, a life of liberty. The pursuit of happiness, not eternal belligerence, should be the goal.

Consider the following fable.  A man lives in a castle.  He says he seeks security.  So he digs moats and erects walls and piles cannon ball upon cannon ball.  He posts armed guards and launches raids into the surrounding countryside to intimidate “near-peer” rivals.  He builds outlying fortifications and garrisons them, thinking these will secure his castle from attack.  Meanwhile, his family and relations in the castle are starving; the roof leaks and internal walls are covered in mold; the people, shivering and in rags, are uneducated and in poor health.  Has this man truly provided security for his people?  Would we call this man wise?

Grossly overspending on the military and weaponry — on castles and cannons everywhere — produces insecurity. It’s the very opposite of wisdom. Let’s end this folly, America, and seek human betterment and world peace as Ike advised us to do.

Addendum: these are the words Ike spoke in 1953

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.  It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

War Itself Is the Crime

W.J. Astore

Yesterday, I was asked to comment on alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and why Russia should be “rightly charged” for them. This is what I wrote in response:

War itself is the crime, unless it’s a defensive war of necessity. Even then, all wars generate atrocity.

I really don’t know if Russia should be “rightly charged” with war crimes.  They are “alleged” and not proven.  And the U.S. doesn’t recognize the ICC (International Criminal Court at The Hague); we are an “observer” but not a member.  So the U.S. can’t formally charge Russia with war crimes since our government doesn’t recognize the court that tries such crimes, as I understand it.

I’ve read about alleged war crimes in Ukraine. They should be investigated. But that investigation will take time, especially if you’re looking for an informed, impartial, one, based on sound evidence. In the meantime, I’d caution against a rush to judgment.

President Biden, of course, has already called Vladimir Putin a war criminal. But if Putin is a war criminal who warrants a trial before the ICC, we must admit that American leaders like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden also warrant trials before the ICC for their roles in facilitating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as regime change actions in Libya and Syria, among other exercises in imperialism. Consider all the drone strikes executed while Obama/Biden were in power, and all the innocent civilians who were killed, as Daniel Hale (among others) told us, for which he was sent to prison for four years.

In America, war criminals walk free; courageous whistle blowers like Hale are imprisoned.

And we’re going to lecture the world on who’s a war criminal?

Daniel Hale blew the whistle on murderous U.S. drone strikes. For his act of conscience, the U.S. imprisoned him for four years

The United States Is 100% in the Right

W.J. Astore

Congressman Ro Khanna is a Democrat from California who counts himself as a progressive. He recently spoke with Briahna Joy Gray for her podcast, Bad Faith. The interview is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhnNJctvYTA

During the interview, Gray asked the Congressman about the Russia-Ukraine war and whether the U.S. contributed in any way to Russia’s decision to invade. Here’s a quick summary of Khanna’s position:

Nothing the USA did (or didn’t do) contributed in any way to the Russian decision to invade. Ukraine is a just war (for the Ukraine and USA, of course) and is 100% Putin’s fault. U.S. actions have been 100% in the right, and U.S. weapons shipments have been critical to saving Ukraine from Russian dominance. The U.S. is on the side of the vulnerable women and children in Ukraine and is supporting the freedom of a sovereign country.

Well, there you have it. Nothing the U.S. has ever done, or is doing now, is in the wrong with respect to Ukraine. The expansion of NATO, the U.S.-orchestrated coup in Ukraine in 2014, continued arms shipments to Ukraine since the coup: these actions were all 100% right and also did nothing to provoke the Russians to invade.

Naturally, I myself am against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I wish for the quickest possible diplomatic settlement and an end to the killing. But that doesn’t mean I’m blind to how U.S. actions contributed to tensions in the area before the war, and are continuing to this day to make matters worse. (Consider Joe Biden’s declaration that Putin is a “war criminal” who must be removed from power. Not much room for negotiating there!)

Take NATO expansion beginning in the 1990s. NATO was supposed to be a defensive military alliance to deter and prevent Soviet military expansion; when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO’s reason for being collapsed with it. But NATO, showing the resilience of well-entrenched bureaucracies, found a new reason to exist. Its new mission, as events have shown, is not to defend against Soviet/Russian expansion, but instead to expand to the very borders of Russia, leaving the Russian people isolated, surrounded by a “defensive” alliance that keeps buying advanced military weaponry, much of it made in the USA.

NATO was not supposed to expand beyond a unified Germany, or so the Russians were told. Many prominent American officials warned that NATO expansion would aggravate regional tensions, leading possibly to a future war. We don’t need to say “possibly” anymore.

NATO expansion envisioned Ukraine becoming a member at some future date, regardless of Russian warnings that this wouldn’t be tolerated. Admitting such historical facts doesn’t absolve Putin of blame for Russia’s calamitous invasion, but it does provide essential context. Saying the U.S. is completely blameless is bonkers, but politically it sells well, I guess, and that’s all that Ro Khanna seemingly cares about.

If a so-called anti-war progressive like Ro Khanna can’t admit that the U.S. might be 1% responsible for tensions in the area, and 99% blameless, without being accused of being a Putin puppet, where are we at as a country?

Isn’t it great to be on the side of the angels and 100% right again, America?

Joe Biden’s Careless Rhetoric

W.J. Astore

They do not inspire confidence

Joe Biden has done it again, calling for Vladimir Putin’s removal from office as president of Russia, and refusing to apologize for it. Being charitable, I’m calling this rhetoric “careless,” but really it’s inflammatory and even unhinged when you consider the U.S. and Russia could easily destroy the world in a nuclear war.

I’ve never been a fan of Joe Biden. When he ran for president in 1987-88, he lied about being near the top of his class (he was near the bottom, actually), lied about how many majors he took, lied about an award he falsely said he’d earned, and generally came off looking like a lightweight. He was trying way too hard, including “borrowing” without attribution, i.e. plagiarizing, from the speeches of Neil Kinnock and Bobby Kennedy. Most political commentators back then dismissed him as a has-been before he ever was.

But Biden bided his time, improved his bona fides with the big money players, and became the boring white guy sidekick to the upstart Barack Obama in 2008. Biden served loyally as Obama’s VP for eight years, failing to distinguish himself in any meaningful way. Occasionally, he’d blurt out something tough, something manly, like the time he commented about confronting the Islamic State at “the gates of hell,” but it was all bluster.

When Biden ran for president in 2019-20, he was obviously well past his prime, which was never that high to begin with. But he promised the owners and donors that nothing would fundamentally change if he was elected, the one promise he’s kept since he gained office. Throughout his campaign, he lied through his blindingly white teeth about how he supported a $15 federal minimum wage and how he’d work for a single-payer option for health care, among many other whoppers. One of those whoppers has gained considerable press lately: his son Hunter’s laptop and the emails on it, which Biden said was an obvious Kremlin plant. Wrong again, Joe. Hunter’s emails were all-too-real and incriminating, as was his phony yet high-paying job ($50,000 a month) for Burisma in Ukraine.

Politics is almost always a miserable affair, now more than ever, but during the campaign Biden showed he was a gaffe-prone liar who was nearing the end of his mental tether. No matter. The mainstream media got behind him and plenty of Americans were rightly fed up with Donald Trump and his bungling of the response to Covid-19, and that was enough to make him president.

Biden is now pushing 80, slurring words, and calling Putin a war criminal and saying that he needs to go. It’s the kind of behavior you’d expect from a blowhard who’s had a few too many drinks at the bar, not from America’s most senior leader.

I joked to my wife that I really don’t want to die today in a nuclear war due to Biden’s bizarre bombast. If any leader needs to go, it’s probably Joe Biden, but he has an iron-clad insurance policy: if he goes, we get Kamala “giggles” Harris as our new president. So I guess I have to be very careful what I wish for.

There was a time when America produced leaders like FDR, Ike, George C. Marshall, even Ronald Reagan, who had the guts to dream of a world free of nuclear weapons. Reagan may have called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” but he also knew how to negotiate with Mikhail Gorbachev for a better, safer world. America is hamstrung today by narcissistic nincompoops like Biden, Harris, and Trump; somehow, we have to take a long, hard look in the mirror and find it within ourselves to demand better.