America Needs A Can’t Do Military

W.J. Astore

“Can-do” is an attitude that’s common, indeed obligatory, in the U.S. military. “Can’t do” is for quitters, for losers, for the “whiskey deltas” (weak dicks) who don’t have “the right stuff” to succeed. Yet I’d argue the U.S. military could use a few good men and women who are willing to say “can’t do,” not because they’re losers or lazy or otherwise “weak,” but because they’re smart and willing to speak uncomfortable truths.

“Saluting smartly” goes along with a “can-do” attitude. But was it sensible to salute smartly and invade Afghanistan and seek to remake a complex and decentralized tribal society into a centralized pseudo-democracy? Was it sensible to invade and occupy Iraq, disband its army, and seek to remake an ethnically and religiously fractured society, previously controlled by an authoritarian dictator, into a centralized pseudo-democracy? And by “remake,” I mean imposing a new government by often violent means by outsiders (yes, that’s us). Of course it wasn’t sensible, as events proved. These were “can’t do” scenarios, and never-should-have-done wars, and the U.S. military should have said so, and loudly, rather than saluting smartly and lying year after year about “progress.”

Sometimes, integrity means admitting that you can’t do. It recalls a line from Dirty Harry in “Magnum Force”: A man’s got to know his limitations. Not everything is achievable or even desirable, no matter how much money and “Hooah!” spirit you throw at the problem.

But officers in the military don’t get promoted for saying “can’t do,” no matter how sensible the sentiment may be. You’ve got to make it work, or die or lie trying, no matter the folly of it all. Here I recall a weapon system I worked on in the Air Force in the mid-1990s. It was over-budget, under-performing, and also being overtaken by newer, cheaper, technologies that flight crews liked better. But my job (and possibly my future promotion) hinged on refusing to recognize this truth. Instead, I had to do my part to make the “bad” system work — or seem to work.

As I recently wrote to a fellow former Air Force officer: As a captain, I worked on a project that probably should have been canceled. But the pressure on me was to make it work, at least my piece of it. Jobs depended on it. We are a can-do military even when can’t- or shouldn’t-do would be the much wiser course of action.

This fellow officer, also a captain and engineer, sent along this perceptive comment:

I don’t know about your path to promotion, but in my Support Group position, our annual performance reviews and officer promotion path was dependent upon being responsible for an ever expanding budget, year after year. I could never see a situation where being in charge of less compared to the previous year was ever a positive if one wanted to make a career out of military service. It really didn’t matter if the expansion was due to the inclusion of unnecessary spending. After I left active duty it finally sank in that all of the personal/professional incentives are to continually spend more, never to save the taxpayer money. I have since felt that the personal promotion incentive is one of several internal systems that creates the environment that is present; where DoD spending is commonly and fairly criticized for fraud, waste and abuse and why there are few incentives for the military leadership to do a better job of advising the civilian leadership to war less.

So, for example, saying “can’t do” while saving money is often the worst sort of action one could make if you want to get ahead in the military. Saying “can-do” while burning through money and accomplishing nothing but an expansion of next year’s budget is, however, rewarded by the system. You have proven yourself to be a “team player,” irrespective of results.

Of course, what America really needs is not a can- or can’t-do military but rather one with unimpeachable integrity in its oath to the U.S. Constitution. That oath carries with it an obligation to speak the truth, and a willingness to put the truth before conformity and ambition and “going along to get along.”

Our history since 9/11 would have been far different if the U.S. military knew its limitations and was willing to say “can’t do” when it was given unachievable objectives.

Joe Says No

Joe Says No

W.J. Astore

Clearly, the unofficial motto of the Democratic Party in 2021-22 is “Joe says no.” And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s President Joe Biden or Senator Joe Manchin.

Joe, as in Biden, says no to ending the Senate filibuster. He says no to Medicare for all. He says no to a single-payer option for health care. He says no to a $15 an hour minimum wage. (I know — it was allegedly the Senate Parliamentarian who said no here, except this person is both unelected and easily fired.) President Joe says no a lot, even though his campaign promises and pledges included a $15 federal minimum wage, a single-payer option, and so on.

Joe, as in Manchin, says no to the Build Back Better program. He says no to more affordable prices for prescription drugs. He says no to extending child tax credits. He says no to paid family leave. (Joe said family members on leave might go hunting instead of caring for their kids.) Like President Joe, Senator Joe says no to reforming the Senate filibuster.

Joe and Joe say no a lot, especially to policies that would help working Americans.

What do they say yes to? They say yes to massive spending on weapons and wars. They say yes to fossil fuels, including offshore oil drilling, fracking, and coal. They say yes to corporate agendas and corporate lobbyists and corporate cash. They say yes to higher drug prices. They say yes quite often, actually, but not to us.

When the Democrats lose the presidency in 2024, Joe Says No should be their epitaph. No to the workers, no to the middle class, no to helping the less fortunate — and no to a fairer, more just, America.

(With thanks to my wife for coming up with the pithy, Joe says no, slogan.)

How to Prevent a Coup in Washington

W.J. Astore

Three retired Army generals recently wrote an op-ed at The Washington Post on their fears of a coup in the aftermath of the next presidential election in 2024. Their scenario: Biden gets reelected, but Trump or a Trump-like candidate refuses to concede. A hyper-partisan military splits, with some units throwing their support to the loser, leading to a coup attempt. The three generals further suggest that the military must act now to prepare for, and thus to prevent, such a coup.

I have several thoughts on this. First, and most obvious, is the military’s oath of office, which is to the U.S. Constitution. If the U.S. military, with all its authority in our society, and all the colossal sums of money we give it, can’t be trusted to honor its oath, then there is truly something fundamentally wrong with its leadership and its ethos. I would suggest immediate public firings and prosecution of any leaders who put political partisanship before the U.S. Constitution and the oath of office.

Second, what’s most striking to me is what these generals don’t say. They talk about partisanship and seem to assume the enemy is solely from the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party. If Trump would just disappear, along with his movement, America would be just fine. Really?

Here’s my take: Partisanship surely does exist, but it needs to be understood. It needs to be connected to America’s disastrous and dishonest wars and also to the greedy and dishonest behavior of the generals. If military veterans are dangerous, it’s because they feel betrayed. They believe their situation is hopeless — and thus many are alienated and angry. A Trump-like figure can exploit this alienation and anger precisely because the Democratic Party is doing so little to help the working classes, including military veterans. (Of course, Republicans are arguably doing even less.)

If you want fewer hyper-partisan veterans, give them something tangible, like higher wages, affordable health care, better job opportunities — some recognition that their sacrifices were not in vain. Show them you’re working to enrich all citizens, not just those who are already in the top 10%, or the top 1% for that matter. 

That said, I want to stress the culpability of the U.S. military in creating the potential conditions for a coup. The warrior ethos of today’s all-volunteer military is corrosive to democratic society. It’s the generals who advanced this warrior ethos, and it’s the generals who accepted, even applauded, the elimination of the draft. They didn’t want a citizen-military that would question the constitutionality of aggressive wars overseas. Now, a few of them admit to worrying about those demobbed “warriors” who’ve learned to believe less in the Constitution and more in the shock and awe of decapitating strikes.

These generals further fail to note the total lack of accountability within the senior leadership of the U.S. military for Iraq and Afghanistan, among other disasters. Indeed, the generals have, almost to a man, cashed in, none more so than General Stanley McChrystal, who actually was fired for cause. The vast majority of today’s generals retire with six-figure pensions and go immediately to work for the military-industrial complex. In place of Cincinnatus or George Washington, their role model is Gordon Gekko.

Want to stop future coup attempts? Admit to veterans that the wars they fought were based on, driven by, and perpetuated with lies. Unite to advance true democratic reforms. Act to ensure all future wars are defensive and authorized only by congressional declaration. And return to the citizen-soldier traditions of Cincinnatus and George Washington. Most of all, seek peace, among ourselves and with all nations.

Cincinnatus surrendered power and went back to the plow. George Washington has been called the American Cincinnatus. Today’s generals are much more fond of cashing in (Image courtesy of ohkylel @twitter)

Bombing Kills Lots of Innocents: Who Knew?

W.J. Astore

Extensive U.S. bombing overseas kills lots of innocent people: who knew?

So this blinding statement of the obvious popped up in my email today from the New York Times:

A five-year Times investigation found that the U.S. air wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan led to thousands of civilian deaths.
Hidden Pentagon records show a pattern of failures in U.S. airstrikes — a sharp contrast to the American government’s image of war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs.
The military’s own confidential assessments of over 1,300 reports of civilian casualties since 2014, obtained by The Times, lays bare how the air war has been marked by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children. None of these failures resulted in a finding of wrongdoing. We are making these Pentagon records public.
This is the first of a two-part investigation. Here are the key takeaways.

Finally, at the end of 2021, the Times is willing to speak up against America’s murderous regimen of bombing overseas. I wrote about this myself at this site in 2016 and 2017, and I’m hardly the only person to have pointed this out. At TomDispatch.com, Tom Engelhardt has been reporting for years and years on wedding parties being wiped out by U.S. bombing missions based on “faulty intelligence.” The mainstream media have largely played down these atrocities until now, when the war in Afghanistan is finally (mostly) over, at least for the U.S.

As I wrote in 2013 for TomDispatch.com, airpower is neither cheap nor surgical nor decisive. Indeed, because it provides an illusion of effectiveness, and because America dominates the “high ground” of the air, all of this “precision” bombing serves to keep America in wars for far longer than is tenable on tactical grounds. Imagine how long the Iraq and Afghan wars would have lasted if America didn’t dominate the air, if the U.S. military had to rely exclusively on ground troops, and thus had suffered much higher casualties in ground combat. My guess is that these wars would have ended earlier, but “progress” could always be faked with all those statistics of bombs dropped and alleged “high value targets” eliminated.

I suppose it’s good to see the “liberal” New York Times cover this issue of murderous bombing after 20 years of the global war on terror. The question remains: why did it take them two decades to cover this issue in depth?

Presidents become “presidential” when they bomb other countries. Meanwhile, Julian Assange rots in prison. Maybe he needs to bomb a few countries?

Update (12/21/21)

More notes on U.S. bombing and the Times report, courtesy of ReThink Round Up:

“Not a single file [from the military about the bombings] includes a finding of wrongdoing. An effort within the military to find lessons learned to prevent future civilian harm was suppressed. An analyst who captures strike imagery even told the Times that superior officers would often “tell the cameras to look somewhere else” because “they knew if they’d just hit a bad target.”

Responding to the report, a Pentagon spokesperson acknowledged that preventing civilian deaths is not just a “moral imperative” but a strategic issue because civilian casualties can fuel recruiting for extremist groups. [New York Times/ Azmat Khan]”

*****

Again, to state the obvious here:

1. There’s no accountability in the system. Murderous mistakes are covered up and no one is held responsible (“tell the cameras to look somewhere else”).

2. The bombing attacks were counterproductive. Guess what? Killing innocents creates more “terrorists.” Who knew?

Murderous inaccuracy, making matters worse, with no accountability: WTF? So much for America’s “awesome” military, as Andrew Bacevich writes about today at TomDispatch.com.

How Awesome Is “Awesome”?

Curbing the Military-Industrial Complex

W.J. Astore

The American people have failed Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Sixty years ago, President Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex. He told us it was sapping our resources and livelihood. He said its total influence — economic, political, and spiritual — was warping the very structure of our society. Its growing power, Ike warned, posed a grave danger to our liberties and our democratic processes. We heard his words, but we failed to act on them.

Ike didn’t just issue a warning in his farewell address in 1961. He gave us a mission. He literally put us on guard duty, as he said we must guard against the growing power of the Complex. He challenged us to be an alert and knowledgeable citizenry. Notice those three words: alert, knowledgeable, citizenry. Ike told us to get smart, to be vigilant, to be fully informed and involved citizens. Not citizen-soldiers for war, but citizen-guards against the growing power of the U.S. military and its weapons makers within a democracy that was increasingly compromised by militarism and imperialism.

Collectively, we have failed to heed Ike’s warning. We have failed to curb the military-industrial complex. And thus it has become a leviathan within our society and our culture. It has, as Ike warned, come to dominate our economics, our politics, even our spiritual lives.

Ike had a different vision. He knew war and hated it. So he asked Americans to work for world peace and for human betterment. Yes, of course he was worried about communism in the climate of the Cold War. Of course he was in favor of negotiating from a position of strength. But Ike was in favor of the kind of strength that feels free and confident to extend the open hand of friendship rather than the mailed fist of war.

The latest Pentagon budget is all about the mailed fist of war. It undermines world peace and human betterment. It is a betrayal of Ike’s vision and a failure of democracy.

The American Republic is dead. The American Empire, consumed by militarism and powered by threat inflation and greed, is visibly in decline even as it consumes the lion’s share of federal discretionary spending. What is needed is a spiritual rebirth of America, a turning away from greed-war, a collective reawakening to the idea that strength is not measured by nuclear missiles or tanks or fighter jets, but by the health of our society, especially our commitment to human rights, to maximizing our human potential while protecting our environment and our planet.

America desperately needs a new vision of the good life, one that abjures war and rejects weaponry. War and weaponry are not the health of society; quite the opposite. Ike saw this; he challenged us to see it as well, and to act to ensure our democracy wouldn’t be destroyed by a permanent military establishment of vast proportions.

And we the people have failed him — and ourselves.

What is to be done? We need to reject fear. We need to cut military spending. We need to dismantle the empire. And we need to see these acts for what they are: the acts of a strong people, confident that right makes might, committed to avoiding the utter waste of war and the depravity of building an economy based on weapons production and arms exports.

Nobody said it would be easy. Ike knew it wouldn’t be. It’s why he put us on guard duty. He told us to be alert, to get smart, and to act.

Ike gave us a mission, not just a warning. Are you ready to enlist and fight against weapons and war?

The Herman Cain Award Subreddit and What It Says about America’s Political Crisis

Deaths from Covid-19 in the U.S. recently passed 800,000 with no signs of abating. The blame game is also not abating. Are corrupt elites exacerbating and exploiting a crisis for their own interests? Are “irrational” elements at lower levels exhibiting mass resentments at being bossed around? Why does everything seem polarized in America, even “common sense” steps to save lives during a raging pandemic? M. Davout uses the lens of the “Herman Cain Award” to take a closer look at America’s Covid dilemma. He reaches a conclusion that will challenge many. W.J. Astore

Learning from the Herman Cain Award

M. Davout

As America undergoes a series of overlapping domestic political crises—notably among them, determined attacks on democratic election processes, fierce resistance to public health responses during a deadly pandemic, reckless brinkmanship over federal government budgeting and debt payment—commentators often resort to the notion of political polarization as an explanation of our problems. A recent case in point is the disapproving mainstream media response to the Herman Cain Award (HCA) subreddit, which is devoted to showcasing the social media posts of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who get sick with Covid-19 and end up in hospital ICUs in need of breathing assistance.

Herman Cain, you might remember, was a failed candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.  He attended a Trump reelection campaign rally in Tulsa, posted a photo of himself and his entourage at the rally unmasked while belittling concerns about Covid, and then died of the disease six weeks later.

Herman Cain

For any given recipient of the Herman Cain Award, the presentation of captured social media posts follows a typical arc. The early posts feature memes and images disparaging Fauci, Biden, the medical establishment, mRNA vaccines, and masked and vaccinated Americans (“sheep”), intermixed with memes and images exalting Trump, the healing powers of Jesus, the adequacy of their own unvaccinated immune systems, and their independent and courageous selves (“lions”). Then comes a series of posts notifying followers of their falling ill with Covid and their shock at the severity of the symptoms, their eventual hospitalization and need for prayers. Finally, posting duties fall to a relative or friend of the afflicted, who reports on the increasingly more radical medical procedures undergone, the almost inevitable decline in organ health, and eventual death. GoFundMe appeals for donations to cover the obscenely high medical expenses round out many of the HCA posts.

Many of the comment threads for each post could fairly be characterized as largely (though not exclusively) being exercises in schadenfreude. Some posters belittle the pleas for aid from “prayer warriors” and the all-caps invocations of divine intervention to heal failing organs. Self-proclaimed liberal commentators sarcastically express their “dismay” at being “owned” by conservatives who have scored ideological points at the cost of their lives. Accusations are often lodged against rightwing media celebrities and GOP politicians who amplify the conspiratorial memes which appear again and again on the social media accounts of the HCA recipients.

Occasional critical reference is made to the facilitating roles played by foreign disinformation campaigns in broadcasting lies and to Big Tech in channeling lies to those most susceptible to believing them. But, by and large, the commentators are unrelentingly hostile to the HCA recipients themselves for “shitposting” the lies to their family, friends, and other social media followers, and leaving family members bereft and financially devastated when they die.  

In a recent New York Times article, an academic psychologist is paraphrased as arguing that “these websites are an outgrowth of the nation’s extreme polarization.”

To my mind, application of the notion of polarization to a political crisis or conflict encourages one to withhold judgment about the truth claims and reasonability of each of the two sides to a dispute. Particularly in the case of the HCA, polarization is too simplistic a way of understanding the fierceness of the social media pushback against vaccine denial and the avoidable deaths such denial causes. For me, the HCA posts are better understood in the context of a perennial question in my academic field about political dysfunction: is political crisis more a product of the pursuit of unaccountable power by corrupt elites or is it more a product of mass resentments which often find expression in campaigns of scapegoating and demonizing people?

Political theorist Michael Rogin usefully framed this issue within a longstanding debate between “realist” scholars who frame historical episodes of political dysfunction (e.g., McCarthyism) as products of elite-driven programs of political repression serving the interests of capitalism, the state apparatus or other powerful institutions, and “symbolist” scholars, who emphasize the dangers of popular indulgence in conspiratorial thinking and paranoid fears of racial, ethnic, religious or cultural “others.”

In response to the needless prolongation of the Covid pandemic, many of the HCA commentators seem to have taken the symbolist position, blaming rightwing members of the polity for indulging and promoting paranoia (e.g., drawing parallels between public health measures against Covid and Nazi genocide) and conspiratorial thinking (e.g., the offer of free vaccines as a Trojan horse for socialized medicine). To be sure, there are voices among them that take the realist position of blaming rightwing political and media elites for instrumentalizing populist anxieties for their own power interests.

So rather than characterize HCA commentary simply as “cruel sentiment,” I see much of that commentary as lodging symbolist (and, in some cases, realist) critiques of a deadly form of political dysfunction afflicting our public life, namely the perverse resistance of an irrational minority to reasonable and time-tested public health measures aimed at protecting all of us from exposure to a disease that kills far too many and disables many more.

M. Davout is a professor of political science and an occasional contributor to Bracing Views.

Major Cuts in Military Spending Are the Best Way to Revive Our Democracy

W.J. Astore

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I argue for major cuts in military spending.

This year’s Pentagon budget is a staggering $778 billion, a sum that’s virtually unimaginable. That said, the real budget for “defense,” or, as we should say, the budget for wars and weapons, is well over a trillion dollars. This is madness. No self-avowed democracy can survive such a misappropriation of resources for domination and destruction. But of course America is not a democracy, it’s an empire, with a figurehead for a president and a Congress that acts as a rubber stamp for the generals and their weapons makers.

The military-industrial complex has become America’s fourth branch of government, eclipsing the roles and powers of the other three branches (executive, legislative, judicial). The only way to rein it in, I believe, is to cut its budget. In my article, I propose cutting that budget by $50 billion a year for the next seven years. Thus by Fiscal Year 2029, the Pentagon budget should be no more than $400 billion, still a vast sum, but roughly half of what we’re paying for war and weaponry today. Such cuts can be made sensibly and without harming America’s true defense needs. Indeed, a smaller U.S. military establishment will reduce adventurism and increase our security and safety.

Here’s the conclusion to my piece at TomDispatch.com. Please read the rest of it at the site. And I urge you as well to read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction, which provides stunning details about how America’s generals profit from endless wars and weapons production, so much so that “In wars and weapons we trust” could very well serve as America’s truest national motto.

Of Smoking Guns and Mushroom Clouds

What would real oversight look like when it comes to the defense budget? Again, glad you asked!

It would focus on actual defense, on preventing wars, and above all, on scaling down our gigantic military. It would involve cutting that budget roughly in half over the next few years and so forcing our generals and admirals to engage in that rarest of acts for them: making some tough choices. Maybe then they’d see the folly of spending $1.7 trillion on the next generation of world-ending weaponry, or maintaining all those military bases globally, or maybe even the blazing stupidity of backing China into a corner in the name of “deterrence.”

Here’s a radical thought for Congress: Americans, especially the working class, are constantly being advised to do more with less. Come on, you workers out there, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and put your noses to those grindstones!

To so many of our elected representatives (often sheltered in grotesquely gerrymandered districts), less money and fewer benefits for workers are seldom seen as problems, just challenges. Quit your whining, apply some elbow grease, and “git-r-done!”

The U.S. military, still proud of its “can-do” spirit in a warfighting age of can’t-do-ism, should have plenty of smarts to draw on. Just consider all those Washington “think tanks” it can call on! Isn’t it high time, then, for Congress to challenge the military-industrial complex to focus on how to do so much less (as in less warfighting) with so much less (as in lower budgets for prodigal weaponry and calamitous wars)?

For this and future Pentagon budgets, Congress should send the strongest of messages by cutting at least $50 billion a year for the next seven years. Force the guys (and few gals) wearing the stars to set priorities and emphasize the actual defense of this country and its Constitution, which, believe me, would be a unique experience for us all.

Every year or so, I listen again to Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex speech. In those final moments of his presidency, Ike warned Americans of the “grave implications” of the rise of an “immense military establishment” and “a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions,” the combination of which would constitute a “disastrous rise of misplaced power.” This country is today suffering from just such a rise to levels that have warped the very structure of our society. Ike also spoke then of pursuing disarmament as a continuous imperative and of the vital importance of seeking peace through diplomacy.

In his spirit, we should all call on Congress to stop the madness of ever-mushrooming war budgets and substitute for them the pursuit of peace through wisdom and restraint. This time, we truly can’t allow America’s numerous smoking guns to turn into so many mushroom clouds above our beleaguered planet.

Link to the entire article here.

It’s all so saddening and maddening

W.J. Astore

Remember Tass, the state news agency for the former Soviet Union? I was thinking of it as I watched PBS on Friday. Two commentators, David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, respectively with the New York Times and the Washington Post, covered the leading news items of the week. Of course, there was nothing said about the colossal war budget passed by the House ($778 billion, which is actually an undercount); there was nothing said about the continued persecution of Julian Assange by the U.S. government; and indeed there was nothing said about the sham democracy summit overseen by Joe Biden.

The topics covered were Bob Dole’s death and the good old days of compromise in Washington, a general condemnation of Trump and polarization, and some concern about inflation, which was dismissed as evidence of an expanding economy.

PBS used to be a halfway decent news source; now it relies far too heavily on corporate funding and is afraid of losing its government funding as well. So it’s become a state propaganda network, much like Tass was in the USSR.

With respect to the commentators, David Brooks is the reasonable Republican who speaks calmly about achieving incremental change through the system; Jonathan Capehart is the reasonable Democrat who also speaks calmly about pretty much the same; he adds “diversity” in the sense he’s Black and gay, yet his political views vary little from those of Brooks. Mark Shields, the previous voice opposite Brooks, was occasionally somewhat outspoken and even mentioned unions and workers; he’d worked for Senator William Proxmire and had enlisted in the U.S. Marines. I always sensed Shields hadn’t forgotten his roots, but of course he’s now 84 years old and semi-retired.

The previous week, I listened to Capehart as he talked about the Supreme Court and abortion. He seemed most concerned about the potential for a conservative court to overturn the legitimacy of gay marriage. I understand the personal angle, but I was hoping for a stronger statement in favor of a women’s right to choose — to control her own body and her own life.

To be honest, I don’t watch mainstream media reports that often, but when I do, it’s all so saddening and maddening.

Jonathan Capehart (right) speaks to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. They both know their roles.

Abortion in America

W.J. Astore

I truly believe that if men got pregnant, abortion would be free, legal, and readily available across the United States.

But men don’t get pregnant, so the idea of carrying an unwanted baby to term is mainly theoretical for them. How easy it is, then, to outlaw abortion while claiming to be pro-life.

Having been raised Catholic, I was taught abortion is murder. It’s that blunt. As the Church was teaching me that, it was allowing predatory priests to molest children. There was even a predatory priest assigned to my parish when I was young. So I’m not too keen on the moral authority and teachings of the Church here. Again, if priests got pregnant, I truly believe abortion would be accepted within the Church. Perhaps it would be justified by arguing that priests, first and foremost, have to serve God and the Church and therefore shouldn’t be encumbered by children.

The U.S. Supreme Court seems ready to overturn Roe v Wade by next summer, which is not surprising. So much for respecting judicial precedent. Even as it does so, we’ll hear arguments about how the Court isn’t partisan or political or influenced by religious beliefs, which is absurd. So-called pro-life Republicans have won the battle of placing partisan justices on the Court, and soon they’ll reap their reward.

Establishment Democrats are not as unhappy as you might think. I’ve already received urgent requests to donate money in the cause of abortion rights. Abortion is a “hot-button” issue and a real money-maker for partisans on both sides. Sorry, Democrats, this is your mess too, and you won’t see a penny from me.

Why do I claim Democrats are responsible too? President Obama could have appointed a justice to the Supreme Court when Mitch McConnell refused to do his job. It may have touched off a Constitutional crisis, but it was a fight worth having. But Obama figured Hillary Clinton couldn’t lose to Trump, so he did nothing. Meanwhile, Hillary ran a horrible campaign and lost to a failed casino owner and C-list celebrity apprentice. Because of that, we got three new justices who were all picked in large part because of their opposition to Roe v Wade. (That, and the fact they’re all pro-business.)

We will soon take a giant step backwards in America. Roughly half of American states will outlaw abortion; the other half will likely allow it under various conditions. Of course, as Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted, rich women, no matter where they live, will be able to get abortions. Women of lesser means will struggle and suffer. The pro-life movement will applaud that there are fewer abortions even as they cut benefits to the mothers who are forced to have these babies. They will do this with no pangs of conscience and in the name of loving the unborn — until they’re born to the “wrong” kind of mother.

And so it goes in America.

Being “pro-life” shouldn’t end when the baby is born. Jesus helped the poor, the lame, and the sick. He didn’t tell them to get a job while cutting their benefits. Image from a prayer card sent to me by my local bishop.

A Coda (12/5/21)

I welcome all comments on this difficult issue.

Instead of Cui bono, or who benefits, I think of who suffers if Roe v Wade is overturned. Not men. Not women of means, who will find a way to secure a safe abortion irrespective of the law in their particular state. It will be poor and desperate women who suffer, especially those who’ve been raped or who’ve been the victims of incest. Imagine being raped and then being forced to carry the fetus to term — it’s unimaginable to me.

I should note as well the burden placed on women — always women. What about the man who got her pregnant? Why may a woman be forced to give birth to an unwanted child while the father walks away freely in virtually all cases? People often discuss abortion as if women got pregnant by immaculate conception. As if men hold no responsibility whatsoever. Believe me, if men got pregnant too, abortion would be freely available.

So it’s likely that next summer, five men and one very conservative woman aligned with a fringe group in the Catholic Church will rule to compromise the bodily autonomy of women across the country; they’ll be opposed by two women and one man who seek to uphold a less-than-perfect precedent but one that has served to reduce state and patriarchal domination in the US of A for half a century.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court will obviously be revealed for what it is: a partisan hack shop in which the law is for sale or otherwise open to manipulation by the well-connected for unsavory purposes.

Tell me how this is a good thing.

Coda 2 (12/6/21)

As a (lapsed) Catholic, I realize people have religious reasons why they oppose abortion.

To these people I say: If you’re opposed to abortion, don’t have one. But don’t seek to impose your religious beliefs on everyone else.

A decision on abortion should be between a woman and her doctor. It’s a private decision. You have no say. Your religious beliefs don’t matter.

Against abortion? Don’t have one — simple as that. And MYOB.

Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable: The Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict

W.J. Astore

Disagreements are part of life. And indeed my friends, and readers of this blog, have been known to disagree with me. And thank goodness for that! Who’d want obsequious toadies for friends? And, if I’m writing articles that are truly “bracing,” obviously I should expect disagreements. And I do, which is one of the best aspects of this site. We learn from people who disagree with us, that is, when they have reasons well supported by facts, or wisdom learned from their own life experiences, and so on.

America is highly polarized today, and it seems as if people can no longer disagree without being disagreeable. Discussions quickly become arguments, which turn into shouting matches, with lots of name-calling and attacks on people and their alleged motives and leanings.

There’s nothing wrong with impassioned disagreement. But too many people start from there and quickly descend to being disagreeable, even violently so. The end result is that no common ground is discovered, nothing is learned, and any kind of concerted action to effect meaningful change is sabotaged.

Take the case of Kyle Rittenhouse. He was recently acquitted of murder after shooting three people during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that turned violent. The jury found that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt. I’ve watched video from the protests, and it appears to me that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. Other people may watch this video evidence and watch the trial and reach a different conclusion, and that’s OK. We should be able to discuss this reasonably and rationally, while putting some faith in the verdict reached by the jury.

Kyle Rittenhouse (SEAN KRAJACIC/PHOTOGRAPHER: SEAN KRAJACIC /GET)

Scanning my Facebook feed, however, I see polarization and vituperation about the verdict. It seems like if you agree with the verdict of “not guilty,” you’re obviously a white supremacist, a gun enthusiast, and a Trump supporter. On the other hand, if you disagree with the verdict, you’re obviously a libtard who hates guns and wants to defund the police. It’s a disagreeable mess with no common ground except mutual suspicion, even hate.

Even as I wrote those words, I got an email with an article on the verdict:

Kyle Rittenhouse, white supremacy, and the privilege of self-defense

Rittenhouse has the benefit of boyhood — white boyhood

By Jeneé Osterheldt

In this article, Osterheldt writes that the three white victims of Rittenhouse were “perceived to be fighting for Black lives to matter,” so their lives were “also up for grabs.” But Rittenhouse, also white, was supported by the system because he “believ[ed] in the authority of whiteness.” His life was apparently never “up for grabs.”

This author then authoritatively declares that: “Had he [Rittenhouse] been white and protecting Black lives in Kenosha instead of purportedly protecting cars, he’d be in prison. Or maybe cops would have pepper-sprayed him instead of giving him gratitude and water. Rittenhouse has the privilege of white power.”

Again, based on the video evidence and the trial, I don’t see this verdict as being driven by “white power” and privilege. Rittenhouse’s first victim was a man who chased him, threatened him, and tried to take his gun from him. The second victim was beating Rittenhouse with a skateboard. The third victim (wounded in the arm) was pointing a gun at Rittenhouse, as he himself admitted during the trial. The jury watched the videos, heard the testimony, and decided Rittenhouse’s actions did not constitute murder or attempted murder. From what I’ve seen and heard, I agree with the jury.

Now, it shouldn’t matter, but all three of Rittenhouse’s victims were white. Two of the three were attacking him before they were shot (the two he killed), and the other pointed a handgun at him (the one he wounded). The first man he shot was mentally unbalanced; video at the scene shows him shouting racial obscenities, including the N-word, at Blacks, daring them to shoot him.

So, I disagree that Rittenhouse’s acquittal is an example of white privilege and power. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’ll add that I support the Black Lives Matter movement, that I’m not a “gun enthusiast,” and that I’ve never voted for Trump and never will. (I’m not a fan of Biden either.)

We can disagree based on evidence, reason, facts. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Can’t we?