Should God Protect Our Troops?

Biden addresses Congress, 4/28/2021. He ended his address by asking God to protect our troops.

W.J. Astore

President Joe Biden favors ending major speeches with an invitation or invocation to God to protect “our” troops, as he did last night in his address to Congress. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the sentiment, but would it not be far better for Biden himself to protect those same troops by ending all of America’s needless wars?

U.S. Presidents traditionally favor asking God (there’s a sense that God would never deny this ask) to bless America as a way of ending speeches. Biden’s new “ask” of God goes a big step further by specifically identifying troops for special protection.

As a friend of mine, a retired military officer, put it about Biden’s rhetoric:

“This is new programming and it hits me like a scratched record every time I hear it—even his most militant predecessors stopped at ‘God bless America.’   It’s unclear to me whether he’s signaling that we’re all in danger all the time and that the troops will always have to be out there or if he thinks it’s the shibboleth he needs to use to gain some support from unaware Midwesterners and Southerners.  Regardless, it engraves a new precedent into our political thought: a constant reinforcement that we are always in danger and you can watch your 70” TV only because the troops are out there.”

To be clear, my friend and I have nothing personal against the troops, seeing that we’re both career military. But why single out the troops for God’s protection? Why not ask God to protect the poor? The sick? The vulnerable and needy and suffering?

Most Americans know that Joe Biden lost a beloved son, Beau, to brain cancer, and that he’d served in Iraq, where he possibly contracted his illness due to exposure to toxic chemicals in burn pits there. One can understand a father’s grief for his son, and his desire for Beau’s fellow troops to be protected from harm.

As a human sentiment, it resonates with me. But I share my friend’s unease with those who would beseech God for special protection for troops whose reason for being is centered on the use of deadly force around the globe. Especially when the sentiment was used in a campaign ad to court voters.

Perhaps we should leave it up to God to decide whom He wishes to protect, and even which country or countries He wishes to bless.

More Afghan War Lies

Like much of Biden’s face, America’s Afghan War is kept hidden behind a dark mask (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

W.J. Astore

President Biden has announced that all U.S. military combat troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 9/11/2021. That date was chosen deliberately and cynically. Recall that 15 of the 19 terrorist hijackers of 9/11 were Saudi. Recall that Osama bin Laden was Saudi. Recall that it was Al Qaeda, not the Taliban in Afghanistan, that was behind the 9/11 attacks on America. Yet America’s Afghan War has always been falsely advertised as both preemptive and preventative, i.e. America went to war to preempt another 9/11-style attack and has continued that war to prevent similar attacks coming from Afghanistan. It’s a false narrative that has largely worked to sustain the Afghan War for twenty years, and Biden is reinforcing it.

Another critical issue: What does it really mean when Biden says those combat troops will be withdrawn? What it doesn’t mean is that the war will end. Doubtless the CIA and similar intelligence operatives will remain behind, shrouded in secrecy. Doubtless some special forces units will stay. Doubtless private contractors, many of them ex-military, will stay. Doubtless America will reserve the “right” to continue to bomb Afghanistan and to conduct drone strikes from halfway across the world, ostensibly in support of the Afghan “national” government in Kabul. So is the war really ending?

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is getting what it wants: a boosted budget (even above what Trump requested) and a future defined by plans for war with China and Russia (and perhaps Iran as well). I’ve seen plenty of articles screaming that China is building a powerful navy, that China is building dangerous missiles, that China is building advanced fighter jets, and so on, which is exactly what the Pentagon wants: a “near-peer” rival to justify even more military spending, especially for big-ticket items like aircraft carriers, fighters, bombers, missile defense systems, and so on.

Biden’s linking of the failed Afghan War to 9/11 and its forthcoming 20th anniversary is yet another exercise in pernicious lying by America’s vast national security state. Once again, we’re reminded that the first casualty in war is truth. And perhaps the last casualty of the Afghan War (whenever it really ends, at least for America) will also be truth.

The Tyranny of Low Expectations

Of the people, by the people, for the people

W.J. Astore

We often hear the USA is the richest, most powerful, most advanced, nation in the world. We also hear much talk about freedom and democracy in America, and how exceptional our country is. Given all these riches, all this power, and all this freedom, shouldn’t we have high expectations about what our government is able to accomplish for us?

Yet I’ve run across the opposite of this. I’ve come to think of it as the tyranny of low expectations. I see it most often when I criticize Joe Biden and the Democrats. I’m told that I expect too much, that Joe is doing his best but that his power is limited as president, and that I should wait patiently for party insiders to move the Biden administration ever so slightly toward the left. And if I keep criticizing Joe and Company, I’m dismissed as an unreasonable leftist who’s helping Trump and his followers, so the effect of my criticism is bizarrely equated to far-right Trumpism.

Here are a few items that I believe the richest, most powerful, most advanced nation in the world should do for its citizens in the cause of greater freedom and democracy:

  1. A living wage of at least $15 an hour for workers.
  2. Affordable single-payer health care for all.
  3. A firm commitment to ending child poverty.
  4. A firm commitment to affordable housing for all.
  5. A firm commitment to affordable education and major reductions in student debt.
  6. A Covid aid package dedicated to helping workers and small businesses.
  7. A government that is transparent to the people and accountable to them rather than one cloaked in secrecy and open for business only to the rich.

These items seem reasonable to me. They don’t seem “left” or “right.” They’re not too much to expect from the richest, most powerful, nation, the one that boasts of its exceptional freedom and its strong commitment to democracy.

The money is there. A trillion dollars a year is spent in the name of national defense. Trillions have been spent to bailout Wall Street and to wage wasteful wars overseas. Why is the money always there for Wall Street and wars and weapons but it’s rarely if ever there for workers and students and children?

Why do we persist in setting our expectations so low for “our” government, whether the POTUS of the moment is Trump or Biden or someone allegedly more competent and focused on “ordinary folk,” like Obama?

Warning to ideological warriors: This is not about Trump, or Biden, or your particular party allegiance. This is about creating a government that actually listens and responds to the needs of everyone, but especially to the weakest among us, those needing the most help in their pursuit of happiness.

Too simplistic? Too idealistic? I don’t think so. Not once we overthrow the tyranny of low expectations.

Somewhere I’ve read about a government of the people, by the people, for the people. We had better find it or reinvigorate it before it perishes from the earth.

The Incredible Shrinking Relief Check

W.J. Astore

Isn’t it nice to see them having fun?

I read the news today, oh boy …

Remember when Joe Biden promised a $2000 Covid relief check if the Democrats won both senatorial races in Georgia? He said they’d “go out the door immediately.” Well, immediately has turned into weeks and probably will turn into months. First, the Democrats reduced the amount to $1400, saying they’d meant all along that the previous $600 check had been included in Biden’s promise. OK–I almost believe that. Now the $1400 amount has shrunk to $1000, if the wishes of “moderate” Republican senators are upheld. Biden and Kamala Harris are meeting with these moderate Republicans today, seeking “bipartisan” accord on a much smaller relief package ($600 billion versus $1.9 trillion). It’s now all about “targeted” relief, based on family income as reported to the IRS.

Let’s think back, way into the past, when Donald Trump was president. Do you recall the Republicans meeting with Democrats to secure bipartisan support for what they wanted to do? Me neither. I recall Trump and Republicans doing pretty much what they wanted, with most Democrats along for the ride.

So, how does a $2000 relief check become $1400 become $1000 become nothing (if your income exceeds $50K, or $100K as a family)? When you have miserly and dishonest politicians in charge.

Democrats could have moved immediately (there’s that word again) to pass a simple Covid relief bill for $2000 checks, instead of trying to pass a complex relief package that’s scheduled for next month at the earliest. But simplicity would not allow room for pork-barrel politics as usual, hence the complicated course we’re now on. Meanwhile, struggling Americans wait … and wait … and wait.

Joe Biden is a business as usual president — emphasis on “business.” As Chris Hedges recently wrote, he’s papering over the cracks in a rotting edifice, doing the job he was hired to do by his paymasters. But bipartisan accord will mean less than nothing when the whole rotting building crashes down around us.

Is the USA the new USSR?

A shining example of awesome splendor and timeless exceptionalism

W.J. Astore

A Few Heretical Thoughts as America Celebrates Itself

Back in the days of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, most Americans took pride in not being like the USSR, or our image of the USSR. We, the USA, were not a militaristic empire. We, the USA, didn’t have state propaganda. We, the USA, took in Soviet dissidents who spoke out against state abuses of power and for personal freedoms. We, the USA, didn’t have old sclerotic leaders who were simply figureheads for elites. We, the USA, didn’t have military forces in the streets to maintain order. And so forth.

I was thinking about this today because Trump didn’t pardon Edward Snowden, whose only sanctuary is Russia. I was thinking about this today because some of the more interesting shows with critical coverage of the USA are on RT, a Russia-owned network. (I’m thinking here of shows hosted by Jesse Ventura and Chris Hedges. Their outspoken criticism and honesty is rarely heard on America’s mainstream media networks.) I was thinking today of a mainstream media that’s celebrating the inauguration of an aging man, Joe Biden, who’s visibly in decline and who is a tool for the establishment. I was thinking today of the nation’s capital that resembles an armed and fortified camp for a “peaceful” transference of power.

These are uncomfortable thoughts, I know.

Similarly, my wife and I were joking this morning about what the Washington Football Team should call itself, now that the “Redskins” has finally been rejected as impolitic and inappropriate. An innocuous name like the Washington Monuments came to mind. But if we wanted to be more honest, how about the Washington Lobbyists? The Washington Bullies? Or the Washington Awesome Splendor of Timeless Exceptionalism (WASTE)?

The idea for the latter name came from a recent statement the Trump administration released in support of a “Garden of American Heroes.” Here’s a sample of the rhetoric:

The garden’s purpose is “to reflect the awesome splendor of our country’s timeless exceptionalism.”

The garden of heroes “is America’s answer to [a] reckless attempt to erase our heroes, values and entire way of life. On its grounds, the devastation and discord of the moment will be overcome with abiding love of country and lasting patriotism. This is the American way.”

A garden of heroes is a perfect antidote to “a dangerous anti-American extremism that seeks to dismantle our country’s history, institutions and very identity.”

So, what Trump was saying is that America’s main enemy is “a dangerous anti-American extremism” that’s seeking to destroy our very identity. Meanwhile, anti-Trump forces are similarly arguing that Trump and his minions represent a dangerous anti-American extremism that’s out to destroy our way of life. Not much room for compromise and unity here, is there?

The Soviet Union collapsed in part due to internal tensions and disorder, massive military spending, and lost wars. A sclerotic leadership was incapable of changing course, and by the time the empire attempted to change course with Gorbachev, it was too late for restructuring and openness.

Is it already too late for the USA? Or does today’s pomp and ceremony promise a new beginning? Readers, what do you think?

Monday Musings

An increasingly common sight. This image is from the BLM protests in June. Note the POW/MIA flag below the American flag.

W.J. Astore

Remember when Trump said he wanted a military parade on the streets of Washington, D.C.? Looks like his dream’s come true, as the streets of Washington are filled with troops in preparation for Biden’s inauguration.

Biden’s message is supposed to stress “unity.” But unity for what? For single-payer universal health care? For an end to wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere? For much higher wages for workers? For a Green New Deal? “Unity” for “normalcy” is empty rhetoric of the worst kind. We need unity for policies that help the most vulnerable among us.

Republicans play to and favor their base. Democrats demobilize and betray their base.

Those rioters who stormed the Capitol — are they all lost causes? What would have happened if Obama had actually been a Progressive in 2008? What would have happened if Sanders had run against Trump in 2016? What I mean is this: Trump is offering a vision (even though it’s a lie) to his followers that mobilizes them. They want to “take back America,” but for the wrong reasons. What if Obama or Sanders (or someone like them) had offered a Progressive vision to “take back America”? But of course any meaningful economic reforms are blocked by the owners and donors of both parties, hence protest and its energy can be seized and directed in dark channels by charlatans like Trump.

Remember the old days when rulers — at risk of being killed or captured — led their troops into combat? And, if they refused to lead, were dismissed as cowards? We’re not living in those days.

Trump is the kind of schoolyard bully who instigates a fight but then stands on the sidelines, cheering and sneering until the teacher comes, after which he smirks and says, “It wasn’t me.”

I know 74 million Americans voted for Trump. But not all of them voted for all of the Trump circus. Many Republicans and Democrats are tribal voters — they’ll vote for their candidate no matter who he is and what he’s done. And I don’t blame all Trump voters for sticking with him when I consider the alternative choice of Joe Biden, a career pol who failed so miserably when he ran for president back in 1988 that he became a laughingstock in his own party.

I can only hope that Biden has learned something since 1988, when he stole speeches from Neil Kinnock and Bobby Kennedy and bragged he graduated near the top of his class on a full scholarship while winning a political science award. Fact is, he graduated near the bottom of his class on a half scholarship and won no such award. He also boasted about his IQ. He further falsely claimed to have participated in civil rights demonstrations and activism in the 1960s. (Bernie Sanders, by contrast, was arrested for his civil rights activism in the 1960s.)

More recently, Biden falsely claimed he’d been arrested while trying to see Nelson Mandela. In short, “alternative facts” won’t die when Trump leaves office.

All this is to say that Joe Biden is a typical politician, only more so. As Jimmy Dore says, politicians are not your friends; they are supposed to be public servants. It’s up to us to hold them to account, not to cheer for them. And if the Democratic party refuses to serve the people — as it likely will — a third party may be the only alternative.

Cutting the War Budget

We need McGovern-size cuts to America’s bloated war budget

W.J. Astore

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.

Because China

Why will this man be happy when Trump vetoes the NDAA?

W.J. Astore

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 …

Monday Musings, October Surprise Edition

My vote for 2020 is in …

W.J. Astore

The real October surprise is that there is no surprise. Trump or Biden will win, meaning Wall Street, Big Finance, and the Military-Industrial Complex win. (Biden is on record as saying he would increase defense spending!) All you “little people,” whether you’re for Trump or Biden: you lose.

My dad, born in 1917 and a survivor of the Great Depression, used to remind me you need three things in life: A roof over your head, three square meals, and clothes to keep you warm. (Nowadays, given the high cost of getting sick, I’d add health care coverage.) How sad is it that America may soon face a massive eviction crisis, and is already seeing people hungry in the streets, even as Wall Street booms? (Yes, I know America has had trouble housing and feeding people for decades — and it’s only getting worse.)

Amy Coney Barrett was picked for one reason, and one reason alone: Her mentors and handlers know how she will vote in the future. So much for judicial independence.

When you think about it, there shouldn’t be “liberal” or “conservative” justices. Each justice should interpret the law based on her understanding of it informed by her conscience. If this were true, justices would be more or less unpredictable in their rulings. But the justices are hopelessly politicized, rendering “justice” politicized as well.

Speaking of justice, Amy Coney Barrett is a friend of corporations; she’s also uncertain whether global warming even exists. Does this sound like a person with a strong conscience, someone who will fight for equality under the law?

What does it mean that the U.S. military is still at war in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but that few Members of Congress even attempt to exercise oversight of the same, let alone make an attempt to end these wars?

I got my ballot this weekend. Faced with a choice of voting for Biden and Harris versus Trump and Pence, I wrote in Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders, in that order. It’s the only way I couldn’t waste my vote.

Tulsi would make a great president. Young, insightful, smart, she’s taken a critical stance against the military-industrial complex and wants to end America’s awful regime-change wars. Bernie would make a terrific vice president. Seasoned, dedicated, he could focus on domestic policy while Tulsi remakes U.S. foreign policy. Imagine if Bernie really could advance his essential policies: Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage, free college education, relief of student debt, and so on. Gabbard and Sanders are the closest candidates to my positions, so I voted for them.

There are still plenty of good people in the USA, but callousness and cruelty are on the rise. Who knew that as the Covid-19 death toll soars past 200,000 to approach possibly as high as 400,000 by the new year, so many people would just shrug collectively and then consider voting for a man who so disastrously mismanaged the pandemic response? Trump — what a loser!

Speaking of Trump, is he even our president? As near as I can tell, he’s spent most of his presidential days golfing, tweeting, attending rallies, signing statements and holding them up like a child, and traveling to and from his various resorts. America’s next authoritarian autocrat will be far less lazy and spoiled — and far more dangerous to the world.

The Election Without a Future

Their vision for the future is stuck in the past

W.J. Astore

Isn’t it remarkable that Joe Biden and Donald Trump have no compelling vision of a future America?

Both Biden and Trump are retrograde candidates. Biden talks of restoration. He wants to restore comity and decency. To turn the clock back to a mythical time of bipartisan accord. A time when Americans sought to help other Americans. Trump, of course, is about division and carnage but he has his own vision of restoration. Trumps appeals to the America of the 1950s, before the Civil Rights movement, before the Vietnam War protests, before the Women’s Liberation movement, before Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, and (taking it back even further, to the Roaring Twenties, perhaps), before FDR’s New Deal.

It tells us something that Biden and Trump are so past-oriented. It suggests our best days are behind us, that we know, on some level, the future is in the crapper, what with extreme weather, anti-social technologies, forever wars, pandemics, exploding deficits, and the ever-growing gap between the richest few and poorest many.

The America I grew up in was future-oriented. Space travel would be routine. We’d have a moonbase; we’d have journeyed to Mars and Jupiter; we’d have flying cars; we’d have rewarding work, with more leisure time; we’d live longer, healthier, richer lives. That was a vision of the new millennium, but here we are, twenty years into it, and our political candidates look desperately (Biden) or maniacally (Trump) to pasts that never really existed.

A saying attributed to Yogi Berra is that the future ain’t what it used to be. Now it seems we have no future. Just one day after another, chasing our tails and calling it “progress.”

Why is this? Perhaps it’s because certain powerful forces in American society like things just the way they are. They’d rather have us fighting over which past is more comfortable to us than have us reaching for a new future without them in charge. That’s one big reason we have two presidential candidates in their seventies with their gear shifts locked permanently in reverse.

Biden and Trump both want us peering closely into the rear view mirror (even as Trump’s is more distorted) when we should be looking ahead through the windshield. Put differently, Biden is comity without change, and Trump is American carnage on steroids. Considering both, it’s an election without a future.