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 …

Ten Observations on the 2020 Election

No mandate except that nothing will fundamentally change

W.J. Astore

In no particular order, here are ten observations on this year’s election:

  • Trump lost the election more than Biden won it. Trump lost mainly because of the pandemic and the economy. Biden ran on little other than “not being Trump” and squeaked by on that weak message. Sure, he’s president, but he has no mandate.
  • 74 million Americans didn’t vote for Trump solely because he’s racist, sexist, bigoted, and ignorant. Sure, some of them voted due to White supremacy and so on, but some pro-Trump votes reflect the bankruptcy in ideas from Biden/Harris. The Democrats simply offered little to the working class, e.g. the total rejection of Medicare for All during a pandemic. Biden was quoted as saying nothing would fundamentally change in his administration. How’s that for inspiration?
  • To establishment Democrats like Biden, the Republicans may be rivals but Progressives are the real enemy. So far, Biden’s announced staff and cabinet has zero Progressives in it. “Diversity” for Biden and the DNC does not include diversity in policy views. “Good” policies are those that favor the donors and owners. Anyone to the left of Biden need not apply.
  • If the Democratic Presidential primaries taught us one thing, it’s that voters have no say. The DNC has the only say, and they pick the candidate who will best protect their sinecures, in this case Joe Biden. Voters were told, take him or vote for Trump. Or go pound sand.
  • The DNC exists to defeat Progressive challengers like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard. Both Sanders and Gabbard refused big cash from big donors, and that is simply not allowed. A “respectable” candidate must be beholden to the big donors, else the DNC simply won’t support you. Indeed, it will do most anything to stop you.
  • Surely one of the most despicable acts I’ve seen in politics was the smearing of Tulsi Gabbard as a Russian asset by NBC News and Hillary Clinton. They essentially denounced an Army major and Congresswoman as a traitor, or at the very least a useful idiot, a tool of the Kremlin. What was Tulsi’s main message again? Oh, she was against America’s wasteful and wanton regime-change wars.
  • The big winners of the 2020 election were predictable: Big pharma, private health insurance companies, the military-industrial complex, fossil fuel companies, and so on. Biden/Harris will continue to serve their interests.
  • When the senior leaders are Biden, McConnell, and Pelosi, you know Washington is bereft of new ideas and innovative leadership.
  • Even more ignored than climate change in this election was any serious talk of ending America’s wars overseas. Look for them to continue at least until 2024.
  • America remains a country of two parties: A Republican Party increasingly in Trump’s mold, and a Republican-lite Party (otherwise known as Democrats) in service to business and the moneyed interests. In a “pay to play” system, how could it be otherwise? The results of 2020 prove America needs a new party. Call it the Workers’ Party, the Progressive Party, the People’s Party, what-have-you, but recognize that, without campaign finance reform and public funding of elections, 2024 is likely to produce yet another round of a Trumpist candidate against a DNC corporate tool/Republican-lite. And they dare call it “choice”!

Readers: What did you learn from this election?

Biden the Republican

Gerontocracy, here we come

W.J. Astore

The predictable headlines are here: “Biden plans to reach across the aisle” to solicit Republican support. Even though he just won the popular vote by more than five million and a clear electoral victory as well, Biden must compromise with Republicans. Just because.

Remember when Donald Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million in 2016? And eked out electoral victories in three states? Did he feel the need “to reach across the aisle” to Democrats? Of course not. Trump and the Republicans took no prisoners. They got the tax cut they wanted. They did their best to overturn Obamacare. They got three supreme court justices. No reaching across the aisle required.

If Biden were a real Democrat, and the Democratic Party a real party, there’d be no premature talk of aisle-reaching and bipartisan handshaking. But Biden and the DNC are essentially moderate Republicans, as Barack Obama himself admitted in an interview. You might say they’re DINOs: Democrats in name only. Dinosaurs.

Speaking of dinosaurs, remember when Americans made fun of the aging leaders of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s? “Gerontocracy” is the word I remember back then. Joe Biden will be 78 when he takes office; Mitch McConnell, likely to remain the Senate majority leader will also be 78, and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, is 80. I have nothing against senior citizens, but it’s not a coincidence that the three most powerful people in U.S. government are 80 or pushing 80. They are all creatures of a system that is all about sustaining a status quo. A status quo in which two parties, one that’s center-right and the other far-right, work to ensure that money keeps flowing into the usual pockets, irrespective of world-changing events like climate change.

With respect to Biden’s cabinet, early reports are that we’ll see a lot of Obama and Clinton retreads espousing the usual neoliberal or neoconservative positions. They’ll be more “diverse” voices,” i.e. more women, more people of color, even an openly gay guy (Mayor Pete!), but the song will remain the same. I’m guessing not a single prominent progressive voice will be added to Biden’s cabinet. None.

With respect to action, I don’t see Biden even trying to expand the Supreme Court. I see a lot of half measures: a weak attempt at a “green” economy, a weak attempt at reforming Obamacare, perhaps an expansion of Medicare to cover people 60 and older, and so on. These and similar half measures will be consistent with what the donors and owners want. And if Biden fails even with this tepid plan, he can always blame Mitch McConnell and those obstinate Republicans who just can’t seem to reach across that same aisle that Biden is so eager to cross.

Of course, there is no “aisle” to reach across. There’s plenty of bipartisan consensus already in Washington. One clear example is at the Pentagon and the Defense budget, which continues to soar no matter which party is in power.

The only “aisle” Biden truly needs to reach across is the progressive one within his own party — and I can almost guarantee you it’s the one he’s least likely to cross.

Thoughts on Election Day

W.J. Astore

Some thoughts on this presidential election day:

  1. Trump isn’t running against Biden/Harris. He’s running against a caricature of the Democratic Party. The usual lies: the “radical left” is coming to take your guns; they hate America; they want open borders so that America will be flooded with non-white foreigners; they’re godless socialists; they favor abortion on demand; they want to turn your kids against you by controlling education; and so on. The truth is entirely the opposite: Biden/Harris are in fact the darlings of Wall Street and are without a radical bone in their bodies.
  2. Trump and the Republicans are running without a platform. It’s rather remarkable that the Republican Party is totally subservient to Trump. Meanwhile, Trump’s “platform” is more of the same, including yet another capital gains tax cut. And if Trump wins, you can count on the “radical” Democrats approving that tax cut.
  3. Trump still wants to overturn Obamacare during a pandemic, which could lead to 20 million people losing their health care coverage. It’s no surprise that repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helps the rich the most, as their taxes will decrease. (As an aside, polls show Americans favor the ACA more than they do Obamacare: they are, of course, the exact same thing.)
  4. Trump’s rallies have served as super-spreader events for Covid-19. In short, the president is a pandemic vector, yet his supporters continue to love him and defend him. Death cult?
  5. Way back in April 2019, I picked Biden/Harris as the Democratic dream ticket. You know: an elder white guy balanced by a younger black woman, sort of like a network news team that is supposed to show inclusion and diversity while broadcasting steadiness. Yes, the fix was in from the beginning. Biden has said nothing will fundamentally change under his administration, the one promise he will be certain to keep.
  6. Compared to Biden supporters, Trump supporters are more fired up, more committed to their man and how he makes them feel. Meanwhile, Trump is at pains to show how many people cheer for him at his rallies. If Trump loses, how will these supporters process that loss?
  7. I can’t remember a presidential election in which foreign policy has been so infrequently discussed. Presidents possess the most latitude in dealing with other countries, yet rarely did Biden or Trump answer any questions in detail about world affairs. The impression from their “debates” is that China and Russia are enemies and that a new cold war is essentially inevitable. Neither candidate talked about defense spending except to stress it probably would go up. The U.S. dominance of the world’s trade in weapons went unremarked upon. America’s wars they pretty much ignored.
  8. A final thought: If you think your vote is worthless, you’re wrong. If it was worthless, various forces wouldn’t be trying to buy it, or block it, or otherwise restrict it. The choices may be depressing, but I’ve found voting itself to be uplifting. Get out there and vote!

Trump’s Secret: He Delivers to His Base

Trump, delivering to his base, even if it’s all image

W.J. Astore

Chatting with friends today via email, we discussed Trump’s prospects for a second term. Trump could win again, one friend said. “Could” win? He’s got this thing locked up, another friend added. It’s beginning to feel that way.

What’s Trump’s secret? Sure, he’s a shameless con man. He passes himself off as a “law and order” man even as his own way of living demonstrates lawlessness and disorder. Sure, his ignorance, his narcissism, and his laziness have combined to produce 200,000 American deaths from Covid-19, a figure that should have been far smaller with firm leadership from an engaged president.

Yet his supporters don’t hold him responsible for any of this: deaths, disorder, lawlessness in the government, who cares? They favor Trump because he gives them what they want. He makes them feel good.

Can you say the same of Joe Biden? Biden is largely a cipher who’s been picked by the donor class precisely because he’s predictable. His appeals to the progressive base of his party are at best lukewarm. While Trump feeds his base red meat, Biden gives his some warmed up, somewhat spoiled, leftovers.

Trump is an empty shell of man, devoid of compassion and humility. But he knows how to sell, and he knows how to deliver, even if that delivery isn’t quite what one was expecting. So, for example, he hasn’t built much of his great big beautiful wall along the southern border, and Mexico sure isn’t paying for it, but Trump has kept fighting for it. New portions of the wall are being built. And his base likes this because they like walls that allegedly keep out killers and rapists and they like Trump for persisting. Even if the final result is ineffective, a colossal waste of money, it made his base feel better. And Trump knows this.

Trump is delivering with the Supreme Court as well, with help from the ultimate Washington swamp creature, Mitch McConnell. How did Obama do with his Supreme Court choice in 2016? That poor weak man had his pick stolen from him. You think Trump and McConnell are going to let Democrats block or cheat them? Forget about it.

In four short years, Trump will deliver three supreme court justices who are conservative and who will likely overturn Roe v. Wade, sealing the support of evangelicals until End Times. Again, like him or loathe him, Trump has delivered to his base.

Remember when Obama promised hope and change in 2008 and then hired all the usual suspects in Washington to protect businesses and the bankers while screwing the little people? Remember when Obama instantly caved on the idea of universal health care as he worked toward what became Obamacare, which is basically Romneycare and originally a conservative idea? Remember when Obama admitted his policies were basically those of a moderate Republican? So do I.

That’s why we got Trump in 2016. That and the terrible campaign his Democratic rival ran. “I’m with her,” but she wasn’t with me or the majority of Americans, so she lost. Now we have Joe Biden, yet another Democrat who wants to win without promising anything to the base that will upset his donors.

And how does that base feel about Joe? My sense is they are, at best, ambivalent. They don’t trust him. And why should they? Biden is establishment, unexciting, and past his prime. Trump is anti-establishment (in his poses), exciting (in a violent and visceral way), and still hitting on most of his cylinders. Edge to Trump.

Look: Readers of Bracing Views know I despise Trump. I find Biden unreliable as well as uninspiring. His message, so far, is “I’m not Trump.” And I don’t think that’s enough.

You need to inspire. You need to make people feel — something. Trump does this, mostly in a highly charged and negative way. His followers like him and think that Trump knows them and cares about them. Biden is not connecting, not in the same charged way as Trump does, and he’s not giving the Democratic base much of anything.

If the Democrats lose yet again, they had better change tactics and actually play to their base, else you can start penciling in Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner as America’s president and “first man” in 2024.

RIP RBG, Advantage GOP

W.J. Astore

This summer I read a really good book: “Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law,” by Jeffrey Rosen. I was impressed by Ginsburg’s clarity, coherence, and especially by her compassion. The Supreme Court and the country have lost a giant.

Now, of course, Mitch McConnell has already vowed a Senate hearing for her replacement prior to the election on November 3rd. His rank hypocrisy and slimy opportunism are eminently predictable. But I really don’t blame Mitch. He’s just doing what swamp creatures do.

No — I blame the Democrats. When Mitch McConnell blocked President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee in 2016, Obama could have done something. There were options. But the Democrats assumed Hillary Clinton would win and she’d get to nominate her first Supreme Court justice, so they caved to Mitch’s obstructionism. That craven strategy got us Donald Trump and Neil Gorsuch. (And, later, the bonus of Brett Kavanaugh.)

Meanwhile, at the lower court levels, Chuck Schumer in the Senate has served as a rubber stamp for Mitch McConnell’s remake of the courts with ultra-conservative judges. Schumer, it must be said, is basically doing the bidding of his masters in the donor class, who are more than happy to see a large number of pro-business, anti-regulatory, judges being appointed to various federal courts.

With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Republicans will doubtless nominate someone who’s the polar opposite of RBG. Someone without much compassion, a partisan hack no doubt, someone dedicated to overturning Roe v. Wade, even though the nominee will use the usual weasel words about respecting judicial precedent.

RBG’s death is a major blow, not only because we lost a great justice and an admirable person, but because it will unleash the Republicans to do their worst even as the Democrats will once again reveal their pusillanimity in the face of determined opposition.

If only more Democrats had the spine of RBG. Rest in peace, Ruth. You did all that you could to make this country a better place.

What Trump Can Do to Win Again (Fair and Square)

With Trump trailing in the polls, some people have suggested an “October surprise” looms, such as a provocation against Iran, that could swing the election. But what if this “surprise” is something different. What if Trump decides to outflank Biden on an issue of great importance to ordinary Americans. It’s a scenario that’s more than possible, as the redoubtable M. Davout argues in his latest article for this site. W.J. Astore

He’s willing to thump a Bible — why not thump Medicare for All?

M. Davout

In my first contribution to Bracing Views a little more than four years ago, I appealed, as an enthusiastic advocate for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primaries, to fellow Bernie supporters in swing states to vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming general election. This election cycle I will be taking a different approach.

The virtual Democratic National Convention for the 2020 general election has just ended with the nomination of a candidate, Joe Biden, whose political instincts, record in office, and stated policy goals are in most essential respects updates of Clinton’s. Despite the convention speakers’ almost universal silence about policy, we can expect from a Biden win a continuation of what has largely been the Democratic Party policy agenda of the last forty years: maintenance of the US global military umbrella, protection of neoliberal economic interests, and gestures of racial inclusiveness and multicultural tolerance.

If Biden wins, it will be because of Trump’s catastrophic public health leadership failures in the face of the Covid pandemic, which has radically disrupted social life, tanked many parts of the economy, and thus far killed 175,000+ American lives. And Trump’s heartless and authoritarian response to the mobilization of millions of people in street demonstrations affirming that Black Lives Matter has not helped his electoral prospects.

In his acceptance speech, Biden emphatically told us that if elected he will take effective action to get a grip on the Covid crisis. Yet, on other occasions, he has also told us that if he wins, he will not fundamentally address the more insidious and chronic crisis of tens of millions of Americans with few, if any, health care options, even going so far as to say that he would veto any Medicare-for-All bill passed by Congress. On the issue of policing, he has been up front about his intention not to challenge the militarized and racist institutions of policing in this country other than to call for more training and prohibition of police use of choke holds.

The sad truth is that of the two major party candidates, only one has ever run a national campaign as an economic populist and it isn’t the current standard bearer of the Democratic Party. In 2016, Donald Trump promised Americans that he would get all of them great health care, take on Big Pharma and make prescription drugs affordable, end the hemorrhaging of American lives and treasure in foreign wars and drain the swamp by putting a stop to special interest corruption of members of Congress. Trump was lying, of course, but these lies were just effective enough in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania because the Democratic Party had lost all credibility as the party of working people.

So, this cycle, rather than try to persuade my fellow Bernie supporters once again to vote democratic, let me try a different approach and offer Trump some electoral advice. Give a nationally televised Oval Office speech in which you commit to stopping the pandemic and embrace, as one of the main pillars of your pandemic response, Medicare-for-All. Tell the American people the truth—that the private health insurance system in the U.S. has failed to protect the health of the American people and instead has lined the pockets of CEOs, rich shareholders, medical specialists, insurance industry lobbyists and members of Congress. Tell them that ensuring universal and affordable access to healthcare through universal expansion of Medicare is an essential step not only in defeating Covid-19 but also in protecting against the pandemics that might occur down the road. A true nation-state takes care of its own and Medicare-for-All will Make America Great Again.

As a certified political scientist, I can guarantee that you stand only to gain electorally by taking this advice. You won’t lose your business supporters and anti-Communist Republican voters–they will know that you are lying. The idea of universal health insurance based on the expansion of a system on which their parents and grandparents have relied will be attractive to your white working class base voters who have suffered disproportionately from opioid and alcohol addiction and deaths. And, who knows, maybe some progressives, unhinged by Biden’s hostility to universal coverage, will pull the lever for you. It may be enough to keep Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in your column (and maybe even swing Minnesota your way).

I give this advice not because I want Trump to win but because of my conviction that until the Democratic Party is forced to compete for working class votes on the basis of economic populism, we are going to be locked into an ever more dangerous cycle of alternating rule by neoliberal Democrats and nationalist-racist Republican populists.

M. Davout teaches political science in the Deep South.

Believe Women Is Now Believe Obama

Joe-Biden
Joe Biden has a history of getting up close and personal — but Obama says it’s OK, according to Tom Perez

W.J. Astore

Tara Reade’s allegations of sexual assault against Joe Biden have generated a spate of hypocrisy, special pleading, and revealing responses like Nancy Pelosi’s statement that “Joe Biden is Joe Biden” (touchy-feely with girls and women, in other words).

But this response by Tom Perez, head of the DNC, may be the most revealing of all, as quoted in The Guardian:

Senior Democrats continue to rally round Biden. On Sunday the party chair, Tom Perez, dismissed calls for the Democratic National Committee to launch an investigation.

Biden is an “open book” who has been thoroughly vetted, the former labor secretary told ABC’s This Week, adding: “[The Obama administration] looked at the entire history of Joe Biden, his entire career. If Barack Obama had any indication that there was an issue, Barack Obama would not have had him as his vice-president. [emphasis added]

“Barack Obama trusted Joe Biden. I trust Joe Biden. And those investigations have been done.”

There you have it.  Believe women has morphed into believe Barack Obama, at least for accusations against Joe Biden.  The saintly Obama wouldn’t have picked Joe as his VP if Joe wasn’t a great guy.  Right?

Joe Biden has unequivocally denied Reade’s account of sexual assault in 1993.  He says it didn’t happen — end of story.  If so, why should the DNC fear an investigation, which could only exonerate Biden further, according to his own account?  Why not search Biden’s sealed papers at the University of Delaware, the most likely repository for Reade’s complaint from 1993?  (The National Archives wouldn’t have this complaint.)  So far, Joe Biden is insisting that these papers remain sealed.

Tara Reade’s account has considerable corroborating evidence.  There’s evidence to suggest she was effectively demoted within the Biden office after filing her complaint in 1993.  Surely the DNC should seek the most thorough investigation before going all-in on Joe Biden.  Right?

But the fix has been in since the very beginning.  Joe Biden is the nominee, credible accusations be damned.  After all, if Obama picked him, how can he be anything less than a great and wonderful guy?

Joe Biden Has Already Served His Purpose

again
Sorry, Bernie.  Another establishment tool has blocked you.

W.J. Astore

Joe Biden has already served his purpose: he drew enough support from Democrats to block the path of Bernie Sanders to the nomination.

Everything Bernie Sanders is, Joe Biden is not.  Bernie has integrity.  Bernie has ideas.  Bernie has passion.  Bernie mobilizes the progressive base.  And Bernie wants true change that helps workers.

Biden lacks integrity (he lies, easily and routinely).  Biden has no new ideas (he just promises a return to the Obama years).  Biden has no passion (hence Trump’s telling nickname for him, “Sleepy Joe”).  Biden wants to squash the progressive base.  And Biden wants no change (indeed, he’s on the record as telling big donors that nothing significant would change in a Biden administration).

The DNC now has its dream candidate: a figurehead, a man known for plagiarizing the speeches of others, a man who’s been in the pocket of banks and credit card companies, a man facing a credible sexual assault charge with a creepy video record of putting his hands on women and even young girls in ways that cause obvious physical discomfort to those being touched.  Biden’s response?  In part, he made a joke out of it.  (His joke was that a child gave him “permission” to touch him, which was wrong on several levels.)

Again, the DNC knows Biden’s faults and weaknesses.  But party power brokers support him anyway.  Why?  Because he’s a man with no spine, someone who can be shoved around to support the agendas of those doing the shoving.

Biden’s campaign promises to inhibit changes of substance.  And for the DNC and the donor class, that’s the very definition of victory.