Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight

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Tulsi Gabbard’s promotion to major

W.J. Astore

Donald Trump attended a high school military academy.  But when the Vietnam War came calling, he developed heel spurs that kept him out of the military.  In the case of Joe Biden, it was asthma that kept him on the sidelines of that war.  Dick Cheney had multiple student deferments and “higher priorities” than serving, as he put it.  George W. Bush got a safe spot in the Texas Air National Guard.  John Kerry, ironically, did serve in the military during Vietnam but famously turned against that war.  His service was “Swift-boated” into infamy even as Bush/Cheney were being applauded by some for their alleged toughness.

When it comes to service in the military, U.S. politicians typically vote with their feet, meaning they double-time away from joining the ranks.  This is nothing new, of course.  During the U.S. Civil War, the rich could pay for substitutes if they were drafted.  When it comes to war, it’s very often a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight.

Interestingly, there are two Democratic candidates who are veterans of America’s most recent wars: Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.  According to his website, Mayor Pete “served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and took an unpaid seven-month leave during his mayoral term to deploy to Afghanistan. For his counterterrorism work, he earned the Joint Service Commendation Medal.”  Sounds impressive, yet a “joint service commendation medal” is a standard-issue medal for any company-grade officer who completes such an assignment without screwing up in a major way.  It’s a little like a participation trophy in a Little League tournament.

Despite Mayor Pete’s fairly limited military experience, his web site boasts that if he’s elected president, he’ll take office with the most military experience since George H.W. Bush, who served in the U.S. Navy in combat during World War II.

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s military record is far more extensive than Mayor Pete’s.  She joined the Army National Guard soon after 9/11 and deployed to Iraq during some of the most bitter fighting in that country.  She’s currently a major in the Guard and has spoken extensively about how her military service informs her positions against wasteful, regime-change, wars.  According to her web site, “Having experienced first-hand the true cost of war, Tulsi made a personal vow to find a way to ensure that our country doesn’t continue repeating the mistakes of the past, sending our troops into war without a clear mission, strategy, or purpose.”

Tonight, there’s yet another Democratic debate featuring Mayor Pete as well as Congresswoman Gabbard.  It will be interesting to see if they’re called on specifically for their views on military issues, such as Trump’s recent decision to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria.

In fact, I’d like to hear the views of all twelve Democrats on that stage tonight on the question of America’s forever wars, and why these wars have illustrated that old story of war being in the service of the rich even as the poor pay the ultimate price.  Given America’s supine Congress, our presidents have enormous power over life and death in making war across the globe.  When are we going to rein that power in?  When are we going to stop fighting foolish and destructive wars that have nothing to do with safeguarding America?

Until we honestly — even ruthlessly — address these questions, America will continue to witness generational wars for the rich fought by the poor.

Trump Is the Grinch: What I Learned from Last Night’s Debate

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Almost the exact expression Trump wore through most of the debate

W.J. Astore

In the last formal debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, here are a few things I heard:

1. Hillary thinks Trump is unqualified to be president.  Trump thinks Hillary should be locked up as a criminal.

2.  Trump thinks Hillary is a nasty woman.  Hillary thinks Trump is a Russian puppet.

3.  Hillary thinks Trump may start a nuclear war.  Trump thinks Hillary is a loser who will make America vulnerable to foreign powers.

4.  Trump thinks the election is rigged and that the media is firmly in Hillary’s corner. Hillary thinks Trump is encouraging Russia to hack and manipulate the election.

5.  Trump thinks Hillary supports the ripping of babies from the wombs of mothers (late-term abortions).  Hillary thinks Trump is a serial assaulter of women.

6.  Trump says all nine women who accused him of unwanted sexual advances/assaults are either opportunists seeking a few minutes of fame, or stooges in the employ of the Clinton campaign.  Clinton says Trump is a tax dodger, an exploiter of immigrant labor, and an enthusiast for cheap Chinese steel at the expense of American workers.

7.  Trump says Clinton is all talk and no action.  Clinton says Trump is a man who never apologizes and who never takes responsibility for his actions.

Yes, it was that bad.  Usually the question is “Who won the debate,” and the answer is clear: we the American people lost.  Put on the spot, I’d say that Hillary won because of Trump’s refusal to say whether he’d accept the result of the election.  That refusal to accept the will of the voters is fundamentally undemocratic.  To me, it made Trump look like a sore loser even before he’s lost.

I can’t imagine Trump or Hillary supporters had their minds changed while watching this debate.  But I can guess that Hillary picked up more undecided or fence-straddling voters. Why?  Because Trump’s message (as well as his demeanor) was so relentlessly negative. My wife could hardly stand being in the same room with Trump on the TV: he was, in a literal sense, giving her the creeps.  Something tells me many other women across America were similarly repulsed by Trump.  He was more than combative toward Hillary: he was sneering, condescending, and insulting.

Image is important in debates, and Hillary came across as the fresher of the two, the more likable, the more positive, the more focused.  As I watched Trump rant, I told my wife that he reminded me of the Grinch who stole Christmas, with his snarl and his hate and his withered heart.

Will the Grinch steal the election?  From the Grinch’s perspective, the election has already been stolen from him.  That’s my takeaway from the debate: that Trump is a sore loser even before he’s lost.

My post-debate prediction: Welcome to four more years of the Clintons, America.  See you in 2020.

Trump and Clinton: Poor Choices for America

Jeremy Scahill

Editor’s Note: Jeremy Scahill, author of “Dirty Wars,” minces no words in his reaction to Trump/Clinton and their second “debate.”  Scahill’s article appeared originally at The Intercept.

Trump may go away, but the people he has empowered will not

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09:  Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump responds to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. This is the second of three presidential debates scheduled prior to the November 8th election.  (Photo by Rick Wilking-Pool/Getty Images)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the town hall debate at Washington University on Oct. 9, 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Photo: Rick Wilking/Getty Images

These presidential debates — certainly this one — serve as the most stark commentary on how bankrupt the U.S. electoral system is.

This is the choice the system produces for “viable” candidates.

The cartoonish villainy of Donald Trump is a major factor in distracting attention from the hawkish, neoliberal policies of Hillary Clinton. Hillary’s best selling point for a lot of people — Democrats and, increasingly, Republicans — is: I’m not batshit crazy like Trump.

There is rarely a focus on Clinton’s embrace of regime change, her role in creating the conditions, as secretary of state, for the horror show currently unfolding in Yemen, or her paramilitarization of the State Department. Clinton has never been asked about her role in the secret drone “kill chain” the Obama administration has now codified as a parallel justice system, where there are no trials, indictments, or convictions, but a whole lot of death sentences. Just as Clinton avoided real questions about Libya thanks to the clownfuck Republicans’ carnival over Benghazi, she emerges as the only choice for many sane people. That she is buddy-buddy with Wall Street, speaks one way to them and another way in public, becomes a footnote. She is the empire candidate and that is why the John Negropontes and Max Boots and George H.W. Bushes of the world have embraced her.

Here is the thing, though: Both Clinton’s and Trump’s candidacies have fucked us — albeit in different ways. Hillary represents more of the same bipartisan warmongering. And, under Obama, that has been met with a lot of silence and complicity from liberals. Depressing.

Whether Trump wins, loses, or loses big, he has empowered fascists, racists, and bigots. He did not create them, but he has legitimized them by becoming the nominee and openly expressing their heinous, hateful beliefs. This, to me, is one of the most frightening developments on a domestic level in the U.S. this election cycle. Trump may go away, but the people he has empowered will not.

On Nuclear Weapons, Trump is Nightmarishly Scary

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An Ohio-class nuclear submarine

W.J. Astore

Much of the post-debate analysis I’ve read from last night’s presidential debate has focused on Donald Trump’s crudeness, his threat to prosecute and jail his political opponent, the way in which he stalked her on the stage, looming in the background and crowding her, and finally his non-apology apology about “locker room banter.”  Yes: Trump is most definitely lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable, but that’s hardly the worst of his qualities.

His worst quality?  His sweeping ignorance to the point of recklessness when it comes to matters of national defense, and specifically America’s nuclear arsenal.

This is what Trump had to say last night about the U.S. nuclear deterrent:

But our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.

This is utter nonsense.  First off, nuclear weapons are not people.  They don’t get “tired” or “exhausted” or “old.”  Second, the U.S. nuclear program has not “fallen way behind” the programs of other nations, certainly not Russia’s.  Third, even if portions of Russia’s nuclear program are “new” (whatever that means), that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the United States.  “New” in this case may mean safer and more reliable systems that are less prone to catastrophic error.

Here’s an undeniable fact: The U.S. nuclear arsenal is by far the world’s most powerful and advanced.  The key aspect to nuclear capability is survivability, and nothing is more survivable than America’s force of Trident nuclear submarines.  Virtually impossible to detect, America’s Trident force is essentially capable of destroying the world.  One submarine carries enough missiles and warheads to devastate every major city in Russia (or any other country, for that matter).  What more is needed as a deterrent?

Specifically, an Ohio-class Trident submarine can carry up to 24 nuclear missiles, each with up to eight nuclear warheads, each warhead equivalent to roughly six Hiroshima bombs.  That represents a potential for hitting 192 targets, each with six times the impact of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 (which killed up to 200,000 people). That’s 1152 Hiroshimas from one submarine — a rough calculus, I know, but accurate enough to show the awesome might represented by a small portion of America’s nuclear force.

The Trident missiles are also incredibly accurate, with a circular error probability of less than 150 meters.  And the U.S. has 14 of these submarines.  (Not all are on patrol at any one time.) These highly sophisticated and ultra-powerful submarines are further augmented by land-based ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and bomber planes (the “air-breathing” element), forming the other two legs of the American nuclear triad. Again, when it comes to redundancy, accuracy, and survivability, no other country comes close to America’s nuclear capability.

This awesome nuclear force is not a sign the U.S. is “old” and “tired” and “exhausted.” It’s a sign that the U.S. is incredibly powerful, and, if you’re a foreign leader, incredibly dangerous, especially if America’s next commander-in-chief is undisciplined, thin-skinned, and in possession of a scattershot knowledge of military matters.

Back in March of this year, Trump boasted at a debate that the U.S. military would follow his orders irrespective of their legality.  In this latest debate, he yet again revealed that he has no real knowledge of America’s nuclear capability and how modern and powerful (and scary) it truly is.

Sure, Trump is crude, lewd, and sexist, but those qualities won’t destroy the world as we know it.  Ignorance about nuclear weapons, combined with impetuosity and an avowed affection for he-man wild-card generals like George S. Patton and Douglas MacArthur, is a recipe for utter disaster.

The Republican Debate: Attack of the Clones!

W.J. Astore

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s one:

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From left to right, we have Kasich, Fiorina, Rubio, Carson, Trump, Cruz, Jeb!, Christie, and Paul.

Look closely.  Rubio, Trump, Cruz, Jeb!, Christie, and Paul are following the standard sartorial script for “conservative” politicians: dark suits, red power ties, flag lapel pins.  Obedient to their image consultants, they are conforming to the notion that one can appear confident and patriotic just by donning that red tie and flag pin.  In the spirit of the “Star Wars” season, let’s call this the “Attack of the Clones.”

Then you have Fiorina.  She upstages the men with a power red suit, complete with an ostentatious cross to assure viewers that she’s not just a kickass former CEO: She’s a kickass Christian CEO.

Fiorina Rubio

Then we have Dr. Ben Carson.  Yes, he has the (nearly) obligatory flag lapel pin, but kudos to him for wearing a smart blue tie with white polka dots.  His tie is much like the way the candidate speaks: calm and measured.  (The content of his speech is often a different story.)

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Finally we have John Kasich.  A soft blue tie and no flag lapel pin.  Why do you hate America, Governor Kasich?

Kasich

Well, if I had to vote for a Republican based purely on optics, I’d go for Kasich.  Imagine a Republican candidate brave enough not to wear a power red tie and a flag lapel pin.  With no Christian crosses in sight.

Perhaps Kasich actually wants to be judged by his words and deeds?