The Smearing of Tulsi Gabbard

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Tulsi Gabbard and her most infamous accuser

W.J. Astore

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is a compelling choice for president in 2020.  She’s principled, she’s against America’s disastrous regimen of regime-change wars, and she’s got the guts to criticize her own party for being too closely aligned with rich and powerful interests.  She’s also a military veteran who enlisted in the Army National Guard in Hawaii after the 9/11 attacks (she currently serves as a major and deployed overseas to Iraq during that war).

What’s not to like about a female veteran who oozes intelligence and independence, a woman who represents diversity (she’s a practicing Hindu and a Samoan-American), an early supporter of Bernie Sanders who called out the DNC for its favoritism toward Hillary Clinton …

Aha!  There you have it.  Back in February 2016, Gabbard resigned her position as vice-chair of the DNC to endorse Sanders, and the DNC, controlled by establishment centrists like the Clintons as well as Barack Obama, have never forgiven her.  Recently, Hillary Clinton smeared her (as well as Jill Stein, Green Party candidate from 2016) as a Russian asset, and various mainstream networks and news shows, such as “The View” and NBC, have suggested (with no evidence) she’s the favored candidate of Russia and Vladimir Putin.

Think about that.  Hillary Clinton and much of the mainstream media are accusing a serving major in the U.S. military of being an asset to a foreign power.  It’s an accusation bordering on a charge of treason — a charge that is libelous and recklessly irresponsible.

A reminder: Tulsi Gabbard enlisted in the military to serve her country in the aftermath of 9/11.  What did Hillary Clinton do?  Can you imagine Hillary going through basic training as a private, or serving in the military in a war zone?  (Hillary did falsely claim that she came under sniper fire in Bosnia, but that’s a story for another day.)

Tulsi Gabbard is her own person.  She’s willing to buck the system and has shown compassion and commitment on the campaign trail.  She may be a long shot, but she deserves a long look for the presidency, especially when you consider the (low) quality of the enemies she’s made.

The Democratic Debate That Wasn’t

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W.J. Astore

Last night witnessed another scrum among the top twelve Democratic challengers.  It wasn’t really a debate since each candidate only had a minute or two to respond to questions.  I’ve seen headlines describing the debate as “the moderates versus the progressives,” with the usual scorecards about which candidates “won” and “lost,” but I don’t think any candidate “won.”  And it was the American people who clearly lost.

First, what was missing.  There was no serious discussion of U.S. foreign policy, of America’s military-industrial complex and colossal “defense” budgets, or of climate change.  The situation in Syria was discussed in the context of President Trump’s alleged betrayal of the Kurds, but that was all.  There was no discussion about nuclear weapons and their proliferation (and America’s decision to “modernize” our arsenal at a cost of at least a trillion dollars).  There was no discussion of America’s overseas empire of 800 military bases.  There was no serious discussion about ending the Afghan War, or the enormous cost of America’s wars since 9/11.

So, what was discussed?  Trump’s impeachment, of course.  Medicare for all versus “choice.”  A woman’s right to control her own body (obviously a very important subject).  How and whether to change the Supreme Court.  Taxes.  Guns.  Tech monopolies.  Opioid abuse and holding drug companies responsible for the same.  Even Ellen’s friendship with George W. Bush.

CNN and the New York Times sponsored the debate, hence they controlled the questions.  The initial goal seemed to be to get Elizabeth Warren to admit she’d have to raise taxes to pay for her Medicare plan.  She largely ducked the issue, insisting the rich and corporations would pay for it.  Another question raised the specter of Bernie Sanders’s health after his recent heart attack, and also of Joe Biden’s age, i.e. that if he’s elected, he’ll turn 80 while he’s in office.  It was that kind of “debate.”

Speaking of Joe Biden, he didn’t perform well in this debate.  He often misspoke and his answers drifted off course.  I can see why the smart money is gravitating toward Elizabeth Warren.

Another person who suffered from the debate format was Tulsi Gabbard.  Few questions were directed her way, and she was often ignored or cut off as she tried to speak.  Her attempt to challenge Elizabeth Warren on her qualifications to be commander-in-chief went unanswered as CNN cut to commercials.  Nice try, Tulsi, but CNN was having none of that.

With respect to Trump and Syria, only Tulsi Gabbard attempted to explain the long history of U.S. involvement in the area, which was, in essence, a regime-change war directed against Bashar al-Assad.  (Recall that President Obama in 2015 said that Assad had to go.)  But again CNN was having none of that, and Tulsi’s point was left hanging as other candidates babbled about not serving the agenda of Vladimir Putin.

And there you have it: yet another debate from which the American empire and the military-industrial complex emerged as the clear victors.

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.

A Surprise Winner in the Democratic Presidential Debates for 2020

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Bernie and Tulsi: the only candidates willing to call out the military-industrial complex

W.J. Astore

I watched the two Democratic debates this week.  Media outlets treat them as a horse race, announcing winners and losers.  So perhaps you heard Kamala Harris scored big-time against Joe Biden.  Or perhaps you heard Elizabeth Warren did well, or that Tulsi Gabbard generated lots of post-debate interest (Google searches and the like).  I will say that Beto O’Rourke was clearly unprepared (or over-prepared) and unable to speak clearly and meaningfully, so count him as a “loser.”

All that said, the clear winner wasn’t on the stage; it wasn’t even among the 20 debate participants.  The name of that clear winner: America’s military-industrial complex and its perpetual wars.

Sure, there was some criticism of the Afghan and Iraq wars, especially by candidates like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard.  But there was no criticism of enormous “defense” budgets ($750 billion and rising, with true outlays exceeding a trillion a year), and virtually no mention of Saudi Arabia and the war in Yemen.  (Tulsi briefly mentioned the Saudis and was shut down; Bernie mentioned the war in Yemen and was ignored.)

The only direct mention of the military-industrial complex that I recall hearing was by Bernie Sanders.  Otherwise, the tacit assumption was that soaring defense budgets are appropriate and, at least in these debates, unassailable.

Bernie and Tulsi also mentioned the threat of nuclear war, with Bernie making a passing reference to the estimated cost of nuclear forces modernization (possibly as high as $1.7 trillion).  Again, he had no time to follow up on this point.

NBC’s talking heads asked the questions, so blame them in part for no questions on the MI Complex and the enormous costs of building world-ending nuclear weapons.  Indeed, the talking heads were much more concerned with “gotcha” questions against Bernie, which attempted to paint him as a tax-and-spend socialist who doesn’t care about diversity.  Yes, that really was NBC’s agenda.

Always, Democrats are asked, “How will you pay for that?”  You know: “extravagances” like more affordable education, better health care, a tax cut that helps workers, or investments in job training programs and infrastructure.  But when it comes to wars and weapons, there are never any questions about money.  The sky’s the limit.

A reminder to Democrats: Donald Trump won in 2016 in part because he was willing to denounce America’s wasteful wars and to challenge defense spending (even though he’s done nothing as president to back up his campaign critique).  We need true Peace Democrats with spine, so I remain bullish on candidates like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard.

Hopefully, in future debates Bernie, Tulsi, and others will call for major reforms of our military and major cuts to our bloated Pentagon budget.  But don’t count on that issue being raised by the mainstream media’s talking heads.

Bonus Winner: I can’t recall a single mention of Israel and the Palestinians, not even in the context of framing a peace plan.  No mention of America’s role in Venezuela either.  The imperial and aggressive neo-con agenda on foreign policy went almost unchallenged, but kudos to Tulsi Gabbard for calling out the “chickenhawks” (her word, and the right one) in the Trump administration.

The Dream Democratic Ticket for 2020

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Clockwise from left: Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren.  Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Sergio Flores/Getty Images, Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP/Getty Images.

W.J. Astore

Now that Joe Biden is officially in the race, the dream Democratic ticket has emerged: Biden and Kamala Harris.

By “dream,” I don’t mean the Progressive dream.  I don’t mean the dream of working-class voters who are hurting.  I don’t mean the dream of Americans who are tired of never-ending wars that enfeeble our economy (and kill lots of people, mainly foreigners).  Those “dream” candidates are true Progressives like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard.  A Sanders/Gabbard ticket would truly shake things up, which is why it’s not going to happen, as much as I’d like to see it.

No — the corporate-loving DNC wants to preserve the status quo, wants to feed the military-industrial complex, wants big funding from Wall Street, and therefore favors status quo candidates like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

A likely scenario in 2020: Bernie Sanders wins the most votes and delegates, but Joe Biden emerges as a close second.  With all the other candidates (roughly 20 now) splitting the vote, no candidate has enough delegates to win in the first round at the national convention.  So the super-delegates (remember them?), the corporate tools, spring into action in the second and subsequent rounds of voting and throw their support to the “sensible, electable” candidate, in this case Biden.  But of course they can’t let an old white guy represent the “new” Democratic Party, and that’s where Kamala Harris comes in.  She’s black!  And a woman!  And makes noises that sound slightly progressive.  The perfect balanced ticket!  Shut up and color, liberals and Progressives.

Of course, if gaffe-prone Biden implodes, a distinct possibility, there are other safe white guys waiting in the wings to headline the ticket.  Mayor Pete?  Beto O’Rourke?

It’s all so sadly predictable.  And so too is Biden’s loss to Trump in 2020.

P.S.  To state the obvious, I hope I’m wrong about this.

What Do Leading Democrats Believe In?

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Would you buy a used car from them?

W.J. Astore

Give me five minutes, and I can tell you exactly what Bernie Sanders believes in.  Single-payer health care for all.  A $15 minimum wage.  Higher taxes on the richest Americans.  College education that doesn’t bankrupt families and leave students with crushing debt.  Criminal justice reform.  Investment in infrastructure and renewable energy.  He gives specifics, and he’s walked a principled walk for decades.

But what does the Democratic Partly leadership believe in?  As this article at Truthdig put it, “Nancy Pelosi Believes In Nothing.”  Of course, she does believe in something: her own power and privilege, which she seeks to maintain and expand.  But principles like those held by Bernie Sanders?  Forget about it.

I’ve been reading Matt Taibbi’s “The Great Derangement,” a terrific book that came out in 2008, and Taibbi nails it in this passage (pages 243-4):

The Democrats’ error was in believing that people wouldn’t notice this basic truth [that the party’s ideology is driven by power and nothing more] about their priorities. They were wrong on that score. In fact, a Quinnipiac poll taken around that time [2007] found the approval rating of Congress had fallen to 23 percent. Other polls saw the number plummet to the teens. The rating of the Democratic Congress was even lower than [George W.] Bush’s, and it was not hard to see why. Bush was wrong and insane, but he stood for something. It was a fucked-up something, but it was something. The Democrats stood for nothing; they viewed their own constituents as problems to be handled, and even casual voters were beginning to see this.

If you substitute Trump’s name for Bush’s in the above quotation, it makes even more sense.  “[Trump] was wrong and insane, but he stood for something. It was a fucked-up something, but it was something.”

This is the biggest issue for corporate Democrats: What do you stand for?  For so many in the establishment, what they stand for is themselves.  The perpetuation of their own power and privilege.  This is the biggest reason why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.  It was always all about her.

Another quotation from Matt Taibbi made me laugh out loud even as I winced at the harsh truth of it (page 190):

You don’t elect politicians to commit crimes; you elect politicians to make your crimes legal. That is the whole purpose of the racket of government.

In this case, the “you” in question are all the banks, corporations, and other vested interests that essentially buy our politicians.  Until we get big money out of politics, this corruption will persist.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t take corporate money.  Neither does Tulsi Gabbard.  But most of the current batch of Democratic candidates for president in 2020 do take money from big corporate and financial donors.  And that should tell you what they believe in: their own power and privilege, and little else.

Speaking of Bernie Sanders, I recently read a depressing article in the Nation by Eric Alterman who argued Bernie can’t win in 2020.  Why?  Supposedly because Americans won’t elect a socialist, and also because Trump and the Republican attack machine will convince Americans he’s simply too radical.

WTF?  Americans are desperate for leaders who believe in something rather than nothing.  That’s why Trump won in 2016.  Again, in the spirit of Taibbi, Trump may be batshit crazy, but he does take a stand, e.g. “Build the wall.”  The best way to defeat Trump in 2020 is to go bold: to nominate a candidate with strong core beliefs.  A candidate who connects with young and old and who inspires enthusiastic participation.  That’s Bernie.

But perhaps Jimmy Dore, the comedian/political commentator, is right: establishment Democrats like Pelosi would rather defeat Progressives like Bernie Sanders than win the presidential election against Trump in 2020.  Because if Trump wins, they can continue to serve (and profit from) corporate interests while posing as being anti-Trump, i.e. they can continue life as they know it, with all the power and privilege that comes with it.

As my wife quipped today, “They don’t let their beliefs get in their way, do they?”  Which is another way of saying they really have no beliefs at all.

Democratic Candidates for President in 2020

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Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders: Change We Can Believe In

W.J. Astore

Yes, it’s much too early, but I count at least fourteen Democratic candidates for president in the 2020 election.  Here are a few impressionistic words on each of the candidates.

The True Progressives

1.  Bernie Sanders: Bernie is principled, sincere, honest, and dedicated to helping working people.  Yes, he’s a “Democratic socialist,” which is scary to the mainstream media.  The establishment of the Democratic Party is against him.  Advantage, Bernie.

2.  Elizabeth Warren: She identifies as a “capitalist,” but she’s proven she’s willing to take on Wall Street, the big banks, and other special interests.  She’s intelligent, sharp, and committed.  Her weakness: a lack of charisma and the whole “Pocahontas” angle, i.e. her identifying as Native American on past occasions.

3.  Tulsi Gabbard: A military veteran who’s strongly against regime-change wars, a vocal critic of the military-industrial complex, Tulsi has demonstrated poise, thoughtfulness, and coolness under pressure.  The DNC and media are against her because she’s independent-minded and refuses to bow down before special interests.  A dark horse candidate who may catch fire.  (I’m so excited I’m mixing metaphors.)

The Usual Suspects (Milquetoast Centrists)

1. Cory Booker: A water-bearer for Big Pharma, Booker has a pleasant demeanor but takes few chances.

2.  Kamala Harris: A former prosecutor, Harris seems to love prisons more than schools.

3.  Kirsten Gillibrand: Rumor has it she asked her friends on Wall Street whether it was OK for her to run.  They apparently said “yes,” so she announced her formal candidacy today.

4.  Amy Klobuchar: Already with a sad reputation for abusing her staff and making ill-judged jokes about it, Klobuchar is an uninspiring centrist.

5.  Beto O’Rourke: A millionaire who married a woman who will apparently inherit billions, Beto showed up in Iowa speaking in platitudes about the wonders of democracy in the USA.  His only firm principle is that he believes he deserves to be in the race, perhaps because he looks a little like a Kennedy if you squint really hard.

The Governors

1.  John Hickenlooper: A governor from Colorado, Hickenlooper made his money by opening a micro-brewery.  At a campaign appearance in Iowa, somebody broke a glass, and he helped to clean it up.  Though he was afraid to say he was a “capitalist” on TV, Hickenlooper may have some potential.

2.  Jay Inslee: Governor of Washington State, he’s made fighting climate change the central issue of his campaign.  He’s got one of the big issues right, so advantage to Inslee.

Wild Cards and Also-Rans

1.  Andrew Yang: A former venture capitalist and unconventional thinker, Yang has caught people’s attention by talking about a guaranteed income for all.  A possible anti-Trump in the sense he’s a successful financier with brains and heart.

2.  Pete Buttigieg: A gay mayor who’s also a veteran, Buttigieg got some air time recently by referring to Trump as a “porn president.”  Comes across like a young Mr. Rogers.

3.  Julian Castro: Formerly Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama.  And that’s all I know.

4.  John Delaney: I just saw his name today.  The end.

The Ultimate Centrist and Establishment Man

1. Joe Biden: Hasn’t yet announced, but it looks like he will.  The presumed front-runner based on name recognition and his loyal service as Obama’s VP for eight years.  Will have the full support of the mainstream media, the DNC, and the Washington establishment.  A decent-enough man, Biden is effectively a moderate Republican.

Bracing Views, in all its power, fully supports Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, real progressives who want to effect real change.

Which candidates do you like, readers?  And which ones don’t you like?  Look forward to your comments!

Update (3/19/19): Apparently two more candidates are waiting in the wings: Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum.  Both are candidates of color who recently ran close but unsuccessful races in Georgia and Florida.  Perhaps not presidential material (due to lack of experience on the national stage), they may emerge as strong candidates for a VP slot.

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