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Liz Theoharis, “Rise Up Through the Ashes and Devastation”

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In this pandemic world of ours, there’s a pattern that couldn’t be grimmer. Odd that more isn’t made of it. The three true Covid-19 disaster zones on Planet Earth — the United States (583,000 dead, 32,000,000 confirmed cases), Brazil (428,000 deaths, 15,000,000 confirmed cases), and more recently India (258,000 deaths, 23,000,000 confirmed cases, figures considered gross undercounts) — were or are still governed by men whose inaction added up to murder. All three were autocrats-in-the-making of a similar mentality, preening self-regard, and, of course, men — the pandemic records of women leaders having been strikingly better. Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and Narendra Modi are, one might say, birds of a feather (if, that is, you want to insult birds).

Now, Trump is gone, at least to Mar-a-Lago, where he still controls much of the Republican Party and continues to threaten an increasingly threadbare democracy. The other two leaders, however, carry on with their disastrous pandemic behavior, continuing to transform their countries into hellholes; in Bolsonaro’s case, helping spread the disease across Latin America; and, in both cases, possibly providing the perfect conditions for the development of a more vaccine-resistant variant strain of the virus. All three men paid next to no attention to science (though Trump at least fast-tracked vaccines), fought the simplest urge to mask or social distance for safety, held giant maskless super-spreader rallies, promoted bizarre cures for Covid-19, and were clearly responsible for the deaths of staggering numbers of people. As Arundhati Roy recently wrote of Modi (though it applied to all three of them), his actions were nothing short of “a crime against humanity.”

In a sense, the three of them also created the “essential” worker. That’s the polite, even flattering, way we have of describing those who have none of the advantages of Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, or Narendra Modi but, in part thanks to them, have been thrown, often with little in the way of protection, directly in the path of a deadly disease. And as TomDispatch regular and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign Liz Theoharis makes clear today, so many of the victims of those three preening “leaders” were women. Tears, as she says, should be shed in their honor.  Tom

Mother’s Day Tears

The Fierce Prophetic Vision of Poor Women

One hundred and fifty years ago, in the bloody wake of the Civil War, the abolitionist Julia Ward Howe issued a “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” The world, she wrote, could no longer bear such terrible violence and death. She called on women across the country to “rise up through the ashes and devastation” and come together in the cause of peace. Forty years later, her daughter Anna Jarvis created Mother’s Day.

In the midst of another national trauma, with the latest Mother's Day just past, perhaps it's an auspicious moment to celebrate not just mothers, but women more generally. I think about countless women like my mom (who died nearly a year ago) enduring tremendous adversity to make ends meet and care for those they love. During the pandemic, after all, women have found themselves on the front lines in so many ways. They make up more than 75% of healthcare workers, almost 80% of frontline social workers, and more than 70% of government and community-based service workers. Add in one more thing: women have been hit first and worst by the economic crisis that Covid-19 set off, as female-dominated industries like retail, leisure, and hospitality were decimated.

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Mandy Smithberger, Joe Biden’s Pentagon Honeymoon

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Strange, isn’t it?  Our secretary of state emphatically claims that China has been acting “more aggressively abroad” and behaving “increasingly in adversarial ways.” No, he insists, we’re not exactly at the edge of a new cold war or planning, in the style of the last century, to “contain China.” All this country is doing is “uphold[ing] this rules-based order — that China is posing a challenge to. Anyone who poses a challenge to that order, we’re going to stand up and — and defend it.” Ah, you remember that “rules-based order,” don’t you? The one this country has sponsored in this century with an endless series of losing wars across the Greater Middle East and Africa, right?

Our secretary of defense, mentioning no country by name (cough, cough, but you know which one he has in mind), recently said: “I’ll never forget the valor that I saw and the lessons that I learned as a commander in Iraq and CENTCOM. But the way we’ll fight the next major war is going to look very different from the way we fought the last ones.” (The assumption being, of course, that such a war will indeed be fought.) And the Pentagon is already focusing its energy on just such a possible future war against “near-peer competitors” from the Arctic to the South China Sea.  Even President Biden, addressing Congress and the nation, emphasized that “we’re in competition with China and other countries to win the twenty-first century.”

Again, isn’t it strange that China has become such a challenge to this country “winning” a century in which it’s already experienced such military loss? Isn’t it strange that the Pentagon is responding to that competition by upping its efforts against that rising power in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, attempting to bring allies together to oppose it in a new alliance called the “Quad,” and being militarily more aggressive in those regions.  What’s strange is that only China seems challenging, not that other great power — and no, I’m not referring to Russia, which has a powerful nuclear arsenal but an economy smaller than that of the state of Texas. I’m thinking about us.  After all, China doesn’t have naval forces off Baja California, or in the Caribbean, as we do off or near its coastline.  It doesn’t have 800 military bases across the planet.  It isn’t involved in endless wars on terror from Afghanistan to Mozambique, nor does it have an aircraft carrier cruising off the coast of Afghanistan… but no need to go on, is there?

Yes, it’s true that the U.S. military can’t come close to winning a war in the twenty-first century, but fight them? You bet. And even in the Biden era, it seems determined to remain the military power of powers on this planet, no matter the cost domestically. Given the way the Pentagon has misused its soaring funding in these years, you might doubt that the U.S. even needs China to take it down in this less-than-rules-based world of ours. While you’re thinking about that, check out Pentagon expert and TomDispatch regular Mandy Smithberger on what may be the saddest story of the Biden moment: that, amid proposed domestic advances, the Pentagon is still going to be funded and fed in the all-too-usual, wildly profligate fashion. Tom

Why the Pentagon Budget Never Goes Down

Joe Biden’s First 100 Days Were a Pentagon Prize

The first 100 days of President Joe Biden’s administration have come and gone. While somewhat exaggerated, that milestone is normally considered the honeymoon period for any new president. Buoyed by a recent election triumph and inauguration, he's expected to be at the peak of his power when it comes to advancing the biggest, boldest items on his agenda.

And indeed, as far as, say, infrastructure or pandemic vaccination goals, Biden has delivered in a major way. Blindly funding the Pentagon and its priorities in the stratospheric fashion that's become the essence of Washington has, however, proven another matter entirely. One-hundred days later and it’s remarkable how little has changed when it comes to pouring money into this country's vast military infrastructure and the wars, ongoing or imagined, that accompany it.

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William Astore, War Is Strictly Business in Twenty-First Century America

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Here’s the strange thing: almost 20 years into a series of chaotic, staggeringly expensive, failing wars across significant parts of the planet, the U.S. military — “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known” (George W. Bush), aka “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known” (Barack Obama) — continues to eat taxpayer dollars as if they were nothing at all. According to the Costs of War Project, the U.S. has sunk almost $2.3 trillion dollars into the failed Afghan War from which it’s now retreating and a minimum of $6.4 trillion into all the major conflicts of the Global War on Terror (not even counting future costs caring for the war’s vets). And all of this happened in years in which little indeed went into American domestic infrastructure.  And yet, even as it leaves Afghanistan, the Biden administration is actually upping the already stratospheric Pentagon budget, and Republicans in Congress, who normally fight spending a cent on anyone other than corporations and billionaires, are urging the president to spend even more. Worse yet, the American public generally seems remarkably satisfied with such spending.  Somehow, what the U.S. military machine has done over all these years just never seems to sink in here.

The latest polling figures show that only 14% of Americans saw this country’s “defense” efforts (as they’re always called, despite those “forever wars” in distant lands) as too much and would like to see military spending lowered.  Half of all Americans consider the U.S. defense posture “just right” and 35% would like more of the same (up from 25% last year). In January, a Gallup poll indicated that 74% of Americans were “very or somewhat satisfied with the nation’s military strength and preparedness” and, in that context, the military always has a sky-high positive image in polling here — and it only rose in pandemic year 2020.

It’s as if Americans were simply not living in the world that the U.S. military was operating in and, in a sense, as retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore, who runs the Bracing Views blog, suggests today, they may not be.  That military and the “industrial complex” that goes with it may, in fact, represent another universe entirely, one that Americans look at from afar as if it were all happening to someone else — as, in a sense (ask the Afghans, Iraqis, or Somalis), it is. Tom

Endless War Is A Feature of Our National Programming

On Pulling the Plug on the War Machine

Why don’t America’s wars ever end?

I know, I know: President Joe Biden has announced that our combat troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by 9/11 of this year, marking the 20th anniversary of the colossal failure of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to defend America.

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