The Mainstream Media and the U.S. Military

W.J. Astore

How do we stop the next war built on lies from being waged?

(I prepared these notes for a talk I gave on “Truth-killers: The Corporate Media and the Military-Industrial Complex,” sponsored by Massachusetts Peace Action.  David Swanson also spoke.)

I served in the U.S. military for 20 years, and for the last 15 years I’ve been writing articles that are generally critical of that military and our nation’s drift into militarism and endless warfare.  Here are two lessons I’ve learned:

1.     I agree with I.F. Stone that all governments lie.

2.     As a historian who’s read and studied military history for most of my life, I agree that the first casualty of war is truth.

Because all governments lie and because lies are especially common during war, a healthy democracy must have an outspoken and independent media that challenges and questions authority while informing the public.

But the mainstream media (MSM) in America is neither outspoken nor independent.  The MSM in America serves as stenographers to the powerful.  Far too often, the U.S. military/government lies and leaks, the MSM believes and repeats. 

The result is clear: disastrous wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) from which little is ever learned, enabled by a media culture that is deeply compromised by, or openly in league with, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC).

Here’s the fundamental issue: We need a skeptical and powerful media to deter the MICC from wars, war profiteering, and folly.  The MSM should, and must, serve as a check on the MICC while holding it accountable when it fails.  By doing neither, it serves various “big lies,” enabling future abuses of power by the national security state.  There is no accountability for failure, so failure is neither punished now nor is it curtailed in the future.

Even when the MICC fails, and since the Vietnam War it has failed frequently, it gets more money. Consider the FY2023 Pentagon budget, which sits at $858 billion, a nearly inconceivable sum and which is roughly $45 billion more than the Biden administration asked for. 

The challenge, as I see it: How do we stop the next war built on lies from being waged?

Something to ponder: Could a more critical, more courageous, truly independent media have shortened or stopped the Vietnam War? Iraq? Afghanistan?

In his famous speech warning Americans about the MICC in 1961, Eisenhower (Ike) said that only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry could guard against the acquisition of power by the MICC.  This may indeed be why most citizens are not kept informed or are misinformed about the U.S. military and its wars.  It’s hard to act when you’re kept ignorant.  You’ll also be reluctant to act when you’re told to defer to the “experts” in the MSM, most of whom are deeply compromised, often by conflicts of interest that are kept hidden from you. 

Military Mendacity

Put simply, the U.S. military, in its upper ranks, lacks honor.  What matters most is reputation and budgetary authority.  Sharing negative news with the media is the absolute last thing the military wants to do.  Surprisingly, most in the MSM are willing to look the other way, assuming they even know of military mendacity and malfeasance.

What this means, essentially, is that the MICC is unaccountable to the people–the very antithesis of democracy.

Three big examples of MICC mendacity: The Pentagon Papers revealed by Daniel Ellsberg during the Vietnam War; the Iraq War and lies about WMD (weapons of mass destruction); and the Afghan War Papers.  Even as the U.S. military was losing these three wars, military commanders and government officials spoke publicly and confidently of lights at the end of tunnels, of corners being turned toward victory.  (Privately, however, they talked of serious problems and lack of progress.)

With “The Pentagon Papers,” Daniel Ellsberg revealed the lies that helped fuel the Vietnam War

The MSM (with notable exceptions) largely repeated the happy-talk lies.  Since 9/11, this is unsurprising, since the MSM leans heavily on senior retired military officers, CIA officials, and the like to “interpret” events in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.  As journalist David Barstow showed, these “interpreters” were and are fed talking points by the Pentagon.  Whatever this is, it’s not honest reporting.  It’s not journalism.  It’s state propaganda. 

It’s not that the American people can’t handle the truth about “their” military.  It’s that the MICC prefers to keep a lid on the truth, because the truth is often unfavorable to their positions, power, prestige, and profits. 

There are many ways the MICC works with a complicit media (and a compliant Congress) to keep the truth from us.

1.     Bad news is not reported.  Or it’s classified or otherwise hushed up.  Consider the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam or the “collateral murder” video from the Iraq War revealed by Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks.

2.     Critical information is omitted.  Coverage is edited.  Consider the ban on showing flag-draped coffins by the Bush/Cheney administration, or official reports about drone strikes that omitted the true number of civilian/non-combatant casualties.

3.     The military has its own PAOs (public affairs offices and officers) who feed news of “progress” and similar “good news” stories to the media.  This is also true of the State Department. (See Peter Van Buren’s account, “We Meant Well,” of his Potemkin Village-like experience in Iraq.)

4.     Ever-present appeals to patriotism and warnings that critical information will give aid and comfort to the enemy.  Even worse, portraying critics as pro-Putin, as possible traitors, as in the NBC smear campaign against Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, abetted also by Hillary Clinton.

5.     Run-of-the-mill propaganda.  Consider, for example, how almost all U.S. sporting events include glowing coverage of the military and veterans.  If all military members are “heroes,” how dare we question them!  Instead, you’re encouraged to salute smartly and remain silent.

Media Complicity

Why is the MSM so hobbled and often so complicit with the MICC?

1.     Intimidation.  Critics are punished.  Examples include Ashleigh Banfield, Phil Donahue, and Chris Hedges in the early days of the Iraq War.  Think of Julian Assange today.  Edward Snowden.  Daniel Hale.  Smart journalists know (or learn) that critics and whistleblowers are punished; cheerleaders are promoted, e.g. Brian Williams, demoted for stolen valor but redeemed for declaring his awe at “the beauty” of U.S. missiles.

2.     Ratings/Economics.  Recall that MSNBC fired Phil Donahue over concerns that his critical coverage of the Iraq War was turning off viewers, i.e. that the network wasn’t being seen as “patriotic” as rivals like CNN or Fox News, thereby losing market share and money.

3.     Embedding Process.  Reporters who want to cover war are often embedded with U.S. military units.  They come to identify with “their” troops, who, after all, are protecting them from harm.  The embedding process forges a sense of dependency and camaraderie that interferes with disinterested and balanced reporting.

4.     Reliance on deeply conflicted experts from the MICC instead of independent journalists.  Whatever else they are, retired generals and CIA directors are not reporters or journalists.

5.     Corporate advertising dollars.  Why air a report critical of Boeing or Northrop Grumman when that company is a major advertiser on your network?  Why bite the hand that feeds you?

You don’t need a top secret “Mockingbird” project by the CIA to infiltrate and influence the MSM, as we witnessed during the Cold War and Vietnam.  Today, the MSM and its owners acquiesce in their own infiltration, hiring retired CIA agents and similar senior government officials to give/sell their “unbiased” opinions.

Again, military contractors pay for ads and sponsor shows on TV. The media is not about to challenge or criticize a big revenue stream. And it’s not always a weapons maker like Boeing or Raytheon. Think of ExxonMobil.  Their thirstiest customer is the U.S. military; ExxonMobil is unlikely to support media reports that criticize its biggest customer.

Meanwhile, there are precious few reporters and journalists willing to risk their careers to challenge the MICC.  With so-called access journalism, if you reveal uncomfortable facts, you’ll likely lose access to the powerful, alienate your bosses, and probably lose your job.

Food for Thought: Journalists are selected and groomed for compliance to mainstream militarized agendas. They’ve learned and internalized what is acceptable and what isn’t.  If they refuse to play along, they’re fired or shunted aside. (See Noam Chomsky and the manufacturing of consent.)

For the U.S. military, full-spectrum dominance includes information and the control of the same, including most especially in America.

A final shocking truth: The U.S. military lost in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere while avoiding responsibility. Indeed, its cultural authority and its command over the media have only grown stronger.  Worse, the military promulgates, or goes along with, various stab-in-the-back myths that exculpate itself while mendaciously blaming the few good media outlets for accurate reporting about the MICC’s failings.

A crucial step in preventing future disastrous wars is a media culture that sees the MICC for what it is: a danger to democracy and liberty, as Ike warned us in 1961 in his farewell address.  How we get there is a crucial issue; the failures above suggest remedies.

One remedy I wrote about in 2008: the major networks need to develop their own, independent, journalists who are experts on the military, rather than relying largely on retired military officers and other senior government officials.

We are told that America has independent media rather than state media like China or Russia.  Yet, if America had official state media, would its coverage differ from today’s content?  The MSM supports state and corporate agendas because that’s how it makes money even as it claims it’s “independent.”

A Couple of Anecdotes

A journalist colleague told me of his experience teaching students at one of America’s universities.  His sense: most students today don’t want to be Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  They aspire to be on-air personalities who make six-figure salaries while being invited to all the right parties.  They don’t want to afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted; they want to be among the most comfortable.  Crusading for truth isn’t what they’re about.  They seek to be insiders.

From the Robert Redford movie, “Three Days of the Condor.”  If a whistleblower goes to the MSM (in the movie, it’s The New York Times), will the truth ever see the light of day?  More to the point, if the American people do see it, will they even care?

What we’re witnessing in America, according to Matt Taibbi, is an “elaborate, systematized method of censorship and opinion control.”  Taibbi mentions agencies like Homeland Security and Justice/FBI and their focus on “collecting domestic intelligence on a grand scale … seeking to distort the public’s perception of reality through mass moderation, via programs we’ve been told little to nothing about.”

While Taibbi, in his latest investigation, focused on social media and especially Twitter, the reality is that the MSM (and social media as well) is complicit with the government/military, collaborating on what “truths” are fed to the people while suppressing facts that are deemed dangerous, embarrassing, inconvenient, and otherwise not in the interest of the MICC.

With so many Americans now getting their news from social media sites rather than the MSM, that the government serves as a powerful content-moderator for what counts as “reliable” news on social media should disturb us all.

Again, it’s hard for Americans to serve as Ike’s “alert and knowledgeable” citizenry when they are fed lies, disinformation, and propaganda by the government and MSM. 

Even more fundamentally, when corporations are elevated and protected as super-capable “citizens” and when citizens themselves are reduced to passive consumers—when corporations own the MSM while profiting greatly from war and militarism—there’s little hope of fostering freedom and of ever escaping from a state of permanent warfare.

This is where we are today.

Free Julian Assange

Exposing official lies: that is Julian Assange’s “crime”

Chris Hedges

Today I saw this speech by Chris Hedges and decided to share it here for all my readers. Julian Assange is being punished for truth-telling; punished as an example to others who might also seek to tell the truth; punished in a way that exposes the repression of a justice system that offers injustice to those who dare to challenge the powerful. “Tyranny imposed on others is now imposed on us,” Chris Hedges says in this speech. I urge you to read it, listen to it, and ponder his words. W.J. Astore

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Merrick Garland and those who work in the Department of Justice are the puppets, not the puppet masters. They are the façade, the fiction, that the longstanding persecution of Julian Assange has something to do with justice. Like the High Court in London, they carry out an elaborate judicial pantomime. They debate arcane legal nuances to distract from the Dickensian farce where a man who has not committed a crime, who is not a U.S. citizen, can be extradited under the Espionage Act and sentenced to life in prison for the most courageous and consequential journalism of our generation.

The engine driving the lynching of Julian is not here on Pennsylvania Avenue. It is in Langley, Virginia, located at a complex we will never be allowed to surround – the Central Intelligence Agency. It is driven by a secretive inner state, one where we do not count in the mad pursuit of empire and ruthless exploitation. Because the machine of this modern leviathan was exposed by Julian and WikiLeaks, the machine demands revenge. 

The United States has undergone a corporate coup d’etat in slow motion. It is no longer a functioning democracy. The real centers of power, in the corporate, military and national security sectors, were humiliated and embarrassed by WikiLeaks. Their war crimes, lies, conspiracies to crush the democratic aspirations of the vulnerable and the poor, and rampant corruption, here and around the globe, were laid bare in troves of leaked documents.  

We cannot fight on behalf of Julian unless we are clear about whom we are fighting against. It is far worse than a corrupt judiciary. The global billionaire class, who have orchestrated a social inequality rivaled by pharaonic Egypt, has internally seized all of the levers of power and made us the most spied upon, monitored, watched and photographed population in human history. When the government watches you 24-hours a day, you cannot use the word liberty. This is the relationship between a master and a slave. Julian was long a target, of course, but when WikiLeaks published the documents known as Vault 7, which exposed the hacking tools the CIA uses to monitor our phones, televisions and even cars, he — and journalism itself — was condemned to crucifixion. The object is to shut down any investigations into the inner workings of power that might hold the ruling class accountable for its crimes, eradicate public opinion and replace it with the cant fed to the mob.

I spent two decades as a foreign correspondent on the outer reaches of empire in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. I am acutely aware of the savagery of empire, how the brutal tools of repression are first tested on those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.” Wholesale surveillance. Torture. Coups. Black sites. Black propaganda. Militarized police. Militarized drones. Assassinations. Wars. Once perfected on people of color overseas, these tools migrate back to the homeland. By hollowing out our country from the inside through deindustrialization, austerity, deregulation, wage stagnation, the abolition of unions, massive expenditures on war and intelligence, a refusal to address the climate emergency and a virtual tax boycott for the richest individuals and corporations, these predators intend to keep us in bondage, victims of a corporate neo-feudalism. And they have perfected their instruments of Orwellian control. The tyranny imposed on others is imposed on us.

From its inception, the CIA carried out assassinations, coups, torture, and illegal spying and abuse, including that of U.S. citizens, activities exposed in 1975 by the Church Committee hearings in the Senate and the Pike Committee hearings in the House. All these crimes, especially after the attacks of 9/11, have returned with a vengeance. The CIA is a rogue and unaccountable paramilitary organization with its own armed units and drone program, death squads and a vast archipelago of global black sites where kidnapped victims are tortured and disappeared. 

The U.S. allocates a secret black budget of about $50 billion a year to hide multiple types of clandestine projects carried out by the National Security Agency, the CIA and other intelligence agencies, usually beyond the scrutiny of Congress. The CIA has a well-oiled apparatus to kidnap, torture and assassinate targets around the globe, which is why, since it had already set up a system of 24-hour video surveillance of Julian in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, it quite naturally discussed kidnapping and assassinating him. That is its business. Senator Frank Church — after examining the heavily redacted CIA documents released to his committee — defined the CIA’s “covert activity” as “a semantic disguise for murder, coercion, blackmail, bribery, the spreading of lies and consorting with known torturers and international terrorists.”

All despotisms mask state persecution with sham court proceedings. The show trials and troikas in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The raving Nazi judges in fascist Germany. The Denunciation rallies in Mao’s China. State crime is cloaked in a faux legality, a judicial farce.

If Julian is extradited and sentenced and, given the Lubyanka-like proclivities of the Eastern District of Virginia, this is a near certainty, it means that those of us who have published classified material, as I did when I worked for The New York Times, will become criminals. It means that an iron curtain will be pulled down to mask abuses of power. It means that the state, which, through Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs, anti-terrorism laws and the Espionage Act that have created our homegrown version of Stalin’s Article 58, can imprison anyone anywhere in the world who dares commit the crime of telling the truth.

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to fight against powerful subterranean forces that, in demanding Julian’s extradition and life imprisonment, have declared war on journalism. 

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to fight for the restoration of the rule of law and democracy. 

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to dismantle the wholesale Stasi-like state surveillance erected across the West. 

We are here to fight for Julian. But we are also here to overthrow — and let me repeat that word for the benefit of those in the FBI and Homeland Security who have come here to monitor us — overthrow the corporate state and create a government of the people, by the people and for the people, that will cherish, rather than persecute, the best among us.

Why Burn Books When You Can Stop Them from Being Published?

You won’t have to burn them if they’re never published

W.J. Astore

There are many forms of lying. One that we don’t always think about is lying by omission. A partial truth can be a more insidious lie than an outright falsehood. I might argue, for example, that the Vietnam War was awful for America, dividing the country and costing more than 58,000 U.S. troops their lives, along with innumerable other mental and physical casualties. But if I leave out or downplay the far more horrifying costs to Southeast Asia, the literally millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians killed in that war, the poisoning of their land by highly toxic chemicals like Agent Orange along with millions of unexploded mines and munitions, which still kill to this day, I have most definitely lied by omission. Perhaps the Vietnam War was a “tragedy” for the U.S., but it was far, far worse for those on the receiving end of American firepower.

It’s not easy to get books published that tell tough truths we’d prefer not to hear. For example, Nick Turse’s book about “the real American war in Vietnam,” entitled “Kill Anything that Moves,” was published by Metropolitan Books, which is now being shuttered and shut down, notes Tom Engelhardt in his latest article at TomDispatch.com. Engelhardt has seen this before, with Pantheon Books, another publisher known for publishing books that told uncomfortable truths about America. It too was a victim of consolidation in publishing, of being shut down, mainly because the consolidators simply didn’t like the books being published. And perhaps too because these same books sometimes didn’t make enough money (though some proved to be bestsellers, which, from the owners’ ideological perspective, may have been worse).

Engelhardt’s heartfelt article made me think. Imagine that. It made me think that the best way to “burn” books is to make sure they’re never published.  Same with banning books.  You don’t have to ban them when they can’t find their way into print.

Also, it’s far easier to manufacture consent — to control the national discourse — when only certain books are being published and hyped — the ones reflecting and reinforcing mainstream thought.

Whether it’s shutting down Pantheon or Metropolitan or similar publishing houses, it’s about blocking alternative views that challenge capitalism, neoliberalism,, neoconservatism, and similar mainstream ideologies. You can always claim that the house you’re shuttering just wasn’t making enough money, wasn’t moving enough product, never mind the quality of that “product” and the invaluable service it was providing to democracy and the free exchange of ideas.

Readers here know that I started writing for TomDispatch in 2007. My first article was critical of the Petraeus Surge in the Iraq War, but my goal back then was “to save the U.S. military from itself,” from its misleading and often mendacious metrics to its inflated sense of itself, shown most clearly with its obsession with medals and decorations even as the war was going very poorly indeed. I tried several mainstream publishers including the New York Times and Washington Post without success. A friend mentioned TomDispatch to me, I wrote to Tom, and he found something in my writing worthy of being published at his site. My next “Tomgram” will be the 95th I’ve written for the site.

If TomDispatch didn’t exist, my criticisms and critiques would probably have never been published. Tom’s example inspired me to write further, to become a regular at Huff Post and Antiwar.com and to start my own blogs. Bracing Views exists because of the example provided by TomDispatch.

Good books beget other good books. Critical books beget other critical books. Scholarship builds on itself. When you block or severely limit opportunities for good, daring, and critical books from being published, you strike a blow against scholarship, against the free exchange of ideas, against the very idea of an enlightened America made more powerful and righteous by its informed citizens.

Sure, it’s just another publisher being put out of business. Nothing to see here, move along. Except it’s much more than that. It’s a form of book burning before the book ever existed, a silencing of synapses in our minds, an insidious form of mind control in the sense of curtailing certain thoughts and ideas from ever taking form.

Do I exaggerate? Readers, what do you think?

“The Terminal List” and America’s Vision of the Heroic

“Trust no one” could be the motto of “The Terminal List.” And “kill all those who betray you.”

W.J. Astore

What is it about this country and guns and violence?  

The Westerns I watched as a kid (John Wayne in particular) had guns in them, of course.  Colt pistols, Winchester rifles, an occasional shotgun.  And there was no shortage of violence.

But nowadays shows/movies feature much more gunplay with military-grade weapons and armor.  The Western isn’t in vogue today.  It’s military dramas instead.  America’s overseas wars have come home for real on our streets and in mass shootings, but they’ve also come home on our screens, where SEALs are the new heroes.

A short series I recently watched, The Terminal List, features a Navy SEAL who must “go to war” domestically because he’s been betrayed by the U.S. government, which even kills his wife and daughter.  Action scenes feature sniper rifles, assault rifles, grenades, explosions, and torture (one man is hung by his own intestines).

Torture and war, common to America’s war on terror, are now here to terrorize us, on our screens but also increasingly on our streets. Strangely, I don’t hear anyone complaining about violence on TV, as people did in the 1980s.  It’s now acceptable, par for the course.  We are inured to it.  Worse: we desire it, or at least some of us do, judging by the success of The Terminal List and similar shows.

The theme is “trust no one” and exact your revenge in the most violent way possible.  The SEAL in Terminal List keeps his own kill list: echoes of Barack Obama and his presidential kill list.  But a democracy saturated in militarized violence can’t possibly survive as a democracy.

Interestingly, today it’s the MAGA Right that distrusts government with a passion.  Fifty years ago, with the Vietnam War running down and Watergate winding up, it was the Left that distrusted government.

One of my favorite movies from the 1970s is Three Days of the Condor, which can profitably be compared to The Terminal List.  The hero in the first movie is a bookish guy who’s betrayed by the CIA.  The hero in this year’s Terminal List is a Navy SEAL and a violent man of action.  In Condor, Robert Redford’s character outthinks his opponents and goes to the New York Times with proof of governmental corruption.  The Navy SEAL simply kills all his enemies, or they kill themselves when faced with his demands for retribution, with an impressive range of deadly weapons.  (Of course, such violent fantasies of hard men meting out murderous justice are hardly new; think of Sylvester Stallone as Rambo or various Chuck Norris vehicles.)

The Terminal List is truly a series for our times.  It’s slickly done, and Chris Pratt is good in it.  What it reveals is the profound skepticism so many Americans have in their government and in corporations — and rightly so.

The problem is elevating a Navy SEAL as the principled hero. SEALs make good warriors but are they what America wants for vigilante justice?  In real life, SEALs can be loose cannons, as recent events show.

For me, real heroes are not often chiseled men of action like Chris Pratt’s Navy SEAL, with all his guns and violence.  Or for that matter Rambo. Think instead of Chelsea Manning, Daniel Hale, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange.  They may lack bulging biceps and impressive arsenals, yet Manning and Hale went to prison to reveal war crimes, Snowden is in exile for taking on the government and telling us the truth about wars and our surveillance state, and Assange is being tortured in prison for practicing oppositional journalism, otherwise known as real reporting.

Heroes in life come in all shapes and sizes; a Navy SEAL may be among the least likely of shapes and sizes we’ll see.  They often do their best work without guns and grenades and without lengthy kill lists and torture routines.  Their strength is measured by their principles, not by their pecs.

I think even John Wayne might agree with me here.

Raid on Trump!

W.J. Astore

So the FBI has raided Donald Trump’s compound in Mar-a-Lago, where Trump allegedly had classified material squirreled away. Apparently, Trump is being hounded under the Espionage Act passed by Woodrow Wilson during World War I more than a century ago.

Was Trump holding classified material? Was he being careless with this information, perhaps to the extent of endangering national security? I doubt that very much. A few boxes of files (mis)appropriated by Trump, perhaps in his usual careless manner, hardly pose a threat to America’s existence.

I’m much more concerned about the heavy-handed use of the Espionage Act against a former president, even a president I think was a chimp, and the precedent it sets for the future. Are we now going to see the FBI and other law enforcement agencies sent against political opponents in openly partisan attacks? If the Biden Justice Department can openly sic the FBI on the previous president, and Biden’s most likely challenger in 2024, then shouldn’t we expect Trump or some future Republican do the same to Biden? Or Kamala Harris? And on and on?

I can’t help but think this raid on Trump’s home will only help Trump in 2024. This only seems to confirm what Trump always says: that the Deep State is after him, and that only he can take it on, because only he is on your side against big government and its many abuses of power.

Ironically, the Espionage Act is typically used against honorable whistleblowers. People like Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Daniel Hale, and Julian Assange. To think that Donald Trump’s name might be linked to these principled people, however tangentially, beggars belief. Trump’s name shouldn’t be mentioned in the same galactic breath as these truth-tellers, but now it can be, impossible as that seemed a few days ago.

I don’t get it. Trump is a nincompoop who shouldn’t have been president, but this kind of politically motivated raid can only generate sympathy for him among so many people who are tired of a government that pays virtually no attention to their real needs and real security.

It’s safe to say that if Trump runs in 2024, he almost certainly will win (again), because of the stupidity of establishment Democrats who seem to think the only way they can beat him is to turn him into a pariah. Their actions, however, are much more likely turn him into a martyr. And few people deserve that status less than con-man Trump.

The Ukrainian Boondoggle as a Black Hole

W.J. Astore

Back on June 1st, I noted that Ukraine couldn’t possibly absorb more than $54 billion in U.S. aid, most of it related to weaponry and munitions, given the country’s lack of infrastructure as well as the chaos inherent to a shooting war.

As I wrote back then:

The entire defense budget of Ukraine before the war was just under $6 billion. How can Ukraine possibly absorb (mostly) military “aid” that represents NINE TIMES their annual defense budget? It simply can’t be done…

From a military perspective, the gusher of money and equipment being sent to Ukraine makes little sense because there’s no way Ukraine has the infrastructure to absorb it and use it effectively. The U.S. approach seems to be to flood the zone with weaponry and assorted equipment of all sorts, irrespective of how it might be used or where it might ultimately end up. I can’t see how all this lethal “aid” will stay in the hands of troops and out of the hands of various criminal networks and black markets.

And so it goes. Recent reports suggest that only 30-40% of U.S. military aid is actually reaching Ukrainian troops. The rest is being siphoned off, lost, stolen, what-have-you. The response in U.S. media is to suppress this truth, per dictates from Ukraine!

Caitlin Johnstone does an excellent job of summarizing the case, and since she generously encourages her readers to share her posts, I thought I’d avail myself of her generosity. Without further ado:

Caitlin Johnstone, CBS Tries Critical Journalism; Stops After Ukraine Objects

Following objections from the Ukrainian government, CBS News has removed a short documentary which had reported concerns from numerous sources that a large amount of the supplies being sent to Ukraine aren’t making it to the front lines.

The Ukrainian government has listed its objections to the report on a government website, naming Ukrainian officials who objected to it and explaining why each of the CBS news sources it dislikes should be discounted. After the report was taken down and the Twitter post about it removed, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said this was a good start but still not enough.

“Welcome first step, but it is not enough,” Kuleba tweeted. “You have misled a huge audience by sharing unsubstantiated claims and damaging trust in supplies of vital military aid to a nation resisting aggression and genocide. There should be an internal investigation into who enabled this and why.”

The CBS News article about the documentary was renamed, from “Why military aid to Ukraine doesn’t always get to the front lines: ‘Like 30% of it reaches its final destination’” to the far milder “Why military aid in Ukraine may not always get to the front lines.” An editor’s note on the new version of the article explicitly admits to taking advisement on its changes from the Ukrainian government, reading as follows:

This article has been updated to reflect changes since the CBS Reports documentary ‘Arming Ukraine’ was filmed, and the documentary is also being updated. Jonas Ohman says the delivery has significantly improved since filming with CBS in late April. The government of Ukraine notes that U.S. defense attaché Brigadier General Garrick M. Harmon arrived in Kyiv in August 2022 for arms control and monitoring.”

CBS News does not say why it has taken so long for this report to come out, why it didn’t check to see if anything had changed in the last few months during a rapidly unfolding war before releasing its report, or why it felt its claims were good enough to air before Kyiv raised its objections but not after.

Someone uploaded the old version of the documentary on YouTube here, or you can watch it on Bitchute here if that one gets taken down. It was supportive of Ukraine and very oppositional to Russia, and simply featured a number of sources saying they had reason to believe a lot of the military supplies being sent to Ukraine aren’t getting where they’re supposed to go.

The original article quotes the aforementioned Jonas Ohman as follows:

“All of this stuff goes across the border, and then something happens, kind of like 30% of it reaches its final destination,” said Jonas Ohman, founder and CEO of Blue-Yellow, a Lithuania-based organization that has been meeting with and supplying frontline units with military aid in Ukraine since the start of the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in 2014.

 

“30-40%, that’s my estimation,” he said in April of this year.

“The US has sent tens of thousands of anti-aircraft and anti-armor systems, artillery rounds, hundreds of artillery systems, Switchblade armored drones, and tens of millions of rounds of small arms ammunition,” CBS’s Adam Yamaguchi tells us at 14:15 of the documentary. “But in a conflict where frontlines are scattered and conditions change without warning, not all of those supplies reach their destination. Some also reported weapons are being hoarded, or worse fear that they are disappearing into the black market, an industry that has thrived under corruption in post-Soviet Ukraine.”

“I can tell you unarguably that on the frontline units these things are not getting there,” the Mozart Group‘s Andy Milburn tells Yamaguchi at 17:40. “Drones, Switchblades, IFAKs. They’re not, alright. Body armor, helmets, you name it.”

“Is it safe to characterize this as a little bit of a black hole?” Yamaguchi asked him, perhaps in reference to an April report from CNN whose source said the equipment that’s being sent “drops into a big black hole, and you have almost no sense of it at all after a short period of time.”

“I suppose if you don’t have visibility of where this stuff is going, and if you’re asking that question, then it would appear that it’s a black hole, yeah,” Milburn replied.

“We don’t know,” Amnesty International’s Donatella Rovera tells Yamaguchi at 18:45 when asked if it’s known where the weapons being sent to Ukraine are going.

“There is really no information as to where they’re going at all,” Rovera says. “What is more worrying is that at least some of the countries that are sending weapons do not seem to think that it is their responsibility to put in place a very robust oversight mechanism to ensure that they know how they’re being used today, but also how they might and will be used tomorrow.”

A news outlet pulling a report because their own government didn’t like it would be a scandalous breach of journalistic ethics. A news outlet pulling a report because a foreign government didn’t like it is even more so.

We’ve already seen that the western media will uncritically report literally any claim made by the government of Ukraine in bizarre instances like the recent report that Russia was firing rockets at a nuclear power plant it had already captured, or its regurgitation of claims that Russians are raping babies to death from a Ukrainian official who ended up getting fired for promoting unevidenced claims about rape. Now not only will western media outlets uncritically report any claim the Ukrainian government makes, they will also retract claims of their own when the Ukrainian government tells them to.

It’s not just commentators like me who see the western press as propagandists: that’s how they see themselves. If you think it’s your job to always report information that helps one side of a war and always omit any information which might hinder it, then you have given yourself the role of propagandist. You might not call yourself that, but that’s what you are by any reasonable definition of that word.

And a great many western Zelenskyites honestly see this as the media’s role as well. They’ll angrily condemn anyone who inserts skepticism of the US empire’s narratives about Ukraine into mainstream consciousness, but then they’ll also yell at you if you say we’re not being told the truth about Ukraine. They demand to be lied to, and call you a liar if you say that means we’re being lied to.

You can’t have it both ways. Either you want the mass media to serve as war propagandists or you want them to tell the truth. You cannot hold both of those positions simultaneously. They are mutually exclusive. And many actually want the former.

This can’t lead anywhere good.

Follow this link to read all of Caitlin’s article: https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/08/10/cbs-wanted-to-do-critical-reporting-on-ukraines-government-but-ukraines-government-said-no/

The Power Game

W.J. Astore

A book that shook my world was journalist Hedrick Smith’s “The Power Game,” published 35 years ago in 1987. It was about “How Washington really works,” and what I remember about it is how it made me feel, as in discouraged and outraged. I learned about the power of lobbyists, the power of money, and what money gains you, which is access. More-or-less legal forms of corruption in 1987 are now most definitely legal, with the Supreme Court decreeing that corporations are citizens and that money is speech. It’s amazing how the law can be twisted to serve the interests of the powerful. I for one do not believe that Raytheon and I are both equal citizens and that we both have equivalent access to elected representatives through our “speech,” i.e. our money. But the Supreme Court professes to believe this so there you have it.

When you look at who runs America, it’s a fairly short list. Wall Street, Big Pharma, the fossil fuel companies, Big Tech and Silicon Valley, the military-industrial complex (National Security State), the major banks and insurance companies: any “citizen” with access to billions of dollars who can then buy or rent politicians with millions of dollars. It’s a great deal for them, “investing” in politicians, making them dance to their tune, but it’s a lousy deal for the rest of us.

This makes me think of one of my father’s favorite sayings: He who pays the piper calls the tune. If I toss a penny and ask for a tune, and another “citizen” tosses twenty bucks and asks for a different one, I’m not surprised when the piper doesn’t play my tune. So when the Princeton Study said that the U.S. is an oligarchy and that politicians in Washington don’t listen to us, I wasn’t surprised. I learned it from Hedrick Smith in 1988 when I read his book.

Interestingly, when Smith wrote “The Power Game,” America had just over 4000 political action committees, or PACs. In 2014, America had well over 7000 PACs, including “Super” PACs, which have far fewer constraints in how they can use their money in the political realm. Now we even have “dark” money, and so we’re barraged by ads on TV and elsewhere attacking a candidate or an issue without any clear idea of who’s behind it all and why. But, remember, money is speech and corporations are citizens, so let the good times roll in the U.S. political process.

When Hedrick Smith wrote, things weren’t quite as bad in America. There were more newspapers, more media sources, more real journalists. Nowadays, five or six corporations own all the mainstream media outlets, and it’s not in their interest to promote views that are honest and provocative. Indeed, they love PACs and Super PACs and all the money spent by them and political campaigns to influence voting.

It’s gotten to be so corrupt, and so tightly controlled, as in rigged, that it almost doesn’t matter who runs for office. Clearly, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris aren’t driving policy in America. The few decisions they themselves truly make are almost inconsequential.

One thing I really liked about Hedrick Smith is his honesty. He gave a talk on his book, link here:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?3754-1/power-game-washington-works

Where he explained that, if you’re a politician and you accept certain campaign donations, it’s understood between both parties that when the donor needs you to vote a certain way, you will vote that way, no questions asked. Everyone in Congress understands this. It’s why every effort by real citizens to get big money out of politics fails. It fails because the big donors won’t have it. They like to be able to buy politicians, thank you very much. That’s how democracy works, so says the Supreme Court. If you don’t like it, start your own corporation, make a few billion, then you too can buy your own politician.

A revival of democracy in America starts with campaign finance reform, which most politicians say they’re for even as they vote against it. Sounds like a conundrum to me. Can we solve it by explaining to our esteemed justices (John Roberts, can you hear me?) that money is not the same as speech and that corporations really aren’t the same as citizens?

Finally, a rather obvious point, but it bears repeating. Justices like Thomas, Roberts, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Barrett weren’t just selected because they were reliable votes against abortion. They were really vetted and selected because they will always rule with the powerful against the powerless. They are, in a word, pro-corporate.

And if the Supreme Court is pro-corporate, if Congress is pro-corporate, and if the president is a figurehead known for his pro-corporate policies as a Senator from Delaware, what kind of America are we truly looking at?

In the power game that is Washington, it’s the American people who suffer the agony of defeat.

Hedrick Smith, journalist and truth-teller

Naked Power and Julian Assange

Julian Assange before he was locked away for his truth-telling

W.J. Astore

The worst crime you can commit, in the eyes of the powerful, is to embarrass them and to reveal their crimes. That is what Julian Assange did, most notably about U.S. war crimes in Iraq, and that is why he is being hounded and punished. Assange is being made to suffer, and suffer greatly he is, because he spoke truth about the powerful to the powerless. That is arguably the number one job of a real journalist, to hold powerful people accountable, to reveal the truth when so many conspire to keep it hidden. But most journalists are not profiles in courage, just as most people aren’t. The courageous are few, and counted among their number is Assange.

If you’re a journalist looking to make a difference, to shed light in dark corners, do you dare to take on the U.S. government and national security state given its persecution of Assange? Do you want to spend years in a maximum security prison, almost in total isolation, facing extradition to the U.S. for a bogus and nonsensical charge? The U.S. government’s persecution of Assange, though it’s meant to punish him and silence him, is really about intimidating and silencing other journalists. Who now dares to follow Assange’s example?

Power operates most freely, meaning most tyrannically, when it’s unconstrained by accountability. The more Assange suffers, the more America slips into authoritarianism. Joining America in its drift toward tyranny is Great Britain and Australia, with Britain imprisoning Assange and approving his extradition and Australia doing nothing to stop the persecution of one of its own citizens. Such is the corrupting influence of power.

As usual, George Orwell explained all this in “1984” when he described the nature of power:

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness; only power, pure power … [No] one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end … The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?”

Assange, like the character of Winston Smith in “1984,” now has a full understanding of the nature of power. It’s come at an enormous price to him. Yet Assange has also revealed the nature of our government to the rest of us, the way it brutally uses power to keep its monopoly on power.

The question is: Are we going to do anything about it? Or is it already too late? And if we do choose to resist, like Winston Smith (and Julian Assange), will we be taken to our own versions of Room 101, after which we too will profess our love for Big Brother?

Addendum: A comment by Dan White stimulated this reply by me. I think it’s worth adding here.

If not obliteration [of people like Assange], then marginalization, incarceration, diminishment, denouncement, and so on. Chelsea Manning. Daniel Hale. Daniel Ellsberg. And many more. Put them in prison and/or accuse them of treason. Seize their assets. Destroy their lives.

Most of all, intimidate those who are wavering, who are thinking, but who perhaps don’t have quite the nerve, or perhaps too much to lose.

The best way to silence whistle blowers is to make them choose to throw their whistle away before it even reaches their mouth.

Wednesday Worries

W.J. Astore

I’ve been meaning to post more about President Biden’s decision to throw $33 billion in weapons and money at Ukraine, followed by the decision in the House to boost that to $40 billion, and the vote that took place in which all Democrats, including the so-called Squad, voted for it, with a few dozen Republicans voting against. The implications of this are staggering. The U.S. has already committed more than $50 billion to the proxy war against Russia as Americans stagger under rising costs for everything.

We need Russia to attack the American working class — only then might workers in America get some financial relief from “their” government.

Democrats are “all-in” on being pro-war and pro-military (and pro-police, since Biden has called for even more police to be hired), leaving anti-war positions to a smattering of Republicans with various motivations. All credit to Senator Rand Paul for holding up the $40 billion Ukraine “aid” package. He wants an Inspector General to monitor and control how this immense sum of money will be spent for Ukraine. A smidgen of accountability — imagine that! I actually wrote a note to Senator Paul to salute him for this and for his opposition to the DHS Disinformation Governance Board.

More unaccountable billions for Ukraine and the military-industrial complex, more government censorship for Americans: a couple of worries for our Wednesday.

Anyhow, here are a few good articles I’ve been meaning to cite on this:

Caitlin Johnstone, “The Squad” doesn’t exist outside of social media https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/05/13/the-squad-doesnt-exist-outside-of-social-media/

The US House of Representatives has voted 368-57 to spend $40 billion on a world-threatening proxy war while ordinary Americans struggle to feed themselves and their children. All 57 “no” votes were Republicans. Every member of the small faction of progressive House Democrats popularly known as “The Squad” voted yes.

The massive proxy war bill then went to the Senate, where it was stalled with scrutiny not from progressive superstar Bernie Sanders, but from Republican Rand Paul.

This is because the left-wing Democrat is a myth, like the good billionaire or the happy open marriage. It’s not a real thing; it’s just a pleasant fairy tale people tell themselves so they don’t have to go through the psychological turmoil of acknowledging that their entire worldview is built on lies.

Glenn Greenwald:

The Bizarre, Unanimous Dem Support for the $40b War Package to Raytheon and CIA: “For Ukraine”

Video Transcript: “The US Anti-War Left is Dead. The Squad’s $40b War Vote Just Killed It.” Many Dems voting YES have long denounced exactly these sorts of bills. What happened?

What happened, indeed? Not a single Democrat has a principled stance against weapons and war.

Another article by Caitlin Johnstone details a war game on NBC News that addresses a war with China over Taiwan: https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/05/16/pentagon-funded-think-tank-simulates-war-with-china-on-nbc/

Funded by the American taxpayer!

And then there’s this article by Dan Froomkin: “CBS helps world’s biggest arms dealer hone his pitch”

CBS helps world’s biggest arms dealer hone his pitch

Here’s the beginning of Froomkin’s article:

You could see something new playing out on the Sunday shows this past weekend: Some TV news networks are starting to raise questions about whether the U.S. involvement in the Ukraine might have some downsides.

But not on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

After hearing from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who called for “more weapons, more sanctions” — and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova — who asked for “more military support, more sanctions” — “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan warmly welcomed Jim Taiclet, the chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, tossing him questions that weren’t even softballs, they were bouquets.

One can imagine how that might have come about. Earlier in the week, President Biden visited a Lockheed Martin factory in Alabama that makes Javelin anti-tank missiles, pitching his requests for $33 billion in aid to Ukraine and subsidies for American microchip production. So Ukraine and supply-chain issues were in the news, and Taiclet could address both.

But still, what it came down to was a major television network inviting onto its marquee news show the head of the largest weapons manufacturer in the world — the company that profits more from war than any other company worldwide — and not asking a single pointed question.

Watch the entire six-minute segment and ask yourself if state television in a totalitarian country would have done it any differently.

In the 1970s and into the 1980s, the mainstream media occasionally did challenge the military-industrial complex. Those days are gone. I no longer see articles that criticize waste, fraud, abuse, threat inflation, and so on. The mainstream media, like the Democrats, have become pro-war and pro-weapons and pro-Pentagon. Rare indeed do you hear any sustained criticism or meaningful opposition. (You do get posturing from the Squad, but only when their posturing has no effect on legislation and money.)

What good is freedom of the press when the press muzzles itself on issues that could very well lead to a wider war, even a nuclear one? Why is America shoveling scores of billions of dollars to sustain a bloodletting in Ukraine? What is our strategy to end this war, rather than simply prolonging it and profiting from it?

So I worry.

Listening to Noam Chomsky and Julian Assange

W.J. Astore

I’ve caught a couple of videos featuring Noam Chomsky and Julian Assange and want to share insights I gleaned from them.

Let’s start with Julian Assange, currently being punished for being a journalist who actually challenges powerful people by telling uncomfortable truths. When asked what the number one enemy is, Assange replies that it’s ignorance. People are ignorant because the vast majority of the media are “awful,” relying on deliberate distortion and lies to advance narratives that reinforce the already powerful. As Assange notes, nearly every war is the result of lies facilitated by the mainstream media. This is unsurprising, since the media has been coopted by the military-industrial complex. Generally, people don’t like wars (surprise!), but it’s relatively easy to lie and manipulate most people into supporting them.

You can see why Assange had to be locked up in a maximum security prison and effectively gagged.

Awful media coverage is not just about lying; it’s also about eliding the truth. Consider blanket coverage of the Russia-Ukraine War and contrast that with the dearth of coverage of an ongoing genocide in Yemen, of slave markets in Libya, of starvation in Afghanistan, of U.S. occupation of oil fields in Syria. How can you speak out against the latter when there’s a relentless and all-consuming focus on Ukraine as the good guy and Russia and Putin as pure evil?

Chomsky’s insights into the media complement those of Assange. Media talking heads, Chomsky notes, are screened and selected for their obedience and conformity: their willingness to be subordinate, to go along to get along. They are boot-licking careerists, essentially, who learn quickly that there are certain things you just don’t say. And if you should stray and start to color outside the lines, you are slapped back into line, and if that doesn’t take, your crayons are confiscated and you’re demoted, fired, or otherwise silenced. Think again of the Iraq War in 2003 and how Phil Donahue was fired, Jesse Ventura was hired then put on ice because NBC belatedly discovered he was antiwar, Ashleigh Banfield was demoted for speaking out against the one-sided, pro-America coverage that almost entirely ignored Iraqi casualties and suffering, and so on.

Jesse Ventura, paid millions of dollars not to have a show because he was critical of the Iraq War

Along with these insights, I have an anecdote of my own. I know a skilled journalist who actually courts controversy by challenging prevailing narratives. He told me how he visited a journalism school and spoke to a class of would-be journalists. Did these student-journalists want to be the next Assange, or even Woodward or Bernstein of Watergate fame? Of course not! They aspire to be well-paid anchors or opinion-mongers on cable news, or so my friend told me. They’re in it for the money, for access to power, for fame. They’re not in it to call the powerful to account; they want to be among the powerful, and profiting from the same.

And that’s the way it is, as Walter Cronkite might have said.