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.

On Censorship and Disinformation

W.J. Astore

The best way to combat disinformation is with more and better information.  Censorship isn’t the answer.

The Biden administration has reached a different conclusion, creating a “Disinformation Governance Board” under the Department of Homeland Security. This “board” is headed by Nina Jankowicz, an unelected official and an apparent partisan hack. One example: she dismissed the infamous Hunter Biden laptop story as a “fairy tale” involving a “laptop repair shop”; it’s now been confirmed that Hunter’s laptop was real, and so too was that repair shop.

Democrats, of course, don’t have exclusive rights to censorship. Republicans always seem to be calling for books to be banned or education to be policed. But the real problem is much larger than partisan hackery and bickering. Efforts at censorship are all around us, couched as a way of protecting us from harmful lies and other forms of disinformation. Yet, as the comedian Jimmy Dore points out, the government isn’t that concerned about protecting you from lies; it is, however, deeply concerned with denying you access to certain truths, truths that undermine governmental authority and the dominant narrative.

As a retired U.S. military officer and as a historian, the most insidious lies and disinformation I’ve encountered have come from the government. Consider the lies revealed by Daniel Ellsberg and his leak of the Pentagon Papers. Consider the war crimes revealed by Chelsea Manning, aided by Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Consider the lies revealed in the recent Afghan War Papers. Consider the lies about the presence of WMD in Iraq, lies that were used to justify the disastrous Iraq War. The government, in short, is a center of lies and disinformation, which is precisely why we need an adversarial media, one that is willing to ferret out truth. Instead, we’re being offered a governmental Ministry of Truth in the form of a “Disinformation Governance Board.”

All things being equal, a democratic society thrives best when speech is as free as possible, trusting in the people to sort fact from fiction, and sound theories from blatant propaganda. And there’s the rub: trusting in the people. Because the government doesn’t trust us (remember Hillary Clinton’s comment about all those irredeemable deplorables), even as the government is often at pains to mislead and misinform us. As maverick journalist I.F. “Izzy” Stone said, all governments lie. It’s truly nonsensical, then, to allow the government to police what is true and what is “disinformation.”

But don’t we need some censorship in the name of safety or security or mental health or whatever? Sorry: censorship is rarely about safety, and it most certainly doesn’t serve the needs of the vulnerable. Instead, it serves the needs of the powerful, those who already possess the loudest megaphones in the public square.

But doesn’t someone like Donald Trump deserve to be censored because he spreads disinformation? Which is the bigger problem: Trump or censorship? I happen to think Trump is a divisive con man, but it was a bad precedent for Twitter to have banned him from tweeting. The bigger problem wasn’t Trump’s tweets but the media’s obsessive coverage of them in pursuit of ratings. The way to combat a blowhard like Trump is to ignore him, and to correct him when needed. To combat his lies with the truth. We don’t need a governmental Ministry of Truth to police the tweets of a former president. Not when the government is often the biggest liar.

The solution isn’t censorship but an active, engaged, and informed citizenry, assisted by a fourth estate, the press, that is truly independent and adversarial to power. But the weakening of education in America, combined with a fourth estate that is deeply compromised by the powerful and often in bed with the government, means that these democratic checks on power are less and less effective. Hence calls for quick yet dangerous “solutions” like censorship, where the censors (governmental boards, private corporations) are opaque and almost completely unaccountable to the people.

Unless your goal is to give the already powerful a monopoly on speech, censorship is not the answer.

Hollywood, the Oscars, and America

W.J. Astore

I finally watched the Oscars last night. Of course, I’d heard about Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock because of a joke Smith’s wife didn’t like. It was an ugly incident, but fortunately Chris Rock kept his cool. Hollywood loves itself, much like America loves itself, and an A-list actor like Will Smith can pretty much get away with anything, including assaulting one of the hosts for a joke that, though apparently well-intended, obviously miscarried. Smith never apologized during the show, though he finally issued a pro forma apology yesterday once he figured out that public opinion was against him.

I’m a movie buff, and I’ve always enjoyed watching the Oscars, but each year the shows get tackier, sleazier, and more morally repugnant. As my wife said this morning, you see a lot of sick people at the Oscars with no morals and apparently no souls.

I did want to mention one oversight at the Oscars. Now, I have to admit I didn’t listen to every word of every acceptance speech, but those I did hear all had one glaring omission: None of the Oscar winners thanked the fans, the movie-goers, the ones who truly pay them and support them. Instead, the winners thanked the usual suspects: agents, mentors, producers, big companies like Apple and Disney and Netflix, with occasional references to parents and to God. After slapping Chris Rock, Will Smith blubbered on about how he was all about serving God and love, apparently seeing no contradiction between his words and his deeds.

Of course, the Oscars are always a self-indulgent spectacle, always an exercise in narcissism and self-promotion. But would it really hurt the Oscar winners to take a few moments to thank their fans and movie-goers, especially when going to the movies was a bit risky given the Covid-19 pandemic? Instead, I heard talk of how brave they all were for continuing to make movies during the pandemic.

Again, I’m a big movie fan, and I don’t dismiss their artistry and often their cultural significance. At their best, movies can truly inspire us; they can help to open doors to new worlds; they are truly part of the human experience. What’s truly sad is how the Oscars and Hollywood’s yearly celebration of itself actually diminishes the movies rather than showcasing and enhancing them.

The Oscars should go the way of the Emmy Awards — they should simply disappear, having outlived their usefulness and having become something of an embarrassment.

A rare moment of grace at the Oscars, as Lady Gaga helps Liza Minnelli announce the award for best picture (Photo by Christopher Polk)