Joe Biden’s Red-Tinged Speech

W.J. Astore

President Joe Biden denounced “extreme MAGA ideology” at a recent speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I’ve been to Independence Hall, but never did I picture it like this, lit in a garish red light:

Readers here know I’m critical of Biden and Donald Trump. I don’t want either man to get a second term. And MAGA, as in make America great again, is a movement that has cult-like elements in the way it elevates Trump as some kind of leader/savior figure. Being critical of MAGA is one thing, but Biden’s speech had all the subtlety of the red-tinged image above.

Having watched too many episodes of “Star Trek,” what I think of here is Red Alert. But painting all Trump supporters with the same red brush only aggravates tension and division.

Sorry, I don’t see my MAGA neighbor as my enemy. He or she is a fellow American, probably one who’s frustrated with the system as it exists today and is seeking an alternative to politics as usual. The shameful thing is our country’s political duopoly, which offers only two choices, Biden or a Biden clone versus Trump or a Trump clone. Maybe the “enemy within” is the duopoly itself?

Biden’s speech was disheartening. The way to win people over is not to paint your rival in red. Give people hope. Give them meaningful reforms. A $15 federal minimum wage. Affordable health care. Higher education that doesn’t lead to huge personal debt. Environmental policies that preserve the earth and address climate change. An end to gargantuan military budgets and overseas wars. Heck, I’ll settle for potable drinking water in Jackson, Mississippi and Flint, Michigan.

Railing against an “enemy” is easy. Sharing the fruits of America equitably among all Americans is the real challenge. Biden pushed a big red “easy” button that placed his followers on red alert against the MAGA foe, as if they weren’t our fellow Americans but a quasi-Klingon empire of aliens out to attack and conquer. It’s a move both wrong and wrongheaded. It’s also yet one more reminder that America needs new political parties and a new direction.

“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.

Vote for What You Believe In, Not for Crumbs

W.J. Astore

As a progressive-leaning person, I’m deeply disappointed by Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.  I’m an independent and have no allegiance to either party.  The Republican Party, dominated by Trump, is a non-starter for me.  The Democratic Party is corporate dominated, a party of the moneyed interests, so I have little interest in it at the national level.

The Progressive Caucus keeps praising Biden instead of pushing him, so they’re part of the problem.  The so-called Squad (AOC and company) never seem to use their combined power for anything meaningful.  A concerted minority can make a difference: look at the Tea Partiers.  But the Squad basically does as they’re told by Nancy Pelosi.

People tell me the Squad is small and their influence is limited by the mathematics of Congress.  But what Congressional hills have they chosen to hold fast and fight on, if any, to effect true change?  United, a squad of progressives could drive policy because Pelosi often needs their votes.  Yet they refuse to come together to drive change that might upset Pelosi/Biden, so how progressive are they, truly?

When you look at the specifics of Democratic actions, they (the actions) disappoint.  A climate change bill saluted and applauded by the oil and gas industry.  Changes in drug pricing that don’t take place until 2025, and only to a short list of drugs.  The complete abandonment of a government-option for health care.  Basically, the Democrats have kowtowed to lobbyists for fossil fuel, big pharma, and private health insurance companies.

In short: nothing has fundamentally changed, exactly what Biden promised to his big donors. He is what he’s always been: a conservative-leaning Democrat who serves the moneyed interests, who supports expanding police forces and prisons, and who believes the best way to promote peace is by supporting massive military budgets and overseas wars.

Even if there’s truth to my critique, my Democratic friends say, you must still vote blue no matter who, because the Republicans are so much worse.  Yet if we continue to vote for Democrats because they give us a few more crumbs than the alternative, all we’ll ever get is crumbs.

A colleague of mine, Matthew Hoh, is running for the Senate as a Green in North Carolina.  The Democratic Party there did everything it could, legal and less-than-legal, to block his access to the ballot.  It took a lawsuit and a federal judge to get his name added to the ballot.

Matthew Hoh, candidate for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina

Matt Hoh is a former Marine and State Department guy who resigned publicly to protest the Afghan War.  He has strong progressive principles and unassailable integrity and supports policies most Americans would loudly applaud.  Again, the Democrats did everything they could to block him from the ballot.

Some people say that a vote for Matt Hoh and third-party candidates like him is a vote for Trump and the Republicans.  For me, that’s total BS.  Candidates like Matt Hoh help us.  They drive an agenda that’s truly for workers, that’s truly for change.  If nothing else, they force corporate-tool Democrats to turn slightly leftward rather than always toward the right.

Perhaps you know the saying about Democrats: fake left, run right.  They fake left in the primary, exciting the “liberal” base, then they run right in the main election and, if they win, they then rule and legislate from the right as well.  The mainstream corporate press terms this “sensible” and “moderate.”

We need more principled leaders like Matt Hoh to drive real change.  If they “help” Trump and the Republicans by “stealing” votes, that’s not their fault: it’s the fault of the Democrats who are reluctant to be seen as truly liberal or progressive and who are basically tools of the moneyed interests.  

If Matt Hoh wins lots of votes in North Carolina (and I hope he does), all credit to the voters for seeing him as he is and for voting for what they believe in.  Indeed, instead of people insisting that Matt Hoh should drop out to help the mainstream Democrat, it’s the mainstream Democrat who should drop out to help Matt Hoh.

I do my best to vote for what I believe in.  Which is why I won’t be voting for Trump, or DeSantis, or Biden (or Harris or Mayor Pete or whomever) in 2024.  I’ll be voting for candidates who in their words and deeds promise us something more than crumbs. Leaders like Matt Hoh.

Biden Tackles Student Debt — and Misses

W.J. Astore

At long last, the Biden administration has taken a modest step on student debt relief. Biden announced yesterday a plan to forgive up to $10K in student debt (assuming you make less than $125K) and up to $20K if you received a Pell grant. It’s a start, right? Naturally, Republicans framed it as yet another government giveaway to the undeserving, which makes me think more highly of Biden, at least for a moment.

Why am I disappointed in Biden’s action? Let’s take a look at his own website and its promises on student debt relief:

So, Biden had promised “immediate cancellation” of a minimum of $10K, with no preconditions and no need to jump through paperwork hoops. That “immediate cancellation” still hasn’t come (you must still apply and wait for “relief”), and “immediate” took 18+ months, timed so as to win some positive feeling in this fall’s election cycle. So be it. Something is better than nothing, right?

But look at Biden’s second big promise. He was going to forgive all tuition-related student debt for many students, especially minority students. I’ll repeat that: all student debt. His latest announcement doesn’t come close to his own stated goal.

What people tell me is this: Too bad. The Republicans wouldn’t give students any relief whatsoever, so the Democrats deserve your vote because they gave $10K in relief. Be happy with that, shut up, and vote blue no matter who.

Color me unconvinced. Student debt in America sits at $1.7 to $1.9 trillion. Biden just canceled about $200 billion of that debt, or just over 10% of it. As I said, it’s a start, but it represents a half-measure at best when you compare it to Biden’s own stated promises and goals.

In the past, Senator Joe Biden helped to secure legislation that prevented student debt from being discharged during personal bankruptcies. So even if you go bankrupt (and the leading cause of bankruptcy in America is medical bills), you still owe all the money on your student debt. As far as I know, that hasn’t changed. Thanks for that too, Joe.

For the cost of the F-35 jet fighter over its lifetime, Joe Biden could cancel all student debt in America. Instead, he chose to nibble at the edges, canceling about 10% of it, while fully funding the F-35, new nuclear weapons, and announcing yet more military “aid” for Ukraine.

Is this really the best the Democrats can do on student debt relief? Is this the best our country can do? Say it ain’t so, Joe.

For the lifetime cost of this warplane, you could cancel all student debt in America.

The Betrayal of Dwight D. Eisenhower by His Own Memorial in Washington DC

Eisenhower knew war and hated it. He spoke of spending on wars and weapons as humanity crucifying itself on a cross of iron. He warned America in the strongest terms of the perils of the “military-industrial complex.” The Eisenhower Memorial in DC fails to capture his most powerful and memorable sentiments against war

W.J. Astore

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s most famous address was his last one to the nation in January of 1961, when he warned America of what he termed “the military-industrial complex.” It was a warning as powerful as it was prescient, and though Ike achieved much in life, surely this speech and the meaning of his warning deserve to be captured in the boldest terms in the memorial to Ike in Washington, DC.

Sadly, it isn’t. Though I haven’t yet seen the monument in person, images of it are available online with audio commentary. Let’s tackle the audio commentary first. In Part 5, “Leader of the Free World,” the narrator speaks of Ike’s “farewell address,” not his address on the military-industrial complex, and that it included a “caution” (not a “warning”) to the nation. Ike is allowed a few sentences on the military-industrial complex, but the narrator provides no additional context or commentary. The narrator then ends by saying this was Ike’s goodbye speech; again, no mention of how powerful Ike’s speech was in its criticism of a force that Ike declared threatened America’s democracy and our personal liberties. And then the kicker: at the end of the narration, we’re told the audio commentary was made possible by “a generous donation” by Boeing!

I burst out in rueful laughter. Of course Ike’s warning about the military-industrial complex was played down; the military-industrial complex funded the audio commentary! I felt like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” when he discovers his secret magic decoder ring is only useful for decoding crummy commercials that urge him to drink his Ovaltine.

Turning to the memorial inscriptions themselves, here is the one for Ike’s “farewell address”:

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. Akin to and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society. We pray that…all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.

Farewell Address
January 17, 1961

Notice how Ike’s warning (which I’ve bolded) about the military-industrial complex is buried in the text. Even more critically, the very heart of Ike’s warning is torn out. For here are Ike’s words that followed the warning about a military-industrial complex, and which are omitted on the memorial:

The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Why weren’t these powerful words of Ike also engraved in stone? Could it be because no one in the DC area, especially the military, its many corporations, and the Congress, wants the American people to come to grips with “the disastrous rise of misplaced power” in America?

Putting this memorial together required corporate funding. Congress was also heavily involved. So too was the military. Is it any wonder that Ike’s warning about the military-industrial-Congressional complex has been watered down to a “caution” and buried in the text of a fond “farewell”?

Remember, Ike implored us to be alert and knowledgeable citizens. How can we be when his speeches are bowdlerized at his own memorial and the audio commentary to the same is funded by Boeing?

It’s easy to lose the thrust of Ike’s powerful warning about the military-industrial complex when it’s buried in the middle of this monument, and when Ike’s strongest words weren’t even included

You truly need to sharpen your focus if you want to catch a glimpse of what truly worried Ike:

Something tells me that Ike, if he were alive today, would be none too happy about this. Ike’s memorial celebrates his boyhood, his service and great victory in World War II, and his presidency, but it fails to capture his finest speeches against war, against wasteful and immoral spending on deadly weaponry, and against a powerful alliance among the military, its weapons makers, and Congress that Ike saw as a fundamental threat to liberty and democracy.

Our monuments betray us, America, in more ways than one.

Seeing the Dark Side of the Moon — and of America

W.J. Astore

The Moon is the brightest object in the night sky. It has so many meanings in our lives, our history, our folklore and myths. Yet we always see it from one side. Until the beginning of the space age, we never saw its dark side. And that dark side presents us with a whole new idea of the Moon, as so:

A truly captivating vision of the dark side of the Moon, courtesy of NASA

I love seeing familiar objects in unfamiliar ways. Here we see the battered side of the Moon. In a sense, the Moon acts as a shield for the Earth, with some asteroids getting funneled into its gravitational well and striking its surface rather than possibly colliding with the Earth. Without a large Moon near us, life on Earth may have proved more precarious, with more mass extinctions due to asteroid strikes. (I think I’m right here, based upon my own reading on our solar system, which I admit was many, many moons ago.)

Can we also see the dark side of other objects? See the familiar in strikingly unfamiliar ways? How about America? It’s not easy, because those who try to help us to see are often punished for their probing in darker places.

Who are some of these “astronomers” who seek to show us America in a new light? I’d like to mention a few names here: Daniel Ellsberg, Daniel Hale, John Kiriakou, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden. And let’s throw an Aussie in there too: Julian Assange. And an outspoken Catholic worker by the name of Dorothy Day. Or how about an anarchist like Emma Goldman. These men and women (and many others) sought to shine a probing light on some of the darker sides of American behavior, and you won’t be surprised to learn that they suffered for it.

My point here is not to focus exclusively on the dark side of America. Rather, just as it’s an incomplete picture to see the Moon from only one side and perspective, so too is it a limiting experience to see America from only one side. And that “one side” is typically the one most favorable to America, the brightest one, the least cratered one, even the romantic one.

If we seek to understand the Moon in its entirety, we must see all its sides — especially its most battered one. The same is true of America.

Are Joe Biden and Donald Trump Too Old to Serve?

W.J. Astore

President Joe Biden turns 80 this year. If he chooses to run and is reelected in 2024, he’ll be 82 and will serve as president until he’s 86. His Republican rival, Donald Trump, will be 78 in 2024 and is overweight and perhaps obese. Biden, meanwhile, is moving more slowly and appears to be experiencing signs of age-related cognitive decline. Leaving aside their politics and policies and personalities, are either of these men truly fit to be president?

We all age differently, of course. But it used to be said that being POTUS was the toughest job in the world. Younger men like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush aged noticeably in office due to the strains of the job. Yet pointing out the rigors of the presidency, and raising questions about whether men in their 80s are truly capable of handling such rigors, exposes one to claims of bias based on age.

A lot of jobs have mandatory retirement ages. My dad was a firefighter and he had to retire at 65. While we don’t expect the POTUS to climb ladders or charge into burning buildings or carry bodies, there’s still something to be said for the difficulty of men in the twilight of their lives serving as the “leader of the free world.”

(I say men here because women live longer and often age more gracefully. But I think it’s also true in the U.S. that a woman “pushing 80” would be dismissed out of hand as too old for the presidency; societal bias against older women still exists, though of course older women can cling to power with the same tenacity as men: just look at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.)

I remember the bad old days of the Cold War when Soviet leaders were mocked in the U.S. as a gerontocracy of sorts. So when Leonid Brezhnev died at the age of 75, he was briefly succeeded by Yuri Andropov (died at 69) and Konstantin Chernenko (died at 74 after serving for just over a year as General Secretary). Then the much younger Mikhail Gorbachev took over at age 54 and more than anyone helped to revolutionize U.S.-Soviet relations.

In a way, Joe Biden is the U.S. equivalent of Andropov and Chernenko, a time-server who was elevated by his party as a caretaker. “Nothing will fundamentally change,” Biden said of his administration, a promise he has indeed kept. Those same words could have come from Andropov and Chernenko.

The problem for the Democrats is that there’s no clear younger heir-apparent to Biden. Harris? Mayor Pete? Gavin Newsom? (Newsom, like Mitt Romney, has presidential hair but little else.) Where is the Democratic equivalent to Mikhail Gorbachev?

The Republicans have their own issues, the main one being the cult of personality surrounding Donald J. Trump. But what really empowers Trump, besides his own craftiness at cons and culture wars, is the weakness and hypocrisy of the Democrats. When your most likely opponent is a “no hope, no change” figurehead in his early 80s, even Trump appears by comparison to be a change agent of sorts.

America truly needs fundamental change, someone like Mikhail Gorbachev, a leader willing to face facts and tell harsh truths. Someone with a fresh perspective and the energy to convey it. Both Biden and Trump are too old, if not in their bodies, then in their thinking, to be the reformer America so desperately needs.

Liz Cheney Loses

W.J. Astore

The big news in U.S. politics today is Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, losing her House seat to a Trump-backed challenger.

Liz Cheney has recently built a reputation as the “sensible” Republican, calling on other Republicans to reject Trumpism, alternative facts, fake news, and all the rest of Trump’s baggage. She was an outspoken critic of Trump’s role in the January 6th Capitol riots. She broke from the Trump cult and was punished for it.

Liz Cheney concedes defeat

Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is indeed strong, but I don’t see him as a cult-like leader. I think many of Trump’s followers are with him because of the lack of viable alternatives. Trump’s strength, in other words, is the weakness of his competitors, including Republican has-been challengers like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but especially of Democrats like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi.

There’s been much hype in the mainstream media about Joe Biden having finally found his groove, with legislation being passed that is supposed to address climate change, to lower prescription drug prices, and to make health care more affordable. But when you look closely at what Biden has signed into law, the benefits largely disappear. Provisions to address climate change include massive handouts to the fossil fuel industry. New regulations to lower drug prices won’t come into effect until 2025 at the earliest, and only for a small number of drugs. (The cost of insulin will remain high for anyone not on Medicare, i.e. anyone under 65 without excellent health insurance.) Subsidies for health insurance are available but drive people into the “marketplace” where they can buy private for-profit health care plans that include high co-pays and deductibles.

In short, the Democrats, the main opposition to Trump, are up to their usual tricks, promising to make things better for the working classes while doing the bidding of their owners and donors. It’s Democratic actions and inaction, more so than the wonders of Trump’s personality, that drive so many people to look to Trump as a viable alternative.

The Democrats could win back many of Trump’s supporters if they simply kept their campaign promises. Those included, among others, a $15 federal minimum wage, significant student debt relief, a public option for health care, and family-friendly benefits for child care, family leave, education, and the like. They simply haven’t done it, and won’t do it, because the quest for corporate money and donors continues to drive policy.

So the Democratic playbook for this fall is the same as it’s been for years: scare the people into voting against “crazy” Republicans. Indeed, the Democratic establishment has actively funded more extreme right-wing candidates, boosting their chances in primaries against more moderate Republicans, because the Democrats assume they’ll have a better chance defeating the “crazy” right-wingers in November. One might ask Hillary Clinton how that worked out for her campaign in 2016 as she boosted Donald Trump against candidates like Jeb Bush, knowing in her heart that Trump would be far easier to defeat. What happened there, Hillary?

Trump, of course, has always been a sly con man. In a sense, he isn’t a hypocrite. What you see is what you get with Trump. With the Democrats, what you see is not what you get. We keep being told that Biden is accomplishing great things, that he’s channeling FDR (!), when it’s obvious he is what he’s always been: a centrist law-and-order Democrat who’s loyally served Wall Street, Big Pharma, and similar big money and corporate interests for virtually his entire 50-year career.

Those Americans who choose to follow Trump, in short, are not a bunch of irredeemable deplorables, they’re not gullible cultists, they’re not bigots, racists, and white supremacists. Not in the main. They’re Americans looking for answers, caught in a vise, being squeezed by the uncaring powers around them, including their own government, and including politicians like Liz Cheney.

Liz Cheney’s father didn’t prevent the 9/11 attacks. He got America involved in two disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that killed and wounded tens of thousands of U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi people. He was a director of America’s military-industrial complex that harmed so many of the sons and daughters of parents who became Trump supporters because they were tired of endless wars that served no one but the friends of Cheney. And Liz Cheney used her father in campaign ads that touted her as a patriot against the corruption of Trump.

That obviously didn’t sit well with the people of Wyoming.

There’s an increasing sense of desperation in America, a growing sense that things are getting worse, that we’re headed for Dickensian times of hardship and exploitation. And Democratic “solutions” aren’t even half measures. Nor was signing up Liz Cheney as an ally to rail against Trump and his MAGA followers.

The answer — and we’ve heard it before — is hope and change. Real hope and real change. We had a candidate and a movement in 2008 who seemed to embody true change, but as soon as he won the presidency, he disbanded his movement, kowtowed to Wall Street, and passed a Republican health care bill that ironically became known as Obamacare. After that record, you can see why so many Americans decided they “won’t get fooled again,” and why more than a few Obama supporters switched to Trump in 2016.

What’s the answer? One thing is certain. It’s not “centrists” like Liz Cheney — or Joe Biden. The voters have spoken.

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/