Netflix has just released War Machine onto the streaming media waters. This movie fits into the long tradition of American media mostly puffing up our military exploits or turning them into light tragi-comedy. Brad Pitt, applying the acting style of a trimmed down George Clooney, portrays the fictional General Glen McMahon. Broadly and obviously based on the story of the real General Stanley McChrystal who took over the War in Afghanistan in June 2009 only to be ousted in June 2010 after a profile appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine revealed much foolishness and derogatory comments about President Obama and VP Biden. The movie has its comedic moments and the very broadly played General MaMahon is bound to either really annoy those enamored of the US military or fulfill the image of buffoonish generals that others may prefer.
The title of this short book, only 130 pages, Building the New American Economy: smart, fair, & sustainable by Jeffrey D. Sachs with a foreword by Bernie Sanders (Columbia University Press, 2017) is unfortunately misleading. There is much here about the new economy. The misleading part is that there is very little about its construction, the building of the new economy.
Sachs covers many important issues in a thorough, efficient fashion. If you need a primer or a tune up about the economy this is a good place to start. These include: investment in our society, infrastructure, Federal budget, income inequality, healthcare, energy, military and the empire (not his phrase), and innovation. If you have been reading my postings over the last 5 or so years much of this will seem a bit deja vu.
Recently I stopped at the US Marine Corp War Memorial in Washington DC. Walking around the base with its lengthy list of Marine engagements since 1775, now a double row on several sides, I thought, “How many of these can faithfully be considered to be in defence of the homeland? How many expansionist wars within North America and how many imperialist ventures around the world?”
Run through them yourself and see what you think. Keep in mind that the section devoted to WWII, which takes up two sides, includes the names of all the major engagements, but still within that single conflict.1
- Don’t forget that these are just Marine engagements – think of ones you would have to add to the list including the Army, Air Force, Navy, CIA, DEA, and so on. [↩]
John le Carré, author of many beloved spy novels, e.g., Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy, wrote this piece critiquing the then upcoming War on Iraq in January 2003. Besides pointing out the very strong connections between big oil and the Bushes, many other elements of the critique continue to be applicable to current American foreign policy.
Here it is reproduced in its entirety:
The other day I stumbled on this Tom Lehrer song, “Send in the Marines”. This is as good a summary of American foreign policy as there is, though to update the lyrics for the Obama version just substitute “drones” for “Marines”.
Here is a YouTube video performance, perhaps from the That Was The Week That Was (the American version on NBC not the BBC original).
On March 19, 2003 George Bush, Dick Cheney and the cabal surrounding them launched their war of Shock and Awe on Iraq. The stated purpose was “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people.”1
Having successfully avoided much of the national moment for our politicians to blather on about the true meaning of 9/11, I was struck this morning by parallel between our “War on Terror” and our longest war, the “War on Drugs” (I have written earlier about this here). Some may be offended initially by this comparison. The War on Drugs was invented for the most cynical of purposes by one of our more craven Presidents, President Nixon1. But, when one observes the gigantic interests in Federal, State, and local bureaucracies (think your local police) and corporate worlds that immediately lined up to feed at this trough of a war, a bit of cynicism can not help but creep into mind.
Nixon’s invention spawned a plethora of Federal, State, and local bureaucracies consuming vast resources and spreading around the globe. Meanwhile, our social and criminal policies gauranteed high prices for the drug lords thus supporting a marketing and distribution system that provides service levels 24/7/365 to make Fedex give up. No other commodity is available in every location in the US with such reliable service packaged to meet local demand and local financing needs. On top of that, Nixon’s war, supported continuously since then by every President, the Congress, the court system, State governments and of course your local police departments, put millions of drug users in jail. This of course has swollen the ranks of those cursed with a criminal record and increasingly unemployable. Finally, no one is willing to discuss the outcomes of our drug policies. No one will vote to shrink or eliminate this war, America’s longest war. The policies continue to suck up resources, destroy other countries, and gravely damage millions of our own citizens.
As reported by Admiral (Ret.) Dennis Blair, former Director of National Intelligence, earlier this summer at the Aspen Security Forum, we are now spending $80 billion per year , not including our War on Terror wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (these would add hundreds of $ billions to this) on the War on Terror. He went on to report that a generous estimate of the world-wide strength of al-Qaeda and its affiliates is 4,000 men. This means that we are spending $20 million per year per potential terrorist. Others have reported on the continuing growth by tens of thousands per year of employees in our burgeoning public and private security apparatus. Meanwhile we have numerous agencies spying on Americans in the name of “national security”. It seems enormously likely that emails are regularly being subject to capture and it is hard to imagine that cell phone conversations, transmitted in the open (as are emails), are not also subject to surveillance. Where has the Fourth Amendment gone? To top it all off, do you feel more secure when you take your shoes off to enter an airplane? Do you think that our current anti-terrorist policies will be any more successful than the first ten years? Do you think that anyone will speak and act to end this second longest war?
The End of America – a film by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern
10 STEPS THAT CLOSE AN OPEN SOCIETY
1. invoke an internal and external threat
People who are afraid are willing to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.
2. establish secret (unaccountable) prisons where torture takes place
In a secret system, the government does not have to provide any proof of wrongdoing by those it holds, so it can incarcerate anyone it wants.
3. develop a paramilitary force
A private military force — under the exclusive direction of the “commander in chief” with no accountability to Congress, the courts, or the public — blurs the line between a civilian police force and a militarized police state.
4. surveil ordinary citizens
People who believe they are being watched are less likely to voice opposition. To scare a population into silence, the government need only monitor the activities of a few to make everyone fear that they are being surveilled. Every closed society keeps a “list” of so-called opponents it tracks.
5. infiltrate citizen’s groups
Spies in activist groups put psychological pressure on genuine activists by undermining their trust in one another. They may also disrupt legal activities, undermining the effectiveness of group efforts.
6. detain and release ordinary citizens
Detention intimidates or psychologically damages those arrested and also lets everyone know that anyone could be labeled an “enemy combatant” and “disappeared.”
7. target key individuals
People are less likely to speak out when those who are highly visible, like journalists, scholars, artists, or celebrities, are intimidated or have the livelihoods threatened. Targeting those who are especially visible makes it less likely that people will speak out and robs society of leaders and others who might inspire opposition.
8. restrict the press
The public is less likely to find out about government wrongdoing if the government can threaten to prosecute anyone who publishes or broadcasts reports that are critical of the government.
9. recast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason
People who protest can be charged with terrorism or treason when laws criminalize or limit free speech rather than protect it.
10. subvert the rule of law
The disappearance of checks and balances makes it easier to declare martial law, especially if the judiciary branch continues to exercise authority over individuals but has no authority over the Executive branch.
The movie presents these steps with lots of references to fascist and communist totalitarian history, particularly Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. According to the movie we are rapidly moving away from a democratic open society to a closed fascist one. The historical context for these changes in America is strictly the post 9/11 era and Ms. Wolf seems blind to the extent to which our society ceased being very open and veered away from democracy long ago. The seeds of our present situation in which corporatist interests joined at the hip with the American Empire and its military/security apparatus substantially dominate politics and the mass media are to be found long before 9/11.
An interesting aspect of this list, and a significant blind spot for Ms. Wolf and the makers of this movie, is the extent to which most of these “steps” have been present consistently in American life. John Adams and the Federalist’s Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 speak directly to steps 8 and 9. Cold War America used Steps 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10 throughout this period. The post WWII security state has consistently treated the Constitution and Bill of Rights as rhetorical cannon fodder for propaganda to be ignored or more forthrightly nullified when found inconvenient. For the most part, Ms. Wolf’s Ten Steps really stand out because they have been the subject of enormous intensification and institutionalization since 9/11. The American domestic security state is now united with the war making operations of the DOD to make the reach of American government truly comprehensive globally and domestically.
The government and the mass media, in a self-serving and cynical fashion, blew the 9/11 attacks into a gigantic existential threat. To this day 9/11 is treated as though it were a 21st century Pearl Harbor. In practical terms, 9/11 was a mere pin prick to an elephant. Though this attack wounded our self-perception of invulnerability and offended our sense that we are the saviors of the democratic world, it was just a terrorist attack, an incident to be dealt with proportionally, not by passing draconian Patriot Acts and building a gigantic addition onto the US security apparatus. Not to mention using this as a pretext to launching wars in two countries that have now lasted more than ten years and cost in the $ trillions.
On top of that, the government, in a completely bi-partisan display of unity, seized the opportunity to build whole new empires of security. We have the Department of Homeland Security with a $57 billion budget for fiscal 2012 and more than 200,000 employees (third largest department). 60,000 employees are in the TSA, that wonderful institution of airport silly business.
We now have to remove our shoes to get on an airplane, but do not have control of the hundreds of thousands of shipping containers that come to our ports each year. Better to demonstrate to the American populace the cost of our security by conducting invasive pat downs than to undertake real protection measures that might slow down commerce or even increase the expenses of corporations. I have been having a recurring bad dream of a small container ship floating into one of our harbors with a dirty bomb on it that we seem to have no effective means to prevent or detect.
Viewed from the perspective that Ms. Wolf’s Ten Steps are not new, but simply an intensification of fifty years of the American Empire, I think only the brutish forces of history will undo this mess.
Submitted Today to Hudson’s Register Star
Letter to the Editor
May 6, 2011
As our politicians and the media continue the “debate” about our public budgets, Federal and state, we need to continue to ask that they have a debate that includes all aspects of income and expenditures.
I want to focus here on our spending in the Dept. of Defense. Let’s just focus on the more than 750 military bases outside of the US for a moment. Why do we continue to support military bases throughout Western Europe in nine countries (77,379 personnel in 14,706 buildings with 629 acres of floor space). Germany alone has 167 US military bases. Japan houses 91 US military bases (41,512 personnel in 8,703 buildings with 731 acres of floor space). The costs are a bit less clear since the Pentagon provides no reports broken down along these lines. But, we can guesstimate. DOD spending last year ( including Iraq and Afghanistan) was $696 billion and the personnel deployed in Europe and Japan are 8% of total active personnel. You can easily guess that the costs are very big particularly factoring in the support services provided from the US.
Can we say that all of this is really necessary to our security?
While we are thinking about “security”, is our security to be found overseas guarding other countries? Or, should we be thinking about our security as a nation as perhaps better identified by the health of our society. Do we have reasonable access to jobs paying living wages, housing, education, healthcare, and transportation? Are we doing a good job raising our children and insuring that they have opportunities to reach their individual potentials? Are the vast majority of the population living on the same old wages for the past thirty years while a tiny minority become richer to ever more absurd extremes?
This sense of security is obviously a subject of debate and the answers involve us as individuals, families, local government and non-profits as well as state and Federal resources in a complicated mix. But, can we afford to continue the Cold War empire of a vast military? Is our security to be found in such distant places?
New Thoughts as of 1/18/11:
This month’s Atlantic Monthly has a two page piece, “The Last Stand of Ricardo Sanchez” about General Ricardo Sanchez, the first commander of US forces during the now 8 year old Bush war, Iraqi Freedom. This reports on Sanchez’s quest to bering the Bush regime to some accountability for their war. Definitely worth a read.
Original Posting 11/27/10
The return of George Bush to the national scene with the release of his memoir, Decision Points, once again roused feelings of anger and dispair. Anger that we have such a weak sense of ethics, basic right and wrong stuff, in our culture. This man and his cohorts lied, aggressively distorted facts, and mislead the country into what has turned out to be a disastrous adventure in aggression in Iraq. If we had any real politics in this country at least some national politicians should have been calling for his impeachment and, perhaps, trial for war crimes. The man is responsible for the devastation of Iraq, ten of thousands, at a minimum, civilian causalities, the flight of millions from their country to neighboring states, and the vast expansion of anti-US militancy around the world. This not to mention the costs directly to us in dead, wounded and financial costs running off into the far future. That is the source of my despair that Americans continue to be oblivious of the true cost to others and to themselves of our empire. In large part this ignorance is due to decades of propaganda from the government, industry and academies. Seemingly everyone in the elite is on the payroll of the empire.
The executive-congressional-military-industrial complex is real and effective. This renders us without any politics to grapple with this state of affairs.
The elite rolled out the big guns to puff Bush’s book. Heavy weight interviews with Matt Lauer and Oprah replete with a dust up with some silly rapper named Kanye West. This is what Bush faced instead of people who might have been capable of posing some serious questions with some serious follow ups. But, what exactly am I expecting. We are the people to whom politicians lie, reflexively and without any fear of repercussions. This has been going on continuously for my whole life. Bush is just the cherry on the ice cream float.