Sunday, August 21, 2016

American Umpire: Throw The Bum Out


The new film AMERICAN UMPIRE will be screened in Newton, Massachusetts this week prior to being aired on corporate faux "public" channel NPR. I haven't see the film yet but I want to respond point by point to the load of bullshit on its website. Let's start with the graphics.
How do you read this picture? My take: there's the U.S. (having appropriated the word American for itself) perched atop the planet, facing both west and east, making the call on which air strikes are fair and which are foul. He's not a player; he's the judge, jury and executioner.

I think the alpha males depicted here are perfectly situated to decide this since they are obviously above any of the bombs that will fall and kill or burn children. And they have flags! So, clearly, they are patriotic.

Now to the verbiage:
Since the end of World War II, the United States has played a unique security role in the world.
"Security role" in this context means the global power that sells most of the world's weapons of mass destruction and "unique" is a euphemism for "exceptionalism" which means we have no real rivals in death dealing.
During that time, democratic nation states have proliferated, combat deaths have plunged, and global trade has boomed. The security umbrella of the United States enabled war ravaged nations to rebuild and the Cold War came to a peaceful conclusion.  War did not disappear. Suffering and poverty were not eliminated. But when compared to any other period over the last several centuries, the last half of the 20th century was a period of historic prosperity and relative peace. Most countries in the world have benefited from what many economists call the golden age.
Combat deaths have plunged, eh? This obscures the fact that civilians -- grandparents, moms and dads, kids and babies -- are the primary victims of U.S. imperial wars. Because airstrikes kill civilians, mostly. And death dealing from on high is what the U.S. post-WWII era has as its signature military strategyAnd, if you think "the Cold War came to a peaceful conclusion" you should maybe ask Afghans about that. Or look more closely at the map at the head of this blog post.

The privilege on display here citing "a period of historic prosperity" refers to the fact that the people who serve the empire or preside at places like Harvard and Stanford do not see entire generations in the U.S. crushed by student debt. Or bankrupted and homeless because of catastrophic medical bills

Although the professors and politicians behind the film will not name it, clearly this is a puff piece for the rapacious economic system of late stage capitalism. 

The United States has benefited as well. But it has come at a cost. U.S. defense spending represents about 20% of the federal budget...
Twenty percent is a blatant lie that lumps in payroll taxes dedicated to Social Security and Medicare, ignores nuclear weapons development funded under the Dept. of Energy, and ignores the cost to care for veterans' needs. The real share of "defense" in the budget exceeds 50% year after year, even if you only count funding the Pentagon. (You can see real data and analysis of the federal budget here at the National Priorities Project.)
and spends more on defense than the next 28 countries combined. In 1947, the U.S. represented roughly half of the world's manufacturing capacity. Today it is less than 20%. Yet allies fail to meet their minimal commitments on defense spending confident that the U.S. will defend them. In fact, 95% of all military personnel around the world who are stationed outside their home counties are American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines [emphasis mine]. Their job is difficult, unpredictable, and often thankless. The question is, are we over doing it?
So only 5% of soldiers in foreign countries are not from the U.S. What part of the word "empire" do the filmmakers not understand? 

"Allies fail to meet their minimal commitments on defense spending" suggests to me that people in other nations still appear to have some representation in government.
Mainer Bruce Gagnon at a demonstration against situating THAAD anti-aircraft missiles in South Korea,
an "ally" which saw tens of thousands this summer protest THAAD deployment in their country.
American Umpire explores how the United States got into this role in the first place.  Then, through a series of outstanding interviews with prominent policy makers, scholars, military leaders, and journalists, it explores possible policy options for the future. American Umpire offers a balanced view and is an alternative to partisan hyperbole of the 24-hour news cycles and social media that paints foreign policy choices in black and while as either irresponsible isolationism or war-mongering engagement.
A balanced view offered by the educated elite in service to our corporate government. Right. I'm sure there will be an extensive look at the role of lobbying and campaign contributions (and other forms of bribes) by the corporations who make the planes, ships, drones and bombs. Not.
American Umpire seeks to open up a national discussion about the foreign policy of the United States in an important election year. More than anyone, presidents decide foreign policy and define our national vision.
Ok, now we're getting to the bottom of this propaganda effort. It's an "important election year" effort to get you to believe that the president is a decider. As opposed to a paid spokesperson for the corporations that own and operate the U.S. government.

And I think we're all pretty clear on which candidate our corporate overlords want in the White House.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

"You Don't Know What The Pentagon Is? (Scornfully) It's The Capital!"


I overheard something significant at the beach in South Portland this week, where a group of day camp kids were playing with kayaks and building sand castles. A boy who appeared to be about 9 said scornfully to a peer: 

"You don't know what the Pentagon is? It's the capital!"

A 9 year old boy living in the heart of the U.S. empire could be forgiven for thinking this is the case. Maybe he's seen this pie chart and knows that military = Pentagon:

Or this one, detailing the role of the war supplemental (renamed the "overseas contingency fund") plus the budget lines hiding weapons development such as nukes under the Dept. of Energy:

No, who am I kidding? A 9 year old has not likely seen either of the charts. 

Nor has he likely seen the headline "Army reports it cannot account for $6.5 trillion" and concluded that, if you're the boss, you can hide trillions in taxpayer dollars and no one has the power to make you say what you spent them on. He probably hasn't signed the petition volunteering to help the Army find the missing money either.
Sign the petition here.

A 9 year old in today's U.S.A. is living in a propaganda society so pervasive that it shuts down the capacity for real analysis. 

As a prime example I call your attention to a recent article by climate change guru Bill McKibben. Writing in the New Republic (a neoliberal magazine my husband mysteriously started receiving the same month a friend gave him a subscription to the much more radical Adbusters) McKibben called for a war on climate change akin to the mobilization that led to a win during WWII.

For a distinguished scholar at Middlebury College McKibben has a pretty shallow analysis of that global conflict. He gives the impression of having watched a lot of rah-rah "history" programs with Hitler as the ultimate bad guy and the U.S. as the knight in shining armor. His only critique of U.S. war-time performance was that they stayed out of the fight for too long.

He appears to be completely unaware that WWII was a continuation of the colonial conflicts that had been poorly resolved by WWI after the Ottoman Empire unraveled; that U.S. corporations like IBM and Ford profited from doing business with Nazi Germany right through the war; and that bombing Japan with nuclear weapons was the opening salvo in the (ongoing) Cold War with the U.S.S.R. Which had its roots in the colonial conflicts arising when the Ottoman Empire unraveled. Just ask Afghanistan.

Unaware as well that the U.S. and its allies knew about the concentration camps but kept quiet until they tardily liberated them to great fanfare. Also unaware that many of the Jewish people who died in camps or in transit had been denied permission to emigrate to safety, sometimes being literally turned back from U.S. shores. Also unaware that Pearl Harbor happened after the U.S. cut off imperial Japan's oil shipments -- and that the U.S. government knew that Japan was planning the "surprise" attack.

But for white men of McKibben's generation -- men without the habit of reflection, anyway -- WWII was a glorious victory and a grand project that got us all working together. That it unleashed nuclear catastrophe on the planet is not even worthy of a mention by the eminent environmentalist.
Image by Anthony Freda from "Pentagon Carbon Pollution Is Killing Life On Our Planet" went2thebridge July 19, 2015
But the really shocking ignorance on display in McKibben's long article is the pass he gives the Pentagon on its major role in driving carbon pollution and thus climate change. He doesn't just let the Pentagon off the hook -- he literally doesn't even mention them. 

Maybe that 9 year old and McKibben should sit down for a talk sometime, so the founder of 350.org wouldn't be so bewildered about why neither of the corporate parties will take on slowing down the runaway train of climate chaos in any meaningful way.

If you'd like to help, why not take the Natural Guard pledge? Affirm your commitment to remind people who are concerned about climate change that the Pentagon and its contractors are an enormous elephant in the carbon belching room. 

Then, in discussions about national "security" you can remind people that climate change is the biggest threat to our global safety. And continuing to burn more and more fuel for "safety" isn't taking us in the right direction.