Monday, April 10, 2017

Do You Have Time To Listen To A Two-Minute Song From My Childhood?


When Dan Levitin was working on his 2014 bestseller- The Organized Mind-- he interviewed former Secretary of Labor, Treasury and State, George Schultz, primarily about lessons Schultz had learned from his days as the president of corporate behemoth Bechtel from 1974-'82, before Reagan appointed him Secretary of State. During the interview he told Dan that when he thinks "about all the money we spent on bombs and munitions, and our failures in Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places around the world... Instead of advancing our agenda using force, we should have instead built schools and hospitals in these countries, improving the lives of their children. By now, those children would have grown into positions of influence, and they would be grateful to us instead of hating us."

It's probably safe to assume Trump has-- if any notion at all-- just the vaguest idea of who George Schultz is. And it would be even safer to assume that Bannon might have Schultz's photo in the center of a dartboard in his West Wing office.

Trump's bombing of a fuel pump and a pile of sand near a Syrian airforce base sent the cost of oil futures up 2% the following day. Raytheon, the maker of the 59 very expensive Tomahawk missiles that Trump wasted, jumped around 3% (adding more than $1 billion to the weapons manufacturer's market capitalization) when the market opened the day after. Trump could have made a bundle on both, although because he's still refusing to release his tax returns-- despite repeatedly vowing to do so after he was elected president-- no one is sure how much he raked in as a result of that showy little stunt, which is generally assumed to have been an attempt to get the public's mind off Trump's myriad problems and disasters.

This morning Paul Krugman addressed the mindless cheers from the media peanut gallery for Trump's p.r. stunt. "[S]howy actions that win a news cycle or two," he wrote, "are no substitute for actual, coherent policies... The attack instantly transformed news coverage of the Trump administration. Suddenly stories about infighting and dysfunction were replaced with screaming headlines about the president’s toughness and footage of Tomahawk launches. But outside its effect on the news cycle, how much did the strike actually accomplish? A few hours after the attack, Syrian warplanes were taking off from the same airfield, and airstrikes resumed on the town where use of poison gas provoked Mr. Trump into action."
Trump may like to claim that the media are biased against him, but the truth is that they’ve bent over backward in his favor. They want to seem balanced, even when there is no balance; they have been desperate for excuses to ignore the dubious circumstances of his election and his erratic behavior in office, and start treating him as a normal president.

You may recall how, a month and a half ago, pundits eagerly declared that Mr. Trump “became the president of the United States today” because he managed to read a speech off a teleprompter without going off script. Then he started tweeting again.

One might have expected that experience to serve as a lesson. But no: The U.S. fired off some missiles, and once again Mr. Trump “became president.” Aside from everything else, think about the incentives this creates. The Trump administration now knows that it can always crowd out reporting about its scandals and failures by bombing someone.

So here’s a hint: Real leadership means devising and carrying out sustained policies that make the world a better place. Publicity stunts may generate a few days of favorable media coverage, but they end up making America weaker, not stronger, because they show the world that we have a government that can’t follow through.
Most people with minds that work without being distracted by brightly lit missile contrails, have noticed that the Blowhard-in-Chief accomplished nothing at all with his Syrian publicity stunt, which he now calls "sending a message to Assad." Few people know that he had crackpot Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard in Damascus a couple weeks ago asking Assad for his cell number for Trump, which she got. That would have been a helluva better way to send a message and wouldn't have cost American taxpayers $300 million.

As Will Bunch noted in his Philadelphia Daily News column yesterday, "sometimes in America, the rocket's red glare is all the proof through the night that you really need... The  reddish streaks of combustible fuel gave instant light and clarity to the muddled darkness of an Arabian night, and so they played over and over again on cable TV networks thirsty for pictures to illuminate the drama and importance of President Trump's most high-profile military adventure since taking office."
“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean...” Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’" (The song meant something different to Cohen, but I digress...) "They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them what is a brief flight over to this airfield." Then the MSNBC anchor blurted out what almost felt like an afterthought.

“What did they hit?”

The pictures were beautiful, but the policy was a mess. No one understood exactly why the most politically inexperienced and most truth-challenged president in American history had just pulled a complete flip-flop in the world's most volatile civil war. No one could explain on what legal authority Trump had launched the deadly missiles, whether our allies knew this was coming-- or what happens next. There were no pictures showing the seven people said to be killed when those "fearsome armaments" slammed into the al-Shayrat airfield, the part of the video game we rarely see.

None of that mattered. Suddenly, cable TV's well-paid squadron of retired generals appeared out of nowhere to bestow their blessing. (Has any network ever hired a retired peace activist as an analyst?) The pundit class who'd made their bones jabbering about Iraq and Afghanistan from the safety of a soundproof studio-- and who for 76 days had been baffled by this strange new commander-in-chief and his pre-dawn tweets-- had found their comfort zone, and the relief was palpable. Everybody knew their marks. Finally, unexpectedly but happily, they were putting on the show that they know how to produce.

Three days later, it's impossible to say how history books will view the U.S. missile strike on Syria-- as a strange blip in a six-year civil war that's killed 500,000 people and created millions of refugees, as just another nocturnal emission of cruise missiles from a nation that's fired off more than 1,000 from Iraq to Libya to Somalia since 2001...or, less likely, as the Archduke Ferdinand moment of the 21st Century.

But in the broader context of humanity-- and this strange and sometimes, yes, beautiful world that we've created after millions of years of evolution-- I believe that what we witnessed on April 6, 2017, marked a dangerous turning point. Vital decisions of war and peace, life and death, have been sucked into our vortex of around-the-clock entertainment.

The most powerful military in the history of mankind is in the hands of a man who lives inside of a bubble, whose information and emotions are driven by the images he sees on a flat screen-- and who understands his own awesome ability to himself manipulate what he sees. To the bedazzled pundits, Trump's ability to change the narrative on that high-def screen by incoherently striking at Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad (just a few days after his government said it had no interest in Syrian regime change) instantly made him a leader. In reality, he was simply a cable TV president fighting a cable TV war. And there was no way he could lose.

"I think Donald Trump became president of the United States” enthused CNN Fareed Zakaria as the bombs were bursting in air-- just days... after the same Fareed Zakaria had shocked viewers by calling Trump a "bullshit artist" on live TV. But that was then. Bombs are beauty, and beauty is truth, and that is all ye need to know, apparently.

The only shocking thing, really, was that it had taken Trump nearly 11 weeks to realize he could bomb his way to higher approval ratings. After all, it was the power of TV that had saved him in the first place from becoming little more than a Trivial Pursuit: Totally '80s game card. By the dawn of the current millennium, it was clear that the Manhattan real-estate mogul was a terrible CEO-- beset by bankruptcies and selling scammy products like Trump Steaks and Trump University. The Apprentice saved him; reality TV taught Trump that he was 10-times better at playing the role of a CEO than the hard work of actually running a large company. And it taught him how to tell a story, to spin a plotline that could mesmerize viewers, first on NBC and eventually on the presidential campaign trail.
Señor Trumpanzee, also sent a message to a chubby little punk in Pyongyang-- though probably not the message Señor hoped to send. According to a report from North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency Sunday, a Foreign Ministry official said the "unpardonable" missile attacks illustrates why North Korea-- and other countries independent of U.S. hegemony-- are willing to take on the gigantic burden and the frightening risk of arming themselves with nuclear weapons. It is lost on no one that the U.S. invades and destroys countries that can't defend themselves-- like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc-- while steering clear of nuclear armed foes like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. The official said that North Korea "will bolster up in every way our capability for self-defense to cope with the U.S. evermore reckless moves for a war and defend ourselves with our own force."

According to Reuters, Trump has responded by ordering an aircraft carrier strike force, stationed off Singapore, to steam towards Korea. Korean TV has been running this clip:

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At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian Williams' drumpfgasm was all too reminiscent of Chris Matthews' Bushgasm "we are all neocons now!" I think when the statue of Saddam was toppled or maybe when captain codpiece did his AWOL return on the aircraft carrier with the stupid banner hung on the superstructure... something.

Both msnbc douchebags should have been immediately fired... but that never happens.

Clearly the term "journalism" has no meaning in this fucking ocean of shit of a country.

At 10:21 PM, Blogger Procopius said...

Minor quibble -- Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons. The neocons seem to want to force them to develop them, but at this point they have stopped working on uranium enrichment and shipped all their (slightly) enriched uranium to Russia. Israel has nuclear weapons, but they don't worry that we're going to invade them anyway.


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