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Business As Usual
Drifting Toward the Waterfall
Does it drive me careening ca-razy when I see O’reilly, Beck, Hannity etc; with books on the bestseller list? That would be a yes! These (mostly) white (mostly) guys capitalize on their positions in the media to sell books. Their TV and radio shows propagate a point of view that just happens to support an economic system that the billionaire owners of the media, their ultimate bosses, approve of. Their books send the same message, keeping their followers dumbed down and focused on side issues that distract from an examination of the system that so enriches said bosses and impoverishes increasing numbers.
So, when a media personality with a different agenda publishes a book it’s like, what’s going on? Well MSNBC, for whatever reason, has opened things up quite a lot these past few years and Rachel Maddow is one of the more delightful consequences. It’s not like she’s pitch perfect but compared to the neanderthals otherwise dominating the mainstream media she is truly a breath of unpolluted air.
Maddow’s book, Drift, has a dedication page which reads, “To former vice-president Dick Cheney, oh, please let me interview you.” He knows better than to square off with Rachel, preferring softball questions from the other bestsellers, the ones that drive me mad! Rush Limbo etc; It’s not that I’m against diversity, nope, I’m for it and they don’t provide it. They stand in their highly visible media spotlights and, in opposition to the obvious facts, ridiculously complain that the media, their platform, is biased to the liberal left. Meanwhile thoughtful critics, supposedly dominating the media, are rarely invited into the discussion, to such an extent that when a carefully filtered appearance is occasionally allowed their point of view is so unfamiliar that it appears radical, out there, fringe. This arrangement shields privilege from examination. Thus the puzzling case of MSNBC. Maybe it has to do with the market, so saturated with “wingnuts,” as Rachel calls them, that the ratings war leaves little choice for the losers but to seek another segment of the “demographic.” Capitalism works in mysterious ways.
But, the book: Drift is subtitled, The Unmooring of American Military Power. Maddow laments the drifting away from the early concerns of folks like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton for keeping the military small to avoid it becoming an anti-democratic self-perpetuating force. And keeping the power to go to war out of the hands of one person, investing it instead in the congress, making it difficult to go to war. Rachel sketches out how this limitation, as seen from the executive office, has been gotten around, until eventually the congress has simply handed it over to the “one person”, reducing the hurtles and hoops that one person has to navigate such that going to war is just one of the perks of office, sort of the ultimate guy video game. Of the women who potentially have a shot at that office, like Maggie Thatcher before them, there is a filtering that guarantees the proper level of testosterone so as not to threaten unmanly changes in the agenda.
General Abrams, Army Chief of Staff during the drawdown in Vietnam, reorganized the military to reduce the chances of frivolous war, arranging so that a call-up of the reserves would be a necessity to go to war. The thinking was that citizen soldiers called up would affect everyone, bringing the war home to the average citizen who would not support lightly undertaken ventures. Desire to end the Vietnam quagmire was so strong in 1973 that congress overrode a Nixon veto of the War Powers Act, that required (or re-required) congressional approval of any military venture over 60 days. Shortly after the bill’s passage congress, tired of the expense in lives and treasure of the Vietnam invasion (for that is what it was) marched down to the White House, then occupied by Ford, informing him that no funds were available for further fighting. Funding for withdrawal was all he was going to get. This tardy re-assertion of congressional responsibility came a bit late for the 50,000 U.S. troops and millions of Vietnamese killed, demonstrating just how bad things have to get before our representative will represent us. Of course the people they usually represent, their campaign contributors, were also war weary so maybe the apparent shift was still business as usual.
Obviously, as Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate, these measures proved inadequate. Maddow devotes ink to the Reagan phase of the unmooring, as she puts it in her subtitle, of U.S. military power. Not an especially sparkling metaphor. Out of control yeah, but unmoored? The Gipper was not the first U.S. president guilty of terrorism but the first to be convicted by the world court for it – for which the court ordered the U.S. to pay billions in reparations to Nigaragua. Our free press showed its usual servitude to power by not reporting the judgement in 1985 so few citizens actually know about this little incident. The U.S. predictably missed its first and all subsequent payments, all while railing against Soviet and Cuban terrorism.
Reagan, Maddow informs us, made propaganda films for the army during WWII. but later exercised his flexibility with facts by claiming combat experience. This penchant for ah, lying, manifested itself during Reagan’s presidential campaigns and time in office, something his loyal supporters either willfully deny or don’t care about. He harped on about how the U.S. was militarily second to the Soviets (not true), how Panama was a sovereign part of the U.S. (even John Wayne criticized him for that one) and Nicaragua was a major threat in our own “back yard”… something John Kerry, who should know better, has lately taken to using to justify ugly Central American polices. The analogy of neighbors would work but, back yard? When does our neighbor’s property become our back yard? Legally and ethically, simply proclaiming it does not make it so. But of course it’s a propaganda term to lead the naïve to support policy. That our leaders would use such methods casts grave doubts on whether we would support the policy if honestly presented. Even Carter, according to Rachel, emphasized military metaphors to pursue his agenda when proclaiming that the U.S. was at peace everywhere in the world might have struck a chord. The old tried and true always does for the risk-averse. Carter did actually make the reference to peace but his emphasis became military as he felt the thugs closing in on him as the disastrous election approached.
Once Reagan took possession of the White House he proposed the biggest peacetime military budget increase at the same time as announcing the biggest tax cut in U.S. history. For some strange reason (I’d venture a billionaire-owned press played at least a major role) Reagan’s popularity was up around 70% which made congress very leery of opposing him. His tax cut was transparent sleight-of-hand. The first phase was a 10% cut, heavily covered by the press. Not so heavily covered was a 10% increase in social security tax, which of course neutralized the cut for those making less than $100,000, leaving the real cut to those above $100,000. Do I have to say it? If you’re in the top brackets 10% amounts to alotta jing-wa.
Drift goes on to document how this same mentality governed in virtually all areas, leading to Keystone Cops shenanigans, very funny if they weren’t so dangerous, involving nuclear weapons and other WMD. When a million people gathered in New York’s Central Park to oppose nuclear proliferation the administration opined that Soviet agents had helped to organize it. Integral to what we might call the John Birch Society administration was a disregard for inconvenient facts that has not exactly evaporated with the passing of that regime.
Rachel gives accounts of the Iran/Contra scandal, the invasion of Granada, the first war with Iraq, the prime movers involved and their goulish return under Bush II., the service to international corporations called NAFTA, privatization especially as it involved the military. Clinton’s Serbia/Bosnia adventure gets a little cloudy. It’s sometimes hard to tell whether Rachel is criticizing, approving or merely reporting on this bewildering situation but she might have gotten a little clarity from Noam Chomsky’s book, The New Military Humanism. A shift to the Afghan/Iraq debacles follows with drone coverage and little flirtations with just how far we can push nuclear-armed Pakistan around. And Rachel closes with a note about how when you buy a house you accept the expensive task of maintaining it or it quickly returns to the earth. With our major investment in the military we face a similar maintenance problem on a monumental scale. I suppose her use of “unmooring” in her subtitle is meant to convey this idea, that if we don’t get control of the battleship, its drift is going to be expensive and catastrophic. Get my drift?
- Image Credits: Drawing by Tom Ferguson; photo of Ms. Maddow by Bill Phelps.
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