Once more unto the breach
We have more information then ever, but know less. The world is almost bereft of journalists. Almost every single person who you think is a journalist is instead a media personality. They are readers, not thinkers, not analysts. They know almost no history. What they do know is wrong, or viewed through such a strong partisan lens as to make no difference.
Most of what you read in articles is actually partially transcribed press releases. Or partisan think pieces based on them. There is little in the way of hard facts because those take (A) time to procure and (B) a non-partisan view to report, neither of which are conducive to news as she is reported. It hasn’t been good for a long time: there are no real halcyon days of informed readers and honest news to which we can turn a teary eye—but it used to be better. The bastions of actual information didn’t used to be so far removed from the filthy trough from which the hoi polloi drink.
If you read about something important-sounding soon after it happened, you are dealing with information, not facts. Most likely, you are dealing with deliberately false information—or hype—promulgated for page views or social-media cachet. Advertisement dollars come first; your accurate viewpoint isn’t even a close second.
The initial stream of data is filled with partisan hacks pushing their agendas or the agendas of their paymasters. Close on their heels follow the chorus of people who want to be stridently right about the constricted worldview they already held—and they’ll present information to shoehorn whatever just happened into one of their few pigeonholes.
But we’ve taken little notice of the changed situation. We still treat each nugget of data like a goldfish—as if we’d never been fooled before. Most likely because we’d rather be titillated than right. Hell, none of this affects anyone reading it in any way, so we can at least be thoroughly entertained dilettantes, right?
But why would they lie?
Any of a million reasons. But always for the same reason.
President Trump launched a bunch of cruise missiles against a Syrian airbase in retaliation for a gas attack that killed over 70 people. Trump’s attack was considered by all observers in the U.S. a measured and appropriate response for which the international community will not condemn him in any way.
We have all probably read that it was exactly 59 Tomahawk missiles. Is there any reason to question this fact? Of course there is: it came from the Pentagon, an organization so legendarily bad at numbers that they can’t even calculate their budget anymore. Does it matter if it was 20 or 100 missiles? Not really. That’s where we are today: it doesn’t matter to us how many missiles we fired at a nation at which we are not at war: just that we did it.
The only unacceptable number for most Americans was 0 missiles—because those babies had to be avenged. How many babies was it? More than zero. Who did it? With what? How is it worse than a dozen other things that happened that day? It doesn’t matter. The gas-attack story was the sparkly bit that engrossed the American public that week.
And why is this bit of news so sparkly? Because gas is a weapon of mass destruction? By what grotesque legal contortion are 59 missiles—each with half a ton of explosives in it—not weapons of mass destruction? How is it that the weapons used by the U.S.—pardon me, NATO, or U.S.-led coalition forces—are always OK when literally anything the so-called enemy brings to bear is beyond the pale?
Still stupid after all these years
This unquestioning consumption of a completely evidence- and fact-free story is all the more sad considering the previous several months of media blitz were about “fake news”. But this isn’t our first failure, The evidence-free Russian takeover of American politics is taken at face value as well. We’re told that that’s not fake news, despite the giant ratio of hyperbole to facts.
Doesn’t anyone remember or want to remember the last time we did this dance? Babies in incubators in Iraq the first time around? WMDs in Iraq the second time around? Definitely Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan? Qaddafi was going to kill his own people in Libya? Iran’s giant nuclear stockpile that never was? The gas attack in Syria just four years ago which was the exact same baseless provocation to incite and escalate American involvement? And what about the conventional attacks in Syria, where the purported number of victims dropped from 250,000 to 90,000 over a week?
Do you remember how Osama bin Laden died? They found him and he was gone and dumped in the ocean before the sun rose again. Just gone. No proof. No trial. No pictures. A dozen meandering and changing storylines over the next few weeks until the media settled on an account they could accept. There is little to believe there. But we do. It is now fact—every bit of how it happened. Cemented in Wikipedia for all to read.
Do you remember how the U.S. government denied spying on anyone and then it turned out they spy on everyone? And life went on and we all know that now and their lie has been forgotten and they still get to win at everything?
And didn’t Assad, under pressure from Russia, get rid of all his chemical weapons years ago, after the last incident? And isn’t Assad much closer to winning the civil war now than at any point in the last half-decade? Why would he provoke an escalated U.S. involvement when he’s on the cusp of victory? Is he batshit crazy too? Like literally every other enemy America has every faced?
Numbers are shiny
We swallow numbers and facts, regardless of sources because that’s how we’re designed. It takes an active effort to discount information, especially when repeated endlessly. 59 Tomahawk missiles, revenge for 70 innocent victims, mostly children, of a Sarin attack.
Was it Sarin? The symptoms in the videos match a more conventional gas, like mustard. And if it was Sarin—which is a topical nerve agent—why were rescuers able to work unharmed soon after? And why did victims have burn wounds? Ok, maybe it wasn’t Sarin, but the 59 missiles definitely hit their supplies. You can’t store Sarin for very long, so that base probably didn’t have any. Well, then we took out their precursors for Sarin. One of the precursors is isopropyl alcohol, of which you need prodigious amounts, so where was the giant fireball? Was the video even of the attack from a few days ago? Or was it stock footage? They would never do that, would they?
Maybe these questions have answers. Maybe they never will. Maybe we could achieve a modicum of certainty from which we could make informed decisions. But the government and the media are not going to help. Instead, they will whip up a storm of support based on nothing. No facts, no evidence, probably a ton of lies or hand-wavy state-secrets bullshit.
That’s the last recourse for the state: when they are finally pressed to provide justification, they claim that the information is too sensitive and that releasing it would be harmful to the troops and very important people and that we will just have to trust them.
Of course we will. Because we have Stockholm Syndrome.
Paying attention to it, lapping it up, believing any of it makes you dumber. You may feel better about the world afterward, you may feel like you’re more informed, but you’re going backwards.
It’s better not to try at all than to let CNN (or the Pentagon or the State Department, etc.) and its ilk guide the way.
Your entire castle of information is built on air, on nothing.
Celebrating War Porn
The 70 people—another number delivered by only somewhat-reliable sources (who’s even on the ground there?)—killed in Syria are just a handful of the dozens of thousands killed in the last 6 years of civil war, but somehow these 70 have more significance for Westerners. This is most likely because someone wants it that way: they are focusing attention on the attack in order to further a political agenda.
And that agenda loves, loves, loves war. Read the many loving tributes to the Tomahawk missile at CNN (I read two of them) that might as well be Raytheon press releases, citing statistics about their awesome destructive power. Brian Williams, a major news anchor in the States who retains employment despite having lied through his teeth about his involvement in Iraq, said,
“They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them a brief flight over to this air field.”
Fareed Zakaria, a sellout sans pareil was so emotionally struck that he said,
“Donald Trump became President of the United States last night.”
Trump had already drawn blood with a truly mind-boggling number of drone attacks in his first couple of months, but, apparently, you’re only a real ‘Merkin President when you unbridle the power of the mightiest arsenal on the planet—heedlessly, extrajudicially and without understanding or caring about consequences or victims.
That pretty much sums up—albeit more eloquently—the sentiment expressed by my Facebook feed about the attack.
When we do it, it’s cool
No political agendas are served by focusing attention on the many airstrikes and attacks by the U.S. on civilians every day. For example, there was an airstrike on April 5th that, at last count, killed 278, most of them civilians. Let’s be serious: they were all civilians. The U.S. constantly claims that it is bombing “militants” but we have long since learned that the U.S. considers every male above 16 to be a militant. So if 13 militants were killed (as in the report), then 265 women and children joined them.
This isn’t a “special” attack of cruise missiles on Assad’s base. This is just everyday bombing of “signature” targets. No trial, no evidence, no legal right to be there. Just naked aggression against other states.
The cruise-missile attack on Assad is also not sanctioned by any international body: it’s just the U.S. unilaterally blowing shit up, perhaps hiding a touch behind the cowl of NATO. But the attack is most likely against the Geneva conventions, in that it is just an out-of-the-blue attack by one nation on another.
We have just been trained to believe that these types of attacks are somehow justified. But think about it: is there another nation that can just launch missiles against countries that haven’t attacked it? Without invitation? Is there another country that can meddle in civil wars?
You may think that Russia is doing the same, but Assad—the legally elected representative of Syria—invited them to help his regime. You may not agree that he should be helped, but you can’t deny that Russia at least has a legal right to be in Syria. What is the U.S. doing? Other than helping the Islamic State turn the tide on Assad? And does the U.S. not need any evidence at all of who actually carried out the attack for which it is purportedly exacting revenge?
And why does the world buy the story that the U.S. can use yet more missiles to exact revenge on behalf of ISIS for an attack for which evidence is very shaky—and for an attack that pales in comparison to the destruction that the U.S. itself exacts every single day? How fucking brain-dead are we?
“No, this US attack, reportedly involving 59 Tomahawk missiles being launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean, was carried out with regime change in mind, setting a precedent that can only have serious ramifications for the entire region.”
“[…] the lack of short-term memory in Washington is staggering to behold. Fourteen years after the disastrous US invasion of Iraq, which only succeeded in opening the gates of hell out of which ISIS and other Salfi-jihadi groups emerged, and six years after turning Libya into a failed state, in the process sparking a refugees crisis of biblical proportions, here we have yet another act of aggression against a sovereign state in the Middle East by the US. (Emphasis added.)”
“The missile attack has ended all talk of “normalizing” relations with Russia. For whatever the reason, Trump has decided that identifying himself and the United States as an enemy of Moscow and Damascus is the way he wants to conduct business.”
↩“The Russians are concerned about Trump’s sudden escalation, but they’re not surprised. They have spotted a pattern in US war-making and they’re able to comment on it quite calmly despite its terrible implications. Here’ more from the Russian Minister of Defense:”“The US administrations have changed but the methods for unleashing wars have remained the same since bombardments of Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya. Allegations, falsifications, grandstand playing with photos and test-tubes with pseudo results in international organizations became the reason for initiating aggression instead of an objective investigation.”
From Chris Hedges Criticizes Mainstream Media’s ‘Cheerleading’ for Syria Strike (Video) by Chris Hedges (TruthDig),
↩“President Trump’s decision to strike a Syrian air base late Thursday was met with resounding praise in the mainstream media. Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges addresses this “knee-jerk cheerleading,” … “They’ve fallen right into line and refuse to ask any substantial questions at all,” Hedges says of the media’s reaction to the U.S. attack.”
From the article Trumpenstein’s Tomahawk Dog-Wag: on Real and Fake News by Paul Street (CounterPunch)
“Trump’s missile spasm was completely illegal under national and international law. He responded without authorization from Congress, with no call for any sober investigation into who and/or what caused the chemical release in Khan Sheikhoun, and with no effort to garner sanction from the United Nations. (There’s nothing surprising about this, of course. Whoever sits in the White House, the U.S. “imperial presidency” has long and routinely trashed national and global law whenever that law doesn’t suit White House purpose.)”
“The missile attack on a Syrian government airfield is an act of war and a violation of international law, using a fabricated pretext.”
From the article Yet Another President Commits the Ultimate War Crime of Launching a War of Aggression by Dave Lindorff (CounterPunch),
“[…] the reality is that international law, as codified in the UN Charter, a treaty which the US has signed, declares the supreme war crime to be for a country to attack another when it poses no imminent threat to the attacker.”
↩“[…], the appalling hypocrisy of the US here also needs to be called out. It was only a few weeks ago that US aircraft bombed two locations, one on a school in the town of Mansoura, in Raqqa Province, and one on a Mosque in the town of Al Jina in western Alleppo Province, killing over 79 civilians, including children.”
From the article Bombs Bursting in Air: the Media’s Love Story in Syria by David Griscom (CounterPunch),
↩“There was an eerie unity of opinion to the attack revealing that none of the pundits on CNN took seriously the consequences of unilateral action. Instead, former generals sat together and praised the effectiveness of the strikes unchallenged by the hosts, even though the strikes were ongoing, premature conclusions at best. Leader of the resistance, Chuck Schumer, said the strikes were the right thing to do.” Nancy Pelosi joined the chorus adding, “Tonight’s strike in Syria appears to be a proportional response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons.””
The Iraqi Elite Republican Guard throwing babies out of incubators for having the wrong parents? You’ve never heard anything so ridiculous in your life? People were believing this bullshit long before Twitter, long before the Web. From the article, Before We Go to War With Syria, Inconvenient Truths Must be Confronted by Tareq Haddad (CounterPunch),
“When public opinion was split about America’s involvement in the war, a 15-year-old girl who gave her name simply as Nayirah tugged the heartstrings of every right-thinking person and sold the case for war.
“Appearing in front of US Congress, she testified that Iraqi soldiers took babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital and left the on the floor to die.
“Her testimony was corroborated by Amnesty International and was broadcast all over the world, but in 1992, it emerged that Nayirah was the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US and that her story was completely false.”
Oops. Too late. Bush the first had already committed half a million troops to Iraq.↩
“That a deepened US attack on Syria risks engulfing millions of people in horrific violence gives lie to the notion that bombing can be understood as a humanitarian effort, a narrative peddled at the New York Times, which ran an article claiming that Trump bombed the Syrian government because his heart swelled over the victims at Khan Sheikhun.
“Arguments in favor of the US bombing the Syrian government take one to ludicrous places. If the US should bomb the Syrian government as punishment for killing Syrian civilians, it follows that another state should bomb the US to punish it for killing Syrian civilians.”
The article US Airstrikes: What Did the Russians Know and When Did They Know It? by Robert Fisk (CounterPunch) writes,
↩“The Syrian war has become the most poorly reported conflict in the world. How many dead has it caused? 400,000? 450,000? Or 500,000, the latest figure. How do we complete the figures for death by gas? To believe the Syrian government? When the last gas attack in Damascus took place, the UN, in a brief paragraph in the middle of their subsequent report, said that the chemical shells had been “compromised” by being moved between different locations.”
↩“The timing is certainly suspicious. The Assad regime had nothing to gain and everything to lose from dropping chemical bombs on civilian targets. The Syrian government is winning the war. The rebel forces are in retreat. ISIS is a splintered force. Europe is desperate for a resolution to the Syrian war and an end to the tide of refugees. And the Trump administration had announced only a few days earlier that the future of Assad was up to the Syrian people. Of course, all of this assumes that Assad is still a rational actor, which may prove an assumption too far.”
Of course they would. Just like they would tell you they’re reporting live when it’s recorded or that the reporter is on-the-ground when that anchor is actually in a studio in front of a green screen.↩
“In Mosul, the number of people killed in a controversial March 17 airstrike was officially raised by 142 dead to 278 dead and counting. Eight people were killed in an airstrike on Refaei. Shelling on Shefaa killed one person and wounded three more. Sixty militants were killed in security operations. Airstrikes killed two militant leaders and 13 more. Three militant leaders were executed.”
Deaths due to airstrikes are due to U.S. planes, on missions flown every single day in Iraq—as they have been since 1990. Every.
And every single day people die, sometimes in large numbers. And no-one cares about those because it’s U.S. planes killing them, for good and moral and democratic reasons.
The article Dozens killed, buried in rubble after Mosul air raid − Iraqi officials, residents (Reuters) has more on the raid, which was carried out by, as always, “the US-led coalition.”. But the U.S. is the only one there with planes.
This is all fine. This is OK. There is nothing to see here.↩