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Robert Lipsyte, Will the Four Horsemen of the Media Continue to Trample Us?

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[Note for TomDispatch readers: Don’t forget (as so many of you never do) that this website needs your support to stay alive and kicking in a distinctly difficult world. So, if you have a moment, do visit our donation page and lend a hand. Should you be a big Robert Lipsyte fan (as I am), contribute $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.) and you can choose to have him send you a signed copy of his latest book, SportsWorld: An American Dreamland. Tom]

Only recently Donald Trump had his Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) moment. He promptly announced that, despite rumors he had reportedly spread, he did not intend to form a third party (“fake news, fake news”) — not when the second one was his for the asking and he could potentially defeat a future Democratic presidential candidate as a Republican. “Who knows?,” he told that audience, “I may even decide to beat them for a third time.”  Admittedly, he spent much of his CPAC speech time at the border mourning his “great” (if largely nonexistent) wall there and decrying Joe Biden’s arrival at the White House as “the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history.”  As he put it, “In just one short month, we have gone from ‘America First’ to ‘America Last.’”

And yes, if you bothered to listen to that jut-jawed canary tweeting up a storm and were a CPAC devotee, you, too, might have been chanting, “We love you, We love you!” (although ominously enough only 68% of his fans in that conference hall actually want him to run again in 2024). If you weren’t part of his base, however, you would have found yourself listening to a genuinely dangerous, all-too-mad man who — if, say, the economy crashes — might indeed still win in 2024, sending this country over the edge of time, space, and god knows what else.

On TV, as Robert Lipsyte, TomDispatch jock culture correspondent, suggests today, it was indeed like watching one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in action. The Donald even took the time to “defend” women’s sports (as he’s never defended women) from the coming of supposedly record-breaking transgendered athletes.  (“Joe Biden and the Democrats are pushing policies that would even destroy women’s sports.”) Of course, if you’re thinking of apocalyptic horsemen and sports — and you have a long memory — you might recall the 1924 Notre Dame football team of which, after a victory against Army, sportswriter Grantland Rice so famously wrote:

“Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon…”

Meanwhile, saddle up and join former New York Times sports columnist Lipsyte, author of SportsWorld: An American Dreamland, in a wild, very personal gallop into our very own world where, for years, four distinctive horsemen of what indeed could prove to be the apocalypse rode us into the ground. Tom

Rush, Roger, Rupert, and The Donald May Ride Forever

As Do Pestilence, Famine, War, and Death

The Four Horsemen of our media apocalypse -- Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch, and Donald Trump -- have ridden roughshod over us this past half-century leaving their hoofprints on our politics, our culture, and our lives. Two of them are gone now, but their legacies, including the News Corporation, the Fox News empire, and a gang of broadcast barbarians will ensure that a lasting plague of misinformation, propaganda masquerading as journalism, and plain old fake news will be our inheritance.

The original Four Horsemen were biblical characters seen as punishments from God. By the time they became common literary and then film currency, they generally went by the names of Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death. Matching each with Limbaugh, Ailes, Murdoch, and Trump should prove a grisly but all-too-relevant parlor game. The originals were supposed to signal end times and sometimes, when I think about their modern American descendants, I wonder if we’re heading in just that direction.

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William Astore, Military Cancel Culture

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Here’s the strange thing. In 2020, America was indeed invaded. Its national security was smashed to bits.  Hundreds of thousands of its citizens were slaughtered on the battlefields of the conflict that followed. And yet the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state, the institutions in which American taxpayers had, through their congressional representatives, invested essentially everything in this century, were missing in action. Yes, in the years 2018-2020, as Stephanie Savell of the Costs of War Project recently pointed out, the U.S. military was indeed conducting counter-terrorism operations of one sort or another, ranging from actual ground combat to air and drone strikes to training allied forces, in 85 countries across this planet. (Only the other day, some of its planes struck supposedly Iranian-backed militia targets in Syria, killing a number of militiamen, a first of the Biden era.) In addition, more than 200,000 American military personnel are deployed on hundreds of military bases around the world. But in the U.S., in the midst of a national security crisis, that military has essentially had no impact at all. Not a shot did it fire, not a drone or plane did it call into action. All those trillions of dollars that had been invested in its advanced weaponry and its endless wars of this century mattered not at all when Covid-19 arrived on our shores.

In the last year, from burning California to freezing Texas to a country in the clutches of the kind of pandemic that hadn’t been seen in a century, national security crises have eternally been front and center. And yet, this country was anything but ready. After all, crucial American taxpayer funds had, for years, been sunk not into what might truly protect us here at home but into a military-industrial complex and weaponry whose cost topped the military investments of the next 10 countries combined. When you think about it (if you even do), that’s quite a record of disastrous investment choices. As retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore points out so tellingly today, just when this country desperately needs to fund what can only be thought of as a national-security crisis of the first order, its tax dollars still flow at a staggering pace into a Pentagon that knows nothing about cancel culture when it comes to its own stunningly expensive and ineffective new weaponry. Tom

Rewarding Failure

Why Pentagon Weapons Programs Rarely Get Canceled Despite Major Problems

Cancel culture is a common, almost viral, term in political and social discourse these days. Basically, somebody expresses views considered to be outrageous or vile or racist or otherwise insensitive and inappropriate. In response, that person is “canceled,” perhaps losing a job or otherwise sidelined and silenced. In being deplatformed by Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites, for instance, this country's previous president has, it could be argued, been canceled -- at least by polite society. More than a few might add, good riddance.

Cancel culture is all around us, with a single glaring exception: the U.S. military. No matter how poorly a major weapons system performs, no matter how much it goes over budget, no matter how long it takes to field, it almost never gets canceled. As a corollary to this, no matter how poorly a general performs in one of our twenty-first-century wars, no matter his lack of victories or failure to achieve mission objectives, he almost never gets cashiered, demoted, or even criticized. A similar thing could be said of America's twenty-first-century wars themselves. They are disasters that simply never get canceled. They just go on and on and on.

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Mandy Smithberger, More Money for the Pentagon in the Pandemic Moment?

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Strange, isn’t it, what doesn’t sink in. Take this number: $6.4 trillion. There’s a figure you might think should cause a genuine stir (especially since each of those was a taxpayer dollar). In fact, that was what, in November 2019, Neta Crawford of Brown University’s invaluable Costs of War Project calculated that this country had spent on or committed to its post-9/11 wars across significant parts of the planet (and future care for U.S. military personnel damaged by them). By all rights, that number should have stunned this country. It should have caused an uproar. It should have resulted in major policy changes in Washington.

Just imagine that, in the years before Covid-19 hit, when American infrastructure was already going down — “infrastructure week” would become a (bad) joke of the Trump era — the American taxpayer was “investing” $6.4 trillion (a figure you can’t repeat too often) in a series of disastrous wars. They would be responsible for the deaths of thousands of American military personnel and hundreds of thousands of civilians in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. They would uproot millions more and help unsettle the planet. Yet, explain it as you will, they simply couldn’t be (and still can’t be) ended. If that isn’t the record from hell, what is?

Today, Crawford’s figure would, of course, have to be updated as we await Joe Biden’s decisions on future American war-making from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond. And yet, strangely enough, as TomDispatch regular and Pentagon expert Mandy Smithberger reports, Washington, in a remarkably bipartisan fashion, continues to fund the Pentagon at levels that should astound us all. This at a moment when questions remain about whether the Biden administration can pass a $1.9 trillion bill to offer relief to Americans overwhelmed by the disaster of Covid-19.  Imagine what those $6.4 trillion dollars could have done, if invested in this country, in us, instead of in those disastrous wars. Tom

The Pentagon, First, Last, and Always

Focusing on the Wrong Threats, including a New Cold War with China, Is the Last Thing We Can Afford Now

This country is in a crisis of the first order. More than half a million of us have died thanks to Covid-19. Food insecurity is on the rise, with nearly 24 million Americans going hungry, including 12 million children. Unemployment claims filed since the pandemic began have now reached 93 million. Given the level of damage to the less wealthy parts of this society, it’s little wonder that most Americans chose pandemic recovery (including the quick distribution of vaccines) as their top priority issue.

Keep in mind that our democracy is suffering as well. After all, former president Donald Trump incited an insurrection when he wasn't able to win at the polls, an assault on the Capitol in which military veterans were overrepresented among those committed to reversing the election results (and endangering legislators as well). If you want a mood-of-the-moment fact, consider this: even after Joe Biden’s election, QAnon followers continued to insist that Trump could still be inaugurated to his second term in office. Addressing economic and political instability at home will take significant resources and focus, including calling to account those who so grossly mishandled the country's pandemic response and stoked the big lie of questioning the legitimacy of Biden’s election victory.

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