Sound the trumpets
by Michael Brenner on 26 Jun 2021 1 Comment

Small events can be big news – if they titillate (Meghan & Harry); if they are sensational (a mass shooting with a new twist); if they involve accusations of sexual harassment by a prominent person – even if it’s only R-rated; if they put the limelight once again on old celebrities (Jeffrey Sessions, James Mattis). Their common denominator is that they attract a larger audience which, after all, is what it’s all about. The bottom line: be it money, a sharper public image, or an ideological axe to grind. These last also explain why some big events are slighted as news. The latter is a craft perfected by our media, by politicians, by the so-called public affairs experts cum pundits cum commentators.  It is employed promiscuously, if with little finesse, by the small-minded, the self-interested and the craven - in other words, the types who predominant in today’s world.  


The methods are generally crude but effective. Ignore, under-report, never look beneath the surface, and – of course – pick out those features that make for a catchy headline. Readers/ viewers/ listeners are not keen on complexity or profundity or anything that makes them uncomfortable. This past week has provided us with a pageant of displays on how to accomplish this.


Item A


President Biden did a quick Cook’s tour of Cornwall, England, of Brussels and of Geneva. His stopovers were extensively covered. What did we gather from this flow of images and narrative accounts?

1) The United States was back at the table with friends and allies after the Trump interlude of unpleasantness;

2) that trans-Atlantic unity had been restored and reaffirmed;

3) that NATO was alive and well – ready to take on the fresh challenges of a new, threatening global environment;

4) that dedication to democracy was the binding force that held them all together;

5) the latest survey polls of our leaders have put China at the top of the threat table – displacing Russia which came in Number 2, while the long-time top-dog – terrorism – remained a distant 3rd with climate change far behind despite early expectations that it was on the brink of becoming a serious contender;

6) that the graphic display of journalists’ aggressive search for the truth was dutifully depicted as yet another example of Russian efforts to undermine Western democracy;

7) that the ‘high stakes shoot-out’ breathlessly awaited by all and sundry concluded with an underwhelming agreement to return ambassadors to their respective embassies. We also saw that neither Biden nor his legion of savvy advisers had thought of an answer when questioned about the tenor of a one-on-one meeting with someone he’d called ‘a killer’ who had “no visible soul.” 


This fragmented, disjointed coverage missed the forest for the trees. The United States has declared war on China – a comprehensive, global and open-ended war with the clear goal of preventing the PRC from expanding its strength and influence. It commits the country to use every means available (short of direct military assault) in a concerted effort to weaken China to the point where it could not rival American hegemony. In this grand enterprise, Biden moved heaven and earth to enlist the G-7, the NATO members and other well-wishers as satraps and auxiliaries.


Some signed up eagerly while others did hesitantly. None of those approached excluded itself. The implications are profound – and self-evident. The strategy means a generation – at least – of conflict, of perpetual tension, the draining of resources, and the danger of all-out military engagement sparked by a crisis over Taiwan, rocks in the South China Sea or North Korea. The world will be divided into two blocs – a la George Orwell’s 1984 where 3 blocs were in contention – fated to confront each other in endless hostility. It will be the U.S.-led West (including such pristine democracies as Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Turkey and Bolsonaro’s Brazil) against a Sino-Russian bloc supported by allies like Iran. A Cold War on steroids.


The Biden people are making a belated attempt to loosen Moscow-Beijing bonds in dawning awareness that driving them together is not actually the brilliant idea they – and their two predecessors – thought it was. The President’s feeble first try at putting out feelers to Putin fell flat – as anyone who knows anything about Russia knew was certain. Each man had 35 minutes to speak (with pauses for memory retrieval) – just enough to restore an elementary degree of politeness to alleviate the tensions generated by Washington’s hyper-ventilating in its simmering resentment that we no longer have Yeltsin around to make a fool of.


Item Balochistan


This monumental, indeed historic, commitment sure to dominate world affairs indefinitely was made without debate in Congress, among the public, in the media, or even within the think tank galaxy. It is doubtful that more than a handful of Americans know, much less understand, what the country is in for. In Washington, we have been so gripped by the fabricated drama of the great Chinese threat that there is near unanimity that swift, forceful action is called for. Something approaching hysteria ignited a rare burst of bipartisan concert to decide, seemingly overnight, to allocate tens of billions of dollars to bolster the American technology sector in a fantasized struggle to the death with Chinese competitors. It happened so fast that the amounts themselves are obscure. $60 billion is most often quoted, but one also sees $175 billion or $260 billion in the press.


There is no plan as such. No provision for Washington orientation, guidance, coordination or oversight – just money cast in the direction of the giant high-tech companies. The gross incongruity is that corporations and banks are flush with cash having failed to invest the vast sums of federal dollars that have poured into their coffers since 2008. These two headlines underscore the fecklessness of this impulsive burst of misplaced patriotism.    


“$250 BILLION bill to compete with China approved: Dems and Reps unite to back investment in research, AI and semiconductor production to win science and tech race with Beijing” 


“Jamie Dimon says that JPMorgan is sitting on about $500 billion waiting for a good investment” 


(Add the other big financial house banks, the corporate elite and Silicon Valley, and we’re probably looking at $2 -3 Trillion in loose change) 


The fresh appropriation is just another slush fund that will change nothing except encourage Congress and the Biden administration’s grandstanding. Don’t be surprised if Congress next passes a resolution insisting that General Tso’s Chicken be renamed General Petraeus’ Chicken – and fortune cookies renamed Freedom Cookies. The White House may follow suit by calling its servicing sets ‘dinnerware’ instead of ‘china.’ We also may well see Zuck at Facebook exercise his powers as national censor of electronic communications to instruct his pick-up army of monitors guided by the Atlantic Council to block any messages deemed sympathetic to China or critical of the official American line – after all, this is a national emergency!


The United States has let slip the dogs of quasi-war with the casualness of a visit to the doggie park – the ultimate in American exceptionalism.


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