Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bah, Humbug!

Thanks to the word of the year, austerity, the weeks leading up to Christmahanukwanza saw riots on the streets of London, Rome and Athens with images that we more easily associate with Dhaka, Nairobi or Quito. Brits woke up to photos of their terrorized prince and um, what do you call Camilla, splashed across the tabloid covers. Italians to scenes of scuffles in parliament overflowing to the streets. Meanwhile, the Greeks got another round of union protests devolving into street battles. Austerity, with its 14th century roots and feel of "enforced or extreme economy", is the price were being told we have to pay for an economic crisis that we now know was mostly caused by income inequality. In the perfect world, the IMF report detailing the mechanics of how a financial landscape overpopulated by the obscenely wealthy and desolately poor led to our problems should dovetail with the spirit of the season. Instead we get the farcical reality in which our attitudes have been hardening over the decades according to the British Social Attitudes Report, making us more likely than ever to blame someone for finding themselves poor and needy than we are to pity them while we proclaim the virtues of Christian charity by giving each other ever more extravagant gifts. And this. And whatever this is:

An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics - Plutarch
Debt is stealing from the future to provide for present needs. Sometimes this is a rational decision as the benefits of spending now accrue into the future and wind up providing a net gain for society. Much like in the run up to the Great Depression however, this latest round of debt binging since around 1980 has only enabled the majority of the population to feel like they were keeping up with the ultra rich. The evidence that this borrowing was the cause of the Great Recession has been mounting recently and now even the IMF has released a report titled Inequality, Leverage and Crisis (PDF) which documents how giving the top percentile of the wealthy a greater slice of the pie resulted in them lending their excess wealth to the rest of the population which in turn caused the financial industry to explode in size to facilitate this borrowing. It wasn't the banks per se who were the evil actors. Although they did take advantage of the situation to engage in rent-seeking, it was the policies that led to unequal distribution of wealth which in turn practically forced the financial industry to grow in order to keep up with the demand to cycle the wealth from top to bottom. The consumption gap was kept 'artificially' small through lending to help soothe the populace as they felt like they were doing better despite the fact that their real incomes were shrinking. Real hourly wages of the top 10 percentile increased sharply by a cumulative 70%, the real hourly wages around the median declined by 5%, while the wages of the bottom 10% declined strongly, by around 25%. The masses were pacified as long as they could buy a 50" flat screen in order to better see the details of the elite lifestyles without bothering with the small print in the loan arrangement with EZ Credit.
From 1980 to 2005, the richest 1% took 80% of all income growth in America (PDF)
Knowing this caused the crisis, the next question becomes "what caused the inequality?". The obvious answer is the economic policies of the past which in turn should lead us to change them if Plutarch's argument is true as it should be in the system's best interest to pay attention and change the structures that have created the present imbalance. That is of course unless zombies have already eaten our brains and the evidence they have is all around us. Supply-side economics became dominant only about 30 years ago but it already has the feel of a relic from another century. This trickle down or voodoo economics promises that we will all see benefits as a society if the rich can be given enough money for their wealth to reach a saturation point and thus begin to shower the rest of us with gold. Instead, we've been given a blinding golden shower with the press, or MSM, there to cheer on their paymasters. Debt, war and oil feed the fire as we are bombarded with an information blitzkrieg to win the battle for our hearts and minds. Stories will abound over the next few weeks of encouraging signs of recovery as evidenced by strong Christmas sales all the while ignoring the lesson of the past two years that our economy is but a Ponzi scheme primed for total collapse.
"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."
 - Joseph Goebbels
As the Reagan revolution heralded the present catastrophe we've had lots of time to observe the disastrous results yet we still don't heed the call to arms thanks in large part to Agnotology. Derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is culturally constructed ignorance, purposefully created by special interest groups working hard to create confusion and suppress the truth. More information discordantly leads to less knowledge in a world that is hard to keep up with as ignorance also comes from people literally suppressing truth - or drowning it out - or trying to make it so confusing that people stop caring about what's true and what's not. We are living through a disinformation revolution where Orwellian doublethink, cognitive dissonance, epistemic closure, repetition and confirmation bias form a toxic brew of apathy. We're screwed if we don't pay any attention but even more so when we do as exemplified by the Internet's inherently agnotological side effects. People graze all day on information tailored to their existing worldview leading to epistemic closure. Even when bloggers or talking heads actually engage in debate, it often consists of pelting one another with mutually contradictory studies they've Googled: "Greenland's ice shield is melting 10 years ahead of schedule!" vs. "The sun is cooling down and Earth is getting colder!" allowing us the luxury of confirmation bias to avoid cognitive dissonance. War has become peace, ignorance strength and freedom slavery as we hurdle toward agnotological Armageddon where we argue about what the facts are instead of debating what they mean, allowing the status quo to be maintained as we slowly destroy the world around us. Have a listen to this as you read on:

You can donate to the Ku Klux Clan with Mastercard but you can't give money to Wikileaks
Once upon a time in America you had to justify your FCC broadcast license by providing news as part of your community responsibility. However, when the US government agency charged with regulating the communications industry was gutted in the 80's under the Reagan administration, the fairness doctrine was jettisoned, transforming news into an appendage of entertainment companies. Information consumption was further mutated by the 24/7 feeding tube of CNN and later Faux News, Headline News and MSNBC with their news, stock and terror level crawlers. Meanwhile the battle for truth and fairness was being lost in the Supreme Court as their rulings became increasingly pro-business. Sparked by the urging of then future-SCOTUS justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. in 1971, American business interests have coordinated their actions through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, filing and winning an ever increasing number of briefs and decisions. The resulting frenzy of deregulation has not only affected the financial industry, it has increased media ownership concentration, blunted environmental laws and turned corporations buying elections into citizens exercising free speech. What was once a counter-balance to the partisanship of Congress has become a right wingnut tool to advance their agenda; Justice Antonin Scalia will speak at a Tea Party seminar next month, Justice Clarence Thomas' wife headed a nonprofit group, Liberty Central, dedicated to opposing what she characterizes as the leftist "tyranny" of President Obama. A judiciary captured by the same people who pay for the political campaigns to install legislators to make the laws and take us to war. Lucky for Hollywood endings!

WTF - actual acronym of the task force set up by the CIA to appraise the impact of WikiLeaks 
The 80's not only saw us overwhelmed by the non-stop news cycle, we were further weakened by a sudden explosion in obesity incoherently coupled with a health consciousness kick driving a cost explosion only to see the disinformation coup de grâce delivered by the Internet. Even before the East Anglia email scandal, oil companies had succeeded in turning climate change into a boogie man invented by evil scientists so they could become as rich and powerful as oil company executives. Never before has so much been available to make people so uninformed in order to take away their power. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case for Wal-Mart which has the potential to change antitrust law forever and could lead to abolishing class action law suits altogether forcing individuals to fight mega-corporations alone. Imagine how easily big tobacco would have swatted away all those nasty health lawsuits without the class action option, or worse, a world without Erin Brockovich! Human rights and independent media websites are being attacked with impunity but when the same Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are directed at the heart of corporate power in an act of protest, they are hunted like dogs by the authorities and vilified by the public for disturbing their Christmas shopping. More ominous is the control being sought and wielded by the Obama administration to silence voices they don't want heard. Net neutrality, what's that? Sounds like another unkept Obama election promise traded to big business in exchange for their compliance.
"It has served us well, this myth of Christ" - Attributed to Pope Leo X by John Bale
I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by the renewed attacks on the first amendment. The new messiah of 2008 has turned out to be another democratic deception to pacify us into believing in hope and change for another four years. The Obama meaning of an Iraqi withdrawal is 50,000 uniformed troops and something like 100,000 mercenaries. The reduction in camouflage there has only meant an increase in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen where death falls indiscriminately from the sky thanks to the "liberal" president. Wasn't his first act to sign an order to close Guantanamo? Hmmm, funny more "detainees" there are formally facing the prospect of lifelong detention and fewer are facing real charges than the day Obama was elected. Nobel Peace prize winning stuff in today's world! He has allowed the Bush Patriot Act provisions to be strengthened, encouraged government snooping on American citizens and authorized assassination of Americans accused of supporting terrorists - no arrest, nor rights or trial - just witch hunts, detention and murder. Successes like the health care and financial industry regulation bills? Don't make me laugh as the health care deal was simply a recycled Republican idea from the 90's guaranteeing an insurance company and big pharma bonanza while the Frank-Dodd big bank gift guarantees the next financial crisis will be bigger than the last. The 2300+ pages of financial regulation and 2409 pages of the new US health care bill may have been a "big f#cking deal" in size but they are perfect examples of complexity creating cover for confusion and corruption. Glass-Steagall provided financial stability for 80 years in 53 pages. How soon we forget the financial meltdown was driven by ignorance. Credit-default swaps were designed not merely to dilute risk but to dilute knowledge; after they'd changed hands and been serially securitized a few times there was no telling what they were worth or the risks they entailed.
10% of casualties in WWI were civilians, 50% in WWII, 70% in Vietnam and 90% in Iraq
 - John Pilger, The War You Don't See
The dumps by Wikileaks and the Fed cast a dim light on the underbelly of the beast but if enough people can be convinced its all for their good the music will keep playing. Arguing about Julian Assange's rape allegations and calling Obama names distracts us from the fact that he has expanded the Bush/Cheney war on civil liberties as well as the wars abroad. Stories about Obama defending whistle blowers in NPR don't jive with the fact that his Justice Department is looking for new ways to prosecute them while Private Bradley Manning sits in solitary confinement 23 of every 24 hours for the 8th month while still awaiting charges. It's all just lipstick on a pig. We hear of progress being made in Afghanistan while according to reports in The Nation and elsewhere, Blackwater, which is now known as Xe, has contracted to send personnel into Pakistan to fight with the Joint Special Operations Command. They are just one part of a 225,000 strong contract army staffed by vigilantes to ensure the world order. US led forces have been in Afghanistan longer than the Russians were yet we're still fed the meme of progress being made. Meanwhile stories of prominent protesters chaining themselves to the Whitehouse gates to raise public awareness of the futility of the war are ignored by the MSM who prefer to feed the frenzy of fear of the other. We won't miss how corrupt the Russian legal system has become watching the nightly news but we need the 'fake' news of Jon Stewart to point out the hypocrisy of politicians who turned 9/11 into a catchphrase only to ignore the plight of 9/11 first responders. Step out a line, the man comes and takes you away while we fixate on empty symbols; bright, pretty lights and words like democracy and female emancipation can be so distracting, plus at least were not in Belarus, right?
Next time some Alex P. Keaton wannabee tells you over 40% of Americans (ie. poor people) don't pay any taxes, remind him/her that working Americans pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes starting with very first dollar they earn and as the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center concluded in a 2003 analysis, "three quarters of filers pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes." Then to piss them off let them know that 2/3 of US corporations paid no taxes from 1998 through 2005.
Most progenitors of what John Kenneth Galbraith termed Innocent Fraud are not deliberately in its service, unaware of how their views are shaped, how they are had. We've even renamed the economic system; capitalism, with it's potentially negative Marxist reference to the owners and managers of capital is now more often referred to as the "Market Economy" or simply the faceless free market. Capitalism evokes images of exploitation by the Rockefellers of the world over a century ago while the free market enables GE to earn over $10.3 billion and ExxonMobil $45.2 billion in profits while paying nothing in taxes to Uncle Sam (In fact, GE recorded a $1.1 billion tax benefit, the magic of a 24,000 page tax return). The widespread belief a hundred years ago that capitalism was not only exploitative, particularly after WWI where behind the slaughter were those who, for profit, made the guns, but also self-destructive after the great crash of 1929, led to war and revolution in Europe and legislation in America.
Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite.
 - John Kenneth Galbraith
In his final book in 2004 at age 95, Galbraith, who served in four presidential administrations and even as ambassador to India, was ultimately trying to warn of the uncontrollable nature of private/public power. The term innocent fraud is applied here as the conventional wisdom (a term he popularized in The Affluent Society) of how the American economic system works and the reality of its workings have drifted apart leading to a collective self-delusion - "The myths of investor authority, of the serving stockholder, the ritual meetings of directors and the annual stockholder meeting persist, but no mentally viable observer of the modern corporation can escape the reality. Corporate power lies with management — a bureaucracy in control of its task and its compensation. Rewards that can verge on larceny. This is wholly evident. On frequent recent occasions, it has been referred to as the corporate scandal." With such an oxymoronic title, much of his argument is based on semantics, how we describe phenomena in misleading ways, but there are concrete causes such as the failure of our education system as well as tangible results. The arms industry is but one example of the public realm being effectively controlled by the private sector - "While the Pentagon is still billed as being of the public sector, few doubt the influence of corporate power in its decisions." He also looks at the financial world which "sustains a large, active, well-rewarded community based on compelled but seemingly sophisticated ignorance" and in particular the Federal Reserve System, "our most prestigious form of fraud, our most elegant escape from reality."
In 1953 the top marginal tax rate in the US was 92%
Citing Murray Edelman's Symbols and Political Quiescence, Arnold Kling argues that the Insiders occasionally let us Outsiders win battles to give themselves cover for ever greater rent-extraction. We are allowed to win small progressive battles like the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell but the reality is they've just expanded their pool of war fodder. Able bodies are at a premium seeing that 75% of America's 17 to 24-year-olds are ineligible for military service due to lack of education, obesity and other physical problems, or criminal history. Outnumbered but in firm hold of the controls, the Insiders, having more precise information, were rational enough to realize that offering the carrot of extending unemployment benefits would appease enough people while they not only extended the deficit busting Bush tax cuts (which will now be even harder to get rid of in two years time) but also paved the way for the elimination of the estate tax all within the framework of a thoroughly regressive tax deduction system. Since we live in a democracy, the ability of elites to use the government to their advantage requires our political institutions to have some minimum level of credibility. If everyone believed that government was simply a tool for the rich and powerful, the entire system would break down and would have to be maintained by force, if at all.
25 US hedge fund managers earned over $25 billion last year and had a lower tax rate than you
But really, how can the incoming chairman of the US House Financial Services Committee, Spencer Bachus, get away with saying "My view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks"; Scott Brown taking in behind the curtain donations from the financial industry while toiling to weaken the financial regulatory bill; Obama's former budget director, Peter Orszag, following the egregious example of his predecessors, mentors and colleagues such as Robert Rubin through the revolving door between government policy makers and financial industry titan, by moving from the White House to a job at Citigroup only four months after leaving government service; Republican members splitting from the once-thought-righter-of-wrongs from the financial meltdown, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, to issue their own report on what caused the crash. Hint: they eliminated any mention of derivatives, executive compensation, failed regulatory agencies and even the words “Wall Street” so the whole debacle could be pinned solely on government (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) and deadbeat Americans who took on predatory mortgages. Guess it's lucky for the powers that be that more Americans get there news from Faux News than anywhere as Rupert Murdoch's minions are the most misinformed segment of the population.
Silvio Berlusconi controls 90% of the Italian media
Remind you of anyone?
Murdoch is attempting to bring his media grip over the UK to Berluconian proportions by acquiring BSkyB, a move sure to be accepted by authorities now that Vince Cable has been shoved aside thanks to a sting operation mysteriously leaked to the BBC. He plays kingmaker while Berlusconi simply rules as king and is able to bribe opposition members to maintain his grip on power. Political parties make no difference to Rupert Murdoch, Conservative Thatcher one day and Bliar the next only to throw off Labour for Cameron knowing David would invite him to 10 Downing his first week in residence to help plot the end of the BBC. Sports, sensationalism and gossip have driven Murdoch's empire which preys on our narcissistic vanity as we celebrate the individual, the rights of each to pursue his or her own ends, the primacy of satisfying our personal needs regardless of the costs. Yet in the same way as the exponential growth of informational access the Internet has done, the explosion in TV channels has had the result of lessening our knowledge of the world around us while convincing us of the opposite.
British forces train death squads in Bangladesh
Orwell seems to be around every corner as the battle for control of the message is waged in an information confrontation between freedom and security. New tools are always being invented and old one's evolving in the hands of Sith lords like Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi and Joe Lieberman. The Internet and its infrastructure, from ISPs, hosting companies, credit card and other payment intermediaries are nothing but landlords who can evict any of us renters at a moment's notice it seems. This imbalance in power allows the Insiders to use overt political dramas as symbols that placate the masses while using covert political activity to plunder them. What we now call rent-seeking succeeds because Outsiders are dazzled by the symbols while Insiders grab the substance. Lending any credence to states' faked outrage over whistle blowers creates smokescreens around those murderers, torturers, and downright criminals whose crimes were exposed making it less likely our governments prosecute war criminals instead of giving them awards. The media - and much of the public - falls for this, and so Julian Assange becomes the front page story, not the criminals.
In 2009, there was $1.53 trillion in global military spending, a 5.9% increase
Democracy has been reduced to a popularity contest in which the public are nothing but the audience as the puppet masters horse trade favours among themselves while throwing us crumbs in an attempt to jockey for poll position (did I just make a punny? Yike). Obama's election promises and calls for national sacrifice upon entering office have turned out to be as empty as the national coffers thanks to tax cuts and spending increases. With all the evidence that the game is almost up, from peak oil to debt collapse, both Insiders and Outsiders are more and more desperate to believe the story line, but even the house loses a rigged game now and then. This explains the increased military spending in times of austerity. When enough people find themselves with no choice but to rise up or a large enough percentage are able to see the social contract has been broken, the last line of defense is force. Pinning the blame for riots in London, Rome and Athens on hooligans and slackers with a sense of entitlement while claiming they have other avenues of protest is disingenuous at best. In London, as it has begun to dawn on the youth that it was their future the current generation mortgaged in order to live beyond their means and knowing they face a bleaker future with less access to education caused them to rise up which brought the full force of the law and the propaganda machine down on them. They are painted as no-gooders bent on wanton violence when in reality their motive is easy to discern and provocation came in the form of a Rolls Royce Phantom VI and its occupants whose maintenance is being paid for by stealing their future.
42% of American children live in low income homes; family income is a strong predictor of educational achievement; educational achievement is the strongest predictor of future income - do I need to draw a picture?
Hating what we have let democracy and capitalism become isn't anti-American/Christmas/the rich or pro-Socialism/Fascism/Authoritarianism, it's the result of realizing we are achieving less as a civilization than we are capable; potential social energy is lost as poor decisions affecting the available net social energy over time are made thanks to the machinations of those who would prefer to stay in power. Human capital is wasted by stuffing prisons full of people, bellies with Big Macs, and heads with garbage. Revolutionary movements have a lot of potential energy but need a social contract to build up the net social energy needed to force us onto a better decision making vector. Fundamentalists see financial crashes, peak oil and the prospect of peace much as they see evolution, alternative energy and the necessity for revolution thanks to our old friends confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance and epistemic closure. One chooses, they can see the steady rise in CO2 in the atmosphere as a good thing much like McDonald's advertising total burgers sold - Now over 390 parts per million! The fact is winter is still cold and most clients don't have a heart attack while they're eating the burger so it's hard to draw the connection.
Gold is up over 300% in the past decade; other precious metals up five fold
A key factor in the completion of the transfer of wealth from the sovereign states and people to the corporations, banks and their trans-governmental debt collecting agencies (your IMFs) is how will these masters of the universe keep those whose job it is to protect them on their side as they slowly strip away the protectors pay, benefits and dignity? Charlie Skelton thought he saw a chink in the wall behind the tear in the eye of the police comisario charged with protecting Bilderbergers making decision behind closed doors to cut their jobs, salaries and pensions to pay for their excesses. No, maybe it was just a coincidence they met in Greece last year and Spain this as the public sees no problem with spending millions in public funds to protect them while planning the host nations' debt-driven dooms. After all, it costs over $1 billion to do it in the open, like, say a G20 meeting in Canada. This summer Spain, next in line along with Portugal for the PIIGS roasting, saw firefighters march into Madrid's stock exchange carrying signs that read "The people pay for you greed" and "Markets caused the crisis" as they were among the first victims in the new world of austerity. Even having seen what has happened to Greece and Ireland hasn't tripped the wire yet because enough people think clicking a like button makes them politically active as we've been fooled into thinking the Internet in itself has given us some kind of magic knowledge/influence power. There's no all-encompassing conspiracy at play here, we're simply living in a fairy tale enough people are choosing to live in.

2009 was the deadliest year for NATO forces in Afghanistan until this year, the tenth year of the war, which has seen over 700 killed

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialist
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me


Phuck Politics said...

Looks like someone finally followed through on Sarah Palin's threat and tried to take out Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Shane said...

Sadly predictable isn't it PP? A country that has glorified guns and killing for so long combined with a political atmosphere of hate and distrust whipped up by ideologues bent on manipulating the gullible.

Word is Giffords has miraculously survived the incidents but 6 others have lost their lives including a federal judge and a nine year-old girl. A horrible act that we can at least hope will result in some serious introspection on the part of the instigators.

A quick scan of Twitter and the news though leads me to believe that as usual the problems will be neglected while people are led to focus on the irrelevant question of whether the shooter was a 'lib' or a 'right wingnut'.

Phuck Politics said...

@Shane - Yeah, I've been watching the news and I haven't heard the anyone call this guy a terrorist. I guess it's true what they say. White people cannnot be terrorists.