Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Fix Needs a Leak

My blog's first Kardashian
Remember getting your first ice-cream headache? Or the last hot summer day when that icy, syrupy 7/11 slurpee froze your brain? Now, imagine walking around with that pain all the time, 24/7. If you've never experienced the torture associated with greedily guzzling some frozen treat on a hot summer's day, it's one of those things that's hard to explain - it's a sudden, excruciating, headache that renders you nearly paralyzed. Now, imagine this happening to you every time you learned or heard something that conflicted with your belief system, sort of a mini brain explosion. If it weren't for our complex brains, most of us would be experiencing that kind of paralytic pain most of our waking lives. Thank Dog for our ability to deal with cognitive dissonance or the western capitalist democracies might have to actually face up to the failures of the system and tackle our problems.

And Britney! Hits galore!
Cognitive dissonance comes from holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. Our brains, knowing this would incapacitate us, reacts by changing our reality without us even knowing it by altering our attitudes, beliefs or actions with the help of justifying, blaming or denying.  In 1984, Orwell showed a dystopian universe where government had succeeded in overcoming this conflict with what he termed doublethink. Ever since The End of History 'we' (as in we in the western capitalist democracies from here on)  have been living in a world where everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Here, freedom is ensured by democracy and its accompanying freedoms of speech, press and religion and prosperity through capitalism with it's free markets to propel economic growth and progress. It is information and the control of its flow that determines whether we accept this Panglossian view of the world, become Candide's Martin or have to wipe the splatter of gray matter off the walls. How successfully our brains rid us of the dissonance caused by events such as the Wikileaks cable release, the Fifa World Cup draw and the US Federal Reserves revelations on its lending actions during the crisis will go a long way in determining if the present world order will survive.

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." -Benjamin Franklin

Imagine the dissonance I feel having links to Amazon on my blog. I justify this by convincing myself the possibility you will buy and learn from a book I've linked to compensates for having a company aiding Joe Lieberman emulate Chinese dictators in hunting and persecuting Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Imagine Amazon's for kicking Wikileaks off their server while still profiting from the controversy by selling Kindle versions of the cables and Wikileaks' Freedom T-shirts. For someone like Hillary Clinton, her brain must convince her, and the American public, that security trumps freedom of speech. Of course, this is made easier by the fact that killing people in far away lands or capturing and shipping them around the world to have them tortured and imprisoned is all already ok in the name of security. We had Nazis and Japanese generals executed for similar crimes after WWII yet just throw the terrorist word around and get a free pass for everything including the hypocrisy of lecturing China and Egypt at the beginning of the year for their internet censorship while condemning Wikileaks. Clinton quoted her president while flogging the Free Flow of Information doctrine saying "access to information helps citizens hold their own governments accountable".

Joe sixpack has the media to help avoid the brain pain. Still seen as the guardians of free speech, the fact is the Fourth Estate has become nothing but a tool to ensure that this freedom only takes place within acceptable limits. CNN's Wolf Blitzer's brain almost exploded on TV trying to convince himself and his viewers that the US government is somehow to blame for not stopping the Wikileakers from doing his job of informing the public. Just as the US government used the hammer of the media to turn non-existent weapons of mass destruction into justification for war in Iraq the press keeps pounding into the public the danger that Assange has put us all in dutifully reporting that the leaks are everything from “terrorism” according to Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York to “an attack against the international community” courtesy of Hillary. Sarah Palin called for him to be hunted as an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands” and Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, Republican presidential candidate and minister, said that whoever leaked the cables should be executed. Faux News has branded Wikileaks a terrorist organization while Congressmen join in the call for the leaker to be executed. Ah, yes, American Exceptionalism.

We're left with Anonymous supporters of free speech engaging in protest (Freedom of speech, priceless. For everything else there's Mastercard) who will be hunted while those who targeted and forced Wikileaks offline (now hosted at won't face any legal retribution. Wikileaks and Assange are vilified instead of being glorified like Watergate and the Pentagon Papers (whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg has compared Assange's targeting to his back then and even written an open letter to Amazon) thanks to the transformation of the press from government watchdog to lapdog (sometime around September 8th, 2002). Hunting Assange and Wikileaks while giving a free pass to the five newspapers who have published the same information may seem like mind meltdown material but is simply part of the deal struck wherein the press agrees to reflect what the government thinks. Uncovering information about centrifuge tubes based on anonymous sources that later proves to be false is good as long as it serves the government's war agenda but revealing information that  works against the military/industrial/financial/media complex isn't, for them truth is scarier than fiction. Predictably, the American public has been convinced that transparency is bad as 60% view the latest Wikileaks as harmful. Almost makes me wish their cognitive dissonance mechanism would fail so their brains would explode.

In case we're still not convinced that shooting the messenger is the thing to do, the media and their authoritarian guardians are here to lay down more cover fire for our brains. Never mind the coincidental timing of the on/off/on again Swedish 'sex by surprise' saga, it even includes an accuser with ties to anti-Castro activities to help those who aren't JFK assassination conspiracist to surmise that something may be rotten in Denmark. Much in the way we are turning our bodies into mush with the junk we're stuffing them with and playing McVictims marching to medically expensive premature graves, we've wiped out our attention span feeding our brains an overwhelming diet of sugar-like information and become junkies jonesing for our next punditry fix. Whole industries of content production and distribution have grown up with the proliferation of technology to feed our habit while at the same time hiding their source as opinions disguised as fact ricochet around the intertubes. Jonah Goldberg, contributor to the National Review, asks in his syndicated column, "Why wasn't Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?" Sarah Palin confusedly tweets about charging an Australian based in Sweden for treason while promoting her book mix with stories of Gaddafi's buxom Ukrainian nurse, Sarkozy's temper and Merkel's uncreativity to protect a few hillbillies interested enough in the story from concentrating on more important revelations to date such as the aggressive stance of Iran's neighbours towards her.

Saudi Arabia, one of America's main allies in the war on terror is also one of the main funders of our enemy in the war on terror's, Al-Qaida, yet brains somehow aren't exploding. "Cut off the head of the snake," the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, quotes King Abdullah as saying during a meeting with U.S. General David Petraeus in April 2008 while Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek told John Kerry that Iran's support of terrorists is "well known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation." Terrorism isn't dangerous? Seems all the Gulf leaders wish the States would start another war to help pump up the demand for more of their oil while publicly demonizing the US for their warmongering. In Iran of course, because they are bad, not somewhere like Yemen, which is still good, proved by the fact their president Salah thinks it's prudent to hide the fact that there are US missiles raining down on terrorists and other bad guy types (and all too often not-so-bad types) in his country.

Look at our...guns?
What can an American think of living a lifestyle that necessitates sending the region money for oil that allows them to buy weapons from the States, like the $60 billion F-16 deal, with a little left over to fund terrorist groups that America (f#ck yeah!) must then send their military over to fight, which costs a lot of money in fuel. No wonder there have been very few years in which US military spending hasn't increased whether fighting an active war against a well-armed enemy or not, with Democrats or Republicans running government. One time expectations of a peace dividend have evaporated leaving a country that spends more on the military than the nations with the next 15 largest military budgets combined. Yeah, brain exploding cognitive dissonance when you throw in the cost in human life. Eisenhower's warning that the influence of the military-industrial complex was "economic, political, even spiritual" goes unheeded as our reality is altered by the cheerleaders of war, pumping up an NFL football viewer's pride that his armed forces are in Iraq, Afghanistan and 175 other countries ensuring our freedom to pray to the gridiron gods every Monday, most Thursdays and three times on Sunday. All those truck commercials are buying enemy bullets, every bit as lethal as the friendly fire which killed Pat Tillman, lucky for the Viagra and Cialis ads to reload the grease filled arousal system to give us something else to think about. All the while we feed a Saudi elite who have even more left over to party like the American devils that their government demonizes to help their people channel their rage.

Meanwhile, in football for the rest of the world, anyone surprised by last week's announcement that FIFA had chosen Russia and Qatar as hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup has already adapted their views to compensate for the dissonance of enjoying the game while knowing it's corrupt. A quick exercise. Simply rank the finalists in order of the number of new stadiums to be built. For 2018 we had Belgium/Holland, Spain/Portugal, England and Russia. For 2022 the list comprised Australia, Japan, South Korea, the US and Qatar. Qatar has vowed to spend $50 billion on infrastructure before the event in addition to the $4 billion for nine new stadiums. Russia needs 13 new stadiums it says will cost $3.8 billion. Combine this with the knowledge that this construction spending is the perfect conduit to pay off Fifa executive voters, two of whom were suspended just before they were set to vote joining the six other former members already sacked for offering to sell votes and that it's generally accepted that at least three others who voted recently have received bribes for past votes. What are the chances the other 19 haven't been grabbing all they can of the $100 million (at least) bribery pie? It isn't a surprise that they combined both years' announcements in order to streamline the bribery process, two for one deals making it harder to get caught. Oh, and remember the world is run on petrodollars and that Russia's main cash cow is oil while for Qatar it's natural gas.

Qatar's bid had dissonance busting arguments to add to the cash. Temperatures can soar to 50°C in Doha, no problem, they'll build stadiums where they'll use air-conditioning systems that haven't been invented yet to cool them. It's a Muslim country where alcohol is nearly prohibited, no worries they say, the beer crazed heathens can drink in hotels or specially created fan-zones that will also benefit from the new cooling technology. Bubbles of beer and cool. Qatar tops the global charts in both per capita income and carbon footprint so the whole thing will be solar powered. Oh, and the stadiums will mostly be modular meaning they'll be partially dismantled and donated to poorer football hungry nations without the means to build their own. The population has doubled since 2004, with only 200,000 of the 1.7 million residents being Qatari; the rest are migrant workers who all too often have been tricked into becoming virtual slaves making Qatar one of the 16 countries given the lowest rating by the US State Department for its human trafficking propensity. The better to build the new stuff they'll need.

It might seem strange automatically qualifying the 113th ranked team in the world to join the 31 best but no worries, despite not recognizing Israel, if the Israeli national team makes it, Qatar says they'll make an exception and let the team in. Thanks to the Wikileaks cables, this benevalence isn't surprising as we learned their Emir, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, said it is understandable that Israeli leaders distrust Arab leaders and  'we can't blame them' because the Israelis have been 'under threat' for a long time.'  Homosexual activity is punishable by up to five years in prison but at least it's not Saudi Arabia, besides, everyone knows there aren't any gay footballers. The country ranks 121st of 178 in the Press Freedom Index and 144th out of 167 in the Economist's Democracy Index classifying it as an authoritarian regime. Well, Fifa requires carte blanche to set up it's own legal protection in matters such as sponsorship and copyright laws, a big reason the US or many others weren't chosen. All of this may have contributed to Fifa assigning the Qatari bid with the highest risk rating in it's own report, a fact that should have us wondering why the closer you get to the voting process, the more opaque it becomes.

Instead of seeing the Qatari and Russian selection for what they were, cognitive dissonance allows many to even blame information. It was the BBC's fault for exposing the corruption within Fifa days before the announcement that England wasn't selected. The blame game is so much easier than the difficult work that would need to be done to clean up a corrupt selection process even though it would most likely result in more money flowing to where it belongs and ultimately improve the game. Sure, the Wikileaks again confirmed what we already knew, describing Russia as a corrupt "mafia state" and kleptocracy where Putin plays Batman to Medvedev's Robin. Yet not only can we convince ourselves that dealing with such a place doesn't mean we'll follow its lead and become a place where journalists and human rights activists are routinely murdered, beaten and intimidated, but we also blame our own leaders for their naivete as the British Prime Minister, their second to the throne and football royalty grovelled before the selection committee while Putin stayed home, secure in the knowledge that Russia's selection was sewn up.

The Russians seem to be relishing the opportunity to rub salt in the wounds of what were once westerners' freedoms, suggesting Julian Assange be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. After all, this year's winner Liu Xiaobo thinks it's a shame China wasn't colonized for at least 300 years by a western power, the US wars in Vietnam and Korea enhanced Washington's "moral credibility", Dubya was right to go to war in Iraq while John Kerry's criticisms were "slander-mongering" and, surprise, just like the previous year's winner, thinks killing brown people in Afghanistan is a good thing. Putin referred to a Russian proverb that roughly translates to the pot calling the kettle black saying, "You know, out in the countryside, we have a saying, someone else’s cow may moo, but yours should keep quiet." The fact is we have become the blackest kettle in the pantry as evidenced by the laughing response of the CBC hosts to former Canadian Prime Minister Harper adviser Tom Flanagan calling on Obama to assassinate Assange:

With all the hoopla surrounding the Wikileaks cable dump, here's betting you missed the US Federal Reserve's version. (Yes, sometimes you need two good sized post-Thanksgiving dumps). You'd think we should be at least mildly interested in how they spent $3.3 trillion considering all the hand-wringing that accompanied the $700 billion spent by the Treasury Department in the Wall Street bailout and the billions more for the auto industry, Freddie and Fanny. Conveniently releasing the information on it's lending activities at the same time as the Wikileaks story really was genius as the best way to avoid head explosions is making sure such news is missed. It's no coincidence that the man most responsible for forcing the Feds hand in shedding a ray of light on its books is also one of the only American politicians applauding Wikileaks for exposing the United States' "delusional foreign policy". While Ron Paul may be a bit of a wingnut whose son is even more so, you've gotta admire his consistency and determination to not give into the cognitive dissonance cleansing temptation to alter his beliefs as most do when moving to a position of power. The new chairman of the House subcommittee on domestic monetary policy is doubling down, calling for a Wikileaks of the US Federal Reserve. Lucky most just thinks he's crazy or maybe more people would pay attention to his nine questions raised after seeing the US government's reaction to the Wikileaks release. In which case we'd probably care that not only is an unelected body creating money out of thin air to give to banks, it's also throwing it at major corporations that form the links holding the global corpocracy together. McDonald's, Harley-Davidson and Caterpillar were a few of the recipients of the more than $3.3 trillion in loans to financial institutions, companies and foreign central banks during the crisis to make sure there were enough dollars circulating. Without them, we could have lost faith in the world's global reserve currency and we might be tempted to buy gold or silver if that ever happened.

The Fed was set up to help the real economy when the banks periodically destroyed themselves but it has become so captured and corrupted by the financial industry that it's been turned on it's head, the Fed is now there to support the speculators while letting the rest of the economy go to hell. While the corporate world has rebounded to post record profits of late they will continue to hoard cash for fear of a repeat of the scenario two years ago when they were cut off from commercial paper financing by the crisis while many people are forced to sell their grandma's golden wedding ring to Glenn Beck. This is because if the rest of us run into cash flow problems and fall behind on mortgages, those same Fed supported banks can come and take our homes away. Hell, they'll even do it if they don't have the paperwork to prove it, which would be a good thing in cases where they take homes from those who've never even had a mortgage. With so blame to spread around for the disastrous economic path we've chosen, few take the time to consider how sustainable it is except a handful of unelected board members, executive committees or diplomats who are the only ones in a position to understand there's only so much time to get in while the getting's good and bend and shape the rules for themselves and their rich friends. Is it really such a surprise when we choose to believe oil companies over scientists in a world where we can't reach a deal on tuna sustainability? A world where so few are left, that a single full-grown bluefin can bring $100,000 in Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market.

Ending temporary tax breaks became known as raising taxes thanks to a media that whips up the anger of the numerically challenged who can't figure out who are the only beneficiaries. Estate taxes that had been around since Teddy Roosevelt become death taxes to justify getting rid of them completely for a year and makes temporarily reinstating them at a lower rate somehow considered a liberal victory. The knowledge everyone except those making more than $675,000 was exempt a decade ago and will be $5,000,000 come 2011 as part of a Republican "concession" should cause mass brain trauma in those aware of exploding income inequality. The cost of this transfer of wealth to future generations of rich people to be paid for by everyone is impossible to precisely quantify into the future. Yeah, it's good to cleanse dissonance with the sponge of fuzziness. Or you try to explain that Obama and Boehner haven't really screwed us all like this?!? Capital gains and dividends will continue to be taxed at 15%, far less than the sweat of firefighters and nurses. The concentration of wealth will be transmitted and amplified in the face of the warnings of Adam Smith, creating a rentier economy. The tax applies only to the top 0.3% allowing the likes of the Walmart Waltons to transfer $20 billion on as a reward for supporting the Chinese economy. Egyptians made pyramids, we make pyramid schemes. Romans had Pans et Circenses, we eat Big Macs and watch football. A new poll shows that 69% of Americans support the Obaman/Republican tax scam/deal. Under state capitalism, you hear a lot of talk about "wealth creation." So you're supposed to interpret wealth as something like an industrial product, a thing made and assembled, something which, provided the proper material inputs, we can consistently fabricate more of. But wealth isn't created. It's extracted. We aren't an assembly line. We're a mineshaft.

Maybe governments, corporations and organizations of the world don't really need to fear transparency. Judging by my students' or the rest of the world's reaction to these events - the old, 'well, it's always been this way so there's nothing we can do about it' - the rich and powerful that control them will be allowed to suck as much out of the system as they possible can before it collapses - environmentally, financially and ethically drained. Blackmail is sanctioned so long as it has the cover of a democratic process. Republicans felt it was so important to extend Dubya's tax cut for the rich that they held up START, DADT and were even prepared to take away little Timmy's new bike, refusing to extend unemployment benefits right before Christmas. Having made the deficit the biggest issue in their November election wave where they convinced voters that Obama was a Nigerian Socialist Muslim intent on driving the country to bankruptcy the Republicans held the country hostage in order to add over $5 trillion to the deficit. That's the ten year cost because in two years, it's all up for renewal and permanency is practically guaranteed now that the Obama administration "owns" it. Seeing as government deficits are determined by how much more a nation spends than take in with taxes, cerebrum eruptions should occur in people who support lowering tax rates for the rich and cutting the deficit. Lucky right wing think tanks have produced wonderfully humorous antidotes such as the Laffer curve to act as the wingnut to hold heads together as they ignore the evidence of the past decade. Plus, the deal has the added bonus of blame, as progressives give up on Obama, who yells at them for expecting too much while Republican prepare for the fights to come such as the permanent repeal of the estate tax, or, er, sorry, death tax, and social security. To support this deal, one must somehow justify spending on unemployment benefits by giving more to the rich. Hell, we can always print more money.

The question is when will we wake up to the fact that decisions are being made for us by an increasingly exclusive and secretive clique which is only intent on furthering their interests. Elected governments are almost entirely composed of wealthy individuals (US Senator's median income - $2.38 million) answerable to wealthy campaign contributors and lobbyists, the diplomatic corps of recycled politicians, Fifa is made up of a group of snake oil salesmen with a guaranteed distraction cure while the Fed is run by an appointed group of former bankers. These people decide who we go to war with, where we hold the circenses to enjoy with our panem and create new money and credit out of thin air, in secrecy, without oversight or supervision to propel inflation which facilitates deficits, needless wars and excessive risk taking. Most will simply glance at most of the revelations which, in themselves, do not actually reveal anything scandalously new. But there is a huge difference between some website saying Nigeria is corrupt and  reading actual cables sent by the former vice president of Shell claiming they have people in every level of government. This is what Wikileaks has done for us.

Sure, it's funny to read about Sarkozy chasing rabbits being chased by dogs around the legs of the US ambassador, but not so much to see what they're wrapping around prisoners' legs in Guantanamo. The story about warthogs on the runways in Zimbabwe giving the US ambassador more trouble than Mugabe hasn't gotten rid of the dictator but former Croatian president Ivo Sanader has been arrested after cables exposed his sleaze and corruption. Could Myanmar (Burma) become a target for attack now that we know of secret nuclear sites? Oligarchs running Kazakhstan is no different than Goldman Sachs running America. Argentine human trafficking is driven by "demand for young genitals". Chinese GDP statistics are "for reference only". American forces' rules of engagement have been changed thanks to the Wikileaks Iraq video. Shouldn't we know that America played Guantanamo prison Let's Make a Deal with countries in exchange for some Obama face time? When a gag order was placed on the British media it was Wikileaks that informed the world Trafiguara, an oil company (surprise!), was leaking toxic waste all over the Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, it didn't explain how you wind up with two presidents or how you dump a leak.

The battle with cognitive dissonance is won to save our brains for zombie feeding if we trick ourselves into believing that knowing that this empire has done, is doing and will continue to do awful things to maintain itself makes the Wikileaks confirmations less meaningful; nothing more than an endless and fascinating post-Thanksgiving/pre-Christmas document dump. That Internet transparency advocates should be attacked for advocating openness and believing that good things will happen to good people and bad to bad while people are exposing themselves in airports across America. All this at a time when Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer tells us what we already know, that the world is getting more corrupt. Students and employees are warned not to read the Wikileaks to help them ignore what they know is going on. We already knew Iranians deliver suitcases of cash to President Karzai's palace so don't need to be told his vice-president carried $52 million in cash on a trip to Dubai. From New Delhi to Washington and Moscow to Rome we are bearing witness to a manipulation of reality using the power of crony capitalism and inadequate oversight to transform systemic failure into fear of the next disaster to hinder reforms that could curb the domination of a small, exclusive and tightly connected elite. Their control over the traditional media who will lie to protect the system that made them the gateway of information combined with the fact there's only one Bernie Sanders makes Wikileaks our only hope to shed a little sunlight on the workings of a world that should belong to all of us. Hopefully the paroxysm caused by transparency won't lead to an epidemic of encephalon detonation.

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."
Thomas Jefferson letter to Dr. James Currie (Jan 28, 1786)


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