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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The War You Don't See

I don't know how long this link will stay viable but until it goes down, here's John Pilger's latest movie, The War You Don't See, which chronicles the evolution and omnipresence of propaganda in pushing governments' war agenda:

If you're just looking for Wikileaks' Julian Assange, he's interviewed at about the hour and a quarter mark (1:15).

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)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Hero!

Well, it seems that at least one person has been reading my blog:

Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, is usually referred to as the only socialist in the US Congress. If being socialist means wanting a level playing field in which we all have an equal opportunity to contribute to society, you can definitely keep calling me a socialist.