Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's Not The End Of The World

Whether by rapture, nature, or computer there have been countless predictions of the end of the world over the past three millennia. These harbingers of doom have had many sources, from scripture to soothsayers, but all have been shown to be nothing but conjecture as the world has continued to revolve, the sun to shine and man to (de)evolve. Unless you've been living under a rock, don't get out to see movies nor have a Facebook wall to tell you, you probably heard something about the Maya calendar ending on December 21, 2012 augering the end of the world. Meanwhile, after a temporary break to obsess about the fact that they like to own a lot of guns so they can kill each other and anyone else they feel like, America's propaganda machine will go back to heralding the financial end of the world, the fiscal cliff. Like all good myths, both harbingers of doom freely mix fact and fiction to produce a potent brew believable enough to intoxicate the masses while ensuring the real moral of the story and a chunk of change will be lost in the panic to the propagandists.

Many Romans believed 634 BCE would bring the end based on a story in which twelve eagles, each representing ten years, revealed the lifespan of Rome to Romulus. Most religions have their own eschatological doctrines but it's the crazy Christians who have the longest list of false prophets. Harold Camping was simply the latest in a long line Christards to predict the end such as Paul the Apostle, Hilary of Poitiers and Martin of Tours. Perhaps tired of just killing infidel Muslims in the Crusades, even Pope Innocent III got into the act by adding 666 to the year Islam was founded to determine the world would end in 1284. Theology and astronomy have always been a toxic mix, but when Johannes Stoeffler used them to predict a worldwide flood he convinced many to move to higher ground and invest in boats before February 1, 1524. As many as 100,000 'Millerites' were moved enough by William Miller's preaching of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844 to sell all their belongings. Like Camping, when the world woke up the next day to normality, Miller just moved his date back; his followers were so fervent they went on to form the Seventh-day Adventist movement.

Sowing panic in the markets has always been an easy way to make a mint for some and to steer economic policy for others. Stories of the so-called fiscal cliff are another textbook example. Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s riders and messengers were able to get news of Wellington's defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo a full day in advance of the government’s own news carriers. As the story goes, Nathan convinced the rubes he had knowledge of Napoleon's victory by selling heavily on the English stock market. When panic ensued, Rothschild had his agents snap up stocks for pennies on the pound, entrenching the family banking dynasty. Many claim the Panic of 1907, the United States' first modern financial crisis, was engineered by JP Morgan to implement certain financial regulations and ultimately the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913. Newspaper reports of the days ahead of the panic seem almost comical in their propagandizing prose describing the health of the financial market only to be proven completely wrong when the crash led to a drop of 21% in commodity prices, a 47% spike in bankruptcies and a rise in unemployment from 2.8 to 8%. Lucky these things could never happen today!

A simple connection can be made between today's supposed harbingers of apocalypse, the end of the Maya Calendar and the US fiscal cliff: both are completely made up and being used for gain by the mythology makers of our day. The Maya understand 17 different calendars, some of them accurately charting time over more than ten million years. The one causing all the hub-bub is the Long Count which is an astronomical calendar based on the cycle of Pleiades used to track longer periods of time. Just as with other calendars, the end of the old signals the start of the next. Americans on the other hand created the fictitious fiscal cliff just last summer when the federal debt level was about to hit the imaginary debt ceiling. Imaginary in that a limit that can be extended is not a limit but a gimick which in this case proved a useful opportunity for fearmongers. As a deal couldn't be struck, an agreement was reached for automatic spending cuts to kick in come the end of 2012 thus the name fiscal cliff was coined to scare the people into believing cuts need to be made to avert financial disaster in the new year. However, just as we can go out and buy a new calendar, the US government has the power to simply go out and 'buy' more dollars whenever they need to.

The reason it's so important for the elite to sow fear among the infotariat is that both imaginary apocalypse makers are in fact opportunities to reshape the world we live in. The current Long Count cycle finished December 21st when it reached the end of the 13th b'ak'tun which themselves are made up of 20 k'atun cycles composed of 20 tun each of which last for 18 winal cycles that are about a year long. The end of the Long Count has nothing to do with death but everything to do with rebirth. The true meaning is transformation not conflagration. According to the correlation between the Long Count and Western calendars accepted by the great majority of Maya researchers, the starting-point of the just ended Long Count cycle is equivalent to August 11, 3114 BCE. This date marks the creation of the world of human beings according to the Maya, the last great transition.

Coincidentally, we are told by textbooks that civilization began around 3,000 BCE in Mesopotamia as the Sumerians simultaneously developed all the traits of high civilization: the wheel, metallurgy, astrology, astronomy, calendars, taxation, bookkeeping, an organized priesthood and of course written texts. Ancient Egypt as we know it came into being with the union of Upper and Lower Egypt and the start of the First Dynasty under Menes somewhere around 3100 B.C. Should we go on about the significance of that time? Stonehenge has been dated to around 3000 B.C. It was also around 3100 B.C that stone circle building and other types of megalithic structures were being built throughout Britain, Scotland, and Ireland. Newgrange, the large passage-grave in Ireland, is generally dated to about 3200 B.C. More? Civilization is said to have begun in China around 3000 B.C. with the emergence of the Yang-Shao culture. All very important, but not as big as what it all brought about. Yep, the whole system of modern slavery. Debt.

Even before there was money, there was debt. The arrival of civilization, agriculture and all its benefits also brought the plague of credit. The ancients learned to control it through systems such as the Jubilee, but in modern times we have forgotten the lessons of the past and let it become the system for the powerful to control wealth and therefore society. Nowhere has done a better job than America where the debt figures boggle the mind. Credit card debt has lagged since the financial crisis and sits a bit under a trillion but student loan debt has more than made up for the slack, powering past the trillion mark last year helping push consumer debt to $2.7 trillion. Total household debt is over $13 trillion, just a couple of trillion shy of total yearly economic output. But we better be sure not to mix these figures with the 'real' problem facing America, the federal debt. 

Yes, like the rogue planet Nibiru predicted by the Mayans, serious people are warning us the federal debt will obliterate us all. Wait? What's that? The Mayans never said anything about Nibiru? It was just dreamed up in 1976 by Zecharia Sitchin in his book "The Twelfth Planet" using his own unique translation of Sumerian cuneiform to identify a planet, Nibiru, orbiting the sun every 3,600 years? Then several years later, Nancy Lieder, a self-described psychic, announced that the aliens she claimed to channel had warned her this planet would collide with Earth in 2003? After a collision-free year, the date was moved back to 2012, where it was linked to the close of the Mayan long-count period? So, it's just a mixture of science fiction and psychics? Wait. Science fiction and psychics sounds suspiciously close to the definition of economics to me. 

Even though they agree on about 99% of things, Democrats and Republicans still manage to come to loggerheads often enough to make for good kabuki theater. Last year's debt ceiling fiasco not only cost the US it's AAA credit rating but also set the cuts and tax increases to go off around the end of the year. The name 'fiscal cliff' is an inapt metaphor for many reasons, but the $500 billion in tax increases and $200 billion in spending cuts represent about 4% of the US economy and would probably push the US into recession. It's a hodgepodge of policy decisions that Congress has made, or better said, not made, over the past two years, piled onto a single deadline. It's not a cliff but self-induced austerity crisis, theater designed to pressure policy makers into a deal such as the grand bargain whose ultimate goal is to dismantle social security and medicare while continuing at least a portion of the tax cuts for the rich. Despite the many other problems that exist, the added bonus of this approaching apocalypse has been that it has completely paralyzed the lame duck Congress and the status quo usually benefits one group, the plutocrats.

The simplest option is to do nothing and go over the 'cliff' but this is unlikely to happen as not only does it harm everyone but it hits the rich, the military and corporations disproportionately. While it would cut defense spending and allow taxes on the rich to return to Clinton era levels, it also would see benefits cut and taxes for all others rise as well. Additionally, with the debt ceiling fast approaching again, some kind of deal will avert the next crisis. However, the tax hikes and spending cuts are spread over two years so there isn't really any urgency. Another possible scenario is to just kick the can further down the road by simply extending the deadline by a year or two. This is what policy makers usually do from climate change to war related troop draw-downs, so don't be surprised. Finally, some kind of deal may be reached, ranging from some kind of small deal in which some tax cuts are allowed to expire along with some spending cuts to the plutocrat preferred 'grand bargain'. The media is undoubtedly pushing this as their overlords will be better able to disguise the savage cuts to the social safety net among all the other hoopla of a deal within the framework of the Simpson-Bowles plan, or the Domenici-Rivlin plan.

A healthy democracy would use this moment to its advantage by diagnosing the disease and taking its medicine. A rotten one will use it to make things worse for most while benefiting the few. Sequestration will see a range of spending cuts across the board (ie. defense and non-defense) in discretionary spending as mandated by the debt ceiling compromise, the Budget Control Act of 2011. Cutting doctors pay and unemployment insurance at a time of record low employment don't sound too bright but slicing a portion of the $300 million a day to fight an unwinnable war in Afghanistan sounds pretty good, but unfortunately war costs are exempt. Speaking of the unemployed, maybe increasing taxes on the 'job-creators' isn't such a bad idea. The secret is the rich aren't creating jobs at all but stealing them. Only 3.6% of the top 0.1% income earners are entrepreneurs, the majority rely on extracting rents from the rest of us. Their tax rates have fallen while the working class are paying more via payroll taxes. The other supposed engine of job creation, corporations, have done a pretty good job of avoiding paying their fair share as well. Just as the top 1% of breathing people have taken 93% of income growth since 2008, corporate non-breathing people saw their profits quickly rebound following the downturn to the point where their profits are at a record level when compared to the whole economy. Charts? You want graphs? Well, here's a few:

The Real Cliff - Employment has fallen and can't get up!
Surprisingly, cutting top marginal tax rates increases the income share of the rich!
The slow shift in tax burden from non-breathing 'people' to working class people
You might say the crisis was pretty good for corporations
The term 'fiscal cliff' was coined by none other than Ben Bernanke. You may remember him from such heists as the 2008 bank bailouts (TARP) when he helped Hank Paulsen bully Congress into handing over $700 billion to the banksters. That $700 billion sure is a familiar sounding number, isn't it? Well it should be seeing as it the amount of 'forced' austerity being brought about by bailing out banks, something that research shows predictably happens. An IMF paper showed bailouts lead to austerity. That IMF paper examined 42 banking crises between 1970 and 2007 but there's evidence all around us today from the UK to Spain and Greece. It's all so sickeningly predictable. Whatever you want to call them, the elite, oligarchs, plutocrats, Bilderbergs, they behave just like the borg from Star Trek TNG, methodically extracting all the wealth they can before moving on to the next source. The last forty-odd years were spent laying the groundwork for the biggest transfer of wealth from the bottom up the world has ever seen; the tax burden has been shifted away from the rich and corporations onto the backs of the working class, 'think tanks', 'research centers' and Faux News were created to tell the people this is normal, unions were devastated, consumerism as self-actualization became the mantra, corporations were turned into people and rewarded for shipping jobs overseas to the lowest wage countries they could find. Uh, I could go on but I already have.

Sadly, much like the end of the Long Count Mayan cycle, the fiscal cliff is being sold as disaster instead of an opportunity. The cult leaders aren't named Jones, Hubbard, Koresh, or Jouret nor were they dressed in flowing robes but garbed instead in suits and named Rand, Greenspan, Friedman and Hayek. Worse, their preachings aren't responsible for the deaths of tens or hundreds but thousands, millions and possibly eventually billions. We get to see their converts every day in our classrooms, on the streets and most often, on the TV where a parade of hucksters trying to convince us the debt was caused by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and needs fixing before anything else. The propaganda becomes transparent when you consider a group such as Fix the Debt, which is the loudest of the fearmongers, is composed of CEOs with ties to 43 companies with over $43 billion in defense contracts. They're strangely silent about the fact that the debt is largely due to the recession, the two Bush tax cuts while paying for two wars which have caused defense spending to double since 2001 putting US military spending equivalent to the next 26 nations combined.

It's telling that as the 21st of December neared more effort was expended dispelling the Mayan apocalypse myths than extolling the possibilities that a new era of peace and unity could bring. Bolivian president Evo Morales marked the winter solstace and auspicious calendar date by extending an open invitation to the world to celebrate "the end of the Macha and the beginning of the Pacha, the end of selfishness and the beginning of brotherhood, it is the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism." Similarly, as we near the so-called fiscal cliff, more energy is being expended to convince us the end is near if we don't make fixes which will exacerbate the problems rather than solve them. Every challenge we've faced this millennium has been made worse: 9/11 led us into a never ending global war on terror, climate change has brought an endless parade of broken promises and conferences, financial crisis a perpetual bailout for the perpetrators and sellout of the people. No, just as December 21st wasn't the end of the world, the fiscal cliff won't bring about the apocalypse but the majority of us would be better off if we turn off the current disastrous path.
Update Jan.22 -