Sunday, October 26, 2008

In case you missed it

With all the news channeled dominated by coverage of Sarah Palin's fancy clothes and the revelation that Barack Obama was indeed born to a human -- and not via immaculate conception, as previously thought -- and has a grandmother who he apparently loves (shocking!), one could be forgiven for missing this revealing story from earlier this month on how the U.S. "defense" budget manages to increase every year, even when politicians from both major parties campaign on promises of cutting wasteful federal spending:
Pentagon officials have prepared a new estimate for defense spending that is $450 billion more over the next five years than previously announced figures.
The new estimate, which the Pentagon plans to release shortly before President Bush leaves office, would serve as a marker for the new president and is meant to place pressure on him to either drastically increase the size of the defense budget or defend any reluctance to do so, according to several former senior budget officials who are close to the discussions.
"This is a political document," said one former senior budget official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It sets up the new administration immediately to have to make a decision of how to deal with the perception that they are either cutting defense or adding to it."
Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's top budget official from 2001 to 2004, who is not involved in the current discussions, agreed.
"The thinking behind it is pretty straightforward," Zakheim said. "They are setting a baseline for a new administration that then will have to defend cutting it."
As Tennessee Congressman Jimmy Duncan -- one of the few genuinely anti-war Republicans left in Congress, even if he does inexplicably rationalize supporting John McCain for president (here's an interview I did with Duncan that was published by last year) -- once remarked to me, the U.S. Defense Department is the biggest bureaucracy in the history of the world. And like any other bureaucracy (or politician for that matter), its primary institutional priority is not to, say, present a rational and realistic view of the threats to the United States, but to increase its own power and influence.

Put simply, the military-industrial complex benefits not from peace and tranquility, but from war and an endless parade of villains and threats -- real, or as is usually the case, imagined -- with which it can cajole the American public into unquestioningly supporting whatever hawkish (and need I say expensive?) policies they put forward. 

Not being stupid people, those who profit from war (the so-called "merchants of death") are also well aware of the political difficulties posed for a politician in being cast as "weak on defense" -- as defined by the very same war profiteers and their congressional/media comrades --  and are willing to use the establishment's fetishization of military-spending-as-barometer-of-safety-and-preparedness 

Consider that the United States is now building a missile defense system in Poland, allegedly to defend against an attack from Iran (which hasn't attacked another country since the 18th century), and you can pretty well gauge how effective they have been in this endeavor. Combine the institutional pressures in favor of an ever-expanding military budget with the fact that both John McCain and Barack Obama support expanding the size and budget of the armed forces -- as well as a doomed-to-fail military "surge" in Afghanistan -- and you have a recipe for the defense/war budget to grow faster than the stock market at the height of the Federal Reserve-induced dot-com bubble, no matter who wins on November 4th.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Albright and Powell: the next Kissingers

By now it should be readily apparent that an Obama administration will not fundamentally alter U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, an Obama presidency would see the military expanded by 100,000 men and women, a "surge" of U.S. troops into Afghanistan, and unconditional support for the military policy's of the state of Israel -- and that's just what Obama has admitted to publicly. 

(Last month, I noted in a piece for Inter Press Service that, outside of his opposition to a "free trade" deal with Colombia, Obama has much in common with John McCain and the Bush administration when it comes to Latin America in particular, from supporting the war on drugs to maintaing the embargo against Cuba.)

But in case you are need of more evidence that a President Obama will represent a continuation of U.S. imperialism, rather than a significant departure from past U.S. foreign policy, consider the recent comments made by one of the would-be president's top foreign policy advisers -- Madeleine "I think 500,000-plus dead Iraqi children is 'worth it'" Albright to the editors of the Moonie Times:
Washington should not set a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq in the midst of the conflict, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says.
"I never was for a date certain," said Albright, who was appointed Secretary of State by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and now supports Barack Obama's Democratic presidential candidacy.

"In Bosnia, we gave a date certain, and then we couldn't get out, and that undercut our credibility," Albright, 71, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.
Notice what never comes up there? The opinions of the Iraqi people. I know, I know -- according to the Obama campaign and the Democratic leadership, we should consider the Iraqi people a bunch of freeloaders who are ungratefully taking our reconstruction money even as we suffer with a ballooning national debt here at home. But it's nonetheless illuminating to hear a respected Obama foreign adviser so openly concerned with maintaining the "credibility" of the American empire. Then again, that shouldn't be surprising if one's familiar with the career of Albright, the widely respected humanitarian interventionist. 

Consider again Obama's pledge to expand the size of the military as you read this story from the Washington Post, circa 1996:
Albright was an early opponent of the Powell doctrine that the United States should restrict its military interventions to situations in which its vital interests are threatened, and should always insist on using overwhelming force. In his memoirs, Powell recalled that he almost had "an aneurysm" when Albright challenged him to explain "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?"
Yes Barack, what are you going to do with all those tens of thousands of new troops?

It's worth noting that Colin Powell, the man most notable for covering up the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and helping sell the U.S. public on a criminal war of aggression against Iraq, now appears set to assume some sort of cabinet position in an Obama administration -- another instance of a disgraced war criminal "falling up". 

For those who think Powell is an honorable man who was merely misled into lying to the American public  and the world in order to sell a criminal war of aggression, remember that he continues to defend the illegal invasion of Iraq to this day; as Chris Floyd notes, his only objection to the war thus far is that the Bush administration did not send more troops to occupy the country from the start. And as Jonathan Schwarz noted in a comprehensive debunking of his 2003 speech before the UN -- using intelligence available to the former Secretary of State at the time -- Powell knowingly lied to the world, and embellished what few facts he had available to him, in making the case for attacking Iraq.

The unfortunate thing is -- as the likely next President himself has signaled -- I think he and Barack are going to get along just fine.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nancy Pelosi thinks you're stupid

H.L. Mencken once remarked that, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in an op/ed she "wrote" for USA Today, seems determined to test that statement with a serious of ludicrous assertions that appear designed to test America's capacity to believe unadulterated bullshit.

In September, as we moved quickly to help rescue Wall Street and our financial system, the House also passed an economic recovery package for Main Street that would create and save jobs by building a 21st century infrastructure, providing extended unemployment assistance and preventing the loss of crucial health services.


In the weeks since, the need for responsible action to strengthen our economy has become more urgent. I have asked the chairmen of the relevant committees in the House to review the economic impact of a larger recovery package and, because of the Congress' commitment to fiscal responsibility, the effect on the budget.
Catch that? Pelosi and her fellow Democrats acted decisively in September to "rescue Wall Street and our financial system" by granting the Bush administration the unilateral authority to seize/nationalize any assets they so desire, to the dismay of the banks that actually had competent leadership. Yet after this bold, courageous action, "the need for responsible action to strengthen our economy has become more urgent." Wait, you mean that $700 billion (and counting) taxpayer-funded bailout for Wall Street -- which the political/media elite claimed was absolutely vital to prevent another Great Depression, ridiculing anyone who dared to say otherwise -- hasn't fixed the U.S. economy? You don't say.

Remember also that after Congress -- in a rare act of commonsense -- initially rejected the bailout plan, the likes of Pelosi and Barney Frank all bemoaned their fellow lawmakers' economic ignorance, linking the rejection to the stock market's dramatic 700-plus point fall that day. And what has happened since Congress caved and passed the bailout? The stock market has fallen almost continually, including 733 points just today.

But it gets better:
Democrats have made fiscal responsibility a top priority, reinstating pay-as-you-go budget rules on the first day we took control of Congress in 2007. In keeping with these principles, each component of our recovery package will be justified in terms of creating good-paying jobs, stimulating our economy and returning revenue to the Treasury.
So the Democratic Congress that approved the very spending that, as Reuters reports, has resulted in a record-high $455 billion budget deficit this year -- and a record-high, $10 trillion-plus national debt -- is committed to "fiscal responsibility"? The same Democratic Congress that has approved hundreds of billions of dollars in "emergency" funding for a war in Iraq that they claim to oppose -- and campaigned in 2006 on ending -- is supposed to be a model in fiscal conservatism? Are we to believe that mean old George W. Bush just did this all on his own, and not with the help of a complicit and corrupt class of politicians collectively known as the Democratic Party?

It shouldn't have to come to this, but let me point out the obvious: one can't approve $700 billion in corporate welfare, hundreds of billions more for failing military occupations, another $300 billion in a "stimulus" package aimed at bribing the masses with their own money (that is, the money that isn't merely printed by the Fed or borrowed from China), and still claim to be the defender of the U.S. taxpayer. Sorry, you just can't.

When Americans are worried about losing their jobs, their savings, their homes and their chance at the American Dream, Congress and the president must work together to lift our economy and restore hope. That is the course the New Direction Congress will continue in the days and weeks ahead.
Is the phrase, the "New Direction Congress", not the perfect embodiment of the Democratic Party's devolution into mindless sloganeering as a substitute for actual policies, or thought? The focus group-tested "New Direction" slogan is nothing more than an attempt to obfuscate the fact that the United States is headed in the same direction that it was before Democrats took over Congress -- down -- except now, perhaps, at a faster pace.

Now, if Ms. Pelosi or one of her underpaid aides is reading this, let me pose a few questions to the esteemed leader of the most unpopular Congress in recent history: 1) how does it feel living the lifestyle of jet-setting cosmopolitan as you deplete the wealth of the average American in the name of the twin gods of corporatism and imperialism?; 2) do you believe the American public will believe whatever b.s. you spout so long as you have a 'D' and not an 'R' after your name?; and 3) have you no shame?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A walking tour of the military-industrial complex

Working in and around Washington, DC can be something of a weird, albeit illuminating, experience. Unlike other U.S. cities, where waterfront properties with a perfect view of the city's skyline would be full of high-priced condos, Washington's nearby suburb, the grossly misnamed "neighborhood" of Crystal City, is largely home to the merchants of death, their advocates, and -- as you'll see below -- their enablers. 

Having worked in the physical manifestation of the military-industrial complex for a number of months now, I have almost become accustomed to riding in an elevator full of men and women in fatigues while defense contractors in ill-fitting suits -- those men (and occasionally women) who directly profit off of war and its accompanying misery -- fret about landing that next big contract to build the Pentagon's latest weapon of mass destruction.

But while I've become somewhat used to living in world dominated by the military and militarists, I got to thinking: maybe the rest of the world isn't (one can hope?). So with that, I bring you the first of what is likely to be a long-running, recurring installment of "a walking tour of the military-industrial complex":

What tour of the military-industrial-congressional complex would be complete without a stop by Senator John "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran" McCain's campaign headquarters? 

True story: about three weeks ago I was waiting in line at a sandwich shop behind some young McCain campaign staffers who were so sure of their candidate's impending victory that they were loudly discussing their planned "victory" vacations to various tropical paradises. Perhaps they know something we don't -- could William Ayers be Barack Obama's real father? -- but, in light of the recent polling data and the state of the U.S. economy, they might want to reconsider that drunken, celebratory romp through the Virgin Islands.

About a block away from McCain's campaign headquarters are the offices of Lockheed-Martin, which is a bit convenient, seeing as it just so happens that McCain's chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, "used to be" a lobbyist for said merchant of death. That connection, I'm sure, in no way impacted the Maverick's recent call for the Bush administration to expand its military aid package to Taiwan -- which, it just so happens, McCain would like to see include a bunch of Lockheed-manufactured F-16s. Nope, nothing to see here. Move along, move along...

This is the Crystal City underground, an odd mixture of restaurants, electronics stores -- and as you see here -- defense contractor gift shops and "Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)" offices. If one thought the "military-industrial complex" was a mere fiction created by clove-smoking hippies and Dwight D. Eisenhower's speech writers, this place would put your doubts to rest. 

Watch out Banana Republic -- here comes the official Boeing gift shop. Impress the ladies with your sense of sophistication when you show up to the Hamburger Hamlet bar wearing your B-50 bomber Polo shirt. Oh yeah.

Gulf War II, baby! A fixture of the Crystal City underground, this store is your one-stop-shop for all your war glorifying merchandise needs -- my personal favorite being the kid's t-shirt commemorating Harry Truman's brave decision to nuke Hiroshima, complete with mushroom cloud: "This 'Little Boy' is the Bomb!" 

[Ok, so I actually haven't seen that shirt -- but considering the other war porn available in Crystal -- it isn't that far-fetched.]
Have you ever taken the train to work and found yourself wondering, "What are my enemy's movements?" Do you often find yourself pondering that eternal, omnipresent concern shared by so many students and business professionals: "Do I have enough troops?"

Well, fear not, for the Crystal City metro has got you covered, its walls plastered with ads selling the latest in expensive products designed to streamline the insurgent-killing process.

This ad, also in the Crystal City metro, is notable mostly for the existentialism embodied in the phrase it uses to sell war enhancement products -- "The Enemy is Uncertainty" -- but also for its bold commitment to "defeat the common enemy" and its Rumsfeldian pledge to "[m]ake the unknown known".

What better way to end this "walking tour" installment then with an ad that displays the basic inhumanity inherent in the military-industrial complex. After the endless stream of advertisements and politicians heralding war as a force that gives us meaning, its useful to point out that those that actually partake in it -- and aren't completely taken in by the military's dehumanizing brainwashing -- tend not to like it all that much. Some even want to kill themselves because of what they've seen and/or done in Iraq and other illegal wars of aggression. Yet while the military has a seemingly endless stream of money to pay for recruitment ads during sporting events and other television programming aimed primarily at young men, the best they can do to prevent suicide among their "employees" is an ad in a random subway station.

You gotta have priorities, I guess.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Israeli general pledges to commit war crimes; world yawns

In 2006, Israel responded to the kidnapping of two if its soldiers by Hezbollah militants by promptly carpet bombing all of Lebanon, killing over a 1,000 people -- largely unarmed, innocent civilians -- and littering the country with unexploded cluster bombs (relatedly, both Israel and the United States recently refused to join with the civilized world in banning the use of the children's limb-exploding munition).

Now Israeli Major General Gadi Eisenkot is pledging to commit further war crimes against innocent civilians if Hezbollah launches rocket attacks against Israel from Lebanese towns. As this AFP article notes:
"What happened in Beirut in 2006 will occur in every village that fires on Israel," Major General Gadi Eisenkot, the top commander in northern Israel, said in an interview with Israel's mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

"Firing from the villages of Lebanon would cause a disaster, and (Hezbollah chief Hassan) Nasrallah has an interest in thinking 30 times before giving such an order," he added.

"We will use disproportionate force against these villages and cause enormous destruction because from our point of view these are not villages but military bases."

He added that the policy of massive retaliation would be employed against other regional foes should they carry out a first strike on Israel, saying "what applies to Hezbollah applies even more to Syria."
On top of Israel's threats to preemptively attack Iran, a country which -- despite what the media/political propagandists would have you believe -- has never threatened to use military force against Israel (and if it did, I'm pretty sure Israel -- with the help of its 200 or so undeclared nuclear weapons -- could fend for itself), consider this latest outburst in barbarous chest-thumping further evidence that there are few differences between a nation-state and a terrorist group when it comes to showing a callous disregard for innocent life.

When it comes down to it, the primary distinction between the Israeli government (and almost all other states, for that matter) and Hezbollah is that the latter doesn't have an air force.

(via Democracy Now

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Robert Fisk on Al Jazeera

In stark contrast to the likes of CNN and Fox News, Al Jazeera actually tends to have substantive coverage of issues that will never be discussed in the mainstream corporate media -- which perhaps explains why the U.S. government is always trying to kill their journalists.

A little over a week ago, Al Jazeera's Riz Kahn interviewed Robert Fisk, a long-time war correspondent who reports for the British newspaper The Independent, on the state of journalism, the Middle East, and the U.S. presidential election. 

Below are a few exchanges I thought were particularly noteworthy, as well as the full video of the interview itself:

On Journalism: I think that the great challenge facing journalists today is that we allow the presidents, and prime ministers and generals, and indeed our journalists, to set the narrative of events instead of challenging authority.

On The Obama/McCain-Endorsed "Good War" In Afghanistan: I call this war Iraqistan now. The idea that, you know we started off by declaring victory in Afghanistan, and then we rush off and declare victory in Iraq, and when we've lost in Iraq we're rushing back to win the war for the second time in Afghanistan, and starting a third one in Pakistan. This is madness, this is preposterous, but we're constantly locked onto the narrative -- and we've got to hate Iran too because supposedly they're going to bomb everybody. I think this is a ridiculous story we're being fed. 

On The Prospect Of "Change" Under McCain Or Obama: The bombs will go on falling as usual. It won't make the slightest difference. U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East is not going to change. The saddest thing is we find lots and lots of Arabs who keep saying to me 'oh, you know Obama, he's the guy we want because he grew up poor.' And of course most Arabs are poor -- they shouldn't be, but they are -- it's not going to make any difference. Obama, McCain -- it's going to be the same policy.

Now, for the tape:

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Can someone bail out the media?

If cable television and newspapers like the Washington Post were your only sources of news, then you would probably think the debate over the $700 billion bailout for politically connected Wall Street investment firms was divided between the experts and journalists on the one side -- united in their belief that "something must be done" -- and on the other, the simpletons and country bumpkins who just didn't understand that the modern economy requires using taxpayer dollars to subsidize the risks and socialize the losses of Henry Paulson's golfing buddies.

Indeed, the Dow's fall by over 700 points last Monday was, to the financial press and other professional agitators for expanded corporate and government power, clear evidence that the House's (short-lived) rejection of the Wall Street bailout was directly harming the economy. No doubt these self-styled financial experts will interpret/spin today's events -- where the Dow fell more than 800 points at one point -- as further evidence that the government must take bold, decisive action to intervene in the economy (as if the Federal Reserve hasn't already been doing so by injecting more liquidity -- that is, more dollars -- into the banking system; just today the central bank cut interest rates to just 1.25%, after doubling the amount of money it was lending to major banks).

As after 9/11 and with the the lead up to the Iraq war, the establishment media has parroted the line that there is a crisis that demands the public defer to the very same inept elite that failed to predict -- much less understand the causes of -- the catastrophe that had just taken place. And as in the months before the United States unleashed "shock and awe" over Baghdad, the last few weeks have seen voices critical of the stampeding toward an ill-considered and destructive policy generally marginalized as simple folk incapable of grasping the world's complexities (which invariably demand that the U.S. government assume evermore power).

However, as Congressional Quarterly's Daniel Parks pointed out in a piece for the Chicago Tribune, the divide over the bailout was not simply between those journalists/politicians/bankers who understand economics and the ignorant, Dancing With the Stars-watching proles, but rather "between Wall Street and its allies in Washington, and the rest of the country."

As Parks notes:
While it is true that most Wall Street economists predict doom and gloom for America without immediate government action, many of these economists are connected in some way to the institutions that would benefit from a bailout.

This point is obviously true and bears repeating, but one can take it a step further: not only were the Wall Street "experts" on TV shilling for the bailout likely to directly benefit from one, but so were those people hoping to implement the plan: our dear leaders. One need not be a conspiracy theorist to see the impropriety in having a former Goldman Sachs CEO, Henry Paulson, using the public treasury to bail out his former colleagues on Wall Street, aided (and abetted) by a whole host of former Goldman Sachs employees.

John McCain and Barack Obama are also likely both salivating at the chance of exercising the type of unprecedented power over the economy the U.S. Congress just granted to the lame duck Bush administration, which no doubt explains their vocal cries for lawmakers to do the "right thing" and vote to subsidize the bad decisions of their corporate backers.

Though opponents of the bailout were accused of just not getting the connection between Wall Street and Main Street (and one can only hope that phrase dies a sudden, albeit violent, death), most people can understand what's going on rather easily and don't need the help of a screaming cable TV financial guru to explain to them why 21st century living demands that the poor subsidize the tennis lessons of the rich. In fact, much of the opposition to the bailout can be chalked up to the fact that people know all too well what is going on: politicians enriching influential corporate interests at taxpayer expense.

As Parks writes:
The fact is, most people do understand. They just aren't convinced that this particular approach—or any government approach—is the best answer. And there are plenty of smart, highly educated people on their side. Just because you won't find many of them on Wall Street, or in Washington, doesn't mean they don't exist or their analysis is any less sound.

Even among the voters who believe a bailout would help, many remain opposed regardless. They want to see Wall Street suffer for its excesses, even if they must suffer, too. Normally the media would seek out and admire stands on principle such as this, but not on this story.

The disconnect appears to stem from the fact that in many cases, financial journalists have simply gotten too cozy with the Wall Street crowd. These journalists have failed to cast a critical eye on what their small circle of East Coast experts in the financial world tell them, and they have ignored other sources in most cases.

One would think that after being taken to the woodshed for failing to challenge the underlying assumptions on the need to go to war in Iraq, journalists would be more cautious about accepting the establishment explanation of any undertaking of this magnitude. But the journalists who covered the war for the most part are not the same journalists who are now covering the economy.

Perhaps the two groups should have a chat.
While the U.S. establishment may have gotten away with openly transferring the wealth of the middle class and the poor to the politically influential upper class (yet again), the opposition to the latest display of crony capitalism was at least somewhat inspiring, and -- one can only hope -- perhaps indicative of the "realignment of American politics" that Ralph Nader spoke of at last month's press conference with Ron Paul and the Constitution and Green party presidential nominees, Chuck Baldwin and Cynthia McKinney.

As evidenced by Paul's press conference -- where the assembled candidates all agreed that the the empire should be ended, the Federal Reserve's power should be greatly curtailed (and perhaps abolished), and that "There should be no taxpayer bailouts of corporations and no corporate subsidies [and] corporations should be aggressively prosecuted for their crimes and frauds." -- there appears to be something of an emerging anti-war, anti-corporate shift in the United States, with an increasing number of people recognizing that both the Democratic and Republican parties are thoroughly committed to corporatism and imperialism (their respective claims to represent the "little guy" and the "free market" notwithstanding). That's not to say that the bipartisan corporate/government power structure is on the verge of a collapse, but it's at least something to be hopeful about in these rather dark times.

This emerging consensus, though obviously limited to what the likes of the Washington Post's Dana Milbank would dismissively term the "lunatic fringe", is readily apparent, as the Chicago Tribute notes, in the fact that Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul -- long allies when it comes to fighting the warfare state -- appear to now be making a shared and explicit case against the corporate welfare state. As Kucinich wrote to his supporters last week, echoing Paul's criticism of the Federal Reserve's manipulation of the U.S. economy for the benefit of Wall Street and the openly corporatist nature of the bailout scam:
[Under the bailout the] taxpayers loan money to the banks. But the taxpayers do not have the money. So we have to borrow it from the banks to give it back to the banks. But the banks do not have the money to loan to the government. So they create it into existence (through a mechanism called fractional reserve) and then loan it to us, at interest, so we can then give it back to them.


This is the system. This is the standard mechanism used to expand the money supply on a daily basis not a special one designed only for the "$700 billion" transaction. People will explain this to you in many different ways, but this is what it comes down to.

The banks needed Congress' approval. Of course in this topsy turvy world, it is the banks which set the terms of the money they are borrowing from the taxpayers. And what do we get for this transaction? Long term debt enslavement of our country. We get to pay back to the banks trillions of dollars ($700 billion with compounded interest) and the banks give us their bad debt which they cull from everywhere in the world.


The globalization of the debt puts the United States in the position that in order to repay the money that we borrow from the banks (for the banks) we could be forced to accept International Monetary Fund dictates which involve cutting health, social security benefits and all other social spending in addition to reducing wages and exploiting our natural resources. This inevitably leads to a loss of economic, social and political freedom.

Under the failed $700 billion bailout plan, Wall Street's profits are Wall Street's profits and Wall Street's losses are the taxpayers' losses. Profits are capitalized. Losses are socialized.
As Kucinich highlights, the bailout is simply more corporatism dressed up as an "economic rescue", highlighting the fact that in the United States -- under the guise of a market system -- the Wall Street rich win, even when they lose.

The apparent realignment of politics was also evident, to me at least, in a surprising post at the liberal-hipster-media website, Gawker, which -- when their writers are not assuming the posture of uber-cool ironic detachment, is capable of some worthwhile commentary:
[T]he larger problem here . . . is that no one understood that the nation's economy was built on a house of cards except for the people who didn't care, the people who constructed the house of cards, and Ron Paul.
So we understand the crisis through an unhelpful lens of politics—we can explain the political machinations behind the bailout bill, yes, but is it good or bad policy? Paul Krugman says it's bad-but-necessary, or something. What a cop-out!

The People are actually to blame, yes; the stupid people who didn't pay attention to the terms of their loans and lived outside their means and gambled everything away while gorging themselves on bacon-wrapped shrimp at Red Lobster. Except who were the ones pushing the "ownership society," giving huge incentives for homeownership to people who shouldn't own homes, never providing anything but misleading information, convincing themselves that housing prices would never ever ever fall? Both political parties, two presidents, and all the respectable press. There was a dereliction of duty by everyone in the nation responsible for serving the public trust, which certainly used to mean journalists too.

It took Time until March of this year to explain credit default swaps, but at least they did explain it in March. And now we're probably in for another corrective period, in which like after the Lewinsky free-for-all and the credulous lead-up to the Iraq war, the press will spend a self-flagellating year promising to do better in the future.
I just have one small quibble with Gawker's analysis: the idea that corporate journalism was ever about "serving the public trust" is not based in anything remotely resembling fact, and is instead based on the same fiction that the U.S. government -- which massacred the native American population and enslaved hundreds of thousands of others -- was established to uphold decency and justice but has only rather recently been corrupted by the mean 'ol Republicans. While the media's selling of the war in Iraq was undoubtedly egregious and not in the American public's interest (to say nothing of the Iraqis), have you ever heard of William Randolph Hearst?

An American warship explodes off the coast of Cuba and Hearst almost singlehandedly sells the country on a war by blaming the cowardly Spanish; a war that resulted in the United States colonizing Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, more or less ushering in the U.S.'s era of imperialism. The media's role in peddling falsehoods is most certainly nothing new, and as a student of history, I'm still struggling to find an era when the major media outlets did not shill for the political and economic elites.

Still, some recognize that the major media outlets fail 90% of the time at providing the American public a complete and unbiased view of the world -- and only at most 10% of the time displays any measurable amount of skepticism toward government demands for new power -- and view that as a reason to improve on that last 10%; you know, get the media back to what its "job" was supposed to be, with all that "speaking truth to power" stuff.

Others, however, see that the major newspapers and television stations invariably shill for those in power -- both in the corporate sector and the U.S. government (or do I repeat myself?) -- and think, "hmm, maybe the media is doing its job..."

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Lysander Spooner writes the president

A few months ago, I excerpted a section of Lysander Spooner's letter to president Grover Cleveland that I thought was especially relevant to the upcoming election. Though written in 1886, the letter continues to prove applicable to our times, the following being a particularly apt selection now that the ruling elite -- that is, our lawmakers -- are in the process of handing over a trillion dollars to the former head of an investment bank, who will then use it to bail out the bad decisions of the politically-connected rich (all, allegedly, for our own good):
I can assure you, sir, that a very large portion of the people of this country do not believe that the government is doing "equal and exact justice to all men." And some persons are earnestly promulgating the idea that the government is not attempting to do, and has no intention of doing, anything like "equal and exact justice to all men"; that, on the contrary, it is knowingly, deliberately, and wilfully doing an incalculable amount of injustice; that it has always been doing this in the past, and that it has no intention of doing anything else in the future; that it is a mere tool in the hands of a few ambitious, rapacious, and unprincipled men; that its purpose, in doing all this injustice, is to keep --- so far as they can without driving the people to rebellion --- all wealth, and all political power, in as few hands as possible; and that this injustice is the direct cause of all the widespread poverty, ignorance, and servitude among the great body of the people.
Now, Sir, I wish I could hope that you would do something to show that you are not a party to any such scheme as that; something to show that you are neither corrupt enough, nor blind enough, nor coward enough, to be made use of for any such purpose as that; something to show that when you profess your intention "to do equal and exact justice to all men," you attach some real and definite meaning to your words. Until you do that, is it not plain that the people have a right to consider you a tyrant, and the confederate and tool of tyrants, and to get rid of you as unceremoniously as they would of any other tyrant?
The players might change, but the game remains the same.