Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Public Forsaken; Mainstream Media Abandons Its Most Vital Function

The Mainstream Media's role in promoting government myths like those spread before the invasion of Iraq may not present the biggest threat to American society. Far worse is Media's failure to perform the most valuable function it serves to our society--as a watchdog.

The Mainstream Media has acted on American fears and inflated the risk posed by terrorism. It also ignored the weakness of the government's case against Iraq. It did nothing to enlighten the public as to the consequences of using military force. After all the issues we now face in the Occupation of Iraq were both predicted and predictable.

The Media has minimized the scope and depth of the challenges America now faces with Global Warming. Lacking an understanding of how this earth-changing transformation affects them, Americans are denied fundamental evidence precipitating changes in how we use Energy (advocating conservation), and raising awareness of how the impact of our individual decisions affect the environment.

Not by chance, the inevitable result of inadequate coverage is the perpetuation of the staus quo. Many corporation stand to risk billions in accomodating changes in the ways we use energy; others profit mightily from the ongoing sale of fossil fuels. Many corporations have parlayed their wealth into unprecedented levels of influence over our government, influence which is no doubt being used to reduce the threat that change poses to the existing order, an entrenched economic system that feeds off America's gluttonous appetite for fossil fuels.

The Media must be willing to confront the status quo. Increasingly dominated by conglomerates, Big Media is reluctant to confront other corporations. Corporations are rarely directly targetted in the MSM. Has anyone else noticed the total absence of investigative reporting in the news recently? Corporate wrongdoing rarely receives major attention from traditional media providers.

Like carrion, most Media companies are content to feast on corporations only when they've fallen and become harmless husks incapable of sponsoring commercials. Coddled inside a large corporation, Mainstream Media's news divisions are reluctant to criticize corporate misbehaviors. Bringing public or Congressional scrutiny to a fellow corporation could limit advertizing revenue and squeeze profits.

Investigative journalism has been supplanted by celebrity worship--the average America is lifted vicariously into a personal relationship with individual celebrities, one which is painfully one-way. Selling celebrity is convenient, "info-tainment" can charade as real news, magazines can be sold, movies and books cross-marketed. Celebrities appear on networks affiliated with publishing and movie-making entities, their shameless self-plugging masquerading as interviews.

There's no doubt Americans are swept up in the magnificence of celebrity, perhaps in response to pettiness with which they view their own existence, a perception which is hardly disencouraged by the primacy of image worship in our culture. Fixation on media personalities builds their public credibility and commerical viability. Through a sustained flow of Media attention, the celebrity brand builds itself upon a parade of visual imagery.

It's a model that fits corporations well, as soft news is far easier to present and manage. There is no need to criticize or scrutinize; simply by filling the screens of media consumers, it can sell products. The presence of celebrity in messaging encourages consumers to buy, not perhaps a consumer product but rather makes god-like the mantle of their attention: the status of celebrity.

Not all news cannot be devoted to celebrity messaging. Still, the recent exposure for Anna Nicole Smith shows the Mainstream Media's neglect of hard news or, more specifically, its inclination to so readily subtract substantive content and replace it with a stream of mundane details concerning the death of a celebrity.

For a period of several weeks, Smith's death really did become the number one issue in American Mainstream Media. Many Americans far more significant Americans died having lives far better, some of which were even sacrificed in service to their country. We see neither the caskets, nor hear their names on a Media which has instead committed the public's attention to selling the fanciful lives and deaths of celebrities.

The TV culture conditions consumers to consume, inflates wants into needs, and inhibits meaningful insight and avoids debate, choosing instead an option which rarely solves the problem: violence.

The Media may think its serving a public good by focusing attention away from the painful realities of our world. These are many: foreign policy error, weather ugliness, economic threats, and/or general misery in the world.

Many in the United States want to hear and see the kind of celebrity news the Media conglomerates make. Their market assured, large Media companies can claim to be legitimately serving a market segment, one that they not coincidentally created and through which viewers purchase the products they advertize.

Meanwhile the truth remains hidden. Ugly facts shroud vital truths that Americans need to learn about. Issues like global warming and the disintegration of the middle class have few public advocates. Some non-Corporate causes are sufficiently savvy to employ celebrity marketing strategies to reach their constituencies, using the same technique--the positioning of a celebrity allied to their cause.

So overarching is the culture of celebrity-worship that many causes can only get television time through celebrity advocacy. Over time, the hard-driving celebrity crusaders seem to lose some of their image, although at a much slower pace than other celebrities who rely solely on the pimping skills of their promoters instead of sustaining a relationship with the public based on shared belief in a valuable cause.

Some could say that the public wants to keep things simple. They're tired at the end of the day--so why fill their minds with the ugliness of their world, a place they will have to face the next morning, like it or not? Why not escape? If feeling good is the purpose of media entertainment, the news should leave people feeling better not worse, these people would say.

The realities of the world we now face cannot be ignored forever. As we saw in Hurrican Katrina, sooner or later the consequences of change in our world will make themselves know. America is steering toward a reckoning. Look at the vulnerability of our energy supply. We are dependent on the safety of sea lanes for over half of our oil.

There are many signs the world is confronting massive ecological consequences from global warming. If the US doesn't wean itself off from petroleum, we will not be able to maintain a secure foundation for our economy and way of life. The primary reason for our presence in the Gulf as to secure petroleum--which also increases the risk premium. The costs of our naked colonization of the world's last oil and a pair (or more) of open-ended land wars in Asia is dramatically rising.

The absence of substantive information on the issues now confronting our nation has led to a dangerous attitude of invulnerability among the citizenry. Trying to advocate change, especially where it is most urgently needed, is impossible without a full accounting of the situation we now face. If our society were facing a global event which could threaten our way of life as Americans, who would tell us if the Media doesn't? We are a capitalist culture--who is being paid to warn us, whose job is it?

Television has become the dominant method for sharing information. It serves its greatest good through its ability to touch us emotionally, and in an instant transform what we thought we knew about our world. The wisdom of broadcasting weather warnings through television has never been questioned. The recent use of Amber Alerts have been received by the public enthusiastically. Yet when troubling facts gather on the horizon, the Media sleeps, reducing its role as watchman to conveyor of petty commerical babble.

Some would claim Americans are responsible for whatever situation they find themselves in, whether a victim of Hurricane Katrina or an Enron shareholder defrauded of his retirement savings. They would argue that Americans should be more responsible for their situation, that the people in these situations had choices and simply made bad ones. They could have prepared goes the argument. But people can only prepare for what they know to be a threat, not just imaginary fears; government and the Media owe it to our society to act as our eyes and ears into the unknown, our watchmen.

I'm skeptical of the those who would blame society for making the wrong personal choices some individuals make. Sometimes people just don't know enough to make the right choice. During Katrina, people flocked to the Convention Center simply because they were not told that the Superbowl was the refuge of last resort. They may have been limited in their mobility, lacking cars to escape the city, and therefore unable to reach the Superbowl. Or they may have simply lacked battery-powered radios. Either way, to blame them for their fate is wantonly cruel.

New Orleans was a situation worsened by the absence of wetlands between the city and the Gulf of Mexico, factors beyond the control of those victimized by Katrina. The elevation of the city has made it vulnerable to more intense hurricanes.

The failure to adequately secure wetland from development may have doomed the city. Reclamation of a coastal buffer might require removal or diversion of the Army Corps of Engineers present sediment reduction efforts. More must be done to prevent rising waters in the Gulf and Lake Pontchartrain from rushing up the Mississippi River and the many canals leading into the city.

How many more American cities are vulnerable? What is the Media in those places doing to raise awareness of the threat posed both by more intense Hurricanes as well as rising ocean levels (two consequences of Global Warming.)

Are State Legislatures acting to defend their cities and coasts? They recently complained about the use of National Guard in Iraq in extended tours. Many are also suspicious of changes in federal law that have ceded Guard control from governors to the federal government.

Federal preparations appears completely disjointed; there is little attention brought by the Media on what may be the most grave risk this country has ever faced.

The Media is doing little to serve the function of watchdog for us.

Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth has brought accountability to the fore. If the US and world do not change their Energy Use patterns, the problems will worsen. The world may be sliding down a slippery slope of increasing warming, quicker melting of the ice shelves, and rising sea levels.

Fear and impulse take over in an atmosphere where mistrust and confusion rule. To the fearful, war and violence can appear to be reasonable solutions to a problem, though they inevitably prove to be crude and ineffective. As fear of terror is generated in the Media problems like global warming--requiring at a minimum some painful introspection and quite possibly substantive changes in the way we live--are underplayed.

There is no shortcut, no war that can deal with global warming. Yet we all possess a capacity for adaptation. Like a muscle, perhaps it's atrophied--we may have had it too good for too long. The comforts we take for granted may have made us complacent and lazy. Yet we can still awaken the sleepy from their slumber before it's too late. The Media can stir the public into making meaningful changes to reduce their use of fossil fuels.

Keep on Pumping

Americans are conditioned more to consume than criticize. Many in America perpetuate the status quo by failing to question the source of authority. Blind trust in the Mainstream Media has proven to be quite a foolish thing indeed.

Ignorance can be an asset to corporations and anyone willing to abuse the public trust.

Corporations profit by reducing pollution clean-up, so they lobby for lower pollution standards. Gas companies have made record profits; at $75,150 per minute (see box), why would Exxon want to sell less gas? While that company recently acknowledged the existence of global warming. Yet since that shocking revelation of its own internal contradiction it's seemed less than eager to not sell gas and make less money.

The company and others like it survive by marketing fossil fuels, which once burned have been scientifically proven to raise the temperature. Rising temperature in turn has been blamed for greater storm intensity and frequency, as well as melting the Greenland Ice Shelf, and that in Western Antartica (with about 7 meters of global sea rise potential in each.)

With so much profits on the line, many companies are torn between encouraging government action--to prevent more severe and costly expenses later--and letting the staus quo continue. At a certain point, continuation of the present situation will become far more risky and destabilizing than facing up to the scientific fact that we are damaging the climate. Each day that passes leaves us one day closer to a reckoning, one day closer to making the consequences of fossil fuel usage irrevokable.

With no media to sound a warning, or no government appetite to seriously confront the problem, the consequences of global warming gone unchecked will appear on every American's television. As more and more Katrinas strike, and more American shoreline disappears beneath the waves, we will wonder why no one took steps to avert tragedy.

The scope of victimhood would also spread. We aren't talking about mostly minority residents without cars--hurricanes and a sea level rise will go after affluent coastal dwellers. Something like 20% of the northeast coast will be lost to erosion by the middle of the century.

Accepting the Need for Change

The consequences of failing to notice the problem and take action will be severe and at some point likely irreversible.

Denial and ignorance simply delay the eventual impact of global warming. If Americans really knew the scope of the problem, they would act; those at risk perhaps more so, but people of conscience would act regardless of whether they were personally at risk, out of compassion. The carbon they burn, they would surely know, contributes to the warming. So they would assume personal responsibility for their carbon emissions and limit them.

Americans contribute 25% of the world's greenhouse gases despite the fact we make up only 5% of the world's population. Is that sustainable? Can we really assert our role as the world's leader if we contribute more than any other people to its destruction? Leaders lead; do we lead the world in facing the threats it does, and finding ways to meet those challenges?

Without Media involvement, the task of watchman falls to the government. Our current Administration is convinced terror is the greatest threat posed to the world (or at least Western society), so why would they confront their friends in the oil industry?

Can we trust our President to tell us when it's time for change? We were told Iraq posed a threat when the country neither possessed WMD nor an association with terror. It's now clear the Administration manipulated our fear and played on our ignorance which the Media had done little to dispel.

The American public may be starved of critical information while Media's attention is focused on the cultural icons of our age.

Greed is Good?

Government is much maligned by the conservative movement. Our society embraces the rights and benefits of individual choice; the results are seen as superior on materialistic grounds.

Concurrently there's been a shift towards blaming individuals for their circumstances, as if the American people have been condition to avoid collective responsibility.

Selfishness may best form of service, if the collective body succeeds as a result. The colony at Jamestown succeeded only after the communal system had been abolished in favor of private ownership, motivating individuals to thus profit by their own means.

Individualism has served our society well, but if we can't make the right choices as individuals, and prepare for challenges ahead, how can we keep our American way of life? Our future is more than the sum of individual achievement, but a destiny that we shape through leadership and the combined impact of our individual choices and behaviors.

Government has a role to play. Individuals can fall, become sick, or impoverished; government is the insurer of last resort.

The leaders of our government should not demean its importance, nor focus primarily on national security.
The Conservatives' stated desire to shrink government then drown it (Grover Norquist) have no place at the functional end of government.

Inadequate leadership in a time of crises can worsen its effects. In order for our government to function, the Presidency must occasionally put pragmatism ahead of politics.

Delegating functions traditionally assigned to government may eventually degrade it. Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana (Bush's former budget director) recently sold a toll road and is looking to privatize the State's lottery. Privatization has failed in both the Gulf Recovery effort and Iraq. The direction of change is towards more selling off of public assets, and replacing government with the private sector through contracting and outsourcing.

There are some functions government must perform. As the conservative claim, smaller government may in fact be better than bigger government. Yet if government is ineffective our nation becomes nothing more than a group of individuals led by no one, on a road to nowhere.

To secure our world, the public must become aware of the mistakes we are making, and the direction we are headed. The Media serves the vital purpose of sounding the alarm and confronting the status quo. It's not enough for Americans to dwell on what we've become.

Government has a responsibility to lead us. Our Media must recognize its vital duty to warn us and question authority.

Leaders in both government and business must urge change now, in the present, for the sake of the future. We either cut our fossil fuel consumption and embrace alternative sources or we will face heightened economic uncertainty and ecological catastrophe.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Decline of the Middle Class; Bernanke Warns Congress

The first part of this post discusses the economic crisis being faced by middle income Americans. The rich are getting richer. A debt spiral to nowhere impairs the financial future of millions of Americans.

I devote the latter part to this post to the debt our government is generating. Our borrowings are the result of what I call deferred taxation, which are government expenditures made through borrowed money. I focus on Fed Reserve Chairman Bernanke's recent comments before the Senate Banking Committee (February 14th) and a January report to the Senate Budget Committee.

The state of fiscal deficits which the US now faces call for immediate action. Rather than leap from a state of denial to one of desperation, as Al Gore said of global warming in An Inconvient Truth, we should take steps to reduce borrowing now, both by our government and ourselves. Lower government spending will be essential to prevent heavier taxes on already burdened taxpayers.

Financial Uncertainty for the Middle Class

Senator Bernie Sanders provided some hard statistics on truthout.org:
"...since he (Bush) has been in office, 5.4 million middle class Americans have slipped into poverty, 6.8 million Americans have lost their health insurance, median income for working-age families has declined for five consecutive years, and 3 million manufacturing workers have lost their jobs. At the same time, the costs of education, prescription drugs, energy, and housing have risen dramatically."

Numbers don't lie; they can however, be bent. One of the easiest ways to underestimate income is to average incomes of a group of people. Just one multi-billionare can dramatically inflate the income of thousands of others. Skewed results lead to faulty analysis of income trends.

For measurements of income, a far more appropriate statistical tool is the median--a level exactly in the middle, where half of the population earns more, and the other half less.

According to "US income figures show staggering rise in social inequality" by Jerry White, "median household income...fell by 3 percent, or about $1,600, between 2000 and 2004..."

Average increases in wages really mean little to the majority. A far more important source of information on the state of financial health of the American public lies in looking at how the average person is doing, or what the average wage is, not to average all wages paid.

In their article "What's Hurting the Middle Class" (September/October 2005 issue of Boston Review), Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi describe the situation so many now face:

"Today there are five times as many families filing for bankruptcy as there were in the early 1980s. Home foreclosures have more than tripled in less than 25years. Nearly half of families with credit cards report that they cannot afford to pay more than their minimum monthly payments. One in every three families with an income above $35,000 reports owing medical bills they cannot pay.

"...a 255 percent increase in the foreclosure rate, a 430 percent increase in the bankruptcy rolls, and a 570 percent increase in credit-card debt.

"The impact of rising mortgage costs has been huge. The proportion of families who are “house-poor”—that is, who spend more than 35 percent of their incomes on housing—has quadrupled in a single generation. Today it often takes two working people to support a mortgage. A police officer or elementary-school teacher earning an average salary could not afford to pay the mortgage of a median-priced home in two thirds of the nation’s metropolitan areas."(source

The costs of passing on unpaid taxes have begun to show in the area of debt burden. Already taxes have increased. Is there room to increase the tax burden in the future?

"...The total tax burden for today’s two-income family is about 38 percent larger than that of their one-income counterparts of a generation ago.(source)

More woes merged out of the Senate Banking Committee on the 14th, where Senator Menendez stated:"The percentage of middle-class families who had three or more months salary in savings rose 72 percent, from 16.7 percent in 1992 to 28.8 percent in 2001. So families, middle-class families, were becoming more secure, year by year. But unfortunately, in the span of less than four years, that percentage dropped by over 36 percent, down to 18.3 percent in 2004."(link)

He continues, this time about debt:"...By the third quarter of 2006, outstanding household debt was 130 percent relative to disposable income. That means that the average family is in debt of over $130 for every $100 it has to spend. And, additionally, the average household savings rate has actually been negative for the past seven quarters, averaging about a negative 1 percent rate for 2006."

The US on the whole faces a debt trap not very different from that of many Americans. The desire to spend is always present in both; people like to spend like our government likes to spend. Both consumers of debt find it easier to borrow rather than earn, in the governments case, to tax (that word has gained awful connotations.) Like the errant personal spender, government faces a cut-off time certain, which is where traditional sources of credit choose not to lend as the risk of default is too high.

The government must spend and tax. Critics of taxation are incapable of shrinking government, so lower taxes do nothing to enhance fiscal discipline. Both our government and people spend more and more. And if the spending stops, everyone suffers.

My personal experience with debt led me into serious difficulties, so I know well the temptation of debt. I think acknowledging my problem was a crucial step in designing a way out. Now as far as addictive behaviours are concerned, I would rank the US and the vast majority of its people in the denial phase.

Fiscal responsibility is hardly acknowledged in our society, but is of critical importance in order to keep the country's economy running smoothly. A big part of assuming responsibility for one's financial situation requires a willingness to learn more about personal finance, and how our government spends money, our money.

Perhaps Americans--and their government--have been lulled into a sense of complacency. Changing spending habits is vital to solving the debt problem. Like most disorders, the longer we take in admitting we have a problem, the worse it becomes.


A few years ago, Congress passed a law making bankruptcy harder, much to the delight of the credit card industry. The propensity of consumers to overspend recklessly has been blamed for much of surge in personal bankruptcy (which is more often than not declared for medical purposes.)

The Warren/Tiyagi article brings up the "over-consumption myth":
"The idea that families are in financial trouble because they spend irresponsibly is deeply intertwined with the politics of personal responsibility...So long as Americans can be persuaded that families in financial trouble have only themselves to blame, there will be no demand to change anything."(source)

A Center for American Progress report released in January 2007 focuses on the absence of financial reserves. Its author, Christian Weller, points out:

"Since 2002, the share of families capable of coping financially with a period of joblessness has declined by 6.9 percentage points."

Perhaps more frightening even than the distinct possibility of losing a job, is the reality that it could take months to find another, and that expenses would continue unabated.

Massive layoffs have been announced by Ford, Hershey's, Chrysler, and other large corporations. Companies need little justification for mass firings; individuals are typically terminated en masse and without regard to job performance. Anyone could be downsized at any time.

Downsizing has become part of the American economic landscape; with the possibility of a lost job comes massive uncertainty over the length of time needed to find a new job. And as manufacturing jobs are lost, wage earners face the prospect of working in the service industry, or for smaller companies offering fewer benefits than their former employers.

The bare minimum living expenses for an average family are $3500 a month, with perhaps double that in some cities. A new job on average may require 60-90 days to acquire, with better paying ones perhas taking even longer. So where is the family to come up with ten or twenty thousand dollars if it hasn't been saved? They will likely borrow.

The Warren/Tiyagi article summarizes the situation faced by so many Americans:

"With 75 percent of income earmarked for fixed expenses, today’s family has no margin for error. There is no way to cut back if one person’s working hours are cut or if the other gets laid off. There is no room in the budget if someone needs to take a few months off to care for Grandma, or if someone hurts his back and can’t work. The modern American family is walking on a high wire without a net; they pray there won’t be any wind. If all goes well, they will make it across safely: their children will grow up and finish college, and they will move on to retirement. But if anything—anything at all—goes wrong, they are in big, big trouble."(source)

Primer on Saving

When I was working in the field of insurance and financial products, selling to the public, we would customarily identify family financial reserves, called the "emergency fund." Our principle, which we believed to also be the right thing to do, was to make sure a family had a bare minimum amount in the emergency fund before selling them anything. Then we'd look to make sure they'd have insurance. Then we'd confirm that the emergency fund had been fully funded--this meant 3 to 6 months worth of living expenses.

Working with lower middle income people, we virtually never found a family with anything more than a rudimentary savings account. What's more, money there was usually being saved for some specific purpose, and thus an emergency would deny that purchase down the road. Things break down, emergencies happen; as a direct financial consequence, a nest egg can be crushed, a vacation denied, or a business opportunity lost.

We found that most often credit cards were the method of financing emergencies. People had therefore been dependent on going into more debt, since emergencies always came up. Often the ease of borrowing through credit cards became an incentive to spend, not for the benefit of short-term emergency, but rather as a ticket to greater consumption, typically unnecessary.

Perhaps if the financial services industry were to pre-qualify customers, more people would be aware of the need to fully fund an emergency fund. The pragmatic inevitability of an emergency is surely beyond doubt; the average American will go through multiple jobs and most likely face being downsized, so the need for longer-term resources is vital.

As it is, financial intermediaries push product and the middle and lower classes are mass marketed, their situation weighed and measured for maximum short-term profitability. Ideally, salespeople need to make emergency funds a requirement, even before insurance or mutual funds are sold. Otherwise the marketing of investing and insurance products can undermine a family's overall financial security.

Absent any funds for emergency, retirement savings will diminish as they are cashed in to make up for some unexpected yet entirely predictable crisis that will occur. The lack of solid basic savings will invariably push people into greater debt and expose them to risks which would otherwise be covered by insurance.

The advance of age is clearly an enemy when people are spending more than they save. Debt accumulates then later, at a stage in life where they would rather not work, many will find themselves working til their deaths.

The future financial situation for the Middle Class looks bleak. Retirement investments require an excess of income over expenditures--a positive savings rate.

According to Warren/Tiyagi, "...half of all families have not one dollar of savings put aside for their retirements, and 73 percent have not one dollar in the stock market."(source)

Financial Report Card

How are you doing under George W. Bush? I could probably know how you would answer based on your income. If you were rich chances are you've grown much richer; if you income was average before, it probably hasn't gone up that much.

Americans often blame the President changes in the economy. It's a personal kind of animosity, blaming the President as we do when things get bad for us.

Holding the President personally accountable may also be a positive for Presidents who claim credit for sustained economic growth, low inflation, and low unemployment.

Presidents don't direct our economy. Changes in the macroeconomic environment may be the result of factors way outside the control of the US government.

Did Bill Clinton lead the economy? No, but his free trade policies created wealth for the middle class, who invested their new higher incomes in the market. The misery index (inflation + unemployment) was low during his time. Productivity improved, which slowed inflation and allowed corporations to increase their profitability.

The general impression people had of the economy was positive at the time, and Americans thought Clinton was in some part responsible. In this sense Presidents lay claim to the positive aspects of the economy, to show off the results of their policies and leadership. Presidents can bolster confidence in the state of the economy, and their speeches build on signs of economic progress.

How things have changed. First and foremost, the wealthy are making more money, a lot more money. Bush tax cuts passed in 2001 have yielded dramatic benefits for the already-rich. Just how much?

The Congressional Budget Office produced a powerful report on the Bush Tax Windfall for the rich:
"...income inequality widened significantly between 2003 and 2004. The share of after-tax income going to the top one percent rose from 12.2 percent in 2003 to 14.0 percent in 2004, an increase of 1.8 percentage points. As noted above, this amounts to $146,000 per household in the top one percent, equivalent to an additional $128 billion in income for the top one percent as a whole."

The rich are growing richer; the "...top one percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent" (source).

Under Bush, the tax cuts have largely benefitted the rich, and contributed to rapidly rising public debt.

Revolutionary Economics

Historically, the amalgamation of wealth can create a popular impetus for political change. The multitudes might seek to redistribute wealth through political mobilization.

Societies do become more unstable when wealth gets too concentrated. Always few in number, the political elite are often forced to adopt harsh conditions to maintain their rule against the popular will. Economic exploitation also justifies political action and even violence.

Popular revolutions were seen in Iran (1979) and Cuba (1959), two nations whose dictators were backed by the United States prior to their ouster. Economic factors may have played a large part. Much to the chagrin of powerful business interests from outside the country, private industries were nationalized, as we now see under Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

The United States is not immune from the effects of a growing economic gap between the have and have-nots. Our middle class may be a buffer between more radical political change and its decline could signal a turn toward political extremism.

During the Depression, radicalism was embraced by many disenfranchised by the harsh volatility associated with Industrial Age economic cycles. Many Americans viewed communism as a viable alternative to the economic starvation faced by the masses at the time. Communist and revolutionary dogma found fertile ground amongst the unemployed.

Marx believed that capitalism was inherently flawed and inadequate, more prone to favor the individual over the society. The idea was that the more dehumanizing aspects of capitalism could be overcome through socialism; Lenin utilized the resources of a totalitarian State with centralized economy. Both philosophies defined a common goal of economic prosperity revolving around full employment and fiscal equality. Capitalism was seen a stage in political evolution, its advanced economy and hard-working proletariat the base upon which a more advanced socialist state could be built.

Today in America, the wealth gap is maintained through political power. The wealthy exert an inordinate level of influence over our government. If you were rich, wouldn't you use your wealth to lobby government, to lower tax rates and thereby make more wealth?

Marx would have said controlling the means of production leverages the political influence of the wealthiest Americans, who've shaped our tax policies to their benefit. Marx would claim that political equality will remain impossible as long financial disparity abounds.

Lenin's state, command-controlled, failed economically. Some have said the Soviet Union moved too quickly into a socialist model, and that Marx's called for conversion of a fully developed capitalist economy, rather than an agrarian one, as the Soviet Union was in 1919.

Debt Politics

Contrary to the musings of radio talk show hosts and self-labelled "small government conservatives", the scope of tax reduction symbolize a future tax deficit. Tax reduction is tax deferral--subsequent generations will have to pay even more in taxes, not to mention interest. The idea of lower taxes is politically expedient; who wants to give up more of their money to government?

The promotion of a lower taxes theme appeals to the leadership of our country today. Lower taxation is being sold as inherently good because it benefits the individual and--theoretically--reduces the size of government. But "conservatives" aren't fiscally conservative, if the results of Republican control over Washington is any indicator of "conservative" frugality.

The Republican theory of less government has become an hypocritical oddyssey of spending. Raising taxes has been positioned as the greatest political sin among those calling themself conservative.

Regressive taxation is nothing new to the Republicans, who ballyhoo lower taxes even as the country slides into ever more debt as a result. As a percentage of income, the poor and middle class pay more since the Bush tax cuts were enacted.

It's simply easier and politically popular to defer taxes; the young don't vote as often, so the elderly may be able to continue passing the costs down to the unborn. Sooner or later there will be a reckoning, probably in a generation or two.

One great danger of tax deferral is a shock to the economic system as the higher costs of government are passed on in the form of higher taxes. The longer the US waits to enact spending reform--or tax reform to prevent the deficit from growing, the harder the change will be on the economy.

Our fiscal imprudence is already being reflected in increasing interest on debt incurred in order to reduce taxes.

According to Senator Casey who spoke on February 14th in the Senate Banking Committee (link), "we are up to 8.6 trillion in government debt. Interest payments on that debt in 2006 increased by 23%."

In testimony February 15th, I believe Bernanke indicated that a combination of rising interest on the debt and entitlements would force taxes to be raised about 40% in 30 years, assuming no new spending. [ I've been unable to find Bernanke's statement cited here. I did see that he had made similar comments to the Senate Budget Committee in January. A transcript of Bernanke's address is available here.]

A written transcript for Bernanke's Question and Answer Session on Wednesday, February 14th, is available here. Hopefully I'll be able to find more from Thursday's Question and Answer Session, in front of the House Financial Services Committee and post it in a comment at the bottom of this post.

For more see Looking for Mr. Bernanke below, alongside Additional Commentary.


Unfortunately, Americans will have to face a world of higher taxes and a standard of living that will be lower than those of their parents. There will be exceptions, of course, but the economic trend will invariably turn down at some point. Some would say there is nothing we can do to change our future, but the fiscal solvency of our government is vital.

The cost of entitlements will rise. Coupled with increased borrowing, higher taxes will come in order to pay interest on the federal debt.Payroll taxes may have to be raised to sustain entitlements, and the tax burden compounded by the fact fewer workers must support more retirees.

The financial problems of the masses might impact the rich and corporations who are the chief beneficiaries of lower taxes at this time, so it is in there long-term interest to reduce government spending and borrowing. Many people left in the Middle Class could face the higher taxes necessary to keep up with entitlements, not just the wealthy and corporations, who would theoretically but not necessarily be the first to be taxed more.

We can simply borrow from creditors abroad to sustain our ways, but for how long? Millions of American face a retirement insulted from poverty only by Social Security. The Baby Boom generation begins to retire in just a year or two. Many will be unable to amass sufficient financial resources prior to retirement based on their current savings.

We can forestall the long-term consequences of so much borrowing now, before federal debt becomes too large. Like global warming, the US can either recognize the problem and lead the solution or be led by the folly of our mistakes to the true cost of doing too little.

While government can borrow, eventually it must pay for the money it borrows. So the individual must pay a price for governmental indiscretion one way or another--through taxes or inflation.

Without any individual savings, and the accumulation of massive amounts of debt, taxes will have to be raised. Otherwise we will see money simply continue to be spent, resulting in inflation and ever higher cost burdens, as we now see in the medical care fields. Theoretically, dollars could continually be printed and spent, to the point they have to be carted about in wheelbarrows as they were in Depression-era Germany.

We are facing a situation where continued spending will bankrupt our nation, which will make future borrowing nearly impossible. Our creditors will stop loaning to us, which will lead to a shortage of capital to spend, which will in turn lead to a massive recession. The pistol has been cocked, the bullet loaded into the chamber. We can change the time at which a reckoning might come, but we can cannot expect what is unsustainable to be sustained indefinitely.

* * *

Free Money

Bernanke's employer, the Federal Reserve, is the only private corporation in America that pays no taxes. Its Board sets the interest rates charged by banks which affect the overall economy. Media scrutinize what the Chairman, Mr. Bernanke, says and does vis-a-vis the economy.

The Fed essentially makes money from nothing. One startling fact is that money in fact is free; it's the banking system that survives based on its ability to charge interest.

There've been periods when the US government has sought to assert control over our money; Kennedy tried it and Lincoln did it, printing dollars called "greenbacks." Both those Presidencies ended harshly.

The principle is simple: have the Treasury make and distribute currency directly for what it spends. Money could be loaned at no interest, with nothing in collateral save to have the initial loan paid back. Interest-free money is an intriguing idea.

Money should be free; the right to produce money lies with Congress under our Constitution. Yet if Congress gained a monopoly and sole issuer of our nation's currency, spending would come without consequence. Congress would spend too much (look at them now.) The unrestricted spending would lead to an inevitable collapse in the value of our currency, with the money buying less and less over time.

Another key constituency would be banking industry which exists based on its ability to borrow and lend at interest. Both functions would be broken, perhaps much in the same way medical insurance industry might collapse--overnight--were national health care achieved.

If we removed Fed control over the issuance of money, we would in fact be asking for hyperinflation out of Congress, not to mention a lot of out-of-work bankers, however tragic that notion seems.

Looking for Mr. Bernanke

I sought any record of the comments from Bernanke's Question and Answer session with the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday, February 15th. While the Chairman's prepared testimony was only click away, I searched in vain through pages and pages to find any written record of Bernanke's answers to questions from the House Financial Services Committee. Apparently I haven't given my resources sufficient time to transcribe the event.

As a side note, I did find international reporting on Bernanke's commentary quite different from that presented in the domestic Media. Bernanke is clearly a man of tremendous influence. So playing to image, the Media fixates on anything which might roil the markets. Captivated by Alan Greenspan's whimsical style, financial media treat Fed commentary as if each kernel were the embodiment of ultimate truth.

The absence of transparent reporting sets a dangerous precedent in controlling the flow of information. The absence of hard facts in the Mainstream Media narrative means that people have little reason to be curious, or alarmed. The absence of substantive insights into the core economic issues helps news divisions simplify their obligations. The American people to some degree oblige the dumbing-down process, content in their ignorance of anything beyond their immediate financial condition.

Like the Mainstream Media, the financial press encapsulates personal opinion--even that of the Fed Chairman--into neat packages. Celebrity-worship is after all at the heart of the mass commercialization process. For the Media, it's simply more convenient to have Fed commentary described in broad strokes like bullish or hawkish, than confront specific position or delve into details.

I also found transcripts of the Question and Answer sessions far harder to obtain than the prepared statements. It's not without risk that the Fed Chairman speaks; where Bernanke might stray from prepared comments, a breath of fresh air threatens the status quo. Spontaneity is not a friend of market conservatism; better than Bernanke's comments stay framed in expectations than risk rattling the boat.

One general perception I noticed in reporting on Bernanke is that he's seen as still new to the job. There seems to exist the premise in much of the reporting on him that he shouldn't be challenged or confronted this early in his reign. The lesson is clearly that what Bernanke says is wise and true, yes, and that Congress hasn't earned the privilege of challenging the Chairman of the mighty Federal Reserve Board, a company that in fact depends upon Congress' annual ratification of authority for the Federal Reserve.

I'm leery of any Media agenda that makes the people's sole representatives subordinate to the Fed in financial matters--or any other matter. Unfortunately, matters pertaining to our nation's money have essentially been delegated (or abdicated) to the Fed Reserve, who sets interest rates. Interest rates may be crucial in understanding the future direction of the markets, but fewer Americans are interested than during the bull market days of the late 90's.

Perhaps the Media feels dumbing down is acceptable, considering the absence of public understanding about basic economic issues. Maybe Big Media is content the sheer breath of financial analysis devoted to every detail of Bernanke's "Fed-speak" stand in lieu of more balanced coverage.

The public must commit to becoming better informed and learning more about personal finance and economics. To cut the budget, Americans must apply political pressure by voting for candidates who actually reduce spending.

Additional Commentary

Fed Chairman Bernanke comments Before the Committee on the Budget, U.S. Senate on January 18, 2007:
"...a vicious cycle may develop in which large deficits lead to rapid growth in debt and interest payments, which in turn adds to subsequent deficits. According to the CBO projection that I have been discussing, interest payments on the government's debt will reach 4-1/2 percent of GDP in 2030, nearly three times their current size relative to national output. Under this scenario, the ratio of federal debt held by the public to GDP would climb from 37 percent currently to roughly 100 percent in 2030 and would continue to grow exponentially after that."

...Ultimately, this expansion of debt would spark a fiscal crisis, which could be addressed only by very sharp spending cuts or tax increases, or both.6

...if government debt and deficits were actually to grow at the pace envisioned by the CBO's scenario, the effects on the U.S. economy would be severe. High rates of government borrowing would drain funds away from private capital formation and thus slow the growth of real incomes and living standards over time. Some fraction of the additional debt would likely be financed abroad, which would lessen the negative influence on domestic investment; however, the necessity of paying interest on the foreign-held debt would leave a smaller portion of our nation's future output available for domestic consumption.

...future generations of Americans will bear a growing burden of the debt and experience slower growth in per-capita incomes than would otherwise have been the case.

...in ensuring that we leave behind a stronger economy than we inherited, as did virtually all previous generations in this country, will be to move over time toward fiscal policies that are sustainable, efficient, and equitable across generations. Policies that promote private as well as public saving would also help us leave a more productive economy to our children and grandchildren. In addition, we should explore ways to make the labor market as accommodating as possible to older people who wish to continue working...

...if early and meaningful action is not taken, the U.S. economy could be seriously weakened, with future generations bearing much of the cost."(Source)


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lies about Iran and Najaf Revealed; Peeling the Neocon Onion

Iran has been framed in the Media as being responsible for the terrorism in Iraq. In my last post I discussed the delivery of propaganda, citing articles where anti-Iranian bias distorted the reality, or where the official explanation offered by Iraqi dominated reality, in the case of Najaf. [For more details on that event, refer to a section on Najaf with links below.]

The stories I cited in my last post were just some in a stream of lies and distortions spewed by the Mainstream Media. My second-to-last post provided a literal translation of Prime Minister Ahmadinejad's "wipe Israel off the map," which was not only inaccurate as framed in the Mainstream, but misleading. Whatever statement attributed to him refers to a distortion of what Ayatollah Khomeni said years ago, something far less belligerent: "to remove the government in Jerusalem."

The Media, long the White House puppy dog on national security matters, disseminated the falsehoods. The Executive and the press have a tight, and mutually beneficial relationship. As the Libby trial is now showing, Media acts as a unfiltered conduit through which propaganda can been delivered, in that case the revelation that Valerie Plame was a covert agent. In return for their service, Media figureheads retain access to Washington insiders, confidential information, or whatever other scraps might fall from their master's table.

In its quest for greater power, the White House has sought to control the Media environment. Antiwar viewpoints were suppressed in the mainstream during the run-up to Iraq. Only recently has the MSM presented the antiwar view, long after a majority of Americans have turned on the war. Some networks have found ratings zoom for antiwar commentators, and thus a commerical impetus to cover the antiwar perspective was born.

Without any ethical restaints on media giants, the neoconservative monopoly on Media will continue. The neocon school will continue to exert political influence far surpassing its size, and has the President's ear. The recommendations from a retired general and neocon strategist did more to shape Iraq War policy than the much-heralded Iraq Study Group.

The Media has an obligation to serve the public interest. And the democraphic realities have changed; media must absorb those changes.

The public majority--the lowly consumer--may in fact know better than the corporate elite, or have more common sense, or see more accurately the end result of the occupation. If average people are better capable of seeing the future results of our policy than the elite controlling our media, an agenda is afoot.

This blog confronts the viability of Global War on Terror by providing clear image examples in the military and geopolitical arenas, where Bush's crowning achievement faces stalled or impossible goals. Congress at this point seems unwilling or unable to fully limit the President's authority, or cut spending as is their right.

The limitations are reflected in an political leadership which is increasingly isolated from the real-world consequences of its foreign policy failures. Official explanations and positions more and more appear to be based on unsubstantiated or unjustified rhetoric only one place removed from outright propaganda.

The war policies of our government are failing to stop the rise of radical Islamic fundamentalism, deemed the terror war's enemy. The failure to manage Iraq has become increasingly apparent in the Media, through which the neocons and US government are now trying to make a case for war with Iran.

Iran Follow Up

Liberal Oasis on February 2nd referred to the case for war in Iran being made by the Administration. As a matter of fact the post cites an interview with the Iranian ambassador to Iraq which I included on my last post. The media trail concerns an interview of Department of State official, and ends in an "amateur effort to set up Iran."

I was pleased to see the anti-Iranian distortion revealed by the blogger at Liberal Oasis.

He quotes Undersecretary of State Burns:
"You saw an interview, an extraordinary interview, when the ambassador of Iran in Iraq admitted that there are Iranian security operatives on the soil."

Liberal Oasis then writes:

"Here's the 'extraordinary' admission:

[Ambassador] Qumi also acknowledged, for the first time, that two Iranians seized and later released by American forces last month were security officials, as the United States had claimed. But he said that they were engaged in legitimate discussions with the Iraqi government and should not have been detained.

Two weeks earlier, Laura Rozen already reported the same in the National Journal, sourced to US officials:

'Some [US] officials reportedly have doubts about the precise nature of the evidence indicating Iranian involvement in Iraq.
For instance, after a highly publicized U.S. military raid on December 21 at the compound of Iraqi Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, U.S. forces detained several Iranians who were meeting there. All of them were ultimately released and were returned to Iran, partly at the behest of the Iraqi government, which said it had invited the Iranians.' [emphasis added]

See the entry on Liberal Oasis here.

I am apparently not the only one whom the stream of half-truth and innuendo has failed to impress. Still, the Media's anti-Iranian position continues to work as an echo chamber for Bush's bellicosity. The message on Iran appears increasingly propagandistic, or propaganda disguised as news.

For more on the illegitimacy of anti-Iranian spin, see the McClatchy article "Justifications for attacking Iran on shaky ground" by Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel.

As I said in my last post, hard propaganda is inherently unconvincing. After Iraq, sensitivities to the veracity of the Administration's claims have been heightened. "Calling wolf", Bush and supporters of military action have been wrong before.

Whatever WMD threat Iran poses has been diluted by the torrent of false accusations levelled at Iraq and the obvious failure to find weapons there.

Bush fans like the "told you so" rationalization. To them, Bush has been prescient about warning of the threat posed by terrorism, and the invasion of Iraq serves the purpose of preempting a future threat to the United States.

Yet the majority of Americans can't help but assume assumptions about the threat posed by Iran are contrived.

Softer propaganda can be far more useful in playing on the emotional and psychological dimensions of fear and mistrust. The Administration paints Iran as a major threat in order to play on the general mistrust of the US population towards the Middle East.

Rather than isolate a specific threat scenario, or a particular issue, the Administration is seeking to stroke fear and mistrust.

More important than the message is the delivery method and the sheer number of messages. Automobile manufacturers deploy the same approach in their advertizing, called branding. By forming enough impressions of their brand in the brain of potential buyers, people over time become become familiar with a specific brand, and are thus more likely to buy it.

Apparently the approach to influencing purchase decisions is purely quantitative. Apparently people don't choose one car brand over another based on specific differences; rather, people are inclined to buy one more than another simply because more impressions of one particular brand have been made than another.

On Iran, Bush and the war-sellers can succeed simply by keeping Americans in the dark, where they can play on their fears. Copious repitition of anti-Iranian rhetoric leads Americans to subconsciously begin to fear the country.

The general American apathy, combined with a lack of knowledge and understanding about Iran, makes fertile ground for propaganda.

Controlling all dimensions of the battlefield and Media landscape (positive coverage of the battle for our side) has become standard operating procedure for the US military. It's been US policy to seize on a lack of knowledge, confusion, or a void, to spin rhetoric favorable to us and our allies; it's been said the truth is often the first casualty of war. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in Najaf, Iraq, where a battlefield became a spin zone.

Najaf Redux

I gave the example of Najaf as a prime example of distortion. The Iraqi government clearly didn't know what had happened, yet the US mainstream press parroted whatever they were told. As more and more details were revealed of what had actually transpired, Iraqi officials scrambled to retell or resequence events.

The end result was that the American people would not learn what had happened to the Shia worshippers slaughtered in Najaf.

The Najaf incident was a troubling example of distortion in the Media. The US Media has apparently become willing to accept without reservation whatever some provincial governor or military official might say. Clearly the Iraqis in control behind the scenes--Muqtada al-Sadr and his bunch--are sensitive to the media messaging opportunities that might arise, as was apparent in Najaf.

The US may have been duped into resolving an internal squabble in Najaf between Muqtada al-Sadr and some local tribesmen and members of an obscure cult, or so we were told. In the end hundreds were killed, including men, women, and children indiscriminately mowed down by US air power.

Whatever the justification for the use of force by "Allied" forces, it is clear that blind loyalty makes the US vulnerable to those in the Iraqi government who'd use us to further their own ends. How are US forces to know that their targets are in fact the terrorists our Iraqi allies tell us they are? Tom Lasseter writes a good article on this issue for McClatchy.

Najaf Links

Chris Floyd's most recent piece on Najaf can be found on truthout.org.

Mike Whitney has a description of some of the many inconsistencies in reports covering the battle here.

Al Jazeera's write up is here, and Dahr Jamail and Ali Al-Fadhily write an article on Najaf here.

Finally, Patrick Cockburn, who wrote on the Najaf incident for The Independent, was interviewed on Democracy Now.

As these highly qualified reporters write, the story is almost assuredly false and constructed simply to glaze over what really happened. Where governments have an interest in keeping mistakes hidden, there is usually a massive amount of distortion.

The exposure of successive truths peels apart the official narrative like the layers of an onion. The truth lies at the heart, and is available only to those willing to learn from media sources outside the Mainstream. Most people, unfortunately, possess neither the time nor interest in following up, and in so doing perpetuate the Media's power by failing to question what they are told.

Neocon Strategy

Goering would construct his case for war thusly: Where innocence cannot be fully established, plant the seed of doubt or confusion as to the intentions of the "enemy". Thus when smarter people speak out, using logic to appeal to people's common sense, they appear soft and weak against the threat. In the public arena, emotion trumps logic, and by planting the seeds of mistrust, the challenge posed by the logical case against the war can be overcome.

I've talked in the past about a Nazi-Neocon connection. Neoconservatism was attributed to University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss (a discussion of Strauss' philosophies can be found here). Jewish, Strauss held that democracies must prevail themselves of any means available--including lying--in order to stop the rise of anti-democratic governments like that of Hitler.

Straussian theory influenced neocons like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, who slapped the tyrant label on Saddam. Bush and others and used the late dictator's propensity to do evil as reason to do away with him, essentially by overstating the threat.

While Strauss may have provided the reasons for democracies to act, support for Zionism has made a stronger impression on the neocon camp. Saddam's antics provided intellectual justifications for the Iraq War, on the Straussian level, while loyalty to Israel provided the more practical rationalization for why the US should get involved.

Rather than see Israel as an ally of the US, neocons see the interests of Israel and the US intertwined; what is good for Israel is good for the US, and vice-versa. So the affinity of the neocons towards Israel and more specifically, the Israeli Right, lead them to embrace militarism as a necessary evil.

The defense of Israel is a top priority to neocon sympathizers. Regime change was achieved in Iraq; destabilization of Syria and Iran successfully completes a broader strategy outlined in Clean Break by David Wurmser.

Saddam paid suicide bombers who'd struck at Israelis. Israel has long been sensitive to the prospect of terrorism orchestrated by Muslim nations. Plus, the American populace believes in a Iraq-based connection to 9/11, so attacking to stop support for terror actually sounded quite reasonable--as Iran may to some today for largely the same reason.

Much of the neocon rhetoric innundating the White House now revolves around the threat posed by Iran's sponsorship of terror. In the neocons hallmark Clean Break doctrine, Iraq is targetted alongside Iran.

While Iran must bear some accountability for their support of terror, invasion and regime change simply aren't possible. The geopolitical and military limits have been imposed. Even with the inordinate influence of the Israeli lobby on the Presidential decision-making process and Congressional consensus can't sell a war. So, neocon plans have thus endorsed the principle of destabilization of its enemies where regime change isn't possible.

Prolonging the occupation of Iraq is in the best interests of neocons who embrace Israel's enemies as our own. Extending the war to Iran--Israel's undisputed arch-rival--would be a victory for those who believe military action benefits both the US and Israel.

Judging by Iraq, their base result has been accomplished: Saddam--at best a marginal sponsor of terror--has been removed. Divide and conquer appears to have successfully prevented Shia and Sunni from unifying, where they might pose a threat to Israel.
However, the occupation cannot drag on indefinitely, no matter how beneficial a US presence in the Middle East might be. In trying to eliminate its enemies, Israel and the neo-cons have succeeded, but perhaps only temporarily. The prospect of an even stronger threat to Israel arising from the remnants of Iraq may be inevitable as long as the underlying hatred of Israel--based largely on Israel's treatment of indigenous Palestinians--endures.

No outside occupier is capable of preventing the rise of hatred of Israel, at best it can be suspended, unless meaningful change on Israeli-Palestinian issues can be achieved.

While destabilization may appear to be working, the occupation cannot go on. The American military cannot sustain the occupation.
Benefit to the security of Israel may in the long term produce the exact opposite affect, organizing and converting into State policies institutionalized hatred for Israel. Once American troops are gone, Israel will once alone find itself alone, surrounded by Muslims eager to exact revenge upon the infidel and his allies.

Zionism Unspun

The Media does have an obligation to inform and intercede where logic should reign over emotion. But it hasn't, for a number of reasons, chief among them neo-conservative domination of the clique of owners, editors, and publishers of the Mainstream Media, who consider themselves extremely sympathetic to the rightwing Israeli position known as Zionism.

Often owners, editors, and publishers of Mainstream Media companies support a Zionistic perspective, which endorses the primacy of military domination and territorial seizure in the name of a greater Jewish state.

Print and TV Media serve the interests of the elite, many of whom control Media and publishing world. Many of these magnates and money men are sympathizers to the neocon cause, and want a case made against the enemies of Israel, whom they support unconditionally.

Zionism has become a strategy of colonial expansion to the East and North of Israel. The strategy is focused on destabilizing any nations which are opposed to Israeli strategic domination over Palestine and Lebanon.

One hallmark of Zionism is the perception that Israel is under the constant threat of destruction. This concept has ostensibly been repeated in Israel's many wars with its neighbors. Unfortunately for Israel's security, the attitude of fear and mistrust has led to military aggression. And in a cycle of violence, the victims of Israel's colonialist policies tend to turn to violence of an assymetrical nature: terrorism, because they collectively lack sufficient military force to inhibit Israel.

One of the best ways to view the crisis in the Middle East is a continual escalation of mistrust, which builds ever more fear, and leads to the self-destructive impulse of preemption--a lashing out at whomever Israel believes will attack. And whatever military action Israel does take, it simply seeds more violence towards itself, which can only encourage more retaliation/preemption by Israel.

Without the ability to forgive, both sides find themselves less and less able to control the impulses of fear and violence which shatter whatever calm Israel's military superiority might engender.

Israeli Nuclear Position

Perhaps the best example of a practical strategy to limit this cycle is the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction. MAD essentially turns any violence into a worst case scenario. One side knows that the consequences of starting violence are so catastrophic, and with massive retaliation a certainty does not attack.

The nuclear war scenarios are familiar to Americans who lived through the Cold War and found themselves wondering if the world were about to be destroy in a massive nuclear holocaust. Obviously, Mutual Assured Destruction never occurred, so it did in fact succeed as a deterrent strategy for decades.

Israel has the bomb, perhaps 200 or more of them. The key contention is that Iran will also get the bomb and use it to destroy Israel, claiming that the stated intent of Iranian President Ahmadinejad is to wipe Israel off the map, when in fact he said nothing like that.

Presuming that Iran will attack means that Israel must be in a position to counterattack. The size of their arsenal indicates that they could achieve so overwhelming a strike as to more or less destroy Iran.

Now if Israel has sufficient weapons and the capacity to deliver them, the nation has no need to fear an attack, assuming it is one directed by the nation of Iran, and not some terrorist group given the weapon by Iran. The latter scenario clearly disrupts the strategy of MAD, up to a point, because for MAD to work, one side needs to know where the nuclear attack originated.

In actuality, Israel would strike at Teheran and Damascus regardless of whether or not those nations were directly involved. This is nuclear blackmail--should Syria or Iran fail to control ANY potential users of nukes against Israel, those nations would pay the price. So in some ways MAD works, but not in the traditional definition, as Syria and Iran appear to lack the capacity to strike back.

I found an excellent pair of posts on Israel's nuclear policy at holocaustnow.blogspot.com, with the preceding link going to the second of the two entries on M.A.D. R.I.P..

Alternatives to the Present Course

Many Zionist sympathizers see the continuation of Iraq as the accomplishment of strategic value to Israel. While the war may be waged with less and less results for the US, the status quo is seen as a way to divert negative attention from Israel, who has in the course of the years since the Iraqi invasion, launched a war, decimated Gaza, and settled into the West Bank.

Through cultural ties and a heavy dose of lobbying through AIPAC, there is no disputing US and Israel have a special relationship. Yet the interests of the two nations at some point divurge. Representing the best interests of the United States will at some point require putting Israeli interests beneath ours, where they belong: in the inner tier of our most trusted allies.

Selfishness can sometimes be a good thing. In our bilateral relationship, the US has failed to take advantage of its leverage with Israel. Bush didn't call Israeli Prime Minister Olmert for weeks into the Lebanon War; Condi Rice's shuttle diplomacy only started late into the exchange of hostilities.

Unlike Israel, the US has a wide and vulnerable global profile, not to mention the status of a superpower with which it can wield tremedous influence. Failing to restrict Israeli aggression has damaged US credibility and exposed us to far-reaching repercussions.

The US has done little to implement any plan for peace. Reconciliation between Israel and its neighbors helps American self-interest if opposition to the US in Iraq--both militarily and otherwise--is based on hatred of Israel.

The Bush Administration has failed to use US influence to moderate Israeli policies in West Bank and Gaza. Israeli's conduct in the West Bank continues to generate broad hostility against the US throughout the Islamic world.

The failure to exert restraint over Israel has made military confrontation with Israel's enemies more likely. More war will drastically curtail US efforts to achieve victory as defined in the War on Terror.

Rather than let Israel do as she pleases, the US needs to make a case for peace. Bush, unfortunately, seeks no alternative to open-ended conflict, despite his pronouncements. The war will drag on until Congress ends it or Bush's successor is willing to step away from the influence of the neocons and right-wing Zionists who seek to use war to further a narrow agenda.

If the US chooses not to apply any pressure to Israel, the consequences are created by choice. Before the US can lead others towards peace, it must be willing to be engage peace and not persist in war. And the real long-term outcome of military aggression may to create ever more and ever stronger opposition to Israel and the US.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Iraq in the Media; Propaganda in Action

Focusing on coverage of key events in Iraq is a great way to identify bias. The point isn't to criticize coverage; many initial reports are incomplete and made under duress. In time, facts can be better assembled. Yet most stories are told in such way to reach conclusions that simply cannot be made.

Reviewing coverage of Iraq news in the Mainstream Media can show which methodologies are used to build support for the war and maintain key themes in the War on Terror. The MSM maintains a public narrative on Iraq. In the course of reporting, certain themes become self-evident. Applied over time, bias can be instilled in the domestic audience by a compliant Media.

Propaganda is an ugly word. We'd like to think of our society as free, and the flow of information unrestricted. Yet we Americans have become complacent with our Media. Most of us accept unconditionally what we are told. And there is much that isn't said, to the detriment of an informed--and thereby empowered--populace.

I see it as one of the foremost purposes of this blog to inform Americans of the truth. The world is complicated and doesn't organize itself along neat themes. Media hand-holding simply can't substitute for the real work of learning about others, and expanding our horizons beyond our cultural assumptions.

I'd like to be able to say that Americans have it in their heart to know more and to learn more about their world. 9/11 did prove that what happens abroad will affect us here, so we cannot escape the consequences of ignorance.

Can Americans afford ignorance on international issues? Far more costly than Vietnan is the prospect of future repititions of open-ended wars in Asia to support corrupt proxy regimes. Americans seemed doomed to repeat the predictable result of being underinformed--which is to be lied to and misled, and have opinions shaped by dark forces which determine what they hear, see, and think.

Below I give some examples of stories which provide good examples of Media messaging. Rather than report, the Media maintains key themes for domestic popular consumption. Rather than let the true situation in Iraq be known, the Media is content to rely on government press releases which better rationalize why Americans are fighting and dying.

Exposed to the clear truth, the statements of pundits and policy-makers reveal just how dangerous and short-sighted our military intervention has been. As the costs of the Iraq intervention rise, Americans increasingly look for reasons why our policy has failed to achieve any results. Eventually Americans will blame the Media, for its complicity in failing to question any of the President's justifications for going to war. Of recent debate is the need to continue the occupation, which is now being justified by the consequences of what could go wrong should we leave.


Example I: Incident in Irbil

Iranians were arrested in an Iran consulate in Irbil (Erbil). Six were captured Jan. 11, with five believed still in US custody, according to AP.

Troops marching into a foreign embassy or consulate and removing nationals presents a serious challenge to international law. The US, meanwhile, seems to have no problem with violating sovereign Iranian diplomatic territory. Post facto, the Iranians taken away were found to be complicit in supporting terrorism. Apparently the Media has been content to accept the position of our government that the Iranians were "up to no good."

Like those incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay and secret dungeons of the CIA, Americans are led to presume guilt before innocence. And the violation of Iranian sovereignty is not made into that big a deal, when that act in fact constitutes an act of war, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the Iranians inside.

Another raid, on December 21st, saw the arrest of Iranians in a private Baghdad compound belonging to a militia loyal to Iran. The apprehended Iranians have been accused of plotting acts of terror.

The Iranian Ambassador to Iraq, Qumi, recently spoke to the press. Here he is, quoted in Der Spiegel:
"Although the Americans have suggested that the Iranians were providing support for militias like the Badr Organization, Mr. Qumi said that his countrymen were dealing with Mr. Ameri in his government capacity.

The Iranians would not even have stayed the night in the compound except, in a situation faced by many Baghdad residents, their business lasted beyond the early-evening curfew and they were forced to spend the night, Mr. Qumi said.

Mr. Qumi also warned the United States against playing out tensions in what he called 'the nuclear file' in Iraq. 'We don't need Iraq to pay the cost of our animosity with the Americans,' Mr. Qumi said."

Big Picture

To many unsuspecting news consumers, the incidents may add up to a cohesive plan of interdiction targetting agents of Iranian influence.

Bush has declared open season on Iranians in Iraq. He's said that Iranians who bear weapons or pose a threat could be shot on sight. Bush's bellicosity is reinforced by reports from Iraq which hold Iranians guilty on the basis on conjecture.

We now see similiar verbal attacks on Iran where there may be inadequate evidence. Evidence--flimsy or not--receives inordinate attention and prominence in the Media. It is, in a word, "Hyped."

Recently, Israel's Prime Minister toned down his rhetoric against Iran. It may be a while yet before the US chases its tail.

Example 2: The Najaf Incident

Iraqi government officials have claimed a victory over a splinter Shia cell in which 250, then 200 were claimed killed. Audaciously, the Iraq provincial government claimed that women and children were among the attackers. The reports have not been verified, but the MSM spent no time dispensing the government's explanation to all available outlets.

The story, after all, did seem to justify the deaths of hundreds of Iraqis, whether or not they were planning an attack or not. The facts of the story have been made secondary to the message, that the government is serving the interests of peace and stability.

An alternate explanation follows:
A mourning procession of 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe...arrived at the Zarga area at 6 a.m. Sunday. Hajj Sa’ad Nayif Al-Hatemi and his wife were accompanying the procession...They reached an Iraqi Army checkpoint, which suddenly opened fire against the vehicle, killing Hajj Al-Hatemi, his wife and his driver Jabir Ridha Al-Hatemi. The Hawatim tribesmen in the procession, which was fully armed to protect itself in its journey at night, attacked the checkpoint to avenge their slain chief. Members of the Khaza’il tribe, who live in the area, attempted to interfere to stop the fire exchange. About 20 tribesmen were killed. The checkpoint called the Iraqi army and police command calling for backup, saying it was under fire from Al-Qaeda groups and that they have advanced weapons. Minutes later, reinforcements arrived and the tribesmen were surrounded in the orchards and were sustaining heavy fire from all directions. They tried to shout out to the attacking security forces to cease fire but with no success. Suddenly, American helicopters arrived and they dropped fliers saying, “To the terrorists, Surrender before we bomb the area.” The tribesmen continued to fire in all directions and in the air, but they said they didn’t know if the helicopter crash was a result of their fire or friendly fire from the attackers. By 4 a.m., over 120 tribesmen as well as residents of the area had been killed in the U.S. aerial bombardment.

The imagery of a group of tribesmen simply trying to defend themselves, and being pulverized from all sides, as air strikes are called in, epitomizes the madness of war.

If the alternate scenario is accurate women and children were slaughtered not because they planned to participate in the attack, but rather because entire families were on their way to the important religious city.

Coincidentally, writing for The Independent, Patrick Cockburn's article "US 'victory' against cult leader was 'massacre'" uses the same Web source as I found, healingiraq.blogspot.com

Cockburn does clarify the situation by saying:
"This account cannot be substantiated and is drawn from the Healing Iraq website and the authoritative Baghdad daily Azzaman. But it would explain the disparity between the government casualties - less than 25 by one account - and the great number of their opponents killed and wounded. The Iraqi authorities have sealed the site and are not letting reporters talk to the wounded."[link]

Healingiraq.blogspot.com talks about the leader of the religious sect and pre-existing motive for the attack:

"I doubt that he would come up with something as foolish as attacking Najaf, because actually it was his movement that has been under attack lately by Iraqi security forces, heavily infiltrated by SCIRI in the south. Last week, his main office and husseiniya in Najaf was raided and destroyed with several of his followers detained by the Aqrab (Scorpion) Brigade of Interior Ministry Commandos. The same happened to his offices in Basrah, Amara and Karbala, days ago. Al-Hassan himself was placed under house arrest in Tannumah, Basrah, by the Iraqi government some months ago."

The Scorpion Brigade of Interior Ministry Commandos has been villified by some Sunnis, who believe it to be infiltrated with Shia militiamen. Actually, the Aqrab Brigade had come from Hilla, and been led by a Colonel who vigorously fought against the influence of the militias. The Hilla SWAT, as it was referred to by US Marines, was well-trained and impartial in administrating justice. Last October its leader was assasssinated. Since then, the unit may have been infiltrated by militiamen loyal to SCIRI.

The issue of control over Iraqi government police and paramilitary units has been a crisis in the making. Often soldiers are selected for inclusion into a specific unit because of their affiliation with a particular militia.

This wasn't always the case in the Iraq outside the southern part of the nation, which is almost entirely Shia and quickly capitulated to militia rule. As a matter of fact, Iraqis have been working and living with other Iraqis without regard to race, religion, sect, or ethnicity, for years. It's only recently--post-invasion--that pluralism has been crushed; not coincidentally the upswing in divisiveness has coincided with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism brought on by Saddam's ouster.

In Najaf, intervention by the US may have been used by the Iraqis to crush a faction which more mainstream Shia fundamentalist groups disliked. Firing down indiscriminately from above, how is the US to know who they're killing and why? This Iraqification bodes badly for any future integration of US and Iraqi forces--how can terrorists be distinguished from the targets of ethnic cleansing?

This from The Guardian:
"...Colonel Ali Jirio, a spokesman for the Najaf police, told the Guardian the group which calls itself Army of Heaven had established itself two years ago in farms near Kufa. But it ran into trouble with the Jaish al-Mahdi militia loyal to Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has a base in Kufa and who regards the group as heretical."

Saddam was an enemy of Sadr's as well. We all know how that story ended--not just with Saddam's death, but his humiliation and the chanting of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada." In that episode we saw the takeover of the Iraqi government by Al-Sadr in full bloom. Like the subsequent transfer of Judge Bandar, Saddam was delivered by the US into the hands of his executioners, al-Sadr's men.

The Media, meanwhile, would have us believe the sectarian divisions are the chief reason Iraq has disintegrated. The Sunni-Shia divide has formed an overlay for the carnage, to focus the scope and scale of violence on naturally occurring divisions that were destined to boil over, like the former Yugoslavia. This Media theme has presented self-destruction as inevitable and almost natural, which helps package the news, and dehumanizes the suffering our invasion has brought.

The real issue of violence in Iraq may be how the US has facilitated the removal of secular government. By establish democracy, the US has opened a window of opportunity for a purge of Sunnis and all those who would stand in the way of Shia domination or, more specifically, control by al-Sadr's faction of political power in Baghdad.

The Mainstream Media's unrestrained regurgitation of official press release as sources of information provides a well oiled insertion point for propaganda, or whatever else the Shia-dominated government would want said. The Media is co-opted by the process, as they must report what the Iraqi government says unconditionally. And the US military has an interest in sugarcoating any transgression by the Iraqis, if our forces are in fact working in tandem with theirs.

Fortunately for the cause of truth, the initial lies and distortions can be quickly revealed in what is said and done afterwards.

In this case, the dead needed to be retrieved; the victims of the battle needed redress. As is their custom, relatives of the victims demanded the prompt return of the bodies. This from healingiraq.blogspot.com:

"A delegation from the Hawatim and Khaza’il tribe are allegedly negotiating with the Najaf governor to retrieve the corpses of 70 tribesmen, including women and children, still kept at the Najaf Hospital."

According to one Iraqi official, the women and children were active combatants, planning to participate in the ambush. The dead cannot talk, so we can only guess at their culpability. The US has admitted using 500 pound bombs in the incident. Munitions of this size will cause massive loss of life within its radius of destruction, distinguishing neither child nor innocent from combatant.

Sometime the news is so positively horrible as to almost demand a more pleasant description. Often, errors in the press are allowed to go uncorrected. The New York Times has yet to issue any retractions related to the any specific Judith Miller article. Miller was the journalist held in prison for failing to testify in US Attorney Fitzgerald's investigation of the leak. She's testified recently in the Libby trial. To date, the Libby trial is the only step taken related to the exposure of Valerie Plame's secret identity.

Example III: The Karbala Raid

Media coverage distorts the truth is by drawing truth from conjecture and guilt by association. In cases like that of Kabala, where US soldiers die, propagandists have an interest in glazing over the truth. The Media meanwhile has no desire to reveal the horrible details.

Usually there is no effort to follow up and correct whatever mistakes are made, so when they are made they are brutal and direct, like this one:
"Contrary to U.S. military statements, four U.S. soldiers did not die repelling a sneak attack at the governor's office in the Shiite holy city of Karbala last week. New information obtained by The Associated Press shows they were abducted and found dead or dying as far as 25 miles away."[link]

Another approach used by the Media is to frame stories with conjecture dispensed by anonymous officials, either Iraqi or our own. In regard to the Karbala attack, one mainstream article blames Iran:

"On Jan. 20, militants kidnapped and killed four American soldiers in a raid in Karbala, and a fifth was killed in the firefight. A U.S. defense official said one possibility under study is that Iranian agents either executed or masterminded the attack, a suspicion based on the sophisticated and unusual methods used in the attack, including weapons and uniforms that may have been American.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing."[link]

Unlike the Najaf incident, I don't believe anyone would question the facts of the event on January 20th. Ostensibly the need for anonymity is pursuant to the fact an investigation is ongoing. Yet despite the need for secrecy, one anonymous official was apparently willing disclose the possibility Iran was involved, despite the fact the ongoing probe--which is apparently secret enough to warrant anonymity but not total discretion--had failed to provide any evidence. Apparently the only reason to blame the Iranians for the attack were the "sophisticated and unusual methods used."

The article continues to speculate on Iranian involvement:

"There has been speculation that the Karbala assault may have been in retaliation for the arrest of five Iranians by U.S. troops in northern Iraq.

Those five Iranians, who were arrested in the northern city of Irbil, included two members of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard force that provides weapons, training and other support to Shiite militants in the Middle East, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said last week. Iraqi and Iranian officials maintain the five were diplomats."[link]

Neatly, speculation manages to link Iran to an infiltration mission where US soldiers were abducted, tortured, and murdered.

When speculation is farmed--anonymity is a red flag--anything is possible. Not only were Iranians cultivating terror, but they were apparently acting in revenge, so the conjecture goes. The Media's willingness to embrace wild hypotheses and shield speculators with anonymity leads to an fertile ground for propaganda, or speculation which serves to justify the use of military force against Iran and Iranians, which just so happens to be Administration's approach.

With just a little time and effort, a conflicting and much darker apect to the story can be revealed. Unfortunately, most Americans rely on truncated news shows for the truth, and can't afford the time to independently verify the facts. It is far easier for Americans to assume they are being told the truth than questioning what they are told. As a matter of fact, the notion of confirming what they are told is alien to a majority of Americans, who not only don't possess the curiousity needed, but tend not to really care.

Framing the War

Sam Gardiner, in his 2003 "Truth From These Podia", describes the truth as our government laid it out:
"The major thrust was to make a conflict with Iraq seem part of a struggle between good and evil. Terrorism is evil. We are good. The axis is evil, and we are the good guys."

The war on terror has been constructed around a Hollywood-style plotline. The message has become more important than performance, as Gardiner puts it.

Gardiner's essay identifies the main stories which fed the broader strategic imperatives managing coverage of the war. Media managed the stories, selecting some, blowing some out of proportion, and ignoring others, Gardiner providing a multitude of examples. [Norm Solomon's novel War Made Easy; How Presidents and Pundits are Spinning Us to Death also provides plentiful examples of how distortions are fed to and echoed in the Media as well.]

As we are seeing with a war being waged at a costs of ever more lives, ignorance can be quite pricey, particularly for those who believe everything their government says. As the real story of a long war with rising casualties emerges, rosy predictions of victory fade, like trumpets of war which had so proudly sent forth the dogs of war.

Those whose loved ones are serving in Iraq treat the news quite differently than the unaffected. Like Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July, the conversion to the truth may come only at a cost of revulsion and horror caused by debilitating injury. In that movie, Kovic questions his patriotism and grows cynical and bitter. The physical pain Kovic suffered was surpassed by the emotional trauma caused by confronting those he loved over their opinions on the Vietnam War.

Considering himself patriotic, Kovic was reluctant to oppose the war, at first. Forced to confront his physical and psychological conditions, angry, and alienated, Kovic went off to Mexico with other veterans to booze it up. Kovic comes to realize that he'd been crippled by the government's false reasons for why were fighting in Vietnam. He went on to protest, outraged that still more would die and be maimed despite the inevitable prospect of defeat there.

Going into battle, loyalty was needed, a patriotic prerequisite alongside their unconditional support. On the back end, bodies used and abused, veterans may question why they fought and gave so much.

If support for the troops were as fragile as we are led to believe, any information that contradicts the official explanation over why we had to fight represents a threat. In other words, the Right-wing and war apologists demand total acceptance of the cause of war without a commensurate understanding of why we need to fight. To these people, trust is a prerequisite of loyalty, and therefore loyal American must trust their leaders, in this case George W. Bush.

So when Americans die in combat, naturally their loved ones want to know how and quite possibly why. If there is confusion over the circumstances of their loved one's death it often serves as a valuable first crack in the ice of blind loyalty to their leader's cause. The gravity of the loss opens a new window of insight into why our soldiers are dying, and how the Pentagon wages war, and forces real inquiry into the worthiness of their sacrifice, or the results of the loss in the aggregate.

In "Defend the Press and Sarah Olson", John Stauber explains:

"The Bush Administration wants the American people to think we are receiving the viewpoint of typical military families and soldiers when we hear or read a statement from the Republican front group Vets for Freedom, or the hardcore rantings of PR maven and talk show host Melanie Morgan and her Move America Forward campaign. But those are PR-driven efforts, propaganda campaigns for Bush's war. The real story of military families and soldiers is being told in indy films like The War Tapes and The Ground Truth, by military families themselves who are organizing at the grassroots against the war, and in the reporting of journalists not afraid to interview soldiers who themselves are not afraid to publicly dissent.

"the views and reports of the independent press were not what the vast majority of the American public was receiving. The independent press was interviewing the war critics, pointing out the lies and fallacies that were being reported as fact or truth on the mainstream TV networks and in the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. It is the reporting and opinions expressed in the independent press that could have prevented the war, had the public heard, seen or read their reports."

"The critics, dissenters, peace activists and independent voices that were right in opposing the war, are still today mostly left out of mainstream coverage of the war and US foreign policy. The talking heads dominating the TV, the media source of most news for most Americans, are still primarily from corporate and right wing think tanks and academia that supported the war."."[Source, see embedded links there]

Shaping the Media Environment

The point isn't whether 100 were killed or 200 captured. The real question is how easily the Mainstream Media accepts what they are told. Inconsistencies in media reports attest to the inaccuracy of initial reports. While much of this is attributed to the sketchiness of the situation, whatever confusion emerges often is used as a smokescreen by media handlers.

Gardiner in his essay "Truth from These Podia" explains how government can take advantage of ignorance and confusion to sow anger and mistrust of a particular foe.
"if you don’t know the truth, fill the vacuum with speculation that would support policy. That certainly was true during the period of anthrax uncertainty; US and UK “intelligence sources” told the press that everything pointed to Iraq."

By "shaping the environment", the Pentagon--like every other major military in the world--tries to influence public opinion through manipulating the facts reported in the Media.

The US Military has entered American newsrooms in the not too distant past, according to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

False information routinely appears in our newspapers and TV's and we rarely find out about it.

While "shaping the battlefield" might have once meant eliminating command and control facilities, cutting off enemy movement, and dropping leaflets, 21st century warfare addresses every source of potential influence, including public opinion. In the convulted reasoning of the militarist, anything which can stop the application of military force--presumably leading to victory over an enemy--presents a threat.

Thus war protesters assembling peacefully back in the US are seen to be on the side of the enemy. Militarists see lending moral support to the cause of peace as a potential cessation of conflict (which in turn inhibits them in their goal of victory.) Presenting a threat not to the troops but to the continued exertion of military force, antiwar Quakers, like other peace groups, are watched and monitored closely by the military.

While presenting no direct threat to our forces--many peaceniks are practitioners of non-violence--the ability of antiwar factions to mobilize Americans against military force represents a real threat to end the war. Overdosed on nationalism, war apologists outwardly presume victory is inevitable. Inwardly they may have doubts, yet they been brought up to believe that US is unbeatable.

Scholars of the Holocaust, neocons are well versed in Nazi propaganda. Likewise, they feel that democracies are justified in taking any action whatsoever in fighting the rise of modern-day Hitlers, as Saddam was described.

By denouncing those opposed to the war as being too soft against the threat--right out of Goering--they can both justify a state of ongoing war regardless of its true winnability.

Hitler's propaganda was perhaps the best, leading me to refer to Goering repeatedly here on this site. A study of propaganda is vital to understanding the modern State, and the mechanisms it chooses to build support for its agenda.

Propaganda was vital in the Nazis' aspirations for war and conquest.

Hitler and Goering were master farmers of fear; so essential to the Nazi state were defining events like Krytselnacht (Jews), the Reichstag Fire (Communists, Left) and "Night of the Long Knives"(Brown Shirts.) The events defined the scope of threat posed, and the strong actions taken, with their corresponding solutions, demonstrated the role of the State as defender of the people as framed in Nazi propaganda.

Larry Chin looks back at the vertical integration of propaganda into the State spin machine from the days of the Third Reich:

"...Hitler’s final act was to manufacture a "deliberate and cold-blooded provocation", to be blamed on the Poles, which would bring down the vengeance of German armed forces. He accomplished this by putting drugged prisoners from a nearby concentration camp into Polish uniforms and shooting them near a radio station inside the German border. The "Polish attack on the Gleiwitz transmitter" marked the official start of World War Two.[link]

Looking at the Nazi mastery of propaganda, a whole new level of subtlety entered. Film-making and cultural arts were used to reinforce a vast array of stereotypes and manipulate nationalism to the benefit of the party.

Propaganda Served

In the not-so-distant future, a world like Orwell's 1984, technology facilitates the delivery of propaganda. Continually delivering propaganda, government in the form of Big Brother involves itself in the lives of its citizens.

Propaganda is typically a term reserved for undemocratic regimes, yet has been used by our countries and our allies as well.

Propaganda is nationalistic and serves a bonding function: propaganda released by the other country is lies, our are simple bendings of the truth.

The impact of propaganda is mistrust and hatred for our enemies; in designing propaganda, governments chooses our enemies for us. We Americans don't get up in the morning with the urge to hate and possibly killed, it must be fed into our psyche gradually, so we don't notice changes in our attitude towards one group of people. In this sense, the government can make an impact without being noticed, without their information being revealed as government propaganda, and promptly ignored or showered with Media attention.

The greatest challenge posed to the credibility of any new propaganda is inconsistencies and contradiction with older information--former lies packaged as the truth and sold to the public. The bulk of propaganda work is devoted to covering up earlier falsehoods which were proven to be lies by some subsequent unraveling.

Nixon's White House offers the best example of this. In trying to cover up the Watergate break-in, the President and his circle committed more illegalities. In the end the cover-up effort did more damage than the actual crime, a simple burglary.

Orwell's government has a method for managing inconsistencies in "the truth". References to individuals who've been renounced find their way into the Memory Hole, where they are purged from every historical record. In an age without books, deletion may require nothing more than the stroke of a key.

Orwellian propaganda requires direct censorship; newer forms may be content to simply limit information. Propaganda masquerading as news helps to assure obedience from the masses, and conflicting information would undermine that goal, if it were available.

Furnished by government, direct propaganda suffers greatly from lack of a better delivery system. In Orwell's 1984, from giant omnipresent screens Big Brothers issue streams of half-truths.

Forced propaganda lacks any entertainment value and is unbelievable as a result. Forced participation comes at the cost of effectiveness. It's not long before people simply ignore what is said, accepting it in the most superficial sense only. While the invasion of screens, and monitoring cameras can force the citizenry to attention, it can't sell the information--it seems to contrived.

To be effective, hard propaganda needs an enforcement arm. So in Orwell's world, two-way monitors allow proctors to look in on people as they watch the screens. In Soviet Russia, commissars monitored political compliance with central Communist Party directives. Just recently, the Bush Administration has demanded that Cabinet agency must each accept political appointees, to act as gatekeepers to confirm that federal bureaucracies followed White House [link.

While each State will seek to control the flow of information, far better is the fine art of the soft sell. Propaganda, being something which is inherently hard, and hard to swallow, is better sold in a softer form. Delivery is likewise better through a proxy, a compliant Media--framed as a benign message wrapped up in patriotism.

Soft Propaganda

Governments have used propaganda in the past. Yet propaganda is too obvious; instead, post-9/11 the US government has masterfully managed the press in a series of well-choreographed events designed to capture the public's imagination, and bind them to the President through patriotism and jingoism. Media complacency played a vital role. The Media's failed to contest the basis for war and the neocons' argument.

Propaganda is typically released from the government; in its purest form it has a hard time attaching to the conscience of the masses. Propaganda's effectiveness is in relation to how real it seems; the less noticed, the more the impact.

While the impact of propaganda messaging in individuals may be minimal, and perhaps immeasurable, in a society, entire attitudes can be formed. Mixed with emotions in the subconscious, propaganda can stick.

Zamparini quotes Hitler:
“(…) the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.”[link

The key to overcoming propaganda is knowledge. To be disseminated, knowledge requires an objective Media. A free and independent Media has long been considered a hallmark of democracy.

Yet to be effective, information must be welcomed by a receptive and concerned audience. An informed citizenry will never come into existence without widespread acceptance of the civic obligation to stay informed and demand truth from Media and government.

Propaganda by Omission

The simple removal of information can serve a function of propaganda. More intelligent and subtle, key sources and bits of information which contradict the government's case are not communicated. Straight propaganda--lies and obvious recitations of dubious origin--is strengthened by the removal of any such information unfavorable to the State.

Propaganda can also be describe as a war against the truth. Writing on his blog, Gabrielle Zamparini quotes Goebells:

"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."

Rather than controlling the flow of information themselves, governments need compliant Media. Omission replaces outright censorship dating from the antiquated days of the failed Nazi era or Orwell's theoretical future.

Ultimately, a fascist state will ally itself with the corporate interest through strategic business relationships, like the Nazis were wedded to the industrialists of their day (with whom Prescott Bush, George W. Bush's grandfather, once did business.) As the goals of that Corporate cabal and the government in power merge, the fascist state assumes greater control of the media, and drives aggressive militaristic policies to benefit the military-industrial complex and Right Wing ultra-nationalists.

While the US doesn't see fascism in the present, a number of changes have come to weaken independent media access. The government also has an interest in seeing larger conglomerates control the airwaves. Since taking office, the Federal Trade Commission has allowed more and more media outlets to be controlled by fewer and fewer companies.

By forcing profitability on its news dvisions, Mass Media conglomerates have gradually abandoned any core non-monetary values associated with news, de-localized, and neglected the public interest. Similarly many corporations hype socio-cultural, entertainment, and celebrity worship, while more meaningful issues are ignored.

Recently, the Mainstream Media has become a liability for those who support a continuation of the war, and is coming out against unrestricted Presidential authority. Yet the window for abusing the public trust opened through Corporate media after 9/11. Perhaps the opportunity to disseminate biased information through the Media has begun to close, at least for this Administration.

Due diligence functions have clearly been neglected by Mainstream Media. Through more open debate, antiwar interests have been able to challenge government policies, who have a an interest in promoting cooperation with their market by performing due diligence. The US government cannot own the Media, despite continuing efforts to try and control the narrative along established themes.

Through the advertising mechanism dominating our Media, Americans are encouraged to simply consume, as if shopping for cereals in a grocery store. Dispensing unbiased media information may simply be incompatible with economies of scale and the capitalist model.

To date, Iraq's impact on most of the American public has been minimal. A conflict with Iran would greatly increase the truth premium.

Media reports are forced to bend the truth to avoid showing that our policies are failing. Media manipulation is one tool which can serve to provide propaganda either directly, by omission, or by confusion. Reports from Iraq may help disguise the truth, but inevitably the public's trust will fail in proportion to reality and events on the ground.

As I've shown on this blog, the military, geopolitical, legal limits are confounding Bush's War on Terror. The Media is failing to deliver a message capable of overcoming skepticism as image and reality collide. Stormclouds of an upcoming showdown over Constitutional limits on the power of the Presidency are forming over Congress.

Political defeat for Bush could mean an end to the War on Terror, or the conversion of Bush's crowning achievement to a hollow and meaningless legacy. Meanwhile Iraq will drag on, combatants oblivious to our inevitable withdrawal.