Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Friday, May 16, 2008

Two Americas

Here is a tale of two nations. One is wealthier, educated, progressive, and post-industrial. The other's economy is in its death throes, its less educated workers desperately clinging to the few manufacturing jobs not sent overseas. Economic hardship hits both nations, but one has a better educated workforce more adapted to a 21st century economy.

In one, religious fundamentalism dominates the body politic. In its most extreme form, this patriarchy forces underage girls into marriage. Women are forced to be submissive and docile before their husbands who rule their polygamous families like little emperors.

The other country supports sex education, condoms, and consequently has a lower rate of teenage pregnancy. Abstinence is embraced both as a substitute for sex ed and an excuse not to offer condoms in the other country. The result is a far higher rate of unwed teenage pregnancies and high demand for abortions.

The real cause of so many abortions--unprotected sex by young, unwed partners--is ignored. Instead, the Red states curse abortionists, criminalize the procedure, forcing providers and pro-choice support networks underground like the "railroad" helping blacks escape the South during slavery.

Meanwhile, in the bluest state--California--homosexual marriages were just approved by the State Supreme Court. Rather than practice tolerance for alternative lifestyle, in most Red states gays are routinely harassed by the God-like, Christian folk who are anything but. Ghandi did say, "I like your Christ but not your Christians."

Not too long ago, cultural conservatives feared "Californication," to borrow the term used in a Red Hot Chilis' song and album by that name. Rather than purge the influence of a morally corrupt Hollywood, young people in both countries have grown up in the shadow of MTV, 90210, Road Rules, etc., which peddle a new consciousness based on the one's level of happiness--which is California-style shallowness, hedonistic. Do what you want if it makes you happy.

The consumption of entertainment has become the social ideal for millions. Self-pleasure is cherished far more than the institutions of marriage and sacrifice.

The Red States do provide more people for our armed forces--supposedly for the collective defense. This may be because people in the Red States consider themselves perhaps more patriotic, or because there are fewer economic opportunities waiting for them back home. While many post-adolescent enlistees enjoy the notion of defending their nation, back in the homeland, sacrifice is for the others--those, to borrow the words of a Red state princess, Jenna Bush, national service is "not even a practical question."

"South Americization" might also describe what has happened to our country. Power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer, who grow progressively wealthy. Like a banana republic, our military serves as a bastion for the President's authority which is tied to a band of thieving plutocrats. In an effort to preserve control over society by the wealthy and retain the power of the ruling junta, the rule of law is truncated by the Executive. The little people suffer as the military turns its attention inward, torturing on dissidents and anyone perceived to be a threat to the regime (or any group labeled as a threat.)

Laws have been subverted by internal memos and signing statements that free the Executive branch from having to follow the laws meant to impose limits on their authority. The Constitution is the highest law in the land, and it requires the President to comply with the popular mandate as expressed through the people's representatives--Congress.

Under Bush, a Department of Justice selectively purged Democratic lawyers in its ranks. It was just by chance that an interim, unappointed Attorney General Comey appointed Patrick Fitzgerald in the Plame outing scandal, otherwise nothing would have been done under Bush's minion Gonzales. In South American countries plagued by narcoterrorists, the judicial branches are independent of the Presidency because they are easily tainted by corruption. Judges even have their own police force since the deprivations of the law are so common and enforcement so lax.

"Texas-ification" is an apt description of the process which four years of George Bush has wrought upon our nation. Our prisons now contain over 2 million people, the highest ration of any country in the world. Against the Uniform Code of Military Justice, an environment of prisoner abuse which originated in Texas prisonsunder Bush was re-created overseas. A 2005 BBC Channel Four investigation uncovered horrific abuses; I was only able to find one site offering the video for download (donation requested.)

In Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, "harsh interrogation tactics" were authorized by Bush, justified by White House lawyer John Woo, and implemented by Rumsfeld and commandant Major General Geoffrey Miller, who took Gitmo-style techniques to Iraq in 2004. For those in power, torture has become a necessity in order to protect what's good about that country--an evil justified by the good it serves. What our Red state leaders do in our name reflects on all of us, whether we oppose torture and support the concept that no man, even our President, is above the law. So the lower moral fiber of the South American/Texas approach to governance makes all Americans look like lawless yahoos who like to torture. This does wonders for our international standing.

Torture is a very unreliable interrogation technique, but results aren't what matter. Instead the perception that we are winning a nebulous war on terror matters more. Dispatched to Guantanamo after evidence extracted during torture was realized to be inadmissible in a court of law, FBI teams got better results with cordial conversation and Starbucks.

One possible reason brutality didn't work: perhaps the people there weren't guilty. Torture has the very nasty problem of leading both guilty and innocent to confess. While confessions might please politicians hungry for terror scapegoats, they do tend to get a lot of false positives--like the Salem witch trials. Thrown into a pond to drown, accused witches were said to have been innocent if their corpse floated, as opposed to it sinking, which would have indicated they'd been guilty after all.

Back to the root of the problem with our political system: two Americas. One is a nation ready to accept the challenges of the 21st century, embrace a multi-racial candidate, and look to the future. The other is scared, more comfortable in religion's embrace than facing the pure reason and unvarnished truth that they're falling behind. Unfortunately the Red nation is more populous and has come to dominate national elections; they traditionally determine who is the President.

Economic issues divide Americans

Talk of class is taboo in the US. One study by The Pew Charitable Trusts (.pdf) discover that social mobility--defined in economic terms as the ability to raise your standard of living over that of your parent--has declined below Europe's, a place which many American immigrants left in order to seek out economic opportunity here some time ago.

It's good to be rich in an America of growing income gaps between richest and poorest. A new gold rush is on, but only the wealthiest Americans can play. The rich get to slosh in all the money being pushed around, with little actually being physically made anymore. It's a feudalistic system were serfs and servants serve the master.

Historically, such an imbalance of wealth has been taken to be a sign of impending revolution. Aristocratic rulers have always feared the middle classes most because that is where revolutions tend to originate. The middle classes are more educated and wealthier, and better able to oppose the exploitation and destruction of a society by its elite.

Perhaps its no coincidence the middle class in America is rapidly fading. Social mobility is no longer what it was. Maybe a conspiracy exists to impoverish all but a few, who become little kings over their respective fiefdoms.

One great way to take wealth from the people has been inflation. Inflation robs wage-earners, but it allows the rich to accumulate ever more wealth. Interest rates rise to stymie the over-spending, and the rich simply move their money into better paying accounts, earning higher interest as the newly impoverished must labor as debt slaves to ever higher interest payments, living paycheck to paycheck as their standard of living declines with higher costs.

In an inflationary situation, the wealthy can profit and simply get back more on what they lend out. Meanwhile every cycle squeezes the middle and lower classes, trapping them in debt servitude as their incomes fall.

Political confusion

The US is now controlled by a small group of elite who make decisions on our behalf. "Financial power trumps political power in a country dominated by a corporate system," says Danny Schechter.

The political system offers a fake choice every two to four years for the masses. Like lethargic beast, between a third and a half of those eligible choose to vote. Many have become cynical and don't think their vote will matter. Many have become disillusioned with the choices available in the two-party duopoly. Third party candidates can't earn representation. Could this defrauding of the American voter be a conspiracy?

Elections are digitized into a black box controlled by companies like Diebold (name since changed) and ESS. Allegations of vote fraud are rapidly spun by the winners to be nothing more than whining from sore losers. Our representatives do little to nothing to reassure Americans their votes will be counted and complaints dealt with.

Political control reflects the ability to shape perceptions. TV molds our thinking. We consume en masse but we are convinced that every decision we make, no matter how inconsequential, is the product of a true choice instead of marketing chickanery. We obsess over celebrities and love them as if they loved us, if they even knew we existed. The superficial has become the norm. Fakery and consumption are the benchmarks of success.

The news is offered as a form of entertainment, not as an indispensable source of information required for citizens to make decisions that affect their future.

Just the idea that George Bush could come off as more like us than his political competition shows just how radically reality can be distorted for consumption by the masses. Of course Bush rivals Gore and Kerry came from the same group of Senator's sons and multi-millionaires, so the alternatives must not have appeared to be any more caring or down-to-earth. Bush has shown himself to be no conservative but rather a pandered to corporate interest groups who wear conservatism like a lapel pin while they disguise an intent to deconstruct the federal government's regulatory oversight, plunder resources, and engage in systematic looting of the Treasury through disaster and crony capitalism.

The Federal government has turned into a dispensary of funds for the best lobbyists money can buy. Pharma companies have gorged themselves at the federal trough alongside the prison- and military industrial complexes. Sooner of later the trough will run dry, even if inflated dollars are pumped out to soothe the contraction of a war-dependent, boom and bust economy.

Empowered by the failures of Republican incumbency, Democrats will recognizing the need for infrastructure revitalization and overspend. But medical costs will soar demanding ever more dollars, so they will be created out of thin air--or by the Fed rather (and then loaned back to us!). The depreciating dollars that our over-worked printing presses can still manage to churn out will buy less and less.

It's hard not to deny that changes are afoot that have put our quality of life in America in dire risk. The price of commodities is soaring or, looking at the situation in another way, our currency is losing its purchasing power very quickly.

Issues are of a global scale, with immigration and outsourcing changing the underlying dynamics which affect our standard of life. Trying to control one nation's future is left to the mercy of international flows of capital and free trade. We're told that we're better off with NAFTA, and that the loss of manufacturing jobs is a good thing.

Unlike Europe, we have no safety net. Even social security and medical care can 't keep up and the costs of medical care for seniors continue to go up. Americans appear willing to sacrifice their long-term financial security to make a fast buck. In our race to please our corporate masters, we've eviscerated the value of collective bargaining. As Europeans strike for more employment security, our truckers can only grumble about the rising cost of fuel and try to hold out until the process of free market capitalism combined with runaway inflation destroys them financially.

Tricking the masses

Americans are too overworked and indebted to be able to exert the necessary energy required for change. It's all too easy to work your jobs, decompress in front of TVs, then confront the next day's routine with caffeine and anti-depressants, whose use is sky-rocketing. It's easier to ignore the truth when it's ugly, or when the belief in the possibility of change fades into skepticism.

Americans love to win--the American people don't want to hear that the surge didn't work. So the mainstream media doesn't tell them but rather produces a stream of Pentagon propagandists posing as retired military officer/"analysts."

Identity politics rule--master political manipulators cultivate suspicion and trust as if they were marketing a brand instead of a politician. Like branding cattle, constant messaging convinces Americans to believe one of two candidates is more like them, while in fact no candidate could be anything like them. Who among us could make it through the vetting process and handle the financial burdens of running 18-month long campaigns? Hillary Clinton has plowed $11 millions dollars of her own money into her campaign.

Calling himself the Ebullient Skeptic, Phil Rockstroh writes in his seminal October 2007 "Who's Your Daddy" essay:
When a nation manifests a mixture of mass ignorance and official mendacity, in combination with uncheck(ed) power emanating from an insular and arrogant elite, a golden age of peace and plenty is as possible as holding a tea dance in a tsunami. As sure as a village of desperate fools who devour their seed crop, a nation that refuses universal health care to its children — yet rushes to the aid of its parasitic class of wealthy “speculators” and “investors” from the consequences of their own greed-besotted, fiscal debacles — is doomed.
...In a culture in which an individual’s worth is determined by the degree one can be exploited by the corrupt interests that control both the private and public sector, the public at large has little value to the political establishment. That is: other than, every few years, being bamboozled for their votes in the sham spectacles known as the US electoral process, a scam mostly financed, hence controlled, by the aforementioned big money interests.
In sum, this is the reason the Democratic Party feels little allegiance to their base. In turn, the political classes themselves are only of value to the big money corporate elite, because, by their delivery of staggering amounts of pork, massive tax cuts, and the passage of desired anti-regulatory legislation, they serve as their errand boys.

Rockstroh's essay hits hard. After a six month hiatus, Phil is back writing at his blog Ebullient Skepticism.

Talking about a potential Obama-Clinton match-up, Michael Carmichael in HuffPo says:
...William Burroughs warned America about the political abuse of the viral nature of language. In his chillingly accurate prophecy, Burroughs described our culture as defined by mind control via psychic, electronic, viral, subliminal and pharmaceutical agents under the control of a fiendish gang of miscreants, the Nova Mob. Burroughs explained,
The basic nova mechanism is very simple: Always create as many insoluble conflicts as possible and always aggravate existing conflicts -- This is done by dumping life forms with incompatible conditions of existence on the same planet.

It's like we've all been wound up to fight. Whether triggered by overpopulation or resource scarcity, we're almost sure to battle with each other. Can we ever save ourselves?

The America of today runs under a set of codes and values which no longer represent the little guy, the average citizen. Whatever you want to call it--New World Order, Bilderberg, Illuminati--this elitist control appears transcended the nation-state as the preeminent force on this planet.

The world's real leadership now comes from the business community. Why would billionaires put their leadership at risk by running for office? Control and secrecy are crucial in exerting the power elite's influence. Democracy threatens to challenge money interests for control, so a true choices in candidates is denied by creating a primary system wherein whoever has the most money wins.

To the new moguls, globalization is a purely economic principle, a breaking down of national sovereignty. Free trade is meant to cut the cost of labor. A corporate-friendly model of government is meant to be imposed on citizens everywhere. Mega-corporations and their politician friends set an aggressive agenda to privatize government functions. Government contracts work their way to wealthy friends in a corrupt network of cronyism.

Elitists have tried to control the world through private ownership of the national banking system (central banks) and predatory lending to Third World countries. Once some dictator--Saddam Hussein for instance--exhausts his credit line, calls rise for intervention and regime change.

War is hawked as a societal value--it's rationalized eternally, hidden behind a mask of patriotism. In time the excessive militarism of the Right damages our economy. The popular appeal of the Right wing's approach to governing shrinks. Once people get angry enough about mismanagement of their government to demand change--jarred from their slumber--the pendulum swings back to the left. The Democrats are increasingly empowered until the cycle completes itself--excessive government spending and inflation shuffles in the need for a paternal, Reagan-type influence and control over the chaos.

Bleak future ahead?

More and more, the Boomer generation, hard-working, greedy yet achievers of the highest order, leaves as its legacy a giant vacuum sucking up our "seed crop" for greater glory and profits here and now. No wonder the real estate-based economy is faltering--the demographic tide which buoyed the rise of the Boomers has retreated, leaving a fraction of the growing prosperity the American economy once enjoyed.

As the Boomers age, they leave the rotting carcass of their greed behind as they sunset their final years, not concerned in the least what they've left behind for the future. They got what they want--most of them at least--and their generation was all about me, without the "we." Our generation, the next, will struggle with this selfish legacy--perhaps it will take a economic crisis or real war to bring forth the bonds that unite America as one country. No, sacrifice is not giving up golf, Mr. President.

Technology is a vehicle by which people can unite regardless of physical separation, the internet is the method by which ideas can spread. Far more than a tool for capitalism, the internet may also be raising awareness of the threats faced by people of all nationalities from their governments and the corporate interests that control them. Even now, telecoms try to establish toll booths on the information superhighway, to restrict the free flow of information. In return, they've plead for immunity from lawsuits by people whose privacy they've violated.

Whatever hope for change lies in destruction of the existing system. Otherwise the pointless political cycle will rewind itself. This is what Jefferson talked about. We need to re-establish the relationship between the people and its government, and do it democratically.



  • At 1:04 AM, Blogger jbpeebles said…

    I'd been touching on a few of the points made in this Common Dreams article, "Report Details Military Tactics FBI Agents Found Abusive" by Marisa Taylor.
    Here is my post there:
    "This month, military officials dropped charges against al Qahtani, citing concerns about questionable information obtained during the interrogations."

    The FBI distancing themselves from military procedures is a huge red flag. I'd written in my blog that "clean" FBI teams had had better success than the ones who witnessed or deployed torture using Starbucks and congenial conversation. Anyone who's followed the Guantanamo trials also knows that there are fears that attorneys will be disobeying their superior officers--judges--who may or may not choose to disqualify confessions based on torture. Military lawyers representing Gitmo detainees threatened to quit rather than violate legal procedure. Allowing the tortured confessions to stand as evidence could deny defendants their right to representation and full defense under the law. Strict adherence to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, like the US law which FBI agents operate under regardless of locale, would throw out all the coerced testimony.
    ~end post~
    I don't think the FBI's pull-out bodes well for the legal process for detainees, one which Bush created out of thin air by the same people who created the detainee classification and also created the torture mess to begin with.


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