Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Wars, empire, and the politics of perception

Empires always fail. Not every now and then. Always.

Wars are the primary reason for the inevitability of failure. They're expensive and lead to economic stagnation and decline.

Empires seldom need to fight the wars they do. Their wars become "wars of choice" because the empire doesn't need to fight them.

Late in the life-stages of empires come wars that are simply a veneer for occupations. From these spring insurgencies. With these, often the reason for fighting emerges after the initial invasion, to rationalize the increased use of force to combat the growing insurgency.

In every case, the push for war is driven by a constituency which benefits the most from war. If the policies of the empire are dominated by bankers, it's not by coincidence that the empire's actions cater to the interests of bankers. Likewise, if the military industrial complex carries the most influence, then government budgets will flow to those industries.

The high cost of war is a blessing for the beneficiaries of the spending, which can turn around and invest in political candidates whose war drums sound sweetest to their profit-hungry ears.

Now if you go to Groton, Connecticut or San Diego, you won't find many people clamoring for an end to the wars. That's because much of our war budget gets spent on military hardware built in those places.

Entire industries have grown up feasting on the trough of military spending, a sum which consumes over one-half of our entire federal budget when things like care for veterans and interest on past war debt are considered. In every example of a empires-gone-bust there's been a group which has profited tremendously. With our present day case, I'd look at the bankers who profited by increased government borrowing as the culprit.

The more borrowing, the more interest the borrower must pay. For holders of government debt--the bankers--the best way to increase profits is to make government borrowing more expensive.

Go back to the examples of the Austrian Hapsburgs, and Rothschild bankers of the World War I era, and you'll see vast amounts of wealth move from the public treasuries to bankers through spending on war.

In an age of fiat currency, governments can spend infinite amounts of money. Typically, this means the currency will buy less and less as time goes on. We have that example here in the US. Prices for petroleum before the 2003 Iraq war were under $2/gallon. Now they're trending around $4. Take another commodity with a fixed supply: gold. It was under four hundred or so. Now it's $1600+.

Typically bankers would protest if the purchasing power of the dollars they held would go down so dramatically. It'd be as if their assets had shrunk by one-half or one-third.

Now if the currency were redeemable in gold, or consisted of coins made of gold, the financiers of war would have no problem with more government spending. Perhaps the finite supply of gold could mean an end to war.

Modern day America has come up with a way for bankers to continue to profit even as the purchasing power of the dollar declines. They do this in a process called quantitative easing, or the purchase of government debt by the Federal Reserve. Banks borrow infinite amounts of money through the Fed's lending programs and turn around to use it to buy government debt. This keeps the Ponzi rolling.

As long as interest on the debt can be provided--whether through taxing the citizenry or additional borrowing--overspending and debasement can continue. The latter, which can be called inflation if consumer spending increases, means the dollar will always buy less and less.

Debt burdening is class warfare on steroids. Sadly, it's those who are dependent on salaries and wages, or pensions, who will be unable to increase their incomes. They'll have to bear the effects of debasement.

Like we saw in Greece, the only way out will be rigid austerity, which will dramatically cut spending. As much as we might malign Europe for its problems, we have an even bigger one here. Why? Our government is completely unable to restrain military spending. The noxious propaganda machine driving the war state has done its job too well. No politician dares to look soft on terror, or as if they're not supporting the troops. The result? Multibillion dollar submarines we don't need, vast unaudited sums spent far away, and ever-bloating budget that increases the size of government (alongside all the drones and trappings of a growing surveillance state.)

Militarism and over-expansion are the perfect methods for private bankers to increase the amount of government debt they hold, and how much interest they receive for holding it. Banking profits are a function of their cost of borrowing from the Fed, which is nearly zero. A ten year Treasury yields about 2%--not so much, so they have to buy huge sums, thereby subsidizing additional war spending alongside higher profits for their industry.

Of course none of this war profiteering makes the news: it's glazed over in scary stories about bogeymen in some faraway land who are out to get us. Given the facts, the people might discover the wars that their governments fight are not done to protect them at all, nor vital in any way to our nation's security. Instead, they are the means by which sweetheart industries increase their profits.

The politics of perception

In an age dominated by the media, it's no wonder that governments like to package their wars in a form more palatable to citizens, most of whom are too stupefied in celebrity worship and various forms of entertainment to think critically.

Ours is a culture obsessed with amassing maximum income in order to buy physical possessions.

Our society is unbalanced. Examples of gross disparities in wealth abound. Not since before the great crash of 1929 have the haves of American society has so much, and the have-nots so little.

The young today came into a world of chain restaurants and media saturation. Both parents worked, abdicating much of their children's maturation process to institutions. Time is always in short supply, as time is money, which means money consumes the time families once had to share.

Perhaps the family unit is breaking down. Perhaps the family model has always been breaking down. {One time I told a friend how things had broken down in Mexico and he confided that they had always been breaking down.}

I'm not one to judge, I'll tell you that. So many socially conservative people today want to blame a breakdown in family values. If cornered, they might defend the position by saying how gay marriage, too much television, the schools, or some other force was to blame.

The culprit for the breakdown in moral authority varies depending on who's doing the blaming. Whatever their politics, the problems never originate with the person doing the blaming--no, their children are only mad better by their parenting.

Many parents today seek to protect their children from the evils of someone else's moral misconduct. It's always someone else, an outside actor, that causes the harm and sullies the pool.

Rather than confess that they've lost control, it's easier for the predominately White reactionaries to blame the social decline on someone else, on some external force. Liberals, with all their tolerance, are a juicy target. So are regulations and bureaucracies.

Politicized, in the form of partisanship, the reactionaries' response to societal change motivates them not to improve or correct things but to go back to an America that never was and only exists in the imagination of people on the Right. You'd think that all had been perfect, just before their side lost the political war that precipitated the decline in moral values, or so they believe.

Of course there's no attention paid to the failings of their President, the one who started the unnecessary wars under false pretexts while outing an undercover agent in a time of war. No that wasn't bad. Why? Because Bush was a good guy in their eyes, a hero. He could never have done no wrong, no more than could have it been their bad parenting or mistakes that contributed to the decline in our society.

Political opportunism has Obama makes a perfect target for these people who are so troubled by the world they've seen transform so much so fast.

Gas prices too high? Blame Obama. A lack of jobs? You guessed it, Obama. It's as if there's no bad thing that can't be pinned on the President. They conveniently ignore the war of choice that's resulted in a doubling of gas prices, or the falsified intelligence for which no one has faced any reckoning.

The predominantly White cultural reactionaries have started their witch hunt. Cheered on by racists and demagogues like LImbaugh, they've convinced themselves that it's Obama that's the problem. Like the cultural decay, it's never their failure to control the evil outside influence, whether it be the TV, gays, or whatever. {See the Alternet article by Joshua Holland on how the brain circuitry of conservatives might account for this.)

Racism and reactionary behavior do blend. Unfortunately for the demographic that so likes to blame The Others, the demographic changes have swept across the land are far-reaching and permanent. A change of profound cultural significance, the increasingly non-White population doesn't see itself as the problem any more than the Whites blame themselves fro failing to adapt.

Whites are a minority now in a lot of regions. That demographic change can be disconcerting, not just for them but because of the big cultural swings in the norms of conduct among subgroups. Modern day America is a true melting pot. In an election year, race can be a huge factor shaping voting.

I don't think non-Whites will rally around a non-White candidate simply because they are both not White. I think non-Whites will rally around a non-White candidate because they're more likely to share similar political values.

* * *

Obama got into office based in large part because of his relative youth, enthusiasm, and gifted campaigning skills. If he's to win a second term, he'll need to execute his campaign as well as he did in 2008.

I wonder how much of Obama's appeal is artificial, seeded in the idea that just because he's not White, he represents change. Change did happen. Yes, good things can come from nothing more than a popular upswell, and Obama mastered that bubbling fountain quite well.

Then again, campaigns are about money. The American public is obsessed with its image of itself. If one candidate can fashion a more favorable image in the minds of the electorate, then he'll win. Why? It's not that the choice of candidate is made consciously but rather in a stream of subliminal decisions. In this respect, a process of identifying more closely with one candidate, their hero, over another, the antihero, runs in the back of the voter's mind like some antiviral program, grinding away but seldom acknowledged.

It's called the politics of identity. Whichever candidate identifies best with the voter is the one who wins the vote. Far from producing random outcomes, identity politics is a highly deliberate and controlled process. Like any formula, the variables are controlled down to the way a candidate looks, what they say, and how they say it. There's no limit to the spinning, and twisting to jockey for prime space in the subconscious of the voter.

Repeat exposure does more to shape the voter perception than does the quality of the message. Send a message frequently enough and it'll be branded, so deeply perhaps that the voter doesn't know it's there.

Take the consumer society: a company makes its brand on the consumer by broadcasting a message so many times that it brands itself as surely tot he consumers' brain as does a brand on cattle. In our consumer-driven, society, it owns us. And we, unknowingly, give up precious space in our minds for the commercial invasion. Like automatons, we buy with a false impression of choice. In fact we've decided what to buy long before we get to the store, or lift up the phone. The decision's been made for us.

Back to politics. People on the Right won't vote for Obama, and they'll do it consciously. No subconscious branding needed. They were never going to vote for him, simply because they don't identify with him. Of course they'll try and explain away their decision not to vote for Obama, to make it all sound logical. 

The Left has its indoctrinated supporters as well. However unlike the Right, the Left seems more concerned with the reasons why their candidate should win. This emphasis on the faculty of reason is perhaps one of their great Achilles' heel, since those on the Right is more prone to unify based on less ineffectual instincts like blind nationalism, or the fear of change.

Race might not be thrust forward by political analysts as the difference maker in the upcoming Election. But it is the most limiting and segregating factor when it comes to the politics of identity. The most obvious difference we have with others is the color of our skin.

Due to rising numbers of non Whites, the Right will have to contend with the politics of identity that unify Obama and people of his race--who were going to vote Democratic anyway. With our population about 14 % black, roughly that Hispanic, and 8 % now Asian, non-Whites constitute a vast voting block.

I don't think non-Whites will be able to make their choice in a vacuum sterilized of any issues of race, and they'll identify more with someone of similar race. With about 20% of the electorate White and liberal, Obama's reelection boils down to voter participation. If 100% of non-White voters vote, he'll win.

Due to demographic realities, the sustained effort by the Right to disenfranchise minority voters will continue. A Romney victory depends on it.


Labels: , , , , , , , , ,