"Come and see the blood in the streets,
come and see
the blood in the streets,
come and see the blood
in the streets!"
—Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), "I'm Explaining a Few Things"
(Swans - August 15, 2011) AM I A FELON? Steven Aftergood is a name readers may recognize as I have mentioned him in the past. Steve is in charge of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). He writes an almost-daily chronicle about the US government efforts to keep as much of everything it does under the veil of secrecy. Steve writes under the banner of Secrecy News. He's often been criticized for not being a "revolutionary," for not advocating a structural change in the way the US government operates. I suppose he would gladly acknowledge the accuracy of the charge. The FAS is a reformist organization, not a revolutionary one, but it is indubitably an intellectual and ethical outfit. Steve fills the mold perfectly. He may not want to change the system, only improve it, but he provides a huge array of information from which anyone can learn or act upon, if one is so willing. That's why I keep recommending to readers that they subscribe to his regular e-mails.
WITH THIS LITTLE PITCH DONE, let me get back to the question: Am I a felon? In his August 4, 2011, dispatch, Steve related that Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who presides over a whistleblower case brought forth by the US government against a suspected leaker (Jeffrey Sterling) in which a New York Times journalist (James Risen) has allegedly received information from the suspected leaker, and used it, wrote that "Risen's statements are adverse to his penal interest because receiving classified information without proper authorization is a federal felony under 18 U.S.C. 793(e)." Right there I saw a red flag; felt a chill running down my spine and a noose getting ever tighter around my neck. Now, I have no idea what 18 U.S.C. 793(e) is about. You have literally millions of U.S.C. sections that can send you to jail -- but this one is getting very close to home. So, I shot the following e-mail to Steve:
So, let me get this one right, Steve. According to Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, I'm a felon because I have received classified information that was not authorized by the authorities -- e.g., I've made use and published an excerpt of a classified cable posted on WikiLeaks regarding the financial crisis, which was a crisis of insolvency and not liquidity. So, according to this brainy judge, since I have used unauthorized released information, I am deemed a felon.
Next step: I get time in jail. Following step: Since I am not an American citizen, once having served time, I am being deported (after having lived half of my life in this country).
When is this Orwellian madness going to cease and desist?
STEVE ANSWERED: "Well, something like that. But since it doesn't make any sense at all, it's clear that she made a mistake. If challenged, I think she will admit error." All right, but will she be challenged? I responded:
Fair enough, but who is going to challenge her? The last (and only) time I faced an issue that did not make sense, it cost close to $10,000 -- and that was "only" a matter of a DUI false accusation. What happens to a writer or a small publisher if engulfed in this kind of not-making-sense whirlwind? Will the ACLU come to the rescue?
If people like you who are mainstream reformists do not push back against this kind of insanity, what's going to happen to the non-mainstream people like me? A witch-hunt?
STEVE DID NOT ANSWER, but you get an idea of how Orwellian and Kafkaesque this country is becoming.
LOVE THE STOCK MARKET? Are you playing in it, or do your pension fund managers? Well, don't worry, it will go up to 36,000 as two experts-pundits (oxymoron, anyone?) predicted in 1999. The latest little bump on the road should not be cause for concern. After all, the happy few are spending anew. I've read that "Nordstrom has a waiting list for a Chanel sequined tweed coat with a $9,010 price." ... and that "Mercedes-Benz said it sold more cars last month in the United States than it had in any July in five years." Luxury is selling. Now, instead of being envious, be thankful, because "the top 5 percent of income earners accounts for about one-third of spending, and the top 20 percent accounts for close to 60 percent of spending," according to Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody's Analytics. We all know that the economic recovery depends on increased consumption, right? So, we should be grateful that the trickle-up crowd helps the booming recovery, right? Notwithstanding the fact that if Zandi is correct then 80 percent of income earners accounts for just above 40 percent of spending, which shows once again the extent of inequality in the U.S., the story takes an interesting twist. Apparently, the increased spending by the happy few is directly related to the increase in the stock market -- the Dow Jones index has gone up over 70 percent in the past two and one-half years. It has dropped over 10 percent (more than 1,300 points) since July 25. Whoops, here goes the booming recovery.
AH, YES, THE RECOVERY: It just so happens that the current US GDP has yet to equal its peak of the 2007 4th quarter. You have to love The New York Times, which blasted on its August 5 front page, "U.S. Posts Stronger Job Growth in July" -- 117,000 new jobs, which compared to May (53,000) and June (46,000) is a modest improvement. Still, it would take the creation of 120,000 monthly jobs just to provide work to young newcomers to the work force -- 120,000 monthly jobs. Then the article peddles the official line that says the unemployment rate "slipped one notch to 9.1 percent." In which bubble do these people live? Take another measurement, as Paul Krugman did, "the ratio of employment to population. In June 2007, around 63 percent of adults were employed. In June 2009, the official end of the recession, that number was down to 59.4. As of June 2011, two years into the alleged recovery, the number was: 58.2." Want more good news about the strength of this recovery? Check this report from CNN. Small business owners are increasingly turning to pawn shops in order to meet payroll. They are actually pawning their own valuables to get cash they can't obtain from commercial banks. You have to tip your hat to American ingenuity, though. While some people pawn their Rolexes or diamond rings, others take advantage of the huge appreciation of the price of gold. Instead of selling it and having to pay a big capital gains tax, they pawn it, get the cash, and pay a 5 percent monthly interest "only." What next in this flourishing economy, bartering?
THIS IS NOW OFFICIAL: The newly-minted US secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, a life-long Democratic apparatchik, said that "very dangerous cuts" in the defense budget "would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military's ability to protect the nation." Savings, he contends, should be achieved through increased tax revenues and cuts in nondiscretionary spending -- Medicare and Social Security. So, here you have it. George W. Bush must be smirking all the way to bed, whispering into the ear of loving Laura. "Eh, eh, eh, the Obama folks are doing a better job than I did. Let's vote for the boy next year. He'll manage to privatize Social Security." "You know, Georgie," says Laura, giving the man a peck on his cheek, "the boy is receiving a helping hand from ol' Harold..." "What do you mean, sweetie?" asks the cherub. "Didn't you read the text of Standard & Poor's Ratings Services (S&P) downgrade of the long-term sovereign credit rating of the country from AAA to AA+?" "Nope." "Well, you may want to do it in the morning. In short, they contend that the plan to reduce spending passed by Congress and signed into law by the president (the Budget Control Act Amendment of 2011) falls short of expectations and does not address serious changes in Medicare and 'other entitlements,' (Social Security). It's a good read." "Hurrah!" GWB almost shouts. "Here goes Medicare to the insurance companies and Social Security to Wall Street...smart play from Harold. And the boy is going to deliver the goodies. Dad told me that this was the main reason we elected him -- change we can count on from a 'liberaaal' black man. Great!"
FOR THOSE WONDERING ABOUT the name they are referring to, he is Harold McGraw III, the chairman, president, and CEO of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., whose "primary areas of business are education, publishing, broadcasting, and financial and business services." Among the many brands the company owns figures S&P. The Bush and McGraw families have had friendly and lucrative ties that date all the way back to the 1930s. Once you start reading the S&P text of the downgrade it won't take you long to figure out that it is an eminently, barely-disguised political screed based on flawed financial assumptions designed to put pressure on policy and decision makers to slash social programs to the bones and privatize them. One short paragraph reveals the playbook:
The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy. Despite this year's wide-ranging debate, in our view, the differences between political parties have proven to be extraordinarily difficult to bridge, and, as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently. Republicans and Democrats have only been able to agree to relatively modest savings on discretionary spending while delegating to the Select Committee decisions on more comprehensive measures. It appears that for now, new revenues have dropped down on the menu of policy options. In addition, the plan envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability.
BUT THERE NEVER WAS A RISK OF DEFAULT. The past few weeks were just a big charade. As Yves Smith, the author of Econned, noted on Naked Capitalism, "this is silly for a fiat currency issuer. A country that controls its currency can always satisfy the IOUs it creates. The risk is inflation, not default. But ratings agencies assess credit ratings, not interest rate risk." And note the sibylline S&P comment, "... as we see it, the resulting agreement fell well short of the comprehensive fiscal consolidation program that some proponents had envisaged until quite recently" -- an indirect reference to the Ryan Plan, "Roadmap for America's future." Ask yourself: How come a private company is in the business of rating sovereign nations -- a private enterprise that employs only 100 analysts to rate 136 countries (cf., Yves's post)? What's at stake, and is increasingly becoming evident, is the ever-more forceful efforts by the globalized market state to take over the nation states, render governments irrelevant (but for defense and police), and drive a stake into the heart of the Commons. To reach their aims this tiny elite, motivated by self-interests infused by their Ayn Randian delusions, are willing to risk an even worse economic and financial crisis.
"THIS IS A RAW EXERTION OF CLASS POWER," writes Richard Seymour in "Still not good enough, apparently," posted on Lenin's Tomb. The lenders, the investors are no longer willing to accept any restraints. They are our modern kings, answering only to, and "doing the work" of god (cf. Lloyd Blankfein). As Seymour remarks, this is "a poignant reminder that behind every rationality lies a sociology."
I AM NEITHER a sociologist nor a psychiatrist, but this self-serving calculated madness (rationality) reminds me of the work of Andrzej M. Lobaczewski (1921-2007), the Polish psychiatrist who did extensive research into psychopathy and psychopathologies. In his seminal book, Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes (Red Pill Press, 2006), Lobaczewski explains in great detail how the rule of sociopaths and psychopaths is destroying Democracy and replacing it with what he calls Pathocracy. You can learn more about this exceptional man through a bio and interview, "In Memoriam: Andrzej M. Lobaczewski," which was published on June 16, 2008, on Signs of the Times (sott.net) -- a site created by the slightly occultist Laura Knight Jadczyk who edited Lobaczewski's book. Whether pathocracy is bent to become the new order or, more optimistically, whether Logocracy -- "a system with objective knowledge progressively superseding opinions based upon natural [emotional] responses to phenomena," in the words of Lobaczewski -- will carry the day is hard to tell. But, I wonder: How long will it take to "Come and see the blood in the streets" (I'm explaining a Few Things, Pablo Neruda, 1936)?
THE BLIPS ABOVE WERE WRITTEN a week ago, before the insurrecting mayhem struck London and other English cities. Insurrections are always deemed by the people in power -- the frightened bourgeoisie and the main media -- to be riots, mob-looting rebellions, and criminal behaviors. These events were not outbursts of a raging rabble or criminal hooligans even if they looked senseless and destructive. They were yet another response to increasingly dire socioeconomic conditions from what is fast becoming a lost generation. A 64-year-old correspondent recently told me how sorry and concerned he was for the youth due to the world we were bequeathing them. Youth (16 to 24 years old in the U.S. or 15 to 24 in the E.U.) unemployment rates are skyrocketing. From 25% on average and up to 40 or 50% in the inner cities, the situation keeps deteriorating in the U.S. In Europe, Spain has the highest rate of unemployed young people (over 45%); Greece's rate is over 38%; Italy, close to 28%; Ireland and Portugal almost 27%; France close to 23%. In the U.K. it reaches 20%. (See "Flash Points Across the Continent," Der Spiegel August 12, 2011.) According to the OECD, "only Portugal is home to greater wealth disparity than Great Britain." Same story in the Middle East (e.g., Tunisia, 30%, Egypt, 25%)... Perhaps the political consciousness of the youth does not appear evident on the surface but they are fully aware of the ever-widening divide between rich and poor people. Ignoring these material conditions can only lead to more uprisings. Arresting over 1,100 youth will not solve the problem. And for those who consider these events to be criminal riots, let me state again the words of Spinoza: The perfection of things must be measured according to their own nature and things are not more or less perfect because they please our senses or hurt them (approximate translation).
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.
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