March 22, 2013

Senator Rand Paul's Filibuster

"In questions of power . . . let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."   Thomas Jefferson, the Greatest Thinker in the History of Political Ideas. 

Sometimes I've gotten carried away with my newfound fascination with the money system in the United States, and the related question: can a modern economy actually be rescued from failure by printing currency?  At its base, that's what Ben Bernanke & Co. are trying to do, or at least the rescue of the economy is the putative reason for "quantitative easing."  In practice quantitative easing provides an advantage for those economic players who operate in closest proximity to the Federal Reserve money spigot, namely, the Primary Dealer community who enable the Fed to carry out its "open market" operations in asset "purchases."  It's obvious where the bubbles have been blown: take a look at the New York Stock Exchange, the U.S. bond market, and the renaissance of the housing bubble.  In other words, here we go again.  In a sense, this money is "sequestered," sitting idly in Federal Reserve accounts of large financial institutions or as unrealized gains in equities and housing. It has not found its way into the general economy, and so inflation remains "muted," in one of The Bernank's favorite words.

If all that hallucinated money begins leaking into the general economy, in other words, if you and I begin to prosper along with JP Morgan Chase and the big housing speculators, then The Bernank will have to throw the machine into violent reverse to remove "excess liquidity" from the system.  The contraption at that point may begin to vibrate and rattle, lurch from side to side, parts may start falling off, smoke may rise from the Marriner Eccles Building, and the entire system may go supernova.  No one knows, because no central bank which has hypertrophied to the extent that The Bernank has overseen has ever attempted to "exit" from such a massive balance sheet.

Sometimes I'm convinced that what The Bernank is doing is overcompensating for his amazingly bad judgment in the period 2005 to 2007 concerning the housing bubble.  The Bernank just couldn't see it, or he was attempting to wish it away.  So now he's trying to bring back the era of sky-high housing prices and a raging stock market to "prove" that "the fundamentals of the American economy are strong," and that the American commoner can support such a market.  The path he's chosen, however, simply further distorts the wealth disparities which have crippled the overall economy and made a mockery of our democracy. In short, he's making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

This is certainly one of the problems Tom Jefferson was talking about.  The Bernank IS the Fed, and the Fed is a banking cartel which is essentially unfettered by democratic processes.  All I know is that I saw the housing bubble as plain as day as early as 2004, and I think I can see how this process of money conjuration will also end.

Meanwhile,  Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky stood his lonely vigil in the Senate, using a filibuster of John Brennan's nomination as an occasion to debate the constitutionality of President Obama's program of killing American "enemies of the State" without due process.  This was an interesting conundrum for "liberal" Senate Democrats, and for the American liberal community generally.  They needed a pigeon hole for this Tea Party usurper.  What were Chris Matthews and Lawrence O'Donnell and Rachel Maddow supposed to say about Rand Paul?  What about such champions of civil liberties as Senator Carl Levin?  And Chuck Schumer? (Okay, bad example.) Senators Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders of Vermont stepped up, as did Ron Wyden of Oregon.  Principle over party politics, a rarity in this day and age.

The liberal media trope was to marginalize and ridicule Rand Paul.  Sure, he had guts, sure he was right (in a way), but does he seriously think that President Barack Obama is going to order a drone strike against Senator Paul while he sits at an outdoor cafe in Washington, D.C., as Paul suggested in his utterly ludicrous hypothetical? 

And thus you have the utter dumbing-down of American political discourse, the clear proof that the modern day practitioners of American democracy do not deserve the country that Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and many others put their lives on the line to bequeath them.  The idiotic argument against Paul proceeds from the premise that President Barack Obama will always be President, that we can rely on him always to do the right thing while he always remains President, and that the demons of Rand Paul's imagination are entirely fictitious.  We can trust a system where the Executive has the unfettered right to imprison Americans without trial, or to execute them without bringing charges, or anything else the Executive cares to do, because the current occupant of the office is a nice guy, and we know he won't abuse this power.  And such an attitude, after all, has always worked out in the past, wherever it was practiced.

March 20, 2013

Parodying the Master of Self-Parody, Tom Friedman

Bearing in mind at all times Bob Somerby's admonition that "we are where we are because of these people," I give you Tom Friedman's lede in his column today: 

"On this 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, three things are clear. First, whatever happens in Iraq, we overpaid for it in lives and treasure and focus. Second, you can overpay for something decent and you can overpay for total junk. What exactly we overpaid for in Iraq is not yet clear and will be decided by Iraqis. Third, as much as we’d prefer to forget about Iraq, what happens there matters more than ever for the Middle East."
Friedman, of course, is an important "opinion maker" in the United States. Many Americans assume he makes sense, that he has some idea what he's talking about, that he is a learned and wise man. That's a shame, because the man's an idiot, a schmendrick of the first water. However, these days I have a reason to look forward to his columns because of the "Really, Tom Friedman?" parody that haunts and follows Friedman around at  That's his photo-shop of the peerless thinker above.  Some blogger has managed to inhabit Friedman's psyche as a virtual doppelganger, and uses all of Friedman's tricks, mannerisms, non sequiturs, gee-whiz techno-nonsense, Flat Earth crap, and everything else against Friedman.  As J.D. Salinger wrote in Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, it's enough to make a man believe in a cosmic Santa Claus.  Reallytomfriedman almost makes the real Friedman worth the time to read.

As one of the major corporate-media cheerleaders for the Iraq invasion, one might think that Friedman's best ploy would be never to say another word about this misbegotten madness, which a friend of mine has called "the greatest sin committed in the world in the 21st Century."  Friedman deliberately conflated "revenge" for the 9/11 attacks with the Iraq war, with his famous tough-guy column in which this (of course, never-in-the-military) fearless warrior told the "Arabs" (in general, I guess) to "Suck. On. This."  That should have been Friedman's letter of resignation.

The passage quoted above in the lede has all of the usual Friedman elements: (1)  It doesn't make any sense. (2) It's grotesque, in that it makes a war in which perhaps one million Iraqis were killed (according to the Johns Hopkins, Lancet epidemiological study, never seriously refuted); over 4,000 Americans were killed, and perhaps one hundred thousand more American soldiers were blinded, brain damaged, amputated (losing one or more limbs), or reduced to madness because of post-traumatic stress disorder - sound like a bartering session over a Persian rug.  "You can overpay for something decent and you can overpay for total junk."  Please: God save us from this man.

And, of course (3), as Matt Taiibi always demonstrates in his hilarious send-ups of this poseur: Friedman manages to contradict himself within one paragraph of writing.  This is perhaps Friedman's true gift - his ability to "baffle" himself (to quote the banner at as much as he confuses his readers.  So three things are "clear," but it turns out that the very thing he's talking about, "what we overpaid for," is not "clear."  So Friedman is telling us that we "overpaid" for something but he doesn't know what it is that we "bought."  We should be more careful next time we blow three trillion dollars, I guess, and try not to kill a million people while we're at it.  Our bad!  And golly! - maybe Tom Friedman should be more careful about the wars he pimps for, especially when an Administration like Bush/Cheney is running the show.  Ya think?

Yet there's another angle, a trap and snare for Friedman's rationale for American top-down imposition of "democracy" on others,  and Friedman inadvertently steps into it in his column.  He refers to the popular revolutions of the Arab Spring in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere.  What potentiated these revolts?  Probably a combination of climate change-related droughts driving up the price of wheat and the effects of social media (Twitter, Facebook) undermining repressive regimes and bringing down American-sponsored dictators like Mubarak in Egypt.  In other words: the fall of the Iraqi dictatorship was just a matter of time.  Most likely, Iraq would have undergone tribal fission and returned to its condition of post-Ottoman divisions: Sunni, Shia and Kurd without the horror of the Iraq war and the ruination of a crucial decade in the history of the United States of America.

Does one find any recognition in Friedman's latest pile of nonsense that he sees this?  Of course not. If he had any self-awareness, any sense of common "decency," a word he's so fond of using, he would never have written this column at all.  Please, Friedman.  Just go away.  You've done enough. 


March 19, 2013

The Iraq Invasion, Ten Years On

The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 is not itself a mystery: Dick Cheney worked with Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith and their Office of Special Plans, that new department in the Pentagon with the Orwellian name, to "stovepipe" unvetted intelligence on Iraq to the White House, free of any complicating involvement of the CIA or other agencies trained in evaluating information.  This was "goal-seeking" intelligence work, designed to prove the case for an invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.  President George W. Bush was only too happy to go along, since it provided the opportunity to play out a Freudian drama, the wastrel, prodigal son completing the manly work his unmanly father was unwilling to finish while Bush the Elder was President.

To sell the war to the public, it was cast as an act of self-defense.  We were told that Saddam Hussein was loaded to the gunwales with weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, nerve gas and biological contaminants, and we were reminded endlessly that Hussein "had used poison gas on his own people," the Kurds of the north.  I confess that for a while the Administration had me going: surely they couldn't be lying about all of this.  I did not buy the argument that Hussein had anything whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, that line of baloney pushed especially hard by Dick Cheney and Richard Perl, with their "Iraqi agent in Prague" ruse.  In this respect, I differed from about two-thirds of my fellow American commoners.

Several months before the invasion, I became convinced that the WMD argument was also complete bullshit, and to draw my own historical line in the sand, I marched in February, 2003 in San Francisco in a demonstration against the war.  I remember telling my companion on the trip (a ferry ride to San Francisco, then the long hike up Market Street to Civic Center in the company of hundreds of thousands of other demonstrators) that the invasion itself was a foregone conclusion, but it was a nice way to spend a Sunday.  By the time Colin Powell destroyed his reputation once and for all with his unbelievable act of cowardice and complicity in his "United Nations" speech, I was pretty sure the entire WMD case was a fabrication from the ground up.

Contrary to the revisionist history that became popular after the invasion, and the failure to find any WMD in Iraq whatsoever, that "everybody thought" Hussein had such weapons, there was always ample evidence available to the general public that the rationale was a complete hoax.  That, indeed, is the amazing part.  Granted, the official organs of propaganda, including the New York Times and its Administration-aiding mouthpiece Judith Miller, sold the war with a vengeance.  A positive feedback loop of self-reinforcing bullshit was set up in which Cheney & Co. would leak stovepiped information from the Office of Special Plans to Judith Miller, who would dutifully write it up as fact-based narrative; then Cheney or Wolfowitz or Feith would appear on a compliant Sunday morning talk show to discuss the latest "findings" in the Times

Nevertheless, William Arkin, the chief defense writer for the Washington Post, stated categorically before the invasion that it was "almost certain" that Saddam had no WMD.  Scott Ritter, the UN weapons inspector, said much the same thing.  The UN inspector actually in Iraq before the invasion, Hans Blix, stated over and over that he could find nothing.  Blix was attacked by the truly awful Charles Krauthammer of the Post, both professionally and personally, and Bush & Co. belittled everything he had to say on the theory that Saddam was leading him around by the nose.  It occurred to me, in light of corroborating reports and the simple reality that Iraq had been hobbled by crippling sanctions for over ten years since the first American invasion, that maybe the reason Blix could not find any WMD was because there weren't any.

It was, as Lillian Hellman said about another era, a "Scoundrel Time."  For people who look at history and reality a certain way, the prelude to the Iraq War marked the death of trust in official organs of information, such as the national media of newspapers and television, and the birth of increasing reliance on alternative sources of information, mainly the Internet.  It was scary to contemplate, however, just how easy it was to convince a substantial majority of the American people of the truth of demonstrably false propositions, and it remains unsettling to think about the implications of such a truth for the viability of democracy.