Sunday, May 31, 2009

O, the horror of it!

How dare she! How dare Judge Sonia Sotomayor challenge our precious myth that we are a classless, raceless democracy in which all prosper and all are happy?

She has pulled the string on the right wing noise machine and they are responding with a spittle spray of good old fashioned, down-home one-hundred percent red-blooded American rage.

According to Saturday’s New York Times, her sin is that she “has championed the importance of considering race and ethnicity in admissions, hiring and even judicial selection at almost every stage of her career.”

The Times speaks of an “evolving consensus that such race-conscious public policy is growing obsolete” in our utopian society. The paper quotes Republican Senator John Cornyn who argues that, “The American ideal is that justice should be colorblind.”

This reminds us that the law isn’t about compassion or understanding; it’s all about following the dictates of its unique legal insanity. Sotomayer's attempt to breath sanity into this closed system shocks and apalls it's male gatekeepers.

Just how colorblind justice is is borne out by the numbers:

3,145 per 100,000 of black males are in prison
1,244 per 100,000 of Hispanic males are in prison
471 per 100,000 of white males are in prison

According to the right, we can ill-afford an ethnic judge who came out of the rough and tumble world of a Bronx public housing project. We need judges prejudiced by the halcyon world of the American suburb, shaped and influence by private schools and country club dances. Judge Sotomayor carries with her the stench of urban decay and poverty, both of which have no place in our self image.

Worst of all, there is the real and present danger that she will return the scourge of multiculturalism to the bench after conservatives have worked so hard to erase it from our collective consciousness.

Conservatives are zeroing in on a statement Sotomayor made eight years ago when she had the effrontery to suggest that in a case involving Hispanics, a Latina judge could reach a “better conclusion than a white male judge who did not share the same life experiences.”

Statements like that, coming from an intelligent Hispanic female castrate!

With his usual moral courage, Obama rushed to her defense by assuring the nation that, “I’m sure she would have restated it,” and his spokefolk emphasized that the comment “merited clarification.” The last thing Obama wants to do is upset his corporate handlers.

We must allow nothing to suggest that we are anything less than a homogeneous society in which any male, of the proper background, is fully qualified to pass judgment on all regardless of gender or socioeconomic background. All he need do is watch Fox News.

Our history is a brightly colored lithograph of white, square-jawed pilgrims walking resolutely to church to celebrate the first Thanksgiving before heading to the nearest mall for Black Friday.

None others need apply.

--Case Wagenvoord

Saturday, May 30, 2009

How to tame a corporation.

This is not a recession; it is a return to reality as the last of our bubbles deflates, and we discover that ther are no more bubbles waiting in the wings.

As soon as our economy went into meltdown, the postgame analyses began. The leading culprit was the deregulation that began with the Reagan administration, while others blamed our transition from monopoly to finance capitalism.

However, nobody has mentioned that America’s political and economic well-being are being dragged through the mud by a dinosaur that has outlived its usefulness—the corporation. The corporation began as a dynamic and innovative system. Then, as its complexity increased, it reached a point where it began to devour itself. This is where we are today.

Granted, over the last 150 years, corporations have raised our standard of living. But then they decided that there was more profit to be made by forcing it to decline. After all, why pay workers a living wage when they can shop at Wal-Mart?

This raises the question of the proper role of the corporation.

I discovered years ago that I cannot drive a nail with my forehead. Not only does it hurt like hell, but it’s not very efficient. To drive a nail, I need a hammer. However, this doesn’t mean I make a hammer the center o my life and let it rule over my every move. Rather, it sits quietly in my toolbox until I have another nail to drive.

It’s the same with corporations. They have but one purpose, which is to feed and clothe me. Other than that, I expect them to sit quietly in the corner and not rock the boat.

The question, now, is what to do with them. I have a modest suggestion: a 28th Amendment to the Constitution stripping them of their personhood. Corporations have no rights; they have only privileges granted them by their charters. There is no reason they should have the constitutional protections granted individual citizens.

For that matter, the Supreme Court never granted them personhood. In the case of Santa Clara Count v Southern Pacific Railroad, the body of the decision said nothing about corporate personhood. That was inserted into the header, which summarized the decision, by a Supreme clerk.

Without corporate faux personhood, public funding of elections would become a possibility since the corporations couldn’t go crying to the courts about their free speech being impinged upon. Who knows? Congress might actually become honest again without corporate contributions pouring into its coffers.

Granted, such an amendment stands a snowball’s chance in Hell of passing. However, as our economy does a duck dive, we are seeing an unusual weather pattern—the temperature in Hell is falling precipitously.

Who Knows?

--Case Wagenvoord

Friday, May 29, 2009

A stake we can believe in

It may be one of history’s greatest ironies that the president elected as a harbinger of progressive change turns out to be the president who drives the final stake through the heart of the progressive movement.

And it was progressives who are holding the stake for him.

It did not bode well in Denver when Move On and other progressive organizations agreed to not to demonstrate at the Democratic convention. The result was a very polite convention, sponsored, in part, by ATT.

According to Thursday’s New York Time, the coup de grace was delivered when Obama began casting about for a Supreme Court nominee. Liberal and progressive activists were dragged into the Oval Office and told “not to lobby for their favorites in the news media or talk down candidates they opposed. The message, as one surprised visitor heard it, was ‘get on board or get out of the way.’”

It was democracy in action.

And, of course, progressives bowed, scraped and pulled on their collective forelock as they politely complied, and nary was a peep heard out of them.

The left is choking on its politeness. It has reduced itself to a ragged waif hovering outside the corridors of power waiting for the movers and shakers to throw it an occasional scrap of food, which always turns out to be a mud pie.

The movement that once roared with the voices of Eugene V. Debs and John L. Lewis is a hollowed out anemic shell that speaks in hushed tones lest it offends. In its weakness, it has created a vacuum into which Wall Street and our military-industrial complex has poured. It's silence has created an area within which Rush holds forth, unopposed.

It wants nothing to do with the raucous union hall or the angry demonstration: it no longer screams or throws rocks. It has become so enamored of its ideological prissiness that it is afraid to roll up its sleeves and get some dirt under its fingernails. It has turned its back on workers, rednecks and the poor. Instead, it frets about second-hand smoke and teenage pregnancy while the masses that were once its base sink into poverty and despair.

It expostulates when our leaders torture and trash the Constitution instead holding their feet to the fire and demanding the restoration of our nation’s moral compass. And it does so politely.

Silently, they wring their sanitized hands as Obama slowly morphs into a Ronald Reagan with brains.

--Case Wagenvoord

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Still Another Chilling Terrorist Plot

It takes more than money to keep our Department of Homeland Security healthy; it also requires an occasional gaggle of village idiots.

As soon as officials feel the public’s anxiety level is beginning to wane they dispatch a sleazy government agent provocateur to find some hapless losers who can be snookered into cooking up an improbable terrorist scheme.

For example, there was 2006’s infamous Liberty Seven who were charged with plotting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. News conferences were called, the media splashed the story all over print and screen, as politicians orated about the level of threat America was under.

Then it slowly leaked out that the “seven” probably couldn’t find Chicago and had no idea what the Sears Tower was. The whole thing had been cooked up by a government informant who was busting them so he could stay out of jail.

Now we have the arrest of four suspects in Newburg, NY who have been charged with plotting to blow up Jewish synagogues in New York City. Supposedly, the plot was hatched in a Newburg mosque by a Muslim terrorist cell.

Now it appears that none of the suspects are Muslim and that the whole plot was created by a government informant who is on probation for identity theft. All four are described as losers, and one of the suspects is mentally challenged and on medication for schizophrenia.

But this didn’t stop Assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Snyder from proclaiming that, “It’s hard to envision a more chilling plot.” He went on to describe the suspects as “eager to bring death to Jews.”

Once again, politicians and officials are given an opportunity to pontificate about the constant threat America is under as she continues to produce terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while bean counters at the Department of Homeland Security rub their hands together as they anticipate the budget windfall this will produce so DHS can search for even more village idiots.

After all, this is only “the latest in a string of homegrown terrorism plots hatched after Sept. 11.” But no official will admit that they’ve all been stillborn. There’s no money in that.

--Case Wagenvoord

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Cue the paranoia! North Korea has launched a nuclear device! They are testing our resolve, goosing our national will and giving us an excuse to double our defense budget!

In truth, they have taught us a valuable lesson. Even though their people are starving, they have kept their priorities straight and their ducks in a row by channeling their sparse resources into the development of a nuclear capacity.

As we enter our Age of the Great Economic Meltdown, North Korea has taught us the importance of feeding our military-industrial complex instead of relieving the suffering of our people.

Obama has learned this lesson well. What good are schools, healthcare, food stamps or Social Security if we can’t win the unwinnable in Afghanistan?

What would become of Brand America if we didn’t?

Lead on, O Glorious Leader!

--Case Wagenvoord

Monday, May 25, 2009

Amorality Sanctified

A mythic aura engulfs the Kennedy administration. It was Camelot reborn, a time of prosperity and optimism, when all of our ugliness and problems were concealed beneath the glossy pages of Life magazine. The burbs were the only way to live, and a split-level house complete with manicured lawn represented the “good life.”

But, it was also the era when the amorality so necessary for the efficient management of empire came out of the closet.

We’d always been a nasty people from the very first slaughter of a Native American village in 1637 when John Underhill led a night attack on a sleeping Pequot village nestled on the banks of the Mystic River in Connecticut. He burned the village and slaughtered the survivors, including women and children. The body count came in at between 600 and 700 people.

But for all the blood, there was a certain piety to Underhill’s action. He was inspired by the biblical King David.

"And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah." – 2 Samuel 11.1.

This pious gloss was to continue throughout our history. McKinley justified his annexation of the Philippines and the brutal war that followed by asserting:

[T]hat there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department (our map-maker), and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States (pointing to a large map on the wall of his office), and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President!

It was a policy in which indigenous people were given a choice between salvation or slaughter. Ours was a noble empire spread by the bullet and the Bible.

Shortly after Kennedy assumed the president there was a tectonic shift, so subtle that is passed unnoticed. It had become the practice of the White House press corps to ask an incoming president who his favorite author was. For example, Eisenhower’s favorite writer was Eric Hofer, author of The True Believer.

When the press asked Kennedy the same question, he named Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, Agent 007 with his license to kill.

Amorality was out of the closet and Hollywood started churning out James Bond flicks starting with 1962’s “Dr. No.”

Who can forget the suave manner in which Sean Connery gunned down his adversaries with a psychopathic detachment? No remorse, no trauma, just a man following orders with a sardonic half smile.

In some respects, Bond became the role model and hero for the New American Empire that was emerging out of the Cold War. It was an era that hatched the cockamamie plots to assassinate Castro by poisoning his beard.

When our plots to assassinate world leaders who didn’t toe our line came out during the 1975 Church Committee investigation into the FBI and the CIA, the public was still capable of outrage.

No more.

Now Obama has appointed a seasoned assassin, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, to head the NATO campaign in Afghanistan, and there’s been nary a whimper. Now, instead of a biblical justification, we simply refer to his appointment as “new eyes.”

Perhaps the press will start calling him Lt. Gen. 007.

--Case Wagenvoord

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mad Math

The only viable response for a financial wizard whose been gulled is denial.

One can be gulled in a variety of ways. There’s the old fashioned con game in which the perpetrator knows he’s trying to cheat the mark out of his money. Then there’s the sincere gull in which a group of individuals convince themselves that a given methodology or approach is so sound that there are no alternatives.

It was the latter that snookered our financial wizards, and the methodology that suckered them in was the belief that risk could be mathematically predicted. According to Martin Hutchinson, the mathematical modeling was based on the mistaken assumption that market movements were random. Were this the case, then future movements of the market could be predicted using linear mathematical equations.

Unfortunate, it wasn’t true.

As Hutchinson points out, randomness only applies in situations in which “tiny variations cause a discrete change in results. Since tiny physical variations are themselves unpredictable, their results are truly random.” Examples are the fall of the ace of spades when the deck is shuffled or the drop of a ball on a roulette wheel.

That isn’t how the market behaves. Hutchinson tells us:

This true randomness almost never holds for economic activities. Some of them are governed by complex underlying equations, impossible for mediocre mathematicians to solve, which produce pseudo-random “chaotic” behavior, in which prices or other variables appear to move randomly but are in reality mostly determinate.

In other words, it is another classic example of fools trying to force the nonlinear movements of the market into linear equations that look good on a computer screen, but don’t tell you shit about what’s going to happen. (It was a situation similar to nineteenth century medicine’s belief in the curative power of magnets which, “draw off the noxious electrical fluid that lay at the foot of suffering.”)

It was a these mathematical models that led Bernanke to pronounce “the great moderation,” a utopian age in which risk had been brought under control, or so he said just before the economy entered “the great meltdown.”

Instead of randomness, chaos and the unknown drive the market, both of which don’t respond to linear, exponential or normal equations with which mathematicians are most familiar. Unknowns can never be expressed mathematically since mathematicians known none of the factors that go into them.

But, what the hell! When you’re dealing with guesswork, it makes your life a lot easier if you can justify your actions with a mathematical formula that is so complex it looks authoritative, even though it is dead wrong.

It is proprietary mathematical models such as these that the banks are using to market their toxic paper to model instead of to market. Of course their crap is worth sixty cents on the dollar, they tell us, because they have the mathematical models to prove it, even though you can’t see them because they are proprietary.

I must correct myself. The banks aren’t holding toxic paper; they’re holding toilet paper so gentle on our assholes we don’t even know we’re being reamed.

After all, numbers never lie. Do they?

--Case Wagenvoord

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Falling Up

Unfortunately for us—and for reformers trying to rescue our post-bubble economy—the history of economic thought has been rewritten in infantile caricature, to give the impression that today’s stripped-down, largely trivialized junk economics is the apex of Western social thought.
--Michael Hudson

That’s history for you—always moving in the direction our ideological prejudices think it should. In the eyes of the corporate state, anything that adds a point or two to an enterprise's profit is “destiny.” Anything that reduces the margin of profit is an anomaly.

This explains why there are people out there who still believe that:

America’s new generation of financial assets that resulted from the recently invented financial process known as “securitization” are fundamentally sound in value, and that an over-reaction on the part of investors to the subprime crises has resulted in a panic-induced collapse in their valuations.

All we have to do, they tell us, is restore confidence in the market, which financial wizards are doing, hand-over-fist, by making the banks appear more profitable than they really are using accounting gimmicks such as marking to model and the creation of pie-in-the-sky scenarios for economic recovery. Once this confidence is restored, they assure us, the toxic assets will no longer be toxic and the latest of our collapsed economic bubbles will miraculously re-inflate itself and God will still be in his heaven.

It’s kind of like believing in the tooth fairy.

When a fool steps off the edge of a cliff, he believes his fall to be progress. I suppose that, in one respect, it is destiny at work. That’s the problem with those who believe in destiny: down is up.

--Case Wagenvoord

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Seeking a Cure

America needs a twelve-step program. We are addicted to looking at the world through the cracked lens of an ideology that died with the Soviet Union. One symptom of our addiction is the need for an enemy, any enemy. If we aren’t threatened by someone or something, we feel naked and exposed.

Over the decades, we have accepted a state of heightened anxiety as the norm. The result is a diabolical feedback loop in which we seek to assuage our anxiety by building up our military-industrial complex. Yet the more military hardware we amass, the more anxious we feel; so we add even more hardware in the hope that we will finally feel secure in our chronic insecurity, which we never do.

And, our media is ever willing to feed our fears since doing so boosts ratings and circulation. Today’s Times contained two items guaranteed to keep us on our toes. It seems Iran launched a missile capable of reaching Israel and Europe. Given the nuclear armaments stockpiled by both Israel and Europe, Iran would have to be brain dead to launch an attack. But then, when has reason ever been allowed to get in the way of anxiety? This calls for another Missile Defense System!

The second item reveals the shocking fact that 1 in 7 released detainees join the jihad. Given the treatment the suffered in detention, that figure shows a remarkable restraint on the part of the world’s Muslims.

Jihad is such as lovely buzz word. It’s much more compressed and alien sounding than Communism. It’s only a matter of time before a Beltway hack coins the neologism, Jihadism, which would make as much sense as Warism.

Of course, there is a metanarrative at work that can be described in one word: oil. It’s running out and we want to control what’s left of it, and being addicted to enemies and arms, our knee-jerk solution is to control it militarily.

It is an old saw that in discussing military matters, amateurs focus on strategy while experts focus on logistics. From a logistical point of view, the idea of America controlling the world’s oil supply militarily is a pipe dream. We could only do so by maintaining a long and very vulnerable supply line, and we’d burn a hell of a lot of fuel doing so. The current military rate of consumption is 3.5 million gallons of oil each day.

The Chinese, on the other hand, had the good sense to dump their ideology. In doing so, they have discovered that it is a hell of a lot cheaper, and burns hell of a lot less fuel, to fly trade delegations around the globe to ink contracts for future oil deliveries and oil field development.

China has gas and oil contracts with Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba, along with pipeline deals with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The bulk of China’s oil imports come from Africa and it has interests in Burma, Vietnam and Malaysia.

All of this without firing a shot.

A congressional study groused that the Chinese contracts come with ”none of the pesky human rights conditions, good governance requirements, approved-project restrictions and environmental quality regulations that characterize US and other Western government investments.” Our missionary zeal dies hard.

China gets the oil, while we get a lot of flag-draped coffins and an ever-deepening addiction to enemies and firepower.

--Case Wagenvoord

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Making the Invisible Hand of the Market Visible

According to the right’s revisionist history of the Great Depression, FDR prolonged it with his New Deal programs. Had he left well enough alone, the Invisible Hand of the Market would have restored economic balance in short order. To them, it was an unforgivable sin to retard our economic recovery with programs that relieved the suffering of millions. It is better that the many suffer so the few may recover.

The Invisible Hand of the Market is an ideology that is treated with the same mystical awe as is God. Like God, the Invisible Hand knows when a sparrow falls. Unlike God, the Invisible Hand builds a fire, cooks it and sells the burn flesh to the starving for a neat profit.

There is one other difference. While God is forever hidden from us, we can make the Invisible Hand visible. Here is what you do:

· Place your elbow on a table with your forearm perpendicular to the surface.
· Make a fist.
· Extend you middle finger heavenward.

There you have it, the Invisible Hand of the Market.

--Case Wagenvoord

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Cheerful Little Thought

Here’s a cheerful little thought from Obama’s top economic advisor, Lawrence Summers, in which he justifies dumping toxic waste in poor countries:

[T]he economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. The measurement of the cost of health-impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wage[1]

There you have it: because the cost per unit of the poor is less than the cost-per-unit of the rich, it follows, ergo/post-hoc/post-haste, that it makes more economic sense to snuff a peasant than a lord. When you kill the poor, you kill idlers, sustenance farmers and slum dwellers; when you kill the prosperous, you kill people just like us, and that simply won’t do!

This is what happens when rational thought is divorced from ethics and morality. The result is the value-free thinking so valued by the social sciences (in its self, a contradiction in terms). The ultimate expression of this type of “thinking” was the holocaust, which was bureaucratic slaughter writ large. It was all policy, goals and objectives. It succeeded because of the management skills that were brought to bear on the question of how to kill all the Jews.

Chris Hedges calls this moral nihilism and cites Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground as an example of it when he points out that,

The main character in Notes from the Underground carries the bankrupt ideas of liberalism to its logical extreme. He becomes the enlightenment ideal. He eschews passion and moral purpose. He is rational. He prizes realism over sanity, even in the face of self-destruction.

There are four moral absolutes which any society must live by if it is to be considered moral: Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie and don’t exploit. You will notice that a prohibition against gay marriage is not included. However, a corporate society loves to get its knickers in a knot over gay marriage because it diverts the public’s attention from the fact that corporatism is quite willing to trash all four of the moral absolutes if it will add a point or two to its profit margin.

All ideologies are exercises in moral nihilism. They all proceed along the steel tracks of their linear thinking and care not who or what is destroyed in the process. Every ideology constructs a castle in the sky, complete with turrets, pediments, gargoyles and towers. Within the walls of this castle, shut off the reality and the world, the ideologue can make his pronouncements with the absolute certainty of one who knows only his master’s voice, be it Marx, Freidman or Rush.

Yes, Summer’s logic is as impeccable as it is amoral; it is an amorality that is well suited to the corporate state as it fights for its survival in this, the swan song of the Age of Capitalism.

--Case Wagenvoord

[1] Richard York, Brett Clark and John Bellamy Foster. “Capitalism in Wonderland.” Monthly Review 61, No. 1 (2009): 6

Monday, May 18, 2009

Winning Dead Hearts and Minds

Mike Whitney tells us 93 children and 25 adult women were killed in an U.S. airstrike on the Afghan village of Bala Baouk.

The youngest was an eight-day-old baby.

Whitney notes that, “Neither Obama nor anyone in his administration has acknowledged that 93 children were killed,” because they're too busy winning hearts and minds to notice.

That’s progress for you. Now we conduct a My Lai from the air. It’s neater that way.

It helps that our supine media doesn’t bother to rush any photojournalists into the area to record the carnage.

What carnage?

--Case Wagenvoord

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Doing God's Will

It’s good to see that the banking industry’s loyal Senate employees danced to their bosses’ tune by turning down an effort to cap credit card interest rates at 15 percent. One-third of all credit card holders are currently paying interest rates between 20 and 41 percent.

According to one newspaper account, “The banking industry, which had some heavy-weight representatives monitoring the vote off of the Senate floor, warned that an interest rate limit could cause a sour reaction in the financial markets.”

In a plutocracy, the proles have but one function and that is to bend over so they can support the financial markets on their collective back.

Only 33 Senators voted for the amendment that would have capped interest rates. Democrats who voted against it said they did so because they thought such an amendment would doom the bill.

What they meant is that opponents of the cap would have threatened a filibuster, thus killing the bill.

If the democrats (sorry, but they don’t deserve an upper-case “d”) had any backbone, they would have forced a filibuster. Making opponents drone on and on in opposition to a cap on interest rates would have smeared both the Republicans and the banking industry with the shit of their own greed. At a time of high unemployment and foreclosures it would have been a public relations disaster to force banking industry controlled senators to defend a forty-percent credit card interest rate.

Opponents of gay marriage are quick to quote the Bible in support of their position. They conveniently ignore the Bible's fifteen condemnations of usury. This is because they consider loan sharking good business and gay marriage immoral.

That is why we’re a Christian nation.

--Case Wagenvoord

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Good Life

Life is so much sweeter under Obama. The evil perpetrated by the Bush administration was done so by an inarticulate idiot; with Obama, the same evil goes down so much easier because it is perpetrated by a smiling and articulate young man who seems to be much too nice to be associated with such nastiness.

He promised us change, and change we are getting. His Justice Department invokes the “State Secrets” doctrine to prevent lawsuits by former detainees who were tortured because, under Obama, they really mean it, whereas Bush invoked the same doctrine simply to hide his administration’s dirty laundry. Obama’s administration was very courteous when it threatened to withhold valuable intelligence from Great Britain if it allowed a suit by a former detainee to go forward, whereas the Bush administration would have been very rude about it.

Now Obama is bringing back military commission to try terrorists who are not accused terrorists because the very fact that they are at Gitmo is prima facie evidence that they are guilty of something.

The fact that he campaigned against these commissions will not stop him from doing his duty as dictated to him by a by the Beltway’s bureaucratic blob that slimes along under the unstoppable force of its own momentum.

It is a comfort to all red-blooded Americans to know that Bush’s eternal war of the empty policy will continue uninterrupted. However, being the good marketer that he is, Obama did go to the trouble to rebrand it.

The only difference between 9/11 and the ’93 bombing of the World Trade Center is that 9/11 succeeded in bringing the towers down. That was the intent of the ’93 bombing. The terrorists parked their van in the South Tower with the expectation that the blast would cause the South Tower to collapse and take the North Tower with it.

What is interesting about the ’93 blast is that without torture, a Patriot Act, a Military Commissions Act, rendition or black holes, all the conspirators were found guilty in a court of law that observed all of the niceties of rules of evidence and defendant rights. Yet, even with torture, a Patriot Act, a Military Commissions Act, rendition and black holes, the 9/11 conspirators are still at large.

(Correction! I think they did catch one, but he was so tortured that he not only confessed to 9/11, but he also confessed to plotting to blow up the Statue of Liberty and to blowing up the USS Maine in Havana harbor.)

Things will improve under Obama. We’ll feel so much better about ourselves as we continue to do the same things over and over again. Our security depends on our ability to produce more terrorists so we can justify the boated defense budget that is necessary to keep us safe because we keep on doing things that produce more terrorists thus necessitating an even bigger defense budget...

This is our vision thing.

--Case Wagenvoord

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Leadership Training

Here’s a scary thought to add to your collection of scary thoughts: All of our current leaders now in power, every one of them, grew up on television.

Think about it.

All of our presidents, CEOs, CFOs, congress folk, mid to senior-level bureaucrats and managers, who are making the decisions that impact on our fate and well being grew up watching westerns, sitcoms, cop shows, cereal commercials and “Gilligan’s Island.”

That’s something to keep you awake nights!

The last president to come of age prior to television was Bush I. (It’s fun to figure out which television shows most influenced the president since him. For Clinton, it was “Soap,” for Obama, “Jeopardy,” and for Bush II, “The Gong Show.”)

One must ask how all this television prepared our leaders for their roles. Well, for starters, we could say it:

· Reduced their attentions span.
· Led them to believe that any problem, no matter how complex, could be easily solved within a sixty-minute format.
· That when confronted with a problem, it was prudent to go with the least objectionable solution.

However, the most profound influence all those hours of television had was to imbue them with the belief that in any given situation, image trumps substance. If it looks good, it is good. If Lucy can clean up the mess before Ricky gets home, there was never a crisis.

We are seeing this dynamic at work with the much-hyped stress tests Treasury administered to our zombie banks. Asia Times columnist Julian Delasantellis does an incisive job of deconstruction the tests.

The banks’ strength was tested against a best-case/worst-case scenario. The problem is that the worst case scenario was too optimistic. As Delasantellis explains,

The problems inherent in this mendacity are obvious. If economic assumptions turn out to be overly rosy, then the assumptions on the banks’ economic health, especially the health of their mortgage, commercial real estate and credit card loan portfolios, should be suspect as well.

In other words, the much-vaunted stress tests were little more than spin. In spite of this, Wall Street popped an orgasm, even though investors should have been able to see through the scam. That only goes to show that greed rots the brain.

Delasantellis said,

I heard more than a few market commentators opine that is was due to a feeling that Geithner had morphed into Alexander the Great and had at last cut the Gordian knot. The problem of bank toxic mortgage and other collateralized assets that had bedeviled the markets for coming up two years now had finally been solved, and much in contravention to what spoilsports and worrywarts like me have been saying, the problem’s not all that massive.

So now all we hear about is the green sprouts pushing themselves out of the muck of economic ruin. The possibility of these shoots are poison ivy is ignored because the end credits are rolling, and all has ended well; Beaver has confessed his sins with such sincerity that dad has doubled his allowance as a reward for his mischief.

So, we can all sleep well tonight knowing that life is just one big sit com.

--Case Wagenvoord

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Social Contract?

I love Matt Taibbi. Usually, the Rolling Stone writer is right on. However, he missed the target in a recent piece when he wrote:

The Social contract has to be considered broken when some dumb schmuck can go to jail for five real years for selling a bag of weed while a guy who went to Harvard and Wharton and had all possible advantages gets nothing but a bailout and a temporarily lowered bonus regime for destroying billions of public wealth.

Social contract? You mean there’s a social contract? Then where in the fuck is it? In what dusty bin of our national archives is it being stored? Was it shredded with the Big Dick’s documents, or with the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions?

Have we ever had a social contract? You know, that mythical document praised by Hume, Locke and Rousseau, the contract in which the public agrees to be governed in exchange for certain civil liberties that are guaranteed by the state.

Whoops! Silly me. A social contract is normally found in democratic republics that exist by the consent of the governed. The first thing a plutocracy does when it achieves power is to burn the damn thing.

Plutocrats can do that because they have the money and the spin to dumb down the public until it votes for a branded image instead of a platform. We saw this with Obama’s election as he rode into the White House on a political platform that consisted of five words: "Change you can believe in," with change being defined as no change other than the public being screwed with a smile instead of a sneer.

Medieval peasants had a social contract that consisted of mutual obligation between peasant and lord. The peasants had the sense to revolt when the lord failed to meet his obligations. We’re too damn polite to do the same.

There are no peasants in the corporate state because there are no reciprocal obligations between the rulers and the ruled. The Beltway and Wall Street are fortified castles surrounded by the grass huts of a public that is sinking slowly into despair and impoverishment.

Nowadays, the lords’ retainers wear suits instead of ermine and armor, and they carry leather shoulder bags instead of swords. Had they lived in medieval times, they would have been called brigands; now they head up the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve.

--Case Wagenvoord

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A clarification

I will continue to post on this site. The only difference is that the loving scorn and compassionate sarcasm will be written in my name.

It's Time!

The time has come for Belacqua Jones to ride into the sunset. It’s been a wonderful six-year run, but he’s finally come to the end of the trail.

Several factors played into this decision. First, and foremost, it just ain’t the same without George! The blog began as “Open Letters to George W. Bush.” After the election, I tried several different approaches, but none of them had the same bite.

I was also starting to feel constrained by Belacqua’s persona and point of view, and I noticed that my posts were drifting towards a more expository style.

However, even though Belacqua is gone, the snark and bite will remain. The only difference is that now I can have more fun.

I look forward to your comments and feedback.

--Case Wagenvoord

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Fed Plays Softball with the Banks

Someone at the Fed didn’t get the word. This deluded individual thought the bank stress tests were about evaluating the banks’ ability to survive a further downturn in the economy.


The stress tests were part of an elaborate PR campaign to restore investor confidence by pretending that terminally ill banks are hale and hearty. According the to the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal,

The Federal Reserve significantly scaled back the size of the capital hole facing some of the nation’s biggest banks shortly before concluding its stress tests, following two weeks of intense bargaining.

Of course they did. You can’t go around scaring investors by telling the truth. For example, the original stress test showed Citibank with a gaping $35 billion capital hole. This simply wouldn’t do, so the hole miraculously shrank to $5.5 billion.

According to the paper, “Bank of America was ‘shocked’ when it saw its initial figure, which was more than $50 billion, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.” So, the Fed obligingly reduced it to $33.9 billion.

The paper then reassures us that, “Government officials defended their handling of the stress tests, saying they were responsive to industry feedback while maintaining the tests’ rigor.”

This is like a court of law being responsive to a criminal’s feedback when it comes time to sentence him.

Apparently, the Bank’s derivative holdings were not a factor when conducting the tests. Writer Mark Whitney quotes F. William Engdahl who points out that five U.S. banks hold 96% of all US bank derivatives. These are the credit default swaps everyone is talking about.

JP Morgan Chase is sitting on $88 trillion of these babies, with Bank of America holding $38 trillion and Citibank with $32 trillion.

But, Bernanke assures us that the banks are healthy.

Of course they are. Any corpse looks healthy if you rub enough rouge into its cheeks.

--Belacqua Jones

Friday, May 8, 2009

There are no classes in our classless society except those we ignore.

It’s a real gas pretending to be what we aren’t while denying what we are.

It is a privilege to live in a classless society in which class divisions grow by the day. Because, how can we have class divisions in America when we’re all middle class? As Scott Tucker puts it, “Like a magical incantation, the phrase ‘middle class’ served to submerge the general public in a warm bath of classless solidarity.”

Since we are all middle class, no child goes to bed hungry; we have no homeless sleeping in the doorways of our shuttered stores. No parent frets over a fever racked child because they are without health insurance. No family has a kitchen drawer full of maxed-out credit cards because they are desperately trying to keep up the appearance of a comfortable middle class lifestyle as their standard of living slowly sinks with the setting sun.

In our classless utopia, there is no racism. We are a land of equal opportunity for all who are well heeled and well connected. Endless prosperity is ours even though our deserted factories rust and decay. But, who cares as long as we can continue to charge cheap imports made in the sweat shop of countries that are torn by class divisions.

And overseeing our classless dreamworld is our oligarchs, snug in Kafka’s castle hidden in the mist atop its mountain.

There is one exception to this classless world of ours. Our oligarchs live in fear of class consciousness but do all they can to fan the flames of class resentment. The more poor whites look down of poor blacks and poor Mexicans, the less the chance that the poor will, some day, realize that they’re all in the same boat and become pissed off enough to march up the mountain towards the castle with torches blazing. This resentment is especially important as more and more of the middle class join the ranks of the poor.

Class resentment paralyzes, which is why the traditional wedge issues like gay marriage and illegal immigration are such powerful weapons. Our oligarchs want America to remain a corporate state. As Tucker says, “There is a world of difference between class resentment and class consciousness. Politically, this is indeed one of the sharpest dividing lines between fascism and socialism.”

The American public has been properly conditioned to view socialism with such abhorrence that they will rush to embrace fascism if given the choice, which, of course, they never will since that would be too democratic and be too reminiscent of a classless society, which we are even if we aren’t.

--Belacqua Jones

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Upgrading Capital Punishment

If there’s one reason the country’s in such a sorry shape it's wimpy executions. Let’s face it, lethal injections are nothing more than a penal ER. This negates the whole purpose of the execution, which is to instill fear in would-be perpetrators by prolonging the agony of death and doing so as publicly as possible. A slow death in prime time would send a powerful message.

There is one form of execution that not only meets the above criteria, but, if handled right, could prove to be a substantial revenue stream. I am speaking of that God-fearing, biblically sanction form of capital punishment, stoning.

Death by stoning is long and drawn out, and you could prolong the agony by making the condemned wear a bicycle helmet, thus placating the consumer safety lobby. The deterrent effect is obvious.

And think of the money it would generate if it were televised. It would be an easy thirty share. The charge for a thirty-second spot would put the Super Bowl to shame.

But it doesn’t stop there. Let our country’s corporations pay through their noses to put their corporate logos on each stone.

But the really big bucks would be in auctioning off the right to cast the first stone. Our bankers and politicians would fall all over themselves for this privilege.

The public is ready for the transition to agonizing executions. Duly desensitized by slasher films and torture memos, it is primed for the gore of a bloody death.

--Belacqua Jones

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Increasing Probability by Not Increasing It

There is more to the mainstream media than propaganda. Its main function is described by one of those psychological terms that say everything by saying nothing. Our oligarchs are well aware than an anxious public is much easier to control than one that is unafraid. Anxiety isolates; courage is the foundation of solidarity, and we saw how much trouble solidarity caused in Poland.

It is the media’s duty to stimulate a state of availability heuristic in the public. This is the ability of the mind to subjectively increase the probability of an event happening in direct proportion to the ease with which it can be thought of. In other words, if the media shills something, like swine flu, then the public believes the probability of their catching it increases as the media coverage increases even though the probability remains unchanged.

The availability heuristic offers all sorts of possibility to the state. Its sophisticated application enables to state to direct the public’s anxiety in any direction it chooses.

For example, the probability of being killed by lightening is 1:280,000. Let’s say the state wanted to create an irrational fear of lightning. All of a sudden the media is flooded with stories of lightning strikes. “The Lightning Threat” becomes the lead story on the evening news. Survivors of victims tell their tearful stories. A computerized map illustrates the number of lightning strikes by state. Long shots of clusters of police cars, fire trucks and ambulances, their red lights flashing, clustered around the body of another lightening victim, fill the screen.

Congressmen introduce legislation mandating that anyone leaving their house during a thunderstorm must wear a lightening rod strapped to their head

And the public buys into it because, in their minds, the probability of being killed by lightning has increased even though it remained the same.

We saw a stunning example of this in the years following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The idea of emancipated blacks is anathema to our democracy, so it was decided that if we couldn’t segregate them, we could incarcerate them.

All of a sudden, crime made the front page and the media was resplendent with images of “perp walks” that featured only black suspects. As these images flooded the airways and newspapers, the public came to believe that the probability of being a victim of a black criminal had increased even though it remained unchanged.

The ploy succeeded beautifully as blacks began to fill out jails, and politicians fell all over themselves trying to prove how “tough” they were on crime.

Goebbels was such a primitive. It wasn’t his fault, though. He didn’t have the advanced tools of modern psychology at his disposal.

--Belacqua Jones

Monday, May 4, 2009

How to give the torture test.

It’s time we put an end to all this torture talk by declaring that there is no longer such a thing as torture. The entire concept of torture has been defined away in a series of policy statements.

The beauty of policy is that it can coat the most garish of brutalities with the beige slime of value-free language thus removing the atrocity from the cauldron of evil and reducing it to a matter of bureaucratic routine.

Our Department of Justice has stated very clearly that if a procedure does not kill, cause the loss of a bodily organ or the loss of a bodily function, it is not torture. And they should know because they're all lawyers. In other words, if the subject leaves the interrogation room alive and with all his organs in place and functioning, he wasn’t tortured, no matter how bloodied or traumatized he is.

There is an easy test to demonstrate this truth, which I call it the Gonzales test. The next time someone complains about torture, ask them to place the first joint of their index finger on a hard, flat surface. Then take a ball-peen hammer and slam it down on the fingernail with all the force you can muster.

It hurts like hell, but it ain’t torture because:

· It didn’t kill them.
· A fingernail isn’t a bodily organ.
· No bodily function was impaired except picking his nose.

Case closed.

Carry the ball-peen hammer with you, and the next time some bleeding heart starts moaning about the evils of torture, ask him to place the first joint of his index finger on a hard, flat surface…

--Belacqua Jones

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Raising Innocent Children

We have disabused ourselves of much of the Victorian baggage that found its highest expression in the grey flanneled conformity of the fifties, with one exception—a belief in the innocence of childhood. The reason it’s held on for so long is that it’s a cash cow for educators and marketers, even though the distinction between the two is beginning to fade.

It is, however, an innocence limited to children with blonde hair and white skin. Children who fall outside this category are expendable with the degree of expendability increasing in direct proportion to the darkness of the skin. It’s okay if Haitian children eat mud pies as long as our children are fed a healthy diet. It’s not racism; it’s economics.

The children of hunter-gatherers and sustenance farmers face two choices: either become wage slaves or die. The transition to wage slaves is only possible if the children are herded into classrooms where they are taught both the value of being on time and how to endure make-work expanded to fill a preordained period of time regardless of how mindless it is.

This is called saving their souls.

If they are lucky, such a transition prepares them for a career in the village sweatshop. If they are not lucky, they win a shanty in the nearest metroslum.

It’s different for towheads. They are raised in sanitary bubbles where their innocence is protected with a vengeance. They are preened, pampered and catered to. They are strangers to disappointment, hardship and hunger. Life, for them, is a horn of plenty from which pours an endless stream of toys and electronic gadgets designed to stimulate and distract even as they numb the intellect.

Within these bubbles, the darkness and misery of the world are shut out, and the young grow up into lives driven by exceptionalism and entitlement. No child starves within the bubble; no child has it viscera splattered over the pavement by a bomb.

Within the bubble, all is light and gaiety even though the light is artificial and the gaiety forced.

The upshot of all this is that the grey conformity of the fifties has been replaced by the polychromatic conformity of the oughts. (At least in the fifties you could smoke in a restaurant.)

Towheads are the children of the light who, when they grow up, will continue to spread the doctrine of darkness to the hunter-gatherers and sustenance farmers of the world, if any are left.

--Belacqua Jones

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Swine Flu Saves the Day

Bigotry doesn’t grow on its own. Not only must it be nurtured and cared for, but it requires massive doses of the fertilizer of anxiety and fear before can reach its full potential. This is why we have a media, to insure an unlimited supply of said fertilizer.

However, not any old fertilizer will do. An efficient fertilizer is one that pushes one of the many hot buttons within the public’s psyche. For decades, Communism was a great fertilizer, but not because it offered an alternative to capitalism. What incensed the public about the communists was that they were “godless,” and nobody messes with God.

(Before going any further, we must distinguish between hard bigotry—overt racism—and soft bigotry, which has the benevolent aim of elevating our “lesser beings.” Hard bigotry sneers; soft bigotry smiles. Hard is for the lower classes; soft is for the educated classes.)

After the fall of the Soviet Union, bigotry fell on hard times. With 9/11, it looked as if terrorism would fill the void. Unfortunately, while collapsing buildings make one hell of a media show, terrorists and Islamofascist simply didn’t touch any of our hot buttons. And without an inflamed hot button, there can be little or no bigotry.

All of this is about to change. The media is now churning out a new fertilizer that approaches perfection. It doesn’t just push one hot button, it pushes multiple buttons.

A recent phenomenon is the appearance in supermarkets of sanitary wipes so shoppers can swab down the handles of their shopping carts to protect themselves from the crud left on the handle by the previous low-life shopper.

The wipes feed into America’s chronic germophobia, bacillophobia and bacterophobia. However, all of these are but symptoms of the mother of all phobias, mysophobia, an irrational fear of dirt. These are all media produced phobias that have the public popping antibiotics at the first appearance of a runny nose, while scrubbing themselves down with antibacterial soap as they slather antibacterial lotion on their hands.

Thus was the public primed for the appearance of The Swine Flu Threat.

It doesn’t get much better than this because it feeds into the public’s mysophobia. Pigs are dirty; dirt carries germs. Therefore, where other types of flu are benign, swine flu must be virulent because it comes from dirty, germy pigs.

Even better, it comes from the land of illegal immigrants, Mexico.

Already we are hearing cries to seal the border to protect the American people from this threat to our well being. We’re not prejudice; we just want to stay healthy so we can enjoy the good life.

It makes no difference that swine flu differs little from the garden variety flu, or that every year 36,000 Americans die from this garden variety. Swine flu rocks as a media event! Cable anchors are breathless as media medical consultants intone. The numbers are duly tallied for each state as Obama calls for $1.5 billion to prepare the nation for the pandemic he says is not a threat.

Schools are closed; flights are cancelled; suspected victims are quarantined; restaurants and theaters are shuttered.

And America eyes the border over which hordes of infected illegal immigrants pour.

Bigotry is such fun when it surfaces. Thanks God for our pigs.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Our Empire of Boredom

Empire’s driving force is neither strength nor brutality. They are important, but they are only the tires on empire’s vehicle. The engine that sets empire into motion is the serene barbarity of the civilized.

Strength and brutality are children of dysfunction. But serene barbarity is the child of normality and reason. The serene barbarian uses his gifts of abstraction and reason to neutralize the restraints of morality because he believes that his barbarity is not barbarity but is a moral act that is serving his nation's destiny, whatever that is.

The serene barbarian is smooth of face and bland of features. Seated at his desk beneath a bank of fluorescent lights, he sets into motion the banal policies that leave blood and destruction in their wake. All the while, his face is open and pleasant as he pauses to stare for a moment at the picture of his wife and child on his desk.

The paradox of the serene barbarian is that he was raised as an innocent. He never knew hardship or saw a body torn and bleeding, nor has he ever been a victim of misfortune. His barbarity is one nurtured by boredom.

The serene barbarian thrives because the Devil has repositioned himself. There is no more sulfurous smoke or burning pits of eternal damnation. No more do you find him at moonlit crossroads. Now he strides towards you across a restaurant floor dressed in a Brooks Brother suit and wingtips. He takes you by the hand and tells you how glad he is to see you, and in the warmth of his greeting, all your doubts and anxieties vanish and you feel you have found peace and identity.

It’s all so serene, so peaceful, so comprehensive.