Friday, April 1, 2011

Getting to the Truth

The images have been compelling. The Middle East seems to be engulfed in rebellion and war, insurrection and insurgency.

Except for the days when we were distracted by the horrifying images coming out of Japan, we must feel that we have been watching an unfolding revolution.

Yet, since most of us do not have any direct connection to the events in Yemen or Syria or Egypt or Libya, we tend to watch the televised version as though it were an epic tele-drama.

Given his own inexperience with matters of policy, Barack Obama seems also to have seen it as a drama, and to have decided that he could play a starring role in it.

So, by the time the rebellion reached Libya, Obama decided that it would be advantageous for him to inject himself into it. He believed that clear, decisive actions would make him look more presidential.

As I’ve said, it’s all political theatre, put on to benefit Barack Obama’s election campaign.

By now, however, the American public has caught on to the ruse and does not believe that our president is a decisive leader.

But, the play isn’t over yet, and we should prepare for the denouement when the dictator falls. Whether Kaddhafi is killed or exiled, the end of his regime will be touted by the Obama administration as a moment when we killed the terrorist tyrant.

Where George W. Bush failed with Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama succeeded with Moammar Kaddhafi. Given that this administration has mastered the art of manipulating images, I am persuaded that it will play the events in Libya to produce a happy ending.

The more we become enthralled by to the stories coming out of Libya and the rest of the Middle East, the less we will see the truth of an administration that is badly out of its depth, floundering in an effort to look like it is leading.

And let’s keep in mind that the Libya operation was sold on the basis of a fiction. We sent Tomahawk missiles into Libya because we were horrified at the possibility that Kaddhafi was going to massacre countless people in Benghazi.

How did we know? Because he said he would, and, of course, we always take tyrants at their word.

Might it have been that he was trying to scare the residents of Benghazi into surrendering? It could be, but, in a world where images count as reality, no one seems to have bothered to consider that possibility.

As truth would have it, the Obama foreign policy team seems to be led by a bunch of second rate bumblers, people who do not know what they are doing, who are making it up as they go along.

One day we are told that we might arm the rebels. The next day we hear that the rebels seem to contain elements of al Qaeda, so maybe it’s not such a great idea to arm them. Maybe we should leave it for the French and the British.

Because arming al Qaeda is OK if it is done by our NATO allies.

While we are patting ourselves on the back for having forestalled a potential massacre, we should also consider that Libya might very well be headed for a decades-long civil war… the kind that has been going on in Algeria.

How many people will be massacred if that comes to pass?

You know, and I know, that once Obama gets the denouement he wants, he will declare victory and leave the Libyans to their fate.

Surely, civil war is more likely than an outbreak of liberal democracy.

One day, our know-nothing Secretary of State declares that since the Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad, is a reformer, we are not going to bring our political theatre to his end of the Mediterranean. The next day, Mrs. Clinton walks it all back by saying that, maybe Assad is not such a reformer. She was just repeating what she had heard.

The images are so dramatic that we are going to be lulled into thinking that it does not really matter who these rebels are. In the same way conjuring images of potential genocide in Benghazi was sufficient to get Obama to “let slip the dogs of war.”

Speaking of distracting images, the turmoil in the Middle East is also distracting us from our current economic problems.

Ah, yes, you will say, the economy is improving, the administration’s economic nostrums are working, and we are well on the road to recovery.

By using the Middle East to distract us, the administration and its media enablers has skillfully convinced most people that the economy is going great guns. The worst is over. America is back.

Of course, all of the feel-good economic news is a mirage that is being set up to lull us into voting for Obama.

Unless something really bad happens to the economy, it might very well work.

These images of economic recovery have a distinctly political effect. The more America feels that the economy is shifting into high gear, the less it will feel that it needs radical fixes. The more it feels like America is creating jobs and wealth, the less people will support fiscal austerity measures. The richer we are the more we will feel that we can tax our way out of our problems. If it should happen that austerity measures are enacted while everyone thinks the economy is doing great, and if it should happen that the economy then heads south, who do you think the media will blame?

Anyway, the truth about the economy is out there. Just as the truth about the Obama foreign policy is out there. And it will appear as soon as we look beyond the series of addictive images that are being flashed at us.

But, where do you find the truth? You probably do not want to rely too heavily on any of the masses of Obama detractors out there. Meaning: you are probably not going to take my word for it. It is better to look at the analyses offered by real Democrats, putative Obama supporters who cannot be accused of painting a bleak scenario to score political points.

Strange as it may see, I found some good analyses in the pages of the Huffington Post. Their authors were Robert Reich and Richard Eskow.

Whatever one thinks of their policy solutions, these analyses allow us to start the process of weaning ourselves from the images of economic recovery. They force us to face some hard truths about our current financial condition.

If there is anything the Obama administration does not want to hear, it is Robert Reich‘s opinion that the economy is on the verge of a second recession. A double dip, as they call it. Link here.

Of course, the images we have been seeing, not least in the stock market action, make this appear delusional. But we know that we should always grant more credence to opinion that runs counter to the conventional wisdom.

As Reich points out, both the Obama administration and Wall Street have a vested interest in keeping us addicted to images of economic recovery. I would add Obama’s media enablers to the list.

Reich begins by pointing out that consumer confidence is plummeting. A less confident consumer, he adds, is not going to rush out to spend money. Less spending is very bad for the economy. It is also deflationary.

While job growth is positive, it is still anemic. At the rate the economy is adding jobs now, it will take eight years to grow back to full employment.

Of course, Reich adds, it is good that GDP is growing, but, the current rate of 2.5% or so is well below the growth rates registered in prior recessions. As economic recoveries go, this one is feeble, indeed.

And then, housing prices are continuing to drop and government stimulus is about to end.

We can also note that while everyone is cheering the new 8.8% unemployment rate, Gallup just reported that “underemployment” has just reached 20.3%. Link here.

Surely, this contributes to the low consumer confidence.

Also writing in the Huffington Post, Richard Eskow offers a sobering analysis of the state of the American mortgage market. He seems to be suggesting that as the mortgage market goes, so goes the financial system, and so goes our vaunted reserve currency. Link here.

If I had to summarize Eskow’s idea, he is saying that the largesse of the Federal Reserve has allowed us to build a grand economic edifice… on quicksand.

Were it not for the images we are watching on television, we would be able to see the dire truth.

As Eskow explains: “The mortgage crisis in this country doesn't get much attention in Washington these days, but it's huge. It's so huge, in fact, that it dwarfs most of the economic issues that have Washington in their grip. It's so huge that it's dragging down our entire economy. It's so huge that the numbers can be difficult to picture.”

The decline in the price of housing has translated into a loss of wealth for many, many Americans. Over the past three years, Eskow asserts, Americans have lost close to $7 trillion in wealth as the value of their homes has declined.

By way of comparison, this year’s federal budget comes in below $4 trillion.

A declining housing market has made many houses worth less than their mortgages. As the saying goes, they are under water.

So, homeowners who are paying their mortgages are not building equity; they are bailing out the banking system. They are, in point of fact, paying “money for nothing.”

The banking system is doing just fine, thank you.

How much money is being sucked out of the economy to pay for mortgages that are under water? Eskow says that the number is: $250 billion.

I would venture that Reich and Eskow are concerned that America’s financial house of cards is going to crumble before the next election. I would assume that their motives contain a taint of partisanship.

And yet, when it comes to de-toxing from the slew of images that has addled far too many brains, we need to start somewhere. These analyses are a good place to start taking a cold, hard look at the truth of our condition and to begin our journey toward sobriety.

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