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House of Cards

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House of Cards

America today is not the only empire, but it is one that has consistently formulated itself around the ideologies of corporate business, the military, big government, and religious self-righteousness.  Mass marketing itself and mass exploiting others with military back-up when needed to make itself the biggest and most powerful ever known. Superficially, the empire has used the media interface of corporate business, the well known media companies themselves such as Time-Warner, to keep the general public ill-advised and readily entertained with pulp writing, pulp broadcasting, and computer activities and internet surfing.

The government and military combine to provide "reliable information" from "reliable sources" who wish to remain "anonymous" and thus create a mystique of underhanded cleverness and consequently apparent correctness of information. The CIA along with other putative non-governmental organizations operates 'think tanks' and 'institutes' to disseminate stories and scare tactics (and significant amounts of money) within America and offshore. Religious groups, now fully into the swing of projecting their interests into the corridors of power, have become more and more publicly involved in the political process, allowing their messianic beliefs and self-righteousness to carry the balance of power, especially within the half of government known as the Republican party, with the other half, the Democrats, mentally supining themselves in order to appear no less patriotic in their pummelling of the world.

The American image still remains strong around the world, and that is readily understood as an image created by a massive corporate and government propaganda effort that displays the finest of American tinsel and glitter and gloss. It would be wonderful but highly unrealistic to imagine a world without that advertising, without the constant images that subtly extol the virtues of American freedoms and purchasing power, the easy life with powerful cars, sexy women, and all the glamour of Hollywood and all the techno-glitter of Apple i-pods. It is a society built upon these images, upon the instant gratification and apparent wealth that is created in this wonderful entity called the United States of America.

The mythologies of 'rugged individualism' (as compared to corporate welfare), of Disneyesque happy-ever-after-lands (now found within gated communities and barred roads that keep the uglies out), of 'free markets' (as compared to agricultural subsidies and illegal immigrants), of 'productivity and growth' (while many OECD countries have higher productivity working less time with better benefits), of a classless society (fully debunked by anyone looking at crime statistics, incarceration rates, educational levels, and many other demographic factors), of 'rule of law' and 'transparency of government' (when most military contracts are no bids, and the executive is run by a group of unelected patronage and corporate power positions) are readily bought into by a largely complacent public and accepted worldwide, at least with the powerful elites in governments, with the idealized transparency and rule of law delivered mostly through economic coercion by way of the fully non-democratic and non-transparent WTO, IMF, World Bank and various other trade agreements not supported by the populace.

Conversely, the propaganda constantly reduces the rest of the world as being 'old' (as in Europe), or lacking in 'modernity' (as in the Middle East), or being 'corrupted cronyism' (as in Africa and Asia), or more basically, simply the 'other', a lesser breed of humanity to be looked down upon, creatures that may or may not be able to uplift themselves to American standards of institutional and personal excellence, but either way are useful commodities as labourers, extractors of wealth, and maybe but not paramount, as consumers. Anything that touches upon the horrors of 'socialism' or 'social democracy' anything that denies the commodification of essentials to life, now extending to genetically modified foods, water, and the basic genetic structures of indigenous plants and animals including human genetics as well, anything that denies ownership of resources to the 'forces of the market' rather than to the benefit of the workers that produce the wealth or the nation that possesses it – all this is considered sacrilege to the American controlled global financial gurus and prophets.

The 'neutral' market must rule everything, unsullied by morals, allowing 'la crème de la crème' to rise to the top while the rest are uplifted by the 'trickle down' effect, whereas the reality shows that markets are anything but neutral, never truly free, and from many of the court cases seen as with Enron, and Arthur Andersen, highly immoral. The rich take care of themselves first, witness the savings and loans scandal of the 1980s, and Bush's failed business attempts and the buyout of Harken Oil, and the interactions of the Saudis with BCCI, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and the billions of dollars made by Prince Bandar and the Saudi government, who supported the Wahhabi fundamentalist sect within their own Islamic theocracy. Nothing neutral or free, or transparent or under rule of law with these operators. The poor, those stuck in Katrina's aftermath in New Orleans, the blacks segregated by white emigration out of Detroit, the 40 million without medical coverage, all know the lie about trickle down economics and the supposed uplifting effects of neutral market forces. The trickle down effect is negated by the sucking sound of the wealthy absorbing the profits from the huge consumer appetites created in the American public, and from the huge government demands for more money to pursue its military efforts around the world, and from laws and taxes that are written by the wealthy, for the wealthy.

This wonderful financial powerhouse unfortunately relies now more than ever before on the creation of debt to supply the wealth and keep the economy 'growing'. It is a financial institute built with the strength of a house of cards, susceptible to any stray currents within the financial markets of the world, or susceptible to some other marketers destabilizing it all with a few puffs of air, a whisper or rumour of 'selling' American owned debt, causing the cards to tumble and scatter uncontrollably. Globalization has come home to roost (pardon the mixed metaphor, but perhaps one can consider the 'house of cards' to be the 'roost', a very shaky, unsteady one).

"The economy, stupid."

Bill Clinton's electoral campaign targeted economic factors as a crucial point in deciding the outcome of his presidential campaign. The phrase is still applicable and probably will be for a while in one manner or another. But I also relate to it on a personal basis.
Economists live in a wonderfully purified world of jargon that most outside the economic literati, such as myself, have a great deal of trouble understanding what they are truly saying. This study, the 'science' of money and men has been called a " a dreary, desolate and, indeed, quite abject and distressing one; what we might call, by way of eminence, the dismal science.[emphasis added] " Coined at a time when economics was encountering emancipation, the relationship would end up giving "birth to progenies and prodigies; dark extensive moon-calves, unnameable abortions, wide-coiled monstrosities, such as the world has not seen hitherto!"[1] More applicable today it is a dismal science because in all reality there is nothing scientific about it.

Economists do use mathematics a lot, especially statistics, but there is no scientific method of experimental deconstruction that relates to what they do, which is mostly talk about the wonderful statistics they create. Statistics, for those who have studied them without delving into the details, can be used for both sides of many arguments, according to the manner in which a phrase is turned around that statistic and what supporting data are included or left out. Opinion polls are example of statistics that are meaningless in the 'real' world as they are exactly that, an opinion, not reality, although the opinions on diverse topics are often represented as great truths.

The GDP is the most obvious statistical effort to hide what is happening in the world, as most countries do have increases in their GDP when they encounter the IMF, and the World Bank, as in Mexico where the statistic does not reveal the increasing gap between rich and poor, the impoverishment of the farmers as American subsidized corn destroys their markets, and an economy that relies on the billions of dollars in remittances from illegal immigrants to support those left at home. It is all a wonderful economic fairy tale that allows the IMF and World Bank to rationalize their own economic goodness and continue on with a losing cause with no apparent remorse for the damages incurred along the way.

Trying to understand what the economic problems of the United States are took some time for me to get through the jargon, but it reduces down to a few simple applications that any householder running an intelligent monthly budget based on money in and money out can understand.

The basis of the problem is that U.S. industrial production has declined significantly over the past two decades, while the service sector has grown immensely to become the "new dominant economic sector. Debt was a critical enabler."[2] In other words, economic 'wealth' and 'growth' in America has been created by the manipulations of a huge debt; wealth and growth are flimsy statistical apparitions that could vanish quickly if someone shouted "boo" at the appropriate time. The economy is financed by debt, and "this debt and credit revolution constitutes the third major peril hanging over the future of the United States" (the other two being the military/oil connection and the rise of the Republican theocracy).[3]

The U.S. economy has always been based on consumption as previous historical events have attested to, leading to the first level of debt, that of the consumers. Americans have kept their economy rolling as "consumer spending accounted for more than two-thirds of the $11 trillion national economy" with "many consumers unable to resist the overpowering mantra: spend, spend, spend..." that comes "pouring out of Madison Avenue's American dream machine."[4]

As an aside, but a significant one, it should be noted that war is also a major 'consumptive' enterprise, consuming large amounts of raw materials and human resources for production, consuming lives and their future contributions to a whole society on a large scale, and consuming the environment through chemical weapons and land-mines/cluster bombs left behind to consume even more after the war is 'over'. Direct military expenditures are 4 per cent of the GDP,[5] but an accounting of all other 'militarized' damages as above and other militarized budgets (war in Iraq/Afghanistan, the CIA, anything related to 'homeland terror', aid to Israel and other countries) would raise this proportion significantly. Consumption truly is an American way of life and death. The cost of war in Iraq alone - and not including costs to Iraq per se, but costs incurred by America - is conservatively estimated at 1.2 trillion dollars[6]– a figure largely and truly unimaginable – it is simply a grotesquely big number that defies comprehension of its consequences.

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Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and analyst who examines the world through a syncretic lens. His analysis of international and domestic geopolitical ideas and actions incorporates a lifetime of interest in current events, a desire to (more...)

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