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Sunday, December 14, 2008


and that's not a word i use lightly...!

lithiumcola in daily kos (with apologies to fair use)...

In the January issue of Harper's Magazine (not online yet), Linda J. Bilmes, lecturer in public finance at Harvard's Kennedy School, and Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and University Professor of Economics at Columbia, describe the cost of the Bush Presidency in an article titled "The $10 Trillion dollar hangover: Paying the Price for the Bush years."

The result of deficit spending is debt. When President Bush took office, the national debt was $5.7 trillion. Now it is $10.6 trillion -- and Congress voted in October to raise the debt ceiling to $11.3 trillion, the seventh such hike since President Bush to office and the second since last July. If, as is quite likely, we reach the new ceiling by January 20, the outgoing President will have managed to amass more debt than all of his predecessors combined.

Bilmes and Stiglitz further state, "the total bill for Bush-era excess -- the total new debt combined with the total new accrued obligations -- amounts to $10.35 trillion."

In that time -- that is to say, in the time that Washington was racking up that excess, using that money for something-or-other; the time from when President Bush took office to now -- the cost of a family health insurance premium has gone up 87%; the number of uninsured people has gone up 19%; the number of families living in poverty has gone up 19%; real median household income has dropped 1%; and corporate profits have gone up 68%.

[T]he worst legacy of the past eight years is that despite colossal government spending, most Americans are worse off than they were in 2001. This is because money was squandered in Iraq and given as a tax windfall to America's richest individuals and corporations, rather than spent on such projects as education, infrastructure, and energy independence, which would have made us all better off in the long term.

In this context, the opinion offered by Stephen Moore, a member of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, to Wolf Blitzer, on the Dec.14th airing of CNN's Late Edition, that the Big Three Auto companies should not be given a $14 billion dollar loan because "This is the natural order of things," is instructive.

The job of any propagandist is to make the situation that most benefits the client seem like "the natural order of things," as Edward Bernays pointed out in his 1928 book Propoganda. The idea is not to tell the population that should want something, but to so arrange the surrounding air of opinion as to make the wanting seem natural, the population's own idea. Mark Crispin Miller describes the process like this, in his introduction to the 2004 edition (viewable at Google book search:

Bernays's sold Mozart pianos, for example, not just by hyping pianos. Rather, he sought carefully "to develop public acceptance of the idea of a music room in the home" -- selling the pianos indirectly, through various suggestive trends and enterprises that make it de rigueur to have the proper space for a piano.

The music room will be accepted because it has been made the thing. And the man or woman who has a music room, or has arranged a corner of the parlor as a musical corner, will naturally think of buying a piano. It will come to him as his own idea.

pp. 19-20

The idea that a national or global parlor room, which is to say "the natural order of things," could be so constructed, was taken by Bernays from Walter Lippmann. Miller writes:

While Lippmann's argument is freighted with complexities and tinged with the melancholy of a disillusioned socialist, Bernays's adaptation of it is both simple and enthusiastic: "We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of." These "invisible governors" are a heroic elite, who cooly keep it all together, thereby "organizing chaos," as God did in the Beginning. "It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive to find new ways to bind and guide the world." . . . It is a sort of managerial aristocracy that quietly determines what we buy and how we vote and what we deem as good or bad. "They govern us," the author writes, "by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure."

What is of interest, then, to one interested in democratic thought and conversation, will be those moments when the "managerial aristocracy" most demonstrably fails in its just-under-the-surface societal obligation to organize chaos, "to supply needed ideas," to construct a parlor room that anyone within shouting distance of their own right mind would consider acceptably "de rigueur."

The point here is not that it is at a moment like this when the public decides to break an unspoken contract with pundits and the politicians and the CEO's -- a contract under which we all agree to discuss only the issues they bring up, to debate these issues in the same terms as they do on TV. There never was any such contract. The point is that moments when the pundits and the politicians and the CEO's fail to create and discuss a minimally tolerable "natural order of things" are also the moments when the alleged contract just mentioned is most glaringly shown to be nothing more than a part of that fabricated natural order.

Ordinarily, a crisis for the population is not a crisis for the propagandist; it is simply a new thing to talk about. A crisis that can be described -- however labyrinthine the description -- as originating from somewhere other than the parlor room can be used to sell the population a new piano; and will be so used. Why would it not be? A 9/11 happens and the natural leaders find in it "various suggestive trends and enterprises" that seem to further our own chosen ends but do actually further a higher one we could not understand. This is as common as could be, and not a secret.

But when a crisis arises for which no such evasion is possible -- not even blaming minorities for buying houses will stick -- when the trouble comes with unavoidable obviousness from the parlor room itself, it becomes much less clear what the "natural order of things" is supposed to be and why we should assume that our signature on the societal contract is not just as forged as the Steinway we bought with it.

At moments like this, then, the conversation has a chance to become more authentically democratic. The more people realize they can write their own contract, decide for themselves what is worth talking about, and within what terms, the greater the chance that the "natural order of things" will come to include what we all decide together should actually go in it. Within that natural order, a more fully democratic order, let the pundits and politicians and CEOs talk. That, again, is the hope of the web. It is the hope that not every crisis is only for someone else's benefit.

i've read many of these wake-up calls and have attempted to articulate many of the same ideas myself on more than one occasion... this, however, is tip-top...

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