Monday, June 01, 2020

Truth Is What We Hide, Cover Stories Are What We Sell

The fact that self-serving cover stories are now the norm is making it difficult to love our servitude with the slavish devotion demanded of us.
The need to suppress the truth and competing narratives arose with the emergence of urban elites whose power and wealth were threatened by any exposure of the self-serving nature of their rule.
Though suppression of the truth has a long history, it accelerated in the 20th century as totalitarian regimes embraced the technologies of mass communication and the marketing techniques of propaganda.
With the decay of the social contract and the emergence of monopolistic search and social media platforms, the suppression of competing narratives has accelerated as ruling elites tighten their grip in response to the unraveling of the social order.
Thus we get Federal Reserve Comedian Jay Powell claiming the Fed doesn't create wealth inequality, when it's pathetically obvious the Fed is the primary engine of wealth inequality. (Give me $10 billion at near-zero interest rates and I'll get rich, too.)
We can summarize the current era in one sentence: truth is what we hide, cover stories are what we sell. Jean-Claude Juncker's famous quote captures the essence of the era: "When it becomes serious, you have to lie."
And when does it become serious? When the hidden facts of the matter might be revealed to the general public. Given the regularity of vast troves of well-hidden data being made public by whistleblowers and white-hat hackers, it's basically serious all the time now, and hence the official default everywhere is: truth is what we hide, self-serving cover stories are what we sell.
The self-serving cover stories always tout the nobility of the elite issuing the PR: we in the Federal Reserve saved civilization by saving the Too Big To Fail Banks (barf); we in the corporate media do investigative reporting without bias (barf); we in central government only lie to protect you from unpleasant realities--it's for your own good (barf); we in the NSA, CIA and FBI only lie because it's our job to lie, and so on.
Three essays published long before the pandemic speak to the degradation of data and factual records in favor of self-serving cover stories and totalitarian political correctness.
"It's not just that isolated individuals are unmasked as corrupt or self-interested (something that is as old as politics), but that the establishment itself starts to appear deceitful and dubious. The distinctive scandals of the 21st century are a combination of some very basic and timeless moral failings (greed and dishonesty) with technologies of exposure that expose malpractice on an unprecedented scale, and with far more dramatic results.
Perhaps the most important feature of all these revelations was that they were definitely scandals, and not merely failures: they involved deliberate efforts to defraud or mislead. Several involved sustained cover-ups, delaying the moment of truth for as long as possible.
(The selective coverage) "generated a sense of a media class who were adept at exposing others, but equally expert at concealing the truth of their own behaviours.
Several of the defining scandals of the past decade have been on a scale so vast that they exceed any individual's responsibility. The Edward Snowden revelations of 2013, the Panama Papers leak of 2015 and the HSBC files (revealing organised tax evasion) all involved the release of tens of thousands or even millions of documents. Paper-based bureaucracies never faced threats to their legitimacy on this scale."
From the Late Founder and Editor Robert Parry of the Consortium for Independent Journalism (via John S.P.)
When I was a young reporter, I was taught that there were almost always two sides to a story and often more. I was expected to seek out those alternative views, not dismiss them or pretend they didn't exist. I also realized that finding the truth often required digging beneath the surface and not just picking up the convenient explanation sitting out in the open.
But the major Western news outlets began to see journalism differently. It became their strange duty to shut down questioning of the Official Story, even when the Official Story had major holes and made little sense, even when the evidence went in a different direction and serious analysts were disputing the groupthink.
Looking back over the past two decades, I wish I could say that the media trend that we detected in the mid-1990s had been reversed. But, if anything, it's grown worse. The major Western news outlets now conflate the discrete difficulties from made-up 'fake news' and baseless 'conspiracy theories' with responsible dissenting analyses. All get thrown into the same pot and subjected to disdain and ridicule.
In truth, facts today are deemed controversial if they deviate from accepted narratives, and professors must self-censor out of fear of being condemned and losing their jobs.
Based on conversations I've had with colleagues still working in academia and from what I can tell about recent cases of censorship, the antagonism is primarily from left-leaning colleagues attacking other liberals.
These instances are indicative of a larger, worrisome trend -- instead of debating contentious ideas, those in opposition to them throw words ending in '-phobic' around, shutting the conversation down and pretending they don't exist.
For those who say ideas that denigrate members of society shouldn't be entertained, silencing the debate doesn't make hateful beliefs go away. In many cases, it isn't controversial findings that pose a threat; the threat comes from the possibility that others will use these facts to justify discrimination. But it's important that we distinguish between an idea and the researcher putting forth that idea, and the potential for bad behaviour.
With academics avoiding entire areas of research as a result, knowledge currently being produced is constrained, replaced by beliefs that are pleasant-sounding but biased, or downright nonsensical. The recent 'grievance studies' investigation, led by academics Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose, laid bare how bad the problem has become. The trio managed to get seven fake papers (but oh-so politically correct and hence "good to go"--CHS) accepted in high-ranking humanities journals.
In a consumerist-based culture accustomed to 24/7 selling of one self-serving story or another, the fact that self-serving cover stories are now the norm is making it difficult to love our servitude with the slavish devotion demanded of us. I've noticed a new twist on self-serving propaganda: an alternative opinion isn't debated, it's debunked, as if questioning the authorized narrative is by definition a "conspiracy theory" that can be "debunked" by repeating the authorized cover story enough times.
Of related interest:
Orwell and Kafka Do America (March 24, 2015)
The Ghosts of 1968 (February 14, 2018)
Recent Podcasts:
Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).


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We're Living the Founding Fathers' Nightmare: America Is Corrupt to the Core

Our ruling elites, devoid of leadership, are little more than the scum of self-interested, greedy grifters who rose to the top of America's foul-smelling stew of corruption.
The Founding Fathers were wary of institutional threats to liberty and the citizenry's sovereignty, which included centralized concentrations of power (monarchy, central banks, federal agencies, etc.) and the tyranny of corruption unleashed by small-minded, self-interested, greedy grifters who saw all elected offices and positions of government influence as nothing more than a means to increase their own private wealth.
The Founders feared the dominance of self-interested, greedy grifters because they had no concept of the public good: to the greedy grifters, the government existed solely to serve their petty private interests and the interests of their fellow grifters.
The Founders understood that a republic required disinterested leadership capable of looking past petty self-interest to the common good of the people and their nation. They feared the election of self-interested, greedy grifters because once no one served the common good, the republic would fall into a fatal disunity.
We are living the Founders' nightmare, for America is corrupt to the core. While everyone gorging at the public trough bleats about the "common good," their single-minded focus is on aggrandizing as much power and private wealth as possible, and feeding their corrupt crew of insiders, lobbyists, "business interests," bankers and assorted other legalized looters.
America has plenty of law enforcement, prosecutors and prison cells for those who loot a Whole Foods, but none for those who loot the public treasury, commit stock market swindles or financial fraud on a monumental scale. Not only did no one go to prison for the rampant institutionalized fraud of the 2008 looting, a.k.a. the Global Financial Meltdown--the looters were bailed out by the Federal Reserve and Treasury.
More recently, no one was even questioned when a biotech company issued a press release about a Covid-19 vaccine trial that boosted the stock's price just long enough for insiders to dump millions of dollars of shares on a credulous public and also sell new shares in the company at a premium: a classic looting strategy known as pump and dump.
Members of Congress were caught red-handed in what amounted to insider trading, selling millions of dollars in their stock portfolios based on their secret briefings of the coming pandemic, while they reassured the public Covid-19 was no biggie. The farcical "investigation" found no wrong-doing.
Corruption in our political parties is so endemic nobody even bothers listing it except as a parlor game of pondering which party is more corrupt.
Our ruling elites, devoid of leadership, are little more than the scum of self-interested, greedy grifters who rose to the top of America's foul-smelling stew of corruption. As for the nation's infinitely greedy billionaires, if there was any justice left in America, Apple CEO Tim Cook would be rotting in a cell on Devil's Island for buying back billions of dollars of Apple stock--buybacks were illegal not that long ago.
The cells next to his would be crowded with Big Pharma CEOs who advertised their products directly to consumers--also illegal not so long ago.
America is now a pay-to-play paradise of greed and corruption. The "public good" is a PR cover for legalized looting, much of which now depends on the Federal Reserve's free money for financiers, parasites and predators.
If you think this is far too harsh on our current crop of greedy grifters and looters, please read historian Gordon Wood's epic account Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, which details the many critical debates between founders with fundamentally different views of what structures and safeguards were essential for the Republic's survival.
When we look back at the genius of Hamilton, Madison, et al., and Washington's obsession with ethics and promoting national unity, we are forced to weep for the pathetic, venal scum that passes for "leadership" in America today. The feedback loops the Founders designed to restrain the tyranny of corruption have all failed, as the biggest looters serve their interests under the guise of legality.
The Founders' weren't saints; they were flawed as are all humans, and like all humans, they were products of their era. But they did have a keen, abiding sense of the public good, and when they clashed over ideas about banking, the power of the presidency, etc., it was not for personal gain but for their vision of the common good.
If any of America's "leadership" over the past 30 years had an ounce of concern for the common good, why did they enable financialization and globalization to hollow out the nation's economy and social order? Why did they enable the frauds, skims, scams, cartels and monopolies that are the foundation of virtually every American billionaire's "we pay no taxes" empires of greed?
The tyranny of corruption thrives in an amoral cesspool of anything goes and winners take all.
In today's America, the tyranny of corruption has been so normalized that America's polarized populaces are blind to the profound corruption of their parties and institutions. As in the last days of the Western Roman Empire, the masses are made complicit with bread and circuses, mimicking their "leaders" debasement of the public good to feeding at the public trough.
These are the troubled years that came before the deluge (Jackson Browne), for as Mr. Dylan put it, a hard rain's a-gonna fall.
Recent Podcasts:
Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

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Saturday, May 30, 2020

This Is How Systems Collapse

Flooding the financial system with "free money" only restores the illusion of stability
I updated my How Systems Collapse graphic from 2018 with a "we are here" line to indicate our current precarious position just before the waterfall:
For those who would argue we're nowhere near collapse, consider that over 20% of the Federal Reserve's $2 trillion spew of free money went directly into the pockets of America's billionaires: $434 billion by the latest estimates, while most of the rest went into the pockets of the top 10% who own all the assets that the Fed is goosing higher while millions of households are worried about feeding themselves: (American billionaires got $434 billion richer during the pandemic).
In America's system, the solution to soaring, destabilizing inequality is... to goose inequality to new heights. No wonder there's no middle ground left politically, socially or financially, and social disorder is so easily ignited. There are few feedback loops left in our fragile system; the rich get richer, and rather than restore some balance, our political system further empowers the parasitic and predatory financial elites. The rich and politically powerful are one group, sharing control of public and private institutions.
One way to understand "middle ground" is that the middle ground acts as a buffer between systemic extremes. The key concepts here are stability and buffers. Though complex systems are never static, but they can be stable: that is, they ebb and flow within relatively stable states supported by buffers.
America's social, political and economic buffers have been thinned by extremes and excesses, but nobody noticed or cared: America's reigning credo is: anything goes, winners take all.
In systems, this ebb and flow of low-level volatility generates stability and adaptation. In natural systems, feedback loops between the weather, environment and plant/animal species keep the ecosystem in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Ideal weather conditions may spark a rise in an insect population, for example, which then enables an increase in insect-predator populations (fish, birds, frogs, etc.) which then increases the consumption of the insects and reduces the impact of the higher insect population.
If the river runs low, the human populace relies on wells for reserves of water. In good harvests, grain is set aside for lean harvests; the wells and grain stores are buffers which can be drawn down to restore stability to a stressed system.
Buffers are largely invisible and of little common interest in times of abundance. When water and grain are well-supplied, who cares if the stores have spoiled and the well water tastes bad?
A system with thin buffers and few feedback loops looks robust on the surface but is highly vulnerable to collapse. In our example, the first lean harvest and low water flow completely drain the reserves, and the second year of drought triggers a collapse of the system.
In our complex socio-economic system, the buffers are largely invisible. As a general rule, "money" (currency created by central banks and private banks when a loan is issued) is our all-purpose buffer: if something becomes scarce and threatens the system, we print/ borrow into existence more "money" which is distributed to buy whatever is needed.
But "money" is an illusory buffer. If the well has run dry, no amount of money will restore ground water. If the fisheries have collapsed due to overfishing, no amount of currency issued by the Federal Reserve will restore the fisheries. In other words, the natural world provides hard limits that money can only fix if buffers are available for purchase.
"Money" is itself a system, a system with financial buffers, buffers that have been consumed by the speculative excesses of the private sector and the financial repression of central banks. These buffers are largely invisible; few know what's going on in global liquidity markets, for example. Yet when liquidity dries up, for whatever reason, markets go bidless and asset prices go into freefall.
Flooding the financial system with "free money" only restores the illusion of stability. As noted in my diagram, restoring and maintaining an apparent stability thins buffers to the point of dangerous fragility.
When buffers are paper-thin, a crisis that would have been overcome with ease in the past triggers the collapse of the entire system. Everyone who based their faith in the system on its surface stability is stunned by the rapidity of the collapse, for how could such a vast, apparently robust system implode with so little warning?
The financial system's buffers have been thinning for 20 long years, but nobody seems to care. The quality of risk, debt, borrowers and speculative gambles have all declined, but faith in the "Fed put"--that the Federal Reserve can fix anything and everything by printing endless trillions-- is quasi-religious: few doubt the limitless power of the Fed's currency-printing machinery to quickly overcome any crisis.
This is how systems collapse: misplaced faith in the visible surface of abundance generates fatal complacency and confidence, and the fragility of the buffers goes unnoticed.
Just before the collapse, central bank currency is super-abundant, but systemic stability is near-zero and all the buffers are paper-thin: the Fed's trillions create an illusion of safety, as if all we need to do to restore the lost middle ground and buffers is to hand America's most parasitic and predatory clique another $434 billion in stock market wealth.
Doing more of what has destabilized the system in the belief that new extremes will somehow restore equilibrium is simply rowing faster as we speed toward the waterfall of systemic collapse.
Recent Podcasts:
Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).


If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Thank you, Daniel B. ($50), for your monumentally generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.
 
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