Saturday, October 17, 2009

State of Playing on public perceptions

I just happened to see this All the President's Men (ATPM) look alike recently. This is quite a dangerous film. The central message seems to be that the traditional print big media are the guardians and saviours of the nation. And the point is not made subtly either. Brecht is all nuance and allusion in comparison.

Mind you, it is a good film, and highly watchable. Excellent acting, stark lighting, nearly seventiesesque grit. But from the very start, the emphasis is on the demonstration that blogs and other grass roots journalism are inherently bad, and even dangerous. Cleverly, the film tries to ride the wave of disillusionment with government and the growing fear of corporate malfeasance and collusion to glorify one of the main organs of government and corporate control. That's very gutsy, and I fear it works very well on most viewers.

The film seems to do exactly the same thing as ATPM, for exactly the same reasons, and in a very similar political context. The period from 65 to 75 saw repeated assaults on public trust in government and corporations, in the form of constantly broken promises on Viet-Nam, the overt use of domestic surveillance, and government and corporate abuse of power. Likewise the period since 9/11 has seen the increasing domestic use of intelligence and military forces, corporate scandals such as Enron that cost large numbers of people their livelihoods and retirements, and increasing involvement in two unpopular wars.

Just as ATPM, State of Play tries to show how the corporate and government controlled big media are in fact our guarantee of freedom from abuse by government and corporations. The added element in State of Play is the attempted murder of big media's growing competition on the internet.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On September 18th 2008, around mid-day, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke briefed members of the US Congress to tell them that since the opening of the market that day, around 500 billion dollars had been withdrawn from money market accounts. They said that if Congress didn't do something drastic right then and there, the US economy, and the world's economy with it, would collapse immediately. This seems to have decided Congress to pass the first financial rescue or stimulus package of 700 billion in Fall 08.

The markets had started taking a dive on the 9th of September when Lehman Brothers stock dropped 45% in one day, and then again on the 11th. Several other Wall Street investment banks seemed to be on the brink of collapse, and there was talk of a credit crisis. But as the debate on the first stimulus package dragged on into its second week, many were the voices that asked what the emergency really was, and whether (borrowed) tax payer money should be sunk into the apparently bottomless hole of the sub-prime mess. It seemed that something even more dire than the collapse of some investment banks was required to convince Congress to hand 700 billion to Henry Paulson with little to no oversight measures. And of course, something more dire did happen: a 500 billion electronic run on the money markets over a period of 2 hours. Who withdrew the money, where had it come from in the first place, and where did it go?

Between 2001 and 2007, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Congress appropriated over 650 Billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan operations of the War on Terror. Some have wondered exactly how that money was spent, and how it is possible that it hasn't resulted in the pacification of either country. One possibility is that most of it wasn't spent there at all. One possibility is that it was laundered and invested in money markets, ready to be pulled out in a sort of 9/11 part 2. This would have both helped create the post 9/11 financial bubble, made money for accomplices, and created the opportunity to, as someone put it, hijack the financial system and crash it into the economy. And with the right foreknowledge, those same few accomplices could have made a nice profit on shorting the very institutions that handled the laundered funds, only to then be given 700 billion more in public money.

In this scenario, the first stimulus package is the financial equivalent of the Patriot Act. Prepared and readied long before it was actually needed, and the emergency that made it necessary created for the occasion. The next obvious question is: what will that 700 billion be used for?