Shock And Awe: Fireworks, Smiley Faces, and The Depression
Two days after a jobs report showed how many Americans are down, the nation was looking up — at fireworks signaling the anniversary of American independence (even as the BP disaster shows how dependent we've become).
On July 4th, here in New York, my block was jammed with oo-ing and aah-ing onlookers as was the whole West Side of Manhattan when the Macy's Department store shot off 40,000 shells at a rate of 1500 a minute and at a cost of $500,000.
It reminded me of deadlier fireworks over Baghdad.
This event, symbolically, may have been a shock and awe campaign of an economic war aimed our way, but we couldn't see it.
Across the river in New Jersey, town after town canceled local shows because they had no money in the budget left for bread and circus extravaganzas.
Oh, how we love our country, reported the Daily News, "Red, white and boom, boom, boom! The skies over the Hudson River were transformed Sunday night into a patriotic canvas bursting with bangs 1,000 feet in the air and even exploding smiley faces."
We need more than smiley faces these days. The alleged "recovery" is slowing. Many experts don't expect a turnaround until 2011, too late for next fall's elections. Some fear another crash. A few say the Dow Jones Industrial Average is repeating a pattern that appeared just before markets fell in 1929.
In England, The Telegraph reports a truth that many Americans and our media cheerleaders really don't want to see or face:
"With the US trapped in depression, this really is starting to feel like 1932."
The US workforce shrank by 652,000 in June, one of the sharpest contractions ever. The rate of hourly earnings fell 0.1pc. Wages are flirting with deflation.
Robert Reich, the former Labor secretary, has no use for rockets bursting in air, writing, "The economy is still in the gravitational pull of the Great Recession. All the booster rockets for getting us beyond it are failing."
"Home sales are down. Retail sales are down. Factory orders in May suffered their biggest tumble since March of last year. So what are we doing about it?" he asked. "Less than nothing."
Another article in Newsweek picks up the nothing theme. Writes Daniel Gross:
"Without a healthy jobs market, the recession-shocked consumer won't spend. And yet Washington's response seems to be a collective throwing up of hands. There are a few things the government can do about persistent long-term unemployment.
First, it can lessen the pain it causes by expanding the safety net, extending unemployment-insurance benefits so that the long-term unemployed have a source of cash to help them stay current on rent, mortgage, and credit card bills.
Second, it can respond to persistent long-term unemployment by enacting policies aimed at creating and preserving jobs. These can take the form of summer jobs programs, enhanced public works programs, aid to strapped municipalities so they can avoid layoffs, and tax cuts and credits for investment and hiring.
But so far? Nothing. And the question is, why."
"'Why' is a crooked letter," my grandmother used to say. Today it's the logic of those that won't act that is crooked, and out of touch with reality. What many of us don't realize is that there has been an effective well-funded PR campaign underway for years to convince us that deficits are more dangerous than unemployment or the abuse of consumers.
Behind it is a foundation run by financier Pete Peterson aided and abetted by Warren Buffet and other billionaires. I first came across them when my film warning of a credit crash, In Debt We Trust, came out in 2006. It indicted the credit card companies and banks. It was not a message many were ready for then and I had big problems getting it into top festivals and theaters.
A year later, another film, IOUSA, came out backed by a slick marketing campaign and advertising galore. Its message was that government spending and debt will kill us. With generous backing by Buffet and Peterson's foundation, it was everywhere including Sundance.
That effort spawned a stealth lobbying effort with seminars, briefings and conferences. Now they are running so called "America Speaks" national town halls. Nineteen events have been held so far, to build support for cutting Social Security and Medicare. So far these events have provoked intense debates with many of the people taking part rejecting the idea and demanding cuts in defense spending and higher taxes for the rich.
FiredogLake has carried reports like this one:
"Slickly produced scare videos talking about the dire straits of the budget were prevalent. Multiple charts and graphs without precise numbers or percentages were handed out. Speakers discussed how 'most Americans are concerned about the deficits and debt,' and how we cannot grow our way out of the problem. The current state of the economy, which needs an increase in aggregate demand, mostly in the form of government spending, to avoid a relapse into recession, got a short mention at the beginning of the discussion, an inclusion which seemed forced and tacked-on. Overall, there were about 15 minutes of discussion of the current economic problems, and five hours on the deficit."
Fortunately, when these Americans do speak, they tend to say things the organizers and the Congress don't want to hear — like slash defense spending and tax the rich.
But for now, these sentiments are not guiding the economic debate.
That's partly due to the failure of labor and activists to marshal a major campaign on these issues, an effort that should include calls to prosecute financial criminals.
Labor demands jobs from government but is not organizing a public information campaign to expose and challenge Peterson's propaganda. They focus on the inside game-lobbying bought and paid for by members of Congress — but not mobilizing the public.
The problem, said Senator Sherrod Brown, who tried but failed to curtail the power of big banks, is that just working the Congress is a strategy doomed to fail.
"We got a majority of Democrats on the floor but almost nobody on the banking committee," Brown said. "It reminded me that this institution was built to protect the status quo — to protect the powerful against the people. In this chamber, we all sing with an upper-class accent, so to speak."
Writing in The Nation, William Greider says Brown may have been defeated but he is not a defeatist,
"As he sees it, liberal advocates can win if they do the hard work of explaining and recruiting, not just among kindred spirits but among normally conservative business interests and ordinary apolitical citizens who don't call themselves liberal or progressive. Both groups are deeply angered and feeling threatened by the swelling concentration of Wall Street power."
Overseas, European Parliament members are calling for a new kind of campaigning movement, reports IPS: "Besieged by bankers opposed to regulation of their sector, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have taken an unusual step. A cross-party alliance has called for an international campaigning organization to concentrate on remedying the flaws of the financial services industry with the same tenacity that Amnesty International focuses on victims of torture and Greenpeace on toxic chemicals and whales."
Imagine, politicians who want to be pressured for real change?
Do we have the tenacity and the smarts to recognize that fighting on this issue can either save our economy or, with inaction, be complicit in handing the government over to NOniks on the right?