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December 15, 2008

The Crisis-Mongers


It's an "emergency" – do as I say. Or else…

by Justin Raimondo

Did you, too, get that frisson of déjà vu when you first heard about the bank bailout and its rationale? If you don't hand over untold trillions of dollars in the next five minutes, the economy is going to explode. This was how the PATRIOT Act got rammed through Congress in record time, before anyone had a chance to even read the voluminous bill, surrendering what's left of our liberties and giving the president dictatorial powers: give us your freedom, or else the terrorists are going to blow the country up. This was also how the Bush administration and its neoconservative amen chorus whipped up war hysteria against Iraq: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Unless we invaded Iraq immediately, we were told, Saddam would unleash his legendary "weapons of mass destruction" – yes, even against the continental United States.

The methodology at work here might be called the Dershowitz Principle, after America's most famous theoretician of torture, who maintains that what qualifies as torture is defensible in an extreme situation. That is, when life suddenly morphs into a Jack Bauer-like scenario, in which the clock is ticking and you have to torture the evil terrorist or else they'll l blow up the White House, Capitol Hill, and the corner grocery for good measure.

It seems the clock is always ticking. We live in a state of perpetual "emergency," and every day we're faced with fresh ultimatums. I've had boyfriends like that. "If you don't do such-and-such immediately, I'm going to hold my breath until I turn blue – and then you'll be sorry." The first few times I fell for it; after all, I didn't want a medical emergency on my hands. Now that I'm wiser, though not all that old yet, my response is more measured: "Blue really isn't your color, you know."

The Dershowitz Principle is that morality and truth bend under extreme conditions, like even the strongest steel – if it's hot enough. The idea, then, is to raise the temperature and create a crisis, or at least convince enough people to panic. The resulting stampede tramples liberty and the accouterments of human civilization underfoot. That's the Dershowitz Principle in action: subject people to extreme conditions – or convince them that some Armageddon-like event is about to take place – and they will do anything. Pass the PATRIOT Act. Go to war. Yes, even engage in torture [pdf]. As long as the effects of the hysteria last – and how long was it before the country began to recover from its 9/11-induced madness? – people are infinitely malleable. Or so the pattern would seem to suggest.

However, there's a catch: after a while, the pattern becomes all too obvious. If it's always an emergency, the numbing effect on the public eventually inures it to this appeal.

The passage of the PATRIOT Act and the march to war were propelled by the politics of fearmongering, with the sole argument being that if we don't do this, unimaginably horrible events will shortly follow. This view was pushed, in every possible way, by a small but well-connected and media-savvy group of intellectuals and policy wonks known as the neoconservatives. The neocons had an agenda, and a very specific goal, formulated well before 9/11: war with Iraq, to be followed by wars of "liberation" throughout the Middle East. Already ensconced in the Bush administration, they were in a perfect position to take full advantage of a fluid situation and manipulate the emotions unleashed by 9/11 to make the case for war.

That case, as we know, was a veritable anthology of fantastic fiction, a multi-threaded narrative of imaginative albeit not particularly artful lies that, in retrospect, often seem like the script of a mediocre made-for-television movie, the kind they show at the crack of dawn. This is now the generally accepted view, yet it wasn't always so.

Why, it seems like only yesterday that Antiwar.com and a few other skeptical (mostly online) voices were raised against the war hysteria, challenging the rationale for the invasion and opposing the conventional wisdom that took the government's war propaganda as fact. The hate mail we received was massive, and it continued for months: how dare we have a Web site opposing war – at a time like this! It wasn't that we were insufficiently patriotic; we were "traitors." That was the recurrent theme of these rude missives.

As time wore on, however, and the facts – or, rather, the lack of them – began to emerge, the clock-is-ticking crowd was put on the defensive. When no WMD showed up in Iraq and the hunt for them by the U.S. military was finally called off, the pundits and the public began to revise their understanding of the truth. That is, they engaged in "revisionism," which is not, contra certain televised airheads, a watering down of the truth but a clarification of what actually occurred in light of new information. The Iraq war revisionists began to discover that all the stories – the "links" to al-Qaeda, the secret Iraqi nuclear program, the plot to bomb American cities using drones laden with biological weaponsall of it was a tall tale dreamed up somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon. The perpetrators of these lies were government officials who deliberately misled Congress and the American people, profited from the misperception, and used government resources to do it. Now totally discredited, the "experts" and "patriots" of yesteryear are today's prime candidates for an investigation by a federal prosecutor.

We've come full circle, and then some, because we supposedly have a similar "crisis" on the domestic front, an economic 9/11, in which "emergency" powers were demanded, and – in spite of initial balking on the part of some – quickly granted, without much discussion. Now we are being told – or, at least, Bloomberg News is being told – that we have no right to know how the ransom money paid to these mystery men is being dispensed, or any details beyond the unimaginable sums being bandied about. And the economy, supposedly crippled by a lack of liquidity and the complete absence of lending, is said to be still in the grip of a serious "crisis." What gives?

What gives is a replay of the prelude to war with Iraq, only this time we're talking about the road to complete government control over the economy, with the banks – the big banks – calling the tune. That old clock is ticking away, and the sound of it is getting louder with each passing day, with daily appeals from new quarters – the banks, the Big Three, every county and city in the country. To satiate these growing crowds of supplicants, a huge "stimulus" package will no doubt pass, along with an addendum of "reforms," with so many special interests feeding at the trough that a few are bound to drown in their own slop.

As the system of free enterprise, infamously called capitalism, but in reality just good old American individualism, passes from the scene, along with our constitutional libertiesfelled by the previous administration – our half-forgotten childhood of adventurous intensity and love of freedom passes into history. Bypassing adulthood completely, we fall into a static senescence and fearful inflexibility. As President-elect Barack Obama ushers in a new era of all-pervasive government control over the economic life of the nation, an economic version of the PATRIOT Act, all attention is fixed on the "crisis," the rationale for this sudden radical shift.

Applying the Dershowitz Principle and bending both economic and moral sense to rationalize the world's biggest heist, both parties (including both presidential candidates) signed on to the bank bailout on the basis of "emergency" ethics: the idea that principles and good sense don't always apply, and, besides, there's no time to think, only to act.

This is precisely the method that got us into our present predicament in Iraq, and one has to wonder if the same phony "crisis" atmosphere is being generated to advance someone's agenda. The banks, according to the conventional wisdom, just aren't lending, there's a "credit crunch," and the economy will very shortly come to a grinding halt – unless we hand over our wallets and trust the government to solve the "problem." Except there isn't really all that much of a problem, according to analyst Octavio Marenzi, head of the Celent financial services consultancy,

"The credit crunch is not nearly as severe as the U.S. authorities appear to believe, and public data actually suggest world credit markets are functioning remarkably well, a report released on Thursday says. As a result, governments are pumping masses of public money into the economy across the world because of the difficulties of a few big, vocal banks and industries such as car manufacturing, which would be in difficulty anyway, according to the report published by Celent, a financial services consultancy."

"It's just stabbing in the dark with trillions of dollars," said Marenzi. Yes, well, there's someone there in the dark taking all that cash as quickly as it's being handed over, and we are forbidden to shine a light on these bag-men.

This Reuters dispatch goes on to report that Marenzi's work, which "is based on U.S. Federal Reserve data, challenges a long list of assumptions one by one, arguing that there is indeed a financial crisis but that, on aggregate, the problems of a few are by no means those of the many when it comes to obtaining credit."

If the government's own data contradicts the crisis atmosphere they're generating, then are they just making this stuff up? It's not that they're fabricating the trouble some industries and companies are in, because that's real enough. It's that they're "taking the situation of a handful of institutions and generalizing that to the market as a whole, incorrectly," says Marenzi.

The credit bubble and the real estate bubble, not to mention the auto industry's woes, have been building for quite some time. This is nothing new. Aside from that, Marenzi ticks off a number of metrics that don't jibe with the alleged credit freeze we're supposedly experiencing, such as the rate of overall bank lending in the U.S. – which is up to "its highest level ever, and has grown during the present financial crisis." Interbank lending is up 22 percent since the bottom fell out of the stock market, with lending rates at record lows. A key point made by Marenzi is that the way the crisis-mongers are gauging the level of interbank lending is incorrect, because it is "based on daily observations of eight banks, many of which were banks with particularly severe difficulties of their own."

The decline in corporate bond issuance has been compensated for by an increase in commercial lending. Consumer credit is also on the upswing, in spite of the fact that people are returning to more prudent spending habits. The crisis-mongers are pleading the case for a bailout of certain financial interests, who benefit from the bailout, and want to avoid the market correction of a massive malinvestment at all costs.

Where have we seen this kind of skewing the intelligence before? Not only that, but the economic crisis-mongers are also engaging in a favorite practice of the War Party, especially during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq: cherry-picking. Go Google that word, and type in "Office of Special Plans" or "neocons," and see what you come up with.

So the pattern repeats itself once again: government insiders manufacture then take advantage of a crisis – openly describing it as an "opportunity," as Rahm Emanuel put it – to pursue a preexisting agenda, one that will have enormous consequences down the road in terms of blowback. We'll be deep at the very bottom of a financial quagmire, wondering how we get out of it, long before folks like Marenzi are listened to. By then, of course, it will be too late.

I realize that many of my readers do not share my libertarian views on economic matters, but you don't need to be an advocate of laissez-faire [.pdf] to see the pattern of deception and the uses to which it is put. Always the goal is to extend and expand the power of government, whether it be over the economy or over some faraway province that no one has ever heard of. The Dershowitz Principle, in practice, is never applied in order to lessen the power of some individuals over others: individual freedom is the first casualty of every "emergency."

 

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  • Jorge Hirsch is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.

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