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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Political Black Holes: On the Power Behind the Throne

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has a black hole. If this is news to you, there is no need to go hide under a rock. It turns out our black hole is not the biggest by far, and it doesn't spew out a lot of excess energy that falls into it. Even so, it is ours, and we can be glad that we have one of our very own even if it isn't the biggest one on the block. In case you are interested in seeing it’s baleful look in a picture, I’ve got bad news for you; it is invisible. No light can bounce off it.  You are probably wondering how the scientists found it.  Well, they knew that black holes are in the center of galaxies, so the crafty lab coats used ultraviolate light to find our center because there is too much gas there for much there to be visible to us.  The scientists noticed that the speed of stars speeds up around a certain point and posited the existence of a highly-dense black hole.

Using the phenomenon of black holes as an analogy, political "scientists" might investigate whether power, whethere in business, government or society, tends by its very nature to consolidate. In the Micheal Moore documentary on capitalism, two members of congress point to the immense power of an anti-democratic corporate banking elite that was able to turn around the House vote on the bank bailout (TARP) using the democratic leadership as runners. If so, such power was invisible to the public. Likewise a black hole is of course invisible. In the case of the banking elite, we couldn't point our fingers at who exactly gave the marching orders that turned around the no-questions-asked government loans to the banks too big to fail.  Nor do we, or will we, know who told the U.S. Senators: hands off meddling in foreclosures.  Indeed, we shall have no idea whether a power behind the throne told Congress not to even debate the alternative of giving the TARP money directly to home borrowers in trouble.  That this was not seriously debated for foreclosures involving mortgages that banks and mortgage companies should not have given in the first place hints of the existence of a massive albeit hidden political black hole. Finally, such a black hole may have been behind the administration's decision not to push for banks too big to fail to be carved up while extant rather than simply "orderly liquidated" once they have fallen under their own weight.

Neither the American people nor the American media companies go far enough in investigating even the existence of invisible black holes in the American political universe, let alone what damage they do from the standpoint of the public or common good.  Micheal Moore suggests that Citibank and Goldman don’t fear popular election much because they expect the 1 person, 1 vote thing won’t turn on them because most people think they could be in the elite too. The financial elite is 1% of the vote; 1% of the population holds 90% of the wealth, so if the other 99% happen to wake up and notice, they might take back the reins. The big business would be worried, but, alas, Wall Street is not shaking in its golden boots. As to why, I would add to Moore’s explanation by pointing to the extent to which Americans are manipulated without even knowing it.  Lest it be missed, the gaint media companies are corporate too.

Is it an accident, for example, that so many stories on Afganistan pop up when it is in the interest of the defence contractors? Are they simply using the people to urge Congress to support a surge?  I would call this “direct manipulation” because we are being summoned to debate what has been put on the table for us.   The other kind is “indirect,” which involves a political black hole keeping an issue or policy-option off our radar screens.  President Obama’s suggestion, for example, that the banks too big to fail be reduced in size (and money) so they would not be so dangerous in failing, quietly went away. In looking for indirect manipulation, the important thing to notice is the absence of  any visible event or change that could explain the removal of a proposal by some new issue being covered by the media. We ought to be examining what political black holes do not want us to talk about because of private interests. For instance, we now know that health insurance companies gave their surrogates "death panel scare stories" to fan out discussion of a public alternative in health insurance.  Scaring a proposal off the radar screen is among the silent weapons used by political black holes.  Again, the source of such weapons is invisible.

So like sheep, the American people is led to debate or focus on something or to forget something else, In the process, we are unwittingly giving up, or failing to grasp, our democratic power, which can be used for the public good. To be sure, there are excesses and drawbacks in democracy and these too should be discussed, but there are hidden dangers to political black holes, and we miss these if we do not even know that such things exist.  That is to say, the democracy we do have may be rather wan in comparison to the gravity of the political black hole at the center of our political society.

Perhaps the question on your mind is:  So how do we get it back?   It might involve nothing short of waking up out of the Matrix.  So many of us don’t realize how much we are being manipulated.  Realizing it, and not tailoring our thoughts and discussions along its lines will wake others.   Once people start waking, we can start to look for candidates who do not, like Obama, take a $1 million from Goldman after promising real change.  We need candidates willing to forego being bought out by the elites who sense that democracy might possibly get the upper hand in an election.  Pay particular attention to the matter of teeth in such candidates’ proposals with respect to big business…and ask at their speeches whether they are taking money from the establish that has a vested interest in the status quo.  Don’t buy the “I’m not influenced by money.”  …which should be treated as a laugh line.   If you find genuine candidates willing to effect systemic change even where it is at the expense of the big corporate players, know that the elite will offer such candidates so much if the elite view the candidates as viable and  not under their control.  Control, by the way, can be more subtle than using a leash.  This is perhaps my major point here…political black holes are invisible and yet their anti-democratic gravity is HUGE…even as it is in a tiny space, or office.

In the Roman Empire, the games in the arena (which means “sand” in Latin) were a devise to distract as well as mollify and entertain the masses.  Today, we have American Idol and the Super Bowl, as well as the World Series.  Besides their entertainment value made possible by the talent involved, these idols are effective in gravitating popular attention…and this can be useful to the extent that the US is a plutocracy (i.e. ruled in the interest of the top 1% of the wealth) and vested powers fear the 1 person, 1 vote power of democracy.  But as Micheal Moore points out, Citibank and Goldman Sachs can rest easier knowing that many of us don’t use the power of the vote to take from the banks because many of us believe we might be among the plutacracy one day. 

I would add that we tend to be easily manipulated into following the media’s current (which, kein Zufall, tends to move around the interests of the major houses so as not to disturb the islands of capital).   We stop wondering about the distant promises to do something about the banks too big to fail because the media has conveniently stopped reminding us.  We forget that an option is to break up the banks too big to fail (which, by the way, have gotten bigger since September, 2008 and are still active at the casino).  We unthinkingly join the media in debating Obama’s banking consumer protection proposal, as though that were primary.  In other words, Goldman Sachs, which was Obama’s largest campaign contributor according to Micheal Moore (over $1 million), is content to have us debate a potentially pain so we will be appeased by Obama’s pledge of “real change” and not ask, demand, or VOTE to apply anti-trust law to financial houses.   In short, we allow ourselves to be dupped and we don’t even know it.  We don’t even realize we are taking our eyes off the eight ball.  Goldman lets Obama have four more years and 1 person, 1 vote is once again not a threat to either Goldman or the change agent that the bank bought.  Don’t expect Obama to rock the boat in bringing any real change that is not in the interests of the most powerful of the corporations.  Obama’s challenge is to show us just enough that looks like real change while not acting outside the interests of his corporate backers.  However, aren’t real change and status quo vested intersts mutually exclusive?  If so, how does Barak Obama get around this?  He gives us just enough to appear…   Meanwhile, the systemic change that is needed on the players at fault in September, 2008, goes by the wayside and we remain vulnerable even though We the People are convinced that a new consumer protection agency will do the trick.  The trick, ladies and gentlemen, is on us–and we don’t even know it.  We don’t know what we don’t know…while we presume we know it.

In 2009, Moammar Gadhafi of Libya gave a speech  at the annual opening of the General Assembly at the UN in New York City.  Substantively, he pointed to the drawbacks in having the UN remain in New York.  He also advocated a permanent seat for the African Union in the Security Council.   Fifty-three states are represented in that Union.  In an interesting twist, he remarked that the US contains fifty countries, so Africa too deserved a permanent seat.  I was utterly surprised that the man who was disorganized and sporatic in his delivery (and whose government would kill hundreds of unarmed protesters in 2011) could grasp the nature of the US in terms commensurate to the AU. He added that the EU should have a seat.   This makes a lot of sense because it is not fair for three of the EU’s states to have seats while all of the 50 United States have one. It occurred to me in listening to his speech that he understood the nature of the US as an empire-scale polity better, actually, than most contemporary Americans do. This is a bad commentary on the condition of civics classes in American high schools.  So I was surprised to find the mainstream media report the speech simply as “disorganized" without reporting any of the substance, as though there had been no serious content whatsoever.   Someone must have wanted to discredit Qaddafi for political or economic reasons.   The summary verdict was so immedate and total that none of Qaddafi’s content was covered.   The media’s treatment had all the footprints of a hidden strategy--that is, of a black hole's pull.  If I am correct, I’m left surprised that the subterfuge itself could be so blatant.  For a journalistic standpoint, the reporting was really bad.   Alternatively, the journalists could have reported what the man had said (as well as on his style and approach) and have left it to the readers to decide whether the content should be dismissed due to the style.   Something else was going on.  I’m just not sure what. I contend that something else typically goes on in terms of what is debated in the public discourse via the media. The invisible source steering and pruning what travels across our public radar screen is none other than a political black hole: a very dense concentration of private power functioning akin to an invisible elephant in a small living room. One person senses a trunk--another a leg--but we as a people miss the very existence of the elephant.  We are too distracted, and this is no accident, as it manifests by the very black hole that we do not suspect exists.

In short, both the content and frequency of topics reported by the media bear traces of the black whole that they are orbiting. As long as the source of the gravity is invisible, the black hole will continue to be quite useful.  Put another way, as long as Americans take the press reports as simply journalism, we will miss what is going on behind the scenes and therefore continue to be subject to being manipulated.  Micheal Moore asks: when will democracy ascend over the power of big business?  It is possible, but not probable.   This, by the way, is the expression that Immanual Kant uses in discussing his Kingdom of Ends (treating rational beings as ends and not just as means). Beyond the latent or actual subterranean power of corporate America over our public airwaves and legislative chambers, we ought to reflect on the threat to a republic in there simply being political black holes.
See: Nova on Black Holes (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/blackhole/)