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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

Recession Is Over! (If You Want It)

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The National Bureau of Economic Research tells us the Great Recession is "over." In fact, it ended in June 2009! Hip, hip, hooray! The only thing this announcement reveals is just how out of touch, cruel, and compassionless those who view human society through the lens of quantitative measurements can be.

Numbers don't begin to tell the whole story. The Great Recession's forced idleness on millions of people make the demagogue's job easy to excite the passions of the mob. They then channel this white-hot rage into directions that benefit the very elites that brought on the economic catastrophe in the first place. Sweet.

The country is still clearly shell-shocked by the events of 2007-2008. What came after the Wall Street bailout was a textbook "shock doctrine" downsizing of the public sector at the exact time the country needed it most. The private sector failed so miserably under George W. Bush when the nation's wealth was relentlessly looted and redistributed upward. It's amazing that people calling themselves "conservatives" could get away with ruling so recklessly and paying no heed to the deep crisis their delirium of greed was destined to cause. Yet in 2010, through political alchemy, the lead weight of economic insecurity is being transformed into electoral gold for the Republican Right.

We really started to lose it as a nation when CNN and NPR and the rest of the news media decided to allow right-wing demagogues to throw out all manner of lies and non sequiturs on their shows without ever being challenged or even acknowledged. David Gregory of Meet the Press is masterful at this game; he makes the anemic Tim Russert look like Edward R. Murrow. The result is a toxic political stew full of genetically engineered monster Red Herrings, straw men the size of skyscrapers, and a post-Citizens United discourse where America's ruling elite seems determined to turn the whole country into a bunch of miserable wage slaves.

The Democratic Party, (the "Rahm Emanuel/Ben Nelson Party") has proven itself (once again) to be weak and pusillanimous even when it controlled the Congress and the presidency and had a young charismatic leader who won a much larger share of the vote than Bush ever did. There were substantial accomplishments relating to health care, student loans and financial regulations, and finally naming Elizabeth Warren to a position worthy of her talents is a welcome move, as is the departure of "Mr. Derivative" himself, Larry Summers.

But it really doesn't matter now.

The home foreclosures, cutbacks and lay-offs continued unabated, and along with the orchestrated attack on public institutions that followed the state and local budget deficits, most Americans saw no appreciable difference in their standard of living over the past two years except downward.

We didn't even get a reaffirmation of the role of government in society that many of us foolishly expected. Education Secretary Arne Duncan continues to bash public school teachers, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs bitches about the "professional left" that won't be happy until we have "Canadian health care" and "close the Pentagon." Can anyone imagine a Republican press secretary, such as Ari Fleischer, trashing the base of the GOP going into a midterm election?

But the demagoguery is not only directed against domestic targets like "Obamacare" and Democrats. It also has a foreign policy component. Newt Gingrich fomenting anti-Muslim paranoia or New Yorkers protesting an Islamic center in Manhattan are only part of the problem.

Turn on C-SPAN and you'll see a different kind of demagogue of the more refined and erudite variety: War hawks and defense "intellectuals" from elite bastions like the Washington Institute, Brookings Institute, Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute speaking about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq as if they are abstractions, units of analysis where only weighing U.S. "strategic" options matter.

Like the economists who tell us the Great Recession is over when unemployment is nearly 10 percent, these "defense" and "intelligence" scholars willfully ignore data that doesn't neatly fit into their models, such as the violence, terror, and devastation the policies they advocate inflict on the lives of the real people who reside in those countries. These "intellectuals" are just as responsible for fomenting anti-Americanism in the Muslim world as the craziest preacher who might burn a Quran. They've also provided the rationales for saddling a generation of American soldiers with the impossible task of kicking in doors and killing "militants" among vast civilian populations while trying to win "hearts and minds." In the safety and comfort of their air-conditioned offices, defense intellectuals do everything they can to keep that grant money rolling in no matter how much damage they do.

Unfortunately, it's far too late to fret about America's image in the Muslim world. George W. Bush and his Democratic enablers (apparently misreading Sam Huntington) thought it would be a good idea to bring on a "clash of civilizations." The only true beneficiaries have been the defense corporations that were looking for new market opportunities after the Soviet Union fell. President Obama tried to chill out the situation with his Cairo speech early in his presidency, but his escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and his re-branding of the war in Iraq have probably erased much of the good will he might have garnered.

The news reports indicating that nine years after 9/11 there are people in the United States who still single out Muslims for abuse are probably a secondary concern to those who live in places where drone and helicopter attacks and car bombs have become a part of everyday life.

The think tankers and "defense" strategists go to great lengths to erase the Iraqis and Afghans and Pakistanis from their calculations, choosing instead to analyze U.S. "strategic" considerations. But this emphasis on geopolitics is misplaced and anachronistic: Why does American foreign policy have to be so "strategic" nowadays? There's no global chess game or rivalry going on with the Soviet Union anymore.

Just like the bloated military budgets and weapons systems that are still being produced that were designed to counter the Soviet Union, so too are the ideas and "strategies" concocted from these think tanks and policy institutes. They're geared toward an enemy that no longer exists. Substituting a "civilization" for a nation-state, the Soviet Union, is probably the stupidest reorientation of American foreign policy in the country's history. A new world order emerged after 1991, yet the paradigm that informs America's relations with the rest of the world still remains frozen somewhere around 1979. And the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (along with many Americans) are the ones who pay the price.