Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

“The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars;
the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”

H.L. Mencken

A frittler’s bonanza

Clouds for the many, silver linings for the few

As this image so neatly illustrates, our national leaders’ values — as distinguished from those of the decent majority among the ordinary Americans under their rule — are morally leprous, logically vacuous ... and insidious. As we have seen with eyeball-numbing regularity, lying is among their central ethical principles, so it’s no surprise that whistle-blowing should be severely punished; it’s almost as offensive to their sensibilities as the stubborn refusal of their subjects, us, to accept our lot as mushrooms.

That'll teach 'em

“That’ll teach ’em!”
[ Image Source ]

My sole quibble with this graphic is that the statistics it presents are either outdated or inaccurate:

Examine this page for further facts and statistics as of January 2012, the month after the U.S.’ withdrawal of forces.


It is the eve of the Ides of March, 2015. Four more years have passed since I first wrote this page, and twelve since the invasion. We have succeeded in ousting Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party, but we have destroyed Iraq. It is a failed state, that not long ago was affluent and modern; a state at war with itself, at war between its sects (a war built on tensions we stoked on purpose to weaken the predominantly Sunni “insurgents” and the Shia-dominated government avidly exploited to build its power base); a state whose very existence is in jeopardy at the hands of ISIS, successor to Al-Qaida (organizations that did not exist in Iraq before we invaded and chaos descended). Under Hussein in 2003, Iraq was a threat to no one; today it is a new Afghanistan: a state whose weakness and incohesion make it a threat to security throughout the Middle East.

Fortunately, to achieve this laudable object only cost us some $1.7 to $6 trillion, according to estimates based on varying accounting methodologies. Fiddling small change. I’m sure there's nothing better we could have done with the idle few million million quid.

Money vortex

Iraq War: As far as most Americans are concerned,
this is where the money went.
[ Image Source ]

A trillion. One followed by 12 zeroes; 10 to the 12th power. Our brains were never built to encompass such a number. It is an abstraction, a hypothetical construct; for all we can visualize it, it might as well be infinity. But since it is made up of our money, let’s try.

Now, chances are you have seen a thousand dollars. Unlike all the -illions, this is a number we can work with. So, begin with a thousand dollars and lay them in a row. Now make a thousand such rows side by side; that’s a million. Next, stack 999 more bills on top of each of the million you have so far; that is a billion. So far, so good. Squares and cubes are nice regular shapes. But we have to raise our thousand to the fourth power, and for that we need one of these:

Animation: rotating tesseract.

A trillion in motion?
[ Image Source ]

This is a tesseract, a four-dimensional solid of a class of geometric objects known as hypercubes. You must now imagine, using the lines bounding this figure, a structure of dollars with a fourth dimension, perpendicular to our familiar x, y and z axes, to account for the....

Oh, it’s no use! If you have to resort to extra dimensions to explain something, you need a different angle of explanation. (But at least this perhaps conveys a slightly clearer image to suggest the true enormity of a trillion.)

Another way to look at it, then: What would you do with an extra $1250 a month? Taking a conservative estimate, and saying we spent $3 trillion, each average American taxpayer forked over at least that amount, every month, over a period of eight years. What’s more, we’re not done. Thanks to ISIS, we are still sending military aid to the Iraqi government as well as using our own weapons and munitions in air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria (and to add to the fun, we are also aiding the Syrian “rebels,” a disparate group that includes substantial contingents from ISIS, which means we are in effect helping to arm both sides).

A minimum, then, of three trillion dollars so far, and what has it been used for? To kill people in a distant country who have done us no harm. Never mind for the moment why; we are only looking at facts, not the arguments for or against them. What’s perhaps more useful is to think about what we didn’t spend it on.

From 2003 to 2011, we did not spend three trillion dollars to build affordable housing, although we could have built each of the estimated 633,782 homeless Americans a $4.7 million mansion. We did not spend three trillion dollars to repair and upgrade roads, bridges, railway corridors, school facilities, libraries or public transportation. We did not spend three trillion dollars to end world hunger for a hundred years. We did not spend three trillion dollars to provide free health care to every uninsured American for 26 years. We did not spend three trillion dollars to pay our teachers what their work is worth, to hire more teachers so each student can get the attention and guidance to succeed in school, or to restore and expand a curriculum pared to the bone by decades of perpetual budget cuts. We did not spend three trillion dollars to fund research and development of a mix of practical renewable energy sources, in order to wean ourselves off the petroleum that lured us into the Middle East to begin with, and cleanse our air, water and bodies of petroleum-based pollution. Nor did we spend any fraction of that three trillion dollars on regulating the financial industry, the energy industry, and big business in general, to ensure that they do not harm us, our economy and our environment in quest of higher profit margins.

But if you look at all of these projects, you will notice something: They redistribute wealth in the “wrong” direction. By increasing the share of resources available to the public as a whole, we would diminish the share reserved to the ruling class. Since rich people get and stay rich in part by preventing such disturbances to the status quo, it’s unsurprising that they would invest in “access” to public officials, and then sedulously lobby them against such legislation; after all, there are profits to be made, and people are easier to control when you have them over a barrel, desperate for any work, any housing, on any terms.

Among the strategies the zero-point-one percent have found effective is frittling: frittering away public money in order to whittle down funds available to reduce economic inequality and provide benefits to the general public ... not to mention defunding regulatory agencies until they turn for help to the very industries they were created to oversee, creating tainted “research partnerships,” and even going into business themselves in partnership with industrial associations. For an example of institutionalized macroeconomic frittling, see Reaganomics.

For a frittler, no opportunity is better than a war. Not only does a war divert trillions of dollars that might otherwise help Americans who need it, incrementally diminishing the share of wealth and power available to the ruling elite, but it also conveniently redirects most of those funds to the numerous clan of “defense”-related industries, from arms dealers to providers of “ancillary services,” such as Halliburton and Blackwater/Xe/Academi, whose senior executives are well-connected members of that elite.

So, when we reflect on what our three trillion dollars was used to fund, it’s also worth remembering all the things that, as a matter of deliberate policy, it did not fund.

Peace, liberty, unity, justice, equality
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