Chasing Ben Bernanke.

President George W. Bush stands with Federal R...
President George W. Bush stands with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, left, SEC Chairman Chris Cox, right, and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson as he delivers a statement on the economy Friday, Sept. 19, 2008, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted October 3, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke had a press conference recently and I decided to take notes while listening to it. Let me first say that this is the second time I listened to this press conference, the first time was when it occurred on September 18. Let me then say that listening for the second time found me astounded at how rapidly this man talks. Mr. Bernanke reminds one of that fellow who used to do commercials, referred to as “the world’s fastest talking human”. At one point Ben says he does not want to discuss his plans for after he leaves the Fed chairmanship. If he remains undecided, surely he could match or even better the success of the “world’s fastest talking human” and find plenty of work in the advertising field.

At this point I am going to issue a challenge to every man or woman reading this. Try, just try, to take coherent notes while listening to Ben Bernanke here. Just for fun give it your best shot. After viewing the press conference let everyone know what you gained from listening to it and taking notes, if anything, in the comments section. Maybe I’m unsophisticated on monetary issues, especially as they relate to the Federal Reserve. I am open-minded enough to admit a lack of knowledge on certain subjects (of which there are many) and that may explain my inability to “hear” what Ben Bernanke is conveying here.

At any rate here are all the notes I took while listening. I wish you luck in gathering a more coherent message than I did..

“Rationales, Moderate, satisfactory, acceptation, participation, discouragement, diminishment, restrain on growth, downside risk, inflation development, inflation to 2%, individual economic projections, moderate growth, central tendency of projections, longer run normal levels, highly accommodative policies, asset purchases, agency mortgage-backed securities, $45 billion per month, $85 billion per month, meaningful progress, fiscal headwinds, cumulative progress, subsequent year or so, moderate pace of purchases, evolution of economic outlook, broad contours, sufficient confirmation, fiscal debates, continue to monitor closely”

“remain contingent on economic outlook, thresholds-not triggers generally consistent-2015/2016, policy accommodation, longer run normal value, headwinds to recovery-patient approach, forward guidance, substantial improvement in labor market, rates guidance highly accommodative, cyclical component-aging population, not a fully representative indicator, we try to communicate as meaningfully as possible, fully contingent of ratification of our outlook, failing to communicate large divergence could have led to problems down the road, continue as long as data is contingent, provide support for economy to recover and provide jobs”

“if data confirm our basic outlook, tied to the data-same basic framework, unemployment rate not necessarily the best measure-overall employment market, I’d prefer not to talk about my own plans, financial conditions-sure, tighter financial conditions, we want to explain the best we can-very important, larger reaction in prices and rates, the situation is sustainable, we want to communicate clearly, restate key point, voting and non-voting members, 2% in 2016 best projections, we expect a number of factors, may still prove to be headwinds, the equilibrium rate-aggregate demand rate”

“over-optimistic about out-year growth, (at this point I wrote “fast-talking all the way through-on some type of drug?”) slower productivity figures, important to recognize cyclical, unemployment fallen faster than expected, we will continue to do the best we can, press conferences, eight meetings per year, we can arrange press conferences, you’re seeing interest rate and inflation rates, inflation floor would be in addition to guidance, complicit in policy to reach inflation goal, don’t recall, do the right thing for the economy, we try our best to communicate to markets”

“government shutdown, fiscal policy decisions very complicated battles-I won’t get into, serious consequences, our ability to offset shocks is limited, biggest regret?-I have many, didn’t forestall economic crisis, did what we could, motivated entirely by the interest of the broader public, even more severe by many times, all money has been paid back with interest, lot of progress, large firms are better capitalized, orderly liquidation authority, wind-down failing financial firm, all of this “stuff”- measures to shore up problems, how will you ever get out of quantitative easing?, strongest sector like housing or autos have been intra-sensitive, justifying Fed’s performance, we do what we can do, criterion is substantial improvement in labor statistics”

“regulated-we will tailor regime appropriate to firm, want to focus on resolution authority-derivatives-interconnectedness, tougher supervision-stress tests, and all the rest, our policy decisions making economy easier is desirable, precautionary step-wait a little longer-to see if economy conforms to our outlook, numerous tools to manage interest rates, Federal Reserve independent/non-partisan/continue to be important institution, the committee has regularly reviewed the forward guidance, important that understand all of the implications-number of options-but today we decided not to make any changes in the guidance, incomes-poverty-complex measurement issues, more unequal-lots of reasons for this-Fed has no tools to address”

“people in middle to lower part of the distribution, limits to what we can do, Congress and administration have that responsibility, emerging markets-international hard to follow, we are watching these developments very carefully, there are other factors-a lot of factors are there playing a role, we pay close attention to what is happening in those countries, my colleagues in other emerging market countries appreciate strengthening the U.S. economy-helps emerging markets as well.”

It’s your turn. Good luck.

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Syria October Update: Father Dave Smith.

Vietnam war memorial
Vietnam war memorial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted October 3, 2013

by Jerry Alatalo

The following is Father Dave Smith’s latest post on the situation in Syria, from his website fatherdave.org.

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I’m writing to you from the lovely town of Narooma on our state’s south coast. Our family is taking a few days off at Ange’s parents’ house and, as you can see from the pic below, the children are frolicking in the sunshine and enjoying the great outdoors!

Enjoying the great outdoors!

Enjoying the great outdoors!

I’m afraid that since we last spoke I seem to have been bogged down in desk work and other clerical duties, though I have been keeping myself up-to-date with Syria. Indeed, I’ve been finding myself increasingly mired in the ongoing information war.

I hope that you saw my article on “How Obama lost the first battle for Damascus”.  It got quite a wide circulation and can now be found on onlineopinion.com.au, orientalreview.org, and counterpunch.org, as well as on my own Syria blog – prayersforsyria.com.

My aim in the article was to try to unravel some of the rhetoric that was being used to prepare the ground for open war. Since writing, I’ve been made even more aware of just how deep and dirty this war of words really is!

The Battle for Hearts and Minds

Some of us are old enough to remember the only war in human history that was ever brought to a close due to popular demand – the war in Vietnam (1955-75). The reason the Vietnam War was so unique and was concluded in such a unique fashion was that it was the only war to have ever been televised by an independent media!

The power-brokers learnt their lessons from Vietnam. Mainline media is no longer so independent, and reporters are no longer allowed to move freely around the front lines. They are now safely ‘embedded’ at well-determined vantage-points.  The makers-of-war lost control of the narrative in Vietnam and determined not to lose their grip again. Then along came the Internet, and with it, the threat of the true democratization of information!

This where Obama came unstuck, I suspect. He announced that Assad had committed a crime that warranted his country being invaded and a million bloggers cried foul!

From what I could see, the mainline media did very little to question the official government narrative, just as they completely failed to notice that every sector of the church across the globe had united in opposition to US intervention. Even so, the multiple voices of dissent could not be kept below the surface. There were too many of them, and too many people had the capacity to hear them!

It would be interesting to do a detailed comparison of the various lies that have been used to justify wars and see how this latest set compares. Even putting to one side the obvious lies concerning Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction and his supposed links to Al Qaeda, we could push back a little further and compare:

  • The stories told by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, in April 2011, about how Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was issuing Viagra to his troops to encourage the systematic rape of civilians – a charge that was later investigated by both ‘Doctors Without Borders’ and ‘Amnesty International’, and shown to be without foundation (see here).
  • The eerily similar 1993 story of an unnamed Serbian General who commanded his troops to “Go forth and rape”. It made the front page of the New York Times and helped grease the wheels for NATO’s intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The paper later published a small correction saying that “the existence of “a systematic rape policy” by the Serbs “remains to be proved.”” but this received little attention.
  • The Kuwaiti girl who testified before Congress in 1990 that she had seen Iraqi soldiers storm the hospital where she worked and dump newborn babies out of their incubators. She turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US, if you remember, and the whole ‘baby-killer’ story turned out to be the brain child of an American marketing firm, but nobody questioned the story until well after it had played its role in justifying the first invasion of Iraq.
  • George Bush I’s outlandish depiction of Manuel Noriega, accompanied by the transparently false claim that American lives were at risk in Panama, used to justify the invasion of 1989, cynically named “Operation Just Cause”!
  • The outrageous lies told by Ronald Reagan back in 1983 to justify the invasion of the tiny Caribbean nation of Grenada – claiming that the tiny country was being developed into a Cuban-Soviet military base that would be used to launch communist attacks against the US!
  • The staged “The Gulf of Tonkin” incident that launched America into a full-scale war in Indochina in 1964!

Most of us are too young to remember this last incident, but recently declassified documents reveal quite unambiguously that the “unprovoked attack” by North Vietnamese vessels on the USS Maddox on the night of August 4, 1964, never actually took place!

In short, government lies are nothing new and they are rarely particularly sophisticated. You get the impression that the great powers assume that their voting public will believe anything that comes from the top, and history shows that generally we do!

I think the reason for this is simple. The papers inevitably report what our leaders say. If there is a denial of the leader’s statement, it’s nestled somewhere deeper in the paper, on the pages that most people never reach.

But nowadays the counter-narrative is in your face! It’s coming at you through your smart-phone, and it’s all over Facebook and Twitter before the papers carrying the official narrative are even printed! This must be causing those who reap the big profits from war and human misery to panic!

The Machinations of Propaganda

It’s macabrely fascinating to watch the way the power-players are handling these latest developments.

On the one hand we see the relatively sophisticated US propaganda machine try to reframe the argument for war and refocus us on other issues (using their full arsenal of ‘weapons of mass distraction’ as Chomsky calls them). On the other hand we see basic thuggery and intimidation being used in the Arabic press!

One saga that has gripped me has been the unraveling of an article published in Mintpress News on August 29 that was the first to claim eye-witness accounts of the gas attacks in Ghouta! According to the two Jordanian journalists to whom the article was attributed, it was actually the Saudis who were behind the attack!

Since the publication of that article, one of the journalists seems to have disappeared and the other is trying to distance herself from the work completely. Apparently she’s under pressure from … (you guessed it) … the Saudi’s! (see the full story here).

In the middle of all these machinations is our own dear Mother Agnes, who published a lengthy study of her own that disputes the official US version of the gas attacks. This has earned her praise from some quarters and ridicule from others. Mother Agnes’ study can be downloaded here.

Mother with Mairead and myself in Beirut

Mother Agnes with Mairead and myself in Beirut

I found it difficult to study Mother Agnes’ report in detail as it contains multiple images of apparently dead and suffering children, and it is hard to look at such images analytically. Even so, I appreciate that if we are to take these children’s suffering seriously we must investigate these crimes scrupulously, and this is what Mother Agnes has done. If you’d prefer an abbreviated version, this RT News article draws directly on Mother Agnes’ work and makes it clear that at least some of the videos used by the US to justify the proposed attack on Syria cannot be trusted!

And so, as Mother Agnes tries to unravel the propaganda, she becomes a target of propaganda herself! Media sources from Russia and other countries that oppose foreign intervention in Syria have been praising her while those in favour of intervention pillory her.

The effort from Australian mainline media seem particularly pitiful. One recent article published in the Melbourne Age that was straightforwardly critical of Mother Agnes turned out to be a simple cut and paste job done on an article that appeared in the New York Times. The interesting thing is that the New York Times article is actually far more balanced. The Australian version has all the balanced bits cut out!

And now ‘Human Rights Watch’ have come out in opposition to Mother Agnes! This might sound like a damning indictment, but it probably says more about ‘Human Rights Watch’ – an organisation whose objectivity has been under suspicion for some years – than it does about Mother Agnes. Read this article published on the ‘Ron Paul Institute’ site if you’d like to know more about this

A Solution for Syria?

And while the propaganda war rages, a solution to the actual war on the ground may be nearer than we had thought!

One consequence of the proposed intervention that the Americans may not have anticipated was that it has further fragmented the Syrian opposition, many of whom hate the Americans even more than they do Bashar Al-Assad!

One the one hand this has led entire units of the ‘Free Syrian Army’ to defect to Jabhat Al Nusra – the largest of the Islamist groups – who are by no stretch of the imagination fighting for a free and democratic Syria! Conversely, those Syrians who are still fighting for reforms to their homeland are now considering teaming up with government forces to help throw out the foreigners!

Robert Fisk reports that secret meetings between FSA and government officials have already taken place and that we may well soon see a complete reshaping of the conflict! If this happens I expect that the war in Syria will end pretty quickly. There will be no way that the US will be able to justify arming Al Qaeda against an all-Syrian coalition who are defending their country from foreigners. And once support for the opposition dries up from the US and its allies (the Saudis, Qatar, Israel and Turkey) it will not take long before the insurgents will be in full retreat!

I pray that this will happen quickly, as I would much rather return to Damascus when this is all over there than go there as a human shield. Even so, things are by no means resolved as yet, and the propaganda machine still has plenty of fuel left in the tank.