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January 26, 2011

One Fruit Cart – Tunisia

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Food and Farms, Freedom — Tags: , , — Russ @ 4:18 am

 

Things are just getting started in Tunisia. That’s what we want the history books to someday write. Things are off to a promising start there. Over a month of sustained spontaneous protest has toppled a despot of decades and forced some political reforms. While this isn’t freedom’s sufficient goal, it’s a great start.
 
The Ben Ali regime was a typical despotism. It was a calcified crony state integrated into the neoliberal global finance system, its real rulers Western banks and corporations. Like other corporatized colonial despotisms, it was an ally of the US government. Ben Ali himself, who has fled the country taking over a ton of gold with him, was a typically worthless piece of filth. The regime was worthless and decrepit in every way. Tunisia’s economic situation is bleak although not exceptionally so. The stagflation pattern – permanent mass unemployment along with escalating prices for necessities – is rampant here as in other North African and Mideastern countries. (And as will become more and more familiar in the West including America. Stagflation is the only future possible, if we allow the future to go according to corporate plan.)
 
One difference between Tunisia and most Western kleptocracies is that it didn’t have the hang of neoliberal pseudo-democracy. Instead of holding sham elections and allowing a modicum of free speech which is drowned out by the official sound system, it engaged in clumsy old-style political repression. This lack of a safety valve may be part of the reason revolt broke out here sooner than elsewhere.
 
The proximate spark was an unemployed college graduate who was assaulted by the police for selling fruits and vegetables without having paid the proper protection money. They confiscated his fruit cart and stock, the one and only thing he had in order to struggle to support his family and try to preserve some shred of human dignity. That’s the exact kind of extortion and confiscation the US government’s recently passed Food Tyranny bill intends to impose on every kind of fruit cart here. In despair, he publicly burned himself alive.
 
This sparked escalating demonstrations. At first the police responded with violence and repression. They shot protestors and carried out mass arrests. As the protests and street fighting escalated, the now frightened thug Ali promised reforms. They say it was “the first sign of weakness he had ever shown”. The trade union federation UGTT called for mass demonstrations in Tunis. People climbed onto the roof of the hated Interior Ministry. Street battles ensued as the police tried to break up the protest. After trying to switch back to threats of greater repression, the despot fled the country. The prime minister announced a provisional government backed by the army with himself at its head. That was a few days ago. Since then the protests have continued, with the demonstrators and police at a standoff, with the army perhaps separating them. It’s difficult to tell day to day exactly what’s happening, as the information coming out is fragmentary. Needless to say, MSM accounts are unreliable at best. Nobody knows how many people have been murdered by the police. As of 1/17 the official death toll was 78, which means the real tally is much higher.
 
Wikileaks may have played a role in bringing anger to a flash point. Tunisians were outraged to read cynical US State Department cables which frankly discussed the Tunisian regime as a vile tinpot despotism the US must nevertheless prop up. (So remember that the next time you see some corporate liberal scoffing at how Wikileaks can’t make any difference anyway.) The Western response to the uprising has been typical. Unlike Iran’s uprising which the US system greeted with ardent embrace, here the party line was, “we take no sides”. The extent of covert support for the regime is unknown, although some British kleptocrats went further to deplore the “violence” of the protestors in getting in the way of police bullets. Since when a bullet hits flesh it becomes too damaged to be reused, they must consider this to be destruction of government property.
 
(We’ve also seen the usual suspects among liberal and social fascist traitors. Most of the same “socialist” and “union” leaders who did all they could to cripple the recent strikes and protests in France rushed to call for restraint on the part of Tunisia’s rebels. The party line among France’s Professional Left has been that the people should seek gradual reform within the existing system, looking toward some electoral Eldorado which may in a hundred years bring the same liberal democracy which has already failed in France itself.
 
France also harbors some exiled Chalabi-style Tunisian “dissidents”. Evidently these were simply losers in previous palace struggles, who now look for an opportunity to slink back and pose as “leaders”.
 
This guy, a self-proclaimed “human rights activist”, deplores the atrocities of the rabid mob:
 

The perspective guiding the union functionaries, “human rights” activists, academics, and student careerists that make up the bulk of France’s “far left” is entirely different. The outlook motivating these layers—drawn from the more privileged sections of the middle class—was articulated in a January 14 interview by Le Monde with Tunisian human rights activist Larbi Chouikha.

As Ben Ali fled Tunis, Chouikha called for a “velvet revolution,” referring to the 1989 restoration of capitalism in Stalinist-ruled Czechoslovakia, a transition in which the new regime aligned itself closely with the demands of international finance.

Chouikha complained: “The question for us now is: ‘How can we stop this explosion of pillage, which is becoming intolerable?’ It’s a breakdown that frightens us. These kids are not only attacking the property of the Trabelsi family, but police stations, and everyone’s property.”

 
The horror. It looks like human rights isn’t his real line of work, but some other kind of “rights”. It’s up to them, but we can only encourage Tunisia’s people to reject such parasites and carpetbaggers as the treacherous posers and scammers they are.
 
We can take it as a rule that a dissident in exile, if he’s spent that time partying in the West, has been corrupted. That’s assuming he was ever any good to begin with. So any such returnee must be regarded with suspicion, and forced to prove himself through new action.
 
As I’ll discuss further below, the best thing the Tunisian movement has going for it is its spontaneity and the absence of prefabricated “leadership”. We just had the latest demonstration in France of what happens when a people’s movement subordinates itself to pre-existing leadership.)
 
So is this Tunisia’s February? Nominally, it’s a similar pattern. Economic hardship triggers mass spontaneous protest which causes the army to withdraw support from a hated despot who must abdicate. Someone forms a provisional government. But there are several major differences. In February 1917 the Tsarist regime collapsed completely, and the provisional government was cobbled together by previously disempowered parties (liberals and various socialists). This new government immediately instituted complete political reform. (It wasn’t so eager to undertake structural economic reform, which eventually led to its downfall.) Today the existing regime is still in place, albeit having shaken off its hated figurehead. But beyond a few political concessions, it intends no changes. If the evolution ends here, it will have accomplished little more than to provide an example of what spontaneous people’s action can do when it erupts, and what happens when it stops short of its goal.
 
Also, in 1917 people everywhere immediately, as part of the spontaneous efflorescence, formed workers’, soldiers’, sailors’, and peasants’ councils, the soviets. Today, although I looked for signs of it in accounts, I haven’t heard yet of council formation, which is a classic metric of a real revolutionary process. The most I read was that some among the protestors are calling for a new constitution, which I hope means they propose to write it themselves.
 
Nevertheless, the most promising precedent which is fully embodied by this admirable movement is its decentralized spontaneity. It had no pre-existing leadership structure, has not followed a preset plan, and has not been coordinated by any hierarchy. Like all true movements, it presents the spontaneous genius of the people. I’m not saying the people can carry out the full social revolution in a purely spontaneous way. But any leadership worthy of the name can arise only indigenously, out of the movement’s own ranks, proving itself in the movement’s own councils and assemblies.
 
If the people of Tunisia maintain this new activist spirit and follows through along its vector, building on itself and evolving out of itself, they can provide a great lesson and beacon to the world. Their spark is already setting off parallel fires in Algeria, Libya, and most importantly of all Egypt. I hope to have much more to write about these evolutions.
 
Today the people of Tunisia stand poised to liberate themselves and serve as a school to the world. Their lessons for their fellow North Africans and Arabs are self-evident. But since neoliberalism plans the same slavery for all peoples, everywhere, so the lesson is the same for all peoples, everywhere.
 
I’ve often said that I think the likely basis for a redemption movement in America will be Food Sovereignty and relocalized food production and distribution. I’ve also written about how the corporations and government are planning to prevent us from doing this. So you can understand why this fruit cart resonated with me. That’s our fruit cart. Indeed, on a personal level that’s my fruit cart. And whatever we dream of doing in this perilous system where the goal everywhere is to prevent us from doing anything but quietly starving to death, whatever plans any of us have, that’s our fruit cart as well. (And in that sense let this piece also be my rebuttal to whatever filth that criminal spewed last night. I didn’t watch the gangster gala and haven’t yet read exactly what he said, but I’m sure I’ll hear all about the gory details today.)
 
So this revolt is our future revolt as well. We the people, wherever we may be, are all citizens. We all face the same enemy. We’re all in the same struggle. So in that spirit I hail the Tunisian spirit as our own and wish it vigor, wisdom, resolve, courage, and the relentless will to follow through to the end, which is the new beginning. 

January 20, 2011

Wikileaks and Food Imperialism

Filed under: Food and Farms — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 6:27 am

 

This is just going to be a link dump on another of Wikileaks’ services to the world’s people. Among the leaks from the diplomatic cables have been several on food neoliberalism. These include the State department’s commitment to further inflict proprietary GMOs on Africa and Europe, to “punish” governments and economies which continue to resist GMOs, interlinkages of GMOs and the military-industrial complex (specifically the scam “AFRICOM”), the pope’s two faces on GMOs, the subversion of courts in foreing countries on behalf of the likes of McDonald’s, and other stuff.
 
I was going to write a post on it, but I don’t think I’ll get around to it. But I did want to offer the links, so here they are. There’s probably lots of others by now.
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December 23, 2010

The Limits to Racketeering

 

According to Joseph Tainter’s theory of imperial collapse, as societies become more complex, they must expend an ever greater portion of the energy they have available simply on maintaining their complexity. Although social and technological advances may achieve profitable returns for awhile, once a certain level of complexity is reached, diminishing returns set in. Eventually, at the late imperial stage, the complexity of the power structure, the military infrastructure, the bureaucracies, all the rents involved in maintaining an ever more bloated parasite class, their luxuries, the police state required to extract these rents and keep the productive people down, and the growing losses due to the response of the oppressed producers, everything from poor quality work to strikes to emigration or secession to rebellion, reaches a point where the system can only cannibalize itself and eventually collapse.
 
Julian Assange’s theory of the secrecy tax he’s trying to impose through Wikileaks is one example of these diminishing returns on imperial complexity. All the indications are that Wikileaks has been successful in this.
 
One dynamic of the system which makes citizen action so difficult is its distributed responsibility for repressing the people. But perhaps the same dynamic also generates an inner weakness.
 
The way things are today, anyone who wants to reform anything, anywhere (or in the case of politicians, pretend to try to reform) finds himself blocked by some vested interest which pops up to resist. There’s always a particular criminal who, in defending his own piece of the action, also takes the lead in defending the corporatist system as a whole, in that particular fight. The resources of change are always more thinly and broadly distributed than the force of the status quo, which concentrates immediately in the form of that special interest. That’s the way kleptocracy works. That’s also part of the reason regulation of rackets can never work.
 
However, there’s also a reverse vector here. The system is dedicated to the growth of every wealth and power cell. So the federal government never has any intention of rigorously regulating anybody. If it ever tried, it would face the same concentration of resistance. But it’s also constantly importuned by the aggression of those same concentrations, usually many or all of them at once. Each interest is not only a conservative defender of the status quo, but a reactionary aggressor.
 
So we have the vector of reform blocked and shattering itself on the immovable object of the entrenched racket. And in the same way we have the vector of that same racket’s insatiable greed and aggression as an irresistible force pushing the inertial government and power structure as a whole. As physics equations, these are identical effects, although in one case the racket is stationary, in the other it is in motion. In both cases its inertia is immutable.
 
The vector of racket greed, what Marx called the siren song luring the racketeer, cooing “Go on!…Go on!”, is always in the direction of greater expansion, greater complexity, monopolizing more of the finite system resources for itself. The system as a whole cannot achieve sufficient concentration at any point to resist this aggressive concentration.
 
It follows from this that there’s no way the system can rationalize itself or retrench in its own self-interest. Trying to do this, it would run into the same special interest resistance at each point. It too would find itself more dispersed than the concentration which resists. Nor can it even keep up its sham pretenses to democracy, two conflicting parties, the rule of law, since there’s no way for it to distribute responsibility for anyone in particular sustaining a loss. Nor is there anyone who would be rewarded for imposing this loss on anyone within the fraternity. Each racket or individual racketeer says, “Why should I take the hit for the common (elite) good? Let someone else take it.”
 
The recent doubling down on the ethanol mandates is a good example. The ethanol racket is absurd even by this kleptocracy’s standards. Many other rackets opposed this blend wall extension. All rational observers think the mandate should be repealed completely. It will only exhaust the people even further (exhaust their economic capacity and perhaps their political patience; everything runs that risk) and render the infrastructure even more prone to breakdown. But the system is helpless. At each point, like this one, there’s one aggressor against a dissipated front. It’s the same as when the people try to fight them.
 
This is a welter of parasites battening on the same host. They’re in a zero sum game, not only against the people, but among themselves. Each has an interest in just exploiting the host, not killing it. But together they are killing it and therefore themselves. It’s clear none is capable of organizing or regulating the others. The federal government isn’t capable of doing it. If one big bank tried to do it, it would be subverted by the others. Each racket, from highest to lowest, is going to maximize its bloodsucking until there’s no blood left.
 
It’s the truest and most extreme example of the tragedy of the commons. (The “tragedy of the commons” is a Big Lie in general, but in cases like this one it’s true.) Biologically, it can’t stay this way. It’s impossible to exploit any resource this way forever or to maintain such cannibalistic complexity. Such a bottleneck cannot endure. That’s why no such tyranny has lasted long, and in the acceleration of modern times, where tyrannies take only years to go through the same life cycle which once took centuries, we can reasonably aspire to soon see the collapse of this one.
 
The Tower of Babel grows ever higher, ever more top-heavy, ever more unstable, ever more tottering.

December 15, 2010

What Do Wikileaks and Foreclosuregate Have In Common?

 

Much has been written about Julian Assange’s theory of how aggressive forced transparency can impose a “secrecy tax” on authoritarian conspiracies like the secrecy regime of the US kleptocracy. The ability of a system like this to smoothly function is predicated on its ability to easily disseminate information among the insiders while keeping it secret from outsiders. So the more paranoid the system becomes about its ability to maintain this monopoly, the more it must restrict information flows, police its own members, and devote resources to this maintenance. Like any other illegitimate, parasitic structure, it becomes less and less efficient and resilient as the self-generated resistance to it grows. According to Assange, Wikileaks is dedicated to imposing this secrecy tax upon these criminal organizations. If the tax becomes onerous enough, it can even render the system unable to function.
 
When I thought about this, it struck me how similar it is to other ramifications of the system crime. Everywhere there are signs of the self-imposed crime tax hindering smooth system function. Probably the best example is Foreclosuregate, where the banks’ systematic refusal to comply with the most basic, stone-carved legal procedures for conveying title and constituting MBS trusts has rendered all “ownership” questionable, and has perhaps in fact rendered most mortgages and most or all MBS trusts unsecured loans. In non-recourse states, the mortgagee may in fact not be able to have recourse even to the house itself. Meanwhile if the scofflaw servicer tried to belatedly (and illicitly) convey the note to the trust, the trust would be revealed as having been fraudulent in the first place, the trustees would incur a severe tax liability, and they’d be exposed to lawsuits from the defrauded investors.
 
The same would be true if the originator simply foreclosed on his own:
 

On one hand, the problem is easily cured – the party who is the documented owner of the loan could foreclose (the original lender). The problem with this is that the proceeds of the foreclosed property, including the recoveries intended to reimburse the servicer for advances, would have no mechanism for getting back into the trust.

If the original lender foreclosed, took title and liquidated the loan, accountants would have an issue with how the proceeds could possibly end up back with the trust. The result would be a total loss for the trust for that loan.

The servicer’s attorneys have no desire to go this route – it terrifies them.

 
Every time I read something like this my first gut thought is to doubt there’s anyone in the system who isn’t willing to break any and every rule and law.
 
But then I figure that a massive criminal conspiracy within the system must run up against the same inertial obstacles revolutionaries have often complained about – that existing professional cadres, no matter what the professional intent of their members, are still as a group committed to certain ways of doing things. It’s their professional culture, and even as intentional criminals they must still often feel the need to dot the i and cross the t.
 
And then the system is supposed to be set up to maximize the flow of loot upward and minimize leakage at the lower levels. Having a perverted but still mechanically functional rule of law and process of bureaucracy is supposed to help effect this. This is why the Nazis were always as punctilious as possible about “legality” for their crimes.
 
So perhaps the half-baked kleptocracy, having run its crimes so far out ahead of its “laws”, will be unable to fix this mess even with its own pseudo-legal contraptions, and will sustain a major blow here.
 
Just like its hysterical attempts to put out the Wikileaks fire are already demonstrating the validity of Assange’s ideas. Although I’m not a tech expert, from what I gather it would be impossible to shut down Wikileaks short of “shutting down the Internet itself”, which I take to mean rendering it far more slow and inefficient. We can imagine what that would do for the system’s economic “recovery”. That fits into their intensifying “cyber war” rhetoric. Joe Lieberman and others have also been threatening even their own friends in the MSM like the NYT. Government agencies and contractors are imposing all sorts of restrictions on what computers within their purview can be used for. I had one commenter tell me his company is even trying to restrict what employees can do on their own personal computers at home. And funniest of all was the spectacle of universities warning prospective government employees among their students about how intensely all their prior online activity is likely to be scrutinized by this prospective employer. The vision of these Ivy League Hitler Youth scrambling to try to sanitize their past online lives and even more vigilantly self-police their words and actions going forward gives us a prime piece of Schadenfreude.
 
So it looks like we already are imposing this secrecy tax.
 
[We can see from all this why we don't want any sort of "modernized" mortgage registry, which would simply be easier to "legally" game. It would put up less resistance to organized crime. Its very pseudo-efficiency would offer fewer handholds for citizen action.
 
We're learning everywhere that so-called inefficiency and redundancy really mean resiliency and at least the potential for accountability.
 
In this case, there's nothing wrong with the existing legal procedure. (Not the scofflaw mortgage mill and securitization procedure.) Is this slow when you're trying to convey and securitize millions of loans? Yes - which is a good thing. Slow is Good. And as we should have learned by now, we never needed or wanted such financialization of mortgages in the first place. They should have stayed with the originator, with what worked perfectly well before these crimes were invented.
 
There's no need for shock-doctrine speed and false efficiency, which as we've learned to our sorrow is a false economy.]

December 13, 2010

Wikileaks, Hypocrisy, and Sunshine (2 of 2)

 

As discussed in part 1, the most important thing about Wikileaks is the simple democratic fact that we the people are the rightful owners of all system information. This information is our property and the elites have zero right to monopolize it. Anyone who leaks it or delivers those leaks is simply restituting stolen property to its rightful owners.
 
This can be distinguished from our private information as individuals, which is our individual property. For anyone – government, corporation, private scumbag –  to seize and organize that information without our full consent (contracts of adhesion are not consent) is the same theft, and generally perpetrated by the same elite criminals or their thugs.
 
But system secrets, the secrets of government and big corporations (which are all welfare leeches upon society), are public property. The information belongs to we the people. Therefore by definition a system secret is a theft, unless there’s some truly critical reason why it has to be a secret. As the Wikileaks deliveries prove, this is almost never the case. So far the Wikileaks record has been 100% illegitimately secreted information, stolen property, now restored to its rightful owners. (Since this record is so complete, so unanimous, so definitive, we now have proof, if there were any doubt before, that the press has an affirmative professional obligation to publish all system secrets, based on the presumption that the secret is wrongly classified, and/or is being kept in furtherance of crime.) 
 
But the elites themselves, by having betrayed their citizenship and humanity, reveal themselves to have no such private information either. That’s because in their essence, where they’re not conscious criminal conspirators, they are something far more odious, pure hypocrites. In On Revolution (chapter 2, section 5) Arendt discusses the hypocrite, who “is the actor himself insofar as he wears no mask. He pretends to be the assumed role, and when he enters the game of society he does so without any play-acting whatsoever. In other words, what made the hypocrite so odious was that he claimed not only sincerity but naturalness, and what made him so dangerous outside the social realm whose corruption he represented and enacted was that he instinctively could help himself to every “mask” in the political theater, that he could assume every role among its dramatis personae, but that he would not use this mask, as the rules of the political game demand, as a sounding board for the truth but, on the contrary, as a contraption for deception.”
 
This “mask”, as a public persona, was supposed to help clarify and enhance truth by serving as a buffer between the private person and the public citizen. In this sense it’s related to though not the same as Nietzsche’s concept of the mask, as discussed e.g. in Beyond Good and Evil sections 40, 270, and many other places. As Arendt discusses elsewhere in the chapter, it can be horrible for personal secrets to be dragged into the light. So for the individual to participate as a citizen requires some mediation of the concept of political persona, if only as a boundary between public life and what’s legitimately private.
 
But the greedy, power-seeking political hypocrite abuses and betrays this humane concept. His mask protects nothing, since his private essence is the same as his public crimes; he’s simply a criminal, nothing more or less.
 
All this is bound up with the bizarre obsession and debate over Obama’s state of mind. Obama’s actions as an aggressive neoliberal corporatist and warmonger are crystal clear. So why the obsession with motive? I suppose it’s progress that so many people are now reaching the stage of at least questioning what he really stands for, however absurd it is that this is not obvious to everyone already. It seems like a proxy for figuring out the real nature of the kleptocracy itself. For many people the real nature of the corporations and their goon government is still a paradox. The belief in the goodness of these things (or at least their necessary evil) is dying hard. Can the expanding argument over Obama be a working out of broader psychological issues among the masses, a solving of the conceptual problem, a withdrawal from the brainwashing?
 
The mere possibility of this demonstrates why transparency is so important, why the criminal suppression of information is so destructive, and why the hypocrite is so morally repugnant. If they can keep the crime secret, they can lessen the chance of the victims liberating themselves. And if they can successfully deny the crime in their own minds as well, it never happened. A hypocrite is a walking exemplar of the possibility of destroying truth. He’s willfully oblivious of the truth of his own action, denies this truth, and therefore destroys it in himself.
 

[T]he hypocrite’s crime is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only the crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.

 
Of course our “leaders” are both criminals and hypocrites, and hypocrites precisely in order to be able to commit their crimes and still live with themselves, since they’re moral cowards as well.
 
Here’s just one choice example, especially bizarre in light of the absolute hatred of Hillary Clinton and all the others for Wikileaks and by extension the Internet itself:
 

Consider, for instance, how the views of the US administration have changed in just a year. On 21 January, secretary of state Hillary Clinton made a landmark speech about internet freedom, in Washington DC, which many people welcomed and most interpreted as a rebuke to China for its alleged cyberattack on Google. “Information has never been so free,” declared Clinton. “Even in authoritarian countries, information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.”

She went on to relate how, during his visit to China in November 2009, Barack Obama had “defended the right of people to freely access information, and said that the more freely information flows the stronger societies become. He spoke about how access to information helps citizens to hold their governments accountable, generates new ideas, and encourages creativity.”

 
So this presents the possibility of a nation of hypocrites which commits hideous crimes whose truth is then lost forever. If a mass murderer convinces himself that he’s innocent, did the crime ever take place? Did the victims ever exist? Or were they in fact the criminals? The only existing witness says Yes, if hypocrisy is able to triumph. That’s obscene. That’s why humanity needs total transparency, not as the solution, but as a prerequisite, a basic tool. That’s why letting in the sun is part of our moral imperative. Wikileaks is helping with this mission. 
 
Therefore we have to publicize all elite secrets, nor is there any fear here of violating the persona of individual criminals, since the system criminal is not a citizen or an individual, but a piece of crime incarnate. The level of this crime is exemplified by the secrecy regime – done purely to cover up crime, and simply as an exercise in illegitimate power itself. This secrecy is in fact another assault on our sovereignty as a people. This sovereignty gives us the right, and by now the obligation (now that pseudo-democracy has been proven not to work), to rule ourselves directly. But the elites construct a system which allegedly requires secrecy, monopolize those secrets, and then turn around and claim this need for secrecy rules out direct democracy. But that’s simply a criminal lie, an act of classical usurpation, classical tyranny. The obvious response is to get rid of the artificial, illegitimate system which is claimed to require such secrecy in the first place.
 
We know our property has been stolen and our political heritage usurped. For us to continue to allow the secrets to be kept is to alienate our own sovereignty. We have a citizen imperative here. As citizens we have no choice but to demand total sunlight. We have the right to total transparency, the responsibility to demand it, and no right to shirk this responsibility.
 
Then there’s also the practical fact that the secrets all involve crimes against us, robberies and assaults on our freedom. So also in self-defense we must seek total transparency. We must reciprocate war on their secrets (our public property) as they declared war on our informational private property – surveillance, databases, consumer info compiling and selling, advertiser tracking, drug testing, DNA testing, TSA scanners, polygraphs. When we consider the monumental level of crime, the existential hypocrisy of the criminals, and the special insult of their absolute assault on our human privacy at the same time that they impose a blackout on our informational property as citizens, the French Revolution’s absolute rage for unmasking and its impetus to drag all hypocrisy into the light becomes comprehensible.
 
Wikileaks hasn’t done anything so expansive, but has simply engaged in some targeted restorations of public property. It is in fact trying to support and protect true American interests and values (as opposed to the interests of the criminal elites).
 
Here’s all my Wikileaks posts so far:
http://attempter.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/transparency-vs-kleptocracy-bp-oil-spills-wikileaks/
 
http://attempter.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/afghan-sunshine-wikileaks-and-transparency-vs-corporate-tyranny/
 
http://attempter.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/transparency-wikileaks-and-odious-secrecy/

December 10, 2010

Wikileaks, Secrecy, Federalism, and Globalization (1 of 2)

 

The question of what the American Revolution was primarily about – ideals or governmental forms, politics or economics – was temporarily settled by the framers themselves in 1788 when they imposed it as a fact that the revolution had been fought to establish a strong central government which embodied in many details the exact details the revolution had claimed to find odious, and flouted in many ideals the exact ideals the revolution had claimed to embody.
 
Here at least there’s no question – the emphasis was on a form of government, a republic. They called it (and themselves) “federalist”, but even then that was clearly just a successful Orwellian terminological inversion. It was actually the framers and adherents of the new Constitution who were anti-federalist in normal terms, according to the standard usage of the time, while their opponents whom they successfully smeared as “anti-federalist” were at least arguing on behalf of something closer to true federalism, power much closer to its true source in the people. (I won’t claim they were all sincere.)
 
I think it’s moot to ponder how sincere the “federalists” were as champions of this central government. If the rise of the fossil fuel age and the industrial revolution really necessitated strong central governments, then perhaps this Constitution was one of the better (I don’t say “good”) attempts to harmonize that need with protecting the people’s rights and freedoms. At the same time, Hamilton and others seemed ardent to maximize power for its own sake, and displayed the standard elitist contempt right from the start. It’s beyond dispute that a major purpose for this power concentration was to use it aggressively for continental imperialism. The Federalist repeatedly cites this goal as a reason to concentrate federal power. What later came to be called “Manifest Destiny” was already a core element of the Founders’ ideology.
 
So what’s the specific link between imperialism and the republic form of government? In On Revolution (chapter 2, section 4) Hannah Arendt emphasizes how Founders of various stripes agreed that a desired goal was to encourage faction among the people in domestic matters while seeking a united front where it comes to foreign policy. She quotes Jefferson as wanting “to make us one nation as to foreign concerns, and keep us distinct in domestic ones”, and cites Madison’s Federalist #10, with its celebration of “the spirit of party and faction”, which of course was to be kept within the limits of representative government.
 
This formula would allegedly generate the maximum political freedom within the country compatible with a sufficiently strong projection in foreign policy. While this was already dubious in the 18th century, in modern times it appears in a sinister light. We see what it means today: The elites encourage and foment discord among the non-elites, while we must all submit to the astroturfed united front for whatever foreign policy our betters assure us is necessary, no matter how wasteful, deranged, and destructive to the very domestic freedom and prosperity for which the policy allegedly exists in the first place.
 
This puts in a different light Arendt’s contention, no doubt literally true, that ” the direction of the American Revolution remained committed to the foundation of freedom and the establishment of lasting institutions.” The question is begged more starkly than ever, Freedom for whom? To do what?
 
But this question was already being begged when Madison wrote numbers 10 and 51. It’s here that he notoriously posited that the greatest threat to social stability would be the rancor of the people, who to him were inherently a kind of proto-mob ready to realize their full mob potential at any moment, against the elites. It was explicit in Madison’s concept that political elites need to exist at all (only they, as elected representatives, know how to organize power and run a government). Implicit were such propositions as that economic elites need to exist at all; that their wealth and property concentrations are justified; that their own aggressive actions, which from the outside and from the receiving end look like depredations, are the natural way of the world and can’t be held accountable in any way (therefore if the people react with anger it’s really they who are the aggressors); that a foreign policy designed and dictated by those elites is to the benefit of “the country” as a whole. All this, so viciously and tiresomely familiar to us today, adds up to compel the strong presumption that another implication of Madison’s scheme was that the very “faction” celebrated by Madison and Hamilton and even Jefferson was always intended to be a tool of divide and rule.
 
However it was with the original intent, we now know it represents the essence of misdirection. For America, the rule has long been (if it wasn’t always) aggression against others and hijacking of public resources, which is always for the benefit of the elites only, and could only ever accidentally coincide with the interests of the people. The misdirection is meant to distract from this and help trump up the tawdry “united front”.
 
It’s this fraudulent pretension to a unified America in its foreign policy which Wikileaks has directly attacked with this latest document delivery. The leaks demonstrate in the clearest detail how the specially designated foreign policy elites are the same petty, incompetent crooks we’re so familiar with everywhere else, and how their concerns are the exact same combination of crime and meanness as we see everywhere else. But most importantly in assaulting their pseudo-monarchical secrecy prerogative, a key trapping in their very claim to authority and power, Wikileaks has dealt a blow to their ability to pseudo-legitimately maintain this prerogative. Once the people understand once and for all what a sham “foreign policy” is, in the same way they’ve come to understand the central “federal” government as a fraud and a parasite in domestic policy, we’ll finally be ready to relinquish it completely, all at once or in stages.
 
Here’s just a few things the leaks have proven:
 
Each leak is something which should never have been classified in the first place. It proves how promiscuously they’ve abused the classification privilege, as a matter of normal practice. We citizens already knew under Bush that this privilege needed to be rescinded. (Of course, we now know that most of the liberals were lying when they said that at the time.)
 
Each leak is proof that there’s no real “national security” at stake. Each proves further that the only secrets regard the power and crimes of the elites.
 
Every document is further proof they have no valid secrets. Each act of secrecy is an affront to democracy and a violation of the social contract.
 
As has already been proven with previous deliveries, the leaks don’t endanger the American people or our interests. On the contrary, to whatever extent the leaks hinder the corporate agenda, they serve the American interest. The empire itself, and the stateless corporations themselves, are contrary to the American interest, as history has proven over and over, every time. Empire serves no one but imperial elites, and harms everyone else. In 2008 that became brazen here in America.
 
We saw the NYT and the WaPo suppress leaked information which lessens the case for war with Iran, at the request of the administration. (We got it through the Guardian.) So there we see the scurrying cockroaches exposed in broad daylight – your leaders, your elites, your government, and your media, suppressing evidence against war.
 
Wikileaks has proven that elite secrecy has no right or reason to exist at all, and that transparency is a citizen right and imperative. With the evidence of the leaks, no one can any longer argue for secrecy other than as a brazen celebrant of domination for its own sake. No one can any longer cite “reasons of state”, or that the elites know pertinent facts at all, let alone pertinent facts which can’t safely be shared with the public. No one can any longer argue with a straight face that foreign policy has anything to do with “American interests”, or anything other than the same ugly, paltry elite interests.
 
We’ve now seen it all, and we know there’s no there there. From here on, we know secrecy is nothing but an anti-democratic ritual. We must be all the more relentless in asserting sunlight as a democratic ritual. No one can see the American flag when its hidden away in the dank and dark. Only the sun shining upon it renders it visible at all. So there’s the real essence of the symbol. Not the mere dyed fabric, but the light upon it. Darkness, secrecy, is the true mortal insult to the symbol, and to the essence.
 
We should also recognize how this bogus “foreign policy” astroturf, which we can trace to the original framing of the system, is by now completely entwined and indistinguishable from globalization. The slow but steady progress of over two hundred years has been for these elites, and their government, to extract the wealth of the land they did nothing to work for, abscond upward in power and “law” with it, and eventually detach government and law themselves from the land. The anti-sovereign globalization entities and agreements represent the full logic of the entire process. The WTO is a kind of one world super-constitution. All of this is rule by pure administrative decree, intended to extract all wealth and power from the land but leave behind the dead husk of government, law, and civil society. This husk is now meant to be just a weapon against the people, but nothing in itself. It’s a world-historical secession of the elites.
 
The neoliberal franchise is a sick joke. It’s the symbol and ritual of nothingness. And then this stateless, anti-sovereign body is to rule the disenfranchised people by direct bureaucratic tyranny, as the direct private agent of the corporations. That’s the goal of globalization.
 
When “federalism” was redefined and centralized upward in 1888, and organized to be focused on a false unified foreign policy, this secession process was set in motion. From there it’s been the same vector and the same logic which have advanced through every trial. Since the end of the Cold War, in the face of imminent Peak Oil, this false federalism is attempting its final upward redefinition. But this depends upon keeping the people gazing spellbound up into the fog, instead of seeing clearly how every truth is right there in front of us, easy to understand, and always at our own level, except where it’s actually below us.
 
There’s no reason at all for wealth and power to concentrate upward. The people are understanding this intuitively. We’ve always known to be suspicious of globalization, and now we know to reject it completely. This means we must also reject the globalizing elites. We should see their “foreignness” for what it is and reject it. They chose to abstract themselves from our land and wage war upon it and us. So while we reject their foreign policy front, we can accept that framing against themselves.
 
A good place to start is to actually see them for what they are, and insist upon this clarity at all times. We know they mean us nothing but harm. If we didn’t know before that every secret is kept not on our behalf but against us, we know it for a fact now. We can thank Wikileaks for the documentary proof of the illegitimacy of the elites’ foreign policy pretensions and alleged prerogatives.
 
And since the false federalism which has led us so far astray was already based upon this false foreign policy emphasis in its inception, we must take our hard-won knowledge and apply it back as we reconceive our democracy. This has been a case study in the falseness of representative pseudo-democracy itself, and proof of the need for and unique legitimacy of positive democracy.

November 12, 2010

Crime Blotter

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I wanted to clear some clutter I had saved, so I’ll do one of those link dump/quick hit things:
 

Researchers at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, are studying how to create an infrastructure out of human beings interconnected by wearing sensors, gateways and radios, resulting in a “body-to-body” network. Because human beings are so easy to come by, the networks could potentially be massive as well as high in bandwidth…..Long term, actual functioning body-to-body wireless networks could render cellular base stations unnecessary in heavily populated areas.

 
Note on crowdsourcing and cooperative economics: If we’re all going to be unpaid crowd-sources, that can only be equitable and can work at all only if we all purge all profiteering. It can’t be: rent-seeking for me,  anarchism for you. But that’s the way they currently want it.
 

Every quarter, content delivery network Akamai delivers a State of the Internet report looking at the Internet in terms of traffic, speed and connectivity. The latest report shows that the rest of the world is continuing to outpace the U.S. in terms of speed, while the U.S. becomes the leading source of “attack traffic” worldwide.

According to the report, the U.S. “became the top attack traffic source in the second quarter of 2010, account for 11% of observed attack traffic in total.”

 
The US is the world leader in “attack traffic”, while it continues to fall further behind in actual productive performance. Why does that strike me as typical?
 

As for whether the student was ever reimbursed, a spokesman for the law school issued a written statement to ABC News saying that the school was “deeply concerned about the job prospects and general well-being of our students and our recent graduates” in the downturn. “But no institution of higher education can make a guarantee of a job after graduation.” It added, “What we can do is provide the best education possible, and work together to provide as many career opportunities as possible.”

 
You made an implicit guarantee that if the student was reasonably conscientious, had reasonably good grades, graduated and jumped through whatever other credential hoops, and there was no other self-inflicted reason he couldn’t find a job in the field your degree trained him for, then he could find a job. This is fraud, predatory lending and a lemon product, period. Meanwhile the student debt isn’t dischargeable even in bankruptcy. Basically the victim of this scam has been placed in the state of nature vis the system and the corporate universities. Since this is the only way to fight back, everyone ought to sue on this ground.
 

I mean more than that. I mean that Zuckerberg subscribes to an entire hacktivist information-freedom-fighting culture that values truth and transparency for its own sake. But it’s not enough for him to hold and promote that ideology by striking against the powers that be in any way he can, like Julian Assange; Zuckerberg’s means are more nefarious. He imposes his ideology on users, seductively, through the architecture of his tool itself. People who like this ideology and are happy to see it inflicted on others through the tyranny of architecture are MarkZists.

 
Indeed. Zuckerberg’s a totalitarian, but a kiss-up kick-down snivelling gutter bully worm of a totalitarian. Compared to him the Bond-villainesque evil of Monsanto looks downright majestic.
 
Compare the citizen philosophy of Assange:
 

This information has reform potential. And the information which is concealed or suppressed is concealed or suppressed because the people who know it best understand that it has the ability to reform. So they engage in work to prevent that reform . . . .

There are reasons I do it that have to do with wanting to reform civilization, and selectively targeting information will do that — understanding that quality information is what every decision is based on, and all the decisions taken together is what “civilization” is, so if you want to improve civilization, you have to remove some of the basic constraints, which is the quality of information that civilization has at its disposal to make decisions. Of course, there’s a personal psychology to it, that I enjoy crushing bastards, I like a good challenge, so do a lot of the other people involved in WikiLeaks. We like the challenge.

 
And finally more from liberalism, an ideology which just looks more and more on the ball all the time, doesn’t it?
 

The name of the principle is the “cultural defense” — the argument by a defendant that his or her allegedly criminal behavior should be excused or subject to a lesser penalty because in the culture of origin that behavior is an accepted and even commanded norm….In a way, the person pleading the cultural defense is saying that he has brought the tribunal of his religious faith with him by virtue of having deeply internalized its precepts and imperatives.

 
I guess it’s not surprising how so many liberals like Greenwald and the ACLU supported Citizens United. The liberal ideology seems like among other things a template for enshrining corporatist double standards – a bankster should be allowed to steal, because “that’s how they do things.”
 
Like MERS tried to tell the judge in Ohio:
 

“Plaintiff’s ‘Judge, you just don’t understand how things work,’ argument reveals a condescending mindset and quasi-monopolistic system where financial institutions have traditionally controlled, and still control, the foreclosure process…

 
“Cultural defense”:
 

The question raised by the cultural defense is, “When people come to America [do] they have to give up their way of doing things?”

 
Or in this case, do we have to give up America and all aspects of civilization and humanity when we enter “the market”, which is totalitarian and seeks to impose itself upon us everywhere, at all times. 

October 24, 2010

Transparency, Wikileaks, and Odious Secrecy

 

Today the people are the beneficiaries of the latest Wikileaks document delivery, nearly 400,000 pieces of information touching on every aspect of the horrors of the Iraq war of aggression. I’ve previously written about Wikileaks here and here.
 
We ought to be the beneficiaries, if we choose to use this opportunity to learn about the crimes of this system. Unfortunately the previous deliveries didn’t have much immediate effect on the shocking complacency of what may be a terminal slave populace. But it’s too early to know how the beer will taste until it’s fully brewed. These things sometimes fester underground, like the flame that can slowly smoulder its way invisible through miles of subterranean pine needles before it bursts into the air as wildfire.
 
We have no idea what the tipping points will be, and what gradual, organic forces and tensions will have undermined the balance to the point of sudden imbalance.
 
However that may be, sunlight is a pure value. It warms, it invigorates the air, conjures the photosynthetic basis of complex life. It illuminates, it directs, it teaches, it inspires.
 
And while as individual human beings we also need and are entitled to our shade and shadow and our night as well, no one has the right to block out the sun. The information our society creates belongs to us all. It is our property as citizens. It’s our social sunlight, which illumines our collective truths. Top down secrecy is odious. It’s a theft of public property. It’s a characteristic crime of tyranny, committed for the obvious reason of concealing from us the rest of their crimes against us. It’s also done for its own sake, out of the inertia of power and the haughty sense of entitlement of elitism itself. It’s the smothering fog coughed up to obscure our sun. It’s shoving us into the grave dug for us, and the shoveling of sterile dirt upon our heads. Secrecy is death.
 
There’s certainly no “practical” reason for it. America has no existential enemies, except the criminals themselves. And even its lesser terrorist enemies are not a threat worth all we’ve pusillanimously surrendered to them. They’re mostly a threat to the elite empire, not to the citizenry. And it’s the empire’s war which creates the terrorists anyway. The Arab world long ago got sick of jihad. Only US aggression still fans those flames. So the pretext for the secrets is the same crime which generates the opposition whose alleged threat is supposed to justify the secrets. This is the same crime whose details the secrecy seeks to cover up. We’ll find that this applies in every example, not just the war.
 
So secrecy has no practical purpose or moral validity. Secrecy can only be part of legitimate sovereignty to the point it is absolutely necessary on account of some existential threat. Where, as in our case, this threat is nonexistent, the justification is nonexistent. So to the rest of our indictment we can add that a secretive government is an illegitimate government. In our case secrecy is not part of sovereignty, but is only instrumental toward tyranny.
 
Julian Assange of Wikileaks is an eloquent articulator and relentless activist of this ideal.
 

WikiLeaks receives about thirty submissions a day, and typically posts the ones it deems credible in their raw, unedited state, with commentary alongside. Assange told me, “I want to set up a new standard: ‘scientific journalism.’ If you publish a paper on DNA, you are required, by all the good biological journals, to submit the data that has informed your research—the idea being that people will replicate it, check it, verify it. So this is something that needs to be done for journalism as well. There is an immediate power imbalance, in that readers are unable to verify what they are being told, and that leads to abuse.” Because Assange publishes his source material, he believes that WikiLeaks is free to offer its analysis, no matter how speculative…..

Assange does not believe that the military acts in good faith with the media. He said to me, “What right does this institution have to know the story before the public?”…….

In some respects, Assange appeared to be most annoyed by the journalistic process itself—“a craven sucking up to official sources to imbue the eventual story with some kind of official basis,” as he once put it. WikiLeaks has long maintained a complicated relationship with conventional journalism. When, in 2008, the site was sued after publishing confidential documents from a Swiss bank, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, and ten other news organizations filed amicus briefs in support. (The bank later withdrew its suit.) But, in the Bunker one evening, Gonggrijp told me, “We are not the press.” He considers WikiLeaks an advocacy group for sources; within the framework of the Web site, he said, “the source is no longer dependent on finding a journalist who may or may not do something good with his document.”

Assange, despite his claims to scientific journalism, emphasized to me that his mission is to expose injustice, not to provide an even-handed record of events. In an invitation to potential collaborators in 2006, he wrote, “Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and Central Eurasia, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal illegal or immoral behavior in their own governments and corporations.” He has argued that a “social movement” to expose secrets could “bring down many administrations that rely on concealing reality—including the US administration.”

 
And here:
 

This information has reform potential. And the information which is concealed or suppressed is concealed or suppressed because the people who know it best understand that it has the ability to reform. So they engage in work to prevent that reform . . . .

There are reasons I do it that have to do with wanting to reform civilization, and selectively targeting information will do that — understanding that quality information is what every decision is based on, and all the decisions taken together is what “civilization” is, so if you want to improve civilization, you have to remove some of the basic constraints, which is the quality of information that civilization has at its disposal to make decisions. Of course, there’s a personal psychology to it, that I enjoy crushing bastards, I like a good challenge, so do a lot of the other people involved in WikiLeaks. We like the challenge.

 
He writes in his manifesto, “Conspiracy as Governance”,
 

He had come to understand the defining human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution. As a student of Kafka, Koestler, and Solzhenitsyn, he believed that truth, creativity, love, and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by “patronage networks”—one of his favorite expressions—that contort the human spirit. He sketched out a manifesto of sorts, titled “Conspiracy as Governance,” which sought to apply graph theory to politics. Assange wrote that illegitimate governance was by definition conspiratorial—the product of functionaries in “collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population.” He argued that, when a regime’s lines of internal communication are disrupted, the information flow among conspirators must dwindle, and that, as the flow approaches zero, the conspiracy dissolves. Leaks were an instrument of information warfare.

 
The organization is a model of rhizomatic resilience and redundancy:
 

Assange is an international trafficker, of sorts. He and his colleagues collect documents and imagery that governments and other institutions regard as confidential and publish them on a Web site called WikiLeaks.org. Since it went online, three and a half years ago, the site has published an extensive catalogue of secret material, ranging from the Standard Operating Procedures at Camp Delta, in Guantánamo Bay, and the “Climategate” e-mails from the University of East Anglia, in England, to the contents of Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo account. The catalogue is especially remarkable because WikiLeaks is not quite an organization; it is better described as a media insurgency. It has no paid staff, no copiers, no desks, no office. Assange does not even have a home. He travels from country to country, staying with supporters, or friends of friends—as he once put it to me, “I’m living in airports these days.” He is the operation’s prime mover, and it is fair to say that WikiLeaks exists wherever he does. At the same time, hundreds of volunteers from around the world help maintain the Web site’s complicated infrastructure; many participate in small ways, and between three and five people dedicate themselves to it full time. Key members are known only by initials—M, for instance—even deep within WikiLeaks, where communications are conducted by encrypted online chat services. The secretiveness stems from the belief that a populist intelligence operation with virtually no resources, designed to publicize information that powerful institutions do not want public, will have serious adversaries……

Assange also wanted to insure that, once the video was posted online, it would be impossible to remove. He told me that WikiLeaks maintains its content on more than twenty servers around the world and on hundreds of domain names. (Expenses are paid by donations, and a few independent well-wishers also run “mirror sites” in support.) Assange calls the site “an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking and public analysis,” and a government or company that wanted to remove content from WikiLeaks would have to practically dismantle the Internet itself……..

As it now functions, the Web site is primarily hosted on a Swedish Internet service provider called PRQ.se, which was created to withstand both legal pressure and cyber attacks, and which fiercely preserves the anonymity of its clients. Submissions are routed first through PRQ, then to a WikiLeaks server in Belgium, and then on to “another country that has some beneficial laws,” Assange told me, where they are removed at “end-point machines” and stored elsewhere. These machines are maintained by exceptionally secretive engineers, the high priesthood of WikiLeaks. One of them, who would speak only by encrypted chat, told me that Assange and the other public members of WikiLeaks “do not have access to certain parts of the system as a measure to protect them and us.” The entire pipeline, along with the submissions moving through it, is encrypted, and the traffic is kept anonymous by means of a modified version of the Tor network, which sends Internet traffic through “virtual tunnels” that are extremely private. Moreover, at any given time WikiLeaks computers are feeding hundreds of thousands of fake submissions through these tunnels, obscuring the real documents. Assange told me that there are still vulnerabilities, but “this is vastly more secure than any banking network.”

 
This is a new model for the kind of sunlight activism we need. Imagine a whole media system dedicated to such recovery of the people’s stolen information. (I’m of course referring to collective public information, regarding politics, the economy, business, foreign policy. Just as with property in general, the personally used item or information belongs to the individual; the collective infrastructure belongs to those who build it.) We can know our need for so many suns as we survey the wasteland of odious secrecy. I’ll just select some of the examples from some of the fronts.
 
The Banks:
 
So many secrets of the Bailout. The Fed’s still stonewalling the fight for sunlight which has outlived its originator, Bloomberg reporter Mark Pittman. Will we ever know how much taxpayer money was embezzled by the Fed’s “facilities” and arcane Treasury programs? How much was handed to the banks practically for free to let them gamble against our economy, prosperity, and society?
 
No sooner was the sham finance bill passed than it came to light (heh) that the bill contained a provision allowing the SEC to keep practically all of its activities veiled from the FOIA. Although Congress went through the charade of “fixing” this “oversight”, even the fix still adjures the SEC to protect the secrets of hedge funds.
 
So there’s a good example of what the sham finance “reform” bill was really about. Since they were worried that SEC activities which were subject to FOIA requests could become a conduit for throwing sunlight on the shadow banking system, they used the bill as a mechanism for indirectly gutting the FOIA where it comes to the finance sector. We should look for such anti-FOIA gambits in every other kind of bill.
 
Mortgages:
 
Among its many vectors of criminality, the MERS system is meant to cause all mortgage information to disappear down a black hole. But the land belongs to the people, and the banks have no right to secrets over it. Why should we ever agree that some secret system vouches for the ownership of land? It’s not bad enough we have private property in land on the part of unproductive bankster “owners”, but this system of ownership is also being kept secret from we the people, from whom this potentially productive land was stolen in the first place?
 
The truth is that the banks themselves have long since lost track of this ownership, and abrogated the chain of title beyond redemption. Part of the point of MERS was to carry that out, and now part of its point is to conceal it.
 
Even a neoliberal propertarian like Hernando de Soto deplores this assault on transparency, considering it subversive of property rights. Among the criteria he lists for stability of the property regime are that all assets and transactions be listed on publicly accessible registries, that all finance deals must stay closely tied to the real value of the underlying asset (so it follows that this value must be transparent), and that government must forbid opacity and obfuscation in the language of market transactions.
 
(I mention de Soto to demonstrate that a leading neoliberal concurs in the assessment that the MERS system, including its secretiveness, has called landed property itself into quesion.)
 
The Health “Insurance” Rackets:
 
They’re notorious for total darkness where it comes to pricing. (Doctors and hospitals are guilty of that too.) The customer has practically no basis for cost comparison or any kind of understanding of why he’s being quoted the rate he’s experiencing. The racket bailout bill alleges it will change that, but we’re already seeing how well the bill’s provisions are being enforced.
 
Internet Access and Participation:
 
The telecoms and cable companies have so far mostly refrained from transmission discrimination because they fear political fallout and a consumer backlash. But the formal enshrinement of net neutrality has become all the more critical as the technology now exists to let the telecoms discriminate in a secretive manner.
 
(The FCC’s proposed net neutrality principles, even if enshrined, may actually be pretty weak against such secret discrimination. But one fight at a time. Let’s get a basic net neutrality enshrinement, and then we’ll improve it.)
 
Food:
 
The FDA, a corporate tool, has done all it can to keep secrets from the American people about the safety and costs of their own food. It seeks to ban GMO-free labeling. Although it hasn’t (yet) banned bovine growth hormone labeling, it allows and is encouraging states to do so. Recently a federal court overturned an Ohio state ban where the Agriculture Department sought to intervene on behalf of the state.
 
The Obama administration also continues the Bush tradition of refusing to update public environmental databases even where required by law. In this case the USDA has refused to update its pesticide use database since 2007.
 
The Gulf Oil Eruption:
 
Perhaps the most chilling secrecy event, imposed not by stealth and bureaucracy but by brute force, was Obama’s literal handing over of (anti-)sovereign jurisdiction over much of the US part of the Gulf of Mexico to BP. Federal employees openly said they could only do or allow what BP authorized, and federal agents became de facto privatized deputiesWe still know almost nothing about what’s really happening in the Gulf, and while we’ll eventually know the full effects if only by experience, the system criminals will do all they can to keep our information from us as long as they can, to our economic and health detriment.
 
(With all of these, we should recall the sick joke out of Chicago, how markets were going to be “free” and “efficient” and “rational” since all “participants” would have all the necessary information. But as I described in my deconstruction of the ideological and “constitutional” rationale for the Stamp mandate, we were really never considered participants in this utopian market, but passive subjects, clay to be worked, a resource to be mined, victims. That’s the full Orwellian truth of neoclassical economics. So there also lies their explanation for how Secrecy = Transparency. Their theory was only ever meant to apply to the elites themselves.)
 
It’s easy to see how many powerful interests are ranged against the people’s sunlight. So it’s also no surprise that Assange and Wikileaks have been demonized by the government, the MSM, and conservative and liberal hacks alike. (Including quite a few of the “real progressives” who oppose Obama, but who nevertheless as liberals remain elitists and still viscerally abhor the ideal that the elites are entitled to no secrets at all.)
 
The fact that such an array of criminals has assembled against Wikileaks is a metric of its effectiveness, and even more, of its perceived threat, and a badge of honor. We can expect every kind of tactic to be deployed against Assange and the rest of the team, but the aspirations of the organization and the task may just withstand the onslaught. It’ll help if more people and organizations follow on this path.
 
We who reject the existence of the “elites” also reject their nonexistent right to keep secrets. Every leak against the will of the elites is a restitution of stolen property. Wikileaks is in fact an agent of law and order, and its people are part of the human citizenry.

July 26, 2010

Afghan Sunshine (Wikileaks and Transparency vs. Corporate Tyranny)

 

Today Wikileaks, in collaboration with the NYT, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel, released 92,000 pages of documents on the Afghan war. So far it looks like strong reinforcement of everything we already knew.
 
From The Guardian:
 

The war logs also detail:

• How a secret “black” unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial.

• How the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.

• How the coalition is increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.

• How the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.

 
And the NYT:
 

The documents — some 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from January 2004 through December 2009 — illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001……

The archive is a vivid reminder that the Afghan conflict until recently was a second-class war, with money, troops and attention lavished on Iraq while soldiers and Marines lamented that the Afghans they were training were not being paid.

The reports — usually spare summaries but sometimes detailed narratives — shed light on some elements of the war that have been largely hidden from the public eye:

• The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

• Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

• The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.

• The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.

 
This enhances the clarity of the general picture: administrative and strategic incompetence, corruption, an attitude of utter callousness toward civilian life, the increasing effectiveness of the Taliban’s defensive measures, above all how this is a corporate war being waged with hijacked public resources for criminal ends.
 
We in the blogosphere knew all this, but will Assange’s turning the jingo NYT into a journalistic accomplice help get the message out to a broader audience? 
 
By making the release of the documents a collaborative effort with major MSM outlets, Wikileaks founder and impresario Julian Assange seems to have made a smart tactical move. This co-opts the generally hostile MSM and tries to force focus on the story itself rather than the fraudulent meta-story of whether or not this information should have been released in the first place. (Though we’ll no doubt see plenty of that as well.)
 
[We should be on the lookout for another bogus media provocation. Who knows whether or not it was an accident that right-wing and liberal corporatists came together last week for a splendid little race flap just when the Washington Post's extraordinary series on the Pentagon corporate welfare state should have been the dominant story.]
 
Assange won’t reveal his sources, so we don’t know if this was another example of Bradley Manning’s heroism. He hasn’t been charged in relation to any of these leaks. But regardless we should compare Manning’s position, that of someone who actually tried to do his duty as a soldier and a citizen and looks to be severely abused for it, to that of the great capital criminals of our own or any other time, the likes of Blankfein, Dimon, Hayward, the weapons purveyors, Obama and Bush, and all the corporate and government gangsters, how they have only prospered and seem to go from strength to strength as they destroy America for no ideal higher than their verminous greed.
 
(Obama’s reaction to the release is typical. He blames everything on Bush while condemning the exercise in transparency itself. It’s exactly the same combination of unaccountability, remorselessness, and hatred for democracy you’d expect. Have you ever seen cockroaches scatter when a light is turned on? A commitment to transparency, of course, was one of Obama’s key campaign promises. But from day one in power he has reviled any light shone upon him and his fellow criminals.)
 
The almost complete destruction of democracy is just one of their ultimate crimes. (They’re not completely there yet; while Citizens United was more the formal consummation of a crime than a significant change, the defeat of net neutrality and public broadband access would signal the eradication of Internet democracy itself, the last real democratic space available to those who can access it.)
 
This is why transparency is such a critical issue. It’s not just a point of process, the way a liberal would typically say; by now we must exalt and demand it as a sacred ideal in itself.
 
As I wrote before, the “secrets” of a country which faces no existential threat have no practical reason to exist. And in a country whose economy has matured and then become decrepit to the point of rentier oligopoly, there are similarly no valid economic secrets. By now all the produce of the mature sectors is simply the work of the society itself, and therefore all the information which exists is similarly the public’s property. Not the corporations’, and not the government’s.
 
So there are no practical or moral reasons for elite secrets to exist. Given what we know of how malevolent a role secrecy has almost always played throughout history, how no matter what its pretext it usually also was enlisted to serve the criminal ends of power elites, it follows that if elite secrecy has no practical or moral standing, then it becomes ipso facto impractical and immoral. It’s a moral affront to the rights of the people, and a clear and present danger to the health of our democracy. By now it’s a core duty of citizenship to demand total sunshine for all elite information. Or, to put it a different way, “elite” information has no right to exist. Just like every other elite monopoly, this one must be broken up and restituted to the people.
 
(As I said in that previous post, this doesn’t apply to our individual, personal, bottom-up information. That truly is our individual property. Of course there too the elites, whether it be Facebook or the government, try to steal what’s ours and use it for their own power and profit goals. So a corollary is that the elites have zero right to our informational property, since all their purposes are, as I described, illegitimate. By definition elite activities have no practical or moral standing.)
 
So we must hail the all-too-rare true journalism of transparency as exemplified by Julian Assange and Wikileaks. They’re doing great work. As for the incipient martyrdom of Bradley Manning, I don’t know what can be done there. Bloggers like Greenwald try to interest the populace in the plight of our heroic citizen whistleblowers who are under such assault by the same administration which refuses to “look backward” to the Bush administration’s veritably Nazi crimes because Obama’s committing all the same crimes himself. But so far the people don’t seem all that interested. Nor do they seem all that concerned about the crimes themselves.
 
Things look grim. But one thing which can only help is sunshine. The more the better. We the people should have zero tolerance for pretensions to secrecy on the part of any elite, and regard any such claim as if the elitist had uttered the worst racial slur. That’s how unacceptable elite claims of secrecy should be among civilized people.
 
So that just brings us back full circle to what’s always our starting question: Can we save civilization itself? Is there even anything left to save?

May 24, 2010

Transparency vs. Kleptocracy (BP, oil spills, Wikileaks)

 

Over the last 24 hours the oil eruptions at the Deepwater Horizon volcano seem to have been escalating. Live blogging of the event seems to have observed several new eruptions and a major deterioration of the size of the crater. Observers say this may be the result of bursts of natural gas popping out through the chronic oil flow, further dislodging the structure, opening the wound wider, enabling the flow to accelerate. It’s probably not a coincidence that BP, while denying that anything new had happened, simultaneously announced it was delaying the “top kill” operation, its latest cockamamie scheme to stanch the flow, for at least a day.
 
Looking at it from the point of view of the big picture, it’s definitely no coincidence that on the same day we learn that since the first explosion Obama has rushed to approve further environmental waivers for his Drill Baby Drill offensive in the Gulf. They’re terminally committed to these crimes and will see them through to the end. (Though it seems to me this can’t even be called disaster capitalism. At least for the moment real wealth is being destroyed across the board, even for the criminals themselves. But even then they remain committed.)
 
It’s no coincidence that even with the belated live feed, and even before the new eruptions, it’s so hard even at this late date to gauge how much oil is actually hemorrhaging. This isn’t because the technology capable of giving an accurate measure wasn’t available right from the start (it is), but because BP refused to allow reality-based measures for public consumption even though this information is public property. (The imprecise live feed we have now was grudgingly allowed only under extreme political duress.) And because Obama is just a sniveling little corporate flunkey, he has meekly obeyed whatever BP’s Hayward has demanded of him. (Of course Obama’s not unique in this; by now all establishment politicians are such flunkeys, though perhaps they’re not all such wretched bootlicks by nature and preference the way he is.)
 
For a good example of BP occupation of what’s supposedly American sovereign space, including deputization of American government personnel, see this video showing Coast Guard personnel acting as privatized thugs, openly saying they’re under BP orders to drive off reporters. This is one example of how the US government is allowing a rootless multinational corporation to simply temporarily annex at will United States territory. Apparently wherever it considers necessary to its interests, BP simply declares “we hold the power and dictate the conditions.”
 
(It sure puts the old constitutional debates about sovereignty in perspective, doesn’t it? The American Revolutionaries and Framers seem not to have contemplated private corporations who have infinite rights and zero responsibilities or restrictions. Nor did the later debates over secession encompass these rogue “persons”. That’s just a glimpse of a line of thought I’ll develop further in later posts.)
 
There are so many aspects of this disaster to compel our focus – the destruction of whole fishing and tourist industries, the environmental havoc (god only knows the reverberations – for example, I read somewhere about what a critical point the Louisiana wetlands are for vast bird migrations, headed all over the northern and southern continents; if those wetlands are destroyed, the chaotic reverb could be astronomical), the implications for oil supply and energy consumption, all the same issues of neoliberalism, corporatism, and kleptocracy we encounter at every other turn.
 
Today I’ll just stick with the transparency issue. There are many aspects of criminal dereliction on the part of government which were kept secret as long as possible. The MMS has systematically refused to regulate, but on the contrary saw its real job as to make the permitting process as frictionless as possible, while enabling the greatest flow of taxpayer money to Big Oil’s treasure hoard. It flat out refused to perform inspections. And now following the explosion Obama has done all he can to help protect BP’s secrets, like how much oil is flooding into our gulf, and how much damage it’s causing. We just saw the deputized Coast Guard doing its part.
 
It sounds like this might be a job for Wikileaks. Clearly the Obama administration would fear and hate anyone who could publicize this or any other corporate/government (kleptocratic) information. Obama and Cheney are simpatico on that. That’s why, just like all criminal governments, the Obama government fears and hates Wikileaks.
 
As Glenn Greenwald detailed in this good primer, Wikileaks has long been a bane to the Pentagon in particular, culminating in its release of the infamous “Collateral Murder” video. But all governments hate it and have been stepping up their harassment. Most recently, founder Julian Assange of Australia had his passport temporarily confiscated on the grounds of its worn and torn condition. This was obviously nothing but intimidation on the part of the Australian government. They see Wikileaks as an enemy because it released a list of websites to be banned under the new Australian censorship policy. The list, including many political sites (and now Wikileaks itself), proved that the alleged censorship target (child porn) is really nothing but a pretext for censoring purely political content, public interest and therefore anti-government.
 
That particular incident is like a morality play revealing the bad intent of government, how it wants to censor all information in its own interest and the interest of corporations, and how heroic are the efforts of the few dedicated transparency activists like Assange and his colleagues at Wikileaks. (Needless to say, the MSM has largely abdicated, and plays the role of stenographer for kleptocracy far more than anything else.)
 
Here’s how Assange sees his mission, according to what he told Greenwald:
 

This information has reform potential. And the information which is concealed or suppressed is concealed or suppressed because the people who know it best understand that it has the ability to reform. So they engage in work to prevent that reform . . . .

There are reasons I do it that have to do with wanting to reform civilization, and selectively targeting information will do that — understanding that quality information is what every decision is based on, and all the decisions taken together is what “civilization” is, so if you want to improve civilization, you have to remove some of the basic constraints, which is the quality of information that civilization has at its disposal to make decisions. Of course, there’s a personal psychology to it, that I enjoy crushing bastards, I like a good challenge, so do a lot of the other people involved in WikiLeaks. We like the challenge.

 
It’s no coincidence that Assange has made Iceland one of his four “bases” and has been spending a lot of time there, given how one of the ways in which the people of Iceland are trying to fight back is their idea of turning Iceland into a transparency haven. This would be a great boon to efforts like Wikileaks and hopefully many more.
 
When we compare the magnitude of kleptocracy with such a small, threadbare yet courageous web outfit, we see the potential of Internet democracy and the decentralization of power, through the dissolving of top-down information monopolies.
 
Of course there are Internet fascists as well. The likes of Mark Zuckerburg, Scott McNealy, and Larry Ellison take brown-shirt pride in sneering at individual privacy, saying there is no such thing, and that the very idea should be under total assault. But the truth is the exact opposite. It’s power, either corporate or government, which has no right to secrecy, since all power and wealth (all sovereignty) comes from and remains the property of the people, even if it’s been temporarily stolen.
 
Stolen. That sums it up. Government is now kleptocracy. All the rationales for secrecy are clearly false. There are no longer “national security” issues. National security is meaningful only to the extent that the keeping of a secret is really necessary to defend against some level of existential threat. America isn’t under any existential threat whatsoever. The “war on terror” is a fraud on its face, since terrorism is and can be nothing more than a nuisance. It can certainly never do anywhere near as much damage as BP or Goldman Sachs, let alone Smithfield or Monsanto. It’s well known that jihad isn’t intrinsically attractive to the Muslim on the street, but that only the US’s imperial aggression itself drives this will to fight. As I’ve previously written, the Global War on Terror, really a corporate looting project, counts on riling up enough resistance to it to justify its continued existence.
 

So it’s terminologically sound to call it a war on “terror”, precisely because terror is merely a tactic of the weak trying to fight back vs. America’s pointless endless bullying aggression, while the war on terror is simply this aggression seizing upon the resistance to itself to further justify itself. As we know, the main driver of terrorism is the American presence in these countries, so the self-feeding aggression creates the very rationale used to sanctify it.

 
So it’s a lie that the security of the country itself, or even the continued existence of the power structure, depends upon secrecy. On the contrary, all top-concentrated power is soon to unravel, soon to collapse and decentralize and simplify anyway, thanks to Peak Oil and the debt collapse. Keeping Peak Oil and the real state of Wall Street’s balance sheets a secret isn’t going to save them. Maybe just delay the inevitable for a few days.
 
Soon to collapse, delaying the inevitable. That sums it up. All policy and propaganda is now intended to prop up power for its own sake. Why did the Bailout do nothing to reform the finance sector or bolster Main Street? Why is there no real finance reform bill or jobs program? Why is no one from Wall Street in prison? Because the system’s one and only priority in all things is to prop up the parasite rackets.
 
Parasite rackets. Here’s another point about secrecy. The government has been oh so solicitous about the “proprietary information” of the likes of BP, or the control of the banks’ reputational information which would be so adversely affected if we knew how much taxpayer money the Fed had shoveled out via its “facilities”, and to whom. But this is all a lie.
 
Again, Peak Oil renders moot most economic information about the exponential debt tower. But even without Peak Oil, most if not all sectors are mature by now. Finance and fossil fuels definitely are. There is no longer any “innovation” among these rackets such that we need this kind of secrecy regime. In these sectors there’s no reason for private enterprise to exist other than perhaps as a hired contractor, but never as a patent/information rentier. Indeed, their own neoclassical economic ideology says there should be full market information, and in a mature sector there’s no information which doesn’t belong in the public domain. This information does “want to be free”. It’s true that those who first promulgated that ideology were mostly thieves and totalitarians who really wanted to empower corporate information monopolies (just as the hacks of the “Efficient Market Hypothesis” could always find exceptions to justify every corporate patent or secret.)
 
But the idea is true if you turn it upside down. Bottom-up information – that of our individual private lives, as well as bona fide innovations thought up by truly independent creators and entrepreneurs – is of course private property.
 
But by definition all top-down information, all information generated out of a corporate-government nexus which is completely dependent upon the wealth and power generated by the people themselves, which is rightfully nothing but an ornament or appendage of the people’s sovereignty, all of this information belongs to the public. It came from the bottom up in the first place and is now only being recycled.
 
The explosion of the oil volcano should put everything in perspective for us. Today the very planet bleeds poison, a catastrophe tracking and magnifying the economic and political hemorrhage of the Bailout, as well as all the other leeches applied by kleptocracy.
 
One weapon we have, if we fight to deploy it, is to seize control of the information which is our rightful property, which has been rendered another object of theft. Wikileaks is one point of light, and if Iceland follows through that’s another. What we the people can do is shine our own spotlight on this stage where freedom activists like Assange try to present our information to us. We can be vigilant about the intimidation they face and try to force acknowledgment of the missionaries themselves and the dangers they face into the broader public consciousness, even in their corporate media.
 
Most of all the obligation of a citizen is to be educated and to act upon this information. Whether one judges that the right response is to go to the streets, or to vow to vote None of the Above in all federal elections, or to Move Your Money, or to get involved in relocalization and sustainability initiatives, or to become a writer or some other kind of activist oneself, any or all of these and many others, however you respond, the call of the age does demand a response.
 
There can no longer be any compromise between freedom and tyranny, between the citizen and the kleptocrat. We’re entering the End Game.

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