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July 31, 2009

Before the Law part 3

Filed under: Law, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: — Russ @ 9:33 am
To finish my brief account of the ways access to the law has been barred, I’d like to mention the gutting of federal and state funding for legal services.
 
Public legal services are an essential tool for the poor. They rely on these clinics to assist with fighting unlawful evictions, resisting predatory lenders, dealing with applications for government benefits and working out benefit snafus, obtaining protection from domestic violence, and many other things which the rich never need to think about (many of these problems tend to be concentrated among the poor), which require legal assistance the poor cannot afford.
 
Such clinics rely upon public funding. Federal funding has been under assault since the Republican Counterrevolution of 1994. State funding, which comes from interest on lawyers’ trust accounts (IOLTA) and from direct appropriations, is  being hit by lower interest rates and the gutting of direct funding.
 
So at the very time they are under siege in so many other ways, the poor also lose the wherewithal to receive legal assistance as they deal with the Law. This is a disgrace.
 
Access to the law is both a constitutional right and a social health necessity. When citizens are coerced into the privatized shadow legal system, or they are juridically defined out of existence as lacking “standing”, or they are denied access to a lawyer because legal representation is rationed by ability to pay, the constitution is violated every bit as much as if a criminal defendant were denied a public defender.
 
The principle is the same: access to the law cannot be rationed by wealth.
 
That it is nevertheless being rationed by wealth clearly reveals how there really is no such thing as “society”. The greed fundamentalists are throwing down the mask and revealing themselves in all their viciousness and ugliness.
 
The feudalists have finally come around to acknowledging the truth: that there’s no such thing as “the law”. Rather, as with everything you must ask, whose law? The answer is clear: the law is for the rich, for those who have acquired “property” in some usually dubious way.
 
No one with any intellectual or moral integrity would try to claim you can have law if access to the law is dependent upon money. So when we hear right wing arguments on the subject, we know we’re hearing from those who reject on principle “law” as anything other than a mercenary weapon.
 
Meanwhile it’s clear that at every state level the preferred response to fiscal crisis will be to beat up on the weak, as we see with every cut to already threadbare public programs.
 
So while government at every level can and should be working for the citizenry, it has instead, through feudal capture, become their enemy.
 
But nothing’s going to change if people just sit there and take it. The worst part is how easy it would be to take back the country if everyone who needs this were willing to do it. The obstructions, all of which are purely political, would prove to be flimsy in the face of any political will on the part of the public.
 
(The pipsqueak Hobbesians claim to want a pure free-fire zone in place of civilization. But how long would they last if we really had that? Not a day. What they really want is big, aggressive government, ponderously tipping the playing field, tilting every “market”, in favor of already-entrenched big interests, while the people, the environment, and every human value are thrown on the bonfire of gutter greed. Which is what we have today.)
 
The key to solving the mystery of the gatekeeper, as with everything in Kafka, is to realize that his power is only the power we give him. If the man whose door to the Law is before him simply strides in with confidence, there is no gatekeeper.
 
To Kafka the problem is psychological. And so it is, since the real obstacle to dealing with a political problem is to be willing to see it as a political problem, and not as some law of nature, the way the corporate enemy and its economist minions wish us to see it.
 
Understand that everything in society is the way it is because of political decisions, and you understand how different decisions can create a different society.
 
From there it’s just a matter of will.
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July 30, 2009

Before the Law part 2

Filed under: Corporatism, Law, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , , — Russ @ 8:32 am
In my last post I discussed existential barriers to lawsuits in the public interest. Corporatism would like to juridically define the public interest out of existence by denying it standing to sue or be represented in court.
 
Yet while according to even this premise the aggrieved individual should have access to the courts, in practice there’s another device to keep the door barred to him as well. This is the widespread practice of forced arbitration. More and more types of consumer and employment contracts require, as a condition of employment or receiving a service, that the individual pre-emptively waive his constitutional right to a day in court.
 
These are a type of “contract of adhesion”, where one party who is in a much stronger position than the other presents its terms as a take-it-or-leave-it. Supporters of the concept claim that no one’s holding a gun to your head, and you can take your business elsewhere. They even claim that the market will punish anyone who is too abusive with such peremptory contracts.
 
But in practice the information-disadvantaged party may fail to experience it this way. He may fail to understand the fine print which details how he is surrendering his rights. The fact that this fine print is almost always written in non-English jargon, and that the seller does not volunteer to tell the buyer what he is signing (and may lie or obfuscate if directly asked), is proof on its face that information is being suppressed. 
 
It’s a form of hard sell, meant to take advantage of the pressure a naive consumer, pressed for time, may feel. Markets fail to deter this practice precisely because the practice has become so standard. Even if you were willing to go to heroic lengths, you may be unable to find a market alternative to forced arbitration.
 
Nor can these truly be called voluntary transactions. If it’s the price of getting a job, or a necessity like a phone line, internet connection, or credit card, then you were coerced into it, since the patterns of modern society largely coerce us into having these things (just like it’s very hard to get by without driving). While it may be strictly “possible” for someone who’s not rich to live unattached to these things and therefore not have to sign such contracts, and yet not retreat to a cave in the woods, it would still require an unusual way of living not amenable to most people. Therefore we can say that the services we’re talking about here are necessities, and therefore the provider and purchaser are not in some mythical free market, but in a social contract, which brings social values into the matter.
 
Similarly, the aforementioned shady and de facto dishonest business practices rule out any notion of this being a fair exchange.
 
So on both capitalist and social grounds these contracts are invalid in themselves.
 
Then we have the abusive way they are carried out. As Pam Martens’ recent Counterpunch article Judicial Apartheid describes, there are often conflicts of interest such as where the corporate litigant and the company supplying the arbitrator are owned by the same parent company. Such is allegedly the case with the National Arbitration Forum (NAF), one of the dominant arbitration firms, according to a fraud suit by the state of Minnesota.
 
Companies often require extortionate fees to allow access to the arbitrator. Discovery is completely one-sided in favor of the corporation. The arbitrators are often selected according to how corporate-friendly they are. Pro-corporate, anti-consumer decision rates of 95%+ are common. The arbitrators may even be illicitly coached on how to rule during the proceeding itself. Thus, according to the Minnesota suit, what the NAF called “Famous Parties”, that is corporate clients who were such regular respondents that they got a special rate, would receive help forging documents while the arbitrator played gotcha with consumer documents, rendering adverse judgements based on the most innocent error or typo. Some arbitrators would directly ask corporate lawyers what they wanted in the ruling, while others would be directed to modify unsatisfactory rulings. Arbitrators judged not sufficiently corporate-friendly would stop receiving assignments.
 
The arbitrators are not required to adhere to any law in their decisions. Corporate lawyers often ask them directly to disregard the law. The decision does not have to be explained in writing, nor does any explanation have to be given at all. This renders appeal, even where technically allowed, all but impossible.
 
The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to a jury trial in all cases where the amount at issue exceeds twenty dollars. Common sense would say that bullying involuntary contracts enforced in a patently corrupt and predatory manner do not provide a sufficient basis for overthrowing a constitutional right.
 
But modern America’s corporatist Supreme Court doesn’t see things that way. In the seminal case, 2000’s  Green Tree vs Randolph, William Rehnquist writing for the majority saw fit to imperially declare that federal law can be enforced through private arbitrators, that forced arbitration contracts are valid, that there is no corruption in the system, and even that broader social goals may be properly channeled into privatized law. These are all factually false and/or malevolent as policy. 
 
The citizen can be forced into the privatized law system while the public law stands aloof. Only where the citizen fails to obey this system of feudal decree will the public law come in as a hired goon to “enforce agreements to arbitrate”, as Rehnquist put it in his lemon socialist decision. On its face, this is the public court displaying a pro-corporate, anti-public interest principle and prejudice. 
 
With the Court enshrinement and everyday entrenchment of this system of privatized law, we have a new kind of Plessy vs Ferguson and a new enshrined lie of separate but equal. Thus Kafka’s gatekeeper, who has already turned the people away from all social doors to the law, now turns the individual away declaring that he signed away his right to pass the threshhold. For him, there is no Law, and he is, in the face of the private corporate bureaucracy, stateless, rightless, and alone.  

July 29, 2009

Before the Law


“Before the Law”
is the title of a parable from Franz Kafka’s The Trial . A common man has come to gain access to the law, but is forbidden by the gatekeeper to enter. No reason for this is forthcoming. The gatekeeper tells him he may someday be admitted, but not now. The man waits and waits, waits out the rest of his life, grows old and weak. Finally, on the verge of dying, he is told that this particular door to the law had been his alone, and now it shall be shut upon him forever.
 
I’m not here today to discuss the profound literary and existential implications of this remarkable piece. Unfortunately, business intrudes, and this passage, which Kafka wrote while pondering not only the philosophical absurdity and psychological dislocation of modern times, but also its political malevolence, has an all too pressing real life relevance for us today.
 
In fact there is a ruthless, radical political program at work, seeking to bar access to the law for everyone but the rich and big corporations. Just as in all other realms, so here the goal is to fully privatize the law for the benefit of economic elites and the detriment of the public interest.
 
(There is also the fact of the corruption and weaponization of the law itself, how it’s written and enforced, on behalf of right wing ideology and wealth. I intend to discuss this in the future; for today I’ll focus on access itself.)
 
There are three basic ways to limit access to the law. The most obvious is money. Another is restriction of “standing” – simply declaring certain parties to be unpersons from the law’s point of view. And then, perhaps the most insidious, is the use of contracts to nullify the constitution and the law to force less powerful parties into a privatized law system where (monetary) might makes right.
 
In theory the concept of standing makes sense. For many kinds of cases it would be chaos to let anyone sue anyone over anything, regardless of whether or not it was in any way the plaintiff’s business.
 
But this only makes sense where the case is not primarily a matter of the public interest. Where it is not just a specific tort but even more a tort vs. the public interest, it’s obvious that the stake held in the matter by any citizen and any public interest group is of prime importance.
 
This truth is dangerous to the enemies of the public interest, sociopathic profit-seekers. So one of their weapons has been to use judicial activism to restrict the public’s right to sue over corporate activity that harms the public. Corporate defendants, as a matter of course, ask that plaintiffs be defined out of juridical existence by a finding that they lack standing to sue. As per this strategy, right wing judges consistently find that unions, consumer groups, environmental groups, advocates for the poor, and others have no right to a day in court since such a group allegedly suffered no actionably concentrated harm. The same argument is made to prevent individual plaintiffs from being allowed to be collected into classes.
 
In both cases, the tort is alleged to be so broad that no particular plaintiff suffered enough harm to make a case. Then, this harm level, while not zero but supposedly too low to be actionable, is fraudulently conceptualized as zero, so that aggregating these stakeholders would still result in a harm finding of zero. So any amalgamation of them, either as a class or through an NGO, is said also to have no “interest” in the case. It’s a perfect catch-22, Kafka’s vision realized. When as a group the people seek entry to The Law,  when they try to go through the public door, they are told no public affair exists, and are denied access.
 
Each man is forced to go alone to his individual door, where he is then refused entry on the grounds his individual case is not sufficient to get him in.
 
This does not apply to corporate litigants, “property” litigants, any profit seeker or crapulence indulger. Where the plaintiff is the economic aggressor, the tort inflicter, the psychopathic profit-seeker, every aspect of the law is set up to smooth his way. The corporate “person” always has the same door to the law flung wide open to him, which is barred to flesh-and-blood human beings.
 
This not the constitutional or the human way of doing things. In fact, the state of the art in the jurisprudence of standing remains the 1973 SCRAP case (in which the Students Challenging Regulatory Agency Procedures sued the ICC over its permission of rigged railroad rates which discriminated against recycled materials and privileged raw materials) . This precedent rightly enshrined a broad public interest right to seek justice in the courts. Ever since, one of the right’s legal projects has been to reverse the SCRAP precedent. So far they’ve only been able to chip away at it.
 
In 2007 they sustained a major legal defeat when in EPA vs. Massachusetts; they failed to have the case thrown out on the alleged grounds that the harm from climate change is so diffuse that no state or environmental group has standing to sue over it. Massachusetts went on to win what should have been* a milestone legal and political victory in the fight for a carbon mitigation policy, while in his dissent John Roberts whined about SCRAP.
 
[* Unfortunately, the opportunity this opened up to directly regulate carbon through simple enforcement of the Clean Air Act has remained as void as if the case had never been litigated. While the Bush administration’s delay tactics were completely in character, it’s disgraceful how, after all his grandiose promises, Obama has not only punted on his executive regulatory authority, but now embraces a treasonous bill which, among many other betrayals, would explicitly disallow EPA from enforcing the CAA. It’s as if Bush is belatedly winning the court case. Despicably, many mainstream environmentalists are collaborators in this.] 
 
In the next post I’ll discuss forced arbitration indenture and the gutting of public legal services as part of the general assault on the safety net and on the very existence of the poor as citizens of society.   

July 23, 2009

Feudal Property


In a previous post
 I began a critique of the American version of landed property, which I contend has bogged down in feudal stagnation and lost its legitimacy. I’d now like to begin developing the idea.
 
America’s concept of a property right in land is derived primarily from
John Locke
and the labor theory of property. According to this theory when you work a piece of hitherto unworked nature and add value to it, you gain a property right in that piece of nature. Your value-adding work justifies this. Just putting a fence around a piece of land is not sufficient. You have to work the land. According to Locke this right applies as long as there’s “enough, and as good, left in common for others”.
 
It’s easy to see that property as enshrined in modern America does not qualify on either of these counts. America has abdicated its imperative to improve the land. On the contrary there has been a retrogression. The two main examples are industrial agriculture and suburban sprawl.
 
Big Ag is less efficient and less productive than a multitude of small, independent organic farmers. It is socially and economically malevolent, leaving a trail of environmental devastation, soil degradation, livelihood destruction, financial ruin, drug addiction, and despair in its wake. CAFOs are bioweapons factories, a clear and present danger to public health, vastly more likely to launch a biological attack than any terrorist. Meanwhile sprawl is simply destroyed land. We took productive farmland and covered it with pavement, bloated residential structures, and lawns. And then there’s the little matter of some financial problems which stemmed from this sprawl….
 
None of this represents an improvement of the land. It certainly is not working the land. Rather it’s the old sin of an idle squatter taking up space. He puts up a fence, not to mark off an area of productive activity, but simply to enclose it. Nor was any of this land “reclaimed” from nature in the first place. One acquired or stole some money (or more likely borrowed phony money from a phony bank) and bought the existing cleared space. How does this qualify as staking a claim through working the land?
 
These “uses” are even less “productive” than the original wilderness. The wilderness had aesthetic and spiritual value. You could gather wood, forage, and hunt. People could cultivate frontier values and the frontier spirit. But suburbia is a pure dead zone. The land has been completely destroyed.
 
This memory of the frontier is not here for nostalgia value. Rather it goes to the second abdication. The right to a piece of land to call your own, where you carved out that piece through the work of your own hands, depended on the existence of a frontier where the freedom-seeker could always go if he didn’t want to live as a slave. But today the frontier has been destroyed, and there is nowhere left for freedom to seek itself.
 
But this does not mean freedom has to die. It means where a property regime has become the murderer of freedom, the “property” must die. No one has the right to sit on a piece of land and remove it from productivity, where there are millions who ardently desire to farm and live free. America needs  these millions of farmers. It needs them socially, economically, and relative to its energy infrastructure which will soon need to get by without cheap, plentiful fossil fuels. Otherwise America will starve.
 
Similarly, no big feudalist has the right to monopolize a vast stretch of farmland in order to render the multitude his serfs, because he prefers a worthless fat, sedentary, luxury lifestyle to a life of honest work and freedom. No, those who wish to work and be free have the right to that land.
 
What we have today is a complete bottleneck. The reason everything is frozen is because all space for movement has been blocked. That’s why no reform can go forward, why on every front, at every point the condition of the people and the country is crumbling, why even in the face of vast systemic problems like Peak Oil, climate change, malfunctioning health care and educational systems, and “Too Big to Fail”, nothing can be done. It’s because everywhere a handful of feudalists has achieved a stranglehold on the pivot points, a hold which the system as it exists refuses to break. Within the bounds and bondage of this system the people have been dispossessed and disenfranchised, completely and irrevocably. The distribution of land is the most important aspect of this stranglehold.
 
How can a whole country be bottled up to stagnate, fester, and die in order to preserve the feudal entrenchments? This is a Dark Age recrudescence. We shouldn’t be living in medieval times.
 
It’s clear that the distribution and use of land in America has become an antisocial stagnation. It has therefore abrogated all legitimacy form the point of view of the labor theory of property. Today only a complete Land Reform, the distribution of land on a productive farming basis, would constitute the improvement of the land which property legitimacy requires. This would also be the big step toward solving all of America’s social, economic, and environmental problems. Most of all, for the first time in history we’d have a society where it was actually true that anyone who is willing to work hard would prosper.
 
I focus on the labor theory of property because as formulated by Locke it was the wellspring of Anglo-American political philosophy on the subject, as in classical liberalism. Of course, as the true derivation of property has been rendered obsolete, the feudalists have tried to substitute their own justifications for idle rent-seeking and non-productive monopoly. 
 
A characteristic attempt to justify parasitic concentration came from Frederic Bastiat. Through a pseudo-religious sleight-of-hand he trumpets capitalist production as generating ever-greater “communal” wealth. So the fact that you have no land or property of your own, perhaps no job, most of all no freedom, is insignificant next to how much you benefit from this mystical and invisible communal property. It’s a justification of Walmartization.
 
But the real feudalists don’t need any such pseudo-philosophical justification. Those who may call themselves “propertarian libertarians” or “anarcho-capitalists”, but who usually just call themselves “libertarians” (the mainstream media stupidly goes along with this, confounding them with those who truly care about civil liberties) or property-rights activists, openly espouse a brutal Hobbesian might-makes-right accumulation regime. They may have some fancy talk, but at bottom it means this:
 
* Reversion to medieval land organization, just without the king;
 
* Direct dictatorship of big landowners (medieval nobles) and big corporations;
 
* Socialization of all costs on the people and the environment, while all proceeds are privately monopolized;
 
* Monopoly of violence by private death squads.
 
(They of course deny all this and talk like hippies about liberty and individual freedom and non-coercion. It’s funny how right-wingers, who take such pride in allegedly being realists in other ways, pretend to be such flower children when they talk about how benevolent and peaceful a corporate dictatorship would be.
 
But the historical record is clear and unanimous on the robbery, enslavement, and massacre it really entails. And today the record is clear in America: all four of the elements I listed are well advanced, and continue to advance.)
 
This sums up the feudalist/corporatist program as we see it unfolding today. This is the real goal of the resource fascist ideology. You don’t need to read the minutes of any secret meeting or listen to any speech. The structural trends are clear:
 
* Concentration of farmland.
 
* The whole impulse of “bipartisan” economic policy and market action is to drive up land prices so only the rich and rat race slaves can afford anything.
 
* All government policy is intended to redistribute wealth to the existing feudal concentrations. This process of looting society to the barest bleached bone started in the 70s, picked up steam through Reagan and Clinton, became the obsessive focus with Bush; and now Obama is dead set on perpetuating the Bush agenda at all costs.
 
Where it comes to land and food production, the agenda can be summed up this way: Big Ag, CAFOs, and biotech get complete domination of the farmed land, food distribution markets, government food and farm policy, and social infrastructure of farm states, while the rest of the land is destroyed by sprawl.
 
They will try to secure this slave plantation before Peak Oil really sets in. 

July 18, 2009

Land

Filed under: Food and Farms, Land Reform, Neo-feudalism — Russ @ 6:58 am
America needs millions of small farmers. Industrial agriculture is both socially malevolent and will not be able to feed the people as fossil fuel depletion sets in. More broadly, we must relocalize, we must have social and economic reform, an end to wealth concentration, the restoration of community, humanity, and freedom.
 
But nothing will work without land reform.
 
Every trend is currently in opposition to this. Big Ag further entrenches itself, with the help of a welter of proposed tyrannical laws currently gnawing their way through Congress (see here, here, and here). This legislation comprises a coordinated attempt to destroy the basis for social and agricultural recovery, by driving remaining independent producers out of the market, setting up insurmountable barriers to independent entry, and even criminalizing seed banking.
 
(Anyone who doubts the intent of legislation like HR 2749 simply has to consider two facts about this and all the other proposed laws:
 
1. Every aspect is purely regressive, imposing a one size fits all financial and regulatory measure which is calculated to impose hardship on small producers and would-be entrants, while being negligible to industrial producers.
 
2. The fact that industrial agriculture represents the overwhelming public health danger while the risks from small producers are miniscule is systematically denied by the bills. Thus the cookie-cutter regulations. This level of anti-intellectualism can stem only from ideological intent.)
 
These are all feudalist rent-seeking measures. They contain no shred of “innovation” or “capitalism” at all. They are overtly tyrannical – econonomically, socially, politically.
 
At bottom this tyranny is grounded in control of the land, through direct ownership or through economic rackets which achieve de facto control over the owners. Any solution must therefore be grounded in breaking this stranglehold and replacing it with independent, public interest ownership.
 
Similarly, the collapse of the real estate market has not been seen as the market passing judgement on the Big Developer model. These land monopolists are not being cast upon the trash heap of history where the market and the people clearly want to cast them. On the contrary, rent-seeking and government intervention are again the order of the day. Obama has declared his intention to “shore up housing prices”, thereby maintaining land as the exclusive playground of the rich.
 
[This economic crisis has stripped America of the pretense that it has a “middle class”. This pretense, we now see, was based on the smoke and mirrors of debt. Now administration policy, whose priority is to accelerate corporatist looting while maintaining social stability (as Obama told the bankers, “I’m the one between you and the pitchforks”), will try to reflate the debt bubble. It will try to levitate the simulated middle class for a little while longer.
 
But this cannot work for long. America is not a productive economy; it has no reality basis to restore “growth”; under Peak Oil it will be impossible to restore even fantasy growth. What was called the middle class will now have its lifestyle repossessed. This will include the land of “suburbia”, which will be foreclosed into the hands of the banks and from there to big developers and other feudal speculators. People are going to end up as slaves on a rusty treadmill, not even to pay the mortgage, but just to pay the rent.]
 
We see the few rational reform measures, the few rump restraints on sprawl, rolled back. For example here in New Jersey, under the fraudulent buzzword “stimulus”, the same developers who have already ravaged the state are being freed of the few existing regulations which sought to make them pay for the infrastructure burdens they pile on communities. Meanwhile, already enjoying favorable tax treatment, they are up for even more tax breaks. Not to be left out, the NJ supreme court, long a flunkey of Big Development, has absolved them of having to obey laws which would force them to provide open space to counterbalance the sprawl and crowding they inflict.
 
Meanwhile, as per the resource fascist playbook, developers are trying to co-opt the new enthusiasm for farming. According to this NYT article,  a new vogue is the subdivision built around a Potemkin organic farm, “as an amenity”. (The article uses the word amenity several times, each time as an adjunct to cheerleading over the “premium” the developers are getting.)
 
“Like-minded developers around the country are trying it on inactive farmland”. In rural areas they’re buying “big tracts of ranchland” to be subdivided. It’s just like yuppie eco-villages. The rich get to live their high-consumption, land-monopolizing lifestyles but still perfume themselves with “progressive” lifestyle ornaments. First greeniness, now a token farm left over where a vast acreage of “inactive farmland” (inactive only on account of this model for land use) has been destroyed for subdivisions.
 
It quotes a developer: “Agriculture can be the caboose on the train, and housing can be the engine.” Left unspoken: the train itself is antisocial concentrated profit. That’s what we’ve been reduced to in this country. Agriculture is a “caboose”.
 
Except for a small activist community no one thinks about it, no one cares about it. No one is concerned that the food system is monopolized by a handful of companies, that farmers are mere employees, or that vast expanses of the farmland itself have been destroyed by development.
 
The system has strangled all freedom and productive diversity, CAFOs are bioweapons factories looking for a vector toward extermenating us, the biotech companies seek world domination through gene and seed patents and monopoly. Economic barriers as they exist today render it impossible for America to save itself by producing the millions of small farmers we need.
 
It all boils down to control of the land. This is the core of the feudal property regime whose abuses and oppressions extend in every direction. Focus on this core is the best way to organize the reform struggle as a whole. Reform the land, and you can reform everything else. Leave the land in the hands of the masters, and you’ll never reform anything else.
 
My next post on this subject will discuss why, even according to the premise of property in land, the current distribution is invalid.         

July 14, 2009

Obama: Six-month Report card (2)

Yesterday I gave an overview of Obama in action so far. Now for some specifics.
 
Let’s look at the scorecard:
 
*The Bailouts – Obama has followed the Bush lead in bank policy. The core of Obama economic policy in general has been the bailouts and a general dedication to coddling and empowering the big banks. In spite of the lies of the TARP, the banks know the debt economy is finished, and they have no intention of lending again. They want only to shore up their capital position, and most of all to unload their toxic assets at prices of their own choosing. They also want to forestall any revived regulation or limits on compensation. They want to continue to exist as Too Big to Fail gangster banks, living on taxpayer protection money for the rest of American history.
 
Obama has them covered.
 
The bailout regime has been completely entrenched. It is now a revolving door where any bank can cry wolf, get a big handout in exchange for some feckless warrants, then take back those warrants at lowball prices whenever it chooses. At every step of the way the bank profits and the taxpayers are looted. Meanwhile the administration will keep trying to figure out a way to use taxpayer money to buy all the worthless toxic paper at bank-dictated prices. The only reason Obama hasn’t just used taxpayer money to directly buy the whole lot is that they still feel some political constraint. The second they think they can get away with it, that’s what they’ll do. This is now Obama’s personal policy.
 
Meanwhile, after all the highfalutin talk of restored regulation, the team’s white paper instead is a brave cry to maintain the status quo. The most important fact is that the administration has now formally declared that it will do nothing to break up the big banks. Too Big To Fail and permanent blackmail is to be an officially recognized natural fact.
 
(They have made some sounds about a possible “consumer protection agency” for financial products. But no one has done much more than lift a finger for this, while anything meant to dispense loot to the banks, like the PPIP, gets the full court press lobbying treatment. We can see what the real priorities are, and what’s for show.)
 
It’s hard to remember how not so long ago people really thought things were going to change. Today the bankers have restored confidence and are back to vigorous antisocial lobbying. Facing such an eager-to-please administration, their job is easy.
 
Why is Obama doing this? Is he confused, deluded into thinking the growth/debt economy actually can be resurrected, and that this is the way to do it? Or is he in fact every bit as much a corporatist as his lieutenants?
 
 
*The Global War on Terror – Going on four years now, the American people have clearly expressed their desire to end this stupid imperial war. Obama himself promised to withdraw from the Iraq theater, if not roll back the whole offensive. But it’s clear that Afghanistan is an equally pointless and unwinnable adventure. Escalating the war into the new Pakistan theater is crazy. No one can even articulate what the objective is in Afghanistan, let alone how it is to be accomplished at any remotely acceptable cost in blood and wealth. These same problems are simply compounded in Pakistan.
 
Is this just because he wants to look tough? Or does he in fact share the neocon agenda? It’s true, if you are ideologically committed to propping up the tower of debt in the time of oil depletion, there’s no alternative to the neocon plan to use aggressive warfare to seize that resource and try to enforce the dollar as reserve currency through direct military intimidation.
 
These are the twin objectives of the Global War on Terror, of which Obama has taken full personal ownership.
 
 
*Health Care – The baseline for anything which can be called real health care reform is a public option and replacing fee-for-service with either fixed salaries and/or payments per entire case. The system also needs a rigorous measure of how effective treatments really are, and cover treatments accordingly.
 
Only these measures can meet the two main goals of covering the uninsured and lowering costs. And only under these conditions would it be appropriate to consider a universal mandate.
 
(Actually, single payer would be much better than a public plan. But Obama gratuitously declared that “off the table” before the opening bids had even been made, before the fight had even begun.)
 
So far Obama has mostly said the right things. He has said he wants a public plan and cost-effectiveness measures. He wants to end the regressive tax deduction for income in the form of employer-supplied health coverage*. He said he wanted to pass such a bill through budget reconciliation.
 
[*The MSM has accused him of taking over McCain’s proposal on this, after having opposed it during the campaign. The big difference is that McCain wanted only this measure, but to otherwise leave the status quo in place. Obama claims to want it within the framework of a broad reform offensive.]
 
This would be the right policy and the right tactic.
 
But since then he has blithely accepted industry lies about how it wants to voluntarily cut costs, and he has gone quiet on reconciliation. Even though polls show a solid majority of Americans support a public plan he has refused to use the bully pulpit. He has refused to mobilize public anger and desire for Change, to use that force to pressure Congress. 
 
(He has refused to do this across the board, even though his oratory and his ability to inspire have been his greatest, perhaps his only tangible, strengths.)
 
He seems willing to let the entire reform project be skinned and gutted in Congress, as long as he can eventually sign any old thing and call it “reform”.
 
The nightmare scenario – keeping the status quo but adding a mandate – looks more and more plausible. This would of course be nothing but another massive giveaway to the feudal insurance racket. It would be tyrannical and unconstitutional. yet it looks like it would be acceptable to our “reformer”.
 
 
* We’re seeing the same thing with Waxman-Markey. Here again it’s a legislative show, but the president has the bully pulpit, he has the wherewithal to demand a strong bill, and to refuse to sign it if he doesn’t get one.  
 
In spite of all of Obama’s excellent rhetoric on climate change, this is a dreadful bill. Its mitigation goals are anemic, far short of the necessary concentration goal of 350 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent. Most of the permits will be free handouts rewarding the worst polluters. There are many other welfare giveaways to the fossil fuel criminals, for example money for the “clean coal” scam.
 
On a broader front, the bill would do little to prevent the blowing up of a carbon bubble, as the same bankers and traders who have destroyed the global economy with weapons of mass financial destruction now develop a whole new class of derivatives and swaps derived from emission permits and offset certificates. 
 
Corn ethanol, a net carbon emitter in spite of all the lies about how it was a sink, gets a free ride from this bill. Whereas the EPA was going to gauge its carbon footprint according to its indirect land use effects (that is, the fact that using up more land for ethanol leads to the accelerated destruction of the rain forest, which is a critical carbon sink in addition to its infinite other benefits and beauties), this bill forbids the EPA from doing that for years to come.    
 
The “cap” includes provision for a huge proportion of offsets. These are often for completely bogus emission reductions. More importantly, the point of offsets is to allow the rich countries to continue their own environmentally destructive high-impact lifestyles by paying the poor countries to remain underdeveloped. It’s simply exporting our vandalism so we can continue to party. This is at the core of the resource fascist gameplan.
 
Of course the “cap” isn’t really a hard cap. If permit prices became too onerous (i.e., if the mechanism was doing its job), the bill includes so-called off-ramps, to issue more permits to alleviate prices.
 
We don’t even need carbon legislation. In 2006 the Supreme Court declared that CO2 can be judged a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, and that the EPA has the authority to directly regulate it. Earlier this year the administration even made noises about doing just that.
 
Instead, in one of its most repulsive Bushian features, this bill would strip EPA of its regulatory power.
 
And what does Obama have to say about all this? His only anger seems directed at those who talk about imposing a carbon tariff on countries which refuse to get on board with a carbon cap, in spite of the fact that none other than the WTO itself has judged that such tariffs would be legitimate.
 
 
*Agriculture – America needs millions of small farmers. This is socially, economically, and physically necessary, as we will no longer be able to support industrial monoculture in the days of fossil fuel depletion.
 
Factory farms are an absolute disaster. They drive out small farmers, they generate a vast environmental devastation zone, they socialize all their socioeconomic and ecological costs. Most dangerous of all, CAFOs are the most intensive microbial breeding grounds on earth. They are places where every day an ever more intense arms race goes on, between the endless pumping of antibiotics and the endless mutations of the germs as they strive to overcome the antibiotics. They are veritable bioweapons factories. They are a clear and present danger.  
 
A legitimate agriculture policy would ban factory farms and force their cleanup at industry expense. It would put an end to ethanol subsidies and mandates. More broadly it would strip industrial farms of subsidies and disempower agribusiness in general.
 
It would instead plow massive resources into the empowerment of small farmers and food producers and non-fossil fuel-intensive farming practices. It would assist community gardeners, urban gardeners, Victory gardeners. It would establish a non-GMO seed bank, as a public utility, whose mission would be the preservation and distribution at low cost of diverse natural crop varieties.
 
It would strip biotech companies of illegitimate patents and of the right to patent the products of nature. Here too, research must be a public utility, and must eschew GE in favor of natural breeding practices.
 
So does Obama act upon these truths? On the contrary, he’s a longtime friend of corn ethanol, and he appointed Big Biofuel, Big Ag, Big GMO cadre Tom Vilsack as Agriculture Secretary. (Since then he has appointed Monsanto cadres to lower but powerful positions.)
 
In spite of the media exercise of planting a White House garden, this administration has said and done nothing for the cause of agricultural decentralization and defossilization. Meanwhile several nefarious bills are creeping through Congress, each of which is set up to further concentrate agricultural production, wealth and power, and to drive small producers out. Obama has said not a word in opposition to this.
 
“Get big or get out” is still the watchword with Obama, just as it has been with every president at least since Nixon.
 
 
*Wiretapping, secrecy, detainees, torture – There was already a nasty sign even before the election when Obama flip-flopped on telecom immunity. Since entering office, he’s been downright schizophrenic. He says he’s banned torture, says he deplores it, yet is firmly against indictments or even investigations. He’s also, in defiance of his proclaimed devotion to transparency, suppressed torture photos and evidence of illegal wiretapping and other legal and constitutional violations. It’s clear that here too bringing criminals to justice is off the table (to use what’s evidently one of his favorite phrases).
 
This is no way to recover America’s honor, in the eyes of the world, and especially in the eyes of decent, real Americans.
 
Obama wants to shut down Gitmo. That’s good. But faced with the standard congressional obstructionism, he caved in for the time being. (Why exactly would the executive, even where not the “imperial president”, need congressional permission to transfer prisoners from one prison to another? Aren’t there any federal facilities in safely Republican districts?)
 
He says he’ll hold civilian trials for some detainees. But in the same breath he out-Bushes Bush by claiming the power of “post-acquittal presidential detention”. So even where a defendant is acquitted, Obama reserves the right to keep him locked up forever anyway. Even Bush never claimed that power.
 
 
*Mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) – Other than his feckless legislative strategy on carbon mitigation, Obama’s environmental appointments and policy preferences have been good so far, with one glaring exception.
 
MTR is the worst environmental atrocity in the US. It involves clear-cutting forests to denude hills, literally blowing the tops off those hills, in order to expose coal seams to be strip-mined. The waste is dumped in river valleys, often filling them up completely. The rivers and streams are poisoned or completely buried. This is done in order to eliminate vast numbers of mining jobs and streamline costs in other ways (MTR requires only a small fraction of the workers needed for underground mining). The result has been the complete ecological and socioeconomic destruction of much of West Virginia.
 
MTR is clearly illegal, a violation of Clean Water Act provisions forbidding such watershed dumping, and requiring substantial buffers between streams and dumping activities. But starting under Clinton, and radically escalating under Bush, the law was simply gutted through extralegal exemptions extended by the administration.
 
Now Obama has said he wants revised enforcement of the CWA regarding MTR. That was months ago. And since then? In the standard pattern, no action.
 
At will Obama could halt this nightmare, simply by enforcing the law. But talking is all he seems able to do.
 
 
*This wouldn’t be complete without visiting the culture war, so what’s happening with gay marriage? Nothing could be a more pure example of legal equity (married couples get over 2000 legal perks) or simple decency than this issue. Conversely, there’s no coherent basis for being opposed. The only reason can be simple bigotry toward gays, if not out and out hatred. This is a no-brainer for any decent person. Of course, Obama is a politician.
 
So while during the campaign he said he was opposed to the so-called Defense of Marriage act, he also refused to express affirmative support for gay marriage. Again, this could have been unpleasant but seemingly necessary campaign tactics, except that he’s continued squirming since taking office. Now he refuses to use that by now dusty bully pulpit to even speak out vs. DOM, let alone affirm that gays should have equal legal rights. (Also no movement on don’t ask-don’t tell.)
 
This appeasement of bigotry is all the more incomprehensible as it has become clear that here as everywhere else Obama does not face any political constraint. Polls show that opposition to gay marriage is rapidly diminishing and becoming isolated among the old. Why is Obama siding with them? Since it’s too much to think he might be a closet homophobe himself, I have to assume it’s yet another example of his pattern of moral and political cowardice.
 
 
The correct term for Obama is pusillanimous. This adds to cowardice the connotation that the thing you’re so afraid of is something you shouldn’t even be scared of in the first place. Picture the cliche of the housewife jumping up on a chair screaming because she sees a mouse. That seems to be the nature of Obama’s political timidity and his compulsion toward appeasement.
 
The other character flaw is his bizarre fetish of “bipartisanship”. Anyone who has been paying attention for the last several decades knows if you want Change, if you want to do anything to help the people toward a better life, you can do nothing with the Republicans. They are nothing more than a compound of obstructionism, nihilism, and vandalism. Bipartisanship toward reform is therefore impossible to achieve and morally disgusting to attempt.
 
So evidently Obama has not been paying attention. Nor does he seem to be capable of learning a lesson. When his shameful tax cut giveaways (unilateral, before the negotiation even began) failed to win him the eighty (!) votes he said he wanted for the stimulus (was he high?!), but instead only earned him a compromised bill, zero Republican votes, and a kick in the teeth, did he learn anything?
 
No sir – he was already gearing up to unilaterally rule single-payer off the table. Maybe he thought he could get ninety votes this time.
 
So everywhere we see the same pattern. Obama claims to want real reform, sometimes he even says the right things in detail. But he then sometimes surrenders much of his position before the fight begins. Then, once the sausage-making starts in earnest, he seems uncomfortable doing anything but drawing back and giving ground. Under no circumstances has he been willing to make a concerted appeal to the public, even though that should be his preferred arena, his stage where he dominates, his trump card.  
 
What’s worst about all this is how unnecessary it has all been, if only Obama had not been lying when he promised Change. The Republicans were on the ropes, the banks were on the ropes, the people were ready to back a real Change agenda. He had the most commanding stage in the world, and he had the charisma and skill to use that stage to maximum effect. And instead he threw it all away, and by now it’s probably too late.
 
The feudalists are winning across the board. The Republicans are getting a second wind. Even the yahoos get their enshrined gay-bashing.
 
The Obama cultists still cling to their nonsense about some alleged master plan Obama has (which apparently involves squandering time we don’t have, wealth we don’t have, his electoral mandate, and all his political capital). As cultists, they at least get some religious validation out of it, I guess.
 
Only true progressive, true reformists, those who truly want real change, see nothing before their eyes but desolation and crime.
 
From our point of view, the first six months of Obama’s presidency can be judged only as a betrayal, a waste, perhaps the worst squandered opportunity in American history. 

July 13, 2009

Obama: Six-Month Report Card (1)

Filed under: Corporatism, Health Racket Bailout — Tags: — Russ @ 6:49 am
If I were a corporatist, I’d be pleasantly surprised at how things are going. Although the Democrats have been largely captured and corrupted by corporate money, just as the Republicans have fully been, and although the Democrats largely share (that is, imitate in a wimpy way) the Republicans’ ideology of big corporate empowerment, wealth concentration, and class war from above, I still never would’ve imagined that Obama himself would so completely and whole-heartedly embrace this class war agenda.
 
The signs were there early, however. As early as the spring of 2008 Paul Krugman was warning that Obama leaned right on health care, and seemed soft on right wing power in general.
 
And while his support of the bailouts during the campaign could’ve been chalked up to tactics (when you have a solid lead, there’s no point rocking the boat; McCain supported the bailouts, the establishment supported the bailouts, the media supported the bailouts, everyone supported the bailouts, so there’s no tactical upside to being a contrarian), there could be no doubt about his position after the election. He not only reaffirmed his support, but the whole tenor of the organization switched with startling speed from “change” to “continuity”. Obama’s embrace of George Bush had begun in earnest.
 
The process of betraying Change continued with Obama’s desire to populate his administration with the old guard. Deprived of his dream cadre Robert Rubin, Obama nevertheless was able to signal the “all clear” to Wall Street with his appointment of Geithner and Summers to the leading positions. They made it clear that the looting of the country would continue. A similar signal was sent when Tom Vilsack, one of the most reliable political water carriers for agribizz, became Agriculture Secretary.
 
Since then every apprehension felt by those who truly seek solutions to America’s misfortune has been confirmed beyond even our worst fears.
 
This is written out of absolute frustration. I find it hard to put into words how hideous it is to have to live in a place where literally nothing is done which is reasonable, moral, or sane; where literally everything which is done is stupid, insane, and evil. That’s why I hated Bush for eight years, everything he did and stood for.
 
That doesn’t mean I support the Democrats, or that I ever “believed” Obama would be much better. But given all his promises of Change, I was willing to wait and see. I did believe that things would at least start getting somewhat better. That there’d be some sign of a will to try to solve America’s problems.
 
Obama came in with an electoral mandate for Change. He was backed by an electorate who were enraged and ready for action. If he truly believed his “Yes we can!” and truly wanted Change, he could’ve mustered the people to demand and get great things.
 
But just as Bush rejected with contempt the great reservoir of good will and will to change which beiefly existed after 9/11, so Obama has equally rejected the will and readiness of the American people to meet this crisis with action.
 
In both cases there has been only one idea and one will: to continue with business as usual, most of all to continue the infinite criminal privilege of the rich and powerful, at all costs.
 
In Obama’s case it’s perhaps even more despicable. With Bush everyone knew you were getting the spirit of the Republican Revolution, and only a moron would’ve believed all the talk about “compassionate conservatism” and fiscal and foreign policy realism and responsibility. (Therefore the MSM fell for it completely.)
 
But Obama has revealed the entire basis of his campaign, the core promise of Change, which fooled a lot of good people who probably should’ve known better but were desperate to believe in something which could end the Bush nightmare, to have been a damned lie.
 
Tomorrow I’ll post a scorecard, running down some of the major performances of this administration so far.
 

July 11, 2009

“War Socialism”?

Filed under: Peak Oil — Tags: , , — Russ @ 5:54 am
In an earlier post I laid out the basics of “resource fascism”, the blueprint according to which the power elites of the First World will attempt to maintain their privilege and high-consumption lifestyles under conditions of increasing resource scarcity. I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. In this post I want to discuss two similar visions/nightmares.
 Alexis Zeigler describes the same prospect, with the same foreboding, with what he calls nationalistic environmentalism. Environmentalism here means not real solicitude for ecosystems, but the forced compliance with resource limits, which will then be dressed up as “green”. Zeigler rightly sees biofuels as “emblematic of the dark side of green capitalism”. Few things are so intrinsically or symbolically evil as taking food from the mouths of the global hungry so a fat Westerner can fill his gas tank to continue his frivolous enslavement to the car (a luxury by any real-world measure).
  
This predatory global stance will necessitate a “very aggressive foreign policy on the part of the industrial powers”. Everyone from hard-right neocons (who want to seize the oil) to mainstream environmental organizations (who want “greener” high-consumption, powered by aggrofuels and “clean coal”, but high-consumption nonetheless) will get on board. “We will see the rise of a passionate, chest-thumping environmentalism, built on the foundation of green capitalism, that dwarfs the current movement”. There are historical analogues for this, in Russia in the 1990s and in Britain right now with the BNP. So far we have more and more of the policies in place – biofuels, importing tar sands bitumen and syncrude, the SPP. We don’t quite have the “chest-thumping” yet, primarily because the Republicans have made environmentalism into a culture war issue, and it’ll take some time to reshape that political template.
  
“There is no way the US and the global consumer class can maintain its dominion without powerful military pressure, and that martial stance will favor authoritarian political development”. We are all too familiar with a political space defined by the Global War on Terror and the Patriot Act. But this will be and can be only for the benefit of the power elite. “The global elite have more in common with each other than with their fellow national citizens. Civil liberty has always been largely defined by class”. This class elite will try to establish a permanent two-tiered world, elite consumers riding the backs of a mass of slaves. “It is possible for a limited number of people to transition to a highly efficient consumer society, but only if a couple billion of our fellow humans suffer deprivation, or perhaps even outright destruction, along the way”.
 
One big gated community. That’ll be the fortress world.
  
This brings us to Jay Hanson’s war socialism.The terminological similarity to the Bolsheviks’ War Communism probably isn’t accidental. There’s an affinity between the two programs, for both involve a beleaguered elite attempting to maintain its power while at least claiming to seek the weal of all. Hanson doesn’t seem to regard war socialism as optimal, but rather as the best America can do if it insists on trying to prop up its high-impact energy-intensive hedonism.
  
America as it is today has no discernable end or goal or purpose at all other than feudal wealth accumulation. Therefore the existing system cannot solve any problems, since its inertia is completely along the status quo vector. So it will have to meet the Peak Oil challenge in the familiar way – the “green” scam, outsourcing and offsetting environmental destruction, economic colonization, generate energy at any cost however wasteful, boost luxury consumption at all costs. The main difference in Hanson’s vision is that unlike resource fascism (or environmental nationalism), which will seek to internally colonize and indenture every bit as much as it externally colonizes and indentures, war socialism would really seek to lift all (first world) boats.
  
So we have the war socialist platform:
 

“Once a new form of government is in place, the following nine strategies would provide a start towards mitigating the net energy shortfall:

1)       Increase our fraction of global net energy (divert energy from competitors) directly by military action.

2)       Increase our fraction of global net energy economically by increasing asset values (e.g., pumping-up the stock market and real estate prices).

3)       Reduce energy demand by eliminating unnecessary economic activity.

4)       Reduce energy demand by reducing human population levels (e.g., closing our borders, deporting as many as possible and discouraging births).

5)       Plant “Victory Gardens” throughout the country.

6)       Heavy funding for basic energy research.

7)       Pollution control rollback, streamline permitting (no EIS, etc.) for alternate energy. No more permits for fossil fuel power plants. No more funding for roads. No more building permits except in special cases.

8)       Full-on conservation, local energy production to minimize grid vulnerabilities, and a crash alternate energy production program. (Conservation will help under a government that limits economic activity).

9)       Free mass transit.”

This program would be “enlightened” for the predator society as a whole, however wicked from the point of view of the global South. It can never happen, since there is no such thing as “America” to be socialistic in such a way.

Rather, we shall have the continuation of planks (1) and (2), the core of the program. Meanwhile the austerity of (3) and (4) shall be increasingly imposed on the masses while the elite continues to party. None of the others has any attraction for the corporatist elite, therefore they shall not be enacted.

Rather, we can rewrite them as:

(5) Further concentration of industrial agriculture and CAFOs. Outlaw (i.e. render impossible through regulatory and economic barriers) small farms and even individual gardens. Various laws to this effect (for example here, here, and here) are already working their way through Congress.

(6) Funding for energy research, yes, but in order to prop up continued high consumption. Especially whatever will maximize fossil fuel extraction, without reference to economic cost-effectiveness.

(7) Remove all regulation for fossil fuel. For alternative energy as the elite deems desirable. Same for infrastructure work.

(8) and (9) will continue to be the subject of policy assault as they are today.

Resource fascism is a horrible prospect. But there seems to be little will to fight it. The great majority are still committed to the consumer growth economy and are desperate to believe any lie which can prop up their faith. This is what the oligarchs are counting on.

Can this be prevented? I don’t know, but I imagine it would require coordination among activists of all sorts to first put together the one big picture which brings it all together, to clearly see how all battlefields are part of one war. This would help us decide once and for all which are the extinct principles now become lies, which are the true principles now springing up, offering to replace them, what strategy and tactics stem from these, and how to live from there.

July 8, 2009

Globalism to Relocalism

I want to offer a few thoughts on globalization, and why opposition to it is linked to relocalization.
 
The European Union has just decided to impose a tariff for the next five years on American biodiesel imports. This is in retaliation for massive American subsidies to this pseudo-industry, which in turn enable biodiesel exporters to dump their product in Europe below cost, hammering European producers. The targeted companies include Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. The usual suspects.
 
This is of course a mere squabble among gangsters. The Europeans are just as guilty of dumping in Africa and elsewhere (where local economies are unable to defend themselves against this aggression). We’ll no doubt hear the usual jeremiads against “protectionism”, although this is no such thing.
 
Leaving European hypocrisy aside, this is not flat earth protectionism but self-defense against what a good globalist should call an abuse of the system. (It’s not really an abuse, as I’ll explain below.)
 
(As for the omnipresent cry that protectionism will hinder the Great Recovery, we should know that this is a crock. There can be no “recovery” in their sense. Consumers are at the end of their debt rope and must either let go or be hanged. We are not going to see a restoration of the consumer orgy. We’ve seen Peak Consumerism, and we can happily bury it.
 
The banks know this, which is why they will not lend, why they only sit on the bailout money. They know, far from a consumer phoenix being ready to rise from the flames, there’s instead a lot more burndown to go: the credit card debt crash has barely begun.
 
While oil prices temporarily plummetted, they have risen again. From here they’ll likely continue to fibrillate wildly for the next several years until the true Peak Oil effect sets in, and oil becomes permanently expensive. So while shippers have had a temporary respite (if they had anything to ship) on energy prices, they know they can’t rely upon anything but price volatility.
 
Globalization’s great wave has broken and now ebbs. Anyone who is counting on that wave to roll in again to refresh the parched global economy is going to go thirsty.
 
So no one has to worry about protectionism hindering recovery. Protections will simply be a logical part of decoupling from the already-doomed globalization model.
 
We who are glad to see the end of an unsustainable civilizational model can applaud protectionism as an example of Dmitri Orlov’s doctrine of boondoggles to the rescue.)
 
Getting back to biofuels and Big Ag, the way this racket works is clear. They are the recipients of massive federal subsidies, which enable them to export and dump their product, destroying local economies and pocketing all profits.
 
If you know the movie Goodfellas you’re familiar with the part where the mob becomes a partner in a restaurant. They immediately start buying huge amounts of consumer goods like TVs on the restaurant’s credit, take delivery there, and literally bring the stuff in through the front door and out the back into the back alley, where they sell it for cash at a big discount. The place is stuck with the bill. “Nobody’s going to pay for it anyway. It’s all profit!”
 
That’s exactly the way corporatist rackets like agrofuels and industrial agriculture work under globalization. The taxpayers subsidize production, the corporations take the goods overseas and dump them. “It’s all profit”, while the taxpayers are stuck with the bill, and overseas economies are assaulted.
 
The EU’s complaint against America is 100% correct. But they are just as guilty, and often collaborate with the Americans in these crimes. Look at the example of Smithfield. The American multinational had a golden road paved for it into Eastern Europe. It promptly CAFOized the pork economies of Romania and Poland, ravaging those farm economies (and strewing various environmental and public health disasters along the way). It received huge state and EU subsidies for this, and then received further payments for exporting pork scraps to Africa, where it dumped them, largely eradicating local hog farmers there as well. European producers are guilty of the same crimes.
 
(This also illustrates how EU expansion to Eastern Europe was conceived as a colonial endeavor in the same way that Western Europe always looked at the global South.)
 
It’s clear that predatory pricing is not an abuse of globalization, but a feature. It is completely within the mainstream of its logic. Globalism’s ideologues always talked about “comparative advantage”, but what Western countries and corporations have always sought in practice is absolute advantage. The only thing the third world was ever comparatively best at was gutting all environmental and labor regulation, driving wages down to starvation levels, and deploying any level of violence necessary to keep the slaves in line.
 
As Larry Summers said, the best use for the third world is as a toxic waste dump. That’s the inherent logic of globalization.
 
Who invented and imposed globalism? Not the global South. It was the West and its self-constructed, therefore self-serving international trade structure (the World Bank, IMF, WTO – a veritable Economic One World Government). So we can assume that the standard predatory practice of America and the EU is the intended practice of globalization itself. This means subsidy, protections, dumping for its own industry, while ferociously opposing all protections, and any regulation in general, in the “toxic waste dump”.
 
Why should a Peak Oiler care very much about this if it’s true that globalization is being rolled back?
 
First, it’s a moral and philosophical imperative. Fighting back against organized crime, even where it’s in the fifth act, is worth doing for its own sake. 
 
Second, we’re not likely to have a fast crash, if that means the end of industrial civilization in a year or two. These corrections of history are going to take time to work themselves out, and in the meantime marauders are still going to do a lot of damage.
 
Third, anti-globalization is a relocalization initiative. To oppose Big Ag’s third world dumping is to help weaken its domestic stranglehold, which in turn helps domestic small farmers, which is the core priority for anyone concerned with energy descent, since America will need millions of small farmers.
 
So Europe’s biodiesel tariff, however hypocritical, is helpful. And of course, any blow to the agrofuel racket and all its wickedness is a good thing.
 
This is just one piece of the puzzle, one loose thread in the unravelling of industrialism. As more and more threads come loose, the thinner and weaker the garment. Perhaps at some point there will even be ways for the people to pull on those threads.

July 6, 2009

Resource Fascism

Filed under: Neo-feudalism, Peak Oil — Tags: , — Russ @ 9:28 am
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As the reality of resource limitations becomes apparent, our societies seem determined to dig in to “defend” our god-given birthright to a high-impact, high-consumption lifestyle. This remains the measure of the standard of living, and it remains the ideological premise from which growth and debt spring as the basic strategy.
 
But in a world with a shrinking resource base, productive output and even fictitious paper wealth must diminish. The pie must shrink, and at that point, no matter what the economics textbooks say, high-consumption becomes a zero sum game. “The economy” becomes war by other means. It’s no longer a matter of defending an idol, but of aggressively propping it up. We no longer worship at a stone altar which anchors life and organizes the chaos around it into a harmonious order. Now it’s an altar of straw which permanently burns, and only ever more extreme, more destructive, more violent measures can contain the flames. The smoke obscures the rest of our sight, and our lives are diminished to tunnelling back and forth through the darkness and soot, carrying poisoned water which may run out at any time.
 
So it goes with fossil fuel civilization, with “growth”. Peak Oil is upon us, the great crisis, the great unfolding disaster. It’s clear that the First World will attempt to meet it with a corresponding social and political disaster. Activists call for relocalization, deconcentration of wealth and land, the dismantling of big banks and big agriculture, the descent of power. All these will come eventually.
 
But for the present days, everything is violently propelled in the opposite direction. Big government and big corporations, now in full disaster capitalist mode, are further increasing and concentrating wealth and power. The people have displayed their basic self-enslavement by accepting this looting regime. This is because in spite of their rapidly deteriorating material position they still cling to the consumerist delusion. It’s this concurrence of master and slave which will dictate the politics of the next two decades.
 
We have a corporatist oligarchy. Perhaps the more enlightened people care somewhat about environmental and energy issues. These have been so prominent for so long that, even aside from seeing their effects firsthand, those who consider themselves decent folk can’t help but accept that there are problems which must be dealt with. People want their personal air, water, and soil free of poisons. They want open space where they can enjoy the outdoors. Even if they never visit what passes for a wilderness nowadays, they still like the idea that such places are preserved. They fear the consequences of climate change and want action on the carbon emissions of points near them. They want to live a green (or at least greener) lifestyle, and they want to see affirmation of this greenness around them in society at large.
 
Or is that “greeniness”? Is there any real difference in a first world society today? The well-meaning ideals just described are still just a lifestyle accouterment amid the far more primal imperatives of power, greed, materialism, even the desire for violence. This is why we do not have a democracy but a corporatist kleptocracy. This is why no one in power or wealth has any true sense of responsibility or community. Instead each ruthlessly, sociopathically seeks his own narrow interest, with no shred of moderation, shame, or even in many cases self-awareness.
 
Men come together only as interest blocs to more effectively wage socioeconomic war. The result is the same on every front. Power becomes more entrenched, the rich get richer, the masses poorer, more disenfranchised, more dispossessed, more a rabble of serfs. These masses do not rebel, they don’t even question, for they too are cadres of the onslaught even where the result is their own cannibalization. They cling to the lie called the “American dream”. This lie is meant to obscure the reality of the class war and wealth monopoly by replacing it with the myth that anyone, however lowly, however impossibly disadvantaged, however many political barriers are set up against him, is just one good idea or some hard work away from prosperity. That this has been proven false for decades now, if it was ever true, doesn’t seem to discredit it in the eyes of those desperate to believe.
 
Since “prosperity” is defined as the accumulation and wastage of consumer junk, it has in fact been possible for the system to pretend this dream was coming true, through ever more explosive exponential debt. But now the debt binge, notwithstanding a few zombie convulsions which may still be jolted into being by “quantitative easing”, is over. Now the social war must throw down the mask and appear in all its baleful majesty: except for one last lie it can tell the serfs of the first world.
 
This will be the lie of technological transformation to a greener and more energy-efficient civilization. It will play into many of the best impulses of well-meaning but naive people. It will co-opt organizations and movements which are commonly considered on the progressive side of things. It will tie in with longstanding recommendations of environmental and energy activists, as well as with economic ideas which were supposed to confront wealth inequality. It will promise to solve our energy and social problems while sustaining growth and the material lifestyle to which consumers have become accustomed, to which we feel entitled.
 
It will all be a lie. Of course “growth” is now impossible, and has been for some time. (America’s alleged growth throughout this decade was a sham, just phony numbers pumped up by debt and bloated stocks and real estate.) Economically, there is no productive base for it. With Peak Oil, there can no longer be an energy base for it. As for the environmental and socioeconomic virtues of what we can call green cornucopianism or green capitalism, these too will be lies. The environmental devastation of resource extraction and industrial activity, to the extent it truly is ameliorated in America (I’ll refer to America although I include Europe, the Pacific Rim, the GCC and elsewhere as well), is simply being exported to the global South. Carbon “offsets” are an example of this. So are aggrofuel plantations. Both are meant to export the emissions mitigation and the ravages to the third world so the first world can keep emitting and partying.  
 
The same is true of the direct economic assault. Rich predator countries gobble up energy resources which could be used for the benefit of impoverished populations. Instead they are used for frivolous Western consumption. They seize farmland to grow food and feedstock for liquid fuel to bring back home to feed their gluttonous lifestyles, even as the people of those countries (many of them farmers driven off their own land) starve.
 
Meanwhile back at home the same colonization process will continue internally. It is already well advanced. While it will no longer be possible to prop up a potemkin middle class on debt, it will probably be possible for some years to keep feeding them the American dream propaganda. Indeed, as their real situation radically deteriorates, we can expect a good portion of the masses to cling ever more cultishly to the American mythology. This, the hardcore 20% who still support Bush, a number probably to be augmented in years to come, constitutes the fascist base.
 
So the basic plan is clear. The power elite will seek to maintain its power and wealth through a new intensity of resource imperialism abroad, and continued concentration of wealth and land at home. The American populace, who will sink further and further into serfdom, will be played off against one another with promises and scapegoating. In this way the fortress elite will try to navigate the perils of energy descent and a revolutionary situation for as long as they can.
 
I call this resource fascism. If you are a feudalist seeking to maintain and aggrandize your position under Peak Oil, the logic is impeccable. There’s no other plan which can work. Since the feudalists do want to carry over their wealth and power, and since they aren’t stupid, we can assume this is their plan. (The 2001 Cheney energy plan is an excellent example.)
 
All the evidence of the last ten years supports this – the resource wars, the ever more aggressive looting on the part of the finance sector, intensification of the land and intellectual property regime for the benefit of Big Ag, the corporatist privileging of the military-industrial and security-industrial complexes, the militarization of the police power (and the transformation of the military into police cadres; posse comitatus is under assault), the assault on civil liberties, the crushing of wages and shredding of the safety net, the reduction of the media from power center to PR flunkey.
 
Although none of these are new in themselves, all are being pursued with accelerated vigor. Nor are any of them partisan. On the contrary, the entire power structure, political and economic, both of these so-called two parties, are completely on board. No one who believes in democracy, civic responsibility, environmental responsibility, or a responsible energy policy, would support anything which has been happening. Therefore we see almost complete support. This is because the ruling structure is a corporatist oligarchy. Mass capitalist democracy itself was a fossil fuel outgrowth. Therefore the neocons have it just right. If you want to maintain this top-heavy, overshot high consumption/high waste civilization as the permanent oil crunch sets in, you’ll have to become more aggressive abroad and more repressive at home.