May 31, 2010

Terrorism vs. Humanity (the Freedom Flotilla is butchered)

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Neo-feudalism — Tags: , — Russ @ 6:25 am


The Israeli military has responded to nonviolent activists challenging its illegal blockade and more importantly its “authority” with a murderous assault. Al-Jazeera reports at least 15 were killed when the Israeli commandos stormed the ship, while even the NYT says at least 10 were slaughtered.
The reaction of the world has been shock and condemnation. After all the innocent talk in the weeks leading up to this, all the Israeli protestations of good faith, and how their response would vindicate their claims of moderation, all the alleged conversations about how to turn this into a show of Israeli reason and restraint, we see how they actually planned to turn this into a test case of the most brutal fascist state violence.
According to the Flotilla passengers the death squad stormed aboard without warning and opened fire. This was premeditated murder.
Of course the Israelis are claiming that they were fired upon first, which is absurd on its face. Evidently their story is breaking down faster than they can spin it, however, since even the NYT, which was passively hostile toward the Flotilla and previously imposed a news blackout upon it, reports how lame and obviously phony the Israeli story is.

A military statement said two activists were later found with pistols they had taken from Israeli commandos. The activists, the military said, had apparently opened fire “as evident by the empty pistol magazines.”

So the Israelis themselves are admitting the activists had no weapons, and claim that they took some pistols from the commandos themselves. So according to the story of the killers themselves, the activists acted in self defense  and only by being able to capitalize on death squad incompetence (even for a hillbilly sheriff the worst sin is to let your weapon be taken from you).
We can expect this lie to quickly be exposed. (How lame and clumsy – they couldn’t even come up with a more plausible way to plant weapons on the victims?)
This is textbook fascist murder, exactly the symptom we who’ve been following the course of corporatism would expect at some point. I’m somewhat surprised they chose such a high-profile moment and such brazen action, but I guess the logic is that since governments everywhere expect to have to use this level of force against their own recalcitrant people, and especially against non-violent activists, they think if they engage in a high-profile act of state terrorism this might cow many of the putative activists who were looking to the Freedom Flotilla as an exemplary deed.
So it’s a war of example against example. We must not let ourselves be cowed. We mustn’t cave in to terrorism. Instead, the example of the courage and martyrdom of these peaceful, humane souls must shine brightly before us as we continue the fight against those who reveal themselves to be among the most vile, despicable killers who ever disgraced the species.
We look to two examples, one professing and living all the highest ideals of the human faith, the other capable of nothing but lies and murder. This must confirm our resolve to be worthy of the legacy of the Flotilla freedom fighters, who take their place in the freedom pantheon which illuminates history.
The terrorists want to crush us with violence and even more the terror of violence. But we will not let them win.

May 28, 2010

Kagan and the Corporate Court (1 of 2)


So it’s supreme court season again. Obama has named the dubious Elana Kagan as his choice to replace the most consistently liberal member of the court, John Paul Stevens. Stevens, while not anti-corporatist, was the most “passively” corporate judge. Based on Kagan’s systematically sparse record, we have to assume she’d bring a pronounced pro-tyranny shift to the court. (Someone like Kagan, who gives every indication of being a pure careerist, will always perform as that careerist. You can’t think that “she was only acting that way to get onto the court in the first place, but once there her true public interest concerns will shine through” or some such notion. People aren’t like that. On the court she’ll probably behave exactly as she always has – with an anxious eye toward the elites and what they want.)
Will such a shift be pivotal for the struggle against kleptocracy? Or is the supreme court already a rogue beyond redemption, as I argued in my posts (here and here) on the Citizens United decision? While we need to think more about the implications for civil liberties cases (several important 5-4 decisions, Stevens reliably on the side of real American values, Kagan having shown signs of being careless or contemptuous of those values; I intend to give the matter its own post), regarding corporatism we already have a corporate court, and the 5-4 splits have tended to be between what we can call judicial activist corporatism vs. “regular” corporatism. The Citizens United case was a classic example, with the minority not disputing the fraudulent premise of corporate personhood, let alone the general proposition that we should be ruled by corporate tyranny. They dissented on the more narrow ground that the majority had been needlessly activist throughout, both in how they ordered the case to be reargued and in the breadth of their decision.
So is the court beyond redemption, just like the rest of the kleptocracy? If we look at the evidence of Alexander Hamilton’s magisterial Federalist #78, widely considered the best short elucidation of the written Constitution’s concept of the judiciary, the case looks grim.
Hamilton’s first major point centers on how federal judges should enjoy tenure “during good behavior”.

The standard of good behavior for the continuance in office of the judicial magistracy, is certainly one of the most valuable of the modern improvements in the practice of government. In a monarchy it is an excellent barrier to the despotism of the prince; in a republic it is a no less excellent barrier to the encroachments and oppressions of the representative body. And it is the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.

The courts are supposed to comprise an “excellent barrier” against the encroachments of the other two branches. Historically the record has been spotty, with the courts sometimes resisting, sometimes enabling these encroachments. It has worked well sometimes. But today our question is, in the age of kleptocracy, where the entire power structure including “both” of the so-called “two” parties are aggressive functionaries of corporatism, can we ever expect this court to work in the public interest again? It’s a given that no identifiable anti-corporatist will ever be nominated again. So we’d be reduced to hoping for some accident, that once on the court a formerly reliable system cadre will go rogue from the system’s point of view and judge from the perspective of the public interest. I’d say the people should never repose faith in such accidents. That’s just a version of dreaming of winning the lottery. It’s escapism, not coherent political philosophy.
The record of the courts since the onset of full scale kleptocracy in the 1970s has been just what we’d expect – a steady movement rightward in the sense of becoming ever more pro-corporate. It’s both substantively and symbolically indicative that right before he was named to the supreme court, Lewis Powell, generally considered a “moderate” on the court, but at the time a corporate cadre, wrote a strategy memo encouraging corporations to argue systematically in the courts for free speech and other rights like any other “persons” (as part of the vast corporate assault on democracy he recommended). We see how this systematic perversion of the Bill of Rights was a strategy prescribed by the supreme court itself, as it were . The Citizens United case is just the latest and most visibly egregious of its toxic fruits.
Similarly, as I said above Citizens United represents a shift from “regular” judicial corporatism to “activist” corporatism. Back in the 70s and 80s Rehnquist and O’Connor still used to reject some of the more aggressive corporatist arguments, as in Rehnquist’s dissent in the 1986 case Pacific Gas and Electric vs. Public Utilities Commission. To this day even Scalia and Thomas might here and there reject the most extreme assaults, as in 2007’s Philip Morris USA vs. Williams.
Meanwhile Rehnquist and O’Connor were replaced by Roberts and Alito, who were expected to represent the most up-to-date model of the most aggressive corporatist court activism. So far in practice they’ve lived up to that billing, most clearly in Roberts’ ordering the Citizens United litigants to go back and reargue the case on broader, more fundamental grounds than they had argued the first time round, because Roberts wanted to artificially manufacture the opportunity to make a broad court statement of corporate personhood “rights”. Judicial activism doesn’t get more aggressive than that.
So given Obama’s corporate flunkeyism, what can we expect from his appointments? It’s true that with Sotomayor the record is mixed, and so far we don’t have much data. I’d say Kagan’s lack of a record here is probably a bad sign. It’s hard to believe that Obama would appoint a second judge he’s not 100% confident will be pro-Wall Street, for example. There was lots of talk about Obama wanting to appoint a “progressive” judge, which on its face sounds absurd given his radically anti-progressive ideology and policy in general.
If anything, I’d say Obama probably already thinks Sotomayer was his “progressive” appointment, and that this time he needs to fully commit to serving his masters. Sure enough, one thing we do know about Kagan is that she has been a paid adviser to Goldman Sachs.
So in conclusion, we have the general aggressive corporatist trend on the supreme court. In itself Kagan’s record, such as it is, offers zero evidence that she wouldn’t follow this trend, and some evidence that she would. When we place that record in the contexts of Obama’s ideology and policy, and the way careerists behave in general, it looks more sinister. We have to assume that Obama expects Kagan on the court to be a good friend to big corporations, and that she has assured him she will be.
One last point on this sparse record. Today we’re rightly skeptical of formal credentials, and so we don’t care much intrinsically about Kagan never having been a judge.  However, according to #78 Hamilton would have disagreed. On the contrary, one of his chief arguments in favor of giving judges lifetime tenure is that he expects there to be a fairly small talent pool of those who combine the requisite knowledge and integrity.
From our point of view, the most important thing is that for Hamilton to be correct in his pro-Constitution analysis, the career path and talent pool of those he considered “fit characters” would never involve our notorious revolving door, but rather the focused mastery he describes here:

There is yet a further and a weightier reason for the permanency of the judicial offices, which is deducible from the nature of the qualifications they require. It has been frequently remarked, with great propriety, that a voluminous code of laws is one of the inconveniences necessarily connected with the advantages of a free government. To avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts, it is indispensable that they should be bound down by strict rules and precedents, which serve to define and point out their duty in every particular case that comes before them; and it will readily be conceived from the variety of controversies which grow out of the folly and wickedness of mankind, that the records of those precedents must unavoidably swell to a very considerable bulk, and must demand long and laborious study to acquire a competent knowledge of them. Hence it is, that there can be but few men in the society who will have sufficient skill in the laws to qualify them for the stations of judges. And making the proper deductions for the ordinary depravity of human nature, the number must be still smaller of those who unite the requisite integrity with the requisite knowledge. These considerations apprise us, that the government can have no great option between fit character; and that a temporary duration in office, which would naturally discourage such characters from quitting a lucrative line of practice to accept a seat on the bench, would have a tendency to throw the administration of justice into hands less able, and less well qualified, to conduct it with utility and dignity.

Kagan definitely does not live up to this. On the contrary her brief tenure as Solicitor General revealed her to be an ignoramus about the law. When she argued before the court Kennedy had to keep coaching her on what cases she was supposed to cite to bolster her arguments. One characteristic response: “I’m not familiar with that case.” Stevens and Ginsburg seemed similarly exasperated with her buffoonery. So whatever we think of formal expertise, according to Hamilton’s vision Kagan is certainly incompetent. She’s not a “fit character”. She’s “less able and less well qualified to conduct [the administration of justice] with utility and dignity.”
This issue lays bare how not only Kagan herself but our whole kleptocracy is a distortion and perversion of the original concepts of the written Constitution. By original I’m not referring to the fraudulent “originalist” ideology, but simply to the basic principles that animated the constitutional aspiration, thinking, and writing in the first place. As I plan to establish at further length in subsequent posts, the kleptocracy does not embody the sovereign constitution or the written Constitution, but is only a funhouse mirror hallucination of it.
I’ll continue in part two of this post with Hamilton’s ideas about judicial independence of the other branches as being necessary for the judiciary’s own integrity as well as the integrity of the whole system.

May 27, 2010

The Freedom Flotilla

Filed under: Civil Disobedience — Tags: , — Russ @ 7:31 am
As I write the Freedom Flotilla, a vanguard of conscience, has embarked from multiple ports in Turkey and Greece, with one ship coming from as far away as Ireland. Its destination – the besieged and throttled Gaza Strip. They expect to arrive sometime this weekend.
Click here for a map.
The eight vessels – four cargo boats and four passenger craft, the largest a Turkish ferry carrying 600 human rights activists  – carry humanitarian cargo. They also carry witnesses to the action, and the conscience of the world’s people. The passion is so oversubscribed that even Noam Chomsky, recently refused entry to the West Bank to deliver a lecture at a Palestinian university, may be unable to find a berth.

In the port of Agios Nikolaos, here on the Greek island of Crete, one of the lead organisers of the flotilla is the Free Gaza Movement’s Renee Jaouadi – a 34-year-old schoolteacher, formerly from Newcastle, NSW. Under the banner of the Freedom Flotilla, the protest is a $US3 million-plus ($3.6 million) operation. Apart from 10,000 tonnes of building, medical, educational and other supplies, on board are dozens of parliamentarians from around the world and professionals planning to offer their services in Gaza.

Celebrity names include the Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell and Denis Halliday, a former United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator who in 1998 resigned, protesting that economic sanctions on Iraq amounted to genocide.

On Saturday evening, attempts were under way to find a berth on the over-subscribed manifest for the activist American philosopher Noam Chomsky, who Israeli authorities last week barred from entering the West Bank where he had been invited to speak at a Palestinian university.

The people of Gaza were already a dispossessed alien group on their own land when in late 2008 Israel launched war upon them. This war was really more a campaign of systematic economic destruction, as the Israeli military destroyed homes, factories, and crops. Since then they’ve continued the war by other means, the garotte of a blockade.
According to the WHO the consequences have been severe:

“In Gaza, Israel’s blockade is debilitating the healthcare system, limiting medical supplies and the training of medical personnel and preventing serious medical cases from travelling outside the Strip for specialized treatment.”
“Israel’s 2008-2009 military operation damaged 15 of the Strip’s 27 hospitals and damaged or destroyed 43 of its 110 primary health care facilities, none of which have been repaired or rebuilt because of the construction materials ban.”
“Some 15-20 percent of essential medicines are commonly out of stock and there are shortages of essential spare parts for many items of medical equipment . . . ”
In Late 2008, nearly 1 in 5 Palestinians lived in “extreme poverty.” Over half lived below the poverty line.
“In the second half of 2008, one third of West Bank households and 71 percent of Gaza households received food assistance, with food accounting for roughly half total household expenditures – making families highly vulnerable to food price fluctuations.”
“In May 2008, 56 percent of Gazans and 25 percent of West Bank residents were deemed food insecure by the UN.”
“Chronic malnutrition has risen in Gaza over the past few years to reach 10.2 percent.” [This is especially true among children in Gaza).
The entire fishing and agricultural sectors in the Palestinian population are very badly off.

This strangulation has reduced the civilian existence of Gazans to whatever can be smuggled in through tunnels. As per the Israeli intention, this has filled the Gazans’ lives with uncertainty and fear, as they tremble for the very necessities of life.
Such collective punishment is a crime against humanity, but by now the Israeli kleptocracy, a more perfected crystallization of the globalist kleptocracy, has moved defiantly beyond concern for the mere laws and morals of the human race.
Half the population of Gaza are children, and they are suffering the most. Incredibly, the Israelis won’t even allow through the building materials for the one hundred schools the Gazans need to build. It’s as if the Israelis <i>want</i> this entire generation to grow up enraged and ignorant, and therefore perfect jihad material.
So far Israel has responded to the Flotilla with a combination of playing innocent, disparagement, and threats. The one part of the message which has been clear is that they intend to stop the boats. They reiterated this yesterday, while claiming they’d deliver any legitimate humanitarian cargo themselves. This dovetails with their broader claim that they’re already letting sufficient civilian goods through the blockade. Bizarrely, they even cited the smugglers as alleged proof that this flotilla’s cargo isn’t necessary.
But all of this is a lie. The Israelis do let in just enough food and seeds and medical supplies to try to claim they’re not starving and sickening out the people of Gaza, when in fact it’s only a trickle just barely sufficient to sustain life, but completely insufficient to help the Gazans rebuild their shattered society. Meanwhile necessary rebuilding materiel like cement are forbidden completely, and will not be among whatever anodyne portion of the Freedom Flotilla’s cargo is “delivered” after the IDF has intercepted it.
The purpose of the blockade is to let just enough through so that the people don’t literally die, but otherwise to be sufficiently severe that they can never rebuild. The entire campaign, starting with the original blockade (since 2007), escalating into the military assault, and now terminal with this apparently permanent intensified blockade, is meant to collectively punish the Gazan people for exercising democracy by electing Hamas to run their government. Whatever we think of Hamas (which is both a violent resistance organization as well as a significant provider of civilian services), it truly represents the will of the people.
We should always be aware of how willing are The Powers That Be to punish democracy wherever it functions to their disapproval.
So the Israeli navy promises to halt the vessels, as it has in several earlier incidents (in one case violently ramming a peaceful cargo boat). Meanwhile, in shades of old times, a private Israeli “volunteer” fleet is organizing to “assist” the navy. We’re familiar with such paramilitary volunteers from the bad old days of fascism. It’s a textbook fascist organizational tactic.
So what will happen at the confrontation point? Presumably the IDF hopes to physically block and then board the vessels without any violence beyond that. They say they’re bringing foreign journalists along to prove their reasonable intentions. (But who are these “journalists”? If they’re from the MSM of Bailout America, nobody should trust their good intentions or professional ethics.) In that case they ought to exclude private troublemakers from anywhere near the vicinity. We can take that as one metric.
As for the Freedom Flotilla, it’s determined to assertively and non-violently steam through and dock and unload at Gaza ports. This is exactly the kind of non-violent assertion that has often worked. It was a favorite tactic of Gandhi. They should try to keep moving, if possible circumventing Israeli warships which try to physically interpose. It’s true that if the Israelis are determined to stop them, they will stop them.
But if there’s any lack of will at all among the interceptors, any ambivalence or divided resolve, this can generate enough lassitude in the counteraction to let the action slip through. That’s how active non-violence works, and how it can triumph.
And if they do get through, what a moral victory against the segregating walls being built to enclose, stifle, and strangle our economies and our politics! It’s the foray of conscience.
Now if we could only figure out ways to physically challenge Wall Street and the US government like this…
Edit Sunday 5/30 6:25 EDT:
The Flotilla has recently departed from Cyprus and is expected to reach Gaza on Monday morning.  

May 26, 2010

Dispatch From the Net Neutrality/NBP Front

Filed under: Corporatism, Internet Democracy — Tags: , , — Russ @ 9:14 am


A few weeks ago I wrote on the current policy battle over Internet transmission regulation, specifically net neutrality and a proposed National Broadband Plan (NBP). Today I’ll comment on recent developments.
2010 started with some promising rhetoric from the FCC. It issued its draft NBP, a comprehensive policy to expand affordable broadband access to underserved regions while safeguarding consumer and privacy rights and strengthening cybersecurity. This dovetailed with newly proposed net neutrality principles which, while questionable in their (lack of) breadth, seemed to augur the agency’s commitment to the goal.  Although the FCC didn’t propose actual reclassification of Internet provision as a Title II “common carrier” rather than a Title I “information service”, which would seem to be the best policy, it claimed to be confident it could achieve its goals under the existing classifications.
This paradigm was upended by a Court of Appeals decision that under the status quo classification the FCC does not have the authority to regulate Internet transmission. Immediately pundits followed with a welter of prescriptions. Some said the FCC should just reclassify on its own authority (just as the original Title I classification was done by Bush-era fiat), others that we need legislation to bestow regulatory authority, while Republicans took the lead in advocating the status quo.
What does the status quo portend? That telecom rackets like AT&T, Comcast, and Viacom will be able to further entrench their monopolies, providing ever worse service at higher cost, while net neutrality and Internet democracy itself are destroyed forever. “Competition” is already dead. Almost nowhere is there any more than a choice of two or three providers, market access for new entrants is practically impossible thanks to massive infrastructure costs and existing pro-racket regulation, as in any mature sector the rackets now spend revenue not on expanding infrastructure and access and improving service, but on rent-maintenance activities like marketing, lobbying, and of course executive pay. The moment they feel secure enough in this monopoly, they’ll jack up rates enough to radically ration access itself by wealth, and impose political censorship. They probably won’t even need to go the heavy-handed Australian legislative route (which would probably be too obviously unconstitutional anyway). They’ll simply enforce it through the TOS “contracts”* they force you to sign to get online in the first place. This is a clear and present danger.
[* Since this issue, that abridgement of online free expression rights via “contract enforcement” is valid and not a restriction of freedom, comes up even among otherwise reasonable people, let’s be clear.
We the people have a right to free expression on the Internet. We built it, we paid for it, “private” infrastructure investment was always heavily subsidized and by now is barely a dribble anyway. It’s public property. It belongs to us.
So if a provider monopoly can rig the system so that a citizen can gain online access only by signing away his constitutional rights, that’s not a valid “contract”, but imposed tyranny.]
In the aftermath of the court case the FCC squirmed before Congress, at first lamely saying it thought the decision hadn’t changed anything while Republicans beat them with sticks saying Yes It Did. Eventually the FCC came around to this way of thinking. So the question was: If they wanted to forge ahead with these policy initiatives, how would they go about it in light of this court case?  
This month of May started out not so merry, with the FCC signaling that it was going to cave in on net neutrality and anything beyond a vestigial NBP. It looked like the status quo, with help from the courts, had won. But on May 5 Senator Jay Rockefeller and Rep Henry Waxman sent the FCC a letter demanding that it reaffirm the policy imperative, while they worked toward the same goal in the Congress. This seemed to somewhat bolster the agency’s spine. Commissioner Genachowski soon declared that the FCC would look into a kind of reclassification after all: He’d seek ” a ‘third way’ between a weak Title I and a needlessly burdensome Title II approach.”
To refresh, under Title I of the Communications Act “information services” have broad freedom as far as charges and treatment of content (at least in pricing), while Title II “common carriers” like telephone companies must adhere to strict anti-discrimination policy. They can’t engage in access discrimination or charge users extra for the same service based on magnitude of usage.
So according to some interpretations Genachowski’s statement sounds like he might want to keep the Title I classification for Internet providers while adding non-discrimination obligations, perhaps under the “enhanced services” classification according to the 1996 Telecom Act.
This sounds dubious. For a regulator, you should go at least as far in principle as you intend to go in practice. If there’s to be any mismatch, practice should be more lenient than principle, not the other way around. With a regulator you have to assume a weak principle means even weaker practice. (For that matter the Rockefeller-Waxman letter was also underwhelming, calling for a “light regulatory touch”.)
In this case, it would be better to establish the Title II principle as the basis going forward, and if it’s really necessary carve out exemptions (which I doubt it would be, and I feel weird sounding like a liberal messing around with the intricacies of “regulation”, but I’m not sure that the Internet, relying as it does upon this massed technical infrastructure, might not be an exception to my general view of regulation, though I’ll get to a more robust anti-monopoly idea in a moment; my ideas on this are still forming). That would be better than to stick with the principle, “these are information services, not communications carriers”, and then try to add some “enhanced” regulations to conserve the integrity of the carrier aspect of the bundle.
The rackets, of course, in a version of their standard Status Quo Lie, claim that switching from Title I to Title II would be some radical change. In fact the Bush declaration under Title I was conceptually radical, since these providers are obviously more like common carriers than information services. So to formally classify them as Title II communication services, let alone use Genachowski’s weaker “third way”, would be a step away from radicalism and toward moderation.
I can think of a simpler way to deal with the vertical monopolies involved here. Either break them up, or at least impose separate formal classifications on the separate aspects of an ISP. The transmission aspect is obviously Title II by right. This should apply to all modes of transmission, wired or wireless, or any other kind. Needless to say, antitrust policy applications aren’t “on the table”, either in the administration or Congress.
Finally, Rockefeller and Waxman have announced their intention to hold “meetings” with “stakeholders” in June, toward eventual legislation. We can only imagine the gruesome lobbying which will ensue.
So what’s the best path forward, given the political possibilities? Since I have zero confidence in Congress, on the contrary I predict there will never be another significant piece of constructive legislation for as long as the kleptocracy exists (not to mention the vagaries of the session calendar and the election), it follows that our best bet is agency reclassification. But will this be done either? It’s hard to believe it will be.
But somehow it has to be if our Internet democracy, the last large-scale democratic space we have left under the kleptocracy, is to be preserved. Right now I can’t think of anything better to say, but I’ll keep thinking and writing about it and see what comes up.

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.

Four Poems

Filed under: Poetry — Russ @ 7:40 am


Each night I dream of a redemptive night
Where drafts of nightmare resolve to new dreams.
The lonely darkness brings forth a new sun;
We survived the night by purging this dream.
The winds of the cyclone give way,
The devastation collects itself again.
We reverse the old fate where our spirits detach.
(And yet there still the past could rescue me
If I could reach you the moment before
You slide away to infinity….)
The conscience of the darkness is the dream,
We waken to the new light we create.
Awakening, we leap through staggered layers of shadows,
All the antediluvian debris,
The words, beliefs, taboos, and songs.
Do we still sometimes attend the grave at midnight?
Listen silent through the night for echoes to our whispers?
But the only echo is the truth we already know,
Which our nostalgia in arrears
For a moment pretends to forget.
So we cherish midnight vespers tricking down the walls around us,
And have moments of suspense of belief,
Relapses against tomorrow’s cold sun,
Where we must follow fate.
Where fate is breaking, where it revelates,
There the marches sound for us,
Dashing us upon a purpose,
To see the new light on that date.
There’s a frail span of time, luring the way to language pent
And struggling, softly whispering the way to fly.
It trembles into images, communicates to senses,
Innate the play is written to the eye.
A current, froth and depth inscrutable,
In motion, turbulent, hinted terror, lunging to the sea
Forever, to drift infinite;
Such art was promised by the suspended day,
Now a waitful watch, the latent heresy
And wasteful rush of centuries to drown and drown
And carry down the light.
                                      Enveloping at summit depth
And tense to be realized as life, the promise fructifies
And harvests the dreaming spirit, to life and light,
Approach of day to wake the prayer
And write it out in starborne verse
To redeem the lost time with a new game.
There’s a frail span of time, bringing to day the language spent
Exhausted, softly gasping its way to die.
It sparkles in its vestiges, luxuriant in senses,
While sunshine marvels its way from sky to sky.
The stillness blackens to dawn,
And history summons its time,
At first to crawl portentious and hesitant.
But we’re bright with suggestion of yesterday,
Haunting our sleep with visions of primal fire.
We wake with throbbing drums echoing from our dreams,
Heedless of the shadows that scatter to chaos,
Rubbing our eyes in desperation.
Wit for betrayal is the human genius,
A talent scorched in the ancient smithies of murder and war,
A song sung by Homer and Thucydides
Echoed ever after in the flashing refrain.
Perhaps war is our tomorrow,
The future dons its wardrobes
In visions which ghast before our pregnant terror.
Our dreams beheld the future in suspense;
Now we wake to the forced rise and the forced march,
The witless trails history has torched
Through the futile receding years of oil.
The brazen mountain looms,
The mystic surprise blasting rockets and fire
Through the chanted waking dream of the Millennium.
If God could arrest the dawn,
If time could tattoo a braille,
(If a child were all we needed)
Then the rest could keep.
It could lie ruined and forgotten under a pile of dreams
Recycled through sated sleep.
But this unreciprocated tithe is too precious to evade,
Its implied grin completes the cycle of betrayal and redemption,
And there,
Life truly becomes One.
I stand at the edge of forever,
   and glimpse the shredded pictures of every story
   ever told before.
I hear the distant winds,
   which circle into all memories
   and grace them all to starry fixtures
   etched across the void.
I sense an endless mystery
   which surges with a purpose,
   fired by yearning faith which resonates
   our underlying souls.
It spells a waning story
   through letters’ hazing distant line
   that conjures its horizon
   out of nothing but our dreams.
Without redemption’s hope,
   and lost against tomorrow’s emptiness,
   we listen only for the echoes
   of every song ever sung. 

May 20, 2010

Trading, Drilling, Technology, and Kleptocracy


The other day Barry Ritholz had a brief post expressing his skepticism about some Tradebot self-hype:
The founder of Tradebot, in Kansas City, Mo., told students in 2008 that his firm typically held stocks for 11 seconds. Tradebot, one of the biggest high-frequency traders around, had not had a losing day in four years, he said.
True, exaggerated, or bullshit, any way it’s another example of the unproductive, parasitic nature of these outfits, and of how they operate in a totally rigged market which is the opposite of a “free” market.
Using the word “risk” as part of the English language, how is it possible to profit every day and yet still be running “risks”? It’s statistically impossible. If you win every time, by definition you’re not running risks. By definition you’re playing a game rigged in your favor.
How is HFT not insider trading and market manipulation? It is obviously those things. If the system is rigged so that it’s possible for computers to do this, and this method then becomes the monopoly of those who can afford the hardware and the quant “talent” to perform these manipulations, by any objective measure it’s a rigged insider-trading market. The fact that the “law” has failed to adequately criminalize it doesn’t change its criminality. (And meanwhile the neoclassical ideologues will still prate on about the “information” of the “free market”.)
What value does this activity create for the economy and society? Obviously none. I doubt that much of the alleged well-planned, constructive capital investment which is supposed to justify the existence of the stock market occurs at 11 second intervals. I’m pretty sure the vaunted “market making” and “liquidity provision” will always be likely to disappear exactly when it’s called upon, as we saw on May 6.
That’s the state of affairs when we look at just the “shadow banking” side of it. When we look at this kind of market manipulation from the TBTFs Goldman, JPM, Citi, and BofA (all also perfect last quarter; by contrast Morgan Stanley was downright pathetic with four losing days), and we see how they’re not only playing the same rigged market games but doing it with free money from the Fed, the only question to ask is, How can they lose? On the contrary, if anything they should be far more “profitable” than they actually are, if they’re really as “talented” and smart as they’re cracked up to be, and not just a bunch of thugs leveraging an entrenched monopoly position. For example, according to this Zero Hedge analysis, Goldman’s performance is actually mediocre given its advantages. (And MS must be really incompetent, to have lost at all under these circumstances.)
As for whether it’s really possible to be perfect, to rig the market to the point of total domination, I wish they could and would. That would simply be the end of this rotten currency, since if one man sits on an infinite pile of paper dollars while everyone else has none, then the dollars are worthless. That’s simply the core contradiction of capitalism at work once again. The core logic of all these crimes. The only real issue is to what extent they use the ephemeral fake wealth to buy and try to hold real assets like farmland, watersheds, the means of production for post-oil craftwork, toolmaking, etc. From that point of view I suppose it’s good news when we see the banksters still using the looted “bonuses” to buy mansions and yachts and Ferraris and such, the way all the media reports say. While the bank rackets as a whole are positioning themselves for the return to feudalism, apparently most of the individual cadres still consciously think it’s business as usual.
Meanwhile, the HFT issue is a distillation of the absurd power we’re giving these criminals and their machines. We see how technocracy in action will always be the tool of corporatism. What could these computers and the “talent” which programs them do if put to socially productive purposes? I suppose the propaganda tracts are full of highfalutin visions, but in real life we’ll never know. All those high-flying promises were nothing but lies.
An even more tremendous example of prostituted technology run amok is currently injecting poison into our ocean at an unfathomable rate. It looks like my post which I whimsically named after a volcano erupting forever was more prescient more quickly than I thought. I just mistook which volcano it would be (though ominous Katla’s been rumbling).
I just used the word “unfathomable” to describe the rate of the oil’s eruption from the wound, because that’s literally true. Not because the technology to gauge the flow with considerable precision doesn’t exist, but because the government is allowing BP to veto such measurements. (Is anybody still going to say something about this technology existing for the public good, and not purely as a racketeering tool?)
Finally, under extreme duress, BP enabled an improved view of the hemorrhage, and what does it show? Although the lying MSM continues to parrot the 5000 barrels/210,000 gallons fraud, which the NOAA itself at first contradicted weeks ago before falling into line, the new view proves that it’s bleeding out at least 20K barrels a day, as independent commentators have been saying, and probably far more. Some estimate the current flood at 70K per day. And it can get a lot worse. BP itself estimates the maximum likely flow at 163 thousand barrels per day.
So having triggered an absolute economic and environmental catastrophe, what do BP and Obama do? Do they want to fix it at all costs? Do they feel remorse? No, they have one overriding priority – lies and secrecy. Just as the purpose of the MMS was never to regulate Big Oil but to facilitate its looting, so Obama sees the government’s purpose as to run propaganda interference for BP. He apes its lies, supports its spin, accedes to its information blackout, and even lets BP deputize the Coast Guard as a private thug to smack down any would-be accurate media coverage.
The fact is that just as corporatized technology could financialize and loot the economy, but can never repair any of the damage it’s caused, indeed can only complete the destruction on a one-way track (the Bailout), so BP’s technology could tear this hole in the bottom of the sea causing energy concentrated to the point of poison to hemorrhage out into the lifeblood of the earth itself, its allegedly infinitely renewable seas. But the same technology cannot fix it, and can’t even accurately look at it. (Physical and political impossibilities are the same thing if we refuse to change the latter.) Once Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall, all the kings horses and men wouldn’t be able to put him together again even if they wanted to.
But of course they don’t want to. They want to lie and say he’s fine, that they’ve restored him to his perch, that he never even fell off the wall in the first place. In Lewis Carroll’s great parable, Alice isn’t actually talking to Humpty Dumpty at all when he tells her “When I say a word, it means whatever I want it to mean, nothing more and nothing less. The question is who is to be Master.” She’s talking to a hologram, with the words being thrown to the image by the spinmasters. The real Humpty is on the ground, dead and in pieces, on the other side of the wall where she can’t see.
So it is today with our politics and our economy. And now with the sea itself.
Obama’s and the system’s lies for BP and Drill Baby Drill are typical. They’re the only response the system has available as each new disaster hits. It’s just like the Bailout secrecy: How much public money has the Fed allowed the big banks to steal via its “facilities” and MBS buys and QE? Who were the robbers and to what extent? They know their actions constitute history’s greatest robbery, and they have no defense other than secrecy and stonewalling. They even wanted to declare the details of the AIG money laundering scam a matter of “national security”, that’s how hysterical Geithner was about trying to cover his criminal tracks. It’s the same instinct of gangsters everywhere. As Jimmy says in Goodfellas, “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”
Let’s get it straight once and for all. Nothing works anymore. Corporations, government, system technology – it all exists for no purpose other than to steal, and in the process it can do nothing but destroy. It can never again create, never distribute, never fix or heal. It can steal and destroy and then lie and cover up. That’s kleptocracy. It can never be “reformed”. Anyone who doesn’t want to live forever as its slave has to do all he can to break free of it. We have to go “off-grid” as completely as possible – economically, socially, and politically. We have to work to strengthen relocalized ties, and to defend what we build from the system’s inevitable attempts to crush us in the cataclysm of its own collapse.

May 17, 2010

Bailout, Bubble, Bunker


On Sunday the NYT had a story about the demented Las Vegas real estate market, where even as a necropolis of unsold empty residential husks already sprawls out into the desert, builders are apparently rushing to build even more (and even more putatively “luxurious”), claiming there will be a real estate boom any day now. No word on where the buyers or the water’s supposed to come from.
Even the NYT writer kept to a skeptical, rolling-his-eyes tone as he quoted obvious shysters talking their book at a party which was obviously meant to do nothing but drum up lots of free advertising for their little exercise in trying to reflate the suburban bubble. But dubious tone or not, the shills achieved their goal, a Sunday feature in the Times.
Meanwhile Naked Capitalism linked this piece describing the resumption of RMBS bundling. So even as we learn the details of an endless line of fraudulent securitizations from the likes of Magnetar and Goldman, the new models are coming out. This comes after the elite media kept assuring everyone that securitization was dead. This is that same toxic waste polluting the banks’ balance sheets which to this day, so far as I can see, remains the elites’ justification for the Bailout. The problem is supposed to be to find a Yucca Mountain for the waste we’ve already generated (since the only reality-based waste disposal, writing it off, has been ruled out by the ideology and practice of kleptocracy). But the elites claimed it was a given that there wouldn’t be more new waste generated. (In that they sounded actually more sane than they are where it comes to actual nukes, where we continue to generate massive amounts of indestructible poison even as we’re utterly unable to find a disposal site for the waste which already exists.)
The advent of new “products” might signify that they think the political coast is finally clear. But it’s even more of a testament to how much public money they’ve looted through the Bailout and continue to loot.
Think about it. They continue to award themselves record “bonuses”, and meanwhile free money via the Fed’s QE has enabled such a lucrative carry trade and other speculations that Goldman, JPM, Citi, and BofA all reported perfect quarters of so-called “profitability”. And yet even with this, there’s so much loot flowing in they still can’t find a way to gamble all of it. While the proposed Hollywood exchange makes for amusing nonsense, I doubt that would suffice to assimilate all the surplus cash. It looks like their only choice is to rev up MBS again.
I guess it’s not a coincidence that this comes at the same time as NYT subdivision advertisements masquerading as news articles. Both are parts of the bubble reflation machine, the only thing by which the elites can hope to continue propping up their Tower of Babel.
And if the phony “recovery” production can hold the stage for awhile, they might be able to sucker more people back into the consumer brainwashing. It’s all too clear that all too few left in the first place. If anything, many among the perishing “middle class” are reacting by digging in and doubling down on all the most wasteful, impractical, destructive elements of the suburban consumer pathology. We could call them a cohort of consumerism teabaggers.
Picture a couple in their 60s who spent their lives running on the treadmill and doing relatively well by their own standards. They lived a normal suburban existence, made good upper-middle class money, fixated in theory on their lawn even though they didn’t really take good care of it. They built up a sizeable retirement fund, most or all of it in stocks. They pretended to themselves to pay attention of current events, and even made a point of “voting”, but their comprehension remained shallow, and they really cared more about tabloid crap.
So then came the crash of 2008, following years of rising oil prices and other tensions to the point that even they admitted they had a sense of impending disaster. Now that disaster has hit them personally – their retirement fund, so long cultivated and with such expectations reposed in it, has been decimated. They’re in shock. They have no explanation for what’s happened. They might know some people who could explain it and give advice on practical ways to change what they’re doing, but they don’t ask. Maybe it’s even a point of truculent pride not to ask.
That truculence seems confirmed over the next two years. Miracle of miracles! The Bailout worked! It’s a recovery, and stocks are booming again. Well, maybe they don’t think it’s literally a miracle, but to them it might as well be. For all they know the government miracled a recovery and miracled the Dow back to what they think is health. The stocks are back up, and the retirement fund is rich again.
So what lesson do they learn from this? In a sense it is miraculous – they’re actually getting a second chance. We don’t often get a do-over after having made such a catastrophic mistake over so many years. So do they get that money out of stocks and use it for something practical like strategically situated farmland, or to invest in a venture with a post-oil future, or even in gold (though I have doubts about that, but it’s much better than stocks), or in anything which offers a more promising expectation of return once the terminal collapse comes, as it will in the not-distant future? Or, to look at it somewhat differently, in anything which is better geared to preparing for the Second Great Depression into which everyone outside the elites is now descending, slowly but surely? Do they seize their unlooked for opportunity? Do they at least tear up the stupid lawn and get a real vegetable garden going?
Not at all. Not only do they leave the money in the same idiotic funds that just tanked a little while ago, thereby proving themselves dumber than a toddler who knows not to touch a hot stove a second time. Not only do they refuse to recognize the end of “suburbia” in its physical and economic viability, that they’re holding a hand there which already lost. They’re actually doubling down on it. They’re choosing now to redo that long talked about but long neglected “lawn”. They’re cutting down oak trees (never mind that the woman always whines about how hot it gets in the house during summer, and how killing the trees means it’ll now be several degrees hotter; she’s an American “consumer” which means destroy first and then be sincerely shocked and outraged when there are actually consequences of stupid destruction), they’re going to have large ornamental stones ripped out with some kind of tractor, the whole threadbare existing lawn ripped up, and have some thick lush sod lawn put down. Who knows how much that’s going to cost, or what the point is supposed to be. They’d say “that’s needed to be done for years”, but could never give a coherent answer to why it needs to be done; “needs” to be done according to whom. In the end it’s just the old brainwashing, and facing the destruction of their unsustainable way of life, their response isn’t to think, to learn a lesson, to seek real solutions and change their lives.
The response is to hunker in the bunker, dig in and double down in the dead end. It’s like the lawn is a fetish of empire, and if they can just keep that talisman glowing in their feverish eyes, the future will remain safe.
I suppose if everyone who felt this way just stuck to their lawns with this attitude, the result would be ugly and destructive enough, but would not bring the end of American freedom itself. Unfortunately many will not just redo their lawns. They’ll take that same reactionary mindset into the political realm, and do so with great aggression. That’s where fascism arises. The mindset I described, and of which I just gave an anecdote, of trying to dig the hole deeper rather than try to climb out, because climbing out would require admitting that digging the hole was a mistake and a dead end in the first place, is endemic to a group which had achieved a relatively high level of economic and political power and is now rapidly losing ground. That does create a revolutionary situation, but unfortunately the historical record shows that the most common upheaval it produces is not radical change, but a violent, reactionary attempt to stall the liquidation process, which of course never works, but which does, for a little while, offer a psychological release.
That’s what’s happening with all aspects of reaction, from lawns to right-wing extremism gaining ground. Can true freedom activism offer an alternative, which would not only work toward real solutions but provide psychological sustenance in the very act? We have no chance if we fail to do so.

May 14, 2010

The Battle Lines


The rain taps out a melancholy march.
The skies smooth out to a flattened gray.
The road of day now opens with lament,
Straining out its sad song upon the world,
Demanding an overdue destiny,
Compelling our souls to march along.
The road of the rain is a passive path,
We only need blink and the world is drowned……
The small points of light amid the sea of darkness, the lonely calls to resistance like in Greece, are the only light by which it’s possible to see any hope for humanity. The Greek bailout is a new evolution of the Bailout, as it must become ever more aggressive to propagate itself.
Here we see the exact same battle lines which are so clear in Bailout America replicated on the stage of the great globe itself. The battlefront in the hominid civil war is stark.
We have the kleptocracy – the big banks, all other corporate rackets, all Western governments, and the rootless globalization cabals like the IMF and the EU which never had any authority or legitimacy even in theory, all of these basing their strength upon the financialization of all economy and politics.
This financialization assault, nothing other than the modern form of criminal looting, is upon humanity itself, upon all peoples, all taxpayers, all workers, upon all real, productive economic activity, upon all human politics, all democracy, all true freedom.
The gangsters fight to: 1. loot; 2. prop up the exponential debt tower. Each stage in the Bailout serves only these two goals, while supplementary campaigns like the “war on terror”, the “war on drugs”, and the general assault on civil liberties, are intended to shore up government power as it has to eventually become overtly tyrannical and violent to keep the Bailout going.
Basically, the elites want to loot as much as they can on a personal basis for as long as they can keep the debt system zombified. They know the debt system is doomed to collapse, and probably sooner rather than later, which is the reason for the brazenness of the robbery (“bonuses” and such) which seems so politically stupid . They know they have no political future, so normal political calculations are a moot point. Soon only violence will suffice for them. They know they have no economic future, so it’s time to get while the getting’s good.
Since it’s becoming impossible for the kleptocracy to keep stealing while pretending to maintain any sort of semblance of human society, we’re now reaching the point of the more direct liquidation of the people. All public programs, pensions, health care, all social spending and public property, are targeted for conversion to bank property, and then through laundering and “bonus” looting, to the personal property of the banksters and their minions. That’s the purpose of “austerity” in the Baltics, in Iceland (so far rejected by the people), now in Greece, soon in Portugal, Spain, Ireland. Soon in the UK. And in Bailout America, as we see with the growing chorus in the MSM and among corporate academics and intellectuals, “entitlements”, Social Security and Medicare, are the main target for liquidation and conversion to private bankster property. This is Obama’s great goal, his great “I Have A Nightmare”, his great tribute to his ultimate hero Ronald Reagan.
As we see, the very existence of a “middle class” was nothing but a tactical concession on the part of monopoly finance corporatism. Just like with the Bolsheviks and their NEP (New Economic Policy) and the ephemeral middle class this allowed to arise, so the Western “capitalist” middle class was meant to be temporary and was despised every step of the way. It is now being liquidated, as was always the intended eventual goal.
Our very governments no longer exist, having been hijacked by finance. A “government” which sees its only allowed activities to be borrowing, privatizing public property, and police state repression, which will only ever tax in order to directly steal from the poor to give to the rich (as we see with the growing calls in Bailout America for tax increases on the non-rich only, like a VAT), is no longer a government in any legitimate sense. By definition kleptocracy has no legitimacy or authority, and its “power” is based only upon violence and the threat of violence. Meanwhile rootless globalist cabals like the IMF, the EU, the WTO, NAFTA and planned assaults in the Americas like the SPP and the FTAA, are not states or governments even by any theoretical measure, but rather unelected, purely unaccountable, authoritarian bureaucracies, ruling not through any legitimate political procedure but through bureaucratic decree. They have their closest analogue in a lawless administrative dead zone like the Nazis’ General Government of Poland (where all the crimes of a place like Auschwitz were not technically illegal at all).
(Speaking of illegality, just like how in the US the TARP and the rest of the Bailout were technically illegal according to the PCA law, which requires the resolution of all insolvent banks including so-called TBTFs, so things like EU “facilities” to launder bailouts for Austrian and Swedish banks through EU “loans” to debt slaves like Hungary, Romania, and Latvia are illegal according to the no-bailout rules of the EU treaty.
So that should put in the proper perspective today’s calls in Bailout America for “resolution authority” or No-Bailout promises. These are always lies, and anyone who proposes either is always a liar.)
Democracy itself has been abstracted by sleight of hand. We should grab the con man, turn him upside down and SHAKE HIM until our freedom, and our national wealth, fall back out of his pocket.
We see how we’ve come either to the end of politics and freedom, or back to the beginning. The original beginning where the choice can be to submit to violence and tyranny, to lash out blindly with inchoate destruction in return, or to find anew the real political genius of humanity, our real political heritage, its basis in covenant and principle.
This is the end of the fossil fuel age. The real economy, always bound by the limits of nature, will never again be so profligate as it was during the fossil fuel blip, really an outlier on the chart of history. The normal course of economy and history shall resume.
This is the end of exponential debt and “growth”. The finance economy, in spite of its lies and delusions, was also completely dependent upon endlessly growing supplies of cheap energy. But even if we disregard Peak Oil, debt and growth weren’t sustainable on their own. This was proven in 2008, as the biggest, best bubble attempt the system could inflate blew up on its own, and since then they’ve been able to do nothing, and have literally no ideas, but to try to keep this terminal bubble as inflated as possible as long as possible. But as we see with Greece and from there the EU in general, this reflation attempt is doomed, and everybody knows it.
Normal history and economic production shall resume. But does this mean normal feudal political relations, serfdom and slavery, must again prevail as well? Or can the spirit of the American Revolution, so long despised, rejected, ignored, neglected, traduced, and hijacked, also resume?
As we return to history, we can, if we choose, if we muster the will, carry with us some piece of political progress. As we return to civilization’s normal economic level we can maintain political and economic rights. We don’t need feudal political organization.
But for that Peak Oil by itself, as a force of history, isn’t enough. While freedom activists cannot directly challenge the kleptocracy while it remains intact, we can indirectly subvert it through relocalizing our politics and economies as much as possible, through becoming as self-reliant (as individuals, families, and communities) as possible, and through preparing to seize the coming opportunity of exponential debt collapse. That will be the great moment of decision, where the fragments of elite power will seek to fully refeudalize. That’s when relocalization will have to become militant, if it wants to build new democracies, new vistas of freedom.

May 12, 2010

The Ongoing Follies of Fannie and Freddie


One of the most active fronts of the Bailout continues to be the looting of taxpayer money through the government-supported entities (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and a few others. Since August 2008 alone the government has thrown nearly $140 billion down the GSE rathole, and the hemorrhaging continues. Fannie and Freddie both recently announced further losses and made new requests for government handouts.
Fannie just declared a first quarter loss of $11.5 billion and asked for another $8.4 billion. This followed on Freddie’s begging for $10.6 billion after reporting an $8 billion loss. These “losses” are nothing but money laundering to banks who refuse to hold loans or take risks themselves but will “lend” when the GSEs promise to guarantee the risks or just directly buy up the mortgages.
The Republicans are trying to seize upon the requests to force the GSEs onto the finance reform agenda. John McCain proposed a joke amendment to force the government to cut all ties to the companies within five years. The Democrats meanwhile are scared of the whole issue and want to pretend it doesn’t exist. They claim to want to put off clarification of the GSEs’ role until after the election (I suppose their rationale is the same old delaying tactic of falsely claiming the thing needs more deliberation or whatever), but they really don’t want to do it at all. We can bet if the Dems can get a sham finance reform bill this year and can still control the agenda post-November, they’ll never take up Fannie and Freddie at all.
The fact that the Dems refuse to engage GSE reform now proves their bad faith and bad conscience. Of course the Reps don’t really care either. They’re the ones who nationalized Fannie and Freddie in the first place. They started laundering the Bailout through the GSEs in the first place. Bush was especially ardent to use Fannie and Freddie to keep the subprime bubble inflating once it looked to be stalling. But as usual the Democrats have turned a big political advantage into a disadvantage. (As always, all the Dems had to do to guarantee themselves a permanent majority was to do the right thing. Smash Wall Street. But as always they remain stupid, cowardly, and wicked.)
As usual, the sticking point is the fundamental corruption and unsustainability of the system itself.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created by Congress to reduce the cost of home ownership. The companies buy mortgage loans from banks and other lenders, freeing up money for another round of loans. By providing a guaranteed return, the companies also allow lenders to charge lower interest rates.

If home ownership is so important, and if it would be impossible to accomplish through a free market, then why have the private middleman at all? Why doesn’t the government just directly lend? Even if it were true that as a result of the existence of the GSEs the banks did charge lower rates than what a true free market would charge, they still extract a rent and therefore cost more than what it would cost if the government directly lent. So it’s the worst of both worlds, an assault on the free market from both ends, government social engineering and private gangsterism.
(The standard retort that government is too “inefficient” to do it on its own has long since been proven to be a lie. No level of government waste and corruption ever equals the level of inefficiency, waste, and corruption of corporatism, where we combine all the worst aspects of government with private rent extraction. We’re seeing a spectacular example of that in the Gulf of Mexico today. No sane country places its energy production in the hands of private corporations. The oil belongs to the people, so if it’s worth developing at all it’s worth developing only on that basis.
And the reply is supposed to be that government would be too “wasteful” to drill on its own, maybe just hiring contractors? That handing the works to BP was going to be more “efficient”? Heckuva job.)
Fundamentally, turning the suburban model of “home ownership” into a fetish was always a bad policy goal. This campaign in social engineering was primarily undertaken for the sake of propping up the corporate economy (which must always rely on “engineering” new markets since the natural bounds of its growth didn’t allow for the infinite extraction of monopoly rents; that’s the point of enforced consumerism as a top-down economic policy) and for social control (keeping people socially embarrassed not to be rat racers, and deeply in debt once they do comply; that’s the top-down socio-political goal).
To this day “home ownership” is still an essential part of the “American Dream” propaganda, to keep the zombie ex-middle class lurching along, still politically astroturfed, like a dying workhorse still being lured by the mirage of a carrot dangling before it. So the loans have to still be made available, at something remotely like an affordable level. But the banks would never lend a cent on their own, since they know the market isn’t sustainable. Housing prices are still inflated way beyond reality.
At the same time, the loans must continue at the right level to continue to prop up all the worthless paper on the banks’ balance sheets, and to enable the banks to continue looting and extracting bonuses. The system is in an increasing state of difficulty trying to square this circle of keeping the Bailout going while keeping the American Dream ideology viable. The mission is hopeless in the long run, and probably the longer short run as well. Fannie and Freddie are the only game in town to even try to accomplish it for the shorter short run.
So when the Republicans claim to want to get rid of these things it’s the same scam as when they say “We don’t need to break up the banks, let’s just promise not to bail them out in the future.” In both cases they know damn well the big banks will always be bailed out for as long as they exist at all. But for as long as the Dems play the Rep game, for the Reps talk is cheap.

At the same time, the companies have become more important to the health of the housing market as private sources of mortgage funding evaporated almost completely during the financial crisis. Those sources have yet to make a significant comeback.

“Health” – sic. That’s like saying if you’re exhausted and need sleep, the way to restore health isn’t to, um, get some sleep, but to shoot up crystal meth.
The only patient here whose health is a glimmer in the government’s eye is the toxic paper held by the bank rackets. The Bailout’s goals are to prop up the balance sheets while the looting continues as fast and furiously as possible. Time is short.
1. The banks make bad loans to prop up the zombie housing prices.
2. Fannie and Freddie buy the bad loans at even more inflated prices.
3. The government keeps handing F and F taxpayer money to cover the losses from the bad loans.
4. F and F use the money to keep buying from the banks at the banks’ inflated prices.
5. The balance sheets and the “market” are thus propped up as zombies.
6. The taxpayer is the sucker being fleeced.
(The government, specifically Barney Frank, claims the ongoing F and F losses are from pre-8/08 loans, not from loans bought since then. Dean Baker keeps questioning whether this is really true, and clearly believes it isn’t. Common sense tells us we have to assume it’s a lie, since the government refuses to hand over the evidence.) 
Since something like the TARP seems to be not politically replicable (Congress won’t vote for it again directly, and has so far resisted Geithner’s attempt to get TARP-like disbursement authority, as a blank check, written into the “reform” bill), the Bailout now has to be laundered in various ways. The GSEs are a favorite loot conveyor.
So far $140 billion has been conveyed since 8/08. But a good indication of Obama’s expectation for how big a role the GSEs may play in the future is how at the end of 2009 the administration lifted the existing $400 billion cap on GSE laundering to infinity (at least through 2012). Doing this as quietly as possible over the holidays at the end of the year was a recursively vaster example of putting out bad news on a Friday. The furtiveness of such a blockbuster move is a testament to its unaccountability and flouting of democracy itself.
Meanwhile the losses flow freely like oil erupting from an unsealable blowout. As the NYT piece says, “the quarterly requests [for the continued loot conveyance] are a formality.”
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