September 22, 2010

The Violent Corporate State (Monsanto and Blackwater, Perfect Together)

Filed under: Corporatism, Food and Farms, Global War On Terror — Tags: , — Russ @ 4:39 am



We know that among Obama’s and HRC’s (Hillary Ribbentrop Clinton) favorite corporations are Monsanto and Blackwater.
Even after Blackwater’s long, proven record of mass murder, thuggery, embezzlement, and incompetence, Clinton’s State Department continues to hand them new contracts. In this case, it’s an 18 month, $120 million handout for “protective security services” in Afghanistan. The contract was given to a Blackwater subsidiary called “The US Training Center”. (The mother corporation has been renamed from the tarnished aggressive name “Blackwater” to the intentionally bland “Xe”. Now honcho Erik Prince wants to sell it while he absconds with with the millions he stole to the overt slave society, the UAE.)
(In addition to how evil and corrupt such contracts are from the point of view of the public interest, this is also yet another example of Obama’s utter incompetence even from the point of view of partisan politics. Prince is a longstanding Republican operative and Bush fundraiser. Indeed Blackwater was set up in the first place with the business model of lobbying for fat corporate welfare gigs, to cash in as Bush came into office. It was never for a single day a legitimate entrepreneurial, “capitalist” outfit. It was always an embezzlement racket.
But evidently being a de facto extension of the Republican Party and self-defined exterminationist Christian crusader doesn’t disqualify one from service in the Obama administration.)
And what about the ongoing DoJ attempt to indict Blackwater murderers for the Nisoor Square Massacre? What about the allegations and indictments for theft? A State Dept. flack cheerfully chirped that none of that matters:

“Under federal acquisition regulations, the prosecution of the specific Blackwater individuals does not preclude the company or its successive companies and subsidiaries from bidding on contracts,” the spokeswoman said. “On the basis of full and open competition, the department performed a full technical evaluation of all proposals and determined the U.S. Training Center has the best ability and qualifications to meet the contract requirements.”

Evidently while the 1st Amendment is to be gutted for phony examples of providing “material assistance” to terrorists, and while RICO provides for severe penalties for most forms of money laundering to known organized crime outfits, neither of these forms of abetting are to apply in the case of the known terrorist and mafia gang “Blackwater”.
Meanwhile, in another example of how Obama loads his administration with corporate operatives, he has sought to install Monsanto cadres in positions of power over our food supply. Thus Michael Taylor, Monsanto executive and lobbyist, was appointed FDA Deputy Commissioner for food. Another Monsanto name which was widely vetted was Dennis Wolff. Wolff is a notorious thug who as Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture wanted to ban milk producers from labeling their product hormone free, on the grounds that it would “confuse” consumers. (Monsanto markets rBGH, and Wolff as a government cadre saw his job as to serve Monsanto against the public interest.) Governor Ed Rendell had to override this anti-democratic power grab in the face of massive public outcry.
Monsanto has a long history of seeking nothing but to poison, loot, and dominate the world. It once hired Arthur Anderson (of Enron notoriety) with this commission: Monsanto wanted world domination of the food supply through control of all seeds. They asked AA to reverse engineer a strategy: How do we get there from here? Here’s a harrowing tale of Monsanto’s legalized thuggery, with the full collaboration of the rigged law and corrupt courts, all the way up to the Canadian “supreme” court.
Both of these corporations must be called fascist, not as anti-corporate rhetoric but by any objective, reasonable measure. Both are authoritarian and violent and operate with open contempt for democracy and the public interest. Both are unproductive, parasitic leeches off the corporate welfare state. Both propose to use brutal force to entrench that state.
And now they’re working together. According to documents uncovered by journalist Jeremy Scahill (who has specialized in educating the public about Blackwater), Blackwater has conferred with Monsanto about setting up a Nixon-style dirty tricks outfit and god knows what else:

“The relationship between the two companies appears to have been solidified in January 2008 when Total Intelligence chair Cofer Black traveled to Zurich to meet with Kevin Wilson, Monsanto’s security manager for global issues.

“After the meeting in Zurich, Black sent an e-mail to other Blackwater executives, including to [then-president Erik] Prince and [former CIA paramilitary officer Enrique] Prado at their Blackwater e-mail addresses.

“Black wrote that Wilson ‘understands that we can span collection from internet, to reach out, to boots on the ground on legit basis protecting the Monsanto [brand] name…. Ahead of the curve info and insight/heads up is what he is looking for.’

“Black added that Total Intelligence ‘would develop into acting as intel arm of Monsanto.’ Black also noted that Monsanto was concerned about animal rights activists and that they discussed how Blackwater ‘could have our person(s) actually join [activist] group(s) legally’….

“…Wilson confirmed he met Black in Zurich and that Monsanto hired Total Intelligence in 2008 and worked with the company until early 2010. He denied that he and Black discussed infiltrating animal rights groups, stating ‘there was no such discussion.’”

This is chilling in itself, as well as typical of the kind of corporate collaboration and Mussolini-style corporate-state collaboration which we see everywhere we look. Just a few days ago the people learned of the same dirty tricks at something called the Pennsylvania Homeland Security Agency. (Do all states have those? Is there no end to the “war on terror” police statist and corrupt bureaucracy gravy train? Typically, not a peep from the allegedly anti-bureaucratic tea partiers and “libertarians” on this one.) A government thug there proposed a secret surveillance campaign using taxpayer dollars on behalf of shale-drilling “stakeholders”. The private goons hired this time were an Israeli outfit called ITRR. (The Israelis are the real pros at this kind of parasitic thuggery. The likes of Blackwater just imitate them, often hiring Israeli cadres to teach them.)
Rendell swooped in to the rescue again, ordering the contract canceled. (But the bureaucratic criminal hasn’t been fired, so far as I can see.) Is this recurring theme of Rendell overruling “abuses” starting to look like a pattern? It’s the same thing as with Facebook’s assault on privacy, and so many other examples. Push as far as you can, then when you go too far and bring down too much heat, backpedal and claim it was a mistake. Wait for the heat to die down and resume the assault. (This was also a common tactic of Lenin and Stalin in their war on the peasants.) Rendell clearly knows the game plan.
So Blackwater and Monsanto now blandly dismiss the significance of these contacts, just as Monsanto claims it has no interest in the food bill, just as Prince says he’s sick of the security business and is getting out (he wanted Xe to become some kind of paper pushers or something), just as Google says it has no plans to use the “managed services” VIP lane to run parallel to the Open Internet, it’s all just so much ennui, isn’t it? Nothing to see here, move along. The MSM does its part by seldom talking about any of it, and abetting the theme of downplaying everything when it does.
Although this is all slated to end with a bang, the sheep are expected to go with a whimper.

April 30, 2010

Signal Lanterns

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom — Tags: , , , , , , — Russ @ 12:55 am


A few weeks ago, April 18-19, was the anniversary of Lexington and Concord and Paul Revere’s legendary midnight ride. I didn’t think of it at the time, preoccupied as I was with stuff like the SEC and Goldman. But I intend to pay closer attention to these august dates from our lost revolution in the future.
It’s literally true that Paul Revere’s ride is a legendary matter. Throughout American history there have been many Reveres. There was the original story of the “wounded innocence” of 1775, the province of all who were forced by fate into the crucible of war and revolution. (Though when the participants were getting their story straight they rejected Revere’s own deposition because he wouldn’t swear to the alleged fact that the British fired first at Lexington, and he alluded too much to the patriots’ prior preparations for exactly such a British march, which planning tended to contradict the wounded innocence contention.)
The story of the heroism of the midnight ride and the signal lanterns was the folklore of Boston right from those first heady days. The legend grew though the first half of the 19th century. Then came the Civil War, and with it Longfellow’s immortal tale of the lone hero with his ringing call to a nation to fight for its freedom. It was carefully tailored to resonate with a public being fired up for war, and at the same time to flatter the already prominent American legend of the hardy, self-reliant man of action. The story had spectacular success from its publication in January 1861, and this has been the base of the legend ever since, while further hagiography as well as debunking built upon (or chipped away at) this base. Thus we’ve seen the martial “Colonel Revere” of proud imperial days, and Esther Forbes’ “simple artizan” [sic] of 1942, the common man who rose to the occasion, and even the capitalist-soldier of the Cold War, as well as the relatively playful satirical treatment of Revere and other patriotic-affiliated figures following the pointless horror of the Great War, or the far more angry debunkers of the Vietnam and Watergate era (some of them going so far as to claim the midnight ride never took place, or that Revere was drunk as he rode, or that he was a  snitch). And so on into modern times where between structural depictions of the social forces of history and “political correctness” Revere and his midnight ride have often disappeared completely.
While we can dismiss shallow liberal “correctness” with the level of respect it deserves, we are forced to recognize the power of history itself and its economic and social currents. Today especially we’re buffeted amid a vast turbulence of forces. So far as I can see the readers of this blog agree that the global financialized debt system is doomed and must collapse of its own weight, and also that there’s little even a large mass of the peasantry, let alone a few lonely denizens of the blogosphere, can do to affect the way these forces play out and the tempo of their doing so.
Where does this leave the people and events of our legends? Whether we take the legend of a lone midnight rider (or a handful of riders if you include Dawes and Prescott, who are the only other well-known names) and wounded innocence which spontaneously rose and fought back at Lexington and Concord, or whether we go with the more accurate story of a several dozen messengers acting out a well-laid plan which culminated in the vigorous resolution of the fight, either way it’s still just a relative handful of people.
Did history have greater space for contingency and small-scale agency back then? Was that too a casualty of the industrial age, the oil age, the age of masses, and by today nothing can any longer be contingent, and no one, not even among the powerful, can be an agent?
And then there’s the question of whether today’s events ever still concentrate such pivotal significance into such a small space, in terms of time, geography, and the number of actors engaged. If instead we expand the idea to just look for the metaphorical Lexington event, which could serve to fire the will to fight of millions, or if we go further and seek to envision the discrete moment which could signal the final breaking of the exponential finance and Bailout wave, it’s still hard to imagine. 
What can today be the equivalent of a General Gage marching upon Lexington? The latest and most exciting event has been the SEC’s filing against Goldman, which has indeed excited everyone to the point that we see speculation everywhere on whether this is the breaking point for Goldman, or even the turning of the tide against Wall Street itself. Almost as pregnant with portent is the looming European debt default unwind, which may roll up the EU itself, with incalculable consequences. We still have zombie Dubai, still extending and pretending. And providing eschatological backdrop as well as threatening economic devastation itself, we have the eruption of Iceland. Can any of these really provide the non-linear break? We’ll rightly keep doubting until the moment it happens, and probably for some time afterward, just as the newspapermen who witnessed the first Kitty Hawk flight said “that’s nice” and went home thinking, “that was a neat trick, whatever they were really doing”, and it was days before what had happened really sunk in. 
When I think of the early days of the crisis the date 9/29 still leaps out at me. I remember writing it on the cover of the notebook I started in August. On 9/29/08 I wrote, “Sarajevo”. It was the day the first TARP vote rejected it. Of course we know what happened next, and by now I don’t say that date was particularly important. But at the time it struck me as a critical moment in the crisis. I thought they might actually have to start letting the whole thing unravel right then and there. But of course that didn’t happen, then.
Can there really be such a day? Can there be Marches of the Regulars and midnight rides? And even if there still could be, could there again be a response? Can the Minuteman spirit ever reawaken?
Well, that’s just some musings when I thought about the old days. Paul Revere struck me because his legend has been so resilient and evocative for so long for so many. Like I said, I don’t know if they even teach him in school anymore. But should we ever be able to seize upon events, it would be of great use to have the legends to help render them familiar. Not just Revere (who’s really just an example here, but a good one) but the entire heritage is waiting and wanting to do real work once again. It wonders, How was our Revolution lost?
So I just wrote this as some notes and suggestions for further thought. Maybe it doesn’t make a lot of sense, or maybe it’ll give people something to think about. We seem to have unfathomable time (meaning simply that we have zero idea if the zombie starts toppling tomorrow or five years from now or anytime in between) and not a huge number of options for what to do with it at the moment.
Oh well, another strange gizmo for the toolbox.

December 9, 2009

Mirage of Sodom


20. And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because
their sin is very grievous,
21. I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry
of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.
– Genesis 18
“The Circus Circus is what the whole hep world would be doing if the Nazis had won the war.”
– Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Dubai’s infamous set of artificial islands, dubbed “the World”,  are like a pointillist painting. From close up they’re just a bunch of dots. Only from orbit do they resolve into a map of the continents.
Similarly Dubai itself looks like a city and a society only from far away and from socioeconomically up on high. From close up, it’s just a splattering of the sweat and blood of slaves.
The financial world has been transfixed by the spectacle of Dubai’s impending debt default, at the vanguard of the commercial real estate debt overhang. Dubai is $80 billion in debt, of which 60 is held by the supposed GSE Dubai World, and what’s specifically in question here seems to be the $26 billion in “Islamic bonds”, sukuks, issued by DW’s Nakheel construction entity, which are slated to come to maturity on December 14. Evidently they can’t pay and want to extend and pretend for six months. Meanwhile nobody even knows what’s the real legality of these bonds. Two such bonds have already defaulted, one from Kuwait.
Everyone had assumed Dubai itself was good for all the debts, and at worst oil-rich Abu Dhabi would always be there to backstop oil-poor Dubai. But this expectation seems to have broken down, as AD said it would only make $15 billion available to Dubai banks, not DW, while Dubai itself has proclaimed that it does not necessarily backstop DW’s debts. The whole thing is full of portents, on the largest scale.

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

(I hope HST wouldn’t mind if I borrow from his great lines to describe a very different phenomenon, one he found just as ugly as I do.)
The religion of debt as “progress” has run up against its practical and moral limits. Resources and real economic production cannot sustain the Tower of Debt Babel. This has been the high water mark, and now the whole wave must roll back, leaving behind a nasty mess. The progress flacks will still argue that Decadence is Progress. The curve of slavery can perhaps continue rising for awhile, and with the help of that, and props like Green tech, slave surveillance tech, it might be possible for the system to play the shell game with funny debt money for a few more years yet. But this is End Game.
Dubai is a neoliberal model city. It’s nominally dedicated to providing “services” only tangentially related to any real economy – finance and tourism, both on the globalist level. (So even if they still had oil let alone any other resource their activity vastly exceeds their resource base.) It’s really a sybaritic parasite perched on the backs of slaves. It’s set up as a monument to wingnut welfare. By all accounts the privileged class, natives and expatriates, are the worst kind of scum. They’re an obscene combination of incompetence, stupidity, arrogance, and callousness. Their ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, is simply the oil magnate equivalent of a brain dead drunken yahoo tourist.
Everything here was built by slaves. They are lured from places like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Ethiopia with promises of high wages and good work conditions. They arrive already in debt. Their passports are illegally confiscated. They are then herded into hideous work and living conditions for wages so low (lower than even the meager wage they could’ve gotten at home) it takes them years to even work off their original debt. 
All of this has been “constructed” not even toward the pretense of any higher ideal, any better, more human way of life. Instead, it’s brazenly set up to enable an inferior parasite class to indulge its every hedonist and sadist whim. It’s intentionally as infantile, wicked, and ugly as possible.
Dubai represents the cutting edge, and the most honest manifestation, of the neoliberal variety of fascism. A place like Las Vegas is in the same ballpark, but we must really look to Wall Street and Washington to fully appreciate the identity. Here too it’s the same essence. The people are the same inferior, incompetent parasite class who produce nothing, who suck the blood of those who do produce, and who go about it all with the same vile sense of entitlement which has always identified the real nazi welfare cohort of this world.
The only slight difference is the level of overt Gilded Age conspicuous consumption, and that they pay lip service to ideals like “capitalism”, “democracy”, “freedom”, “America”, even religion, even as they defile all of these with every action and every thought. (By contrast, in Dubai everyone, even nominal “dissidents”, gives the same boilerplate rationale in response to ever being questioned about their slaves: This used to be desert, my ancestors had things hard, we worked hard….(So implicitly they now deserve to live off slavery. They also claim the slave conditions are not the norm, but just abuses on the part of bad apples among the employers. The authorities are simply overworked, and that’s why abuses can occur. Strange – the police are always able to immediately go into action the second any worker gets uppity, let alone the rare times there’s any kind of labor unrest. They don’t seem “overworked” then.) They must be taught that in school. They stick to the lines with excellent discipline.)
The whole structure is not only morally and aesthetically vile but unsustainable. Neoliberalism in general, and Dubai among the first, is running up against what Toynbee called the “nemesis of success”.
Facing the fact of living on a harsh desert with few natural resources except for some oil, Dubai chose the path of greed and excess. They leveraged the oil wealth into an inverted pyramid of debt. They used the debt to try to build themselves into a finance and tourism center. This was a questionable strategy to begin with, since it relied upon permanent exponential growth to service the debt and maintain a bloated finance sector in existence, and keep an international jet set of rich tourists flowing in. So they were already completely dependent upon infinite oil and infinite debt. Since these financiers and tourists could go anywhere they wanted, Dubai went all the way in styling itself a tax-free Gilded Age playground. So their energy and financial extravagance went way beyond even what was already unsustainable in its inception.
Dubai represents the extreme of psychopathic narcissism and hedonism, all built on profligate debt and slavery. Sodom was never like this.
Industrial civilization has been based upon building layer upon layer of complexity over the oil platform. But eventually the reality-based forces of economics and physics intrude to render the process counterproductive. Joseph Tainter described it as a vise grip between the rising costs and dwindling payoffs of increasing complexity. The larger, more complex, more top-heavy a structure, a city, a country, an economy, a civilization gets, the more energy and wealth it must expend merely in maintaining itself against external pressures and internal entropy. For awhile adding complexity may add value, but eventually the returns diminish and then go negative. Here the nemesis of success is to keep adding layers when that no longer works.
In Dubai’s case, they started with nothing but some oil. The problem? There was no sustainable way to become super-rich by Western standards. So right from the start the gilded path depended completely upon debt. Already the first layer of complexity was extremely tenuous and utterly dependent upon outside forces. Add to this the monumental energy required to electrify the place and most of all the desalinate the obscene amount of water required. (To even stand still and do nothing there requires drinking three times as much water as in a temperate clime, let alone to serve a mega-sin city with a golf course and an indoor ski hill as just some of the more extreme examples of the general profligacy.) This complexity as well is built on sand, and not just literally.
Now that the globe has entered a Depression, suddenly the bankers and tourists aren’t rolling in the way they used to. Suddenly the chariot races and gladiatorial games are sparsely attended. Suddenly the rents aren’t piling up sufficient to do the one and only thing Dubai must do in order to keep making its obscene expenditures: service the debt. 
As fun as it would be to enclose Dubai in a physical bubble and leave it there to live or die by its own resources, Dubai at least does in theory have recourse to the outside forces it depends upon. When it cannot sustain its complexity, when it defaults, it runs to mommy.
Or that’s what everyone assumed it would do if worst came to worst.
Let us compare this to America’s nemesis of success. Unlike Dubai, America started out with vast resources of almost every kind. It used these to build a real manufacturing economy. Gliding on the wings of oil it had enough extra wealth to add a service economy as well.
The great shock to this came with the American oil Peak in 1970, the structural problems of the gold-based dollar (exacerbated by the self-inflicted political and economic wound of Vietnam), and the oil shocks of the 70s. America was now living beyond its means.
Facing this, America could have rationally and morally adapted, transformed to a steady-state economy, rationally deployed the oil that was left, and all Americans could have shared a reasonable social and economic life indefinitely.
Instead class war from above prevailed. The strategy was: Financialize the economy, close the gold window, float the fiat reserve currency (which would now really be grounded in oil, as OPEC agreed to price and exclusively receive dollars), and import ever growing amounts of oil. They blew up the exponential debt economy, launched the neoliberal offensive, and sought to enshrine consumer indebtedness to temporarily maintain the illusion that America had a middle class even as actual wealth was concentrated in ever fewer hands. They bloated up energy consumption with suburban sprawl and the intensification of the personal car model of social infrastructure.
Now these layers of American complexity have become untenable. Resource and economic limitations (oil and overproduction on behalf of too little distributed wealth, the ultimate contradiction of capitalism) have brought the American machine to a thudding halt. Does America retrench, fall back, let the system unwind? You betcha it does NOT. Instead it adds another layer of complexity, the permanent bailout and the permanent war. These are somehow supposed to prop up the Tower.
But the system was already doomed, the economy already a zombie. This new layer simply renders it all even more top-heavy, and the inevitable crash will simply be more destructive and complete.
Unlike Dubai, America, and the globalization/financialization structure as a whole, has no mommy to run to when it finally defaults once and for all.
And on this island Earth, we are all as if inside a physical bubble.
So what does the Dubai default signify? It’s the Bear Stearns of indebted countries. The unwind must happen, and we can see how the plight of Dubai is a version of the plight of Iceland, of Latvia, of Greece, of Lithuania, Hungary, and so on, and soon of the UK itself. Is the IMF ultimately solvent? The World Bank?
Dubai World traverses the future path of our own Fannie and Freddie. These are nominal GSEs, and these were temporarily bailed out as everyone expected them to be. But they’re still tottering, still insolvent without the bailout. And then the government added all the big banks, AIG, GM, and god knows what else to the Too Big to Fail system.
But America is at the summit of the Tower. Unlike for Dubai World, for Dubai, even for Abu Dhabi, for America there is no appeal, no mommy to run to. It must in the end default, because it must deflate.
Much pain could have been avoided if America had simply let the debts go bad. Write them down. Much pain has been instead piled on, as a system becomes locked into a way of doing things, its “nemesis of success”.
The whole dam is going to burst. Cracks are forming everywhere, leaks breaking out. Let them spurt. maybe if we’re lucky it can let out some of the pressure before the whole thing bursts, as it must someday, and soon.
Dubai World is one exemplary leak. Dubai and the UAE clearly intend for the broader system to plug it. (And why not – it’s scrambled to plug every other hole.) The system powers are simply going to stick their fingers in hole after hole, stretch out their legs, try to grow new arms.
But the cracks will spread far faster than globalized central banking can spread to cover them. It’s simply not possible for even such thieves to steal that much money. There was never such wealth in existence in the first place. The Tower of Babel is built out of worthless paper.
When the dam bursts, it’ll sweep them all away, forever.
13. Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain;
escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed…
23. The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar.
24. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire
from the Lord out of heaven;
25. And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of
the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.
26. But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
27. And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before
the Lord:
28. And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the
plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a
29. And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God
remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he
overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt.
-Genesis 19