Volatility

September 3, 2010

Nice Company You Keep. Your Kind of People…

Filed under: Corporatism — Tags: , — Russ @ 7:50 am

 

On the same day there’s another oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama’s favorite non-bank corporation BP issues a threat:
 

BP is warning Congress that if lawmakers pass legislation that bars the company from getting new offshore drilling permits, it may not have the money to pay for all the damages caused by its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico……

“If we are unable to keep those fields going, that is going to have a substantial impact on our cash flow,” said David Nagle, BP’s executive vice president for BP America, in an interview. That, he added, “makes it harder for us to fund things, fund these programs.”

 
This kind of racketeering behavior is of course standard for BP, as it is for every corporate gang. Obama and the corporatists want a world ruled by these thugs. Obama and every corporatist, and every hack of the establishment, is that same person.
 
They’re nothing but criminals.

August 1, 2010

Ave Caesar! Morituri te salutamus. We Salute You!

Filed under: Poetry — Tags: — Russ @ 6:56 am
.

The sunset of the liquid fire
Plays upon the liquid of our lives.
The sunset of life plays upon the water,
Reflecting the same memories
Of dying light, of life that’s almost over.
The nostalgia tempers the fear,
And memory cheers
As the light scrolls over the surface,
The facade of reprieve.
As the plumes of carbon water
Rise slowly, inexorably,
To quench our thirst;
To bring their black to trap all light forever;
We know the thrill of Oedipus’ self-blinding,
And the solace of the drowning man
Who surrenders and breathes once more.
So the seas die,
And so before we die,
We dance one last drunken dance
In the rays of the last sunset.

July 9, 2010

National Socialism to End the Political Debate

 

I had a few converging deja vus at the NYT. This headline looked familiar, like I’d seen it somewhere before: “To Build Exports, Obama Vows to Push Stalled Trade Pacts”.
 
I was thinking this was a reprint of an earlier article when I came upon an even more recent remembrance:
 

“For a long time, we were trapped in a false political debate in this country, where business was on one side and labor was on the other,” Mr. Obama said in the East Room of the White House, at an event intended to highlight his administration’s efforts to promote exports. “What we now have an opportunity to do is to refocus our attention where we’re all in it together.”

 
Where have we recently heard this phrase, “false debate”? Ah yes:
 

Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates between right and left, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.

 
And that was the signal for the great Gulf Oil Eruption, which continues to destroy the Gulf of Mexico and all its economies as we speak, with the globe-girdling seas its only limits.
 
We can only speculate in suspense over the magnitude of the horror, as Obama, in direct defiance of the Constitution and all law, has imposed an actual police state lockdown on the entire eruption zone. Neither journalists nor independent scientists can get in. He has done this at the behest of the anti-sovereign criminal organization BP. He’s now openly declared himself a mere hired thug for a glorified street gang. This government has abdicated all sovereignty and therefore all legitimacy. America has no authority, only a vacuum filled by gutter power.
 
So if that was the horror portended by the announcement that the “tired debate” over offshore drilling was over, what must be the significance of this announcement, that a “false political debate” is ending?
 
Well, maybe nothing special. I recalled why this article on “free trade” looked so familiar. It’s on the exact same stalled trade agreements as this earlier piece I used to kick off a blog post back in February. What was it all about then?
 
I wrote:
 

The White House recently announced its intent to pursue further “free trade” pacts. The pending pacts are with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea. It’s supposed to be part of a plan to double American exports within five years, though how on earth America can do this (other than through further dumping) remains a mystery.

 
That led into a post about Imperialism vs. Politics.
 

Imperialism wants to evade politics. Having had its basis in foreign policy, it tries to bring home this characteristic combination of elitism, secrecy, and debate-killing slogans (like “growth” or “national security” or “terrorism”) to domestic politics, to foreignize it. It seeks to treat the people of the home country as a conquered colonial people.

 
And what’s the state of our politics today? The First Goon has been declaiming everywhere his corporate masters’ hatred for politics. All politics are just “tired debates”; all democracy is a “false political debate”.
 
And what’s the latest occasion for the assault on this false democratic existence? Just as the toxic surge continues to well out of the gash in the earth, looking to girdle the globe, so globalization itself wants to extend its own venom-laden tentacles in new strands of virulence, to Panama, to Columbia, to South Korea, in special new tenuosities of cord to whip the workers of America and of those countries.
 
The assault is being stepped up. The false political debate is ending among the Democrats, as Pelosi’s flunkey Steny Hoyer made a phony appeal from Congress to the President to send us the trade bill, Good God Almighty, the trade bill at last! and we’ll pass it.
 
National Socialism lives as Obama has brought together the elites of business and labor to end the false political debate.
 

“For a long time, we were trapped in a false political debate in this country, where business was on one side and labor was on the other” ……

The president made his call as part of a broader push to increase American exports under conditions that he said would “keep the playing field level” for American companies that send their products overseas. He appointed 18 corporate and labor leaders — including the chief executives of Ford Motor and Walt Disney — to a council to advise him.

 
The “labor leader” in question is one William Hite, head of union conglomerate the United Association. While the SEIU’s ex-chief Andy Stern joins Alan Simpson on the First Goon’s austerity Star Chamber (the “Fiscal Commission”), Hite’s now they’re partying with Ford CEO Alan Mulalley, Disney (Robert Iger), and 16 other gangland CEOs from the likes of Boeing, Pfizer, ADM, and others, as together they plan the next assault on the workers, on the people. Today’s Big Labor rackets are nothing but old style company unions, police unions, astroturf unions. The Gulf Eruption ended the tired debate; some monstrous trade crime must also cap the false political debate.
 
Politics, democracy, lies helpless and is ravaged. At the moment little help can come. But we can at least regard these police unions with clear eyes.
 
The moral: ALL existing institutions are rotten, are corrupt, are enemies of the people; we must break free of them.
 
There may be little action we can take at the moment, but there’s one critical step which has been progressing, which I fear is bogging down, but which must be completed.
 
One of the signs that a revolutionary situation is progressing is that thinkers and activists, potential intellectual leaders, who care about the integrity of the country turn away from the existing criminal system. This act of self-liberation is in itself the key criterion for leadership and future action. Freeing our own minds, at first individual by individual, and then communing through that state of inner freedom, is itself an important step, even though it doesn’t accomplish any “deed” in the short run.
 
The people must reciprocate the elites’ top-down scorn for our “false political debate” by instituting a true democratic community while renouncing, with our own infinite bottom-up rejection, all the lies and filth of their false tyrannical lies.
 
The people must become intellectually free, and there we’ll plant the flag of democracy redeemed. There we’ll be able to brainstorm actions.
 
We have to do it, for the First Goon is speaking ever more balefully, with ever more hatred for us.
 

“We’re upping our game for the playing field of the 21st century,” Mr. Obama said. “But we’ve got to do it together. We’ve got to all row in the same direction.”

 
That’s it. Volksgemeinschaft. Community of the People, all rowing in the same direction, no tired false political debates.
 
We know what direction the First Goon’s masters have in store for us, we the earmarked galley slaves. They’re now speaking with perfect clarity. The Gulf Oil Eruption has been an exercise in Shock Doctrine and Police State. They’ll be moving on to implementation. No one has any right to be in any doubt.
 
So in the end was the American Revolution just a false political debate, now very tired, after all? If freedom lives, it shall answer.

June 24, 2010

Nothing Works Anymore

 

Obama’s offshore drilling exploration moratorium was typical of him – too late, too limited, anodyne, more talk than action, taken only under extreme political duress though he obviously didn’t believe in it, so he couldn’t achieve any goodwill from it anyway. Yet even in that meager way it’s still something worthwhile.
 
Or it was for a few days before a federal judge, at the request of a minor special interest, the ferries serving drill workers, overturned the moratorium, declaring it “arbitrary and capricious”. People are having trouble following the judge’s reasoning, since it’s self-evident that deepwater drilling cannot be done safely and with all the risk accounted for by voluntary market participants. In principle, not just an exploratory moratorium but banning it completely is exactly what the executive branch should do as steward of these waters and resources. The only thing which looks arbitrary and capricious is the judicial activism here. (Unless you look at the judge’s oil investments. Then perhaps the decision might not seem so arbitrary.)
 
Corporatist judicial activism has been on a roll since the Citizens United decision. The SCOTUS seems especially keen to smash all attempts to impose any sort of rational limits on election buying, no matter how modest. Now, there’s no doubt about the “supreme” court’s conscious malevolence; four of the cadre are hard-bitten corporate activists, while the other four including Stevens (leaving out Sotomayor on account of insufficient data as of yet) are at best passively corporatist*, with demented prima donna Kennedy flipping back and forth based on whatever lets him be the center of attention. 
 
[* I’ve previously proposed that the right classification of judges is not something phony like “strict” vs. “loose” construction, let alone idiocy like conservative vs. liberal.
 
Rather, since the struggle of freedom and humanity vs. tyranny as crystallized in the struggle vs. corporatism is the defining issue of our time, and since the courts are today a lawless no man’s land where the civil war is already being fought out with one judge ruling that 2 + 2 = 4, while in adjoining courtrooms on either side his “colleagues” are saying it equals 3 or 5, so it follows that the only meaningful classification of jurists is as: either corporate activists on the bench (like the Citizens United majority), or as passive corporatists (those who accept corporate personhood and the basic corporatist structure, but who oppose judicial activism on its behalf), with perhaps a diminishing few public interest advocates and even anti-corporatists here and there.]
 
The SCOTUS as a whole is by now firmly against the people and for the tyrants. We should always remember that just as we can never expect there to ever again be good legislation from the Congress, so we can’t expect any kind of systematic good from the courts, only evil.
 
But even though the court is malevolent, by now money is so entrenched in the electioneering process that these decisions will probably make little practical difference. Here as everywhere else extortion is institutionalized.
 
But even given this level of conscious malevolence and entrenched corruption, there are still those like Glenn Greenwald whose public interest good will seems strong enough, but who often remain mired in the process mentality, such as in Greenwald’s case his myopic fetishized version of the 1st Amendment. As I said in my post on Constitution and Process, this fetish of process over substance and result ends up betraying the substance and helps guarantee a result which makes a repugnant mockery of the original ideal. The 1st Amendment, like0 the Constitution itself, is not a suicide pact, but the process myopics seem intent on making it one.
 
So it’s not just malevolence, but process issues as well which congeal as a blockage in many minds to constitute an objective barrier to political transformation.
 
Every attempt at reform is always opposed by one or more selfish, sociopathic special interests. The result is always at least one versus zero (the atomized mass which today passes for “democracy” and the public interest equals zero). In the case of the upset drilling moratorium it wasn’t even Big Oil who brought the suit (though I suppose they financed it), but some rinky-dink boats which ferry oil workers to the rigs. So there will always be someone, no matter how small, ready to assert the aggregate corporate prerogative against any value no matter how critical, like the very life of the sea itself, or humanly majestic, like democracy and the public welfare. These are all helpless in the clutches of this system.
 
I’ve written plenty of times about malevolence, and that will remain my focus. But for today I wanted to point out how the problem runs even beyond malevolence. I especially reject the notion that if the problem is “just” the criminal intent of gangsters, we can simply undertake the “reform” of replacing them, but otherwise leave the structure intact, and everything will be fine from there. No. The problem is the structure. Once we have  this combination of outdated structures and longstanding organized crime having suffused the structure with its mindset for so long and so deeply that the structure has become a veritable kleptocracy, and all institutions and processes within it are systematically corrupt, hijacked and suborned, or just plain rotted, the whole thing is beyond reform and beyond redemption.
 
So for the sake of argument, for the rest of this post let’s assume no criminal intent but simply the “innocent” process mentality and the “just doing my job” mentality. We can see how, no matter where we turn, no matter what we try, there’s always a seemingly insurmountable impediment to reform. We are bottlenecked. Even leaving aside actual assaults like the health racket mandate or “austerity”, nothing can be fixed.
 
I was thinking about this as I pondered the moratorium overthrow when I read a fascinating chapter early in Tocqueville’s The Ancien Regime and the Revolution. In Book 1, chapter 4, Tocqueville describes how the institutions and laws converged in all European countries, especially France, Germany, and England. By the 18th century, although everyone still was acting in accordance with the same Middle Age forms which once used to be progressive*, these now constituted stagnation. They were blocking movement, innovation, freedom.
 
[*I’ll take this opportunity to introduce one of my basic ideas. I think all historical threads (forces, ideas, entities) follow at best a life cycle of four stages. These stages are those of discovery, or when it is first evolving and pioneering; the progressive stage, where it reaches the best combination of healthfulness and utility; the decadent stage, where although its “quantity” may still be increasing, its quality stagnates, its usefulness hits diminishing returns, and it becomes a drag on motion and health; and the malevolent stage where all its effects are actively counterproductive and harmful to the people as a whole. (Throughout I’m of course speaking of the welfare and vibrance of the people, not of racketeers; their “welfare” tends to improve as the life cycle becomes decadent and then malevolent. Indeed their toxic flourishing is inversely proportional to a thing’s existential benevolence.)
 
Some obvious examples of spent life cycles are those of oil-fueled industrialism, mass capitalism, oil-fueled technology. Even the corporation may have had its brief progressive period, when it was still restrained within the bounds of the Constitution, before it quickly skipped decadence completely and became malevolent. Mass democracy first became corrupted and decadent and now, in its hijacked “inverted totalitarian” form, pseudo-democracy, is actually malevolent because it continues to prop up faith in vain reformism.]
 
So let’s read some Tocqueville. In several places I find myself substituting “Founding Fathers” for “Men of the Middle Ages” and today’s kleptocracy for sclerotic 18th century European structures.
 

It is no part of my theme to relate how this former European constitution gradually lost its power and fell into decay. I simply state that in the 18th century it was in partial ruins everywhere. The disintegration was generally less pronounced in the east of the continent and more so in the west but every country manifested this process of aging and disintegration.

This gradual collapse of the institutions peculiar to the Middle Ages can be followed in their archives. We know that each manor owned registers of land ownership called “terriers” in which, through the centuries, they recorded the boundaries of the fiefs, the holdings paying rent, the dues payable, the obligatory feudal services and the local customs. I have seen the terriers of the 14th century which are masterpieces of drafting, clarity, precision and intelligence. They become obscure, ill-formed, incomplete and muddled as they move into more recent times, despite the general progress of knowledge. It would appear that political society drifted down into barbarism at the very time when civil society was finally achieving enlightenment.

 
(I interject, this sounds similar to the current disposition of mortgage notes, specifically that the MERS regime was set up to systematically hide and lose those notes while the mortgages themselves became discorporated quiddities meant to fictively constitute “securities”, MBS and CDOs.
 
It’s part of Hernando de Soto’s depiction of the collapse of the rule of law itself through the destruction of the paper files.)
 

Even in Germany, where the old European Constitution had maintained its original features more effectively than in France, some of the institutions it had created were already everywhere being destroyed. But we can best judge the ravages of time less by observing its losses than by viewing the state of its remaining features.

Those urban institutions, which in the 13th and 14th centuries had transposed the chief German towns into small, prosperous and enlightened republics, still existed in the 18th but offered nothing more than an empty show. Their legal conditions appeared to be as vigorous as ever – the magistrates they appointed had the same names and appeared to perform the same functions – but the activity, energy, shared patriotic feeling, virile and productive virtues which they inspired had vanished. These ancient institutions had inwardly collapsed without losing their original shape.

All the powers of the Middle Ages that still remained were attacked by the same disease and displayed the same disintegration and the same slow decline. Still more, everything which was associated with the old constitution and had retained an almost clear imprint of it, without exactly belonging to it, directly lost its vitality. From that contact the aristocracy became infected with senile decay. Political liberty itself, whose achievements had permeated the whole Middle Ages, appeared to be stricken by barrenness wherever it still bore the particular characteristics it had gained from the medieval period. Wherever provincial assemblies had preserved their ancient constitution in an unchanged state they halted the progress of civilization rather than fostered it. It might be said that they were alien and almost impervious to the new spirit of the time. The antiquity of these institutions had not made them respected. Quite the contrary, they lost any credit even as they grew old and, strange to relate, they inspired all the more hatred as they seemed less capable of causing harm through their increasing decay. “The present state of things”, said a German writer, a contemporary and friend of this old regime, “appears to have become generally painful for everyone and occasionally contemptible. It is strange to see how people now judge unfavorably everything that is old. New impressions come to light at the heart of our families and upset their orderliness. Even our housewives no longer wish to put up with their old furniture.” Yet in Germany, at the same time as in France, society was thriving and enjoyed a growing prosperity. But everything which was alive, active, and creative was recent in origin, not only new but in conflict with the past.

Royalty shared nothing in common with the royalty of the Middle Ages, possessed other powers, occupied another position, had another spirit and inspired other feelings; the administration of the state extended everywhere, settling upon the remnants of local powers; the hierarchy of public officials increasingly replaced the government of the nobility. All these new powers acted according to procedures and followed ideas which men of the Middle Ages had either not known of had condemned. These had their links in fact to a state of society beyond their experience.

 
Let’s look briefly at a few examples. Again, I’m trying to leave out the main factor, intentional gangsterism and greed, and just mention the underlying structure and process factors, as well as some “innocent” motivations.
 
We started out with Obama’s energy policy, if one wants to call it that. Really Obama has no energy policy other than continuing the doomed status quo of corporatism, the technology cult, and massive consumption. It’s these very prejudices, ingrained far beyond the imperatives of greed, which help set up such objective psychological barriers to a rational energy policy. There’s also the refusal to accept resource constraints like Peak Oil, this refusal bolstered by all the dogmas and delusions of economic ideology (as well as the delusion that economics is a science). There’s also the tremendous sunk cost of cars and suburbia and the mass-energy infrastructure, entrenched Big Oil and Big Coal (not referring to their greed but their silhouette on the cultural horizon) and the new ethanol racket, trying to become Big Ethanol through the nurturing of its father, Big Ag and its mother, corporate environmentalism.
 
All of these represent big chunks of existence whose gravity serves as a form of propaganda in itself. People look at the sheer size and media presence of structures and become resigned, even if they wish they could sweep the landscape clean. They end up passively embracing what they consider laws of being.
 
As for the legal laws, everywhere you look these are set up to put up massive passive resistance to change even where the enemies of change don’t actively attack. Thus the 2005 and 2007 energy bills massively entrenched existing rackets and set what are meant to be “accepted” levels of renewable energy development. Since these were bipartisan bills enacted with great media fanfare, they’re meant to encode the status quo energy regime in our very spiritual and political DNA. Obama’s would-be energy bill is meant to continue this totalitarian process, adding cap and trade to the racketeering mix. (Needless to say, it would do nothing to mitigate greenhouse gases nor is it meant to.)
 
The same enshrinement exercise played out with the Bailout, with the health racket bailout, and is now continuing with the sham finance bill. The way the bills have been negotiated is also meant to further entrench the new legislative paradigm (there was a time where majorities sometimes really did want to legislate as per their constitutional mandate; no more) where everyone commences in the full understanding  either that nothing in the Status Quo will be changed, or else its assault on the people will be escalated. Maybe nobody even knows which of these it’ll end up being; either way the process is to put on a political show, with various cadres either delegated or self-appointed to play doomed heroes or misdirectional villains, while in the end they try to smear out responsibility for the real villainy among themselves while the flacks call it all “progress”. I stress that although everyone’s intent may be villainous, they’re also enshrining a process whose mechanism is meant to be immutable. Even if you came into Congress sincerely seeking reform, you’re quickly made to understand that that’s not Congress’s business, and you can either fall into line or get out. So far they’ve all fallen into line.
 
A similar but cross-branch process boondoggle is the net neutrality mess, where nobody in the government can seem to figure out for themselves where the power should be – with the executive (the FCC)? or the Congress? or the lawless courts (as the DC appellate court recently claimed in its own piece of judicial activism)? The result, of course, is that the telecom rackets win. All this squabbling imprints people with the process notion that process is both inscrutable and critically important, thereby fogging their eyes against the fact that either the FCC or Congress can enforce net neutrality at will; who does it doesn’t matter much; the point is for someone to do it.
 
Those are a few examples of how the existing system, not only on account of the malign intent of the actors, but also on account of its own inertial processes and mindsets, is a pit of stagnation and obstruction where no constructive change can be accomplished. It’s the same existential congealment as that which confronted the rising people of France and Europe in the 18th century.
 
There’s one big difference between the world Tocqueville described and today. Writing of the days of the ascent of fossil fuels, the ascent of the Industrial Revolution, of mass democracy, of the aspirations of the Enlightenment, he described an ascending new vibrance running into a bottleneck. But today, in the time of Peak Oil, the collapse of exponential debt, the permanent stagnation of capitalism and its calcification into corporatist oligopoly, in our post-democratic, neo-feudal time, we’re more like fugitives who are bottlenecked as we try to escape.
 
Can we find our own vibrance? Something like the cooperative movement of the 19th century Farmers’ Alliance, and the political self-respect it engendered according to author Lawrence Goodwyn? Relocalization as a movement needs a focusing action which involves cooperative work toward real economic self-reliance and political rediscovery. Such a movement, flowing as water around and under the dead rock of the kleptocracy (in the best Sun-Tzu tradition), is clearly the only possible solution. But we need to find the ideas and actions to render it vibrant. 

June 1, 2010

The Freedom Flotilla and the Neoliberal Assault (1 of 2)

 

Israeli pirates physically stopped the Freedom Flotilla, but the spirit and idea of the Flotilla continue on their voyage to Gaza and to everyone besieged by the neoliberal/corporate onslaught.
 
As more information comes out, the Israeli “side” sure doesn’t look any better. The IDF’s own media presentation can’t obscure the fact that they launched an attack on the high seas. They’re reduced to whining that their commandos were resisted with improvised implements. The pirates’ own video seems to show the overmatched activists heroically resisting a professional assault any way they could.
 
Nothing Israel or their US lapdogs say can elide the basic, dispositive fact: The Israelis attacked civilian ships in international waters. All else is peripheral to this. (Although as I just described, their own video shows they’re lying when they claim they were “ambushed” by the activists.)
 
So the pro-Israel flunkey position boils down to:
 
1. The High Seas belong to Israel.
 
2. Therefore they have the right to commit piracy. (Technically, it may in fact be an act of war rather than piracy. But it has to be one or the other. Morally, and from the point of view of man’s law, it’s a crime. It’s first degree murder. War, piracy, do the legalities matter anymore? All law has been hijacked by the power elites and will be infinitely twisted to their ends. So human beings are left with only moral and political categories.)
 
Meanwhile, as the world comes together to condemn this crime, Bailout America stands alone in its lame attempts to exonerate Israel. As predicted, Obama’s response is to oppose placing blame on the killers, but instead wanting a bland, impersonal statement against abstract “violence”.
 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel canceled plans to come to Washington on Tuesday to meet with Mr. Obama. The two men spoke by phone within hours of the raid, and the White House later released an account of the conversation, saying Mr. Obama had expressed “deep regret” at the loss of life and recognized “the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances” as soon as possible.

 
Yes, we need the pertinent facts. In this case, we already have the overwhelmingly pertinent fact: Aggression on the high seas. International waters. Piracy. That renders all else insignificant.
 
(It’s no surprise that Obama agrees with the Israelis’ claim to “sovereignty” over the high seas. Obama has already tacitly surrendered US sovereignty in its own waters. He has alienated sovereignty in the Gulf of Mexico to the stateless non-legitimate entity BP. When a government does that, it abdicates any legitimacy it had in itself. Clearly Obama believes in no principle of sovereignty or law whatsoever. Clearly he believes in nothing but corporate prerogatives and might-makes-right.) 
 
Decent people of course recognize this, thus the unanimous condemnation among all who aren’t part of the Western globalization power structure.
 
As for the video showing the victims fighting back, good for them! Although this was no “ambush” the way the Israelis’ lie would have it, even if it had been that would make no difference. Whether you look at it  morally or in the most legalistic terms, either way on the high seas they have every right to resist pirates attacking the ship. It’s exactly as if a robber were breaking into your home. (It’s funny the way the IDF calls the activists “rioters” on their own ship. That’s like the burglar calling the homeowner who pounces on him a rioter in his own home.)
 
This is really naked state terrorism. The proximate motivation here is Israel’s will to enforce its regional totalitarian dominance. From that point of view, for nonviolent activists to challenge the blockade, that is to challenge Israeli “authority”, is an offense punishable by death. That was the proximate occasion for the dispatch of this death squad, to carry out a mass execution.
 
At the next level, we see how as always the Global War on Terror is a pretext for the aggressive deployment of power. Hamas has of course been a threat to Israelis, although not to Israel itself. But just as with “terrorism” worldwide, which poses no existential threat to any western entity but is everywhere used as the pretext to justify police states and imperialism, so here Hamas is really the pretext for Israeli neoliberalism to aggressively extend its power and robbery and tyranny.
 
What is Israel? As I wrote in February, it’s not just any country, but serves as the spiritual and organizational core for the totalitarian security-industrial and disaster-capitalist complex. The global aspects of these have radiated out from that core, for example through China to the West.
 
Two excerpts from Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine describe it well:
 

What makes Israel interesting as a guns-and-caviar model is not only that its economy is resilient in the face of major political shocks such as the 2006 war with Lebanon or Hamas’s 2007 takeover of Gaza, but also that Israel has crafted an economy that expands markedly in direct response to escalating violence. The reasons for Israeli industry’s comfort level with disaster are not mysterious. Years before US and European companies grasped the potential of the global security boom, Israeli technology firms were busily pioneering the homeland security industry, and they continue to dominate the sector today…From a corporate perspective, this development has made Israel a model to be emulated in the post-9/11 market. From a social and political perspective, however, Israel should serve as something else – a stark warning. The fact that Israel continues to enjoy booming prosperity, even as it wages war against its neighbors and escalates its brutality in the conquered territories, demonstrates just how perilous it is to build an economy based on the premise of continual war and deepening disasters.

 
Israel serves as the frontier outpost and proving ground for all imperial assaults:
 

Israel’s case is extreme, but the kind of society it is creating may not be unique. The disaster capitalism complex thrives in conditions of low-intensity grinding conflict. That seems to be the end point in all the disaster zones, from New Orleans to Iraq. In April 2007, US soldiers began implementing a plan to turn several volatile Baghdad neighborhoods into “gated communities”, surrounded by checkpoints and concrete walls, where residents would be tracked using biometric technology. “We’ll be like the Palestinians”, predicted one resident, watching his neighborhood being sealed in by the barrier. After it becomes clear that Baghdad is never going to be Dubai, and New Orleans won’t be Disneyland, Plan B is to settle into another Colombia or Nigeria – never-ending war, fought in large measure by private soldiers and paramilitaries, damped down just enough to get the natural resources out of the ground, helped along by mercenaries guarding the pipelines, platforms, and water reserves.

 
Claude Salhani referred to the “spill over of trouble” from the Middle East. Nowhere is this more true than with the toxic mindset and practices of Israeli crypto-totalitarianism. That’s what corporate imperialism wants, to bring all its trouble home. Disaster is its business, as we’ve seen over and over in recent decades. Since 2008 disaster has been enshrined as the official basis of the US economy and polity themselves. Between the institution of the permanent Bailout, already in place under Bush but with full cooperation from candidate Obama, and then Obama’s enshrinement of Bush’s permanent war and war crimes regimes as official US policy (as opposed to a Bush/Cheney aberration), we now have the enshrinement of a new, toxic regime, Bailout America.
 
This brings us back to the Flotilla atrocity and its broader implications. Just as Israel’s version of the “war on terror” is one iteration of the Global War on Terror, so Israel’s will to enforce regional domination is a regional iteration of the neoliberal global will to total domination. The real terrorists, in deed and propaganda, are the neoliberal thugs themselves.
 
As the banksters and globalization elites contemplate the next stage of their economic assault, in particular as they attempt to fit the peoples of the countries onto the various torture devices of “austerity”, they face increasing protest. Possibly resistance. That’s why the Freedom Flotilla, which seeks to be exemplary in the eyes of freedom activists the world over, was the target of this brutal assault. The robbers want the example to be a demoralizing and terrorizing one. The real target audience for this exercise in terrorist propaganda is activists and anybody contemplating protest and resistance, all over the West. The real targets are Greek protestors and anybody else who might get uppity about being crucified on “austerity”.
 
What does US “diplomacy” say?
 

The United States, which habitually defends Israel in the council, said that the attempt to run the blockade by sea was ill advised. “Direct delivery by sea is neither appropriate nor responsible, and certainly not effective, under the circumstances,” said Alejandro Wolff, the deputy permanent representative of the United States.

 
Yes, when pirates attack the ship and slaughter the passengers and crew, delivery tends to be “not effective.” The veiled threat is clear: “To all you activists, do you think [whatever resistance you contemplate] will be effective? Not if we kill you instead.”
 
So now we’ve seen overt fascist terrorism before the eyes of the world.
 
The crime is the same as where Obama claims the right to put out a hit on anybody he chooses, anywhere, without trial, on his “authority”. The crime is to challenge corporate domination. To engage in assertive nonviolent activism against the global kleptocracy is a capital crime. This was a mass execution.
 
So as I said yesterday, this is a war of example against example, lesson against lesson, idea against idea. The killers want to efface the exemplary courage of the Flotilla crewmen by drowning our courage in the blood we’ve seen flow. As always with the tactic of terrorism, they want to use terrorism to force fear and resignation to overwhelm courage and exuberance and resolve in the minds of the people.
 
So far it doesn’t seem to be working, as the world has spoken with one voice its revulsion and rage. But the real test is the long grind. I hope Hamas learns a lesson from this and takes up the tactic of assertive nonviolence rather than playing into the hands of the killers by reciprocating with further violence against civilians. That’s just what the Israelis and the neoliberals at large want – the dialectical burning of the world in a gyre of terrorism and state terrorism. Their world is the burning world. They expect to lauch their arsonist sorties from secure fortresses while the rest of the world alternately slaves and tears itself to shreds.
 
But if instead we the people unite for the Ghandiesque counteroffensive on a global scale; if we can keep dictating the battlefield and the pace through assertive nonviolence; and if we don’t let the thugs quash our intelligence and resolve with the fog of fear and hate; if we do all this, we’d turn the flames around. The nightmare they’ve prepared for us would become their nightmare, while we’d emerge from the smoke into a new sunlight.
 
The Freedom Flotilla is holding that course and will do so for as long as we hold the course with them.

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.

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 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.”

May 7, 2010

A Rocky Day For the Bailout

 

Yesterday was quite a day, with lots of sound and fury signifying in the end very little other than reinforcement of what we already know about this busted system.
 
The biggest headline among several big stories was the Dow’s temporary plunge almost 1000 points followed by an equally dramatic recovery of much of the lost position. The market still ended up down 347 points. The media’s all aflutter with descriptions of this which hardly reach the level of explanations. The most absurd way of looking at it is to blame it on an alleged trader error. Even if this discrete “error” actually happened at all, it’s still not an accident by any means.
 
There are three structural explanations here. One regards the actual mechanism of HFT trading. It’s largely based on pro-cyclical computer algorithms which respond to stimuli by accelerating the trend of those stimuli. So if a large dip occurs, the computers automatically start selling off in compliance with the dip, thereby exacerbating it. This is characteristic of our whole fragile, interdependent system. At every level, from the way our desperation to keep the oil flowing at the same rate through ever more tenuous extraction lines increases the chances of catastrophic failures like the Gulf blowout (where there are reports that the situation is far worse than BP and the administration are allowing to be made public) to the way the Bailout keeps requiring ever more thin, expansive band-aids to cover the rapidly expanding cracks in the Tower walls (I’ll get to Greece in a moment), to the minute-to-minute falls and surges of the computer trading lemmings, everywhere we’ve become critically exposed, critically vulnerable, utterly fragile.
 
The other explanation of the stock lurch is the market’s political terrorism function. Throughout the crisis the market has always stood ready to punish any sign of the government acting in the public interest (for example rejecting the TARP, or contemplating Bernanke’s rejection, or the SEC’s suit against Goldman), or even looking irresolute in its will to the infinite Bailout (letting Lehman go down, or when early in 2009 Geithner looked tentative in laying out the administration’s plan to aggressively further the Bailout). So yesterday there was lots of buzz about Congress possibly “doing something” for once. The market had the attitude that this must be punished, and so it was. Not that I think Brown-Kaufmann would have passed, or that we’d be getting a full audit plan, if yesterday’s crash hadn’t occurred. But it provided reinforcement for the general Capitol Hill attitude that Congress must never do anything to upset Wall Street or the markets, and it’s that attitude which causes these attempts to be defeated, even when they seem buoyed by such a surge of public enthusiasm that it seems to penetrate even the hermetic vaults of the corporatist Congress. I’ll get to Congress in a minute.
 
(I’m not saying there’s a specific cabal on Wall Street which decrees when the market must tank. There doesn’t have to be – all the big players understand that signs of government wobbling need to be punished with a sell order. Many of them probably don’t even consciously see it as punishment. It’s simple ideology that government must be flamboyantly pro-bank, and that wherever this enthusiasm seems to be flagging, that’s a bad sign, and it’s probably best to start liquidating positions to take profits now. The aggregate effect is terrorist extortion. The market holds a gun to the head of the country. That’s the way they want us to see things, and for as long as we continue to cave in and not call the bluff, we’ll remain under the market’s thumb. [If you want to read a disgusting example of this ideology, the mindset of these cretins, check this out.])
 
Third, the markets must become ever more jittery as the Zombie Debt Monster becomes harder and harder to keep upright and in motion. Everybody knows it must collapse once and for all, which could happen at any time, so everyone who’s riding what they know is a phony, purely Bailout-driven rally looks anxiously to every moment wondering when will be the right moment to sell once and for all. Greece, the Gulf of Mexico, and even the sham Congress are indicators which render the moment full of portent. Anything can trigger a sell-off. And someday soon the terminal sell-off must commence. 
 
As for public enthusiasm and the isolation of Congress, by yesterday there did seem to be such a surge and such a penetration. While I still don’t expect a real bill, I’ll grant that yesterday they put on the best show yet. Senator Feingold now proclaims that he’ll join a filibuster of any sham bill. (Of course, I’ll believe that when I see it.) A few days ago Brown-Kaufmann looked like it wouldn’t be allowed to come up for a vote at all. Yesterday, in what I suppose is mild progress, it did get a vote. It was still resoundingly defeated, with the No votes including half the Democrats. So there the show was a little better than expected, but it was still all show.
 
Meanwhile Bernie Sanders seems to have made a deal which will greatly cut back the scope of his proposed Audit the Fed amendment but preserve one good part. The deal would direct the GAO to conduct a one time only audit of the existing and previous Fed lending facilities by December, at which time we’d learn who was handed trillions in public money. This would be good to know, but the deal meanwhile guts the plans to audit the Fed’s embezzlement going forward. It would leave the existing politicization of the FOMC sacrosanct and unaccountable. So if this ends up being the deal, we’d end up with a mostly gutted audit. It would be better than nothing, but still a defeat. That’s if this ends up being the deal. They’re not expecting to vote on it till next week, so that’s plenty of time for the deal to be altered further, or for Sanders to cave in completely.
 
I’ll conclude with Greece, which is currently the raging battlefront where the Bailout’s vanguard is facing stiffening resistance, both politically and from economic reality. The Greek parliament voted Yes to the economic immolation of the people, in direct flouting of the people’s will as expressed by the rage in the streets. This is reminiscent of the similarly rogue US Congress voting Yes on the TARP, though of course we cannot compare the resolve of American protest. (Pro-bank commentators keep saying protest is common in Greece, as if that’s a bad thing which somehow invalidates the protests of today. On the contrary, that’s a barometer of a far more vigorous populace among whom the spirit of democracy is not completely quenched. Chronic street protest is one of the correct, rational, virtuous responses to chronic kleptocracy and creeping police statism at the top. To say that in general Greeks protest far more than Americans does not condemn the Greeks, but the Americans. To imply the opposite is simply another way of alleging that the power structure is truthful and sound and right and should be obeyed.) Next up will be the vote in Germany, where the people are also hostile to the Bailout.
 
A “Greek” bailout, like every other specific manifestation of the Bailout, is simply another bailout for the big banks, in this case the German and French banks who hold the largest part of the debt. I’ll again link to this graphic which lays out the debt relations. The entire Bailout is nothing but:
 
1. the now permanent looting expedition of the bank rackets, and
 
2. the only way the whole structure of the globalized debt economy, which is one big zombie, can be propped up and ambulated at all.
 
Every iteration of the Bailout serves only these two goals.
 
So it follows in parallel with these two goals that we the non-rich are:
 
1. slated to be the permanent victims and slave stock for this permanent looting, and
 
2. the only way to save ourselves to arrest the progress of the Bailout so that the whole zombie collapses.
 
The structure is existentially unsustainable and must collapse of its own weight, but how long this will take is unknown. We don’t know to what extent political resistance can accelerate the process, or even to what extent political resistance is dialectically hardwired into the unsustainability function itself.
 
Either way, political resistance is helpful and morally necessary.
 
So that’s a brief recap. Despite some political theater in Congress and some real action in Greece, the Bailout is still hacking its way forward and reform is still stalled. The structural fraudulence of the system is being physically embodied in the oil eruption of the Gulf, economically and politically embodied in the Bailout’s torturous progress in the Eurozone. Even in America, little by little things are getting tougher for them.
 
The day ended as another loss for humanity, but we put up a slightly better fight this time, while we continue to receive indications that the planet and history itself are weighing in on our side.
 
No matter what happens in the short run, in the end the Earth will always win out over the petty insults of a few of its ugliest creatures. The Bailout will fail, and the kleptocracy will perish.

May 4, 2010

Deepwater Event Horizon

Filed under: Disaster Capitalism, Law, Peak Oil, Tower of Babel — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 9:13 am

 

The event horizon metaphor is being widely used among the more dystopic commentators, and it looks appropriate. This is the kind of disaster we can expect to see more often, and worse every time, as Peak Oil drives us to greater extremities to extract ever lessening oil reserves, requiring ever more complex technology and logistics, these being provided in an ever more shoddy way by ever more corrupt corporations. But we can expect the whole mess to be treated and bailed out as Too Big to Fail.
 
Although it’s tough to penetrate the fog of corporate/government/MSM misinformation, the basic facts seem to be that Transocean, contractor for BP, was drilling into 30,000 feet of rock beneath 5000 feet of sea, seeking an oil reservoir variously projected to be 20-50 million, 100 million, or 1 billion barrels. BP’s own estimate is 100 million, which is probably around the minimum necessary to render the project economically viable in the first place even with taxpayer assistance. The cement casing was installed by Halliburton. The equipment was rated to handle 20,000 PSI but hit an unexpected high pressure zone of perhaps 60,000 PSI. This ruptured the Blow Out Prevention device, allowing natural gas to separate from the oil, concentrate, and explode. This destroyed the rig, killing 11 workers and sending the wreckage to the bottom a mile down. The rig lacked a simple $500K backup “acoustic switch” which is standard safety equipment around the world and could have prevented the explosion and subsequent leakage. The Bush administration decreed that backup safety measures didn’t need to be required, that “the market” would voluntarily do whatever was necessary. Obama  endorsed this deregulated status quo.
 
Since the blowout oil has been leaking into the Gulf. At first BP, the NOAA, and the Coast Guard closed ranks to claim the flow was 5000 barrels per day, 210K gallons. BP called that a “guesstimate.” The MSM was still repeating this figure as late as yesterday. Meanwhile the official estimates now concede it’s been around 25000 barrels per day ( > 1 million gallons). This is the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez every ten days. Perhaps as much as eleven million gallons have spilled already.
 
According to BP’s own prospectus, if the pipe system eroded completely, the leakage could escalate to 163,000 barrels per day, a cataclysmic figure.
 
They’ve been trying without success to stanch the flow with remote control submarine robots. Burning the oil on the surface doesn’t work well, and spraying chemical dispersal agents also looks insufficient to the magnitude of the problem. They’re now building three large containment boxes which they hope to place over the flow, channeling it up through a funnel where it can be controlled. They plan to deploy those by the weekend. If that doesn’t work, the next idea is to drill a relief well to the busted one, using the new conduit to pump in heavy fluid to plug it up. That would take at least three months.
 
(Some, but so far as I can see no one in “authority”, have also discussed or advocated using nukes. The idea would be to seal up the hole by exploding an atom bomb near it. What could go wrong?)
 
Other rigs are being shut down as the slick reaches them. Just weeks after flip-flopping on offshore drilling, Obama has flipped again and now wants the old moratorium back. BP says it will pay all “necessary and appropriate clean-up costs.” (Um, that would be all of them.) Meanwhile the fishermen whose livelihoods have just been destroyed, perhaps permanently, have rushed to join the clean-up effort. BP tried to force them to sign waivers relinquishing in perpetuity all right to sue in exchange for the $5000 payout they were offering. They’ve since retreated on that one, but it seems that legally they don’t have much to fear. Apparently federal law itself restricts BP’s liability for damages to the absurd figure of $75 million.
 
Now we see why BP doesn’t have insurance. Why bother – the law itself winks at you and says, Go ahead. Obviously we have another moral hazard situation here. Obviously BP calculated that if anything ever goes wrong the government will socialize the losses and bail them out. (It looks like a foregone conclusion that it’ll be impossible to get effective insurance in the future. But we can expect governments to formally guarantee the costs, I guess.)
 
This example of corrupt, renegade law is extreme even by the standards of this criminal government.
 
The effects of this are hard to predict. At best the destruction is likely to be very bad. The Gulf shrimp fishery has already been all but written off. All other fisheries are likely to be severely affected if not completely wiped out. Tourism is probably already being harmed, and will be destroyed to whatever extent the oil fouls the beaches of Florida and elsewhere. Even if the containers work, they won’t completely contain the leak until June. By then the economic damages all around the Gulf are likely to be in the tens of billions of dollars, while the physical mess will take years to clean up. The effects on ecosystems and endangered species like sea turtles would be incalculable. Wherever the wind and sea carry the toxic fumes and residues, bringing poisons like benzene, toluene, and xylene, they’ll bring illnesses ranging from headaches and nausea to cancer and other severe organic diseases. If the containers fail, and the new well has to be drilled, taking three months, and that works, by then the damages might be in the hundreds of billions, with the entire Gulf economically devastated for years to come.
 
All this is leaving out of account the hurricane wild card.
 
So far Gulf shipping is being diverted around the spill, but if the affected area got big enough it could choke off Gulf seaborne trade completely.
 
So far most of this is still hypothetical, and the mood among the establishment is mostly guarded optimism. (But not at the Offshore Technology Conference, where the attitude is Party On!, and everyone’s psyched about potential disaster capitalist opportunities. The NYT reports this in the blandest of tones. This is reminiscent of a pro-nuke NYT piece some years back which argued that because Three Mile Island wasn’t as bad as Chernobyl, we should take that not as a caution and an example of receiving good luck and a second chance, but rather as the green light to plunge ahead. So the NYT is propagating the same party line today regarding offshore drilling: We should take this disaster as an encouraging sign, not a discouraging one. It’s as if you drove home one night badly drunk, miraculously didn’t kill anyone or wreck your car, and your conclusion is not to be appalled and vow never to do that again, but to say, “I did it once and got away with it, so let’s keep doing it.”)
 
[Just for the record, even the Bush administration conceded that offshore drilling would never have more than a miniscule effect on imports or gas prices. The fact is that anyone who was sincerely concerned about America’s foreign oil dependence would oppose “Drill Baby Drill” because he’d want to save that oil for a day when we might lose access to foreign markets.
 
The push to drill every domestic drop is intended to accomplish nothing but the liquidation of American public property for the private profit of the oil rackets.]
 
So there’s where we are today, and there’s the more likely, “less bad” effects we can look forward to. But the disaster can become far more severe. If both the containers and the relief well fail, some other “solution” would have to be found. No one can say what could be done, how long it would take, how much it would cost. The Gulf’s environmental and economic devastation would be complete. It would be an economic dead zone for a generation or more. If the winds and currents coincide with the right malevolence, the oil could leak out into the Gulf Stream, which could carry it up the Atlantic seaboard, strewing coastal destruction all the way. In principle, if enough oil leaked it could affect all the world’s oceans.
 
Beyond the direct evisceration of the Gulf economy, the knock-on effects could be extraordinary. It could constitute the tipping point to bring down the whole Debt Tower.
 
What will this do to oil prices? In theory the effect so far shouldn’t be severe, since relative to the global production this well is a drop in the barrel. But if the spill’s advance shuts down other rigs, and if it interferes with imports from Mexico and Venezuela, and if the industry looks ahead to the possibly chilling effects on deepwater drilling in general (always being touted as one of the industry’s great hopes), who knows how it might rattle the futures market, with who knows what reverberations through all the markets. If speculators decide oil is going up, that’s always a self-fulfilling prophecy (and of course civilization learns nothing each time, and these criminals continue to be allowed to prey upon us). And if in turn they decide that means trouble for the rest of the economy, we might already think we hear the sucking sound of investment rushing out of Obama and Wall Street’s pride and joy, the stock bubble. Stocks must also tremble in general at the jitters over how bad the damage will be and who’s going to pay for the cleanup.
 
On the level of the real economy, the devastation of Gulf businesses could reverberate. There could be a domino effect through all their bank loans as they’re forced to default. The already wounded CRE market could take another hit. At the same time the federal government is spending tens or hundreds of billions to deal with the crisis, tax revenues from the region would plummet as a regional Depression sets in. This probably would be the end of any Fed plans to further raise interest rates. Insurance claims would be astronomical. Unemployment would spike even further. The disruption of oil production and imports could lead to spot shortages, with commensurate effects on gas prices. I already mentioned the questionable future of Gulf shipping. All the alleged “green shoots” would be stomped out once and for all.
 
This is a replay of the way the banksters crashed the economy. Just like with the finance sector, today’s vast expenditure and risk for the sake of drilling to extract a few measly drops of oil serves no social function, but only extracts looted profits for a few gangsters. All the cost and risk is socialized. It’s the same greed, the same recklessness, the same ideology of deregulation and moral hazard. It’s the same game of profiting during the run-up, and then being bailed out during the crash, while hunting for disaster capitalist opportunities. The costs of this will be very high even in the best-case scenario, and BP has no way to pay the costs, nor does it intend to. Just like all the oil rackets, it was always planning to socialize the costs of the inevitable disaster. The only question is whether it’ll also get a bailout. As I said, there’s already a bailout law absolving it of responsibility for the damages it inflicts. Presumably that’s only the beginning. 
 
Obama sounds like a complete idiot trying to talk tough, saying “we’ll keep the boot on BP’s neck”. (They say that’s not his line, but ripped off from Interior Secretary Salazar.) That rhetoric, coming from him, is even more pathetic than his squeaking about “fat cats” in December. When Obama talks that way, I take it as evidence that he’s psychologically preparing himself for another looting expedition. he wants to assure himself, through pseudo-tough talk, that he really did intend to fight for the people this time, but that some mysterious circumstance beyond his control prevented him. Of course in the same breath as his pipsqueaking tough-guy talk he continues with his pro-corporate backpedaling, saying we shouldn’t blame BP for the whole disaster. That’s not only morally absurd but a direct logical self-contradiction. If they’re really not such bad guys, why the boot on the neck? Wouldn’t the situation call for a collegial exchange of views toward a mutually beneficial solution? We know by now that’s always what this corporatist really thinks, no matter what the level of crime. (I’d be more likely to think Obama was getting serious if he dropped the tough guy talk, which doesn’t become him, but instead maintained his professorial demeanor while purging his talk of all pro-corporate amicability, instead calmly declaring his resolve to impose justice. That would be a completely new message, while delivered in the real Obama tone. I don’t expect to ever hear it.)
 
He sure picked the right time to throw in his lot with “Drill Baby Drill”. He said the issue of oil spills was a “tired debate”. Heckuva job. My opinion of his vaunted intelligence and political skill just keeps soaring… 
 
I won’t bother hoping people will learn a lesson. Since I became a Peak Oiler I’ve believed mankind will liquidate all fossil fuel reserves, for as long as it’s physically and economically possible. I gave up on the idea that political resistance will ever stop it.
 
At most, maybe there can be an indirect political effect. While I can believe that the cowardly Obama will flip-flop again after his first flip-flop of three weeks ago, that would only be a temporary respite. If this disaster really could kill offshore drilling (and I’m not saying I think it can), it would only be because everyone perceives the economics including their political aspect, namely the government’s political ability to extend an implicit or explicit Too Big To Fail guarantee to these drilling projects, to be impossible.
 
Is offshore drilling Too Big To Fail? The establishment believes it is. I’d bet the farm Obama thinks so too. Now they’ll try to bail out its future, no matter how much of the future the bleeding oil is already destroying as we speak.