Who would have thought that oil barons -- of all people! -- would be involved in dirty back-room dealings to gorge their gobs with even more swill from the trough? From the Guardian:
The London offices of BP and Shell have been raided by European regulators investigating allegations they have "colluded" to rig oil prices for more than a decade. The European commission said its officers carried out "unannounced inspections" at several oil companies in London, the Netherlands and Norway to investigate claims they may have "colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency [PRA] to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products" .. It warned: "Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers."
Of course, these manipulations of "self-policing" mechanisms for setting prices are endemic across the economic heights commanded by our most illustrious financial and industrial elites, as Matt Taibbi noted last month. And I'm sure the dastardly deeds of the oil companies in fixing prices will be dealt with just as harshly and thoroughly as the recent Libor scandal was: with a few chump-change fines that put not the slightest crimp in the criminals' operations nor impeded their ready access to the inner circles (and outer fundraisers) of government power.
So while continuing a fierce vigilance against the relentless encroachments of an unhinged, unrestrained and openly murderous government, let us also recognize that the "free market" -- often posited as some kind of purer alternative to the state, a mystic realm where the free play of individual desires and activities combine ineffably to produce the best of all possible worlds -- is, and always has been, a rigged game where vicious predators seek tyrannical control, by hook, crook and vast corruption, shackling the 'free play of individual desires and activities' in every way possible to squeeze out more unjust advantage for themselves.
Of course, the 'state' and the 'free market' are simply two halves of the same rough beast. The modern 'free market' is the result of massive, continual and pervasive state intervention on its behalf -- that is, on behalf of the vicious predators exercising tyrannical control of economic activity -- while the state is in practice little more than a vehicle for elite aggrandizement. (Yes, even in America, even from the very beginning. For more, see this piercing piece by Arthur Silber, in which he points us to the remarkable book by Terry Boulton, Taming Democracy: "The People," the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution, which I highly recommend.) If they don't get you with one head, they'll get you with the other.
UPDATE: We were remiss in omitting one of the most important benefits (or should that be 'entitlements') that the state provides to the 'free market': protection from the laws of, er, the state. Again,Taibbi points out a recent example.
The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.
Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.
Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo …. Privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in....
For now, the legislation allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes. But historically such limitations don’t last. The Social Security card, for example, was created to track your government retirement benefits. Now you need it to purchase health insurance.
David Bier, an analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, agrees with the ACLU’s fears. “The most worrying aspect is that this creates a principle of permission basically to do certain activities and it can be used to restrict activities,” he said. “It’s like a national ID system without the card.”
Once again, we see an all-too-common, sinister dynamic at work: even when our guardians appear to be at least attempting to do something worthwhile -- in this case, sorting out a few of the difficulties faced by millions of immigrants living in legal limbo -- their efforts turn out to be a Trojan Horse, hiding nefarious intentions.
John Knefel at Rolling Stone dispels the widespread belief in the security apparat that young Muslims are being "radicalized" into violence through exposure to extremist through a "funnel" of manipulation by media and mosque. Knefel writes:
That theory was set out in a 2007 NYPD report called Radicalization in the West, which focuses exclusively on Muslims, and describes a four-stage progression – a "funnel," the report says – in which each step towards violence is intrinsically linked with increased religiosity. … There's only one problem, according to critics: It's reductive and simplistic at best, and at worst is a thin justification for racial profiling of Muslims.
"Nobody watches YouTube or reads Inspire and becomes a terrorist. It's absurd to think so," says John Horgan, director of the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University. "YouTube videos and reading Al Qaeda magazines tends to be far more relevant for sustaining commitment than inspiring it."
The mistaken belief that the earliest stages of terrorism can be seen at "radicalization incubators" – Muslim bookstores, hookah bars, mosques, virtually anywhere Muslims congregate in person or online – has resulted in a focus on so-called "preventive policing," a policy whose stated aim is to prevent a terrorist attack before one happens. Since the theory says adopting radical ideas is the first step toward someone becoming violent, officials say they're justified in surveilling places where "radical" ideas might take hold.
According to Horgan, though, that's just not how it works. "The idea that radicalization causes terrorism is perhaps the greatest myth alive today in terrorism research," he says. "[First], the overwhelming majority of people who hold radical beliefs do not engage in violence. And second, there is increasing evidence that people who engage in terrorism don't necessarily hold radical beliefs."
…Despite all this, law enforcement organizations have used the flawed logic of "radicalization" to justify investigating innocent Muslims in almost every part of their daily lives. Under "preventive policing," critics say cops and FBI agents aren't focusing on actual crime, but on protected first amendment activities – like the NYPD's surveillance of student and political groups, or reports "that the FBI has infiltrated mosques simply to learn about what was being said by the imam leading prayers and by those attending" – without a clear reason to suspect criminality.
The whole piece makes for interesting reading. But here's one further thought on the "counterterrorism" efforts of the ever-watchful Guardians Of Our Nation (GOONs).
If they really are so concerned about the 'radicalization' of young Muslims, then why do all the undercover agents they send into Muslim communities pose as extremists, sowing the most radical ideas possible, preying on any vulnerable or troubled soul they come across, egging them on to violence and hatred and often even arranging terrorists plots for them to take part in? If their real concern was to quell "radicalization," shouldn't they be sending in people to talk up peace, tolerance, non-violence, etc.? [Leaving aside the quaint, barnacle-encrusted notion that the state should not be infiltrating any groups at all; I mean, get with the 21st century already, grandpa!]
Indeed, it's almost as if they want to foment scarifying plots, keeping the public scared, obedient -- even slavishly grateful -- to their GOONs and (coincidentally, of course!) justifying an never-ending stream of loot and power flowing to their own noble selves and their institutions of domination, which have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world in the last decade and stripped away the last vestiges of personal liberty (and prosperity) from those they are meant to be "guarding."
I wonder who radicalized them into such violent extremism?
Here's a really weird "alternative history" thought experiment on this day set aside to celebrate workers around the world. Try to imagine a President of the United States standing up before Congress and saying something like this:
"There is one point … to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government. … Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."
Isn't that wild? Of course, it's the kind of thing only some ignorant goober from the sticks -- or maybe even from some other century -- would come out with. Today, fortunately, we know that people who work for wages are just moochers and takers: parasites feeding on the noble blood of their bosses and betters. Being advanced, savvy and modern, we now know that Labor deserves no 'consideration' at all (much less a higher one!): no safe work places, no job security, no secured pensions, no bargaining rights, no privacy, no decency, no dignity. Labor should be glad and grateful to give whatever it takes (and take whatever they give) to serve the interests of our precious elites -- our crusading corporate chieftains, our visionary venture capitalists, our wise shepherds of inherited wealth -- who graciously provide their beasts of burden with store of provender.
Unless, of course, the provender provisioning threatens to cut into the nobles' bloated profit margins too much. In that case, of course, the higher considerations of capital must take precedence, and the jobs have to go. And when that happens, Labor should humbly bow its head, without complaint, without whining, and quietly, meekly, accept its fate, in accordance with the ruling principle that governs our glorious modern world.
And what is that principle? Well, it just so happens that I addressed this theme in my latest column for Counterpunch Magazine, now offered for your perusal below.
Pay in Blood: Modern Politics Made Simple Modern politics can be hard to fathom, a bizarre mix of mind-bending complexities and bone-stupid banalities coming at us in a howling sandstorm of chaotic noise. How to sift the relentless, contradictory arcana of current events and make sense of it all? I find that a simple phrase helps thread the labyrinth – four little words that capture the grand, overarching political philosophy of the age:
Fuck Off And Die.
This is the lodestar guiding leaders of every political stripe across the breadth of western civilization. If you want to make your way through their billows of bullshit, hold fast to this phrase. It’s what they’re really saying to you.
Of course, elite attitudes toward the lower orders have never been exactly tender; but in times past, a rather large number of sufficiently quiescent peasants and proles were required to create the wealth for plutocratic plundering and maintain the machinery of power and privilege. Thus some attention had to be paid to the rabble’s basic needs and even -- occasionally – their pitiful aspirations for a more meaningful, more humane life for themselves, their families and their communities. But now the means of production (to borrow a phrase) are largely mechanized and digitized; you don’t need many warm bodies -- and certainly not skilled or experienced or well-paid ones – to keep the money rolling in. And perhaps more importantly, the means of control -- the technologies of violence and surveillance -- are now vastly more powerful and pervasive and efficient than ever.
To put it plainly, the elites don’t need us anymore -- or not many of us, anyway. And thanks to runaway population growth -- and the greasy mobility of global capital -- those few of us they do still need to keep the machinery going can be easily replaced, at any moment, by some other desperate chump trying to avoid destitution. So there is no longer any reason for elites to concern themselves with the wearisome creatures out there beyond the mansion gates and the penthouse glass. No need to worry about workers’ rights: if they get out of line, sack them, or even better, send the whole operation overseas, where sweatshop fodder is thick on the ground and comes dirt cheap. No need to worry about communities, the personal, social, economic and physical structures that gave a richer embodiment to ordinary life: just strip them, gut them and leave them to die -- and when the rot gets bad enough, as in Detroit, send in an unelected “manager” to pick the carcass clean.
And no need to worry about mass uprisings of the dispossessed, debt-ridden, insecure, angry, overwhelmed, isolated, media-dazed rabble. With hyper-militarized police forces, cameras on every corner, spies and provocateurs infesting every possible base of dissent, and gargantuan data-harvesters mining every public move and private click of the populace, repression is a piece of cake. And if by chance some pocket of protest does reach critical mass somewhere, your hi-tech, heavily armored goons can easily beat it, tase it and pepper-spray it into submission.
So the elites no longer need us or fear us. We are superfluous to their requirements. And their policies are now ever more nakedly geared to hammering this truth home.
The Great Crash of ’08 gave them the excuse to rip off the mask at last. For five years now, the iron hand of “austerity” has been pressed down hard upon ordinary people. We had no part in the criminal folly that caused the disaster -- yet we are the ones left paying for it, in lost jobs, lost homes, lost services, lost freedoms, lost opportunities, and cramped, crippled, diminished lives. From the "progressive" Obama to the Tory toff Cameron to the pseudo-Socialist Hollande to the dour centrist Merkel -- and all the other clowns, clerks and ciphers turning their self-proclaimed “great democracies” into cash cows for their cronies and controllers -- the infliction of pain on ordinary people is the only game in town. ‘O my gosh,’ our leaders cry, throwing up their soft, unblemished hands, ‘there's just no more money left, no money for your schools, your roads, your jobs, your pensions, your rights, your benefits, your elderly, your sick, your poor, your vulnerable. The money's all gone, what can we do?’
But of course the money is not gone, not at all. A new study -- by an inside man, James Henry, former chief economist at McKinsey -- shows that up to $32 trillion has been stashed away by the world’s elites in offshore accounts and other hidey-holes. Even a modest portion of this mountain of swag would completely alleviate the draconian “budget crises” and ludicrous “sequesters” that have been artificially imposed on nation after nation. All of the suffering, chaos, ruin and degradation being caused by these policies -- all the “skin in the game” that’s being flayed from the backs of ordinary people -- all of it is unnecessary. The money is there to solve these problems -- if our leaders wanted to solve them.
But they don’t. For “austerity” isn’t designed to fix our problems; it is instead meant to be a permanent condition, a new normal, the endless, changeless natural order. (Just as the “emergency” of the “War on Terror” has now morphed into a permanent way of life.) It’s all out in the open. Obama is eagerly offering to slash the social compact to ribbons. Cameron is driving the poor and sick to their knees. The IMF is breeding Nazis in Greece. They’re not even pretending to care about anyone outside the golden circle anymore.
Fuck off and die: that’s it, that’s all they’ve got to say. The rest is show-biz -- strip-tease and shell games -- to fleece us of our last few coins as they shove us out the exit.
For your potential delectation, a rambling disquisition on some aspects of our fractured reality, with cameos by Sigmund Freud, E.M. Forster, kings, slave singers, and love that burns beyond the grave.
In a veritable ocean of witless, sinister media gabble about the Boston bombing -- and the successful tryout of the "Major City Martial Law Revue" that followed (doubtless coming soon to Broadway, the Beltway and conurbations from coast to coast) -- Arthur Silber, as you might expect, cuts through the foaming sludge with this perceptive and powerful look at the "Killer Klowns" who rule us. The often darkly comic piece is studded with gems, but two particularly important points stand out: first, the absolute idiocy of relying on "the farcical charade that is 'intelligence'" when assessing any situation; and second, the malevolent effects of the "idealization of authority." Read it in full as an effective antidote to our ever more poisonous public discourse.
Who would have thought that the brutal Burma junta had not really and truly reformed itself when it made its much-ballyhooed leap forward toward democracy by releasing dissident Aung San Suu Kyi and loosening restrictions on the officially recognised political opposition -- a move that brought the much-sought pat on the head (and easing of sanctions) from the American Imperium, and even a visit from Caesar himself?
Having witnessed this miracle, who would have believed that this same militarist junta -- which has retained all its power and maintained its repressive forces in place -- would now be using Suu Kyi and "democracy" to provide a PR fig leaf for a vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing? Yet, strangely enough, that appears to be what is happening. The Burmese regime has overtly and covertly been assisting in the ongoing sectarian strife led by violent fundamentalist Buddhist monks against the small Muslim minority in the country -- particularly the Rohingya and Kaman Muslims, stateless people who have been forced into refugee camps by the junta and subjected to constant attacks by the Buddhist majority in Rakhine state and elsewhere around the country.
The outpouring of violence has shaken the moral authority of Suu Kyi, as she tries to maintain the momentum of democratization through negotiation and cooperation with the power structure. Many have found her statements on the violence to be remarkably muted. This too plays into the hands of the Burmese rulers: they get kudos for freeing dissidents and making gestures toward democracy, while at the same time they weaken the opposition by co-opting it.
(This dynamic might not be totally unfamiliar to observers of American politics, particularly in the relationship between the militarist-corporatist, drone-bombing, extrajudicially-murdering, indefinitely-detaining, force-feeding, whistleblower-quashing Obama administration and what is laughingly known as the 'left.' Although naturally our morally tough and savvy progressive pundits deliver themselves of fierce criticisms of this or that particular policy or political move of the Administration, their opposition is fatally compromised by their need to maintain their own much-sought pats on the head from the Imperium (don't want to be disinvited from the next Oval Office confab with progressive bloggers or -- gasp! -- dropped out of rotation on the Chris Hayes show!) and by their own fervent efforts to keep the militarist-corporatist, drone-bombing, etc. Administration in power last year.)
A leading international rights group on Monday accused authorities in Myanmar, including Buddhist monks, of fomenting an organized campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority that killed hundreds of people and forced 125,000 from their homes.
Human Rights Watch also described the bloody wave of violence and massacres in western Rakhine state last year as crimes against humanity, and slammed the government of President Thein Sein for failing to bring the perpetrators to justice months after mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes and homemade guns razed thousands of Muslim homes.
While state security forces sometimes intervened to protect fleeing Muslims, more often they fueled the unrest, the rights group said, either by standing by idle or directly participating in atrocities. One soldier reportedly told a Muslim man whose village was ablaze: “The only thing you can do is pray to save your lives.”
The allegations, detailed in a new report by the New York-based rights group, came the same day the European Union lifted all sanctions on Myanmar except an arms embargo to reward the Southeast Asian nation for its progress toward democratic rule.
Burma seems to be playing out a scenario we have seen with grim regularity in the past several years, where the introduction of "democratic reforms" is eventually (or immediately) hijacked either by existing elites or new forces in league with elements of the power structure, or by satraps installed by outside powers via regime change. The new "democratic" governments are either woefully ineffective (e.g. Afghanistan, Egypt) or brutally repressive (Iraq, Libya) or a combination of the two (Russia, Ukraine). But in almost every case, the end result is that "democracy" becomes associated with collapse, corruption, economic ruin, sectarian violence, rampant crime. The very concept becomes tainted for those suffering under "democracy"; in many cases, the word itself becomes an insult, used as a bitter, cynical joke. (I saw this first-hand in Russia during the 1990s.)
People thus subjected to the ravages of "democracy" become much more amenable to authoritarian "solutions" to the problems their "freedom" has caused. This is, of course, because they have neither democracy or freedom but just another set of elites (or the same elites in new drag, like the suddenly "civilian" leaders of the Burmese military junta, or the KGB-connected cronies who have feasted on the Russian carcass for years) ruthlessly exploiting the fears and uncertainties of societies in upheaval.
None of this is likely to stop the accelerating American embrace of Burma's militarist regime. (After all, they're just killing Muslims!) But it is, yet again, a depressing coda to another bright story of a "democratic dawn."
*** (This is not the only route to authoritarianism, of course; we're seeing another model at work in the United States even as we speak. But that's another story, although you'll find good stuff on this theme here and here.)
Without wishing to indulge in deep-fried conspiracy gobbling at this point, I will say that the revelations about the FBI's prior involvement with one of the suspected Boston attackers, apparently going on for years, are of great interest. Even more so in the light of the fact that a very large number of the terrorist attacks and attempted terrorist attacks in the United States over the past two decades have turned out to have had significant FBI involvement, often in the form of outright provocation by FBI infiltrators, egging on and sometimes even planning attacks that were later "foiled" -- by the FBI.
This doesn't automatically mean that the FBI or other government agencies were "behind" the events in Boston; sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes people do bad things without government prompting. But the consistent pattern of prior FBI involvement, in various degrees and at various stages, with people and groups that later go on to attempt or carry out violent actions cannot be ignored, and should be more thoroughly explored in this case. Particularly considering the fact the agency at first denied having any contact with the suspect -- until her mother outed them to the media. From CBS News:
Although the FBI initially denied contacting Tsarnaev, the brothers' mother said they had in an interview with Russia Today. Zubeidat Tsarnaeva said her son got involved in "religious politics" about five years ago, and never told her he was involved in "jihad."
She insisted the FBI "knew what he was doing on Skype" and that they counseled him "every step of the way."
Tsarnaeva went on to say that "they were controlling him, they were controlling his every step...and now they say that this is a terrorist act." That may or may not be true; certainly if I were the parent of someone in this situation, that's what I would want to believe. But the now-established involvement of the FBI, as well as the probable involvement of both the American and Russian intelligence agencies with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, should not be ignored when the reasons and roots behind the Boston attack and its bloody aftermath are explored.
That said, it is of course very likely that these connections will be ignored, as the well-worn narrative of "good boys turned bad by Islam" hardens into conventional wisdom. This narrative might be the truth in this case -- but it also works to the advantage of so many powerful forces. This is true not just for those opposing immigration in the the United States (that bloody shirt is already being waved frantically by many American politicians and other high-toned peddlers of racial and ethnic enmity), but even moreso for all those in power structures around the world who profit -- politically and financially -- from the vast engines of a military-security complex gorging on the fear of Islamic terrorism. (Other kinds of terrorism -- particularly the far more constant and far more murderous attacks of state terrorism -- don't bother them too much.)
Most immediately, this incident will greatly strengthen the military-security apparat in the United States and Russia, helping further demonize Muslims in general for the American apparatchiks and Chechens in particular for the Russians -- especially all those opposed to the brutal rule of the Kremlin and its satrap in Chechnya. But every political power structure that feeds on fear -- and which ones do not? -- will benefit from the crime spree in Boston, whatever its origins.
Again, these are just speculations, drawing on the few facts that are known at present, and putting them in the context of recent history. Perhaps the Tsarnaev brothers were lone operators: tormented individuals emerging from the brutal and brutalizing background of invasion, repression, violence and murder that characterizes modern Chechnya, who then internalized this violence and hatred, and sought, in anguish, ignorance and error, to expel it by directing it outward toward some generalized enemy, a demonized Other. Perhaps not. Perhaps other psychological factors were at work that we know nothing of at the moment. Perhaps not. Perhaps some agency or other of some military-security apparat somewhere seized on these troubled individuals and turned them toward the agency's own ends, with results that were either intended or else slipped far beyond the agency's wishes or control. Perhaps not.
But I think there are deeper contexts to the case -- whether these are restricted to the twisting of individual psyches by the greater geopolitical and cultural forces that have done so much pointless violence to us all, and in particular to the direct targets of massive power structures, such as Chechnya or, latterly, the Muslim world at large, or whether there are more specific involvements of military-security apparatchiks in the development of this murderous tragedy. Yet, as already noted, we will almost certainly see none of these deeper contexts explored in the earnest postmortems -- by politicians, pundits, academics and self-appointed "experts" of every stripe -- in the weeks and months to come.
Yes, let us remember the victims of violence today, those who died and those who live on in the scarred, tormented aftermath. Let us remember them in Boston, in Baghdad, in Mogadishu, in Guantanamo, in Waziristan --and in every corner of the world where the crippled souls who live by violence seek to impose their evil dreams on us all.