Saturday, January 3, 2009

Layer 109 Welcome to 2009

There is a war
Between the rich and poor
A war between the black and white
A war between the odd and the even.


The poor get poor
The rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Leonard Cohen


Actually, as I said in a previous blog, everybody knows some of it, but most of us don’t know the half of it. Reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine helps to get up to speed.

We don’t even know a fraction of what we ought to know about the incredible way in which wealth has been systematically looted, defrauded, swindled and transferred from the public realm to the private, and from the poorest to the richest, over the past 35 years, since neo-conservatism, free-marketeering, globalisation and rampant capitalism really took hold of the world, broke the post-war social-democratic consensus, and imposed the so-called ‘Washington Consensus’.

Just as colonialism in the 18th and 19th Centuries expropriated wealth from the poorest parts of the world for the enrichment of the already rich parts, capitalism in the late 20th Century and early 21st has transferred incredible sums of money from the poorest sections of this and other countries into the coffers and offshore bank accounts of those who already were, and are, fabulously wealthy. The Shock Doctrine explains how it was done.

What’s more, since Naomi Klein published her book, the process has continued, even though the world’s financial system and its global bubble, its world-wide pyramid swindle, or Ponzi Scheme, if you like, has exploded and created a near-meltdown of the entire capitalist system.

And now those who created the bubble - the financiers and bankers - are being left to get away with it, with the fruits of their looting and robbing intact and safely squirreled away, whilst the millions who have seen their lives made poorer by what’s been going on are now having to hand over even more of our money in order to prop up the banks, their bosses and their shareholders, and the entire financial systems of countries both rich and poor, which suddenly found themselves imploding thanks to the billions of dollars, pounds and Euros that have been appropriated by the greed and ruthless scams of the fat cats and wise guys who ran, and in most cases still run, the capitalist system.

The main reason these fuckers are not being held to account and made to pay for what they’ve done is that for the most part it was all perfectly legal. The ‘Big Bang’, as it was known, the deregulation of our financial system, made it legal for huge financial businesses, banks, hedge funds, etc, to start playing the world’s financial system like it’s a huge casino.

So as for holding these bastards to account - forget it. They were just doing what they were allowed to do. They were allowed to lend seven times salary to people who had no deposit to put down on the property they were convinced they needed to buy in order to ‘get on the housing ladder’. They were allowed to increase rents on crappy flats and houses to extortionate levels. They were allowed to lend huge sums to people who had low incomes, little job security and little hope of keeping up repayments when the downturn came along, as it was surely bound to.

They were allowed to give the impression they knew what they were doing and that there would be no bust at the end of the boom. What the fuck did they care? They were in line for huge bonuses for being employed by the Capitalist Casino, as long as they were reasonably competent and just kept on selling their financial ‘products’, just kept the commissions rolling in. So there was no way they were going to blow the whistle or upset the gravy train. They weren’t doing anything illegal.

Immoral - yes. Sleazy and despicable and completely unethical - of course. They weren’t even exercising due diligence, but then no-one’s going to beat them up for that at this stage of the game. The entire fucking government and state apparatus of this and other countries wasn’t even exercising due diligence. So who are they to get heavy about the way things have panned out? New Labour’s been in bed with the City - and everybody knows it.


We just didn’t know all the things we should have known. I can’t remember which of those neo-con cretins went on about ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’? Was it Cheney or Rumsfeld? Or Greenspan? Well it was true. Many of us sensed there were things happening that shouldn’t have been happening, but there were so many more things that we had no idea, not even any inkling, were happening.


Having read Chapter One (The Torture Lab) of The Shock Doctrine I now realise that the CIA not only funded research in various universities into effective techniques of torture and terror, but they also trained the operatives working for South American fascist military dictatorships in how to apply those techniques after they’d rounded up their opponents - socialists, liberals, anti-capitalists, left-wing radicals, artists, intellectuals, etc.

Those same techniques, again disseminated by people employed by the US government using public funds, are still being used around the world to this day - from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq, and in the various ‘offshore’ prisons and hell-holes where those who have been rounded up by the ‘security forces’ have been taken by ‘extraordinary rendition’.

But who’s now strong enough and determined enough to bring them to book for what they’ve been doing, in the international courts of justice? America considers itself above international law.

And who, for instance, could possible take to task the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, both of which are based in Washington, and which, under the direction of their ‘Chicago School’ economists and managers, ceased to operate for the benefit of the poorest counties, as per the Bretton Woods agreement which created those institutions in the first place following WW2?

Many years ago the WB and the IMF started to impose conditions on those poor nations which desperately needed support and bail-outs thanks to falling commodity prices and unmanageable ‘debt repayments’. Conditions like not getting any money or help unless they agreed to sell off their State-owned assets to overseas fat cats at ludicrous knock-down prices. It was a question of privatise, deregulate, allow foreign takeovers, etc - or fuck off.


Torture and the Shock Doctrine

The CIA became seriously interested in torture during the period of the war in Korea. At that time, and indeed by the time the war in Vietnam took place, there appears to have been no official sanction for assassinating, terrorising and torturing opponents, other than carpet bombing various parts of Vietnam from high-flying B52s, the prospect of which must be regarded as some kind of terror or mental torture if you happened to be living in the war zone.

Interestingly the US government and the CIA became very interested in the subject of torture when various shot-down airmen and captured soldiers began to appear on North Korean TV saying to camera that they did not support their government’s actions, and did not think that US forces should be in Korea. Some of them were filmed denouncing US imperialism and capitalism.

Altman’s excellent film ‘Mash’, and its spin-off TV series, gave a real flavour of what the more thoughtful of the conscripted servicemen and women thought about the Korean war. It’s not exactly surprising that those thoughtful and reflective young people of the USA, very few of whom had actually volunteered to join the army or airforce or wished to fight in Korea, were unhappy about America’s role in the conflict. Nevertheless, the head honchos in the US government and the CIA assumed that anyone who voiced such opinions on Korean TV must have been ‘brainwashed’ and tortured in order to elicit such opinions.

They therefore set about investigating how to brainwash young people, using what we now recognise as the classic techniques of interrogation and torture. Certain academics in certain universities were eager and willing to take the CIA’s money in order to pursue enquiries into how to wipe minds ‘clean’ and fill them with whatever you want them to believe. They seemed to believe that if you understood how to carry out ‘brainwashing’, then you could teach those serving in the military how to resist it. At least that’s how they justified the millions of dollars invested in this ‘research’.

Naomi Klein:

The United States Central Intelligence Agency funded a Montreal doctor to perform bizarre experiments on his psychiatric patients, keeping them asleep or in isolation for weeks, then administering huge doses of electroshock as well as experimental drug cocktails including the psychedelic LSD and the hallucinogen PCP. The experiments - which reduced patients to preverbal, infantile states - had been performed at McGill University’s Allan Memorial Institute under the supervision of its director, Dr Ewen Cameron.

Patients had gone to Cameron seeking relief from minor psychiatric ailments - postpartum depression, anxiety, etc - and had been used, without their knowledge or permission, as human guinea pigs to satisfy the CIA’s thirst for information about how to control the human mind.

Not only did Cameron play a central role in developing contemporary US torture techniques, but his experiments also offer a unique insight into the underlying logic of disaster capitalism. Like the free-market economists who are convinced that only a large-scale disaster - a great unmaking - can prepare the ground for their ‘reforms’, Cameron believed that by inflicting an array of shocks to the human brain, he could unmake and erase faulty minds, then rebuild new personalities on that ever-elusive clean slate.

In the mid-fifties, several researchers at the CIA became interested in Cameron’s methods. It was the start of Cold War hysteria, and the agency had just launched a covert program devoted to researching “special interrogation techniques”. (Including psychological harassment and ‘total isolation’, as well as ‘the use of drugs and chemicals’.) Project MKUltra spent $25 million on research in a quest to find new ways to break prisoners suspected of being Communists and double agents. Eighty institutions were involved in the program, including forty-four universities and twelve hospitals.

Cameron’s work was funded by the CIA until 1961, and for many years it wasn’t clear what, if anything, the US did with his research. When proof of the CIA’s funding for the experiments finally came out in Senate hearings and then in the patient’s groundbreaking class-action lawsuit against the agency, journalists and legislators tended to accept the CIA’s version of events - that it was conducting research into brainwashing techniques in order to protect captured US soldiers. The CIA and Ewen Cameron had recklessly shattered lives with their experiments for no good reason - the research appeared useless: everyone knew by then that brainwashing was a Cold War myth.

In the exposes of MKUltra from the eighties . . . the experiments are consistently described as “mind control” and “brainwashing”. The word “torture” is almost never used.

In 1988, The New York Times ran a groundbreaking investigation into US involvement in torture and assassinations in Honduras. Florencio Caballero, an interrogator with Honduras’s notoriously brutal Battalion 3-16, told the Times that he and twenty-four of his colleagues were taken to Texas and trained by the CIA. “They taught us psychological methods - to study the fears and weaknesses of a prisoner. Make him stand up, don’t let him sleep, keep him naked and isolated, put rats and cockroaches in his cell, give him bad food, serve him dead animals, throw cold water on him, change the temperature.” There was one technique he failed to mention: electroshock.

[Torture victim] Ines Murillo said, “I smelled smoke and realised I was burning from the singes of the shocks. They said they would torture me until I went mad. I didn’t believe them. But then they spread my legs and stuck the wires on my genitals.” Murillo also said that there was someone else in the room: an American passing questions to her interrogators whom the others called “Mr. Mike”.

The revelations led to hearings of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, where the CIA’s deputy director, Richard Stolz, confirmed that “Caballero did indeed attend a CIA human resources exploitation or interrogation course”. The methods taught ranged from sensory deprivation to stress positions, from hooding to pain.

Wherever the Kubark [CIA] method has been taught, certain clear patterns - all designed to induce, deepen and sustain shock - have emerged: prisoners are captured in the most jarring and disorienting way possible, late at night or in early morning raids, as the manual instructs. They are immediately hooded or blindfolded, stripped and beaten, then subjected to some form of sensory deprivation. And from Guatamala to Honduras, Vietnam to Iran, the Philippines to Chile, the use of electroshock is ubiquitous.

Though sanctioned by successive administrations in Washington, the US role in these dirty wars had to be covert, for obvious reasons. Torture, whether physical or psychological, clearly violates the Geneva Conventions’ blanket ban on “any form of torture or cruelty”, as well as the US Army’s own Uniform Code of Military Justice barring “cruelty” and “oppression” of prisoners.

[After September 11, 2001] what had previously been performed by proxy, with enough distance to deny knowledge, would now be performed directly and openly defended.

Despite all the talk of outsourced torture, the Bush administration’s real innovation has been its in-sourcing, with prisoners being tortured by US citizens in US-run prisons or directly transported, through “extraordinary rendition”, to third countries on US planes. That is what makes the Bush regime different: after the attacks of September 11, it dared to demand the right to torture without shame. That left the administration subject to criminal prosecution - a problem it dealt with by changing the laws.

According to the new rules, the US government was free to use the methods it had developed in the 1950s under layers of secrecy and deniability - only now it was out in the open, without fear of prosecution.

Human rights groups point out that Guantanamo, horrifying as it is, is actually the best of the US-run offshore interrogation operations, since it is open to limited monitoring by the Red Cross and lawyers. Unknown numbers of prisoners have disappeared into the network of so-called black sites around the world or been shipped by US agents to foreign-run jails through extraordinary rendition. Prisoners who have emerged from these nightmares testify to having faced the full arsenal of Cameron-style shock tactics.

The problem was the premise on which his entire theory rested: the idea that before healing can happen, everything that existed before needs to be wiped out. Cameron was sure that if he blasted away at the habits, patterns and memories of his patients, he would eventually arrive at the pristine blank slate. But no matter how doggedly he shocked, drugged and disoriented, he never got there. The opposite proved true: the more he blasted, the more shattered his patients became. Their minds weren’t “clean”; rather, they were a mess, their memories fractured, their trust betrayed.

Disaster capitalists share this same inability to distinguish between destruction and creation, between hurting and healing. Fervent believers in the redemptive powers of shock, the architects of the American-British invasion imagined that their use of force would be so stunning, so overwhelming, that Iraqis would go into a kind of suspended animation, much like the one described in the Kubark manual. In that window of opportunity, Iraq’s invaders would slip in another set of shocks - these ones economic - which would create a model of free-market democracy on the blank slate that was post-invasion Iraq.

But there was no blank slate, only rubble and shattered, angry people - who, when they resisted, were blasted with more shocks . . .


This is the legacy that Obama’s team now have to sort out. As I say, it’s going to be interesting.

His team of the best and the brightest will be welcomed with open arms by the international community, after the years of having to deal with the voodoo henchmen (and women) of the Bush junta.

They can immediately save billions of dollars by cutting back drastically on the global reach of their armed forces and spy networks, their plans to put missiles into eastern Europe, their Star Wars bullshit, etc. They don’t even have to make an ideological case for it - the country simply cannot afford such useless luxuries. It’s the shock doctrine turned to good purpose.

They can then start to redress the unbelievable inequalities that exist through the USA, through a modern-day New Deal - building decent housing for the poor, and decent schools for the nation’s children. They can also put funds into proper health care for those who need it, and decent hospitals and clinics for every section of the population.

No wonder the poorest sections of society feel a sense of excitement and anticipation. This can really happen. As Obama bravely said - what’s wrong with spreading the wealth around a little?


More on Bankers

Meanwhile, what’s likely to happen in little Britain in 2009? Simon Jenkins, as usual, told it like it is in the Guardian this week:

If there is one sentiment that should have died in 2008 it is faith in the collective intelligence of Whitehall. The economic forecasters league table for 2008 was published last week and, of the 42 pundits listed, no public authority was in the top half. The Treasury came in at 37th and the IMF was bottom.

This is the mob that brought us City deregulation and the house-price bubble. Yet I doubt if a single one has been upbraided, let alone sacked. The entire Bank of England monetary policy committee is still in office - except for the only one who called the recession correctly, David Blanchflower, who has mysteriously been stood down.

This is not some City luncheon parlour game. As a result of the arrogance of these economic managers, a million people will lose their jobs next year and tens of thousands their houses. Yet all they think to do, egged on by politicians, is take more money from spenders and give it to savers, to their beloved City banks.

Banking is a profession that excels at making money for itself. For 10 years it mesmerised Blair and Brown, who showered it with tax loopholes, offshore profits, PFI contracts and vacuous government consultancies. Ministers and bankers enjoyed a revolving Whitehall door.

Frustrated ministers are still expecting the City to rescue the economy in 2009, continuing to trust it with the public's money to an extent that they will not trust the public. They seem unaware that bankers do not rescue economies. They rescue banks.


Abandoned and Betrayed

Radio 4 news yesterday had a lead item on a new survey which highlights the fact that the English white working class feels abandoned, resentful and betrayed. As well they might. They also complain about unfairness, lack of decent housing, and unequal resource allocation, which seems to be a coded way of saying ‘policies that favour non-whites’, especially in housing.

What’s so stupid and divisive about this is the fact that the non-indiginous communities in this country are equally entitled to those sorts of feelings. This is a class issue, and in fact nobody who voted Labour in any of the last three general elections was voting for policies that amount to Thatcherism-lite. Absolutely everyone whose income is around or below the national mean or median is entitled to feel resentful, betrayed, etc.

But then again, so does virtually everybody. Even the middle classes have a sense that New Labour has sucked up to the City and Big Finance to the detriment of everyone who’s not pretty damn wealthy. Nobody voted for more outsourcing, more deregulation and more privatisation. Nobody voted for New Labour in order to have more inequality, or for the rich to get even richer. Nobody voted for the boss class to jack up its salaries by about 20% per year whilst everyone else got rises around the rate of inflation, i.e. no increase at all.

Timothy Garton Ash wrote a strange column in the Guardian this week, supposedly about the future of capitalism, and posing questions such as, how much more money and things do we need? “Is enough as good as a feast? Could we manage with less? What really matters to you? What contributes most to your individual happiness?”

Well, Tim, old pal, my individual happiness would be greatly affected by feeling the rich were being put under some restraint, that tax havens were about to be abolished, that the rich were going to pay their fair share of taxes, and that disaster capitalism was no longer going to rule the roost. I’d feel a lot happier if I thought that the poorest sections of society were becoming a lot less poor. What really matters to me is that child poverty is totally eradicated. I’d also like to see full employment, decent housing for all, and an education system that cared about the all-round well-being and development of children and not just preparing them for employment.

We could have had these things years ago if this government had done its job properly and not squandered huge landslide victories and a massive mandate for change.

What the majority of this country’s population needs to face up to sooner or later is that successive governments by adhering to Friedmanite monetarist orthodoxy, by running the economy for the benefit of disaster capitalists, was bound to make them feel abandoned and betrayed, because that’s exactly what this political and economic creed is supposed to do. It’s often been called ‘trickle down’ economics, but in practice nothing really even trickles down. It all gets sucked up.

The Chairman of Citigroup, Sir Win Bischoff, a man who goes to 2 or 3 black tie dinners per week, was interviewed on the radio this week, and even he admitted that the root cause of our current financial and economic crisis is “enormous amounts of liquidity seeking ever higher returns”.

That’s code for “huge amounts of surplus money in the hands of fat cats who will go to any lengths to keep it and deposit it wherever they can generate even more money”.

The people who own and control this money have no loyalty to any one country and aren’t in the least bit interested in investing in productive industry and receiving a moderate rate of return over long periods of time. They want big bucks, "ever higher returns", and they want it now. Creating a property bubble was the fastest way to lever up their profits.

Will Hutton described all this extremely well in The State We’re In. Just read it.

Incidentally, the failed boss of Citibank received a ‘retirement’ kiss-off of £38 million.

Franklin Roosevelt spoke about the Depression being caused by selfish and callous wrongdoing by financiers and bankers. How come our Prime Minister can’t bring himself to use similar language?


Blathering Blears

Hazel fucking Blears was on World At One yesterday, blathering on about the survey showing white working class disaffection. The housing issue! What a vile creature she is. All she kept going on about is what she assumes is ignorance on the part of those who complain about the allocation of council houses and flats. “They need to understand that the majority of people who arrive in this country live in privately-rented accommodation, not council property.”

So fucking what, you idiot!? She can’t even see, or admit, that the key issue for most people is the points system, and the fact that no consideration is given for length of residence in this country, and the fact that people want to live near family and friends and not some godforsaken estate on the outskirts of nowhere - as well they might. What’s so unreasonable or racist about that?

I know of at least one couple who live in a two bedroom council flat on an estate they don’t want to live on, and would love to move into one of the newer flats in a more desirable part of the district. However, they stand NO chance, on account of the fact that they already have a flat! So we then have a situation where new arrivals are allocated the newest and best houses and flats, whilst long-time residents stay put in their sink estates. Who wouldn’t be resentful?

Blears then tries to shift the blame to the local authorities on the basis that they make their own rules. So how come the government hasn’t tried to influence or persuade them towards more enlightened policies? Isn’t that what government is supposed to do? This government’s done no such thing because they prefer to cop out, and don’t even properly understand the issues, the causes of the resentment, anyway.

Stupid bloody Blears then said that the real problem is the shortage of houses and flats. So who’s fucking fault is that? John Major? Margaret Thatcher? Tony Blair? Gordon Brown? How come this government has built fewer units of social housing than the Tories? The woman is shameless, as well as stupid. She can’t even bullshit convincingly.

Ken Livingstone, on his LBC programme this morning, is talking about Labour making a ‘catastrophic mistake’ in not immediately funding vastly more council housing. But he’s still focused on the lack of properties, and isn’t addressing the issue of who gets to live in which of the stock that’s available.

When there’s a shortage of resources like housing the government has a responsibility to share them out fairly, unless they want to foment resentment and disaffection. NO fair-minded individual who’s without a home resents moving into the poorest of a council’s accommodation, providing they get a chance to live in the better places later on.

And those who have lived in an area the longest, and have paid taxes the longest, surely deserve a chance to live in the best of the council’s housing before they die.


There is a war
Between the rich and poor
A war between those who say there’s a war
And those who say that there isn’t.

Leonard Cohen
There Is A War

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment