University of Lethbridge
(20 Feb. 2011)
Countering the Incursions of the Axis of Kleptocracy
In responding to the worldwide protests aimed at stopping the US-led invasion of Iraq, The New York Times referred in 2003 to the existence of a new global superpower, that of world public opinion. Back then, however, the full potential of this force of change remained unrealized and underdeveloped as demonstrated by the outcome of the events of February 15. On that historic day eight years ago, tens of millions of anti-war protestors came flooding into the streets simultaneously in literally hundreds of large and small cities all over the planet.
In spite of this massive display of organized global opposition to the extension of the 9/11 Wars into Iraq, the mobilized superpower of global political will was not yet muscular enough to prevent the onslaughts of illegal invasion, occupation, torture, genocide and mind control to come. These massive global protests proved insufficient to prevent the expansion of the 9/11 Wars from Afghanistan to the oil-rich country ruled by Saddam Hussein, a former CIA-asset whose desire to do business in Euros threatened the global pre-eminence of Saudi-American petro-dollars.
Now, almost a decade after the illegal US-led invasion of Iraq, it seems the global superpower of world public opinion is beginning to gain traction. With the help of increasingly cheap and accessible digital social networking, activists throughout the world are shaking off their subordination to the information monopolies of government and corporate-dominated mainstream media. A good number of us have devoted ourselves to building up new means of following and creating news. The activities of the bloggers and readers at Veterans Today epitomize this trend.
The process of co-operative self-education through the New Media of Internet interactivity forms a key to unlocking our collective capacities to organize politically against the deep incursions of the criminal cabal that most menaces humanity’s global prospects for peace and prosperity. Among the leading warlords that most threaten our children’s chances for a decent future are those who direct some of the world’s largest corporations. Many of these leviathans have long been primary beneficiaries and agencies of the permanent war economy maintained in the United States since 1941.
Many of these warlords operate along an axis of kleptocracy linking Wall Street with the Pentagon. Those bankers and militarists who most effectively exploit their license to steal in the charmed inner circle of kleptocratic privilege tend to become role models for the system of crony capitalism that dominates more and more of humanity. The maintenance of this system of top-down corruption depends heavily on the actions of those corporate warlords who prove most adept at deploying state violence as instruments of elite rule.
Because of the Internet, the criminal cabal at the top of the feeding chain of global pillage and plunder are facing new surges of transnational opposition. In the political environment increasingly shaped by those communities of public opinion that sometimes coalesce on the worldwide web, something as seemingly local as the self-immolation of a street vendor in Tunisia, or the police torture and murder of a young Egyptian man in Alexandria, can end up having huge and unforeseen consequences. “We Are All Khalid Said,” asserted the Google marketing manager Wael Ghonim on a Facebook page now known to millions. Ghonim’s contribution to the Internet’s content was an essential part of the process of mobilizing public opposition against the kind of casual police brutality that had become commonplace in an Egypt overseen by strongman Hosni Mubarak on behalf of absentee landlords in Israel and the United States.
The worldwide spread of those spurred to revulsion and action by the ghoulish police killing of Khalid Said will probably continue on a wired planet where the lies and crimes of 9/11 continue to be exposed on the Internet even as they are concurrently exploited by interlinked oligarchs. In this sense, the crimes against humanity imposed by Egyptian authorities on their own people are, unfortunately, more the rule than the exception. Indeed, the example of Mubarak’s Egypt provides an illuminating preview of the kind of governance that more and more of us can expect if the rise of the global police state is allowed to continue unabated.
The growth of police powers will inevitably continue to grow as long as the massively entitled few seek protections from the hugely disentitled many. These elite protections can be commandeered from the corporatist state, often through direct purchase of services from private police forces and military contractors. From New Orleans to Beijing, Moscow, Lagos, Tel Aviv, Djibouti, and Tripoli, resorts to state terror are often justified through the fear mongering essential to the psychological operations animating the fraudulent War on Terror.
The Structure of the Great Theft Along Lines of Region, Class and Generation
The spotlight of worldwide scrutiny placed on the regime of Hosni Mubarak by the protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square reveals much about the nature of the global criminal cabal behind Egypt’s strongman. For instance the wide public exposure of Mubarak’s subservience to the joint dictates of Washington and Tel Aviv speak volumes about the structure of the world’s dominant kleptocracy. This kleptocracy is parasitically eating away at the life chances especially of youths not only in Egypt but also in, for instance, Greece, England, Ireland and Wisconsin.
Similarly, news that Mubarak’s entourage have amassed fortunes to the tune of hundreds of billions of ill-gotten dollars draw increased public scrutiny to the role of military expenditures in feeding the primary centers of corruption and organized crime in our times. Like Bernie Madoff, Mubarak is in fact far down the feeding chain of those kleptocrats who steal with impunity from the public purse. Where Mubarak is but a middle manager in the global structure of the world’s dominant military-industrial complex, those who rule over this apparatus of violent coercion increasingly count their stolen loot in the trillions rather than mere billions.
The transfer of these trillions to the world’s richest financiers was put on full public display when the governments of the United States and many other countries facilitated the bailouts that together constitute the boldest theft of public resources ever executed. The main beneficiaries of these bailouts are not the puppet dictators in the tradition of, to mention only a few, Mubarak of Egypt, Sukarno of Indonesia, Rios Montt of Guatemala, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan, Sese Seko Mobutu of Congo, or King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain. No, the main beneficiaries of the axis of kleptocracy linking Wall Street and the Pentagon are those whose operatives have situated themselves most strategically in the interlocked complex of personnel employed by agencies like Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the US Treasury Branch as well as the Financial Products Division of AIG and its networks of so-called counterparties around the world.
To me the operations of AIG leading up to the worldwide financial contagion that began on Wall Street are particularly illustrative of the nature of the highest order of organized crime in these times. The tradition of corporate governance embodied by the genesis of AIG and its Shanghai-based predecessor form an iconic embodiment of the kleptocratic operations of the national security state as they have evolved through the Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War, the CIA during the Cold War, and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International during the period when the privatized terror economy began to dominate big parts of the global economy. I elaborate and document these patterns and connections in considerable detail in the culminating chapter of my most recent book, Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization and Capitalism.
The covert activities of AIG and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York meet in the creation of two of the three Maiden Lane companies. The Maiden Lane companies were set up by the Federal Reserve Bank of NY to purchase the most toxic of the financial derivative products whose contaminating effects poisoned the global economy beginning in 2008. Two of the three Maiden Lane companies were established to purchase toxic derivative products from AIG and its hedging counterparties. These Maiden Lane entities took over and continue to own to this day some of the most poisonous of the toxic derivatives purchased by the corporate extension of the NY Fed.
Maiden Lane II became a giant dump for the most highly publicized form of derivative based on the securitization of packages of home mortgages. Maiden Lane III was set up by the NY Fed under Timothy Geitner’s leadership to pay off AIG’s counterparties in a much more murky variety of derivative contract. There is every reason to suspect that these secretive bets on bets on bets are based on activities similar to those that once dominated the business of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, where the operatives of, for instance, the CIA, al-Qaeda, Mossad, and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program conducted their transactions.
The activities of Maiden Lane III’s primary beneficiaries might include, for instance, speculation in the outcomes of covert operations like regime change in Eurasian polities. Or they might extend to the flow of laundered funds derived from massive drug deals or to bets on the planning, building and protection of oil and gas pipelines emanating from the Caspian basin. This genre of speculative transaction might also extend to the commodification and political manipulation of fear in an era when repeated false flag terror attacks help steer the movement of public funds to those private military contractors waging some of the most secretive operations in the 9/11 Wars.
The theft in and around the axis of kleptocracy linking Wall Street and the Pentagon form one aspect of a larger process that is gutting the financial viability of the United States generally and of its once-strong middle class more particularly. The deindustrialization of a country that was until recently the manufacturing dynamo of the global economy forms the core of the kleptocratic processes that are plundering the public wealth of America to enrich a small plutocracy.
This deindustrialization of America has savaged most severely the domestic political economies especially of unionized workers. As manufacturing enterprises were rapidly relocated to China and other low-wage polities, the prospects of Middle America as well as of, for instance, Middle England, Middle Greece, or Middle Egypt, have been devastated. Those who are thus displaced from niches of economic security must join the growing ranks of the poor and dispossessed. This unearned push downward falls especially heavily on the young. In country after country the young have been saddled with lifetimes of huge national debt to pay the bailouts to the same criminal cliques that caused the financial contagion in the first place.
The growing cycles of theft were facilitated by the broad dissemination of the propaganda of Reagonomics and Thatcherism. Beginning in the 1980s the top leadership of Anglo-America popularized a philosophy of greed that facilitated the theft from shareholders and taxpayers by Chief Executive Officers and their minions in the burgeoning field of creative accounting. The other side of this philosophical glorification of private property was an assault on public institutions, public ownership and public services of all kinds. That assault on the human commonwealth continues unabated in spite of the bailouts’ brilliant illumination of the willingness of the rich to overturn competitive capitalism in their zeal to raid the public purse.
This surge of Enron-style creative accounting in the name of deregulation helped give rise to the flood of derivative products that contaminated the global economy. As the workings of the Maiden Lane entities demonstrate, the bailouts were structured to provide massive rewards to the makers of the most toxic derivative products. This enormous upward transfer of wealth to the rich and superrich from the present and future earnings of middle class taxpayers compounded capitalism’s most mean yet characteristic attributes. This suck-up approach gave new meaning to capitalism’s propensity to privatize public wealth while socializing the liabilities of doing business.
This overview of recent history puts in context the neoliberal effort to make the public service unions of Wisconsin and other US states the scapegoats for the gutting of the domestic economy of the ailing superpower. Indeed the viciousness of the ongoing neoliberal attack on the American middle class continues the assault on the legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal by undermining the legal basis not only of public service unions but of labor unions of all kinds.
It seems, therefore, that the same forces that propped up the regime of Hosni Mubarak for three decades are now intent on destroying any remaining bastions in America of secure jobs with decent benefits. The result of this concerted attack starting in Wisconsin on the struggling remnants of America’s once-thriving middle class holds out nothing but the prospect of a slave future for those unable to secure places for themselves inside the walled enclaves of kleptocratic class privilege.
No Containing the Power of the Idea set in Motion by the Self-Immolation of a Street Vendor in Tunisia
The wild card in all this activity is the belated arrival of the new superpower of global public opinion, a force whose capacity to change history is only beginning to be felt. Those who are following the rise of this superpower of popular self-empowerment are quite right to notice similarities between the scenes emanating from Tahrir Square in Cairo and the State Legislature in Wisconsin. Indeed, the example of self-empowerment set by the protesters in Egypt will in all probability be seen in the light of future history as an event of comparable importance to the coming down of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
There will be no containing the power of the idea set in motion when a frustrated street vendor in Tunisia decided to dramatize the extent of the corruption he faced by setting fire to himself in public. The scenes of conflict and aspiration that have put a spotlight of global attention on both Egypt and Wisconsin will continue to ripple across jurisdiction after jurisdiction in a world where the chains of slavery and colonialism have never been fully severed. We need to do more than hope, however, that the collective force of popular self-empowerment will not be betrayed by the covert manipulations of those parties seeking to subvert this movement for global democracy in order to reinforce the unaccountable power of the world’s dominant kleptocracy.