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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How Corporate and Political Forces Have Almost Neutralized All Avenues of Resistance in US Culture



The only commodity our state offers is fear.

Early voting in Florida.

We have begun the election march of the trolls. They have crawled out of the sewers of public relations firms, polling organizations, the commercial media, the two corporate political parties and elected office to fill the airwaves with inanities and absurdities until the final inanity—the 2012 presidential election. Journalists, whose role has been reduced to purveyors of court gossip, whether on Fox or MSNBC, descend in swarms to report pseudo-events such as the Ames straw poll, where it costs $30 to cast a ballot. And then, almost immediately, they blithely inform us that the Iowa poll is meaningless now that Rick Perry has entered the race. The liberal trolls, as they do in every election cycle, are beating their little chests about the perfidiousness of the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. It is a gesture performed not to effect change but to burnish their credentials as moralists. They know, as do we, that they will trot obediently into the voting booth in 2012 to do as they are told. And everywhere the pulse of the nation is being assiduously monitored through polls and focus groups, not because our opinions matter, but because our troll candidates understand that by parroting back to us our own viewpoints they can continue to spend their days lapping up corporate money with other trolls in the two houses of Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court and television studios where they chat with troll celebrity journalists.

The only commodity the troll state offers is fear. The corporate trolls, such as the Koch brothers, terrify the birthers, creationists, militia lovers, tea party militants, right-to-life advocates, Christian fascists and God-fearing red-white-and-blue patriots by proclaiming that, unless they vote for Perry or Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann or some other product of the lunatic fringe of our political establishment, the American family will be destroyed, our children will be corrupted and the country will turn socialist. Barack Obama, who they whisper is a closet Muslim, will take away their guns, raise their taxes and bring homosexual couples into kindergartens.

For those, usually liberals, still rooted in a reality-based world, one that believes in evolutionary science, the corporate trolls offer a more refined, fear-based message of impending doom. If you abandon the Democrats we will be governed by Bible-thumping idiots who will make us chant the Pledge of Allegiance in mass rallies and teach the account of Genesis as historical and biological fact in our nation’s schools.

And underneath it all runs the mantra chanted in unison by all the trolls—terror, terror, terror. The troll establishment spins us like windup dolls and laughs all the way to the bank. What idiots, they think. And every election cycle we prove them right.

“The only people who grasp the distinction between reality and appearance, who grasp the laws of conduct and society, are the ruling groups and those who do their bidding; scientific, technical elites who elucidate the laws of behavior and the functions of society so that people might be more effectively, albeit unconsciously, governed,” wrote James W. Carey in “Communication as Culture.”

The trolls dominate or have neutralized every major institution in the country on behalf of their corporate paymasters. The press, education, Wall Street, labor and our political parties are managed by trolls or have been destroyed by them. Sometimes these trolls speak like liberals. Sometimes they speak like conservatives. Sometimes they are secular. Sometimes they are Christians. But the language they use is a cover for the relentless march toward a totalitarian capitalism and a kingdom where the trolls, if not the rest of us, live happily ever after. Rick Perry and John Boehner overtly make war on Social Security. Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi say they would like to save Social Security but are sadly powerless before the decisions of a congressional super committee they helped form. The result, of course, is the same. We get to choose the rhetoric and manner in which we are deceived and disempowered. Nothing more.

All cloying appeals to the Obama administration to use stimulus money to build public works such as schools, libraries, roads, clinics, public transit and reclaiming dams, as well as to create jobs, are about as effective as writing heartfelt appeals in the era of the old Soviet Union to Uncle Joe Stalin. The trolls have gamed the system. There is no economic, political or environmental reform, from campaign finance to environmental controls, that can be implemented to impede the march of the corporate state. The rot and corruption at the top levels of our financial and political systems, coupled with the increasing deprivation felt by tens of millions of Americans, are volatile tinder for revolt. And the trolls are prepared for this too. They have put in place draconian state controls, including widespread internal surveillance, to silence our anemic left. They know how to direct the rage of the right wing toward the last pockets of the cultural, social and political establishment that cling to traditional liberal values, as well as toward the most vulnerable among us including Muslims, undocumented workers and homosexuals. They will make sure we consume ourselves.

A society is in serious trouble when its political pariahs have at the core of their demands a return to the rule of law. This inversion, with our political and cultural outcasts demanding a respect for law, highlights the awful fact that the most radical and retrograde forces within the body politic have seized control. These forces demand that we serve the dictates of the marketplace. They are destroying all legal impediments to corporate exploitation and profit, as well as dismantling the regulatory agencies that once protected the citizen. They defend torture, offshore penal colonies, black sites and kidnapping (they call it “extraordinary rendition”) of state enemies. They protect and abet financial fraud. They wage pre-emptive war. They refuse to restore habeas corpus. Without warrants, they monitor, eavesdrop on and wiretap tens of millions of citizens. They order the assassination of U.S. citizens. They deny due process. They give corporations the status of persons. They ignore the suffering of the unemployed and the poor, slashing basic social service programs while doling out hundreds of billions in taxpayer funds to corporations. On these key issues, the only ones that really matter, there is no disagreement among trolls from either the self-identified left or the self-identified right. All their public disputes in the election cycle are a carnival act.

All conventional forms of dissent, from electoral politics to open debates, have been denied us. We cannot rely on the institutions that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible. The only route left is to disconnect as thoroughly as possible from the consumer society and engage in acts of civil disobedience and obstruction. The more we sever ourselves from the addictions of fossil fuel and the consumer society, the more we begin to create a new paradigm for community. The more we engage in physical acts of defiance—as Bill McKibben and others did recently in front of the White House to protest the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would increase the flow of “dirty” tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico—the more we can keep alive a new, better way of relating to each other and the ecosystem.

Most important, we must stop being afraid. We have to turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate the Republicans offer up for president. We have to defy all formal systems of power. We have to listen closely to the moral voices in our society, from McKibben to Noam Chomsky to Wendell Berry to Ralph Nader, and ignore feckless liberals who have been one of the most effective tools of our disempowerment. We have to create monastic enclaves where we can retain and nurture the values being rapidly destroyed by the wider corporate culture and build the mechanisms of self-sufficiency that will allow us to survive. The corporate coup is over. We have lost. The trolls have won. We have to face our banishment.

In William Shakespeare’s play “Coriolanus” the Roman consul is deposed by the mob. Coriolanus, whatever his faults, turns on those who thrust him from power to declare a valediction we should deliver to our class of ruling trolls and all those who remain in their embrace.

There’s no more to be said, but he is banish’d,
As enemy to the people and his country:
It shall be so.

It shall be so, it shall be so.

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o’ the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, I banish you;
And here remain with your uncertainty!
Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts!
Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
Fan you into despair! Have the power still
To banish your defenders; till at length
Your ignorance, which finds not till it feels,
Making not reservation of yourselves,
Still your own foes, deliver you as most
Abated captives to some nation
That won you without blows! Despising,
For you, the city, thus I turn my back:
There is a world elsewhere.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, is a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He writes a regular column for TruthDig every Monday. His latest book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

3 Things That Must Happen for Us To Rise Up and Defeat the Corporatocracy


Most Americans oppose rule by the corporatocracy but don't have the tools to fight back. Here are three things we need to create a real people's movement. 

Transforming the United States into something closer to a democracy requires: 1) knowledge of how we are getting screwed; 2) pragmatic tactics, strategies, and solutions; and 3) the “energy to do battle.”
The majority of Americans oppose the corporatocracy (rule by giant corporations, the extremely wealthy elite, and corporate-collaborator government officials); however, many of us have given up hope that this tyranny can be defeated. Among those of us who continue to be politically engaged, many focus on only one of the requirements—knowledge of how we are getting screwed. And this singular focus can result in helplessness. It is the two other requirements that can empower, energize, and activate Team Democracy— a team that is currently at the bottom of the standings in the American Political League.

1. Knowledge of How We are Getting Screwed

Harriet Tubman conducted multiple missions as an Underground Railroad conductor, and she also participated in the Union Army’s Combahee River raid that freed more than 700 slaves. Looking back on her career as a freedom fighter, Tubman noted, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.” While awareness of the truth of corporatocracy oppression is by itself not sufficient to win freedom and justice, it is absolutely necessary.

We are ruled by so many “industrial complexes”—military, financial, energy, food, pharmaceutical, prison, and so on—that it is almost impossible to stay on top of every way we are getting screwed. The good news is that—either through independent media or our basic common sense—polls show that the majority of Americans know enough about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Wall Street bailouts, and other corporate welfare to oppose these corporatocracy policies. In the case of the military-industrial complex, most Iraq War polls and Afghanistan War polls show that the majority of Americans know enough to oppose these wars. And when Americans were asked in a CBS New /New York Times survey in January 2011 which of three programs—the military, Medicare or Social Security—to cut so as to deal with the deficit, fully 55 percent chose the military, while only 21 percent chose Medicare and 13 percent chose Social Security.
In the words of Leonard Cohen, “Everybody knows that the deal is rotten.” Well, maybe not everybody, but damn near everybody.

But what doesn’t everybody know?

2. Pragmatic Tactics, Strategies and Solutions

In addition to awareness of economic and social injustices created by corporatocracy rule, it is also necessary to have knowledge of strategies and tactics that oppressed people have historically used to overcome tyranny and to gain their fair share of power.

Even before the Democratic-Republican bipartisan educational policies (such as “no child left behind” and “race to the top”) that cut back on civics being taught in schools, few Americans were exposed in their schooling to “street-smart civics”—tactics and strategies that oppressed peoples have historically utilized to gain power.

For a comprehensive guide of tactics and strategies that have been effective transforming regimes more oppressive than the current U.S. one, read political theorist and sociologist Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, which includes nearly 200 “Methods of Nonviolent Actions.” Among Sharp’s 49 “Methods of Economic Noncooperation,” he lists over 20 different kinds of strikes. And among his 38 “Methods of Political Noncooperation,” he lists 10 tactics of “citizens’ noncooperation with government,” nine “citizens’ alternatives to obedience,” and seven “actions by government personnel.” Yes, nothing was more powerful in ending the Vietnam War and saving American and Vietnamese lives than the brave actions by critically thinking U.S. soldiers who refused to cooperate with the U.S. military establishment. Check out David Zeigler’s documentary Sir! No Sir! for details.

For a quick history lesson on “the nature of disruptive power” in the United States and the use of disruptive tactics in fomenting the American Revolution, the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, and other democratic movements, check out sociologist Frances Fox Piven’s Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. Piven describes how “ordinary people exercise power in American politics mainly at those extraordinary moments when they rise up in anger and hope, defy the rules that ordinarily govern their daily lives, and, by doing so, disrupt the workings of the institutions in which they are enmeshed.” In the midst of the Great Depression when U.S unemployment was over 25 percent, working people conducted an exceptional number of large labor strikes, including the Flint, Michigan sit-down strike, which began at the end of 1936 when auto workers occupied a General Motors factory so as to earn recognition for the United Auto Workers union as a bargaining agent. That famous victory was preceded and inspired by other less well-known major battles fought and won by working people. Check out the intelligent tactics (and guts and solidarity) in the 1934 Minneapolis Truckers Strike.

For an example of “the nature of creative power” that scared the hell out of—and almost triumphed—over the moneyed elite, read The Populist Moment by historian Lawrence Goodwyn. The Populist movement, the late-19th-century farmers’ insurgency, according to Goodwyn, was the largest democratic movement in American history. These Populists and their major organization, commonly called the “Alliance,” created worker cooperatives that resulted in empowering economic self-sufficiency. They came close to successfully transforming a good part of the United States into something a lot closer to a democracy. As Goodwyn notes, “Their efforts, halting and disjointed at first, gathered form and force until they grew into a coordinated mass movement that stretched across the American continent ... Millions of people came to believe fervently that the wholesale overhauling of their society was going to happen in their lifetimes.”

In Get Up, Stand Up, I include the section “Winning the Battle: Solutions, Strategies, and Tactics.” However, a major point of the book is that, currently in the United States, even more ignored than street-smart strategies and tactics is the issue of morale, which is necessary for implementing these strategies and tactics. So, I also have a section “Energy to Do Battle: Liberation Psychology, Individual Self-Respect, and Collective Self-Confidence.”

3. The Energy to Do Battle

The elite’s money—and the influence it buys—is an extremely powerful weapon. So it is understandable that so many people who are defeated and demoralized focus on their lack of money rather than on their lack of morale. However, we must keep in mind that in war, especially in a class war when one’s side lacks financial resources, morale becomes even more crucial.

Activists routinely become frustrated when truths about lies, victimization and oppression don’t set people free to take action. But having worked with abused people for more than 25 years, it doesn’t surprise me to see that when we as individuals or a society eat crap for too long, we become psychologically too weak to take action. There are a great many Americans who have been so worn down by decades of personal and political defeats, financial struggles, social isolation and daily interaction with impersonal and inhuman institutions that they no longer have the energy for political actions.

Other observers of subjugated societies have recognized this phenomenon of subjugation resulting in demoralization and fatalism. Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Ignacio Martin-Baró, the El Salvadoran social psychologist and popularizer of “liberation psychology,” understood this psychological phenomenon. So did Bob Marley, the poet laureate of oppressed people around the world. Many Americans are embarrassed to accept that we, too, after years of domestic corporatocracy subjugation, have developed what Marley called “mental slavery.” Unless we acknowledge that reality, we won’t begin to heal from what I call “battered people’s syndrome” and “corporatocracy abuse” and to, as Marley urges, “emancipate yourself from mental slavery.”

Whether one’s abuser is a spouse or the corporatocracy, there are parallels when it comes to how one can maintain enough strength to be able to free oneself when the opportunity presents itself—and then heal and attain even greater strength. This difficult process requires honesty that one is in an abusive relationship. One should not be ashamed of having previously believed in corporatocracy lies; and it also helps to forgive and have compassion for those who continue to believe them. The liars we face are often quite good at lying. It helps to have a sense of humor about one’s predicament, to nurture respectful relationships, and to take advantage of a lucky opportunity—often created by the abuser’s arrogance— when it presents itself.
For democratic movements to have enough energy to get off the ground, certain psychological and cultural building blocks are required. Goodwyn, from his study of the Populists in the United States, Solidarity in Poland, and other democratic movements, concluded that “individual self-respect” and “collective self-confidence” constitute the cultural building blocks of mass democratic politics. Without individual self-respect, people do not believe that they are worthy of power or capable of utilizing power wisely, and they accept as their role being a subject of power. Without collective self-confidence, people do not believe they can succeed in wresting power away from their rulers. There are “democracy battlefields” —in our schools, workplace and elsewhere—where such respect and confidence can be regained every day.
No democratic movement succeeds without determination, courage, and solidarity, but modern social scientists routinely ignore such nonquantifiable important variables, and so those trained only in universities and not on the streets can, as Martin-Baró pointed out, “become blind to the most important meanings of human existence.” Great scientists recognize just how important nonquantifable variables are in certain areas of life. A sign hanging in Albert Einstein’s office at Princeton stated: not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

The battle against the corporatocracy needs critical thinking, which results in seeing some ugly truths about reality. This critical thinking is absolutely necessary. Without it, one is more likely to engage in tactics that can make matters worse. But critical thinking also means the ability to think critically about one’s pessimism—realizing that pessimism can cripple the will and destroy motivation. A critical thinker recognizes how negativism can cause inaction, which results in maintaining the status quo. Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937), an Italian political theorist and Marxist activist who was imprisoned by Mussolini, talked about “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” —a phrase that has inspired many critical thinkers, including Noam Chomsky.
Can one have hope without being an insipid Pollyanna? Until shortly before it occurred, the collapse of the Soviet empire seemed an impossibility to most Americans, who saw only mass resignation within the Soviet Union and its sphere of control. But the shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland, did not see their Soviet and Communist Party rulers as the all-powerful forces that Americans did. And so Polish workers’ Solidarity, by simply refusing to go away, provided a strong dose of morale across Eastern Europe at the same time other historical events weakened the Soviet empire.

Today in Iceland, citizens have refused to acquiesce to the demands of global financial institutions, simply refusing to be taxed for the mistakes of the financial elite that caused their nation’s recent financial meltdown. In a March 2010 referendum in Iceland, 93 percent voted against repayment of the debt, and Icelandic citizens have been drafting a new constitution that would free their country from the power of international finance (this constitution will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections). Yes, participatory democracy is still possible.

The lesson from the 2011 Arab spring in and other periods of history is that tyrannical and dehumanizing institutions are often more fragile than they appear, and with time, luck, morale, and our ability to seize the moment, damn near anything is possible. We never really know until it happens whether or not we are living in that time when historical variables are creating opportunities for seemingly impossible change. Thus, we must prepare ourselves by battling each day in all our activities to regain individual self-respect, collective self-confidence, determination, courage, and solidarity.

Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist and author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite  (Chelsea Green, 2011). His Web site is www.brucelevine.net.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Since 9/11, Koch Industries has fought against tougher government rules on chemical plants

The Center for Public Integrity
Investigation. Impact. Integrity.

Since 9/11, Koch Industries has fought against tougher government rules on chemical plants

Koch plant in Texas AP

Koch argues that tough restrictions on petrochemicals aren’t necessary because there hasn’t been a terrorist attack here since 9/11

By , and

Koch Industries, a leader of industry resistance to proposed post-9/11 anti-terrorism safeguards at petrochemical plants, owns 56 facilities using hazardous chemicals that put 4.8 million Americans who live nearby at risk.

Schools, homes, hospitals, office parks, churches, recreation areas, nursing homes and daycare facilities dot the properties that surround the Koch plants.

In the government’s “worst case” scenarios, the millions working or living near the plants could be threatened by explosions, chemical spills or clouds of deadly gas, federal records show. Among the hazardous chemicals stored and used at Koch sites are formaldehyde, chlorine, anhydrous ammonia and hydrogen fluoride.

Koch’s own reports to the U.S. government were reviewed by iWatch News. The records, known as risk management plans, are maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency. Access is strictly controlled: members of the press and public can only examine 10 plans per month, under the watchful eye of EPA officials.

A decade after the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, Koch insists that its neighbors are safe, and are adequately protected by federal and state regulations.

All chemical firms are “vulnerable to human error, acts of nature, theft and sabotage,” Koch acknowledges. “It is impossible to completely eliminate every threat.”

But “chemicals are at the heart of many of our businesses,” the firm says, in a section titled “Chemical Safety” on Koch’s website. “The ones used in our facilities are handled with care and by trained professionals.”

The Kansas-based conglomerate vows that it “places compliance and safety before profit.”

Koch did not respond to repeated inquiries for comment to this story over a week’s time.

Koch lobbies against stricter rules

Charles and David Koch, the owners of the country’s second-largest private corporation, are libertarians of long standing, who contend that government regulations, taxes and subsidies stifle individual initiative and hamper American competitiveness. In recent years, the Kochs have played an increasingly public role as financial angels for conservative causes, politicians and foundations.

In Washington, Koch is a leader in efforts to oppose counter-terrorism proposals that would require that petrochemical firms use less hazardous practices and chemicals.

Lobbying disclosure reports, filed with Congress, show that this year Koch has deployed at least 20 lobbyists, from four lobbying firms, to shape legislation on Capitol Hill and the regulatory work of federal agencies.

Aside from its own in-house team of lobbyists, Koch has hired the firms of Hunton & Williams; Siff & Associates, and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti to lobby the Senate, House of Representatives, the Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

The Center for Responsive Politics puts Koch at the top of its list of the 80-odd firms, local governments and other groups lobbying Congress to shape or prevent passage of a wide-ranging chemical security bill. Koch is ranked above organizations like the American Chemistry Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and corporations like Halliburton or Bayer.

According to the CRP database, the chemical safety legislation has been one of Koch’s most important priorities in the last four years, during which the firm has spent $44 million lobbying in Washington on this and other issues.

The threat of a terrorist attack may have been diminished by the death of Osama bin Laden, but Al Qaeda maintains an interest in attacking American power and utility plants, the U.S. government says.

A July 19 intelligence report sent by the Department of Homeland Security to state and local law enforcement agencies noted that “violent extremists have, in fact, obtained insider positions” and that “disgruntled employees and adversaries seeking to use employees to obtain specific information about facility operations continue to pose a threat to utilities and other critical infrastructure.”

Calls for safer substances

Congressional calls for change, endorsed by the Obama administration, would restructure federal rules and inspection procedures and require the use of “inherently safer technology” (IST) to reduce the potential consequences of a terrorist attack.

If paper plants could manufacture the precise amounts of chlorine that they need on site, or use a different chemical process to bleach pulp, for example, they would reduce the risk that terrorists can find chains of rail cars or yards of storage tanks filled with toxic chemicals to target.

House and Senate bills that would require that firms use safer technologies have been the top priorities of Koch lobbyists working on the issue. On its website, Koch says that IST proposals are “onerous” because they “would require manufacturers to use certain products and processes without regard for practicality, availability or cost.”

“Mandating IST would result in even more job losses and higher consumer prices as American manufacturers struggle to comply with the new regulations and compete with overseas manufacturers,” Koch says.

Under the current regulatory regime, Koch notes, “not one incident of terrorism has occurred.”

According to the iWatch News analysis of EPA records, the Koch facilities with the greatest number of neighbors who would be threatened by a worst case release or terrorist attack are:

  • An Invista chemical plant in LaPorte, Texas, where a spill and vaporization of formaldehyde could threaten almost 1.9 million potential victims within 25 miles.
  • A Georgia-Pacific plant in Camas, Wash., where a chlorine spill and gas cloud could endanger 840,000 people within 14 miles.
  • A Flint Hills refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, where 350,000 people living within 22 miles would be threatened by a hydrogen fluoride spill and vaporization.
  • And a Koch Nitrogen plant in East Alton, Ill., where 290,000 people live within 11 miles, and face the potential danger of a poisonous anhydrous ammonia cloud.

The full list of Koch facilities is here [link to download Excel spreadsheet].

The Koch Industries safety and environmental record at its facilities has improved in the last decade. The firm has won government and industry awards, after several embarrassing incidents in the recent past, including a 2001 guilty plea and $20 million in fines and remediation, for covering up the release of hazardous benzene at the Corpus Christi refinery.

Koch bought Invista from DuPont in 2004, and reported to the EPA that the

company’s own audit of its new acquisition had discovered more than 680 violations of environmental and emergency planning and preparedness law at 12 facilities, including the one in LaPorte. Koch paid a $1.7 million civil penalty in 2009, and agreed to make up to $500 million in improvements.

Koch also paid a $6 million criminal fine in 2000 for illegally discharging between 200,000 and 600,000 gallons of aviation fuel into a waterway near the firm’s Flint Hills refinery in Rosemount, Minn.

A 1996 incident offered a lesson in miniature of the dangers of spills and vaporization of hazardous substances. A Koch pipeline carrying liquid butane through Texas ruptured, releasing a white, almost transparent fog near a residential area. A pickup truck carrying two men through the cloud ignited the butane, and they were burned to death. Forty-five families lived nearby.

Government gets tough after 9/11

Congress first passed legislation in 2006 giving the new Department of Homeland Security the authority to regulate chemical facilities in the face of terrorist threats. In 2007 the department issued an interim rule for anti-terrorism standards, requiring that facilities with a prescribed amount of dangerous chemicals must report to DHS. The law has been extended on a year-to-year basis.

The Justice Department called the threat of a terrorist attack on chemical facilities “real and credible.”

“Experts agree that chemical facilities present an attractive target for terrorists intent on causing massive damage,” said a 2006 Government Accountability Office report . “Terrorist attacks involving the theft or release of certain chemicals could significantly impact the health and safety of millions of Americans.

“The disaster in Bhopal, India, in 1984, when methyl isocyanate — a highly toxic chemical — leaked from a tank, reportedly killing about 3,800 people and injuring anywhere from 150,000 to 600,000 others, illustrates the potential threat to public health from a chemical release,” the GAO said.

The chemical safety rules were filled with exceptions, however. They exempted facilities owned by the departments of Defense and Energy, nuclear power plants, water and wastewater utilities (which often use chlorine) and those regulated by another law, the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002.

Under the less stringent MTSA, some of Koch’s biggest facilities, like its refinery in Minnesota, are regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard, though located hundreds of miles from the shores patrolled by the Coast Guard.

More than 38,000 of the nation’s chemical facilities ultimately registered with Homeland Security, and more than 7,000 were initially designated “high risk.” After further inspection, some 4,755 were put in four tiers, with 221 in Risk Tier 1, the most dangerous, and 573 in Risk Tier 2. For security reasons, Homeland Security does not identify which facilities are in each tier.

A central controversy in congressional debate is the call for “inherently safer technology.” The Obama administration has supported proposals to give the government the authority to order a Tier 1 or Tier 2 facility to switch to safer chemicals, and to require that all high-risk facilities at least assess the consequences of such a change.

“These assessments may lead to changes in chemical process when deemed safer, more reliable, and cost-effective,” says the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, in a 2011 study.

The CRS study, however, acknowledges that the proposed IST rule is controversial.

“A fundamental challenge for inherently safer technologies is how to compare one technology with its potential replacement,” CRS reported. “It is challenging to unequivocally state that one technology is inherently safer than the other.”

A refinery that substitutes sulfuric acid for the more dangerous hydrogen fluoride, the CRS study notes, may have to employ so much acid that it raises “different dangers” for nearby communities.

A 2005 GAO report recognized the danger that terrorists could target readily available chemicals, like chlorine, causing a “catastrophic” event. “Exposures to chlorine could burn eyes and skin, inflame the lungs and could be deadly if inhaled,” the GAO reported.

But that report also noted the cost of switching to safer alternatives. Wastewater treatment plants can replace chlorine with sodium hypochlorite, the GAO said, but for each plant it would “increase annual chemical costs from $600,000 for gaseous chlorine to over $2 million for sodium hypochlorite.”

In some cases, the costs seem justified. On Sept. 11, 2001, a chain of railroad tanker cars filled with toxic chemicals, including chlorine, sat at a municipal wastewater treatment plant across the Potomac River from the Pentagon as it was attacked. At that time, the GAO noted, “the population within the plant’s vulnerable zone was 1.7 million people.”

Within weeks the plant stopped using chlorine and adopted a safer alternative.

Afghanistan is the main origin of drug trafficking

RIA Novosti

Valdai Discussion Club

Afghanistan is the main origin of drug trafficking

Drug trafficking
08:07 24/06/2010
Vyacheslav Belokrenitsky

By Vyacheslav Belokrenitsky, Deputy Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS)

It is perfectly clear that drugs now pose a serious threat to the world, and Afghanistan is the main origin of this threat.

Afghanistan is the global production center for opium poppy and opiates like heroin and hashish. There has been a significant rise in drug production since the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban in 2001. Illicit drug trafficking in Afghanistan has more than doubled since that time. Although drug production has declined after peaking in 2007, it remains high. Drug traffickers have been relying on the same channels during this entire time.

In order to stabilize the political situation in Afghanistan, the problem of drug trafficking in Afghanistan must be addressed, as most revenues from the drug trade go to the criminal organizations that undermine stability. They can only be defeated by well-organized, long-term and targeted efforts.

Drugs are a serious problem for many countries, particularly Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, where the number of drug addicts has grown to three million. In the last few years, their numbers have also grown in Central Asia, which has become a transit region for drugs destined for Russia. Afghan drugs are smuggled into Europe via Iran and Turkey.

Any strategy to counter the drug threat must involve two elements. The first is to destroy all poppy fields in the country and ensure that they will continue to be destroyed in the future. The second is to seize all drug shipments originating in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, there are caveats in both cases.

The destruction of crops would require an agricultural transformation in Afghanistan, where roughly three quarters of the population are farmers. Their livelihood largely depends on growing opium poppies. Therefore, eradicating poppy fields would deprive the larger part of the Afghans of a substantial portion of their income.

There are political restrictions as well. The mission of the U.S.-led NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan does not include destroying poppy fields. The fear is that destroying fields would anger the population and turn the south and south-east of Afghanistan into a citadel of resistance. The Americans show no interest in destroying poppy fields, and so the problem remains unresolved.

Of course, it would be preferable, especially for Russia, if measures were taken to help Afghan farmers transition away from opium toward food crops. This would at least give them an incentive to stop growing opium poppies. But efforts in this direction have been very slow and ineffective.

The second front in this struggle – stopping Afghan drug exports – requires international cooperation. The United Nations is working hard to reduce drug exports and to improve interdiction efforts outside Afghanistan. But this is not always enough. It is also necessary to improve border surveillance between Afghanistan and Central Asia (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan). From this point, drugs are then shipped to the Kazakh-Russian border. Border guards and all special services involved in the drug fight should step up their efforts on the border.

For Russia, Afghan drug trafficking is a grave problem, as Viktor Ivanov, head of the Committee on Illegal Drug Trafficking, has said recently. Russia needs and expects help from the West in the fight against this threat. At the recent Moscow international forum on combating the Afghan drug threat, President Dmitry Medvedev suggested developing joint measures toward this end.

Again, these plans should incorporate the UN’s experience, particularly that of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in which Russia plays a key role. The experience of such agencies will help improve the struggle against drug trafficking in each particular case. Currently the majority of countries seize only 15% of drugs at their borders. The groups with a stake in drug trafficking are simply stronger than the forces fighting against them. This is why efforts to counter the drug threat must be consolidated. The UNODC should formulate a common position that all countries (Russia, the United States and the European Union) can sign on to. It should work to coordinate and improve efforts to effectively combat drug trafficking.

Drug Trafficking in Afghanistan

Nicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

News about drug trafficking in Afghanistan, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.

Highlights From the Archives

Obstacle in Bid to Curb Afghan Trade in Narcotics
Obstacle in Bid to Curb Afghan Trade in Narcotics

Several NATO members say their laws do not permit soldiers to participate in efforts to stem the drug trade.

December 23, 2008worldNews
Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?
Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?

Drug-related corruption pervades the government in Afghanistan, a former U.S. counternarcotics official says.

July 27, 2008magazineNews
Poppy Fields Are Now a Front Line in Afghan War
Poppy Fields Are Now a Front Line in Afghan War

Until recently, U.S. officials admit, fighting drugs was considered a distraction from fighting terrorists.

May 16, 2007worldNews
In the Land of the Taliban
In the Land of the Taliban

A journey through the tribal borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where drug smuggling, anger at warlords and age-old resentments could be preparing the way for a restoration of the radicals.

October 22, 2006magazineNews
Afghan Route To Prosperity: Grow Poppies

Rahmatullah trudged toward his village with his donkey, as men across Afghanistan have done for centuries. But in this century, men in Jeeps and on motorbikes were passing him by. So this year Rahmatullah said he would join his neighbors in growing poppies to harvest Afghanistan's most lucrative cash crop, opium.

April 10, 2004worldNews
A War on Terror Meets a War on Drugs

From the first days of the war in Afghanistan, United States officials have pointed to a dangerous weapon in the desolate Afghan countryside: the poppy fields that have spread over thousands of acres in recent years, turning the nation into by far the largest source of opium and heroin in the world.

November 25, 2001weekinreviewNews
At Heroin's Source, Taliban Do What 'Just Say No' Could Not

In heroin's great heartland, the fields are empty of their most profitable plant. The ruling Taliban banned the growing of poppies as a sin against the teachings of Islam.

Dash for Profit in Post-War Libya Carve-Up


by Jerome Taylor, Kevin Rawlinson, Laurie Martin and Charlotte Allen

British businesses are scrambling to return to Libya in anticipation of the end to the country's civil war, but they are concerned that European and North American rivals are already stealing a march as a new race to turn a profit out of the war-torn nation begins.

In this Sept. 1, 2009, file photo, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi arrives for a military parade in Green Square, Tripoli, Libya. After five months of fighting in the world's 12th-largest oil producer, industry figures are acutely aware that billions could be made in the coming years from rebuilding Libya. Immediate focus will fall on the country's oil fields that are currently producing a 10th of the 1.6 million barrels a day that were exported pre-revolution. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File) Business leaders with previous experience of making deals in Libya have told The Independent that plans are in hand to send a trade mission to Benghazi to meet leaders of the Transitional National Council (TNC).

Lord Trefgarne, a Conservative peer and chair of the Libyan British Business Council, said he hoped to be able to lead a group to the country "by late September, early October". He said: "Any mission would be done in consultation with the TNC and would only be made if adequate security protections were in place. I believe we should be trying to make sure we can get whatever business we can."

After five months of fighting in the world's 12th-largest oil producer, industry figures are acutely aware that billions could be made in the coming years from rebuilding Libya. Immediate focus will fall on the country's oil fields that are currently producing a 10th of the 1.6 million barrels a day that were exported pre-revolution.

There is also intense lobbying for the multibillion-pound reconstruction contracts that are likely to be offered once fighting ends. The Independent conducted a straw poll of more than 20 Western companies with previous business commitments in Libya. None would talk publicly about its plans but many admitted privately that they were keen to return once security allowed.

"It is still too fluid a situation in Libya to be able to say exactly what we are doing," said one official at a company involved in reconstruction efforts in Iraq. "If business goes back to Libya, we will undoubtedly follow."

French and German officials have already begun trade negotiations with the TNC. Britain has a growing "diplomatic" mission within rebel-held Benghazi but no Trade and Investment officials on the ground, leading to concerns among some business leaders that Britain is failing to capitalize on helping the rebels secure regime change. "It's all politics, no commercial stuff," said one businessman with experience in Libya. "I think that's a mistake. We need to be getting down there as soon as possible."

In the years preceding February's revolution, British businesses played a key part in wooing Muammar Gaddafi – part of a wider campaign by Western intelligence agencies to roll back Libya's pariah status in exchange for investment opportunities and co-operation in the fight against violent Islamists.

Sir Mark Allen, a veteran Arabist and deputy head of MI6 who led negotiations with Colonel Gaddafi, was even hired by BP after his retirement to help to secure drilling rights. The oil giant is the only big British company to state publicly that it plans to return to Libya, but it has no technicians on the ground. The Italian energy giant ENI already has people working with rebels in eastern oil fields.

Although there were early concerns that the opposition forces might punish Britain for its previously favorable approaches to Colonel Gaddafi, TNC officials have indicated they will honor contracts made before the revolution.

Mike Pullen, a partner at DLA Piper and an adviser to the former regime, said there was still goodwill among opposition leaders because of the prominent role Britain had taken in NATO attacks on regime forces. "The TNC will want to deal with people they're used to dealing with, people they understand – and they understand the Brits."

Lord Trefgarne said he believed Britain would not be overshadowed by its competitors. "The success of the French and Italians inside Libya has been somewhat overstated," he said. "We've been dealing with competition from other countries all over the world for decades and I'm fully confident of our ability to do so in Libya."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dark Horizon for Verizon

Dark Horizon for Verizon

It was only a matter of time before the "pull down" NAFTA and WTO trade agreements on U.S. wages and jobs would be followed by "pull down" contract demands by U.S. corporations on their unionized workers toward levels of non-unionized laborers.

The most recent illustration of this three-decade reversal of nearly a century of American economic advances for employees is the numerous demands by Verizon

Here are just a few of the concessions the new Verizon CEO, Lowell McAdam, is insisting upon:
--More power to contract out and offshore jobs to add to the 25,000 already in that category; thereby undermining job security.
--a freeze on pensions;
--elimination of the sickness and death benefit program;
--reduction in sick days; and
--a major increase in employee contributions to and deductibles under their health insurance coverage.

Mr. Lowell McAdam would surely have trouble feeling the pain of his workers who brave the elements storm or shine to afford him a salary of over 1.5 million dollars PER MONTH plus perks and benefits.

Watching Verizon profits soar year after year, noticing Verizon stock rise faster than its competitors, knowing that the company's top five executives took in over $250 million between them in the last four years, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) took their members on strike on August 7, 2011. "Unfair and unacceptable" was their cry on the picket lines up and down the east coast.

These workers pay their taxes. While the tax lawyers for their bosses have figured out how to turn Verizon into a vast tax escapee. According to the super-accurate Citizens for Tax Justice, Verizon Communications made a total of $32.5 billion dollars in pretax U.S. profits during 2008, 2009, 2010. Far from paying the maximum federal corporate income tax rate of 35 percent on these ample profits, Verizon's federal income tax was negative $951 million or negative 2.9 percent!

Some of these saved tax revenues have been getting into expensive daily full page advertisements (not deductible it is hoped) in the Washington Post, The New York Times, and other large newspapers. Verizon's brazen assertions reflect the limitless arrogance of a multinational behemoth.

Verizon's headlines its ad with these words: "They claim we're asking union-represented employees to contribute to their own health care premiums. THEY'RE RIGHT. Verizon is proposing that its union-represented employees contribute more toward the cost of rising health care. 135,000 non-union Verizon employees already pay a portion of the healthcare premium. We're just asking our union -represented employees to chip in like everybody else. We think that's fair."

There you have it - the "pull down" ultimatum to the level of the voiceless majority of Verizon workers. Of course Verizon bosses with their fat paychecks do not have to worry at all about co-payments and larger deductibles in their gold-plated health plan.

Another anti-union Verizon ad featured this assertion: "They claim we want to strip away 50 years of contract negotiations. THEY'RE RIGHT. The union contracts that have expired were drafted over 50 years ago, when people still used rotary phones. Verizon is proposing to update the contracts in a reasonable manner to reflect the changing times."

The CWA leaders recognize that some changes need to be made and have offered compromises. But fifty years ago, a telephone company CEO never dared pay himself anywhere near the multiple that today's Verizon executives get compared to the average workers. Maybe then the CEO would get 20 times the entry level wage. Now it is between two hundred to four hundred times.

Verizon does have one last argument. At the bottom of each full-page ad, it describes exacting concessions from its workers as "all in an effort to best position Verizon to serve our customers." Are those the same customers who are subject to all kinds of extremely one-sided fine print that spells suppression of rights, overcharges, termination fees, penalties and other straitjackets of contract serfdom? Are those the same customers who have to wait and wait to get their service and billing complaints addressed and questions answered? Are those the same customers who can never get Verizon to put what its spokespersons say on the phone in writing?

The CWA workers went back to their jobs on August 22, 2011. Verizon had threatened to cut off their medical, dental and optical benefits by August 31.Their 2008 contract continues until ongoing negotiations with the company are concluded for a new contract.

Verizon keeps saying that what they're doing just "reflects the changing times." The times are changing - skyrocketing executive pay packages and corporate profits - slashing benefits for the workers and their families - shredding of all moral authority by example from the top.

If negotiations break down in the coming weeks and the CWA goes out on strike again, consumer advocates and their organizations should make it explicitly clear that Verizon can't excuse what they're doing to workers in order to better "serve our customers."

Verizon is going increasingly wireless. They are also going increasingly shameless!

Monday, August 22, 2011

New Leaks Reveal Insider Tips on S&P’s U.S. Credit Downgrade to Killer-Drone Firm

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

New Leaks Reveal Insider Tips on S&P’s U.S. Credit Downgrade to Killer-Drone Firm

We live in an age where insider deals, conflicts of interest, revolving doors between “regulators” and the “regulated” (lubricated with oceans of cash) accompanies the generalized looting of social wealth by deviant capitalist elites.

That such behavior by our corporate masters no longer raises an eyebrow, let alone elicit action by authorities charged with stopping criminal miscreants destroying other people’s lives, is an unmistakable sign that the much-vaunted “free market” system, staring into an abyss of its own creation, has entered a terminal phase.

It now appears that insiders at Standard and Poor’s or the Treasury Department, take your pick, may have leaked information to privileged clients on the recent U.S. credit downgrade, with confirmation coming from a surprising source.

Last week, AntiSec cyber-guerrillas (a loose alliance amongst individuals affiliated with LulzSec and Anonymous) released a 1GB cache of emails filched from security contractor Vanguard Defense Industries (VDI).

Previously Anonymous and LulzSec have wrapped their keyboards around defense grifters Booz Allen Hamilton, ManTech International, NATO, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, InfraGard (a “public-private” security alliance amongst corporate heavy-hitters and the Bureau), the CIA, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (a so-called “fusion center” staffed by cops, federal agents, private contractors and the U.S. military), the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency (BART), Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, PBS, Fox News, and repressive governments such as Egypt, Tunisia and Zimbabwe.

Their latest campaign targeted VDI, a Texas-based firm, which specializes in the “development and deployment” of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS, killer drones). VDI “draws on specialized experience of senior aerospace engineers, former military special operations officers, military instructor pilots as well as retired Senior Executive Service Federal Agents,” claiming their “background and operational knowledge has afforded us the unique vision to provide a platform that will extend the security and response capabilities of any organization,” according to a blurb on their web site.

While VDI touts their ability to offer “support” to the “military, local, state and federal law enforcement as well as the private sector,” the firm also offers “a full scope of consulting services independent of our aerial technology.”

That “unique vision”, however, didn’t prevent AntiSec from spiriting away thousands of emails from VDI’s Senior Vice President Richard T. Garcia, a former FBI Assistant Director in Los Angeles who recently left a well-paid position as Global Security Manager for the environment-killing Shell Oil Corporation (can you say Niger Delta?) for “greener” pastures.

A press statement from AntiSec announced that the leak “contains internal meeting notes and contracts, schematics, non-disclosure agreements, personal information about other VDI employees, and several dozen ‘counter-terrorism’ documents classified as ‘law enforcement sensitive’ and ‘for official use only’.”

“Vanguard Defense Industries,” AntiSec writes, “manufactures unmanned ‘ShadowHawk’ drones which cost $640,000 and are equipped with grenade launchers and shotguns. ShadowHawks are currently in use by law enforcement, military, and private corporations deploying them in the US, the Horn of Africa, Panama, Columbia [sic], and US-Mexico border patrol operations. These emails contain contracts, schematics, non-disclosure agreements, and more. Additionally we found evidence of a Merrill Lynch wealth management advisor giving private advance notice to Garcia about upcoming S&P US credit rating downgrades.”

Improper Disclosures

In an April 25, 2011 email from Garcia to Gloria Newport, Cindy Cook, a Wealth Management Advisor with Bank of America-owned Merrill Lynch “advised that Standard and Poors, may lower the credit rating of the US Government which could cause a run on US Banks that will affect the Federal Reserve. They give the US Govt. 2 years to correct the current situation, which they believe both the Republican and Democratic solutions do not do enough and both parties may make this a political situation for the 2012 Presidential election and never come up with a answer to correct the situation within the two years set by Standard and Poors. She did not see any real Cyber issue that could change the situation.”

Investigative journalist Steve Ragan, writing at The Tech Herald (the publication that broke the story on Anonymous’s HBGary hack) informs us that “the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating whether there was any sort of insider trading done by S&P employees before the downgrade was official. The story hinged on comments made to the paper by sources close to the investigation itself.”

“On the day S&P cut the U.S.’s credit rating” Ragan writes, “Wall Street was flooded with downgrade rumors. These rumors started earlier in the day while trading was active. It turned out they were true.”

According to Bloomberg News the SEC “is scrutinizing the method Standard & Poor’s used to cut the U.S.’s credit rating and whether the firm properly protected the confidential decision, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.”

Reporter Joshua Gallu wrote August 14 that SEC staff are “looking into whether certain market participants learned of the downgrade before its announcement.”

Downplaying speculation that S&P employees may have breached SEC rules by leaking sensitive information to privileged clients, The New York Times, as is their wont, claimed “it is arguable whether S.&P.’s announcement on Aug. 5 of the rating change was all that confidential, given the speculation about it.”

“Assuming information about the downgrade was confidential,” the Times pontificates, “it must also be material, which means a reasonable investor would consider it important. This seems to be an easy element to establish because the wild gyrations in the market on the first trading day after the downgrade shows how investors viewed it.”

But Cook’s email to Garcia didn’t arrive in his in-box “on the first trading day after the downgrade” but nearly four months earlier, long before July’s political shenanigans over raising the federal debt ceiling, the ostensible reason why S&P downgraded America’s credit worthiness.

Maxine Waters (D-CA), wrote to SEC chairwoman, cover-up specialist Mary Schapiro, demanding that the commission “conduct an investigation into whether S.&P. selectively disclosed information related to the U.S. government debt downgrade to any financial institutions, and whether any institutions that had that nonpublic information traded on that information prior to the official announcement.”

It appears that Cook’s email to Garcia would confirm that S&P insiders did just that, providing information to Merrill Lynch and one can assume other financial firms.

Throwing cold water on charges that the rating’s agency acted improperly, the Times argues that “even if if the S.E.C. finds that the information was improperly disclosed, proving insider trading will be difficult.”

Why might that be?

According to the Times, “while S.&P. and other credit rating agencies are required to adopt policies to prevent such disclosure, it is questionable whether just leaking information violates any federal regulations, even if it breaches a corporate confidentiality policy.”

Lest readers believe, however, that the SEC will mount a comprehensive investigation of leaks by S&P insiders, they would do well to read Matt Taibbi’s latest piece for Rolling Stone.

According to congressional testimony by an SEC whistleblower, which sparked an investigation by that agency’s Inspector General, the commission’s enforcement division, under orders from higher-ups, who went on to secure well-paid positions with the firms they were charged to regulate, shredded a mountain of incriminating evidence detailing wrongdoing by some of the world’s top financial firms.

How many files, called “Matters Under Investigation” or MUI were destroyed? According to whistleblower Darcy Flynn, the SEC’s enforcement division “disappeared” some 18,000 files, including those of convicted fraudster Bernie Madoff, accused swindler, suspected CIA banker and drug money launderer R. Allen Stanford, as well as accusations that top-tier Wall Street investment banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase had engaged in insider trading.

Taibbi writes that “under a deal the SEC worked out with the National Archives and Records Administration, all of the agency’s records–’including case files relating to preliminary investigations’–are supposed to be maintained for at least 25 years. But the SEC, using history-altering practices that for once actually deserve the overused and usually hysterical term ‘Orwellian,’ devised an elaborate and possibly illegal system under which staffers were directed to dispose of the documents from any preliminary inquiry that did not receive approval from senior staff to become a full-blown, formal investigation.”

It’s a nice deal if you can get it, which, of course, firms like Goldman Sachs, J. P. Morgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, AIG and Lehman Brothers (before their 2008 collapse) managed to get in spades.

“We’ll never know,” Taibbi avers, “what the impact of those destroyed cases might have been; we’ll never know if those cases were closed for good reasons or bad. We’ll never know exactly who got away with what, because federal regulators have weighted down a huge sack of Wall Street’s dirty laundry and dumped it in a lake, never to be seen again.”

In this light, AntiSec’s hack of VDI is instructive. If for nothing else, it demonstrates that well-connected insiders reap billions from the collapse of the global economy, divvying-up the spoils amongst privileged friends and clients, including those inhabiting the nethermost regions of the secret state.

Cyberwar: Bringing it All Back Home, and Waging War on the Global Economy

As global elites scramble to seize as much advantage as possible over their rivals as the economy craters, intelligence methods deployed as part of imperialism’s endless “War on Terror” have migrated with a vengeance onto Wall Street.

Revelations by Anonymous earlier this year that a passel of Pentagon-linked security contractors had joined forces to run covert ops on whistleblowers and journalists set alarm bells ringing.

February’s release of some 75,000 emails filched from servers controlled by security grifters HBGary Federal and HBGary, uncovered a sordid scheme by the Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to target supporters of WikiLeaks and left-wing corporate critics.

That hack, in addition to exposing BofA’s illicit “Team Themis” gambit, a co-production of white shoe law firm Hunton & Williams, HBGary Federal, HBGary, Palantir Technologies (a recipient of CIA slush funds from its venture capital arm In-Q-Tel) and Berico Technologies, also revealed that the Pentagon and giant defense contractors such as General Dynamics had teamed up with HBGary to develop undetectable malware or “rootkits” for America’s emerging Cyberwar-Intelligence Complex, according to a series of documents published by the secrecy-shredding web site Public Intelligence.

Additional files revealed that HBGary and ManTech International had partnered-up with the National Security State for what they described as “Internet Based Reconnaissance Operations” that use “non-attributable internet access” methodologies (approved hacking by the secret state) for “operating system and network application identification,” “identification of possible perimeter defense” for “intelligence gap fill” and “counterintelligence research.” In other words, broad based internet spying on an array of “adversaries” (e.g., political dissidents, antiwar activists, anticorporate campaigners and other enemies of the state).

Further research by Project PM’s OpMetalGear revealed that defense giant Northrop Grumman and other firms such as HBGary Federal, TASC and ManTech International were engaged in a bidding war to spear the Pentagon’s Romas/COIN program (since renamed Odyssey).

That program, researcher Barrett Brown writes, is “a secretive and immensely sophisticated campaign of mass surveillance and data mining against the Arab world, allowing the intelligence community to monitor the habits, conversations, and activity of millions of individuals at once.” (For additional background see: “Security Grifters Partner-Up on Sinister Cyber-Surveillance Project,” Antifascist Calling, July 3, 2011)

We can assume that once intelligence sources and methods intended to target external enemies are turned inward and attack the American people, financial insiders too, would find such tools an exemplary means to crush their competitors and adversaries, the global working class.

Bankrupting and Criminalizing the State

“Economic warfare,” economist and researcher Michel Chossudovsky, writing in The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century, “consists in destabilizing countries and impoverishing their respective populations.”

Chossudovsky argues that “the manipulation of market forces through the imposition of strong ‘economic medicine’ under the helm of the IMF supports U.S.-NATO strategic and geopolitical objectives.”

Similarly,” Chossudovsky observes, “the speculative attacks waged by powerful banking conglomerates in the currency, commodity and stock markets are acts of financial warfare,” one in which the “financing of an oversized U.S. war economy triggers imbalances in the U.S. monetary system, destabilizes the U.S. fiscal structure and creates imbalances in the allocation of human and material resources.”

This tragedy is playing out today. The on-going market meltdown in the wake of the U.S. credit downgrade and the crisis in the Eurozone has affected tens of millions of workers who saw their retirement funds gobbled up by speculators. Additionally, states and municipalities “carrying debt tied to federal creditworthiness,” The Tech Herald avers, “each took a hit.”

Hard hit cities and states struggling under an enormous debt burden due to falling revenues, are held hostage by the credit rating agencies. As economist Michael Hudson points out in Global Research credit rating agencies such as Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch “are playing the political role of ‘enforcer’ as the gatekeepers to credit, to put pressure on Iceland, Greece and even the United States to pursue creditor-oriented policies that lead inevitably to financial crises.”

Hudson writes that these “crises in turn force debtor governments to sell off their assets under distress conditions. In pursuing this guard-dog service to the world’s bankers, the ratings agencies are escalating a political strategy they have long been refined over a generation in the corrupt arena of local U.S. politics.”

As the World Socialist Web Site observes, “the crisis of the world’s stock exchanges and financial markets is increasingly spiraling out of control. Governments are being driven by developments which they are unable to influence.”

Socialist critic Peter Schwarz notes that “the panic on the stock markets shows that traders are expecting a deep recession, already heralded by stagnating growth and rising unemployment rates,” and that “corporations will respond with new waves of layoffs, governments with further budget cuts.”

In a climate stoked by fear, war and those all-purpose boogeymen, “debt,” “terror” and now, “cyberwar,” the cost of bailing-out a looted capitalist economy are shouldered by the working class. These pressures in turn increase the downward spiral as employment, wages, manufacturing and consumer spending go into a tail-spin, a self-destructive feed-back loop that further exacerbates levels of unemployment, home foreclosures and generalized misery. The tentacles of this manufactured “debt crisis” reach everywhere–from the smallest town to the largest city.

Hudson avers that “localities are pressured when their rising debt levels lead to a financial stringency. Banks pull back their credit lines, and urge cities and states to pay down their debts by selling off their most viable public enterprises.”

And waiting in the wings are a new class of corporate vultures and rentier vampires who swoop down to reap the rewards gleaned by gobbling-up (looting) public assets at fire sale prices.

The rating agencies who profit at both ends of any transaction according to Hudson, “offer opinions” that have become a “big business” for the agencies. “So it is understandable why their business model opposes policies–and political candidates–that support the idea of basing public financing on taxation rather than by borrowing. This self-interest colors their ‘opinions’.”

Accordingly, “to acquiescence in such economically destructive financial behavior is the opposite of fiscal responsibility. Cutting federal taxes and Social Security payments to obtain a more positive S&P ‘opinion,” Hudson writes, “would give banks an ability to ‘pull the plug’ and force privatization and anti-labor austerity plans by refraining from rolling over the U.S. debt–and cutting taxes Tea-Party style rather than funding spending by taxation on a pay-as-you-go-basis.”

In this light, one can certainly understand why a Merrill Lynch “wealth management advisor” would offer her “knowledgeable judgement” (clubby insider info) to a dodgy security outfit such as VDI.

Working classes across Europe have not “gone gently into the night” of impoverishment; the great fear here in the heimat amongst corporatists and militarists alike, is that once working people realize the game is up they just might impose some “shock therapy” of their own!

As Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald (a target of “Team Themis’s” dirty tricks campaign) avers, speaking out about “the sprawling Surveillance State and the attempted criminalization of WikiLeaks and whistleblowing are so vital” to the defense of democracy.

“The free flow of information and communications enabled by new technologies–as protest movements in the Middle East and a wave of serious leaks over the last year have demonstrated–is a uniquely potent weapon in challenging entrenched government power and other powerful factions,” Greenwald writes.

“And that is precisely why those in power–those devoted to preservation of the prevailing social order–are so increasingly fixated on seizing control of it and snuffing out its potential for subverting that order: they are well aware of, and are petrified by, its power, and want to ensure that the ability to dictate how it is used, and toward what ends, remains exclusively in their hands.”

This is why actions by disparate groups such as AntiSec, Anonymous and WikiLeaks are informational beacons in an otherwise homogenized media landscape, one characterized by celebrity gossip, sex scandals and “crimes” carried out by poor and marginalized populations–never the filthy rich or the warmongers who murder millions as they launch resource wars that steal other people’s social property.

While firms such as VDI, Boeing, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin hawk drone technologies that transform human beings into red mist, and do so as their “patriotic” (and highly-profitable) duty as the Pentagon wholeheartedly embraces hypermodern forms of robotized mass murder, the bill for American hubris, long past due, is coming faster than most people think.

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shiny Happy Corporate People

Campaign for America's Future

Shiny Happy Corporate People

Richard Eskow's picture