Understanding the Method to their Madness

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"We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population... Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security."
-- George F. Kennan, US State Dept, 1948

The End Of Civilization
By Dave Eriqat
13 March, 2006

I had a mild epiphany the other day: it’s not President Bush who’s living in a fantasy world, it’s most of his critics who are. I’m no apologist for Bush – I neither like nor dislike him. He’s no more significant to me than a fly buzzing around outside my window. So permit me to explain my reasoning.

People look at Bush’s invasion of Iraq and see a miserable failure. But a failure to do what? Democratize Iraq? Eliminate Iraq’s WMD arsenal? Reduce global terrorism? If those were, in fact, the reasons for invading Iraq, then the invasion would have to be classified as a failure. But what if the real reason was to secure Iraq’s oil supplies, perhaps not for immediate use, and perhaps not even for use by the United States? Then the invasion of Iraq would have to be judged a success, a “mission accomplished,” so to speak. ...

... if one knows that he is not going to have to pay back his debts tomorrow, then why not borrow money like crazy today? In fact, if civilization is coming to an end, then why not use all that borrowed money to stock up on guns and vital resources, such as oil? ...

So how would you, the government, prepare for a future world in which commodities are king? By securing today as many of those commodities as possible. Hence, the U.S. government’s binge of military base building throughout the commodity-rich regions of the world. What would you not worry about? Money. The only concern you might have for money is to prevent its premature demise. Hence, the smoke and mirrors used to paint a pretty but false portrait of the economy. Some will argue that the government needs more than just energy, food, and water to survive. True, but by controlling the bulk of the world’s key commodities, everything else can be procured, including human labor and loyalty.

In preparing for the future demise of civilization you would also seek to increase the government’s power as much and as rapidly as possible. Why? To maintain control over those increasingly precious resources, and equally important, to control people – especially your own people – by force, if necessary. Viewed in this light, the government’s aggressive pursuit of power during the last five years makes perfect sense. ....

The one thing that has enabled the human population to grow to the immense dimensions we see today is oil, the resource facing the greatest challenge from depletion. As the oil supply diminishes, in the absence of herculean efforts to use oil more efficiently and fairly, large numbers of human beings will die off. Before then, soaring prices for oil will probably destroy the economies of the countries most dependent on the stuff, if not the entire intricately linked world economy. This is what I mean by the end of civilization. Of course life will go on. But it won’t be anything like what we’ve been accustomed to. Life will be more like that of the Middle Ages, in which a few wealthy lords controlled all the resources and possessed all the power, and the rest of the people – the lucky ones, anyway – were veritable slaves under these lords. In many ways that state of affairs exists today, but it’s unseen by all but the most observant individuals. The future I’m talking about, though, is considerably more spartan than what the worker bees enjoy today.

I believe that what we’re witnessing today is the inception of a titanic and protracted competition for survival: between countries, between civilizations, between governments and their people. Moreover, I believe the Bush administration is the first to recognize this competitive future, which explains its fundamentally different – seemingly feckless – behavior compared to past administrations. Bush’s favored courtiers, which include corporations, are profiting today and will become the new nobility in the coming New Middle Ages. ....

The goal of this essay is not to propose solutions to the many problems facing us, although there are solutions, but to explain the seemingly irrational behavior we see around the world. Viewing the world today in light of the foregoing essay, Bush’s actions are understandable, even though I don’t endorse them: the competitive pursuit of resources, the rolling back of civil liberties, the carefree handling of the economy.

Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein is an excellent book, but I couldn't find any discussion of Peak Oil in it. Letting the ecological disasters happen because the solutions are decentralized (and don't promote capitalist greed) is the ultimate in "Disaster Capitalism." However, since Peak Oil and overshoot are largely taboo topics on the "left" I guess it is understandable that it's not a focus of a book on how the wealthiest of the elite manipulate tragedy for their benefit.

There is a method to their madness, and the fact that some elite planners have known about Peak Oil and Climate Change for decades is at the core of understanding the crisis.


December 21, 2007
by Huffington Post
The Shock Doctrine in Action in New Orleans
by Naomi Klein

Readers of The Shock Doctrine know that one of the most shameless examples of disaster capitalism has been the attempt to exploit the disastrous flooding of New Orleans to close down that city’s public housing projects, some of the only affordable units in the city. Most of the buildings sustained minimal flood damage, but they happen to occupy valuable land that make for perfect condo developments and hotels.

The final showdown over New Orleans public housing is playing out in dramatic fashion right now. The conflict is a classic example of the “triple shock” formula at the core of the doctrine.

First came the shock of the original disaster: the flood and the traumatic evacuation.

Next came the “economic shock therapy”: using the window of opportunity opened up by the first shock to push through a rapid-fire attack on the city’s public services and spaces, most notably it’s homes, schools and hospitals.

Now we see that as residents of New Orleans try to resist these attacks, they are being met with a third shock: the shock of the police baton and the Taser gun, used on the bodies of protestors outside New Orleans City Hall yesterday.

Democracy Now! has been covering this fight all week, with amazing reports from filmmakers Jacquie Soohen and Rick Rowley (Rick was arrested in the crackdown).

Watch residents react to the bulldozing of their homes here.

And footage from yesterday’s police crackdown and Tasering of protestors inside and outside city hall here.

That last segment contains a terrific interview with Kali Akuno, executive director of the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. Akuno puts the demolitions in the big picture, telling Amy Goodman:

This is just one particular piece of this whole program. Public hospitals are also being shut down and set to be demolished and destroyed in New Orleans. And they’ve systematically dismantled the public education system and beginning demolition on many of the schools in New Orleans–that’s on the agenda right now–and trying to totally turn that system over to a charter and a voucher system, to privatize and just really go forward with a major experiment, which was initially laid out by the Heritage Foundation and other neoconservative think tanks shortly after the storm. So this is just really the fulfillment of this program.

Akuno is referring to the Heritage Foundation’s infamous post-Katrina meeting with the Republican Study Group in which participants laid out their plans to turn New Orleans into a Petri dish for every policy they can’t ram through without a disaster. Read the minutes on my website.

For more context, here are couple of related excerpts from The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism:

The news racing around the shelter [in Baton Rouge] that day was that Richard Baker, a prominent Republican Congressman from this city, had told a group of lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans’ wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: “I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities.” All that week the Louisiana State Legislature in Baton Rouge had been crawling with corporate lobbyists helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and a “smaller, safer city”–which in practice meant plans to level the public housing projects and replace them with condos. Hearing all the talk of “fresh starts” and “clean sheets,” you could almost forget the toxic stew of rubble, chemical outflows and human remains just a few miles down the highway.

Over at the shelter, Jamar Perry, a young resident of New Orleans, could think of nothing else. “I really don’t see it as cleaning up the city. What I see is that a lot of people got killed uptown. People who shouldn’t have died.” He was speaking quietly, but an older man in line in front of us in the food line overheard and whipped around. “What is wrong with these people in Baton Rouge? This isn’t an opportunity. It’s a goddamned tragedy. Are they blind?”

A mother with two kids chimed in. “No, they’re not blind, they’re evil. They see just fine.”

At first I thought the Green Zone phenomenon was unique to the war in Iraq. Now, after years spent in other disaster zones, I realize that the Green Zone emerges everywhere that the disaster capitalism complex descends, with the same stark partitions between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned.

It happened in New Orleans. After the flood, an already divided city turned into a battleground between gated green zones and raging red zones–the result not of water damage but of the “free-market solutions” embraced by the president. The Bush administration refused to allow emergency funds to pay public sector salaries, and the City of New Orleans, which lost its tax base, had to fire three thousand workers in the months after Katrina. Among them were sixteen of the city’s planning staff–with shades of “de Baathification,” laid off at the precise moment when New Orleans was in desperate need of planners. Instead, millions of public dollars went to outside consultants, many of whom were powerful real estate developers. And of course thousands of teachers were also fired, paving the way for the conversion of dozens of public schools into charter schools, just as Friedman had called for.

Almost two years after the storm, Charity Hospital was still closed. The court system was barely functioning, and the privatized electricity company, Entergy, had failed to get the whole city back online. After threatening to raise rates dramatically, the company managed to extract a controversial $200 million bailout from the federal government. The public transit system was gutted and lost almost half its workers. The vast majority of publicly owned housing projects stood boarded up and empty, with five thousand units slotted for demolition by the federal housing authority. Much as the tourism lobby in Asia had longed to be rid of the beachfront fishing villages, New Orleans’ powerful tourism lobby had been eyeing the housing projects, several of them on prime land close to the French Quarter, the city’s tourism magnet.

Endesha Juakali helped set up a protest camp outside one of the boarded-up projects, St. Bernard Public Housing, explaining that “they’ve had an agenda for St. Bernard a long time, but as long as people lived here, they couldn’t do it. So they used the disaster as a way of cleansing the neighbourhood when the neighbourhood is weakest. … This is a great location for bigger houses and condos. The only problem is you got all these poor black people sitting on it!”

Amid the schools, the homes, the hospitals, the transit system and the lack of clean water in many parts of town, New Orleans’ public sphere was not being rebuilt, it was being erased, with the storm used as the excuse. At an earlier stage of capitalist “creative destruction,” large swaths of the United States lost their manufacturing bases and degenerated into rust belts of shuttered factories and neglected neighbourhoods. Post-Katrina New Orleans may be providing the first Western-world image of a new kind of wasted urban landscape: the mould belt, destroyed by the deadly combination of weathered public infrastructure and extreme weather.

Since the publication of The Shock Doctrine, my research team has been putting dozens of original source documents online for readers to explore subjects in greater depth. The resource page on New Orleans has some real gems.

Naomi Klein is the author of many books, including her most recent, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which will be published in September.Visit Naomi’s website at www.naomiklein.org, or to learn more about her new book, visit www.shockdoctrine.com


Desperado Days

Alternative Press Review
Posted by: APR on Dec 20, 2004


Desperado Days
by Zbignew Zingh

Occasionally, we need to step back from the facile criticism of the Bush Administration and think deeper about why it does what it does. It is fun to merely label it insane and delusional and idiotic, for Mr. Bush, in particular, deserves most of those labels.

However, many of us believe that Mr. Bush is just the figurehead for a larger Design and Policy, and he, himself, has acknowledged as much. The “others” responsible for the administration's actions could, too, be idiotic and delusional, but they may not be insane.

We must acknowledge that it is very dangerous not to understand what drives our adversary.

Apart from pure avarice and ego, the actions of the Bush Administration have the appearance of incredible desperateness. It is that desperateness – their desperado-like, passionate, furious recklessness – which must cause us to ask, does the Bush Administration know something that we do not know? What do they know that makes them act like desperadoes?

Perhaps the better question is, do we know anything that the Bush Administration does not know?

Separating, for the moment, "knowledge" from the will or reason to act on that knowledge, we must assume that everything that is known to those of us outside the corridors of power is equally known to them inside the corridors of power. Logically, we should also assume (based on their access to money, sources and data that we cannot ever have) that those who walk the corridors of power have available to them more information than we can ever hope to have.

If, as Shakespeare wrote, the world is a stage, then we sit in a darkened theater watching a dimly lit performance where, at best, we see the silhouettes of the actors brushing against the curtain. Those in the Administration, however, act on the other side of the curtain. They can clearly see the unfolding drama that we can only guess at.

So what do we know about our world and the Administration's way of dealing with it?

We know about global warming. The world's climate is changing. It seems as though everyone everywhere knows that except for the Bush Administration. Remember our basic hypothesis, however: anything we know must be known to them, too. They may not act on that knowledge, but it must be known to them.

Thus, when the Bush Administration refuses to abide by the Kyoto Protocol regarding the reduction of greenhouse gases, it is not because it does not know about the problem, it is because it will not engage in a cooperative solution to the problem.

In fact, the Pentagon has already recognized the dire consequences of the inevitable global climate changes that we mostly recognize as "real." The Pentagon's own analysis predicts successions of world-wide dust-bowls, crop failures, killer heat waves, dessication of fertile lands, powerful and destructive storms, and huge population migrations like in centuries ago. You need only remember news stories of recent vintage to recognize that all this is already underway.

Does the Bush Administration not understand this? Why does it consistently tell the American people and the world that global climate change is a fiction?

Chances are, George Bush may not understand, but the designers and implementers of his Administration certainly do. They may not want to participate in a cooperative effort to ameliorate global warming either because they believe the effort is futile or, more likely, because they want to go it alone and garner unto themselves all the resources they can before the collapse occurs.

They may not want to tell the truth to the American people. What would we do if the government did tell us the truth about global warming and its consequences? We might conserve more and we might strive to avert the dagger by turning to alternative energy sources. Or, we might acknowledge that nothing can now be done and society may dissolve into a Hobbesian state of disorder. Neither scenario would be good for certain powerful interests.

What else do we know that the Administration seems not to understand? Peak oil.

Peak oil does not mean that we are running out of oil, but that a peak in world oil production will occur. Once we pass the peak, there will be less oil produced every year. In addition, it will take increasing amounts of energy we have already extracted to get at the oil that remains in the ground. Eventually, we will arrive at the point when it will take more energy to extract the oil than what we will get from the oil itself. Even at that point, there will still be plenty of oil in the ground, but it will no longer be worth our while to pump it out. By most predictions, we are either “there” already or that we will “peak” very soon. The major dissenters, curiously, are the United States Geological Service and the Administration's spokesmen like Alan Greenspan. In the face of current manifestations of lack of spare capacity, they maintain the cheeriest of outlooks about future oil production.

We are indubitably a hydrocarbon dependent civilization. Everything requires cheap oil or natural gas: pesticides, fertilizers, cars, trucks, buses, trains, heat, light, medicine, refrigeration, air travel, manufacturing, schools, social services, computers, construction ...and destruction. The military lives or dies by the availability of cheap oil. Its planes and ships and tanks and trucks cannot function without it.

The price of oil is high today. It might drop tomorrow. Regardless how its price fluctuates, its range is substantially higher than it was only a year ago. “Cheap” petroleum is gone. The proof lies not in what the Saudis say about their intention to pump out more oil in the future; the proof lies in the energy futures traders' disbelief in what the Saudis say. What the Saudis seem to be pumping more of is the dregs of their oil fields, the heavy, high-sulfur stuff that is too expensive to refine and useless for most commercial purposes.

The proof of the problem lies not only in the high price of oil, but in its price volatility. A gas pipeline sabotaged here, a hurricane there, a strike in Nigeria, an election in Venezuela, a cold snap in New England, a Russian tax claim on an energy company. All of these things, and more to come, cause the price of oil to gyrate wildly, and those gyrations give the economy vertigo.

Does the Bush Administration know this? Of course it does.

All wars, in one sense or another, have been resource wars. The current Fourth World War is one fought for control of the world's diminishing resources. Whereas in the past, more “liberal” American administrations sought to control those scarce resources through “diplomacy” (i.e., bribery, economic coercion, political or religious proselytism, culture control and “allied” military “police actions”), the current Administration is acting more desperately because these are desperate days.

Thus, as the world's climate warms and radically changes, as our cheap energy becomes scarce and dear, the Administration that truly does know all this has skipped the niceties of silk-gloved diplomacy and just grabbed what it needs to survive while it still has the military might to do so. Thus, Iraq, Afghanistan, and soon Iran and Venezuela. Thus, this Administration will continue to act like desperadoes.

Lest we be naive, other ruling classes in other societies in Europe and in Asia recognize the same desperate situation as does the Bush Administration. Equally desperate, aggressive and apparently insane behavior by Israel, Britain and Italy seems also to be motivated by the same knowledge that we, and the Bush Administration, share. Times are bad and they are getting worse: damn the public opinion polls, it's every elite for itself.

And if some nations appear to act more diplomatically than militarily, it may be because they lack the weapons and the soldiers to do otherwise. Regardless whether they voted to oppose the Iraq War, for example, countries around the world now line up like carrion vultures to pick the carcass clean. They may disapprove of the United States and its gang of desperadoes, but they are not beneath eating the table scraps we leave behind. They, too, probably know what the Bush Administration knows, only they are less able to act on their desperation.

What else do we know?

We know that the American economy is shaky. The dollar has lost 30% of its value in the last 2 years, despite massive intervention on the part of the Japanese central banks. Although the economic spinmeisters declare that a weaker dollar is good because it will increase exports, the reality is that America manufactures little that other nations need or would want to buy, except for sophisticated weapons. This country's wealth has become “financial” – we make 'digits' which we give to other nations in return for their oil, gas and manufactured goods. Our profligate ways have been paid for with deficits funded by foreign private and central bank investment in American treasury debt, to the tune of about $2 Billion per day. But foreign investors, banks and governments may not want to continue investing in the dollar if its value keeps falling like a rock. But they are already invested up to their eyeballs in it. The collapse of the world's reserve currency will wipe out their investment, and will surely plunge the whole world into depression. It's a game of chicken.

Remember that money has no inherent value. Gold's persistent value in the past was derived from convention and its relative scarcity and durability. If it was neither scarce nor durable, and if the convention changed, then gold would be no more desirable than other commodities.

When the dollar was unmoored from gold with the abolition of the gold standard, its value was de facto measured relative to petroleum. After the oil embargo of 1973, the United States and OPEC entered into a long-standing agreement that mandates that the world trade for oil with dollars. The gold-backed dollar became the petroleum backed dollar, or the Petrodollar.

As world oil production passes its peak and begins a descent, along with increasing demand, its value must be recognized to be increasing relative to other resources and commodities. In other words, it would take more dollars to buy a barrel of the stuff. Just like it would cost more Gold Dollars to buy an ounce of gold when gold becomes scarcer, or the demand for gold increases. The United States is unique among nations as the sole issuer of the computer digits denominated as Dollars. By a click of the keyboard or mouse, it can create whatever it takes to purchase what it wants, the petroleum. Eventually, this fiat money shows up as inflation in the prices of everyday life, such as food, gasoline, medicine, housing, stocks. You start to feel the hurt because you cannot bring these magical digits to life just by the stroke of your keyboard or mouse. You have to eat, drive, be healthy, warm, and invest for your future. Your wages, i.e., the price of your labor, will be the last to rise – because the system has been so designed.

The Dollar depends on the price of oil. The economy depends on the the Dollar, and everything is upheld by the military.

What else do we know?

The food chain is contaminated. Man-made carcinogens are found everywhere, in the soil, in mother's milk, in our fish. We pretend that Mad Cow Disease does not exist in America because we try our hardest not to detect it or diagnose it. We treat the symptoms of the cancer epidemic without trying to understand why there is so much cancer.

The soil has been exhausted and sterilized by decades of industrial agricultural. Our water is polluted; clean water is in increasingly short supply.

In short, to add to the proximate crisis in energy, the collapse of the Dollar and global climate change, the basic elements of sustenance – food and water – are in jeopardy. Add to that the likelihood that Man's decades of mucking around with nature will likely produce pandemics of heretofore unknown virulence, and you have a confluence of crises that makes those in the know act like they are acting right now.

What else do we know?

The so-called War on Terrorism is a sham. To the extent there was organized terrorism in the world, its reach was minimal and its effect negligible. The War on Terror will create the Terror Enemy that the Administration wants to create. To the extent that the 9-11 attack was an unforeseen, rather than a cultivated or intentionally permitted, act of terrorism, it was an isolated, predictable and wholly preventable event. We must understand that the Bush Administration understands at least as much as we do about what really did and did not happen on September 11, 2001; and we submit, consistent with our hypothesis, that it knows much more than it will ever permit us to know.

In the wake of 9-11, however, the Bush Administration, with the complicity of the elites of both dominant American parties (and in concert with other legislative bodies around the world), enacted draconian social control mechanisms.

Soon, they will also move to throttle your email and your Web, because you present a threat to 'security' and 'moral values'.

They appear not to care about constitutionality, civil rights or democracy. That is the appearance because that is the reality. They are now concerned with survival. You see this in all the elitist governments of the major countries around the world.

When the confluence of events described in this article occurs, it will be very difficult to maintain order and control in our society and the world. Once the stun of reality wears off, the bonds of social order will be loosened. Authority and power, as they are today, will be at risk. For those who hold power and authority, these will be turbulent, dangerous times that our rulers believe will require strong laws and the use of strong police power. For the many of us who have neither power nor authority, this will be a time when our own community and ingenuity and will to survive will be tested. We will be tested as much by the times to come as by the control mechanisms that will be imposed upon us in response to them.

George Bush himself may or may not believe that he will be raptured up into Heaven at the time of a preordained Apocalypse. George Bush, however, does not set the policies or designs of his administration. Those who do, most probably do not believe in an apocalyptic end of time. Rather, they see time continuing. Only they see a meaner time that lies ahead, without plentiful, cheap energy to fuel endlessly-expanding capitalism; a feudal, medieval world of harsher climates and hungry, thirsty people, and desperation and disease. And they intend to have, by hook or by crook, what they need to survive those times.

The intention of this article was not to depress people, though it certainly will not cheer you up. One purpose was to understand what is happening, for in knowledge lies strength and the path to action. Another purpose was to try to develop a coherent theory, an explanation for why the Bush Administration seems to be acting like there is no tomorrow. Could it be because they believe they have no tomorrow?

There is truly nothing hypothesized in this article that you, the reader, did not already know. A third purpose of this article was to stitch it altogether as a theory that makes sense of an otherwise senseless pattern of world events. If one accepts the theory, then we cannot bow our heads in despair. Rather, we must acknowledge the critical need for renewed community, the need for greater local and transnational connectivity, the need for more vigorous organization, more thorough education and wiser sustainability; for our time to get our acts together is as limited as the Administration perceives is its own time to act.

These are desperado days.