Saturday, January 05, 2008

It's the Government's Job to Shake You Down

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

The "mob" --often called "the Mafia" --achieved mythic status in America thanks to movies, books, and the FBI. No expert on the mafia, I have in mind a rather simplistic Mafia business model --how it came about, how it grew, how it exploited "niche marketing". It's origins are usually traced to mid-nineteenth Century Sicily.

The Statue of Liberty greeted new arrivals with a promise of liberty. Many new immigrants, frankly, needed help. Many spoke little or no English and had equally limited job prospects. Many had families to feed. The character, Tateh, in E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime typifies a million stories. Ragtime paints the tragic picture of a promise broken. One of the film's most memorable scenes involved J. P. Morgan pontificating from a catwalk. Like today's GOP politicians he was holding forth about the American Dream. As a sea of immigrants reached out to him, the catwalk creaked and then collapsed. A desperate throng was crushed as they sought their dreams.

In some communities, in Sicily and in America, a godfather helped a new immigrant find a job or set up a business with small loans. He was often an advocate for the newly arrived. He offered them protection. At first, few regarded these men as criminals. They became, rather, role models and protectors. He filled the vaccum, offering protection when the "state" would not. Historian Paolo Pezzino wrote: "The Mafia is a kind of organized crime being active not only in several illegal fields, but also tending to exercise sovereignty functions – normally belonging to public authorities – over a specific territory..."

It was only the more odious practices that attracted the attention of government and prosecutors. Godfathers were shaking down small businesses, extorting money, collecting regular payments. No fair! Shaking down folk is the government's job!

Nation columnist Naomi Klein explores a key argument from her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism: After 9/11 the Bush Administration launched a new economy, driven by the notion of an endless war against an undefined notion of evil. Read more in her 2005 Nation column "The Rise of Disaster Capitalism."
Global ShakeDowns-R-Us: James Baker-Carlyle Group Government-guaranteed Global Corporate Fraud doesn't get any better than this. Acting as a special "debt" envoy to Iraq as well as a senior "advisor" to the Carlyle Group, James Baker, the Bush Family bagman, has been enlisted to strong-arm nations into forgiving Iraq's debt.

"Sir" James Baker, partner of Baker Botts, is also an equity partner in the notorious Carlyle Group, which is part of a consortium trying to collect $27 billion on behalf of Kuwait, one of Iraq's biggest creditors. How? By twisting the arms of Iraqi debt holders.

Countries like the U.K., which is owed $1 billion by Iraq, is being urged by Baker into "forgiving" this debt.

George Bush Jr. appointed Baker, the US Secretary of State under Bush Sr., as an "unpaid envoy" (read bagman-fixer) on Dec. 5, 2003. However since Baker is also an equity partner with a reported $180 million stake in the Carlyle Group, the conflict of interest is at once stark and undeniable.

Published in the Nation Magazine, Naomi Klein's article (thenation.)--Global ShakeDowns-R-Us: James Baker-Carlyle Group


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.

The Shock Doctrine in Action in New Orleans

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