Posts Tagged ‘ corporate mercenaries

Local Thugs Enforce Transportation Monopoly

A buddy of mine recently pointed me at an interesting story. A local business, Electric Cabs of Austin, shuttles people around downtown Austin in electric carts at no charge.

“We actually got the idea from the city of Austin, who was operating golf carts in the downtown area. And we decided to take it one step further,” said Nielsen [the owner]
He bought five electric, golf-style cars and hired friends to drive them around the city. Just like the pedicabs, they ask for tips only.

They make their money from selling advertising space on the carts themselves.

This is the sort of spontaneous activity that adds to the deep reservoir of color and charm in what would otherwise be just mid-size city in Texas.

The Austin municipal government, like all governments, tries to remain relevant by jumping on various bandwagons that emerge organically from the wider community. To demonstrate its commitment to a cleaner, greener city, Austin government has installed a hundred or so electric car charging stations in anticipation of emissions free[1] transportation. You would imagine that the city council would be all in favor of an electric cab company, right?

OK, I sort of cheated on that last question, because I forgot to mention that the gas powered cab companies that currently hold all the licenses to give rides to people have paid the mayor and the city council tens of thousands of dollars towards their campaign funds.

For unrelated reasons, I’m sure, the city council has been unable to figure out a way to license Electric Cabs of Austin for . . . wait for it . . . 3 years.

My more advanced readers will already skip to the part where it’s criminal to interpose oneself between someone who wants a ride and someone who is willing to give them a ride. Nielson, the owner of the Electric Cab Company, though, is more of a business person than an agorist martyr; he’d rather just get the permission slip from the nut-jobs at city hall than rot in prison on principle. I’m sympathetic. Apparently, he’s trying to run the cab service despite the legal hangups and has wracked up 200+ tickets and arrests among his driving staff. So maybe he’s part agorist martyr.

A twist on the story, and this is also a staple of government, is that nobody is really clear on exactly what law is being violated. City Council candidate Kris Bailey, who has no chance of ever being elected because he is relatively sane (Green party, pro-marijuana legalization, etc.) tried to find out on what grounds the city police have issued 200+ tickets and made arrests of the electric cab drivers:

There is no law actually prohibiting him from operating this business, it is true but, the enforcement side of the city (the police) have taken this lack of a law regulating the business as operating in violation of a law. He [Nielson, the owner] is violating a law that does not exist. . .
I met with multiple council members and made several phone calls, wrote emails, etc…. I realized that he was right, he is being ignored, and the City of Austin does not wish this business to exist. [Here’s the whole post for people who have Bookface accounts]

Baily, as part of his City Council campaign, I presume, took one of the cabs for a spin one evening:

I gave 2 rides on Friday night. The first ride was to a couple of women who when dropped off handed me a few dollars and thanked me. I did not charge them. They voluntarily handed me the money. At this point, 3 APD [Austin Police] officers stopped me and wrote me a ticket for “Operating without a permit” and “no chauffers license.” I tried to explain the permit and license do not exist, they did not care. I asked if they had read the ordinances I was supposedly violating, I asked multiple times and the officers refused to quote the law I was breaking. They told me if they saw me operating again, they would arrest me.

I decided that the Austin Police Department does not have the right, nor the authority to shut down a business on a whim. I picked up another person, and gave him a ride. I dropped him off where he asked to go. The police officers saw him hand me $4 (again, I did not charge him) and immediately came to me and put me in handcuffs. I was arrested without discussion or hesitation and taken directly to jail.

Baily is very generous to the folk who caged him that night, but he’s a politician and has to go easy on “law enforcement.” Essentially, the police are hired thugs for the other cab companies in Austin. As Kevin Carson notes in a recent essay,

the true nature of regulation as a naked power grab by incumbent businesses is nowhere more apparent than at the local level. At the lower levels of government, conventional, brick-and-mortar business establishments are heavily involved in using regulatory enforcement to shut down low-cost competition.

Brick and mortar doesn’t apply directly here; I’ve also noted this trend, locally, in a piece on food trucks–another wonderful feature of Austin–and their creeping strangulation at the hands of larger contributors to political campaigns. The point stands though, where the interests driving national political policy have a 24 hour PR outfit in the mainstream media to provide a sheen of legitimacy to wars and regulations, the “naked power” serving concentrations of capital is far easier to see on the local level.

A last note along these lines. The United States is experiencing unemployment around 22%.
Nothing outside of murder or theft should be illegal for a small business owner. The idea that people are being fined, jailed, and otherwise disallowed a living for giving somebody a ride, cooking somebody a meal, cutting hair, painting nails, or selling something some sunday school teacher doesn’t approve of is atrocious; over 20+% unemployment, it’s ridiculous.

OK, two last notes along these lines: this is not some crazy aberration. Protecting established wealth against emerging ingenuity (usually among the poor) is the very and sole purpose of government; read Kevin Carson, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Gabriel Kolko–I know I repeat myself, but seriously, read that shit. It’s time to trust in our fellow humans and allow them to arrange their lives according to their own choosing and not some lunatic who’s trying to micro-manage the lives of hundreds of thousands of strangers.

  1. [1] At least in the city itself, the poor bastards by the power plant still get the emissions

The Bikecast Episode #50: Deficit, Debt, Keynes, and War

Given the displayed concern from our rulers about the state of national finances, one could easily believe that a great deal of thought is going into what cuts can be made to balance the budget and stabilize the national debt. Indeed, the daily news, foreign and domestic, invariably contains stories of agonizing cuts to social programs and all manner of complex machinations aimed to solve social problems in a “revenue neutral” manner.

A moment’s inspection will reveal, however, that this is intended entirely as theater. The very most basic and painless cut isn’t even considered–a cut that would not only balance the budget, but which would also extinguishing the rising and violent anger against the citizens of the United States. What is euphemistically referred to as “defense spending”–a more Orwellian label has never been conceived–could be eliminated at a savings of over 1 trillion dollars a year. Yet this across the spectrum boon isn’t even considered in all the hand-wringing over national finances.

Download this episode of the bikecast

Forgive the repetition in the show notes. These really are notes–i.e. I didn’t rework them like I sometimes do. I’m trying to get more podcasts out the door :)

Numbers of a certain magnitude defy human comprehension. If we believe the self-report of the government, the national debt is just above 14,000,000,000,000. The total unfunded liabilities, that is money promised in the future (social security and medicare, primarily) that exceeds “revenue”[1] is 114,000,000,000,000.

It’s instructive that these numbers rarely, if ever, enter into the political/economic debate. It’s a laughable premise that they will ever be paid back since the debt burden is something like $250,000 per person (including newborn children) or 1 million dollars per worker.

Instead, the rulers tend to talk about the deficit, which is the amount of money that will added to the debt this year. All manner of trivial cuts are proposed and complex schemes are invented to address some social ill while remaining revenue neutral. Due to the supposed desperation of our rulers to balance the budget, even social programs are threatened with crippling cuts.

The fact that economic stability is not really an important issue to the rulers is made clear by their careful avoidance of the one single budget item that would, by itself, balance the budget and greatly increase the prospects of peace in the world[2].

The US military is currently protecting Western Europe from soviet invasion. Pacific nations are protected from a reemergent imperial Japan. The entire globe is under constant surveillance and is within ½ hour of a nuclear strike, should the situation warrant. 150+ nations are occupied by thousands of US bases (no other country has more than a couple, other than in support of the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan).

In the podcast, I hit on a couple non-budgetary advantages of eliminating military spending, like, uh, you know, not killing countless innocent human beings.

I also touch on some of the reasons that defense spending is untouchable. There’s a great writeup over at Common Dreams. According to that article, a show is being made about making military cuts, but as the author says, “Americans should not confuse that talk with reality.”

It’s also worth noting that the economic premise that government should go into debt to help the economy during troubled times and repay the debt when the economy is healthy (Keynesianism, albeit simplified) is hopelessly out-of-scope in our current situation. Every possible stimulus–0% interest rates, money creation, massive debt accumulation–must currently be applied non-stop simply to avoid collapse of the dominant financial institutions. There will be no corresponding surplus ever again–the debt will never be repaid.

If you don't come to democracy, democracy will come to you.

  1. [1] in this case, money stolen
  2. [2] or at least remove the agent of greatest destruction.

The Bikecast Episode #45: Iraq For Sale and Creepy War Profiteer, Michael Chertoff

Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers covers the art form of syphoning tremendous wealth from the body politic into the hands of state corporations under the guise of “defense.” In recent years, this racket has become even more sophisticated as the military moves from purchasing materiel from “private” sources to hiring out for services previously provided internally.

In the days of Smedley Butler, war meant ridiculous profits around the provision of goods: leather, nickel, sugar, meat, cotton, steel, coal, garments, etc. Today, similar artificial profits are realized by corporations serving meals, washing laundry, building infrastructure, and providing internal security for the military.

This serves a number of purposes: it allows for misrepresentation of the size of the military presence overseas and it allows avoidance of auditing and oversight (what little there is to begin with). Most importantly, however, it allows for unimaginable amounts of wealth to be appropriated by the corporate-political ruling class with a minimum amount of political effort.

Download this episode of the bikecast

As usual, when I listen back to my (very brief) review of someone else’s work, I sound far more critical towards it than I feel. This podcast is no different–I end up picking nits rather than doing a traditional review. But hey, I’m a nit-picker. It’s what I do.

Iraq for Sale covers alot of interesting material and is well made. The unspoken position that I believe underlies the documentary is that “re-nationalizing” the peripheral services that have been outsourced to “private” corporations would lead to a more efficient, less corrupt, “better” military. I’m skeptical of this position and believe that it surrenders a crucial point. The fraud, waste and abuse around lives and wealth in Iraq is a function of the warfare state. That the people involved are nominally “military” or “civilian” is irrelevant.

At the end of the bikecast, I touch on another war profiteer who is making his money from the domestic police state. Michael Chertoff’s security consulting group has a client, Rapiscan Systems, which is one of two manufacturers of the backscatter x-ray machines currently in the news[1]. While the big news is the constitutionality of being imaged without clothes, the real story[2] is how a creepy, incompetent [3] evil fuck like Michael Chertoff can, apparently, bring about the irradiation and intrusive imaging of every airline passenger in the united states in order to pocket a few million dollars in the process.

For more on the Chertoff story:
Mother Jones (from before the current porn/cancer/grope fiasco): The Airport Scanner Scam
Glen Greenwald (apparently no relation to Iraq for Sale director/producer Robert Greenwald): The Obama administration’s war on privacy
The Hill: GOP lawmaker: Full-body scanners violate Fourth Amendment (yeah, cause they give a shit).
Alternet: Details of the increased lobbying by Rapiscan

  1. [1] I claim, mistakenly, in the bikecast that M.C. is an executive for Rapiscan–my bad, Mike.
  2. [2] at least for this episode of the bikecast
  3. [3] Thanks to the commenter for setting me straight

The Bikecast Episode #44: Armistice Veterans Day and Moral Honesty

On Veteran’s Day[1], as on most other days, I find myself pulled by a fierce need to condemn the role of “soldier.” This concept, soldier, is used to create an inverse morality where killing is noble and those who kill are heroes. Surely nothing could be less heroic than taking money in order to kill, without question, whomever one is directed to kill.

On Veteran’s Day, as on most other days, I find myself pulled by a fierce need to condemn the role of “soldier.” This concept, soldier, is used to create an inverse morality where killing is noble and those who kill are heroes. Surely nothing could be less heroic than taking money in order to kill, without question, whomever one is directed to kill.
At the same time, it strikes me as unjust to lay blame at the feet of the human being who has assumed the role of soldier. Most soldiers were 18-year-olds who were sold on the honor and virtue of service to one’s country; their friends, relatives, peers, church and community leaders spoke in solemn tones about the noble sacrifices that the armed forces of the united states have made throughout its history. They’ve heard during 12 years of state schooling about how the u.s. military has repeatedly and continuously protected the freedom of the citizenry while spreading liberty and democracy around the globe. How is it fair to hold someone to account for their actions when they’ve been told all their life that the evil they’re signing up to do is good?

Download this episode of the bikecast
It is for this reason above all others that I believe it necessary to be unrelenting in the moral condemnation of soldiering. Mercenaries and hitmen[2] are paid commensurate with the social stigma attached to killing for money. Nobody honors assassins–there is no day to thank (expressly) paid killers. Nobody becomes a hitman with the expectation that one’s church community will be proud.

To a healthy person, the moral context attached to joining a military is identical to that of becoming muscle for a crime family. Everyone who is considering a career in the military should have the objective nature of the job presented honestly to them. Anything less is moral fraud of the most harmful kind.

The vast majority of the victims of the current slate of wars are, of course, those killed, kidnapped, robbed and displaced by the u.s. military. The greatest moral condemnation, by far, belongs to the political class and their corporate counterparts. In between are the humans sent to do the killing and the dying. Their lives as full humans will likely end with their first kill or their first interrogation. Thereafter, they’re doomed to a shadow existence, unless they brave the road nearly untraveled and examine and atone for their actions.

It will be a great kindness to a large number of potential recruits to accurately and honestly describe moral import the choice that lies ahead. When somebody chooses not to join the military, everything good in the world wins and evil is slowed, however minutely, in its mindless destruction of humanity. The greatest good is likely to the soldier-not-to-be him/herself. We’ll be on the right path when we thank and honor those that choose not to join the military.

Recommended reading:
Punk Johnny Cash on being thanked.
Arthur Silber: On Veteran’s Day, Fuck that Shit
Kelly Patterson on the 2738 Soldiers that died on the final day of the war so that it would end at 11:11 on 11/11/1918

  1. [1] previously known as Armistice Day, until the “War to End All Wars” turned out to be the bloodiest century the world has ever seen
  2. [2] and hitwomen

The Bikecast Episode #43: Semper fidelis! 235 Years of Brutality

Protecting corporate profitability against pesky third world peasants and leaving the working class with the bill, the United States Marine Corps celebrated today[1]235 years of making the world a worse place. Semper fi, indeed! No one ever asks, cui?

Download this episode of the bikecast
I’ve made only light notes for this podcast to give the reader time to check out the excellent source articles.

The Marines were doing before 1941 what the whole U.S. military has been up to since. The Marines from 1800 until the second world war were at the beck and call of business interests who needed to protect their assets against the people who had previously owned the assets and still lived uncomfortably close. The Marines are the reason that you will have to scroll way-the-fuck-down on this page, before you see a military engagement that you have ever even heard of.

I’m a second generation military BRAT[2] and (along with my cousin) are the first civilian males in my extended family since the 1940s. It came as quite a surprise to me, therefore, when I discovered that the armed forces of the united states had ever been used for anything other than opposing tyranny and spreading liberty.

Two time congressional medal of honor [sic] awardee major general Smedley Butler USMC had no small part in correcting my flawed mental model:

WAR is a racket. It always has been.
It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

War is a racket is a must read for anyone who believes the military has ever been used for anything other than to advance the interests of extremely wealthy and powerful people.

The other articles I reference (excerpts below) in the bikcast I found via Punk Johnny Cash a former Marine whose website I can’t recommend enough.

I often do not know what to say as people find out I am a veteran of the U.S.M.C. and they thank me. I find the legacy of violence and brutality repulsive. I do not want to hear your thank you. I do not want to hear the ‘happy birthday’.

If you want to thank anyone thank the Winter soldiers for doing what is right. They are the true patriots. Celebrate those who speak out against the murder and violence of the American Empire. I will not be always faithful to the murder of the state. I will not condone sending young people to die and kill.
Punk Johnny Cash — Eat the Apple Fuck the Corps

The USMC is the tip of the spear for spreading the corporate slave state into the depths of the world, securing yet another corner of the globe for faceless multinationals. All on your dime.

  1. [1] Nov. 10th
  2. [2] Born Raised And Trapped

The Bikecast Episode #31: Returning Moral Agency to Soldiers

As difficult and uncomfortable as it is, I believe it important to oppose the idea that the profession of soldiering is something noble and to be honored. Stripped of the narrative of nationality and the misdirection of just war theory, people who accept money for the job of killing strangers without question are, by definition, assassins, hit men (and hit women), and/or mercenaries.
Update below

Download this episode of the bikecast

When a person faces the moral decision whether to kill without question in exchange for money, it is reckless and immoral to tilt the scales with promises of honor, glory, triumphal parades, and absolution of any actions taken while pursuing and killing his/her targets.

Such a decision should be made solemnly, with the full understanding of the task at hand and with absolute moral clarity. This is rendered impossible in our war crazed nation-state. In our society, every media depiction of soldiering, every holiday, and every public event has as a component gratitude to the military, appreciation for the soliders, remembering the fallen, honoring the veterans and other forms of soldier worship.

The first thing we learn about soldiers is that they keep us free, keep us safe, and preserve our liberty.  Even when we disagree with a military decision, we can only do so because they have sacrificed their lives to protect our right to speak.  We hear this message endlessly.  It is a foundational societal meme.

As a result, men and women who otherwise would not enlist are enticed to. We have, as a society, essentially removed the moral agency from the would-be solider by disguising the moral character of the decision he/she is making.

I doubt I can emphasize this enough to quell the most deeply ingrained knee-jerk reactions, but the withholding of misplaced and misleading gratitude is not an attack on an individual. It is unproductive and unjust to categorically condemn soldiers for the choices they made under false pretenses. It is essential, however, to remove the false pretenses so that the individual soldier can properly evaluate his/her decision under conditions of moral clarity.

The most difficult aspect of this problem stems from the magnitude of U.S. war crimes. They are incomprehensibly monstrous, murderous, and destructive. The degree and intensity of the propaganda that is required to cloak these crimes is equally massive. There’s nothing I can think of more sacred to most americans than the current and/or historical american military and nothing more universally believed in than the just and necessary nature of current and/or historical wars.

This is an essential element of national cohesion, and thus, an essential target for those interested in ending the global empire and advancing the cause of human freedom. Ultimately, we do not want future generations of friends and family to take the job of mercenary because they misunderstood it as being something noble and honorable.

Update: Robert Jensen published an article at Common Dreams that takes on this same topic. He leaves room for honorable service in “just wars”, which I reject, but all respect for a public figure taking on such a sensitive and emotionally challenging topic.