Saturday, October 22, 2011

Libya: The Dictator is dead! Next up: "Democracy"?

   It was only a matter of time before Gaddafi ended up like Saddam Hussein.

  Let's face it, it's risky business being a Mid East dictator these days. Unless of course you're a Saudi Royal and willing to do business with the global corporate oligarchy and play ball by petro dollar rules. Failure to comply means you get put on the bad guy list. And Gaddafi sure was a 'bad guy'. But then again, show me a leader in the Middle East that isn't. To climb your way to the top of the action in desert cultures, you've got to be a strongman. That means a sleazy history and high body counts the Western media can use against you when they decide they want your shit. No Mid East ruler since the time of Mohammad ever got to power on a peace and love manifesto. It's a hard dry land out there, forbidding, fruitless and it wasn't until the combustion engine got invented in the late 1800s that Western oligarchy's got interested in what was buried under all that desert sand.

   Sure, Gaddafi had it coming.

   He died by the sword just like in the old maxim.

  I was never a fan  but I will admit a certain schadenfreude at Gaddafi's power to piss off oil hungry Western interests. Just when he was playing nice again and making friends with the US via Condoleeza Rice, he suddenly found himself cast as the lead villain in a NATO funded war movie called "Odyssey Dawn". He sure looked the part. Villains are always more memorable if they have a signature look and Gaddafi sure did fit the bill. He dressed in flamboyant carpets and habitually wore something that looked like the curtains from a 1970's porno flick. He had odd habits too like bringing his tent with him when travelling abroad and pitching it on the lawns of rented multi million dollar mansions while leaving the mansion itself unoccupied. My favorite bit was the hot Ukrainian nurses he had on  payroll  that "monitored his blood pressure" while he shelled his own cities. In hindsight, the city of Misrata turned out to be Gaddafi's mini Stalingrad and the place where his forces were broken.

Gaddafi trying to play ball in 2006.

   Gaddafi grabbed power in Libya as a 27 year old captain in a bloodless coup in 1969 while the former King was jetsetting around Europe. Fancying himself as the Arab Che Guevara, Gadaffi was the strongman material the disparate Libyan tribes could understand and he set up the new Libya as a late sixties counter cultural anti imperialist mecca where anyone looking to do bad shit to Western interests could get supplies, weapons and explosives.

   Obviously, that put him on the Western shit list.

  Libya took part in the 1973 oil embargo against the US and its support for Arab unity and opposition to western interests in Islamic states painted a big fat target on Gaddafi in the western world. In 1982, Reagan imposed sanctions and the CIA tried to off him in 1984. Two years later, a squadron of F-111s bombed his compound and killed his 15 month old adopted daughter. This was in response to the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing that killed and injured a bunch of US servicemen. The Libyan's retaliated in 1988 with the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The evidence that Gaddafi funded it was remarkably flimsy but it's gone down in history as his doing and conspiracy theories are not my forte. Truth is, everything is a conspiracy these days and whatever line of bullshit you choose to believe is a personal affair. There is no real truth anymore in the age of the Internet. 

   Let's face it, we're living in Bladerunner.

   So what now for Libya after the national strongman has ended up on display in a freezer at the local supermarket?

  Can these rebels, now styled the National Transitional Council, keep a lid on things or are 42 year old internecine scores about to get settled? Who really knows? That's probably why the NATO pencil pushers nicknamed this mission "Odyssey Dawn"; they had no clue either what the outcome of intervening in another oil rich Mid East dictatorship would be. I bet all those people dying in the popular revolt going on in Syria right now are kicking themselves that their geography doesn't sit on top of some proven oil reserves. The world we're living in demands energy and a fortunate geography buys you air support as the 21st century enters the proxy war stage. Libya was just the preliminary low hanging fruit.

   There will be a lot of factors at work in Libya once the post revolution high wears off.

   The Transnational Council are the ones sitting on the oil reserves and the ones the oligarchy is willing to do business with. All of those reserves are in Eastern Libya. And the TNC have already proved they can do business, filling a number of tankers even during the war that bagged them $200 million per load that sure helped fuel the rebel war effort.  Ironically, it was Reagan's sanctions and the inability of Gaddafi to sell his oil during the 80s and 90s, (when oil was astoundingly cheap), that preserved Libya's supply. Estimates say Libya had about 55 giga barrels of which they've gone through about half. This leaves them with significant reserves of around the 30 Gb mark and an export capacity of 1.9 million barrels per day which is why the western oligarchy got interested in this little war in the first place.

    Eastern Libya and its capital Benghazi have always been Libyan redneck country and the part sophisticates in Tripoli liked to look down on while sipping their fancy coffees in upscale cafes. Benghazi is the city where the supporters of the former king that Gaddafi deposed in the '60s got to lay low while watching as Gaddafi funneled the oil wealth out from under their feet. They've been itching for a shot at revenge for decades. It's also home to the Islamists and the wilder desert tribes and proved fervent recruiting ground for volunteers for Iraq and Afghanistan to fight the Yankee imperialists. Those are the contradictory people NATO sided with when they got involved in this war. Truth is, oil makes everyone a consumer, loyalties cheap and alliances tend to shift like desert sands all so long as us proles get to fill up our vehicles as cheaply as possible to make that commute from surburbia to the job site affordable.

    Libya, under Gaddafi, supplied 10% of the Euros oil (the reason why the French and British got concerned for [sic] humanitarian reasons) and one thing about Libyan oil is that it is especially 'sweet'. That means it only costs a dollar to refine a barrel as opposed to most other oils out there (barring Brent North Sea crude) with high sulphur content. Those Canadian tar sands the US is in love with right now are dirty and the pipeline they want to run to Texas means the US is really starting to get jittery about the future of suburban voters. If shit gets too expensive that voting block might finally go 'off reservation' and elect a guy the corporate fucks have not already bought.

   Yeah, Libya sure was a fun war to watch, if you're like me with an eye on the bigger picture. The bigger picture is nasty and Libya and Gaddafi will be merely a footnote in the ongoing global chess game. The energy chess game that pits established powers against rising powers all of them sucking at the tit of black gold. Sure, there are conflicting reports on how much spice is left. But that doesn't really matter in the end anyway.

   As always in war, what really matters for nobodies like you and me, is what other men in positions of power are prepared to do to deliver what the rest of us secretly want. Cash money. That's how power structures work. You stay in power playing a subtle strategic game of pleb delivery and filling your own pockets for retirement on beachfront property somewhere sunny. And killing your opponents if they become too pesky. Machiavelli layed down the rules for this whole paradigm centuries ago. And nothing has changed for us sad upright apes.

   And by Machiavelli's own measure, it seems Gaddafi screwed up royally and finally ran up against more powerful foreign men.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: Can peaceful protests work anymore?

    I'm munching popcorn watching the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

   Truth is though, I'm pretty skeptical on the efficacy of protest movements in our current sci fi dystopia. I'm talking protest movements that actually achieve their aims. For instance, according to Guinness and their world record book, the largest protests in human history were against the Iraq war when 36 million people took to the world's streets.  Still, the corporate oligarchy went ahead with their proxy resource war anyway even when a sizable portion of the global public called bullshit on the reasons behind it. Let's face it, entrenched power structures just don't give a shit what the plebs think anymore.

   Back in 2003, we were living in a world where the corporate oligarchy still at least felt a need to come up with a WMD cover story so they could stake a claim in the heart of Mesopotamia's energy reserves. China and Russia hated it but couldn't do anything to oppose that resource grab. Fast forward to Libya in 2011 and the plutocracy didn't even feel the need to bother with costly machinations in popular media and conducted that proxy resource war unmolested by popular dissent.

  Since when did asking the ruling elite nicely by peaceful protest ever work in human history? When you look at it, human history is just one long narrative of who killed who to take their shit. It is certainly not a story of who asked nicely for some shit and was given it because the enlightened rulers gave up power and control because they suddenly developed a new found respect for people with no shit. Us upright apes really only understand violence. When there's blood on the streets the Roman nobility bought property; these days the corporate oligarchy invade some desert shit hole and corner some new energy reserves. Nothing like a good war to clean out the streets of protesters anyway. Being a lazy hipster is unpatriotic in a time of national emergency.

   The oligarchy rolled out al-Qaeda, a bunch of desert idiots on monkey bars and made them out to be the new Reds; and carted off thousands to foreign deserts to go fight them. People are getting wise to the proxy wars designed to tell Russia and China to keep their filthy hands off America's desert. Then came the financial crisis and the masses were getting restless so they tossed the plebs Obama, a handsome black guy who got the suit job where you live in a nice house in Washington DC and get to read the oligarchy's script while the corporate media snap pictures. "Hope and change". Yeah, right. Being a voter these days is like being some teenage punk kid shopping at Hot Topic, buying the corporate made 'rebel' T-shirt and missing the irony completely. Truth is, there are no voter choices that haven't already been pre approved by the entities that run our 'democracy'.

   Sure, you're going to quote me Gandhi or Martin Luther King and say peaceful protest can work. Thing is, those movements had a little more bite than just a bunch of longhairs with conflicting ideas as to what's wrong with our sci fi dystopia. Sure, Gandhi shaved his head, spun his own cloth and never whipped out an AK, but his movement had an arsenal of weaponry that the Occupy Wall Street protesters simply don't have. At least not yet.

   First off, the Indian Independence movement had numbers. Gandhi could pass some gas and have a million people out on the street looking for a whiff of last night's vegetarian curry. The OWS crowd can only manage 30,000 on a good day. That could change but I won't be holding my breath. Another factor is that the Indians had a charismatic leader in Gandhi himself, a little bald brown guy dressed in a towel but a graduate of University College London and smart as hell. He knew how to hurt entrenched power structures in a way that could avoid high body counts. You hit them where it hurts, namely, their wallets. You order your followers not to do business with the oligarchy. For Indians, that meant weaving their own cloth and not importing British textiles. Next up, Gandhi led the Salt March where he encouraged his countrymen to stop paying taxes to the British on salt. Salt is a useful commodity in a country where you sweat a lot and soon the British were feeling some pain. They still locked up Gandhi but that just made him more of a symbol of resistance.

   Truth is, it's hard to see Occupy Wall Street managing to make similar inroads. One major problem with going up against the corporate oligarchy is that in many ways, you're biting the hand that feeds you. Sure, the bastards have bought the political system, attained person hood and own the Supreme Court but they also run the food system, provide Internet access and employ the masses. The "99%" can agitate for better terms but the "system" is so intertwined with every man's needs that it's impossible to affect change without destroying the whole thing. There is no Bastille to storm anymore because violent revolution just gives birth to Napoleons. There is no better system than capitalism because we're all greedy, self interested fucks and the commies lost. There are a lot of working stiffs out there fully invested in the status quo and the oligarchy will have no problems filling jobs in the national guard if a bunch of protesters start rocking the ship.

   I can agree with the spirit of the protests but then you've got the amorphous demands of every guy with a sign:

   No complaint with any of those demands right?

   Thing is, to get the masses on board, you're going to need something simpler. Something you can fit into a soundbite. Trouble is, the problems of the 21st century are so myriad they don't fit on a postage stamp. This leads to disintegration. Gandhi had a simple idea, Indian Independence. MLK, had an even simpler one, equality for all. Today, shit's more complicated.

   The problems run deep. There's this palpable sense that the world can't continue on its present track. This rock just crossed the seven billion population mark and there's a feeling out there that this cannot go on. Energy, food, farmland, water, minerals, all are becoming strategic materials rather than just things we take for granted. The polar ice is melting and already there's bickering between Russia, the US, Canada and the Scandinavian nations about who owns what bit of sea floor in the Arctic. We're in that time just before full on resource shortages and the rich, wise to this, are cashing their chips out of the global casino financial system. We're in the bumpy plateau at the top of the bell curve of peak everything. Every time there's a slight recovery this is matched by a rise in oil and food prices which kills that recovery.

    Rising commodity prices sparked revolutions across the Middle East this year, tossing out dictators and replacing them with democracy. The Egyptians ditched Mubarak and got for their efforts a military/police state and a whole set of new guys with tanks banking cash and unwilling to give up power. That's the problem with revolutions succeeding. You're liable to end up with a new boss just the same as the old boss only meaner. Syrians are getting gunned down on the streets but the global oligarchy couldn't give a shit because Syria has no oil or anything they want. Gaddafi was unlucky enough to be sitting on 10% of EU oil supply and so he got tomahawked.

   Western nations are still years away from Children of Men style chaos. It takes food shortages before the masses finally take up arms against those harvesting them for fun and profit but by then it'll be way too late. The plutocracy by that stage will be safely entrenched in their privately secured armed enclaves and eating cake funded on middle class despair.

   Don't get me wrong, there's nothing I'd like more than to see the Wall Street protests spread and gather strength. Hell, they might even achieve some of their aims. Even then, they'd just be buying a bit more time on the doomsday clock. Meanwhile, the oligarchy are casting hungry eyes around the Middle East and wondering what new war they can get going to clean the streets of filthy protesting hippies.

   I see the media floating the idea of "Iran" and their 'assassination' plot against some Saudi ambassador and I shudder.

   Are they really considering that move? The world's fourth largest oil reserve sitting there with 78 million pesky Persians making the geographical error of living on the top of it. China and Russia are not going to like that resource grab. If the US and Israel get any fancy ideas about bombing Natanz, I'll take that as confirmation that the oligarchy have run out of ideas on how to fix the global financial mess they've created.

   Unfortunately for the rest of us, war wipes slates clean, makes rich men richer and puts protesters in uniform.