Monday, November 24, 2008

Capitalist Follies: Rancheros Visitadores, Citigroup, and the CIA

A posting the other day, quoting Chris Floyd on the machinations of the U.S. power elite, prompted a regular reader of mine to send a very interesting link to a story a friend of his worked on over the past few years.

As reported by Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connolly, Alejandro Tomas, a senior faculty member at Seattle Central Community College, has assembled a startling photo essay on one of the conclaves where the rich and privileged meet. The horse ride known as Rancheros Visitadores takes place every May in the Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara, Calif. The event is one of those elite conclaves that take place annually. The best known is probably the Bohemian Grove gathering near the Russian River in Northern California.

Connolly describes the doings at Rancheros Visitadores, where no women are allowed (except maybe prostitutes):
The men are shown with sex toys around their necks, doing skits in blackface, dressed in wigs and women's clothing and consuming copious quantities of alcoholic beverages....

Who goes on the ride? The club is exclusive, white and male, with a membership limited to 600. A couple hundred invited guests and guys from the wait list attend each year.

Photos from the 1989 ride show Reagan, an honorary member, on a buckboard beside former Interior Secretary William Clark. Gen. P.X. Kelly, commandant of the Marines, also is pictured....

"I was a little taken aback by many of the attitudes," Tomas said. "Here are men at the highest rungs of power in this country. Quite blatant forms of racism and anti-Semitism and misogyny are on display. ... The festive debauchery represents a cohesion of the power class. They seem to feel stronger by putting down others."
The Rancheros Visitadores is apparently one of a number of such events, or other "Rancheros" camps. Tomas co-wrote a paper on the event with two sociologists. According to Connolly:
They argue that the "special time" each May reaffirms the riders' sense that they are the chosen leaders of American society. "The Rancheros retreat reinforces the imminent morale or esprit de corps of the corporate leaders and the landed elite," the authors report.
Masters of the Universe, Do You Need a Dime?

The ruling class is more than a collection of ideologies and bank accounts. There is a cohesiveness to their rule that suggests a cultural and social interconnectivity that transcends mere political parties.

This has been made painfully clear in the collaboration between different political groupings to give billions of dollars away, with little or no control or oversight, to the Wall Street "masters of the universe" who have looted the economy of trillions of dollars with speculative schemes, and just out and out thievery. The latest egregious hit to the U.S. taxpayers for another financial bailout comes with the announcement of a mega-billion bailout to Citigroup.

As F. William Engdahl explains in an article at Global Research:
Citigroup and the government have identified a pool of about $306 billion in troubled assets. Citigroup will absorb the first $29 billion in losses. After that, remaining losses will be split between Citigroup and the government, with the bank absorbing 10% and the government absorbing 90%. The US Treasury Department will use its $700 billion TARP or Troubled Asset Recovery Program bailout fund, to assume up to $5 billion of losses. If necessary, the Government’s Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) will bear the next $10 billion of losses. Beyond that, the Federal Reserve will guarantee any additional losses. The measures are without precedent in US financial history.
Yet, no one in the mainstream political discourse argues to hold these criminals to account. Instead, aim has been taken lately against unions, like the UAW, who conservatives argue have made companies like GM non-competitive in the global marketplace, with their demands for humane work rules, a decent, living wage, health care, etc. Even when the liberals criticize the CEOs of the Big Three automakers, and argue that the lack of nationalized health care puts the car companies behind the economic eight-ball, they barely raise a peep when it's argued that everyone, including the workers, will have to sacrifice to "save" Big Auto (which means tearing up the union contracts, fought for by workers over decades).

In the latest sign of complete moral, ethical, and political collapse, Bloomberg now reports the capitalists' bailout will top $7 trillion dollars -- "half the value of everything produced in the nation last year"!!! For once, the use of multiple exclamation points fails to describe the exaggerated circumstances.

But will this near-total failure of the economic system lead any respectable mainstream or blogging analyst to question the bankruptcy of the capitalist system as a whole? Not unless you're waiting for Barack Obama to lay the foundation stone for a new mammoth statue of Joseph Stalin on the D.C mall. (The rot of communism -- really Stalinism -- was declared by sober folk on both the U.S. left and right, based on far less economic failure.)

A Nicer, Kinder CIA?

The liberal hopes in Obama's incoming administration demonstrates the inability to think beyond the parameters of acceptable political discourse, which means never challenging the right of capital to rule. Nor does it challenge the right of the U.S. to continue conducting covert operations wherever it wants around the world. The fact that Obama seeks to ramp up the latter in Pakistan deters the liberals nary a bit.

When John Brennan's name was floated for new CIA chief recently, a group of dissident psychologists who fought within the American Psychological Association to change their position on torture, and with whom I have sometimes been associated, launched a campaign to stop Obama from appointing Brennan, a former member of Tenet's CIA team. They rightly pointed out that Brennan was involved in decisions and policies that promoted torture against detainees held by the U.S. in the "war on terror."

But their protest letter says nothing about about CIA covert action, nor does it even question the existence of the CIA itself. It only seeks, in what I see as a sincere but Utopian fashion to reform that institution. From the letter, quoting Brennan first:
Even though people may criticize what has happened during the two Bush administrations, there has been a fair amount of continuity. A new administration, be it Republican or Democrat — you’re going to have a fairly significant change of people involved at the senior-most levels. And I would argue for continuity in those early stages. You don’t want to whipsaw the [intelligence] community. You don’t want to presume knowledge about how things fit together and why things are being done the way they are being done. And you have to understand the implication, then, of making any major changes or redirecting things. I’m hoping there will be a number of professionals coming in who have an understanding of the evolution of the capabilities in the community over the past six years, because there is a method to how things have changed and adapted.
In order to restore American credibility and the rule of law, our country needs a clear and decisive repudiation of the “dark side” at this crucial turning point in our history. We need officials to clearly and without ambivalence assert the rule of law. Mr. Brennan is not an appropriate choice to lead us in this direction. The country cannot afford to have him as director of our most important intelligence agencies.
As John Prados pointed out in his recent history of CIA covert wars, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA, the use of covert action has harmed U.S. foreign policy more than it has ever helped. Furthermore, both Democratic and Republican administrations have blocked any substantive change in the intelligence agency's charter, unwilling to forego the executive's power or use of covert action. If the psychologists wanted to send a powerful statement to President Obama, they would have called for the abolition of the CIA. But that's not a politically popular stance (at least these days).

Justice and Class Society

A very sick and sclerotic set of individuals essentially run the United States. They see nothing worth prosecuting when one of their own (George W. Bush) manipulates a country into a war that kills over a million civilians. They see nothing wrong in having a covert intelligence agency that wages war and commits assassinations wherever it wants in the world. They cry crocodile tears over the torture of detainees, but do nothing to disassemble the apparatus that perpetuates "touchless torture" (Darius Rejali's term in his magnificent compendium, Torture and Democracy).

The ingrained culture of class society, as represented in part by Tomas's photo essay on one ruling class ritual conclave, represents one of the most resistant aspects to change we truly and desperately need. It may have to all come tumbling down -- and how close we have come to that in recent days -- before the old social order gives up its ghost, and radically new ways of organizing society come into being. When the power elite fades into obscurity, so too will its championing of racial, sexual, and national/religious discrimination. (Anyone who believes the election of Obama has turned around things for African-Americans in this country should visit their local housing project, or better yet, their local jail or prison.)

Perhaps the political genius of Barack Obama (if genius he turns out to be) can hold off the inevitable, but the internal contradictions of a society that runs on class privilege and national supremacy over other countries is bound to lead to either collapse or conflagration sooner or later. We need bold action and bold leaders now.

A collection of Tomas's photos can be accessed here.


oliviaharis said...

The US government will inject $20 billion into troubled banking giant Citigroup and will provide a guarantee of $306 billion to the financial firm. The US government on Sunday entered into an agreement with Citigroup to provide a package of guarantees, liquidity access, and capital.
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Trudy Bond said...

From a friend and history prof in his book "The Magna Carta Manifesto": "... 2,400 vessels were captured and plundered in the ten years between 1716 and 1726, the golden age of piracy. They blockaded ports, disrupted the sea lanes. The pirate ship 'might be considered a multiracial maroon community.' Hundreds were African. Sixty of Blackbeard's crew of a hundred were black. ... They also prevented the slave trade from growing. ... [The] owner of a small fleet of slavers ... led the petitioning to Parliament... A naval squadron was sent to West Africa. Four hundred and eighteen pirates were hanged... The pirate Charles Bellamy inveighed against the rich men, "they rob the Poor under the Cover of Law, forsooth, and we plunder the Rich under the Protection of our own Courage." - Peter Linebaugh, "The Magna
Carta Manifesto"

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