At the core of the100 or so activists that gathered in New Orleans for an Emergency Summit to Stop the Gulf Oil Catastrophe, last weekend, were veterans of the ravages of Disaster Capitalism following Hurricane Katrina. They had seen up close how Capital and its servants at all levels of government organized themselves as a public-private mob to drive Black and poor people from the city. They were witnesses to the crafting of a corporate consensus that the exiled poor should have no rights that conflicted with the imperatives of Capital - no right to return, no right to reclaim their lives, no rights that cannot be superseded by the claims and ambitions of the oligarchs. They had watched as finance Capital's urban gentrification agenda was near-instantaneously put on fast-forward in New Orleans to ensure the permanent purging of the poor. A kind of perverse anthem seemed to rise from each corporate celebration of the city's imminent and profitable rebirth: "Free the land - of Black people!"
Now the land and bayous and sea are made hostile to all life by the depraved indifference of voracious extractors who monetized, securitized and derivitaized the Gulf's most deeply buried oil deposits years before the accursed Deepwater Horizon rig made its last, fatal thrust. The super-deep reservoirs of the Gulf were sold and their oil futures already leveraged to finance yet more assaults on man and nature, even before President Obama's flip-flop on off-shore drilling in August, 2008, when he had the Democratic nomination in the bag.
Such world-shaping dealings have nothing to do with you and me, nothing to do with notions of democracy, because democracy does not exist in the United States, where finance capital and its extracting, hoarding, manipulating energy cousin, rule. There is no evidence of democracy anywhere that counts - not in the $14-plus trillion transferred directly to Wall Street, mostly by the quasi-public Federal Reserve, while the real economy in general and Black America in particular were stripped and gutted. No notions of an American social compact could deter the ruling class from acting out its pathologies on its own citizens when Katrina presented the opportunity. And no amount of public disgust at BP has moved Obama to behave as if he is beholden to the majority that elected him - for the simple reason that he is not.
Every element of the American political process is firmly in the hands of the oligarchy. The public only became aware of Barack Obama's existence after he had been thoroughly vetted by corporate mechanisms of all kinds, including but by no means limited to the corporatist Democratic Leadership Council (see Bruce Dixon, Black Commentator, June 5, 2003). Obama's informal - but quite binding - "contracts" with the oligarchs were concluded before he set foot in the U.S. Senate. The public was the last to know that the obscure politician Obama had become a "viable" prospect by corporate acclimation in the only "race" that counts - the early, business fund-raising contest. (The corporate consensus included BP, which gave Obama more money than any other candidate, and Wall Street, which was even more generous to the Nation's First Black President.)
The U.S. government is divorced from the people because it is a creature of Capital. The three recent mega-crises are both the products and the illuminators of that wholly corrupt relationship. It is, therefore, quite logical that the activists of the Emergency Summit to Stop the Gulf Oil Catastrophe appear to direct their demands to both BP and Obama:
- Stop oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Full compensation, retraining and new employment, including public works, for all affected,
- The government and entire oil industry must allocate all necessary resources to stop and clean up the spill, prevent oil from hitting shore, protect wildlife, treat injured wildlife, and repair all devastation. Full support, including by compensation, must be given to peoples' efforts on all these fronts and to save the Gulf.
- No punishment to those taking independent initiative; no gag orders on people hired, contracted, or who volunteer; those responsible for this crime against the environment and the people should be prosecuted.
- Full mobilization of scientists and engineers. Release scientific and technical data to the public; no more lying and covering up. Immediately end use of dispersants; full, open scientific evaluation of nature and impact of dispersants. Fund all necessary scientific and medical research.
- Full compensation for all losing livelihood and income from the disaster.
- Provide necessary medical services to those suffering health effects of the spill. Protect the health of and provide necessary equipment for everyone involved in clean up operations. Full disclosure of medical and scientific studies about the effects of the oil disaster.
We are living in the late stages of overwhelming dominance (hegemony) of finance capital - and, secondarily, the oil and gas money-machines. It is a period characterized by destruction of the domestic manufacturing base and frenzied predation of the public sector. The mission of Capital's servants in government is, therefore, to assist Wall Street and the energy sector in the fastest possible conversion of natural and social resources to private exploitation.
Those among the public and media that still harbor the illusion that government is there to serve the people, despite seeing so much evidence to the contrary, speak of a national "malaise," a loss of purpose, a temporary failure or flaw in the national character. What nonsense! What we are witnessing is the destructive behavior of a predatory class that sees its future in trillion-dollar derivative bets; commodification of every conceivable resource (food, water, air?) and manipulation of every commodity market; privatization of every possible state function (schools, safety nets); constant expansion of the "market" in the maintenance of empire; and the "primitive accumulation" of the spoils of war.
For such a class, there is no room, rhyme or reason for anything resembling domestic nation-building, and they will not assign their servants in government to any such project. Worse than simply being on their own, the people face the same oligarchic enemy at the commanding heights of both the public and private sectors: the Democrat and the banks, the Republican and Big Oil, and vice versa - and all of them aligned with the military complex.
The pace of disaster-making is quickening in America, which indicates something very much like "the end is near."
Maybe these overlapping pyrotechnics of horror - Katrina, the Crash of 2008, the Great Gusher in the Gulf - are necessary to teach Americans the nature of class war, that it is, indeed, hell. At any rate, the oligarchs can be counted on to accelerate the processes of their own demise. It is up to the people to save themselves, through organizing; there are no guarantees.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]