The second curtain-tearing glimpse this week was provided by George Monbiot in the Guardian
, writing about the Trafigura scandal: a well-connected oil trading company -- hard-wired to the Tories who will almost certainly take power in the UK next year -- dumping toxic slops in the Ivory Coast, striking down tens of thousands of people with disease, and killing fifteen people. As Monbiot points out, this horror story is just business as usual for governments and corporations -- including the most "enlightened" and "progressive" ones:
On the day that the Guardian [broke the Trafigura story], it also carried a story about a shipwreck discovered in 480 metres of water off the Italian coast. Detectives found the ship after a tip-off from a mafioso. It appears to have been carrying drums of nuclear waste when the mafia used explosives to scuttle it. The informant, Francesco Fonti, said his clan had been paid £100,000 to get rid of it. What makes this story interesting is that the waste appears to be Norwegian. Norway is famous for its tough environmental laws, but a shipload of nuclear waste doesn't go missing without someone high-up looking the other way.
Italian prosecutors are investigating the scuttling of a further 41 ships. But most of them weren't sunk, like Fonti's vessel, off the coast of Italy; they were lost off the coast of Somalia. When the great tsunami of 2004 struck the Somali coast, it dumped and smashed open thousands of barrels on the beaches and in villages up to 10km inland. According to the United Nations, they contained clinical waste from western hospitals, heavy metals, other chemical junk and nuclear waste. People started suffering from unusual skin infections, bleeding at the mouth, acute respiratory infections and abdominal hemorrhages. The barrels had been dumped in the sea, a UN spokesman said, for one obvious reason: it cost European companies around $2.50 a tonne to dispose of the waste this way, while dealing with them properly would have cost "something like $1,000 a tonne." On the seabed off Somalia lies Europe's picture of Dorian Gray: the skeleton in the closet of the languid new world we have made.
Well, that's just Somalia, of course. In the past few years, the enlightened world has amply demonstrated just what it thinks of Somalia. Monbiot points out the fact that at least some of the infamous Somali pirates took to the water to stop the dumping of the developed world's poisons on their shores:
Most of them take to the seas only for blood and booty; but some have formed coastal patrols to prevent over-fishing and illegal dumping by foreign fleets. Some of the vessels being protected from pirates by Combined Task Force 151, the rich world's policing operation in the Gulf of Aden, have come to fish illegally or dump toxic waste. The warships make no attempt to stop them.
As Monbiot notes, there are strict laws against such toxic dumping: laws passed with much fanfare, to make politicians look good -- and the folks back home feel good about themselves. But there is a neat trick that our elites like to use when it comes to laws that inconvenience their power and profits: they just don't enforce them. Simple, eh? Don't you wish you could do that?
The law couldn't be clearer: the Basel convention, supported by European directives, forbids European Union or OECD nations from dumping hazardous wastes in poorer countries. But without enforcement, the law is useless. So, for instance, while all our dead electronic equipment is supposed to be recycled by licensed companies at home, according to Consumers International around 6.6m tonnes of it leaves the European Union illegally every year.
Much of it lands in West Africa. An investigation by the Mail on Sunday found computers which once belonged to the NHS being broken up and burnt by children on Ghanaian rubbish dumps. They were trying to extract copper and aluminum by burning off the plastics, with the result that they were inhaling lead, cadmium, dioxins, furans and brominated flame retardants. Tests in another of the world's great fly-tips, Guiyu in China, show that 80% of the children of that city have dangerous levels of lead in their blood...
A black market run by criminal gangs is dumping our electronic waste on the poor, but since the European directive banning this practice was incorporated into British law in January 2007, the Environment Agency hasn't made a single prosecution. Dump your telly over a hedge and you can expect big trouble. Dump 10,000 in Nigeria and you can expect to get away with it.
Or as the man said: "Steal a little and they throw you in jail; steal a lot and they make you king." Monbiot zeroes in on the underworld connections to the elite's dirty business:
All over the world the cosa nostra, yakuza, triads, bratva and the rest make much of their fortune by disposing of our uncomfortable truths. It suits all the rich nations – even, it seems, the government of Norway – not to ask too many questions, so long as the waste goes to far away countries of which we know nothing. Only when the mobs make the mistake of dumping it off their own coasts does the state start to get huffy.
The Trafigura story is a metaphor for corporate capitalism. The effort of all enterprises is to keep the profits and dump the costs on someone else. Price risks are dumped on farmers, health and safety risks are dumped on subcontractors, insolvency risks are dumped on creditors, social and economic risks are dumped on the state, toxic waste is dumped on the poor, greenhouse gases are dumped on everyone.
This too is nothing new, of course. I've often written here and elsewhere of the shadowlands where state power, terrorism, Big Money and criminal organizations mix, mingle, squabble and conspire. Indeed, modern American history cannot be understood without an inkling of the essential role played by the underworld, as I noted back in 2004:
Anyone who wants to understand the reality of modern America should pick up Gus Russo's latest book, "The Outfit." With diligent research and relentless candor, Russo strips away the façade of America's pious national myths, showing in great detail how the criminal underworld and the even more criminal "upperworld" of big business and politics have fused in a deadly symbiosis that underlies the nation's power structure.
You could begin unraveling this dirty skein at almost any point in the last century, but let's join the story at a critical juncture: 1960, when Democrats Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson battled for the right to face Republican Richard Nixon in the presidential election. Of course, bribery, corruption, violence and vote-rigging have long been an integral part of America's glorious electoral heritage - a shining example to all the world - but the 1960 election was the first time that the country's mobsters had intervened so directly, and so decisively, in the national ballot.
They'd seen one of their creations in the White House before, of course: Harry Truman, the Missouri haberdasher who was plucked from obscurity by Tom Pendergast, boss of the Kansas City mob. Pendergast, whose iron grip on local politics was augmented by the judicious use of murder, eventually propelled Truman to the U.S. Senate. From there, having won a well-deserved reputation as a zealous scourge of corporate war profiteering (the mob steered clear of that particular racket, which was dominated by bluebloods like the Bushes), Truman was chosen as vice president in 1944. A few months later, Franklin Roosevelt died - and Pendergast's boy was suddenly president of the United States.
Although Truman kept his own hands clean of bribes (except the usual ones known as "campaign contributions"), he retained a fierce tribal loyalty to the Kansas City gang and their overlords: "The Outfit," the Chicago-based heirs of Al Capone, and the nation's most powerful underworld organization. In one of the major scandals of Truman's administration, his Attorney General, Tom Clark, approved early paroles for three of the Outfit's most notorious figures. A second scandal followed when Truman rewarded Clark for these gangland services rendered with a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
...In 1960, all three major candidates were mobbed up. JFK's father, the ex-bootlegger Joe Kennedy, dealt directly with his former associates in the Outfit, tapping them for untraceable vote-buying cash and their unrivaled vote-rigging muscle. Nixon, then vice president, had long worked his mob contacts - chiefly the Los Angeles gang of Mickey Cohen and New York's Meyer Lansky - for secret campaign funds. Meanwhile, the Chicago Outfit - playing both sides as always - sought Nixon's favor by agreeing to a CIA request for help in assassinating Fidel Castro.
Johnson was backed by the Carlos Marcello gang out of New Orleans, who paid the all-powerful Texas senator $100,000 a year to keep the legislative heat off their gambling and racing interests. Of course, this mob dime was small beer to Lyndon, whose career had been bankrolled by massive cash infusions (some of them legal) from the construction and military servicing firm Brown & Root - now more famous as the chief cash cow in the Halliburton empire. (Like the Outfit, Halliburton always plays both sides.)
The rest, as they say, is history. Kennedy's Outfit connections trumped Johnson's Marcello play for the nomination, then Joe's vote-riggers outmuscled Nixon's vote-riggers in the election - the closest in American history. Nixon felt, rightly, that he'd been robbed of a presidency he'd bought fair and square. Thus he went on to even greater illegality - including outright treason in his secret negotiations with Vietnamese officials to scuttle peace talks before the 1968 election - to ensure his perch atop the greasy pole. Millions of people would die from his expansion of a war that U.S. officials had already privately conceded was a disastrous mistake. As Russo points out, gangland's rap sheet looks like a hymnbook next to the genocidal record of the upperworld.
And on it goes. A war of aggression in Iraq -- avidly sought by the profiteers and propagandists in the network revealed by Edmonds -- kills more than a million innocent people while engendering perhaps the most gargantuan corruption scams in world history: loot which sloshes back into the coffers of America's elite, enabling them to tighten their grip on the nation's politics even further, buying candidates -- even the most "progressive" ones -- who will ensure that any "bailouts" or "reforms" will serve the privileged first, and that the militarist agenda of endless conflict, burgeoning arms sales, and bottomless expenditures for the war machine will continue unhindered.