The Next Shoe to Drop


It looks increasingly like Saudi Arabia is going to flare up in revolt some time soon. There is a Facebook campaign underway to rally young protesters on March 11 to block the main traffic circle in Jeddah and to gather in other cities to voice their demands for change.  This in a country ruled by the Al Saud family where you go to jail for criticizing the King.

The founder of Saudi Arabia Ibn Saud literally screwed his country into existence.  He had 365 children and it was from that progeny that the princes and princesses proliferated into the thousands to create the Kingdom’s ruling family today who control the oil spigot that trickles down on them first so that what is left fuels the country’s economy.

Fortunately with oil prices at $100 a barrel there is still plenty to go around. But with 40% unemployment amongst the young, and Saudi Arabia has its youth bulge too, the Kingdom’s commoners are restless.  Meanwhile as King Abdullah throws money at “reform”, dissidents are careful not to make him the target of their festering political anger; that is mostly directed at the conniving courtiers, a clique of ageing princes waiting for the frail King to die. 

Prominent among them is the black Prince Nayef, head of the Interior Department, meaning the secret police. He along with his son Prince Mohammed, have been systematically jailing lawyers, professors, writers and students who dare suggest that the absolute monarchy allow for a semblance of a parliament instead of the hand-picked rubber stamp debating society the royals set up in the name of Democracy.

Nayef and the reactionary princes hide behind piety with their control of the pervasive religious police.  And just like Qaddafi, they use Al Qaeda as their bogeyman in their “war on terror” which has been a convenient fig leaf to arrest real reformers.  Meanwhile the Kingdom continues to export Wahabbism, its petro-dollar funded, reactionary and xenophobic form of fundamentalist Islam that has destabilized Pakistan and Afghanistan and inspires Jihadis around the world. 

Otherwise known as “the Taliban with oil”, the Saudis have done more than anyone to radicalize Islam and suppress the traditional diversity of religious practice within the word’s fastest growing religion.  The Wahabbis make the fundamentalists in the Vatican, who have captured the Catholic faith and purged it of liberal modernity, look like Quakers. 

Nothing controls a people more than if you control their bodies and their sex lives.  Like the theocracy our politicians who inflame the anti-abortion fundamentalists would wish to impose on us, the Saudi royals have perfected a system that unleashes theocratic vigilantes upon a population, who are so oppressed by the strictures; they have no time to think of revolution. 

But the cynical Al Saud’s, who use the Wahabbis as a shield so that they can live extravagant and decadent lives behind the palace walls, have this tiger by the tail.  Like a guard dog that could turn on its master, Wahabbism has a poster boy, and its name is Osama bin Laden.

When Saudi oil was first discovered in the thirties by a team of American geologists from Chevron, they were captured by tribesmen and taken to the King whose interpreter was an eccentric British Arabist, one Harry St. John Philby.  The King thought the Americans were looking for water but instead it turned out to be oil. When told of the potential wealth he was sitting on, the King weighed his choices; would he let his friends the British develop the oil fields or allow the Americans to exploit their discovery.

Philby advised the King that as the oil money poured in, the British would eventually expect him to adopt a parliament and a democratic façade whereas the Americans would not interfere in his domestic affairs.  They would only be concerned with commercial arrangements. 

Thus ARAMCO, the most successful company in the history of the world was born, and what the father Harry St. John Philby gave to the Americans, his son Kim Philby, the Soviet master spy, took back.  Now that’s called blowback.  So if the Saudi shoe is about to drop, we should expect a lot of blowback in the geopolitical pipeline.  And it’s coming soon to your neighborhood gas station.

The Global "Inside Job"


It was a thrilled when “Inside Job” won the Oscar for the best documentary feature last night, even though “Gasland” and “Restrepo” were equally worthy efforts.  And I jumped out of my chair when I heard Charles Ferguson’s acceptance remark that three years after the devastating financial disaster caused by Wall Street, no financial manager has gone to jail. 

Bill Black made that point very forcefully yesterday and I hope to interview the producer of “Inside Job” today to find out whether this publicity boost for the movie will translate into more attention to what is the real root cause of our economic distress today.  But as we all know, that message has been buried by the pervasive propaganda about the phony deficit “crisis” being self-righteously sold by the likes of New Jersey’s fat fraud of a governor, who is telling everyone that they should go on a diet. 

Perhaps a sequel to “Inside Job” might be a documentary exploring the global inside job that is the evil twin of Wall Street’s scamming of the American taxpayer.  Has anyone done the math to add up how much the current crop of deposed despots have stolen from their people?  Just the latest dominos; the Tunisian thieves the Ben Alis, the Mubaraks three decades of pilfering and the Qaddafi clan’s forty years of fleecing Libya are worth adding up.

I’ve heard that it could be thirty billion, fifty seven billion and one hundred and twenty billion respectively; just from those three.  But if you did an inventory of the world’s dictators whose country’s treasuries are indistinguishable from their dictator’s personal bank accounts, you might come up with a number that even Wall Street would be impressed by.

We seem to selectively decry blood diamonds and Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection, but not only is this predatory pillaging systemic, it has been sustained for decades.  Sometimes called sovereign funds, this dirty money is eagerly accepted by the big banks and their off shore branches, and ends up enriching the global elite who may not allow the dictators into their exclusive club, but clearly profit from this transnational cabal of embezzlers. 

The sub-prime scam on Wall Street was a massive Robin Hood in reverse where the rich speculators conned the poor aspirants to the American dream into buying houses that were sold out from under them, leaving the mostly minority families broke and living in their cars.  And adding insult to injury, the taxpayer bailed out the thieves not the victims, in the greatest transfer of private debt into public debt in history.

But someone should look at this on a global scale, since most poor and Third World countries are under the boot and in the grip of kleptocrats and their clans of crony capitalists. How much has and is being stolen from the poor to give to the already rich? And how much does this endemic looting contribute to the growing global divide between the rich and the poor? That’s a question that deserves an answer. 

The Film That Cost 20 Trillion to Make: and the Oscar goes to...


Today Bill Black, the chief prosecutor for the S&L financial disaster of the 1980’s (who put a thousand white-collar criminals in jail for the rip-off) joined me to pitch a DVD of the movie “Inside Job”.  As much as I loath begging for money with increasing frequency to keep the lights on at KPFK, it was such a pleasure to have Bill explain the significance of this feature documentary up for the Oscar tonight. 

Bill was able to explain the economic and political reality we face and show how “Inside Job” lays out the story that the Democrats and Obama have failed to tell, and in failing to do so, have allowed the Tea Party to capture and turn the political tide against them.

Capitalizing on the biggest crime of the century, the Republicans have prospered from the Wall Street rip-off that has devastated the global economy and hobbled Main Street, and escaped with the perfect getaway.  Stealing right out of Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine”, they have turned what was largely their mistake into a political Trifecta.

They’ve sold the deficit fraud to the American people while maintaining tax breaks for the uber-rich who helped bring about the crisis. They got elected by promising jobs and are now cutting them and preventing a recovery from the recession.  And they have convinced a lot of Americans that our financial woes are the result of lavish union benefits enjoyed by public employees at the expense of the downsized non-union private sector.

And of course as we know from the prank call with the Wisconsin governor, their strategy is not to balance the budgets in state houses with increasing revenues that have collapsed because of the Wall Street created recession, but to destroy the public employees union because they fund the Democrats. And thank to the Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United “ decision, corporations now have an unlimited advantage in campaign funding which they are just beginning to exercise.

So you might ask, “are the Democrats suicidal?” Why did they not do what “Inside Job” does, tell the story? And as Bill Black said today, put the Wall Street crooks on trial and capture the headlines in an endless perp walk from 2008 until the present.  Why didn’t they explain what happened with indictments and trials?  Show how the insiders rigged the casino and how they fleeced the poor.  Reveal how they bought the politicians and neutralized the regulators.

The Tea Party would never have gotten off the ground if Obama had not chosen to “not look back”.  He would have commanded the “jobs” narrative from the beginning, and they would never have been able to steal it as they did in 2010 and con America with the deficit hoax and the big lie of getting Americans back to work while they lavish tax breaks on the billionaire who are laying off workers and cutting their benefits. 

I hope “Inside Job” wins tonight and more people discover the message that it delivers.  If so maybe this criminally distorted political debate can be turned around.  Clearly our political leaders wont do it, even if it will save them from electoral defeat in 2012.  So we must do it and lead them, since they have failed to lead us.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised


While revolutions sweep the Middle East, one place that would seem ripe for revolution finds itself frozen in the tropics.  Last night I moderated a forum at the UCLA/Hammer with Annie Bardach and Max Lesnik.  She is a journalist and author who has covered Cuba and Miami for decades, and he is a former revolutionary who became disenchanted with his friend Castro and escaped into exile only to find himself the target of the Miami Cuban Mafia who bombed his newspaper eleven times because he opposes the American embargo.

I quickly learned that discussions about Cuba soon turn into arguments, and while the sparks flew, there was not much light shed on Cuba after the Castros, which was the title of the talk.  But both speakers did agree that there would not be a youthful revolution in Cuba, following the Egyptian and Libyan models, to get rid of a similar dynastic dictatorship.

Various reasons were given; the Stasi of the tropics, an omnipresent security apparatus with its embedded network of neighborhood snitches will nip anything in the bud.  The social network that does not exist; Cuba has the lowest Internet penetration in the hemisphere.  The Army will not side with the people; because of its loyalty to Commandante Raul, whose systematic purges have kept it obedient to the Castros.  And the hermetic information bubble Cubans are trapped in; with no outside media except for the official party line that does not print or televise the revolutions taking place now.

I was curious to get some insight on what young Cubans know and how they feel, and later I met with two audience members who spend about half of every year in Cuba.  One is involved in academic exchanges and the other with Cuba’s artistic community. 

First of all, as Max Lesnik made clear, there is “Radio Bemba” (radio lips) the Cuban gossip mill that started with the revolution but continues to spread information like wildfire, no matter how stifling the regime’s propaganda.  So whether it comes from tourists or through the cracks of a system that is crumbling like the buildings in Havana, young Cubans know exactly what is going on in the rest of the world. 

The Castros have kept the lid on for decades by exporting dissent to Miami where about a fifth of the island’s population has fled.  And while family exchanges keep the island up to date, Cubans don’t want to be rescued by their brothers in Miami who can’t wait to take over, as they feverishly plot and plan where to set up Dodge dealerships in post-Castro Havana. 

As depressed as the young Cubans are, and resigned to their fate that nothing will change until the patriarch dies, the picture that emerged was of a sad symbiosis between the Castros and the Miami Mafia.  Both profit from a stupid and counter-productive embargo that serves both of their interests. 

As long as the exile hard-liners in control America’s dysfunctional policy, based on the absurd notion that punishing the Cuban people hurts the dictator, nothing will change.  And of course the opposite is true.  If by some miracle we would wake up an end the embargo, the Castros would continue it.  They know better than anyone it’s what’s kept them in power all these years.

Yet every day there are more demonstrations across Cuba and as the Cuban economy grinds to a halt, it is possible that a critical mass of young people will take a cue from the unfolding youthful revolutions, whether they are televised or not.  If young Arabs can rebel against the vain/glorious patriarchs who stole their future, why not young Cubans?

Revoking Their Membership in the Washington Club

Kathleen Reardon has a powerful article at the Huffington Post that shreds the shabby myth of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, exposing the hollow ritual of Congressmen and women “respectfully disagreeing with my learned friend and colleague etc.” Even now with the slash and burn Tea party insurgents vowing to take no prisoners, the collegial nature of the “best club in the world” will eventually prevail.  It’s called bipartisanship and it is hailed as compromise and getting things done for the American people, but Kathleen Reardon is calling it what it is, cowardice.

Jim Hightower once said that the only thing in the middle of the road is yellow lines and dead armadillos, and without calling centrists road kill, it does appear they are irrelevant to the forces shaping American politics today.  I am sure the White House has the opposite view as they turn their back on the whining left and try to curry favor with the sensible center, however fickle it might be. 

Meanwhile the people who are really driving the agenda and getting the rewards in American politics are the super rich and the powerful corporations.  Using ideology as a fig leaf to dress up naked greed, they give money to both sides and always seemed to be satisfied with a compliant Democratic Party, but no more. Now they have clearly thrown their lot in with the Republican right who sound more like the party of Stalin than Lincoln and rather than debate, want to eliminate the political opposition as well as deny the Democrats the ability to compete for campaign funds.

So while Obama reaches out to swing voters extolling the virtues of working together, when nothing of the sort is going on, you can either conclude he is a delusional dreamer or a clever strategist who will be expose the obstructionists and get rewarded in 2012 by an electorate that no longer believes in the American maxim that nice guys finish last.

Just as the Arab “street” is changing politics in the Middle East; it will be the American “street” that changes politics here at home.  If the alternative is a compromise in which the American Middle Class negotiates its own surrender, then the Democrats have the right message. If getting an extension of unemployment benefits in exchange for continuing tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent is as good as it gets, then bring on the revolution.

The American people are not all battered housewives prepared to put up with endless insults while clinging to what little security they have. We have seen the first round of inchoate anger from the “grassroots” Tea Party captured by plutocrats and turned against working Americans. But the next round is likely to be the real thing.

Last time the Democrats allowed the Republican right to co-opt Main Street’s rage against Wall Street.  Next time the Democrats had better step up and represent the people and not the Beltway consensus.  They may still have the old government, but we will have a new people.