Saturday, August 2, 2008

So now the US has mercenaries doing drug raids?

Gotta wonder. Apparently DEA is doing some outsourcing. RickB of Ten Percent deserves props for the catch, and it's a damned good thing that he downloaded that photo before the LA Times scrubbed it from it site.

Anyhoo, the goon in the picture looks like he could be an extra from the TV series Jericho, which as I've mentioned earlier gives a taste of what life in a neoliberal "paradise" might look like:
The way the Allied States of America functions in this particular drama can be best described as more like a corporate monopoly. A Halliburton-style entity seems have been contracted to handle nearly all of the administrative functions, with security handled primarily by a Blackwater-style entity. The only government employees that Jericho's residents encounter are some military personnel. Otherwise, everything from treasury, revenue, supplies, and postal services runs right through a private corporation with what appear to be no real oversight from the government. My guess is that whatever government exists in the fictitious ASA exists as little more than a storefront.

[snip]

Imposing a new order that no-one's really consented to is likely to create some friction, and one way or another any form of dissent or resistance would have to be squashed by whatever means are available. That's where Ravenwood comes in. The mercenaries working for Ravenwood are there to act in much the same way as the death squads of El Salvador, Guatamala, and Brazil. They exist to sufficiently terrorize the local residents into submitting to the new order. As of yet in the series, we haven't seen Ravenwood's goons use torture (which would certainly be expected, given the last few decades of disaster capitalism), but they've certainly proven adept at "disappearing" whomever they want with impunity.
Like dystopias generally, Jericho, during its two season run, served to sound the warning sirens of a possible future, based on a present that already looks to be well down the road to a dystopian Hell. I figure the series hit too close to home, hence, aside from a rather dedicated core of viewers, it went largely unnoticed. Grab up the dvds (or view it at its website - see the link above - before CBS finally pulls the plug) and study the series, and do so while reading Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, along with a few of my friends' blogs, past and present, and see what conclusions you draw. Of course there have been some real life harbingers as well, such as the deployment of Blackwater mercenaries in New Orleans in the Katrina aftermath, something an old friend of mine pointed out back 2005:

Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for their work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans.
Some of the mercenaries say they have been "deputized" by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms.
They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force. Several mercenaries we spoke with said they had served in Iraq on the personal security details of the former head of the US occupation, L. Paul Bremer and the former US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.
"This is a totally new thing to have guys like us working CONUS (Continental United States)," a heavily armed Blackwater mercenary told us as we stood on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. "We're much better equipped to deal with the situation in Iraq."
Blackwater mercenaries are some of the most feared professional killers in the world and they are accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences.
Their presence on the streets of New Orleans should be a cause for serious concern for the remaining residents of the city and raises alarming questions about why the government would allow men trained to kill with impunity in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to operate here. Some of the men now patrolling the streets of New Orleans returned from Iraq as recently as 2 weeks ago.
What is most disturbing is the claim of several Blackwater mercenaries we spoke with that they are here under contract from the federal and Louisiana state governments.
Blackwater is one of the leading private "security" firms servicing the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.... The company rose to international prominence after 4 of its men were killed in Fallujah and two of their charred bodies were hung from a bridge in March 2004. Those killings sparked the massive US retaliation against the civilian population of Fallujah that resulted in scores of deaths and tens of thousands of refugees.
....
Officially, Blackwater says it forces are in New Orleans to "join the Hurricane Relief Effort." A statement on the company's website, dated September 1, advertises airlift services, security services and crowd control. The company, according to news reports, has since begun taking private contracts to guard hotels, businesses and other properties. But what has not been publicly acknowledged is the claim, made to us by 2 Blackwater mercenaries, that they are actually engaged in general law enforcement activities including "securing neighborhoods" and "confronting criminals."
That raises a key question: under what authority are Blackwater's men operating? A spokesperson for the Homeland Security Department, Russ Knocke, told the Washington Post he knows of no federal plans to hire Blackwater or other private security. "We believe we've got the right mix of personnel in law enforcement for the federal government to meet the demands of public safety." he said.
But in an hour-long conversation with several Blackwater mercenaries, we heard a different story. The men we spoke with said they are indeed on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and the Louisiana governor's office and that some of them are sleeping in camps organized by Homeland Security in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
We encountered the Blackwater forces as we walked through the streets of the largely deserted French Quarter. We were talking with 2 New York Police officers when an unmarked car without license plates sped up next to us and stopped. Inside were 3 men, dressed in khaki uniforms, flak jackets and wielding automatic weapons. "Y'all know where the Blackwater guys are?" they asked. One of the police officers responded, "There are a bunch of them around here," and pointed down the road.
"Blackwater?" we asked. "The guys who are in Iraq?"
"Yeah," said the officer. "They're all over the place."
....
Two men we spoke with said they plan on returning to Iraq in October. But, as one mercenary said, they've been told they could be in New Orleans for up to 6 months. "This is a trend," he told us. "You're going to see a lot more guys like us in these situations."
I think I'll also reprise in its entirety another essay from around the same time authored by my old friend Ductape Fatwa, titled Katrina: A Glimpse of America's Future: When Will YOU Be Cleansed?
"Like a third world country." It's been quite a favorite phrase with the TV reporters. It's become a meme.

It has punch, impact, it gets attention. What it doesn't get from the overwhelming majority of the US public who don't get it, is reflection, a light bulb over the head moment.

What do you think that means, a third world country?

First and foremost, it means poverty.

A poverty so pervasive that one cannot walk the streets without seeing it, despite the best efforts of "security personnel" armed with anything from sticks to automatic weapons, for the purpose of keeping the area relatively "clean" so that nice folks like you can shop without the plague of beggars, pickpockets and assorted riff-raff, or as they are called in the US, "cockroaches."

Being a third world country means having a very small and select affluent elite and a teeming mass of people who are so desperately poor they can't even scrape together the bucks for a used car or a hotel room. People who have never had a car, whose only experience with hotel rooms would involve cleaning them.

In a third world country, there's not much of a middle class. There may be some who are less wealthy than others, but the big divide is the wall. The wall around your house, the high wall, with the locked gate. And your position vis a vis the "security personnel." If you are affluent, they won't shoot you. You are, after all, paying them. If you are poor, they will shoot you. That is, after all, what they are paid to do.

If you're in a third world country, that means that if you have means, you are empowered to spend them on security guards for your own home. In addition to the wall. And a guard to accompany you to work. And return home to accompany your family as they go shopping.

Obviously, unless you are not only "discretionary income" class, but quite a bit beyond that, the security guard's salary is going to have to come from somewhere. Maybe the kids' college money. How about that health insurance premium? Maybe little Heather will just have to grow up with crooked teeth. And it will definitely nix those plans for the family vacation in Hawaii, or that time share in the Bahamas. Even that rustic little cottage on the lake will have to transform itself into wall, guards, gates, guns.

Many Katrina victims who did have the resources to evacuate before the storm are now realizing that they are poor. Credit card maxxed out, insurance won't pay, mortgage company says have a month or two grace, but then you HAVE to pay, so does the IRS. FEMA says you qualify for a few hundred dollars. Hopefully by the time that's gone, you'll have saved enough from your new job at Wal-Mart to buy some food and a plastic tarp for your house, if it's liveable at all. If not, it's camp out in the car, or live in a shelter.

Americans who live check to check are not just the low wage earners. Few car and homeowners with even a little discretionary income think Kissinger's reference to "useless eaters" meant THEM.

Phasing out the middle class, however, means exactly that. It means that unless you have a LOT of money, there is not a place for you in America's future. Once your resources are gone, once you simply cannot pay that mortgage, and that car note, and the health insurance, AND the credit cards, the difference between you and those terrified looking people from the housing projects consists of an expensive education that means nothing to the Wal-Mart manager, and for a couple of weeks, a better haircut. You, too are low cost expendable labor, and if you whine that six dollars an hour is not enough to purchase housing, there are plenty of folks lined up out there who know that housing is out of the question, but they will take the six dollars in hopes of buying food to hoard in their shopping cart under the overpass, or their sister-in-law's two bedroom apartment until she suggests that they really need to start looking for their own space.

Under that overpass can get a lot like a miniature version of the New Orleans convention center pretty quick, and if neither you nor your sister in law are used to living with 12 people in 1200 square feet of space, that option is not going to be much better after a while.

You may have noticed that it seems to take more and more money just to stay in the same place. Maybe you've already cut out extras, and can't really say you have discretionary income any more, unless you count discretion as trying to charge your VISA balance to your MasterCard in hopes of lowering your monthly minimum payment by $14. You may have already started to use those cards to pay for a new tire here, a hefty summer electric bill there, that prescription that your insurance doesn't cover, the deductible for your daughter's broken arm, the deductible you increased so you could afford the "co pay" at all. Yes, you're lucky, your employer pays for part of your coverage!

Maybe your homeowners' insurance went up just a little, and so did your property taxes, and that little just happened to be the diaper budget. Whip out the MasterCard and charge up a year's supply of Pampers at CostCo.

And soon, your minimum payment will double. If you can't handle that, and the rest of the bills, you're a useless eater. You're poor. And you know what America thinks of poor people.

When your town's name is called, you will not be on the high ground of the French Quarter.

And you would be well advised to stay out of your old neighborhood. The new owners of your house have armed guards.

Related link: Advice for the New Poor
The warning flares have been fired. Now, what will you do?

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