Would would have thought that oil barons — of all people! — would be involved in dirty back-room dealings to gorge their gobs with even more swill from the trough? From the Guardian:
“The London offices of BP and Shell have been raided by European regulators investigating allegations they have ‘colluded’ to rig oil prices for more than a decade. The European commission said its officers carried out ‘unannounced inspections’ at several oil companies in London, the Netherlands and Norway to investigate claims they may have ‘colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency [PRA] to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products … It warned: ‘Even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers.'”
Of course, these manipulations of “self-policing” mechanisms for setting prices are endemic across the economic heights commanded by our most illustrious financial and industrial elites, as Matt Taibbi noted last month. And I’m sure the dastardly deeds of the oil companies in fixing prices will be dealt with just as harshly and thoroughly as the recent Libor scandal was: with a few chump-change fines that put not the slightest crimp in the criminals’ operations nor impeded their ready access to the inner circles (and outer fundraisers) of government power.
So while continuing a fierce vigilance against the relentless encroachments of an unhinged, unrestrained and openly murderous government, let us also recognize that the “free market” — often posited as some kind of purer alternative to the state, a mystic realm where the free play of individual desires and activities combine ineffably to produce the best of all possible worlds — is, and always has been, a rigged game where vicious predators seek tyrannical control, by hook, crook and vast corruption, shackling the “free play of individual desires and activities” in every way possible to squeeze out more unjust advantage for themselves.
Of course, the “state” and the “free market” are simply two halves of the same rough beast. The modern “free market’ is the result of massive, continual and pervasive state intervention on its behalf — that is, on behalf of the vicious predators exercising tyrannical control of economic activity — while the state is in practice little more than a vehicle for elite aggrandizement. (Yes, even in America, even from the very beginning. For more, see this piercing piece by Arthur Silber, in which he points us to the remarkable book by Terry Boulton, Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution, which I highly recommend .) If they don’t get you with one head, they’ll get you with the other.
Or as the old song says: “nobody save you now.”
With Julian Assange holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London and whistleblower Bradley Manning facing a full-blown military prosecution, it is tempting to regard the WikiLeaks saga as in its final chapter.
It’s not just the “incredible act of institutional vengeance” upon WikiLeaks source Manning, who faces charges including aiding the enemy and “could, theoretically receive a death sentence”.
There’s also “the horrific case of Aaron Swartz, a genius who helped create the technology behind Reddit at the age of 14, who earlier this year hanged himself after the government threatened him with 35 years in jail for downloading a bunch of academic documents from an MIT server”.
Taibbi notes a number of other examples of “fervent, desperate prosecutions” by US authorities in the cause of secret-keeping.
These prosecutions reflected an obvious institutional terror of letting the public see the sausage-factory locked behind the closed doors not only of the state, but of banks and universities and other such institutional pillars of society.
The WikiLeaks episode, therefore, “was just an early preview of the inevitable confrontation between the citizens of the industrialised world and the giant, increasingly secretive bureaucracies that support them”.
And, writes Taibbi, “the secret-keepers got lucky with WikiLeaks”, with the story playing out as “one about Assange and his personal failings”.
The main event, he reckons, is to come.
Sooner or later, there’s going to be a pitched battle, one where the state won’t be able to peel off one lone Julian Assange or Bradley Manning and batter him into nothingness. Next time around, it’ll be a Pentagon Papers-style constitutional crisis, where the public’s legitimate right to know will be pitted head-to-head with presidents, generals and CEOs.
Taibbi’s piece was prompted by seeing a preview of Alex Gibney’s new documentary film We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. He loved it (“brilliant … beautiful and profound”) but many of Assange’s supporters have been ferociously attacking the film, as Greg Mitchell notes in his Nation column. Even before going on release, the documentary has become “a media sensation”.