Georgia on my mind – gangsters, oil and blood

Warning: this post contains some AO language and is not really about taxi drivers at all.

I have a lot of respect for cab drivers. Most of the time they’re really well-educated and they’re all very, very  street-smart. Last night I got a ride home with Ahmad. He’s from Afghanistan and he was listening to the BBC World Service.

There were items about the conflict in Georgia and so we got to talking. It was quite funny to realise that my chat with Ahmad was the perfect dessert to my main course argument with my colleague Wayne at the Brooklyn.

Wayne and I had been talking about Russia, Georgia, gangster capitalism, transnationals and failed or failing states. Ahmad segued straight into that line of thinking off the back of the World Service reports from Georgia. Ahmad has been all over the world. He thinks the Russians are crazy and hates the American presence in his homeland. There’s a nice, balanced logic to his position and I’m instantly drawn to a stranger who’s making my journey smooth on a soggy Auckland night.

My conversations with Wayne and Ahmad  led to this little tome: gangster capitalism, the looming resource wars and ‘regime change’.

What happens when you give gangsters access to new-killer weapons of mass distraction?

One big mother of all explosions and a shitrain of trouble for everyone from South Ossetia to the Bird’s Nest. As one seemingly well-connected journo/blogger, Steve LeVine of Business Week,  puts it: The Oil and the Glory. Neat.

it all centres on what is actually happening in Beijingand Tbilisi (and other points in time and space) – the materiality, as I kept arguing with Wayne, although we’d moved on to the Cosmos and Flux by that point. It wasn’t until I jumped into Ahmad’s cab that I could draw the strands of a dialectic together and make a picture of the near and now.

Beijing and South Ossetia typify what’s wrong with the capitalist world.
Blood, sweat, tears, oil and napalm
. Gangsgter capitalism seems to be the global norm; hidden under a veneer of national pride; competition and consumerism.

I’m not making up this idea about gangster capitalism – it basically refers to a system of capitalism built on a foundation of massive corruption.

This little insight from today in the Georgian city of Gori, which is currently under Russian occupation, makes the whole thing seem like a fantastic warped Gonzo dream; only it’s real:

We got a picture of what that occupation could look like, at least for now, in the Georgian city of Gori today. Under the watchful eyes of Russian soldiers sitting on tanks, a paramilitary soldier stole two new SUVs belonging to United Nations officials, then dispersed them and journalists by firing into the air. As described by Yaroslav Trofimov, my former Wall Street Journal colleague, three of the U.N. officials escaped by jumping into his car, which then sped away. [Steve LeVine – The Genocide in South Ossetia, 15 August 2008]

Remember, this is from Business Week, hardly a lefty haven. It’s a crazy fucken’ mess, but there is some truth to it…first a little digression.

Russia today is the headline example of gangster capitalism, but many also believe it applies to China. I think you could argue that Afghanistan and to some degree Iraq are also now in this league, thanks mainly to the generous “rebuilding” being funded by oil revenues and American tax-payers.

Russia began moving towards gangster capitalism in the early 1990s:

Russia’s descent into gangster capitalism began in the early 1990s when Russian market reformers attempted to introduce capitalism in one fell swoop—on the advice of Western advisors, particularly Harvard University “shock therapist,” Professor Jeffrey Sachs and his capitalist provocateurs at the Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID).
(Holmstrom & Smith, 2000)

[Sachs with Bono]

How did this injection of shock therapy create a systemic and endemic gangster culture in the Russian economy? [look here] The rapid and forced privatization of every key activity in the Russian economy under ‘fire sale’ conditions meant that party bosses were able to scoop up assets for little or no down payment. They instantly became the economic czars and…

Instead of plowing their stolen wealth into productivity-enhancing investments, as Sachs’ reformers had hoped, they have, for the most part, just socked their loot away in secret western bank accounts or squandered it on yachts and villas on the French Riviera. By the mid-nineties, Russia’s red bourgeoisie had stashed more than 150 billion dollars in foreign bank accounts, investments, and properties. At home, they’ve “invested” in furs, limousines, and high living. And they’ve hired private armies of gun thugs to defend their stolen wealth and possessions (from each other). But this is only until, as the Thatcherite Economist frankly acknowledged, the “legitimacy” of these stolen properties can be ratified by compliant governments—as were the enclosures in England or the vast land grabs in the nineteenth-century United States. (Holmstrom & Smith, 2000)

So, Russia is the paradigm case of gangster capitalism, but the shock therapy of Jeffrey Sachs and others is well-documented by Naomi Klein in her excellent book Shock Doctrine (see my review). There’s also the well-reviewed 2005 book by Micheal Widiwiss, Gangster capitalism: the United States and the global rise organized crime.

For the better part of the 20th century the mass media has done an excellent job of selling the biggest lie of all, that we in the West live in democratic societies ruled by a political class that allegedly represents us and our interests, and the country where this lie has been sold to the greatest effect is undoubtedly the United States of America.‘Gangster Capitalism’ documents the lie in all its sordid details from the days of the ‘Robber Barons’ through to the ‘War on Terror’ and all the stops in-between, the ‘War on Communism’, the ‘War on Drugs’. Between them, they are responsible for an assault of unparalleled brutality that is global in scope and a lie that has been so successfully sold, it has dragged much of the planet into going along with it. (Bowles, Investigating Imperialism, 2005)


The Chinese case is also interesting, as we’ve seen throughout the build up to the Beijing Olympics.  China’s record on human rights at home (not to mention Tibet) and the unbridled expansion of its economy at any cost to the environment and to people are clear signs of the nation’s emergence as a new capitalist superpower. As Holmstrom and Smith argue, this too shows signs of an emerging criminal elite:

In the ongoing collapse of China’s social order into a pell-mell capitalist free-for-all, it is no longer clear who owns what. As in Russia, the transition to a market economy in the absence of a bourgeois legal framework is fast producing a descent into corruption, criminality, gangster capitalism, and violence in a society-wide struggle over property. (Holmstrom & Smith, 2000)

The Olympics are one big gangster scam. The whole facade is a three-card monte, it’s all about taking your money and the whole system’s in on it – everyone from CBS and TVNZ to the BBC, Nabisco, dairy producers and Nike. The Chinese have faked up the Olympics to hide their ugly, rotten corpse of an economy from the rest of the world, but not from their gangster mates.

Not only were the fireworks created in Photoshop, but the disgusting charade of national unity is a sick, fucked up joke too. Even the Chinese Olympics Vice President (there’s a lovely, corrupt title to give gangsters a chillthrill) couldn’t escape the stink. Fifty-six ‘ethnic’ faces in national costume at the opening ceremony were not who they were made out to be. Mr Wang Wei explains:

Games Vice President Wang Wei was rapidly into damage control mode, downplaying the latest incident.

“It is typical for Chinese performers to wear different apparel from different ethnic groups. There is nothing special about it,” Wang told reporters.

“They will wear different apparel to signify people are friendly and happy together.”

[Ethnic children faked]

“Friendly and happy together”? Signifies bullshit Mr Wang; signifies attempts by the gangster state to pretend to the world that all is hunky-dory. For those of you who think the opening ceremony was “awesome”; wake up and smell the scam. You have  been fooled. Don’t let it happen next time.

The exploitation of children from the gangster-state sanctioned Galaxy Children’s Art Troupe was meant to hide the Chinese government’s ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide policies.According to the People’s Daily, the Galaxy Troupe is part of the state-run television service, CCTV; it ain’t pretty; at best it’s the kids of the gangster-elite getting a leg-up; at worst, it’s slave labour.

Don’t worry, the sponsors lapped it up.

Sponsorship contributes more than 40% of Olympic marketing revenue. Each level of sponsorship entitles companies to different marketing rights in various regions, category exclusivity and the use of designated Olympic images and marks.

The Olympic Movement works continually to protect the rights of sponsors.

[It’s official IOC propaganda]

Fuck them too; every last dollar-grabbing, baby-fucking bastard on the list.

Geez, I am fucken’angry tonight. I don’t care, this shit is important.

So, to the oil trail

who’s at fault in the current Russia-Georgia conflict? It’s not easy to work this out. According to some commentators, Georgian president Sasskashvili is a civilised, pro-Western, “smart, young president”, who “speaks perfect English”. But, he’s also part of the gangster class of nationalist wardogs who’ve taken over the former Soviet states. Don’t forget the conflict started because Georgian troops attacked nationalist “rebels” in South Ossetia. And don’t forget that the “rebels” were fighitng a national liberation struggle, but to the Georgians they were “terrorists”. On the other hand there’s an almost appeasement-style argument from those who think Russian shit don’t stink.

The story of this war, it seems, will be that the US faced down a snarling, expansionist Russia, and forced it to limp back to its lair.

This is a travesty. But it is only the latest and most glaring in a series of Western misrepresentations and misreadings of Russian intentions throughout this sorry episode. They began with the repeated references to Russian “aggression” and “invasion”, continued through charges of intended “regime change”, and culminated in alarmist reports about Russian efforts to bomb the east-west energy pipeline. None of this, not one bit of it, is true.

[Mary Dejevsky, The Independent]

Oh the irony. George W Bush accuses the Russians of seeking “regime change” in Georgia, while the Georgians argue they’re fighting the “war against terror” in South Ossetia and the Russians appeal to nationalist pride and gore to “defend” the poor South Ossetians against Georgian “expansionism”. No wonder we’re left wondering “What the fuck!”

Well,how about this: Mary Dejevsky is not an independent journalist; she’s actually an “author” associated with some weirdarse think tank called openDemocracy. I’m not sure what this is, but I am a tiny bit suspicious. All i can say is this needs further investigation. Open source journalism is interesting, but like most things, it can be misconstrued and hijacked by dribblejaws.

I’m stopping now; dinner’s ready, it’s nearly 8pm on Saturday. The sabbath is unnholy in this house, we honour it with a visit to the markets and then a nice dinner. Plus today we had the added stress of a sick Josie. She’s OK, but the vet  visit was stressful for Moac and me.

Before I go, it’s all about oil – again. Are we heading towards the first global war of the 21st century? Maybe, but Wayne reckons a series of small, dirty wars; I argued that if you look at history, ten years of small dirty wars can plunge into global conflict pretty damn quickly.

Oil: this is it

“Recent escalation in military engagement between Russia and Georgia poses a threat to certain key oil and gas pipelines which transit Georgia,” the International Energy Agency said.

Two hours after the report was published, Georgia said that Russian aircraft had attacked the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, the second such attack since Sunday, but said it did not know if the pipe had been damaged.

Russia denied it had made any deliberate attack.

Georgia conflict a threat to strategic oil supplies

Whatever the situation for 60,000 refugees, BP and it’s gangster corporate henchdogs will keep the oil flowing. Good news?

Georgia has said that Russian bombers badly damaged the port of Poti, which the shipping agent said was out of action. “Poti is not operating at all. Technically it is OK to start but the stevedores don’t feel safe enough.”

BP, a BTC shareholder, said Azeri crude was being transferred y pipeline to Supsa and by rail to Batumi, but did not comment on whether tanker shipments from the ports had been affected.

“Exports are continuing via the two routes,” BP spokesman Robert Wine said. Asked if the fighting in Georgia had affected BP operations, he said: “Not currently, but we will monitor the situation.”

Some 200,000 barrels per day of oil and refined oil products has been going from and via Azerbaijan to Europe via Batumi and 100,000 bpd to Poti, according to industry sources.

In addition, since the BTC explosion industry sources have said that BP has been sending some 45,000 bpd to Supsa on the Georgian Black Sea coast with an aim to raise it to 150,000 bpd.

Oil port bombed; or not?

A little history on the Ceyhan-Tbilisi-Batumi (Baku) pipeline. I kid you not, this gushing language is real:

History may judge it as one of the capital moves of the 21st century’s New Great Game: May 25 [2005], the day high-quality Caspian light crude started flowing through the Caucasus toward the Mediterranean in Turkey. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) – conceived by the US as the ultimate Western escape route from dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf – is finally in business.

This is what Pipelineistan is all about: a supreme law unto itself – untouchable by national sovereignty, serious environmental concerns (expressed both in the Caucasus and in Europe), labor legislation, protests against the World Bank, not to mention mountains 2,700 meters high and 1,500 small rivers. BTC took 10 years of hard work and at least US$4 billion – $3 billion of which is in bank loans. BTC is not merely a pipeline: it is a sovereign state.

Oils ain’t oils

No blood for oil. Again; when will we do something about this godawful mess?

They are all gangsters.

Ahmad understands this. We got to this point in a ten minute cab ride. Wayne’s on the money too. Capitalism, temporality and the collapsing nation state.

It has to stop.


10 Responses to Georgia on my mind – gangsters, oil and blood

  1. William says:

    What is it with journalists and taxi drivers? I can barely find one that speaks English let alone one that can find himself around the city. And yet here we have a globe-trotting Muslim that listens to the BBC, hates Americans and thinks Russians are crazy. So much for traveling broadening the mind. And there’s all those deep discussions with passengers he keeps having. But then I suspect there is no Ahmad. There may be a Wayne – bit of a worry actually.

  2. Sorry William, but there is an Ahmad. If you actually open your dribblejaws’ mind and put the racism away you might actually be surprised. All you have to do is be polite and listen, after all just because someone has English as a second language doesn’t mean they’re stupid, or ignorant. Just like when someone has English as a first language you can’t assume they actually engage their brain before speaking.

    Not sure if Ahmad is a Muslim or not; I didn’t ask and I don’t presume.
    Unlike you, I suspect.

    Journalists actually talk to taxi drivers because they’re curious and mostly reasonably open-minded and here’s the killer, actually find it interesting to have conversations with total strangers.
    Travel does indeed broaden the mind.

  3. BTW: I forgot to say “Fuck you”, for thinking I’d make up a source.

  4. William says:

    His name is Ahmad. He comes from Afghanistan. And you don’t know if he’s Muslim or not? What kind of journalist are you? You’re right, I actually am surprised.
    As for that awful language!

  5. Get over it. You come to my place and insult me and then get offended, Me think you do protest too much.
    And you’re still a racist. Go away.

  6. William says:

    Offended? No. Slurs and expletives – well, if you lack a certain verbal dexterity I guess they come in useful. As for the globe-trotting Afghani – was the story possible? Anything’s possible. Probable? No. I do believe however that you happily accost coloured males. Perhaps you’re curious and find foreign men interesting. My guess is that you love diversity when it comes to colour but uniformity when it comes to thought. Not that there is a lot of thought – anyone who can meet a man named Ahmad who comes from Afghanistan and he is still not sure if he’s Muslim or not. And he calls himself a journalist! What does it take to connect the dots?

  7. Now you add latent homophobia to your list of accomplishments.

  8. William says:

    Clearly, you haven’t met many accomplished people. And I’m afraid that accosting Afghanis in taxis isn’t going to improve matters.

  9. Sveta Valieva says:

    What crack are you smoking?! South Ossetia was attacked by Georgia and repeatedly if you look into history of the region. Georgians have brutally tried to wipe out Ossetians on many occasions. Your mumbling attempts at the truth are pathetic.

  10. […] Fascism and other forms of autocratic secular regimes (Stalinist Russia and now Putin’s Gangster Capitalism; China, Burma, Sri Lanka) we also have to worry about theocratic authoritariansm (like Iran, […]

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