New Orleans left to drown by the Bush administration after hurricane Katrina

In reading Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil, I came across this description of the government of Congo Brazzaville.

. . . it is not just inefficient public companies that are being privatized – but the very functions of the state. State shipping taxes on oil and timber are paid to private interests, and not recorded in the budget. The national airline collapsed down to little more than a vehicle for collecting air transit fees from foreign airlines; private firms have armlocks on port and shipping facilities, telecommunications, and banks, breaking laws freely or having parliament rubber-stamp new ones in their favor.

As state institutions give way to private interests, Congo’s government stands increasingly on just three remaining pillars: first, the internationally recognized sovereignty that legitimizes the oil and banking contracts; second, the state oil company and the oil and finance ministries that manage the financial engineering; and, finally the armed forces that protect the system. Even ongoing low-level conflict is tolerated, as long as it does not threaten the sovereign extractive core. “Not only do these state institutions survive, but the state begins to hang off these institutions as if nothing else existed . . . They deal with the intricacies of oil-backed loans and the oil industries. They become the state. It is not a collapsed state but a privatized state. With a collapsed state, the rulers lose control; with a privatized state, they can even increase the possibility of accumulation.”

“The people are utterly disenfranchised . . In the city everything is expensive” . . . an attractive world of international airports, satellite dishes, oil rigs, French cafes, and air-conditioned hairdressers . . . “in the rural areas there is nothing. Rape and gang-rape are taken to violent extremes; there is a total lack of structure in society, and generalized impunity . . . Congo is two nations.”
(Poisoned Wells by Nicholas Shaxson, p.116-117, ISBN 978-1403971944)

What struck me is that this is the final reduction when government is privatized. This looks like the ultimate outcome of the kind of government to which Bush/Cheney are leading the US.

The treatment of New Orleans following hurricane Katrina is one example, as illustrated above. But there are others. Sometime earlier this year I read about the Bush administration trying to privatize functions of the IRS, including tax collection, which sounds a great deal like Congo Brazzaville.

Bush vetoing the SCHIP childrens health insurance is another. The Republican argument reduces to: if your parents can’t afford private health insurance, you can’t have health insurance.

And the privatizing of spying, the outsourcing of intelligence is another example. The people who have been doing the spying on the American people are for the most part not government workers. The people spying on US citizens are private companies, the telecommunications giants, working at the behest of the Bush administration. In the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) contract employees occupy 51% of DIA office space. And The Spy Who Billed Me asks a number of questions about this, including:

  • Can the DIA afford $1 billion of staff who are paid a “private business salary” when it’s own government staff receive “taxpayer funded salaries”?
  • Can the DIA really afford $1 billion of staff who do not have a fiduciary duty to the DIA, but to another entity?

John Holt, in a recent article in the London Review of Books speculates that the current situation in Iraq is exactly what Bush and Cheney had in mind when they invaded Iraq.

On the assumption that the Bush-Cheney strategy is oil-centred, the tactics – dissolving the army, de-Baathification, a final ‘surge’ that has hastened internal migration – could scarcely have been more effective. The costs – a few billion dollars a month plus a few dozen American fatalities (a figure which will probably diminish, and which is in any case comparable to the number of US motorcyclists killed because of repealed helmet laws) – are negligible compared to $30 trillion in oil wealth, assured American geopolitical supremacy and cheap gas for voters. In terms of realpolitik, the invasion of Iraq is not a fiasco; it is a resounding success.

And, of course, the costs do not include any consideration of the cost to the Iraqis, once again looking like the Congo Brazzaville model. And Bush and Cheney increase their possibilities for accumulation.