Quantum of Suffering: Economic Hitmen Target Main Street

"You should know something about me, and the people I work with.

We deal with the left and the right, dictators or liberators. If the current president had been more agreeable, I wouldn’t be talking to you.

So if you decide not to sign, you’ll wake up with your b-lls in your mouth, and your willing replacement standing over you.

If you doubt that, then shoot me, take the money, and have a good night’s sleep."

Dominic Greene, political acquisitions specialist for the secretive Quantum criminal oligarchy, explains to Gen. Medrano — the organization’s new pet Bolivian dictator — how the world really works, as seen in the film Quantum of Solace.

If we were to suture a toupee — preferably in a procedure not involving anesthetic — to the scalp of Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman Sachs commissar would strongly resemble Dominic Greene, the reptilian villain of the most recent James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

Blankfein already resembles Greene in ways that transcend physiognomy. The same can be said regarding the fictional Quantum criminal syndicate and the corrupt real-life oligarchy to which Blankfein belongs.

Although hampered with an undercooked script and an editing style that makes the action sequences all but impossible to follow (think of what Michael Bay would do to a film after a two-day Red Bull jag), Quantum of Solace is the only Bond film to feature an entirely believable villain, and a surprisingly credible Evil Plot.

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Dominic Greene is a composite of several real-life oligarchs. In addition to his resemblance to Blankfein, Greene — an ersatz conservationist who plunders countries and overthrows governments behind a facade of environmental philanthropy — also somewhat resembles Maurice Strong and George Soros.

Quantum itself is a Bilderberg-like Power Elite fraternity seeking control over the global economy. To that end, the group finances terrorism and revolution (which played a significant role in the previous — and much superior — Bond film, Casino Royale) with utter indifference to the ideology of its allies. It is the objective — the consolidation of power — that matters, rather than the doctrine used to recruit and motivate the cannon fodder.

At least one of the four people responsible for the Quantum of Solace screenplay appears to be at least superficially familiar with the writings of Carroll Quigley and C. Wright Mills. Dominic Greene’s little lecture to Quantum’s Bolivian rent-a-thug, General Medrano, brings to mind the following observation by Quigley:

“There does exist … an international Anglophile network which operates in the way the radical Right believes the Communists act. In fact, this network has no aversion to cooperating with the Communists and frequently does so.”

In the film, Greene and Quantum recruited General Medrano to overthrow the leftist government of Bolivia. All the cabal seeks in return is a large tract of barren desert.

When the CIA starts sniffing around the scheme, thinking it may involve an oil field, Greene buys them off with a side deal: He promises Washington a petroleum concession if the Company permits the coup to proceed.

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By infiltrating a Quantum teleconference, Bond learns of a plot to control “one of the world’s most precious resources.” In Bolivia he discovers that Greene — working under the cover of his “Greene Planet” land acquisition corporation — is actually planning to monopolize Bolivia’s water supply, en route to creation of a global water cartel.

Medrano initially balks when told to sign an agreement giving Quantum control over the country’s water utility (which would double the price Bolivians were paying for the service), but he grudgingly scribbles his signature when he’s reminded how easily he could be replaced.

In addition to the writings of Quigley and Mills, John Perkins‘ 2005 memoir-expos Confessions of an Economic Hitman appears to have inspired at least some aspects of the Quantum of Solace storyline. Perkins’ book has been dismissed as spy fiction by some critics, including the U.S. State Department. However, his "economic hitman theory" has received academic support in a recent study by specialists in the field of "forensic economics."

According to Perkins, the organs of international finance, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, use U.S. covert agencies to carry out what is essentially a global loan-sharking scheme.

As an economic forecaster covertly recruited by U.S. intelligence in the 1960s, Perkins was dispatched to various countries — including Indonesia and Panama — as an “Economic Hitman,” or EHM. His role was to help induce national leaders to take out huge World Bank loans to fund mammoth infrastructure programs.

Perkins claims that he was just one EHM among thousands plying the same trade worldwide. If an EHM is successful, writes Perkins, “the [World Bank] loans are so large that the debtor is forced to default on its payments after a few years. When this happens, then like the Mafia we demand our pound of flesh. This often includes one or more of the following: control over United Nations votes, the installation of military bases, or access to precious resources…. Of course, the debtor still owes us money — and another country is added to our global empire.”

Economic Hitmen aren’t the only weapons in the Power Elite’s arsenal. Perkins also refers to “Jackals,” who are sent to deal with the most refractory foreign leaders by fomenting revolutions, or staging assassinations.

“When the Jackals fail,” Perkins continues, “young Americans are sent in to kill and die.”

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These depredations aren’t confined to the Third World, at least as that designation is conventionally understood.

During the early years of the 21st Century, just before the Federal Reserve’s most recent debt bubble collapsed, the EHMs preyed on municipal and county governments across the United States. Among their victims are the residents of Jefferson County, Alabama, which has been bankrupted and ruined as the result of a plot eerily similar in some ways to the one depicted in Quantum of Solace.

In 1996, Birmingham was forced to sign a federal consent decree requiring it to reconstruct its municipal sewer system. The initial estimated cost was roughly $250 million. However, that initial cost estimate was like a tiny grain of sand lodged inside the mantle of an oyster. With the eager help of Wall Street debt-pushers, Jefferson County’s political establishment quickly turned that grain of sand into an immense pearl of civic corruption, inflating the cost of the project to $3 billion.

When the County Commission sought lenders to refinance its sewer bonds, JP Morgan dispatched a low-grade EHM named Charles E. LeCroy. In 2002, Larry P. Langford, a man with a troubled financial background and a weakness for expensive clothes, was appointed president of the Jefferson County Commission — and LeCroy had his General Medrano.

LeCroy compromised Langford with the clinical precision of a practiced seducer. Plying him with expensive clothes, jewelry, and cash payouts, LeCroy induced Langford to sign off on a series of esoteric “synthetic debt swaps” that eventually inflated the county’s debt — for rebuilding a sewer system, remember — to $5.4 billion.

The mechanics of these financial instruments are deliberately convoluted; the agreements were cluttered with recondite language designed to obstruct understanding and conceal trip-wires and trap-doors.

“I needed somebody to tell me what all that stuff was,” Langford testified in a June 2008 deposition. “And even when they told me, I still don’t understand 99 percent of it.”

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Seeking an “independent” adviser to vet JP Morgan’s proposals, Langford turned to William Blount, who ran the local investment firm of Blount Parrish & Company. It’s entirely possible that Langford honestly didn’t know, at first, that Blount had also been compromised by Quantum — er, make that JP Morgan. In fact, Blount’s $300,000 side-deal with LeCroy was roughly double the size of Langford’s price tag.

In Quantum of Solace, Bond discovers that Greene and his cohorts had managed to buy off dozens of officials in both the U.S. and British governments with promises of lucrative oil concessions. (One refreshing aspect of the film is the fact that every government institution it depicts — from the CIA to the Britain’s Special Branch, from the White House to 10 Downing Street down to street police in La Paz — is hopelessly, incurably corrupt.) As Mr. White, a bagman for Quantum who had been introduced in Casino Royale, tells Bond: “The first thing you need to know about us is that we have people everywhere” — including supposed allies in key positions within U.S. and British intelligence.

As mentioned earlier, Dominic Greene was able to get the CIA to butt out of Bolivia in exchange for a bogus oil deal. It cost LeCroy, JP Morgan’s EHM in Birmingham, $3 million to persuade Goldman Sachs to avert its gaze from the opportunities for plunder in Jefferson County.

When queried by a comrade at JP Morgan, LeCroy explained that the money was the price of Goldman “not messing with us. It’s a lot of money, but in the end, it’s worth it on a billion-dollar deal.”

As the irreplaceable Matt Taibbi pointed out in his definitive journalistic autopsy of Jefferson County, just about everybody in the Banking Cabal sought a piece of the action: Four of the nation’s top investment banks, the very cream of American finance, were involved in one way or another with payoffs to Blunt in their scramble to do business with the county.

"In addition to JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns paid Langford’s bagman $2.4 million, while Lehman Brothers got off cheap with a $35,000 ‘arranger’s fee,’" Taibbi writes. "At least a dozen of the county’s contractors were also cashing in, along with many of the county commissioners.”

Dozens of local businessmen and political officials — including Langford, who was elected Birmingham Mayor in 2007, and Blount — have been convicted on charges of bribery and other forms of corruption. LeCroy was eventually convicted and sent to prison for three months — yes, three months — for his role in a similar criminal enterprise in Philadelphia.

Some of those responsible for pillaging Jefferson County are behind bars, but nothing they will experience will compare to the suffering they have left in their wake.

A chilling scene near the end of Quantum of Solace shows Indian peasants looking on in frustration and alarm as their local water pumps suddenly run dry in (temporary) consummation of Greene’s plan. More than a few residents of Jefferson County have lived through very similar privations.

County residents now pay an estimated $750 a year for municipal services, more than twice the national average. Sewer costs are now 300 percent higher than they were when the reconstruction project began in 1996. These ruinous increases reflect the fact that those sentenced to live in Jefferson County are being taxed to pay the service on the debts created by JP Morgan’s Economic Hitman and his seraglio of civic servants.

Birmingham resident Dora Bonner, a woman in her 70s who lives on a Social Security check and shares her home with four grandchildren, was among those forced to choose between paying a $250 water bill or keeping the furnace running in wintertime. “I couldn’t afford the water, so they shut it off,” Bonner told Bloomberg News.

Jefferson County residents draw nearer to bankruptcy every time they shower or flush the toilet. JP Morgan, the architects of this misery, received $25 billion in TARP bailout money and unspecified tens of billions more from indirect subsidies. Last year it dished out more than $11 billion in management bonuses.

After the Economic Hitmen have done their work, John Perkins informs us, those who employ them send in first the jackals, then the troops. The destruction of Alabama’s most populous county suggests that, at least where domestic operations are concerned, Quantum’s real-life counterparts might simply skip the second stage and go directly to martial law.

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Last fall, a “kind of civil legal civil war broke out” in Jefferson County “when three county agencies — the sheriff’s department, an indigent-care hospital and the tax-assessor’s office — sued the county commission to stop … budget cuts on the grounds that they posed a danger to public safety,” reported Bloomberg News last October.

Maintaining that budget cuts would make it impossible to provide law enforcement coverage for Jefferson County, Sheriff Mike Hale suggested that it would be necessary to call in the National Guard to serve as a police force. In fact, as AlterNet’s Mike Ames observes, martial law is “a logical progression in the ongoing billionaire plunder of America.”

In March 2009, following a shooting rampage in which 27-year-old Samson, Alabama resident Michael McClendon murdered ten people before killing himself, troops from Fort Rucker “were brought into Samson and other surrounding areas to patrol the streets,” reported Ames. “This was a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, every freedom-loving American’s worst nightmare.”

A subsequent investigation by the Army confirmed that it was illegal to dispatch soldiers to patrol the streets and man roadblocks, but no effort was made to identify, let alone punish, those responsible. As Ames points out, the damage done in Alabama by Wall Street’s Economic Hitmen was hardly confined to Jefferson County: Pilgrim’s Pride, one of the state’s largest private employers, was seduced into leveraging itself into bankruptcy.

“Now you can see why Alabamans are loading up on so many weapons,” concludes Ames. For the same reason, it’s not surprising that some statewide political campaigns in Alabama this year have an insurrectionary tone — not that this is necessarily a bad thing, of course. The problem, predictably enough, is that the understandable rage and frustration are likely to be skillfully misdirected in the service of the same people who have all but reduced the state to Third World status.

Those of us who don’t live in Alabama need not feel left out, since — as Quantum’s Mr. White might put it — Wall Street’s taxpayer-subsidized oligarchy has people everywhere. Their fingerprints will most likely be found wherever a municipal or county government is suffocating in debt and wringing whatever revenue it can from tax victims who have nothing left to give.

Yes, I know: Quantum of Solace is a silly movie, full of implausible action gags and dodgy dialogue. And yet….