Monday, November 21, 2011

Plutocracy Watch

The 1 percent are having to take ever-greater measures to protect themselves from the indigent masses:

Protests are a payday for security firms (New York Times):
They call when they make the Forbes 400 list. They call when annual hedge fund rankings appear, when their names are mentioned on CNBC and when their children travel abroad. And, these days, they call when protesters camped in Lower Manhattan grow uncomfortable with the idea of their existence.

The ultra-rich bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity executives of New York City have long enlisted private security firms to help safeguard them and their wealth. But as the mood on Main Street turns increasingly hostile, New York’s financial titans are cranking their security measures up to 11. For the high-end security firms that provide the moneyed elite with specialty services like around-the-clock bodyguards and elaborate home security systems, Occupy Wall Street has been a stimulus package all its own.

“We expect to more than double our revenue in New York this year,” said Paul M. Viollis, a co-founder of Risk Control Strategies, a firm that protects some of the top executives on Wall Street.

The executive protection industry has existed as long as there have been executives, but it got a boost in 2003, when Edward S. Lampert, a Greenwich hedge fund manager, was kidnapped by four men on his way to his car. The men stuffed the billionaire into a Ford Expedition at gunpoint, took him to a motel and tied him up in the bathroom for two days. (Mr. Lampert survived the incident, and his kidnappers were caught and convicted.)

These days, bankers and hedge fund managers are willing to spend millions of dollars to avoid enduring anything similar.
That’s right, they’ll spend millions of dollars for security and private protection, but not a penny more in taxes for schools, libraries, etc.  The rich are sociopaths, pure and simple. In other news, limos aren’t good enough for the 1 percent anymore; they’ve taken to driving around cities in armored mobile offices called "sprinters":
Steve Kantor admits that he likes to travel in style. He is an affable investment banker, concerned about flaunting his wealth, but he drives around Manhattan in what looks like a simple black delivery van.

Of course, most vans do not have chauffeurs, as Mr. Kantor’s has. Or a built-in office, custom installed.

“I have two big-screen televisions; I have a couch in the back that goes into a bed,” Mr. Kantor said. “I have four chairs that go back and massage you. It has a desk, a table and an intercom so you can have meetings in there if you want to.”

As the economy limps along and more attention is paid to the so-called 1 percent, some of the richest New Yorkers have taken to driving around in vehicles that ooze neither wealth nor privilege. But on the inside, the vans may be as lavishly decorated as the private railroad cars owned by turn-of-the-century industrialists.

Some owners use them as mobile offices, outfitted with fine leather chairs and Persian rugs; vans may also double as a child’s playroom on wheels, complete with a built-in vacuum to clean what the children dirty.

And while some owners say they are drawn to the vehicles’ vanilla exteriors, their outsize profiles cannot help but draw attention: at more than 22 feet long and nearly 9 feet tall, they look like cargo vans on steroids, their high roof lines dwarfing nearly all that surrounds them on the streets of New York. And that’s before the satellite dishes are raised.

For the rich, cargo vans on steroids (New York Times)

Outraged yet? And should the 1 percent need to fly somewhere, pehaps to broker a merger costing thousands of jobs, they can be sure to fly in style:
The gap between first class and coach has never been so wide.

Carriers on international flights are offering private suites for first-class passengers, three-star meals and personal service once found only on corporate jets. They provide massages before takeoff, whisk passengers through special customs lanes and drive them in a private limousine right to the plane. Some have bars. One airline has installed showers onboard.

The amenities in the back of the cabin? Sparse.

So as domestic travelers take to the skies for the holiday season, most will be in cramped cabins, their food is likely to be bland and they will have paid for it, along with any fees for slightly more legroom or checked bags.

But even as they have cut back on domestic service, including first-class accommodations, the airlines have been engaged in a global battle for top executives and the superwealthy on their international routes. Though only a privileged few can afford to pay $15,000 to fly first class from New York to Singapore or Sydney, the airlines are betting that the image of luxury they project for the front helps attract passengers to the rest of the plane. That includes a growing business-class section with offerings once solely the preserve of first class.
Taking First-Class Coddling Above and Beyond (New York Times)

Now you may wonder if the super-rich are worried that such ostentatious displays of wealth and privilege will cause the masses to revolt in a time of falling living standards, mass unemployment, gutted social services, lack of health care, foreclosures, homelessness and overall loss of hope. Fear not. In a absolutely chilling post, John Robb describes what he sees as the method of control:
The question this should raise: how do a very, very small group of neo-feudal plutocrats control a global population (of economic losers) in the modern context?

Right now? Lawfare and the bureaucracy of the nation-state. As things continue to degrade, that veneer of legality and constraint will fade and become less effective.

Long term? Bots. Software bots. Drones. My good friend Daniel Suarez did a great job of demonstrating how this works in his books Daemon and Freedom.

In short, bots will increasingly allow a VERY small group of people (in our case, a small group of plutocrats that act as the world's economic central planners) to amplify their power/dominance in a the physical world to a degree never seen before.

Software bots automate information dominance. They can do everything from checking purchasing habits to energy use (via smart meters) to social media use o look for "terrorist" signatures. They can dominate markets as we are seeing high frequency trading. These software bots can also automate interactions with human beings from the simple phone spam/customer service phone tree to interfaces like Siri.

Hardware bots include everything from flying drones to crawling rats to kill, maim, or incapacitate individuals and/or groups. Driven by the ability of computational hardware to mimic nature, these bots will be able to do what their counter-parts in nature can do and more (already, although the data isn't official yet, I anticipate the majority of "enemy combatants" killed by the US security system in 2011 were killed by drones). Expect to see them operating in swarms/clouds, conducting highly autonomous decision making (including the decision to kill), and serving in hunter killer roles.

The combination of the two bot systems, software and hardware, provides the means to automate control of vast populations. A perfect, privatized solution for an extremely small group of plutocrats.
Q: How Will Plutocrats Dominate a World? A: Bots (Global Guerrillas)

Doubtless they will control the bots from their floating offshore islands that they are now constructing, free from any legal constraints. That is, when they're not jetting into space for a vacation. But I'm sure they all "earned it", right?

Welcome to Capitalism 2.0.

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