While reading my Twitter stream late at night, I came upon the mysterious hashtags #trafigura and #carterruck in a tweet about censorship by someone I follow. Turns out that there's this British counterpart to the infamous Enron called Trafigura has been caught dumping toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. So to suppress any and all media coverage of the scandal, the company hires an equally nasty law firm called Carter-Ruck, which specializes in suing the media in order to censor them. The tag team of Trafigura and Carter-Ruck has succeeded in imposing a gag order so comprehensive that the media in Britain are now forbidden to cover Parliament at all, period. The Spectator defied the gag order to post this article.
Trafigura and Carter-Ruck have, in essence, repealed the 1689 Bill of Rights in the UK. This may have been the ultimate goal of the firm's founder, Peter Carter-Ruck, who had been highly impressed by Hitler in the 1930s. Criminal American corporations and their legal defenders can't even dream of repealing the First Amendment of the US Constitution through anything short of a military coup. Sure enough, their censorship strategy has backfired: the blogosphere has declared war. Just click the Twitter search terms above (except "#NaNoWriMo") and you'll get an idea of the fury Trafigura's censorship has unleashed.
Most of the readers of this blog have never heard of Trafigura. I didn't. Until now, it was just some oil trading firm raping Africa under the protection of obscurity. But then it had to hire that law firm specializing in imposing censorship. Now every news junkie on the Internet knows about it.
Those who have read my posts in this blog on my still unfinished NaNoWriMo novel Bad Company should recognize the portrait of Trafigura currently being revealed in the blogosphere. Doesn't it sound like the story's corporate villain, Dictel Corporation? Among the real-life inspirations for Dictel are Enron and Halliburton/KBR. Add Trafigura to the growing list. And I just realized that a company like Dictel needs a law firm as powerful and dangerous as Carter-Ruck. And across the Atlantic in Britain, whenever Dictel is in need of solicitors to defend it, it would have to rely on none other than Carter-Ruck.
Here's the truth: Corporations are not free associations of free people in a shared quest for prosperity. They are miniature governments. That's why the capitalist system is so often called neofeudal. Like the state itself, the corporation is the natural enemy of the people; as an economic entity, it is also the enemy of the free market. The political system preferred by corporations is corporatism, which can be defined as communism for big business or corporate Stalinism. The Corporation, book and film, is a recommended exposé of the nature of the institution.
Know your enemy. The enemy is corporatism. The power Trafigura and Carter-Ruck now hold over the British government itself exemplifies the danger. Corporatism cannot last forever; in fact, it is collapsing. But it won't go down without a fight. And the corporatists intend to fight to the death. So we have to fight back. Armed with my pen, I'm going to do my part.
UPDATE 10/13/09 6:30 PDT: By the time I started writing this entry, "Trafigura", "Carter-Ruck", and "Guardian" were the three hottest search terms on Twitter. The public pressure from bloggers and Twitter "tweeps" became so intense that Carter-Ruck backed down from its censorship attempt. The gag order backfired: Trafigura (actually a Dutch company), the world's third largest oil trading company, once did its business (criminal and otherwise) in the comfort of obscurity, but now millions of people know about it and its toxic waste dumping in the Ivory Coast; its name now carries the same infamy as that of Enron. And Carter-Ruck have now achieved a new level of infamy, to the point where a new bit of rhyming slang has become popular: "Carter-Ruck you!" The Guardian itself has the full update.
Still, even though it was defeated, this censorship attempt by a notoriously litigious corporation backed by Britain's nastiest media-libel law firm is a perfect example of the extremes to which corporations will go in order to do whatever they want to anybody and anything in defiance of all consequences. Thomas Jefferson famously said, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." One lesson I learned today is how important it is to broaden media access; the Internet makes it easy for millions of people to gain such access. The new media saved the collective butt of the old. If a giant corporation had used the likes of Carter-Ruck to censor the media before the Internet, it would have gotten away with it. Things have changed — for the better. Still, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent...
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