Scott Walker defeated his opponents in the Wisconsin recall election

His was a landslide victory. Walker’s victory affirmed the party-duopoly which governs the United States because both candidates were system politicians in good standing, both accepted managed democracy as legitimate. Democracy ‘won’: the system ‘worked.’

Walker’s victory is an unqualified disaster for the left, at least for any left committed to popular participation, democratic accountability and equality. It does not matter a jot that Walker had enormous financial resources to use in this election, pace those who claim otherwise (see, for instance, this and this). He did not buy votes. The election was not decided by the work of a Republican Party Sturmabteilung. What matters is Walker was a nationally known political reactionary and who had the backing of the reactionary faction of the nation’s economic elite and oligarchs, and who used these resources to muster the popular support he needed to defeat all of his opponents in what appears to have been a fairly contested election. Walker had to be defeated in order for the left in America to deliver on the promises generated by the Wisconsin Uprising and by the Occupy Movement. Anything less than a Walker defeat in this recall election meant a general and decisive defeat of the political left.

How important was this election? In my estimation, the Wisconsin recall election was so important that Walker’s latest victory may well stand alongside Reagan’s destruction of PATCO, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, Bush v. Gore, passage of the Patriot Act, the 2004 electoral affirmation of the Bush regime and the Iraq Occupation as well as Barack Obama’s steadfast affirmation of the security-surveillance state as recent landmark moments in the dissolution of America’s democracy.

Another click of the ratchet

The role the police play in a modern society ought to be straightforward and well-known. The police broadly considered ought to act with certain goals in mind, namely — to implement the laws of the land while ensuring these laws are observed and bringing to the courts those individuals and institutions which fail to obey those laws. (At one time, the police were also charged with maintaining the general welfare of the people.) The police are empowered by law to meet these goals. Since the United States is a constitutional republic, policing in America must be performed in such a way that the police habitually observe constitutional norms while fulfilling their duties. When the police are considered in this way, it is clear that they are agents of the Constitution and are meant to create a constitutionally ordered society.

Once again, the role of the police in a modern society should be both simple and clear to all.

Given the role assigned to the police and given the nature and content of the Bill of Rights, what are we to make of a recent report by David Graeber?

A few weeks ago I was with a few companions from Occupy Wall Street in Union Square when an old friend — I’ll call her Eileen — passed through, her hand in a cast.

“What happened to you?” I asked.

“Oh, this?” she held it up. “I was in Liberty Park on the 17th [the Six Month Anniversary of the Occupation]. When the cops were pushing us out the park, one of them yanked at my breast.”

“Again?” someone said.

We had all been hearing stories like this. In fact, there had been continual reports of police officers groping women during the nightly evictions from Union Square itself over the previous two weeks.

“Yeah so I screamed at the guy, I said, ‘you grabbed my boob! what are you, some kind of fucking pervert?’ So they took me behind the lines and broke my wrists.”

Actually, she quickly clarified, only one wrist was literally broken. She proceeded to launch into a careful, well-nigh clinical blow-by-blow description of what had happened. An experienced activist, she knew to go limp when police seized her, and how to do nothing that could possibly be described as resisting arrest. Police dragged her, partly by the hair, behind their lines and threw her to the ground, periodically shouting “stop resisting!” as she shouted back “I’m not resisting!” At one point though, she said, she did tell them her glasses had fallen to the sidewalk next to her, and announced she was going to reach over to retrieve them. That apparently gave them all the excuse they needed. One seized her right arm and bent her wrist backwards in what she said appeared to be some kind of marshal-arts move, leaving it not broken, but seriously damaged. “I don’t know exactly what they did to my left wrist—at that point I was too busy screaming at the top of my lungs in pain. But they broke it. After that they put me in plastic cuffs, as tightly as they possibly could, and wouldn’t loosen them for at least an hour no matter how loud I screamed or how much the other prisoners begged them to help me. For a while everyone in the arrest van was chanting ‘take them off, take them off’ but they just ignored them…”

The author continues by noting the obvious:

Arbitrary violence is nothing new. The apparently systematic use of sexual assault against women protestors is new. I’m not aware of any reports of police intentionally grabbing women’s breasts before March 17, but on March 17 there were numerous reported cases, and in later nightly evictions from Union Square, the practice became so systematic that at least one woman told me her breasts were grabbed by five different police officers on a single night (in one case, while another one was blowing kisses.) The tactic appeared so abruptly, is so obviously a violation of any sort of police protocol or standard of legality, that it is hard to imagine it is anything but an intentional policy.

From the rape squads around the world (that made mass rape a weapon of war) to the dirty-handed goon squads of the NYPD (who have added sexual assault to the weapons locker of a terrorist state), the goals thus pursued are held constant across time, space and culture: Terrorize the weak, especially women, demoralize the opposition, and the rule of law be damned.

What do I make of this report? The crimes committed by the New York Police Department reported by David Graeber should be considered signs. What do these signs signify? They point to the fact that the United States continues its slide into a state of barbarism.

Food for thought

Food for thought

The political philosopher Andrew Levine recently addressed the nearly lifeless condition of democracy in America. The condition he discussed hardly affirms America’s self-identification as the world’s oldest, freest and most democratic country. Yet this sour claim resonates with the experience of many, and has real material and systemic causes which cannot be separated from the institutions which self-satisfied patriots affirm without thought or irony. These causes include a duopolistic party system with nearly unscalable entry barriers; the strongly anti-democratic features of the 1787 Constitution; the vast sums of money now spent on electoral campaigns, monies which mostly spring from the coffers of the better-off, the massive corporations and the obscenely rich oligarchs; the social, economic and political powers embedded within private institutions; and the enormous size, complexity and diversity of the American social system. These factors affect the quality of American democracy, as Levine points out:

Despite what students are told in civics classes (where they still exist) and what normative theories of democracy propose, democracy in America today has almost nothing to do with rational deliberation and debate, and very little to do with aggregating preferences or reconciling conflicting interests. It is about legitimating government of, by and for the corporate malefactors and Wall Street banksters who own Congress and the White House along with an obscenely large chunk of the nation’s wealth.

The Occupy movement has driven this point home, but it was widely appreciated long before Zuccotti Park entered the national consciousness. Why then is there no legitimation crisis here in the Land of the Free? The answer, in short, is that we hold competitive elections and, for the most part, abide by their results. Evidently, that suffices.

Thanks to centuries of struggle, we are all today at some level democrats, no matter how removed our political system is from anything like real democracy — rule by the demos, the popular masses (as distinct from economic and social elites). Democratic commitments run so deep that almost anything that smacks of real democracy becomes invested with extraordinary powers of legitimation.

This is why competitive elections have the power to legitimate even regimes like ours in which elites plainly do rule a disempowered ninety-nine percent plus of the population. Competitive elections embody a shard of what real democracy is supposed to be, and that evidently is good enough for us.

The United States of America — a land with a deep and intractable legitimation deficit (due to its democracy and accountability deficit) but no legitimation crisis to speak of, a country where the well-off and powerful fear the latent power of lesser people and where the relatively powerlessers have little input into the system which governs them. Common Americans mostly obey the laws made for them while meekly meeting the needs of their betters, a feature of the American system which affirms the status quo. The public face of this paradox will be on display this election year. One need only juxtapose presidential Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to sense the absurdity of this electoral contest, the completion of which will legally but not popularly legitimize the government thus elected. We have government with only barest consent of the governed.

This condition, ironically enough, may be compared to one which could be found in the various countries which composed the Warsaw Bloc prior to the Velvet Revolutions of the late 1980s. There one could find a depoliticized and seemingly cowed population, one which endured the policies and intrigues of an elite which they could not hold accountable in any way. Only a popular refusal to submit to authoritarian governance, when coupled to the dissolution of the Soviet imperial system, put these regimes into their well-deserved graves. Neither the Tea Party Movement, the two legacy parties, the Pentagon and the security-surveillance apparatus in general nor the coequal branches of the federal government embody the spirit of the American Revolution. That is, they are not agents of radical democratization. In the United States today, that honor today belongs to the Occupy Movement, for democracy in America can be found only when it is put into practice on the streets of its cities and towns.

As a matter of fact, the Tea Party Movement, the legacy parties, the security-surveillance apparatus and the coequal branches of the federal government are committed opponents of the democratization of the American political system.

The well-armed DHS

The Department of Homeland Security, another dubious post-9.11 artifact, recently ordered 450 million rounds of .40 cal. hollow-point bullets from the defense contractor ATK. The quantity ordered is massive when compared to the current population of the United States (estimated to be 309M as of 2010), and immediately raises questions about the purposes to which this ammunition will be put.

The quality of the item purchased is also questionable because these bullets serve only one purpose: To efficiently kill human beings. Because this kind of bullet is so destructive and deadly, the Hague Conventions of 1899 banned its use in international war.

David Lindorff asked some of the relevant questions generated by this disturbing news:

First of all, why does the DHS need so much deadly ammo? Are they anticipating a mass surge over the Mexican or Canadian border that would require ICE agents to slaughter the masses “yearning to breathe free”? Are there so many terror cells in America that they feel they need to be ready for a mass extermination campaign? Or are they worried that eventually the quiescent and submissive US population will finally decide it’s had it with the crooked banks and insurance companies, and are going to start taking the law into their own hands, so that the government will have to institute martial law and start gunning down masses of citizens?

If not any of the above, it seems to me that the order for 450 million rounds of ammunition, hollow-point or not, is pretty wildly excessive.

But secondly, I’d suggest we need to rethink this domestic obsession with killing. In the U.K., police are not routinely issued hollow-point rounds. Many other foreign police agencies also do not use them. Here in the US though, they are standard-issue for cops on the beat.

Finally, when it comes to Homeland Security, the situation is really different [than the kind of situations faced by most law enforcement officers]. Most of the gun-toting officers working for Homeland Security are not in the business of chasing down vicious killers. They are ICE officers who are going after border crossers, TSA personnel who are patting down air travelers, and the Federal Protective Service, who are really glorified building guards tasked with protecting federal property.

The work these armed personnel do can on occasion be dangerous, I’ll grant, but for the most part their work does not require killing people or dodging bullets. Do we really want them shooting to kill with hollow-point bullets?

The DHS has yet to publicly defend its purchase of this product. While its silence is unsurprising in the current political situation — which is defined by excessive governmental secrecy, global war-making, expansion of the security-surveillance apparatus, prosecution of whistleblowers, erosion of civil and political rights, suppression of popular dissent, etc. — it is disturbing in its own right, for a federal agency quietly and unnecessarily arming itself to the teeth provides just another data point among many which shows the United States abandoning the rule of law, a modern public sphere and a modern civil society.

Is it too soon to identify the government of the United States as a terrorist state?

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Quote of the day

David Broad recently addressed the increasingly contentious political situation in Canada, one defined by the economic reactionaries and their work to impose an austerity regime on the country. He briefly characterized the situation thusly:

The Tories [in Canada] are also using trivial smoke and mirror tactics in trying to keep Canadians from focusing on austerity, such as playing up the budget announcement of doing away with the one cent piece, with mainstream journalists joking about being “penny pinched,” etc. But indications are that many Canadians will not be so easily fooled, especially as their circumstances deteriorate. The majority of Canadian voters did not vote for and do not support the Harper Tories. Strikes and other trade union actions are on the rise in Canada, Aboriginal peoples are becoming more vocal, Canadian youth have been participating in the Occupy Movement, and students in Quebec have risen up to oppose postsecondary tuition increases. Conservatives are quick to chant that Quebec has the lowest tuition in Canada, not wanting us to consider that perhaps postsecondary education should be free for all. Conservatives are also working to vilify all youth activists, using youth “riots” as an excuse, denying that such “riots” are not simply senseless vandalism but only understandable as the frustrations of discouraged young people who see a society that has little future for them.

Peter Gelderloos provides an anarchist account of Spain’s general strike

Spain Fights Austerity » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.

A choice passage:

The Spanish state had every reason to fear that this next general strike would further intensify ongoing social struggles. Given that more people were even angrier in March 2012 than they had been in September 2010, the strike could easily transform into rioting in at least a couple cities and could even spark unrest of a more insurrectionary character. The major unions also feared another general strike, because it likely meant losing control as they had in September 2010; nonetheless, they were obliged to take at least the resemblance of a stand if only to save face. As much as the governing institutions might have wanted to suppress it, the next general strike was an inevitability, given the aggressiveness of the latest Labor Reform introduced by the conservative Popular Party.

Whereas dictatorship dissuades protest by attacking it, democracy controls protest by managing it. Institutions from the Left to the pinnacle of power colluded to organize a strike without hope of succeeding. To start with, CCOO and UGT called the strike with just three weeks advance notice, signing on to a call-out made by two minor unions in Galicia and the Basque country and turning it into the countrywide general strike that everyone knew was coming. CCOO and UGT are largely recognized as bureaucratic, opportunistic unions that tame rebellion in exchange for government funding. They were clearly surpassed by the events of the 2010 general strike, when they made the mistake of convening months in advance, giving anarchosyndicalist unions like the CNT and CGT, or new organizational spaces like the neighborhood assemblies of Barcelona, time to make their own plans.

This time, the strike preparations by CCOO and UGT were minimal to the point of invisibility. Not only did these two major unions leave scant time to organize, they hardly put up any propaganda in favor of the strike until the day before, leaving the field open for the media to color public opinion.  And the media went into overdrive, raising fears of violent picketers trashing any shop that remained open, emphasizing the inconveniences a strike would cause to commuters, consumers, and tourists, and championing the right to work. The very concept of an economic shutdown was presented as a totalitarian coercion and a violation of individual rights. In the view spread by the media, a legitimate strike could go no further than a peaceful protest. Several media outlets openly denounced the strike or published surveys showing that very few people would actually participate.

But when March 29 arrived, Spain slowed down almost to a halt.

General strike in Spain

Spanish Workers, Students Mass in General Strike | Common Dreams.

A Euro-protest of the troika’s Euro-austerity regime

Opposing austerity in Spain

Marching in defense of education