No comment

The student’s name: Joe Diaz. His account of his arrest and the assault he suffered can be read here. The event occurred last December and was publicized by Kevin Carson on his blog.

Quote of the day

Here’s yet another analysis of the Recall Debacle in Wisconsin:

Much ink has been spilt and punditry hot air vented in explaining the failure to recall Scott Walker in this week’s election. Yet nearly all of it fails to address the appeal of Scott Walker and his policies for much of Wisconsin’s working and middle class. Walker was able to capitalize on the frustration over the continued erosion of living standards and insecurity felt by most Wisconsinites. Walker provided a false empowerment to the electorate by transforming them from victims to owners of the system. His campaign rebranded the electorate as “the taxpayer” or veritable stockowners of a company they owned: government. The people would take charge of their lives through a Walker-led movement against government waste by union and bureaucratic “elites.” Walker’s campaign thus took on the hue of a libratory project.

While the conventional explanations for Walker’s victory have some merit, they fail to explain the nature of victory or the true threat his strategy presents. To be sure, Walker and his billionaires were able to massively outspend their opponents. The peculiarities of the recall election laws and the US Supreme Court’s Citizen Action case permitted him to rain down endless weapons against the Democrats. The Republican National Committee deployed the full weight of their resources on Wisconsin; while the Democratic National Committee was largely AWOL, appearing only at the end to witness Walker deliver the coup de grace to his opponents. It was a historic betrayal of Wisconsin progressives they will not soon forget.

On strategy, Walker’s campaign was a fairly typical deployment of the Powell Doctrine (itself taken from Harry G. Summer’s musings on strategy following the US’s Vietnam debacle) to use overwhelming force against an opponent. Walker’s campaign carpet-bombed media with non-stop television and radio commercials for a half-year. Meanwhile, they positioned what seems to be an army of professional bloggers to control comment forums in the local press. In effect, they crowded out the public and often aggressively spread outright falsehoods on these sites, thus moving the Internet from a place of democratic dissent to use as a tool for reactionary power. This itself represents a major turn in the management of public opinion.

Ultimately, however, the bottom line is that Walker was able to capitalize on the very crisis and long-term economic decline Republicans helped engineer over the past thirty years–with no small help from the Democrats.

The “Walker won because of his money” claim is surely true, but Walker’s money was not the sufficient condition and efficient cause of his victory. As Sommers argues, Walker won because 1) of the economic distress caused by the reactionary economics practiced in the United States since the late 1970s and because 2) he created a right populist message that found a willing constituency. Sommers thus concludes:

In short, Walker has given voice to the working and middle classes so much hurt by the Reagan Revolution. The people have found their voice in Walker who skillfully and honestly, to his mind, articulates a narrative that resonates with Midwestern sensibilities of hard work and fairness. These concepts may have been distorted beyond all recognition to many observers, but to Wisconsin’s suburban and rural working class they have found their voice in Scott Walker. A ride through their neighborhoods reveals a veritable sea of blue yard signs declaring “I Stand With Walker!” Walker is a formidable candidate and better communicator than Reagan ever was. Analysts and pundits that dismiss his victory as one of simply money over the people do so at their and our peril.

Trumka put lipstick on a pig

 

English: AFL-CIO portrait of .

Richard Trumka, leader of that political black hole the AFL-CIO, had this to say about Scott Walker’s decisive victory in the recent Wisconsin recall election:

We wanted a different outcome, but Wisconsin forced the governor to answer for his efforts to divide the state and punish hard-working people.

Their resolve has inspired a nation to follow their lead and stand up for the values of hard work, unity, and decency that we believe in. We hope Scott Walker heard Wisconsin: Nobody wants divisive policies.

Yes, Trumka wanted to elect the Democrat in this election. We know this because the AFL-CIO always wants to elect Democrats. The Democratic Party and ‘big labor‘ have a special relationship. Trumka wanted ‘big labor’ to have a seat at the table. After all, AFL-CIO unions would need to be at the table in order to ‘negotiate’ the concessions the political and economic elite want unions to make. What Trumka did not want was the elimination of that furniture which never includes the majority of Americans. He thus wanted ‘big labor’ to have more political power than it now has, but not so much political power that that power would threaten to eliminate its seat at the table.

Actually, the election and the campaign beforehand hardly made Walker answer for his class politics. In fact, the outcome legitimized Walker’s class politics. Wisconsin voters affirmed a victory by the political reactionaries in America’s class war. Moreover, Walker’s easy victory made it clear to anyone with eyes that the left cannot challenge the party duopoly that governs America. The labor movement in America lost this election. Left populists lost this election. The system ‘worked.’

Finally, despite Trumka’s claim to the contrary, many Americans want divisive politics. The left especially wants divisive politics. The left wants to improve the lot of the poor, the working and middle classes; it wants to increase political accountability and democratic participation. These goals are inevitably divisive in the United States today. The Trumkas of the world do not want a divisive politics. They are, in a word, complacent. Gomperism lives. Complacency, unfortunately, produces system affirmative outcomes such as we have recently seen in Wisconsin and saw in 2008.

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?

Related articles