Monday, November 24, 2014

Welcome To the Police State

The preemptive mobilization of state police and the National Guard in Ferguson, MO, in anticipation of a grand jury's long-awaited verdict on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed unarmed black man, Michael Brown, gives credence to what many activists have long claimed: We live in a police state.

In a highly controversial move, Missouri's ironically named, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, has already mobilized police and military forces in anticipation of rioting, looting, and vandalism by protesters. (Curiously, though a decision is expected from the grand jury any day now, many are already predicting Wilson will be exonerated.)

Gov. Nixon claimed, in a recent press conference declaring the state of emergency, that previous protests over the shooting led to wanton acts of violence by the protesters. According to Nixon, "Vandals smashed the windows of small businesses. Criminals looted and set fire to stores. Gunshots and Molotov cocktails endangered citizens exercising their First Amendment rights and law enforcement attempting to maintain peace."

But the Socialist Worker's Elizabeth Schulte disputes this version of events, maintaining the protests following Brown's death were entirely peaceful. Rather, she insists, it was the police and National Guard that caused the damage and destruction Nixon cites ("Demonizing dissent in Ferguson," 11/17/2014).

Indeed, CNN's Jake Tapper compared the police presence in Ferguson to "a scene out of U.S.-occupied Afghanistan," in his coverage of those August protests.

"Nobody is threatening anything," Tapper said of the peaceful protesters. "Nobody is doing anything. None of the stores here that I can see are being looted. There is no violence."

Tapper goes on to observe that the police are "dressed for combat."

Free speech? First Amendment rights? Right of the people to "peaceably assemble... for a redress of grievances"? Such lofty ideals are promptly discarded when the corporate state shows its true oppressive face.

And yet, what is happening in Ferguson right now is nothing new. It represents the same racist, authoritarian forms of control black Americans have endured since this nation's founding.

Yet, sadly, many white Americans still do not get it. They insist on demonizing black Americans as "The Other," or claiming, in typical right-wing blame-the-victim fashion, that they only have themselves to blame for their problems.

Conservative race-baiters like Maine blogger, Tom McLaughlin and Fox News' Bill O' Reilly snidely attribute the struggles of young African American men to their alleged lack of good parenting, positive role models, and absent fathers. (Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey have also been longtime proponents of this "blame-the-negligent-fathers" mindset, much to black America's detriment.)

McLaughlin, in his latest post ("Lacking Temper," 11/18/2014), even goes so far as to claim Americans are "not buying the media spin [sic] on the incident in Ferguson...since the facts of the case don't support it."

Yet, in typical fashion, McLaughlin does not bother to back up such a claim with any substantiated evidence whatsoever. Allow me to pick up the slack when it comes to McLaughlin's shoddy "reporting." Everything one needs to know about the shooting of Michael Brown is enumerated in Ryan Devereaux's point-by-point chronicle of the incident, which he contributed to The Intercept.

Neither McLaughlin nor O' Reilly mentions the staggering prison rates among black Americans--particularly young black men. African Americans constitute 1 million of the nearly 2.3 million Americans in prison, according to the NAACP. Likewise, a recent report by the Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, The Sentencing Project, estimates one in three black males will go to prison "at some point in their lives." The vast majority of these men are imprisoned for petty felonies or minor drug-possession charges.

Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is essential reading on the subject of race in the 21st century.

"Arguably the most important parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow," Alexander writes, "is that both have served to define the meaning and significance of race in America."

Indeed, a primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time. Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.

The corporate state has shown its draconian hand when it comes to its preferred method of dealing with peaceful protests: It calls the police. Rather than addressing the legitimate concerns of Occupy Wall Street protesters, for example, then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg opted to first denigrate and then crush them with force.

Fellow activists routinely attribute Occupy Wall Street's "failure" to the movement's "fizzling out," or "lack of a coherent message." Yet this popular narrative blatantly ignores the fact that the original encampment in Zuccotti Park was forcibly shutdown by the corporate state.

Occupy did not fail on its own merits as this misleading account suggests. It was destroyed.

Indeed, many of the police forces sent to dismantle Occupy protests were more or less hired by Wall Street banks like JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. As ProPublica's Justin Elliott revealed in a story for ("The NYPD, now sponsored by Wall Street," 10/07/2011), in the lead up to the 2011 Occupy demonstrations several Wall Street institutions contributed millions of dollars to the NYPD, "in an arrangement that critics say compromises" the police force. JP Morgan alone donated $4.6 million.

Not that this practice of the police acting as capitalism's armed-guards is anything new, of course. Even trash-talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, understands the job of the police is to "protect wealth."

As the communal writers' group, CrimethInc. write in their anti-capitalist manifesto, Work:

The more unequal the distribution of resources and power [in society], the more force it takes to maintain it....
[A]t bottom, political repression and crime prevention serve the same purpose. Shrewd police spokesmen can shift their rhetoric seamlessly from fighting crime to fighting political extremism and back again according to what is most convenient.

And President Barack Obama's codification of the NSA's massive warrantless surveillance program has only furthered the police state. We are the most spied-upon, most video-taped and photographed people in history. Thanks to the revelations of Edward Snowden, we understand just how widespread and mind-bogglingly comprehensive the surveillance state is. Indeed, it goes far beyond anything George Orwell could have envisioned.

There is no way any of this can be considered democracy. A citizenry this spied-upon, that faces constant repression by the police is in no way free.

And that is why we must all stand in solidarity with the residents of Ferguson. Their fight is our fight.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Veterans For Peace Not Welcome in Veterans Day Parade

Members of Veterans for Peace, Boston, being arrested at the city's 2007 Veterans Day Parade. Parade organizers denied VFP permission to attend the march. They showed up anyway. Click here for the full story.

Spectators at Portland, Maine's annual Veterans Day Parade last week may have noticed something odd.

While all of the traditional veterans' groups, including the U.S. Navy, the Marines, the Air Force and the local branch of the American Legion were well represented, members of Veterans for Peace were relegated to holding their own small vigil on Monument Square while the parade passed by.

Turns out Maine Veterans for Peace (Tom Sturtevant chapter), the founding branch of the nationwide antiwar protest group composed of soldiers-turned-peace activists, is more or less barred from participating in the annual Veterans Day Parade.

While the group is not expressly prohibited from marching with their fellow veterans ("Veterans for War"?) in the parade, many of VFP's members feel they may as well be. Given the parade organizers' relentless attempts to marginalize and undermine VFP over the years--to say nothing of the constant barrage of verbal harassment thrown members' way by other vets and spectators--many in VFP have simply given up on the parade.

The American Legion seems to be the primary antagonist in these efforts at keeping VFP out of municipal veterans' events. While the nationwide group bills itself as a "nonpartisan" organization, their political clout in perpetuating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been well documented.

"After many years of feeling like step-children, our chapter decided to stop participating," said Bruce Gagnon, VFP Maine secretary, who also heads the antiwar group, Global Network Against Nuclear Weapons in Space, "which likely made the parade organizers quite happy."

So much, it seems, for the constant imperative to "support our troops." Perhaps the neocons and other perpetual proponents of this ubiquitous mantra should clarify the phrase: "Support our troops who support our wars." The rest of them can rot in hell.

It would be one thing if this sort of treatment of antiwar groups was an isolated incident--or relegated to just Veterans Day. Sadly, neither is the case.

In 2008, branches of Veterans for Peace in Washington state and Washington, D.C. were both banned from participating in their towns' Memorial Day parades. According to the story in the Daily Kos ("On Memorial Day, Veterans Dissing Veterans," 05/21/2008), both VFP groups were barred on the grounds they are "too political." Indeed, this is a common justification parade organizers and city officials cite in excluding antiwar groups and voices.

But this asinine excuse implies that the parade itself, which all but glorifies war and the military, is somehow "apolitical." Everything about war--including the decision to go to war, who makes those decisions and who does the actual fighting, whether the justifications for war are legitimate and the use of military force, truly essential--is inextricably tied to politics.

As Prussian general and military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz wrote in On War ("Vom Kriege"), "War is merely the continuation of politics by other means."

As such, the entire parade is one giant political spectacle. Most Americans, for whom "politics" is narrowly defined as voting in elections every two to four years, simply lack the broader political and cultural understanding to view it that way.

We are inculcated from childhood to revere all things military. Despite the allegedly deep and  irreconcilable ideological divides which separate liberals and conservatives, The Military and The Troops remain one of the few unifying bonds. War, as Glenn Greenwald observes, has become our new religion.

Voice even the mildest criticism of The Troops and U.S. Empire--a mistake MSNBC host Chris Hayes made a few years back when he gently and articulately pondered whether all U.S. soldiers should be unblinkingly referred to as "heroes"--and you become a pariah. The only reason Hayes is still on the air is because he promptly apologized for his "offensive" remarks--which he could not have parsed more carefully.

But the lesson of Hayes' criticism is clear: Speak outside the acceptable parameters of discourse--as Chelsea Manning, Bowe Bergdahl, Edward Snowden, Daniel Ellsberg, and the late reporter, Michael Hastings have bravely done--and you are cast out and savagely denounced by the corporate state.

And this, I suspect, is why the power elite go to such lengths to silence the voices of antiwar groups like Veterans for Peace.

"They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country," Ernest Hemingway wrote in his 1935 Esquire article, "Notes On the Next War: A Serious Topical Letter." "But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason."

My paternal grandfather, Davide Dario Marletta, was a conscientious objector in Mussolini's Italy, during WWII. He spent three years in an Italian prison. Upon his release, he was extremely weak and malnourished. While conscientious objector status was still a relatively new concept at the time, Axis nations like Italy--along with France, Belgium, and the Soviet Union--had no laws recognizing their rights.

Even after the war's end, my grandfather was regarded as a unpatriotic traitor by his neighbors. His pacifism made him a pariah in his own country. He and my grandmother eventually fled to Scotland, where my father was born, and, later, to the United States.

Much as he hated Mussolini and the Italian Army, my grandfather claimed he would not have fought alongside the Allies, either. He simply despised war--no matter how "noble" the cause.

I suppose, the proverbial apple did not fall far from the tree...

But there are no parades, celebrations or federal holidays for conscientious objectors like my grandfather. People did not stand reverently and heap prodigious amounts of praise on him whenever he entered a room. Those, like my grandfather, who display the courage to resist war have no place in our imperial, military-obsessed culture.

Indeed, I think it says something highly disturbing about our country when those advocating for an end to war and militarism--including many of those who have fought in wars and come to regret doing so--are derided as vile, blasphemous or "unpatriotic." Those who insist on celebrating--worshiping, even--war, meanwhile, are considered "non-political." These "Veterans for War," we are told, are the "realists." They understand that war is "inevitable," and always waged for "humanitarian" reasons.

Yet those antiwar resisters who dare to raise their voices for peace see through these facile, childish rationales. They see war for the carnage that it truly is--"The horror! The horror!" as Joseph Conrad famously wrote in Heart of Darkness. And in denouncing the horror of war, they make the rest of us uncomfortable.

The words of Hemingway are, again, instructive.

A critical chapter in A Farewell to Arms, finds WWI medic, Lt. Frederic Henry rejecting the trite, cliched romanticism frequently used to describe war. Henry, in his first-person narration, explains the utter vapidity of words like "sacrifice," "glorious," and the expression, "in vain" when it comes to the battlefield. The only words that have any real significance for the jaded protagonist are the concrete, tangible names of soldiers, roads, villages, and calendar dates.

He says:

...I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity... Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bulls on Parade

A Midterm Postmortem

A neighbor a few houses down from me has had two large signs posted on his lawn for the last month now. They read, "Save America: Vote Republican!"

I imagine he is quite happy with the outcome of last week's midterm elections.

Of course, the idea that either of the two corporate parties will "save America," is absurd. Both the Republicans and Democrats are beholden, first and foremost, to corporate interests, Wall Street profits, and to furthering the permanent war economy.

Indeed, how "small-government"-oriented conservatives can condone spending 20 percent ($716 billion in 2013 alone) of the federal budget on maintaining the largest military in the world seems a striking contradiction in their ideology. (But heaven forbid we spend one dime on government benefits for "welfare cheats"...)

The truth is it matters little which party controls Congress. The policies of the Democratic and Republican parties are nearly identical. Both serve to enrich the corporate state at the expense of the poor and working class.

"The divide in America is not between Republican and Democrat," Chris Hedges writes in his 2010 book, Death of the Liberal Class. "It is a divide between the corporate state and the citizen. It is a divide between capitalists and workers. And for all the failings of the communists, they got it."

Here in Maine, not only was Republican Gov. Paul LePage re-elected, but he won with a bigger margin than his razor-thin victory over independent Eliot Cutler in 2010. Meanwhile, ultra-conservative tax-evader, Bruce Poliquin sailed to victory in Maine's 2nd congressional district, and "moderate" Republican Susan Collins crushed her Democratic opponent, Shenna Bellows--though there was really never much doubt she would.

With Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, many professional political pundits expect President Barack Obama to "tack to the right," policy-wise. My question for these people is where do they believe the president and the Democratic party have been operating from the last six years...?

Indeed, urging Democrats to "move to the center" is the corporate media's default strategy to shutdown or delegitimize progressive reforms.

While we can point to a number of factors that lead to the Democrats' trouncing (low voter turnout, lack of enthusiasm for Democratic candidates, newly-implemented voter suppression laws, the increasing role of "Dark Money," lack of youth turnout, anger at Obama, etc.), if the Dems are looking for someone to blame, they need only look in a mirror.

Given the number of controversial and highly unpopular governors on the ballot throughout the country (Wisconsin's Scott Walker, Florida's Rick Scott, Michigan's Scott Snyder, and Maine's LePage, to name a few), the Democrats should have won many of Tuesday's races, no contest.

But they did not. As usual, they blew it.

And it is not--despite what the media will tell you--because America is a "conservative country," after all. In fact, polling throughout the years has consistently shown Republicans' policy ideas are extremely unpopular with a majority of Americans. One need only look at the four states--Alaska, Arkansas, South Dakota, and Nebraska--and two California cities, San Francisco and Oakland, that passed referendums to raise the minimum wage for further evidence of this.

No, the Democrats lost big this year for the same reason they suffered similar midterm losses in 2010: The party which, ostensibly anyway, stands for working class Americans and labor, long ago ceded the populist ground to the Republicans.

Observing that this was the "fourth hard-times election in a row," author and reporter, Thomas Frank (What's the Matter With Kansas?, Pity the Billionaire) writes at ("The GOP's poisonous double-speak...", 11/09/2014):

Lasing out blindly and in all directions against the powerful--against low wages as well as against a comfortable "class" that is amply represented in Washington--is still our political default position, some six years after the financial crisis and the Wall Street bailout. For many Americans, the recession is still on. They know that their region hasn't recovered... that their household wealth isn't coming back... that people like them no longer have a shot at the middle-class life in which they were raised.

While a great deal of it does derive from ignorance, we must understand that much of the anger that middle-class working Americans feel--even those on the right--is completely legitimate. It does not come out of nowhere. And--as the midterm elections showed--those of us on the left ignore or attempt to mock that anger at our own expense.

Indeed, the greatest tragedy of Obama's presidency is that he missed a prime opportunity to unite liberals and conservatives in their anger at Wall Street for trashing the global economy.

Readers may recall that Americans on both the left and the right unanimously opposed the 2008 Wall Street bailouts, or TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) by a ratio of 100 to 1. In fact, public opposition to the bailout was so great the initial vote on TARP in the then-Democratic-led House of Representatives failed. Then-Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson literally got down on his hands and knees and begged Nancy Pelosi to hold another vote on the bill.

"This was the largest single act of class warfare in the modern history of this country," former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich said of the bailout at the time. "It is a direct attack on the American people's ability to be able to stabilize their homes and their neighborhoods... We are back to taxation without representation, to markets that are openly rigged."

And Obama's failure to break up the "Too Big To Fail" banks--many of which top the Fortune 500 list--let alone prosecute any of their criminal CEOs, represents an even greater betrayal. By refusing to uphold the law and make an example out of the reckless Wall Street speculators who decimated the economy through fraud and manipulation, Obama has all but assured these hucksters will merely engage in the same behavior again.

Even with the understanding that the U.S. electoral system likely makes it impossible for a truly progressive--let alone radical--president to ever take office, it is nonetheless frustrating to contemplate what could have been. Obama had a once-in-a-generation mandate to enact truly populist reforms.

But he did not seize it. He rescued the banks and let "Main Street" continue to drown in debt, unemployment, low-wages, foreclosures and the bitterness of dashed dreams and unrealized expectations. My generation is the first since WWII that is expected to be worse off than our parents. "The American Dream," while always, an admittedly silly concept, is now irrefutably dead.
And the Democrats killed it.

The irony is old, angry, white men like my neighbor--the primary voting bloc in last week's elections--naively believe the Republicans are the party of working people. They foolishly believe the right-wing, scientifically-illiterate nutjobs that will now take charge of the government care any more about them than the Democrats do. And we are all going to suffer because of their ignorance.

My neighbor should change his sign so it reads more accurately: "I love corporate fascism."