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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, October 31, 2011

Police Infiltrate Occupy Oakland 

Another instance of the police engaging in the surveillance of the Occupy Together effort. Note that the 2003 comments of the current interim chief, Howard Jordan, at the start of the video most likely took place after the antiwar protests at the Port of Oakland that I mentioned on Saturday.

Hat tip to spocko at firedoglake.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

The War at Home 

UPDATE 3: More on Denver:

After a peaceful and spirited march by an estimated 1,000 protesters, most in from the suburbs, the Denver Police apparently tried to take down a food distribution stand and were met with resistance by some OccupyDenver people. As Congressman Perlmutter, and eyewitnesses that I talked to later, tell it, the DPD used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and large batons to gas, spray and beat bystanders.

Congressman Perlmutter, who had been attending a Colorado Woman’s Summit meeting in Denver, featuring Congresswoman Diana DeGette, when he got word of the confrontation right down the street, rushed down to the Civic Center Park and attempted to mediate between police and protesters. Unsuccessful in de-escalating the violence, he told us of the protesters being tear gassed, pepper sprayed and beaten. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten involved. He looked down at his immaculate brown suit, shirt and tie. And I really wasn’t dressed for the occasion.

While on a much smaller scale, these are Chicago '68 kinds of experiences, where even prominent social and political figures discover that they are powerless in the face of the police onslaught. Many participants in the Occupy Together effort haven't had confrontational encounters with the police like people from poorer neighborhoods and communities of color, and they are now discovering that police officers aren't necessarily your friends. Are we living through a similar process of radicalization as a result?

UPDATE 2: There is now a guest post at naked capitalism (!) describing police brutality in Denver similar to what transpired in Oakland, replete with pictures of officers pointing non-lethal weapons at protesters and reporters, rubber bullet wounds inflicted upon protesters and a report that the police fired upon protesters seeking to assist the injured.

UPDATE 1: Oakland, Nashville, San Diego and, now, Denver. Contrary to what I said yesterday, it appears that the persistence of the protests and increasing grassroots liberal support has necessitated aggressive police action. All this, plus the fact that substantial numbers of people are participating in protests in cities not commonly known for dissidence. In Denver, the police provoked a confrontation by attacking protesters who ascended the capital steps without a permit.

INITIAL POST: Undoubtedly, you are aware of what transpired in Oakland earlier this week, especially late Wednesday afternoon, but, even so, you may be shocked by detailed reports such as this one:

Protesters were surrounded by police on 8th and Broadway, some of them being chased by police and dragged down to the ground and beaten. A protester was who was falling down was kicked by a police officer and pulled back to be beaten more and eventually zip tied and arrested. A group of protesters surrounded police and chanted, let them go! as police continued to beat protesters on the ground and jab those around with their billy clubs. The people who surrounded police attempted to grab the fallen protesters, but the force of the clubs was too much.

Screams filled the air, street signs rattled, horns and whistles blew and drums banged everywhere. The violent police officers that had beaten the fallen protesters were officially surrounded and fear could be seen in their eyes as hundreds yelled and screamed at them as there was no where for them to run or hide their faces.

After about ten minutes, police reinforcements ran on the scene, swinging at protesters with clubs and tackling some to the ground. Violence continued as protesters were scrambled throughout the intersection of 8th and Broadway. People were screaming and running everywhere in order to protect themselves from the forceful raid.

Please consider reading this report, posted on a promising new blog, The Resistance is Online, in its entirety. Beyond this, there is the atrocity perpetrated against Scott Olsen, seriously injured by a projectile fired by the police. An officer prevented people from coming to his assistance by firing a tear gas canister at close range at them. Even now, he cannot speak. Naturally, the mayor, Jean Quan, and the police chief, Howard Jordan, expressed remorse even though they were responsible for ordering the police assault. Amazingly, Jordan was shameless enough to visit Olsen in the hospital.

Events in Oakland are a cautionary story about the relationship between Occupy Together and the police around the country. Protesters have rightly sought to cultivate a positive relationship with law enforcement by emphasizing that the police are part of the 99%, as they have done in Sacramento, for example. By doing so, they have probably succeeded in preventing an earlier, more aggressive crackdown on the movement, as there has been public revulsion against highly publicized instances of police violence, as first occurred when a NYPD officer, Anthony Bologna, maced a group of penned protesters last month. Bologna actually reenergized a movement that was showing signs of exhaustion.

But have no doubt. If the police are ordered to clear out an encampment, they will do it. If they are ordered to do so aggressively, they will do so. If they are told to promptly resort to tear gas and flash grenades upon the emergence of any resistance, they will not hesitate. Similarly, if corporations, the federal government or wealthy campaign contributors complain loudly enough (in private, naturally), mayors will order the police into action. It doesn't matter if they are conservative, moderate or liberal, they will do as they are told, as Jean Quan did this week, and as Jerry Brown did in 2003, when he ordered the Oakland Police Department to suppress a protest against the invasion of Iraq at the Port of Oakland. Officers fired sting balls, concussion grenades and wooden dowels to clear the gates to the docks, inflicting numerous injuries.

For now, there has been no nationwide repression of the Occupy Together effort, probably because of fears that such an attempt would merely intensify it. Better to intimidate the participants through a calculated crackdown as occurred in Oakland. Interestingly, one can perceive the hidden hand of the Department of Homeland Security through the manner in which the earlier, pre-dawn arrests of those participating in the occupation was conducted. Streets all around the encampment were closed, BART service was delayed and AC Transit buses were re-routed around the area. Planning for the raid took a week, and Quan was fully informed and agreed with the decision to close the encampment. As with the peculiar police response to the BART protests in San Francisco during the summer, the Bay Area is apparently a training ground for the implementation of crowd control measures to suppress domestic unrest.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Occupy Sacramento Meltdown 

Watch live streaming video from occupysacto at livestream.com

Fatigue, the emergence of personal and political conflicts among the participants and a feminist fissure as a consequence of the men, it seems, deciding to prevent an alleged sexual assault in the area from being publicized during the assembly are the prominent features of this tumultuous session. Security comes across as a predominately male concern, while the women rightly criticize the failure of the group to recognize that the violence used to intimidate women is part and parcel of the violence of the American capitalist system directed against all of its victims, foreign and domestic.

In this, we encounter a rather odd instance of that old Marxist attitude that sexism is a secondary contradiction that awaits resolution upon the coming of the revolution. Social movements that marginalize women in this way invariably fail, and many of the catastrophic defeats of the 20th Century possess this feature. For now, though, the immediate peril is that Occupy Sacramento will find itself reduced to a kind of reality TV entertainment, a political version of Survivor. But Nagisa Oshima's films about the conflicts of avant-garde and leftist youth, particularly, Night and Fog in Japan, The Man Who Left His Will on Film, A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs and Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, are probably a more apt parallel.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Memo to OWS: Please Start Talking About Bank of America 

Actually, as the excerpt from this article by masaccio indicates, the fraud predictably involves not just Bank of America, but all the usual suspects as well, such as J. P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and, drum roll please . . . Goldman Sachs:

The Bank of America (BAC) recently moved derivatives out of its Merrill Lynch subsidiary into a subsidiary plump with FDIC insured deposits. Bloomberg says the Fed wants to protect the bank holding company without increasing its own obligations. The FDIC opposes the transfer because it increases their risk.

Three of the five biggest derivatives players have already done this. The OCC Quarterly Report on Bank Derivatives Activities gives information about derivatives held by banks, and by bank holding companies, separately. AS of June 30, 2011, the numbers are nearly identical for JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Only Morgan Stanley and BAC had a significant part of their derivatives outside the warm embrace of the FDIC.

BAC apparently held $21.7 trillion in notional value outside of banking subsidiaries at June 30, and it has now moved that into FDIC insured institutions. The Bloomberg article doesn’t say exactly how much, and it isn’t reported in BAC’s earnings release for the third quarter. A reporter asked about this in the earnings call. Bruce Thompson, the Chief Financial Officer of BAC, said he was surprised by the article, and that the move was in the normal course of business.

The OCC Report gives some idea of the increase in risk. It uses a measure of risk called Total Credit Exposure, which is equal to the sum of Net Current Credit Exposure and Potential Future Exposure. The first is the net amount owed to the bank if all contracts were suddenly liquidated. The second is an attempt to estimate the potential future losses, using a formula developed by regulators. This number is compared to the Total Risk-Based Capital, which is the sum of Tier One Capital and Tier Two Capital. This calculation effectively excludes Tier Three Capital, the assets for which there is no liquid market and no clear method of calculating value.

According to the OCC Report dated 6/30/11, the ratio of Total Credit Exposure to Total Risk-Based Capital at BAC was 182%, meaning that regulators calculated the potential losses from derivatives at nearly double the total of the assets subject to valuation in liquid markets.

The global economy is stalling out again, possibly entering another recession as severe as 2008, and the largest US financial institutions have already carried out their escape plan so that can live to speculate another day.

Yves Smith of naked capitalism explains the brazenness of this action in relation to Bank of America:

The reason that commentators like Chris Whalen were relatively sanguine about Bank of America likely becoming insolvent as a result of eventual mortgage and other litigation losses is that it would be a holding company bankruptcy. The operating units, most importantly, the banks, would not be affected and could be spun out to a new entity or sold. Shareholders would be wiped out and holding company creditors (most important, bondholders) would take a hit by having their debt haircut and partly converted to equity.

This changes the picture completely. This move reflects either criminal incompetence or abject corruption by the Fed. Even though I’ve expressed my doubts as to whether Dodd Frank resolutions will work, dumping derivatives into depositaries pretty much guarantees a Dodd Frank resolution will fail. Remember the effect of the 2005 bankruptcy law revisions: derivatives counterparties are first in line, they get to grab assets first and leave everyone else to scramble for crumbs. So this move amounts to a direct transfer from derivatives counterparties of Merrill to the taxpayer, via the FDIC, which would have to make depositors whole after derivatives counterparties grabbed collateral. It’s well nigh impossible to have an orderly wind down in this scenario. You have a derivatives counterparty land grab and an abrupt insolvency. Lehman failed over a weekend after JP Morgan grabbed collateral.

But it’s even worse than that. During the savings & loan crisis, the FDIC did not have enough in deposit insurance receipts to pay for the Resolution Trust Corporation wind-down vehicle. It had to get more funding from Congress. This move paves the way for another TARP-style shakedown of taxpayers, this time to save depositors. No Congressman would dare vote against that. This move is Machiavellian, and just plain evil.

So, for any of you out there planning to attend a general assembly at OWS or any other Occupy Together location, please bring this matter to the attention of the participants if they are unaware of it.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Economic Collapse of Greece 

For those of you who haven't followed the implementation of austerity in Greece since 2009, the Guardian reports that the EU and European Central Bank have determined that the Greek economy will contract by 15% between 2009 and 2012. Think about that for a moment. 15%. From July 2009 to August 2011, unemployment rose from just under 9% to 16.3%, with the IMF projecting 18.5% unemployment for 2012. Earlier in the year, in May, unemployment for people between the ages of 15 and 19 was 55%, and 37% for people between the ages of 20 and 24. One can therefore reasonably assume that unemployment among young people continues to increase and will continue to do so through 2012.

Accordingly, stories like this one are common:

I have worked since I was 16 and I have lived in Athens since I was 24. I remember that many times I had to struggle in order to survive with two jobs, but never have I stayed unemployed for too long. During the past eight years there were times when things were tight and difficult and other times when things were more or less ok. But not even in the most difficult period of my life, as a University student, did I find myself in the position I am today. For thirteen years I struggled, I fought, I stood on my feet. But now I can’t take it anymore. I’m giving up.

I’ve been unemployed for ten months. Knowing that I was going to lose my job, I started searching for a new one from as early as the Easter of 2010. By now I’ve send 155 CVs but I only got two replies back, both saying that they didn’t need employees. For the first time in my life I’m facing an eviction order by the end of this month. The landlord says that I have no dignity and that I live on her expense, forgetting the eight years that I have been meeting my obligations regularly or even the improvements I ‘ve made to her house on my own expenses. Still, she’s right. She’s no charity – she wants her money. The movers ask for 1200 euros to take my stuff back to my mother’s city or 150 per month in order to store them in a container. I cannot afford either of the two scenarios. I will probably have to throw away my household of ten years. The tax service is demanding 300 euro as an emergency levy with a 3% interest for every month I don’t pay. Another emergency tax is expected with the next electricity bill and that’s going to be 420 €. I have to pay 640€ every two months for social security, although the company I worked for explicitly told me that they have no job to offer and that even if they did, they would pay a monthly salary of no more than 420 euro. In short: the city in which I have lived for the past 13 years is spitting me off to the margins like if I’m some kind of trash. For the first time in my life, I have no place to stay and no one to hold on to. Any stock of patience and courage I had has now vanished.

And, then, there is this publicly known incident where a debtor set himself on fire in front of the Piraeus Bank in Thessaloniki. While this man was saved, reported suicides have doubled in Greece since the imposition of austerity:

A suicide help line at Klimaka, the charitable group, used to get four to 10 calls a day, but now there are days when we have up to 100, says a psychologist there, Aris Violatzis.

The caller often fits a certain profile: male, age 35 to 60 and financially ruined. He has also lost his core identity as a husband and provider, and he cannot be a man any more according to our cultural standards, Mr. Violatzis says.

Heraklion, commercial center of the island of Crete, has had a spate of such deaths.

Mr. Petrakis, the fruit and vegetable dealer, was just one of three recent suicides at a single wholesale food market on the edge of the city.

Victims once were typically adolescent males or old people facing severe illness, and in normal times suicide cases often involve a mixture of factors including mental illness, says local psychiatrist Eva Maria Tsapaki.

But the economic crash has created a new phenomenon of entrepreneurs with no prior history of mental illness who are found dead every other week, she says. It's very unusual.

With this context in mind, this sort of response starts to make sense:

The Greek government’s Minister of Interior affairs (Home Office) Harris Kastanidis was spotted in a cinema in Thessaloniki watching a movie. So a few hundred students stormed the cinema chanting slogans and threw him yoghurt. Several members of the audience joined the students booing Kastanidis and clapping when the yoghurt was thrown to him. Among other slogans one can hears: Let’s see who will jump first in the helicopter when this marvellous night like Argentina will come, In Greece, Turkey and Macedonia the enemy is in the ministries and in the banks, Terrorism is the waged slavery, no peace with the bosses.

If the United Kingdom, France and Germany, with the US conspiring in the background, try to hold the EU together with a new Greek junta, we can only hope that the workers of Europe come to the defense of the Greek people. Meanwhile, protests and riots in Athens have been ongoing throughout the day as the government secured approval of yet another round of austerity measures. For updates of what has been happening on the streets of Greece, go here and here and here and here.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Greece: Strikes, Clashes and Intensified Austerity 

UPDATE 2: Greek unions are saying that the strike today was the largest in the country's history with 500,000 people participating in it, with the media reporting 100,000. Significantly, a BBC reporter familiar with Athens said that he had never seen so many people on the streets. Meanwhile, others note that the Greek government is showing a shocking inability to control the crowds. Follow tweets on the Greek protests here. Is there a Pinochet to restore order, and impose discipline upon the working class so that the banks can be paid?

UPDATE 1: Updates from Occupied London over the course of the day (start from the bottom and read up):

17:52 PM Syntagma has been completely evacuated by the police. A huge, diverse crowd has attacked the Bank of Greece, trashing it inside. Large groups of demonstrators are trying to regroup in Syntagma. There is an urgent need for medical help at the square.

17:42 PM Cops try to scoop clear Syntagma, attacking from different sides. There is DELTA/DIAS at the Olympiou Dios columns, blocking off people from leaving

16:55 PM Generalised clashes all around Syntagma at the moment. The bulk of the demo has been pushed away form the sq.

16:45 PM A huge black block is attacked massively by police at the moment in front of the Ministry of Finance in Syntagma Sq.

16:22 PM Reltevely passive attitide of the police and reletevly calm situation now all around Syntagma. The masses of people remain there. banners of I do not Pay movement and base unions are in front of the police in the Unkown Soldier.

16.09 PM Step by step police units are occupying the Unkown Soldier Square in front of the Parliament, pushing people back towards Syntagma Square but they meet strong opposition and do not manage to move much forward, demonstrators respond with stones and head to head clashes any time a police unit tries to move forwrad. Thousands still there, just a couple of metres away from the police cordons and attack to them.

15:44 PM Clashes all around the centre of Athens. Tear gases, shock grenades mainly on Akadimias st. but burning barricades are all around the centre. In Syntagma several hundernd of demonstrators attacked with stones and sticks in co-ordinated way against the cops, police uses chemical gases en mase there, but people do not retreat and hold their posiitions in front of the parliament defending themselves, however a part of the Unkown soldier is occupied by the police now. Thick black smoke can be seen in front of the University Refectory.

15:19 PM Police operation along Akadimias st. head to head clashes with the police there. Clashes on the Uknown Soldier Square on the bottom of the staircase leading to the parliament building. Police operation takes place there as well, as they are trying to push the people towards Syntagma Square, stones and molotov cocktails against the police and clashes in front of the parliament carries on.

15:05 PM Base Union and Anarchist blocks are enetring now Syntagma Square from the lower part, from Stadiou st.

14:56 PM Clashes in front of the parliament building still going on, on Panepistimiou stthere are clashes, taxi drivers union along fellow protesters hold a barricade on Akadimias st. and fighting with the cops, at the moment the only street leading to Syntagma is Stadiou st. Tear gases and chemical gases used by the police in Syntagma but people are not leaving the area.

14.44 PM Gas shot straight into crowd at Panepistimiou metro. Earlier on Patison, anarchists attached the government money-printing building.

14.43 PM In front of the parliament people now have reached the bottom of the staircases that leads to the main building of the Parliament. In front of the parliament again on the other side, stones, molotov cocktails and other items are thrown to the police units guarding the parliament. Tension goes high. Police does not dare to attack, while Syntagma and the Unkown Solider square are occupied by protesters-strikers.

INITIAL POST: Reports from Greece are confused, but indicate that the government has prevailed on a preliminary vote for another round of austerity, with the final one scheduled for tomorrow, while police and protesters clash on the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki. Police have cleared protesters from the Syntagma Square in front of the parliament building after wounding 15 people, 6 of them seriously. Prior to the vote, protesters came close to storming the building. Tweets from Theodora Oikonomides give an impression of the intensity of the protests in Athens. For updates, consider the Guardian live blog as well. lenin has a good analysis of the situation here. A 48 hour strike commenced prior to the vote in Parliament continues.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Brief Report on Occupy Sacramento 

UPDATE 5 (12:07 PM Pacific Time): The livestream shows only one person left in the park, a man in a wheelchair who, according to Kay, was also arrested last Saturday. Several officers have made contact with him, and he is now being wheeled away.

UPDATE 4 (12:05 AM Pacific Time): Livestream is back with arrests ongoing involving as many as 70 officers. 3 of the original 9 people remain in the park according to a Kay report on Facebook moments ago.

UPDATE 3 (11:48 PM Pacific Time): For updates, check out the Occupy Sacramento Facebook page. According to Christina Kay at 11:40 PM: 31 police vehicles, 2 csi, 2 paddy wagons. 9 occupiers. A more recent comment by Kay at 11:47 PM states that there are 50+ officers, with arrests imminent.

UPDATE 2 (11:35 PM Pacific Time): Eight people remain in the park after the Sacramento Police Department broadcasts an order to disperse at 11:24 PM. Police in formation with batons at 10th and J Streets. A second order to disperse was issued moments ago, and the livestream has gone dark.

UPDATE 1 (11:17 PM Pacific Time): The Sacramento City Council has denied a request that the participants in Occupy Sacramento be allowed to camp overnight in Cesar Chavez Park because of fears that the homeless would have to be permitted to do so as well. Up to 54 people have remained in the park past the 10:00 PM curfew, and the police are reportedly preparing to make arrests. For livestream video, go here.

INITIAL POST: Over the last week or so, I have periodically visited Occupy Sacramento in Cesar Chavez Park. About a week and a half ago, on Saturday evening, I participated in a march from the park to nearby Midtown. My young son insisted that we do so, and we did. Upon making its way through the downtown restaurant district along J Street, the march reached 20th and J Streets, the center of the monthly Second Saturday art event for which Midtown is known. As you might have guessed, Midtown has numerous art galleries and has been a countercultural center of Sacramento for decades.

The marchers were both combative and festive, especially upon arriving at 20th and J Streets, where they joined a line of conga musicians and danced in the street. The police presence was, by and large, low key, with the marchers chanting, the police are the 99%. As elsewhere, there is a conscious effort to communicate that Occupy Sacramento is not inherently in conflict with the police. While one can argue with this in terms of historical precedent, the organizers are displaying an impressive pragmatic awareness of the fact that a violent confrontation with the police, no matter how slight, would probably curtail, if not destroy, the movement's potential for growth here. The march was unpermitted, and required marchers to walk along the sidewalk and obey traffic signals. March monitors made sure that there was no pretext for the police to act as they even insisted that marchers make a path for pedestrians to pass on the sidewalk.

Clearly, such fidelity to the letter of the local traffic laws is in marked contrast to the recent leftist emphasis upon Whose Streets? Our Streets! But the importance of challenging the power of the state when it comes to private property and control of streets and sidewalks gave way to more important objectives. First, the primary objective of Occupy Sacramento is to force the city to allow the participants to camp in Cesar Chavez Park without restriction. There have been 58 arrests the park since the occupation began on October 6th, and any arrests during the course of protests separate from this effort could detract from it. After all, the park is, in a sense, the nerve center of the movement, the place were the participants deliberate, conduct teach ins and forums, organize protests and even post information to the Internet through wireless communication. Second, the protests, such as this one, take place after a consensus process of deliberation, hence, it can reasonably be assumed that the participants consciously decided that this march was not the time and place for confrontation, and that should be respected.

I have visited the park several times, sometimes to merely observe and other times to talk with the people that I encounter there. I have seen a racially diverse group of people, perhaps more so than has been reported elsewhere, but this makes sense, as Sacramento has been known for being one of the least segregated cities in the US, although I don't recall a significant Latino presence (by contrast, African Americans are prominent). It is, not surprisingly, impossible to attribute a clear ideological perspective to the people there, although there is a strong left presence, with both anarchists and Marxists well represented. Overall, one gets the impression of people overwhelmed by socioeconomic forces beyond their control, forces that they struggle to identify, much less effectively confront. But, paradoxically, it is this confusion that gives Occupy Sacramento, and possibly the entire Occupy Together movement its strength. In the absence of easily identified enemies, beyond amorphous condemnations of the banks, Wall Street and money in politics, they are tentatively moving towards an indictment of the cash-nexus itself.

Nowhere is this confusion more on display than during the protests of Occupy Sacramento. Last Saturday, there was a march to the State Capital and rally on the north steps to coincide with the October 15th global day of action. Given that it was a Saturday, marchers walked along the sidewalks of a nearly deserted Capital Mall to a deserted state capital. Yet the 200 to 250 participants did so with gusto, and despite what appeared to be garden variety progressive rhetoric at the rally (it was admittedly hard for me to hear a lot of it, because my son was running wildly around the grounds), there was an unmistakeable logic to it all. If the enemy is the dehumanizing power of money, a power that has been rendered more abstract and diffuse, then there was no need for anyone to hear the protesters, to serve as the target for their dissatisfaction. It was enough for them to march down a mall full of office buildings for financial institutions and law firms and conclude with a rally in front of a building known for the acquiescene of its political institutions to the power of capital. One of the more humorous aspects of this march was the fact that my four and half year old son saw the marchers going down the street as we were driving nearby and promptly blurted out We are the 99%! He remembered the chant from the previous march to Midtown.

Beyond this, I'm particularly interested in the day to day activities in the park, the place where the participants interact in assemblies, forums and teach ins. For it is here where the participants seek to make sense of a world gone mad and develop a collective response to it. They struggle to remain respectful of one another during these discussions despite the tremendous variance in their backgrounds and social perspectives. On Sunday, I arrived after a heated discussion about the Citizens United decision between a couple of people, one of whom supported the ruling. A friend of the proponent was critical of the person who argued with him, even though she did not support his stance, because this person, in her view, did so disrepecfully. Of course, one can dismiss this as the elevation of process over substance, but this fails to recognize something that the participants consider more important at this point: the need to create a space where the victims of the existing social order can come together and establish a bond with one another. Otherwise, they will remain isolated and vulnerable.

No doubt, this strikes a leftist ear in an odd, if not jarringly dissonant, fashion. And there is, admittedly, a peril. If one listens carefully, one can hear the echoes of a cyberlibertarian vision, with Wall Street serving as the repository of all of the evils associated with repressive power and privilege. There is, however, only one way for the left to address it, and that is to engage the Occupy Together effort on its own terms. Go the forums, the assemblies, the protests and even the meals and sincerely advocate for anti-authoritarian socialism. Because of the prominent role of anti-authoritarian leftists in organizing this movement, it has already adopted many non-hierarchical practices. Accordingly, now is the time to gently seek to persuade people that these practices prefigure a different way to live. Most importantly, it is essential that we listen as well as speak, because how else are we to learn about the personal and economic distress experienced by so many people? Or, perhaps, more accurately, how else will we understand that those with whom we associate ourselves with politically have an independent, individual agency that must be recognized? Indeed, we must listen before, during and after we speak, because otherwise no one will listen to us because what we say will be irrelvant to them. And, in many instances, it will be best if we just listen and don't say anything at all.

Last year, I read a brief selection by an anarchist in We Are An Image From the Future, a book about the Greek protests of December 2008, released by AK Press. In that piece, the author insightfully observed that the mass protests against the Greek state required anarchists to reevaluate their convictions in light of their experiences, forcing them to accept the fact that people who had been relatively apolitical were now taking the lead and making spontaneous decisions without their assistance. Much the same is now happening with Occupy Together and it is a shocking thing for politically engaged people to accept. And it is happening because of tremendous pain inflicted upon so many Americans in the last 5 or 6 years.

A couple of encounters come to my mind in this regard. Last Wednesday or Thursday, I went over to Occupy Sacramento during my lunch break, and saw a middle aged woman with her two children holding signs on the the southwest corner of the park at 9th and J Streets. The signs were hand made and difficult to read from any distance because much of the lettering was small and sometimes in pencil, but I examined them closely and saw that they insisted upon the need to fund education over finance. I was emotionally overcome by poignancy of the situation, a family so distraught over what was happening that they had to do something, anything, even if it was holding up signs on a street corner that the drivers of passing vehicles could barely read. It was far more effective than any protest I've seen organized by the California Teachers Association.

Today, I had a similar experience. Again, I went over during my lunch break. The number of people there was small, about 25 to 30 people or so. All of a sudden, as I was eating my lunch, a swarthy, middle aged man started yelling, They are taking away our money! They are taking away our rights! They are taking away our dignity! They are going take away our lives! My initial reaction was that he sounded mentally disordered, but as I kept watching and listening, I heard that rare, unmistakable voice of someone who was frightened and angry, so much so that, like the woman and her children, he had to do something, no matter how many people responded to it. He continued to speak in this way, prompting me to think that this is what the ranters during the Glorious Revolution must have sounded like. He walked from the center of the park to the sidewalk along the street, and, upon finishing my lunch, I walked over to him, where he continued to rant as it were, and got his attention. I touched his back with my arm, looked him in the eye, and said, We hear you. I paused as he looked at me, and then said again, We hear you. Always remember that. He thanked me, and I left, chastened by such an intense emotional contact with the desperation that drives people to participate in Occupy Together.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

They Are Watching Occupy Wall Street 

From Gawker:

The Occupy Wall Street protests have been going on for a month. And it seems the FBI and NYPD have had help tracking protesters' moves thanks to a conservative computer security expert who gained access to one of the group's internal mailing lists, and then handed over information on the group's plans to authorities and corporations targeted by protesters.

Since the Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17, New York security consultant Thomas Ryan has been waging a campaign to infiltrate and discredit the movement. Ryan says he's done contract work for the U.S. Army and he brags on his blog that he leads a team called Black Cell, a team of the most-highly trained and capable physical, threat and cyber security professionals in the world. But over the past few weeks, he and his computer security buddies have been spending time covertly attending Occupy Wall Street meetings, monitoring organizers' social media accounts, and hanging out with protesters in Lower Manhattan.

For more, go here. Of course, this is a typical instance of the privatization of domestic surveillance, the outsourcing of activities too sensitive for governmental institutions like the FBI and NYPD. It also suggests an extension of the practices currently being used against Muslims. If Anonymous was doing the same thing, intercepting NYPD and FBI communications and relaying them to OWS, the FBI would seek to prosecute those involved. One wonders whether disclosures such as this will have a radicalizing effect upon the participants in the Occupy Together effort.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Postmodern Medicine 

Who says that the practice of medicine has to have any relationship to the treatment of real illnesses and injuries?

Designer vagina surgery is big business: according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in 2009 female consumers spent an estimated $6.8m (£4.4m) on these procedures (the figure counts only plastic surgeons, not gynaecologists). Its popularity is rising in the UK, too – in 2008, the NHS carried out 1,118 labiaplasty operations, an increase of 70% on the previous year. And figures released this year show that plastic surgery company the Harley Medical Group received more than 5,000 inquiries about cosmetic gynaecology in 2010, 65% of them for labial reduction, the rest for tightening and reshaping.

The only reason I know about cosmetic vaginal surgery is that, while researching my latest book, I was given temporary faculty status at the medical school of the university where I teach creative writing, so I could observe obstetrics and gynaecology students. Somehow, I began to get spam emails addressed to Dr Lee, extolling the revenue expanding virtues of learning vaginal rejuvenation. And it's clear at this conference that the bulk of participants are indeed not plastic surgeons but run-of-the-mill obstetricians and gynaecologists who see this as their passport out of traditional practice.

When I ask these doctors about the drastic switch from delivering babies to doing cash-only cosmetic surgeries, many seem uncomfortable. A few sheepishly say they are just exploring their options. The ones already practising cite the rising costs of malpractice insurance, dwindling insurance and government reimbursements (in the US healthcare model, nine months of prenatal care and a normal vaginal delivery nets these primary care providers less than $2,000 [£1,288]). Others talk of a desire for more control over their schedule, rationalising the switch as a family values move.

But the irrefutable fact of the matter is that these cosmetic procedures can make you rich. As one speaker makes a presentation about his successful cosmetic-gyn practice, the wallpaper from his laptop appears on screen: various shots of him with his Porsche. The message is simple. A straightforward labiaplasty, done in-office, in a few hours, nets about $5,000 (£3,222). Enough customers and you, too, can live the good life.

Does one have to be a feminist to find this appalling? Apparently, this is the future of medicine, manipulating the emotional inadequacies of patients about their physical condition so as to persuade them to pay substantial sums of money for unnecessary surgical procedures. Of course, I recognize that this is perversely analogous to the execrable explosion of the number of plastic surgeons willing to perform cosmetic eye surgery for Asians. But be careful about reading the article in its entirety, you will just get angrier, especially if you stay with it until the doctor's joke about how pleased a patient's husband was after a vaginal rejuvenation procedure.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

A Ground Level Perspective about Occupy Wall Street 

ohtarzie has taken the time to visit Zuccoti Park and report about what he observed:

When you originally arrive at Zucotti, it seems a bit like an anarcho-hippie encampment redolent of Thomkins Square in the 90s. There is always a very loud drumming circle and all the various things that go along with it, except you don’t smell pot or booze, both of which are banned by the group.

Around the perimeter of the park are people doing agitprop – mostly making or holding posters – who run the political gamut of all political tendencies that have been marginalized from two-party duopoly, including a fair smattering of conspiracy theorists and cranks. The park grounds themselves are covered with the camping gear of the actual occupants, which is alleged to be 600 people, though it does not look that large to me. The hive of activity seems to be the food line, and, in fact, from a distance anyway, food and agitprop-making seem to be the focal points of occupation life.

Now the strange thing is, once the General Assembly starts, the prevailing demographics seem to shift rather dramatically. Overwhelmingly the people most involved in the General Assembly – the people who facilitate, who offer reports from working groups and who pose questions, are clearly of the professional classes, which is betrayed instantly by their appearance and communication style, their savviness in directing discussion and giving instructions, and by the preening, extroverted style that marks many of today’s professionals from both working stiffs and their stodgier predecessors. In other words, they look exactly like the kind of people who went literally insane for Obama in 2008 and many, if not most, probably did.

Though I find this class of people extremely unappealing as a matter of personal taste, their predominance, at least at this stage, is not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of them have genuinely wised up and, more importantly, have skills and resources that less advantaged people frequently don’t have, as well as the patience for the grunt work side of revolt. But they also bring the baggage of their conformism, professional ambition and general trust in state authority, as well as religious faith in the inane strains of identity politics that have run interference for the ruling class since the 70s.

Nowhere have I encountered the social dilemma of Occupy Wall Street so concisely described. The resolution of it will determine whether Occupy Wall Street is the beginning of a new era of radical politics or yet another false dawn. Uncharacteristically the optimist, I'm going with the former instead of the latter, well aware that the odds are against me. If the various strands of the left were able to come together and organize the Bloombergville, then I'm hopeful that leftists and liberals can do the same in relation to Occupy Wall Street. Pressure from the ever expanding population of desperate people demand it.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Occupy Wall Street can do for Barack Obama 

Poor Amy Goodman. She just does not get it. I will quote her summary so that you can save your time and avoid reading the entire commentary: Wall Street firms were among Obama's biggest donors in 2008, and will be again in 2011. He needs us as a counter-weight.

If this is the ultimate objective of OWS, and associated occupations around the country, the participants may as well take down their tents. Fortunately, it isn't. But the fact that people like Amy Goodman are already trying to subordinate the movement to a leader, in this instance, amazingly enough, President Obama, by reducing it to a part of his electoral and governing coalition, should be cause for concern. A grassroots social movement without any express political or partisan affiliation is too threatening to people like Amy, and must be brought to heel by imposing one upon them.

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The Modern Inquisition 

UPDATE: An incisive critique of this post in a comment by evildoer:

it raises the question as to whether one of the covert purposes of the war on terror is the desecularization of American life by substituting feudal social practices for those adopted over time in response to the Enlightenment

I think this kind of reverses the historical sequence. The Inquisition was not a feudal practice. In fact, it was an anti-feudal practice that heralded the beginning of thre emergence of "enlightened" institutions in Europe. The roman inquisition developed because heretics were able to rely on support of some local lords and the convoluted system of local feudal rights to avoid represssion. It provided the first bureacratized system of establishing the legal truth that went against local traditions (including juries, ordeals, and feudal arbitration). It was therefore heavily supported by monarchs who wanted to centralize the state and defeat recalcitrant feudal barons.

Comparisons with today are also skewed by legend. For example, the rate of conviction in the courts of the Spanish Inquisition in the sixteenth century were LOWER than the rates of conviction in the US "justice" system today. In other words, a 16th century converso had a better go at convincing a judge that he was a bona fide Christian than a suspect of burglary in the US has of winning a "not guilty" plea today. Most inquisitorial trials ended with minor citations and warning. Some were fined and imposed penance. The Albigensian Crusade, which was the first European genocide, launched by the Kings of Paris with the express goal of exterminating a religious group, was not representative of the inquistion as an institution, but, like the inquisition, it was a major step towards the modern world.

INITIAL POST: Ever since George W. Bush described the US response to the 9/11 attacks as a crusade, there has been a periodic stream of stories analogizing the conflict between the the US, Europe and Islamic fundamentalist groups as a contemporary struggle between Christianity and Islam. Not surprisingly, Christian fundamentalists have promoted this narrative incessantly.

Beyond this, there have been episodes, such as the Marines invoking the protection of God prior to attacking Fallujah in November 2004, wherein the US military perceives itself as an instrument of God's will. Meanwhile, the Air Force has been sharply criticized for permitting Christian fundamentalists to proselytize recruits, frequently in an offensive and coercive manner. But, perhaps, the association between the war on terror and Christianity is more straightforward, revealed through the practices of the purported war itself. Consider, for example, this footnote in Silvia Frederici's Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, a footnote where she elaborates upon the practices utilized by the Catholic Church to suppress heresy:

Andre Vauchez attributes the success of the Inquisition to its procedure. The arrests of suspects was prepared with utmost secrecy. At first, the prosecution consisted of raids against heretics' meetings, organized in collaboration with public authorities. Later, when Waldenses and Cathars had already been forced to go underground, suspects were called in front of a tribunal without being told the reasons for their convocation. The same secrecy characterized the investigatory process. The defendants were not told the charges against them, and those who denounced them were allowed to retain their anonymity. Suspects were released, if they informed against the accomplices and promised to keep silent about their confessions. Thus, when heretics were arrested they could never know if anyone from their congregation had spoken against them. As Italo Mereu points out, the work of the Roman Inquisition left deep scars in this history of European culture, creating a climate of intolerance and institutional suspicion that continues to corrupt the legal system to this day. The legacy of the Inquisition is a culture of suspicion that relies upon anonymous charges and preventative detention, and treats suspects as if already proven guilty.

Preliminarily, observe that this is the Roman Inquisition, an inquistion that predates the more popularly known Spanish one by about 200 years. Upon reading this passage, it is remarkable the extent to which the practices of this inquisition anticipate the ones associated with the war on terror, so much so that it raises the question as to whether one of the covert purposes of the war on terror is the desecularization of American life by substituting feudal social practices for those adopted over time in response to the Enlightenment. The separation of church and state is one of the guiding principles asserted by those influenced by the Enlightenment, and, yet, in regard to the war on terror, the boundary is degraded by the state's adoption of religiously inspired measures to suppress perceived enemies. In effect, the state is seeking to attain the autonomy retained by religious institutions where it comes to the punishment of heretics in order to combine it with the power to project violent force globally. Indeed, it may now be more accurate to speak of the opponents of US global hegemony as heretics instead of the words commonly ascribed to them: radicals, terrorists, militants, anarchists and guerrillas, among others.

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Saturday, October 08, 2011

We've Been Occupied by Wall Street for Years 

UPDATE 2: 19 arrested in Sacramento late Thursday night and 14 more arrested around midnight Sunday.

UPDATE 1: A man participating in Occupy SF relates how he lost his home through foreclosure, and then concludes, if this has happened to you, take to the streets:

INITIAL POST:

@OccupyTheHood, Occupy Wall Street from adele pham on Vimeo.

Please consider watching this video in its entirety. It is a powerful, first hand account of what motivates people to participate in Occupy Wall Street and how they have emotionally bonded with those they have encountered. It also provides a good opportunity to address an important issue in relation to this movement. One can readily find posts at various Internet locations expressing alarm that labor unions, progressive activist groups affiliated with the Democratic Party and individuals known for their support for Obama are urging support for Occupy Wall Street. Amazingly, even DailyKos has urged people to join the occupations.

Of course, the fear is a legitimate one, the fear that they will seek to substitute their institutional politics for the non-hierarchical grassroots effort emerging all over the country. But there are many people who have learned about Occupy Wall Street, and had it legitimized in their eyes as something to embrace precisely because of this support. One can complain that this reveals a residue of deference to delegated authority, which it undoubtedly true, but misses the essential point: if people don't engage Occupy Wall Street, then there is no way for them to participate in the movement, with its potential for personal and collective transformation. To expect people to throw off the shackles of such authority as a precondition for such participation is implausible.

The man in this video, Malik from Occupy the Hood, is a good example of this phenomenon. He initially went to Occupy Wall Street to observe, noted that figures like Cornel West and Russell Simmons supported it, and, then, based upon this integrated experience, enthusiastically joined the effort. Occupy the Hood is now involved in the organizing of occupations in Detroit and New Orleans. Now, I've seen comments on the Internet where people have denigrated Russell Simmons for his support because of his alignment with Obama and mainstream Democratic Party politics, but, in this instance, Simmons helped motivate Malik to actively participate in Occupy Wall Street.

One of the essential strengths of this movement is the refusal of its participants to relate to people monolithically. There are many people in the AFL-CIO, for example, who don't necessarily agree with everything Richard Trumka and the Executive Board does. Hence, the support of labor unions affiliated with it should not be perceived as perilous, but, rather, an opportunity. Accordingly, drawing lines based upon the past political malfeasance of the AFL-CIO merely serves to segregate many people within it who might otherwise participate in Occupy Wall Street. Now, I'm not being Panglossian here. I'm well aware of past historical episodes like May '68 in France and the Hot Autumn in Italy in 1969, episodes where the unions exploited the movement for their own ends and eventually killed it. But, it is, in my view, better to seize the opportunity of bringing their members, and the members of similarly situated organizations, into the movement and persuading them to embrace its non-hierarchical practices towards the end of bringing about truly radical change. There is really no other way.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

#OccupyWallStreet 

UPDATE 2:


UPDATE 1: A compelling story of insisting upon inclusion within OWS:

On Thursday night I showed up at Occupy Wall Street with a bunch of other South Asians coming from a South Asians for Justice meeting. Sonny joked that he should have brought his dhol so we could enter like it was a baarat. When we got there they were passing around and reading a sheet of paper that had the Declaration of the Occupation of Wall Street on it. I had heard the Declaration of the Occupation read at the General Assembly the night before but I didn’t realize that it was going to be finalized as THE declaration of the movement right then and there. When I heard it the night before with Sonny we had looked at each other and noted that the line about being one race, the human race, formally divided by race, class . . . was a weird line, one that hit me in the stomach with its naivety and the way it made me feel alienated. But Sonny and I had shrugged it off as the ramblings of one of the many working groups at Occupy Wall Street.

But now we were realizing that this was actually a really important document and that it was going to be sent into the world and read by thousands of people. And that if we let it go into the world written the way it was then it would mean that people like me would shrug this movement off, it would stop people like me and my friends and my community from joining this movement, one that I already felt a part of. So this was urgent. This movement was about to send a document into the world about who and what it was that included a line that erased all power relations and decades of history of oppression. A line that would de-legitimize the movement, this would alienate me and people like me, this would not be able to be something I could get behind. And I was already behind it this movement and somehow I didn’t want to walk away from this. I couldn’t walk away from this.

And that night I was with people who also couldn’t walk away. Our amazing, impromptu, radical South Asian contingency, a contingency which stood out in that crowd for sure, did not back down. We did not back down when we were told the first time that Hena spoke that our concerns could be emailed and didn’t need to be dealt with then, we didn’t back down when we were told that again a second time and we didn’t back down when we were told that to block the declaration from going forward was a serious serious thing to do. When we threatened that this might mean leaving the movement, being willing to walk away. I knew it was a serious action to take, we all knew it was a serious action to take, and that is why we did it.

I have never blocked something before actually. And the only reason I was able to do so was because there were 5 of us standing there and because Hena had already put herself out there and started shouting mic check until they paid attention. And the only reason that I could in that moment was because I felt so urgently that this was something that needed to be said. There is something intense about speaking in front of hundreds of people, but there is something even more intense about speaking in front of hundreds of people with whom you feel aligned and you are saying something that they do not want to hear. And then it is even more intense when that crowd is repeating everything you say– which is the way the General Assemblies or any announcements at Occupy Wall Street work. But hearing yourself in an echo chamber means that you make sure your words mean something because they are being said back to you as you say them.

And so when we finally got everyone’s attention I carefully said what we felt was the problem: that we wanted a small change in language but that this change represented a larger ethical concern of ours. That to erase a history of oppression in this document was not something that we would be able to let happen. That we knew they had been working on this document for a week, that we appreciated the process and that it was in respect to this process that we wouldn’t be silenced. That we demanded a change in the language. And they accepted our change and we withdrew our block as long as the document was published with our change and they said find us after and we will go through it and then it was over and everyone was looking somewhere else. I stepped down from the ledge I was standing on and Sonny looked me in the eye and said you did good and I’ve never needed to hear that so much as then.

Please consider reading Manissa McCleave Maharawal's post in its entirety. Interestingly, she initially declined to go to the encampment, because she had heard or intuited, like her other brown friends, that it was a mostly young white male scene. But the police brutality, and the subsequent protest against it, persuaded her to visit it with a friend. And, afterwards, she persuaded more of her friends to accompany her upon her return. It is tempting to read her account in heroic terms, but it is actually a example of what is perpetually necessary to create and expand the inclusiveness required for any legitimate social movement.

Hat tip to Jews sans frontieres.

INITIAL POST: Preliminarily, it must be acknowledged that Occupy Wall Street is the one of the most significant protest movements of the last 15 years, and retains the potential to become one of the most transformative protest movements in US history. For now, it is comparable in terms of its social impact to the direct action civil disobedience in Seattle in 1998 and the protests against the Iraq war in 2003. It signals the end of the malaise that has, with the exception of the period just prior to the launching of the Iraq war, so immobilized Americans in the aftermath of the 9/11.

Commenced just six days after ceremonies centered around the tenth anniversary of the attacks, the occupation of Wall Street by a small group of protesters shattered the effort of Obama and others to characterize the US as a country defined by the war on terror and the post-9/11 generation who fights it. Veterans have been prominent among the protesters, and they have expressly separated themselves from such a jingoistic portrayal of their experience. A Pew Research Center poll states that 1 out of 3 post-9/11 veterans believes that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not worth fighting and that 6 out of 10 have what the Center describes as isolationist tendencies.

Despite the fact that fewer than three weeks have elapsed since the protests began, the entry of the participants of OWS into the financial district of New York City has already taken on the gloss of historical romanticism, as reported by Kevin Gosztola of firedoglake:

Less than one hundred went into a park on September 17 and did not leave. The police appeared intent on forcing them out of the park but the occupiers found out late in the night they would be allowed to stay. An opening was created. One occupier tweeted it felt like a mini Tahrir Square. And, in the first week, with very little media attention, those who were tired of letting Wall Street and the top 1% ruin their lives and other people’s lives—somewhere between 50 and 200—occupied the park.

Those who slept in the park the first week, especially on the first night, are the vanguard of this movement. They were not part of some known community group or union. They were not affiliated with any campaign launched by any liberal organization. They were not even directly connected to any of the more radical groups in the country, like the Socialist Workers’ Party or Communist Party USA. They were not being visited by celebrities or media personalities. They were just students saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. They were people who were fed up with growing poverty. They were citizens who were no longer willing to tolerate Wall Street influence over politician, who tailor legislation and policies to benefit corporations and the richest 1% at the expense of the other 99% of Americans.

Gosztola isn't entirely accurate here, as it has been reported that anarchists, syndicalists, progressives and communists involved in previous actions designed to highlight poverty and inequality in NYC, such as the Bloombergville, have played a prominent role. Indeed, it appears that OWS evolved out of the Bloombergville earlier this summer:

Part protest base camp/part community center, Bloombergville reclaimed public space for dissent in a way that has not occurred in New York since 9/11. It also created a common ground for a variety of left groups and tendencies to work together in a way also rarely seen in this city.

Operating under the banner of New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, the majority of the protesters, like Hales, were in their 20s and 30s, face a future of limited job prospects and see a political system disconnected from the concerns of ordinary people. They drew inspiration from mass occupations of public space that have recently propelled protest movements from Egypt to Spain to Madison, Wisconsin as well as from the Hoovervilles of the 1930s.

Bloombergville organized daily protests of as many as 200 people. These actions culminated in a raucous June 28 demonstration in which 13 people were arrested for barricading the entrance to the office building at 250 Broadway. City Council members, who have offices in the building, were inside negotiating the final details of the budget. A near-riot ensued when police attacked protesters who had surrounded and briefly blocked the two police vans called to carry away the arrestees.

Organized through a general assembly that met each night at 8 p.m., Bloombergville also served as the movement’s living room. People could drop in and share donated food and drink, debate politics for hours, take out books from the Bloombergville Library, attend evening teach-ins at Bloombergville University led by City University of New York (CUNY) professors such as Frances Fox Piven and Stanley Aronowitz or take the stage during open-mic night.

The response to OWS on the left was initially muted. Max Ajl acknowledged that he was initially dismissive because when someone calls a protest in America lately the joke is usually on the Left. Similarly, I didn't think much would come of it, either, which, in a bizarre way, was a positive sign, because I have rarely, if ever, anticipated the success of a protest movement in advance, having been especially gloomy about the ones that generated the most support. Curiously, a post by lenin over at Lenin's Tomb about the anti-semitism of Gilad Atzmon, a post that became a debate over the relative lack of merit of Atzmon and Slavoj Zizek, has generated over 188 comments, while his more recent post about OWS has only generated 29, most of them several days after it originally appeared on the site. One suspects that, among Leninists and Trotskyites, there is apprehension about the lack of any vanguardist leadership and the amorphous nature of the motivations of the participants, even as their allies in NYC have worked actively to organize it.

Conversely, Pham Binh and Louis Proyect have stood out as a clear-eyed, rational left voices about the importance of OWS, probably because they have been able to visit and talk with the protesters. Binh has posted a number of important on the scene reports, such as this one, and both have effectively asserted the importance of relating to OWS in a non-sectarian fashion. Proyect accurately summarized the situation as follows:

There is a very strong possibility that over the next five years or so the mass movement that is taking shape today might take on epic proportions and mount a serious challenge to the powers-that-be. It will be absolutely incumbent upon Marxists to figure out a way to relate to that movement not as learned professors chiding it from above but as dedicated participants whose loyalties are to the movement rather than their own group. If they can meet that challenge, the movement will be all the more powerful as a result. If they function in a narrow and self-interested manner, they will have nothing to offer. As someone who has been impressed with the relative open-mindedness and transparency of the ISO, I wish them well.

Such an admonition obviously applies to leftists of any kind, and not just Marxists.

Meanwhile, the police and the progressive political establishment displayed no such confusion. Faced with a protest movement that showed the potential to become larger and larger, the NYPD moved to suppress it with force, through the indiscriminate use of crowd control measures, pepper spray and and arrests, because, of course, that's what it usually does, and also because, unlike others, it knew, from direct experience, that OWS had evolved out of the Bloombergville, thereby revealing that the vitality of the movement remained even if the Bloombergville had been torn down. For liberals and progressives, the problem was equally acute. Van Jones and his allies, such as MoveON.org, many mainstream unions, such as SEIU and AFCSME, and other progressive organizations, had constructed Rebuild the Dream as a means of channeling social discontent into innocuous forms of protest that do not imperil the reeelection prospects of the President. But then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the people moved forward without them, and they found themselves in the embarrassing situation of having an expensive conference in Washington, D.C. while people were being maced and arrested in NYC. And, even worse, people all over the country announced plans for their own occupations. To show you bad it is, there will even be an occupation in Sacramento, starting tomorrow. Progressives therefore did the only thing they could do if they wanted to avoid becoming politically extinct: they embraced OWS, starting with a large march in NYC today.

Among leftists and progressives, there is this great angst about the need for OWS to issue a statement of demands. I've even posted a couple of comments in response to the suggestions of others at Louis Proyect's site, The Unrepentent Marxist, about the need to prioritize immediate human needs over legalistic reforms of the US financial system. And, while I am nervous about the fact that there seems to be some hesitancy to do so, which may reflect an inability of those involved in OWS to develop a consensus in support of it, such angst misses the point. In his seminal work about the Italian protest movements of the late 1960s and 1970s, States of Emergency, Robert Lumley addressed the transformative aspects of feminism in a climate of social turbulence, emphasizing the ability of its proponents to generate new ways of looking at society by highlighting the subjective differences of people and the challenges of creating a new language in order to express such a perspective. Something similar may well be happening during the collective gatherings of OWS, gatherings in which all are empowered to participate in the actions of the whole. Before people can organize themselves to act politically, they must first understand themselves sufficiently to envision themselves within a movement. It is this paradoxical process of personal and collective evolution that is most threatening to the progressive groups that have embraced OWS, and we will soon learn if they can accomodate themselves to it instead of substituting themselves as they have done in similar instances in the past.

Jack Crow of The Crow's Eye may have captured the mood when he described the people involved in OWS as the self-organized:

It is Emergency which defines our coming age. It is to Emergency - and the preface to our age of Emergency was written in the extended verse of the War on Terror - that every justification for continued maintenance of the forms of power will refer. It is Emergency which mobilizes the masses. It is in the name of a succession of Emergencies that the ruling class and its states will attempt to strangle the arising and invigorated struggles against them.

So it means something, I think, that the folks involved in the OWS experiment have begun by rejecting the acculturated norm of Emergency and its consequent hierarchies, urgency, command orientation and urge to assign marching orders and battle order.

I know for Trots and Leninists like Richard Seymour, and the various dialectically constrained parties of Europe and sheltered academia, the OWS reclaimers and the inherent argument of their method are at best problematic, because it recommends abandoning the hierarchical and partisan organizational mode which dominated resistance to capital, imperial nationalism and colonial powers over the last one hundred fifty years. It further anticipates a fight which exceeds the limits of the party structure, and its intellectualist vanguard, who are obedient to norms which are no longer really prevalent. Those engaged with today's conditions are proving forward enough to identify the functional unity of state and corporation, as well as recognizing that the apparatuses used to obtain, process, share and utilize information, security and the capture of privatized knowledge are nested within each others' overlapping spheres of influence and authority.

The struggle, it seems, has only just begun.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

We're Here to Help 

Monday, October 03, 2011

JPMorgan Chase Loves the NYPD 

New York City Police Foundation — New York

JPMorgan Chase recently donated an unprecedented $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation. The gift was the largest in the history of the foundation and will enable the New York City Police Department to strengthen security in the Big Apple. The money will pay for 1,000 new patrol car laptops, as well as security monitoring software in the NYPD's main data center.

New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly sent CEO and Chairman Jamie Dimon a note expressing profound gratitude for the company's donation.

These officers put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, Dimon said. We're incredibly proud to help them build this program and let them know how much we value their hard work.

According to lenin over at Lenin's Tomb, JPMorgan Chase announced the donation on the same day that approximately 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge for protesting the predations of Wall Street. One wonders what African Americans, Latinos and Muslims think about such a donation. After all, the NYPD has a notorious record when it comes to the use of deadly force against African Americans, as demonstrated by the killings of Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismund and Sean Bell. More recently, it has been criticized for disproportionately stopping and frisking African Americans and Latinos, as they constituted 84% of 576,394 stops in 2009. Similarly, in 2010, they constituted 85% of 601,055 stops. Meanwhile, there have been allegations that the NYPD, with CIA assistance, has engaged in the massive surveillance of American Muslims.

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