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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Celebrate Perpetual War on 9/11 (Part 2) 

Yesterday, President Obama made the connection between 9/11 and perpetual war explicit:

US President Barack Obama today hailed the 9/11 generation of US veterans and 6200 service members who perished in the hard decade of war spawned by the September 11 attacks.

Mr Obama, speaking to the 93rd annual convention of the American Legion, paid tribute to millions of servicemen and women who had signed up after the world's deadliest terror strike 10 years ago killed nearly 3000 people.

Today, as we near this solemn anniversary, it's fitting that we salute the extraordinary decade of service rendered by the 9/11 generation, the more than five million Americans who have worn the uniform over the past 10 years, he said.

Today we pay humble tribute to the more than 6,200 Americans in uniform who have given their lives in this hard decade of war. We honour them all.

Mr Obama said the 9/11 veterans had become a one America team that changed the way their country fights and wins its wars and had learned the cultures of the lands in which they had served.

We see the scope of their sacrifice in the tens of thousands who now carry the scars of war, both seen and unseen, our remarkable wounded warriors.

Most profoundly, we see the wages of war in those patriots who never came home. They gave their all, their last full measure of devotion, in Kandahar and the Korengal and Helmand, in the battles for Baghdad and Fallujah and Ramadi.

It is a most remarkable statement of imperialist intent and purpose, all the way down to the condescending remarks about how the troops learned the cultures of the lands in which they had served. It is an imperialism that the US intends to pursue indefinitely.

Meanwhile, wikileaks has provided us with an example of what US troops have been doing in Iraq during the period referenced by Obama, courtesy of a diplomatic e-mail written by a US diplomat in Geneva, Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Execution:

I would like to draw the attention of your Government to information I have received regarding a raid conducted by the Multinational Forces (MNF) on 15 March 2006 in the house of Faiz Harrat Al-Majma'ee, a farmer living in the outskirts of Al-Iss Haqi District in Balad (Salah-El-Din Governorate).

I have received various reports indicating that at least 10 persons, namely Mr. Faiz Hratt Khalaf, (aged 28), his wife Sumay'ya Abdul Razzaq Khuther (aged 24), their three children Hawra'a (aged 5) Aisha ( aged 3) and Husam (5 months old), Faiz's mother Ms. Turkiya Majeed Ali (aged 74), Faiz's sister (name unknown), Faiz's nieces Asma'a Yousif Ma'arouf (aged 5 years old), and Usama Yousif Ma'arouf (aged 3 years), and a visiting relative Ms. Iqtisad Hameed Mehdi (aged 23) were killed during the raid.

According to the information received, American troops approached Mr. Faiz's home in the early hours of 15 March 2006. It would appear that when the MNF approached the house, shots were fired from it and a confrontation ensued for some 25 minutes. The MNF troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them. After the initial MNF intervention, a US air raid ensued that destroyed the house.

Iraqi TV stations broadcast from the scene and showed bodies of the victims (i.e. five children and four women) in the morgue of Tikrit. Autopsies carries out at the Tikrit Hospital's morgue revealed that all corpses were shot in the head and handcuffed.

I am aware that the MNF confirmed that an air raid took place that day in Balad and that it caused an unconfirmed number of casualties. The US military attacked the house to capture members of Mr. Faiz Harrat Al-Majma'ee's family on the basis that they were allegedly involved in the killing of two MNF soldiers who were killed between 6 to 11 March 2006 in the Al Haweeja area. The US military was further reported in the media as stating that MNF troops attacked the house in question to capture a foreign fighter facilitator for the Al Qaeda in Iraq network. Other reports indicate that over the past five months, there have been a significant number of lethal incidents in which the MNF is alleged to have used excessive force to respond to perceived threats either at checkpoints or by using air bombing in civilian areas.

Perhaps, you wonder, why is it so important to deconstruct such obvious propaganda? Well, first of all, it isn't that obvious for a lot of people, and second, it is the means by which US politicians preserve public support for US military operations around the world. As Donald Rumsfeld did on the afternoon of September 11, 2001, US politicians, like the President, persist in associating the deaths of those who died on 9/11 with US invasions and occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and, to much lesser extent, Pakistan. Sweep it all up. Things related and not remains the governing principle of US foreign policy.

Exploitation of the people who died on 9/11 and, conversely, the suppression of any acknowledgement of the people who have subsequently died in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia as a consequence of US military operations is culturally central to perpetuating this imperialist policy. In other words, a mythology of victimization, a mythology whereby those who died on 9/11 are connected to conflicts unrelated to the attacks themselves, is necessary to provide a comprehensible ideological narrative for actions that would otherwise be recognized as violently expansionist. Needless to say, recourse to racist and sectarian stereotypes about Arabs, commonly described as Islamophobia, is also an essential feature of it, financed by influential corporate interests.

Accordingly, we should speak clearly about the tenth anniversary events associated with 9/11. They are offensive, because they exploit death to justify death on a permanent, exponentially greater scale. They constitute part of a sinister foundation myth for the so-called war on terror, a euphemism for the expansion of the American Empire, and its neoliberal, capitalist values, by means of military force. To participate in them is to participate in the embrace of the war on terror and all of the sadomasochistic brutality associated with it. On September 11, 2001, a covert clash of fundamentalisms erupted in full public view in the most spectacular fashion, a clash between the violence of radical Islamic fundamentalism and the violence of American exceptionalism, and we should instead recognize that these deaths are the tragic result of this conflict.

Shortly after the attacks, Tariq Ali asked an immigrant Central American cab driver in New York City about them, and he responded:

You know how many people they've killed in Central America? You know?... I feel sorry for the ones who died. That's more than they feel for us.

Indeed. But it's actually worse than that. Turns out that people like Rumsfeld and Obama, representative of the the political elites that govern the US, don't feel much for the people who died in the Twin Towers, either, because, if they did, they wouldn't have stripped the victims of their humanity and reduced them to US propaganda symbols. We can most sincerely respect their deaths by ascribing a tragic dimension to them equal to the deaths of anyone else.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

AOL Sinking Like a Stone After Purchasing the Huffington Post 

According to Pace Lattin of Technorati, AOL is for sale after purchasing the Post. If only Rupert Murdoch would buy it and shut the Post down, that would be great. Arianna would have to come up with a new scheme for making money off the work of others.

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Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss? 

Apparently not, if the populace of Libya has anything to say about it. Contradictions within the NATO assisted rebellion are rising to the surface pretty quickly. For a similar written account, consider the following:

The first cracks in Libya's rebel coalition have opened, with protests erupting in Misrata against the reported decision of the National Transitional Council (NTC) to appoint a former Gaddafi henchman as security boss of Tripoli.

Media reports said the NTC prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, is poised to appoint Albarrani Shkal, a former army general, as the capital's head of security.

Protests erupted in the early hours of the morning in Misrata's Martyr's Square, with about 500 protesters shouting that the blood of the martyrs would be betrayed by the appointment.

Misrata's ruling council lodged a formal protest with the NTC, saying that if the appointment were confirmed Misratan rebel units deployed on security duties in Tripoli would refuse to follow NTC orders.

Misratans blame Shkal for commanding units that battered their way into this city in the spring, terrorising and murdering civilians.

Such stories are important, because they remind us that the people of Libya have their own historical agency. They cannot be reduced to marionettes of the US, NATO and Saudi Arabia, as some on the left would have us believe. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that they will successfully resist the predation of the US and Europe. But they do possess an indigenous culture and resources that provide them with an opportunity to do so.

A truly left internationalist engagement with the situation in Libya would seek to understand and support those institutions of collective social organization capable of facilitating opposition to the reimposition of repressive social controls for the benefit of transnationals. Given that Gaddafi was perfectly willing to continue to provide such assistance, if a bit querulously, I still remain perplexed as to why NATO intervened. Was Gaddafi really demanding that big a slice of the pie? And, after all, he was reinvesting a lot of the proceeds from his hydrocarbon deals within Europe. But it did, and the question now is whether the Libyans will be allowed to chart their own destiny or have the State Department do it for them. Meanwhile, here is a profile of the CIA's favorite for leadership.

Hat tip to Hossam el-Hamalawy and Louis Proyect.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Celebrate Perpetual War on 9/11 (Part 1) 

UPDATE: In case you've forgotten, the post-9/11 reaction:

At a community meeting Saturday in Mountain View, civil rights leaders and local residents who described being targeted expressed fear that upcoming events could trigger another flare-up of backlash attacks.

They spoke from experience -- schoolchildren taunted for wearing religious head scarves, workers discriminated against because of beards and turbans. And rights advocates warned that more incidents could soon be added to the growing tallies of post 9/11 hate crimes.

Sarah O'Neal, a Muslim who attends Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, told the packed audience in a senior center auditorium that she'd been called towel head. Fellow students often asked if she had relatives in al-Qaida. And once she was lured by a schoolmate into the bathroom, where Sarah O'Neal is a terrorist was written in graffiti on the wall.

INITIAL POST: By the end of the day on September 11, 2011, there will be little doubt that the tenth anniversary of 9/11 will have served the purpose of celebrating perpetual war in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Consider, for example, this event in Sacramento:

This year marks the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. Come and join us in remembering not only the nearly 3000 Americans who did not return home to their families after the tragedy that occurred on September 11, 2001, but also those members of our Armed Forces who have given their lives defending our country. In doing so, you will be honoring those who were lost while helping to establish a support system for the families of local public servants, should they make the ultimate sacrifice.

In Downtown Sacramento, the 9/11 Memorial 5K Run/Walk will take place to give those who vowed to Never Forget the opportunity to exercise that vow. The 5K will start at 9:11 on 9/11, and wind through Downtown Sacramento. At the finish of the 5K, American flags will be handed to runners as they cross the line. Each flag will represent an American who lost their life on 9/11/2001. Runners will carry the flag they are given and will place it in the grass in the Tribute in the Park. Each American Flag will be placed next to a name plate engraved with the name of an American who did not return home. When the 9/11 5K Memorial Run/Walk is complete, nearly 3000 flags will stand united in the grass as a tribute to those that were lost.

Needless to say, there is something really offensive about this. To presume that the victims of 9/11 would have wanted to be remembered by reference to US militarism is, at best, presumptuous, especially when you realize that over 500 of the estimated 2700 victims were born outside the US.

Furthermore, as explained in a 2006 La Oferta article, an unknown number of undocumented people died in the attacks, and, naturally, they go unacknowledged during the Sacramento event:

Like Nora Elsa Molinar, scores of Hispanic families mourn family members thought to have died in the World Trade Center attacks five years ago Monday, but of whom no record remains because they were undocumented

Although Molinar lives in Oaxaca, Mexico, and has never been in New York, the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 changed her life forever, as happened to thousands who suffered the same kind of loss.

Every Friday for six years Nora would receive a call from her son Fernando, but for the last five years she has heard nothing of him.

Fernando, who emigrated to New York when he was 15, worked as a delivery boy for a pizzeria near the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks that cost the lives of 2,749 people.

Nonetheless, he is not on any list of victims or missing persons, EFE was told by Joel Magallan, director of the Tepeyac organization that serves New York’s Mexican community.

Beyond this, there is also something offensive about the sanctification of the victims of 9/11, a sanctification that elevates them above the ongoing victims of US military attacks post-9/11. While the enormous numbers of deaths associated with the Iraqi conflict cannot be definitely calculated, even though we know that the number is exponentially greater than the number who died on 9/11, attacks that Iraqis had nothing to do with, of course, the US military continues to kill people on a nearly daily basis in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya. A sincerely motivated 9/11 event would acknowledge all of these deaths, as well as those killed in the past through American covert operations, such as Operation Condor, among others. A sincerely motivated 9/11 rememberance would emphasize all the victims of political violence, instead of transforming it into yet another rationalization of the military expansion of the American Empire.

And, finally, a historically honest 9/11 event would condemn the leadership of the US for its coldhearted exploitation of those who died, as CBS News reported a year after the attacks:

With the intelligence all pointing toward bin Laden, Rumsfeld ordered the military to begin working on strike plans. And at 2:40 p.m., the notes quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. – meaning Saddam Hussein – at same time. Not only UBL – the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden.

Now, nearly one year later, there is still very little evidence Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. But if these notes are accurate, that didn't matter to Rumsfeld.

Go massive, the notes quote him as saying. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.

By the afternoon of September 11, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had already turned his attention away from the victims, and focused upon how he could exploit the tragedy to kill even more people. Not surprisingly, he'll be one of the attendees at the 9/11 anniversary in New York City.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Clip 'N Save: The 2012 Presidential Election 

As you might have guessed, I don't expect to post many blog entries about the 2012 presidential election, if at all. If I do, the entries will emphasis substantive issues instead of personalities. Similarly, I've already told some of my friends that I don't intend to produce a single KDVS public affairs program about the election on my Friday show, Speaking in Tongues. Once you tune out the white noise surrounding the emergent campaign, you can draw some fairly straightforward conclusions:

(1) all of the major party candidates, Obama included, advocate supply side economic solutions, despite the fact that unemployment and the resulting slack demand are the primary reasons for the country's economic stagnation;

(2) all of the major party candidates, Obama included, agree upon the need to curtail social welfare programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, for the purported purpose of debt reduction, even as the speculative activities of capitalists are further subsidized;

(3) all of the major party candidates, Obama included, support US military operations throughout the world in order to attain its objectives, with a special emphasis upon North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia;

(4) all of the major party candidates, Obama included, support increased surveillance, the purported war on drugs and the expansion of the US prison system, to the disproportionate detriment of young people of color.

Oops, I forgot, there is one candidate who opposes the last of these two items, and that is, of course, Ron Paul. He is a contradictory candidate, one who supports economic and social policies that will intensify domestic and international conflict, while opposing the expansion of those institutions, such as the Federal Reserve, the US military and the police, required to regulate them. In any event, much like Ralph Nader in the past, his participation merely serves to legitimize the result in support of the military neoliberalism, as described by the Retort collective in their book, Afflicted Powers:

Chapter three, on Permanent War and chapter four, on The Future of an Illusion qua the creation and high maintenance of the state of Israel, are elaborations on the themes of a ghostly afterimage of a Kantian modernity that is predicated neither on enfranchisement nor eternal peace, but on weak citizenship and perpetual conflict. The post Cold War global age of information seems to be a differential flow of affective images. The scenario is more of a diffuse ecology of visibilities and passions, in which the carnivalesque elations of miracle economies are interspersed with abject formalisms of laws and rights, or the paranoia of state of siege societies. But between the grand images of piety – that of Israel being a site of a permanent struggle of Biblical proportions, and the millennial picture of making the desert bloom – lies the inhuman imperative of financialising the globe. Indeed, the American state’s obsession with Israel can often not be explained in terms of military or financial strategy (or with crude theories of a Zionist take over of the corridors of power in Washington). It pertains more to the materiality of the images themselves. The small state of Israel serves as an enthralling metaphor for the imperial behemoth of the West precisely because within its body politic it has two disparate ideas yoked together with violence – it is an exemplar of a society in which total militarisation and spectacular modernity were fully compatible. It is also that which encapsulates within its profile the dual onto-theologies of being – the final, millennial achievement of McJerusalem. The shining Oasis awaiting to engulf the desert and make it bloom is thus an image that illuminates its obverse – the wilderness that lies beyond. The latter is a site for the exertion of the surplus energy produced relentlessly by the American military-industrial complex. This is precisely why under the auspices of what Retort calls military neo-liberalism, distinctions are always blurred between information and surveillance, between civic enterprises and military ones, between freedom and empire, between war and peace, between extending markets, and dropping bombs. The principal aspect of primitive accumulation pertains to the fact that, unlike the assiduous dreams of humanism, casting state-of-the-art tentacles of profit extraction in such a wilderness may not be accompanied by the organic creation of a modern pedagogy, civil society, democratic institutions, or public spheres.

Beyond the obvious example of Palestine, as noted by the author of this review of Afflicted Powers, Anustup Basu, it is within Afghanistan and Pakistan where we most clearly encounter this perverse global vision on display. Libya is apparently another example, as Qaddafi's greatest fault was not his brutality nor his kleptocracy, neither of which disqualifies him for inclusion within the American empire, but his lack of modernity. Modernity, it seems, or, at least, the aspiration to attain it, is a necessary precondition for the expansion of opportunities for capital accumulation.

Curiously, although Retort highlights Israel as the most perfected instance of this phenomenon, an exemplar of a society in which total militarisation and spectacular modernity were fully compatible, they could have easily selected Saudi Arabia as well. And, indeed, it has been the byplay between the US, Europe and Israel and the US, Europe and Saudi Arabia that has defined the relationship of capital with the peoples of the region. For purposes of the 2012 election, it is essential to understand that all of the major party candidates, again, with the peculiar exception of Ron Paul, want the US to more expressly organize itself in this manner.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Operation BART (Part 3) 

UPDATE 3: Police arrest a woman in Civic Center station who told a police officer: BART police need to be reformed. Make BART safe. Make BART safe:

UPDATE 2: According to Kevin Gosztola:

SF Weekly reports suggest there were not many protesting but there were plenty of reporters and camera crews seeking to cover the protest. Also—get this—protesters were told not to chant by police or they would be arrested.

Protesters on Civic Center platform were chanting, No Justice, No Peace, Disband the BART Police, which was chanted last week. The riot police present told protesters that chanting would mean they would be arrested. This was, of course, absurd to those present so they continued to chant. The police arrested a protester. And then another. And then another.

It appears that one of the arrests was for obscenities that were shouted by an older gentlemen, a thirty-five year old white male, who was wearing a red scarf. If that is indeed the case, he clearly lost control and gave BART police the upper hand in that situation. However, arrested for chanting? For speech in the BART station?

This reaction at the protest likely stems from a rule that BART has decided to institute:

No person shall conduct or participate in assemblies or demonstrations or engage in other expressive activities in the paid areas of BART stations, including BART cars and trains and BART station platforms.

The police are probably taking a position that chanting would make the assembly on the platform a demonstration or an expressive activity. If they remain silent, the police couldn’t prove they were there to protest. But the moment they open their mouths they would be violating the rule or guideline BART has chosen to enforce.

BART seems to think that protests called by anyone now constitute an imminent lawless action. Anyone listening to radio communications among BART officers can attest to the fact that BART doesn’t know the first thing about peaceably assemblies. For tonight’s protest they were characterizing what was happening as civil unrest. If what was happening is civil unrest, one wonders what would happen if it had to deal with a bunch of Bahrainis in the Pearl Roundabout. And, last week BART was saying the protesters were engaged in civil disobedience but no officers were saying anything about any protesters breaking the law or defying police orders.

UPDATE 1: Massive police presence at Civic Center station to arrest 4 people on the train platform, two of whom had the temerity to shout no justice, no peace, disband the BART police. There are about 100 protesters in the area, with 30 briefly blocking traffic on Powell Street. Civic Center and Powell Street stations have been reopened after being closed.

INITIAL POST: The live reports of the Mission Local blog are quite useful in separating fact from fiction, particularly the kind that one finds in the San Francisco Chronicle, which uncritically relays the perspective of BART and the police. For example, you never would have known, if not for Mission Local, that BART ordered four station shutdowns last Monday in response to the enormous number of 150 protesters. If you've actually been in downtown San Francisco during a major protest, you'd immediately understand the absurdity of it. But, as I said last week, BART and the police have a different motivation than the publicly stated one of safety.

Issues of ideology and political effectiveness aside, the protests are exposing the practices that the police will utilize in urban areas if significant unrest erupts, shutting off electronic communications, shutting down transit service and relying upon the deployment of riot police in large numbers. All of this is done with the objective of fragmenting the protests, while inducing the apolitical public to blame the protesters for the disruption of their lives. In other words, the strategy is to intensify the chaos resulting from protest for the purpose of generating support for even more repressive measures. As they said of BART's inspiration, Mussolini, he made the trains run on time, but, so far, it hasn't done so. Hopefully, the Anonymous collective is learning through practical experience and developing a means to effectively confront it.

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FBI Surveillance of antiwar.com 

Justin Raimondo describes it here. Looks like you should pretty much assume that the FBI has a large file on you if you oppose US militarism, unless your activities are so insufficiently publicized to escape notice.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

News from a Nation in Lockdown 

UPDATE 1: A video of a cell extraction at the News from a Nation in Lockdown site, as pointed out by Yusef:

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Consider perusing the comments to the video, as Yusef suggests.

INITIAL POST: James Ridgeway and Jean Casella have done extraordinary work in revealing the brutalities of the US prison system through their blog, Solitary Watch. They have posted numerous accounts about the abuse of inmates by placing them in solitary confinement for indefinite periods, sometimes for years and years, as was the case with Ojore Lutalo, who spent the majority of his 26 year sentence for armed robbery in isolation because of his involvement in anarchist and black nationalist organizations:

Ridgeway and Casella have posted the accounts of other inmates on a YouTube channel, News from a Nation in Lockdown, as explained here. A cursory reading of Solitary Watch reveals that many of the practices of the purported war on terror originated in US supermax prisons. Consider, for example, this account by Pornchai Moontri:

Every day there was the same monotony: breakfast at 0530 followed by forty-five minutes alone in the rec pen. That was like a big dog cage. I could take exactly eleven steps inside it and then back again. It was about five feet wide and eight feet long with chain link on all sides and above. It really was a cage. I could have a fifteen-minute shower five times a week, and one fifteen-minute telephone call per week. There was no use of a TV or radio.

Lunch was always at 11:30 and dinner at 4:30. Four times a day guards would come to count me at the same time every day. I would have to stand up or sit on the concrete bunk. I was allowed to look at three books per week. I would take any books that were big so they would last a long time. I read the Bible cover to cover twice. I read Stephen King books because they were big. I also read Shogun and any other large novel I could get. At O7OO every day, someone would come by with a tube of toothpaste, put a dab on my finger, and I would brush with that.

Super Max was so depressing and so solitary that prisoners would try to cut themselves deeply or hang themselves just to get out of there. Since this Super Max prison opened in 1992, there have been three inmate deaths there by suicide (one was a suspected homicide), and hundreds of prisoners were seriously injured. One prisoner was extracted from his cell so he could not harm himself, and then he died from the injuries he sustained while being extracted.

The longer a prisoner stayed in Super Max, the more anti-social he became. Inmates would do anything to try to break up their day and entertain themselves. Some played with their own urine and feces, and others used those as weapons, throwing them at the guards after calling their names to get their attention. Some of the more manipulative would talk other prisoners into acting up. I know today that we acted like animals because we were treated like animals.

Supermaxed.com makes the connection explicit by means of a webpage that provides links to resources related to US prisons, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and Afghanistan.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Sober Minded Evaluation of the Israeli Tent Protests 

From an article written by Max Ajl, posted by MRZine:

Without a call for ending the occupation, the demonstrations cannot encompass the most structurally disadvantaged stratum within Israeli society -- the '48 Palestinians. Nor can they attract the passive support of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories or in the Diaspora. Without such a call, there is something odd and unreal about the social justice protests, like a photograph in which all the red tone has leached out, leaving it cold and lifeless.

Meanwhile, from the Palestinians, under a decades-long occupation, the intricacies of internal Israeli social discontent and the nuances of Israeli social mobilization have understandably elicited sneers and jeers. The cost of bread to a Jewish family in Ashkelon is a real problem, but, in the hierarchy of suffering, it cannot rank next to the experience of oppression of a family in a Gaza City refugee camp that lived in Ashkelon when it was called Majdal, was cleansed from there in 1948, and whose bakery was destroyed during the 2008-2009 attack which most of the Israelis now complaining about high bread prices openly supported.

Looked at from the outside, the lacuna when it comes to the Palestinians is a sociologically jarring absence, like poor American antebellum field hands clamoring for the minimum wage without blinking an eye at the dark men in chains working in the fields next to the ones in which they are toiling. But that a racist society produces a racist protest movement is almost unavoidable. Resistance movements must start with the human material which they possess, not with the human material they wished they possessed. As historian Staughton Lynd asks, Who were the workers who made the Russian Revolution? Sexists, nationalists, half of them illiterate. Who were the workers in Polish Solidarity? Anti-Semitic, whatever. That kind of struggle begins to transform people, a transformation one sees in embryonic form in the Mizrahi-Ashkenazi solidarity within the protests themselves. Furthermore, people articulate their resistance to oppression -- at first -- in the terms in which that oppression appears to them. To the average Israeli, the ones at these protests, the occupation is not tied into their experience of oppression. Indeed, that occupation is part of stoking the Zionist sentiment and soldering the intra-Jewish communal bonds such that Israel's Jewish citizens either do not notice intra-communal oppression or do not act upon it.

But there is no force growing a radical consciousness, and there is no reason to believe that the conditions are ripe for such a consciousness's development in the first place. Thus far the leadership has been inchoate, but the Tel Aviv Students' Union has taken on a central role, active in quashing talk of the occupation, and chary about raising the core triad of injustices at the heart and inception of Israeli society: the occupation, the denial of equal rights to Israel's Palestinian minority, and the refugee issue. For that reason Palestinians have broadly responded to the protests with reinvigorated calls for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

As this excerpt indicates, Ajl's article, entitled Social Origins of the Tent Protests in Israel, is highly informative and provocative, and I recommend that people read it in its entirety. Ajl is particularly sharp in his presentation of the historic social fissures within Israel, and how such fissures, intensified by neoliberal policies in recent decades, have contributed to the emergence of this protest movement. He also speaks of a moment of choice for the movement in relation to the occupation, which it has, to date, evaded. Unfortunately, it looks as if those who purport to speak for the movement's participants have just made it today, joining the families of the soldiers killed in the Eliat attacks in mourning, while remaining silent about the predictable Israeli retaliatory airstrikes upon Gaza refugees.

Perhaps, we have to concede that A'sad Abukhalil, the Angry Arab, was correct when he ascerbically dismissed the movement about a a week ago:

I have no interest in Israeli protests and I only harbor disgust to expressions of public opposition in Israel. This is a deeply racist society that all Arabs see. Not one Arab I know, or see on the internet, is expressing any solidarity with a population that never flinched in its embrace of Israeli war crimes. Don't sell me that one-time big crowd that took to the streets in the wake of Sabra and Shatila massacre: that was no humanitarian manifestation: it was about an internal political dispute among occupying Israelis. You want me to be impressed with your protests over rent? I am never impressed with anything you do, but maybe you can impress somebody else if you protest the fact that you--YOU THE PROTESTERS--are occupying buildings that you stole by force from Palestinians and that you--YOU THE PROTESTERS--are protesting over a land that you stole by force. You never are bothered by the consecutive massacres that you--YOU THE PROTESTERS--perpetrate in your national army. There is only conflict between you and us: only conflict. I even cringe when I see you protests because I know how deeply racist you are and how much you suffer from self-admiration and delusions. But your delusions are good for us: you won't know what will hit you in the future in response to all the war crimes that you have committed against our people.

Harsh, no doubt, but apparently accurate. But the social tensions that gave rise to the protests persist, and the occupation, as noted by Ajl, is a central feature by which wealthy elites have consolidated their control over Israeli life, and so, it is premature to dismiss them as part of process that could result in the collapse of Zionism. Regrettably, though, Israelis, much like Americans impoverished by imperial adventures all around the world, remain willing to embrace scapegoats instead of confronting the sources of their distress. Abukhalil perceives no possibility of a transformation, while Ajl holds out the possibility, however slight, that it could happen. For now, though, we are left with the sad insight of Fassbinder, the powerless tend to emulate those who abuse them, and express their anger by seeking others even less powerful to oppress. It is this cycle of violence that must be broken before people can choose a revolutionary alternative.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Operation BART (Part 2) 


As you might have expected, BART overreacted to the protest called by Anonymous:

The busy evening commute out of downtown San Francisco gave way Monday to a chaotic cat-and-mouse game between police officers and roving protesters who lashed out at the transit agency for temporarily shutting down underground cellular phone service last week.

BART closed all four downtown San Francisco stations - Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery and Embarcadero - soon after the protest began at 5 p.m. Officers in riot gear blocked entrances as many train riders fumed on the sidewalks and tried to figure out how to get home. All stations were reopened by 7:30 p.m.

BART is playing a high stakes game, trying to inflame its commuter ridership against protesters angry at the agency's police violence and suppression of cell phone communication. According to Mission Local, the station closures had the absurd result of enabling about 150 protesters to strand hundreds of commuters. Politically, it has an obvious allure, but ignores the possibility that the protesters and their supporters can make the operation of the system extremely difficult.

It is possible that the BART response is indicative of a more serious governmental concern, the fear that thousands of people may attempt to shut down services essential to day to day economic activity within cities in response to policies of austerity and militarism. If one evaluates the pictures of threatening riot police at various downtown BART stations in this light, it makes more sense. Hence, the deployment, which creates a comical first impression, is designed to normalize such actions in the future as an appropriate response to any form of political protest or unrest.

Of course, the commuters find themselves in the middle. One woman complained that she couldn't get to her children's preschool on time to pick them up. As the parent of a four and a half year old, I empathize, but it is worth noting that Oscar Grant doesn't have to worry about this sort of thing anymore in regard to his young daughter. BART police officer Johannes Mehserle killed him. Sometimes, it is important to see beyond your immediate needs.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Operation BART (Part 1) 

Anonymous has announced a protest today in response BART 's decision to shut off cell phone service last week in response to a belief that there would be protests at stations in downtown San Francisco over the killings of Oscar Grant and Charles Blair Hill. Meanwhile, BART wants everyone to understand that protest is verboten at any of its transit stations.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dubstep Rebellion: . . . the whites have become black 

UPDATE 2: George Cicariello-Maher, a participant in the protests in response to the killing of Oscar Grant by BART police in Oakland in 2009, examines the complex sociology of riots such as those that convulsed London:

Essential to the imagery of the irrational mob is the insistence that the bulk of the destruction is centered on working-class communities, and here the logic is fundamentally colonial. The poor and the Blacks can’t be trusted: look what they do to their own. Incapable of governing themselves, they must be taught civilization, by blows if necessary. Here again Oakland resonates, as after the riots there a solitary African braid shop, one of many whose windows were smashed, became the media symbol of the irrationality of rioters hell-bent on destruction and nothing more. It is worth noting that the poor rarely own anything at all, even in their own communities.

To break this narrative, we must read the actions of the rebels as well as listening to their words. While working-class communities have indeed suffered damage (we should note that working-class communities always bear the brunt of upheaval), there has been less talk of more overtly political targeting: police stations burned to the ground, criminal courts windows smashed by those who had passed through them, and the tacitly political nature of youth streaming into neighboring areas to target luxury and chain stores. On just the first night, rioters in Tottenham Hale targeted Boots, JD Sports, O2, Currys, Argos, Orange, PC World and Comet, whereas some in nearby Wood Green ransacking the hulking HMV and H&M before bartering leisurely with their newly acquired possessions.

This tendency was seemingly lost on analysts at The Guardian, who were left scratching their heads when the riot locations did not correspond directly to the areas with the highest poverty. And it’s not just the lefty news outlets that let such details slip: Danny Kruger, ex-adviser to David Cameron observed that: The districts that took the brunt of the rioting on Monday night were not sink estates. Enfield, Ealing, Croydon, Clapham... these places have Tory MPs, for goodness’ sake. A mob attacked the Ledbury, the best restaurant in Notting Hill.

While refusing to denounce the rebellions, socialist thinker Alex Callinicos nevertheless suggests that such looting is a form of do-it-yourself consumerism… reflecting the intensive commodification of desires in the neoliberal era. This view misses the far more complex role of the commodity during a riot, which was as evident in Oakland as in Venezuela: not only is the looting of luxury consumer items far more complex than Callinicos suggests, but the argument of looting as consumerism would have a hard time explaining both the destruction of luxuries and appropriation of necessities that often ensues.

Referencing the attention to police misconduct engendered by the riots in Tottenham, Cicariello-Maher observes:

This isn’t the only time riots have worked, either: in 2009 Oakland, it was riots and only riots that led to the arrest, prosecution, and conviction of BART police officer Johannes Mehserle for the death of Oscar Grant.

UPDATE 1: lenin explains Starkey within the context of the racist right in the UK:

But this raises the question of what Starkey was trying to do. Clearly, he earnestly expressed his own views as a High Tory historian with a monarchist, nationalist bent. Yet, he evidently went farther than the political establishment, including the mainstream right, is prepared to go at the moment, and may well have gambled with his future television career. In fact, there would be a strong case for his being arrested and charged with incitement to racial hatred. There are two answers that make sense. The first is that is that the entire aggressively offensive performance was a calculated attempt to injure and smear the targets of its racialised invective. It was malice. And it was intended that racists should enjoy this degradation, uttered with relish as it was. The second is that the presentation, in its deliberately excessive way, invited the disgust and disorientation of the audience, such that, amid a generalised moral panic, he would recalibrate the scales of what is publicly acceptable in a radical way. The pathfinders of the racist right often seek the "chorus of execration", as Powell put it, revelling in the temporary ex-communication, enjoying the ambiguous status of the heretic and the prophetic. This is both because they expect to be vindicated, and because they can enjoy the spectacle of their execrators making use of the space of relative 'respectability' that their provocation has created.

INITIAL POST:

Why did British youth loot their neighborhoods after the killing of Mark Duggan? British historian David Sharkey has the answer. British society has been degraded by blacks and black culture, inducing whites to talk like illiterates and steal whatever strikes their fancy. Contrary to BBC claims to the contrary, the interviewer, Emily Maithis, allowed him to elaborate on his theories of racial contamination without criticism. Other participants in the panel discussion, Dreda Say Mitchell and Owen Jones, did challenge Sharkey, but in remarkably understated fashion. Personally, I think that they should have just walked out.

Such gentle inquiry was in marked contrast to how another BBC interviewer, Fiona Armstrong, treated Darcus Howe when he sought to explain the social conditions associated with the riots, going so far as to assert he had participated in a riot himself:

It was so bad that the BBC was forced to issue an apology. Expect a more and more blatant recourse to racism and xenophobia to mask the sub-proletarianization of Europe as suggested by these BBC interviews.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

An Aside About the London Riots 

UPDATE 4: According to historian David Starkey, the riots have confirmed the prophecy of Enoch Powell as the whites have become black. Of course, the BBC allowed him to express his racist perspective about blacks and black culture unchallenged by the moderator, in marked contrast to the treatment of Darcus Howe when he attempted to explain the social context of the riots.

UPDATE 3: More, from Peter Oborne:

A great deal has been made over the past few days of the greed of the rioters for consumer goods, not least by Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who accurately remarked, What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption. This from a man who notoriously claimed £5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.

Yesterday, the veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman asked the Prime Minister to consider how these rioters can be reclaimed by society. Yes, this is indeed the same Gerald Kaufman who submitted a claim for three months’ expenses totalling £14,301.60, which included £8,865 for a Bang & Olufsen television.

Or take the Salford MP Hazel Blears, who has been loudly calling for draconian action against the looters. I find it very hard to make any kind of ethical distinction between Blears’s expense cheating and tax avoidance, and the straight robbery carried out by the looters.

What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption. Yes, this is why it is difficult to ascribe a leftist social ethos to many of the rioters. Instead, they participated in a populist embrace of the values by which they have been governed for decades. They did, however, collectively organize themselves in ways common among anti-authoritarians. Perhaps, this is a seed that can germinate into a rejection of the hierarchical world of commodity consumption that they sought to enter, however fleetingly, in the last few days.

UPDATE 2 Novelist Hari Kunzru gets it:

In a society that has abandoned or devalued most forms of mutual assistance in favour of a solipsistic entrepreneurialism, it's hardly surprising that, faced with the end of the good times, people help themselves. Fear and greed are our ruling passions. That's true of the kids smashing shop windows to steal trainers. It's also true of the MPs fiddling their expenses, the police officers taking backhanders, the journalists breaking into phones. Why wouldn't they? Why wouldn't any of us? The example has been set by our new masters, the one per cent for whom and by whom we're governed. The ability of powerful actors in the financial markets to socialise risk while privatising profit appears, to the financial peasantry, indistinguishable from organised crime. No reason for the rest of us to stand on ceremony.

Kunzu hits the nail on the head when he highlights the importance of the devaluation of mutual assistance. If the English unrest is to have any possibility of developing into a rejection of the existing social order, the rehabilitation of mutual assistance is a necessary precondition.

UPDATE 1: Oops, the Internal Police Complaints Commission make a mistake:

The police watchdog investigating the death of Mark Duggan, whose shooting by police sparked the first bout of rioting in London on Saturday, has said it may have inadvertently misled journalists into believing the Tottenham man had fired at police.

Responding to inquiries from the Guardian, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said in a statement: it seems possible that we may have verbally led journalists to believe that shots were exchanged.

Someone over at Lenin's Tomb described this process as lie immediately, recant at leisure, as manifested in other notorious episodes such as the killings of De Menezes and Tomlimson.

INITIAL POST: Prime Minister David Cameron rambled on and on about responsibility in relation to the London riots:

The prime minister revived his pre-election concerns about a broken society as he said that one of the main lessons from the riots was that too many children grew up not knowing the differences between right and wrong.

This is not about poverty, it's about culture. A culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities. In too many cases the parents of these children – if they are still around – don't care where their children are or who they are with, let alone what they are doing. The potential consequences of neglect and immorality on this scale have been clear for too long, without enough action being taken.

The fact that many children ended up in gangs would be the subject of renewed ministerial interest. The prime minister said: At the heart of all the violence sits the issue of the street gangs. Territorial, hierarchical and incredibly violent, they are mostly composed of young boys, mainly from dysfunctional homes. They earn money through crime, particularly drugs, and are bound together by an imposed loyalty to an authoritarian gang leader. They have blighted life on their estates with gang-on-gang murders and unprovoked attacks on innocent bystanders.

Much of the left response will probably be about the cause of the conditions condemned by Cameron, leaving aside the question as to whether he has exaggerated them. But there is another issue here that deserves more attention. For example, consider this statement: A culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities. And who are some of the avatars of this culture? Let's identify them.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, former President George Bush, President Barack Obama and, yes, Prime Minister David Cameron, not to mention French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, among others. All of them have perpetually emphasized violence as a means of achieving their objectives, regardless of any legal, institutional or international impediments. Bush and Blair are, of course, notorious for their invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, wrapped in the cloak of human rights. Neither acknowledged any responsibility for the death and destruction that they inflicted upon Iraq and Afghanistan, except as a profit making opportunity for US and UK corporations supposedly involved in rebuilding the country.

Meanwhile, Obama has expanded US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, participated in airstrikes in Libya, and relied upon covert operations in Yemen. Sarkozy and Cameron have played leading roles in the Libyan debacle. As for Netanyahu, do will really need to chronicle his brutalities in the occupied territories? Barely a week passed when one of these leaders did not either engage in military attacks upon other countries or threaten them. In making these remarks, Cameron indicted himself as a cause of the riots.

Leaders like Bush, Blair, Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama have sent a clear message to young people: violence works. Or, to put it differently, might makes right, a message that has been most effectively reinforced by the conduct of the police in their neighborhoods. So, when the young people of north and south London discovered that the police could not prevent them from looting and burning businesses, they went for it. Just like Bush and Blair went for it in the fall of 2001 and the spring of 2003. A culture of imperialist state violence gave birth to a culture of collective violence against property. It remains to be seen whether this imperfect collective culture, a form of contemporary nihilism, is transitory, one that can be exploited by capital, as discussed yesterday, or one that has the potential to evolve into a challenge against the global capitalist order.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

London: Dubstep Rebellion (Part 3) 

UPDATE 2: A glimpse of the variegated participants in the riots:

And as multi-ethnic areas from London to Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol burned, a myth was being dispelled: that so-called black youths are largely behind such violence.

In Tottenham on Saturday many of those who gathered at the police station to protest against the shooting of Mark Duggan were, like him, black. But others were Asian and white.

By the following day, as the looting spread to other north London suburbs, there appeared to have been a slight shift in the demographic, which started to look younger. In Enfield most of those who gathered in the town centre were white. The youngest looked about 10-years-old.

Those taking part in the battles in Hackney's Pembury estate on Monday included many women. Teenage girls helped carry debris to form the burning barricades or made piles of rocks.

One, with a yellow scarf across her face, was seemingly at the forefront. She helped set a motorbike alight, walking away with her hands aloft. Other women shouted instructions from the windows of nearby flats and houses.

Croydon is burning down, shouted one woman who looked about 40, from her flat above a shop. Another warned the crowd when police were spotted nearby.

UPDATE 1: An anarchist group, the North London Solidarity Federation, has issued a statement about the riots:

Over the last few days, riots have caused significant damage to parts of London, to shop-fronts, homes and cars. On the left, we hear the ever-present cry that poverty has caused this. On the right, that gangsters and anti-social elements are taking advantage of tragedy. Both are true. The looting and riots seen over the past number of days are a complex phenomenon and contain many currents.

It is no accident that the riots are happening now, as the support nets for Britain's disenfranchised are dragged away and people are left to fall into the abyss, beaten as they fall by the batons of the Metropolitan Police. But there should be no excuses for the burning of homes, the terrorising of working people. Whoever did such things has no cause for support.

The fury of the estates is what it is, ugly and uncontrolled. But not unpredictable. Britain has hidden away its social problems for decades, corralled them with a brutal picket of armed men. Growing up in the estates often means never leaving them, unless it's in the back of a police van. In the 1980s, these same problems led to Toxteth. In the '90s, contributed to the Poll Tax riots. And now we have them again - because the problems are not only still there, they're getting worse.

Police harassment and brutality are part of everyday life in estates all around the UK. Barely-liveable benefits systems have decayed and been withdrawn. In Hackney, the street-level support workers who came from the estates and knew the kids, could work with them in their troubles have been told they will no longer be paid. Rent is rising and state-sponsored jobs which used to bring money into the area are being cut back in the name of a shift to unpaid big society roles. People who always had very little now have nothing. Nothing to lose.

And the media's own role in all of should not be discounted. For all the talk of the peaceful protest that preceded events in Tottenham, the media wouldn't have touched the story if all that happened was a vigil outside a police station. Police violence and protests against it happen all the time. It's only when the other side responds with violence (on legitimate targets or not) that the media feels the need to give it any sort of coverage.

So there should be no shock that people living lives of poverty and violence have at last gone to war. It should be no shock that people are looting plasma screen TVs that will pay for a couple of months' rent and leaving books they can't sell on the shelves. For many, this is the only form of economic redistribution they will see in the coming years as they continue a fruitless search for jobs.

Much has been made of the fact that the rioters were attacking their own communities. But riots don't occur within a social vacuum. Riots in the eighties tended to be directed in a more targeted way; avoiding innocents and focusing on targets more representative of class and race oppression: police, police stations, and shops. What's happened since the eighties? Consecutive governments have gone to great lengths to destroy any sort of notion of working class solidarity and identity. Is it any surprise, then, that these rioters turn on other members of our class?

The Solidarity Federation is based in resistance through workplace struggle. We are not involved in the looting and unlike the knee-jerk right or even the sympathetic-but-condemnatory commentators from the left, we will not condemn or condone those we don't know for taking back some of the wealth they have been denied all their lives.

But as revolutionaries, we cannot condone attacks on working people, on the innocent. Burning out shops with homes above them, people's transport to work, muggings and the like are an attack on our own and should be resisted as strongly as any other measure from government austerity politics, to price-gouging landlords, to bosses intent on stealing our labour. Tonight and for as long as it takes, people should band together to defend themselves when such violence threatens homes and communities.

We believe that the legitimate anger of the rioters can be far more powerful if it is directed in a collective, democratic way and seeks not to victimise other workers, but to create a world free of the exploitation and inequality inherent to capitalism.

INITIAL POST: The Independent Police Complaints Commission determines that Mark Duggan, the man whose death at the hands of the police ignited the London riots, did not fire upon the officers:

Mark Duggan, whose shooting by police sparked London's riots, did not fire a shot at police officers before they killed him, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said on Tuesday.

Releasing the initial findings of ballistics tests, the police watchdog said a CO19 firearms officer fired two bullets, and that a bullet that lodged in a police radio was consistent with being fired from a police gun.

One theory, not confirmed by the IPCC, is that the bullet became lodged in the radio from a ricochet or after passing through Duggan.

Duggan, 29, was killed last Thursday in Tottenham, north London, after armed officers stopped the minicab in which he was travelling.

The IPCC said Duggan was carrying a loaded gun, but it had no evidence that the weapon had been fired. It said tests were continuing.

The officer who fired the fatal shots has been removed from firearms duties, which is standard procedure, pending the IPCC investigation.

Officers from the Met's Operation Trident and Special Crime Directorate 11, accompanied by officers from CO19, the Met's specialist firearms command, stopped the silver Toyota Estima minicab in Ferry Lane, close to Tottenham Hale tube station, to arrest Duggan.

He was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest, and received a second gunshot wound to his right bicep. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 6.41pm.

Would this information have been released in the absence of the riots? One wonders. I do know that out here in California, in Oakland in January of 2009, the Alameda County District Attorney's Office displayed no interest in prosecuting BART police officer Johannes Mehserle for the killing of Oscar Grant, until after the riots in downtown Oakland.

Laurie Penny also has an interesting insight about this:

The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:

Yes, said the young man. You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?

Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere.

There are communities all over the country that nobody paid attention to unless there had recently been a riot or a murdered child. Well, they’re paying attention now.

Penny touches upon an important subject here, the inability to bring about any progressive or radical change through socially acceptable political activity. Elections? Please. Protest marches? Largely ignored as in the instance described by the man in Tottenham. Civil disobedience and direct action? They have either been reduced to a form of street theatre, or, alternatively, when effective methods have been used, they have thereafter been criminalized and broken up by the police through preemptive surveillance, raids, and, once initiated, mass arrests.

Penny hints at the real question, which will go unanswered by the media: what is the alternative to riotous violence for the young people of the lower middle classes and the lower classes of Britain? And, the answer is, of course, none. Antonovich succinctly addresses the subject in a comment over at Lenin's Tomb:

One can tut tut about the efficacy of the riot, but really its one of the few forms of fighting back left to people in the face of one of the most serious ruling class assaults in decades and in the absence of any meaningful union action, reformist party or effective revolutionary party.

In the short term, the riots are likely to reinforce the power of capital, and this is probably one of the reasons for the ambivalence on the left towards them (see, for example, the comments on both Penny's and lenin's blog). The government is likely to increase spending on the police, while further empowering officers in regard to their ability to arbitrarily detain, arrest and even inflict violence upon people. It may even distribute some crumbs in the form of social assistance, which can be conveniently rationalized as an anti-recesssionary measure. But not so much as to repudiate the neoliberal trend of leaving the people of these communities at the mercy of the market and intensified surveillance.

Meanwhile, the long term is less clear. My educated guess is that anarchists see hope in the explosion of spontaneous anger over the killing of Duggan and the treatment of people in lower income communities, as it presents the possibility of the emergence of a collective resistance to the police, and, ultimately, capitalism. Even some Leninists appear to believe that some resistance, however turbulent, is better than none, although they seem to find the lack of any political connection to the participants in the riots, as noted by Antonovich, unnerving. In London and elsewhere, the riots have exposed the class separation, and the lack of understanding that goes along with it, between the residents of the affected neighborhoods and their allies on the left, a separation given a powerful emotional expression by Penny.

Accordingly, while the organizational efforts of the rioters have been impressive, outflanking the police in many instances, the ideological orientation is less so. As mentioned here yesterday, the looting of stores for goods in order to sell them is not a leftist act, rather, it is a type of conversion of goods for profit that has long been associated with capitalism. Similarly, the destruction of buildings used by corporate retailers and local merchants can facilitate the implementation of pre-existing gentrification schemes. Don't be surprised if Cameron, Clegg, and Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, announce a fund for rebuilding neighborhoods damaged by rioters, with the beneficiaries being large development groups. As in the US, residents of these neighborhoods will be dispersed, so as to reduce their ability to collectively organize themselves in the future. Riots can easily be incorporated into the narrative of disaster capitalism, and avoiding such outcomes is the challenge facing people in these communities.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

London: Dubstep Rebellion (Part 2) 

UPDATE 4: Masked youths confronted the police in east London during the afternoon:

For three hours mayhem ruled in Hackney's Pembury Estate, the centre of the violence in east London. The police were there, but there was no doubt who set the law in the estate, comprised of local authority mansion-blocks of flats.

Masked youths – both men and women – helped carry debris, bins, sticks and motorbikes, laying them across the roads to form a flaming boundary to the estate.

The crowd in Hackney – numbering at least 300 – appeared larger than any from previous nights of rioting.

In one of the most shocking incidents, a police officer in a solitary parked vehicle was attacked shortly before 9pm.

His windscreen was entirely smashed as a young man scaled the roof and pounded down with a brick. Others attacked from the sides with sticks and bottles.

Trapped, and unable to see out, the officer accelerated through the crowd, and a hail of missiles.

UPDATE 3: The young take their revenge of the corporations that have so brazenly marketed to them?

On much of the footage of the widespread theft after the riots, looters can be seen brazenly taking the goods they want, some without taking the precaution of covering their face. In one video shot early on Sunday morning in Wood Green, people can be seen leaving H&M with a haul of goods, with others standing around JD Sports apparently waiting for their turn to take goods.

One north London resident, who wanted to be identified only as Tiel, described a conversation: I heard two girls arguing about which store to steal from next. 'Let's go Boots?' 'No, Body Shop.' 'Hit Body Shop after it's dead [meaning empty].' The girl came out of Boots nonchalantly, as if she'd done her weekly shop at 4:30am, he added. He described others, holding up clothes to themselves in the broken windows of H&M. They were just so blasé about what they were doing.

In Wood Green about 100 youths targeted shops, including electrical stores and clothes chains such as H&M. I've got loads of G-Star, said one teenager, emerging from a clothes shop. Other teenagers were seen with suitcases filled with stolen goods, and in the early hours of Sunday residential front gardens were used to sort and swap them.

If the elites can loot, why can't they? Is this what happens after the neoliberal expediency of transnational capital is exposed in the public square for all to see? There are accounts of kids as young as twelve years old involved in the looting of these stores.

UPDATE 2: Locations of confirmed riots in the United Kingdom.

UPDATE 1: lenin engages the ongoing riots and their social implications:

So, even if politicians are in denial, the rich aren't. You may well say, bollocks, they're not taking on the ruling class, they're just destroying their own nest, hurting working class people and small businesses. I can hear this, just as I can hear the sanctimony in its enunciation. The truth is that riots almost always hurt poor, working class people. There's no riot that embodies a pure struggle for justice, that is not also partly a self-inflicted wound. There is no riot without looting, without anti-social behaviour, without a mixture of bad motives and bad politics. That still doesn't mean that the riot doesn't have a certain political focus; that it doesn't have consequences for the ability of the ruling class to keep control; that the contest with the police is somehow taking place outside of its usual context of suspicion borne of institutional racism and brutality. The rioters here, whenever they've been asked, have made it more than abundantly clear what their motives are - most basically, repaying years of police mistreatment.

INITIAL POST: For the third day, there is widespread rioting in London, and reports that it has spread to the city of Birmingham. British youth, many of color, are no longer limiting themselves to non-violent protest and direct action, as they did in December 2010. Initially erupting in Tottenham, after the shooting death of Mark Duggan on Thursday, August 4th, the riots have spread throughout north London and Brixton. The police prevented Duggan's family from seeing his body for 36 hours, and forensics evidence has contradicted the initial police account that Duggan fired at them from a minicab.

As with the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the London ones have expanded into an all out assault upon the symbols of affluence and police power. Officers have been shocked at the level of violence directed against them, and cannot keep up with the mobility of the rioters. Meanwhile, looting is organized and widespread, reminiscent of a 1992 account about how people went into a leather goods store on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley after the Rodney King verdict and marked the items that they came back and seized a few hours later. It is tempting to address the rioting in sociological terms, as Alexandra Topping did in this eerily anticipatory article published on July 29th, but there is probably more to it than the social work calculus of austerity equals crime. Austerity is the issue, but in broader terms than examined by Topping.

In Europe, especially, France, the United Kingdom and Greece, as well as the United States, young people live, in most instances, in conditions of poverty, with less and less opportunity to escape it. Racial divisions become acute during times of austerity, with, for example, unemployment in the US markedly worse among young African Americans and Latinos. To be poor is bad enough, to be poor and black, poor and Latino or poor and African American and Latino is even worse. Austerity, and the accompanying concentration of wealth within elites, disproportionately concentrates poverty among people of color, whether in the banlieues of Paris or the northern estate towns of London. In Paris in 2005, the electrocution deaths of two teenagers of color chased by the police ignited the riots, while the shooting death of Duggan has done so in London.

Not surprisingly, people respond by ransacking local businesses that sell goods that they would otherwise struggle to purchase. Unable to find a place within the classless society promoted by figures as disperate as Blair, Cameron, Bush, Sarkozy and Obama, they seize what they can only purchase with great difficulty, if at all. Others, acting upon the neoliberal entrepreneurial ethos, loot stores and fence the goods, turning a nice profit on transactions with a zero investment cost. Lost in the condemnation of gangs, animals and thugs by the middle and upper class media is the fact that many rioters have actually internalized capitalist values. Like the great oligarchs, they don't hesitate to use violence to achieve their ends, and, also like the oligarchs, they expropriate the property of others.

In other words, the social nihilism of the elites has been embraced by some of their victims, to strikingly impressive effect. Furthermore, just as these elites have exploited new communications technologies to manipulate markets and financial transactions, the rioters have relied upon encrypted Twitter and Blackberry messages to organize themselves, select targets and evade the police, resulting in pathetic condemnations of these social networking platforms by the police. Possible ideological differences aside, anarchists no doubt appreciate the success of the decentralized communications methods of the rioters against the centralized CCTV network monitored by the police. Like those in the media, Scotland Yard public relations officers persist in claiming that gangs and thugs are responsible for the riots, but such perjorative terms have little meaning in a world where hundreds of people, many of whom do not know each other, can be organized for an attack upon a commercial district within a few hours. If it were merely a gang problem, the police could contain it, but it is the willingness of hundreds, and, probably, thousands of people, throughout London and Birmingham, to respond to such calls that makes the riots impossible to contain at this time.

For the left, the riots present a quandary. On the one hand, the rioters are from communities where many are victimized by police brutality and the austerity of neoliberal capitalism. There is a refreshing spontaneity to their actions, and they have shown a remarkable capacity for social organization on the fly. But, on the other hand, in the absence of additional information, it appears they have chosen their targets rather indiscriminately, with the result that many merchants of their own communities have been attacked, which stands in marked contrast to the calculated actions of people like the Greek anarchists, and possibly the youth of Lyon last fall, who have targeted transnational banks, luxury goods stores and surveillance firms. Accordingly, while many in their communities understand their sense of grievance, many are dismayed at the property destruction carried out by the rioters. Of course, there are personal and generational reasons for this, but it does point towards the urgency of developing a more coherent ideological motivation for the riots, beyond the mimicry of the powerful by the powerless (a subject masterfully examined by Fassbinder in many of his films), if they are to serve as the inception of an ongoing challenge to the neoliberal order.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Student Protests Intensify in Chile 

I'm not that informed about this, but, in light of this appeal for support, I thought that it would be a good idea to post some excerpts from some articles about what is currently transpiring in Chile:

Protesters have clashed violently with police in Chile's capital to decry President Sebastián Pinera's policies, as a poll showed him to be the least popular leader in the two decades since the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

Demonstrators led by students demanding cheaper and better state education blocked roads and lit fires as police used water cannons and tear gas to quell the latest outcry against the conservative billionaire.

Some protesters in Santiago and as far afield as Copiapo in the far north started banging pots and pans in a "cacerolazo", a popular form of protest in Latin America reminiscent of Chile's 1973-1990 dictatorship. The term cacerolazo was the world's top trending topic on Twitter on Thursday night.

Over 552 people have been detained across the country. According to wikipedia, students are protesting proposed neoliberal education reforms that run contrary to their demands for a more egalitarian educational system. Such protests appear to be an extension of protests centered around almost identical issues in 2008.

Here is another account of yesterday's protests:

Riot police in the Chilean capital, Santiago, have used tear gas and water cannon to break up demonstrations by students demanding educational reform.

Dozens were detained as they tried to march to the city centre despite a warning that the protest was illegal.

Chile has seen weeks of rallies by students and teachers demanding reform and more investment in education.

President Sebastian Pinera has pledged extra funding, but student leaders say his offer is not enough.

Protesters are calling for the government to take control of the country's public education system, saying the current system is underfunded and unequal.

Riot police moved to clear the demonstrators as they tried to rally in Santiago's Plaza Italia in the city centre. At least 130 students were arrested, while two police officers were reportedly injured in the scuffles.

Students and teachers apparently want the end of the privatized educational system imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship:

Students demand the end of the school voucher system in pre-school, primary and secondary levels and the end of the current public university financing policy, that mixes deliberate underfinancing, a shadow toll called Indirect State Payment (Aporte Fiscal Indirecto, in Spanish), high parents' payments even in public universities (tuition fees in private and state universities are about the same), and a state-guaranteed loan scheme that allow private banks to finance already high tuition fees. The Chilean system, although defended by researchers linked to the Heritage Foundation, is criticized by researchers like Martin Carnoy, blaming on it the tremendous inequalities across all the Chilean educational system, measured by OECD's standards. Chile only spends 4.4% of GDP on education, compared to the 7% of GDP recommended by the UN for developed nations.

The students want those systems replaced by a true publicly financed and managed education system, covering from pre-school to tertiary education. Some segments of the student movement have called for other changes, such as a new constitution or the renationalization of Chile's copper resources in order to fund public education.

Given that the current educational system is an essential component of the neoliberal social order in Chile, and an obvious profit center for lenders, it is hard to imagine how it can be dismantled in the absence of a broader, more ambitious protest movement.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

2 or 3 Things About My Mother 

After just over a month in hospice, my mother died last Wednesday. She never reconsidered her decision to enter hospice after she was diagnosed with abdominal cancer. Unlike many of the other patients, she watched very little television. Television, it seems, permits patients to seek solace in a routine that distracts them for their predicament. She also declined the spiritual support of the hospice champlain, not because she isn't Christian, but, rather, because she didn't require any special attention. She struggled to die peaceably as her body traveled through the agonizing stages of death.

There are many things that I could say about my mother, but I will merely focus upon two or three of them that have special relevance here. First, and most importantly, she was independent minded, and didn't allow others to intellectually intimidate here because she only had a high school education. She drew her own conclusions, regardless of whether they were popular or not. She often observed that people are funny, meaning that she thought that they frequently failed to recognize things that were pretty obvious and took actions contrary to their self-interest. She rightly believed that Reagan was a transparent phony, and, despite the residue of racist attitudes consistent with her upbringing in north Georgia, voted for Jesse Jackson over Michael Dukakis in 1988, although she retained a soft spot for the Clintons.

My mother was also hostile to undocumented immigrants, but understood the primacy of class, I don't ever recall her telling me that she voted for a Republican. We may live in a duopoly today, but, for her generation, the dividing line between Democrat and Republican had real meaning, it defined one's sense of class identity. Her Christianity was inclusive. While talking to one of the hospice attendants, she said that God loves everyone, and maintained communication with a gay man when others severed their relationship with him after he was outed during her childhood. Though straight, sexual orientation wasn't a big deal for her. While working in the composing room of an Atlanta newspaper, the Atlanta Journal, during the 1960s, she encountered other female employees who returned from weddings performed during their Hawaiian vacations. If I remember correctly, she said that they would even bring a cake to work for their fellow employees, which would be served on break as a wedding cake.

Beyond this, she was no American exceptionalist, she couldn't understand why many Americans consider themselves and their culture superior to others. Like her twin sister, she opposed the invasion of Iraq, and remarked upon the sophistication of Iraqi society in comparison to our own, emphasizing, probably based upon her biblical education as a child, that they have been around for thousands of years, while we have only been around for a few hundred. How could we presume to know more than them? In March or April of 2003, I decided, while standing nearby a pay phone on Durant Street and Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, that I should call her. One of the first things that I told her was that I had been arrested for participating in the civil disobedience that erupted in San Francisco after the launching of the Iraqi invasion. She was pleasantly surprised, gently exclaiming you were there? By her standards, that was a shout, I can't remember her being so startled by something that I had done. But, then, remembering that she was my mother, she proceeded to tell me that I needed to be careful about that sort of thing in the future.

Second, although my mother was raised in Georgia, and worked at newspapers in Georgia and Tennessee, she brought me to California in my early teens, which was, as I have noted here elsewhere, a defining event in my life. Of course, it was, to a great degree, mere chance. My mother could have remarried and ended up in Minnesota or Massachusetts. But, even so, it was serendipitous. In the early 1970s, midtown Sacramento was ethnically diverse, with a fair share of radicals and cultural ties to the Bay Area. Members of the Symbionese Liberation Army successfully concealed themselves in midtown, with one of their safe houses near my dentist. In high school, I had some English teachers that enthusiastically assigned books by Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut, and bluntly expressed their opinions. One of them told my class that he thought it was absurd that people cheered returning POWs like John McCain in 1973. All they did, he said, was drop bombs on peasants from 30,000 feet. At Sacramento High School in the late 1970s, it was just another day in class when your teacher channeled Tariq Ali.

Looking back, the alternative, staying in Georgia, is pretty chilling. I probably would have graduated from an all-white high school and then attended either the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech. Tech would have been the worst. Tech turns out a fair number of nimrods, with blue slacks, white shirts, tan blazers and matching ties, that advise the neoliberal institutions of the New South, institutions like Georgia Power, Suntrust Bank, Coca-Cola and Delta (CNN came later). About 10 or 11 years ago, when I served on the board of the Yolo County Housing Authority one of them came out to advise us. As I watched him deliver his presentation, I shuddered and thought, that could have been me. UGA might have been a little better, at that time, there was a counterculture in Athens, which was subsequently mass marketed into the popular culture by REM and the B-52s. When I talked to my mother about this while she was still sufficiently alert to engage in conversation, she said, with characteristic understatement, that she had understood at the time that California was more suitable for me. Perhaps, her as well. She always spoke favorably about living in Sacramento, and only left because my stepfather's emphysema necessitated a move to a drier, desert climate.

Finally, within the family, my mother was a living manifestation of an independent, self-reliant woman. In both her work and personal life, she refused to act deferentially towards men. Working in the hot type composing room in newspapers in the late 1950s and 1960s, she encountered a lot of sexism, and fought through it to get her union card. Back then, a union card was like a cab medallion, or perhaps, more accurately, a working class equivalent of a seat on the trading floor of a stock exchange, once obtained, she could work at almost any newspaper in the US, as they were nearly all unionized, the big city ones, anyway. For her, that card was her passport out of the insular world of north Georgia and the emotional conflict embedded within her fundamentalist family, as much as she loved the beautiful hill country and her relatives. She would never have described herself as a feminist, as most feminists lacked the experience and language to reach someone like her, and yet, she worked, as did my stepfather, and participated as a co-equal in all decisions. In high school, I sometimes discovered that some of my male friends professed support for gender equality while acting very differently, which was, I concluded, explainable by the fact that their parents set a disturbingly patriarchal example for them. As you might have guessed, I have consistently found myself attracted to similarly independent, blunt spoken, opinionated women, with my wife being the most delightful of them all.

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