Monthly Archives: July 2020

NYPD Security Theater

Taking the lead from Trump’s federal officers in Portland, the NYPD targets an anti-police brutality march on 25th Street and Second Avenue. Without warning, six or seven plainclothes freaks on steroids grab an 18-year-old, homeless transwoman, throw her into an unmarked van, and drive off. The next day it goes viral on social media.

The police and the corporate media in NYC accuse the young woman of having spray painted the lenses of 6 police cameras. Is it true? I have no idea. But it’s clear what’s going on here.

This is NYPD security theater designed to make normal people (like me) afraid to go to a protest, any kind of protest. It’s designed to create the impression that anytime, anywhere, for any reason, a militarized big city police department (who have obviously been given tracking information on your cell phone by the big tech companies) can swoop out of the crowd and drag you off to a black hole somewhere in a gigantic city of 10 million people, where you might (after spending a few days in some Covid-19 infected cell) eventually get to see an NLG lawyer. They will then trump up some kind of bogus charge, which the media will dutifully repeat, and “conservatives” will believe without asking too many questions.

In short, the NYPD want you to see this. They’re flexing their muscles in public. They’re trying to show us who’s boss. “Fuck you civilians,” they’re saying. “You’re nothing. You have no rights. We can disappear you any time we want.” The astonishing thing about it is that it really isn’t working. In spite of the obvious collusion between Trump, big city police departments like the NYPD, and the corporate media, the protests go on. The American ruling class has been so delegitimized the propaganda is no longer working. Bill De Blasio, their front man in NYC, a 6’5″ moral and intellectual dwarf of a man, is an utter laughing stock. Even black propaganda designed to intimidate, not to convince, is starting to fall flat. A minority of far-right-wing Americans support Trump and the police. Most Americans are just standing by on the sidelines thinking “what the fuck is going on.” At some point, people are going to be so fed up with this rotten system, they’ll just kick down the door, and the whole thing will come crashing down.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

So here are some of Trump’s federal officers beating up a woman from the “Wall of Moms.”

In addition to my obvious shock and horror I’m also curious. Why are they carrying packs? Are they taking three days rations out into the field? They’re in downtown Portland, Oregon. They have Safeway and Whole Foods there. And what’s with the camouflage? Are they trying to disappear into the jungles of Vietnam while they train Ngo Dinh Diem’s army against the Vietcong?

Jackbooted Federal Goons in Portland?

So it’s come down to this. Trump has begun sending federal troops (or whatever they are) into Portland, and has threatened to do the same in Chicago and New York. The District Attorney of Philadelphia, in turn, has threatened to arrest any federal officer found to be violating his jurisdiction.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner promised to criminally charge any federal agents who “unlawfully assault” or “kidnap” Black Lives Matter protesters in the City of Brotherly Love.

People are quite understandably worried. I have a different view. Trump’s panicked overreaction to Black Lives matter is not something to be feared. The monster that has suddenly revealed itself in plain sight may be terrifying, but it’s far less dangerous than it was when it was lurking in the shadows. We are seeing the economic and cultural contradictions of a corrupt American ruling class play out in real time.

For decades the American right has billed itself as being anti-government, but it’s important to keep one thing in mind. Traditionally, when right wing libertarians criticize “government,” they have only referred to the federal government, not state and local government. As I wrote back in 2015, conservatives hate the federal government but love their local sheriff.

While the American ruling class may not be consciously fascist, they still seem to fear a revolutionary upsurge by the American people, and by black Americans in particular. Hitler had his Ernst Rohm and Heinrich Himmler, but the American ruling class doesn’t need storm troops with a centralized leadership, let alone a single fascist grandee. All they have to do is mobilize conservative, white resentment and fear of national decline behind the highly militarized, but decentralized network of big city police forces, the class armies they built up in the wake of 9/11. A more centralized command structure, in fact, is not only unnecessary. It’s not desired. The banks were able to crush Occupy Wall Street with a highly coordinated attack, even while arguing they had nothing to do with it, that it was just about city cops dealing with a public nuisance. The intermittent murders of black men and women by the police, in turn, don’t have to be planned, just allowed to happen. The police become, in effect, a distributed Gestapo, a rallying point behind which conservative whites, already heavily armed, can reaffirm their loyalty to the capitalist state, even while denying it. They hate the federal government. They support their local sheriff.

Back in 2011, Barack Obama smashed Occupy Wall Street, but he did it with a coordinated, but decentralized network of local police forces. That allowed Wall Street and the media to market the crackdown, not as political repression organized in the defense of wealth and privilege but as a “public safety issue” enforced by city cops. In 2020, in one overly hasty move, Trump has thrown away this plausible deniability and begun taking responsibility for a direct attack on the First Amendment. While middle-class, liberal Democratic women (most of whom support gun control) organized as the Wall of Moms, are taking on jackbooted federal goons in the streets of Portland, the usual right wing “libertarian” suspects in the NRA are nowhere to be seen. On the contrary, the hardcore, gun toting right, who loudly virtue signal that their guns are about opposing government tyranny, at this moment seem to support government tyranny. The “distributed gestapo” that I wrote about in 2015, the decentralized network of militarized police forces and local media that’s been so successful in keeping the American people compliant and politically passive, has suddenly found itself in need of a federal bailout.

But it goes even deeper.

This March, the liberal wing of the ruling class had to mobilize an older, conservative generation of black voters in South Carolina behind a senile reactionary old relic of the 1980s and 1990s in the form of Joe Biden in order to head off a real possibility that Bernie Sanders would win the Presidential nomination and push for Medicare for All. This meant that Democratic Party mayors of big cities like Seattle, Portland, and New York couldn’t bring down the hammer against protests the way they did against Occupy Wall Street in 2011 or Black Lives Matter in 2015 and 2016. In order to maintain their facade of anti-racism, they had to let the protests go on, which, in turn, terrified the more culturally conservative wing of the ruling class, perfectly and vividly summed up by the image of two middle-aged, right wing lawyers standing on their lawyers pointing guns at protesters in St. Louis Missouri a few weeks ago. Trump, recognizing the full blown panic in his white supremacist base, which no longer control the local police, decided to tap into the very federal bureaucracy he loudly claims to oppose, a federal bureaucracy that would just as soon see Joe Biden win this November. Biden, in turn, is so out of touch he might as well be living in a different decade, which of course he is.

The whole system, in other words, is weak. Suddenly the American people have begun to act like the French. The orange game show host in the White House has begun to talk like Napoleon and about how the the rabble in the streets need a good “whiff of grapeshot.” The liberal and conservative wings of the American ruling class, who usually pretend to battle it out in a pantomime so obviously fake it makes professional wrestling look like a real sport, are now tearing at each other’s throats in earnest. The “anti-government” far right has revealed itself to be what we’ve known them to be all along, boot licking racist thugs who worship established wealth and privilege. White middle-class soccer moms, who in normal times would wag their fingers and tell their kids not to talk about politics or religion, are now learning how to pick up tear gas canisters and hurl them back at riot police, almost as if they were students in Paris in 1968. Whether it will lead to the rebirth of American democracy or open, fascist totalitarianism, only time will tell, but I highly doubt anything’s going back to “normal.”

Nazi Monuments in Canada?

A few months ago I reviewed a Michael Powell film called the 49th Parallel, where he dramatized Canadians of German descent rejecting attempts by Hitler’s agents to recruit them into the Nazi Cause. Well it turns out to have been more complex than Powell’s great but admittedly propagandistic film. After the Second World War, the Canadian government went out of its way to recruit Ukrainian fascists, mostly, it seems, to break unions in the mining industry. Canada even has officially sanctioned monuments to the Waffen SS.

Graffiti spray-painted on a monument to Nazi soldiers in a small Canadian city is being investigated by police as a hate crime – a move that has prompted disbelief among human rights advocates.

Around 21 June, the words “Nazi war monument” were spray-painted on to a cenotaph commemorating soldiers in the 14th SS Division in an Ontario cemetery, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

It’s stuff like this that makes me so wary of Russiagate, and how much power the Ukraine Lobby has gotten over the Democratic Party in the United States. Sure, Russia is a corrupt, right-wing capitalist oligarchy (kind of like the United States), but every time I look at social media and see gangs of shrieking banshees calling for more sanctions on Russia it makes my bullshit detector go off. For the love of God let’s not replace the influence of the Israel Lobby (which itself replaced the right wing China Lobby) with the influence of the Ukraine or Saudi lobby.

It also seems that one of the most powerful politicians in Canada is the granddaughter of a Ukrainian collaborator.

When asked at a press conference on March 6 about the allegations that her maternal grandfather was a Nazi collaborator, Chrystia Freeland, newly appointed Foreign Minister of Canada, former journalist and a writer, a master of words, found only clumsy sentences to deliver what would have earned no more than a ‘C’ in a high school debate class.

“It’s no secret that Russians do not like you and banned you from the country,” began the question. “Recently, there has been a series of articles in pro-Russian websites about you and your maternal grandparents, making accusations that [your grandfather] was a Nazi collaborator. I’d like to get your view—is this a disinformation campaign by the Russians to try to smear you and discredit you, which they have a tendency to do?”

My long standing impression of Canada as the United States with healthcare and without the racism was naive.

Contrast that to how the Canadian government handled a related issue last year when the Russian Embassy in Ottawa tweeted out that, “There are monumets (sic) to Nazi collaborators in Canada and nobody is doing anything about it.”

A monument in Oakville commemorates those who served with the 14th SS Galizien Division. Another monument in Edmonton honors Roman Shukhevych, the leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.

As my Postmedia colleague Marie-Danielle Smith discovered, the Russian tweet sent bureaucrats at Global Affairs Canada into overdrive as they tried to defend the SS unit and Ukrainian Nazi collaborators. Documents she received through the Access to Information law show government officials were under a lot of pressure from the “Centre” (the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office) to counter the news about the monuments to Nazi collaborators. The bureaucrats came up with a strategy. The would label the tweet as “disinformation” and they came up with a plan to spread the word to the news media as part of their efforts to defend Ukraine’s Nazi collaborators.

I guess this is the ideal, not the reality.

RIP John Lewis

John Lewis has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.

His later support for the Clintons and the Democratic Party establishment was disappointing, but there’s no question that he was one of the most important leaders against the totalitarian one-party, segregationist state that existed in the South until 1964, the year before I was born.

Whenever you hear a “conservative” talk about the evils of “big government,” it’s important to keep in mind the most repressive social order in American history was implemented, not by the federal government, but by state and local governments in the Jim Crow South.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, “government” in the Southern states could tell you who you could marry, who you could socialize with, where you could go to the bathroom, where you could live, and where you could go to school. It was totalitarianism on a massive scale administered, not by SS Gauleiters or Soviet Commissars, but by uneducated hick politicians and pot-bellied local sheriffs. It lasted from the disputed election of 1876 almost into my lifetime. It was as bad as anything in Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa, and John Lewis risked his life multiple times in an ultimately successful effort to bring it down. In many ways, as evidenced by the election of Donald Trump, the evil spirit of segregation and white supremacy haunts us to this day.

Tik Tok Teens Have Managers?

I really doubt there’s much of a connection to this story but India has completely banned TikTok. Trump is considering doing the same. Not to promote any “conspiracy theories” but if you need proof that American social media is all about propaganda, political control and social manipulation this isn’t a bad place to start.

Either the American (and Indian) ruling class is projecting their own dark agenda onto China, or they simply don’t like the competition. Too bad I’m too old for TikTok. My contrarian impulses give me the urge to start making videos.

I wonder if this means American tech companies will decide to forgo the use of cheap Chinese labor and start making computers in Seattle and Austin again. Nah. That would be going a bit too far. Besides, there are cheaper places to make computers than China. Maybe I should start investing in Bangladeshi startups.

Writers Without Money

In addition to being unbelievably sad, there’s something quite revealing about the story of Siya Kakkar, a 16-year-old New Delhi girl who had over a million followers on the Chinese streaming media service. She not only committed suicide. She had a manager.

In the social media post, Viral wrote: “Arjun Sarin who just spoke to her last night for a song collaboration, and he says she was in a good mood and perfectly alright. Even he has no clue what went wrong that she had to go this way.”

I have no idea if Arjun Sarin is a big time entertainment executive or just a family friend, but it’s clear that Tik Tok, which has recently been declared the authentic voice of Generation Z, is also a marketing platform. Does a 16-year-old girl just become an overnight media sensation? Or is Tik Tok promoting children as viral stars…

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Steven Salaita on “Free Speech”

The pro-Palestinian college professor (now bus driver) who lost his academic career because he took the idea of “free speech” a little too seriously is probably better qualified to write about the issue than I am.

In short, free speech isn’t merely an ideal that allows everyone to have a say, commie and Nazi alike.  It is a politic, a sensibility, a custom, a rhetorical device outfitted to the reproduction of bourgeois common sense.  It elides the relationship of access with subservience.  It pretends to be a universal liberty while maintaining a slick ability to rationalize fine-tuned mechanisms of blacklisting and persecution.  It unconsciously facilitates the status quo.  The Nazi always comes out ahead in this arrangement.

p.s. Unlike Salaita, I like Ulysses Grant, Max Blumenthal and Matt Taibbi but the central argument of his essay is pretty sound. The idea of “free speech” is pretty meaningless outside of a political and economic context. So I guess we’ll just have to disagree on the 18th President of the United States.

Does “free speech” matter in a world where words are meaningless?

Yesterday a group of elite intellectuals and journalists published an “open letter” in Harper’s Magazine defending the idea of “free speech.”

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. More troubling still, institutional leaders, in a spirit of panicked damage control, are delivering hasty and disproportionate punishments instead of considered reforms.

On the surface the letter sounds reasonable. You shouldn’t be fired from your job or have your life ruined just because you have an unpopular opinion. Take it from someone who has been “canceled” on social media by a digital mob who accused me of being “ableist” and “transphobic” simply because I recommended that people read Mark Twain on the French Revolution, social media “illiberalism” on the left has gotten out of hand. The letter was signed by people I admire, Noam Chomsky and David Blight, by people that I despise, Malcolm Gladwell, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and by a few nobodies trying to make a name for themselves.

So what’s not to like? Open closer examination you notice that the letter was also signed by several prominent opponents of “free speech,” Bari Weiss, who spent her undergraduate career at Columbia snitching out professors she considered insufficiently pro-Israel, and Carey Nelson, who destroyed Steven Salaita’s academic career at the University of Illinois. It also includes Michelle Goldberg, who jump started her career in journalism by providing “liberal” cover for Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The anti-war movement, she argued back in 2003, were all a bunch of dirty commmies. The Harper’s letter, in other words, is a massive exercise in hypocrisy.

But it goes a lot deeper than that. Just because a few neoconservatives and Zionists signed a letter supporting the idea of “free speech” doesn’t make the letter wrong. You don’t refuse to sign an “open letter” because someone you don’t like signed it the day before. Half the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the most famous “open letter” in history, hated one another’s guts.

Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill defined the liberal idea of “freedom” in the late 18th and early 19th Century. Back then you could disagree about politics, or even about the meaning of words, but everybody in the educated, English (and French) speaking-world were, to state the obvious, “educated.” They were elite, bourgeois men, and some women, who grew up writing letters, spending long periods of time reading books, who studied Latin and Greek in college, and who agreed upon certain “rules of debate.” For the British government, who gave Karl Marx political asylum, that he argued for the destruction of capitalism was less important than the fact than he was a “gentleman,” that he had a PhD from a German University and the support of rich capitalists like Frederick Engels. It also didn’t hurt that he had been kicked out of Paris by the French since pissing off the French has always been a favorite British pastime. “Hey we English value open debate. What’s wrong with you Frogs and Krauts?” Had Marx been Indian, African, or even Irish his treatment would have been a lot different, but even then, as the example of Frederick Douglass shows, if you could master the language of the educated bourgeoisie, you could get an audience, even among people who disagreed with you.

These days words are meaningless. Words are no longer words. They’re more like “variables” in Python or C++. The ruling class, the people who have access to the media and the universities, can redefine, or to use the more appropriate term, “overwrite” them any time they want. So for a Zionist like Bari Weiss, Carey Nelson or Michelle Goldberg, supporting Palestinian rights and criticizing Israel isn’t “speech.” It’s “antisemitism.” For people like Cary Nelson, banning Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois is no different from the German government banning statues of Adolf Hitler in the public square or the French government outlawing Holocaust denial. There’s no contradiction in their minds between destroying Steven Salaita’s academic career and signing an open letter virtue signaling about “freedom.” On the other hand, when a nice English lady like J.K. Rowling argues that transgender men and women aren’t men and women, we shouldn’t be rude and call her a “terf.” That’s just wrong.

Noam Chomsky is at the very least consistent. He believes that fascists deserve “free speech.” Most of us don’t. The problem is that for Bari Weiss and Cary Nelson, people like me, and Steven Salaita, anti-Zionists who support Palestinian rights, aren’t simply political opponents. We’re the Nazis. We’re the ones who should be tarred and feather and driven out of town. In theory, it’s an argument for “free speech.” The word “antisemitism” means different things to different people. So let’s have an open debate. In reality, Bari Weiss and Cary Nelson have the ability to redefine what words mean. I don’t. Think of it this way. Think of the public discourse as a data center. I know JavaScript and Node.js pretty well. Does that mean Amazon is going to let me overwrite functions on their servers? In 2020, there’s simply no such thing as a “public discourse.” There are hundreds of compartmentalized private discourses, any one of which, like my Twitter account, can be shut down any time the owner wants it to, and all of which operate within a rhetorical framework written by the NY Times, MSNBC, Fox and the Washington Post.

Over the past few years, Bernie Sanders has been “canceled,” labeled “racist and sexist” by the educated, liberal elite because he argues that we should abolish the health insurance industry, that healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. In other words, he’s a threat to their yachts and their kids trust funds. Joe Biden, who has vowed the veto Medicare for All if it ever came up for a vote, and Hillary Clinton, who has pointed out that single payer healthcare in the United States will “never ever happen,” don’t come out and say “I’m in favor of for profit health insurance and 8 figure salaries for the CEOs of companies who produce Oxycontin.” Of course they’re for the idea of healthcare as a human right. They don’t even bother pointing out that they’re for “access” to healthcare and not necessarily “healthcare.” They simply say what they think you want to hear and carry out the agenda of the ruling class anyway. What exactly are we going to do about it? Nothing. Without the power to overwrite words, words are meaningless.


Something there is that loves a wall

At one point or another every English major has had to read Robert Frost’s poem Mending Wall.

Mending Wall

By Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.

To be honest, I’ve always hated Robert Frost, not for the conservative Mending Wall but for The Road Not Taken, a poem all my professors loved because they could use it to teach their students that “poetry resists interpretation.” Blah Blah Blah Yeah Modernist Bullshit. Another famous poem “Death of the Hired Man”isn’t concerned about the hired man at all, but about his employer’s wife, who agrees with her husband that the working class is more or less obsolete but believes that “we” should treat them with compassion. In Mending Wall Frost is upfront about who he is, a cranky old school New England Republican who believes that we define ourselves but what we own and by what boundaries we set between ourselves and our neighbors.

Riding my bike today through my hometown of Roselle, NJ I was intrigued by this pair of houses. Look closely. They seem like two completely nondescript suburban houses, but it seems as if their owners have come together to build a wall, not between themselves, but between themselves and the rest of the world. Examine the fence. It’s clearly the same material, the same paint job, the same construction.


Roselle, NJ July 2020

So I wonder. Did the two owners come together and say “let’s build a wall together?” What happens if one of them moves? Is there a contract about who gets custody of the the other half? And what exactly are they trying to keep out? It’s not as if someone couldn’t just walk around the side of one of the houses and get into their common backyard. Maybe they have barbecues together. Maybe they share a common pet? There are so many intriguing questions about nondescript suburban houses in New Jersey if only you look more closely.

No Pain No Gain


Westfield, NJ July 2020

A little social commentary displayed on a house down the street from my gym. I’m confused about whether this is an idealist or a materialist view of the world. The Dream comes from The Pain. The Vision Comes from Dream. So you start out with the physical and then stack one idea (The Vision) on top of another (The Dream). Then you have a collective (“The People”), out of which grows political power and then inevitably change. I suppose it’s all worth trying.