Category Archives: news

Troy Davis 1968-2011

Broadway Near City Hall (September 20, 2011)

Whether or not he ever realized it, and I doubt he did, Troy Davis, a 42 year old man who was executed in 2011 for the murder of a police officer — he had always maintained his innocence — probably had more to do with the early survival of the Occupy Wall Street than anybody.

Davis maintained his innocence up to his execution. In the 20 years between his conviction and execution, Davis and his defenders secured support from the public, celebrities, and human rights groups. Amnesty International and other groups such as National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took up Davis’s cause. Prominent politicians and leaders, including former President Jimmy Carter, Rev. Al Sharpton, Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. Congressman from Georgia and presidential candidate Bob Barr, and former FBI Director and judge William S. Sessions called upon the courts to grant Davis a new trial or evidentiary hearing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy_Davis

Near City Hall New York, September 20, 2011

In spite of how Occupy Wall Street was later accused by establishment liberals of being too white or too class based and not sufficiently “intersectional” the first two weeks of Occupy Wall Street often resembled a Black Lives Matter protest. Without the established New York City left who saw the movement as a platform to continue to protest Davis’s impending execution, I’m quite convinced that Occupy would have fizzled out before it even got started. Of course Davis was quickly forgotten almost as soon as the state of Georgia strapped him into the death chamber (and to be honest I had to Google “man executed who inspired early Occupy protests” even to remember his name). But even though he was executed for a crime he probably didn’t commit, Troy Davis didn’t die in vain. The largest protests in and around Zuccotti Park during the first week of Occupy Wall Street mostly involved the “one demand” to stay that very execution. That it’s has largely remained unmentioned among high profile commentators indicates that most of them probably weren’t at Zuccotti Park until the infamous pepper spray video went viral the next week.

Broadway, September 20, 2011

An Early Occupy March in Downtown Manhattan

There’s a pretty good writeup about Occupy Wall Street in the Financial Times. It’s mostly about the “leadership” behind the scenes but they do have a pretty good account of one of the early unpermitted marches that helped the movement gain its initial momentum.

Around noon on September 24 2011, a young black man named Robert Stephens fell to his knees in the middle of the road outside Chase Bank headquarters on Liberty Street, New York City. Wearing a white fleece and black-rimmed glasses, Stephens pointed at the Chase building and wailed: “That’s the bank that took my parents’ home.”

Looking through some of my photos from late September of 2011, I realize that I was at one of the incidents the article describes.

Near Chase Plaza in Lower Manhattan (September 24, 2011)

One thing that I can’t help but notice 10 years later is the number of photographers. For every protester willing to risk arrest and help build the movement there were at least a dozen people (like me sadly) who just wanted to take photos. I think in some ways that might provide some insight into why the Occupy movement fizzled out after it was evicted from Zuccotti Park. It really didn’t fizzle out. Many of its supporters went onto “careers” in alternative media. How many leftist YouTubers, for example, got their start covering Occupy Wall Street? Occupy Wall Street was as much about the birth of the new leftist media as it was about protest. In many ways it’s inevitable that the most prominent leftist politician in American today, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, is essentially the politician as social media influencer.

Near Chase Plaza in Lower Manhattan (September 24, 2011)

This of course was the same march that continued up Broadway and ended with the famous incident of the NYPD pepper spraying kettled protesters near Union Square. I didn’t get any photos of the pepper sprayings because I left the march as soon as it reached its destination. I had learned, from going to anti-war and pro-Palestinian marches during the Bush years, that it was always a good idea to leave the area after the official march was over since right wing counterdemonstrators usually hung around to pick up stragglers and provoke them into fights that would inevitably lead to arrests. In the Bush years almost nothing interesting happened after the least official speaker had had his turn at the podium. But at Occupy Wall Street that rule had changed. Anything could happen at any time. A march would break out when you least expected it. The police could launch an attack at the moment you felt most at ease.

Broadway ( September 24, 2011)

But that chaotic atmosphere also made it inevitable that the NYPD would win the running battle between police and protester. There was nothing more demoralizing than watching the “shift change” every night near Zuccotti Park, when one army of police officers was replaced by another. You realize after awhile that you the protesters were the barbarians facing up to disciplined Roman legions. The police got a paycheck. They got to go home every night and watch television. They could call in sick or request another assignment. Repressing protest for the bankers and the ruling class wasn’t something they necessarily wanted to do. It was their job. And how many people in the world really like their jobs?

Broadway, September 2011

For protesters however, demonstrations are a strange amalgam of love and will. You’re not only doing it for free, you’re essentially paying to protest (in the form of arrests, court dates, missed work days, fines). Unlike the police, you can’t just clock out, go home, and sleep it off. You have to guard against two opposite and yet equally dangerous states of mind, disillusionment and fanaticism. On one hand, there was always the temptation after a particularly grueling “General Assembly” to just say “fuck it. I’m going home.” On the other hand, there was also the tendency to put yourself in a state of mind where you would dismiss any criticism, to hate the media even more than is logically warranted (to forget that like the police they’re only doing their jobs), to accuse other protesters of being provocateurs or traitors. It’s an almost impossible balance to maintain, which is why most protest movements in the United States tend to fall apart after a few months, and why I don’t really blame the leaders for allowing themselves to get coopted. A job is always easier than an act of love.

Occupy Wall Street 10 Years Later

Zuccotti Park (September 17, 2011)

The financial crisis of 2008 and the Great Recession, which killed the euphoria around Barack Obama victory over John McCain, produced two competing narratives. On the left there was the familiar idea that corporate America had too much power, that in the wake of the repeal of Glass-Steagall the big investment banks had gambled heavily on the real estate market and lost, making it inevitable that they would have to be bailed out by the federal government. On the right, on Fox News and among the various libertarian subcultures that had grown up in the wake of Ron Paul’s run for the Republican nomination in 2008, they blamed the government. The Clinton administration, they argued, had issued too many government backed loans to people unable or unwilling to pay them back.

From 2008 to 2011, in spite of the fact that the Democrats controlled all three branches of government, the far right bullied the media and the Obama administration into submission. Any time a small group of “Tea Party” protesters decided to disrupt a congressional town hall on healthcare or a not too subtly racist conspiracy theorist shouted “where’s the birth certificate” it received extensive, and at least from my perspective, largely favorable media coverage. The left just seemed to be in shock, blindsided not only by Barack Obama’s stacking his cabinet with corporate neoliberals like Tim Geithner and Rahm Emmanuel, but by the fact that everybody in the Republican Party and on cable news seemed to consider him a secret Muslim and a socialist born in Kenya. Arguing with your racist Boomer uncle at a family reunion felt a bit like being part of Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” sketch. The more you pointed out how Obama had protected anybody and everybody in the financial industry from prosecution or how he had continued George Bush’s “war on terror,” the more your racist Boomer uncle seemed to believe that he was a secret Bolshevik being manipulated from behind the scenes by Bill Ayres and the ghost of Saul Alinsky. “Where’s the birth certificate!”

On September 17 2011, a small group of protesters met near the Wall Street Bull on lower Broadway, a few blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve. Neither the NYPD nor the few tourists in the area — it was a Saturday — seemed to think very much of it, another small left wing protest that would go nowhere, yawn. After being turned away from the New York Stock Exchange and Chase Plaza, the protesters finally set up shop in Zuccotti Park, hardly a park at all but a dreary slab of concrete near the old World Trade Center. For the next week, the small encampment lingered on, largely kept alive by the fact that some people on the traditional New York left were willing to use it as a base to protest the impending execution of Troy Davis. Remember him?

Lower Broadway (September 20, 2011)

Nevertheless, all through that first week, momentum was building, mainly through the daily breakaway marches that would emerge from Zuccotti Park, do a loop around the Federal Reserve and One Chase Plaza and continue up Broadway to Union Square. There was no ideological consistency. Some of the protesters carried signs with Karl Marx, hammers and sickles. Others carried signs that said “End the Fed,” but everything seemed to be a refreshing change of pace from the authoritarian, top down anti war protests of the Bush years, where you showed up at a permitted rally, held up a sign for an hour or two while listening to a long list of speakers drone on and on, and then went home feeling vaguely demoralized and useless. As small as those early break away marches were, you felt that they were your marches, not some shadowy organization’s, that you were in control, that you were finally at long last speaking for yourself, not just parroting someone else’s canned talking points.

On September 25, a week after the original occupiers set up in Zuccotti Park, the NYPD “kettled” a group of protesters near Union Square, trapped them behind barricades and started making arrests. A high ranking NYPD inspector named Anthony Bologna who decided that he wasn’t going to leave the dirty work to some 23-year-old recruit, took out a can of pepper spray and assaulted a group of young women at close range. The video, which can still be seen here, “went viral,” and suddenly Occupy Wall Street came to symbolize an American working class under attack by corporate America and by the government. Just a quick note, “Bologna” is a major city in Italy that is not only the site of the first university in Europe, but also a traditional stronghold of the Italian Communist Party. Perhaps, like in an Assassins Creed game, “Tony Baloney’s” intellectual and left wing ancestors were using their moronic descendent to spark an anarchist revolution in the United State of America.

Occupiers Kettled on the Brooklyn Bridge (October 1, 2011)

In any event, the NYPD, who had initially taken little notice of the protests, now considered Occupy Wall Street to be their enemy. Their patience was wearing thin, so thin that on October 1, after a huge crowd showed up in Zuccotti Park after an ultimately false rumor that Radiohead was going to play a free outdoor concert, the police trapped another large breakaway march on the Brooklyn Bridge and started arresting everybody in site. Their intention, of course, was to isolate the leaders, trump up serious charges on anybody they considered to be a threat, and slap the rest of us with a summons and the hassle of a court date. But that’s now how it played in the media. Occupy Wall Street, it seemed, had stormed the Brooklyn Bridge, as iconic a structure in its own way as the Bastille, and the revolution had at long last arrived. Suddenly Occupy Wall Street, like the Tea Party in 2009 and 2010, had captured the zeitgeist. It was the place to be. Everybody in the media wanted a piece of it. Every photographer in New York wanted a photo. Every radio talk show host wanted an interview. It didn’t matter that the typical Occupier didn’t know exactly why he was protesting, that the ideological spectrum of the movement as a whole ran all the way from communist to to fascist, or that the shadowy “leadership” refused to issue any demands, a large group of protesters had taken over the financial district in New York City, had “stormed Wall Street.”

The NYPD at that moment had to know had badly it had fucked up. It had birthed a left wing movement that spawned copycat occupations in every major city and on almost every college campus in America. For a brief moment, Occupy Wall Street had become so popular that on October 14, when New York City’s plutocratic Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to clear out Zuccotti Park on the pretext that the occupation was a health hazard, so many people showed up over night that the NYPD decided not even to make any arrests, and the encampment would survive for another month. But of course, as I should have realized at the time, the outcome was inevitable. The beautiful late September, early October weather wasn’t going to last forever. What’s more, the NYPD and NYC tabloids like the New York Post and the Daily News, which had never been sympathetic to the movement, began to coordinate their efforts to smear and discredit the occupiers in what eventually amounted to a low level counterinsurgency.

Zuccotti Park (October 14, 2011)

It’s important to remember that the NYPD and the city government initially tolerated the occupation of Zuccotti Park because the entire area was at the time essentially a construction site, the “Oculus” (the huge upscale shopping mall at the site of the old World Trade Center) and the Battery Park Subway station that would anchor the hypergentrification of downtown Manhattan, still works in progress. But it was still valuable real estate and local merchants and property owners were already howling for the movement’s destruction.

Occupiers Arrested near the Federal Reserve in Lower Manhattan (November 12, 2011)

While it took a few weeks, the writing was on the wall, Occupy’s 15 minutes of fame were up. The tabloids and local cable news outlets got to work in earnest, effectively painting Zuccotti Park as a filthy homeless encampment full of rapists and criminals so dangerous unless you were a heavily armed police officer you would be better off avoiding the area altogether. The New York Post published so many stories about rapes at Occupy Wall Street it began to feel like Berlin in 1945. Needless to say, the “me too” movement was still far off, and nobody in 2011 had any suspicion that the American ruling class was full of rapists, perverts and pedophiles like Andrew Cuomo, Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein, that your daughter was in far more danger of being sexually assaulted at Goldman Sachs than she was in Zuccotti Park. The American people are, if anything, fickle and easily propagandized. By November 15, when the NYPD finally cleared out Zuccotti Park and surrounded it with barricades, few people even bothered to take notice.

Social democrats and liberals, it seems, have decided that Occupy Wall Street was ultimately a success, that it “pushed the Democrats left” and created the conditions that would eventually give rise to the Bernie Sanders campaign and Black Lives Matter. Was it? I could offer up an opinion of my own but as we all know opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one. The rich have more money now than they ever had. The 99% and the 1% are more like the 99.999999% and the .0000001%. Medicare for All, while briefly a serious topic of debate, has all but disappeared from the national conversation. In March of 2020, all it took to destroy the Sanders campaign was one phone call from Barack Obama (the same man who probably coordinated police attacks on Occupy encampments in the Fall of 2011). But there’s no question that in some important ways the culture has changed. Looking at this video of Michael Moore getting booed at the Oscars is quite frankly shocking. Even the Hollywood liberal elites used to love George W. Bush. Protests against the police, even during the Covid pandemic, are so common they’ve essentially become part of American life. Unlike Barak Obama, who refused to shut down the American torture colony at Guantanamo Bay and allowed Hillary Clinton to destroy Libya and Syria, the moldy old right wing Democrat Joe Biden defied the military industrial media complex and pulled American troops out of Afghanistan. While Occupy’s demands — what were they again? — were never achieved, the political style Occupy invented on September 17th, 2011, has become mainstream, the way Americans protest. Occupy’s medium has become the message.

Fully Vaccinated

It’s been two weeks since I got the second Moderna shot.” It feels like an accomplishment. I “beat” Covid. Since I am now “fully vaccinated,” there is only a 4 or 5 percent chance I’ll get Covid, and even if I do, there’s almost no chance I’ll experience anything worse than a bad cold.

Sadly, the Coronavirus pandemic, like almost everything else these days has turned into a culture war. Two groups of extremists seem to have gotten control of the discourse, at least on social media, the mask cult and the death cult. For liberals, the pandemic has brought out their terror of their fellow Americans, their love of isolation, their hatred of public space, their never ending urge to “virtue signal.” Wearing a mask isn’t a temporary precaution in crowded public spaces, a social obligation that should be discarded as soon as we achieve “herd immunity.” It’s a good in and of itself. For conservatives, on the other hand, not wearing a mask, and not getting vaccinated, is the newest form of “open carry.” Masks and vaccines are for the weak, for feeble unAmerican herd animals brainwashed by Bill Gates and George Soros into becoming lab rats for a new drug that, in their minds, is even worse than fluoridated water, a conspiracy by the “globalists” to steel their vital bodily fluids. In other words, liberals are in love with control. Conservatives are in love with death.

But social media isn’t “the real world.”

They say you should write about “what you know.” I can’t speak about the South or the Midwest because for me they might as well be foreign countries. I know New England and the Pacific Northwest a bit better, but I lack a real intuitive sense of their culture. New Jersey, on the other hand, I know like the back of my hand. Name me a town in New Jersey, and there’s a pretty good chance I can tell you all about its income and educational level, its ethnic makeup, and its political affiliation without even having to Google. I know Northern New Jersey so well that for me The Sopranos has always seemed a bit phony, a TV series written by a man who may have grown up in Clifton and North Caldwell, but who left the Garden State a lot time ago for Hollywood.

Compared to most of the United States, Union County, New Jersey is overwhelmingly Democratic, and fairly liberal. Nevertheless, it’s not San Francisco or Cambridge Massachusetts. It has a nasty history of racial segregation, two towns that went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, twice, and a lot of liberal Democrats who until as recently as a decade ago were what used to be known as “moderate Republicans.” Thomas Malinowski, my Congressman, is a neoconservative, Zionist war hawk who beat his Republican opponent by less than one percent, a hard core Russiagater whose main goals are to censor the Internet and lower property taxes for the very wealthy. In other words, while Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton both won by comfortable margins, Union County feels like pretty much every belt of suburban sprawl from Southern California to suburban Chicago, to Northern Virginia. It may be less than 20 miles from Manhattan, but culturally it’s a lot more like “America” than it is like Hollywood or the Upper West Side.

In Union County New Jersey there is no correlation at all between political affiliation and trust in the experiment Covid vaccines. There is, however, a correlation between income and and vaccination. Rich people are getting the vaccine. Poor people aren’t. Take a at the enclosed map published by nj.com. Dark means “heavily vaccinated.” Light means “sparsely vaccinated.” As you can see the closer you get to Newark and Elizabeth, to the Linden oil refineries and Amazon warehouses, that industrial wasteland associated with the state in the popular imagination, the more unlikely it is that you won’t be vaccinated. In fact, vaccination is so heavily correlated with the richer suburbs, which either barely went for Biden and Clinton or went for Trump outright and a lack of vaccination with the working class inner cities that vote Democratic by upwards of 75 percent, that the social media stereotype is turned right on its head. White conservatives are getting the vaccine. Liberals, or at least working class, black and brown Democrats, are skipping it.

Let’s take a look at a few examples. My hometown of Roselle, a working class town, heavily black, full of Haitian and Central American immigrants, voted 8219 to 1318 for Joe Biden, is only 25 percent vaccinated. Neighboring Clark, on the other hand, a Republican stronghold, almost one hundred percent white, and which voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, is 42 percent vaccinated. Elizabeth, the biggest city in Union County, which voted for Biden almost three to one, and which was devastated by Covid last Spring, is only 26 percent vaccinated. Newark, the biggest, and most Democratic city in the state, is only 23 percent vaccinated. By contrast, the wealthy moderate Republican suburbs of Westfield, Summit, Scotch Plains and Mountainside, are all hovering around 50 percent. Chris Christie’s hometown of Livingston has 60 percent of its citizens fully vaccinated and the fabulously wealthy town of Short Hills/Millburn is just behind at 56 percent.

So why is the reality 180 degrees different from the social media stereotype? Why are rich conservatives getting the vaccine and working class Democrats skipping it? If I had to guess I’d say that poor people, who live check-to-check and are constantly afraid of getting fired, are worried that the vaccine’s side effects might cause them to miss work. People in the upper-middle-class, on the other hand, which can work remotely, probably welcome the chance to get down to the local CVS and get the shot. What’s more, major universities, most of the Ivy League, the Big 10 and the University of California, now require the vaccine for incoming students. That probably skews the percentage of under 30s getting vaccinated away from the poor and towards the upper-middle-class. As far as masks go, I notice little or no difference from town to town. Pretty much everybody in New Jersey is wearing one.

Looking into My Crystal Ball

Consider history.

In the late 1780s, 25 years after the French crown lost the Seven Years War to the British and 13 years after it bankrupted itself supporting American independence, France experienced a series of harsh Winters and food shortages, ultimately leading to revolution.

In 1917, 12 years after the Romanovs lost a war with Japan and only 3 years after Czar Nicholas ordered his generals to flush millions of Russian lives into the industrial slaughterhouse that was the First World War, the Russian government collapsed, and the Bolsheviks took power, ultimately winning the civil war against the western backed royalist, “white” armies, and establishing the new communist order.

In 2020, twelve years after we Americans allowed our ruling class to loot the treasury with no consequences, and seventeen years after we allowed the Bush Administration to destroy Iraq, the United States is on the brink of collapse. California, the wealthiest state in the union, is facing environmental catastrophe. The ongoing Covid epidemic shows no signs of letting up. We are headed for a long, deep recession.

So will it mean revolution?

No.

Revolution requires a revolutionary ideology. The American and French revolutionaries of 1776, 1789, and 1793 had the Enlightenment, not only French, but German, Scottish and American as well. The Bolsheviks had Marx, Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Charles Darwin, James Connolly, August Bebel, Arthur Rimbaud, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the marriage of high modernism and the industrial revolution to the radical legacy of the French Revolution. In the United States of 2020, the overwhelming ideology on both the left and right (especially on the right) is identity politics, the idea that race, gender, sexual identity, and religion are more important than any universal, intellectual, artistic or revolutionary vision. That means Balkanization, not revolution, social collapse, not a radical new order.

We don’t have a Robespierre, a Voltaire, a George Washington, a Ben Franklin, a Marx, a Lenin or a Mao. What we do have are a few hundred thousand little would be petty dictators who spend all their time trying to cancel one another and calling everybody else Nazis (the secular term for the devil). We are not going to become France in 1789 or 1793, Russia in 1917, or China in 1948. We are going to become Iraq in 2004 after the United States military smashed the Iraqi state and the Iraqi infrastructure. At some point in the not so distant future, we Americans are going to spend most of our time waiting for the power to come on for an hour or two so we can check out our ruling class betters on social media while rival sectarian militias shoot it out in the streets below. We Americans are going to pay the Karmic price for what we allowed George W. Bush and Barack Obama to do to Iraq, Syria and Libya, and we will richly deserve it.

During the American occupation of Iraq, I used to follow an Iraqi blogger called “Riverbend.” Nobody ever found out her name, but she was obviously a western educated member of the Iraqi upper-middle-class appalled at what George W. Bush was doing to her country. In 2007, she stopped posting, not because she was killed, but simply because she got sick of screaming into the void. She returned once in 2013 with a brief update about her life since the American invasion. Every American should read the whole thing. It’s a brief glimpse of our future.

We are learning that corruption is the way to go. You want a passport issued? Pay someone. You want a document ratified? Pay someone. You want someone dead? Pay someone.

We learned that it’s not that difficult to make billions disappear.

We are learning that those amenities we took for granted before 2003, you know- the luxuries – electricity, clean water from faucets, walkable streets, safe schools – those are for deserving populations. Those are for people who don’t allow occupiers into their country.

We’re learning that the biggest fans of the occupation (you know who you are, you traitors) eventually leave abroad. And where do they go? The USA, most likely, with the UK a close second. If I were an American, I’d be outraged. After spending so much money and so many lives, I’d expect the minor Chalabis and Malikis and Hashimis of Iraq to, well, stay in Iraq. Invest in their country. I’d stand in passport control and ask them, “Weren’t you happy when we invaded your country? Weren’t you happy we liberated you? Go back. Go back to the country you’re so happy with because now, you’re free!”

We’re learning that militias aren’t particular about who they kill. The easiest thing in the world would be to say that Shia militias kill Sunnis and Sunni militias kill Shia, but that’s not the way it works. That’s too simple.

http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/2013/04/#3554538807908354245#3554538807908354245

Sign of the Times

Cranford, NJ September 2020

The two major historical events of my lifetime, both atrocities, come together at a local monument. Not to get all 9/11 Truther or anything, but it appears that Bob Woodward, the “hero” of Watergate, knew back in January that Trump was withholding information about the pandemic but chose not to publish it until his book came out this fall. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? If the corporate media held back information that led to the deaths of over 100,000 Americans, what are they hiding about the deaths of only 3000 Americans? My guess is involvement by the Saudi government and a coverup by the Bush Administration, but don’t quote me on that.

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.

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.

https://harpers.org/a-letter-on-justice-and-open-debate/

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.

hillary

Social Media Shaming Versus Guns

Yesterday two wealthy middle-aged lawyers in Saint Louis were so terrified of a group of Black Lives Matter protesters who marched into their gated community that they stood on their front lawn in front of their gaudy mansion brandishing their guns.

I suppose the protesters were guilty of trespassing, but rarely has one image so perfectly summed up how Americans look to the rest of the world.

Donald Trump and the right-wing media have already started putting this couple up on a pedestal, calling them heroes.

In the short run,  I suspect that both of them are going to learn that the soft power of social media shaming is more powerful than an AR-15. Who exactly wants to hire a lawyer so paranoid and hateful that he, or she, would murder people for trespassing? A confident ruling class has no need for threats. It rules by propaganda, by its ability to convince the rest of us that it’s deserving of its power and privilege. These two look ridiculous. I suspect that even among their fellow bourgeois elites they’re going to be very lonely for the next few years.

In the long run, however, this is a sign of the ugliness to come.The (mainly black and brown) working-class is starting to feel more confident about violating the gates and the boundaries society has set up to keep them down. A lot of rich, hateful white assholes are just dying to shoot somebody. It’s also why I’m a rare person on the far-left who’s in favor of gun control.  Absolutely nothing good can come of any of this.

Arrest Trump

The Iranian government has issued an arrest warrant for Donald Trump.

Iran has issued an arrest warrant and asked Interpol for help in detaining US President Donald Trump and dozens of others it believes carried out the drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/06/iran-issues-arrest-warrant-trump-asks-interpol-200629104710662.html

The American corporate media is going to treat this as a joke. After all, the only people who get prosecuted for war crimes are Serbians and Africans. But the Iranians are well within their rights to demand justice against the criminal government that ordered the assassination of one of their top generals. The Democratic Party and the Clinton crime family have demonized Russia for years simply because of an alleged hack of (idiot Boomer) John Podesta’s email. Can you imagine how the American government and media would react if the Iranians ordered the assassination of one of the Join Chiefs of Staff?

So end the double standard between the Global North and the Global South. Someone make a citizens arrests of Trump and lock him up. It would solve (many of the) problems of both Iran and the United States.