Posts tagged CounterPunch

Re: Jason Hribal: A Message From Tatiana

Jason Hribal: A Message From Tatiana. www.counterpunch.org (2011-01-19):

My purpose was singular: I wanted to understand history from below. That fall, I took a research seminar on the Gilded Age, and the topic I chose to write about was the Toledo Zoo. It could have ended up being a standard history: the zoo and its directors, their curatorial...

Until the lions have their historians....

As it happens, I am a vegetarian, but I do not believe in philosophical doctrines of animal rights, and I'm not especially keen on the political programs of animal liberationists. But I do think that human treatment of non-human animals is an issue of very serious moral concern, and, as a matter of historical understanding, it's important to keep in mind that the institutions for corralling and controlling animals have a structure and a history. And understanding the structure and the history isn't just a matter of human social developments, or how human cultures go about trying to harness blind natural forces. It is a matter of trying to understand what animals have wanted and what they have done.

Friday Lazy Linking

Cops are here to protect you. (#8)

Government cops protect you by dragging a bunch of unarmed young Black men out of a train and lining them up against the wall — in response to an alleged fistfight — and then forcing one of them down to the ground and shooting him in the back. While he is lying prone on the ground, surrounded, and physically restrained both by the shooter and by a gang of other heavily-armed uniformed cops.

Then government cops protect you from being tainted by knowledge of the incident by rounding up everyone in the crowd that they can get their hands on and seizing the cellphones they had been using to take videos. You have only seen these videos because some dastardly criminals hopped back on the train before the cops could grab them, and then set out to taint us all with the truth.

The cop in the video is a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop named Johannes Mehserle. His victim, Oscar Grant, was either shot in the back when he was already handcuffed, or handcuffed by Officer Johannes Mehserle after he had been shot in back, depending on which witness accounts you listen to. I’m not sure which is worse. In any case, no-one has produced any reason whatsoever why Oscar Grant — who was unarmed, who was clearly showing his hands just before he was forced down and shot, who was forced down on his back, who was being searched and held down by two cops, with a third standing by and a gang of other cops standing around only a few feet away — could pose any credible physical threat to anybody at all, let alone the sort of physical threat that would justify standing up and drawing a gun on him.

We are told that (of course, of course) it’s a terrible tragedy what happened, and we should feel in our hearts for all the people who suffered so much because of this incident, but Officer Johannes Mehserle didn’t really mean to shoot Oscar Grant in the back. Maybe he pulled his gun and pointed it directly at a completely helpless victim who was clearly unarmed and under the complete physical control of the police, and then — oops — slipped and fired his gun into an unarmed man’s back by accident. Maybe he meant to pull out his taser so that he could torture a completely helpless man lying prone on the ground who clearly posed no physical threat to anybody with powerful electric shocks, but — oops — he just got so freaked out by The Situation that he couldn’t tell his hay-foot from his straw-foot and he accidentally whipped out his handgun instead, from a holster on the opposite side of his belt, even though it’s a completely different size and shape and weight, and then pulled the trigger and shot an unarmed man with a bullet instead. And, of course, none of this means a goddamned thing.

As I have said, and at the risk of controversy I will repeat: it doesn’t matter if Mehserle meant to pull the trigger. He had already assumed the role of sole arbiter over the life or death of Oscar Grant. He had already decided that Grant, by virtue of his skin color and appearance, was worth less than other citizens. And rather than acquitting the officer, all of the psychological analyses and possible explanations of the shooting that have been trotted-out in the press, and all the discussion of the irrelevant elements of Grant’s criminal history, have only proven this fundamental point.

If a young black or Latino male pulls a gun and someone winds up dead, intention is never the issue, and first-degree murder charges are on the agenda, as well as likely murder charges for anyone of the wrong color standing nearby. If we reverse the current situation, and the gun is in Oscar Grant’s hand, then racist voices would be squealing for the death penalty regardless of intention. And yet when it’s a cop pulling the trigger, all the media and public opinion resources are deployed to justify, understand, and empathize with this unconscionable act. One side is automatically condemned; the other automatically excused.

— George Ciccariello-Maher, CounterPunch (2009-01-09): Oakland’s Not For Burning?

Of course, there are two kinds of privileges: sometimes the problem is that a select class of people get consideration that everybody ought to be getting, but other people, not in the privileged class, are unjustly denied. And sometimes the problem is that a select class of people get special consideration that nobody ought to be getting, no matter their social class. Ciccariello-Maher doesn’t make it clear which kind he means, but in this case, the handwringing and We’ll never know chanting and endless excuse-making in the effort to convert manslaughter or murder into nothing more than another Oops, our bad is an example of the second kind. Given the observable facts of the case, there is nothing that could possibly have been going through Officer Johannes Mehserle’s head that could justify this execution-style shooting. If he went drawing his gun on an unarmed and prone and physically helpless man, who posed absolutely no credible threat to him or anyone else in the vicinity, and then, in the course of swinging his gun around, ended up firing it off, somehow, by accident, then he is guilty of criminally negligent homicide. If he planned to shock the hell out of someone who he had no reason to shock and ended up shooting him instead, by accident, then he is guilty of committing felony murder in the course of committing assault and battery. If he shot Oscar Grant intentionally, then, whatever may have been going on in his head about combs in Oscar Grant’s pocket or the folks in the crowd who were booing him from several feet away behind a line of other cops, or the hard, stressful life of a transit cop, then he is guilty of murder in the first.

And then we are told by self-righteous cops and their sado-fascist enablers that (of course, of course) it’s terrible what happened, and maybe Officer Johannes Mehserle overreacted, and zigged when he should have zagged, but really, we shouldn’t rush to judgment, and really, it’s not his fault, because, after all, there was a crowd of unarmed people several feet away, behind a line of other heavily-armed cops, yelling unkind words at him and making allegations as to the character of the police and watching what they were doing; maybe he became so confused and terrified by all this that, consummate professional though he may have been, he just lost all control of his rational faculties, and — oops — it just seemed like a good idea at the time to stand up and draw on an unarmed man being held down face-first on the ground in front of him. So it’s really the crowd’s fault:

We can wait for the official report on the shots fired but the earlier parts of those amatuer [sic] videos are also chilling for the hate-filled crowd reactions to what was, prior to the gunshot, a routine police encounter. We cannot long continue to police in a nation full of antagonists toward law and order. You can find it in videos all over the internet - crowds taunting, jeering, threatening, and obstructing police officers who are engaged in taming disorder.

— profshults (2009-01-07 10:04pm), comment on Tragedy [sic] at Fruitvale Station, at POLICE: The Law Enforcement Magazine

Well, great. Then let government cops quit. Please. As if anybody ever asked them to go around policing like that in this nation. When government cops go around like this, protecting the hell out of us all, then they need to be taunted, jeered, threatened and obstructed until they stop.

It’s not entirely clear yet what happened during the incident, and it may never be. [Oscar Grant] was apparently not one of the initial group dragged off the train—one of the videos shows him unrestrained and standing up, trying to intercede with the police. According to witnesses, he was trying to de-escalate the situation between the cops and his friends. This is not an isolated incident, not by a long shot. This kind of thing happens all the time: out-of-control police violence in response to non-violent communication. It happens to people of color, and to queer folks too. It happened to me and Jack a little more than a year ago, along with a group of colleagues and friends, for asking the police why they were making an arrest. An officer decided to pepper spray our group, without any real provocation. We’re lucky, and privileged, that it wasn’t a gun.

Who knows what’s going through these cops’ heads? Are they freaking out, paranoid, fearful, are they untrained, do they have no idea what to do? What really matters to me is that they’ve been given weapons to use, and they’re wiling to use them at the slightest provocation, up to and including lethal force. What matters is that any questioning of their authority, whether you’re holding a camera or trying to de-escalate a situation, is seen as a challenge that has to be put down, by taking your stuff away, or crowd-controlling you, or killing you. We should all be scared. Especially if you’re part of a frequently-profiled community.

. . .

I want to stress one more thing. The news is reporting that the police felt outnumbered. This is exactly the same reason they gave for pepper-spraying the crowd that Jack and I were in. But let’s be clear — it doesn’t have anything to do with numbers. If it had been a quiet crowd ignoring the police and just sitting on the train, the numbers wouldn’t matter. They felt outnumbered because a lot of people watching were demanding to know what was going on, yelling, and refusing to just mind their own business. People who were demanding to know what was happening, because they know that abuses happen far too often and take far too many lives, and that someone has to watch the watchers.

Unfortunately, to police this makes you the enemy, especially if you’re making your voice heard, yelling, demanding to know what’s going on. The police, whether because of training or inculcated philosophy or temperament, see this as a potential riot, and they escalate the situation.

— Holly @ feministe (2009-01-07): Execution style

The plain fact is that what we have here is one of two things. Either we have a professionalized system of violent control which tacitly permits and encourages cops to handle any confusing or stressful situation with an attempt to dominate everyone in the vicinity by means of threats and overwhelming force, including attempts to retaliate or terrify people into submission by using violence — up to and including lethal violence — against powerless people under their physical control. Or else we have a system of government policing which has clearly demonstrated that it can do nothing effectual to prevent this from happening, over and over again. In either case, it is unfit to exist.

The tall poppies, part 3: prosperity threatens to spread into southern Iraq

Third verse, same as the first.

Let’s say that you are trying to rebuild a once-prosperous country racked by years of tyranny, desperate poverty and near-constant violence. Corruption, terrorism, and warlordism are daily sources of terror. Most of the country is completely dependent on foreign aid. Grinding poverty is the norm all throughout the countryside, and farmers cannot support themselves on their usual crops. But there is one glimmer of hope: lucrative new opportunities to grow a traditional cash crop, which promises to lift many small farmers, currently on the edge of penury or starvation, into a much more comfortable standard of living. How should you react?

Well, according to the United States government, the best thing to do is to portray this lucrative cash crop as a fundamental menace to civil society, to shoot the farmers who grow it, and to poison or burn the fields they grow it in. We know this because they already did it in Afghanistan, in spite of the obviously hurtful consequences for Afghan farmers. Meanwhile, in southern Iraq, the same thing is likely to happen again soon:

The cultivation of opium poppies whose product is turned into heroin is spreading rapidly across Iraq as farmers find they can no longer make a living through growing traditional crops.

Afghan with experience in planting poppies have been helping farmers switch to producing opium in fertile parts of Diyala province, once famous for its oranges and pomegranates, north-east of Baghdad.

At a heavily guarded farm near the town of Buhriz, south of the provincial capital Baquba, poppies are grown between the orange trees in order to hide them, according to a local source.

The shift by Iraqi farmers to producing opium is a very recent development. The first poppy fields, funded by drug smugglers who previously supplied Saudi Arabia and the Gulf with heroin from Afghanistan, were close to the city of Diwaniyah in southern Iraq. The growing of poppies has now spread to Diyala, which is one of the places in Iraq where al-Qa’ida is still resisting US and Iraqi government forces. It is also deeply divided between Sunni, Shia and Kurd and the extreme violence means that local security men have little time to deal with the drugs trade. The speed with which farmers are turning to poppies is confirmed by the Iraqi news agency al-Malaf Press, which says that opium is now being produced around the towns of Khalis, Sa’adiya, Dain’ya and south of Baladruz, pointing out that these are all areas where al-Qa’ida is strong.

The agency cites a local agricultural engineer identified as M S al-Azawi as saying that local farmers got no support from the government and could not compete with cheap imports of fruit and vegetables. The price of fertilizer and fuel has also risen sharply. Mr Azawi says: The cultivation of opium is the likely solution [to these problems].

Initial planting in fertile land west and south of Diwaniya around the towns of Ash Shamiyah, al-Ghammas and Shinafiyah were said to have faced problems because of the extreme heat and humidity. Al-Malaf Press says that it has learnt that the experiments with opium poppy-growing in Diyala have been successful.

Although opium has not been grown in many of these areas in Iraq in recent history, some of the earliest written references to opium come from ancient Iraq.

It was known to the ancient Sumerians as early as 3400BC as the Hul Gil or joy plant and there are mentions of it on clay tablets found in excavations at the city of Nippur just east of Diwaniyah.

— Patrick Cockburn, CounterPunch (2008-01-24): http://www.counterpunch.org/patrick01242008.html

Cockburn, buying into the basic mythology of the United States government’s warped narco-diplomacy, bizarrely describes this rare chance for Iraqi farmers to lift themselves out of poverty with a traditional Mesopotamian crop, now extremely lucrative, as a menacing development, and immediately links it with warlordism and terrorism, rather than with the small farmers who are now able to get by on their new source of income. In fact, as far as I can tell, the upshot of the story is, in some parts of Iraq, because the government’s prohibitionist apparatus has more or less entirely broken down, many currently impoverished farmers are now menaced by the prospect of once again being able to make enough money to support themselves, and the only genuine dangers involved anywhere are the dangers that directly or indirectly result from the bullheaded commitment of the United States government and its client government in Iraq to destroying the opium farmers’ chance at a viable new source of income.

Just as it happened in Afghanistan, what will happen from here in Iraq is that U.S. officials will scream their heads off about the horrible menace of pain-killers being sold to willing customers, and then funnel money and military resources to the Iraqi government in order to launch chemical and paramilitary eradication programs—the primary effects of which will be to dramatically reinforce the power of terrorists and local warlords over the opium trade, and meanwhile to destroy the livelihoods of desperately poor farmers. Eradication, after all, forces illegal opium farmers to deal with whoever has the political juice necessary to do the smuggling, and in southern Iraq that mainly means gangsters, militia warlords, and influential jihadis. The farmers, on the other hand, will be forced to choose between living with the constant danger of having their lives and livelihoods ruined by government eradicators, or else going back to more-or-less guaranteed penury while they try to grow more of the same old unprofitable crops that they failed to make any money from before.

Meanwhile, this violent campaign on behalf of political corruption and mass starvation will be passed off by sanctimonious U.S. and U.N. narco-bureaucrats as a make-or-break struggle for democracy and freedom in Iraq, which, among those who have lost themselves in the twisted labyrinth of statist policy goals, have somehow become immediately and unquestioningly equated with adopting a particular set of policy outcomes in support of the United States government’s hyper-aggressive commitment to domestic drug prohibitionism.

This is statist nation-building on the march — with warlordism and grinding poverty dragging the country down into hell, the U.S., U.N., and U.K. gear up to enforce a political economy straight out of Mao’s Great Leap Forward on a nation of millions so that they never have to question their domestic policy initiatives. The United States government’s rabid pursuit of international narcotics prohibition, no matter what the predictable human consequences of their belligerence, reflects an absolutely deranged set of priorities.

Further reading:

Cognitive Dissonance of the Non-Libertarian Left

Pam Martens’ recent article in CounterPunch looks at the rickety finance sector and the role that CDOs—complex securities that tap into the cash flow from a multilayered portfolio of debt obligations—have played in the money barons’ recent woes. Her piece is, oddly, titled The Free Market Myth Dissolves into Chaos. I say it’s odd, because here is what we find by the second and third paragraph from the top:

Given that these big Wall Street players now own some of our largest, taxpayer insured, depositor banks (courtesy of a legislative gift from Congress called the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) and the Federal Reserve is shoveling tens of billions of our dollars into some very big black holes, …

… The Bush administration is spinning the mess as a subprime mortgage problem lest the public figure out that a $1 Trillion unregulated market has blown up under the free market noses of this administration.

— Pam Martens (2008-01-03): The Free Market Myth Dissolves into Chaos

There are many kinds of manipulation and jobbery that go on actually existing capital and finance markets that deserve criticism, and the Left, including Martens, have some wise and insightful things to say on this point. The mystery is where the terms unregulated market and free market come into the picture. When one directly mentions government-imposed, tax-funded deposit insurance, and government cartelization of the entire banking industry under the auspices of a government-created, government-controlled central bank, one would expect at least a little recognition of the fact that we are dealing with a market rigged by government interventions to insulate and direct high finance. If nothing else, one would expect that the switcheroo from a critique of actually existing state capitalism to a critique of free markets might wait for at least a few more paragraphs, in order to make the manifest cognitive dissonance a bit less excruciating.

Further reading: