Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street movement

Look At Their Evil Propaganda, Not Our Identical Evil Propaganda

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

America, they tell us, is exceptional.

Exceptionally wrong about how exceptional it is.

Here comes today’s New York Times to re-re-re-reconfirm that with an Opinion piece headlined “The New Dictators Rule by Velvet Fist.”

“In recent decades, a new brand of authoritarian government has evolved that is better adapted to an era of global media, economic interdependence and information technology. The ‘soft’ dictators concentrate power, stifling opposition and eliminating checks and balances, while using hardly any violence,” write Professors Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treismanmay. “These illiberal leaders — Alberto K. Fujimori of Peru, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela — threaten to reshape the world order in their image, replacing principles of freedom and law — albeit imperfectly upheld by Western powers — with cynicism and corruption.”

“Imperfectly upheld,” indeed.

They Depose Democratically Elected Presidents, Don’t They?

Like, for example, how the democratically elected president of Venezuela – the above-mentioned Hugo Chávez was overthrown by a corporate junta backed by the CIA and the Bush administration, as well as the slobbering editorial page and front page of — ahem — the New York Times.

Or how the democratically elected president of Honduras was overthrown by military coup backed by the CIA and the Obama administration, and, oh yeah, the New York Times.

Or how Judith Miller used the Times to convince the American people who Saddam had WMDs, used to justify the disastrous Iraq War.

“The West needs to understand how these regimes work and how to confront them.”

We Do the Same Exact Stuff

Read on, and it doesn’t take long to see that the West, and in particular the United States, well understand how these regimes work – because the US deploys many of the same strategies and tactics to quash opposition.

“The new autocrats often get to power through reasonably fair elections. Mr. Chávez, for instance, won in 1998 in what international observers called one of the most transparent votes in Venezuela’s history,” Guriev and Treismanmay admit. This, I suppose I should concede, is different from the American model, which included two consecutive presidential elections widely viewed as having been stolen: the 2000 judicial coup d’état precipitated by the Florida recount, and the stealing of the pivotal state of Ohio in 2004 via poll manipulation, both to the benefit of George W. Bush.

“The new autocrats use propaganda, censorship and other information-based tricks to inflate their ratings and to convince citizens of their superiority over available alternatives,” say Guriev and Treismanmay.

Here, in the meat of the matter, it is difficult to see any difference between the United States and these so-called “soft dictatorships.” No American newspaper, for example, employs a socialist opinion columnist, much less a communist one – even though these leftist ideologies are very popular among American citizens. Instead, in the United States, the only acceptable “mainstream” ideological discourse takes place on what is, by global standards, the far right: militantly procapitalist, contemptuous of such liberal ideals as leniency in sentencing, opposition to the death penalty, anti-militarism, and basic social safety net policies, like paid parental leave.

“They dominate the Internet by blocking access to independent websites, hiring ‘trolls’ to flood comments pages with pro-regime spam, and paying hackers to vandalize opposition online media sites,” Guriev and Treismanmay point out. How awful! But the same thing happens here, as numerous reports of trolls hired by the Bush and now the Obama administrations attest.

A “Pocket of Democratic Opposition”…to Hillary

“The new dictatorships preserve a pocket of democratic opposition to simulate competition.”

Um…Bernie Sanders, anyone?

“The new autocrats are not squeamish — they can viciously repress separatists or club unarmed protesters. But violence reveals the regime’s true nature and turns supporters into opponent.”

See, for example, the Obama Administration-coordinated police crackdown on the nonviolent Occupy Wall Street movement.

“And violence is not just costly — it’s unnecessary. Instead, the new authoritarians immobilize political rivals with endless court proceedings, interrogations and other legal formalities.”

Yup. The US does that too. The IRS conducts audits of political rivals. They harass them at TSA checkpoints at the airport, and when they cross US borders. They even force them into exile.

My favorite part comes at the end: “Western democracies should provide objective native-language news broadcasts to counter the propaganda and censorship.”

Can we start with the US? That would be…exceptional.

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Balancing the Budget on the Backs of the Homeless

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As a news junkie and student of the human condition, it takes a lot to make my blood come to a full boil. It takes even more to make me sympathize with wealthy corporations. Hand it to Gov. Jerry Brown — he managed to pull off both feats with the news that he diverted $350 million from California’s share of the 2012 national mortgage settlement in order to reduce the state’s 2013 budget deficit.

Now that California is enjoying a budget surplus, a coalition of homeowner advocates and religious organizations has filed suit against the state to force Brown to restore the money.

Back in 2008-09, the real estate bubble burst, taking the global economy with it. By many measures, especially real unemployment and median wages, we still haven’t recovered.

By 2010 a political consensus had formed. Though politicians were partly to blame, the worst offenders were the giant “too big to fail” banks that had knowingly approved loans to homebuyers who couldn’t afford to pay them back, sold bundles of junk mortgage derivatives to unsuspecting investors and secretly hedged their bets against their clients. After the house of cards came down, they played the other side. They cashed in their chips, refused to refinance mortgages even though interest rates had fallen and deployed “robo-signers” to illegally evict hundreds of thousands of homeowners — including people who had never missed a payment — to ding them with outrageous late fees on their way to profitable (for the banks) foreclosure.

On the Left, anger at the banks coalesced around the Occupy Wall Street movement. Though less widely reported, anti-bank sentiment also found a home in the Tea Party.

Politics ultimately play out in the courts. Lawsuits filed by state attorney generals forced the banks to the bargaining table. In 2012 they agreed to cough up $26 billion as penance.

The money was supposed to compensate people who had lost their homes and to help those who were hanging on by a thread avoid eviction, either by refinancing at lower rates or writing down principal to reflect lower real estate prices.

Enter the governors.

Jerry Brown wasn’t unique. Cash-hungry states siphoned off half of their share of the mortgage settlement to plug holes in their budgets.

We will never know how many families became homeless as a result.

The more you think about it, the more disgusting it is. Obviously it’s important for the state to get its fiscal house in order. But not at the expense of those least able to bear the burden. Desperate families lost — and are still losing — their homes so that holders of California’s state debt, much of it held by the same banks who caused the mortgage crisis, can be repaid.

This outrage is not without precedent.

Rather than the anti-smoking and health campaigns they were supposed to launch, the states siphoned off 47% of the $7.9 billion they received from the 1998 tobacco settlement for general budget purposes.

How many kids might have been reached by tobacco education programs that never got off the ground? How many will die of lung cancer? “Fifteen years after the tobacco settlement, our latest report finds that states are continuing to spend only a miniscule portion of their tobacco revenues to fight tobacco use,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in 2014.  In Fiscal Year 2014, the states will collect $25 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend only 1.9 percent of it – $481.2 million – on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. This means the states are spending less than two cents of every dollar in tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use.”

This is the kind of behavior that prompts conservatives to characterize these settlements as government shakedowns of big business. It’s hard to disagree. As slimy as the banksters were and are — they’re sabotaging political solutions to the foreclosure crisis — they’re just greedy bastards doing what greedy bastards do. Public officials, on the other hand, are supposed to be on our side.

What Brown and his fellow governors have done with the mortgage settlement money is even more nauseating.

 

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Cheaper Than Riot Cops

Cheaper Than Riot Cops

After the state of Colorado rolled out legalized marijuana, other states are considering following suit. Now, for the first time, intelligent people are questioning whether pot is truly as universally harmless as advocates often argue.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: You’ll Get Arrested Someday. Will You Survive?

Are you male? The odds say you’ll be arrested by the police at least once.

What happens to Americans after the cops slap on the cuffs, therefore, is not an intellectual exercise, or a matter of liberal guilt. It doesn’t just happen to other people.

You. It could happen to you.

It’s happened to me twice in the United States, and more times than I can count in foreign dictatorships. (In Third World countries, it’s usually corrupt cops shaking you down for a bribe.) On each occasion, I was thunderstruck by an overwhelming sense of helplessness.

No one knew where I was.

I was trapped.  Think this is a democracy? Think again. Whether you’re in Turkmenistan or the United States, victims of arrest are every bit as “disappeared” as if they were living under Orwell’s dystopian Big Brother.

Your family doesn’t know where you are.

You don’t show up to work — so you might lose your job.

If you need medication to live, you may die because the cops won’t give it to you.

When I was arrested, the policemen could have done anything they wanted to me — beat me up, rape me, even murder me — and get away with it. They didn’t. But they could.

That’s not a good feeling.

It’s certainly not a feeling you should have to experience for trivial offenses. (My case #1: arrested for possession of marijuana. Not mine. My friend’s. Because he was in the same car as me when I got pulled over for forgetting to turn on my headlights at night. My case #2: pulled over for speeding. Arrested for a suspended license. Which had been suspended in error.)

This kind of thing should not be a death sentence. A Justice Department study found that more than 2,000 criminal suspects died in police custody over a three-year period. Fifty-five percent were ruled as homicides by police officers.

Christopher J. Mumola, who authored the study, notes that most people make it out physically unharmed. “Keep in mind we have 2,000 deaths out of almost 40 million arrests over three years, so that tells you by their nature they are very unusual cases,” said Mumola.

But that’s still too many. And jail is still a gratuitously terrible experience. Guaranteed constitutional rights — to legal representation, a speedy trial and to communicate with the outside world –are routinely denied. Detectives bully and harangue suspects past the limit of human endurance, frequently extracting false confessions from innocent men and women. Basic needs, including access to medication, are often ignored.

Some conservatives will counter that the police shouldn’t coddle suspects. That if you do the crime, be prepared to do the time. But that’s precisely the point: under U.S. law, suspects haven’t done any crime. Until a judge or jury delivers a guilty verdict, arrestees are innocent under the law.

The Miranda decision — the last major reform that improved life for those who get arrested — is a half-century old. It’s time to update the rules to bring the experience of getting arrested in line with the high-flying rhetoric of human rights enshrined under U.S. law and with common decency.

You have the right to communicate.

     Or you should. In New York City, for example, suspects being processed through Central Booking are supposed to be allowed to place three local phone calls for free. In New York and most other municipalities, this right is routinely delayed.

“Disappearing” people is unworthy of a modern nation-state. It’s also dangerous. What happens to children waiting for their parents to pick them up after school when they don’t show up?

“Prepare yourself and your family in case you are arrested. Memorize the phone numbers of your family and your lawyer,” advises the ACLU. But in the age of the cellphone, many people don’t know important phone numbers by heart.

Suspects should be permitted to keep their cellphones, and use them as much as they want, while waiting to be indicted or released.

     You have the right to your meds.

Cops are extraordinarily cavalier about the health of the people they arrest. Members of Occupy Wall Street arrested in 2011 reported that jail guards in Manhattan routinely jeopardized their health. “At one point,” wrote Dave Korn, “the cops wheeled out a stretcher holding one of our girls; she was lying motionless, oxygen tubes connected to her face.  She had been denied her medication and was now unconscious.  The stretcher was left in the hallways, and cops were either walking past or photographing her.” A 22-year-old Washington state man was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession and sent to jail. He told the authorities that he had an extreme food allergy. Cops fed him oatmeal anyway, and told him it was safe. “Over the next half hour, the video shows other inmates looking in Saffioti’s cell as he jumped up and down. The legal claim says he pressed his call button and was ignored,” reported local TV. He died.

Congress should pass a federal law guaranteeing Americans’ right to keep their medications with them if they’re arrested, as well as access to food conforming to their medical, dietary and religious needs.

You have the right to be speedily processed.

Anyone arrested in the U.S. is entitled to respect. Which includes the right to be charged or released quickly. In many jurisdictions, the 24-hour rule before seeing a judge is ignored — especially if you’re nabbed on a Friday night. Then it goes to 72 hours. Which is stupid. Jails don’t suspend business over weekends. Neither should the courts.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Not a Revolution, Just an Old-Fashioned Coup

Egypt Offers Lessons for America’s Left and Right

The U.S.-backed military coup that ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi reconfirms two historical lessons that Americans repeatedly refuse to accept.

The first is for American activists, the idealistic progressives working to make the world a fairer and more decent place. Once again in Egypt, we are seeing how you can’t make a revolution without revolutionizing society – which requires the complete, violent overthrow of the ruling class. The second lesson is for elite policymakers in Washington and other Western capitals, but they won’t learn it until the inevitable blowback from their incessant manipulation and backroom schemes prompts another September 11 — or worse.

First, the takeaway for leftists.

Western critics, most of them unabashedly pro-coup, blame the Muslim Brotherhood for its own overthrow. They weren’t inclusive enough, they presided over a lousy economy, after decades of exile they just weren’t ready to govern. For the sake of argument, let’s concede all that.

No matter where you stand on Morsi, it is undeniable that his nascent presidency never stood a chance. The 2011 “revolution” that began and ended in Tahrir Square, which defined the Arab Spring and inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement, toppled an aging U.S.-backed dictator, Hosni Mubarak. But Mubarak’s regime mostly remained in place. Mubarak’s old judiciary blocked Morsi and his party, a political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, at every turn. The other major holdover, the military and security forces, orchestrated his political demise, culminating in last week’s coup. Now there is a strong chance that Egypt is about to disintegrate into a civil conflict whose scale of violence might eclipse the mayhem in Syria.

Western analysts, liberals and even leftists who ought to know better have so cheapened the word “revolution,” attaching it to developments that, though notable, are nothing of the kind: independence struggles, civil rights movements, and most recently events like the Arab Spring, which enjoyed support by Western media and governments precisely because they were not violent, or at least not very violent, and thus not revolutionary — and therefore not a threat to the power of elites in charge of the current system. Although there may be strains of continuity in government and culture before and after a true revolution, such as the maintenance of some ministries and place names and so on, real revolution is characterized first and foremost by the replacement of one set of ruling elites — economic, cultural and political — over another. Revolution is also indicated by a vast set of radical transformations in the way that ordinary people live, such as the legalization of divorce, the abolition of the Catholic Church, and the establishment of the metric system after the French Revolution.

Though important and meaningful, what happened at Tahrir Square in 2011 didn’t come close to qualifying as a bona fide revolution. The rich remained rich, the poor remained poor, and though a few officials here and there lost their jobs, the ruling class as a whole retained their prerogatives. Meanwhile, life on the street remained miserable — and in exactly the same way as before.

Similarly, the 2013 coup d’état — weasel words to the contrary, if language has any meaning whatsoever, it is always a military coup when the military deposes a democratically elected ruler — isn’t a revolution either. Even if it was demonstrably true that, as General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi claimed and many protesters agree, that “it is not the army who took over, it is the army who acted on behalf of the people,” what we have here is nothing more than a personnel change. The system remains intact.

At the height of the Occupy movement during the fall of 2011, many knee-jerk pacifists, besotted with the post-1960s religion of militant nonviolence (in spite of its repeatedly proven ineffectiveness), agreed that radical transformation — revolution — was necessary in the United States. Yet these liberals also argued that (even though there was no historical precedent) the triumph of the mass of ordinary American workers over the corrupt bankers and their pet politicians could result from purely nonviolent protest.

They have only to look at Egypt to see why they are wrong. The Arab Spring was a huge experiment in the efficacy of nonviolence to affect political change. No country has seen a true revolution since the events of 2011. There were, however, changes — and these were most dramatic in the nations that saw the most violence, such as Libya.

Unless you dislodge the ruling elites, who have everything to gain from continuity and everything to lose from reform, your wannabe revolution doesn’t stand a chance of getting off the ground. The privileged classes won’t relinquish their privileges, power or wealth voluntarily. They will use their control over the police and the military (and, as we have recently learned, their access to the intimate details of our daily lives) in order to crush any meaningful opposition. They are violent. Their system is violence. Defeating them requires greater violence. Nothing less results in revolution.

Egypt is about to teach America’s political class yet another lesson about blowback, the tendency of meddling in the internal politics of foreign countries to result in anti-Americanism, which manifests itself in the form of terrorism.

After 9/11 you’d think that the U.S. would tread lightly in the Muslim world. This would go double in Egypt, where America’s pet dictator Hosni Mubarak ruled for 29 years, only to go down in flames despite being propped up by billions of dollars in U.S. foreign aid. In the end, like a bored and easily distracted infant, the State Department green-lit Mubarak’s removal. Now, two years later, they’re at it again, brazenly orchestrating and signing off on an old-fashioned military coup to remove the first democratically elected leader of the spiritual center of the Arab world — who just happens to be an Islamist.

The behind-the-scenes machinations of the White House are sordidly reminiscent of CIA-backed coups in Latin America in the 1960s.

“As President Mohamed Morsi huddled in his guard’s quarters during his last hours as Egypt’s first elected leader, he received a call from an Arab foreign minister with a final offer to end a standoff with the country’s top generals, senior advisers with the president said,” reported The New York Times over the weekend. “The foreign minister said he was acting as an emissary of Washington, the advisers said, and he asked if Mr. Morsi would accept the appointment of a new prime minister and cabinet, one that would take over all legislative powers and replace his chosen provincial governors.”

Over my dead body, Morsi replied.

This was conveyed to Anne Patterson, Obama’s ambassador to Egypt, and Susan Rice, his national security advisor. Rice told Morsi’s advisor she had green-lit a coup. “‘Mother just told us that we will stop playing in one hour,’ an aide texted an associate, playing on a sarcastic Egyptian expression for the country’s Western patron, ‘Mother America,'” the Times reported.

What could go wrong?

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Every Policeman Is A Licensed Rapist

This week, you can read my column, or watch it!

Strip-Searching is Legal and Democracy is Dead

The text of Justice Kennedy’s majority is cold and bureaucratic. “Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” he writes for the five right-wingers in the majority of the Supreme Court.

There’s no looking back now. The United States is officially a police state.

Here are the basics, as reported by The New York Times: “The case decided Monday, Florence v. County of Burlington, No. 10-945, arose from the arrest of Albert W. Florence in New Jersey in 2005. Mr. Florence was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled his wife, April, over for speeding. A records search revealed an outstanding warrant for Mr. Florence’s arrest based on an unpaid fine. (The information was wrong; the fine had been paid.) Mr. Florence was held for a week in jails in Burlington and Essex Counties, and he was strip-searched in each. There is some dispute about the details, but general agreement that he was made to stand naked in front of a guard who required him to move intimate parts of his body. The guards did not touch him.”

“Turn around,” Florence later recalled his jailers ordering him. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”

A court motivated by fairness would have declared this conduct unconstitutional. Fair-minded people would have ordered the New Jersey municipality to empty its bank accounts and turn them over to the man it humiliated. Everyone involved—the police, county officials—ought to have been fired and charged with torture.

Not this court, the U.S. Supreme Court led by John Roberts. Besotted by the sick logic of paranoia and preemption that has poisoned us since 9/11, it ruled that what happened to Albert Florence was perfectly OK. The cops’ conduct was legal.

Now “officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor.”

If you get arrested at an antiwar protest, the police can strip-search you. If you’re pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, as was the plaintiff in this case. For setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Humiliation is the law of the land.

The Court heard examples of people who were strip-searched “after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell.” They considered amicus briefs by nuns and other “women who were strip-searched during periods of lactation or menstruation.”

Body-cavity searches are now legal for anyone arrested for any crime, no matter how minor. As of April 2, 2012, finger-rape is the law of the land.

Think it won’t happen to you? 14 million Americans are arrested annually. One in three Americans under age 23 has been arrested. It happened to me a couple of years ago, for a suspended drivers license. Except that it wasn’t really suspended. I was lucky. My cops weren’t perverts. They didn’t want a lookie-loo at my private parts.

How did we get here? Preemptive logic.

Saddam Hussein is a bad man. He hates the United States. What if he has weapons of mass destruction? What if he used them against us, or gave them to terrorists who would? Can’t take that chance.

We don’t need evidence in order to justify bombing and invading Iraq. We have fear and the logic of preemption.

The logic of preemption flails, targeting anyone and everyone. A single plane passenger sets his shoes on fire. He never came close to causing real damage, but now everyone has to take off their shoes before boarding a plane. Infants. Old people. Veterans whose limbs got blown off in Iraq. Everyone.

Can’t take chances. What if your toddler is a member of Al Kidda?

The logic of preemption is indiscriminate. What if terrorists are stupid enough to use phones and emails to plot their dastardly schemes? We’d want to know, right? In the old days before 9/11, officials who suspected a person of criminal conduct went to a judge to obtain a wiretapping warrant.

Now we’re paranoid. And the government is power-hungry. So government officials and their media lapdogs are exploiting our fear and paranoia, openly admitting that they listen to everyone‘s phone calls and read everyone‘s emails. Can’t take chances. Gotta cover all the bases.

What about the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures? Quaint relics of a time before the police state. Like the Geneva Conventions.

Here comes Justice Kennedy, amping up the perverse logic of preemption. Responding to the nasty cases of the finger-raped nun and the humiliated women on their period, Kennedy pointed out that “people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.” Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, was pulled over for driving without a license plate. “One of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93,” he wrote, continuing with the observation that San Francisco cops “have discovered contraband hidden in body cavities of people arrested for trespassing, public nuisance and shoplifting.”

No doubt about it: If you search every car and frisk every pedestrian and break down the door of every house and apartment in America, you will find lots of people up to no good. You will discover meth labs and bombs and maybe even terrorists plotting to blow up things. But who is the bigger danger: a drug dealer, a terrorist, or a terrorist government?

This summer will be ugly. Cops will arrest thousands of protesters who belong to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is fighting corruption and greed and trying to improve our lives. Now that police have the right to strip and molest demonstrators, you can count on horrible abuses. Cops always go too far.

Note to people about to be arrested: pop a laxative before they slip on the flexicuffs.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather live in a country that respects rights and freedoms more than the paranoid madness of preemption. In the old America where I grew up, we lived with the possibility that some individuals were evil. Now we face the absolute certainty that every policeman is a fully licensed finger-rapist.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

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