Occupy Wall Street

October 3, 2011

I work a block or two north of Zucotti Park where the Occupy Wall Street demonstration has been going on.  When I checked it last time, a couple of weeks ago, there was a young woman holding up a sign saying, “Blame Barney Frank!”  Hmm…better choose your targets more carefully, sister, is what I thought.  Today, the crowd, many of them encamped, was much larger, and the slogans were various.

A generally scruffy bunch – goes with sleeping outside in a park, I guess – some with pretty wacked out messages.  A wondering crank denouncing adultery was on his own.  More common were protesters against The Federal Reserve System, fiat money, central banking generally, and so on.  This group is heavily influenced by the intellectual wing of the anti-establishment wave, some of which sloshes in the Tea Party’s cups, and is libertarian, pro-silver, and a bit loony as far as I can tell.

Most of the people were simply angry at the usual and well documented offenses of “Wall Street.”  Oversize-bonuses for CEOs while people get evicted from homes; hand-outs, bailouts, guarantees, and golden parachutes for the financial élite while most people hunker down and suffer.  The capture of government and politics by the super-rich, and so on.  One sign that I liked a lot said, “Lay off CEOs, not teachers.”  Pretty good idea, pretty simple.

There was a man there making buttons with a T-shirt that said Un-Locke America, and had a picture of venerable John Locke with an international ‘NO’ sign on top of his face.  “A pretty smart guy, but a schmuck,” is how the man described the granddad of British Empiricism and the intellectual godfather of our American bourgeois revolution.  In particular, he took issue with Locke’s ideas of natural rights, and property rights being prior to all governmental arrangements.  That was all a convenient assumption for a 17th century philosopher to make, and so very congenial to his patrons and his class.

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The fruits of torture

July 4, 2009

From the NYTimes today, an article about Iran:

Top Reformers Admitted Plot, Iran Declares

The government has made it a practice to publicize confessions from political prisoners held without charge or legal representation, often subjected to pressure tactics like sleep deprivation, solitary confinement and torture, according to human rights groups and former political prisoners. Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of people have been detained.

Confessions!  What a surprise!  Yes, torture is a very effective instrument for uncovering the truth.  Ask Dick Cheney.

Happy 4th!  flagwave


“A dagger at my heart…”

August 21, 2008

Once again (see this post) I return to the story of mass arrests in NYC – peaceful protesters, or people not even demonstrating, hauled into the precinct station, some of whom were held for days.  Only two people tried – acquitted of course – in proceedings that surely must have been absurd to witness given the evidence available that totally undermined all of NYPD’s claims. Everyone else released, no charges.  Why were they arrested?  HYSTERIA!

The New York Times has been following, and sometimes editorializing about the process by which the lawsuits against the city are being settled.  Today, it describes how at great cost in legal fees and staff time, after much stalling and stonewalling, the city is paying out millions of dollars to settle claims related to its violation of civil rights.  Of course, the NYPD admits no wrong doing – state organs never do.

The article quotes the fellow shown in the picture above:

Then they started arresting us, one by one. At that point, I got emotional — I could not believe in my country, in my city, I could get arrested for doing absolutely nothing and standing on the sidewalk,” Mr. Shirazi added.

Are there any lessons from the day? The Law Department said the $2 million payout did not mean the police had done anything wrong. “This settlement was reached without any admission of liability on behalf of the city and the individual defendants,” said Ms. Halatyn, the city lawyer.

The Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

Mr. Shirazi said that as he was being handcuffed for the first time in his life, he told the officer that the plastic cuffs were squeezing him. “He said, ‘You should have thought about that before you came out this morning.’ It was like a dagger in my heart, that a police officer of my city would come up with anything like that.”

In what does patriotism and love of country consist?  Following orders motivated by unthinking fear or hallowing and practicing the ideas that gave it rise in the first place?


Soul Man

August 16, 2008

As the television world watches the Olympics in Beijing, the Party is ensuring that certain things will not be seen.  In order to stage a protest of any sort, especially during the festivities, you must get a permit and only exercise your right to speech in selected zones.  (Sounds a bit like the Republican convention in NYC, 2004, eh?)  According to this article in the NYTimes, quite a few of those who sign up for the right to voice their grievances publicly are ending up disappearing into the maw of the Chinese Communist Party security apparatus.  It reminds me of that grim old joke about Stalin and the Soviet constitution that was packed with liberal human rights.  They only published it to see who would sign on, so that then they could be dealt with.

The fellow shown here is a veteran protester, profiled briefly in the article:

Despite what seem to be the perils of applying for a permit, scores of people continue to flock to the capital seeking an opportunity to publicize their grievances. Gao Chuancai, 45, a farmer from Heilongjiang Province, evaded a police cordon in his hometown and arrived in Beijing with a handwritten poster describing a litany of abuses by local officials.

Mr. Gao said in an interview that he had no delusions about his prospects. Over the years, he said, he has been jailed a dozen times and beaten repeatedly for trying to publicize corruption in Xingyi, a village just outside Harbin in China’s northeast. Security officials from Harbin had in the past even tracked him down in Beijing and stopped him from petitioning higher authorities in the capital, he said.

Early this month, after he learned of the Olympic protest zones on television, he mailed in an application to Beijing.

On Wednesday, he worked up the nerve to visit the application office. “Whatever happens, happens. I don’t care if I die,” he said as his taxi pulled up to the building.

Just what makes a person act this way?  Some sort of glorious stubborness that might, under most circumstances, make him a rather unpleasant person?  Surely, the authorities are asking themselves the same question:  “Why won’t he just shut up!!”  Philip Pan’s engrossing new book, Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China, tries to answer just this question.  He profiles several men and woman, inspiring, brave people with   tremendous grit, who won’t buckle under to the the Chinese state.  He also describes others who are cynical, rapacious, brutal, and totally unprincipled, and he sees it as an open question as to which group will carry the day in China, ruled as it is by an entrenched, corrupt, kleptocracy.  (Communist ideology dropped by the wayside long ago.)

Meanwhile, Mr. Gao…

At the reception area, a pair of officers questioned him about the nature of his protest and asked him to fill out a lengthy form that included the names and numbers of the officials who had wronged him. Mr. Gao was reluctant, but he complied.

After an hour, they smiled and told him to return in five days. As he walked out the door, he overheard one of the officers on the phone. He was calling the police station in Harbin.

I wish him luck.


NYPD’s Jailhouse Glass: Half-Full?

April 12, 2005

…Or half-empty? As usual, it depends on how you look at it.The NYTimes reported today that hundreds of demonstrators that were arrested during the Republican Convention last summer have been exonerated, charges against them dismissed, as defense lawyers have presented videotape to the courts that flatly contradicted the testimony and charges of the police. One officer was “involved” in several arrests where he was not physically present. Another protester was arrested for violently resisting arrest, while the videotape shows him going along quietly with the police taking him into custody…for what? A radio report played audio of an officer using a bullhorn to give instructions to marchers: “Stay in a line, march two by two, don’t obstruct traffic, and you will be able to complete your march without incident.” After he finished, police surrounded the marchers with tape and arrested them all. Does the right (hand) know what the left (hand) is doing??

I have no trouble believing that this is all true, and more, because in my participation in several demonstrations over the last few years, I have seen the NYPD in several guises. At the first big anti-Iraq protest, the police were rude, disorganized, oppressive, and obstructionist. The fact that there wasn’t a lot of violence is due, I believe, to the demonstrators who were interested in making their views known, not running amok. I definitely felt that my rights to protest were unfairly limited. At the next major demonstration I attended, the police were polite, organized, and everything went very smoothly – democracy is wonderful! For the demonstrations during the Republican Convention, the police were also polite, and VERY well organized. So well organized in fact, that they created a sort of cordon sanitaire comprising vast swathes of midtown. Not surprising that some officers would take their marching orders to be the removal of any and all unofficial persons in the area, demonstrators or no. Bravo to those who were ready with the video!

So much for the glass being half empty, what about half full? The spokesman for the NYPD was quoted as saying that despite all the hours poring over video by the critics, no examples of police brutality were uncovered…Well, true enough!! And thank you so much for not subjecting me to a beating while I exercised my constitutional rights. I appreciate it.