a better world
is probable
  1. Obama: NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly “Well-Qualified” to lead Homeland Security

    July 19, 2013

    mob

    President Obama has said he’s eying New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to replace Janet Napolitano as the head of Homeland Security.

    “Ray Kelly’s obviously done an extraordinary job in New York,” Obama told reporters. “I think Ray Kelly is one of the best there is. He’s been an outstanding leader in New York. Mr. Kelly might be very happy where he is, but if he’s not I’d want to know about it, because obviously he’d be very well qualified for the job.”

    During his tenure as the NYPD Commissioner, Kelly has consistently been under fire for overseeing the notorious stop-and-frisk program.  According to data released by the NYPD (which has to be made public as part of a lawsuit), there have been over 5 million stop-and-frisks in New York City. Nine out of every ten people stopped are completely innocent. Over 80% of those stopped are Black and Latino.

    Not only does the data reveal clear racial discrimination, but Kelly defends it.  “About 70 to 75 percent of the people described as committing violent crimes,” Kelly told reporters last March. “So really, African-Americans are being understopped in relation to the percentage of people being described as being the perpetrators of violent crime. The stark reality is that a crime happens in communities of color.”

    These aren’t just casual stop and chats, but often are very violent, and laden with overt racism.  Watch below:

    The choice of Kelly is not only disturbing, but perplexing.  As Colorlines points out, “Kelly’s stop-and-frisk policy is being challenged in federal court by the Center for Constitutional Rights right now. Obama’s own Justice Department may be sending in a federal monitor to ensure that NYPD stops racial profiling.”

    Last month, Colorlines editor Kai Wright drew out the connection between the growing surveillance state and stop-and-frisk, writing:

    “The logic used to defend secretly collecting the communications data of people not accused of any crime is the same logic used to defend NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program and Homeland Security’s deportation apparatus. The logic of “national security” was developed and honed by law enforcement practices inside communities of color. It is one of the more striking examples of a basic truth: racial injustice is cancerous; it eats the national body from the inside out.”

    So is this what we can expect from a DHS headed by Commissioner Kelly? The implications are truly disturbing.

    Alongside stop-and-frisk, Ray Kelly’s tenure as NYPD commissioner has also been marked by the revelation that the department used explicitly Islamophobic films as part of police training, created a program targeting Muslims for surveillance, and a startling rise in police brutality against Blacks and Latinos–including the murders of Ramarley Graham, Kimani Gray, and Shantel Davis.  In 2011 two NYPD officers were charged in the sexual assault of a woman who asked the police to escort her home because she was too intoxicated to walk home alone. They were acquitted, even though one of the officers admitted on tape to having sex with her with a condom on.

    Obama’s choice of Ray Kelly falls in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal.  The murder of Trayvon Martin has sparked a nationwide debate on racism and the ongoing criminalization of young Black men in America.  An official White House statement issued following the acquittal  completely ignored that debate, however, calling instead for people to remain calm and respect “law-and-order.” The ignorance and dismissal of the crisis facing Black communities in Americans is consistent throughout Obama’s administration, reflecting the real priorities of his administration.

  2. Detroit: The Athens of the Midwest

    March 2, 2013

    delta1

    Detroit was once called the “Paris of the Midwest,” but following yesterday’s announcement by Republican Governor Rick Snyder that Detroit will run by an emergency manager, Detroit may be more accurately compared to Athens.

    In 2009, the troika–a political body made up of Europe’s most powerful financial institutions–demanded that the Greek government pass a series of harsh austerity measures.  When George Papandreou, acting as Prime Minister at the time, put the measures up for to a popular vote, the troika simply removed him and replaced him with a banking executive.  Following the removal of Papandreou, the BBC commented that, “for whatever reasons, George Papandreou was standing up for democracy.”

    While it’s an admittedly weak analogy–maybe putting style ahead of substance–the imposition of an emergency manager to oversee Detroit is not totally dissimilar from the troika‘s takeover of Greece.  Austerity measures have been imposed on a crisis laden government without the slightest illusion of democracy in the name of averting further crises.  In Greece, as in Detroit, unemployment and poverty levels have skyrocketed to jawdropping levels, and yet further sacrifices are demanded from the poor and working class populations who benefit the most from the programs being cut.

    Michigan’s emergency manager law is likely the most extreme austerity measure in the United States.  The original law was enacted in 1988 during the administration of Democrat James Blanchard to allow for state intervention in local governments facing bankruptcy. The law was expanded in 1990 to encompass school districts.  Emergency managers were rare, however, until the administration of Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm.  Under Granholm, it was used to take over the cities of Highland Park, Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Pontiac, as well as the Detroit Public School system (all majority Black cities or districts).  Granholm’s ready use of emergency managers beat the path for Governor Snyder’s expansion of the law after he was elected in 2010.  Since then Snyder has used emergency manager law to take over the cities of Flint, Allen Park, and the Muskegon Heights and the Highland Park school system (which were both handed over to private charter school operators last year).

    In November 2012, Michigan residents voted in favor of a ballot referendum that would eliminate the emergency manager law altogether.  That December, however, state legislators voted to enact a new emergency manager law, in spite of the electorate’s efforts.

    Under an emergency manager, the power of local elected officials is suspended after the governor declares a city to be in a financial emergency.  The manager than takes control of the municipality’s finances and resources.

    According to the Detroit Free Press when asked if local elections for city council and mayor would continue under an emergency manager the paper responded that “Detroiters will have a primary in August and a general election in November. What powers those elected officials will have — and their salaries — ultimately will be up to the EFM.” [Emphasis mine.]

    In addition to overriding local democratic institutions, the emergency manager will have the power to restructure or eliminate city services and departments, impose new labor terms, sell and privatize public assets, institute layoffs, and declare bankruptcy (thereby taking the city out of its obligation to retirees).

    With Detroit under an emergency manager, over half of the state’s Black population will have no say in local government–objectively rendering their votes meaningless.  The law relies racist dog whistles that appear colorblind, but fall into the tradition of racist stereotypes of Black people, e.g. “financial irresponsibility,” combating “entitlements,” etc.  The emergency manager law, therefore, has specifically targeted majority Black cities in the state.  The only majority white city to be under an emergency manager, Allen Park, asked for an emergency manager.

    Of course, while there can be no doubt that city of Detroit is clearly in a state of crisis, and has been for decades–over half the city is unemployed, and nearly 40% of the city lives below the poverty line–the city’s financial problems have been wildly misrepresented in the mainstream press.  The city’s monumental debt is not the result of overspending or even financial “mismanagement” per se, but the result of tax-free interest bearing debt owed to bond holders–banks like UBS, for instance, which was implicated in last years Libor scandal.  Furthermore, during periods of economic crisis, its expected that municipal governments will run into a deficit.  But both of these things have already been acknowledged in both the mainstream press and even by Governor Snyder’s own appointees–yet both the local press and the administration continue to clamor for emergency management.

    The fact is that this has never had anything to do with fiscal “mismangement.”  Rather, it is part of the general trend of deflecting responsibility for the economic crisis onto the backs of the most vulnerable in our society–something which cannot be left up to democracy, since rarely do people ever vote to slit their own throats.

    Detroit’s Democratic Mayor Dave Bing put it plainly when he insisted that he does, in fact, have a plan for restructuring the city, and that therefore no emergency manager is needed.  The only problem, he said, is that he’s “hindered by several factors, including the City Charter, labor agreements, litigation, [and] governmental structure.”

    Put another way, in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Harvey argues that democracy is a luxury for the few in an age of neoliberalism.  He sums up the ideological foundation for the emergency manager law when he says that democracy is reserved only for,

    conditions of relative affluence coupled with a strong middle-class presence to guarantee political stability. Neoliberals therefore tend to favour governance by experts and elites. A strong preference exists for government by executive order and by judicial decision rather than democratic and parliamentary decision-making.

    While this is a crisis for democracy, the emergency manager law has to be seen in the context of the more general (and global) crisis of austerity.  This is perhaps best illustrated that, only hours after Governor Rick Snyder announced his plan to appoint an emergency manager over Detroit, President Obama signed the order to begin cutting $85 billion dollars from the federal budget–the so-called “sequester.”

    This points us toward the need to not only oppose the emergency manager, but to fight against the austerity agenda in general, no matter who is cramming it down our throats,  whether it be the democratically elected city council cutting their staff’s pay, or an emergency manager privatizing city services.  The 1% can abide democracy as long as it works in their favor–what they cannot accept is a barrier to their profit.  Unwavering opposition to austerity has to be central to our campaign.

    In Greece, austerity has been met with a heroic struggle in the streets: since the crisis hit almost 20 general strikes have been called, the old government of pro-austerity social democrats has been tossed into the dustbin of history, a new coalition of radical Leftists and revolutionaries has surged in the polls, and broad alliances of Greek and immigrant workers have been formed to combat the rising specter of extreme right-wing racism and xenophobia.

    We in Detroit are a far way away from that level of resistance. However, there are lessons we can take.  Voting for Democrats cannot be a solution to this crisis since they set the stage for this crisis.  They are just as willing to use emergency management to dissect public education or privatize public services as the Republicans are.  Neither is the ballot a solution: the government doesn’t even pretend to respect our vote, as we saw in December.

    Our fight back in Detroit has to be rooted in the streets–and cannot be limited to the narrow scope of lawsuits, referenda, or elections.  The only fight that can restore democracy is a broad, mass struggle aimed at smashing austerity using every means at our disposal. In short: Greek-style austerity must be met with a Greek-style fightback.

  3. Obama and Romney have been fighting over who’s hardest on the poor

    September 18, 2012

    It was recently revealed by Mother Jones magazine that Mitt Romney hates poor people. Surprise!

    At a private fundraiser Romney said that:

    There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.

    There you have it. Mitt Romney believes that 47% of America are entitled, food eating motherfuckers living it large on government cheese.

    Some pundits have said this about seals the deal for Obama to coast back into the White House.  Which would be great for the 47% of people that Romney basically called dependent leeches, right?  A Romney presidency would be disastrous for people on government assistance (which was estimated by one Census study to be almost 20% of the US population in 2009).

    The Obama campaign has been making it a point to attack Romney on welfare. But they’re not arguing that Romney is too hard on welfare recipients.  Instead, Obama’s campaign is arguing that Romney is too pro-welfare.  In an article from Jacobin magazine the author quotes one Obama campaign ad which,

    Charged that Romney “petitioned the federal government for waivers that would have let people stay on welfare for an indefinite period, ending welfare reform as we know it, and even created a program that handed out free cars to welfare recipients.”  Only Obama can protect us from a Republican regime of hand-outs and Oprah-style free cars for the undeserving poor.

    Check out this ad where Obama’s campaign attacks Mitt Romney for being “flexible on welfare,” and proudly defends Obama’s conservative position on welfare “reform.”

    Obama has been attacking welfare recipients as far back as his first election campaign in 2008, when he said that he wants to

    restore some balance to our economy so that middle class families who are working hard – they’re not on welfare, they’re going to their jobs every day, they’re doing the right things by their kids – they should be able to save, buy a home, go on a vacation once in a while.

    Obama echoed these same racist, classist stereotypes of poor people as lazy criminals and unsuitable parents at a fundraiser in August, when his message to donors was that, “We need better role models…we have to provide stronger role models than the gang-banger on the corner.”

    Rather than defend the idea that people should have access to welfare and should be entitled to food, housing and healthcare, the Obama campaign is competing with Romney over which candidate has the most backwards, conservative stance on welfare recipients.  Both can agree, welfare recipients are lazy and don’t want to work.  They’re bad parents and they are a drain on the system.  Romney’s just more of an asshole about it — sort of.