Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Health and Safety" trumps 1st Amendment rights in L.A.

                        Guy Fawkes of Occupy Los Angeles stands in front of L.A. City Hall

Perhaps someone will explain to me why the so-called "liberal" majors of cities across the U.S. have suddenly decided that protecting "public health and safety" outweighs First Amendment protections of "the freedom of speech ...[and] the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  Are there worrisome signs of illness at Occupy sites?    Beyond the news of police beating, gassing and pepper spraying demonstrators, is there compelling evidence of danger to public safety?  The sites I've visited have been clean, orderly and welcoming with no signs of disease beyond ordinary autumn sniffling from allergies and colds.  Yet we are led to believe that the encampments are major hazards to our physical well-being.

Here's the crucial part of the statement of Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles, justifying his order to evict Occupy Los Angeles on Monday.

The Occupy movement is now at a crossroads. The movement faces the question of how it can build on its initial success.  It is a question of whether energy will be consumed to defend a particular patch of earth or whether that energy will be channeled to spreading the message of economic equality and signing more people up for the push to restore the balance to American society.

The encampment in City Hall Park is not sustainable. This is especially true from the standpoint of public health and public safety. Accordingly, we must close, repair and re-open the park to public access. For this reason, we will close the park on Monday, November 28th at 12:01 am. The park closure will include a set of measures that will assist Occupy LA participants to move their personal belongings and property from the park. We will also offer social and health services for those in need.

I am very proud of the fact that since the start of the occupation of City Hall Park, we have done things differently in Los Angeles. We have not stared each other down from opposite sides of barricades and barbed wire. We have communicated. We have listened. We have negotiated. It has allowed us to solve problems peacefully and to avoid the scenes of violence and brutality that have strained the civic fabric of other cities.

It is my hope that we can conclude this first chapter of Occupy LA in a similar spirit. I admire your courage and character. You have opened the eyes of your fellow citizens to the economic hardship in their midst. I am encouraged by your passionate commitment to social justice and look forward to the continued progress of your efforts.

The condescension that drips from this proclamation appears to be an attempt by Mayor Villaraigosa to salvage his reputation and (until now) promising political career at the very moment that he's calling in the riot troopers.  His promise of "health and social services for those in need" will come in handy for those likely to be injured in the tomorrow's melee, since Occupy L.A. has promised to stand firm.  His praise for the his efforts "to avoid the scenes of violence and brutality that have strained the civic fabric of other cities" leaves out an additional phrase -- "until now!"

The flagrant dishonesty of the rationale the Mayor offers has become standard boilerplate in justifications for brutal crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street protests nationwide.  If public health and safety have somehow become America's most urgent problem right now, why are budgets for Medicaid, public health services and local law enforcement being slashed in our towns and cities?

Do us a favor.  Just tell us the real reasons for the arrests, beatings and episodes of political cleansing taking place in America right now. We can handle it  (and make plans accordingly).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Science fiction as prophecy: Robocops 2011

Here's a photo of  Portland's finest, the fabulous "first responders" now called out to quash dissent and suppress freedom.  One thing that strikes me is how closely they resemble "Robcop" from the 1987 movie. These costly, disgusting cyborgs and now on parade in dozens of towns, cities and even college campuses  across the U.S., paid for by lavish spending on "homeland security." Is this the image of America's future?

By the way, all of the excited chatter about "hybrids" and "cyborgs" in the humanities and social sciences in recent years helped venerate creatures of this sort. How does it look now, cyborg theorists?

Friday, November 18, 2011

UC Berkeley -- balloon tents and mini-tents defy cops -- Go Bears!

I'm proud of my alma mater.  Here's the story.

Quick-thinking #OccupyCal students “pitched” tents in the sky after police cleared their camp at the University of California at Berkeley on Thursday. The students claimed to have circumvented a police order banning them from pitching tents at Sproul Plaza by simply using balloons to float the tents over the plaza. Up to 5,000 students were reported to have been involved in the Occupy protest before 20 tents were dismantled.

Students also set up mini-tents which look a lot like paperback books folded open, stem side up.  Given the fate of books in the hands of police at Liberty Square in New York City, this option will probably not survive.  In America these days, books are for trashing.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Big Apple mayor sends warm greetings to Patio Maravillas

General Assembly at occupation of Puerta del Sol, May 2011
Last night I spoke to an audience at Patio Maravillas, a community center in Madrid where people with interesting political ideas gather.  Firmly established in a lovely old squatted building downtown,  the Patio was one of the places where plans for the May 15 demonstrations in Puerta del Sol were hatched.  

Veteran hacktivist “iokese” (trans: “what-do-I-know?”) invited me to give a talk comparing the movement of the Spanish “indignados” to similar events happening now at Occupy Wall Street sites.  A buzz filled the room as people shared news of the brutal crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street in New York City the night before.  In fact, much of my presentation featured questions and answers about Democracy Now videos of city police clearing the encampment. 

Shortly before I began my remarks, a wonderful surprise message arrived from the honorable Michael Bloomindales, Mayor of New York.  Here’s the full text.

My greetings to members of the flourishing the research center at Patio Maravillas!

I want to extend my most cordial invitation for you to attend the upcoming Grand Opening Ceremony of the newly cleansed and restored Zuccotti Park in the historic Wall Street district of New York.  To help plan your journey, here are some key points to keep in mind.

I know you’re eager to obtain news and photos of the forced eviction of Occupy Wall Street.  Regrettably, for the time being, direct news coverage is forbidden and all reporters have been banned from the site.  We assure you, this is for your own protection.

We New Yorkers take great pride in the right of free speech widely practiced in our fair city. However, as you know, all freedoms have their limits and carry very heavy responsibilities.  In view of your flagrant abuses of free speech in Spain last May, you will be subject to arrest if you venture anywhere near Wall Street.   As an alternative, may I suggest an uplifting afternoon at our world famous Metropolitan Museum of Art or, perhaps, Zabar's?

Another freedom we cherish in our city is the right to be free from searches of one’s person and possessions unless a warrant has been issued by a court of law. To that end we have begun a policy of random police searches of those who visit “Liberty Square.”  I assure you, there is nothing personal here – just random pat downs by our men in blue.  For some in the Patio group, this could be the highlight of your tour!

I understand that books and other written materials have been spotted in Patio Maravillas recently.  The city government of New York has now declared items of this kind a threat to public health and safety.  If you insist upon bringing any books, manifestos, anarchist software, or similar materials to Zuccotti Park, they will be immediately confiscated and taken to the nearest landfill.  We simply cannot risk another epidemic of unconventional ideas here.

As you may have heard, our nation’s Bill of Rights recognizes the “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  The key term here is “peaceably.”  For that reason we have recently instituted occasional beatings of citizens in their assemblies. This step removes any hint of peacefulness and facilitates the difficult work of securing the safety of our streets and sidewalks.  Please keep this in mind if you intend trying anything peaceful during your stay.

Finally, I am pleased to announce that the evictions, kettlings, arrests, beatings, and gassings of both U.S. citizens and visitors will continue until democracy and public order are fully restored and Wall Street can return to business as usual.

I sincerely hope you enjoy your visit to New York City.

Yours truly,
(not be be confused with the ill-named "people's mike")

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bull fighting on Wall Street -- los máximos trofeos

As I prepare to go to Madrid to give some talks on the relationships between the events of May 15 in Spain to Occupy Wall Street right now, I've run across a video of a matador and some lively banderilleros at work in a corrida de toros the center of the financial district.  Perhaps because they misunderstand the traditional Spanish pageantry involved, the police come to arrest two of the participants.  However, the brave matador arranges his own victorious salida en hombros, but not on the shoulders of an admiring crowd.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

From you friends at Occupy Wall Street -- A good question

I'm flying to Madrid in a couple of days to give talks at Universidad Complutense and participate in a  round table discussion with philosophers, a lawyer and activists in the 15-May and subsequent movements.  I've also been invited to Patio Marvillas, a squatted building that serves as a community center, to share my thoughts on Occupy Wall Street.

Another wonderful community center in the city, Tabacalera, an old tobacco factory dating back to the 18th century, is the subject of an interesting piece, "Fuera de Lugar," by publisher/public intellectual,  Amador Fernández-Savater.  The background here is that the future of Tabacalera, a place alive with social movements, is under a cloud because the conservative Partido Popular is likely to win the upcoming elections and withdraw any funding for the center. 

As I've noted before in these pages, a very easy way to translate articles from Spanish (or any language) into English in rough but readable versions, is to use Google Chrome and its built-in translation program.  When people complain that the translations are not perfect, I respond: "Give me a break!" (or something a little more obscene).


Friday, November 04, 2011

Vast majority of Americans bored with their jobs

While the big concern these days is unemployment and lack of any significant job creation, a simmering problem in our society is the fact that most people who are lucky to have a job at all are simply bored out of their minds while at work.  A recent Gallup poll found that 71% of employees are either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" in their work.

Another astonishing result of the survey is that people who've had some college education, including those who've gone on for post graduate degrees, are among those least engaged in their jobs.  So much for the idea that higher education leads to more interesting, stimulating, creative life pursuits.  In fact, those most "engaged" with their jobs are people who've had only a high school education, 34%. 

Given the jobs and income panic in the U.S. right now, I doubt that this problem will attract much attention or concern for the time being.  But think of all the intelligence and concern that psychologists, organization theorists, managers, and business school gurus have lavished over the decades on such topics as "self actualization" and all those wonderful steps employees take as they ascend Maslow's pyramid. What happened to all of that?

Even if basic numerical trends in employment start to improve, it appears that our economy will  remain rotten at much deeper levels.