Friday, December 30, 2016

Protest (III)

I wrote a previous post with a few notes about a FEMA training manual for police that Unicorn Riot turned up. Here are a few notes about another, older one (from 2008):

From here:

"Last week, after filing a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request, Unicorn Riot received a heavily redacted copy of the Denver Police Crowd Control Manual. Most sections of the manual relevant to the policing of protests (our primary interest) were redacted. One redaction was 15 pages long!

Since then, an anonymous source provided Unicorn Riot with an unredacted copy of the manual. This version is dated May 2008, while the redacted version via CORA request is dated October 2011."

This one doesn't have as much useful information as the FEMA one, but there are a few points of interest. From the "Denver Police Department Crowd Management Matrix":

* If you use passive resistance (towards police), i.e. going limp or remaining in a prone position, it is official policy that police are justified in using pain compliance techniques against you. What these are is not spelled out -- a strange or perhaps not so strange omission in a document that spells out a lot of other things. But basically, if you go limp, police are authorized to torture you into compliance by causing pain to move you along.

* If you use "Defensive resistance" (towards police), i.e. actions that do not attempt to harm an officer but instead are actions like attempting to flee, police are authorized to shoot you with a pepper ball. Additional text helpfully explains that people can be shot with pepper balls if they have climbed up trees, walls, signs etc. to get them to come down "when their elevated position or actions pose a threat to the field force".

* If someone is passively resisting, police aren't supposed to hit them with batons. They can use batons in "escort techniques" i.e. come-alongs. That isn't even considered to be a use of force and doesn't even trigger the paperwork of having to fill out a use of force report.

* There are the usual mentions of Shadow Teams to pick people out of crowds and of Cut Teams, which are groups of police specifically trained in how to cut peaceful protestors out of devices where they chain themselves to things or to each other in order to block something. People usually think of specialized police training as being in detective work or in how to handle various kinds of violent criminals, but some of it is in how to make people move along more quickly because they are in some business's way (complete with the above mentioned pain compliance).

This is the reality of peaceful protest in America, long before Donald Trump.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Partisanship is no substitute for values

Today, Obama wrote in an official statement that "All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions." That is what Obama ran on, after all, hope and change and universal alarm.

It goes without saying that Russian interference -- if Russia was indeed behind the DNC hacks, which is far from proven -- amounted to releasing true but embarrassing Emails. Unauthorized journalism, in other words.

Since the election, the American center-left has shown itself as completely incapable of resistance to anything. Resistance requires integrity and solidarity and the guidance of strongly held values. There is no left value that says that embarrassing Emails from politicians should not be released. On the contrary, there are -- or should be -- strong left values against mindless war fever and unthinking trust in the security apparatus, and in favor of openness in the political process. Imagine that the Russians were responsible for the hacks. OK, then what? What kind of left idea says that the response should be escalation, tough-guy posturing, and ratcheting up tensions with a nuclear power that we have no essential grievance with? Defense of American institutions, even when those institutions are corrupt? Because the DNC certainly was corrupt: it used the Hillary Victory Fund among other means to slant the primary in favor of one candidate (thereby hurting the party in the general election). Should we retrospectively condemn Daniel Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers and harming America's defense forces?

Partisanship can not substitute for having some kind of basic idea -- both for oneself and for simple communication with others -- about what you do and don't support. The left can not be the party of trust-the-CIA and war posturing when that is convenient. The whole concept is sickening and should shame any putative center-left person who once mumbled something about what a shame it was, what the US did in Central America. Death squads then, trust now, all because of an election that the left legitimately lost according to the completely ridiculous but fixed rules of the US political process.

Since then the center-left has done almost everything that it accused the right of. Not accepting the election results and attempting to overturn the election with the "Hamilton Electors" foolishness. Believing in every fake news story that flatters their preconceptions. Accusing journalists of being Russian agents if they write non-approved stories. Allowing their party to be taken over by grifters (most of them ex-Republicans looking for easy pickings) who tell them whatever they want to hear. The main difference is that the center-left is ineffectual and when it does these things that doesn't even bring any results.

Both central American parties and tendencies are tottering, hollowed out and ready to collapse. What's going to come next? Something from the margins, from people who have the courage of their convictions, good or bad.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Anonymous sources are more credible than named ones

I'm doing some eldercare this week, so NPR has been on. A day or so back there was an earnest interview with someone who said that unnamed sources in the CIA assured them that Russia had interfered in the US election. Today there was a followup. They had gotten some kind of listener feedback about anonymous sources so they brought people back to say that all was well. We were given a kind of child's first reader of CIA reporting.

The text for this is probably up on the Internet somewhere, so someone who cares can impeach my memory. But what I remember being told is:

* Reporters assess anonymous sources carefully for why they are saying what they are saying (institutional interests, etc.)

* We should actually trust anonymous sources more than named sources (!). Whenever we hear a reporter citing an anonymous source from an intelligence service, that means that the reporter has done the utmost checking on whether the person is credible, has knowledge, and has a good reason to tell us

* Pretty much all reporting from intelligence services is from anonymous sources, because one of their rules is that they are not supposed to talk to reporters

* In fact, they take periodic polygraph tests where they are asked whether they have talked to reporters. The interviewer mused that anonymous sources must have to lie and hope that they pass the polygraph.

This is ridiculous, and no one who thinks about it for two minutes could not find it ridiculous. If everyone is given periodic polygraph tests where they are asked whether they have talked to reporters, then polygraph tests must not work. I find that pretty believable that they don't work well at all, but security services keep using them. Is it really credible that all of these "leaks" that favor the CIA's favored story really are from truth-tellers half-assedly hoping that they pass their next polygraph?

There's a much more credible story. All of these "leaks" -- the only things that reporters get -- are officially authorized leaks meant to tell a story that the CIA wants to be told. The people doing the leaking don't have to fear their next polygraph, because they were told to leak the information to the reporter. The reporters have every motive to play along, because if they don't, they don't get any news from this beat at all.

It's self-serving twaddle all around: from the CIA, from the reporters, from the listeners who want to believe the latest story that flatters their prejudices.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

First they came for Boeing

In between choosing supervillain names for members of his cabinet, Trump sends out tweets. One of these read "Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!"

All of the implicit claims in this tweet are pretty much true. Air Force One is more than one plane, and the project really is projected to cost something like $4 billion. It's also probably true that Trump tweeted this because the CEO of Boeing said something mean about him -- as far as I can tell, it was something in support of the TPP.

So cue all sorts of approach-of-fascism, this-is-the-end things from the center left. Trump was "tearing up a contract". (Well, actually, no. The President saying that a contract should be cancelled does not cancel the contract.) He tanked Boeing's stock and should be sued for that. (The stock was back to its previous value by the end of the day.) He was deluding his brainless followers, who wouldn't even check the blatant lies in his tweet. (Actually, of course, the people who were saying that the tweet was crazy hadn't checked for themselves at all.) He was calling the whole capitalist system into question by thuggishly pressuring a company using the leverage of government contracts.

Boeing is the second largest defense contractor in the world. It's the military-industrial complex. I was unaware that being on the left meant defending the sanctity of contract for big military business, or defending stock prices, or that we should leap to defend the TPP because Trump is against it. Pity poor Boeing's lobbyists who are being silenced as they try to speak truth to power! Of course Trump and Boeing patched this up in short order.

Trump's next target (there's probably going to be one every couple of days) was Chuck Jones, a Steelworkers union leader, and that was bad for Chuck Jones who got a lot of threatening phone calls from Trump supporters, but at least this Trump target was a) a person, not a giant corporation, b) telling the truth, not speaking out for the TPP, c) one of a group that is a traditional first target of the right and that people really should support.

That lasted a little while. Then Trump attacked the most important target ever, apparently: the CIA. And the reaction was "how dare he attack the CIA". Pity the poor deep state! They only want to speak the truth, which they have tortured out of a succession of innocent black site prisoners. They could not possibly be lying about nebulous evidence of Russian involvement in releasing DNC Emails. And how dare a foreign country interfere in some other country's election. The CIA's entire history shows that they are the guardians who stand strongly against that.

I know that I've written this a lot, but there is no anti-Trump alliance. The center left or whatever you want to call it does not share the left's values: they are motivated strictly by partisanship, and will instantly throw the left overboard as soon as they return to power or really whenever it's convenient, such as when they think they'll get a better deal out of Trump. They won't support us: they won't defend us: they don't even really want anything from us or have any use for us. They won't even defend their own voters or their own base. That's the first and most salient fact about the Trump era.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The twilight of neoliberalism (II): the free trade bait and switch

The support of mainstream economists (think, say, Brad DeLong or Larry Summers) for free trade agreements goes something like this:

1. Economists say that free trade mathematically helps everyone -- makes everyone richer.

2. But if hurts certain sub-populations within countries who work in certain industries. Center-left economists will then say that the "losers" of globalization or free trade should be compensated, helped or supported in some way.

3. But this hardly ever actually happens. Even though it doesn't happen, economists continue to call for free trade.

4. The losers of free trade revolt at the ballot box.

Why does it work this way? "Free trade" agreements are not simply agreements that countries will hold down tariffs. They are bundled in with all sorts of items that favor global elites and the global financial system: intellectual property, restrictions on regulation, restrictions on support of national industries. They are a vehicle for the managerial/professional class, negotiated in secret and without public input. These elites never will spend money on compensating the losers of free trade. For them to do so, these agreements would have to arise from popular politics, the product of organizations that would demand that vulnerable segments of the public not lose out. That is not the class background or ideology that produces free trade agreements, and that is not the power that backs them.

Mainstream economists have a dual function (or perhaps a singular function) as the ideologues of the global managerial class. That is why they will never cease supporting free trade even as the compensation of losers that they say should happen never does.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The twilight of neoliberalism

As one European country after another falls to right-wing populism, people in the U.S. should stop treating Trump as if he is a total outlier, or thinking that his supporters are a peculiarly American phenomenon. The election was very close, and I'm not writing that the result was preordained, but that something larger than U.S. politics is going on. If you accept that all of these elections are part of an international pattern, you have to explain them in large part as due to some international cause. And that brings us back to neoliberalism. I don't think it's credible that all of these countries turned more nativist at the same time as part of some cultural syndrome unrelated to a world system that features austerity and ever increasing capture of wealth by elites.

I agree with a lot of this article by Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen, but I'm even more interested in what Ian Welsh has to say about it. Ian Welsh has, for a while, been making the very simple point that people will not put up with neoliberalism indefinitely and if the left can't stop it, people will turn to the right.

There is no mass base for neoliberalism, no group of people beyond perhaps a couple of percent of any population who really want free trade agreements, austerity, privatization, monetization, and all the rest. Neoliberalism depended on there being no alternative, and now that it appears that there is an alternative it's starting to come crashing down everywhere. The alternative isn't a left alternative, because the left was destroyed by the failure of left statisms. The right-wing alternative that is emerging is going to be worse than neoliberalism, but that always was a predicted problem with neoliberalism, because neoliberalism can't solve certain problems and always was unstable.

The first article linked above talks about coalitions and movements coming together. I hope so, but from my American vantage point the most salient fact about recent history is that when left movements spring up, they are destroyed by police. And the role of theory is not so easily replaced by evolutionary praxis. The strength of state repression requires horizontalism in organizing, but horizontalism in turn requires some kind of widespread basic understanding of common purpose. The last American election revolved on the center-left around a deliberate attempt to discredit leftists as racist or sexist (the whole Bernie Bro trope, cynically created by the HRC camp) and on a larger scale the left has never really fully incorporated ecological value into its basic economics, or (from my point of view) incorporated an anarchist critique.

No one really knows what will emerge from this era. But I think that it's time for people to stop trying to put everything back just as it was. Like it or not, I think that neoliberalism is not simply the natural center-left and waiting to return in the next electoral cycle.