You know what I love about my profession as a theater critic? The job insecurity. It gives every day a little extra dash of spice.
From the LA Times:
Bloomberg, the New York-based financial news giant, is shutting down its Muse brand of cultural journalism and has laid off its theater critic. The shake-up was part of a company-wide reorganization that came down on Monday and resulted in layoffs around the newsroom.
Bloomberg said it would continue its cultural coverage, "but with an emphasis on luxury."
That is some serious Nero/Caligula shit.
Journalism is collapsing, arts organizations are on the ropes, the US economy is still in deep and possibly worsening trouble (even the wealthy are jumping on diamonds and other material investments because they're too afraid of the volatile equity markets), but Bloomberg gazes into the future and decides to shift its cultural coverage to "an emphasis on luxury."
The on-the-ground reality is economic crisis, but all the advertising money has flown up to the top of the luxury-chain, so that's what Bloomberg will reflect back to us in its funhouse mirror.
We live in bizarre and bipolar times.
First, please enjoy the deft use of metaphor in the opening sentence of this story:
California inmates locked in solitary confinement have resumed eating, but they're still hungry to have their grievances addressed.
Get it? Hungry for justice? Wocka wocka! (The LA Times ran the headline "Prison Hunger Strike—Food for Thought," but that was for a Ted Rall cartoon so I'm guessing it was more tongue in cheek.)
Moving on: Today, California legislators will hold a hearing about solitary confinement (technically known there—and here—as the SHU, or segregated/special housing unit), in the wake of a 60-day hunger strike led by longtime gang leaders. One of the striking things (wocka!) about this whole story is the way prisoners set aside ancient rivalries to work together.
Today's hearing is scheduled to last two and a half hours, or 2.5 minutes for each day the strike lasted.
It's been two years since the heyday of the Occupy Wall Street movement. So where are the thousands of activists who took to the streets, calling for revolution and raging against Wall Street, now?
In the Nation, Nathan Schneider follows the lives of some key activists who took part in Occupy Wall Street early on. One started her own compost pick-up business in Brooklyn, where she feels more accountable to the people most directly affected by poverty and racism. Another, Justine Tunney, created the Occupywallstreet.org website but felt burned out by the movement, then fell ill with a tumor. Through a stroke of fortune, she landed a job at Google, where she seems happy:
There’s no health insurance for people who pour their lives into Occupy Wall Street. At first, she looked around for a free or affordable way to get treatment, but there was no good option. And without the right kind of insurance she could end up deep in debt. As if in the nick of time, a recruiter contacted her and set her up with an interview at Google. Eighty hours of studying and seven interviews later, she got the job and the insurance that came with it. The tumor was removed, and the ordeal seems to be over.
“I suppose I pose less of a threat to the system,” Tunney says. “But I don’t have to worry when I walk into the office. I don’t have to think about money.”
She also doesn’t have to deal with flack from the General Assembly. “The people in this company are remarkably productive while managing to maintain a somewhat horizontal work environment,” she commented on a fellow organizer’s Facebook post in June. “We’re also not cruel and disrespectful when working together, and when we have meetings, we don’t scream and physically assault each other.”
I suspect there are many similar stories for Occupy Seattle activists. When I walked into the Seattle Central Community College encampment for the first time in November, there was a pervasive malaise. It was wet and cold. SCCC was maneuvering towards evicting the camp and accused Occupy of harboring drug users. Standing in the rain during the evening's assembly meeting, people interrupted, talked past each other, and nothing seemed to get done.
Still, even then, something felt kinda special.
From the Sacramento Bee:
SAN FRANCISCO — A California inmate has died in solitary confinement amid a system-wide hunger strike protesting living conditions in those cells, prison activists announced.
Prison officials said Saturday that they are investigating Monday's death at California State Prison, Corcoran as a possible suicide. They are awaiting the Kings County coroner's report before making a final determination on the cause of death.
The coroner didn't return a phone call seeking comment on Saturday.
Inmate supporters and prison officials disagree over whether 32-year-old Bill "Guero" Sell was participating in the strike. Prison officials said he wasn't. Activists supporting the hunger strike from outside prison say otherwise.
Remember, California prison officials say you are not officially on a hunger strike until you've refused nine consecutive meals. So if you eat nothing for four days—and if prison guards think you're on a hunger strike, reports say they do everything to keep you hungry, including sandbagging your cell door so nobody can pass you a packet of dried coffee—but eat a piece of bread on the fifth day to keep yourself alive, you're not on a hunger strike. It'll be interesting to see what the official ruling on this death is.
The article also contains the understatement of the weekend:
The protest is the latest disruption for a prison system already facing legal and logistical challenges.
I'll say. Multiple courts, all the way up to the US Supreme Court, have told the prison system to get itself together to prevent routine and "unnecessary" deaths.
The California prison strike is entering its third week—here's a brief overview of the strike's history and the strikers' five, not very demanding demands—with reports of retaliation against prisoners who are refusing to eat.
Cold air is allegedly being piped into cells, a prominent rights lawyer has been barred from meeting any prisoners in the state of California, and the New Yorker reports that prison officials are contemplating force-feeding and trying to tempt prisoners with "special menu items":
C.D.C.R. has not ruled out the possibility of force-feeding participating inmates; or perhaps, as in the past, it will try to entice them away from mass resistance with special menu items like strawberry short cake and ice cream. “They have never had ice cream in the SHU,” the wife of an inmate told the group Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity during a similar hunger strike in 2011. “And in the nearly twenty years he has been in the California system, he has never seen a strawberry.”
It seems especially cruel to say Yeah, we could've gotten you a strawberry some time in the past 20 years, but we waited until now to place an order.
Some prison officials are telling reporters that the success of the strike—that is, how a bunch of people in solitary with extraordinarily limited and heavily surveilled communication managed to coordinate and organize themselves—is proof that the strikers are gang members. Strikers, on the other hand, claim prison officials are too arbitrary when it comes to deciding who's in a gang, who should be in solitary, and for how long.
Amnesty International has called on prison guards and officials to stop "punishing" the strikers. Prison officials have agreed to meet with some prisoner advocates today in Sacramento.
I'm not expecting much—officials are alternately dismissive of the strike, then heavy on the we-don't-negotiate-with-terrorists rhetoric—but we'll see.
On Wednesday night, the New York Times reported that around 29,000 people have been refusing meals since Monday, but the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation now says only 12,000 people are officially on a hunger strike, having refused nine consecutive meals since Monday. (If a prisoner has had nothing to eat this week except lunch on Wednesday, the CDCR does not consider him or her to be on a hunger strike.)
"Participating in a mass disturbance and refusing to participate in a work assignment are violations of state law, and any participating inmates will receive disciplinary action," California prison officials said in a statement.
Joining in this current strike "can lead to loss of privileges, loss of credits," said Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He did not say what types of inmate privileges could be taken away.
That's strange, on a couple of levels—first, the strikers are in a prison system where conditions are reportedly so poor (medical facilities in old closets, ill people sitting in their own shit for days, liberal use of solitary confinement and other methods described as "torture" by UN officials) that some prisoners have stated that they are "willing to die" during this strike.
Secondly, the CDCR itself is the one in trouble, from lower courts all the way up to the Supremes, and is currently fighting a court order to improve conditions. It's had plenty of time—a case filed in 1990 was heard by the Supremes in 2010. From a Washington Post story that year:
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said one of the lawsuits challenging the lack of health care was filed in 1990. "How much longer do we have to wait?" she asked. "Another 20 years?"
Justice Stephen G. Breyer seemed shocked by photos from the crowded prisons, where bunk beds have taken over gymnasium floors and recreation areas, and medical facilities are located in former closets.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor was Phillips's most aggressive questioner, replying skeptically, "Oh, counsel," to one of his points and telling him to "slow down from the rhetoric" and detail how the state intended to fix conditions the lower court found. "When are you going to avoid the needless deaths that were reported in this record?" Sotomayor asked.
But the CDCR hasn't made enough progress since 2010. The court order requires it to release 10,000 prisoners by the end of the year. (Confidential to CDCR: You could start by taking action to release the 8,600 prisoners who, as of your 2010 census, were in for simple drug possession charges. Throw in those "marijuana possession for sale" folks, and you'd be almost clear!)
So what Jeffrey Callison, spokesman for the CDCR, is basically saying: Prisoners who broadly agree with US court rulings and have decided to articulate their agreement by refusing to eat or labor for free (or, at best, for pennies per hour) are in biiiiiig trouble!
He's wagging his finger while others are putting their lives—and possibly time served—on the line to show their agreement with the US Supreme Court.
For a review of the prisoners' grievances, as explained by prison-rights activist Ed Mead, see here.
By California prison standards, a person isn't legally considered on a "hunger strike" until he or she has refused nine consecutive meals. We should know soon how many of those 30,000 prisoners who refused meals on Monday—about five times the number of prisoners who participated in a 2011 strike—are still refusing meals as of today.
But last night the New York Times reported that almost everyone who started striking on Monday was still at it yesterday:
LOS ANGELES — Nearly 29,000 inmates in California state prisons refused meals for the third day Wednesday during a protest of prison conditions and rules. The protest extended to two-thirds of the 33 prisons across the state and all 4 private out-of-state facilities where California sends inmates, corrections officials said.
Thousands of prisoners also refused to attend their work assignments for a third day, and state officials were bracing for a long-term strike.
Prisoners have also reported that, unlike during the 2011 strike, they are "willing to die" because prison conditions are so wretched.
California corrections secretary Jeffrey Beard says the strike is counterproductive and that prison officials are already taking steps to meet prisoners' demands, which were first negotiated and agreed to after the 2011 strike. Prison-rights activists say the CDCR has failed to follow through on its end of the bargain.
But the CDCR isn't just slow to meet prisoners' requests—it hasn't been fast enough for the courts, who've demanded that the system reduce overcrowding. A 2011 US Supreme Court finding said the state of California's prison system led to one "needless" death every eight days. As Justice Sotomayor asked in 2010: "When are you going to avoid the needless deaths that were reported in this record? When are you going to avoid or get around people sitting in their feces for days in a dazed state? When are you going to get to a point where you are going to deliver care that is going to be adequate?"
Not fast enough, apparently—besides the strike it's also facing a court order to reduce overcrowding by the end of the year and release at least 10,000 prisoners.
To review the prisoners' five demands as explained by prison-rights activist Ed Mead last weekend:
First, the LA Times:
SACRAMENTO — Officials said 30,000 California inmates refused meals Monday at the start of a prison strike involving two-thirds of the state's 33 lockups, as well as four out-of-state facilities.
Participants refused breakfast and lunch, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners skipped work or classes, some saying they were sick.
This is impressive on several levels, not least because prison officials are admitting up-front that this is a widespread strike. (California prison officials notoriously lowballed the previous strike numbers—during the first one in July, 2011, they initially said only half a dozen people were striking before being forced to admit the number was closer to 6,000.)
It's also extraordinary that over 30,000 prisoners are striking in two-thirds of the state's prisons—this is a population with limited, slow, and highly surveilled access to communication. But they're pulling it off.
In our interview this weekend in advance of the strike, I asked prisoner-rights advocate Ed Mead how prisoners were coordinating with each other across cell blocks, counties, and states. "That, my friend, is a state secret!" he said and chuckled. "But there's been no prisoner-to-prisoner coordination and no information from their families."
I take this to mean (and other journalists have made the same guess) that prison gang networks are being tapped to organize the strike. They're the only secret and secure way to communicate sensitive information, even into solitary confinement units, where much of the organization has reportedly been happening. The powers of the prison gangs are being used for collective good—if you consider making conditions better in a state prison system that is so overcrowded and generally dysfunctional that the US Supreme Court has stated it results in "needless suffering and death" a good. (You can see one transcribed copy of an "agreement" among gang leaders to cease hostilities and concentrate on the strike—it's startling but heartening to see the Aryan Brotherhood, the Black Guerilla Family, and the Norteños and Sureños working together—over here.)
In other prison strikes, a federal judge has urged President Obama to directly address the hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay, as well as the force-feeding issue. This is one of the more prominent sentences in today's New York Times:
In a four-page ruling, Judge Gladys Kessler of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, rejected a request by the detainee, Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab, a 41-year-old Syrian man, to issue an injunction barring the military from forcing him to eat through a gastric tube inserted in his nose after restraining him in a chair.
This morning, the third California prison strike in two years has supposedly begun, with hunger strikes by prisoners in solitary confinement and work stoppage by prisoners in the general population.
"As we know, prisons can’t run for long without the free labor of prisoners," said Ed Mead, a prisoner-rights activist and member of the George Jackson Brigade who spent 18 years behind bars. "They cook the food, they mop the floors." He said that some leaders of major prison gangs, including the Black Guerilla Family, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Norteños, and the Sureños have agreed to cease hostilities in preparation for the strikes.
In 2011, the US Supreme Court found that overcrowding in California prisons constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" and is directly responsible for "one needless death per week."
Mead and fellow activist Diana George say it will be days before the outside world gets a sense of the strike's scope. General-population prisoners who refuse to work are often sent to solitary, and solitary prisoners who refuse to eat are tracked by the California prison medical system—but those numbers will trickle out slowly. Mead said that according to numbers from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, a previous strike peaked at around 12,000 participating prisoners. (The CDCR has disputed this calculation, saying only 4,252 prisoners joined the hunger strike. But even that lowball number is impressive.)
Youth prisoners at the Green Hill juvenile institution in Chehalis, Washington are among those who've announced their intention to strike in solidarity with the California prisoners. Green Hill youth prisoners have recently conducted hunger strikes of their own, demanding minimum wage for their labor, an end to solitary confinement, and access to drug and sex-offender treatment programs. (Those, Mead said, are "pretty fucking progressive" demands for a prison strike. Read their full list of demands in the latest issue of ¡Rock!, a quarterly prison newsletter. That link is a pdf, by the way.) At noon today, Seattle activists will meet in front of the King County Jail for their own solidarity demonstration.
The California strikers have five demands, which are more modest. As Mead explained them in an interview yesterday:
One, eliminate group punishments. That’s a no-brainer. If I do something wrong, don’t punish everyone on the tier.
Yesterday, I reported that five anti-foreclosure activists were arrested during a sit-in at Wells Fargo while they called on the bank to negotiate with Jeremy Griffin, a construction worker from South Seattle, instead of pushing ahead with foreclosure and eviction proceedings. We previously reported on the activist blockade of his home, which subsequently won him a temporary stay on the eviction. And on how investment bank Morgan Stanley securitized his mortgage and sold it off to investors.
To make this story as easy to follow as possible, Callan Berry and I made this short animated movie about Griffin's story:
I've sent emails out to Mayor McGinn and the city council asking for their response to yesterday's arrests, and will update this post as they come in.
I've reported previously about Jeremy Griffin, a construction worker who's been fighting foreclosure and eviction from his South Seattle home. A week after our story on him appeared in the paper, King County Court granted him a stay on the eviction. (The judge who had authorized the eviction seemed to sympathize with Griffin, saying, "I'm kind of stuck with what the law says.") That stay expired last Tuesday, June 25.
Griffin returned to court and tried to get the eviction order thrown out, but the judge refused to listen to his argument. He expects another eviction notice from the King County Sheriff soon, but his supporters from Standing Against Foreclosure and Eviction (SAFE) plan to blockade the house once again.
In the meantime, Griffin and SAFE aren't waiting for another eviction notice. Today, three SAFE organizers, a volunteer for the Kshama Sawant campaign, and renowned 86-year-old progressive activist Dorli Rainey were arrested during a sit-in at a Wells Fargo branch downtown. They sat down in a row across from the bank tellers, pledging to stay until Wells Fargo came to the negotiating table with Griffin. Several dozen protesters outside, including Sawant herself, shouted, "Corporate crime scene! Banks got bailed out, we got sold out! You're arresting the wrong people!" Griffin, who had just finished work, arrived as Rainey was led into a paddy wagon outside. The police did not handcuff (or pepper-spray) her.
The five arrestees have been released, but Wells Fargo could still press charges and drag them into court—as Bank of America tried to do to a guy who protested with washable chalk. "We're not going away," Rainey told me by phone.
A few final thoughts before I board a plane and return to Seattle for the summer:
Since the spread of the "Standing Man" protests across Turkey, a new (but less popular) form has emerged—the "Falling Man," commemorating the death of protester Ethem Sarisülük, who was killed by a police officer in Ankara in the first week of June. The policeman who fatally shot Sarisülük with a pistol was put on trial this past week and acquitted almost immediately. Video footage of the killing was the main evidence used in the case:
According to an article in Milliyet, the judge ruled that the officer involved in the death was acting in "self-defense" and fired due his "fear of being lynched." (Video footage shows him charging into a small group of people, kicking a demonstrator on the ground, then firing into the crowd.) Since then, people have been collapsing on the street in protest of the court decision.
The other night I attended a mevlüt, an Islamic ceremony which involves a hodja reading prayers or Koranic verses in the home of the family of the deceased or the ill. After the hodja had left, the talk in the room immediately turned to how the AKP government could be beaten in the coming election. For me, this was a perfect illustration of how Islam vs. secularism is not the issue at hand in Turkey. In the midst of conversation, one of the attendees mentioned the giant banner bearing Atatürk's face which had recently been removed from the front of the Atatürk Culture Center in Taksim Square because it was "torn and needed cleaning." He explained that when days passed and the banner was not replaced, he contacted the city and told them: "If you only have one banner with Atatürk, I would be glad to provide another free of charge."
This illustrates a major shift in Turkish culture and the politics surrounding images of its founding father. When I first arrived in this country seven years ago, the images of Atatürk found in banks and classrooms or hung from public buildings on holidays were ubiquitous and banal. Lately, as the very nature of the country has been challenged, the symbols of Turkish nationalism that I used to make fun of have been reborn as symbols of resistance and revolution.
According to another article in Milliyet just days after the protests in Turkey began, a group of students in the city of Mugla were hanging a poster of Atatürk in the hallway of their school when a religion teacher tore it down on the grounds that they had not gained permission to hang it. To put things in perspective, hanging a poster of Atatürk in Turkey would be about as objectionable as students hanging a poster of George Washington in an American school. The religion teacher is reported to have yelled: "You are terrorists! All of you wore black!" The second statement is a reference to people who wore black clothing the first Monday after the protests began, to show their support for the Gezi Park movement. To this, the students responded: "We are all soldiers of Mustafa Kemal [Atatürk]."
This marks the greatest reversal in Turkish politics since the intial movement towards secularization, modernity, and westernization in the 1920s. Some readers may recall the (abandoned) trial of Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk for his critical remarks about Turkey and Atatürk in 2005, which at the time seemed like the greatest offense imaginable. This May, when Prime Minister Erdogan made some oblique remarks about those who had drafted Turkey's laws concerning alcohol consumption (Mustafa Kemal and and his vice president, Inönü) as being "two drunks," he faced no repercussions at all. This is the same man who was briefly imprisoned in the late 1990s for reading a poem that the government declared was "inciting religious hatred." Two weeks ago, in his "Respect for the National Will" meeting, Erdogan made many remarks that could be interpreted as trying to divide and oppose two segments of the population. But no charge has been brought against him.
I will leave you, as I leave Turkey, with the current statistics: seven people dead in connection with the protests, including one police officer; over 7,000 wounded; more than 3,000 detained (around 50 due to Twitter messages they sent); and nine still missing.
Commentators (and commenters) have been speculating about how much soccer and the World Cup have to do with the mass protests in Brazil. The Guardian makes the link:
The rallies, and the violence that has often followed, were not solely prompted by the tournament. The spark last week was a rise in public transport fares. Anger has since been further stirred by police brutality.
Longstanding problems such as corruption, dire public services, high prices and low levels of safety are also prominent among the range of grievances.
But the mega-event has been the lightning conductor. Many protesters are furious that the government is spending 31bn reals (£9bn) to set the stage for a one-time global tournament, while it has failed to address everyday problems closer to home.
"I'm here to fight corruption and the expense of the World Cup," said Nelber Bonifcacio, an unemployed teacher who was among the vast crowds in Rio on Thursday.
"I like football, but Brazil has spent all that money on the event when we don't have good public education, healthcare or infrastructure."
It was all very different in 2007 when Brazil was awarded the tournament. Back then, crowds in Rio erupted with joy and Ricardo Teixeira, president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, was hailed as he said: "We are a civilised nation, a nation that is going through an excellent phase, and we have got everything prepared to receive adequately the honour to organise an excellent World Cup."
And in Turkey, prime minister Erdogan has said the protesters in Brazil and in Turkey are motivated by the same "forces."
Mr Erdogan was speaking hours before police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse thousands of flower-bearing protesters who gathered in Istanbul’s central Taksim square to commemorate four people who have died since the Turkish unrest erupted on May 31.
“The same game is being played in Brazil,” Mr Erdogan told a large rally of his supporters in the town of Samsun on Saturday. “There are the same symbols, the same posters. Twitter, Facebook is the same, so are international media. They are controlled from the same centre. They are doing their best to achieve in Brazil what they could not achieve in Turkey. It is the same game, the same trap, the same goal.”
While Mr Erdogan says the Turkish protests are linked to terrorism, an international plot against his country and “an interest rate lobby” disturbed by its recent high rates of growth, the protesters say they are motivated by increasing levels of authoritarianism under his government.
He's right, in a sense, if you consider people on multiple continents demonstrating against governments that aren't representing their interests as motivated by the same "forces."
By now, most of you following the events in Turkey have probably heard of Erdem Gündüz’s “standing man” protest which occurred Monday night in Taksim Square and has since been imitated around the world. Those who want the details can read about them here. In the days that have followed, standing has become the protest method of choice in Turkey. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç (whose last name sounds like a Northeasterner saying “orange”) has even condoned this new form of protest.
I took a stroll to the square on Thursday night and was pleasantly surprised with what I saw: In the center of Taksim, facing the Atatürk Culture Center—which Gündüz also faced during his five-hour stand—a few hundred people were gathered, some with balloons in hand the colors of the Turkish flag, some reading books, others simply staring ahead. In one corner of the square there was a pair of shoes left with the remains of candles and flowers which must have been part of a vigil for fallen protesters the night before.
Wandering over to the entrance of the recently-cleared Gezi Park, I found a sign announcing that the park was being “renewed” by the city.
Brazil is having its Arab Spring/Occupy/Taksim Gezi moment. Like other recent nationwide protests, the Brazilian unrest started with something specific—a 20-cent increase in public transit fares—and turned into an avalanche of grievances. NYT:
SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Just a few weeks ago, Mayara Vivian felt pretty good when a few hundred people showed up for a protest she helped organize to deride the government over a proposed bus fare increase. She had been trying to prod Brazilians into the streets since 2005, when she was only 15, and by now she thought she knew what to expect.
But when tens of thousands of protesters thronged the streets this week, rattling cities across the country in a reckoning this nation had not experienced in decades, she was dumbfounded, at a loss to explain how it could have happened.
“One hundred thousand people, we never would have thought it,” said Ms. Vivian, one of the founders of the Free Fare Movement, which helped start the protests engulfing Brazil. “It’s like the taking of the Bastille.”
...the mass protests thundering across Brazil have swept up an impassioned array of grievances — costly stadiums, corrupt politicians, high taxes and shoddy schools — and spread to more than 100 cities on Thursday night, the most to date, with increasing ferocity.
Also like Occupy, officials are frustrated that there are no leaders to negotiate with, and no readymade political lollipops they can hand over to soothe the demonstrators. From roarmag.org:
But while the general pattern of the protests in Brazil shows an unmistakable similarity to the ongoing uprising in Turkey, we have to recognize that the context in which the two are taking place is radically different. Turkey is ruled by a megalomaniac and increasingly autocratic Islamist madman who in recent weeks has displayed an undeniable tendency towards the fascistic and the delusional. The protesters are Erdogan’s natural enemy; he knows they will never vote for him again so his only concern is with their violent repression.
The same cannot be said of Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla, who has been forced to praise the protests and push state governors into reversing the measures that initially sparked the unrest. Realizing that last week’s police violence served as a major catalyst for the movement, she has urged restraint on the side of the police and has tried to start a dialogue with protesters. But the leaderless and diffuse nature of the movement makes such a dialogue practically impossible, leaving the government dazed and confused about how to handle the unrest.
Some will insist that Egypt is not New York is not Istanbul is not etc., and that each place has its own grievances and very specific geopolitical and cultural situation that is not comparable to others, etc.
And that's partly true. But it's impossible to deny the global quality of what's been happening since the Tunisian uprising—it's also impossible to deny the role of heavy-handed police in sparking indignation. (In almost all of these cases, police have done more to stoke the protests than dampen them.) And people seem generally fed up with the way power (government and money) has organized their world, even in representative democracies where people have supposedly voted their way into their current situation. Also from the NYT:
Much like the Occupy movement in the United States, the anticorruption protests that shook India in recent years, the demonstrations over living standards in Israel or the fury in European nations like Greece, the demonstrators in Brazil are fed up with traditional political structures, challenging the governing party and the opposition alike. And their demands are so diffuse that they have left Brazil’s leaders confounded as to how to satisfy them.
This news is a few days old, but: When the economically and politically bruised Greek government announced it would shut down the country's equivalent of the BBC, the journalists and technicians didn't walk away. They took over.
On Tuesday, it was announced that ERT – the Greek equivalent of the BBC – would be closed down by Antonis Samaras' coalition government after 87 years of operation, the latest in a line of austerity measures after the country was bailed out in 2010. The "sudden death" of the national public broadcaster – which was largely state-funded, with Greek households paying a fee through their electricity bills – took with it some 2,600 jobs; journalists, technicians, artists – everyone it usually takes to run an array of nationwide TV and radio stations. There were plans to replace it with a new public broadcast company called NERIT, but with a hugely reduced number of staff.
However, its closure was far from the end of the story for ERT. Soon after the announcement was made at around 6PM, the redundant workers returned to their former place of work, took control of the company's broadcast frequencies and began transmitting their own programmes.
The government responded by trying to pull the plug on the now-volunteer journalism project, and the broadcasters played hide-and-seek with transmission signals. Meanwhile, thousands reportedly amassed at the station, radical leftists and conservatives alike, to express their support.
By the morning, the workers had won a few important technical battles, but the signal was still unstable and they had to regularly change the analogue and digital frequencies to keep on broadcasting. Worse still, armed police had begun trekking up the mountains around Athens to switch off ERT's antennas.
The European Broadcasters Union announced its support for ERT and gave it a satellite TV channel to broadcast worldwide.
Then Greece tried diplomatic intervention with Israel to shut ERT down:
Officials in Athens confirmed that Greece's ambassador to Israel, Spyros Lambrinis, had held talks with the Israeli government after it became clear that RRsat, a privately-owned local company and subcontractor of the EBU, was continuing to transmit ERT via its uplink facilities in Greece...
"He made no demands as such but, yes, it is a rather unpleasant situation," added the official who contacted the ambassador before speaking to the Guardian.
Now it looks like a Greek court has ordered the restoration of ERT's signal, but there's uncertainty about the staffing and future of the station.
The upshot: Greek journalists working for free while the Greek government burned diplomatic capital to stop them.
It's a mad world.
This NYT essay by Peter Ludlow—a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University and a specialist on ethics and hacktivism—is great stuff that goes a step beyond the NSA revelations and concentrates on private security companies and their role in not only surveillance but outright deception of the public, with a short detour into Heidegger and Plato's allegory of the cave.
A few tidbits:
The realm of secrecy and deception among shadowy yet powerful forces may sound like the province of investigative reporters, thriller novelists and Hollywood moviemakers — and it is — but it is also a matter for philosophers. More accurately, understanding deception and and how it can be exposed has been a principle project of philosophy for the last 2500 years. And it is a place where the work of journalists, philosophers and other truth-seekers can meet.
An important insight into the world these companies came from a 2010 hack by a group best known as LulzSec (at the time the group was called Internet Feds), which targeted the private intelligence firm HBGary Federal. That hack yielded 75,000 e-mails. It revealed, for example, that Bank of America approached the Department of Justice over concerns about information that WikiLeaks had about it. The Department of Justice in turn referred Bank of America to the lobbying firm Hunton and Willliams, which in turn connected the bank with a group of information security firms collectively known as Team Themis.
So a query to the Department of Justice eventually led Bank of America to Team Themis—check out what those guys (and guys like them) do for a living:
Team Themis (a group that included HBGary and the private intelligence and security firms Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and Endgame Systems) was effectively brought in to find a way to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks and the journalist Glenn Greenwald (who recently broke the story of Edward Snowden’s leak of the N.S.A.’s Prism program), because of Greenwald’s support for WikiLeaks. Specifically, the plan called for actions to “sabotage or discredit the opposing organization” including a plan to submit fake documents and then call out the error. As for Greenwald, it was argued that he would cave “if pushed” because he would “choose professional preservation over cause.” That evidently wasn’t the case.
The hack also revealed evidence that Team Themis was developing a “persona management” system — a program, developed at the specific request of the United States Air Force, that allowed one user to control multiple online identities (“sock puppets”) for commenting in social media spaces, thus giving the appearance of grass roots support. The contract was eventually awarded to another private intelligence firm.
One intriguing e-mail revealed that the Coca-Cola company was asking Stratfor for intelligence on PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) with Stratfor vice president for Intelligence claiming that “The F.B.I. has a classified investigation on PETA operatives. I’ll see what I can uncover.” From this one could get the impression that the F.B.I. was in effect working as a private detective Stratfor and its corporate clients.
Team Themis also developed a proposal for the Chamber of Commerce to undermine the credibility of one of its critics, a group called Chamber Watch. The proposal called for first creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” giving it to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then subsequently exposing the document as a fake to “prove that U.S. Chamber Watch cannot be trusted with information and/or tell the truth...”
In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to infiltrate Chamber Watch. They would “create two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second.”
The high-school civics class version of American democracy, at least the version I learned, said that individuals are largely free to do what they do and believe what they believe in private (within the bounds of law), while representative government has a duty to be accountable and transparent.
All this NSA and surveillance-state debate in the past week has shown that our understanding of that order has flipped. Now government has the privilege of operating in opacity and secrecy, while our day-to-day must be transparent and scrutinized (without any meaningful input from us about that arrangement).
Meanwhile, the polls on what Americans think of the NSA surveillance program are all over the place. Pew says 56% approve of the surveillance, CBS says 58% disapprove of the surveillance, and Gallup says that 53% disapprove but that 10% have no opinion at all. (This post has some interesting arguments about why the numbers are contradictory, including analysis of the way the polls were worded.)
But the one thing we know—and what the NYT essay shows—is that we don't really know much.
This is her, Sophia Garcia:
I'd been worried about Garcia and wondering whether she'd suffered any reprisals from her employers for spontaneously walking off the job and locking the door behind her during the Seattle fast-food strike for better wages and the opportunity to organize.
So I dropped by that Subway yesterday to see if she was still around. Garcia was there, making sandwiches for a middle-aged white guy and an Asian family that seemed to be in Seattle on holiday. She was smiling and seemed to be in good spirits.
Garcia said she didn't get in trouble for her participation in the strike. She still had her job and her hours hadn't been cut. "My boss, the owner, said she understood," Garcia said. "But she said the next time, I should call somebody before leaving."
Just in case you were wondering.
#Turkey #TaksimSquare #OccupyGezi #Istanbul Nice one lady twitter.com/Anon_Online/st…
— ÅnØn_Ønlïnë (@Anon_Online) June 11, 2013
"There was little suggestion that authorities will manage to douse the fury of protesters anytime soon. Deep into the night, the demonstrators—young and old, from various classes of Turkish society—chanted and dug in for a standoff," CNN reports. Here's an active livestream directly from the protesters' camp.
Slog tipper Greg sends a link to this video of flaming barricades and tear gas canisters arcing through the darkness, which gives you a sense of the nighttime battle. Earlier today, 50 lawyers who came to the square to defend the demonstrations were arrested and seen being beaten by police, the Guardian reports. "We will continue our measures without stop, day and night, until the marginal elements are cleared," Huseyin Avni Mutlu, Istanbul's governor vowed today.
As I pointed out last week, Occupy Wall Street did not survive police crackdowns of this sort. Any attempt to create a new world—a grandiose way of saying, do away with normative hierarchicies—must be snuffed out. That's the logic of the state, anyway.
Later today, we'll post some eyewitness accounts from a Seattle man who's been living in Istanbul since early 2006.
In advance of that, this seven-minute YouTube video is an excellent primer on how things began and escalated:
And the photos on a Facebook page for Istanbul anarchists are high drama—fires, overturned cars, protesters in abaya (gives a whole new meaning to "black bloc"), a Starbucks that looks like it was bombed, individuals in Tiananmen-style standoffs with armored vehicles...
Some protesters have met with officials and issued a list of demands, including:
...the dismissal of the governors of Istanbul; the capital, Ankara; and the city of Hatay; as well as the head of the security forces in those three cities. The representatives’ list also included the release of detained protesters; an end to the use of tear gas by the police; and the cancellation of the project that started the protests: the construction of an Ottoman era replica that would destroy a park in Taksim Square in Istanbul.
Turkish police have been rounding up Twitter users, accusing them of tweeting "misleading and libelous information."
And there will be a solitary demonstration with the Turkish community in Seattle this Saturday at Victor Steinbrueck Park.
The analyses of what's happening in Turkey are all over the place: urban vs. rural, secular vs. religious, publicly vs. privately controlled space, feminism and LGBT issues, denial of the Armenian genocide, May Day protests, Kurdish oppression, the income gap. It has obvious similarities to Occupy Wall Street—a protest that started with a park and broadened into a general critique about politics, the economy, and power across the country.
But is that similarity just superficial? Here's a roundup of opinions about what's going on:
From the New York Times:
Mr. Erdogan’s attempt to forge a Muslim moral majority is evident also in his government’s stance on abortion, which, until recently, had prompted no theological or political controversies. Islam, like Judaism, gives priority to the mother’s life and health over that of the fetus, but Mr. Erdogan, borrowing a page from America’s Christian right, has introduced legislation to curb the availability of abortion through Turkey’s national health insurance system. And he has compounded such measures, which would hurt poor women more than the wealthy, with nationalistic calls to increase the population of the great Turkish nation by recommending that all women have at least three children.
From Open Democracy:
It was one month to the day since the Turkish government – without any international attention – mobilised 40,000 police and stopped public transport, in order to suppress turnout for Istanbul’s May Day demonstration...
Seven protesters are unofficially reckoned to have been unofficially killed. One woman crushed under an armoured police vehicle, a man dead from his injuries having been hit in the head with fire from a water cannon. Stop a moment, that doesn’t quite cut it, because they aimed the water cannon at his face. I say ‘they’, and yet, as is so often so in Turkey, we know the perpetrator. The ‘they’ will be the police. The police, every time, and always, the police. Western readers have heard about eyeballs pulled from sockets by water cannon, the man beaten until his scrotum split has also grabbed a few column inches for the cause. Aside from these grotesque titbits, the details will remain hazy, and we should take no consolation in the fact that the official death toll, having belatedly crept to one, will likely remain low. On a day when a wave of people took and crossed the vehicle-only Bosphorus bridge to march on Taksim, the Turkish media were still reporting minor skirmishes at the Syrian frontier. Hundreds of incarcerated journalists, and the overlaps between government ministers and media conglomerates, are the combination of hard and soft power that has stopped the mouthpiece of Turkey’s civil society from articulating its own trauma. Those inside Turkey say consistently that social media has become their best information source.
"We are concerned about the number of people who were injured when police dispersed protesters in Istanbul's Gezi Park," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Saturday. "We believe that Turkey's long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing."
Hey, State Department, remember when the US "dispersed protesters" from parks and squares around the country, crushing the Occupy movement?
"Citizens have the right to dissent with the authorities, and there's no need to use public force to silence that dissension," [UN special rapporteur on the protection of free expression Frank La Rue] said.
"One of the principles is proportionality," La Rue said. "The use of police force is legitimate to maintain public order — but there has to be a danger of real harm, a clear and present danger. And second, there has to be a proportionality of the force employed to prevent a real danger."
Occupy encampments across the country have been forcibly removed by police in full riot gear, and some protesters have been badly injured as a result of aggressive police tactics.
New York police staged a night raid on the original Occupy Wall Street encampment in mid-November, evicting sleeping demonstrators and confiscating vast amounts of property.
The Oakland Police Department fired tear gas, smoke grenades and bean-bag rounds at demonstrators there in late October, seriously injuring one Iraq War veteran at the Occupy site.
Earlier this week, Philadelphia and Los Angeles police stormed the encampments in their cities in the middle of the night, evicting and arresting hundreds of protesters.
Protesters at University of California, Davis were pepper sprayed by a campus police officer in November while participating in a sit-in, and in September an officer in New York pepper sprayed protesters who were legally standing on the sidewalk.
Yeah, that was fun.
That was the rallying cry as around 200 demonstrators, several of them fast-food workers who'd walked off the job for the day, marched from Denny Park to McDonald's at Seattle Center, stopping by a Subway and a Taco del Mar along the way, trying to convince the workers to walk off the job.
They failed to convince the employee at Taco del Mar, a Latino man who later told me: "They can do whatever they wanna do, but I don't like to be pushed into anything."
But, after several minutes of conversation, a few Spanish-speaking activists succeeded in convincing a young woman at the Subway to leave the shop and lock the doors. The crowd went wild as she smilingly made her way into their midst. She spoke briefly into a microphone in Spanish, saying, "I'm very happy that you're doing this. Si se puede!"
This is her:
Meet more of the striking workers, and hear about what happened at McDonald's—which ended with a very disgruntled franchise owner complaining to police that the crowd had committed "criminal trespass," the police gently arguing that they had some duty to protect freedom of expression, which the owner countered with saying that he contributed to the SPD foundation—below the jump.
A local ABC affiliate describes the situation this way: "BART is rolling out a new plan that will allow it to ban passengers who don't behave."
But the RT blog describes it this way: "New law will ban protesters from riding mass transit in California... that power could be used to prevent political protesters from getting to demonstrations or essentially going anywhere."
The law is here and states, among other things, that possession of any illegal substance, "lewd" behavior, "unruly" behavior, or pretty much anything a transit cop decides is undesirable—they get a lot of discretion—can lead to a year-long prohibition from public transit. (It seems one must have gotten three infractions in 90 days.)
This measure was put in place, in part, because of repeated protests against BART in San Francisco after a BART cop shot and killed a mentally ill homeless man. (A few years prior, a BART officer shot and killed an unarmed 22 year-old.) BART, of course, defends the law as an attempt to "create a safer, cleaner environment for BART riders and employees."
But even the ABC report recognizes that "AB 716 won't only target violent behavior. It can be applied to protestors who have been arrested during free-speech movements."
I have news from Morgan Stanley for Jeremy Griffin and the SAFE activists attempting to block his eviction in South Seattle: "We do not own the loan and had no involvement in the foreclosure process," says Mark Lake, a Morgan Stanley spokesman. This despite Morgan Stanley, along with Deutsche Bank, being listed as plaintiffs on the eviction order.
This stuff is complex, but from what I understand based on my reporting, Morgan Stanley was responsible for packaging a set of loans together, including Griffin's, and selling them to investors. This process is called securitization. Deutsche Bank represents those investors, and probably hired Wells Fargo as the servicer to carry out the foreclosure.
I asked Lake whether Morgan Stanley has any comment on the practice of securitization, which contributed to the financial collapse in 2008. "No comment," he replied, after a pause.
The securitization "food chain" was a "ticking time bomb," according to this a clip from the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job, which explains how investment banks including Morgan Stanley sold packages of loans to investors, and in turn, helped wreck the economy:
Charles reports that Pope Francis is "calling for a more ethical banking system and curbs on financial speculation." Hear hear! SAFE, the group organizing the eviction blockade, sent out text messages this morning asking supporters to "please be on alert." They say King County Sheriff detective Pierre Thiry has warned them the eviction is likely to happen in the next several days.
Republican governor of Louisiana and POTUS hopeful Bobby Jindal has taken a strong stand against federal agents aiming their power at people for ideological reasons—in this case, the whole IRS-scrutinizing-conservative-groups scandal.
He has declared that IRS officials involved should go to jail:
"You cannot take the freedom of law-abiding Americans, whether you disagree with them or not, and keep your own freedom. When you do that, you go to jail," Jindal said.
Hey Bobby! What do you think about this situation?
The Long Island Press has noticed that the US military has quietly given itself the power to police Americans and "quell... civil disturbances."
The lines blurred even further Monday as a new dynamic was introduced to the militarization of domestic law enforcement. By making a few subtle changes to a regulation in the U.S. Code titled “Defense Support of Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies” the military has quietly granted itself the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries.
The most objectionable aspect of the regulatory change is the inclusion of vague language that permits military intervention in the event of “civil disturbances.” According to the rule:
Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.
Bruce Afran, a civil liberties attorney and constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, calls the rule, “a wanton power grab by the military,” and says, “It’s quite shocking actually because it violates the long-standing presumption that the military is under civilian control.”
... Michael German, senior policy counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), noted in a 2009 Daily Kos article that, “there is no doubt that the military is very good at many things. But recent history shows that restraint in their new-found domestic role is not one of them.”
So... does this mean America is now living under the hair-trigger threat of martial law? And what rises to the level of "civil disturbance"?
Co-authored by news intern Ansel Herz
Shortly before midnight last night, 86-year-old activist Dorli Rainey—yes, the Dorli Rainey whose Maalox-covered pepper-sprayed face became an icon of the Occupy movement—got a text message that sheriff deputies were about to evict ironworker Jeremy Griffin from his foreclosed South Park home. So she immediately jumped in a cab and headed down to Griffin's house to put her body on the line.
Of course she did.
Twelve hours later, the sheriffs had yet to arrive, but a couple dozen fellow activists did, transforming the lawn and sidewalk in front of Griffin's home into a kinda Occupy Seattle reunion. This is the first "eviction blockade" to be staged by SAFE (Standing Against Eviction & Foreclosure), an activist organization that grew out of Occupy Seattle, focused on helping homeowners fight back against the banks through pragmatic public protests.
The mood was almost festive (at one point, much to the delight of Rainey and others, schoolchildren from Concord Elementary across the street broke into a supportive chant). Griffin was surprisingly upbeat for man who soon could lose his house. "When you pick the right fight, you win," Griffin defiantly proclaimed as he thanked his comrades for their support. "What matters is that people have joined together to fight the banks."
It's a bold answer to those who criticize the Occupy movement for being too disorganized and unfocused to accomplish anything. SAFE is a direct offshoot of Occupy Seattle both in terms of organizational structure (horizontally, without hierarchy) and its membership (several of its founders are former Occupy activists). But unlike Occupy, SAFE's demands are specific and its tactics well proven. Such direct action blockades to stop evictions has been successfully employed by Occupy groups before, from Minnesota to Atlanta, often shaming the banks into negotiating with homeowners instead of evicting them.
SAFE's initial action got off to a promising start. As TV cameras rolled and speakers urged people to call Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman (212-761-4000) to ask him to negotiate a home-saving lease/purchase agreement, Morgan Stanley's executive offices called for Griffin. They would talk to their lawyers, Griffin says he was assured, and then get back to him.
This weekend I spent some time with Two Cheers for Anarchism by James C. Scott (whose Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, which I read as a student in Chicago, was a seismic event for my young brain).
This passage is in a chapter about how rules can be exercises in futility—improvisation, experimentation, stumbling, and mistakes are how people actually behave, from the time they learn to walk and talk to the time they're in the bloom of their lives. We get stuff done, he argues, precisely because we break the rules on a regular basis.
Workers have seized on the inadequacy of the rules to explain how things actually run and have exploited it to their advantage. Thus, the taxi drivers of Paris have, when they were frustrated with the municipal authorities over fees or new regulations, resorted to what is known as a greve de zele. They would all, by agreement and on cue, suddenly begin to follow all the regulations in the code routier, and, as intended, this would bring traffic in Paris to a grinding halt. Knowing that traffic circulated in Paris only by a practiced and judicious disregard of many regulations, they could, merely by following the rules meticulously, bring it to a standstill.
I love the idea of a protest based on the principle of scrupulously following rules to show how unnecessary and counterproductive they can be. Since May Day, I've also been talking with people about the idea of "Black Bloc community service."
For example: a pack of masked demonstrators amassing at Westlake, attracting a thicket of police in SWAT gear and nervous TV anchors, then calmly and efficiently conducting a free medical clinic. (Perhaps they could pull some support from the folks at Country Doctor.) Or leading a march that splits—one to a smashup downtown, the other to an underserved neighborhood, where the demonstrators do the heavy lifting to help built a community garden. Balaclavas, bandanas, furious weeding and tilling, wheelbarrows full of manure. (It would be hot as hell, but it would look good on the evening news.) Or a Black Bloc protest in which the windows of malfeasant banks were smashed while residential windows are lovingly washed.
Those might be impractical ideas. But something along those lines could be attractive to people who equate anarchism with nothing more than petulance and the kicking over of trash cans, and would merrily upend the usual public narrative about what anarchist demonstrators—particularly those in Black Bloc clothes—really stand for.