The 6-Step Process to Dispose of the Poor Half of America

America’s wealth-takers are all too ready to abandon people when they aren’t useful.

Photo Credit: Jeff Wasserman/

One of the themes of the superb writing of Henry Giroux is that more and more Americans are becoming “disposable,” recognized as either commodities or criminals by the more fortunate members of society. There seems to be a method to the madness of winner-take-all capitalism. The following steps, whether due to greed or indifference or disdain, are the means by which America’s wealth-takers dispose of the people they don’t need.

1. Deplete Their Wealth 

Recent analysis has determined that half of America is in or near poverty. This is confirmed by researchers Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who point out: “The bottom half of the distribution always owns close to zero wealth on net. Hence, the bottom 90% wealth share is the same as the share of wealth owned by top 50-90% families – what can be described as the middle class.”

The United States has one of the highest poverty rates in the developed world. It’s much worse since the recession, especially for blacks and Hispanics.

From 2008 to 2013 the stock market, which is largely owned by just 10% of Americans, gained 18% per year. Well-to-do stockholders get capital gains tax breaks, including a carried interest subsidy thatRobert Reich calls “a pure scam.”

The bottom half of America, relying on regular bank accounts, earn about one percent on their savings.

2. Strip Away Their Income 

Earnings due to workers for their years of productivity have been withheld by people in power. Based on inflation, the minimum wage should be nearly three times its current level. An investor report from J.P. Morgan noted a direct correlation between record profits and cutbacks in wages.

We hear occasional news about job growth, but low-wage jobs ($7.69 to $13.83 per hour), which made up just 1/5 of the jobs lost to the recession, accounted for nearly 3/5 of the jobs regained during the recovery. And it’s getting worse. Nine out of ten of the fastest-growing occupations are considered low-wage, generally not requiring a college degree, including food service, health care, housekeeping, and retail sales.

Among rich countries, according to OECD data, the U.S. is near the bottom in both union participationand employee protection laws.

3. Take Away Their Homes 

study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition concluded that an average American renter would need to earn $18.92 per hour — well over twice the minimum wage — to afford a two-bedroom apartment. “In no state,” their report says, “can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom or a two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent.” Over one-eighth of the nation’s supply of low income housing has been permanently lost since 2001.

Little wonder that so many people are homeless: over 600,000 on any January night in the U.S., tens of thousands of children, tens of thousands of veterans, and one of every five suffering from mental illness.

4. Hit Them with Fines, Fees, and Fleecings 

The poor half of America is victimized by the banking industry, which takes an average of $2,412 each year from underserved households for interest and fees on alternative financial services; byrental centers that charge effective annual interest rates over 100 percent; by payday lenders whocharge effective annual interest rates of over 1,000 percent; and by the burgeoning prison industry, which charges prisoners for food and health care and phone calls and probation monitoring and anything else they can think of.

On top of all this, bubbly TV personalities rave about all the lottery money just waiting to be taken home. Poor families account for most of the lottery sales.

5. Criminalize Them 

Matt Taibbi’s recently published book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gapcontrasts the targeting of the poor for trivial offenses with a tolerance for the architects of billion-dollar financial crimes.

The U.S. court system is flooded with cases for minor infractions, including loitering charges reminiscent of the infamous Black Codes of post-slavery years. The buildup of arrests has added one out of every three U.S. adults to the FBI’s criminal database.

The poor are criminalized for lying down or sleeping in public; for sharing food; for simply havingnowhere to go.

6. Most Insidious: Let Their Children Suffer 

The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. Almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty. Nearly half of all food stamp participants are children. The number of homeless children has risen by 50 percent in less than ten years.

Early education is certainly part of the solution, for numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps all children to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But even though the U.S. ranks near the bottom of developed countries in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education, Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.

Meanwhile, public schools in the inner-city are being closed to satisfy the profit urges of the privatizers, who view our children as commodities. Said community organizer Jitu Brown after 50 schools were shut down in Chicago: “It has ripped black communities apart.”

Americans seek reasons for all the violence in our city streets. With so many “disposable” citizens deprived of living-wage jobs and a meaningful education and equal treatment by our system of justice, rebellion in the form of violence is not hard to understand. The privileged members of society would lash out, too, if they were stripped of everything they own and tossed into the streets.

Paul Buchheit is a college teacher, a writer for progressive publications, and the founder and developer of social justice and educational websites (,,


Podemos: the political upstart taking Spain by force

by Carlos Delclós on December 9, 2014

Post image for Podemos: the political upstart taking Spain by forceSome frequent questions about the political singularity that now leads the polls in Spain. Just who are Podemos? And could they be a force for change?

In April of 2013, the far-right Spanish television channel Intereconomía invited an unlikely guest to their primetime debate show: a young, Jesus-haired college professor with an unequivocally leftist background named Pablo Iglesias, just like the founder of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. Their goal was to corner him and hold him up as an example of an antiquated and defeated leftist past. Yet Iglesias responded to their rhetoric in a simultaneously polite but firmly antagonistic tone that appealed to both the younger generations who became politicized through the indignados movement and the older generations who did so during Spain’s transition from dictatorship to constitutional monarchy.

Over the following months, Iglesias and the team of academics and activists behind him were able to use this window of opportunity to catapult the message of the social movements and, most importantly, the people left behind by years of austerity and neoliberalism, into the mainstream media. Shortly after gaining access to the media, they formed the political party Podemos (“We Can”), initiating what polls are showing to be an authentic dispute for control of the Spanish government. How they were able to accomplish this in such a short amount of time will be studied in the political and social sciences for years to come.

Because it is a process that I have followed very closely for a number of years, I have often been asked by independent media-makers, academics and activists about how all of this came to be and what the implications are for movement politics. In this piece, I try to address some of the main questions I get from people who are actively engaged in the struggle for a real democracy.

Who are Podemos? Who are its leaders? Is this just another typical leftist party?

Podemos is a new political party that emerged at the beginning of 2014, initially as an alliance between the trotskyist Izquierda Anticapitalista and a group of academic “outsiders” with an activist background who had built a vibrant community through a public access television debate show called La Tuerka (“The Screw”). When I refer to this second group as outsiders, it is not to suggest that their academic output is eccentric or of a low quality. Rather, they are the types of academics who do not fit the mold favored by the so-called Bologna reforms of higher education in Europe, with its emphasis on highly specialized technical “experts” and empirical research, and its hostility towards a broader, theoretical and more discursive approach. These academics are currently the party’s most recognizable faces due to their formidable skills as communicators and their access to the mainstream media.

Recently, Podemos held elections for their Citizens’ Council, which is effectively the party’s leadership. Over 100.000 people participated in those elections through online voting. The team selected by Pablo Iglesias won by an overwhelming majority. It includes an interesting mix of academics, activists and some former politicians. For instance, Juan Carlos Monedero worked as an adviser to Hugo Chávez between 2005 and 2010, and he also advised Gaspar Llamazares of the Spanish United Left party. Íñigo Errejón is a very young and highly promising political scientist who carried out research in Bolivia and Venezuela, though prior to that he was one of the founders of Juventud Sin Futuro (Youth Without a Future), who had a major role in spearheading the indignados movement. Other activists from Juventud Sin Futuro include Rita Maestre and Sarah Bienzobas. Rafa Mayoral and Jaume Asens worked as lawyers for the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), the highly successful civil disobedience movement for decent housing. And Raimundo Viejo and Jorge Moruno are prominent intellectuals associated with the autonomist left.

Whether or not Podemos can be considered a typical leftist party will depend on its evolution. What is clear is that they do not adopt the rhetorical and aesthetic baggage of the marginal leftist and green parties that currently decorate European parliaments. Also, in contrast to SYRIZA, Podemos did not exist prior to the 2011 wave of protests; they emerged based on a diagnosis of the movements’ discourse and demands. Much of what has made Podemos so effective in the post-2011 political arena has been their ability to listen to the social movements, while the pre-existing Spanish political parties were busy lecturing them. Yet, as time progresses and support for the party grows, Podemos is finding itself increasingly tempted to assume the structures that are best adapted to Spain’s formal institutions. Unsurprisingly, these structures are those that currently exist. Whether or not this institutional inertia can be overcome depends on the degree to which the party’s constituents are capable of maintaining tension with its leadership structure and guaranteeing their accountability.

Why did Podemos explode onto the scene in the way they did?

Podemos burst onto the political scene because they understood the climate in the aftermath of the 2011 protests better than any other political actor. For example, the role of the social networks in connecting those movements was extremely important, but a lot of people and political organizations misinterpreted that fact as support for a techno-political, decentralized peer-to-peer ideology. In contrast, I think Podemos saw the social networks as a discursive laboratory through which to build and strengthen a common narrative that they would then take to the public arena in order to maximize its impact. To put it bluntly, they were not content with memes and likes and long comment threads. They wanted to take that discussion to the bars, the cafés and the unemployment lines.

In a sense, the key to Podemos’s emancipatory potential can be summed up in a phrase popularized by Raimundo Viejo and later put into a song by Los Chikos del Maiz, a Marxist rap group that has been very close to the party’s emergence: “El miedo va a cambiar de bando,” which translates to, “Fear is going to change sides.” Currently, they are accompanying that phrase with another, saying that the smiles are also starting to change sides. Using this approach, what they have managed to do is take the insecurity and fears produced by precariousness, unemployment or poverty and, in contrast to projecting it on immigrants (which is what Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and, to a lesser extent, Beppe Grillo have done), they project it onto what they call “la casta” (the caste), which is basically the ruling class. And they have done this while, at the same time, “occupying” feelings like hope and joy.

Who supports Podemos? What segment of the population would consider voting for them?

In most of the reports I have seen or read in English, Podemos is described as a sort of outgrowth of the indignados movement, in something of a linear progression. I think this is wrong. While their message resonated far beyond their class composition, the indignados movement was largely composed of a relatively young, college-educated precariat. Their emphasis on direct action and slow, horizontal deliberation introduced something of a selection mechanism into actual participation in the movement, whereby people who were less versed in the culture of radical politics, had less time to spend in general assemblies, were not entirely comfortable with public speaking, were not particularly interested in learning new internet tools and were not willing to take the risks associated with civil disobedience were filtered out over time.

In contrast, Podemos’s access to television guaranteed contact with an older audience, which is extremely important in a country such as Spain, with its older population structure and decades of low fertility. And the types of participation that Podemos enabled (namely, ballot boxes and smart phone apps) have a low learning curve, require less time and involve fewer risks than the more autonomous politics of the indignados. Because of this, Podemos attracts a crowd that includes a much larger component of underprivileged, working class and older people, in addition to a very strong, college-educated youth demographic.

The ideological composition of the people who support Podemos is also interesting. While the bulk of the support they draw comes from people who used to vote for the center-left “socialist” party, nearly a third of the people who currently support them had previously abstained from voting, turned in spoiled ballots or even voted for the right-wing Popular Party. Furthermore, while Podemos openly rejects the standard “left-right” division that has characterised Western politics for years, surveys are showing that their voters mostly view themselves as leftists, that is, neither center-left nor far left. Taken together, this might suggest that Podemos are drawing on something of an untapped leftist imaginary, or that they may very well be redefining what it means for people to consider themselves “leftists” in Spain.

What is Podemos’s relationship with the grassroots movements?

Podemos’s relationship with the grassroots movements is a tricky question to tackle. In addition to the establishment parties and the mainstream media, some people who are active in the grassroots and social movements have been quite critical of Podemos. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I think it is an issue that requires much more reflection than what I can offer here, which is entirely my opinion at the moment. But at its heart, Podemos is part of a growing exasperation with an institutional “glass ceiling” that the social movements keep bumping up against and have not been able to shatter. This exasperation is visible not only in the rise of Podemos but also in the emergence of municipal platforms intended to join outsider parties, community organizations and activists in radically democratic candidacies. In this context, people from the social movements are generally split between those who favor that type of participation and those who prefer a radicalization of non-institutional action.

The main criticism I see coming from the second group is that Podemos started “from the top and not from the bottom.” I think this is wrong. A comically low-budget local TV show and a Facebook page are not what I would consider “high” in a neoliberal chain of command. What Podemos have done is rise very quickly from there, and as they have done so, they have had to deal with questions related to institutional inertia and the autonomy of their own organization. And that is where I think critical voices coming from the social movements are right to be nervous.

While Podemos initially drew its legitimacy, structure (the Círculos they started in various cities were basically conceived as local, self-managed assemblies) and demands (a citizen-led restructuring of the debt, universal basic income, affordable public housing, an end to austerity policies, etc.) from the social movements, their intention was always to draw people from beyond the social movements. They have succeed wildly in doing so, and it turns out that the world outside of the social movements is huge. And despite the fact that they agree with the demands of the social movements, that world appears to be less interested in the social movements’ methodology than the social movements would like. This is enormously frustrating, because it confronts us with our own marginality. It is also unsurprising, because if people who are not activists loved our methodology as much as our message, there would probably be a lot more activists.

The main example of this tension is the internal elections. So far, Iglesias’s lists have consistently won with close to 90% support, and many people who have been influential in shaping the discourse of the social movements (and even that of Podemos itself) are increasingly being left out of decision-making because they are not on those lists. Once out, they discover how little influence the social networks and the Círculos actually have not only relative to that of the members who appear on TV, but also on the people who are not actively involved in the Círculos, yet still identify with Podemos enough to vote in their elections. So far, this has led to some internal accusations of authoritarianism, which I find misguided and think are kind of missing the point. I think the real problem is that we are finding that, in the present climate, people are generally happier to delegate responsibility than we suspected, at least until they can vote on specific issues that affect their daily lives.

At the same time, this propensity to delegate depends a lot on the legitimacy and trust people have in Podemos, which to a large extent was built through their relationship with the streets. So I think the influence the social movements have on Podemos is going to depend on their ability to engage in street politics in such a way that they are able to meet dispossessed people’s needs, on the one hand, and shape the public conversation in a way that forces Podemos to position itself. An example would be the PAH. Podemos cannot stray too much from their demands for decent housing because everybody knows and agrees with them. If Podemos were to stray too far from their demands, the PAH could mobilize against them or simply put out a harsh press statement, undermining their legitimacy considerably.

Where do you see this going? Could Podemos actually win the elections?

I think this is going to change Spain and Europe as we know them, no matter what. Polls are showing that Podemos have a real shot at being the most voted party in the country. Some show that they are already the most supported, and Pablo Iglesias is by far the most popular politician in Spain. If Podemos were to win, in all likelihood the Popular Party and the “socialists” would try to form a national government centered on guaranteeing order, making a few cosmetic changes to the constitution and sabotaging any chance for Podemos to ever beat them. They would also probably try to destroy any chance at something like Podemos rising again. As it stands, the establishment is doing everything in its power to discredit them: associating them with terrorist organizations, accusing their spokespeople of misconduct based on nothing, fabricating news stories. Fear really has changed sides, and it is clearly the establishment that is frightened.

In this sense, I think it’s very important for movements, and for Podemos themselves, to think of what is happening as a kind of political singularity. This is not Obama putting the Democrats in the White House. It is a group of people who have been actively engaged in the struggle against neoliberalism that have managed to turn a populist moment during a period of economic crisis into a hope for a better democracy and an end to neoliberal austerity. At least in Spain, to blow this chance could be a major step backwards for emancipatory politics, towards another long journey through the desert.

Carlos Delclos is a sociologist, researcher and editor for ROAR Magazine. Currently he collaborates with the Health Inequalities Research Group at Pompeu Fabra University and the Barcelona Institute of Metropolitan and Regional Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

Race, class and police violence in America

9 December 2014

Four months ago today, Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Popular anger over yet another police murder in the United States has only deepened in the weeks and months since, fueled by the decisions of highly manipulated grand juries not to charge the police officer who killed Brown or the police officer who choked to death Eric Garner in Staten Island last July.

The response of the ruling class to these events has run along two interconnected channels. On the one hand, the protests have been utilized as an opportunity to build up the apparatus of repression even further, including the declaration of a preemptive state of emergency in Ferguson last month and the deployment of the National Guard against protests.

At the same time, the ruling elite is mobilizing the practitioners of identity politics, whose job is to insist that the killing of Brown and Garner, and the exoneration of the police officers who killed them, are entirely the result of racism. The aim is to obscure the fundamental class issues involved and maintain the political authority of the very state apparatus that is responsible for repression and violence throughout the country.

Obama himself took the lead in an interview aired yesterday on Black Entertainment Television. Feigning sympathy for the protesters, Obama urged “patience” and “persistence.” Racism, he said, “is deeply rooted in our society, it’s deeply rooted in our history.”

Seeking to leverage the fact that he is the country’s first African American president, Obama said that the issue “is not only personal for me, because of who I am and who Michelle is and who our family members are and what our experiences are, but as president, I consider this to be one of the most important issues we face.” He added, “America works when everybody feels as if they are being treated fairly.”

Obama added that the outcome of the Garner case, in particular, “gives us the opportunity to have the conversation [on race] that has been a long way coming.”

As always, the president’s comments were shot through with hypocrisy and deceit. The homilies about everyone being “treated fairly” were delivered by a president who has made sure that no punishment was meted out to the financial swindlers who caused the Wall Street crash or the CIA and Bush administration officials who oversaw and carried out torture.

As for the pretense of concern over police brutality, Obama made his position absolutely clear last week when the White House announced there would be no let-up in the programs that funnel billions of dollars in military equipment to local police forces throughout the country.

In presenting himself as a supporter of those protesting police violence, Obama seeks to exploit his racial background, an effort that is buttressed by a network of lavishly paid political scoundrels such as Al Sharpton, the multi-millionaire former FBI informant who invariably anoints himself the leader of every protest against police brutality. After meeting with the president last week, Sharpton called for a march in Washington next weekend aimed at directing popular anger over police violence into the harmless channel of appeals to Congress and the Obama administration.

These maneuvers have been accompanied by a series of articles in the “left” media insisting that the fundamental issue in the killing of Garner and Brown is “white supremacy” (in the words of one Rolling Stone article), “white privilege” and racial oppression.

One of the foulest pieces was penned by Rutgers University Professor Brittney Cooper and published on In “White America’s scary delusion: Why its sense of black humanity is so skewed,” Cooper denounces the “ignorance and lack of empathy” of “white folks,” who benefit from “the violence at the core of the ideology of whiteness.”

From the International Socialist Organization, the basic line is the same. In “When racism wears a badge,” the ISO’s Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes of the “terrorism that pervades Black and Brown communities,” and of a racist system that has “criminalized and impoverished African Americans.” While Taylor refers to “black” and “African American” more than 30 times, the word “class” does not appear. As for Obama, he is mentioned only to criticize him for not sufficiently focusing on questions of race.

These people have an agenda. It is to encourage divisions along racial lines within the working class. According to them, the basic problem is not capitalism, a system based on class exploitation and oppression, of which racial discrimination is one expression, but rather a hatred of blacks that is somehow built into the genetic code of white people. On this basis it is a natural and inevitable progression to support black Democrats and their bourgeois allies and oppose an independent and united movement of the working class against the entire political establishment.

This is not to deny the existence of racism, which is encouraged among the more backward layers recruited into the police. Yet the violence directed at Brown, Garner and countless other workers and youth is far more about socio-economic class than about race. While African Americans are disproportionately the targets of police killings, white workers and youth still comprise the majority of victims. It is often black police commissioners and black mayors—and even black presidents—who oversee the oppression of minority youth.

The insistence, bordering on hysteria, with which political forces around the Democratic Party proclaim race to be the fundamental social category in America is proportional to the degree this brand of politics is being discredited—particularly by the experience of the Obama administration itself.

Obama, promoted by the likes of the Nation and the ISO as the “transformative candidate” six years ago, has presided over a historic reversal in the living conditions of workers of all races. Well into the Obama administration’s supposed “recovery,” social inequality in the United States is higher than at any point since the Great Depression of the 1930s, thanks to the massive transfer of wealth to Wall Street it has engineered.

Social polarization has grown the most among African Americans and other ethnic minorities, with the great majority suffering a decline in living standards and a small elite growing wealthy from programs such as affirmative action and their incorporation into the political and corporate establishment. Obama is, in fact, the embodiment of this corrupt and reactionary social layer.

In Detroit, which is overwhelmingly African American, an African American emergency manager, working closely with the Obama administration, has overseen the plundering of the city in the interests of the financial aristocracy, including huge cuts in the pensions and health benefits of active and retired city workers. Wages for the working class as a whole, and particularly industrial workers, have plummeted. Public schools and social infrastructure have been relentlessly attacked.

All of this has an impact on popular consciousness, encouraging the understanding that it is class, not race, which determines government policy. The identity politics that has become a mainstay of bourgeois rule in the United States over the past four decade has suffered a severe blow. The likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and the milieu of political organizations rooted in identity politics and based on affluent layers of the upper-middle class, are themselves increasingly despised.

The driving force behind the eruption of police violence in the United States is class oppression. The combination of imperialist war abroad and social counterrevolution at home is expressed politically in the erection of a police state apparatus directed ever more openly against social and political opposition within the United States.

The conflict between the financial aristocracy and the working class is the fundamental source of the brutality and violence of the state. The same conflict creates the objective foundation for a political movement that can put an end to this brutality: an independent and united movement of the entire working class, in opposition to capitalism and all of its political defenders.

Joseph Kishore

Why Cameras on Police Officers Won’t Save Us

One reaction to the decision by a grand jury in New York, on Wednesday, not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put a Staten Island man named Eric Garner in an unauthorized chokehold that killed him, is despair over cameras as potential instruments of juridical salvation. On Monday, in an effort to improve police accountability after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict the white police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black eighteen-year-old, the Obama Administration announced that it would provide local police departments with funding to purchase fifty thousand body-worn video cameras. Garner’s death had became infamous precisely because it was videotaped by a friend of Garner’s with a cell phone, and the video, which we could all watch on YouTube, was not blurry or muffled or ambiguous. It was not at all hard to make out Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” repeated over and over and over again. My son, a college freshman in New York, texted me after the grand-jury news came out: “What makes this sad is it shows the mandatory cameras for cops idea might not change anything.” If evidence like that in the Garner case couldn’t elicit an indictment, what was the point?

The truth is that if the cameras do offer a benefit—and there is some, not a lot, of research showing that they do—it’s in influencing behavior before the fact, not providing evidence after it. In two cities where the effect of body-worn cameras has been studied—Rialto, California, and Mesa, Arizona—researchers noted that the cameras had exerted “a civilizing effect” on police behavior. In Rialto, citizen complaints against the police declined by eighty-eight per cent during the year that the cameras were used, while the use of force by police officers fell by sixty per cent. Moreover, the incidents involving the use of force by camera-wearing officers all started with a suspect physically threatening the officer. The numbers suggest that such provocation was not an essential element with officers who weren’t wearing cameras.

In a 2014 Department of Justice report, the criminologist Michael D. White, who looked at five empirical studies involving body-worn cameras (two in Arizona, one in California, one in England, and one in Scotland), notes that we can’t be sure what produced the decrease in complaints and instances of use of force by the camera-wearing cops. It could be that the officers, knowing that their actions were being recorded, behaved with more restraint, or it could be that citizens did. But it seems more likely that the police would be conscious of the camera’s presence—the devices are usually worn hooked to a shirt or mounted on a pair of sunglasses, and the officers knew that they were participating in an experiment—than most civilians, who may not notice the green recording light.

White concluded that the videotapes played some role in chronicling and accounting for police actions: they helped police officers to resolve citizen complaints against them more quickly, and they made unwarranted and frivolous complaints less likely. As it happened, the benefits as evidence tended to accrue to the police—which is fine, of course, provided that they are serving the larger goal of establishing the truth and a standard of behavior. Still, most people who have high hopes for the cameras probably aren’t primarily concerned with wiping out some scourge of frivolous citizen complaints but, rather, with achieving justice for citizens like Eric Garner.

Maybe the bigger lesson is, again, that cameras won’t save us. Like photographs and like eyewitness testimony, video evidence is subject to differing interpretations, and to the prejudices and assumptions of individual viewers. We’ve known that for a long time; still, we can’t help hoping. One of the only cases in recent years in which a New York police officer was indicted, charged, and convicted in the death of a citizen occurred in 1994. As it happens, it also involved a police officer administering a chokehold to a man, the twenty-nine-year-old asthmatic Anthony Baez, a security guard who was playing football in the street with his brothers when the ball landed on a police car, and an altercation ensued. Why that case and not Garner’s resulted in an indictment isn’t clear—and, in any event, the officer’s conviction was later overturned. But there was no video evidence in Baez’s case.

And yet the cell-phone video of Eric Garner’s death was not meaningless. The fact that so many people watched it is part of what fuelled the outrage that produced demonstrations, as well as a Justice Department investigation that the Obama Administration announced this week. But there is also something deeply sad and demoralizing about having in our collective possession such a vivid record of a death that could neither be prevented nor, in any immediate way, remedied.

Hundreds of police killings go unreported

By our reporter
4 December 2014

According to a Wall Street Journal report, national statistics provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation do not report 25 percent or more of police killings in the US.

The newspaper analyzed data from 105 of the largest police agencies in the country and compared the figures to the official statistics of the FBI. More than 550 killings between 2007 and 2012 were not part of the FBI totals.

Specifically, in these jurisdictions the Journal tallied at least 1,800 police killings, compared to only 1,242 reported to the FBI.

One of the major causes of the discrepancy is the failure of many local police agencies to report homicides that are considered justifiable. As the Fairfax County, Virginia Police Department said, such killings are not an “actual offense,” and they are not reported to the FBI.

The Journal gave the example of 24-year-old Albert Jermaine Payton in Washington, DC, who was shot and killed in 2012. His mother, who witnessed the killing, said the police were well acquainted with her son, who apparently suffered from mental illness. As he approached the cops that day holding a small utility knife, they fired dozens of times, and he died soon after.

This homicide was not reported to the FBI. The officers involved are back on the job, and there was no further investigation.

The consequences of the underreporting include the obvious underestimation of the reign of violence that exists in poor working class communities around the country. It is one more avenue through which the police, and the authorities to whom they are ultimately responsible, attempt to minimize the anger and political fallout that has been visible on the streets of Ferguson, Staten Island and elsewhere in recent months.

Only some of the most egregious cases of police violence become widely known. The reality is even worse than indicated in the latest grand jury exonerations of the police in Missouri and New York.

Latest ISIS attack on Kobanê implicates Turkey once more

by Iskender Doğu on December 2, 2014

Post image for Latest ISIS attack on Kobanê implicates Turkey once moreThis weekend ISIS attacked Kobanê from Turkish soil. While Turkish complicity in the attack is hard to prove, the events raises some important questions.

In the early hours of Saturday, November 29, on the 75th day of the resistance of Kobanê, the militants of the Islamic State launched yet another attack against the city. In the 2.5 months that ISIS has been besieging the predominantly Kurdish city at the border with Turkey it launched numerous attacks — ranging from indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas with tanks, mortars and heavy artillery to suicide attacks by individuals and car bombs (VBIEDs) — but never before did it attack the city from the north, from the Turkish side of the border.

For many international observers and Kurdish activists this fact confirmed once again that the Turkish state is in bed with the Islamist militants, and that the two are collaborating closely in their fight against the region’s Kurdish population. Despite many clues pointing in this direction, one has to be careful in drawing too many conclusions from Saturday’s attack.

At this point it is a well-established fact that ISIS launched its latest attack on Kobanê from Turkish soil, but the extent to which the Turkish military and/or state has been complicit in this event remains impossible to determine. Aaron Stein’s Open Source Analysis of the attack presents the possibility that ISIS entered Turkey without the latter’s knowledge, crossing the border from Kobanê just a few hundred meters to the east of the border crossing before looping south and attacking the border gate from the north.

However, plausible as this might look on a map, when taking into consideration the heavy military presence at the border, with Turkish troops continuously patrolling the area with tanks and APCs, it seems highly unlikely — if not outright impossible — that two bomb-laden vehicles and a few dozen fighters could pass the border into Turkey unnoticed.

Moreover, according to reports by the YPG, the fighting between the city’s defense forces and the ISIS militants ensued for the better part of the afternoon and for most of the time took place on Turkish soil. This means that even if the military wasn’t complicit in ISIS’ attack, at the very least they failed (or refused?) to engage with the militants when it became clear that they were armed and present inside Turkey’s borders.

Turkish Support for ISIS

Ever since ISIS commenced its attack on Kobanê the town has been cut off from the outside world. ISIS controlled the western, southern and eastern fronts and the hermetically sealed border with Turkey formed an unsurpassable border in the north. The Turkish armed forces (TSK) have maintained a heavy military presence at the border, with dozens of tanks stationed on hills overlooking Kobanê, regular patrols along the border fence and watch towers and outposts every few kilometers.

Nonetheless, despite the ubiquity of the Turkish armed forces in the border region, aspiring jihadists have been managing to cross the border from Turkey into Syria in large numbers — in some cases even in broad daylight. Reports and rumors of Turkish support for ISIS have been doing their rounds for months, but have become more persistent since Kobanê came under attack from ISIS in late September.

A selection of trustworthy reports on Turkish aid to the jihadists reveals that the Turkish government has been providing logistical, medical, financial and military support by allowing ISIS fighters to ‘travel through Turkish territory to reinforce fighters battling Kurdish forces’; shipments of construction goods and materials to cross the border into ISIS-controlled territory; that it has treated injured ISIS fighters and commanders free of charge in Turkish hospitals; that it facilitates the smuggling of oil across the border into Turkey from ISIS-controlled territory; and that it even has been sending arms to the Islamist radicals and provided them with intelligence in the form of satellite imagery and other data (more here, here, and here).

Other examples of links between ISIS and the Turkish political establishment — such as details on the release of 180 ISIS members in exchange for 49 Turkish hostages; the impunity with which ISIS supporters attack and intimidate students at Istanbul University; and the ease with which ISIS is able to draw a steady stream of recruits from the country’s poorer neighborhoods — point towards at least some level of ideological agreement, if not outright cooperation, between the two parties.

ISIS as a Necessary Evil

Turkey’s close relations with ISIS should be understood in the context of the difficult relationship with its domestic Kurdish population and its deep hatred for the Syrian regime led by Bashar al-Assad. Not taking the full complexity of the region’s political power play into account — which would would require a separate and more extensive treatment — but looking merely at Turkey’s disposition towards the conflict in Syria, one has to realize that from the perspective of the Turkish government ISIS is one of the lesser evils active in the region.

From the start of the Syrian revolution-turned-civil-war Turkey has been actively supporting anyone fighting against Assad, from the moderate revolutionaries of the Free Syrian Army to Islamist radicals such as the Al Nusra Front and ISIS. Turkey perceives these latter organizations not as a big threat to its own domestic security and at the same time believes that these parties have the best chance of overthrowing the Syrian dictator. Turkey’s perception of the Islamist militants can best be described as a ‘necessary evil’ — good enough to fight against Assad and other groups in the region, and not bad enough to actively endanger Turkish security.

Turkey’s alleged support for ISIS in the battle for Kobanê — or at the very least its refusal to support the Kurdish defenders of the city — stems from the fact that it views the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a sister organization of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which for more than thirty years has been leading an insurgency against the Turkish state. An autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria, led by a close ally of the PKK and based upon the principles of horizontal democracy, gender equality and environmental sustainability — the same values that also guide the Kurdish struggle in Turkey — might very well inspire Turkey’s Kurdish population to voice similar demands and pursue similar goals, posing a possible threat to the territorial integrity of the Turkish state. This is why the Turkish government has been reluctant to support Kobanê’s Kurds in their battle against ISIS.

ISIS Suffers Setbacks

Back to the border.

The clashes started around 5:00am, Saturday morning, when ISIS launched its attack on the Mursitpinar border crossing. The advance of ISIS ground forces was preceded by the deployment of one VBIED and two suicide bombers, who attacked the border crossing from the north. This was the first time since the start of the conflict in Kobanê that the border crossing had come under direct attack from ISIS.

As a key strategic position for whoever wants to control the city, the border crossing had been subject to many attacks from ISIS already. Thus far, ISIS had been prevented from reaching the crossing as every attack was successfully repelled by the People’s/Women’s Defense Forces (YPG/YPJ) who have been defending the city alongside small contingents of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and 150 Peshmergas troops from Iraqi Kurdistan. However, where all previous attacks were launched from either the east or the south, where ISIS formerly controlled large parts of the city, Saturday’s attack came from the north, from the Turkish side of the border.

Videos of the fighting show YPG forces engaged in a fight with ISIS members (who can’t be seen in the video). The location of the fighters can’t easily be determined, but around 1:20am a Turkish flag is visible, indicating that the clashes are taking place inside Turkey — at the train station close to the border, to be precise. The YPG fighters are firing towards the grain silos which are also in Turkey from where ISIS is shooting back at the defenders, as can clearly be seen in another video.

A third video shows the damaged border gate which was allegedly blown-up when the VBIED detonated in its vicinity. This specific gate is situated on the Turkish side of the border, thus providing proof for the fact that the attackers actually entered from Turkey, and did not attack the border crossing from the east, as has been suggested by some analysts of Saturday’s attack.

Throughout the day clashes continued, not only at the border, but also on the eastern and southern fronts where the YPG/YPJ successfully repelled several attacks by ISIS and where a number of tanks were destroyed. According to a statement from the YPG Media Center the fighting at the border continued throughout the day, and for a large part took place on Turkish soil. The defense forces pushed back ISIS into Turkey — from there they are believed to have crossed the border back into Kobanê.

Ironically, what was supposed to be a shift in the balance in the battle for Kobanê in favor of ISIS, who has been losing a lot of ground in recent weeks after the arrival of some contingents of the FSA and Peshmergas in support of the YPG/YPJ, turned out to be one of its most disastrous defeats. By the end of the weekend more than 80 ISIS fighters had lost their lives in and around Kobanê.

Allegations and Denials

If ISIS’ attack was actually launched from Turkish soil — and this is in fact what the available evidence points towards — it raises a number of important questions that as of yet remain unanswered. To what extent was Turkey involved in the attack? If the TSK were not involved, how was it possible for ISIS to cross the border into Turkey with at least one vehicle filled with explosives and several dozens of fighters without being spotted? If ISIS was indeed fighting on Turkish soil, as the footage of the clashes implies, what action will Turkey take to prevent the Islamist militants from entering the sovereign territory of one of NATO’s key allies in the future?

For Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Rojava, there is little doubt that the attack was launched from Turkish soil. “All three directions are under YPG control. We are 100 percent certain that the ISIS suicide vehicle entered Kobanê through Turkey,” she stated in a phone interview, commenting on the attacks.

“After all failed attempts to attacks from within Kobanê, ISIS thugs tried to carry out attacks from outside, from the border gate with Turkey,” Asya Adbullah added. “We always wanted good relations with Turkey but they need to clarify their position. If they are against ISIS why are they allowing them to use their soil to carry out attacks against us?”

Referring to the significance of ISIS attacking Kobanê from the north, Nawaf Khalil, spokesperson for the PYD stated that: “[ISIS] used to attack the town from three sides. Today, they are attacking from four sides.”

A statement by the government press office at the border town of Suruç acknowledged that the Mursitpinar border crossing had come under attack, but denied that the attack was launched from Turkey. “The allegation that the vehicle in the mentioned attack reached the border gate through Turkish land is definitely a lie,” the statement reads. It also denied claims that some unspecified Turkish officials had made a statement admitting that “the bomb-laden vehicle has passed the border from Turkey.”

Unsurprisingly, the Turkish military denied that ISIS had been present in Turkey for an extended period of time: “A few ISIL militants entered Turkish soil during the clashes. While armored units rushed toward that region, ISIL militants left Turkish soil,” anonymous military sources told Hurriyet Daily. “The total duration of the time they stayed in Turkey has been measured as 1 minute and 39 seconds. Everything can be seen in the recordings.”

What’s Next?

For many observers Saturday’s attacks have proven once again that in the battle for Kobanê Turkey has sided with the Islamist militants. Where Turkey’s logistical, financial and military support for ISIS remains hard to prove, the fact that the country’s government has refused to lend any kind of support to the defenders of Kobanê and have prevented military and humanitarian aid from reaching the city on numerous occasions, shows that it cares very little whether Kobanê stands or falls.

As stated above, the extent to which Turkey was involved in Saturday’s attack remains unclear. What is clear, however, is that ISIS launched its attack on the border post from Turkish soil, and even though there might be ways the militants could have crossed the border secretly, this is highly unlikely in the light of the TSK’s close monitoring of the border and the heavy military presence in the region.

Consequently, the most likely explanation is that the Turkish military was to a certain extent aware of ISIS’ intentions to cross the border and attack Kobanê from the north, but it might have misjudged the situation as they did not expect ISIS to cross with two VBIEDs and several dozen fighters.

Since the attack was successfully repelled, Saturday’s attack can in fact be considered a victory for the defenders of the city. The most profound effects will probably be felt by the Turkish military and political establishment who were thoroughly embarrassed when mainstream media across the globe headlined that ISIS had launched its attack from Turkish soil. Turkey’s NATO allies will undoubtedly demand some explanations as to how this could happen, and what they are going to do about it. As the battle rages on inside Kobanê, Saturday’s events could eventually work out in favor of the defenders as more political pressure might be exerted on Turkey to start actively opposing ISIS.

Iskender Doğu is an Istanbul-based freelance writer, activist and an editor for ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter via @Le_Frique.

US retail sales plunge during “Black Friday” weekend

By Patrick Martin
2 December 2014

The five-day shopping period from November 27 through December 1, including Thanksgiving and the relentlessly promoted “Black Friday,” “Small business Saturday” and “Cyber Monday,” will turn out to be a bust in 2014, according to estimates by the National Retail Federation. The drop in holiday sales reflects the fact that the disposable incomes of working-class households continue to stagnate and decline, despite a raging stock market and record corporate profits.

A preliminary survey by the National Retail Federation, released Sunday, projected sales for the five-day period, viewed as the kickoff of the Christmas shopping season, falling by 11 percent, from $57.4 billion in 2013 to $50.9 billion this year. Sales fell despite an avalanche of advertising linked to deep discount pricing and earlier opening times for stores on both Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday.

The debacle on Black Friday was quite noticeable in terms of traffic volume. In previous years, freeway interchanges near major malls have been gridlocked by people seeking early purchases. There was no such phenomenon recorded this year, with light traffic on roads and parking places available at most malls.

Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), said the results could show “there are a significant number of Americans out there for whom the recession is not yet over.” There have been a series of reports over the past month showing wage stagnation or actual declines for the vast majority of American workers.

It was significant in that context that the low-cost retailers catering to low-income workers were the only ones to show significant gains during the five-day period. One industry analyst said that Walmart was “the undisputed leader” in traffic, with full parking lots. (Retailers of luxury goods typically do not participate in Black Friday promotions since their wealthy clientele are not going to line up outside stores at 5 a.m. in the hopes of a bargain.)

The figures provided by the National Retail Federation suggested that fewer people were shopping, both online and in stores, and those who did shop were spending less. In the first four days of the five-day shopping weekend, the number of shoppers fell 5.2 percent compared to last year, while the amount they spent fell 6.4 percent. Stores specializing in clothing were particularly hard-hit.

The NRF had projected that the holiday season would set new records, with sales up 4.1 percent in 2014, compared to a 3.1 percent rise in 2013. Most corporate and government economists had predicted that the decline in the price of gasoline, which fell below $3 a gallon in most US markets in November, would give consumers more money to spend on other goods.

The analytics firm Retail Next provided estimates of weekend sales that were just as dismal as the NRF’s, with in-store traffic down 12.5 percent and sales down 10.3 percent, excluding online sales.

Both organizations suggested that the Black Friday phenomenon has exhausted itself because stores were providing heavy discounts from the beginning of November, instead of waiting until Thanksgiving to mark prices down., for example, started Black Friday sales the weekend before, with significant discounts.

One business analyst correctly predicted the sales slump. PricewaterhouseCoopers, in a survey published before Thanksgiving, predicted average household spending for the holidays would fall from $735 in 2013 to $684 this year. It said that the slump was due to the enforced decline in spending by people earning less than $50,000 a year, who make up 67 percent of the population this year, compared to only 63 percent in 2012. These people—two thirds of the American population—are falling behind in the struggle to survive economically, and simply can’t afford to participate in extra holiday spending.

The Black Friday fiasco shows the class reality of Obama’s so-called “economic recovery,” which has seen the stock market hit record levels, while working-class living standards have actually fallen. As the New York Times summed it up in an editorial last month, “Since the recovery began in mid-2009, inflation-adjusted figures show that the economy has grown by 12 percent; corporate profits, by 46 percent; and the broad stock market, by 92 percent. Median household income has contracted by 3 percent.”


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