BREAKING NEWS

ISIS is Israeli Secret Intelligence Service

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Myth of Freedom in the Land of the Free

The US touts itself as the land of free, but it has laws which are
designed to crush criticisms of the state.

By John Stoehr
Al Jazeera.com
March 30, 2012

In 1893, a massive financial panic sent demand for the Pullman
Palace Car Company into a downward spiral.

The luxury rail car company reacted by slashing workers' wages
and increasing their work load.

After negotiations with ownership broke down the following year,
the American Railway Union, in solidarity with Pullman factory
workers, launched a boycott that eventually shut down railroads
across the US.

It was a full-scale insurrection, as the late historian Howard Zinn
put it, that soon "met with the full force of the capitalist state".

The US Attorney General won a court order to stop the strike,
but the union and its leader, Eugene V Debs, refused to quit.

President Grover Cleveland, over the objections of Illinois
governor, ordered federal troops to Chicago under the pretense
of maintaining public safety.

Soldiers fired their bayoneted rifles into the crowd of 5,000,
killing 13 strike sympathisers. Seven hundred, including Debs,
were arrested.

Debs wasn't a socialist before the strike, but he was after. The
event radicalised him.

"In the gleam of every bayonet and the flash of every rifle," Debs
said later on, "the class struggle was revealed".

I imagine a similar revelation for the tens of thousands of Americans
who participated in last fall's Occupy Wall Street protests.

As you know, the movement began in New York City and spread
quickly, inspiring activists in the biggest cities and the smallest
hamlets.

Outraged by the broken promise of the US and inspired by democratic revolts of Egypt and Tunisia, they assembled to protest economic injustice and corrupt corporate power in Washington.

Yet the harder they pushed, the harder they were pushed back
with violence.

Protesters met with police wearing body armour, face shields,
helmets and batons; police legally undermined Americans' right
to assemble freely with "non-lethal" weaponry like tear gas,
rubber bullets and sonic grenades.

There was no need for the president to call in the army. An army,
as Mayor Bloomberg quipped, was already there.

Before Occupy Wall Street, many protesters were middle- and
upper-middle class college graduates who could safely assume
the constitutional guarantee of their civil liberties.

But afterward, not so much. Something like scales fell from their
eyes, and when they arose anew, they had been baptised by the
fire of political violence.

Income inequality isn't just about justice; it's about freedom, too.

One view of freedom minimises the state's role in an individual's life
and maximises markets so that individuals are free to risk whatever
they want to risk to be whatever they want to be.

Another view sees the obligation of the state to hedge against the
risk of the marketplace so that individuals can feel secure enough
to be what they want to be.

Obviously, the libertarian view favours someone who can afford
risk; the socialist view favours someone who can't.

One view has confidence in the market while the other is skeptical.

One view sees income inequality as natural while the other sees it
as politically oppressive.

Emmanuel Saez, an economist from UC Berkeley, tried to quantify
that oppression.

He found that during the first year of the recovery from the 2008
crisis 93 per cent of incomes gains went to the 1 per cent.

"Top 1 per cent incomes grew by 11.6 per cent, while bottom 99
per cent incomes grew only by 0.2 per cent," he said in an update
of a previous study. "... Such an uneven recovery can help explain
the recent public demonstrations against inequality."

Moreover, income for the 99 per cent grew by 20 per cent from
1993-2000, but during the Bush years, it grew by only 6.8 per cent.

It's worth saying again that this is not a natural occurrence of the
free and open marketplace.

The upward redistribution of wealth is the concrete result of
politics and policy - one might even say socialism for the rich,
capitalism for everyone else.

Or should I say authoritarianism for everyone else.

Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the US has spent about $635bn
to militarise the country's local police forces. It's ostensibly an
effort to better prepare communities in case of another attack.

But, as Stephan Salisbury reported recently, there has been a
cultural transformation, too.

"The truth is that virtually the entire apparatus of government
has been mobilised and militarised right down to the university
campus."

When the state makes a fetish of security, as the US has, it
becomes hard to tell the difference between acts of civil
disobedience and terrorism.

So it's tempting to say two currents conspired to increasingly
limit the freedom of individuals in the land of the free.

One is the funnelling of wealth upward so that the top 10 per
cent owns and controls half the wealth.

The other is the organising of state violence to protect the
oligarchy in case anyone gets wise to what's happening.

Perhaps there's a third: the executing of state violence in the
name of security.

These collided in an instant in November. New York City cops,
under the orders of a billionaire mayor to clear out Zuccotti Park,
suppressed the rights of thousands of Americans who had been
protesting the oligarchy's power over their lives.

Later on, it was revealed that the real estate firm that owned the
park had previously taken more than $174.5 million in tax-payer
subsidies to rebuild after September 11.

Not only was the state reacting to the threat of collective action; it
was defrauding the public of its contractual right to use the park
after having paid for it.

Given all this, I sense the depth of Zinn's line about "the full-force
of the capitalist state".

Occupy protesters aren't just facing local police; they are facing an
entire system bent on breaking dissent and protecting the status quo.

And I sense this is why Eugene Debs became a radical after
experiencing such political violence.

How can you play by the rules when the 1 per cent writes, and
keeps rewriting, the rules?

The only way to fight back is to fight back against the entire system.

In 1918, Debs visited three socialists in jail for dodging the World
War I draft.

Afterward, he walked across the street to give an impromptu speech that enraptured onlookers for hours.

Because of this speech, Debs was eventually found guilty of
violating the Espionage Act, a deeply un-American set of laws that
are still in effect (in fact, the Obama administration is using the
laws against Bradley Manning, who leaked secrets to WikiLeaks).

These laws are designed to crush criticism of the state.

The irony of Debs' time may be the irony of ours:

"They tell us we live in this great free republic; that our institutions
are democratic; that we are a free and self-governing people," Debs
said to his audience. "That is too much, even for a joke."


John Stoehr is the editor of the New Haven Advocate and a lecturer
at Yale.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/03/20123199552
3614214.html

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.