Obama backs continued militarization of local police forces

Jerry White

President Obama held a series of White House meetings with cabinet members, police commanders and official “civil rights” leaders Monday aimed at diffusing popular anger over the whitewash of the police murder of Ferguson, Missouri teenager Michael Brown and the military-style repression of protesters in the St. Louis suburb that followed.

The major initiative coming out of the meetings was the president’s announcement that he would maintain, with certain cosmetic adjustments, the federal program that has armed local police departments with surplus military equipment from the Iraq and Afghan wars.

The scope of the so-called 1033 program came to light during the initial protests following the murder of Brown last August. The world witnessed tanks rolling down the streets of an American city, police threatening to shoot residents with automatic weapons, the implementation of a no-fly zone to block news helicopters from filming mass arrests and the suspension of First Amendment freedoms of speech and association.

In typical Orwellian fashion, Obama said, “I do not want a militarized police culture in America” even as he approved the continuation of the urban warfare program, which the White House says has delivered 460,000 pieces of “controlled property” to domestic police forces, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles and 616 aircraft.

According to press reports, the White House specifically rejected any legislation that would block state and local police from receiving certain items like M-16 rifles and mine-resistant ambush protected, or MRAP, vehicles. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest cited the response to the Boston Marathon bombing—i.e., the lockdown of a major American city by militarized police—as one example of the “proper” deployment of such equipment.

The Detroit model: Permanent rule by the banks

Jerry White

The Michigan legislature is debating a series of bills to impose a financial authority on Detroit that would remain in place long after the city emerges from bankruptcy. An unelected financial “oversight” committee, known as the Michigan Settlement Administration Authority (MSAA), would run the city for two decades, effectively usurping the local government.

When the governor of Michigan installed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr in Detroit last March, it was presented as a temporary measure, lasting 18 months at most. Now, according to the restructuring plan submitted by Orr, a bankruptcy lawyer with close ties to Wall Street, a new body “composed of individuals with recognized financial competence and experience” will have the authority to limit city borrowing and expenditures and tear up labor agreements.

The authority is to be charged with ensuring that the city “continues to implement financial and operational reforms” outlined in the restructuring plan. This includes an effective 30 percent cut in pensions and health care benefits for more than 30,000 current and retired public employees. The “robust governance structure” outlined in Orr’s plan will promote “long-term public confidence in the fiscal health and stability of Detroit, in particular with financial markets.”

It could hardly be stated more clearly: the proposed body will be accountable solely to Wall Street. It will remain in power indefinitely and will not be subject to a popular vote or recall.

The police assault at University of California, Davis

Jerry White

The November 18 police assault on protesting students at University of California, Davis has exposed the reactionary and brutal character of political, social and economic relations in the United States.

For all its endless and self-congratulatory tributes to democracy, the American ruling elite’s hypocrisy and insincerity are unmasked for all to see the moment the super-rich and their government perceive a threat to the interests of the corporate and financial aristocracy that controls the United States.

The university police were armed as if they were entering a battle zone. It is clear from their actions that they looked upon the students not as human beings, but as things - to be controlled, brutalized and even shot down if the orders to do so were given. The policeman who sprayed the students with a noxious chemical went about his work placidly and methodically, treating his victims as if they were insects or, perhaps, weeds in his backyard. His fellow storm troopers did not indicate the slightest discomfort with his actions.

The US government has used the issue of human rights to justify its attacks on whatever regime runs afoul of its geo-political interests. One can imagine the uproar in the media if the events at UC Davis had occurred at Tehran University. In fact, there is not a ruling class in the world that has anything to teach the American corporate elite when it comes to repression and violence.

It is no mere coincidence that the attack on UC Davis students occurs as the US-backed military regime in Egypt is brutally suppressing demonstrators in Tahrir Square. The scale of the attacks may be different, but the content is the same. Throughout the world, workers and young people are involved in an expanding class struggle against austerity and mass unemployment. The response of every government is to use state repression to impose the dictates of the financial elite.

The brutal treatment of the California students is a measure of the fear and anxiety felt within the corporate and political establishment. If this is the response to the first stages of social opposition, involving as yet a relatively small number of students and young people, one can only imagine the scale of violence the American ruling elite will unleash once it confronts mass strikes and demonstrations by far broader sections of the working class.

Photos released of atrocities by US “kill team” in Afghanistan

Jerry White

The incident depicted in this image is not part of the court
martial proceedings against members of the "kill team". It
does nevertheless come from the collection of one of the
suspects. (Der Spiegel)

"The individual soldiers involved in these acts must be held accountable. But their actions, as heinous as they are, pale in comparison to the murder of tens of thousands of Afghan and Pakistani civilians carried out by the architects of the war. Those officials in the Bush and Obama administrations and the Pentagon should be tried for war crimes."

The German news magazine Der Spiegel on Monday published photographs of atrocities carried out last year by members of a US Army unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan. One photo includes an American soldier smiling for the camera as he lifts the head of a dead Afghan civilian like a hunter after bagging his game.

Der Spiegel published three photos, but it and Der Spiegel TV have reportedly obtained 4,000 photographs and videos from a collection belonging to a suspected member of a US army “kill team.”

The unit—attached to the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state—is charged with murdering civilians for sport, cutting off body parts for trophies, and planting weapons to make their victims look like insurgents killed in combat. Five soldiers—including the two in the published photos—are facing court martial proceedings for murdering three unarmed civilians and other crimes.

Two of the photos depict US soldiers posing with the half-naked and blood-soaked corpse of Gul Mudin, a 37-year-old farmer who was killed in front of his child on January 15, 2010. The killing occurred in the village of La Mohammed Kalay, near Forward Operating Base Ramrod in Kandahar. The third photo is a picture of the dead bodies of two other civilians, propped up back-to-back with their hands bound, positioned in front of a military vehicle.

The Pentagon and Obama administration deliberately concealed this evidence of US war crimes from the public in the US and internationally. The military judge in the court martial case prohibited the release of the photos, but they were leaked to Der Spiegel by an unknown source. A defense attorney for one of the soldiers in the case told the Washington Post, “The Army is spending most of their time investigating the photos rather than the murder.”

Wisconsin protests continue

Jerry White

Demonstrations continued in the state capital of Wisconsin Tuesday against Governor Scott Walker’s budget-cutting proposal and attack on public employees. Protests inspired by the stand taken by Wisconsin workers also spread to other states across the country, including Indiana and Ohio.

In Indianapolis workers marched at the state capitol against Republican governor Mitch Daniels’ proposal to restrict bargaining by public school teachers. In Columbus, marchers denounced a bill that would prohibit collective bargaining for 42,000 state workers in addition to 19,500 workers in the state’s university and college system. (See “Columbus, Ohio rally against anti-worker legislation”) Protests also took place in Lansing, Michigan, Boston and other cities.

In New Jersey, Republican Governor Chris Christie announced a state budget Tuesday that would double a property tax rebate program only if lawmakers voted to require public workers pay 30 percent of their health care benefits, more than triple what they pay now.

In addition to draconian cuts in public and higher education, Medicaid and other services, Wisconsin’s Republican governor is demanding public employees sharply increase their contributions to health care and pension benefits, a move that would result in hundreds of dollars in lost wages each month.

The governor is also seeking to strip teachers, nurses, firefighters and other state and municipal employees of bargaining rights and bar negotiations on any issues except pay increases, which could not exceed a rise in the Consumer Price Index. The measure would also end automatic deduction of union dues and compel bargaining units to have a revote every year to maintain union representation.

In a 10-minute “Fireside Chat” Tuesday night, Walker reiterated his determination to press ahead and once again attempted to pit private sector workers against public employees by claiming public workers had not given up the type of wage and benefit concessions during the recession as workers in private industry.

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