Posts Tagged 'NYPD'

The “O’s”

It has been a good long time – 70 plus years since my last encounter with the NYPD. My name-sake Grandfather had his grocery store on West 46th between 9th and 10th. I spent my summers and school vacations with him opening the store at 6 AM after stopping first at the Fulton Street markets. Home was in Brooklyn and the daily drive over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan remains a vivid memory. At the market we’d load up with fresh fruits, vegetables, and cheese. Each vendor would offer a slice or a piece of whatever they were selling – it was the original walking breakfast. We’d next drive through the streets just awakening with activity, to the store. My first job was to sweep the sawdust from the floor and replace it with fresh. Then into the front window to sweep up bread crumbs and put fresh white butcher paper before the bread man arrived. Next began the parade of eponymous truck drivers whose names were Mr. Ballantine, Mr. Borden, Mr. Schlitz, and so on.

One of the morning tasks was to create the display of fruits and vegetables in front of the store’s window. Grandpa did this with care and a bit of artistic flair – it was my Grandfather’s art actually and he was quite proud of it.  I remember people stopping by to chat especially the old Sicilian ladies in black, of course, squeezing everything for freshness including me. West 46th was a neighborhood teeming with interesting characters most of whom stopped to exchange greetings and a few words. At noon the store would fill with dock-workers in for their hero “sangwitches” to be washed down with a quart of beer. It was a wonderful world of characters and personalities for me to have grown up in, these are all my fondest memories which I treasure to this day.

Sadly it wasn’t all thus. Every day, into our world would swagger the beat cop twirling his night-stick walking usually from East to West on our side of the street. Invariably the cop would stop in front of the fruit display, select a gem of an apple, peach, or pear, toss it up, catch it, and walk off without a word. Notice I didn’t include pay for it. In those days most cops’ names began with an “O” as in ’OToole, O’Reilly, O’Neil and so on. I was puzzled, why doesn’t this guy have to pay like everyone else? Grandpa wouldn’t say a word but would make a silent gesture drawing his fingers under his chin. You get the picture. We were the “other” then and silence was the safest response. There have always been “others” in every era and every culture treated dismissively and with scarce if any respect. In the US blacks have been treated as others since long before the so-called “Revolution” of white landowners and businessmen against their king. The Civil War “revolution” of Southern whites to preserve slavery didn’t resolve the matter either nor did two world wars in which black Americans served equally and with valor but came home to the same racism they had left. Yes, the overt legal issues have mostly been resolved but not the essential and foundational social, emotional, or moral ones. Racism was and continues to be deeply embedded in the society as are prejudices against Jews, Catholics, Blacks, Hispanics, foreigners of any kind – in short “others”. And, one has to ask, why does it have to be this way?

So now I’m in New Mexico reading the news on the internet when I see the cop who choked Eric Garner was named Pantaleo and what struck me immediately was that his name ends in “O”. Back in the day the racist names began with “O”. Is this progress? Does Pantaleo know how Italians were treated 70 years ago? Have we not progressed as a society since the 1940s or are we just better at pretending we have? The 1948 Kerner Commission report unequivocally stated that racism was then pervasive and as American as apple pie and now, 66 years later it’s clear not much has changed except a few more minorities have been added to the “other” list.  The newly elected Republican majority in Congress seems full bent on harassing and embarrassing our black President to the extent of openly discussing denying him a Congressional venue for his State of the Union address. Armed militias are stationing themselves along the US Mexican border posing for group photos holding all manner of firearms; they are there to prevent children from entering the country. Isn’t this depravity?

Inequality and racism have been the evil twins hovering above every civilization seeking its humanity. Time and again people have struggled to address this reality  – “Liberté, egalité, fraternité” – people seeking truth, justice, equality, freedom, and dignity. These are the qualities of life that define what we wish humanity and thus our societies to consist of. Racism is simply another face of inequality, another facet of injustice, a denial of liberty that chains both racists and their victims to incivility, hatred, and dysfunctional society. In the absence of truth none of the problems of inequality, injustice, or racism can ever be resolved. So it is that the truth must be told, inequality exposed, and racism condemned.

We must not accept that racism or inequality are facts of existence with no resolution. Nothing is gained  by pretending have a race neutral or egalitarian society regardless of John Bohner’s claims otherwise, we are not having truthful discourse about the matter. Truth number one: racial problems are not legal they are moral. We have applied legalistic solutions for years and haven’t come close to approaching the underlying moral issues. I’ll submit that casting and discussing inequality and racism or even better “other-ism” as a moral question will take us further towards the truth. We need to begin now while there is still time. Racism and inequality are by far the most deadly enemies of American society. We cannot continue to impoverish entire classes of citizens while cutting taxes for the most wealthy. We cannot continue criminalizing feeding the poor and homelessness; these are truths – moral truths. Adam Smith long ago clearly spelled it out: “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” Not even the fantasy of “American Exceptionalism” will save us from the inevitable – it didn’t save Ozymandias and it won’t save us.

Spying on Democracy – reviewed

Spying on Democracy Heidi Boghosian City Lights Books – 2013 I haven’t reviewed any books for quite a while. This one, however, compels me to recommend it to anyone who is concerned about or isn’t aware of our government’s prolific domestic spying and its consequences. In the name of keeping us safe from terrorists the NSA, FBI, CIA, and the entire host of organizations, governmental and private, from the municipal to the national level are destroying the meaning and value of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. In short, in their minds they must destroy our open democratic society in order to “save” us. Tragically, the question has now become, who is going to save us from them? The New York City Police Department  gets special attention from the author for their despicable treatment of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The NYPD created situations that forced protesters into circumstances for which they would then be arrested. That’s called entrapment. Not to be forgotten either is the $4.6 million “donation” to the NYPD by Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, conveniently made during the Occupy protests making sure his interests were protected. The transaction made clear the NYP’s priorities and loyalties. The combination of class warfare and militarized police suppression of lawful protest across the US is a clear indication of the direction in which we are being steered and by whom. As to the global scope of surveillance read today’s (10/25/13) headlines exposing the US for tapping the phones of the heads of state of our allies; Brazil, France, and Germany among them. Our government is monitoring the phone calls of 35 world leaders. It isn’t just us Americans who are being surveilled  it’s also people who are supposed to be our allies. As detailed by Ms Boghosian, it isn’t just the government gathering and storing information about us either. Each and every purchase you make using a credit card in a store or on the internet is noted, aggregated, and sold. The information gathered is sold to corporations wishing to peddle their wares to you and, of course, the data is shared with the government. Spying of Democracy is a scary book. It details and explains how every aspect of your life is being constantly examined regardless of any acts on your part that would indicate you have terroristic tendencies or affiliations. Your phone calls, your credit card transactions, the books you buy, your waist size, your friends — all of this data and metadata is under a microscope and stored away for future use. The heads of government spy operations lie about these activities even when called before congress and testifying under oath. Heidi Boghosian is a brave and patriotic individual in the same manner as Edward Snowden. If the efforts of these patriots go unheeded we are in for a sorry ride to the end of freedom of speech and expression. Buy the book. Inform yourself. And remember, everyone is always watching you.

Can We Change Human Nature?

“So what do you suggest for a “solution”?”

The above was a response from a thoughtful person who had read my last essay on politics, “Rough Times Ahead.” A fair question and my answer is thus:

My dear friend, it beats me. I have no ideal solutions solving problems such as general dishonesty and lack of basic humanity among social and political leaders and the general public. Changing human nature sounds to me like the only sufficient and necessary course of action, but is that even a possibility? Human nature, it seems to me, is hell bent on destroying what’s left of the social contract, a culture of “me firsters.”

I recently watched Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, “testifying” before the Senate Banking Committee about the $2 billion loss his company racked up on a hedge fund crap-shoot. You’ll remember Dimon, he’s the guy who last year gave the NYPD a $2 million tip for keeping the #occupywallstreet demonstrators away from his condominium door. As cynical as I confess I am, I wasn’t prepared for what I witnessed. Senators Corker of Idaho, DeMint of South Carolina, Johans of Nebraska and Mike Crapo of Idaho gushed and smarmed, stopping just short of stepping off their dais to kiss Dimon’s ass. Dimon smiled approvingly, wallowing in the Olympian tributes to his financial prowess, and the warm encomiums. I later learned that these senators, Republicans all, were beneficiaries of very generous donations to the Republican PAC from Dimon’s company.

What does the foregoing say about human nature and, at the very least, the nature and character of those senators and the voters who elect and re-elect them? What do we do about these kinds of people? Run them out of office comes to mind, but how do you do that when most voters are uninformed and want to stay that way? As long as Senator Blowhard can claim to be pursuing welfare cheats, deporting illegal immigrants, stopping healthcare reform, and bringing jobs and prosperity to their district, everyone is happy. Why are we stirring things up by talking about integrity, honesty and the social contract? Salute the flag, my friend, and be happy, join in, the 4th of July is upon us. Let’s all be Yankee Doodle Dandies!

Can we change human nature? What can you say to a crowd of middle-class whites, mostly Tea Party activists and predominantly Christian, who cheered when a presidential candidate told them a poor person would probably die from a medical emergency without national health insurance? This is a view, by the way, supported by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, also a Catholic, who opposes the health care reforms promoted by President Obama. Scalia you might remember also approved of an innocent man being executed for a crime he didn’t commit. The author of an article about the health care case now before the Supreme Court, Ilyse Hogue,  titled her essay, “Healthcare and Scalia’s Broken Moral Compass.” I have news for you, Ilyse, Scalia doesn’t have a moral compass, and how can you fix that? If readers really want a thrill, I suggest you read the Comments section following her article to see what your fellow Americans think about health care for everyone.

<http://www.thenation.com/blog/168452/healthcare_and_scalias_broken_moral_compass >

What can you say to Rep. Paul Ryan who wants to cut medical benefits for injured and disabled veterans and who, along with Speaker of the House John Boehner—both Catholics by the way—“respectfully disagree” with a Catholic bishop who said it is not very Jesus-like to let poor people starve. Of course, had they chanted the doctrine of not allowing family-planning or equal rights for homosexuals they could have been on their way to sainthood. Hey, it’s all negotiable, it’s all fungible, just ask the nuns who are being reined in for being uppity, for promoting “radical feminist themes.” What can be done about all of this dystopian and sociopathic behavior and attitude? Where do we start? You tell me.

We certainly can’t tell the Pope. He has his hands full with a major banking fraud scandal in Rome and child molestation around the globe. Preachers are telling their flocks homosexuals should be interned in special camps and food dropped in from aircraft and immigrants removed from the country. Getting your chaplain card punched doesn’t seem to be an option these days. I’m not even going to deal with the attack on public education funded by neo-liberal right-wing billionaires like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch boys, who see privatized schools as profit centers and indoctrination camps. They also see needy seedy politicians as fair game, whose PACs are open for business.

Where do we start? For openers I suggest we start with ourselves and strive to engage and ultimately occupy the narrative. It’s going to be a long uphill slog to save public education from the profit mongers, to save public health, to save a public space where people can talk with each other in a civil manner. It’s going to be a long uphill slog to reverse the Citizens United weapon unleashed against our democracy by the current Supreme Court and it must be done.

We must constantly and consistently expose the divisiveness of those who place profit and personal gain over the common good in all areas of life, be they corporations, government, labor unions, professional organizations, anywhere and everywhere. Our civil society, our Democracy, and representative government are at risk, and if they are to be preserved it will require hard and persistent effort. That, in my opinion, is what we must do no matter the odds, no matter how long it takes, and no matter the price.

I hope you find this helpful.

 

It Is Class Warfare

No matter how you slice it what is going on in the United States today is in fact class warfare. I recalled recently a paper I wrote as a graduate student in the 1970s titled “A Few Drops of Phenomenology”. Never mind that there are books piled on top of books written on the subject by, among others, some of the most eminent philosophers of the 20th century I wasn’t then attempting to one-up those guys nor am I now. What I was trying to do then, as now, was to explain to myself the bewildering array of perceptions and actions centered on the same phenomenon, the same object, the same event, the same body of knowledge. It seemed at the time, and probably because I had never much thought about it before then, that nothing could be the same for everyone. Yet so much of what passes for discourse and the daily stream of events assumes such; something along the lines of normative agreement. We are all in this together, all men are created equal, common goals and values, all for one and one for all, united we stand, and all of that sort of social organizing  which is little more than normalizing propaganda; these are the socializing mantras to which we are all subjected from childhood. These form the basis of the belief system we call the social contract.

I recently watched a video of a preacher, a Christian preacher in Louisiana, demean and demonize just about everyone who wasn’t present and who wasn’t like him and his congregation. He wanted everyone else, he shouted at the top of his lungs for all non-Christians to “Get Out!”. He meant out of the country, by the way. I’ve seen a few period newsreel films of Adolf Hitler addressing crowds during his rise to power in Germany and the Reverend Dennis Terry’s rhetorical style is identical. In the preacher’s audience was Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum who stood up and  roundly applauded the hatred spewed by the so-called “preacher”. Of course, when the speech and Santorum’s presence was posted on the internet the candidate, who was shown being blessed in a laying on of hands by the “preacher”, backed away. Beep, beep, beep, beep!

Such pandering has become a style of politics and is reminiscent of George Wallace and his four presidential campaigns.  Here’s what Wallace had to say after his first unsuccessful run for governor of Alabama in 1958. “After the election, aide Seymore Trammell recalled Wallace saying, “Seymore, you know why I lost that governor’s race?… I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.’” Here we are 54 years later and the same dynamic, the same corrosive rhetoric with cleaned-up language is being used across the board by candidates and their supporters. This time it is Muslims, and  “foreigners” (read – Hispanics), gay rights, non-believers of whatever religion is at hand, people on welfare (Remember Ronald Reagan and his “welfare queens”?), health care, women’s health, birth control, gun control – the list goes on and on and on. And let’s not forget Georgia state Representative Terry England’s  comparison of women needing to abort a stillborn or dying fetus to pregnant cows and pigs. The hot button issues of our national disaffection, dysfunction, disillusionment, and disintegration as a society never mind community.

Another example, as if we really need more, of social dysfunction is reflected in how certain cities, certain mayors, and certain police departments respond to the #occupy movement. Class warfare is when billionaire mayors such as Michael Bloomberg’s allow their police department to brutalize not only demonstrators but even the press. Another billionaire, Jamie Dimon, chairman, president and chief executive of J.P. Morgan Chase donated $4.6 million to the NYC police department during last year’s #occupy demonstrations. Is it reasonable to ask what he got for his money? Between 2001 and 2011, Dimon’s company, J.P. Morgan, paid 4 billion – 877 million dollars in fines and penalties to various governmental authorities here and abroad for illicit financial activities. During the dust-up over the collapse of banks and the rise of #occupywallstreet, The Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, himself a millionaire with a net worth said to be around $2.1 million dollars, criticized President Obama’s plans to reduce the deficit and charmingly characterized populist activity as creating class-warfare in the United States where, according to him, no such thing exists.

Which brings us to the pernicious American delusion of equality. Here is an excerpt  from an interview with Princeton Professor Julian Zelizer on the topic of class warfare:

ZELIZER: Americans often and historically like to think of themselves as a classless society. There were even polls during the height of the Great Depression which famously showed that many Americans thought of themselves as being in the middle class, even those who were struggling with unemployment and who had nothing to subsist on.

There is a belief in this country that someone who doesn’t have a lot of money, one day, has the opportunity to have a lot of money. And because of this, it’s often been very hard for those on the left to use the notion of class conflict as a rallying cry as a way to organize social protest.

Here you have the belief system on which the American social contract is based and woe be unto those who would challenge this delusion with phrases such as “class warfare”. The haves, including the millionaire members (a majority) of the US Congress object. A protester’s sign during the #occupywallstreet summarized the argument: “They only call it class war when we fight back.”

Classlessness is the salving  delusion for the American middle-class. Even though they don’t really belong to a middle-class they maintain the delusion with reinforcement from the mass media and politicians. In their own minds they live upwardly-mobile in a classless society a contradiction which constitutes a necessary delusion – the glue of the American social contract that binds us together as a society. This is the normative agreement which keeps things from getting out of hand and, at the same time, keeps them from getting better.

This essay first appeared at: http://www.thelightofnewmexico.com/


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