Look Home Obama

TeleSur English, March 19, 2015. In justifying his recent absurd declaration that Venezuela poses an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” – a threat so great as to constitute a “national emergency” for the U.S. – U.S. President Barack Obama, recycled standard trumped-up US charges accusing the Caracas government of corruption and unjust and authoritarian state repression of political protestors.

Forget for a moment, if you can, all of the following:

  • Neither Venezuela – with a defense budget less than one fiftieth the Pentagon’s – nor its alleged corrupt and repressive practices pose the slightest threat to U.S. citizens or “national security.”
  • The protesters whose alleged repression Obama bemoans have been significantly funded and otherwise sponsored by U.S. public and private agencies hoping to spark the overthrow of Venezuela’s democratically elected Left government and its replacement by a Big Business and US- (Empire-) friendly regime, less encumbered by concern for popular aspirations and social needs.
  • If corruption and repression of protest are grounds for Washington to declare a foreign government a threat to US security, then most states on the planet would qualify for the designation.
  • The U.S. is a close ally, sponsor, and military supplier of Saudi Arabia, an absolutist monarchy that treats government departments as elite family fiefdoms and subjects political dissenters (and those accused of violating its arch-reactionary social codes) to be-heading, limb chopping, eye-gouging, public lashing, and other hideous torments.

The US: “An Oligarchy”

Put all that aside for the moment (if you can) and reflect on the stark corruption of the United States. The mostly working class US population has remarkably little say on politics and policy in an ever more transparently plutocratic New Gilded Age America, where the top 1 percent owns more wealth than 90 percent of the population and a probably comparable share of the nation’s “democratically elected officials.”  Majority public opinion – including the opinion of most whites – is technically irrelevant in the US today, ruled as it is by an “unelected dictatorship of money” (Edward S. Herman and David Peterson’s excellent phrase).

You don’t have to be a Marxist, left-anarchist, or other kind of “dangerous radical” like this writer to note that popular governance or democracy has been badly trumped by oligarchy and plutocracy in the US. In a study released last April, leading mainstream political scientists Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern) reported that U.S. democracy no longer exists. Over the past few decades, Gilens and Page determined that the U.S. has become “an oligarchy,” where wealthy elites and their corporations “rule,” wielding wildly disproportionate power over national policy. Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2012, they found that wealthy and well-connected elites consistently steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the U.S. majority. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” Gilens and Page write, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence”

A story about Gilens and Page’s study in the online journal Talking Points Memo (TPM) last April bore an interesting title: “Princeton Study: U.S. No Longer an Actual Democracy.” The story contained a link to an interview in which Gilens explained that “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence.”

Obama’s own Big Business-friendly career and administration (during which 95% of the nation’s income gains have gone to the top 1%) is a great monument to and brazen object lesson in this oligarchic “homeland” reality. For Obama or any other top US official to accuse Venezuela or any other nation of corruption is like the pot calling the kettle black.  People who live in glass, dollar-drenched houses of fake democracy should not throw stones.

“It Harkened Back to Nazi Germany”

Repression of protestors and dissent? How about the U.S. police-state crackdown on the Occupy protestors who spoke out against the “homeland” rule of “the 1%” in the fall and winter of 2011? The repression was coordinated to no small degree by the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security. It occurred in hundreds of cities and towns across the US, the self-declared homeland, headquarters, and beacon of popular democracy.

In Oakland, California, the city’s “progressive” Democratic Mayor Jean Quam decided to crush the movement in a pre-dawn raid. In the still dark hours of the very early morning of Tuesday,  October 25,  2011, heavily armored and visor-wearing riot police from no less than ten Bay Area jurisdictions assaulted protestors with a barrage of rubber bullets, batons, chemical agents, and concussion grenades.  They fired a “sonic canon” designed to attack protestors’ ear drums. The attack was described by a downtown security guard who beheld a massive, Nazi-like police rush on 100 or so hundred peaceful occupiers:

“I witnessed the raid on the Occupation Oakland camp… after 4:30 in the morning, and it was terrifying…there were just so many policeman… the numbers were incredible….they lined up almost like in a phalanx, on the street, and then they moved in…. There were helicopters flying about and with high beams on the camps…the beams were moving across every which way…There were young people in these camps and children, infants in a lot of the tents …They shot…tear gas into the middle of the camp…and then they moved to the next stage of taking the barricades and kicking them down. And then they moved in and the first thing they hit was the information tent, and they just started just tearing everything down… this was a military type operation…It harkened back to old footage I had seen of Nazi Germany …It had that tenor.

…The helicopters, and the lights, and the loudspeaker, all those were all intended to create panic and terror for the people inside…. They had these vehicles that looked like armored boxes, black, special riot vehicles….the thing that stays in my mind’s eye is in the middle ground with the lights from the helicopters, the police moving in and just stomping on these tents, and moving in one layer, after another, moving in deeper and deeper…”

The “Nazi”-like action put a U.S. military veteran (Scott Olson) in intensive care with a fractured skull and inflicted numerous other injuries.

The White House had nothing to say about this terrible police-state assault on peacefully assemble protestors, unleashed sixteen hours after Obama raised a million dollars from wealthy Americans in the same metropolitan area – just across the bay in San Francisco. Obama was silent again weeks later when the New York City police swept down on the original Occupy Wall Street (OWS) site in New York City on the orders of Wall Street titan-turned New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. By one account:

“The area around Zuccotti Park was subject…to a 9/11-level lockdown over peaceful, lawful protests by a small number of people…Martial law level restrictions were in place. Subways were shut down. Local residents were not allowed to leave their buildings. People were allowed into the area only if they showed ID with an address in the ‘hood. Media access was limited to those with official press credentials, which is almost certainly a small minority of those who wanted to cover the crackdown… they were kept well away from the actual confrontation (for instance, the tear gassing of the Occupiers in what had been the [OWS] kitchen, as well as the use of pepper spray and batons). News helicopters were forced to land. As of 10 AM… police helicopters were out in force buzzing lower Manhattan.”

Bloomberg’s “media blackout” on the raid violated international human rights law. A report published in the summer of 2012 documented 130 incidents of excessive force by the NYPD – actions that violated protestors civil and human rights – during the occupation and over subsequent months.

Sweet “Home” Chicago

If Obama wants to see police state repression of popular protestors, he might want look at his own self-declared “home town” Chicago (the president is actually from Honolulu), where local, county, state, federal and private gendarmes confronted anti-NATO protestors with a colossal assemblage of high-tech repressive power in May of 2012.  Activists there were unjustly detained and falsely accused on crassly concocted “terrorism” charges.

It was revealed three weeks ago that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) spies on the phone conversations of social justice protesters  with a technology (the “StingRay”) that lets police track and listen to private cell phones (without the knowledge of cell phone companies).  That is a gross violation of citizen-activists “constitutionally guaranteed” privacy rights and protection from unjust search.

And now we have just learned from the leading British newspaper The Guardian that Chicago police take detainees to an “off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.” The “homeland” rendition site is located in the city’s predominantly Black and poor West-Side neighborhood North Lawndale, in a warehouse known as Homan Square. Homan Square’s “black site” prisoners are “disappeared” – held incommunicado while not being entered into the department’s citywide booking database.  “It’s sort of an open secret among attorneys that regularly make police station visits” a Chicago lawyer told The Guardian,  that “if you can’t find a client in the system, odds are they’re there” (at Homan Square). Other police state abuses carried out at Homan Square include beatings, prolonged shackling, denying’ attorneys access to the “secure” facility, and holding people without legal counsel.

The Guardian told the chilling story of Jacob Church and fellow NATA protestors who were rendered to Homan Square in the spring of 2012:

On May 6, 2012, [Church] and 11 others were taken there after police infiltrated their protest against the NATO summit. …officers cuffed him to a bench for an estimated 17 hours, intermittently interrogating him without reading his Miranda rights to remain silent. Church had written a phone number for the National Lawyers Guild on his arm as a precautionary measure. Once taken to Homan Square, Church asked…to call his lawyers, and was denied. “Essentially, I wasn’t allowed to make any contact with anybody”… Church’s left wrist was cuffed to a bar behind a bench in windowless cinderblock cell, with his ankles cuffed together… for about 17 hours… Though the raid attracted major media attention, a team of attorneys could not find Church through 12 hours of ‘active searching,’ Church’s lawyer recalled. No booking record existed. Only after [the lawyer] and others made a ‘major stink’ with contacts in the offices of the corporation counsel and Mayor Rahm Emanuel did they even learn about Homan Square. They sent another attorney to the facility, where he ultimately gained entry, and talked to Church through a floor-to-ceiling chain-link metal cage.”

Neither of the two major Chicago corporate newspapers – the Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune – have until very recently given this remarkable and explosive story serious attention.  The main thrust of their coverage has been to dismiss the charges as paranoid fantasy.  The story is credible and less than surprising to former Chicago public defenders, however.  One of those former true public servants is Andrea Lyon, currently the dean of Valparaiso University Law School.  Lyon remembers the Chicago police maintaining various “shadow sites” during the 1980s and 1990s, where prisoners were held incommunicado. And she remembers the South Side Chicago Area 2 police station where former police commander John Burge secretly tortured more than 200 suspects to force confessions between 1972 and 1991.

Courtesy of the post 9/11-era, Homan Square has something that none of the city’s old “shadow sites” and Area 2 could have dreamed of: a fleet of big military vehicles (which Church says look like “the MRAPs they use in the Middle East”) transferred to the CPD by the Pentagon over recent years. The surplus military hardware is meant no doubt to deter “terrorism” – well, protest and democracy – in “the homeland.”

If Barack Obama is seriously concerned about egregious political corruption and police state repression of protesters, he should look home — all the way to his “home town.”


Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)


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By | 2015-03-22T19:28:19+00:00 March 22nd, 2015|Articles|