Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Terror in the Big Apple

When two New York City police officers were shot to death this month, they were parked in front of a public housing project during an anti-terrorism training exercise. That just about says it all.

Cop union boss Patrick Lynch is actually correct about there being a war in the Big Apple. But it's not only a war of the cops against a liberal Democratic mayor and against the people protesting police brutality. It's the war of neoliberalism against the poor and working classes, and it's been going on for decades. The cops function to ease the gentrification process, and to contain the disposable populations. It's the rich whom they serve and protect. And thus it was no anomaly that the US vice president, the governor of New York, and all manner of dignitaries ostentatiously attended the funeral of one lowly murdered cop last weekend. The dead man is a symbol of their own endangered law, their own endangered order. Not for concern for the hoi polloi, either, is the New York Times wringing its hands over an alleged work slow-down by some selfish counterrevolutionary cops.

If the whole world is a battlefield, then the inner cities abutting the enclaves of the obscene rich are the theaters of modern  guerrilla warfare. Poor neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, where the cop shooting took place, might as well be another Mogadishu or Fallujah as far as the elites are concerned.

The wealth gap in New York City is the most extreme in the United States, with the city simultaneously housing a record number of billionaires and a record number of poor people. Homelessness is at a record high, and half the population is living in or near poverty.  From Bloomberg:
The most commonly used measure of inequality is the Gini index, which ranges between 0, which would be complete equality (everyone in a community has the same income), and 1, which is complete inequality (one person has all the income, all others none).  Manhattan’s Gini index stood at 0.596 in 2012, higher than that of South Africa before the Apartheid-ending 1994 election. (The U.S. average is 0.471.) If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 for which the World Bank reports data. In 2009 New York’s wealthiest one percent earned a third of the entire municipality’s personal income — almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.
The same patterns can be seen, albeit to a lesser extent, in other major cities. A 2006 analysis by the Brookings Institution showed the percentage of middle income families declined precipitously in the 100 largest metro areas from 1970 to 2000.
Meanwhile, based on the number of actual boots on the ground, the NYPD  is now the seventh largest army on the entire planet.

The collapse of the financial system in 2008 only accentuated the plight of the already marginalized living in poor urban neighborhoods. Even low-level employment opportunities collapsed, and brutal austerity measures under both a billionaire mayor (Michael Bloomberg) and the deficit hawks in both national political parties oversaw food stamp cuts and unemployment insurance and other drastic reductions in the social safety net.  Foreclosures on subprime mortgage disproportionately hit black and Latino populations, while the financial fraudsters of Wall Street have not only gone unpunished, but have succeeded in extracting even more wealth as a reward for their own malfeasance.

And the week before Christmas, two cops sat in their squad car, parked outside of a building which houses the poor and downtrodden. In the war on terror, the poor and downtrodden are considered terrorists until proven otherwise. The "disposition matrix" constructed by President Obama and his CIA consigliere John Brennan has come home to the Homeland. And HQ Central of the Homeland is in the Big Apple. Goldman Sachs even shares office space with the cops in its taxpayer-subsidized office tower. (If nothing else, the city police are suffering from one hell of a post-Bloomberg hangover. No more Muslim-stalking. No more stop-and-frisk. It must be hard to have a new mayor trying to at least somewhat reverse a fascist coup.)

The two murdered police officers were victims not only of the crazed shooter -- they were collateral damage of the tenuous oligarchic system that employed them. They were working overtime, probably to earn some extra money for Christmas. Cops, as members of the middle class Precariat, are tasked with keeping the real underclass in line. The plutocracy draws its domestic armed forces not from within its own class,  but from the ranks of the working poor, integrating them into its program of economic and political oppression. Police forces are the low-intensity (usually) military ops for the elites. No wonder the rulers get all shaken up when a few of their domestic troops get killed. If you actually think they personally give a shit about the murdered cops, though, think again. They are mourning symbols of their own power, not the disposable bullet-ridden human bodies.

Two cops were sitting in their squad car in front of a public housing project, learning how to detect the terror camouflaged in every neighborhood resident. They were there to learn how to track and target people moving about within the cluttered infrastructure, there to detect threats in the mundane activities and spaces of everyday life.

It was probably no accident that another recent police shooting took place within another Brooklyn public housing project, neglected by the same austerity policies which have destroyed the hope and dignity of so many people. A cop shot and killed a resident for the offense of simply moving and existing within his own pitch-black stairwell. The officer apparently panicked, but he'd also been effectively trained to automatically criminalize the tenants of projects.

And while cops patrol the domiciles of the demonized poor, the free-marketers of both political parties have ramped up selling out public housing to vulture capitalists. In a little-noticed section of this month's corporate giveaway known as the Cromnibus Bill, the number of public housing units being "privatized" by the Obama administration has tripled, from 60,000 to 180,000 units.

Of course, the neoliberals of HUD are euphemising this corruption by calling the program "Rental Assistance Demonstration" (RAD). It's rad, all right -- in a scary Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand kind of way. Not only did  RAD go from an unproven pilot program to full-scale evisceration of public housing in the space of only a few months, it puts the lives of the poor -- mainly elderly and women -- into the clutches of the same predators who destroyed the housing market through subprime fraud in the first place. The Obama administration has once again chosen the rentiers over the renters. And it set the stage for this privatization of the units by deliberately underfunding public housing in every proposed White House budget since 2010.

The developers who take over public housing (a major safety net for the poor) will be able to set their own rents and, as usual, will be immune from all government oversight and accountability should the dwellings fall into even further disrepair. The renters themselves will receive government rent vouchers instead of protective leases. Foreclosures and evictions are distinct possibilities and are all part and parcel of the "creative destruction" of poor neighborhoods.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) complained to Obama about the selling-out of public housing in her own Watts district, but to no avail. (After all, he got his start in Chicago politics thanks to the FIRE gentrification crowd). Waters said, “Put simply, if the price of accessing private capital is to put public housing ownership at risk, then that price is too high. A more appropriate and sustainable approach would be for the federal government to provide adequate funding directly to the public housing program.”

And as tenants rights advocate Lynda Carson writes,
In addition to RAD destroying thousands of good union public housing jobs across the nation, RAD pits low-income renters in the Section 8 program against public housing tenants needing Section 8 vouchers. Because RAD results in displacing tenants from their public housing units, the tenants are pressured to accept Section 8 vouchers to find another place to reside. Vouchers that may not be worth much as the on-going massive sequestration budget cuts destroy the Section 8 voucher program.
According to a November 2014 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), massive sequestration budget cuts that are still in effect have resulted in the loss of 100,000 Section 8 vouchers (Housing Choice Vouchers) during 2013. Unless the sequestration budget cuts are ended which is unlikely once Republicans take total control of Congress on January 1, 2015, public housing tenants pressured to accept Section 8 vouchers because of the RAD program are being placed at risk of homelessness.
And isn't that the whole plan? More open green spaces, less housing for the marginalized and criminalized poor to hide from the paranoid and predatory rich.

 Neighborhoods on the elite chopping block have been transformed into military Human Terrain Systems.  CCTV at every intersection allows real instances of urban violence to supplement the fictional fare that Hollywood produces to frighten us into submission. If citizens can envision urban areas and housing projects as hotbeds of savagery, then citizens can also accept more police and more jails. It's an endless propaganda feedback loop, in which both the cognitively superior "liberal" elites and the fundamentalist right-wingers are manipulated into joining forces in their hatred of the "Other". One side calls them IQ-deficient gun-loving losers in need of a hand up rather than a handout. The other side calls them godless moochers and takers lolling about on their hammocks of dependency.

Two cops, sitting in their patrol car, guarding against terror in front of the place where the poor people live.

America: where life itself has been a war for a long, long time.

You can watch the Ball drop tonight in Times Square.


Grumpy Pearl said...

Ever since Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper got together I have stopped watching the Times Square festivities. They represent the dumbing of humor and interesting repartee in our so called culture.

Pearl said...

Anyhow, a safe and healthy New Year to you all with hopes for some needed changes to astonish us.
Keep speaking up and out!

Karen Garcia said...

Happy New Year to you too, Pearl, and to all readers of the blog. Brace yourselves.

I watched a bit of Anderson and Kathy on CNN last night. It was a spectacular primer on how to incarcerate the masses and tell them they're having a great time. People were literally renditioned into containment cells by the cops and told not to eat and drink because they'd be stuck there for hours upon hours with no bathroom facilities. One CNN interviewer spent his time asking people about their bladders as he teased them with dripping fountains imagery. They looked pissed enough to piss all over him. But even if they wanted to run away from the interview they couldn't. They were trapped.

The falling crab in Maryland made for endless jokes on STDs, of course.

I had to shut it off after the segment of New Years Eve drunks on a cruise ship complete, with a computerized robotic bartender mixing the drinks. Welcome to late capitalism.

annenigma said...

Happy New Year, Karen and everyone!

Hang in there, keep the faith, and stay strong.

I have a good feeling about this year.

Will said...

Happy New Year, Karen & fellow Sardonickists everywhere around the world!

I've got a good feeling too, Anne.

No justice, no peace!

Pearl said...

Planting a Seed for 2015 via @sharethis

Another moving article from Pitt in Truthout

Zee said...

I, too, would like to wish all Sardonickistas around the world as much health and happiness as possible in the New Year.

Regarding any sense of optimism as to what 2015 may be bringing, well, I think that I'll reserve any commentary on that topic until this same time, 2016!

Bert Gold, Frederick, Maryland said...

I was in Times Square for New Year's eve.. a friend has an office on 54th near 8th and my wife and I were there until 11:30 when we went downstairs to watch the ball drop. I don't know how people could stand there 8+ hours.

This morning I am reminded that the earth can't really bear the massive human population explosion. The Cod are largely gone:

On the way back to the hotel, my wife saw a fistfight on the street between two drunks and called it in to 911. The dispatcher, acting like an accomplice in the Kitty Genovese killing questioned my wife's detailed knowledge of the alleged perpetrators to the altercation. This was done in spite of the fact that it delayed a police response. Yes, Karen is correct. The police are there for the wealthy; not for us average folks.

ste-vo said...

wWell, we were disappointed this year. We normally have a bonfire on the ice of Lake Dunmore. But this year was kind of iffy. The ice is not really thick enough to support a bunch of people and a 70# dog and the fire! Actually there are some areas frozen, but it has been so warm of late that it is all bit confusing. So this year my lovely wife and I were in bed, lights out, asleep well before the clock chimed midnight. For very personal reasons, my wife and are so glad that 2014 is over(aging parents with major health issues linked to old-age and the clusterfuck of AmeriKan health care in play) The long slow-motion trainwreck will continue in 2015. I am hoping our lives are better. Thank you Karen for a wonderful year of reading-induced outrage. You would think I would be sick of it by now.