One commenter on my previous post about state violence makes the point that:

"America is still suffering under the Glamor of The Thug, held up as an alternative lifestyle and promoted as an easy road to big bucks. This has been going on for many years, especially here, before any of those factors of yours came in to play."

I agree. America is a society obsessed with violence. Brutality is glamorized. Case in point - New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and Police Chief Riley playing tough guys with the NOPD's weaponry.

Thugs par excellence.

Wanna see another thuggish brute making some easy bucks off the suffering of others? Here's ex-president Bush playing jet fighter back in 2003, landing aboard a nuclear powered air craft carrier of San Diego.

Here's the ex-VP thug caressing a gun.

Do we really think that the behavior of our government leaders doesn't matter? Does not their ready use of violence represent the wider culture of violence we are all a part of. To point at young black men in New Orleans as exceptionally violent or to call them "thugs" is to miss the larger point that America is a superviolent society.

The solutions have got to be political, and we've got to widen our conception of violence to include the harms that are done to working class people by the state through absence of health care, low wages, bad schools, environmental racism, etc.....


Stop the Violence
What will it really take?

New Orleans, I know we can stop the violence. We must.

All these street marches and vigils against crime, yard signs and “more cops” talk, is this really going to accomplish the change we seek though?

Please understand, my friends and loved ones have been victims too, but I'm afraid all this rhetoric about “personal responsibility,” and individual moral failure is diverting us from the things we can most effectively change through collective action. I'm going to put it out there first and foremost, the movement against violence has got to be political. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us, the movement has got to aim at the “greatest purveyor of violence,” the state.

The best first step to stop the violence, I believe, would be to stop the state from killing: to hold back the city, state, and federal government, and put an end to the bloody spree of homicides they have committed here, especially since 2005.

Homicide? Yes, let's call it out for what it is – premeditated actions by our elected officials that have led to countless deaths.

The biggest scene of the crime is Charity Hospital. The murder weapon has been Baton Rouge's ability to keep the doors locked and health care in this city virtually paralyzed since Katrina. Our city leaders have been eager accomplices in this heist. State leaders representing LSU, in cahoots with the Mayor and other local power brokers, have been carrying out a figurative stick-up against the federal government.

City and state leaders have literally been sacrificing the lives of New Orleanians in their quest to extort money from the federal government in order to cover the cost of their hospital. By itself Louisiana simply cannot afford the facility and is short by many hundreds of millions.
Louisiana big shots: "Give me you wallet... er, give me $492 million.”

FEMA: “No.”

Were this the more mundane variety of street robbery it would be Louisiana's cue to shoot FEMA about now, grab the loot, and sprint away, across Rampart Street to their hideouts in that big garish City Hall building. Instead, the stakes here are different, and Louisiana's leaders, for all their gangsterish ways can't just pop the federal government. So instead they've grabbed some hostages, a whole city of hostages, and they've been slowly executing them in the countdown to pay-day.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's report “Voices of the Storm: Health Experiences of Low-Income Katrina Survivors” was one of the earliest witness statements against the state's serial killings. According to KFF, “Individuals who have returned to the city face the challenge of obtaining health care in a changed community with a crippled health care system.” The report's key findings are that post-Katrina health care in New Orleans has been woefully inadequate, to the point of sickness and lethality. Although Katrina served as the initial disruption, the failure of the health care system since early 2006 is due mostly to political factors.

Today, 2009, little has changed in New Orleans, and if LSU, Gov. Jindal, and Mayor Nagin get their way nothing will be different until 2012 (the best case scenario) when construction of their dream hospital wraps up in lower-Mid City. That of course requires evicting residents and demolishing their homes to make way for the shiny new medical complex. I believe the police lingo for this is “home invasion robbery.”

Several medical studies have objectively demonstrated the lethal effects of our state and City Hall's behavior. Shocked by the obvious increase in obituaries published in the Times-Picayune, several doctors carried out a statistical analysis of deaths after Katrina, and controlling for other factors concluded that excess mortality rates have increased 47% two years after the storm. That's excess mortality, e.g. preventable and unecessary, and completely due to the political decisions of LSU et al.

Other studies have shown how seniors have borne the greatest burden because of LSU's choices. One report noted a 12.6% morbidity rate increase at New Orleans area managed care organization hospitals for senior citizens. This is compared to a national average of just 3.4%. The mortal consequences of city and state government have most severely affected working class and uninsured New Orleanians. Blacks are disproportionately victimized by the state mobsters. According to Dr. Lynda Burton “Morbidity rates among non-white Orleans residents were the highest when compared to other parishes and there was a significant increase in the prevalence of patients with cardiac diagnoses, congestive heart failure and sleep problems.”

Never mind that alternative plans exist. One coalition of health care advocates, doctors, Mid-City residents, preservationists have shown for over a year now that Big Charity Hospital could be gutted, rebuilt, and turned into a modern facility for hundreds of millions less than LSU's plans. The biggest benefit of this coalition's blueprint is that it would bring health care back to New Orleans much sooner. LSU, however, wants a new building, and a powerful network of business leaders has banked on this plan hoping to turn New Orleans into a biosciences center. The health care industry they envision could make quite a few of them much wealthier, so they press on with their plans, even though the stakes are clearly lethal for this city's working poor and uninsured.

Irregardless of whether the state and city come to their senses and choose the Charity plan over the boondoggle in Mid-City they currently favor, it never had to come to this point. We never should have become collective hostages of LSU's beef with FEMA. In the weeks after Katrina, LSU could have reopened Charity to an operational capacity, no matter what their long-term plans for rebuilding health care were. They could have gotten Charity back up and running. Hundreds of thousands of New Orleanians would have been able to receive treatment, mental health services, and affordable medication. Tens of thousands could have accessed emergency care. Thousands of lives could have been saved. They chose not to, probably because a useful hospital would have proven an obstacle to their real goal all along - a shiney new billion dollar teaching hospital in Mid-City.

All of which brings us back to the issue of violence I posed at the outset: how to stop the epidemic violence in New Orleans?

For every fatal example of armed robbery, a drug deal gone bad, ward beef, depraved greed, hatred, or just plain insanity, there's at least ten more examples of needless deaths due entirely to the action, or inaction of the state to provide for the basic needs and liberties of its citizens.

Moreover, these are not entirely exclusive forms of violence. There's an intimate connection. The government that blatantly denies the value human life through its actions engenders a dog eat dog world among its subjects. The government which sanctions and facilitates violence and exploitation against the poor to benefit the rich (what else do you think the plans for transforming health care in Louisiana are about?) sets a tone and example for all to follow.

I believe that the violence we see on our city's streets is but only the most visible example of a greater, systematic violence which pervades every institution and state office. I also believe this is where we can most effectively take action.


In January 2007 four elder statesmen, George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for "a world free of nuclear weapons."

As it was partially designed to do, their statement seized the attention of arms control and peace and security professionals. Non-governmental organizations large and small, including the Arms Control Association, Peace Action, 2020 Vision Campaign, ACDN, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and many other others, have taken to quoting and invoking the "SPKN" manifesto as a means of instantly legitimating nuclear disarmament. Most disarmament advocates have adopted the practice of beginning fundraising letters, action alerts, and even their own research and analysis with a nod to the SPKN vision - noting that "even these esteemed men of government now join the growing chorus of voices calling for...." or similar accolades. One norwegian official writing on the Arms Control Association's web site goes so far as to praise the "courage and commitment" of Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn, and credits them with opening up political space in which "we might move beyond the false debate between the demand for overnight elimination and the demand that nuclear abolition must be "contemporaneous with the abolition of all evil in the world."

Praise like this is extremely dangerous and counterproductive for advocates of nuclear disarmament.

The goals espoused by Shultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn are not congruent with the holistic goals sought by most anti-nuclear organizers. Yes, on surface these four men are calling for "a world free of nuclear weapons," but once we delve into the details of their plan, beyond the gloss of the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page, we find something different than disarmament grounded in a wider vision of global justice.

What SPKN are actually building through their writings, conferences, and appeals toward a nuclear free future is a pragmatic strategy to maintain US military and economic dominance well into the 21st century. More so, they are establishing the basis for legitimized use of military force against would be proliferaters such as Iran, or any nation that is said to possess or seek WMD capabilities (remember Iraq?). Finally, they are contributing to a wider project of extending neo-colonial control over the technological capacity of the global south by denying these states any independence over their energy or security affairs.

A colleague an I have written about this political strategy, which we call anti-nuclear nuclearism at length here.

George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn have not built their careers off of making peace and pursuing disarmament. In fact, quite the opposite.

Schultz is an insider of the Bechtel Corporation (its former president and board member). Bechtel is arguably the greatest nuclear enterprise in history. It is currently the manager of a vast portion of the US nuclear weapons complex, including the Los Alamos and Livermore weapons labs. Shultz was a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, the political action group that drummed up support for the invasion by arguing, among other things, that Iraq was pursuing WMDs. This is an example (an unfortunately botched one, even many neoconservatives now admit) of Shultz's wider foreign policy plans that are congruent to his call for a nuclear weapons free world.

Former Defense Secretary Perry is a close collaborator of Shultz. Both are Hoover Institute fellows and have used that conservative think tank to organize and mobilize their "nuclear free" message through books, conferences, articles, op-eds, TV appearances, and more. Perry also runs a center at Harvard University called the Preventative Defense Project. Similar to the work at Hoover, the PDP scholars and fellows are hard set on creating a new paradigm for US hegemony in the post-Cold War world. PDP formulates aggressive US military plans to "prevent the emergence of major new threats to the US."

Perry's co-director at the PDP is Ashton Carter. Perry and Carter have spent the last decade drafting articles and op-eds advocating US military strikes against North Korea, alarmist tracts about rising China, and rationalizations of the US-India nuclear deal. Here's a partial bibliography of Perry and Carter's work's. In their 2003 essay "Good Nukes, Bad Nukes," they promote their faux anti-nuclear politics as a way to create legitimacy for US military action against "bad guys." Defending the CTBT and calling for its ratification (which they see as a way to lock in US nuclear advantages and simultaneously legitimate US strikes against would be transgressors) they write:
"...the treaty does have an impact even on "bad guys" like Iraq, Iran and North Korea. When the United States moves against such regimes, it does so with the support of the global opprobrium for nuclear weapons that the treaty enshrines. This consensus undergirds the multilateral approach that is under way to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, and was at the heart of the international pressure that persuaded Tehran to increase the transparency of its nuclear program. Even in the divisive case of Iraq, no one argued that Saddam Hussein should be left alone with weapons of mass destruction."
Henry Kissinger; need I spell out why it's problematic for advocates of nuclear disarmament and general demilitarization invoke this man's name and opinions as though they are synonymous with our own? It's important to remember that Kissinger remains a realist strategist, no matter his specific political positions. If he's calling for nuclear disarmament it must be understood in the context of his unwavering attention to the preservation and extension of US power.

Kissinger's sign-on to the "world free of nuclear weapons" essay is probably the least surprising. He has never seen much use in nuclear weapons for the maintenance of US empire. The former Secretary of State began his career by publishing a very influential study on nuclear weapons, (Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy. New York: Harper, 1957.), the underlying thesis of which is that the strategic deterrent capable of totally annihilating an enemy is rather useless in most every military engagement the US faces in imperial expansion.

At the time, Kissinger called on military strategists to rethink war planning and put more emphasis on the ability to engage in limited wars, with limited aims, where military victory might not even be necessary for the achievement of strategic victory. At the time he was not calling for nuclear disarmament under any rubric, however. His recent shift isn't all that tectonic though.

His call today seems based entirely on the new world order, the absence of the Soviet Union and the not yet appearance of another great power like it. Shultz, Perry and Nunn seem to agree. In the interim period between the rise of another hyperpower, another state capable of challenging US hegemony and empire, the most practical and useful goal appears to them as the adoption of the rhetoric of disarmament, with some small steps taken to legitimate their call.

According to their plan (which is extremely popular among incoming members of the Congress and Obama administration) the US will significantly scale back its arsenal and slow growth of the nuclear weapons budget. Other programs will be approved or slashed in order to ensure the appearance of a slow move toward eventual, distant US disarmament.

In the meantime, an aggressive campaign to secure nuclear materials (perhaps a more robust and fully supported version of the Nunn-Lugar Act), passage of the CTBT, selective attacks against states said to be seeking WMDs, promotion of nuclear energy far and wide, and general expansion of US dominance under the cover of anti-nuclear rhetoric will be the word of the day.

Is it clear now why uncritical invocations of SPKN's "world free of nuclear weapons" is both dangerous and counterproductive for genuine advocates of nuclear disarmament?


"Don't tell me the federal response was slow....”

At his final press conference today president Bush defended the government's response to hurricane Katrina and further rationalized what have proven, in the wake of the largest disaster in US history, a set of failed policies.

Admitting that “things could have been done better,” Bush rebuked the point that he should have landed and surveyed the scene himself, rather than simply gazing out the window in a fly over of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast:

"I've thought long and hard about Katrina; you know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. The problem with that ... is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission."

Bush did not spell out as to why law enforcement officers would necessarily have been “pulled away from the mission” if he had landed.

It's not uncommon for heads of state, governors, and other officials to land in disaster hit areas, and in past cases it hasn't impeded the recovery effort. Usually it provides a major boost by fixing the national attention and assuring locals that all resources are being mobilized. President Lyndon Johnson flew to New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Betsy, and as the press accounts of his visit recount it, he stepped into the flooded streets of the 9th Ward, wading into a church shelter to exclaim, “this is your president, I am here to help.”

During California's recent firestorms which displaced thousands and created ongoing havoc for days and weeks, governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was often moving right along the front lines with firefighters and other emergency personnel. In fact, the governor had to cancel many previously booked speaking and social engagements because his attention was required on hand to orchestrate the statewide efforts and focus the administration's resources.

Bush himself has made on-site landings in disaster areas. His most famous moment, easily the high water mark of his presidency came when he climbed atop the rubble of ground zero in Manhattan and surrounded by first responders who paused to listen, spoke to the fears and sadness of the nation. It was also a bloodthirsty speech that would soon morph into a manipulative campaign of “war on terror.”

The difference seems to be political. Whereas 9-11 was seen as a moment of national import, and measured by Bush's political strategists as a profoundly opportune disaster to rally the nation's spirits, Katrina was seen as something else. An unfortunate event. A storm with little political value. A storm that was killing and displacing mostly poor people, black people, most of them not core constituents of the Republican Party or Bush political machine. What would be opportune about Katrina's devestation would come much later, during the privatized reconstruction efforts and mass enclosures of land and public goods (like hospitals, transport, education). Swooping in to immediately boost the first responders and fix the administration's attention on saving lives and keeping communities intact was not seen as a priority.

Contained in Bush's statement are some profound clues as to his perception of the disaster and the Katrina diaspora. Again, his own words were that he should not have landed because “law enforcement” would have been “pulled away” from its “mission.” Notice he didn't say because “first responders,” would have been distracted from “saving lives.”

Bush seems to have looked at the post-Katrina disaster zone of New Orleans much as he did post-invasion Iraq. The “mission” involved “law enforcement” because the mission was fundamentally about patrolling the streets, “keeping order” among the masses of victims, shooting “looters,” etc.

Perhaps Bush was right. Swooping in with his jet, landing, making a visit would have required a security detail of comparable magnitudes. Not because of New Orleans was a war zone, mind you, but rather because Bush turned it into a war zone, set policies making it a war zone. The few visits he has made to New Orleans have involved huge police mobilizations. His motorcades made up of large black tinted SUVs usually race across town to view various signs of “recovery.” Then it's off to a few photo ops, and within hours he's back in the air, back to the big green zone of Washington D.C.


New Years Revolution?

Oscar Grant, III and Adolph Grimes, III shared a few things in common. They were both third generation men named after their fathers and grandfathers. They were both new fathers themselves. They were both 22 years-old. Both men were celebrating the New Year's holiday. They were both young and Black, and therefore both were gunned down by police in the early hours of New Years day.

That the police often unjustifiably kill young Black men is well established. It's the obvious tip of a far larger iceberg: systematic police brutality targeting people of color in the United States. Structured into the police state are lethal inequalities that ensure differential treatment, from surveillance, profiling, and harassment, to arrest, torture, imprisonment, conviction, and the “capital” punishment – death. These are the all too frequent outcomes of policing as experienced by non-whites, historically and contemporarily. There's an immense sociological literature to prove the point. Here's just one peer reviewed study demonstrating that police violence is most common and deadly against non-whites and the poor, precisely because they are non-white and poor.

Is it any surprise then that this new year – the year of “change,” a mere twenty days away from the inauguration of America's first Black president – has been rung in with gunshots? Two young Black men have been murdered on the streets of America by the police. Happy new year, America. This is your creed, your most terrifying and fundamental method of keeping “safe” your social order of grotesque wealth and privilege built upon poverty and exploitation.

A brief search of news reports shows far more questionable uses of deadly force by the police since January first across the country. Nearly all killings and assaults involve young Black and Latino men targeted by the police.

In Oakland, California, Oscar Grant, III was shot, execution style by a BART police officer in front of dozens of horrified onlookers. Per the police state's usual methods of operation in the aftermath of an unarmed black man's death at their own hands, the department circled its wagons against criticism. As George Ciccariello-Maher shows us, BART, Oakland's City Hall, and the whole establishment on up to the governor and out to the news media and much of the state's white middle class citizenry has called for “calm,” during the investigation. Now they're decrying the “violence” of outraged protesters, mostly young people of color who have no other way to contest the injustice they see and feel.

The “investigation” that supposedly will make everything all right is proceeding amid the establishment's tacit backing and support of the officer who murdered Grant. The officer remains free. His voluntary resignation from the BART police force, initially framed as a kind of accountability by the media and authorities is instead a means for the officer to extricate himself from any internal BART investigation. It has allowed him to hire legal council and largely recuse himself. Meanwhile, about one hundred protesters have been jailed for expression their rage in the streets. No one was killed at the demonstrations that rocked Oakland, even though a few protesters were shot with rubber bullets.

And still the authorities call for calm and understanding so that the system can proceed. The youths who marched in the streets on Wednesday night understand all too well what's going down, how this system works. Grant was the symbol of so much more violence directed at their bodies and the very sinews of the communities. To expect any less than a street rebellion is to expect young working class people of color to adopt an attitude of suicidal resignation.

Meanwhile, about 2000 miles southeast of Oakland's flatlands, in New Orleans, Louisiana, another young black man is being buried by his grieving family. Another community is fuming about the police killing of Adolph Grimes, III, and the already bunk “investigation” promised by the authorities. In the wake of Grimes' shooting by nine undercover NOPD officers, also in the early hours of New Year's day, the police department has orchestrated a similar damage control plan to deny real justice.

Just like the Grant case, the NOPD has conspicuously touted Grimes' possession of a firearm (a legally owned and registered pistol) and a shotgun they say they discovered in the trunk of his car, days after his death when they finally searched it. The point has been to cast suspicion on Grimes' character and to play to racist assumptions that any young black man with a weapon must have been a criminal and deserving of death. The same tactic is being used in Oakland. Grant, while totally unarmed and cooperative, has been subjected to a posthumous whisper campaign bringing up his possible, but not confirmed criminal record.

The result is that sympathy disappears for the victim who is raced and written up as a karmically justified thug corpse. This is an especially effective police tactic in New Orleans where blog comments on several news articles about Grimes' killing have expressed satisfaction that another one of “them” has been taken off the streets. Such rhetoric would never follow the questionable shooting of a young white person by the police. One commenter on the Times-Picayune's web site echoes a mass sentiment grounded in this tactic stating;

“Everyone in this city gripes about the crime, yet when cops are proactive, it's always the ones who complain the loudest who are ready to tar and feather them for a job well done.”

Grimes, a graduate of one of the city's most prestigious high schools, had no criminal record. He was a father of an 18 month-old baby, husband, and hard worker living in Houston, Texas.

While Oakland's rage against police brutality has taken form as a street rebellion, the response in New Orleans has been more restrained. Not because the affected communities are less angered or saddened. Instead, the hyper-active violence of the police state in New Orleans seems to have taught many a painful lesson over the years: stand against the police and you too could end up dead. Especially if you too are young and black.

On Thursday, January 9, a protest in front of the police station garnered only two dozen citizens. As if to scare away even these critics the police sent out at least six plain-clothes officers from the building to stand around across the street, monitoring the activists. One undercover officer filmed the entire protest. When asked by a photographer from the Times-Picayune who he was with, he apparently responded, “that's not for you to know.”

What we do know is that two young black men were murdered on New Year's day. Somethings got to change. The authorities have already indicated their refusal and inability to make those changes. What to do?