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Geraldo Rivera’s Justifications for Murder

Geraldo Rivera’s Justifications for Murder

By Linda Rigas (3/27/12)

Geraldo Rivera’s argument that Trayvon Martin would not have been killed if he hadn’t been wearing a hoodie is akin to what women who are raped are told: it's your fault for wearing a short skirt, it's your fault for flirting, it's your fault for drinking in the company of man who you allege raped you, etc. Rivera's logic reeks of the "personal responsibility" rhetoric that comes up all too often when the crimes of the police are given the benefit of the doubt.

Several of the news stories commenting on what happened to Trayvon Martin are saying that they need to know more about what happened. They keep using the language of "in this country, you are innocent until proven guilty" as the news surfaces that people are demanding a citizen's arrest. Yet this standard never applies when it comes to young black youth who are gunned down for simply being in the "wrong place at the wrong time" and whose wallets or bags of candy get "mistaken" for guns.

Supposedly, Zimmerman hasn't even told his lawyer what specifically he found suspicious about Trayvon before he shot him down. This means that the police (and others under the “Stand your ground” law) have unilateral authority to use any amount of force no matter how unreasonable under the circumstances.

Every time another young Black man is killed by the police, the media hypes the idea that there that if these youth were "trying to just make something of themselves" as opposed to being involved in street culture, then they wouldn't have come under fire from the police to begin with. 

Michael Eric Dyson has spoken about being stopped by the police for breathing while Black/ being Black when he was a graduate student at Princeton and when he tried to explain that he was in graduate school to the police they didn't believe him, laughed at him, and continued to hassle him. There is no recourse for this kind of behavior under the so-called criminal justice system.

Why Voting Isn't the Solution - And What Is

Why Voting Isn’t the Solution – and What Is

By Dennis Loo

Text of a talk given by Dennis Loo before the Federation of Retired Union Workers, January 31, 2012

(For another talk about this topic, see OpEd News “Is Voting a Solution?” posted on March 19, 2012. This was the text of a talk that Dennis Loo gave at the Left Forum on March 17, 2012. A videotape of that talk and the other two papers given in that session – by David Swanson and by Andy Zee – will be posted here sometime in the near future.

OpEd News publisher Rob Kall, who attended the Left Forum session in person, described Dennis Loo’s talk as “brilliant.” On March 25, 2012, Kall posted an article stating, “voting only feeds into the illusion the system creates that different candidates really make a difference. The truth is, voting for the lesser of two evils only moves us towards the next election with two worse evils.” This position represents a shift in Kall’s perspective on elections. We welcome his new view.)

I’m going to focus in this talk almost exclusively on a small part of what I cover in Chapter Five of the book [Globalization and the Demolition of Society].

When you read or hear people discuss politics today and democracy in particular, it’s some version of the following: The problem is an apathetic, poorly informed, or stupid public, and/or an unvigilant media, and/or a corrupt officialdom, and/or an overly aggressive corporate sector. Many people say nowadays that we have to get corporate money out of politics. People say things like, “We’ve got to get our democracy back.”

In fact, what is happening and what has been happening are only what should be expected, but not for the reasons that people give.

Unlike most people, I don’t believe that what is wrong with democracies is that the theory is fine but the practice just keeps falling short of the theory. When a system produces the same outcomes year after year and generation after generation, there’s a problem not just with the practice. There’s something wrong with the theory itself. Practice, after all, follows the theory. In fact, democratic theory is fatally wrong on key points and these shortcomings are producing the practice that we’re so familiar with.

Does the fact that when parents tell their children that they can eat either the peas or the carrots but they must eat one or the other mean that their kids are in charge and decided what they’ll eat when they chose to eat the peas? Does this mean that their choice of the peas means that a child has democratically decided what he or she wants: peas, carrots, perhaps something else, or not eating at all?

You see this principle being invoked in commercials about why you should use certain stockbrokers’ agencies to buy and sell your stocks. Their pitch is that with so and so company “you’re in charge.” As if individual traders could know what they’re doing and the fact that “they’re in charge” makes it all less of a crapshoot. I heard recently from a former 1%er who worked for decades in a securities firm and was on financial news shows a lot that 88% of stock brokers’ predictions for stocks were worse than the DJ Industrial average. Thus, the vast majority of even the so-called experts were wrong most of the time. If you were told that so and so doctor’s record was that only 12% of their patients got better and 88% got worse, would you go to that doctor? Would that doctor be able to stay in business?

If you don't really understand what’s going on and if the game that you’re trying to play in is rigged so that only the true insiders know what’s happening and can manipulate the results, how does your being “in charge” of your choices make you more in charge?

It doesn’t. It only gives the false impression that you’re in charge.

This is what democratic theory does. It gives people the false impression that they’re in charge. It’s a neat trick: no matter what happens, it’s the people’s fault: when things go badly with the society, the majority must have voted for the wrong person or wrong party. And if you didn’t vote, then you have no right to speak at all. It’s a neat trick because the blame always lies with the public and never where the blame belongs: on the nature of the system itself. Systems, you see, have a systems’ logic to them. They don’t operate the way that they do and produce the outcomes that they do because of the people who occupy those systems or because of the decisions made even by those who are in the leading positions in those systems. I’m going to elaborate on this point by first examining various facets of how things operate.

Here is how elections work: the people are given a “democratic” choice between the Republican or the Democrat, and in unusual instances, a third party candidate, but the decision of who the final nominees who will be on the ballot is not a decision that the electorate makes. That is a selection that elites in the party make and those in charge in the media make when they decide who will be treated as the “legitimate” candidates. During the 2008 presidential race the so-called legitimate candidates were not determined by looking at whose platform most closely conformed to what most people in the country wanted. Do you know who would have been the leading candidates if that were the criteria? Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. If public opinion had been the prime criterion, then Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would have been the fringe candidates in the Democratic Party! The party apparatus also can fatally wound a candidate’s chances, even if that person is the most popular person in the field, by telling the party ‘s major donors not to give money to so and so. This happened, for example, to an anti-war vet running for the nomination a few years ago in statewide elections.

One of the ways that those who really run things can make sure that the outcome of the nominations and elections process is in their interests is by making sure that the final nominees from which the broad electorate chooses are all within the parameters of what those in power find acceptable. Then, the public can democratically select what they want from the givens and it doesn’t matter too much to those in charge since either candidate is ok by them. That is why you find most of the big campaign contributors giving money to both sides. It’s also why Wall Street gave $20 million more to Obama than to McCain in 2008, because they knew that Obama was not going to hurt them.

Karl Popper is widely recognized as a key proponent of democratic theory. Popper has stated that “democracy, the right of the people to judge and to dismiss their government, is the only known device by which we can try to protect ourselves against the misuse of political power; it is the control of the rulers by the ruled.”

Popper here lays out explicitly the commonplace meaning of democracy—first of all, that it is representative not directly participatory, and second, that in a democracy the very most that the people can do politically is determine which public officials will exercise political rule over them. The very idea that the people might eventually exercise all-around political rule themselves Popper excludes from consideration.

If democracy means rule by the many, then dismissing the notion that authentic rule by the many can ever happen, except in a highly indirect form, means that the version of democracy that is possible can only be something strangled of its fullest expression. If we rule out the possibility now or ever of the people politically ruling themselves, then we are, of course, left with no alternative but to assert that the essence of democracy is representative government supervised via elections.

Representative democracy, which is what the vast majority of commentators mean when they say “democracy,” is in fact, therefore, but one version, rather like an expurgated Reader’s Digest version, of popular political rule.

Popper further claims that the ruled exercise “control of the rulers” by their votes. How do you exercise control over the rulers if you are one of the ruled? Is something not obviously wrong with the terms themselves: “ruler” and “ruled”? How do the people manage to exercise control if they can only decide which individuals will be their political representatives every two to six years? What happens during the intervals between elections?

At best do the people have to wait two, four, or six years to oust their elected officials from office if they are unhappy with what those officials have done? That certainly does not sound like very much control. Imagine you are in charge of steering and therefore controlling a car, but you are only able to actually take the wheel every several years. If in the in-between times you have no control over the steering wheel, are you really in control of the car? If a car salesman tried to sell you a car on that basis you might look elsewhere for a car, or perhaps you would decide to adopt a different mode of transportation altogether.

Representative democracy overwhelmingly confines public participation in political affairs to voting for or against one’s representatives. Even in the best of all possible scenarios, if voting comprises the best and highest political role that the people can play, then the people will never have any real power over politics. Popper’s perspective forever consigns the people to subordinate status, leaving intact long-standing inequalities among the people without even considering any way to bridge these inequalities. Saviors from on high—benevolent dictators—are sorry and, at the very best, temporary salves.[i] Charity is not the same thing as genuine equality. As long as the people remain in a politically passive position vis-à-vis the rulers, democracy will remain an unrealized rhetorical device, fit for masking the true sources of political power in the hands of the few.

If one is inclined to assume that voting itself confers real power upon the people and that choosing from among the candidates allows the voters to select the candidates whose promises they like best, one must know not only that campaign promises often do not predict what candidates will end up doing once in office, but also that candidates not infrequently end up doing the exact opposite of what they promised. Lyndon Johnson won in a landslide against Barry Goldwater in 1964 to a large degree because he ran as the “peace” candidate. He then proceeded to escalate the Vietnam War, resulting in the deaths of two million Indochinese and 58,000 Americans. George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 against “nation building.” After he invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, nation building was precisely what he set out to try to do—spectacularly unsuccessfully. Obama campaigned on a promise of “change,” specifically promising to restore habeas corpus, end torture, end the Bush White House’s self-serving and dangerous invocations of state secrets, close Gitmo and pull out of Iraq. Since taking office not only has Obama not kept these promises,[ii] but he has also followed Bush and Cheney even further down the road they were so despised for taking.

But people might say, but this is a result of the influence of the GOP and if we had all Democrats in office then we could see good policies. I’ll go that one better: let’s imagine a situation in which we have only Green Party and liberal Democrats in all offices in the land. This is what the City Council of Minneapolis looked like in 2004. This is a description of what happened in Minneapolis before the 2004 RNC where protesters were rounded up and charged as terrorists before they had a chance to peacefully demonstrate and other demonstrators were summarily driven with violence from the streets with police declaring that they were an illegal assembly and journalists such as Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman were arrested.

 

In the months before the Republicans came to town, there had been a flurry of activity. Local activists were keeping a close eye on their local elected officials. Initially, there had been a so called Free Speech Committee set up, supposedly to look at how authorities could allow free speech during the RNC and keep order. We found out that the Free Speech Committee did not allow any members of the public to add our input. Only City Council members on the committee and lawyers were allowed to speak. There was no free speech allowed at the misnamed Free Speech Committee. Nonetheless, activists followed the Committee’s actions closely and were present during each meeting.

The City Council of Minneapolis is almost 100% Democratic. In fact the only real opposition in Minneapolis is the Green Party which currently has one Green on the City Council, Cam Gordon, who was a small light in a very dark room. But, we were to discover, even that light was to be extinguished.

The so-called Free Speech Committee would change the time and locations of its meetings.

There was also discussion on protest groups being required to register themselves and even their members, to be ‘allowed’ to protest. At these times, Cam Gordon spoke eloquently on behalf of the community and in opposition to these repressive measures.

Then suddenly [after months] we found out that the Free Speech Committee had their last meeting, July 16th. The meeting itself was unannounced, unlike the other meetings which at least had a pretense of openness and public inclusion. At the next Minneapolis City Council meeting July 25th, the recommendation of the misnamed Free Speech Committee was announced. The Free Speech Committee Resolution passed unanimously, even by our one small light, Councilman Cam Gordon.

The Minneapolis Police were given ‘legal’ authority to shut down any protest or group of 25 people or greater. They were also authorized to use rubber bullets, mace and the other array of non-lethal weapons on innocent, peaceful demonstrators, practicing our First Amendment Rights. Also violated repeatedly was the Fourth Amendment Right protecting us citizens against illegal search and seizure. Police violated the laws of assault and battery and destruction of evidence of their crimes, as evidenced by their targeting journalists.”

If you study history what you find is that the true sources of political power are not in elections nor are they in the public institutional processes of speeches, hearings, and votes. While political power is exercised in part by those who are publicly known as the people’s public officials, the actual exercise of power isn’t what is publicly shown. The identities and political affiliations of those who win elections have never decided public policy. That is not what election campaigns are for.

By participating in elections and by voting, the people are helping to legitimate what public policy makers are going to do and have done. This is because the act of voting, even if it’s to choose the so-called lesser evil and even if it’s to register a protest vote by voting for a third party candidate, gives legitimacy to the system that exists. It is an action that sustains the fiction that real choices are made through the electoral process.

But elections don’t decide public policy and they never have under this system. How then does public policy get determined?

If you look at any of the really good and progressive things that have happened in U.S. history what you see is that they had one thing in common: they were brought into being through mass social movements such as the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the labor movement, the anti-war movement and so on. The Vietnam War was ended under two successive Republican administrations – Nixon and Ford. The war was started by Democrats. It ended because of the anti-war movement and because the Vietnamese people waged a heroic and successful fight against imperialist domination. The SOTU speech the other day by Obama contained as its central theme the issue of economic fairness. Where did that rhetoric come from? It came from the Occupy Movement’s impact. According to a recent Pew Research Poll cited in the NYRB in its February 2012 issue, people under 30 years old now favor socialism over capitalism by a 49-46% margin. This is due mostly to the effect of Occupy and secondarily to the ravages of capitalism that people see all around them. The GOP pollster Frank Luntz confessed a few weeks ago that the Occupy movement was scaring him to death because it was changing the way people see capitalism. And he’s right.

So the really short answer (for the longer answer you’ll have to read my book) to the question of the solution is that people must become directly engaged in mass movements, either as an active participant and/or as someone who supports those movements with their words and their deeds.

States rely on two pillars to stay in control and in power: one, coercion and two, persuasion. Another way of putting the latter is the term legitimacy. When enough people challenge the legitimacy of what’s going on through actions in the streets and in public that expose the skullduggery of the existing system, then the system has to respond with more violence and/or with concessions to try to quell the incipient rebellion. This just happened in Oakland to Occupy. The system used greater violence to try to suppress this very popular movement from re-establishing a public presence in a liberated zone.

 


[i] Max Weber resorted to this forlorn hope—a charismatic leader occasionally arising who could rally the people to shake up the “iron cage” of bureaucracy.

[ii] He has drawn down troops from Iraq but has stated that he will indefinitely keep a force of some 50,000 soldiers, a still larger contingent of mercenaries, and an embassy that measures some eighty football fields in size and that costs $1 billion per year to maintain. See Steven Thomma, “Obama to Extend Iraq Withdrawal Timetable; 50,000 Troops to Stay,”McClatchyDC.com, February 27, 2009, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2009/02/27/62930/obama-to-extend-iraq-withdrawal.html, accessed April 1, 2009.

Geraldo Rivera: Wearing a Hoodie? Get Ready to Be Murdered

Geraldo Rivera: Wearing a Hoodie? Get Ready to be Murdered

By Dennis Loo (3/25/12)

As reported by SF Gate on Friday, March 23, 2012:

"Fox News Channel commentator Geraldo Rivera said Friday that the hoodie an unarmed black teenager wore when he was killed in Florida is as much responsible for his death as the man who shot him.

"'I'll bet you money that if he didn't have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn't have responded in that violent and aggressive way,' Rivera said."

Rivera wrote in a commentary on Fox News Latino:

"If you dress like a hoodlum eventually some schmuck is going to take you at your word."

There you have it: what you wear can now get you killed. Better watch what you wear and better watch what you think, because people are now being arrested for "thought crimes."

Here's a bet for you Mr. Rivera: I'll bet that you wouldn't be getting paid the big bucks to be a shill on Fox News if you weren't such a reactionary.

Rivera compared the reaction against his comments to the firing of Juan Williams from NPR for his 2010 comments that he gets nervous on planes when he sees people dressed like Muslims.

The better comparison is that Rivera and Williams are both bigots.

As I wrote in my book Globalization and the Demolition of Society:

The very fact that poor people, migrants, Muslims, drug dealers, and political protestors are all included in this list of potential “terrorists”—justifying surveillance over them all and the rousing of nativist sentiments against them—reveals a momentous and explicit shift in how public officials and opinion-makers govern. In an economy in which some must be poor because capitalism and poverty are cooccurring and mutually reinforcing phenomena—capitalism requires that some be unemployed and therefore willing to work for less in order to survive—and where migrant labor fuels economic activity like arteries keep a person alive, the criminalization of these indispensible groups reflects a deeply troubling facet of our contemporary world. The marginalized groups are told, in effect, “We need you to exist as you do, for you make us rich and comfortable, but the very fact of your existence renders you a suspect, a criminal and a possible terrorist.” The poor and immigrants are therefore equally as indispensible as they are intolerable. (p. 148)

Minorities such as Trayvon Martin are also, of course, part of the groups being targeted by authorities and by reactionaries as scapegoats for the economic crisis.

But it goes beyond the economic crisis per se and extends into the realm of what I've written about previously: the relationship between immoral, illegal, and unjust foreign policies by the U.S. and the need of the 1% to shore up a reactionary, nativist, fearful, domestic front and to clamp down and prevent the full expression of dissent against the government's and corporations' immoral policies. Previously de jure principles of the Constitution - your right to freely express your views, to freely assemble, and to question your government - are being systematically annihilated in the name of the "war on terror," a war that is not mainly about fighting terrorism but about extending the U.S. empire. Because empire and freedom to speak out against injustice are fundamentally incompatible, civil liberties are being curtailed relentlessly. Because the actions our government and corporations are engaged in internationally and domestically are not in the interests of the vast majority of people and they cannot therefore win people over through reason and persuasion, the only way that they can continue to move forward with those policies is to ram them down the people's throats.

I use the term targetted here not just metaphorically but literally. USA Today reported today that a 32-year-old Iraqi woman living in El Cajon, California in the San Diego area was found in her home on Wednesday after being repeatedly struck in the head by a tire iron. She died today from those injuries. Next to her body was a note saying: "go back to your country, you terrorist." The woman is Shaima Alawadi, mother of five children, and her husband is a private contractor to the U.S. military, acting as a cultural advisor, training U.S. soldiers who are being deployed to the Middle East. Irony of ironies: Alawadi's husband is teaching American soldiers to be more sensitive about Middle Eastern values, norms, and perspectives, and his wife is murdered by someone who regards every Middle Easterner as a terrorist and an enemy of the U.S. of A. (Alawadi and her family had lived in the U.S. since the mid-1990s and only a few weeks ago had transferred to San Diego from Michigan.)

The USA Today article states, "Investigators said they believe the assault is an isolated incident."

How can it be an isolated incident when just the other day an American soldier massacred children, women, and men as they slept in Afghanistan?

How can it be an isolated incident when the President of the U.S. daily sends drones to kill people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere, including their explicit targetting of innocents?

How can it be an isolated incident when the President of the U.S. declares publicly his "right" to assassinate people that he deems to be worthy of killing, explicitly overriding due process?

How can it be an isolated incident when 24/7 reactionary media figures such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck de facto advocate assassination and murder through their none-too-subtle declarations that the Republic is in grave danger from treasonous elements, including even Democrats such as Obama, let alone minorities and Muslims?

How can it be an isolated incident when laws like "Stand Your Ground" are passed in Florida and Arizona declares a war on immigrants from Mexico?

This is no isolated incident.

It's part of a campaign from the highest levels of our society to wage a war on those who are not "one of us" and the definition of who the "us" is becomes narrower and narrower with the passing days, weeks and months.

Elaine Brower 2

Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12