Archive for the ‘Police’ Category

J. Edgar

November 14, 2011

Clint Eastwood has certainly come a long way from Dirty Harry. His new film about J. Edgar Hoover, from a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, will upset many right-wingers. I wish I could give this movie an unqualified endorsement, but I have some reservations about it.

The film portrays Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) as a repressed homosexual, and it suggests that this repression was the source of his obsessive behavior. He and his number two man, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), have a relationship similar to that between Burns and Smithers on The Simpsons. When Hoover tells Tolson that he intends to propose to Dorothy Lamour, the two of them have what amounts to a lovers’ quarrel. Their relationship, however, is never consummated. Hoover is portrayed as being obsessed with his domineering mother (Judi Dench), while being emotionally estranged from his father. Some will no doubt make the valid complaint that this reproduces an all too common “explanation” of homosexuality. You must admit, however, that this fits with what we know about Hoover.

Hoover is portrayed as petty and jealous. He deliberately wreaks the career of an F.B.I. agent named Melivin Purvis, because the latter has received more publicity than he has. He is also extremely prone to self-delusion. He says things like “love is the most powerful force in the world” without the least trace of irony. He tells people that he saved the U.S. from a “Bolshevik” revolution in 1919. In one scene, Hoover complains that newly elected president Richard Nixon wants him to do things that are illegal, oblivious to the fact that he has been doing illegal things all his life.

The film reminds us that Hoover began his career as a librarian. (Yes, it’s true.) He helped the Library of Congress develop a new system of organizing books. In one particularly eerie scene, the young Hoover tells his future secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) that he wishes he could organize and identify people the same way he does books. “Information is power”, he tells her.

I found this movie fascinating to watch and even darkly funny at some moments. The acting is very good (DiCaprio is brilliant). However, it seemed a bit over-long. One weakness of the film is that it devotes far too much time to the Lindbergh kidnapping. Eastwood and Black apparently wanted to make the point that Hoover claimed to have solved the case when he actually hadn’t. (All the F.B.I. proved, really, was that Bruno Hauptmann was somehow connected to the crime.) This is a valid argument, but it skews the film towards a relatively minor episode of his career. For that matter, the film devotes too much time to the “Hoover was a closet queen” theory. This would have been a better film if it had spent more time on COINTELPRO and the way it destroyed people’s lives.

The posters for this movie call Hoover “the most powerful man in the world”. This is an enormous exaggeration. Hoover was actually an extremely ruthless and shrewd courtier, one who built his own fiefdom inside the U.S. government. This film attributes Hoover’s power to his knack for blackmailing people. There is a good deal of truth to this, but there was more to it than that. Many powerful people defended Hoover (or at least looked the other way), because they knew he was defending the interests of the ruling class. This could have been a more powerful film if it had made this point in some way.


Eugene Occupation Begins

October 17, 2011

On Saturday, October 15, about 2,000 people marched through Eugene as part of the 99% movement. It began with a rally at Wayne Morse Plaza. (John Bellamy Foster was one of the speakers.) There were all sorts of people there. It wasn’t just “hippies”. People then marched to the Ferry Street Bridge and back. Marchers stayed on the sidewalk and were careful not to block traffic. The line stretched out for a mile at one point. I’m told that this was the largest demonstration in the history of Eugene. On the bridge, passing drivers were honking their horns in solidarity. There were no problems with the police. At one point, police were directing traffic to facilitate the march. When the march reached a downtown park, it was announced that this was where the occupation would take place. I was impressed by how well organized it was. It was clear that people had carefully planned things out. The occupiers announced that they will be holding general assemblies every day at 7 AM and at 7 PM.

You can find photos of the march here.

You can find a website for the occupation here.

You can find a live stream of the occupation here.

Occupy Brooklyn

October 3, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

September 28, 2011

There seems to be an almost total media blackout on this. So far as I know, only MSNBC has covered it at all.

The Murder of Troy Davis and the Culture of Death

September 22, 2011

I was hoping I would not have to write another post about Troy Davis, but the Supreme Court has ensured that I would.

The State of Georgia has murdered Troy Davis. It was interesting to hear government officials deny that the fact that witnesses recanted their testimony was of no importance. They seemed to believe that saying that you committed perjury was an involuntary action, like the hiccups. Numerous studies have found that eyewitness testimony can be unreliable. Yet the criminal justice system seemed to determined to kill Davis rather than admit that witnesses are not infallible.

At a recent Republican debate, the audience burst into applause when it was pointed out that Rick Perry has presided over 234 executions since he became governor of Texas. The same people applauded when Dr. Ron Paul said that people who can’t afford health insurance should die. It seems we are developing a culture that holds human life in contempt.

Save Troy Davis

September 12, 2011

The state of Georgia is getting ready to execute Troy Davis, an innocent man. Davis was convicted of murdering an off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail in 1989. There was no physical evidence against him. He was convicted based on the testimony of nine eyewitnesses, seven of whom later recanted. Others have testified to hearing another man confess to the murder. You can read about it here.

There will be an international day of solidarity for Davis on Friday, September 16. You can read about it here.

Update: To save Troy Davis, call Judge Penny Freesemann at 912-652-7252 to withdraw the death warrant. It’s his last chance.

Feeding at the Trough at the University of Oregon

September 5, 2011

The John E. Jaqua Academic Center, whose upper floors are off limits to most students. A result of the brilliant planning of UO administrators.

The Register-Guard has just revealed that three months ago the University of Oregon awarded raises totaling $1.9 million a to 390 administrators. This is after university staff were forced to take a pay cut. The is at a time when the state of Oregon is in the midst of a budget crisis, and the official unemployment rate in Oregon is 9.5%. (The real unemployment rate is no doubt higher.)

What have these administrators done to deserve this raise? Let’s look at some of the things they’ve done in recent years. They spent almost a quarter of a billion dollars to build a new basketball arena that the school doesn’t need. They spent $41 million to build the gaudy and pretentious Jaqua Center, which serves no real purpose. They built the Ford Alumni Center, which, according to its website, is intended to serve as “the gateway to the university” (whatever that means). They also built an ugly and garish electrical sign in of front the new basketball arena facing busy Franklin Boulevard. (This thing is so bright that it hurts your eyes when you look at it at night. Seriously, you could use this thing instead of a lighthouse to guide ships at sea.) They wanted to create a huge neon sign saying “University of Oregon” in the middle of Portland, which is over a hundred miles from the main campus. (The people of Portland rightly stopped this.) They devised a scheme to gradually privatize the school, which will make a college education more inaccessible to people in Oregon. They have demanded that the campus police be allowed to carry guns and tasers that they don’t need. Meanwhile, the athletic department has been plagued by scandals.

And these people think they deserve a raise for all this.

One is reminded here of the banksters who gave themselves raises and bonuses after they wreaked the economy. It seems that in twenty-first century America, the way to succeed is to fail. What is important is no longer the results one gets, but one’s ability to hype oneself. (No doubt this explains the aforementioned idiotic plan for a neon sign.)

The 135-year history of the University of Oregon has followed an interesting trajectory. The place was originally conceived as a sort of mini-Harvard for people too lazy to take the week-long train ride to the East Coast. Although the school had academic pretensions (some faculty members belonged to the Klu Klux Klan), it was an open secret that the place was really a playground for the pampered sons of Oregon’s rich. These future captains of industry would amuse themselves by devising elaborate hazing rituals that invariably involved spankings. (I will leave it to the reader to try to figure out why budding capitalists would enjoy spankings.) Things changed drastically after the Second World War, largely as a result of the G.I. Bill. The university was forced to throw open its doors to members of the lower orders. The school’s fine old traditions were smashed as a result of the place being flooded by vulgar, coarse youths who actually wanted to learn about things like physics and art history. It became necessary to hire professors and instructors who knew something about the topics they were teaching. As a result, the concept of a “college education” acquired a weight and gravity that it had never previously possessed. Now, however, as tuition continues to rise and privatization looms, the university seems to be coming full circle. It appears to be becoming once again a playground for the rich.

Perhaps the idea that education is something valuable and important was merely the fleeting result of a transitory phase in the evolution of capitalism. Just look at the current campaign to destroy public education through standardized testing and charter schools. Perhaps we are returning to a situation like that in the Middle Ages, when learning was something done by a few oddballs in monasteries.

My advice to young people who want to get a college education is that they had better have a lot of money.

And it will help if they learn to enjoy being spanked.

If A Tree Falls

June 27, 2011

Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman have made a film about the Earth Liberation Front. This group was very active in Eugene, Oregon, where I currently live; so I was naturally interested in seeing this film. Marshall Curry says he learned from his wife one day that the police had arrested an employee at her company for being an “eco-terrorist”. He immediately became interested, and he eventually decided he wanted to make a film about this person. The employee was Daniel McGowan, whose story serves as the central thread of this film. A round-faced, soft-spoken man, he seems an unlikely person to become a violent criminal. The son of a New York cop, he grew up on Rockaway Beach. In his youth he became interested in environmental issues. He eventually gravitated towards Eugene, a hotspot for environmental activism. The film does a short history of the environmental movement in the Pacific Northwest, recounting how non-violent protests have sometimes been met with police violence. Faced with such a response, it was inevitable that some activists would conclude that they should resort to violence themselves. A cell of the Earth Liberation Front was formed in Eugene, and McGowan, frustrated by the lack of progress by environmentalists, was eventually drawn into it.

McGowan’s first job was to serve as a lookout when ELF torched the offices of a lumber company. His second job was helping ELF destroy a tree farm that was allegedly growing genetically modified trees. Only it turned out afterwards that the trees were not GMO’s. At the same time ELF set fire to the office of a University of Washington professor who was involved in genetic engineering. The fire grew out of control and did a lot of damage that ELF didn’t intend. In the aftermath, the cell underwent a crisis and disbanded. McGowan became disillusioned with ELF’s methods, while still retaining his radical environmental views. He returned to New York, where he got a job with a group dealing with domestic violence issues.

The film then deals with police efforts to solve the crimes. For years they got nowhere. Then, by sheer dumb luck, they stumbled upon Jacob Ferguson. He just happened to be the weakest link in the ELF cell, since he was a heroin addict and therefore vulnerable to legal pressure. The police outfitted him with a wire and flew him to different parts of the country to have conversations with his former comrades. He showed up in New York to talk to a surprised McGowan. The latter thought there was something odd about this, especially since Ferguson seemed “talkative”, whereas McGowan remembered him as being quiet. McGowan spoke to him any way, which was a fatal mistake. McGowan was later arrested and found himself facing a possible sentence of life plus 350 years. He eventually made a plea deal in which he confessed to the arsons but did not name any accomplices. He was sentenced to eight years, but received a “terrorism enhancement”, meaning that he was put in a special high security prison built for “terrorists”. He can only receive one fifteen minute phone call a day and one visitor a month. The film documents the emotional anguish that this experience has inflicted upon McGowan and his family.

The filmmakers interview many people involved in these events, including the prosecutor and police detectives who pursued the ELF members. People with different viewpoints are allowed to state their positions. Although the filmmakers maintain a neutral tone, it’s clear that they feel that McGowan and other members of ELF were dealt with unfairly. Ferguson, who was involved in more arsons than anyone else, did not receive a prison sentence. He betrayed his friends solely to save himself, and the system rewarded him for that. Someone makes the point that capitalists who destroy the environment, such as the executives at BP, are never punished for what they do.

I highly recommend seeing this film.


May 2, 2011

I recently saw the film, COINTELPRO 101. As the title suggests, the film is meant as an introductory work, rather than an in-depth examination of the FBI’s secret war on left groups. The film is only 56 minutes long, presumably so it can be shown in classes. While I respect the producers’ intentions, it seems to me that the film should provide more details. For example, it gives the impression that COINTELPRO began in 1960. It actually began in 1956, and its intended target was the Communist Party. I think it is important for people to know this, so they are aware of the historical continuity between the government’s suppression of the CP and the attacks on left groups during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

One thing I did like about the film was that it talked about the FBI’s persecution of Puerto Rican nationalists, a topic that usually doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. It also talked about the FBI’s attacks on the American Indian Movement and the framing of Leonard Peltier for the killings of two FBI agents. There is a lengthy discussion of the FBI’s efforts to destroy the Black Panther Party.

One thing I found questionable was a section devoted to the murder of the Chicano activist, Ricardo Falcon. I couldn’t see the reason for including this, since the film offered no evidence that the FBI were involved. (And I don’t know that there is any evidence that they were.)

The film could have instead discussed the FBI’s attempts to undermine the Socialist Workers Party. This story at least has a happy ending of sorts, since the SWP eventually successfully sued the FBI for its harassment. The late Peter Camejo reported that when he ran for president on the SWP ticket in 1976, the FBI had sixty-six informants working in his campaign. This shows you the lengths they were willing to go to try to quash any political movement outside the two party duopoly.

At the screening I went to, Chuck Hunt, who was an anti-war activist during the 1960’s, got up to talk after the film was over. He pointed out that many of the illegal activities that the FBI carried out under COINTELPRO are now legal thanks to the USA Patriot Act.

The Tuscon Shootings

January 11, 2011

The information that has come out about Jared Lee Loughner indicates that he is simply mentally disturbed. Aside from some vague anti-government notions, he doesn’t seem to have any clear political ideology. A story that he was connected to a white supremacist group now appears to be baseless. He was angry at Giffords because she was dismissive towards him at an earlier meeting. Of course, the reason she was dismissive was because he was saying things that made no sense.

The only real conclusion we can draw from Loughner’s case is that our society doesn’t know how to deal with people who are mentally ill. People knew that Loughner was disturbed, but they didn’t know what to do about it. (Similarly, people knew that Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, was mentally ill, but they didn’t know what to do about it.) Pima Community College told Loughner that he had to get a psychiatric examination before he could take more classes. Loughner responded simply by not taking more classes.

Every now and then one hears a story about police officers shooting somebody who is mentally ill. The police always claim that they acted in “self-defense”, but it is often clear that they simply didn’t know what else to do besides start shooting.

I don’t know what to do about this problem, but it is one we need to think about.