Thursday, June 4, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders and the Ongoing Fight For a Progressive Agenda vs. the Mythology of Progressive Politics in the U.S. Today


During the so-called 'Age of Obama' (2008-Present) there has been an insufferable amount of sheer nonsense and brazenly dishonest assertions made by far too many people regarding what genuinely constitutes progressive politics' and even more idiocy has been expressed regarding what a truly 'progressive politician' is. In many quarters it's as if too many otherwise reasonably intelligent and concerned citizens have lost touch with what these terms even mean in today's corrupt and polluted political climate of crass opportunism, hubris, and the celebrity fixated commercial branding of individual politicians and their often hazy and manipulative self serving agendas.

Given this ugly and often depressing reality it is refreshing that we still at least attempt to not only remember but actually identify exactly what determines progressive politics and a progressive politician. One of the very few remaining exemplars of this still very proud but unjustly maligned legacy is Senator Bernie Sanders, the socialist independent from Vermont who along with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has a great career long track record of proven outstanding and PROGRESSIVE service to the masses of poor, working, and middle class people in this fading oligarchic Republic we all tragicomically and rather inexplicably still refer to as the "United States."

The fact that a man of the undeniable quality, integrity, honesty, intelligence, and compassion of Senator Bernie Sanders doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of securing the Democratic Party's nomination for the Presidency in 2016 is a huge indictment of this country and its general political system which--as always--would much rather promote, support, and enable the selfish personal ambitions of bourgeois politicians like the ones presently controlling the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court who--as always--promote, support, and enable the corporate capitalist control of Wall Street and the general relentless institutionalized criminality of the financial sector of our hijacked economy at the massive expense of the masses of poor, working, and middle class people who make up 99% of the American population. Meanwhile BILLARY, INC. and the straightup reactionary MadMen of the venal Republican right contend for the spoils left by the current managers of the political economy. That's not Senator Sander's fault of course.  IT'S OURS...


What Kind of Mayor Was Bernie Sanders?
Peter Dreier and Pierre Clavel
June 2, 2015
The Nation

Bernie Sanders sits in his office at City Hall in Burlington, Vermont in 1981. (AP Photo/Donna Light)

John Davis remembers a meeting in 1986 when Bernie Sanders, then the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, confronted the owners of the city's largest affordable-housing complex. The federal program that had subsidized the Northgate Apartments for 20 years had a loophole that allowed the landlords to convert the buildings into market rentals or luxury condos.

"Bernie pounded his fist on the conference table in his office and told the owners, ‘Over my dead body are you going to displace 336 working families. You are not going to convert Northgate into luxury housing,'" recalled Davis, who was Sanders's key housing aide.

Under Sanders's leadership, the city adopted a number of laws to stifle the owners' plans. One ordinance required apartment owners to give residents two years' notice before a condo conversion. Others gave residents a pre-emptive right to buy the units and prohibited landlords from bulldozing buildings unless they replaced them with the same number of affordable units. (These measures lowered the selling price of the property.) Sanders then worked with the state government and Senator Patrick Leahy to get the $12 million needed to purchase and rehabilitate the buildings. The city allocated funds to help the tenants hire an organizer, form the Northgate Residents Association, and start the process of converting the complex to resident ownership. Today, Northgate Apartments is owned by the tenants and has long-term restrictions to keep the buildings affordable for working families.

The battle over Northgate Apartments illustrates Sanders's general approach to governing. In addressing this and many other issues, he encouraged grassroots organizing, adopted local laws to protect the vulnerable, challenged the city's business power brokers, and worked collaboratively with other politicians to create a more livable city.

Now that Sanders is running for president, the eight years he spent as Burlington's chief executive (1981–89) will be under close scrutiny. Although President Obama recently joked at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner that Sanders is a "pot-smoking socialist," he was actually a hardworking, pragmatic, effective mayor who helped transform Vermont's largest city (population: 38,000) into a thriving town.

Thanks to the enduring influence of the progressive climate that Sanders and his allies helped to create in Burlington, the city's largest housing development is now resident-owned, its largest supermarket is a consumer-owned cooperative, one of its largest private employers is worker-owned, and most of its people-oriented waterfront is publicly owned. Its publicly owned utility, the Burlington Electric Department, recently announced that Burlington is the first American city of any decent size to run entirely on renewable electricity.

* * *

Sanders grew up in Brooklyn and attended the University of Chicago, where he was active in the civil-rights movement. After a short stint living on an Israeli kibbutz, in 1964 he moved to Vermont, where he worked as a carpenter, filmmaker, writer, and researcher, and got involved in radical politics. In the 1970s, after joining the antiwar Liberty Union Party, Sanders ran for several statewide offices, including governor, US Senate, and the US House (Vermont has only one seat). He never garnered more than 4 percent of the vote, but he did better in Burlington than in Vermont's rural areas, which gave him hope that he had a shot at winning office in the local government.

In 1981, Sanders ran for mayor of Burlington as an Independent and defeated six-term Democratic Party  incumbent Gordon Paquette by ten votes in a four-way contest. Voters re-elected Sanders three times by increasingly wider margins: 52 percent in 1983, 55 percent in 1985, and 56 percent in 1987.

Burlington was no hippie counterculture enclave. Although the city attracted many young, educated people because of its natural beauty and the presence of the University of Vermont, it has always had a large working-class population (many of them from French Canadian stock) who, until Sanders came on the scene, tended to vote for moderate Democrats and Republicans. Each time he ran for mayor, Sanders attracted increasing support from the city's blue-collar precincts.

In his first two years in office, the City Council refused to allow Sanders to hire more than a handful of staff, while the entrenched bureaucrats in City Hall sought to thwart his initiatives. Randy Kamerbeek, the city's planning director, "tried to sabotage everything that Bernie proposed," recalled Michael Monte, who worked in that agency. "He told us not to allow Bernie to have any visible successes. He figured Bernie would be out of office after his first term."

After he was re-elected in 1983, and voters swept in a more progressive City Council, Sanders gained a stronger foothold in City Hall. With the support of local Republicans and business leaders, he created the Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) to carry out his vision for more affordable housing, more locally owned small businesses, greater community engagement in planning, and job development.

When Sanders took office, Burlington's Lake Champlain waterfront was an industrial wasteland. Tony Pomerleau, an influential local businessman, planned a mega-project that included a 150-room hotel, retail space, a 100-slip marina, and 240 condominiums in 18-story buildings. In his first campaign, Sanders pledged to kill that plan. After Pomerleau withdrew his proposal, Sanders backed another waterfront plan that included some commercial development, affordable housing, and generous public access. But after voters defeated a bond measure for this proposal, Sanders went back to the drawing board to envision a "people's waterfront."

According to Monte, who worked on the waterfront project for Sanders and was CEDO director for 12 years, "Bernie wanted to make sure that it was a place with plenty of open space and public access, where ordinary people could rent a rowboat and buy a hot dog. That wasn't just for the elite. It was Bernie who set the tone that the waterfront wasn't for sale."

Thanks to Sanders, the Burlington waterfront now has a community boathouse and other facilities for small boats. There's also a sailing center and science center, a fishing pier, an eight-mile bike path, acres of parkland, and public beaches. The commercial development is modest and small-scale. On May 26, Sanders kicked off his presidential campaign with a rally at Waterfront Park.

Most of Burlington's business leaders initially distrusted Sanders. They didn't know what a socialist would do once he held the reins of power. But even many of Sanders's early opponents came to respect and even admire his willingness to listen to their views and his efforts to adopt progressive municipal policies.

Pomerleau was then—and remains today, at 97—one of Burlington's richest residents. A longtime Republican, he made his money developing supermarkets, hotels, and shopping centers, and he owns much of Burlington's commercial real estate. For decades, he has wielded considerable political influence, served as chair of the city's police commission, and been its most generous philanthropist.

"When [Sanders] first ran for mayor, he was running against guys like me," Pomerleau recalled in a recent interview.

Pomerleau, who voted against Sanders in 1981, knocked on his door the day after that election. "I said, ‘You're the mayor, but it's still my town,'" he recalled.

Pomerleau wasn't happy when Sanders opposed his waterfront development plan, but he gradually got to know the mayor and came to admire his pragmatism, his bulldog tenacity to get things done, and his support for the local police.

"Bernie and I worked very well together for the betterment of the town," Pomerleau said. "We were the odd couple."

Pomerleau voted for Sanders in his three successful bids for re-election. And Sanders frequently called Pomerleau to ask his advice. They stayed in close contact, even after Sanders was elected to Congress.

Pomerleau expressed his pleasure that for the past 35 years Sanders has never missed one of his annual Christmas parties for underprivileged children. He also praised Sanders for being a stalwart supporter of America's military veterans.

"If more rich people were like me," Pomerleau said, "Bernie would feel better about the wealthy."

* * *

"When Bernie first got elected, the local media said he was anti-business," recalled Bruce Seifer, an architect of Sanders's economic development efforts. "They called us the ‘Sanderistas.'"

After Sanders's re-election victory in 1983, business groups concluded they could not defeat him and thus had to work with him. But many businesspeople also saw that Sanders shared their interest in "development"—what he saw as "good development"—while opposing projects that would hurt middle- and working-class neighborhoods or victimize low-wage workers.

"Bernie was never anti-growth, anti-development, or anti-business," explained Monte. "He just wanted businesses to be responsible toward their employees and the community. He wanted local entrepreneurs to thrive. He wanted people to have good jobs that pay a living wage. If you could deal with that, you could deal with Bernie and Bernie would deal with you."

The Sanders administration provided new firms with seed funding, offered technical assistance, helped businesses form trade associations (including the South End Arts and Business Association and the Vermont Convention Bureau), focused attention on helping women become entrepreneurs, funded training programs to give women access to nontraditional jobs, and lobbied the state government to promote business growth.

When Sanders took office, Burlington had no supermarket in the downtown area. The major grocery chains told city officials that they would invest in a new store only if they could build a mega-market that residents believed was too large. Instead, the Sanders administration put its hopes in the local Onion River Cooperative. With 2,000 members in its former location, some thought it was a risky venture. It turned out to be a good investment, and under Sanders's successor it became City Market, a thriving enterprise with more than 9,000 members.

Under Sanders, Burlington became a magnet for attracting and incubating locally owned businesses, many of which expanded into large enterprises. Burton, the nation's largest snowboard company, has its headquarters (as well as a snowboard museum) in Burlington. The city assisted Seventh Generation, a green cleaning-products firm, when it started in 1988. Today, with its downtown waterfront headquarters in a LEED-certified building and over $300 million in annual sales, it is one of Burlington's largest employers. With the city's help, Gardeners Supply Company, which sells environmentally friendly gardening products, moved to Burlington in 1983. Four years later, its founder, Will Raap, began the process of selling the firm to its workers. It now has over 250 employee-owners.

As he was transitioning Gardeners Supply to employee ownership, Raap also began organizing volunteers to clean up a largely derelict floodplain north of the store. Eventually CEDO, Sanders's development agency, helped arrange the purchase of the area and provided the capital for irrigation systems, farm vehicles, and washing stations for vegetables. By the end of the 1990s, it was home to a dozen urban farms, annually producing over 500,000 pounds of food for local homes and stores. Today it generates over 10 percent of the food sold in Burlington.

"Bernie realized that the economy doesn't have to be dominated by bad guys," explained Raap, a founder of the 750-member Burlington-based Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, an alternative trade association. "He saw that and he fostered it."

Burlington's strong economy and population growth put pressure on the city's housing supply, threatening to displace low- and middle-income families. Under Sanders, the city adopted policies to create permanently affordable housing. The city channeled a large portion of its federal block grant funds to nonprofits committed to that goal, and cultivated a constituency of these small development organizations. The first key move was support for the Burlington Community Land Trust with an initial $200,000 grant. Now named the Champlain Housing Trust, the nonprofit has over $290 million in assets;  manages a portfolio of 2,800 price-controlled houses, condos, co-ops, and rentals; and owns over 120,000 square feet of commercial space and nonprofit facilities.

To provide funding for new housing initiatives, the Sanders-led city created a housing trust fund, capitalized in part by a 1 percent increase in property taxes. A year after Sanders left office, the coalition he built successfully pushed the City Council to enact an inclusionary zoning law. Market-rate residential projects were required to set aside 10–25 percent of the units at rents and prices affordable to families with modest incomes and to keep them affordable for 99 years.

The Sanders administration carefully nurtured neighborhood planning assemblies (NPA) in each of the city's six wards, providing them with modest budgets to deliberate and advise on projects affecting their neighborhoods. The NPAs had a voice over the use of federal Community Development Block Grant funds in their neighborhoods. Today, Burlingtonians credit the NPAs with raising the level of resident participation and discussion in local politics.

Sanders jump-started the city's participatory energies in other ways as well. Early on he established a Youth Office, an Arts Council, and a Women's Council, whose first major initiative was an ordinance requiring 10 percent of all city-funded construction jobs to be filled by women.

* * *

Sanders's track record as mayor was so successful that Burlington voters elected his CEDO director, Peter Clavelle, to succeed him in 1989. (He was voted out in 1993 but re-elected in 1995, and served until 2006.) During his 16 years in the mayor's office, Clavelle expanded Sanders's agenda. A Republican held the office from 1993 to 1995, and another independent progressive, Bob Kiss, served from 2006 through 2012. After a controversy erupted over the city-owned Burlington Telecom, Kiss declined to run for re-election.

In 2012, for the first time since Sanders's first campaign in 1981, Burlington elected a Democrat—Miro Weinberger—to serve as mayor. Although more conservative than Sanders, Clavelle, and Kiss, he has been reluctant to reverse their policies because they've been so popular. Burlington's progressives have not only held on to their main policy achievements but, after the most recent election, have gained seats on the City Council and catapulted Progressive Party member Jane Knodell into the presidency of that body.

In the 1970s and '80s, Sanders was one of a handful of mayors—including Paul Soglin of Madison, Wisconsin; Gus Newport of Berkeley, California; Ruth Goldway of Santa Monica, California; Chicago's Harold Washington; and Boston's Ray Flynn—who sought to use the levers of local government to adopt enlightened progressive policies. More than in any other city, Burlington's progressives consolidated those reforms over the long haul. The coalition that coalesced around Sanders in 1981 governed Burlington for all but two of the next 31 years.

Burlington is now widely heralded as an environmentally friendly, lively, and livable city with a thriving economy, including one of the lowest jobless rates in the country. Burlingtonians give Sanders credit for steering the city in a new direction that, despite early skepticism, proved to be broadly popular with voters.

A growing number of cities—including Seattle, New York, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Newark, and others—are now led by progressive mayors. They are adopting municipal minimum wage laws, requiring developers to build mixed-income housing, strengthening regulations against corporate polluters, and enacting other policies to address the nation's growing economic inequality and environmental crises.

What they can learn from Sanders is that good ideas are not sufficient. Creating more livable cities requires nurturing a core of activist organizations that can build long-term support for progressive municipal policies.

Global Capitalist Crisis and the North American Free Trade Agreement: Reflections 21 Years On
Thursday, 04 June 2015
by William I. Robinson
Truthout | News Analysis   

Recent US Senate approval won by President Obama for "fast-track" negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal has thrust "free trade" and capitalist globalization again into the headlines. Often referred to as "NAFTA on steroids," the TPP is but the latest in more than two decades of "free trade" agreements that have helped open up the world to transnational corporate plunder.

If we want to understand such deals we would do well to reflect on the first of these, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which went into effect in January 1994. We cannot understand NAFTA without understanding the larger picture of which NAFTA and the TPP form part: the new system of global capitalism and the crisis of that system.

NAFTA, and by extension, capitalist globalization, were outcomes of the last great crisis of world capitalism, that of the 1970s. Emergent transnational capital responded to that crisis by "going global," which paved the way for NAFTA. To understand NAFTA and the TPP, we must grasp four novel features of world capitalism in this epoch of globalization:

1. The rise of truly transnational capital and the integration of every country into a new globalized production and financial system. NAFTA served as a midwife for Mexico's integration into this system;

2. The appearance of a new transnational capitalist class, a class group grounded in the new global control over national circuits of accumulation. NAFTA and Mexico's globalization involved the rise of a powerful group of Mexican capitalists, epitomized by Carlos Slim, currently the richest man in the world. These emergent transnationally oriented Mexican elites led the charge in Mexico's globalization and used NAFTA to join the ranks of the transnational capitalist class.

3. The rise of transnational state apparatuses, comprised of dense networks of nation-states and supranational and transnational institutions that promote transnational over national accumulation in each country and act as the collective authority of the transnational capitalist class - as the new global ruling class. NAFTA was drawn up and imposed on the peoples of North America by this transnational state;

4. The appearance of novel relations of inequality and domination in global society, including the spread of new transnational class inequalities, the farcical wars on drugs and terrorism, as well as the wars on immigrants, youth "gangs" and social movements, all part and parcel of capitalist globalization in North America and elsewhere.

Capitalist Crises and "Free" Trade

Capitalism experiences major episodes of crisis about every 40 to 50 years as obstacles emerge to ongoing accumulation and profit-making. These are "structural" or "restructuring" crises because the system must be restructured in order to overcome the crisis. As opportunities for capitalists to profitably invest dry up, the system seeks to open up new outlets for surplus capital, typically through violence, whether structural or direct. NAFTA constitutes one such form of structural violence, whereas the "drug wars" and US militarization on both sides of the border are a form of direct violence. Both have the function of opening up new opportunities for capitalist expansion and control in North America.

Structural crises of capitalism involve social upheavals, political and military conflict, and ideological and cultural changes. The last major crisis of world capitalism prior to the 2008 global financial collapse began in the late 1960s and hit hard in the early 1970s.

"Free trade" and neoliberalism are fundamentally programs of transnational capital liberated from the nation-state through globalization.

The year 1968 was a turning point. That year saw the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States in the midst of expanding Black and Chicano liberation movements, the countercultural and antiwar movements, and an escalation of militant worker struggles. The Tlatelolco massacre of students took place in Mexico City that same year, at a time of great campesino, worker and student upheavals across the country. Further away, 1968 saw the Prague Spring, the uprising of students and workers in Paris, the height of the Cultural Revolution in China, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, which marked the beginning of the first major defeat for US imperialism, and the spread of anti-colonial and armed liberation movements throughout Africa and Latin America.

All this reflected a crisis of hegemony for the system - a crisis in its political and cultural domination. Then came the economic dimension. By 1973, the US government had to abandon the gold standard; the recently formed Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed its oil embargo, which sent shock waves through the world economy; and stagflation (stagnation plus inflation) set in everywhere. This was, in a nutshell, a severe structural crisis of world capitalism, a crisis of 20th century nation-state capitalism.

Stepping back even further in history, at the time of the 1970s crisis, working and popular classes all around the world had accumulated a significant amount of power relative to dominant groups. Why? The  world had seen a prolonged period of international conflict involving world wars and social and class struggles from the 1890s into the 1960s. Working and popular classes were able to make social and economic gains in many countries, leading to the so-called social-democratic "class compromise" of the mid 20th century, whereby the capitalist system was forced to make a number of concessions to significant sectors of the international working class. By the early 1970s, a pre-revolutionary situation was percolating in many countries and regions. The popular classes were able to resist attempts by the dominant groups to shift the burden of the 1970s crises on to their shoulders.

But as the crisis intensified, these dominant groups sought ways to liberate themselves from the "class compromise." Analytically speaking, capital sought to free itself of any reciprocal responsibility to labor in the capitalist system and capitalist states sought to shed themselves of the social welfare systems that were established in preceding decades. Elites in the rich countries also sought ways to integrate emergent Third World elites into the system.

NAFTA was but one small part of a vast restructuring of world capitalism.
These dominant groups launched the "neoliberal counterrevolution," an attempt to roll back the social welfare state, to resubordinate labor and to reconstitute their hegemony at the global level through a newfound transnational mobility of capital and a transformation of the interstate system. The roots of NAFTA are to be found in this response of economic and political elites to the 1970s crisis.

The model of "savage" global capitalism that took hold in the late 20th century involved a new capital-labor relation based on the deregulation, informalization, deunionization and flexibilization of labor as more and more workers have swelled the ranks of the "precariat" - a proletariat existing in permanently precarious conditions. NAFTA and other trade agreements along with neoliberal policies have played a key role in the subordination of labor worldwide and the creation of this global flexible labor market.

The new model of global capitalism has also involved a renewed round of extensive and intensive expansions of the system. The former socialist countries and the revolutionary states of the Third World were integrated into the world market in the late 20th century. Free trade agreements such as NAFTA and neoliberal programs have lifted restrictions to this expansion of transnational capital. A third aspect of the new model is the creation of a legal and regulatory structure for the global economy, characterized by such agreements as NAFTA and the creation of the World Trade Organization. "Free trade" and neoliberalism are fundamentally programs of transnational capital liberated from the nation-state through globalization.

Opening North America for the Transnational Capitalist Class

US, Mexican and Canadian elites turned to negotiating and implementing NAFTA so as to open up new opportunities for expansion in the face of stagnation and to appropriate resources in Mexico and beyond. Capitalist globalization in North America created outlets for a mass of accumulated capital following the stagnation and decline in the profit rate as a result of the 1970s crisis and helped to reverse the worldwide correlation of social and class forces that throughout the 1960s and 1970s had become adverse to capitalist expansion and elite interests.

Yet NAFTA was but one small part of a vast restructuring of world capitalism. NAFTA and free trade are components of neoliberalism, which in turn is an integral component of the project of transnational elites in North America to restructure the system, restore the class power of an emergent transnational capitalist class, and lift obstacles and barriers to new transnational circuits of accumulation opened up by capitalist globalization. NAFTA must be seen in this larger context of capitalist globalization as an attempt to resuscitate the North American and world economy and to restore capitalist hegemony after the great crisis of the 1970s. It is not separate from other free trade agreements around the world; NAFTA is simply the North American regional variant of the project of capitalist globalization.

"To a certain extent, we are armoring NAFTA."
As many have documented, global capitalism has produced an unprecedented concentration of wealth in Mexico and the rise of 24 new billionaires, some of the wealthiest people in the world. Carlos Slim's worth went from $6.6 billion in 1994 to $73 billion in 2014. It generated a high consumption Mexican middle class that identifies more with its counterparts in the United States and elsewhere than it does with the mass of impoverished Mexicans.

At the same time, living conditions for most in Mexico plummeted in the wake of NAFTA's implementation. From 1992 to 1999, extreme poverty increased from 16 to 28 percent of the total population, and in 2012, the poverty rate stood at 52.3 percent, slightly higher than it was at the time of NAFTA's approval. Some 2 to 3 million families were thrown off their land in the wake of NAFTA and millions more were made unemployed in urban areas, creating a mass labor force for maquiladoras, agribusiness projects, mining operations and service sectors. A major portion of those displaced became transnational migrants, servicing the US and global economy outside of Mexico.

NAFTA thus generated for transnational corporate capital new pools of exploitable labor and access to vast new reserves of land and resources in Mexico. The treaty opened up new markets in Mexico and access to Mexican resources for the transnational capitalist class, but also allowed this transnational capitalist class to attack the working class throughout the region. It allowed the transnational fraction of the Mexican capitalist class and elite to globalize and consolidate its hegemony over the Mexican political system. In this sense, NAFTA has been an incubator of the transnational capitalist class in Mexico.

The War on Drugs and Immigrants as Counterparts to NAFTA

NAFTA has its counterpart in the ongoing militarization of North America, including the militarization of borders, the drugs wars, the war against immigrants and the repression of social movements. North America is "a shared economic space," declared then-US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon in 2005, when the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America went into effect. "To a certain extent, we are armoring NAFTA." In 2007, the Security and Prosperity Partnership was replaced by Plan Merida, also known as Plan Mexico, a more sweeping program for militarizing Mexico, including the country's southern and northern borders, with hundreds of millions of dollars in US military and security assistance.

The "drug war" has been a critical mechanism for accumulation and social control in both Mexico and the US.

It is noteworthy that the Security and Prosperity Partnership and Plan Merida brought leading transnational corporations, especially from the military-industrial complex, into coordination with US and Mexican military and security forces, and provided new opportunities for militarized accumulation throughout North America.

The so-called "drug war" has been a critical mechanism for accumulation and social control in both Mexico and the United States, and highly functional for the transnational capitalist class. As Canadian journalist Dawn Paley shows in her important new study, Drug War Capitalism, this war is an instrument of primitive accumulation, social cleansing and profit-making through militarization and conflict. It has allowed, among other things, for:

--the social control of the North American working and popular classes; 
--repression of Mexican social movements;
--vast profit-making through military forms of transnational corporate accumulation, such as the production and deployment of military equipment and forces, border walls, surveillance systems, prison-industrial and immigrant detention complexes;
--the expulsion of communities from rural and urban conflict areas, the appropriation of lands, and establishment of agribusiness and mining operations in place of small-scale agriculture;
--the creation of a system of mass incarceration in the United States disproportionately targeting the African-American population as surplus labor.
This "war on drugs" is reciprocal to the war on immigrants, itself an integral part of the story of NAFTA. The campaign of control and repression against Mexican (and Central American, Asian and other) immigrants in the United States has three key functions for transnational elites. First, it is a system for criminalizing this population, and therefore making it a cheap and tightly controlled labor supply. Second, it allows more generally for control over the transnational working class, including political, cultural and ideological mechanisms of social control; the conversion of immigrants into scapegoats for the crisis; and the sublimation of social tensions that may otherwise be directed against systemic sources of the crisis. And third, together with the farcical wars on drugs and terrorism, the war on immigrants justifies ongoing militarization and "securitization," generating widespread opportunities for transnational corporate profit-making through militarized accumulation.

NAFTA has had the effect, in sum, of generating an almost limitless supply of immigrant labor for the North American economy, in the context of the restructuring of global labor markets. Criminalization of immigrants in the United States has played a key role in pushing immigrant workers underground, making them more vulnerable to super-exploitation and less able to resist, and keeping them deportable.  Racist anti-immigrant laws, the immigrant detention complex and militarized borders all reproduce a reserve army of immigrant labor and at the same time open up new sources of profit-making for the transnational corporations that are actually contracted to build border walls, supply military equipment to the state military and security forces, and establish and run surveillance systems and detention centers.

US Colonization or Transnational Capitalist Class Conquest?

Some have argued that NAFTA aimed to close off North America from other regions and to allow US capital to face European and Asian competitors. This thesis of "regionalization" and a tripolar world in competition, however, does not correspond to reality over the past 20 years. The evidence shows that NAFTA has served as a platform for ever-greater transnational integration and globalization of North America. Transnational corporations from all over the world have poured into Mexico (as well as the United States and Canada) over the past two decades in order to have direct access to North American labor and consumer markets. NAFTA opened the region to greater integration with Asia. China, in fact, is currently funding the "NAFTA super highway," that is, the construction of vast new highway and rail networks integrating the entire North American region.

With the collapse of the Doha round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization, the strategy pursued by the transnational capitalist class has been to negotiate a multiplicity of bilateral and multilateral regional and interregional trade deals, the latest of which is the TPP. We have seen an accelerated transnationalization of the entire North American region since NAFTA went into effect.

We have seen an accelerated transnationalization of the entire North American region since NAFTA went into effect.

Others have portrayed NAFTA as a recolonization of Mexico by the United States. But this image, too, is demonstrated to be false. NAFTA allowed the transnational fraction of the Mexican capitalist class to transnationalize. The Mexican contingent of the transnational capitalist class has been just as much a protagonist and beneficiary of NAFTA and capitalist globalization as has its US and Canadian counterparts.

The Mexican-based Cemex conglomerate, the largest producer of cement in the world, not only operates on every continent, but also is the principal supplier of cement to the US market. While mining companies from the United States and Canada, as well as from Asia, Europe and elsewhere, have poured into Mexico over the past two decades, the largest of these companies are actually owned wholly or in part by Mexican capitalists. Carlos Slim's Grupo Mexico and Grupo Carso conglomerates hold major shares in Saks Fifth Avenue, Best Buy, The New York Times, Philip Morris, Apple and Alcatel, not to mention holdings in companies on every continent.

The case of the "corn tortilla circuit" is instructive. Those who say NAFTA represents a US takeover of Mexico point to how US-based agribusiness subsidized by the US state has flooded the Mexican market with cheap corn and displaced millions of small farmers. This is true. However, these lands have been taken over as much by Mexican and transnational agribusiness, mining and other concerns from around the world as by US-based investor groups. Mexican agro-export and mining capitalist groups have proliferated in Mexico.

Specifically, when NAFTA went into effect, the price of bulk corn dropped - yet the price of tortillas actually rose. This is because NAFTA allowed Mexican transnational capitalists to gain monopoly control  of the corn tortilla market. Just two Mexican companies, GIMSA and MINSA, captured 97 percent of the industrial corn flour market in the country, with the help of Mexican state subsidies. These two companies also control major shares of the US tortilla market (e.g. Mission brand is owned by GIMSA). NAFTA facilitated a shift from small-scale to transnational corporate control of the corn tortilla circuit on both sides of the border, with both Mexico and the US, as transnational state apparatuses, subsidizing both Mexican and US members of the transnational capitalist class.

Twenty-one years into NAFTA, world capitalism is again in deep crisis. Globalization, free trade and neoliberalism may have facilitated a renovated round of capitalist expansion, but they have also generated new contradictions that the system has not been able to resolve. These processes have helped to bring about a transnational working class in North America and globally that is increasingly moving from the defensive to the offensive. The great challenge for transnational elites is how to contain the real and potential rebellion of this mass of dispossessed humanity. As the battle heats up around the TPP, reflections on NAFTA 21 years on can be instructive.

This article is an edited version of a speech William I. Robinson gave at the National Autonomous University of Mexico on April 16, 2015. The analysis is drawn from his latest book, Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Thanks to Steven Osuna and Kevin Robinson for their contributions to this article.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

William I. Robinson is professor of sociology, global studies and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His most recent book is Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity.

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By Dave Johnson, Campaign for America's Future | News Analysis

Wednesday, June 3, 2015





Cleveland Police Officer Acquitted of Manslaughter in 2012 Deaths

MAY 23, 2015
New York Times

Judge John P. O’Donnell with mannequins showing the gunshot wounds to Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Credit Tony Dejak/Associated Press      
CLEVELAND — A police officer who climbed onto the hood of a car after a chase in 2012 and fired repeatedly at its unarmed occupants, both of them black, was acquitted of manslaughter on Saturday by an Ohio judge.

The trial of the white officer, Michael Brelo, following harrowing episodes in communities such as Baltimore, Staten Island and Ferguson, Mo., played out amid broader questions of how the police interact with African-Americans and use force, in Cleveland and across the country.

Officer Brelo, 31, was one of 13 officers who fired 137 rounds at Timothy Russell and his passenger, Malissa Williams, who were killed after a chase through the area on Nov. 29, 2012. Officer Brelo fired his  Glock 17 pistol 49 times, including at least 15 shots after he reloaded and climbed onto the hood of Mr. Russell’s 1979 Chevrolet Malibu and the other officers had stopped firing.

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The chase started downtown after reports of gunfire from the car; prosecutors said the noise apparently was the result of the car’s backfiring. More than 100 officers pursued the car for more than 20 miles at speeds that reached 100 miles an hour. They began firing when the car was stopped and cornered.

While Officer Brelo did fire lethal shots at the two people, testimony did not prove that his shots caused either death, according to the ruling of Judge John P. O’Donnell of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. “The state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Michael Brelo, knowingly caused the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams,” he ruled.
Officer Brelo, a former Marine who had opted for a bench trial, sat stoically throughout the four-week trial. On Saturday, he could be seen shifting in his seat, at times sitting back, and at other times resting his head in his hands. At one point, he made a quick sign of the cross. He embraced his lawyers after the verdict. He remains on an unpaid suspension.

Defense lawyers said their client had feared for his life and believed gunfire was coming from Mr. Russell’s car. No gun was recovered, and prosecutors said Mr. Russell and Ms. Williams had been unarmed.

Patrick A. D’Angelo, one of Officer Brelo’s lawyers, said his team was “elated” with the verdict, and he blamed an “oppressive government” for bringing the charges. “We stood tall; we stood firm,” Mr. D’Angelo said, “because we didn’t do anything illegal. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

But the verdict does not mean the end of scrutiny of the case or of police issues in Cleveland.

Federal officials will review the trial testimony and evidence, and a city panel is investigating Mr. Brelo’s actions and police conduct in the episode. Five supervisors face misdemeanor charges for their oversight of the case.

There are also two ongoing investigations of police shootings in November. One is looking into the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who was holding a replica gun when a white Cleveland police officer shot him. That shooting, captured on video, has also garnered national attention and resulted in protests.

In the other, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office is investigating the death of Tanisha Anderson. Ms. Anderson, a 37-year-old black woman whose family said she suffered from bipolar disorder, lost consciousness and died in police custody after being placed face down on the pavement. The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide

A Cleveland police officer who climbed onto the hood of a car after a chase and fired repeatedly at its unarmed occupants in 2012 was acquitted of manslaughter on Saturday by an Ohio judge. By Reuters on Publish Date May 23, 2015. Photo by Tony Dejak/Associated Press.
The verdict on Saturday was met with anger by many, particularly blacks. Last year, the Justice Department found a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force” within the department.

Representative Marcia L. Fudge, a Democrat whose district is based in Cleveland, said Judge O’Donnell’s verdict was “a stunning setback.”

“The verdict is another chilling reminder of a broken relationship between the Cleveland police department and the community it serves,” she said. “Today we have been told — yet again — our lives have no value.”

At a midafternoon news conference, Cleveland’s mayor and police chief said there had been a number of nonviolent demonstrations in the city and that officers were working to keep the protests under control.

“So far, the protesters are making their voices heard, but they are doing it in a peaceful and very respectful way,” Mayor Frank Jackson said just after 4 p.m. “Police are doing an excellent job of monitoring the situation and protecting everyone’s rights — protesters and everyone else.”

A protest march continued into the evening, with more than 100 demonstrators chanting and blocking traffic downtown. There were several tense moments, including some minor scuffles and games of cat-and-mouse with the police, and unruliness with Cleveland Indians fans leaving the baseball stadium, but the event remained largely peaceful. The crowd dwindled as the evening went on, and the police first made a handful of arrests after 9 p.m., the time protesters were ordered to disperse.

DeVrick Stewart, 29, of Cleveland, said he had been marching since the morning and saw broad issues with how the police treat people.

“I came out because this seems to be a world issue,” said Mr. Stewart, who mentioned both the Brelo case and Tamir Rice’s death. “It’s not a white or black issue. It’s a police versus society issue.”

Timothy McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said in a news conference after the verdict that the investigation had led to several changes that he believed would prevent deaths, including better use-of-force training and increased penalties for officers who disregard department policies. As a result of the changes, “there will never have to be another Brelo trial,” he said.

Five police supervisors have been charged with dereliction of duty, a misdemeanor, for failing to bring the fatal chase under control. “We look forward to presenting another vigorous prosecution,” Mr. McGinty said.

In a statement, the United States attorney’s office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice said they would review the testimony and evidence.

“We will continue our assessment, review all available legal options and will collaboratively determine what, if any, additional steps are available and appropriate given the requirements and limitations of the applicable laws in the federal judicial system,” the statement said.

In 2013, the Critical Incident Review Committee was formed to review the shooting. Cleveland’s police chief, Calvin D. Williams, said during a news conference that, so far, 72 officers had been suspended without pay. One supervisor was fired, and two more were demoted. Administrative charges against three officers were dismissed. The review was paused during Officer Brelo’s trial, but was expected to resume after the verdict.

Nine of the police officers disciplined for their roles in the shooting have filed a federal lawsuit against the city for racial discrimination. The officers — eight whites and one Hispanic — claim that they were disciplined more harshly because they were not black.

After the verdict, Officer Brelo’s future with the department remained unclear. Stephen S. Loomis, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, said Officer Brelo was going on a vacation with his family, but it was not known if he would be able to return to work.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Officer Brelo’s actions crossed the line from justifiable to reckless when he climbed onto the car’s hood, but the judge disagreed.

Protesters outside the Justice Center after Officer Brelo's acquittal in Cleveland on Saturday. Credit Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters
Before rendering his verdict, Judge O’Donnell spoke from the bench about widespread tensions between the police and African-Americans, mentioning Ferguson and Baltimore.

“In many American places, people are angry with, mistrustful and fearful of, the police,” he said. “Citizens think the men and women sworn to protect and serve have violated that oath or never meant it in the first place.”

But Judge O’Donnell said he would not let those sentiments cloud his verdict, and he found that Officer Brelo had reasonably perceived a threat from Mr. Russell’s car. The decision to continue firing from the hood was protected by law, he ruled, clearing Officer Brelo of all charges. The shooting was “reasonable despite knowing now that there was no gun in the car and he was mistaken about the gunshots,” Judge O’Donnell said.

“I reject the claim that 12 seconds after the shooting began, it was patently clear from the perspective of a reasonable police officer that the threat had been stopped,” he said, contrasting the prosecutors’ claims that the justifiable action ended when Officer Brelo climbed onto the hood.

Officer Brelo will remain on unpaid suspension while the review panel that was formed after the shooting continues its investigation into his actions and those of 12 other officers involved, Chief Williams said. In November, the City of Cleveland agreed to pay $3 million to settle wrongful-death lawsuits brought by the families of Mr. Russell and Ms. Williams.

Surrounded by members of Mr. Russell’s family on Saturday afternoon, Paul Cristallo, a lawyer for the family, said relatives were “hugely disappointed” with the verdict. He said that the police created the chaotic circumstances that ultimately led to Officer Brelo’s acquittal. Police officers are trained to de-escalate tensions with civilians, he said, but that “doesn’t include surrounding them with 62 cars and having 13 officers shooting at them.”

“Fleeing and eluding shouldn’t get you the death penalty,” he added.

Mr. Russell’s sister, Michelle, lamented that the trial had relied on the version of events told by police officers, and said her brother and Ms. Williams were never able to tell their side of the story. The police officers were angry, she said, and acted with a “mob mentality.”

“They knew that night that once they caught up to Tim and Malissa that they were going to let them have it,” she said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

But in closing arguments, Mr. D’Angelo said his client believed he was under attack when he fired on the car. “What would make him want to shoot through the windshield at another human being?” Mr. D’Angelo said. “Could it be that he was shot at? Could it be that he reasonably perceived that the occupants of the Malibu were shooting at him? That’s what all the other officers perceived. That’s what Officer Brelo perceived.”

Mitch Smith reported from Cleveland, and Ashley Southall from New York. Rodney Bengston contributed reporting




(Originally posted on December 5, 2014):

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Relentless Deadly National Assault of White Supremacy On Black America And Our Fiercely Determined National Fight Against It In All Of Its Guises
State Terrorism and Racist Violence in the Age of Disposability:  From Emmett Till to Eric Garner
05 December 2014
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed

"If you want a picture of the future imagine a boot stomping on a human face forever."
--George Orwell

A police officer atop an armored vehicle looks through the scope of a rifle towards a crowd of demonstrators gathered to protest the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 12, 2014. The militarized police response to the protests over the shooting of an unarmed teenager has elicited a broad call from across the political spectrum for America’s police forces to be demilitarized. (Whitney Curtis/The New York Times)

The larger reasons behind Eric Garner's execution seem to be missed by most commentators. The issue is not simply police misconduct, or racist acts of police brutality, however deadly, but the growing use of systemic terror of the sort we associate with Hannah Arendt's notion of totalitarianism that needs to be explored.

When fear and terror become the organizing principles of a society in which the tyranny of the state has been replaced by the despotism of an unaccountable market, violence becomes the only valid form of control. The system has not failed. As Jeffrey St. Clair has pointed out, it is doing exactly what it is supposed to do, which is to punish those it considers dangerous or disposable - which increasingly includes more and more individuals and groups. Hannah Arendt was right in arguing that, "If lawfulness is the essence of non-tyrannical government and lawlessness is the essence of tyranny, then terror is the essence of totalitarian domination." 1

In an age when the delete button and an utterly commodified and privatized culture erase all vestiges of memory and commitment, it is easy for a society to remove itself from those sordid memories that reveal the systemic injustices that belie the presence of state violence and terrorism. Not only do the dangerous memories of bodies being lynched, beaten, tortured and murdered disappear in the fog of celebrity culture and the 24/7 entertainment/news cycle, but the historical flashpoints that once revealed the horrors of unaccountable power and acts of systemic barbarism are both disconnected from any broader understanding of domination and vanish into a past that no longer has any connection to the present.
The murder of Emmett Till; the killing of the four young black girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair, in the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama; the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr; the killing by four officers of Amadou Diallo; and the recent killings of countless young black children and men and women, coupled with the ongoing and egregious incarceration of black men in this country are not isolated expressions of specific, marginalized failures of a system. They are the system, a system of authoritarianism that has intensified without apology. Rather than being viewed or forgotten as isolated, but unfortunate, expressions of extremism, these incidents are part of a growing systemic pattern of violence and terror that has unapologetically emerged at a time when the politics and logic of disposability has been normalized in American society and violence has become the default position for solving all social problems, especially as they pertain to poor minorities of class and color.
When ethics and any vestige of social responsibility and the public good are trampled beneath the hooves of the finance state, there is no space for democratic values or justice. We live in an age of disposability - an historical period of increasing barbarism ruled by financial monsters, who offer no political concessions and are driven by a death-drive.
The aim of the terrorist state, as Arendt argues, is not only to instill fear, but to destroy the very capacity for convictions, rather than to instill them. Under such conditions, power is not only unaccountable, but it is free from any sense of moral and political conviction. Hence, the rise of the punishing state as a way to govern all of social life. In this context, life becomes disposable for most, but especially for poor minorities of class and color. I think bell hooks is right when she states that "the point of lynching historically was not to kill individuals but to let everybody know: 'This could happen to you.' " This is how a terrorist state controls people. It individualizes fear and insecurity and undercuts the formation of collective struggle. Fear of punishment, of being killed, tortured, or reduced to the mere level of survival has become the government's weapon of choice. The terrorist state manufactures ignorance and relies on induced isolation and privatization to depoliticize the population. Beliefs are reduced to the realm of the private allowing the public realm to sink into the dark night of barbarism, terror and lawlessness.

As an endless expression of barbarism and the ongoing elimination of any vestige of equality and democratic values, the killing of innocent black children and adults by the police makes clear that Americans now inhabit a state of absolute lawlessness, one that both fills the Hollywood screens with prurient entertainment and a culture of cruelty and, unfortunately, provides testimony to the ravaging violence that marks everyday life as well.

Calls for minor reforms such as retraining the police, hiring more minorities, or making the grand jury system more transparent will not change a political and social system that has lost its connection to the ideals, values and promises of a democracy. Just as calls for punishing the Wall Street crooks who caused the financial crisis will not reform the system that produced the financial debacle.

Calls for such reforms do not challenge the totalitarian politics and financial forces that rule American society, they simply give the system a veil of legitimacy, suggesting it can be fixed. It can’t be fixed. It is a death-dealing system ruled by political and moral zombies, and it has to be transformed through the ongoing, nonviolent mobilization and development of social movements that can imagine a democracy that is real, substantive and radical in its calls for justice, equality and freedom. The dark possibilities of our times are everywhere. Let's hope the killing of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner provides the beginning of a political and social movement to fight what has become a dark and gruesome political state of governance in the United States.
1. Hannah Arendt, "Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government," The Origins of Totalitarianism, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York: 2001). pp. 464.
May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. His most recent books include: Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Paradigm 2013), America's Educational Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013) Neoliberalism's War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014), and The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America's Disimagination Machine (City Lights, 2014). The Toronto Star named Henry Giroux one of the 12 Canadians changing the way we think! Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His website is
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A police officer atop an armored vehicle looks through the scope of a rifle towards a crowd of demonstrators gathered to protest the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 12, 2014. The militarized police response to the protests over the shooting of an unarmed teenager has elicited a broad call from across the political spectrum for America’s police forces to be demilitarized. (Whitney Curtis/The New York Times)
Advocates of justice for Michael Brown gathered in Minneapolis (Fibonacci Blue)

Darren Wilson Reportedly Received a Large Financial Gain as a Result of Killing Michael Brown


David Parkman reported the other day that unnamed sources claim that Darren Wilson, a former Ferguson police officer who murdered Michael Brown, was paid somewhere in the range of $500,000 for his exclusive "first" post-killing interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. ABC News and Wilson both deny the reports of a fee, but it wouldn't be the first time that a major news network has paid big bucks for a grand spectacle sensationalist interview if Parkman is correct.
In addition, The Root recounted reports that more than one millions dollars was raised from supporters, as of November 30, for Wilson. If both these figures are approximately accurate, then it means that Wilson has financially benefitted to the tune of about $1.5 million, with more donations and "celebrity fees" no doubt to come.
It is worthy of note, as Parkman , that Stephanopoulos conducted a soft ball interview with Wilson. It was as much a dereliction of journalistic professional standards as the non-cross examination of Wilson before the grand jury by St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch was a perversion of prosecutorial legal practices.
Yes, there are those who will argue that Wilson - who received a salary of $45,302 as a 28 year old Ferguson police officer - is now out of a job and deserves financial remuneration. However, there's a more compelling and historical prism through which to see the alleged windfall that Wilson is receiving: it's basically a bounty for killing a black man, a reward for a lynching by bullets. Is that a hyperbolic charge? Not really.

BuzzFlash at Truthout posted a commentary yesterday on how even the head of the New York Police Department views people such as Eric Garner (and one can assume Michael Brown) as "pests" or vermin. What were the precipitating actions that led to their killings: selling single cigarettes and walking on the street? In reality, the context of who they were was more important in understanding why they were targeted: black males who have been branded as undesirables by urban police policy.
The deference that prosecutor McCulloch and then "journalist" Stephanopoulos gave to Wilson is the filter through which the public perception of Brown's death is framed, particularly to a large percentage of the US white population that views black males - as voiced by Wilson - as looking "like a demon." This is a legacy of racism that extends back to slavery and the Jim Crow era when black males could be brutalized or lynched for exhibiting even a perceived defiance of any white, even if it was just walking down the sidewalk and glaring at a white person.
That corporate mainstream "news" allegedly is a large contributor to the mass media-age bounty being paid for killing Michael Brown is abominable.

Copyright Truthout. May Not Be Reprinted Without Permission.

Obama under pressure over response to police killings after Eric Garner decision

President creates task force and pledges to work with New York mayor after latest police killing of an unarmed black man prompts more unrest

The real problem in Ferguson, New York and all of America is institutional racism
by Paul Lewis in Washington
Thursday 4 December 2014
The Guardian

President Barack Obama and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will join forces to improve relations between police and minority communities, the  White House announced on Thursday, after the two leaders discussed protests surrounding the death of Eric Garner.

There are growing questions about Obama’s response to a prominent set of police killings of unarmed black men and children that have raised questions about alleged discriminatory policing and impunity.

Obama has not visited any of the communities affected by the high-profile killings. They include Staten Island, where Garner died after being placed in a chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, and Ferguson, the St Louis suburb where Michael Brown was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson.

In both cases, grand juries decided not to indict the police officers, prompting large – and, in the case of Ferguson, violent – protests. Nor has Obama visited Cleveland, Ohio, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot dead by police officer Timothy Loehmann.

“As the president of the United States and as the mayor of its largest city, the two pledged to work together to help strengthen the trust and bond between law enforcement and the local communities that they serve,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

“The two leaders also discussed how this is not just an issue for New York or Ferguson, Missouri, but a problem that extends to communities across the country.”

In brief remarks on Thursday, Obama said he had spoken with De Blasio about the Garner case and added: “Too many Americans feel a deep unfairness when it comes to the gap between our professed ideals and how laws are applied on a day-to-day basis.”

“Beyond the specific issue, that has to be addressed – making sure that people have confidence that police and law enforcement and prosecutors are serving everybody equally – there is a larger question of restoring a sense of common purpose.”

Critics of Obama complain he has failed to implement concrete proposals. On Monday the president lamented how there have been “commissions before, there have been task forces, there have been conversations, and nothing happens”.

Obama’s solution was the creation of another task force. He also resisted curtailing controversial federal programs that transfer military-grade weaponry to local police forces, which became an issue after the extremely forceful response to protests immediately after Brown’s death. Earnest said the country should give “the benefit of the doubt” to Obama’s task force and evaluate its recommendations.

Democrats were united in their dismay at the decision not to indict Pantaleo and over the broader questions emerging about police accountability in the US.

One of the most forceful denunciations of the decision came from the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Marcia Fudge. “Even in the face of video footage, it appears justice will not be served for Mr Garner or his family,” she said.

“In the span of two weeks, this nation seems to have heard one message loud and clear: there will be no accountability for taking black lives,” she said. “As an American, it is growing increasingly difficult to believe that there is justice for all.”

Dena Wessel stands near police officers during protests in Seattle, Washington, after the Eric Garner grand jury decision was released. Photograph: Matt Mills McKnight/EPA

Republicans were split over the wisdom of the New York grand jury’s decision and the existence of wider problems of discriminatory policing, which Obama and his attorney general Eric Holder argue persist in some communities across the country.

The Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, said he would “not rule in or out” the suggestion from one of his deputies, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, for congressional hearings.

“Clearly both of these are serious tragedies that we’ve seen in our society,” Boehner said about the Garner and Brown deaths. “I do think the American people deserve more answers about what really happened here and was our system of justice handled properly.”

McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican conference, said in an MSNBC interview earlier on Thursday that the House should “absolutely” hold hearings into the Garner case. “We need to understand why this decision was made,” she said. “I would call for the House to have those hearings.”

Staten Island’s Republican congressman, Michael Grimm, defended the grand jury’s decision.

“There’s no question that this grand jury had an immensely difficult task before them, but I have full faith that their judgment was fair and reasoned and I applaud [district attorney Daniel] Donovan for overseeing this case with the utmost integrity.” Grimm, a former FBI agent, won re-election last month despite facing an imminent trial over federal indictments for fraud, charges he denies.

The most trenchant defence of Pantaleo came from the Republican New York representative Peter King. “I feel strongly the police officer should not have been indicted,” he said. He claimed that had Garner “not had asthma and a heart condition or was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this”.

“I know people are saying that he said eleven times or seven times ‘I can’t breathe,’” King added in a CNN interview. “Well the fact is that if you can’t breathe, you can’t talk. If you’ve ever seen people locked-up resisting arrest – and I’ve seen it, and it has been white guys – and they’re always saying ‘You’re breaking my arm,’ ‘You’re choking me’ during this. So police hear that all the time.”

Eric Garner protest

Students at Emory University participate in a mass ‘die in’ during a protest on campus against the decision of a grand jury not to indict a police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Erik S Lesser/EPA

Garner, a father of six, was arrested in July under suspicion of peddling untaxed “loose” cigarettes. Moments before he was apprehended, Garner told police: “Every time you see me, you wanna harass me, you wanna stop me…I’m minding my business, officer.”

An autopsy found Garner died as a result of the chokehold, compressions to the chest, and prone positioning during his restraint by police. The New York grand jury could have considered multiple charges, from murder to a lesser offense such as reckless endangerment, but the Staten Island district attorney, Daniel Donovan, said jurors found “no reasonable cause” to bring charges.

Hours after the grand jury decision was made public, Holder announced a federal Department of Justice investigation into whether Garner’s civil rights were violated.

King, the son of a police officer, also rejected the notion there was a racial or civil rights dimension to Garner’s treatment by the NYPD and took aim at African Americans civil rights leaders representing the families of Garner, Brown and a string of other victims of alleged police brutality in recent months. The Rev Al Sharpton was among those who met with Obama at a White House meeting dealing with the fallout from unrest in Ferguson on Monday, along with law enforcement officials and clergy.

“President Obama, if he’s serious about trying to bring racial peace to this country, the last thing he should be doing having Al Sharpton sit in the White House,” King said. “When he says that people in the African American community don’t trust the police, one of the reason is because agitators like Al Sharpton are constantly criticising and attacking and denouncing the police.”

Cleveland officer who shot Tamir Rice had 'dismal' handgun performance for Independence police

By Adam Ferrise, Northeast Ohio Media Group
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
December 03, 2014

Full surveillance video captures a Cleveland police officer fatally shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice Warning: May contain disturbing footage. Police officials release surveillance video that captures a Cleveland police officer fatally shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice at a West Side recreation center

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice had issues with handling guns during his brief tenure with a suburban police department.

A Nov. 29, 2012 letter contained in Tim Loehmann's personnel file from the Independence Police Department says that during firearms qualification training he was "distracted" and "weepy."

"He could not follow simple directions, could not communicate clear thoughts nor recollections, and his handgun performance was dismal," according to the letter written by Deputy Chief Jim Polak of the Independence police.

The letter recommended that the department part ways with Loehmann, who went on to become a police officer with the Cleveland Division of Police.
"I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies," Polak said.

Cleveland police said on Wednesday that they never reviewed the Independence file and changed their policies to include checking publicly available records for potential hires.

Loehmann is currently under investigation by the Cleveland police department's use of deadly force investigation team, made up of homicide detectives, several internal units and city and Cuyahoga County prosecutors in the Nov. 22 shooting outside the Cudell Recreation Center.
Loehmann shot Tamir less than two seconds after he arrived to investigate a complaint about Tamir carrying what turned out to be a fake gun.

Independence released Loehmann's personnel file Wednesday, the day after Cleveland police released files for him and his partner during the shooting.

In an interview with the Northeast Ohio Media Group, Loehmann's father said that his son left Independence to pursue a job with Cleveland police because he wanted "more action."

It is unclear if Cleveland officials saw the Independence files before Loehmann was hired in Cleveland. A message left for Cleveland police spokesman Sgt. Ali Pillow was not immediately returned.

Loehmann's Cleveland personnel file shows someone marked a letter from Loehmann in which he wrote that he resigned from Independence one day after graduating from the Cleveland Heights Police Academy.

Someone also jotted down the name and phone number for Polak and Independence Police Chief Michael Kilbane. The file does not say if Cleveland officials contacted Independence.

Loehmann was allowed to resign from the Independence police. He tendered his resignation Dec. 4, 2012 after six months with the department. He was hired in March of this year by Cleveland police.

The Independence report details a host of issues with Loehmann's performance as an officer during his short stint with the department.

Loehmann's troubles began in 2012 while he attended the Cleveland Heights Police Academy. An issue with an on-again, off-again girlfriend caused Loehmann distress and, in one case, he fell asleep during  training, according to a written report from Independence Police Sgt. Greg Tinnirello.

Loehmann told Tinnirello that he cried often about his personal issue during training and Loehmann's mother told Tinnierello that her son's study papers "would be soaked in tears nightly for three months."

On Nov. 26, 2012, Loehmann was ordered to stay in the Independence police dispatch center. Loehmann left without authorization and lied to Tinnierello that the dispatchers told him he could leave, the letter says.
Loehmann eventually admitted to lying.

The problems at Independence erupted on Nov. 28, 2012, the records say. Loehmann showed up "sleepy and upset" for a 6 a.m. state gun qualification session.

Tinnierello wrote that Loehmann "was distracted and was not following simple instructions" at the shooting range.
At one point, he went to the back of the range to reload his magazine and could not return to the line where he was supposed to shoot from, Tinnierello wrote. Loehmann appeared to be crying and was emotionally upset so Tinnierello said they would stop the exercise for the day.
Tinnierello and Loehmann talked about Loehmann's personal problems as they made the 40-minute drive to Atwells Police Supply to pick up a bulletproof vest for Loehmann.
Loehmann told Tinnierello that he "was unclear where his future was headed" and thought about quitting when Tinnierello told him he would continue training until Independence police thought he could handle the job.
"Loehmann stated 'that just makes me want to quit,'" Tinnierello replied, according to Tinnierello.

Tinnierello reported the information to Polak. The two decided to send Loehmann home for the day and call his parents because they were concerned for his well-being. The three met the next day.

Loehmann told his supervisors that he spoke with two friends, a priest and a Cleveland police officer about how to deal with personal stress at work. Loehmann expressed his frustration about for a small police department in Independence instead of living in New York where he could be close to friends.

He told Polak that he wanted to work at the New York Police Department where his father worked for 20 years.
Polak concluded his report by saying that Loehmann lacked the maturity to understand the severity of his breakdown on the shooting range.

"Unfortunately in law enforcement there are times when instructions need to be followed to the letter and I am under the impression that Ptl. Loehmann, under certain circumstances, will not react in the way instructed," Polak wrote.

Cudell Rec center shooting:

Justice Department report likely little comfort to Tamir Rice family and others: Mark Naymik

Tamir Rice shooting should be rallying point for real community policing: Mark Naymik

Cleveland officer who shot Tamir Rice had 'dismal' handgun performance for Independence police

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The New York Times
Monday, May 25, 2015

Cleveland Is Said to Settle Justice Department Lawsuit Over Policing

The city of Cleveland has reached a settlement with the Justice Department over what federal authorities said was a pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force, people briefed on the case said Monday.

The settlement, which could be announced as early as Tuesday, comes days after a judge declared a Cleveland police officer not guilty of manslaughter for climbing onto the hood of a car and firing repeatedly at its unarmed occupants, both of them black. The verdict prompted hours of protests and reignited discussions about how police officers treat the city’s African-American residents.


Cleveland Reaches Settlement With Justice Department Over Police Conduct

Federal authorities had cited a pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force in a report on the Cleveland Division of Police.


Cleveland Reaches Settlement With Justice Department Over Police Conduct
MAY 25, 2015
New York Times

Demonstrators pause on Saturday at the entrance to the Cuyahoga County Justice Center as police stand guard during a protest against the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects. Credit John Minchillo/Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Cleveland has reached a settlement with the Justice Department over what federal authorities said was a pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force, people briefed on the case said Monday.

The settlement, which could be announced as early as Tuesday, comes days after a judge declared a Cleveland police officer not guilty of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a car’s two unarmed occupants, both of them black.

The verdict prompted a day and night of protests and reignited discussions about how police officers treat the city’s African-American residents.

The details of the settlement were not immediately clear, but in similar talks in recent years, the Justice Department has required cities to allow independent monitors to oversee changes in police departments. Settlements are typically backed by court orders and often call for improved training and revised policies for the use of force.

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A spokeswoman for the Cleveland Division of Police referred questions to the mayor’s office, which would not comment on Monday. Dena Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, also had no comment.

Verdict in Cleveland Police Shooting

A Cleveland police officer who climbed onto the hood of a car after a chase and fired repeatedly at its unarmed occupants in 2012 was acquitted of manslaughter on Saturday by an Ohio judge.

By Reuters on Publish Date May 23, 2015. Photo by Tony Dejak/Associated Press.

The Justice Department opened an inquiry into the Cleveland police force months after the 2012 shooting of the unarmed occupants in a car, and issued its report in December. Cleveland is among several cities, including Ferguson, Mo., New York and Baltimore, that have become focal points of a national debate over policing and race.

On Saturday, demonstrators spent hours marching through Cleveland after a judge acquitted Officer Michael Brelo of manslaughter for his role in the 2012 shooting, which began with a police chase of the car. While several officers fired a combined 137 shots, Officer Brelo was singled out for manslaughter charges because he climbed onto the hood of the car after the pursuit ended and fired 15 shots into the vehicle.

The occupants, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, died from gunshot wounds. The judge ruled that the actions of Officer Brelo, who is white, were lawful.

Cleveland’s streets have stayed calm since Saturday, when the police reported 71 arrests, some on felony charges.

Dozens of protesters appeared in court here Monday on misdemeanor charges. Some still wore T-shirts with messages like “I Can’t Breathe,” a reference to Eric Garner, who died after being put in a police chokehold in Staten Island last year, and “Black Lives Matter.”

For Cleveland, a settlement with the Justice Department averts a long and costly court fight and the appearance that city leaders are resisting change. Mayor Frank Jackson faces a recall petition from city activists who say, among other grievances, that he has not done enough to prevent police abuses.

The Justice Department has called Mr. Jackson a full partner in its effort to improve the police force.

The Justice Department has opened nearly two dozen investigations into police departments under the Obama administration. Federal investigators found patterns of unconstitutional policing in cities including  Seattle, Newark, Albuquerque and Ferguson. Federal authorities recently announced they would investigate the Baltimore police after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died of injuries he suffered while in custody.

In Seattle, the federal inquiry led local officials to overhaul training and focus on how officers can calm tense situations without using force. In Albuquerque, city officials agreed to change the way the police are trained, outfit officers with body cameras and improve how the department investigates officer-involved shootings.
Mayor Frank Jackson and Police Chief Calvin Williams held a news conference Sunday after Officer Michael Brelo’s acquittal. Credit Michael F. McElroy for The New York Times

Officials in Ferguson are negotiating a possible settlement over accusations that officers routinely violated the Constitution.

The Justice Department’s report on the Cleveland police was among its most scathing, finding that they engaged in a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force.”

Investigators said officers unnecessarily used deadly force; used excessive force against mentally ill people; and inappropriately resorted to stun guns, chemical sprays and punches.

It detailed tactical blunders, and said officers too often imperiled bystanders when they used force.

The Justice Department also criticized a “structurally flawed” discipline policy that it said made it too hard to punish officers for improperly using force.

The report highlighted one case in which officers kicked an African-American man in the head while he was handcuffed and on the ground, then did not report having used force during the arrest.

“Supervisors throughout the chain of command endorse questionable and sometimes unlawful conduct by officers,” Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights prosecutor, said in December. “Officers are not provided with adequate training, policy guidance and supervision to do their jobs safely and effectively.”

The report was compiled too early to cover the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a replica gun in a Cleveland park in November when the police shot him. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to charge officers in his death or in the case of Tanisha Anderson, 37, who died after she was restrained in a prone position on the pavement.

Most of the protesters arraigned Monday were charged with refusal to disperse, and 35 pleaded no contest to an amended charge of disorderly conduct, which carries no jail time. Twenty people pleaded not guilty and will contest the charges. More protesters are expected to appear in court on Tuesday.

Talis Gage, 31, a Cleveland native now living in a different part of Ohio, was among those who pleaded no contest and was released Monday morning. As with others who pleaded no contest, he was sentenced to time served and was not issued a fine. Mr. Gage said he joined the Saturday protest because he believed that Officer Brelo was guilty of a crime.

“What happened was not justice,” Mr. Gage said outside the courthouse shortly after his release. “It was unfair for this man to walk away with no jail time at all.”

Mitch Smith reported from Cleveland, and Matt Apuzzo from Washington.

A version of this article appears in print on May 26, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Makes Deal With Cleveland on Police Abuses.