ProstitutionSpeak, ideology, and death

"Moral Reform Directory" of 1839: This town is a horrible sump of abominable corruption, and here are the addresses

The God’s honest truth is, I get so depressed when I think about sex work.   Nothing ever changes. Or — well, let me correct that a little. Sex workers change.  The conditions of sex work change. The demographics of who goes into sex work change. The clients of sex workers change according to time, place, the economy, and other factors. The collective consciousness of sex workers changes. Even the laws around sex work change. But two things never change: The way the media reports on sex work, and the way Nicholas Kristof goes out in the wild to save some sex workers whenever there’s a full moon.   And the immobile persistence of these overwhelming facts cancels out all the other changes: the same way the occasional wobble in the earth’s axis, though it might produce an Ice Age or a mass extinction on the local scale, doesn’t alter the drone of the planet’s endless billions of rotations around the sun. The sun is a fixed fact; Nick Kristof is a fixed fact; and phrases like “Street Prostitution Keeps Its Wily Hold” are fixed facts that will last till every newspaper and every computer chip are shreds of superheated carbon inside a red dwarf. And so it goes.

“Street Prostitution Keeps Its Wily Hold” was in the headline of a New York Times article this month.

Two men dressed as women strutted in and out of the shadows cast by the moon, past the locked doors of residences, just off one of Brooklyn’s nondescript commercial strips.

One wore knee-high boots and jeans with flowery designs. He had the straightened hair, exaggerated lashes and thick lipstick of a drag queen. The other was a rocker type, the bright red tresses of his wig bouncing giddily off his leather jacket whenever he peered over his shoulder into the headlights of an oncoming car.

Eight months ago, it was not uncommon to see as many as 20 scantily dressed women shimmying along the side streets near this one-block stretch of Madison Street between Broadway and Bushwick Avenue, selling sex for cash or other gifts, like drugs or alcohol. But a recent police crackdown and an influx of transvestite prostitutes have sent most of the women elsewhere — at least for now.

Who writes this stuff for the Times?  (Answer: Al Baker and Tim Stelloh.)  Who edits it? On what other subject would the Newspaper of Record slip into such purple prose, as if it were donning its own flowery off-the-rack fuck-me hooker outfits? What does it mean to have “the straightened hair, exaggerated lashes and thick lipstick of a drag queen”? Does that mean she is a drag queen?  Or did he just mug a drag queen and steal his facial features?  Why isn’t the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation nailing the Times to the wall for this, instead of standing up for Ellen, who can probably stand up for herself?  Oh, I forgot: “transvestite” prostitutes aren’t respectable, unlike camera-coddled or drug-addled celebrities, and even Neil Patrick Harris could probably get away with calling them “drag queens” or, as GLAAD puts it, “tr*nnies.”

Slumming: A resembles-a-drag-queen and her manner-of-a-pimp

The arbiters of what’s Fit To Print, I suspect, fall back on such adj.- and adv.-filled language because they still think sex work would be unprintable in bald noun-verb phrases. The reigning ideology is all about hiding the fact that something very simple is happening, the exchange of sex for money. Instead, sacred horror and legal revulsion must cast their nebula over the scene, made up of purple rain and red-tressed wig and elaborate lighting effects to allow fantasies of rot and exploitation full play. Nothing in ProstitutionSpeak (or Pr*st*t*t**nSpeak) simply is itself. Everything resembles something, everything is like something, as if the jism of metaphor spills over and obliterates the outlines of thought. It’s all swept up in the “vibrancy and persistence of the old-fashioned street hustle, which in the predawn darkness of Bedford-Stuyvesant on Thursday spilled forth in all its crafty, competitive mercantile ways”:

As the transvestites walked up and down Madison Street looking for clients, a man, who had adopted the dress and manner of a pimp, followed them, sometimes at a close distance. Their parade was interrupted by a Mercedes sedan that pulled up to a traffic light; a door opened and a prostitute bolted out. The Mercedes sped away.

Is this guy a pimp?  Or did he beat one up, like the drag queen, and make off with his dress and manner? How do you know that’s a prostitute? Maybe she just stole a prostitute’s profession. Jesus, it’s a dangerous neighborhood.

And now it’s even more dangerous. Why? Well, there’s the police. Wheeling their attention briefly from the omnipresent Muslim threat, the cops, over three days in January, “made 195 arrests and seized 55 vehicles in what police officials called Operation Losing Proposition.” (That’s almost as good as Infinite Justice.) It’s hard to tell how they even identify the sex workers underneath all the metaphors, but in their hard-boiled wisdom, they manage. Here’s my favorite sentence from the entire piece:

In a separate case underscoring the ubiquity of streetwalking, a 32-year-old Pennsylvania man was arrested on Feb. 6 after impersonating a police officer to extort sex from prostitutes, the police said.

Hilarious. But why does it show the “ubiquity of streetwalking”? Doesn’t it really underscore the ubiquity of … cops? Of real cops and fake cops alike, swarming everywhere, the greatest danger to prostitutes’ health and integrity? As Raymond Chandler wrote at the end of his greatest novel:

I never saw any of them again—except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.

So true. But then if you’re a cop, you probably don’t even notice that no one can get rid of you, or that anyone is trying.

The general gist of the article is that while “other crimes recede” in greater New York, prostitution-related arrests stay steady. But this isn’t surprising.   Those arrests, a fertile field for extortion, have always provided supplemental income for the police; and since streetwalkers are exposed pretty much by definition, it’s easy to nab them — and their clients. As it happens, Governor Eliot Spitzer (before he was brought down by the scandal over his patronizing a DC sex work ring) signed a bill changing the laws on prostitution in the state of New York. Selling sex remained a Class B Misdemeanor ( worth three months in jail or a $500 fine); but patronizing a prostitute, the crime and associated hypocrisy soon to topple Spitzer, went up to Class A, carrying one year in jail or a $1,000 fine. For cops, the clients have always represented a readier source of bribes, since they have both more money to offer and more reputation to save. Now they also face more risk. So it’s not surprising that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s chief target in Operation Losing Perspiration was the johns.

Protest against Raymond Kelly: We don't just spy on Muslims anymore

The article tries to put the best gloss on this by suggesting the notoriously un-cosmopolitan Commish was in fact mimicking the famous “Swedish model” — a Nordic effort to target “the point of demand” rather than the prostitute herself. For Head Cop Kelly, the guy who goes to Bed-Stuy looking for a blow job is now engaged in “human trafficking”: the slave trade in women, or in “drag queens” or “transvestites.” All this, the writers claim, “occurred after Mr. Kelly took part in a series of meetings, beginning last year, with advocates from Europe and others aiming ‘for a fairer approach to prostitution.'” But:

Some advocates for prostitutes noted that 10 prostitutes were included in the mid-January arrests, which sends a mixed message. Others, including one former call girl, said it was wrong to focus on johns because it could make those clients more nervous and less likely to share the kind of personal information prostitutes rely on to ensure their safety.

Stop that man! Marketing the Swedish model

Predictably, in letters to the Times’ editor, advocates of the Swedish model call it a “human-rights, women’s-rights-based approach.”  Is it — even in Sweden? There, one analyst reports that, since the system began in 1999,

Police harassment of prostitutes has increased – they can be forced to appear in court to provide testimony against the client (they can refuse to witness, but they are still summoned and sometimes escorted to courtrooms), and whenever they are caught with a client, their belongings are searched and they may be frisked. Anything that police think they can use as evidence against clients (such as condoms) are confiscated. In those cases where a man was caught with a condom on his penis in the back of his car, police have used that fact to argue that he was breaking the law. This practice clearly has consequences for condom use among sexworkers. It provides both them and their clients with strong incentives to avoid using them. The law has been a catastrophe for non-Swedish sexworkers – if the prostitute found with a client is not a citizen or legal resident of Sweden, she is immediately deported; in fact government prosecutors complain that in a number of cases they were unable to gain convictions against clients because the prostitutes they were found with had been deported before they could even give a statement. This fact affects the willingness of non-residents to report on violence.

But the model’s goal is not actually to defend the rights of sex workers — in or out of the trade. It’s to pursue a project both chimerical and, in its infatuation with the radical absolute, Stalinist: the eradication of sex work altogether.   We “must work to end it — in our lifetime and forever,” Nora Ramos, of the Coalition against Trafficking in Women (and “drag queens”? and “transvestites?”), instructs the Times. 

Prostitution won’t end. But the fantastic dream of its elimination will continue to inspire brutality in the inquisitional name of an erasing justice.  Since the crime leaves neither victims nor evidence behind, the quest to find and eradicate it breeds deep intrusions into personal and physical privacy, and torturous semantic reinterpretations of proof.  In Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2007, I listened to a police inspector try to justify the arrest and beating of several metis (a local Nepali term for effeminate men) the night before. The cops had inspected their penises by the light of mobile phones in search of numinous sex traces. That didn’t work– but “Of course they were engaged in immoral activity,” he shouted. “We found condoms on them!”

The same inquisitive spirit animates police from Bed-Stuy to Stockholm.  In a miraculously more sympathetic article this week, the Times writes:

When she worked the streets, Yvette Gonzales said, she frequently saw other prostitutes working without condoms. But they were not having unprotected sex at the request of their customers.

Often, Ms. Gonzales said, the police would confiscate condoms when making a prostitution arrest so they could be used as evidence. And as soon as the prostitutes were released from jail, she said, they would go right back to work without protection; or refrain from carrying condoms at all, for fear of being arrested. …

In a recent survey of 35 prostitutes conducted by the Sex Workers Project, 16 said they had not carried condoms at times because they were afraid it might lead to trouble with the police. Fifteen said their condoms had been destroyed or taken away by the police. Three of those 15 said they had engaged in sex afterwards without a condom.

Don't take the C train

For thirteen years, lawmakers have tried to push a bill through the New York legislature that would bar prosecutors from using possession of condoms as evidence of criminal conduct. For thirteen years, it’s died in committee. Now, it may have a chance of passage. The Times waffles characteristically on the rights and wrongs here: “Excluding certain types of evidence from criminal court is rare, but not unprecedented,” it intones. But that’s not the point: condoms aren’t evidence of criminal conduct. Even where prostitution is penalized, a woman, a man, a “drag queen” or a “transvestite” may have condoms in their pocket simply because they want to protect themselves, and be ready for opportunities. They should have them. As one judge in Manhattan Criminal Court said, “In the age of AIDS and H.I.V., if people are sexually active at a certain age and they are not walking around with condoms, they are fools.”

The New York Police Department did not respond to questions about the proposal, but prosecutors said they wanted the option of including condom evidence at trial.  “I oppose any law that would restrict our use of evidence,”  said Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney. “Prosecutors in my office assess evidence on a case-by-case basis, determining what is appropriate in each situation.”

It’s a wrenching misuse of language for the anti-trafficking crowd to claim that those officials are bent on a “human-rights, women’s-rights-based approach.”   Only the vagaries of ideology can allow such a distortion. The police and prosecutors are on the side of death.

Two and a half cheers for the Mainstream Media

A smart policeman?

A Romanian joke I learned long years past went:

Q: Mickey Mouse, Snow White, the intelligent policeman, and the stupid policeman are all eating Chinese food. Who eats the most?

A: The stupid policeman eats it all. The other three are mythical.

Intelligence isn’t something I associate with uniforms.

Still, we now know that New York cops, though gorged to immobility on Krispy Kremes and bribery, have run one of the biggest intelligence — as in spying — operations that’s stained American life since Vietnam.  We know this because of  the work four Associated Press reporters did to dig up the scandal.

AP investigative reporters Chris Hawley, Adam Goldman, Eileen Sullivan , Matt Apuzzo.

And I say: hooray for journalism schools, hooray for training reporters to tell facts from lies and rumor, hooray for fact-checkers who do their jobs, hooray for the Associated Press for throwing itself behind this story, hooray for the money it makes to support the work, hooray for the staff it can hire down to the guys who run the Xerox machines and fill the staplers. This is the kind of thing we need a mainstream media for: big institutions that can make sure a story carries weight because it’s verifiable and verified, who can afford to shell out, however inadequately, for months of painstaking research. It’s the kind of story that bloggers, whatever their virtues, could never have unearthed or proven. Serious investigative reporting in the US is going the way of the dead-tree press, into archeological desuetude.  We’ll all end up lamenting it. The voicemail-hacking horrors that are dissolving Rupert Murdoch’s power seem in a weird parodic way like the death throes of real reporting, a snake’s tail flailing with its cerebral cortex cut away. After all, you have to have some information to amuse you.  But when one of Brangelina’s four legs can conquer a whole 24 hours in the blogosphere, the contents of Hugh Grant‘s inbox will seem more important than the contents of an intelligence agency’s files. The last real investigative reporters out there are also the last people struggling to restore a sense of proportion.

That’s one cheer for the mainstream media. Another is: more and more we need people who are smart, knowledgeable, and trained, to sort through the avalanche of facts and fiction falling on us daily, like Pandora’s box or Fibber McGee’s closet swollen to planetary scale.  Wikileaks is now releasing five million emails purloined from Stratfor, the sinister security-analysis firm which Julian Assange calls a ‘private intelligence Enron” (though it seems a bit more like Tom Clancy with a Lexis-Nexis account).   FIVE MILLION emails.  Seventy bloggers with seven hundred Macs could toil for half a year and not get a seventieth of the way through them. You need some folks who know what they’re doing, armed with the right search terms, to figure out where the scandals are. Wikileaks performs an in-many-ways inestimable service; but it’s not to be confused with journalism. The e-mail dump is just the raw material. The journalists are the ones who wade through the cesspool and parse the cc: lists.

(Oh, yes, my favorite revelation so far: Twenty years after the 1984 Bhopal gas leak that killed between 10,000 and 25,000 people, Dow Chemical hired Stratfor to spy on Indian activists demanding justice.)

Anti-Dow protest in Bhopal, 2011

My last cheer comes in part from reading this moving article, a reflection on the dangers journalists face in contemporary combat reporting.   The “embedded” journalist, such a repellent fixture of America’s two Gulf wars, seems to be a thing of the past, however recent. “Correspondents no longer get hilltop seats alongside generals as the lines of battle form, break and re-form in the valleys below them.” The killing of Marie Colvin and the death of Anthony Shadid, each heroic in a different way, are harbingers of new exposure. It’s not just revulsion at the compromised and corrupted integrity that embedding left behind. Part of it is the sped-up news cycle, the demand for instant information, which compels reporters onto front lines and even out of foxholes to capture image or experience. (The article features three photographs that war photographer Joao Silva took in 2010 in Afghanistan, just after his legs had been blown off by a land mine.)

Parthian shot: Photographs Silva continued to take although critically wounded

And part of it is that in the last spate of conflicts, there’s nobody to embed with even if you wanted to. The Syrian Army or Qaddafi’s forces won’t have you. The rebels provide only scant protection. In civil war — and, as I wrote below, all our wars now are becoming civil wars — there’s no civility. Nobody is safe.

So brave people die to bring us information, to force it on us in our wired and bit-infested security. If it’s only half a cheer I offer here, it’s not because I slight their courage or importance: it’s because there are other people outside the Mainstream Media and the mainstreams of the prevailing politics, who don’t have the wealth or power of the AP or the Times behind them, who suffer and die to shed a little bit of light as well.   As the article acknowledges:

[A]ll these countries remain infinitely more dangerous for the reporters, photojournalists, citizen journalists, translators and fixers of those countries who, unlike foreign correspondents, cannot jump into a taxi or aircraft when it gets too hot and do not have the protection of a foreign passport or an embassy when at the mercy of their own governments.

Bloggers in Syria, operating outside the inculcated and inherited restraints felt by traditional Syrian reporters in the state press, are in many ways the key people finding the facts about what’s going on in the mayhem of the revolution. As with the Twitterers during Egypt’s unfinished revolution or Iran’s aborted one, their on-the-ground views have their limitations. In the thick of things, the mayhem can overtake you.  The feel of the moment is not the same as knowledge.  There is something to be said for the synoptic perspective that alienness can bring. (The great historian Richard Cobb wrote beautifully about the odd and elusive things that can only be learned by a foreigner in a strange country, or by an investigator confronting a tradition not her own.)

The two can complement each other. All respect to those who choose not to run away. But my biggest and final cheer is reserved for those who, because they are rooted in the place they find themselves and part of its history, simply can’t.

War on Drugs, War on Terror, War on the Poor

Coming to a New York near you: Soldiers map Afghanis for future waterboarding

“Human mapping”?  This has something to do with DNA, right? You plot out all those genomes, and pretty soon you can rebuild Einstein from some vitamin pills and a teaspoon of battery fluid. Before you put that primeval soup on the stove, though, be aware the phrase means other things.  In Afghanistan, “‘human maps‘ help fight Taliban”:

 “I’m 105 years old,” said Bismiullah, an old man stopped by a patrol in southern Afghanistan as part of military efforts to map the population in the battle against the Taliban. …

Troops in the region and across Afghanistan are gathering photographs, fingerprints and employment details as well as canvassing opinions from local residents to find out what they want for the war-racked province. The goal is to strengthen relations between pro-government forces and the local population.

But the information gathered can also help troops catch Taliban fighters, for example by matching fingerprints on home-made bombs or guns.

Formally known as human terrain mapping, the process is a key strand of the strategy to build better ties between pro-government forces and local people as the war enters arguably its most important year.

Yes, fingerprinting centenarians is a great way to win hearts and minds!  As with most counter-insurgency efforts, however, those organs are less important than controlling musculature and movement. In Vietnam or Malaysia, the imperial powers isolated populations in “strategic hamlets” to keep them away from rebel forces. Now you use information and the associated technologies to identify people, fix loyalties and locations, survey where people go. “The guerrilla must swim in the people as the fish swims in the sea,” Mao said, more or less. The old idea was to drain the water and leave the fish exposed and flopping.  Now, you tag it with an electronic beeper, and later set a drone after it. Politics as animal control!

We don’t have guerillas here in the United States, but you can never be too careful.   That, at least, is the argument behind the New York Police Department’s recently revealed, hugely controversial surveillance plan to keep tabs on Muslims. The Associated Press’s reporting on this in the last few months has unveiled an enormous domestic intelligence program, arguably the most insidious since the COINTELPRO probes honeycombed the Left back in the 1960s.  There were “mosque crawlers” sent to infiltrate places of worship; there were spies on student groups at jihadist caravanserais like Yale; there was “human mapping” of “communities of interest” and “Locations of Concern.”  A “Location of Concern,” so the cops’ secret papers say, is a

–Localized center of activity for a particular ethnic group.
–Location that persons of concern may be attracted to.
–Location that individuals may frequent to search for ethnic companionship.
–Location that individuals may find co-conspirators for illegal actions.

Or: a “Popular hangout or meeting location for a particular ethnic group that provides a forum for listening to neighborhood gossip or otherwise provide an overall feel for the community.” Just watch these terrorists:

Monsters.

And there are literal maps:

In addition to Egyptians, Afghanis, and Nigerians in teeming Newark, the NYPD also mapped out Brazilians and Portuguese. Each fado may conceal a fatwa, if you play it backwards. The flame of the churrascaria burns in the eyes of the martyrs.

Plenty of people have condemned New York’s spy system since the story broke, but the Obama administration has been quiet. Today, though, we learned that US government money went to pay for the local secret-police work:

The money is part of a little-known grant intended to help law enforcement fight drug crimes. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135 million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, known as HIDTA….

The White House HIDTA grant program was established at the height of the drug war to help police fight drug gangs and unravel supply routes. It has provided about $2.3 billion to local authorities in the past decade.

The War on Drugs morphed, like a late-model Terminator, into the War on Terror. “After the terror attacks, law enforcement was allowed to use some of that money to fight terrorism.” We don’t know exactly how much is some: “NYPD intelligence operations receive scant oversight in New York. Congress, which approves the money for the program, is not provided with a detailed breakdown of activities.” $1.3 million of the money, though, went to buy cars that “have been used to photograph mosques and record the license plates of worshippers.”

the Eye of Sauron

In addition … the White House money pays for part of the office space the intelligence division shares with other agencies in Manhattan. When police compiled lists of Muslims who took new, Americanized names, they kept those records on HIDTA computer servers. That was ongoing as recently as October, city officials said.

Many NYPD intelligence officers, including those that conducted surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods, had HIDTA email addresses. Briefing documents for Kelly, the police commissioner, were compiled on HIDTA computers. Those documents described what police informants were hearing inside mosques and which academic conferences Muslim scholars attended.

When police wanted to pay a confidential informant, they were told to sign onto the HIDTA website to file the paperwork…

The truth is that governance in the US has been slipping fully into the modes and mindset of a security state for a long time. The government sees large parts of its population not as citizens or constituencies, but as potential objects of a counterinsurgency campaign.

The security state no longer legitimates itself by safeguarding the general welfare. Neoliberalized and mortgaged up to its testicles, it’s given up on that.   It defines itself by its ability to defend the borders: to provide military triumphs, a sufficient if never unquestionable sense of safety, and some colorful, invigorating rah-rah . Since there is a limit to how often threats from outside can be conjured or concocted, it eventually turns to other enemies, internal, intestinal.   Its purpose becomes defending part of the population against another part.

The War on Drugs, far from being a placid predecessor of the Terror Games, was a perfect template. It identified marked, ethnically defined groups within the citizenry as Communities of Interest (and don’t think I mean the white suburbanites who recharged the coke market in the ’80s).  It mapped out Locations of Concern, and helped resegregate the Interestees in them.  It charted a new geography. It plotted out the ties of import and exchange that linked Concernful places inside the boundaries — in inner cities, in shuttered crack houses, in the muling guts of migrant women — to strategic Concerns and enemies abroad, from Colombia to Kandahar. The internal crisis became a cause for external action. We devastated Panama, or seized the poppy fields of Afghanistan, because invisible tendrils tied them to our own neighborhoods. The sense of mysterious linkage made for menace, but out of it we recuperated the knowledge that we were different, and better. (Steven Soderbergh’s weird, fantasy movie Traffic, about the drug trade, makes the myths explicit: he filmed the Mexico scenes on old, yellow stock, as if foreign air were made of different chemicals and, once immersed in it, you start swimming through molasses.)   War at home and war abroad cooperated. Other nations’ sovereignties surrender to our impotence over what happens within our own. Most recently, the US presided over a massacre in Jamaica: local police and military killed dozens of civilians in order to capture a single drug lord who had offended against the Americans. What we ask of our allies in South America or the Caribbean is that they become slightly less chaotic versions of Waziristan.

This means, too, that the Wars on Drugs and on Terror amount in essence to a single War: the big one, on the Poor.   Mike Davis wrote a decade ago about the coming urban landscapes where states will control unemployed and disenfranchised masses of migrants with force. That’s what you’ve got in Brazil. What the US pushed Jamaica’s government to do, Dilma Roussef did at her own discretion (with, to be sure, the added push of cleaning up Rio for the coming Olympics): she called in the military to invade and clean up the favelas. 

The NYPD, I’m afraid, is onto something. It’s true that the closest thing to a terror attack on the city in the last decade was foiled, not by their millions in surveillance money, but by a T-shirt vendor who noticed an oddly smoking car in Times Square. But for Mayor Bloomberg, this only means we have to enlist the entire T-shirt vending community as permanent informers. Faced with the fact that “The NYPD routinely monitored the websites, blogs and forums of Muslim student associations at colleges including Yale, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania,” he answered: “If going on websites and looking for information is not what Yale stands for, I don’t know.” We need an enemy, and if a sophomore blogger is what we’re stuck with, run with what you got.  The watching cameras multiply. This is our new world, where all the wars are civil wars.

Follow the leader

This video appears to show New York police helpfully leading demonstrators onto the Brooklyn Bridge to block traffic, before arresting them for being on the Brooklyn Bridge and blocking traffic. How nice of them!  The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin springs irresistibly to mind, though as I recall that didn’t end well.

Hired guns, generals, and billionaires: policing in New York and Cairo

 

Scrooge McDuck's Money Bin

Juan Cole compares how Egypt’s ruling military, and America’s ruling oligarchy, respond to demonstrations demanding change.

In two protests thousands of miles away from one another on Saturday, a similar spirit of demand for government responsiveness to the people was made. In both cases there was a police crackdown and some clashes broke out. But in one case, the government showed flexibility and attempted to take steps to calm the anger of the people. In the other, the government was silent and no changes were envisioned.

While the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) cleared Midan Tahrir of protesters Saturday, they also offered some tentative concessions on the upcoming elections and the transfer of power. Meanwhile,  New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, safe in City Hall, instructed his police to lure hundreds of demonstrators into a trap and arrest them. 

 Cole says:

American government is often a kind of elective dictatorship, where politicians and bureaucrats feel that once they cast their ballots, the people should sit down and shut up and let those elected run everything and make all the decisions (even if those decisions clearly run counter to what the electorate was signalling it wanted). … When will American government show the flexibility and willingness to compromise on issues with an engaged democratic public that the generals in Cairo are showing?

Cole goes way too easy on the bemedalled mafiosi who now rule Cairo. #FuckSCAF is a popular hashtag on Egyptians’ twitter. And rightly. Until SCAF takes the crucial step of scrapping the emergency law — the century-old provisions that enable a regime of arbitrary arrest and torture — the generals will continue to fuck the country over in royal fashion.  No cosmetic changes can substitute for the army’s pulling out on this one.

Meanwhile, neither Bloomberg nor Obama has exclusive power to remedy the Wall Street Occupation’s grievances, which strike close to the heart of the economic and political system. But surely Bloomberg sees his job as something larger than safeguarding his fellow billionaires. Right?  Surely Hizzoner could, at a minimum, refrain from siccing his cops on peaceful demonstrators just because they point threatening middle fingers at his tax bracket.

Or could he? The New York Police Department is almost — not quite — as notorious for torture as its counterparts in Cairo.  There’s nothing aberrant about this. As Mike Davis started arguing a decade ago: in the next century, cities will stop being centers of production, and turn into guarded, gated havens where the monied enjoy culture, surrounded by teeming slums of migrants without jobs or future. Policing, in this divided world, will become a matter of protecting the transnational rich  — those plugged into global capital flows — against the encircling urban chaos of the dispossessed and hopeless poor. Brutality will be increasingly essential to keep the enclaves of money safe from those outside.

It’s Bed-Stuy against the Trump Tower, Embaba against Zamalek, and the forces of public order will morph more and more openly into a hired security squad defending the latter. That’s a dystopic vision. But Bloomberg may have just offered us a preview glimpse.