26 September, 2009

Police riot. Crowd is caught in the middle.

Last night, as the G20 had wrapped up, I was about a mile away from the Schenley Plaza "protest," monitoring police bands and getting messages from people at the site. A few observations:

1) There was no formal "protest," per se. A group of people had decided to assemble on the plaza to call attention to what they considered to be unnecessary brutality by the police earlier in the day. It's the sort of thing that happens all the time.

2) Police arrived in masse. Oakland had been witnessing a show of force for the past few days (I know: I regularly drove past long lines of cops in riot gear and watched an apache helicopter fly low over my house.) At least some of the cops were not from Pittsburgh. In fear of a repeat of Seattle, the local "authorities" (and it find it increasingly difficult to use that word) brought in and deputized police from across the country. I know some were some Miami. The scanner reported when a busload of Chicago cops arrived on the scene.

3) A crowd emerged to see the show. The plaza is across from the university library, and a block from freshman dorms.

4) The vast majority of the vandalism (broken windows) in the area was traced back to a single anarchist from California. (It was clear it wasn't a local when he hit the student's favorite diner. I suspect there was student cooperation to find and turn him in, but can't prove it.) He was in custody before nightfall, and before any crowd assembled.

5) A sonic weapon was used: a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), similar to those deployed in Iraq, on ships, and during Katrina. Big-city police departments have been purchasing the LRAD, but this is, to my knowledge, the first time one has been used on a crowd inside of the US.

6) Local tv news was reporting from the scene in the early phases. It was all great theater and it was occurring during the regular 11 pm news broadcast. However, just before the riot control gasses were brought out, the local stations cut away, never to return.

7) On the scanners, before switching to tac frequencies I couldn't monitor, there were repeated references to initiating "hammer and anvil."

8) Crowds were told to disperse, but at the same time were given no place to go. The cops were quite thorough in blocking potential exits. Some people were trapped on open stairwells, with police blocking the top and bottom, while the gas passed through.

9) Some of the cops were very professional. Some of them acted like thugs. One of the high points was when the campus cops refused the outsiders admission to the dorms. It didn't entirely stop them, but it slowed the city (and other) forces and gave people a chance to calm down.

10) Cops were very aware of what might get to the news. I monitored pursuits being broken off for fear that they would be witnessed by news crews.

11) Although people have begun to be released, the police are holding their property. There is some concern that cameras and cell phones will be empty when (and if) they are returned.

12) Most of the city is glad to just get back to normal. Some people are very, very pissed.

24 September, 2009

Irving Kristol

Dead, at the age of 89.  Famous as the so-called godfather of neoconservativism, he managed to link the political and ideological tactics of the Trotskyites (where he began) with the deep Jacksonian strain in American political culture.  He loved the State, and pushed for its expansion--so long as the right people were in charge.  It's no wonder his ideas resonated within the Bush White House.

Give the man his due.  He wasn't parroting sound-bites crafted for him by others.  He didn't fear a good argument.  He knew what he believed and why he believed it.  He was more than willing to spell it out to others (for a classic intro to what he believed, see his essay The Neoconservative Persuasion ).  While I have never agreed with him on some of his "facts" and most of his values--in particular his disregard for the lives and dignity of the regular people who pay the price for empire--he was a "great" man.  Not quite as "great" as Stalin, or Hitler, or Mao--but it wasn't for lack of trying.

15 September, 2009

China: democracy and warlords

A reporter for OpenDemocracy spent the month of August touring China, looking for signs of democratization.  He finds more than he bargained for:

Indeed, in interviewing people from various organisations and from very different perspectives, I was struck by a consistent undertone of worry about the prospect of a regime change (even a "colour revolution") along the lines of those in the post-Soviet states in the early 2000s - which culminated in the governing communist or reformed-communist parties being ejected from office. elections China's clear official aim is to ensure that it doesn't make the same mistake. But in a country undergoing rapid change, how much of the political course of events and outcome can the party still control?

But that’s the cities.  I imagine most of the conversations were with the intelligensia.  Out in the countryside, a far different picture emerges:

In China's northeast, quasi-mafia groups have made entire rural areas their fiefdoms, which they run according to their extensive business interests. In the southeast province of Fujian, similar elite economic groups have established control of villages via local representatives who ruthlessly pursue the groups' private interests with no regard for broader social goals. In the central provinces of Hunan, Henan and Hebei, most evidence I saw showed a clear battle between party operatives and other increasingly powerful groups (from specific clans in one area, to economic or ethnic or social groups in another). Such tense and uneven situations help put in perspective Hu Jintao's emphasis, in the aftermath of the Xinjiang disturbances, on the need to have "one law for everyone". 

Lots of luck on that, Hu.

China’s Shadow Sector: Power in Pieces / ISN

America leads the world

At least, in terms of arms sales.   The American share of the market in 2008, according the the Congressional Research Service, was 68.4 percent.  Italy was number 2 with 6.7 percent, and Russia number 3 with a drop to $3.5 billion in sales, which is a little less than Italy.

There are advantages to doing this, of course.  Increased production lowers unit cost, keeps production lines open without a direct payment from American taxpayers, and can foster dependency on the US for spare parts and maintenance. 

Personally, I think we’re underestimating the people we sell to.  Iran arranged to keep their American planes flying for a long time after the fall of the shah.  Israel helped to develop some of the things we sell ,for gosh sake.  There are smart people around the world who might pick up the slack for a client dropped by the US.

Costs of War: Dollar Deals / ISN

03 September, 2009

Magnetic monopoles

A team of European scientists have announced that they have observed, for the first time, magnetic monopoles: things that have only one magnetic pole (a north pole without a south pole, for example).  I suppose only a former physics nerd will find this exciting, but I think it's cool.

The possibility of these things was first predicted by Paul Dirac--who also predicted the existence of antimatter--in 1931.  So congratulations to professor Dirac!

Magnetic monopoles observed for the first time

The key to a successful policy is to do well while doing good

China is buying the dollar equivalent of $50 billion, or roughly 10 percent, of the IMF's first bond sale.  The IMF is raising the cash in order to lend to developing and emerging market economies.  The Europeans say they will contribute 125 billion euros, about a third of the goal.  Brazil and Russia have expressed interest in the sale.  To the extent that the IMF is helpful (a debatable point), these are good things.  But the sign of a smart policy is that those who do good are also in a position to profit from it.

In addition to improving China's status in the IMF, the interesting point is the purchase is in Yuan (341.2 billion), a currency not traded on global markets, rather than dollars.  This fits with a general policy of spreading the yuan.  China already has a currency swap deal with Argentina, and has negotiated lending yuan to the central Banks of Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia, and Belarus in the event of an emergency.  While the IMF bonds are denominated as Special Drawing Rights (SDR) the IMF may lend yuan to developing countries, who could start using the yuan as a reserve currency.  This encourages the transition from the dollar to SDRs, and a swap of dollars for yuan.

This isn't some sinister conspiracy.  It's just good sense, if China has doubts about the dollar.

Preparing for the G-20

Pittsburgh, where I live, is the site of the next G-20 summit.  The city is gearing up: the anarchists are organizing (to the extent anarchists ever do); the police (who have a reputation for unwarranted violence) are planning crowd control.  The feds are moving in, declaring a no-fly zone over the city, and rumors are that we should expect troops in the street.

Official groups, working to get it all organized, emphasize the economic opportunities: it could be bigger than the Super Bowl, they say.  It isn't yet decided just how far the secure zone will extend, so businesses throughout downtown are also being told to plan for the equivalent of a traffic-stopping blizzard.

Susan will be manning the phones, taking reports of police brutality.  I'm to be trained as an ACLU legal observer.  The hope is that placing observers will keep everybody honest.  It's only sensible to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Looks like this could be interesting.