Thursday, February 01, 2018

Start with the fascists in your own streets

Man that Trump State of the Union was a real doozy.  He started out running through the self-congratulatory bullshit everybody expected. "My economy is good and big. The tax cuts are the best in the history of everything. We are going to do the bipartisan infrastructures and be great again."  There was some stupidity about "clean coal" and something about how "regulations" are keeping us from making more roads out of Empire State Buildings. We also expected to hear at least some of the jingoistic garbage about flags and cops and such that kind of keeps the brand out there.

But this took an even darker turn than I expected.  Trump went hard on immigration policy setting forth a plan that will re-define the standards determining who gets to be in the country and what rights they are entitled to.
As part of his offer to put 1.8 million young, unauthorized immigrant “Dreamers” on a path to citizenship, Mr. Trump also wants to shift legal immigration away from prioritizing family reunification to a system based on individual qualifications. It would be a significant change – if lawmakers could agree on what constitutes “merit.”

The president and his supporters in Congress appear to be defining merit as highly skilled, well-educated immigrants who speak English and can support themselves. But what about strawberry pickers or hotel workers? Those jobs are commonly performed by low-skilled immigrants. And then there’s the brother or sister of a legal resident who comes to America and starts a business, whose family helps him or her adjust to a new culture.

“Nobody has a set definition of ‘merit.’ Everyone uses it for his own purpose,” says Theresa Cardinal Brown, the director of immigration policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. The term sounds positive, she says, while a phrase like “chain migration” – or family-based immigration, which the president wants to stop – sounds negative, like a weight.
A "merit" standard is a deliberate cruelty that attaches legal status to class and ethnicity. In order to sell it, Trump employed some of his most blatantly fascist rhetorical devices.  He invited crime victims to sit in the gallery and used them as human props to imply that immigrants are all or mostly violent "MS 13" gang members.  He stoked a notion that extending citizenship to immigrants who arrived in the US as children poses a threat to the status of the native-born. The not-so-subtle ethno-nationalist appeal of this message was not lost on its intended audience.

Trump went on to pledge he was rescinding plans to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay adding a line that reasserted a Bush era prerogative of the President to strip terror suspects of their rights by declaring them "unlawful enemy combatants."   And if all of that wasn't scary enough, Trump threw in a little sabre rattling toward North Korea while declaring his intention to expand the US nuclear arsenal.

So, all in all, not good. The Advocate was just happy that he winked at some of the local guys.

But though the times are bad, they are not times for despair. These are times for action. And there is no better way to take action against the fascists in D.C. than to start pushing back against the ones in your own town.  As it so happens, we've got plenty to pick from here.

This week the mayor along with state and local law enforcement executed a plan designed by their hired-gun lawyer and the religious fanatics at Covenant House to put a bunch of strip club employees out of work just before the busy Mardi Gras season.

The raids quickly drew criticism for

1) The authoritarian brutality with which they were conducted.
Two of the dancers interviewed after the weekend raid at Rick's Sporting Saloon said police used invasive and unnecessary tactics in documenting the identities of dancers in the club. Officers also made rude comments the dancers said were dehumanizing. No complaints have been made against officers who conducted the raid, according to the NOPD. One dancer said she fears that filing a complaint would make her a police target and jeopardize her enrollment at a conservative college.

2) The moralistic rhetoric with which they were rationalized.  
At a press conference Monday morning, New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and Office of Alcohol & Tobacco Control (ATC) officials defended recent raids of eight Bourbon Street gentlemen's clubs, calling them the "first step, but certainly not the last" in an ongoing effort to fight human trafficking in New Orleans.

However, official accounts of the investigation seemed to muddle human trafficking with the variety of violations uncovered in the clubs, which range in seriousness.

3) The blatant dishonesty and misdirection inherent in that rationalization.
Of the arrests, ATC Commissioner Juana Marine-Lombard said, “Prostitution in and of itself is sex trafficking.”

But prostitution is not trafficking. Trafficking, as it is defined by the state of Louisiana and under federal law, requires force, fraud, and coercion; prostitution does not. In the same press conference, New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison admitted that he does not believe prostitution and sex trafficking “are one and the same.”
This is a thoroughly planned and coordinated effort to bully these businesses out of the way so that Dizneylandrieu can finally be built. Pat laid out the next steps the other day. Here is what to expect.  The Planning Commission is about to take up a measure to reduce the number of French Quarter "Adult Live Performance Venues," through attrition.  That attrition is currently being generated through these bogus raids.

It would be moving even faster had City Council already passed the ABO reforms they were scheduled to take up this month. That ordinance grants the mayor unilateral authority to suspend liquor licenses should he decide that in his own judgement the business "endangers the health, safety and welfare of the community."  Unfortunately for our would-be stongman decider, the enabling act has hit a snag due to its tangentially related but equally fascist effect of making New Orleans the most heavily surveilled city in the country.

Mind you, that hasn't stopped some cameras from going up anyway.

NOPD eyes

These NOPD eyeballs with blue and red flashing light accessories have been going up along the Uptown parade route this week. They're supposed to be monitored in "real time" from a fancy new video lair. It turns out they're only today running at 100 percent of full capacity. Which might explain why I couldn't get anybody to holler back at me the other day despite the fact that  FBI is supposed to be watching social media in coordination with the Real Time camera monitors.  I'll try again once the parades roll. Leave it to New Orleans to build a totalitarian state panopticon but never figure out how get it to work properly. The phrase, "So far behind we're ahead," springs to mind. Then again that may be too much to hope for in this case. 

In all likelihood, the camera provision will be... um... stripped... from the ABO ordinance in order to pass it. In the meantime, Mitch et al will have to stick to their regular program of harassment.  In which case, it falls to the oppressed to push back.
A Jan. 31 press conference about the Bourbon Street infrastructure redevelopment turned cacophonous when a group of gentlemen's club workers and their allies staged a demonstration, drowning out city and tourism officials.

Holding signs that said "Why the celebration?? Strippers are out of work," "We are workers, not political pawns" and simply "Can you not?", a group of at least 70 workers gathered behind officials on the 300 block of Bourbon Street, blocked by a few scattered New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officers. As the conference began (and cameras rolled), workers began to chant, rendering officials' statements almost inaudible.

The conference, which was announced late Jan. 30, was called to celebrate progress on the ongoing construction on Bourbon Street and to "remind residents and visitors that [Bourbon Street] is open for business," according to a city press release. But as Department of Public Works director Dani Galloway cited project developments, including completion of major construction on the 100-800 blocks of Bourbon, enhanced water pressure in fire hydrants and other developments meant to improve public safety on the street, workers broke in with chants of "Worker's rights are women's rights," "Their body, their choice" and "Sex work is real work."
There is a mad fascist government in Washington D.C. threatening your rights and your livelihood. That is a scary thing and it is appropriate to be concerned.  But if that feels too big and out of reach for us right now, there are still plenty of arrogant bullies to act against at home.  And they are less difficult to find.

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