Friday, July 27, 2012

Behind the Colorado massacre

The following analysis of the Aurora California massacre comes from the Workers World paper.  This is a socialist publication from the United States.  The author, Larry Hales,  lived in Aurora and Denver, Colo. He was in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.
Behind Colorado massacre

By Larry Hales on July 24, 2012

(Above: US newspaper headlines)

The most important question raised by the latest massacre in Colorado remains unasked by the corporate media: What is it about social conditions in the United States that promotes these terrible tragedies?
Late on the evening of July 19, theatergoers in Aurora, Colo., sat down to watch an “event” film — the kind whose opening at midnight showings is preceded by saturation ads placed by Hollywood studios.

“The Dark Knight Rises” is the final in a film series based on Batman comic books. The protagonist is a billionaire vigilante whose primary objective is to “clean” the streets of a metropolitan area of criminals, who for the most part commit crimes of opportunity. On occasion, he tangles with oddly named and outfitted master criminals with murky rationales.
Twenty minutes into the film, survivors said a young man outfitted in full-body tactical gear — including a helmet with gasmask, vest, leggings, throat and groin protectors — threw gas canisters and began shooting into the crowd. Aurora police say he fled out a back door, but was quickly captured in the parking lot. They have identified the alleged shooter as James Holmes, 24.

In the initial confusion Holmes was thought to be a prop associated with the screening. But the screams of those shot soon alerted others to what was happening. In all, 70 people were reportedly shot; 12 were killed, the youngest a six-year-old girl. A dozen of the wounded remain in critical condition.
Holmes made his first appearance in court on July 23; formal charges will be filed on July 30.

Survivors told of great acts of heroism. Family members, friends and complete strangers shielded and ushered one another out of the theater, while Holmes shot at random, first with an AR-15 assault rifle, which is a shortened version of an M-16, and then with a 12-gauge shotgun and two Glock 40-caliber semi-automatic pistols. He is reported to have purchased them over a period of several months in preparation for the massacre.
Why isn’t Holmes called a terrorist?

Holmes grew up in an upper-middle-class area of San Diego, Calif., raised by a computer scientist/mathematician father and a mother who is a nurse. According to police, he had booby trapped his apartment in Aurora and left his door unlocked. If tripped, the intricate traps could have killed many in the building and the nearby Anschutz Medical Campus of the University of Colorado.
The media have been cautious not to use the word “terrorist” because “there is not enough information as to motive.” Would they be so reserved if the suspect were a Muslim from almost anywhere?

What if Holmes were a person of color? Mightn’t labels like thug, gang member or terrorist have been hastily applied, regardless of how much information police had? In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, people scrambling to survive were labeled criminals and looters. The media constantly reported false stories of rape and mass murder, eager to believe the worst when describing Black people.
If Holmes had an Islamic name, or one uniquely African or Southeast Asian, would he have been able to purchase and stockpile massive amounts of ammo, four weapons including an assault rifle, tactical gear, accelerants and large commercial fireworks? If he had a known affiliation with a progressive or leftist group that was infiltrated or spied on by authorities, might not his apartment have been flagged and raided?

Whatever personal motive the shooter might have had is speculation at this time. However, the massacre of people in a movie theater is an act of terror, and the few words he allegedly uttered claiming to be the Joker character in “Batman” showed he was very aware of this.
Holmes may suffer from delusions that come from a mental illness. But his planning, purchasing of weapons, tactical body armor, thousands of rounds of ammunition and chemicals, and other components to make bombs and the other devices found in his apartment show a great deal of calculation. However, mental illness and the ability to think through a plan are not mutually exclusive.

Nevertheless, the label of mentally ill, or sometimes genius, superb student, etc., are the usual platitudes whenever a “normal” or “everyday” person who is not from an oppressed community commits a crime such as this massacre.
Violence & capitalist alienation

This event must be analyzed in the context of the overarching culture of war and violence that runs through the entire history of the United States and has been perpetrated against the most oppressed and vulnerable. Violence is an integral part of this capitalist system, based on exploitation of workers and super-exploitation of the nationally oppressed.
The established norm, what is generally accepted as everyday or mundane, flows from how the wealth of this society was first gained and then maintained. The dominant class in U.S. society has historically been white. Thus, Holmes is “normal” at first glance and without a coherent political motive, so the word terrorist is not applied to him.

Instead, he is categorized as a loner, a misfit or socially awkward, which denote that in no way is this type of violent crime condoned or reinforced by the society as a whole. At the same time those terms disregard the glorification of violence in the U.S. and the effects of the military-industrial complex on the culture.
Karl Marx wrote that under capitalism workers must sell their labor power for a wage as part of a productive process owned by a boss, leaving the worker alienated from the product. There is no satisfaction in the end product because the primary reason to work is to earn a wage to sustain oneself and one’s dependents.

Over time workers are not only alienated from what they produce, but are in competition with one another for jobs — which are now becoming increasingly scarce. This often influences how people relate to one another and contributes to the development of some mental illnesses and anxieties. The more developed the country, especially one that has passed into the imperialist phase, the more decadent the society grows and with it the prevalence of social illness.
It was just a few miles from Aurora that a similar incident happened in 1999 at Columbine High School. There two teenagers specifically paid reverence to Hitler’s birthday and espoused ultra-right, racist beliefs as they gunned down fellow students.

A culture of war & militarism
Most of Colorado was stolen from Mexico in an extremely violent war. It is a militarized state where Rocky Flats, the infamous U.S. government facility, produced chemical and nuclear weapons for 40 years. It also once housed napalm-maker Dow Chemical.

Colorado is home to defense contractors Lockheed Martin and several Northrop Grumman facilities, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Air Force Academy, and one of the largest and most technologically advanced infantry divisions, the 4th Infantry based at Fort Carson.
Before becoming a state, it was the site of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, where hundreds of Cheyenne and Arapahoe were massacred by the Colorado Territory militia, which terrorized Indigenous people into leaving their land.

It is also where the National Guard and company goons employed by the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Co. massacred two dozen striking miners and their family members in Ludlow in 1914.
San Diego, Calif., where Holmes grew up, is a military area with a huge Naval base close to the border with Mexico.

To leave out the effect on people’s minds of the military-industrial complex and the U.S. history of conquest would miss the point. The U.S. was founded on violence and genocide. The major colonial countries carved up land that did not belong to them. They waged a battle that is still ongoing against the original inhabitants, as well as against Black people and Latinos/as in general and other oppressed peoples who don’t belong to the dominant nationality.
Maintaining the status quo has been a violent affair. The U.S. has been constantly at war since its inception. The mainstream media justify this with jingoism and glorification of the U.S. military machine.

The U.S. military budget dwarfs that of the rest of the world’s combined. The constant glorification of violence in movies, commercials and video games, plus the fact that the U.S. has been openly engaged in warfare for the last decade, seep into the psyche.
U.S. soldiers massacred at least 16 villagers in Afghanistan just months ago, many of them women and children. Such massacres are commonplace during an occupation. Every day whole families are incinerated by bombs.

This is the context in which the mass killing occurred in Colorado, where, as in most of the U.S., it is so easy to purchase weapons, tactical gear, loads of ammunition and other materials online.
No family should have to experience such horror. People should be outraged, and the victims and their family members are entitled to justice. But justice is not served by making this an isolated incident and leaving out its historical, cultural and social framework.

James Holmes may be mentally ill. This should not reflect on those who suffer from mental illness, but who would never harm another person. Nor should it be assumed that mental illness is an excuse to get out of going to prison.
Mental illness & a sick society

Julie Fry, a Legal Aid attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., told WW: “Mental illness is not generally well understood or appreciated at all within the criminal justice system. In fact, prisons have become essentially warehouses for people with mental illness, while social services and medical networks designed for the treatment of these illnesses have been gutted systematically through budget cuts over recent decades. Far from using it as an excuse to escape prison, people with mental illness usually receive much worse treatment in jail and are likely to receive longer sentences than other people.”
Only a sick society refuses to give people the help and services they need.

The argument that incidents like this happen because of the prevalence of weapons is problematic. It is obvious that all too often the right-wing do champion gun rights and the wealthy and politically backward have access to large stockpiles.
But revolutionaries and progressives such as the Deacons for Defense and the Black Panther Party were able to offer defense from the Klan and racist police by being able to purchase guns. While people of color are made the targets of the police and denied the right to self-defense, we cannot cede the monopoly of force to the police and the military, which maintain the status quo of a society built on exploitation.

The victims and family members do deserve justice, but ultimately justice will be secured when the root causes of crimes like this one are addressed and the social foundation for the glorification and justification of violence is uprooted.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Handouts for private school parents - arrests for public school parents

Australian public education is free, compulsory and secular.

Or at least that was the intention of the early colonial bourgeoisie whose Public Instruction Acts of the 1880s decreed such to be the case.

Yet it was revealed a couple of days ago in the South Australian daily paper The Advertiser that thousands of parents have been prosecuted for failing to pay public school fees this year.

In fact 271 parents had been issued arrest warrants for failing to appear in court over the matter.

Arrest warrants? For failure to pay fees in a supposedly free system??!!

But don’t get angry yet.

Some 34% of school age children go to Catholic and private schools. You see, public education is not only not free, it is not really compulsory.

The ruling class has made a religion of the choice agenda, starving public schools of funds and forcing parents who want to do the right thing by their children to seek out the much better funded private alternative.

Most OECD countries have private school enrolments of around 4-5%, so Australia’s more than one-third is truly testimony to the appeal of the neoliberal gospel.

But don’t get angry yet.

The private schools are better funded not just because they enrol students from wealthy families, but because – unlike other OECD countries – government funds are used to offset the costs of private schooling!

We like to be different in Australia!

A common myth is that public schools are funded by the State and territory governments and that private schools are funded by the Commonwealth.

It’s a bit more complex than that, a bit like the yin-yang symbol which is predominantly black and white, but with a bit of white in the black and vice versa.

So let’s get back to school fees.

A component of the school fee (both public and private) can be paid for poorer families by the State government. Families must endure the humiliation of applying to be on the School Card, a list of low income families who get part, but not all, of their fees paid.

For the three years 2009, 2010 and 2011 there were some 50,000 School Card approvals. Nearly all applications and approvals are made in Term 1 when school fees are charged to parents. The figure for 2012 is 30,000. That is a massive 40% drop in School Card numbers.

There must be a reason for the drop, and it sure as hell saves the State government a whole lot of money!

We need to know whether the decline is in public schools only, or whether it extends across the Catholic and private sectors as well.

School Card payments are quite a lucrative source of income for the privates.

Here is a table of some non-government schools, their student numbers and the School Card payments they received in 2011:

This is just a handful of schools in the private sector that not only get a substantial part of their recurrent and capital costs paid by the federal government, but also get hundreds of thousands each from the state government as a result of parents prepared to pay thousands of dollars in fees to get out of the public system, but who then turn back to the public purse to get part of those fees paid in the form of a School Card!

But don’t get angry just yet.

The apparently random list above has one factor in common. All of these schools also get from the state government a fee remission payment in excess of $60,000.

So what the hell is a fee remission payment?

Fee remission is an interesting concept. It applies to those non-School Card holders in the non-government sector who are unable to pay fees or school debts due to economic hardship!

Elite Prince Alfred College claimed $48,942.17 in fee remissions from the state government in 2011, significantly less than the schools above (which are middle and low-fee as far as private fees go). But why a private college catering for the rich should get 17 cents from the public purse, let alone the other $48,000-plus is beyond me.

And now we can start to get angry, because we can put those fee remission payments next to the School Card payments:

Only one of the schools above is a boarding school - Rostrevor - in the leafy green eastern suburbs and it gets an additional $166,423.21 to help defray the cost of providing pastoral care to its boarders! Prince Alfred College, mentioned above, received $244,492.17.

So can you see why there is basis for anger?

Parents who are resisting the lure of “private is better” are chased by the system to the point of arrest over non-payment of fees in a supposedly free public system, while those who thumb their noses at public schooling can get all sort of additional government subsidies to shelter them from the pain of paying fees in the private system.

This is a matter of the grossest social injustice!