Europe ‘infects’ America
– Unfamiliar US: cops defy mayor, judge frees protesters
Washington, Nov. 1: In Albany, the capital of New York, police are defying orders from the city mayor and the governor and refusing to arrest “Occupy” protesters who are fighting corporate greed.
In Nashville, Tennessee, a judge has been freeing scores of protesters daily and arguing that their arrests violate free speech.
In Washington, President Barack Obama is sidelining the US Congress and ruling through executive orders because legislators will not pass his proposals on how to run the country.
Across the US, at least 2,000 convicts are being released because Capitol Hill has tweaked a law to reduce prison population that is adding to the financial woes of many states. Another 12,000 prisoners will follow them soon and walk free before their sentences are served in full.
This is the new America, being remade by its economic crisis, which in turn has triggered a rare willingness among its people to risk all, go out and attempt to change the direction in which their country has been headed.
It would be foolish to argue, as some have been tempted to do, that the US is rushing headlong into a revolution because the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, which began as a stray protest six weeks ago, have now spread across almost every major city in America.
But there is no doubt that social upheavals of the kind that have been the norm in Europe for decades have finally crossed the Atlantic and will be nurtured, especially in a presidential election year here, by the current sorry plight of ordinary Americans.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has broken an elaborate web of taboos that were put in place here by federal, state and local authorities after the experience of the 1960s when the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations created fears that the will of the people could well overwhelm the authority of the state.
Six weeks may be too short to make any firm judgement, but escalating poverty in the US has ensured that people are ready to challenge the creeping police state that America gradually became once the protests of five decades ago subsided and the people were once again fed on the American dream.
The irony — or perhaps the hope — is that this country’s incipient, octopus-armed and multi-faceted rebellion is being led by none other than President Obama as he fights not only for his political life in a re-election battle, but also for his legacy to ensure that history does not judge him as another Jimmy Carter.
In early September, Obama proposed to Congress a $447-billion package of tax cuts and fresh government spending, which he said would revive America’s stalling economy and prevent a regress into recession.
But the Republicans on Capitol Hill did not afford him even the decency of a credible debate on the proposals. They rejected the package outright.
But the Opposition on the Hill may have misjudged Obama’s determination when he is confronted by a crisis. The President decided that he will give the Congress short shrift and implement the package in pieces through executive orders. In India, the equivalent would rule by ordinance after adjourning Parliament sine die.
Yesterday, Obama signed an executive order requiring the Food and Drug Administration to act against a shortage of prescription medicines, which has created a rare medical crisis in America. The Congress has been dragging its feet on this issue because big pharmaceutical companies do not want the problem addressed as they benefit from such shortage.
Last week, the President offered relief to students from loans which are burdening them as they finish studies but are unable to find jobs or secure employment that can meet the demands of repayment. Earlier, Obama offered hope to people whose houses were being foreclosed by banks.
In all, Obama has defied Congress five times last week. If President Dmitry Medvedev had treated Russia’s Duma similarly or if President Hugo Chavez had treated Venezuela’s National Assembly with equal disdain, voices would have reached a crescendo in the US against “dictatorship” in Moscow and Caracas. But there are few complaints here about Obama’s rule by executive order.
The Republicans are helpless because the US Constitution gives the President authority to issue such orders. Besides, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan did the same to advance pet conservative agendas such as blocking stem cell research or defunding abortion.
As conditions of ordinary Americans turn more grim, the President’s readiness to challenge conventional authority is an idea which is finding resonance down the establishment. New York governor Andrew Cuomo has ambitions nationally and is a potential US presidential candidate in the long run.
But his road to the White House will not open if he annoys those with big wallets against whom the Occupy Albany demonstrators are campaigning. So he ordered their removal from an area near the state Capitol and imposed a curfew.
Albany’s mayor was willing to go along, but they had not reckoned with a police force and prosecutors in the city who are rational and refused to carry out those orders.
Albany County district attorney David Soares told the local media that “our official policy with peaceful protesters is that unless there is property damage or injuries to law enforcement, we don’t prosecute people protesting. If law enforcement engaged in a pre-emptive strike and started arresting people I believe it would lead to calamitous results”.
A similar situation has been unfolding in Nashville and has bordered on farce. Authorities in this state capital have been enforcing a curfew night after night on the grounds around the Capitol and arresting Occupy Nashville demonstrators.
But each following morning, a local judge, Aleta Trauger, has been refusing to validate those arrests, setting the protesters free.
Judge Trauger insists that such arrests constitute “clear prior restraint on free speech rights”. Upholding the right of the people to protest on the grounds near the state Capitol, she said: “I can’t think of a more quintessential public forum than Legislative Plaza.”
Yesterday, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam conceded failure and the state attorney general’s office told the court that the arrests would be halted.