Do we live in a corporate police state?
By that, I mean are we seeing the privatization of public authority (police, courts) and the privileging of property and capital in the prosecution of the law? So much suggests lately that our representative government doesn't represent the 99 percent. We vote. We pay taxes. We sacrifice. But to what end?
By camping in a park near Wall Street, a band of intrepid Americans challenged the status quo and demanded change. They sparked an international movement and would have continued if New York cops -- in riot gear and with batons and rifles -- hadn't torn down the encampment and arrested dozens.
A judge ruled the same day that protesters could return. They did so by the hundreds. The ruling also posed a challenge to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg, a billionaire, admitted his order came after Brookfield Properties, the park's owner, asked the mayor to end the protests. If the police were not executing state power in the name of the people, in whose name were they doing it?
Bloomberg's order followed a series of police actions. Newspapers in Portland, Oakland, Salt Lake City, Chapel Hill and elsewhere ran photographs in recent days of non-violent protesters squaring off against military-like police forces. In fact, New York followed 18 other cities in a coordinated effort to push Occupationists out of public parks around the country.
Yet the clearing of Zuccotti Park is different, because Zuccotti Park is different. While most parks are public, this one is privately owned. Its owner is one of America's largest commercial real estate firms. Brookfield Properties owns lots of property in lower Manhattan -- and its status among corporate "citizens" is enviable.
When taxes subsidize public properties like parks, the burden is shared. So are the rewards. In some cases, though, taxes subsidize private properties. The burden is shared but the rewards are monopolized. Such is the case with Brookfield and its tenants. In recent years, they have taken more than $174.5 million in public subsidies, according to a think tank that analyzes economic development.
Called Good Jobs First, the nonprofit organization released a report last month about Brookfield's subsidies and much more: "The subsidy figures don't tell the whole story," wrote analyst Bettina Damiani. "There are other economic development programs that Lower Manhattan firms benefit from, but how much is earmarked for a particular firm isn't publicly known."
You don't hear this on conservative talk radio. Protesters cost taxpayers, they say while overlooking the part about the enormous cost of corporate welfare. The difference, of course, is clear to anyone paying attention: In the first, you effectively underwrite your own right to assemble and protest. You win. In the second, you underwrite a private firm's balance sheets. You lose.
What's the takeaway? We live in a country of principles like civil liberties and the rule of law. Power and authority aren't owned. They are shared. But the evacuation of Zuccotti Park and others around the country casts a sickening pall over such ideals. Worse are the media images of the past week, especially in New York where it all began, and what they might suggest.
Cops dressed like soldiers in body armor, face shields and helmets deploying excessive force against peaceful protesters. Such images call to mind dictatorships, not the land of the free.
Perhaps we are merely seeing a duality that has been there all along. On the one hand are the American dreamers hoping for a renewed promise of opportunity, equality and justice. On the other are the guardians of the corporate state accountable no one but the wealthy and powerful.
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