The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Tag: Protests

Freezing and Seizing Bank Accounts To Stop Protests And End Bail Funds & Protests

RICO, as you may know, is a law passed in 1970, meant to be used against the Mafia. It allows the government to seize money before a guilty verdict if there is a “pattern” of racketeering (defined very widely).

Of course, once you seize someone’s money, they generally can’t hire a defense lawyer, so they tend to have to plead. I respect public defenders greatly, but if you’re in real trouble using one is a crapshoot at best and even the best ones can’t put in the time and work a private defense lawyer can.

Back in 2008 I suggested using RICO against the banksters: there was a pattern of fraud. I did this because I hated the banksters and I hate RICO, and the best way to get rid of bad law is to use it against important people. (Same reason I wanted the banksters thrown into nasty prisons.)

Anyway, RICO is just one way to do what is becoming more and more common: seizing or freezing the money of those the government of the day dislikes, so they can’t oppose the government. Although I disagreed with the Canadian Truck protesters, freezing their without first convicting them of a crime was a tyrannical act. This strategy has been used against unions and protesters, and is why, as far back as 20 years ago, I was arguing that unions needed to find an organizing model which didn’t require a freezable or seizable bank account.

Domestic terrorism laws are also being used for this, and again, many people warned they would be. You think you’re creating a law to go after the Mafia or Nazis, but such laws are always abused. The rule of law is not “what would good people do with this law” but “what would bad people do with this law” because that’s always where it ends up. (And prosecutors in America are almost always bad people, though that’s another article.)

Yesterday we had what is (so far not a RICO case, but it looks like it might wind up being) this used in Atlanta to go after a bail fund:


Bail itself is an abomination: a way of throwing poor people in prison while rich people walk free (unless their money has been frozen.) It’s vastly unjust and clear class warfare of the most common kind: the rich and powerful versus the poor and weak.

This sort of stuff is also why any movement away from paper cash towards all electronic systems must be resisted vigorously. The more you have no way to keep money out of the system, the more the system can be used to crush you. Any all-electronic money system will eventually be abused by those in power, even the “mostly electronic” systems we have are now regularly abused. (Regular readers will notice this is related to the recent article on how dominant systems want people out.)

But the basic principle is simple, no law should be legal if it inflicts punishment before conviction. The only (small) carve-outs must be for people who are a genuine imminent threat and even such cases must be rare.

Of course, to do this,  you need fast trials. You can’t have a system where it takes two years or more for a person to get their time in front of a judge and jury. The simple fixes for this is that if the government doesn’t give you a trial in certain amount of time, six months perhaps being a good upper bound, you get off. It should probably be less than six months, 3 months for complicated cases and 1 month for simple cases seems far more reasonable.

But, some may argue, “if we did that most people would go free.”

Well, yeah. Because the US justice system (and the UK one) are criminalizing way too much stuff. If your crime rate is too high for your justice system to keep up with something is wrong with your laws and your society. Probably a lot of somethings.

In the meantime, if you’re going to oppose the government or important corporations, whether from right or left, remember that, increasingly, the first thing they will do is go after your money. If they can’t nail you with a “crime” yet, this may just be credit card companies and/or other payment processors suddenly deciding they don’t want you as a customer as happened to Wikileaks, MintPress and many others, but piss off the wrong people and they’ll find someway of smashing you, using laws that should never have been on the books, or just using administrative sanctions and daring you to do anything about it when you’re suddenly broke and worried about food and having a roof over your head.

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Being Held Hostage by the Cost of Insurrection

The US is in the middle of a low-grade civil insurrection; that’s what all these protests and riots are. (When you torch an entire police station, that counts as insurrection.)

When a civil insurrection happens, riots and protests, and bad stuff will also occur. People will be hurt and killed, property will be damaged. Some of it will be done by the police or military, but some of it will be done by those rising. People will be hurt or killed who don’t deserve it. Property will be torched whose owners didn’t deserve it.

That’s a given. An insurrection is like war: Bad shit will happen to innocents.

This is why the bar for insurrection is high. It’s higher than for war, because, in war, the population and elites think the damage will be done to the other country. (They may turn out wrong, but that’s what they believe.)

So, yeah, bad things have happened during this US insurrection. That was a given, and anyone who thought it would be otherwise is a fool.

This is, however, what elites count on: That the costs of insurrection will be high, and made higher by the elite reaction. Most violent protests were started by riot cops being violent with protesters who were peaceful.

Because the cost is so high, people put up with terrible situations for a long time. The damage drips and is spread out over time and the community, whereas the costs of insurrection are immediate and hit a lot of people more or less at the same time.

The death and casualty count from the US not having universal health care is far higher than any possible casualty count from these riots. Nor have as many people been killed during this insurrection as are killed by cops in the US every year (a number in excess of 1,000).

By the pure math, a very high cost should be acceptable to tear down the current order. If all that did was move police violence to a European number (1k), enact universal health care (26k), end wars (slightly under 1k), and allow the US to deal with a pandemic properly, the saved lives would be 28K yearly, plus a few hundred thousand from the pandemic.

This leaves out people committing suicide, the highest incarceration rate in the world, the epidemic of drug abuse, the death and suffering from inflated drug prices, and all the suffering caused by massive income inequality.

At the most conservative estimate, if you overthrew the current order at the cost of 100,000 lives, it would pay back in five to six years.

The argument for all out revolt, replacing the current system with Nordic style social democracy (Finland/Norway, not Sweden) is airtight if you think you can succeed. (I know many people, observing the US military lose almost every war since WWII, think it is undefeatable in a country far better suited to guerilla warfare even than Afghanistan, but of course, there is a very good chance it would not come to military vs. population.)

No one condones violence that hurts the innocent or destroys the property of innocents. But if you take violence entirely off the menu, and won’t do full social-solidarity general strikes, then a depraved elite (which the US has) will simply ignore you and outwait you.

Minneapolis City council just approved, with every councilor voting for it, a motion to end the Minneapolis police department.

Clutch pearls all you want, but insurrections are always going to be at least somewhat nasty.

But the question isn’t the hurt of the insurrection, the question is whether the status quo after it is better enough to swamp that harm.

Don’t target innocents. Also don’t allow yourself to be held hostage by those who are hurting even more innocents right now, “We can kill tens of thousands and impoverish millions while destroying entire countries, but if you add even one more innocent life to the total opposing us, you are the bad ones.”


(Also, ignore scaremongering about Stalin and Mao. Communism of that variety is long dead and NO ONE is trying to re-impose it.)

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What Protests in Lebanon, France, Chile, and Ecuador Have in Common

There’s some important events happening today: Another Brexit vote, and the Canadian federal election (whose results are not obvious), but we won’t know how either of those end until later, so let’s discuss some popular protests of massive size.

In France, the protests were sparked by an increase in diesel taxes. The demands included an increase in the minimum wage, a re-introduction of a wealth tax, and lower fuel taxes, along with Macron’s resignation.

Now what’s interesting is what they got, and what they didn’t get:

He (Macron) subsequently promised a minimum wage increase of €100 per month from 2019, cancelled a planned tax increase for low-income pensioners, and made overtime payments as well as end-of-year bonuses tax free. However, Macron refused to reinstate a wealth tax he scrapped upon entering into office

So, crushing the lower classes with regressive taxes, rolled back a bit. But the wealth tax was not re-instated. “We’re willing to give a bit on crushing the peasants into the dirt, but not on ourselves getting richer.”

In Ecuador, the protests were caused by an IMF austerity package which removed fuel subsidies. (Notice a similarity here?) The protests were so large that the government was forced to flee the capital. On at least one occasion (and maybe more), the military actually stopped the police from attacking protestors.

The austerity was rescinded, and Moreno agreed to work together with indigenous and other leaders to figure out how to tackle the debt.

In Chile, the protests were started by an increase in the fare for public transit. (Are you noticing a trend here? Transportation costs, transportation costs, transportation costs = regressive taxes, in effect.) Unfortunately, as often happens, anger led rioters to attack the immediate object of their anger; in this case they burned down metro stations, which was incredibly foolish, because now those stations will be out of commission for months.

As I have noted repeatedly, if you are going to riot, take a bit of time to head into the nice part of the town where the rich live and riot there.

The riots and protests are ongoing, there’s been a curfew imposed, and we’ll see how it plays out. But the transit fare increase has already been cancelled.

In Lebanon , we have a slight alteration in the pattern: The government was going to tax messaging on WhatsApp and other messaging services. But again, this is a regressive tax–ordinary people message and text a lot. A rich person isn’t even going to notice, but such a tax would add up quickly for people who aren’t wealthy.

This protest seems to be the most radical of the bunch. There’s a nationwide general strike called for today (Monday), and…

Ending rampant corruption is a central demand of the protesters, who say the country’s leaders have used their positions to enrich themselves for decades through favourable deals and kickbacks…

…Speaking to Al Jazeera from Beirut, Nizar Hassan, a member of Lihaqqi, an opposition progressive movement, said people want to overthrow the “political class … in peaceful, constitutional means”.

This is why they have been calling for a new cabinet that is independent of the ruling forces in the country, he noted.

“We are not settling for small kind of reforms … what we need is taxes on those who have been benefitting from the economic system for the last 30 years,” Hassan said, adding that Lebanon’s economic problems are “very structural”.

Now it’s hard to say how real this is, but the demonstrations are huge, and if the general strike actually comes off it indicates a united citizenry.

In all of these cases, what we have is a revolt against the rich. In all of these cases, we have attempts to raise taxes on the poor and middle class.

All of these protests are economic protests. They are about class, wealth, and income. They are about the fact that all four countries have very rich people, and yet taxes fall harder and harder on the non-rich.

Macron may mouth off about climate change, but what he wanted to do was make the poor pay for a climate change tax AFTER he removed a wealth tax. These people want the poorest to pay for the sins of the richest. 

And the weak and the poor are saying, “No.”

We’ll see how it all plays out. There are still some yellow vest protests in France, but they’ve died down a great deal. Lebanon and Chile are ongoing. Ecuador is in play with new negotiations.

But this is a rise of people smashed flat, finally saying, “Enough.”

I don’t think our lords and masters in most countries are able to listen, honestly. They got where they are by imposing generations of austerity (it didn’t start in 2008, it accelerated then) and it’s all they know. They like being rich and powerful, they’re used to killing people to get their way (their policies have killed plenty of people, don’t pretend otherwise), and they’re not likely to stop unless they’re scared spitless.

But the Lebanese who want them gone have the right idea. People who think this group of leaders can be made to do the right thing are simply wrong. They may give a little on specific issues, but their hearts and intentions will never change.

You need leaders who actually want to do the right thing, and they won’t and can’t come from our current ruling class.

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