Empire Abroad, Repression At Home: Notes From Chicago

Think back to a time when you were taken aback by the shameless hypocrisy of an authority figure in your community, school or workplace: the married minister who preached about family values on Sunday and hit on your sister in the privacy of his weekday office; the police chief who railed against crime but took bribes to ignore illegal activities in his city. You get the idea.

Go to that space and you can appreciate how some of us Chicagoans felt when we saw Phil Condit, the big bushy-eyed Chief Executive Officer of the Boeing Corporation on the local 10 O’Clock News a couple nights ago.

Condit’s Concern: The Specter of Violence

A little background for you non-Chicagoans. Condit brought his company’s headquarters to our city last year, with a little help from our business-friendly Mayor Richard M. Daley and from Illinois’ scandal-plagued Governor George Ryan. In return for relocating here, Condit extracted a taxpayer-financed incentive package worth $64 million over the next 20 years from the city and the state. Daley and Ryan justified this massive public pay out as a ticket to jobs, but the company hasn’t brought much in the way of livable wage employment: it makes most of its lovely products (more on that below) in other parts of the country.

Condit was on the news expressing concern about protests held against the Chicago meetings of the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) on Thursday and Friday of this week. The TABD, which brings together leading North American and European corporations and high level government officials to fashion the public policy of corporate globalization, is sponsored by Boeing and the British firm BAE Systems, two of the biggest weapons manufacturers in the world. The TABD’s recommendations set the agenda of the World Trade Organization (WTO), deepening the power of multinational corporations to assault the world’s ecological, political and social systems free of any public accountably.

The protestors hoped to draw a modest crew of 1,000 people to speak and march against both the destructive top-down corporate model of globalization the related militaristic US policies that profit Boeing, BAE Systems and numerous other “defense” corporations. Many participants came from local labor unions and community-based organizations, who wonder why Daley showers public funds on an outside corporation that provides little benefit to the people in the communities they represent. They also question Daley’s recent decision (implemented the day after the elections) to give himself and his rubber-stamp City Council a significant “cost of living” salary hike in a time when the city is laying off hundreds of workers to close a yawning deficit.

Condit, still shaken by the mostly peaceful mass demonstrations at the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle, went on television to share his fears that protestors might inflict violence on the people and property of Chicago. And violence, Condit wanted the world to know, never solves anything.

A Massive Show of Force

He didn’t have to work hard to persuade Daley to share his fears. The Mayor, eager to make a strong demonstration of his highly class-and race-segregated “global city’s” attractiveness to multinational corporations, has given his police department stern directions to maintain order. Thousands of his gendarmes were deployed in full riot gear, replete with steel-tipped shoes, visors, batons, plastic bullet-proof shields and chemical riot-suppression agents. Whole sections of Chicago’s impressive business district were closed off to automobile and pedestrian traffic. The city deployed mounted police, bomb-sniffing dogs, a parade of city buses meant to haul-off arrested protestors, police and Coast Guard boats in the Chicago River and the ubiquitous giant helicopter monitoring events from high above the city’s imposing skyscrapers.

Under a prized (by police-state enthusiasts) January 2001 federal court ruling (Chicago’s so-called “Red Squad” consent decree) giving them more freedom to collect and share intelligence on “suspected terrorist and hate groups,” the police have filmed protestors, saving pictures of whoever they wish “to prepare for future protests.” They have surfed the Internet for damaging information on protest participants, shared information with other law enforcement agencies and openly infiltrated the demonstrators’ meetings and marches. The city refuses, “for security reasons,” to say how many police it has deployed and at what taxpayer expense in these cost-conscious and budget-slashing times.

It has been a truly majestic show of the state’s capacity to use its awesome monopoly on the means of serious violence and repression to cow those who resist those who monopolize the means of production and other key assets, including the Means of Destruction.

War Is Peace, Love is Hate

Condit takes hypocrisy to new levels when he proclaims his distaste for violence. With operative revenues of more than $51 billion in 2000, Chicago’s friendly not-so local Boeing Corporation is the nation’s second largest weapons manufacturer, exceeded in that fascinating “entrepreneurial” field only by Lockheed Martin. It is responsible for such fine products of the “free enterprise system” as the Ground-Based Interceptor missile, X-Band Radar, Battle Management, Command, Control and Communications (BMC3), Upgraded Early Warning Radars, and the Airborne Laser.

Boeing has provided the means for the killing and maiming of countless world citizens with such high-tech tools of death and destruction as the notorious Apache AH-64A helicopter, the F-15 and the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets. Its famous B-52, the longtime “backbone of the manned-strategic bomber forces in the United States,” (according to Boeing’s web-site), includes among its most recent accomplishments the “anti-terrorist” bombing of Afghanistan, conducted from heights guaranteed to produce significant deadly civilian “collateral damage.”

The F-15 has been featured in the 11-year bombing campaign against Iraq in the enforcement of the lethal illegally imposed “no fly zone.” The F-22, produced in cooperation with Boeing’s “arch-rival” Lockheed Martin is an “air superiority fighter” with what Boeing’s web site calls “first look, first-shot, and first-kill capability.” Boeing’s B-2 Stealth Bomber is one of the most horrifying human creations to date – a “multi-role bomber, capable of delivering both nuclear and conventional munitions” to, in Boeing’s words, “strike targets all over the world from bases in the United States.” It is perfectly matched to the White House’s current plans, greatly emboldened by 9-11, for permanent US military supremacy and unlimited global offensive capacity even in the absence of a single remotely threatening rival state.

One of Boeing’s most intriguing current projects is the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV), dedicated to the proposition that “the only way to completely protect the person flying a combat mission is to have them fly it from somewhere else.” Boeing has taken the appropriate imperial lesson from Vietnam, loaded with cowardice and consistent with the (Colin) “Powell Doctrine”: massive death and destruction for Evil Others but a minimum of risk for the direct agents of that mayhem. “We build UCAV and other innovative defense products,” write the Orwellian content providers of Boeing’s web site, “because they do one thing and do it very well – they save lives.”

Boeing is also a major world arms dealer, with its products widely used in deadly conflicts and by repressive regimes around the world. It capitalizes on its overseas sales to drive demand at home and abroad, using its weapons exports to help perpetuate demand for future countervailing weapons to defend against its own products. It is also the main contractor for the Pentagon’s dangerous, destabilizing, and costly Star Ways System, a key part of the United States’ open plan to extend its total domination of the planet through the militarization of outer space.

Along the path to its current position at the commanding heights of the world-imperial military-industrial complex, Boeing has inflicted considerable amounts of violence on the society, ecology and democracy of its own home country. It has strong a strong record of slashing labor costs by outsourcing union jobs, poisoning the environment, discriminating against African-American employees, receiving colossal corporate welfare and other state-capitalist subsidies and making massive policy-influencing investments in the American political and policy process.

For some of us in Chicago, seeing Condit lecture us about the undesirability and dysfunctionality of violence was reminiscent of the hilling scene in Michael Moore’s latest brilliant movie “Bowling to Columbine.” There’s a moment in the movie where the spokesman for Lockheed-Martin’s Littleton, Colorado plant speaks in hushed tones about the horrors of the Columbine High School shootings. A nuclear-tipped missile designed to wipe out whole communities of human beings looms over his shoulder.

“They Had Europe” But “This is Chicago”: Questions Not Asked

But of course the falsely labeled “anti-globalization” protestors (a misnomer that continues to characterize corporate media coverage of the global peace and justice movement here) are not exactly the Columbine shooters. Truth is they are about as “violent” as the peace demonstrators that Daley’s equally no-nonsense Daddy Richard J. Daley saw fit to beat bloody in the name of law and order in the summer of 1968.

This did not at first stop the local media from jumping on board with Condit and Daley’s hysterical response to democratic protest. Before yesterday’s protest marches, it drilled the city’s hardworking citizens and taxpayers with a steady stream of de-contextualized sound bites and video clips seemingly chosen to provoke fear and hostility at the dangerous, many headed mob of “rioters” that was supposedly about to descend upon the city.

Today, confronted with the reality of a peaceful and fun-loving march (there were two arrests, including for one man accused of punching a police horse) that elicited more than a few smiles and even some cheers (by my own in-person observation) from trapped rush-hour bystanders, the city is somewhat on the media defensive. “Cops Outnumber Demonstrators,” claimed the front page of the Friday Chicago Sun Times. “An estimated 1,000 vocal but well-behaved demonstrators were dwarfed,” the Chicago Tribune admitted, “by the ranks of police called out to keep the peace.”

The quote of the day belongs to Daley. Bristling at a reporter’s suggestion that the city’s big-stick wet kiss to the global business class may have been something of an exercise in “over-preparation,” the Mayor replied, “You want some killed, injured, someone beaten up, some police officer seriously injured? …They had Seattle,” he elaborated, “they had Washington D.C., they had Europe. I’m sorry, this is Chicago. We do prepare.”

Yet for all its willingness to tweak the Mayor on his overreaction, nobody in the city’s mainstream (corporate) media takes the “anti-globalization” movement’s important issues all that seriously or notes the irony of Condit claiming to be concerned that people might use violence to achieve their ends. None dare ask what it all says about the relationship between City Hall and the corporate masters of war and the world.

Paul Street is a freelance writer and urban social policy researcher in Chicago, Illinois. He can be reached at pstreet99@aol.com.

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