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The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy

The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class’s venality
Naomi Wolf: reception, responses, critics
Naomi Wolf’s rebuttal of her critics

Brandon Watts lies injured as Occupy Wall Street protesters clash with police in Zuccotti ParkOccupy Wall Street protester Brandon Watts lies injured on the ground after clashes with police over the eviction of OWS from Zuccotti Park. Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that “New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers” covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that “It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk.”

In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on “how to suppress” Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”. Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create fake derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, “we are going after these scruffy hippies”. Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women’s wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the “scandal” of presidential contender Newt Gingrich’s having been paid $1.8m for a few hours’ “consulting” to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies’ profitsis less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists’ privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can’t suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.

• This article was amended on 30 November 2011. The original said incorrectly that the Committee to Protect Journalists was one of the organisations that filed a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The article also referred to “kale derivatives”; this was a typographical error for “fake derivatives”, amended on 1 December 2011

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  • jimmyhill123

    25 November 2011 05:40PM

    Having seen the UC Davis campus police + pepper spray incident, I wanted to take a look at the police serving my University.

    These are the ‘cops’ that keep order at Leicester University.

    Campus Cops

    America is a scary place.

  • resisttheoccupation

    25 November 2011 05:44PM

    It’s daft isn’t it because if the authorities hadn’t cracked down on the protestors they would have the situatuion at Occupy London which is essentially people playing the didgeridoo until they are blue in the face and tapping bongos until their bean feast is ready.

    The availability of time has distinguished Occupy London from the other International Occupy movements. Uniquely they have not been moved on batoned or pepper sprayed. Given this time to develop – how have they used such a golden opportunity the very chance denied to so many others around the globe…

    I think they have been scuppered by their location which has proved utterly diverting from the their many causes. They have lost the moral high ground because their choice of location is so anti-social (death threats to the clergy etc) it completely undermines them. I don’t think there will be the same casual brutality in their removal as we have seen in America – the campers removal from Trafalfgar Square was very civilised.

  • Strummered

    25 November 2011 05:47PM

    This is an insidious and barbaric orchestrated crackdown – It makes a mockery of supposed freedoms and democracy and shows the state to be the corporate sponsored plutocracy it is………Persevere.

  • SpinningHugo

    25 November 2011 05:48PM

    The contrast with the UK is fairly stark. The Occupy protesters are, in my view, pretty silly, as starkly treated by the series of crackpot articles on the day that they occupied CiF but they are just a harmless bunch of well intentioned people freezing in tents thinking they are making the world a better place. The violence all seems to be in the US. Is it because US authorities are less used to dealing with protesters?

    It is also interesting to read Wolf’s list of the three core demands. The first is unnecessary in the UK: it is already the law. The second is being brought in here (although for myself I don’t think it is the core of the problem). The third has no application to UK conditions.

  • buono

    25 November 2011 05:50PM

    The way this kind of behaviour from security forces in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain was portrayed, it is amazing that Americans generally sit back and take it.

    They love people standing up for freedom as long as it is not Americans.

    The USA is turning into the most oppressive regime on Earth and it is just being allowed.

    Ron Paul is their only hope.

  • xtrapnel

    25 November 2011 05:51PM

    “Force is the midwife of any old society of every old society pregnant with a new one”.

    In this case, one hopes that the American public will become sickened of the images of their children being beaten up by the forces of “law and order”. One hopes that a Kent State incident won’t occur.

    Then one remembers that the American public are probably watching Fox News.

    It is time for change, it is time for the 99% / 1% inequality to change. But will the revolution be televised ? And will the Occupy movements across the globe unify and provide us all with an alternative from our decrepit, ineffectual and amoral political parties ?

  • Incurable

    25 November 2011 05:52PM

    The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

  • xtrapnel

    25 November 2011 05:52PM

    DOH ! Apologies for the misquote – “Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one”. Marx – who could at least form a sentence !

  • mikedow

    25 November 2011 05:53PM

    The former Chief of Police in Seattle at the time of the Battle in Seattle, has said he made a big mistake using chemical weapons on the protesters, and this is just repeating that mistake.

  • goto

    25 November 2011 05:53PM

    I’m glad the scales have fallen from your eyes, Naomi.
    May it continue.

  • Katewashere

    25 November 2011 05:56PM

    I don’t understand why Americans are shocked that this has happened. Your government has been arresting and imprisoning people without charge (Guantanamo Bay) and without much challenge from the public. If the government are allowed to behave this way, they will become emboldened. And they will start to move against the citizens in other ways. It reminds me of that saying about the nazis.

    When they came for the Jews I did not stand up because I was not a Jew
    When they came for the Communists, I did not stand up because I was not a Communist.
    When they came for the Homosexuals, I did not stand up because I was not a Homosexual.
    And when they came for me, there was no one left to stand up.

    The US government started with “terrorists”, have moved on to protestors. Who will be next?

  • buono

    25 November 2011 05:58PM

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  • LeeJones

    25 November 2011 05:58PM

    I’m sure that Congressmen will fight in the last ditch to protect their personal fortunes. However, it seems too simplistic to suggest that the only reason Occupy has been subject to brutality whereas people queuing for SNL tickets haven’t is because of the issue of Congressional “profit streams”. There is a very, very long history of the US government at all levels acting to violently suppress and disorganise left-leaning organisations, going right back to the nineteenth century. Bosses and local governments and police were often in cahoots when forcibly breaking strikes. That great “liberal”, President Woodrow Wilson, presided over the biggest crackdown on socialist agitation in US history prior to WWI. The US state is a capitalist, counter-revolutionary state and has always acted to viciously suppress the left. Today is nothing new. Read your Howard Zinn.

  • dudemanguy

    25 November 2011 06:00PM

    The Citizens United ruling really was the final straw for me. It was the point I realized America will never recover from the Bush years. Bush was a mortal wound. If this ruling is in fact a primary motivation behind the occupy movement, a way needs to be found to get this message out to the American public, because this is literally the first time I’ve even heard itmentioned in the context of the occupy movement. Most Americans are totally ignorant to the ruling and its consequences, which is what the Republicans and their paymasters want.

  • MontysLeap

    25 November 2011 06:03PM

    I’m so mad. Everything our countries stand for is a LIE and change must come through whatever end.

    The time for talk my soon be over.

  • telegramsam

    25 November 2011 06:03PM

    It’s hardly surprising: The USA is a corporate fascist state. It’s politically a one party state (with two brands, obviously, but that’s just to obfuscate) that is controlled by the corporate fascists

  • bugbeer

    25 November 2011 06:04PM

    The specific calls for reform you make are all valid, but they are mixed in with a lot of overblown rhetoric about civil war and vast conspiracies.

    ‘Congress’ is hardly a homogeneous group; you seem to have forgotten that Democrats control one house of congress and the presidency. Did Obama order the DHS to launch the ‘civil war’ against Occupy? If so he must be unusually Machiavellian, having given the movement cautious support a day or two ago. Or are you seriously claiming that Peter King, head of a single congressional subcommittee, has operational command of the DHS while the president is out of the country?

    And what is the nature of this Stasi-like security apparatus you imagine that connects university police at UC Davis with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the state police? What of the numerous demonstrations across the country that have not been met with violence? Isn’t it frankly more likely that there is no organised conspiracy based on fear of the protesters’ demands (in fact legislation is already pending to redress the recent insider trading revelations), but that events are the result of a patchwork of incompetence and brutality within a few local police organisations and individual officers?

  • creel

    25 November 2011 06:06PM

    ..reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that “It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk.”

    US cops. At the very same time as the US Administration is urging the Egyptian Military to stand aside in Cairo < evidently to give the endeared Egyptian cops freer reign.

    For fundamentally the same reason as the deployment again and again in the Civil Rights era in the US – of the National Guard. When the cops were evidently feral.

  • Grobbler20

    25 November 2011 06:06PM

    Response to SpinningHugo, 25 November 2011 05:48PM
    The first may be the law in terms of election campaigns by individual MPs in this country, it is not the case in the wider funding of parties. I think that we should view the refusal of the major UK parties to sign up to state-funding of parties in the same light of venality and vested interests. (Conservative policy on housing and development being a developer’s wet dream, coupled with donations by property developers to the Tories?)

  • SELAVY

    25 November 2011 06:07PM

    ***So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. ***

    Yes indeed.
    The parallels with the movements for democracy across the Middle East from Tunisia, to Egypt, Lybia, Yeman, Bahrain and Syria are simply too obvious to ignore.

    The 99% ask for a more just society, and they do so in an entirely peaceful manner.
    The 1% reacts instinctively with violence (seeing a threat to their hitherto unchallenged privilege and corrupt practices).

    In the Middle East the protesters eventually became violent. This may well be the final consequence across Europe and in the US if more obscene violence is meeted out to peaceful democratic individuals.
    The genie is out of the bottle now, most people know the banks and hedge-funds have screwed us over. We have seen how Maxwelll, Murdoch, Hayward, Goodwin and their type behave. We have seen their blind greed and lack of ethical or moral compass.The elite grant themselves ever higher salaries and ever greater bonuses even as they demand cuts in pay and cuts in jobs for the decent, the honest, the hard-workling.
    We are returning to Victorian scales of wealth division, and almost to feudal systems. This cannot continue.
    It may be a long war but a war it certainly is.Time will favour the many.
    We are many…..

  • bobdodds23

    25 November 2011 06:09PM

    This was an immensely informative piece, joining up a lot of dots that I, as a European, was unfamiliar with. I would still be a little cautious about assuming just how high things go in the absence of direct evidence but the circumstantial support is certainly compelling.

    Many thanks Naomi.

  • Contributor

    MarkBoyle

    25 November 2011 06:09PM

    Great article Naomi, thank you both for your work with the movement, for taking the time to share that with us, and for the courage to stand up and speak the truth as you see it.

    You’re an inspiration and you’re doing us all an excellent service.

  • Gazzababbo

    25 November 2011 06:09PM

    Holy Shit!

    Sadly, the fact that the masses in this country have just rolled over and swallowed the Austerity/Big Society Condem bullshit while allowing the Banks & Big Companies to get back on track with their profiteering doesn’t fill you with confidence that there is a will to challenge any of this, anywhere.

    BTW, the strike next week is being condemmed by many in this country, the party line is that the people who are protesting about wage cuts, high inflation, pension reforms etc are greedy.

    The Tory (Cow Thieving) government, the banks and the businesses all have their snouts in the trough, extracting maximum payments for producst and services from the people, pay minimum wage to part time (i.e restricted rights) workers and pay minimum rates of corporation tax by transfering accounts abroad.

    And they suggest someone who want to protect their pension is greedy!

    You couldn’t make it up could you. Orwell had a pretty good go though. Even he would be staggered at the level of control that is exposed when the thin veneer of normality is scratched away by a few hippes camping in a city centre.

  • queequeg7

    25 November 2011 06:11PM

    This article matters. Many thanks. 99%.

  • bravobravoboooo

    25 November 2011 06:13PM

    You might be right that these are some of the initial reforms that the protesters are looking for, but I think most of them are looking for much wider societal changes. The OWS website is subtitled “NYC protest for American Revolution” after all.

    I personally support radical changes that put power into the hands of people. No longer should we be dictated to by this network of politicians and businesses, who are just looking after each other.

    Sure we can vote in Labour, or you can vote in the Democrats, but are we going to get the changes we need to build up a better system?

    The planet is being pillaged largely for the benefit of those at the top, and wars are constantly being fought to assert global dominance.

    Think we need a new system – hopefully this is leading there in the long term!

  • creel

    25 November 2011 06:13PM

    Response to Katewashere, 25 November 2011 05:56PM
    The US government started with “terrorists”..

    Indeed? I thought they started our AS terrorists agin the Crown. Terrorists who were well practiced in the ways of slavery and indian wars. ‘Moved on’ to more indian wars ..with wars also against the Mexicans and Spanish who they regarded as ‘next of kin’ to indian.

    And in the 20th Centure this was a culture that emerged into ‘adulthood’, shot to seed and fomented war in Palestine, Vietnam, Central & South America… The list is long.

  • RedHectorReborn

    25 November 2011 06:14PM

    If the occupy movement has no message why are those right wingers so desperate to smash them into the ground. You realise that it is because they are saying there are alternatives to the free market doctrine that scares the right so much.

    I can’t see the austerity policy either resolving the economic crisis or being accepted by the general population for very long. As the police spray more pepper and hand out more beatings the only thing they do is encourage more and more people to stand up and fight back.

    I hope we are seeing a real movement in American politics starting to emerge and challenge the status que.

  • BoredSilly

    25 November 2011 06:16PM

    Great article…. well written and very informative, thx Naomi

  • BleakAcreBite

    25 November 2011 06:18PM

    Thanks for writing this Naomi. It’s interesting to know that lobbyists are bankrolling attempts to discredit the protesters in the media.

  • LeaderOfTheFree

    25 November 2011 06:19PM

    Before people get too far carried away….

    Fascism a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.

  • btwidk

    25 November 2011 06:19PM

    In USA protesters are supposed to keep moving: they aren’t allowed to sit down. Apparently being seated is somehow more threatening than standing. Don’t ask me why.

    I disagree with the assertion that the brutality is “unparalleled”: I think US police have been far more brutal in the past, but now some victims are white.

    Capitalism is slavery. This is just the masters keeping their slaves downtrodden.

  • stevetyphoon

    25 November 2011 06:20PM

    Response to resisttheoccupation, 25 November 2011 05:44PM
    Been reading your posts over the last weeks.
    Funny how people

    playing the didgeridoo until they are blue in the face and tapping bongos until their bean feast is ready

    have really got under your skin.
    Just goes to show how a bunch of people can peacefully bring a very serious issue into the limelight which has created a ground swell of public opinion, including that of the church, to a point where it just might bring about change. I truly hope so.
    I also think its a bit rich you saying the protesters have lost the moral high ground when you compare their actions to those of the City of London Corporation, bankers, politicians and company executives.
    I hope you have a nice weekend.

  • NoOneYouKnowNow

    25 November 2011 06:21PM

    Thank you, Ms Wolf.
    Representative government in the US, certainly at the national and usually at the state level, has largely devolved into an enormous, interlocking criminal enterprise. OWS is the first active, public call that the guardians must be guarded, and the guardians don’t like it at all. I recommend Glenn Greenwald as a very valuable commentator on elite lawlessness.
    However, the good in the brutal police crackdown is that, for the first time, many middle-class Americans are recognizing what poor and non-white communities in the US have known all along: the first mission of the police isn’t to prevent crime or enforce the law but to protect and serve the rich and powerful.

  • DeadFrog

    25 November 2011 06:24PM

    “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

    I’m a little bewildered. Very few of us want that despite claiming otherwise. Society despises dole scroungers, immigrants taking our jobs (despite the fact that we wouldn’t do the at those wages), those who take without providing. Yet we, (a general we), all want a bigger telly, car, house, etc. To be slightly or significantly better off than our neighbours.

    So what do Occupy want? And what are the concrete proposals, not some wishy washy vague desire?

  • durandal

    25 November 2011 06:24PM

    US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality

    Sadly that’s not so. A lot of folks think that this is a case of the hippies getting their comeuppance. FauxNews is even making the argument that pepper spray is basically a food product, so no foul there.

    The USA is turning into the most oppressive regime on Earth

    You can make an argument without resorting to hyperbole. Oppressive cops, yes. Tanks running people over in the streets a la Tienanmen or Homs, no. I’m deeply concerned about the erosion of the right to public demonstration, however I am not fearing for my life.

  • bateleur

    25 November 2011 06:25PM

    America – Land Of The Free.

    When are they going to wake up and see reality?

  • SmashtheGates

    25 November 2011 06:27PM

    Important and valuable article. Thanks.

    For those old enough to remember, and others who probably don’t know about the British film director Peter Watkins, almost airbrushed from history, see this link – about his 1971 film ‘Punishment Park’. Seemed a bit paranoid then, but maybe just prescient after all —

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067633/

  • TerribleLyricist

    25 November 2011 06:31PM

    Superb, if depressing, article from NK as usual.

    The political class has become so corrupt – it is so in thrall to billionaires and corporations – that our governments have almost turned themselves into the enemy of the people they claim to represent.

    Is it any wonder so few people are politically engaged? Even if you get past the distractions and propaganda, you realize that we – the 99% – are no more than Eloi.

  • Dekenba

    25 November 2011 06:33PM

    “unparalleled (sic) brutality”?

    I’ve seen worse brutality on any weekend night in Cardiff.

    I’m not trying to defend the actions taken, but some perspective, please. And a decent spell checker would not go amiss.

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jQ(‘#newcommenting-form’).submit(function(){ jQ(‘input[type=submit]’, this).attr(‘disabled’, ‘disabled’); }); }); //end jQ ready

function openAbuseBox(commentId) { jQ(“#abuse-report-comment-id”).val(commentId); var loading_box = jQ(‘Loading
‘); loading_box.dialog({ title:”Abuse report”, draggable: false, modal:true, width:400, minHeight:320, resizable: false, beforeclose: function(event, ui) { var reason = jQ(‘textarea#id_reason’).val(); if (reason != “”) { return confirm(“Closing this window without pressing \”Report\” will result in your words being lost. Are you sure?”); } else { return true; } } }); }

function recommendComment(commentId) { var post_url = “http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/handlers/recommendComment“; post_url = fix_domain_for_careers(post_url); jQ.post(post_url, { comment_id: commentId }, function(data) { if (data == “OK”) { var span = jQ(“#recommended-count-” + commentId); span.prev(‘a’).contents().unwrap(); span.text(parseInt(span.text(), 10)+1); } else { var span = jQ(“#recommended-count-” + commentId); span.prev(‘a’).contents().unwrap(); } }); }

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