Update, November 5: Many thanks to everyone for your condolences. It was very kind of you all, and I really appreciate it. Chris.
"He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again."
Add a comment
I had the honor of talking with Cindy Sheehan tonight, recording an interview for her radio show, which I believe will air on Sunday. She made mention of the "police riot" -- as she aptly phrased it -- in Oakland Tuesday night, as a Democratic administration moved in with gas and other weapons of war to clear the streets of American citizens taking part in the Occupy movement.
Ms. Sheehan also noted the fact that the Occupy movement's terminology about "the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent elite" is not entirely accurate; far too many of the 99 percent are serving as willing tools of the 1 percent -- in the police forces, in the media, even in the general public, where you can always find plenty of people eagerly genuflecting to the high and mighty, even as they and their own families and communities sink deeper into the mire.
The Oakland debacle is a prime example of this, as cops -- putative public servants whose pay scales put them deep into the 99 percent -- waded into the Occupy citizens, breaking heads and driving away the very people trying to stand up for their interests.
The New York Times reports on one victim of these first strike-backs by our panicky overlords. And he is a most telling victim indeed: a military veteran, who had served two tours in the imperial war of aggression in Iraq, then turned against the War Machine and joined that stalwart band of humanity's patriots, the Iraq Veterans Against the War: (See original for links and video.)
Two veterans groups say that a protester who was badly wounded in Oakland on Tuesday night is a former marine who is now hospitalized with a fractured skull.
According to Iraq Veterans Against the War, the protester, Scott Olsen, is a member of their group who left the Marines in 2010, after serving two tours in Iraq. In a statement, the group's executive director Jose Vasquez, claimed that Mr. Olsen "sustained a skull fracture after being shot in the head with a police projectile while peacefully participating in an Occupy Oakland march," on Tuesday night. Mr. Vasquez added that Mr. Olsen, a systems network administrator in Daly, Calif. "is currently sedated at a local hospital awaiting examination by a neurosurgeon."
A series of bloody photographs that appear to show Mr. Olsen after he was wounded were posted on the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center's site, Indybay.org. Those images show that Mr. Olsen was wearing a brown military shirt with his last name on the front. Jay Finneburgh, the photographer who shot the images of Mr. Olsen, wrote on Indybay: "This poor guy was right behind me when he was hit in the head with a police projectile. He went down hard and did not get up. The bright light in the second shot is from a flash-bang grenade that went off a few feet from us. He looks like he might be a veteran. he was eventually taken to highland hospital." ....
Add a comment
We will see more, much more of this. You can smell the fear in the boardrooms (and in their bought-and-paid-for extensions, the government offices) around the world, as our mighty statesfolk flail at the global economic meltdown their own policies have unleashed -- with no other answer than to keep imposing "austerity" measures, one after another, destroying the societies they've feasted upon for so long. And has there even been such a gaggle of fourth-rate poltroons, of shallow, witless, gormless goobers as the leaders of the "developed" world these days? Sarkozy, Cameron, Merkel, Berlusconi, Obama ....? It's like the last tribal council on Easter Island. All they have left are lies, delusions -- and brutality.
Barack Obama has announced that all American troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year. This was presented as America honorably adhering to the agreement signed years ago by the Bush Administration. At the same time, White House and Pentagon spinners were planting stories to make clear that the United States had fully intended to continue its military presence in Iraq past the deadline, but was thwarted by the Iraqis' unconscionable refusal to allow American forces to commit crimes with impunity -- and immunity -- on Iraqi soil.
These backroom "process" stories -- filled, as always, with unnamed insiders providing savvy "nuance" -- were detailed, laying out a long series of negotiations, ending in what was clearly the Americans' chief goal: a military presence of 3,000-5,000 troops, placed strategically around the country, with a main focus in Baghdad. These negotiations failed; hence Obama's announcement that he was being forced to honor the existing agreement on withdrawal.
At the same time, however, we are also told that the State Department will maintain "at least" 5,000 armed "security personnel" -- mercenaries of various stripes. These 5,000 militarized (if not officially military) troops will be stationed in strategic locations around the country, where the United States will establish mini-fortress "consulates" in Iraqi cities, with a main focus in Baghdad.
So the Americans had a baseline goal of 3,000 armed personnel remaining in Iraq; they will now have a minimum of 5,000 armed personnel remaining in Iraq.
It could be argued that the original intent was to have the 3,000-5,000 uniformed troops in addition to the 5,000 mercenaries, and thus the Americans have taken a bit of a haircut in the occupation department: 5,000 instead of combined total of 8,000 (or a top end of 10,000.) Maybe so. But the fact remains that whatever else happens, the American government will have a minimum of 5,000 men under arms, stationed all across the conquered land. What's more, there is apparently no limit on the number of such mercenaries the Americans can employ to provide "security" for the thousands of other American government operatives who will remain. Any number of pretexts could provide excuses for a "surge" in "security contractors": 8,000, 10,000, 20,000 -- who's to say how many will ultimately be "needed" to combat "terrorists"?
So we have a baseline of 5,000 militarized forces remaining indefinitely in Iraq, with no immediate limit on an expansion in their numbers. And of course, all the stories make it abundantly clear that the Americans will quickly negotiate a new "security agreement" with Iraq, which will include -- or even be in addition to -- thousands of military "advisers" to help "train" the Iraqi forces, especially with the multitude of new weapons that Washington's war profiteers are lining up to sell to the "sovereign" government in Baghdad. How many troops will be involved in these "agreements"? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Again, we don't know.
And as Glenn Greenwald and others have pointed out, none of these numbers include the "Special Forces" and CIA paramilitaries that will inevitably be ranging across Iraq, no doubt in large numbers. Iraq is hardly going to receive less attention from the American black ops and death squads than Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and the dozens of other countries where Washington is waging secret war.
Thus it is almost a certainty that by the end of 2012, there will be, at the barest minimum, at least 8,000 to 10,000 heavily armed personnel under the direct control of the United States government stationed at strategic points throughout Iraq; the actual figure will doubtless be higher, perhaps much higher. But this is a bare minimum -- numbers which tally almost exactly with the final goals of the American war machine in the "failed" negotiations on extending the present form of the occupation.
Obama's announcement was yet another bitter sham. We are not ringing down the curtain on the Iraq War; we are simply beginning the second act, with new scenery in the backdrop, some new plotlines and characters -- but the same old dirty, bloody business of aggression.
Greece is the canary in the coal mine of modern hyper-capitalism. Throughout the "developed" world, elites and political leaders are following the same path, using a self-created financial crisis to institute a radical destruction of free societies and create an authoritarian "managed democracy" in their places. But the extremist measures being imposed on Greece are producing a furious reaction -- and a recasting of old political realities in new forms -- that could also prove to be a harbinger of the future.
Costas Douzinas gives this analysis in the Guardian:
Greece is split in two. On one side are politicians, bankers, tax evaders and media barons supporting the most class-driven, violent social and cultural restructuring western Europe has seen. The "other" Greece includes the overwhelming majority of the population. It was in evidence yesterday when up to 500,000 people took to the streets; the largest demonstration in living memory. The attempt to divide civil servants (ritually presented as lazy and corrupt) from private sector employees (the "tax evading" plumbers) has misfired. The only success the Papandreou government can boast is the abolition of the old right-left division – replaced by a divide between the elites and the people.
Douzinas points out that the government is using the crisis to impose radical changes -- on behalf of the One-Percenters -- which go goes far beyond the already draconian measures demanded by international lenders:
Yet a representative of [the] "troika" of lenders – the IMF, EU and European Central Bank – told a Greek newspaper that they did not demand the abolition of collective bargaining in the private sector, the one measure that has led to some opposition in the ruling party. Nor did the troika demand the wholesale change in university law. It is as if the Greek elites desired the debt to orchestrate the wholesale destruction of the welfare state and transfer of public assets to private hands ...This government's mission was to replace care for others with indifference, hospitality with exploitation. They failed, and now only a thick blue line separates the elite from the outraged people.
...Youth unemployment is soaring towards 50%; Greece will pay for decades for the destruction of a whole generation. The troika will stand accused of neocolonial arrogance. It is not necessary to know the Sisyphus myth to see that measures leading to -7% growth do not reduce the deficit. You don't need to have read Plato to understand that halving salaries and pensions means people will not be able to pay exorbitant new taxes ....
Thursday's demonstration ended tragically with the death of a trade-unionist. The last vestiges of governmental legitimacy are gone and the government will follow soon. The democratic deficit from which political systems suffer everywhere is irreversible in Greece. The responsibility of the "other" Greece is to devise a constitution of social justice and democracy for the 21st century. This is what Greece can offer to the world.Add a comment
The ACLU has just released documentation of the rampant sexual abuse of female immigration detainees at the hands of our enlightened guardians. The latter include the Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison company that has parlayed its insider poitical connections to become one of the nation's largest profiteers of human suffering.
This news brought to mind a story I wrote awhile back on the origins of prison profiteering and one of its founding fathers, Lamar Alexander. Unfortunately, this was one of the stories that were completely destroyed in the many hack attacks on this website. So I thought I would take this opportunity to repost it. The subject is still all too germane; indeed, the cancer of prison profiteering has only grown more and more malignant since the story's first appearance in 2009, fueled by the Nobel Peace Laureate's record-breaking (and profit-making) round-ups and expulsions of immigrants.
So below is a reprise of the text (most of the links were also lost) of that vanished piece from March 2009.
LOST LIBERTY BLUES: PRISONS, PROFITS AND THE BANALITY OF EVIL
1. Ex Nihilo
Lamar Alexander is certainly one of the biggest non-entities in the history of modern American politics. You would have to range far and wide to find a more negligible, pointless, unproductive figure on the national level than Alexander, the senior U.S. senator from Tennessee; indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find such a one on the smallest school board or city council in the remotest corner of the country.
Perhaps only George Walker Bush could match Alexander in the "coasting through life with corporate coddling" sweepstakes. Like Bush, Alexander was once a Republican governor who did almost no work in office, letting the Democratic leaders of the state legislature — with whom he had some cozy business entanglements — handle the nitty-gritty of governing while he whiled away the hours greasing wheels for his cronies and cutting sweetheart deals to enrich himself.
And like Bush with his Crawford dude ranch, Alexander adopted an entirely faux pose as a son-of-the-soil type in a cynical campaign ploy. Following a first, failed attempt at the governorship in 1974 — in which he had his head handed to him on a platter by a genuine son of the soil, the genially corrupt Ray Blanton, who hammered away at the fact that L’il Lamar had gotten his political schooling in the bowels of Richard Nixon’s White House — Alexander ditched his five-hundred dollar suits for a plaid work shirt, to show that he was jes’ plain folks. In the race to replace the scandal-scarred Blanton in 1978, the plaid-clad Alexander thundered that his opponent, obscure country banker Jake Butcher, owned an interest in an establishment that served — gasp! — demon rum. The fact that Alexander also owned shares in an upscale eatery that served liquor did not, of course, deter him from his attack on Butcher’s lack of Christian morals. Alexander’s PR machine swept past Butcher’s bumpkinish campaign and got him into the statehouse for his eight years of goofing off.
He then floated into the presidency of the University of Tennessee (where he signed my paychecks for three years), again doing nothing but scratching his ears and feathering his nest. In 1991, George Herbert Walker Bush summoned Alexander to Washington, naming him Secretary of Education — an obvious joke on George Herbert’s part, given Lamar’s previous call for the Department of Education to be abolished.
(George Herbert’s literally wicked sense of humor is too little appreciated, I think. Like a lot of humor, Herbie’s jokes involved the cloaked expression of savage malice — in this case, malice toward the country he was supposedly governing. For example, there was his deliberate, knowing choice of an incompetent, unstable political hack — Clarence Thomas — to take the place of the venerated Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court. And then of course, there was Bush’s supreme joke: choosing frat-boy goofball Dan Quayle to stand a heartbeat away from the presidency. This level of Coriolanus-like contempt for the rabble was not matched until 2008, when John McCain picked dimbulb Christianist warrior Sarah Palin as his running mate — while Barack Obama picked the plagiarizing corporate bagman Joe Biden as his. But we digress.)
After Herbie lost the White House to Bill Clinton, the man he now considers his "son" — and with whom he curiously shared his leading benefactor in 1992 — Alexander was forced onto the corporate board breadline, where he eked out a meager existence on a few hundred thou a year, plus the usual sweetheart stock deals, while launching his two hilariously abysmal bids for the White House in 1996 and 2000.
Finally, in 2002, this suit of clothes — or rather, this puffed-up plaid shirt — walked into the wasteland that has become the U.S. senatorship of Tennessee, where such egregious goobers as Fred Thompson, Bill Frist and Bob Corker (who is actually giving Lamar a strong run for the money as the nation’s greatest political non-entity) have prowled around to very little purpose other than their own self-aggrandizement. Lamar was the choice of the Bush organization to fill the shoes of jowly, growly Fred when he ambled off to television, and Alexander duly served George Walker faithfully, most signally in his staunch support for Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq.
"A slight unmeritable man," then, "meet to be sent on errands," as Marc Antony says of the non-entity Lepidus in Julius Caesar. And yet despite the big blank spot that Alexander has left in American politics, he should be rightly regarded as a Founding Father of one of the most profound and far-reaching developments in American society, one which will reverberate in a myriad of ways through generations: turning convicts into cannon fodder for corporate profits.
II. Miracle Money and Failing Upward
As is well known, the United States of America locks up more of its people — both in bulk and by percentage — than any other nation on earth. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College, London, there were 2,293,157 people behind bars in the United States at the end of 2007, the latest year for which totals are available. The incarceration rate is 756 prisoners per every 100,000 of the general population: a staggering rate that far surpasses the closest competitor, Russia, which jails 626 out of every 100,000 of its people, or Communist China, which jails 119 out of every 100,000. Indeed, America’s total prison population outstrips China’s by more than half a million — even though China’s population is five times larger than America’s. It also far outstrips Russia’s puny total of 887,000 prisoners. With the possible exception of the Soviet Union under Stalin, no country in history has ever incarcerated more of its citizens than the United States does today.
The prison population saw runaway growth under George Walker, but, as I wrote almost three years ago:
Bush is merely standing on the shoulders of giants – such as, say, Bill Clinton, who once created 50 brand-new federal offenses in a single draconian measure, and expanded the federal death penalty to 60 new offenses during his term. In fact, like the great cathedrals of old, the building of Fortress America has been the work of decades, with an entire society yoked to the common task. At each step, the promulgation of ever-more draconian punishments for ever-lesser offenses, and the criminalization of ever-broader swathes of ordinary human behavior, have been greeted with hosannahs from a public and press who seem to be insatiable gluttons for punishment – someone else’s punishment, that is, and preferably someone of dusky hue.
The main engine of this mass incarceration has been the 35-year "war on drugs": a spurious battle against an abstract noun that provides an endless fount of profits, payoffs and power for the politically connected while only worsening the problem it purports to address – just like the "war on terror." The "war on drugs" has in fact been the most effective assault on an underclass since Stalin’s campaign against the kulaks.
It was launched by Richard Nixon, after urban unrest had shaken major American cities during those famous "long, hot summers" of the Sixties. Yet even as the crackdowns began, America’s inner cities were being flooded with heroin, much of it originating in Southeast Asia, where the CIA and its hired warlords ran well-funded black ops in and around Vietnam. At home, criminal gangs reaped staggering riches from the criminalization of the natural, if often unhealthy, human craving for intoxication. Ronald Reagan upped the ante in the 1980s, with a rash of "mandatory sentencing" laws that can put even first-time, small-time offenders away for years. His term also saw a new flood — crack cocaine – devastating the inner cities, even as his covert operators used drug money to fund the terrorist Contra army in Nicaragua and run illegal weapons to Iran, while the downtown druglords grew more powerful. The American underclass was caught in a classic pincer movement, attacked by both the state and the gangs. There were no more "long, hot summers" of protest against injustice; there was simply the struggle to survive.
Under Reagan, Bush I and Clinton, the feverish privatization of the prison system added a new impetus for wholesale, long-term detention. Politically-wired corporations need to keep those profit-making cells filled, and the politicians they grease are happy to oblige with "tougher" sentences and new crimes to prosecute.
And here we come to little ole Lamar. As noted, the floodgates into prison gaped wide in the 1980s. This human flotsam was too tempting a resource to remain unexploited. Also, there was big money to be made from the harsh and vengeful spirit coursing through the political landscape in those days, with the continuing call to build more and more prisons to hold the Drug War captives and the "three-strikers" who were being sentenced to life in prison for a string of often minor offenses. Anyone hot-wired into a major political establishment – a state government, say – could coin it like crazy from those cooped-up cons.
Enter the Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company co-founded and led by Tom Beasley, a long-time Alexander operative and former chairman of the state GOP, who had helped manage Lamar’s campaigns, and had even lived in his house for a time, as AgainstPuryear.org notes. Beasley and his partners were staked by a venture cap maven named Jack Massey – another old pal of Lamar’s. While CCA was lobbying the state government run by their friend for a $250 million contract to take over the state’s prisons, it emerged that Alexander’s wife, Honey, has somehow acquired $8,900 worth of CCA stock – the kind of sweet deal that jes’ plain folks rarely run across.
To avoid embarrassment, Honey traded her stock straight up for shares in an insurance holding company owned by none other than CCA bankroller Jack Massey. When Honey sold off her insurance stock, her $8,900 had miraculously turned into a $142,000 windfall. (The Alexanders have been the lucky recipients of several such miracles. For example, Lamar picked up corporate board goofing-off pork for years from Chris Whittle, the Knoxville tycoon who spearheaded the corporate invasion of public schools. When Lamar became Education Secretary, and very ethically left Whittle’s service, one of Whittle’s other minions "bought the Alexanders’ Knoxville home for $977,500 – more than $400,000 more than they had paid for it a year before," as the Ethical Spectacle reports. Whittle also bought back $10,000 worth of his company’s stock from Alexander – for the tidy sum of $330,000.)
In the end, CCA’s handling of Tennessee’s prisons turned out to be so cack-handed that the state had to take back all but one of them. But Lamar was long gone by that time, with Honey’s miracle money in his pocket, while CCA – benefiting from that "failing upward" phenomenon so typical of American business – had inexplicably established itself as the major player in the burgeoning prison privatization racket. As Global Research reports:
Private prisons are the biggest business in the prison industry complex. About 18 corporations guard 10,000 prisoners in 27 states. The two largest are Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut, which together control 75%. Private prisons receive a guaranteed amount of money for each prisoner, independent of what it costs to maintain each one. According to Russell Boraas, a private prison administrator in Virginia, "the secret to low operating costs is having a minimal number of guards for the maximum number of prisoners." The CCA has an ultra-modern prison in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where five guards on dayshift and two at night watch over 750 prisoners. In these prisons, inmates may get their sentences reduced for "good behavior," but for any infraction, they get 30 days added – which means more profits for CCA. According to a study of New Mexico prisons, it was found that CCA inmates lost "good behavior time" at a rate eight times higher than those in state prisons.
Building on its success in skimping on such fripperies as sufficient guards and food in order to squeeze maximum profits out of its prisons, CCA soon expanded its operations across the sea to the UK, where it found an even more eager audience of well-connected grease merchants. George Monbiot reports:
Encouraged by the committee’s report, the Corrections Corporation of America set up a consortium in Britain with two Conservative party donors, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd and John Mowlem & Co, to promote privately financed prisons over here. The first privately-run prison in the UK, Wolds, was opened by the Danish security company Group 4 in 1992. In 1993, before it had had a chance to evaluate this experiment, the government announced that all new prisons would be built and run by private companies.
The Labour party, then in opposition, was outraged. John Prescott promised that “Labour will take back private prisons into public ownership – it is the only safe way forward.”(Jack Straw stated that “it is not appropriate for people to profit out of incarceration. This is surely one area where a free market certainly does not exist”. He too promised to “bring these prisons into proper public control and run them directly as public services.”
But during his first seven weeks in office, Jack Straw renewed one private prison contract and launched two new ones. A year later he announced that all new prisons in England and Wales would be built and run by private companies, under the private finance initiative.
Well, what else would you expect from a party – "New" Labour – that modeled itself on Bill Clinton’s "triage" strategy: i.e., adopting a endless slew of right-wing policies and simply calling them "progressive." This philosophy – which has been adapted wholesale by the Obama Administration and its horde of Clinton and Bush retreads – was succinctly summed up by George Orwell: "Four legs good, two legs better."
III. Bringing It All Back Home
Of course, wholesale privatization is only one prong of the fork that sweetheart dealers have plunged into that juicy prison pork. As Global Research reports, major corporations have moved into state prisons as well, tying their own profits – and increasing proportions of the American economy – to the need for an endless, expanding supply of convict labor:
Who is investing? At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum. And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call "highly skilled positions." At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.
Thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets. A company that operated a maquiladora (assembly plant in Mexico near the border) closed down its operations there and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California. In Texas, a factory fired its 150 workers and contracted the services of prisoner-workers from the private Lockhart Texas prison, where circuit boards are assembled for companies like IBM and Compaq.
[Former] Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that "there won’t be any transportation costs; we’re offering you competitive prison labor (here)."
There’s a real stimulus plan for you! There’s a way to bring the big manufacturers back to America’s shores. Forget targeting their tax havens and tax dodges: give ‘em cheap, captive labor, and they’ll come running.
Of course, today’s rampant exploitation of convict labor — with its attendant, inevitable corruption of individual officials (such as the Pennsylvania judges recently convicted of selling children into detention for kickbacks from a privateer), and the political process and the economy at large – is itself something of a coming home for American society. For example, it played a key role in rebuilding the post-Civil War fortunes of the elite in the "New South" – the same states that now employ more private prisons than any others. As we noted in a piece here awhile back ("Postcards of the Hanging: Race and Sex in Tennessee"):
Side by side with the lynching – indeed far surpassing it in terms of depth and reach through the black community – was the money angle. The end of slavery didn’t mean the end of servitude by any means. As each Southern state was returned to the control of its defeated white elites after the Civil War, they quickly gamed the legal system to provide them with a virtually unlimited supply of convict labor – without rights, without protection, in chains, under the bullwhip, just like the good old days. The smallest infractions of the law, petty fines, bad debts – or often, nothing at all but the need of the local bossman – swept multitudes of black men and women into minor jail terms that would be extended by months, sometimes years through draconian "fees" and "court costs" they would have to "work off" – in the fields, in the mines, laying rail, building roads, draining swamps. Savvy brokers contracted with state and local governments to manage the trade in these convicts, many of whom were simply worked to death or crippled for life. There was no profit in looking after them anymore; they were no longer someone’s valuable "property" but just so much ever-replaceable fodder churning endlessly through the legal machine.
Freed but disenfranchised, emancipated but still in chains, balked by law and brutal custom from full participation in society, the Southern blacks also made handy targets to divert the anger and dissatisfaction of the "poor white trash" from the elites that exploited them as well, albeit less severely. If even the poorest white man could consider himself superior to someone, if you could keep him tied up in psychological and emotional knots about inferior darkies messing with his women, going to his schools, sitting at his lunch counters, drinking from his water fountains, swimming in his public pools, living in his neighborhoods, why then he’d never make common cause with his black brothers and sisters in poverty to fight for a better life. Canny patricians played whole decks of such race cards to win the votes of the crackers and rednecks they privately despised: "Don’t vote for that commie over there talking about unions and fair wages and equality; vote for me, vote for the man who’ll keep your women and children – and your drinking water – safe from the Negro!" [For much more, see the book, Worse Than Slavery, by David Oshinsky.)
As the economy craters around the world, governments and their servitor intellectuals are sounding clarion calls about a coming tide of "unrest" amongst the newly pauperized rabble. This is to be met not with sensible economic policies designed to rectify the vast imbalances, injustices and virulent corruption of the sweetheart-deal world, but instead with multitrillion-dollar bailouts of bankers, venture capitalist and privateers – and with "contingency plans" for "security operations" to keep the rabble in line. The jails, prisons and detention centers will soon be full to bursting with those forced into petty crime by need and desperation – and with anyone who dares to venture outside a specially designated, often fenced-in "free speech zone" to protest the continuing greed of the elite. Meanwhile, the failed Drug War keeps on raging, doing nothing to stem the flow of narcotics but enriching a few people immensely, and providing justification for an every-expanding array of draconian police powers that too many states find too useful to give up now. So there will be no end of backroom operators and government frontmen ready to work their correction connections to squeeze money from this rising tide of human suffering.
The career of Lamar Alexander is of little moment in itself; he’s just another garden-variety corruptocrat gliding through life on a stream of grease. But like the life of George W. Bush, it is a highly instructive example of the poison fruit that even the most bland, feckless non-entity can produce in a system that is willfully, brutally blind to its own injustices. The phrase "banality of evil" comes all too readily to mind.Add a comment
It is not enough for the Peace Laureate to murder American citizens without charges, without trial and without warning; he must also murder their children too -- in the same cowardly, cold-blooded fashion.
Last week, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki -- an American teenager -- was ripped to shreds by an American drone missile in Yemen. The boy, like his father, Anwar al-Awlaki -- had not been charged with any crime whatsoever, much less convicted and sentenced. So what was his offense? He missed his father -- who had been in hiding from the Peace Laureate's publicly stated intention to assassinate him -- and he went off to find him.
His search took him into one of the areas of Yemen where there are groups opposed to the murderous regime now controlling the country and slaughtering its own citizens in cold blood -- with American weapons, American money, and the full support of the Peace Laureate and his peace-loving administration of peaceful peaceniks. People in such regions -- not only in Yemen but all over the world -- are of course subject to instant, agonizing death from the Peace Laureate's brave, bold robot drones, guided by noble warriors nestled in cushioned chairs behind fortress walls thousands of miles away.
And so a button was pushed, and 16-year-old Abdulrahman -- and his 17-year-old cousin -- were turned into steaming lumps of coagulate gore by the drones of the Peace Laureate. The Laureate's minions and satraps then spread the story that the child was actually a grown man, "suspected" of being a "militant." It was, of course, an arrant and deliberate lie, but it did its work. The first -- and only -- thing the public at large heard about this murder was that yet another dirty terrorist raghead had bitten the dust, and so big fat what?
The boy's family had a somewhat different view:
“To kill a teenager is just unbelievable, really, and they claim that he is an al-Qaeda militant. It’s nonsense,” said Nasser al-Awlaki, a former Yemeni agriculture minister who was Anwar al-Awlaki’s father and the boy’s grandfather, speaking in a phone interview from Sanaa on Monday. “They want to justify his killing, that’s all.”
The teenager, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen who was born in Denver in 1995, and his 17-year-old Yemeni cousin were killed in a U.S. military strike that left nine people dead in southeastern Yemen. ...
Nasser al-Awlaki said the family decided to issue a statement after reading some U.S. news reports that described Abdulrahman as a militant in his twenties. The family urged journalists and others to visit a Facebook memorial page for Abdulrahman.
“Look at his pictures, his friends, and his hobbies,” the statement said. “His Facebook page shows a typical kid. A teenager who paid a hefty price for something he never did and never was.” The pictures on the Facebook page show a smiling kid out and about in the countryside and occasionally hamming it up for the camera. Abdulrahman left the United States with his father in 2002.
Nasser al-Awlaki said Abdulrahman was in the first year of secondary school when he left Sanaa to find his father. He wrote a note to his mother, saying he missed his father and wanted to see him. The teenager traveled to the family’s tribal home in southern Yemen, but Anwar al-Awlaki was killed Sep. 30 in Yemen’s northern Jawf province, about 90 miles east of the capital. “He went from here without my knowledge,” Nasser al-Awlaki said. “We would not allow him to go if we know because he is a small boy.” He said his grandson, after hearing about his father’s death, had decided to return to Sanaa.
Add a comment
The American boy went off to find his father. Upon learning that his father had been killed by the Peace Laureate, he tried to go back home to his family. But he stopped to have a meal with some men -- perhaps friends of his father? Perhaps "militants"? Perhaps neither? We cannot know, because the Peace Laureate and his minions do not discuss their arbitrary killings of people without charges or trial.
So Abdulrahman was blown to bits. The "soldier" who pushed the button or squeezed the joystick that fired the missile got up from his comfortable chair and got into his comfortable car and drove to his comfortable home, where -- who know? -- he might have had a delicious meal with his wife and kids, then later kicked back for a little R&R with the Wii. The peaceful Peace Laureate went out on the campaign trail, seeking to extend his mission of peace for another term. And the regime he supports in Yemen with peaceful weapons and peaceful money and peaceful pearls of wisdom about peace went on killing its own citizens.
Methinks the Peace Laureate, long derided by some for his youthful callowness, a dearth of proper gravitas, is growing into his imperial role more and more with each passing day. The outright, open murder of an imperial citizen -- followed by the completely gratuitous slaughter of the victim's son -- has the authentic ring of ancient Rome about it. That's how they did it in the high, palmy days of the Caesars; that's how we do it today. Everything old is new again. Ave, Peacenik!
I have to say, I honestly don't understand why so many 'dissidents' want the OWS crowd to either a) overturn the government tomorrow morning, or b) be mowed down by the cops as soon as possible. These seem to be two of the strongest reactions to the Occupy movement from lots of people who have spent years railing against the Empire and its many depredations.
I mean, it seems obvious to me that this particular instance of protest in Wall Street is going to "fail" -- i.e., at some point, they will be removed, peaceably or otherwise, from the sacred precincts of Mammon. But so what? I mean really, pardon my French and all, but so fucking what already? Who out there actually expects OWS will overturn the empire? Do you think the protestors themselves think that? If it's not all wrapped up neatly at the end of a 30-minute sitcom episode with parades and ponies and peace on earth, does that mean it's all meaningless? No conglomeration of human beings has ever produced anything that even remotely approximates perfection, or has ever failed to exhibit the common human frailties and failings we all are heir to. Again, I say, so what? Does this fact render pointless even the slightest attempt to try to find different paths that just might possibly be better than the one we're on now?
It seems to me that the whole point of the Occupy movement, in its multiplicity of forms, is to MAKE A START. To not simply bow the head and bend the knee, and give up and say, Oh Lordy, the Man is too powerful for me, He controls everything, there's nothing anyone can do. The point, it seems to me, is just to show up and stand up and say out loud, as Thoreau said, "We disassociate ourselves from this rigged, corrupt, immoral system."
Isn't this what dissidents have been urging people to do for years now? I know this site has been full of commenters -- and my own blog posts -- calling for something exactly like this. Saying: Do it individually, if you have to, do it en masse -- but DO SOMETHING! Stand up, speak out and disassociate yourself from all this evil. Start looking for other ways: try this, try that, try the other, and if all that fails, try something else -- but DO SOMETHING.
And now here we have people doing exactly that -- in a vast, variegated number of ways -- and what is the main reaction among so many of our dissidents? In large part, it seems to me the reaction is some kind of scorn, if not an outright eagerness to see the Empire strike back and show these stupid kids that there is no alternative, there is nothing anyone can do, anywhere, anytime, about anything. The Man is too powerful, the Empire is too perfect, it knows all, sees all, controls all, it is nothing less than a god.
Well, I happen, respectfully, to disagree with all that. It seems to me that many dissidents have gone through the looking glass and now practice a kind of negative worship of the Empire, of the System, of the Powers-That-Be. Anyone who actually DOES anything to TRY to shake the system is instantly dismissed as some kind of Pollyanna Pie-in-the-Skier, due for a rude and bloody awakening from our godlike superiors.
I honestly don't get it. Where did all this cravenness come from? This scorn, this broken spirit, this surrender, these sidelong, servile glances at the gleaming Masters of the Universe? What if it does all fail? (Whatever "failure" might mean in this case. It seems to me that only people who expect, or demand, instant gratification would see 'failure' in a protest movement -- or, if you like, a stance of disassociation and an openness to alternatives -- that might not bear fruit for years, even generations.) But if it fails, so what? You don't want to go down fighting? It's too great a sacrifice of your deep savvy to cheer on people who are actually doing something, trying something, putting their bodies on the line to challenge a system you've spent years railing against?
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, of course. And I have no way of knowing how the particular coalescence of elements represented by OWS and similar movements will play out, in the immediate future or in the long term. Perhaps nothing will come of it. Perhaps, as some seem darkly to hope, it will all end in a bloodbath and further repression. But I will say that I've been surprised by the hostile reaction of many who count themselves rock-ribbed dissidents against the imperial warmaking corporcracy to a movement that is doing what so many dissidents have dreamed of for years: refusing to acknowledge the system's authority and legitimacy, and exploring alternatives to the rapacious, bloodsoaked brutality of our global elites.
As for me -- and again, this is just my personal opinion -- I'm glad about the Occupy movement. I'm glad to see sparks and glimmers and partial, provisional expressions of some of my own most deeply held principles showing up here and there on the streets of the world. I hope the movement keeps growing, I hope it stays chaotic -- I hope it gets even weirder. I hope it continues to make the comfortable uncomfortable, to the greatest degree possible. If it collapses, if it's co-opted, then I won't like it. But if that happens, it won't crush my spirits, or make me nod my head with a sour, savvy, "Told you so." It will just mean that this particular (partial, provisional) expression of some of the 'better angels of our nature' has been put down -- for now. It will just mean that somewhere along the line, we will have to try again, in a different coalescence of elements.
But right now, they're on the streets, they're raising merry hell, and all I can say to that is: More power to them.
While other matters keep me from my appointed rounds in these precincts for the nonce, Chris Hedges has a few pertinent things to say:
Resistance, real resistance, to the corporate state was displayed when a couple of thousand protesters, clutching mops and brooms, early Friday morning forced the owners of Zuccotti Park and the New York City police to back down from a proposed attempt to expel them in order to “clean” the premises. These protesters in that one glorious moment did what the traditional “liberal” establishment has steadily refused to do — fight back. And it was deeply moving to watch the corporate rats scamper back to their holes on Wall Street. It lent a whole new meaning to the phrase “too big to fail.”
Tinkering with the corporate state will not work. We will either be plunged into neo-feudalism and environmental catastrophe or we will wrest power from corporate hands. This radical message, one that demands a reversal of the corporate coup, is one the power elite, including the liberal class, is desperately trying to thwart. But the liberal class has no credibility left. It collaborated with corporate lobbyists to neglect the rights of tens of millions of Americans, as well as the innocents in our imperial wars. ...
The Occupy Wall Street movement, like all radical movements, has obliterated the narrow political parameters. It proposes something new. It will not make concessions with corrupt systems of corporate power. It holds fast to moral imperatives regardless of the cost. It confronts authority out of a sense of responsibility. It is not interested in formal positions of power. It is not seeking office. It is not trying to get people to vote. It has no resources. It can’t carry suitcases of money to congressional offices or run millions of dollars of advertisements. All it can do is ask us to use our bodies and voices, often at personal risk, to fight back. It has no other way of defying the corporate state. This rebellion creates a real community instead of a managed or virtual one. It affirms our dignity. It permits us to become free and independent human beings.
Martin Luther King was repeatedly betrayed by liberal supporters, especially when he began to challenge economic forms of discrimination, which demanded that liberals, rather than simply white Southern racists, begin to make sacrifices. King too was a radical. He would not compromise on nonviolence, racism or justice. He understood that movements—such as the Liberty Party, which fought slavery, the suffragists, who fought for women’s rights, the labor movement and the civil rights movement—have always been the true correctives in American democracy. None of those movements achieved formal political power. But by holding fast to moral imperatives they made the powerful fear them. King knew that racial equality was impossible without economic justice and an end to militarism. And he had no intention of ceding to the demands of the liberal establishment that called on him to be calm and patience.
“For years, I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions in the South, a little change here, a little change there,” King said shortly before he was assassinated. “Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire system, a revolution of values.”
... On the eve of King’s murder he was preparing to organize a poor people’s march on Washington, D.C., designed to cause “major, massive dislocations,” a nonviolent demand by the poor, including the white underclass, for a system of economic equality. It would be 43 years before his vision was realized by an eclectic group of protesters who gathered before the gates of Wall Street. ...
What kind of nation is it that spends far more to kill enemy combatants and Afghan and Iraqi civilians than it does to help its own citizens who live below the poverty line? What kind of nation is it that permits corporations to hold sick children hostage while their parents frantically bankrupt themselves to save their sons and daughters? What kind of nation is it that tosses its mentally ill onto urban heating grates? What kind of nation is it that abandons its unemployed while it loots its treasury on behalf of speculators? What kind of nation is it that ignores due process to torture and assassinate its own citizens? What kind of nation is it that refuses to halt the destruction of the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry, dooming our children and our children’s children?
... Hope in this age of bankrupt capitalism comes with the return of the language of class conflict and rebellion, language that has been purged from the lexicon of the liberal class, language that defines this new movement. This does not mean we have to agree with Karl Marx, who advocated violence and whose worship of the state as a utopian mechanism led to another form of enslavement of the working class, but we have to learn again to speak in the vocabulary Marx employed. We have to grasp, as Marx and Adam Smith did, that corporations are not concerned with the common good. They exploit, pollute, impoverish, repress, kill and lie to make money. They throw poor families out of homes, let the uninsured die, wage useless wars to make profits, poison and pollute the ecosystem, slash social assistance programs, gut public education, trash the global economy, plunder the U.S. Treasury and crush all popular movements that seek justice for working men and women. They worship money and power.
...What took place early Friday morning in Zuccotti Park was the first salvo in a long struggle for justice. It signaled a step backward by the corporate state in the face of popular pressure. And it was carried out by ordinary men and women who sleep at night on concrete, get soaked in rainstorms, eat donated food and have nothing as weapons but their dignity, resilience and courage.
Bob Dylan, when a young man, knew the enemy: the "masters of war," the profiteers and bureaucrats of death and domination, who wring money and power from bloodshed, torment and fear. He knew too that these wretches of lamed humanity were not confined to a single country or culture or political structure or time.
Beyond this, though, he also knew that conventional politics was not the answer to the evils that beset -- and tempt -- us. Instead, he saw that the answer was "blowing in the wind" -- which is to say that there is no answer, there are only the questions: how many roads, how many times, how many years, how many deaths will it take to shatter the hardened heart, to break down the walls that seal us up in lies, in hate, in fear, in greed, in ignorance, in pain?
These chiming questions are really calls to the endless task of enlightenment: to keep asking them over and over and over -- in every age, in every situation, in every confrontation with reality -- is a way to form your understanding of the world, and your individual morality. It's not an answer but a discipline, a way of being, and becoming. (For as the young man also said: He not busy being born is busy dying.)
It is an ancient quest, taking on a multiplicity of forms through the ages, young Dylan's lightning flash of insight being but one expression. And while it is laid upon each individual in every age, it can, at times, erupt on a wider plane, unlooked for, in a sudden upsurge, like a subterranean stream breaking into the sunlight and flooding the land. "Kairotic moments," Tillich called them. Not magical, miraculous transformations of human nature or the entirety of human culture, but outbursts of heightened consciousness, of creative engagement and exploration, experimentation. And no matter how much these moments are later diluted, dimmed, beaten back, twisted or lost, they leave behind new soil to build upon, new insights to draw upon, new fragments to shore against our ruins.
There's nothing mystical about it. These eruptions are brought into being by a coalescence of unimaginably vast and varied elements, on every level of human life in the natural world. And they aren't clearly defined, like cut glass, but amorphous, shifting, mixed, volatile, like a chemical reaction -- a process, an elan vital, not a fixed property or party platform.
They are, invariably, a movement of the young, although naturally they can spread to touch the lives of all those in the bright penumbra of the moment. But they grow out of and belong to the young, to generations suffocating beneath the silt of the past, the betrayals and failures and deep-rutted inertia of those who came before them. They belong to the young, who can see the world fresh, who haven't "learned" the false lessons of cynicism and conformity and fear, who have nothing to lose and the wide, beguiling expanse of the future to gain. The young, alive with possibility, charged with sexual energy, with the churning, forging fires of chaos and discovery, who have not yet the breath of mortality shiver through their bones. Generations who, for a myriad of reasons, wake up and realize that the world is theirs, to grapple with and shape and push in new directions.
The Occupation movement, which has erupted across the world this year -- and is now spreading through the United States from the epicenter of Wall Street -- is not the Sixties come again. It might, in small part, build upon some of the fragments left by that now long-dimmed eruption -- and others that came before it in history. After all, as the Preacher says, there is nothing new under the sun. But of course to the young, everything is authentically, genuinely, thrillingly new: a leap into the unknown, exhilarating, bewildering, vivid.
Yet whatever it antecedents, the Occupation movement is in essence, and in practice, very much its own thing, its own moment, its own upsurging through the silt into the open air. It will make its own breakthroughs, its own spectacular mistakes, its own many permutations, all formed by the younger generation's unique experiencing of the world -- which older generations can never fully know, having been formed in a different time, under different conditions.
Today, due to the intolerable pressures from the heaped-up follies and failures of the past, the times have been torn open in a special way, and there is now a chance for new energies, new approaches and understandings to pour in. It's time for us, the older generations, to give way to this new energy -- supporting and helping it as far as we are able, but with the realization that it is not ours to direct or shape or scold or instruct. (Young Dylan understood this as well: "Your old road is rapidly fading; please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand.")
We have had our future, but it's over; we have used it up, and, in so many ways, botched and wasted it; the future now belongs to the young. The kairotic moment of the Occupation movement is theirs, to make of it what they can. It won't be easy -- it may be more difficult, even more horrific than anyone can envision, as the powers that be strike back with growing force against this unexpected, leaderless, shape-shifting challenge to the dead hand of their corrupt dominion. The dangers are great; but this moment -- this opening, this rip in time -- is alive with rare promise. A slightly older Dylan presciently limned today's situation well:
"Gentlemen," he said,
"I don't need your organization. I've shined your shoes,
I've moved your mountains and marked your cards.
But Eden is burning: either get ready for elimination,
Or else your hearts must have the courage
For the changing of the guards."
Let's have the courage. Let's lend a hand, stand with the young, and not let them face the dangers alone. Let's go with them down their new road.Add a comment
Simon Jenkins fires a powerful salvo of scorn and spleen to mark the 10th anniversary of the imperial quagmire in Afghanistan. Among the glories and triumphs of this magnificent adventure, Jenkins notes the fact that international agencies are now calling for emergency aid to combat the imminent threat of mass starvation in the liberated land. This is what 10 years, thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars worth of "nation-building" have produced: a broken, brutalized, bankrupt society on the verge of murderous famine.
The whole piece is well worth reading, but here are some highlights:
Ten years of western occupation of Afghanistan led the UN this week to plead that half the country's drought-ridden provinces face winter starvation. The World Food Programme calls for £92m to be urgently dispatched. This is incredible. Afghanistan is the world's greatest recipient of aid, some $20bn in the past decade, plus a hundred times more in military spending. So much cash pours through its doors that $3m a day is said to leave Kabul airport corruptly to buy property in Dubai. ...
The opening decade of the 21st century has been marked by two epic failures by the western powers that so recently claimed victory in the cold war; failures of both intellect and leadership. One is the inability to use the limitless resources of modern government to rescue the west's economy from prolonged recession. The other is the use of an attack on America by a crazed Islamist criminal as an excuse for a retaliatory war embracing a wide swath of the Muslim world. The decade-long punishment of Afghanistan for harbouring Osama bin Laden has been an act of biblical retribution. The demand that it also abandons the habits of history and adopt democracy, capitalism and gender equality was imperial arrogance. ...
The occupation of Afghanistan has been a catalogue of unrelieved folly. America is spending staggering sums on the war, which it is clearly not winning. Congressional studies show virtually no US aid reaches the local economy, most remaining with contractors in the US or going on security or being stolen. Local democracy has failed, as warlords feud with drug lords and tribal vendettas resurface. The "training of the Afghan police and army" has become a dope-befuddled joke. ....
What is strange, as Barbara Tuchman wrote, is not the folly of policy as such but its immunity to correction even when known to be folly. .... As during Vietnam, some wars pass the stage where politicians and generals dare step back and look. Pride, a craving for glory, an aversion to defeat, above all, the institutionalising of the war in its surrounding territory, come to drive strategy. Kabul is occupied by tens of thousands of soldiers, diplomats, NGO officials and contractors. Afghanistan has become a stew of the military/industrial complex, with aid mixed in. ...
The irony of this great folly is that its chief beneficiaries are likely to be those who lost the cold war, Russia and China. As the west's leaders struggle to rescue embattled armies and embattled economies from morasses of their own creation, they have left their old foes laughing with glee. Democracy has snatched defeat from the arms of victory – without a shred of a reason.
Sick drones flying over our heads
Sick drones dropping ten tons of lead
Nobody controls the ghostly machine
Hacked and cracked, they still make the scene
The bombs go off, the babies are dead
Sick drones flying over our heads
War Drones Keep Flying Despite Computer Virus (NYT)