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Reprinted from Truthdig
Smoke and fumes from a 2012 fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., sent 15,000 residents to hospitals or medical offices. Richmond City Council member Gayle McLaughlin, interviewed in the article below, is a vocal critic of Chevron’s effect on
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SANTA ANA, Calif.–All resistance will be local. We will have to dismantle the corporate state, piece by piece, from the ground up. No leader or politician is going to do it for us. Every community that bans fracking, every university and institution that embraces the boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) movement, every individual who becomes vegan to thwart the animal agriculture industry’s devastation of the planet and holocaust of animals, every effort to build self-sustaining food supplies, every protest to halt the use of lethal force by police against our citizens, especially poor people of color, every act of civil disobedience against corporate power and imperialism will slowly transform our society.
Those who rebel, once they rise up, will build alliances with other rebels. This will give birth to a new political expression, one that will be fiercely anti-capitalist and will seek to sustain rather than destroy life. Rebellion will come from the bottom. I do not know if we can succeed. The forces arrayed against us are monstrous and terrifying. The corporate state has no qualms about employing savage and violent repression, wholesale surveillance, the criminalizing of dissent, and its propaganda machine to demonize us all. But I know this: We are the only hope. We are the people we have been waiting for. And if we do not act to save ourselves, the climate crisis and the corporate state that caused it will continue to ravage the ecosystem and human societies until catastrophic collapse occurs. Indeed, we are already frighteningly far down that road.
I recently met here in Santa Ana with Gayle McLaughlin, who served two terms as mayor of Richmond, Calif., a city of 100,000, after being elected to that post as a Green Party candidate, and physician Jill Stein, a Massachusetts resident who was the Green Party presidential nominee in 2012 and now is a candidate for the party’s nomination in the 2016 presidential election.
McLaughlin spent a decade building the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), a party that refuses corporate donations. The RPA formed coalitions with other groups and parties, including the Peace and Freedom Party, and by 2004 it was winning elections. Among the supporters it attracted were many disenchanted members of the Democratic Party.
McLaughlin was elected to the Richmond City Council as a Green Party candidate in 2004 and won a race for mayor in 2006. She served in that office until this year, when she termed out. She is back on the seven-member City Council — which includes two other RPA members — despite the efforts of Chevron, which has a huge refinery in the city and ran Richmond like a company town for decades (it used to keep a desk for a Chevron executive in the city manager’s office). The company poured $3 million into the 2014 City Council campaign in an unsuccessful bid to defeat McLaughlin and the other RPA candidates.
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McLaughlin and the RPA have attempted to turn back the tide of corporate pillage in Richmond. They have doggedly fought Chevron, extracting an extra $114 million a year in taxes. They have stood up for the working poor and the homeless. They have pushed through a law requiring a minimum wage of $13 an hour by 2018. They have denounced the rampant militarism of American society.
McLaughlin and the party, in a program called Richmond CARES (Community Action to Restore Equity and Stability), advocate using eminent domain to purchase or seize homes whose value has fallen below the amount owed on the mortgage. The city would then renegotiate the mortgages with private financial firms to reflect the real value of the homes, reduce mortgage payments and avoid foreclosure. Implementation of the program has been blocked by bank lawsuits and other factors.
The example of Richmond, and cities such as Denton, Texas, where residents organized to ban fracking, illustrates that on the local level, where grass-roots organizing can counter corporate propaganda and money, it is possible to wrest power back.
“The Chevron Richmond refinery is the most productive refinery in the state of California,” McLaughlin said when I met with her and Stein in Santa Ana. “It is in our city’s boundaries. It makes billions of dollars in profits every year while our community suffers from poverty and health issues. We had a major fire [at the refinery] in 2012, and 15,000 [Richmond residents] were sent to local hospitals. We are suing Chevron as a result of that fire. Chevron wants candidates in office who will settle for pennies. It bought up every billboard in town. It spent a lot of money on social media. It sent out high-quality mailers. But the people saw through it. We went door to door [in the 2014 City Council election campaign]. We were at community events. We built on 10 years of hard work. And we defeated them, although we were outspent 20 to 1.”
Nationally, because the United States lacks powerful radical, grass-roots organizations, the hegemony of corporate power is largely unassailable. The Republicans and the Democrats, beholden to corporate money and subservient to corporate power, have effectively conspired to shut out the possibility of a viable third party. Any vote on a national level for third-party candidates — who are locked out of the debates and, because money rules politics, can get little airtime — is largely a protest vote against the system. And while that vote is important, if only to send the message that we will not cooperate, our energy should be spent mostly in pushing back locally against the intrusion of corporations.
“How do you get past the corporate leviathan?” Stein asked. “We’ve all become Richmond, Calif. A hostile corporate force occupies us all. Corporations are polluting our air and our water. They are degrading our jobs or exporting them. They have imposed a massive lockdown, a state of siege for an entire generation.
“But the leviathan is so over-zealous, so heavy-handed and so overfunded that it is beginning to self-destruct,” Stein went on. “We are seeing that in the American national political scene. The pompous buffoons in the Republican debates horrify people. People are clamoring for other options. A recent Wall Street Journal poll shows that 50 percent of Americans no longer identify as being either Democrat or Republican. The system is crumbling from its own internal decrepitude. Our push is to try and help that happen.”
But Stein and McLaughlin concede that the political, economic, environmental and cultural unraveling may also embolden powerful proto-fascist groups, often bankrolled by the most retrograde forces of corporate capitalism. These right-wing groups do what all fascists do — demonize and attack the vulnerable. Undocumented workers, Muslims, African-Americans, homosexuals, liberals, feminists, intellectuals, artists, dissidents and radicals are vilified as the cause of national decay. The Christian right, the tea party, nativists, white supremacists, neo-Confederates and militias celebrating the sickness of gun culture call for internal purges in the name of vengeance, patriotism and moral renewal. Many in the police and other organs of internal security harbor similar sentiments. As those of us who seek the overthrow of the corporate state gain strength, these proto-fascist groups, tolerated or even blessed by the state, will along with the state employ violence against us. Corporate power will not give up its grip easily.
“This is an existential moment we are in,” Stein said. “It is hard not to envision scenarios of self-destruction, including massive homicide and Gaiacide. We are being destroyed by a predatory, occupying corporate force and an economic elite.”
The commercialization and destruction of culture by corporations have, however, handed to dissidents a powerful weapon. No revolutionary movement succeeds until it harnesses the power of its disenfranchised artists and intellectuals and captures the public imagination. Theater, film, music, painting, poetry, fiction, dance and sculpture make ideas felt, as Emma Goldman pointed out. They allow us to reflect on our own reality. They expose systems and patterns of despotic power. They offer alternative visions. They inspire resistance. They hold up the possibility of transcendence. They allow us, in short, to know ourselves, to understand where we come from and where we should go. This dimension of artistic depth is fundamental to resistance. And this is why in all totalitarian states, including our corporate totalitarian state, independent artists are shut out. They are marginalized, silenced, repressed and censored or forced because of economic necessity to use their talents to work on behalf of corporate propaganda and the banal spectacles that dominate mass entertainment. All who deal in the realms of truth, beauty and justice are a threat, but none more so than artists.
“Vision is essential,” McLaughlin said. “We are not only in a political crisis because of the two-party system, because the Democratic Party leads movements into dead ends, but we are in a cultural crisis. We are dominated by corporate culture. We need our artists. They are not valued, especially our working-class artists. In all revolutionary moments there are collaborations between art and politics. There is an intersection of politics and culture, which addresses social ills and also inspires movements. Art can do what political ideologies often cannot.”
The state is acutely aware of our rights, needs, frustrations and aspirations. It manipulates them with appalling cynicism. This is how Barack Obama got elected. And it is why the Democratic Party — which has carried out an economic and political assault against working-men and -women, obsequiously served the demands of the merchants of death that manage empire, assisted in the building of our vast system of mass incarceration, expanded the assault on the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry and revoked most of our civil liberties — tolerates Bernie Sanders. It can force him, in the end, to play by its rules. It will demand that Sanders become its propagandist, which he has agreed to do if he is not the Democrats’ presidential nominee, in the battle with corporate Republicans to control the perks and financial rewards that come with political power.
“The enthusiasm around Bernie Sanders’ campaign is like the enthusiasm around Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign,” Stein said. “And in the Obama campaign, people were betrayed. We have to lift up an alternative, outside a corporate party, that will not be about betrayal.”
“On a national level it is certainly gamed,” Stein said of the presidential campaign. “But there are many purposes that the national race serves. One is to build a structure through which, eventually, circumstances may permit a victory [for progressive change]. This may not be now, but we have to build it. Social change happens because of social movements, but political and electoral movements can help amplify that. It can help fan the flames.”
“If you look at, for example, the labor movement in the U.S. in the early 1900s, there was a proliferation of small independent parties that applied a lot of pressure and gave rise to a national voice in the form ofEugene Debs‘ presidential campaigns,” Stein said.
“When we run for higher office we have to stand outside the two-party system,” said McLaughlin, “but when we do this we have the situation Jill is facing [as a presidential candidate]. We are not getting heard enough. We are not getting into the debates.”
“We need a new third party,” she went on. “We need to connect Greens with other third parties and independently thinking people. We need a reciprocity relationship with movements such as Black Lives Matter.”
All those who stand outside the system to denounce and defy corporate power, marginalized though they are, give us hope. There are rumblings of rebellion that already frighten the corporate state. The corporate state will seek to use all of its resources to funnel us back into its embrace, to attempt to make us believe that the options it offers are the only options. It is time to break free. It is time to refuse to cooperate. It is time to do what is right. If we follow our consciences, if we dismantle corporate power in community after community, perhaps we have a chance.
Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.
Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He also received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2002. The Los Angeles Press Club honored Hedges’ original columns in Truthdig by naming the author the Online Journalist of the Year in 2009, and granted him the Best Online Column award in 2010 for his Truthdig essay “One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists.”
Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City and has taught at Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University. He currently teaches inmates at a correctional facility in New Jersey.
Hedges began his career reporting the war in El Salvador. Following six years in Latin America, he took time off to study Arabic and then went to Jerusalem and later Cairo. He spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the bureau chief there for The New York Times. He left the Middle East in 1995 for Sarajevo to cover the war in Bosnia and later reported the war in Kosovo. Afterward, he joined the Times’ investigative team and was based in Paris to cover al-Qaida. He left the Times after being issued a formal reprimand for denouncing the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.
He has written nine books, including “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009), “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” (2008) and the best-selling “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” (2008). His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. His latest book is “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010)
Hedges holds a B.A. in English literature from Colgate University and a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard University. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, Calif. Hedges speaks Arabic, French and Spanish and knows ancient Greek and Latin. In addition to writing a weekly original column for Truthdig, he has written for Harper’s Magazine, The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, Adbusters, Granta, Foreign Affairs and other publications.
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Sunday, October 4, 2015 (6 comments)
Local Resistance Can Overthrow Our Political Masters We are the only hope. We are the people we have been waiting for. And if we do not act to save ourselves, the climate crisis and the corporate state that caused it will continue to ravage the ecosystem and human societies until catastrophic collapse occurs. Indeed, we are already frighteningly far down that road.
Monday, September 28, 2015 (3 comments)
State Terror Against People of Color The message this violence sends to poor people of color is this: We can kill you and your children with impunity. There is nothing you can do about it. You have no rights. You will never be safe. And if you attempt rise up and resist we will kill you and your children en masse.
Monday, September 21, 2015 (43 comments)
What It Means to Be a Socialist There can be no accommodation with global capitalism. We will overthrow this system or be crushed by it. And at this moment of crisis we need to remind ourselves what being a socialist means and what it does not mean.
Monday, September 14, 2015 (62 comments)
Where is Our Jeremy Corbyn? We have yet to mount this battle effectively in the United States. But we too must work to build a socialist nation. We may not win, but this fight is the only hope left to save ourselves from the predatory forces bent on the destruction of democracy and the ecosystem on which we depend for life. If the forces that oppose us triumph, we will have no future left.
Sunday, September 6, 2015 (42 comments)
The Real Enemy Is Within Militarists and war profiteers are our greatest enemy. They use fear, bolstered by racism, as a tool in their efforts to abolish civil liberties, crush dissent and ultimately extinguish democracy. To produce weapons and finance military expansion, they ruin the domestic economy by diverting resources, scientific and technical expertise and a disproportionate share of government funds.
Sunday, August 30, 2015 (50 comments)
The Great Unraveling Those of us who seek to create a world that has hope of viability have little time left. The neoliberal order, despoiling the Earth and enslaving the vulnerable, has to be eradicated. If we do not remove the ruling elites from power, if we do not overthrow the neoliberal order, and if we do not do it soon, we are doomed.
Sunday, August 23, 2015 (3 comments)
Eulogy for a Friend The highest morality is the morality of kindness. It is higher than a morality based on principles, doctrines or creeds. It is one person reaching out because another is alone, in despair or in distress. Nothing is nobler than a life dedicated to caring for others.
Sunday, August 16, 2015 (22 comments)
Amnesty International: Protecting the “Human Rights” of Johns, Pimps and Human Traffickers Amnesty International has, in essence, legitimized the weapon of male objectification and violence in the war against women. This weapon exists apart from the evils of global capitalism. The fight to end male violence against women has to be integral to those of us who also fight global capitalism. We need the liberation of women and girls, including those who are poor and of color.
Sunday, August 9, 2015 (6 comments)
Evoking the Wrath of Nature We do not have the power to make a new world. We only have the power to destroy or preserve the world we inhabit. We will either recover the sacred or vanish from the Earth. Those who do not respect the force of nature, who do not intimately know and understand its power, are doomed by it. The Native Americans got this right.
Sunday, August 2, 2015 (3 comments)
A Haven From the Animal Holocaust The animals, which receive state-of-the-art medical care and are fed vegan food, roam the pastures unmolested. Cows are not impregnated in order to keep them producing milk. Eggs are not taken from chickens for human use. And all the creatures live out their natural lives liberated from the animal holocaust that defines the animal agriculture industry.
Monday, July 27, 2015 (4 comments)
Why I Support the BDS Movement Against Israel Justice for Palestine will never come from the traditional governmental institutions or political parties that administer power. These institutions have surrendered to moneyed interests. Justice will come only from us. And the sole mechanism left to ensure justice for Palestine is the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Sunday, July 19, 2015 (3 comments)
My Teacher I have always thought of myself as a preacher. This is not a vocation one proclaims openly if he or she works for The New York Times, as I did. Preachers, like artists, care more about the truth than they do about news. News and truth are not the same thing. The truth can get you into trouble.
Sunday, July 12, 2015 (44 comments)
We Are All Greeks Now The corporate dismantling of civil society is nearly complete in Greece. It is far advanced in the United States. We, like the Greeks, are undergoing a political war waged by the world’s oligarchs. No one elected them. They ignore public opinion. And, as in Greece, if a government defies the international banking community it is targeted for execution. The banks do not play by the rules of democracy.
Sunday, July 5, 2015 (5 comments)
Corporate Capitalism Is the Foundation of Police Brutality and the Prison State No discussion of race is possible without a discussion of capitalism and class. And until that discussion takes place, despite all the proposed reforms to the criminal justice system, the state will continue to murder and imprison poor people of color with impunity.
Monday, June 29, 2015 (17 comments)
The Lonely American Corporate propaganda has become so potent that many Americans are addicted. We must leave our isolated rooms. We must shut out these images. We must connect with those around us. It is only the communal that will save us. It is only the communal that will allow us to build a movement to resist.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015 (77 comments)
My hatred of Authority, Along With My Loathing for the Pretensions, Heartlessness, and Sense of Entitlement of the Rich The public’s inability to grasp the pathology of our oligarchic corporate elite makes it difficult to organize effective resistance. Compliant politicians, entertainers, & our vapid, corporate-funded popular culture & news media hold up the elites as leaders to emulate. We are repeatedly assured that through diligence & hard work we can join them. We are taught to equate wealth with success– narratives which veil the truth
Monday, June 22, 2015 (15 comments)
America’s Slave Empire In Alabama prisons, as in nearly all such state facilities across the United States, prisoners do nearly every job, including cooking, cleaning, maintenance, laundry and staffing the prison barbershop. Only a few hundred of Alabama’s 26,200 prisoners — the system is designed to hold only 13,130 people — are paid to work; they get 17 to 71 cents an hour. The rest are slaves.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015 (55 comments)
America’s Electoral Farce Evil lurks within the body politic. It is fueled by an induced ignorance. The specter of meaningless presidential elections caters to this idiocy. Our corporate masters are counting on most of us remaining entranced by the shadows they project on the wall of the cave.
Monday, June 8, 2015 (4 comments)
Thou Shalt Not Kill The military also incentivizes killing. If you do well at marksmanship you get rewarded with three-day passes. You only think about the points you can get from becoming an expert marksman. You don’t think about the act of taking a human life. Those who kill are supposed to be heroes.
Sunday, May 31, 2015 (235 comments)
Karl Marx Was Right Government expenditure accounts for 41 percent of GDP. Corporate capitalists intend to seize this money, hence the privatization of whole parts of the military, the push to privatize Social Security, the contracting of corporations to collect 70 percent of intelligence for our 16 intelligence agencies, as well as the privatization of prisons, schools and our disastrous for-profit health care service.
Sunday, May 17, 2015 (70 comments)
The Pathology of the Rich White Family Drug use, crime and disintegrating families are the result of poverty, not race. Poor whites replicate this behavior. Take away opportunity, infuse lives with despair and hopelessness, and this is what you get. But that is something rich white families do not want people to know. If it were known, the rich would have to take the blame.
Monday, May 11, 2015 (8 comments)
A Nation of Snitches Totalitarian states record even the most banal of our activities so that when it comes time to lock us up they can invest these activities with subversive or criminal intent. And citizens who know, because of the courage of Edward Snowden, that they are being watched but naively believe they “have done nothing wrong” do not grasp this dark and terrifying logic.
Sunday, May 3, 2015 (29 comments)
Make the Rich Panic It does not matter to the corporate rich who wins the presidential election. It does not matter who is elected to Congress. The rich have the power. They throw money at their favorites the way a gambler puts cash on his favorite horse. Money has replaced the vote. The wealthy can crush anyone who does not play by their rules.
Monday, April 27, 2015 (13 comments)
Rise of the New Black Radicals The emerging revolt, although it comes in many colors, speaks many languages and has many belief systems, is united around a common enemy. Bonds of solidarity and consciousness are swiftly uniting the wretched of the earth against our corporate masters.
Monday, April 20, 2015 (15 comments)
Choosing Life The animal agriculture industry is an integral part of the corporate state. The corporate state’s exploitation and impoverishment of workers and its poisoning of the environment, as well as its torture and violence toward animals, are carried out because of the obsession for greater and greater profit.
Monday, April 13, 2015 (16 comments)
For Nader, Defiance Is a Way of Life Nader still writes letters to the powerful, pounded out on his 50-year-old manual Underwood typewriter, but they are rarely answered. That he writes them, that he refuses to surrender and doggedly struggles against all odds for a restoration of American democracy and the rule of law, makes Nader one of the moral and intellectual giants of our age.
Monday, April 6, 2015 (6 comments)
Boycott, Divest and Sanction Corporations That Feed on Prisons The corporate state seeks to reduce all workers at home and abroad to the status of prison labor. Workers are to be so heavily controlled that organizing unions or resistance will become impossible. Benefits, pensions, overtime are to be abolished. Workers who are not slavishly submissive to the will of corporate power will be dismissed. There will be no sick days or paid vacations.
Monday, March 30, 2015 (10 comments)
No One Is Free Until All Are Free The sexual abuse of poor girls and women expands the divide between the predators and the prey, the exploiters and the exploited. And in every war zone, as in every boomtown that rises up around extraction industries, you find widespread sexual exploitation by bands of men.
Monday, March 23, 2015 (4 comments)
Journalism as Subversion Journalism is about communication. It is about information. It is about connecting to your society. It is about a society having a conversation with itself. From this richness, they’ve reduced journalism, as has happened in the United States. It [journalism] is one more revenue stream for a corporation that has 100 other revenue streams.
Monday, March 16, 2015 (31 comments)
The Most Dangerous Woman in America People are infuriated about income inequality, about the pillaging by the big banks. They are burning at the entrenched racial injustice in America. They want a solution to climate change. They are looking for something radically different.” The call for a national party is, in the end, a call to educate. It is a call to put forth a program that offers an alternative to global capitalism.
Monday, March 9, 2015 (25 comments)
The Whoredom of the Left If we accept prostitution as legal, we will take one more collective step toward the global plantation being constructed by our corporate pimps.
Sunday, March 1, 2015 (18 comments)
Tariq Ali: The Time Is Right for a Palace Revolution Tariq Ali: “I can’t see the old way of reproducing a political party of the left, modeled on the Republican and Democratic structures, as working. These people only work with money. They do not even speak with very many ordinary people. It is credit-card democracy. The left cannot and should not emulate this. America is the hardest nut to crack, but unless it is cracked we are doomed.”
Monday, February 23, 2015 (2 comments)
We Kill Our Revolutionaries There are lessons about resistance that apply not only to the 2.3 million Americans who are incarcerated but to a society in which the loss of civil liberties and the creation of the security and surveillance state increasingly mirror the prison state.
Sunday, February 15, 2015 (21 comments)
“Pornography Is What the End of the World Looks Like” The VCR, the DVD and, later, the Internet allowed porn to be pumped into individual homes. The glossy, still images of Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler became tame, even quaint. America, and much of the rest of the world, became pornified. The income of the global porn industry is estimated at $96 billion, with the United States market worth about $13 billion.
Monday, February 9, 2015 (6 comments)
The Terror We Give Is the Terror We Get If ISIS had fighter jets, missiles, drones and heavy artillery to bomb American cities there would be no need to light a captured pilot on fire; ISIS would be able to burn human beings, as we do, from several thousand feet up. But since ISIS is limited in its capacity for war it must broadcast to the world a miniature version of what we do to people in the Middle East. The ISIS process is cruder. The result is the same.
Monday, February 2, 2015 (24 comments)
Malcolm X Was Right About America “It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck,” Malcolm said. “Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody’s blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless.”
Monday, January 26, 2015 (33 comments)
Killing Ragheads for Jesus Kyle justified his killing with a cloying sentimentality about his family, his Christian faith, his fellow SEALs and his nation. But sentimentality is not love. It is not empathy. It is, at its core, about self-pity and self-adulation. That the film, like the book, swings between cruelty and sentimentality is not accidental.
Monday, January 19, 2015 (6 comments)
“You Have a Mother” The Nazi extermination of 12 million people, including 6 million Jews, was a colossal, tragic and absurd waste of human life. I wrote this piece to say that the fierce and protective love of a mother and a father is stronger than hate. It can overcome evil.
Sunday, January 11, 2015 (6 comments)
A Message From the Dispossessed We have engineered the rage of the dispossessed. The evil of predatory global capitalism and empire has spawned the evil of terrorism. Rather than understand the roots of that rage and attempt to ameliorate it, we have built mechanisms of security and surveillance, passed laws for targeted assassinations and torture of the weak, and amassed armies and the machines of industrial warfare to dominate the world by force.
Monday, January 5, 2015 (61 comments)
All Forms of Life Are Sacred A slave has only external value. A slave is a thing. This is what we have done to animals. Animals are property. Animal welfare laws cannot work because they are based on balancing the interests of humans and nonhumans. As long as animals are chattel property the animal owners win.
Monday, December 29, 2014 (19 comments)
The Prison State of America The roughly 1 million prisoners who work for corporations and government industries in the American prison system are models for what the corporate state expects us all to become. And corporations have no intention of permitting prison reforms that would reduce the size of their bonded workforce. In fact, they are seeking to replicate these conditions throughout the society.
Sunday, December 21, 2014 (5 comments)
Banning Dissent in the Name of Civility Our universities, like our corporate-controlled airwaves, are little more than echo chambers for the elites and the powerful. The bigger and more prestigious the university the more it seems determined to get its students and faculty to chant in unison to please its Zionist donors. What the Israel lobby fears most are facts.
Monday, December 15, 2014 (2 comments)
ISIS — the New Israel ISIS is a mortal threat to the House of Saud. It is a open challenge to the religious authority of the Saudi ruling family, which is the custodian of Mecca, the site of the holiest shrine in Islam. It challenges, by anointing Baghdadi as caliph, the right of the Saudis to determine religious doctrine.
Monday, December 8, 2014 (10 comments)
A Society of Captives Police and national intelligence and security agencies, which carry out wholesale surveillance against the population and serve as the corporate elite’s brutal enforcers, are omnipotent by intention. They are designed to impart fear, even terror, to keep the population under control. And until the courts and the legislative bodies give us back our rights–which they have no intention of doing–things will only get worse.
Monday, December 1, 2014 (8 comments)
Alcatraz: A Prison as Disneyland The message was clear: In the United States those in prison deserve it; in foreign lands they are imprisoned unjustly. The Disneyfication of Alcatraz is the equivalent of turning one of Stalin’s gulags into a prison-themed amusement park. Prisons are institutionalized evil. And whitewashing evil is a moral monstrosity.
Monday, November 24, 2014 (31 comments)
Why We Need Professional Revolutionists The revolutionist is a curious hybrid of the practical and the impractical. He or she is aware of facing nearly impossible odds. The revolutionist has at once a lucid understanding of power, along with the vagaries of human nature, and a commitment to overthrowing power. And it is the revolutionist alone who can save us from corporate tyranny.
Sunday, November 16, 2014 (5 comments)
The Last Days of Tomas Young Young hung on as long as he could. Now he is gone. He understood what the masters of war had done to him, how he had been used and turned into human refuse. He was one of the first veterans to protest against the Iraq War. He wrote a poignant open “Last Letter” to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in March of 2013 on the 10th anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Monday, November 10, 2014 (30 comments)
Saving the Planet, One Meal at a Time We can, by becoming vegan, refuse to be complicit in the torture of billions of animals for corporate profit and can have the well-documented health benefits associated with a plant-based diet, especially in the areas of heart disease and cancer.
Monday, November 3, 2014
Joe Sacco: A Bomb in Every Comic Sacco is perhaps best known for marrying his reporting with his graphic art to create serious and important nonfiction books about conflicts in places such as Palestine and Bosnia. And his graphic novels, especially “Palestine,” have introduced a generation to the injustices and suffering inflicted on the Palestinians by Israel.
Monday, October 27, 2014 (20 comments)
The Myth of the Free Press The mass media are plagued by the same mediocrity, corporatism and careerism as the academy, labor unions, the arts, the Democratic Party and religious institutions. They cling to the self-serving mantra of impartiality and objectivity to justify their subservience to power. To effectively disseminate state propaganda the press must maintain the fiction of independence and integrity.
Monday, October 20, 2014 (29 comments)
The Imperative of Revolt Resistance will begin locally, with communities organizing to form autonomous groups that practice direct democracy outside the formal power structures, including the two main political parties. These groups will have to address issues such as food security, education, local governance, economic cooperation and consumption. And they will have to sever themselves, as much as possible, from the corporate economy.
Monday, October 13, 2014 (14 comments)
Chris Hedges: Ordained to Write Three decades ago Chris Hedges sought to become a minister and report the war in El Salvador. A church committee refused to see his work as a journalist as a valid call to the ministry. On Oct. 5 his ordination–marked by addresses from James Cone and Cornel West–finally took place.
Monday, October 6, 2014 (17 comments)
The Trial of Stanley L. Cohen: Justice as Farce Now that the state has codified this judicial lynching, the legal equivalent of pre-emptive war, it will be used on the rest of us, as many activists in the environmental, anti-globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements are discovering.
Monday, September 29, 2014 (17 comments)
Becoming Hezbollah’s Air Force Violence as a primary form of communication has become normalized. It is not politics by other means. It is politics. Democrats are as infected as Republicans. The war machine is impervious to election cycles. It bombs, kills, maims, tortures, terrorizes and destroys as if on autopilot. We have surrendered our political agency and our role as citizens to the masters of war.
Monday, September 22, 2014 (44 comments)
The Coming Climate Revolt If the response of the corporate state is repression rather than reform, then our strategy and our tactics must be different. We will have to cease our appealing to the system. We will have to view the state, including the Democratic Party, as antagonistic to genuine reform. We will have to speak in the language of … revolution.
Monday, September 15, 2014 (4 comments)
Sacrificing the Vulnerable, From Gaza to America Israel’s indiscriminate use of modern, industrial weapons to kill hundreds of innocents, wound thousands more and make tens of thousands of families homeless is not a war. It is state-sponsored terror. The tinder of revolt is piling up. No person or movement can ignite this tinder. No one knows when the eruption will take place. But it is certain that a popular revolt is coming.
Monday, September 8, 2014 (21 comments)
Driving American Politics Underground The squabbles among the power elites, rampant militarism and the disease of imperialism, along with a mindless nationalism that characterizes all public debate, have turned officially sanctioned politics into a carnival act. Politics in the hands of the corporate state is anti-politics. It is designed to denigrate and destroy the values that make a liberal democracy and political participation possible.
Monday, September 1, 2014 (26 comments)
The Last Gasp of Climate Change Liberals The climate change march in New York on Sept. 21, expected to draw as many as 200,000 people, is one of the last gasps of conventional liberalism’s response to the climate crisis. It will take place two days before the actual gathering of world leaders in New York called by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the November 2015 U.N. Climate Conference in Paris.
Monday, August 25, 2014 (27 comments)
How the Brutalized Become Brutal Every criminal has a story. No one, except for perhaps a few psychopaths, wakes up wanting to cut off another person’s head. Murder and other violent crimes almost always grow out of years of abuse of some kind suffered by the perpetrator. Even the most “civilized” among us are not immune to dehumanization.
Monday, August 18, 2014 (31 comments)
Chris Hedges: Rebellion in Ferguson: A Rising Heat in the SuburbsAmid ongoing strife in Ferguson, Mo., civil rights veteran Lawrence Hamm foresees social unrest shifting out of the inner cities that erupted in the 1960s.
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A US Special Forces trainer supervises a military assault drill in Sudan in November 2013. (photo: Andreea Campeanu/Reuters)
26 September 15
ou can find them in dusty, sunbaked badlands, moist tropical forests, and the salty spray of third-world littorals. Standing in judgement, buffeted by the rotor wash of a helicopter orsweltering beneath the relentless desert sun, they instruct, yell, and cajole as skinnier menplayact under their watchful eyes. In many places, more than their particular brand of camouflage, better boots, and designer gear sets them apart. Their days are scented by stale sweat and gunpowder; their nights are spent in rustic locales or third-world bars.
These men — and they are mostly men — belong to an exclusive military fraternity that traces its heritage back to the birth of the nation. Typically, they’ve spent the better part of a decade as more conventional soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen before making the cut. They’ve probably been deployed overseas four to 10 times. The officers are generally approaching their mid-thirties; the enlisted men, their late twenties. They’ve had more schooling than most in the military. They’re likely to be married with a couple of kids. And day after day, they carry out shadowy missions over much of the planet: sometimes covert raids, more often hush-hush training exercises from Chad to Uganda, Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, Albania to Romania, Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, Belize to Uruguay. They belong to the Special Operations forces (SOF), America’s most elite troops — Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs, among others — and odds are, if you throw a dart at a world map or stop a spinning globe with your index finger and don’t hit water, they’ve been there sometime in 2015.
The Wide World of Special Ops
This year, U.S. Special Operations forces have already deployed to 135 nations, according to Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command (SOCOM). That’s roughly 70% of the countries on the planet. Every day, in fact, America’s most elite troops are carrying out missions in 80 to 90 nations, practicing night raids or sometimes conductingthem for real, engaging in sniper training or sometimes actually gunning down enemies from afar. As part of a global engagement strategy of endless hush-hush operations conducted on every continent but Antarctica, they have now eclipsed the number and range of special ops missions undertaken at the height of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the waning days of the Bush administration, Special Operations forces (SOF) were reportedly deployed in only about 60 nations around the world. By 2010, according to theWashington Post, that number had swelled to 75. Three years later, it had jumped to 134 nations, “slipping” to 133 last year, before reaching a new record of 135 this summer. This 80% increase over the last five years is indicative of SOCOM’s exponential expansion which first shifted into high gear following the 9/11 attacks.
Special Operations Command’s funding, for example, has more than tripled from about $3 billion in 2001 to nearly $10 billion in 2014 “constant dollars,” according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). And this doesn’t include funding from the various service branches, which SOCOM estimates at around another $8 billion annually, or other undisclosed sums that the GAO was unable to track. The average number of Special Operations forces deployed overseas has nearly tripled during these same years, while SOCOM more than doubled its personnel from about 33,000 in 2001 to nearly 70,000 now.
Each day, according to SOCOM commander General Joseph Votel, approximately 11,000 special operators are deployed or stationed outside the United States with many more on standby, ready to respond in the event of an overseas crisis. “I think a lot of our resources are focused in Iraq and in the Middle East, in Syria for right now. That’s really where our head has been,” Votel told the Aspen Security Forum in July. Still, he insisted his troops were not “doing anything on the ground in Syria” — even if they had carried out a night raid there a couple of months before and it was later revealed that they are involved in a covert campaign of drone strikes in that country.
“I think we are increasing our focus on Eastern Europe at this time,” he added. “At the same time we continue to provide some level of support on South America for Colombia and the other interests that we have down there. And then of course we’re engaged out in the Pacific with a lot of our partners, reassuring them and working those relationships and maintaining our presence out there.”
In reality, the average percentage of Special Operations forces deployed to the Greater Middle East has decreased in recent years. Back in 2006, 85% of special operators were deployed in support of Central Command or CENTCOM, the geographic combatant command (GCC) that oversees operations in the region. By last year, that number haddropped to 69%, according to GAO figures. Over that same span, Northern Command — devoted to homeland defense — held steady at 1%, European Command (EUCOM) doubled its percentage, from 3% to 6%, Pacific Command (PACOM) increased from 7% to 10%, and Southern Command, which overseas Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, inched up from 3% to 4%. The largest increase, however, was in a region conspicuously absent from Votel’s rundown of special ops deployments. In 2006, just 1% of the special operators deployed abroad were sent to Africa Command’s area of operations. Last year, it was 10%.
Globetrotting is SOCOM’s stock in trade and, not coincidentally, it’s divided into a collection of planet-girding “sub-unified commands”: the self-explanatory SOCAFRICA; SOCEUR, the European contingent; SOCCENT, the sub-unified command of CENTCOM; SOCKOR, which is devoted strictly to Korea; SOCPAC, which covers the rest of the Asia-Pacific region; SOCSOUTH, which conducts missions in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean; SOCNORTH, which is devoted to “homeland defense”; and the ever-itinerant Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC, a clandestine sub-command (formerly headed by Votel) made up of personnel from each service branch, including SEALs, Air Force special tactics airmen, and the Army’s Delta Force that specializes in tracking and killing suspected terrorists.
The elite of the elite in the special ops community, JSOC takes on covert, clandestine, and low-visibility operations in the hottest of hot spots. Some covert ops that have come to light in recent years include a host of Delta Force missions: among them, an operation in May in which members of the elite force killed an Islamic State commander known as Abu Sayyaf during a night raid in Syria; the 2014 release of long-time Taliban prisoner Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl; the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspect in 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya; and the 2013 abduction of Anas al-Libi, an al-Qaeda militant, off a street in that same country. Similarly, Navy SEALs have, among other operations, carried out successful hostage rescue missions in Afghanistan and Somalia in 2012; a disastrous one in Yemen in 2014; a 2013 kidnap raid in Somalia that went awry; and — that same year — a failed evacuation mission in South Sudan in which three SEALs were wounded when their aircraft was hit by small arms fire.
SOCOM’s SOF Alphabet Soup
Most deployments have, however, been training missions designed to tutor proxies and forge stronger ties with allies. “Special Operations forces provide individual-level training, unit-level training, and formal classroom training,” explains SOCOM’s Ken McGraw. “Individual training can be in subjects like basic rifle marksmanship, land navigation, airborne operations, and first aid. They provide unit-level training in subjects like small unit tactics, counterterrorism operations and maritime operations. SOF can also provide formal classroom training in subjects like the military decision-making process or staff planning.”
From 2012 to 2014, for instance, Special Operations forces carried out 500 Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) missions in as many as 67 countries each year. JCETs are officially devoted to training U.S. forces, but they nonetheless serve as a key facet of SOCOM’s global engagement strategy. The missions “foster key military partnerships with foreign militaries, enhance partner-nations’ capability to provide for their own defense, and build interoperability between U.S. SOF and partner-nation forces,” according to SOCOM’s McGraw.
And JCETs are just a fraction of the story. SOCOM carries out many other multinational overseas training operations. According to data from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), for example, Special Operations forces conducted 75 training exercises in 30 countries in 2014. The numbers were projected to jump to 98 exercises in 34 countries by the end of this year.
“SOCOM places a premium on international partnerships and building their capacity. Today, SOCOM has persistent partnerships with about 60 countries through our Special Operations Forces Liaison Elements and Joint Planning and Advisory Teams,” saidSOCOM’s Votel at a conference earlier this year, drawing attention to two of the many types of shadowy Special Ops entities that operate overseas. These SOFLEs and JPATs belong to a mind-bending alphabet soup of special ops entities operating around the globe, a jumble of opaque acronyms and stilted abbreviations masking a secret world of clandestine efforts oftenconducted in the shadows in impoverished lands ruled by problematic regimes. The proliferation of this bewildering SOCOM shorthand — SOJTFs and CJSOTFs, SOCCEs and SOLEs — mirrors the relentless expansion of the command, with its signature brand of military speak or milspeak proving as indecipherable to most Americans as its missions are secret from them.
Around the world, you can find Special Operations Joint Task Forces (SOJTFs), Combined Joint Special Operations Task Forces (CJSOTFs), and Joint Special Operations Task Forces (JSOTFs), Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs), as well as Special Operations Command and Control Elements (SOCCEs) and Special Operations Liaison Elements (SOLEs). And that list doesn’t even include Special Operations Command Forward (SOC FWD) elements — small teams which, according to the military, “shape and coordinate special operations forces security cooperation and engagement in support of theater special operations command, geographic combatant command, and country team goals and objectives.”
Special Operations Command will not divulge the locations or even a simple count of its SOC FWDs for “security reasons.” When asked how releasing only the number could imperil security, SOCOM’s Ken McGraw was typically opaque. “The information is classified,” he responded. “I am not the classification authority for that information so I do not know the specifics of why the information is classified.” Open source data suggests, however, that they are clustered in favored black ops stomping grounds, including SOC FWD Pakistan, SOC FWD Yemen, and SOC FWD Lebanon, as well as SOC FWD East Africa, SOC FWD Central Africa, and SOC FWD West Africa.
What’s clear is that SOCOM prefers to operate in the shadows while its personnel and missions expand globally to little notice or attention. “The key thing that SOCOM brings to the table is that we are — we think of ourselves — as a global force. We support the geographic combatant commanders, but we are not bound by the artificial boundaries that normally define the regional areas in which they operate. So what we try to do is we try to operate across those boundaries,” SOCOM’s Votel told the Aspen Security Forum.
In one particular blurring of boundaries, Special Operations liaison officers (SOLOs) are embedded in at least 14 key U.S. embassies to assist in advising the special forces of various allied nations. Already operating in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Poland, Peru, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, the SOLO program is poised, according to Votel, to expand to 40 countries by 2019. The command, and especially JSOC, has also forged close ties with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency, among other outfits, through the use of liaison officers and Special Operations Support Teams (SOSTs).
“In today’s environment, our effectiveness is directly tied to our ability to operate with domestic and international partners. We, as a joint force, must continue to institutionalize interoperability, integration, and interdependence between conventional forces and special operations forces through doctrine, training, and operational deployments,” Votel told the Senate Armed Services Committee this spring. “From working with indigenous forces and local governments to improve local security, to high-risk counterterrorism operations — SOF are in vital roles performing essential tasks.”
SOCOM will not name the 135 countries in which America’s most elite forces were deployed this year, let alone disclose the nature of those operations. Most were, undoubtedly, training efforts. Documents obtained from the Pentagon via the Freedom of Information Act outlining Joint Combined Exchange Training in 2013 offer an indication of what Special Operations forces do on a daily basis and also what skills are deemed necessary for their real-world missions: combat marksmanship, patrolling, weapons training, small unit tactics, special operations in urban terrain, close quarters combat, advanced marksmanship, sniper employment, long-range shooting, deliberate attack, and heavy weapons employment, in addition to combat casualty care, human rights awareness, land navigation, and mission planning, among others.
From Joint Special Operations Task Force-Juniper Shield, which operates in Africa’s Trans-Sahara region, and Special Operations Command and Control Element-Horn of Africa, to Army Special Operations Forces Liaison Element-Korea and Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula, the global growth of SOF missions has been breathtaking. SEALs or Green Berets, Delta Force operators or Air Commandos, they are constantly taking on what Votel likes to call the “nation’s most complex, demanding, and high-risk challenges.”
These forces carry out operations almost entirely unknown to the American taxpayers who fund them, operations conducted far from the scrutiny of the media or meaningful outside oversight of any kind. Everyday, in around 80 or more countries that Special Operations Command will not name, they undertake missions the command refuses to talk about. They exist in a secret world of obtuse acronyms and shadowy efforts, of mystery missions kept secret from the American public, not to mention most of the citizens of the 135 nations where they’ve been deployed this year.
This summer, when Votel commented that more special ops troops are deployed to more locations and are conducting more operations than at the height of the Afghan and Iraq wars, he drew attention to two conflicts in which those forces played major roles that have notturned out well for the United States. Consider that symbolic of what the bulking up of his command has meant in these years.
“Ultimately, the best indicator of our success will be the success of the [geographic combatant commands],” says the special ops chief, but with U.S. setbacks in Africa Command’s area of operations from Mali and Nigeria to Burkina Faso and Cameroon; in Central Command’s bailiwick from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen and Syria; in the PACOMregion vis-à-vis China; and perhaps even in the EUCOM area of operations due to Russia, it’s far from clear what successes can be attributed to the ever-expanding secret operations of America’s secret military. The special ops commander seems resigned to the very real limitations of what his secretive but much-ballyhooed, highly-trained, well-funded, heavily-armed operators can do.
“We can buy space, we can buy time,” says Votel, stressing that SOCOM can “play a very, very key role” in countering “violent extremism,” but only up to a point — and that point seems to fall strikingly short of anything resembling victory or even significant foreign policy success. “Ultimately, you know, problems like we see in Iraq and Syria,” he says, “aren’t going to be resolved by us.”
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Before the West spreads democracy abroad maybe it could get some for itself. The US is an oligarchy in which government is answerable to six powerful private interest groups. In Europe governments are answerable to the EU, Washington, and private bankers and not to their peoples. In the UK the military brass has declared its hold on the reins of power.
Jeremy Corbyn is the first Labourite to lead the Labour Party in a long time. Considering the stupidity and immorality of the Tories, Corbyn could become prime minister of Britain. Should this occur, Corbyn would shift the budget priorities away from supporting Washington’s wars toward refurbishing the social welfare state that made life for ordinary Britishers more secure and less stressful.
A senior serving general of the British army said that the army would not allow the people to “put a maverick in charge of the country’s security. The Army just wouldn’t stand for it and would use whatever means possible, fair or foul, to prevent that.”
In other words, a democratic outcome unacceptable to the English military will be overthrown. Just like in Egypt.
Here we have the incongruity of Washington and London bringing democracy to others through what Vladimir Putin calls “airstrike democracy,” while tolerating a democracy deficit themselves. The safest conclusion is that democracy is a cloak for an aggressive agenda, not a value in itself to the US and UK elites, who rule and who intend to continue to rule these countries for their personal benefit.
Jonathan Cook reports that the use of “whatever means possible, fair or foul,” against Labour prime ministers who actually stood for the people rather than for the elites is not unique to Corbyn. Labour Prime Minister Harald Wilson faced similar pressure and resigned.
As far as I can tell, not only has democracy departed the Western world, but also compassion, empathy for others, morality, integrity, respect for truth, justice, faithfulness, and self-respect. Western civilization has become a hollow shell. There is nothing left but greed and coercion and the threat of coercion. When I read — hopefully incorrect reports — that Russia’s President Putin desires to be a partner of the West, I wonder why such a powerful country, which has emerged into light out of darkness, wants to be Satan’s partner. I assume that the reports are untrue or that Putin is acting in the interest of humankind to defuse the dangerous situation created by Washington and its NATO sock puppets.
Russia should not forget the courageous speech that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave to the UN on September 20, 2006. Standing at the podium, Chavez said that on the previous day George W. Bush stood here, “Satan himself, speaking as if he owned the world. You can still smell the sulfur.” The purpose of America, Chavez said, is “to preserve the pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.”
Chavez’s words were too much truth for US politicians. Nancy Pelosi, the multimillionaire Speaker of the US House of Representatives, said that such a speech was to be expected from an “everyday thug.”
Elsewhere the response was different. Rafael Correa, currently President of Ecuador, said that Chavez had insulted Satan, because although Satan is evil like Washington, he is at least intelligent, and Washington is completely stupid.
The Western World is on its last legs. Unemployment is horrendous for European and American youth — primarily for the educated. Young American women, driven by student debt, advertise on Internet sites for “sugar daddies” to whom they will supply sex for financial support. The easy answer — “education is the solution” — is a lie. Ph.Ds cannot get jobs, because university budgets are cut in order to save money for wars and bank bailouts and 75% of the remaining budget is used by administrations to pay themselves large salaries and perks. NYU, for example, provides its higher administrative personnel with expensive summer homes. University presidents in America have multimillion dollar incomes, while the students drown in debt.
The Wall Street Mentality — unlimited Greed — has taken over American life, and this greed has been exported to Europe, which had achieved a sharing relationship between labor and capital. Today Europe, like the US, is an opportunity wasteland for the young. Greece has been sacrificed for the private bankers, and Italy, Spain, and Portugal are waiting in the wings. In the place of independent European countries, a fascist centralized authority is rising.
As millions of refugees from Washington and its NATO enablers’ wars seek refuge in Europe, budgets for social welfare are further pressed.
In recent years we have witnessed that private bankers acting through the EU were able to appoint the governments of the allegedly democratic governments of Greece and Italy.
In the Western World the aristocracy of wealth is being re-established. If Russia and China join this “partnership,” then billions of peoples will be ruled by a handful of mega-rich elites.
The world is on the knife edge. The West is lost. Russia and China could go down with the West, because both Russia and China suffered tyranny and look to the West for the paths to freedom and liberty. But Western paths lead to “domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world.”
Will Russia and China participate in the pillage, or will they resist it, standing firm for humanity?
Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan Administration. He was associate editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal, columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor to Gerald Celente’s Trends Journal. He has had numerous university appointments. His book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is available here. His latest book, How America Was Lost, has just been released and can be ordered here.
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Naomi Klein. (photo: Rolling Stone)
29 August 15
or me, the road to This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate begins in a very specific time and place. The time was exactly ten years ago. The place was New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The road in question was flooded and littered with bodies.
Today I am posting, for the first time, the entire section on Hurricane Katrina from my last book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Rereading the chapter 10 years after the events transpired, I am struck most by this fact: the same military equipment and contractors used against New Orleans’ Black residents have since been used to militarize police across the United States, contributing to the epidemic of murders of unarmed Black men and women. That is one way in which the Disaster Capitalism Complex perpetuates itself and protects its lucrative market.
This material is free for reproduction.
From the Introduction:
I met Jamar Perry in September 2005, at the big Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dinner was being doled out by grinning young Scientologists, and he was standing in line. I had just been busted for talking to evacuees without a media escort and was now doing my best to blend in, a white Canadian in a sea of African-American Southerners. I dodged into the food line behind Perry and asked him to talk to me as if we were old friends, which he kindly did.
Born and raised in New Orleans, he’d been out of the flooded city for a week. He looked about seventeen but told me he was twenty-three. He and his family had waited forever for the evacuation buses; when they didn’t arrive, they had walked out in the baking sun. Finally they ended up here, a sprawling convention centre, normally home to pharmaceutical trade shows and “Capital City Carnage: The Ultimate in Steel Cage Fighting,” now jammed with two thousand cots and a mess of angry, exhausted people being patrolled by edgy National Guard soldiers just back from Iraq.
The news racing around the shelter that day was that Richard Baker, a prominent Republican Congressman from this city, had told a group of lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans’ wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: “I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities.” All that week the Louisiana State Legislature in Baton Rouge had been crawling with corporate lobbyists helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and a “smaller, safer city”—which in practice meant plans to level the public housing projects and replace them with condos. Hearing all the talk of “fresh starts” and “clean sheets,” you could almost forget the toxic stew of rubble, chemical outflows and human remains just a few miles down the highway.
Over at the shelter, Jamar could think of nothing else. “I really don’t see it as cleaning up the city. What I see is that a lot of people got killed uptown. People who shouldn’t have died.”
He was speaking quietly, but an older man in line in front of us overheard and whipped around. “What is wrong with these people in Baton Rouge? This isn’t an opportunity. It’s a goddamned tragedy. Are they blind?”
A mother with two kids chimed in. “No, they’re not blind, they’re evil. They see just fine.”
One of those who saw opportunity in the floodwaters of New Orleans was Milton Friedman, grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism and the man credited with writing the rule-book for the contemporary, hyper-mobile global economy. Ninety- three years old and in failing health, “Uncle Miltie,” as he was known to his followers, nonetheless found the strength to write an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal three months after the levees broke. “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins,” Friedman observed, “as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.”
Friedman’s radical idea was that instead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans’ existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions, many run at a profit, that would be subsidized by the state. It was crucial, Friedman wrote, that this fundamental change not be a stopgap but rather “a permanent reform.”
A network of right-wing think tanks seized on Friedman’s proposal and descended on the city after the storm. The administration of George W. Bush backed up their plans with tens of millions of dollars to convert New Orleans schools into “charter schools,” publicly funded institutions run by private entities according to their own rules. Charter schools are deeply polarizing in the United States, and nowhere more than in New Orleans, where they are seen by many African-American parents as a way of reversing the gains of the civil rights movement, which guaranteed all children the same standard of education. For Milton Friedman, however, the entire concept of a state-run school system reeked of socialism. In his view, the state’s sole functions were “to protect our freedom both from the enemies outside our gates and from our fellow-citizens: to preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, to foster competitive markets.” In other words, to supply the police and the soldiers—anything else, including providing free education, was an unfair interference in the market.
In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it ran just 4. Before that storm, there had been 7 charter schools in the city; now there were 31. New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now the union’s contract had been shredded, and its forty-seven hundred members had all been fired. Some of the younger teachers were rehired by the charters, at reduced salaries; most were not.
New Orleans was now, according to the New York Times, “the nation’s preeminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools,” while the American Enterprise Institute, a Friedmanite think tank, enthused that “Katrina accomplished in a day . . . what Louisiana school reformers couldn’t do after years of trying.” Public school teachers, meanwhile, watching money allocated for the victims of the flood being diverted to erase a public system and replace it with a private one, were calling Friedman’s plan “an educational land grab.”
I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, “disaster capitalism.”
Friedman’s New Orleans op-ed ended up being his last public policy recommendation; he died less than a year later, on November 16, 2006, at age ninety-four. Privatizing the school system of a mid-size American city may seem like a modest preoccupation for the man hailed as the most influential economist of the past half century, one who counted among his disciples several U.S. presidents, British prime ministers, Russian oligarchs, Polish finance ministers, Third World dictators, Chinese Communist Party secretaries, International Monetary Fund directors and the past three chiefs of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Yet his determination to exploit the crisis in New Orleans to advance a fundamentalist version of capitalism was also an oddly fitting farewell from the boundlessly energetic five-foot-two- inch professor who, in his prime, described himself as “an old-fashioned preacher delivering a Sunday sermon.”
For more than three decades, Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock, then quickly making the “reforms” permanent.
In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism’s core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as the shock doctrine. He observed that “only a crisis— actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.” Some people stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters; Friedmanites stockpile free-market ideas. And once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the “tyranny of the status quo.” He estimated that “a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not seize the opportunity to act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity.” A variation on Machiavelli’s advice that “injuries” should be inflicted “all at once,” this proved to be one of Friedman’s most lasting strategic legacies.
Disaster Apartheid: A World of Green Zones and Red Zones
During the second week of September 2005, I was in New Orleans with my husband, Avi, as well as Andrew, with whom I had travelled in Iraq, shooting documentary footage in the still partially flooded city. As the nightly six o’clock curfew descended, we found ourselves driving in circles, unable to find our way. The traffic lights were out, and half the street signs had been blown over or twisted sideways by the storm. Debris and water obstructed passage along many roads, and most of the people trying to navigate the obstacles were, like us, out-of-towners with no idea where they were going.
The accident was a bad one: a T-bone at full speed in the middle of a major intersection. Our car spun out into a traffic light, went through a wrought-iron fence and parked in a porch. The injuries to the people in both cars were thankfully minor, but before I knew it I was being strapped to a stretcher and driven away. Through the haze of concussion, I was aware that wherever the ambulance was going, it wouldn’t be good. I had visions of the horrific scene at the makeshift health clinic at the New Orleans airport—there were so few doctors and nurses that elderly evacuees were being left unattended for hours, slumped in their wheelchairs. I thought about Charity Hospital, New Orleans’ primary public emergency room, which we had passed earlier in the day. It flooded during the storm, and its staff had struggled without power to keep patients alive. I pleaded with the paramedics to let me out. I remember telling them that I was fine, really, then I must have passed out.
I came to as we arrived at the most modern and calm hospital I have ever been in. Unlike the clinics crowded with evacuees, at the Ochsner Medical Center—offering “healthcare with peace of mind”—doctors, nurses and orderlies far outnumbered the patients. In fact, there seemed to be only a handful of other patients on the immaculate ward. In minutes I was settled into a spacious private room, my cuts and bruises attended to by a small army of medical staff. Three nurses immediately took me in for a neck X-ray; a genteel Southern doctor removed some glass fragments and put in a couple of stitches.
To a veteran of the Canadian public health care system, these were wholly unfamiliar experiences; I usually wait for forty minutes to see my general practitioner. And this was downtown New Orleans— ground zero of the largest public health emergency in recent U.S. history. A polite administrator came into my room and explained that “in America we pay for health care. I am so sorry, dear—it’s really terrible. We wish we had your system. Just fill out this form.”
Within a couple of hours, I would have been free to go, were it not for the curfew that had locked down the city. “The biggest problem,” a private security guard told me in the lobby where we were both biding time, “is all the junkies; they’re jonesing and want to get into the pharmacy.”
Since the pharmacy was locked tight, a medical intern was kind enough to slip me a few painkillers. I asked him what it had been like at the hospital at the peak of the storm. “I wasn’t on duty, thank God,” he said. “I live outside the city.”
When I asked if he had gone to any of the shelters to help, he seemed taken aback by the question and a little embarrassed. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. I quickly changed the subject to what I hoped was safer ground: the fate of Charity Hospital. It was so underfunded that it was barely functioning before the storm, and people were already speculating that with the water damage it might never reopen. “They’d better reopen it,” he said. “We can’t treat those people here.”
It occurred to me that this affable young doctor, and the spa-like medical care I had just received, were the embodiment of the culture that had made the horrors of Hurricane Katrina possible, the culture that had left New Orleans’ poorest residents to drown. As a graduate of a private medical school and then an intern at a private hospital, he had been trained simply not to see New Orleans’ uninsured, overwhelmingly African-American residents as potential patients. That was true before the storm, and it continued to be true even when all of New Orleans turned into a giant emergency room: he had sympathy for the evacuees, but that didn’t change the fact that he still could not see them as potential patients of his.
When Katrina hit, the sharp divide between the worlds of Ochsner Hospital and Charity Hospital suddenly played out on the world stage. The economically secure drove out of town, checked into hotels and called their insurance companies. The 120,000 people in New Orleans without cars, who depended on the state to organize their evacuation, waited for help that did not arrive, making desperate SOS signs or rafts out of their refrigerator doors. Those images shocked the world because, even if most of us had resigned ourselves to the daily inequalities of who has access to health care and whose schools have decent equipment, there was still a widespread assumption that disasters were supposed to be different. It was taken for granted that the state—at least in a rich country—would come to the aid of the people during a cataclysmic event. The images from New Orleans showed that this general belief—that disasters are a kind of time-out for cutthroat capitalism, when we all pull together and the state switches into higher gear— had already been abandoned, and with no public debate.
There was a brief window of two or three weeks when it seemed that the drowning of New Orleans would provoke a crisis for the economic logic that had greatly exacerbated the human disaster with its relentless attacks on the public sphere. “The storm exposed the consequences of neoliberalism’s lies and mystifications, in a single locale and all at once,” wrote the political scientist and New Orleans native Adolph Reed Jr. The facts of this exposure are well known—from the levees that were never repaired, to the under-funded public transit system that failed, to the fact that the city’s idea of disaster preparedness was passing out DVDs telling people that if a hurricane came, they should get out of town.
Then there was the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a laboratory for the Bush administration’s vision of government run by corporations. In the summer of 2004, more than a year before Katrina hit, the State of Louisiana put in a request to FEMA for funds to develop an in-depth contingency plan for a powerful hurricane. The request was refused. “Disaster mitigation”— advance government measures to make the effects of disasters less devastating—was one of the programs gutted under Bush. Yet that same summer FEMA awarded a $500,000 contract to a private firm called Innovative Emergency Management. Its task was to come up with a “catastrophic hurricane disaster plan for Southeast Louisiana and the City of New Orleans.”
The private company spared no expense. It brought together more than a hundred experts, and when money ran out, it went back to FEMA for more; eventually the bill for the exercise doubled to $1 million. The company came up with scenarios for a mass evacuation covering everything from delivering water to instructing neighbouring communities to identify empty lots that could immediately be transformed into trailer parks for evacuees—all the sensible things that didn’t happen when a hurricane like the one they were imagining actually hit. That’s partly because, eight months after the contractor submitted its report, no action had been taken. “Money was not available to do the follow-up,” explained Michael Brown, head of FEMA at the time. The story is typical of the lop-sided state that Bush built: a weak, underfunded, ineffective public sector on the one hand, and a parallel richly funded corporate infrastructure on the other. When it comes to paying contractors, the sky is the limit; when it comes to financing the basic functions of the state, the coffers are empty.
Just as the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq turned out to be an empty shell, when Katrina hit, so did the U.S. federal government at home. In fact, it was so thoroughly absent that FEMA could not seem to locate the New Orleans superdome, where twenty-three thousand people were stranded without food or water, despite the fact that the world media had been there for days.
For some free-market ideologues, this spectacle of what the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman termed “the can’t do government” provoked a crisis of faith. “The collapsed levees of New Orleans will have consequences for neoconservatism just as long and deep as the collapse of the Wall in East Berlin had on Soviet Communism,” wrote the repentant true believer Martin Kelly in a much-circulated essay. “Hopefully all of those who urged the ideology on, myself included, will have a long time to consider the error of our ways.” Even neo-con stalwarts like Jonah Goldberg were begging “big government” to ride to the rescue: “When a city is sinking into the sea and rioting runs rampant, government probably should saddle-up.”
No such soul-searching was in evidence at the Heritage Foundation, where the true disciples of Friedmanism can always be found. Katrina was a tragedy, but, as Milton Friedman wrote in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, it was “also an opportunity.” On September 13, 2005—fourteen days after the levees were breached—the Heritage Foundation hosted a meeting of like-minded ideologues and Republican lawmakers. They came up with a list of “Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices”—thirty-two policies in all, each one straight out of the Chicago School playbook, and all of them packaged as “hurricane relief.” The first three items were “automatically suspend Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas,” a reference to the law that required federal contractors to pay a living wage; “make the entire affected area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone”; and “make the entire region an economic competitiveness zone (comprehensive tax incentives and waiving of regulations).” Another demand called for giving parents vouchers to use at charter schools. All these measures were announced by President Bush within the week. He was eventually forced to reinstate the labour standards, though they were largely ignored by contractors.
The meeting produced more ideas that gained presidential support. Climate scientists have directly linked the increased intensity of hurricanes to warming ocean temperatures. This connection, however, didn’t stop the working group at the Heritage Foundation from calling on Congress to repeal environmental regulations on the Gulf Coast, give permission for new oil refineries in the United States and green-light “drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” All these measures would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the major human contributor to climate change, yet they were immediately championed by the president under the guise of responding to the Katrina disaster.
Within weeks, the Gulf Coast became a domestic laboratory for the same kind of government-run-by-contractors that had been pioneered in Iraq. The companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar Baghdad gang: Halliburton’s KBR unit had a $60 million gig to reconstruct military bases along the coast. Blackwater was hired to protect FEMA employees from looters. Parsons, infamous for its sloppy Iraq work, was brought in for a major bridge construction project in Mississippi. Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill—all top contractors in Iraq—were hired by the government to provide mobile homes to evacuees just ten days after the levees broke. Their contracts ended up totalling $3.4 billion, no open bidding required.
As many remarked at the time, within days of the storm it was as if Baghdad’s Green Zone had lifted off from its perch on the Tigris and landed on the bayou. The parallels were undeniable. To spearhead its Katrina operation, Shaw hired the former head of the U.S. Army’s Iraq reconstruction office. Fluor sent its senior project manager from Iraq to the flood zone. “Our rebuilding work in Iraq is slowing down and this has made some people available to respond to our work in Louisiana,” a company representative explained. Joe Allbaugh, whose company New Bridge Strategies had promised to bring Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven to Iraq, was the lobbyist in the middle of many of the deals. The similarities were so striking that some of the mercenary soldiers, fresh from Baghdad, were having trouble adjusting. When David Enders, a reporter, asked an armed guard outside a New Orleans hotel if there had been much action, he replied, “Nope. It’s pretty Green Zone here.”
Other things were pretty Green Zone too. On contracts valued at $8.75 billion, congressional investigators found “significant overcharges, wasteful spending, or mismanagement.” (The fact that exactly the same errors as those made in Iraq were instantly repeated in New Orleans should put to rest the claim that Iraq’s occupation was merely a string of mishaps and mistakes marked by incompetence and lack of oversight. When the same mistakes are repeated over and over again, it’s time to consider the possibility that they are not mistakes at all.)
In New Orleans, as in Iraq, no opportunity for profit was left untapped. Kenyon, a division of the mega funeral conglomerate Service Corporation International (a major Bush campaign donor), was hired to retrieve the dead from homes and streets. The work was extraordinarily slow, and bodies were left in the broiling sun for days. Emergency workers and local volunteer morticians were forbidden to step in to help because handling the bodies impinged on Kenyon’s commercial territory. The company charged the state, on average, $12,500 a victim, and it has since been accused of failing to properly label many bodies. For almost a year after the flood, decayed corpses were still being discovered in attics.
Another pretty Green Zone touch: relevant experience often appeared to have nothing to do with how contracts were allocated. AshBritt, the company paid half a billion dollars to remove debris, reportedly didn’t own a single dump truck and farmed out the entire job to contractors. Even more striking was the company that FEMA paid $5.2 million to perform the crucial role of building a base camp for emergency workers in St. Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans. The camp construction fell behind schedule and was never completed. When the contractor was investigated, it emerged that the company, Lighthouse Disaster Relief, was actually a religious group. “About the closest thing I have done to this is just organize a youth camp with my church,” confessed Lighthouse’s director, Pastor Gary Heldreth.
As in Iraq, government once again played the role of a cash machine equipped for both withdrawals and deposits. Corporations withdrew funds through massive contracts, then repaid the government not with reliable work but with campaign contributions and/or loyal foot soldiers for the next elections. (According to the New York Times, “the top 20 service contractors have spent nearly $300 million since 2000 on lobbying and have donated $23 million to political campaigns.” The Bush administration, in turn, increased the amount spent on contractors by roughly $200 billion between 2000 and 2006.)
Something else was familiar: the contractors’ aversion to hiring local people who might have seen the reconstruction of New Orleans not only as a job but as part of healing and re-empowering their communities. Washington could easily have made it a condition of every Katrina contract that companies hire local people at decent wages to help them put their lives back together. Instead, the residents of the Gulf Coast, like the people of Iraq, were expected to watch as contractors created an economic boom based on easy taxpayer money and relaxed regulations.
The result, predictably, was that after all the layers of subcontractors had taken their cut, there was next to nothing left for the people doing the work. For instance, the author Mike Davis tracked the way FEMA paid Shaw $175 a square foot to install blue tarps on damaged roofs, even though the tarps themselves were provided by the government. Once all the subcontractors took their share, the workers who actually hammered in the tarps were paid as little as $2 a square foot. “Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung,” Davis wrote, “where the actual work is carried out.”
According to one study, “a quarter of the workers rebuilding the city were immigrants lacking papers, almost all of them Hispanic, making far less money than legal workers.” In Mississippi, a class action lawsuit forced several companies to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to immigrant workers. Some were not paid at all. On one Halliburton/KBR job site, undocumented immigrant workers reported being wakened in the middle of the night by their employer (a sub-subcontractor), who allegedly told them that immigration agents were on their way. Most workers fled to avoid arrest; after all, they could end up in one of the new immigration prisons that Halliburton/KBR had been contracted to build for the federal government.
The attacks on the disadvantaged, carried out in the name of reconstruction and relief, did not stop there. In order to offset the tens of billions going to private companies in contracts and tax breaks, in November 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress announced that it needed to cut $40 billion from the federal budget. Among the programs that were slashed were student loans, Medicaid and food stamps. In other words, the poorest citizens in the country subsidized the contractor bonanza twice—first when Katrina relief morphed into unregulated corporate handouts, providing neither decent jobs nor functional public services, and second when the few programs that directly assist the unemployed and working poor nationwide were gutted to pay those bloated bills.
Not so long ago, disasters were periods of social levelling, rare moments when atomized communities put divisions aside and pulled together. Increasingly, however, disasters are the opposite: they provide windows into a cruel and ruthlessly divided future in which money and race buy survival.
Baghdad’s Green Zone’s is the starkest expression of this world order. It has its own electrical grid, its own phone and sewage systems, its own oil supply and its own state-of-the-art hospital with pristine operating theatres—all protected by five-metre-thick walls. It feels, oddly, like a giant fortified Carnival Cruise Ship parked in the middle of a sea of violence and despair, the boiling Red Zone that is Iraq. If you can get on board, there are poolside drinks, bad Hollywood movies and Nautilus machines. If you are not among the chosen, you can get yourself shot just by standing too close to the wall.
Everywhere in Iraq, the wildly divergent value assigned to different categories of people is crudely evident. Westerners and their Iraqi colleagues have checkpoints at the entrance to their streets, blast walls in front of their houses, body armour and private security guards on call at all hours. They travel the country in menacing armoured convoys, with mercenaries pointing guns out the windows as they follow their prime directive to “protect the principal.” With every move they broadcast the same unapologetic message: we are the chosen; our lives are infinitely more precious. Middle-class Iraqis, meanwhile, cling to the next rung down the ladder: they can afford to buy protection from local militias, and they are able to pay off kidnappers to have a family member released. But the vast majority of Iraqis have no protection at all. They walk the streets wide open to any possible violence, with nothing between them and the next car bomb but a thin layer of fabric. In Iraq, the lucky get Kevlar, the rest get prayer beads.
At first I thought the Green Zone phenomenon was unique to the war in Iraq. Now, after years spent in other disaster zones, I realize that the Green Zone emerges everywhere that the disaster capitalism complex descends, with the same stark partitions between the included and the excluded, the protected and the damned.
It happened in New Orleans. After the flood, an already divided city turned into a battleground between gated green zones and raging red zones—the result not of water damage but of the “free-market solutions” embraced by the president. The Bush administration refused to allow emergency funds to pay public sector salaries, and the City of New Orleans, which lost its tax base, had to fire three thousand workers in the months after Katrina. Among them were sixteen of the city’s planning staff—laid off at the precise moment when New Orleans was in desperate need of planners. Instead, millions of public dollars went to outside consultants, many of whom were powerful real estate developers. And of course thousands of teachers were also fired, paving the way for the conversion of dozens of public schools into charter schools, just as Friedman had called for.
Almost two years after the storm, Charity Hospital was still closed. The court system was barely functioning, and the privatized electricity company, Entergy, had failed to get the whole city back online. After threatening to raise rates dramatically, the company managed to extract a controversial $200 million bailout from the federal government. The public transit system was gutted and lost almost half its workers. The vast majority of publicly owned housing projects stood boarded up and empty, with five thousand units slotted for demolition by the federal housing authority. Much as the tourism lobby in Asia had longed to be rid of the beachfront fishing villages, New Orleans’ powerful tourism lobby had been eyeing the housing projects, several of them on prime land close to the French Quarter, the city’s tourism magnet.
Endesha Juakali helped set up a protest camp outside one of the boarded-up projects, St. Bernard Public Housing, explaining that “they’ve had an agenda for St. Bernard a long time, but as long as people lived here, they couldn’t do it. So they used the disaster as a way of cleansing the neighbourhood when the neighbourhood is weakest. . . . This is a great location for bigger houses and condos. The only problem is you got all these poor black people sitting on it!”
Amid the schools, the homes, the hospitals, the transit system and the lack of clean water in many parts of town, New Orleans’ public sphere was not being rebuilt, it was being erased, with the storm used as the excuse. At an earlier stage of capitalist “creative destruction,” large swaths of the United States lost their manufacturing bases and degenerated into rust belts of shuttered factories and neglected neighbourhoods. Post-Katrina New Orleans may be providing the first Western-world image of a new kind of wasted urban landscape: the mould belt, destroyed by the deadly combination of weathered public infrastructure and extreme weather.
The American Society of Civil Engineers said in 2007 that the U.S. had fallen so far behind in maintaining its public infrastructure—roads, bridges, schools, dams—that it would take more than a trillion and half dollars over five years to bring it back up to standard. Instead, these types of expenditures are being cut back. At the same time, public infrastructure around the world is facing unprecedented stress, with hurricanes, cyclones, floods and forest fires all increasing in frequency and intensity. It’s easy to imagine a future in which growing numbers of cities have their frail and long-neglected infrastructures knocked out by disasters and then are left to rot, their core services never repaired or rehabilitated. The well-off, meanwhile, will withdraw into gated communities, their needs met by privatized providers.
Signs of that future were already in evidence by the time hurricane season rolled around in 2006. In just one year, the disaster-response industry had exploded, with a slew of new corporations entering the market, promising safety and security should the next Big One hit. One of the more ambitious ventures was launched by an airline in West Palm Beach, Florida. Help Jet bills itself as “the first hurricane escape plan that turns a hurricane evacuation into a jet-setter vacation.” When a storm is coming, the airline books holidays for its members at five-star golf resorts, spas or Disneyland. With the reservations all made, the evacuees are then whisked out of the hurricane zone on a luxury jet. “No standing in lines, no hassle with crowds, just a first class experience that turns a problem into a vacation. . . . Enjoy the feeling of avoiding the usual hurricane evacuation nightmare.”
For the people left behind, there is a different kind of privatized solution. In 2006, the Red Cross signed a new disaster-response partnership with Wal-Mart. “It’s all going to be private enterprise before it’s over,” said Billy Wagner, chief of emergency management for the Florida Keys. “They’ve got the expertise. They’ve got the resources.” He was speaking at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, Florida, a fast-growing annual trade show for the companies selling everything that might come in handy during the next disaster. “Some folks here said, ‘Man, this is huge business—this is my new business. I’m not in the landscaping business anymore; I’m going to be a hurricane debris contractor,’” said Dave Blandford, an exhibitor at the conference, showing off his “self-heating meals.”
Much of the parallel disaster economy has been built with taxpayers’ money, thanks to the boom in privatized war-zone reconstruction. The giant contractors that have served as “the primes” in Iraq and Afghanistan have come under frequent political fire for spending large portions of their income from government contracts on their own corporate overhead—between 20 and 55 percent, according to a 2006 audit of Iraq contractors. Much of those funds have, quite legally, gone into huge investments in corporate infrastructure— Bechtel’s battalions of earth-moving equipment, Halliburton’s planes and fleets of trucks, and the surveillance architecture built by L-3, CACI and Booz Allen.
Most dramatic has been Blackwater’s investment in its paramilitary infrastructure. Founded in 1996, the company has used the steady stream of contracts during the Bush years to build up a private army of twenty thousand mercenary soldiers on call and a massive military base in North Carolina worth between $40 and $50 million. According to one account, Blackwater’s capacity now includes the following: “A burgeoning logistics operation that can deliver 100- or 200-ton self-contained humanitarian relief response packages faster than the Red Cross. A Florida aviation division with 26 different platforms, from helicopter gunships to a massive Boeing 767. The company even has a Zeppelin. The country’s largest tactical driving track. . . . A 20-acre manmade lake with shipping containers that have been mocked up with ship rails and portholes, floating on pontoons, used to teach how to board a hostile ship. A K-9 training facility that currently has 80 dog teams deployed around the world. . . . A 1,200-yard-long firing range for sniper training.”
The emergence of this parallel privatized infrastructure reaches far beyond policing. When the contractor infrastructure built up during the Bush years is looked at as a whole, what is seen is a fully articulated state-within-a-state that is as muscular and capable as the actual state is frail and feeble. This corporate shadow state has been built almost exclusively with public resources (90 percent of Blackwater’s revenues come from state contracts), including the training of its staff (overwhelmingly former civil servants, politicians and soldiers). Yet the vast infrastructure is all privately owned and controlled. The citizens who have funded it have absolutely no claim to this parallel economy or its resources.
The actual state, meanwhile, has lost the ability to perform its core functions without the help of contractors. Its own equipment is out of date, and the best experts have fled to the private sector. When Katrina hit, FEMA had to hire a contractor to award contracts to contractors. Similarly, when it came time to update the Army Manual on the rules for dealing with contractors, the army contracted out the job to one of its major contractors, MPRI—it no longer had the know-how in-house. The CIA is losing so many staffers to the parallel privatized spy sector that it has had to bar contractors from recruiting in the agency dining room. “One recently retired case officer said he had been approached twice while in line for coffee,” reported The Los Angeles Times. And when the Department of Homeland Security decided it needed to build “virtual fences” on the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary of the department, told contractors, “This is an unusual invitation. . . . We’re asking you to come back and tell us how to do our business.” The department’s inspector general explained that Homeland Security “does not have the capacity needed to effectively plan, oversee and execute the [Secure Border Initiative] program.”
Under Bush, the state still has all the trappings of a government—the impressive buildings, presidential press briefings, policy battles—but it no more does the actual work of governing than the employees at Nike’s Beaverton campus stitch running shoes.
The implications of the decision by the current crop of politicians to systematically outsource their elected responsibilities will reach far beyond a single administration. Once a market has been created, it needs to be protected. The companies at the heart of the disaster capitalism complex increasingly regard both the state and non-profits as competitors—from the corporate perspective, whenever governments or charities fulfill their traditional roles, they are denying contractors work that could be performed at a profit.
“Neglected Defense: Mobilizing the Private Sector to Support Homeland Security,” a 2006 report whose advisory committee included some of the largest corporations in the sector, warned that “the compassionate federal impulse to provide emergency assistance to the victims of disasters affects the market’s approach to managing its exposure to risk.” Published by the Council on Foreign Relations, the report argued that if people know the government will come to the rescue, they have no incentive to pay for privatized protection. In a similar vein, a year after Katrina, CEOs from thirty of the largest corporations in the United States joined together under the umbrella of the Business Roundtable, which includes in its membership Fluor, Bechtel and Chevron. The group, calling itself Partnership for Disaster Response, complained of “mission creep” by the non-profit sector in the aftermath of disasters. Apparently charities and NGOs were infringing on their market by donating building supplies rather than having Home Depot supply them for a fee. The mercenary firms, meanwhile, have been loudly claiming that they are better equipped to engage in peace-keeping in Darfur than the UN.
Much of this new aggressiveness flows from the fact that the corporate world knows that the golden era of bottomless federal contracts cannot last much longer. The U.S. government is barrelling toward an economic crisis, in no small part thanks to the deficit spending that has bankrolled the construction of the privatized disaster economy. That means that sooner rather than later, the contracts are going to dip significantly. In late 2006, defence analysts began predicting that the Pentagon’s acquisitions budget could shrink by as much as 25 percent in the coming decade.
When the disaster bubble bursts, firms such as Bechtel, Fluor and Blackwater will lose much of their primary revenue streams. They will still have all the high-tech gear and equipment bought at taxpayer expense, but they will need to find a new business model, a new way to cover their high costs. The next phase of the disaster capitalism complex is all too clear: with emergencies on the rise, government no longer able to foot the bill, and citizens stranded by their can’t-do state, the parallel corporate state will rent back its disaster infrastructure to whoever can afford it, at whatever price the market will bear. For sale will be everything from helicopter rides off rooftops to drinking water to beds in shelters.
Already wealth provides an escape hatch from most disasters—it buys early-warning systems for tsunami-prone regions and stockpiles of Tamiflu for the next outbreak. It buys bottled water, generators, satellite phones and rent-a-cops. During the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006, the U.S. government initially tried to charge its citizens for the cost of their own evacuations, though it was eventually forced to back down. If we continue in this direction, the images of people stranded on New Orleans rooftops will not only be a glimpse of America’s unresolved past of racial inequality but will also foreshadow a collective future of disaster apartheid in which survival is determined by who can afford to pay for escape.
Looking ahead to coming disasters, ecological and political, we often assume that we are all going to face them together, that what’s needed are leaders who recognize the destructive course we are on. But I’m not so sure. Perhaps part of the reason why so many of our elites, both political and corporate, are so sanguine about climate change is that they are confident they will be able to buy their way out of the worst of it. This may also partially explain why so many Bush supporters are Christian end-timers. It’s not just that they need to believe there is an escape hatch from the world they are creating. It’s that the Rapture is a parable for what they are building down here—a system that invites destruction and disaster, then swoops in with private helicopters and airlifts them and their friends to divine safety.
As contractors rush to develop alternative stable sources of revenue, one avenue is disaster-proofing other corporations. This was Paul Bremer’s line of business before he went to Iraq: turning multinationals into security bubbles, able to function smoothly even if the states in which they are functioning are crumbling around them. The early results can be seen in the lobbies of many major office buildings in New York or London—airport-style check-ins complete with photo-ID requirements and X-ray machines—but the industry has far greater ambitions, including privatized global communications networks, emergency health and electricity, and the ability to locate and provide transportation for a global workforce in the midst of a major disaster. Another potential growth area identified by the disaster capitalism complex is municipal government: the contracting-out of police and fire departments to private security companies. “What they do for the military in downtown Falluja, they can do for the police in downtown Reno,” a spokesperson for Lockheed Martin said in November 2004.
The industry predicts that these new markets will expand dramatically over the next decade. A frank vision of where these trends are leading is provided by John Robb, a former covert-action mission commander with Delta Force turned successful management consultant. In a widely circulated manifesto for Fast Company magazine, he describes the “end result” of the war on terror as “a new, more resilient approach to national security, one built not around the state but around private citizens and companies. . . . Security will become a function of where you live and whom you work for, much as health care is allocated already.”
Robb writes, “Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations will be the first to bail out of our collective system, opting instead to hire private military companies, such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, to protect their homes and facilities and establish a protective perimeter around daily life. Parallel transportation networks—evolving out of the time-share aircraft companies such as Warren Buffett’s NetJets—will cater to this group, leapfrogging its members from one secure, well-appointed lily pad to the next.” That elite world is already largely in place, but Robb predicts that the middle class will soon follow suit, “forming suburban collectives to share the costs of security.” These “‘armored suburbs’ will deploy and maintain backup generators and communications links” and be patrolled by private militias “that have received corporate training and boast their own state-of-the-art emergency-response systems.”
In other words, a world of suburban Green Zones. As for those outside the secured perimeter, “they will have to make do with the remains of the national system. They will gravitate to America’s cities, where they will be subject to ubiquitous surveillance and marginal or nonexistent services. For the poor, there will be no other refuge.”
The future Robb described sounds very much like the present in New Orleans, where two very different kinds of gated communities emerged from the rubble. On the one hand were the so-called FEMA-villes: desolate, out-of-the-way trailer camps for low-income evacuees, built by Bechtel or Fluor subcontractors, administered by private security companies who patrolled the gravel lots, restricted visitors, kept journalists out and treated survivors like criminals. On the other hand were the gated communities built in the wealthy areas of the city, such as Audubon and the Garden District, bubbles of functionality that seemed to have seceded from the state altogether. Within weeks of the storm, residents there had water and powerful emergency generators. Their sick were treated in private hospitals, and their children went to new charter schools. As usual, they had no need for public transit. In St. Bernard Parish, a New Orleans suburb, DynCorp had taken over much of the policing; other neighbourhoods hired security companies directly. Between the two kinds of privatized sovereign states was the New Orleans version of the Red Zone, where the murder rate soared and neighbourhoods like the storied Lower Ninth Ward descended into a post-apocalyptic no-man’s land. A hit song by the rapper Juvenile in the summer after Katrina summed up the atmosphere: “We livin’ like Haiti without no government”—failed state U.S.A.
Bill Quigley, a local lawyer and activist, observed, “What is happening in New Orleans is just a more concentrated, more graphic version of what is going on all over our country. Every city in our country has some serious similarities to New Orleans. Every city has some abandoned neighborhoods. Every city in our country has abandoned some public education, public housing, public healthcare, and criminal justice. Those who do not support public education, healthcare, and housing will continue to turn all of our country into the Lower Ninth Ward unless we stop them.”
The process is already well under way. Another glimpse of a disaster apartheid future can be found in a wealthy Republican suburb outside Atlanta. Its residents decided that they were tired of watching their property taxes subsidize schools and police in the county’s low-income African-American neighbourhoods. They voted to incorporate as their own city, Sandy Springs, which could spend its taxes on services for its 100,000 citizens and not have the revenues redistributed throughout the larger Fulton County. The only difficulty was that Sandy Springs had no government structures and needed to build them from scratch—everything from tax collection, to zoning, to parks and recreation. In September 2005, the same month that New Orleans flooded, the residents of Sandy Springs were approached by the construction and consulting giant CH2M Hill with a unique pitch: let us do it for you. For the starting price of $27 million a year, the contractor pledged to build a complete city from the ground up.
A few months later, Sandy Springs became the first “contract city.” Only four people worked directly for the new municipality— everyone else was a contractor. Rick Hirsekorn, heading up the project for CH2M Hill, described Sandy Springs as “a clean sheet of paper with no governmental processes in place.” He told another journalist that “no one in our industry has done a complete city of this size before.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that “when Sandy Springs hired corporate workers to run the new city, it was considered a bold experiment.” Within a year, however, contract-city mania was tearing through Atlanta’s wealthy suburbs, and it had become “standard procedure in north Fulton [County].” Neighbouring communities took their cue from Sandy Springs and also voted to become stand-alone cities and contract out their government. One new city, Milton, immediately hired CH2M Hill for the job—after all, it had the experience. Soon, a campaign began for the new corporate cities to join together to form their own county, which would mean that none of their tax dollars would go to the poor neighbourhoods nearby. The plan has encountered fierce opposition outside the proposed enclave, where politicians say that without those tax dollars, they will no longer be able to afford their large public hospital and public transit system; that partitioning the county would create a failed state on the one hand and a hyperserviced one on the other. What they were describing sounded a lot like New Orleans and a little like Baghdad.
In these wealthy Atlanta suburbs, the three-decade corporatist crusade to strip-mine the state was complete: it wasn’t just every government service that had been outsourced but also the very function of government, which is to govern. It was particularly fitting that the new ground was broken by CH2M Hill. The corporation was a multi-million-dollar contractor in Iraq, paid to perform the core government function of overseeing other contractors. In Sri Lanka after the tsunami, it had not only built ports and bridges but was “responsible for the overall management of the infrastructure program.” In post-Katrina New Orleans, it was awarded $500 million to build FEMA-villes and put on standby to be ready to do the same for the next disaster. A master of privatizing the state during extraordinary circumstances, it was now doing the same under ordinary ones. If Iraq was a laboratory of extreme privatization, the testing phase was clearly over.
OpEdNews Op Eds 8/24/2015 at 15:17:54
By David Swanson (about the author) Permalink (Page 1 of 1 pages)
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From flickr.com/photos/47422005@N04/6997431103/: The police are now largely a danger to those they’ve sworn to protect.
The police are now largely a danger to those they’ve sworn to protect.
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If someone has had the good fortune not to encounter the world of U.S. police and prisons, and the misfortune to learn about the world from U.S. schools, entertainment, and “news” media, a great place to start understanding one of the worst self-inflicted tragedies of our era would be with James Kilgore’s short new book, Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time, followed up by Radley Balko’s longer Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.
Both books tell a story of gradual change over the past half-century that has resulted in the police going to war against people they were supposed to serve (call it a war on crime, a war on drugs, a war on terror, it’s always in fact a war on people). And what do you do with people captured alive during a war? You lock them away as prisoners of war until the war ends. And if the war never ends? Well, then you bring back the death penalty, create life sentences for lots of crimes including for kids, impose mandatory minimums and three-strikes, and transform parole and probation from rehabilitation to reincarceration services.
The story of this gradual change is one of legal changes (court rulings and legislation), behavior, and popular belief — with each of these influencing the other two in a vicious cycle. You can’t quadruple a prison population in 40 years without instituting a different belief system. You can’t ship black prisoners to be guarded by rural whites employed by for-profit companies, or lock up immigrants indefinitely while they await hearings, and not alter the belief system further. You can’t run several successive election campaigns as contests in meanness and not see changes in policy and behavior. You can’t give police military weapons and not expect them to adopt military attitudes, or give them military training and expect them not to want military weapons. You can’t give crime 10 times the coverage on the “news” and not expect people to imagine crime is increasing. You can’t start smashing in doors without alienating the police and the people from each other.
Kilgore reminds us that the popular movements of the 1960s had an impact on popular thought. Opposition to the death penalty peaked in 1965 and was over 50% from 1957 to 1972, dropping to 20% in 1990. In 1977 only 37% of people polled rated police officers’ ethics as high, a number that rose to 78% in 2001 for no apparent substantive reason. As late as 1981 most Americans thought unemployment was the main cause of crime. We’ve since learned of course that crime is caused by evil demonic forces that possess the bad people of the earth.
The creation of the world’s largest ever collection of permanent prisoners of war — a trend that would translate perfectly to the war “on terror” abroad — developed through cycles, including partisan cycles. That is to say, Nixon had a horrible impact, Carter briefly slowed the mad rush to prisonville, and Reagan and Bush built on Nixon’s policies. The war on drugs was created as a means to militarize the police and involve the federal government in more local law enforcement, not the other war around. Reagan’s attorney general announced early on that, “the Justice Department is not a domestic agency. It is the internal arm of the national defense.” The end of the Cold War saw the military looking for new excuses to exist, and one of them would be the war on drugs.
When Clinton came along it again made a difference to have a Democrat in the White House, only this time for the worse. Bill Clinton and his would-be president wife and allies such as would-be president Joe Biden accelerated the march to suburban Siberia rather than slowing it. Under Clinton it became possible to throw people out of public housing for a single drug offense of any kind by anyone in the house. And yet Clinton was never evicted from his public housing despite the near certainty that someone in the White House used some kind of drug. Clinton brought us huge increases in incarceration, war weapons for police, and the shredding of social supports.
When the War on Terra began in 2001 whole new pathways to profit and police militarization opened up, including the beloved Fatherland’s Department of Homeland Security, which has handed out tens of billions of dollars in “terror grants” that fund the terrorizing of the U.S. public. In 2006 the Buffalo, NY, police staged a series of drug raids they called “Operation Shock and Awe.” Adding truly military grade incompetence to meanness, the New York Police Department raided an elderly couple’s home over 50 times between 2002 and 2010 because their address had randomly been used as a placeholder in a computer system and remained in any report that had failed to include an address.
The arrival of Captain Peace Prize at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue continued the trends and added an escalation of the war on immigrants, as well as of the war weapons for the police programs.
But the partisan cycles are more subtle as well. As Balko recounts, Congress members and others opposed police militarization when the president was of the other party and supported it when he was from theirs, or opposed it when the discussion focused on drugs but supported it in matters of gun-control (or vice versa). Yet, each acceptance was two steps forward and each resistance one step back, so that what was outrageous one decade became the norm in the next.
National partisan tides and vicious cycles of ever increasing militarization interacted over the years with local advances. Los Angeles, and the leadership of Darryl Gates, brought SWAT teams to U.S. policing. The name originally stood for Special Weapons Attack Teams and the tactics were literally a bringing of the war on Vietnam home as Gates consulted with the military to learn what was supposedly working in Vietnam.
Let me close with the question with which Balko begins his book: Are police constitutional? The police, prisons, parole, and probation did not exist when the U.S. Constitution was created any more than did drones or the internet. The first thing in the United States like police was the slave patrol. The first modern police force in the United States was begun in New York City in 1845. I’ve argued at length elsewhere that drones are incompatible with the Bill of Rights. What about police?
The Third Amendment grew out of resistance to allowing soldiers to engage in any of the abuses that constitute the work of police. Need we accept those abuses? I think we can at the very least radically reduce them. To do so we will have to declare an end to the wars abroad and the wars at home. Balko quotes former Maryland police officer Neill Franklin on what changing police attitudes will require:
“Number one, you’ve signed on to a dangerous job. That means that you’ve agreed to a certain amount of risk. You don’t get to start stepping on others’ rights to minimize that risk you agreed to take on. And number two, your first priority is not to protect yourself, it’s to protect those you’ve sworn to protect.” But that would mean not being at war with people.
David Swanson is the author of “When the World Outlawed War,” “War Is A Lie” and “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.” He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more…)
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OpEdNews Op Eds 8/25/2015 at 01:35:11
By John Whitehead (about the author) Permalink (Page 1 of 2 pages)
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“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”–Martin Luther King Jr.
There’s an ill will blowing across the country. The economy is tanking. The people are directionless, and politics provides no answer. And like former regimes, the militarized police have stepped up to provide a faÃ§ade of law and order manifested by an overt violence against the citizenry.
Despite the revelations of the past several years, nothing has changed to push back against the American police state. Our freedoms–especially the Fourth Amendment–continue to be choked out by a prevailing view among government bureaucrats that they have the right to search, seize, strip, scan, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation.
Despite the recent outrage and protests, nothing has changed to restore us to our rightful role as having dominion over our bodies, our lives and our property, especially when it comes to interactions with the government.
From youtube.com/watch?v=HjUXtMuurh8: Dashcam Video of Violent Arrest of Sandra Bland Was Edited…Why? Thom Hartmann talks with Ben Norton, Independent Journalist Website: bennorton.com, about the dash cam video recorded during the arrest of Sandra …
Dashcam Video of Violent Arrest of Sandra Bland Was Edited…Why? Thom Hartmann talks with Ben Norton, Independent Journalist Website: bennorton.com, about the dash cam video recorded during the arrest of Sandra …
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Forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies, forced blood draws, forced breath-alcohol tests, forced DNA extractions, forced eye scans, forced inclusion in biometric databases–these are just a few ways in which Americans continue to be reminded that we have no control over what happens to our bodies during an encounter with government officials. Thus far, the courts have done little to preserve our Fourth Amendment rights, let alone what shreds of bodily integrity remain to us.
Indeed, on a daily basis, Americans are being forced to relinquish the most intimate details of who we are–our biological makeup, our genetic blueprints, and our biometrics (facial characteristics and structure, fingerprints, iris scans, etc.)–in order to clear the nearly insurmountable hurdle that increasingly defines life in the United States.
In other words, we are all guilty until proven innocent.
Worst of all, it seems as if nothing will change as long as the American people remain distracted by politics, divided by their own prejudices, and brainwashed into believing that the Constitution still reigns supreme as the law of the land, when in fact, we have almost completed the shift into fascism.
In other words, despite our occasional bursts of outrage over abusive police practices, sporadic calls for government reform, and periodic bouts of awareness that all is not what it seems, the police state continues to march steadily onward.
Such is life in America today that individuals are being threatened with arrest and carted off to jail for the least hint of noncompliance, homes are being raided by police under the slightest pretext, and roadside police stops have devolved into government-sanctioned exercises in humiliation and degradation with a complete disregard for privacy and human dignity.
Consider, for example, what happened to Charnesia Corley after allegedly being pulled over by Texas police for “rolling” through a stop sign. Claiming they smelled marijuana, police handcuffed Corley, placed her in the back of the police cruiser, and then searched her car for almost an hour. They found nothing in the car.
As the Houston Chronicle reported:
“Returning to his car where Corley was held, the deputy again said he smelled marijuana and called in a female deputy to conduct a cavity search. When the female deputy arrived, she told Corley to pull her pants down, but Corley protested because she was cuffed and had no underwear on. The deputy ordered Corley to bend over, pulled down her pants and began to search her. Then”Corley stood up and protested, so the deputy threw her to the ground and restrained her while another female was called in to assist. When backup arrived, each deputy held one of Corley’s legs apart to conduct the probe.”
As shocking and disturbing as it seems, Corley’s roadside cavity search is becoming par for the course in an age in which police are taught to have no respect for the citizenry’s bodily integrity. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that you don’t even have to be suspected of possessing drugs to be subjected to a strip search.
It must be remembered that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was intended to prevent government agents from searching an individual’s person or property without a warrant and probable cause (evidence that some kind of criminal activity was afoot). While the literal purpose of the amendment is to protect our property and our bodies from unwarranted government intrusion, the moral intention behind it is to protect our human dignity.
Unfortunately, the indignities being heaped upon us by the architects and agents of the American police state–whether or not we’ve done anything wrong–don’t end with roadside strip searches. They’re just a foretaste of what is to come.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government doesn’t need to strip you naked by the side of the road in order to render you helpless. It has other methods, less subtle perhaps but equally humiliating, devastating and mind-altering, of stripping you of your independence, robbing you of your dignity, and undermining your rights.
With every court ruling that allows the government to operate above the rule of law, every piece of legislation that limits our freedoms, and every act of government wrongdoing that goes unpunished, we’re slowly being conditioned to a society in which we have little real control over our lives.
Indeed, not only are we developing a new citizenry incapable of thinking for themselves, we’re also instilling in them a complete and utter reliance on the government and its corporate partners to do everything for them–tell them what to eat, what to wear, how to think, what to believe, how long to sleep, who to vote for, whom to associate with, and on and on.
In this way, we have created a welfare state, a nanny state, a police state, a surveillance state, an electronic concentration camp–call it what you will, the meaning is the same: in our quest for less personal responsibility, a greater sense of security, and no burdensome obligations to each other or to future generations, we have created a society in which we have no true freedom.
Government surveillance, police abuse, SWAT team raids, economic instability, asset forfeiture schemes, pork barrel legislation, militarized police, drones, endless wars, private prisons, involuntary detentions, biometrics databases, free speech zones, etc.: these are mile markers on the road to a fascist state where citizens are treated like cattle, to be branded and eventually led to the slaughterhouse.
If there is any hope to be found it will be found in local, grassroots activism. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., it’s time for “militant nonviolent resistance.”
First, however, Americans must break free of the apathy-inducing turpor of politics, entertainment spectacles and manufactured news. Only once we are free of the chains that bind us–or to be more exact, the chains that “blind” us–can we become actively aware of the injustices taking place around us and demand freedom of our oppressors.
John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead’s aggressive, pioneering approach to civil liberties has earned him numerous accolades and (more…)
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When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. announced his strong opposition to the war in Vietnam, the media attacked him for straying outside of his civil rights mandate. In so many words, powerful interests told him: “Mind your own business.” In fact, African American leaders have long been concerned with broad issues of peace and justice—and have especially opposed nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, this activism is left out of mainstream corporate-produced history textbooks.
On June 6, 1964, three Japanese writers and a group of hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) arrived in Harlem as part of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki World Peace Study Mission. Their mission: to speak out against nuclear proliferation.
Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American activist, organized a reception for the hibakusha at her home in the Harlem Manhattanville Housing Projects, with her friend Malcolm X. Malcolm said, “You have been scarred by the atom bomb. You just saw that we have also been scarred. The bomb that hit us was racism.” He went on to discuss his years in prison, education, and Asian history. Turning to Vietnam, Malcolm said, “If America sends troops to Vietnam, you progressives should protest.” He argued that “the struggle of Vietnam is the struggle of the whole Third World: the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism.” Malcolm X, like so many before him, consistently connected colonialism, peace, and the Black freedom struggle. Yet, students have rarely heard this story.
With the recent developments in Charleston surrounding the Confederate flag, there is a renewed focus on what should be included in U.S. history textbooks and who should determine the content. Focusing on African American history, too often textbooks reduce the Black freedom movement to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. Rosa Parks and Dr. King are put in their neat categorical boxes and students are never taught the Black freedom struggle’s international dimensions, viewing slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement as purely domestic phenomena unrelated to foreign affairs. However, Malcolm X joined a long list of African Americans who, from 1945 onward, actively supported nuclear disarmament. W. E. B. Du Bois, Bayard Rustin, Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Black Panther Party were just a few of the many African Americans who combined civil rights with peace, and thus broadened the Black freedom movement and helped define it in terms of global human rights.
If students learn about Du Bois at all, it is usually that he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) or that he received a PhD from Harvard. However, a few weeks after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Du Bois likened President Truman to Adolph Hitler, calling him “one of the greatest killers of our day.” He had traveled to Japan and consistently criticized the use of nuclear weapons. In the 1950s, fearing another Hiroshima in Korea, Du Bois led the effort in the Black community to eliminate nuclear weapons with the “Ban the Bomb” petition. Many students go through their entire academic careers and learn nothing of Du Bois’ work in the international arena.
If students ever hear the name Bayard Rustin, it is usually related to his work with theMarch on Washington. He has been tragically marginalized in U.S. history textbooks, in large part because of his homosexuality. However, Rustin’s body of work in civil rights and peace activism dates back to the 1930s. In 1959, during the Civil Rights Movement, Rustin not only fought institutional racism in the United States, but also traveled to Ghana to try to prevent France from testing its first nuclear weapon in Africa.
These days, some textbooks acknowledge Dr. King’s critique of the Vietnam War. However, King’s actions against nuclear weapons began a full decade earlier in the late 1950s. From 1957 until his death, through speeches, sermons, interviews, and marches, King consistently protested the use of nuclear weapons and war. King called for an end to nuclear testing asking, “What will be the ultimate value of having established social justice in a context where all people, Negro and White, are merely free to face destruction by Strontium-90 or atomic war?” Following the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, King called on the government to take some of the billions of dollars spent on nuclear weapons and use those funds to increase teachers’ salaries and build much needed schools in impoverished communities. Two years later, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, King argued the spiritual and moral lag in our society was due to three problems: racial injustice, poverty, and war. He warned that in the nuclear age, society must eliminate racism or risk annihilation.
Dr. King’s wife largely inspired his antinuclear stance. Coretta Scott King began her activism as a student at Antioch College. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, King worked with various peace organizations, and along with a group of female activists, began pressuring President Kennedy for a nuclear test ban. In 1962, Coretta King served as a delegate for Women Strike for Peace at a disarmament conference in Geneva that was part of a worldwide effort to push for a nuclear test ban treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. Upon her return, King spoke at AME church in Chicago, saying: “We are on the brink of destroying ourselves through nuclear warfare . . . . The Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement must work together ultimately because peace and civil rights are part of the same problem.”
Soon, we will commemorate the 70th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not long after comes the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Students will then return to school and to their history textbooks. However, most will not learn how these issues are connected. They will not learn of all those in the Civil Rights Movement who simultaneously fought for peace. But this must change, and soon. The scarring of war and poverty and racism that Malcolm X spoke of continues. It’s time that students learn about the long history of activism that has challenged these deadly triplets.
OpEdNews Op Eds 7/27/2015 at 12:19:20
By Ralph Nader (about the author) Permalink (Page 1 of 2 pages)
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With the long congressional recess in August through Labor Day approaching, “We the People” have the opportunity to do more than complain about the Congress and individual Senators and Representatives.
There are many issues affecting you and your communities that need to be addressed by members of Congress. Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult to reach the legislators in Washington, DC and when they return to their districts and states, they often only attend public events and ceremonies where they do little more than shake hands and smile.
From flickr.com/photos/34166194@N00/2913127324/: Ralph Nader grabs the mic
Ralph Nader grabs the mic
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The diminishing number of in-person town meetings by members of Congress are often stacked and controlled. The locations, attendees, and even sometimes pre-screened questions fail to provide citizens an opportunity to make their case to their legislators. Politicians crave predictability; they are control freaks.
So what happened to your votes and your trust in your elected representatives? They were nullified and replaced with ungrateful politicians who have forgotten that the authority lies with the people.Our five hundred and thirty-five Senators and Representatives need to be reminded that they were sent to Washington, DC by voters back home who entrusted them with the well-being of their communities and country. Many of these lawmakers then become indentured to corporate campaign cash that they must constantly beg for, often compromising with what is in the best interest of their constituents. For all this corporate campaign cash, these corporations want something in return — government contracts, giveaways, tax loopholes, weak corporate law enforcement, and other privileges and immunities, especially for giant multinational corporations that have tightened their grips of crony capitalism on Washington.
It is time, during this August recess, for “We the People” to shake up the Congress and shake up the politics across the land. If anyone is skeptical of this possibility, they should recall August 2009 when the Tea Party noisily filled the seats of some town meetings called by Senators and Representatives in a Congress run by the Democrats. That is how the Tea Party movement came to public visibility, with the daily help of Fox News.
After that experience, many members of Congress were forced to reevaluate the power and influence of Town Meetings.
My proposal of a Citizens Summons can begin the process of showing your elected legislators who is truly in charge, as befits the Preamble to the Constitution — “We the People.” I am including below a draft Citizens Summons to your Senators or Representative. It covers the main derelictions of the Congress, under which you can add more examples of necessary reforms.
Your task is to start collecting signatures of citizens, members of citizen groups, labor unions, and any other associations that want a more deliberative democracy. The ultimate objective is to reduce inequalities of power.
Shifting power from the few to the many prevents the gross distortions of our Constitution and laws, our public budgets, and our commonwealth, that currently favor the burgeoning corporate state.
May you give your lawmakers a memorable August recess; they deserve to be shown the workings of what our founding fathers called “the sovereignty of the people.”
The Citizens Summons to a Member of the Congress:
Whereas, the Congress has tolerated the expansion of an electoral process, corrupted by money, that nullifies our votes and commercializes both congressional elections and subsequent legislation, creating a Congress that is chronically for sale;
Whereas, the Congress has repeatedly supported or opposed legislation and diverted the taxpayer dollars to favor the crassest of corporate interests to the serious detriment of the American people, their necessities, and their public facilities — such as access to safer consumer products, health care, and other basic social safety services. It has opposed raising the inflation-ravaged minimum wage and fair taxation, allowed endemic waste, fraud, and abuse by contractors, and authorized massive corporate welfare subsidies and giveaways;
Whereas, the Congress has narrowed or blocked access to justice by millions of Americans, leaving them unprotected and defenseless in many serious ways, while giving business corporations preferential treatments and allowing them full access to influence the three branches of government;
Whereas, the Congress has imposed trade treaty despotisms over our democratic institutions — the courts, legislatures, and executive departments and agencies — subordinating our domestic branches of government’s abilities to preserve and enhance labor, consumer, and environmental standards to the domination of global commerce’s “bottom line” and endorsed the usurpation of our judicial process by secret tribunals under the WTO, and other similar invasions of U.S. sovereignty;
Whereas, the access to members of Congress has increased for corporate lobbyists and decreased for ordinary citizens, Therefore, the citizens of the [INSERT state (for Senators) or the congressional district (for Representatives)] hereby Summon you to a town meeting(s) during the August recess (ending September 7, 2015) at a place of known public convenience. Your constituents will establish an agenda of how Congress should shift long overdue power from the few to the many, both in substantive policy and through the strengthening of government and civic institutions;
We deem this Summons to be taken with the utmost seriousness as we gain grassroots support throughout your congressional district (or state for Senators). We expect to hear from you expeditiously so that the necessary planning for our town meeting can take place. This Peoples’ Town Meeting reflects the Preamble to the Constitution that starts with “We the People” and the supremacy of the sovereignty of the people over elected representatives and corporate entities;
Be advised that this Summons calls for your attendance at a Town Meeting run by, of, and for the People. Please reserve a minimum of two hours for this serious exercise of deliberative democracy.
The names of citizens and citizen groups
(For any additional questions about this proposal, send an email to info at nader.org
Ralph Nader is one of America’s most effective social critics. Named by The Atlantic as one of the 100 most influential figures in American history, and by Time and Life magazines as one of (more…)
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Three recent stories in the news nicely sum it up: the world’s one-time sole surviving superpower is in decline. The cause is a sickness. It’s not a disease of the skin, to coin a phrase. No, we’re talking about a disease of the heart – the heart and soul, that is, of a society.
There’s no better way to get to the core of what ails U.S. America than through the experience of ordinary people – in other words, the very individuals who personify the existential rationale for “democracy” – the Greek word “demos” means populace or the common people. In theory, RaDonna Kuekelhan and her sister, Cathy O’Mara, who live in a small town in southeast Kansas, are just the kind of people who stand to benefit the most from a democratic form of government, or even an indirect democracy in which people like RaDonna and Cathy vote for other people to represent them in a rule-making body called a legislature. But, as RaDonna and millions of others in U.S. America are discovering, the deep and widening gulf between theory and practice is not only bad for working-class folks, but also potentially fatal.
Hyperbole, you say? Left-wing propaganda? Fear-mongering? If you think so you probably haven’t read the story (“Life and Death in Brownback’s Kansas”) featured in the June 2 issue of The Nation magazine. It’s hard reading because RaDonna is dying. What makes it even harder is that it didn’t have to be that way. The reason it happened goes to the core of what’s wrong with Kansas – and the country that has forsaken people like RaDonna.
Exactly what kind of people are RaDonna and her sister? RaDonna is “a stout, white-haired 59-year-old who’s proudly willful, and she has cheated death twice before.” RaDonna lost her job at Emerson Electric making motors for small appliances, when the factory shut down. She had worked there for two decades.
When RaDonna’s job was taken away, she lost her health insurance. During that time she also battled cancer, a battle that entailed 35 rounds of radiation and, of course, a great deal of mental agony, to say nothing of the physical suffering.
The cancer returned in 2010, which just happened to be the same year President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. It was RaDonna’s salvation – almost.
What happened to RaDonna assumes a human form: Governor Sam Brownback and a Jurassic-Republican juggernaut otherwise known the Kansas legislature. The context reads like the predicate to a parable:
In 2010, as RaDonna grew ill, 16 percent of Americans had no coverage; in Montgomery County, RaDonna’s home, the uninsured rate was nearly 22 percent. Few of these people qualified for Medicaid, the national program designed to insure poor people, because Kansas has…one of the more restrictive programs in the country…working parents couldn’t earn more than…$5,859 a year for a family of three. Childless adults like RaDonna didn’t qualify no matter how little they took home.
But then came the Affordable Care Act (ACA), “which promised a massive nationwide expansion of Medicaid.”
States were asked to open…[health insurance exchanges] to all adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or just about $27,000 a year for a family of three. In return, Washington would pay the full costs of new enrollees through 2016 and 90 percent from 2020 forward. It would be hard to overstate the magnitude of this change. It was arguably the largest expansion of an anti-poverty program since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, when Medicaid was created—and it could very well have saved RaDonna’s life.
When in 2011 Sam Brownback, having fought Medicaid expansion, gave the federal grant money ($31.5 million) his financially distressed state had gotten for health care reform back to Washington (!), he was reacting to reactionaries in his own party and serving notice of his intent not to implement the ACA on his watch.
In 2012, the Supreme Court opened the door for states to refuse set up health insurance exchanges – in other words, not to play nicely. Roughly two-dozen red states are opting out of the ACA. Kansas is one of them.
There’s no point in questioning the Governor’s motives: he bears no ill will toward RaDonna or any other fellow Kansans facing a similar fate. He’s just doing his job as he sees fit. But by refusing to set up a state health exchange he unwittingly signed RaDonna’s death warrant.
And that, Virginia, is what we call tragedy.
It so happens that about the same time as the “Life and Death” story appeared, a prominent journalist named Thomas B. Edsall published a piecein the New York Times posing this simple but elegant question: How Do We Get More People to Have Good Lives?
The search for an answer begins, not surprisingly, with education policy and the role of education in fostering a society conducive to success for the greatest possible number. “It has been widely recognized,” Edsall observes, “that the premium on cognitive skills stems from the shift to a knowledge-based economy driven by the decline in manufacturing employment, the growth of the technology and financial sectors, and labor recruitment from a global talent pool.”
The “decline in manufacturing employment” and “labor recruitment from a global talent pool” (a euphemism for off-shoring, outsourcing, and the trend toward replacing human factory workers with robots) explains what happened to RaDonna’s job – and her health insurance.
What is the root cause of the desperate straits so many decent, hard-working people like RaDonna Kuekelhan face? Edsall cites several empirical studies that find a close correlation between income levels and educational achievement manifested in “high order” cognitive skills necessary to compete and succeed in today’s job market. This is a not a problem “we can expect even the best teachers to single-handedly remediate. Whatever you think of the educational reform movement — in its charter-school form or its district-takeover form — the forces contributing to contemporary class stratification are beyond the reach of the classroom alone.”
The most recent New York Times/CBS poll finds that most people (nearly 60 percent) want government to work harder to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor: “Only one-third of Republicans supported a more active government role, versus eight in 10 of Democrats.” Another finding is more surprising: “Far from a strictly partisan issue, inequality looms large in the minds of almost half of Republicans and two-thirds of independents, suggesting that it will outlive the presidential primary contests and become a central theme in next year’s general election campaign.” Meanwhile, people who think the system is rigged in favor of the rich now outnumber people who believe everyone has a fair chance in today’s economy (17 percent fewer than in early 2014).
Taken together, these three stories point to the symptoms of what’s causing this nation’s decline. Unemployment, outsourcing and offshoring, gross economic inequality, low wages, random benefits, weak unions, rising health care costs, and a badly torn social safety net. The causes are complex but surely the corrupting effects of unlimited campaign contributions, corporate control of the mainstream media, and massive lobbying efforts in Washington are a big part of The Problem.
Time alone will tell whether or not the illness is fatal, but there is no question that what’s the matter with Kansas is also what’s ailing the nation.