The Prison State of America December 30, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Labor.
Tags: cca, chris hedges, civil liberties, corrections corporation, Criminal Justice, new jersey prisons, prison industrial, prison industry, prison labor, prison privatization, prison state, prison wages, private prisons, roger hollander, slave labor
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Roger’s note: Some twenty odd years ago I traveled to Munich, Germany and took the opportunity to visit, with my daughter and infant granddaughter, the Dachau Concentration Camp. We took a short train ride from Munich to the small quaint Bavarian town of Dachau, and a walk from the town took us to the Camp, which has been turned into a museum, with most of its original facilities intact. It is impossible not to ask the question: how could the people of Dachau not known of the systematic murder that was going on a stone’s throw from their village? I have read that when the Allied forces liberated Dachau, they took the townspeople to the Camp to show them what was going on almost literally under their eyes. Some responded that they had noticed a strange burning odor, but had no idea what it was (!).
Of course, this was true not only of Dachau, but also of dozens of other German and Polish towns around which were located the various death factories and slave labor factories.
I don’t think it is far fetched to ask the same kinds of questions about what Americans know with respect to the myriad atrocities that are being committed by their government, with their tax dollars, and in their name. The truth abut the barbaric torture of recent years is finally seeping out to the mainstream, not that the current government under Barack Obama is going to do anything about it. As well, it may not be generally known, but the fact of the thousands of civilians killed by drone missiles in several Islamic countries is well documented in various mostly alternative news sources, largely on the Internet and available to anyone who cares to investigate.
This brings me to the question of the Prison Industrial Complex as reported in the article below. The author doesn’t go deeply into the torturous brutality of systematic solitary confinement, rather he concentrates on the increasingly abusive reality of prisoner slave labor in the context of our voracious and inhuman capitalist economy. If you are like me, you will ache with sorrow and indignant anger when you read the details.
And I wonder if some day, when the sorry state of American neo-Fascism is finally brought to account, will we be asking the question of what the American people knew of their government’s various atrocities; and probing further to uncover those in the corporate, media and government spheres, who were criminally responsible for obfuscating the ugly truth.
Dec 28, 2014
By Chris Hedges
Prisons employ and exploit the ideal worker. Prisoners do not receive benefits or pensions. They are not paid overtime. They are forbidden to organize and strike. They must show up on time. They are not paid for sick days or granted vacations. They cannot formally complain about working conditions or safety hazards. If they are disobedient, or attempt to protest their pitiful wages, they lose their jobs and can be sent to isolation cells. 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.
States, in the name of austerity, have stopped providing prisoners with essential items including shoes, extra blankets and even toilet paper, while starting to charge them for electricity and room and board. Most prisoners and the families that struggle to support them are chronically short of money. Prisons are company towns. Scrip, rather than money, was once paid to coal miners, and it could be used only at the company store. Prisoners are in a similar condition. When they go broke—and being broke is a frequent occurrence in prison—prisoners must take out prison loans to pay for medications, legal and medical fees and basic commissary items such as soap and deodorant. Debt peonage inside prison is as prevalent as it is outside prison.
States impose an array of fees on prisoners. For example, there is a 10 percent charge imposed by New Jersey on every commissary purchase. Stamps have a 10 percent surcharge. Prisoners must pay the state for a 15-minute deathbed visit to an immediate family member or a 15-minute visit to a funeral home to view the deceased. New Jersey, like most other states, forces a prisoner to reimburse the system for overtime wages paid to the two guards who accompany him or her, plus mileage cost. The charge can be as high as $945.04. It can take years to pay off a visit with a dying father or mother.
Fines, often in the thousands of dollars, are assessed against many prisoners when they are sentenced. There are 22 fines that can be imposed in New Jersey, including the Violent Crime Compensation Assessment (VCCB), the Law Enforcement Officers Training & Equipment Fund (LEOT) and Extradition Costs (EXTRA). The state takes a percentage each month out of prison pay to pay down the fines, a process that can take decades. If a prisoner who is fined $10,000 at sentencing must rely solely on a prison salary he or she will owe about $4,000 after making payments for 25 years. Prisoners can leave prison in debt to the state. And if they cannot continue to make regular payments—difficult because of high unemployment—they are sent back to prison. High recidivism is part of the design.
Corporations have privatized most of the prison functions once handled by governments. They run prison commissaries and, since the prisoners have nowhere else to shop, often jack up prices by as much as 100 percent. Corporations have taken over the phone systems and charge exorbitant fees to prisoners and their families. They grossly overcharge for money transfers from families to prisoners. And these corporations, some of the nation’s largest, pay little more than a dollar a day to prison laborers who work in for-profit prison industries. Food and merchandise vendors, construction companies, laundry services, uniforms companies, prison equipment vendors, cafeteria services, manufacturers of pepper spray, body armor and the array of medieval instruments used for the physical control of prisoners, and a host of other contractors feed like jackals off prisons. Prisons, in America, are a hugely profitable business.Our prison-industrial complex, which holds 2.3 million prisoners, or 25 percent of the world’s prison population, makes money by keeping prisons full. It demands bodies, regardless of color, gender or ethnicity. As the system drains the pool of black bodies, it has begun to incarcerate others. Women—the fastest-growing segment of the prison population—are swelling prisons, as are poor whites in general, Hispanics and immigrants. Prisons are no longer a black-white issue. Prisons are a grotesque manifestation of corporate capitalism. Slavery is legal in prisons under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. …” And the massive U.S. prison industry functions like the forced labor camps that have existed in all totalitarian states.
Corporate investors, who have poured billions into the business of mass incarceration, expect long-term returns. And they will get them. It is their lobbyists who write the draconian laws that demand absurdly long sentences, deny paroles, determine immigrant detention laws and impose minimum-sentence and three-strikes-out laws (mandating life sentences after three felony convictions). The politicians and the courts, subservient to corporate power, can be counted on to protect corporate interests.
Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest owner of for-profit prisons and immigration detention facilities in the country, had revenues of $1.7 billion in 2013 and profits of $300 million. CCA holds an average of 81,384 inmates in its facilities on any one day. Aramark Holdings Corp., a Philadelphia-based company that contracts through Aramark Correctional Services to provide food to 600 correctional institutions across the United States, was acquired in 2007 for $8.3 billion by investors that included Goldman Sachs.
The three top for-profit prison corporations spent an estimated $45 million over a recent 10-year period for lobbying that is keeping the prison business flush. The resource center In the Public Interest documented in its report “Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and ‘Low-Crime Taxes’ Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations” that private prison companies often sign state contracts that guarantee prison occupancy rates of 90 percent. If states fail to meet the quota they have to pay the corporations for the empty beds.
CCA in 2011 gave $710,300 in political contributions to candidates for federal or state office, political parties and so-called 527 groups (PACs and super PACs), the American Civil Liberties Union reported. The corporation also spent $1.07 million lobbying federal officials plus undisclosed sums to lobby state officials, according to the ACLU. CCA, through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), also lobbies legislators to impose harsher detention laws at the state and federal levels. The ALEC helped draft Arizona’s cruel anti-immigrant law SB 1070.
The United States, from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent, according to statistics gathered by the ACLU. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the ACLU report notes, says for-profit companies presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent of all state prisoners. Private prisons account for nearly all newly built prisons. And nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are shipped to for-profit prisons, according to Detention Watch Network.
But corporate profit is not limited to building and administering prisons. Whole industries now rely almost exclusively on prison labor. Federal prisoners, who are among the highest paid in the U.S. system, making as much as $1.25 an hour, produce the military’s helmets, uniforms, pants, shirts, ammunition belts, ID tags and tents. Prisoners work, often through subcontractors, for major corporations such as Chevron, Bank of America, IBM, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Starbucks, Nintendo, Victoria’s Secret, J.C. Penney, Sears, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Eddie Bauer, Wendy’s, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Fruit of the Loom, Motorola, Caterpillar, Sara Lee, Quaker Oats, Mary Kay, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Dell, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin and Target. Prisoners in some states run dairy farms, staff call centers, take hotel reservations or work in slaughterhouses. And prisoners are used to carry out public services such as collecting highway trash in states such as Ohio.
States, with shrinking budgets, share in the corporate exploitation. They get kickbacks of as much as 40 percent from corporations that prey on prisoners. This kickback money is often supposed to go into “inmate welfare funds,” but prisoners say they rarely see any purchases made by the funds to improve life inside prison.
The wages paid to prisoners for labor inside prisons have remained stagnant and in real terms have declined over the past three decades. In New Jersey a prisoner made $1.20 for eight hours of work—yes, eight hours of work—in 1980 and today makes $1.30 for a day’s labor. Prisoners earn, on average, $28 a month. Those incarcerated in for-profit prisons earn as little as 17 cents an hour.
However, items for sale in prison commissaries have risen in price over the past two decades by as much as 100 percent. And new rules in some prisons, including those in New Jersey, prohibit families to send packages to prisoners, forcing prisoners to rely exclusively on prison vendors. This is as much a psychological blow as a material one; it leaves families feeling powerless to help loved ones trapped in the system.
A bar of Dove soap in 1996 cost New Jersey prisoners 97 cents. Today it costs $1.95, an increase of 101 percent. A tube of Crest toothpaste cost $2.35 in 1996 and today costs $3.49, an increase of 48 percent. AA batteries have risen by 184 percent, and a stick of deodorant has risen by 95 percent. The only two items I found that remained the same in price from 1996 were frosted flake cereal and cups of noodles, but these items in prisons have been switched from recognizable brand names to generic products. The white Reebok shoes that most prisoners wear, shoes that lasts about six months, costs about $45 a pair. Those who cannot afford the Reebok brand must buy, for $20, shoddy shoes with soles that shred easily. In addition, prisoners are charged for visits to the infirmary and the dentist and for medications.
Keefe Supply Co., which runs commissaries for an estimated half a million prisoners in states including Florida and Maryland, is notorious for price gouging. It sells a single No. 10 white envelope for 15 cents—$15 per 100 envelopes. The typical retail cost outside prison for a box of 100 of these envelopes is $7. The company marks up a 3-ounce packet of noodle soup, one of the most popular commissary items, to 45 cents from 26 cents.
Global Tel Link, a private phone company, jacks up phone rates in New Jersey to 15 cents a minute, although some states, such as New York, have relieved the economic load on families by reducing the charge to 4 cents a minute. The Federal Communications Commission has determined that a fair rate for a 15-minute interstate call by a prisoner is $1.80 for debit and $2.10 for collect. The high phone rates imposed on prisoners, who do not have a choice of carriers and must call either collect or by using debit accounts that hold prepaid deposits made by them or their families, are especially damaging to the 2 million children with a parent behind bars. The phone is a lifeline for the children of the incarcerated.
Monopolistic telephone contracts give to the states kickbacks amounting, on average, to 42 percent of gross revenues from prisoner phone calls, according to Prison Legal News. The companies with exclusive prison phone contracts not only charge higher phone rates but add to the phone charges the cost of the kickbacks, called “commissions” by state agencies, according to research conducted in 2011 by John E. Dannenberg for Prison Legal News. Dannenberg found that the phone market in state prison systems generates an estimated $362 million annually in gross revenues for the states and costs prisoners’ families, who put money into phone accounts, some $143 million a year.
When strong family ties are retained, there are lower rates of recidivism and fewer parole violations. But that is not what the corporate architects of prisons want: High recidivism, now at over 60 percent, keeps the cages full. This is one reason, I suspect, why prisons make visitations humiliating and difficult. It is not uncommon for prisoners to tell their families—especially those that include small children traumatized by the security screening, long waits, body searches, clanging metal doors and verbal abuse by guards—not to visit. Prisoners with life sentences frequently urge loved ones to sever all ties with them and consider them as dead.
The rise of what Marie Gottschalk, the author of “Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics,” calls “the carceral state” is ominous. It will not be reformed through elections or by appealing to political elites or the courts. Prisons are not, finally, about race, although poor people of color suffer the most. They are not even about being poor. They are prototypes for the future. They are emblematic of the disempowerment and exploitation that corporations seek to inflict on all workers. If corporate power continues to disembowel the country, if it is not impeded by mass protests and revolt, life outside prison will soon resemble life in prison.
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 (more…)
Why Israel Lies August 4, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: big lie, chris hedges, Edward Bernays, edward snowden, gaza, hamas, hannah arendt, intercept, israel, israeli massacre, jon queally, kafka, netanyahu, nsa, orwellian, palestinian, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: Two more articles outlining the dynamics behind the Israeli government’s barbaric assault against the ghetto it has created in Gaza. The notion that Israel’s actions are justified as self-defence is exposed as at best Orwellian.
All governments lie, as I.F. Stone pointed out, including Israel and Hamas. But Israel engages in the kinds of jaw-dropping lies that characterize despotic and totalitarian regimes. It does not deform the truth; it inverts it. It routinely paints a picture for the outside world that is diametrically opposed to reality. And all of us reporters who have covered the occupied territories have run into Israel’s Alice-in-Wonderland narratives, which we dutifully insert into our stories—required under the rules of American journalism—although we know they are untrue.
I saw small boys baited and killed by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza refugee camp of Khan Younis. The soldiers swore at the boys in Arabic over the loudspeakers of their armored jeep. The boys, about 10 years old, then threw stones at an Israeli vehicle and the soldiers opened fire, killing some, wounding others. I was present more than once as Israeli troops drew out and shot Palestinian children in this way. Such incidents, in the Israeli lexicon, become children caught in crossfire. I was in Gaza when F-16 attack jets dropped 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs on overcrowded hovels in Gaza City. I saw the corpses of the victims, including children. This became a surgical strike on a bomb-making factory. I have watched Israel demolish homes and entire apartment blocks to create wide buffer zones between the Palestinians and the Israeli troops that ring Gaza. I have interviewed the destitute and homeless families, some camped out in crude shelters erected in the rubble. The destruction becomes the demolition of the homes of terrorists. I have stood in the remains of schools—Israel struck two United Nations schools in the last six days, causing at least 10 fatalities at one in Rafah on Sunday and at least 19 at one in the Jebaliya refugee camp Wednesday—as well as medical clinics and mosques. I have heard Israel claim that errant rockets or mortar fire from the Palestinians caused these and other deaths, or that the attacked spots were being used as arms depots or launching sites. I, along with every other reporter I know who has worked in Gaza, have never seen any evidence that Hamas uses civilians as “human shields.”
There is a perverted logic to Israel’s repeated use of the Big Lie—Große Lüge—the lie favored by tyrants from Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin to Saddam Hussein. The Big Lie feeds the two reactions Israel seeks to elicit—racism among its supporters and terror among its victims.
By painting a picture of an army that never attacks civilians, that indeed goes out of its way to protect them, the Big Lie says Israelis are civilized and humane, and their Palestinian opponents are inhuman monsters. The Big Lie serves the idea that the slaughter in Gaza is a clash of civilizations, a war between democracy, decency and honor on one side and Islamic barbarism on the other. And in the uncommon cases when news of atrocities penetrates to the wider public, Israel blames the destruction and casualties on Hamas.
George Orwell in his novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” called this form of propaganda doublethink. Doublethink uses “logic against logic” and “repudiate[s] morality while laying claim to it.” The Big Lie does not allow for the nuances and contradictions that can plague conscience. It is a state-orchestrated response to the dilemma of cognitive dissonance. The Big Lie permits no gray zones. The world is black and white, good and evil, righteous and unrighteous. The Big Lie allows believers to take comfort—a comfort they are desperately seeking—in their own moral superiority at the very moment they have abrogated all morality.
The Big Lie, as the father of American public relations, Edward Bernays, wrote, is limited only by the propagandist’s capacity to fathom and harness the undercurrents of individual and mass psychology. And since most supporters of Israel do not have a desire to know the truth, a truth that would force them to examine their own racism and self-delusions about Zionist and Western moral superiority, like packs of famished dogs they lap up the lies fed to them by the Israeli government. The Big Lie always finds fertile soil in what Bernays called the “logic-proof compartment of dogmatic adherence.” All effective propaganda, Bernays wrote, targets and builds upon these irrational “psychological habits.”
This is the world Franz Kafka envisioned, a world where the irrational becomes rational. It is one where, as Gustave Le Bon noted in “The Crowd: A Study of the Public Mind,” those who supply the masses with the illusions they crave become their master, and “whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.” This irrationality explains why the reaction of Israeli supporters to those who have the courage to speak the truth—Uri Avnery, Max Blumenthal, Noam Chomsky, Jonathan Cook, Norman Finkelstein, Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, Ilan Pappé, Henry Siegman and Philip Weiss—is so rabid. That so many of these voices are Jewish, and therefore have more credibility than non-Jews who are among Israel’s cheerleaders, only ratchets up the level of hate.
But the Big Lie is also consciously designed to send a chilling message to Gaza’s Palestinians, who have lost large numbers of their dwellings, clinics, mosques, and power, water and sewage facilities, along with schools and hospitals, who have suffered some 1,650 deaths since this assault began—most of the victims women and children—and who have seen 400,000 people displaced from their homes. The Big Lie makes it clear to the Palestinians that Israel will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions. The vast disparity between what Israel says and what Israel does tells the Palestinians that there is no hope. Israel will do and say whatever it wants. International law, like the truth, will always be irrelevant. There will never, the Palestinians understand from the Big Lie, be an acknowledgement of reality by the Israeli leadership.
The Israel Defense Forces website is replete with this black propaganda. “Hamas exploits the IDF’s sensitivity towards protecting civilian structures, particularly holy sites, by hiding command centers, weapons caches and tunnel entrances in mosques,” the IDF site reads. “In Hamas’ world, hospitals are command centers, ambulances are transport vehicles, and medics are human shields,” the site insists.
“… [Israeli] officers are tasked with an enormous responsibility: to protect Palestinian civilians on the ground, no matter how difficult that may be,” the site assures its viewers. And the IDF site provides this quote from a drone operator identified as Lt. Or. “I have personally seen rockets fired at Israel from hospitals and schools, but we couldn’t strike back because of civilians nearby. In one instance, we acquired a target but we saw that there were children in the area. We waited around, and when they didn’t leave we were forced to abort a strike on an important target.”
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, in a Big Lie of his own, said last month at a conference of Christians United for Israel that the Israeli army should be given the “Nobel Peace Prize … a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”
The Big Lie destroys any possibility of history and therefore any hope for a dialogue between antagonistic parties that can be grounded in truth and reality. While, as Hannah Arendt pointed out, the ancient and modern sophists sought to win an argument at the expense of the truth, those who wield the Big Lie “want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality.” The old sophists, she said, “destroyed the dignity of human thought.” Those who resort to the Big Lie “destroy the dignity of human action.” The result, Arendt warned, is that “history itself is destroyed, and its comprehensibility.” And when facts no longer matter, when there is no shared history grounded in the truth, when people foolishly believe their own lies, there can be no useful exchange of information. The Big Lie, used like a bludgeon by Israel, as perhaps it is designed to be, ultimately reduces all problems in the world to the brutish language of violence. And when oppressed people are addressed only through violence they will answer only through violence.
Israel Is Captive to Its ‘Destructive Process’ July 15, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Egypt, Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: arwa mhanna, child casualties, chris hedges, civilian casualties, dime, dime bombs, experimental weapons, gaza, halocaust, history, israel, midle east, netanyahu, palestinian children, Palestinians, rania khalek, raul hilberg, roger hollander, safaa el derawi, white phosphorous, Yeshayahu Leibowitz
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ROGER’S NOTE: HERE ARE A FEW ARTICLES ON THE CURRENT SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST WITH A PERSPECTIVE YOU ARE NOT LIKELY TO FIND IN THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA.
Raul Hilberg in his monumental work “The Destruction of the European Jews” chronicled a process of repression that at first was “relatively mild” but led, step by step, to the Holocaust. It started with legal discrimination and ended with mass murder. “The destructive process was a development that was begun with caution and ended without restraint,” Hilberg wrote.
The Palestinians over the past few decades have endured a similar “destructive process.” They have gradually been stripped of basic civil liberties, robbed of assets including much of their land and often their homes, have suffered from mounting restrictions on their physical movements, been blocked from trading and business, especially the selling of produce, and found themselves increasingly impoverished and finally trapped behind walls and security fences erected around Gaza and the West Bank.
“The process of destruction [of the European Jews] unfolded in a definite pattern,” Hilberg wrote. “It did not, however, proceed from a basic plan. No bureaucrat in 1933 could have predicted what kind of measures would be taken in 1938, nor was it possible in 1938 to foretell the configuration of the undertaking in 1942. The destructive process was a step-by-step operation, and the administrator could seldom see more than one step ahead.”
There will never be transports or extermination camps for the Palestinians, but amid increasing violence against Palestinians larger and larger numbers of them will die, in airstrikes, targeted assassinations and other armed attacks. Hunger and misery will expand. Israeli demands for “transfer”—the forced expulsion of Palestinians from occupied territory to neighboring countries—will grow.
The Palestinians in Gaza live in conditions that now replicate those first imposed on Jews by the Nazis in the ghettos set up throughout Eastern Europe. Palestinians cannot enter or leave Gaza. They are chronically short of food—the World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 percent of children in Gaza and the West Bank under 2 years old have iron deficiency anemia and reports that malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 are “not improving” and could actually be worsening. Palestinians often lack clean water. They are crammed into unsanitary hovels. They do not have access to basic medical care. They are stateless and lack passports or travel documents. There is massive unemployment. They are daily dehumanized in racist diatribes by their occupiers as criminals, terrorists and mortal enemies of the Jewish people.
“A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently of the Palestinians. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.”
Ayelet Shaked, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, on her Facebook page June 30 posted an article written 12 years ago by the late Uri Elitzur, a leader in the settler movement and a onetime adviser to Netanyahu, saying the essay is as “relevant today as it was then.” The article said in part: “They [the Palestinians] are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”
The belief that a race or class of people is contaminated is used by ruling elites to justify quarantining the people of that group. But quarantine is only the first step. The despised group can never be redeemed or cured—Hannah Arendt noted that all racists see such contamination as something that can never be eradicated. The fear of the other is stoked by racist leaders such as Netanyahu to create a permanent instability. This instability is exploited by a corrupt power elite that is also seeking the destruction of democratic civil society for all citizens—the goal of the Israeli government (as well as the goal of a U.S. government intent on stripping its own citizens of rights). Max Blumenthal in his book“Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” does a masterful job of capturing and dissecting this frightening devolution within Israel.
The last time Israel mounted a Gaza military assault as severe as the current series of attacks was in 2008, with Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from Dec. 27 of that year to Jan. 18, 2009. That attack saw 1,455 Palestinians killed, including 333 children. Roughly 5,000 more Palestinians were injured. A new major ground incursion, which would be designed to punish the Palestinians with even greater ferocity, would cause a far bigger death toll than Operation Cast Lead did. The cycle of escalating violence, this “destructive process,” as the history of the conflict has illustrated, would continue at an accelerating rate.
The late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, one of Israel’s most brilliant scholars, warned that, followed to its logical conclusion, the occupation of the Palestinians would mean “concentration camps would be erected by the Israeli rulers” and “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.” He feared the ascendancy of right-wing, religious Jewish nationalists and warned that “religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism.” Leibowitz laid out what occupation would finally bring for Israel:
The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.
Israel is currently attacking a population of 1.8 million that has no army, no navy, no air force, no mechanized military units, no command and control and no heavy artillery. Israel pretends that this indiscriminate slaughter is a war. But only the most self-deluded supporter of Israel is fooled. The rockets fired at Israel by Hamas—which is committing a war crime by launching those missiles against the Israeli population—are not remotely comparable to the 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs that have been dropped in large numbers on crowded Palestinian neighborhoods; the forced removal of some 300,000 Palestinians from their homes; the more than 160 reported dead—the U.N. estimates that 77 percent of those killedin Gaza have been civilians; the destruction of the basic infrastructure; the growing food and water shortages; and the massing of military forces for a possible major ground assault.
When all this does not work, when it becomes clear that the Palestinians once again have not become dormant and passive, Israel will take another step, more radical than the last. The “process of destruction” will be stopped only from outside Israel. Israel, captive to the process, is incapable of imposing self-restraint.
A mass movement demanding boycotts, divestment and sanctions is the only hope now for the Palestinian people. Such a movement must work for imposition of an arms embargo on Israel; this is especially important for Americans because weapons systems and attack aircraft provided by the U.S. are being used to carry out the assault. It must press within the United States for cutoff of the $3.1 billion in military aid that the U.S. gives to Israel each year. It must organize to demand suspension of all free trade and other agreements between the U.S. and Israel. Only when these props are knocked out from under Israel will the Israeli leadership be forced, as was the apartheid regime in South Africa, to halt its “destructive process.” As long as these props remain, the Palestinians are doomed. If we fail to act we are complicit in the slaughter.
The Play’s the Thing December 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Criminal Justice, Education, Poverty, Race, Racism, Torture.
Tags: august wilson, chris hedges, education, incarceration, poverty, prison, prisoners, Race, racism, roger hollander, solitary confinement, theatre, torture
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Posted on Dec 15, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
|AP/Ted S. Warren|
|Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson in his Seattle neighborhood in 2003.|
By Chris Hedges
I began teaching a class of 28 prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey during the first week of September. My last class meeting was Friday. The course revolved around plays by August Wilson, James Baldwin, John Herbert, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Miguel Piñero, Amiri Baraka and other playwrights who examine and give expression to the realities of America’s black underclass as well as the prison culture. We also read Michelle Alexander’s important book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Each week the students were required to write dramatic scenes based on their experiences in and out of prison.
My class, although I did not know this when I began teaching, had the most literate and accomplished writers in the prison. And when I read the first batch of scenes it was immediately apparent that among these students was exceptional talent.
The class members had a keen eye for detail, had lived through the moral and physical struggles of prison life and had the ability to capture the patois of the urban poor and the prison underclass. They were able to portray in dramatic scenes and dialogue the horror of being locked in cages for years. And although the play they collectively wrote is fundamentally about sacrifice—the sacrifice of mothers for children, brothers for brothers, prisoners for prisoners—the title they chose was “Caged.” They made it clear that the traps that hold them are as present in impoverished urban communities as in prison.
The mass incarceration of primarily poor people of color, people who seldom have access to adequate legal defense and who are often kept behind bars for years for nonviolent crimes or for crimes they did not commit, is one of the most shameful mass injustices committed in the United States. The 28 men in my class have cumulatively spent 515 years in prison. Some of their sentences are utterly disproportionate to the crimes of which they are accused. Most are not even close to finishing their sentences or coming before a parole board, which rarely grants first-time applicants their liberty. Many of them are in for life. One of my students was arrested at the age of 14 for a crime that strong evidence suggests he did not commit. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 70. He never had a chance in court and because he cannot afford a private attorney he has no chance now of challenging the grotesque sentence handed to him as a child.
My stacks of 28 scenes written by the students each week, the paper bearing the musty, sour smell of the prison, rose into an ungainly pile. I laboriously shaped and edited the material. It grew, line by line, scene by scene, into a powerful and deeply moving dramatic vehicle. The voices and reality of those at the very bottom rung of our society—some of the 2.2 million people in prisons and jails across the country, those we as a society are permitted to demonize and hate, just as African-Americans were once demonized and hated during slavery and Jim Crow—began to flash across the pages like lightning strikes. There was more brilliance, literacy, passion, wisdom and integrity in that classroom than in any other classroom I have taught in, and I have taught at some of the most elite universities in the country. The mass incarceration of men and women like my students impoverishes not just them, their families and their communities, but the rest of us as well.
“The most valuable blacks are those in prison,” August Wilson once said, “those who have the warrior spirit, who had a sense of being African. They got for their women and children what they needed when all other avenues were closed to them.” He added: “The greatest spirit of resistance among blacks [is] found among those in prison.”
I increased the class meetings by one night a week. I read the scenes to my wife, Eunice Wong, who is a professional actor, and friends such as the cartoonist Joe Sacco and the theologian James Cone. Something unique, almost magical, was happening in the prison classroom—a place I could reach only after passing through two metal doors and a metal detector, subjecting myself to a pat-down by a guard, an X-ray inspection of my canvas bag of books and papers, getting my hand stamped and then checked under an ultraviolet light, and then passing through another metal door into a barred circular enclosure. In every visit I was made to stand in the enclosure for several minutes before being permitted by the guards to pass through a barred gate and then walk up blue metal stairs, through a gantlet of blue-uniformed prison guards, to my classroom.
The class, through the creation of the play, became an intense place of reflection, debate and self-discovery. Offhand comments, such as the one made by a student who has spent 22 years behind bars, that “just because your family doesn’t visit you doesn’t mean they don’t love you,” reflected the pain, loneliness and abandonment embedded in the lives of my students. There were moments that left the class unable to speak.
A student with 19 years behind bars read his half of a phone dialogue between himself and his mother. He was the product of rape and tells his mother that he sacrificed himself to keep his half brother—the only son his mother loves—out of prison. He read this passage in the presentation of the play in the prison chapel last Thursday to visitors who included Cornel West and James Cone.
Terrance: You don’t understand[,] Ma.
Terrance: You’re right. Never mind.
PauseTerrance: What you want me to say Ma?
Terrance: Ma, they were going to lock up Bruce. The chrome [the gun] was in the car. Everyone in the car would be charged with murder if no one copped to it …
Terrance: I didn’t kill anyone Ma… Oh yeah, I forgot, whenever someone says I did, I did it.
Terrance: I told ’em what they wanted to hear. That’s what niggas supposed to do in Newark. I told them what they wanted to hear to keep Bruce out of it. Did they tell you who got killed? Did they say it was my father?
Terrance: Then you should know I didn’t do it. If I ever went to jail for anything it would be killing him … and he ain’t dead yet. Rape done brought me into the world. Prison gonna take me out. An’ that’s the way it is Ma.
Terrance: Come on Ma, if Bruce went to jail you would’uv never forgiven me. Me, on the other hand, I wasn’t ever supposed to be here.
Terrance: I’m sorry Ma … I’m sorry. Don’t be cryin’. You got Bruce. You got him home. He’s your baby. Bye Ma. I call you later.
After our final reading of the play I discovered the student who wrote this passage sobbing in the bathroom, convulsed with grief.
In the play when a young prisoner contemplates killing another prisoner he is given advice on how to survive prolonged isolation in the management control unit (solitary confinement, known as MCU) by an older prisoner who has spent 30 years in prison under a sentence of double life. There are 80,000 U.S. prisoners held in solitary confinement, which human rights organizations such as Amnesty International define as a form of torture. In this scene the older man tells the young inmate what to expect from the COs, or correction officers.
Ojore (speaking slowly and softly): When they come and get you, ’cause they are gonna get you, have your hands out in front of you with your palms showing. You want them to see you have no weapons. Don’t make no sudden moves. Put your hands behind your head. Drop to your knees as soon as they begin barking out commands.
Omar: My knees?
Ojore: This ain’t a debate. I’m telling you how to survive the hell you ’bout to endure. When you get to the hole you ain’t gonna be allowed to have nothing but what they give you. If you really piss them off you get a ‘dry cell’ where the sink and the toilet are turned on and off from outside. You gonna be isolated. No contact. No communication.
Ojore: ’Cause they don’t want you sendin’ messages to nobody before dey question some of da brothers on the wing. IA [internal affairs officers] gonna come and see you. They gonna want a statement. If you don’t talk they gonna try and break you. They gonna open the windows and let the cold in. They gonna take ya sheets and blankets away. They gonna mess with ya food so you can’t eat it. An’ don’t eat no food that come in trays from the Vroom Building. Nuts in Vroom be spittin’, pissin’ and shittin’ in the trays. Now, the COs gonna wake you up every hour on the hour so you can’t sleep. They gonna put a bright-ass spotlight in front of ya cell and keep it on day and night. They gonna harass you wit’ all kinds of threats to get you to cooperate. They will send in the turtles in their shin guards, gloves, shank-proof vests, forearm guards and helmets with plexiglass shields on every shift to give you beat-downs.
Omar: How long this gonna go on?
Ojore: Til they break you. Or til they don’t. Three days. Three weeks. You don’t break, it go on like this for a long time. An’ if you don’t think you can take it, then don’t start puttin’ yerself through this hell. Just tell ’em what they wanna know from the door. You gonna be in MCU for the next two or three years. You’ll get indicted for murder. You lookin’ at a life bid. An’ remember MCU ain’t jus’ ’bout isolation. It’s ’bout keeping you off balance. The COs, dressed up in riot gear, wake you up at 1 a.m., force you to strip and make you grab all your things and move you to another cell just to harass you. They bring in dogs trained to go for your balls. You spend 24 hours alone one day in your cell and 22 the next. They put you in the MCU and wait for you to self-destruct. An’ it works. Men self-mutilate. Men get paranoid. Men have panic attacks. They start hearing voices. They talk crazy to themselves. I seen one prisoner swallow a pack of AA batteries. I seen a man shove a pencil up his dick. I seen men toss human shit around like it was a ball game. I seen men eat their own shit and rub it all over themselves like it was some kinda body lotion. Then, when you really get out of control, when you go really crazy, they got all their torture instruments ready—four- and five-point restraints, restraint hoods, restraint belts, restraint beds, stun grenades, stun guns, stun belts, spit hoods, tethers, and waist and leg chains. But the physical stuff ain’t the worst. The worst is the psychological, the humiliation, sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation, extreme light or dark, extreme cold or heat and the long weeks and months of solitary. If you don’t have a strong sense of purpose you don’t survive. They want to defeat you mentally. An’ I seen a lot of men defeated.
The various drafts of the play, made up of scenes and dialogue contributed by everyone in the class, brought to the surface the suppressed emotions and pain that the students bear with profound dignity. A prisoner who has been incarcerated for 22 years related a conversation with his wife during her final visit in 1997. Earlier his 6-year-old son had innocently revealed that the woman was seeing another man. “I am aware of what kind of time I got,” he tells his wife. “I told you when I got found guilty to move on with your life, because I knew what kind of time I was facing, but you chose to stick around. The reason I told you to move on with your life was because I didn’t want to be selfish. So look, man, do what the fuck you are going to do, just don’t keep my son from me. That’s all I ask.” He never saw his child again. When he handed me the account he said he was emotionally unable to read it out loud.
Those with life sentences wrote about dying in prison. The prisoners are painfully aware that some of them will end their lives in the medical wing without family, friends or even former cellmates. One prisoner, who wrote about how men in prolonged isolation adopt prison mice as pets, naming them, carefully bathing them, talking to them and keeping them on string leashes, worked in the prison infirmary. He said that as some prisoners were dying they would ask him to hold their hand. Often no one comes to collect the bodies. Often, family members and relatives are dead or long estranged. The corpses are taken by the guards and dumped in unmarked graves.
A discussion of Wilson’s play “Fences” became an exploration of damaged manhood and how patterns of abuse are passed down from father to son. “I spent my whole life trying not to be my father,” a prisoner who has been locked up for 23 years said. “And when I got to Trenton I was put in his old cell.”
The night we spoke about the brilliant play “Dutchman,” by LeRoi Jones, now known as Amira Baraka, the class grappled with whites’ deeply embedded stereotypes and latent fear of black men. I had also passed out copies of Robert Crumb’s savage cartoon strip “When the Niggers Take Over America!,” which portrays whites’ fear of black males—as well as the legitimate black rage that is rarely understood by white society.
The students wanted to be true to the violence and brutality of the streets and prison—places where one does not usually have the luxury of being nonviolent—yet affirm themselves as dignified and sensitive human beings. They did not want to paint everyone in the prison as innocents. But they know that transformation and redemption are real.
There are many Muslims in the prison. They have a cohesive community, sense of discipline and knowledge of their own history, which is the history of the long repression and subjugation of African-Americans. Most Muslims are very careful about their language in prison and do not curse, meaning I had to be careful when I assigned parts to the class.
There is a deep reverence in the prison for Malcolm X. When the class spoke of him one could almost feel Malcolm’s presence. Malcolm articulated, in a way Martin Luther King Jr. did not, the harsh reality of poor African-Americans trapped in the internal colonies of the urban North.
The class wanted the central oracle of the play to be an observant Muslim. Faith, when you live in the totalitarian world of the prison, is important. The conclusion of the play was the result of an intense and heated discussion about the efficacy and nature of violence and forgiveness. But by the end of a nearly hourlong discussion the class had unanimously signed off on the final scene, which I do not want to reveal here because I hope that one day it will be available to be seen or read. It was the core message the prisoners wanted most to leave with outsiders, who often view them as less than human.
The play has a visceral, raw anger and undeniable truth that only the lost and the damned can articulate. The students wrote a dedication that read: “We have been buried alive behind these walls for years, often decades. Most of the outside world has abandoned us. But a few friends and family have never forgotten that we are human beings and worthy of life. It is to them, our saints, that we dedicate this play.” And they said that if the play was ever produced, and if anyone ever bought tickets, they wanted all the money that might be earned to go to funding the educational program at the prison. This was a decision by men who make, at most, a dollar a day at prison jobs.
We read the Wilson play “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” The character Bynum Walker, a conjurer, tells shattered African-Americans emerging from the nightmare of slavery that they each have a song but they must seek it out. Once they find their song they will find their unity as a people, their inner freedom and their identity. The search for one’s song in Wilson’s play functions like prayer. It gives each person a purpose, strength and hope. It allows a person, even one who has been bitterly oppressed, to speak his or her truth defiantly to the world. Our song affirms us, even if we are dejected and despised, as human beings.
Prisoners are given very little time by the guards to line up in the corridor outside the classroom when the prison bell signals the end of class. If they lag behind they can get a “charge” from the guards that can restrict their already very limited privileges and freedom of movement. For this reason, my classroom emptied quickly Friday night. I was left alone in the empty space, my eyes damp, my hands trembling as I clutched their manuscript. They had all signed it for me. I made the long and lonely walk down the prison corridors, through the four metal security doors, past the security desk to the dark, frozen parking lot. I looked back, past the coils of razor wire that topped the chain-link fencing, at the shadowy bulk of the prison. I have their song. I will make it heard. I do not know what it takes to fund and mount a theater production. I intend to learn.
Feeding the Flame of Revolt November 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: anarchism, anonymous, black bloc, chris hedges, civil disobedience, direct action, hacking, jeremy hammond, loretta preska, revolution, roger hollander, stratfor, subu, whistle-blowing
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Roger’s note: in this article Hedges cites John Kennedy’s “Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable,” which is more or less the theme of the piece. A chant I have heard at many a protest demonstration says the same in four simple words: “No Justice, No Peace.” In our upside-down world, the state purveyors of massive violence and terror, indict those who oppose it on the grounds of inciting violence and terror. Freud would understand, but I digress. Regardless of whether governments are democratic or not, it is capital that rules in our universe. Capital-ism is the system by which capital rules via economies, governments (all three branches: executive, law making legislatures and judicial), military and policing. In a very real sense, there is a war going on at all times, the war against human beings by those who own, manage and control capital (huge accumulations of stolen wealth). As the saying goes: they only acknowledge class war when we fight back.
NEW YORK—I was in federal court here Friday for the sentencing of Jeremy Hammond to 10 years in prison for hacking into the computers of a private security firm that works on behalf of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, and corporations such as Dow Chemical. In 2011 Hammond, now 28, released to the website WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone and other publications some 3 million emails from the Texas-based company Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor.
The sentence was one of the longest in U.S. history for hacking and the maximum the judge could impose under a plea agreement in the case. It was wildly disproportionate to the crime—an act of nonviolent civil disobedience that championed the public good by exposing abuses of power by the government and a security firm. But the excessive sentence was the point. The corporate state, rapidly losing credibility and legitimacy, is lashing out like a wounded animal. It is frightened. It feels the heat from a rising flame of revolt. It is especially afraid of those such as Hammond who have the technical skills to break down electronic walls and expose the corrupt workings of power.
“People have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors,” Hammond told me when we met in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan about a week and a half before his sentencing.
I did not hope for justice from the court. Judge Loretta A. Preska is a member of the right-wing Federalist Society. And the hack into Stratfor gave the email address and disclosed the password of an account used for business by Preska’s husband, Thomas Kavaler, a partner at the law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel. Some emails of the firm’s corporate clients, including Merrill Lynch, also were exposed. The National Lawyers Guild, because the judge’s husband was a victim of the hack, filed a recusal motion that Preska, as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, was able to deny. Her refusal to recuse herself allowed her to oversee a trial in which she had a huge conflict of interest.
The judge, who herself once was employed at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, fulminated from the bench about Hammond’s “total lack of respect for the law.” She read a laundry list of his arrests for acts of civil disobedience. She damned what she called his “unrepentant recidivism.” She said: “These are not the actions of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela … or even Daniel Ellsberg; there’s nothing high-minded or public-spirited about causing mayhem”—an odd analogy given that Mandela founded the armed wing of the African National Congress, was considered by South Africa’s apartheid government and the United States government to be a terrorist and was vilified, along with King and Ellsberg, by the U.S. government. She said there was a “desperate need to promote respect for the law” and a “need for adequate public deterrence.” She read from transcripts of Hammond’s conversations in Anonymous chat rooms in which he described the goal of hacking into Stratfor as “destroying the target, hoping for bankruptcy, collapse” and called for “maximum mayhem.” She admonished him for releasing the unlisted phone number of a retired Arizona police official who allegedly received threatening phone calls afterward.
The judge imposed equally harsh measures that will take effect after Hammond’s release from prison. She ordered that he be placed under three years of supervised control, be forbidden to use encryption or aliases online and submit to random searches of his computer equipment, person and home by police and any internal security agency without the necessity of a warrant. The judge said he was legally banned from having any contact with “electronic civil disobedience websites or organizations.” By the time she had finished she had shredded all pretense of the rule of law.
The severe sentence—Hammond will serve more time than the combined sentences of four men who were convicted in Britain for hacking related to the U.S. case—was monumentally stupid for a judge seeking to protect the interest of the ruling class. The judicial lynching of Hammond required her to demonstrate a callous disregard for transparency and our right to privacy. It required her to ignore the disturbing information Hammond released showing that the government and Stratfor attempted to link nonviolent dissident groups, including some within Occupy, to terrorist organizations so peaceful dissidents could be prosecuted as terrorists. It required her to accept the frightening fact that intelligence agencies now work on behalf of corporations as well as the state. She also had to sidestep the fact that Hammond made no financial gain from the leak.
The sentencing converges with the state’s persecution of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Barrett Brown, along with Glenn Greenwald, Jacob Appelbaum, Laura Poitras and Sarah Harrison, four investigative journalists who are now in self-imposed exile from the United States. And as the numbers of our political prisoners and exiled dissidents mount, there is the unmistakable stench of tyranny.
This draconian sentence, like the draconian sentences of other whistle-blowers, will fan revolt. History bears this out. It will solidify the growing understanding that we must resort, if we want to effect real change, to unconventional tactics to thwart the mounting abuses by the corporate state. There is no hope, this sentencing shows, for redress from the judicial system, elected officials or the executive branch. Why should we respect a court system, or a governmental system, that shows no respect to us? Why should we abide by laws that serve only to protect criminals such as Wall Street thieves while leaving the rest of us exposed to abuse? Why should we continue to have faith in structures of power that deny us our most basic rights and civil liberties? Why should we be impoverished so the profits of big banks, corporations and hedge funds can swell?
No one will save us but ourselves. That was the real message sent out by the sentencing of Jeremy Hammond. And just as Hammond was inspired to act by the arrest of Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning, others will be inspired to act by Hammond and the actions taken against him. And we can thank Judge Preska for that.
Hammond is rooted in the Black Bloc. As he was escorted out of the courtroom on the ninth floor of the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl St. on Friday he shouted to roughly 100 people—including a class of prim West Point cadets in their blue uniforms—gathered there: “Long live Anonymous! Hurrah for anarchy!” In a statement he read in court he thanked “Free Anons, the Anonymous Solidarity Network [and] Anarchist Black Cross” for their roles in the fight against oppression.
Hammond has abandoned faith not only in traditional institutions, such as the courts, but nonviolent mass protest and civil disobedience, a point on which he and I diverge. But his analysis of corporate tyranny is correct. And the longer the state ruthlessly persecutes dissidents, the more the state ensures that those who oppose it will resort to radical responses including violence. “Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable,” John F. Kennedy said. And the corporate state is not only making peaceful change impossible but condemning it as terrorism.
In late October I spent an afternoon with Hammond in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he had been held for 20 months. He said during our conversation, parts of which his lawyer requested be published only after his sentencing, that he believed that the sole way the people will now have any power is to rise up physically and seize it. My column last week was about that interview, and now I am including previously withheld parts of the conversation.
Hammond defines himself as “an anarchist communist.” He seeks to destroy capitalism and the centralized power of the corporate state. His revolutionary vision is “leaderless collectives based on free association, consensus, mutual aid, self-sufficiency and harmony with the environment.” He embraces the classic tools of revolt, including mass protests, general strikes and boycotts. And he sees hacking and leaking as part of this resistance, tools not only to reveal the truths about these systems of corporate power but to “disrupt/destroy these systems entirely.”
He participated in the Occupy movement in Chicago but found the politics of Occupy too vague and amorphous, a point on which I concur. He said Occupy lacked revolutionary vigor. He told me he did not support what he called the “dogmatic nonviolence doctrine” of many in the Occupy movement, calling it “needlessly limited and divisive.” He rejects the idea of acts of civil disobedience that protesters know will lead to their arrest. “The point,” he said, “is to carry out acts of resistance and not get caught.” He condemns “peace patrols,” units formed within the Occupy movement that sought to prohibit acts of vandalism and violence by other protesters—most often members of the Black Bloc—as “a secondary police force.” And he spurns the calls by many in Occupy not to antagonize the police, calling the police “the boot boys of the 1 percent, paid to protect the rich and powerful.” He said such a tactic of non-confrontation with the police ignored the long history of repression the police have carried out against popular movements, as well as the “profiling and imprisonment of our comrades.”
“Because we were unprepared, or perhaps unwilling, to defend our occupations, police and mayors launched coordinated attacks, driving us out of our own parks,” he said of the state’s closure of the Occupy encampments.
“I fully support and have participated in Black Bloc and other forms of militant direct action,” he said. “I do not believe that the ruling powers listen to the people’s peaceful protests. Black Bloc is an effective, fluid and dynamic form of protest. It causes disruption outside of predictable/controllable mass demonstrations through ‘unarrests,’ holding streets, barricades and property destruction. Smashing corporate windows is not violence, especially when compared to the everyday economic violence of sweatshops and ‘free trade.’ Black Bloc seeks to hit them where it hurts, through economic damage. But more than smashing windows they seek to break the spell of ‘law and order’ and the artificial limitations we impose on ourselves.”
I disagree with Hammond over tactics, but in the end this disagreement is moot. It will be the ruling elites who finally determine our response. If the corporate elites employ the full force of the security and surveillance state against us, if corporate totalitarian rule is one of naked, escalating and brutal physical repression, then the violence of the state will spawn a counter-violence. Judge Preska’s decision to judicially lynch Hammond has only added to the fury she and the state are trying to stamp out. An astute ruling class, one aware of the rage rippling across the American landscape, would have released Hammond on Friday and begun to address the crimes he exposed. But our ruling class, while adept at theft, looting, propaganda and repression, is blind to the growing discontent caused by the power imbalance and economic inequality that plague ordinary Americans at a time when half of the country lives in poverty or “near poverty.”
“The acts of civil disobedience and direct action that I am being sentenced for today are in line with the principles of community and equality that have guided my life,” Hammond told the courtroom. “I hacked into dozens of high-profile corporations and government institutions, understanding very clearly that what I was doing was against the law, and that my actions could land me back in federal prison. But I felt that I had an obligation to use my skills to expose and confront injustice—and to bring the truth to light.”
“Could I have achieved the same goals through legal means?” he said. “I have tried everything from voting petitions to peaceful protest and have found that those in power do not want the truth to be exposed. When we speak truth to power we are ignored at best and brutally suppressed at worst. We are confronting a power structure that does not respect its own system of checks and balances, never mind the rights of its own citizens or the international community.”
“My first memories of American politics was when Bush stole the election in 2000,” he told me at a metal table as we met at the prison in a small room reserved for attorney visits, “and then how Bush used the wave of nationalism after 9/11 to launch unprovoked pre-emptive wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. In high school I was involved in publishing ‘underground’ newsletters criticizing the Patriot Act, the wars, and other Bush-era policies. I attended many anti-war protests in the city [Chicago] and was introduced to other local struggles and the larger anti-corporate globalization movement. I began identifying as an anarchist, started to travel around the country to various mobilizations and conferences, and began getting arrested for various acts.”
He said that his experience of street protest, especially against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was seminal, for he saw that the state had little interest in heeding the voices of protesters and others in the public. “Instead, we were labeled as traitors, beaten and arrested.”
“I targeted law enforcement systems because of the racism and inequality with which the criminal law is enforced,” he admitted in court. “I targeted the manufacturers and distributors of military and police equipment who profit from weaponry used to advance U.S. political and economic interests abroad and to repress people at home. I targeted information security firms because they work in secret to protect government and corporate interests at the expense of individual rights, undermining and discrediting activists, journalists and other truth seekers, and spreading disinformation.”
An FBI informant, Hector Xavier Monsegur, posing as an Anonymous member and using the online name “Sabu,” prodded Hammond to break into Stratfor and informed him of technical vulnerabilities in websites of the company.
“Why the FBI would introduce us to the hacker who found the initial vulnerability and allow this hack to continue remains a mystery,” Hammond said as he faced the judge.
“As a result of the Stratfor hack, some of the dangers of the unregulated private intelligence industry are now known,” he said. “It has been revealed through WikiLeaks and other journalists around the world that Stratfor maintained a worldwide network of informants that they used to engage in intrusive and possibly illegal surveillance activities on behalf of large multinational corporations.”
At Sabu’s urging, Hammond broke into other websites, too. Hammond, at Sabu’s request, provided information to hackers enabling them to break into and deface official foreign government websites, including some of Turkey, Iran and Brazil. The names of these three countries are technically under a protective court order but have been reported widely in the press.
“I broke into numerous sites and handed over passwords and backdoors that enabled Sabu—and by extension his FBI handlers—to control these targets,” Hammond said.
“I don’t know how other information I provided to him may have been used, but I think the government’s collection and use of this data needs to be investigated,” he went on. “The government celebrates my conviction and imprisonment, hoping that it will close the door on the full story. I took responsibility for my actions, by pleading guilty, but when will the government be made to answer for its crimes?”
“The hypocrisy of ‘law and order’ and the injustices caused by capitalism cannot be cured by institutional reform but through civil disobedience and direct action,” Hammond told the court. “Yes, I broke the law, but I believe that sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change.”
The Revolutionaries in Our Midst November 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: #occupy movement, anarchism, anonymous, barret brown, black bloc, chelsea manning, chris hedges, corporate state, edward snowden, espionage act, first amendment, glenn greenwald, jacob applebaum, jeremy hammond, julian assange, laura poitras, ndaa, obama administration, political prisoner, press freedom, revolution, roger hollander, sarah harrison, surveillance state, whistle blower, whistleblowers, wikileaks
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Roger’s note: as with many of the articles I read on the Internet, readers’ comments are often a valuable source of opinion and ideas. For the comments on this article, you can go to the source at:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/11/11-0.
NEW YORK—Jeremy Hammond sat in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center last week in a small room reserved for visits from attorneys. He was wearing an oversized prison jumpsuit. The brown hair of the lanky 6-footer fell over his ears, and he had a wispy beard. He spoke with the intensity and clarity one would expect from one of the nation’s most important political prisoners.
On Friday the 28-year-old activist will appear for sentencing in the Southern District Court of New York in Manhattan. After having made a plea agreement, he faces the possibility of a 10-year sentence for hacking into the Texas-based private security firm Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor, which does work for the Homeland Security Department, the Marine Corps, the Defense Intelligence Agency and numerous corporations including Dow Chemical and Raytheon.
Four others involved in the hacking have been convicted in Britain, and they were sentenced to less time combined—the longest sentence was 32 months—than the potential 120-month sentence that lies before Hammond.
Hammond turned the pilfered information over to the website WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone and other publications. The 3 million email exchanges, once made public, exposed the private security firm’s infiltration, monitoring and surveillance of protesters and dissidents, especially in the Occupy movement, on behalf of corporations and the national security state. And, perhaps most important, the information provided chilling evidence that anti-terrorism laws are being routinely used by the federal government to criminalize nonviolent, democratic dissent and falsely link dissidents to international terrorist organizations. Hammond sought no financial gain. He got none.
The email exchanges Hammond made public were entered as evidence in my lawsuit against President Barack Obama over Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Section 1021 permits the military to seize citizens who are deemed by the state to be terrorists, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military facilities. Alexa O’Brien, a content strategist and journalist who co-founded US Day of Rage, an organization created to reform the election process, was one of my co-plaintiffs. Stratfor officials attempted, we know because of the Hammond leaks, to falsely link her and her organization to Islamic radicals and websites as well as to jihadist ideology, putting her at risk of detention under the new law. Judge Katherine B. Forrest ruled, in part because of the leak, that we plaintiffs had a credible fear, and she nullified the law, a decision that an appellate court overturned when the Obama administration appealed it.
Freedom of the press and legal protection for those who expose government abuses and lies have been obliterated by the corporate state. The resulting self-exile of investigative journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Jacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras, along with the indictment of Barret Brown, illustrate this. All acts of resistance—including nonviolent protest—have been conflated by the corporate state with terrorism. The mainstream, commercial press has been emasculated through the Obama administration’s repeated use of the Espionage Act to charge and sentence traditional whistle-blowers. Governmental officials with a conscience are too frightened to reach out to mainstream reporters, knowing that the authorities’ wholesale capturing and storing of electronic forms of communication make them easily identifiable. Elected officials and the courts no longer impose restraint or practice oversight. The last line of defense lies with those such as Hammond, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning who are capable of burrowing into the records of the security and surveillance state and have the courage to pass them on to the public. But the price of resistance is high.
“In these times of secrecy and abuse of power there is only one solution—transparency,” wrote Sarah Harrison, the British journalist who accompanied Snowden to Russia and who also has gone into exile, in Berlin. “If our governments are so compromised that they will not tell us the truth, then we must step forward to grasp it. Provided with the unequivocal proof of primary source documents people can fight back. If our governments will not give this information to us, then we must take it for ourselves.”
“When whistleblowers come forward we need to fight for them, so others will be encouraged,” she went on. “When they are gagged, we must be their voice. When they are hunted, we must be their shield. When they are locked away, we must free them. Giving us the truth is not a crime. This is our data, our information, our history. We must fight to own it. Courage is contagious.”
Hammond knows this contagion. He was living at home in Chicago in 2010 under a 7-a.m.-to-7-p.m. curfew for a variety of acts of civil disobedience when Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning was arrested for giving WikiLeaks secret information about military war crimes and government lies. Hammond at the time was running social aid programs to feed the hungry and send books to prisoners. He had, like Manning, displayed a remarkable aptitude for science, math and computer languages at a young age. He hacked into the computers at a local Apple store at 16. He hacked into the computer science department’s website at the University of Illinois-Chicago as a freshman, a prank that saw the university refuse to allow him to return for his sophomore year. He was an early backer of “cyber-liberation” and in 2004 started an “electronic-disobedience journal” he named Hack This Zine. He called on hackers in a speech at the 2004 DefCon convention in Las Vegas to use their skills to disrupt that year’s Republican National Convention. He was, by the time of his 2012 arrest, one of the shadowy stars of the hacktivist underground, dominated by groups such as Anonymous and WikiLeaks in which anonymity, stringent security and frequent changes of aliases alone ensured success and survival. Manning’s courage prompted Hammond to his own act of cyber civil disobedience, although he knew his chances of being caught were high.
“I saw what Chelsea Manning did,” Hammond said when we spoke last Wednesday, seated at a metal table. “Through her hacking she became a contender, a world changer. She took tremendous risks to show the ugly truth about war. I asked myself, if she could make that risk shouldn’t I make that risk? Wasn’t it wrong to sit comfortably by, working on the websites of Food Not Bombs, while I had the skills to do something similar? I too could make a difference. It was her courage that prompted me to act.”
Hammond—who has black-inked tattoos on each forearm, one the open-source movement’s symbol known as the “glider” and the other the shi hexagram from the I Ching—is steeped in radical thought. As a teenager, he swiftly migrated politically from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to the militancy of the Black Bloc anarchists. He was an avid reader in high school of material put out by CrimethInc, an anarchist collective that publishes anarchist literature and manifestos. He has molded himself after old radicals such as Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman and black revolutionaries such as George Jackson, Elaine Brown and Assata Shakur, as well as members of the Weather Underground. He said that while he was in Chicago he made numerous trips to Waldheim Cemetery to visit the Haymarket Martyrs Monument, which honors four anarchists who were hanged in 1887 and others who took part in the labor wars. On the 16-foot-high granite monument are the final words of one of the condemned men, August Spies. It reads: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voice you are throttling today.” Emma Goldman is buried nearby.
Hammond became well known to the government for a variety of acts of civil disobedience over the last decade. These ranged from painting anti-war graffiti on Chicago walls to protesting at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York to hacking into the right-wing website Protest Warrior, for which he was sentenced to two years in the Federal Correctional Institute at Greenville, Ill.
Hammond spent months within the Occupy movement in Chicago. He embraced its “leaderless, non-hierarchical structures such as general assemblies and consensus, and occupying public spaces.” But he was highly critical of what he said were the “vague politics” in Occupy that allowed it to include followers of the libertarian Ron Paul, some in the tea party, as well as “reformist liberals and Democrats.” Hammond said he was not interested in any movement that “only wanted a ‘nicer’ form of capitalism and favored legal reforms, not revolution.” He remains rooted in the ethos of the Black Bloc.
“Being incarcerated has really opened my eyes to the reality of the criminal justice system,” he said, “that it is not a criminal justice system about public safety or rehabilitation, but reaping profits through mass incarceration. There are two kinds of justice—one for the rich and the powerful who get away with the big crimes, then for everyone else, especially people of color and the impoverished. There is no such thing as a fair trial. In over 80 percent of the cases people are pressured to plea out instead of exercising their right to trial, under the threat of lengthier sentences. I believe no satisfactory reforms are possible. We need to close all prisons and release everybody unconditionally.”
He said he hoped his act of resistance would encourage others, just as Manning’s courage had inspired him. He said activists should “know and accept the worst possible repercussion” before carrying out an action and should be “aware of mass counterintelligence/surveillance operations targeting our movements.” An informant posing as a comrade, Hector Xavier Monsegur, known online as “Sabu,” turned Hammond and his co-defendants in to the FBI. Monsegur stored data retrieved by Hammond on an external server in New York. This tenuous New York connection allowed the government to try Hammond in New York for hacking from his home in Chicago into a private security firm based in Texas. New York is the center of the government’s probes into cyber-warfare; it is where federal authorities apparently wanted Hammond to be investigated and charged.
Hammond said he will continue to resist from within prison. A series of minor infractions, as well as testing positive with other prisoners on his tier for marijuana that had been smuggled into the facility, has resulted in his losing social visits for the next two years and spending “time in the box [solitary confinement].” He is allowed to see journalists, but my request to interview him took two months to be approved. He said prison involves “a lot of boredom.” He plays chess, teaches guitar and helps other prisoners study for their GED. When I saw him, he was working on the statement, a personal manifesto, that he will read in court this week.
He insisted he did not see himself as different from prisoners, especially poor prisoners of color, who are in for common crimes, especially drug-related crimes. He said most inmates are political prisoners, caged unjustly by a system of totalitarian capitalism that has snuffed out basic opportunities for democratic dissent and economic survival.
“The majority of people in prison did what they had to do to survive,” he said. “Most were poor. They got caught up in the war on drugs, which is how you make money if you are poor. The real reason they get locked in prison for so long is so corporations can continue to make big profits. It is not about justice. I do not draw distinctions between us.”
“Jail is essentially enduring harassment and dehumanizing conditions with frequent lockdowns and shakedowns,” he said. “You have to constantly fight for respect from the guards, sometimes getting yourself thrown in the box. However, I will not change the way I live because I am locked up. I will continue to be defiant, agitating and organizing whenever possible.”
He said resistance must be a way of life. He intends to return to community organizing when he is released, although he said he will work to stay out of prison. “The truth,” he said, “will always come out.” He cautioned activists to be hyper-vigilant and aware that “one mistake can be permanent.” But he added, “Don’t let paranoia or fear deter you from activism. Do the down thing!”
Imploding the Myth of Israel November 4, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Racism.
Tags: Avigdor Lieberman, children casualties, chris hedges, gaza, idf, isaiah berlin, israel, israel military, israel settlements, mavi marmara, max blumenthal, meir kahane, Middle East, netanyahu, palestinian civilians, Palestinians, racism, roger hollander, west bank, white phosprorous, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, zionism
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Roger’s note: Chris Hedges always writes with passion and sometimes hyperbole. This article is a comprehensive and powerful indictment of today’s Israel. You will have to decide for yourself how accurate it is; but on the whole it rings true to me. A very sad and tragic truth.
Posted on Nov 4, 2013
Israel has been poisoned by the psychosis of permanent war. It has been morally bankrupted by the sanctification of victimhood, which it uses to justify an occupation that rivals the brutality and racism of apartheid South Africa. Its democracy—which was always exclusively for Jews—has been hijacked by extremists who are pushing the country toward fascism. Many of Israel’s most enlightened and educated citizens—1 million of them—have left the country. Its most courageous human rights campaigners, intellectuals and journalists—Israeli and Palestinian—are subject to constant state surveillance, arbitrary arrests and government-run smear campaigns. Its educational system, starting in primary school, has become an indoctrination machine for the military. And the greed and corruption of its venal political and economic elite have created vast income disparities, a mirror of the decay within America’s democracy.
And yet, the hard truths about Israel remain largely unspoken. Liberal supporters of Israel decry its excesses. They wring their hands over the tragic necessity of airstrikes on Gaza or Lebanon or the demolition of Palestinian homes. They assure us that they respect human rights and want peace. But they react in inchoate fury when the reality of Israel is held up before them. This reality implodes the myth of the Jewish state. It exposes the cynicism of a state whose real goal is, and always has been, the transfer, forced immigration or utter subjugation and impoverishment of Palestinians inside Israel and the occupied territories. Reality shatters the fiction of a peace process. Reality lays bare the fact that Israel routinely has used deadly force against unarmed civilians, including children, to steal half the land on the West Bank and crowd forcibly displaced Palestinians into squalid, militarized ghettos while turning their land and homes over to Jewish settlers. Reality exposes the new racial laws adopted by Israel as those once advocated by the fanatic racist Meir Kahane. Reality unveils the Saharonim detention camp in the Negev Desert, the largest detention center in the world. Reality mocks the lie of open, democratic debate, including in the country’s parliament, the Knesset, where racist diatribes and physical threats, often enshrined into law, are used to silence and criminalize the few who attempt to promote a civil society. Liberal Jewish critics inside and outside Israel, however, desperately need the myth, not only to fetishize Israel but also to fetishize themselves. Strike at the myth and you unleash a savage vitriol, which in its fury exposes the self-adulation and latent racism that lie at the core of modern Zionism.
There are very few intellectuals or writers who have the tenacity and courage to confront this reality. This is what makes Max Blumenthal’s “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” one of the most fearless and honest books ever written about Israel. Blumenthal burrows deep into the dark heart of Israel. The American journalist binds himself to the beleaguered and shunned activists, radical journalists and human rights campaigners who are the conscience of the nation, as well as Palestinian families in the West Bank struggling in vain to hold back Israel’s ceaseless theft of their land. Blumenthal, in chapter after chapter, methodically rips down the facade. And what he exposes, in the end, is a corpse.
I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, including months in Gaza and the West Bank. I lived for two years in Jerusalem. Many of the closest friends I made during my two decades overseas are Israeli. Most of them are among the Israeli outcasts that Blumenthal writes about, men and women whose innate decency and courage he honors throughout his book. They are those who, unlike the Israeli leadership and a population inculcated with racial hatred, sincerely want to end occupation, restore the rule of law and banish an ideology that creates moral hierarchies with Arabs hovering at the level of animal as Jews—especially Jews of European descent—are elevated to the status of demigods. It is a measure of Blumenthal’s astuteness as a reporter that he viewed Israel through the eyes of these outcasts, as well as the Palestinians, and stood with them as they were arrested, tear-gassed and fired upon by Israeli soldiers. There is no other honest way to tell the story about Israel. And this is a very honest book.
“Goliath” is made up of numerous vignettes, some only a few pages long, that methodically build a picture of Israel, like pieces fit into a puzzle. It is in the details that Israel’s reality is exposed. The Israeli army, Blumenthal points out in his first chapter, “To the Slaughter,” employs a mathematical formula to limit outside food deliveries to Gaza to keep the caloric levels of the 1.5 million Palestinians trapped inside its open air prison just above starvation; a government official later denied that he had joked in a meeting that the practice is “like an appointment with a dietician.” The saturation, 22-day bombing of Gaza that began on Dec. 27, 2008, led by 60 F-16 fighter jets, instantly killed 240 Palestinians, including scores of children. Israel’s leading liberal intellectuals, including the writers Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman, blithely supported the wholesale murder of Palestinian civilians. And while Israelis blocked reporters from entering the coastal Gaza Strip—forcing them to watch distant explosions from Israel’s Parash Hill, which some reporters nicknamed “the Hill of Shame”—the army and air force carried out atrocity after atrocity, day after day, crimes that were uncovered only after the attack was over and the press blockade lifted. This massive aerial and ground assault against a defenseless civilian population that is surrounded by the Israeli army, a population without an organized military, air force, air defenses, navy, heavy artillery or mechanized units, caused barely a ripple of protest inside Israel from the left or the right. It was part of the ongoing business of slaughtering the other.
By the end of the assault, with 1,400 dead, nearly all civilians, Gaza lay in ruins. The Israeli air force purposely targeted Gaza’s infrastructure, including power plants, to reduce Gaza to a vast, overcrowded, dysfunctional slum. Israel, Blumenthal notes, destroyed “80 percent of all arable farmland in the coastal strip, bombing the strip’s largest flour mill, leveling seven concrete factories, shelling a major cheese factory, and shooting up a chicken farm, killing thirty-one thousand chickens.”
“Twelve [years old] and up, you are allowed to shoot. That’s what they tell us,” an Israeli sniper told Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass in 2004 at the height of the Second Intifada, Blumenthal writes. “This is according to what the IDF [Israel Defense Force] says to its soldiers. I do not know if this is what the IDF says to the media,” the sniper was quoted as saying.
The 2008 murderous rampage is not, as Blumenthal understands, an anomaly. It is the overt policy of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who advocates “a system of open apartheid.” Israel, as Blumenthal points out, has not lifted its state of emergency since its foundation. It has detained at least 750,000 Palestinians, including 10,000 women, in its prisons since 1967. It currently holds more than 4,500 political prisoners, including more than 200 children and 322 people jailed without charges, Blumenthal writes, including those it has labeled “administrative detainees.” Israel has a staggering 99.74 percent conviction rate for these so-called security prisoners, a figure that any totalitarian state would envy.
Blumenthal cites a survey of Jewish Israeli attitudes on the Gaza bombing, known as Operation Cast Lead. The survey, by Daniel Bar-Tal, a political psychologist from Tel Aviv University, concluded that the public’s “consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians, and insensitivity to their suffering.” Bar-Tal tells Blumenthal “these attitudes are the product of indoctrination.” And Blumenthal sets out to chronicle the poison of this indoctrination and what it has spawned in Israeli society.
The racist narrative, once the domain of the far right and now the domain of the Israeli government and the mainstream, demonizes Palestinians and Arabs, as well as all non-Jews. Non-Jews, according to this propaganda, will forever seek the annihilation of the Jewish people. The Holocaust, in which Israeli victimhood is sanctified, is seamlessly conflated with Palestinian and Arab resistance to occupation. The state flies more than 25 percent of Israeli 11th-graders to Poland to tour Auschwitz and other Nazi extermination camps a year before they start army service. They are told that the goal of Arabs, along with the rest of the non-Jewish world, is another Auschwitz. And the only thing standing between Israelis and a death camp is the Israeli army. Israeli high schools show films such as “Sleeping With the Enemy” to warn students about dating non-Jews, especially Arabs. Racist books such as “Torat Ha’Melech,” or “The King’s Torah,” are given to soldiers seeking rabbinical guidance on the rules of engagement. Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira and Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, the authors of the 230-page book, inform soldiers that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by nature” and may have to be killed in order to “curb their evil inclinations.” “If we kill a gentile who has violated one of the seven commandments [of Noah] … there is nothing wrong with the murder,” Shapira and Elitzur write. The rabbis claim that under Jewish law “there is justification for killing babies if it is clear that they will grow up to harm us, and in such a situation they may be harmed deliberately, and not only during combat with adults.”These narratives of hatred make any act of deadly force by the Israeli army permissible, from the shooting of Palestinian children to the 2010 killing by Israeli commandos of nine unarmed activists on the Turkish boat the Mavi Marmara. The activists were part of a flotilla of six boats bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza. The Israeli propaganda machine claimed that the small flotilla was a covert terror convoy. Never mind that the Mavi Marmara was in international waters when it was attacked. Never mind that no one on the boat, or any of the five other boats, was armed. Never mind that the boats were thoroughly searched before they left for Gaza. The Israeli lie was trumpeted while every camera, video and tape recorder, computer and cellphone of the activists on board was seized and destroyed—or in a few cases sold by Israeli soldiers when they got back to Israel—while those on the boats were towed to an Israeli port and detained in isolation. The ceaseless stoking of fear and racial hatred—given full vent by the Israeli government and media in the days after the Mavi Marmara incident—has served to empower racist political demagogues such as Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, a camp follower of Meir Kahane. It has also effectively snuffed out Israel’s old left-wing Zionist establishment.
“In Israel you have three systems of laws,” the Israeli Arab politician Ahmed Tibi observes in the Blumenthal book. “One is democracy for 80 percent of the population. It is democracy for Jews. I call it an ethnocracy or you could call it a Judocracy. The second is racial discrimination for 20 percent of the population, the Israeli Arabs. The third is apartheid for the population in the West Bank and Gaza. This includes two sets of governments, one for the Palestinians and one for the settlers. Inside Israel there is not yet apartheid but we are being pushed there with … new laws.”
As Blumenthal documents, even Israeli Jews no longer live in a democracy. The mounting state repression against human rights advocates, journalists and dissidents has reached the proportions of U.S. Homeland Security. The overtly racist cant of the political elite and the masses—“Death to Arabs” is a popular chant at Israeli soccer matches—has emboldened mobs and vigilantes, including thugs from right-wing youth groups such as Im Tirtzu, to carry out indiscriminate acts of vandalism and violence against dissidents, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and the hapless African immigrants who live crammed into the slums of Tel Aviv. Israel has pushed through a series of discriminatory laws against non-Jews that eerily resemble the racist Nuremberg Laws that disenfranchised Jews in Nazi Germany. The Communities Acceptance Law, for example, permits “small, exclusively Jewish towns planted across Israel’s Galilee region to formally reject applicants for residency on the grounds of ‘suitability to the community’s fundamental outlook.’ ” And all who denounce the steady march of Israel toward fascism—including Jewish academics—are attacked in organized campaigns as being insufficiently Zionist. They are branded as terrorists or collaborators with terrorists. As a headline in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz read: “The settlers are the real government of Israel.”
“Woody [a law school graduate from New York] became my initial liaison to Tel Aviv’s radical left, introducing me to a loose-knit band of a few hundred anarchists, disillusioned ex-soldiers, disaffected children of ultra-Zionists, queers, academics, and generally idealistic and disillusioned young people who came of age during the Second Intifada when the liberal Zionist ‘peace camp’ closed ranks with the militaristic right wing,” Blumenthal writes. “This tiny band of social deviants comprised the only grouping of people I met who sincerely embraced multiculturalism and who took concrete action against the discriminatory foundations of their country’s political apparatus. Right-wingers and many Jewish Israelis who considered themselves part of the social mainstream referred to members of the radical left as smolinim, which simply means ‘leftists,’ but the word carried a deeply insulting connotation of an unacceptable caste, an Other. As branded social outcasts, inflexible in their principles, disdainful of ordinary politics, and brazen in their racial liberalism they resembled nothing so much as the pre-Civil War abolitionists.”
The late Amnon Dankner, the former editor of Maariv, one of Israel’s major newspapers, Blumenthal notes, denounced “neo-Nazi expressions in the Knesset” and “entire parties whose tenor and tone arouse feelings of horror and terrifying memories.” David Landau, the former editor-in-chief of Haaretz, has called on Israelis to boycott the Knesset “to stand against the wave of fascism that has engulfed the Zionist project.” And Uri Avnery, a left-wing politician and journalist, says: “Israel’s very existence is threatened by fascism.”
The disillusionment among idealistic young immigrants to Israel dots the book. As one example, Canadian David Sheen is recorded as saying that everything he had known about Israel and Palestinians was, in Blumenthal’s words, “a fantasy cultivated through years of heavy indoctrination.” But perhaps what is saddest is that Israel has, and has always had, within its population intellectuals, including the great scholar Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who sought to save Israel from itself.Leibowitz, whom Isaiah Berlin called “the conscience of Israel,” warned that if Israel did not separate church and state it would give rise to a corrupt rabbinate that would warp Judaism into a fascistic cult.
“Religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism,” said Leibowitz, who died in 1994. He understood that the blind veneration of the military, especially after the 1967 war that captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, was dangerous and would lead to the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state and any hope of democracy. “Our situation will deteriorate to that of a second Vietnam, to a war in constant escalation without prospect of ultimate resolution.” He foresaw that “the Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police—mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 million to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would have to suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.” He warned that the rise of a virulent racism would consume Israeli society. He knew that prolonged occupation of the Palestinians would spawn “concentration camps” for the occupied and that, in his words, “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.”
But few, then or now, cared to listen. This is why Blumenthal’s new book is so important.
With Rise of American Fascism, Shutdown Politics ‘Predictable’ October 7, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Economic Crisis, Imperialism.
Tags: american fascism, chris hedges, christian fascism, Christian Right, default, democracy, john boehner, jon quelly, obamacare, paul krugman, Republican Party, right win, roger hollander, tea party, ted cruz
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Can new progressive era rise from ashes of ‘era of obstructionism’ or is the descent of US democracy just beginning?
“All of this was predictable.”
In the midst of the ongoing government shutdown—with the GOP still trying their darndest to kill Obamacare and the global financial markets now truly jittery over the quite real possibility of a US default—those five words, found in Paul Krugman’s Monday New York Times column, don’t say it all, but they begin to tell a story long in the making.
If the current situation in Washington is a consternation to many observers, why so predictable to progressives and others like Krugman? He writes:
It has been obvious for years that the modern Republican Party is no longer capable of thinking seriously about policy. Whether the issue is climate change or inflation, party members believe what they want to believe, and any contrary evidence is dismissed as a hoax, the product of vast liberal conspiracies.
For a while the party was able to compartmentalize, to remain savvy and realistic about politics even as it rejected objectivity everywhere else. But this wasn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, the party’s attitude toward policy — we listen only to people who tell us what we want to hear, and attack the bearers of uncomfortable news — was bound to infect political strategy, too.
In short, when an individual—or a political party—commits to a world view fundamentally insulated from reality, it is only a matter of time before the wheels will come off the rails. Like a pathological liar, the truth finally catches up. For a gambling addict, the house will ultimately call the game.
Over the weekend, the takeaway news was that Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) was either “lying” or “incompetent” when he claimed on a Sunday talk show that he didn’t have the votes to pass a “clean CR” (continuing resolution) that would end the shutdown by funding the government without GOP riders or demands. The problem, of course—as many reporters and observers documented—was that it just wasn’t factually true.
As The Hill reports:
Democrats have repeatedly called on Boehner to allow a vote on a so-called “clean” Senate bill that would reopen the government for a short period of time, but not include Republican demands to delay or defund ObamaCare.
A whip count by The Washington Post found that 20 Republican representatives supported a so-called clean continuing resolution (CR), with another four counted as “leaning yes.” If all 200 Democrats voted for the legislation, they would need just 17 Republicans to vote with them.
Boehner made the comment during an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” after host George Stephanopoulos asked him if he was “prepared to schedule a clean bill on government funding.”
When Stephanopoulos pressed Boehner on whether it was true that the votes did not exist, the Speaker said that the American people expected leaders in Washington to “sit down and have a conversation.”
So what’s at stake? According to Bloomberg on Monday, a voluntary default by the U.S. on its debt obligations would be “catastrophic” and lead to worse consequences than when the collapse of Lehman Brothers helped facilitate the financial crisis that swept the globe in 2008. The business paper reports:
Failure by the world’s largest borrower to pay its debt — unprecedented in modern history — will devastate stock markets from Brazil to Zurich, halt a $5 trillion lending mechanism for investors who rely on Treasuries, blow up borrowing costs for billions of people and companies, ravage the dollar and throw the U.S. and world economies into a recession that probably would become a depression. Among the dozens of money managers, economists, bankers, traders and former government officials interviewed for this story, few view a U.S. default as anything but a financial apocalypse.
The $12 trillion of outstanding government debt is 23 times the $517 billion Lehman owed when it filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008. As politicians butt heads over raising the debt ceiling, executives from Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Warren Buffett to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Lloyd C. Blankfein have warned that going over the edge would be catastrophic.
If nothing else, that’s a view of how the global capitalists see the situation. But what it also reveals is confirmation of the argument presented by many that the modern day Republican Party has become hostage to its most radical and destructive elements. Once beholden to serve the leaders of global capitalism, the new Republican Party, dominated by the branding and rhetoric of the Tea Party, has seemingly lost its ability to even know what that is.
Chris Hedges, a freelance journalist and author of the American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, writes on Monday, the rise in prominence of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is the best example of how the ‘Christian right’ and its “anti-Enlightenment” word view has taken over the party and in its lust for power, sabotaged the country’s ability to govern itself. On the ideology of Cruz and his followers, which he terms ‘American fascism,’ Hedges writes:
They live in a binary world of black and white. They feel they are victims, surrounded by sinister groups bent on their destruction. They have anointed themselves as agents of God who alone know God’s will. They sanctify their rage. This rage lies at the center of the ideology. It leaves them sputtering inanities about Barack Obama, his corporate-sponsored health care reform bill, his alleged mandated suicide counseling or “death panels” for seniors under the bill, his supposed secret alliance with radical Muslims, and “creeping socialism.” They see the government bureaucracy as being controlled by “secular humanists” who want to destroy the family and make war against the purity of their belief system. They seek total cultural and political domination.
All ideological, theological and political debates with the radical Christian right are useless. It cares nothing for rational thought and discussion. Its adherents are using the space within the open society to destroy the open society itself. Our naive attempts to placate a movement bent on our destruction, to prove to it that we too have “values,” only strengthen its supposed legitimacy and increase our own weakness.
It is a mixture of this religious politics, combined with the financial self-interest of billionaires and ideologues—like “the Koch brothers, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation and others” described by Krugman—that fuels the current crisis. And though many step back and call the whole thing “political theater,” the final act has yet to begin.
What was “predictable,” according to Krugman, was that the GOP would ultimately end up in such a position where their aversion to facts would make them victims of reality. What is not yet clear—though predictions abound—is how the current impasse ends and what impact it will have on U.S politics leading into the 2014 election season and beyond.
With the Democratic Party also guilty in propping up a political system that fails to deliver the transformative change demanded by a world awash in war, economic inequality, and on the precipice of runaway climate change, the prospects for a new progressive era originating in Washington, DC are not only dim, but non-existent.
As Charles P. Pierce writes at Esquire on Monday morning, both parties—despite all warnings by social activists, progressives and Keynesian economists—have already agreed on austerity as a cure for the ongoing recession.
“For all the talk about how Republican extremism is finally catching up with the party,” writes Pierce, “one can argue just as well that Wall Street-friendly, deficit-hawk, DLC-onomics is finally catching up with the Democratic party.” He continues:
After all, if the shutdown ended tomorrow, the sequester would still be in place. Austerity still would be the tacitly agreed upon program for both parties, and Paul Krugman likely still would be drinking before noon. The administration’s brilliant eleventy-dimensional chess in 2010 looks more and more like a case of being too smart by half. It created a new reality in which both sides decided that what a country barely out of a devastating recession really needed was some belt-tightening and some fiscal discipline.
And Richard Eskow, from Campaign for America’s Future, writes, “The Democrats have already made too many concessions.” What’s needed, he says, is “for the people to take their government back from the extremists, before their empire collapses and takes us all down with it.”
And Eskow gets no quarrel from Hedges, who writes:
The rise of Christian fascism is aided by our complacency. The longer we fail to openly denounce and defy bankrupt liberalism, the longer we permit corporate power to plunder the nation and destroy the ecosystem, the longer we stand slack-jawed before the open gates of the city waiting meekly for the barbarians, the more we ensure their arrival.
For the moment, however, how this “impasse” ends—and what rises in its ugly wake—continues to be a guess.
The Business of Mass Incarceration July 29, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Race, Racism.
Tags: chris hedges, clinton administration, Criminal Justice, mass incarceration, prison industrial complex, prison population, private prisons, roger hollander, three strikes
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Debbie Bourne, 45, was at her apartment in the Liberty Village housing projects in Plainfield, N.J., on the afternoon of April 30 when police banged on the door and pushed their way inside. The officers ordered her, her daughter, 14, and her son, 22, who suffers from autism, to sit down and not move and then began ransacking the home. Bourne’s husband, from whom she was estranged and who was in the process of moving out, was the target of the police, who suspected him of dealing cocaine. As it turned out, the raid would cast a deep shadow over the lives of three innocents—Bourne and her children.
* * *
The murder of a teenage boy by an armed vigilante, George Zimmerman, is only one crime set within a legal and penal system that has criminalized poverty. Poor people, especially those of color, are worth nothing to corporations and private contractors if they are on the street. In jails and prisons, however, they each can generate corporate revenues of $30,000 to $40,000 a year. This use of the bodies of the poor to make money for corporations fuels the system of neoslavery that defines our prison system.
Prisoners often work inside jails and prisons for nothing or at most earn a dollar an hour. The court system has been gutted to deny the poor adequate legal representation. Draconian drug laws send nonviolent offenders to jail for staggering periods of time. Our prisons routinely use solitary confinement, forms of humiliation and physical abuse to keep prisoners broken and compliant, methods that international human rights organizations have long defined as torture. Individuals and corporations that profit from prisons in the United States perpetuate a form of neoslavery. The ongoing hunger strike by inmates in the California prison system is a slave revolt, one that we must encourage and support. The fate of the poor under our corporate state will, if we remain indifferent and passive, become our own fate. This is why on Wednesday I will join prison rights activists, including Cornel West and Michael Moore, in a one-day fast in solidarity with the hunger strike in the California prison system.
In poor communities where there are few jobs, little or no vocational training, a dearth of educational opportunities and a lack of support structures there are, by design, high rates of recidivism—the engine of the prison-industrial complex. There are tens of millions of poor people for whom this country is nothing more than a vast, extended penal colony. Gun possession is largely criminalized for poor people of color while vigilante thugs, nearly always white, swagger through communities with loaded weapons. There will never be serious gun control in the United States. Most white people know what their race has done to black people for centuries. They know that those trapped today in urban ghettos, what Malcolm X called our internal colonies, endure neglect, poverty, violence and deprivation. Most whites are terrified that African-Americans will one day attempt to defend themselves or seek vengeance. Scratch the surface of survivalist groups and you uncover frightened white supremacists.
The failure on the part of the white liberal class to decry the exploding mass incarceration of the poor, and especially of African-Americans, means that as our empire deteriorates more and more whites will end up in prison alongside those we have condemned because of our indifference. And the mounting abuse of the poor is fueling an inchoate rage that will eventually lead to civil unrest.
“Again I say that each and every Negro, during the last 300 years, possesses from that heritage a greater burden of hate for America than they themselves know,” Richard Wright wrote. “Perhaps it is well that Negroes try to be as unintellectual as possible, for if they ever started really thinking about what happened to them they’d go wild. And perhaps that is the secret of whites who want to believe that Negroes have no memory; for if they thought that Negroes remembered they would start out to shoot them all in sheer self-defense.”
The United States has spent $300 billion since 1980 to expand its prison system. We imprison 2.2 million people, 25 percent of the world’s prison population. For every 100,000 adults in this country there are 742 behind bars. Five million are on parole. Only 30 to 40 percent are white.
The intrusion of corporations and private contractors into the prison system is a legacy of the Clinton administration. President Bill Clinton’s omnibus crime bill provided $30 billion to expand the prison system, including $10 billion to build prisons. The bill expanded from two to 58 the number of federal crimes for which the death penalty can be administered. It eliminated a ban on the execution of the mentally impaired. The bill gave us the “three-strikes” laws that mandate life sentences for anyone convicted of three “violent” felonies. It set up the tracking of sex offenders. It allowed the courts to try children as young as 13 as adults. It created special courts to deport noncitizens alleged to be “engaged in terrorist activity” and authorized the use of secret evidence. The prison population under Clinton swelled from 1.4 million to 2 million.
Incarceration has become a very lucrative business for an array of private contractors, most of whom send lobbyists to Washington to make sure the laws and legislation continue to funnel a steady supply of poor people into the prison complex. These private contractors, taking public money, build the prisons, provide food service, hire guards and run and administer detention facilities. It is imperative to their profits that there be a steady supply of new bodies.
* * *
Bourne has worked for 13 years as a locker room assistant in the Plainfield school system. She works five hours a day. She does not have medical benefits. She struggles to take care of a daughter in fragile health and a disabled son.
Bourne and her children sat terrified that April afternoon in their apartment. After about 10 minutes four more police officers arrived with her husband. His clothes were torn and disheveled. His face was swollen and bruised. He was handcuffed. “He looked like he been beat up,” she said.
“They were telling him, tell us where you have the stuff at, the drugs at,” Bourne said when we met at a prison support group I help run at the Second Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, N.J. “Tell us where you have the stuff at ’cause if you don’t we are going to handcuff her and the kids. And you be a man, you know, you know be a man and tell so we … don’t have to handcuff her and the kids. And he told them they [she and the children] have nothing to do with this, and there’s nothing in the house.”
The police took her husband to the kitchen. “They were hittin’ him in the kitchen,” she said, “punchin’ him, like in the stomach. Like by his ribs. He was saying they don’t have nothin’ to do with it, you know, they don’t.”
She could hear the officers repeating: “Where are the drugs?” They beat him for about 10 minutes, she said. The police then went into the living room and handcuffed Bourne and her son and daughter. They took her husband out of the apartment. Three officers remained until a K-9 dog unit arrived. The police removed the handcuffs and took Bourne and her children into the kitchen. A dog was guided around the living room and then coaxed up the stairs to the bedrooms, where it stayed for five minutes before being brought back down. The police remained in the bedrooms about 30 minutes.
Bourne heard banging sounds. She heard one of the officers say: “We found drugs in a black boot.” Her husband’s boots had been in a plastic bag with his clothes in preparation for his moving out of the apartment.
Although not under arrest, Bourne was taken to the police station, where she filled out forms and was fingerprinted. No charge was filed against her at the time. Two hours later the police drove her home. It would be weeks before Bourne learned—in an indirect way—that she, too, would face the possibility of jail time because of the raid.
When Bourne returned home that spring night, “It looked like a tornado had went through my bedroom. Everything was piled on top of each other. The TV was broken. It had been pushed over on the floor. I had my cellular phone charging in the socket—the charger was ripped out the socket. There were nails holes [made by the police] in the wall. You could see little dots, probably about six, seven, 10. The computer was pushed over on the ground. The cable was pull out the TV. The blinds was removed. The shades were removed from the windows. The containers that I have clothes in was all thrown on the bed. The dresser drawers were sitting high on top the bed.”
“I felt violated,” she said. “Very violated. I felt that if [they] wanted him so bad, why destroy my stuff?”
In cleaning up she found that her wedding and engagement rings, kept on the top of her dresser in a small box from Macy’s, had disappeared. She soon found that other items were missing.
“They took video games that I bought for my kids that was packaged inside a closet in a shoe box,” Bourne said. “They took a remote control that go with one of the game systems. I had collectible like coins that I bought way back. That was gone.”
She had seen police leaving the apartment with a yellow plastic container that had a new Acer computer she had bought for her cousin. “I had told them, ‘Where are you going with that computer?’ ” she said. The police immediately returned it.
Her husband is in Union County Jail in Elizabeth. He is charged with possession of drugs in public housing and possession of drugs in a school zone. When Bourne spoke to him by phone he told her the police had taken $900 he had in his pocket and that he had $2,000 in the apartment closet. When she checked the closet the money was not there. The police report in Bourne’s possession claims the officers confiscated $134 from the apartment and $734 from her husband. There was no mention of the other missing items, including her rings.
When Bourne was in court for her husband’s arraignment in early July she was stunned to hear the prosecutor tell the court that cocaine was also found by the police in a pocket of her jeans.
She told me she was not wearing jeans at the time. She said she does not take or sell drugs. And she pointed out that the police report, which she showed to me, never mentioned finding drugs on her person. After being charged she met with a public defender who told her that she should urge her husband to confess that the cocaine was his. If he does not, Bourne could face six years in jail.
The state-appointed attorney, with whom Bourne spent less than 15 minutes, told her to stay out of trouble. She has never been arrested at any time in her life. She said the encounter with the lawyer left her feeling “degraded.”
“I have two kids,” she said. “I’m 45. Why would I be trying to go to jail? That’s not me, that’s not how I was brought up. My daughter is sick. My son has a disability. I’m the only one that take care of both of them.”
If she goes to jail it will be catastrophic for her children. But this is not a new story. It happens to families every day in our gulag state. Bourne is one human being among hundreds of thousands routinely sacrificed for corporate greed. Her tragedy is of no concern to private contractors or supine judges and elected officials. They do not work for her. They do not work for us. They are corporate employees. And they know something Bourne is just discovering: Incarceration in America is a business.
Profiting From Human Misery February 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: capitalism, chris hedges, corrections corporation, Criminal Justice, drug policy, elizabeth detention, for profit prisons, Immigration, immigration reform, new jersey, prison industry, prison lobby, prison privatization, roger hollander, undocumented
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Posted on Feb 17, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
|A row of beds inside the Elizabeth Detention Center.|
By Chris Hedges
Marela, an undocumented immigrant in her 40s, stood outside the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, N.J., on a chilly afternoon last week. She was there with a group of protesters who appear at the facility’s gates every year on Ash Wednesday to decry the nation’s immigration policy and conditions inside the center. She was there, she said, because of her friend Evelyn Obey.
Obey, 40, a Guatemalan and the single mother of a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old, was picked up in an immigration raid as she and nine other undocumented workers walked out of an office building they cleaned in Newark, N.J. Her two children instantly lost their only parent. She languished in detention. Another family took in the children, who never saw their mother again. Obey died in jail in 2010 from, according to the sign Villar had hung on her neck, “pulmonary thromboembolism, chronic bronchiolitis and emphysema and remote cardiac Ischemic Damage.’ ”
“She called me two days after she was seized,” Marela told me in Spanish. “She was hysterical. She was crying. She was worried about her children. We could not visit her because we do not have legal documents. We helped her get a lawyer. Then we heard she was sick. Then we heard she died. She was buried in an unmarked grave. We did not go to her burial. We were too scared of being seized and detained.”
The rally—about four dozen people, most from immigrant rights groups and local churches—was a flicker of consciousness in a nation that has yet to fully confront the totalitarian corporate forces arrayed against it. Several protesters in orange jumpsuits like those worn by inmates held signs reading: “I Want My Family Together,” “No Human Being is Illegal,” and “Education not Deportation.”
“The people who run that prison make money off of human misery,” said Diana Mejia, 47, an immigrant from Colombia who now has legal status, gesturing toward the old warehouse that now serves as the detention facility. As she spoke, a Catholic Worker band called the Filthy Rotten System belted out a protest song. A low-flying passenger jet, its red, green and white underbelly lights blinking in the night sky, rumbled overhead. Clergy walking amid the crowd marked the foreheads of participants with ashes to commemorate Ash Wednesday.
The majority of those we incarcerate in this country—and we incarcerate a quarter of the world’s prison population—have never committed a violent crime. Eleven million undocumented immigrants face the possibility of imprisonment and deportation. President Barack Obama, outpacing George W. Bush, has deported more than 400,000 people since he took office. Families, once someone is seized, detained and deported, are thrown into crisis. Children come home from school and find they have lost their mothers or fathers. The small incomes that once sustained them are snuffed out. Those who remain behind often become destitute.
But human beings matter little in the corporate state. We myopically serve the rapacious appetites of those dedicated to exploitation and maximizing profit. And our corporate masters view prisons—as they do education, health care and war—as a business. The 320-bed Elizabeth Detention Center, which houses only men, is run by one of the largest operators and owners of for-profit prisons in the country, Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has annual revenues in excess of $1.7 billion. An average of 81,384 inmates are in its facilities on any one day. This is a greater number, the American Civil Liberties Union points out in a 2011 report, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” than that held by the states of New York and New Jersey combined.
The for-profit prisons and their lobbyists in Washington and state capitals have successfully blocked immigration reform, have prevented a challenge to our draconian drug laws and are pushing through tougher detention policies. Locking up more and more human beings is the bedrock of the industry’s profits. These corporations are the engines behind the explosion of our prison system. They are the reason we have spent $300 billion on new prisons since 1980. They are also the reason serious reform is impossible.
The United States, from 1970 to 2005, increased its prison population by about 700 percent, according to statistics gathered by the ACLU. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the ACLU report notes, says that for-profit companies presently control about 18 percent of federal prisoners and 6.7 percent of all state prisoners. Private prisons account for nearly all of the new prisons built between 2000 and 2005. And nearly half of all immigrants detained by the federal government are shipped to for-profit prisons, according to Detention Watch Network.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which imprisons about 400,000 undocumented people a year, has an annual budget of more than $5 billion. ICE is planning to expand its operations by establishing several mega-detention centers, most run by private corporations, in states such as New Jersey, Texas, Florida, California and Illinois. Many of these private contractors are, not surprisingly, large campaign donors to “law and order” politicians including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
In CCA’s annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission for 2011, cited by the ACLU, the prison company bluntly states its opposition to prison reform. “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by criminal laws,” it declares. CCA goes on to warn that “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration” could “potentially [reduce] demand for correctional facilities,” as would “mak[ing] more inmates eligible for early release based on good behavior,” the adoption of “sentencing alternatives [that] … could put some offenders on probation” and “reductions in crime rates.”
CCA in 2011 gave $710,300 in political contributions to candidates for federal or state office, political parties and 527 groups (PACs and super PACs), the ACLU reported. The corporation also spent $1.07 million lobbying federal officials along with undisclosed funds to lobby state officials, according to the ACLU. CCA, through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), lobbies legislators to impose harsher detention laws at the state and federal levels. The ALEC helped draft Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law SB 1070.
A March 2012 CCA investor presentation prospectus, quoted by the ACLU, tells potential investors that incarceration “creates predictable revenue streams.” The document cites demographic trends that the company says will continue to expand profits. These positive investment trends include, the prospectus reads, “high recidivism”—“about 45 percent of individuals released from prison in 1999 and more than 43 percent released from prison in 2004 were returned to prison within three years.” The prospectus invites investments by noting that one in every 100 U.S. adults is currently in prison or jail. And because the U.S. population is projected to grow by approximately 18.6 million from 2012 to 2017, “prison populations would grow by about 80,400 between 2012 and 2017, or by more than 13,000 additional per year, on average,” the CCA document says.
The two largest private prison companies in 2010 received nearly $3 billion in revenue. The senior executives, according to the ACLU report, each received annual compensation packages worth well over $3 million. The for-profit prisons can charge the government up to $200 a day to house an inmate; they pay detention officers as little as $10 an hour.
“Within 30 miles of this place, there are at least four other facilities where immigrants are detained: Essex, Monmouth, Delaney Hall and Hudson, which has the distinction of being named one of the 10 worst detention facilities in the country,” Phipps, who is an immigration attorney as well as a minister, told the gathering in front of the Elizabeth Detention Center. “The terrible secret is that immigration detention has become a very profitable business for companies and county governments.”
There is an immigration court inside the Elizabeth facility, although the roar of the planes lifting off from the nearby Newark Airport forces those in the court to remain silent every three or four minutes until the sound subsides. Most of those brought before the court have no legal representation and are railroaded through the system and deported. Detainees, although most have no criminal record beyond illegal entry into the United States, wear orange jumpsuits and frequently are handcuffed. They do not have adequate health care. There are now some 5,000 children in foster care because their parents have been detained or deported, according to the Applied Research Center’s report “Shattered Families.” The report estimates that this number will rise to 15,000 within five years.
“I am in family court once every six to eight weeks representing some mother who is surrendering custody of her child to somebody else because she does not want to take that child back to the poverty of Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador,” Phipps said when we spoke after the rally. “She has no option. She does not want her child to live in the same poverty she grew up in. It is heartbreaking.”
We have abandoned the common good. We have been stripped of our rights and voice. Corporations write our laws and determine how we structure our society. We have all become victims. There are no politicians or institutions, no political parties or courts, that are independent enough or strong enough to resist the corporate onslaught. Greater and greater numbers of human beings will be consumed. The poor, the vulnerable, the undocumented, the weak, the elderly, the sick, the children will go first. And those of us watching helplessly outside the gates will go next.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published Mondays on Truthdig, 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 again in 2011. The LAPC also 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 twelve books, including “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (2012), “Death of the Liberal Class” (2010), “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. In 2011, Nation Books published a collection of Hedges’ Truthdig columns called “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.”
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.