Displaying items by tag: Progressive Picks http://www.truth-out.org Sun, 26 Jun 2016 23:56:14 -0400 en-gb An Increase in the Minimum Wage Strengthens the Economy for All http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36562-an-increase-in-the-minimum-wage-strengthens-the-economy-for-all http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36562-an-increase-in-the-minimum-wage-strengthens-the-economy-for-all

The battle for a higher minimum wage, led primarily by fast-food workers, has become one of the biggest labor stories in the United States in decades. David Rolf, author of The Fight for $15, discusses how victories were won and makes the case that higher wages can revitalize the US economy.

Striking fast food workers demonstrate for higher wages in Milwaukee, WI, May 15, 2014.Striking fast-food workers demonstrate for higher wages in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 15, 2014. (Photo: Joe Brusky / Flickr)

The battle for a higher minimum wage, led primarily by fast food workers, has become one of the biggest labor stories in the United States in decades. A new book from one of the organizers involved in that struggle shows how victories were won and makes the case that higher wages can revitalize the US economy. The Fight for $15 offers tools and inspiration for anyone interested in making change happen in our lifetimes. Order this inspiring book today with a donation to Truthout!

The following is a Truthout interview with David Rolf, union organizer and author of The Fight for $15.

Mark Karlin: How does the nationwide Fight for $15 as a minimum wage represent the importance of grassroots activity and tenacity in achieving social and economic justice goals, particularly in terms of advocates taking the lead in compelling politicians to take action?

David Rolf: November 2012 marked the beginning of a new movement of underpaid workers in a particularly infamous industry -- fast food. New York Communities for Change and SEIU, along with a host of other community, civil rights, labor, and religious organizations, supported some two hundred workers in walking off the job. Two hundred is a tiny number in a city of 8 million people, but still newsworthy because it was the first labor protest by fast-food workers within living memory. Then, in the summer of 2013, with support from SEIU and union workers in other industries, the first coordinated national fast-food strikes ignited in cities all around the country: Seattle, New York, St. Louis, Detroit, Harrisburg, Milwaukee, Chicago, Flint, Kansas City -- 60 cities in all. Over the next two years after the 2013 strikes, a broader call for $15 emerged, as fast food and other low-wage workers protested in hundreds of cities around the globe.

(Image: The New Press)(Image: The New Press)In a country that had seen fewer strikes in the past 20 years combined than in a single year at the height of labor's power (1952) -- this was huge news. These weren't traditional strikes, in that none of the workers had a union, and they weren't protesting against a single employer or an illegal labor practice. They were striking against poverty wages and an entire low-wage industry.

The strikes coincided with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. An editorial in The New York Times drew a connection between the civil rights and minimum wage movements, saying that, "The marchers had it right 50 years ago. The fast-food strikers have it right today." In the wake of the massive protests over the racially linked police killings in 2014 and 2015, demands for a $15 hourly wage have increasingly linked the struggles for fair pay and civil rights. Grassroots energy in both areas is sparking change for marginalized citizens around issues that deeply affect their lives. Home health aide and fast-food worker Ebony Hughes, who is African American and makes $7.50 an hour at both of her jobs, told The New York Times that, "I feel like the Fight for 15 and the Black Lives Matter movement is connected. Most of the people who are fighting for 15, they look like me."

The critical element in the success of the Fight for $15 has been workers stepping into the streets and the public limelight, showing the nation that even some of the most poorly paid and disrespected segments of the American workforce have the strength and self-respect to demand better for themselves and their families. Fast-food workers went on strike, held mayoral debates, and organized boycotts, marches, weeks of action, street demonstrations, and attendance at city hall forums, public debates, and town halls. These workers effectively focused public attention on the fact that no one can live with dignity on the minimum wage in the post-recession era.

Ultimately, the workers built the power that transformed the national conversation.

David Rolf. (Photo: Nichael Maine)David Rolf. (Photo: Nichael Maine)

Can you describe a bit about the successful campaign in Seattle, in which you played a role, and how that set an important precedent for moving the effort to establish a $15 minimum wage into the national political debate?

We knew we were operating in a changed public opinion environment post-Occupy, when income inequality and wage stagnation finally took their place among the principal moral issues of our time. After 40 years of stagnant and declining wages, people had had enough. In Seattle in 2014, the political expression of the low-wage worker movement became a demand on the candidates running for mayor and city council to support a $15 minimum wage. This bold demand captured the imagination of the Seattle public, and soon the candidates were vying with one another to express their support for $15 in the strongest terms. It would be only a year from the first Seattle strike in May 2013, to a unanimous city council vote to raise the wage to $15 an hour in June 2014 -- with the support of 74 percent of the public.

How did the impossible become the standard that mayors and governors around the nation are rushing to emulate?

The victory in Seattle lifted wages for 100,000 people, far more than just about any union leader could ever hope to do at the bargaining table. And over ten years, it will transfer $3 billion in income from corporations to the workers who help make those businesses profitable.

Why has the fast-food industry been such a focal point in the Fight for $15?

The fast-food industry is notorious for employing millions of Americans at poverty wages. Many of the largest low-wage employers in the nation are fast-food companies, including McDonald's and Yum! Brands (the operator of fast-food chains such as Pizza Hut, KFC, and Taco Bell). And it's not just low wages that make fast-food companies the target of workers' ire -- it's s high profitability (as well as serving unhealthy food). Annual earnings in the fast-food industry are well below the income needed for self-sufficiency, and fast-food industry jobs are also much less likely than other jobs to provide health benefits.

But it's not that fast food companies can't afford to pay better wages -- their profits, cash holdings, and dividends have not only rebounded but are now substantially higher than before the 2007 recession. Fast Food CEOs are among the country's most highly compensated individuals, while fast food workers are the lowest paid. Subway President Fred DeLuca, for instance, has an estimated net worth of $3 billion. For McDonald's, the company's profit, after wages are paid, works out to $18,200 per employee -- more than most McDonald's workers make in a year.

Fast food also has a uniquely difficult business structure for workers to achieve better wages and working conditions. Franchising is also the dominant model in fast food, unlike in most other industries. The modern franchising model was created by blender salesman Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's, to maximize corporate profit by distancing the company from risk and reducing overhead costs while still drawing a fixed percentage of the revenues from each restaurant. And most fast-food workers can't easily join a union, because they don't work directly for their parent company, such as McDonald's or Subway. Instead, they work for individual franchise owners, ensuring that each individual fast-food outlet would have to organize and win union recognition separately. So there's not one central employer to bargain with, as in a traditional union campaign.

But there was a way around this (intentional) barrier. The fast food strikes that began in August 2013 marked the beginning of a new form of unionism, in which a movement of underpaid workers in one service industry -- fast food -- received support from workers in other service industries through SEIU.

In Chapter 7, "But Won't the Sky Fall?," what are some of your counter arguments to corporate opponents of raising the minimum wage?

We've had 40 years of wage stagnation in the US, in which wages shrank for the bottom 50 percent and flatlined for the bottom 90 percent -- even as the nation has gotten richer and more productive. We've created more wealth in the past 30 years than the rest of human of human history combined. But half of Americans make less than $17 an hour.

What we've been told about how to create a prosperous economy, i.e., trickle-down economics, has been proven incorrect. The free market hasn't done a very good job "figuring out" how to pay workers enough. If it was solely up to the market, the people with the least power would be paid pennies … or less. There's a reason people fought and died for basic labor laws in the 1800 and 1900s. People decide what markets should do -- they are not a force of nature. Over 80 percent of fast-food and similar low-wage service jobs are held by adults, people with bills to pay and families to feed. Now is the time when we must decide to do better than the "minimum."

Some specific myths that are repetitively raised against higher minimum wages:

Myth: Higher minimum wages inevitably cost us jobs.

Facts: Minimum wage increases have no negative effect on employment as shown in independent studies from economists across the country. Some studies even show job gains. But the net impact on jobs when you look at all of the studies is centered on zero. When workers make more money, they respond by being more productive in their jobs and are less likely to leave, reducing turnover costs. This puts money in business' pockets, and workers also then have more money to spend in the local economy. In addition, research shows that businesses generally deal with minimum wage increases by finding efficiencies in their business practices or slightly increasing prices if they have to, not cutting jobs. Of course: because they need staff to make their businesses run!

Myth: $15 is bad for the economy.

Fact: New research from University of California economists shows that, unlike small wage increases, a $15 minimum wage generates billions in new consumer spending, which offsets the higher costs to businesses and grows the economy while reducing reliance on taxpayer-supported government benefits. Low wages are contributing to dragging our economy down -- growing the economy relies in part on better wages. When families can afford the basics, they can reinvest in their communities, and higher wages means a broader consumer base for businesses. We have almost 100 years of evidence to support these facts: Since 1938, the federal minimum wage has been increased 22 times, and for more than 75 years, real GDP per capita has steadily increased, even in years when the federal minimum wage has been raised.

Myth: The minimum wage is a "starter wage" mostly earned by teenagers.

Facts: Because of the decimation of our economy during the past 40 years, and particularly after the Great Recession, the minimum wage is now mostly earned by adults. And not necessarily young adults, either: The average minimum wage earner is 35 years old. The vast majority (over 80 percent) of fast-food and similar low wage service jobs (<$9.24/hr) are held by adults. A quarter are adults over 40. Another quarter are moms raising kids.

Myth: $15 is too high.

Facts: Approximately 42 percent of the US workforce now makes less than $15 per hour, as wages have eroded over the past 40 years. Today, the gap between productivity and compensation for the typical worker is larger than at any time since World War II. If wages had been indexed to productivity since 1968, the minimum wage would now be $21.72 an hour. Productivity grew eight times faster than typical worker compensation. If minimum-wage workers received only half of the productivity gains over the period, the federal minimum would be $15.34.

And the minimum wage isn't earned only by people working at fast food restaurants and in service industry work -- the average income for positions like nursing assistants, preschool teachers and paramedics are all under $15. Americans also don't believe that $15 an hour is an exorbitant wage: 63 percent of Americans favor raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2020, including a majority of Americans living in states that voted for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. A September 2015 poll found that, by a 3-1 margin, voters are more likely to support political candidates who favor raising the minimum wage. As Republican pollster Frank Luntz explained to the Council of State Chambers of Commerce, "If you're fighting against a minimum wage increase, you're fighting an uphill battle, because most Americans, even most Republicans, are okay with raising the minimum wage."

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Opinion Sun, 26 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
How the $15 Minimum Wage Became a Reality in Seattle http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36550-how-the-15-minimum-wage-became-a-reality-in-seattle http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36550-how-the-15-minimum-wage-became-a-reality-in-seattle

Fast food workers strike for higher minimum wage and better benefits in St. Paul, Minnesota, on April 14, 2016. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)Fast food workers strike for higher minimum wage and better benefits in St. Paul, Minnesota, on April 14, 2016. The Minneapolis protests followed the successful efforts of Seattle activists and minimum wage fast-food workers to secure a $15 minimum wage. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue)

The battle for a higher minimum wage, led primarily by fast food workers, has become one of the biggest labor stories in the United States in decades. A new book from one of the organizers involved in that struggle shows how victories were won and makes the case that higher wages can revitalize the US economy. The Fight for $15 offers tools and inspiration for anyone interested in making change happen in our lifetimes. Order this inspiring book today with a donation to Truthout!

The following excerpt from The Fight for $15 details the beginning of the successful $15 minimum wage movement in Seattle.

Meet Some of the Fast-Food Strikers in Seattle

Seattle's lopsided economy and high-cost housing was the backdrop to the showdown between struggling workers and the city's dominant poverty-wage industry. But it took individual workers, restaurant by restaurant, to set things in motion. Their demand, as stated on their Facebook page, Good Jobs Seattle, was simple: "I make $15 per hour or less and I am worth more."

Brittany Phelps, twenty-four, participated in the first fast-food strike in May 2013. Phelps was making minimum wage working thirty-seven hours per week. She lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a cheaper suburb of Seattle with five other family members, all of whom she was helping with their expenses. She didn't make enough to get her own place with her five-year-old daughter while helping her family. Phelps said her ambition is to go to culinary school or open a restaurant, though she said, "In the condition I'm in right now, I don't see a way to get there." Why? Because, as Phelps said, "People have been working for [McDonald's] for ten years and only make 90 cents more than I do. So I'm like ok, we're going to fight for this change, because that's a shame."

Jason Harvey, a forty-two-year-old navy veteran who works at Burger King, also went on strike that May. He said he felt moved to action because he had seen colleagues become victims of wage theft, slashed hours, and an overall "lack of respect." He had worked at Burger King for eight years and still made minimum wage, and was also being assigned fewer hours than in previous years. Harvey had lived in the same government-subsidized studio apartment for twelve years, explaining that he "can't afford to live anywhere else." Once he makes $15 an hour, he added, "I may have to pay a higher rent, but I'll be able to afford to go to the grocery store. The food stamps would be the first thing to go. I don't like living off of the charity of others and the government." So he decided to join the other workers going on strike: "I was scared out of my boots," he said, "especially the first strike. It was a new experience for me and definitely moving out of my comfort zone. It's not something that you do because it feels fun, but I had to do it."

(Image: The New Press)(Image: The New Press)Crystal Thompson, thirty-four, had worked in fast food for most of her life. After five years at Domino's Pizza, she was still making minimum wage. "I enjoy my job. I enjoy the people," she said. "And it helps pay the bills. But your week starts Monday, and you don't see your schedule until Sunday night. You don't have the same schedule every week, so you can't plan your life." Thompson shared a small living space with her young son and a roommate. Her son slept on the couch. "There's just not a way out yet," she said. "I just keep doing what I'm doing. All my money goes to bills. It's tough." When she first started protesting, Thompson admitted, "I was scared to be on strike. . . . I was scared of losing my job. But it was kind of empowering. I just felt good to be heard, to be a voice for the rest of the workers in the city that don't have a chance to speak out, giving them a chance for their troubles and their problems to be heard too." Thompson has received support from her fellow fast-food workers. "My coworkers think it's cool," she said. "That it's awesome that someone actually has the guts to get out there and do it. Because nobody else had the guts before."

Fifteen Dollars Becomes a Political Flashpoint in Seattle

It is safe to say that none of the candidates for Seattle mayor had thought much about a $15 minimum wage when they were deciding to throw their hat into the ring during the winter and spring of 2013. But by the time the race was heating up in late spring and early summer, it was one issue that was unavoidable.

Seattle was the seventh city in the country to be hit by fast-food strikes, after New York in 2012 and Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in early 2013. The Seattle fast-food campaign was led by Working Washington, the SEIU-backed labor-community partnership that we formed in 2011 to organize unemployed and low-wage workers, with the goal of holding politicians and corporations accountable for good jobs.

Like the SEIU-funded fast-food efforts in other large cities, Working Washington organizers, (together with the immigrant rights group One America and the antipoverty group Washington Community Action Network,) visited fast-food stores around the city -- and found that the workers were excited about fighting for a raise.

When Seattle fast-food workers struck on May 30, 2013, it was the first time the call for $15 was heard on the streets of Seattle and the first time in the series of strikes when stores actually shut down. And even more so than in other cities, news of the strike dominated the day's local news headlines.

The May fast-food strikes took place at the beginning of what was to be an important election season in municipal Seattle. One-term incumbent mayor Mike McGinn was running for reelection against a field of eight challengers, including a current and a former city council member, a popular state senator, and five long-shot candidates. The four "major" candidates were McGinn, state senator Ed Murray, city councilman Bruce Harrell, and former city councilman Peter Steinbrueck.

Throughout the summer the issue of a $15 minimum wage was raised at almost every candidate debate and public forum. It was impossible to avoid. Candidates were asked about it everywhere they went. Within fifteen miles of each other in SeaTac and Seattle, two campaigns were developing that would find synchronicity on the ballot in November of 2013.

As a strategy, we could not have done better than the combination of a movement that was coming into its own just as a major election season was ramping up. Even those who were opposing $15 in SeaTac realized that this was a turning point toward an inevitable wage hike in Seattle. The campaign in SeaTac had business interests on alert. In August, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce called a meeting of its policy council to discuss the $15 movement. One participant explained,

"So that's why we are engaging on both levels, bringing all the stakeholders together in Seattle to say the first line of defense is to defeat it in SeaTac, that sends a message. I'm already getting calls from [Seattle City] Council members saying 'you should start your discussions now because the living wage is coming.'"

A chamber member at the meeting even went so far as to acknowledge that the current minimum wage was not livable: "It's going to be an interesting battle. The rhetoric from the unions is pretty much [that] people have such difficulty supporting themselves on a minimum wage. . . . I don't think anybody can argue with that and I don't think anyone should argue about sick leave either, it's very popular."

In other words, even those in the business community who were opposing the $15 wage campaign acknowledged that they couldn't win by arguing against a minimum-wage hike while a city election campaign was under way.

Six of the eight Seattle mayoral hopefuls appeared at a candidate forum at SEIU's downtown headquarters on a Saturday in June 2013. Such forums were a weekly, sometimes daily, occurrence during the height of the campaign season, with everyone from downtown business groups to neighborhood associations to climate advocates holding candidate debates. But this particular candidate forum was unique. The subject matter of the ninety-minute forum was exclusively restricted to "low-wage worker issues," bringing the issue of the poverty-wage economy to the center of political debate. Sponsored by a dozen worker and antipoverty groups, the low-wage worker forum was televised gavel-to-gavel by the Seattle Channel, the city's equivalent of C-SPAN, and covered by reporters from both major Seattle newspapers and several TV network affiliates. The auditorium at the union hall was packed to capacity.

Moderating the debate was local political journalist and city hall reporter Erica Barnett. The panel of questioners consisted entirely of low-wage workers, including Burger King employee Aaron Larson, Taco Del Mar employee Alfonso Arellano, child care worker Kellie Baird, and Safeway grocery chain employee Tracie Champion.

The workers asked each candidate a series of questions about issues of importance to low-wage workers, including:

How would you live on the minimum wage?

What would you do as mayor to improve fast-food workers' lives?

What would you do to support better child care policies? What would you do to support union organizing rights? What should we do about companies pushing health care and other costs onto workers and the community?

What would you do to keep low-wage employers out of our neighborhoods?

Then, during Q&A, an audience member levied a challenging question to the candidates: "Would you support a $15 minimum wage in the city of Seattle?" When it came to raising the city minimum wage to $15 per hour, every candidate hedged to some extent. Harrell said, to laughs from the audience, "I heard everyone dodge the question except for Kate [Martin]." But Murray chimed in, "I said yes, Bruce."

Each candidate was asked to explain to the audience how he or she would balance a household budget on the Washington minimum wage (then $9.19 an hour). They were given a blank budget worksheet to fill out with the usual household expense categories -- rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, health care, education expenses, entertainment, transportation cost, child care, etc. Their responses were unanimous -- this was, in Steinbreuck's words, "an unworkable, below poverty line budget."

The debate ended with no clear winner -- except, that is, for Seattle's low-wage workers. Never before had there been a mayoral debate devoted exclusively to low-wage worker issues. But because of the broad coalition of organizations hosting the debate, no major candidate was willing to miss it -- doing so might cost a candidate an endorsement from a major labor or civic organization.

Primary election day didn't bring many surprises in the mayor's race. As many political observers expected, the front-runners, incumbent Mike McGinn and state senator Ed Murray, emerged as the top two vote getters and victors of Seattle's nonpartisan primary, each with about 30 percent of the vote. They would go on to face each other in the general election. Both McGinn and Murray had been supportive of the fast-food worker strikes and had made public statements supporting a higher minimum wage. Neither had made a hard-and-fast commitment to the $15 number, although Murray had come the closest.

However, there was one big shocker on primary day in the Seattle City Council election. In the race for council position number 2, where sixteen-year incumbent Richard Conlin was widely perceived as having no meaningful opposition and being guaranteed an easy ride to reelection, two candidates appeared on the ballot against him: a young Democratic Party activist named Brian Carver and Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant (the Socialist Alternative party is the US branch of a British-based Trotskyist labor party).

Both Sawant, then a forty-one-year-old community college economics professor, and Carver had run unsuccessfully in past elections, and neither raised much money nor garnered endorsements from popular elected officials or organizations. Conlin seemed to have no way to lose.

Conlin did indeed come in first in the primary, but with less than half of the vote -- never a reassuring sign for an incumbent. It meant that more than half of the primary voters had voted for someone else. Even more surprising, Sawant had come in second, with 35 percent of the vote to Conlin's 47 percent. Sawant would face off against Conlin in the general election, the first socialist to advance to a general election in Seattle since 1991. For a supposedly frivolous "protest" candidacy, Sawant's had done surprisingly well.

Moreover, Sawant had based her candidacy almost entirely on the message of a $15 minimum wage. She had effectively hitched her fate to the fast-food workers' strikes and the SeaTac initiative, both of which were dominating local and national media coverage throughout the summer. Sawant called the win in SeaTac "the mother of everything that came after it. It changed the landscape -- before that, people were hesitating to talk about a $15 minimum wage." She also credited the fast-food strikers, saying, "The fast-food workers were in many ways the political backbone for the entire movement. The strikes were a real turning point and a sign of the changing consciousness of the most marginalized workers."

Copyright (2016) by David Rolf. Not to be Reprinted without permission of the publisher, The New Press.

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Opinion Thu, 23 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Constructing Visions of "Perpetual Peace": An Interview With Noam Chomsky http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36480-constructing-visions-of-perpetual-peace-an-interview-with-noam-chomsky http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36480-constructing-visions-of-perpetual-peace-an-interview-with-noam-chomsky

A US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress leads a formation of aircraft from Poland, Germany, Sweden and the US over the Blatic Sea, June 9, 2016. Although the US has remained supreme in the military dimension, the consequences of American decline have been many. One is the need to resort to coalitions of the willing when overwhelmingly opposed internationally.A US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress leads a formation of aircraft from Poland, Germany, Sweden and the US over the Blatic Sea, June 9, 2016. Although the US has remained supreme in the military dimension, the consequences of US decline have been many. One is the need to resort to "coalitions of the willing" when overwhelmingly opposed internationally. (Photo: Senior Airman Erin Babis / US Air Force)

Noam Chomsky expounds on the crisis in today's democracies, the apparent end of Pax Americana, the historical significance of Castro's Cuba, the deadly threat of nuclear weapons, the means of exploitation under today's capitalism, and the shape and form of a society free of oppression and exploitation.

A US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress leads a formation of aircraft from Poland, Germany, Sweden and the US over the Blatic Sea, June 9, 2016. Although the US has remained supreme in the military dimension, the consequences of American decline have been many. One is the need to resort to coalitions of the willing when overwhelmingly opposed internationally.A US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress leads a formation of aircraft from Poland, Germany, Sweden and the US over the Blatic Sea, June 9, 2016. Although the US has remained supreme in the military dimension, the consequences of US decline have been many. One is the need to resort to "coalitions of the willing" when overwhelmingly opposed internationally. (Photo: Senior Airman Erin Babis / US Air Force)

Through its commitment to militarism and global imperialism, the elite class that controls the United States is risking global catastrophe. In his new book Who Rules the World?, Noam Chomsky examines US policies from the drone assassination program to nuclear weapons, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Israel and Palestine, to show the workings and consequences of undemocratic imperial power. Order the book today by making a donation to support Truthout!

"Who rules the world?" This is one of those perennial questions. In the past, it has been empires or dominant states that dictated the course of history. The United States was able singlehandedly to influence developments and outcomes economically, politically and ideologically in much of the world throughout the post-war era. Although we are now witnessing the end of "Pax Americana," the US remains the most powerful and destructive imperial state in the history of the world.

However, states are not abstract entities or neutral institutions of human creation. On the contrary, while they may have a logic of their own due to their huge built-in bureaucracies, the policies they pursue reflect above all the interests of the dominant social classes and seek to reproduce the existing social and economic relations. In other words, states work on behalf of what Adam Smith called "the masters of mankind" whose "vile maxim" is "all for ourselves, and nothing for the other People."

Indeed, in the case of the United States, one of the most disturbing and dangerous developments is the growing insulation of the elite from any system of democratic accountability, and the implementation of policies with total disregard for the needs of the people. This is a development observed today in most of the western, capitalist societies around the world, proving that financial elites are in control of so-called "democratic" regimes.

Noam Chomsky, a professor emeritus at MIT, has written extensively about "the masters of mankind" and on the role of the US in world affairs. His latest book, titled Who Rules the World? which was released last month by Metropolitan Press, has already received rave reviews. In it, he examines the pursuit and exercise of power by the United States and provides a scathing critique of mass media -- particularly the way the New York Times reports on national and international news -- while laying out in both moral and political terms the responsibility of intellectuals.

On the occasion of the publication of Who Rules the World?, Noam Chomsky granted Truthout this exclusive interview, in which he expounds on the crisis in today's democracies, the apparent end of Pax Americana, the historical significance of Castro's Cuba, the deadly threat of nuclear weapons, the means of exploitation under today's capitalism, and the shape and form of a society free of oppression and exploitation.

CJ Polychroniou: Noam, the decline of democracy as a reflection of political apathy is evident in both the United States and in Europe, and the explanation provided in Who Rules the World? is that this phenomenon is linked to the fact that most people throughout Western societies are "convinced that a few big interests control policy." This is obviously true, but wasn't this always the case? I mean, people always knew that policymaking was in the hands of the elite, but this did not stop them in the past from seeking to influence political outcomes through the ballot box and other means. So, what specific factors might explain political apathy in our own age?

Noam Chomsky: "Resignation" may be a better term than "apathy," and even that goes too far, I think.

Since the early 1980s, polls in the US have shown that most people believe that the government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves... I do not know of earlier polls, or polls in other countries, but it would not be surprising if the results are similar. The important question is: are people motivated to do something about it? That depends on many factors, crucially including the means that they perceive to be available. It's the task of serious activists to help develop those means and encourage people to understand that they are available. Two hundred and fifty years ago, in one of the first modern works of political theory, David Hume observed that "power is in the hands of the governed," if they only choose to exercise it, and ultimately, it is "by opinion only" -- that is, by doctrine and propaganda -- that they are prevented from exercising power. That can be overcome, and often has been.

Thirty-five years ago, political scientist Walter Dean Burnham identified "the total absence of a socialist or laborite mass party as an organized competitor in the electoral market" as a primary cause of the high rate of abstention in US elections. Traditionally, the labor movement and labor-based parties have played a leading role in offering ways to "influence political outcomes" within the electoral system and on the streets and shop floor. That capacity has declined significantly under neoliberal assault, which enhanced the bitter war waged against unions by the business classes throughout the postwar period.

In 1978, before Reagan's escalation of the attack against labor, United Auto Workers President Doug Fraser recognized what was happening -- far too late -- and criticized the "leaders of the business community" for having "chosen to wage a one-sided class war in this country -- a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society," and for having "broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a period of growth and progress." The union leadership had placed their faith -- partly for their own benefit as a labor bureaucracy -- in a compact with owners and managers during the postwar growth and high profits period that had come to an end by the 1970s. By then, the powerful attack on labor had already taken a severe toll and it has gotten much more extreme since, particularly since the radically anti-labor Reagan administration.

The Democrats, meanwhile, pretty much abandoned the working class. Independent political parties have been very marginal, and political activism, while widespread, has [often] … sidelined class issues and offered little to the white working class, which is now drifting into the hands of their class enemy. In Europe, functioning democracy has steadily declined as major policy decisions are transferred to the Brussels bureaucracy of the EU, operating under the shadow of northern banks. But there are many popular reactions, some self-destructive (racing into the hands of the class enemy) and others quite promising and productive, as we see in current political campaigns in the US and Europe.

In your book, you refer to the "invisible hands of power." What is the exact meaning of this, and to what situations and circumstances can it be applied in order to understand domestic and global political developments?

I was using the phrase to refer to the guiding doctrines of policy formation, sometimes spelled out in the documentary record, sometimes easily detectable in ongoing events. There are many examples in international and domestic affairs. Sometimes the clouds are lifted by high-level disclosures or by significant historical events. The real nature of the Cold War, for example, was considerably illuminated when the Soviet Union collapsed and it was no longer possible to proclaim simply that the Russians are coming. That provided an interesting test of the real motives of policy formation, hidden by Cold War pretexts [that were suddenly] gone.

We learn from Bush I administration documents, for example, that we must keep intervention forces aimed at the Middle East, where the serious threats to our interests "could not be laid at the Kremlin's door," contrary to long deceit. Rather, the serious problems trace to "radical nationalism," the term regularly used for independent nationalism that is under control. That is actual a major theme of the Cold War, masked by posturing about the Great Enemy.

The fate of NATO is also revealing. It was constructed and maintained in alleged defense against the Russian hordes. By 1991, [there were] no more Russian hordes, no Warsaw Pact, and Mikhail Gorbachev was proposing a broad security system with no military pacts. What happened to NATO? It expanded to the East in violation of commitments to Gorbachev by President Bush I and Secretary of State James Baker that appear to have been consciously intended to deceive him and to gain his acquiescence to a unified Germany within NATO, so recent archival work persuasively indicates.

To move to another domain, the free-market capitalism extolled in doctrine was illustrated by an IMF study of major banks, which showed that their profits derived mostly from an implicit taxpayer insurance policy.

Examples abound, and are highly instructive.

Since the end of the Second World War, capitalism throughout the West -- and in fact throughout the globe -- has managed to maintain and expand its domination not merely through political and psychological means but also through the use of the repressive apparatus of the state, including the military. Can you talk a little bit about this in connection with the theme of "who rules the world"?

The "mailed fist" [the threat of armed or overbearing force] is not lacking even within the most free societies. In the postwar US, the most striking example is COINTELPRO, a program run by the national political police (FBI) to stamp out dissidence and activism over a broad range, reaching as far as political assassination (Black Panther organizer Fred Hampton). Massive incarceration of populations [deemed] superfluous for profit-making (largely African-American, for obvious historical reasons) is yet another means.

Abroad, the fist is constantly wielded, directly or through clients. The Indochina wars are the most extreme case, the worst postwar 20th-century crime, criticized in the mainstream as a "blunder," like the invasion of Iraq, the worst crime of the new century. One highly significant postwar example is the plague of violent repression that spread through Latin America after JFK effectively shifted the mission of the Latin America military from "hemispheric defense" to "internal security," a euphemism for war against the population. There were horrendous effects throughout the hemisphere, reaching Central America with Reagan's murderous wars, mostly relying on the terrorist forces of client states.

While still the world's predominant power, there is no doubt that the US is in decline. What are the causes and consequences of American decline?

US power peaked, at a historically unprecedented level, at the end of World War II. That couldn't possibly be sustained. It began to erode very soon with what is called, interestingly, "the loss of China" [the transformation of China into a communist nation in 1949]. And the process continued with the reconstruction of industrial societies from wartime devastation and decolonization. One reflection of the decline is the shift of attitudes toward the UN. It was greatly admired when it was hardly more than an instrument of US power in the early postwar years, but increasingly came under attack as "anti-American" as it fell out of control -- so far out of control that the US has held the record in vetoes after 1970, when it joined Britain in support of the racist regime of Southern Rhodesia. By then, the global economy was tripartite: German-based Europe, Japan-based East Asia, and US-based North America.

In the military dimension, the US has remained supreme. There are many consequences. One is resort to "coalitions of the willing" when international opinion overwhelmingly opposes US resort to violence, even among allies, as in the case of the invasion of Iraq. Another is "soft coups," as right now in Brazil, rather than support for neo-Nazi National Security States as was true in the not-distant past.

If the US is still the world's first superpower, what country or entity do you consider to be the second superpower?

There is much talk of China as the emerging superpower. According to many analysts, it is poised to overtake the US. There is no doubt of China's emerging significance in the world scene, already surpassing the US economically by some measures (though far below per capita). Military, China is far weaker; confrontations are taking place in coastal waters near China, not in the Caribbean or off the coast of California. But China faces very serious internal problems -- labor repression and protest, severe ecological threats, demographic decline in work force, and others. And the economy, while booming, is still highly dependent on the more advanced industrial economies at its periphery and the West, though that is changing, and in some high-tech domains, such as design and development of solar panels, China seems to have the world lead. As China is hemmed in from the sea, it is compensating by extending westward, reconstructing something like the old silk roads in a Eurasian system largely under Chinese influence and soon to reach Europe.

You have been arguing for a long time now that nuclear weapons pose one of the two greatest threats to humankind. Why are the major powers so reluctant to abolish nuclear weapons? Doesn't the very existence of these weapons pose a threat to the existence of the "'masters of the universe" themselves?

It is quite remarkable to see how little concern top planners show for the prospects of their own destruction -- not a novelty in world affairs (those who initiated wars often ended up devastated) but now on a hugely different scale. We see that from the earliest days of the atomic age. The US at first was virtually invulnerable, though there was one serious threat on the horizon: ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] with hydrogen bomb warheads. Archival research has now confirmed what was surmised earlier: there was no plan, not even a thought, of reaching a treaty agreement that would have banned these weapons, though there is good reason to believe that it might have been feasible. The same attitudes prevail right to the present, where the vast buildup of forces right at the traditional invasion route into Russia is posing a serious threat of nuclear war.

Planners explain quite lucidly why it is so important to keep these weapons. One of the clearest explanations is in a partially declassified Clinton-era document issued by the Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which is in charge of nuclear weapons policy and use. The document is called Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence; the term "deterrence," like "defense," is a familiar Orwellism referring to coercion and attack. The document explains that "nuclear weapons always cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict," and must therefore be available, at the ready. If the adversary knows we have them, and might use them, they may back down -- a regular feature of Kissingerian diplomacy. In that sense, nuclear weapons are constantly being used, a point that Dan Ellsberg has insistently made, just as we are using a gun when we rob a store but don't actually shoot. One section of the report is headed: "Maintaining Ambiguity." It advises that "planners should not be too rational about determining...what the opponent values the most," which must be targeted.

"One of the most disturbing and dangerous developments is the growing insulation of the elite from any system of democratic accountability," says Noam Chomsky. (Photo: Don J. Usner)"One of the most disturbing and dangerous developments is the growing insulation of the elite from any system of democratic accountability," says Noam Chomsky. (Photo: Don J. Usner)"That the US may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project," [the report says, adding that] it is "beneficial" for our strategic posture if "some elements may appear to be potentially `out of control'." Nixon's madman theory, except this time clearly articulated in an internal planning document, not merely a recollection by an adviser (Haldeman, in the Nixon case).

Like other early post-Cold War documents, this one has been virtually ignored. (I've referred to it a number of times, eliciting no notice that I'm aware of.) The neglect is quite interesting. Simple logic suffices to show that the documentary record after the alleged Russian threat disappeared would be highly illuminating as to what was actually going on before.

The Obama administration has made some openings towards Cuba. Do you anticipate an end to the embargo any time soon?

The embargo has long been opposed by the entire world, as the annual votes on the embargo at the UN General Assembly reveal. By now the US is supported only by Israel. Before it could sometimes count on a Pacific island or some other dependency. Of course Latin America is completely opposed. More interestingly, major sectors of US capital have long been in favor of normalization of relations, as public opinion has been: agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, energy, tourism and others. It is normal for public opinion to be ignored, but dismissing powerful concentrations of the business world tells us that really significant "reasons of state" are involved. We have a good sense from the internal record about what these interests are.

From the Kennedy years until today there has been outrage over Cuba's "successful defiance" of US policies going back to the Monroe Doctrine, which signaled the intention to control the hemisphere. The goal was not realizable because of relative weakness, just as the British deterrent prevented the US from attaining its first "foreign policy" objective, the conquest of Cuba, in the 1820s (here the term "foreign policy" is used in the conventional sense, which adheres to what historian of imperialism Bernard Porter calls "the salt water fallacy": conquest only becomes imperial only when it crosses salt water, so the destruction of the Indian nations and the conquest of half of Mexico were not "imperialism"). The US did achieve its objective in 1898, intervening to prevent Cuba's liberation from Spain and converting it into a virtual colony.

Washington has never reconciled itself to Cuba's intolerable arrogance of achieving independence in 1959 -- partial, since the US refused to return the valuable Guantanamo Bay region, taken by "Treaty" at gunpoint in 1903 and not returned despite the requests of the government of Cuba. In passing, it might be recalled that by far the worst human rights violations in Cuba take place in this stolen territory, to which the US has a much weaker claim than Russia does to Crimea, also taken by force.

But to return to the question, it is hard to predict whether the US will agree to end the embargo short of some kind of Cuban capitulation to US demands going back almost 200 years.

How do you assess and evaluate the historical significance and impact of the Cuban revolution in world affairs and toward the realization of socialism?

The impact on world affairs was extraordinary. For one thing, Cuba played a very significant role in [the] liberation of West and South Africa. Its troops beat back a US-supported South African invasion of Angola and compelled South Africa to abandon its attempt to establish a regional support system and to give up its illegal hold on Namibia. The fact that Black Cuban troops defeated the South Africans had an enormous psychological impact both in white and Black Africa. A remarkable exercise of dedicated internationalism, undertaken at great risk from the reigning superpower, which was the last supporter of apartheid South Africa, and entirely selfless. Small wonder that when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, one of his first acts was to declare:

During all my years in prison, Cuba was an inspiration and Fidel Castro a tower of strength… [Cuban victories] destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor [and] inspired the fighting masses of South Africa … a turning point for the liberation of our continent -- and of my people -- from the scourge of apartheid … What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations to Africa?

Cuban medical assistance in poor and suffering areas is also quite unique.

Domestically, there were very significant achievements, among them simply survival in the face of US efforts to bring "the terrors of the earth" to Cuba (historian Arthur Schlesinger's phrase, in his biography of Robert Kennedy, who was assigned this task as his highest priority) and the fierce embargo. Literacy campaigns were highly successful, and the health system is justly renowned. There are serious human rights violations, and restrictions of political and personal freedoms. How much is attributable to the external attack and how much to independent policy choices, one can debate -- but for Americans to condemn violations without full recognition of their own massive responsibility gives hypocrisy a new meaning.

Does the US remain the world's leading supporter of terrorism?

A review of several recent books on Obama's global assassination (drone) campaign in the American Journal of International Law concludes that there is a "persuasive case" that the campaign is "unlawful": "U.S. drone attacks generally violate international law, worsen the problem of terrorism, and transgress fundamental moral principles" -- a judicious assessment, I believe. The details of the cold and calculated presidential killing machine are harrowing, as is the attempt at legal justification, such as the stand of Obama's Justice Department on "presumption of innocence," a foundation stone of modern law tracing back to the Magna Carta 800 years ago. As the stand was explained in the New York Times, "Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It, in effect, counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent" -- post-assassination. In large areas of tribal Pakistan and Yemen, and elsewhere, populations are traumatized by the fear of sudden murder from the skies at any moment. The distinguished anthropologist Akbar Ahmed, with long professional and personal experience with the tribal societies that are under attack all over the world, forcefully recounts how these murderous assaults elicit dedication to revenge -- not very surprisingly. How would we react?

These campaigns alone, I think, secure the trophy for the US.

Historically, under capitalism, plundering the poor and the natural resources of weak nations has been the favorite hobby of both the rich and of imperial states. In the past, the plundering was done mostly through outright physical exploitation means and military conquest. How have the means of exploitation changed under financial capitalism?

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles once complained to President Eisenhower that the Communists have an unfair advantage. They can "appeal directly to the masses" and "get control of mass movements, something we have no capacity to duplicate. The poor people are the ones they appeal to and they have always wanted to plunder the rich." It's not easy to sell the principle that the rich have a right to plunder the poor.

It's true that the means have changed. The international "free trade agreements" (FTAs) are a good example, including those now being negotiated -- mostly in secret from populations, but not from the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the details. The FTAs reject "free trade": they are highly protectionist, with onerous patent regulations to guarantee exorbitant profits for the pharmaceutical industry, media conglomerates, and others, as well as protection for affluent professionals, unlike working people, who are placed in competition all of the world, with obvious consequences. The FTAs are to a large extent not even about trade; rather, about investor rights, such as the rights of corporations (not of course mere people of flesh and blood) to sue governments for actions that might reduce potential profits of foreign investors, like environmental or healthy and safety regulations. Much of what is called "trade" doesn't merit that term, for example, production of parts in Indiana, assembly in Mexico, sale in California, all basically within a command economy, a megacorporation. Flow of capital is free. Flow of labor is anything but, violating what Adam Smith recognized to be a basic principle of free trade: free circulation of labor. And to top it off, the FTAs are not even agreements, at least if people are considered to be members of democratic societies.

Is this to say that we now live in a post-imperialist age?

Seems to me just a question of terminology. Domination and coercion take many and varied forms, as the world changes.

We have seen in recent years several so-called progressive leaders march to power through the ballot box only to betray their vows to the people the moment they took office. What means or mechanisms should be introduced in truly democratic systems to ensure that elected officials do not betray the trust of the voters? For example, the ancient Athenians had conceived of something called "the right to recall," which in the 19th century became a critical although little known element in the political project for future social and political order of certain socialist movements. Are you in favor of reviving this mechanism as a critical component of real, sustainable democracy?

I think a strong case can be made for right of recall in some form, buttressed by capacities for free and independent inquiry to monitor what elected representatives are doing. The great achievement of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and other contemporary "whistleblowers" is to serve and advance these fundamental rights of citizens. The reaction by state authorities is instructive. As well-known, the Obama administration has broken all records in punishment of whistleblowers. It is also remarkable to see how intimidated Europe is. We saw that dramatically when Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane flew home from a visit to Moscow, and European countries were in such terror of Washington that they would not let the plane cross their airspace, in case it might be carrying Edward Snowden, and when the plane landed in Austria it was searched by police in violation of diplomatic protocol.

Could an act of terrorism against leaders who blatantly betrayed the trust of voters ever be justified?

"Ever" is a strong word. It is hard to conjure up realistic circumstances. The burden of proof for any resort to violence should be very heavy, and this case would seem extremely hard to justify.

With human nature being what it is, and individuals clearly having different skills, abilities, drives and aspirations, is a truly egalitarian society feasible and/or desirable?

Human nature encompasses saints and sinners, and each of us has all of these capacities. I see no conflict at all between an egalitarian vision and human variety. One could, perhaps, argue that those with greater skills and talents are already rewarded by the ability to exercise them, so they merit less external reward -- though I don't argue this. As for the feasibility of more just and free social institutions and practices, we can never be certain in advance, and can only keep trying to press the limits as much as possible, with no clear reason that I can see to anticipate failure.

In your view, what would constitute a decent society and what form of a world order would be needed to eliminate completely questions about who rules the world?

We can construct visions of "perpetual peace," carrying forward the Kantian project, and of a society of free and creative individuals not subjected to hierarchy, domination, arbitrary rule and decision. In my own view -- respected friends and comrades in struggle disagree -- we do not know enough to spell out details with much confidence, and can anticipate that considerable experimentation will be necessary along the way. There are very urgent immediate tasks, not least dealing with literal questions of survival of organized human societies, questions that have never risen before in human history but are inescapable right now. And there are many other tasks that demand immediate and dedicated work. It makes good sense to keep in mind longer-term aspirations as guidelines for immediate choices, recognizing as well that the guidelines are not immutable. That leaves us plenty to do.

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News Sun, 19 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
"Nothing for Other People": Class War in the United States http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36453-nothing-for-other-people-class-war-in-the-united-states http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36453-nothing-for-other-people-class-war-in-the-united-states

Protesters demonstrate against union-busting legislation at the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, on February 19, 2011. (Photo: Jason Dean)Protesters demonstrate against union-busting legislation at the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, on February 19, 2011. Demands for independence, self-respect, personal dignity and control of one's own work and life continue to burrow not far from the surface, ready to reappear when awakened by circumstances and militant activism, writes Noam Chomsky. (Photo: Jason Dean)

Through its commitment to militarism and global imperialism, the elite class that controls the United States is risking global catastrophe. In his new book Who Rules the World?, Noam Chomsky examines US policies from the drone assassination program to nuclear weapons, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Israel and Palestine, to show the workings and consequences of undemocratic imperial power. Order the book today by making a donation to support Truthout!

The following is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky's new book, Who Rules the World?

Norman Ware's classic study of the industrial worker appeared ninety years ago, the first of its kind. It has lost none of its significance. The lessons Ware draws from his close investigation of the impact of the emerging industrial revolution on the lives of working people, and on society in general, are just as pertinent today as when he wrote, if not more so, in the light of the striking parallels between the 1920s and today.

It is important to remember the condition of working people when Ware wrote. The powerful and influential American labor movement that arose during the nineteenth century was being subjected to brutal attack, culminating in Woodrow Wilson's Red Scare after World War I. By the 1920s, the movement had largely been decimated; a classic study by the eminent labor historian David Montgomery is entitled The Fall of the House of Labor. The fall occurred in the 1920s. By the end of the decade, he writes, "corporate mastery of American life seemed secure.... Rationalization of business could then proceed with indispensable government support," with government largely in the hands of the corporate sector. It was far from a peaceful process; American labor history is unusually violent. One scholarly study concludes that "the United States had more deaths at the end of the nineteenth century due to labor violence -- in absolute terms and in proportion to population size -- than any other country except Czarist Russia." The term "labor violence" is a polite way of referring to violence by state and private security forces targeting working people. That continued into the late 1930s; I can remember such scenes from my childhood.

As a result, Montgomery wrote, "modern America had been created over its workers' protests, even though every step in its formation had been influenced by the activities, organizations, and proposals that had sprung from working class life," not to speak of the hands and brains of those who did the work.

The labor movement revived during the Great Depression, significantly influencing legislation and striking fear into the hearts of industrialists. In their publications the industrialists warned of the "hazard" facing them from labor action backed by "the newly realized political power of the masses."

(Image: Metropolitan Books)(Image: Metropolitan Books)Though violent repression did not end, it was no longer adequate to the task. It was necessary to devise more subtle means to ensure corporate rule, primarily a flood of sophisticated propaganda and "scientific methods of strike breaking," developed into a high art by the enterprises that specialize in the task.

We should not forget Adam Smith's perspicuous observation that the "masters of mankind" -- in his day, the merchants and manufacturers of England -- never cease to pursue their "vile maxim": "All for our-selves, and nothing for other people."

The business counterattack was put on hold during World War II, but quickly revived afterward, with harsh legislation passed restricting workers' rights and an extraordinary propaganda campaign aimed at factories, schools, churches, and every other form of association. Every available means of communication was employed. By the 1980s, with the bitterly antilabor Reagan administration, the attack was again underway in full force. President Reagan made it clear to the business world that the laws protecting labor rights, never very strong, would not be enforced. The illegal firing of union organizers skyrocketed, and the United States returned to the use of scabs, outlawed almost everywhere in developed countries except South Africa. The liberal Clinton administration undermined labor in different ways. One highly effective means was the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) linking Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

For propaganda purposes, NAFTA was labeled a "free-trade agreement." It was nothing of the sort. Like other such agreements, it had strong protectionist elements and much of it was not about trade at all; it was an investors' rights agreement. And like other such "free-trade agreements," this one predictably proved harmful to working people in the participating countries. One effect was to undermine labor organizing: a study conducted under NAFTA auspices revealed that successful organizing declined sharply, thanks to such practices as management warnings that if an enterprise were unionized, it would be transferred to Mexico. Such practices are, of course, illegal, but that is irrelevant as long as business can count on the "indispensable government support" to which Montgomery referred.

By such means, private sector unions were driven down to less than 7 percent of the workforce, despite the fact that most working people prefer unions. The attack then turned to public-sector unions that had been somewhat protected by legislation. That unraveling is now fiercely under way, and not for the first time. We may recall that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 while supporting a strike of public-sector workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

In many respects, the condition of working people when Ware wrote was similar to what we see today as inequality has again reached the astonishing heights of the late 1920s. For a tiny minority, wealth has accumulated beyond the dreams of avarice. In the past decade, 95 percent of growth has gone into the pockets of 1 percent of the population -- mostly a fraction of these. Median real income is below its level of twenty-five years ago. For males, median real income is below what it was in 1968. The labor share of output has fallen to its lowest level since World War II. This is not the result of the mysterious workings of the market or economic laws but, again, largely of the "indispensable" support and initiative of a government that is significantly in corporate hands.

The American industrial revolution, Ware observed, created "one of the major notes of American life" in the 1840s and 1850s. While its ultimate outcome may be "pleasing enough in modern eyes, it was repugnant to an astonishingly large section of the earlier American community." Ware reviews the hideous working conditions imposed on formerly independent craftsmen and farmers, as well as the "factory girls," young women from the farms working in the textile mills around Boston. But his primary focus is on more fundamental features of the revolution that persisted even as specific conditions were ameliorated in the course of dedicated struggles over many years.

Ware emphasized "the degradation suffered by the industrial worker," the loss "of status and independence" that had been their most treasured possession as free citizens of the republic, a loss that could not be compensated for even by material improvement. He explores the devastating impact of the radical capitalist "social revolution in which sovereignty in economic affairs passed from the community as a whole into the keeping of a special class" of masters, a group "alien to the producers" and generally remote from production. He shows that "for every protest against machine industry, there can be found a hundred against the new power of capitalist production and its discipline."

Workers were striking not just for bread but for roses, to borrow the traditional labor slogan. They sought dignity and independence, recognition of their rights as free men and women. They created a lively and independent labor press, written and produced by those who toiled in the mills. In their journals they condemned "the blasting influence of monarchical principles on democratic soil." They recognized that this assault on elementary human rights would not be overcome until "they who work in the mills own them," and sovereignty returns to free producers. Then working people will no longer be "menials or the humble subjects of a foreign despot, [the absentee owners], slaves in the strictest sense of the word [who] toil ... for their masters." Rather, they will regain their status as "free American citizens."

The capitalist revolution instituted a crucial change from price to wage. When the producer sold his product for a price, Ware writes, "he retained his person. But when he came to sell his labor, he sold himself," and lost his dignity as a person as he became a slave -- a "wage slave," the term commonly used. Wage labor was considered similar to chattel slavery, though differing in that it was temporary -- in theory. That understanding was so widespread that it became a slogan of the Republican Party, advocated by its leading figure, Abraham Lincoln.

The concept that productive enterprises should be owned by the workforce was common coin in the mid-nineteenth century, not just by Marx and the left but also by the most prominent classical liberal figure of the day, John Stuart Mill. Mill held that "the form of association, however, which if mankind continue to improve, must be expected to predominate is ... the association of the labourers themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers electable and removable by themselves." The concept indeed has solid roots in insights that animated classical liberal thought. It is a short step to link it to control of other institutions and of communities within a framework of free association and federal organization, in the general style of a range of thought that includes, along with much of the anarchist tradition and left anti-Bolshevik Marxism, also G. D. H. Cole's guild socialism and much more recent theoretical work. And still more significantly, it includes actions as workers in many walks of life seek to gain control over their lives and fate.

To undermine these subversive doctrines, it was necessary for the "masters of mankind" to try to change the attitudes and beliefs that foster them. As Ware reports, labor activists warned of the new "Spirit of the Age: Gain Wealth, forgetting all but Self" -- the vile maxim of the masters, which they naturally sought to impose on their subjects as well, knowing that they would be able to gain very little of the available wealth. In sharp reaction to this demeaning spirit, the rising movements of working people and radical farmers, the most significant democratic popular movements in American history, were dedicated to solidarity and mutual aid. They were defeated, mostly by force. But the battle is far from over, despite setbacks, often violent repression, and massive efforts to instill the vile maxim in the public mind, with the resources of educational systems, the huge advertising industry, and other propaganda institutions dedicated to the task.

There are serious barriers to overcome in the struggle for justice, freedom, and dignity, even beyond the bitter class war conducted ceaselessly by the highly class-conscious business world with the "indispensable support" of the governments they largely control. Ware discusses some of these insidious threats as they were understood by working people. He reports the thinking of skilled workers in New York 170 years ago, who repeated the common view that a daily wage is a form of slavery and warned perceptively that a day might come when wage slaves "will so far forget what is due to manhood as to glory in a system forced on them by their necessity and in opposition to their feelings of independence and self-respect." They hoped that that day would be "far distant." Today, signs of it are common, but demands for independence, self-respect, personal dignity, and control of one's own work and life, like Marx's old mole, continue to burrow not far from the surface, ready to reappear when awakened by circumstances and militant activism.

Copyright (2016) by L. Valéria Galvão-Wasserman-Chomsky. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt and Company, LLC).

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News Thu, 16 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
What's the Future of Resistance to Racist Police Violence? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36400-what-s-the-future-of-resistance-to-racist-police-violence http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36400-what-s-the-future-of-resistance-to-racist-police-violence

The authors in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? comprise a wide range of reporters, organizers, writers and thinkers. Now, we introduce you to just some the book's contributors, and ask them to answer the question: What is the future of resistance against racist police violence in the United States?

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?(Image: Haymarket Books / Truthout)

Do police in the United States keep anyone safe and secure other than the very wealthy? How do history and global context explain recent police killings of young Black people in the US? And what alternative ways might there be to keep communities safe? These are the questions explored in Truthout's first print collection, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States. Click here to order the book already hailed as "an invaluable resource" and "an indispensable primer" on the movement against police impunity.

The authors in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? comprise a wide range of reporters, organizers, writers and thinkers. Below, we introduce you to just some the book's contributors, and ask them to answer the question: What is the future of resistance against racist police violence in the United States?

Alicia GarzaAlicia Garza is an organizer, writer, and freedom dreamer living and working in Oakland, California.  She is the Special Projects Director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter. In the foreword for Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?, she discusses "the evolution of modern day policing, the upsurge that has emerged to fight back against police violence and its corresponding ills of poverty, oppression and disenfranchisement," and offers "some ideas towards a vision of a society without police."

What's next? Resistance to police violence will continue to increase, particularly as we can expect a correlating increase in not just use of force, but the use of military grade weapons and other containment and suppression strategies. As economic insecurity and racial tensions increase (as demonstrated by the rise of white supremacist hate groups and white militias), we will also likely see an increase in extrajudicial violence -- violence carried out by vigilantes in the name of the state. Though this paints a bleak picture, the future has a possibility of being bright if there is a global movement that emerges that connects the epidemic of police violence to economic inequality, mass incarceration, corporate greed and privatization, and the crisis in the environment.

William C. AndersonWilliam C. Anderson is a freelance writer who has been published extensively at Truthout as well as by the Guardian, MTV and Pitchfork among others. He is a contributing editor covering race, class, and immigration at the Praxis Center for Kalamazoo College. His essay in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? talks about the symbolism of the killing of Charly "Africa" Leundeu Keunang by the LAPD in March 2015, and in Anderson's words "raises the need for a cohesive Black international movement against state violence."

What's next? When raising the question of future resistance to police violence, we should recognize that many answers lie in the rigorous histories of struggle against oppression throughout this nation. Though technology advances and institutions adapt to changes in time, the past has much to teach us about now. Those who can should call upon their understanding of their location in proximity to the oppressive hands of the state and work efficaciously to disrupt it as much as possible. The police are not a solution, they are a problem. Any and every belief that contributes to idea that the police state is acceptable effectively makes normal its abhorrent violence.

Candice BerndCandice Bernd is an editor and staff reporter at Truthout. Her chapter in the book explores the obstacles that traditional emergency medical workers face when they are dispatched in conjunction with police, and looks at the ways in which community organizations are working to provide emergency medical alternatives that are not married to a policing apparatus. "For example," as she tells us, "organizers in Oakland, California and Eugene, Oregon are working both within and outside of the system to minimize vulnerable populations' contact with the police in tense and volatile situations."

What's next? The future of resistance against racist police violence will be one that emphasizes principles of decentralization, horizontalism and autonomy, and one that recognizes the limitations of trying to imitate the same centralized power structures within the state that we are fighting to dismantle. Centralized organizing structures are not only susceptible to co-option and defeat, they also tend to consolidate power, monopolize legitimacy and recreate hierarchies that produce power and oppression, and that reduce organizations (and the individuals that comprise them) to their lowest common political denominators. Just as biodiversity in nature strengthens ecosystems, our movements' strength hinges on a diversity of strategies, ideologies and identities.

Thandisizwe ChimurengaThandisizwe Chimurenga is an award-winning freelance journalist based in Los Angeles, CA, a staff writer for Daily Kos, the co-host of a weekly news show on the Pacifica Radio network and the author of No Doubt: The Murder(s) of Oscar Grant and Reparations… Not Yet: A Case for Reparations and Why We Must Wait. For her chapter "Heeding the Call: Black Women Fighting for Black Lives That Matter," she spoke with a cross-section of Black women involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. "I wanted to know how and why they became involved," she says, "and what motivates them to continue."

What's next? The future will show us continuing to make the connections between policy and budgetary priorities and how redirecting those priorities are what will make our communities safe; while simultaneously holding accountable those political leaders who fail to assist us in keeping our communities safe (#ByeAnita, #ByeTim, #ByeKen, #ByeJackie). The future of resistance against racist police violence looks like continued confrontation against those who murder with impunity and those who employ them at their places of work, worship and play, giving life to the protest chant, "If we don't get no justice, you don't get no peace." Business as usual shall no longer continue when people are murdered extra-judicially, with no accountability. The future will ultimately show marginalized and oppressed communities, racialized and economically terrorized communities, protecting themselves from the state.

Ejeris DixonEjeris Dixon is an organizer and grassroots political strategist with 15 years of experience, and an expert on issues of police violence, hate violence, sexual violence and intimate partner violence as they impact LGBTQ communities and communities of color. In her words, her chapter in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? "seeks to be a bridge between our current political moment and the world we're building toward… I reflect upon my lessons learned and the challenges and questions that remain based on my experience with building community based safety systems."

What's next? My dream for the movement against racist police violence is coordination and cohesion. For too long we've talked about the need for alternative ways to address violence within and against our communities and our desire to end racist state violence. However our ability to coordinate across issue, ideology and identity hasn't always been as strong our ideals. Transformative justice organizers and anti-state violence organizers need to continue to be in conversation and coordination to address violent systems now and to create safety for the future. We must recognize the painful and deep divides that "call out" culture has created and push ourselves to hold each other accountable without throwing people away. As a black queer woman I don't believe we have the luxury to wait for the perfect moment to align our strategies and movements. I crave the messy hard conversations that we need about our politics, visions, and goals so that we can ultimately win.

Alison FlowersAlison Flowers is an investigative journalist and the author of Exoneree Diaries: The Fight for Innocence, Independence and Identity. Flowers works at the award-winning Invisible Institute and is a fellow with the Social Justice News Nexus, an investigative journalism project supported by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. Her chapter is an investigation, co-authored with Sarah Macaraeg, into the first wave of publicly available police misconduct complaint data released in Chicago in 2014, which revealed that even when a high number of misconduct and abuse complaints have been filed by citizens, often the only change in a police officer's status is a promotion or commendation.

What's next? Racist police violence does not exist apart from us. Citizens must assume their co-responsibility in holding law enforcement agencies, and the cities that support them, accountable. One means by which citizens can achieve a measure of transparency, is through pushing for open records and data. The majority of states do not have policies that make police misconduct data public. For those that do, citizens should leverage the power of technology to make these records viewable, searchable and available to communities, lawyers, journalists and others. Before rushing to a prescription for police violence -- though we need those, too -- we need an accurate diagnosis of the problem, one that confronts public officials with hard facts and undeniable truths.

Sarah MacaraegSarah Macaraeg is an investigative journalist whose Chicago police investigations have appeared in The Guardian, Truthout and Vice. Her work has been cited by Al Jazeera, ColorLines and Fusion, and she has been awarded fellowships from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources, International Center for Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She and Alison Flowers describe their collaboration in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? as "a biopsy of a larger system where the majority of misconduct complaints -- as well as shootings -- go undisciplined."

What's next? After Michael Brown's killing, mainstream media made a beat of police shootings. And after the scandal surrounding the video of Laquan McDonald's death, the Chicago Police Department became a focus of news outlets across the country. Some of this coverage has been impactful and I hope there's sustained attention on oversight of the police in Chicago by the media. But I think that reporting that has soul -- that respects the humanity of victims and survivors of police violence; that seeks to incorporate a sense of solutions and not only problems; that does not sensationalize a single act of egregious violence, but aims to uncover the various forms of systemic violence that criminalized communities face every day -- will continue to be produced largely by independent media.  

Kelly HayesKelly Hayes is a direct action trainer and a co-founder of The Chicago Light Brigade and the direct action collective Lifted Voices. She is community engagement associate and a contributing writer at Truthout, and blogs at Transformative Spaces. Her contribution to the anthology, "Our History, Our Dreams: Building Black and Native Solidarity," stems from her work as an organizer against state violence. "Examining Brown and Black solidarity from both a historical and contemporary perspective," she says, "the piece is an exploration of the harms that have driven Black and Native people apart, and the hope that can bring our peoples together in struggle."

What's next? While we see the repetition of historical patterns in some areas of resistance, those cycles have brought new voices, innovations and ideas to the current historical moment. This era of resistance is marked by ideas about prison abolition, trans- and queer-inclusive ideologies and transformative vision. In the world of movements, change requires the simultaneous development of culture, community and action. While campaigns and political performance can fall within the scope of movements, they are not, in of themselves, the substance of movements. We are living in a culture of white supremacy that has set its victims against one another and disarmed the imaginations of those who feel its injustice, but see no way forward. Today, people aren't simply taking to the streets and running campaigns. They are challenging the assumptions of an oppressive society, and they are learning to dream again. For the first time in many of our lives, we can imagine what freedom looks like, and envision a world with emptied cages, where solutions are built rather than inflicted. Instead of fashioning the police -- the violent arm of the state -- into a hero class, our communities are embracing their own heroism. They are transforming the harms we all experience, and the harms we all perpetuate. The change we seek won't come without interconnection, and it won't come without love, solidarity and a willingness to fight as we never have before. But it will come. I am sure of that, because I've seen a chapter of this history being written in real time, and I can see a freer world foreshadowed in the streets.

Rachel HerzingIn Oakland, California, Rachel Herzing fights the violence of policing and imprisonment as co-founder of Critical Resistance (a national grassroots organization dedicated to abolishing the prison industrial complex), and as co-director of the StoryTelling & Organizing Project, a community resource sharing stories of interventions to interpersonal harm that do not rely on policing, imprisonment or traditional social services. In a period of calls for police reform, her chapter "Big Dreams and Bold Steps Toward a Police-Free Future" asks: Is now the time to move toward the abolition of policing?

What's next? The future of resisting the violence of policing must extend beyond its most exceptional instances to really get at disrupting the day-to-day hold it has on our lives and reducing our contact with it. Our ability to build the stable, healthy communities we need depends on it.

Adam HudsonAdam Hudson is a journalist and musician based in the San Francisco Bay Area, who has covered US foreign policy and national security, Guantanamo, police brutality and gentrification for Truthout, AlterNet, Al Akhbar English, teleSUR English and The Nation. His chapter in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? is about Homan Square, a domestic "black site" (secretive detention facility) in Chicago where police take people for off-the-books interrogation, often including torture. "I argue that Homan Square reflects a norm -- rather than a deviation -- from US national security and legal policy."

What's next? This fight is far from over. Here in the Bay Area, we just witnessed five brave souls endure a 17-day hunger strike to fire San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr and push for more reforms within the police department. And they won! Partially, at least: That hunger strike led to the resignation of Greg Suhr, which is a significant victory. This is a microcosm of what's happening throughout the country, in terms of challenging police brutality. Things will continue to heat up. 

Victoria LawVictoria Law is a freelance journalist who focuses on the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance. Her first book, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women, examines organizing in women's jails and prisons across the country. Her next book, co-written with Maya Schenwar, critically examines proposed "alternatives" to incarceration and explores creative and far-reaching solutions to truly end mass incarceration. She says her essay in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? asks: "What forms of violence do police enact against pregnancy and pregnant women's bodily autonomy? How do both the criminalization of pregnancy and the arrests and incarceration of pregnant women constitute their own forms of police violence?"

What's next? The movement is currently expanding definitions of police violence to include other forms of law enforcement and state violence. #SayHerName is one example of organizers drawing attention to the fact that police violence isn't limited to (cisgender) men. We're also seeing the recognition of how #WalkingWhileTrans often results in police violence and, more recently, the policing of gender through bills that criminalize everyday actions like using public restrooms. The future of resistance to racist police violence needs to recognize all of these disparate forms of violence and to connect organizing to them all.

Mike LudwigMike Ludwig is an investigative reporter at Truthout. His chapter in the anthology, originally written as a suggested new year's resolution, is "about how resolving not to call the police is more than a boycott or a political protest." Mike says: "It's the beginning of a thought process and a dialogue, both internal and external, that challenges us to build new relationships and dream about a free world."

What's next? Louisiana recently added police officers to the classes of people covered by the state's hate crime law, allowing judges to tack on five years to a prison sentence for anyone convicted of committing a "hate crime" against them. This "Blue Lives Matter" law is an insult to people who actually experience hate, and the law will extend sentences for activists and marginalized people in a state that already has the highest incarceration rate in the nation. Cops are backed by a criminal legal system set up to acquit them of even the most serious crimes -- they need no extra "protection" from the public. In fact, it's the other way around. Nowhere is this more evident than in Louisiana, where jails have become debtors' prisons and queer and transgender youth of color have called out the police for profiling and abusing them. Indeed, the Black Youth Project 100 organized some of the most vocal opposition to the hate crime law, and we should all be listening. Youth of color and queer and gender-nonconforming youth are the future of police resistance not just because they are young, but also because they are often the ones most harmed by police. They know what's up. Their lived experiences and leadership should not just inspire us to resist police, but also to guide us towards new systems of accountability that can ultimately replace the police state. 

Nicholas PowersNicholas Powers is the author of The Ground Below Zero: 9/11 to Burning Man, New Orleans to Darfur, Haiti to Occupy Wall Street and an associate professor of English at SUNY Old Westbury. He authored the first chapter of our collection: "Killing the Future: The Theft of Black Life," which he says coalesces his years of reporting on police brutality. "I wrote about the deep, grief of parents whose children were killed by police. And the long history of violence against the Black body."

What's next? The future of resistance against racist policing must build on street protests and "copwatching" squads with electoral strategies. We need progressive politicians to end for-profit prisons, legalize drugs, enable community oversight of law enforcement, establish special prosecutors for cases of police brutality and demilitarize the police. Overall, we need a cultural push to change our narrative of crime so that the hyper-visibility of working class crime is reduced when seen in its proper proportion to the nearly invisible corporate and ruling class-perpetrated, institutional crime.

Roberto Rodriguez, PhDRoberto Rodriguez, PhD (Dr. Cintli) is an associate professor at the Mexican American & Raza Studies Department at the University of Arizona. He is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including Justice: A Question of Race, which chronicles his two police brutality trials. Says Dr Rodriguez of his chapter in the Truthout anthology, which addresses state violence against Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, "After researching this topic for some 40 years, I have little doubts that this violence is not new. I believe that on this continent, it is the same violence brought over by the Conquistadors since 1492, and it affects the very same peoples: the red-black-brown peoples of this nation."

What's next? The future of resistance will be multifaceted. One critical area of importance is to compile and put together a case to be taken before the international criminal courts of the Organization of American States and the United Nations. That's why these courts were designed; for when the courts at home do not function. And if there is something that virtually everyone agrees with it is that on the issue of law enforcement violence, the courts do not work at home. As a survivor of that violence, I certainly do not believe in the US judicial system.

Eisa Nefertari UlenEisa Nefertari Ulen is the author of the novel Crystelle Mourning, the recipient of a National Association of Black Journalists Award, and a contributor to publications including Essence, The Washington Post, Ms. Magazine, Ebony, Huffington Post and The Root. She has taught at Hunter College and The Pratt Institute and is a founding member of RingShout: A Place for Black Literature. Her chapter is a very personal essay. "Black Parenting Matters: Raising Children in a World of Police Terror," in which she says "I place my son on a historical continuum of Black protest and struggle in my very personal essay… I describe the intentional work that is necessary to keep my son alive, and the ways my husband and I encourage our son's participation in his own liberation. To free him from the shackles of police violence is a revolutionary act of righteous love."

What's next? I pray that the future of resistance against police violence is that there is no resistance - because there is no police violence. I like to imagine a world, one perhaps my great-grandchildren occupy, where policing is an antiquated idea, an item studied in history class, a cultural memory of the bad old days. I would love to see the implementation of restorative justice in institutions like schools and shelters as a way to get to this police-free way of being. I'd like to see restorative justice normalized in other institutions, too, like corporations and agencies and even internal review boards within police districts. Perhaps this transformational cooperative process could, over generations, liberate society from billy clubs and cuffs. I think that, to save Black and Brown bodies from police terror right now, a mandate must be explicit: Excessive force against marginalized people will result in termination and trial. I know many of my colleagues believe that to police the police is counter-intuitive to the notion that we should be free of policing altogether; however, I am trying to save lives right now, and fear of reprisal is one way to curb aggressive, violent cops. A cultural shift is needed, one where Black and Brown people are to be treated with the deference that middle- and upper-income white women experience. I am talking about an insistence that Black and Brown people be given privilege -- the privilege to be in the world (and in their homes) without fear of sudden, arbitrary, vicious attacks against them. I want the police to get this: Hands off my people. Black lives do, in fact, matter.

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Opinion Sun, 12 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Fighting to Live Free of Police Violence While Black http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36330-fighting-to-live-free-of-police-violence-while-black http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36330-fighting-to-live-free-of-police-violence-while-black

What happens when we question the fundamental assumption that police and policing are our only option for community safety? A vision for a new world in which police and policing are replaced with new ways of keeping each other safe and holding each other accountable is already brewing.

Hundreds gathered to protest outside the Chicago Police Department headquarters on November 24, 2014.Hundreds gathered to protest outside the Chicago Police Department headquarters on November 24, 2014, in solidarity with Marissa Alexander and in response to a grand jury's non-indictment of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. (Photo: Sarah-ji)

Do police in the United States keep anyone safe and secure other than the very wealthy? How do history and global context explain recent police killings of young Black people in the US? And what alternative ways might there be to keep communities safe? These are the questions explored in Truthout's first print collection, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect? Police Violence and Resistance in the United States. Click here to order the book already hailed as "an invaluable resource" and "an indispensable primer" on the movement against police impunity.

In the foreword to Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza outlines the history and scope of racist police violence in the modern United States, and what has led to the rebellions and protest movements arising in recent years.

Black people are fighting for our right to live while Black.

2010 marked the beginning of a historic period of Black resistance to police terrorism and state-sanctioned violence. Beginning with the murder of Oscar Grant in January 2010 by then-BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, and continuing with the high-profile cases of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice and too many others, police violence, particularly in poor and Black communities, has taken center stage nationwide.

The rebellion that ensued in August 2014 after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was for some a politicizing moment, the defining moment that spurred them into social justice activism and/or organizing. For others, it was yet another moment to advance a demand that has been emanating from our communities since Black people first reached the shores of America -- a demand to stop the physical, emotional, economic and political slaughter of Black bodies.

Police violence is not a new phenomenon in Black communities. Modern-day policing locates its origins in the slave economy, which helped build the wealth and the industrialized economy of this nation and of other nations around the world. Policing in the context of slavery was intended to ensure the protection of private property owners -- with the private property being Black human beings.[1]

After slavery was "legally" abolished in 1865 with the passage of the 13th Amendment, policing adapted itself to maintain white supremacy through the use of force and racial terror by making slavery and indentured servitude illegal -- except for anyone convicted of a crime. The so-called emancipation of Black people from slavery transformed physical bondage into systems of economic, political and social disenfranchisement. The criminalization of Black people and Blackness, reflected in the prison-industrial complex, is an extension of slavery and the slave economy.

Sharecropping, Jim Crow segregation, and other forms of exclusion and exploitation that kept (and keep) Black people from accessing social, economic or political power have been rigorously enforced and maintained with the assistance of police departments. Beginning in the 1930s and throughout the height of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, it was commonplace for a local sheriff, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, or the local mayor to attend an evening meeting of the Ku Klux Klan -- not necessarily because they hated Black people (though some certainly did), but mostly because they feared the loss of white power over Black human beings and our potential.

(Image: Truthout / Haymarket Books)(Image: Truthout / Haymarket Books)In the above context, police violence was used to reinforce and maintain an economic structure that preys on Black bodies, where those who "owned" the most Black bodies secured the political power needed to control the furtherance of such an arrangement. It continues to be so used. There are now more of us grappling with the contradiction of how to keep our communities safe when those who are entrusted with our protection and safety are rarely (if ever) charged when they themselves are the purveyors of harm.

The rise of prisons as a booming industry has led to entire local economies that are dependent upon police, policing, punishment and retribution, largely against Black bodies—whether they be cisgender or transgender, gay or straight, of men or of women. Furthermore, the security and surveillance industries provide economic security for a group of people that has largely been dislocated from the formal economy. At the same time, those industries target Black people, interrupt Black families, and continue to further the notion that Black people are to be punished and watched, and are certainly not to be trusted.

Inside those cages where we have disappeared more than 1 million Black bodies, many are forced to work for corporations like Kmart and J. C. Penney, who subcontract with the state to manufacture jeans inside the walls of prisons. Others are forced to provide critical public services like fighting fires for less than a dollar a day.[2] The capture of Black bodies to be bought or sold has always been a big business in the United States, and while there may no longer be an overseer with a lash, there is now a deputy with a gun.

Criminalization and police violence do not just impact Black communities, though Black communities are disproportionately affected given our relative population. Latinos and First Nations people are also severely affected by policing that preys predominantly on poor bodies of color.

When Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and I started #BlackLivesMatter -- an organizing network fighting back against anti-Black racism and state-sanctioned violence -- in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin, we understood that what’s happening to Black people in this country and around the world is much larger than just police and policing alone. Poverty, unemployment, lack of access to quality and affordable education, and HIV/AIDS are just a few of the issues impacting Black people disproportionately to our percentage of the population.

When Zimmerman murdered an unarmed Black child and got away with it, we saw not just an individual act of cowardice and prejudice expressed as vigilantism, but also the effects of a highly racist society that sees Black bodies as disposable. Even Zimmerman’s defense -- claiming he was scared for his life and forced to act in "self-defense" -- reflects the deeply ingrained fear of Black bodies, particularly Black male bodies, in a society shaped by the largely racist war on drugs, which demonizes Black men and portrays them as a potential threat that must be eliminated.

Of course, police violence and state-sanctioned violence do not just impact cisgender Black men. Black women like Rekia Boyd, Renisha McBride and Mya Hall are also caught in this web. Roughly 35 percent of Black trans folks have been arrested or held in a cell due to bias at some point in their lives, and more than half of Black trans folks report discomfort seeking police assistance, according to the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Just last year, a police officer was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting Black women during traffic stops in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In fact, Black women are more likely to be sexually assaulted by the police than we are to be killed by them. Yet police kill us too: Natasha McKenna and Sandra Bland were killed while in police custody, and questions still remain after their deaths.

Black people are being disappeared at the rate of one every 28 hours by police or vigilante violence, yet those who are taking their lives are rarely (if ever) held accountable.[3]

Many living in America might never have thought to question the need for police -- and in particular this style of punitive policing -- were it not for the social uprisings that have taken place over the last five years (most notably the last year and a half ).

What can and will be done to hold police accountable for the violence that they enact in our communities? What happens when we question the fundamental assumption that police and policing are our only option for community safety? These questions are far from theoretical. A vision for a new world in which police and policing are replaced with new ways of keeping each other safe and holding each other accountable is already brewing. The articles in this collection are meant to further this crucial discussion, describing the challenges that we face in a society that is increasingly over-policed and offering provocative ideas for what a new world might look like.

 

Footnotes:

1. See Adam Hudson, "Beyond Homan Square: US History Is Steeped in Torture," originally published at Truthout on March 26, 2015 and collected in Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?

2. See John Arvanitis, "The U.S. Prisons Network: A Cheap Supply Chain With No Checks & Balances?," CSRwire, June 11, 2014, available at http://www.csrwire.com/blog/posts/1383-the-u-s-prisons-network-a-cheap-supply-chain-with-no-checks-balances.

3. Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, "Operation Ghetto Storm: 2012 Annual Report on the Extrajudicial Killings of 313 Black People by Police, Security Guards and Vigilantes," updated edition (October 2013), available at http://mxgm.org.

 

Copyright (2016), Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of Truthout and Haymarket Books.

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Opinion Tue, 07 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
A Policy of Assassinations Is Being Conducted in Our Name http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36280-a-policy-of-assassinations-is-being-conducted-in-our-name http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36280-a-policy-of-assassinations-is-being-conducted-in-our-name

(Photo: Sergey Melkonov; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Sergey Melkonov; Edited: LW / TO)

How does the United States government grant itself the right to sentence people to death without due process in the name of national security? In The Assassination Complex, Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept provide provide a window into the inner workings of the US military's bloody targeted killing and capture campaigns in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. Order this revelatory book by donating to Truthout today!

The following excerpt is from The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program:

From his first days as commander in chief, the drone has been President Barack Obama's weapon of choice, used by the military and the CIA to hunt down and kill the people his administration has deemed -- through secretive processes, without indictment or trial -- deserving of execution. There has been intense focus on the technology of remote killing, but that often serves as a surrogate for what should be a broader examination of the state's power over life and death.

Drones are a tool, not a policy. The policy is assassination. While every president since Gerald Ford has upheld an executive order banning assassinations by US personnel, Congress has avoided legislating the issue or even defining the word "assassination." This has allowed proponents of the drone wars to rebrand assassinations with more palatable characterizations, such as the term du jour, "targeted killings."

(Image: Simon & Schuster)(Image: Simon & Schuster)When the Obama administration has discussed drone strikes publicly, it has offered assurances that such operations are a more precise alternative to boots on the ground and are authorized only when an "imminent" threat is present and there is "near certainty" that the intended target will be eliminated. Those terms, however, appear to have been bluntly redefined to bear almost no resemblance to their commonly understood meanings.

The first drone strike outside of a declared war zone was conducted in 2002, yet it was not until May 2013 that the White House released a set of standards and procedures for conducting such strikes. Those guidelines offered little specificity, asserting that the United States would conduct a lethal strike outside an "area of active hostilities" only if a target represents a "continuing, imminent threat to US persons," without providing any sense of the internal process used to determine whether a suspect should be killed without being indicted or tried. The implicit message on drone strikes from the Obama administration has been Trust, but don't verify.

On October 15, 2015, The Intercept published a cache of secret slides that provide a window into the inner workings of the US military's kill/capture operations during a key period in the evolution of the drone wars: between 2011 and 2013. The documents, which also outline the internal views of special operations forces on the shortcomings and flaws of the drone program, were provided by a source within the intelligence community who worked on the types of operations and programs described in the slides. We granted the source's request for anonymity because the materials are classified and because the US government has engaged in aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers. Throughout this book, we will refer to this person simply as "the source."

The source said he decided to disclose these documents because he believes the public has a right to understand the process by which people are placed on kill lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest echelons of the US government: "This outrageous explosion of watchlisting, of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them 'baseball cards,' assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield, was, from the very first instance, wrong.

"We're allowing this to happen. And by 'we,' I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it."

The Pentagon, White House, and Special Operations Command declined to comment on the documents. A Defense Department spokesperson said, "We don't comment on the details of classified reports."

The CIA and the US military's Joint Special Operations Command

(JSOC) operate parallel drone-based assassination programs, and the secret documents should be viewed in the context of an intense turf war over which entity should have supremacy in those operations. Two sets of slides focus on the military's high-value targeting campaign in Somalia and Yemen as it existed between 2011 and 2013, specifically the operations of a secretive unit, Task Force 48-4. Additional documents on high-value kill/capture operations in Afghanistan buttress previous accounts of how the Obama administration masks the true number of civilians killed in drone strikes by categorizing unidentified people killed in a strike as enemies, even if they were not the intended targets. The slides also paint a picture of a campaign in Afghanistan aimed at eliminating not only al Qaeda and Taliban operatives but also members of other local armed groups.

Copyright (2016) by First Look Media Works, Inc. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

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Opinion Thu, 02 Jun 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Women Around the World Are Leading the Fight Against Corporate Agriculture http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36203-women-around-the-world-are-leading-the-fight-against-corporate-agriculture http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36203-women-around-the-world-are-leading-the-fight-against-corporate-agriculture

A global battle is being fought over the future of the world's food. Hear about the women on the front lines in Seed Sovereignty, Food Security: Women in the Vanguard of the Fight Against GMOs and Corporate Agriculture, an anthology edited by renowned food sovereignty crusader Vandana Shiva. 

Protesters during a March Against Monsanto in Boulder, Colorado, May 25, 2013.Protesters during a "March Against Monsanto" in Boulder, Colorado, May 25, 2013. (Photo: Chris Goodwin / Flickr)

A global battle is being fought over the future of the world's food. Hear from the women on the front lines in Seed Sovereignty, Food Security: Women in the Vanguard of the Fight Against GMOs and Corporate Agriculture. These seed keepers, food producers, scientists, activists and scholars are committed to building a food system that is better aligned with ecological processes, human health and justice for all. Order this amazing book by donating to Truthout today!

The following is a Truthout interview with Vandana Shiva.

Mark Karlin: Your anthology focuses on women writers who "are in the vanguard of the 
fight against GMOs and corporate agriculture." Why are women so
 important in showing "the way to have both bread and freedom"?

Vandana Shiva: The anthology has contributions from women seed savers, organic farmers, women scientists and mothers. Women have historically been the seed experts across societies. Even today, women are leading the movement for seed saving as the 
contributions in the volume show. Women scientists who have contributed to the volume are independent and courageous. They are not locked into the clubs of corporate science. And mothers
 are the ones who have to take care of their children when they fall ill
 because of chemicals and GMOs in food.

What is the relationship between the industrial paradigm of agriculture 
and the war industry? 

Industrial agriculture is a product of war, both at the paradigmatic
 level, and at the level of instruments, tools and technologies. 
The synthetic nitrogen fertilizers were made in the same factories that 
made explosives. That is why fertilizer bombs are often used in
terrorist attacks. The precursors of pesticides were the poison gases used in the war and 
nerve gases used in gas chambers.

Agent Orange was a herbicide that was used in the Vietnam war.
 In terms of a paradigm, industrial agriculture is based on the war 
mentality that the "other" is an enemy that should be exterminated. It could be the biodiversity exterminated as weeds by herbicides, or
 pollinators and friendly insects exterminated by pesticides and 
pesticide-producing GMOs.

What is the so-called "Green Revolution" and how does it relate to
 cancer?

The so-called Green Revolution is neither "green," nor "revolutionary." It 
was the name given to chemical industrial agriculture when it was
 imposed on the Third World. The Green Revolution was first introduced
 in the fertile and prosperous land of Punjab in 1965. It promoted 
monocultures of rice and wheat varieties bred for taking up more 
chemicals. The monocultures and chemical varieties were vulnerable to
 pests. This led to increased use of pesticides. The pesticides have led
 to a cancer epidemic in Punjab. Today, there is a train that leaves from 
Punjab to Bikaner, where there is a charitable cancer hospital -- a train
 referred to as the "cancer train"

How does agro-biodiversity bolster food security?

Agro-biodiversity bolsters food security at many levels. Firstly, the
 more diversity of crops we grow, the more nutrition we produce. When we
 measure nutrition per acre, not yield per acre, biodiversity produces
 much more food, and food rich in diverse nutrients, micronutrients and
 trace elements. 

Agro-biodiversity also contributes to ecological functions of pest
 control, weed control, water conservation and soil conservation. It 
rejuvenates soils. Soils in bio-diverse agro-ecosystems are rich in
 organic matter, which increases soil fertility and water retention, thus 
increasing food security.

Vandana Shiva. (Image: North Atlantic Books)Vandana Shiva. (Image: North Atlantic Books)

How does corporate-chemical agriculture contribute to global warming?

Fifty percent of all greenhouse gases are contributed by corporate-industrial 
chemical agriculture and globalized trade. The chemical system is in fact a fossil agriculture, since it is dependent of fossil fuels. Nitrogen fertilizers, which are produced from fossil fuels, emit nitrogen oxide, which is 300 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Chemical industrial agriculture increase mechanization and use of fossil 
fuels. Long distance transport adds "food miles" and carbon emissions. The destruction of diversity and increasing dependence on a few globally traded commodities has led to deforestation in Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia. Deforestation related to agriculture contributes to 15 percent of the GHGs. 

Why is corporate propaganda that chemicals and seed engineering reduce 
hunger wrong?

Corporate propaganda that chemicals and GMOs reduce hunger is wrong
 because chemicals promote nutritionally empty monoculture commodities
, which create a hidden hunger of nutritional deficiencies. It is wrong because high cost inputs make farmers indebted, and farmers in debt are hungry farmers. Of the 1 billion hungry, 500 million are farmers.

It is also wrong because GMOs do not increase yields. The yields come
 from the original crop into which the introduced genes are added through
 genetic engineering.

Finally, it is wrong because this model produced commodities, not food.
 The largest expansion in GMOs has been in corn and soya. Most of the
 corn and soya goes for biofuel and animal feed. Only 10 percent goes to food. 
Commodities feed profits of corporations, not people.

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Opinion Sun, 29 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Seven Myths About GMOs Debunked http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36188-seven-myths-about-gmos-debunked http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36188-seven-myths-about-gmos-debunked

Myth 1: GMOs are an "invention" of corporations, and therefore can be patented and owned. Living organisms, including seeds, thus become the "intellectual property" of the GMO industry. Using these property rights, corporations can forcibly prevent farmers from saving seeds.

Farmers harvest crops in Chennai, India. Corporations that produce GMOs are not interested in a  free market; they are interested in creating a monopoly over GMOs and genetically­modified. (Photo: Vinoth Chandar; Edited: LW / TO)Farmers harvest crops in Chennai, India. Corporations that produce GMOs are not interested in a free market; they are interested in creating a monopoly over GMOs. (Photo: Vinoth Chandar; Edited: LW / TO)

A global battle is being fought over the future of the world's food. Hear from the women on the front lines in Seed Sovereignty, Food Security: Women in the Vanguard of the Fight Against GMOs and Corporate Agriculture. These seed keepers, food producers, scientists, activists and scholars are committed to building a food system that is better aligned with ecological processes, human health and justice for all. Order this amazing book by donating to Truthout today!

The following is excerpted from Vandana Shiva's foreword to Seed Sovereignty, Food Security:

Myth 1: GMOs are an "invention" of corporations, and therefore can be patented and owned. Living organisms, including seeds, thus become the "intellectual property" of the GMO industry. Using these property rights, corporations can forcibly prevent farmers from saving and sharing seeds, and can collect royalties on their patented products. A Monsanto representative is on record stating that his company wrote the intellectual property agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO). He added that they were the "patient, diagnostician, physician"; they defined the problem -- farmers save seeds -- and offered a solution: seed saving should be made illegal.

The claim to invention is a myth because genetic engineering does not create a plant or an organism; it is merely a tool to transfer genes across species. Living organisms are self-organizing, self-replicating systems. They make themselves. Unlike machines, they cannot be engineered. There are only two ways of introducing genes from unrelated species: one is the use of a gene gun, the other is through plant cancer. Just as a mover of furniture is not the maker or owner of the house to which the furniture is moved, the GMO industry is merely the mover of genes from one organism to another, not the creator or inventor of the organism, including seeds and plants. Through the false claim of "invention" and creation, the GMO industry is appropriating millions of years of nature 's evolution, and thousands of years of farmers' breeding.

Myth 2: Genetic engineering is more accurate and precise than conventional breeding. All breeding has been based on breeding within the same species: rice is bred with rice, wheat with wheat, corn with corn.

The tools of genetic engineering allow the introduction of genes from unrelated species into a plant, and include genes from bacteria, scorpions, fish, and cows. The introduction of genes from unrelated species is a blind technology, neither accurate nor precise. When genes are introduced into the cells of a plant using a gene gun, it is not known if the cell has absorbed the gene or not. That is why every GMO also uses an antibiotic-resistance marker gene, to separate cells that have absorbed the gene from those that have not. This means that every GMO in food has antibiotic-resistance genes that can mix with bacteria in the human gut and aggravate the crisis of antibiotic resistance we are currently facing.

Further, since the introduced gene does not belong to the organism, genes from virulent viruses are added as "promoters" to express the trait for which genes have been introduced. These additional transformations are evidence of the unreliability and inaccuracy of the gene transfer technology. Moreover, nothing is known about what these genes do when they enter our body as food. In the case of herbicide-tolerant crops like Roundup Ready soy and corn, the combination that needs to be considered for its impact on the environment and on health is both Roundup (glyphosate) and the new genes in the food crop.

(Image: North Atlantic Books)(Image: North Atlantic Books) Myth 3: GMOs are just like naturally occurring organisms, and are therefore safe. Myth 3 is inconsistent with myth 1. To establish ownership, the GMO industry claims novelty. To avoid responsibility for adverse impact, it claims naturalness. I have called this "ontological schizophrenia." GMOs have an impact on the environment, on our health, and on farmers' socioeconomic status; that is why we have an international UN Biosafety Protocol.

I was appointed a member of the expert group that worked on the framework of the protocol to implement Article 19.3 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The unscientific principle of "substantial equivalence" has been institutionalized in order to avoid research on biosafety. Substantial equivalence assumes that the GMO is substantially equivalent to the parent organism. This leads to a "don't look, don't see, don't find" policy, and not having looked for impacts, GMOs are declared "safe." Ignorance of impacts, however, is not proof of safety.

There is as yet no proof of safety.

Myth 4: GMOs are based on cutting-edge science; GMO critics are "antiscience." Genetic engineering is based on an obsolete paradigm of genetic determinism, a linear and deterministic flow of information from genes, which are called "master molecules," to proteins. Francis Crick called this the "central dogma" of molecular biology. Genetic determinism assumes that genes are atoms of biological determinism, with one gene carrying one trait, and determining the traits in an organism. But these are assumptions that come from the idea of control and domination; this is patriarchal ideology, not science.

Cutting-edge science teaches us that these assumptions are false. Genes are fluid, not fixed.

Each gene contributes to multiple traits; each trait is an expression of many genes acting in concert. As Richard Lewontin states in the doctrine of DNA:

DNA is a dead molecule, among the most non-reactive chemically inert molecules in the world. It has no power to reproduce itself. When we refer to genes as self-replicating, we endow them with a mysterious, autonomous power that seems to place them above the more ordinary materials of the body. Yet if anything in the world can be said to be self-replicating, it is not the gene, but the entire organism as a complex system.

Living organisms, including seed, are self-organized, complex systems; moreover, genes are influenced by the environment, as the new discipline of epigenetics shows.

On the basis of the latest and independent science, leading scientists across the world have contributed to the new science of biosafety; and corporate ideology, parading as science, has launched a brutal, violent, and unscientific attack on every scientist speaking the truth about GMOs on the basis of detailed scientific research on the impact of GMOs. This includes Dr. Arpad Pusztai, Dr. Ignacio Chapela, Dr. Eric Seralini, and me.

The GMO debate is science versus ideology, with GMOs being promoted through blind ideology -- the ideology of mechanistic, reductionist, deterministic assumptions about the world, combining with the ideology of unbridled corporate greed.

Myth 5: GMOs increase yields and are the answer to world hunger. Genetic engineering as a tool for the transfer of genes is not a breeding technology; it does not contribute to breeding high yielding crops. Yields come from conventional breeding; all that genetic engineering does is add a Bt toxin gene or a gene for herbicide tolerance, and antibiotic-resistance marker and virus genes. These do not increase production of food, but they do contribute to the production of risks from toxins and antibiotic resistance.

Even the argument that GMOs increase yield indirectly by controlling weeds and pests is incorrect because rather than controlling pests and weeds, Bt GMOs have contributed to the emergence of new pests and superpests resistant to the Bt toxin, and herbicide-resistant crops have led to superweeds resistant to Roundup. Hence, new GMOs have now been developed that are resistant to 2,4-D, an ingredient of Agent Orange.

When one notes the fact that when Roundup is sprayed, food crops are destroyed, GMO cultivation in fact leads to a decline in food and nutrition production at the systems level. As Navdanya studies show, biodiverse organic systems can increase nutrition per acre, and have the potential to feed two Indias.

Myth 6: GMOs reduce chemical use and are therefore environmentally beneficial. Two applications of genetic engineering account for most commercial planting, Bt crops, and HT crops. Herbicide-tolerant crops account for 63 percent of the cultivation of GM crops. Bt crops have led to an increase in pesticide use because of new pests and pest resistance in the bollworm. As the Directorate of Plant Protection shows, pesticide use has increased with the increase of Bt cotton cultivation. Herbicide-tolerant crops are designed to make crops resistant to herbicide spraying.

Myth 7: GMOs promote free choice. The myth of "free choice" begins with a "free market" and "free trade." When five transnational corporations control the seed market, it is not a free market, it is a cartel.

When corporations write the rules of "free trade," it is corporate dictatorship, not free trade.

When enforcing patents and intellectual property rights (IPR) laws written by themselves, corporations prevent farmers from saving seed; it is not "free choice," it is seed slavery.

In India, Monsanto has locked local seed companies into licensing agreements to only sell Bt cotton. The labels have different names, but they are all "Bollgard," Monsanto's Bt cotton. This is illusionary "free choice": the reality is seed monopoly.

When corporations spend millions to prevent the labeling of GMOs and deny citizens the right to know and the right to choose, free choice is being stifled.

Copyright (2016) of Vandana Shiva. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, North Atlantic Books.

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News Thu, 26 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Rebecca Gordon: Terror, Torture and US Wars of Vengeance Diminish Our Humanity http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36127-rebecca-gordon-terror-torture-and-us-wars-of-vengeance-diminish-our-humanity http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36127-rebecca-gordon-terror-torture-and-us-wars-of-vengeance-diminish-our-humanity

Rebecca Gordon, author of American Nuremberg, says if US officials are not held accountable for torture and other alleged war crimes committed after 9/11, the American people and US leaders are likely to allow these crimes to be committed again.

Who will be held accountable for torture, mass killing and assassinations by senior US government officials?Who will be held accountable for torture, mass killing and assassinations by senior US government officials? (Image: Troy Page / Truthout; Adapted: ArtMakesMeSmile, DecadeNull, LoveMissB)

With the Nuremberg tribunal after World War II, the United States helped establish the international principles guiding the prosecution of war crimes. But the US refuses to apply these principles to itself. American Nuremberg makes the case for indicting the officials who have presided over torture, extraordinary rendition, drone assassinations and more since 9/11 in the name of national security. Order your copy of this provocative book by donating to Truthout today!

In this interview, Rebecca Gordon, author of American Nuremberg: The US Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 Crimes, says if US officials are not held accountable for torture and other alleged war crimes committed after 9/11, the American people and US leaders are likely to allow these crimes to be committed again.

Mark Karlin: When Obama assumed the presidency in 2009, there were a lot of leaked news reports that his advisers were debating prosecuting Bush administration officials for torture. However, Obama decided against it. Why did you choose to address this issue now, in your 2016 book?

Rebecca Gordon: Because here it is 2016, and no one has been held accountable for the crimes committed in the so-called war on terror. One result is what we've seen during the current season of primary elections: Republican candidates for president are competing to see who can promise to commit the most crimes.

"There's a reason why there are laws against starting wars, and that is because war creates so much painful death and human misery."

We've heard Ben Carson [the former GOP candidate] say he was okay with the deaths of thousands of children if that's what it takes to defeat ISIS. We've heard Ted Cruz offer to carpet bomb them into submission, and promise to "find out" whether "sand can glow in the dark." A candidate for president promising to use nuclear weapons! And then there's the presumptive Republican candidate, Donald Trump, who's said he'll bring back waterboarding "and a hell of a lot worse" -- along with explaining that the way to get terrorists' attention is by murdering their families.

The decision not to prosecute -- or in some way hold accountable -- officials who are very likely responsible for war crimes makes it that much more likely that the next time this country is frightened, we'll do the same things all over again, or "a hell of a lot worse."

Rebecca Gordon. (Photo: Hot Books)Rebecca Gordon. (Photo: Hot Books)

Can you summarize what the Nuremberg tribunals were and why they were such an important precedent?

As it gradually became clear that Germany would be defeated in World War II, the great powers -- the US, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union -- began to discuss how they would deal with the Nazi leaders who'd started the war, and had overseen the horrors of the Holocaust. One option was simply to line them up and shoot them. Instead, they decided to establish a legal tribunal and put them on trial in the city of Nuremberg, Germany. The trials went on for some years, but the best remembered is the first trial of the highest Nazi government officials to survive the war, along with some of their bankers and supporters in industry -- 22 men in all.

"Waterboarding has been described in the mainstream press as 'simulated drowning.' But there's nothing simulated about it."

The Nuremberg trials -- imperfect as they were -- mark an important step in world history. It was the first time that the international community used legal proceedings to enforce the international laws and customs of war. Individual soldiers had been tried for war crimes before, either by their own countries or their adversaries, but never before had nations come together to try officials at the highest level of government for such crimes.

And some of [the] crimes they prosecuted were also new. The organizing committee chose the name "crimes against humanity" to describe the unprecedented attempt to destroy entire categories of human beings, including of course Jews, Roma, political enemies, the ill and disabled, and social "undesirables," such as homosexuals and [sex workers].

There was another "new" kind of crime, however, which the Americans and the British fought to have included -- crimes against peace, "namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances." Although the international laws and customs of war had for centuries made it illegal to start a war, it wasn't until Nuremberg that the world had a way of enforcing those laws.

All these crimes, together with the procedures for trying them, were laid out in a document called the London Charter.

In the Nuremberg tribunals after World War II, both Nazi officials and military personnel were put on trial. Do you believe that would be ideally the case for post-9/11 US war crimes?

To be perfectly frank, I have conflicted feelings about this. On one hand, I believe that people at the highest levels of the US government are responsible for terrible crimes in the war on terror and should be held accountable. On the other, I can't help but be aware that we've been living through an unprecedented expansion of incarceration in this country. We've seen our jail and prison population of 750,000 in 1975 rise to the estimated 2.2 million people imprisoned today -- a population that is vastly disproportionately made up of African Americans and Latinos.

Clearly, something is deeply wrong with the US criminal justice system and its emphasis on punishment by incarceration, which makes it an imperfect vehicle at best for bringing our war criminals to justice.

Ideally, the people I name in American Nuremberg would be tried in an international venue, in trials similar to the ones held at Nuremberg. And there's an obvious place for that to happen: the International Criminal Court. Unfortunately, the United States is not a party to the treaty that created the ICC. We did sign the treaty, but in 2002, the Bush administration notified the ICC that the US was withdrawing its signature and that the Senate would never ratify the treaty. Congress went even further, making it a federal crime to cooperate with the ICC in trying any US national.

Who are some of the key people you single out as potential individuals who would be prosecuted for their role in authorizing, overseeing or carrying out crimes against humanity, such as torture, extraordinary renditions, assassinations, deadly night raids that killed untold civilians etc.?

They're the usual suspects: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, and sadly, President Barack Obama for his drone assassinations. The book documents the crimes of at least 30 members of the previous and/or current administrations, CIA's torture program.

What might surprise your readers more than the names is the action I identify as the most serious of all the crimes or the war on terror. Like the Nazis' crime against peace, it was the source of many of the other crimes, including the renditions and torture, the assassinations and detentions without charge. That crime is, to quote the London Charter again, the "planning, preparation, initiation [and] waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances." I am talking about the crime of invading Iraq, a nation which had not attacked the United States, and which did not threaten our nation in any way.

"As a country, we are now more comfortable with torture than we were in the years immediately following 9/11."

Dick Cheney, his adviser Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and other neocons who'd served in previous administrations walked into the Bush administration with a plan. They intended to overthrow Saddam Hussein, destabilize Syria and remake the whole Middle East in ways they considered more conducive to the interests of the United States. (It's no accident that those "national" interests happened to coincide perfectly with the desires of the major US oil companies and of Cheney's previous employer Halliburton, the world's biggest purveyor of oil field services.)

The plan itself had been kicking around since the 1990s, when its authors first tried to convince Benjamin Netanyahu to adopt it, and later when the Project for the New American Century tried to sell it to President Bill Clinton. It had served as the main agenda item for Cheney's secret meetings in early 2001 with oil company heads to develop a new national energy strategy. But the terrorist attacks of September 11 finally provided the pretext that they needed.

By September 12, George W. Bush was already looking for "any shred" of evidence tying 9/11 to Saddam Hussein. It is now clear that many of the first tortures the CIA committed, including that of Abu Zubaydah, and under the Pentagon at Guantánamo, were carried out in order to get someone to say that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. He wasn't, but that didn't stop torture victims from saying what their interrogators wanted to hear.

There's a reason why there are laws against starting wars, and that is because war -- especially modern war -- creates so much painful death and human misery. In modern times, the majority of those who suffer in wars are not the government officials who start them, nor even the soldiers who fight them, but the ordinary civilians who are caught up in them. We don't know how many people have died in Iraq as a result of the US invasion and occupation. Depending on the counting method, reputable organizations have reported figures between 250,000 and a million excess violent deaths. And that doesn't even begin to account for the suffering caused by the destruction of the country's infrastructure, let alone the misery unleashed by the war in a now thoroughly destabilized Syria.

I want to digress a moment. Much of the mass media continually use waterboarding as the only issue involved in US torture or war crimes. However, we have countless evidence that waterboarding was only one form of torture used by the US. We even have photographs in the public domain of prisoners who died of torture at Abu Ghraib. Why do you think the mass media only mention waterboarding, in general, as the only torture conducted post-9/11?

That's a good question. I think it's because, unless you know what it is, waterboarding doesn't really sound so bad. After all, water is the source of life; how terrible can it be?

Waterboarding has been described in the mainstream press as "simulated drowning." But there's nothing simulated about it. Interrogators strap the victim to a board and tilt it so his feet are elevated above his head. They cover his face with a wet cloth, and then gradually pour water through the cloth until he almost drowns. The pouring then stops, the victim coughs and/or vomits, and the process is repeated.

The CIA did this to Abu Zubaydah 83 times over two months, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA torture. At one point during this endlessly repeated ordeal, the committee reports, Zubaydah became "completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth."

Each of those 83 uses of what was called "the watering cycle" consisted of four steps:

"1) demands for information interspersed with the application of the water just short of blocking his airway 2) escalation of the amount of water applied until it blocked his airway and he started to have involuntary spasms 3) raising the water-board to clear subject's airway 4) lowering of the water-board and return to demands for information."

But of course there were many other kinds of torture, as we have known for some years now. These include: rape and other sexual assaults, prolonged isolation, prolonged sleep deprivation, excruciating "stress positions," in which the prisoner's own body becomes an instrument of torture, rectal "feeding" and "rehydration," as well as death threats to prisoners and/or their families. The list, sadly, goes on.

You mention in the book that even if such a war crimes trial were convened in the US, it would end up as largely symbolic. Why is it important to conduct it anyway in such a scenario?

I talk about the option of organizing a people's tribunal. What I have in mind is a serious undertaking, conducted by highly respected individuals, ideally from across the political spectrum. Their charge would be to make a public identification of the crimes committed and the people responsible. Such a group, known as The Constitution Project, began this process in 2013 and issued an excellent, well-documented report on detainee treatment, which found that the "nation's most senior officials, through some of their actions and failures to act in the months and years immediately following the September 11 attacks, bear ultimate responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of illegal and improper interrogation techniques."

Clearly, a tribunal of the kind I'm suggesting would not have the force of law, or even subpoena powers, let alone the power of punishment. Still, I think that it could, if done carefully and well, go a long way toward establishing a permanent record of the crimes that were committed -- and continue to be committed -- in the name of the American people.

Would such a trial possibly help slow down or stop what you wrote about in another book, Mainstreaming Torture?

I think that the failure to bring anyone to trial has contributed to a measurable change in Americans' attitudes toward torture. Before the September 11 attacks, the majority of people in this country opposed torture. Things changed afterward, but the really disturbing thing is that the longer time stretches since those attacks, the larger the percentage of Americans who tell pollsters that torture is sometimes or often justified. As a country, we are now more comfortable with torture than we were in the years immediately following 9/11.

Logistically, how would such an "American Nuremberg" be implemented as an actual tribunal with legal standing?

Unfortunately, unless the executive branch develops an appetite for federal prosecutions -- which seems very unlikely -- we will probably never see an American tribunal with legal standing. Other options include congressional hearings into the waging of the war on terror, which is just imaginable if the Democratic Party were to regain control of one or both houses of Congress; a US decision to join the International Criminal Court and/or individual prosecutions in other jurisdictions, such as Spain or Switzerland, should any of these alleged criminals find themselves in those countries.

In your introduction, you cite that infamous quotation from Richard Nixon in a post-presidential interview with David Frost: "Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal." That about says everything about the modern-day development of unaccountable and absolute executive power in the US, doesn't it?

It certainly does. Frost was asking Nixon about crimes that he might have committed, either in ordering the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate apartment building, or in the cover-up of the break-in. Nixon's response perfectly encapsulates the attitude of the federal executive in this country today: As the supposed "leader of the free world," the US presidency holds the power to define both what is legal and what is right. If they did it, then whatever it was, it was legal. And good.

You write that the so-called war on terror has forced us to sacrifice our sense of human empathy. Can you discuss that a bit more?

No regime tortures everyone. Every government that decides to employ torture first designates a particular group of people as legitimate targets. In Chile under the dictator Augusto Pinochet, torture victims were called "humanoid" -- to distinguish them in the minds of both the torturers and the Chilean people from actual human beings. Our words are "terrorist" and "Islamofascist," but the effect is the same -- the placing of the enemy outside the human circle. And that dehumanization is the first step toward the destruction of empathy.

I also think that in the last 15 years the federal government has worked to stoke our fear, constantly reminding us of the threat we face. In effect, we've been offered a deal, which goes something like this: "Remember that you are in terrible danger from terrorists. Fortunately, you can count on your government to protect you. You let us institute mass surveillance of your email, internet use and phone calls; you let us do what ever we need to over here on 'the dark side' -- torture, assassination, the occasional undeclared war; and in return, we promise that you will always be safe."

The things the government has promised and done on "the dark side" are illegal and immoral. Accepting them as the necessary price of "security" makes us ever more willing to accept the next outrage. Indeed, over time we become used to hearing about these crimes, so that it takes more and more to shock us. At the same time, we become more willing to allow anything to happen, if it will ensure our own survival. There's a word for people whose first and only concern is their own survival. In English, we call them cowards.

But in the end the government's deal is a lie. There is no such thing as perfect security. As we saw at the Boston Marathon and more recently in San Bernardino, no amount of surveillance, war-making or torture can prevent a few angry and disaffected people from buying guns or building bombs and turning them against other human beings. That is the world we live in. That is the species we belong to. The question is, what kind of human beings do we want to be?

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News Sun, 22 May 2016 00:00:00 -0400