Saturday, March 31, 2012

Important New Book "The New Jim Crow"


“Felony is the New ‘N-Word”: Michelle Alexander on Mass Incarceration as “The New Jim Crow” in the Age of Obama

Wed, 06/09/2010 - 01:12 — Paul Street

by Paul Street

The author – himself a renowned Left, anti-racist scholar and activist – calls Alexander’s work “as close to being a perfect book as you are going to see.” While established Black leadership spent most of its political capital defending affirmative action programs that never reached the masses of Black people, the U.S. was busy establishing a “new racial caste system” based on mass Black incarceration and “unimpeded by the Fourteenth Amendment and federal civil rights legislation”

“Felony is the New ‘N-Word”: Michelle Alexander on Mass Incarceration as “The New Jim Crow” in the Age of Obama

by Paul Street

“Once you’re branded as a felon, all the “old forms of discrimination are suddenly legal.”

Early in her courageous and important new book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010), Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander offers a painful and poignant memory from the evening of November 4, 2008:

“As an African American woman, with three young children who will never know a world in which a black man could not be president of the United States, I was beyond thrilled on election night. Yet when I walked out of the election night party, full of hope and enthusiasm, I was immediately reminded of the harsh realities of the New Jim Crow. A black man was on his knees in the gutter, hands cuffed behind his back, as several polices officers stood around talking, joking, and ignoring his human existence. People poured out of the building: many stared for a moment at the black man cowering in the street, and then averted their gaze. What did the election of Barack Obama means for him?”

The Race to Incarcerate

What did Obama’s ascendancy really signify for the African American man waiting to be hauled off to the nation’s disproportionately black jails and prisons? That’s a good question. Consider the following cold facts from the officially “colorblind” United States, self-proclaimed homeland and headquarters of global “freedom”:

* Between 1980 and 2000, thanks primarily to the bipartisan U.S. War on Drugs, the number of people confined in U.S. prisons and jails rose spectacularly, from 300,000 to more than 2 million. Drug incarcerations accounted for the majority of that remarkable increase.

* By the end of 2007, more than 7 million Americans (1 in 31 adults) were under the supervision of the criminal justice system: behind bars or on probation or parole.

* The U.S. has by far and away the world’s highest incarceration rate (750 per 100,000, compared to 93 per 100,000 in, for example, Germany), “dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country” and “surpassing those in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran” (Michelle Alexander).

* Most of the spectacular number of Americans behind bars are incarcerated for non-violent offenses – drug crimes primarily – that most other nations do not view as remotely prison-worthy.

“The per capital incarceration rate for drug offenses in the U.S. rose by 930 percent between 1980 and 1996.”

* Illegal drug use is the single leading offense for which U.S. prisoners are doing time.

* Thirty years ago, there were less than 300 arrests for drug crimes for every 100,000 adults in the U.S. There were 2 prison admissions for every 100 drug admissions. By 1996, the drug arrest rate more than doubled to nearly 700 arrests per 100,000 adults and there were 8 prison admissions for every 100 drug arrests. The per capital incarceration rate for drug offenses in the U.S. rose by 930 percent between 1980 and 1996.

It gets much worse when you factor in skin color. The people incarcerated and marked by prison histories and criminal records in the world’s leading penal state (the U.S.) are very disproportionately black and male:

* 1 in every 14 black U.S. black man was imprisoned in 2001, compared to 1 in 106 white men

* 1 in 9 black men between the ages of 20 and 35 was behind bars in 2006 and a much larger percentage was under parole, probation or some other form of penal control.

* The U.S. incarcerates a larger share of its black population than did South Africa at the pinnacle of apartheid.

* In Washington D.C., home to the nation’s first black president, 75 percent of young black men can expect to serve time in prisons. In the city’s poorest neighborhoods and across the many highly segregated black urban ghettoes that persist across (not-so) “post-racial” America, similar incarceration rates and expectations prevail and time behind bars has become “normative” for young black males.

* In seven states black Americans make up 80 to 90 percent all drug prisoners. In more than fifteen states, blacks are sent to prison on drug convictions at rates from 20 to 57 times greater than those of white men.

* Three fourths of all Americans behind bars for drug crimes are black or Latino.

* On any given day, nearly a third (30 percent) of black males ages 20 to 29 is under some form of correctional supervision.

* Blacks make up 12 percent of the overall U.S. population but account for more than 45 percent of the nation’s prisoners.

* One in three black U.S. adult males carries the crippling lifelong mark of a felony record [1].

“Felony is the New ‘N-Word’”

This last problem – felony marking – is no small problem for social and racial justice in America. The prison experience itself is only the tip of the many-sided mass incarceration iceberg, whose chilling impact on black opportunity spreads across the societal terrain. A black minister in Waterloo, Mississippi argues: “Felony is the new ‘N-word. They don’t have to call you a nigger anymore. They just say you’re a felon…today’s lynching is a felony charge…A felony is a modern way of saying, ‘I’m going to hang you up and burn you.’ Once you get that F, you’re on fire.”[1A]

There’s reason for the preacher’s strong language. In the fourth chapter (titled “The Cruel Hand”) of The New Jim Crow, Alexander shows how once you’re branded as a felon, all the “old forms of discrimination – employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service – are suddenly legal. As a criminal,” Alexander observes, “you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow.”[2]

Racism Adapts: Redesigning Caste

“‘New Jim Crow’ – is she serious? Didn’t we just elect a black man to the presidency?” I can almost hear and see my white neighbors and relatives asking these questions with incredulous looks on their faces. Can a nation that just put a black family in the White House really have a powerful new anti-black racial caste system?” Yes, it can, Alexander demonstrates.

To be sure, in the current era, it is no longer permissible to discriminate, exclude, and condemn people explicitly on the basis of race. Still, it is perfectly legal, common, and customary to discriminate against people with criminal records in nearly all the same ways that it was once considered appropriate and lawful to discriminate against blacks. “Any candid observer of American racial history must acknowledge,” Alexander notes, “that racism is highly adaptable.” Racial caste has died and then re-emerged in new forms throughout that history. In the current, officially (and deceptively) “colorblind” era (whose illusory post-racial gloss is fed by Obama’s election), much of the core substance of the old discrimination – objectively racist bias in the job market, housing, finance, public welfare, voting rights and more – is born again and rendered legal and “normal” once millions of blacks are labeled as felons. “We have not ended racial caste in America,” Alexander observes, “we have merely redesigned it.” Open and conscious racial bigotry is not really required.

“Much of the core substance of the old discrimination is born again and rendered legal and ‘normal’ once millions of blacks are labeled as felons.”

Alexander is not unaware of big differences between the old and new caste systems. The old Jim Crow was explicitly racist, characterized by over racial hostility. The new version is not. It relies primarily on racial indifference, not racial antagonism. The new version generates a significant number of clear white victims – Caucasian drug prisoners and criminals who end up being what Alexander calls “collateral damage” (with shorter sentences and milder records, however) in a drug war whose real “designated [and primary] targets” are people of color. There is more black support (quite qualified and limited however) for “get tough” drug crime policies than there was for Jim Crow, for reasons that are not mysterious. The original Jim Crow system was part of the white southern ruling class’ effort to economically exploit black labor on a massive scale but the current mass incarceration version serves mainly to warehouse economically marginalized and largely post-industrialized and de-proletarianized black and brown people who no longer provide much labor for the capitalist state.

Beneath these real contrasts, however, the similarities are impressive. They include legalized discrimination in “nearly every aspect of social, political, and economic life,” political disenfranchisement, exclusion from juries, the refusal of top U.S. courts to take seriously clams of racial bias at “every stage of the criminal justice process” (so that “the new racial caste system operates unimpeded by the Fourteenth Amendment and federal civil rights legislation”), the “symbolic production of race” (the provision of racial stigma to blacks in its time: as members of an officially inferior ethno-cultural group in the late 19th and early 20th century and as criminals today, in a time when “the stigma of race has become the stigma of criminality”) and the creation and maintenance of racial segregation (reinforced by the largely black composition of the nation’s many prisons and by the flood of black prisoners who return to nearly all-black ghetto communities each year).

“Black Exceptionalism”: Loving “Barack” While Hating Lakeesha

I live in a state (Iowa) where many white middle class liberals are beside themselves with pride over the fact that they played a role in making Barack Obama the first black president but where many of the same folks just shrug when you tell them that that very same state has the highest racial incarceration disparity in the nation. In my current Obama-mad residence of Iowa City, this indifference is not uncommonly combined with white grumbling about the growing population of poor and unemployed blacks that is receiving ever more criminal justice attention on the town’s Southeast side. When a young black man (John Deng) was shot to death in cold blood by a white sheriff’s deputy (Terry Stotler) in Iowa City last summer, nary a white liberal Obama supporter joined the short-lived protest movement that quickly rose and collapsed. The moral silence was deafening. Among many of the affluent campus-town Aca-Democratic whites around here, loving “Barack” (progressive Democrats like to pretend that they are on a first name basis with the president) and “Michelle” in Washington (Obama bumper stickers are still ubiquitous on the backs of Volvos and Toyota Prius’s at the local food coop) is the other side of the coin of caring not a whit about local Lakeesha and Jamal.

“Mass incarceration is predicated on the notion that an extraordinary number of African Americans (but not all) have freely chosen a life of crime and thus belong behind bars.”

By Alexander’s analysis there’s no real paradox here. It all makes perfect sense. As she explained in response to a query from this writer (Street) in a recent book salon on the progressive Web site Firedoglake, Obama’s success with Caucasians (within and beyond white Iowa) fits very well with the redesigned, officially colorblind racism of the neoliberal, post-Civil Rights era:

During Jim Crow, individual black success was a threat to the prevailing system of control. Today, the opposite is true. The current caste system depends, in no small part, on black exceptionalism. Mass incarceration is predicated on the notion that an extraordinary number of African Americans (but not all) have freely chosen a life of crime and thus belong behind bars. A belief that all blacks belong in jail would be incompatible with the social consensus that we have moved “beyond race” and that race is no longer relevant. So we as a “colorblind” society need to have some black people doing well, ones we like. We therefore embrace certain types of black people — those who make whites comfortable and don’t challenge the status quo. Their success actually helps to rationalize the treatment of the rest[3].

Obama and other “good” and safe, properly bourgeois and respectful “not like Jesse” blacks are the exceptions proving the rule that the persistent poverty, segregation[4] and often enough incarceration and criminal marking experienced by other and poorer blacks is really all about those bad blacks’ bad values and bad behavior.

“A Literal War on the Black Community”

Consistent with “black exceptionalist” racial doctrine, most Caucasian Americans will tell you that the reason for grossly lopsided black drug incarceration and felony marking is simple: disproportionate black drug crime. Wrong! “People of all races use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates” and numerous surveys suggest that whites, especially white youth, are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug use and dealing than people of color, Alexander notes. “The great majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white” – this even as three-fourths of the nation’s drug prisoners are black or Latino. “From the outset,” Alexander explained in the aforementioned book salon (and in her book’s second chapter, titled “Lockdown”):

“The drug war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of the Republican Party’s grand strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to appeal to poor and working class whites who were resentful of the Civil Rights Movement – especially busing, desegregation and affirmative action. Pollsters and political strategists found that by using racially coded ‘get tough’ appeals they could get poor and working class white voters to defect from the Democratic Party. In the words of H. R. Haldeman, President Nixon’s former chief of staff: ‘The whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.’ Nixon coined the term ‘war on drugs.’ And Reagan turned the rhetorical war into a literal war on the black


As one would expect given the harsh incongruence between actual black drug use and black drug incarceration, it’s s a war marked among other things by savagely unequal patterns of surveillance, policing, arrest, and sentencing.

“White youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug use and dealing than people of color.”

Some brief examples from my own experience and research may (or may not) be in order here. I’m white and I have been stopped and cited for not wearing a seat belt twice in my life. Both incidents occurred in Chicago’s South Side black ghetto at intersections where the police dragoon people using the seat belt issue as a pretext to get into folks’ cars and find (or claim to find) drugs. The second time the police officer apologized for pulling me over and explained the situation in no uncertain terms: I was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the racist national drug war.

Shortly before these two little educational experiences on the South Side (where I worked in a black [post-] civil rights organization between 2000 and 2005), Chicago newspapers offered some interesting reports on how local and state criminal justice authorities had chosen to deal with a rising number of “young [white] suburbanites” said to be purchasing heroin and other banned narcotics in the city’s predominantly black West Side. The Chicago Tribune reported that Dupage County Metropolitan Enforcement Group (a “collection of the top drug cops from the county departments”) had selected a rather mild sanction for the suburban offenders. “Officers,” the Tribune noted in August of 2001, “have seen teens making drug buys, traced the license plates of their cars, and notified the registered owner, often a parents, where the vehicle has been.”

In June of 2002, both the Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times reported that Cook County prosecutors and police had increased the level of punishment for the young suburbanites, threatening to impound their automobiles and suspend their driver’s licenses. William O’Brien, Chief of Narcotics for the State’s Attorney’s Office gave the following rationale for this “new crackdown,” which contrasted sharply with the prison sentences faced by 15-year old inner city youth caught selling narcotics next to a public housing project: when it comes to predominantly white automobile-centered suburban youth, O’Brien explained, “driving privileges may resonate more...than the threat of jail.” Of course O’Brien failed to note that prison histories and felony records resonate in powerfully negative, poverty- and inequality-intensifying ways across the entire life experience of the disproportionately black people who are saddled forever with what the neoliberal Anglo American magazine The Economist in 2002 called “The Stigma That Never Fades” – a felony record (the “new N-word”)[6].

“Democrats Have Actually Been Worse”

“Okay,” I can hear my liberal white Obama-adoring neighbors saying, “so Alexander is saying it’s all about the racist Republicans.” Not-so fast. Like almost every other policy evil in this corporate-managed imperial and white supremacist fake-democracy, the drug war has been a richly bipartisan affair. As Alexander noted in the aforementioned salon (and as she shows in The New Jim Crow):

“Democrats have actually been much worse than Republicans when it comes to the drug war. It was Bill Clinton who escalated the drug war far beyond what his Republican predecessor ever dreamed possible. And it was Bill Clinton and the so-called ‘new Democrats’ who pushed through laws barring drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offense) and barring drug felons from food stamps for the rest of their lives. Pregnant women, people with HIV and AIDS are barred even from receiving food stamps if they were caught with drugs and charged with a felony. Clinton, in his zeal to win over those so-called ‘white swing voters,’ ramped up the drug war and ‘ended welfare as we knew it.’”[7]

You read that right: “Democrats have actually been worse” (something the people of Afghanistan can relate to).

“Bill Clinton escalated the drug war far beyond what his Republican predecessor ever dreamed possible.”

Alexander’s observation of this harsh reality leads her to a radical conclusion: “the movement that must be built has to fundamentally change the nature of our political system – not just get more Democrats in office.” Alexander (herself a very successful black law professor and political commentator) understands the very big and real difference between the meaning of the Obama ascendancy (a symbolically powerful color-change in the nation’s and indeed the world’s top elective office) and what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for again and again in the last years of his life: “the radical reconstruction of society itself” through a mass democratic social movement that transcended the quadrennial big money candidate-centered and corporate-crafted electoral extravaganzas that pass for the only politics that matter among many Americans today.

“His Election…Demobilizes Those Who Should Seize the Moment”

A section of the last chapter of The New Jim Crow bears the title “Obama – the Promise and the Peril.” Upon first glance I assumed that this section would show how the election of a first black president has reinforced the white majority’s mistaken, self-satisfied belief that racism no longer poses significant barriers to black advancement and racial equality in the U.S. But that’s not quite Alexander’s primary contention. She is far more concerned with Obama’s pacifying impact on blacks than with his effect on white Americans. As she noted in our aforementioned online conversation (salon):

“Actually, my argument about the promise and peril of Obama’s election is a bit different. I argue that on the one hand Obama’s election holds real promise because he’s condemned the drug war and mandatory sentences. He ‘gets it.’ But on the other hand, the unique and concerning situation racial justice advocates now face is that the very people who are most oppressed by the current caste system – African Americans – may be the least likely to challenge it, now that Obama is in the White House. Do African Americans want to pressure the Obama administration on any issue, let alone issues of race? Could it be that many African Americans would actually prefer to ignore racial issues during Obama’s presidency, to help ensure him smooth sailing and a triumphant presidency, no matter how bad things are in the meantime? [emphasis added] The fact that last question could plausibly be answered yes, is the real peril of the Obama presidency. His election masks the severity of racial inequality and actually demobilizes those who should seize the moment.”[8]

“Knowing What’s Right is Different Than Doing Right”

Just because Obama likely understands the racially biased (and even racist) nature of the new mass incarceration system, she feels, that hardly means he’s going to actually do anything to dismantle it – not unless he’s compelled to do so by a significant social movement that targets the “new Jim Crow.” “When I say Obama ‘gets it,’” Alexander ads in a very important qualification, “I don’t mean to imply that he is planning to do anything about ‘it.’ In fact, I’m pretty sure that he intends to avoid race issues to the greatest extent possible. Knowing what’s right is different than doing right. I’m not sure his predecessor even knew what’s right; Obama knows the drug war is wrong, very wrong, but that doesn’t mean he’ll do anything about it. Unless he has to. That’s our job – to make Obama do what he knows he should.”[9]

(“Knowing what’s right is different than doing right” – that distinction could very well end up being a nicely stated post-mortem reflection on the Obama presidency. It applies to the current administration on every relevant policy level).

The Civil Rights Establishment “Clinging to the Gains of the Past”

Beyond its brilliant criticism of the drug war, the mass incarceration system (broadly understood to reach far beyond prison walls), the U.S. political system (with Democrats as culpable as Republicans), the Obama effect, and the myth of a color-blind America, Alexander also advances an important critique of the leading black civil rights institutions. She argues that the nation’s civil rights establishment has been dysfunctionally preoccupied with affirmative action and “clinging to the gains of the past” during an era in which millions of people of color have been rounded up, thrown behind bars, and stigmatized for life for relatively minor, non-violent and drug related offenses. “The struggle to preserve affirmative action in higher education, and thus maintain diversity in the nation’s most elite colleges and universities, has consumed much of the attention and resources of the civil rights community and dominated racial justice discourse in the mainstream media,” Alexander writes, “leading the general public to believe that affirmative action is the main battlefront in U.S. relations – even as our prisons fill with black and brown men.”[10]

It’s a misplaced focus I know well. Back when I was still being paid to try to effectuate progressive anti-racist change through mainstream Civil Rights (perhaps I should say post-Civil Rights) institutions (in my position as research director at The Chicago Urban League), I penned a major grant-funded study titled “The Vicious Circle: Race, Prison, Jobs, and Community in Chicago, Illinois, and the Nation” (Chicago Urban League, 2002)[11]. Focused largely on the profound labor market problems experienced by black people with felony records, the report was released at a day-long conference held at the League’s headquarters at 45th and Michigan Ave, in the historical heart of black Chicago. The enthusiasm and energy surrounding “The Vicious Circle’s” release and the gathering of activists and policy intellectuals and policymakers to discuss its implications was pronounced. The events included an appearance from then state senator Obama, who gave an eloquent and informed speech about and against “racially disparate mass incarceration.” My then boss, the CEO of the Chicago Urban League, was reminded of past gatherings there during the 1960s and during the progressive black mayoralty of Harold Washington (1983-87). The conference and study dominated the top page of the black daily The Chicago Defender. It got respectable media coverage in the two leading papers (the Tribune and the Sun Times) and on local television news. It was a big deal.

A consistent theme in comments I received from black activists, citizens and commentators was that my report and our conference was a “long overdue” look at a many-sided problem that was grossly underestimated within the black community and by the wider society. “This,” one activist told me, “is not just one more civil rights problem we’ve got to tackle along with all the ones we know about. I’m starting to think that in many ways this is the problem. You know what I’m saying?”

“She argues that the nation’s civil rights establishment has been dysfunctionally preoccupied with affirmative action and ‘clinging to the gains of the past’ during an era in which millions of people of color have been rounded up, thrown behind bars, and stigmatized for life.”

The excitement faded. State senator Obama (whose “deeply conservative” [Larissa MacFarquhar] taste for conciliation would soon help propel him into national prominence [11A]} and a few other state legislators worked with the leading correctional authorities to pass some very minor legislation on behalf of “ex-offender reintegration.” As the excitement over the issue (“the problem” according to one activist) receded while the politicians and policymakers tinkered, my office reverted to more traditional issues. Within three years I was gone to teach U.S History (my original field) as a visiting professor for one ill-fated year and then to embark on a writing “career” with a long list of book topics I wanted to pursue.

I can check off one of those topics (the many sided American system of racist mass incarceration and felony-marking) and put it in the category labeled “been done” (and done very well: The New Jim Crow is about as close to being a perfect book as you are going to see). Alexander’s argument is deftly developed over six highly readable and richly informed chapters that: review the historical record of radicalized social control in North American history from the colonial era through the present (Chapter 1); describe the fundamentally racist structure and operation of the officially “colorblind” contemporary U.S. drug war and mass imprisonment system (Chapters 2 and 3); detail how the new caste system operates on its black victims once they are released (on an all-too temporary basis in most cases) from prison (Chapter 4); draw direct historical parallels between the old and the “new” Jim Crow (Chapter 5); and show how and why only a major new social movement (one that among other things “talks [candidly] about race” and “resists the temptation of colorblind advocacy”) can overthrow the new caste order (Chapter 6). Order or borrow a copy now.

My only difference with Michelle Alexander is off to the side of her main thesis. It is based on my experience in corporate-Democratic Chicago before and as the Obama phenomenon rose to national prominence in 2003 and 2004. It is just this: I never felt any hope or enthusiasm of any kind in relation to Obama’s election. “Demobilizing those who should seize the moment” is what Barack Obama has always been about. It was one of his core promises to the predominantly white corporate and imperial power elite who really select “our” “viable” presidential (and other) candidates and presidents in advance [12], whether or not ex-offenders possess and exercise the right to vote.

Paul Street’s next book is The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, August 2010/

Street will speak on racial politics and the Obama presidency at “Socialism 2010,” the annual meetings of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) at The Palmer House Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago on Friday June 18, 2010 at 4 pm (see


1. See “The Stigma That Never Fades,” The Economist (August 10, 2002)for this last statistic (on black male felony-marking). Most of the rest of the data at the beginning of this article is culled from Marc Maurer, The Race to Incarcerate (New York: New Press, 2006); Paul Street, The Vicious Circle: Race, Prison, Jobs and Community in Chicago, Illinois and the Nation (Chicago, IL: Chicago Urban League, October 2002) at; Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010); Jeremy Travis, But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry (Washington DC: Urban Institute Press, 2005).

1A. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010), 159.

2. Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 2.

3. Paul Street and Michelle Alexander, “Firedog Lake Welcomes Michelle Alexander,” Firedoglake Book Salon (May 30, 2010) at

According to the noted anti-racist race scholar Stephen Steinberg, however, there was in fact some of this black exceptionalism in the Jim Crow era. As Steinberg noted in his important Clinton-era study Turning Back: the Retreat From Racial Justice in American Thought and Policy (Boston, MA: Beacon, 1995): “Even in the worst days of Jim Crow, there were blacks who owned land, received favored treatment from whites and were held forth as ‘success stories’ to prove that lower-class blacks had only themselves to blame for their destitution…The existence of this black elite did not prove that racism was abating (thought illusions to this effect were common even among blacks). On the contrary, the black elite itself was a vital part of the system of [racial] oppression, serving as a buffer between the [ruling white] oppressor and [most truly black] oppressed and furthering the illusion that blacks could surmount their difficulties if only they had the exemplary qualities of the black elite.” Steinberg, Turning Back, 149.

4. For my own detailed research and reflection on the persistence of extreme racial disparity and de facto race apartheid in a leading U.S. metropolis, see my widely ignored book Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefied, 2007).

5. “Firedog Lake Welcomes Michelle Alexander.”

6. “Teens Trek to City for Heroin,” Chicago Tribune, 13 August 2001; “Cops Warn Suburban Teens About Drug Buys,” Chicago Tribune, 14 June 2002; “City Targets Heroin Buyers From the Suburbs,” Chicago Sun Times, 13 June 2002; “The Stigma That Never Fades.”

7. “Firedog Lake Welcomes Michelle Alexander;” Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 54-56, 76.

8. “Firedog Lake Welcomes Michelle Alexander”

9. “Firedog Lake Welcomes Michelle Alexander.” For details on the remarkable extent to which Obama has in fact gone to “avoid race issues,” see Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, August 2010), Chapter 4: “Barack Obama, the Myth of the Post-Racial Presidency, and the Politics of Identity.”

10. Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 9.

11. Street, The Vicious Circle.

11A. Larissa MacFarquhar, “The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?” The New Yorker (May 7, 2007). According to MacFarquhar, “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly, Obama is deeply conservative.”

12. For an I hope useful review of Obama’s political career and related reflections on the corporate-run U.S. elections system, see Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008).
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Thursday, March 29, 2012

MK Zoabi: Struggle for democracy is a struggle against Zionism

Thursday, March 29 2012|+972blog

By Elsa Rassbach

Since the 1980s, Palestinians have marked every March 30 with protests to celebrate Land Day. The day commemorates the first widespread struggle of Arab Israelis against processes of land confiscation intended to create Jewish majorities in certain communities. The marches and general strikes began in the Galilee in 1976, and resulted in the killings of six unarmed Arab citizens of Israel. Solidarity protests spread to the occupied West Bank, Gaza and the refugee camps in Lebanon. Since then, the day has marked the first common struggle for a Palestinian national cause following the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, an event Palestinians call the Nakba. This year on Land Day, worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activities will take place against Israeli policies, as well as the Global March to Jerusalem, which will call attention to the continuing Judaization and ethnic cleansing in the city that was supposed to be the multi-ethnic, multi-religious capital of a future Palestinian state.
Haneen Zoabi, 43, became a Knesset member in 2009, as the first Palestinian woman elected on an Arab party’s list. She is a member of the Balad party, which seeks to transform Israel into a democracy for all of its citizens, irrespective of national, ethnic or religious identity. Zoabi was born in Nazareth to a Muslim family. In 2010, she participated in the Gaza flotilla on board the Mavi Marmara. I spoke with her recently by Skype.
What does Land Day mean to you?
To me, Land Day is a day of ongoing and a continuous struggle around the issue of “land property.” This is still the crucial issue between us and the state. The core of the Zionist project is a continuous stealing of land from the Palestinians and transferring it to the Israeli Jews. Renaming the places, the junctions, the villages, the streets, and giving Jewish names to the landscape is part of this “confiscation.” It’s a way to steal from us and confiscate our historical relation with our homeland. This is the meaning of Ariel Sharon’s famous statement in the Knesset in 2002 when he said that the Palestinians inside Israel, whom he called “Israeli Arabs,” in effect have only temporary “rights in the land,” the land not yet confiscated, but “all the rights over the Land of Israel are Jewish rights.”
During the 63 years since 1948, Israel has confiscated 85 percent of our land and turned it over to the exclusive use of the Jews. It has developed and built 1,000 towns, cities and villages, all of them only for the Jews. And zero for the Palestinians. We live now on 2 percent of our land. We don’t even have permission to build our own houses on our own land and thus have no rights to use our land that hasn’t been confiscated.
How does Israel’s definition of itself as a “Jewish state” affect the Palestinian citizens of Israel?
The “Jewish state” is a state that has been established by Jews and is run by the Jews for the sake of the Jews – all at the expense of the Palestinians. It’s a racist definition. The state declares me to be an outsider in this land, though I’m the opposite. I’m the indigenous people. I didn’t immigrate to Israel; it was Israel that immigrated to me.
The State of Israel claims that it can be Jewish and democratic at the same time, as if there were no contradiction between the two. Any debate within Israel regarding the inherent contradiction between being a Jewish state and being a democratic state is considered no less than a “strategic threat.” If we are not Jewish and refuse to give up our rights, then obviously we present not just an alternative view, but something that contradicts the state’s very legitimacy: Zionism.
How you define your struggle as Palestinian citizens of Israel in relation to the struggle of the rest of the Palestinian people?
Our struggle has two components, as citizens and also as Palestinians. And unlike the state, we don’t see why both components — our citizenship and our nationality – should clash.
On the contrary, citizenship should be inclusive. We are fighting for normal citizenship with full recognition of our national rights as indigenous people that would include our history, our identity, our culture and our nationality.
My citizenship is conditioned by the Jews’ privileges. It’s even conditioned to my loyalty to these privileges! Therefore, there is no way to struggle for full equality and full citizenship without challenging the concept of “Jewish state.” To struggle for democracy in Israel is to struggle against Zionism. And this is what unifies our struggle with the wider Palestinian struggle. Racism, Oppression, Judaisation, Apartheid and Undemocracy inside Israel; Apartheid, Occupation, Oppression, and Judaisation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; and the denial of the right of return – all of these mechanisms of control serve the same ideological project: Zionism.
Nakba Day, the first intifada, the second intifada – all of these days are days of unity. But still our struggle is not united, because it lacks a unifying vision and a unifying framework of legitimacy. The Palestinian issue did not begin in 1967 and does not only concern the territories occupied in 1967. It concerns the entire Palestinian people, and even the wider Arab region.
After the Oslo Accords of 1993 defined the Palestinians inside Israel as an internal Israeli matter, we reformulated our national project in a manner that secures our reintegration into the Palestinian people and guarantees our place as an integral part of the Palestinian issue, both as part of the conflict and as part of the solution. Our demand for a “state of all its citizens” has put the Palestinians in Israel at the heart of the direct confrontation with the Zionist enterprise and has forced the “Jewish state” to admit the primacy that it grants to Jewish-Zionist values over democratic values, and to recognixe the impossibility of coexistence between the two.
This is the role we play.

Elsa Rassbach is a filmmaker and journalist from the United States, now based in Berlin. She is a member of CODEPINK, an organization that has endorsed the Global March to Jerusalem. She is a frequent contributor to German and U.S. publications. Her award-winning film, ”The Killing Floor,” an historical dramatic film about a union’s struggle against racism in the Chicago Stockyards, will be re-released this year.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Kelly-Bloomberg school of Demonology

NYPD: Snoops, spies and … agent provocateurs?
Mar 24, 2012 10:15 am | Lizzy Ratner

As the shock over the revelations that the New York City Police Department spied on progressive groups, including Palestine justice groups, continues to ripple up, down, and around the solidarity-sphere, it seems important to ask: Did the NYPD ever go even further than spying? As its agents amassed dossiers filled with our names, protest plans, political passions, and innocent comments, did they ever attempt to muck about? Provoke? Entrap?

Recent details about the case of Ahmed Ferhani, one of the NYPD's star terrorism suspects, suggest that the answer is quite possibly yes -- yes, the NYPD did dabble in the evil arts of provocation and entrapment during its spying expeditions. And, more particularly, it did this dabbling at rallies and meetings of Palestinian justice groups, particularly student groups.

Ferhani is a young, Algerian-born man who was arrested last spring on charges of plotting to bomb a synagogue in Manhattan -- a heinous and serious charge indeed. He is also a young man with a record of mental illness -- as in, 30 involuntary commitments to psychiatric wards between the ages of 17 and 26. According to court papers filed by his lawyer, Elizabeth Fink, and reported on by the storied police reporter Leonard Levitt on his website NYPD Confidential, Ferhani found his way from psych patient to terrorist with the help of an undercover cop who went by the nom de provocateur of Ilter (in the court papers he is referred to as UC242). For six months, Ilter/UC242 worked Ferhani over, eventually entrapping him into buying weapons.

But here's where it gets really interesting. As reported by Levitt, the court papers filed by Fink claim that, before UC242/Ilter found Ferhani, UC242 was scouting around the Palestine solidarity crowd -- attending student rallies and conferences, spewing violent, inflammatory rhetoric:

As described by Fink (and quoted by Levitt):

UC 242 first appeared at student rallies protesting Israel’s campaign against Gaza more than two years ago, portraying himself as a Turkish Muslim who had been part of that community since 2008, and a fervent sympathizer with the Palestinian cause.

For many months, UC 242 was a continual presence within these student groups, providing constant support and doing anything to ingratiate himself with the activist group that supported Palestine. Over time he attended several student conferences outside New York City. He constantly engaged in provocative and violent rhetoric to the plight of the Palestinians (emphasis added). It is obvious that all of this activity must have generated hundreds of NYPD reports, summaries and related documentation…

However, Fink continues (and Levitt quotes):

These two years of effort brought about no tangible results, other than the acquisition of information by the NYPD. What they needed was someone to arrest for ‘terrorist’ activities and UC 242’s efforts to obtain that person or persons had been totally unsuccessful.

This, says Fink, is when Ilter/UC242 lighted on Ferhani.

Or, to summarize it a little differently: before the undercover cop went after the man with the psychiatric and criminal record, he set himself on groups of students and activists organizing around Israel-Palestine, implicitly criminalizing a whole group of people because of their beliefs.

Call it political profiling. Call it thought-policing. Call it all kinds of things, but especially: outrageous.

(P.S. To the NYPD web crawlers who may be reading this post: welcome to Mondoweiss! I know, it's not your first time, but still, welcome! I hope you enjoyed this post. How does it compare to all the others?)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Questions About Official US "Lone Wolf" excuse for Latest Afghan Massacre

Afghan parliamentary team says many Americans were involved in massacre in which army accuses one
Mar 17, 2012 05:35 pm | Annie Robbins

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, suspected in the shooting of 16 civilians in Afghanistan NBC NEWS

The US soldier allegedly responsible for the massacre of 16 civilians in Afghanistan has been identified as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

Bales, 38, was deployed to Afghanistan in December with the 3rd Stryker Brigade, based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Tacoma, Wash., the officials said.

Bales, a native of Ohio, has been based at Lewis-McChord his entire career. He and his family reportedly lived not too far from the base and have family roots in western Washington. Bales’ wife is said to be an executive at a Seattle-area company.

Brown said the suspect’s family will remain on base for the foreseeable future for their own protection. Bales was reportedly en route to the United States on Friday.

He has two children.

Directly after the incident, Reuters reported multiple witnesses claimed multiple soldiers were present at the scenes and carried out the crime. The acclaimed Pajhwok Afghan News (initially funded by USAID, its co-founder Farida Nekzad, won the 2008 International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award) is reporting, Up to 20 US troops executed Panjwai massacre: probe :

KANDAHAR CITY (PAN): A parliamentary probe team on Thursday said up to 20 American troops were involved in Sunday’s killing of 16 civilians in southern Kandahar province.

The probing delegation includes [several members of the National Assembly of Afghanistan] lawmakers Hamidzai Lali, Abdul Rahim Ayubi, Shakiba Hashimi, Syed Mohammad Akhund and Bismillah Afghanmal, all representing Kandahar province at the Wolesi Jirga and Abdul Latif Padram, a lawmaker from northern Badakhshan province, Mirbat Mangal, Khost province, Muhammad Sarwar Usmani, Farah province.

The team spent two days in the province, interviewing the bereaved families, tribal elders, survivors and collecting evidences at the site in Panjwai district.

Hamizai Lali told Pajhwok Afghan News their investigation showed there were 15 to 20 American soldiers, who executed the brutal killings.

“We closely examined the site of the incident, talked to the families who lost their beloved ones, the injured people and tribal elders,” he said.

He added the attack lasted one hour involving two groups of American soldiers in the middle of the night on Sunday.

This report should surprise no one following bulletins from Afghanistan over the last few days. Locals have insisted all along there were multiple soldiers involved, and the anger has spread since the attack. Militants launched an attack on a government delegation visiting Panjwai on Tuesday when two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers and several top security officials were visiting. Effigies of Obama were burned, one Afghan soldier was killed as well as three militants. On the same day in the city of Jalalabad 600 students took to the streets condemning the Kandahar slaughter and chanting "Death to America! Death to Obama!"

The Taliban has announced they have called off 'peace talks'. They have suspended all dialogue with Americans. Thursday President Karzai told the US it must pull back its troops from village areas and allow Afghan forces to take the lead in security. Yesterday the BBC reported that Karzai accused the US of not fully co-operating with a probe into the killings.

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary:'Effigies of Obama were burned'


A member of the delegation, Abdul Rahim Ayubi, told AP the governor was trying to explain to locals that the shooting was an isolated incident.

"But the people were just shouting and they were very angry. They didn't listen to the governor. They accused him of defending the Americans instead of defending the Kandahari people," Mr Ayubi said.

Anti-US sentiment is already high in Afghanistan after soldiers burned some copies of the Koran at a Nato base in Kabul last month, sparking deadly riots across the country.

The Taliban has renewed threats of revenge attacks, saying it would behead "sadistic" American soldiers.

It sounds like the people of Afghanistan are fed up and not backing down.

Lali asked the Afghan government, the United Nations and the international community to ensure the perpetrators were punished in Afghanistan.

He expressed his anger that the US soldier, the prime suspect in the shooting, had been flown out of Afghanistan to Kuwait.

He said the people they met had warned if the responsible troops were not punished, they would launch a movement against Afghans who had agreed to foreign troops’ presence in Afghanistan under the first Bonn conference in 2001.

The lawmaker said the Wolesi Jirga would not sit silent until the killers were prosecuted in Afghanistan. "If the international community does not play its role in punishing the perpetrators, the Wolesi Jirga would declare foreign troops as occupying forces, like the Russians," Lali warned.

Nothing about the Afghan parliamentary probe in the US media. No surprise here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Way to go, IDF!

From Haaretz
Published 03:07 11.03.12Latest update 03:07 11.03.12

The cyclical ritual of bloodletting between Israel and Gaza always prompts two questions: 'Who started it?' and 'Whose is bigger?'

By Gideon Levy

Here we go again - a targeted killing; retaliation; retaliation to the retaliation. Here we go again - The reflexive act; the harsh rhetoric; the blindness. The Israel Defense Forces carries out a targeted killing. The Palestinian organizations avenge it - and it's the Palestinians instigating war and terrorism. MK Danny Danon (Likud) has, of course, already called for "all of those in possession of weapons in the Gaza Strip" to be targeted because of the "million people living under fire."

Those million people, in case you failed to get it, are the residents of southern Israel. Only they live under fire. By yesterday afternoon, the bodies of 15 Palestinians were already laid out on the other side of the Gaza border. There were eight people injured on this side, and the Iron Dome antimissile system chalked up the successful interception of 25 rockets.

This cyclical ritual of bloodletting always prompts two questions: "Who started it?" and "Whose is bigger?" It's as if both questions were straight from some preschool playground. The response to the first question is always mired in uncertainty, while the answer to the second is always razor-sharp.

Who started it? The IDF and the Shin Bet security service did. The impression is that they carry out the targeted killings whenever they can, and not whenever it is necessary.

When are they necessary? Do you remember the debate on targeted killings sometime in the distant past? Then, it seemed the targets had to be "ticking time bombs" en route to carry out their attacks. In any event, such a vague standard no longer applies. In 2006, in his last court ruling handed down before his retirement, then Supreme Court President Aharon Barak barred such killings when they were meant to be "a deterrent or punishment."

The latest target killed was Zuhair al-Qaissi, the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza. IDF sources said he was responsible for the terrorist attack on the Egyptian border last August - which would make his killing an act of "deterrence or punishment." But to be on the safe side, it was also noted that he had "led and directed plans to carry out a terror attack within Israel, which was in its final stages of preparation."

This convoluted announcement by the IDF spokesman was enough to get the Israeli public to accept this latest regular dose of targeted killing with automatic understanding and sympathy. And who knows what the late al-Qaissi had planned? Only the Shin Bet does, so we accept his death sentence without unnecessary questions.

Did he really lead and direct plans? And what are "the final stages of preparation"? The military reporters said so, and the military reporters know. Even the question of the effectiveness, rather than the legality of the killings, is no longer a subject for debate. What benefit will it bring Israel, other than more people injured, and additional days of fear in the south? Did this targeted killing really head off a terrorist attack? We won't know. It's enough for the news presenters to know. (And they don't. They just obediently spout what they get from the defense establishment. )

The second question - "Whose is bigger?" - is even more ridiculous and superfluous, of course. It's the best equipped army in the world against a ragtag army of rocket launchers. Nonetheless, this has to be proven to everyone, both to them and us, over and over.

You have the score right here in front of you. As of yesterday afternoon, it was 15-0 in Israel's favor. If we measure it by the results of the IDF's Cast Lead operation in Gaza at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 - when it was one Israeli killed per 100 Palestinians - then from a statistical standpoint there's been backsliding.

And imagine if, God forbid, there were 15 Israelis killed over the weekend? Cast Lead 2 and regional war, with a politically different Egypt as a backdrop. But the killing of 15 Palestinians is allowed, eliciting just a yawn. In another day or two, we should hope that calm will again prevail. And actually, the commentators have been saying that "neither side is interested in a confrontation." A nameless mediator will handle the negotiations and the weapons will again be locked up.

Until the next round. At that point, the juvenile questions will be asked all over again. Again, Israel will not restrain itself from carrying out additional targeted killings. Again, the Palestinians will not restrain themselves from avenging the killings, both sides locked in their stupidity. Because that's the routine in this insane asylum.

For those on the inside, everything appears normal and routine - as is always the case among such psychotic patients. So Iran is compared to Auschwitz and, in a blind reflex, a target killing is carried out in Gaza in the middle of a period of calm that had benefited everyone.

The rising star candidate as head of the opposition, Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), who is the winning alternative to the current government, has already welcomed the targeted killing, as did Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already contacted the mayors in the south in a show of support. This, too, is part of the standard ritual. Residents of the south sit in shelters while the rest of the country cluck their tongues and tell themselves "That's how it is"; "Nothing else can be done"; and "Way to go, IDF!" And then they take an afternoon snooze in the wonderful springtime weather.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Is the USA Becoming "The Only Non-Democracy in North America?"

US Congress passes authoritarian anti-protest law
By Tom Carter 

3 March 2012

A bill passed Monday in the US House of Representatives and Thursday in the Senate would make it a felony-a serious criminal offense punishable by lengthy terms of incarceration-to participate in many forms of protest associated with the Occupy Wall Street protests of last year. Several commentators have dubbed it the "anti-Occupy" law, but its implications are far broader.

The bill-H.R. 347, or the "Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011"-was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate, while only Ron Paul and two other Republicans voted against the bill in the House of Representatives (the bill passed 388-3). Not a single Democratic politician voted against the bill.

The virtually unanimous passage of H.R. 347 starkly exposes the fact that, despite all the posturing, the Democrats and the Republicans stand shoulder to shoulder with the corporate and financial oligarchy, which regarded last year's popular protests against social inequality with a mixture of fear and hostility.
Among the central provisions of H.R. 347 is a section that would make it a criminal offense to "enter or remain in" an area designated as "restricted."

The bill defines the areas that qualify as "restricted" in extremely vague and broad terms. Restricted areas can include "a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting" and "a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance."]
The Secret Service provides bodyguards not just to the US president, but to a broad layer of top figures in the political establishment, including presidential candidates and foreign dignitaries.
Even more sinister is the provision regarding events of "national significance." What circumstances constitute events of "national significance" is left to the unbridled discretion of the Department of Homeland Security. The occasion for virtually any large protest could be designated by the Department of Homeland Security as an event of "national significance," making any demonstrations in the vicinity illegal.
For certain, included among such events would be the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, which have been classified as National Special Security Events (NSSE), a category created under the Clinton administration. These conventions have been the occasion for protests that have been subjected to ever increasing police restrictions and repression. Under H.R. 347, future protests at such events could be outright criminalized.

The standard punishment under the new law is a fine and up to one year in prison. If a weapon or serious physical injury is involved, the penalty may be increased to up to ten years.
Also criminalized by the bill is conduct "that impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions" and "obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds." These provisions, even more so than the provisions creating "restricted areas," threaten to criminalize a broad range of protest activities that were previously perfectly legal.
In order to appreciate the unprecedented sweep of H.R. 347, it is necessary to consider a few examples:

· A wide area around the next G-20 meeting or other global summit could be designated "restricted" by the Secret Service, such that any person who "enters" a that area can be subject to a fine and a year in jail under Section 1752(a)(1) (making it a felony to enter any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so).

· Senator Rick Santorum, the ultra-right Republican presidential candidate, enjoys the protection of the Secret Service. Accordingly, a person who shouts "boo!" during a speech by Santorum could be subject to arrest and a year of imprisonment under Section 1752(a)(2) (making it a felony to "engag[e] in disorderly or disruptive conduct in" a restricted area).

· Striking government workers who form a picket line near any event of "national significance" can be locked up under Section 1752(a)(3) (making it a crime to imped[e] ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds).

Under the ancien regime in France, steps were taken to ensure that the "unwashed masses" were kept out of sight whenever a carriage containing an important aristocrat or church official was passing through. Similarly, H.R. 347 creates for the US president and other top officials a protest-free bubble or "no-free-speech zone" that follows them wherever they go, making sure the discontented multitude is kept out of the picture.
The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act is plainly in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which was passed in 1791 in the aftermath of the American Revolution. The First Amendment provides: "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (The arrogance of the Democratic and Republican politicians is staggering-what part of "Congress shall make no law" do they not understand?)
H.R. 347 comes on the heels of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was signed by President Obama into law on December 31, 2011. The NDAA gives the president the power to order the assassination or incarceration of any person-including a US citizen-anywhere in the world without charge or trial.

The passage of H.R. 347 has been the subject of a virtual blackout in the media. In light of the unprecedented nature of the bill, which would effectively overturn the First Amendment, this blackout cannot be innocent. The media silence therefore represents a conscious effort to keep the American population in the dark as to the government's efforts to eviscerate the Bill of Rights.
The bill would vastly expand a previous law making it misdemeanor to trespass on the grounds of the White House. An earlier version of the bill would have made it a felony just to "conspire" to engage in any of the conduct described above. The bill now awaits President Obama's signature before it becomes the law of the land.

What lies behind the unprecedented attack underway on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights is a growing understanding in the ruling class that the protests that took place around the world against social inequality in 2011 will inevitably re-emerge in more and more powerful forms in 2012 and beyond, as austerity measures and the crashing economy make the conditions of life more and more impossible for the working class. The virtually unanimous support in Congress H.R. 347, among Democrats as well as Republicans, reflects overriding sentiment within the ruling establishment for scrapping all existing democratic rights in favor of dictatorial methods of rule.

This sentiment was most directly expressed this week by Wyoming Republican legislator David Miller, who recently introduced a bill into the state legislature that would give the state the power, in an "emergency," to create its own standing army through conscription, print its own currency, acquire military aircraft, suspend the legislature, and establish martial law. "Things happen quickly sometimes-look at Libya, look at Egypt, look at those situations," Miller told the Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyoming. Repeating arguments employed by every military dictatorship over the past century, Miller declared, "We wouldn't have time to meet as a Legislature or even in special session to do anything to respond." Miller's so-called "doomsday law" was defeated in the Wyoming legislature Tuesday by the narrow margin of 30-27.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Obama, the "Denier" of Israel's Crimes

By Ann Wright (about the author)

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I listened to President Obama's speech to AIPAC Sunday, March 4, 2012, while sitting outside the Washington Convention Center where AIPAC was holding its annual conference. We at OCCUPY AIPAC hooked up a PA system to a computer and listened to the live stream while watching tens of thousands of Israel's American supporters arrive for their yearly intimidation of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. President to fund and protect Israel.

Much of the focus for others writing about the President's pandering speech to AIPAC will be about the Iran nuclear program and, if weaponized, the threat to Israeli and U.S. security, in that order. I will leave the Iran nuclear program to them while I will write about a part of his speech that pertains to a part of the world that I know personally.

But one last comment about Iran -- Obama said the Iranian government denies the Holocaust.

I would say that the Iranian government is not the only "denier."

President Obama and his advisers are the "deniers" of incredible Israeli violence and horrific violations of international law.

In his speech, Obama said, "When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism (after Israel attacked Gaza), we challenged it."

Having been to Gaza within days after the 22-day Israeli attack on Gaza that killed 1,440, wounded 5,000 and left 50,000 homeless (13 Israelis were killed -- five of them by Israeli fire), I know the Goldstone Report is accurate in its recording of endless Israeli attacks on Gaza by air, land and sea. President Obama must not know that the Goldstone report comments on the actions of all parties, not just the Israelis. How would Obama know whether the report is accurate or not, when not one Obama administration officer has visited Gaza to observe the destruction first-hand, nor have they asked any of the American citizens who have traveled to Gaza for their observations.

In another event concerning Gaza, Obama recounted, "When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them." I was a passenger on one of the six ships in the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla. I know personally that Israeli commandos brutally attacked all six ships in the flotilla. On the Mavi Marmara commandos executed nine passengers and wounded 50 more.

There were only civilians on the ships and there were no weapons on the ships. Israeli commandos murdered an American citizen, shooting him five times. Despite the repeated requests of the family of the U.S. citizen, 19 year old Furkan Dogan, the Obama administration decided it did not need to conduct its own investigation but would rely on the Israeli government investigating itself. Israel was isolated by the world after its criminal behavior against the Gaza flotilla -- and for good reason! I will add that the Obama administration did not contact any of the American citizens on the flotilla to ask for their comments on the Israeli attack other than a brief consular visit in the Israeli prison where we were held.

Obama said the U.S. protects Israel from "one-sided resolutions" in the United Nations Human Rights Council, yet the U.S. and Israel stand virtually alone as the rest of the nations of the world see clearly Israel's outrageous actions that are condemned by the Human Rights Council.

Obama stated the United States stands against divestment and boycott of Israeli goods, yet as boycott, divestment and sanctions actions by citizens demanding that organizations look at human rights records of companies in which they have invested, despite what Obama says, Israel is beginning to feel the pinch as citizen "sanctions" on Israeli companies that steal resources from Palestinian lands are implemented.

Finally, Obama said that the U.S. opposes those who "delegitimize" Israel. Yet it is the State of Israel that, by its illegal actions against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, delegitimizes itself -- Israel does not need anyone to help in delegitimization.

Obama ended that section of his speech with "when the chips are down, I have Israel's back," no doubt hoping that AIPAC supporters will contribute substantially to his re-election campaign because of his perpetual "denial" of the criminal actions of the state of Israel ... a "denial" dangerous for the national security of both the United States and the State of Israel.

Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone,

AIPAC Works for the 1 Percent

Chris Hedges' Column

Posted on Mar 4, 2012

By Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges gave this talk Saturday night in Washington, D.C., at the Occupy AIPAC protest, organized by CODEPINK Women for Peace and other peace, faith and solidarity groups.

The battle for justice in the Middle East is our battle. It is part of the vast, global battle against the 1 percent. It is about living rather than dying. It is about communicating rather than killing. It is about love rather than hate. It is part of the great battle against the corporate forces of death that reign over us—the fossil fuel industry, the weapons manufacturers, the security and surveillance state, the speculators on Wall Street, the oligarchic elites who assault our poor, our working men and women, our children, one in four of whom depend on food stamps to eat, the elites who are destroying our ecosystem with its trees, its air and its water and throwing into doubt our survival as a species.

What is being done in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison, is a pale reflection of what is slowly happening to the rest of us. It is a window into the rise of the global security state, our new governing system that the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” It is a reflection of a world where the powerful are not bound by law, either on Wall Street or in the shattered remains of the countries we invade and occupy, including Iraq with its hundreds of thousands of dead. And one of the greatest purveyors of this demented ideology of violence for the sake of violence, this flagrant disregard for the rule of domestic and international law, is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.

I spent seven years in the Middle East. I was the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. I lived for two of those seven years in Jerusalem. AIPAC does not speak for Jews or for Israel. It is a mouthpiece for right-wing ideologues, some of whom hold power in Israel and some of whom hold power in Washington, who believe that because they have the capacity to war wage they have a right to wage war, whose loyalty, in the end, is not to the citizens of Israel or Palestine or the United States but the corporate elites, the defense contractors, those who make war a business, those who have turned ordinary Palestinians, Israelis and Americans, along with hundreds of millions of the world’s poor, into commodities to exploit, repress and control.

We have not brought freedom, democracy and the virtues of Western civilization to the Muslim world. We have brought state terrorism, massive destruction, war and death. There is no moral distinction between a drone strike and the explosion of the improvised explosive device, between a suicide bombing and a targeted assassination. We have used the iron fist of the American military to implant our oil companies in Iraq, occupy Afghanistan and ensure that the Muslim world remains submissive and compliant. We have supported a government in Israel that has carried out egregious war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza and is daily stealing larger and larger portions of Palestinian land. We have established a network of military bases, some the size of small cities, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait, and we have secured basing rights in the Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. We have expanded our military operations to Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Egypt, Algeria and Yemen. And no one believes, except perhaps us, that we have any intention of leaving.

And let us not forget that deep inside our secret world of offshore penal colonies, black sites, and torture and interrogation centers, we practice the cruelty and barbarity that always accompanies unchecked imperial power. There were scores of graphic pictures and videos from the prison in Abu Ghraib that were swiftly classified and hidden from public view. And in these videos, as Seymour Hersh reported, mothers who were arrested with their young sons, often children, watched in horror as their boys were repeatedly sodomized. This was filmed. And on the soundtrack you hear the boys shrieking. And the mothers were smuggling notes out to their families saying, “Come and kill us because of what is happening.”

We are the biggest problem in the Middle East. It is we who legitimize the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads, suicide bombers and radical jihadists. The longer we drop iron fragmentation bombs and seize Muslim land, the longer we kill with impunity, the more these monsters, reflections of our own distorted image, will proliferate.

“If you gaze into the abyss,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “the abyss gazes into you.”

I am no friend of the Iranian regime, which helped create and arm Hezbollah, is certainly meddling in Iraq, has persecuted human rights activists, gays, women and religious and ethnic minorities, embraces racism and intolerance, and uses its power to deny popular will. And yes, it is a regime that appears determined to build a nuclear weapon, although I would stress that no one has offered any proof this is occurring. I have spent time in Iranian jails. I was once deported from Tehran in handcuffs. But I do not remember Iran orchestrating a coup in the United States to replace an elected government with a brutal dictator who for decades persecuted, assassinated and imprisoned democracy activists. I do not remember Iran arming and funding a neighboring state to wage war against our country. Iran never shot down one of our passenger jets, as did the USS Vincennes—nicknamed Robocruiser by the crews of other American vessels—when in June 1988 it fired missiles at an Airbus filled with Iranian civilians, killing everyone on board. Iran is not sponsoring terrorist strikes within the United States, as our intelligence services and the Israeli intelligence services currently do in Iran. We have not seen five of our top nuclear scientists since 2007 murdered on American soil. The attacks in Iran include suicide bombings, kidnappings, beheadings, sabotage and “targeted assassinations” of government officials and other Iranian leaders. What would we do if the situation were reversed? How would we react if Iran carried out similar acts of terrorism against us?

We are, and have long been, the primary engine for radicalism in the Middle East. The greatest favor we can do for democracy activists in Iran, as well as in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf and the states that dot North Africa, is to withdraw our troops from the region and begin to speak to Iranians and the rest of the Muslim world in the civilized language of diplomacy, respect and mutual interests. The longer we cling to the doomed doctrine of permanent war the more we give credibility to the extremists who need, indeed yearn for, an enemy that speaks in the same crude slogans of nationalist cant and violence that they do. The louder the Israelis and their idiot allies in Washington call for the bombing of Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions, the happier are the morally bankrupt clerics who are ordering the beating and murder of demonstrators. We may laugh when crowds supporting [President] Ahmadinejad call us “the Great Satan,” but there is a very palpable reality that informs the terrible algebra of their hatred. And since even the most optimistic scenarios say that any strike on Iranian nuclear installations will at best set back Iran’s alleged weapons program by [only] three or four years, we can be sure that violence will beget violence, just as fanaticism begets fanaticism.

The hypocrisy of this vaunted moral crusade is not lost on those in the Middle East. Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pakistan, India and Israel did not and developed nuclear weapons programs in secret. Israel now has an estimated 400 to 600 nuclear weapons. The word “Dimona,” the name of the city where the nuclear facilities are located in Israel, is shorthand in the Muslim world for the deadly Israeli threat to Muslims’ existence.

What lessons did the Iranians learn from our Israeli, Pakistani and Indian allies?

Given that we are actively engaged in an effort to destabilize the Iranian regime, given that we use apocalyptic rhetoric to describe what must be done to the Iranian regime, and given that Israel could obliterate Iran many times over, what do we expect from the Iranians? On top of this, the Iranian regime grasps that the doctrine of permanent war entails making “pre-emptive” and unprovoked strikes. And they know that if Iraq, like North Korea, had had a bomb they would have never suffered American invasion and occupation.

Those in Washington who advocate attacking Iran, knowing as little about the limitations and chaos of war as they do about the Middle East, believe they can cripple nuclear production and neutralize the 850,000-man Iranian army. They should look closely at the 2006 Israeli air campaign in southern Lebanon, which saw Hezbollah victorious and united most Lebanese behind the militant Islamic group. If the massive Israeli bombing of Lebanon failed to pacify 4 million Lebanese, how can we expect to pacify a country of 70 million people? But reality never seems to impinge on the neoconservative universe or the efficacy of its doctrine of permanent war.

I have watched over the years as these neoconservatives have meddled disastrously in the Middle East. The support by neoconservatives of the Israeli right wing—and I covered Yitzhak Rabin’s 1992 campaign for prime minister when prominent AIPAC donors poured money and resources into Likud to defeat Rabin—is not about Israel. It is about advancing this perverted ideology. Rabin detested these neoconservatives. When he made his first visit to Washington after being elected prime minister he dismissed requests from the lobby for a meeting by telling aides: “I don’t speak to scumbags.”

These neoconservatives, who like our own neoconservatives hide behind the rhetoric of patriotism, national security and religious piety, are not wedded to any discernable doctrine other than force. They, like all rabid nationalists, are stunted and deformed individuals, only able to communicate in the language of self-exaltation and violence.

“The nationalist is by definition an ignoramus,” the Yugoslav writer Danilo Kiš wrote. “Nationalism is the line of least resistance, the easy way. The nationalist is untroubled, he knows or thinks he knows what his values are, his, that’s to say national, that’s to say the values of the nation he belongs to, ethical and political; he is not interested in others, they are no concern of his, hell—it’s other people (other nations, another tribe). They don’t even need investigating. The nationalist sees other people in his own images—as nationalists.”

AIPAC does not drive Middle Eastern policy in the United States. I am afraid it is worse than that. AIPAC is one of an array of powerful and well-funded neoconservative institutions that worship force and drive our relations with the rest of the world. These neoconservatives choose an enemy and then our compliant class of journalists, specialists, military analysts, columnists and television commentators line up to serve as giddy cheerleaders for war. Moments like these always make me embarrassed to be a reporter. Our political elite, Republican and Democrat, finds in this ideology a simple, childish allure. This ideology does not require cultural, historical or linguistic literacy. It reduces the world to black and white, good and evil. The drumbeat for war with Iran sounded by AIPAC is part of this broad, sick, binary vision of a world that can be subjugated by force, a world where all will be made to kneel before these corporate and neoconservative elites, where none, including finally us, will be permitted to whisper dissent. Pre-emptive war, under post-Nuremberg law, is defined as a criminal act of aggression. George W. Bush, whose disregard for the rule of law was legend, went to the U.N. for a resolution to attack Iraq, although his interpretation of the U.N. resolution as justifying the invasion of Iraq had dubious legal merit. But in this current debate over war with Iran, that pretense of legality is ignored. Where is Israel’s U.N. resolution authorizing it to strike Iran? Why isn’t anyone demanding that Israel seek one? Why does the only discussion in the media and among political elites center around the questions of “Will Israel attack Iran?” “Can it successfully carry out an attack?” “What will happen if there is an attack?” The essential question is left unasked. Does Israel have the right to attack Iran? And here the answer is very, very clear. It does not.

These neoconservatives were too blind and too enamored of their own power to see what invading Afghanistan and Iraq would trigger; so too are they unable to comprehend the regional conflagration that would be unleashed by attacking Iran, what it would mean for us, for Israel, for our allies and for tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of innocents.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish,” the Bible warns.

And since our elites have no vision it is up to us. The uprisings from Tunisia to Egypt to Greece to Occupy Wall Street to our gathering outside AIPAC’s doors in Washington are the same primal struggle for sanity, peace and justice, for a world wrenched free from the grip of those who would destroy it. And the abject fawning of our political elite, including Barack Obama, before AIPAC and its bank account is yet another window into the moral bankruptcy of our political class, another sign that the formal mechanisms of power are useless and broken. Civil disobedience is all we have left. It is our patriotic duty. We are called to make the cries of mothers, fathers and children in the squalid refugee camps in Gaza, in the suburbs of Tehran and in the bleak industrial wastelands in Ohio heard. We are called to stand up before these forces of death, the purveyors of violence, those whose hearts have grown cold with hatred. We are called to embrace and defend life with intensity and passion if we are to survive as a species, if we are to save our planet from the ravages of corporate greed and the specter of endless and futile war.

The Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai, in his poem “Rypin,” translated by Peter Cole, examined what power, force and self-worship do to compassion, justice and human decency. Rypin was the Polish town his father escaped from during the pogroms.

These creatures in helmets and khakis,
I say to myself, aren’t Jews,
In the truest sense of the word. A Jew
Doesn’t dress himself up with weapons like jewelry,
Doesn’t believe in the barrel of a gun aimed at a target,
But in the thumb of the child who was shot at—
In the house through which he comes and goes,
Not in the charge that blows it apart.
The coarse soul and iron first
He scorns by nature.
He lifts his eyes not to the officer, or the soldier
With his finger on the trigger—but to justice,
And he cries out for compassion.
Therefore, he won’t steal land from its people
And will not starve them in camps.
The voice calling for expulsion
Is heard from the hoarse throat of the oppressor—
A sure sign that the Jew has entered a foreign country
And, like Umberto Saba, gone into hiding within his own city.
Because of voices like these, father
At age sixteen, with your family, you fled Rypin;
Now here Rypin is your son.