Friday, January 31, 2014

Scarlett SodaStream Occupation Super Bowl



As part of a civil rights delegation to Palestine last October sponsored by the Dorothy Cotton Institute, I visited the Tamimis in Nabi Saleh, a village in the West Bank. We had to swerve in and out a back way to avoid the Israeli "Defense" Forces which were trying to keep international observers out. We sat on the roof of Bassem Tamimi's house as nonviolent demonstrators marched toward the Wall that blocks the villages from cultivating some me age-old olive trees while a gleaming pink settlement - awful and what should be viral - sits up on top of a hill. See here and here.

***

By the Wall, amidst the sand and the scraggly trees, we had picked through spent shells and tear gas canisters from Consolidated Systems Inc (deceivingly named like the Xe Corporation), stamped made in USA, from the Israeli army's weapons.

***

Boys ran out. A few threw rocks. The Israeli soldiers - young men, hyped on racism and fear - fired guns.

A few soldiers like Nadav who joined Breaking the Silence and spoke to our delegation later in Hebron come to see through what they are commanded to do. See here.

***

Israel controls the water. It allows little to Palestinians. One can tell a Palestinian house because it has a big black tank on the roof to collect rain water. Young Israeli soldiers - as a Jew, I imagine young Germans in the Warsaw ghetto - fire stench gas into the water tanks...

***

The army knows we are on the roof. We are in range of their weapons. They are firing live ammunition at some of the boys, soldiers running across a hill to catch one. They will hold him for 8 days, compared to Israeli children who are not arrested for throwing feces and urine from the Jews-only street in occupied Hebron down into the old market; arrested minors are also tortured by the state of Israel.

***

Mustafa Tamimi, at 27, was murdered two weeks before we visited by a gunshot from the Occupying army. Rushdi Tamimi was murdered a few weeks later.

***

For admiring Martin Luther King and organizing nonviolent demonstrations, Bassem Tamimi was in an Israeli prison for 16 months. He was released briefly, was then beaten and his ribs broken for demonstrating against the Israeli occupation at a supermarket in the nearby settlement and taken to jail again. He had held up an incriminating sign: "End the Occupation." See here.

Nonviolent protest is the most dangerous crime...

Such stands were once taken by courageous Jews in Germany...

***

These pictures, too, might fizz with the "environmentally friendly" Soda Stream, go viral with Scarlett...

***

May Johansson, who is otherwise a decent person, and Soda Stream, a company that battens off concentration camps - Krupp and Bayer Aspirin and many others who produced in German camps could have made a similar advert for the Berlin Olympics or the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling fights - despite themselves, make the facts of the Israeli Occupation visible to Superbowl viewers.

***

For "Her" voice might huskily have streamed over pictures of Kristallnacht.

***

Like some Jews and Christian Zionists in America, Johansson believes in what she is doing (she has plenty of money). She resigned from Oxfam which has a decent position on boycotting products from the Settlements - they are a brutal, impoverished prison camp - because she wants to support a democratic Israel.

She does the opposite. An Israel which does not repudiate these practices toward Palestinians is an inheritor of Europe toward the Jews. It is no more a democracy than apartheid South Africa or the ethnic cleansing American regime toward indigenous people, no more decent than China in Tibet. See here and here.

***

Fox and the Superbowl fearfully censored Scarlett's last statement about Coke and Pepsi. The station is thus also as corrupt as Google in China. But none of that is the serious moral problem.

***

Danny Birnbaum, CEO of SodaStream, refers to the branch in the Occupied Territores as "a pain in the ass." But unless the company leaves, it is something far worse.

Israeli officials are now becoming aware that if negotiations fail, a "Jews only" "Greater" Israel will be subject to intense international isolation and boycott.

***

That boycott is part of the nonviolent resistance to the Occupation and joins with the Tamimis of Nabi Saleh and other villagers in an increasing nonviolent opposition - international and internal. This opposition freaks out the violent aggressors from Israel and the United States - America has mainly protected the Occupation and armed Israel - because it is firm, as adumbrated in Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience," on noncooperation with evil.

***

As one can see from the growing resistance to SodaStream and Johannson, this protest against Israel's colonialism "has legs."(h/t Ilene Cohen)

***

"FINANCIAL TIMES

January 28, 2014
Scarlett Johansson goes viral in anti-Israel settler campaign
By John Reed in Jerusalem
©Getty

“If only I could make this message go viral,” Scarlett Johansson muses in her new advertisement for SodaStream, the Israeli home fizzy-drink dispenser company that helps the environment, she says, by using “less sugar, less bottles”.

Ms Johansson’s new brand ambassador role and advert for SodaStream, launched online earlier this month and due to air during next Sunday’s Super Bowl, has indeed now gone viral – but in ways neither the husky-voiced Hollywood actress nor the Nasdaq-listed company probably imagined.

The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has seized on Ms Johansson and her association with SodaStream as a rare opportunity to add some unpaid star wattage to their long-running campaign to isolate Israel economically until it withdraws from occupied Palestinian land.

SodaStream makes some of its dispensers, CO2 cylinders and bottles at a former munitions factory in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone, outside Jerusalem, in one of Israel’s sprawling settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal under international law.

BDS campaigners are now gathering signatures to pressure Oxfam, for which Ms Johansson has also served as an ambassador since 2005, to drop her. The charity says it is opposed to all trade with Israeli settlements, and that it is now “engaged in dialogue” with Ms Johansson over her association with Oxfam.

The ScarJo/SodaStream conundrum has given birth to its own internet memes: Photoshopped images of Ms Johansson sipping soda complacently alongside Palestinians crammed into an Israeli checkpoint, or smiling as she dispenses drinks in front of Israel’s concrete separation wall that runs through the West Bank, and saying: “Set the bubbles free! Palestinians can wait.”

Activists have launched the Twitter hashtag #ScarJos FavoriteSodaStream Flavor, garnering suggestions such as Doctor Pepper Spray, Gaza Calorie Count and Palestinian Punch.

SodaStream employs about 500 Palestinians at the Mishor Adumim factory, who work alongside about 400 Israeli Jews and another 400 Arabs with Israeli citizenship. It says it pays its workers four to six times the wages available in the Palestinian Authority, arguing – like other Israeli companies in the expanding industrial zones laced into the settlements – that it promotes jobs and peaceful coexistence.

“The boycotters are actually demonstrating a complete lack of humanitarian sensitivity to the thousands of people that benefit from the stable economic opportunity that we provide,” said Yonah Lloyd, SodaStream’s president.

As the controversy began to bubble last week, Ms Johansson defended SodaStream, saying the company was “not only committed to the environment, but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine”.

Campaigners are having nothing of this. “Palestinians are in a captive economy, so it’s not a bridge to peace,” said Rafeef Ziadah, a campaigner with the London-based Palestinian Boycott National Committee, of the Mishor Adumim factory. “It’s a bridge to continuing the occupation and cementing the apartheid policies that exist.”

Ms Johansson’s involvement with SodaStream, while bringing the BDS movement attention it rarely receives outside activist circles, is also being watched anxiously in Israel.

Moderate figures in Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing government, led by Yair Lapid, finance minister, and Tzipi Livni, justice minister, have recently warned of the increasing danger of an international economic boycott of Israel if its current peace talks with the Palestinians fail.

Naftali Bennett, economy minister, who heads the pro-settler Jewish Home party, has in turn accused Ms Livni and others of fanning the threat of a boycott by talking about it. In a speech to his party faction last week, Mr Bennett warned that Israel’s economy would be “decimated” by a Palestinian state, which he claimed would leave Israel vulnerable to attack from radicals in the West Bank. “What if once a year a plane will crash at Ben Gurion airport?” he asked.

BDS activists claim their campaign is scoring more victories in its push to force companies it says support the occupation to change their policies. A handful of multinational companies, including Vitens, the Dutch water company, and British security group G4S, have recently cancelled contracts involving settlements after coming under pressure from campaigners.

Companies based exclusively in the settlements account for a small part of Israel’s economy, and are rarely large or international enough to serve as effective targets for activists. However, the Dutch pension fund PGGM earlier this month divested several million euros from Israel’s five largest banks because they have branches in settlements, in a move some Israelis saw as an ominous sign of things to come.

SodaStream has seen its share price drop by about 20 per cent this month, although this had largely to do with a profit warning that rattled shareholders. The advert is due to run during this Sunday’s Super Bowl, minus Ms Johansson’s words “Sorry, Coke and Pepsi”, to which broadcaster Fox objected.

Whether the Israeli company’s association with the settlements proves good or bad for its image or that of its new spokeswoman, the ad has been a media success: it has now been viewed on YouTube more than 1.2m times."

***

"SodaStream boss admits West Bank plant is 'a pain in the ass'

'What’s the problem to have a factory in the Palestinian state-to-be? We don’t give a hoot where the factory is going to be,' says SodaStream CEO.
By The Forward and Nathan Jeffay | Jan. 29, 2014 |

If he could turn back the clock, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum would “never” have established a production plant on an Israeli Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. In fact, he said Tuesday, its location has turned out to be “a pain in the ass.”

“We’re here because we’re here — for historical reasons,” Birnbaum told the Forward in an exclusive interview, when asked about the public row that has erupted over the controversial location of his company’s main facility.

The decision to locate SodaStream’s now contentious plant in this industrial park within the boundaries of the West Bank settlement Ma’ale Adumim, about 10 minutes outside of Jerusalem, did in fact predate Birnbaum’s arrival. It was a choice made by company founder Peter Weissburgh, back in the 1990’s, long before SodaStream was taken over by the Fortismo Capital Fund, it current owners, who appointed Birnbaum to head the firm in 2007.

But though he wouldn’t have opened the factory at its current site, Birnbaum said that its presence here is now a given reality, and he won’t bow to political pressure to close it — even though the company is about to open a huge new plant in the Negev, within Israel’s internationally-recognized boundaries, which will replicate all functions of the West Bank plant, and dwarf it.

The reason is loyalty to approximately 500 Palestinians who are among the plant’s 1,300 employees, Birnbaum claimed. While other employees could relocate on the other side of the Green Line if the plant moved, the West Bank Palestinian workers could not, and would suffer financially, he argued.

“We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda,” he said, adding that he “just can’t see how it would help the cause of the Palestinians if we fired them.”

Birnbaum, who spoke to the Forward from his office in the plant, offered his comments during his first interview since controversy over the plant’s location was reignited by the company’s recent decision to sign actress Scarlett Johansson as its new global ambassador.

In the lead-up to Johannson’s debut as a company spokesperson in a high-profile commercial to be broadcast during this Sunday’s Super Bowl, critics, including advocates for boycotting Israeli products on account of the occupation, have targeted the actress and the company for the soda maker’s manufacturing location. West Bank settlements, including Ma’ale Adumim are regarded as illegal by the international community.

But Birnbaum said that if a Palestinian state comes into being, as is the aim of current U.S.-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, SodaStream will also be happy to stay and pay its taxes to the new Palestinian state.

“We already have factories under the control of the Chinese, the Germans, the Americans and many other countries,” he said. “So what’s the problem to have a factory in the Palestinian state-to-be? We don’t give a hoot where the factory is going to be.”

Those comments may prove controversial among settlers and other right-wingers in Israel, who are currently skewering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his recent suggestion that some settlements could stay in place under Palestinian rule after a peace deal. But in contrast to the settlement movement’s negative response to the idea, Birnbaum is keen for his company to be the guinea pig. “I really don’t care where the border is,” he commented.

Unlike the question of Israeli homes in a foreign entity, he noted, there’s already ample precedent for Israeli-owned factories operating in foreign areas.

Birnbaum’s advisor, Maurice Silber, said that within the company “everybody is against the occupation.” But it does not follow, he said, that because SodaStream operates in an occupied area, it violates human rights. Eventually, he said, SodaStream could become the “seed of the future Palestinian economy.”

At the plant, awareness of the current international controversy over Scarlett Johannson’s new role at the company was clearly widespread among employees. During the Forward’s visit, Birnbaum took to the plant floor to give some 250 Palestinian workers a kind of pep talk about the issue, urging them to ignore the political attacks. “We are making history for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people,” he told them in Hebrew, followed by a translator who rendered his comments into Arabic. “This is about livelihood.”

The Palestinians applauded these comments. But then Birnbaum added with a flourish: “Scarlett Johannson would be proud of you!” And at the sound of Johannson’s name — even before the translation — applause among the assembly of mostly male, 30-something Palestinian workers burst out again, palpably louder.

Back in his office, Birnbaum denied that SodaStream’s West Bank location brings his company economic benefits that it could not just as easily get in industrial areas available to it within sovereign Israel. A number of these industrial areas, including the Negev site where SodaStream’s new plant will be completed soon, receive the same tax breaks as the Mishor Adumim industrial park. And while the company’s 2012 annual report suggested that reducing operations at Mishor Adumim could have a negative impact on the company, Birnbaum said that SodaStream “could move without any economic hardship.”

***

"January 27, 2014, 2:22 pm
Scarlett Johansson’s Defense of SodaStream Factory in Occupied West Bank Fails to Sway Critics

By ROBERT MACKEY
http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/scarlett-johanssons-defense-of-sodastream-factory-in-occupied-west-bank-fails-to-sway-critics/

A new ad for SodaStream featuring Scarlett Johansson posted online by the Israeli company on Monday.

In a statement released late Friday, the actress Scarlett Johansson rejected criticism of her new endorsement deal with SodaStream, which manufactures home carbonation systems in an Israeli settlement, from opponents of Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank territory it seized in 1967.

While Ms. Johansson wrote that she “never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance as part of my affiliation with SodaStream,” her decision to act as a “global brand ambassador” for the Israeli company, unveiled in an ad posted online Monday, put her at odds with the charity Oxfam, which she has represented in that role since 2007. Oxfam made clear last week that it “opposes all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”

In her statement, Ms. Johansson attempted to reconcile the conflicting views about the settlements with a defense of the Israeli company’s factory that echoed the language used by SodaStream’s chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum, in a video promoting the plant as a bridge to peaceful cooperation between the two communities. “I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine,” Ms. Johansson wrote.

She continued:

SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.

That is what is happening in their Maale Adumim factory every working day. As part of my efforts as an Ambassador for Oxfam, I have witnessed first-hand that progress is made when communities join together and work alongside one another and feel proud of the outcome of that work in the quality of their product and work environment, in the pay they bring home to their families and in the benefits they equally receive.

The actress’s argument won her praise online from staunch defenders of Israel’s policies — including Scott Stringer, New York City’s comptroller — but failed to sway Oxfam, which maintains that “businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support,” and said that it is “considering the implications of her new statement” for her role as an Oxfam global ambassador.”

Several critics of Israel’s settlement-building policy noted that Mr. Stringer’s comments seemed at odds with the long-held position of the United States government, which calls the movement of Israeli citizens into the occupied territory an obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Writing on the Israeli news blog +972, Mairav Zonszein called the American actress’s statement “beyond naïve,” for calling Palestinians who work for SodaStream in the occupied West Bank “neighbors” of their Israeli coworkers with equal rights.

“Palestinians live under military rule, are not eligible to vote for the authorities that rule over their lives, are subject to military rather than civilian courts, and experience systematic discrimination in every aspect of life,” Ms. Zonszein wrote. “Even if an Israeli company is green, or treats its workers better than other establishments, it does not make up for the fact that it is situated on land held by force, whose native population is ruled against their will and demand an end to the occupation. Is that really such a difficult concept to understand?”

Leading voices in the Palestinian community also rejected Ms. Johansson’s stance. Rashid Khalidi, a professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University who was an adviser to the Palestinian delegation during peace negotiations with Israel from 1991 to 1993, said in a statement emailed to reporters that the American actress “appears to believe that the continuation of brutal military occupation is just fine, and that peace can be built on such a basis. In fact, it can only be based on an immediate and complete end to illegal occupation, colonization, and the attendant dispossession of the Palestinian population, in all of which SodaStream and similar companies play an integral part.”

In a statement circulated by The Institute for Middle East Understanding, Diana Buttu, a former adviser to the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas based in Ramallah, said Ms. Johansson seemed unaware of the fact that the construction of the settlement where SodaStream’s factory is situated took place only after “more than a thousand Palestinians were forcibly removed from their land and today, just a few miles away from Maale Adumim, Palestinians live without running water, without electricity or sanitation facilities.”

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian bloggers turned their attention to pressing Oxfam to immediately cut ties with Ms. Johansson by creating a mock ad for the charity that remixed an image of the actress enjoying a SodaStream drink with one of Palestinians crammed together in pens at an Israeli checkpoint."

***

"Oxfam, Scarlett Johansson Cut Ties Over SodaStream Partnership
The Israeli beverage company has come under fire for its operations in the West Bank

By TIERNEY SNEED
January 30, 2014

Scarlett Johansson has ended her eight-year ambassador role with Oxfam International due to ideological differences regarding SodaStream's factory use in the West Bank.

Controversy has been bubbling around actress Scarlett Johansson's endorsement deal with carbonated beverage company SodaStream – and not just because of the Super Bowl ad the company was forced to cut because she dissed Coke and Pepsi.

Johansson has ended her eight-year relationship with Oxfam International, a global human rights organization, over her partnership with SodaStream. The Israeli company has come under fire for its operations in the West Bank, which Oxfam and other human rights groups object to, saying the company is in violation of international law.

Johansson released a statement this week defending the company – which is thought to employ about 500 Palestinians in its factory in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim — saying that it was "building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine" and "as an ambassador for Oxfam, I have witnessed firsthand that progress is made when communities join together and work alongside one another."

Her remarks only attracted more scrutiny, and late Wednesday her publicist released a statement saying that Johansson "has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years," as she and the organization "have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement." Oxfam posted a statement of its own Thursday accepting her resignation.

According to an Oxfam official, the organization is not opposed to trade with Israel, nor does it support boycotts of any country, including Israel. However, it does oppose trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and finds Johansson's commitment to SodaStream incompatible with her role as an ambassador of Oxfam's values and principles.

SodaStream has asserted claims similar to Johnasson's defense of the company and says closing the West Bank factory would mean firing its Palestinian employees, who could not cross the border to work at a plant being built within Israel's internationally recognized boundaries. It also has posted a video of the West Bank factory, which the company says shows all its workers receiving fair and humane treatment.

However, critics say that by operating a factory in the West Bank, SodaStream is complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. A report published by the research center Who Profits from the Occupation said Palestinian SodaStream employees face discrimination and exploitation, particularly because they are not treated as full citizens in occupied territories. Furthermore, an interview with Palestinian Sodastream employees posted by The Electronic Intifada suggested that Palestinians are subjected to inhumane working conditions. Code Pink and other groups have called for a boycott of the company.

SodaStream's CEO also said in an interview with The Jewish Daily Forward that the factory's location was "a pain in the ass" and he wouldn't have chosen to build it there (he inherited the factory from his predecessor).

Johansson is not the first celebrity who has had to step down from her role with Oxfam due to a sponsorship deal. Oxfam cut ties with Italian celebrity Paola Maugeri, also over her relationship with SodaStream, in 2012. "Sex and the City" star Kristin Davis and Oxfam ended their relationship in 2009 because of her partnership with Israeli cosmetics company Ahava, which also operates in Israeli-occupied territories.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lacrosse as the Medicine Game: DU, Feb. 5, 7 pm, Davis Auditorium





As part of a series of events on Native American culture, John Evans and Sand Creek at the University of Denver this spring and fall, the Native American Students Association is showing The Medicine Game and sponsoring a panel about lacrosse, Wednesday, February 5th at 7 pm in Davis Auditorium at Sturm Hall (h/t Viki Eagle and Amanda Williams).

***

In a setting where racism and disregard for indigenous students are still a serious problem (a Native American student in journalism told me of walking onto campus his first day and being confronted by some white students who told him he "didn't belong here"...; there is still "controversy" over having "Indian-killer" Daniel Boone removed as school mascot...), this is a valuable effort to remind us that much of what is good in American life (recall, for example, the Iroquois confederacy and its influence on federalism) comes from indigenous culture and that we could learn more, have a deeper conversation (this, of course, requires acknowledgement and repudiation of still ongoing ethnic cleansing - see here).

***

If, for example, we were to reverse the elite's destruction of nature, for instance, halting the Keystone XL pipeline, it is indigenous insight and leadership which has played a central role and which we can collectively thank. See here and here.

***

I hope everyone in the DU area will come to see the "Medicine Game."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The case of Omar Khadr: when soldiers are made criminals...



Sam Morrison is a defense counsel for Guantanamo prisoners and has taken on the appeal of Omar Khadr. Khadr, at 15, a Canadian of Afghani descent, was found wounded and unconscious on the battlefield in Afghanistan, his father killed in the same battle. Sam writes:

"Omar is the only person in modern history, and so far as I know the only person ever in U.S. history, to be prosecuted for alleged war crimes for conduct that occurred when he was a minor. In so doing, the U.S. acted in blatant disregard of its obligations as a signatory to the Optional Protocol on Child Soldiers."

***

Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, Article 6, section 2, treaties signed by the U.S. government are the highest law of the land. This is a violation of American law as well as international agreement.

***

Khadr had been charged with murder with a grenade. There is exactly no physical evidence for this; he was found severely injured and in a coma, and the prosecutors made up a crime and, when he regained consciousness, badgered him hundreds of times to confess:

"...the facts of the case are worse yet. In July 2002, Omar was captured in a remote village in eastern Afghanistan at the age of 15, where he had been abandoned by his father in the custody of a known terrorist, after being gravely injured in a firefight with U.S. soldiers. As the sole "enemy" to have survived the conflict, he was assumed to have been responsible for the death of a U.S. soldier. Unsurprisingly, given the extent of his injuries -- a concussion, partial blindness, extensive shrapnel wounds, and two gaping gunshot wounds in his chest -- Omar has no memory of the battle. When he awoke from a coma about a week later, his interrogators told him that he was responsible for the soldier's death by throwing a grenade. The government then proceeded to interrogate Omar more than 300 times over the course of the next three years in order to get him to incriminate himself. At no time -- not once -- was Omar informed that he was the target of a criminal investigation or that he had a right against self-incrimination. He was held incommunicado for two years and did not receive a defense attorney for three years. Yet, all of these statements constituted the primary 'evidence' against him."

***

Note that the charge pertains to the action of a soldier in battle and is not something prosecutable. And Khadr was never informed that he was the target of a criminal investigation or that he had the right to remain silent (oh, he was not an American, and only citizens, like the 16 year old Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, murdered by drone in Yemen, have "rights"...).

***

In addition, the lack of physical evidence would, in a court, be disturbing.

***

The American military and CIA practiced torture accompanied by incentives for prisoners to say what the torturers already "knew" (Cheney ordered torture of "high value captives" to "prove" that Saddam Hussain had ties to Al-Qaeda - see "What the torturer knew" here). So Omar Khadr about "murder":

"He was also subjected to a decade of abuse and ill-treatment in the custody of the U.S. military, to include, among other things, having pain meds given based on his answers to interrogators, having his hands chained above his head and left for hours in a standing position, being sleep deprived, being shackled in painful stress positions for hours at a time, being threatened with rape and indefinite detention, and so on. In October 2010, he pled guilty in exchange for a commitment to repatriate him to his home country, Canada."

***

10 years of a life - falsely imprisoned and under torture...

***

The story of Omar Khadr also recalls the horrors done by the US army toward indigenous people or in the South toward blacks...See "Iraq is 'Indian Country" here.

But there is a chance for a Military Appeals Court to prove that there is some remnant of the rule of law in America...

In 1864, Lincoln finally spared two hundred sixty-five Santee Sioux scheduled to hang in Minnesota against whom there was no evidence of a crime (thirty-eight were still hanged). Perhaps this Court could move up to Lincoln's understanding.

***

Sam is a defense counsel who has done heroic work on behalf of the law in dark circumstances (Bush-Cheney-Rice world with complicity from Obama). He is available to speak on this issue.

***

"Alan,

I trust life is treating you well. I wanted to touch base on an important new project that I've undertaken. I am the lead appellate defense counsel for Omar Khadr. As you may know, Omar is the only person in modern history, and so far as I know the only person ever in U.S. history, to be prosecuted for alleged war crimes for conduct that occurred when he was a minor. In so doing, the U.S. acted in blatant disregard of its obligations as a signatory to the Optional Protocol on Child Soldiers.

While that is bad enough, the facts of the case are worse yet. In July 2002, Omar was captured in a remote village in eastern Afghanistan at the age of 15, where he had been abandoned by his father in the custody of a known terrorist, after being gravely injured in a firefight with U.S. soldiers. As the sole "enemy" to have survived the conflict, he was assumed to have been responsible for the death of a U.S. soldier. Unsurprisingly, given the extent of his injuries -- a concussion, partial blindness, extensive shrapnel wounds, and two gaping gunshot wounds in his chest -- Omar has no memory of the battle. When he awoke from a coma about a week later, his interrogators told him that he was responsible for the soldier's death by throwing a grenade. The government then proceeded to interrogate Omar more than 300 times over the course of the next three years in order to get him to incriminate himself. At no time -- not once -- was Omar informed that he was the target of a criminal investigation or that he had a right against self-incrimination. He was held incommunicado for two years and did not receive a defense attorney for three years. Yet, all of these statements constituted the primary "evidence" against him.

He was also subjected to a decade of abuse and ill-treatment in the custody of the U.S. military, to include, among other things, having pain meds given based on his answers to interrogators, having his hands chained above his head and left for hours in a standing position, being sleep deprived, being shackled in painful stress positions for hours at a time, being threatened with rape and indefinite detention, and so on. In October 2010, he pled guilty in exchange for a commitment to repatriate him to his home country, Canada.

To compound matters, under the law as it now stands, none of the allegations against Omar constitutes a violation of the law of armed conflict. That is, the government concedes that he neither killed (or conspired to kill) a protected person, or used a prohibited weapon, or employed a method of warfare that is illegal under international humanitarian law. Nor was he charged under either of the two preexisting statutes that permitted trial by military commission. Instead, he was tried on the theory that he violated the previously unannounced "U.S. common law of war," a theory which has since been rejected by the D.C. Circuit. (I explain all of this in more detail in the attached brief that was filed in November 2013. Additionally, I spoke at a university in Edmonton last fall, a video of which you can find here. Accordingly, the military commission had no authority to accept his guilty plea in the first place.

It follows that even if you take everything the government alleges at face value, Omar is still innocent of any war crime. While the honorable thing for the government to do would be to confess error and join in our request to have his convictions vacated, the government argues that Omar has "waived" his right to appeal, even though it (contradictorily) acknowledges that the subject-matter jurisdiction of the military commission cannot be waived. Perhaps most disturbing, the government actually claims that allowing Omar to appeal is inequitable because it permits him to retain the "benefits" of the plea agreement, whereas the government has given up custody by transferring him to Canada and thus can wring no further punishment out of him. But this obviously overlooks the fact that his guilty plea was void ab initio. As such, the only conceivable injustice in the case is that he was punished at all. Put another way, the government can hardly complain about being deprived of a result to which it was never entitled. That's like a thief attempting to enforce a contract for the return of stolen property. Then again, moral reasoning has never been the government's strongest suit. (This is explained at greater length in the attached briefs explaining why the appellate court has jurisdiction over the appeal).

The case is now pending before the Court of Military Commission Review, an Article I military court staffed by military appellate judges that normally hear appeals in court-martial cases. I honestly have no idea how we are going to lose. The government simply has no credible argument to sustain the conviction. If we do lose, however, we then proceed to the D.C. Circuit. If you think this would be a suitable topic for your students, I am very much interested in trying to keep the case in the public eye and would be willing to do a speaking event.

Best,
Sam Morison"

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mearsheimer, unhinged US aggressions and ethnic cleansing: letters from Rowley, Cooper, Kinsey and Dunn, part 2



In response to my essay on John Mearsheimer's "America Unhinged" here and to a note from Robin Hensel, Coleen Rowley, a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and former FBI agent who tried to tell the willfully deaf Bush administration before 9/11 that some Saudis were learning to fly jet planes in Minnesota but with no interest in landing..., sent around to her lists the following comments:

“This is beyond excellent, the best summary I've seen since Chalmers Johnson's and I'm going to forward to some of my other groups! I'm on Prof. Gilbert's "democratic individuality" list too,--ever since Gilbert's stellar appearance in Sebastian Doggart's excellent "Condi to Neo-Condi" documentary,--but with my constant glut, I had somehow overlooked this one. Mearsheimer's stuff is generally also very good so it's interesting to see Gilbert's relatively small criticisms of Mearsheimer, mainly only that Mearsheimer failed to credit Obama with so far effective but extremely challenging efforts to avoid war on Iran. I agree! I'd go so far as to say, as someone who issued a petition for rescinding Obama's "peace prize," that if he (Obama) can avoid this next war being pushed by Netanyahu, the neo-cons and the neo-libs, the consensus of both parties, that still currently dominate Wash DC, he will 'grow into' his Nobel Peace Prize even though he didn't deserve it when they awarded it.

One tiny peccadillo on the part of Gilbert is that Assad is not directly responsible for killing the 100,000 Syrians. I think the total now of those killed in Syria is quite a bit higher than 100,000 but a sizable majority of the deaths are of Assad's own forces (unfortunately normal for a civil war).

Coleen R."

***

Rowley then adds a further grim note on a "Law fare" symposium at the University of Minnesota law school last year (Jack Goldsmith, the not quite recovered war criminal, had some great moments withdrawing the torture memos under Bush - e Jane Mayer, The Dark Side and his own The Terror Presidency - but was, unfortunately, up to his neck in extraordinary rendition. His blog and organization Lawfare, has contempt for the Magna Carta and is comprised of would be or actual servants of tyrants and war criminals...)

"I forgot to mention that last year when the Univ of MN Law School held an all day "Warfare Symposium" featuring mostly neo-con "lawfare" types, proponents of drone warfare, etc, their keynote speaker used a powerpoint that listed "rule of law" as a "declining factor" in the ongoing and future wars. Pretty amazing for a speaker to tell law students that "rule of law" in in decline, especially given their tough job market, but they all (stupidly) clapped for him anyway. [this comment captures a new epoch, unless fought, in American life]. Will post on Tackling Torture and WAMM Ground all Drones FB pages.

Coleen"

Some years ago, debating neo-cons like Rob Corrie from the Federalist Society about Bush's torture on KBDI (ch. 12 in Denver), I learned that many lawyers, sadly including many law students, have no respect for the rule of law. One might imagine supposed high school math teachers who do not believe that 2 and 2 are 4...

***

In English, one might say of this statement about drones and the Joint Special Operations Command that avoiding murder of innocents is a "declining factor" in the American Presidency, although given genocide against indigenous Americans and Vietnam, for example, one should probably emphasize continuities...

War criminals, including advocates of on-going war crimes, need to be challenged and stopped. That the University of Minnesota "Law" School (in this respect, it forfeits the name) allowed such a thing is scary and says a great deal about American decadence. The inequality accompanying permanent stagnation/depression, the 1280 military bases abroad, the President's secret and unreviewed army, the JSOC, and the considered failure to prosecute torture by American officials are, among other things, the material underpinning of such fatuous criminality.

***

Rowley is rightly skeptical of Obama’s undeserved peace prize – one might even say, with “terror Tuesdays” and “disposition meetings” at the White House (Obama does not, to his credit, seek “plausible deniability,” but…), betrayed peace prize – but shares the view that if he continues, under great pressure, to steer away from war with Iran, he has done something which – for an American President, the head of the Empire and faced with constant militarist pressure, including from Israel - perhaps has earned it.

***

As her note indicates, I am an admirer of John Mearsheimer's outspokenness and decency under great attack. But it is obvious that some of his predictions and arguments in Tragedy of Great Power Politics have to be rethought in the light of his critique of unhinged American imperial policy following the end of the Cold War, and John opts rightly for the truth. In this, he follows Morgenthau on Vietnam. In Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (ch. 2), I trace the contradictions in Morganthau’s argument between the confused but widely used Politics among Nations and the much more lucid speeches from teach-ins in Truth and Power. In the latter, he particularly comes to understand that there is specifically a national interest or common good (before, he is either vague on this or says "power is the domination of man over man [sic]") and that American aggression and what he names "a coherent system of irrationality” in the policy establishment violates it and needs to be fought.

Coleen Rowley is also a person who stands up for the truth.

***

She also corrects my emphasis on how many Syrians Assad has slaughtered. But my friend Hazem sent the following note which underlines Assad's barbarism. What the US has done in fostering violence in the Middle East, including urging its vast arms sales to all regimes except the Palestinians' Occupied "state" - as an antidote to Arab Spring (and Wisconsin and Occupy - the need for democratic revolt and internationalism from below is also glaring in the United States) is counterproductive. The wisdom of Mearsheimer's advice - stop being unhinged and trying to threaten or make war, take sides and dominate everywhere... - is especially visible here.

***

"Hi Alan‬‬‬

Great response to Mearsheimer. He's definitely come a long way from his own writings, like you say. I sometimes check Stephen Walt's blog, and he makes many similar arguments to Mearsheimer (at Foreign Policy).

Turse's article is terrifying. Thanks for sharing it.

I wish Obama's interest in Syria was truly humanitarian. Instead his bumbling has actually emboldened Assad, who is now pursuing a massive starvation campaign in the cities, assured that the US and the rest of the world can't even threaten to intervene in any meaningful sense."

***

Louis Cooper who writes wonderfully on foreign policy, criticizes some of John’s neo-realist formulations, for instance, about the striving for domination of regions by each great power, in Tragedy of Great Power Politics. He is absolutely right that trouble for the US about the Monroe Doctrine is a good thing, that the US needs to move away from its militarism, basing policies and aggressions ("interventions")in Latin America, and that John's "realism" was, especially in light of his new insights, misguided.

Louis also recommends a new article on basing (beyond Chalmers Johnson) in an American political science journal last year - see here. But the outstanding question here is how the US can have such bases – in everyone else’s face like drones or the operations of the JSOC and keep it secret from the American people. this is remarkably anti-democratic, including under Obama…

Though the authors acknowledge this point in Johnson, they then proceed not to comment on it. The gist of their argument is that basing, though of unequal benefit (serving mainly American elite interests), is also fragile. About this, they are right; attempted domineering through basing is, as John says, unhinged and one might emphasize its costs to a domestic common good as well as in militarism's corrupt influence on politics - a specific form of oligarchy - of the war complex. Part of the sense of Louis's word "antiseptic" is that the article whiffs on these crucial points...

***

"Dear Alan,

Mearsheimer may object to the U.S.'s pursuit of 'global dominance,' but in his book The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (Norton, 2001; paperback ed., 2003), he argued that all great powers strive to be regional hegemons and that it makes strategic sense for them to do so, given what he claimed to be the structural imperatives of the 'anarchic' international system. He noted that, among the great powers, only the U.S. has so far succeeded in attaining regional hegemony. Therefore Mearsheimer, while he may want a hands-off U.S. policy with respect to Egypt and Syria, cannot want a hands-off U.S. policy in the western hemisphere nor object to the U.S. dominance of its region. If he writes articles criticizing, by implication or expressly, U.S. military or political influence in Latin America, I think he would be contradicting the theory that he advanced in Tragedy.

He also wrote in Tragedy that territorial conquest ("conquering and controlling land") is "the supreme political objective in a world of territorial states" (p.86). A rather odd statement, given the contemporary rarity of traditional conquest and the fact, for example, that the network of U.S. military bases spanning the world rests not on traditional conquest but on agreements (however one-sided or whatever) with the host countries. (For a somewhat antiseptic but informed analysis of the U.S. basing network, see Cooley & Nexon's article in Perspectives on Politics, Dec. 2013. See here.)

--Louis"

***

Louis points to the very quality I admire in John. I would far rather that we all strive to get it right than maintain allegiance to errors at the expense is true, important, and professionally costly. Louis's emphasis here mistakenly hardwires John into a theoretical inconsistency rather than appreciating his current political stands and seeing the need to refine (or abjure) some of the theory.

***

I particularly like John’s stress on American isolation as permitting the continuation of the sheer craziness of its terror-inducing policies. But there is more danger here than John indicates; if there is major destruction in another American city, that would, very likely without protest from below, lead the elite to throw off the shell of the rule of law domestically (judging by the NSA’s practice of illegal spying on Americans, they are quite close to doing so; on how dangerous secret government is, check out Operation Northwoods, the Joint Chiefs of Staff's plan - a declassified document is signed by its Chairman, General Lyman Lemnitzer - to dress CIA up as Cuban soldiers, murder some people in an American city and use this to provoke a renewed attack on Cuba which JFK wisely rejected and which perhaps has something to do with his assassination – see here and here - as well as the Iran-Contra affair).

***

John is, by now, the most interesting contemporary American realist precisely because his commitment to the truth is strong (Steve Walt is also, as Hazem suggests, very good).

***

In Tragedy, 2001, ch. 7, as part of a description of U.S. regional expansion and "Manifest Destiny," John initiates, in international relations circles, a discussion of American ethnic cleansing. Instead of the usual realist caution (Kennan, originally a racist from the Midwest and not unenthusiastic about Hitler when he was ambassador, is hesitant ever to say much about American reaction, and Morganthau, a Jewish refugee from Nazism, had a fierce and rosy view of America until personal attacks by the Johnson administration moved him to speak more candidly), Mearsheimer skirts around and also begins to evoke the sheer U.S. government murderousness against indigenous people. (President Johnson had a Project Morganthau to discredit those who criticized the Vietnam War as a mistake as traitors. But Morgenthau came to see the War as part of a pattern, a coherent system of irrationality. Morganthau, however, failed to reevaluate his previous view of US domineering in Latin America in this light, see Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy, ch. 2).

Though Mearsheimer was then under the spell of a large, sometimes savvy and quite reactionary realism (the view that great powers/empires need regional domination and that only world domination is excessive; Carl Schmitt's view without the caveat...), it is clear from his writing – the repeated phrases about how it is “their land” that he is repelled by the aggression even as he tries to mainstrain restraint, cold-blooded realism and “value freedom.” Fortunately, what John really thinks about these issues – and fighting for more decent and sane policies in Israel and the US – has overcome, to some important extent, these earlier pseudoscientific nostrums.

***

"The consolidation process, which was sometimes brutal and bloody [inside expanding American borders] involved four major steps...displacing the Natives (sic) who controlled much of the land the US had originally acquired..." (p. 244)

These words are not apt. Indigenous people controlled the land, i.e. it was theirs for thousands of years. The US government attacked and displaced them from coast to coast. The so-called US acquisition was entirely by conquest, illegitimate (as illegitimate as Hitler's "acquisition" of Poland...), and immoral. Exemplifying projection onto others, the American elite propagated and lived by racist falsehoods about "savages" because their own genocide was so...blood-thirsty.

***

John continues:

"As late as 1800, Native American tribes controlled huge chunks of territory in North America that the United States would have to conquer if it hoped to fulfill Manifest Destiny." (p. 245) Owned or possessed would be better than "controlled." Mearsheimer does refer to conquest here, but uses the term "Manifest Destiny' - this is what Hitler called Lebensraum (living space) in his aggressions to the East - as if this helps his argument (the attempted description is hardly value-free and the "values" are nefarious).

Manifest Destiny was the factual goal, in the oppressor's own words, of imperial policy. But it was, morally speaking, horrific.

***

"The Natives" [John again misguidedly chooses this racist shortening] hardly stood a chance of stopping the United States from taking their lands."(p. 245) Suddenly, the moral reality breaks through; the United States, John says point-blank, "took their lands."

John tries to hide the force of this reality from himself and the reader by emphasizing the vast American and immigrant population, downplaying the number of indigenous people. This is, by the way, a standard American racist trope - perhaps recalling the metaphor of a large number of Germans spilling into the East, seeking Lebensraum, the Slavs fated to "pass away" - not just a neo-realist one.

***

"The Natives had a number of disadvantage but most important, they were greatly outnumbered by white Americans and their situation only grew worse with time. In 1800, for example, about 178,000 Natives lived within the borders of the United States which then extended to the Mississippi River. At the same time, the population of the United States was 5.3 million. Not surprisingly, the US army had little trouble crushing the Natives east of the Mississippi, taking their land, and pushing many of them west of the Mississippi in the first decades of the nineteenth century."(p. 245)

Here John repeats "taking their land" and refers to the army as "crushing" them and "pushing" them Westward, a brutal aggression, even though he chooses not to stare into it deeply. Think the Nazis and Poles or Jews and the significance of these words will come home...

***

"By 1850, when the present borders of the United States were largely in place, there were about 665,000 Native Americans living inside them, of whom roughly 486,000 lived west of the Mississippi River. At the same time, the population of the United Stats had grown to nearly 23.2 million by 1850. Not surprisingly, then, the small and somewhat inept U.S. army units are able to rout the Natives west of the Mississippi and take their land in the second half of the nineteenth century." (p. 245)

For the third time, John says "take their land." He emphasizes the comparative population and could have stressed the superior weaponry - Lincoln and Governor John Evans liked to bring indigenous leaders to see them fire off their big guns...- though there were heroic battles in which Sitting Bull and the Sioux took out Custer (as if the Warsaw Ghetto uprising had swept away Rommel or Himmler...). This is occupation or conquest even though John uses a "realist" assessment of potential power to avoid considering whether combinations of tribes could have checked rapacious American advance and won some less murderous and oppressive settlement from a somewhat divided elite (amplifying Red Cloud of the Oglala in the Powder River country - see here; there were voices in the elite and especially among American citizens for a more moderate settlement).

***

John also ignores the rapacity of American forces across the country. During the Civil War, Colonel Patrick Connor launched the winter massacre of the Shoshone at Bear River in what is now Idaho in January 1863 - see here - a policy applied over and over which wantonly slaughtered children, women and the elderly. Perhaps massacres were also "somewhat inept," though that is hardly the main point...

Ironically, the American military lives off this history to this day, displaying Geronimo's rifle and saddle in the Museums at West Point and Fort Sill, conjuring Iraq as "Indian Country," to the present - see here - and cloaking its history from itself with the (mis)use indigenous names and symbols, though of course Tomahawk Missiles and Apache helicopters, used by Israel against the indigenous Palestinians, are nakedly awful.

***

"Victory over the Natives was complete by 1900. They were living on [sic- they were forced onto] a handful of reservations [concentration camps, on the worst land, many died of disease and starvation; these are still often the poorest communities in the United States - see here) and their total population had shrunk to about 456,000 of whom 299,000 lived west of the Mississippi. By that time, the population of the United Stats had reached 76 million." (pp. 245-46)

John mentions that the population "had shrunk" and reports a drop of one-third. As it would have been appropriate to mention, this easily fits the United Nations' Convention against Genocide, the deliberate destruction of a people "in whole or in part." But John's figures on Native Americans, though offered with qualifications - "roughly," "about," are very likely an underestimate. His shying away, beyond "took their land," from morally and sometimes legally correct terms like aggression and ethnic cleansing and studying in more detail what the army did - John is a military officer with years of experience in Vietnam - is a mistake.

***

Still, John introduces the subject, against the profound amnesia of American realism. of the American government rapacity. This is a central facet of realism (one Mearsheimer has always been very concerned with) and one worth probing further. For the lack of humility about its genocidal history is linked in the American government and military, including its neocon\liberal "humanitarian" security entourage. to the great trust in force which is the hallmark, until Obama on Iran, of what the US does. Invading and killing nonwhite people from Vietnam to Iraq, it's also just "Indian country..."

***

Now the prejudice about American exceptionalism or idealism – America has often been exceptional in genocide as slavery, segregation, and the New Jim Crow, see here, and ethnic cleansing toward indigenous people illustrate. John here and elsewhere seeks to puncture establishment puffed-upness and propaganda (that neocons like William Kristol – a campaigner for aggression in Iraq and torture - affect “American benevolence,” perhaps in some twisted sense, to believe it, his not too arcane "Straussianism" notwithstanding, and are welcomed in the security establishment and the commercial media, however often wrong and criminal they have been, is but the latest incarnation of this illness). So John’s argument is designed, pointing to a grim truth, to break though forgetfulness (what I also call Founding Myths) about genocide.

***

Academics need to catch up with the realities of Amrican ethnic cleansing and speak with more humility abut foreign policy. Now nearly all international relations specialists, save for a few humanitarian interventionists, opposed the aggression in Iraq, and John has taken a leading role in speaking out against the unhingedness of American policy. Discussion and debate about the nature and history of American "regional" domination can dispel the hubris of present and particularly future policy makers (the students who will join the security establishment shortly are now in training...), and help move America to both more sane policies and a gradual shift of the war complex, including most bases abroad, to more life-sustaining pursuits.

***

Bob Kinsey wrote a letter suggesting, among many good points, that it will be hard to acquaint the American public with the truth which is complex. In one sense, this is right. But in a more important snse, that ordinary Americans have increasingly caught on to the sheer craziness of American warmaking, it is, fortunately, false.

The revulsion against Obama’s plan to fire missiles into Syria was overwhelming. That element in the Taa Party around Ron (and to a lesser extent, Rand) Paul sees American wars and use of drones as dangerous and counterproductive and resists the NSA's huge spying apparatus ("democracy" is when the government controls\surveils the people is their motto). The Pauls' supporters have fused their sick racist revulsion against Obama with decent concerns for liberty and fears about war; whether these genii can go back in the bottle to support the McCains and Romneys or even a Rand Paul Presidential run (Rand suddenly is open to new sanctions on Iran to disrupt negotiations, i.e. war, see here) is questionable, even though what they say about domestic policy is cruel, fanatic and self-defeating. They join with many people who combine justified revulsion at American foreign policy with far more decent domestic views.

So there is an increasingly widespread openness to hearing anti-imperial argument. It is militarism, the continuing role of the elite in propagating blatant falsehoods and war, which is the main obstacle, not the openness of ordinary people to hear. But if the elite is unhinged enough to have lost Mearsheimer and if Coleen Rowley spends her days organizing against war and many other intelligence professionals for sanity (h/t Ray McGovern, former Presidential daily briefer) speak out and demonstrate, we, long time campaigners against unjust wars from below, should really take heart. This is but an elaboration of Coleen's point that Mearsheimer and I largely agree about the link between militarism, destructive and self-destructive wars, and authoritarianism.

***

The "Vietnam syndrome" lasted 30 years (pretty much the entire career of Dick Cheney, one of calculating insanity - he is very smart, very domineering and very crazy - was devoted to conquering Iraq and then Iran, and he has fallen short, the tide going out, leaving a desperate monster decaying on a desolate beach…

***

If the mass resistance to Obama on Syria is an emblem, American darkness is abating…

***

Bob also emphasizes Japanese peace boats, fighting against the leader’s celebrating of war criminals. In a country which is spewing nuclear poison into the sea and has made itself partly unlivable, it is perhaps not surprising that the Prime Minister wants to stir false patriotism and war criminality as a diversion (a thesis of Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?). Again, this is not a public program for a politician which will necessarily have a long life. Too many people are obviously hurt by this. See the resistance of Mr. Yoshizawa who has raised cattle on his farm in the midst of an otherwise forbidden area near Fukushima here.

***

Bob writes:

"Wow Alan-- but how do you even get such a complex, in depth view of it all in front of the American People so they can re-frame their understanding of what is going on, what must stop and where we must be headed instead?

I am reminded of the Chinese adage [about the US government] that 'the longer you fight your enemy the more like him you become' --and of a statement that framed post WWII foreign and military policy (or at least echoed the masked macro thinking of the military-security establishment of the NSA) from George Kennan--that the US (at 6% of the worlds population) consumed (in 1947) 50% of the world's wealth and that the goal should be to keep it that way in the future. Isn't this what NSA/CIA/State really means and always has when it talks about US national interests? (Vision Statement of the US Space Command--"to dominate the military aspects of space to defend our national interests and investments worldwide). Perhaps its even what TR meant with his Great White Fleet circumnavigation [Teddy Roosevelt was a grotesque "Anglo-Saxon" racist - see here] and his pressure to enter WWI?

I just heard Amy Goodman's interview with the Japanese sponsored Peace Boat leaders who are concerned that public education in Japan increasingly does not deal with the Rape of Nanking, Japan's military imperialism (copied of course from Western actions in the Pacific), and thus gives political space to those who want to repeal Article 9 of their constitution. Visits to the Shinto shrine of the fallen war criminals are framed for this unenlightened citizenry in the vague ungrounded patriotism that fills the vacuum. Just so does our American education and Foxy "news" system ignore Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and all of the above either out of ignorance or intentional motives to glorify the invisible hand and and our phony belief in "the rule of law". Take a look at American History Text books of the last 70 years-- mostly all BS with a few notable exceptions like Zinn and some good efforts in the late 1960's [there are many better writings by historians than this suggests, though text books, Zinn's aside, are often dreadful, least common denominator, avoid the truth and hence, "controversy," puff-pieces].

I see that Jeremiah Wright has attempted to get back into the fray at least with regard to a realistic understanding the vast chasm between Obama and Dr. King. [Wright commented acidly "While speaking at a breakfast co-hosted by the CTU - Chicago Teachers Union - to commemorate Dr. King’s birthday...that while MLK proclaimed “I have a dream,” Obama says, “I have a drone.” Wright went on to say that, “Every Tuesday morning, there’s a kill list that the president decides who they’re going to kill this week.” see here]. What a wonderful sound bite about Arnie the Educator and his "hook shot "qualification to be Secretary of Education.

Bob Kinsey"


***

I have collected a lot of information on whether other powers have military bases abroad by asking questions to students, some of whom are military people and very knowledgeable. What I said about Russia and France with their five bases abroad is pretty close: about England, however, I was off. My friend John Dunn sent the following apt question/correction:

"Dear Alan,

Can it really be right that Britain has bases in Goa of all places, which wasn't ever part of British India, as far as I know and is unmistakably part of the Republic of India now.

best wishes,
John"

***

On the BBC, they list British troops in the Falklands, Diego Garcia, Ascension Island, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Germany (a hangover of World War II and the Cold War) - see here not counting Afghanistan (part of Nato forces) and now hopefully withdrawn forces from Iraq (part of the "coalition of the willing"). Their own troops, not under joint UN, NATO or American command, mostly are in former British colonies, with the exception of Germany. But shades of Empire persist; the British military website lists eighty countries, including Canada and Brunei, with sometimes one soldier stationed in them...They puff out their chests: the Empire is still 1/16 of its progeny's...See here.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Petition to prevent the stealing of Lakota children in South Dakota right now




One of the cardinal aspects of Nazi genocide was the stealing of Polish children, deemed "Aryan" through skull measurements - "craniometry," a pseudoscience created in the United States, by Samuel G. Morton, from the skulls of murdered indigenous people (Otto Braided Hair and David Halaas just last year recovered from Smithsonian and saw to the burial of skulls of the massacred at Sand Creek...) - and IQ testing. They kidnapped and resettled some 200,000 blue eyed, blonde children mainly in rural households in Germany. See here.

One refused to speak German, saying "I am a Polish child," and was murdered in front of others by the "Headmaster" of the transfer headquarters/"School." See Clarissa Henry and Marc Hillel's documentary and book: "Of Pure Blood" here.

***

In Spain, under Franco, some thirty thousand children were stolen from "leftist" parents - deemed inferior by the crazy elite psychiatrist/eugenicist Antonio Vallejo-Najera. See here. Each woman was told at a clinic in Madrid where she had given birth that the child had died. They were than sold to fascist or fascist-approved households. See here.

***

Article 2e in the UN Convention against Genocide (ratified in 1948, signed by the United States only under Jimmy Carter in 1978 because of fear that the US was guilty of genocide against black people - it was - but with a still deep amnesia about its "extermination " - the chosen word of American officials including Governor John Evans of Colorado - of indigenous people) bars:

"e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

***

The last phase of the US government's, Canada's and Australia's ethnic cleansing was cordoning off indigenous people in concentration camps/reservations. A special feature of this was having children stripped of their cultures by being taken from their parents by force and raised in Protestant and Catholic schools. There has also been, as the Lakota lawyers protest underlines, state - South Dakota, with federal support - stealing of children for adoption (there is also a big ring to do this in China right now, apparently accounting for 75% of the babies "orphaned" - h/t Paula Bard - that feeds off poverty among Han Chinese and lack of enforcement of the law, but perhaps not just ethnic cleansing),

***

For a short video "Hearts on the Ground" about this, see here.

This continuing "transfer" of Lakota children is happening right now - it is the kind of active genocidal practice that accompanies and is licensed by the name of the Washington National Football League team, see here - and we can do something about it right now.

***

Here is a petition to sign to free Lakota children from the Lakota People's Law Center and below are two statements about it:

"We are on the verge of an historic moment in Lakota history.

Lakota People's Law Project is launching the Campaign to Free Lakota Children, with a national petition (click to sign it here), calling on President Obama to authorize the grants needed to start tribal foster care programs, and put us within sight of bringing our children home.

There is an epidemic of hundreds of state kidnappings of Native children by South Dakota's Department of Social Services. Lakota kids are ten times more likely as non-Native kids to be forcibly removed from their homes and placed in the foster care system. The State receives up to $79,000 per Lakota foster child annually from the federal government.

The Lakota People's Law Project has recently released a new 12-minute video 'Hearts on the Ground", documenting the heart breaking reality of the South Dakota DSS illegally denying Lakota grandmothers custody of their own grandchildren. Please watch and share this video. See here.

As part of our new Campaign to Free the Lakota Children, we would also appreciate the the help of those supporters who use Twitter to recommend the 'Hearts on the Ground" video to the popular website Upwothy, with your suggestion to @Upworthy.

We have the solution: Foster care programs run by Lakota tribes, not the culturally biased and money-motivated DSS of South Dakota.

Please sign the petition - here - and the wording is below -and help spread the word. Together we can change history.

Wopila (Many Thanks),
Chase Iron Eyes
South Dakota Legal Counsel
Lakota People’s Law Project

***

"Free the Lakota Children
Petition by Lakota People's Law Project

To be delivered to President Barack Obama

I urge President Obama to stop state kidnapping by South Dakota! The time has come to empower the Lakota tribes to have their own child and family service programs.

PETITION BACKGROUND As clearly documented in the new short web video “Hearts on the Ground,” by Sundance award-winning director Kalyanee Mam (just released at www.LakotaLaw.org/action), the epidemic of child taking by the State of South Dakota is tearing thousands of Lakota Sioux families apart.

Every day, Lakota grandmothers are illegally denied their right to foster their own grandchildren. The South Dakota Dept. of Social Services rejects grandmothers for such trivial reasons as too few rooms in a home, too small of a home, too old, decades old crimes, and even rumors.

South Dakota continues to violate the federal law by placing 90% of the 750 Lakota foster children it seizes each year into non-Native homes and facilities, instead of with relatives or tribal homes. Both federal law and the United Nations define this behavior as genocide. Only tribal programs are placing foster children with their relatives.

President Obama has the authority to order three federal agencies (the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services), to provide resources to train and develop tribal family service programs and foster care systems for the nine Lakota Sioux tribal Councils. Within a short time, the $60 million in federal funds that currently go to the State of South Dakota’s Department of Social Services to illegally remove Indian children and force them into foster care can instead be spent and managed by the tribes, as they work to keep children with relatives, while restoring tribal sovereignty.

Lakota children are more than ten times more likely to be forcibly removed from their parents than Caucasian children, and now comprise about 60% of all foster children in the state. In more than 90% of the cases, simply alleged “neglect,” as opposed to sexual or physical abuse, is given as the reason for the forced taking, sometimes at gunpoint, sometimes while at school, or in the middle of the night. Poverty equals “neglect' in the mind of the State workers.

What is happening to Lakota children and families in South Dakota today is precisely the sort of activity that Congress intended to stop when it passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) of 1978. The Act mandates that when states remove Native American children from their parents, they must be placed with relatives from their extended family, or with other members of their tribe, or with members of other tribes. Only when an active effort for such placements fail are states allowed to place Native Americans in White foster homes, or state run foster care facilities.

The Department of Social Services in South Dakota continues to deny child placements to willing and capable relatives, while “stripping” parents of all parental rights to ever see their children again, for “violations” as trivial as failing to show up at parenting classes.

South Dakota designates every Native child in its foster care system as “special needs,” receiving up to $79,000 from the federal government for their care annually, and then forcing many to take mind-altering drugs, even some as young at 18 months of age. Medicare spending for foster care child prescriptions in South Dakota increased more than 1,000 percent in the recent decade, while suicide rates for young Lakota children are 12 times the national average, and among the highest in the world. Some of the suicides are clearly related to the forced medications.

More than a century after being forced from their ancestral lands onto reservations, the 70,000 members of the Lakota Sioux nation remain the poorest, most oppressed people in the United States.

Let's turn around 150 years of cruel abuse to Lakota families. Please sign this petition and tell President Obama to instruct his agencies to help the tribes bring the Lakota children home!

***

Here are the two main articles of the Convention against Genocide

"..any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2

Article 3 defines the "crimes that can be punished under the convention:

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide."



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

DeAngelo Hall speaks out



The Washington NFL franchise has a racist name, modeled on the book bound in human skin which was long proudly displayed at the entrance of the library at the Iliff School of Theology here and the 20,000 skulls severed from Native American bodies, held in the Smithsonian here, here, here and here.

Yet the athletes in the National Football League are often prevented, for fear of losing a job, from speaking out. Democracy does not extend easily to major enterprises in America, and is rarely, in "the land of the free," without cost to those of courage. But now DeAngelo Hall, a cornerback and free agent for next season, has said that the name should be changed. Hall thus joins his voice to the many who demonstrated against this genocidal name in Denver and Minnesota, and to those who see, contra Daniel Snyder, the belligerently ignorant owner of the team, the obvious parallels between the Nazi genocide toward Jews, Roma and slavs and that of the American government toward indigenous people.

***

200 civil rights organizations have spoken up - see here - and as DeAngelo Hall shows, individuals are increasingly willing to speak out. A new era of mutual recognition and democracy is, all too slowly, starting to dawn in America.

***

"Associated Press
'Redskins' Cornerback DeAngelo Hall

For a photo of DeAngelo Hall, see here.

'Redskins' Player Says Team 'Probably Should' Change Name
ICTMN STAFF [Indian Country]
1/16/14

DeAngelo Hall has kept it real.

According to Fox Sports’ Keepin’ it Real With Mike Hill, the “Redskins” cornerback told the news network that the team should “probably” change their name.

"They probably should,” Hall said. “But they won't for a while at least."

Hall’s contract will expire on March 11, quite possibly making it easier for him to speak his mind before becoming a free agent.

Hall is reportedly the first current Redskins player to publicly throw his support against the team's name. Former Washington player and Hall of Famer Art Monk said that the NFL franchise should consider dropping the word [Note how difficult plain speech is in America; the name is poisonous...].

Most players have dodged that bullet by staying mum when questioned about it (RGIII, for example, was advised not to talk about the pro team's name). However, receiver Josh Morgan is the exception, according to a Washington Post blog post.

“I grew up right down the street from RFK stadium,” Morgan said at the time. “As a matter of fact, I’m sitting here right now. All I know is the Redskins, so I’m glad we’re not going ever to change the name.” ["ever" is a long time, not something mortals have, the word betraying unease...; Mr. Morgan is black and the sadness of his spewing racism toward others instead of fighting it, is, as is Mr. Snyder's, evident...]

The Oneida Indian Nation congratulated Hall for stepping forward against the name. "With his comments today, DeAngelo Hall has become the first current Washington player to state the obvious, which is that the team should change its name and mascot to something other than a dictionary-defined slur that denigrates Native Americans," said Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter in a press release. Halbritter congratulated Hall and said that he was "on the right side of history." "Hopefully others in the NFL, including Washington’s owner Dan Snyder and the league’s leadership will finally decide to step forward and do the right thing,” Halbritter said.

When pressed by Hill at the end of the interview to elaborate, Hall said, “I think eventually they will change it.”


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fearful avoidance of voting is not the mark of a democratic citizen



Jason Stanley and Vesla Weaver, two assistant professors at Yale, have rightly cast the brutal impisonment of blacks and the vast American police state, some 2.3 million prisoners, 25% of the world's prison population, and 5.1 million on probation (see Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, here and here) as expressing a racial democracy rather than an inclusive, decent regime (h/t Peter Minowitz).

***

Despite its seemingly greater formal democracy (blacks and others in the civil rights movement have won the right for African-Americans to vote, for example), America thus resembles apartheid South Africa or today's "Jewish" state in Israel or revives American ethnic cleansing toward indigenous people in the 19th and 20th centuries more than a formal, let alone a genuine or substantive democracy where most people could influence government policy on major questions short of mass revolt (strikes, riots/rebellions in American cities/anti-Vietnam and Iraq aggression demonstrations on campuses and in the community, Madison and Occupy...).

But one might say: Martin Luther King is celebrated and Barack Obama is President. How can that be?

***

Sadly, both of these facts go together. The development of capitalism - what Marx called the general law of capitalist accumulation, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25 - has made the black (and much of the Chicano) population superfluous and thrown young people out of work and into the prisons or sometimes the military, along with poor whites. In 2001, The Justice Department announced that 1 in very three black male children could expect to be on trial, in prison or on probation - involved with the prison-industrial complex - in their lifetime, 1 in 6 Chicanos and 1 in 17 whites.

***

Drawing on the writing of Elizabeth Anderson, Weaver and Stanley suggest that it is the sharpness of the divergence of the ideals and the reality that makes the racism so hard to take in (consider the racists on the Supreme Court who affect that America is "color-blind"...; I sometimes speak of this as a more or less deliberate Founding Amnesia which pervades the American elite/corporate media down to the present):

"There is a vast chasm between democratic political ideals and a state that is a racial democracy. The philosopher Elizabeth Anderson argues that when political ideals diverge so widely from reality, the ideals themselves may prevent us from seeing the gap. Officially, the laws in the United States that govern when citizens can be sent to prison or questioned by the police are colorblind. But when the official story differs greatly from the reality of practice, the official story becomes a kind of mask that prevents us from perceiving it."

***

That the US is a racial democracy does not mean that racism does not harm most white people. Racism is the secret - divide and rule - of the emerging hideous power of the .0001% and the decline or impoverishment of most whites. It is the secret of the collapse of Keynsian government expenditure to put poor people to work on public projects or cut their taxes which is producing a permanent depression/"secular stagnation" - many millions permanently unemployed - despite knowledge to remedy it. See Paul Krugman here and Larry Summers here. That Krugman has recently endorsed the explanation of Michal Kalecki for the permanent slump - that the rich predators use their influence in politics to prevent common good-oriented, non-military, Keynsian measures in a depression - shows that even with knowledge, capitalism chokes off decency in the way that Marx foresaw (Kalecki's striking 1942 paper is here...).

More importantly, public spending to create employment and the liberation of students from debt-slavery - public funding of education - would be a long step toward creating a future for blacks, Chicanos and poor whites currently consigned to unemployment, prison or the military.

***

Now, racism is also a more differentiated phenomenon toward Native Americans and Chicanos and illegals and Asian-Americans than this nonetheless fine article indicates.

***

But the authors provide a shocking statistical comparison. They take blacks as a percentage of the world's prison population - 9%; the US imprisons 25% of the total - and imagines if they were just any group of poor people in the world, what the population of African-Americans would be:

"Starting in the 1970s, the United States has witnessed a drastic increase in the rate of black imprisonment, both absolutely and relative to whites. Just from 1980 to 2006, the black rate of incarceration (jail and prison) increased four times as much as the increase in the white rate. The increase in black prison admissions from 1960 to 1997 is 517 percent. In 1968, 15 percent of black adult males had been convicted of a felony and 7 percent had been to prison; by 2004, the numbers had risen to 33 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

About 9 percent of the world’s prison population is black American (combining these two studies). If the system of justice in the United States were fair, and if the 38 million black Americans were as prone to crime as the average ethnic group in the world (where an ethnic group is, for example, the 61 million Italians, or the 45 million Hindu Gujarati), you would expect that black Americans would also be about 9 percent of the 2013 estimated world population of 7.135 billion people. There would then be well over 600 million black Americans in the world. If you think that black Americans are like anybody else, then the nation of black America should be the third largest nation on earth, twice as large as the United States. You can of course still think, in the face of these facts, that the United States prison laws are fairly applied and colorblind. But if you do, you almost certainly must accept that black Americans are among the most dangerous groups in the multithousand year history of human civilization.

‘The best way to judge a culture,’ John Dewey said, ‘is to see what kind of people are in the jails.’"

***

If humans are political in capacity, a precondition for democracy, as Weaver and Stanley underline, then the mass incarceration drives people out of political life, blocks the realization of their humanity. In their words:

"Our view is that the system that has emerged in the United States over the past few decades is a racial democracy. It is widely thought that the civil rights movement in the 1960s at last realized the remarkable political ideals of the United States Constitution. If political ideals have the tendency to mask the reality of their violation, it will be especially difficult for our fellow American citizens to acknowledge that we are correct. More argument is required, which we supply in making the case for the following two claims.

First, encountering the police or the courts causes people to lose their status as participants in the political process, either officially, by incarceration and its consequences, or unofficially, via the strong correlation that exists between such encounters and withdrawal from political life. Secondly, blacks are unfairly and disproportionately the targets of the police and the courts. We briefly summarize part of the case for these claims here; they are substantiated at length elsewhere.

In the United States, 5.85 million people cannot vote because they are in prison or jail, currently under supervision (probation, for example), or live in one of the two states, Virginia and Kentucky, with lifetime bans on voting for those with felony convictions (nonviolent first time drug offenders are no longer disenfranchised for life in the former). Yet the effects also extend to the large and growing ranks of the nation’s citizens who experience involuntary contact with police regardless of whether their right to vote is formally eliminated.

As one of us has helped document in a forthcoming book, punishment and surveillance by itself causes people to withdraw from political participation — acts of engagement like voting or political activism. In fact, the effect on political participation of having been in jail or prison dwarfs other known factors affecting political participation, such as the impact of having a college-educated parent, being in the military or being in poverty.

In a large survey of mostly marginal [sic] men in American cities, the probability of voting declined by 8 percent for those who had been stopped and questioned by the police; by 16 percent for those who had experienced arrest; by 18 percent for those with a conviction; by 22 percent for those serving time in jail or prison; and, if this prison sentence was a year or more in duration, the probability of voting declined by an overwhelming 26 percent, even after accounting for race, socioeconomic position, self-reported engagement in criminal behavior and other factors. Citizens who have been subject to prison, jail or merely police surveillance not only withdrew but actively avoided dealings with government, preferring instead to “stay below the radar.” As subjects, they learned that government was something to be avoided, not participated in. Fearful avoidance is not the mark of a democratic citizen."

***

Stanley and Weaver continue:

“'Man is by nature a political animal,' declares Aristotle in the first book of his “Politics.” “Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech … the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and the inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust.” Aristotle here means that humans fully realize their nature in political participation, in the form of discussions and decision making with their fellow citizens about the affairs of state. To be barred from political participation is, for Aristotle, the most grievous possible affront to human dignity.

In the United States, blacks are by far the most likely to experience punishment and surveillance and thus are most likely to be prevented from realizing human dignity. One in 9 young black American men experienced the historic 2008 election from their prison and jail cells; 13 percent of black adult men could not cast a vote in the election because of a felony conviction. And among blacks lacking a high school degree, only one-fifth voted in that election because of incarceration, according to research conducted by Becky Pettit, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington [this figure is unclear; four-fifths of those who did not finish high school are not in prison...]. We do not know how many others did not get involved because they were trying to keep a low profile where matters of government are concerned.

If the American criminal justice system were colorblind, we would expect a tight link between committing crime and encountering the police. Yet most people stopped by police are not arrested, and most of those who are arrested are not found guilty; of those who are convicted, felons are the smallest group; and of those, many are nonserious offenders. Thus a large proportion of those who involuntarily encounter criminal justice — indeed, the majority of this group — have never been found guilty of a serious crime (or any crime) in a court of law. An involuntary encounter with the police by itself leads to withdrawal from political participation. If one group has an unjustifiably large rate of involuntary encounters, that group can be fairly regarded as being targeted for removal from the political process.

Evidence suggests that minorities experience contact with the police at rates that far outstrip their share of crime. One study found that the probability that a black male 18 or 19 years of age will be stopped by police in New York City at least once during 2006 is 92 percent. The probability for a Latino male of the same age group is 50 percent. For a young white man, it is 20 percent. In 90 percent of the stops of young minorities in 2011, there wasn’t evidence of wrongdoing, and no arrest or citation occurred. In over half of the stops of minorities, the reason given for the stop was that the person made “furtive movements.” In 60 percent of the stops, an additional reason listed for the stop was that the person was in a “high crime area.”

Blacks are not necessarily having these encounters at greater rates than their white counterparts because they are more criminal. National surveys show that, with the exception of crack cocaine, blacks consistently report using drugs at lower levels than whites. Some studies also suggest that blacks are engaged in drug trafficking at lower levels. Yet once we account for their share of the population, blacks are 10 times as likely to spend time in prison for offenses related to drugs.

Fairness would also lead to the expectation that once arrested, blacks would be equally likely to be convicted and sentenced as whites. But again, the evidence shows that black incarceration is out of step with black offending. Most of the large racial differences in sentencing for drugs and assault remain unexplained even once we take into account the black arrest rates for those crimes.

The founding political ideals of our country are, as ideals, some of the most admirable in history. They set a high moral standard, one that in the past we have failed even to approximate. We must not let their majestic glow blind us to the possibility that now is not so different from then. The gap between American ideals and American reality may remain just as cavernous as our nation’s troubled history suggests."

***

And here is the whole article, unfortunately not printed in the paper edition of the Times, but only on the web:

"Is the United States a ‘Racial Democracy’?
By JASON STANLEY and VESLA WEAVER

The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.

I.

Plato’s “Republic” is the wellspring from which all subsequent Western philosophy flows, and political philosophy is no exception. According to Plato, liberty is democracy’s greatest good; it is that which “in a democratic city you will hear … is the most precious of all possessions.” Subsequently, two notions of liberty emerged in the writings of democratic political philosophers. The dispute about which of these two notions of liberty is most central to human dignity is at the heart of Western philosophy. Both are central to American democracy. Indeed, it is best to think of these as two different aspects of the conception of liberty at the heart of American democracy, rather than distinct concepts.

The American criminal justice system applies in a racially unbalanced way, threatening the country’s political ideals.

The standard source of the distinction between two senses of “liberty” is a speech in 1819 by the great political theorist Benjamin Constant. The first, “the liberty of the ancients,” consists in having a voice into the policies and representatives that govern us. The second, “the liberty of the moderns,” is the right to pursue our private interests free from state oversight or control. Though the liberty of moderns is more familiar to Americans, it is in fact the liberty of the ancients that provides the fundamental justification for the central political ideals of the American Democratic tradition. For example, we have the freedom of speech so that we can express our interests and political views in deliberations about policies and choice of representatives.

Given the centrality of liberty to democracy, one way to assess the democratic health of a state is by the fairness of the laws governing its removal. The fairness of a system of justice is measured by the degree to which its laws are fairly and consistently applied across all citizens. In a fair system, a group is singled out for punishment only insofar as its propensity for unjustified violations of the laws demands. What we call a racial democracy is one that unfairly applies the laws governing the removal of liberty primarily to citizens of one race, thereby singling out its members as especially unworthy of liberty, the coin of human dignity.

There is a vast chasm between democratic political ideals and a state that is a racial democracy. The philosopher Elizabeth Anderson argues that when political ideals diverge so widely from reality, the ideals themselves may prevent us from seeing the gap. Officially, the laws in the United States that govern when citizens can be sent to prison or questioned by the police are colorblind. But when the official story differs greatly from the reality of practice, the official story becomes a kind of mask that prevents us from perceiving it. And it seems clear that the practical reality of the criminal justice system in the United States is far from colorblind. The evidence suggests that the criminal justice system applies in a radically unbalanced way, placing disproportionate attention on our fellow black citizens. The United States has a legacy of enslavement followed by forced servitude of its black population. The threat that the political ideals of our country veil an underlying reality of racial democracy is therefore particularly disturbing.

II.

Starting in the 1970s, the United States has witnessed a drastic increase in the rate of black imprisonment, both absolutely and relative to whites. Just from 1980 to 2006, the black rate of incarceration (jail and prison) increased four times as much as the increase in the white rate. The increase in black prison admissions from 1960 to 1997 is 517 percent. In 1968, 15 percent of black adult males had been convicted of a felony and 7 percent had been to prison; by 2004, the numbers had risen to 33 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

About 9 percent of the world’s prison population is black American (combining these two studies). If the system of justice in the United States were fair, and if the 38 million black Americans were as prone to crime as the average ethnic group in the world (where an ethnic group is, for example, the 61 million Italians, or the 45 million Hindu Gujarati), you would expect that black Americans would also be about 9 percent of the 2013 estimated world population of 7.135 billion people. There would then be well over 600 million black Americans in the world. If you think that black Americans are like anybody else, then the nation of black America should be the third largest nation on earth, twice as large as the United States. You can of course still think, in the face of these facts, that the United States prison laws are fairly applied and colorblind. But if you do, you almost certainly must accept that black Americans are among the most dangerous groups in the multithousand year history of human civilization.

‘The best way to judge a culture,’ John Dewey said, ‘is to see what kind of people are in the jails.’

The Columbia professor Herbert Schneider told the following story about John Dewey. One day, in an ethics course, Dewey was trying to develop a theme about the criteria by which you should judge a culture. After having some trouble saying what he was trying to say, he stopped, looked out the window, paused for a long time and then said, “What I mean to say is that the best way to judge a culture is to see what kind of people are in the jails.” Suppose you were a citizen of another country, looking from the outside at the composition of the United States prison population. Would you think that the formerly enslaved population of the United States was one of the most dangerous groups in history? Or would you rather suspect that tendrils of past mind-sets still remain?

Our view is that the system that has emerged in the United States over the past few decades is a racial democracy. It is widely thought that the civil rights movement in the 1960s at last realized the remarkable political ideals of the United States Constitution. If political ideals have the tendency to mask the reality of their violation, it will be especially difficult for our fellow American citizens to acknowledge that we are correct. More argument is required, which we supply in making the case for the following two claims.

First, encountering the police or the courts causes people to lose their status as participants in the political process, either officially, by incarceration and its consequences, or unofficially, via the strong correlation that exists between such encounters and withdrawal from political life. Secondly, blacks are unfairly and disproportionately the targets of the police and the courts. We briefly summarize part of the case for these claims here; they are substantiated at length elsewhere.

In the United States, 5.85 million people cannot vote because they are in prison or jail, currently under supervision (probation, for example), or live in one of the two states, Virginia and Kentucky, with lifetime bans on voting for those with felony convictions (nonviolent first time drug offenders are no longer disenfranchised for life in the former). Yet the effects also extend to the large and growing ranks of the nation’s citizens who experience involuntary contact with police regardless of whether their right to vote is formally eliminated.

As one of us has helped document in a forthcoming book, punishment and surveillance by itself causes people to withdraw from political participation — acts of engagement like voting or political activism. In fact, the effect on political participation of having been in jail or prison dwarfs other known factors affecting political participation, such as the impact of having a college-educated parent, being in the military or being in poverty.

In a large survey of mostly marginal men in American cities, the probability of voting declined by 8 percent for those who had been stopped and questioned by the police; by 16 percent for those who had experienced arrest; by 18 percent for those with a conviction; by 22 percent for those serving time in jail or prison; and, if this prison sentence was a year or more in duration, the probability of voting declined by an overwhelming 26 percent, even after accounting for race, socioeconomic position, self-reported engagement in criminal behavior and other factors. Citizens who have been subject to prison, jail or merely police surveillance not only withdrew but actively avoided dealings with government, preferring instead to “stay below the radar.” As subjects, they learned that government was something to be avoided, not participated in. Fearful avoidance is not the mark of a democratic citizen.

“Man is by nature a political animal,” declares Aristotle in the first book of his “Politics.” “Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech … the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and the inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust.” Aristotle here means that humans fully realize their nature in political participation, in the form of discussions and decision making with their fellow citizens about the affairs of state. To be barred from political participation is, for Aristotle, the most grievous possible affront to human dignity.


In the United States, blacks are by far the most likely to experience punishment and surveillance and thus are most likely to be prevented from realizing human dignity. One in 9 young black American men experienced the historic 2008 election from their prison and jail cells; 13 percent of black adult men could not cast a vote in the election because of a felony conviction. And among blacks lacking a high school degree, only one-fifth voted in that election because of incarceration, according to research conducted by Becky Pettit, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington. We do not know how many others did not get involved because they were trying to keep a low profile where matters of government are concerned.

If the American criminal justice system were colorblind, we would expect a tight link between committing crime and encountering the police. Yet most people stopped by police are not arrested, and most of those who are arrested are not found guilty; of those who are convicted, felons are the smallest group; and of those, many are nonserious offenders. Thus a large proportion of those who involuntarily encounter criminal justice — indeed, the majority of this group — have never been found guilty of a serious crime (or any crime) in a court of law. An involuntary encounter with the police by itself leads to withdrawal from political participation. If one group has an unjustifiably large rate of involuntary encounters, that group can be fairly regarded as being targeted for removal from the political process.

Evidence suggests that minorities experience contact with the police at rates that far outstrip their share of crime. One study found that the probability that a black male 18 or 19 years of age will be stopped by police in New York City at least once during 2006 is 92 percent. The probability for a Latino male of the same age group is 50 percent. For a young white man, it is 20 percent. In 90 percent of the stops of young minorities in 2011, there wasn’t evidence of wrongdoing, and no arrest or citation occurred. In over half of the stops of minorities, the reason given for the stop was that the person made “furtive movements.” In 60 percent of the stops, an additional reason listed for the stop was that the person was in a “high crime area.”

Blacks are not necessarily having these encounters at greater rates than their white counterparts because they are more criminal. National surveys show that, with the exception of crack cocaine, blacks consistently report using drugs at lower levels than whites. Some studies also suggest that blacks are engaged in drug trafficking at lower levels. Yet once we account for their share of the population, blacks are 10 times as likely to spend time in prison for offenses related to drugs.

Fairness would also lead to the expectation that once arrested, blacks would be equally likely to be convicted and sentenced as whites. But again, the evidence shows that black incarceration is out of step with black offending. Most of the large racial differences in sentencing for drugs and assault remain unexplained even once we take into account the black arrest rates for those crimes.

The founding political ideals of our country are, as ideals, some of the most admirable in history. They set a high moral standard, one that in the past we have failed even to approximate. We must not let their majestic glow blind us to the possibility that now is not so different from then. The gap between American ideals and American reality may remain just as cavernous as our nation’s troubled history suggests.

Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Yale University, is the author of “Knowledge and Practical Interests,” “Language in Context” and “Know How.” He is working on a book on the threat propaganda poses to democracy.

Vesla Weaver, an assistant professor of political science and African-American studies at Yale University, is a co-author of “Creating a New Racial Order: How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America” and a co-author of the forthcoming book “Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control.”