Inmate No Longer Here: the struggle for prison justice

by Manos Cizek on September 13, 2014

Post image for Inmate No Longer Here: the struggle for prison justiceCecily McMillan and Lucy Parks reflect on Occupy and the struggle for prison justice: ‘We’re going to see a big movement. It’s coming, that’s clear.’

Cecily McMillan is an American activist who actively participated in Occupy Wall Street and who now advocates for prisoner rights in the United States. In March 2012, she was arrested as protesters tried to re­occupy Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. She was convicted of assaulting a New York City police officer and sentenced to 90 days in prison and probation for a subsequent five years. Cecily was released in July 2014 after serving 58 days at Rikers Island.

Lucy Parks is an Occupy Wall Street activist who has also acted as field coordinator for the ‘Justice for Cecily’ support team.

Manos Cizek is a media activist and independent filmmaker from Greece. He recently sat down with Cecily and Lucy for an exclusive ROAR interview about Occupy, Cecily’s experiences at Rikers Island, and the struggle for prison justice in the United States. Photo by Jenna Pope.


MANOS: How do you see the continuation of the Occupy movement in the context of prison justice and the combination of these two movements?

CECILY: I think that the Occupy movement still exists, not in the sense that it is on the ground, not in the sense that it is a tangible movement that is emerging, but it exists in the sense that we have started a class dialog, we have started a class commentary. Any time we’re talking about a corporatocracy, any time we’re talking about corporate control of our democracy, the lack of a middle class, the sinking of the working class into an underclass, that is the Occupy movement. And when you radar that into the prison justice movement, what you get is a move from human rights and racism into a class dialog.

So you can really contextualize the problem on the many layers that affect what prison justice is. Right now in New York it’s very difficult for us to get beyond the targeting of black and brown men. That is the strongest reality here. But there are many poor white people who are being targeted just the same in other prisons, in other jails, throughout the United States. In this sense it’s important to recognize that there is a human rights violation, that there is a corporate value to keeping people inside private prisons, that there is a racist marker on black and brown men in particular that sends them to these incarceration systems.

LUCY: I think it has been really good at uniting the dialogs of race and classism which is important because so much racism is tied up in class politics, and so much of the racist system we have is built to keep people of color poor—and then uniting them also with the poor white people and then bringing it back to Wall Street and the strong Occupy battle of the 99% against the banks. I think it draws a strong connection and is a way to make sure that the blame is put where it’s deserved, which is on the corporatocracy.

CECILY: The prison justice movement is also the first real shot at a true concept of “We are the 99%”, which is essentially what we need in order to build a true civil rights era-style social movement. What I mean is not that we’re going to necessarily work by the same model of the civil rights movement, but in order for such a movement to take hold in our country and make real changes, there need to be multiple arenas of accessibility from the bottom up.

So it really is the first point of merging the various people that are asking for change into a cross-race, cross-cultural, cross-class—and now we’re adding with our work at Rosie’s—cross-gender social movement. Which is what you have to have in order to have a social movement; it can’t be a minority of people because that’s a campaign. A movement allows for access to all.

MANOS: You’ve recently delivered a petition and sat down for a meeting with Commissioner Ponte, on August 25. Are you happy about the meeting, and what are you expecting to get out of it?

CECILY: That was huge. City council people, public advocates—everybody has been talking about how difficult it is to get a sit-down meeting with Commissioner Ponte. We were so surprised. We went there not expecting a full-on meeting. We went there expecting to wait him out until he showed up to take our petitions. To get a sit-down meeting is a win beyond anything we could imagine. But it just goes to show you that 25 people, who are recognized as people, who are recognized with the rights as citizens, that if they go across that bridge, if they make the move to stand by prisoners that are being held on Rikers, that is so terrifying; they were so ready to get us off that island that this is what they offered us!

LUCY: One thing that struck me about the petition delivery was that the police presence was incredible. I mean it was a petition delivery through very peaceful action, we had around 25 people which is not huge, but they still outnumbered us with police officers wearing riot gear and they set up barricades. And what that really shows is exactly how scared of us they are. We know that something we are doing is working and they feel threatened by it.

CECILY: And that’s I think where we have to get to right now in social movement building in our country. We need to start recognizing the tactics of the government and the tactics of the police as a marker of our power, when they show up in force and in mass like this. We need to expect it. We need to plan for it. And we need to go about campaigns in an actionable way; what are we going to do if they do X, Y and Z. I think right now, to a large degree, we’re still really caught up in spectacle.

MANOS: Cecily, what experience did you get out of your trial, and in what ways does that experience relate to the Chelsea Manning’s court support effort that you were a part of?

CECILY: Lucy is actually the mastermind of our court support effort. I was in support of Chelsea Manning, of course, but court support is a nuanced level of direct action. I’m advocating ultimately that from the moment you step onto the street to the moment you go to jail, to the moment that you go to court, that you as an activist must follow through with your convictions and not plead out.

Less than 5% of felony cases right now go to trial and when I was in Rikers I was the only person that I met my entire time there who had been to trial. And so we have a privilege beyond anybody else to stand trial, to expose the justice system for what it is, and the big lesson here is: if you choose to give up your cultural privilege, if you choose to not take the pathway of striving to become a part of the 1%, then, if you choose to stand by people of color and poor folks and people who have been marginalized, then you will be treated like one.

Your cultural privilege, your white privilege, your class privilege, will be removed from you and will not save you from jail. But nonetheless, you as a by-product of that privilege, you have the best fighting shot to expose the justice system for what it is: another arm of the corporatocracy. You must, as a point of your values, as a point of your commitment, as an organizer, go to trial and possibly go to jail.

LUCY: Chelsea Manning was on trial for something that she was able to make a conscious choice in doing, but then Cecily was on trial for something that happened to her. And then Chelsea Manning was also in military court and we were in Manhattan State court. One of the people in the support team had gone down to Texas to do court support for the Chelsea Manning trial. We had a sketch artist, actually, who had sketched the Chelsea Manning trial extensively, who came to do some sketches of this trial. So we drew some parallels, but not a whole lot in terms of court support, other than packing the courts and trying to get press attention and all of that. I think we drew more on the court support model from CeCe McDonald.

CECILY: I think ultimately what we’d like to utilize court support for is to constantly build more avenues into supporting the Left, standing up for our rights. It’s a low level of accessibility into a movement that allows people to see what they thought were secured and safe-guarded rights for every citizen; the right to a speedy trial, the right to a jury, the principle of innocence until proven guilty. It’s a way for people to see the cracks in our system firsthand, as they’re sitting there and they relate to the individual who is being tried.

LUCY: It’s a civics lesson.

CECILY: We also hope that this model will be transferrable to any single person in our movement who falls, and in that sense it has a sort of unifying effect right now inside a very fractured Left.

MANOS: Lucy, what are the difficulties you encountered upon coordinating the actions of Justice for Cecily’s support team? Did you find stronger support from within the United States or from abroad?

LUCY: The trial lasted a month, so I was going in at least 3 to 4 days a week, every week for a month. The entire court support team and half of us are students, the other half of us have real jobs. We always had someone outside the courtroom to greet people, give them flyers, talk to them about etiquette and I literally would have to sit down every night before the next day of court and draw out a master schedule of when everyone had to leave to go to class or work, who could be there when.

Some days we faced challenges of not having enough people in court, by the end we faced the challenge of having way too many people there. But really everyone was incredibly supportive and everyone banded together to help us in ways that I’ve never seen before. I do think that the support came more from the United States. We had a petition that got 200.000 signatures on it and then we also had a decent amount of international support. I know we had a lot of articles published in Latin America about the trial, a lot of articles in Vietnam actually about the trial, The Guardian did also a lot of the best coverage.

I think the main challenge we faced honestly was tiredness, burnout and lack of time.

CECILY: We had no sense of what we were really up against. I think to a degree all of us did still have an idea, did still want to believe that there was some sort of justice in the justice system. It was really shocking.

LUCY: Also everyone in the court support team was very young. I mean I’m 19, most folks were between 21 and 25, with a few folks who were 31 and 32, and a few folks who were also 19. We had a lot of naïvité and that worked against us in a lot of ways. But it also worked for us in some ways, in that I think when you don’t have an experience that tells you that what you’re doing is not gonna work, then you’re more likely to believe that it will work and then you’re more likely to be able to make it work.

CECILY: And when it doesn’t work, it breaks your heart in a way that allows you to see the system for what it is and say “Well, fuck you! You’re not going to get us down, we’re going to figure out another fucking way.” And so with the upcoming trial on September 15, as a result of the targeted arrest while I was awaiting trial, we will go forward with the same court support model again, but of course this time we are considering jury nullification.

LUCY: There was one juror actually who came to the press and admitted that he still believed Cecily was innocent at the end of jury deliberation, he just didn’t realize that it was OK for there to just be one person that thinks the defendant is innocent and thought that jury is supposed to be a unanimous decision, not a majority decision. And to quote him, he went with the ‘guilty’ verdict because he “didn’t want to fight a losing battle and also didn’t know that she was facing serious prison time.”

CECILY: He wasn’t fighting a losing battle. He believed I was innocent and had he just maintained that position, then it would have been held a mistrial. In a hung jury there would have been a chance for the trial to have been redone; at which juncture we would have had an opportunity to get in all of the evidence that had been edited out by the court. Now as we’re fighting the appeal we’re gonna have to go forward with the case with the same evidence that was presented. If we win the appeal’s case the probation will be gone and we will have an opportunity for a retrial.

MANOS: So you’re currently on probation for 5 years and you’re a felon, so you can’t vote for the next 7 years.

CECILY: Oh there’s so much more than that. I have 3 teacher certifications, most of my life I work with children. Before this, I was an Upper East Side nanny. Even in jail I was a suicide prevention aid to the adolescents in Rose M. Singer Center. I’ve always worked with children. I had always wanted to possibly become a foster parent. So I can’t work with children at all as a felon, in any public institution. I don’t think I can even work at McDonald’s, actually. We were looking at houses in Atlanta the other day, the other team member Paul and I, and so many of the housing requirements say “no felons, don’t even ask.”

Through my probation, I actually cannot have any contact with the police. If I have any contact with the police I have to report it. So, we now have to consider what actions, what marches I can go to; there are certain events that I can’t go to on the Left anymore, because if there is another felon there, part of our probation is that we cannot interact with other felons. I can’t move without notice and I can’t leave the state unless I give 45 days notice to the judge.

LUCY: It’s a new type of jail time, and also 5 years probation is so long. Usually, when they give that type of probation, what they’re trying to say is that they really want to send her back to jail. Because they didn’t get away with giving her the long sentence they wanted to the first time, and they’re trying to do that in a quieter way and a way in which they can assassinate her character even further.

CECILY: It’s a setup. I mean, everybody in Rose M. Singer Center said “5 years probation? That’s a setup.” I have to go in every month to do a hand scan which monitors if I have been using any drugs—I don’t—that’s good. The probation officer can show up at any point at my home, at my workplace, they can ask me to come by any time. I mean, if they would like to use me for some sort of radical Left GPS system, they can. They can make me quit a job if they don’t see it as a reputable job. If I’m not working, or not in school, I go back to jail. If I don’t have a residency that’s stable, I go back to jail.

MANOS: Are there any statistics on the amount of people that are dying in Rikers Prison?

CECILY: This is the most fucked up part. Judith, the woman who ended up dying as a by-product of medical neglect, the woman I had met while she was in Rikers, she had been throwing up blood violently for hours. The inmates rallied together: “bring her down into the infirmary!” She’s admitted to the hospital, put in critical care— two weeks later she’s dead. Her autopsy shows: death unknown. Every single one of her organs had shut down. Had been totally destroyed. Her womb collapsed. There was no reason that all of that would have enacted given the way that she had presented when she came to the jail.

Now, how do we know that? Her sister got into contact with me. How did her sister get into contact with me? She’s in Florida; her sister is also a Correctional Officer. She found out that her sister had died, when she sent her sister a letter and the letter had been returned: “Inmate no longer here.” So she went online and looked it up, and when she was looking up “Rikers Island”, after she had tried desperately to get a civil rights lawyer to look into it and had been denied several times, she was looking online at Rikers for information, stumbled upon my story, said “Could that be my Judith?”, contacted the New York Times, Michael Schwartz and Michael Winerip gave her my phone number, she called me and I told her what happened.

So if you can imagine all of those really lucky coincidences that lead her knowing what her sister’s life was like in her final days, how many people have that sort of luck? I’m terrified to know how many people actually do die in Rose M. Singer Center, when there’s a lack of inmate organization, when there’s a lack of resources, when there’s a lack of attention, when our country seems to be covering up the fact that women are even in prisons, except in a funny show like Orange Is the New Black. We’re gonna figure what those numbers are as we continue to investigate Rose M. Singer Center.

LUCY: And whatever numbers we find the real numbers will probably be higher.

CECILY: We’re terrified of the consequences.

MANOS: You were visited while in prison by Nadya, Masha and Peter, formerly of Pussy Riot, now having their NGO Zona Prava. How was that for you, and how is your current communication with them in the context of prison reform both in the United States but also around the world?

CECILY: I love them. It’s been one of the most alienating experiences to get out of jail and go back to a world where most of my friends do not have a lot of experience with the cultures that surround imprisonment. It’s been really hard to navigate what it is supposed to be to be a white woman speaking on these topics. Hanging out with Nadya and Masha and Peter for an entire day, we just went down to Battery Park and Peter made us chase a boat for a really long time. I mean, we’re just 24, 25 and 26 year old girls trying to do something right for this world, trying to make something more out of an experience that I think we all realize is really super commonplace for a lot of people in this world.

It’s been amazing to have them as comrades and in terms of the international piece, we are really looking forward to working on something sort of like “From Rikers to Russia” narrative that will start the international interconnectivity of discussing prisons as a human rights violation, particularly from a woman’s perspective, which we think hasn’t been done and will be more fruitful because women are socialized generally to be more community-building communal beings. Both of our teams are really committed to discourse and collaboration rather than competition and setting up an “us and them.” We’d like to make it a human “we” narrative. And I think that moving forward we are just all around delighted to work together.

LUCY: The other thing about Nadya, Masha and Peter is, they actually became a large part of the leniency campaign which is why Cecily is out of jail now, when they went and visited her at Rikers during the first weekend that she’d been in. They came and had breakfast with the support team in the morning and then I went over to Rikers with them, we talked about politics. Then they went in and visited Cecily and came out and were so amazed, that they then utilized all the resources that they had as a part of the petition campaign to get her out, and also as a part of the campaign we had of writing letters to the judge asking for that leniency. So, really, if they hadn’t been so wonderful in putting forward all their resources and energy on that, Cecily might still be at Rikers.

CECILY: We also have a running dialog with them about this concept that they referred to: “anti-fear”. In the sense that when there is terror, when there is police repression, when there is backlash, that’s not a marker of weakness on your behalf, that’s a marker of strength. When they fear you, if you can respond with anti-fear, you win. Because at the end of the day, all they have is their guns and all they have is their money. But if you present and you went out as a human being who’s willing to stand up against the money and against the guns and maintain your personhood, maintain your dignity, maintain your respect, maintain your personal narrative as somebody who’s just trying to be good for others, you win.

And yeah, the consequences grow greater and greater as you become more successful. But at the end of the day, what is living if this is the world that we’re living in?

MANOS: Talk to me about October’s Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration.

LUCY: We’re working with an organization called the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, started by Cornel West and Carl Dix, who are both great folks and have been working on this for a few years, and who are now putting together this October Month. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that something big needs to happen around mass incarceration and police violence now, and in New York there are literally probably at least 100 different groups doing work around this. What we’re aiming to do in working with Stop Mass Incarceration Network in October, is to pull together those groups under a news heading of this Month of Resistance, to show how many people are doing work and to start coordinating so that it becomes a real movement.

I think Americans are becoming more and more aware—especially with books like The New Jim Crow—of the reality of the prison system. And then in October we also need to show how many people are doing work around the issue and get even more people involved, because there is the potential for an actual movement around this. We just need to pull together and we need to energize people. What we’re aiming to do is to create coalitions and do outreach and then build into something way bigger in the future.

CECILY: To mobilize people from all the various angles as well. Not only all the groups, but all the various angles. The Anti-Mass Incarceration Movement is a structural movement, because you can’t just target the prisons, you have to target the prosecutorial overreach, you have to target the appointment of judges by elected officials that are elected by money, you have to target the lack of resources that lead people into prisons out of classism and racism and oppression to begin with. You have to go at the back end; the lack of resources, the probation, the sort of statelessness that I was talking about. You have to address the statelessness of an entire class of people in our country in a way that requires, again, cross-class, cross-race, cross-culture and cross-gender coalitions.

Additionally, I think that it requires an inside-outside strategy; it requires radicalism outside of institutional projects but it also requires inside organization and actions in the prisons and outside support. I think it will be the first major step into uniting the 99%, in a way that we haven’t seen actualized yet—just verbalized. And one way we’re trying to get out this beforehand is by calling it what it is: this isn’t just racism, this isn’t just classism, this is political repression. When there is a government that specifically denies participation to an entire group of people and thus renders them stateless, thus renders them unable to participate as citizens to begin with, and then you put them in jail for that; that’s political repression. These are political prisoners.

And so I think that there lies within that narrative a possibility at mass political activation. We’re in it to win; to win massive structural changes that we want to see in our national government. We have a sense of revolution—our revolution is not violent, our revolution is to live the rest of our lives affecting movement after movement after movement until we unite more and more people that are not represented by this government, which is most of the people, to affect the government that will not only be more respectful towards the citizens here, but respectful of the world order that so many other countries are working avidly to create and that we continually undermine.

MANOS: What would be your ideal view of a correctional system? How would it function and feel? And if you could paint the picture with words, what would that be?

CECILY: No correctional system!

LUCY: Yeah, at least what I would like to see is eventually no jails, no prisons. It’s not effective at creating a better society. I think it would be a slow process to get there and I think that to build that society we have to address especially the huge class issues. And what I would like to see is more of a process of resort of justice, where if someone does something like steal something then it’s viewed as a community harm, and what you’d have to do is work to pay the person back. We need to address this in a way that actually builds a better, more productive society that is built on growth rather than punishment.

CECILY: To be honest the entire time that I was in the sentencee dorm—so that’s the women who have been sentenced at Rikers—I had by far the highest, most violent offense. The classes of women that I met there were generally one of four—I would say there’s only a handful of women who were there for something else: one being selling their bodies in order to feed themselves or their families, two was theft in some form or another in order to take care of themselves or their families, the third is addiction and the fourth is primarily mental health. And those four, to me it seems like those are not crimes, those are byproducts of our society that reflect a really violent form of poverty and a really violent form of alienation, which actually left these women no choice to do otherwise.

LUCY: Those aren’t crimes, those are modes of survival.

CECILY: Ultimately what I would like to see the prison justice systems replaced with, are rehabilitation systems. I think when somebody in our society commits a crime, it is because for whatever reason the society, as it is, is not functioning for them. It’s not working for them or they cannot see their place within it— they had not been given the avenues or the resources in order to participate in society—I mean, that was certainly true of my case; there was no avenue for us to address the government, so we started a social movement. We need to say why is this person not participating to the standards that we’ve set? Do we need to change the standards? Do we need to allow for more access to resources? Do they need therapy? Do they need food? Do they need more adequate housing? Like, there’s no sense of talking to people about why it is that they committed the crime that they committed. It’s just all of a sudden, you were a person and now you’re a number and numbers don’t have opinions or value.

LUCY: So basically, to sum it up, we want no jails, no prison. We want everyone to be fed, clothed, housed and taken care of, to the extent that we deserve to be as human beings.

CECILY: And that our country can afford! We spend more money on housing a prisoner—I think it’s something like five times as much in housing a prisoner per year—than we do on the average child at public schools. We are paying to put people in an inefficient system that just sends them back into crime. This system doesn’t benefit anybody. Except for maybe the private prison systems that are making a profit off of the people being there. It’s crazy. This is the 21st century!

MANOS: So equal access to resources seems to be part of the solution, but at the same time we have the private prison system that is part of the larger corporatocracy—and we should find a way around that as well.

CECILY: We’ll start with improving the conditions in jail right now, building those cross-class, cross-cultural, cross-race, cross-gender connections, building ever towards a common dialogue on human rights—for every person, regardless of where they are, deserves to be treated like a person—and what we perceive will erupt with the Prison Justice movement, as it begins to interconnect with the Student Debt movement, as it begins to interconnect with the Immigrant Rights movement. I think ultimately what we’re going to see is a social movement of some kind.

LUCY: Something pretty big.

CECILY: It’s coming, it’s bubbling. That’s clear. Ferguson has been valuable, in that it is seen as a marker of mobilized dissent coming and people are no longer content to be treated like Others and are responding in a way that says “No more!”, that says “We will not stand by anymore, we will not stand by, avert our eyes, keep our heads down and not look up and not stand up for our brothers and our sisters.” It’s coming. The duty that we have as American citizens, as our country terrorizes, rapes, harms, threatens and exploits so many other countries worldwide, ultimately we have to start a strong social movement here based on human rights, based on a cross-class dialogue.

We’re hoping that what has historically followed will continue to do so and we’d love to see obviously a series of mass uprisings throughout the world, to establish a new world order that is focused on organizing the people, for the people and by the people.

Transcribed by Manos Cizek, Maria Gioni, Ilios Poros, Anghelos Palioudakis and Lindsey Aliksanyan.

America’s deadliest export and the endless war on terror

by William Blum on September 11, 2014

Post image for America’s deadliest export and the endless war on terrorPraise for America’s Deadliest Export: “Blum concentrates on matters of great current significance, and does not pull his punches” — Noam Chomsky.

This is an extract from America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy — The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else by William Blum (Zed Books, 2014). Zed Books have just reissued Blum’s three classic books, America’s Deadliest Export, Rogue State and Killing Hope in new updated editions.

A safer world for Americans… if they don’t leave home

Supporters of US foreign policy have been repeating the point ever since the attacks of September 11, 2001: US counterterrorism policy has worked. How do they know? Because there haven’t been any successful terrorist attacks in the United States in all the years since that infamous day.

True, but there weren’t any terrorist attacks in the United States in the six years before September 11, 2001 either, the last one being the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995. The absence of terrorist attacks in the US appears to be the norm, with or without a War on Terror.

More significantly, in the years since 9/11 the United States has been the target of terrorist attacks on scores of occasions, not even counting those in Iraq or Afghanistan — attacks on military, diplomatic, civilian, Christian, and other targets as­sociated with the United States; in the Middle East, South Asia, and the Pacific; more than a dozen times in Pakistan alone. The attacks include the October 2002 bombings of two nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia, which killed more than 200 people, almost all of them Americans and citizens of their Australian and British war allies; the following year brought the heavy bombing of the US-managed Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, the site of diplomatic receptions and 4th of July celebrations held by the American embassy; and other horrendous attacks in later years on US allies in Madrid and London because of the war.

Land of the Free, Home of the War on Terror

David Hicks is a 31-year-old Australian who in a plea-bargain with a US military court served nine months in prison, largely in Australia. That was after five years at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, without being charged with a crime, without a trial, without a conviction. Under the deal, Hicks agreed not to talk to reporters for one year (a terrible slap in the face of free speech), to forever waive any profit from telling his story (a slap – mon Dieu! – in the face of free enterprise), to submit to US interrogation and testify at future US trials or international tribunals (an open invitation to the US government to hound the young man for the rest of his life), to renounce any claims of mistreatment or unlawful deten­tion (a requirement which would be unconstitutional in a civilian US court). ‘If the United States were not ashamed of its conduct, it wouldn’t hide behind a gag order,’ said Hicks’s attorney Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Like so many other ‘terrorists’ held by the United States in recent years, Hicks had been ‘sold’ to the American military for a bounty offered by the US, a phenomenon repeated frequently in Afghanistan and Pakistan. US officials had to know that, once they offered payments to a very poor area to turn in bodies, almost anyone was fair game.

Other ‘terrorists’ have been turned in as reprisals for all sorts of personal hatreds and feuds. Many others — abroad and in the United States — have been incarcerated by the United States simply for working for, or merely contributing money to, charitable organizations with alleged or real ties to a ‘terrorist organization,’ as determined by a list kept by the State Depart­ment, a list conspicuously political.

It was recently disclosed that an Iraqi resident of Britain is being released from Guantánamo after four years. His crime? He refused to work as an informer for the CIA and MI5, the British security service. His business partner is still being held in Guantánamo, for the same crime.

Finally, there are those many other poor souls who have been picked up simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. ‘Most of these guys weren’t fighting. They were running,’ General Martin Lucenti, former deputy commander of Guantánamo, has pointed out.

Thousands of people have been thrown into hell on earth for no earthly reason. The world media have been overflowing with their individual tales of horror and sadness for years. Guantá­namo’s former commander, General Jay Hood, said: ‘Sometimes we just didn’t get the right folks.’ Not that the torture they were put through would be justified if they were in fact ‘the right folks.’

Hicks was taken into custody in Afghanistan in 2001. He was a convert to Islam and like others from many countries had gone to Afghanistan for religious reasons, had wound up on the side of the Taliban in the civil war that had been going on since the early 1990s, and had received military training at a Taliban camp. The United States has insisted on calling such camps ‘terrorist training camps,’ or ‘anti-American terrorist training camps,’ or ‘al-Qaeda terrorist training camps.’ Almost every individual or group not in love with US foreign policy that Washington wants to stigmatize is charged with being associated with, or being a member of, al-Qaeda, as if there’s a precise and meaningful distinction between people retaliating against the atrocities of American imperialism while being a member of al-Qaeda and retaliating against the atrocities of American imperialism while not being a member of al-Qaeda; as if al-Qaeda gives out membership cards to fit into your wallet, and there are chapters of al-Qaeda that put out a weekly newsletter and hold a potluck on the first Monday of each month.

It should be noted that for nearly half a century much of southern Florida has been one big training camp for anti-Castro terrorists. None of their groups — which have carried out many hundreds of serious terrorist acts in the US as well as abroad, including bombing a passenger airplane in flight — is on the State Department list. Nor were the Contras of Nicaragua in the 1980s, heavily supported by the United States, about whom former CIA director Stansfield Turner testified: ‘I believe it is irrefutable that a number of the Contras’ actions have to be characterized as terrorism, as State-supported terrorism.’

The same applies to groups in Kosovo and Bosnia, with close ties to al-Qaeda, includ­ing Osama bin Laden, in the recent past, but which have allied themselves with Washington’s agenda in the former Yugoslavia since the 1990s. Now we learn of US support for a Pakistani group called Jundullah and led by a Taliban, which has taken responsibility for the kidnappings and deaths and of more than a dozen Iranian soldiers and officials in cross-border attacks. Do not hold your breath waiting for the name Jundullah to appear on the State Department list of terrorist organizations; nor any of the several other ethnic militias being supported by the CIA to carry out terrorist bombing and assassination attacks in Iran.

The same political selectivity applies to many of the groups which are on the list, particularly those opposed to American or Israeli policies.

Amid growing pressure from their home countries and inter­national human rights advocates, scores of Guantánamo detainees have been quietly repatriated in recent years. Now a new analysis by lawyers who have represented detainees at this 21st century Devil’s Island says this policy undermines Washington’s own claims about the threat posed by many of the prison camp’s residents. The report, based on US government case files for Saudi detainees sent home over the past three years, shows inmates being systematically freed from custody within weeks of their return.

In half the cases studied, the detainees had been turned over to US forces by Pakistani police or troops in return for financial rewards. Many others were accused of terror­ism connections in part because their Arab nicknames matched those found in a computer database of al-Qaeda members, docu­ments show. In December, a survey by the Associated Press found that 84 percent of released detainees — 205 out of 245 individuals whose cases could be tracked — were set free after being released to the custody of their native countries.

‘There are certainly bad people in Guantánamo Bay, but there are also other cases where it’s hard to understand why the people are still there,’ said Anant Raut, co-author of the report, who has visited the detention camp three times. ‘We were struggling to find some rationality, something to comfort us that it wasn’t just random. But we didn’t find it.’

The report states that many of the US attempts to link the detainees to terrorist groups were based on evidence the authors describe as circumstantial and ‘highly questionable,’ such as the travel routes the detainees had followed in flying commercially from one Middle Eastern country to another. American officials have associated certain travel routes with al-Qaeda, when in fact, says the report, the routes ‘involve ordinary connecting flights in major international airports.’ With regard to accusations based on similar names, the report states: ‘This accusation appears to be based upon little more than similarities in the transliterations of a detainee’s name and a name found on one of the hard drives.’

Raut said he was most struck by the high percentage of Saudi detainees who had been captured and turned over by Pakistani forces. In effect, he said, for at least half the individuals in his report the United States ‘had no first-hand knowledge of their activities’ in Afghanistan before their capture and imprisonment.

When Michael Scheuer, the former CIA officer who headed the Agency’s Osama bin Laden unit, was told that the largest group in Guantánamo came from custody in Pakistan, he declared: ‘We absolutely got the wrong people.’ Never mind. They were all treated equally: all thrown into solitary confinement; shackled blindfolded, forced to undergo excruciating physical contortions for long periods, denied medicine; sensory deprivation and sleep deprivation were used, along with two dozen other methods of torture which American officials do not call torture. (If you tortured these officials, they might admit that it’s ‘torture lite.’)

‘The idea is to build an anti-terrorist global environment,’ a senior American defense official said in 2003, ‘so that in 20 to 30 years, terrorism will be like slave-trading, completely discredited.’

When will the dropping of bombs on innocent civilians by the United States, and invading and occupying their country, without their country attacking or threatening the US, become completely discredited? When will the use of depleted uranium and cluster bombs and CIA torture renditions become things that even men like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld will be too embarrassed to defend?

Australian/British journalist John Pilger has noted that in George Orwell’s 1984 ‘three slogans dominate society: war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. Today’s slogan, war on terrorism, also reverses meaning. The war is terrorism.’

Saved again, thank the Lord, saved again (August 18, 2006)

Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor – with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.

– General Douglas MacArthur, 1957

So now we’ve (choke) just been (gasp) saved from the simultane­ous blowing up of as many as ten airplanes headed toward the United States from the UK. Wow, thank you Brits, thank you Homeland Security. And thanks for preventing the destruction of the Sears Tower in Chicago, saving lower Manhattan from a terrorist-unleashed flood, smashing the frightful Canadian ‘terror plot’ with seventeen arrested, ditto the three Toledo terrorists, and squashing the Los Angeles al-Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airliner into a skyscraper.

The Los Angeles plot of 2002 was proudly announced by George W. in 2006. It has since been totally discredited. Declared one senior counterterrorism official: ‘There was no definitive plot. It never materialized or got past the thought stage.’

And the scare about ricin in the UK, which our own Mr Cheney used as part of the build-up for the invasion of Iraq, telling an audience on January 10, 2003: ‘The gravity of the threat we face was underscored in recent days when British police arrested … suspected terrorists in London and discovered a small quantity of ricin, one of the world’s deadliest poisons.’ It turned out there was not only no plot, there was no ricin. The Brits discovered almost immediately that the substance wasn’t ricin but kept that secret for more than two years.

From what is typical in terrorist scares, it is likely that the individuals arrested in the UK on August 10, 2006 were guilty of what George Orwell, in 1984, called ‘thoughtcrimes.’ That is to say, they haven’t actually done anything. At most, they’ve thought about doing something the government would label ‘terrorism.’ Perhaps not even very serious thoughts, perhaps just venting their anger at the exceptionally violent role played by the UK and the US in the Middle East and thinking out loud how nice it would be to throw some of that violence back in the face of Blair and Bush. And then, the fatal moment for them that ruins their lives forever: their angry words are heard by the wrong person, who reports them to the authorities. (In the Manhattan flood case the formidable, dangerous ‘terrorists’ made mention on an Internet chat room about blowing something up.)

Soon a government agent provocateur appears, infiltrates the group, and then actually encourages the individuals to think and talk further about terrorist acts, to develop real plans instead of youthful fantasizing, and even provides the individuals with some of the means for carrying out these terrorist acts, like explosive material and technical know-how, money and trans­portation, whatever is needed to advance the plot. It’s known as ‘entrapment,’ and it’s supposed to be illegal, it’s supposed to be a powerful defense for the accused, but the authorities get away with it all the time; and the accused get put away for a very long time.

And because of the role played by the agent provocateur, we may never know whether any of the accused, on their own, would have gone much further, if at all, like actually making a bomb, or, in the present case, even making transatlantic flight reservations, since many of the accused reportedly did not even have passports. Government infiltrating and monitoring is one thing; encouragement, pushing the plot forward, and scaring the public to make political capital from it are quite something else.

Prosecutors have said that the seven men in Miami charged with conspiring to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and FBI buildings in other cities had sworn allegiance to al-Qaeda. This came after meeting with a confidential government informant who was posing as a representative of the terrorist group. Did they swear or hold such allegiance, one must wonder, before meeting with the informant? ‘In essence,’ reported the Independent, ‘the entire case rests upon conversations between Narseal Batiste, the apparent ringleader of the group, with the informant, who was posing as a member of al-Qaeda but in fact belonged to the [FBI] South Florida Terrorist Task Force.’

Batiste told the informant that ‘he was organizing a mission to build an “Islamic army” in order to wage jihad.’ He provided a list of things he needed: boots, uniforms, machine guns, radios, vehicles, binoculars, bullet-proof vests, firearms, and $50,000 in cash. Oddly enough, one thing that was not asked for was any kind of explosive material. After sweeps of various locations in Miami, government agents found no explosives or weapons. ‘This group was more aspirational than operational,’ said the FBI’s deputy director, while one FBI agent described them as ‘social misfits.’ And, added the New York Times, investigators openly acknowledged that the suspects ‘had only the most preliminary discussions about an attack.’ Yet Cheney later hailed the arrests at a political fundraiser, calling the group a ‘very real threat.’

It was perhaps as great a threat as the suspects in the plot to unleash a catastrophic flood in lower Manhattan by destroying a huge underground wall that holds back the Hudson River. That was the story first released by the authorities; after a while it was replaced by the claim that the suspects were actually plot­ting something aimed at the subway tunnels that run under the river.16 Which is more reliable, one must wonder, information on Internet chat rooms or WMD tips provided by CIA Iraqi informers? Or information obtained, as in the current case in the UK, from Pakistani interrogators of the suspects, none of the interrogators being known to be ardent supporters of Amnesty International.

And the three men arrested in Toledo, Ohio, in February 2006 were accused of — are you ready? — plotting to recruit and train terrorists to attack US and allied troops overseas. For saving us from this horror we have a paid FBI witness to thank. He had been an informer with the FBI for four years, and most likely was paid for each new lead he brought in. In the Sears case, the FBI paid almost $56,000 to two confidential informants, and government officials also granted one of them immigration parole so he could remain in the country.

There must be millions of people in the United States and elsewhere who have thoughts about ‘terrorist acts.’ I might well be one of them when I read about a gathering of Bush, Cheney, and assorted neocons that’s going to take place. Given the daily horror of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine in recent times, little of which would occur if not for the government of the United States of America and its allies, the numbers of people having such thoughts must be multiplying rapidly. If I had been at an American or British airport as the latest scare story unfolded, waiting in an interminable line, having my flight canceled, or being told I can’t have any carry-on luggage, I may have found it irresistible at some point to declare loudly to my fellow suffering passengers: ‘Y’know, folks, this security crap is only gonna get worse and worse as long as the United States and Britain continue to invade, bomb, overthrow, occupy, and torture the world!’ How long would it be before I was pulled out of line and thrown into some kind of custody?

If General MacArthur were alive today, would he dare to pub­licly express the thoughts cited above?

Policymakers and security experts, reports the Associated Press, say that ‘Law enforcers are now willing to act swiftly against al-Qaeda sympathizers, even if it means grabbing wannabe terrorists whose plots may be only pipe dreams.’ The capture of dangerous would-be terrorists has been a growth industry in the United States ever since the events of Sep­tember 11, 2001. Do you remember the ‘shoe bomber’? Richard Reid was his name and he was aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on December 22, 2001; he tried to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes, didn’t succeed, and was overpowered by attendants and passengers. It’s because of him that we have to take our shoes off at the airport.

There was also ‘the underwear bomber,’ Umar Farouk Abdul­mutallab, referred to above, who tried to set off plastic explosives sewn into his underwear while aboard a Northwest Airlines flight as the plane approached Detroit airport in 2009. But he failed to detonate them properly, producing only some popping noises and a flame; another passenger jumped him and restrained him as others put out the fire. It’s because of Mr Abdulmutallab that we now virtually have to take our underwear off at airports.

And the reason we have strict rules about carrying liquids and gels aboard an airplane? We can thank some other young clowns in Europe in 2006 with pipe dreams about blowing up ten airliners with liquid explosives; they scarcely made it to step one. Since the ‘bomb made from liquids and gels’ story was foisted upon the public, several chemists and other experts have pointed out the technical near-impossibility of manufacturing such a bomb in a moving airplane, if for no other reason than the necessity of spending at least an hour or two in the airplane bathroom.

Then there was Faisal Shahzad, the ‘Times Square bomber,’ who on May 1, 2010 parked his car in the heart of New York City, tried to detonate various explosive devices in the car, but succeeded in producing only smoke. He then walked away from the car, after which he was arrested. It’s because of him that cars are no longer permitted in Times Square. (No, that’s a joke, but maybe not for long.)

The incompetence of these would-be bombers in being unable to detonate their explosives is remarkable. You’d think they could have easily gotten that critical and relatively simple part of the operation down pat beforehand. What I find even more remark­able is that neither of the two men aboard the airplanes thought of going into the bathroom, closing the door, and then trying to detonate the explosives. An 8-year-old child would have thought of that. Are we supposed to take the ‘threat’ posed by such men seriously?

‘The Department of Homeland Security would like to remind passengers that you may not take any liquids onto the plane. This includes ice cream, as the ice cream will melt and turn into a liquid.’ This was actually heard by one of my readers at Atlanta airport in 2012. He laughed out loud. He informs me that he didn’t know what was more bizarre, that such an announcement was made or that he was the only person that he could see who reacted to its absurdity.

Another example of the frightful terrorist threat was in October 2010 when we were told that two packages addressed to Chicago had been found aboard American cargo planes, one in Dubai, the other in England, containing what might, or might not, be an explosive device; which might, or might not, have exploded. Authorities said it was not known if the intent was to detonate the packages in flight or in Chicago.

Now get this. Terrorists, we are told, are shipping bombs in packages to the United States. They of course would want to make the packages as innocuous looking as can be, right? Nothing that would provoke any suspicion in the mind of an already very suspicious American security establishment, right? So what do we have? The packages were mailed from Yemen… and addressed to Jewish synagogues in Chicago… Well folks, nothing to see here, just keep moving.

A tale of two terrorists

Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person ever charged in the United States in connection with the September 11, 2001 attacks, tes­tifying at his 2006 trial in Alexandria, Virginia: the sobbing September 11 survivors and family members who testified against him were ‘disgusting’… He and other Muslims want to ‘extermi­nate’ American Jews… executed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was ‘the greatest American.’ Moussaoui expressed his willingness to kill Americans ‘any time, anywhere’… ‘I wish it had happened not only on the 11th, but the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th.’

Orlando Bosch, one of the masterminds behind the October 6, 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane, blown out of the sky with seventy-three people on board, including the entire young Cuban fencing team, interviewed on April 8, 2006 by Juan Manuel Cao of Channel 41 in Miami:

Cao: Did you down that plane in 1976?
Bosch: If I tell you that I was involved, I will be inculpating myself … and if I tell you that I did not participate in that action, you would say that I am lying. I am therefore not going to answer one thing or the other.
Cao: In that action 73 persons were killed…
Bosch: No chico, in a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.
Cao: But don’t you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?
Bosch: Who was on board that plane? Four members of the Communist Party, five North Koreans, five Guyanese… Who was there? Our enemies.
Cao: And the fencers? The young people on board?
Bosch: I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant. We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.
Cao: If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn’t you think it difficult … ?
Bosch: No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba.

The difference between Zacarias Moussaoui and Orlando Bosch is that one of them was put on trial and sentenced to life in prison while the other walks around Miami a free man, free enough to be interviewed on television. In 1983 the City Commis­sion of Miami declared a ‘Dr Orlando Bosch Day.’

Bosch had a partner in plotting the bombing of the Cuban airliner: Luis Posada, a Cuban-born citizen of Venezuela. He lives as a free man in the United States. His extradition has been requested by Venezuela for several crimes, including the downing of the airliner, part of the plotting having taken place in Venezuela. But the Bush and Obama administrations have refused to send him to Venezuela, for, despite his horrible crime, he’s an ally of the empire; Venezuela and Cuba are not. Nor will Washington try him in the US for the crime. However, the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation (1973), of which the United States is a signatory, gives Washington no discretion. Article 7 says that the state in which ‘the alleged offender is found shall, if it does not extradite him, be obliged, without exception whatsoever and whether or not the offense was committed in its territory, to submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.’

Extradite or prosecute. The United States does neither.

William Blum is a writer, historian, and renowned critic of US foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope, Rogue State and America’s Deadliest Export. For more information, visit his website.

Obama’s speech on ISIS

Perpetual war in Iraq, Syria and beyond

12 September 2014

In his speech Wednesday night to the American people, President Obama presented a perspective of open-ended and unlimited military conflict throughout the Middle East and beyond.

The threat of a terrorist group that few Americans could identify six months ago, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL), is supposedly so great that it requires a major mobilization of US military and intelligence assets.

“This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist,” Obama said, thereby declaring that there is no geographical limitation to the new US military intervention. Besides Iraq and Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are all potential arenas for battle.

Moreover, given the roots of ISIS in the CIA-organized airlift of Islamist fighters and weaponry from Libya to Syria after the 2011 US-NATO war that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi, US military action across North Africa and the Sahara is a likely extension of Obama’s new stage in what the Bush-Cheney administration once called the “global war on terror.”

The media barrage over the grisly ISIS executions of two American journalists has no doubt had at least a temporary effect on US public opinion. However, the United States is not going to war to avenge James Foley and Steven Sotloff, or to express outrage over the beheading of innocents. Otherwise, the US target would be the barbaric monarchy of Saudi Arabia—the most important US ally in the Middle East, after Israel—which, according to one report, beheaded 113 prisoners during the time Foley was held captive by ISIS.

The real reasons for the new US intervention in the Middle East are the same as those that drove the Bush-Cheney administration in the previous round of bloodletting: the drive of American imperialism to control oil resources and maintain a dominant strategic position in the Middle East and, more broadly, the entire Eurasian continent.

In particular, the intervention against ISIS represents an effort by the White House to reverse the foreign policy debacle it suffered last year in Syria. Exactly one year ago, Obama pushed for air strikes against the government Bashar al-Assad, with the goal of replacing it with a pro-US stooge regime. He was forced to pull back, in humiliating fashion, because of opposition from Russia, divisions within the US ruling elite, the failure of key US allies like Britain to join in the drive to war, and popular opposition.

The American ruling class responded by preparing the ground for a massive escalation in the Middle East, while organizing a coup in Ukraine targeting Russia, threatening to unleash a full-scale war with the second largest nuclear power in the world.

Obama’s explicit statement that the US is planning on bombing targets in Syria—“I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq,” he said—underscores the determination of the ruling class to use the offensive by ISIS that began in June as a convenient pretext to finish what it started.

Immediately after the speech, plans were announced for a flood of military aid and training for US-backed oppositional forces that have been engaged in a protracted civil war in the country. The aid is to be coordinated by Saudi Arabia, one of the main backers of Islamic fundamentalist forces battling Assad, and a regional opponent of both Syria and Iran.

In pursuing its objectives in the Middle East, Obama’s pledge not to resort to “boots on the ground” has zero credibility. Already, hundreds of US troops and advisors have been dispatched to the region. Even before Obama went on national television, his secretary of state, John Kerry, was telling a Baghdad press conference that US combat troops would not return to Iraq unless “obviously, something very dramatic changes.” As former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, a fixture in the foreign policy establishment, observed, “That’s a loophole a mile wide.”

As always, decisions that impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people have been made behind closed doors by a small cabal, with plans drawn up in advance presented as a fait accompli to be rubber-stamped by Congress and sold by the media on the basis of lies.

In pursuing its objectives—what Obama referred to as the “core interests” of the United States—the ruling class operates without any legal constraint. Significantly, Obama admitted that there was no evidence that ISIS forces, which control much of eastern Syria and overran parts of western and northern Iraq during the summer, pose any threat to the United States. He argued instead, “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.”

This amounts to a full-scale embrace of the doctrine of preventive war, espoused by Bush and Cheney as the basis for the invasion and conquest of Iraq. This doctrine is in direct defiance of international law, which declares that a country can initiate a war only in self-defense and forbids any country from launching a war by claiming to be responding to a potential threat arising in the future. The launching of such wars is the principal crime for which the Nazi leaders were indicted and convicted at the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal.

White House officials have argued that Obama has “all the authority he needs” to escalate the war in the Middle East, citing the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) adopted by Congress after the 9/11 attacks. Here again, Obama follows in the footsteps of Bush and Cheney, who used the AUMF as an all-purpose justification not only for military action overseas, but also for mass surveillance and indefinite detention at home.

The implementation of the new war in the Middle East underscores the mortal danger confronting the working class—in the region, in the United States and around the world. The American oligarchy has embarked on a permanent and ever-expanding war. Amidst an intensifying social and economic crisis, it is seeking to resolve its problems at home and abroad by asserting its domination in every region of the globe.

Patrick Martin

We are the authors and actors of our own history

by Laurence Cox on September 10, 2014

Post image for We are the authors and actors of our own historyAs neoliberalism struggles to find a long-term survival strategy, a new book explores how Marxism can contribute to the praxis of contemporary movements.

By Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen.

Neoliberalism is in crisis. Some of the elements of this are fairly obvious: the financial crisis of recent years and elites’ inability to chart an effective strategy for long-term profitability; the decline of US geopolitical hegemony, most visibly in its one-time backyard of Latin America and the strategically central Middle East and North African region; a legitimacy crisis around surveillance and military intervention more broadly; severe problems with making the WTO, FTAA and other such arrangements actually produce the intended results; the EU’s increasing inability to secure mandates for austerity in referenda or elections; not to mention the medium-term threats to fixed assets (and supporters) caused by climate change.

To say that neoliberalism is in crisis is not to say that it is powerless, or that it is not causing immense suffering across the world in many different ways. It is to say that — like all previous forms of capitalism before it — it is running out of time: it is ceasing to work for many of the groups which were once central for the alliance that constructed neoliberal hegemony; it is failing to chart a survival course for capitalist elites; and it is struggling to manage everyday problems. Coercion, however terrifying we may find it, is not a viable long-term strategy.

It is important to say this in the face of arguments which — rightly horrified or terrified by the realities of neoliberalism — ascribe omnipotence or inevitability to its continuation. Watching the screen (increasingly of smartphones or tablets rather than TV or newspapers), transfixed by the daily dose of violence and a sense of powerlessness, such arguments remain caught within their own local realities — taking the last couple of decades as defining of human existence, but also taking what is available to an increasingly narrow mediasphere as defining What Is Happening. Put another way, they constitute elaborate rationalizations of personal experience without being able to stand outside the structures that constitute that experience, either historically or in terms of reading the world from below, in terms of popular struggles.

In our new book We Make Our Own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism we write:

Premature Obituaries and Zombie Neoliberalism

Almost as soon as any new movement from below appears on the radar screen of the North’s elites, writers proclaim it dead, irrelevant, or past its prime. This has been so for the Zapatistas (now celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their uprising), for the global ‘movement of movements’ against neoliberalism (despite events in Latin America), for the movement against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (despite everything) and increasingly for anti-austerity movements. In part, of course, these are deliberate attempts to write off movements by apologists for our current regimes: to misquote Howard Zinn (1999), we might wonder why it is necessary to proclaim movements dead again and again.

Another reason for this obituary-writing lies in how journalists, academics, literary writers and so on are trained. There is a natural tendency to defend one’s own hard-won intellectual capital: where this consists of a particular way of writing about how things are at present, and of ‘business as usual’ tendencies into the future, anything which suggests that there may be more to the present than meets an eye focused on routines, and that the future may not yet be written in stone, will be unwelcome. There is also a need to have something to say about everything, and to appear to know something about any possible subject of conversation (‘relevance’, for a very media-oriented value of the word). Given the complexity of reality and how little of it anyone can know (not to mention how pressures for intellectual productivity squeeze the time available for exploring new areas of knowledge), what is most needed is a stock of ready-made dismissals for whatever falls outside one’s own sphere of interest and actual knowledge (see Sotiris 2013).

For us, the most interesting part of the obituary-writing process is that engaged in by movement activists themselves. This too has multiple roots: frustration and despair, a sense of having lost particular internal or external battles, a desire to argue for different strategies (a return to trade union struggles, a return to communities, the construction of utopias), and the belief that today’s movement is the strongest available argument for one’s own flavor of theory. Perhaps the most significant, though, is the experience this chapter addresses, of stalemate: of having made huge efforts, having moved further in recent years than most of us would have thought possible in the 1990s, and yet of having in some terms achieved so little.

The first chapter of We Make Our Own History discusses how theory can grow out of activist experience and what this means for “movement-relevant theory”, identifying Marxism as one such form of movement theorizing which activists can “repair, reuse and recycle”. We then ask how a Marxism oriented to the praxis of movements and communities can help activists change the rules of the socially constructed game which academic social movements research often wants to confine them to.

The central chapter rethinks Marxism as a theory of social movements, including both movements from below and the agency of the powerful and wealthy — the social movements from above whose weight we daily feel on our backs. We go on to use this framework to explore how movements from above and below have structured the historical development of capitalism, in its many changing forms. Finally, we discuss movements from below against neoliberalism and ask how they can win: what it means, in practice, to make another world possible.

Laurence Cox directs the MA in Community Education, Equality and Social Activism at the National University of Ireland Maynooth and co-edits the social movements journal Interface. He is active in a wide range of movements and has published Marxism and Social Movements (2013) and Understanding European Movements (2013).

Alf Gunvald Nilsen is Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Bergen. His research focuses on social movements in the Global South. He is the author of Dispossession and Resistance in India (2012) and co-editor of Social Movements in the Global South (2011) and Marxism and Social Movements (2013).

Report to G20 outlines jobs and wages catastrophe

By Nick Beams
11 September 2014

A report prepared for a meeting of G20 labour ministers held in Australia yesterday and today has highlighted the ever-worsening jobs market in all the advanced capitalist countries and the ongoing decline in the share of wages in national income.

Authored by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Bank, the report said economic growth would “remain below trend with significant downside risks for the foreseeable future.”

Low growth would continue to dampen employment prospects and lead to widening income inequality across the G20 countries, which collectively account for 85 percent of global gross domestic product.

The report said the jobs gap would “remain substantial” in several G20 countries “at least” until 2018, without giving any indication of what would happen thereafter. In other words, the worsening economic conditions that set in after the global financial crisis of 2008 have become a permanent trend.

Unemployment continues to remain at historically high rates, and almost one-third of those out of a job are long-term unemployed, compared to a quarter before the financial crisis.

A vicious economic circle has set in. Lower economic growth has led to the loss of jobs and falling real wages, while, as the report notes, in the “advanced” G20 economies a “large jobs gap and stagnating wage income have constrained both consumption and investment as sources of aggregate demand,” thereby leading to lower growth or outright stagnation.

In addition, over the past 15 years, there has been an ongoing redistribution of wealth from wages to profits. According to the report, an index of real wages rose by only 5 percentage points from 1999 to 2013, while labour productivity over the same period increased by 17 percentage points in the advanced G20 economies.

After noting that the trend began before the crisis of 2008–2009, the report said it had “grown wider since 2010, as wages in many advanced economies continue to stagnate while productivity has recovered in the group as a whole.” What it called the “moderation” in wage growth was greater than would have been predicted by the relationship between unemployment and wages before the crisis.

The redistribution of wealth was underscored by another series of statistics, which showed the long-term decline in the labour share of national income over the past four decades. In Spain the labour share had fallen by 16 percent, Italy 15 percent, the United States 11 percent, and Australia and Germany around 5 percent.

“The cumulative, long-term decline in labour share has been substantial and widespread and has been widely seen as a structural problem,” the report stated.

While consumption spending by workers and their families constitutes the largest portion of aggregate demand, at least in the advanced capitalist countries, investment is the real driving force of the economy. But investment “has been below pre-crisis levels at the global level, and particularly so in advanced economies, with important negative consequences for job creation.” This is despite historically low interest rates and the recovery of profitability in some countries and industries.

The report echoed a theme that is becoming common in such analyses: inequality is a contributing factor to lower economic growth. “Extensive evidence shows that high levels of income inequality tend to reinforce themselves, reducing social mobility and thus affecting long-term potential growth,” it stated.

What did the report propose be done to change the situation? Nothing. “There is no magic or universal formula for creating productive, quality jobs,” it declared. While calling for “interventions,” it insisted that they had to be “feasible in country circumstances and fiscal space and need to be aligned with country priorities and social expectations.”

What this means in practice is that any government action must be in accord with the demands of the banks and finance capital, which have dictated the policies carried out in the six years since the financial crisis erupted and created the present conditions.

The only word of caution was a reference to an analysis by the ILO of “recent episodes of social unrest” which found that the most important determinants of such occurrences are “weak economic growth and a rising unemployment rate.”

Financial Times economics commentator Martin Wolf also took up this issue in a column published earlier this week. He pointed out that in the second quarter of this year, real domestic demand in the eurozone was 5 percent lower than in the first quarter of 2008 and that since 2008 nominal (in money terms) demand had risen by a mere 2 percent.

Wolf too sounded a warning, saying that the European Commission “needs to take a stand for common sense and growth, instead of insisting on misery yet again.”

“This is not just a matter of economics,” Wolf added. “The capacity of the peoples of member states to tolerate high unemployment and deep slumps has been impressive. But it cannot be unlimited.” Unless action was taken, there would be a “populist reaction.”

Neither the analysis provided to the G20 nor the entreaties of columnists like Wolf for “common sense” policies is going to produce a change of direction.

The ruling corporate and financial elites are locked into a system in which profit accumulation—the lifeblood of the capitalist economy over which they preside—no longer operates according to the logic of the past, in which new investment led to increased employment, higher wages and expanding markets, fuelling further investment.

Rather, profits now increasingly depend on the endless supply of ultra-cheap cash by the central banks to finance parasitism and speculation on the one hand, coupled with savage cost-cutting and the driving down of the social position of the working class on the other.


Obama’s war

…in Iraq and Syria

10 September 2014

President Barack Obama will use his nationally televised speech tonight to officially announce what has already begun: a new US war in Iraq that will soon be extended to Syria.

The man who ran for president in 2008 as an opponent of Bush’s war in Iraq is, like his predecessor, seeking to justify American military violence in that tortured land and its extension into Syria with deceit and lies.

Just a month ago, announcing the initiation of US air strikes, Obama presented them as a short-term, narrowly focused measure restricted to providing “humanitarian relief” for Yazidi refugees threatened by Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) militia and protecting US personnel in the Kurdish capital of Erbil.

Those pretexts failed to generate public support for renewed war in the Middle East and were quickly dropped. Then came the beheading of two American journalists by ISIS. The media ran lurid accounts of Western recruits to ISIS and an increased threat of terrorist attacks within the US.

The beheadings provided a new, made-to-order pretext, reviving “war on terror” fear-mongering, for US military intervention in the Middle East. It was handed to American imperialism by a Sunni jihadist group that owes it existence to Washington.

ISIS is a creation of the United States. It arose out of the destruction of Iraqi society by the US military between 2003 and 2011 and the colonialist policy pursued by Washington of whipping up sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shiites.

In Syria, the organization was directly and indirectly armed and trained by the CIA as the spearhead of the US drive to overthrow the pro-Russian and pro-Iranian regime of Bashar al-Assad and replace it with a US puppet government. Much of its leadership has ties to American intelligence.

The war on ISIS is camouflage for an unstated agenda. The United States is using military force to attempt once again to restructure Iraq in line with the aims of its 1991 war and its 2003 invasion—complete domination of the country’s vast oil resources.

Even more centrally, the new war is aimed at overthrowing Assad in Syria. It is an attempt to reverse the setback Washington suffered a year ago when it had to scuttle its plans to intervene in Syria on the basis of fabricated claims of chemical weapons attacks by Assad. The Obama administration was not able to generate any significant public support for such an attack and found itself internally divided.

Now, the same agenda is disguised as a war against ISIS, with which the US has been allied in the drive for regime-change in Syria. Administration officials are making clear in advance of Obama’s speech that he has adopted a policy of carrying out air strikes in Syria as well as Iraq. It is reported that Obama will urge Congress to authorize stepped up US military aid to so-called “rebels” in Syria.

The agenda of the new war is the basic agenda that lay behind Washington’s first war against Iraq 23 years ago—total US control of the energy resources of the Middle East.

It will continue to be pursued if Washington succeeds in toppling and likely murdering Assad (as it murdered Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya). Washington will in short order openly resume its war drive against Iran.

The pursuit of US hegemony in the Middle East is also bound up with Washington’s war-mongering against Russia. Last year, Russia obstructed the Obama administration’s plans to attack Syria, Moscow’s only ally in the Arab world and the site of a major Russian naval base. The desire to remove an obstacle to US domination of the Middle East was a significant factor in the confrontation the US created with Moscow by conspiring to overthrow a pro-Russian government in Ukraine and replace it with a far-right, rabidly anti-Russian puppet regime.

This new war, like the ones that went before it, is being carried out over the heads of the American people, without any explanation or public discussion. The decisions are made by a cabal of military and intelligence operatives in consultation with Washington think tanks and Wall Street.

On Tuesday, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), published a commentary outlining the aims of Obama’s Wednesday night speech. The CSIS is a key part of the nexus of government and military officials and national security think tanks that actually shapes the life-and-death decisions, including going to war, that impact the American and world population.

On his web site, which is produced for the political elite, Cordesman spelled out frankly what is being prepared. Noting that, “there are many good reasons the president needs to be cautious about what he says and not speak too openly about the details,” he made clear that Obama’s promises of “no combat troops on the ground” were virtually meaningless, and that what was being launched was a massive military escalation in the Middle East.

“There is a critical difference between no ground troops and no major ground combat units,” he wrote. “The United States already has some 1,100 military personnel in Iraq and counting. It will need more in the future—plus civil intelligence personnel—for training, equipment transfers, targeting and intelligence analysis, and various enabling functions. Ideally, it will also need Special Forces or their equivalent to work with Sunni areas that return to supporting the government or become hostile to the Islamic State, work with the Kurds, and embed in Iraq forces to help provide tactical guidance and air strike planning…

“Limited US airpower may be able to contain the Islamic State, but it will take a far larger campaign to defeat it in Iraq and a campaign that strikes targets in Syria to have any chance of reducing the Islamic State back to a small extremist faction with only limited support. In practice, air power must be extended well beyond targeting forward IS combat elements and strike at the entire leadership, military forces, key cadres, and key strategic political and economic centers of IS operations.”

Under the heading “The Assad Problem: The Enemy of Our Enemy is Worse than Our Enemy,” Cordesman made clear that military action in Syria ostensibly targeting ISIS would be used to carry through the US policy of regime-change against Assad.

None of the conspirators are held accountable for their endless wars based on lies. On Tuesday, former Vice President Dick Cheney, a prime architect of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, met with Republican members of the House of Representatives to push for full-scale war in both Iraq and Syria.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose résumé includes the murder of millions in Vietnam and the fascist coup that brought Pinochet to power in Chile, gave an interview to the Times of London in which he urged Obama to “launch an all-out attack” on ISIS, saying that air strikes should “not make any distinction between Syria and Iraq.”

The entire political establishment and corporate-controlled media are lined up behind the new war. Congress functions as a rubber stamp of the Pentagon and CIA.

These events underscore the fact that we live today in an age of permanent war. This is what Bush meant, speaking for the American ruling class, when he talked in 2001 of the “wars of the 21st Century.” One war follows another, each one more violent and ominous than the last.

Barry Grey

US Is an Oligarchy Not a Democracy, says Scientific Study

Published on

Common Dreams

In America, money talks… and democracy dies under its crushing weight. (Photo: Shutterstock)

study, to appear in the Fall 2014 issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics, finds that the U.S. is no democracy, but instead an oligarchy, meaning profoundly corrupt, so that the answer to the study’s opening question, “Who governs? Who really rules?” in this country, is:

“Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, …” and then they go on to say, it’s not true, and that, “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened” by the findings in this, the first-ever comprehensive scientific study of the subject, which shows that there is instead “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

To put it short: The United States is no democracy, but actually an oligarchy.

The authors of this historically important study are Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, and their article is titled “Testing Theories of American Politics.” The authors clarify that the data available are probably under-representing the actual extent of control of the U.S. by the super-rich:

Economic Elite Domination theories do rather well in our analysis, even though our findings probably understate the political influence of elites. Our measure of the preferences of wealthy or elite Americans – though useful, and the best we could generate for a large set of policy cases – is probably less consistent with the relevant preferences than are our measures of the views of ordinary citizens or the alignments of engaged interest groups. Yet we found substantial estimated effects even when using this imperfect measure. The real-world impact of elites upon public policy may be still greater.

Nonetheless, this is the first-ever scientific study of the question of whether the U.S. is a democracy. “Until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions [that U.S. policymaking operates as a democracy, versus as an oligarchy, versus as some mixture of the two] against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues.” That’s an enormous number of policy-issues studied.

What the authors are able to find, despite the deficiencies of the data, is important: the first-ever scientific analysis of whether the U.S. is a democracy, or is instead an oligarchy, or some combination of the two. The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That’s it, in a nutshell.