The Rats Revolt

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

There is no American who has fought with more tenacity, courage and integrity to expose the crimes of corporate power and to thwart the corporate coup d’état that has destroyed our democracy than Ralph Nader. Not one. There is little he has not tried in that effort. He has written investigative exposés on the unsafe practices of the auto industry; published best-sellers such as “Who Runs Congress?”; founded citizen action and consumer groups; testified before countless congressional committees; written a raft of environmental and worker safety bills that were passed in Congress under the now defunct liberal wing of the Democratic Party; and, when he was locked out of the legislative process by corporate Democrats, been a candidate for president. He even helped organize the first Earth Day.

His latest assault is a fable called “How the Rats Re-Formed the Congress.” (And though at times the prose can be a bit stilted and the scatological jokes on par with the humor of the average 10-year-old—the rats crawl up out of the toilet bowls as congressional leaders are taking a dump—Nader is deadly serious about the revolt the rats engender.)

The key in Nader’s story to the citizens retaking control of Congress and the government is sustained mass nationwide demonstrations and rallies. These demonstrations, like all protests that are effective, are organized by full-time staff and steadily build in numbers and momentum. The demonstrations are funded by three enlightened billionaires. I don’t share Nader’s faith—also expressed in his other foray into fiction, “Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us”—in a renegade wing of the oligarchy funding the overthrow of the corporate state, but he is right that successful movements need to be sustained, grow in size and power, have dedicated organizers and amass significant cash and resources so they do not disintegrate.

Nader writes in his new book:

Protests rise and fall in the ether for the most part. They generally don’t ripple out from the core group of concerned people who originate them. Experts on crowds attribute this to little planning, minuscule budgets, poor leadership, and the lack of focus which induces protest fatigue among the core before they make an impact. The core never convincingly answers the questions, “Just How Far Do the Majority of Our Fellow Citizens Want To Go and How Do They Expect to Get There?”

Another explanation for the lackluster showing of protest movements in this country is that American politicians, over the past twenty-five years, have learned to quietly dismiss big rallies, demonstrations, and even temporary “occupations,” because they have gone nowhere. The lawmakers never consider them when making decisions. Remember, too, that in Washington, giant rallies, such as those against the Iraq War, for the environment or for a jobs program were traditionally held on weekends when neither the members of Congress nor the journalists were around. These crowds are lucky to get a picture in the Sunday newspapers. The lack of publicity curtails any impact they might have had. The smaller gatherings, even those by Veterans for Peace, get zeroed out completely, rating at best a paragraph squib deep in the paper.

The demonstrations for the restoration of our democracy take place in cities around the country. They also see enraged citizens pour into Washington, D.C., to surround and occupy the Capitol and the headquarters of other government agencies and institutions to demand a return to democratic rule. The ruling elites become afraid.

Indeed, it is only when the elites become afraid of us that there will be any hope of destroying corporate power. Politics, as Nader understands, is a game of fear.

As Nader points out, elected officials have surrendered their constitutional power to do the bidding of corporations in return for corporate money. It is a system of legalized bribery. The consent of the governed has become a joke. Politicians in the two ruling parties are the agents of corporate exploitation and oppression, the enemies of democracy. They no longer hold public hearings at the committee level. They govern largely in secret. They pass bills, most written by corporate lobbyists, and appoint judges to protect corporations from lawsuits by those these corporations have wronged, injured or defrauded. They deny our standing in the courts. They divert money from the country’s crumbling infrastructure and social services to sustain a war machine that consumes half of all discretionary spending. They run up massive deficits to give tax cuts to the ruling oligarchs and orchestrate the largest transference of wealth upward in American history. They suppress the minimum wage, break unions and legalize the debt peonage that corporations use to exact punishing tribute from the citizenry, including from young men and women forced to take on $1.5 trillion in debt to get a college education. They revoke laws, controls and regulations that curb the worst abuses of Wall Street. They abolish our most cherished civil liberties, including the right to privacy and due process. Their public proceedings, as was evidenced in the one held for new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, are shameless political theater that mocks the democratic process.

“Congress itself is a clear and present danger to our country,” Nader writes. “It feasts on raw global corporate power and is oblivious to various fateful degradations of life on the planet.” He calls Congress “a concentrated tyranny of self-privilege, secrecy, exclusionary rules and practices.”

Nader warns that any uprising has to be swift to prevent the ruling elites from organizing to crush it. It has to capture the public imagination. And it has to have a sense of humor. He writes of the fictitious uprising in “How the Rats Re-Formed the Congress”:

A contingent from New York and New England, led by nurses and students, delivered a truck load of “Wall Street Rats” with the sign explaining that they would obviously be welcomed by the Congress that had refused to pass a Wall Street speculation tax, such a sales tax would have provided $300 billion a year that might have been utilized to provide healthcare and reduce the student loan burdens. Millions of postcards were being sent showing one giant black rat on the Capitol Dome with a sign saying, “You Didn’t Listen to Them—The People—But Now You’re Going To Listen To Us.” This was only a sliver of the corrosively critical anthropomorphism attributed to the rats and their imagined political agenda. They had become the voice of the public! Little statuettes of [House Speaker] Blamer, [Minority Leader] Melosay, and [Senate Majority Leader] Clearwater, wearing crowns upon which lolled a pompous rat, were selling like hotcakes. Poster art rose to new heights of imaginative, symbolic, and real-life portrayals of what was increasingly being called the perfidious “Withering Heights” of Washington, DC.

The calendar was filled with non-stop street action: rallies, soapbox speeches, marches, and sit-ins at zoos where the protesters said the rats should be given luxury cages as reward for their heroic takeover. The media couldn’t have enough of it. Ratings soared and increasing print, radio, and TV time was being devoted to what was making a very deep impression everywhere. Protests—across the country, red state, blue state, north, south, east, and west—were moving into mobilization stages with overdue specific demands for justice, fairness, and participation qua citizens replacing control qua wealth as the sine qua non of government functioning. And, the most ominous sign of all for incumbents: there were early indications of candidates, holding the same beliefs as the protesters, readying challenges to the lawmakers in the upcoming primaries.

Petitions were circulating on the Internet demanding the members go back to their jobs regardless of the rat infestation. Millions of workers show up every day at jobs far more dangerous. They don’t cower in fear. If they did, they would have their pay cut or be fired by their bosses. The petition pointed out that Members of Congress were getting paid while they stayed home in bed. Outrageous! These petitions contained common left/right demands—the kind that really scare politicians.

No revolution will succeed without a vision. Nader lays out the basics—a guaranteed living wage, full government-funded health insurance, free education including at the university level, the prosecution of corporate criminals, cutting the bloated military budget, an end to empire, criminal justice reform, transferring power from the elites to the citizenry by providing public spaces where consumers, workers and communities can meet and organize, breaking up the big banks and creating a public banking system, protecting and fostering labor unions, removing money from politics, taking the airwaves out of the hands of corporations and returning them to the public and ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry while keeping fossil fuels in the ground to radically reconfigure our relationship to the ecosystem.

He writes of the popular convergence on the centers of power:

Meanwhile, by car, bus, rail, plane and even by bicycles and by foot, people of all ages, backgrounds, and places continued to pour into Washington. They filled the restaurants and the motels. They usually had to find a room in a city where there were few affordable apartments but many large, under-inhabited houses whose longtime owners wanted to make some money to pay for their property taxes and repairs. So they were renting to the new arrivals.

The ways these visitors made their voices heard were quite imaginative. There was a cavalcade of horseback riders in a procession down Constitution Avenue resplendent with the signs, “Pass this …” or “Pass that …” always ending with the ominous “or Else.” One horseman was using his trumpet to raise the emotional level of the demonstration, which was fully covered in the press. Others joined the daily “resign … or else” rally going on at the backside of the Capitol while mini-demonstrations were becoming daily events in front of the White House and at other major government buildings containing departments and agencies. Even those agencies in the suburbs, such as the Pentagon, the CIA, the Patent Office, or the Food and Drug Administration, where the employees had thought they would be beyond reach, did not escape the rallying.

It is a wonderful vision. I hope it comes to pass. But even if it does not, we should try. Appealing to the ruling elites and the two corporate political parties, as well as attempting to have our voices and concerns addressed by the corporate media, which has blacklisted Nader, is a waste of time. The corporate state will be overthrown by a citizens’ revolt or we will continue to barrel toward a political and ecological nightmare. Nader dares to dream. We should too.

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Israel Is Captive to Its ‘Destructive Process’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

As protesters continue to be killed at the Gaza border, Truthdig is reposting a July 14, 2014, column by Chris Hedges on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A new article by Hedges will appear on Truthdig later this week.

 

Raul Hilberg in his monumental work “The Destruction of the European Jews” chronicled a process of repression that at first was “relatively mild” but led, step by step, to the Holocaust. It started with legal discrimination and ended with mass murder. “The destructive process was a development that was begun with caution and ended without restraint,” Hilberg wrote.

The Palestinians over the past few decades have endured a similar “destructive process.” They have gradually been stripped of basic civil liberties, robbed of assets including much of their land and often their homes, have suffered from mounting restrictions on their physical movements, been blocked from trading and business, especially the selling of produce, and found themselves increasingly impoverished and finally trapped behind walls and security fences erected around Gaza and the West Bank.

“The process of destruction [of the European Jews] unfolded in a definite pattern,” Hilberg wrote. “It did not, however, proceed from a basic plan. No bureaucrat in 1933 could have predicted what kind of measures would be taken in 1938, nor was it possible in 1938 to foretell the configuration of the undertaking in 1942. The destructive process was a step-by-step operation, and the administrator could seldom see more than one step ahead.”

There will never be transports or extermination camps for the Palestinians, but amid increasing violence against Palestinians larger and larger numbers of them will die, in airstrikes, targeted assassinations and other armed attacks. Hunger and misery will expand. Israeli demands for “transfer”—the forced expulsion of Palestinians from occupied territory to neighboring countries—will grow.

The Palestinians in Gaza live in conditions that now replicate those first imposed on Jews by the Nazis in the ghettos set up throughout Eastern Europe. Palestinians cannot enter or leave Gaza. They are chronically short of food—the World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 percent of children in Gaza and the West Bank under 2 years old have iron deficiency anemia and reports that malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 are “not improving” and could actually be worsening. Palestinians often lack clean water. They are crammed into unsanitary hovels. They do not have access to basic medical care. They are stateless and lack passports or travel documents. They live with massive unemployment. They are daily dehumanized in racist diatribes by their occupiers as criminals, terrorists and mortal enemies of the Jewish people.

“A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently of the Palestinians. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.”

Ayelet Shaked, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, on her Facebook page June 30 posted an article written 12 years ago by the late Uri Elitzur, a leader in the settler movement and a onetime adviser to Netanyahu, saying the essay is as “relevant today as it was then.” The article said in part: “They [the Palestinians] are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

The belief that a race or class is contaminated is used by ruling elites to justify quarantining the people of that group. But quarantine is only the first step. The despised group can never be redeemed or cured—Hannah Arendt noted that all racists see such contamination as something that can never be eradicated. The fear of the other is stoked by racist leaders such as Netanyahu to create a permanent instability. This instability is exploited by a corrupt power elite that is also seeking the destruction of democratic civil society for all citizens—the goal of the Israeli government (as well as the goal of a U.S. government intent on stripping its own citizens of rights). Max Blumenthal in his book “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” does a masterful job of capturing and dissecting this frightening devolution within Israel.

The last time Israel mounted a Gaza military assault as severe as the current series of attacks was in 2008, with Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from Dec. 27 of that year to Jan. 18, 2009. That attack saw 1,455 Palestinians killed, including 333 children. Roughly 5,000 more Palestinians were injured. A new major ground incursion, which would be designed to punish the Palestinians with even greater ferocity, would cause a far bigger death toll than Operation Cast Lead did. The cycle of escalating violence, this “destructive process,” as the history of the conflict has illustrated, would continue at an accelerating rate.

The late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, one of Israel’s most brilliant scholars, warned that, followed to its logical conclusion, the occupation of the Palestinians would mean “concentration camps would be erected by the Israeli rulers” and “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.” He feared the ascendancy of right-wing, religious Jewish nationalists and warned that “religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism.” Leibowitz laid out what occupation would finally bring for Israel:

The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police— mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.

Israel is currently attacking a population of 1.8 million that has no army, no navy, no air force, no mechanized military units, no command and control and no heavy artillery. Israel pretends that this indiscriminate slaughter is a war. But only the most self-deluded supporter of Israel is fooled. The rockets fired at Israel by Hamas—which is committing a war crime by launching those missiles against the Israeli population—are not remotely comparable to the 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs that have been dropped in large numbers on crowded Palestinian neighborhoods; the forced removal of some 300,000 Palestinians from their homes; the more than 160 reported dead—the U.N. estimates that 77 percent of those killed in Gaza have been civilians; the destruction of the basic infrastructure; the growing food and water shortages; and the massing of military forces for a possible major ground assault.

When all this does not work, when it becomes clear that the Palestinians once again have not become dormant and passive, Israel will take another step, more radical than the last. The “process of destruction” will be stopped only from outside Israel. Israel, captive to the process, is incapable of imposing self-restraint.

A mass movement demanding boycotts, divestment and sanctions is the only hope now for the Palestinian people. Such a movement must work for imposition of an arms embargo on Israel; this is especially important for Americans because weapons systems and attack aircraft provided by the U.S. are being used to carry out the assault. It must press within the United States for a cutoff of the $3.1 billion in military aid that the U.S. gives to Israel each year. It must organize to demand suspension of all free trade and other agreements between the U.S. and Israel. Only when these props are knocked out from under Israel will the Israeli leadership be forced, as was the apartheid regime in South Africa, to halt its “destructive process.” As long as these props remain, the Palestinians are doomed. If we fail to act we are complicit in the slaughter.

Read more

Israel Is Captive to Its ‘Destructive Process’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

As protesters continue to be killed at the Gaza border, Truthdig is reposting a July 14, 2014, column by Chris Hedges on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A new article by Hedges will appear on Truthdig later this week.

 

Raul Hilberg in his monumental work “The Destruction of the European Jews” chronicled a process of repression that at first was “relatively mild” but led, step by step, to the Holocaust. It started with legal discrimination and ended with mass murder. “The destructive process was a development that was begun with caution and ended without restraint,” Hilberg wrote.

The Palestinians over the past few decades have endured a similar “destructive process.” They have gradually been stripped of basic civil liberties, robbed of assets including much of their land and often their homes, have suffered from mounting restrictions on their physical movements, been blocked from trading and business, especially the selling of produce, and found themselves increasingly impoverished and finally trapped behind walls and security fences erected around Gaza and the West Bank.

“The process of destruction [of the European Jews] unfolded in a definite pattern,” Hilberg wrote. “It did not, however, proceed from a basic plan. No bureaucrat in 1933 could have predicted what kind of measures would be taken in 1938, nor was it possible in 1938 to foretell the configuration of the undertaking in 1942. The destructive process was a step-by-step operation, and the administrator could seldom see more than one step ahead.”

There will never be transports or extermination camps for the Palestinians, but amid increasing violence against Palestinians larger and larger numbers of them will die, in airstrikes, targeted assassinations and other armed attacks. Hunger and misery will expand. Israeli demands for “transfer”—the forced expulsion of Palestinians from occupied territory to neighboring countries—will grow.

The Palestinians in Gaza live in conditions that now replicate those first imposed on Jews by the Nazis in the ghettos set up throughout Eastern Europe. Palestinians cannot enter or leave Gaza. They are chronically short of food—the World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 percent of children in Gaza and the West Bank under 2 years old have iron deficiency anemia and reports that malnutrition and stunting in children under 5 are “not improving” and could actually be worsening. Palestinians often lack clean water. They are crammed into unsanitary hovels. They do not have access to basic medical care. They are stateless and lack passports or travel documents. They live with massive unemployment. They are daily dehumanized in racist diatribes by their occupiers as criminals, terrorists and mortal enemies of the Jewish people.

“A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said recently of the Palestinians. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.”

Ayelet Shaked, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, on her Facebook page June 30 posted an article written 12 years ago by the late Uri Elitzur, a leader in the settler movement and a onetime adviser to Netanyahu, saying the essay is as “relevant today as it was then.” The article said in part: “They [the Palestinians] are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

The belief that a race or class is contaminated is used by ruling elites to justify quarantining the people of that group. But quarantine is only the first step. The despised group can never be redeemed or cured—Hannah Arendt noted that all racists see such contamination as something that can never be eradicated. The fear of the other is stoked by racist leaders such as Netanyahu to create a permanent instability. This instability is exploited by a corrupt power elite that is also seeking the destruction of democratic civil society for all citizens—the goal of the Israeli government (as well as the goal of a U.S. government intent on stripping its own citizens of rights). Max Blumenthal in his book “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” does a masterful job of capturing and dissecting this frightening devolution within Israel.

The last time Israel mounted a Gaza military assault as severe as the current series of attacks was in 2008, with Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from Dec. 27 of that year to Jan. 18, 2009. That attack saw 1,455 Palestinians killed, including 333 children. Roughly 5,000 more Palestinians were injured. A new major ground incursion, which would be designed to punish the Palestinians with even greater ferocity, would cause a far bigger death toll than Operation Cast Lead did. The cycle of escalating violence, this “destructive process,” as the history of the conflict has illustrated, would continue at an accelerating rate.

The late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, one of Israel’s most brilliant scholars, warned that, followed to its logical conclusion, the occupation of the Palestinians would mean “concentration camps would be erected by the Israeli rulers” and “Israel would not deserve to exist, and it will not be worthwhile to preserve it.” He feared the ascendancy of right-wing, religious Jewish nationalists and warned that “religious nationalism is to religion what National Socialism was to socialism.” Leibowitz laid out what occupation would finally bring for Israel:

The Arabs would be the working people and the Jews the administrators, inspectors, officials, and police— mainly secret police. A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions. The corruption characteristic of every colonial regime would also prevail in the State of Israel. The administration would suppress Arab insurgency on the one hand and acquire Arab Quislings on the other. There is also good reason to fear that the Israel Defense Force, which has been until now a people’s army, would, as a result of being transformed into an army of occupation, degenerate, and its commanders, who will have become military governors, resemble their colleagues in other nations.

Israel is currently attacking a population of 1.8 million that has no army, no navy, no air force, no mechanized military units, no command and control and no heavy artillery. Israel pretends that this indiscriminate slaughter is a war. But only the most self-deluded supporter of Israel is fooled. The rockets fired at Israel by Hamas—which is committing a war crime by launching those missiles against the Israeli population—are not remotely comparable to the 1,000-pound iron fragmentation bombs that have been dropped in large numbers on crowded Palestinian neighborhoods; the forced removal of some 300,000 Palestinians from their homes; the more than 160 reported dead—the U.N. estimates that 77 percent of those killed in Gaza have been civilians; the destruction of the basic infrastructure; the growing food and water shortages; and the massing of military forces for a possible major ground assault.

When all this does not work, when it becomes clear that the Palestinians once again have not become dormant and passive, Israel will take another step, more radical than the last. The “process of destruction” will be stopped only from outside Israel. Israel, captive to the process, is incapable of imposing self-restraint.

A mass movement demanding boycotts, divestment and sanctions is the only hope now for the Palestinian people. Such a movement must work for imposition of an arms embargo on Israel; this is especially important for Americans because weapons systems and attack aircraft provided by the U.S. are being used to carry out the assault. It must press within the United States for a cutoff of the $3.1 billion in military aid that the U.S. gives to Israel each year. It must organize to demand suspension of all free trade and other agreements between the U.S. and Israel. Only when these props are knocked out from under Israel will the Israeli leadership be forced, as was the apartheid regime in South Africa, to halt its “destructive process.” As long as these props remain, the Palestinians are doomed. If we fail to act we are complicit in the slaughter.

Read more

Homeless America

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

PORTLAND, Ore.—It is 8 a.m. I am in the small offices of Street Roots, a weekly newspaper that prints 10,000 copies per edition. Those who sell the newspaper on the streets—all of them victims of extreme poverty and half of them homeless—have gathered before heading out with their bundles to spend hours in the cold and rain.

“There is foot care on Mondays starting at 8 a.m. with the nurses,” Cole Merkel, the director of the vendor program, shouts above the chatter. “If you need to get your feet taken care of, come in for the nurses’ foot care. Just a really quick shout-out and thank you to Leo and Nettie Johnson, who called up to City Hall this week to testify about the criminalization of homelessness to City Council and the mayor. Super awesome.”

The men and women, most middle-aged or elderly, sit on folding chairs that hug the walls. They are wrapped in layers of worn and tattered clothing. Some cradle small dogs. Others cup their hands around disposable coffee cups and take small sips. The weekly newspaper was founded in 1998. It focuses on issues surrounding social and environmental justice as well as homelessness. It also reprints poems and artwork by the 180 vendors, who buy the paper for 25 cents a copy and sell it for a dollar.

On the walls there are poignant reminders of the lives these people lead, including posters of missing men and women, notices about where to find free food or clothing, and scattered one-page obituaries of those who died recently, many discovered in parks or on sidewalks. The average age at death for a man is 51 and for a woman 43. Nearly half succumb to alcohol or drugs, 28 percent are hit by vehicles and 9 percent commit suicide. Life expectancy plummets once you become homeless. From 50 to 80 homeless people die on the streets of Portland every year, and many more in its hospitals.

“Monica needs a kidney,” reads one handwritten sign.

“Missing: Robert Gary Maricelli, not seen since Feb. 10, 11:00 pm,” reads another. Maricelli, 22, was last sighted near the Steel Bridge in Portland.

These men and women, and increasingly children, are the collateral damage of the corporate state, their dignity and lives destroyed by the massive transference of wealth upward, deindustrialization and the slashing of federal investment in affordable housing begun during the Reagan administration. The lack of stable jobs that pay a living wage in the gig and temp economy, the collapse of mental health and medical services for the poor, and gentrification are turning America into a living hell for hundreds of thousands of its citizens. And this is just the start.

Though federal estimates put the nation’s homeless number at 554,000, most cities—including Portland, which officially has about 4,000 people without shelter—estimate the homeless, notoriously hard to count, to be at least three times higher. Portland schools, like most public schools throughout the country, are seeing growing homelessness among their students—1,522 children in the Beaverton School District, or 4 percent of the total enrollment, and 1,509 in the Portland Public Schools, or 3 percent of total enrollment. The problem extends to many of Oregon’s smallest towns. In Butte Falls (population 429 in 2010) in Jackson County, there are 56 homeless students, or 30 percent of the district’s total enrollment. Many homeless students, because they often drift from one temporary space to another, never appear in the official statistics.

As we barrel toward another economic collapse, the suffering endured by those on the streets will become ever more familiar, especially with the corporate state intent on further reducing or eliminating social services in the name of austerity. Nothing will halt the downward spiral other than sustained civil disobedience. The two ruling political parties are wedded to an economic system that serves the corporate rich and punishes and criminalizes the poor and the working poor. Over half the country is probably only a few paychecks away from being on the streets.

This gritty section of Portland was once known as Nihonmachi or Japantown. The Street Roots newspaper is housed in the former Chitose Laundry. Across the street is the old Oshu Nippo News, the Japanese-language daily newspaper that was raided by the FBI on Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. It was shut down and its staff arrested. The neighborhood’s Japanese population was rounded up, stripped of all possessions and placed in concentration camps, part of the 120,000 Japanese-Americans, most from California and the Northwest, who were interned during the war. People who were only one-sixteenth Japanese were arrested. Sixty-two percent of those displaced by the internment order were U.S. citizens. There were no credible reports of them being a security risk. It was a policy grounded in racism.

The Japanese community in Portland never resurrected itself after the war. The past crimes of the state merge, in the eyes of Kaia Sand, the executive director of Street Roots, with the present ones.

“Those families were rendered homeless and incarcerated by order of the federal government,” she says. “Their possessions were reduced to what fit in suitcases. Now, on these same streets, people also carry their bags and their sorrows without a home.”

Charles McPherson, 34, stands looking at the collection of recent obituaries posted on the wall near the front door. He was about 2 when his father died. In his senior year in high school he was taken hostage by an escaped convict and held for 12 hours during a standoff with police. He never went back to school.

“PTSD,” he says of his dropping out of school. “I could not be in crowds.”

He drifted from one short-term job to another. He lived for two years in an RV. He filed countless requests for housing but was turned down. By 2014 he was homeless.

I ask him what he finds hardest about being homeless.

“Not being able to get ahead,” he says. “Just barely keeping from losing everything we’ve got.”

Throughout the day I hear a lot about “losing everything.” Small piles of possessions, along with tents or tarps, precious to the homeless and very hard to procure, are confiscated during police sweeps. The victims find themselves standing in the rain in the middle of the night with nothing. The confiscated possessions are supposed to be stored by two subcontractors, Pacific Patrol Services and Rapid Response Bio Clean, for 30 days, but many on the streets say they never see their belongings again.

Leo Rhodes, 53, a Pima Indian, grew up in poverty on the Gila River Indian reservation south of Phoenix. He joined the Army when he was 19. When he returned from the Army after three years he started abusing drugs and alcohol. He has been homeless, on and off, for 30 years. He has also been one of the most effective advocates for the homeless in Seattle and Portland. He helped found and organize the governance of two tent cities and a rest area in Portland where the homeless can sleep in 12-hour shifts in a safe environment called Right to Dream Too. He keeps notebooks full of his poetry. He divides the world into the “homeless and the non-homeless.”

He hands me one of his poems, published in Street Roots, titled “Being Human?” It reads:

I am the voice you never hear
If I spoke would you listen?
   I am the ugly duckling
Visible in your pretty little world
   I am the criminal when I sleep
   I am the nuisance
Trying to keep dry out of the rain
   I am the homeless person
Looking for dignity and a safe secure place</blockquote>

“The problem is that when you get a job and they find out you are homeless they fire you,” he says. “It does not matter if you are sober and a hard worker. As soon as your co-workers know you are homeless or formerly homeless they put this stigma on you. They think you are a drunk, a druggie, a criminal or mentally ill and can’t be trusted.”

The stress of living on the streets takes a toll on mental health and often pushes those who already have mental health issues over the edge.

“When you’re outside, any little noise, it is a real threat,” says Dan Newth, an Army veteran who says he tried to commit suicide in January 2015 by overdosing on prescription pills. “I’ve been kicked in the head when I was asleep. I’ve woken up to a beating from people I didn’t know. They’re just doing it because they see a homeless person there on the sidewalk. We try to hide when we sleep, get out of the way. I got my tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, and a pillow. It’s critical. When I don’t sleep for two days, I see things that aren’t there. I hear things that nobody said. And they’re negative. My hallucinations become very negative. Anybody who doesn’t sleep for a number of days is going to hallucinate. When you see someone on the street and they’re going off for no reason, they’re not getting enough sleep. They’ve dealt with so much negativity. It can be a look. Saying hello to somebody and you’re ignored. All this stuff adds up. You blame yourself. Subconsciously, you start hating yourself. Even though you are trying to think, you start blaming things in every direction. You will react to people who aren’t necessarily there to hurt you. But you feel everybody is. It’s overwhelming.”

“You jump all these hoops,” he says of the city’s social services. “And then they exclude you and you don’t know why. They don’t let you get into housing. You never know why. You just get frustrated. Portland needs another MSW [master of social work] like they need another panhandler. The money goes to the salaried people. They keep making their money. And they will use up a homeless person’s energy, jumping through the hoops, going to meetings with this person, going to that meeting, all this stuff. We’re exhausted most of the time. At the end, you’re still homeless. In some ways, MSWs are like vampires. I don’t like the way the system is set up. I avoid it. I sleep outside. I sell Street Roots. I meet my needs the best I can.”

Jasmine Rosado, 39, works periodically as a stripper. She is currently in subsidized housing, where she pays $530 a month for a studio apartment. Her only child, a 24-year-old son, Darius, is in the Army in Syria. She has not seen him in over four years. When she mentions his name her eyes well up.

“It’s been very hard on me,” she admits. “I love him a lot. There’s nothing we can do. He’s in God’s hands.”

She studied music and dance at the University of Oregon and plays the violin and cello. Her instruments are in storage.

“The strip club owners are very tight knit,” she said of her employers. “If they have a problem with a girl, they will call around and you won’t get a job anywhere.”

Art Garcia, 71, sits holding his 5-pound dog on his lap.

“Migo,” he says when I ask the dog’s name. “Like Amigo without the A. It’s a Chihuahua. I’ve had Migo for four years. I got him when he was a little over 9 months old from the shelter. My best friend. This guy has really helped me a lot. I have anxiety disorder. Around a lot of people I can’t breathe. He calms me down a lot. He helps a lot. Sometimes he’ll wake me up at night if I have an attack or something. In my sleep, my breathing changes.”

Garcia was raised in an abusive home and later an orphanage. When he graduated from high school in 1966 he joined the Marine Corps and was sent to Vietnam. He was 19. He fought at Da Nang during the Tet Offensive.

“People were dying all around us,” he says. “It was like a movie. Getting blown up. Killed our own man in the bathroom who was hiding in there. We didn’t know who it was. The lieutenant yelled, ‘If you’re an American come out.’ He was scared. He took his chances and hid in there. We just leveled it. Shot. Killed our own man.”

“I was as scared as I’d ever been,” he says of the war. “All these people shooting at you. That’s when I started my drug habit. You didn’t know if you were going to live or die. Heroin. At first, I was taking speed. We worked seven days a week. Got no days off. Couldn’t stay awake. Got some liquid speed, the guy said, ‘Here take this, it will keep you awake.’ It got us all wired to stay awake. But then you couldn’t go to sleep. So, I got heroin to go to sleep. But after you use that you get all strung out.”

He returned from the war a heroin addict with no home. He slipped in and out of homelessness and was often in prison. He worked odd jobs in construction. He has been clean for a decade and is on methadone. He self-published two books. The one about the war is called “Sitting on the Edge.” The one about returning home as an addict is called “Falling Off the Edge.”

“I missed 10 Christmases in a row for going to prison,” he says. “Going for three years, getting out for a month, going back. Being out for a couple of weeks, going back. Selling drugs. Robbing people for drugs. All drug-related. I spent a lot of years in there. I was on parole for a lot of years. I went to fire camp in California. During a fire, we’d make $1 an hour. That was really good.”

In 2012 Garcia received a monetary settlement from a class-action lawsuit stemming from the military’s use of Agent Orange, which damaged his heart and mobility. He gave Street Roots a $10,000 check and used the rest of the money to find a place to live and help out relatives.

Rhodes takes me around the city. He laconically remembers being beaten in parks, forced off street corners and wakened in the middle of the night by police and told to move.

“You want to know what it is like to be homeless?” he asks. “Set your alarm clock to go off every two hours, pick up everything around you and walk for a few blocks to find another place to sleep.”

“We used to sleep on that loading dock,” he says, pointing to a warehouse. “Then the owners started turning on the sprinklers at 3 a.m. We got soaked. We would walk the streets in our wet clothes carrying our wet things.”

Rhodes said that even when homeless people find a place to live inside it is often difficult to sever themselves from the community of other homeless people.

“I have voluntarily gone back out on the street a few times,” he says. “I missed my friends, the good times, the bad times. You feel guilty for leaving them behind. And I am a homeless advocate. These are my people.”

He is carrying a child’s umbrella with a wooden handle shaped like a duck’s head. In 2009 he was in the rain trying to sell Street Roots outside a Panera Bread restaurant when a passerby handed it to him. He calls it Ducky.

“It’s like my security blanket,” he says. “Ducky has been everywhere with me, in the heat, the rain, the freezing cold. He’s been with me when the rent-a-cops threw us out of doorways where we were sleeping. I say to Ducky, ‘Don’t worry, one day we will have a place. One day we’ll be inside.’ When you are homeless, when you are abandoned, you need something like Ducky. It is why you will see homeless people with dolls or pets. And it’s why they talk to them. It helps us deal with the negativity, all those in society who shun us.”

Rhodes, affable and articulate, regales me with tales of life on the street, the repeated and exhausting efforts to create small communities and the sudden “sweeps” by the police that shatter them.

“I was in a tent city, it was our second move,” he says. “It was right next to a freeway. Traffic was always going by. People honking their horn even at nighttime. Diesels going by. It took us literally three days to acclimate ourselves to that loud noise. You know who was sleeping there because they all had big puffy eyes. Couldn’t sleep because of the noise. But after three days we started sleeping really well. The next place we went to, it was quiet. The only noise there was just a rooster or crow. Every two hours. When we went to the first place, people said, ‘Man, I can’t sleep here, it’s too noisy.’ Then they settle down. At the next place they said, ‘Man, I can’t sleep here, it’s too quiet. I gotta have some noise!’ ”

He laughs.

In his poem “Excuse Me if I Don’t Cry” he writes:

Excuse me if I don’t cry
I’m putting on my game face
The world is big
And they don’t understand
So, I will fight till the world understands
Or till I’m too tired to fight
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Until then
Excuse me if I don’t cry
I’m putting on my game face
&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Rest in Peace
My brothers and sisters

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Lynching the Past

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

JONESBORO, Ga.—I boarded the Gone With the Wind Tour bus outside the train depot built in 1867 to replace the depot burned during the Civil War. The building now houses the Road to Tara Museum. It has displays of “Gone With the Wind” movie memorabilia including dolls of Mammy, played in the film by Hattie McDaniel, and the pantalettes and green hat worn by Vivien Leigh, who played Scarlett O’Hara.

Rick, the bus driver, switched on the audio track, written and narrated by a local historian, Peter Bonner. We listened to the familiar story of the noble South and its “Lost Cause.” We heard about the courage of the Confederate soldiers in Jonesboro who fought gallantly on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 1864, in a failed effort to block the Union Army from entering Atlanta. We were told of the gentility and charm of the Southern belles. We learned that the war was fought not to protect the institution of slavery but the sanctity of states’ rights. Finally, we were assured that the faithful slaves, the “mammies,” “aunties” and “uncles,” loved their white owners, were loved in return and did not welcome emancipation.

That this myth persists and perhaps has grown as the country polarizes, often along racial lines, means that whole segments of the American population can no longer communicate. Once myth replaces history there is no way to have a rational discussion rooted in verifiable fact. Myth allows people to deny who they are and the crimes they committed and continue to commit. It is only by confronting the past that we can end the perpetuation of these crimes in other forms.

When loyalty to the tribe is more important that truth, fact or justice—a tribalism on display in the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh—an open society is extinguished. Reparations for African-Americans are not only just, they are the only way we as a nation, as with Germany’s reparations to the Jews, can build a shared history based on truth, atone for the crimes of the nation and reverse the legacies of white supremacy. The Southern cause, as Ulysses S. Grant wrote in his laconic memoirs, was “one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

David Blight in “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory” documents that in the decades after the war whites in the South and the North furiously rewrote the history of the conflict. “As long as we have a politics of race in America, we will have a politics of Civil War memory,” Blight notes. The root cause of the war, the need to emancipate 4 million people held in slavery, was erased, he said, and replaced with the “denigration of black dignity and the attempted erasure of emancipation from the national narrative of what the war was about.” As W.E.B. Du Bois lamented in his book “Black Reconstruction,” which looked at the brief postwar period, from 1865 to 1877, when African-Americans were given some political space in the South to resurrect their lives, “little effort [was] made to preserve the records of Negro effort and speeches, action, work and wages, homes and families. Nearly all of this has gone down beneath a mass of ridicule and caricature, deliberate omission and misstatement.”

The Civil War, as portrayed in novels and films such as “Gone With the Wind,” histories such as “The Civil War” by Shelby Foote and television programs such as Ken Burns’ documentary series on the conflict, is usually reduced to stories about the heroic self-sacrifice and courage exhibited by the soldiers from the North and the South who fought as brother against brother. The gruesome suffering, widespread looting and rape and senseless slaughter are romanticized. (For every three soldiers who died on a battlefield, five more died of disease, and, overall, 620,000 Americans, 2 percent of the country’s population, perished in the war.) Meanwhile, the far more important struggle, the struggle of black people to rise from bondage to be free, is effectively eclipsed in these narratives of white self-pity and self-exaltation.

“Gone With the Wind,” the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell, has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and, according to one survey, is the second favorite book among Americans, after the Bible. The 1939 film version of the book is the highest-grossing movie ever, in inflation-adjusted dollars. The book and film are unapologetic celebrations of historical myth, historical erasure and white supremacy.

The Lost Cause romance and veneration of Confederate military leaders has a powerful hold on white imaginations, especially among those for whom economic and political marginalization is becoming more pronounced. The myth of the Confederacy resembles the retreat into a fictional past I saw in Yugoslavia during the Bosnian War, an ethnic conflict that lasted from 1992 to 1995. That retreat gave Yugoslavs—whether Serb, Muslim or Croat—who had been cast aside by economic collapse and a failed political system manufactured identities that were rooted in a mythologized past of glory, moral superiority and nobility. It allowed them to worship their own supposedly unique and innate virtues. These fantasies of an idealized past were accompanied by the demonization of opposing ethnicities, a demonization used by demagogues to fuel the hatred and violence that led to a savage war.

“He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country,” White House chief of staff and former Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly said last year of the Confederate military commander, Robert E. Lee, a slave owner. “It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today.” Kelly blamed the Civil War on “the lack of an ability to compromise,” adding that “men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

During my bus ride in Georgia, a woman on the audio guide impersonated Scarlett O’Hara as music from the 1939 movie played in the background: “Now y’all sit back and enjoy this journey back into a time of cavaliers, ladies fair, and cotton fields—called the Old South,”

The theme of the tour could be summed up as “&nbsp;’Gone With the Wind’ accurately portrays life in the South during and after the Civil War.” Over and over, incidents and characters in the novel and film were related to actual events and people. Nowhere was this more pernicious than in the portrayals of black men and women who were enslaved.

“I learned that a black servant 144 years ago so loved her ‘masters’ that she requested to be buried in their family plot. … And when I learned that her masters willingly allowed such a burial request, I had to conclude that there must have been a greater bond, perhaps a loving bond of slave for master, and master for slave,” Bonner writes in his thin book “Lost in Yesterday,” which is sold in the Road to Tara Museum. “The unique and often misunderstood relationship has been presented throughout fiction and the entertainment media, in my opinion, in a multitude of unfair portrayals.”

Bonner goes on to argue that the slaves in the book and the film—Mammy, Pork, Prissy and Big Sam—all supporters of the Confederacy and loyal to the O’Hara family, represent a true picture of many, maybe most, blacks in the antebellum South. He cites the small headstone at the feet of Philip and Eleanor Fitzgerald in the local cemetery that reads “Grace, Negro servant of the Fitzgeralds” and insists “that Grace was honored as a family member.”

That Grace was given no last name on the stone and was buried, like a pet, at the feet of those who owned her seems to escape Bonner. Did Grace have a family? A mother? A father? Brothers? Sisters? Grandparents? Aunts? Uncles? Cousins? A husband? Children of her own? Or had they been sold by her beloved owners?

We stopped outside the 1839 Stately Oaks plantation house, which originally sat on 404 acres before being moved into the city. It is now part of the Margaret Mitchell Memorial Park. The mansion hosts white re-enactors in period costumes, including Confederate uniforms, the equivalent of re-enactors dressed in SS uniforms giving cheery tours of Auschwitz.

In squalid, overcrowded shacks outside Stately Oaks, children were born, lived and died enslaved. They spent a lifetime engaged in hard labor, misery and poverty. They watched in agony as mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers were sold off, never to be seen again. They lived in constant fear and humiliation. They were beaten, chained, whipped, castrated and sometimes shot or hanged. The male slave masters routinely raped black girls and women, sometimes in front of their families, and often sold their mixed-race children.

“Like the patriarchs of old,” Mary Chesnut, a white South Carolinian, confided in her diary in March 1861, “our men live all in one house with their wives and concubines; and the mulattoes one sees in every family partly resemble the white children. Any lady is ready to tell you who is the father of all the mulatto children in everybody’s household but her own. Those, she seems to think, drop from the clouds.”

The Southern tradition, as James Baldwin pointed out, “is not a tradition at all.” It is “a legend which contains an accusation. And that accusation, stated far more simply than it should be, is that the North, in winning the war, left the South only one means of asserting its identity and that means was the Negro.”

The ability to disregard the horror of slavery, to physically erase its reality, and to build in its place a white fantasy of goodness, courage and virtue speaks to the deep sickness within American society. Most Confederate monuments were erected  under the leadership of the Daughters of the Confederacy between 1890 and 1920, a time when the terror of lynching by the Ku Klux Klan was at its peak. These statues were designed to romanticize white supremacy and divide blacks into good and bad “negros.” There are no statues to Reconstruction governors and senators or black political leaders, not to mention the leaders of slave revolts such as Nat Turner or Denmark Vesey. The few Confederate generals, such as James Longstreet, who supported black rights after the war are not memorialized, nor are the 186,000 black soldiers—134,111 conscripted from slave states—who served in the Union Army. The historian James Loewen calls the South “a landscape of denial.”

“Public monuments,” the historian Eric Foner writes, “are built by those with sufficient power to determine which parts of history are worth commemorating and what vision of history ought to be conveyed.”

One of the most outrageous public celebrations of white supremacy is Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta. Carved in the gray stone are massive figures of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The Confederate leaders, all mounted on horses, hold their hats over their hearts. The carving covers more than 1.5 acres of rock face and rises 400 feet. It is the largest bas-relief in the world. It is also the most visited site in Georgia.

William Faulkner published “Absalom, Absalom,” his searing condemnation of slavery and the Old South the same year Mitchell published “Gone With the Wind.” The hate-filled slave owner and Confederate veteran Thomas Sutpen in Faulkner’s novel, unlike the characters in “Gone With the Wind,” is “demonic evil.” Sutpen, who engages in miscegenation, buys his slaves “with the same care and shrewdness with which he chose the other livestock—the horses and mules and cattle.” Faulkner understood “the past is never dead. It’s not even past,” that it is subject to constant revision by those seeking to justify and hide their crimes. He warned that the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves lead to moral squalor and self-destruction.

The tour bus stopped at Patrick Cleburne Memorial Cemetery, which holds the remains of some 1,000 Confederate soldiers who died in the Battle of Jonesboro. Most are unidentified. The walkway is laid out in the shape of a Confederate flag. A Confederate flag flies at the entrance.

“In 1872, the state of Georgia pays Stephen Cars, a local cabinetmaker, to rebury the Southern soldiers’ remains and place them in the Patrick Cleburne Memorial Cemetery here,” the audio recording said. “Mr. Cars did not bury over a thousand soldiers by himself. Mr. Cars had a slave named Tom who left with a Yankee captain after the Battle of Jonesboro. When the war was over, Tom returned to Mr. Cars’ house asking for his job back. It was in 1872 that Tom and Mr. Stephen Cars reburied the Confederate soldiers in this cemetery. I told this story to the state of Georgia building authority years ago, they oversee the cemetery, and they remarked that Tom was very similar to the O’Hara slave Big Sam.”

The bus paused in front of a 10-room green house built in 1880 that once belonged to the president of Middle Georgia College.

“Under Reconstruction, five Southerners were not allowed to meet together without a federal marshal present,” Bonner said on the audio guide. “In ‘Gone With the Wind,’ meetings were held in secret. In Jonesboro, there were those secret meetings that dealt with the issues the town had to deal with, including the violence in shantytown. Shantytown was a real location in Jonesboro and many other cities that had a large population of former slaves who are without a job or a home. When this house was being restored in 1995, it was found to have a secret room in the attic, believed to have been used for those secret meetings. There was also a ladder in the wall leading to the cellar. In the cellar, people believed they had found a tunnel. However, upon further research, they found out it was not a tunnel but a bomb shelter where the city fathers planned to store the county records if and when they got back to war” (meaning if and when they resumed the fight against the Union).

It is a safe bet that this house was also a meeting place for the heavily armed goons of the Ku Klux Klan, who rode four abreast at night through the Jonesboro streets to terrorize the blacks in “shantytown.” Over 4,000 people were lynched between the end of the Civil War and World War II in the United States. Georgia had the second highest number of lynchings, with 589. Only Mississippi, with 654 murders, had more.

Lynching was a popular public spectacle in Georgia that could last for hours and included sadistic torture and mutilation. Children were let out of school and workers were given the day off to witness the events. When Sam Hose, who had thrown his ax at a white man and killed him after the man pulled a gun on him, was lynched on April 23, 1899, near Newman, Ga., 1,000 people attended. Many arrived on a special excursion train from Atlanta. Hose was stripped and chained to a tree. His executioners stacked kerosene-soaked logs around him. They cut off Hose’s ears, fingers and genitals. They flayed his face. Members of the crowd thrust knives into him. The logs were lit.

“The only sounds that came from the victim’s lips, even as his blood sizzled in the fire, were ‘Oh, my God! Oh, Jesus,’ ” writes Leon Litwack in “Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow.” “Before Hose’s body had even cooled, his heart and liver were removed and cut into several pieces and his bones were crushed into small particles. The crowd fought over these souvenirs, and the ‘more fortunate possessors’ made some handsome profits on the sales. (Small pieces of bone went for 25 cents, a piece of liver ‘crisply cooked’ sold for 10 cents.) Shortly after the lynching, one of the participants reportedly left for the state capital, hoping to deliver to the governor of Georgia a slice of Sam Hose’s heart.”

On the trunk of a tree near the lynching, a placard read: “We Must Protect Our Southern Women.”

In May of 1918, Mary Turner, eight months pregnant, publicly denounced the lynching of her husband, Hazel “Hayes” Turner, who had been murdered the day before. She threatened to take those who lynched him to court. A mob of several hundred in Valdosta, Ga., hunted her down. They tied the pregnant woman’s ankles together and hung her upside down from a tree. They doused her clothes with gasoline and set her on fire. Someone used a hog-butchering knife to rip open her womb. Her baby fell the ground and cried briefly. A member of the mob crushed the infant’s head under the heel of his boot. Hundreds of rounds were shot into her body. The Associated Press reported that Mary Turner had made “unwise remarks” about the lynching of her husband “and the people, in their indignation, took exceptions to her remarks, as well as her attitude.”

In commenting in 1894 on lynchings, the crusading editor and activist Ida B. Wells said, “[O]ur American Christians are too busy saving the souls of white Christians from burning in hell-fire to save the lives of black ones from present burning in fires kindled by white Christians.”

James Baldwin, in the second half of the 20th century, repeatedly warned white Americans that their relentless refusal to honestly confront their past, and themselves, would lead to grotesque distortions of the sort that decades later we see embodied in Donald Trump. There is a severe cost, he wrote, for a life lived as a lie.

“People pay for what they do, and, still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become,” Baldwin wrote. “And they pay for it very simply by the lives they lead. The crucial thing, here, is that the sum of these individual abdications menaces life all over the world. For, in the generality, as social and moral and political and sexual entities, white Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any color, to be found in the world today.”

The first recorded lynching in Georgia took place near Jonesboro in 1880. We have only the name of the victim, Milly Thompson. No one knows if Thompson was male or female. There is no record of Thompson committing a crime. But I suspect that, as in the cases of most lynching victims, the crime Thompson committed was the crime of freedom. If you were black, in this land of gallant cavaliers and Southern belles, and you objected to being human chattel and to enforced deference and submission to whites, they killed you.

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American Anomie

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

The French sociologist Emile Durkheim in his classic book “On Suicide” examined the disintegration of social bonds that drive individuals and societies to personal and collective acts of self-destruction. He found that when social bonds are strong, individuals achieve a healthy balance between individual initiative and communal solidarity, which he called a “life-sustaining equilibrium.” These individuals and communities have the lowest rates of suicide. The individuals and societies most susceptible to self-destruction, he wrote, are those for whom these bonds, this equilibrium, have been shattered.

Societies are held together by a web of social bonds that give individuals a sense of being part of a collective and engaged in a project larger than the self. This collective expresses itself through rituals, such as elections and democratic participation or an appeal to patriotism, and shared national beliefs. The bonds provide meaning, a sense of purpose, status and dignity. They offer psychological protection from impending mortality and the meaninglessness that comes with being isolated and alone. The shattering of these bonds plunges individuals into deep psychological distress that leads ultimately to acts of self-annihilation. Durkheim called this state of hopelessness and despair anomie, which he defined as “ruleless-ness.”

Ruleless-ness means the norms that govern a society and create a sense of organic solidarity no longer function. The belief, for example, that if we work hard, obey the law and get a good education we can achieve stable employment, social status and mobility along with financial security becomes a lie. The old rules, imperfect and often untrue for poor people of color, nevertheless were not a complete fiction in the United States. They offered some Americans—especially those from the white working and middle class—modest social and economic advancement.

But the capture of political and economic power by the corporate elites, along with the redirecting of all institutions toward the further consolidation of their power and wealth, has broken the social bonds that held the American society together. This rupture has unleashed a widespread malaise Durkheim would have recognized.

“When society is strongly integrated,” he wrote, “it keeps individuals in a state of dependency, holding them to be in its service and consequently not permitting them to dispose of themselves as they wish. Society is thus opposed to them escaping from their obligations towards it through death. … The bond that attaches them to their common purpose attaches them to life; and, in any case, the high goal towards which their gaze is turned alleviates the suffering that they feel from life’s troubles. Finally, in a coherent and vital community, there is a continual exchange of ideas and feelings from all to each and from each to all which is like mutual moral support, so that the individual, instead of being reduced to his resources only, participates in the collective energy and draws on it when his own is exhausted.”

The reconfiguring of American society into an oligarchy and the collapse of our democratic institutions have left most of the population disempowered. The elites, predatory by nature, have discarded all restraint. “The state of disorganization, or anomie, is thus reinforced by the fact that passions are less disciplined at the very time when they need stronger discipline,” Durkheim noted of the avarice of the rich.

“It is not for nothing that so many religions have celebrated the benefits and the moral value of poverty,” Durkheim wrote. “This is because, of all schools, it is the one that best teaches man to restrain himself. By obliging us to exercise constant discipline over ourselves, it prepares us to accept collective discipline with docility, while wealth, by exalting the individual, constantly risks awakening the spirit of rebellion that is the very fount of immortality.”

The political process, as the research by professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page underscores, no longer advances the interests of the average citizen. It has turned the consent of the governed into a cruel joke. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” This facade of democratic process eviscerates one of the primary social bonds in a democratic state and abolishes the vital shared belief that citizens have the power to govern themselves, that government exists to promote and protect their rights and interests.

The economic structures, like the political structures, have been reconfigured to mock the belief in a meritocracy and that hard work leads to a productive and valued role in society. American productivity, as The New York Times pointed out, has increased 77 percent since 1973 but hourly pay has grown only 12 percent. If the federal minimum wage was attached to productivity, the newspaper wrote, it would be more than $20 an hour now, not $7.25. Some 41.7 million workers, a third of the workforce, earn less than $12 an hour, and most of them do not have access to employer-sponsored health insurance. A decade after the 2008 financial meltdown, the Times wrote, the average middle class family’s net worth is more than $40,000 below what it was in 2007. The net worth of black families is down 40 percent, and for Latino families the figure has dropped 46 percent.

The economic disparity and political dysfunction have been exacerbated by the collapse of the judicial system, as Matt Taibbi writes in his book “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.” There is aggressive criminalization of the poor while the ruling elites are protected by high-priced lawyers and non-enforcement or rewriting of laws. Amid selective enforcement of laws in the ruleless society, the high rollers on Wall Street and in wealthy enclaves are not prosecuted for possessing and ingesting illegal drugs but the poor are thrown into prison and must forfeit all their property for being caught with small amounts of the same drugs. HSBC, the world’s seventh largest bank by total assets, after admitting to laundering $800 million for Central and South American drug cartels, was slapped with largely symbolic fines and a deferred prosecution agreement, which is the legal equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card. The poor, meanwhile, are hounded, arrested and fined for absurdly criminalized activities such as not mowing their lawns, loitering, selling loose cigarettes, carrying open containers of alcohol or “obstructing pedestrian traffic”—which means standing on a sidewalk. These fines are used to fill state and county budget shortfalls resulting from corporations and the wealthy fixing the rules to avoid paying meaningful taxes, if they pay taxes at all. This virtual tax boycott by the rich has broken yet another social bond, the idea that everyone contributes a significant portion of his or her income to make the society function.

The elites, who sacrifice nothing for society and are not held accountable for their criminal behavior, live in what Taibbi calls a “stateless archipelago.” They are empowered to pillage the nation, amass obscene wealth and wield unchecked political and legal control. The result has been the obliteration of the primary social bonds that, however biased in favor of the white majority, held the nation together.

The shattering of these bonds has left tens of millions of Americans adrift. Society, Durkheim wrote, is no longer “sufficiently present for individuals.” Those cast aside can participate in the society, as Durkheim wrote, only “through sadness.” The self-destructive pathologies that plague the United States—opioid addiction, morbid obesity, gambling, suicide, sexual sadism, hate groups and mass shootings—rise out of this anomie. My new book, “America: The Farewell Tour,” is an examination of these pathologies and the anomie that fuels these self-destructive behaviors.

Durkheim noted that the poor have lower rates of suicide. The poor know the rules are rigged against them. James Baldwin made much the same point when he wrote that African-American men are less prone to a midlife crisis than white men because they are less susceptible to the myth of the American Dream. Most African-Americans learn very early in life that there are two sets of rules. But white Americans, because of white supremacy, are more susceptible to the myth, and therefore more infuriated when that myth is exposed as a con. This, I suspect, is why nearly all mass shooters and members of right-wing hate groups, along with a majority of supporters of Donald Trump, are white men.

Capitalism, Durkheim wrote, is antithetical to creating and sustaining the relationships that are vital to social bonds. Capitalism rewards those for whom relationships are transactional and temporary. Relationships under capitalism are mercenary. They are part of the scheme for personal self-advancement and require the oily manipulation of others. To advance in a capitalist system it is necessary to build and then discard a series of ultimately hollow relationships. These empty relationships—and you can see them on display at any business gathering—contribute to the collective anomie and disintegration of social bonds.

Capitalism may cater to a natural desire among many for self-enrichment, but you don’t want this belief system to dominate society. Capitalism rewards single-minded narcissists and often con artists devoid of empathy and incapable of remorse. It rewards those focused exclusively on personal gain and self-aggrandizement. These dedicated capitalists often lack the capacity to form meaningful bonds, seeing in other people tools for commodification and exploitation. Once a capitalist class achieves complete control, as it has in the United States, it dismantles the structures that make social bonds possible, seeing in them an impediment to profit. The more concentrated wealth becomes, as with corporate capitalism, the more damage it inflicts on society, sending jobs to overseas sweatshops and leaving American workers underemployed or unemployed.

Karl Marx saw alienation as a positive force, one that estranged workers from the means of production and moved them to question the structures of power, educate themselves about their exploitation, and revolt. But for Durkheim this alienation, or anomie, is debilitating. It is, he wrote, “a collective asthenia” that drains us of energy and will. It manifests itself in self-loathing. We may indeed understand what is happening around us, Durkheim argued, but we lack the ability to free ourselves from the despair, frustration and rage that cripple our lives.

“Our actions require an object outside of themselves,” Durkheim wrote. “It is not because we need to sustain the illusion of some impossible immortality: it is because it is implicit in our moral being and it cannot be lost, even partially, without that moral being losing its reason for existence. There is no need to demonstrate that in such a state of collapse the slightest cause for depression can easily give rise to desperate acts. When life is not worth living, everything becomes a pretext for ridding ourselves of it.”

“For individuals are too closely involved in the life of society for it to be sick without their being affected,” Durkheim added. “Its suffering inevitably becomes theirs.”

President Trump is not a product of the theft of the Podesta emails, James Comey or racism—although he and many who support him are racists—or Russian bots. Demagogues arise from failed democracies plagued by ruleless-ness and anomie. They tell an enraged population what it wants to hear and crudely, to the delight of the betrayed, ridicule the elites who sold them out.

Removing Trump from office without confronting the ruleless-ness and anomie that define the lives of tens of millions of Americans would do nothing to restore democracy. In fact, it would probably consolidate the power of a Christianized fascism that cloaks itself in a cloying piety and false morality. Vice President Mike Pence, because he is a creature of the Christian right and has ingested its protofascist ideology, would probably be worse than Trump if he gained the presidency.

The left, like most critics of Trump, personalizes our decay. It focuses myopically on Trump, who is the symptom, not the disease. It spits back the thought-terminating clichés about the Russians stealing our elections while it refuses to examine the deep wounds within the society, wounds exacerbated when the Democratic Party under Bill Clinton sold out working men and women. If we do not heal these wounds, if we do not restore the social bonds shattered by predatory corporate capitalism, when the next financial crisis arrives—and it will arrive—this collective anomie will explode. Frightening demons, harnessing these dark, self-destructive pathologies, will rise from the depths of the ruleless morass.

 * * *

See part one of Hugh Hamilton interviewing Chris Hedges about his new book, “America: The Farewell Tour” (via YouTube).

See part two of the interview in the panel below, also via YouTube.

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The Culture of Hate

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

This is an excerpt from the chapter titled “Hate” in Chris Hedges’ new book, “America: The Farewell Tour,” published by Simon & Schuster.

IT WAS A SWELTERING JULY afternoon when fifty protesters, many dressed in fatigues and wearing shirts that identified them with groups such as Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Bikers for Trump, the Alt Knights, and a militia group called American Patriot the III%, gathered in a gravel parking lot in Deposit, New York. They had come for the “Second Annual Ride for Homeland Security.” Pickup trucks, cars, and motorcycles were adorned with American flags. Deposit, a depressed rural community in upstate New York with a population of 1,577, is located at the confluence of the Oguaga Creek and the West Branch of the Delaware River near the border with Pennsylvania.

The protesters, several driving all night, planned to ride past a small community called Islamberg, an enclave of two hundred mostly black Muslims in nearby Hanover, with seventy acres of farmland and woods. The community, with its modest homes of wood and cinder blocks along dirt roads, is a punching bag for right‐wing conspiracy theorists.

The protesters milled about in the parking lot under the gaze of nearby State Police. Three counter‐protesters stood near a car and filmed the group. The event opened with a short prayer. A stocky man handed me a flyer titled, “Islam: A religion of peace?” It read:

KORAN 2:191 ‘Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them.’
KORAN 3:28 ‘Muslims must not take the infidels as friends.’
KORAN 3:85 ‘Any religion other than Islam is not acceptable.’
KORAN 5:33 ‘Maim and crucify the infidels if they criticize Islam.’
KORAN 8:12 ‘Terrorize and behead those who believe in scriptures other than the Koran.’
KORAN 8:60 ‘Muslims must muster all weapons to terrorize the infidels.’
KORAN 8:65 ‘The unbelievers are stupid; urge the Muslims to fight them.’
KORAN 9:5 ‘When opportunity arises kill the infidels wherever you find them.’
KORAN 9:30 ‘The Jews and Christians are perverts, fight them.’
KORAN 9:123 ‘Make war on the infidels living in your neighborhood.’
KORAN 22:19 ‘Punish the unbelievers with garments of fire, hooked iron rods, boiling water, melt their skin and bellies.’
KORAN 47:4 ‘Do not hanker for peace with the infidels; behead them when you catch them.'</blockquote>

There are far more calls by the God of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Book of Revelation for holy war, genocide, and savage ethnic cleansing than in the Koran, from the killing of the firstborns in Egypt to the wholesale annihilation of the Canaanites. God repeatedly demands the Israelites wage wars of annihilation against unbelievers in Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and the Book of Revelation. Everyone, including women, children, and the elderly, along with their livestock, are to be killed. Moses ordered the Israelites to carry out the “complete destruction” of all cities in the Promised Land and slaughter all the inhabitants, making sure to show “no mercy.” From Joshua’s capture of the city of Ai to King Saul’s decimation of the Amalekites—Saul methodically dismembers the Amalekite king—God sanctifies bloodbath after bloodbath. “You shall not leave alive anything that breathes,” God thunders in the Book of Joshua, “But you shall utterly destroy them.” Joshua “struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel had commanded” (Joshua 10:40, 11:15). And while the Koran urges believers to fight, it is also emphatic about showing mercy to captured enemies, something almost always scorned in the Bible, where, according to Psalm 137, those who smash the heads of Babylonian infants on the rocks are blessed. Whole books of the Bible celebrate divinely sanctioned genocide. The Koran doesn’t come close. The willful blindness by these self‐proclaimed Christian warriors about their own holy book is breathtaking.

Islamberg was founded in 1980 by African American followers of the Pakistani Sufi cleric Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani. Gilani, who lives in Pakistan, urged his followers to leave urban areas and form religious communities in rural parts of the country. There are about a dozen communities across the United States adhering to Gilani’s teachings. There is no evidence of criminal activity taking place in Islamberg according to local law enforcement.

This does not prevent Fox News and other right‐wing outlets from referring to Islamberg as the center of homegrown American jihadism. Gilani is routinely linked to the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was in Pakistan writing a story about the British national Richard Reid, known as the “shoe bomber,” and his possible links to al Qaeda. Pearl believed he was being taken to meet Gilani at a restaurant in downtown Karachi on the evening of January 23, 2002, when he was abducted. A radical Islamic group beheaded Pearl in a gruesome video nine days later. Gilani was cleared of all involvement in Pearl’s death.

The Clarion Project posted a YouTube video in 2014 titled “Guerilla Training of Women at Islamberg, Hancock, N.Y., Headquarters of Muslims of the Americas.” The video showed blurry clips of women wearing fatigues and headscarves doing marching drills along a road and scrambling through underbrush carrying assault rifles. The Christian Action Network calls Islamberg “America’s first Islamic government.” It charges that the children in the community are being groomed to be terrorists, that girls are denied an education, and those who break the community’s rules “are often tied to trees and whipped for disobeying.”

The demonization of the rural community of Muslims eventually promoted racists to act, illustrating the deadly convergence of the alt‐lite and the alt‐right. The FBI aborted a firebombing and armed assault on the community planned by Robert Doggart, a former congressional candidate from Tennessee in 2015. He was sentenced to twenty years in prison. On June 2, 2017, Johnson City police arrested Ramadan Abdullah, forty miles from Islamberg, and seized multiple pistols, assault weapons, and about ten thousand rounds of ammunition ranging from .38‐caliber to armor‐piercing incendiary rounds. Law enforcement officials did not link Abdullah with Islamberg. The Clarion Project, however, claimed Abdullah was one of the founders and that his weapons were for the “guerilla training compound.”

Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a “fight‐club ‘fraternity’ of young, white, pro‐Trump men to defend free speech rights by ‘alt‐right’ leaders and engage in street fighting,” publicized the Clarion Project’s report.

“This past month there was an arms bust in Johnson City, New York down the road from the compound,” the Proud Boys wrote. “It was later confirmed that the man in question was indeed headed to Islamberg, and the weapons were needed to ‘protect themselves’ against an upcoming ‘biker rally’ (that would be us).”

The prospect of a gun battle with radical Muslims may have discouraged supporters from attending, according to Konstantine Dee from Queens, a thirty‐two‐year‐old Proud Boy at the protest.

Still, the some three dozen people who appeared for “Second Annual Ride for Homeland Security” was an improvement over the previous year, when only five members of the American Bikers United Against Jihad showed up.

These rallies and events acculturate and groom white racists to carry out acts of violence.

Daniel Peters drove nearly four hours to join the ride past Islamberg. He works six days a week from home in New York City as a computer network manager, starting at 7:00 a.m. and sometimes not finishing until 11:00 p.m.

When Peters joined the Oath Keepers last year, it was a relief to finally “not feel alone,” he said. He called Islam “an evil cult” and denounced the prophet Muhammad as “a very bloodthirsty, sadistic killer.”

“Historically, either they kill you or you kill them,” he said.

He conceded that the Muslim population in the United States was small but noted that when the Europeans came to America they were also numerically a minority.

“Look,” he said, glancing at the State Police who flanked the road toward Islamberg. “They’re setting aside the traffic for us and everything. I feel like I’m in a Bill Clinton convoy.

“History is filled with collapses of civilizations,” he went on. “What happens in America, is the price of food will skyrocket. There’s going to be some kind of long‐term disaster. For long‐term survival after a disaster, it requires a community for security.”

He said the impending collapse was a major reason he joined Oath Keepers.

The alt‐right and militia groups say they are preparing for societal collapse. Once the electric grid goes out, they warn, it will trigger a race war. They are stockpiling food, water, supplies, weapons and ammunition to fight off the black and brown people that will flee the chaos of urban areas and roam the countryside like packs of wild animals. …

THE CONVOY OF CARS, TRUCKS, and motorcycles left the parking lot in Deposit and drove down the highway. They turned onto a dirt road that led past Islamberg. State Police were standing in front of the entrance to Islamberg. A few of the Muslims from the community filmed the vehicles as they passed. The caravan of cars and motorcycles pulled into a parking lot a few miles away. Many then drove to a house outside Binghamton where there was beer, food, and a bonfire.

I sat at a table in the barren dining room of the house, which was for sale, with the owner, Kat, who recently lost her job, and Scott Seddon, the founder of the militia group American Patriot the III%, or AP3. Its name was inspired by the belief that only 3 percent of the population actively fought the British during the American Revolution.

Seddon founded AP3 when Barack Obama took office in 2009. His initial focus was to connect survivalists for the coming collapse. But the militia soon took on a political coloring. It has expanded to multiple chapters nationwide, he said, each involved with organizing protests, training militia, and teaching survival skills to prepare for an imminent natural or man‐made calamity. He estimates AP3 currently has thirty thousand to fifty thousand members. It also provides security for right‐wing protests and rallies.

“I founded it out of fear, to be honest with you,” he said. “I saw a change starting to occur in this country that really made me scared. It started with Obama.”

He launched into an attack on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor in Chicago who delivered fiery sermons on the evils of empire and white supremacy. He called Wright “anti‐American.”

“Black Lives Matter went to the freaking White House,” he said of a July 2016 meeting at the White House with Obama. “Everybody is a victim in America today.

“The majority of antifa have that victim mentality,” he went on, referring to antifascists who advocate property destruction and violence. “There’s no excuse for them to be in rallies every other week insulting people and not holding a job. Most of these kids, 90 percent of antifa, don’t have jobs.”

Michael Mosher, a former marine who is in charge of AP3’s statewide security, joined us at the table. He had a tattoo of crossed rifles, another read “My Fight,” and a third was the 3 percenter symbol of the militia. He also had a tattoo of the head of a buck.

“They’re a bunch of immature kids,” Mosher said of antifa. “They’re disrespectful. If you don’t agree with them, they spit on people. They throw urine at people.”

“They throw bottles at people,” Seddon said.

“How do they throw urine?” I asked.

“In little balloons,” Mosher said.

“Every event I’ve been to where there has been antifa, there’s always one heavyset ethnic chick that does nothing but scream the entire time,” he went on.

“They’re paid actually,” Kat said, joining the conversation. “They have paid organizers that come and recruit these kids online from Craigslist or what‐not. They do pay them like fifteen bucks an hour to come out.”

“When we were at the rally point this morning, there was a red Cadillac across the street,” Mosher said. “An older woman was sitting in the driver’s seat. A heavyset lady was outside of the car recording. They were filming the entire time.”

He said antifa was “funded by George Soros.”

“They’re socialists,” Seddon said. “They’re communists. They’re the troubled youth of America who don’t want to work. They think the upper one percent should hand them everything.

“The antifas are supposedly reaching out to the Muslim communities as well to get their backing,” he said, “which doesn’t make sense to me. Muslims are against homosexuality.”

“A lot of antifa members are ambiguous homosexuals,” Kat said. “They’re definitely not alpha men or alpha women.”

“They’re the misfits,” Mosher said.

“They’re misguided,” Seddon said. “The patriot community, thank God, has a growing number of homosexual men and women. I’m a straight male, 110 percent. But some of our best, most patriotic men and women in America are gay. There’s definitely no discrimination against gay people. But antifa supports a group—Muslims—that thinks gay people are an abomination.”

“And we don’t,” Kat said. “We’re trying to stick up for all these people who don’t understand what they’re bringing into the country, by bringing in all these Muslim refugees who are actually just migrants bringing in Sharia law and believe that homosexuality is an abomination. They’re going to kill all of us.”

“That’s what they do in the Middle East,” Seddon said.

“The rise in terrorism across Europe and England, we don’t want that to happen here,” Seddon said. “It’s not going to be accepted if it starts. That’s why we wanted to show up today. Just to let them know we’re here. We’re aware. We’re Americans. We love our country.”

“We’re not going to give up our country the way England and London has,” Mosher said.

“I’m quite sure Europe is going to be one big Islamic state, probably in the next twenty to thirty years,” Kat said.

“Yeah,” Seddon said, “except Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe is standing their ground.”

“France, U.K., Germany, I think Finland was having a problem,” Kat said. “Sweden, they’re all having problems. Poland is going to resist. Look up the rape capitals of the world. They’re all going to be where these large immigrant populations are. And also, missing people. Look it up. It’s going to be where all these refugees are. They’re number one in the slave trade, the sex slave trade, too. I just want to protect my family. I don’t want that here.”

“I’ve spent six years in the Marine Corps,” Mosher said. “I’ve been overseas to Iraq, Afghanistan. I’ve fought them. I don’t want them here. I’ve met people who I guess you would call moderate Muslims. They were normal people. I never had any issues with them. When I went over there, it was a whole lot different—they hate us so bad.”

“Why?” I ask.

“To be honest with you, I think part of it comes from the United States getting involved in a lot of conflict overseas,” he said. “But it also is in the Koran, anybody that doesn’t follow them is supposed to be beheaded or whatever. I’ve seen their book. Their job is to kill us unless we convert to Islam.”

“They’re already inside our federal government,” Seddon said. “Homeland Security has some people who are deeply entrenched. What’s the name of the [Palestinian American] female speaker that [New York City] mayor [Bill] de Blasio loves? [Linda] Sarsour. She’s right there next to de Blasio when he makes speeches at events. She’s put up on a pedestal. Listen, in this country, Sharia law just ain’t happening. It violates our entire Constitution. We’re a free country. Anytime you start implementing a law that tells you, ‘You have to do this, you have to abide by this,’ you’re going against the Constitution of the United States.”

“Why are there so few African Americans in militias?” I asked.
“Because the left spins us as being racist bigots, when [actually] we allow anybody into the group,” Seddon said. “Like I said, we have homosexuals in the group. We have a lot of Mexicans, believe it or not. Veterans. The media spins us as racist KKK members. Listen, we accept almost anybody into AP [American Patrol]. The only people I’d scrutinize a little more, unfortunately, would be the Muslim community. And no felons.”

“Do you have any Muslims?” I asked.

“They have no interest in the group,” Seddon said.

“Our country is divided completely,” Mosher said. “Some people think it’s going to lead to a civil war or a revolutionary war. I hope it happens during my time and not my son’s.”

Mosher said about 85 percent of the militia’s members were veterans. Mosher and Seddon left the house to join the other militia members standing around the bonfire in the backyard. The light was fading.

Kat, recently divorced, lost her job in February 2017 as the cheer coach at Ithaca College. She had been there only a year. She is the mother of three boys and a girl, ages twenty‐two, twenty‐one, fourteen, and twelve.

“This [losing her job] was for my views of being a Christian Trump supporter,” she said. “That’s all it was.”

“We went on break right after the election because the school shuts down from December to January after finals,” she said. “We came back after inauguration. A couple of my girls [on the cheer team] seemed to be upset all the time. One of them was a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. The other one was of Asian descent. I’m pretty sure she was a lesbian.”

A few of the girls she coached confronted her about the pro‐Trump opinions she had posted on Facebook, including a photo she had put up after the Women’s March in Washington of a veteran woman captioned, “The real women who marched for us.”

“They were fired up, started calling me a racist,” she explained. “I said listen, I understand you’re upset about the election. I understand these things. But it is what it is. This is how democracy works. This is your president now. You can’t keep missing practices and getting up and calling me names.

“They weren’t having it,” she said. “This went on for over an hour. I was so tired. I couldn’t even talk anymore.” The verbal altercation ended when two girls stormed out of the cheerleading practice. “ ‘We’re not coming back if you’re still here,’ ” she recalled one of the girls saying.

When she was fired the next day—she received a terse email saying her contract had been terminated—her world disintegrated. She was still trying to cope from a recently dissolved marriage.

“This was my life,” she said. “This was all I ever knew. I cheered for fourteen [years] myself. And I’ve been coaching for six [years]. I was so heartbroken. I guess my life is going to be different now.  … I didn’t know what to do. … I have to figure it out.”

She was planning on moving to Ithaca after she sold the house she had shared with her ex‐husband. Now she had nowhere to go. She began spending more time on the Internet.

“I didn’t understand why these girls hated me so much.  … I’ve been crying all week about what happened at school,” she said. “I started reaching out on Facebook. Told everyone what happened. I put out publicly what happened to me at Ithaca College in a long post. I was embarrassed. I just lost my job. My career is over. My career is over! All of a sudden I started getting all these shares, ‘I’m so sorry about what happened to you.’ I heard about … the refugee crisis in Europe. People started talking to me about Islam.”

Then it hit her. One of the cheerleaders who argued with her was Muslim.

“At the time I was really not all that familiar with Islam,” she said. “I thought it was a real religion. I did not know why that Muslim girl didn’t like me … because on the news you don’t get correct information. You’re getting very one‐sided biases. On Facebook, we share real information with each other.

“A lot of us were afraid to say anything during the Obama administration because you’ll be called a racist,” she said. “Then all of a sudden, when we felt comfortable when Trump got in, I think everyone started waking up and started to be vocal, and learning more, and sharing information.”

She came to believe, after reading posts on Facebook, that Islam is “a death cult basically started by a Satan‐worshipper who came from a tribe that sacrificed children.” She was mortified. The newfound fear and need to resist gave her a mission in life. She had to help save America from Muslims.

“I feel a very big threat to our humanity now.  … I had done so much research on Islam,” she said. “I basically made it my job. … I was as passionate about cheer as I am about this patriot movement,” she said. “There’s a lot of Muslim organizations that are behind the scenes putting people in offices, just like they did in Europe. You’ve got a Muslim mayor in London.

“Obama was the Manchurian candidate, wouldn’t you agree?” she asked. “He was a plant. He was in the Muslim Brotherhood’s back pocket. He was placed there on purpose. They’re going to kill all of us.

“I got very vocal on Facebook,” she said. “I’m sharing information. Next thing I know, I went from 1,200 followers to 5,000. They’re Friending me. Basically, people are listening. They’re waking up. I’m really, really excited about it. We’re all coming out and starting to fight back. We are the resistance.

“I want to keep people safe,” she said. “I want to fight for women. Not have their genitals cut off. Not be stoned to death. Or shamed or honor‐killed.”

These sentiments, revolving around a perceived assault by Muslims, African‐Americans, Latinos, feminists, gays, liberals, and intellectuals against national identities, dominate the ideology of right‐wing hate groups.

Stefan Meyer, twenty‐five, a four‐year Marine Corps veteran, sat in a bar in Parkville, Maryland. He was a member of the Maryland Chapter of Proud Boys. He joined after the riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. He wanted to fight Black Lives Matter and antifa.

“[Freddie Gray] rammed his head into the walls of the police van so that it would look like police brutality,” he said. “He hit himself against a bolt. So he killed himself trying to frame the cops. And people started destroying my city. I was furious.”

Meyer was a commercial driver who was going through a divorce. He went to work at 4:30 in the morning and got home at 4:30 in the afternoon.

“I break my back at work for $20 an hour,” he said. “Out of the $800 a week that I make, I see maybe almost $500 of it. Which for all intents and purposes isn’t bad. But most of it is going to rent. Rent is not cheap. Rent is $1,040 for one bed, one bath. And a tiny kitchen.

“These days, I just sit at home and sleep,” he said. “That’s about it. [Being a part of the Proud Boys,] it gets me out more. I got to see the White House. I’ve never seen it before.”

Meyer said he was bullied and excluded at school.

“I was tiny,” he said. “I barely broke a hundred [pounds] in high school.”

When he began dating a girl in high school, they agreed to keep their relationship secret so she wouldn’t be teased. He once tried to give her a bracelet in front of her friends.

“She had this horrified look on her face,” Meyer recalled. “So I said, ‘Hey, I forgot to give this back to you, I’m so sorry.’ I didn’t want to embarrass her.”

Meyer joined the Marines after high school.

“I would have liked to go when Afghanistan was still going on,” he said. “There were a lot of men out there that are a lot better than I am. It upsets me a lot of people died that I didn’t get to take that bullet for.

“Since day one,” he said of Marine Corps boot camp, “you’re just screaming, ‘Kill!’ There’s nothing behind it. There’s no ‘Kill this.’ There’s no ‘Kill that.’ It’s just, ‘Kill.’ Which is why we’re such an effective fighting force. That’s our job. To go in and win battles and win wars. At least it used to be. That’s how wars were won. Now [the battle] happens on the news. I’m not sure which is worse.”

Meyer described how he and other militia members, also veterans, casually spoke of killing people when they gathered at events such as the Freedom of Speech rally in Washington, D.C., in June 2017.

“Everyone will just say, ‘I just want to fucking kill someone,’” Meyer said.

“It’s not out of hate or rage,” he went on. “It’s just what was drilled into them for so long, for so many years.”

Watch Chris Hedges talk about his new book in the interview by Hugh Hamilton posted below (via YouTube):

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Conjuring Up the Next Depression

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

During the financial crisis of 2008, the world’s central banks, including the Federal Reserve, injected trillions of dollars of fabricated money into the global financial system. This fabricated money has created a worldwide debt of $325 trillion, more than three times global GDP. The fabricated money was hoarded by banks and corporations, loaned by banks at predatory interest rates, used to service interest on unpayable debt or spent buying back stock, providing millions in compensation for elites. The fabricated money was not invested in the real economy. Products were not manufactured and sold. Workers were not reinstated into the middle class with sustainable incomes, benefits and pensions. Infrastructure projects were not undertaken. The fabricated money reinflated massive financial bubbles built on debt and papered over a fatally diseased financial system destined for collapse.

What will trigger the next crash? The $13.2 trillion in unsustainable U.S. household debt? The $1.5 trillion in unsustainable student debt? The billions Wall Street has invested in a fracking industry that has spent $280 billion more than it generated from its operations? Who knows. What is certain is that a global financial crash, one that will dwarf the meltdown of 2008, is inevitable. And this time, with interest rates near zero, the elites have no escape plan. The financial structure will disintegrate. The global economy will go into a death spiral. The rage of a betrayed and impoverished population will, I fear, further empower right-wing demagogues who promise vengeance on the global elites, moral renewal, a nativist revival heralding a return to a mythical golden age when immigrants, women and people of color knew their place, and a Christianized fascism.

The 2008 financial crisis, as the economist Nomi Prins points out, “converted central banks into a new class of power brokers.” They looted national treasuries and amassed trillions in wealth to become politically and economically omnipotent. In her book “Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World,” she writes that central bankers and the world’s largest financial institutions fraudulently manipulate global markets and use fabricated, or as she writes, “fake money,” to inflate asset bubbles for short-term profit as they drive us toward “a dangerous financial precipice.”

“Before the crisis, they were just asleep at the wheel, in particular, the Federal Reserve of the United States, which is supposed to be the main regulator of the major banks in the United States,” Prins said when we met in New York. “It did a horrible job of doing that, which is why we had the financial crisis. It became a deregulator instead of a regulator. In the wake of the financial crisis, the solution to fixing the crisis and saving the economy from a great depression or recession, whatever the terminology that was used at any given time, was to fabricate trillions and trillions of dollars out of an electronic ether.”

The Federal Reserve handed over an estimated $29 trillion of this fabricated money to American banks, according to researchers at the University of Missouri. Twenty-nine trillion dollars! We could have provided free college tuition to every student or universal health care, repaired our crumbling infrastructure, transitioned to clean energy, forgiven student debt, raised wages, bailed out underwater homeowners, formed public banks to invest at low interest rates in our communities, provided a guaranteed minimum income for everyone and organized a massive jobs program for the unemployed and underemployed. Sixteen million children would not go to bed hungry. The mentally ill and the homeless—an estimated 553,742 Americans are homeless every night—would not be left on the streets or locked away in our prisons. The economy would revive. Instead, $29 trillion in fabricated money was handed to financial gangsters who are about to make most of it evaporate and plunge us into a depression that will rival that of the global crash of 1929.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers write on the website Popular Resistance, “One-sixth of this could provide a $12,000 annual basic income, which would cost $3.8 trillion annually, doubling Social Security payments to $22,000 annually, which would cost $662 billion, a $10,000 bonus for all U.S. public school teachers, which would cost $11 billion, free college for all high school graduates, which would cost $318 billion, and universal preschool, which would cost $38 billion. National improved Medicare for all would actually save the nation trillions of dollars over a decade.”

An emergency clause in the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 allows the Fed to provide liquidity to a distressed banking system. But the Federal Reserve did not stop with the creation of a few hundred billion dollars. It flooded the financial markets with absurd levels of fabricated money. This had the effect of making the economy appear as if it had revived. And for the oligarchs, who had access to this fabricated money while we did not, it did.

The Fed cut interest rates to near zero. Some central banks in Europe instituted negative interest rates, meaning they would pay borrowers to take loans. The Fed, in a clever bit of accounting, even permitted distressed banks to use these no-interest loans to buy U.S. Treasury bonds. The banks gave the bonds back to the Fed and received a quarter of a percent of interest from the Fed. In short, the banks were loaned money at virtually no interest by the Fed and then were paid interest by the Fed on the money they borrowed. The Fed also bought up worthless mortgage assets and other toxic assets from the banks. Since Fed authorities could fabricate as much money as they wanted, it did not matter how they spent it.

“It’s like going to someone’s old garage sale and saying, ‘I want that bicycle with no wheels. I’ll pay you 100 grand for it. Why? Because it’s not my money,’ ” Prins said.

“These people have rigged the system,” she said of the bankers. “There is money fabricated at the top. It is used to pump up financial assets, including stock. It has to come from somewhere. Because money is cheap there’s more borrowing at the corporate level. There’s more money borrowed at the government level.”

“Where do you go to repay it?” she asked. “You go into the nation. You go into the economy. You extract money from the foundational economy, from social programs. You impose austerity.”

Given the staggering amount of fabricated money that has to be repaid, the banks need to build greater and greater pools of debt. This is why when you are late in paying your credit card the interest rate jumps to 28 percent. This is why if you declare bankruptcy you are still responsible for paying off your student loan, even as 1 million people a year default on student loans, with 40 percent of all borrowers expected to default on student loans by 2023. This is why wages are stagnant or have declined while costs, from health care and pharmaceutical products to bank fees and basic utilities, are skyrocketing. The enforced debt peonage grows to feed the beast until, as with the subprime mortgage crisis, the predatory system fails because of massive defaults. There will come a day, for example, as with all financial bubbles, when the wildly optimistic projected profits of industries such as fracking will no longer be an effective excuse to keep pumping money into failing businesses burdened by debt they cannot repay.

“The 60 biggest exploration and production firms are not generating enough cash from their operations to cover their operating and capital expenses,” Bethany McLean writes of the fracking industry in an article titled “The Next Financial Crisis Lurks Underground” that appeared in The New York Times. “In aggregate, from mid-2012 to mid-2017, they had negative free cash flow of $9 billion per quarter.”

The global financial system is a ticking time bomb. The question is not if it will explode but when it will explode. And once it does, the inability of the global speculators to use fabricated money with zero interest to paper over the debacle will trigger massive unemployment, high prices for imports and basic services, and a devaluation in which the dollar will become nearly worthless as it is abandoned as the world’s reserve currency. This manufactured financial tsunami will transform the United States, already a failed democracy, into an authoritarian police state. Life will become very cheap, especially for the vulnerable—undocumented workers, Muslims, poor people of color, girls and women, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist critics branded as agents of  foreign powers—who will be demonized and persecuted for the collapse. The elites, in a desperate bid to cling to their unchecked power and obscene wealth, will disembowel what is left of the United States.

Read more

The Slaves Rebel

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

The only way to end slavery is to stop being a slave. Hundreds of men and women in prisons in some 17 states are refusing to carry out prison labor, conducting hunger strikes or boycotting for-profit commissaries in an effort to abolish the last redoubt of legalized slavery in America. The strikers are demanding to be paid the minimum wage, the right to vote, decent living conditions, educational and vocational training and an end to the death penalty and life imprisonment.

These men and women know that the courts will not help them. They know the politicians, bought by the corporations that make billions in profits from the prison system, will not help them. And they know that the mainstream press, unwilling to offend major advertisers, will ignore them.

But they also know that no prison can function without the forced labor of many among America’s 2.3 million prisoners. Prisoners do nearly all the jobs in the prisons, including laundry, maintenance, cleaning and food preparation. Some prisoners earn as little as a dollar for a full day of work; in states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, the figure drops to zero.

Corporations, at the same time, exploit a million prisoners who work in prison sweatshops where they staff call centers or make office furniture, shoes or clothing or who run slaughterhouses or fish farms.

If prisoners earned the minimum wage set by federal, state or local laws, the costs of the world’s largest prison system would be unsustainable. The prison population would have to be dramatically reduced. Work stoppages are the only prison reform method that has any chance of success. Demonstrations of public support, especially near prisons where strikes are underway, along with supporting the prisoners who have formed Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, which began the nationwide protest, are vital. Prison authorities seek to mute the voices of these incarcerated protesters. They seek to hide the horrific conditions inside prisons from public view. We must amplify these voices and build a popular movement to end mass incarceration.

The strike began Aug. 21, the 47th anniversary of the 1971 killing of the Black Panther prison writer and organizer George Jackson in California’s San Quentin. It will end Sept. 9, the 47th anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising. It is an immensely courageous act of civil disobedience. Prison authorities have innumerable ways to exact retribution, including placing strikers in solitary confinement and severing communication with the outside world. They can take away the few privileges and freedoms, including the limited freedom of movement, yard time, phone privileges and educational programs, that prisoners have. This makes the defiance all the more heroic. These men and women cannot go elsewhere. They cannot remain anonymous. Retribution is certain. Yet they have risen up anyway.

In addition to making demands about wages, the prisoners are calling for an end to the endemic violence that plagues many prisons. During a riot in April at Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in South Carolina, seven prisoners were killed and 17 were injured as prison guards waited four hours to intervene.

Prisons in America are a huge and lucrative business. The private prison contractors Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group have annual revenues of $1.6 billion and more than $2 billion, respectively. They spent a combined $8.7 million on lobbying from 2010 through 2015, according to OpenSecrets.org. Global Tel Link, which runs the privatized phone services in many prisons, is valued at $1.2 billion. The food service corporation Aramark, a $8.65 billion company, has contracts in 500 prisons across the country although it has been accused of serving contaminated and spoiled food that has led to food poisoning. The money transfer corporation JPay Inc. is a subsidiary of the telecommunications firm Securus Technologies, which is owned by the private equity firm Abry Partners. JPay made $53 million in 2014 on transfers of $525 million, through an average charge of 10 percent to those sending money to prisoners. Corizon Health has a contract to provide health care to more than 300,000 prisoners nationwide. It earns about $1.4 billion a year. And there are many other corporations with equally large revenues and profit margins within the prisons.

Private corporations exploit prison labor in at least 40 states. In some cases these workers are paid next to nothing. They have no benefits, including Social Security participation, and cannot form unions or organize. They are not paid for sick days. And if they complain or are seen as troublesome they are placed in solitary confinement, often for months.

Some of the country’s biggest corporations have moved into prisons to take advantage of this bonded labor force. They include Abbott Laboratories, AT&T, AutoZone, Bank of America, Bayer, Berkshire Hathaway, Cargill, Caterpillar, Chevron, the former Chrysler Group, Costco Wholesale, John Deere, Eddie Bauer, Eli Lilly, ExxonMobil, Fruit of the Loom, GEICO, GlaxoSmithKline, Glaxo Wellcome, Hoffmann-La Roche, International Paper, JanSport, Johnson & Johnson, Kmart, Koch Industries, Mary Kay, McDonald’s, Merck, Microsoft, Motorola, Nintendo, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Quaker Oats, Sarah Lee, Sears, Shell, Sprint, Starbucks, State Farm Insurance, United Airlines, UPS, Verizon, Victoria’s Secret, Walmart and Wendy’s.

Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Prisons expose how far a state will go to exploit and abuse its most vulnerable. Life in the American prison system is a window into the corporate tyranny that will be inflicted on all of us once we are stripped of the power to resist. The poorest families in the country are forced to pay an array of predatory fees to sustain incarcerated relatives. This is especially cruel to those children whose only contact with an incarcerated parent is through phone service that costs four or five times what it does on the outside. Prison life is one of daily humiliation and abuse. It entails beatings, torture, rape—especially for female prisoners who are preyed upon by prison staff—prolonged isolation, rancid food, inadequate heating and ventilation, substandard or nonexistent health care and being locked in a cage for days at a time, especially in supermax prisons.

Slavery within the prison system is permitted by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1865 at the end of the Civil War to create a new form of slave labor. It reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. …” Plantations in the South and industries such as Florida’s vast turpentine farm operations, which survived into the early 20th century, used the 13th Amendment to force black convicts to do the same uncompensated work that many had done as slaves.

“Imprisoned in stockades or cells, chained together at night or held under armed guards on horseback, the turpentine farms were bleak outposts miles from any chance of comfort or contact with the outside world,” Douglas A. Blackmon writes in “Slavery by Another Name,” a description of convict life for tens of thousands of African-Americans that is eerily similar to today’s prison conditions. “Workers were forced to buy their own food and clothes from a camp commissary and charged usurious interest rates on the salary advances used to pay for the goods—typically at least 100 percent.”

Prisons, which contain mostly poor people of color, over half of whom have never physically harmed anyone, are part of the continuum of slavery, Black Codes, Jim and Jane Crow, convict leasing, lynching and the lethal, indiscriminate force used by police on city streets. Prisons are not primarily about crime. They are about social control. They are about profiting off black and brown bodies, bodies that in blighted, deindustrialized neighborhoods do not produce money for corporations but once locked away generate some $60,000 a year per prisoner for prison contractors, police, parole agencies, corrections officers, phone companies, private prisons, money transfer companies, medical companies, food venders, commissaries and the industries that manufacture body armor, pepper spray and the gruesome array of restraints and implements—four- and five-point restraints, restraint hoods, restraint belts, restraint beds, stun grenades, stun guns, stun belts, spit hoods, body orifice security scanners (BOSS chairs), tethers, and waist and leg chains—that look like a collection amassed by the Marquis de Sade. Prisons are also where we warehouse the poor who are mentally ill. It is estimated that 25 percent of the prison population has severe mental illness. Those with crippling mental disorders are given not therapy but cocktails of powerful psychotropic drugs that turn them into zombies sleeping 20 hours a day.

Once corporations moved manufacturing overseas and denied those in poor communities the possibility of a job that could sustain them and their families, they began to extract billions in profit by putting bodies in cages. Since 1970 our prison population has grown by about 700 percent. We have invested $300 billion in prisons since 1980. The prison-industrial complex mirrors the military-industrial complex. The money is public; the profits are private. Those who enrich themselves off the incarcerated are morally no different from those who enriched themselves from the slave trade.

Prisoners, once released, often after decades, commonly suffer from severe mental and physical trauma and other health problems including diabetes (which is an epidemic in prisons because of the poor diet), hepatitis C, tuberculosis, heart disease and HIV. They do not have money or insurance to get treatment for their illnesses when they are released. They have often become alienated from their families and are homeless. Stripped of the right to public assistance, unable to vote, banned from living in public housing, without skills or education and stigmatized by employers, they become members of the vast criminal caste system. Many are burdened with debts because of monetary charges in the criminal justice structure and a predatory system of prison loans. Over 60 percent end up back in prison within five years. This is by design. The lobbyists for the prison-industrial complex make sure the laws and legislation keep the prisons full and recidivism high. This is good for profit. And it is profit, not justice, that is the primary force behind mass incarceration. This system will end only when those profits are wrested from the hands of our modern slaveholders. The only people who can do that are the slaves and the abolitionists who fight alongside them.

The full list of national demands from “the men and women in federal, immigration, and state prisons” reads:

1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to death by incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting black and brown humans.

7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all U.S. states and territories.

10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!

Read more

The Slaves Rebel

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

The only way to end slavery is to stop being a slave. Hundreds of men and women in prisons in some 17 states are refusing to carry out prison labor, conducting hunger strikes or boycotting for-profit commissaries in an effort to abolish the last redoubt of legalized slavery in America. The strikers are demanding to be paid the minimum wage, the right to vote, decent living conditions, educational and vocational training and an end to the death penalty and life imprisonment.

These men and women know that the courts will not help them. They know the politicians, bought by the corporations that make billions in profits from the prison system, will not help them. And they know that the mainstream press, unwilling to offend major advertisers, will ignore them.

But they also know that no prison can function without the forced labor of many among America’s 2.3 million prisoners. Prisoners do nearly all the jobs in the prisons, including laundry, maintenance, cleaning and food preparation. Some prisoners earn as little as a dollar for a full day of work; in states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, the figure drops to zero.

Corporations, at the same time, exploit a million prisoners who work in prison sweatshops where they staff call centers or make office furniture, shoes or clothing or who run slaughterhouses or fish farms.

If prisoners earned the minimum wage set by federal, state or local laws, the costs of the world’s largest prison system would be unsustainable. The prison population would have to be dramatically reduced. Work stoppages are the only prison reform method that has any chance of success. Demonstrations of public support, especially near prisons where strikes are underway, along with supporting the prisoners who have formed Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, which began the nationwide protest, are vital. Prison authorities seek to mute the voices of these incarcerated protesters. They seek to hide the horrific conditions inside prisons from public view. We must amplify these voices and build a popular movement to end mass incarceration.

The strike began Aug. 21, the 47th anniversary of the 1971 killing of the Black Panther prison writer and organizer George Jackson in California’s San Quentin. It will end Sept. 9, the 47th anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising. It is an immensely courageous act of civil disobedience. Prison authorities have innumerable ways to exact retribution, including placing strikers in solitary confinement and severing communication with the outside world. They can take away the few privileges and freedoms, including the limited freedom of movement, yard time, phone privileges and educational programs, that prisoners have. This makes the defiance all the more heroic. These men and women cannot go elsewhere. They cannot remain anonymous. Retribution is certain. Yet they have risen up anyway.

In addition to making demands about wages, the prisoners are calling for an end to the endemic violence that plagues many prisons. During a riot in April at Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in South Carolina, seven prisoners were killed and 17 were injured as prison guards waited four hours to intervene.

Prisons in America are a huge and lucrative business. The private prison contractors Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group have annual revenues of $1.6 billion and more than $2 billion, respectively. They spent a combined $8.7 million on lobbying from 2010 through 2015, according to OpenSecrets.org. Global Tel Link, which runs the privatized phone services in many prisons, is valued at $1.2 billion. The food service corporation Aramark, a $8.65 billion company, has contracts in 500 prisons across the country although it has been accused of serving contaminated and spoiled food that has led to food poisoning. The money transfer corporation JPay Inc. is a subsidiary of the telecommunications firm Securus Technologies, which is owned by the private equity firm Abry Partners. JPay made $53 million in 2014 on transfers of $525 million, through an average charge of 10 percent to those sending money to prisoners. Corizon Health has a contract to provide health care to more than 300,000 prisoners nationwide. It earns about $1.4 billion a year. And there are many other corporations with equally large revenues and profit margins within the prisons.

Private corporations exploit prison labor in at least 40 states. In some cases these workers are paid next to nothing. They have no benefits, including Social Security participation, and cannot form unions or organize. They are not paid for sick days. And if they complain or are seen as troublesome they are placed in solitary confinement, often for months.

Some of the country’s biggest corporations have moved into prisons to take advantage of this bonded labor force. They include Abbott Laboratories, AT&T, AutoZone, Bank of America, Bayer, Berkshire Hathaway, Cargill, Caterpillar, Chevron, the former Chrysler Group, Costco Wholesale, John Deere, Eddie Bauer, Eli Lilly, ExxonMobil, Fruit of the Loom, GEICO, GlaxoSmithKline, Glaxo Wellcome, Hoffmann-La Roche, International Paper, JanSport, Johnson & Johnson, Kmart, Koch Industries, Mary Kay, McDonald’s, Merck, Microsoft, Motorola, Nintendo, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Quaker Oats, Sarah Lee, Sears, Shell, Sprint, Starbucks, State Farm Insurance, United Airlines, UPS, Verizon, Victoria’s Secret, Walmart and Wendy’s.

Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Prisons expose how far a state will go to exploit and abuse its most vulnerable. Life in the American prison system is a window into the corporate tyranny that will be inflicted on all of us once we are stripped of the power to resist. The poorest families in the country are forced to pay an array of predatory fees to sustain incarcerated relatives. This is especially cruel to those children whose only contact with an incarcerated parent is through phone service that costs four or five times what it does on the outside. Prison life is one of daily humiliation and abuse. It entails beatings, torture, rape—especially for female prisoners who are preyed upon by prison staff—prolonged isolation, rancid food, inadequate heating and ventilation, substandard or nonexistent health care and being locked in a cage for days at a time, especially in supermax prisons.

Slavery within the prison system is permitted by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1865 at the end of the Civil War to create a new form of slave labor. It reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. …” Plantations in the South and industries such as Florida’s vast turpentine farm operations, which survived into the early 20th century, used the 13th Amendment to force black convicts to do the same uncompensated work that many had done as slaves.

“Imprisoned in stockades or cells, chained together at night or held under armed guards on horseback, the turpentine farms were bleak outposts miles from any chance of comfort or contact with the outside world,” Douglas A. Blackmon writes in “Slavery by Another Name,” a description of convict life for tens of thousands of African-Americans that is eerily similar to today’s prison conditions. “Workers were forced to buy their own food and clothes from a camp commissary and charged usurious interest rates on the salary advances used to pay for the goods—typically at least 100 percent.”

Prisons, which contain mostly poor people of color, over half of whom have never physically harmed anyone, are part of the continuum of slavery, Black Codes, Jim and Jane Crow, convict leasing, lynching and the lethal, indiscriminate force used by police on city streets. Prisons are not primarily about crime. They are about social control. They are about profiting off black and brown bodies, bodies that in blighted, deindustrialized neighborhoods do not produce money for corporations but once locked away generate some $60,000 a year per prisoner for prison contractors, police, parole agencies, corrections officers, phone companies, private prisons, money transfer companies, medical companies, food venders, commissaries and the industries that manufacture body armor, pepper spray and the gruesome array of restraints and implements—four- and five-point restraints, restraint hoods, restraint belts, restraint beds, stun grenades, stun guns, stun belts, spit hoods, body orifice security scanners (BOSS chairs), tethers, and waist and leg chains—that look like a collection amassed by the Marquis de Sade. Prisons are also where we warehouse the poor who are mentally ill. It is estimated that 25 percent of the prison population has severe mental illness. Those with crippling mental disorders are given not therapy but cocktails of powerful psychotropic drugs that turn them into zombies sleeping 20 hours a day.

Once corporations moved manufacturing overseas and denied those in poor communities the possibility of a job that could sustain them and their families, they began to extract billions in profit by putting bodies in cages. Since 1970 our prison population has grown by about 700 percent. We have invested $300 billion in prisons since 1980. The prison-industrial complex mirrors the military-industrial complex. The money is public; the profits are private. Those who enrich themselves off the incarcerated are morally no different from those who enriched themselves from the slave trade.

Prisoners, once released, often after decades, commonly suffer from severe mental and physical trauma and other health problems including diabetes (which is an epidemic in prisons because of the poor diet), hepatitis C, tuberculosis, heart disease and HIV. They do not have money or insurance to get treatment for their illnesses when they are released. They have often become alienated from their families and are homeless. Stripped of the right to public assistance, unable to vote, banned from living in public housing, without skills or education and stigmatized by employers, they become members of the vast criminal caste system. Many are burdened with debts because of monetary charges in the criminal justice structure and a predatory system of prison loans. Over 60 percent end up back in prison within five years. This is by design. The lobbyists for the prison-industrial complex make sure the laws and legislation keep the prisons full and recidivism high. This is good for profit. And it is profit, not justice, that is the primary force behind mass incarceration. This system will end only when those profits are wrested from the hands of our modern slaveholders. The only people who can do that are the slaves and the abolitionists who fight alongside them.

The full list of national demands from “the men and women in federal, immigration, and state prisons” reads:

1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to death by incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting black and brown humans.

7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all U.S. states and territories.

10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!

Read more