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The Iraq War Ain’t Over

Posted on 31 October 2011 by John Johnson

The Iraq War Ain’t Over, No Matter What Obama Says

By Spencer Ackerman

President Obama announced on Friday that all 41,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq will return home by December 31. “That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end,” he said. Don’t believe him.

Now: it’s a big deal that all U.S. troops are coming home. For much of the year, the military, fearful of Iranian influence, has sought a residual presence in Iraq of several thousand troops. But arduous negotiations with the Iraqi government about keeping a residual force stalled over the Iraqis’ reluctance to provide them with legal immunity.

But the fact is America’s military efforts in Iraq aren’t coming to an end. They are instead entering a new phase. On January 1, 2012, the State Department will command a hired army of about 5,500 security contractors, all to protect the largest U.S. diplomatic presence anywhere overseas.

The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security does not have a promising record when it comes to managing its mercenaries. The 2007 Nisour Square shootings by State’s security contractors, in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed, marked one of the low points of the war. Now, State will be commanding a much larger security presence, the equivalent of a heavy combat brigade. In July, Danger Room exclusively reported that the Department blocked the Congressionally-appointed watchdog for Iraq from acquiring basic information about contractor security operations, such as the contractors’ rules of engagement.

That means no one outside the State Department knows how its contractors will behave as they ferry over 10,000 U.S. State Department employees throughout Iraq — which, in case anyone has forgotten, is still a war zone. Since Iraq wouldn’t grant legal immunity to U.S. troops, it is unlikely to grant it to U.S. contractors, particularly in the heat and anger of an accident resulting in the loss of Iraqi life.

It’s a situation with the potential for diplomatic disaster. And it’s being managed by an organization with no experience running the tight command structure that makes armies cohesive and effective.

You can also expect that there will be a shadow presence by the CIA, and possibly the Joint Special Operations Command, to hunt persons affiliated with al-Qaida. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has conspicuously stated that al-Qaida still has 1,000 Iraqi adherents, which would make it the largest al-Qaida affiliate in the world.

So far, there are three big security firms with lucrative contracts to protect U.S. diplomats. Triple Canopy, a longtime State guard company, has a contract worth up to $1.53 billion to keep diplos safe as they travel throughout Iraq. Global Strategies Group will guard the consulate at Basra for up to $401 million. SOC Incorporated will protect the mega-embassy in Baghdad for up to $974 million. State has yet to award contracts to guard consulates in multiethnic flashpoint cities Mosul and Kirkuk, as well as the outpost in placid Irbil.

“We can have the kind of protection our diplomats need,” Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough told reporters after Obama’s announcement. Whether the Iraqi people will have protection from the contractors that the State Department commands is a different question. And whatever you call their operations, the Obama administration hopes that you won’t be so rude as to call it “war.”

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From the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign to Occupy Wall Street

Posted on 31 October 2011 by John Johnson

The Movement to Come

From the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign to Occupy Wall Street

by ALYOSHA GOLDSTEIN

As the Occupy Wall Street movement intensifies, the closing words of its first collectively written declaration grow in significance. “These grievances are not all-inclusive” acknowledges that this movement must first and foremost be an opportunity to build and expand alliances.  In refusing to set out a definitive set of policy bullet points, this movement against the common sense of capitalism is poised to critically reevaluate the accepted norms of our present society.

In this respect, a crucial intervention occurred when Manissa McCleave Maharawal blocked the inclusion of language asserting that we are “one race, the human race, formerly divided by race, class…” from the first OWS declaration.  Since then, the emergence of the People of Color Working Group, Decolonize the 99%, and numerous challenges to the rhetoric of “occupation” itself have been vital developments.  And it is in the spirit of this direction that we do well to recall the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign and its insistence on linking poverty and inequality to the conditions of racism, colonialism, and militarism.

Martin Luther King, Jr. announced the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) plans for the campaign following his testimony before the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in October 1967. Speaking to the commission he insisted that news coverage of the recent urban uprisings failed to acknowledge the “greater crimes of white society” and everyday violence of poverty. At a press conference afterwards, King declared that “The time has come if we can’t get anything done otherwise to camp right here in Washington… and stay here by the thousands and thousands until the Congress of our nation and the federal government will do something to deal with the problem [of poverty].”

The campaign that followed built a coalition propelled by the energy and diverse concerns of grassroots organizers and poor people across the country. Significant internal conflicts persisted and many participants explicitly transgressed the boundaries of the SCLC’s own reformist goals. But even after King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, the momentum continued. Welfare rights, Chicano, Native American, Puerto Rican, Hispano land grant, and labor movements joined forces, arriving in Washington, DC in May 1968, and assembled a vast shanty town called “Resurrection City, USA” near the Lincoln Memorial.

Resurrection City housed more than three thousand people, and demonstrations and solidarity visits drew many thousands more to the encampment during its six weeks of existence. Residents braved torrential rains, interminable mud, undercover informants, and hostile police. Resurrection City programs included a child-care center, health and social services, a Poor People’s University with ongoing seminars and lectures, free meals, a daily newspaper, cultural activities in the Soul Center, a city council, a finance committee, and a public relations center. More than 55,000 people gathered on Solidarity Day, held on June 19th in commemoration of the infamous day in 1865 when slaves in Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation—two and a half years after its passage.

Throughout the campaign, participants maintained a frenetic schedule of demonstrations and meetings with legislators and federal agencies to present their broad array of demands. The range of petitions made clear that a unified position did not require minimizing the diversity of the movement’s concerns. The National Welfare Rights Organization called attention to the injustices perpetrated by the welfare system, underscoring the specific ways in which poverty was gendered and challenging the coercive regulation of poor women’s lives. Rafael Duran from New Mexico spoke about how the neglected terms of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo resulted in Hispano dispossession. In a statement on behalf of the American Indians in the campaign, Mel Thom asserted that “The Interior Department began failing because it was built upon and operates under a racist, immoral, paternalistic, and colonialistic system.  There’s no way to improve upon racism, immorality, and colonialism; it can only be done away with.”  Mary Hyde of Chicago observed: “This country spends thousands of dollars apiece to kill people in Vietnam and about $50 on each poor person in this country… We got to straighten out these Congress people’s values.”

The disparate circumstances that motivated people to participate in the campaign produced multiple perspectives that could not be adequately expressed in a single set of demands—something that perhaps the New York Times today would deride as a “lack of clear messaging.” But the form of the campaign itself—with its multiple contingents and numerous demands—underscored the irreducibility of its parts to a unified whole.  Indeed, this was as much the message as the insistence that the expropriation and poverty that were a consequence of racism, capitalism, colonial dispossession, and imperialist militarism would not go uncontested.

On June 24, 1968, Resurrection City was shut down by an immense show of paramilitary force, following two evenings of violent confrontation and escalated tension between residents and police.

And, in the sense that every protest “event” ends sometime and exit strategies require something more than a list of demands, the most radical gesture of Occupy Wall Street would be to regroup with the insights of the indigenous critique of the imperial language of “occupation” and an understanding that for many the economic crisis began long before 2008.  Because, as the Lenape scholar Joanne Barker points out, “not all 99%-ers are created equal.”  Broad coalitions are necessarily fraught, but such tensions can potentially be the source of a more expansively antiracist, anticolonial, antiwar, and anticapitalist movement to come.

Alyosha Goldstein is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico and author of the forthcoming Poverty in Common: The Politics of Community Action during the American Century.

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Occupy Wall Street

Posted on 01 October 2011 by John Johnson

Occupy Wall Street Rediscovers the Radical Imagination

The young people protesting in Wall Street and beyond reject this vain economic order. They have come to reclaim the future.

by David Graeber

Why are people occupying Wall Street? Why has the occupation – despite the latest police crackdown – sent out sparks across America, within days, inspiring hundreds of people to send pizzas, money, equipment and, now, to start their own movements called OccupyChicago, OccupyFlorida, in OccupyDenver or OccupyLA?

People protest during the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ rally in New York, 17 September. (Photo: Steven Greaves/Demotix/Corbis)There are obvious reasons. We are watching the beginnings of the defiant self-assertion of a new generation of Americans, a generation who are looking forward to finishing their education with no jobs, no future, but still saddled with enormous and unforgivable debt. Most, I found, were of working-class or otherwise modest backgrounds, kids who did exactly what they were told they should: studied, got into college, and are now not just being punished for it, but humiliated – faced with a life of being treated as deadbeats, moral reprobates.

Is it really surprising they would like to have a word with the financial magnates who stole their future?

Just as in Europe, we are seeing the results of colossal social failure. The occupiers are the very sort of people, brimming with ideas, whose energies a healthy society would be marshaling to improve life for everyone. Instead, they are using it to envision ways to bring the whole system down.

But the ultimate failure here is of imagination. What we are witnessing can also be seen as a demand to finally have a conversation we were all supposed to have back in 2008. There was a moment, after the near-collapse of the world’s financial architecture, when anything seemed possible.

Everything we’d been told for the last decade turned out to be a lie. Markets did not run themselves; creators of financial instruments were not infallible geniuses; and debts did not really need to be repaid – in fact, money itself was revealed to be a political instrument, trillions of dollars of which could be whisked in or out of existence overnight if governments or central banks required it. Even the Economist was running headlines like “Capitalism: Was it a Good Idea?”

It seemed the time had come to rethink everything: the very nature of markets, money, debt; to ask what an “economy” is actually for. This lasted perhaps two weeks. Then, in one of the most colossal failures of nerve in history, we all collectively clapped our hands over our ears and tried to put things back as close as possible to the way they’d been before.

Perhaps, it’s not surprising. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the real priority of those running the world for the last few decades has not been creating a viable form of capitalism, but rather, convincing us all that the current form of capitalism is the only conceivable economic system, so its flaws are irrelevant. As a result, we’re all sitting around dumbfounded as the whole apparatus falls apart.

What we’ve learned now is that the economic crisis of the 1970s never really went away. It was fobbed off by cheap credit at home and massive plunder abroad – the latter, in the name of the “third world debt crisis”. But the global south fought back. The “alter-globalization movement”, was in the end, successful: the IMF has been driven out of East Asia and Latin America, just as it is now being driven from the Middle East. As a result, the debt crisis has come home to Europe and North America, replete with the exact same approach: declare a financial crisis, appoint supposedly neutral technocrats to manage it, and then engage in an orgy of plunder in the name of “austerity”.

The form of resistance that has emerged looks remarkably similar to the old global justice movement, too: we see the rejection of old-fashioned party politics, the same embrace of radical diversity, the same emphasis on inventing new forms of democracy from below. What’s different is largely the target: where in 2000, it was directed at the power of unprecedented new planetary bureaucracies (the WTO, IMF, World Bank, NAFTA), institutions with no democratic accountability, which existed only to serve the interests of transnational capital; now, it is at the entire political classes of countries like Greece, Spain and, now, the US – for exactly the same reason. This is why protesters are often hesitant even to issue formal demands, since that might imply recognizing the legitimacy of the politicians against whom they are ranged.

When the history is finally written, though, it’s likely all of this tumult – beginning with the Arab Spring – will be remembered as the opening salvo in a wave of negotiations over the dissolution of the American Empire. Thirty years of relentless prioritizing of propaganda over substance, and snuffing out anything that might look like a political basis for opposition, might make the prospects for the young protesters look bleak; and it’s clear that the rich are determined to seize as large a share of the spoils as remain, tossing a whole generation of young people to the wolves in order to do so. But history is not on their side.

We might do well to consider the collapse of the European colonial empires. It certainly did not lead to the rich successfully grabbing all the cookies, but to the creation of the modern welfare state. We don’t know precisely what will come out of this round. But if the occupiers finally manage to break the 30-year stranglehold that has been placed on the human imagination, as in those first weeks after September 2008, everything will once again be on the table – and the occupiers of Wall Street and other cities around the US will have done us the greatest favor anyone possibly can.

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Pelican Bay Prisoners Strike

Posted on 01 August 2011 by John Johnson

Inside Pelican Bay

A Hunger Strike for Humanity

By RON JACOBS

(As we went to press the prisoners have ended the strike at Pelican Bay but it continues in other prisons)

1. Eliminate group punishments.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.

3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement.

4. Provide adequate food.

5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

These five statements are the demands of prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison in California currently refusing food and (in some instances) drink.  The hunger strikers have been joined by up to 6600 other prisoners in the California prison system who have fasted for one or more days in solidarity. Some of the striking prisoners involved are facing imminent renal failure.  In other words, their kidneys are about to fail.  Now, I don’t know if the reader has ever seen an animal who has experienced renal failure, but it is not a pretty sight and usually leads to certain death.  I found this out a couple years ago when my cat died in exactly this way.  The fact that some of the hunger strikers are this near death is but one of the most recent examples of the nature of criminal confinement in the United States.  Furthermore, it proves once again the callousness of those officials whose careers depend on putting people in prison in the first place.  After all, one simple statement from these officials acceding to these demands could end the hunger strike.

The demands are not radical.  These prisoners know that they are in a maximum security prison because they did very bad things.  They are merely asking for fair and humane treatment.  Prisoners in the so-called Secure Housing Units (SHUs) in Pelican Bay and other supermax prisons in California are kept in windowless 6x 10 foot cells twenty-three and a half hours a day.  Some of these prisoners have been kept in these cells for over thirty years.  As noted in demand number three, the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons recommended the use of longterm solitary confinement as a last resort and called for the end of longterm isolation.  Yet, over 3500 prisoners remain in these cells in California prisons with hundreds more in line to be placed in one when a unit “opens up.”

The strike is being considered by numerous prisoner rights groups and other groups who work with prisoners and their families as one of the most significant prisoner actions since the 1971 takeover of Attica prison in New York.  One of the primary reasons for this comparison is, like the prisoner rebellion in Attica, the prisoners involved in the California action cross lines of race and ethnicity–a rarity in today’s prisons where ethnicity, race and neighborhood ties are exploited by guards and certain prisoners precisely to prevent any type of solidarity.  This aspect of prison life is addressed in the first demand above.  Currently, when an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race or ethnicity. The prisoners are asking that this practice stop and that those individuals that commit the infraction be the only ones punished.

The second demand involves the system within the California prison system whereby inmates are accused of being members of a “gang.”  This “gang” could be a genuine criminal organization or a radical political group.  It doesn’t even matter whether the prisoner ever joined a “gang” or any organization the authorities label a “gang.”  However, once inmates have this label attached to their record, they are sent to a SHU where they can spend years in isolation unless they “debrief” (snitch).   Prisoners unable to take the isolation units will either provide real information on a gang member or, if they are not gang members or unwilling to provide real information, they will make up stories to get out of isolation.  This process ensures a never-ending supply of prisoners for the SHUs.

The fourth demand is self-evident.  Besides the non-nutritious nature of prison food, prisoners report being fed meals that do not even fulfill regulations set by the California Board of Prisons.

Finally, the fifth demand is in response to the continued failure of prison authorities at Pelican Bay to provide, among other things, warm clothing and a weekly phone call.  These privileges and others denied by California officials are routinely provided at supermax prisons in other states and in the federal prison system.  Another aspect to this demand goes straight to the trend over the past three decades to move the focus of prisons from rehabilitation to punishment and punishment only.  SHU inmates in California prisons are not allowed to “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities….”  This demand asks that they be provided such opportunities.

As noted before, these are not radical demands.  Yet, in a nation where torture has become a topic no one discusses in polite company and school budgets are cut while prison budgets aren’t, the fact that men are starving themselves to death in order that their fellow prisoners may someday be treated like humans does not surprise.  In fact, it barely makes the news.

For more info:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ifepv8s3nRE

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available in print and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net

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Housing, Food, Water Are Rights

Posted on 01 April 2011 by John Johnson

Food, Water, Land and Housing are Human Rights!

Conference April 8 – 10

By Michael Novick
Anti-Racist Action L.A.

Are you facing foreclosure or eviction? Are the police trying to sweep you off the street or drive you out of public housing? Are you struggling to put food on the table for your family? 20% of Angelinos (one in every five) face the same problems.

On April 8-10, an important conference on the housing and hunger crisis in Los Angeles will be held at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research and the Angelus Plaza auditorium downtown. It will bring together affected people to address the struggles for food and water sovereignty, the human right to housing and the reclamation of land.

As we build practical unity for a collective understanding and response to these issues, we will address some key questions, such as: Why did the current economic crisis develop and spread out of the real estate sector in the U.S.? How did the collapse of housing prices and home sales, and the resulting credit crunch, lead to unyielding double digit unemployment? How is it that land, so central to the economy and to life itself, is so often overlooked in economic and political analysis?

The system wants us to blame ourselves or to stigmatize unhoused people and those living in vehicles, or get us to point the finger at migrants and the formerly incarcerated. But the fault is neither in our stars nor in ourselves – the system is to blame.

The mortgage market is larger than the stock market. Debt, especially mortgage debt, far exceeds equity. Even without the drop-off in housing prices after their absurd and unsustainable run up, interest payments on mortgages are always much greater than the value of the homes that guarantee them. The popping of the bubble exposed a deeper reality – that the real wealth of this system is not in money or even gold, but in the land, its resources and the labor of its inhabitants.

Capitalism began with the transformation of land, and of nature itself, into “capital” through the private expropriation of the commons. A proletariat was created that had to sell its labor to survive. The extension of this system from Europe around the globe through settler colonialism is at the base of the subsequent “globalization” of capital.  Empire is a house of cards based on the illegitimate conquest and theft of the land.

There is a fundamental challenge to the Empire’s title to the land raised by the Hawaiians, the Maya, the Mohawk, the peoples of Africa, the Aboriginal Australians and all other indigenous peoples. It undermines the concepts of private ownership of land and of Empire-state national boundaries. It exposes the theft and fraud on which the edifice of mortgage debt, credit default swaps and derivatives rested and ultimately collapsed.

The ability of the Empire to loot the resources and labor of people in Africa, Asia and Latin America, including the social wealth accumulated in the old Soviet bloc and in China under “communism,” resulted in levels of capital accumulation unparalleled in human history. This in turn precipitated a vast, steep and protracted economic contraction. Just as in Eastern Europe, both the accumulation and the contraction have eliminated the life savings and social security of hundreds of millions of people. The imposition of austerity through attacks on the social safety net, public education and social services and pensions, is now spreading and deepening into an attack on organized labor. In Eastern Europe, privatization of social wealth resulted in a near-genocidal reduction in life expectancy. The pension system was looted by new, and newly rich, private entrepreneurs. We can expect the same here unless we unite and fight back, recognizing that winning requires a fundamental transformation of the economy, and our relationship to each other and to the land.

The Los Angeles Housing and Hunger Crisis Conference is an effort to advance that necessary process. We will combine practical workshops about avoiding foreclosure or eviction, defending tenants’ rights, stopping homeless sweeps and protecting public housing and parks, with direct action strategies for growing and sharing healthy food, and rebuilding the commons, and much more

Come learn about indigenous rights, tenant and homeowner organizing, urban gardening and farmers’ markets, urban environmental justice, and how to “fight city hall” and win! Come share your own organizing efforts and struggles, share perspectives and help shape on-going strategies to shift the balance of power in favor of popular sovereignty, self-determination and solidarity. We can only solve these problems by building a strong movement that can transform the economic and political system that produces them!

The Conference will open Friday, April 8, from 7-10:00 PM at the Southern California Library, 6120 S. Vermont, LA with a program on the Culture of Resistance featuring music, art, teatro and spoken word. On Saturday, April 9, from 10 AM – 4:00 PM, events will shift to the Angelus Plaza Auditorium, at 255 S. Hill St. for the keynote speakers and plenary, skills share, know your rights and educational workshops, and a free lunch. On Sunday, April 10, from 12 noon-4:00 PM it returns to SCL, 6120 S. Vermont Ave., L.A. for strategy and alliance building workshops.

The conference is sponsored by a coalition that includes GrassrootsKPFK, South Central Farmers, ARA, Coffee Party, Food Not Bombs, Workers Solidarity Alliance, Sierra Club, Union de Vecinos, Black Riders and  Brown Riders Liberation Party, Watercorps,  and the MLK Coalition for Jobs, Justice and Peace. For more information, call 310-495-0299, or email h2c2la@yahoo.com.

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