Monday, June 5, 2017

102 Million Working Age Americans Do Not Have A Job

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Did you know that the number of working age Americans that do not have a job right now is far higher than it was during the worst moments of the last recession?  For example, in January 2009 92.6 million working age Americans did not have a job, but we just found out that in May the number of working age Americans without a job increased to just a shade under 102 million.  We’ll go over those numbers in more detail in a moment, but first I want to talk a bit about the difference between perception and reality.  According to the bureaucrats in the federal government, the “unemployment rate” in May was the lowest that we have seen in 16 years.  At just “4.3 percent”, we are essentially at “full employment”, and so according to them anyone that really wants a job should be able to find one pretty easily.
Of course that is a load of nonsense.  John Williams of shadowstats.com tracks what our economic numbers would look like if honest numbers were being used, and according to his calculations the unemployment rate is currently 22 percent.
So what accounts for the wide disparity between those numbers?
Well, the truth is that the official “unemployment rate” that the mainstream media endlessly hypes is so manipulated that it has essentially lost all meaning at this point.
In May, we were told that the U.S. economy added 138,000 jobs, but that is not even enough to keep up with population growth.
However, when you look deeper into the numbers some major red flags quickly emerge.  You won’t hear it on the news, but in May the U.S. economy actually lost 367,000 full-time jobs.  That is an absolutely nightmarish figure, and it confirms the fact that economic activity is starting to dramatically slow down.
But somehow the “unemployment rate” in May fell from “4.4 percent” to “4.3 percent”.
How in the world can they do that?
Well, for years the government has been taking large numbers of people from the basket known as “officially unemployed” and dumping them into another basket known as “not in the labor force”.  Since those that are “not in the labor force” do not count toward the official unemployment rate, they can make things look better than they actually are by moving people into that category.
In May, the government added a staggering 608,000 Americans into the “not in the labor force” category.  So now the number of working age Americans “not in the labor force” has reached a total of 94.98 million.  When you add that total to the number of Americans that are “officially” unemployed (6.86 million), you get a grand total of 101.84 million.
In other words, when you round up to the nearest million you get a grand total of 102 million Americans that do not have a job right now.
If you go back to January 2009, there were 81.02 million Americans that were “not in the labor force” and 11.61 million Americans that were considered to be “officially unemployed”.  And so that means that according to the federal government there were 92.63 million working age Americans that did not have a job at that point.
So if the number of working age Americans without a job has risen by 9.21 million since January 2009, are we really doing so much better than we were during the depths of the last recession?
Another way to look at this is by examining the civilian employment-population ratio.  Just before the last recession, about 63 percent of the working age population had a job, but then during the recession that number fell to between 58 and 59 percent for quite a while.  We have finally gotten back to the 60 percent mark, but we are still far, far below the level that we were at before the last recession struck.
And of course all of the above assumes that the numbers that the government is giving us accurately reflect reality, and that is highly questionable.
For example, according to one recent analysis the “business birth and death model” has accounted for 93 percent of all “new jobs” reported by the government since 2008…
As our friends at Morningside Hill calculate, a full 93% of the new jobs reported since 2008 – 6.3 million out of 6.7 million – and 40% of the jobs in 2016 alone were added through the business birth and death model – a highly controversial model which is not supported by the data. On the contrary, all data on establishment births and deaths point to an ongoing decrease in entrepreneurship.
In essence, government bureaucrats pull a number out of the air and add jobs to the report based on an estimate of how many new businesses they think are being created in America in a particular month.
Is it possible that there is a chance that they are being overly optimistic when they make this estimate?
Most people have no idea that the “official numbers” that we get from the government are highly speculative, and there is always a temptation to make things look better than they actually are.
There is no way in the world that we are anywhere near “full employment”.  I hear from people all over the country that say that it is exceedingly difficult to find good jobs where they live.  And according to a brand new report that was just released, the number of job cuts in May 2017 was 71 percent higher than it was in May 2016.
We also know that over the past ten years the average rate of economic growth in the United States exactly matches the average rate of economic growth that the U.S. experienced during the 1930s.
I don’t see how anyone can possibly claim that the U.S. economy is doing well.  Just prior to the last recession there were 26 million Americans on food stamps, and now we have 44 million.  We are on pace to absolutely shatter the all-time record for store closings in a single year, and the number of homeless people living in Los Angeles County has risen by 23 percent over the past 12 months.
But once again, it is a battle of perception vs. reality.  Their televisions are endlessly feeding them the message that everything is just fine, and most Americans seem to be buying it, at least for now…

Trump Is the Symptom, Not the Disease

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Forget the firing of James Comey. Forget the paralysis in Congress. Forget the idiocy of a press that covers our descent into tyranny as if it were a sports contest between corporate Republicans and corporate Democrats or a reality show starring our maniacal president and the idiots that surround him. Forget the noise. The crisis we face is not embodied in the public images of the politicians that run our dysfunctional government. The crisis we face is the result of a four-decade-long, slow-motion corporate coup that has rendered the citizen impotent, left us without any authentic democratic institutions and allowed corporate and military power to become omnipotent. This crisis has spawned a corrupt electoral system of legalized bribery and empowered those public figures that master the arts of entertainment and artifice. And if we do not overthrow the neoliberal, corporate forces that have destroyed our democracy we will continue to vomit up more monstrosities as dangerous as Donald Trump. Trump is the symptom, not the disease.

Our descent into despotism began with the pardoning of Richard Nixon, all of whose impeachable crimes are now legal, and the extrajudicial assault, including targeted assassinations and imprisonment, carried out on dissidents and radicals, especially black radicals. It began with the creation of corporate-funded foundations and organizations that took control of the press, the courts, the universities, scientific research and the two major political parties. It began with empowering militarized police to kill unarmed citizens and the spread of our horrendous system of mass incarceration and the death penalty. It began with the stripping away of our most basic constitutional rights—privacy, due process, habeas corpus, fair elections and dissent. It began when big money was employed by political operatives such as Roger Stone, a close Trump adviser, to create negative political advertisements and false narratives to deceive the public, turning political debate into burlesque. On all these fronts we have lost. We are trapped like rats in a cage. A narcissist and imbecile may be turning the electric shocks on and off, but the problem is the corporate state, and unless we dismantle that, we are doomed.

“What’s necessary for the state is the illusion of normality, of regularity,” America’s best-known political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, told melast week by phone from the prison where he is incarcerated in Frackville, Pa. “… In Rome, what the emperors needed was bread and circuses. In America, what we need is ‘Housewives of Atlanta.’ We need sports. The moral stories of good cops and evil people. Because you have that …. there is no critical thinking in America during this period. You have emotion [only]. When I look at someone who is demonized, I can do anything [to him or her]. I can do anything. That’s how the state works, by demonizing people and putting them in places where they’re virtually invisible.”

“Here’s the reality,” he went on. “America has never come to grips with what a lot of scholars and thinkers call the Original Sin. That’s because it never stopped happening. This country brags about being founded on freedom. It was founded on slavery. It was founded on holocaust. It was founded on genocide. After slavery ended, after the Constitution was rewritten and amended, we have the Reconstruction amendments, the 13th, 14thand 15thamendments. But what did the South do? They ignored it for a century.”

“It isn’t until the ’60s that you see this deep, rich emergence of people fighting for rights that were enshrined in the Constitution a century before [between 1865 and 1870],” he said. “That’s because every state in the South and many states in the North were allowed to make exceptions to the Constitution when it came to black people. We learned that’s not just a Southern reality. You can’t talk about AEDPA, the so-called Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty [Act of 1996] unless you have the same mindset that makes the Constitution an exceptional document.”

Racist, violent and despotic forces have always been part of the American landscape and have often been tolerated and empowered by the state to persecute poor people of color and dissidents. These forces are denied absolute power as long as a majority of citizens have a say in their own governance. The corporate elites, however, frightened by what the political scientist Samuel Huntington called an “excess of democracy” that originated in the 1960s, methodically destroyed the democratic edifice. They locked the citizens out of government. And by doing so they made sure that power shifted into the hands of the enemies of the open society. When democratic institutions cease to function, when the consent of the governed becomes a joke, despots, cranks, conspiracy theorists, con artists, generals, billionaires and proto-fascists fill the political void. They give vent to popular anger and frustration while arming the state to do to the majority what it has long done to the minority. This tale is as old as civilization. It was played out in ancient Greece and Rome, the Soviet Union, fascist Germany, fascist Italy and the former Yugoslavia.

Trump, an acute embarrassment to the corporate state and the organs of internal security, may be removed from the presidency, but such a palace coup would only further consolidate the power of the deep stateand intensify internal measures of repression. Millions of people, including the undocumented, those who have felony convictions, those locked in cages and poor people of color, have already been stripped of their rights, and some have been indiscriminately murdered by police. These minorities’ reality of daily state terror, unless this process of corporate pillage is halted, will spread and become normal with or without Trump. 

In Abu-Jamal’s book “Live From Death Row,” he recounts his protest at a 1968 rally in Philadelphia held by the segregationist George Wallace during one of the Alabama governor’s runs for the Democratic presidential nomination. It is a reminder that Trump’s racism and lust for violence have long been part of the American character.

Abu-Jamal writes of attending the rally with three other black teenagers:

We must’ve been insane. We strolled into the stadium, four lanky dark string beans in a pot of white, steaming limas. The bank played “Dixie.” We shouted, “Black Power, Ungowa, black power!” They shouted, “Wallace for president! White power!” and “Send those niggers back to Africa! We shouted, “Black power, Ungowa!” (Don’t ask what “Ungowa” means. We didn’t know. All we knew was that it had a helluva ring to it.) “Black power!” They hissed and booed. We stood up in our seats and proudly gave the black power salute. In answer, we received dubious gifts of spittle from those seated above. Patriots tore American flags from their standards and hurled the bare sticks at us. Wallace, wrapped in roars of approval, waxed eloquent. “When I become president, these dirty, unwashed radicals will have to move to the Sov-ee-yet Union! You know, all throughout this campaign these radicals have been demonstrating against George Corley Wallace. Well, I hope they have the guts to lay down in front of my car. I’ll drive right over ’em!” The crowd went wild.
“Some police and other security came,” Abu-Jamal told me about the incident. “They escorted us out. We thought hey, we had a little fun. Our voices were heard. We went to the bus stop. And two or three of us were on the bus. A young guy named Alvin and a young guy named Eddie. I was usually the slowest, so I was behind them. A guy walked up and hit me with a blackjack. Knocked me down. Pulled Eddie and Alvin off the bus. We were getting our asses kicked. It never dawned on us these were cops. They can’t just walk up to us and beat us up [I thought].”

“I remember seeing a cop’s leg walk by,” he said. “I shouted help! Help, police! The guy looked at me. Looked down at me. He walked over and kicked me right in the face. Then it dawned on me all of these guys were cops. That was a little taste of [what would happen later in] Philadelphia. An introduction to trauma. We see it today. I can hear Trump saying, ‘Beat the hell out of them.’ It’s like the old days. Those weren’t good days. Those were ugly days. And the ugly day is today.”

“I have been thankful to that faceless cop ever since,” Abu-Jamal writes of the assault, “for he kicked me straight into the Black Panther Party.”

Abu-Jamal’s experience embodies the endemic racism and collapse of the American court system that railroad young black men and women into prison and onto death row. The Federal Bureau of Investigation placed him under surveillance when he was 15 years old. His FBI file swelled to 700 pages. His crime was to be a dissident. He was followed, hauled in for questioning at random and threatened.

“While walking to work one day,” he writes, “I passed in front of an idling cop car. I glanced at the driver—white, with brown hair, and wearing dark shades. He ‘smiled,’ put his hand out the car window, and pointed a finger at me, his thumb cocked back like the hammer of a gun: bang—bang—bang—the finger jerked, as if from the recoil, and the cop gave it a cowboyish blast of breath before returning it to an imaginary holster. He and his pal laugh. Car rolls.”

The 1960s and 1970s saw a war on black radicals, which included FBI assassinations of leaders such as Fred Hampton. This war against radicals, President Nixon’s so-called battle for “law and order,” put the police, the FBI and other organs of internal security beyond the reach of the law. This power has only expanded since. We are all under state surveillance. And we can all become victims if the state deems us to be a threat. The loss of civilian oversight, along with the lack of transparency, is ominous.

Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of Daniel Faulkner, a white Philadelphia police officer. His trial was a sham. It included tainted evidence, suppressed defense witnesses, prosecution witnesses that contradicted their earlier testimony, a court-appointed lawyer, like most within the system, who was allotted few resources and had little inclination to defend his client, and a series of unconstitutional legal rulings by a judge out to convict the defendant. Terri Maurer-Carter, the stenographer at the trial, later signed an affidavit stating that during the trial she overheard the judge, Albert F. Sabo, say of Abu-Jamal, “Yeah and I’m gonna help ’em fry the nigger.” Sabo during his time on the bench sent 31 people to death row, more than any other judge in Pennsylvania. Abu-Jamal, who grew up in the housing projects of north Philadelphia, is imprisoned for our sins.

By 1977, Abu-Jamal, distressed by the internal feuding that tore apart the Black Panthers, had developed a close relationship with members of the Philadelphia MOVE organization. MOVE members lived communally, preached Third World radicalism, ate natural foods and denounced the established black leaders as puppets of the white, capitalist ruling elites.

The Philadelphia police, who constantly harassed the group, besieged the MOVE compound starting in late 1977. On Aug. 7, 1978, a gun battle erupted between people in the compound and police outside. A police officer was killed. Delbert Africa, a MOVE member, was savagely beaten in front of television cameras. Nine MOVE members would be charged with murder. The trial, like the one held four years later for Abu-Jamal, was a farce. It was clear, Abu-Jamal wrote of the legal lynching of the MOVE members, that “the law did not matter.” Two of the nine, Merle and Phil Africa, have died in prison. The seven other MOVE members remain, like Abu-Jamal, locked away and denied freedom by parole boards. Abu-Jamal was given life without parole after being taken off death row by the courts.

The Philadelphia police and the FBI were determined to root what remained of MOVE out of the city and do so with enough brutality to discourage any other black radicals from organizing.

“On May 12 [the date the two-day-long attack began], Sunday, Mother’s Day of 1985, our home was surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of cops who came out there to kill not because of any complaints from neighbors but because of our unrelenting fight for our MOVE sisters and brothers known as the MOVE 9,” Ramona Africa told me in an interview last week. (Authorities, as one of their supposed justifications for acting against MOVE, cited neighborhood complaints about activities and conditions at the compound.) “We had been attacked and arrested in 1978. Thirty-nine years later, this August, they are still in prison. They became eligible for parole in 2008. The parole board just refuses to parole them.” [Chris Hedges’ interview with Ramona Africa begins at the 11-minute mark—click herefor the video.]

“What people really need to understand is they did come out there [in 1985] to kill, not to arrest,” she said. “They could have arrested at any time. They did not come out there for any complaint from neighbors. Those running this country, this entire worldwide system, have never cared about black people complaining about their neighbors. It’s never been an issue. Obviously, it was something other than that. Which was our unrelenting fight for our family members who are still in prison. They shot over 10,000 rounds of bullets in on us within 90 minutes. They dropped a bomb.”

The bomb ignited a fire that burned down a city block containing 61 homes.

“The fire department, who was out there from the very beginning, was immediately aware that there was a fire on our roof,” she said. “A conscious decision was made to not fight the fire. To let it burn. When we realized our home was on fire, we immediately tried to get our children, our animals, and ourselves out of that blazing inferno. The instant we were visible to cops we were met with a barrage of police gunfire aimed at us so that we couldn’t escape that fire. After several attempts to get out, I got out first. I was able to get one of our children, a little boy named Birdie, out. We were immediately snatched into custody. I’m looking for the rest of my family. Trying to see if I could see anyone else. It was a little later after they had taken us into custody that I found out nobody else [in the MOVE group] survived.”

Eleven members of MOVE, including the founder of the group, John Africa, and five children, were killed in the police assault.

“The people who killed my family were never charged, never prosecuted, never imprisoned for anything,” she said. “Meanwhile, my nine MOVE sisters and brothers [convicted in the 1978 shootout], Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier [a Native American activist imprisoned in a South Dakota murder case], all the way down to line, are in prison with the accusation of murder.”

Abu-Jamal wrote, “May 13th, 1985, is more than a day of infamy, when a city waged war on its own alleged citizens, but also when the city committed massacre and did so with perfect impunity, when babies were shot and burned alive with their mothers and fathers, and the killers rewarded with honors and pensions, while politicians talked and the media mediated mass murder. On that day, the city, armed and assisted by the US government, dropped a bomb on a house and called it law. The fire department watched buildings ignite like matches in the desert and cut off water. The courts of the land turned a blind eye, daubed mud in their socket, and prosecuted Ramona Africa for having the nerve to survive an urban holocaust, jailing her for the crime of not burning to death. Eleven men, women and children died, and not one killer was even charged with a misdemeanor.”

Ramona Africa, charged with “rioting,” spent seven years in prison.

[For a 69-second video showing the bomb exploding on the Philadelphia compound roof in 1985, click here. For a 56-minute documentary about the assault on the compound and the circumstances surrounding it, click here.]

Our failure to defend those who are demonized and persecuted leaves us all demonized and persecuted. Our failure to demand justice for everyone leaves us all without justice. Our failure to halt the crushing of popular movements that stand unequivocally with the oppressed leaves us all oppressed. Our failure to protect our democracy leaves us without a democracy. The persecution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, MOVE members and all the radicals of four decades ago is not ancient history. It is the genesis of the present. It spawned the corporate coup and the machinery of state terror. We will pay for our complacency.

The Death of the Republic

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The deep state’s decision in ancient Rome—dominated by a bloated military and a corrupt oligarchy, much like the United States of 2017—to strangle the vain and idiotic Emperor Commodus in his bath in the year 192 did not halt the growing chaos and precipitous decline of the Roman Empire.

Commodus, like a number of other late Roman emperors, and like President Trump, was incompetent and consumed by his own vanity. He commissioned innumerable statues of himself as Herculesand had little interest in governance. He used his position as head of state to make himself the star of his own ongoing public show. He fought victoriously as a gladiator in the arena in fixed bouts. Power for Commodus, as it is for Trump, was primarily about catering to his bottomless narcissism, hedonism and lust for wealth. He sold public offices so the ancient equivalents of Betsy DeVosand Steve Mnuchincould orchestrate a vast kleptocracy.

Commodus was replaced by the reformer Pertinax, the Bernie Sanders of his day, who attempted in vain to curb the power of the Praetorian Guards, the ancient version of the military-industrial complex. This effort saw the Praetorian Guards assassinate Pertinax after he was in power only three months. The Guards then auctioned off the office of emperor to the highest bidder. The next emperor, Didius Julianus, lasted 66 days. There would be five emperors in A.D. 193, the year after the assassination of Commodus. Trump and our decaying empire have ominous historical precedents. If the deep state replaces Trump, whose ineptitude and imbecility are embarrassing to the empire, that action will not restore our democracy any more than replacing Commodus restored democracy in Rome. Our republic is dead.

Societies that once were open and had democratic traditions are easy prey for the enemies of democracy. These demagogues pay deference to the patriotic ideals, rituals, practices and forms of the old democratic political system while dismantling it. When the Roman Emperor Augustus—he referred to himself as the “first citizen”—neutered the republic, he was careful to maintain the form of the old republic. Lenin and the Bolsheviks did the same when they seized and crushed the autonomous soviets. Even the Nazis and the Stalinists insisted they ruled democratic states. Thomas Paine wrote that despotic government is a fungus that grows out of a corrupt civil society. This is what happened to these older democracies. It is what happened to us.

Our constitutional rights—due process, habeas corpus, privacy, a fair trial, freedom from exploitation, fair elections and dissent—have been taken from us by judicial fiat. These rights exist only in name. The vast disconnect between the purported values of the state and reality renders political discourse absurd. 

Corporations, cannibalizing the federal budget, legally empower themselves to exploit and pillage. It is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil. The pharmaceutical and insurance industries can hold sick children hostage while their parents bankrupt themselves trying to save their sons or daughters. Those burdened by student loans can never wipe out the debt by declaring bankruptcy. In many states, those who attempt to publicize the conditions in the vast factory farms where diseased animals are warehoused for slaughter can be charged with a criminal offense. Corporations legally carry out tax boycotts. Companies have orchestrated free trade deals that destroy small farmers and businesses and deindustrialize the country. Labor unions and government agencies designed to protect the public from contaminated air, water and food and from usurious creditors and lenders have been defanged. The Supreme Court, in an inversion of rights worthy of George Orwell, defines unlimited corporate contributions to electoral campaigns as a right to petition the government or a form of free speech. Much of the press, owned by large corporations, is an echo chamber for the elites. State and city enterprises and utilities are sold to corporations that hike rates and deny services to the poor. The educational system is being slowly privatized and turned into a species of vocational training.

Wages are stagnant or have declined. Unemployment and underemployment—masked by falsified statistics—have thrust half the country into chronic poverty. Social services are abolished in the name of austerity. Culture and the arts have been replaced by sexual commodification, banal entertainment and graphic depictions of violence. The infrastructure, neglected and underfunded, is collapsing. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, arrests, food shortages and untreated illnesses that lead to early death plague a harried underclass. The desperate flee into an underground economy dominated by drugs, crime and human trafficking. The state, rather than address the economic misery, militarizes police departments and empowers them to use lethal force against unarmed civilians. It fills the prisons with 2.3 million citizens, only a tiny percentage of whom had a trial. One million prisoners work for corporations inside prisons as modern-day slaves.

The amendments of the Constitution, designed to protect the citizen from tyranny, are meaningless. The Fourth Amendment, for example, reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The reality is that our telephone calls, emails, texts and financial, judicial and medical records, along with every website we visit and our physical travels, are tracked, recorded and stored in perpetuity in government computer banks.

The state tortures, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay, but also in supermax ADX [administrative maximum] facilities such as the one at Florence, Colo., where inmates suffer psychological breakdowns from prolonged solitary confinement. Prisoners, although they are citizens, endure around-the-clock electronic monitoring and 23-hour-a-day lockdowns. They undergo extreme sensory deprivation. They endure beatings. They must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. They can write only one letter a week to one relative and cannot use more than three pieces of paper. They often have no access to fresh air and take their one hour of daily recreation in a huge cage that resembles a treadmill for hamsters.

The state uses “special administrative measures,” known as SAMs, to strip prisoners of their judicial rights. SAMs restrict prisoners’ communication with the outside world. They end calls, letters and visits with anyone except attorneys and sharply limit contact with family members. Prisoners under SAMs are not permitted to see most of the evidence against them because of a legal provision called the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA. CIPA, begun under the Reagan administration, allows evidence in a trial to be classified and withheld from those being prosecuted. You can be tried and convicted, like Joseph K. in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,”without ever seeing the evidence used to find you guilty. Under SAMs, it is against the law for those who have contact with an inmate—including attorneys—to speak about his or her physical and psychological conditions.

And when prisoners are released, they have lost the right to vote and receive public assistance and are burdened with fines that, if unpaid, will put them back behind bars. They are subject to arbitrary searches and arrests. They spend the rest of their lives marginalized as members of a vast criminal caste.

The executive branch of government has empowered itself to assassinate U.S. citizens. It can call the Army into the streets to quell civil unrest under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which ended a prohibition on the military acting as a domestic police force. The executive branch can order the military to seize U.S. citizens deemed to be terrorists or associated with terrorists. This is called “extraordinary rendition.” Those taken into custody by the military can be denied due process and habeas corpus rights and held indefinitely in military facilities. Activists and dissidents, whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, can face indefinite incarceration.

Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs and associations are criminalized. The state assumed the power to detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first of those targeted have been observant Muslims, but they will not be the last.

The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are meaningless theater. No one who lives under constant surveillance, who is subject to detention anywhere at any time, whose conversations, messages, meetings, proclivities and habits are recorded, stored and analyzed, who is powerless in the face of corporate exploitation, can be described as free. The relationship between the state and the citizen who is watched constantly is one of master and slave. And the shackles will not be removed if Trump disappears.

The Globalization of Misery

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The closest I ever got to Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was 1,720.7 miles away -- or so the Internet assures me.  Although I’ve had a lifelong interest in history, I know next to nothing about Mosul’s, nor do I have more than a glancing sense of what it looks like, or more accurately what it looked like when all its buildings, including those in its “Old City,” were still standing.  It has -- or at least in better times had -- a population of at least 1.8 million, not one of whom have I ever met and significant numbers of whom are now either dead, wounded, uprooted, or in desperate straits.

Consider what I never learned about Mosul my loss, a sign of my ignorance.  Yet, in recent months, little as I know about the place, it’s been on my mind -- in part because what’s now happening to that city will be the world’s loss as well as mine.

In mid-October 2016, the U.S.-backed Iraqi army first launched an offensive to retake Mosul from the militants of the Islamic State.  Relatively small numbers of ISIS fighters had captured it in mid-2014 when the previous version of the Iraqi military (into which the U.S. had poured more than $25 billion) collapsed ignominiously and fled, abandoning weaponry and even uniforms along the way.  It was in Mosul’s Great Mosque that the existence of the Islamic State was first triumphantly proclaimed by its “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi.

On the initial day of the offensive to recapture the city, the Pentagon was already congratulating the Iraqi military for being “ahead of schedule” in a campaign that was expected to “take weeks or even months.”  Little did its planners -- who had been announcing its prospective start for nearly a year -- know.  A week later, everything was still “proceeding according to our plan,” claimed then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.  By the end of January 2017, after 100 days of fierce fighting, the eastern part of that city, divided by the Tigris River, was more or less back in government hands and it had, according to New York Times reporters on the scene, been “spared the wholesale destruction inflicted on other Iraqi cities” like Ramadi and Fallujah, even though those residents who hadn’t fled were reportedly “scratching out a primitive existence, deprived of electricity, running water and other essential city services.”

And that was the good news.  More than 100 days later, Iraqi troops continue to edge their way through embattled western Mosul, with parts of it, including the treacherous warren of streets in its Old City, still in the hands of ISIS militants amid continuingbitter building-to-building fighting.  The Iraqi government and its generals still insist, however, that everything will be over in mere weeks.  An estimated thousand or so ISIS defenders (of the original 4,000-8,000 reportedly entrenched in the city) are still holding out and will assumedly fight to the death.  U.S. air power has repeatedly been called in big time, with civilian deaths soaring, and hundreds of thousands of its increasingly desperate and hungry inhabitants still living in battle-scarred Mosul as Islamic State fighters employ countless bomb-laden suicide vehicles and even small drones.

After seven months of unending battle in that single city, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Mosul has receded from the news here, even as civilian casualties grow, at least half a million Iraqis have been displaced, and the Iraqi military has suffered grievous losses.

Though there’s been remarkably little writing about it, here’s what now seems obvious: when the fighting is finally over and the Islamic State defeated, the losses will be so much more widespread than that.  Despite initial claims that the Iraqi military (and the U.S. Air Force) were taking great care to avoid as much destruction as possible in an urban landscape filled with civilians, the rules of engagement have since changed and it’s clear that, in the end, significant swathes of Iraq’s second largest city will be left in ruins. In this, it will resemble so many other cities and towns in Iraq and Syria, fromFallujah to Ramadi, Homs to Aleppo.

The Disappearance of Mosul

At a moment when Donald Trump makes headlines daily with almost any random thing he says, the fate of Mosul doesn't even qualify as a major news story.  What happens in that city, however, will be no minor thing. It will matter on this increasingly small planet of ours.

What’s to come is also, unfortunately, reasonably predictable.  Eight, nine, or more months after this offensive was launched, the grim Islamic State in Mosul will undoubtedly be destroyed, but so will much of the city in a region that continues to be -- to invent a word -- rubblized.

When Mosul is officially retaken, if not “ahead of schedule,” then at least “according to plan,” the proud announcements of “victory” in the war against ISIS will make headlines.  Soon after, however, Mosul will once again disappear from our American world and worries. Yet that will undoubtedly only be the beginning of the story in a world in crisis.  Fourteen years have passed since the U.S. invaded Iraq and punched a hole in the oil heartlands of the Middle East.  In the wake of that invasion, states have been crumbling or simply imploding and terror movements growing and spreading, while wars, ethnic slaughter, and all manner of atrocities have engulfed an ever-widening region.  Millions of Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Yemenis, Libyans, and others have been uprooted, sent into exile, or fled across borders to become refugees.  In Mosul alone, untold numbers of people whose fathers, mothers, grandparents, children, friends, and relatives were slaughtered in the Iraqi Army’s offensive or simply murdered by ISIS will be left homeless, often without possessions, jobs, or communities in the midst of once familiar places that have been transformed into rubble.

Mosul now lacks an airport, a railroad station, and a university -- all destroyed in the recent fighting. Initial estimates suggest that its rebuilding will cost billions of dollars over many years. And it’s just one of many cities in such a state. The question is: Where exactly will the money to rebuild come from? After all, the price of oil is at present below $50 a barrel, the Iraqi and Syrian governments lack resources of every sort, and who can imagine a new Marshall Plan for the region coming from Donald Trump’s America or, for that matter, anywhere else?

In other words, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Yemenis, the Libyans, the Afghans, and others are likely, in the end, to find themselves alone in the ruins of their worlds with remarkably little recourse.  With that in mind and given the record of those last 14 years, how exactly do you imagine that things will turn out for the inhabitants of Mosul, or Ramadi, or Fallujah, or cities yet to be destroyed? What new movements, ethnic struggles, and terror outfits will emerge from such a nightmare?

To put it another way, if you think that such a disaster will remain the possession of the Iraqis (Syrians, Yemenis, Libyans, and Afghans), then you haven’t been paying much attention to the history of the twenty-first century. You evidently haven’t noticed that Donald J. Trump won the last presidential election in the United States, in part by playing on fears of a deluge of refugees from the Middle East and of Islamic terrorism; that the British voted to leave the European Union in part based on similar fears; and that across Europe pressures over refugees and terror attacks have helped to alter the political landscape.

Where Is Globalization Now That We Need It?

To frame things slightly differently, let me ask another question entirely: In these last years, haven’t you wondered what ever happened to “globalization” and the endless media attention that was once paid to it? Not so very long ago we were being assured that this planet was binding itself into a remarkably tight knot of interconnectedness that was going to amaze us all.  As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times put it in 1996, we were seeing “the integration of free markets, nation-states, and information technologies to a degree never before witnessed, in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations, and countries to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever.”  All of this was to be fed and led by the United States, the last superpower standing, and as a result, the global “playing field” would miraculously “be leveled” on a planet becoming a mosaic of Pizza Huts, iMacs, and Lexuses. Who of a certain age doesn’t remember those years after the Soviet Union imploded when we all suddenly found ourselves in a single superpower world?  It was a moment when, thanks to vaunted technological advances, it seemed blindingly clear to the cognoscenti that this was going to be a single-everything planet.  We were all about to be absorbed into a “single market for goods, capital, and commercial services” from which, despite the worries of naysayers, “almost everyone” stood “to gain.”  In a world not of multiple superpowers but of multiple “supermarkets,” we were likely to become both more democratic and more capitalistic by the year as an interlocking set of transnational corporate players, nations, and peoples, unified by a singularly interwoven set of communication systems (representing nothing short of an information revolution), triumphed, while poverty, that eternal plague of humanity, stood to lose out big time.  Everything would be connected on what was, for the first time, to be a single, “flattened” planet.

It won’t surprise you, I’m sure, to be told that that’s not exactly the planet we’re now on.  Instead, whatever processes were at work, the result has been record numbers of billionaires, record levels of inequality, and refugees in numbers not seen since much of the world was in a state of collapse after World War II.

Still, don’t you ever wonder where, conceptually speaking, globalization is now that we need it? I mean, did it really turn out that we weren’t living together on a single shrinking planet? Were the globalists of that moment inhabiting another planet entirely in another solar system? Or could it be that globalization is still the ruling paradigm here, but that what’s globalizing isn’t (or isn’t just) Pizza Huts, iMacs, and Lexuses, but pressure points for the fracturing of our world?

The globalization of misery doesn’t have the cachet of the globalization of plenty. It doesn’t make for the same uplifting reading, nor does skyrocketing global economic inequality seem quite as thrilling as a leveling playing field (unless, of course, you happen to be a billionaire). And thanks significantly to the military efforts of the last superpower standing, the disintegration of significant regions of the planet doesn’t quite add up to what the globalists had in mind for the twenty-first century. Failed states, spreading terror movements, all too many Mosuls, and the conditions for so much more of the same weren’t what globalization was supposed to be all about.

Perhaps, however, it’s time to begin reminding ourselves that we're still on a globalizing planet, even if one experiencing pressures of an unexpected sort, including from the disastrous never-ending American war on terror. It’s so much more convenient, of course, to throw the idea of globalization overboard and imagine that Mosul is thousands of miles away in a universe that bears next to no relation to our own.

What It Really Means to Be on a “Flattening” Planet

It’s true that in France last week extremist presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was defeated by a young, little known former investment banker and government minister, Emmanuel Macron, and the European Union preserved.  As with an earlier election in Holland in which a similar right-wing candidate lost, this is being presented as potentially the high-water mark of what’s now commonly called “populism” in Europe (or the Brexit-style fragmentation of that continent).  But I’d take such reassurances with a grain of salt, given the pressures likely to come. After all, in both Holland and France, two extreme nationalist parties garnered record votes based on anti-Islamic, anti-refugee sentiment and will, after the coming parliamentary elections in France, both be represented, again in record numbers, in their legislatures.

The rise of such “populism” -- think of it as the authoritarian fragmentation of the planet -- is already a global trend.  So just imagine the situation four or potentially even eight years from now after Donald Trump’s generals, already in the saddle, do their damnedest in the Greater Middle East and Africa.  There’s no reason to believe that, under their direction, the smashing of key regions of the planet won’t continue.  There’s no reason to doubt that, in an expanding world of Mosuls -- the Syrian “capital” of the Islamic State, Raqqa, is undoubtedly the next city in line for such treatment -- “victories” won’t produce a planet of greater ethnic savagery, religious extremism, military destruction, and chaos.  This, in turn, ensures a further spread of terror groups and an even more staggering uprooting of peoples.  (It’s worth noting, for instance, that since the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Special Operations forces, al-Qaeda has grown, not shrunk, gaining yet more traction across the Greater Middle East.)  So far, America’s permanent “war on terror” has helped produce a planet of fear, refugees on an almost unimaginable scale, and ever more terror.  What else would you imagine could arise from the rubble of so many Mosuls?

If you don’t think that this is an ever-more connected planet still being “flattened” (even if in quite a different way than expected), and that sooner or later the destruction of Mosul will reverberate in our world, too, then you don’t get our world. It’s obvious, for instance, that future Mosuls will only produce more refugees, and you already know where that’s led, from Brexit to Donald Trump. Destroy enough Mosuls and, even in the heartland of the planet’s sole superpower, the fears of those who already feel they’ve been left in a ditch will only rise (and be fed further by demagogues ready to use that global flow of refugees for their own purposes).

Given the transformations of recent years, just think what it will mean to uproot ever vaster populations, to set the homeless, the desperate, the angry, the hurt, and the vengeful -- millions of adults and children whose lives have been devastated or destroyed -- in motion.  Imagine, for instance, what those pressures will mean when it comes to Europe and its future politics.

Think about what’s to come on this small planet of ours -- and that’s without even mentioning the force that has yet to fully reveal itself in all its fragmenting and globalizing and leveling power.  We now call it, mildly enough, “climate change” or “global warming.”  Just wait until, in the decades to come, rising sea levels and extreme weather events put human beings in motion in startling ways (particularly given that the planet’s sole superpower is now run by men in violent denial of the very existence of such a force or the human sources of its power).

You want a shrinking planet? You want terror? You want globalization? Think about that. And do you wonder why, these days, I have Mosul on my mind?

 The CIA Didn’t Just Torture, It Experimented on Human Beings

Reframing the CIA’s interrogation techniques as a violation of scientific and medical ethics may be the best way to achieve accountability.

Go To Original

Human experimentation was a core feature of the CIA’s torture program. The experimental nature of the interrogation and detention techniques is clearly evident in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s executive summary of its investigative report, despite redactions (insisted upon by the CIA) to obfuscate the locations of these laboratories of cruel science and the identities of perpetrators.

At the helm of this human experimentation project were two psychologists hired by the CIA, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. They designed interrogation and detention protocols that they and others applied to people imprisoned in the agency’s secret “black sites.”

In its response to the Senate report, the CIA justified its decision to hire the duo: “We believe their expertise was so unique that we would have been derelict had we not sought them out when it became clear that CIA would be heading into the uncharted territory of the program.” Mitchell and Jessen’s qualifications did not include interrogation experience, specialized knowledge about Al Qaeda or relevant cultural or linguistic knowledge. What they had was Air Force experience in studying the effects of torture on American prisoners of war, as well as a curiosity about whether theories of “learned helplessness” derived from experiments on dogs might work on human enemies.

To implement those theories, Mitchell and Jessen oversaw or personally engaged in techniques intended to produce “debility, disorientation and dread.” Their “theory” had a particular means-ends relationship that is not well understood, as Mitchell testily explained in an interview on Vice News: “The point of the bad cop is to get the bad guy to talk to the good cop.” In other words, “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the Bush administration’s euphemism for torture) do not themselves produce useful information; rather, they produce the condition of total submission that will facilitate extraction of actionable intelligence.

Mitchell, like former CIA Director Michael Hayden and others who have defended the torture program, argues that a fundamental error in the Senate report is the elision of means (waterboarding, “rectal rehydration,” weeks or months of nakedness in total darkness and isolation, and other techniques intended to break prisoners) and ends—manufactured compliance, which, the defenders claim, enabled the collection of abundant intelligence that kept Americans safe. (That claim is amply and authoritatively contradicted in the report.)

As Americans from the Beltway to the heartland debate—again—the legality and efficacy of “enhanced interrogation,” we are reminded that “torture” has lost its stigma as morally reprehensible and criminal behavior. That was evident in the 2012 GOP presidential primary, when more than half of the candidates vowed to bring back waterboarding, and it is on full display now. On Meet the Press, for example, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who functionally topped the national security decision-making hierarchy during the Bush years, announced that he “would do it again in a minute.”

No one has been held accountable for torture, beyond a handful of prosecutions of low-level troops and contractors. Indeed, impunity has been virtually guaranteed as a result of various Faustian bargains, which include “golden shield” legal memos written by government lawyers for the CIA; ex post facto immunity for war crimes that Congress inserted in the 2006 Military Commissions Act; classification and secrecy that still shrouds the torture program, as is apparent in the Senate report’s redactions; and the “look forward, not backward” position that President Obama has maintained through every wave of public revelations since 2009. An American majority, it seems, has come to accept the legacy of torture.

Human experimentation, in contrast, has not been politically refashioned into a legitimate or justifiable enterprise. Therefore, it would behoove us to appreciate the fact that the architects and implementers of black-site torments were authorized at the highest levels of the White House and CIA to experiment on human beings. Reading the report through this lens casts a different light on questions of accountability and impunity.

The “war on terror” is not the CIA’s first venture into human experimentation. At the dawn of the Cold War, German scientists and doctors with Nazi records of human experimentation were given new identities and brought to the United States under Operation Paperclip. During the Korean War, alarmed by the shocking rapidity of American POWs’ breakdowns and indoctrination by their communist captors, the CIA began investing in mind-control research. In 1953, the CIA established the MK-ULTRA program, whose earliest phase involved hypnosis, electroshock and hallucinogenic drugs. The program evolved into experiments in psychological torture that adapted elements of Soviet and Chinese models, including longtime standing, protracted isolation, sleep deprivation and humiliation. Those lessons soon became an applied “science” in the Cold War.

During the Vietnam War, the CIA developed the Phoenix program, which combined psychological torture with brutal interrogations, human experimentation and extrajudicial executions. In 1963, the CIA produced a manual titled “Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation” to guide agents in the art of extracting information from “resistant” sources by combining techniques to produce “debility, disorientation and dread.” Like the communists, the CIA largely eschewed tactics that violently target the body in favor of those that target the mind by systematically attacking all human senses in order to produce the desired state of compliance. The Phoenix program model was incorporated into the curriculum of the School of the Americas, and an updated version of the Kubark guide, produced in 1983 and titled “Human Resource Exploitation Manual,” was disseminated to the intelligence services of right-wing regimes in Latin America and Southeast Asia during the global “war on communism.”

In the mid-1980s, CIA practices became the subject of congressional investigations into US-supported atrocities in Central America. Both manuals became public in 1997 as a result of Freedom of Information Act litigation by The Baltimore Sun. That would have seemed like a “never again” moment.

But here we are again. This brings us back to Mitchell and Jessen. Because of their experience as trainers in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program, after 9/11 they were contacted by high-ranking Pentagon officials and, later, by lawyers who wanted to know whether some of those SERE techniques could be reverse-engineered to get terrorism suspects to talk.

The road from abstract hypotheticals (can SERE be reverse-engineered?) to the authorized use of waterboarding and confinement boxes runs straight into the terrain of human experimentation. On April 15, 2002, Mitchell and Jessen arrived at a black site in Thailand to supervise the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the first “high-value detainee” captured by the CIA. By July, Mitchell proposed more coercive techniques to CIA headquarters, and many of these were approved in late July. From then until the program was dry-docked in 2008, at least thirty-eight people were subjected to psychological and physical torments, and the results were methodically documented and analyzed. That is the textbook definition of human experimentation.

My point is not to minimize the illegality of torture or the legal imperatives to pursue accountability for perpetrators. Rather, because the concept of torture has been so muddled and disputed, I suggest that accountability would be more publicly palatable if we reframed the CIA’s program as one of human experimentation. If we did so, it would be more difficult to laud or excuse perpetrators as “patriots” who “acted in good faith.” Although torture has become a Rorschach test among political elites playing to public opinion on the Sunday morning talk shows, human experimentation has no such community of advocates and apologists.