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Sunday, February 07, 2021

Facism Is Capitalism That Really Means It

counterpunch |   American prisons are warehouses for inconvenient populations. This makes them (definitionally) Concentration Camps.

The alliance of the American left with right-wing nationalist national security and surveillance state officials since 2016 in fighting ‘fascists’ seems inexplicable in ideological terms. The reason? The national security and surveillance states are corporate-state amalgams that exist to enforce an imperial world order. The attempted U.S. coup in Bolivia was to control lithium for liberal, green EVs (Electric Vehicles). The U.S. coup in Venezuela that is still under way is to control oil. The build-out of the surveillance state domestically is to secure control of domestic politics by and for capital. This is fascism.

One of the many good arguments against George W. Bush’s 2003 war against Iraq was that combat forces turn into reactionary armies when they return home. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was a veteran of the first Gulf War. The militia movement of the early 1990s was made up of veterans of U.S. dirty wars in Central America and the first Gulf War. Veterans returning from W. Bush’s Iraq fiasco were unable to find meaningful employment during the Great Recession. What this meant practically is a choice between becoming a cop or stocking shelves at Target for minimum wage.

Those most capable of inflicting harm amongst the Capitol invaders appear to be those who had military training combined with an alleged willingness to use it. That a lot of cops appeared sympathetic to the invaders more likely than not ties to real or imagined shared experience in the military. The militarization of the police includes the psychology of seeing others as enemy combatants, as well as a duty to commit violence for imagined right. This is manifested in varying solidarities including class and the residual detritus of American history, including race. What is missing from assertions of what people ‘are,’ fascist, racist, etc., is any notion of relative power.

Consider: do liberals really believe that the U.S. is trying to restore democracy in Bolivia or Venezuela by ousting democratically elected leaders and replacing them with hard-right pawns of the U.S.? Why then would the CIA care about democracy in the U.S.? The CIA brought Saddam Hussein to power in Iraq. The CIA helped install Pinochet in Chile. The CIA ousted Mosaddeq in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala. While it is a large and complex organization, some fair proportion of everything dark and evil that has taken place since 1948 can be laid at its feet.

The point: between the alliance of corporate and state interests reflected in the Iraq War and the Wall Street bailouts, and the CIA’s long history of destroying functioning democracies for the benefit of American business interests, lies the approximate locus of American power. Few of the players involved in these machinations are motivated by ideology. One of Howard Zinn’s contributions in A People’s History is his explication of the economic motives that powerful people and organizations hide with ideological explanations of their actions. In other words, what people are, e.g. racist, fascist, does little to explain history.

Now that Donald Trump is out of power, what do the liberal opponents of fascism intend to do to disentangle the corporate from political power that defines it? One of the early answers is to redefine it as exclusively the province of authoritarian leaders. In fact, the Nazis based much of their political economy on the American model. The Americans provided eugenics, slavery, genocide, the legal framework for Nazi race laws, and an industrial model that motivated some fair portion of German militarism. In the present, the Americans have mass incarceration, a militarized police force, a large and intrusive surveillance apparatus, political police (FBI) and a public-private domestic spying operation.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Obtain Local Control Of Policing - Don't Fall For Corporatist Melanin Over Substance Politricks


blackagendareport |  Despite the breathtaking size, intensity and multi-racial character of this month’s protests, and the record-breaking popularity of the insurgent movement, the corporate electoral duopoly – not the loathsome persona of Donald Trump, but the Democrat-Republican tag-team-- remains the greatest impediment to social transformation. They are the institutional enemy. That most emphatically includes the Black political class, virtually all Democrats, who have overseen the steady deterioration of the Black economic condition, managed much of the local workings of the Mass Black Incarceration State, and supported a U.S.war machine that has slaughtered millions of non-whites in the two generations since Dr. King called this country “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, today.” 

The bigger the Congressional Black Caucus gets (it now stands at 50 full-voting members in the House), the more servile to party corporate leadership it becomes. By wide margins, the Black Caucus has opposed ending militarization of the police (80 percent “nay,” in 2014); supported elevating the police to a “protected class” and making assault on police a federal “hate” crime (75 percent, in 2018); and voted to further empower the FBI to spy on citizens (two-thirds  of the Black Caucus, in 2020). Nearly half the Black members of Congress supported the bombing of Libya and NATO’s invasion of Africa in 2011, and the vast bulk of them have signed off on every escalating war budget put forward by Presidents Obama and Trump. In short, the Black Caucus is a bulwark of systemic racism and U.S. imperial warfare. Not one serving Black congressperson has raised a peep about the ongoing slaughter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than six million have died under four U.S. presidents.

“The Black Caucus is a bulwark of systemic racism and U.S. imperial warfare.”
The biggest luminaries of the Black Caucus, including “Auntie” Maxine Waters, of California, South Carolina’s James Clyburn, and New York’s Hakeem Jeffries  and Greg Meeks, are today rallying around  New York Democratic incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel to beat back progressive Black challenger Jamaal Bowman , a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Black Caucus has slavishly followed every directive of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi since she ordered them to refrain from holding hearings on Katrina, in 2005. They are collaborators in the duopoly’s greatest crimes against Black America, and the world.

The “street power” that has been so dramatically manifested over the past month will be dissipated and ultimately wasted if organizers put forward demands that leave the levers of power in the hands of local Democrats, of whatever color. The demand to defund the police is unassailable, in principle. However, if in practice it devolves to endless and debilitating dickering with local legislatures over funding that will inevitably be cut across the board due to collapsing tax rolls, no lasting transformation will be achieved, and the movement will splinter and fade. That’s why we at BAR support community control of the police – the institutionalization of grassroots people’s power to shape and oversee the mechanisms of their own security and end forever the armed occupation of our communities by hostile forces.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Unconstitutional Livestock Management Is American Policing's Raison d'Etre


NPR |  Black Americans being victimized and killed by the police is an epidemic. A truth many Americans are acknowledging since the murder of George Floyd, as protests have occurred in all fifty states calling for justice on his behalf. But this tension between African American communities and the police has existed for centuries. This week, the origins of American policing and how those origins put violent control of Black Americans at the heart of the system.

If you would like to read more about the topic:

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The For-Profit Militarized Police State Is JoeBidenBama's Political Legacy



jacobinmag |  Defund the police” has become a nationwide mantra, and for good reason: budget data from across the country show that spending on police has far outpaced population growth and drained resources from other public priorities.

Basically, our cities have been siphoning money from stuff like education and social services and funneling the cash into ever-larger militarized security forces.

Nationally, the numbers are stark: between 1977 and 2017, America’s population grew by about 50 percent, while state and local spending on police grew by a whopping 173 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to data from the Urban Institute. In other words, the rate of police-spending growth was triple the rate of population growth.

Chicago and New York embody the trends.

The former has been losing population over the last decade. At the same time, Mayor Rahm Emanuel grew the police budget by 27 percent during his eight-year term, to the point where Chicago now spends more than 38 percent of its general fund on police. Those increases coincided with a spate of police brutality scandals, as well as budget cuts that resulted in teacher layoffs and the mass closure of Chicago public schools. And yet Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, has been pushing a new 7 percent increase in the police budget.

In New York, it’s a similar story. Back in 2008, the city spent $4.1 billion on its police force, according to City Council documents. Twelve years later, the city is spending $6 billion on its police force. That’s a 46 percent increase during a period in which the city’s population growth was essentially flat. A new report by New York City comptroller Scott Stringer notes that in the last five years alone, spending on police rose by 22 percent, driven by a 6 percent increase in the number of officers on the force.

All this happened during a period when the city experienced many years of budget cuts to social servicesandschools. Indeed, as Public Citizen points out, New York’s police budget is now “more than the city spends on health, homelessness, youth development and workforce development combined.”

These are hardly anomalies, as illustrated by a Center for Popular Democracy report looking at twelve major cities. That analysis concluded that “governments have dramatically increased their spending on criminalization, policing, and mass incarceration while drastically cutting investments in basic infrastructure and slowing investment in social safety net programs” to the point where today, “police spending vastly outpaces expenditures in vital community resources and services.”


Monday, April 27, 2020

Covid-19 Serial Killers: Unaddressed Congregate Situations Are THE Reservoirs Of Infection


NEJM |  A new approach that expands Covid-19 testing to include asymptomatic persons residing or working in skilled nursing facilities needs to be implemented now. Despite “lockdowns” in these facilities, coronavirus outbreaks continue to spread, with 1 in 10 nursing homes in the United States (>1300 skilled nursing facilities) now reporting cases, with the likelihood of thousands of deaths.6 Mass testing of the residents in skilled nursing facilities will allow appropriate isolation of infected residents so that they can be cared for and quarantine of exposed residents to minimize the risk of spread. Mass testing in these facilities could also allow cohorting7 and some resumption of group activities in a nonoutbreak setting. Routine rRT-PCR testing in addition to symptomatic screening of new residents before entry, conservative guidelines for discontinuation of isolation,7 and periodic retesting of long-term residents, as well as both periodic rRT-PCR screening and surgical masking of all staff, are important concomitant measures.

There are approximately 1.3 million Americans currently residing in nursing homes.8 Although this recommendation for mass testing in skilled nursing facilities could be initially rolled out in geographic areas with high rates of community Covid-19 transmission, an argument can be made to extend this recommendation to all U.S.-based skilled nursing facilities now because case ascertainment is uneven and incomplete and because of the devastating consequences of outbreaks. Immediately enforceable alternatives to mass testing in skilled nursing facilities are few. The public health director of Los Angeles has recommended that families remove their loved ones from nursing homes,9 a measure that is not feasible for many families.

Asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is the Achilles’ heel of Covid-19 pandemic control through the public health strategies we have currently deployed. Symptom-based screening has utility, but epidemiologic evaluations of Covid-19 outbreaks within skilled nursing facilities such as the one described by Arons et al. strongly demonstrate that our current approaches are inadequate. This recommendation for SARS-CoV-2 testing of asymptomatic persons in skilled nursing facilities should most likely be expanded to other congregate living situations, such as prisons and jails (where outbreaks in the United States, whose incarceration rate is much higher than rates in other countries, are increasing), enclosed mental health facilities, and homeless shelters, and to hospitalized inpatients. Current U.S. testing capability must increase immediately for this strategy to be implemented.

Friday, April 24, 2020

America Is The Most Extravagant Cornucopia Of Two-Piece-and-a-Biscuit Diversity EVER!!!


tomdispatch |  Today, more than 38 million people officially live below the federal poverty line and, in truth, that figure should have shocked the nation into action before the coronavirus even arrived here. No such luck and here’s the real story anyway: the official measure of poverty, developed in 1964, doesn’t even take into account household expenses like health care, child care, housing, and transportation, not to speak of other costs that have burgeoned in recent decades. The world has undergone profound economic transformations over the last 66 years and yet this out-of-date measure, based on three times a family’s food budget, continues to shape policymaking at every level of government as well as the contours of the American political and moral imagination.

Two years ago, the Poor People’s Campaign (which I co-chair alongside Reverend William Barber II) and the Institute for Policy Studies released an audit of America. Its centerpiece was a far more realistic assessment of poverty and economic precariousness in this country. Using the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure as a baseline, which, among other things, measures family income after taxes and out-of-pocket expenses for food, clothing, housing, and utilities, there are at least 140 million people who are poor -- or just a $400 emergency from that state. (Of that, there are now untold examples in this pandemic moment.)

As poverty has grown and spread, one of the great political weapons of politicians and the ruling elite over the past decades (only emphasized in the age of Trump) has been to minimize, dismiss, and racialize it. In the 1970s, President Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” coded it into Republican national politics; in the 1980s, in the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the fabricated image of “the welfare queen” gained symbolic prominence. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s welfare “reforms” enshrined such thinking in the arguments of both parties. Today, given the outright racism and xenophobia that has become the hallmark of Donald Trump’s presidency, "poor" has become a curse word.

It is, of course, true that, among the 140 million poor people in the U.S., a disproportionate number are indeed people of color. The inheritance of slavery, Jim Crow, never-ending discrimination, and the mass incarceration of black men in particular, as well as a generational disinvestment in such populations, could have resulted in nothing less. And yet the reality of poverty stretches deep into every community in this country. According to that audit of America, the poor or low-income today consist of 24 million blacks, 38 million Latinos, eight million Asian-Americans, two million Native peoples, and 66 million whites.

Those staggering numbers, already a deadweight for the nation, are likely to prove a grotestque underestimate in the coronaviral world we now inhabit and yet none of this should be a surprise. Although we couldn’t have predicted the exact circumstances of this pandemic, social theorists remind us that conditions were ripe for just this kind of economic dislocation.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Black American Political Strategy MUST Focus On Black DOS Interests, PERIOD


theintercept |  Dr. Tour√© Reed, professor of 20th Century U.S. and African American History at Illinois State University, observed that the presumption that black Americans aren’t equally or more invested in economic interventions as white Americans is “pregnant, of course, with class presumptions” which work well for the black and Latinx professional middle class — many of whom play a significant role in defining public narratives via their work in politics or media. Since “the principal beneficiaries of universal policies would be poor and working class people who would disproportionately be black and brown,” he told me, “dismissing such policies on the grounds that they aren’t addressing systemic racism is a sleight of hand of sorts.”

Intersectionality, the “buzzword” taken up so faithfully by mainstream Democrats in 2016, requires an acknowledgment that like race and sexual identity, class is a dimension that mediates one’s perspective. That means the hashtag #trustblackwomen shouldn’t collapse the interests of Oprah, a billionaire, with, well, anyone else’s. Similarly, not all blacks or latinos should be presumed to speak equally to the interests of poor and working class people of color. This is a truth easily internalized when Democrats consider figures like Ben Carson or Ted Cruz. It’s a more difficult reality to swallow when considering one of our own.

None of this is to say that in every scenario, race, gender, sexuality, and class are equal inputs. Affluent black athletes are still tackled by cops despite their wealth, and black Harvard professors are arrested trying to unlock their own front doors. But the fact that racism hurts even those with economic privilege is not “proof” that class doesn’t matter, as some race reductionists have claimed. It’s simply affirmation that racism matters too. 

Consider, for instance, my colleague Zaid Jilani’s review of comprehensive police shooting data in 2015, in which he found that 95 percent of police shootings had occurred in neighborhoods where the household income averaged below $100,000 a year. Remember that Philando Castile was pulled over, in part, because he was flagged for dozens of driving offenses described as “crimes of poverty” by local public defender Erik Sandvick. Failure to show proof of insurance, driving with a broken taillight — these are hardly patrician slip ups. If anything is privileged, it’s the fiction that there’s no difference between the abuses suffered by wealthy black athletes and working class blacks like Philando Castile. Race can increase your odds of being targeted and abused. Money can help you survive abuse and secure justice — something which sadly eluded Castile.

“There is a tendency to reduce issues that have quite a bit to do with the economic opportunities available to all Americans, African Americans among them, and in some instances overrepresented among them, to matters of race,” explained Dr. Reed, who is currently writing a book on the conservative implications of race reductionism. He pointed to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as well as the mass incarceration crisis, as examples. “In both those instances, Flint and the criminal justice system, whites are 40 percent, or near 40 percent, of the victims,” he said. And that’s an awfully high number for collateral damage.” He went on: “There’s something systemic at play. But it can’t be reduced, be reducible, to race.”

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Law and Order is Sympathetic to Profit


Counterpunch |  To reverse angles, one need not be a self-affirmed racist to have complied with ‘red-lining’ or ‘white-flight’, only protecting your home value as banks and tax codes made fit.  In fact, a recent survey on immigration found Americans (along with Canadians) the mosttolerant among 27 polled countries, of non-native speakers, the unemployed, felons, radicals, or ethnic groups, so long as they’re citizens.  I’m not altogether sold, but we might not be the irreparable bigots we seem. According to the findings, ‘the US has a very legalistic vision of what it is to be an American’.[i]  (Of course, Nikki Haley stood it on its head when she told the UN it was ‘ridiculous to look at poverty in the world’s richest nation’.  Apparently just as citizenship welcomes our most-poor, it denies them outside protection.)

Thus it’s pertinent to ask, in both cases, should we be looking at conceptions of race and poverty, or of law enforcement and state-power to understand mass-incarceration or the police’ rising body count?

Consider the FBI memo that invented ‘Black Identity Extremism’ (BIE) the same time it granted them right to oppress it. ‘Racism’, in which case, is literally a state-authored fiction, as the group only exists on FBI records. Moreover, as with the ‘blue lives matter’ bill which makes resisting arrest a hate crime, their (straw) premise is that racism ‘goes both ways’.  I’d prefer that were true, since, as stray individuals, we’d have limited ability to act on it.  But it’s not. Racism has a definition: prejudice plus power.

Unlike BIE, ‘SIR’ (state-invented racism) and ‘CRP’ (capitalist-powered racism) have been the constant since answering the mixed ranks of poor in Bacon’s Rebellion with the 1705, Virginia Slave Codes, our first official color-line.  Since then, occasionally its been lifted due to public reckoning.  But it’s never been imposed without the help of some authority, be it state, judicial, or investment capital.  ‘Law and order’ is sympathetic to profit.  The Slave-trade launched our banking system, and the plantation supplied the organizational model for the corporate firm.ii  Post-slavery, fomenting racism was and remains an indispensable strike-breaker.

This doesn’t apply only to blacks.  Today, corporations open our borders to cheap, bracerolabor that it can throw away when its worn, or dares lift its head, while coaxing us to blame the workers.  Or stuff them in jail, along with 1 in 10 African-Americans.  After all, wrenching kids from their parents precedes our deranged president.

It’s ironic though, that the free-market is putting labor in cages, like the slave-market did.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Surveillance State Exists To Destroy The Lives Of The Poor


prospect |  During the last two decades, policing has become synonymous with surveillance: the intense scrutiny of persons in public spaces. Poverty and the symptoms of drug addiction signify criminality to the police in ways similar to race. This surveillance targets the most vulnerable people in American society: people of color and poor whites. L. experienced a form of social oppression well known to people of color, targeted because their presence is considered a threat to others, because of their appearance, race, or presence in certain public spaces. 

Mass incarceration in the U.S., is largely thought of as a problem for black and brown communities. But this characterization risks masking the pervasive injustice that befalls others who live in and around those communities. The threat of surveillance has fallen disproportionately on African Americans and Latinos for decades. But during the era of mass incarceration, surveillance has increasingly become further disconnected from any legitimate suspicion of criminal behavior.  

The new approach makes surveillance seem like a primary responsibility of government. But this purported governmental “responsibility” (which does not appear in the Constitution) is rapidly overtaking the right to be free from surveillance, a protection that the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights guarantees. 

We live in a country where the poor are often presumed guilty, since they have failed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This “failure” has profound consequences. As Barton Gellman and Sam Adler-Bell, a senior fellow and senior policy advocate at the Century Foundation, noted in the 2017 Century Foundation report, “The Disparate Impact of Surveillance,” the gaze of the state is “heaviest in communities already disadvantaged by their poverty, race, religion, ethnicity, and immigration status.” 


Thursday, May 17, 2018

Deepening Contradictions In The White World


CounterPunch |  Without an understanding of the particularity of American fascism, we will, following Trotsky, be compelled to flippantly answer “yes” to both of these questions. But now that it is clear that Trump is not the apocalypse as we were told by so many liberals and leftists leading up to and following his election, such an answer would leave us politically incapacitated. If we want to begin to understand fascism in America, we must turn to Black Panther Party Field Marshal George Jackson’s analysis of fascism in his 1971 bookBlood in My Eye. 

As opposed to Trotsky’s one-dimensional “butcher” view of fascism, Jackson proposes that fascism has three faces: “out of power,” “in power but not secure,” and “in power and securely so.” The fascism that Trotsky describes is a depiction of the second face, which is “the sensational aspect of fascism we see on screen and in pulp novels.” However, in America, fascism shows its third face, during which “some dissent may even be allowed.” Jackson explains American fascism in this way:
Fascism has established itself in a most disguised and efficient manner in this country. It feels so secure that the leaders allow us the luxury of faint protest. Take protest too far, however, and they will show their other face. Doors will be kicked down in the night and machine-gun fire and buckshot will become the medium of exchange.
Never has a better diagnosis of the conditions which allow antifa and the anti-Trump movement to have “the luxury of faint protest” been given. To draw a parallel with Jackson’s own European example, just as Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce was permitted to publish an anti-fascist manifesto in 1925, three years after the fascist march on Rome, American antifa intellectuals with groups like the Campus Anti-Fascist Networkare free to remain aboveground in the nation’s most elite colleges and universities and condemn fascism openly without fear of repression from the state. 

What’s more, they are even allowed to openly express hatred for other white people with little more than an eyebrow raised from conservatives and intermittent pats on the back from liberals.

In direct contrast to the line of Refuse Fascism and other anti-fascist organizations active in the United States, Jackson’s analysis shows that fascism hardly started with the Trump administration. Many have failed to notice this reality since fascism has most frequently deployed its third, not second, face against the left in recent decades. However, while fascism is in power and securely so for the time being, Trump has produced contradictions in its efficiency and disguise by challenging the liberal ruling class with appeals to industrial capitalists and workers, tariffs that drove his own economic adviser to quit, and challenges to the Pentagon’s increasingly hawkish attitude toward Russia.

The left’s failure to understand fascism in general and the multiplying and intensifying contradictions of the Trump era in particular is largely traceable to its underdeveloped understanding of whiteness. While black America has been subjected to mass incarceration, police terror, relentless gentrification, and disproportionate deaths on the front lines of America’s imperialist wars for decades, many white leftists have determined that it is not these historical experiences of fascism in America, but the recent rise of Trump, that is most deserving of outrage and resistance.

This failure to understand fascism in relation to the color line takes its most egregious form in organizations like the Campus Antifascist Network, who attack right-wing “fascism,” yet say nothing of the liberal university’s mass participation in research for war-making, policing of poor and working class black neighborhoods, and central role in the viscous gentrification of America’s blackest cities. This analysis has the effect of obscuring rather than clarifying the contradictions we face today. The contradiction between Trump and large segments of the ruling class illustrates a political climate that C.L.R. James described in The Black Jacobins in reference to the Haitian Revolution:
The first sign of a thoroughly ill-adjusted or bankrupt form of society is that the ruling classes cannot agree how to save the situation. It is this division which opens the breach, and the ruling classes will continue to fight with each other, just so long as they do not fear the mass seizure of power.
The question is, then, how can we understand and use the mushrooming and intensifying social contradictions of the Trump era not to side with the liberal wing of the ruling class against the conservative one, but to seize power from the ruling class as a whole?  Fist tap Brother Makheru

Friday, March 02, 2018

South Africa and American Cities Have Much In Common


go-ogle |  Deindustrialization, disinvestment in urban public infrastructure, the expanding criminal justice system, and the privatization of correctional facilities create the nexus in which the school-to-prison pipeline is the logical outgrowth. The relationship between urban public schools and the criminal justice system was fostered by a variety of forces that systematically excluded black populations from participation in economic and social development. The economization of incarceration has further influenced a political environment where crime control is the reigning logic of governance of the urban poor. Residential and school segregation spatially and socially marked the urban poor and the black population was targeted and object of social ill.

De-industrialization of inner cities in the 1940's marked a new era in racial and social disparity. Facilitated and accelerated by government subsidies, the movement of resources out of urban centers was a precondition of poor urban isolation. As manufacturing jobs shifted out into the suburbs, and later abroad, employment opportunity for inner city folks dwindled. Federal subsidies such as FHA and VA facilitated suburbanization beginning in the late 1940's, creating a mass exodus of middle-income and white households. There is an established pattern of discretionary action on behalf of banks and public institutions that excluded black folks from partaking in these opportunities to move out into the suburbs. Access to superior living conditions, better funded schools, and higher-paying work was significantly limited. White flight signaled the beginning of a systemic disinvestment in public urban institutions. With homeowners now mobilized in America's suburbs, local politicians were advocating for resources that privileged their propertied constituents. Meanwhile, in cities, high unemployment rates compounded with low performing urban schools further ossified the color line. City schools as public institutions are thus situated within a larger political economy of post-industrial urban change. In Ghetto Schooling, Jean Anyon writes:

In the years between 1945 and 1960, a number of developments coincided to lay the foundation for the isolation and alienation of the urban poor that characterize our cities-and our city schools-today. the migration to cities of southern blacks fleeing poverty, segregation, inadequate education, federally subsidized suburbanization of white families and manufacturing firms leaving these same cities, federal and state policies that did not adequately address the problems festering in urban neighborhoods, corporate disinterest, and local political patronage and corruption.

Within two decades, major American cities had drastically transformed from predominantly manufacturing to white collar industry. In the early 1940's, New York's manufacturing industry employed a little over 40 percent of the total working population. By the 1960's, the vast majority of those jobs had been displaced by employment opportunities in the corporate, real estate, banking, financial, legal, and insurance industries, as well as civil service jobs in the growing bureaucracy of New York. Under the auspices of Fiorello LaGuardia and Robert Moses, New York was transformed from an industrial working-class city to a corporate center with a booming middle-class. Investments shifted from the funding and supporting of urban infrastructure, including city schools, to financing middle-class housing and a growing service industry. Meanwhile, in 1950's New Jersey, the dispersal of manufacturing jobs from urban centers to the suburbs (and later abroad) accelerated the pace. The relocation of the manufacturing sector outside the reach of poor urban communities of color was aided by federal subsidies worth a little over 120 billion dollars. Resources for sustaining a viable community in poor areas, many of which were predominantly black or latino, were increasingly scarce. White flight and deindustrialization shifted good jobs away from them, creating a socially isolated superfluous population without the means to access white-collar jobs.

The effects of white flight and urban disinvestment would have generational reverberations, many youth of color were effectively shut out from jobs in the high-tech industry through the lack of educational preparedness available to them. Public schools in poor urban communities did little more than warehouse children in poor conditions. The institution funneled these youth into positions of subordination in the new economuy. Urban schools prepared youth for low-wage service sector jobs through a curriculum that emphasized discipline and conformity. They also pushed insubordinate youth into the juvenile justice system. City schools just did not have the adequate resources to provide a contemporary and quality education for its poor children.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Black Panther: Rich Fantasy Africans Replace Bad Broke American Negroes...,


bostonreview |  Wakanda is a fictional nation in Africa, a marvel beyond all marvels. Its stupendous wealth and technological advancement reaches beyond anything the folks in MIT’s labs could dream of. The source of all this wonder is vibranium, a substance miraculous in ways that the movie does not bother to explain. But so far as we understand, it is a potent energy source as well as an unmatched raw material. A meteor rich in vibranium, which crashed ages ago into the land that would become Wakanda, made Wakanda so powerful that the terrors of colonialism and imperialism passed it by. Using technology to hide its good fortune, the country plays the part of a poor, third-world African nation. In reality, it thrives, and its isolationist policies protect it from anti-black racism. The Wakandans understand events in the outside world and know that they are spared. This triumphant lore—the vibranium and the Wakandans’ secret history and superiority—are more than imaginative window-dressing. They go to the heart of the mistaken perception that Black Panther is a movie about black liberation.

We learn that N’Jobu was sent to the United States as one of Wakanda’s War Dogs, a division of spies that the reclusive nation dispatches to keep tabs on a world it refuses to engage. This is precisely N’Jobu’s problem. In the United States, he learns of the racism black Americans face, including mass incarceration and police brutality. He soon understands that his people have the power to help all black people, and he plots to develop weapons using vibranium to even the odds for black Americans. This is radical stuff; the Black Panthers (the political party, that is) taken to a level of potentially revolutionary efficacy. T’Chaka, however, insists N’Jobu has betrayed the people of Wakanda. He has no intention of helping any black people anywhere; for him and most Wakandans, it is Wakanda First. N’Jobu threatens an aide to T’Chaka, who then kills N’Jobu. The murder leaves Killmonger orphaned. However, Killmonger has learned of Wakanda  from his father, N’Jobu. Living in poverty in Oakland, he grows to become a deadly soldier to make good on his father’s radical aim to use Wakanda’s power to liberate black people everywhere, by force if necessary.

By now viewers have two radical imaginings in front of them: an immensely rich and flourishing advanced African nation that is sealed off from white colonialism and supremacy; and a few black Wakandans with a vision of global black solidarity who are determined to use Wakanda’s privilege to emancipate all black people.

These imaginings could be made to reconcile, but the movie’s director and writer (with Joe Cole), Ryan Coogler, makes viewers choose. Killmonger makes his way to Wakanda and challenges T’Challa’s claim to the throne through traditional rites of combat. Killmonger decisively defeats T’Challa and moves to ship weapons globally to start the revolution. In the course of Killmonger’s swift rise to power, however, Coogler muddies his motivation. Killmonger is the revolutionary willing to take what he wants by any means necessary, but he lacks any coherent political philosophy. Rather than the enlightened radical, he comes across as the black thug from Oakland hell bent on killing for killing’s sake—indeed, his body is marked with a scar for every kill he has made. The abundant evidence of his efficacy does not establish Killmonger as a hero or villain so much as a receptacle for tropes of inner-city gangsterism.

In the end, all comes down to a contest between T’Challa and Killmonger that can only be read one way: in a world marked by racism, a man of African nobility must fight his own blood relative whose goal is the global liberation of blacks. In a fight that takes a shocking turn, T’Challa lands a fatal blow to Killmonger, lodging a spear in his chest. As the movie uplifts the African noble at the expense of the black American man, every crass principle of modern black respectability politics is upheld.  

In 2018, a world home to both the Movement for Black Lives and a president who identifies white supremacists as fine people, we are given a movie about black empowerment where the only redeemed blacks are African nobles. They safeguard virtue and goodness against the threat not of white Americans or Europeans, but a black American man, the most dangerous person in the world.
Even in a comic-book movie, black American men are relegated to the lowest rung of political regard. So low that the sole white leading character in the movie, the CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), gets to be a hero who helps save Wakanda. A white man who trades in secrets and deception is given a better turn than a black man whose father was murdered by his own family and who is left by family and nation to languish in poverty. That’s racist.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Strict Father Smacking The Lipstick Off The Cathedral's Neoliberal Pig


WaPo |  Thiel’s secret financing of multiple suits against Gawker was legal. But that shouldn’t erase the squeamishness brought on by a billionaire leveraging his wealth to obliterate a media outlet, all as part of a personal vendetta. (Thiel did not respond to request for comment.)

That vendetta is complicated. Thiel claims that Gawker outed him as gay. The author of the “outing” article claims Thiel was out already, but that those who knew assumed the information should remain restricted to certain circles. That attitude was “retrograde and homophobic,” the author argues, and it merited an expos√©.

But more about Gawker’s coverage may have rankled Thiel than, as he put it, the website’s “creepy obsession with outing closeted men.” Gawker’s tech-focused website Valleywag trained a skeptical and often searing eye on Silicon Valley culture. It reported on what tech titans said they were about and what they actually did.

Thiel was a titan, so he was also a target. Thanks to the lawsuits he funded, Gawker had to stop bothering him. If he gets his way again, any trace of that troublesome writing may be erased. This starts to look an awful lot like book-burning.
____________________________________________________________________________________

The good news is that ALL institutions are currently in play. Been taking a deep dive with the youngest into questions about dopamine hegemony and the science and engineering of money. Cryptocurrency and cryptocurrency-speculation being all the rage at the moment among the young, dumb, and “want something for nothing” set. 

Am absolutely loving the open warfare erupting in the Impyrian heights among the oligarchs and then licking down like lightning to destroy errant peasants who attempt to fly too high. Ahhhh.., the petty satisfactions of pedestrian schadenfreude. 

Anyway, what we can all know and see for certain at this moment, is that the NYC-DC establishment is going into a strong second-half push in this destroy Trump game. Now that russiagate has failed, it’s down to adultery and faux racism. All just window-dressing over the real game in play – that game being control of the money pump. The Koch/Thiel/Mercer block is not going to easily surrender to the status quo whigs, and the whigs are fresh out of new tricks against their invigorated asymmetrical elite political adversaries.
One of the theoretical forerunners and bases of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is chartalism, an economic theory which argues that money is a creature of the state designed to direct economic activity. The theory has recently been popularized by David Graeber’s book Debt: The First 5,000 Years, a wide-ranging work that touches upon issues ranging from gift economies, the linkage between quantification and violence, and the relationship between debt and conceptions of sin. In charting out the history of money, Graeber notes that, despite anthropological evidence to the contrary, economists have long clung to the myth of barter.
However, money does not emerge from barter-based economic activities, but rather from the sovereign’s desire to organize economic activity. The state issues currency and then imposes taxes. Because citizens are forced to use the state’s currency to pay their taxes, they can trust that the currency will carry value in day-to-day economic activities. Governments with their own currency and a floating exchange rate (sovereign currency issuers like the United States) do not have to borrow from “bond vigilantes” to spend. They themselves first spend the money into existence and then collect it through taxation to enforce its usage. The state can spend unlimited amounts of money. It is only constrained by biophysical resources, and if the state spends beyond the availability of resources, the result is inflation, which can be mitigated by taxation.
These simple facts carry radical policy implications. Taxes are not being used to fund spending, but rather to control inflation and redistribute income. Thus, we can make the case for progressive taxation from a moral standpoint concerned with social justice:
Meanwhile, smart black folk recognizing the game of musical chairs on the deck of the Titanic - FULLY REALIZE the ruthless screwing handed down to us by the DC-NYC establishment over the past 50 years, with the replacement negroe program, mass incarceration, and systematic demonization

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another Democratic Turd Drug Warrior In Need Of a Repeated Flushing: Joe Biden


Counterpunch |  I will never forget an encounter I had back in the ‘90s with then-Senator Joe Biden from Delaware. I was working as the house photographer for Widener University, which is just south of the Philly airport and just north of the Delaware line. Biden was then working hard in the Senate to fund more cops and prisons. He came to Widener to speak on the topic, and I was assigned to photograph him. After taking a few shots, I decided to stay to listen to the man and his pitch for the Drug War, something that personally interested me, beyond my job as a flak photographer.

I forget exactly what the beloved working-class senator from the corporate state of Delaware said. But it didn’t sit right with me. I had been spending my vacation time as a photographer in places like El Salvador and Nicaragua, in the middle of the Reagan Wars. I’d also been photographing addicts on the street through a needle exchange program in inner city Philadelphia and had been reading on Harm Reduction research. Later, I become aware, from a book by Ted Gest called Crime & Politics: Big Government’s Erratic Campaign for Law and Order, that when Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, Democrats were freaked out: they feared they were finished politically. 

According to Gest, it was Joe Biden who saved the day by saying, “‘Give me the crime issue and you’ll never have trouble with it in an election.’” Crime bills were the way for Democrats to stay in the political game.

“How did so much crime legislation pass during the partisan 1980s?” Gest asks. “A key element was important personal relationships in the Capital, especially between Biden and the new Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.” This is the famous racist Dixiecrat who, following the Nixon Strategy, had changed his party affiliation to Republican, keeping his Senate seniority. It was the beginning of a fruitful political friendship — “fruitful” that is, if you were a politician willing to pander and fuel the Drug War fears of the time. The result was money for more cops and more prisons. It was part and parcel with what Michelle Alexander has dubbed “the new Jim Crow,” where the stigma of being a felon replaced the old stigma of being a nigger. Bill Clinton went on to pursue a similar strategy to stay in the political game.

It was thus that I encountered Senator Biden in a Widener University auditorium shilling for the Drug War. I was in the second row and raised my hand. Biden called on me, stepping toward me as I stood up. We were maybe ten feet apart. My question focused on why he seemed to dismiss addressing the demand problem in the United Stares. I mentioned Harm Reduction. The important word I used was decriminalization. My point was why couldn’t we try something other than using the military and police and prisons to address our very real drug problem?

I might as well have said something about his children. He knew I was there as some kind of working PR person, and he lit into me with vicious glee. He turned to address the audience, avoiding both me and my question.

“This fellow thinks he’s smart. He cleverly uses the term ‘decriminalization’ — when he really means legalization. He wants to make drugs legal, folks.” He went on some more. All the time I wanted to  say: “Listen — SIR! — would you answer my question.”

It was personal. But it made the man’s huge investment in the Drug War very clear. He knew very well that decriminalization and all the very reasonable Harm Reduction research was the Achilles heel of the Drug War. If the well-respected Ted Gest is correct, the Drug War virtually made Joe Biden’s political career; working with Strom Thurmond to put away black people made him who he is today. Is this unfair to Joe Biden? No doubt, his bi-partisan cooperation with Thurmond to some degree mitigated the South Carolina senator’s Old South racism. It did nothing, however, to ease up the trend that led to the mass incarceration of African Americans; and some would add it did nothing to mitigate the current dysfunctional national bruise caused by the ideological struggle between the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements.

We all know Joe Biden’s well-nourished public persona as the working man’s politician, the guy all of us want to sit down and have a beer with. The fact is, I would have loved to sit down and have a beer with Joe. I’d ask him to answer the question he parried away in that auditorium. What do we have to do now to undo what you and your bi-partisan allies created back in the ’80s? We all may have the opportunity to ask him these questions, since it feels like he’s running for 2020. But let’s hope the Democrats get their act together and do better than running good ol’ Joe.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Predations From Within The American Negroe Socio-Economic Class Structure



Counterpunch |  Eric Holder, the nation’s first black Attorney General made his mark as Washington’s first black chief prosecutor by advancing mass pretext policing (mass frisks, stops, and arrests on minor or made-up and discretionary police grounds) in Black neighborhoods. The nation’s first black president Barack Obama severely constricted his very tepid and belated steps toward criminal justice reform by ruling out any concern for those arrested and sentenced for technically violent offenses. That’s a big problem since more than half the nation’s 1 million Black prisoners are behind bars on technically violent charges.

Locking Up Our Own is a compelling and indispensable volume for those who want to get the whole story on the rise of the “the New Jim Crow” – a story that must include serious attention to class and other fractures within Black America. But it is not without problems. Oddly enough given Forman’s desire to provide a somewhat sympathetic explanation for the Black “leadership” class’s participation in the “new Jim Crow,” he fails to note how persistent harsh racial residential segregation – what sociologists Doug Massey and Nancy Denton have rightly called “American Apartheid” – has fed Black support for aggressive policing and harsh sentencing. The Black middle and professional class lives in much greater immediate proximity than its white counterpart to the deeply impoverished and crime-prone Black “underclass”

Forman might have reflected more ambitiously and radically on the question of what happened to the struggle for Black equality and social justice more broadly in the long capitalist neoliberal era, marked at home and abroad by the triumph of the right over the left hand of the state. Many on the Black Left will find Forman too mild and forgiving in his discussion of the role played by Black bourgeois elites in the rise of racially disparate mass incarceration. They will do so with good reason.

A good counter-text here is Elaine Brown’s 2002 volume The Condemnation of Little B. In this forgotten classic and Black radical text, Brown – a former chairman of the Black Panther Party – tried to understand how the entire city of Atlanta, including its prominent Black citizens, came to unjustly condemn a poor 13-year-old Black boy, Michael Lewis, for the 1997 murder of a white man visiting a well-known drug haven in that city’s Black ghetto. Brown showed how Lewis’s conviction was “effectively predestined, attributable to the comfortable ‘New Age racism’ of white liberals and middle-class blacks who have abandoned the cause of civil rights and equal opportunity.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Drug War Has Profoundly Compromised Prosecutorial Integrity


Jefferson Beauregard Sessions is probably the single greatest disappointment for me with 45's administration. His anti-drug stance is retrograde cover for reinstituting the prosecutorial savagery which resulted in mass incarceration over the past forty years.  AG support for harsh or mandatory minimum sentences, coupled with the claim that it provides a vital service in making cases as leverage to flip people to inform on their associates, was the essential recipe for transforming America into the incarceration nation.



Even when it's used as prosecutors claim it is intended to convict ringleaders, the threat of harsh or mandatory minimum sentences to intimidate people into betraying their friends and family members is ethically suspect and legally corrupt. Claiming that it's used to dismantle illegal drug networks is at best historically suspect. In terms of practical results, this policy is has wreaked havoc and proven corrosive in terms of breaking down any pre-existing structures of social trust, community, and friendship that might have been built over time.  The explicit message of this policy is that treachery and betrayal is an act worthy of reward. The worst punishment is reserved for those who demonstrate loyalty and integrity. Drug Warriors justify this policy by asserting that Drug Dealers are already lower than murderers or violent rapists, and thus have no integrity to preserve, because they deal Drugs. But that isn’t the worst of it. What’s really ethically indefensible is the difference between the way the policy is described by politicians and prosecutors to the general public, and the way that it’s actually employed. 



Prosecutors routinely tout their use of the tactic as the use of informants to “bust up the ladder”- that is - to flip low-level retailers to snitch on the people above them in the hierarchy.  That's what's always depicted in the movies and on the teevee crime procedurals. Using snitches this way, the prosecutor claims he is working his way toward the “kingpin” at the top of the hierarchy.  The "kingpin" is finally made vulnerable to criminal conviction through informant testimony, or by having a snitch facilitate a transaction with government agents, as if there’s an ultimate "kingpin" whose conviction will lead to final victory in the Drug War. 

This simple plot line may hold a deep psychological appeal to children, buybull buddies, or people addicted to purely fictional crime procedurals - but there's no practical or historical reason to believe it's ever really happened, ever. Too many cases show that  drug selling organizations were dismantled in exactly the opposite manner.  The "kingpin" is the one who gets caught right up front and then receives lenient sentencing for informing on all his subordinates. 

Nicky Barnes is a name which comes to mind for buying leniency for himself and/or close relatives by ratting out everyone beneath him in his organization. Rayful Edmond is another prime example of the top-down snitching effect. 



Examining the stories of prisoners documented by FAMM and the Marshall Project shows cases where the heaviest time landed on the people at the bottom - people who literally had no one available to betray, no “substantial information” to provide to aid prosecutors. So all the time landed on the lowest underlings..  This is fine from the perspective of the harsh prosecutions system, because that System requires someone as a sacrifice to keep the numbers looking good and providing the image of an effective law enforcement campaign. (not to mention the profit motivation for the private for-profit prison-industrial complex itself)
People have been subjected to mandatory minimum sentences simply as a result of having once provided their residence or business as the location for a drug transaction. Mandatory minimums have been handed down for driving buyers and/or sellers to and from a transaction.  One instance of driving a buyer to the home of a seller is formally an overt act in furtherance of an illegal drug sale, and therefore all that’s required to convict someone of one count of “felony drug conspiracy.” 



Strictly speaking, millions of Americans have committed at least one felony in their lives. Anyone who’s gotten far enough into illegal drug use to purchase their own stash of weed and have acquaintances involved in the same activity has done the above at least once. From the prosecutor's perspective, conspiracy is conspiracy, no matter how minor.

Driving a friend over to a dealer’s apartment to buy a $15 bag of weed is taking part in a drug sales conspiracy, and conspiracy is a felony. Of course rendezvous like these take place daily in the underground marketplace. Most of the time the risk of getting arrested is negligible. In the event that someone is swept up in a raid and busted for that participation, felony conspiracy offers a lever for the prosecutor seeking people to snitch for them. This, notwithstanding the fact that someone who simply drives their friend over to a house and waits outside in the car while they do a deal may have no information of value to bargain with.

Meanwhile, those same ball-busting prosecutors reward those who have risen high enough in the hierarchy of a drug conspiracy to have detailed knowledge of its working and who can offer critical testimony against their companions with reduced sentences, comfortable confinement settings, or witness protection.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Drug Prohibition/War is the Dry Rot Within the American Body Politic


The corruption, dishonesty, social and ethical cannibalism within the sphere of forbidden substance users and those who prey on forbidden substance users -  has done more than any other single factor to bring on the climate of political malaise in this country.  Its still largely third rail status as a subject for national political consideration is a crucial indication of its importance. If Prohibition/War isn't the most important factor, it's certainly the most important unmentioned factor in the increasing antipathy of Americans to both traditional political parties.


For most of my lifetime, it's been out of bounds to broach the notion of drug law reform in a large public forum.   That decades-long evasion of honest debate on the relevant issues has enabled the Drug War- with its combination of unchallenged rationale and array of actual consequences - to exert a profoundly destructive effect on both official and unofficial institutions of this society. We're dealing with a corrosive situation that's been allowed to grow and fester for at least 40 years. Not drug use - but the illegal drug markets and the consequences to society of those markets. The society nurtured by that underground economy, which advantages hardened criminals over those who aren't as willing and able to resort to deceit and violence, has routinely exported the psychotic and antisocial values from jails into our communities.



We don't give nearly enough consideration to the negative consequences engendered by mass incarceration and what that has brought back to our communities from the bedlam(s) of the prison industrial complex. It is the criminal marketplace rather than the effect of forbidden substances which has acquired a hegemonic influence over our communities and popular culture. Who among us is factoring in the current state of most of our jails and prisons and what these contagiously export into our communities?  Who is factoring in the personal and public health problems and socially corrosive mentalities bubbling up out of prisons - which factors are incontestably worse than the worst impacts even of forbidden substance addiction, per se.


Race obsessives think that the main problem in America is drawn along racial lines. I disagree. The big problem in America is the long-term result of nearly a half-century of a profoundly and deceptively metastasizing Drug War. This dry rot has spread throughout our society corrupting banks, schools, police, courts, jails, politicians, professions, rents, housing, social welfare programs, the public health system, big pharma. 


The problems of forbidden substance misuse and abuse are dwarfed by the problems of Greed, Punitive Morality, Stigmatization, and Deception on both sides of the crooked line irrationally drawn by the forbidden substance criminal statutes.  The country would see a noticeable improvement within two years of effective drug law reform that worked to minimize the economic demand in the criminal marketplace: cannabis legalization, opioid addiction maintenance, a liberalized prescription and/or registry regime for some of the other substances, all while retaining laws against illegal sales operations.

In less than ten years, we might even get many of our worst schools and neighborhoods back on the path to recovery from that long-standing condition of beleaguered competition with the burdens imposed by the illicit economy.

Friday, July 07, 2017

A Turnkey Operation For A Totalitarian Society


The Federal government put policies in place that practically mandated a criminal monopoly over the trade in a wide array of illegal substances, while criminalizing the entire population with which users/dealers were most closely identified.  Leaving aside marijuana for a moment, and fast forwarding to the crack cocaine epidemic - while cocaine/crack can still be found as a street drug in this country; it's just that not as many people want it. They've seen how it can derail someone's life. Although both the supply and the numbers of cocaine users remain many times what they were 45-50 years ago. 


The criminalization and stigmatization of prohibited drugs users works to pre-emptively wall them off from most avenues of participation in legitimate society.  Their permanent stigmatization in the mainstream economy, effectively encourages them to confine their energies to participating in the criminal economy.  As for trends in urban violence, they're probably destined to cycle through for some time.


45 years of Drug War has made gangsterism dynastic. Furthermore, it has entrenched it through the prison systems. Alcohol prohibition only lasted 13 years and firmly established organized crime for two or three generations thereafter. What would the mafias have become if the "noble experiment" of alcohol prohibition hadn't been put to an end after only 13 years?  Along with Mass Incarceration, this is a crucial difference between the current Drug War and the Prohibition Era.


Then, when that situation eventually gets out of hand, the government steps in with well-funded militarization of the police, paramilitary tactics, and mass incarceration policies. It's a turnkey operation for a totalitarian society, and the justification for it appears entirely rational as long as the population thinks of it solely in terms of fear reactions and their relief, and never questions the flaws in the original premise that led to the breakdown of civic order in the first place. (Nixon's declaration of war on the left and on blacks for opposition to the Vietnam War)

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Black Law and Order


theatlantic |  If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, you might expect black folks, who are disproportionately victims of crime, to support the politics of law and order. And they frequently have done just that, according to Forman, a former public defender in Washington, D.C.; a co-founder of a D.C. charter school for at-risk youth; and now a professor at Yale Law School. Using the District of Columbia (a k a “Chocolate City”) as his laboratory, Forman documents how, as crime rose from the late 1960s to the ’90s, the city’s African American residents responded by supporting an array of tough-on-crime measures. A 1975 measure decriminalizing marijuana died in the majority-black city council, which went on to implement one of the nation’s most stringent gun-control laws. Black residents endorsed a ballot initiative that called for imposing harsh sentences on drug dealers and violent offenders. Replicated on a national level over the same period, these policies led to mass incarceration and aggressive policing strategies like stop-and-frisk, developments that are now looked upon as affronts to racial justice.

Much of what Forman reports would not surprise anyone who has spent time at a black church or a black barbershop—or in the company of my mother. In the ’60s, she marched with Malcolm X, and during the ’80s, after the public school where she taught was vandalized, she said, “Those niggers should be put under the jail.” My mom’s ideas about criminal-justice policy are informed by getting held up at gunpoint in front of our house on Chicago’s South Side, seeing family members suffer from addiction, and watching the cops treat my stepfather like a criminal after he got into a fender bender with a white man.

Needing the criminal-justice system to help keep you safe, to be fair in its investigations, and to be merciful with people who’ve run afoul of the law—this urgent, unwieldy agenda explains much of African American politics, from the anti-lynching campaigns of the early 20th century to the Black Lives Matter movement today. As Forman reminds his readers, black people have long been vigilant, often to no avail, about two kinds of equality enshrined in our nation’s ideals: equal protection of the law, and equal justice under the law.

The absence of equal protection has been, historically, the most vexing problem in the lives of African Americans. The NAACP was founded in 1909 partly in response to the federal and state governments’ turning a blind eye to white violence against blacks. More than half a century later, as open-air drug markets flourished in inner-city neighborhoods, black activists perceived a related form of racist neglect by the state. The police, they believed, would have shut down those markets had they existed in white communities. In fact, as Forman notes, many activists thought that those in power actually condoned the availability of drugs in the hood, as a means to keep the black man down. (In those days, it was black men—rather than all black people—who were seen as principally injured by racism, a fallacy that made its way into government policy under the guise of the controversial Moynihan Report in 1965.) The black radical Stokely Carmichael, speaking at a historically black college in 1970, said, “Fighting against drugs is revolutionary because drugs are a trick of the oppressor.”

Back then, many white progressives were pro-pot, and disinclined to see drug prohibition as part of a revolutionary utopia. African American suspicion of white liberals is a theme throughout Locking Up Our Own. One reason the 1975 effort to decriminalize marijuana in Washington, D.C., failed is that the bill’s two primary supporters were white men. Forman quotes the spoken-word artist Gil Scott-Heron’s portrayal of a typical white member of Students for a Democratic Society: “He is fighting for legalized smoke … / All I want is a good home and a wife and children / And some food to feed them every night.”

Scott-Heron’s very traditional wish list reveals another important explanation for black support of law and order. Not for the first time, many middle-class African Americans subscribed to the “politics of respectability”: The race advances, the view goes, when black people demonstrate that they are capable of living up to white standards of morality and conduct. Among the black elite, advocacy for lenient criminal-justice policies was deemed an admission that black interests were allied with the interests of criminals. That sort of solidarity would hardly help the cause. For many bougie African Americans—certainly those in cities like Washington and Atlanta, where light-skinned blacks dominated the middle class—colorism was also at work: The fact that their dark-skinned hoodlum cousins were getting locked up was not a problem. Indeed, one of the primary arguments for allowing African Americans to join Atlanta’s police department in the 1930s and ’40s was that they would be better able than white officers to distinguish between elite blacks and the riffraff.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Political Economy of Mass Incarceration


ineteconomics |  A new model probes why the US leads the world in jailing and imprisoning people, and what it will take to reverse course.

Mass incarceration in the United States has mushroomed to the point where we look more like the authoritarian regimes of Eastern Europe and the Middle East than the democracies of Western Europe. Yet it vanished from political discussions in campaigns in the 2016 election. In a new INET Working Paper, I describe in detail how the US arrived at this point. Drawing on a new model that synthesizes recent research, I demonstrate how the recent stability in the number of American prisoners indicates that we have settled into a new equilibrium of mass incarceration. I explain why it will hard to dislodge ourselves from this damaging and shameful status quo.

Mass incarceration started from Nixon’s War on Drugs, in a process described vividly by John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser, in 1994:
The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.
This was the origin of mass incarceration in the United States, which has been directed at African Americans from Nixon’s time to today, when one third of black men go to prison (Bonczar, 2003; Baum, 2016; Alexander, 2010).

Federal laws were expanded in state laws that ranged from three-strike laws to harsh penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The laws also shifted the judicial process from judges to prosecutors, from the courtroom to offices where prosecutors pressure accused people to plea-bargain. The threat of harsh minimum sentences gives prosecutors the option of reducing the charge to a lesser one if the accused is reluctant to languish in jail awaiting trial—if he or she is unable to make bail—and then face the possibility of long years in prison.