Empire Burlesque
Steel and Blood: America's Racial Cancer
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 07 September 2014 16:28

I once saw the mighty Steel Pulse in concert. It was more than 20 years ago in, of all places, Knoxville. They were opening for Bob Dylan. They stepped onto the stage and proclaimed: "We are Steel Pulse, from Birmingham" -- and they didn't mean Alabama. They proceeded to fill the cavernous basketball arena with the most thunderous reggae I've ever heard -- exploding with boisterous joy, seething with a fierce thirst for justice. A night to remember.

In 2008, they covered one of Dylan's songs, a little-known single he released in 1971: "George Jackson." Jackson had been imprisoned at the age of 18 for a $70 robbery, sentenced to the maddening term of "one year to life." After a decade of self-education and principled defiance that led him to national prominence, he was killed by San Quentin prison guards during a disturbance in August 1971. Dylan recorded and rush-released the song a little over three months later. (Dylan's version is here.)

I was reminded of the song by a new article in Salon by Dan Berger: "America’s fortress of blood: The death of George Jackson and the birth of the prison-industrial complex."

Following the police berzerkery in Ferguson, Missouri, America is going through one of its periodic -- but always brief and ineffectual -- moments of vague awareness about the virulent, brutal racism it carries in its body politic like an inoperable cancer. For a couple of weeks there, a few people in prominent positions mused in public about maybe taking a look at this race thing, just in case there might be a few little glitches in our glorious system. But that's about far as it went. And of course, most of our Prom-Peeps rushed to assure us, and themselves, that there are no racial problems in America -- except, of course, for the ones caused by the shiftless, grasping, ungrateful darkies themselves. (They've got a president, for Christ's sake! What more do these people want?)

In any event, our Prom-Peeps have now moved on to pants-wetting panic attacks about the Nazi Commie Russkies and the desert demons of Isis (aka "our former allies in the Syrian civil war"). But among those who live the American reality -- those who must live with the agonizing symptoms of the cancer -- the disease of racism continues its ravages. And as Berger shows, figures like George Jackson continue to exert a powerful symbolic relevance -- and a practical inspiration -- in the "lower depths" of the aptly-named prison-industrial complex, and beyond.

Below are a few excerpts from Berger's article. The whole thing is worth reading, and there are many links to further information.

A young black man gunned down by law enforcement. His body is then left outside for four hours. The shocking gore of the situation sparks countless protests around the country calling for an end to racism. Meanwhile, popular attention to the incident prompts investigations into the young man killed, leading some critics to suggest that his working-class background and alleged criminal activities somehow make his death justifiable.

It is not the last month in Ferguson, Missouri. It is not Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Roshad McIntosh or any of the other unarmed black men killed by police in recent weeks — though it could be. It is San Quentin, California, in the year 1971. His name was George Jackson. Though more than four decades have gone by since he was killed, his life and death signal the ways in which this country’s macabre routine of police violence against young black men and women has become institutionalized throughout the criminal justice system.

...When George Jackson went to prison in 1960, there were 200,000 people in prisons around the country. When he published “Soledad Brother“ in 1970, the rate of imprisonment was the lowest it had been in 20 years, with 96 out of every 100,000 Americans in prison. When he was killed in San Quentin in 1971, there were 300,000 people incarcerated, a rate of about 200 per 100,000 people.

Three decades later, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to stay the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams because the Crips co-founder had dedicated one of his anti-violence books to George Jackson and other well-known black activists (proving, Schwarzenegger said in a statement at the time, that Williams had not been rehabilitated), one in 100 American adults  is in prison — approximately 2.3 million people. As of 2011 one in 34 adults, more than 7 million people, is under some form of correctional supervision: prison, parole or probation. Five percent of the world’s population, the United States imprisons 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

Such staggering and lopsided rates of incarceration devastate whole communities, as the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and so many others can attest: Not only does mass incarceration break up families but it promotes punitive and preemptive policing of black life.

… Jackson and other dissident prisoners were the canaries in the coal mine of our prison nation: Their experience being aggressively policed, excessively sentenced and brutally treated in prison has become the norm. The elements that made his case so noteworthy in 1971 — the long sentence for a petty crime, the indefinite use of solitary confinement — are now almost too mundane to be newsworthy.

As long as the United States continues to police, imprison and kill so many young black men and women, George Jackson will remain a figure whose story needs to be told.

 
Crossing the Line: Everything Forbidden Will Come to Light
Written by Chris Floyd   
Tuesday, 24 May 2011 23:39

From that place where the inner eye is sharp, and truth's grip is tight -- around your throat.

 
Invitation to a Beheading: King Charles I Mounts the Scaffold
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Sunday, 07 September 2014 14:43

 

© 2014 by Chris Floyd

 
Air America: Under the Eye of the Imperial Panopticon
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Monday, 30 January 2012 17:10

 

One unanticipated benefit of the relentless drive to turn every nook and cranny of the American war machine into a cash cow for private profit is the fact that so much of the nitty-gritty operational work is now put out for bids. And this can give us an occasional glimpse -- through the weeds of contract arcana -- of what our poobahs and satraps are really up to on the far-flung fields of empire.

For example, in olden times -- when war pork was confined more to vittles and blankets and bullets and such -- we might never have known of the latest development in the not-at-all-ended American occupation of Iraq. As the New York Times reports, Iraqis were outraged this week to find they are being spied upon by a fleet of American drones hovering constantly in their supposedly sovereign skies, long after the supposed withdrawal of American forces. Once, such an operation might have flown below radar (so to speak), rigged up on a secret base somewhere and operated by actual soldiers or government agents: no public acknowledgement -- and certainly no advertising -- necessary. But in our era of the ever-accelerating revolving door -- where policymakers and profiteers blend into a single, dizzying, shit-brown blur of corruption -- the call to the trough often trumps other concerns.

And so the existence of the drone operation in Iraq was revealed in an obscure government report containing a "two-page online prospectus for companies that might bid on a contract to manage" the robotic voyeurism. (The supposedly sovereign Iraqis were not even told of program -- much less asked for their permission. What's it to them, anyway?)

Of course, the drone op is run by the State Department not the Pentagon -- but this is a distinction without a difference. Just as the military now carries out endless "nation-building" programs in the nations it destroys, the "diplomatic corps" has become a bristling militarized beast, commanding thousands of mercenaries and various covert operators -- such as Raymond Davis in Pakistan -- who use State's diplomatic cover to spy, subvert and kill the occasional local yokel in countries all over the world. Foggy Bottom and Hell's Bottom (the original name for the Virginia swampland where the Pentagon was built) are simply two heads of the same hydra, with the same mission: enforcing American domination of the world.

(To see this mission stripped down to its stark, hideous, undeniable essence, read the remarkable new post by Arthur Silber here.)

In its usual demure fashion, the Times sketches the real nature of the State Department's operations in Iraq:

The drones are the latest example of the State Department’s efforts to take over functions in Iraq that the military used to perform. Some 5,000 private security contractors now protect the embassy’s 11,000-person staff, for example, and typically drive around in heavily armored military vehicles.

When embassy personnel move throughout the country, small helicopters buzz over the convoys to provide support in case of an attack. Often, two contractors armed with machine guns are tethered to the outside of the helicopters.

Let's see: if you had thousands of armed foreigners prowling your streets in heavily armoured -- and heavily armed -- military vehicles, and your skies were filled with foreign helicopters sporting machine-gunners and all-seeing foreign robot drones watching your every move, would you say you had a "sovereign" country? Would you say were no longer under the heel of an armed occupying power?

The ever-circumspect Times calls this heavy-handed aggression "yet another tricky issue for the two countries." It seems that "many Iraqis" remain "deeply skeptical of the United States" -- though Lord knows why. A million innocent dead, millions more displaced, millions more ruined, sectarian violence and government torture set loose on the land -- why would you be "skeptical" of the folks who brought you that?

But of course, those little brown silly-billies are worrying themselves over nothing. Why, these diplomatic drones aren't even armed! How do we know this? Because the State Department says so:

The State Department drones, by contrast, carry no weapons and are meant to provide data and images of possible hazards, like public protests or roadblocks, to security personnel on the ground, American officials said. They are much smaller than armed drones, with wingspans as short as 18 inches, compared with 55 feet for the Predators.

The State Department has about two dozen drones in Iraq, but many are used only for spare parts, the officials said.

All very comforting -- but try reading that passage using our patented Newspeak Detangler Technique; i.e., at the end of every quoted assertion by a government official, in any story, on any subject, always add this little phrase: "but they could be lying."

 
The Comeback Trail: A Post-Hacking Note for Readers
Written by Chris Floyd   
Friday, 10 July 2009 11:34

It will not have escaped your notice that we have had some technical difficulties of late. This was due to a rather nasty hack that has occasioned major revamping, overhauling, reconfiguring and all manner of other labor-intensive, time-consuming operations, now being undertaken by our indefatigable webmaster, Richard Kastelein. Rich has gotten the core of the website up and running again, but it will still take some time before full functionality is restored.

Meanwhile, Rich asks if all registered readers would mind re-registering. Because of the nature and extent of the damage, it is uncertain whether we can recover all of the previous registration data, so it's best just to re-register to be on the safe side. We apologize for this inconvenience, but what can you do? When people keep throwing bombs through your windows and destroying the premises, you've got to clean up the debris and start again.

And so we go on. Thanks again for your patience.

 
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