Archive for the ‘America’ Category
How Wall Street Turned America Into Incarceration Nation
The U.S. leads the world in prisoners with 2.27 million in jail and more than 4.8 million on parole. Minorities have been especially hard hit, forming 39.4% of the prison population, with one in three black men expected to serve time during their lifetimes.
How is it that our land, supposedly the beacon of freedom and democracy for the rest of the world, puts so many of its own people into prison?
We usually attribute the prisoner increase to a combination of overt racism and Nixon’s war on drugs, followed by Rockefeller’s “three strikes” legislation in New York, and then the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act with its mandatory sentences. While racism and these laws certainly provide ample opportunity to incarcerate millions for violating senseless prohibition laws, they do not tell the whole story.
Racism was just as virulent, if not more so, long before the dramatic rise in prisoners set in during the 1980s and 1990s. Just because there are draconian laws on the books, it doesn’t explain why they are so dutifully enforced. It also doesn’t explain why so many are willing to risk prison, knowing the increasing odds of getting caught.
If we dig deeper, we’ll see that the rise in incarceration corresponds with the rise of financialization and the dramatic increase in Wall Street incomes. Of course, just because trend lines on charts rise and fall together doesn’t mean one causes the other. But this correspondence is much more than coincidence.
In fact, we could show you a dozen other trends lines about financialization, wealth and the rising incomes of America’s elites that follow the same patterns over similar years as the incarceration rate. What is the connection?
‘Unleashing’ Wall Street destroys manufacturing, older urban areas and black America’s upward mobility
By the end of the 1970s, our policy establishment embarked upon a new experiment to shock the nation out of stagflation (the crushing combination of high unemployment and high inflation). To do so, neo-liberal economists successfully argued that Wall Street should be deregulated and that taxes on the wealthy should be cut to spur new entrepreneurial activity that would enrich us all.
Entrepreneurial activity certainly increased, and with a vengeance. Rather than create new jobs and industries that would promote shared prosperity, a new and invigorated Wall Street set about to devastate American manufacturing. Its goal was, and still is, to make money from money, not to make money by producing tangible goods and services. Wall Street’s main product for America is debt. And its profits derive from loading up the country with it, and then collecting compound interest.
Wave after wave of financial corporate raiders (now politely called private equity firms) swooped in to suck the cash flow out of healthy manufacturing facilities. Wall Street, freed from its New Deal shackles, loaded companies up with debt, cut R&D, raided pension funds, slashed wages and benefits, and decimated well-paying jobs in the U.S. while shipping many abroad. The released cash flow was used to pay back the financiers, buy up stock to drive up its price, and pay out dividends. Nearly half the raided companies failed as America’s heartland in a few short years turned into the Rust Belt.
But Wall Street prospered as its profits rose to account for nearly 40% of all corporate profits by 2003, up from less than 10 percent in 1982 (It would take more space than we have here to explain why this had little to do with “unfair” foreign competition. We could also show that so called free-trade agreements were designed by financiers to promote their interests, not ours.)
The catastrophic collapse in manufacturing jobs was particularly tragic for black Americans who during the first two decades after WWII had seen their standard of living rise as they entered higher paying industries. As the Wall Street vultures sucked the life out of these industries, black Americans found themselves in dying urban areas where the next best jobs paid less than half what manufacturing once paid. If lucky, young minority men and women could find work in the public sector which still was unionized. More typically, scarce jobs might be found in fast-food chains, box stores, warehouses, and in the lower ranks of the healthcare system. Overall, however, unemployment rates soared, especially for minority youth. Participation in the underground economy often became the only means of survival.
Financialization, gentrification and the removal of low-income residents
Not only does financialization destroy middle-income manufacturing jobs in urban areas, but the process also removes low-income neighborhoods through gentrification. The rise of high-income financiers (and the desire of banks to loan more money to them) creates upward pressure on housing prices in urban areas that cater to elites, like New York, Chicago and San Francisco. As land values rise rapidly, lower-income residents are squeezed out of their neighborhoods, which are revamped into fashionable townhouses and apartments for the wealthy. (Typically, the children of the well-to-do unconsciously serve as forward troops as they flock into lower-income areas in major cities, seeking to support themselves as artists and young professionals.)
As hundreds of neighborhoods are transformed, higher income residents require more protection from the alternative low-income economy, called “crime in the streets.” As mayors cater to these new elites, police patrols increase and incarceration rises through “stop and frisk” programs which invariably target minorities.
Simply put, for financial interests to transform poorer neighborhoods into desirable real estate for the new elites, it is necessary to get rid of the poor. Jail becomes the new home for many.
The housing bubble and bust further destroyed lower income neighborhoods and decent-paying public sector jobs. Not only did financial interests feast upon productive firms, but they thrived on consumer debt (yet another chart that mirrors the incarceration rate).
The housing bubble, which was entirely engineered by Wall Street, created enormous demand for junk mortgages to package into securities which then turned toxic. When the bubble burst, the biggest losers were lower-income homeowners who thought they had finally gotten a piece of the American dream. With declining housing prices they found themselves underwater and/or living in neighborhoods with hundreds of abandoned homes. Their debts, remained, while, as we all know, the richest of the rich were bailed out.
Because of the Wall Street crash, revenue-starved urban areas in the Rust Belt were hit once again. With unemployment higher than anytime since the Great Depression, business and worker tax revenues fell, leading to cuts in public employee jobs and benefits—the very jobs middle-income minorities were fortunate to find as manufacturing declined over the previous decades.
Detroit became the poster child for the ravages brought about by financialization. First corporate raiders and private equity firms squeezed the life out of manufacturing all over Michigan. Then the Wall Street crash destroyed more jobs and undermined the tax base, leading to urban bankruptcy and more job loss in the public sector.
Wall Street’s Jobs Program: Incarceration
What will happen to all those unemployed, given the massive shortfall in jobs? What will happen to those trapped in neighborhoods crammed with foreclosed homes? Where is the jobs program for the millions who need it?
High finance has the answer that is now the de-facto government policy—put the dislocated, the unemployed, the “surplus” youth in jail.
That’s because financial interests and their crony politicians have no interest at all in traditional jobs programs that could put millions of young people to work. Instead, they are doing all they can to bring austerity policies to America. The less government spends on public services and safety net programs, the more money it has to support Wall Street. As government services are cut, state and local governments must turn even more to Wall Street in order to finance infrastructure projects (where the total cost including interest payments is usually several times the initial costs of construction).
Wall Street’s super-profits can only continue if public and consumer funds are transferred to high finance via interest payments on loans. So public jobs programs are out of the question, and both parties have been “convinced” (with campaign contributions) that we can’t afford them.
So that leaves us with one and only one jobs program—incarceration—which is also a growth opportunity for Wall Street. As public revenues falter, pressure will mount to privatize more and more correctional facilities and law enforcement functions, opening up lucrative opportunities for more privatization and more Wall Street loans to make it happen.
So by all means, let’s legalize drugs, get rid of mandatory sentencing and prohibit “stop and frisk.” But until we tackle financialization and its destruction of neighborhoods and jobs, we will channel another generation into the underground economy—and into jail.
© 2013, agentleman.
How American Politics Constantly Neglects Black Women
Our political system is neglecting black women — and we can change it. No one is making this argument better than black women themselves. Women like Roxane Gay, Brittney Cooper and countless others have written powerfully and eloquently about the unique experience of being a black woman in America, and I would like to add my voice in solidarity. Because it’s important that black men publicly voice our support on these issues – not just in order to stand alongside our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends, but because it is the best thing for our nation.
A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) entitled, “The State of African-American Women in the United States” highlights that the intersection of racial and gender disparities meets at the experience of black women. Despite this, in the last presidential election, they had the highest voter participation rate of any comparable group in the country.
Black women experience socioeconomic inequity more than anyone else, yet they vote more than all others (and almost always in favor of the Democratic candidate). There are two important implications in this reality. First, their policy concerns have gone largely unaddressed. Second, despite the evidence of the black electorate bellwether, there is little real effort by candidates to work hard for those votes. The Republican Party assumes it is unobtainable. The Democratic Party knows it can rely on overwhelming support from the black community because of precedent and, quite honestly, lack of a viable alternative.
These lead to the political alienation of black women. Their votes are taken for granted, and their most pressing socioeconomic concerns are unaddressed. This is not cool.
A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll from 2011 found the issues that black women worry about most include employment/personal finances, healthcare, and crime. Exit polls from last month’s Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections show the same concerns. These issues presumably influence how and for whom black women vote. Yet, voting has not reaped the results they – indeed, the nation writ large – deserve.
The CAP report states that 1 in 4 black women are uninsured. This is a primary contributor to them facing such issues as higher cancer mortality rates, the highest incidence of hypertension, and black babies dying at 2.5 times the rate of white babies. Though a fully implemented Affordable Care Act will help black women get insurance, the increasing doctor shortage will still disproportionately complicate their ability to receive care.
In education, black women are underrepresented in college degrees, have the slowest increase in graduation rates among all women, and are the most severely underrepresented in technical fields. Recent government cutbacks and student loan eligibility changes have left black students scrambling. This has contributed to a financial crunch in many historically black colleges and universities, a primary grantor of college degrees. Black women are hit especially hard since they comprise 66 percent of African Americans graduating with bachelor’s degrees, 71 percent of master’s, and 65 percent of doctorates.
On the economic front, black women have a higher rate of unemployment than white women – a rate that actually rose in 2013. Black women’s income is less than all men and white women, and their poverty rate is the highest in the nation. The national response? Cutbacks on funding for social safety nets, elimination of national programs that could help close economic gaps, and policies that exacerbate income inequality.
With all this evidence that black women are being ignored, they have plenty with which to be displeased. But square in the face of the despicable “angry black woman” trope, the Washington-Kaiser poll reveals quite the opposite. Nearly 3 in 4 black women felt it was a good time to be a black woman in America, and 85 percent report that they are satisfied with their lives as a whole.
Perhaps most interesting, black female entrepreneurs are the fastest growing segment of the women-owned business market. They are starting up at six times the national average, grew in number by 258 percent over the last 15 years, and generated nearly $45 billion of revenue this year.
So why hasn’t political alienation suppressed their vote? A Harvard Journal of African American Policy paper titled, “Political Cynicism and the Black Vote,” suggests a notable difference in black voting behavior. The authors argue that unlike other races, when black voters have high cynical attitudes – specifically the feeling of political alienation – they turn out in higher numbers. This might help explain why black women voting rates continue to rise despite the political alienation they experience.
This symbiotic relationship of cynicism and turnout, coupled with an uninterested Republican Party, leads to a continuation of a devalued vote and unaddressed concerns. This is the complex cycle that must be broken.
The only way to stop alienating black women is to have a targeted goal of reducing the inequity they experience. There are no shortcuts. There are no speeches or appearances at churches, conventions, or HBCUs that alone will allay concerns. The hard work of effecting real change must be done.
Black women have clearly made their most pressing concerns known: among other things, they need health insurance and more access to doctors, reduction of violent crime, equal access and opportunity to quality education, and a paycheck that does not discriminate against them for being black and female.
Not only is this not too much to ask, it’s the very least the country can do.
If there are doubters that think an effort to specifically boost black women is unfair in some way, there is a straightforward response to this concern, founded in three truisms. First, there is little more unfair than the disparities black women face across the socioeconomic spectrum. Though they are not the most marginalized in every instance – for example, Hispanic women have lower incomes on average – the confluence of all the factors makes their American experience especially imbalanced.
Second, an effort must be specific to black women (in addition to those for black Americans in general), because when considering the number of registered voters and participation rate, the political voice of black women is extraordinarily strong: In the 2012 presidential election, the voting rate of black women was almost 10 percent higher than that of black men.
Third, when black and white men and women were asked whether they identify more with their race or gender, the results were clear. Nine out of ten white men and women identified with gender first, not race. Black women, however, identified with race over gender at the highest rate, even 25 percent more than black men.
These three points taken together mean that when black women speak, they show up in numbers, they highlight issues of national importance, and they pinpoint a unique perspective of inequity that, if addressed, will close the gaps for all Americans. Long overdue, treating black women fairly is the right thing on its own merits, and also the best thing for the nation.
The political alienation of black women may prove beneficial to the winners who are swept into office from their high turnout, but the failure to adequately address the disparities they experience dooms any attempt at sound social policy. The nation would do well to ensure this alienation does not continue, but instead, as Toni Morrison once declared, go on and ensure the necessary work gets done.
© 2013, agentleman.
Eye on 2016, Clintons Rebuild Bond With Blacks
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s appearance in July before Delta Sigma Theta, a predominantly black sorority, drew notice.
By AMY CHOZICK and JONATHAN MARTIN
Inside Bright Hope Baptist Church, the luminaries of Philadelphia’s black political world gathered for the funeral of former Representative William H. Gray III in July. Dozens of politicians — city, state and federal — packed the pews as former President Bill Clinton offered a stirring eulogy, quoting Scripture and proudly telling the crowd that he was once described as “the only white man in America who knew all the verses to ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’ ”
Hillary Rodham Clinton at a Sunday church service in Columbia, S.C., during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.
But it was the presence and behavior of Hillary Rodham Clinton that most intrigued former Gov. Edward G. Rendell: During a quiet moment, Mrs. Clinton leaned over to the governor and pressed him for details about the backgrounds, and the influence, of the assembled black leaders.
Since Mrs. Clinton left the secretary of state post in February, she and her husband have sought to soothe and strengthen their relationship with African-Americans, the constituency that was most scarred during her first bid for the presidency. Five years after remarks by Mr. Clinton about Barack Obama deeply strained the Clintons’ bond with African-Americans, the former first family is setting out to ensure that there is no replay of such trouble in 2016.
Mrs. Clinton used two of her most high-profile speeches, including one before a black sorority convention, to address minority voting rights — an explosive issue among African-Americans since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act in June. A month after Mr. Gray’s funeral, Mrs. Clinton and her husband both asked to speak at the service for Bill Lynch, a black political strategist who is credited with the election of David N. Dinkins as mayor of New York, and stayed for well over two hours in a crowd full of well-connected mourners. And there have been constant personal gestures, especially by the former president.
“I think that this is an effort to repair whatever damage they felt may have been done in ’08,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton. Mr. and Mrs. Clinton “know that there are some who have lingering questions, if not antipathy, towards them,” Mr. Sharpton said.
This task has taken on new urgency given the Democratic Party’s push to the left, away from the centrist politics with which the Clintons are identified. Strong support from black voters could serve as a bulwark for Mrs. Clinton against a liberal primary challenge should she decide to run for president in 2016. It would be difficult for a progressive candidate, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, to rise if the former first lady takes back the black voters she lost to Mr. Obama and retains the blue-collar white voters who flocked to her.
Her appearance before the sisters of Delta Sigma Theta in July, which she opened by offering condolences to the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was killed in Florida last year, and her voting rights address to the American Bar Association in August drew significant attention among black leaders.
“That speech that she gave regarding voting suppression was very, very significant and meaningful,” said Representative James E. Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat and the highest-ranking African-American in Congress. Mr. Clyburn, who clashed sharply with Mr. Clinton in 2008, said Mrs. Clinton was “now in a very good place with the African-American community.”
Tavis Smiley, a black commentator, argued that this was because “they have now learned the important lesson that there’s a distinction between a coronation and an election.”
The Clintons appear to be taking nothing for granted. Mr. Clinton did not just attend the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on the National Mall in August, but alsoshowed up at Arlington Cemetery in June to honor Medgar Evers on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. In May, Mr. Clinton was the commencement speaker at Howard University in Washington, posing for pictures with all who asked and sitting on stage next to one of the school’s best-known graduates, L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor from Virginia, a longtime friend and rival of Mr. Clinton’s.
In private, Mr. Clinton is frequently in touch with black leaders. Representative Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member on the House panel on government oversight, got a handwritten note from the former president over the summer commending him on his leadership on the committee.
“He has made an effort to reach out over and over again through the years,” Mr. Cummings said.
The congressman recalled Mr. Clinton’s visits to his church in Baltimore and a phone call he got from the former president inquiring about the health of his mother, whose name Mr. Clinton recalled.
Such personal touches, for which the Clintons are famous, have never been more important as Mrs. Clinton considers a second presidential bid.
Mr. Clinton has a rich, if occasionally fraught, history with African-Americans. He was a New South governor and a progressive on race who would eventually be called “the first black president” by the author Toni Morrison. But he infuriated blacks in 2008 when, after Mr. Obama won a big South Carolina primary victory, he seemed to dismiss the achievement by reminding the press that the Rev. Jesse Jackson had won the state twice and calling Mr. Obama’s antiwar position “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.”
Many African-Americans took Mr. Clinton’s fairy tale comment to mean that Mr. Obama’s candidacy itself was a hopeless fantasy.
“It did get a little strained at times,” Mr. Cummings acknowledged. “I will never forget when President Clinton made that comment about the fairy tale. That was a painful moment for a lot of African-Americans, because we didn’t see it as a fairy tale.”
He added, however, that he believed most African-Americans had moved on from their hurt, in no small part because of Mrs. Clinton’s willingness to join Mr. Obama’s administration and her loyalty therein. Indeed, her most important implicit endorsement among blacks may come from Mr. Obama himself.
His joint “60 Minutes” interview with Mrs. Clinton this year helped ease lingering doubts about tensions between the former rivals. And Mr. Obama’s silence in recent months as some of his former aides have aligned themselves with Mrs. Clinton suggests that he will not try to help clear the way for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. if he decides to run.
For other black leaders, Mr. Clinton’s showstopping speech at last year’s Democratic convention was equally important.
“The defining moment for me was both when Hillary Clinton became secretary of state and Bill Clinton’s tremendous speech on behalf of President Obama,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat who backed Mr. Obama in 2008. “Those both occurred when a lot of people in the community were paying close attention.”
The renewed connection between the Clintons and African-Americans was on display as Mr. Clinton campaigned for his close friend Terry McAuliffe in the closing weeks of the recent campaign for governor of Virginia. At a high school in a black neighborhood in Richmond, the former president received a booming ovation, punctuated by church-style shouts of “Yes!” and “All right!”
“I hope all the people of other religions in the audience will forgive me, but on this Sunday, in the parlance of my native state and my culture, I’m fully aware that I am just preaching to the saved,” Mr. Clinton said to cheers and applause.
He then praised Mr. Wilder, who endorsed Mr. Obama in the 2008 race and was also at the McAuliffe campaign event, beaming.
In an interview at the rally, Mr. Wilder recalled a long chat he had with Mr. Clinton in May. While Mr. Clinton professed not to know his wife’s intentions, Mr. Wilder felt otherwise: “I’d be less than honest if I didn’t tell you I came away convinced that there’s no question about her running.”
Of the tensions of 2008, the former governor said all was forgiven: “I don’t think anybody is looking back. If Hillary runs for the nomination, she gets it. Period.”
© 2013, agentleman.
Open Letter to the Three White Students Who Filed a Discrimination Complaint Against Their Black Teacher
Hi guys. Before you ask, I’m white too. Someone wise said social activism tastes better when the waiter is white, and while this is unfortunate, you clearly aren’t listening to your professor, Shannon Gibney, so I thought I’d take a moment to clear some things up, mano-a-mano. You know, Caucasian-a-Caucasian.
Let me make something clear right up front: you have no real idea what it’s like to be discriminated against on the basis of race. Neither do I. You know why? Because we’re white. We’re white people in America, and that means almost every aspect of the country we live in is geared toward us: 99 percent of books, television, film, magazines, and even porn, is made for us and represents us. Maybe you read (though for some reason I deeply doubt it) my article on the absurdity of #WhiteGirlsRock. It’s absurd because white people don’t need an extra reminder of their value… because it’s reaffirmed for them (for us) every single day by the people we see in the media, by the people that run this country, and yes, even by the people that act as our educators. American education has long been under fire by people who use their brains over the continued teaching that Christopher Columbus was a great dude and a hero and someone we should all celebrate year after year. But you probably still think that, don’t you?
Probably before you got to college, most of your teachers taught the version of American history that high schools are wont to teach: Columbus was like Mr. Rogers with a (crappy) map, the Pilgrims sang Kumbaya with the Native Americans, and slavery just wasn’t that bad. I imagine college courses might have been a bit of a shock for you, with discussions that maybe didn’t valorize violent colonization and actually shone a light on the perspective of people who weren’t white.
Is this where things started to get uncomfortable for you? I imagine the first lecture on America’s legacy of brutality and oppression left you in shock. Maybe you thought that particular professor was just a wayward nut job. But then another class discussed institutional racism, and another. And you began to squirm in your seat because whoa this wasn’t just one time where your whiteness — the thing that you might have squeaked by on for the entirety of your short life; the thing you’ve unconsciously relied upon to get you out of trouble with the campus police, out of detention and on the honor roll in high school; the thing that might have gotten you your consecutive summer jobs — that thing, that whiteness, is being criticized, not just once by one random professor who your privilege enables you to ignore, but more than once. You see petitions and articles on the Internet talking about racism and bias and…gasp…white privilege. And you’re sick of it, right? Because who wants to sit in a room full of people, people who don’t all look and sound like you, and talk about the ways that you are flawed? That’s uncomfortable. That’s awkward. That doesn’t feel good. It feels like being singled out; it feels like being held accountable for things you don’t feel responsible for; it feels like being defined by the color of your skin; it feels like being blamed; it feels like being…discriminated against.
But it’s not discrimination, boys. And here’s why.
Because this is one classroom in your entire life. One speck of discomfort in an ocean that is your life of privilege. Because white supremacy dictates that your skin — and let’s not forget your maleness — will make things fundamentally easier for you than for a person (and especially a woman) of color. That feeling of being on the spot? Of being defined by the color of your skin? Of being blamed for things that other people of your color do, even if you have not done them yourself? That’s not a classroom for people of color. That’s life. There’s no walking out of class. There’s no transferring to a different professor. There is only more of the same, with the hope that dialogue, education, and activism will pull the collective ostrich head from the ground, bit by bit, until that structural racism that you don’t like talking about is eradicated.
Look, guys. I see why you’re uncomfortable. You have been taught your entire life that white is always right. Your formal education has revolved around the valorization of colonization, the championing of racist brutes, and the marginalization of people of color. You have grown up insulated from racism and discrimination and what those words truly mean. You have been trained to see your whiteness as the norm, the default, the center of the world: you think that Other people have a race, but you are just… you. Your whiteness has been an invisible tool that you have wielded your entire life, mostly without really realizing it, but now that people are criticizing the invisible tool, you are pissed, defensive, and maybe even afraid. I would say that’s normal. Everything you’ve been taught is being contradicted, so a little discomfort is expected.
That’s what you said, right? That the discussion of structural racism made you uncomfortable? That you felt the classroom was hostile? That you didn’t like that “we have to talk about this all the time”? I have a simple question for you: how do you think people of color feel? What if that classroom that you felt was hostile was your world, your life? You have now filed a formal discrimination complaint with your college against your professor, which I’m sure in your mind is some kind of activism, but by filing that complaint, you are attempting to silence a voice speaking out against discrimination. It’s odd, you see. It’s odd that you want your voice to be heard and your pain acknowledged, but you don’t want to acknowledge the suffering of people of color. You want to talk about discrimination against yourself — but you don’t want to talk about discrimination against people of color. Interesting. Maybe if you’d actually paid attention in that lecture on structural racism, you’d have learned that discrimination in the context of 21st century America has political, social, and economic ramifications. Your hurt feelings, your 90 minutes of discomfort, are just not included in that, fellas.
Bottom line: I want you to be uncomfortable. It means you’re being challenged. And that’s what college is for, isn’t it? I’m not a teacher, but I know that mental growth, like physical growth, comes with growing pains. It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun. It’s going to hurt and you’re going to come out the other side bumped and bruised… but better. Shannon Gibney is trying to make the world better. She’s trying to make you better. What have you done lately?
© 2013, agentleman.
Pope Francis rips capitalism and trickle-down economics to shreds in new policy statement
In case there was any doubt left, Pope Francis made it clear that he shares little in common with U.S. conservatives.
The pontiff released his Evangelii Gadium, or Joy of the Gospel, attacking capitalism as a form of tyranny and calling on church and political leaders to address the needs of the poor.
“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,” the pope said in the 224-page document that essentially serves as his official platform.
Pope Francis said that inequality was the root of social ills, and prayed for world leaders with more empathy and sense of social justice.
“I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor!” Pope Francis wrote. “It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.”
The pope has already drawn the ire of some conservative Catholics, particularly in the U.S., for his open-minded comments on social issues such as homosexuality, abortion and contraception, and he’s also previously criticized capitalism for promoting greed.
But his latest statements put those concerns into sharper focus – and puts him in sharp contrast to American conservative leaders who prize the unfettered free market and promote the Randian theory of objectivism, or rational self-interest.
“I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth,” the pope wrote.
He also launched a broadside against former President Ronald Reagan’s signature economic theory, which continues to serve as conservative Republican dogma.
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Pope Francis wrote. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
The pope lamented that people had “calmly accepted (the) dominion” of money over themselves and society, which he said was expressed in the recent financial crisis and the continuing promotion of consumer-based economies.
“We have created new idols,” the pope wrote. “The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.”
The pope decried the growing gap between rich and poor as a social and political problem.
“This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation,” Pope Francis wrote. “Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.”
The pope noted that corporations and individuals were failing to pay taxes in nations around the world, depriving governments of funding needed to serve all their citizens, and banks and loan organizations had crippled emerging economies with staggering interest obligations.
“The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits,” Pope Francis wrote. “In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”
Pope Francis said this political and economic system was inherently sinful because it violated the biblical prohibition against killing.
“Such an economy kills,” he wrote. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
The pope said that human beings themselves are used and discarded as mere consumer goods in this “disposable culture.”
“It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new,” Pope Francis wrote. “Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers.’”
© 2013, agentleman.
The US Has 761 Military Bases Across the Planet, and We Simply Never Talk About It
AlterNet is resurfacing some of the best and most popular articles published in 2008 as the year comes to a close. First, Tom Engelhardt’s essay on the spread of American military bases and global empire, published this September.
Here it is, as simply as I can put it: In the course of any year, there must be relatively few countries on this planet on which U.S. soldiers do not set foot, whether with guns blazing, humanitarian aid in hand, or just for a friendly visit. In startling numbers of countries, our soldiers not only arrive, but stay interminably, if not indefinitely. Sometimes they live on military bases built to the tune of billions of dollars that amount to sizeable American towns (with accompanying amenities), sometimes on stripped down forward operating bases that may not even have showers. When those troops don’t stay, often American equipment does — carefully stored for further use at tiny “cooperative security locations,” known informally as “lily pads” (from which U.S. troops, like so many frogs, could assumedly leap quickly into a region in crisis).
At the height of the Roman Empire, the Romans had an estimated 37 major military bases scattered around their dominions. At the height of the British Empire, the British had 36 of them planetwide. Depending on just who you listen to and how you count, we have hundreds of bases. According to Pentagon records, in fact, there are 761 active military “sites” abroad.
The fact is: We garrison the planet north to south, east to west, and even on the seven seas, thanks to our various fleets and our massive aircraft carriers which, with 5,000-6,000 personnel aboard — that is, the population of an American town — are functionally floating bases.
And here’s the other half of that simple truth: We don’t care to know about it. We, the American people, aided and abetted by our politicians, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media, are knee-deep in base denial.
Now, that’s the gist of it. If, like most Americans, that’s more than you care to know, stop here.
Where the Sun Never Sets
Let’s face it, we’re on an imperial bender and it’s been a long, long night. Even now, in the wee hours, the Pentagon continues its massive expansion of recent years; we spend militarily as if there were no tomorrow; we’re still building bases as if the world were our oyster; and we’re still in denial. Someone should phone the imperial equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous.
But let’s start in a sunnier time, less than two decades ago, when it seemed that there would be many tomorrows, all painted red, white, and blue. Remember the 1990s when the U.S. was hailed — or perhaps more accurately, Washington hailed itself — not just as the planet’s “sole superpower” or even its unique “hyperpower,” but as its “global policeman,” the only cop on the block? As it happened, our leaders took that label seriously and our central police headquarters, that famed five-sided building in Washington D.C, promptly began dropping police stations — aka military bases — in or near the oil heartlands of the planet (Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait) after successful wars in the former Yugoslavia and the Persian Gulf.
As those bases multiplied, it seemed that we were embarking on a new, post-Soviet version of “containment.” With the USSR gone, however, what we were containing grew a lot vaguer and, before 9/11, no one spoke its name. Nonetheless, it was, in essence, Muslims who happened to live on so many of the key oil lands of the planet.
Yes, for a while we also kept intact our old bases from our triumphant mega-war against Japan and Germany, and then the stalemated “police action” in South Korea (1950-1953) — vast structures which added up to something like an all-military American version of the old British Raj. According to the Pentagon, we still have a total of 124 bases in Japan, up to 38 on the small island of Okinawa, and 87 in South Korea. (Of course, there were setbacks. The giant bases we built in South Vietnam were lost in 1975, and we were peaceably ejected from our major bases in the Philippines in 1992.)
But imagine the hubris involved in the idea of being “global policeman” or “sheriff” and marching into a Dodge City that was nothing less than Planet Earth itself. Naturally, with a whole passel of bad guys out there, a global “swamp” to be “drained,” as key Bush administration officials loved to describe it post-9/11, we armed ourselves to kill, not stun. And the police stations Well, they were often something to behold — and they still are.
Let’s start with the basics: Almost 70 years after World War II, the sun is still incapable of setting on the American “empire of bases” — in Chalmers Johnson’s phrase – which at this moment stretches from Australia to Italy, Japan to Qatar, Iraq to Colombia, Greenland to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, Rumania to Okinawa. And new bases of various kinds are going up all the time (always with rumors of more to come). For instance, an American missile system is slated to go into Poland and a radar system into Israel. That will mean Americans stationed in both countries and, undoubtedly, modest bases of one sort or another to go with them. (The Israeli one — “the first American base on Israeli territory” – reports Aluf Benn of Haaretz, will be in the Negev desert.)
There are 194 countries on the planet (more or less), and officially 39 of them have American “facilities,” large and/or small. But those are only the bases the Pentagon officially acknowledges. Others simply aren’t counted, either because, as in the case of Jordan, a country finds it politically preferable not to acknowledge such bases; because, as in the case of Pakistan, the American military shares bases that are officially Pakistani; or because bases in war zones, no matter how elaborate, somehow don’t count. In other words, that 39 figure doesn’t even include Iraq or Afghanistan. By 2005, according to theWashington Post , there were 106 American bases in Iraq, ranging from tiny outposts to mega-bases like Balad Air Base and the ill-named Camp Victory that house tens of thousands of troops, private contractors, Defense Department civilians, have bus routes, traffic lights, PXes, big name fast-food restaurants, and so on.
Some of these bases are, in effect, “American towns” on foreign soil. In Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base, previously used by the Soviets in their occupation of the country, is the largest and best known. There are, however, many more, large and small, including Kandahar Air Base, located in what was once the unofficial capital of the Taliban, which even has a full-scale hockey rink(evidently for its Canadian contingent of troops).
You would think that all of this would be genuine news, that the establishment of new bases would regularly generate significant news stories, that books by the score would pour out on America’s version of imperial control. But here’s the strange thing: We garrison the globe in ways that really are — not to put too fine a point on it — unprecedented, and yet, if you happen to live in the United States, you basically wouldn’t know it; or, thought about another way, you wouldn’t have to know it.
In Washington, our garrisoning of the world is so taken for granted that no one seems to blink when billions go into a new base in some exotic, embattled, war-torn land. There’s no discussion, no debate at all. News about bases abroad, and Pentagon basing strategy, is, at best, inside-the-fold stuff, meant for policy wonks and news jockeys. There may be no subject more taken for granted in Washington, less seriously attended to, or more deserving of coverage.
Americans have, of course, always prided themselves on exporting “democracy,” not empire. So empire-talk hasn’t generally been an American staple and, perhaps for that reason, all those bases prove an awkward subject to bring up or focus too closely on. When it came to empire-talk in general, there was a brief period after 9/11 when the neoconservatives, in full-throated triumph, began to compare us to Rome and Britain at their imperial height (though we were believed to be incomparably, uniquely more powerful). It was, in the phrase of the time, a “unipolar moment.” Even liberal war hawks started talking about taking up “the burden” of empire or, in the phrase of Michael Ignatieff, now a Canadian politician but, in that period, still at Harvard and considered a significant American intellectual, “empire lite.”
On the whole, however, those in Washington and in the media haven’t considered it germane to remind Americans of just exactly how we have attempted to “police” and control the world these last years. I’ve had two modest encounters with base denial myself:
In the spring of 2004, a journalism student I was working with emailed me a clip, dated October 20, 2003 — less than seven months after American troops entered Baghdad — from a prestigious engineering magazine. It quoted Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer “tasked with facilities development” in Iraq, speaking proudly of the several billion dollars (“the numbers are staggering”) that had already been sunk into base construction in that country. Well, I was staggered anyway. American journalists, however, hardly noticed, even though significant sums were already pouring into a series of mega-bases that were clearly meant to be permanent fixtures on the Iraqi landscape. (The Bush administration carefully avoided using the word “permanent” in any context whatsoever, and these bases were first dubbed “enduring camps.”)
Within two years, according to the Washington Post (in a piece that, typically, appeared on page A27 of the paper), the U.S. had those 106 bases in Iraq at a cost that, while unknown, must have been staggering indeed. Just stop for a moment and consider that number: 106. It boggles the mind, but not, it seems, American newspaper or TV journalism.
TomDispatch.com has covered this subject regularly ever since, in part because these massive “facts on the ground,” these modern Ziggurats, were clearly evidence of the Bush administration’s long-term plans and intentions in that country. Not surprisingly, this year, U.S. negotiators finally offered the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki its terms for a so-called status of forces agreement, evidently initially demanding the right to occupy into the distant future 58 of the bases it has built.
It has always been obvious — to me, at least — that any discussion of Iraq policy in this country, of timelines or “time horizons,” drawdowns or withdrawals, made little sense if those giant facts on the ground weren’t taken into account. And yet you have to search the U.S. press carefully to find any reporting on the subject, nor have bases played any real role in debates in Washington or the nation over Iraq policy.
I could go further: I can think of two intrepid American journalists, Thomas Ricksof the Washington Post and Guy Raz of NPR, who actually visited a single U.S. mega-base, Balad Air Base, which reputedly has a level of air traffic similar to Chicago’s O’Hare International or London’s Heathrow, and offered substantial reports on it. But, as far as I know, they, like the cheese of children’s song, stand alone. I doubt that in the last five years Americans tuning in to their television news have ever been able to see a single report from Iraq that gave a view of what the bases we have built there look like or cost. Although reporters visit them often enough and, for instance, have regularly offered reports from Camp Victory in Baghdad on what’s going on in the rest of Iraq, the cameras never pan away from the reporters to show us the gigantic base itself.
More than five years after ground was broken for the first major American base in Iraq, this is, it seems to me, a remarkable record of media denial. American bases in Afghanistan have generally experienced a similar fate.
My second encounter with base denial came in my other life. When not running TomDispatch.com, I’m a book editor; to be more specific, I’m Chalmers Johnson’s editor. I worked on the prophetic Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, which was published back in 2000 to a singular lack of attention — until, of course, the attacks of 9/11, after which it became a bestseller, adding both “blowback” and the phrase “unintended consequences” to the American lexicon.
By the time The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, the second volume in his Blowback Trilogy , came out in 2004, reviewers, critics, and commentators were all paying attention. The heart of that book focused on how the U.S. garrisons the planet, laying out Pentagon basing policies and discussing specific bases in remarkable detail. This represented serious research and breakthrough work, and the book indeed received much attention here, including major, generally positive reviews. Startlingly, however, not a single mainstream review, no matter how positive, paid any attention, or even really acknowledged, his chapters on the bases, or bothered to discuss the U.S. as a global garrison state. Only three years later did a major reviewer pay the subject serious attention. When Jonathan Freedland reviewed Nemesis, the final book in the Trilogy, in the New York Review of Books , he noticed the obvious and, in a discussion of U.S. basing policy, wrote, for instance:
“Johnson is in deadly earnest when he draws a parallel with Rome. He swats aside the conventional objection that, in contrast with both Romans and Britons, Americans have never constructed colonies abroad. Oh, but they have, he says; it’s just that Americans are blind to them. America is an ‘empire of bases,’ he writes, with a network of vast, hardened military encampments across the earth, each one a match for any Roman or Raj outpost.”
Not surprisingly, Freedland is not an American journalist, but a British one who works for the Guardian.
In the U.S., military bases really only matter, and so make headlines, when the Pentagon attempts to close some of the vast numbers of them scattered across this country. Then, the fear of lost jobs and lost income in local communities leads to headlines and hubbub.
Of course, millions of Americans know about our bases abroad firsthand. In this sense, they may be the least well kept secrets on the planet. American troops, private contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees all have spent extended periods of time on at least one U.S. base abroad. And yet no one seems to notice the near news blackout on our global bases or consider it the least bit strange.
The Foreshortened American Century
In a nutshell, occupying the planet, base by base, normally simply isn’t news. Americans may pay no attention and yet, of course, they do pay. It turns out to be a staggeringly expensive process for U.S. taxpayers. Writing of a major 2004 Pentagon global base overhaul (largely aimed at relocating many of them closer to the oil heartlands of the planet), Mike Mechanic of Mother Jones magazine online points out the following: “An expert panel convened by Congress to assess the overseas basing realignment put the cost at $20 billion, counting indirect expenses overlooked by the Pentagon, which had initially budgeted one-fifth that amount.”
And that’s only the most obvious way Americans pay. It’s hard for us even to begin to grasp just how military (and punitive) is the face that the U.S. has presented to the world, especially during George W. Bush’s two terms in office. (Increasingly, that same face is also presented to Americans. For instance, as Paul Krugman indicated recently, the civilian Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] has been so thoroughly wrecked these last years that significant planning for the response to Hurricane Gustav fell on the shoulders of the military’s Bush-created U.S. Northern Command.)
In purely practical terms, though, Americans are unlikely to be able to shoulder forever the massive global role the Pentagon and successive administrations have laid out for us. Sooner or later, cutbacks will come and the sun will slowly begin to set on our base-world abroad.
In the Cold War era, there were, of course, two “superpowers,” the lesser of which disappeared in 1991 after a lifespan of 74 years. Looking at what seemed to be a power vacuum across the Bering Straits, the leaders of the other power prematurely declared themselves triumphant in what had been an epic struggle for global hegemony. It now seems that, rather than victory, the second superpower was just heading for the exit far more slowly.
As of now, “the American Century,” birthed by Time/Life publisher Henry Luce in 1941, has lasted but 67 years. Today, you have to be in full-scale denial not to know that the twenty-first century — whether it proves to be the Century of Multipolarity, the Century of China, the Century of Energy, or the Century of Chaos — will not be an American one. The unipolar moment is already so overand, sooner or later, those mega-bases and lily pads alike will wash up on the shores of history, evidence of a remarkable fantasy of a global Pax Americana .
[Note on Sources: It's rare indeed that the U.S. empire of bases gets anything like the attention it deserves, so, when it does, praise is in order. Mother Jonesonline launched a major project to map out and analyze U.S. bases worldwide. It includes a superb new piece on bases by Chalmers Johnson, "America's Unwelcome Advances" and a number of other top-notch pieces, including one on "How to Stay in Iraq for 1,000 Years" by TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan (the second part of whose Pentagon expansion series will be posted at this site soon). Check out the package of pieces at MJ by clicking here. Perhaps most significant, the magazine has produced an impressive online interactive map of U.S. bases worldwide. Check it out by clicking here. But when you zoom in on an individual country, do note that the first base figures you'll see are the Pentagon's and so possibly not complete. You need to read the MJ texts below each map to get a fuller picture. As will be obvious, if you click on the links in this post, I made good use of MJ's efforts, for which I offer many thanks.]
© 2013, agentleman.