We’re Not in Mayberry Anymore: the Militarization of Domestic Police

If we’re training cops as soldiers, giving them equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as soldiers, when are they going to pick up the mentality of soldiers? If you look at the police department, their creed is to protect and to serve. A soldier’s mission is to engage his enemy in close combat and kill him. Do we want police officers to have that mentality? Of course not.”

— Arthur Rizer, former police officer and member of the military

America, you’ve been fooled again.

While the nation has been distracted by a media maelstrom dominated by news of white supremacists, Powerball jackpots, Hurricane Harvey, and a Mayweather v. McGregor fight, the American Police State has been carving its own path of devastation and destruction through what’s left of the Constitution.

We got sucker punched.

First, Congress overwhelmingly passed—and President Trump approved—a law allowing warrantless searches of private property for the purpose of “making inspections, investigations, examinations, and testing.”

For now, the scope of the law is geographically limited to property near the Washington DC Metro system, but mark my words, this is just a way of testing the waters. Under the pretext of ensuring public safety by “inspecting” property in the vicinity of anything that could be remotely classified as impacting public safety, the government could gain access to almost any private property in the country.

Then President Trump, aided and abetted by his trusty Department of Justice henchman Jeff Sessions and to the delight of the nation’s powerful police unions, rolled back restrictions on the government’s military recycling program.

What this means is that police agencies, only minimally deterred by the Obama administration’s cosmetic ban on certain types of military gear, can now go hog-wild.

We’re talking Blackhawk helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear, armored vehicles, and tanks.

Clearly, we’re not in Mayberry anymore.

Or if this is Mayberry, it’s Mayberry in The Twilight Zone.

As journalist Benjamin Carlson stresses, “In today’s Mayberry, Andy Griffith and Barney Fife could be using grenade launchers and a tank to keep the peace.”

You remember The Andy Griffith Show, don’t you?

Set in the fictional town of Mayberry, N.C., The Andy Griffith Show portrays the two stars of the show—Sheriff Andy Taylor and his bumbling deputy Barney Fife—as peace officers in the truest sense of the word as opposed to law enforcers.

Both Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife dress in khaki uniforms, a far cry from the black, militarized Stormtrooper getups worn by police today. Andy refuses to wear a gun and only allows Barney to wear his gun on the proviso that he keep his single bullet out of the chamber and in his shirt pocket. Most of all, the two lawmen relate to those under their protection as equals, rather than as enemy combatants or inferiors.

Contrast the idyllic Mayberry with the American police state of today, where local police—clad in jackboots, helmets and shields and wielding batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, and assault rifles—have increasingly come to resemble occupying forces in communities across the country.

As Alyssa Rosenberg writes for The Washington Post, “[The Andy Griffith Show] expressed an ideal that has leached out of American pop culture and public policy, to dangerous effect: that the police were part of the communities that they served and shared their fellow citizens’ interests. They were of their towns and cities, not at war with them.”

That’s really what this is about: a war on the American citizenry waged by local law enforcement armed to the teeth with weapons previously only seen on the battlefield

If you thought the militarized police response to Ferguson and Baltimore was bad, brace yourselves.

As investigative journalists Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz reveal, “Many police, including beat cops, now routinely carry assault rifles. Combined with body armor and other apparel, many officers look more and more like combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Thanks to Trump, this transformation of America into a battlefield is only going to get worse.

To be fair, Trump did not create this totalitarian nightmare. However, he has legitimized it and, in so doing, has also accelerated the pace at which we fall deeper into the clutches of outright tyranny.

Everything America’s founders warned against—a standing army that would view and treat American citizens as combatants—is fast becoming the norm. Certainly, this lopsided, top-heavy, authoritarian state of affairs is not the balance of power the founders intended for “we the people.”

Yet in the hands of government agents, whether they are members of the military, law enforcement or some other government agency, these weapons of war have become accepted instruments of tyranny, routine parts of America’s day-to-day life, a byproduct of the rapid militarization of law enforcement over the past several decades.

As Becker and Schulz document in their insightful piece, “Local Cops Ready for War With Homeland Security-Funded Military Weapons”:

In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. Police in Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots, while an Arizona sheriff is now the proud owner of a surplus Army tank.

Under this recycling program, small counties and cities throughout the country have been “gifted” with 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.

MRAPs are built to withstand roadside bombs, a function which seems unnecessary for any form of domestic policing, yet police in Jefferson County, New York, Boise and Nampa, Idaho, as well as High Springs, Florida, have all acquired MRAPs. Police in West Lafayette, Indiana also have an MRAP, valued at half a million dollars.

Universities are getting in on the program as well.

The Ohio State University Department of Public Safety acquired an MRAP, which a university spokesperson said will be used for “officer rescue, hostage scenarios, bomb evaluation,” situations which are not common on OSU’s campus. In fact, it will be used for crowd control at football games.

Almost 13,000 agencies in all 50 states and four U.S. territories participate in the military “recycling” program, and the share of equipment and weaponry gifted each year continues to expand.

In 2011, $500 million worth of military equipment was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout the country. That number jumped to $546 million in 2012.

Since 1990, $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies through the 1033 program, in addition to various other programs supposedly aimed at fighting the so-called War on Drugs and War on Terror. For example, the Department of Homeland Security has delivered roughly $34 billion to police departments throughout the country since 9/11, ostensibly to purchase more gear for their steady growing arsenals of military weapons and equipment.

Police departments are also receiving grants to create microcosms of the extensive surveillance systems put in place by the federal government in the years since 9/11.

For example, using a $2.6 million grant from the DHS, police in Seattle purchased and setup a “mesh network”throughout the city capable of tracking every Wi-Fi enabled device within range. Police claim it won’t be used for surveillance, but the devices are capable of determining “the IP address, device type, downloaded applications, current location, and historical location of any device that searches for a Wi-Fi signal.”

Now ask yourself: why does a police department which hasn’t had an officer killed in the line of duty in over 125 years in a town of less than 20,000 people need tactical military vests like those used by soldiers in Afghanistan?

Why does a police department in a city of 35,000 people need a military-grade helicopter?

For that matter, what possible use could police at Ohio State University have for acquiring a heavily-armored vehicle intended to withstand IED blasts?

It’s a modern-day Trojan Horse.

Although these federal programs that allow the military to “gift” battlefield-appropriate weapons, vehicles and equipment to domestic police departments at taxpayer expense are being sold to communities as a benefit, the real purpose is to keep the defense industry churning out profits, bring police departments in line with the military, and establish a standing army.

It’s a militarized approach to make-work programs, except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy work to keep people employed, communities across America are finding themselves “gifted” with unnecessary drones, tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment better suited to the battlefield in order to fatten the bank accounts of the military industrial complex.

Not surprisingly, this trend towards the militarization of domestic police forces has also opened up a new market for military contractors.

You know who gets stuck with the bill for all of this unnecessary military gear, don’t you?

“We the taxpayers,” of course.

First, taxpayers are forced to pay millions of dollars for equipment which the Defense Department purchases from megacorporations only to abandon after a few years. Then taxpayers get saddled with the bill to maintain the costly equipment once it has been acquired by the local police.

It’s like the old adage: “never look a gift horse in the mouth.” The catch is that this gift horse is an expensive and deadly boondoggle.

For instance, although the Tupelo, Miss., police department was “gifted” with a free military helicopter, residents quickly learned that it required “$100,000 worth of upgrades and $20,000 each year in maintenance.”

In addition to being an astounding waste of taxpayer money, this equipping of police with military-grade equipment and weapons also gives rise to a dangerous mindset in which police adopt a warrior-like, more aggressive approach to policing.

The results are deadly.

As a study by researchers at Stanford University makes clear, “When law enforcement receives more military materials — weapons, vehicles and tools — it becomes … more likely to jump into high-risk situations. Militarization makes every problem — even a car of teenagers driving away from a party — look like a nail that should be hit with an AR-15 hammer.”

The danger of giving police high-power toys and weapons is that they will feel compelled to use it in all kinds of situations that would never normally warrant battlefield gear, weapons or tactics.

This “if we have it, we might as well use it” mindset, by the way, is also used to justify assigning SWAT teams to carry out routine law enforcement work such as delivering a warrant. That’s how you end up with SWAT tactics being employed when police are tasked with searching for a stolen koi fish and enforcing barber licensing laws.

Suffice it to say, we’re long past the days of Mayberry when cops were peace officers and recognized their role as public servants, a marked contrast to the climate of entitlement that has cops today acting like overlords and authoritarians.

Change will not come easily.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the police unions are a powerful force and they will not relinquish their power easily. Connect the dots and you’ll find that most, if not all, attempts to cover up police misconduct or sidestep accountability can be traced back to police unions and the police lobby.

Just look at Trump: he’s been on the police unions’ payroll from the moment they endorsed him for president, and he’s paid them back generously by ensuring that police can kill, shoot, taser, abuse and steal from American citizens with impunity.

Still, the responsibility rests with “we the people.”

As author Ta-Nehisi Coates reminds us:

The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear, and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was imposed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies—the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects—are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police is to challenge the American people who send them into the ghettos armed with the same self-generated fears that compelled the people who think they are white to flee the cities and into the Dream. The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs.

Hurricane Harvey, Climate Change Denialists and the Wrath of the Right

Photo by Zachary West | CC BY 2.0

Natural disasters that are exacerbated by industrialization really bring out the best in people. Especially climate change denialists.

As the Texas-Louisiana Gulf coast drowned in the floods of Hurricane Harvey, Donald Trump pardoned Sheriff Joe in hopes of capturing higher ratings and Ann Coulter, who needs no introduction, took to her Twitter account to express sympathy for the victims. Okay, of course she didn’t, instead the Queen of Darkness blasted out that God’s hatred of homosexuality is more credible than climate science.

What does Coulter believe then? That Harvey is nothing new? Actually, it is, no matter what Coulter tweets. Harvey is now the heaviest rainstorm in US history and was made worse by our warming climate. There’s little scientific doubt about it. As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe and many others point out, as the world warms, evaporation of water increases, which means there is more water vapor in storms and more rain to dump compared to 70 years ago. In basic terms, warmer air is able to hold more water and hence more rainfall is likely to occur.

The Gulf of Mexico’s surface temp increased almost 5 degrees Fahrenheit as Harvey was building last week. These waters, one of the warmest ocean surfaces on the planet at the time, along with warmer air temps, allowed Harvey to turn from a tropical storm into a cat 4 hurricane almost overnight. Even Coulter’s God couldn’t stop it.

Coulter and her fans probably wouldn’t want the floods to dry up anyway, because when crisis hits there is money to be made and victims to rip off. As Ken Klippenstein first reported, a Best Buy in Cypress, an unincorporated suburb of Houston in Harris County, began selling packs of bottled water for $42.96. Best Buy later apologized in response to the report, but the Texas AG’s office as of August 29 had received over 550 consumer complaints of price gouging. It’s safe to say Best Buy is just the tip of the iceberg.

Unfortunately, disaster capitalism is the least of concerns for many Houston residents that are losing everything. Survival is their most pressing struggle. As the flood waters recede, far more deaths will likely be recorded — more victims of capitalism and carbon. Sadly it’s a trend that’s going to continue.

No doubt the worse is yet to come for Houston and the surrounding area, even when the rains end. ExxonMobil admits that Harvey has caused damage to two of its massive Houston refineries, releasing hazardous pollutants. The company’s Beaumont refinery, which is the second largest in the country, released at least 1,312.84 pounds of sulfur dioxide after Harvey hit. Many other chemicals also leaked when the sites were forced to shut down. These refineries sit in largely poor, minority neighborhoods that have long been victims of environmental racism — injustices that will continue unabated if Donald Trump has his way and destroys what’s left of the EPA’s Environmental Justice Program.

“Any release of carcinogens (like benzene, 1,3-butadiene) adds to the increased cancer risk for those living near these plants,” said Luke Metzger, director of the group Environment Texas. “[Nitrogen oxides or sulfur dioxide] and other respiratory irritants adds to the respiratory problems people in the area suffer from at high rates.”

In short, Harvey is bad for Houston’s air too, especially for those that reside near these refineries.

There’s more. Harris County is home to a dozen federal Superfund sites, more than any county in the Lone Star State. Currently over 30% of the county is flooded and the EPA admits that as water levels rise, risk of contamination from the sites increase. Joe Lauria, in a piece that has vanished from HuffPost where it originally appeared, also raised concerns that the Galveston National Laboratory of the University of Texas, which contains “hundreds of viruses, insects and microbes,” if damaged by Harvey, could be dangerous and even deadly if they were released. In an exchange with Lauria, a respected journalist, he says that he stands by his piece, writing, “the story is 100% accurate,” despite HuffPost removing it for untold reasons.

The lab, likely in response to concerns raised by Lauria over the safety of the building, now states that their biological program is secure and that the facility was “built to withstand hurricane conditions.” Sounds nice, but future “hurricane conditions” may be worse than Harvey and given this risk it’s hard to imagine that damage to the lab isn’t at least a possibility in future hurricane events.

While the impacts of Hurricane Harvey are unprecedented in the US, these types of extreme storms are becoming the new norm, not only for the Gulf Coast, but for many areas of the globe.

Right now in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, over 41 million people are being affected by massive, uncontrolled flooding. Over 1,200 have died thus far and millions more have been forced to flee their homes. These monsoon floods are unlike anything they’ve seen, and similar to Houston, are being made worse as temperatures around the world continue to rise.

It doesn’t really matter if Donald Trump believes global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese or if Coulter thinks God’s wrath is more legitimate than climate science. More and more people are finding out that shit’s getting very real and will only get worse as carbon and methane emissions increase in the years ahead.

Perhaps the silver-lining of the unfolding Texas catastrophe is that it will wake up a few climate change skeptics and transform them into advocates for a future free of fossil fuels.

One can hope, anyway, but I’m not holding my breath. I will leave that to all those still underwater in Houston.

If you have the means, please consider dropping a few bucks to help out the Houston Food Bank.

Homage to Syria 

Dublin.

A strange thing happened the other week. The US president officially ordered the CIA to halt it’s war against Syria. So it wasn’t global warming then, or “Assad” or neoliberalism, it wasn’t even a civil war. The war maker in Syria was the CIA. Of course, the CIA will unofficially continue it’s war against Syria. But we can savour for a moment the truth. And an “official CIA defeat”.

And why only savour? Why not rejoice? Because this momentous “victory” may be the turning point in the century old Western assault on the Muslim people. What many call the “arc of resistance” (Shiite and Secular) has now solidified, while the Western imperial offensive has faltered.

US general Wesley Clark gave the game away years ago when he revealed US intentions in the Middle East after 9/11: seven countries were to be invaded (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan and Iran). France’s ex-foreign minister Roland Dumas also gave the game away when he revealed that the British State (a definite CIA asset) was preparing for a war on Syria two years before the start of the Syrian Holocaust in 2011. And the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh gave the game away too in his 2007 New Yorker article: “The Redirection”. In this piece he revealed how the US were hooking up once again with the Saudi/Sunni fundamentalists in and around Syria.

And if all this revelation wasn’t enough – Wikileaks exposed the machinations of the US embassy in Damascus in the first decade of this century. Destabilisation was it’s agenda. CIA “diplomacy” was the rule. In short, Syria was in the cross-hairs of the Empire. In fact it has been so for the last sixty or so years. Plans for mayhem in Syria have been on the imperial table since the 1950s (Operation Straggle).

All this conspiring fused like an atomic bomb over Syria in 2011. However the Syrian resistance to it and eventual “victory” over it isn’t receiving the enormous credit and respect it deserves. Syria took a hit for humanity. And has scored a victory for humanity. And humanity – or at least the Western part of it – chooses to look the other way.

Western “humanitarians” blame Syria for the Syrian Holocaust. The reports of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (both on intimate terms with the US State Department) pour nothing but scorn upon the Syrian Arab Republic. And even some Western radicals blame Syria. From the get-go Noam Chomsky wanted regime change. And “a thousand and one” other leftists honoured the Kurds in northern Syria and other revolutionary illusions rather than say anything good about the Syrian Republic.

In the grotesquely distorted Western account of the war on Syria: the many ways of Western imperialism was and still is missing. The CIA and it’s modus operandi was and still is not being held to account: the buying of informers, traitors, journalists, mercenaries, movies, oscars, etc..

In a classic case of shameless liberalism – when it came to Syria the covert and overt actions of the West were sidelined and one “foreign” individual was highlighted: the Syrian President.

And in a disappointing display of critical thinking a large proportion of the Western left ended up pointing at one “foreigner” too: the Syrian President.

While the right wing Western habit has always been to blame foreigners or strangers. The postmodern (post-revolutionary) Western left have fallen into the same habit. Why this blunt criticism? Why the reluctance to acknowledge the greatest anti-imperialist victory in postmodern times?

Because a “dictator” is responsible for it? So? The Republic’s life was on the line! Does that existential point not register in Western heads? Are we blind to the genocidal results of our Western policies when they’re imposed on vulnerable Third World nations? Are we so pure that we can’t acknowledge an alternative political model? Syria’s President could have abandoned ship. But he actually acted like a President. He stayed when it would have been easier to run.

In the West our Presidents give up resisting injustice at the first sign of trouble. In Europe, for example, not one dares to fight the enemies of the people (The European Central Bank and NATO). So we’re unaccustomed to seeing a leader with backbone. When we do see one we think it’s unbelievable. They’re must be something wrong. He must be a “dictator”. When in fact it’s the other way around: Western “capitalist democracy” is the dictatorship – especially when it’s exported to the non-West.

In postmodern times the Western concern or support for “Arab revolution” is fake. It has no basis. Therefore for Westerners to stand on the sidelines and lecture Syria about “revolution” is crass. To put it bluntly: we in the West today have no revolutionary credentials. So what makes us experts on “revolution” anywhere? Indeed why do we see it where it is not? Why is our judgement of Syria based on the highest revolutionary standards when a voracious imperial force is clearly out to destroy it? Why do we project our own desires for change on a people that just want to survive a Holocaust. The self righteous Western criticism of Syria is to say the least misplaced. To say the most: it has been an unwitting victim of a CIA media blitzkrieg.

And the neoliberal nature of Syria? Every country in the world today is more or less neoliberal. But apart from Libya no other country has been torn asunder like Syria. Something else was the cause of the Syrian Holocaust. To explain “Syria” by pointing to the neoliberal breakdown of society therefore is a crass cop out. And the reluctance to point at the CIA as the cause during the last six years has been cowardly.

We know the CIA’s record. Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua, Congo, Angola, Vietnam, Indonesia, Laos, etc.. The secret wars and secret destabilisation campaigns are not a secret anymore. So why the innocence when it comes to Syria? In three words: the Arab Spring.

However after six years of horror the “Spring” narrative makes no sense. In Syria’s case its a blindfold. Since when did CIA activities ever amount to being a “Spring”? It has been a well crafted distraction. The great irony though is that today after the “victory” of the Syrian Republic, we’re likely to see a real Syrian Renaissance – a genuine Spring of the Syrian people.

And before someone says “Russian Imperialism” let’s push that idea aside. The fact is that the Russian economy is smaller than California’s. It simply doesn’t have the the economic capacity to be an empire. And to suggest otherwise is farcical. To repeat our main point: the life of the Syrian Republic was on the line during the last few years. Therefore the Republic had every right to use whatever advantage it had. In wars “allies” are a fact of life.

As regards Russia’s “rush” to help Syria – the best analogy is the Cuban rush to help Angola in the 1970s. Cuba’s entry into that CIA war wasn’t “Cuban imperialism” but an act of international solidarity. And it changed the history of modern Africa for the better. It was the beginning of the end of apartheid South Africa.

And that’s precisely the significance of the Syrian victory. By patriotically fighting and by defeating the killing machine of the West the Syrian people have not just saved their country but have saved their region from further destruction. And if this is the case then it is the beginning of the end of apartheid Israel.

Charlottesville and the Battles of History

The events surrounding Charlottesville, Virginia have a resonance far beyond the borders of Old Dominion. Even though they began as a strictly local affair, they quickly assumed a national character, because this strictly local event stems from the nation’s history—a history that remains not only contested but bitterly unresolved.

That history, of course is the toxic poison of White Supremacy, and the trigger thereof—African Slavery—the intentional, centuries-long economic, social, communal and psychic exploitation of Africans for the financial and psychological benefits of the White Nation. This toxin has tainted the bloodstream of the Nation, and infected all segments of society, and was integral to the very development of Whiteness as a core identity for millions of people who call themselves “Americans.”

As we look at protests rolling throughout the country, the first thing we must recognize is that this isn’t about monuments. Nor is it about the Civil War.

It is about the Present. It is about how this country will define itself, how it sees itself, and how it understands its future.

But history, true history is more about today than yesterday, for it is the pathway to tomorrow, and it lives or dies in the minds of the young who learn, or unlearn, how this country came to be, and what role they play in the days to come.

The great Black freedom fighter, Malcolm X repeatedly said, “Of all our studies, history best rewards our research.” He knew this not only because he was taught this by his Teacher (Honorable Elijah Muhammed) but because he learned this in the very expression of his life. For, as a state prisoner, a man so hated that he was called “Satan,” his learning of a deeper history of Black people literally made him a new man. It gave him confidence, it turned his loathing into loving, it gave him purpose—and perhaps more importantly, perspective.

Perspective. How to look at the world. How to interpret it. How to understand why things are the way they are. That’s the real value of History.

It teaches Perspective of Now—not Then.

And that’s the reason why monuments, turned green by oxidation and pigeon poop, are seemingly at the center of these controversies.

The Trump presidency signaled a Great Leap – Backwards. It was the expression of a deep, profound fear of the Future, of Change, of Transformation. So, they hold on to Yesterday, invoking Tradition—as if the central Tradition of America wasn’t—and isn’t—Black Slavery, which launched it into and Economic and World Power.

Charlottesville is thus a Turning point—a pivot point upon which the Nation turns back, or moves forward, creating a New History.

This, only the people of America and, and will, decide.

Trump Sanctions on Venezuela Will Cause More Harm

The Trump administration announced new, unprecedented sanctions against Venezuela on Friday that are designed to cut off financing to Venezuela. The Trump team pretends that the sanctions are only directed at the government. But as any economist knows, this is clearly false. By starving the economy of foreign exchange, this action will harm the private sector, most Venezuelans, the poor, and the vulnerable.

These sanctions will deepen the severe depression that Venezuela’s economy has been in for more than three and a half years, which has already shrunk income per person by more than a third. They will worsen the shortages of food and essential medicines. They will exacerbate the country’s balance of payments crisis, and therefore feed thespiral of inflation (600 percent over the past year) and depreciation of the currency (on the black market) that has been accelerating since late 2012.

And they will further polarize an already divided country. Opposition leaders who support the sanctions, or are associated with them because of their longstanding ties to the US, will be seen as treasonous ― much as Republicans in the Trump administration, including Trump himself, are portrayed by those who believe they collaborated with the Russian government to win the 2016 election.

Trump’s sanctions are also illegal under both US and international law. They violate the charter of the Organization of American States (Chapter 4, Article 19) and other international treaties that the US has signed. To comply with US law, the president also has to lie and say that Americans are suffering from a “national emergency” due to an “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security” posed by Venezuela. This is obviously ridiculous.

The sanctions do their damage primarily by prohibiting Venezuela from borrowing or selling assets in the US financial system. They also prohibit CITGO, the US-based fuel industry company that is owned by the Venezuelan government, from sending dividends or profits back to Venezuela. In addition, if Venezuela wanted to do a debt restructuring, so as to reduce debt service during the current crisis, it would be unable to do this because it wouldn’t be able to issue new bonds. Basically, Trump’s executive order will cut off most sources of potential financing, other than from Russia or China. This would cause imports, which have already fallen by more than 75 percent over the past five years, to fall further. This means more shortages and further economic decline, since much of Venezuela’s domestic production is dependent on imports.

The executive order carries an exemption for oil imports from Venezuela.

Why would Trump do something that even his right-wing allies in Latin America, and most of the Venezuelan opposition did not support when Trump threatened to do this last month? As with many apparently irrational decisions by this president, it’s not that easy to know for sure. But it seems that the strategy is to further destroy the economy to the point where people will rise up and overthrow the government, or perhaps to provoke a military coup.

In the last few weeks, the violent street protests have died down. Most of the opposition leaders have agreed to participate in the long-delayed October regional elections. This is a positive development for those who would like to see a peaceful resolution of the conflict. But for regime-change extremists like Marco Rubio, whom Trump seems to be listening to on Venezuela, peace is bad news, especially for the media strategy of “if it bleeds, it leads.” They may see exacerbating the economic crisis and suffering to their advantage, hoping to bring people back into the streets and away from the negotiations that will be necessary to settle the conflict.

Finally, we cannot discount the possibility that Trump has also issued this order as yet another distraction from his bad political fortunes at home. Distraction has been his modus operandi since his presidential campaign last year. In this case it is particularly dangerous because he has also threatened military action against Venezuela, and US sanctions of this magnitude have often been followed by military attacks.

As Trump’s disgraced presidency continues to putrefy, the urge to rescue it with war will certainly grow. Venezuela is not the best target for public relations purposes because the “security threat” is a tough sell. But Trump and his advisers may see it as less risky than some of the alternatives, such as North Korea, Iran, or Syria.

This article originally appeared in The Hill.

A Classic Example of Shooting Oneself in the Foot

With Labor Day almost upon us, it’s appropriate we discuss all things germane to what was once referred quaintly and respectfully (if not affectionately) as the “working class.” Strikes, protests, street violence, the incremental passage of labor laws: All part of the Labor Movement’s rich history.

Let us begin with a look back at what many rank-and-file activists regard as the precise moment when America’s unions began their dreadful and inexorable decline, and what labor expert Joseph McCartin once called, “one of the most important events in late twentieth century U.S. labor history.” We’re referring to the 1981 PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) strike. That’s the one where President Reagan fired everybody.

Because it was illegal for federal employees to go on strike, their startling walkout appeared to everyone (even hardcore union honchos were scratching their heads) as a clear-cut violation of federal law. Predictably, declaring the strike to be a threat to “national safety,” Reagan ordered them back to work, citing the Taft-Hartley Act (1947).

Of the nearly 13,000 who went on strike, only about 1,300 heeded the President’s ominous warning and returned to work. Ultimately, Reagan wound up firing a total of 11,345 air traffic controllers. These well-meaning men and women were not only fired, they were banned for life from ever holding a federal civil service job.

The PATCO debacle was huge, not only substantively but symbolically. By resolutely taking on a high-profile federal union, and slapping it around in public—slapping it around with everyone watching—Ronald Reagan not only transformed himself into a hero of the anti-labor Right, his actions caused Corporate America to stand on its hind legs and take notice.

The way Corporate America now saw it, maybe the country’s labor unions weren’t the big, bad muscle organizations we’d always thought they were. Maybe they weren’t nearly as formidable as we surmised. Indeed, maybe their bark was far, far worse than their bite.

In fact, like the schoolyard bully who melts into a quivering mass of jelly when confronted by the first kid with the guts to stand up to him, maybe America’s unions had been bullshitting us all along. In any event, the PATCO strike marked the beginning of all the bad stuff that has happened to unions over the last 36 years, stuff that is still happening.

But despite Reagan being the obvious villain, there are parts of the PATCO episode that remain disturbing. For one, PATCO (founded in 1968) was already viewed by the House of Labor as a “screwball” outfit. How screwball? In the 1980 presidential election, only three notable unions chose to endorse the Republican Reagan over the incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter: the Teamsters (“screwball” in their own unique way), the air line pilots, and, yes, PATCO.

For another, the PATCO membership had elected a brand new president, one Robert Poli, a man who, by all accounts, was charismatic and profoundly effective as a public speaker—a rabble-rouser and motivator—but who was woefully inexperienced and virtually clueless as a “leader.” A loud-mouth firebrand….and little else.

And here’s the third thing. By walking off the job, these air traffic controllers, as gutsy and committed as they were (and one has to admire their solidarity and determination), had practically dared Reagan to fire them. “Here we are, Mr. President. We are going on strike, which we realize is illegal and punishable by termination. What are you going to do about it, sir? Frankly, we don’t think you have the balls to do anything.”

At a press conference, Reagan read a letter that these workers had signed upon being hired. It included this statement: “I am not participating in any strike against the Government of the United States or any agency thereof, and I will not so participate while an employee of the Government of the United States or any agency thereof.” Granted, the words were largely symbolic and corny, but these workers had given their oath, and that oath, once revealed, caused the public to line up against them.

But here’s the really incredible part. Reagan balked. Instead of immediately firing every union member who walked off the job, Reagan, inexplicably, backed off. Instead, he announced a 48-hour grace period. Even though these workers violated federal law, and could have instantly forfeited their jobs, Reagan gave them 48 hours to reconsider. Knowing how high the stakes were, Reagan offered them a second chance. A chance to think it over.

Unfortunately, the truculent Poli continued to whip the membership into a frenzy. He persuaded them to reject this peace offering, clinging to the view that the government was bluffing. And by doing so, the union basically pissed away the one chance it had of coming out of this thing looking good.

So there was a day in early August, 1981, when American workers were desperately in need of a smart, shrewd, and wisely pragmatic leader. Instead, they found themselves under the spell of a reckless self-promoter. To say it ended badly would be an understatement. Poli got bounced, thousands of people lost their jobs, and PATCO was decertified and dissolved later that same year.

Politics Markets and Corporate Probation

Digging through the Corporate Crime Reporter archives earlier this month, we came across a 1992 University of Delaware PhD dissertation titled Crafting Corporate Crime Controls: The Development of Organizational Probation and Its Implication for Criminology.

The author is William Lofquist, currently a professor at SUNY Geneseo.

In his dissertation, Lofquist uses Charles Lindblom’s 1977 classic Politics and Markets as a jumping off point to study corporate crime control.

A market approach to control corporate crime would be less intrusive and result in fines and criminal prosecution of individuals.

A politics approach would be more intrusive and lead to criminal prosecution of the corporation and probation – public intervention.

At about the time that Lofquist wrote his dissertation, the Justice Department was facing a fork in the road.

It could criminally prosecute corporations to conviction, create an office of corporate probation, and make sure that the corporation had put in place policies to prevent similar conduct in the future.

Or it could fine the corporation as part of less intrusive deferred and non prosecution settlements.

Deferred and non prosecution agreements and fines it was.

Today, it’s rare to see corporate probation in major corporate crime cases. The corporate crime bar sees probation as “too intrusive.”

“Corporate probation is a more independent judicial form of supervision, while the role of the court is more limited in deferred prosecution agreements,” says University of Virginia Law Professor Brandon Garrett, author of Too Big to Jail.“Corporate probation is still standard in many types of corporate criminal cases, such as environmental cases, and in the more recent prosecutions of banks that pleaded guilty and then received probation.”

“The more pressing question today, as larger and more complicated cases have been prosecuted against corporations, is whether some corporate probation office or function can be created,” Garrett says. “Supervising corporate prosecutions is far beyond the capabilities of a regular probation officer, and outsourcing this work to monitors has not always been successful.”

After publishing his dissertation, Lofquist went on to edit a book with Mark Cohen and Gary Rabe titled Debating Corporate Crime.

That book presented different viewpoints – a corporate probation point of view, but also law and economics authors writing against the idea of corporate crime and probation.

How did that book come about?

“Gary was a graduate student colleague of mine at Delaware,” Lofquist told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “I also wanted to include somebody who had more of a law and economics background and who could help us recruit authors. I knew Mark Cohen I think through conferences and shared interests. He agreed to co-edit it with us.”

You went straight to SUNY Geneseo in 1992. When you went to Geneseo, did you anticipate that you would be focusing your research and teaching on corporate crime?

“Yes. It was perfect. The Sentencing Guidelines had just been enacted. I had just written my dissertation on the enactment of those sentencing guidelines. The opportunity to follow them into enforcement seemed like the perfect project for me.”

Did you work on corporate crime when you first got to Geneseo?

“Yes.”

How long did it last?

“I don’t recall the details. I probably floundered around for two years or so. I worked on some other projects related to other areas of crime. Probably by 1995 or 1996, I came to the pretty solid conclusion that that wasn’t going to be place where I was going to be able to focus my research.”

“I do remember that there were some people who responded to my early inquiries by saying –  you don’t have the cache to get the access that you want for this research.”

Your research was groundbreaking. You were touching a nerve. One of the things we hear from academics is that this area is starved for funding. That’s a big issue as to why it doesn’t develop. There seems to be more funding in other areas. And that also could be a political question. The Justice Department did fund some research by Clinard and Yeager, but there hasn’t been much funding since.

You say you didn’t have the cache and you couldn’t get access to the power centers.

“Yes. I was told I didn’t have the letterhead.”

How did you proceed?

“Around that time, Mike Radelet, who is a prominent death penalty scholar, he came to Geneseo to give a lecture. I didn’t know him at the time. New York had just reintroduced the death penalty after many decades without it. That was a big issue. He came here to consult with the local death penalty defense people. He spoke on campus. While he was here, I met him and talked with him. And he had all of these wrongful conviction files that he was doing research on. And he said — if you want to help out with these, I will send you the files. And these were mostly newspaper clippings that he had on wrongful conviction cases. He had written a book and a Stanford Law Review article that had brought the issue of wrongful convictions into the death penalty debate for the first time. There was a lot of attention to that issue at the time. He had these other cases that he had collected materials on that he wanted to bring to publication. He said — if you want to get involved with these cases, I will send you the files. And so he did.”

“I had a cart full of death penalty files. And I was reading through them and I remember thinking — these are corporate crimes. The dynamics that are producing these wrongful convictions are very similar to the dynamics producing corporate crimes.”

What do you mean?

“I had worked with Dave Ermann at Delaware. And Dave had done a lot of research and had developed this idea of what he referred to as escalating commitments, the way in which organizations blunder into corporate crimes, not through the traditional rational actor model, but rather through this organizational process model. I saw the same thing in looking at these wrongful convictions. It wasn’t that they framed, so to speak, these defendants from start to finish, but rather through a whole series of decisions, they came to focus in many cases on these defendants who hadn’t done it. But the investigators had developed a particular commitment to that line of investigation that led them to continue with that even as the evidence emerged that this probably wasn’t the right person.”

“It just looked like corporate crime. I remember sitting at my living room at home thinking — these are corporate crimes. I worked with Mike and others to publish that set of cases. And then spun off one of those cases into a fuller investigation that I did. I published that separately, where I developed this idea of wrongful convictions as organizational crimes.”

It wasn’t – let’s go out and convict poor black kids?

“Right. It was instead – this guy looks like a likely suspect, we are going to focus on him, make commitments to this particular investigation and we are going to continue that even as evidence to the contrary emerges.”

You have spent your career looking at wrongful convictions?

“No. On and off, I have done wrongful conviction related research up until the last couple of years. And I may again in the future. I have the opportunity now as a tenured full professor to go where my interests take me. And so I have done a variety of different death penalty projects. I have developed a particular interest in race in criminal justice – race and the death penalty. I’m working mostly on that.”

The corporate crime research stayed with you. It rang a bell when you started your death penalty research. As corporate crime flared in the public media, did you look back on it and ask yourself why the academic research is so paltry when it is such a big deal in the public arena?

“I don’t I guess because I pretty much understand why. It’s much of my own experience why there isn’t more academic attention to it. The resources are just not there. The exigencies of the tenure process, the publication process are such that it’s not going to receive the kind of attention that more traditional issues are. I feel some regret about that. I realize that I am a part of the problem that I’m critiquing. I ultimately bowed to those pressures.”

Was this a pure calculation on your part – this is a political question, I’m not going to get tenure at any university if I continue to do this, therefore I’m not going to do it?

“It was that effectively I guess. I didn’t think I was going to be able to be successful, that I was going to be able to develop the research agenda that I wanted to.”

When I’m interviewing corporate defense counsel and raise corporate probation, you can feel the blood pressure rise. Did you think at the time that you had something special and were disappointed that it didn’t go anywhere?

“I thought that the inclusion of corporate probation in the Sentencing Guidelines was anomalous. I asked – how did this happen? We have included in the guidelines corporate probation, which has the potential to challenge corporate power. How did that manage to make its way through?”

“That’s one of the questions I asked in my dissertation. From the beginning, I’ve certainly been skeptical of what would happen with organizational probation. It’s latent. It has the potential to be disruptive and intrusive. And I was interested in the fact that it made it into the guidelines and survived the process of public hearings. Implicit in that is the recognition that in practice, this potential probably wasn’t going to be realized. Maybe the politics of this developed in such a way that allowed it to be used in some kind of important imaginative way, but probably not. It sounds as if that has been the case, that its potential has not been fulfilled.”

Because Wells Fargo keeps getting into trouble with the law, the New Republiclast week ran an article titled Give Wells Fargo the Death Penalty.

When people start searching for answers for egregious corporate conduct, they are going to look to this research and start looking into this possibility of corporate probation – which is still in the Sentencing Guidelines.

“I’m encouraged to hear that corporate probation is still in the Sentencing Guidelines. But I guess it might also mean that corporations are so unconcerned about the prospect of corporate probation that they haven’t bothered to get it removed from the guidelines.”

“And people are generally reluctant to consider something like the corporate death penalty because they would be concerned about the job losses and collateral consequences, as much as they might understand the case against Wells Fargo.”

“And corporate probation might be a middle ground. But until that death penalty case is made more vociferously, there is no need for that compromise position.”

For the complete q/a format Interview with William Lofquist, see 31 Corporate Crime Reporter 33(14), August 28, 2017, print edition only.

The Terror Next Time: The Daesh Story Is Not Ending

Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, has been reduced to rubble. It has been finally conquered, snatched back from the notorious group, Daesh, after months of merciless bombardment by the US-led war coalition, and a massive ground war.

But ‘victory’ can hardly be the term assigned to this moment. Mosul, once Iraq’s cultural jewel and model of co-existence, is now a ‘city of corpses’, as described by a foreign journalist who walked through the ruins, while shielding his nose from a foul smell.

“You’ve probably heard of thousands killed, the civilian suffering,” Murad Gazdiev said. “What you likely haven’t heard of is the smell. It’s nauseating, repulsive, and it’s everywhere – the smell of rotting bodies.”

Actually, the “smell of rotting bodies” can be found everywhere that Daesh has been defeated. The group that once declared a Caliphate – an Islamic state – in Iraq and Syria in 2014, and was left to freely expand in all directions, is now being hurriedly vanquished.

Such a fact leaves one wondering how a small group, itself a spawn of other equally notorious groups, could have declared, expanded and sustained a ‘state’ for years, in a region rife with foreign armies, militias and the world’s most powerful intelligences?

But should not such a question be rendered irrelevant now, considering that Daesh is finally being routed, in most violent and decisive methods?

Well, this is what almost everyone seems to agree on; even political and military rivals are openly united over this very objective.

Aside from the city of Mosul in Iraq, Daesh has also been defeated in its stronghold in the city of Raqqa, in the east of Syria.

Those who astonishingly survived the battles of Mosul and Raqqa are now holed in Deir ez-Zor, which promises to be their last major battle.

In fact, the war on Daesh is already moving to areas outside large population centers where the militant group had sought safe haven. Yet, Daesh militants are being flushed out of these regions as well, for example, in the western Qalamoun region on the Syria-Lebanon border.

Even the open desert is no longer safe. The Badiya Desert, extending from central Syria to the borders of Iraq and Jordan, is now witnessing heavy fighting, centered in the town of Sukhnah.

Brett McGurk, US special envoy for the ‘Global Coalition to Counter ISIS’, recently returned to the US after spending a few days the region. He talked to CBS television network with palpable confidence.

Daesh forces are “fighting for their life, block-by-block,” he said, reporting that the militant group had lost roughly 78 percent of areas it formerly controlled in Iraq since its peak in 2014, and about 58 percent of its territories in Syria.

Expectedly, US officials and media are mostly emphasizing military gains they attribute to US-led forces and ignore all others, while Russian-led allies are doing just the opposite.

Aside from the numerous humanitarian tragedies associated with these victories, none of the parties involved have taken any responsibility for the rise of Daesh, in the first place.

They have to, and not only as a matter of moral accountability. Without understanding and confronting the reasons behind the rise of Daesh, one is certain that the fall of Daesh will spawn yet another group with an equally nefarious, despairing and violent vision.

Those in mainstream media, who have attempted to deconstruct the roots of Daesh, unwisely confront its ideological influences without paying the slightest heed to the political reality from which the group was incepted.

Whether Daesh, Al-Qaeda or any other, such groups are typically born and reborn in places suffering from the same, chronic ailment: a weak central government, foreign invasion, military occupation and state terror.

Terrorism is the by-product of brutality and humiliation, regardless of the source, but is most pronounced when that source is a foreign one.

If these factors are not genuinely addressed, there can be no ending to terrorism.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that Daesh was molded, and thrived, in countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya and regions like the Sinai Desert. Moreover, many of those who answered Daesh’s call also emerged from communities that suffered the cruelty of merciless Arab regimes, or neglect, hate and alienation in western societies.

The reason that many refuse to acknowledge such a fact – and would fight tooth and nail to discredit such an argument – is that an admission of guilt would make many responsible for the very creation of the terrorism they claim to fight.

Those who are content in blaming Islam, a religion that was one of the main contributing factors to the European cultural renaissance, are not simply ignorant; many of them are guided by sinister agendas. But their mindless notion of blaming religion is as stupid as George W. Bush’s ill-defined ‘war on terror.’

Wholesale, uninformed judgements can only prolong conflict.

Moreover, generalized notions prevent us from a narrowed-down attempt at confronting specific, and clearly obvious links, for example, between Al-Qaeda’s advent in Iraq and the US invasion of that country; between the rise of the sectarian-brand of al-Qaeda under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the sectarian division of that country under US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and his allies in the Shia-led government in Baghdad.

It should have been clear from the start that Daesh, as notoriously violent as it is, was one of the symptoms, not the cause. After all, Daesh is only 3-years-old. Foreign occupation and war in the region predates its inception by many years.

Although we were told – by Daesh itself, but also media pundits – that Daesh is here to stay, it turned out that the group is but a passing phase in a long, ugly montage, rife with violence and bereft of both morality and the intellectual courage to examine the true roots of violence.

It is likely that the victory over Daesh is short-lived. The group will surely develop a new warfare strategy or will further mutate. History has taught us that much.

It is also likely that those who are proudly taking credit for systematically and efficiently annihilating the group – along with whole cities – will not pause for a moment to think of what they must do differently to prevent a new Daesh from taking form.

Strangely, the ‘US-led Global Coalition to Counter ISIS’ seems to have access to the firepower needed to turn cities into rubble, but not the wisdom to understand that unchecked violence inspires nothing but violence; and that state terror, foreign interventions and collective humiliation of entire nations are all the necessary ingredients to restart the bloodbath all over again.