Category Archives: Incarceration

Imprisoned for a Day: A Personal Reflection

In a world defined by social atomization, bureaucratization, and ant-like regimentation along institutionally sanctioned channels that exist but to uphold hierarchies of power, it is practically a moral obligation for anyone who wants to be fully human to break out of his bubble and, if possible, experience the world as “the other” does. In particular, as those without a voice do. If such experience isn’t always literally possible, we ought at least to imaginatively inhabit other perspectives, say by reading primary sources or watching documentaries, or simply by talking to people from a different walk of life than our own. The result might be not only education but even, perhaps, inspiration.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to experience a bit of life from a perspective I’m not accustomed to: the inside of a jail cell. I was left with a kind of insight that an academic like me doesn’t always achieve, an experiential or empathic insight. And I thought it would be worth communicating my impressions, if only to play some tiny part in giving a voice to the “voiceless.” For, as much abstract knowledge as we may have about the evils of the system bearing the Orwellian name “criminal justice,” the matter appears in a different and darker light from within the dungeon cages underground.

The reason for my 24-hour incarceration is too trivial to mention, scarcely more than a petty misunderstanding. And the experience itself was, of course, a mere joke compared to what others experience, just a stroll in a sunlit park compared to what the 23 million or so imprisoned and released felons in this country—in addition to millions of those guilty of misdemeanors (not to mention millions of immigrants detained for weeks and months)—have gone through. But it was memorable enough, and perhaps worth relating.

I was struck, first of all, by the insidious psychological effect of having to place your hands behind your back so they can be handcuffed. This coerced action performed in the presence of onlookers instantly manipulates you into an unwanted self-categorization: you can’t help but see yourself as others now see you, an offender, a criminal, a bad ‘other.’ Or rather, while rejecting the value-judgment, you’re aware that that’s the category into which you’ve been placed, by the officers, the onlookers, and especially the handcuffs. All of a sudden you don’t unproblematically belong to society anymore; your personhood has been qualified and thrown into question. You’re now half-person and half-ominous-question-mark. (“What’s going on? What did he do? What crime did he commit?”)

I was careful to obey every command to the letter, since, as we know, there’s nothing a police officer likes less than being contradicted, so my treatment was far better than it could have been. Still, I was puzzled by the length of time I had to sit in the car while the officers talked outside in what seemed a rather nonchalant way, given my shackled hands. That’s another insidious technique of control for which you have a heightened appreciation when you’re on its receiving end: the power to elongate time. It truly becomes impressive once you’re behind bars.

After making it to the precinct, the trial-by-paperwork begins. More waiting, and more unscratchable itches on your back and face, as initial reports are filed. I came to have a better understanding of the social role of the police as I saw throughout the evening how much “paperwork,” or electronic work, they have to file whenever an arrest is made. I had already understood that the police’s true function isn’t so much to protect people (as is claimed) as to protect “order,” the given system of social relations, which is to say the power of the powerful. The police officer is the “bouncer” for society, whose job it is to keep out the undesirables, those who either refuse to conform or have committed the crime of being poor and dark-skinned.

But now I saw more clearly that, in effect, what the police are is just bureaucrats with guns. Bureaucrats who dress up in blue and walk among us to make sure we’re following the rules, and who take us in to be processed and labeled and categorized if we violate some rule or other (or even if we don’t), and ideally to be frightened into never violating that rule again (if, that is, we’re lucky enough to be released at all). None of this is to say there’s no value in such a role; surely there can be, particularly with regard to addressing violent crime. But, given the amount of paperwork and the continuous human “processing” the job entails, to belong to the “force” is to be a fancy-dressed bureaucrat-in-the-trenches.

At length, after being divested of various items of clothing and whatever is in your pockets, the shackles are taken off and you’re safely behind bars. Your company is your cellmates (if you have any), your worries, and time. Lots of time. I sat there for about eight hours, which seemed even longer, due to the human brain’s self-flagellating tendency to dwell lugubriously on moments of nothingness (while speeding through moments of joy). I was fortunate soon to have a couple of talkative cellmates, both of whom were there for having thrown a punch or two; but even their presence was of limited use in accelerating the ticking of the clock.

We were waiting to be transferred to the Brooklyn Detention Complex, where we would wait till the next day to see the judge. If all went well, we’d be free, at least provisionally, by that evening.

So after a suitably punishing length of time, the handcuffs were snapped back on and we were transported to our luxury accommodations for the rest of the night. Actually, the precinct was a far more agreeable place, as you might expect, being less populated and less redolent of sweaty unwashed bodies crammed together in tiny spaces lacking ventilation and windows. The initial holding pens, in particular, were noisome: it would be cruel and inhumane to pack pigs into those enclosures, much less dozens of humans. At least one’s nose grew numb to the smell.

Finally we were herded into the main area to be processed again (to have the mug shots taken and so on). Though it was around 1:00 in the morning there were serpentine lines, scores of shackled men and women shuffling along—nearly all of them African-American or Hispanic. A dreary semi-silence punctuated by commands from officers. Dull-looking bureaucrats from a Kafka novel sitting at desks, directing us where to go. It was a subterranean world we had entered.

At last the intake process was finished and we were taken down dark corridors to the cellblock area, in the bowels of the earth. You can imagine the conditions in each cell: a vomitous toilet in the corner, a metal sink next to it, benches against the concrete wall…and that’s all. So there we were, about thirteen of us in a cramped cell, as the bars shut behind us. I recalled Malcolm X’s admonition:

Any person who claims to have deep feeling for other human beings should think a long, long time before he votes to have other men kept behind bars—caged. I am not saying there shouldn’t be prisons, but there shouldn’t be bars. Behind bars, a man never reforms. He will never forget. He never will get completely over the memory of the bars.

To be sure, it’s easy to get over the memory when you’re confined for only a day. Still, the contrivance of the steel bars is an effective contribution to the psychological function of jails and prisons, viz. to dehumanize, to animalize, to infantilize. To fill with resentment and impotent outrage, and make hate.

Some of us claimed a bit of space on a bench; the rest sat or lay on the floor, settling in for a long night of sleeplessness. One guy made a pillow out of several inedible cheese sandwiches in little bags he had found strewn around the cell. (That’s the food we’re given, in addition to a small portion of cereal in the morning.) Those of us on the floor spent the night trying to avoid collisions between legs.

Sleep would likely have been impossible for me anyway, but it was made even more so by a few cellmates who had an impressive talent for remaining animated hour after hour, in a most vocal way. The guffaws were frequent. I listened to interesting conversations about, e.g., the relative merits of an astonishing galaxy of hip-hop artists, quite intelligent music criticism being expounded at great length, even to the point of heated debate. Later, conversation extended to those in the cage across the hall, questions being shouted as to where they lived, what acquaintances they all had in common, what they had been talking about over there, etc. “What’s your name, man? Oh, you live on Broadway? Me too! Monroe? I’m a couple blocks away, at Jefferson! You know Malik? He’s on Madison—works at the Subway there.” The irony wasn’t lost on me that this institution, meant to segregate and isolate, could also bring people together.

In fact, throughout the night and the next day I observed how easy it was for a camaraderie to develop among the inmates, the first inklings of a solidarity against the cops. While profanity-laced tirades against guards occurred occasionally—due to ignoring requests for food or for the time, or for being granted a phone call—more often the attitude was informal respect and easygoing familiarity. But that didn’t preclude a definite collective identity, an “us vs. them” mentality, based on a sense of shared injustice and oppression (or, more generally, shared interests). Everyone I talked to took it for granted that the criminal justice system is wildly racist—they were surprised that a “white boy” was in there with them. But the race factor, or any other divisive factor, didn’t really matter: when requests or demands or complaints were made to the guards, it was far more common to hear the words “we” and “us” than “I” or “me.”

Of course, this isn’t to deny that vicious divisions between inmates or groups of inmates can emerge in prisons. It was merely striking to observe the spontaneous appearance of a collective consciousness even despite, and because of, the radically anti-social environment we were trapped in.

What I found even more striking, and more poignant, was the casual familiarity with jail that most of the men displayed. None of them seemed particularly discomfited by it, except the next day when the waiting, prolonged hour after endless hour despite previous assurances of speed and efficiency, grew intolerable. More than a few guys took me under their wing, as it were, and explained how the system worked and why legally I had nothing to fear. “What did you do? Oh, that’s the lowest level of misdemeanor. You’ll be fine—they’ll release you and you’ll be on probation, and then the case will be dismissed. You have nothing to worry about.” Their expertise reminded me of Dave Chappelle’s bit: “Every black dude in this room is a qualified paralegal. If one of us even started to do something wrong, an old black man would pop out of nowhere—‘Nigga don’t do that, that’s five to ten!’”

It was clear that jail, and its ever-present possibility, was just a part of their lives, as, say, being paid very little is a part of the life of an adjunct professor. I tried to imagine what that would be like, how different all my frames of reference would be. I would literally perceive the world differently: my perceptions would incorporate and embody utterly different value-judgments than they do, different expectations from moment to moment, and I’d have to be cognizant of entire dimensions of experience—fears, worries, possibilities, factors to be taken into consideration—that are currently beyond my horizons. The understanding sank in on a visceral level of how incredibly privileged I am.

But more than that: I could see my own views of the world changing somewhat. After all, to sit on a floor against steel bars for twelve hours, and then several hours more when I was moved up to the even more crowded holding pen we wait in until the court is ready to see us, is an experience that encourages introspection. The situation felt both surreal and much more real than my ordinary life. I thought of my daily routines, the mindless reading of news in the morning and evening, the pleasantries exchanged with fellow professors and students, the Youtube-watching at night in between grading and perusals of academic journals. I thought of the throngs that flood the streets of Manhattan every day on their shopping missions or sightseeing missions, and the bar-socializing with acquaintances—the trivialities shouted across the table over the din. It all seemed more hollow than ever.

Millions of us chatting happily outside or going to movies, averting our gaze from every unpleasantness, while other millions rot in steel-enclosed windowless misery—for throwing a few punches or having marijuana on them, or not legally being an American, or being poor and black in a white society. At this point I could say that our usual complacent behavior is contemptible and unconscionable, but what hit me most forcefully was just how false and empty it is. We live in and through illusion; our entire quotidian existence is grounded in denial. We have a pathetically partial view of the world, a parochial little outlook conditioned by frivolity and routine, blind to the very foundation of society underground in these cages that police the “dangerous classes.” I felt that here was the truth, the beating heart of America.

For, as we know, we live in an overwhelmingly bureaucratized society, a world increasingly shorn of human connections—sacrificed on the altar of marketization and privatization—which is precisely why it’s hurtling towards doom. Humanity is simply a non-factor in the political-economic equation. In fact, for a long time I’ve thought that the Holocaust, the apotheosis of bureaucratic inhumanity, is the clue to the moral essence of capitalist modernity, the perfect symbol. But on a less murderous scale, mass confinement in cages is an equally apt emblem. The prisoners are almost totally helpless, totally at the mercy of bureaucratic diktats and the whims of guards and wardens. And we know how helpless we all tend to feel with regard to any bureaucracy—government bureaucracies, insurance bureaucracies, workplace bureaucracies, bank bureaucracies. We’re completely subordinated to power, with hardly any recourses. The arbitrary power over life and death is only more pronounced in the case of the “criminal justice” bureaucracy.

The prison bureaucracy takes the alienating tendencies of capitalist institutions to their logical and literal conclusion, in the separation of people into their own concrete cells and the enforcement of this atomization by armed guards. Actually, in a sense, jail or even prison might, perversely, be less atomizing than the broader capitalist civilization they reflect, given that the basic unit of society is no longer the community or the family but really the lone individual with his computer and his smartphone—and, for his social context, the bureaucracy in which he is embedded (as employee, consumer, and citizen). At least in jail a “collective consciousness” can emerge, together with real sympathy and empathy. And the human interactions tend to have a stripped-down quality, a directness and rawness, very different from the impersonal fakeness outside.

By around 11 a.m. the remaining conversations in the cellblock had died down. By 12:00, and then 1:00, and then 2:00, an absolute listlessness had settled on us, except for periodic ejaculations of disgust at whatever incompetence or malice was keeping us down there. Time had stopped. I began to wonder if I’d ever be released; the thought of freedom seemed too good to be true. Maybe I’d be stuck here another day, or longer. Would I have to miss work on Monday? Some of the guys had missed work that day, putting their jobs in jeopardy. I looked at the bodies sprawled on the floor and thought, This is what matters in the world. The rest is a lie, as long as this exists. The way I’d lived, immersed in thoughts of self, seemed absurd and shameful. All that mattered was to fight against this, and all suffering. I had to make changes, drastic changes in how I lived. That this could exist, or conditions infinitely worse than this, was completely intolerable.

To think that every day in cities and towns across the country tens of thousands of people were streaming, handcuffed, into jails, prisons, and detention centers, there to languish at the mercy of the System, was beyond horrifying. What would people outside think if they could see through the thick walls of the Brooklyn Detention Complex and know what was going on in here! All those free, relatively carefree people right outside, strolling down the streets blissfully unaware of the mass suffering just a couple hundred feet away. The moral imperative was to de-atomize, to bring to light and bring together. Arbitrary power thrives on atomization, and grows to Goliath dimensions as long as it can live in the dark. The necessity is to shine a light on it and kill it.

At long last the moment of deliverance arrived: my name was called. Full of hope, I left the cell…to be transferred to another cell. In which there were perhaps thirty people, though it was scarcely larger than the one I’d spent the night in. But at least I was closer—so I hoped—to freedom. I was also trepidatious, not knowing what to expect when I faced the judge, for instance whether he would set bail, or whether the DA would prosecute despite the pitiful triviality of the incident that had landed me there. Soon after I was in the new cell, a man came in cursing the judge, whom he had just seen. “That motherfucker set bail even higher than they asked for! $2000. As soon as I saw him look down at the sheet, I knew it was over. They said I had an old warrant for littering, so they went after me.” Littering.

To be sure, others had committed more serious crimes. One middle-aged guy, a jovial fellow, had been caught shoplifting at Macy’s (to sell the items later). “I know what I did wrong now,” he said. “I gotta be more careful when there aren’t crowds. In the holiday season it was different—I probably took $20,000 worth. Easy. There are so many people it’s easy.” I noticed that they all drew a distinction between stealing and taking. “You don’t steal,” one guy said. “You take. A woman steals, I take. You gotta take it, just take what you need, it’s yours, and walk out of there.” Earlier I had talked to a pregnant young woman, attractive, confident, and articulate, who said she regularly steals—no, takes—expensive items from Macy’s (again, to sell them on the street). It isn’t really theft because she thinks she’s entitled to it, in light of how much the government takes from her and how cruelly the System treats people like her (i.e., poor African-Americans). She has a job, but the pay isn’t enough for her to provide for her family. It was clear to me that this sort of theft is widespread.

The situation, then, is predictably absurd: people are denied the ability to earn a living, and, in addition, government steals money from them when they can find work—yes, steals, for the logic of government is, arguably, no different from that of a protection racket—so they have to turn to illicit means of surviving; but in that case, if discovered, they’re sent to prison. So it’s Scylla or Charybdis. Deprivation or—deprivation in prison.

Meanwhile, my own brief period of deprivation was about to come to an end. The last couple of hours weren’t particularly eventful, aside from when one of the inmates had a seizure, complete with foaming at the mouth. I can’t say if it was due to negligence by the authorities, but my guess is not, since they acted fairly promptly to get him medical assistance. At any rate, by this point I was more than ready for freedom. Not to mention food. The thought of both was sweeter than I had ever known.

In the early evening my name was called for the last time, and I made my way to the courtroom. Whence to freedom, a half-hour later. Having no criminal record, I was let off easy. What happened to the others, I don’t know. What I do know is that as I walked outside into the drizzling rain, the taste of freedom in the air, people in handcuffs were being ushered into the back entrance of the building, out of the rain-scented air and into the sweat-stinking holding pens. Many of them would be repeat offenders, and this latest arrest might have dire effects on their lives. It would be harder to get a job, which would tempt them to take what they needed, which would raise the possibility of another arrest, and so the cycle would continue. The System would continue to be fed fresh meat, and it would grow bigger in scale, and ever more lives would be ground up in its gears. The System would continue to dominate a diabolically regimented society—unless its victims and their advocates could, somehow, throw a wrench into its gears and grind them to a halt.

I didn’t know how that could be done, but, newly inspired, I knew I had to take part.

The Age of Petty Tyrannies

Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers’ enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.

— Simone Weil, French philosopher and political activist

We labor today under the weight of countless tyrannies, large and small, carried out in the name of the national good by an elite class of government officials who are largely insulated from the ill effects of their actions.

We, the middling classes, are not so fortunate.

We find ourselves badgered, bullied and browbeaten into bearing the brunt of their arrogance, paying the price for their greed, suffering the backlash for their militarism, agonizing as a result of their inaction, feigning ignorance about their backroom dealings, overlooking their incompetence, turning a blind eye to their misdeeds, cowering from their heavy-handed tactics, and blindly hoping for change that never comes.

The overt signs of the despotism exercised by the increasingly authoritarian regime that passes itself off as the United States government are all around us: warrantless surveillance of Americans’ private phone and email conversations by the NSA; SWAT team raids of Americans’ homes; shootings of unarmed citizens by police; harsh punishments meted out to schoolchildren in the name of zero tolerance; drones taking to the skies domestically; endless wars; out-of-control spending; militarized police; roadside strip searches; roving TSA sweeps; privatized prisons with a profit incentive for jailing Americans; fusion centers that collect and disseminate data on Americans’ private transactions; and militarized agencies with stockpiles of ammunition, to name some of the most appalling.

Yet as egregious as these incursions on our rights may be, it’s the endless, petty tyrannies inflicted on an overtaxed, overregulated, and underrepresented populace that occasionally nudge a weary public out of their numb indifference and into a state of outrage.

Consider, for example, that federal and state governments now require on penalty of a fine that individuals apply for permission before they can grow exotic orchids, host elaborate dinner parties, gather friends in one’s home for Bible studies, give coffee to the homeless, let their kids manage a lemonade stand, keep chickens as pets, or braid someone’s hair, as ludicrous as that may seem.

A current case before the Supreme Court, Niang v. Tomblinson strikes at the heart of this bureaucratic exercise in absurdity that has pushed over-regulation and over-criminalization to outrageous limits. This particular case is about whether one needs a government license in order to braid hair.

Missouri, like many states across the country, has increasingly adopted as its governing style the authoritarian notion that the government knows best and therefore must control, regulate and dictate almost everything about the citizenry’s public, private and professional lives.

In Missouri, anyone wanting to braid African-style hair and charge for it must first acquire a government license, which at a minimum requires the applicant to undertake at least 1500 hours of cosmetology classes costing tens of thousands of dollars.

Tennessee has fined residents nearly $100,000 just for violating its laws against braiding hair without a government license.

In Oregon, the law is so broad that you need a license even if you’re planning to braid hair for free. The mere act of touching someone’s hair can render you a cosmetologist operating without a license and in violation of the law.

In Iowa, you can be sentenced with up to a year in prison for braiding hair without having attended a year of cosmetology school.

It’s not just hair braiding that has become grist for the over-regulation mill.

Almost every aspect of American life today—especially if it is work-related—is subject to this kind of heightened scrutiny and ham-fisted control, whether you’re talking about aspiring “bakers, braiders, casket makers, florists, veterinary masseuses, tour guides, taxi drivers, eyebrow threaders, teeth whiteners, and more.”

For instance, whereas 70 years ago, one out of every 20 U.S. jobs required a state license, today, almost 1 in 3 American occupations requires a license.

The problem of over-regulation has become so bad that, as one analyst notes, “getting a license to style hair in Washington takes more instructional time than becoming an emergency medical technician or a firefighter.”

This is what happens when bureaucrats run the show, and the rule of law becomes little more than a cattle prod for forcing the citizenry to march in lockstep with the government.

Over-regulation is just the other side of the coin to over-criminalization, that phenomenon in which everything is rendered illegal and everyone becomes a lawbreaker.

This is the mindset that tried to penalize a fisherman with 20 years’ jail time for throwing fish that were too small back into the water.

John Yates, a commercial fisherman, was written up in 2007 by a state fish and wildlife officer who noticed that among Yates’ haul of red grouper, 72 were apparently under the 20-inch legal minimum. Yates, ordered to bring the fish to shore as evidence of his violation of the federal statute on undersized catches, returned to shore with only 69 grouper in the crate designated for evidence.

A crew member later confessed that, on orders from Yates, the crew had thrown the undersized grouper overboard and replaced them with larger fish. Unfortunately, they were three fish short.

Sensing a bait-and-switch, prosecutors refused to let Yates off the hook quite so easily. Unfortunately, in prosecuting him for the undersized fish under a law aimed at financial crimes, government officials opened up a can of worms. Thankfully, the U.S. Supreme Court in a rare (and narrow) flash of reason, sided with Yates, ruling that the government had overreached.

That same over-criminalization mindset reared its ugly head again when police arrested a 90-year-old man for violating an ordinance that prohibits feeding the homeless in public.

Arnold Abbott, 90 years old and the founder of a nonprofit that feeds the homeless, faced a fine of $1000 and up to four months in jail for violating a city ordinance that makes it a crime to feed the homeless in public.

Under the city’s ordinance, clearly aimed at discouraging the feeding of the homeless in public, organizations seeking to do so must provide portable toilets, be 500 feet away from each other, 500 feet from residential properties, and are limited to having only one group carry out such a function per city block.

Abbott had been feeding the homeless on a public beach in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl., every Wednesday evening for 23 years. On November 2, 2014, moments after handing out his third meal of the day, police reportedly approached the nonagenarian and ordered him to “‘drop that plate right now,’ as if I were carrying a weapon,” recalls Abbott. Abbott was arrested and fined. Three days later, Abbott was at it again, and arrested again.

It’s no coincidence that both of these incidents—the fishing debacle and the homeless feeding arrest—happened in Florida.

This is also the state that arrested Nicole Gainey for free-range parenting when she let her 7-year-old son walk to the park alone, even though it was just a few blocks from their house. If convicted, Gainey could have been made to serve up to five years in jail.

Despite its pristine beaches and balmy temperatures, Florida is no less immune to the problems plaguing the rest of the nation in terms of over-criminalization, incarceration rates, bureaucracy, corruption, and police misconduct.

In fact, the Sunshine State has become a poster child for how a seemingly idyllic place can be transformed into a police state with very little effort. As such, it is representative of what is happening in every state across the nation, where a steady diet of bread and circuses has given rise to an oblivious, inactive citizenry content to be ruled over by an inflexible and highly bureaucratic regime.

Just a few years back, in fact, Florida officials authorized police raids on barber shops in minority communities, resulting in barbers being handcuffed in front of customers, and their shops searched without warrants. All of this was purportedly done in an effort to make sure that the barbers’ licensing paperwork was up to snuff.

As if criminalizing fishing, charity, parenting decisions, and haircuts wasn’t bad enough, you could also find yourself passing time in a Florida slammer for such inane activities as singing in a public place while wearing a swimsuit, breaking more than three dishes per day, farting in a public place after 6 pm on a Thursday, and skateboarding without a license.

This transformation of the United States from being a beacon of freedom to a locked down nation illustrates perfectly what songwriter Joni Mitchell was referring to when she wrote:

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Only in our case, sold on the idea that safety, security and material comforts are preferable to freedom, we’ve allowed the government to pave over the Constitution in order to erect a concentration camp.

The problem with these devil’s bargains, however, is that there is always a catch, always a price to pay for whatever it is we valued so highly as to barter away our most precious possessions.

We’ve bartered away our right to self-governance, self-defense, privacy, autonomy and that most important right of all—the right to tell the government to “leave me the hell alone.”

In exchange for the promise of safe streets, safe schools, blight-free neighborhoods, lower taxes, lower crime rates, and readily accessible technology, health care, water, food and power, we’ve opened the door to militarized police, government surveillance, asset forfeiture, school zero tolerance policies, license plate readers, red light cameras, SWAT team raids, health care mandates, over-criminalization, over-regulation and government corruption.

In the end, such bargains always turn sour.

We asked our lawmakers to be tough on crime, and we’ve been saddled with an abundance of laws that criminalize almost every aspect of our lives. So far, we’re up to 4500 criminal laws and 300,000 criminal regulations that result in average Americans unknowingly engaging in criminal acts at least three times a day. For instance, the family of an 11-year-old girl was issued a $535 fine for violating the Federal Migratory Bird Act after the young girl rescued a baby woodpecker from predatory cats.

We wanted criminals taken off the streets, and we didn’t want to have to pay for their incarceration. What we’ve gotten is a nation that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the world, with more than 2.3 million people locked up, many of them doing time for relatively minor, nonviolent crimes, and a private prison industry fueling the drive for more inmates, who are forced to provide corporations with cheap labor.

A special report by CNBC breaks down the national numbers:

One out of 100 American adults is behind bars — while a stunning one out of 32 is on probation, parole or in prison. This reliance on mass incarceration has created a thriving prison economy. The states and the federal government spend about $74 billion a year on corrections, and nearly 800,000 people work in the industry.

We wanted law enforcement agencies to have the necessary resources to fight the nation’s wars on terror, crime and drugs. What we got instead were militarized police decked out with M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers, battle tanks and hollow point bullets—gear designed for the battlefield, more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year (many for routine police tasks, resulting in losses of life and property), and profit-driven schemes that add to the government’s largesse such as asset forfeiture, where police seize property from “suspected criminals.”

Justice Department figures indicate that as much as $4.3 billion was seized in asset forfeiture cases in 2012, with the profits split between federal agencies and local police. According to the Washington Post, these funds have been used to buy guns, armored cars, electronic surveillance gear, “luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.” Police seminars advise officers to use their “department wish list when deciding which assets to seize” and, in particular, go after flat screen TVs, cash and nice cars.

In Florida, where police are no strangers to asset forfeiture, Florida police have been carrying out “reverse” sting operations, where they pose as drug dealers to lure buyers with promises of cheap cocaine, then bust them, and seize their cash and cars. Over the course of a year, police in one small Florida town seized close to $6 million using these entrapment schemes.

We fell for the government’s promise of safer roads, only to find ourselves caught in a tangle of profit-driven red light cameras, which ticket unsuspecting drivers in the so-called name of road safety while ostensibly fattening the coffers of local and state governments.  Despite widespread public opposition, corruption and systemic malfunctions, these cameras—used in 24 states and Washington, DC—are particularly popular with municipalities, which look to them as an easy means of extra cash.

One small Florida town, population 8,000, generates a million dollars a year in fines from these cameras. Building on the profit-incentive schemes, the cameras’ manufacturers are also pushing speed cameras and school bus cameras, both of which result in heft fines for violators who speed or try to go around school buses.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is what happens when the American people get duped, deceived, double-crossed, cheated, lied to, swindled and conned into believing that the government and its army of bureaucrats—the people we appointed to safeguard our freedoms—actually have our best interests at heart.

Yet when all is said and done, who is really to blame when the wool gets pulled over your eyes: you, for believing the con man, or the con man for being true to his nature?

It’s time for a bracing dose of reality, America.

Wake up and take a good, hard look around you, and ask yourself if the gussied-up version of America being sold to you—crime free, worry free and devoid of responsibility—is really worth the ticket price: nothing less than your freedoms.

Dial T for Tyranny: While America Feuds, the Police State Shifts Into High Gear

Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.

— Professor Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Discourse in the Age of Show Business

What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting and disingenuous curtain of political theater. And what political theater it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury, yet in the end, signifying nothing.

Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theater can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing and suspenseful, even for those who know better.

Week after week, the script changes—Donald Trump’s Tweets, Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, Michael Cohen’s legal troubles, porn star Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit over an alleged past affair with Trump, Michelle Wolf’s tasteless stand-up routine at the White House correspondents’ dinner, North and South Korea’s détente, the ongoing staff shakeups within the Trump administration—with each new script following on the heels of the last, never any let-up, never any relief from the constant melodrama.

The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are forgiving to a fault, quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle.

All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, the elaborate stage sets, colored lights and parading actors.

Such that it is, the realm of political theater with all of its drama, vitriol and scripted theatrics is what passes for “transparent” government today, with elected officials, entrusted to act in the best interests of their constituents, routinely performing for their audiences and playing up to the cameras, while doing very little to move the country forward.

Yet behind the footlights, those who really run the show are putting into place policies which erode our freedoms and undermine our attempts at contributing to the workings of our government, leaving us none the wiser and bereft of any opportunity to voice our discontent or engage in any kind of discourse until it’s too late.

It’s the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.

Indeed, while mainstream America has been fixated on the drama-filled reality show being televised from the White House, the American Police State has moved steadily forward.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, over-criminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like—all of which have been sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts—our constitutional freedoms have been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded.

Our losses are mounting with every passing day.

Free speech, the right to protest, the right to challenge government wrongdoing, due process, a presumption of innocence, the right to self-defense, accountability and transparency in government, privacy, press, sovereignty, assembly, bodily integrity, representative government: all of these and more have become casualties in the government’s war on the American people.

All the while, the American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, and denied due process.

None of these dangers have dissipated.

They have merely disappeared from our televised news streams.

The new boss has proven to be the same as the old boss, and the American people, the permanent underclass in America, has allowed itself to be so distracted and divided that they have failed to notice the building blocks of tyranny being laid down right under their noses by the architects of the Deep State.

Frankly, it really doesn’t matter what you call the old/new boss—the Deep State, the Controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex—so long as you understand that no matter who occupies the White House, it is a profit-driven, an unelected bureaucracy that is actually calling the shots.

In the interest of liberty and truth, here’s an A-to-Z primer to spell out the grim realities of life in the American Police State that no one is talking about anymore.

A is for the AMERICAN POLICE STATE. A police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

B is for our battered BILL OF RIGHTS. In the cop culture that is America today, where you can be kicked, punched, tasered, shot, intimidated, harassed, stripped, searched, brutalized, terrorized, wrongfully arrested, and even killed by a police officer, and that officer is rarely held accountable for violating your rights, the Bill of Rights doesn’t amount to much.

C is for CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE. This governmental scheme to deprive Americans of their liberties—namely, the right to property—is being carried out under the guise of civil asset forfeiture, a government practice wherein government agents (usually the police) seize private property they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then, whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the government keeps the citizen’s property.

D is for DRONES. It is estimated that at least 30,000 drones will be airborne in American airspace by 2020, part of an $80 billion industry. Although some drones will be used for benevolent purposes, many will also be equipped with lasers, tasers and scanning devices, among other weapons—all aimed at “we the people.”

E is for ELECTRONIC CONCENTRATION CAMP. In the electronic concentration camp, as I have dubbed the surveillance state, all aspects of a person’s life are policed by government agents and all citizens are suspects, their activities monitored and regulated, their movements tracked, their communications spied upon, and their lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness dependent on the government’s say-so.

F is for FUSION CENTERS. Fusion centers, data collecting agencies spread throughout the country and aided by the National Security Agency, serve as a clearinghouse for information shared between state, local and federal agencies. These fusion centers constantly monitor our communications, everything from our internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails. This data is then fed to government agencies, which are now interconnected: the CIA to the FBI, the FBI to local police.

G is for GRENADE LAUNCHERS and GLOBAL POLICE. The federal government has distributed more than $18 billion worth of battlefield-appropriate military weapons, vehicles and equipment such as drones, tanks, and grenade launchers to domestic police departments across the country. As a result, most small-town police forces now have enough firepower to render any citizen resistance futile. Now take those small-town police forces, train them to look and act like the military, and then enlist them to be part of the United Nations’ Strong Cities Network program, and you not only have a standing army that operates beyond the reach of the Constitution but one that is part of a global police force.

H is for HOLLOW-POINT BULLETS. The government’s efforts to militarize and weaponize its agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration stockpiling millions of lethal hollow-point bullets, which violate international law. Ironically, while the government continues to push for stricter gun laws for the general populace, the U.S. military’s arsenal of weapons makes the average American’s handgun look like a Tinker Toy.

I is for the INTERNET OF THINGS, in which internet-connected “things” will monitor your home, your health and your habits in order to keep your pantry stocked, your utilities regulated and your life under control and relatively worry-free. The key word here, however, is control. This “connected” industry propels us closer to a future where police agencies apprehend virtually anyone if the government “thinks” they may commit a crime, driverless cars populate the highways, and a person’s biometrics are constantly scanned and used to track their movements, target them for advertising, and keep them under perpetual surveillance.

J is for JAILING FOR PROFIT. Having outsourced their inmate population to private prisons run by private corporations, this profit-driven form of mass punishment has given rise to a $70 billion private prison industry that relies on the complicity of state governments to keep their privately run prisons full by jailing large numbers of Americans for inane crimes.

K is for KENTUCKY V. KING. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers can break into homes, without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home as long as they think they have a reason to do so. Despite the fact that the police in question ended up pursuing the wrong suspect, invaded the wrong apartment and violated just about every tenet that stands between us and a police state, the Court sanctioned the warrantless raid, leaving Americans with little real protection in the face of all manner of abuses by law enforcement officials.

L is for LICENSE PLATE READERS, which enable law enforcement and private agencies to track the whereabouts of vehicles, and their occupants, all across the country. This data collected on tens of thousands of innocent people is also being shared between police agencies, as well as with fusion centers and private companies. This puts Big Brother in the driver’s seat.

M is for MAIN CORE. Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has acquired and maintained, without warrant or court order, a database of names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation. As Salon reports, this database, reportedly dubbed “Main Core,” is to be used by the Army and FEMA in times of national emergency or under martial law to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security. As of 2008, there were some 8 million Americans in the Main Core database.

N is for NO-KNOCK RAIDS. Owing to the militarization of the nation’s police forces, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for routine police matters. In fact, more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually possession of some small amount of drugs.

O is for OVERCRIMINALIZATION and OVERREGULATION.  Thanks to an overabundance of 4,500-plus federal crimes and 400,000 plus rules and regulations, it is estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. As a result of this overcriminalization, we’re seeing an uptick in Americans being arrested and jailed for such absurd “violations” as letting their kids play at a park unsupervised, collecting rainwater and snow runoff on their own property, growing vegetables in their yard, and holding Bible studies in their living room.

P is for PATHOCRACY and PRECRIME. When our own government treats us as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police, mistreated, and then jailed in profit-driven private prisons if we dare step out of line, we are no longer operating under a constitutional republic. Instead, what we are experiencing is a pathocracy: tyranny at the hands of a psychopathic government, which “operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups.” Couple that with the government’s burgeoning pre-crime programs, which will use fusion centers, data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics in order to identify and deter so-called potential “extremists,” dissidents or rabble-rousers. Bear in mind that anyone seen as opposing the government—whether they’re Left, Right or somewhere in between—is now viewed as an extremist.

Q is for QUALIFIED IMMUNITY. Qualified immunity allows officers to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing. Conveniently, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all cronies with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.

R is for ROADSIDE STRIP SEARCHES and BLOOD DRAWS. The courts have increasingly erred on the side of giving government officials—especially the police—vast discretion in carrying out strip searches, blood draws and even anal probes for a broad range of violations, no matter how minor the offense. In the past, strip searches were resorted to only in exceptional circumstances where police were confident that a serious crime was in progress. In recent years, however, strip searches have become routine operating procedures in which everyone is rendered a suspect and, as such, is subjected to treatment once reserved for only the most serious of criminals.

S is for the SURVEILLANCE STATE. On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.

T is for TASERS. Nonlethal weapons such as tasers, stun guns, rubber pellets and the like have been used by police as weapons of compliance more often and with less restraint—even against women and children—and in some instances, even causing death. These “nonlethal” weapons also enable police to aggress with the push of a button, making the potential for overblown confrontations over minor incidents that much more likely. A Taser Shockwave, for instance, can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button.

U is for UNARMED CITIZENS SHOT BY POLICE. No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, often attributed to a fear for their safety. Yet the fatality rate of on-duty patrol officers is reportedly far lower than many other professions, including construction, logging, fishing, truck driving, and even trash collection.

V is for VIPR SQUADS. So-called “soft target” security inspections, carried out by roving VIPR task forces, comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams, are taking place whenever and wherever the government deems appropriate, at random times and places, and without needing the justification of a particular threat.

W is for WHOLE-BODY SCANNERS. Using either x-ray radiation or radio waves, scanning devices and government mobile units are being used not only to “see” through your clothes but to spy on you within the privacy of your home. While these mobile scanners are being sold to the American public as necessary security and safety measures, we can ill afford to forget that such systems are rife with the potential for abuse, not only by government bureaucrats but by the technicians employed to operate them.

X is for X-KEYSCORE, one of the many spying programs carried out by the National Security Agency that targets every person in the United States who uses a computer or phone. This top-secret program “allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

Y is for YOU-NESS. Using your face, mannerisms, social media and “you-ness” against you, you can now be tracked based on what you buy, where you go, what you do in public, and how you do what you do. Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for government agents to be able to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all of the individuals present. Facial recognition programs are being rolled out in states all across the country.

Z is for ZERO TOLERANCE. We have moved into a new paradigm in which young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, often for engaging in little more than childish behavior. In some jurisdictions, students have also been penalized under school zero tolerance policies for such inane “crimes” as carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick, bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades. The lesson being taught to our youngest—and most impressionable—citizens is this: in the American police state, you’re either a prisoner (shackled, controlled, monitored, ordered about, limited in what you can do and say, your life not your own) or a prison bureaucrat (politician, police officer, judge, jailer, spy, profiteer, etc.).

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the post-9/11 America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age.

You can call it the age of authoritarianism. Or fascism. Or oligarchy. Or the American police state.

Whatever label you want to put on it, the end result is the same: tyranny.

Heroes and Villains – The Daily Show in a Homeless Shelter

Now, during our catastrophically idiotic war in Vietnam, the music kept getting better and better and better. We lost that war, by the way. Order couldn’t be restored in Indochina until the people kicked us out. That war only made billionaires out of millionaires. Today’s war is making trillionaires out of billionaires. Now I call that progress.
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

These ain’t popular topics, for sure, brother/sister American. You see, the entire homeless problem in America is a bigger problem of the almost homeless, the disposed, the enslaved youth heading to State U, the Amazing Theft of Wages (Tax Day, Man), Theft of the Commons by Bureaucrats Working the Soft Shoe Corporate Game — kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves), and representative government has been rejected in favor of a kakistocracy (a government run by the most unprincipled citizens that panders to the worst vices in our nature: greed, violence, hatred, prejudice and war).

There is no skip in the beat with Boss Tweet, fawning over military hardware hustled to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the entire Empire Protecting Planet. This fawning this fourth-grade thinker does is a lot like his days at Studio 51 or the Playboy Mansions or the Pageants where his spittle lubricated his huffing and puffing orgasmic dead space between his ears. He is the leader of the pack, sad-sack of a playboy and land baron, thief, who gets the book deals, TV contracts, cameos in movies, his brand plastered all over Madison Avenue – make no bones about it, Trump is America. He is Dollar Store plastic and Neiman Marcus glitter. He is the freewheeling liberal lover of money and play things and parties, and he is the mean-assed inexperienced one, yellow belly, calling for war, a hater of soldiers, a hater of my people I serve daily – military veterans, not retired NCOs and Officers, but mostly those ending up in the Poverty Drafts and some drafted in Vietnam, Korea. A few years in and bam — total physical and mental calamity!

All PTSD-living, poverty people (most are poor). Trump would lambaste my work serving as social worker and finder of funds, and he’d laugh off PTSD as “nothing but an entitlement dream in your white cracker and people of color case loads’ heads.” Trump or his filthy generals, all of them, even cabinet-level creeps running all systems foul in DC, they hate the poor, the misbegotten, the broken, the addicted, the mentally cracked, the physically cleaved.

Make no bones about it, gents and dames, Trump is Obama is Clinton is Reagan. These people would love to see Soylent Green is People scaled up, now, and they openly love the $5 a day prison labor, and they love the stock maximization of everything private – drugs, prisons, health care, education, water-sewer-lights, and every bureaucratic thing that makes this tax time a time of death and loathing in a time of absolute penury cholera.

There is one hell of a lot of Non-Trumpers — those oh-so racist, rotten to the core Democrats or liberals or whatever creepy foodie-hot sauna-farmers’ market going folk that gentrify, who end up as WASP-Jew heads of every-self-loathing non-profit – absolutely holding onto the glory of the dollar, of the endless jujitsu that is standing for the anthem and going on and on about a few Trump loyalists and Alt-Right scoundrels being bad hombres too. Remember, these whites are voting against the people, the 80 percent, no matter how many pet projects they may undertake or scramble for Sundance documentary glory or big-time book glory, and they can go onto Amy Goodman’s show, talk the talk, but in the end, the people who should be talking or yelling or attacking, the very victims of the theft – grand theft of agency-past-future-progeny – they never get on that “liberal media.”

Make no bones about it, Democrats, with or without life coaches, all solar-powered up, bamboo floors and kids doing secular missions in third world depravity before going onto college and those non-profits, they are voting for war, voting for more jobs in the death industries, more and more work holding up the death machine of capitalism that eats at the very soul of their own, yet, for the time being, these 5 and 15-percenters, they sigh and get all Rachel Maddow like when they think they are caring about another black woman in jail, shackled during labor, or when some deranged (mentally challenged) black youth jaywalking gets mowed down by the police. The police – ahh, the variations on a theme when we say police, as in the HR departments, the school boards, the city and country code enforcers, the law firms, the forced arbiters, the endless thuggery of tax-levy-fee-fine-GAT-toll-penalty-surcharge makers and collectors, the endless Little Eichmann lever pullers and auditors, all those regulators and deregulators, all those heads of the departments and sub-agencies of all those alphabet soup Government Agencies – the grim reaper of compliant consumers, the toasty 15 and 20 percenters who make either a killing or a cool million from the depravity of these systems of usury and penury and PayDay loan-sharking.

Okay-okay – heroes and villains, part one:

Hero in Merced, California, way past mid-sixties, Joe, who has worked the land as an agricultural purveyor, and he’s seen water rights go the wrong way, seen the endless corporate theft in his neck of the Northern California woods ramp up yearly. He knows the crimes of school boards, the crimes of the big businesses, big ag, big energy, big everything.

I’ve been in communication with him for several months, and his wisdom and ire, his history, and his perspective over time, and his heart and soul, and his humor, man, well, this is a hero. He just sent me some links to Counterpunch and Global Research and came up with this quick reaction, triggered by Tax Day, and comments on a great writer’s works, stuff that has been published at Counterpunch and Dissident Voice to name just two – John W. Whitehead. Here’s Joe’s take on Whitehead’s most recent:

An electorate as indoctrinated as the American people are by corporate media would have a hard time distinguishing between shit and a poor grade of mush. This country’s citizens have never experienced war except for the fantasy war that Hooligan-wood and the latest X-box crap-app subjects them to 24/7. The public’s minds have been Disney-fied and fried by corporate media. The sad thing is that even Europe has few citizens left that remember the horrors of war. I’m afraid we are going to have to relive that lesson all over again. Maybe after the idiot populace of this country experiences the ravages of war right here in the land of easy credit, fantasy and denial, they won’t be so stupid as to support idiots that lead them into this misery. I don’t hold out much hope though. This country has been electing these corrupt war mongering bastards from both parties as long as I can remember. I don’t think it will change until the American public is walking around with their flesh dripping off their bones. Even then the public is so indoctrinated with this endless military crap brought to them as patriotism they will still be clamoring for revenge and more war. Stupid, ignorant and arrogant rules in this country, whether it be from Democrats or Republicans.

I hope some of the wildlife I hold so dear makes it out alive.

Hero, versus villain – I’d say anyone looking to bullseye Joe for being cantankerous, for being old and critical, for pointing out the futility of a country prostituted by both parties and ravaged by the stupidity of its populace, for having a keen sense of humor (not this one blurb, but he has some hilarity in this series he’s been writing – Letters to Cousin Linda) that person is the villain.

Hero – Three strikes and you are out. Now, out at age 64, African American, in prison for using drugs, and, whoops, when you use drugs, well, the excess is sometimes bartered off, traded and sold. Black man with cocaine equals the villains’ mark – criminal courts, public defenders, bail bondsmen, lawyers, municipal departments, prison systems, PayDay crap, probation officers.

This man is working at my shelter, a veteran, though he doesn’t pull that card much, and he is doing some amazing work making music, electronic stuff, sampled and using his own keyboard. There is no way in hell this fellow isn’t a hero: he is looking to reconnect with his sons and daughters in California. He ran the streets of Portland, and the villains – cops, judges, prosecutors, the entire carnival that is the criminal injustice system and its auxiliaries, including some social service non-profits – are a constant reminder to me that the white class – whatever that is – has ensconced itself into this people-killing, African-American defiling, people-of-color-community-imploding monster.

My hero and I talk about the way of the black man, the way of the white racists, this supremacist shit-hole that is America, and he calls me his advocate, his rare white man on the side of real justice friend.

Hero, 78, calling himself the gravedigger’s son, grew up in Massachusetts, near Boston, and he’s been a vagabond, man, and I am helping him get his studio apartment, getting him some free furniture, helping him think outside the meth-amphetamine box. Fucking 78, and he relapsed, recently, one day bender, and, he’s got COPD and hallucinates – talks about the people around me he sees and I do not.

He’s well-read, not college educated, and grew up in an Irish Catholic family, and he’s been to Ireland and parts of Europe. He hates the military, and talks about being in Korea, and seeing the shit hole America created in both zones. He is Irish and socialist, but he has been wandering the world, cook here and dishwasher there. Imagine, he’s been wandering the country and the world for more than 40 years, and, alas, Portland is his home.

He’s been throughout the Pacific Northwest, to encampments of hard-living people in the  Cascades, living hard and off the grid. Story teller, gift of gab, and he’s the typical detritus of America – whether Trump or Hillary, whether young or old. People do not listen to him.

Villains? Think of the thousands of people who have shut off when he’s been around. Think of the hundreds of people lording over him in the social services and government agencies. Think of the hundreds that look right through him on public transportation or when he’s at the side of the road.

A dignity in drifting, and he’s kipped in more than just a few cemeteries around the country and the world. He attended a poetry workshop I was holding, and his memory is amazing, and his son of the gravedigger narratives are more amazing. Pure poetry!

Villains – not one soul would want his stories published. The American attention span is all hooked into Zombie-Land, faux memoir writing, Marvel Comics thinking, absolute shit-hole narratives and fiction.

Hero – Irish American socialist who questions every step of the military might of this messed up country.

Villains are the takers, the judgers, the ticket givers, the processors, the CPAs, the balance sheet coveters, the liberal social services folk who talk like HR people and who know shit what it’s like being old or imprisoned or full of meth nightmares. It’s the villains who soft-shoe through the DSM-V and saunter through workshop after conference on what it is to be trauma-informed social workers, or what harm reduction principles are, or what it is to be middling people and middling social workers.

Heroes are the ones that live it out in tents, on the road, under overpasses, who crunch down in old cars and pick-up trucks, who cardboard surf in warehouses and in friends’ garages. These people are heroes in the sense that my social services non-profit believes everyone who served their country in the armed forces is a hero.

Heroes know that’s bullshit. Golden ticket for what? So, that family of four, mother with children, mother who works two jobs and has friends watch the kids, whose husband booked – yes, military veteran dude – so she’s not worthy of the golden ticket because she sweated over hamburgers and cleaned up feces of the rich and decaying, or she turned beds and sheets at the multi-billionaire’s chain of hotels?

Heroes and villains. Not difficult to spot the true hero, the survivor, the ones with a sense of dignity or perspective or time on the road, versus the ones who cut homeless programs, who vote against more food stamps, who demand drug testing for the shit pittance one might get in benefits.

Villains who gutted social security and gutted the post office and who closed the libraries and who Dread Scott-ed the world, who attack the good schooling public schools used to give. Villains are the militarists, Lords of War, the heathens and devil worshipers in the military industrial complex.

I am working with veterans who have been shot up with bullets, shrapnel, chemicals, toxins, propaganda, debasement, demands. Soldiers who were put on military bases/forts where the water is so bad, so polluted by solvents from military machinery and laundry (dry cleaning) that the Veterans Administration even has a name for the Parkinson’s — Camp Lejeune  Parkinson’s: various chemicals, including the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) known as PCE (Tetrachloroethylene aka Perchloroethylene), TCE (Trichloroethylene), DCE (Dichloroethylene), Vinyl Chloride and BTEX (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylene). These chemicals are either known or suspected human carcinogens. Many Marines, Sailors, their families and loyal civilian employees have been affected by the contamination in various ways including, but not limited to: liver cancer, kidney cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, liver disease, miscarriages, birth defects (cleft palate, heart defects, Choanal atresia, neural tube defects, low birth weight, and small for gestational age),etc.

Heroes are the one’s shaking so hard at 65 they can’t even sign their names on forms that will get them subsidized housing. Heroes who are homeless, misbegotten, broken, incapable of navigating systems and job markets and economic hoops with Parkinson’s and the other effects associated with the decay caused by the military pollutants.

Villains? Just imagine the cadre of corporatists, the protectionists, the Little Eichmann’s, anti-whistle blowers, the lock-step ones fighting the science behind the disease and destruction and decay and denuding of humanity and ecologies because of that profit margin, and that grim reaper’s scythe chopping off the heads of us, the 80 percent. How difficult is it to see those lip-less white men and women, hear their ameliorating, their HR bullshit, listen to their shallow and pedestrian articulation?

Facts – the systematic lack of affordable housing and the Draconian limited scale of housing assistance programs all contribute to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. Foreclosures? In the hundreds of thousands each year! Result? Homeless.

The 2008 recession forced two million more people into homelessness over the following two years, according to estimates by The National Alliance to End Homelessness.

One or two out of 50—or about 2.5 million—American children are homeless each year, according to a 2009 study by the National Center on Family Homelessness. These are nine year old stats.

Here are some of the causes of homelessness:

For persons in families, the three most commonly cited causes, according to a 2008 U.S. Conference of Mayors study are:

• Lack of affordable housing
• Poverty
• Unemployment

For singles, the three most commonly cited causes of homelessness are:

• Substance abuse
• Lack of affordable housing
• Mental illness

Veterans are more likely than other populations to be homeless.

We are talking around 40% of homeless men being veterans, although veterans comprise only 34 percent of the general adult male population, according to research on veterans by the National Coalition for Homeless. On any given night, 200,000 veterans are homeless.

Do wages count? The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the 2017 Housing Wage is $21.21 per hour, exceeding the $16.38 hourly wage earned by the average renter by almost $5.00 an hour. This $16.38 an hour exceeds wages earned by low income renter households. In fact, the hourly wage needed for renters hoping to afford a two-bedroom rental home is almost twice ($13.96) higher than the national minimum wage of $7.25.

What about the food insecure. It’s 51 million people in the United States living in food insecure households, 15 million of whom are children. While the magnitude of the problem is clear, national and even state estimates of food insecurity can mask the nuances that exist at the local level.

Here: Feeding America; Foreclosures; Minimum Wage; Wage state-by-state; True Minimum Wage.

What is the real unemployment figure for US of A?

The U-3 unemployment rate is the monthly headline number. The U-6 unemployment rate is the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) broadest unemployment measure, including short-term discouraged and other marginally-attached workers as well as those forced to work part-time because they cannot find full-time employment.

The ShadowStats Alternate Unemployment Rate for March 2018 is 21.7%.

Heroes and Villains? Rage and reckless indignation. Anger and attack, those are the hero’s tools, and the villain’s tools are based on hierarchy of consumption, the power of the people who have and the impotence of those who do not have.

What is it to have anything, that’s what many of my heroes ask, those who are homeless, on $1,200.00 a month for Social Security? Imagine this world with heroes. One hero, oddly, is the lady doing my taxes. She despised what has happened to this country, and she knows the true figures for saving and investing in a social security system – average person would come out at age 65 with $250,000 or $500,000 in his or her retirement account based on social security deductions. If this fact came out, parsed and discussed daily at the water cooler and forklift bay, we’d be pounding constantly how this country is one giant theft-creating/theft-inducing continuing criminal organization . . . then would more people revolt?

Heroes are guys like Whitehead or Nasser!!!

Whitehead: All of those nefarious government deeds that you read about in the paper every day: those are your tax dollars at work. It’s your money that allows for government agents to spy on your emails, your phone calls, your text messages, and your movements. It’s your money that allows out-of-control police officers to burst into innocent people’s homes, or probe and strip search motorists on the side of the road, or shoot an unarmed person. And it’s your money that leads to innocent Americans across the country being prosecuted for innocuous activities such as raising chickens at home, growing vegetable gardens, and trying to live off the grid.

Just remember the next time you see a news story that makes your blood boil, whether it’s a child being kicked out of school for shooting an imaginary arrow, or a homeowner being threatened with fines for building a pond in his backyard, remember that it is your tax dollars that are paying for these injustices.

So what are you going to do about it?

There was a time in our history when our forebears said “enough is enough” and stopped paying their taxes to what they considered an illegitimate government. They stood their ground and refused to support a system that was slowly choking out any attempts at self-governance, and which refused to be held accountable for its crimes against the people. Their resistance sowed the seeds for the revolution that would follow.

Unfortunately, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, in the 200-plus years since we established our own government, we’ve let bankers, turncoats and number-crunching bureaucrats muddy the waters and pilfer the accounts to such an extent that we’re back where we started.

Once again, we’ve got a despotic regime with an imperial ruler doing as they please.

Heroes are students trying to solve this shit-hole’s problems, hitting the books, and attempting to coalesce around strong thinking, critical solutions-generating thinking, and holism. Villains are the ledger counters, the money changers, the actualizers of debt.

Nasser: The burden weighing like a nightmare, to coin a phrase, on 44 million indebted current and former students will haunt these people for a good portion of their lives. The average student debtor graduates owing close to $34,000 and is projected to spend 21 years paying it off. At present, the average monthly payment for those between 30 and 40 years old is $351.00. It is not uncommon for repayment obligations to be borne by underwriters of these loans, typically the primary borrower’s parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Taking these co-signers into consideration, we have about 100 million people adversely affected, directly or indirectly, by the difficulty very many have repaying these loans.

Because the serving of warrants and jailing of debtors has begun picking up steam in recent years, and the financial situation of these potential prisoners has been gradually deteriorating, we have reason to expect that student-loan debtors could come to make up a significant portion of the growing ranks of those threatened with debt prison. Arrest warrants have been issued in California, Florida, Minnesota, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts and Texas. Arrests have been heaviest in California, Texas and Minnesota. In many cases there was no announcement of court orders or that the debtor was being sued. U.S. marshals in Minnesota conducted “Operation Anaconda Squeeze” to arrest student-loan debtors who had failed to appear in court for a “debtor’s examination.” Whether they had received prior notice was often thought by the court to be beside the point. As with the cases described earlier, often defendants are ordered to pay much more than the amount of the original loan. A Texas man, who received no prior notice about the debt or the court case brought by a private collection agency on behalf of Uncle Sam, was arrested by seven armed U.S. marshals for an unpaid $1,500 student loan he had borrowed 29 years earlier. He was ordered to pay, after interest and court fees, more than twice the amount of the original loan. $1,258.60 was added to reimburse the marshals for his arrest.

Is the U.S. Government Evil? You Tell Me

The greatest evil is not now done … in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.

― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, February 1942

Is the U.S. government evil?

You tell me.

This is a government that treats its citizens like faceless statistics and economic units to be bought, sold, bartered, traded, tracked, tortured, and eventually eliminated once they’ve outgrown their usefulness.

This is a government that treats human beings like lab rats to be caged, branded, experimented upon, and then discarded and left to suffer from the after-effects.

This is a government that repeatedly lies, cheats, steals, spies, kills, maims, enslaves, breaks the laws, overreaches its authority, and abuses its power at almost every turn.

This is a government that wages wars for profit, jails its own people for profit, and then turns a blind eye and a deaf ear while its henchmen rape and kill and pillage.

No, this is not a government that can be trusted to do what is right or moral or humane or honorable but instead seems to gravitate towards corruption, malevolence, misconduct, greed, cruelty, brutality and injustice.

This is not a government you should trust with your life, your loved ones, your livelihood or your freedoms.

This is the face of evil, disguised as a democracy, sold to the people as an institution that has their best interests at heart.

Don’t fall for the lie.

The government has never had our best interests at heart.

Endless wars. The government didn’t have our best interests at heart when it propelled us into endless oil-fueled wars and military occupations in the Middle East that wreaked havoc on our economy, stretched thin our military resources and subjected us to horrific blowback.

A police state. There is no way the government had our best interests at heart when it passed laws subjecting us to all manner of invasive searches and surveillance, censoring our speech and stifling our expression, rendering us anti-government extremists for daring to disagree with its dictates, locking us up for criticizing government policies on social media, encouraging Americans to spy and snitch on their fellow citizens, and allowing government agents to grope, strip, search, taser, shoot and kill us.

Battlefield America. Certainly the government did not have our best interests at heart when it turned America into a battlefield, transforming law enforcement agencies into extensions of the military, conducting military drills on domestic soil, distributing “free” military equipment and weaponry to local police, and desensitizing Americans to the menace of the police state with active shooter drills, color-coded terror alerts, and randomly conducted security checkpoints at “soft” targets such as shopping malls and sports arenas.

School-to-prison pipeline. It would be a reach to suggest that the government had our best interests at heart when it locked down the schools, installing metal detectors and surveillance cameras, adopting zero tolerance policies that punish childish behavior as harshly as criminal actions, and teaching our young people that they have no rights, that being force-fed facts is education rather than indoctrination, that they are not to question governmental authority, that they must meekly accept a life of censorship, round-the-clock surveillance, roadside blood draws, SWAT team raids and other indignities.

Secret human experimentation. One would also be hard-pressed to suggest that the American government had our best interests at heart when it conducted secret experiments on an unsuspecting populace—citizens and noncitizens alike—making healthy people sick by spraying them with chemicals, injecting them with infectious diseases and exposing them to airborne toxins. The government reasoned that it was legitimate (and cheaper) to experiment on people who did not have full rights in society such as prisoners, mental patients, and poor blacks.

As the Associated Press reports, “The late 1940s and 1950s saw huge growth in the U.S. pharmaceutical and health care industries, accompanied by a boom in prisoner experiments funded by both the government and corporations. By the 1960s, at least half the states allowed prisoners to be used as medical guinea pigs … because they were cheaper than chimpanzees.”

In Alabama, for example, 600 black men with syphilis were allowed to suffer without proper medical treatment so that the government could study the natural progression of untreated syphilis. In California, older prisoners were implanted with testicles from livestock and executed convicts so the government could test their virility.

In Connecticut, mental patients were injected with hepatitis so the government could study the disease. In Maryland, sleeping prisoners had a pandemic flu virus sprayed up their noses so the government could monitor their symptoms. In Georgia, two dozen “volunteering” prison inmates had gonorrhea bacteria pumped directly into their urinary tracts through the penis so the government could work on a cure.

In Michigan, male patients at an insane asylum were exposed to the flu so the government could experiment with a flu vaccine. In Minnesota, 11 public service employee “volunteers” were injected with malaria, then starved for five days, so the government could study the impact.

In New York, prisoners at a reformatory prison were split into two groups to determine how a deadly stomach virus was spread: the first group was made to swallow an unfiltered stool suspension, while the second group merely breathed in germs sprayed into the air. In Staten Island, children with mental retardation were given hepatitis orally and by injection to see if they could then be cured.

Unfortunately, these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the atrocities the government has inflicted on an unsuspecting populace in the name of secret experimentation.

For instance, there was the U.S. military’s secret race-based testing of mustard gas on more than 60,000 enlisted men (African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Hispanics, etc.). As NPR reports:

All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.

And then there was the CIA’s Cold War-era program, MKULTRA, in which the government began secretly experimenting on hundreds of unsuspecting American civilians and military personnel by dosing them with LSD, some having the hallucinogenic drug secretly slipped into their drinks, so that the government could explore its uses in brainwashing and controlling targets. The CIA spent nearly $20 million on its MKULTRA program, reportedly as a means of programming people to carry out assassinations and, to a lesser degree, inducing anxieties and erasing memories, before it was supposedly shut down.

Similarly, the top-secret Montauk Project, the inspiration for the hit Netflix series Stranger Things, allegedly was working to develop mind-control techniques that would then be tested out on locals in a nearby village, triggering crime waves or causing teenagers to congregate.

Sounds like the stuff of conspiracy theorists, I know, but the government’s track record of treating Americans like lab rats has been well-documented, including its attempts to expose whole communities to various toxins as part of its efforts to develop lethal biological weapons and study their impact and delivery methods on unsuspecting populations.

In 1949, for instance, the government sprayed bacteria into the Pentagon’s air handling system, then the world’s largest office building. In 1950, special ops forces sprayed bacteria from Navy ships off the coast of Norfolk and San Francisco, in the latter case exposing all of the city’s 800,000 residents.

In 1953, government operatives staged “mock” anthrax attacks on St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Winnipeg  using generators placed on top of cars. Local governments were reportedly told that “‘invisible smokescreen[s]’ were being deployed to mask the city on enemy radar.” Later experiments covered territory as wide-ranging as Ohio to Texas and Michigan to Kansas.

In 1965, the government’s experiments in bioterror took aim at Washington’s National Airport, followed by a 1966 experiment in which army scientists exposed a million subway NYC passengers to airborne bacteria that causes food poisoning.

Now one might argue that this is all ancient history and that the government today is different from the government of yesteryear, but has the U.S. government really changed?

Ask yourself: Has the government become any more humane, any more respectful of the rights of the citizenry? Has it become any more transparent or willing to abide by the rule of law? Has it become any more truthful about its activities? Has it become any more cognizant of its appointed role as a guardian of our rights?

Or, having mastered the Orwellian art of Doublespeak and followed the Huxleyan blueprint for distraction and diversion, has the government simply gotten craftier and more conniving, better able to hide its nefarious acts and dastardly experiments under layers of secrecy, legalism and obfuscations?

Consider this: after revelations about the government’s experiments spanning the 20th century spawned outrage, the government began looking for  human guinea pigs in other countries, where “clinical trials could be done more cheaply and with fewer rules.”

In Guatemala, prisoners and patients at a mental hospital were infected with syphilis, “apparently to test whether penicillin could prevent some sexually transmitted disease.” More recently, U.S.-funded doctors “failed to give the AIDS drug AZT to all the HIV-infected pregnant women in a study in Uganda even though it would have protected their newborns.” Meanwhile, in Nigeria, children with meningitis were used to test an antibiotic named Trovan. Eleven children died and many others were left disabled.

What kind of government perpetrates such horrific acts on human beings, whether or not they are American citizens?

Is there any difference between a government mindset that justifies experimenting on prisoners because they’re “cheaper than chimpanzees” and a government that sanctions jailhouse strip searches of individuals charged with minor infractions simply because it’s easier on a jail warden’s workload?

John Lennon was right: “We’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends.”

Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Just recently, for example, a Fusion Center in Washington State (a Dept. of Homeland Security-linked data collection clearinghouse that shares information between state, local and federal agencies) inadvertently released records on remote mind control tactics (the use of “psycho-electronic” weapons to control people from a distance or subject them to varying degrees of pain).

Mind you, there is no clear evidence to suggest that these particular documents were created by a government agency. Then again, the government—no stranger to diabolical deeds or shady experiments carried out an unsuspecting populace—has done it before.

After all, this is a government that has become almost indistinguishable from the evil it claims to be fighting, whether that evil takes the form of terrorism, torture, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, murder, violence, theft, pornography, scientific experimentations or some other diabolical means of inflicting pain, suffering and servitude on humanity.

For too long now, the American people have been persuaded to barter their freedoms for phantom promises of security and, in the process, have rationalized turning a blind eye to all manner of government wrongdoing—asset forfeiture schemes, corruption, surveillance, endless wars, SWAT team raids, militarized police, profit-driven private prisons, and so on—because they were the so-called lesser of two evils.

No matter how you rationalize it, the lesser of two evils is still evil.

There’s a scene in The Third Man, Carol Reed’s influential 1949 film starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles in which a rogue war profiteer (Harry Lime) views human carnage with a callous indifference, unconcerned that the diluted penicillin he’s been trafficking underground has resulted in the tortured deaths of young children.

Challenged by his old friend Holly Martins to consider the consequences of his actions, Lime responds, “In these days, old man, nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we?”

“Have you ever seen any of your victims?” asks Martins.

“Victims?” responds Lime, as he looks down from the top of a Ferris wheel onto a populace reduced to mere dots on the ground. “Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?”

Lime’s callous indifference is no different from the U.S. government’s calculating cost-benefit analyses.

In the eyes of the government, “we the people” are chump change.

So why do Americans keep believing the government has their best interests at heart?

Why do Americans keep trusting the government?

Why do Americans pretend not to know what is so obvious to anyone with eyes and ears and a conscience?

As Carl Sagan recognized, “If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

We should never have trusted the government in the first place.

That’s why the Founders came up with a Bill of Rights. They recognized that without binding legal protections affirming the rights of the people, the newly instituted American government would be no better than the old British despot.

It was Thomas Jefferson who warned, “In questions of power then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t heed the warning.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government has ripped the Constitution to shreds and left us powerless in the face of its power grabs, greed and brutality.

So how do you fight back?

How do you fight injustice? How do you push back against tyranny? How do you vanquish evil?

You don’t fight it by hiding your head in the sand.

Stop being apathetic. Stop being neutral. Stop being accomplices.

Start recognizing evil and injustice and tyranny for what they are. Demand government transparency. Vote with your feet (i.e., engage in activism, not just politics). Refuse to play politics with your principles. Don’t settle for the lesser of two evils.

As British statesman Edmund Burke warned, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”

It’s time for good men and women to do something. And soon.

Fourteen-year-old Ghada was the Latest Victim of Israel’s Dehumanising Machine

How did a 14-year-old Palestinian girl who has never set foot in the open-air prison of Gaza find herself being dumped there by Israeli officials – alone, at night and without her parents being informed?

The terrifying ordeal – a child realising she had not been taken home but discarded in a place where she knew no one – is hard to contemplate for any parent.

And yet for Israel’s gargantuan bureaucratic structure that has ruled over Palestinians for five decades, this was just another routine error. One mishap among many that day.

A single, abstract noun – “occupation” – obscures a multitude of crimes.

What crushes Palestinian spirits is not just the calculated malevolence of Israel’s occupation authorities as they kill and imprison Palestinians, seal them in ghettos, steal land and demolish homes. It is also the system’s casual indifference to their fate.

This is a bureaucracy – of respectable men and women – that controls the smallest details of Palestinians’ lives. With the flick of a pen, everything can be turned upside down. Palestinians are viewed as numbers and bodies rather than human beings.

The story of Ghada – as she has been identified – illustrates many features of this system of control.

She was arrested last month as an “illegal alien” in her own homeland, for visiting her aunt. The two live a short distance apart but while Israel considers Ghada a resident of the West Bank, her aunt is classified a resident of Jerusalem. They might as well be on different planets.

Ghada, we should note, suffers from epilepsy. After two days in detention and overriding opposition from Israeli police, a judge ordered her release on bail. All this happened without her parents present.

Israel controls the Palestinian population register too and had recorded Ghada wrongly as a Gaza resident, even though she was born and raised far away in the West Bank. She is separated from Gaza by Israel, which she cannot enter.

Presumably, no Israeli official wanted to harm Ghada. It was just that none cared enough to notice that she was a frightened child – afraid of being alone, of the dark, of fences and watchtowers. And a child who needs regular medical care.

Instead she was viewed simply as a package, to be delivered to whatever location was on the docket. Despite her anguished protests, she was forced through the electronic fence into the cage of Gaza.

She was finally released by Israel and returned to her parents last Thursday, two weeks after her ordeal began.

Was this not precisely what Hannah Arendt, the Jewish philosopher of totalitarianism, meant when she identified the “banality of evil” while watching the trial of the Holocaust’s architect, Adolph Eichmann, in Jerusalem in 1962?

Arendt wrote that totalitarian systems were designed to turn men into “functionaries and mere cogs in the administrative machinery”, to “dehumanise them”.

Even the worst bureaucracies contain few monsters. Its officials have simply forgotten what it means to be human, losing the capacity for compassion and independent thought.

After five decades of ruling over Palestinians, with no limits or accountability, many Israelis have become cogs.

Most of the Palestinian victims of this “system” remain hidden from view. Only occasionally a Ghada suddenly throws a troubling light on the depths to which Israel has sunk.

Another example is Ahed Tamimi, who spent her 17th birthday in prison last week, charged with slapping a heavily armed soldier during an invasion of her home. Moments earlier, his unit had shot her 15-year-old cousin in the face, nearly killing him. She now risks a 10-year jail sentence for her justified anger.

Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington and now a government minister, was so unwilling to believe Ahed could be blonde-haired and blue-eyed – like him – that he ordered a secret investigation to try to prove her family were actors.

Most Israelis cannot believe that a Palestinian child might fight for her home and for her family’s right to live freely. Palestinians are expected to be passive recipients of Israel’s “civilising”, bureaucratic violence.

Soldiers helping settlers to steal her community’s farmland have scrawled death threats against her on the walls in her village, Nabi Saleh.

Oren Hazan, a parliament member from the ruling Likud party, told the BBC last week that Ahed was not a child, but a “terrorist”. Had he been slapped, he said, “she would finish in the hospital for sure … I would kick, kick her face”.

This dehumanising logic is directed at any non-Jew with a foothold in the enlarged fortress state Israel is creating.

But belatedly, a few Israelis are drawing a line. A backlash has begun as Israel this week starts expelling 40,000 asylum seekers who fled wars in Sudan and Eritrea. In violation of international treaties, Israel wants these refugees returned to Africa, where they risk persecution or death.

Unlike Palestinians, these refugees tug at some liberal Israelis’ heartstrings, reminding them of European Jews who once needed shelter from genocide.

Nonetheless, Israel has incentivised its citizens to become bounty hunters, offering $9,000 bonuses for hunting down African refugees.

Progressive rabbis and social activists have called for Israelis to hide the refugees in attics and cellars, just as Europeans once protected Jews from their persecutors.

It is a battle for Israel’s soul. Can Israelis begin to see non-Jews – whether Africans or Palestinians like Ghada – as fellow human beings, equally deserving of compassion? Or will Israelis sink further into the darkness of a banal evil that threatens to engulf them?

• First published in the National

Israel’s Shin Bet to Face First-Ever Torture Probe

For the first time in its history, an interrogator from Israel’s secret police agency, the Shin Bet, is to face a criminal investigation over allegations of torture.

It will be the first probe of the Shin Bet since Israel’s supreme court issued a landmark ruling nearly two decades ago prohibiting, except in extraordinary circumstances, the use of what it termed “special methods” of interrogation.

Before the ruling, physical abuse of Palestinians had been routine and resulted in several deaths in custody.

According to human rights groups, however, the supreme court ban has had a limited impact. The Shin Bet, formally known as the Israel Security Agency, has simply been more careful about hiding its use of torture, they say.

More than 1,000 complaints from Palestinians have been submitted to a government watchdog body over the past 18 years, but this is the first time one has led to a criminal investigation.

Many Palestinians are jailed based on confessions either they or other Palestinians make during Shin Bet questioning. Israeli military courts almost never examine how such confessions were obtained or whether they are reliable, say lawyers, contributing to a 99.7 percent conviction rate.

Last month, in freeing a Palestinian man who was jailed based on a false confession, an Israeli court accused the Shin Bet of using techniques that were “liable to induce innocent people to admit to acts that they did not commit”.

‘Exception proves the rule’

But rights groups have told Al Jazeera the current investigation of the Shin Bet agent is unlikely to bring an end to the long-standing impunity of interrogators, or a change in its practices.

Instead, they noted, an updated decision last month on torture from the Israeli supreme court, revising the 1999 landmark ruling, had moved the goalposts significantly in the Shin Bet’s favour.

Hassan Jabareen, director of Adalah, a legal rights group representing Israel’s large Palestinian minority, said: “This case is the exception that proves the rule – one investigation after many hundreds of complaints have been ignored.

“It will be promoted to suggest – wrongly – that the system has limits, that it respects the rule of law.”

That view was shared by Rachel Stroumsa, head of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, which has submitted many of the 1,100 complaints of torture filed against the Shin Bet.

She told Al Jazeera that Israel was “highly unusual” in making legal justifications for interrogation practices that clearly violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which Israel ratified in 1991.

The convention forbids intentionally inflicting “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” on those in detention to gain information.

The 1999 ruling by the Israeli supreme court banned torture except in extremely rare cases of “necessity”, or what it termed “ticking bombs” – suspects from whom it was essential to gain information quickly.

But Stroumsa said the large number of complaints from Palestinians submitted to Mivtan, a watchdog body in the justice ministry, indicated that the Shin Bet had never stopped using torture.

Mivtan’s consistent failure

The justice ministry has refused to divulge details of the criminal investigation, apart from saying it refers to “a field interrogation” in 2015. Field interrogations are usually conducted moments after a Palestinian has been seized by security forces.

Speaking of the case at the weekend, Emi Palmor, director general of the justice ministry, said that this was “the first case that will be translated, presumably, into an indictment”.

Stroumsa said the investigation was not in response to a complaint her committee had filed. Israeli media have speculated that the case may have progressed only because it was supported by testimony from another Israeli intelligence agent.

Rights groups have been harshly critical of Mivtan over its consistent failure to investigate Palestinian complaints of torture.

For most of its history, the unit was part of the Shin Bet and employed only one investigator.

But following criticism in 2013 from a state inquiry, the Turkel Commission, Mivtan was transferred to the justice ministry. Last year it recruited a second investigator, who reportedly speaks Arabic.

Prisoners ‘feel buried’

Before the 1999 ruling, the Shin Bet was regularly accused of violently shaking prisoners and beating them, including by banging their heads against a wall.

According to testimonies, the Shin Bet still uses physical violence, though less routinely, including choking, forcing victims into stress positions that cause intense pain, and tightly cuffing their hands to prevent blood flow.

But the Shin Bet is reported now to prioritise mental torture that does not leave tell-tale signs doctors could identify. These include threats of physical and sexual violence, including against family members, interrogation lasting for days, sleep deprivation, and prolonged exposure to loud music.

Palestinians are often denied access to daylight, sometimes for weeks, so they become disoriented. “They are completely isolated – they feel buried. They don’t know when their interrogation will end or how it will end,” Anat Litvin, a researcher for Physicians for Human Rights Israel told Al Jazeera.

She added that it was often hard to prove torture because the Shin Bet denied requests for doctors to inspect prisoners. “That creates a vicious circle – those who are tortured cannot prove they were because there is no documentation.”

Even so, she said, doctors usually only recorded bumps and bruises without noting claims from Palestinians that their injuries were inflicted by their interrogators.

Last year an unnamed senior interrogator confirmed that the agency uses torture to the Haaretz newspaper. He said agents were required to record details of how many blows they inflicted and what painful positions they used on detainees. Interrogators concentrated on sensitive regions such as the nose, ears and lips.

In an indication of high-level support for torture in Israel, he said logs were sent afterwards to the attorney general, Israel’s chief law officer.

“Israel is a torturing society,” said Litvin. “It requires that all levels of the system turn a blind eye – the Shin Bet, investigators, government officials, the courts, and doctors. There has to be a climate that allows this to happen.”

Interrogations not recorded

A global survey by the International Red Cross in 2016 found more support for torture in Israel than any other country apart from Nigeria. Half of Israelis backed its use, with only a quarter opposed.

Stroumsa said: “The fact is many Israelis can live with these things as long as they are being done in the dark, out of view, without any documentation. They assume all cases of torture are ‘ticking bombs’.”

Efforts to prove torture have also been hampered by an emergency order passed in 2002, in the wake of the supreme court ruling, that exempts Shin Bet interrogations from being recorded on video.

In 2015 the cabinet justified the exemption on the grounds that video recording “could cause real damage to the quality of the interrogation and the ability to investigate security offenses”.

Stroumsa noted that, aside from the moral problem, research has shown that torture is ineffective. A US Senate report, published in 2014, concluded that it was “not an effective means of obtaining accurate information”.

Ticking bomb ‘loophole’

Nonetheless, the signs are that the Israeli courts are rolling back the restrictions on torture they put in place at the end of the 1990s.

Last month the supreme court issued a ruling in the case of Assad Abu Ghosh, a Hamas activist who, the Israeli state admits, was subjected to “special methods” of interrogation in 2007.

According to a petition to the court from the Public Committee, he was beaten and repeatedly slammed against a wall, and forced into the “banana position”, putting extreme pressure on his back. Abu Ghosh was left with neurological damage as a result.

Human rights groups had hoped the court would close the ticking bomb “loophole”, which has allowed the Shin Bet to carry on torturing prisoners, or at least more tightly control the kinds of methods they use.

Instead, said Jabareen, of Adalah, the ruling appeared to give greater licence to the Shin Bet to use torture.

“It is now enough that the [Shin Bet] agent believes subjectively that the prisoner is a ‘ticking bomb’, even in the absence of objective facts to support that belief,” he said. “His actions will not be treated as criminal in nature because they are assumed to be done in good faith.”

Stroumsa said she found the judges’ ruling in the Abu Ghosh case “astonishing”, given the injunction in international law against torture.

“The court ruled that, even if technically in international law interrogation methods were considered torture, in Israel they were not regarded as such. The judges effectively gave the Shin Bet a green light to continue with torture.”

• First published in Al Jazeera

“Soledad Brother” John Clutchette Granted Parole: Will CA Governor Jerry Brown Reverse the Decision?

John Clutchette

On January 12, 2018, the California Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to an elderly inmate named John Clutchette. However, supporters of parole for Clutchette are concerned that California Governor Jerry Brown will reverse the Board’s decision, and Clutchette will not be released.

Supporters have a reason to be concerned. After all, this is exactly what happened in 2016 when Clutchette was similarly granted parole by the Board but Governor Brown chose to reverse the Board’s ruling.

Legal scholar Angela A. Allen-Bell, a professor at Southern University Law Center and students in her “Law and Minorities” class began researching Clutchette’s legal battle over a year ago. Following extensive research they have concluded that “the law has been used to perpetuate an injustice in Mr. Clutchette’s case.”

Why did Governor Brown deny parole to 74-year-old John Clutchette?  In our interview with Professor Bell, she refers to Brown’s written explanation for his 2016 parole reversal, where Brown cites the fact that in the early 1970s, Clutchette was one of a trio of inmates at California’s Soledad Prison, who became high profile co-defendants known as the “Soledad Brothers.”

The Soledad Brothers, with John Clutchette on the left, reprinted for a 1970 poster

Since Clutchette was ultimately acquitted of all charges in the Soledad Brothers case, Professor Bell argues that it is problematic for Governor Brown to use this as his reason for reversing the parole board. In our interview, Bell further contextualizes Brown’s reference to the Soledad Brothers, and identifies other troubling aspects of the case.

Professor Bell concludes with a call to action, urging readers to contact California Governor Jerry Brown and express their support for the California Board of Parole Hearings January 12, 2018 decision granting parole to John Clutchette.

Angola 3 News: Can you tell us about the work you and your students have done researching the case of “Soledad Brother” John Clutchette?

Angela A. Allen-Bell: In my “Law & Minorities” class, the law students explore the use of law both to perpetuate and eradicate racial injustice in the United States by exploring past and current legal, racial and social justice challenges involving minorities, indigenous peoples and others in vulnerable situations. Once such a challenge is identified, the students conduct investigative research. Restorative justice principles are then employed.

A year ago, when we began our work on the case of Soledad Brother John Cluchette, we knew only that he was in custody and that he had some historical connection to the late George Jackson. The four law students who worked on this case sifted through volumes of dated Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) documents, numerous era-related court cases, news stories, books and interviews. They also conducted their own interviews.

These collective efforts led us to conclude that the law has been used to perpetuate an injustice in Mr. Clutchette’s case. In conjunction with this conclusion and, as a restorative justice measure, we filed a complaint to the United Nations through its Special Procedures Division.

A3N: Last week, on January 12, 2018, the California Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to Mr. Clutchette, but before he is actually released on parole, this ruling will now have to be affirmed by CA Governor Jerry Brown. In the past, Governor Brown has rejected parole for Mr. Clutchette. On what grounds did he make this decision?

AB:  On November 4, 2016, California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. reversed the 2016 California Board of Parole Hearings decision that had granted parole to John Clutchette. Governor Brown reasoned:

He has told the Board many times that he was not and had never been a member of the Black Guerilla Family….Mr. Clutchette has been identified as a high-ranking and revered member of the gang since the 1970s  and as recently as 2008.  Although he was acquitted of the murder of a correctional officer in 1970, he later admitted to fellow inmates that he had knocked the officer unconscious before George Jackson killed him.  The pair, along with Fleeta Drumgo, became known as the “Soledad Brothers,” and made national news when Mr. Jackson’s brother made a failed attempt to take the judge, a deputy district attorney, and jurors hostage….While Mr. Clutchette acknowledged that he knew all of the individuals involved at the time and shared the same ‘political ideology,’ he steadfastly denies that he was ever in the [BGF] gang or that he was ever involved in ‘any violence or anything since I’ve been in prison.’ These statements are contradicted by ample evidence in the record . . . While I appreciate that Mr. Clutchette has completed the stepdown program and has now been deemed an inactive gang member, I remain troubled by his version of events. His statements, and the evidence to the contrary, demonstrate that Mr. Clutchette has not acknowledged or come to terms with his key role in these historical events or the magnitude of his actions.

I have considered the evidence in the record that is relevant to whether Mr. Clutchette is currently dangerous. When considered as a whole, I find the evidence shows that he currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.

To appreciate our conclusions about this being an injustice and a human rights violation, Governor Brown’s decision must be viewed within the larger context of this case.

From all indicators, John Clutchette was a politically inactive citizen in 1966 when he was convicted of burglary. For that charge, he was supposed to have been released from prison in April 1970. However, instead of seeing freedom, he became a character entangled in a web of racial politics and social struggle on a forgotten page in a discarded history book.

In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the civil rights era was underway in the United States. Free citizens and inmates alike were demanding civil and human rights. At this moment in time, J. Edgar Hoover was leading the FBI. Through COINTELPRO, a clandestine intelligence program, Mr. Hoover sought to neutralize many activists, advocacy groups, dissident voices, artists and innocent citizens. His tactics were often unconstitutional and largely illegal. For over forty-seven long years, Mr. Hoover declared war on free expression, chilled speech, intimidated and bullied dissenters, meted out private punishments, invaded privacy rights and engaged in discriminatory law enforcement practices. The Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) were two groups that Mr. Hoover had a particular disdain for. Mr. Hoover’s practices were successfully suppressed from the American public until 1975. The full extent of COINTELPRO harms have yet to be realized all these years removed.


The late George Jackson is another prominent figure in Mr. Clutchette’s story. He was a successful organizer, an activist, the founder of the BGF, a member of the BPP and a respected prison intellectual. In 1970, he released Soledad Brother, a book that exposed prison conditions to a captive world audience. While this endeared legions of inmates and free people to him, this cemented his adversarial relationship with the prison staff and administration. His opposition extended beyond the prison gates. He was a target of Mr. Hoover’s COINTELPRO program.

In the early 1970s, John Clutchette was incarcerated at California Correctional Training Facility at Soledad. He was housed in the “Y” wing on the tier with George Jackson. At the time, there were documented racial problems inside the facility, as well as allegations of excessive force and other abuses on the part of correctional officers. In this climate, three African American inmates were murdered by a white guard, African American inmate witnesses were not allowed to testify at trial and the officer was not prosecuted. Shortly thereafter, in January 1970, John Mills, a white prison guard was murdered in what some describe as an act of retaliation. George Jackson, John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo were accused of Officer Mills’ murder and, subsequently, indicted in February 1970. The trio became known as the “Soledad Brothers.” Mr. Clutchette was less than three months away from parole.

Months later, in August 1970, heavily armed, seventeen-year-old Jonathan Jackson joined this cast of characters. Jonathan, George’s youngest brother, entered the Marin County Courthouse during a trial. Jonathan armed three prisoners before the group left with five hostages, which included the judge and district attorney. In an effort to stop the escape, officers killed Jonathan, the judge and two of the prisoners. A year later, in August 1971, George was killed by San Quentin prison guards, leaving his associates, however distant, to pay for his sins, both real and imagined.

From all appearances, officials deemed the Soledad Brothers guilty on the day they were arrested and viewed the surrounding legal process as a mere formality—something akin to a pit stop on the way to their final destination toward literal or figurative death in prison. Fate would write another ending for John Clutchette. In February 1972, John Clutchette was acquitted by the all-white jury that presided over his case. He further defied odds when he was granted parole on November 13, 1972.

Photo of the Soledad Brothers, Clutchette on right

Significantly, none of the “Soledad Brothers” were found guilty of the murder of Officer Mills.  Also noteworthy is the fact that John Clutchette was not charged or convicted in the 1970 Marin County Courthouse matter that was onset by Jonathan Jackson nor was he charged or convicted in the 1971 Adjustment Center incident that resulted in the death of George Jackson.

John Clutchette remained a free man from 1972 until 1980 when he was placed in custody to stand trial for the murder of Robert Bowles. Mr. Bowles’ lifeless body was found in a parked car with two gunshot wounds to the head. Mr. Clutchette, then a substance abuser and a party to illicit drug operations, testified only to participating in the cover up of the murder. Despite his testimony, he was convicted of first degree murder. An indeterminate sentence of seven years to life was imposed. Two additional years were added for use of a weapon.

Mr. Clutchette presently speaks of this crime with great remorse and sorrow. His moral convictions led him to pen a heartfelt letter to the Bowles family. In that letter, he expressed:

I…extend[] my deepest apologies and sincere regrets to the entire Bowles family for the devastating and irreparable harm that I have caused with my callous disregard for Robert’s life…I’ll forever live with the shame of my actions…It did not happen overnight…I am taking full advantage of the rehabilitative process; in my long journey of self-discovery, I have matured and learned to use my care and concern when I know that my actions have the potential to affect the lives of my fellow man/woman and community…I am on my perpetual road of atonement….

A3N: Do you know how Gov. Brown arrived at the conclusions that led him to reject the Parole Board’s decision granting Mr. Clutchette parole in 2016?

AB: His written reasons suggest he used subjective, unvetted, unreliable information and inaccuracies from John Clutchette’s prison file. This includes statements from prison snitches, memoranda from confidential sources, statements from prison staff and the like.  Many of the documents are self-serving.  Others are little more than speculation.  They are not the product of any vetting, or credible or fact-finding process; yet they have been given the veracity of such.

This is more than speculation.  In 1997, the appellate court made such a fact-finding: “We agree that Clutchette’s file contains false information. He produced uncontroverted declarations which provide that he was neither involved in nor prosecuted in connection with [the 1971] San Quentin Adjustment Center takeover attempt.”

This same court urged California officials to correct Mr. Clutchette’s records, stating that:

[T]his false information suggests that Clutchette was involved in a serious breach of institutional security and implicates him in the death of inmates and correctional officers. Because of the seriousness of this implication, the Department voluntarily should expunge the false information from Clutchette’s file. Removing the false information from Clutchette’s file might avoid litigation each time Clutchette is considered for parole in the future.

Unfortunately, California officials undertook no such action, leaving the inaccuracies in place to fulfill the court’s prophecy about the potential for harm this false information could cause.

California’s standards governing eligibility of parole board commissioners are high. The individuals who make parole decisions must have a broad background in criminal justice and experience or education in the fields of corrections, sociology, law, law enforcement, medicine, mental health, or education. Additionally, they must fulfill rigorous, annual training requirements. Such a highly distinguished Board thoroughly reviewed Mr. Clutchette’s prison record and determined some of the salacious contents not worthy of their use.

Moreover, a 2007 appellate court deemed much of the content “historically interesting but otherwise irrelevant” for purposes of parole eligibility. In his 2016 reversal of parole, the Governor imprudently relied upon these contested contents in Mr. Clutchette’s prison file. In so doing, he completely ignored the wisdom of the board that he appointed, a Board that spent considerable time examining the records in this case, and the guidance of the judicial system and rendered a decision that defies logic.

Mr. Cluchette has paid for his past crimes.  He is not a public threat. This is evidenced by the California Board of Parole Hearings granting him parole in 2003, 2015, 2016 and again on January 12, 2018. Because of pending, parole-related litigation, Mr. Clutchette postponed at least seven parole suitability hearings, resulting in even more time in custody. He has been eligible for parole since 1988.

The Governor is wrong for his: (1) reliance on the false and unreliable information in Mr. Clutchette’s prison records; and, (2) display of an animus to, through the parole process, “sentence” or punish Mr. Clutchette for the 1970s Soledad murder that he was acquitted of, the 1970 Marin County Incident with which he was never charged and the 1971 Adjustment Center Incident with which he was never charged.

Tragically, the Governor’s decision to disregard the legal dictate that his actions be guided by some evidence of current dangerousness has come at the expense of an elderly man who is afflicted with a host of health problems. Worse, without intervention, Mr. Clutchette will never be able to establish his suitability for parole because these flawed records will always serve as a bar to his freedom (or can be used as such). Such decision-making is in conflict with California law, as well as human rights tenants.

A3N: What’s the official status of John Clutchette’s case at this moment?

AB: In addition to the pending human rights complaint, Mr. Clutchette has formally brought his challenges to the court (in the form of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by his incredibly talented attorney Keith Wattley).

In December 2017, the Attorney General (AG), in defense of the governor, filed a request to keep the records the governor used under seal. In support of this request, the AG argued:

Disclosure [of the documents the Governor used to support his decision that John Clutchette is unsuitable for parole] would reveal the identity of the confidential informants from whom the confidential information was obtained and would release information that poses a threat to institutional security.

These records have been openly considered and discussed by the various parole boards over the years. In each of those instances, the respective boards deemed many of these records unreliable and consistently felt they did not amount to a showing of present dangerousness.

In concert with all of this, Mr. Clutchette appeared before the parole board again on January 12, 2018.  He was once again granted parole. However, Mr. Clutchette will not actually be released on parole without Governor Brown’s formal approval.

Photo of John Cluchette in the 1990s with his late wife

A3N: How can our readers best help his effort to finally be paroled?

AB: Brother Clutchette is approaching seventy-five years of age. He has lost too many years to this injustice. Readers have to become his voice at this critical time. They must create a theatre of agitation that makes elected officials uncomfortable abusing power and partaking in racial or social injustices. Officials need to know that political accountability will await them for doing so.

Readers must make John Clutchette’s story a topic of robust discussion. Most importantly, they must speak their immediate opposition to Governor Brown. Supporters can mail a written letter, send a fax, make a phone call, and/or send an email to his office.

Contact Information for Governor Brown, Suggested Talking Points and Sample Letter:

Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, California 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160
Office email (click here)
Link to email submission page:  https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/

Governor Brown,

Elderly inmate John Clutchette was again granted parole on January 12, 2018. I urge you not to oppose his release.

In February 1972, John Clutchette was acquitted by the jury who heard and evaluated the evidence against him for the murder of Officer John Mills. In November 1972, he was granted parole. I remind you that none of the “Soledad Brothers” were found guilty of the murder of Officer Mills.

Also noteworthy is the fact that John Clutchette was not charged or convicted in the 1970 Marin County Courthouse matter that was onset by Jonathan Jackson, nor was he charged or convicted in the 1971 Adjustment Center incident that resulted in the death of George Jackson.

Despite this, your reasons for opposing his release appear to involve your desires to punish Mr. Clutchette for these things, extrajudicially. If so, this is an abuse of your powers and it is a violation of California law and of human rights principles.

Mr. Clutchette has fulfilled the 1980 sentence that was imposed in conjunction with the Robert Bowles case. The judicial system did not impose any other sentences upon him.  Please respect that.

As determined by your very capable parole board on multiple occasions, he is not a present danger and the record, when contextually considered, does not hold “some evidence” of current dangerousness. Please respect this too. I thank you for your attention to this request.

Erdogan’s Turkey: When Knives Cut Both Ways

A Leader should be like a father… he helps the country grow, teaches it, provides for its future. Erdogan? He is no father to Turkey.

— Turkish citizen on the streets of Istanbul

Author’s Note: This is Part One of an on-scene investigative series direct from the streets of Turkey, Lebanon, and Syria.

On the streets, cafes, and carpet shops of Istanbul a very different story than the one presented by western media is developing about the true allegiance of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While he continues to play a dangerous international game between Russia and the NATO/Israeli/US alliance his biggest future enemy walks the streets of his realm… the Turkish people. And he knows it.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

While walking the ancient hilly streets here in Istanbul, where the ill-fated Occupy/Turkey movement and the purported “coup” once reared its populist head in the huge Taksim Square, police presence  is massive, intentional and obvious.

Since the coup of July 15, 2016, most street corners now have patrol cars sitting idly, their flashing lights always on, two cops per car, sitting inside doing little but smoking fat non-filtered Turkish cigarettes and staring at the passers-by. Six different police uniforms can be observed along with those of three different branches of military garb. The uniform seen most is a simple, very new looking royal blue and black jacket with “Polis” emblazoned on the back in white six inch letters. While some carry automatic weapons and/or pistols, these jackets are also worn by women whose only weapon seems to be a purse, young Turks in jeans who stand in groups observing the crowd, and rough looking characters in jeans and track shoes who walk about, fingers on the triggers of Kalashnikovs. In the tourist centers, such as Galata Bridge, police indiscriminately accost Arab looking passers-by; demanding their passports. They leave the many Asian and very few Caucasian tourists alone.

One of the many MRAP style vehicles

Nowhere in Istanbul is this police presence not obvious. The grim faces of these gendarmeries have already had the desired effect on the people. Istanbul is unusually unfriendly. From the airport staff to bus drivers, and subway attendants they too showcase the same dark, narrowed eyes of suspicion exemplified by the police presence. These are the faces of the new Turkey.  Erdogan’s Turkey.

Considering that President Erdogan has publicly stated that his preferred example of successful governance is Nazi Germany, it thus comes as no surprise that this long ago defeated example of authoritarian power is now his direction for his quest for unlimited, everlasting power.

This fact is not lost on the Turks who believe the coup of 2016 to be manufactured, similar to Hitler’s Reichstag Fire, thereby providing him the reason to put tens-of-thousands of Turkish citizens — judges, doctors, journalists, and teachers — in prison while next arranging his Supreme Court to his fancy, which allowed for a new national constitution which gave him virtually unchecked power over every aspect of Turkish life. Considered at that time by the western power triumvirate to be well within their sphere of influence, western media has given all of this a pass by failing to report it or fabricating false truths of support that are as distorted as the 2016 coup itself.

Consider the false western narrative that 1) There was an externally influenced coup to unseat Erdogan and 2) it was authorized by Fethullah Gulen from his hiding place in America. To the Turks, these mistruths fail to reveal that Gulen and Erdogan shared power and business interests for more than 15 years as the latter continued to grow in power and that they have always been and continue to be very close friends. Here on the streets, they add to this illumination that Erdogan came out unscathed in this coup while conveniently out of the country and avoiding arrest while the coup was actually a paltry effort at best being little more than the closing of the Galata Bridge by a few tanks that restricted the exit of the people from Istanbul’s “modern city” and Taksim Square where the Turks had gathered en masse. The result of this convenient theatre was that Erdogan immediately culled from them the intelligentsia of Turkey, without any evidence of their participation, off to prison. Per 1936 Germany, this was step one… and carried out to perfection.

This rouse continued this past week as Erdogan again continued to demand the return of his supposed arch-enemy and past best friend Fethullah Gulen. “If you’re not giving [Gulen] to us, then excuse us, but from now on whenever you ask us for another terrorist, as long as I am in office, you will not get them,” stated the Turkish president. Rather than arrest him, should he be handed over to the Turks it is more likely that the two would, in reality, sit down for a nice chat and a tulip glass of strong, delicious Turkish tea.

Although predominately missing in the Western press, none of this is any secret to the Turks who are also well aware of Erdogan’s propagation of ISIS by being the financial pipeline of Syria’s stolen oil to Turkish ports, his use of Kirkuk air base to bring new ISIS fighters to the Syrian border and shipments of US weapons into Syrian opposition hands… long before the western media finally acknowledged this obvious truth.

Incorrect news reporting would have one believe that the Kurdish vs. Erdogan issue resides exclusively outside the Turkish borders in Northern Syria in proposed Kurdistan and that Gulen is its sponsor while tucked safely away in the US. Missing here is the fact that Gulen is not Kurdish and that of the 80 million Turkish citizens, more than 25 million are Kurdish and all lived in Turkey in harmony for centuries. Most of Turkey still do. But Erdogan demonized the Kurds by falsely blaming them as well as “religious cleric” Gulen in his growing effort to divide the country along religious lines. This is merely convenient propaganda since the Kurds like the rest of Turkey love their country and would prefer continued peace. Many believe that Erdogan’s goal is a civil war; a war that he believes will make him all-powerful as one side of the country fights the other and then reaches out to him for salvation. This appears to be accurate.

President Erdogan’s penchant for creating chaos was clearly shown this week when, as reported by the Libya Herald, Greek authorities confirmed they had boarded and seized a ship carrying potential explosive making materials from Turkey to Misrata, Libya intended for US-backed leader Haftar. The Hellenic Coast Guard Headquarters confirmed this. Further, this is one of the ports previously used to export Syrian oil stolen by ISIS. Further, at this point, nothing moves within Turkey without Erdogan’s approval.

With this, Erdogan is an example of US foreign policy. He does not mind internal chaos, in fact, many Turks believe this to be his actual goal for their country: Civil war. Many Turks report their distaste for their president’s recent theatre appearance in supposedly supporting the Palestinians in lieu of the US President Trump’s decision to rob them of a Jerusalem capital and note the unreported news that in the aftermath of the tragic, peaceful Mavi Marmara attempt to bring needed supplies to Gaza —  during which nine people were slaughtered by Israeli IDF soldiers — that before Israel would agree to pay cash provided as reparations to families of the dead Turks, Erdogan did then agree already to allow Israel to take Jerusalem for their capital. Although unproven, it is fixed in the opposition voices and does share the ring of truth considering that in the wake of the series of US hurricanes this past year, FEMA required aid recipients to sign an oath to Israel… not America.

There is now a caution in the people’s voices when one travels in Turkey; a hush that invades every political discussion or prognostications of what will befall this pluralistic society. The coup and its results are in the minds of all, as is the massive purge of innocent Turks. Here, Erdogan ignores history and human nature, preferring to believe in the current examples being shown by El-Sisi in Egypt, MBS in Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu in Israel, Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen and worldwide US hegemony: that his new military might makes him right no matter what and that force will override the fundamental desire of the Turks for peace and freedom. This, of course, ignores the historical results and demise of Hitler, Mussolini, and Pol Pot. When one speaks with Turks, there is anger in their eyes despite the hushed tones of hopeful resistance. One Turkish Kurd distilled this reality:

The history of Turkey, back to the time of Ataturk [who gained Turkish independence from the World War One Allied powers] … even before… is that of the knife. When war comes- if it does- Erdogan will meet the Turkish again. Then, he too will meet the blade of the knife!

General Ataturk Leads the Turks to Independence

After a beautiful six mile walk through the streets and along the massive rock lined harbour that passed through this military gauntlet and now finally arriving at Taksim Square, a similar police presence comes into view surrounding the square. A huge white, military vehicle- seemingly an exact copy of the US made MRAP, with machine gun turret, sits parked, a fence ringing it while its black uniformed operators play cards, smoke and drink coffee just behind. They too are not friendly. These, like the many other multi-uniformed police here in Istanbul, are Erdogan’s troops. Like their master, they are not loyal to the Turks….they are loyal to power for power in a failing Turkish economy is job security: theirs.

Taksim Square

The Turkish economy is in dire straits and many Turks believe this is yet another tool that Erdogan intends to use to divide their country via discontent. Istanbul is an amazing city full of examples of splendour, its ancient mosques reaching skyward across the hills that overlook the harbour of commerce that has been here for millennia. This city is worth any traveler’s money, but tourism is a fraction of its former pre-coup days despite the Lira crashing in value. Although this is January and the slowest tourism month of the year, shop owners and cafe operators report that the tourist income in substantially down since the coup. On a normally busy Friday night restaurants are virtually empty, their many tables and chairs sitting vacant. The hawkers for each sing out their friendly solicitations, but there is a tone of desperation and futility as they try to attract travellers.

While a declining economy may be the beginning of Erdogan’s fall from grace, many believe this is part of his ultimate plot. This opinion is not only bolstered by the many Turks, but by the foreign economic western press. A February 6, 2016 article by The Economist stated clearly what many Turks already suspect:

… sustained growth will require a change of attitude, beginning at the top. A sophisticated market economy cannot be run by offering favours for loyalty… Similarly, companies that own media outlets have been cut out of business in other fields if they fail to toe the line. Firms with the right contacts, say critics of the government, have done well, winning not just direct state contracts but privileged access to deals. “They [Erdogan’s Gov’t] used to be giving, sacrificing for the public good,” says an Istanbul news editor. “Now they are taking, using all the redistributive power of the state.

These comments are much more important given the facts that Turkey was debt free in June of 2013 after having completely paid off all IMF loans but that now, since the coup Erdogan has already driven Turkey back into more than a US$500 billion debt or over 50% of GDP…in less than five years!

On the long walk back from Taksim Square and now approaching the famous Blue Mosque and another huge square, the Hippodrome, which sits in front of the mosque with Istanbul University at one end, even on this day something strange is happening. Police presence is suddenly even more dramatic and surrounds a series of all-black US style SUVs and all-black stretch limousines. Anyone attempting to get near is frisked and searched. The cops are very unfriendly. A helicopter circles over head. Once inside this fenced cordon, I ask if anyone speaks English and a nice man offers his help. “It’s the president,” he whispers since there are six police with automatic weapons within earshot. “It’s Erdogan!” 

As we pull back from the metal barricade to chat more, I wonder how many professors here are still missing from their students and classrooms. This stranger tells me that he is Syrian from Palmyra having moved his family to Turkey after his hotel was destroyed due to an American bombing. He would like to leave Turkey, but is jovial, good-natured, despite his loss, offering to show his hospitality at his home later that day. Preparing to depart, with a hearty handshake he concludes our conversation.

“All people should be able to be free,” he says smiling. “They should have chances…to have a future for their families… to have peace… to have…” and he stops searching for the right word.

Happiness?” offered this reporter.

Inshallah [if Allah [God] wills],” he agreed.

Here lies the problem. For in Turkey God has little influence on the values of the new king.

• Photos by Brett Redmayne-Titley

41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo

January 11, 2018 marked the 16th year that Guantanamo prison has exclusively imprisoned Muslim men, subjecting many of them to torture and arbitrary detention.

Witness Against Torture demonstrators marching to the White House (Credit: Justin Norman)

About thirty people gathered in Washington D.C., convened by Witness Against Torture, (WAT), for a week-long fast intended to close Guantanamo and abolish torture forever. Six days ago, Matt Daloisio arrived from New York City in a van carefully packed with twelve years’ worth of posters and banners, plus sleeping bags, winter clothing and other essentials for the week.

Matt spent an hour organizing the equipment in the large church hall housing us. “He curates it,” said one WAT organizer.

Later, Matt reflected that many of the prisoners whose visages and names appear on our banners have been released. In 2007, there were 430 prisoners in Guantanamo. Today, 41 men are imprisoned there. Shaker Aamer has been reunited with the son whom he had never met while imprisoned in Guantanamo. Mohammed Ould Slahi, author of Guantanamo Diary, has finally been released. These encouraging realities don’t in the slightest diminish the urgency we feel in seeking the release of the 41 men still imprisoned in Guantanamo.

Not even one of the 41 prisoners now in Guantanamo was captured by the U.S. military on a battlefield. Afghan militias and the Pakistani military were paid cash bounties for selling 86 percent of these prisoners into US custody. Imagine the “green light” given for other countries to practice buying and selling of human beings.

Aisha Manar, working with the London Campaign to Close Guantanamo, points out that “the rights violating practices surrounding Guantanamo are now a model for the detention and incarceration polices of the US and other states.”

This chilling reality is reflected in Associated Press reports revealing that the United Arab Emirates operates a network of secret prisons in Southern Yemen, where prisoners are subjected to extreme torture. This has included being trussed to a rotating machine called “the grill” and exposed to a roasting fire.

“Nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons,” the AP reports, “a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.”

One of the main detention complexes is at Riyan Airport in Yemen’s southern city of Mukalla. Former detainees, speaking on condition of anonymity told of “being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the ‘grill,’ and sexually assaulted.”

A member of the Yemeni security force set up by the United Arab Emirates told AP that American forces were at times only yards away.

“It would be a stretch to believe the US did not know or could not have known that there was a real risk of torture,” said Amnesty International’s director of research in the Middle East, Lynn Maalouf.

On January 9, 2018, WAT members tried to deliver a letter to UAE Ambassador Yusuf Al Otaiba, seeking his response to these reports. Security guards took our pictures but said they were unable to accept our letter.

Two days later, joining numerous other groups for a large rally, we donned orange jumpsuits and black hoods, carried placards bearing the number “41” and displayed two main banners. One said: “It would take a genius to close Guantanamo.” And the other: “We are still here because you are still there.

Forty-one hearts still beat in Guantanamo prison cells. That’s forty-one too many.

• A version of this article was first published on The Progressive website.