Category Archives: Racism

The Spoils of Empire

In the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, we take a look at some of the recent resistance waged by two nations rendered stateless by British cartographers.

First we visit Palestine where tensions have flared into several violent confrontations between Israeli settlers and the Palestinian intifada. Then we go to Kurdistan where neighboring Turkey has renewed it’s expansionist dreams putting Kurdish occupied areas under threat.

Finally a rather troubling weather report investigates the latest effects of climate change around the globe.

The post The Spoils of Empire first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Purpose-Driven Life


Once upon a time over the portals of the fabled Library of Alexandria were chiseled these words: “The Hospital for the Soul.” This majestic phrase captured for all times the eternal dream of the pure and unfettered pursuit of knowledge and our need for quiet places like schools and libraries to find repose in renewing the spirit.

Amidst the confusions of this distracted world, the Greeks never lost sight of thinking about the larger issues of life and its ultimate meaning. We must not lose our way amidst the obsessions of the moment, they warn us, for in turning a blind eye to the concerns of our humanity, we court our destruction.

The school and all that it stands for are now under siege for its very soul. 

Paideia, that noble dream of classical antiquity in the transformative power of education, the belief in self-enhancement through knowledge, the single-mindedness in promoting the common good, and an aware citizenry about political charlatans, this enduring legacy is struggling for survival in these darkest of times.

The 19th-century Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt referred to a coming age of “terrible simplifiers” that would crush these ideals. We are now in that age, with the school especially vulnerable in being taken over by the toxic mentality of those with no understanding of a school’s meaning and purpose in liberating the mind from all forms of hatred and bigotry.

They reject the search for truth and the things of the spirit and would replace them with the ignorance and intolerance of White supremacist dogma, a betrayal of what education has always embodied since the Greeks.

The truth will make you free, but it may not always make you happy, and it may even make you uncomfortable, which is always the sign of growth and abandoning the delusion of “possessing the truth.” 

Is there any hope for the moral regeneration of our nation when some Congressional GOP leaders, state legislators, and governors institutionalize a national amnesia about historical truth in avoiding a long-overdue reckoning with our national racism? 

Rather than denial, what we need from these leaders is honestly confronting this sickness in providing moral leadership as apartheid South Africa did in the 1990s. Their bellowing silence, however, speaks volumes about these leaders in high office. 

Many are disappointed but not surprised that these “profiles in courage” have not already offered a strategic vision for lasting peace and reconciliation between our two races by having not at least tried to convince their followers to confront our national demons to seek moral rebirth. Instead, they have rejected the only lasting solution to this tragic malady — a national examination of conscience. 

This dismissal of the brutal treatment of the Black race in American history from being taught in the classroom must also be seen within the framework of that other GOP outrage of voter suppression, the very embodiment of its disdain for Black voters, minorities, and democracy itself. 

These politicians would rather that their party steal its way to power because they know that cheating is the only way they will win.  It used to be called “losing with honor” rather than “winning with disgrace,” but that was a long, long time ago.

Suppressing the historical truth in schools and the votes of Blacks and other people of color are two different forms of the same censorship in the cause of enshrining a White racist supremacy in a nation that was once a welcoming beacon of hope to all of humanity.

When Whites think about race, they think as Whites because they have never endured racial hatred and discrimination. But if they had suffered the same enormities as Blacks at the hands of a non-White population, they would see the country that enslaved them in a much different light.

A little role-play, however, evokes compassion and empathy, magical elixirs that are good for the soul and can transform one forever! As the ancients well knew, it is not logic that softens the heart, but pity.    

Fortunately, many Whites today do understand what Blacks have endured in this country for centuries to the extent that any White person can understand this. They deeply sympathize with their Black citizens and are appalled at their fellow Whites, who even to this day are still consumed with such unaccountable hatred. 

They realize that it doesn’t matter what color a person’s skin is because we are all human beings with a common destiny when we all, indeed, shall be equal in very fact. They affirm our common humanity, no matter one’s race or ethnicity.

What is hard for them to comprehend, however, is why all Whites cannot see this. They feel a moral obligation to promote peace and good will between the races, while living in a country where, almost 160 years after the Civil War, Black Americans still find it impossible to vote in many parts of our country or even to have their story told to America’s schoolchildren, as it is routinely told about the Jewish Holocaust.

One hundred and sixty years, and the hatred and bigotry continue among those who take enormous pride in being God-fearing, righteous, church-going people!

I am reminded of those words in the Good Book: If a man says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20)

There is a psychologically astute observation by the Roman historian Tacitus about hating those whom one has injured because of the guilt one feels at having injured them, which, naturally, makes one feel “uncomfortable”!

Tacitus was characteristically much more laconic, Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris. It is human nature to hate someone you’ve injured (Tacitus, Agricola, 42).

All of us are here today and gone tomorrow, and we sometimes forget what we are doing and what it all means. What will be our legacy? When the final curtain falls and we are resting in our graves, would some be exultant to have these words on their gravestones: Here lies one who tried his best to make America a Hell for Non-Whites?

Image: History of Yesteryear

The post A Purpose-Driven Life first appeared on Dissident Voice.

N-: the Day-Glo Elephant in the Room

To Bigger and his kind, white people were not really people; they were a sort of great natural force, like a stormy sky looming overhead or like a deep swirling river stretching suddenly at one’s feet in the dark.

— Richard Wright, Native Son (1940)

The memoir, N, by James Henry Harris, Distinguished Professor of Pastoral Theology & Homiletics at Virginia Union University, is confrontational, even fiery from the get-go. Wonderfully in-your-face, no-holds-barred prose that gets right to the heart of the matter about CRT and the controversy over banning books — and specifically and intentionally makes the white reader squirm as Harris holds down and interrogates the talismanic, racially-charged Forbidden Word. You know which word. Don’t be coy. Whatever you do, don’t think of watermelon.

One of the first things that Harris reminds us about is that the trump card word from a stacked deck culture occurs “220 times” in the Twain novel he’s confronting. The same word occurs in his memoir 177 times. What’s most bolshy about the word is that Harris makes the point — over and over — that white people don’t have a right to use it. And by the time I reach 177, I feel punished for my sins, and, worse, feel like I deserve it. But, at the same time, I’m totally on his side; I get it, I think. The stridency and militancy recalls Miles Davis’s Tribute to Jack Johnson, a tower of strength seemingly warning the listener: “I’m Black; they’ll never let me forget it. I’m Black alright; I’ll never let them forget it.” Fight’s on.

The full title of James Henry Harris’s memoir is N: My Encounter with Racism and the Forbidden Word in an American Classic (Fortress Press, 2021). The classic is, of course, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. It is (and has been for quite some time) the focal point of inquiry for any understanding of the importance and totemic value of the forbidden word. No other word in American history has such power and carries such weight. It is suffocating for all around and yet unresolved; the heavy baggage of the slaver’s legacy brought forward into the continuous and pronounced socio-economic and judicial inequalities of our common heritage as Americans. Only African-Americans see new migrants come to America — Koreans, Chinese, Eastern Europeans, etc — and be able to separate themselves from one subculture (and thereby gain an advantage) by the use of the black magic word.

This nonsense has been going on for a long time. There have been periods in our recent history when we’ve made faint attempts to get past the surface level of our group thinking, to make fun of our bigotry, and to try to move on more enlightened, or at least “woke.” The Seventies was like that to some degree. A lot of progressives took succor in humor during the 1970s to relieve the tension of our extended blues brought on by so much before us gone wrong. Dylan didn’t really help salve anything; he reinforced the depths of our insight and left us largely depressed and looking for ways to get laid. But Jews did come to the rescue. Nobody knows how to do stand-up comedy on the gallows better than the Jews, who have seen so much horror in their diasporic millennia that dark comedy oozes from their kosher pores. Regarding the politics of the N word, I don’t know if anyone did a better job than Mel Brooks setting up a scene that captured the hilarious tension embodied in the white-Black dialectic of power — the celebration of law and order that civilizes us all, as long as it’s not a Black man — than that welcoming the new sheriff to the frontier scene. All’s gleeful anticipation until the white townspeople see that the new badge in town is a “Schvartze”, the Yiddish N-word.

It’s telling that only a member of a parallel diaspora could have pulled it off and got away with it. And who didn’t feel sorry for the way the sheriff was treated in the end?

But Harris is not much amused by this kind of tomfoolery. Or, at least, he has no intention of letting the reader off that easily. N: My Encounter with Racism and the Forbidden Word in an American Classic is a memoir about a 53-year-old academic guy who signs up for a graduate Mark Twain seminar at a Richmond college that’s focussed on the politics of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a book he’ll be reading for the first time, only to discover that he’s the only Black person in the class. What’s more, he’s a got a thing about whites using the N word — at all — and now he’ll have to listen to each them read aloud passages from Twain’s novel over a long semester, in which no page of the classic novel goes without dropping the bomb.

He sets the scene of the weeks-long inter-course to come. He’s not taken with the white professor teaching African-American intellectual values. He notes his physical environs:

The room was, in fact, an old dining room converted into a classroom in a building that was an antebellum plantation mansion. In my mind’s eye, the room became a mirror of old sins and transgressions.

You have a kind of flash — Leonardo Dicaprio turned pipe-smoking prof in Django Unchained. But Harris isn’t finished setting the scene:

This is where Black folk learned the ways of white folk. This is where Black folk acquired the necessary astuteness to speak, breathe, and exist without the Otherness that defined them… It is where the practices of smiling, “softshoeing,” and “cooning” were refined into a tradition of degradation and self-deprecation. This is the house in which Blacks learned to wear masks and store their anger in their hearts and souls until it could be unleashed like hellfire and brimstone.

It’s early in the memoir and already I’m marinating in a white man’s burden. And I probably deserve it: Not because I’m white so much as I never stop letting them forget they’re Black — when I look the Other way in academic exercises of their existential crisis.

Harris feels equally uncertain he should be there in that class during introductions, each student standing and telling what brought them there; what reader-response tableau they bring to the table. He raises concern about a class filled with whites talking Black history and, most of all, using that dang-nabbit word. He notes, “But nobody, not even the professor, seemed willing to acknowledge that there is an ‘otherness’ that must be heard if learning is to take place.” Already, Harris is experiencing that Ellisonian invisibility factor. Whites, even or especially educated whites, will be abstracting his very subjective and continuously felt experience. Right there in the classroom. It’s frisson at work; a chemical reaction, if you will.

As the semester wears on, Harris finds a way through the mind field filled with IEDs — white-expressed Ns always ready to take him to the hell of anguish and raw emotion, unfiltered by the privilege of having the right, white integument. A personal moment creeps in. I recall my first days at Groton not long after Nixon resigned, an elite boarding school in the outer burbs of Boston, where Teddy and FDR had been educated, and how nervous and frightened I felt — a scholarship student from the Groton-Lowell Upward Bound program, wondering how I would fit in with the children of the highly privileged, who had produces champions of the Monroe Doctrine and the New Deal. I came from a poor background, but I wasn’t like the sprinkle of Blacks there, poor and Black. One could escape poverty, but you could never escape your skin color. When Michael Jackson tried to escape by bleaching his skin the results were disastrous, making him look like a reverse-Al Jolson singing “Billy Jean,” instead of “Mammy.” So, I get Harris’s point.

Over the period Harris begins to sift through his growing love/hate relationship with Mark Twain in general — his pioneering literary genius, — his brilliant ability, Harris concedes, to capture the vernacular of everyday Missourians back in the day, and he seems to be quite taken with Twain’s narrative techniques and humorous flourishes. In an Explanation to Huckleberry Finn, Twain tells the reader:

In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary ‘Pike County’ dialect; and four modified varieties of this last… I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

Harris accepts this readily enough, but dang-nabbit not with the profuse use of the forbidden fruit of slavery and its aftermath — the Word. You know which one.

The class seems to move towards an acceptance of Twain’s language, including the ahem, along the lines of what the great novelist Toni Morrison recommends. No slouch herself with language and her portraits of country people, the Nobel prize-winning writer extols the virtues of Twain’s prose and defends his use of it —. In her 1996 Oxford Edition Introduction to Huck Finn, Morrison sums up the issue so many have with reading the book in the current climate of resurgent primal racism:

In the early eighties, I read Huckleberry Finn again, provoked, I believe, by demands to remove the novel from the libraries and required reading lists of public schools. These efforts were based, it seemed to me, on a narrow notion of how to handle the offense Mark Twain’s use of the term “[n–]” would occasion for black students and the corrosive effect it would have on white ones.It struck me as a purist yet elementary kind of censorship designed to appease adults rather than educate children. Amputate the problem, band-aid the solution.

Indeed, Harris says he waited until he was 53 to read Huck Finn for the first time, and then as part of a college course. You can believe, from reading Morrison’s explanation, that he is similarly self-conscious while reading it.

However, it’s clear that Harris may not be as settled in his capacity to accept the word’s use along with the wonderfulness of Twain’s prose, as Morrison is. It’s a real struggle. And as Harris works his way in the memoir toward a thesis in the class, he provides us with keen insights, by way of childhood remembrances, of the use of the word, that provides nuanced context and emotional weight to his arguments and observations. His is not merely an academic adventure over a semester. In his Intro to N, Harris tells us,

Twain himself was always protected by the professor and the rest of the students. White privilege. Nothing negative could be attributed to Twain. As far as the professor and the white students were concerned, Mark Twain was a god. And yet, I felt differently. I was not duped. In my mind, I placed Twain in the pantheon of Americans who, in one way or another, have sustained and emblazoned the word [n–] into America’s consciousness.

It’s a split consciousness, between seeing Twain for his literary value and questioning his use of the word and its implications for his moral balance. Harris struggles with such protection of a canon figure.

His struggle pushes him at one point to ask the class of whites if anyone there had ever been called the word. Harris seems to take impish delight in provoking the white students, who respond to his rhetorical pose with silence — even the proverbial pin that dropped seems gagged and bound. Harris writes, “My Black skin had, for once, given me the advantage to pose a question that not a single white person in the room could answer in the affirmative.” His is an existential crisis that they can’t really relate to — he might as well be Mersault in Camus’s The Stranger. He invokes W.E.B. Dubois’ well-known reference to “double-consciousness.” Living two lives at once. Bifurcated and compartmentalized and chewed up inside. Harris writes,

Double consciousness was a state of being for me. I was a self divided. It is also the stuff that makes for some forms of depression, schizoid and paranoid behavior. And, at times, I’m a bona fide paranoid African American male thinking that everybody is out to get me—Black people included.

One recalls here the Scottish psychologist R.D. Laing’s critique of society that produced divided selves, where the norm could be seen as “crazy”. As Laing put it, abnormal behavior in an abnormal world is normal, and such fracturing can account for the Good German, or looking the other way when white knees sink into Black necks to the sound of the brassy Star Spangled Banner. O say can you see.

While it’s clear from the real world observations of someone like Laing (who depressingly seems to follow in the tracks of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents and, maybe worse, The Future of An Illusion with serious and deeply-considered pessimism) that such psychological division is common; it is no bromide or rationale or excuse. There is that growing element out there that accepts, with a shrug at last, the continuing deterioration of our lot with “It Is What It Is.” Cultures that accept a glad return to the Dark Ages — before the Magna Carta provided the first light of a brave new Enlightenment — and lurk behind omerta masks in wait for the return not of Jesus but chaos re-ordered by goon squad enforcers for the elite. In short, civilization is worth fighting for, and the hallmark is not just the terrible beauty of a Gothic cathedral’s interior, but human language. It is what sets us apart from the other animals, homo sapiens instead of merely australopithecines. N is a big step backward into fascist feudal darkness.

Harris’s N is full of goosy surprises. His best bit might be eschewing the Shelley Fisher Fishkin consideration that Huck Finn might have been Black. Harris can do better and wonders aloud, to his tense but open-minded collegial scholars, whether Huck and Jim weren’t, in fact, an item:

Was Huck gay? Had anyone ever thought about this? It seemed like a reasonable area of inquiry, devoid of any moral judgment. What was to be made of the fact that Jim often called Huck “honey”? I asked. I continued, “And many days and nights Huck and Jim lay naked on the raft smoking and talking about all kinds of things as they drifted up and down the Mississippi.”

There was silence in the room, so I went on pressing my case to the point of annoyance. Like a gadfly or a philosopher like Socrates or Plato. I pointed out that Huck did some crossdressing with Jim’s help. And he practiced how to walk and talk like a girl—although he was not too good at it.

This feels like Harris has a gratuitous go at academia, more than a fully argued feeling about the two raftsmen.

N is a fantastic read, welcomely confrontational. I should be antsy. I accept that. Why am I antsy? Harris’s strategy of having the memoir correspond to a semester-long seminar struggling with a loaded word is really a clever tactic. The pay-off comes in Chapter 15, a chapter that alone makes the book worth purchasing, when Harris, the student, presents his thesis to the class (they all must) and draws his conclusions about Twain and the use of the word by whites. He quotes from his thesis,

The ubiquitous use of [n–] by Twain is the basic reason why his novel has attained the status of an American classic. [N] is an American invention and its use by whites describes the nature and meaning of American democracy, constitutionality, and culture. In short, white Americans’ use of the word [n–] is tantamount to describing what makes America, America. Mark Twain knew this, and he too capitalized on it. This made him complicit in propagating America’s white supremacist and capitalist culture.

Moments later, while his classmates are still “gasping for air,” he comes right out with his conclusion: “Mark Twain was a racist.”

This would be depressing enough, since I do so like my Twain readings. But I admit, my morbid feelings of guilt and sin at that moment must have resembled those of his white classmates, who’d come to share a co-produced enlightenment and were given, instead, a lecture on “enwhitenment.” This conclusion is probably the biggest difference between Morrison and Harris. (The reader would find it fruitful to compare Morrison’s Huck Finn Intro to Harris’s Chapter 15.) She does not see him as a racist, but as part of culture that was. Did she sell her soul to be canonized among the relativists? Or has Harris maybe overstepped the mark? I don’t think either is true. But then their experiences as a Black woman and a Black man are historically, but significantly, different — if for no other reason than the male, white or Black was the “breadwinner” who must negotiate in the social sphere for jobs and respect, while the woman, traditionally,was the homemaker, and thereby, to some minuscule degree, was shielded from the daily abuse a Black man must negotiate. I can understand how there might be less “forgiveness” from a Rodney King who gets a knee in the neck for asking, Can’t we just get along? Harris does a nice job dealing with this divide in his book.

Reflecting on his presentation in the grad literature class, Harris adds,

Without ever using the term, I had introduced the allwhite class to critical race theory by claiming that Mark Twain, the book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the society and culture that constructed the word [n –] are all grounded in racism.

No prisoners here.

Harris dislikes the use of the word altogether and is not enamored of its use by Blacks in general and rappers in particular. (Don’t ask him what he thinks of Eminem.) Aside from the vulgarity implied, Harris argues that stylin one’s beat with the peppershnippel of dramatic tension the word brings also reinforces the differences. Back in the days of The Last Poets it might have been argued that its use by the artists was deliberately and honestly confrontational — like the Miles Davis “I’m Black Alright theme” — but Harris, when he confronts young Blacks today, is told he’s “too sensitive,” which works his nerves some. At the same time that Blacks continue to be beaten to death by neo-fascists in America, too many of these youngsters are not employing the word out of militancy as much as monetary gain.

Interesting enough, and in a really important section of the memoir, Harris, instead of calling for a ban on the book for linguistic reasons, acknowledges that the real problem in reading Huckleberry Finn is the lack of qualified guidance. He writes,

Everybody agrees that not every English literature teacher is qualified to teach such a novel to youth. It’s too complicated. Too emotional. I understand the debate because I’m in my sixties now and the word [n –] throughout the novel troubles me mightily.

For Harris, it is important that the book be taught with the sensitivity it requires and the competence of good teaching. He notes throughout the book flaws in the teaching of the book at the graduate level, and you can almost hear him shaking his head at the quality of the approach to the word at elementary and high school levels. Harris implies, then, that the successful implementation of Critical Race Theory in the classroom is a matter of teaching competence and cultural sensitivity. A white southerner will teach Huck Finn differently than Harris, himself an educator. His section on education is interesting, and his critique of Black educators in the mainstream is well-noted, but, as with Noam Chomsky, he would probably agree that we are all held back by ignorance to some degree and can only be rehabilitated by education.

The book is not all doom and gloom, as they say and say. In fact, it’s inspiring. There are lots of noteworthy subsections, such as the immersion into Adrienne Rich’s poem, “Diving into the Wreck,” which resonates with Harris. “Rich’s poem is about the quest for wholeness while being surrounded by both death and life. Idealism has been shattered by the reality principle,” he writes. “Isn’t that what has happened to Huck and Jim?” More Freud. Harsh stuff that reality principle at work.

The book is as powerful and wriggly as a Mississippi eel. It has the vibes of Richard Wright — self-consciousness on a journey: In this case, the semester-long seminar on Huck Finn and race in America. It’s playful, poignant, entertaining, and is one of the best takes on CRT and banned books and the seemingly endless need to address skin color in the world’s premiere democracy. A highly recommended read.

The post N-: the Day-Glo Elephant in the Room first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The More Some Things Change, the More Others Stay the Same

The treatment to which Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee subjected Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing was atrocious. The first ever African-American woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court, Brown Jackson faced GOP senators who were unabashedly insolent. Collectively, they ran her through a proverbial right-wing mill that included condemnations of Critical Race Theory, distortions of certain anti-racist children’s books, and allegations that she is “soft on crime.” She was also questioned about the role that race plays in her position as a federal judge, something no white male would ever be asked.

Republican Senators spent the largest portion of their allotted time attacking Jackson’s sentencing record on child pornography convictions alleging that her leniency was outside the boundaries of conventional jurisprudence. By imputation at the very least, right-wingers hold that she fails to take “sex offenders who prey on children” seriously. This is the sordid stuff of QAnon, and Republicans are up to their necks in it. As for Brown Jackson, she made it clear in her testimony that she is not convinced about the efficacy of child pornography sentencing guidelines. In fact, most of the prosecutors arguing such cases in her court room share her uncertainty as do a majority of district judges throughout the country. In other words, Judge Brown Jackson is in line with her judicial colleagues.

As everyone, including Republican senators, knows, Judge Jackson’s extensive and diverse legal background makes her eminently qualified for the position to which she has been nominated. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer whose seat on the bench she will fill. She served as a federal district court judge, a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and currently serves as a federal appellate judge. Each of these positions required Senate approval. Her three previous confirmations were passed by way of “voice” votes which essentially meant that she faced no opposition and a bi-partisan “roll call” vote. Once seated on the Supreme Court Judge Jackson will become only the ninth justice to have worked as an attorney in private practice. Moreover, she will also be the first former public defender to sit on the highest court in the land.

Judge Jackson has written almost 600 opinions during her years on the federal bench and has had only a dozen of them overturned by appellate court review. Among the cases over which she presided were several involving Donald Trump while he was in the White House. In one instance, she rejected his claim to absolute executive immunity in ordering a top-level aide to defy a congressional subpoena. In another, Judge Jackson drew the ire of conservatives for deciding against the Trump Administration’s attempt to reduce collective bargaining protections for federal workers. She further antagonized the political right in an immigration opinion blocking a Trump policy intended to increase the number of asylum seekers who could face accelerated return to their place of origin. While her decisions in these cases lean to the left, her resume conveys an independent legal mind that may on occasion displease political progressives. For example, Brown Jackson presided over 22 cases in which Black plaintiffs sued their employers on grounds of racial discrimination. Of those, 22 were brought to the court by Black workers. In these cases, she found in favor of the companies 19 times.

As would be expected, liberals supported Brown Jackson’s selection and conservatives opposed it. In fact, the GOP began priming itself from the moment that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced that, if elected, he would fill a vacancy on the High Court with an African-American woman. Republicans responded that doing so would be tantamount to making an “affirmative action” appointment. Conservatives were conspicuously silent when both Reagan and Trump stated that they would nominate a woman to the bench. They were also quiet when Trump said that he would only consider choosing individuals committed to overturning Roe v Wade. Republican hypocrisy could not be clearer. The GOP seized upon Biden’s appointment of Brown Jackson because she is a Black woman.

Judge Jackson’s hearing played out like reality television. While it is common for senators on both sides of the aisle to perform for the cameras and their constituents back home, the behavior and comments of Republicans were especially ugly. They had indicated that they would be civil and respectful yet they proved to be neither. The so-called “culture warriors” simply could not help themselves. Following more than twenty hours of testimony, the committee members voted 11-11 along party lines. This necessitated that Democrats employ a “discharge motion” allowing them to send Judge Jackson’s nomination to the Senate floor without a committee report. The full body’s 53-47 vote to confirm included three Republicans. At long last, and more than fifty years after the first Black man rose to a seat on the Court, she will become its first African-American woman justice.

*****

By the time Thurgood Marshall appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1967 as a nominee to the United States Supreme Court, he had won 29 of the 32 cases that he argued before that imposing body. While Brown v Board of Education (1954) striking down segregation in public education is the most famous example, other historically significant instances include Smith v Allright (1944) which prohibited states from conducting “white only” primary elections, Shelley v Kraemer (1948) which overturned race-based housing compacts, and Sweatt v Painter (1950) which declared that racially segregated post-graduate college and university programs were unconstitutional.

After more than two decades as a pioneering civil rights attorney, Marshall was appointed to the federal bench in 1961 by President John Kennedy. This made him only the second African-American federal appellate jurist in American history. Despite the racism that he faced, Marshall was confirmed by the full Senate although not before his nomination was held up by Southern segregationists for many months. Four years later, President Lyndon Johnson picked Marshall to serve as the first Black Solicitor General of the United States. Responsible for litigating cases on behalf of the federal government, Marshall won 14 of the 19 cases that he brought before the High Court.

When an opening on the Supreme Court appeared in 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to fill the vacancy. He would face the same Southern segregationists who had tried to scuttle his previous judicial appointment six years earlier. Often returned to office without electoral opposition, incumbent Dixiecrats relied upon seniority status in the chamber to secure and hold onto powerful committee chair positions. Furthermore, their animosity for Marshall was deep-seeded because of the role he had played in Brown. If the segregationists were on the wrong side of history, they had no intention of simply walking away from the table.

James Eastland (D-MS) was the judiciary committee chair for Marshall’s appellate court appointment as well as for his Supreme Court nomination. Eastland, who served in that capacity for a longer period than any chairperson in history, ranked among the most racist of legislators. During the 1961 proceedings, however, he allegedly told Attorney General Robert Kennedy that he was willing to horse trade. If JFK would concede to Eastland a favored appointee, then he would give the president “his nigger.” Moreover, during Marshall’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings six years later, Eastland shamelessly had the nerve to ask if he was biased against white southerners.

Other notable instances of hostility towards Marshall during the hearings came from John McClellan (D-AK), Sam Ervin (D-NC), and Strom Thurmond (R-SC), the latter of whom had switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1964. For his part, McClellan focused on increasing crime rates and social unrest. Attempting to incite the nominee, he called Marshall “soft on crime” which remains a commonly used and racially coded phrase to this day. The Arkansas senator then turned and hammered away at Miranda v Arizona (1966), asserting that the ruling was anti-law enforcement. Marshall refused, however, to engage this line of questioning, continually stating that he could not and would not speak about court cases and legal issues that were recently decided, currently in the docket pipeline, or might be conceivably argued before the court at a later date.

Then it was Ervin’s turn. From the North Carolinian’s perspective, the idea of “civil rights” was simply a way for the federal government to take from whites and give to Blacks. In other words, the federal government was overstepping its legitimate jurisdictional boundaries. Ervin championed the Senate filibuster as a means to derail 1960s civil rights legislation. In fact, he employed this procedural tactic more than any other senator in history. He finished his questioning with an example of what is now called “originalism.” Senator Ervin asked Marshall if he believed that the Supreme Court’s role was to establish the framers’ intentions. The nominee agreed so long as the Constitution was understood to be a “living document.”

Last but not least came Strom Thurmond. The South Carolina senator subjected Marshall to a series of arcane questions, more than sixty in all. Among other things, Thurmond asked the nominee if he knew who drafted the 13th Amendment. He also asked Marshall to name the members of the committee that formulated the 14th Amendment and he questioned whether the nominee could cite a legal basis for the Civil Rights Act of 1866. While Marshall answered some of Thurmond’s questions, he responded to a number of them with “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” Thurmond’s obscure queries about the post-Civil War constitutional amendments were aimed at making Marshall appear uneducated. This display of bigotry carried over to debate on the Senate floor where Thurmond called Marshall “stupid.”

Notwithstanding Marshall’s experience, Supreme Court confirmation hearings were not always the nasty fisticuffs that they are today. The process was business like and procedures were routine. Few nominees appeared before the judiciary committee prior to the post-Brown era. In fact, regular hearings were themselves a product of this same period as Southern segregationists adopted a strategy of pressing nominees “up close and personal” on civil rights matters. Given that Marshall was the first African-American Supreme Court nominee in the nation’s history, it is not surprising that his confirmation process deviated from the norm. Prior to his nomination, for example, judiciary committee hearings generally lasted for a couple of days, several hours each day. In Marshall’s case, the committee met for five days, five hours each day, over a period of two weeks, the longest sessions up to that point in U.S. history.

While it was common practice for committee staff to prepare questions for a nominee, this typically generated only a relative few of them. However, thanks to Dixiecrats, Marshall faced hundreds of questions. Moreover, adding further insult to injury, Chairman Eastland held up the committee’s 11-5 recommendation to confirm for several weeks after the hearings were over. Comprising a “gang of four” Eastland, McClellan, Ervin, and Thurmond were joined in the nay column by George Smathers (D-FL). In the final analysis, Southern segregationists failed to mount a filibuster by two votes with twenty of them casting no vote at all. Eventually, Marshall was duly confirmed by a vote of 69-11 in the full Senate. Upon assuming his seat on the bench, he served for twenty-four years as an Associate Justice. Thurgood Marshall retired from the United States Supreme Court in 1991 and passed away two years later.

*****

Despite taking place more than five decades apart, the roads that Marshall and Brown Jackson took to the Supreme Court were similar. For one thing, both of their careers included representing criminal defendants, a rare attribute among Supreme Court justices. Secondly, racial animus was paramount in both confirmation hearings. On one hand, Marshall faced off against Southern segregationists who opposed civil rights and were Democrats in name only. On the other hand, Brown Jackson was confronted by right wing Republicans whose intent is to “roll back” gains made towards racial and gender equality. In a moment reminiscent of Marshall being quizzed about civil rights, Judge Brown Jackson was brazenly asked to define the word “woman” and was mocked when she said that she was a judge not a biologist.

Both nominees were eventually confirmed, but each had to contend with a race-baiting and demeaning state of affairs. Though clearly frustrated at times by the tenor of the proceedings, Judge Jackson kept her cool by relying upon an approach to answering questions that limits the scope of what nominees will and will not address. While a nominee’s refusal to engage certain lines of inquiry is commonplace today, Marshall employed this tactic at his 1967 hearing. In fact, he ranks among the least forthcoming of Supreme Court nominees as a result of his refusal to play the racist Q&A hand that he was dealt.

More than 90% of Supreme Court justices in American history have been white men. In contrast, there have been two Black male justices, four white women justices, and one Latina justice. Today, gender, ethnic, and racial diversity have come to be seen as integral to the mechanisms of the Court and with the addition of Brown Jackson, there will be four women sitting on the bench. However, the Court that Jackson Brown will serve on is far-removed from the one upon which Marshall sat. His ascension to the High Court kept alive a five-justice liberal majority that voted as a bloc almost all of the time. He was in a position to shape not only the Court’s agenda but its outcomes as well. However, the progressive wing with which Marshall was so strongly identified declined over time. The resulting shift in the balance of power means Justice Brown Jackson will begin her service on a Supreme Court comprised of a super-majority of six right-wing justices. Combined with her status as the most junior member of the Court, her ability to have an impact early on will be limited. Nevertheless, she is only fifty-one years of age and could conceivably serve on the Court for decades.

The post The More Some Things Change, the More Others Stay the Same first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The More Some Things Change, the More Others Stay the Same

The treatment to which Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee subjected Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing was atrocious. The first ever African-American woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court, Brown Jackson faced GOP senators who were unabashedly insolent. Collectively, they ran her through a proverbial right-wing mill that included condemnations of Critical Race Theory, distortions of certain anti-racist children’s books, and allegations that she is “soft on crime.” She was also questioned about the role that race plays in her position as a federal judge, something no white male would ever be asked.

Republican Senators spent the largest portion of their allotted time attacking Jackson’s sentencing record on child pornography convictions alleging that her leniency was outside the boundaries of conventional jurisprudence. By imputation at the very least, right-wingers hold that she fails to take “sex offenders who prey on children” seriously. This is the sordid stuff of QAnon, and Republicans are up to their necks in it. As for Brown Jackson, she made it clear in her testimony that she is not convinced about the efficacy of child pornography sentencing guidelines. In fact, most of the prosecutors arguing such cases in her court room share her uncertainty as do a majority of district judges throughout the country. In other words, Judge Brown Jackson is in line with her judicial colleagues.

As everyone, including Republican senators, knows, Judge Jackson’s extensive and diverse legal background makes her eminently qualified for the position to which she has been nominated. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer whose seat on the bench she will fill. She served as a federal district court judge, a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and currently serves as a federal appellate judge. Each of these positions required Senate approval. Her three previous confirmations were passed by way of “voice” votes which essentially meant that she faced no opposition and a bi-partisan “roll call” vote. Once seated on the Supreme Court Judge Jackson will become only the ninth justice to have worked as an attorney in private practice. Moreover, she will also be the first former public defender to sit on the highest court in the land.

Judge Jackson has written almost 600 opinions during her years on the federal bench and has had only a dozen of them overturned by appellate court review. Among the cases over which she presided were several involving Donald Trump while he was in the White House. In one instance, she rejected his claim to absolute executive immunity in ordering a top-level aide to defy a congressional subpoena. In another, Judge Jackson drew the ire of conservatives for deciding against the Trump Administration’s attempt to reduce collective bargaining protections for federal workers. She further antagonized the political right in an immigration opinion blocking a Trump policy intended to increase the number of asylum seekers who could face accelerated return to their place of origin. While her decisions in these cases lean to the left, her resume conveys an independent legal mind that may on occasion displease political progressives. For example, Brown Jackson presided over 22 cases in which Black plaintiffs sued their employers on grounds of racial discrimination. Of those, 22 were brought to the court by Black workers. In these cases, she found in favor of the companies 19 times.

As would be expected, liberals supported Brown Jackson’s selection and conservatives opposed it. In fact, the GOP began priming itself from the moment that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced that, if elected, he would fill a vacancy on the High Court with an African-American woman. Republicans responded that doing so would be tantamount to making an “affirmative action” appointment. Conservatives were conspicuously silent when both Reagan and Trump stated that they would nominate a woman to the bench. They were also quiet when Trump said that he would only consider choosing individuals committed to overturning Roe v Wade. Republican hypocrisy could not be clearer. The GOP seized upon Biden’s appointment of Brown Jackson because she is a Black woman.

Judge Jackson’s hearing played out like reality television. While it is common for senators on both sides of the aisle to perform for the cameras and their constituents back home, the behavior and comments of Republicans were especially ugly. They had indicated that they would be civil and respectful yet they proved to be neither. The so-called “culture warriors” simply could not help themselves. Following more than twenty hours of testimony, the committee members voted 11-11 along party lines. This necessitated that Democrats employ a “discharge motion” allowing them to send Judge Jackson’s nomination to the Senate floor without a committee report. The full body’s 53-47 vote to confirm included three Republicans. At long last, and more than fifty years after the first Black man rose to a seat on the Court, she will become its first African-American woman justice.

*****

By the time Thurgood Marshall appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1967 as a nominee to the United States Supreme Court, he had won 29 of the 32 cases that he argued before that imposing body. While Brown v Board of Education (1954) striking down segregation in public education is the most famous example, other historically significant instances include Smith v Allright (1944) which prohibited states from conducting “white only” primary elections, Shelley v Kraemer (1948) which overturned race-based housing compacts, and Sweatt v Painter (1950) which declared that racially segregated post-graduate college and university programs were unconstitutional.

After more than two decades as a pioneering civil rights attorney, Marshall was appointed to the federal bench in 1961 by President John Kennedy. This made him only the second African-American federal appellate jurist in American history. Despite the racism that he faced, Marshall was confirmed by the full Senate although not before his nomination was held up by Southern segregationists for many months. Four years later, President Lyndon Johnson picked Marshall to serve as the first Black Solicitor General of the United States. Responsible for litigating cases on behalf of the federal government, Marshall won 14 of the 19 cases that he brought before the High Court.

When an opening on the Supreme Court appeared in 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to fill the vacancy. He would face the same Southern segregationists who had tried to scuttle his previous judicial appointment six years earlier. Often returned to office without electoral opposition, incumbent Dixiecrats relied upon seniority status in the chamber to secure and hold onto powerful committee chair positions. Furthermore, their animosity for Marshall was deep-seeded because of the role he had played in Brown. If the segregationists were on the wrong side of history, they had no intention of simply walking away from the table.

James Eastland (D-MS) was the judiciary committee chair for Marshall’s appellate court appointment as well as for his Supreme Court nomination. Eastland, who served in that capacity for a longer period than any chairperson in history, ranked among the most racist of legislators. During the 1961 proceedings, however, he allegedly told Attorney General Robert Kennedy that he was willing to horse trade. If JFK would concede to Eastland a favored appointee, then he would give the president “his nigger.” Moreover, during Marshall’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings six years later, Eastland shamelessly had the nerve to ask if he was biased against white southerners.

Other notable instances of hostility towards Marshall during the hearings came from John McClellan (D-AK), Sam Ervin (D-NC), and Strom Thurmond (R-SC), the latter of whom had switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 1964. For his part, McClellan focused on increasing crime rates and social unrest. Attempting to incite the nominee, he called Marshall “soft on crime” which remains a commonly used and racially coded phrase to this day. The Arkansas senator then turned and hammered away at Miranda v Arizona (1966), asserting that the ruling was anti-law enforcement. Marshall refused, however, to engage this line of questioning, continually stating that he could not and would not speak about court cases and legal issues that were recently decided, currently in the docket pipeline, or might be conceivably argued before the court at a later date.

Then it was Ervin’s turn. From the North Carolinian’s perspective, the idea of “civil rights” was simply a way for the federal government to take from whites and give to Blacks. In other words, the federal government was overstepping its legitimate jurisdictional boundaries. Ervin championed the Senate filibuster as a means to derail 1960s civil rights legislation. In fact, he employed this procedural tactic more than any other senator in history. He finished his questioning with an example of what is now called “originalism.” Senator Ervin asked Marshall if he believed that the Supreme Court’s role was to establish the framers’ intentions. The nominee agreed so long as the Constitution was understood to be a “living document.”

Last but not least came Strom Thurmond. The South Carolina senator subjected Marshall to a series of arcane questions, more than sixty in all. Among other things, Thurmond asked the nominee if he knew who drafted the 13th Amendment. He also asked Marshall to name the members of the committee that formulated the 14th Amendment and he questioned whether the nominee could cite a legal basis for the Civil Rights Act of 1866. While Marshall answered some of Thurmond’s questions, he responded to a number of them with “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” Thurmond’s obscure queries about the post-Civil War constitutional amendments were aimed at making Marshall appear uneducated. This display of bigotry carried over to debate on the Senate floor where Thurmond called Marshall “stupid.”

Notwithstanding Marshall’s experience, Supreme Court confirmation hearings were not always the nasty fisticuffs that they are today. The process was business like and procedures were routine. Few nominees appeared before the judiciary committee prior to the post-Brown era. In fact, regular hearings were themselves a product of this same period as Southern segregationists adopted a strategy of pressing nominees “up close and personal” on civil rights matters. Given that Marshall was the first African-American Supreme Court nominee in the nation’s history, it is not surprising that his confirmation process deviated from the norm. Prior to his nomination, for example, judiciary committee hearings generally lasted for a couple of days, several hours each day. In Marshall’s case, the committee met for five days, five hours each day, over a period of two weeks, the longest sessions up to that point in U.S. history.

While it was common practice for committee staff to prepare questions for a nominee, this typically generated only a relative few of them. However, thanks to Dixiecrats, Marshall faced hundreds of questions. Moreover, adding further insult to injury, Chairman Eastland held up the committee’s 11-5 recommendation to confirm for several weeks after the hearings were over. Comprising a “gang of four” Eastland, McClellan, Ervin, and Thurmond were joined in the nay column by George Smathers (D-FL). In the final analysis, Southern segregationists failed to mount a filibuster by two votes with twenty of them casting no vote at all. Eventually, Marshall was duly confirmed by a vote of 69-11 in the full Senate. Upon assuming his seat on the bench, he served for twenty-four years as an Associate Justice. Thurgood Marshall retired from the United States Supreme Court in 1991 and passed away two years later.

*****

Despite taking place more than five decades apart, the roads that Marshall and Brown Jackson took to the Supreme Court were similar. For one thing, both of their careers included representing criminal defendants, a rare attribute among Supreme Court justices. Secondly, racial animus was paramount in both confirmation hearings. On one hand, Marshall faced off against Southern segregationists who opposed civil rights and were Democrats in name only. On the other hand, Brown Jackson was confronted by right wing Republicans whose intent is to “roll back” gains made towards racial and gender equality. In a moment reminiscent of Marshall being quizzed about civil rights, Judge Brown Jackson was brazenly asked to define the word “woman” and was mocked when she said that she was a judge not a biologist.

Both nominees were eventually confirmed, but each had to contend with a race-baiting and demeaning state of affairs. Though clearly frustrated at times by the tenor of the proceedings, Judge Jackson kept her cool by relying upon an approach to answering questions that limits the scope of what nominees will and will not address. While a nominee’s refusal to engage certain lines of inquiry is commonplace today, Marshall employed this tactic at his 1967 hearing. In fact, he ranks among the least forthcoming of Supreme Court nominees as a result of his refusal to play the racist Q&A hand that he was dealt.

More than 90% of Supreme Court justices in American history have been white men. In contrast, there have been two Black male justices, four white women justices, and one Latina justice. Today, gender, ethnic, and racial diversity have come to be seen as integral to the mechanisms of the Court and with the addition of Brown Jackson, there will be four women sitting on the bench. However, the Court that Jackson Brown will serve on is far-removed from the one upon which Marshall sat. His ascension to the High Court kept alive a five-justice liberal majority that voted as a bloc almost all of the time. He was in a position to shape not only the Court’s agenda but its outcomes as well. However, the progressive wing with which Marshall was so strongly identified declined over time. The resulting shift in the balance of power means Justice Brown Jackson will begin her service on a Supreme Court comprised of a super-majority of six right-wing justices. Combined with her status as the most junior member of the Court, her ability to have an impact early on will be limited. Nevertheless, she is only fifty-one years of age and could conceivably serve on the Court for decades.

The post The More Some Things Change, the More Others Stay the Same first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Decriminalized Marijuana Reinvents Racism and Poisoning


The change in marijuana laws across the US raises issues far beyond, “Hey, dude, we can blow a joint now without getting busted.” The racism that permeated the age of criminalization now lurks throughout the phase of decriminalization. The burgeoning business of growing pot raises the specter of corporate agriculture with its threats to human health and natural ecosystems. Are there ways to enjoy weed while challenging racism and corporate domination over the environment?

An Attack on Black and Brown Cultures

Spanish-speaking people, who have lived in the US since it stole half of Mexico’s land, have a tradition of smoking marijuana. Amid a growing fear of Mexican immigrants in the early twentieth century, hysterical claims about the drug became widespread, such as allegations that it caused a “lust for blood.” The term cannabis was largely replaced by the Anglicized marijuana, perhaps to suggest the foreignness of the drug. Around this time many states began passing laws to ban pot.

In “Why Is Marijuana Illegal in the US?” Amy Tikkanen wrote that in the 1930s, Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, turned the battle against marijuana into an all-out war. He could have been motivated less by safety concerns—the vast majority of scientists he surveyed claimed that the drug was not dangerous—and more by a desire to promote his newly created department. Anslinger sought a federal ban on the drug, and initiated a high-profile campaign that relied heavily on racism. Anslinger claimed that the majority of pot smokers were minorities, including African Americans, and that marijuana had a negative effect on these “degenerate races,” such as inducing violence or causing insanity.

Furthermore, he noted, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.” Anslinger oversaw the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Although that particular law was declared unconstitutional in 1969, it was augmented by the Controlled Substances Act the following year. That legislation classified marijuana—as well as heroin and LSD, among others—as a Schedule I drug. Racism was also evident in the enforcement of the law. African Americans in the early 21st century were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested on marijuana-related charges—despite both groups having similar usage rates.

In her 2016 film, 13th Amendment, producer, Ava Duvernay documented drug laws and policies which increased incarceration rates of Black and brown people over the last six decades.

Year US Prison Population
1970 300,000
1980 513,900
1985 759,100
1990 1,179,200
2000 2,015,300
2020 2,300,000

President Nixon’s “War on Crime” of the 1970s targeted protests by the anti-war movement as well as liberation movements by gays, women, and Blacks. “Crime” became a code word for race. Nixon’s Adviser, John Ehrlichman, admitted that the “War on Drugs” was all about throwing Black people into jail to disrupt those communities. These efforts were to gain southern voters.

In the 1980’s, President Reagan’s “War on Drugs” portrayed drugs as an “inner city problem,” allowed for mandatory sentencing for crack cocaine, and tripled the federal spending on law enforcement. The War on Drugs became a war against Black and Latino communities, with huge chunks of Black and brown men disappearing into prison for a “really long” time. The exploding mass incarceration rates felt genocidal. This was again pandering to racist voters.

In his effort to appear “tough on crime” during the 1990’s, President Bill Clinton pushed the $30 billion Federal Crime Bill which expanded prison sentences, incentivized law enforcement to do things we now consider abusive, and militarized local police forces. Increased incarceration rates due to the Clinton administration included introduction of the terms “super predators,” Mandatory Minimum Sentences, “Truth in Sentencing” (which eliminated parole), and “three strikes and you’re out” laws whereby those convicted of three felonies were mandated to prison for life. Such a criminal justice system needs constant feeding of young men and women of color.

Racism during Marijuana Criminalization

Poverty plays a central role in mass incarceration – people put in prison and jail are disproportionately poor. The criminal justice system punishes poverty, beginning with the high price of money bail. The median felony bail bond amount ($10,000) is the equivalent of eight months’ income for the typical defendant. Those with low incomes are more likely to face the harms of pretrial detention. Poverty is not only a predictor of incarceration – it is also frequently the outcome, as a criminal record and time spent in prison destroys wealth, creates debt, and decimates job opportunities.

It’s no surprise that people of color — who face much greater rates of poverty — are dramatically overrepresented in the nation’s prisons and jails. These racial disparities are particularly stark for Black Americans, who make up 38% of the incarcerated population despite representing only 12% of US residents.

Police, prosecutors, and judges continue to punish people harshly for nothing more than drug possession. Drug offenses still account for the incarceration of almost 400,000 people, and drug convictions remain a defining feature of the federal prison system. Police still make over one million drug possession arrests each year, many of which lead to prison sentences. Drug arrests continue to give residents of over-policed communities criminal records, hurting their employment prospects and increasing the likelihood of longer sentences for any future offenses. The enormous churn in and out of correctional facilities is 600,000 persons per year. There are another 822,000 people on parole and a staggering 2.9 million people on probation – 79 million people have a criminal record; and 113 million adults have immediate family members who have been to prison.

One in five incarcerated people is locked up for a drug offense. Four out of five people in prison or jail are locked up for something other than a drug offense — either a more serious offense or a less serious one. The terms “violent” and “nonviolent” crime are so widely misused that they are generally unhelpful in a policy context. People typically use “violent” and “nonviolent” as substitutes for serious versus nonserious criminal acts. That alone is a fallacy, but worse, these terms are also used as coded (often racialized) language to label individuals as inherently dangerous versus non-dangerous.

Decriminalization Reinvents Marijuana Racism

The decriminalization which is sweeping across the US carries with it the obvious facts that (a) pot is not and never has been a dangerous drug, and (b) criminalizing drugs has never brought anything positive. This suggests that those who have been victimized were done so wrongfully and therefore should be compensated for the wrongs done to them. However, victims have been predominantly people of color and American racism reappears during the decriminalization phase in the form of trivializing harms done and offering restitution that barely scratch the surface of what is needed.

Prior to addressing the shortcomings for wrongful damages for marijuana laws, the US should publicly apologize for the wrongheaded and thoroughly racist “War on Drugs” and pledge to compensate those who have suffered from it in ways that are comparable to cannabis-related issues below.

Victims should be compensated for time spent in jail. Prisoners might receive compensation for labor performed in prison; but it can be as low as $0.86 to $3.45 per day for most common prison jobs. At least five states pay nothing at all. Private companies using prison labor are not the source of most prison jobs. Only about 5,000 people in prison — fewer than 1% — are employed by private companies through the federal PIECP (Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program), which requires them to pay at least minimum wage before deductions. (A larger portion work for state-owned “correctional industries,” which pay much less. But this still only represents about 6% of people incarcerated in state prisons.)

There cannot be a serious discussion of compensating victims if many continue to rot in jail. They must be release immediately, regardless of what state they are in. Many of those released have not had records of their arrests, convictions and sentencing cleared (“expunged”). According to Equity and Transformation Chicago, there is a 5-8 year wait for expunging records. Records must be expunged as rapidly as would be done if it really affected people’s lives (because it does).

A core component of repairing harm done to those imprisoned would be prioritizing them (according to amount of jail time served) to receive licenses for growing, processing, transporting and dispensing marijuana. Various states have taken baby steps in the right direction. For example, Chicago’s Olive Harvey College is offering training in cannabis studies to those with past marijuana arrests. Participants receive “free tuition, a $1,000 monthly stipend, academic support and help with child care, transportation and case management.” As of March, 2022 there were 47 studying for jobs as growers, lab directors and lab or quality control technicians.

Another effort pointing forward is New York’s program to grant licenses for marijuana storefronts for individual or family members who have been imprisoned for a marijuana-related offense. An executive for the program expects 100-200 licenses to go to such victims.

Let’s put these model programs in perspective. Nice as they are, 47 students receiving study grants in Chicago and 100-200 retail licenses in New York do not even make a dent in the over 867,000 who have been arrested.

While current programs are infinitesimally small, barriers to legal victims are enormous. Missouri grants licenses only to those “having legal marijuana experience” (such as handling legal medical cannabis) to apply for licensing for growing, dispensing, and processing. Illinois denies licenses and loans to felons, even though 1 in 3 Chicago adults have a criminal record. Illinois also prevents those with cannabis-related convictions from entering the cannabis industry by its high application fees.

Financial barriers for marijuana victims to receive licenses seem insurmountable. People and communities negatively impacted by the War on Drugs have high incarceration rates and lowaverage salaries due to limited job opportunities by ex-felons. Therefore, they lack the financial resources for high non-refundable application fees ($10,000 to $50,000) awarded in lotteries to match the state-designated number of growers, dispensaries, processors, and transporters. In Illinois, access to credit and small business loans are difficultfor persons with criminal records to obtain. Each dispensing organization applicant must have at least $400,000 in liquid assets. That is why people of color cannot participate as owners of legalized marijuana businesses in Illinois.

Industrial Agriculture Poisons Marijuana Cultivation.

Unfortunately, even if all these barriers were to be overcome, there would be serious health issues throughout the marijuana industry, whether legal or illegal. If people of color receive priority in all phases of the industry, then a new form of environmental racism will emerge. People in that industry will become part of the environmental destruction to their communities while they experience damage to their own health from pesticide poisoning.

An excellent review of concerns with cultivation of cannabis by a team working with Zhonghua Zheng finds it heavily associated with environmental and health concerns whether it is grown outdoors or indoors. Needing considerable water, cannabis requires twice as much water as wheat, soybeans and maize. Diverting water to irrigate cannabis crops often results in dewatered streams affecting other vegetation. Water quality is also worsened (especially by illegal growers) by use of herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, fungucides and nematodes.

Human health problems which can be linked to chronic pesticide exposure include memory and respiratory issues as well as birth defects. Other health effects are weakened muscle functioning, cancer and liver damage. The organization Beyond Pesticides documents serious threats due to two factors: (a) “Pesticide residues in cannabis that has been dried and is inhaled have a direct pathway into the bloodstream;” and, (2) up to “69.5% of pesticide residues can remain in smoked marijuana.”

Perhaps the most overlooked source of pesticide poisoning is due to the synthetic piperonyl butoxide (PBO), which is a synergist, used to boost the effectiveness of active ingredients in pesticides. PBO can itself damage health due to neurotoxicity, cancer and liver problems.

Fertilizers and pesticides make their way into surface water, groundwater and soil, where they threaten the food supply. The high demand for weed affects watersheds, having damaging effects at least for endangered salmonid fish species and amphibians including the southern torrent salamander and coastal tailed frog.

Outdoor cannabis farms disturb fine-sediment adjacent to streams, thereby threatening other rare and endangered species. Its cultivation can contribute to deforestation and forest fragmentation. Fertilizers used for cannabis hurt air quality due to the release of nitrogen. Excess nitrogen increases soil acidification and well as water eutrophication.

Growing cannabis indoors raises its own issues, most notably health risks from exposure to mold and pesticides. Mold in damp indoor environments is associated with wheeze, cough, respiratory infections, and asthma symptoms in sensitized persons.

Perhaps the most surprising problems with indoor cultivation of cannabis is its effects on climate change via electricity. This is due to its annual $6 billion energy costs in the US, making it responsible for at least 1% of total electricity. Inevitably, decriminalization will lead to increased use of energy.

The major sources of energy usage are lighting and microclimate control. High-intensity lighting alone accounts for 86% of electricity use for indoor cannabis. Dehumidification systems are used to create air exchanges, temperature, ventilation and humidity control 24 hours per day. Due to the complexity of indoor requirements, growing one kilogram of processed marijuana can result in 4600 kilograms of CO2 emissions!

Environmental and health problems with growing marijuana will intensify greatly if decriminalization allows control by corporate agriculture. The so-called “Green Revolution” emphasizes use of enormous monocultures which maximize ecological destruction from extreme use of irrigation and fertilizers.

As of early 2022, at least 36 US states have adopted some form of decrimalization of marijuana, adding to the explosion of businesses in every phase of its production. In 2018, Bloomberg reported “Corona beer brewer Constellation Brands Inc. announced it will spend $3.8 billion to increase its stake in Canopy Growth Corp., the Canadian marijuana producer with a value that exceeds C$13 billion ($10 billion).”

Coca-Cola has been eyeing the market for drinks containing CBD which eases pain without getting the user high. Pepsi may have jumped the gun on Coke. A New Jersey hemp and marijuana producer, Hillview, has an agreement with Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. of New York to makes CBD-infused seltzers which would sell for $40 per eight-pack. The deal aims to cover Long Island, Westchester and all five New York boroughs.

With industrial giants like Coke and Pepsi jumping into the cannabis market, it is a sure bet that they will not be buying marijuana from thousands of mom-and-pop growers. Look for big soft drink to seek contracts with big ag.

The commercial growth of crops based on monoculture (a single or very few crops grown) becomes a breeding ground for pests, creating an artificial need for control via chemical poisons. A fundamental principle of organic agriculture is that growing 10, 15 more more plant species together reduces any need for chemicals. In the corporate ag model, if the single species grown is invaded by pests, then the entire crop can be lost. In the organic model the farmer anticipates that 1, 2 or 3 may be hurt by pests, but the majority will survive.

According to farmer Patrick Bennett, “for a fraction of the cost of a single bottle of synthetic liquid fertilizer, you can get the same, if not better yield, flavor, and cannabinoid content in your crop at home by simply using organic farming practices.” Marijuana has been grown for centuries (or millennia) without pesticides. Current organic growers have found five plant-based insecticides that protect their crops well:

  • Neem oil is “extracted from the seeds and fruit of the tropical neem tree, [and] controls many insects, including mites, and prevents fungal infections, like powdery mildew.”
  • Azadirachtin controls “control over many insects, including mites, aphids, and thrips” but does not provide fungal protection.
  • Pyrethrums kills insects that attack cannabis plants, including thrips. Pyrethrins, however, the synthetic version of pyrethrums, should not be used due to their environmental persistence.
  • Bacillus Thurengensis (BT) is very effective in controlling larval insects and fungus gnats.
  • Beneficial Nematodes are microscopic organisms occurring naturally in soil, keeping it healthy while controlling soil-born pests such as fungus gnats.

Techniques such as these have proven effective. Mike Benziger told interviewer Nate Seltenrich that he grows fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs along with cannabis. He includes multiple plants that attract insects like ladybugs and lacewings that gobble up harmful mites and aphids. Organic growers often rely on mulching and crop rotation. Such methods are especially critical for protecting workers growing the plants, neighboring wildlife, farm owners, distributors and, of course, marijuana users.

As of 2015, Maine was prohibiting use of any pesticides. Yet, its is important to remember that legislation can be weakened or repealed by subsequent laws, making it critical to have enduring guidelines. Such guidelines should include practices like those in Washington DC and Maine which require producers to demonstrate knowledge of organic growing methods.

Moving Forward

Since federal law classifies marijuana as a narcotic there are no federal guidelines for growing it. This makes it tempting to demand that it be declassified and brought under the auspices of bodies like the Environmental Protection Agency. This is a worthwhile goal, but the problem is that federal and state bodies are controlled by corporate powers seeking the weakest standards possible. Goals such as the following should be stated to counter racism and have genuine environmental protection with real (not fake) organic standards:

1. Restitution must begin with an apology which acknowledges that criminalization of marijuana included an attack on those cultures using it; was a part of a greater attack which used drugs as one of many weapons to destroy communities; and caused suffering for an enormous number of individuals.

2. All communities affected by criminalization of marijuana and the larger attack upon them should decide what financial and cultural restitution they should receive.

3. Individuals harmed by marijuana criminalization should receive financial compensation for any arrest, trial, incarceration and post-incarceration damages. Funds for growing, preparing and dispensing legalized marijuana should be made in direct proportion to the harm that individuals have suffered – those who have been harmed the most should receive the greatest compensation. In particular, the greater the harm an individual has suffered, the higher priority that individual should have for receiving a license related to dispensing marijuana.

4. Organic growing must be a core component of protecting the health of marijuana workers, producers and users. All who grow marijuana must receive free education on how to do so without the use of chemical poisons (“pesticides”). This must include how to intersperse marijuana with other crops so that pests are not as threatening as they are with monocultures. All who grow, process and disperse marijuana must obtain certification that their product is free of chemical contaminants. There should be no limitations on the number of marijuana plants an individual may grow, as long as those plants are grown with genuine organic principles.

Prior to decriminalization, health and environmental damages of growing and using marijuana were more or less similar for all ethnic and cultural groups. But that will not continue to be the case if restitution for damages from criminalization are put into place. If those hurt most by harassment and incarceration for marijuana receive priority for licenses to produce and distribute cannabis, they will receive the most pesticide poisoning if organic methods are not required. The only way to avoid continued harm to those previously victimized is to employ organic cultivation.

Abolition of exploitation of all agricultural workers requires similar restrictions on chemical use when growing all herbs, fruits and vegetables. Organic growing of cannabis should become a model for transferring production via corporate megafarms using mono cropping, chemicals, and exploited labor to organic methods based on small farms, chemical-free growing for local communities and good treatment for workers encouraged to form strong unions for collective self-protection.

[The Green Party of St. Louis adopted a marijuana perspective that synthesizes anti-racism with organic growing principles. You can read it at: marijuana-platform.]

The post Decriminalized Marijuana Reinvents Racism and Poisoning first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Would the U.S. and Canada Put People in Camps?

This is not an article about Indian Reservations — but it could be. That concept broke new ground in terms of domination and, as Nazi Germany initiated its plans of conquest in Europe, it became their playbook.

“Hitler took note of the indigenous people of the Americas,” notes author Ward Churchill, “specifically within the area of the United States and Canada, and used the treatment of the native people, the policies and processes that were imposed upon them, as a model for what he articulated as being the politics of living space.”

In essence, writes Ward Churchill, “Hitler took the notion of a drive from east to west, clearing the land as the invading population went and resettling it with Anglo-Saxon stock as the model by which he drove from west to east into Russia — displacing, relocating, dramatically shifting, or liquidating a population to clear the land and replace it with what he called superior breeding stock. He was very conscious of the fact that he was basing his policies in the prior experiences of the Anglo-American population in the area north of the Rio Grande River.”

So, yeah, there’s that and I will focus more on it at some point. For this particular article, the spotlight is aimed at the “good guys” who were allegedly fighting a war against racism in the 1940s.

On February 19, 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 giving the army the unrestricted power to arrest — without warrants or indictments or hearings — every Japanese-American on a 150-mile strip along the West Coast (roughly 110,000 men, women, and children) and transport them to internment camps in Colorado, Utah, Arkansas, and other interior states to be kept under prison conditions. This order was upheld by the Supreme Court and the Japanese-Americans remained in custody for over three years.

Thanks to an unending wave of anti-Japan propaganda, there was little public debate over this immoral crime. In fact, in 1942, a Los Angeles Times writer defended the forced relocations by explaining to his readers that “a viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched — so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents, grows up to be a Japanese, not an American.” In nearby countries, sentiments ran along these same lines, as historian Daniel S. Davis reports:

“Canada enacted similar removal and internment programs. Many Latin American countries were shaken by anti-Japanese riots. Some shipped their Japanese people to the United States at the urging of Washington. They were held in the camps our government set up. Ironically, after the war ended, the U.S. government tried to deport these Latin American Japanese on the grounds that they had entered the country without passports or official visas.”

The Canadian government used the War Measures Act to detain and dispossess more than 90 percent of Japanese-Canadians living in British Columbia. Roughly 21,000 people were interned without charges for the duration of the war. To fund this totalitarian salvo, the internees had their homes and businesses sold off by the Canadian government.

Life in the internment camps entailed cramped living spaces with communal meals and bathrooms. The one-room apartments measured 20 by 20 feet and none had running water. The internees were allowed to take along “essential personal effects” from home but were prohibited from bringing razors, scissors, or radios. Outside the shared wards were barbed wire, guard towers with machine guns, and searchlights. The atmosphere was often charged with a hostile discomfort.

Anger and disillusionment grew and these emotions led to tension and sometimes violence. On December 5, 1942, a scuffle between internees led to the U.S. military police firing shots into the crowd — killing one Japanese-American man, Jimmy Ito.

There were those who defied relocation. Fred Korematsu remained in San Francisco with his Caucasian girlfriend until he was arrested and jailed. It was then that he met with an ACLU lawyer and decided to challenge the constitutionality of the internment camps. He lost when the Supreme Court upheld the decision in December 1944.

Justice Frank Murphy, expressing a minority opinion, dissented on the Orwellian grounds that since the camps were “an obvious racial discrimination, the order deprives all those within its scope of equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.”

Re-read that a few times before you mention The Land of the Free™ again.

While 110,000 Japanese-Americans suffered in prison camps, the U.S. media whipped up a post-Pearl Harbor frenzy of fear on the West Coast. If one was to believe the news reports of the day, it would seem that it was always just a matter of hours until Japanese Zeros would be spotted over Hollywood — or anywhere on the Left Coast.

In January 1942, Edward R. Murrow stirred up fifth column worries by telling an audience in Seattle that if their city was ever bombed, they would “be able to look up and see some University of Washington sweaters on the boys doing the bombing.”

Despite widespread concerns of Japanese infiltration, an FBI report at the time admitted: “We have not found a single machine gun, nor have we found any gun in any circumstances indicating that it was to be used in a manner helpful to our enemies. We have not found a single camera which we have reason to believe was for use in espionage.”

Although there was never a proven case of any type of sabotage by Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, this did little to ease the minds of men like California attorney general Earl Warren (later the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court). “I believe that we are just being lulled into a false sense of security,” Warren declared, “and that the only reason we haven’t had a disaster in California is because it has been timed for a different date.”

The dislocated Japanese-Americans incurred an estimated loss of $400 million in forced property sales during the internment years, and therein may lie a more Machiavellian motivation than sheer race hatred.

“A large engine for the Japanese-American incarcerations was agri-business,” says Michio Kaku, a noted nuclear physicist and political activist whose parents were interned from 1942 to 1946. “Agri-businesses in California coveted much of the land owned by Japanese-Americans.”

A formal apology came to the 60,000 survivors of internment camps in 1990. The U.S. government paid them each $20,000. Two years prior to that, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney apologized on behalf of the Canadian government.

While Yale Law Professor Eugene V. Rostow later called the internment camps “our worst wartime mistake,” historian Howard Zinn pointedly asked: “Was it a ‘mistake’ or was it an action to be expected from a nation with a long history of racism and which was fighting a war, not to end racism, but to retain the fundamentals of the American system?”

Keep yer guard up…

The post Would the U.S. and Canada Put People in Camps? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Fabricating Putin Quotes and Banning Paraplegic Athletes to Undermine Russia

Mobilizing a population to vilify and hate a targeted enemy is a tactic that leaders have used since before the dawn of human history, and it is being used to demonize Russia and Vladimir Putin in the current conflict. If we want to join the march to war, we can join the hate fest.  But if we want a more objective and honest assessment of events, we must rely upon facts that our government and its cheer-leading mainstream media are not anxious for us to view.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,  all things Russian are being punished. Russian athletes, including paraplegics, are barred from international sports competition. Century old Russian writers and musicians such as Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky are being removed from book shelves and concerts. Even Russian bred cats are not exempt.

If such actions are justified, why was there no such banning of US athletes, musicians or writers after the US invasion of Iraq?  Moreover, why are so few people outraged by the bombing and killing of 370,000 Yemeni people?  Why are so few people outraged as thousands of Afghans starve because the United States is seizing Afghanistan’s national assets which were in western banks?

Why Ukraine?

There has been massive and widespread publicity about Ukraine. It is a simple Hollywood script:  Ukraine is the angel, Russia is the devil, Zelensky is the hero and all good people will wear blue and yellow ribbons.

Maintaining this image requires propaganda to promote it, and censorship to prevent challengers debunking it.

This has required trashing some long held western traditions. By banning all Russian athletes from international competition, the International Olympic Committee and different athletic federations have violated the Olympic Charter which prohibits discrimination on the basis of nationality.

Censorship

The West prides itself on free speech yet censorship of alternative viewpoints is now widespread in Europe and North America.  Russia Today and other Russian media outlets are being blocked on the internet as well as cable TV.  Ironically,  numerous programs on RT were hosted by Americans, for example journalist Chris Hedges and comedian Lee Camp.  The US is silencing its own citizens.

Censorship or shadow banning is widespread on social media. On April 6, one of the best informed military analysts, Scott Ritter @realScottRitter, was suspended from Twitter. Why?  Because he  suggested that the victims of Bucha may have been murdered not by Russians, but rather by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and the US and UK may also be culpable.

The 2015 Netflix documentary titled “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” deals with the Maidan (Kiev central square) uprising of 2013-2014.  It ignores the most essential elements of the events: the management provided by the US  and the muscle provided by ultra-nationalists of the Right Sector and Azov Battalion. The attacks and killing of Ukrainian police are whitewashed away.

By contrast, the 2016 documentary “Ukraine on Fire provides the background and essential elements of the conflict.  It is not available on Netflix and was banned from distribution on YouTube for some time.

Most people in the West are unaware of the US involvement in the 2014 Kiev coup, subsequent US funding and training of ultra-nationalist and Neo Nazi battalions, and the eight year war in eastern Ukraine resulting in fourteen thousand deaths.

Sensational Accusations

Backed by US and UK intelligence agencies, Ukraine knows the importance of the information war. They make sensational accusations that receive uncritical media coverage. When the truth eventually comes out, it is ignored or buried on the back pages. Here are a few examples:

– In 2014,  eleven civilians were killed in eastern Ukraine when an apartment was hit in rebel held territory.  Ukraine tried to blame Russia even though no bombs were coming from Russia and the population is ethnically Russian.

– At the beginning of the current conflict, Ukrainian President Zelensky claimed that soldiers on Snake Island died heroically rather than surrender. Actually, all the soldiers surrendered.

– Ukraine and western media claim a maternity hospital in Mariupol was bombed by Russia. Evidence shows the hospital was taken over by Ukrainian military forces on March 7, two days before the bombing on March 9.

– The latest sensational accusations are regarding dead civilians in Bucha,  north of Kiev. Again, there is much contrary evidence. The Russian soldiers left Bucha on March 31, the mayor of Bucha announced the town liberated with no mention of atrocities on March 31, the Azov battalion entered Bucha on April 1,  the Ukrainian Defense Ministry published video of  “Russian” atrocities on April 3.

In most cases, western media does not probe the accusations or use simple logic to ask if they make sense.  However, in the case of Bucha story, the NY Times had to acknowledge they were “unable to independently verify the assertions by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry.”

Self Censorship

In addition to actual censorship, there is widespread self-censorship. Instead of reading what the Russians are saying, western political “analysts” engage in outlandish amateur psychology and speculation. With no factual basis, they speculate about what Putin wants and his mental state.

This is convenient if one does not want to deal with the real issues and arguments.

Most western analysts and journalists are afraid or unwilling to read or listen to what the Russian leaders say. That is unfortunate because those speeches are more clear and direct than those from western politicians who rely on public relations, spin and platitudes.

Fabricating quotes

Ignorance of Russian foreign policy is such that Truthout online magazine recently published an article which contains a sensational but completely invented quote from Putin. It says,

Putin here is clear enough: “Ukraine has no national rights that Russians are bound to respect. Prepare for reunification, reabsorption, or some other euphemism for subaltern status with Mother Russia.”

Putin said no such thing and any moderately knowledgeable person would recognize this to be fake.

When I emailed the co-author, Carl Davidson, asking where the quotation came from, he admitted inventing it. This is significant because the statement goes to the core of what the conflict is about. Is Russia trying to absorb all of Ukraine? Do they intend to occupy Ukraine?  Anyone who reads the speeches of Putin and Lavrov, such as here, here and here,  knows they do not. Davidson’s fabricated quote suggests he has not read the speeches himself.

Ukraine in the Global Context

The article with the made-up quote contends that “Putin is part of a global right-wing authoritarian movements that seeks to ‘overthrow’ the 20th Century.” This analysis is close to that of the US Democratic Party, which sees the major global division being between “authoritarianism” vs “democracy”.

It is highly US-centered and partisan, with Putin somehow lumped with Trump. It  is also self-serving, with US Democrats as the embodiment of “democracy”.  It is completely contrary to a class analysis.

This faulty analysis has major contradictions. It is well known that Biden is unpopular. Biden’s latest approval rating is under 42%. It is less well known in the West that Putin is popular in Russia. Since the intervention in Ukraine his approval rating has increased to over 80%.

Also largely unknown in the West, most of the world does NOT support the Western analysis of the Ukraine conflict.  Countries representing 59% of the global population abstained or voted against the condemnation of Russia at the UN General Assembly. These countries tend to see US exceptionalism and economic-military domination as a key problem. They do not think it helpful to demonize Russia and they urge negotiations and quick resolution to the Ukraine war.

Cuba said:

History will hold the United States accountable for the consequences of an increasingly offensive military doctrine beyond NATO’s borders which threatens international peace, security and stability…. Russia has the right to defend itself.

South African President Ramaphosa blamed NATO saying:

The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region.

The Chinese representative said:

The final settlement of the Ukraine crisis requires abandoning the Cold War mentality, abandoning the logic of ensuring one’s own security at the expense of others’ security, and abandoning the approach of seeking regional security by expanding military bloc.

Many western anti-war movements are critical of Russia’s invasion. Others, such as the US Peace Council, see the US and NATO as largely responsible. However, they all see the necessity of pressing to stop the war before it gets worse.

In contrast, the western military-industrial-media complex is fueling the war with propaganda, censorship, banning, demonization and more weapons. It appears they do not want a resolution to the conflict. Just as they supported NATO pushing up against Russia, knowing that it risked provoking Russia to the point of retaliation, they seem to be pushing for a protracted bloody conflict in Ukraine, knowing that it risks global conflagration.  Yet they persist, while crying crocodile tears.

The post Fabricating Putin Quotes and Banning Paraplegic Athletes to Undermine Russia first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Is Europe Really More Civilized? Ukraine Conflict a Platform for Racism and Rewriting History

When a gruesome six-minute video of Ukrainian soldiers shooting and torturing handcuffed and tied up Russian soldiers circulated online, outraged people on social media and elsewhere compared this barbaric behavior to that of Daesh.

In a rare admission of moral responsibility, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian President, quickly reminded Ukrainian fighters of their responsibility under international law. “I would like to remind all our military, civilian and defense forces, once again, that the abuse of prisoners is a war crime that has no amnesty under military law and has no statute of limitations,” he said, asserting that “We are a European army”, as if the latter is synonymous with civilized behavior.

Even that supposed claim of responsibility conveyed subtle racism, as if to suggest that non-westerners, non-Europeans, may carry out such grisly and cowardly violence, but certainly not the more rational, humane and intellectually superior Europeans.

The comment, though less obvious, reminds one of the racist remarks by CBS’ foreign correspondent, Charlie D’Agata, on February 26, when he shamelessly compared Middle Eastern cities with the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, stating that “Unlike Iraq or Afghanistan, (…) this is a relatively civilized, relatively European city”.

The Russia-Ukraine war has been a stage of racist comments and behavior, some explicit and obvious, others implicit and indirect. Far from being implicit, however, Bulgarian Prime Minister, Kiril Petkov, did not mince words when, last February, he addressed the issue of Ukrainian refugees. Europe can benefit from Ukrainian refugees, he said, because “these people are Europeans. (…) These people are intelligent, they are educated people. This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists.”

One of many other telling episodes that highlight western racism, but also continued denial of its grim reality, was an interview conducted by the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, with the Ukrainian Azov Battalion Commander, Dmytro Kuharchuck. The latter’s militia is known for its far-right politics, outright racism and horrific acts of violence. Yet, the newspaper described Kuharchuck as “the kind of fighter you don’t expect. He reads Kant and he doesn’t only use his bazooka.” If this is not the very definition of denial, what is?

That said, our proud European friends must be careful before supplanting the word ‘European’ with ‘civilization’ and respect for human rights. They ought not to forget their past or rewrite their history because, after all, racially-based slavery is a European and western brand. The slave trade, as a result of which millions of slaves were shipped from Africa during the course of four centuries, was very much European. According to Encyclopedia Virginia, 1.8 million people “died on the Middle Passage of the transatlantic slave trade”. Other estimations put the number much higher.

Colonialism is another European quality. Starting in the 15th century, and lasting for centuries afterward, colonialism ravaged the entire Global South. Unlike the slave trade, colonialism enslaved entire peoples and divided whole continents, like Africa, among European spheres of influence.

The nation of Congo was literally owned by one person, Belgian King Leopold II. India was effectively controlled and colonized by the British East India Company and, later, by the British government. The fate of South America was largely determined by the US-imposed Monroe Doctrines of 1823. For nearly 200 years, this continent has paid – and continues to pay – an extremely heavy price of US colonialism and neocolonialism. No numbers or figures can possibly express the destruction and death toll inflicted by Western-European colonialism on the rest of the world, simply because the victims are still being counted. But for the sake of illustration, according to American historian, Adam Hochschild, ten million people have died in Congo alone from 1885 to 1908.

And how can we forget that World War I and II are also entirely European, leaving behind around 40 million and 75 million dead, respectively. (Other estimations are significantly higher). The gruesomeness of these European wars can only be compared to the atrocities committed, also by Europeans, throughout the South, for hundreds of years prior.

Mere months after The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed in 1949, the eager western partners were quick to flex their muscles in Korea in 1950, instigating a war that lasted for three years, resulting in the death of nearly 5 million people. The Korean war, like many other NATO-instigated conflicts, remains an unhealed wound to this day.

The list goes on and on, from the disgraceful Opium Wars on China, starting in 1839, to the nuclear bombings of Japan in 1945, to the destruction of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, in 1954, 1959 and 1970 respectively, to the political meddling, military interventions and regime change in numerous countries around the world. They are all the work of the West, of the US and its ever-willing ‘European partners’, all done in the name of spreading democracy, freedom and human rights.

If it were not for the Europeans, Palestine would have gained its independence decades ago, and its people, this writer included, would have not been made refugees, suffering under the yoke of Zionist Israel. If it were not for the US and the Europeans, Iraq would have remained a sovereign country and millions of lives would have been spared in one of the world’s oldest civilizations; and Afghanistan would have not endured this untold hardship. Even when the US and its European friends finally relented and left Afghanistan last year, they continue to hold the country hostage, by blocking the release of its funds, leading to actual starvation among the people of that war-torn country.

So before bragging about the virtues of Europe, and the demeaning of everyone else, the likes of Arestovych, D’Agata, and Petkov should take a look at themselves in the mirror and reconsider their unsubstantiated ethnocentric view of the world and of history. In fact, if anyone deserves bragging rights it is those colonized nations that resisted colonialism, the slaves that fought for their freedom, and the oppressed nations that resisted their European oppressors, despite the pain and suffering that such struggles entailed.

Sadly, for Europe, however, instead of using the Russia-Ukraine war as an opportunity to reflect on the future of the European project, whatever that is, it is being used as an opportunity to score cheap points against the very victims of Europe everywhere. Once more, valuable lessons remain unlearned.

The post Is Europe Really More Civilized? Ukraine Conflict a Platform for Racism and Rewriting History first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Israel is stoking a Civil War Against its Palestinian Citizens

Three separate, deadly Palestinian attacks in Israeli cities in a week have elicited a predictable response. The Israeli army has drafted large numbers of extra soldiers into the West Bank and around Gaza, Palestinian territories already under decades of brutal military occupation.

But the fact that, unusually, two of the attacks were carried out by Israeli citizens – members of a large Palestinian minority whose rights are severely circumscribed and inferior to those of the Jewish majority – has raised the stakes considerably for the Israeli right.

A total of 11 Israelis died in the attacks a few days apart in the cities of Beersheba, Hadera and Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Trigger-happy Israeli forces killed three Palestinians in separate incidents on Thursday, in the immediate wake of the attacks.

The lethal attacks were an opportunity for Naftali Bennett, the far-right leader who snatched the Israeli premiership from Benjamin Netanyahu last summer, to prove his credentials to his party’s main constituency: Jewish settlers determined to drive Palestinians off their lands and reclaim a supposed biblical birthright.

In a video statement, Bennett told “whoever has a gun licence” – meaning overwhelmingly Jewish citizens – “this is the time to carry a gun”. And if that wasn’t enough, he went on to announce that the government was considering “a larger framework to involve civilian volunteers who want to help and be of assistance”.

Street violence

What that means in practice is not hard to decipher. Nearly a year ago, the intensification of long-running moves to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem became one of the triggers for the worst inter-communal violence in Israel in at least a generation.

Palestinian citizens who staged angry demonstrations found themselves not just facing the expected crackdown from Israel’s paramilitary police, but street violence from far-right Jewish mobs that appeared to be operating in tandem with Israeli security forces.

For the first time it looked as though the Israeli leadership was moving a key feature of the occupation inside the Green Line.

In the occupied territories, armed settlers operate effectively as militias, terrorising nearby Palestinian communities, watched impassively, or sometimes assisted, by the Israeli army. They act as the long arm of the Israeli state – offering plausible deniability for Israeli officials as they exploit the settlers’ violence.

The aim of both the settlers and the Israeli state is the same: to drive Palestinians from their homes so Jewish settlers can take over the vacated land.

Last spring, the use of that same model inside Israel became harder to disguise. The Israeli government appeared to be contracting out parts of its domestic security to the same fanatical and violent settlers, allowing them to be bussed into Palestinian communities inside Israel unhindered. There they acted as vigilantes.

They smashed Palestinian shops, chanted “Death to the Arabs“, and beat up Palestinian citizens who crossed their path. At the same time, Israeli politicians from across the spectrum incited against the Palestinian minority.

Now Bennett gives every appearance of hoping to exploit the three attacks to put this earlier arrangement on a more formal footing.

Notably, a “Barel Rangers” militia has already been formed in the Negev region, in Israel’s south, where one of the attacks occurred. The founder, a former police officer, set out its purpose in a social media post: “When your life is under threat, it’s only you and the terrorist. You are the policeman, the judge and the executioner.”

Another militia has recently been established in Lod, a city near Tel Aviv, that saw the worst violence last May.

Playing with fire

Bennett’s call for “civilian volunteers” to defend the Jewish state was presumably intended to echo Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who has urged Ukrainian civilians to fight the invading Russian army. Bennett may hope that in the current international climate there will be little criticism of Jewish militias acting similarly.

But whereas Zelensky has called on Ukrainians to fight foreign invaders, Bennett is rallying militias to attack his country’s own citizens, based on their ethnicity. He is playing with fire, stoking a mood of civil war in which one side, Jewish Israelis, have the weapons and state resources, while the other – the Palestinian minority – is largely defenceless.

Notably, after the second recent attack in the Jewish city of Hadera on Tuesday – by two Palestinian citizens – a mob formed chanting “Death to the Arabs”.

Where this might lead was underscored by a retired army general, Uzi Dayan, now a member of the Israeli parliament for Netanyahu’s Likud party. He warned all of Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens to “be careful”. They faced, he said, another Nakba, or Catastrophe – the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland by Israeli militias and the army in 1948.

“If we reach a civil war situation, things will end in one word and a situation you know, which is Nakba,” he said. “This is what will happen in the end.” He added: “We are stronger. We are holding back on a lot of things.” The ethnic cleansing associated with the Nakba “was not completed”, he noted.

That is not a situation Palestinian citizens will be able to avoid if Israeli leaders will it. Many in the minority have been afraid to leave their homes, go to work or venture into Jewish areas – which is most of the country – for fear of reprisals.  And that is precisely because Bennett and Dayan represent a vast swathe of opinion in Israel that views Palestinians – even Palestinian citizens – as the enemy.

The measures being “held back”, as Dayan phrased it, could include not only more state-backed violence but efforts to strip the Palestinian minority of even their degraded citizenship status.

For nearly two decades, leaders of the far-right such as Avigdor Lieberman have been calling for loyalty pledges and transfer policies to undermine the rights of Palestinian citizens. The controversial nation-state law of 2018 chipped away further at those rights. The stage has already been set for a renewed assault on citizenship.

Racist laws

Lethal attacks carried out by members of Israel’s Palestinian minority, like the two that occurred in quick succession, are rare. They are invariably carried out by what Israel terms “lone wolves”, deeply disillusioned and alienated individuals, rather than organised by Palestinian movements inside Israel.

The Palestinian minority has preferred to deal with the systematic discrimination and oppression of living as a non-Jewish population in a self-declared Jewish state using the limited legal and political tools at its disposal.

Dozens of explicitly racist laws have been challenged in the courts, even if with minimal success. The minority has increasingly lobbied the international community for help, calls that have embarrassed Israel.

Over the past year, more and more human rights and legal groups have come forward declaring that Israel is an apartheid state, both in the occupied territories and inside Israel itself. The structural discrimination exposed by the Palestinian minority has played a crucial part in helping these organisations reach such a severe conclusion.

Leaders like Bennett, therefore, have every reason to try to exaggerate the significance posed by these attacks, suggesting as he did this week that they are part of a new “terror wave“. He has vowed to expand the scope of draconian administration detention orders – imprisonment without charge or evidence made public – to deal with this supposed wave.

Making the case more plausible for him, the three Palestinian citizens involved in the two attacks – in Beersheba and Hadera – had loose affiliations with the Islamic State (IS) group.

Grain of salt

But in reality, while the three perpetrators appear to have had ideological sympathy with IS – one even tried unsuccessfully to reach a training camp in Syria in 2016 – the group has no meaningful presence in the Palestinian population, either in the occupied territories or in Israel.

Identification with IS among a tiny section of the Palestinian public peaked five years ago, when the group looked like it might be offering a successful model for unseating the region’s corrupt and sclerotic Arab tyrants. IS’s failures and its brutality soon eroded even that small pool of support.

Assessments are that, despite its intensive spying and surveillance of Palestinians on social media, Israel has been able to identify only a few dozen IS supporters, who are in its prisons. Even in those cases, most have been detained because of ideological sympathy with the group, not because of tangible ties.

And in any case, IS has never expressed any pressing interest in attacks on Israel. A statement in 2016 made clear that the group prioritised struggle against Muslim governments that had, in its view, broken with the central tenets of Islam.

By contrast, Islamist Palestinian factions are committed to liberating the Palestinian homeland, not trying to reinvent a mythic golden era of unified Islamic rule across the Middle East. They are Palestinian national liberation movements, not jihadists.

For that reason alone, the claim by IS of responsibility for the two attacks needs to be taken with a large grain of salt. The group has an incentive to suggest involvement in the attacks because they coincided with the arrival in Israel last week of leaders of four Arab states – Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco – for a summit.

These Arab states – and others waiting in the wings – wish to make Israel the linchpin of a new shared regional security and intelligence pact designed to prevent threats to their rule, including a revival of the Arab Spring.

For IS supporters, the move is yet another humiliation, and proof of the illegitimacy of the region’s Arab autocracies.

Double whammy

These attacks were carried out by lone wolves – and in one case, a pair of lone wolves – who have become increasingly desperate, angry and vengeful after decades of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, and the complicity and betrayal by western and Arab governments.

The attackers’ surge of rage coincided with one part of the agenda of IS. But in their case, the roots penetrate much deeper.

The Palestinian perpetrators from Israel did not need indoctrination by the foreign leadership of IS to carry out their attacks. They had plenty of homegrown reasons to want to strike out – no different from the “lone-wolf” Palestinian from the West Bank who carried out a third attack near Tel Aviv but had no ties to IS.

Decades of brutal military rule in the occupied territories and systematic discrimination and oppression inside Israel were the real causes.

One cannot overlook either the double whammy from Israel against the more devout section of Israel’s Palestinian minority.

First, the best organised and most politically astute religious party in Israel, the Northern Islamic Movement under Sheikh Raed Salah, was outlawed in 2015. Israeli critics, even within the security establishment, warned at the time that the move would drive some Islamic protest underground and encourage greater extremism.

And second, the rival Southern Islamic Movement, under Mansour Abbas, threw its hand in with Bennett last summer to oust Netanyahu from power. Abbas’s party became the first to join an Israeli government, in return for a few crumbs from the far right.

Both developments have left devout Muslims who oppose Israel’s occupation and the crushing of Palestinian rights with no serious, legitimate channel for protest. They have been disempowered and humiliated – ready conditions to provoke a fringe into staging violent attacks of the kind seen in the past few days.

And to add insult to injury, Abbas’ party is supporting a government that this week allowed a virulently anti-Palestinian legislator, Itamar Ben Gvir, to tour the sacred Muslim holy site of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem under heavily armed protection. Ben Gvir wants the mosque plaza under Jewish sovereignty.

Wrong lesson

There is a lesson here that Israel willfully ignores, just as the western states who serve as its patron do too.

If you treat populations with structural violence, if you strip them of rights, if you demean and humiliate them, and if you deny them a voice in their future, you cannot be surprised – even less maintain a self-righteousness – when some lash out with their own forms of violence against you.

The wrong, self-serving lesson Israel will learn – as it has for decades – is that the correct response must be greater violence, greater humiliation, and an intensified demand for submission. The oppression will continue, as will the resistance.

The West’s unlimited support for Israel, and the Arab autocracies that are now openly cosying up to Israel, has a cost. Dismissing it as simply the savagery of IS may offer reassurance. But it will not stop the pressure from building – or the explosion to come.

First published in Middle East Eye

The post Israel is stoking a Civil War Against its Palestinian Citizens first appeared on Dissident Voice.