Category Archives: Discrimination

How Andrew Cuomo Helped Destroy Public Housing

During a sunny Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, reporters gathered anxiously outside of the monolithic Taft Houses in East Harlem waiting for the day’s main attraction: Governor Andrew Cuomo. When he finally arrived, in grand fashion with a posse of local politicians behind him, reporters were treated to an exclusive tour of some of the decaying apartments in the enormous complex. New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has been in a state of crisis over the past year dealing with a massive budget deficit of $286.6 million as well as being rocked by a lead paint scandal that saw the firing of top officials. Responding to the crisis, Cuomo has positioned himself as NYCHA’s savior in chief.

During the tour with reporters, the governor examined the plethora of problems plaguing the nearly 600,000 residents who depend on public housing in an ever more unaffordable city. From pealing paint, water leaks, vermin infestation and broken appliances the governor was given a firsthand look at the inhuman conditions many New Yorkers are forced to endure.

“There is no one who will see what I saw and allow it to continue”, the Governor said.  Later he said that the state of the disrepair was utterly “disgusting”.

After the tour Cuomo gave an impassioned speech and held a press conference with residents who were oddly wearing orange hats reading in bold print “TENANTS UNITED”, an obvious jab at Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hat. In his speech Cuomo vowed to take action by pledging an additional $250 million on top of the $300 million he already promised to invest in New York’s public housing stock. He made sure to remind reporters even though “the state has no financial responsibility” to fund NYCHA, he was going to fight to secure the funds anyway.

Refusing to take any responsibility for the crisis, Cuomo blasted the mayor for his inaction and challenged President Trump to put his money where his mouth is

“If he really wants to make America great again he should show the people more money,” Cuomo said.

The whole event seemed to be an elaborate photo op with the intention of portraying the governor as the great white hope for the majority color NYCHA residents.  It was an attempt of heroic posturing by an opportunist politician with presidential ambitions. His speech came across as self-serving and pompous. He also absolved himself of any blame for the crisis and acted as if he were surprised by the decay he saw even though he played a role in that decay.

“At one time, NYCHA was the model of public housing, and now conditions are at the worst they’ve ever been” he said. “Tenants living in these intolerable, inhumane conditions need help now – not in four years, and this administration is taking action to ensure a brighter future for New Yorkers,”

Cuomo’s allusions to the heyday of public housing and its prospects for a “brighter future” is rather ironic given the significant role Cuomo played in the federal divestment and dismantling of public housing across the country. The governor failed to mention that as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Cuomo oversaw the wholesale destruction of public housing in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore and Philadelphia. During the Clinton Administration Cuomo served as Secretary of HUD from 1997-2001. Before that he served as the Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development from 1993-1997. During his tenure, HUD underwent major policy shifts in accordance with the rise of the post-Cold War national neoliberal agenda that saw the decline in union membership, cuts to social safety nets, deregulation of the financial sector and the privatization of the public sector. Clinton’s HUD was no longer in the business of building public housing nor its upkeep. Making this perfectly clear during his campaign for president in 1992, Clinton portrayed himself as “a new Democratic” who was tough on crime and was keen to “end welfare as we have come to know it”. His White House began pushing major right wing “reforms” that made Ronald Regan look like FDR. One of Clinton’s most damaging attacks on poor and working-class Americans was the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA) that ended “welfare as we know it” and effectively make poverty a crime.

It was this pathological attitude towards the working-class and the poor that governed the policies that Cuomo actively supported as Secretary of HUD. As Assistant Secretary and then Secretary Cuomo oversaw the destruction of over 100,000 public housing units across the nation. Out of all the cities impacted Chicago was hit the hardest. In Chicago alone 60,000 people lost their housing along with their sense of community. HOPE VI, first implemented in phases back in 1992, was the federal program that incentivized cities to privatize their public housing by subsidizing mixed income developments. The policy became law in 1998 with the passage of the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act, leading to the accelerated demolition of public housing.

Another consequence of HOPE VI was the criminalization of public housing residents. Clinton promoted the false idea that public housing was infested with criminal gangs that were terrorizing helpless residents. He insisted upon a “One strike, you’re out” policy that would evict any public housing resident convicted of a crime. Six months after the passage of HOPE VI into law 3,847 people were evicted from public housing. Housing developments across the country saw a dramatic 84% increase in the number of evictions. HOPE VI left thousands of mostly black and Latino Americans hopelessly wondering why yet again their government was at war with them. It was not the first time urban America was displaced because of federal policy. Back in the 1960’s the federal government implemented the controversial Urban Renewal policies that reshaped the landscape of American cities. Local governments with federal approval sized land through eminent domain under the guise of slum clearance. Civil Rights activists were appalled at the hundreds of thousands of forced evictions and the destruction of historical black communities.

“Most Northern cities now are engaged in something called urban renewal, which means moving the Negroes out.” Author James Baldwin eloquently said. “It means Negro removal, that is what it means. The federal government is an accomplice to this fact.” HOPE VI is the modern equivalent.

As the public face of HUD, Cuomo’s role was to sell Americans on “negro removal” in a palatable way. The language used to justify HOPE VI was never overtly racist. In fact, HOPE VI was marketed as the best way to undo the mistakes made by previous HUD policies. Increasingly public housing was viewed, and still is viewed, as an antiquated policy disaster that increasingly concentrated poor people in isolated housing blocks. The problems of public housing had nothing to do, according to HUD, with underfunding and neglect. The blame fell on the design of the buildings and the concentration of poverty. Academics such as William Julius Wilson and Douglas S. Massey provided the research backing up the claims that the concentration of the poor lead to the supposed failure of public housing. If that were true, then the solution seemed simple: break up public housing. However, many academics have called concentrated poverty a myth that hurts the poor

“The theory of concentrated poverty is based on a faulty theoretical premise—namely, that concentrated poverty can be severed from its root causes and projected as the focal point of social policy” Distinguished Professor Stephen Steinberg at Queens College said. “It’s rather like diagnosing a melanoma as a blemish and treating it with a palliative.”

Still poverty as pathology served as the ideological impetus that justified the neoliberal destruction of public housing. Its outcome saw a large-scale land grab that transferred public land serving the public good into private hands for corporate profits. All of which was administered by the now governor Andrew Cuomo.  To this day Cuomo believes the myth of concentrated poverty and its supposed key role in the “failure” of public housing. In his book All Things Possible Cuomo said that “the projects are an example of good government gone bad. The people the government is trying to help are actually going to be hurt, and when it fails, it will destroy the surrounding neighborhood.”

In the speech he gave outside of the Taft Houses, Cuomo said that public housing was “really a home-to-prison pipeline.” And that crime starts “in the neighborhood. It starts in the housing complex, and it starts many times in public housing.”

Cuomo’s disdain for government-funded public housing was reflected in the polices he enacted while he was secretary of HUD. Instead of advocating for the construction of more public housing Cuomo was an avid cheerleader in its destruction. It’s their place. He publicly endorsed privately run mixed income developments that didn’t nearly begin to replace the housing that was lost. He promoted free market solutions to addressing urban decay with such schemes as the expansion of the Empowerment Zone Program (EZ). In a nutshell EZ’s incentivized business to locate to predominately black and Latino intercity communities by providing corporate income tax credits, property tax abatements, and other tax exemptions with the idea of spurring economic growth and providing poor people with jobs. It also allocated funds to non-profit social service agencies. Cities such as Baltimore were desperate for federal assistance and enthusiastically joined the program with mixed results. One study found that the program actually cost city governments $2.5 billion in tax revenue. Some Baltimore residents found the program to be undemocratic and failed to address or take into account the real needs in the community.

“The process must reflect a true perception of neighborhood needs from those who live there,” Baltimore native Leonard Jackson said.

In a 2001 study Howard Samuels State Management and Policy Center found that EZ’s programs were complete failures “Our findings suggest the EZ program has fallen far short of its stated goals” they said. “In fact, little changed in any of the cities or Zones with regard to the major goals set forth in the legislation and the regulations outlined by HUD.”

Besides Empowerment Zones there is some evidence to suggest that Cuomo’s polices at HUD may have contributed to the 2008 subprime mortgage bubble. Senator Jon Corzine believed that HUD’s policy goals throughout the 1990’s was focused on “integrating lower-income communities into the free market and creating renewal initiatives that spur private sector investment in both urban and rural communities.”

He goes on to say that “HUD has also helped America reach its highest homeownership rate ever–67.7%–and in the process helped African-American and Latino households attain record levels of homeownership.”

HUD achieved that homeownership rate by making a deal with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase the number of loans purchased by low-income borrowers. By greatly inflating the numbers Cuomo’s shortsighted tactics contributed in part to the Great Recession as well as the loss of the overall net worth for black families. From the years 2007-10 black wealth declined by 30% as a result of the economic crisis. After 2009 black median wealth fell from $12,124 a year to $5,677 a year. By comparison white median wealth fell from $134,992 annually to $113,149. Clearly Cuomo’s plan for “integrating lower-income communities into the free market” ended up becoming a nightmare for low-income black Americans.

All this to say for a man who now wants to make himself the avenger of public housing. Cuomo’s track record alone should make public housing residents run from his very presence at their door steps. None of this even takes into account the damage he has done as Governor of New York. Alarmingly at his press conferences over the past few weeks Cuomo has hinted and threatened to have the state directly take over NYCHA. Giving Cuomo more power over NYCHA is like making the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Who is to say what plans the governor might have to fix public housing. It would be easy for him to begin full scale privatization efforts under the guise of city mismanagement of the crisis. A crisis that could have been averted back in 2015 when Mayor De Blasio requested that the state provide $100 million in emergency funding for roof repair. Cuomo refused to fork over the cash unless the money was used for cosmetic upgrades such as landscaping and playground equipment. Now, three years later the governor wants to swoop in to NYCHA’s rescue? It would be wise for New Yorkers to be suspicious of the governor’s intentions. Public housing should not be used as a pawn in a political game for power. If Cuomo wants to truly help New Yorkers living in public housing, he would fully invest in a public housing Marshall Plan not more back door privatization.

Soul on Ice Goes to College, and the Murder of Dr. King

Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are enriched beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change, we are going to have to change the system.

— Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967

The murder of Dr. King on April 4, 1968, marked a  sea change in black America’s long, tortuous sojourn in this nation-state.  Of course, assassination of black leaders and sympathizers has been a mainstay of American life from even before this country’s inception.  Still, the Civil Rights and Black Power era of the ’50s and ’60s featured an especially gruesome series of murders that included, to name only a few of the most spectacular:

November 22, 1963,  A date seared into everybody’s consciousness.  We watched on live TV half of President John Kennedy’s head get blown off on that mid-morning in Dallas.

Robert F. Kennedy’s gut-wrenching take-down in Los Angeles a mere six weeks after Dr. King’s assassination.

Medgar Evers (top state NAACP executive) collapsed into a pool of his own blood under the relentless rain of rifle and shotgun fire on the steps of his own Mississippi home, also in ’63. Evers’ killing fit seamlessly between the rhythmic drumbeats of black church bombings across the south.

Then, on February 21 of 1965,  Malcolm X’s enormous black heart was  shredded by gunfire as he stood on stage in Harlem’s famed Audubon Ballroom.

Since 1955, I have been troubled by an indefinable pain as the sad, sad saga of the lynching of Emmett Till, in a place ominously called Money, Mississippi, played out on our eight-inch Motorola television set.  As a small child, I listened hard with little understanding while my elders recalled some of our own kinfolk who, unlike them, had opted to stay in the south (or had failed to escape) and therefore suffered fates identical to Emmett Till’s and so many faceless, nameless others.

Each of these murderous moments presented to our black consciousness as earth-rending points in time. But, again, none of these past or ongoing days and nights of terror affected, changed, black America as profoundly as the wholly expected, public, and unspeakably brutal execution of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1968:  How to Avoid  the “Paralysis of Analysis”

I was a  junior at Indiana University’s main campus in Bloomington in that revolutionary year.  Our mass marches, demonstrations and protests, walk-outs, stand-ups, sit-ins, lay-ins,  strikes, boycotts, and occupation of buildings paralleled and, more often than not, spearheaded the campus Hippies’, Yippies’, etc. assorted protests.  They, understandably, were offended by the Vietnam War, and inspired by a renewed white Women’s Liberation Movement.

We black students protested unjust and racially discriminatory practices and policies of the University itself – especially its abominable admissions policy. There were 500 black students on this, the state of Indiana’s flagship and largest state-supported university, a campus of 29,000 students.  There were just three black professors, not one of whom was tenured. And, naturally, there were no courses, let alone curricula, which even pretended to address the 400-year-old history and contemporary lived experience of black folk in this nation-state.  Thus, another of our non-negotiable demands was establishment of a degree-granting Black Studies Department.

We refused to allow our protests to be dismissed as momentary expressions of youthful exuberance. Through our marches, meetings, poetry slams, and classes, we questioned the fundamental assumptions of the University, especially its historical embrace of white supremacy/white racism. And, in concert with the anti-War movement, we challenged those who provided the financial wherewithal for corporations like Dow Chemical to do its lethal, on-campus research for napalm gas, which engulfed untold millions of Vietnamese in excruciating, fiery injury and death. We were at war, all right…at war with campus honchos who made peace with the war, and who were more committed to keeping peace on campus rather than in exploring the ways in which the University collaborated with the war efforts and its deliberate mis-education of all its students.

“Soul on Ice” Goes to College

In late ’67, Indiana University’s Black Theater Workshop was organized by black students to produce plays, poetry and nonfiction that addressed this nation-state’s real history, our present condition, and hoped-for revolutionary future. We breathed deeply, freely, of the burgeoning Black Arts Movement as it raced through the blackosphere like a fast-moving river. Those black tributaries flowed from, to, and back again through Harlem, Gary, Oakland, Madison, Watts, Ann Arbor, Chicago’s South and West Sides, Ohio’s Central State University, and New Jersey’s newly christened “New Ark.”

Our literary high priests and priestesses included, but were by no means limited to:  Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, Hoyt Fuller, Maya Angelou, Ishmael Reed, Rosa Guy, Sterling A. Brown, LeRoi Jones, Richard Wright, and, of course, the Master of them all, James Baldwin.

In ’68, the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Information published a black-busting tome entitled Soul On Ice. Eldridge Cleaver had done lots of California prison time, mainly for rape and robbery; but he was a powerful, even essential essayist.  Soul On Ice provided a first-hand look at the Panthers sans the usual establishment media bias.  Soul on Ice also chronicled Cleaver’s own astounding rise from prison inmate to Ramparts Magazine’s star, revolutionary writer.  

The BTW converted Cleaver’s book into a play.  Because his life and persona were so deeply conflicted, we divided the “Eldridge Cleaver” character into three parts:  The Rapist; The Revolutionary; and The Writer. Guess which part I played.

The Murder of Dr. King

On April 4, 1968, I was hiking – sans umbrella – across IU’s idyllic campus to play rehearsal. A light, steady Spring rain began to fall, so I decided to cut through the blocks-long Student Union building.

I passed through the giant cafeteria and approached an open-area TV lounge.  A large group of students stood gathered around a television. I stopped, but could hear only  muffled voices. Just as I came up directly behind them, Walter Cronkite said, “….and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.”

The students before me burst into loud, raucous whistles, hoots, and applause.  They cheered.  I stood directly behind them and watched and listened in open-mouthed shock….dumbfounded – not at the heart-stopping news  – that had not had time to register – but at the utterly appalling scene unfolding right before my eyes.

I never saw the TV screen and could no longer hear it.  I stared at the backs of these my fellow students for what seemed a long moment as some of them began to guffaw and slap each other’s backs.

Slowly….ever so slightly, the laughter began to subside.  And then, en masse, they turned their faces in my direction — as though they shared a single neck.  Their toothy, ear-to-ear grins looked weird, distorted. I could sense – feel –  sharp-edged daggers of hate radiating from them.  I could see their disgust at not just my presence among them but at my very existence. It was clear that I had intruded upon an electronic lynching and had inadvertently disrupted their blood lust.  It was only then, however, that I noticed the thing that has come back to haunt me each and every 4th of April since that night:  Every single one of these faces was “white.”

I dared not turn my back to these people.  I tentatively began walking backwards, furtively eying each one of them as I carefully placed one foot behind the other.  I made it out into the hallway and then sprinted to the nearest exit.

“Burn, Baby, Burn!” versus Learn, Baby, Learn!

I arrived at our director’s off-campus apartment soaking wet.  She was a strikingly beautiful, jet-black East Indian political science PhD. candidate, a devotee of both Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi. Although she was East Indian, she “identified” completely with “black” Americans. Indeed, she was so dark-complected (black) that when the sun touched her skin just right, she actually sparkled.

Standing there, just inside her pad, dripping onto the threshold, I watched  the girls gathered around the TV sobbing uncontrollably, hysterically. The guys, enraged, walked around the place pounding their fists into their hands, “We gotta get ’em!  We gotta get ’em,” they alternately mumbled or shouted. “How could they kill him?!” somebody said. “Not this man!”

The TV began showing scenes of riots breaking out across the country:   Chicago was ablaze; New York; L.A.; St. Louis; Detroit, even staid Indianapolis.  Later, we learned that over 110 cities had gone up that night.

“We can’t meet violence with violence,” the director said finally.  “If we even try,” she continued, “we will lose. They’ve got all the guns.”

“Not this one!,” a brother said, pulling out a shiny snub-nosed .38 pistol.

“Put that thing away!”, she ordered.  “The last thing Dr. King would want you young people to do is commit violence in his name,” she declared.  “Let’s use our heads! All of you must stay in school and graduate.  It’s more important now than ever before that we complete and present this play.”

Like so many other black people, that night changed my life.  I was one person before Dr. King’s murder, and a completely different person afterwards.

Racial Preferences: Peter Dutton and White South African Farmers

It has been the great misfit Australian policy since the 1990s: a refugee and immigration policy that shows itself to be scrupulously fair, calculable and clean.  Nothing shall be permitted to sully this presumption.  Even as refugees and asylum seekers gather dampness, decay and depression in Pacific camps, the Australian immigration policy shall remain, like Caesar’s wife, above reproach.

The comments of Australia’s Peter Dutton who resembles, with each passing day, a plumed and emboldened commissar, have given political figures pause for thought.  Openly, and without reservation, the Home Affairs Minister decided to bank for a particular racial group in the immigration stakes, namely those poor oppressed white farmers of South Africa.

This goes against the policy of ethnic caution and racial neutrality, albeit ensconced behind the customary prejudices typical of all stances on immigration.  Here was the most direct expression of race and culture as twin categories.

Dutton preferred the language of “special attention” for specifically white South African farmers suffering what he deemed to be “horrific circumstances”.  He spoke of damning footage and lurid stories.  They, he explained, needed protection from a “civilised country”.  South African farmers would be a good fit in Australia, integrating (note the stab against certain refugees) and avoiding the welfare rolls.  Perversely enough, the mantle of guardianship – that of Afrikaners overseeing the civilising mission in South Africa – seemed to have moved to the confused Dutton.

As a key proponent of apartheid, the South African prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd, would enunciate in February 1960, it was the white men who were “the people… who brought civilisation here, who made possible the present development of black nationalisation by bringing the natives education, by showing them the Western way of life, by bringing Africa industry and development, by inspiring them with the ideals which Western civilisation has developed for itself.”

Dutton’s remarks fell on the ears of the furious.  Ian Rijsdijk of the University of Cape Town’s Media Studies Centre found the remarks “incredibly retrograde.”  “The majority African population regard a reference to civilisation,” piped South African advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, “as an insult.”

Spokesman for South Africa’s Foreign Ministry, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, claimed in a statement that, “There was no reason for any Government anywhere in the world to suspect that any South African is in danger from their own democratically elected Government.  That threat simply does not exist.”

In fairness, the minister’s intervention had already been forecast by party machinations at the state level some months prior.  The West Australian Liberal Party had chewed over the issue of those colonial hangovers in South Africa and Zimbabwe in discussions in 2017.  A resolution at the party’s state council meeting last year called upon the federal government to “resettle persecuted European minorities” from those benighted states.

Not far from such considerations was the influence of South African expatriates in various seats, making their defenders sound much like advertisers pushing a flawed product.  Ian Goodenough, a WA Liberal representing the federal seat of Moore, opined to the ABC that, “Violence and suffering affects all people universally.” (This affected nonsense only extends to particular communities in such racial politics – violence is universal, but politics is particular.)  “Given our close connections to the South African community, consideration should be given to providing a quota of places.”

On March 15, the MP tweeted that “favourable consideration” be granted to “South Africans fleeing persecution who share our values and will integrate into Australian society.”  This was humanitarianism, washed marble and cultural white, with a handy number of additions to Australia’s conservative voting bloc.

Other conservatives decided to vent their fury at reports about violence against white farmers, sometimes careful to avoid racial tags and labels.  The sense behind such anger was undeniably strategic: the Coalition government is stuttering in the polls, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is looking for easy fodder.  To that end, Andrew Hastie expressed “outrage” and pressed Alan Tudge, Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, to visit his own seat of Canning.

The reasoning there, like that of a calculating Goodenough, was placating, keeping and even gathering, more conservative South African votes, a hoovering exercise of a local member thinking of the next election and whether he will survive the voter’s chop.  Dutton, claimed Hastie, was “going to hear from concerned citizens and expats about what is happening in South Africa.”

Queensland Liberal MP Andrew Laming has also gotten on the electoral stage to claim that he “called out South African politicians for their do-nothing approach to vicious attacks on farmers”. He suggested that Dutton was merely asking his department “to monitor and consider our offshore humanitarian program”.

This is not to suggest that the world of South Africa, in its post-apartheid torment, is not afflicted.  Crime and land redistribution remain enduring social headaches, though the new South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has told Parliament that “land grabs” would be intolerable, instancing moments of “anarchy”.  That said, the ownership of agricultural land in South Africa – with white South Africans having 72 percent of the portion despite making up some 8 percent of the country’s population, is an invidious formula.

The country’s politics is troubled, best exemplified by the presidential strife of the now departed Jacob Zuma.  But the hot-and-bothered gamesmanship of Dutton also ignores the role played by invigorated democratic health in South Africa itself – the movement against Zuma being evidence of it.  A civil society collective of investigative journalists, judicial officers, even police, were vital in showing that the Republic of South Africa, far being sworn enemies of civilisation, are its vigilant defenders.

Dutton’s ploy is preferential, cultural and obvious, an embrace of colonial, property-owning elites who have fallen on hard times.  His idea of civilisation, quite literally coloured, is inimical to democracy.  His adoration for the South African farmer has also had a confessional effect: behind the veneer of decent immigration policies will always be indecent preferences.

Where the Streets have No Name: Israel leaves Palestinians in Postal “Dark Age”

In the town of Umm al-Fahm, more than a third of all letters never reach their destination. Identity cards, passports and drivers’ licences go missing, welfare cheques are lost, appointments expire, and penalties mount up over unpaid fines.

GPS navigation apps like Waze fail, taxis struggle to find customers, and private delivery companies have to be met at the town’s entrance and escorted in.

It is scene of administrative chaos more appropriate for a village in remotest rural Africa than a town of 60,000 residents in central Israel, one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world.

For decades Umm al-Fahm’s 301 streets have lacked any names or house numbers. But five years after the municipality submitted a list of names for every street, Israeli government officials are still dragging their feet.

They have not yet given an official reason, but there seems little doubt about the cause of the interminable delay. The names of some 40 streets – including a Yasser Arafat Street – have enraged Israel’s right wing government.

Umm al-Fahm is the second largest Palestinian community in Israel, after Nazareth.

‘Denial of identity and history’

About a fifth of Israel’s population are Palestinians, remnants of communities that were not expelled during the Nakba – Arabic for “catastrophe”, the word Palestinians use to describe the creation of Israel on the ruins of their homeland in 1948.

But for decades, many Palestinian communities in Israel have been left in a kind of bureaucratic “dark ages”, noted Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament who lives in Umm al-Fahm.

The cause, he said, was a combination of a lack of budgets and the interior ministry’s refusal to countenance street names for Palestinian political and cultural icons.

“This goes well beyond a technical matter of problems finding where people live and sending mail,” Jabareen told Middle East Eye.

“As a minority, we don’t have control over our education system or the wider public and cultural space, so it is important that in our own communities we are able to reflect our identity, narrative and history. We need cultural and national icons just like everybody else.”

Last year, the village of Jatt, near Umm al-Fahm, ran into similar difficulties. The municipality was forced to take down signs on a street it had named for Yasser Arafat after Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared he would not allow any street to bear the late Palestinian leader’s name.

Netanyahu threatened to pass legislation to outlaw such names, if necessary, saying: “We can’t have streets named after Israel’s enemies.”

Matan Peleg, head of Im Tirzu, a far-right group that originally raised the matter with the government, argued that “Arafat’s hands are stained with blood” and called the street signs a “disgrace”.

But Jabareen countered: “Yasser Arafat was a partner in the [Oslo] peace process, he won a Nobel peace prize, and he was the internationally recognised leader of the Palestinian people.

“It is entirely reasonable for Umm al-Fahm and other communities to name a street in his honour.”

No Mahmoud Darwish Street

Among the other 40 proposed names that have been rejected for Umm al-Fahm are Mahmoud Darwish Street, for the Palestinians’ most famous poet; streets honouring previous mayors of the town; and a handful of streets named for villages razed by the Israeli army during the Nakba and from which many of Umm al-Fahm’s families were displaced.

An objection has been raised too against a street commemorating 30 March, the anniversary of Land Day in 1976, when Israeli soldiers shot dead six unarmed Palestinian demonstrators during protests against the state’s confiscation of their lands. Land Day is marked by Palestinians around the world.

Although other Palestinian communities lack street names, the situation in Umm al-Fahm is especially acute, noted Jabareen.

Almost all residents belong to one of only four extended families: Aghbariyeh, Mahajneh, Mahamid and Jabareen. With potentially hundreds of Mohammeds, Mahmouds and Ahmeds in each family, finding the right person without an address often proves impossible.

In response, Adalah, a legal centre for Israel’s Palestinian minority, sent a letter last month to Aryeh Deri, the interior minister, as well as Israel’s chief law officer, Avichai Mandelblit, demanding that the street names be approved.

According to Adalah, the interior minister has exceeded his legal authority by blocking the names, effectively holding the town to ransom.

Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, told MEE: “Municipalities are required to inform the interior ministry of the street names they have selected, but the law does not authorise the interior ministry to veto them.”

She said the ministry was able to exploit its position because municipalities were dependent on the government for part of their budgets and for services.

The interior ministry, however, denied that it was overstepping its authority. “The ministry is allowed to examine, and in some cases even to intervene, in a decision by a local authority to decide on street names,” it said in a statement.

Jewish ‘terrorists’ honoured

Without addresses, Umm al-Fahm’s residents have had to rely on postal boxes. But the Israeli authorities have failed to provide enough boxes, leaving thousands of families without an address.

In Israel’s largest Palestinian city, Nazareth, most streets also lack names. It has avoided the interior ministry’s stranglehold by issuing many streets with numbers instead.

Palestinian leaders in Israel have accused the interior ministry of a double standard, noting that a large number of streets in Jewish communities bear the names of controversial historic figures.

Some were viewed as “terrorists” either by British Mandate authorities that ruled the area before Israel’s creation or by Israel’s founders themselves.

The towns of Or Akiva and Ashkelon have named streets for Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose vehemently anti-Arab Kach party was listed as a terrorist organisation by the FBI. One of his prominent followers, Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli army doctor, massacred 29 Muslims at worship in Hebron in 1994.

Many streets bear the name of two pre-state paramilitary groups responsible for killing civilians: the Lehi and the Irgun, also known by the Hebrew acronym “Etzel”.

The Irgun famously blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 people, and carried out the Deir Yassin massacre, the most notorious single attack on a Palestinian community during the Nakba. It led to mass flight by Palestinians from their homes.

Lehi, meanwhile, regularly mounted lethal attacks on British soldiers and had a history of killing Jewish women who dated them.

Its leader, Avraham Stern, known by the nickname “Yair” was the inspiration for a new town dedicated in the early 1980s, Kochav Yair. Stern also has streets in his honour in many towns, including Petah Tikva and Kefar Sava.

Former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, who has streets, schools and medical centres named after him, was commander of the Lehi in 1948 when it killed Folke Bernadotte, a mediator in Palestine for the United Nations.

Rafael Eitan bridge at the entrance to Nazareth, named after an Israeli general who called Palestinians ‘drugged cockroaches’ (copyright: Jonathan Cook)

And when an elevated road to Nazareth was opened a few years ago, Israeli officials named it “Rafael Eitan” bridge, despite vehement objection from city leaders. Eitan, an Israeli general, famously advocated treating Palestinians like “drugged cockroaches” and founded an anti-Arab party.

‘Linguistic cleansing’

Like the residents of Umm al-Fahm, some 330,000 Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem have faced a series of battles over street signs.

Israel has been gradually replacing road signs using the Arabic term for Jerusalem, “al Quds”, with the Hebrew name “Yerushalayim” transliterated into Arabic.

Writing on the Israeli website Haokets, a Palestinian researcher of the Nakba, Umar al-Ghubari, observed that the Israeli authorities had erased Palestinian signs to make Palestinians “feel foreign” in their homeland.

“This is not your country, this is the country of the Jews – the signs report to us,” he wrote. “The process of linguistic cleansing … complements the acts of ethnic cleansing [of the Nakba].”

In recent years East Jerusalem has started being issued with its first street names after a leading human rights group, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), petitioned the Israeli supreme court over the lack of postal services there.

But Nisreen Alyan, a lawyer for ACRI, said East Jerusalem’s Palestinians had been forced to restrict the names to flowers, animals and stars to get them approved.

“It has taken more than 40 years of struggle to get street names for East Jerusalem,” she told MEE.

Even so, observed Alyan, 30 streets were awarded Hebrew names by the Jerusalem municipality, highlighting Biblical and Jewish connections. These were mostly in Palestinian areas such as Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, where Jewish settlers are trying illegally to take over homes and land.

Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, warned at the time that the measure was part of “ongoing efforts to Judaise al-Quds and falsify history”.

Bill to downgrade Arabic

Alyan said it was important to put the problems over signs into a wider context. Most Jewish communities and public institutions had avoided translating Hebrew signs or documents into Arabic, even though Arabic is an official language and the mother tongue of a fifth of the population.

She noted that there had been a storm of protest recently after a popular TV show, Fauda, about Israeli soldiers operating undercover in Palestinian areas, put up billboards in Jewish communities promoting the programme in Arabic. The posters had to be taken down.

“Right now there is a struggle over the status of the Arabic language in Israel,” she said, referring to a Basic Law the government is currently drafting to declare Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

“The government wants to downgrade Arabic from its position as an official language. It would prefer to exclude Arabic from all public space.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

Israeli Parliament Endorses Final Version of “Jewish Nation-State Bill”

After seven years of delays, the Israeli governing parties have agreed the final terms of controversial new legislation that would define Israel exclusively as “the nation-state of the Jewish people”.

The bill is now expected to be fast-tracked through the Israeli parliament and on to the statute books in the coming weeks.

Approval by the parliament’s justice committee this week of the Basic Law, which carries much greater weight than normal legislation, marks a dangerous turning-point for Palestinians, according to analysts.

Amir Ohana, the committee’s chair, called it the “law of all laws”, while a government minister termed it “Zionism’s flagship bill”.

It effectively blocks any chance for Israel’s large Palestinian minority – one in five of the population – to reform Israel in the future into a normal, Western-style democracy.

In the words of one of the handful of Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament, Aida Touma-Suleiman, the bill “institutionalises an apartheid regime in the most blatant way”.

But equally significantly, and largely unnoticed, the Basic Law paves the way for Israel’s right-wing government to consolidate and expand the annexation of Palestinian lands under occupation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – and stymie any legal moves intended to prevent such efforts.

Arabic demoted

The weight of expectations on the new bill is part of the reason it has undergone such a lengthy
process of redrafting since a first version was introduced in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

The proposed Basic Law has attracted scrutiny chiefly for the unconcealed nature of its anti-democratic provisions.

The final version approved this week demotes the status of Arabic – the mother tongue of one-fifth of Israel’s citizens – so that it is no longer an official language alongside Hebrew.

It also promotes Jewish communities that strictly enforce rules to exclude Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens. It reiterates Israel’s mission to “ingather the exiles”, restricting immigration to Jews only, and prioritises the rights of Jews abroad over those of the country’s Palestinian minority.

Most significant of all, it dispenses with any “democratic” component in Israel’s self-definition. Israel’s “Jewishness” is made paramount.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who maintains close ties to Netanyahu, observed of the bill: “It will bring order, clarify what is taken for granted and put Israel back on the right path. A country that is different from all others in one way – that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

Court challenges

As Levin suggests, while there is little ostensibly new in the bill, it “clarifies” and shores up Israel’s current anomalous political makeup.

The Arabic language is already invisible in most public spaces in Israel. Some 93 percent of Israel’s land is already reserved exclusively for the Jewish people around the world, not Israel’s citizens. The Law of Return already allows only Jews to immigrate.

And many critics, including Israeli scholars, argue it is impossible for Israel to be both “Jewish and democratic” – any more than it could be “white and democratic” or “Christian and democratic”. They describe Israel as a non-democratic type of state known as an “ethnocracy”.

So why go to such trouble to legislate the current bill when it changes so little?

There are several urgent impulses behind the Basic Law.

In part, it is the right’s response to a series of embarrassing legal and political challenges that have needed to be faced down since Israel passed a Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity in 1992.

After the law defined Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”, legal rights groups initiated challenges in the courts for Israel to respect equality.

That gradually exposed the unresolvable contradictions between the state’s “Jewish and democratic” claims, according to Ahmad Saadi, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva.

Jewish-only communities

The first major crisis arrived at the Israeli supreme court in 2000, when a Palestinian citizen, Adel Kaadan, sued to be allowed to live in one of Israel’s 700 exclusively Jewish communities. Each community had set up a so-called “admissions committee” specifically to block access for Palestinian citizens.

Lawyers argued that, in excluding 20 percent of its population from almost all land in Israel, the state was enforcing residential apartheid.

The judges agonised over the case for years. In 2011, Netanyahu’s government finally took the court off this hook by giving the committees a statutory basis.

But the reverberations are still being felt. Last month, the far-right justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, cited the Kaadan case as a reason for the nation-state Basic Law, saying: “It’s all right for a Jewish community to, by definition, be only Jewish.

“There is place to maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights,” she added.

Demand for reform

Political challenges have compounded the legal ones. In 2006, Palestinian leaders in Israel produced a document, the Future Vision, demanding that Israel reform from being a Jewish state into a civic democracy. They urged that Israel become a “consensual democracy”, where all citizens had equal rights.

In a highly unusual move, the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police agency, responded in public. They called the document “subversive” and warned they would “thwart” any activity, even if legal, to promote its aims.

Since then, the figurehead of the democratisation campaign, Azmi Bishara, has been forced into exile, accused of treason.

Israel has also passed a series of measures to weaken the standing of Palestinian politicians in parliament, including an Expulsion Law that allows Jewish legislators to oust Palestinian colleagues.

Saadi, the professor, told Al Jazeera: “The Israeli right understands the international political climate and believes it is far more conducive to violations of human rights and overt racism than it was a decade ago.

“It senses the direction the wind is now blowing.”

Judges’ hands to be tied

Additionally, Shaked, the justice minster, has linked the Jewish Nation-State Bill to revisions she is making to another constitutional-type Basic Law, one dealing with legislation.

Jafar Farah, head of Mossawa, an advocacy group for Israel’s Palestinian citizens, pointed out this would allow the governing coalition to reverse any ruling by the Israeli supreme court against a piece of legislation, even if it violated human rights. The court’s powers of judicial review would be voided.

“This legislation will tie the judges’ hands,” Farah told Al Jazeera. “They won’t be able to intervene in government decisions.”

In a Facebook post, Shaked said she was undoing the “constitutional revolution” instituted by the 1992 Basic Law on Freedom and Human Dignity – or in her words, “realigning the train track that was twisted a quarter-century ago”.

She added: “In the past 20 years court rulings have sharpened the universal values more than the state’s Jewish character.”

Tailwind from Trump

Which alludes to a likely second ambition for the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law. The restraining hand of the supreme court will be lifted just as the Israeli right enjoys the tailwind of US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Farah noted Israel has still not decided on its territorial limits.

“Israel refuses to define its borders and then states through this Basic Law that only the Jewish people have a ‘unique right to self-determination’ in the region,” he said.

That could open the door to Israel consolidating its hold on occupied East Jerusalem and accelerating a policy of creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank.

Trump is preparing to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, pre-empting in Israel’s favour one of the traditional final-status issues that were supposed to be settled in peace talks with the Palestinians.

At the same time, Israel is drafting legislation that would strip tens of thousands of Palestinians of their residency rights in East Jerusalem, while annexing parts of the West Bank to Jerusalem to skew the city’s demography towards a solid Jewish majority.

In the words of Nir Hasson, a veteran Israeli reporter on Jerusalem: “The Israeli political system has already understood that Jerusalem is an anomaly that has to be solved.” It intends, therefore, to provide a solution that refuses to “recognise the place of the Palestinians in the city”.

Proving Hasson’s point, the parliament passed last week a law empowering the government to expel Palestinians from Jerusalem.

Precondition for talks

These violations of human rights and international law would be hard for the supreme court to stomach.

But if the Israeli government carries on its current path, the courts will soon have no say on such matters, observed Farah.

The new Jewish Nation-State Basic Law may offer other advantages, Saadi pointed out.

Netanyahu has been trying to impose a precondition on peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinian leader first recognise Israel as a Jewish state. In recent years, Washington has sounded as if it accepts this idea.

By stripping Israel of even a pretension towards democratic principles, Netanyahu would place Abbas in an impossible position.

The new Basic Law includes all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and gives the Jewish people alone a right to self-determination in the region. No Palestinian leader could contemplate recognising a “Jewish state” defined this way.

“Neither Israel nor the US wants negotiations. They are interested only in the Palestinians submitting,” said Saadi.

Netanyahu and his allies on the right may hope to take advantage of Washington and European capitals’ blind acceptance of Israel on its own terms as a “Jewish and democratic state”.

Will they notice that through this latest piece of legislation Israel has quietly dropped the claim that a Jewish state even aspires to be “democratic”?

• First published in Al Jazeera

Old Movies and Patriarchy from the Days of HUAC and the Blacklist

Watching old movies is a journey back through time, revisiting the social attitudes of our past.  A lot has changed during the last six or seven decades, much of it for the better. Thank goodness I don’t have to wear a white shirt and necktie just to go downtown nowadays, but back in the 1950s that was the norm, the required male attire. I remember my father somewhat awkwardly putting on his dress-up clothes, struggling with his necktie. Being a former fisherman, Dad was skilled at tying all sorts of complicated knots, but that necktie was one he never quite mastered.

The differences between then and now are many, among the most significant being the gender roles.  Male dominance was the accepted norm; this comes out in most movies of the era, in some more intensely than others.  One that really lays it out thick and heavy is Fritz Lang’s 1952 film Clash by Night, produced nearly two decades before the feminist revolution of the late 1960s.

Clash by Night was filmed on location in Monterey and opens with picturesque shots of the seacoast, the fishing fleet, and Cannery Row, back then the center of a thriving fishing industry. The characters in this movie are fishing folk, the story centering on a love triangle in which Barbara Stanwyck plays a woman having an affair with her husband’s best friend. The lover, played by Robert Ryan, is an angry, cynical fellow, the kind of guy who’d seduce his best friend’s wife. The husband, Paul Douglas, is just the opposite; he’s a trustworthy, amiable guy, good-hearted but rather childlike and simple-minded. Ryan says to Stanwyck, “Your man is the salt of the earth, but he’s not the right seasoning for you.”

While Stanwyck, Douglas and Ryan are an ill-starred threesome who get things wrong, the movie also presents us with a counter-example of a couple who get things right, at least according to the ethos of the time. This couple, played by Marilyn Monroe and Keith Andes, have their conflicts, but they work things out: she accepts him as the boss, the dominant partner. Andes portrays the proper masculine ideal of that era — a guy who knows how to handle his woman and keep her in line.

Andes is Stanwyck’s younger brother; together they own a house, presumably inherited from their parents. He’s a crewman on a fishing vessel — a purse seiner. Douglas is the owner and skipper. We see the two men (Douglas and Andes) on deck, repairing nets, using the traditional wooden net-needles.

Monroe, Andes’ girlfriend, works in one of the sardine canneries along the waterfront.  We first see her and Andes together in a scene where he meets her after work and they stroll down Cannery Row, chatting as they go.  Monroe is telling Andes about a co-worker who showed up that morning with a black eye.  “That fellow she married,” Monroe says, “came down last night. Wanted her to go back upstate and live with him again. So when she wouldn’t, he just beat her up awful.”

“Well, he’s her husband,” Andes says in a matter-of-fact tone.  Here, in four short words, the movie gives us Andes’ philosophy of male entitlement.

A few scenes later they’re at the beach, where Andes playfully puts a towel around Monroe’s neck, as though to strangle her. He’s just kidding, of course, just having fun, his idea of harmless fun.  She seems to be okay with this; he now seems to have her in his grip, and it looks like she’s going to be the underdog in this relationship. (There’s a movie poster using that scene; it’s on the jacket of the DVD and also online.)

Andes strangling Monroe

Weeks and months pass. The couple become engaged, and Monroe proudly shows Stanwyck the ring she has just received from Andes. “We had a fight,” Monroe says, “and were never going to see each other again. At 10 o’clock [he] came to the house and was going to kick the door down. I never thought I’d like a guy who’d push me around.” Stanwyck admires the ring and tells Monroe that she’s made the right decision. “[He] will make you happy. He knows who he is and what he is. Some of us don’t. Always take the man who’ll kick the door down. Advice from Mama.”

Andes can be very sweet, Monroe says, but the movie doesn’t show us much of his sweetness. In scene after scene, he comes across as rigid, righteous, and abusive, a guy who could hardly be a joy to live happily ever after with, though he certainly does possess the manly qualities that were respected and perhaps even idealized in the ’50s. Or at least that’s my impression.  But what did contemporaries say about it? I went to the library.  A lot has been written about both Marilyn Monroe and Director Fritz Lang.  The film Clash by Night is mentioned in quite a few books, articles and reviews, but not much is said about the Monroe/Andes subplot.  What little I could find seemed to express approval of that relationship. A 1969 biographer of Marilyn Monroe described the Keith Andes character as “a stern young man of high ideals.” And in the view of film critic Lotte Eisner, Andes and Monroe “provide a tender comedy.”

Those are fairly old reviews; maybe the film critics, being people of their time, were oblivious to sexism. Attitudes changed radically during the feminist revolution of the 1960s. Nevertheless, Andes’ disposition does seem rather extreme, even by the standards of the early ’50s, when this movie was made, and I must wonder what could’ve motivated Director Fritz Lang to present that character as he did.

There was also Alfred Hayes, who wrote the script. I don’t know what discussions may have gone on between Lang and Hayes, but clearly, both were artists capable of putting negative traits to work in a positive way, bringing characters to life on the screen, and using the story to tell us something about the world we live in.

Relationships, not romance, is the theme of Clash by Night. Patriarchy is the kind of relationship this movie’s about, and it could be seen as intentionally promoting such values. Conversely, the exact opposite interpretation is also possible.  Could it be that Lang and Hayes subtly intended the Monroe/Andes subplot as social criticism? In considering this possibility, let’s remember that filmmakers had only limited freedom in what they could say or show on the screen. The First Amendment did not apply to film making.

Hollywood film studios were then governed by “The Code,” which required that the movie industry be “directly responsible for spiritual or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and for much correct thinking.” The Code’s notion of “correct thinking” included a bizarre list of dos and don’ts which today we can regard as ridiculous or even disgusting: Prohibitions concerning sex went to weird extremes; even married couples had to be shown sleeping separately, in twin beds. References to homosexuality were banned. Traditional religion could not be questioned. The laws of the land, including Jim Crow laws, were beyond censure.

Interracial romance or marriage was also a big no-no. When MGM made Pearl Buck’s novel The Good Earth into a movie, the studio considered Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong for the role of wife and mother. The story was about a marriage between two Asians, so an Asian actress would seem a logical choice; however, the husband’s role was played by a Caucasian actor. Even that, in the eyes of the Code, would’ve constituted an interracial romance, so to avoid such objections, actress Wong was rejected in favor of a Caucasian.

For two decades, from 1934 till 1954, the Code was rigidly enforced by Joseph Breen, a right-wing Christian moralist who inserted himself in the movie-making process at every step along the way, from start to finish. When a studio considered a novel for a movie production, it first had to get Breen’s okay. Then Breen would edit the script, censoring this or that. Finally, he’d screen the finished movie, imposing additional censorship, often butchering films, sometimes even rearranging scenes. (Ever wonder why some of those old movies contain non sequiturs, as if something were missing?) The details of Breen’s interventions were kept secret from the public till 1986 when files of censorship comments on about five thousand movies were finally released.1

Joseph Breen’s primary obsession had to do with suppressing sexual content. He was also a notorious anti-Semite.  “[T]hese damn Jews are a dirty, filthy lot,” he wrote to a colleague in 1932. “To attempt to talk ethical values to them is time worse than wasted.”  On the other hand, he was more tolerant of the Nazis, and during the rise of Hitler, managed to prevent the production of It Can’t Happen Here, The Mad Dog of Europe, and several other anti-Nazi films. A variety of right-wing pressure groups as well as the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover loved and approved of what Mr. Breen was doing. Despite such blatantly pro-fascist censoring, his tenure in office survived World War II. The end of the war found him still running the show as Hollywood’s censor-in-chief. The Cold War was beginning; that era became the heyday of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), with the jailing of the “Hollywood Ten,” and the blacklisting of actors, screenwriters and directors — a very repressive and scary time, especially for movie people.

HUAC, J. Edgar Hoover and Joseph Breen intended that Hollywood movies should serve as propaganda instruments for their agenda, and it might seem ironic that a society which touted its freedoms and democracy for all the world to see, admire and emulate would allow such totalitarians to tyrannize our film industry.  Actually, that was not an ironic anomaly; a lot more was happening behind the scenes.  There was “Operation Paperclip,” bringing hundreds of ex-Nazi scientists, engineers and intelligence experts to the U.S.  In 1947 the CIA was founded; it overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, created Operation Mockingbird to manipulate the media, and even promoted Modern Art.  All that and a whole lot more went on behind the scenes in our democracy, and speaking of democracy, or lack thereof, for black people there was Jim Crow and segregation.  Perhaps more than at any other time in our history, in the late 1940s and early 1950s we were effectively intimidated by our government.  It’s often called “the McCarthy Era,” though as bad as Senator Joe McCarthy was, his role was relatively minor.

And that’s when Clash by Night was made. The movie was based on an play by Clifford Odets, a former Communist. It was adapted for the cinema by screenwriter Alfred Hayes, also a former supporter of the Communist Party  and the poet who wrote the lyrics of “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night.” Director Fritz Lang was an Austrian whose work had already achieved fame in the German cinema. Though apparently not especially political, Lang detested Hitler and refused to work under Joseph Goebbels. So he came to America, a refugee, where he found himself under the dominion of another Joseph — Joseph Breen, who had to be somehow accommodated.

It would seem that there was not much that Lang and Hayes or anyone else could do about this censorship. Nevertheless, even under that supposedly airtight system, Hollywood filmmakers often found ways to push the envelope and outwit the censors. In the classic noir film Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade (played by Humphrey Bogart) snarls, “Keep that gunsel out of my way!” Mr. Breen apparently assumed “gunsel” meant “gunman” and let it pass. The word is used three times in the script, referring to a young guy who’s the homosexual companion of an older man.

Some movie makers found subtle ways of getting around the censors.  They might make the bad guys sympathetic and lovable while presenting authority figures as distasteful and repulsive and stupid.  Meanwhile, the messages of some movies were quite overt. High Noon is the story of a man (and his wife) who are left to face the bad guys alone; it was written by Carl Foreman as an allegory about members of the Hollywood film community who abandoned their colleagues and failed to stand up to HUAC.  Foreman was summoned by HUAC, even as he was making the movie, and his partner in this production abandoned him.  Several of the actors were also “gray” listed.  Like many blacklisted movie makers, Foreman left the country and moved to England.

Carl Foreman was not the only one to speak out.  Playwright Arthur Miller took up the theme of the Salem Witch trials and wrote The Crucible as an allegory of the HUAC hearings, implying that the honorable congressmen of that committee were a bunch of witch hunters.  Though it wasn’t made into a movie till decades later, it was produced on Broadway in 1953.  The play was popular, but not with HUAC; Miller was blacklisted and denied a passport.

Among my favorite movies of that era is The Underworld Story in which a cynical reporter winds up doing the right things for his own opportunistic reasons, fighting the privileges of corrupt mainstream newspapers.  The movie is a biting exposé of upper-class privilege, racism and the media.  I really wonder how this movie got past Joseph Breen. Well, somehow it did, but HUAC didn’t overlook it.  Director Cy Endfield, actor Howard Da Silva and screenwriter Henry Blankfort, were blacklisted.

While these and some other movie makers inserted subversive messages into their movies, sometimes subtly, occasionally openly, many more went along with the HUAC program, ratted on colleagues, named names of co-workers and friends, and made propaganda movies for the national security state.  So much of Hollywood became part of that huge propaganda machine, along with radio, newspapers and even our schools, extolling the liberties which made this country so unique, constantly telling us how fortunate we were to live in this country we could speak freely without fear of retribution from the authorities.

So, in this situation, what did director Fritz Lang and screenwriter Alfred Hayes do?  I’m suggesting that in creating Clash by Night, they conspired to present a strong social criticism of patriarchy.  And they got away with it.  Of course, it wouldn’t have been wise for them to reveal such a ploy; it could’ve gotten them in serious trouble.  Even as it was, they were both viewed with suspicion by the FBI and HUAC.

Here’s what I think happened: Hayes and Lang knew the tastes of Joseph Breen, that he would find the Monroe/Andes subplot much to his liking, considering it a wonderful example of a relationship that would serve as the proper role model for young people. So what better way to ridicule Breen, that Nazi-loving fascist, than to present his beloved patriarchal values in the form of an abusive relationship? Satire disguised as a morality play.

In scene after scene where Monroe and Andes are together, we see Andes acting out his will to dominate her.  Capping it off towards the end of the movie, there’s a scene which plays like a parody of a HUAC hearing — one of those hearings where many intimidated filmmakers cowered before their inquisitors, trying desperately to present themselves as obedient citizens.

“Listen to me, Blondie!” Andes bursts out.  He rages on, berating her. This is not a gentle, kind and considerate lover asking for a commitment. He’s a patriarchal, authoritarian figure demanding an oath of loyalty. “Now which way is it gonna be?” he barks. Monroe looks at him aghast, then sobbing, throws herself into his arms. We see the expression on her face — sad, terrified, humiliated, perhaps feeling she has no place else to go in a world where every guy who seems worth having buys into those same abusive ideals.

The tragedy in Clash by Night is that we see the Monroe character, a feisty woman who is more than able to defend herself, end up dominated, beaten down, and resigned to her diminished role. It’s an incisive look at a culture where people wind up in dead-end relationships where they’re lonely, unhappy and abused. It’s also an allegory of our society’s mistreatment and subjection of film artists.

I was only nine when this movie was made, and I don’t recall seeing it back then. But I do remember the HUAC hearings, the loyalty oath requirements, and the experience of growing up in an atmosphere where you simply did NOT criticize the government. Fear alone was not what really kept people in line. The victory in World War II, the post-war prosperity, the end of the Great Depression and the automobile, plus the A-bomb, all contributed to an incredible mystique amounting to a moral force that held people in thrall, so much so that the adults around me perceived the powers that be as our benevolent protector, as the ultimate patriarch. People wanted to be in good with them, the way Monroe wanted to be in good with her abusive boyfriend.

  1. For a two hundred-page sampling of Breen’s comments, see The Censorship Papers by Gerald Gardner.

Israel: DNA Tests May Provide Answers on Missing Babies

Thousands of Israeli families who have been searching in vain for answers since their babies mysteriously disappeared in the early 1950s – shortly after Israel’s creation – have been thrown a lifeline.

The mystery of the missing children has plagued Israel for decades, with evidence mounting that at least some of the babies were trafficked by hospitals and orphanages – possibly with the connivance of Israeli officials.

Other documents indicate some children may have died during experiments conducted by hospitals without the parents’ knowledge or consent.

The families hope two new initiatives based on DNA testing – including the opening of graves – will reveal whether their children were abducted, as many have long suspected, or died of natural causes, as Israeli officials maintain.

The vast majority of the children – potentially as many as 8,000 – were from Jewish families that had recently immigrated to Israel from Arab countries such as Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia and Morocco.

The Arab Jews, known in Israel as the Mizrahim, have faced well-documented racism and discrimination from Israeli authorities.

Three official inquiries have concluded that most of the babies died, even though many families lack death certificates and were not told where their babies were buried. A number of mothers have told of nurses seizing a healthy baby from their arms, only to inform them shortly afterwards that the baby had died.

Israeli law has also hampered efforts to reunite families by making it nearly impossible for adopted individuals who suspect they were abducted to find out who their biological parents were.

Now the two separate gene-testing initiatives promise to shed light on what happened to the babies.

Stolen babies?

The creation of a DNA database of Mizrahi Jews led to the first breakthroughs recently in matching adopted children to their long-lost families, strengthening suspicions that a significant proportion of babies were given away or sold.

Varda Fox, 67, discovered through a gene test that she had been taken from Yemeni parents in 1950 when she was a few months old. She was sent to an orphanage run by the Women’s International Zionist Organisation (WIZO), a semi-governmental charity, where she was put up for adoption.

Both Fox’s biological parents are now dead. As she was reunited with a surviving sister late last month, she told Israeli media: “I so wanted to meet my mother. It was a lifelong trauma. Tearing an infant from his mother and father causes an internal rupture.”

MyHeritage, the company overseeing the database, said Fox was one of three missing children it had located so far.

Fox’s experiences echo the findings of an investigation in 2016 by Al Jazeera into the missing babies.

It reported on Gil Grunbaum, who discovered by accident in the early 1990s that his parents, who were Holocaust survivors, were not his biological family. A few years later, and over opposition from Israeli officials, he tracked down his original family, Arab Jews who immigrated from Tunisia.

There have been a number of similar cases reported in the Israeli media.

Grunbaum told Al Jazeera: “Thank god for DNA – it is now our best hope of getting to the truth.”

He added: “The hole in the dyke cannot be closed. It will only grow bigger. There is now a huge public demand [in Israel] for information on these missing children.”

Demanding answers

Pressure has been mounting on Israel’s right-wing government to provide answers in what Israelis call the Yemenite Babies Affair. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu relies heavily on support from Mizrahi Jews.

Last summer thousands protested in Jerusalem for more urgent steps from the government to provide answers and reunite families. Organisers have also demanded that the state acknowledge its responsibility for the children’s abduction.

In response, the Israeli parliament recently passed a law allowing the families of missing babies to seek permission to open graves for DNA tests.

The first 17 families received approval to take DNA samples from the disinterred remains late last month.

A small minority of the families who suspect their babies were taken have been notified of the official burial site since a state inquiry, the Kedmi Commission, issued its findings in 2001, said Yael Tzadok, an Israeli journalist and member of the Forum for the Families of the Kidnapped Children, a group helping the families find answers.

“This is an important first step,” she told Al Jazeera. “Now we can check if a grave in the name of a specific child actually contains that child’s remains. We can test whether the state has been telling the truth in these limited number of cases.”

Experts, however, have warned that the DNA tests on the remains may prove inconclusive. Given the long delay, the DNA samples may not be viable.

Tzadok noted in the case of a mass children’s grave in Jerusalem, containing 400 bodies, new corpses were interred above the children’s graves, effectively denying the families any hope of identifying the remains.

She added that some of the children’s burial sites were already known to be bogus. Some 20 years ago, as part of the Kedmi inquiry’s investigation, a handful of graves were opened. There proved to be no correlation between the missing children and the remains found in the graves.

Grunbaum observed: “Even if all the graves we know about are opened and if all the families find their children inside – which is unlikely – that will only be a small fraction of the total. Lots of families will still be no closer to finding answers.”

Baby trade

Some 50,000 Yemeni Jews were airlifted to Israel in the state’s first 18 months alone. They and new Jewish immigrants from Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia and the Balkans were housed in temporary absorption camps for long periods.

Officials have argued that in this chaotic period, with its low standards of hygiene, many babies died of disease. The problem was compounded by medical services that were overwhelmed and failed to keep proper records.

The case of Fox, who was reunited last month with her sister, Ofra Mazor, however, bolsters claims that a significant number of babies were abducted.

According to Mazor, their mother had often spoken of how she was told by the hospital where she gave birth that her baby had died.

A year ago, under public pressure, the government released thousands of documents relating to the three state inquiries that had been scheduled to remain under lock for another 50 years.

The files included testimonies from officials and medical staff indicating a trade in babies had taken place, with some given away or sold to childless European Jews in Israel and abroad.

Last October 83-year-old Shulamit Mallik, who was a child-care worker in an absorption camp in the 1950s, came forward to corroborate those accounts. She told a public meeting that delegations of overseas women visited, and shortly afterwards babies disappeared.

As well as an apparent trade in Mizrahi children, evidence has emerged that hospitals took some of the missing children for medical experiments.

According to documents unclassified last year, George Mendel, head of the Rosh Haayin hospital’s children department, testified to the Kedmi inquiry that he and colleagues performed experiments to determine if Yemeni children had “black blood” – an apparent reference to whether they were racially inferior.

A parliamentary committee found documents indicating some of the studies were paid for by the US National Institutes of Health. Mendel told the inquiry he had heard rumours that documents relating to the experiments were destroyed several years later.

‘Great crime’

The committee also uncovered a letter written in 1950 by a female physician by the name of Rothenberg to a senior official at the Rosh Haayin hospital warning that her colleagues were “murderers” of the children.

Photographs produced by the committee showed Yemenite children, apparently used in the study, with their internal organs marked on their skin.

The parliamentary committee’s chair, Nurit Koren, heavily criticised the Kedmi inquiry for not referring to the experiments in its conclusions. “It is increasingly apparent that the bodies of the children were used for research. … There was a great crime here that was never reported.”

Tzadok said racism was rampant against the Mizrahim among the European Jews who led the government at the time, including Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion. Quotes show him calling the Mizrahim “primitive” and “without a trace of civilisation”.

“The racism came from the very top, making it legitimate in the wider society,” she said. “The general view of the time was that we are taking babies from bad parents to give them to much better parents.”

Tzadok added that the government’s reluctance to come clean in the face of mounting evidence was out of concern for Israel’s “international image”. She said: “Just a few years after the Holocaust, the state that was supposed to offer Jews sanctuary was stealing babies on a racist basis.”

Grunbaum said he suspected economic considerations were behind the government’s reluctance both to be more transparent and to issue an apology.

“They are worried that there will be a flood of compensation claims that could reach billions of dollars if the truth comes out,” he said.

• First published in Al Jazeera

• See related articles here and here

The State of Our Union: A House Divided, Enslaved and Mired in the Mistakes of the Past

A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.

— Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 1858, at Springfield, Illinois.

History has a funny way of circling back on itself.

The facts, figures, faces and technology may change from era to era, but the dangers remain the same.

This year is no different, whatever the politicians and talking heads may say to the contrary.

Sure, there’s a new guy in charge with a talent for stirring up mayhem and madness, but for the most part, we’re still recycling the same news stories that have kept us with one eye warily glued to the news for the past 100-odd years: War. Corruption. Brutality. Economic instability. Partisan politics. Militarism. Disease. Hunger. Greed. Violence. Poverty. Ignorance. Hatred.

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

Brush up on your history, and you’ll find that we’ve been stuck on repeat for some time now.

Take the United States of America in the year 2018, which is not so far different from the United States of America during the Civil Rights era, or the Cold War era, or even the Depression era.

Go far enough afield, and you’ll find aspects of our troubled history mirrored in the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany, in the fascism of Mussolini’s Italy, and further back in the militarism of the Roman Empire.

We’re like TV weatherman Phil Connors in Harold Ramis’ classic 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, forced to live the same day over and over again.

Here in the American police state, however, we continue to wake up, hoping this new day, new president and new year will somehow be different from what has come before.

Unfortunately, no matter how we change the narrative, change the characters, change the plot lines, we seem to keep ending up in the same place that we started: enslaved, divided and repeating the mistakes of the past.

You want to know about the true State of our Union? Listen up.

The State of the Union: The state of our union is politically polarized, controlled by forces beyond the purview of the average American, and rapidly moving the nation away from its freedom foundation. Over the past year, Americans have found themselves repeatedly subjected to egregious civil liberties’ violations, invasive surveillance, political correctness, erosions of free speech, strip searches, police shootings of unarmed citizens, government spying, the criminalization of lawful activities, warmongering, etc.

The predators of the police state have wreaked havoc on our freedoms, our communities, and our lives. The government has not listened to the citizenry, refused to abide by the Constitution, and treated the citizenry as the source of funding and little else. Police officers shot unarmed citizens and their household pets. Government agents—including local police—remain armed to the teeth and act like soldiers on a battlefield. Bloated government agencies continue to fleece taxpayers. Government technicians spy on our emails and phone calls. And government contractors make a killing by waging endless wars abroad.

Consequently, the state of our nation has become more bureaucratic, more debt-ridden, more violent, more militarized, more fascist, more lawless, more invasive, more corrupt, more untrustworthy, more mired in war, and more unresponsive to the wishes and needs of the electorate. The policies of the American police state have continued unabated.

The Executive Branch: All of the imperial powers amassed by Barack Obama and George W. Bush—to kill American citizens without due process, to detain suspects indefinitely, to strip Americans of their citizenship rights, to carry out mass surveillance on Americans without probable cause, to suspend laws during wartime, to disregard laws with which he might disagree, to conduct secret wars and convene secret courts, to sanction torture, to sidestep the legislatures and courts with executive orders and signing statements, to direct the military to operate beyond the reach of the law, to act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—were inherited by Donald Trump.

Trump has these powers because every successive occupant of the Oval Office has been allowed to expand the reach and power of the presidency through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements that can be activated by any sitting president. Those of us who saw this eventuality coming have been warning for years about the growing danger of the Executive Branch with its presidential toolbox of terror that could be used—and abused—by future presidents. The groundwork, we warned, was being laid for a new kind of government where it won’t matter if you’re innocent or guilty, whether you’re a threat to the nation or even if you’re a citizen. What will matter is what the president—or whoever happens to be occupying the Oval Office at the time—thinks. And if he or she thinks you’re a threat to the nation and should be locked up, then you’ll be locked up with no access to the protections our Constitution provides. In effect, you will disappear.

Our warnings went unheeded.

The Legislative Branch:  Congress may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in America. Abuses of office run the gamut from elected representatives neglecting their constituencies to engaging in self-serving practices, including the misuse of eminent domain, earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracting in return for personal gain and campaign contributions, having inappropriate ties to lobbyist groups and incorrectly or incompletely disclosing financial information. Pork barrel spending, hastily passed legislation, partisan bickering, a skewed work ethic, graft and moral turpitude have all contributed to the public’s increasing dissatisfaction with congressional leadership. No wonder 84 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

The Judicial Branch: The Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet through their deference to police power, preference for security over freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and expediency, the justices of the United States Supreme Court have become the guardians of the American police state in which we now live. As a result, sound judgment and justice have largely taken a back seat to legalism, statism and elitism, while preserving the rights of the people has been deprioritized and made to play second fiddle to both governmental and corporate interests. The courts have empowered the government to wreak havoc on our liberties. Protections for private property continue to be undermined. And Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice.

Shadow Government: Donald Trump inherited more than a bitterly divided nation teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe when he assumed office. He also inherited a shadow government, one that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country. Referred to as the Deep State, this shadow government is comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes right now.

Law Enforcement: By and large the term “law enforcement” encompasses all agents within a militarized police state, including the military, local police, and the various agencies such as the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials, no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace but now extensions of the military, are part of an elite ruling class dependent on keeping the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens. As a result, police are becoming even more militarized and weaponized, and police shootings of unarmed individuals continue to increase.

A Suspect Surveillance Society: Every dystopian sci-fi film we’ve ever seen is suddenly converging into this present moment in a dangerous trifecta between science, technology and a government that wants to be all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful. By tapping into your phone lines and cell phone communications, the government knows what you say. By uploading all of your emails, opening your mail, and reading your Facebook posts and text messages, the government knows what you write. By monitoring your movements with the use of license plate readers, surveillance cameras and other tracking devices, the government knows where you go. By churning through all of the detritus of your life—what you read, where you go, what you say—the government can predict what you will do. By mapping the synapses in your brain, scientists—and in turn, the government—will soon know what you remember. And by accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc. Consequently, in the face of DNA evidence that places us at the scene of a crime, behavior sensing technology that interprets our body temperature and facial tics as suspicious, and government surveillance devices that cross-check our biometricslicense plates and DNA against a growing database of unsolved crimes and potential criminals, we are no longer “innocent until proven guilty.”

Military Empire: America’s endless global wars and burgeoning military empire—funded by taxpayer dollars—have depleted our resources, over-extended our military and increased our similarities to the Roman Empire and its eventual demise. Black budget spending has completely undermined any hope of fiscal transparency, with government contractors padding their pockets at the expense of taxpayers and the nation’s infrastructure—railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads—taking the hit. The U.S. now operates approximately 800 military bases in foreign countries around the globe at an annual cost of at least $156 billion. The consequences of financing a global military presence are dire. In fact, David Walker, former comptroller general of the U.S., believes there are “striking similarities“, between America’s current situation and the factors that contributed to the fall of Rom including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government.”

I haven’t even touched on the corporate state, the military industrial complex, SWAT team raids, invasive surveillance technology, zero tolerance policies in the schools, over-criminalization, or privatized prisons, to name just a few, but what I have touched on should be enough to show that the landscape of our freedoms has already changed dramatically from what it once was and will no doubt continue to deteriorate unless Americans can find a way to wrest back control of their government and reclaim their freedoms.

So how do we go about reclaiming our freedoms and reining in our runaway government?

Essentially, there are four camps of thought among the citizenry when it comes to holding the government accountable. Which camp you fall into says a lot about your view of government—or, at least, your view of whichever administration happens to be in power at the time.

In the first camp are those who trust the government to do the right thing, despite the government’s repeated failures in this department.

In the second camp are those who not only don’t trust the government but think the government is out to get them.

In the third camp are those who see government neither as an angel nor a devil, but merely as an entity that needs to be controlled, or as Thomas Jefferson phrased it, bound “down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.”

Then there’s the fourth camp, comprised of individuals who pay little to no attention to the workings of government. Easily entertained, easily distracted, easily led, these are the ones who make the government’s job far easier than it should be.

It is easy to be diverted, distracted and amused by the antics of politicians, the pomp and circumstance of awards shows, athletic events, and entertainment news, and the feel-good evangelism that passes for religion today.

What is far more difficult to face up to is the reality of life in America, where unemployment, poverty, inequality, injustice and violence by government agents are increasingly norms.

The powers-that-be want us to remain divided, alienated from each other based on our politics, our bank accounts, our religion, our race and our value systems. Yet as George Orwell observed, “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.”

The only distinction that matters anymore is where you stand in the American police state.
In other words, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.

America is at a crossroads.

History may show that from this point forward, we will have left behind any semblance of constitutional government and entered into a militaristic state where all citizens are suspects and security trumps freedom.

Certainly, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age: the age of  authoritarianism. Even with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and government has become America’s new normal.

As long as we continue to put our politics ahead of our principles—moral, legal and constitutional—“we the people” will lose.

And you know who will keep winning by playing on our prejudices, capitalizing on our fears, deepening our distrust of our fellow citizens, and dividing us into polarized, warring camps incapable of finding consensus on the one true menace that is an immediate threat to all of our freedoms? The government.

When we lose sight of the true purpose of government—to protect our rights—and fail to keep the government in its place as our servant, we allow the government to overstep its bounds and become a tyrant that rules by brute force.

Rule by brute force.

That’s about as good a description as you’ll find for the sorry state of our republic.

The list of abuses being perpetrated against the American people by their government is growing rapidly: SWAT teams crashing through doors. Militarized police shooting unarmed citizens. Traffic cops tasering old men and pregnant women for not complying fast enough with an order. Resource officers shackling children for acting like children. Citizens being jailed for growing vegetable gardens in their front yards and holding prayer services in their backyards. Drivers having their cash seized under the pretext that they might have done something wrong.

Brace yourselves. We are approaching critical mass.

The Punditry of Shithole Thinking

Our capitalist elites have used propaganda, money and the marginalizing of their critics to erase the first three of philosopher John Locke’s elements of the perfect state: liberty, equality and freedom. They exclusively empower the fourth, property. Liberty and freedom in the corporate state mean the liberty and freedom of corporations and the rich to exploit and pillage without government interference or regulatory oversight. And the single most important characteristic of government is its willingness to use force, at home and abroad, to protect the interests of the property classes.

— Chris Hedges, “Corpses of Souls”

Here’s a thought experiment for social workers assisting homeless, recovery (drug, alcohol), re-entry (coming out of prison), and those diagnosed with mental and physical health challenges: Take a college educated “professional,” George, and then a “homeless” person, Julia, and put them in the same tattered clothes, take away phone, ID, money, credit cards, blindfold them, transport them from say Portland, Oregon, and to Toronto, Canada, or Buffalo, NY, and drop them off in an alley in a run-down part of town at 3 am on a Monday. Then challenge them to get back to square “go.”

We know the homeless person, or the former incarcerated person, or the recovering addict will be home — Portland – within 48 hours. The professional, either in FIRE (finance insurance real estate) or any number of elite fields, will tank quickly. Especially if we were to drop that person off outside of town into a homeless camp.

In my field of social work, many employers I talk to would rather have a former inmate, a former felon, who has gotten his or her life back on track, on the job. Really. There are even Harvard (who cares that it’s Ivy League, by the way?) studies to that effect. Of course, the rationale is based on company loyalty; an ex-con would really appreciate his freedoms now; hard work – workaholic – since all that time in the lobotomizing prison system would kick in an obsessiveness toward keeping busy, keeping moving. Then, some employers I talk to think most workers or potential workers are the problem, would steal time, money, goods, and things from the company. So, the felon has already done time, knows the depravity of prison systems, and would stay on the up and up without jeopardizing incarceration. Plus, in the US, companies get a tax break for hiring former felons!

The fields of social work are growing, yet the pay is shrinking, the work conditions are ramped up, the management are bizarre examples of former social workers themselves (very anti worker, very hard on outside-the-box thinkers, and completely blank on what radical social work is and how to even apply the principles of that form of social work). Most non-profits do the dirty work of what a society is looking more and more to not provide for – mental health care for a bigger and bigger share of the USA population; disability services for a larger and larger swath of Americans mentally, psychologically, intellectually, socially, physically, and spiritually broken or disabled; financial, employment, education, housing assistance for an ever-growing population of humans who are not able to work and live and transport and find health care for themselves in this New Gilded Age.

The non-profits I have worked for are top-heavy, have very little money put aside or earmarked or grant-provided for the workers; many of the non-profits hire development associates, upper management shills, PR folk, marketing and events coordinators; many are in shining and remodeled digs while casting shadows on the street people they supposedly care about.

Some of us in social services have come from other professions, and like me, many are former teachers. Very few are radical thinkers, and many are just trying to hang on. When you work in an at-will state, where organizing and workplace coordinating is akin to communism, and when you work for people younger and the same age as yourself who once had their lives more or less put together but who are today on the streets, in shelters, in vans on the side of the road, and who have to pay for legal debts – hospital bills, legal financial obligations, debts coming at them via mean-assed debt collectors and repo men —  the idea of Six Degrees of Separation comes cold like melting glaciers as really Only One Degree of Separation.

Manfred Max Neef calls this country, USA — richest, biggest land rip off abusing, military mightiest, vastest financial thieving, culturally insanest — underdeveloping.

I mean, your country is the most dramatic example that you can find. I have gone as far as saying — and this is a chapter of a book of mine that is published next month in England, the title of which is Economics Unmasked. There is a chapter called “The United States, an Underdeveloping Nation,” which is a new category. We have developed, underdeveloped and developing. Now you have underdeveloping. And your country is an example, in which the one percent of the Americans, you know, are doing better and better and better, and the 99 percent is going down, in all sorts of manifestations. People living in their cars now and sleeping in their cars, you know, parked in front of the house that used to be their house — thousands of people. Millions of people, you know, have lost everything. But the speculators that brought about the whole mess, oh, they are fantastically well off. No problem. No problem.

This short piece – rare for me at DV, LA Progressive,  and other places, since I still believe that concision is not a favorable tool to understanding the complexities of our society and systems thinking – is all tied to really what many Americans WAY WAY before Trump’s family set foot in this country have always believed about Mexico or New Orleans or Dominican Republic or South Africa or Philippines or Afghanistan (just replace a country like Haiti with any number of 120 countries in the world) have said, stated, written and professed undiplomatically and through the Economic Hit Men: They are ALL shitholes.

I have had plenty of people in my 61 years living on this planet, after being in dozens of countries (I have lived and worked in), fellow (sic) Americans (sic) who thought my white skin and my little lists of three college degrees and my male status entitled my fellow Americans to rant on and on about how dirty, backward, primitive, slow-witted, poor, inefficient, shady, criminal this or that country is — countries from which I lived, traveled and worked and those many have not stepped foot in, beyond FOX News and Hollywood propaganda.

That Trump now voices what Americans have believed, and economists have practiced, and our military branches have reflected – America is Great, and the rest of the rabble (well, maybe not Norway or Finland — that’s about it for that pure white race places) are part and particle the shitholes Trump so undiplomatically states the world is.

In reality, though, if we look at the definition of “shit”/”hole,” it all comes back to this warring, militant, earth-killing, global lording over country called the United States of America. Infantilized, lobotomized, one-paycheck/broken bone/auto accident/employment termination/criminal justice involved/foreclosure AWAY from shithole status.

This poor white and now multi-race co-opting country of people who have zero idea how and why its more or less isolated little status among the global actors is set in their minds as “okay . . . Great/Yes We Can/Make It Great Again/Numero Uno” because of the shit we serve up to the rest of the world vis-à-vis military and economic and resource plundering insanity.

While our own country is full of shit-holes– full of systems of penury and debasement and depravity and delusion and destruction and increasing wrath upon its own populations – we see this spasm of protestations from the Liberal Democrats Who Support All Those Democratic Party apparatchiks of regime change and collateral damage carried out on what Bush or Obama see as the “shit hole Iraqis and Afghans and Libyans and Yeminis and Somalis.” Imagine, the democrats crying about Trump and his redneck Americanism.

Which party said we had to bomb them back to the stone age? Which party wrapped up Japanese Americans in barbed wire luxury? Which party helped to wipe out 3 million Vietnamese? Who bombed, razed, illegally mined, economically double-triple tapped the world’s other shit holes? Way-way before two-bit The Apprentice got raves and ratings and millions. It’s Trump who is still on record ranting about the Central Park Five, found to be falsely convicted and held in prison (now released), stating months ago, after the five men were acquitted, found to be innocent and released, that “they are guilty of the rape, man.” His Trump Faulty Towers Corp. paid or two full page ads in the NYT ranting about “their guilty” after they were found innocent.

Again, a reset button is necessary when looking at the big billionaire’s motley mind and fourth grade thinking style: who is he, how did he get here, where did he learn, how did he exist in this country, what is his American soul made of . . . . The who, why, when, what, where and how are questions Americans of all political stripes never ask.

We can tap dance around those “deplorables” voting for George Wallace or Barry Goldwater or George Bush or Donald Trump, or dance around those millionaires who see other shitholes producing other super predators, or two-step into more delusion when Super Rich Hollywood defines You and Me and Success and Failure, or when Amazon dot com comes crashing into your local bricks and mortar, or how the millionaire media or celebrities come into your living rooms via cable or iPhone and kidnap your loved ones, young and old.

Seriously, which shithole shall we concentrate on in the US of A, the engine of shit holes, the Mother of All Shitholes, coming to a neighborhood nearby, or Flint Michigan, or Charlottesville, or Fortune 1000 boardroom or dis-education college faculty and administration?

Who in your group of friends and acquaintances even knows what economics is for? Manfred Max Neef again:

One, the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.

Two, development is about people and not about objects.

Three, growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.

Four, no economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.

Five, the economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.

And the fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.

I am sorry to say in my years as a journalist, college teacher, union organizer, social worker, environmentalist, urban planner, etc., I have run into more shithole thinkers in this country than all the countries I’ve been to combined, by far. If you want to run into real thugs, real criminals, real depravity, delusional thinking, disgusting thinking, real retrograde philosophy, real illiteracy, real infantilism, come to a town near me – Pacific Northwest, or Texas or Arizona, or anywhere I have done my time in.

Not many anti-Trump people would question the root cause of his shithole role running this shithole country, and the mirror is not large enough for self-reflection: biggest military in the world, biggest land mass stolen from original nations, biggest area cleared of natural ecosystems, biggest group of la-la-land thinkers. Magical thinkers, the lot of us, really.

Let the knee-jerking go on and on as Americans attempt to parse out who they are in that mirror mirror on the wall! Unless you have ended the mythical belief in this country’s prowess and greatness and stopped hiding from this society’s advanced malignant cancer called predatory and consumer capitalism, then you are the Trump in that mirror, without or without the orange glow!

Max-Neef: First of all, we need cultured economists again, who know the history, where they come from, how the ideas originated, who did what, and so on and so on; second, an economics now that understands itself very clearly as a subsystem of a larger system that is finite, the biosphere, hence economic growth as an impossibility; and third, a system that understands that it cannot function without the seriousness of ecosystems. And economists know nothing about ecosystems. They don’t know nothing about thermodynamics, you know, nothing about biodiversity or anything. I mean, they are totally ignorant in that respect. And I don’t see what harm it would do, you know, to an economist to know that if the beasts would disappear, he would disappear as well, because there wouldn’t be food anymore. But he doesn’t know that, you know, that we depend absolutely from nature. But for these economists we have, nature is a subsystem of the economy. I mean, it’s absolutely crazy.

A Tale of Two Americas: Where the Rich Get Richer and the Poor Go to Jail

It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.

― Nelson Mandela

This is the tale of two Americas, where the rich get richer and the poor go to jail.

Aided and abetted by the likes of Attorney General Jeff Sessions—a man who wouldn’t recognize the Constitution if it smacked him in the face—the American dream has become the American scheme: the rich are getting richer and more powerful, while anyone who doesn’t belong to the power elite gets poorer and more powerless to do anything about the nation’s steady slide towards fascism, authoritarianism and a profit-driven police state.

Not content to merely pander to law enforcement and add to its military largesse with weaponry and equipment designed for war, Sessions has made a concerted effort to expand the police state’s power to search, strip, seize, raid, steal from, arrest and jail Americans for any infraction, no matter how insignificant.

Now Sessions has given state courts the green light to resume their practice of jailing individuals who are unable to pay the hefty fines imposed by the American police state. In doing so, Sessions has once again shown himself to be not only a shill for the Deep State but an enemy of the people.

First, some background on debtors’ prisons, which jail people who cannot afford to pay the exorbitant fines imposed on them by courts and other government agencies.

Congress banned debtors’ prisons in 1833.

In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the practice to be unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause.

“Despite prior attempts on the federal level and across the country to prevent the profound injustice of locking people in cages because they are too poor to pay a debt,” concludes The Atlantic, “the practice persists every day.”

Where things began to change, according to The Marshall Project, was with the rise of “mass incarceration.” As attorney Alec Karakatsanis stated:

In the 1970s and 1980s, we started to imprison more people for lesser crimes. In the process, we were lowering our standards for what constituted an offense deserving of imprisonment, and, more broadly, we were losing our sense of how serious, how truly serious, it is to incarcerate. If we can imprison for possession of marijuana, why can’t we imprison for not paying back a loan?

By the late 1980s and early 90s, “there was a dramatic increase in the number of statutes listing a prison term as a possible sentence for failure to repay criminal-justice debt.” During the 2000s, the courts started cashing in big-time “by using the threat of jail time – established in those statutes – to squeeze cash out of small-time debtors.”

Fast-forward to the present day which finds us saddled with not only profit-driven private prisons and a prison-industrial complex but also, as investigative reporter Eli Hager notes:

The birth of a new brand of ‘offender-funded’ justice [which] has created a market for private probation companies. Purporting to save taxpayer dollars, these outfits force the offenders themselves to foot the bill for parole, reentry, drug rehab, electronic monitoring, and other services (some of which are not even assigned by a judge). When the offenders can’t pay for all of this, they may be jailed – even if they have already served their time for the offense.

Follow the money trail. It always points the way.

Whether you’re talking about the government’s war on terrorism, the war on drugs, or some other phantom danger dreamed up by enterprising bureaucrats, there is always a profit-incentive involved.

The same goes for the war on crime.

At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key in order to protect society. Today, the flawed yet retributive American “system of justice” is being replaced by an even more flawed and insidious form of mass punishment based upon profit and expediency.

Sessions’ latest gambit plays right into the hands of those who make a profit by jailing Americans.

Sharnalle Mitchell was one such victim of a system for whom the plight of the average American is measured in dollars and cents. As the Harvard Law Review recounts:

On January 26, 2014, Sharnalle Mitchell was with her children in Montgomery, Alabama when police showed up at her home to arrest her. Mitchell was not accused of a crime. Instead, the police came to her home because she had not fully paid a traffic ticket from 2010. The single mother was handcuffed in front of her children (aged one and four) and taken to jail. She was ordered to either pay $2,800 or sit her debt out in jail at a rate of fifty dollars a day for fifty-nine days. Unable to pay, Mitchell wrote out the numbers one to fifty-eight on the back of her court documents and began counting days.

This is not justice.

This is yet another example of how greed and profit-incentives have not only perverted policing in America but have corrupted the entire criminal justice system.

As the Harvard Law Review concludes:

[A]s policing becomes a way to generate revenue, police start to “see the people they’re supposed to be serving not as citizens with rights, but as potential sources of revenue, as lawbreakers to be caught.” This approach creates a fugitive underclass on the run from police not to hide illicit activity but to avoid arrest for debt or seizure of their purportedly suspicious assets… In turn, communities … begin to see police not as trusted partners but as an occupying army constantly harassing them to raise money to pay their salaries and buy new weapons. This needs to end.

Unfortunately, the criminal justice system has been operating as a for-profit enterprise for years now, covertly padding its pockets through penalty-riddled programs aimed at maximizing revenue rather than ensuring public safety.

All of those seemingly hard-working police officers and code-enforcement officers and truancy officers and traffic cops handing out ticket after ticket after ticket: they’re not working to make your communities safer—they’ve got quotas to fill.

Same goes for the courts, which have come to rely on fines, fees and exorbitant late penalties as a means of increased revenue. The power of these courts, magnified in recent years through the introduction of specialty courts beyond your run-of-the-mill traffic court (drug court, homeless court, veterans court, mental health court, criminal court, teen court, gambling court, prostitution court, community court, domestic violence court, truancy court), is “reshaping the American legal system—with little oversight,” concludes the Boston Globe.

And for those who can’t afford to pay the court fines heaped on top of the penalties ($302 for jaywalking, $531 for an overgrown yard, or $120 for arriving a few minutes late to court), there’s probation (managed by profit-run companies that tack on their own fees, which are often more than double the original fine) or jail time (run by profit-run companies that charge inmates for everything from food and housing to phone calls at outrageous markups), which only adds to the financial burdens of those already unable to navigate a costly carceral state.

“When bail is set unreasonably high, people are behind bars only because they are poor,” stated former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “Not because they’re a danger or a flight risk — only because they are poor. They don’t have money to get out of jail, and they certainly don’t have money to flee anywhere. Other people who do have the means can avoid the system, setting inequality in place from the beginning.”

In “Policing and Profit,” the Harvard Law Review documents in chilling detail the criminal justice system’s efforts to turn a profit at the expense of those who can least afford to pay, thereby entrapping them in a cycle of debt that starts with one minor infraction:

In the late 1980s, Missouri became one of the first states to let private companies purchase the probation systems of local governments. In these arrangements, municipalities impose debt on individuals through criminal proceedings and then sell this debt to private businesses, which pad the debt with fees and interest. This debt can stem from fines for offenses as minor as rolling through a stop sign or failing to enroll in the right trash collection service. In Ferguson, residents who fall behind on fines and don’t appear in court after a warrant is issued for their arrest (or arrive in court after the courtroom doors close, which often happens just five minutes after the session is set to start for the day) are charged an additional $120 to $130 fine, along with a $50 fee for a new arrest warrant and 56 cents for each mile that police drive to serve it. Once arrested, everyone who can’t pay their fines or post bail (which is usually set to equal the amount of their total debt) is imprisoned until the next court session (which happens three days a month). Anyone who is imprisoned is charged $30 to $60 a night by the jail. If an arrestee owes fines in more than one of St. Louis County’s eighty-one municipal courts, they are passed from one jail to another to await hearings in each town.

Ask yourself this: at a time when crime rates across the country remain at historic lows (despite Sessions’ inaccurate claims to the contrary), why does the prison population continue to grow?

The prison population continues to grow because of a glut of laws that criminalize activities that should certainly not be outlawed, let alone result in jail time. Over-criminalization continues to plague the country because of legislators who work hand-in-hand with corporations to adopt laws that favor the corporate balance sheet. And when it comes to incarceration, the corporate balance sheet weighs heavily in favor of locking up more individuals in government-run and private prisons.

As Time reports:

The companies that build and run private prisons have a financial interest in the continued growth of mass incarceration. That is why the two major players in this game—the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group—invest heavily in lobbying for punitive criminal justice policies and make hefty contributions to political campaigns that will increase reliance on prisons.

It’s a vicious cycle that grows more vicious by the day.

According to The Atlantic, “America spends $80 billion a year incarcerating 2.4 million people.” But the costs don’t end there. “When someone goes to prison, nearly 65 percent of families are suddenly unable to pay for basic needs such as food and housing… About 70 percent of those families are caring for children under the age of 18.”

Then there are the marked-up costs levied against the inmate by private companies that provide services and products to government prisons. Cereal and soup for five times the market price. $15 for a short phone call.

The Center for Public Integrity found that “prison bankers collect tens of millions of dollars every year from inmates’ families in fees for basic financial services. To make payments, some forego medical care, skip utility bills and limit contact with their imprisoned relatives… Inmates earn as little as 12 cents per hour in many places, wages that have not increased for decades. The prices they pay for goods to meet their basic needs continue to increase.”

Worse, as human rights attorney Jessica Jackson points out, “the fines and fees system has turned local governments into the equivalent of predatory lenders.” For instance, Jackson cites:

Washington state charges a 12% interest rate on all its criminal debt. Florida adds a 40% fee that goes into the pockets of a private collections agency. In California, penalties can raise a $100 fine to $490, or $815 if the initial deadline is missed. A $500 traffic ticket can actually cost $1,953, even if it is paid on time. And so we are left with countless tales of lives ruined—people living paycheck to paycheck who cannot afford a minor fine, and so face ballooning penalties, increasing amounts owed, a suspended license, jail time, and being fired from their jobs or unable to find work.

This isn’t the American Dream I grew up believing in.

This certainly isn’t the American Dream my parents and grandparents and those before them worked and fought and sacrificed to achieve.

This is a cold, calculated system of profit and losses.

Now you can shrug all of this away as a consequence of committing a crime, but that just doesn’t cut it. Especially not when average Americans are being jailed for such so-called crimes as eating SpaghettiOs (police mistook them for methamphetamine), not wearing a seat belt, littering, jaywalking, having homemade soap (police mistook the soap for cocaine), profanity, spitting on the ground, farting, loitering and twerking.

There is no room in the American police state for self-righteousness. Not when we are all guilty until proven innocent.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is no longer a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

It is fast becoming a government “of the rich, by the elite, for the corporations,” and its rise to power is predicated on shackling the American taxpayer to a debtors’ prison guarded by a phalanx of politicians, bureaucrats and militarized police with no hope of parole and no chance for escape