4/15/2013 10:27:11 AM
How corporate power is ruining your life, explained in animated GIFs
when 20 million Americans hit the streets to celebrate the
first Earth Day:
And it wasn’t just a party.
People of all ages and political stripes were demanding regulations protecting earth,
air, water, and wildlife.
Not everyone was happy about it, though.
When Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer from Richmond, Virginia, heard about Earth Day:
Why? Powell served on the board of directors of several international
corporations—corporations whose profitability would be hampered by all the new
When Powell thought of a way to stop them:
He schemed up
a memo—titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System”—and presented it to
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on August 23, 1971. In it, he laid out a broad
plan: corporate leaders would use an “activist-minded Supreme Court” to enact
“social, economic, and political change” in favor of corporate power.
What the rest of America
The memo was secret, so barely anyone knew about Powell’s plot until
Really, Powell’s idea wasn’t totally new. He had already sued the U.S.
government on behalf of
the cigarette industry, saying the
government’s assertion that cigarettes were dangerous was
controversial and that cigarette companies had a right under free speech to promote their product in whatever
way they liked. It worked. America’s
response was to keep ‘em lit:
And when President Nixon nominated Powell for the Supreme Court and the
Senate voted him in (less than six months after the Chamber read his memo):
With Powell on the Court, corporations got busy creating legal
foundations to fund lawsuits across the country. They introduced the idea that
corporations were “persons,” “speakers,” “voices,” and “protectors of our
freedoms.” They said that government regulations over pollution, wages, or
political spending made corporations feel like this:
Meanwhile, Americans were cleaning house. The Clean Water Act was
passed in 1972. After this came the Endangered Species Act (1973), the first fuel
economy standards for cars (1975), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976).
“Strength,” Powell had written in his memo, “lies in organization, in
careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over
an indefinite period of years.”
By 1978, Powell and his cronies were ready to take his plan to the next
level. A few corporations got together to challenge a Massachusetts law banning corporate spending
in referendum ballots. They wanted to use corporate funds to defeat a
progressive income tax vote later that year.
When they lost,
progressives were all:
But then they took their case to the Supreme Court, where Justice
Powell had been waiting for just such an opportunity:
Powell cast the deciding vote (5-4), declaring that
“corporations are persons” and corporate money is “speech” under the First
Amendment, ushering in the current era of corporate power.
Between 1978 and 1984, Justice Powell overrode laws citizens had agreed
on, in favor of legislation benefitting the pharmaceutical, energy, tobacco,
and banking industries. By the time he resigned in 1987, the corporate world
had made up its mind:
When the agribusiness industry spends $75-145 million a year lobbying to make sure America always has a good supply of junk food at its fingertips:
“The health of Americans is secondary to layers of taxpayer
subsidies and preferential treatment for corporate food giants and coal and
utility corporations, resulting in epidemic-level rates of obesity, asthma, and
type 2 diabetes,” writes
Jeffrey D. Clements for YES! Magazine. And this in spite of healthy profits for pharmaceutical and health care corporations (which spent over $2 billion lobbying the government between 1998 and 2010).
That’s not all. Between 1998 and 2010, military contractors spent over
$400 million and ExxonMobil spent $151 million lobbying. But “control of our energy
policy by global fossil fuel corporations and unregulated corporate lobbying,
even for weapons the Pentagon doesn’t want,” Clements writes, “leads to endless
war in the Middle East and uncontrolled
It also means we continue
to drive everywhere. When we build roads for cars that pollute the air and
suburbs that destroy wilderness:
So, we pay with our health, with endless war, and destruction of the
environment—but there's more. Corporate rule is also why we’re broke.
Yep. Between 1998 and 2010 the Chamber of Commerce spent $739 million
lobbying in favor of big business. The results? “Corporate-friendly trade and tax policies
have moved jobs overseas, destroyed our manufacturing capacity, produced vast
wage and income inequality, and gutted local economies and communities,” writes
What that means for the
What that means the rest of us:
Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission gave
corporations the go-ahead to spend as much as they wanted influencing
Politicians who failed to do what corporate lobbies asked were punished
with negative ads funded by the corporate elite. So now when our elected
officials look at us:
And while corporations love consumers, this is what they say when we
try to act like citizens:
Case in point: Monsanto, when Vermonters tried to enact labeling laws
for recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH):
And when people try to get environmental protections, fair wages, or an end to military offensives, one corporation or another is always:
Nearly 80 percent of the
public opposes the Citizens United
decision. That it hasn’t been reversed goes to show how skewed the current
balance of power is. Many
representatives and citizens’ groups are calling for a constitutional
amendment to reverse it and end money's use as "speech" altogether. When that day comes, we may finally be able to slow climate change, end
war, get healthy, and get paid.
This article is based on Jeffrey D.
Clements essay, “Rights
are for Real People,” from the Spring 2012 issue of Yes! Magazine. Clements is the author of the book Corporations Are Not
4/2/2013 3:23:09 PM
Months after Hurricane Sandy, many low-income New York neighborhoods are still struggling
for an economic foothold. But with the help of Occupy Sandy, many residents are organizing worker
cooperatives to take back control of their communities.
This article originally
appeared at Waging
Three and a half months ago, the walls
upstairs at the Church of the Prophecy in Far Rockaway, a low-income coastal
neighborhood of New York City,
were covered with maps of where help was most needed. The church was a hub for
the Occupy Sandy relief effort after Hurricane Sandy. Now, nearly five months
after the hurricane struck, the maps have been replaced by posters extolling
the virtues of collective struggle and art made by neighborhood children
enrolled in Occupy Sandy’s twice-weekly after-school program.
“The kids missed a month and a half of
school,” explained Luis Casco, a member of the church’s congregation who pulled
strings to help move Occupy into Far Rockaway. The after-school program was, in
part, his brainchild. “We figured we’d start helping the kids and we could win
over their parents. Then we could actually start bigger projects,” he said.
One of those bigger projects is a
worker-run cooperative initiative, organized by Occupy Sandy and supported by
the Working World, an organization that specializes in incubating collectively
The initiative is well suited to Far
Rockaway because worker-run enterprises have a history of flourishing in
environments of economic distress or political upheaval. In 2001, when Argentina
defaulted on its international loans and the country’s ownership class fled,
Argentines took over abandoned factories and established networks of producers
and distributors. In Venezuela,
worker-run cooperatives were at the heart of the vision for 21st-century
socialism, and Hugo Chavez’s administration helped create tens of thousands of
collectively owned businesses over the last 14 years. Most notably, Spanish
workers in the Basque region created the Mondragon Corporation, the world’s
largest federation of cooperatives, during the Franco dictatorship in the
1950s. Today more than 250 enterprises operate under the Mondragon banner, and
the federation, which spans 77 countries and employs 83,000 workers, has been
“Collective approach pays big dividends,”
read a headline
about Mondragon in The Financial Times last year, while the New York
Times noted the “use of workers’ share capital and loans” has enabled the
federation to remain stable through vacillations in global markets, including
the ongoing financial crisis.
While Mondragon shows what is possible
down the line, Far Rockaway residents are at the very beginning of the process.
At one of the crowded early meetings of the cooperative initiative, children
and adults buzzed about, fraternizing with disposable plates of food in their
hands as extra folding chairs were arranged. Several parents whose children
attended the after-school program arrived, bringing their friends and neighbors
along. Most were Spanish-speaking immigrants who, having spent their lives
working for someone else, were eager to learn more about cooperatives.
Many in Far Rockaway lost their jobs when
Hurricane Sandy rendered commutes impossible for flooded local businesses. For
those without U.S.
work papers, finding new employment has been difficult.
“It’s really hard to find a new job when
you don’t have papers,” Casco explained. “Their homes were destroyed, they
don’t have the resources to go to welfare and FEMA ain’t helping them.”
Others, such as Olga Lezama, managed to
keep their jobs after the storm, but the prospect of holding on to the profits
of their labor has piqued their interest. Lezama currently works as an
upholsterer for a high-end furniture company. By Lezama’s calculations, her
boss makes approximately $500 every hour off the furniture that she and her
co-workersupholster, while she earns roughly $100 a day.
“It hurts my feelings and my pockets,”
she said. “My job and my efforts and my everything goes to them.”
By her side was her husband, Carlos
Lezama, a carpenter who specialized in cabinets. The pair hope to work with
others in the community to form a home-design cooperative, a service in high
demand after the storm, which ruined the ground floors of most of the region’s
“We go to stores and buy cheap furniture,
cabinets and stuff, and we’re wasting our money,” Lezama said. “In two months,
the cabinet is no good. So we have go buy it again. Our people deserve good
Workers controlling capital
Occupy Sandy has allocated $60,000 of the
$900,000 it raised in the initial flood of generosity following the storm
toward forming cooperatives, an initiative they hope to spread across
storm-affected areas if it proves successful in Far Rockaway. The Working
World, an organization that provides zero-debt micro-finance loans to new
cooperatives, has offered to provide monetary support, but for now the
organization is mostly lending advice and training. At one of the early
meetings, Brandon Martin, The Working World’s founder, showed the crowd a
slideshow of other projects the organization has helped launch. Images of a
beekeepers’ cooperative in the countryside of Nicaragua
and a shoe factory in Buenos Aires
glowed on the wall behind Martin as he outlined the benefits of workers sharing
resources and making decisions democratically.
“A cooperative is workers controlling
capital, instead of capital controlling workers,” said Martin. “It’s about
reorganizing the economy around who’s really in control.”
The Working World finances itself by
collecting a small percentage of the profits that member collectives generate,
money that the organization reinvests in establishing new enterprises. Martin
explained that the idea originated in ancient Sumeria where the word for interest
was the same as the word for calf.
“If the cow I lent you has babies,”
explained Martin, “I loaned you my cow, so I can have some the babies. That would
be the interest.”
But if the cow was sterile, the Sumerians
didn’t collect interest. The same works for Working World’s loans today. The
organization only collects once a cooperative generates a steady profit, a
model that avoids forcing people into debt if their business fails.
The Sumerians, for their part, eventually
altered their lending practices such that they collected interest regardless of
the outcome. The legacy of that shift is still with us today; few in Far
Rockaway can call their surroundings their own. Walk through the neighborhood
in the middle of a business day and you’ll see iron grating pulled down over
storefronts and plywood covering the windows of large shopping complexes. Those
stores that are open often bear the insignias of chain outlets that carry money
out of the neighborhood and into the coffers of large corporations. Worker-run
cooperatives, in contrast, could offer a way for community members to sell the
products of their labor without selling their labor itself — a shift that would
keep capital within the community and cash in the pockets of workers.
At the following cooperative meeting a
week later, the crowd had grown. People discussed plans for a scrap metal
business and a cleaning-workers’ collective. One man pulled a citizens’ band
radio out of his winter coat, explaining that drivers in the taxi cooperative
he hoped to form could use it to communicate. He’d been doing research; nine
other drivers were needed to secure an operating license from the city.
There is obvious enthusiasm in the
neighborhood for worker-run enterprises. But are there limits to what these
businesses can achieve while embedded in a broader economic framework of
competition and exploitation? And does the focus on cooperatives represent a
shift in direction for Occupy, one that veers away from a direct fight for
“We can’t fight the city,” one Occupy
Sandy organizer confided. “But we can build co-ops.”
Building an alternative
Richard Wolff, professor of economics at
the New School and author of Democracy at
Work, a study of cooperative businesses, argues that forming cooperatives
can be the first step in enacting a sweeping social and economic shift. Wolff
envisions a transformation, similar to the social shift from feudalism to
capitalism, in which cooperatives replace corporations and goods are
distributed through a democratically planned economy.
The cooperatives that Wolff talks about,
and the ones that Occupy Sandy is aiming to establish, are more accurately known
as worker self-directed enterprises: businesses that organize democratically
collective ownership at the point of production.
“When the workers get together and decide
how to distribute the income in such an enterprise, would they give the CEO $25
million in stock bonuses while everybody else can barely get by?” Wolff asks
He stresses the difference between the
productive and distributive side of economies, explaining that worker-run
cooperatives are the often-overlooked prerequisite for achieving an egalitarian
distribution of wealth and resources. “There is the question of what exactly an
alternative to capitalism is,” he explains. “I’ve stressed worker-self-directed
enterprises as a different way of organizing production.” On the other hand are
markets, which distribute the fruits of production. Wolff believes that the
mistake of many 20th-century socialists was to imagine that the elimination of
markets would create social egalitarianism, even though production had not yet
been reorganized into a democratic model.
Given the pull between the productive and
distributive side of economies, cooperatives must form networks to survive.
Collaboration between networked enterprises allows these businesses to curb
market pressures and, if the network manages to spread, to gain political
As Brandon Martin emphasizes, also,
workers in new cooperatives must labor long hours to meet production quotas,
just like with any other business, since their enterprise still has to compete
for a market share. “Can one cooperative change that?” asks Martin. “No. But a
cooperative economy might.”
Olga Lazema, however, isn’t thinking
about the theoretical potential for cooperatives to challenge capitalism. She’s
imagining the positive possibilities for her own neighborhood.
“A lot of people, their houses went like
nothing,” she said, referring to Sandy’s
destruction. “They have nothing. We could go there, build a small kitchen or
whatever they need. Why not?”
Image of Far Rockaway
cooperative meeting by Peter Rugh.
3/22/2013 3:53:04 PM
Faced with shrinking budgets and a test-centric reform agenda, high school students across the country
are fighting back. Risking expulsion and even arrest, students are confronting
broken policies with walkouts, boycotts, and other creative actions.
post originally appeared at Waging
“You’re going to be expelled,” an
administrator at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Md., just twenty minutes
away from the Washington, D.C., line, told the two boys sitting in her
office on March 1, 2012.
“What?” Ricardo Fuentes, then a junior,
asked, feigning ignorance.
Project Xbox was the code-name for the
walkout that Fuentes had helped plan with El Cambio, an activist student group
at Northwestern, for the National Day of Action for Education that day. Hours
before the walkout he and his friend had been pulled into the office and
confronted by the school’s administration. Administrators had pinpointed the
two boys as key organizers — though only Fuentes was actually involved — and
were determined to put a stop to it. They held the boys in the room for seven
hours, offering to let them out only to visit lunch periods to tell people to
stop the walkout. Fuentes, already resigned to his fate, refused to cooperate.
That afternoon, the sound of 400 students
walking out of class — nearly a third of the school’s population — flooded
Northwestern’s halls. Students were met at the door with teachers,
administrators, security and police officers. They could see canine units
waiting for them in the parking lot. Students turned back and started marching
through the halls, searching for another exit, when they were blocked off at
staircases. In the end, Fuentes and three of his friends were suspended for six
days for helping to organize the walkout.
The walkout was not an aimless excuse to
skip school, but a calculated response to a specific list of grievances. El
Cambio’s communiqué, which it circulated in advance of the walkout, named seven
grievances: disgusting bathroom conditions, enormous class sizes, teachers who
had been refused pay raises three years in a row, the denial of promised
funding for their band to go to nationals, cuts to funding for English-as-a-second-language
programs, exploited and deported Filipino teachers, and the lack of a
meaningful student role in the decision-making process. These grievances
describe the conditions of many of Prince
George’s County public schools. In a state that has
been ranked number one in education for five
consecutive years, Prince George’s County
has only a single school that performs at or above the Maryland average, with almost all other
schools falling well below it.
El Cambio found support among some
teachers, who privately coached and guided the first-time organizers or gave
their tacit approval. But others opposed the students’ activism altogether. One
teacher went as far as to admonish Fuentes for El Cambio’s inclusion of
teachers’ concerns among their grievances.
Though Northwestern’s walkout is
exceptional in the region, it is not altogether unique. In the past year, for
instance, there have been a series of walkouts in high schools in New York City, most notably the May 1,
2012, walkout of
students at Paul Roebson
High School in Brooklyn
organized with Occupy Wall Street.
High school organizing presents a
different kind of situation than college organizing. In public high schools,
students are closely tied to their neighborhoods and their homes. They are not
merely temporary residents, as many college students are, but members of their
communities. Most of them have grown up in the area or lived there for a long
time; many will continue to live there for most of their lives. They have a
long-term commitment to the quality of their schools and neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, high schoolers live under demanding, unyielding schedules determined
by administrators who routinely ignore and marginalize students’ voices.
“I think that high schoolers always get
forgotten,” Fuentes said. “They think that everything is easy for us, and it’s
“It is authoritarian. We don’t feel like
we have any power,” said Shane James, a senior at Northwestern who was
suspended for helping to organize the walkout with El Cambio. “When you have no
power over what dominates your life, you feel like you are powerless as a
person. How are you supposed to learn to be an individual with ideas and a
critical thinker if you don’t feel like you have control over your own ideas?”
Increasingly, public high schools are
inundated with standardized tests and regimented expectations, from which any
deviation is considered a chaotic interruption by the administration. In
response to this kind of environment, in early January, teachers at Garfield High School
voted to refuse to administer the Measure of Academic Progress tests and waged
a small war against their administration. Their boycott of the tests has
inspired similar boycotts among teachers and students in high
schools across the country, including in Portland
and Rhode Island.
“We’re opting out because we want to send
this greater message about not standardizing our education system,” Alexia
Garcia, the student representative of Portland Public Schools student union.
Her student union, which is sanctioned by the district, in conjunction with the
Portland Student Union, a student-run organization in Portland
high schools, launched an opt-out campaign just a couple weeks after the Seattle teachers did. In Portland, high school juniors must take the Oregon
Assessment of Skills and Knowledge exam, which is used to assess Portland public high
schools — and, starting next year, teachers. Based on this assessment, each
school is given a grade, and it must test at least 95 percent of students in
every demographic in order to get a passing grade. The goal of the opt-out is
to give every school a failing grade by lack of participation, and thus
compromise the whole process.
“We want to send the message that we’d
like to see a more holistic approach and holistic evaluation,” Garcia said.
“There is so much more to a student than how they perform on a test.”
Portland students have found support not only
from their community but from their teachers. The teachers’ union can’t
officially support the students or its members could risk losing their teaching
licenses, but teachers have privately voiced their approval of student’s
actions. Administrators, predictably, have not received the opt-out campaign so
kindly. They’ve sent letters to parents stressing the importance of
standardized testing. Administrators in Portland
have done everything they can to end the student protest.
“We need a new mentality about how
schools are supposed to function and how to educate kids,” James said. “You’re
not going to educate kids by telling them to shut up and be quiet. You’re going
to educate kids by letting them speak out and question authority — by letting
them challenge things and really act on their interests and their passions.”
of gravestone protest signs at John Muir High School
in Pasadena, California, by Jerome
T, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/22/2013 1:01:19 PM
Secretive, paranoid, and aggressive, our militarized, hyper-masculine political culture feeds violence abroad and in the home. As John Stuart Mill argued, the subjection of nations has everything to do with the subjection of women.
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.
Picture this. A man, armored in tattoos, bursts into a
living room not his own. He confronts an enemy. He barks orders. He throws that
enemy into a chair. Then against a wall. He plants himself in the middle of the
room, feet widespread, fists clenched, muscles straining, face contorted in a
scream of rage. The tendons in his neck are taut with the intensity of his
terrifying performance. He chases the enemy to the next room, stopping escape
with a quick grab and thrust and body block that pins the enemy, bent back,
against a counter. He shouts more orders: his enemy can go with him to the
basement for a “private talk,” or be beaten to a pulp right here. Then he wraps
his fingers around the neck of his enemy and begins to choke her.
No, that invader isn’t an American soldier leading a
night raid on an Afghan village, nor is the enemy an anonymous Afghan
householder. This combat warrior is just a guy in Ohio named Shane. He’s doing what so many
men find exhilarating: disciplining his girlfriend with a heavy dose of the
violence we render harmless by calling it “domestic.”
It’s easy to figure out from a few basic facts that Shane
is a skilled predator. Why else does a 31-year-old man lavish attention on a
pretty 19-year-old with two children (ages four and two, the latter an equally
pretty and potentially targeted little female)? And what more vulnerable
girlfriend could he find than this one, named Maggie: a neglected young woman,
still a teenager, who for two years had been raising her kids on her own while
her husband fought a war in Afghanistan? That war had broken the family apart,
leaving Maggie with no financial support and more alone than ever.
But the way Shane assaulted Maggie, he might just as well
have been a night-raiding soldier terrorizing an Afghan civilian family in
pursuit of some dangerous Talib, real or imagined. For all we know, Maggie’s
estranged husband/soldier might have acted
in the same way in some Afghan living room and not only been paid but also
honored for it. The basic behavior is quite alike: an overwhelming display of
superior force. The tactics: shock and awe. The goal: to control the behavior,
the very life, of the designated target. The mind set: a sense of entitlement
when it comes to determining the fate of a subhuman creature. The dark side:
the fear and brutal rage of a scared loser who inflicts his miserable self on
As for that designated enemy, just as
American exceptionalism asserts the superiority of the United States over all
other countries and cultures on Earth, and even over the laws that govern
international relations, misogyny -- which seems to inform so much in the
United States these days, from military boot camp to the Oscars to full frontal political assaults on a woman’s right
to control her own body -- assures even the most pathetic guys like Shane of
their innate superiority over some “thing” usually addressed with multiple
Since 9/11, the further militarization of our already militarized culture has reached
new levels. Official America,
as embodied in our political system and national security state, now seems to
be thoroughly masculine, paranoid, quarrelsome, secretive, greedy, aggressive,
and violent. Readers familiar with “domestic violence” will recognize those
traits as equally descriptive of the average American wife beater: scared but
angry and aggressive, and feeling absolutely entitled to control something,
whether it’s just a woman, or a small country like Afghanistan.
Connecting the Dots
It was John Stuart Mill, writing in the nineteenth century, who
connected the dots between “domestic” and international violence. But he didn’t
use our absurdly gender-neutral, pale gray term “domestic violence.” He called
it “wife torture” or “atrocity,” and he recognized that torture
and atrocity are much the same, no matter where they take place -- whether
today in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Wardak Province, Afghanistan,
or a bedroom or basement in Ohio.
Arguing in 1869 against the subjection of women, Mill wrote that the Englishman’s habit of
household tyranny and “wife torture” established the pattern and practice for
his foreign policy. The tyrant at home becomes the tyrant at war. Home is the
training ground for the big games played overseas.
Mill believed that, in early times, strong men had used
force to enslave women and the majority of their fellow men. By the nineteenth
century, however, the “law of the strongest” seemed to him to have been
“abandoned” -- in England
at least -- “as the regulating principle of the world’s affairs.” Slavery had
been renounced. Only in the household did it continue to be practiced, though
wives were no longer openly enslaved but merely “subjected” to their husbands.
This subjection, Mill said, was the last vestige of the archaic “law of the
strongest,” and must inevitably fade away as reasonable men recognized its
barbarity and injustice. Of his own time, he wrote that “nobody professes” the
law of the strongest, and “as regards most of the relations between human
beings, nobody is permitted to practice it.”
Well, even a feminist may not be right about everything.
Times often change for the worse, and rarely has the law of the strongest been
more popular than it is in the United
States today. Routinely now we hear congressmen
declare that the U.S. is the
greatest nation in the world because it is the greatest military power in
history, just as presidents now regularly insist that the U.S. military is “the finest
fighting force in the history of the world.” Never mind that it rarely wins a
war. Few here question that primitive standard -- the law of the strongest --
as the measure of this America’s
The War Against Women
Mill, however, was right about the larger point: that
tyranny at home is the model for tyranny abroad. What he perhaps didn’t see was
the perfect reciprocity of the relationship that perpetuates the law of the
strongest both in the home and far away.
When tyranny and violence are practiced on a grand scale
in foreign lands, the practice also intensifies at home. As American militarism
went into overdrive after 9/11, it validated violence against women here, where
Republicans held up reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act
(first passed in 1994), and celebrities who publicly assaulted their girlfriends faced no
consequences other than a deluge of sympathetic girl-fan tweets.
invasions abroad also validated violence within the U.S. military itself. An estimated
19,000 women soldiers were sexually assaulted in 2011; and an unknown number have been murdered by fellow soldiers who were, in many cases, their
husbands or boyfriends. A great deal of violence against women in the military,
from rape to murder, has been documented, only to be casually covered up by the chain of command.
Violence against civilian women here at home, on the
other hand, may not be reported or tallied at all, so the full extent of it
escapes notice. Men prefer to maintain the historical fiction that violence in
the home is a private matter, properly and legally concealed behind a
“curtain.” In this way is male impunity and tyranny maintained.
Women cling to a fiction of our own: that we are much
more “equal” than we are. Instead of confronting male violence, we still prefer
to lay the blame for it on individual women and girls who fall victim to it --
as if they had volunteered. But then, how to explain the dissonant fact that at
least one of every three female American soldiers is sexually
assaulted by a male “superior”? Surely that’s not what American women had in
mind when they signed up for the Marines or for Air Force flight training. In fact, lots of teenage girls
volunteer for the military precisely to escape violence and sexual abuse in
their childhood homes or streets.
Don’t get me wrong, military men are neither alone nor
out of the ordinary in terrorizing women. The broader American war against
women has intensified on many fronts here at home, right along with our wars
abroad. Those foreign wars have killed uncounted thousands of civilians, many
of them women and children, which could make the private battles of domestic
warriors like Shane here in the U.S. seem puny by comparison. But it would be a
mistake to underestimate the firepower of the Shanes of our American world. The
statistics tell us that a legal handgun has been the most popular means of dispatching a
wife, but when it comes to girlfriends, guys really get off on beating them to death.
Some 3,073 people were killed in the terrorist attacks on
the United States
on 9/11. Between that day and June 6, 2012, 6,488 U.S.
soldiers were killed in combat in Iraq
and Afghanistan, bringing
the death toll for America’s
war on terror at home and abroad to 9,561. During the same period, 11,766 women
were murdered in the United States by their husbands or
boyfriends, both military and civilian. The greater number of women killed here
at home is a measure of the scope and the furious intensity of the war against
women, a war that threatens to continue long after the misconceived war on
terror is history.
Getting the Picture
Think about Shane, standing there in a nondescript living
room in Ohio
screaming his head off like a little child who wants what he wants when he
wants it. Reportedly, he was trying to be a good guy and make a career as a
singer in a Christian rock band. But like the combat soldier in a foreign war
who is modeled after him, he uses violence to hold his life together and
accomplish his mission.
We know about Shane only because there happened to be a
photographer on the scene. Sara Naomi Lewkowicz had chosen to document the
story of Shane and his girlfriend Maggie out of sympathy for his situation as
an ex-con, recently released from prison yet not free of the stigma attached to
a man who had done time. Then, one night, there he was in the living room
throwing Maggie around, and Lewkowicz did what any good combat photographer
would do as a witness to history: she kept shooting. That action alone was a
kind of intervention and may have saved Maggie’s life.
In the midst of the violence, Lewkowicz also dared to
snatch from Shane’s pocket her own cell phone, which he had borrowed earlier.
It’s unclear whether she passed the phone to someone else or made the 911 call
herself. The police arrested Shane, and a smart policewoman told Maggie: “You
know, he’s not going to stop. They never stop. They usually stop when they kill
Maggie did the right thing. She gave the police a
statement. Shane is back in prison. And Lewkowicz’s remarkable photographs were posted online on February 27th at Time
magazine’s website feature Lightbox under the heading “Photographer
As Witness: A Portrait of Domestic Violence.”
The photos are remarkable because the photographer is
very good and the subject of her attention is so rarely caught on camera.
Unlike warfare covered in Iraq
by embedded combat photographers, wife torture takes place mostly behind closed
doors, unannounced and unrecorded. The first photographs of wife torture to
appear in the U.S.
were Donna Ferrato’s now iconic images of violence against women at home.
Like Lewkowicz, Ferrato came upon wife torture by chance;
she was documenting a marriage in 1980 when the happy husband chose to beat up
his wife. Yet so reluctant were photo editors to pull aside the curtain of
domestic privacy that even after Ferrato became a Life photographer in
1984, pursuing the same subject, nobody, including Life, wanted to
publish the shocking images she produced.
In 1986, six years after she witnessed that first
assault, some of her photographs of violence against women in the home were
published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and brought her the 1987 Robert
F. Kennedy journalism award “for outstanding coverage of the problems of the
disadvantaged.” In 1991, Aperture, the publisher of distinguished photography
books, brought out Ferrato’s eye-opening body of work as Living with the Enemy (for which I wrote an introduction).
Since then, the photos have been widely reproduced. Timeused
a Ferrato image on its cover in 1994, when the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson
briefly drew attention to what the magazine called “the epidemic of domestic
abuse” and Lightbox featured a small retrospective of her domestic violence work on June 27, 2012.
Ferrato herself started a foundation, offering her work
to women’s groups across the country to exhibit at fundraisers for local
shelters and services. Those photo exhibitions also helped raise consciousness
and certainly contributed to smarter, less misogynistic police procedures of
the kind that put Shane back in jail.
Ferrato’s photos were incontrovertible evidence of the
violence in our homes, rarely acknowledged and never before so plainly seen.
Yet until February 27th, when with Ferrato’s help, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz’s
photos were posted on Lightbox only two months after they were taken,
Ferrato’s photos were all we had. We needed more. So there was every reason for
Lewkowicz’s work to be greeted with acclaim by photographers and women
Instead, in more than 1,700 comments posted at Lightbox,
photographer Lewkowicz was mainly castigated for things like not dropping her
camera and taking care to get Maggie’s distraught two-year-old daughter out of
the room or singlehandedly stopping the assault. (Need it be said that stopping
combat is not the job of combat photographers?)
Maggie, the victim of this felonious assault, was also
mercilessly denounced: for going out with Shane in the first place, for failing
to foresee his violence, for “cheating” on her already estranged husband fighting
and inexplicably for being a “perpetrator.” Reviewing the commentary for the Columbia
Journalism Review, Jina Moore concluded, “[T]here’s one thing all the critics seem to agree
on: The only adult in the house not responsible for the violence is the
man committing it.”
They Only Stop When They Kill You
Viewers of these photographs -- photos that accurately
reflect the daily violence so many women face -- seem to find it easy to
ignore, or even praise, the raging man behind it all. So, too, do so many find
it convenient to ignore the violence that America’s warriors abroad inflict
under orders on a mass scale upon women and children in war zones.
invasion and occupation of Iraq
had the effect of displacing millions from their homes within the country or driving them into exile in foreign lands. Rates of rape and
atrocity were staggering, as I learned firsthand when in 2008-2009 I spent time
in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon talking with Iraqi refugees. In addition, those women who
remain in Iraq now live
under the rule of conservative Islamists, heavily influenced by Iran. Under the
former secular regime, Iraqi women were considered the most advanced in the
Arab world; today, they say they have been set back a century.
too, while Americans take credit for putting women back in the workplace and
girls in school, untold thousands of women and children have been displaced
internally, many to makeshift camps on the outskirts of Kabul where 17 children froze to death last January. The U.N. reported
2,754 civilian deaths and 4,805 civilian injuries as a result of the war in
2012, the majority of them women and children. In a country without a state
capable of counting bodies, these are undoubtedly significant undercounts. A
U.N. official said, “It is the tragic reality that most Afghan women and
girls were killed or injured while engaging in their everyday activities.”
Thousands of women in Afghan cities have been forced into survival sex, as were
Iraqi women who fled as refugees to Beirut and
That’s what male violence is meant to do to women. The
enemy. War itself is a kind of screaming tattooed man, standing in the middle
of a room -- or another country -- asserting the law of the strongest. It’s
like a reset button on history that almost invariably ensures women will find
themselves subjected to men in ever more terrible ways. It’s one more thing
that, to a certain kind of man, makes going to war, like good old-fashioned
wife torture, so exciting and so much fun.
Ann Jones, historian, journalist, photographer, and TomDispatch regular, chronicled violence against women in the
U.S. in several books, including the feminist classic Women Who Kill (1980) and Next Time, She’ll Be Dead (2000), before going to Afghanistan
in 2002 to work with women. She is the author of Kabul in Winter (2006) and War Is Not Over When It’s Over (2010).
Copyright 2013 Ann Jones
Image by CMY Kane, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/6/2013 11:13:55 AM
Environmental activists can easily come off as preachy, but Reverend Billy keeps it fresh with street theatre and the occasional dose of irony. Here's a glimpse into what's goes through his head as he protests mountaintop removal—from his new book,
The End of the World
originally appeared at Reality Sandwich.
There are about 80 of us, Savitri and myself and an eclectic mixed up group of
Europeans, South Americans and Russians.
First, we gather in the courtyard of Barcelona's
Museum of Contemporary Art. Amen? Savitri
announces that the name of our action is "Naked Grief," and that we
will have to learn how to cry energetically -- with tears all the better! -- in
public. We'll do this in Deutsche Bank -- a bank that finances CO2
emissions. As we sob and moan, we will remove our clothing. Then we will
rub ourselves with coal and cry even harder.
So -- we practice crying in that courtyard. Savitri coaches us in our
exercises in public wailing. It is easy for a few seconds, but
out-and-out crying, sobbing, retching, really sorrowing for ten minutes?
It is hard to do. We have to start crying over and over again.
To help the people who are having trouble crying on purpose, we go down into
the politics of this act. Deutsche Bank is among the banks that finance
Mountaintop Removal (MTR). Do you want to cry? Imagine a mountain
in Appalachia. The coal company inserts
dynamite into deep holes, then lifts the whole ecosystem into the air to
die. The cries of surprise and pain range across the mountain.
Nests fall from trees, deer try to run but catapult dead through the air, the
creatures on the forest floor are crushed, the mountain is uprooted and
broken. Then bulldozers with wheels 40 feet high begin to push the dead
"over-burden" into the neighboring valley, into the pristine mountain
streams below, where the fish lay their eggs and the delicate frogs sing
courtship songs. Where Mountain Laurel drops its petals and ferns grow from
hundred year old beds of moss.
Do you want to cry? MTR is a highly profitable but deadly coal-mining
practice. Long sequestered chemicals like selenium, arsenic, and mercury
float down wind, cancer clusters along their flight path. Toxins seep
into the water table... it goes on and on. Do you want to cry?
Yes, we cry, and with ever more feeling, until we are ready to walk to the
bank. Savitri leads us in her tan trenchcoat. We walk through the
narrow streets of the old city, full to bursting with mopeds and bikes and our
throng. When we get to the Deutsche Bank I hold the door open and Savitri
walks out of her coat, emerging all white skin and freckles and dark red
hair. We are weeping. People disrobe to varying degrees. We are
extremely naked, for a German bank.
The inconsolable wailing has a strange power. Among us are many Spanish
folk who know all about cante jondo. They can hurl down the betrayal
of the heart like no rightwing televangelist ever could. The bank
managers walk down to the first floor to see what all the trouble is about.
Read the rest of this post at Reality Sandwich.
2/6/2013 9:44:14 AM
This article originally appeared at WagingNonviolence.net.
word my mother told me about this country I believed,” said Janna Hakim, a
Palestinian-American college student from Brooklyn, with unwavering confidence
under the vaulted ceilings of Judson Memorial Church
in Manhattan on
Monday. Then, Hakim continued, “she was ripped away from me and my siblings.”
Her mother had been living in the United States for over 20 years
before she was taken from their apartment at 6:00 a.m. during the holy month of
was one of many immigrants who spoke on the devastating impact of U.S.
immigration policy on Monday. She was joined by immigrant activists and
advocates who announced the formation of a statewide coalition called New
Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform. The group includes immigrant youth and
families, workers and labor organizers, civic and faith leaders and community
groups. They came to make their demands for comprehensive immigration reform
heard and to amplify a call for action leading up to a nationwide mobilization
to be held on April 10 in Washington,
According to Jacki Esposito, Director
of Immigration Advocacy of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), “The mass
mobilization will be the culmination of hard work, legislative advocacy and
mobilization of immigration communities. Today is the start of a relentless
campaign to pass immigration reform in 2013.” That same day, a bipartisan group
of senators released their plan for a comprehensive immigration reform bill;
the following day, in a major policy speech, President Obama publicly unveiled
his own plan for reform.
continued to speak of the hardship her family has undergone since her mother
was deported. She and sister have become the caretakers for their younger
siblings, all of whom are citizens. Their mother has since been permanently
barred from the United
feel like America is my
home,” said Michelle Aucapina, a 15-year-old undocumented immigrant from Ecuador. She
was detained when she and her younger brother Henry attempted to cross the
border by themselves in 2010. She added, “I want to study, graduate, seize the
opportunities this country offers me and prove to my parents that it was worth
all they have done for me.” Now, she and Henry face deportation orders.
Antonio Livio, proudly wearing an orange T-shirt with the name of his immigrant
rights organization, La Fuente, spoke of crossing the desert, a journey that
took him three months. Fifteen years later, Livio is calling on reform, he
said, “so that I can achieve my dream of being seen as ‘legal’ in this nation.”
Church has a history of serving immigrants
and refugees — from its inception amidst an Italian immigrant community to
taking in Central American refugees during the 1980s — making it a fitting
place for New Yorkers for Real Immigration Reform to announce their campaign
strategy. The event was held in coordination with the Fair Immigration Reform
Movement (FIRM), a national coalition of grassroots organizations in the fight
for immigration reform. On Monday, FIRM held a press conference in Washington, D.C.,
with similar events and “echo actions” occurring around the country.
is organizing the April 10 mobilization, in which groups from all over the
country will coalesce to make the voices of immigrant families heard. This
marks the foundation of a renewed push for immigration reform that underscores
the gravity of the issue by elevating the daily struggle that immigrant
families face merely to remain intact. FIRM’s new campaign, “Keeping Families
Together,” places everyday families at the forefront of the fight to demand a
clear path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a reduction in the
backlogs of immigration cases that keep families apart, due process for all
immigrants and an end to mass deportations.
Coates, who is the lead organizer at Make the Road New York and who works
closely with FIRM, said of the campaign in an interview, “FIRM has a long
history of fighting for immigration reform and has built credibility and a
voice over the years. It’s a strong vehicle that is accountable to many
organizations who work with immigrants on the ground, as well as [having] a
great deal of capacity to work in Washington.”
emphasizes the strength that immigrants, particularly the undocumented, gain
from sharing their stories. “Participation in grassroots organizations,
speaking to press and generally getting involved is very helpful — it supports
people’s cases for being in this country and their confidence. It is the best
way to build power.”
has launched a website
where immigrant families can share how the immigration system has affected them
through pictures and posts — poignant tales of living in the shadows. The
campaign will also tour country this year; along the way, families will be able
tell and record their stories at vigils and rallies, which will later be
presented to their lawmakers.
we want to talk about family unity, we have to put families on the forefront
and develop mechanisms for them to share,” explains Coates. “We need people who
are directly affected by this issue to stand up and say what they want. If you
don’t speak for yourself, someone else will speak for you.”
advocates are largely pushing reform on moral and humanitarian grounds,
lawmakers cannot deny that immigration is becoming a defining political issue
for 2013. Latino and other immigrant voters came to the polls in unprecedented
numbers during the 2012 presidential election, shifting our political landscape
and sending a resounding message that immigrants will no longer be silenced.
asked why this campaign’s efforts will impact change in a manner fundamentally
different than past reform efforts, Esposito said, “This is a perfect storm.”
She cited a committed White House as well as the power that is building in
immigrant communities, which has prompted policymakers on both sides of the
aisle — and even conservative commentators — to show support.
his second inaugural address, Obama cited the lack of progress on immigration
reform as the greatest failure of his first term, and he reaffirmed his
commitment to repairing the immigration system. His promise comes as a slap in
the face to many, since under Obama approximately 400,000 immigrants per year
were deported for the past two years — more than under any previous
administration. The number of individuals detained by Immigration and Customs
Enforcement has doubled in the last five years. The U.S.-Mexico border has been
become militarized to a degree that was unfathomable under previous
administrations. And at least 11 million individuals in this country remain
than ever is at stake, and immigrant communities are becoming increasingly
unified, organized and outspoken. The coming months will be defining for them.
At the close of the event at Judson
Joel Ponder, a young Panamanian community organizer with Queens Community House
reflected on the calls for immigration reform by his fellow coalition members,
many of whom have lost loved ones to deportation. “We need reform now,” he
said, “or it will be too late.”
Image by Laurie
2/4/2013 12:54:16 PM
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.
For more than half a
century, Noam Chomsky has been a relentless voice for justice, democracy, and
universal human rights. Having revolutionized modern linguistics in the 1950s,
Chomsky turned his attention to the Vietnam War in the following decade, and has
since authored dozens of books on activism, propaganda, and American foreign
and domestic policy. Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT
Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, where he has worked and taught since
1955. His latest book, Occupy, appeared
in May 2012. Chomsky was a named an Utne Visionary in 1995.
[This piece is adapted from “Uprisings,” a
chapter in Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New
Challenges to U.S. Empire, Noam Chomsky’s new interview book with David Barsamian (with thanks to
the publisher, Metropolitan Books). The questions are Barsamian’s, the answers
Does the United States
still have the same level of control over the energy resources of theMiddle East as it once had?
The major energy-producing countries are
still firmly under the control of the Western-backed dictatorships. So,
actually, the progress made by the Arab Spring is limited, but it’s not
insignificant. The Western-controlled dictatorial system is eroding. In fact,
it’s been eroding for some time. So, for example, if you go back 50 years, the
energy resources -- the main concern of U.S. planners -- have been mostly
nationalized. There are constantly attempts to reverse that, but they have not
Take the U.S.
invasion of Iraq,
for example. To everyone except a dedicated ideologue, it was pretty obvious
that we invaded Iraq not because of our love of democracy but because it’s
maybe the second- or third-largest source of oil in the world, and is right in
the middle of the major energy-producing region. You’re not supposed to say
this. It’s considered a conspiracy theory.
States was seriously defeated in Iraq by Iraqi
nationalism -- mostly by nonviolent resistance. The United States could kill the
insurgents, but they couldn’t deal with half a million people demonstrating in
the streets. Step by step, Iraq
was able to dismantle the controls put in place by the occupying forces. By
November 2007, it was becoming pretty clear that it was going to be very hard
to reach U.S.
goals. And at that point, interestingly, those goals were explicitly stated. So
in November 2007 the Bush II administration came out with an official
declaration about what any future arrangement with Iraq would have to be. It had two
major requirements: one, that the United States
must be free to carry out combat operations from its military bases, which it
will retain; and two, “encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq,
especially American investments.” In January 2008, Bush made this clear in one
of his signing statements. A couple of months later, in the face of Iraqi
resistance, the United
States had to give that up. Control of Iraq is now
disappearing before their eyes.
Iraq was an attempt to reinstitute by force something
like the old system of control, but it was beaten back. In general, I think, U.S. policies
remain constant, going back to the Second World War. But the capacity to
implement them is declining.
Declining because of economic weakness?
Partly because the world is just becoming
more diverse. It has more diverse power centers. At the end of the Second World
War, the United States
was absolutely at the peak of its power. It had half the world’s wealth and
every one of its competitors was seriously damaged or destroyed. It had a
position of unimaginable security and developed plans to essentially run the
world -- not unrealistically at the time.
This was called “Grand Area” planning?
Yes. Right after the Second World War,
George Kennan, head of the U.S. State Department policy planning staff, and
others sketched out the details, and then they were implemented. What’s
happening now in the Middle East and North Africa, to an extent, and in South America substantially goes all the way back to the
late 1940s. The first major successful resistance to U.S. hegemony was in 1949. That’s
when an event took place, which, interestingly, is called “the loss of China.” It’s a
very interesting phrase, never challenged. There was a lot of discussion about
who is responsible for the loss of China. It became a huge domestic
issue. But it’s a very interesting phrase. You can only lose something if you
own it. It was just taken for granted: we possess China
-- and if they move toward independence, we’ve lost China. Later came concerns about
“the loss of Latin America,” “the loss of the Middle East,”
“the loss of” certain countries, all based on the premise that we own the world
and anything that weakens our control is a loss to us and we wonder how to
if you read, say, foreign policy journals or, in a farcical form, listen to the
Republican debates, they’re asking, “How do we prevent further losses?”
On the other hand, the capacity to preserve
control has sharply declined. By 1970, the world was already what was called
tripolar economically, with a U.S.-based North American industrial center, a
German-based European center, roughly comparable in size, and a Japan-based East
Asian center, which was then the most dynamic growth region in the world. Since
then, the global economic order has become much more diverse. So it’s harder to
carry out our policies, but the underlying principles have not changed much.
Take the Clinton doctrine. The Clinton
doctrine was that the United
States is entitled to resort to unilateral
force to ensure “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and
strategic resources.” That goes beyond anything that George W. Bush said. But
it was quiet and it wasn’t arrogant and abrasive, so it didn’t cause much of an
uproar. The belief in that entitlement continues right to the present. It’s
also part of the intellectual culture.
Right after the assassination of Osama bin
Laden, amid all the cheers and applause, there were a few critical comments
questioning the legality of the act. Centuries ago, there used to be something
called presumption of innocence. If you apprehend a suspect, he’s a suspect
until proven guilty. He should be brought to trial. It’s a core part of
American law. You can trace it back to Magna Carta. So there were a couple of
voices saying maybe we shouldn’t throw out the whole basis of Anglo-American
law. That led to a lot of very angry and infuriated reactions, but the most
interesting ones were, as usual, on the left liberal end of the spectrum.
Matthew Yglesias, a well-known and highly respected left liberal commentator,
wrote an article in which he ridiculed these views. He said they’re “amazingly
naive,” silly. Then he expressed the reason. He said that “one of the main
functions of the international institutional order is precisely to legitimate
the use of deadly military force by western powers.” Of course, he didn’t mean Norway. He
meant the United States.
So the principle on which the international system is based is that the United States
is entitled to use force at will. To talk about the United States violating
international law or something like that is amazingly naive, completely silly.
Incidentally, I was the target of those remarks, and I’m happy to confess my
guilt. I do think that Magna Carta and international law are worth paying some
I merely mention that to illustrate that in
the intellectual culture, even at what’s called the left liberal end of the
political spectrum, the core principles haven’t changed very much. But the
capacity to implement them has been sharply reduced. That’s why you get all
this talk about American decline. Take a look at the year-end issue of Foreign
Affairs, the main
establishment journal. Its big front-page cover asks, in bold face, “Is America
Over?” It’s a standard complaint of those who believe they should have
everything. If you believe you should have everything and anything gets away
from you, it’s a tragedy, the world is collapsing. So is America over? A
long time ago we “lost” China,
we’ve lost Southeast Asia, we’ve lost South America.
Maybe we’ll lose the Middle East and North
African countries. Is America
over? It’s a kind of paranoia, but it’s the paranoia of the superrich and the
superpowerful. If you don’t have everything, it’s a disaster.
The New York
Times describes the “defining policy quandary of the Arab Spring: how to square
contradictory American impulses that include support for democratic change, a
desire for stability, and wariness of Islamists who have become a potent
political force.” The Times identifies three U.S.
goals. What do you make of them?
Two of them are accurate. The United States
is in favor of stability. But you have to remember what stability means.
Stability means conformity to U.S.
orders. So, for example, one of the charges against Iran,
the big foreign policy threat, is that it is destabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan. How? By trying to
expand its influence into neighboring countries. On the other hand, we
“stabilize” countries when we invade them and destroy them.
I’ve occasionally quoted one of my favorite
illustrations of this, which is from a well-known, very good liberal foreign
policy analyst, James Chace, a former editor of Foreign Affairs. Writing about the overthrow of the
Salvador Allende regime and the imposition of the dictatorship of Augusto
Pinochet in 1973, he said that we had to “destabilize” Chile in the
interests of “stability.” That’s not perceived to be a contradiction -- and it
isn’t. We had to destroy the parliamentary system in order to gain stability,
meaning that they do what we say. So yes, we are in favor of stability in this
Concern about political Islam is just like
concern about any independent development. Anything that’s independent you have
to have concern about because it might undermine you. In fact, it’s a little
ironic, because traditionally the United States
have by and large strongly supported radical Islamic fundamentalism, not
political Islam, as a force to block secular nationalism, the real concern. So,
for example, Saudi Arabia
is the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world, a radical Islamic state.
It has a missionary zeal, is spreading radical Islam to Pakistan,
funding terror. But it’s the bastion of U.S. and British policy. They’ve
consistently supported it against the threat of secular nationalism from Gamal
Abdel Nasser’s Egypt and Abd
al-Karim Qasim’s Iraq,
among many others. But they don’t like political Islam because it might become
The first of the three points, our yearning
for democracy, that’s about on the level of Joseph Stalin talking about the
Russian commitment to freedom, democracy, and liberty for the world. It’s the
kind of statement you laugh about when you hear it from commissars or Iranian
clerics, but you nod politely and maybe even with awe when you hear it from
their Western counterparts.
If you look at the record, the yearning for
democracy is a bad joke. That’s even recognized by leading scholars, though
they don’t put it this way. One of the major scholars on so-called democracy
promotion is Thomas Carothers, who is pretty conservative and highly regarded
-- a neo-Reaganite, not a flaming liberal. He worked in Reagan’s State
Department and has several books reviewing the course of democracy promotion,
which he takes very seriously. He says, yes, this is a deep-seated American
ideal, but it has a funny history. The history is that every U.S.
administration is “schizophrenic.” They support democracy only if it conforms
to certain strategic and economic interests. He describes this as a strange
pathology, as if the United
States needed psychiatric treatment or
something. Of course, there’s another interpretation, but one that can’t come
to mind if you’re a well-educated, properly behaved intellectual.
Within several months of the toppling of [President Hosni] Mubarak in Egypt, he was
in the dock facing criminal charges and prosecution. It’s inconceivable that U.S. leaders will ever be held to account for
their crimes in Iraq
or beyond. Is that going to change anytime soon?
That’s basically the Yglesias principle:
the very foundation of the international order is that the United States
has the right to use violence at will. So how can you charge anybody?
And no one else has that right.
Of course not. Well, maybe our clients do.
If Israel invades Lebanon and
kills a thousand people and destroys half the country, okay, that’s all right.
It’s interesting. Barack Obama was a senator before he was president. He didn’t
do much as a senator, but he did a couple of things, including one he was
particularly proud of. In fact, if you looked at his website before the
primaries, he highlighted the fact that, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon
in 2006, he cosponsored a Senate resolution demanding that the United States do
nothing to impede Israel’s military actions until they had achieved their
objectives and censuring Iran and Syria because they were supporting resistance
to Israel’s destruction of southern Lebanon, incidentally, for the fifth time
in 25 years. So they inherit the right. Other clients do, too.
But the rights really reside in Washington. That’s what
it means to own the world. It’s like the air you breathe. You can’t question
it. The main founder of contemporary IR [international relations] theory, Hans
Morgenthau, was really quite a decent person, one of the very few political
scientists and international affairs specialists to criticize the Vietnam War
on moral, not tactical, grounds. Very rare. He wrote a book called The Purpose
of American Politics. You already know what’s coming. Other countries don’t have purposes. The
purpose of America,
on the other hand, is “transcendent”: to bring freedom and justice to the rest
of the world. But he’s a good scholar, like Carothers. So he went through the
record. He said, when you study the record, it looks as if the United States
hasn’t lived up to its transcendent purpose. But then he says, to criticize our
transcendent purpose “is to fall into the error of atheism, which denies the
validity of religion on similar grounds” -- which is a good comparison. It’s a
deeply entrenched religious belief. It’s so deep that it’s going to be hard to
disentangle it. And if anyone questions that, it leads to near hysteria and
often to charges of anti-Americanism or “hating America” -- interesting concepts
that don’t exist in democratic societies, only in totalitarian societies and
here, where they’re just taken for granted.
Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of
Linguistics and Philosophy. A
, he is the author
of numerous best-selling political works, including recently
Hopes and Prospects
Making the Future. This piece
is adapted from the chapter “Uprisings” in his newest book (with interviewer
David Barsamian), Power Systems:
Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S.
Empire (The American
Empire Project, Metropolitan Books).
Excerpted from Power Systems:
Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S.
Empire,published this month by Metropolitan Books,
an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright (c) 2013 by Noam Chomsky
and David Barsamian. All rights reserved.
Image of Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square demanding a free Palestine by Gigi Ibrahim, licensed under Creative Commons.
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