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2009

Shackles and Chains: America Leads the World Again
Friday, 07 August 2009 07:26
by Chris Floyd

We have often talked here about the American gulag — not the far-flung prisons and "intense interrogation" chambers of the global militarist empire, where tens of thousands of captives languish, often without the slightest pretense of even a modicum of rights or legal process — but the countless human holding pens that glut the highways and byways of the sacred Homeland itself, where not thousands but literally millions of people are incarcerated in a brutal system of retribution, abuse and moral atrocity: a system increasingly geared to corporate profit; a seedbed and training ground for gangs and extremists; a breaker and stigmatizer of generation after generation of Americans.

Yes, once again, the latest annual rankings of the world's prison population are in, and, once again, 2008 found the good old US of A the winners by a country mile. No other nation in the world comes close to imprisoning more of its own people — not in terms of raw numbers or by proportion of the population.

As the Economist reports, the United States now has some 2,300,000 of its citizens behind bars — or a whopping 756 out of every 100,000 people. China is the closest in sheer numbers, with 1,600,000 people locked up; but that's in a population more than four times larger than the United States, and in a state that is unashamedly authoritarian, as opposed to the incessantly self-proclaimed "land of the free." The closest competitor in proportion of caged citizens is Russia, with 629 per 100,000, and a hefty 800,000+ behind bars.

After these three "great powers," the numbers drop off considerably. No one can even make half a million, not even teeming Brazil or even-more teeming India, which incarcerates a mere 33 out of every 100,000 of its people. Iran — which as we know is the center of all demonic Islamofascist terrorist barbarian evil in the whole wide world — doesn't even have 200,000 of its people locked up.

It goes without saying that effete hellholes like France or Spain or Germany or Sweden or Canada don't even make the Economist's list of the Top 14. Nor does any nation in Africa — with the exception of South Africa, with its long, proud lineage of colonial jurisprudence. (Even so, the South Africans are pikers compared to the Great Powers — although they are ahead of Iran.) Nor does Burma, North Korea, Sudan — or any Arab country — make the list.

It is truly astonishing that any nation that dares call itself "civilized" would have such a sweeping, punitive prison system. But this is just one of many shocking facts that no longer trouble the American conscience, which has been both deliberately and incidentally deadened by decades of empire, aggression, brutality and lies. It is also the mark of a deeply racist culture that has sought — again both deliberately and unconsciously — to punish, repress and break vast swathes of its own population: namely, its African-American citizens, the descendants of the people the nation once enslaved. (Can it be any accident that the first black president of the United States is not only half-white, but is also not descended from American slaves? He is not really, you see, one of them: those dark Others who have lived among us for so long as repositories for the white folks' guilt and fears.)

The viral growth of the American punishment system is, of course, a hardy perennial for the very, very few people who give even the slightest damn about it. As I said, I've written about it for several years, as the new annual stats issue forth. Last year, Arthur Silber trained his considerable firepower on the subject, when a study revealed that not only were one in every 100 American adults now behind bars, but one out of every nine black males between the ages of 20 and 34 are now incarcerated. Silber noted the fact that "a high proportion of prisoners are non-violent drug offenders," and went on to say:

You see, in the liberty-loving United States of America, your body does not belong to you. Surrender your delusion that you are an autonomous being, free to choose what to ingest for sustenance or entertainment. It is of no moment that you do not violate anyone else's rights. What matters is that you recognize your body belongs to the state. If you fail to follow the state's edicts as to how you must treat your body, off to prison you will go. All of this is trebly true if you are such a miserable being as to have failed to be born into the privileged class — that is to say, if you are not affluent, white and male. (With regard to distinct but related issues, women obviously are also such miserable beings.)

We must note one further fact of immense significance. As I discussed in several essays from a few years ago, the prison system in the United States represents nothing less than the institutionalization of brutality and torture on a vast scale. (See "'They Don't Represent America'? Not Quite, Mr. President," "The Real Scandal," and the other essays listed here under the heading, "About Prison Abuse and Torture in the U.S., and in Iraq.") That system embodies the depravity and degradation of extreme cruelty to a degree that is close to ungraspable, and it corrupts everyone who works in it, as it corrupts our nation. When is the last time you heard the horrors of the U.S. prison system — including not only the non-crimes for which hundreds of thousands are incarcerated, but the cruelties that are inflicted on them when they are unjustly imprisoned — debated seriously and at length by our major politicians, including the leading candidates for president? That's right: you can't remember, because it doesn't happen.

 

You should read the whole piece, and the links to the abovementioned essays, which you will find in the original post.
 


Earlier this year we ran a long, detailed piece on how the private profits of an elite, politically connected few are helping drive the continued explosion in the American prison population. The piece centered on the long-running garden-variety corruption and backroom grease of one Lamar Alexander — the feckless frat boy and Bush family factotum who now disgraces the state of Tennessee as its "senior U.S. senator." This article was apparently eaten in the latest hack job on this blog, but you can find it at one of our affiliated sites, Pacific Free Press: Prisons, Profits, and the Banality of Evil.

Lamar was instrumental in the founding of the private prison industry, with his lucrative presence as the creation of the Corrections Corporation of America. But here I want to focus on some of the general background info from that earlier essay, taken from an analysis of America's private prisons by Global Research:

Private prisons are the biggest business in the prison industry complex. About 18 corporations guard 10,000 prisoners in 27 states. The two largest are Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut, which together control 75%. Private prisons receive a guaranteed amount of money for each prisoner, independent of what it costs to maintain each one. According to Russell Boraas, a private prison administrator in Virginia, "the secret to low operating costs is having a minimal number of guards for the maximum number of prisoners." The CCA has an ultra-modern prison in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where five guards on dayshift and two at night watch over 750 prisoners. In these prisons, inmates may get their sentences reduced for "good behavior," but for any infraction, they get 30 days added - which means more profits for CCA. According to a study of New Mexico prisons, it was found that CCA inmates lost "good behavior time" at a rate eight times higher than those in state prisons....

Who is investing? At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom's, Revlon, Macy's, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum. And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call "highly skilled positions."

....Thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets. A company that operated a maquiladora (assembly plant in Mexico near the border) closed down its operations there and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California. In Texas, a factory fired its 150 workers and contracted the services of prisoner-workers from the private Lockhart Texas prison, where circuit boards are assembled for companies like IBM and Compaq...[Former] Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that "there won't be any transportation costs; we're offering you competitive prison labor (here)."


As I said, I have been writing, sporadically, on this national shame for many years. I'll close with an excerpt from a piece I wrote back in 2006:

[Although the prison population has risen dramatically during the Bush administration] Bush is merely standing on the shoulders of giants – such as, say, Bill Clinton, who once created 50 brand-new federal offenses in a single draconian measure, and expanded the federal death penalty to 60 new offenses during his term. In fact, like the great cathedrals of old, the building of Fortress America has been the work of decades, with an entire society yoked to the common task. At each step, the promulgation of ever-more draconian punishments for ever-lesser offenses, and the criminalization of ever-broader swathes of ordinary human behavior, have been greeted with hosannahs from a public and press who seem to be insatiable gluttons for punishment – someone else's punishment, that is, and preferably someone of dusky hue...The main engine of this mass incarceration has been the 35-year "war on drugs": a spurious battle against an abstract noun that provides an endless fount of profits, payoffs and power for the politically connected while only worsening the problem it purports to address – just like the "war on terror." The "war on drugs" has in fact been the most effective assault on an underclass since Stalin's campaign against the kulaks... It was launched by Richard Nixon, after urban unrest had shaken major American cities during those famous "long, hot summers" of the Sixties. Yet even as the crackdowns began, America's inner cities were being flooded with heroin, much of it originating in Southeast Asia, where the CIA and its hired warlords ran well-funded black ops in and around Vietnam. At home, criminal gangs reaped staggering riches from the criminalization of the natural, if often unhealthy, human craving for intoxication. Ronald Reagan upped the ante in the 1980s, with a rash of "mandatory sentencing" laws that can put even first-time, small-time offenders away for years. His term also saw a new flood — crack cocaine – devastating the inner cities, even as his covert operators used drug money to fund the terrorist Contra army in Nicaragua and run illegal weapons to Iran, while the downtown druglords grew more powerful. The American underclass was caught in a classic pincer movement, attacked by both the state and the gangs. There were no more "long, hot summers" of protest against injustice; there was simply the struggle to survive... Under Reagan, Bush I and Clinton, the feverish privatization of the prison system added a new impetus for wholesale, long-term detention. Politically-wired corporations need to keep those profit-making cells filled, and the politicians they grease are happy to oblige with "tougher" sentences and new crimes to prosecute.

...A nation's true values can be measured in how it treats the poor, the weak, the damaged, the unconnected. For more than 30 years, the answer of the American power structure has been clear: you lock them up, you shut them up, you grind them down – and make big bucks in the process.
Obama Sends a Signal to the Few Remaining Suckers Who Believe in the Rule of Law PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Floyd
Monday, 03 August 2009 22:29

For anyone still harboring a few scraps of vestigial hope that the change of administration effected by the 2008 election would restore even a thin, weak, straggly lineament thin of the rule of law in the United States, the recent opinion piece by Barack Obama's hand-picked CIA chief, the doleful Establishment water-toter Leon Panetta, will tell you all you need to know.

In the friendly confines of the authoritarian newsletter known as the Washington Post — Panetta, the weak reed appointed precisely because of his weakness and reedness by Obama, who then surrounded the little puppet with some of the most complicit torture mavens of the Bush Regime to really run the CIA show — delivered himself of one of the most cringe-worthy performances by a high public official since the ritual abasements of Stalin's 1930s show trials. In this case, however, Panetta was not making a ludicrous, outrageous confession of false crimes he never committed; instead, he was making a ludicrous, outrageous defense of real crimes committed by Obama's predecessors — and in the process justifying his boss's craven (if entirely predictable) failure to faithfully execute the laws of the United States, as he swore to do in front of so many swooning millions just a few months ago, and prosecute the top Bushists for their manifest (not to mention openly confessed) high crimes.

In the piece, Panetta followed the Dick Cheney party line that the Obama Administration has adopted whole cloth. Anyone fooled by the stilted kabuki theater staged in the past few months — i.e., a purported "great conflict" between Obama and Cheney over torture and other Terror War issues — has, as they say, rocks in the head. For Obama has pushed the Cheney line at every turn — in speeches, in policy decisions and in court actions. And what is that line? In brief, that Bush and Cheney were noble public servants whose every possible excess can be excused by their zealous love and concern for the American people. That's the broad overview; getting down to brass tacks, the Cheney line is that any act of the Bush Administration that on the surface appears to be a flagrant violation of settled U.S. law was in fact perfectly justified by legal memos written, to order, by White House lawyers.

This is the sum total of the arguments advanced by Cheney and various other Bush apologists in recent months. Can anyone deny that these are the precise positions also taken by the Obama Administration? Well, if it wasn't specific enough for you before, Panetta has made it crystal clear. He writes:

The time has come for both Democrats and Republicans to take a deep breath and recognize the reality of what happened after Sept. 11, 2001. The question is not the sincerity or the patriotism of those who were dealing with the aftermath of Sept. 11. The country was frightened, and political leaders were trying to respond as best they could. Judgments were made. Some of them were wrong. But that should not taint those public servants who did their duty pursuant to the legal guidance provided.


The only minor point of disagreement between Cheney and Obama on this point can be found in Panetta's milksop concession the "some" of the "judgments" made by the Bush Administration were "wrong." But this is simply the usual factional quibbling seen around any imperial court. The core argument is the same: the attacks on September 11 justified any and all reactions in response, however illegal, heinous, murderous and atrocious.

(I would just like to interject a personal note here. I am an American citizen, and I was not "frightened" after the September 11 attacks. Nor was I "frightened" by the London attacks on July 7, 2005, even though I was in London that day. I have never been so "frightened" of terrorist attacks — not even in the first minutes and hours after September 11 — that I was willing to jettison the U.S. constitution, not to mention all rational judgment and common and moral sense, and let the government do "whatever it takes" to protect me. I have always deeply resented this constant imputation of base cowardice to the entire American people by American leaders year after year. I have no doubt whatsoever that the coddled, well-wadded sons of bitches who feed at public trough in Washington are themselves base cowards of the highest order; but Jesus Herbert Walker Christ, I do get tired of them projecting their own wiggly fears onto me.)

Look, it's very simple. The American republic ended for good a long time ago, more than a decade before I was born. Its last vestiges were wiped out with the creation of the National Security State signed into being by President Harry S Truman in 1947, and strengthened in a series of directives in the subsequent months. Such as the secret National Security Council directive NSC 10/2, signed in June 1948, which, as James Douglass notes, gave the newly created American security apparat the power to carry out "propaganda, economic warfare, preventive direct action including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures, subversion against hostile states including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerillas and refugee liberation groups." It also directed that these covert ops were to be "so planned and executed that any US government responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized persons, and that if uncovered the US government can plausibly deny responsibility for them."

In other words, Panetta's CIA — and the plethora of other secret agencies and armies that have sprung up in the blood-drenched muck of the National Security State — is specifically empowered to break the law and lie about it.

So what are we to make of Panetta's rationalization of Obama's cowardice in confronting the crimes of his predecessor, when he says:

...the Obama administration made policy changes in intelligence that ended some controversial practices... Yet my agency continues to pay a price for enduring disputes over policies that no longer exist.


Let's leave aside the glaringly obvious fact that an alleged cessation of a crime in no way mitigates or absolves its past commission. Or to put it another way: if a serial killer stops killing people, he is still culpable for the murders he committed before he "reformed." Yet we are constantly told that the government could fall and the world could end if anyone in power acknowledges this simple, self-evident fact.

But as I said, put that aside for the moment, and consider this: When the head of an agency that was created and empowered specifically to break the law and tell lies about it tells us that his agency no longer breaks the law — are we supposed to believe him? Should such a person from such an agency be given the benefit of the doubt? Or should not our first, rational, logical, and fully justified-by-history reaction be: "This guy is lying, and I will continue to assume that he is lying — since that is his job — until he proves, conclusively, otherwise."

This operation of reason and logic is given the pejorative term "cynicism" these days, especially among those of "progressive" hue, some of whom are still painfully contorting themselves in order to "give Obama a chance." We also hear sometimes that, like John Kennedy, Obama must move carefully against powerful, entrenched interests in the military-industrial-security complex. But there is no indication that Obama is in the least interested in moving "against" this complex; on the contrary, there are relentless, manifold indications that he eagerly embraces the National Security State and the militarist empire for which it stands, and seeks to extend its power. The op-ed by Panetta is yet another chunk in this mountain of evidence. For again, does anyone out there seriously believe that Panetta would be green-lighted to publish such a piece if it did not reflect the views of Barack Obama?

So you want to know what Obama thinks? He thinks, like Cheney, that you are a sniveling little coward who was glad to sign over your liberties to an authoritarian regime. He thinks, like Cheney, that any crime — torture, murder, aggressive war — can be countenanced if the Leader and his minions order it to be done. He thinks, like Cheney, that the decades-old National Security State must be protected — at all costs — from any vestige or ghostly revenant of the vanished Republic and its laws.

That is what Barack Obama believes. That is what his policies imply. And that is what his shallow mouthpiece, Leon Panetta, has just told you, openly, brazenly, to your face.

Note: Stephen Webster has more at Raw Story.

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Lou Jellyfinger said:

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Sig Heil
Is this why other countries don't trust or like us? Make me proud to live in the land of the free and the home of the bestest police force in the whole wide world.
 
August 07, 2009
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