Democratic Accomplishments At Home since 2008

Slightly updated version

In my earlier post on White Privilege (which you should read before reading this), I argue that it does us little good to distinguish between whether the Dems care about “civil rights” at home more than their attention to rights violations against foreign nations and foreign nationals.  Now, let’s talk about the charge that the Democrats are a safer bet on a number of issues that concern libs and progs. I am willing to entertain the argument—from a liberal or progressive viewpoint–that the POTUS/Dems are a better bet to protect the interests of citizens and folks of color. Here’s a just a brief review of his/Dems’ record on all non-War on Terror-related issues (I write about those all over this blog).

The Environment: Here’s what comes to mind immediately:

Fracking.  As the Boston Globe reports, POTUS hailed fracking as awarding thousands of new jobs. Great. But at what cost?

The process requires huge volumes of pressurized, chemical-laden water to break apart rock. Not only does it consume scarce water resources, a particular concern in the West, but it poses a threat of contamination if the fracking water is spilled or migrates into aquifers. The industry insists such risks are nearly nonexistent.
 
In the western part of Colorado, preservationists worry that scenic federal lands will be threatened by energy companies eager to take advantage of fracking technologies. On the east side of the Rockies, north of Denver, where there are more voters, entire suburban communities are rising against what they consider a potentially hazardous industrial activity in their backyards. The water used in fracking often contains chemicals known to cause cancer and other human health problems.
 

Clearly, if the industry insists that the threat of contamination is non-existent, then we should believe them. Right? Because what do they have at stake? They’re not in it for the money or anything like that.

By the way:

Environmentalists have been especially dismayed that Obama’s Department of the Interior, in new fracking regulations that apply to leases on federal lands, required drillers to publicly reveal the contents of fracking fluid only after drilling operations have taken place, not before.

Tar Sands Pipeline. POTUS has put off of a decision until after 2012 elections. In light of his other anti-environmental moves, I’m not confident about this major move to environmental degradation.

 British Petroleum. Obama was the biggest recipient of BP’s cash. After the initial disaster, it’s true that POTUS paid lip service to making BP accountable…and have we heard absolutely anything about BP since 2010?

Off-shore drilling. This is an area where Obama’s plan to drill (notice—Not NOT drilling) got overtaken by the House’s more ambitious plan to expand off-shore drilling. So, here’s what the POTUS’ compromise got us: Nothing. If one is going to go down fighting (and by the way, what exactly did the Dems get done under their solid majority until mid-term elections), why not just NOT give in at all?

Labor: 3 FTA bills, dead under the Bush Administration, revived and pushed through under the present Democratic administration. Notice that FOX news is crowing about this. POTUS/Dems are GOOD for the 1%. So apparently, “protecting labor” means passing a bunch of bills that enable US companies to move overseas, engage in “Free Trade” without labor protections—in China, and with the latest, the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Malaysia and Brunei (Hot bed of labor protections there, huh?).
Notice also that our previous Democratic President, the oh-so-liberal Bill Clinton managed to one-up George Bush I by promoting and signing the 1991 NAFTA which spurred the impetus to push jobs to Mexico, forego labor and union rights, and approve sub-par wages for Mexican citizens. Oh, I forgot: we’re supposed to root for the Democrats because they protect labor. Sorry, I lost the script.

Perhaps I’m being paranoid about labor rights and protections being undermined by the TransPacific Partnership. But we can’t find out, can we, because it is one of the least transparent agreements to date.

Health-care: According to some progressive economists, Obamacare is hardly healthcare reform, but rather a subsidy that draws insurance companies squarely into the mix. Great for a bunch of folks who can generally afford health-care, but by and large, puts unemployed and poor folks of a certain income at risk of being penalized if they don’t buy health insurance. Some progressive economists suggest that while Obamacare is being touted as a victory, but it isn’t much of one for poor people and people of color who are already having trouble making ends meet.

Banking: Need we discuss the colossal failure of POTUS and the Dems to manage, scold, punish, fine the bankers?  Read anything, ANYTHING, by Matt Taibbi, Bill Black, Matt Stoller, Sheila Bair, and others, who have discussed this failure ad nauseum. Last time I checked, the banking failure is hurting tons of folks at “home” in the U.S. And I don’t see anyone pointing to POTUS’ courageous stance in resisting the banks.

Mortgage Settlement: Again, need we discuss the colossal failure on the part of Kamala Harris to negotiate an adequate compensation package? See here and here. Neil Barofsky has a new book about the futility of their demands for accountability.  Who is this hurting? Clearly, those families who were hoping to be rescued from losing their houses in the sub-prime mortgage fiasco.

Social Security: A number of progressive economists think that there is a plan to cut Social Security right after the election; and others such as Dean Baker believe that the idea that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme is a myth.

Incarceration. I’ve written about this over and over again. No win here for black and brown US citizens. No win here for migrants and foreign nationals. None.

Drug war: Again, no win here. According to Michelle Alexander, it’s expanded and contributed to the systematic mass incarceration of Black and brown Americans.

Same-Sex rights: Some progress here:

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Yes, As POTUS and Dems were to be one-upped by a federal judge, they came out in favor of DADT. Very late in the game. And need I remind anyone that it was under Democratic President Clinton’s watch that DADT was instituted? The cycle of life.

Same-Sex Marriage: Yes, as of June of this year—the day AFTER a referendum banning it was passed in North Carolina. The POTUS had 3 years to come out in favor, and was notorious for not being in favor well before his election. The attention to timing is crucial here.

Reproductive Rights: Dem HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius managed to reject an initiative that approved the OTC birth-control pill, even after the bill had passed.

POTUS gave the Catholic Church an out from having to provide insurance for birth control to its employees.

POTUS did manage to include a co-pay free birth control provision.

Violence Against Women Act: Depends on which feminist you ask. Better for US women than for women migrants. Will come back to this in another post.

White Privilege, American Privilege: Does It Make Sense to Be More Concerned with Rights at “Home”?

Updated Version

I love how white folks are going around deploying “white privilege” pejoratively at this particular moment, 6 weeks from the elections. I think the term is useful and can be illuminating in demonstrating racial and political economic hierarchies   But if white folks are going to use it responsibly, the term should be placed up front, followed by a verb, object, and citation to someone—preferably a writer or activist of color– who explains and puts the term in context.

I wonder if they know that lobbing it against someone else doesn’t make them racially or morally superior, it doesn’t exculpate them from their own (white) privilege, and it doesn’t actually do the work of explaining their concerns.

I also don’t think “white privilege,” as deployed by whites, is a particularly illuminating term in pointing to some of the serious issues that trouble people like me.  After all, we know plenty of folks of color who have accepted the invitation into white supremacy, and helped design policies that induced the suffering of many folks of color—through the architecture of torture, justifying rendition practices, cementing the extra-legal category of enemy combatant, among other things: Condoleezza Rice, Alberto Gonzalez, John Yoo—and that was under the Bush Administration. But plenty of folks of color are doing it today: Governors Nikki Haley & Bobby Jindal on eradicating social structures, reproductive choice, etc. Really, the privilege in question is American (whitish or liberal) privilege: the privilege of not having to know (or know about) foreign nationals or feel particularly obliged to them, or know about the harms done to them, simply because the wars, jingoism, and aggressive foreign policy of the US empire won’t affect you.

White supremacy. Pretty loaded word. As philosopher Charles Mills uses the term in his book, white supremacy is defined to talk about the system of power that is designed to keep whites in power. Mills uses it to talk about the Racial Contract—both as the counterpart of the Social Contract and its foundation. The Social Contract—the one that ensures that white folks will have access to equal and reciprocal rights, can only do so on the backs of black and brown folks, who are sub-persons, in Mills’ terms. And we’ve seen plenty of what this Racial Contract leads to–I write about it here and here and here. But it is certainly possible for brown and black folks to accept the invitation to move ranks—for plenty of good reasons—to escape vulnerability, persecution, harassment. But there are also less than compelling reasons, like doing the work of white supremacists for them: being the architect of torture, of rendition, leading the charge to invade other countries. It’s not unusual that folks of color are invited to do this—and may have some compelling self-interests to do so; but it doesn’t mean that we should refrain from criticizing them, or constantly be subject to charges of racism.

In short, yes, there are some—debatable—improvements with regard to issues that affect mostly middle- and upper-class U.S. citizens. But this is hardly a proud record of accomplishments that should be touted as representing “Americans.”  I’m listing the differences on a new page—both to support my position, but also because I don’t want to distract from the argument here. See here if you are interested.

Really, the idea that we must look so hard to find substantive difference between the two parties suggests that at so many levels, empire has finally taken root.  Empire. White Supremacy. Gawd, such loaded words. And yet, really, this is where the U.S. is. Empire is deployed to justify actions and unite those at home against the Other overseas, who have been subject to conquest.

Hannah Arendt, wrote about the links of race and capitalism as embedded in empire in the Origins of Totalitarianism in 1948.  As she explored the roots of empire in the early 1900’s, she found the “inner contradiction between the nation’s body politic and conquest as a political device” an obvious one.” (1948, 128)  But the failure of this contradiction leads to one of two outcomes: either a fully united national consciousness of those who were conquered…or tyranny. Empire was meant to unite folks at home, to insist upon the moral good done abroad, and to expect their conquests to like it.

Arendt pointed out that the drive to expansion and conquest was fueled by the desire for money to make itself and for power (the state) to follow money (the bankers and capitalists). Imperialists wanted “to expand political power without the foundation of a body politic”—without having a political structure that managed and checked capital and secured rights.

Sound familiar? Here is Arendt again:

“The secret of the new happy fulfillment [of the bourgeoisie’s desire to have money beget money]  was precisely that economic laws no longer stood in the way of the greed of the owning classes. Money could finally beget money because power, with complete disregard for all laws—economic as well as ethical—could appropriate wealth. Only when exported money succeeded in stimulating the export of power could it accomplish its owners’ designs Only the unlimited accumulation of power could bring about the unlimited accumulation of capital. (Arendt 1948, 137)
 

History repeats itself at this moment. This is why it does us little good to separate out “our” obligations to “our own” from our obligations to “Others.” If we try, then we engage in a false disconnect. What happens internationally is intrinsically linked to what happens in the U.S.   Foreign policy influences domestic policy, by insisting that we have to band together against the Other—or it brings the same mentality—and similar policies abrogating rights protections back home—in the form of NDAA, the expansion of FISA, Indefinite detention, wiretapping, FBI databases and fusion centers. Capitalists influence foreign policy in line with their own interests–and consistently in line with domestic policy that lines up with their interests. This seems clear when looking at the list of accomplishments on the parts of the Democrats.

Glenn Greenwald, Jonathan Turley, and numerous others, including myself, have been making this point repeatedly.  This is why I think the term “white privilege” deflects attention from what’s at stake: there is absolutely a privilege in being able to ignore what’s happening abroad, or to insist on our moral superiority or exceptionalism. As Sam Holloway points out:

It’s very revealing that the most consistent argument in favor of supporting Barack Obama (when better options are clearly available) is that the other corporate option (Romney) will be worse. Crystal ball access notwithstanding, this is a terrible justification. It’s a clear demonstration that millions of us are willing to allow atrocities to be visited upon others as long as our own privileges are left more or less intact. We don’t care how many foreign brown children Obama exterminates as long as the wealthier among us still has access to health care, abortions, etc. Let’s be clear– I’m not suggesting those are trivial issues. However, if you accept a situation where you have access and others don’t, then you are reducing these basic human rights to privileges. The same goes for your right to due process; if you tolerate Obama’s extrajudicial killings, then you are saying that life is a privilege that you deserve and that others do not. In addition to being morally reprehensible, this approach leaves you open to having your own privilege (to health, security, life, etc.) revoked at any time.
 

Isn’t this what we’ve been seeing? In the deportation of migrants, drone attacks, indefinite detention, NDAA 2012, H.R. 347, suppression of speech? These issues are inseparable—when they happen to others, they are used to justify “our” privilege—in this case, American privilege. But “our” privilege can be revoked using the same laws, same authority (or lack thereof) that were used to kill vilified U.S. citizens like Al-Aulaqi, to detain, harass, and confine U.S. citizens without fair trials—like Jose Padilla, John Walker Lindh, Fahad Hashmi, Tarek Mehanna, Bradley Manning—these will be used against “us” too–starting with the most vulnerable, dark, and threatening first.

Having the right to have my contraception paid for won’t protect you or me against that immoral use of power to hurt, humiliate, torture, incarcerate—lawfully. The violations of bodies of Black and brown folks are intrinsically connected to the lack of respect for the bodies of black and brown women–in the US and elsewhere.  And Mitt Romney may be worse on some of these issues—but his ability to harm all of us will have been made much easier by the likes of our past 2 POTUSes—Democrat and Republican—and the current Administration. Not to worry. That is the devastating future of American –and not just white–privilege.

150 Years Since Emancipation: We’ve (Hardly) Come a Long Way, Baby

Saturday, Sept. 22 marked the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s early emancipation of slaves from Confederate States which were still rebelling against Union authority by the beginning of 1863.  The official Emancipation Proclamation would be signed into law on January 1, 1863.  But slavery wasn’t constitutionally abolished until December 18, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was passed. Perhaps because it was the preliminary announcement, there was very little fanfare, save for several NYT pieces. One was a column on Lincon’s Great Gamble, and the other an editorial that traced the beginning of the Laws of War to that event.

Still, some things that come to mind:

  1. The Republicans, in spite of their supposed zeal to appeal to African Americans and other minority voters, missed an opportunity to trumpet the fact that it was a Republican President whose actions would eventually free several million black men and women. There’s still time to commemorate the actual anniversary of the Lincoln’s signing of the EP on Jan. 1, 2013—well after the election. It could mark a change in long-term strategy. Will they?
  2. As Angela Davis (philosopher, Black Panther, and ex-prisoner), Cornel West, and Michelle Alexander have been arguing, the abolition of slavery did not lead to the freedom of black men and women, but rather to the continuation of slavery by other “legal” means.  Other means included Jim Crow (apartheid and indentured servitude); more recently, we see the continuation of apartheid and slavery through the massive imprisonment, voter suppression and abrogation of other rights of convicted African Americans and other minority populations for non-violent offenses.
  3. Innumerable Black men, such as Mumia Abu-Jamal are in prison due to shoddy representation, improper trials, or other irregular procedures.
  4. Populations of color make up 30% of the US population, but 60% of the prison population.
  5. 1 in 3 Black men in the U.S. can expect to go to prison in their lifetimes. 1 in 10 Black men is in prison or jail in the U.S.
  6. Plea bargains—agreeing to concede guilt in exchange for a shorter sentence—account for 95% of all felony convictions in the U.S.  90% of all criminal convictions are the result of plea bargains. Plea bargains save the courts time and money by bypassing trials; and save prisoners potentially lengthier jail sentences.
  7. Plea bargains also require the arrested to waive three rights guaranteed by the 5thand 6th (right against self-incrimination, right to confront hostile witnesses, and the right to a jury trial).  They also enable the waiving of the right to appeal a conviction.  By extension, plea bargains do not guarantee that the “convicted” are in fact guilty.
  8. Latinos represent the largest percentage of the 400,000 migrants detained annually in centers across the United States (97%).  There are huge profits to be netted in the private management of these facilities. It is one of the most successful jobs program, expanded if not created, by the Obama Administration.
  9. Migrants who are arrested or detained for “unlawful” entry into the United States are at the mercy of the whims of USCIS officers. They are not entitled to lawyers. Nor to judicial review. That means they have no access to judges to review their cases and the accuracy of the charges against them—or of any other facts.
  10. The CIA has decided to offer some transparency by announcing the names of 55 out of 84 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay Detention facilities who have been cleared for released by the United States (court system?). Why not the other 19 men, too?
  11. Adnan Latif, a Yemeni who had been imprisoned without charges in Guantanamo since October 2002, had been cleared for release multiple times over the first 8 years of his unlawful imprisonment; his release was challenged by the Obama Administration and ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court 3 months ago because of “security concerns.”
  12. U.S. citizens Fahad Hashmi and Tarek Mehanna represent only 2 of many Muslim men who were arrested on suspicion of terrorism, confined without charges, and after many years, convicted of material support to terrorism. There is no public documentation of these charges. Public evidence of their “criminal tendencies,” point to their vocal religious and political dissent against U.S. foreign policies and empathies for states that were subject to the war on terror (both are technically protected under the U.S. Constitution’s 1st amendment).
  13. SAM’s—Special Administrative Measures–can be issued by an Attorney General against prisoners for any sort of minute infraction, and not be subject to judicial review after someone is “convicted.”  SAM’s can include solitary confinement for years at a time, revoking visiting privileges with one’s mother, refusing to allow a prisoner out of his solitary confinement for even his daily 1 hour allotment for exercise.  They can be issued for infractions that don’t need to be known to prisoners or their lawyers. If they are promulgated publicly, the reason for the SAM is because the prisoner is acting in a way that is deemed to incite riots or violence. I mean how else would one view the act of praying, or god-forbid, shadowboxing in solitary confinement?
  14. The NDAA 2011 gave the POTUS the unlimited authority to detain suspected terrorists anytime, anywhere—until a lawsuit against Section 1021 launched by journalist Chris Hedges and other journalists was won in May, and its enforcement stopped with a temporary injunction. A permanent injunction was instituted last week.
  15. The permanent injunction has been challenged by the Obama Administration as of last week.
  16. “Homeland,” a cable show (Showtime) that features a CIA agent who tracks a CIA agent/white U.S. citizen/former prisoner of Al-Qaeda as a potential enemy of the United States, won a 2012 Emmy last night for Best Drama.  Isn’t Clare Danes gorgeous as a CIA agent?  Just saying.

The Enemy of My Enemy is Not Always My Friend: Iran, Anti-War Activism, and Sexist Aggression

This open letter from Raha Iranian Feminist Collective crossed my desk yesterday.  I post it today because the lessons gleaned from it are larger than just about pro-Iran/anti-Iran conflicts. This letter points to the inability of many anti-war activists and thinkers to see the nuances of progressive politics. In this case, as Raha demonstrates, it is possible to be both anti-war, anti-interventionist in Iran, AND critical of Islamic republic politics of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.  Raha has written an excellent—and I mean excellent–analysis of the subtleties of such politics here.

This letter points to the larger sexist, chauvinist, politics of progressive politics that have the danger to hurt women and derail solidarity through brute aggression. Aggression in the name of anti-war, anti-interventionist politics is an ironic mirror on the aggressive US military interventions in the name of freedom and democracy. The acceptance of such aggression in the name of a superior politics—whether against (women) activists with whom you disagree, or against foreign civilians that one’s government is bombing—signals a serious moral decay on the part of progressives and liberals.

As Omar Dahi commented here in March 2012 about the civil uprisings in Syria, the American left needs a more complicated politics that can simultaneously recognize the injustice of US imperialist politics AND the coercive and corrupt politics of leaders like Bashar Al-Asad and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad—politics that have left their people economically and politically disfranchised– without accusing others of being “pro-imperialist,” “pro-Zionist,” “pro-interventionist.”

[Update: For another nuanced article that explains the issues and principles at stake for progressive activists in relation to Iran, see this excellent piece by Danny Postel, “Iran, the Left, and the Non-Aligned Movement: A Guide for the Perplexed.”]

The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend. Read on:

************************************************************************

In light of recent hostile incidents within the anti-war movement against members of Raha and others who oppose war, sanctions, and state repression in Iran, Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, along with Havaar: Iranian Initiative Against War, Sanctions, and State Repression, have written the below.

Please read and forward on as you see fit and feel free to comment to Raha at: rahanyc@gmail.com

Open Letter to the Anti-War Movement

The upcoming anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan is a crucial time for activists to reflect on the urgent need for an anti-war movement that is committed to opposing systematic oppression, domination and violence. In the spirit of moving us towards this goal, we feel compelled to respond when individuals and organizations within the movement are harassing and maligning other members of the movement. We need to ask how this reflects on the political and ethical commitments underlying our activism. We need to ask when enough is enough and some kind of collective action is necessary to address an untenable situation.

There is a campaign of hostility and intimidation underway against Iranian activists in the U.S. who oppose war, sanctions and state repression in Iran. The Iranian American Friendship Committee (AIFC) has taken the lead in a series of physical and verbal attacks on Iranian activists and their allies. Enough is enough. This letter is an appeal to those who consider themselves part of the anti-war movement: stop condoning, excusing or dismissing these attacks by continuing to include AIFC in your coalitions, demonstrations, forums and other organizing events. We call on those of you who want to build an effective anti-war movement that includes the participation of those whose families are directly targeted by U.S. imperialism, and that is committed to social justice for all, to oppose the abuse AIFC has been heaping on members of various Iranian American organizations.

On June 29, 2012, Ardeshir Ommani of the AIFC circulated a public missive attacking members of Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, Havaar: Iranian Initiative Against War, Sanctions, and State Repression, Where Is My Vote, and United For Iran. This so-called AIFC “Factsheet” accused individual members of each group of harboring covert imperialist, Zionist, and pro-war agendas. Such a smear campaign should be transparent to all who know and work with us and to all those who recognize in these charges a familiar script. Ommani and AIFC are uncritical apologists for the Iranian government, proudly organizing dinners for President Ahmadinejad in New York each fall and inviting anti-war and pro-Palestinian activists to come pay their respects. They are not alone but work with the Workers World Party and the International Action Center to give left cover to the Iranian government and to infuse the anti-war movement with pro-Islamic Republic politics. They repeat the Iranian state’s position that the pro-democracy protesters in Iran are agents of Western imperialism and Zionism.  And now AIFC mimics the regime by lodging such false charges against us, activists who dare to challenge their orthodoxy and who oppose the Iranian state’s oppressive actions.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply dismiss AIFC’s charges as spurious and move on with the serious and necessary work of opposing U.S. intervention around the world. Ommani’s accusations of Zionist loyalties carry serious prison sentences in Iran as a crime of moharebeh (crimes against Islam or against the state). This means that Iranians who refuse to become apologists for the Iranian state cannot participate in the anti-war movement without having their reputations attacked and their names publicly identified with charges that can land them in prison, or worse, if they go to Iran. The continued acceptance of AIFC as a legitimate presence in the anti-war movement virtually ensures that the majority of Iranians in the U.S. will see the entire movement as pro-Islamic Republic and, therefore, unsafe and hostile. Forcing Iranians to have to choose between visiting their family members in Iran and joining the anti-war movement produces another form of discrimination and oppression of Iranians in the U.S.

To be clear, Ommani’s accusations in print are just the latest in an ongoing campaign of harassment and abuse going back to 2010. The brief history that follows illustrates tactics that are unacceptable to us, and that should be unacceptable to the anti-war movement. At a June 24, 2010 workshop at the US Social Forum hosted by Raha and Where Is My Vote, Ommani was disruptive, insulting young women organizers and questioning their legitimacy in speaking at the conference at all. At a February 4th, 2012 anti-war rally in Manhattan, Ommani attempted to physically knock an Iranian woman off of the speakers’ platform while she expressed her views against war and sanctions and in solidarity with those resisting state repression in Iran. At a March 24th, 2012 panel called “Iran: Solidarity Not Intervention” that was part of the United National Anti-War Committee conference, Ommani had to be asked repeatedly by conference security to stop calling members of Raha “C.I.A. agents” and “State Department propagandists” and even to allow us to speak at all. Unable to engage in any respectful dialogue with the ideas Raha members and their allies were advocating, he simply stormed out of the panel. At a conference plenary, security had to be called after Ommani poked a woman who was there to support Raha and who was waiting in line to speak. Ommani eventually had to be moved by conference security to a different part of the hall in order to prevent him from harassing members of Raha on the speakers’ line.

This conflict cannot be reduced to a matter of political differences about the nature of the Iranian state. There are certain behaviors that should be quite obviously beyond the scope of what is acceptable in the anti-war movement. These include the physical and verbal harassment of activists, particularly intimidation tactics lodged by men against women. Shoving, insulting and bullying women in an effort to silence us is outright sexism. Furthermore, the leveling of false charges that could make us targets of state repression has haunting historical precedents in the spy operations of SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police force, which hounded the Iranian student opposition abroad throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The same way that American progressives defended Iranian students from persecution by the Iranian and U.S. states in those days, we call on activists today to oppose these efforts to silence us. AIFC has consistently demonstrated an inability to follow basic rules of civility and engagement and should have no place in our movement.

Raha and Havaar oppose all military intervention in Iran (For more on Raha’s analysis see here.) Further, we oppose all U.S., U.N., and European sanctions against Iran, and have been active in trying to build an anti-sanctions/anti-war movement. In our view, the Iranian state, the Israeli state, and the U.S. state each are guilty of repressing popular democratic movements. Standing in solidarity with others engaged in similar struggles, we will organize against the vicious and autocratic measures of these governments until we are free–from the U.S. to Iran to Palestine and beyond.
Yours in struggle and solidarity,

The Members of RAHA Iranian Feminist Collective

Rahacollective.org

The Members of Havaar: Iranian Initiative Against War, Sanctions and State Repression

Havaar.org

John Knefel: Adnan Latif Wrote to his Lawyer About Why He Wanted to End His Life

This article is reblogged from Alternet.org. It is a must-read and sheds more light on the needless and groundless circumstances that led Latif to give up all hope on his ever leaving Guantanamo Bay.I will refrain from calling this a tragedy: a tragedy is thought to be inevitable. Latif’s incarceration and suicide were anything but. What happened to Latif is a travesty. And there is plenty of blame to be assigned: to the past and current Presidential Administrations; the Supreme Court, and the U.S. Military, for starters.

What happened to Latif is still happening: and not only to Guantanamo detainees. Incarceration without due process rights, under unjust circumstances or false evidence is a regular event that happens to thousands of minorities–men and women–everyday in the United States: in U.S. prisons and detention facilities that hold migrants and refugees. More on this in a future post.

Dead Gitmo Prisoner’s Tragic Letter About Why He Gave Up on Life

by John Knefel

September 13, 2012  |

Adnan Latif was found dead in his cell on September 10th, 2012, just a day before the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. He was 32. Latif, a Yemeni citizen, had been detained at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade, despite a 2010 court ruling that ordered the Obama administration to “take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps to facilitate Latif’s release forthwith,” due to lack of evidence that he had committed any crime. He suffered at the hands of the US government in ways that most people can’t begin to comprehend, and his death should be a reminder that the national shame that is Guantanamo Bay lives on and now enjoys bipartisan support.

Reexamining a letter  he wrote to his lawyer David Remes in December of 2010 shows the depths of his despair near the end of his life. His letter begins simply. The first paragraph is just one devastating sentence: “Do whatever you wish to do, the issue is over.” He then goes on to describe Guantanamo as, “a prison that does not know humanity, and does not know [sic] except the language of power, oppression, and humiliation for whoever enters it.”

“Anybody who is able to die,” Latif writes, “will be able to achieve happiness for himself, he has no hope except that.”

He continues:

“The requirement…is to leave this life which is no longer anymore [sic] called a life, instead it itself has become death and renewable torture. Ending it is a mercy and happiness for this soul. I will not allow any more of this and I will end it.”

Latif attempted suicide in 2009 by slitting his wrists, and his attorney, David Remes, has said that he tried to kill himself on other occasions as well.

A car accident in 1994 left Latif with a head injury, which he was attempting to get treated in Afghanistan when he was captured near the border by Pakistani authorities. In January, 2002, he was sent to Guantanamo, with the unfortunate distinction of being one of the first detainees. According to the ACLU, Latif was cleared to be released in 2004, 2007, 2009, and again in 2010 by US District Court Judge Henry Kennedy. The Obama DOJ appealed the 2010 decision, in part because of a policy of not transferring detainees to Yemen, and so Latif remained in custody – not because of what he had done (which was nothing), but because of where he was born. The decision to appeal his release wasn’t a holdover from the Bush era. That was an affirmative decision made by the Obama administration, and any supporters who hoped Obama would close Guantanamo Bay should understand that fact.

Latif is far from the only prisoner still held at Guantanamo despite being okayed for release. “Over half of the people left in Gitmo have been cleared for years,” said Cori Crider, Legal Director at Reprieve in charge of managing litigation on secret prisons,who has represented clients detained at Guantanamo. Crider went on to say that although conditions at the prison are better than they were in 2002, indefinite detention is enough to break people.  “That young man, who was, say, twenty when he is seized, is thirty. He sees his life slipping away from him with no sign of release. Hopelessness takes lives at Gitmo now.”

There are, unsurprisingly, international legal ramifications to Latif’s death as well. “When a Government deprives a person of their liberty and keeps them in detention, it exercises almost complete control over that person’s security and well-being. Because of this control, if a person dies in custody, there is a presumption under international law of government responsibility,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey, Former Advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions. “Thus, for any death in custody, the government must accept legal responsibility, or affirmatively demonstrate that it was not responsible for the death.” The understandable reaction that this is merely another example in an already disgracefully long list of international crimes committed since 9/11 only underscores how radical and warped US national security and foreign policy has become.

“A world power failed to safeguard peace and human rights and from saving me. I will do whatever I am able to do to rid myself of the imposed death on me at any moment of this prison.”

Adnan Latif’s letter is in full below. (Click to read a larger version)

Guest Post: The Middle Class Makes $200k Annually? Romney’s Wall Street Perspective

By Robert E. Prasch

Contempt can take many forms, but one of the most vicious is ignorance.  It suggests that the reality of a large group of persons is unworthy of reflection.  Unsurprisingly, as this nation takes on more and more of the characteristics of a plutocracy, we see this contempt-as-ignorance exhibited in more and more fora.  The latest installment occurred in the course of a much-touted September 12th dialogue between the former Democratic Party operative and now TV personality George Stephanopoulos and the Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney.  Context is important:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But his [Martin Feldstein’s] study, which you’ve cited, says it [Romney’s tax proposal] can only work if you take away those deductions for everyone earning more than $100,000.
 
MITT ROMNEY: Well, it doesn’t necessarily show the same growth that we’re anticipating.  And I haven’t seen his precise study.  But I can tell you that we can lower our rates–
 
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you cited the study, though.
 
MITT ROMNEY: Well, I said that there are five different studies that point out that we can get to a balanced budget without raising taxes on middle income people.  Let me tell you, George, the fundamentals of my tax policy are these.  Number one, reduce tax burdens on middle-income people.  So no one can say my plan is going to raise taxes on middle-income people, because principle number one is keep the burden down on middle-income taxpayers.
 
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is $100,000 middle income?
 
MITT ROMNEY: No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.  So number one, don’t reduce– or excuse me, don’t raise taxes on middle-income people, lower them.
 

 Let’s grant George Stephanopoulos and Mitt Romney the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they mean household instead of individual income.  According to the Tax Policy Center, the median income of an American family in 2011, i.e. the earnings of the family in the exact middle, the 50th percentile of the distribution, is $42,372 (this is cash income, excluding non-wage benefits).

$100,000 would place a family just above the 90th percentile and $250,000 would put one at the 94th percentile.  So, in fact the back-and-forth between Stephanopoulos and Romney really is a discussion about whether the latter’s tax policy proposals are of concern to the upper 6% or 10% of the income distribution.

Ah, but perhaps the Tax Policy Center has calculated the numbers in a biased way?  Happily, we can garner another perspective by examining the 2012 edition of the annual report compiled by the Council of Economic Advisors, what is called the Economic Report of the President.  There, in Appendix B-33, one will find a data series on Median Money Income in 2010.  Calculated upon a broader and more inclusive basis, it shows that 2010 median income for a household was $60,395 – still substantially less than $250,000.

This chart reveals another trend that speaks to the ignorance and complacency exhibited above.  It shows that household income peaked at $64,518 in 2007.  This means that the income of the median American household has fallen 6.4% since the peak of the housing bubble and as yet shows no sign of stopping.  This decline in American household income is both fascinating and disturbing because, according to the authoritative National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession that began in December 2007 ended in June 2009.  If the U.S. Gross Domestic Product has been rising for all but the first four months of the time that the Obama Administration has been in power, and the median household income is continuing to decline, then the revenues associated with the economic revival must be going somewhere.  The answer isn’t too surprising.   Corporate profits have hit new highs this summer.

Adnan Latif, the Social Contract, and the American Empire

Glenn Greenwald, emptywheel, Mark Falcoff , Andy Worthington, and many others have written about the Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who died in Guantanamo Bay Detention Facilities yesterday. Cause of death is still unknown. But if you click on these links, you will learn something about this young man, who by almost all accounts was no threat to the United States. Latif was turned over to the United States shortly after 9/11/01 by Pakistani forces in Afghanistan, which as emptywheel will tell you, they were doing quite often then. He was in detention without charges for nearly 11 years, recommended by the US Military for release in 2006 and again in 2008. His lawyers fought to have him released for a decade. According to Andy Worthington, he was cleared at least 3 times, until the Supreme Court overturned the order to release last year.  Thanks to various folks (“Heroes,” we’ll call them), was left to rot in GTMO with little chance of getting out—because the US was concerned about the lack of security in Yemen.

“At one point, military records show, Latif was cleared for release. But the U.S. has ceased returning any prisoners to Yemen because the country is unstable and its government is considered ill-equipped to prevent former militants from resuming previous activities. There are about 55 Yemenis among the 167 men held at Guantanamo.”

Translation: Latif could be very angry after his years locked up and, if he wasn’t a threat to the US going into Guantanamo Bay, he could very well be one if released. Imagine: you, your brother, locked up for 11 years. Forced to wear only underpants because it is immodest to pray in scanty attire. Punished for sequestering food, for stepping over the chalk line as “lunch” was doled out. Force-fed through feeding tubes in your nose (“like having a dagger shoved down your throat,” according to Latif) because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. He went on several hunger strikes to protest, among other things, his treatment in GTMO and his detention.

There are many protests of outrage, of which this post is but one. But what should we make of this death? As Peter Van Buren will tell you, there was a moment in time when torture was zealously denounced by the American Nation at large. There was a moment perhaps remembered by denizens of the US above the age of 20, pre-9/11/01 when human rights, while not airtight, were not laughable. Torture was not debated, because it was considered downright shady and impermissible for the arbiter of human rights, the U.S., to engage in such nefarious conduct. Pre-emptive surveillance, surveillance without a warrant from a judge, widespread interrogation, warrantless detention, deportation without judicial review for people whose religions and skincolors the US wasn’t fond of—these were not boasted of proudly. Assassinations, kidnappings, of foreign nationals—these were things that other countries did, and always with a frown of embarrassment.

Was this an idyllic time? No, of course not. African Americans were, even pre-9/11, fighting to survive the continuous contempt, the legal and political obstacles by whites to dignity, civil rights, wage parity, admission to college, employment for which they were plenty qualified (and over-qualified). Black men were—and still are—being thrown in prison. Nearly 1 in 3 Black men will expect—EXPECT—to go to prison in their lifetimes today.

Life is still extremely precarious for segments of the Black, Latino, Muslim, and Arab populations, but life has been extremely beneficial for many others at the same time.  It’s not coincidental of course. It involves a little thing called the Social Contract. As philosopher Charles Mills describes the Social Contract that is at the heart of modern liberalism—at the heart of modern Europe and North America—it is a Racial Contract.  A Racial Contract underpins the Social Contract, which means that political freedoms and social obligations are built upon the racial hierarchies that form the basis of United States political history.

That means slavery, Jim Crow, the exclusion of Chinese immigrants in 1882, the lynchings of black men, the internment of citizens and migrants of Japanese descent, the Hindu Conspiracy Trials of 1917 (where the US cooperated with the British to try Punjabi political dissenters who want Self-Rule in India), the deportation of Mexicans in the 1920’s, the Bracero program, and widespread harassment of Black Americans and migrants.

Today’s Racial Contract is slightly updated: it involves participating in the imperial impulses of the American Homeland, of doing the bidding of the American Empire.

We can see the Racial Contract operating in every area of American Politics—from designing torture policies, to pre-emptive policing, to exculpating bankers who enabled the financial and housing crises, to arguing for invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Racial Contract is being built on the drones that are killing Yemenis, Pakistanis, Saudis, Afghans in Guantanamo. The Racial Contract is being built on the lives of Iraqis and Pakistani civilians. It may soon be built on the lives of Iranians.

There’s another aspect as well. Philosopher Michel Foucault insisted in the mid 1970’s that we needed to take the emphasis off the figureheads like kings and presidents, and focus on its inner workings, on laws, bills, policies, programs that divide a society in two, and will—literally—force some to live and allow others to die.

About 10 years ago, this division was much harder to see. Today, Foucault’s prescience is stunning: Adnan Latif was forced to live until—well—until he’d outlived whatever usefulness he had for the American Empire. But his life—well, it was barely life. That was also Foucault’s point: the nature of life is also subject to the whims of the state—in this case, subject to the whims of American Empire. Ditto for non-citizens like those Pakistanis, Yemenis, Afghans. They get to live until—well—until the American state decide otherwise.

Concretely, what does this mean? It means that the American Homeland (after all, this is what the Department of Homeland Security signifies) will secure its borders through the series of laws that enable it to seize the power to control who is forced to live, who will be forced to die.  But the division is not just about the American Homeland and its empire. It’s about reinforcing the divide between citizens and non-citizens. President Obama was right when he invoked “citizenship” as the obligation to others. He was invoking the Social Contract in its post-racial moment: as the obligation to certain other (citizens). Not to Yemenis, Afghans, Iranians, Pakistanis. Not to brown women in other countries. Not to undocumented Latinos.

Foucault notwithstanding, the POTUS is hardly exculpated in for his involvement in this Racial Contract: His personal role in imprisoning journalists and whistleblowers from Abduleh Haider Shaye, his Administrations’s harassment of John Kiriakou, Julian Assange, and others,  his extra-legal assassination of Osama Bin Ladin, of countless #2’s who are supposed to be next in line to head Al-Qaeda, from Anwar Al-Aulaqi, and his 16 year old son, to Abu Yahya al-Libi, Saeed Al Shihri.  But not to worry, the Democrats will have a solid easy partnership with Republicans, who want much the same things. If elected, Romney will continue the legacy, no doubt.

Suffice it to say to that on the 11th anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001: the United States has waged a retaliatory? distracting? decade-long war. But it is hardly a race-neutral war. It is hardly a post-racial moment. Rather it is a war begun by elite whites with the assistance of populations across the spectrum, who get to reap the benefits of American Empire: Prestige, Power, Prime speaking time at the Political Conventions.

In the meantime, prisoner after prisoner will die in Guantanamo, even though they haven’t been charged, even though they have been nearly released, even though their only crime was being brown and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Innocents in other countries will die needlessly. But hey, that’s JUST xenophobia, and it happens all the time. So quit being an asshole and vote for the Dems, will you?

Adnan Latif? Wait, what happened? Who’s he?