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Tomgram: Engelhardt, Boo!

8:07 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note to TomDispatch Readers: While she was in this country, Ann Jones received a remarkable amount of attention for her new Dispatch book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- The Untold Story, including appearances on Democracy Now! and Huffington Post Live.  Excerpts from the book appeared at Alternet, Truthout, and this site -- and there’s much more to come, as I’ll note above future TD pieces.  In the meantime, a small reminder: please help support our new publishing imprint by picking up a copy of this first original offering from what we hope will be a powerful series over the years.  Believe me, selling this volume truly matters.  (It’s also a powerful, stunningly written account of the cost of war, up close and personal.)  If you are an Amazon customer, click here, and buy a copy, we get a small cut of your purchase at no cost to you.  If not, make your local independent bookstore stock it!  Many thanks -- especially to those of you who contributed to this site in return for signed copies of They Were Soldiers.  Tom]

Scared to Death
My Safety ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Security
By Tom Engelhardt

From the time I was little, I went to the movies.  They were my escape, with one exception from which I invariably had to escape.  I couldn’t sit through any movie where something or someone threatened to jump out at me with the intent to harm.  In such situations, I was incapable of enjoying being scared and there seemed to be no remedy for it.  When Jaws came out in 1975, I decided that, at age 31, having avoided such movies for years, I was old enough to take it.  One tag line in ads for that film was: “Don’t go in the water.”  Of the millions who watched Jaws and outlasted the voracious great white shark until the lights came back on, I was that rarity: I didn’t. I really couldn’t go back in the ocean — not for several years.

I don’t want you to think for a second that this represents some kind of elevated moral position on violence or horror; it’s a visceral reaction. I actually wanted to see the baby monster in Alien burst out of that human stomach. I just knew I couldn’t take it. In all my years of viewing (and avoidance), only once did I find a solution to the problem.  In the early 1990s, a period when I wrote on children’s culture, Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park sparked a dinosaur fad.  I had been a dino-nerd of the 1950s and so promised Harper’s Magazine a piece on the craze and the then-being-remodeled dino-wing of New York’s American Museum of Natural History. (Don’t ask me why that essay never appeared. I took scads of notes, interviewed copious scientists at the museum, spent time alone with an Allosaurus skull, did just about everything a writer should do to produce such a piece — except write it. Call it my one memorable case of writer’s block.)

My problem was never scaring myself to death on the page. I read Crichton’s novel without a blink.  The question was how to see it when, in 1993, it arrived onscreen.  My solution was to let my kids go first, then take them back with me.  That way, my son could lean over and whisper, “Dad, in maybe 30 seconds the Velociraptor is going to leap out of the grass.”  My heart would already be pounding, my eyes half shut, but somehow, cued that way, I became a Crichton vet.

Of course, gazillions of movie viewers have seen similar films with the usual array of sharks, dinosaurs, anacondas, axe murderers, mutants, zombies, vampires, aliens, or serial killers, and done so with remarkable pleasure.  They didn’t bolt.  They didn’t imagine having heart attacks on the spot.  They didn’t find it unbearable.  In some way, they liked it, ensuring that such films remain pots of gold for Hollywood to this day.  Which means that they — you — are an alien race to me.

The Sharks, Aliens, and Snakes of Our World

This came to mind recently because I started wondering why, when we step out of those movie theaters, our American world doesn’t scare us more.  Why doesn’t it make more of us want to jump out of our skins?  These days, our screen lives seem an apocalyptic tinge to them, with all those zombie war movies and the like.  I’m curious, though: Does what should be deeply disturbing, even apocalyptically terrifying, in the present moment strike many of us as the equivalent of so many movie-made terrors — shivers and fears produced in a world so far beyond us that we can do nothing about them?

I’m not talking, of course, about the things that reach directly for your throat and, in their immediacy, scare the hell out of you — not the sharks who took millions of homes in the foreclosure crisis or the aliens who ate so many jobs in recent years or even the snakes who snatched food stamps from needy Americans.  It’s the overarching dystopian picture I’m wondering about.  The question is: Are most Americans still in that movie house just waiting for the lights to come back on?

I mean, we’re living in a country that my parents would barely recognize.  It has a frozen, riven, shutdown-driven Congress, professionally gerrymandered into incumbency, endlessly lobbied, and seemingly incapable of actually governing.  It has a leader whose presidency appears to be imploding before our eyes and whose single accomplishment (according to most pundits), like the website that goes with it, has been unraveling as we watch.  Its 1% elections, with their multi-billion dollar campaign seasons and staggering infusions of money from the upper reaches of wealth and corporate life, are less and less anybody’s definition of “democratic.”

And while Washington fiddles, inequality is on the rise, with so much money floating around in the 1% world that millions of dollars are left over to drive the prices of pieces of art into the stratosphere, even as poverty grows and the army of the poor multiplies.  And don’t forget that the national infrastructure — all those highways, bridges, sewer systems, and tunnels that were once the unspoken pride of the country — is visibly fraying.

Up-Armoring America

Meanwhile, to the tune of a trillion dollars or more a year, our national treasure has been squandered on the maintenance of a war state, the garrisoning of the planet, and the eternal upgrading of “homeland security.”  Think about it: so far in the twenty-first century, the U.S. is the only nation to invade a country not on its border. In fact, it invaded two such countries, launching failed wars in which, when all the costs are in, trillions of dollars will have gone down the drain and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans, as well as thousands of Americans, will have died.  This country has also led the way in creating the rules of the road for global drone assassination campaigns (no small thing now that up to 87 countries are into drone technology); it has turned significant parts of the planet into free-fire zones and, whenever it seemed convenient, obliterated the idea that other countries have something called “national sovereignty”; it has built up its Special Operations forces, tens of thousands of highly trained troops that constitute a secret military within the U.S. military, which are now operational in more than 100 countries and sent into action whenever the White House desires, again with little regard for the sovereignty of other states; it has launched the first set of cyber wars in history (against Iran and its nuclear program), has specialized in kidnapping terror suspects off city streets and in rural backlands globally, and has a near-monopolistic grip on the world arms trade (a 78% market share according to the latest figures available); its military expenditures are greater than the next 13 nations combined; and it continues to build military bases across the planet in a historically unprecedented way.

In the twenty-first century, the power to make war has gravitated ever more decisively into the White House, where the president has a private air force of drones, and two private armies of his own — those special operations types and CIA paramilitaries — to order into battle just about anywhere on the planet.  Meanwhile, the real power center in Washington has increasingly come to be located in the national security state (and the allied corporate “complexes” linked to it by that famed “revolving door” somewhere in the nation’s capital).  That state within a state has gone through boom times even as many Americans busted.  It has experienced a multi-billion-dollar construction bonanza, including the raising of elaborate new headquarters, scores of building complexes, massive storage facilities, and the like, while the private housing market went to hell.  With its share of that trillion-dollar national security budget, its many agencies and outfits have been bolstered even as the general economy descended into a seemingly permanent slump.

As everyone is now aware, the security state’s intelligence wing has embedded eyes and ears almost everywhere, online and off, here and around the world.  The NSA, the CIA, and other agencies are scooping up just about every imaginable form of human communication, no matter where or in what form it takes place.  In the process, American intelligence has “weaponized” the Internet and functionally banished the idea of privacy to some other planet.

Meanwhile, the “Defense” Department has grown ever larger as Washington morphed into a war capital for an unending planetary conflict originally labeled the Global War on Terror.  In these years, the “all-volunteer” military has been transformed into something like a foreign legion, another 1% separated from the rest of society. At the same time, the American way of war has been turned into a profit center for a range of warrior corporations and rent-a-gun outfits that enter combat zones with the military, building bases, delivering the mail, and providing food and guard services, among other things.

Domestically, the U.S. has grown more militarized as “security” concerns have been woven into every form of travel, terror fears and alerts have become part and parcel of daily life, and everything around us has up-armored.  Police forces across the land, heavily invested in highly militarized SWAT teams, have donned more military-style uniforms, and acquired armored cars, tanks, MRAPS, drones, helicopters, drone submarines, and other military-style weaponry (often surplus equipment donated by the Pentagon).  Even campus cops have up-armored.

In a parallel development, Americans have themselves become more heavily armed and in a more military style.  Among the 300,000,000 firearms of all sorts estimated to be floating around the U.S., there are now reportedly three to four million AR-15 military-style assault rifles.  And with all of this has gone a certain unhinged quality, both for those SWAT teams that seem to have a nasty habit of breaking into homes armed to the teeth and wounding or killing people accused of nonviolent crimes, and for ordinary citizens who have made random or mass killings regular news events.

On August 1, 1966, a former Marine sniper took to the 28th floor of a tower on the campus of the University of Texas with an M-1 carbine and an automatic shotgun, killing 17, while wounding 32.  It was an act that staggered the American imagination, shook the media, led to a commission being formed, and put those SWAT teams in our future.  But no one then could have guessed how, from Columbine high school (13 dead, 24 wounded) and Virginia Tech university (32 dead, 17 wounded) to Sandy Hook Elementary School (26 dead, 20 of them children), the unhinged of our heavily armed nation would make slaughters, as well as random killings even by children, all-too-common in schools, workplaces, movie theaters, supermarket parking lots, airports, houses of worship, navy yards, and so on.

And don’t even get me started on imprisonment, a category in which we qualify as the world’s leader with 2.2 million people behind bars, a 500% increase over the last three decades, or the rise of the punitive spirit in this country.  That would include the handcuffing of remarkably young children at their schools for minor infractions and a fierce government war on whistleblowers — those, that is, who want to tell us something about what’s going on inside the increasingly secret state that runs our American world and that, in 2011, considered 92 million of the documents it generated so potentially dangerous to outside eyes that it classified them.

A Nameless State (of Mind)

Still, don’t call this America a “police state,” not given what that came to mean in the previous century, nor a “totalitarian” state, given what that meant back then.  The truth is that we have no appropriate name, label, or descriptive term for ourselves.  Consider that a small sign of just how little we’ve come to grips with what we’re becoming.  But you don’t really need a name, do you, not if you’re living it?  However nameless it may be, tell me the truth: Doesn’t the direction we’re heading in leave you with the urge to jump out of your skin?

And by the way, what I’ve been describing so far isn’t the apocalyptic part of the story, just the everyday framework for American life in 2013.  For your basic apocalypse, you need to turn to a subject that, on the whole, doesn’t much interest Washington or the mainstream media.  I’m talking, of course, about climate change or what the nightly news loves to call “extreme weather,” a subject we generally prefer to put on the back burner while we’re hailing the “good news” that the U.S. may prove to be the Saudi Arabia of the twenty-first century — that is, hopped up on fossil fuels for the next 50 years; or that green energy really isn’t worth an Apollo-style program of investment and R&D; or that Arctic waters should be opened to drilling; or that it’s reasonable to bury on the inside pages of the paper with confusing headlines the latest figures on the record levels of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere and the way the use of coal, the dirtiest of the major fossil fuels, is actually expanding globally; or…  but you get the idea.  Rising sea levels (see ya, Florida; so long, Boston), spreading disease, intense droughts, wild floods, extreme storms, record fire seasons — I mean, you already know the tune.

You still wanna be scared?  Imagine that someone offered you a wager, and let’s be conservative here: continue on your present path and there will be a 10%-20% chance that this planet becomes virtually uninhabitable a century or two from now.  Not bad odds, right?  Still, I think just about anyone would admit that only a maniac would take such a bet, no matter the odds.  Actually, let me amend that: only a maniac or the people who run the planet’s major energy companies, and the governments (our own included) that help fund and advance their activities, and those governments like Russia and Saudi Arabia that are essentially giant energy companies.

Because, hey, realistically speaking, that’s the bet that all of us on planet Earth have taken on.

And just in case you were wondering whether you were still at the movies, you’re not, and the lights aren’t coming back on either.

Now, if that isn’t scary, what is?

Boo!

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture (now also in a Kindle edition), runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.

Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt

Tomgram: Todd Miller, The Border-Industrial Complex Goes Abroad

7:44 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

<p><a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175774/tomgram%3A_todd_miller%2C_the_border-industrial_complex_goes_abroad/”>This</a> article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click <a href=”http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&id=1e41682ade”>here</a>.</p>

<p>As with the rest of our homeland security state, when it comes to border security, reality checks aren&rsquo;t often in the cards.&nbsp; The money just pours into a world of remarkable secrecy and unaccountability.&nbsp; Last week, however, the Government Accountability Office&nbsp;<a href=”http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/11/tsa-behavior-profiling-not-effective-gao-report-finds/”>released</a>&nbsp;a report about a Transportation Security Administration decision to spend $200 million a year on a &ldquo;behavioral screening program&rdquo; involving 3,000 &ldquo;behavior detection officers&rdquo; at 176 airports.&nbsp; The GAO concluded that, $1 billion later, it worked &ldquo;probably no better than chance.&rdquo;&nbsp; Put another way, 3,000 specially trained TSA agents could rely on their expensive profiling techniques to pick twitchy passengers out of screening lines as likely terrorists, or they could look at you and flip a coin.&nbsp;</p>
<p>The lesson here: nothing, not even a program without meaningful content that costs an arm and a leg, will stop our national security officials from constantly up-armoring this country and so making it more secure from one of the&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175402/engelhardt_100%25_doctrine”>least pressing dangers</a>&nbsp;Americans face: terrorism.&nbsp; That endless securitization process is transparent in a way that, until the&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.theguardian.com/world/the-nsa-files”>Snowden revelations</a>, nothing much else about our security state was.&nbsp; Any alarming incident, any nut who tries to&nbsp;<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Reid”>light his shoes</a>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umar_Farouk_Abdulmutallab”>stashes a bomb</a>&nbsp;in his underwear or enters an airport and&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/suspect-charged-with-murder-in-lax-shooting/2013/11/02/20946d66-43fe-11e3-8b74-d89d714ca4dd_story_1.html”>blows away</a>&nbsp;a TSA agent, and you promptly get the next set of&nbsp;<a href=”http://thehill.com/blogs/transportation-report/tsa/189252-union-calls-for-armed-tsa-agents-after-shooting”>calls</a>&nbsp;for more: more weaponry, more surveillance, more guards, more draconian regulations, more security technology, more high-tech walls, more billions of dollars going to one &ldquo;complex&rdquo; or another, and more of what passes in twenty-first-century America for safety.&nbsp; Much of this — like that TSA profiling program or our vast set of&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175771/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_a_surveillance_state_scorecard/”>global eavesdropping operations</a>&nbsp;– has a kind of coin-flipping quality to it.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Still, it should never be claimed that this mania for what we insist on calling &ldquo;security&rdquo; provides no security for anyone.&nbsp; After all, it guarantees the safety of those officially guarding us.&nbsp; They always know that some small set of maniacs or other will make sure the funding never stops, their jobs will remain secure, and the military-industrial-complex, homeland-security complex, and border-security complex will continue to thrive in a country that&rsquo;s been looking a little on the peaked side of late.&nbsp; In this context,&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/todd_miller_surveillance_surge”>TomDispatch regular</a>&nbsp;Todd Miller, who covers our borderlands for this site, offers us the latest news about how to keep border security rolling in dough.&nbsp; The formula is simple enough, if nonetheless startling: stop thinking of our borders as just those strips of land running between the U.S. and Mexico and the U.S. and Canada. Turning borderlands into Border World is the obvious way to create a cash cow.&nbsp;<em>Tom</em></p>
<blockquote>
<p><strong>Border Patrol International&nbsp;</strong><br /><strong>&ldquo;The American Homeland Is the Planet&rdquo;&nbsp;</strong><br />By&nbsp;<a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/toddmiller”>Todd Miller</a></p>
<p>It isn&rsquo;t exactly the towering 20-foot wall that runs like a scar through significant parts of the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. Imagine instead the sort of metal police barricades you see at protests. These are unevenly lined up like so many crooked teeth on the Dominican Republic&rsquo;s side of the river that acts as its border with Haiti. Like dazed versions of U.S. Border Patrol agents, the armed Dominican border guards sit at their assigned posts, staring at the opposite shore.&nbsp; There, on Haitian territory, children splash in the water and women wash clothes on rocks.</p>
<p>One of those CESFRONT (Specialized Border Security Corps) guards, carrying an assault rifle, is walking six young Haitian men back to the main base in Dajabon, which is painted desert camouflage as if it were in a Middle Eastern war zone.</p>
<p>If the scene looks like a five-and-dime version of what happens on the U.S. southern border, that&rsquo;s because it is. The enforcement model the Dominican Republic uses to police its boundary with Haiti is an import from the United States.</p>
<div></div>
<p>CESFRONT itself is, in fact, an outgrowth of a U.S. effort to promote &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; abroad as part of its Global War on Terror.&nbsp; So U.S. Consul-General Michael Schimmel told a group from the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic in the Dominican Republic back in 2008, according to an internal report written by the law students along with the Dominican immigrant solidarity organization Solidaridad Fronteriza. The U.S. military, he added, was training the Dominican border patrol in &ldquo;professionalism.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Schimmel was explaining an overlooked manifestation of U.S. imperial policy in the post-9/11 era. &nbsp;Militarized borders are becoming ever more common throughout the world, especially in areas of U.S. influence.</p>
<p>CESFRONT&rsquo;s Dajabon commander is Colonel Juan de Jesus Cruz, a stout, Napoleonic figure with a booming voice. Watching the colonel interact with those detained Haitian teenagers was my first brush with how Washington&rsquo;s &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; abroad policy plays out on the ground. The CESFRONT base in Dajabon is located near the Massacre River that divides the two countries.&nbsp; Its name is a grim reminder of a time in 1937 when Dominican forces slaughtered an estimated 20,000 Haitians in what has been <a href=”http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/10/01/162092252/remembering-to-never-forget-dominican-republics-parsley-massacre”>called</a> the &ldquo;twentieth century&rsquo;s least-remembered act of genocide.&rdquo; That act ensured the imposition of a 227-mile boundary between the two countries that share the same island.</p>
<p>As rain falls and the sky growls, Cruz points to the drenched young Haitians and says a single word, &ldquo;<em>ilegales</em>,&rdquo; his index finger hovering in the air. &nbsp;The word &ldquo;illegals&rdquo; doesn&rsquo;t settle well with one of the teenagers, who glares at the colonel and replies defiantly, &ldquo;We have come because of hunger.&rdquo;</p>
<p>His claim is corroborated by every <a href=”http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTPOVERTY/EXTPA/0,,contentMDK:20207590~menuPK:435735~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:430367~isCURL:Y~isCURL:Y,00.html”>report</a> about conditions in Haiti, but the colonel responds, &ldquo;You have resources there,&rdquo; with the spirit of a man who relishes a debate.</p>
<p>The teenager, who will undoubtedly soon be expelled from the Dominican Republic like so many other Haitians (including, these days, people of Haitian descent <a href=”http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-kurlansky-haiti-dominican-republic-citizensh-20131110,0,5489523.story#axzz2kgwDTmLx”>born</a> in the country), gives the colonel a withering look.&nbsp; He&rsquo;s clearly boiling inside. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s hunger in Haiti. There&rsquo;s poverty in Haiti. There is no way the colonel could not see that,&rdquo; he tells Cruz. &ldquo;You are right on the border.&rdquo;</p>
<p>This tense, uneasy, and commonplace interaction is one of countless numbers of similar moments spanning continents from Latin America and Africa to the Middle East and Asia. On one side, a man in a uniform with a gun and the authority to detain, deport, or sometimes even kill; on the other, people with the most fundamental of unmet needs and without the proper documentation to cross an international boundary. Such people, uprooted, in flight, in pain, in desperate straits, are today ever more commonly dismissed, if they&rsquo;re lucky, as the equivalent of criminals, or if they aren&rsquo;t so lucky, labeled &ldquo;terrorists&rdquo; and treated accordingly.</p>
<p>In a seminal <a href=”http://www.globaldetentionproject.org/fileadmin/publications/Flynn_LASA.pdf”>article</a> &ldquo;Where&rsquo;s the U.S. Border?,&rdquo; Michael Flynn, founder of the Global Detention Project, described the expansion of U.S. &ldquo;border enforcement&rdquo; to the planet in the context of the Global War on Terror as essentially a new way of defining national sovereignty.&nbsp; &ldquo;U.S. border control efforts,&rdquo; he argued, &ldquo;have undergone a dramatic metamorphosis in recent years as the United States has attempted to implement practices aimed at stopping migrants long before they reach U.S. shores.&rdquo;</p>
<p>In this way, borders are, in a sense, being both built up and torn down.&nbsp; Just as with the drones that, from Pakistan to Somalia, the White House <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175551/engelhardt_assassin_in_chief”>sends</a> across national boundaries to execute those it has identified as our enemies, so with border patrolling: definitions of U.S. national &ldquo;sovereignty,&rdquo; including where our own borders end and where our version of &ldquo;national&rdquo; defense stretches are becoming ever more malleable.&nbsp; As Flynn wrote, although &ldquo;the U.S. border has been hardened in a number of ways — most dramatically by building actual walls — it is misleading to think that the country&rsquo;s efforts stop there. Rather the U.S. border in an age dominated by a global war on terrorism and the effects of economic globalization has become a flexible point of contention.&rdquo;</p>
<p>In other words, &ldquo;hard&rdquo; as actual U.S. borders are becoming, what might be called our global, or perhaps even virtual, borders are growing ever more pliable and ever more expansive — extending not only to places like the Dominican Republic, but to the edges of our vast military-surveillance grid, into cyberspace, and via spinning satellites and other spying systems, into space itself.</p>
<p>Back in 2004, a single <a href=”http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf”>sentence</a> in the 9/11 commission report caught this changing mood succinctly: &ldquo;9/11 has taught us that terrorism against American interests &lsquo;over there&rsquo; should be regarded just as we regard terrorism against Americans &lsquo;over here.&rsquo; In this same sense the American homeland is the planet.&rdquo;</p>
<p><strong>New World Border</strong></p>
<p>Washington&rsquo;s response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake provides one example of how quickly a mobile U.S. border and associated fears of massive immigration or unrest can be brought into play.</p>
<p>In the first days after that disaster, a U.S. Air Force cargo plane circled parts of the island for five hours repeatedly <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/19/us/19refugee.html?_r=0″>broadcasting</a> in Creole the prerecorded voice of Raymond Joseph, Haiti&rsquo;s ambassador to the United States.</p>
<p>&ldquo;Listen, don&rsquo;t rush [to the United States] on boats to leave the country,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;If you do that, we&rsquo;ll all have even worse problems. Because I&rsquo;ll be honest with you: if you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that&rsquo;s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.&rdquo;</p>
<p>That disembodied voice from the heavens was addressing Haitians still stunned in the wake of an earthquake that had killed up to 316,000 people and left an additional one million homeless. State Department Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/01/19/haiti.broadcast.warning/”>explained</a> the daily flights to CNN this way: &ldquo;We are sending public service messages&hellip; to save lives.&rdquo; Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quickly dispatched 16 Coast Guard cutters to patrol Haitian waters, blocking people from leaving their devastated island. DHS authorities also cleared space in a 600-bed immigration detention center in Miami, and at the <a href=”http://www.otherworldsarepossible.org/business-disaster-wheres-haiti-bound-money-going”>for-profit</a> Guantanamo Bay Migrations Operation Center (run by the GEO Group) at the infamous U.S. base in Cuba.</p>
<p>In other words, the U.S. border is no longer static and &ldquo;homeland security&rdquo; no longer stays in the homeland: it&rsquo;s mobile, it&rsquo;s rapid, and it’s international.</p>
<p>Maybe this is why, last March, when I asked the young salesmen from <a href=”http://www.l-3com.com/”>L-3 Communications</a>, a surveillance technology company, at the <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/”>Border Security Expo</a> in Phoenix if they were worried about the sequester — Congress&rsquo;s across-the-board budget cuts that have taken dollars away from the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security — one of them simply shrugged. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s the international market,&rdquo; he said as if this were almost too obvious to mention.</p>
<p>He was standing in front of a black globular glass eye of a camera they were peddling to security types.&nbsp; It was draped with desert camouflage, as if we were out in the Arizona borderlands, while all around us you could feel the energy, the synergy, of an emerging border-industrial complex.&nbsp; Everywhere you looked government officials, Border Patrol types, and the representatives of private industry were meeting and dealing in front of hundreds of booths under the high ceilings of the convention center.</p>
<p>On the internationalization of border security, he wasn&rsquo;t exaggerating. At least 14 other countries ranging from Israel to Russia were present, their representatives browsing products ranging from miniature drones to Glock handguns. And behind the bustle of that event lay estimates that the global market for homeland security and emergency management will <a href=”http://www.siptrunkingreport.com/news/2013/08/09/7336900.htm”>reach</a> $544 billion annually by 2018. &ldquo;The threat of cross-border terrorism, cyber-crime, piracy, drug trade, human trafficking, internal dissent, separatist movements has been a driving factor for the homeland security market,&rdquo; the market research company MarketsandMarkets <a href=”http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/homeland-security-emergency-management-market-575.html”>reported</a>, based on a study of high-profit security markets in North America, Europe, and Asia.</p>
<p>This booming business thrives off the creation of new border patrols globally. The Dominican Republic&rsquo;s CESFRONT, for instance, did not exist before 2006. That year, according to <em>Dominican Today</em>, a group of &ldquo;U.S. experts&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.dominicantoday.com/dr/local/2006/8/7/16173/US-team-reveals-weaknesses-at-the-Dominican-Haiti-border”>reported</a> that there were &ldquo;a series of weaknesses that will lead to all kinds of illicit activities&rdquo; on the Haitian-Dominican border. The U.S. team recommended that &ldquo;there should be helicopters deployed in the region and [that] there be a creation of a Border Guard.&rdquo; A month after their report appeared, that country, by Dominican presidential decree, had its own border patrol.</p>
<p>By 2009, the new force had already received training, funding, and resources from a number of U.S. agencies, <a href=”https://www.wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10SANTODOMINGO5_a.html”>including</a> the Border Patrol itself. Somehow, it seems that what the U.S. consulate calls &ldquo;strong borders&rdquo; between the Dominican Republic and the hemisphere&rsquo;s poorest country has become an integral part of a terror-obsessed world.</p>
<p>When I met with Colonel Orlando Jerez, a CESFRONT commander, in the border guard agency&rsquo;s headquarters in the Dominican capital Santo Domingo, I noticed that on his desk he had a U.S. Border Patrol model car, a replica of the one that agency <a href=”http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/27/while-battling-drug-cartels-border-agency-spent-84/?page=all”>sponsored</a> on the NASCAR circuit from 2006 to 2008 in an attempt to recruit new agents. Along the side of the shiny box that held it was this mission statement: &ldquo;We are the guardians of the nation&rsquo;s borders, we are America&rsquo;s frontlines.&rdquo;</p>
<p>When I asked Jerez whether CESFRONT had a relationship with our Border Patrol, he replied without a second&rsquo;s hesitation, &ldquo;Of course, they have an office in the U.S. embassy.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Jerez is not alone. Washington&rsquo;s global boundary-building, its promotion of those strong borders, and its urge to preempt &ldquo;terrorism against American interests &lsquo;over there,&rsquo;&rdquo; as the 9/11 commission report put it, are spreading fast. For example, the Central American Regional Security Initiative, a $496 million U.S. counter-drug plan launched in 2008, identifies <a href=”http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rls/fs/2012/183455.htm”>&ldquo;border security deficiencies&rdquo;</a> among Central American countries as a key problem to be dealt with ASAP. So the U.S. Border Patrol has gone to Guatemala and Honduras to help train new units of border guards.</p>
<p>As in Central America, border patrolling&rsquo;s most vibrant markets are in places that Washington sees as far too chaotic, yet where its economic and political interests reside. For six years now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has sent its agents, <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cbpphotos/sets/72157627531647935/”>clad</a> in brown jumpsuits, to Iraq&rsquo;s borderlands to assist that government in the creation of a force to police its &ldquo;porous&rdquo; borders (where chaos has indeed been endemic since the 2003 U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of the country). U.S. boundary-building efforts began there in 2004 with an operation labeled <a href=”http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-08-14-iraq-border_x.htm”>&ldquo;Phantom Linebacker&rdquo;</a> in which 15,000 border guards were trained to patrol in — as the name of the operation indicates — the spirit of American football.</p>
<p>In 2012, agent Adrian Long <a href=”http://nemo.cbp.gov/opa/frontline/frontline_spring12.pdf”>told</a> <em>Frontline</em>, the CBP’s in-house magazine, that his agency trains Iraqis &ldquo;in Border Patrol techniques like cutting sign, doing drags, setting up checkpoints and patrols.&rdquo; Long was repeating the same lingo so often heard on the U.S.-Mexican border, where agents &ldquo;cut sign&rdquo; to track people by their trail marks and do &ldquo;drags&rdquo; to smooth out dirt roads so they can more easily see the footprints of any &ldquo;border intruders.&rdquo; In Afghanistan, Border Patrol agents are similarly training forces to police that country&rsquo;s 3,436 miles of frontiers. In 2012, during one training session, an Afghan policeman even turned his gun on two CBP agents in an &ldquo;insider attack,&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.examiner.com/article/green-on-blue-murder-afghanistan-war-claims-two-us-cbp-agents-lives”>killing</a> them and seriously injuring a third.</p>
<p>Around soccer&rsquo;s World Cup, which South Africa hosted in 2010, CBP assisted that government in creating a Customs and Border Control Unit tasked with &ldquo;securing South Africa&rsquo;s borders while facilitating the movement of goods and people,&rdquo; <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/newsroom/publications/frontline_magazine/frontline_sum10_print.ctt/frontline.pdf”>according</a> to CBP&rsquo;s Africa and Middle East branch country manager for South Africa Tasha Reid Hippolyte. South Africa has even brought its <a href=”http://www.irinnews.org/report/89262/south-africa-troops-reinforcing-a-porous-and-dangerous-border”>military special forces</a> into the border patrolling process. Near the Zimbabwean border, its militarized guards were using a triple barrier of razor wire and electric fencing that can be set to offer shocks ranging from mild to deadly in their efforts to stop border crossers. Such equipment had not been used in that country since the apartheid-era.</p>
<p>In many cases, the U.S. is also training border forces in the use of sophisticated surveillance systems, drones, and the construction of fences and barriers of various kinds, largely in attempts to clamp down on the movement of people between poorer and richer countries.&nbsp; More than 15,000 foreign participants in more than 100 countries have <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2007/jun_jul/extend_america.xml”>taken part</a> in CBP training sessions since October 2002. It is little wonder, then, that an L-3 Communications sales rep would shrug off the constraints of a shrinking domestic national security budget.</p>
<p>Meanwhile, U.S. borders are functionally being stretched in all sorts of complex ways, even across the waters.&nbsp; As Michael Schmidt <a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/world/europe/us-security-has-beachhead-at-foreign-airports.html”>wrote </a>in the <em>New York Times</em> in 2012, for example, &ldquo;An ocean away from the United States, travelers flying out of the international airport here on the west coast of Ireland are confronting one of the newest lines of defense in the war on terrorism: the United States border.&rdquo; There, at Shannon International Airport, Department of Homeland Security officials set up the equivalent of a prescreening border checkpoint for air travelers.&nbsp;</p>
<p>Whether it is in your airports or, as in Haiti&rsquo;s case, in the international waters around your country, the U.S. border is on its way to scrutinize you, to make sure that you are not a threat to the &ldquo;homeland.&rdquo; If you don&rsquo;t meet Washington&rsquo;s criteria for whatever reason, you will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, from entering the United States, or even in many cases from travelling anywhere at all.</p>
<p>CBP attach&eacute;s are now detailed to U.S. embassies in Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa, Italy, and Canada, among many other countries. According to an agency publication, <em>Customs and Border Protection Today</em>, they have been <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2004/May/other/cbpAttaches.xml”>tasked</a> with the mission of keeping &ldquo;terrorists and their weapons from our shores,&rdquo; as well as providing technical assistance, &ldquo;fostering secure trade practices, and strengthening border authority principles.&rdquo; The anonymous writer then typically, if floridly, describes &ldquo;our country&rsquo;s border&rdquo; as &ldquo;the armor of the body politic; it protects the systems and infrastructures that function within. Knives pierce armor and can jeopardize the body — so we sheath them; keep them at bay; and demand accountability from those who use them.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p>
<p>As CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner <a href=”http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2004/May/other/cbpAttaches.xml”>put it</a> in 2004, the U.S. is &ldquo;extending our zone of security, where we can do so, beyond our physical borders — so that American borders are the last line of defense, not the first line of defense.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Perhaps this is why few here batted an eye when, in 2012, Assistant Secretary of International Affairs and Chief Diplomatic Officer for the Department of Homeland Security Alan Bersin flatly <a href=”http://www.examiner.com/article/dhs-official-our-southern-border-is-now-with-guatemala”>declared</a>, “The Guatemalan border with Chiapas is now our southern border.”</p>
<p><strong>On the Edge of Empire</strong></p>
<p>As dusk falls and the rainstorm ends, I walk along the river&rsquo;s edge where those Dominican border patrol agents are still sitting, staring into Haiti. Considering that U.S. forces occupied the Dominican Republic and Haiti numerous times in the previous century, it&rsquo;s easy to imagine why Washington&rsquo;s border chieftains consider this sad, impoverished spot part of our &ldquo;backyard.&rdquo; Not far from where I&rsquo;m walking is the Codevi industrial free trade zone that straddles the border.&nbsp; There, Haitian workers churn out jeans mainly for Levi Strauss and the North American market, <a href=”http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2010/10/16/haitis_garment_industry_hanging_by_a_thread.html”>earning</a> less than three dollars a day.</p>
<p>I approach one of the CESFRONT guards in his desert camouflage uniform. &nbsp;He&rsquo;s sitting with his assault rifle between his legs. He looks beyond bored — no surprise since being suspicious of people who happen to be on the other side of a border can be deadly tedious work.</p>
<p>Diaz, as his name patch identifies him, tells me that his shift, which runs from 6 p.m. to midnight, is normally eventless because Haitians rarely cross here. When I explain where I&rsquo;m from, he wants to know what the U.S.-Mexico border looks like. I tell him about the fencing, the sensors, the cameras, and the agents everywhere you look. I ask if he has ever met agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.</p>
<p>&nbsp;&ldquo;Of course!&rdquo; he says in Spanish, &ldquo;there have been training sessions.&rdquo;</p>
<p>Then I ask if terrorists are crossing this border, which is the reason the U.S. consulate in Santo Domingo gives for supporting the creation of CESFRONT.</p>
<p>Diaz looks at me as if I&rsquo;m nuts before offering an emphatic &ldquo;No!&rdquo;</p>
<p>No surprise there either.&nbsp; CESFRONT, like similar outfits proliferating globally, isn&rsquo;t really about terrorism. It&rsquo;s all about Haiti, one of the poorest countries on the planet. It is a response to fears of the mass movement of desperate, often hungry, people in the U.S. sphere of dominance. It is the manifestation of a new vision of global geopolitics in which human beings in need are to be corralled, their free movement criminalized, and their labor exploited.</p>
<p>With this in mind, the experimental border control technologies being tested along the U.S.-Mexican boundary line and the border-industrial complex that has <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/”>grown up</a> around it are heading abroad in a major way.&nbsp; If Congress finally passes a new multi-billion dollar border-policing package, its effects will be felt not only along U.S. borders, but also at the edges of its empire.</p>
<p><em>Todd Miller, a <a href=”http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175723/todd_miller_creating_a_military-industrial-immigration_complex”>TomDispatch regular</a>, has researched and written about U.S.-Mexican border issues for more than 10 years. He has worked on both sides of the border for BorderLinks in Tucson, Arizona, and Witness for Peace in Oaxaca, Mexico. He now writes on border and immigration issues for NACLA Report on the Americas and its blog &ldquo;</em><a href=”http://nacla.org/blog/border-wars”><em>Border Wars</em></a><em>,&rdquo; among other places. His first book, </em><a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/0872866319/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20″>Border Patrol Nation</a>,<em> will be published in spring 2014 for the Open Media Series of City Lights Books.</em></p>
<p><em>Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/tomdispatch”>Facebook</a> or <a href=”http://tomdispatch.tumblr.com/”>Tumblr</a>. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones&rsquo;s </em><a href=”http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608463710/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20″>They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America&rsquo;s Wars — The Untold Story</a><em>.</em></p>
<p>Copyright 2013 Todd Miller</p>
</blockquote>

Laura Gottesdiener, The Backyard Shock Doctrine

7:49 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

A Dream Foreclosed

Laura Gottesdiener’s new book

African Americans had every reason to celebrate Barack Obama’s election in 2008. History was made. Then reality set in. Economically speaking, the Obama era has been a five-year nightmare for Black America.

The unemployment rate for blacks now stands at 13.7%, almost twice the rate for all eligible workers. Under other circumstances, 13.7% unemployment would be a national crisis; it would dominate the headlines and the nightly news and the editorial pages; 13.7% unemployment would have any politician in office fearing for his or her career. In Washington, there would be blue-ribbon commissions, congressional hearings, and expert panels. But because we’re talking about 13.7% of eligible black workers, there is no outrage. Except for the anger and pain felt within the black community, that jobless rate is a silent scandal.

The wealth of African Americans is in similarly dire straits. Many black families saw their personal wealth, significant amounts of it invested in their homes, evaporate in the economic collapse of 2007-2009, triggered by a housing meltdown in which African Americans were disproportionately targeted for shoddy subprime mortgage loans. As of 2010, the median net wealth of black families was $4,900; of white families, $97,000. A third of black households had zero or negative wealth. Gains made across generations were wiped out like that.

Consider these statistics the vital signs of Black America in the Obama era. As Laura Gottesdiener writes in her debut at TomDispatch, there may be no more vivid illustration of their collective economic distress in these years than the foreclosure crisis pocking the inner cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, among other places. Gottesdiener’s new book, A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home, is a people’s history of the financial crisis that jolted this country and has never ended.  It has been hailed by Naomi Klein as “riveting” and Noam Chomsky as a “most valuable study… with historical depth and analytical insight.” Andy Kroll

The Great Eviction
The Landscape of Wall Street’s Creative Destruction
By Laura Gottesdiener

Read the rest of this entry →

Rebecca Solnit: The Longest War

7:46 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

 

The Republican “war on women” helped define 2012.  Its main offensives are well known, including the assertion that you can’t get pregnant from rape; the obstruction of the Violence Against Women Act because it would have given Native American courts more jurisdiction over domestic violence; the demonizing of a woman who dared to assert that all women, rich and poor, deserve access to contraception; and the 43 new state laws passed last year restricting access to abortion.

And in case you thought it ended with election 2012, in just the past few weeks yet more absurdly egregious, albeit less publicized, assaults on women have been piling up.

Toward the end of December, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a dentist who fired his assistant for being too attractive had acted legally. The dentist’s attorney hailed the decision, the first of its kind, as a victory for family values because the woman was axed in order to save his marriage, not because she was a woman. This is short-skirt-rape apologist territory. God forbid that the dentist bear responsibility for his inability to control himself.

As the new year broke, the House GOP took another stealthy swipe at women. The House and the Senate had come to an agreement on a bipartisan, Republican-sponsored bill that would have helped reduce the massive national backlog of “rape kits,” which contain forensic evidence collected after sexual assaults that can help identify perpetrators. On the very last day of the last Congress, however, House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith, who had been trotting out various excuses to stall the bill for weeks, forced in amendments to kill it.

And early in January (yes, 2013!), a California court ruled that a woman who was raped was not in fact raped — because she was unmarried. A young woman went to sleep with her boyfriend and woke up being raped by someone else who, she initially thought, was her partner. The judges strictly interpreted California’s nineteenth century rape laws (based on 13th-century Saxon law), which say that it’s only a crime to trick someone into having sex if she believes it’s with her husband, not her boyfriend.

It’s this seemingly antiquated but all-too-twenty-first-century world into which TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit plunges today, that extreme, remarkably fundamentalist land of Manistan whose violence, once put in one place, boggles the mind. Erika Eichelberger

A Rape a Minute, a Thousand Corpses a Year 
Hate Crimes in America (and Elsewhere) 
By Rebecca Solnit

Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.  Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.

There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case involving a&bbsp;celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent including Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.

If you’d rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there’s the rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California — she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter — and there was a gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too.  While I was writing this, I read that another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible.  But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.  

What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Gender

There’s so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a 73-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a four-year-old and an 83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who was arrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal (though maybe it was for the San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from New Orleans who killed, dismembered, and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).

Those are all exceptional crimes, but we could also talk about quotidian assaults, because though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the U.S.  It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.

We could talk about high-school- and college-athlete rapes, or campus rapes, to which university authorities have been appallingly uninterested in responding in many cases, including that high school in Steubenville, Notre Dame University, Amherst College, and many others. We could talk about the escalating pandemic of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the U.S. military, where Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults on fellow soldiers in 2010 alone and that the great majority of assailants got away with it, though four-star general Jeffrey Sinclair was indicted in September for “a slew of sex crimes against women.”

Never mind workplace violence, let’s go home.  So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over 1,000 homicides of that kind a year — meaning that every three years the death toll tops 9/11’s casualties, though no one declares a war on this particular terror. (Another way to put it: the more than 11,766 corpses from domestic-violence homicides since 9/11 exceed the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the “war on terror.”) If we talked about crimes like these and why they are so common, we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or male roles, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.

Instead, we hear that American men commit murder-suicides — at the rate of about 12 a week — because the economy is bad, though they also do it when the economy is good; or that those men in India murdered the bus-rider because the poor resent the rich, while other rapes in India are explained by how the rich exploit the poor; and then there are those ever-popular explanations: mental problems and intoxicants — and for jocks, head injuries. The latest spin is that lead exposure was responsible for a lot of our violence, except that both genders are exposed and one commits most of the violence. The pandemic of violence always gets explained as anything but gender, anything but what would seem to be the broadest explanatory pattern of all.

Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the U.S. and the (mostly hostile) commenters only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says what this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.”

Still, the pattern is plain as day. We could talk about this as a global problem, looking at the epidemic of assault, harassment, and rape of women in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that has taken away the freedom they celebrated during the Arab Spring — and led some men there to form defense teams to help counter it — or the persecution of women in public and private in India from “Eve-teasing” to bride-burning, or “honor killings” in South Asia and the Middle East, or the way that South Africa has become a global rape capital, with an estimated 600,000 rapes last year, or how rape has been used as a tactic and “weapon” of war in Mali, Sudan, and the Congo, as it was in the former Yugoslavia, or the pervasiveness of rape and harassment in Mexico and the femicide in Juarez, or the denial of basic rights for women in Saudi Arabia and the myriad sexual assaults on immigrant domestic workers there, or the way that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in the United States revealed what impunity he and others had in France, and it’s only for lack of space I’m leaving out Britain and Canada and Italy (with its ex-prime minister known for his orgies with the underaged), Argentina and Australia and so many other countries.

Who Has the Right to Kill You?

But maybe you’re tired of statistics, so let’s just talk about a single incident that happened in my city a couple of weeks ago, one of many local incidents in which men assaulted women that made the local papers this month:

“A woman was stabbed after she rebuffed a man’s sexual advances while she walked in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood late Monday night, a police spokesman said today. The 33-year-old victim was walking down the street when a stranger approached her and propositioned her, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said. When she rejected him, the man became very upset and slashed the victim in the face and stabbed her in the arm, Esparza said.”

The man, in other words, framed the situation as one in which his chosen victim had no rights and liberties, while he had the right to control and punish her.  This should remind us that violence is first of all authoritarian. It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you.

Murder is the extreme version of that authoritarianism, where the murderer asserts he has the right to decide whether you live or die, the ultimate means of controlling someone.  This may be true even if you are “obedient,” because the desire to control comes out of a rage that obedience can’t assuage. Whatever fears, whatever sense of vulnerability may underlie such behavior, it also comes out of entitlement, the entitlement to inflict suffering and even death on other people. It breeds misery in the perpetrator and the victims.    

As for that incident in my city, similar things happen all the time.  Many versions of it happened to me when I was younger, sometimes involving death threats and often involving torrents of obscenities: a man approaches a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed.  The fury and desire come in a package, all twisted together into something that always threatens to turn eros into thanatos, love into death, sometimes literally.

It’s a system of control. It’s why so many intimate-partner murders are of women who dared to break up with those partners.  As a result, it imprisons a lot of women, and though you could say that the attacker on January 7th, or a brutal would-be-rapist near my own neighborhood on January 5th, or another rapist here on January 12th, or the San Franciscan who on January 6th set his girlfriend on fire for refusing to do his laundry, or the guy who was just sentenced to 370 years for some particularly violent rapes in San Francisco in late 2011, were marginal characters, rich, famous, and privileged guys do it, too.

The Japanese vice-consul in San Francisco was charged with 12 felony counts of spousal abuse and assault with a deadly weapon last September, the same month that, in the same town, the ex-girlfriend of Mason Mayer (brother of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer) testified in court: “He ripped out my earrings, tore my eyelashes off, while spitting in my face and telling me how unlovable I am… I was on the ground in the fetal position, and when I tried to move, he squeezed both knees tighter into my sides to restrain me and slapped me.” According to the newspaper, she also testified that “Mayer slammed her head onto the floor repeatedly and pulled out clumps of her hair, telling her that the only way she was leaving the apartment alive was if he drove her to the Golden Gate Bridge ‘where you can jump off or I will push you off.’” Mason Mayer got probation.   

This summer, an estranged husband violated his wife’s restraining order against him, shooting her — and six other women — at her spa job in suburban Milwaukee, but since there were only four corpses the crime was largely overlooked in the media in a year with so many more spectacular mass murders in this country (and we still haven’t really talked about the fact that, of 62 mass shootings in the U.S. in three decades, only one was by a woman, because when you say lone gunman, everyone talks about loners and guns but not about men — and by the way, nearly two thirds of all women killed by guns are killed by their partner or ex-partner).

What’s love got to do with it, asked Tina Turner, whose ex-husband Ike once said, “Yeah I hit her, but I didn’t hit her more than the average guy beats his wife.” A woman is beaten every nine seconds in this country. Just to be clear: not nine minutes, but nine seconds. It’s the number-one cause of injury to American women; of the two million injured annually, more than half a million of those injuries require medical attention while about 145,000 require overnight hospitalizations, according to the Center for Disease Control, and you don’t want to know about the dentistry needed afterwards. Spouses are also the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S.

“Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined,” writes Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the few prominent figures to address the issue regularly.  

The Chasm Between Our Worlds

Rape and other acts of violence, up to and including murder, as well as threats of violence, constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women, and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they’ve gotten so used to they hardly notice — and we hardly address. There are exceptions: last summer someone wrote to me to describe a college class in which the students were asked what they do to stay safe from rape. The young women described the intricate ways they stayed alert, limited their access to the world, took precautions, and essentially thought about rape all the time (while the young men in the class, he added, gaped in astonishment). The chasm between their worlds had briefly and suddenly become visible.

Mostly, however, we don’t talk about it — though a graphic has been circulating on the Internet called Ten Top Tips to End Rape, the kind of thing young women get often enough, but this one had a subversive twist.  It offered advice like this: “Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone ‘by accident’ you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can call for help.” While funny, the piece points out something terrible: the usual guidelines in such situations put the full burden of prevention on potential victims, treating the violence as a given. You explain to me why colleges spend more time telling women how to survive predators than telling the other half of their students not to be predators.

Threats of sexual assault now seem to take place online regularly. In late 2011, British columnist Laurie Penny wrote, “An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the Internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill, and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation, and abuse.”

Women in the online gaming community have been harassed, threatened, and driven out. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic who documented such incidents, received support for her work, but also, in the words of a journalist, “another wave of really aggressive, you know, violent personal threats, her accounts attempted to be hacked. And one man in Ontario took the step of making an online video game where you could punch Anita’s image on the screen. And if you punched it multiple times, bruises and cuts would appear on her image.” The difference between these online gamers and the Taliban men who, last October, tried to murder 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for speaking out about the right of Pakistani women to education is one of degree. Both are trying to silence and punish women for claiming voice, power, and the right to participate. Welcome to Manistan.

The Party for the Protection of the Rights of Rapists

It’s not just public, or private, or online either.  It’s also embedded in our political system, and our legal system, which before feminists fought for us didn’t recognize most domestic violence, or sexual harassment and stalking, or date rape, or acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and in cases of rape still often tries the victim rather than the rapist, as though only perfect maidens could be assaulted — or believed.

As we learned in the 2012 election campaign, it’s also embedded in the minds and mouths of our politicians.  Remember that spate of crazy pro-rape things Republican men said last summer and fall, starting with Todd Akin’s notorious claim that a woman has ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of rape, a statement he made in order to deny women control over their own bodies. After that, of course, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed that rape pregnancies were “a gift from God,” and just this month, another Republican politician piped up to defend Akin’s comment.

Happily the five publicly pro-rape Republicans in the 2012 campaign all lost their election bids. (Stephen Colbert tried to warn them that women had gotten the vote in 1920.)  But it’s not just a matter of the garbage they say (and the price they now pay).  Earlier this month, congressional Republicans refused to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, because they objected to the protection it gave immigrants, transgendered women, and Native American women.  (Speaking of epidemics, one of three Native American women will be raped, and on the reservations 88% of those rapes are by non-Native men who know tribal governments can’t prosecute them.)

And they’re out to gut reproductive rights — birth control as well as abortion, as they’ve pretty effectively done in many states over the last dozen years. What’s meant by “reproductive rights,” of course, is the right of women to control their own bodies. Didn’t I mention earlier that violence against women is a control issue?

And though rapes are often investigated lackadaisically — there is a backlog of about 400,000 untested rape kits in this country– rapists who impregnate their victims have parental rights in 31 states. Oh, and former vice-presidential candidate and current congressman Paul Ryan (R-Manistan) is reintroducing a bill that would give states the right to ban abortions and might even conceivably allow a rapist to sue his victim for having one.  

All the Things That Aren’t to Blame

Of course, women are capable of all sorts of major unpleasantness, and there are violent crimes by women, but the so-called war of the sexes is extraordinarily lopsided when it comes to actual violence.  Unlike the last (male) head of the International Monetary Fund, the current (female) head is not going to assault an employee at a luxury hotel; top-ranking female officers in the U.S. military, unlike their male counterparts, are not accused of any sexual assaults; and young female athletes, unlike those male football players in Steubenville, aren’t likely to urinate on unconscious boys, let alone violate them and boast about it in YouTube videos and Twitter feeds.  

No female bus riders in India have ganged up to sexually assault a man so badly he dies of his injuries, nor are marauding packs of women terrorizing men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and there’s just no maternal equivalent to the 11% of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers. Of the people in prison in the U.S., 93.5% are not women, and though quite a lot of them should not be there in the first place, maybe some of them should because of violence, until we think of a better way to deal with it, and them.

No major female pop star has blown the head off a young man she took home with her, as did Phil Spector.  (He is now part of that 93.5% for the shotgun slaying of Lana Clarkson, apparently for refusing his advances.)  No female action-movie star has been charged with domestic violence, because Angelina Jolie just isn’t doing what Mel Gibson and Steve McQueen did, and there aren’t any celebrated female movie directors who gave a 13-year-old drugs before sexually assaulting that child, while she kept saying “no,” as did Roman Polanski.

In Memory of Jyoti Singh Pandey

What’s the matter with manhood? There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed. There are lovely and wonderful men out there, and one of the things that’s encouraging in this round of the war against women is how many men I’ve seen who get it, who think it’s their issue too, who stand up for us and with us in everyday life, online and in the marches from New Delhi to San Francisco this winter.

Increasingly men are becoming good allies — and there always have been some.  Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy. Domestic violence statistics are down significantly from earlier decades (even though they’re still shockingly high), and a lot of men are at work crafting new ideas and ideals about masculinity and power.

Gay men have been good allies of mine for almost four decades. (Apparently same-sex marriage horrifies conservatives because it’s marriage between equals with no inevitable roles.) Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. But we are free together or slaves together.

There are other things I’d rather write about, but this affects everything else. The lives of half of humanity are still dogged by, drained by, and sometimes ended by this pervasive variety of violence.  Think of how much more time and energy we would have to focus on other things that matter if we weren’t so busy surviving. Look at it this way: one of the best journalists I know is afraid to walk home at night in our neighborhood.  Should she stop working late? How many women have had to stop doing their work, or been stopped from doing it, for similar reasons?

One of the most exciting new political movements on Earth is the Native Canadian indigenous rights movement, with feminist and environmental overtones, called Idle No More. On December 27th, shortly after the movement took off, a Native woman was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and left for dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by men whose remarks framed the crime as retaliation against Idle No More. Afterward, she walked four hours through the bitter cold and survived to tell her tale. Her assailants, who have threatened to do it again, are still at large.

The New Delhi rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old who was studying physiotherapy so that she could better herself while helping others, and the assault on her male companion (who survived) seem to have triggered the reaction that we have needed for 100, or 1,000, or 5,000 years. May she be to women — and men — worldwide what Emmett Till, murdered by white supremacists in 1955, was to African-Americans and the then-nascent U.S. civil rights movement.

We have far more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident.  We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.

Rebecca Solnit has written a version of this essay three times so far, once in the 1980s for the punk magazine Maximum Rock’n’Roll, once as the chapter on women and walking in her 2000 book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and here. She would love the topic to become out of date and irrelevant and never to have write it again.

Copyright 2013 Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit: Why the Media Loves the Violence of Protestors and Not of Banks

7:39 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

In December 2001, 110 of 112 revelers at a wedding died, thanks to a B-52 and two B-1B bombers using precision-guided weapons to essentially wipe out a village in Eastern Afghanistan (and then, in a second strike, to take out Afghans digging in the rubble). The incident got next to no attention here. It wasn’t, after all, a case of American “violence,” but a regrettable error. No one thought to suggest that the invasion of Afghanistan should be shut down because of it, nor was it discredited due to that mass killing.

It had been a mistake. As would be the case with those other weddings obliterated by U.S. air power in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years to come. As were the funerals and baby-naming rites blasted away in those later years. As have been, more recently, the more than 60 children killed by CIA drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, the funerals hit by those same drones, and the recently documented secondary strikes — as in that December 2001 attack — on rescuers trying to pull the wounded out of the rubble.

None of this, of course, gets significant attention here. Despite the pleas of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, few here suggest shutting down U.S. and NATO air operations in that country because of violence against civilians. There are few cries of horror for the eight Afghan sheepherders, none out of their teens, one possibly as young as six, who were killed by a NATO air strike in Kapisa Province just the other day. There are no major editorials or front-page media stories calling for the U.S. and its allies to mend their violent ways or change their policies because of them. It’s certainly not popular to suggest that such acts might discredit American policy abroad.

Yet, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit points out, “violence” within and by the Occupy movement in this country — we’re talking about several sexual assaults in Occupy camps, a suicide, drug use, and a small amount of property damage, bottles thrown, and the like by outliers at Occupy demonstrations — has in certain quarters somehow been enough to discredit the movement, even in some cases to paint it as a kind of living nightmare. Such violence, minimal as it might have been, instantly discredited Occupy on the American landscape.

This, mind you, in a society in which 14,000 murders were committed in 2011, in which more than 30,000 people died in traffic accidents, in which a recent Pentagon report indicated that violent sexual crimes in the military have risen by 64% since 2006 (95% against women, even though they make up only 14% of the force’s personnel). And yet somehow, neither weapons, nor cars, nor the U.S. military is discredited by such violence.

It would, in fact, be surprising to imagine that a movement whose camps actually welcomed, housed, and fed those essentially thrown away by this society would lack problems. In truth, Occupy should have been hailed for its assault on violence at every level in this society. Nothing could be more striking in Solnit’s piece than the statistic she cites on the remarkably unnoticed drop in violence in Oakland, California, in the weeks before Occupy Oakland itself was violently assaulted by that city’s police force. Tom Read the rest of this entry →