Taylor and Appel: The subprime education scandal

We used to hear more often about those malignant institutions serving, or rather plaguing, the poor: the loan sharks who charged 100% or more per year in interest, the furniture or radios that ended up costing several times their value on the installment plan. Two or three decades ago, however, we didn’t think of an education as being part of the landscape of predation upon the poor. Now, as Astra Taylor and Hannah Appel explain, when it comes to a new crew of “for-profit” colleges, higher education has gone hyena and is tearing at the financial flesh of the poor.

Even mainstream institutions can be sketchy these days, if you look closely enough. Most liberal arts college programs give their students a vague, if exhilarating, sense that the best possible outcome of their vocation is practically an inevitability, and yet there are far from enough tenure-track jobs, top galleries, or niches on bestseller lists for all the people being educated.

Though people make it in all these fields, they are a tiny minority.  So many others pay their dues and get little for it, except whatever is inherently meaningful in their education, which won’t, of course, lighten their loan burden at all.

Once upon a time, it was different. The radicalism of the 1960s, for instance, should be chalked up in part to the great freedom of youth at a time when the fat of the land seemed inexhaustible and the safety net unbreakable. The two radicals I know who became wanted fugitives in the 1970s and then tenured faculty members (now retired with pensions) operated in a more forgiving era — and a more affluent one.

My parents believed that any kind of bachelor’s degree pretty much guaranteed your white-collar future, and that was a truth of their era. Thirty years ago, when I came along, it was already less of a reality; today, so much less than that. Still, the hangover from that conviction lingers. I went to California’s public universities as their golden age of nearly free and superb education was ending and got through college scrambling to the sound of doors shutting behind me. It was all part of the end of an egalitarian dream birthed and nurtured by the New Deal of the 1930s, the creation of social security in the 1940s, and the Great Society programs of the 1960s. It’s now popular to say that, as president, Richard Nixon was to the left of Barack Obama, but what that means is that our society was then closer to a social democracy (and that since we’re really bad at talking about it, we’d rather focus our attention on figureheads).

Maybe communism was good for us after all, at least — as David Graeber argues — in scaring the powers that be into offering their own limited versions of equality and opportunity. California’s Proposition 13, enacted in 1978, was the beginning of the end of that dream, arising as it did from the now-entrenched belief that what we have separately beats whatever we have together anytime. Taxes were portrayed as the nails that stuck every breadwinning Jesus to his own personal cross, rather than the way to keep roads and bridges and schools in shape, have safe drinking water and, like, a postal system and libraries (and also a giant military eating up more than half of the federal government’s discretionary spending). As the retreat into the private sphere began in earnest, people started forgetting how good, how secure life had been, while Republicans launched the mantra that future tax cuts would be a magical ointment capable of curing anything.

Part of the great work of Occupy Wall Street was to make some of the brutality of the current economy visible. People whose lives were being ravaged by housing, medical, and educational debt came out of the shame and the shadows to testify, while activists and homeowners took action against foreclosures and banks. From the beginning Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, was part of that movement and moment.  Her work there led to her involvement with Strike Debt and the fledgling Debt Collective. Now, she and Hannah Appel focus on the conditions that produced the perfect educational storm in the form of the private for-profit university/corporation. Rebecca Solnit

Education with a debt sentence
For-profit colleges as American dream crushers and factories of debt
By Astra Taylor and Hannah Appel

Imagine corporations that intentionally target low-income single mothers as ideal customers. Imagine that these same companies claim to sell tickets to the American dream — gainful employment, the chance for a middle class life. Imagine that the fine print on these tickets, once purchased, reveals them to be little more than debt contracts, profitable to the corporation’s investors, but disastrous for its customers. And imagine that these corporations receive tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to do this dirty work. Now, know that these corporations actually exist and are universities.

Over the last three decades, the price of a year of college has increased by more than 1,200%. In the past, American higher education has always been associated with upward mobility, but with student loan debt quadrupling between 2003 and 2013, it’s time to ask whether education alone can really move people up the class ladder. This is a question of obvious relevance for low-income students and students of color.

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Fear of ISIS and warnings about ‘wide open’ U.S. borders fuels Islamophobia

Fox News reports: Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter said that law enforcement agencies along the “wide open” border have received alerts to be on the lookout for terrorists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria crossing into the United States.

Painter, who said he has worked along the border for “about eight years,” stated that alerts have been issued to border law enforcement to be on the lookout for suspicious terrorist activity, specifically involving ISIS cells being smuggled into the United States.

“I received an intelligence report that said that there was ISIS cells that were active in the Juarez area, which is the northern part of the Chihuahua state, and that they were moving around over there, that there was some activity…” Painter told Fox News. The report asked “for the sheriffs along the border to be on the alert, for all law enforcement to be on the alert, and to be on the lookout for these people maybe trying to come across.”

Painter sidestepped any direct knowledge that ISIS, specifically, is along the border, but he reiterated that the border “is wide open.” [Continue reading...]

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Steve Fraser: The return of the titans

Think of this as the year that democracy of, by, and for the billionaires shall not perish from the Earth — not when we’re on a new electoral playing field in a political world in which distinctions are no longer made between unlimited money and unlimited speech.  In other words, these days, if you have billions of dollars, you can shout from the skies and the rest of us have to listen.  If, as Steve Fraser points out today, we’ve been witnessing the return of “family capitalism on steroids,” nowhere has it been bigger than in American politics, aided and abetted by that ultimate family institution, the Supremes (and I’m not, of course, talking about the classic Motown group).

We’re still almost two months from the midterm elections in which the Republicans already have the House of Representatives essentially wrapped up and ads for Senate races are zipping onto TV screens in “battleground states” at a dizzying pace.  To fund those ads and other campaign initiatives, dollars by the millions are pouring into the coffers of “dark money” outfits in a way guaranteed to leave the record for spending on midterm elections in a ditch at the side of the road.  We now have our first estimates of what election 2014 is going to look like as a billionaire’s playground; and count on it, you’re going to hear the words “record,” “billionaire,” and “ads” a lot more until November.

“Outside groups” have already spent $120 million on TV ads alone, more than half that sum coming from those dark-money groups that don’t have to let anyone know who their contributors are.  At the top of that shadowy list are six outfits linked to David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers from Wichita. Together, those groups have already sent a mind-spinning 44,000 ads into the politico-sphere in those battleground states, and the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP) leads the pack with 27,000 of them. In the end, AFP alone is expected to put $125 million into this year’s midterm elections, a figure that should take your breath away and yet that’s only a start.

Sheldon Adelson, of casino fame, may, for example, put $100 million of his $31.6 billion fortune into this campaign season, shuttling much of it through dark-money outfits, including AFP. On the liberal side of the spectrum, environmentalist and billionaire Tom Steyer has pledged to sink $50 million into campaigns to promote candidates ready to act on global warming (though there is little question that, in the billionaire sweepstakes, the right-wing ones are going to outspend the liberal ones, and Republicans outspend Democrats).

In all of this, you can see the urge of America’s new crop of billionaires to “play god” at our expense and with our lives — to decide for us, ad by ad, dark-money outfit by dark-money outfit, how we should organize ourselves politically. Historian Steve Fraser, TomDispatch regular, author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, and co-founder (with me) of the American Empire Project, has rubbed elbows with many a billionaire — on the page, if not in life. From this country’s earliest tycoons to the latest batch of family capitalists, he finds one overwhelming, unifying trait: a deep-seated belief, in a country that worships self- or family-made money, that the more billions you have, the more you should be listened to. In his upcoming book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power, he explores how, in our second (even more) gilded age, others with little money also came to believe that, rather than resist it. Tom Engelhardt

Playing God
The rebirth of family capitalism or how the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Sam Walton, Bill Gates, and other billionaires are undermining America
By Steve Fraser

George Baer was a railroad and coal mining magnate at the turn of the twentieth century.  Amid a violent and protracted strike that shut down much of the country’s anthracite coal industry, Baer defied President Teddy Roosevelt’s appeal to arbitrate the issues at stake, saying, “The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for… not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men of property to whom God has given control of the property rights of the country.”  To the Anthracite Coal Commission investigating the uproar, Baer insisted, “These men don’t suffer. Why hell, half of them don’t even speak English.”

We might call that adopting the imperial position.  Titans of industry and finance back then often assumed that they had the right to supersede the law and tutor the rest of America on how best to order its affairs.  They liked to play God.  It’s a habit that’s returned with a vengeance in our own time.

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America’s island mentality

“Traveling in Europe made me understand that America has an island mentality: No one exists except us. There’s a whole other world out there, but most Americans – all they know is America” — will.i.am

A recent Pew poll asked Americans about what they perceive as “global threats facing the U.S.” the threat from ISIS being among them. The news is that 67% of Americans view ISIS as a major threat to the U.S. — a threat only exceeded by the threat from “Islamic extremist groups like Al Qaeda.”

I guess that after more than a decade of indoctrination in which we have been led to regard Al Qaeda as the purest distillation of evil ever known, it will take some time for the average American to accept the idea that there could actually be anything worse than Al Qaeda.

Even so, the fact that most Americans now perceive ISIS as a major threat doesn’t really reveal a whole lot more than the fact that most Americans watch television.

What I find more interesting than the numbers is the premise behind the pollster’s question: that something could be a global threat and yet not necessarily be a threat to America.

This is a reflection of the prevailing mentality among Americans: that America and the world are in some sense separable.

America can be engaged with or disengaged from the rest of the world because, supposedly, if we are so inclined, the rest of the world can be shut out while America tends to its own affairs.

Is it any wonder that a nation that has such difficulty in seeing itself as part of and as inseparable from the world, also has difficulty viewing climate change — the greatest challenge facing our planet — as a threat?

The Pew poll found that 52% of Americans view the spread of infectious diseases as a threat to the U.S., lower, for instance, than the perceived threat from North Korea’s nuclear program.

No doubt for most people being questioned, when it comes to infectious diseases the issue of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa will have been uppermost in their minds.

President Obama’s announcement on Sunday about a U.S. response to the crisis again reflects America’s island mentality. This is how he framed the urgency of the issue:

“If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates. It becomes more easily transmittable. And then it could be a serious danger to the United States.”

He also said, “We have to make this a national security priority.”

For the United States, the Ebola outbreak is less of a humanitarian issue than it is a threat to America’s security.

It’s as though if health workers in Africa could guarantee that the disease was contained and there was no risk of it spreading overseas, then the U.S. would have no reason to be concerned.

America sees itself as a generous country, in part because Americans have a staggering level of ignorance about how much foreign aid the U.S. grants.

Americans on average believe that 28% of the federal budget — more than is spent on defense — is spent on foreign aid when in reality it is just 1%! When informed about actual spending, the majority of Americans say that 1% is about right or too much — only 28% say that 1% of the budget is too little.

What these numbers imply is that most Americans perceive the world as a drain on this nation’s resources. Having been led from birth to believe that this is the greatest nation on earth, how could the rest of the world be perceived otherwise?

When Obama lays out his strategy for dealing with ISIS this evening, it goes without saying that one of the central pillars of his argument will be that this organization poses a threat to America’s national security. To present ISIS in any other way would risk implying that the threat which ISIS poses across the Middle East constitutes a sufficiently urgent threat that even if it was to advance no further, this should nevertheless concern Americans. Such an argument would likely elicit a shrug — we don’t live in the Middle East so why should we care?

The idea that we might care because we all live on the same planet, breath the same air, and inhabit the same world, has little traction in the hearts and minds of Americans who see the world as somewhere else.

The idea that those whose lives are not in danger have a responsibility to pay attention to the needs of those in peril, is a humanitarian impulse which in an era of unquestioned realism, is always a lower priority than the national interest.

Returning to the question about global threats, rather than ask Americans a conceptually mangled question about threats to the U.S., it might have been more interesting to try and gauge awareness about actual global threats, which is to say, threats that are global in scale.

These would be — at least by my reckoning:

  • the excessive production of greenhouse gases by human activity resulting in climate change
  • the Holocene extinction — the mass extinction of species and loss of biodiversity that has resulted from human activity
  • population displacement which now exceeds 50 million people, the largest number since World War II
  • industrialized agriculture involving the use of toxic pesticides and genetically modified crops which poisons the food chain, degrades ecosystems, resulting in the loss of topsoil thereby undermining the basis for agriculture
  • nuclear weapons both in existing arsenals and through proliferation
  • infectious diseases including antibiotic resistant superbugs
  • chronic illness caused by unhealthy lifestyles, poor nutrition, and profit driven pharmaceutical protocols promoted by the disease-maintenance industry
  • racism and other forms of intolerance which undermine the growth of political pluralism
  • the endangered ethnosphere in which the accumulated knowledge of indigenous peoples, their languages and cultures is rapidly being lost
  • homogenized global culture in which human aspirations are manipulated in the service of commerce
  • technological dependence through which intelligence is being displaced from minds into devices
  • inequality stemming from inadequate political representation and excessive corporate power
  • ignorance resulting in the proliferation of all the above threats.

Compared with these issues, I don’t believe that ISIS constitutes a global threat, yet it nevertheless poses an urgent threat calling for a global response — a response that should not be artificially separated from the need to envision a post-war Syria.

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It’s not just the South and Fox News: Liberals have a white privilege problem too

Joseph Heathcott writes: I spent 12 years of my life in St. Louis. I went to college there. Got married. Landed my first teaching job. Bought my first house. Between door-knocking for candidates and causes, driving around on ice cold nights in a homeless shelter van, and breaking bread in people’s homes and churches and synagogues, I came to know the metropolis well. I came to love and admire its many communities — including Ferguson: so tenacious, so full of hardworking families trying to stay afloat, trying to dismantle racial apartheid and make a better life for their children.

But each time I tried to write about Ferguson, I could only stare into the blank screen, dumbfounded. It wasn’t the killing of Michael Brown that left me speechless: tragically, the murder of black men by police is common. It wasn’t the riots that stumped me: Ferguson residents are rightfully fed up with being treated as second-class citizens. It wasn’t even the ludicrous spectacle of a hyper-militarized police response. I’ve been following that story for years.

No, what dumbfounded me was the outpouring of white anger and resentment. As police, pundits, politicians and their supporters sought control over the narrative of events in Ferguson, they drew from the deep well of moral panic and race hatred that in many ways define our contemporary political landscape. I am not talking about the moronic counter-protests by the Klan, or the impending race war hallucinated by capital-R Racists. I am talking about the insidious language of white privilege — the civil, polite, unconscious adoption by white people of racially normative viewpoints that give us comfort and help explain the world on our terms.

For those of us born with white skin, white privilege is the air we breathe; we don’t even have to think about it. It is like the fish that never notices the water in which it swims. It is a glorious gift we have given to ourselves through the social order we have constructed, from top to bottom and bottom to top. It is the pillage of continents, the enslavement of people, the hatred of dark-skinned “others,” all somehow magically laundered by our commitments to democracy, self-reliance, individualism and the “post-racial, color-blind society.” It is our abject unwillingness to confront our history, to correct the deficits of our memory, to lean against the amnesia of a white story told. [Continue reading...]

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Aviva Chomsky: What’s at stake in the border debate

The militarization of the police has been underway since 9/11, but only in the aftermath of the six-shot killing of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, with photos of streets in a St. Louis suburb that looked like occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, has the fact of it, the shock of it, seemed to hit home widely.  Congressional representatives are now proposing bills to stop the Pentagon from giving the latest in war equipment to local police forces.  The president even interrupted his golfing vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to return to Washington, in part for “briefings” on the ongoing crisis in Ferguson.  So militarization is finally a major story.

And that’s no small thing.  On the other hand, the news from Ferguson can’t begin to catch the full process of militarization this society has been undergoing or the way America’s distant wars are coming home. We have, at least, a fine book by Radley Balko on how the police have been militarized.  Unfortunately, on the subject of the militarization of the country, there is none.  And yet from armed soldiers in railway stations to the mass surveillance of Americans, from the endless celebration of our “warriors” to the domestic use of drones, this country has been undergoing a significant process of militarization (and, if there were such a word, national securitization).

Perhaps nowhere has this been truer than on America’s borders and on the subject of immigration.  It’s no longer “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  The U.S. is in the process of becoming a citadel nation with up-armored, locked-down borders and a Border Patrol operating in a “Constitution-free zone” deep into the country.  The news is regularly filled with discussions of the need to “bolster border security” in ways that would have been unimaginable to previous generations.  In the meantime, the Border Patrol is producing its own set of Ferguson-style killings as, like SWAT teams around the U.S., it adopts an ever more militarized mindset and the weaponry to go with it.  As James Tomsheck, the former head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, put it recently, “It has been suggested by Border Patrol leadership that they are the Marine Corps of the U.S. law enforcement community.  The Border Patrol has a self-identity of a paramilitary border security force and not that of a law enforcement organization.”

It’s in this context that the emotional flare-up over undocumented Central American children crossing the southern border by the thousands took place.  In fact, without the process of militarization, that “debate” — with its discussion of “invasions,” “surges,” “terrorists,” and “tip of the spear” solutions — makes no sense.  Its language was far more appropriate to the invasion and occupation of Iraq than the arrival in this country of desperate kids, fleeing hellish conditions, and often looking for their parents.

Aviva Chomsky is the author of a new history of just how the words “immigration” and “illegal” became wedded — it wasn’t talked about that way not so many decades ago — and how immigrants became demonized in ways that are familiar in American history.  The Los Angeles Times has hailed Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal for adding “smart, new, and provocative scholarship to the immigration debate.” As in her book, so today at TomDispatch, Chomsky puts the most recent version of the immigration “debate” into a larger context, revealing just what we prefer not to see in our increasingly up-armored nation. Tom Engelhardt

America’s continuing border crisis
The real story behind the “invasion” of the children
By Aviva Chomsky

Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news.  The media stories have been legion, the words expended many.  And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned.  It couldn’t be stranger — or sadder.

Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news.  Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high.  And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either.  In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children — and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried.  Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants.  The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues.  As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.

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Ferguson and Gaza: The definitive study of how they are and are not similar

David Palumbo-Liu writes: As photographs and videoclips from Ferguson overwhelmed our mediascapes, they created a strange double-optic. They seemed overlaid upon representations of events that had previously dominated our public consciousness: Images of the massive and on-going destruction of Gaza by the Israeli military. This stereoscopic image immediately drew bloggers, pundits and op-ed writers to rush to draw parallels. Indeed, in graphic terms alone the image of tear gas canisters filling the air with toxic smoke and of protesters hurling them back defiantly seemed exactly the same. And when tweets offering advice to demonstrators in Ferguson emerged from Palestinians, and reports of Ferguson police having been trained by Israelis surfaced, all that only seemed to complete the equation: Ferguson is Gaza.

There are many parallels and resonances to be sure, and below I will get to some key ones. But I have delayed responding because, as a comparatist, and also as someone concerned about racism in the U.S. and the racist policies of Israel, it is important to weigh things in as dispassionate a way as possible, to do justice to both sides.

Many years ago, the eminent British Marxist historian Raymond Williams reflected on conversations he was having with Palestinian literary critic and activist Edward Said. Williams was particularly interested in seeing just how much of his work on British working class culture, history, and society could be understood as having to do in any way with Said’s concerns regarding Israel-Palestine, most especially with regard to what was going on then: the brutal Israeli bombing and invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Regarding that catastrophe, Hadas Thier writes, “During the course of Israel’s bombardment of the country, civilians and civilian infrastructure were systematically attacked, refugee camps and Lebanese towns were leveled, Beirut was battered for seventy-five days, and after all military objectives were met, the affair concluded with a grotesque massacre of women, children, and the elderly at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.” Williams’ conclusion is instructive:

The analysis of history is not a subject separate from history, but the representations are part of the history, contribute to the history, are active elements in the way that history continues; in the way forces are distributed; in the way people perceive situations, both from inside their own pressing realities and from outside them; if we are saying this is a real method, then the empirical test it’s being put to here is that comparable methods of analysis are being applied to situations which are very far apart in space, have many differences of texture, and have very different consequences in the contemporary world. There is an obvious distance from what is happening in the English countryside, or in the English inner cities, to the chaos in Lebanon. Yet nevertheless I think it is true that the method, the underlying method, found a congruity.

This discretion, this caution to pay attention to how history is represented and to get the historical record straight despite surface similarities, is found as well in the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel on Biafra, “Half of a Yellow Sun.” At one point she tells of a journalist’s hesitation at making comparisons between Biafra and other historical events: “After he writes this, he mentions the German women who fled Hamburg with the charred bodies of their children stuffed in suitcases, the Rwandan women who pocketed tiny parts of their mauled babies. But he is careful not to draw parallels.”

How then can we strike a balance between on the one hand reacting viscerally to the images from Ferguson, which point to the long and constantly replenished history of police assaults on black bodies, and the images of Israel’s murderous rampage in Gaza, an assault continuous with Israel’s history of oppression and persecution of an entire people, while on the other hand resisting drawing too quickly an immediate, provocative, but inexact parallel?

It is in the median space between declaring an equivalence and withdrawing into discreet silence that we should concentrate our energies. Comparisons may be “odious,” to quote Shakespeare, but they can also be instructive. They help us tease out the specifics while coming to understand basic and important similarities. To do this one needs to employ a “congruent” method.

Here are five ways we can see congruence in what is happening in Ferguson and in Gaza. [Continue reading...]

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James Foley: U.S. and U.K. try to identify ISIS militant with British accent

The Guardian reports: Prof Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, said the militant was chosen to front the video to cause maximum impact in the west. “This is significant because it signifies a turn towards threatening the west. They are saying we’re going to come after you if you bomb us,” he said.

Neumann said British fighters had been carrying out “horrific acts” like beheadings, torture and executions for a year and a half, but this appeared to be the first with a western victim. He added: “They clearly wanted someone who spoke fluent English because they wanted it to create maximum impact, especially in the US, and because there are not that many Americans it was probably the best second option. They want this to have maximum impact on the west and for parts of it to be streamed on American television networks they needed an English speaker, so it was more about the English language than the nationality.

“It’s not significant that British fighters have been beheading and torturing because that’s been happening for a year and a half. That sort of horrific stuff is something British jihadis have been doing for some time. You will find a number of instances of British jihadis executing, torturing and beheading other people – and we know it’s not just Brits but other Europeans doing it – and occasionally this has come to the surface. Most people beheaded before were not westerners so that’s why this is different. The significant thing is that this was an American and was connected to a direct message that ‘we are targeting you’.”

Leading figures in the counter-terrorism field said it would be possible for intelligence services to identify the militant, despite it being filmed in an unknown location with the fighter dressed head to toe in black. Dr Claire Hardaker, a linguistics experts at Lancaster University, studied the clip and said the man’s vowels marked him out as likely from the south-east of England, but most likely from London. “We’re definitely looking at a British accent, from the south and probably from London, Kent or Essex. He does something interesting when he says ‘Muslims’. You typically get ‘Muzlims’ but he says something closer to ‘Musslims’.”

Dr Afzal Ashraf, of the Royal United Services Institute, said many of the estimated 500 British fighters in Syria and Iraq had left criminal pasts in the UK so were likely to be known to police. Intelligence agencies would also be using linguistics technology to track down the man, he said. [Continue reading...]

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What I did after police killed my son

Michael Bell writes: After police in Kenosha, Wis., shot my 21-year-old son to death outside his house ten years ago — and then immediately cleared themselves of all wrongdoing — an African-American man approached me and said: “If they can shoot a white boy like a dog, imagine what we’ve been going through.”

I could imagine it all too easily, just as the rest of the country has been seeing it all too clearly in the terrible images coming from Ferguson, Mo., in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown. On Friday, after a week of angry protests, the police in Ferguson finally identified the officer implicated in Brown’s shooting, although the circumstances still remain unclear.

I have known the name of the policeman who killed my son, Michael, for ten years. And he is still working on the force in Kenosha.

Yes, there is good reason to think that many of these unjustifiable homicides by police across the country are racially motivated. But there is a lot more than that going on here. Our country is simply not paying enough attention to the terrible lack of accountability of police departments and the way it affects all of us—regardless of race or ethnicity. Because if a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy — that was my son, Michael — can be shot in the head under a street light with his hands cuffed behind his back, in front of five eyewitnesses (including his mother and sister), and his father was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew in three wars for his country — that’s me — and I still couldn’t get anything done about it, then Joe the plumber and Javier the roofer aren’t going to be able to do anything about it either. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. police have become more violent as the public has become less violent

New York magazine reports: The story of Michael Brown’s death has in no small part been a story of police overreaction. The local force evidently killed an unarmed teenager, and then suited up as if going to war to police the generally peaceful protests that followed. And it’s revealed an irony: Over the past generation or so, we’ve militarized our police to protect a public that has broadly become less and less violent.

It all starts back in 1990, a time when the country found itself with less demand for military equipment abroad and new use for it back home. Within our shores, the drug wars were escalating; gang violence was surging; and sociologists were warning of sociopathic child “superpredators.” At the same time, the military was starting to shrink as the Cold War ended. Put two and two together and you get the 1033 program, which transferred assets from the military to the police. (Here’s a capsule history.)

A bigger flush of money and equipment followed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Times reports, when the federal government equipped local police outfits to be the front line of the Global War on Terror:

Department of Homeland Security grant money paid for the $360,000 Bearcat armored truck on patrol in Ferguson, said Nick Gragnani, executive director of St. Louis Area Regional Response System, which administers such grants for the St. Louis area.

Since 2003, the group has spent $9.4 million on equipment for the police in St. Louis County. That includes $3.6 million for two helicopters, plus the Bearcat, other vehicles and night vision equipment. Most of the body armor worn by officers responding to the Ferguson protests was paid for with federal money, Mr. Gragnani said.

“The focus is terrorism, but it’s allowed to do a crossover for other types of responses,” he said. “It’s for any type of civil unrest. We went by the grant guidance. There was no restriction put on that by the federal government.”

But here’s the thing. Since 1990, according to Department of Justice statistics, the United States has become a vastly safer place, at least in terms of violent crime. [Continue reading...]

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Do police need grenade launchers, other military weapons? Officers say yes

Detroit Free Press: Michigan police departments have armed themselves with grenade launchers, armored vehicles, automatic rifles and other equipment — 128,000 items in all, worth an estimated $43 million — under a federal program that allows police to obtain surplus gear free from the U.S. military.

A Free Press review of items transferred from the military since 2006 shows Michigan law enforcement agencies have received 17 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles or MRAPs, built to counter roadside bombs; 1,795 M16 rifles, the U.S. military’s combat weapon of choice; 696 M14 rifles; 530 bayonet and scabbards; 165 utility trucks; 32 12-gauge, riot-type shotguns; nine grenade launchers; and three observation helicopters.

Federal officials won’t say which agencies got equipment, but the Free Press inquiry shows it went not just to large counties with high crime, but some of the state’s smallest counties and towns. [Continue reading...]

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What happens to #Ferguson affects Ferguson: Net neutrality, algorithmic filtering and Ferguson

Zeynep Tufekci writes: Ferguson is about many things, starting first with race and policing in America.

But it’s also about internet, net neutrality and algorithmic filtering.

It’s a clear example of why “saving the Internet”, as it often phrased, is not an abstract issue of concern only to nerds, Silicon Valley bosses, and few NGOs. It’s why “algorithmic filtering” is not a vague concern.

It’s a clear example why net neutrality is a human rights issue; a free speech issue; and an issue of the voiceless being heard, on their own terms.

I saw this play out in multiple countries — my home country of Turkey included — but last night, it became even more heartbreakingly apparent in the United States as well. [Continue reading...]

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‘Let’s put away the toys, boys’: Ferguson spotlights police militarization

Al Jazeera America reports: Canisters of tear gas thrown indiscriminately into crowds, armored vehicles rolling through city streets and men in camouflage wielding machine guns — it seems like a scene from Fallujah or Kabul or perhaps from the dark days of the U.S. civil rights movement.

But as the world knows, this is Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

Even as the community struggles to come to grips with the tragic shooting death of yet another unarmed young African-American man, the events unfolding in Ferguson have thrown a spotlight on a second alarming trend: the increasing militarization of local police departments.

In response to protesters expressing outrage over the killing of 18-year-old Mike Brown, the St. Louis County and Ferguson police departments have turned the streets of this majority-African-American suburb into a veritable war zone, firing rubber bullets, menacing demonstrators with dogs and in general displaying excessive force for the purposes of security and crowd control.

“This militarization that we are witnessing — police officers dressed as soldiers, using military vehicles and military weapons to engage largely unarmed protesters — is outrageous,” said Tom Nolan, chairman of the department of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, who served for 27 years in the Boston Police Department. “It’s a disgrace.” [Continue reading...]

BuzzFeed reports: Amid growing criticism of the military-style equipment and tactics deployed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, a Democrat from Georgia plans to introduce the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act” in Congress next month.

Rep. Hank Johnson asked his all his colleagues Thursday to join him in supporting the bill, which he said in a letter “will end the free transfers of certain aggressive military equipment to local law enforcement and ensure that all equipment can be accounted for.”

Images of assault rifle-carrying camouflaged police riding through Ferguson on military vehicles similar to the IED-resistant equipment used by American armed forces in combat have proven to be a jolt of energy for a long-simmering debate about police militarization.

In his letter to Congress, Johnson signaled that he expects his bill to break through the partisan gridlock in the House. [Continue reading...]

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Matthew Harwood: One nation under SWAT

Think of it as a different kind of blowback.  Even when you fight wars in countries thousands of miles distant, they still have an eerie way of making the long trip home.

Take the latest news from Bergen County, New Jersey, one of the richest counties in the country.  Its sheriff’s department is getting two mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs — 15 tons of protective equipment — for a song from the Pentagon.  And there’s nothing special in that.  The Pentagon has handed out 600 of them for nothing since 2013, with plenty more to come.  They’re surplus equipment, mostly from our recent wars, and perhaps they will indeed prove handy for a sheriff fretting about insurgent IEDs (roadside bombs) in New Jersey or elsewhere in the country.  When it comes to the up-armoring and militarization of America’s police forces, this is completely run-of-the-mill stuff.

The only thing newsworthy in the Bergen story is that someone complained.  To be exact, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan spoke up in opposition to the transfer of the equipment.  “I think,” she said, “we have lost our way if you start talking about military vehicles on the streets of Bergen County.”  And she bluntly criticized the decision to accept the MRAPs as the “absolute wrong thing to do in Bergen County to try to militarize our county.”  Her chief of staff offered a similar comment: “They are combat vehicles. Why do we need a combat vehicle on the streets of Bergen County?”

Sheriff Michael Saudino, on the other hand, insists that the MRAPs aren’t “combat vehicles” at all.  Forget the fact that they were developed for and used in combat situations.  He suggests instead that one good reason for having them — other than the fact that they are free (except for postage, gas, and upkeep) — is essentially to keep up with the Joneses.  As he pointed out, the Bergen County police already have two MRAPs, and his department has none and, hey, self-respect matters!  (“Should our SWAT guys be any less protected than the county guys?” he asked in a debate with Donovan.)

striking recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union indicates that, as in Bergen County, policing is being militarized nationwide in all sorts of unsettling ways.  It is, more precisely, being SWATified (a word that doesn’t yet exist, but certainly should).  Matthew Harwood, senior writer and editor for the ACLU, as well as TomDispatch regular, offers a graphic look at just where policing in America is heading. Welcome to Kabul, USA. Tom Engelhardt

To terrify and occupy
How the excessive militarization of the police is turning cops into counterinsurgents
By Matthew Harwood

Jason Westcott was afraid.

One night last fall, he discovered via Facebook that a friend of a friend was planning with some co-conspirators to break in to his home. They were intent on stealing Wescott’s handgun and a couple of TV sets. According to the Facebook message, the suspect was planning on “burning” Westcott, who promptly called the Tampa Bay police and reported the plot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the investigating officers responding to Westcott’s call had a simple message for him: “If anyone breaks into this house, grab your gun and shoot to kill.”

Around 7:30 pm on May 27th, the intruders arrived. Westcott followed the officers’ advice, grabbed his gun to defend his home, and died pointing it at the intruders.  They used a semiautomatic shotgun and handgun to shoot down the 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic.  He was hit three times, once in the arm and twice in his side, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

[Read more...]

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Some of my best friends are Zionists

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On #Gaza, #Israel is losing the #Obama coalition

Peter Beinart writes: In Chicago, Barack Obama lived across the street from a very unusual synagogue, KAM Isaiah Israel, and its very unusual rabbi, Arnold Jacob Wolf. Wolf had been the founding chairman of Breira, the first American Jewish group to advocate a Palestinian state, and throughout his career, he passionately challenged Israeli settlement policies and the American Jewish organizations that justified them. In 1970, in words that could have been written this morning, Wolf denounced American Jewish leaders who, on the issue of Israel, “do not demand support, but rather submission…Any congregation whose allegiance is the least bit critical, any rabbi who holds independent views of the Middle Eastern situation, is eyed with suspicion, if not with downright hatred.”

Wolf liked Obama, but considered him timid. One month before Obama’s election, and three months before Wolf’s death, the octogenarian rabbi predicted that although Obama “knows more than most people do about the [Middle East] situation…he’s going to go very cautiously and not do anything that shakes up the Jewish community. I’m not sure I agree with that, but that’s what’s going to happen.”

Wolf was right. Obama has been cautious. He’s put far less pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu to stop settlement growth than George H.W. Bush put on Yitzhak Shamir. He’s been far more indulgent of Netanyahu’s war in Gaza than Ronald Reagan was of Shamir and Menachem Begin’s war in Lebanon.

But although Obama has not changed the American debate over Israel, the Obama coalition has. Look at the polls taken during this war. A majority of Americans defend Israel’s actions and blame Hamas for the violence. But among the demographic groups that backed Obama most strongly, it’s the reverse. First, young people. According to Gallup, while Americans over the age of 65 support Israel’s actions by a margin of 24 points, Americans under 30 oppose them by a margin of 26 points. Second, racial and ethnic minorities. White Americans back the war by 16 points. Non-whites oppose it by 24 points. Third, liberals. According to the Pew Research Center, conservatives are 54 points more likely to blame Hamas for the fighting than Israel. Among liberals, it’s tied. [Read more...]

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U.S. public opinion on Israel’s assault on Gaza more evenly divided than media claims

Rafat Ali writes: The US public opinion on support for Israel’s military actions against Gaza is not as one sided as media portrays it to be.

I decided to test the American public, using Google Consumer Surveys, a very reliable online polling tool from Google, and focused on two questions that CNN asked in its survey. CNN has touted these results as overwhelming support for Israel, though the winds are changing, and “favorable opinions of Israel have edged down since earlier this year,” as it says.

But the Google Consumer Survey results tell a different story, and are eye-opening, to say the least.

The first survey results here, the second are here, you can go dig in. [Continue reading...]

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Todd Miller: Bill of Rights rollback in the U.S. borderlands

You’re not in the United States. Oh sure, look around at the fog lifting over the New England countryside or the diamond deserts of Arizona, but this land isn’t your land, not anymore. It’s a place controlled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and your constitutional rights do not apply on their territory. CBP can, and does, detain Americans, search them without warrant, and physically mistreat them in what has become, for our 9/11 sins, a Post-Constitutional legal purgatory. You are neither outside their grasp in a foreign land, nor protected from them by being inside America.

The concept that the Constitution does not apply at America’s borders is not new, particularly in relation to Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure. (In this context, “seizure” often takes the form of detention, as well as the more traditional concept of taking physical possessions away.) Once upon a time, the idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by examining people entering the country. Thus, routine border seizures and searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable.” Fair enough. The basic rules, in fact, go back to 1789.

But the fairness of the old rules no longer applies, particularly in the face of a constantly metastasizing CBP, anxious to expand its place in the already expansive Homeland Security ecosystem. On its website, CBP boasts of making 1,100 arrests a day as, in its own words, the “guardians” of America. Do the math: that’s 401,500 a year, and those arrests are not limited to dangerous foreigners. Americans who hold certain beliefs and affiliations are swept up as well, whether they are prominent journalistsactivists, or simply (as in today’s piece) angry spouses of men beaten nearly to death by CBP agents. The agency now insists that its jurisdiction does not end at the physical border, the line on the map that separates say the United States from Mexico, but extends 100 miles inland.

Building on his successful new book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland SecurityTomDispatch regular Todd Miller brings us more examples of CBP lawlessness and brutality, while asking crucial questions about its larger meaning to our nation. Get ready to be scared. If you live near the border, cross the border after a trip abroad, or attract the attention of roving CBP patrols in New England or Arizona within 100 miles of the line, this land belongs not to you and me, but in Post-Constitutional America, increasingly to our so-called guardians. Peter Van Buren

Border wars in the homeland
“Stop stepping on the pictures”
By Todd Miller

Shena Gutierrez was already cuffed and in an inspection room in Nogales, Arizona, when the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent grabbed her purse, opened it, and dumped its contents onto the floor right in front of her. There couldn’t be a sharper image of the Bill of Rights rollback we are experiencing in the U.S. borderlands in the post-9/11 era.

Tumbling out of that purse came Gutierrez’s life: photos of her kids, business cards, credit cards, and other papers, all now open to the official scrutiny of the Department of Homeland Security. There were also photographs of her husband, Jose Gutierrez Guzman, whom CBP agents beat so badly in 2011 that he suffered permanent brain damage. The supervisory agent, whose name badge on his blue uniform read “Gomez,” now began to trample on her life, quite literally, with his black boots.

“Please stop stepping on the pictures,” Shena asked him.

A U.S. citizen, unlike her husband, she had been returning from a 48-hour vigil against Border Patrol violence in Mexico and was wearing a shirt that said “Stop Border Patrol Brutality” when she was aggressively questioned and cuffed at the CBP’s “port of entry” in Nogales on that hot day in May.  She had no doubt that Gomez was stepping all over the contents of her purse in response to her shirt, the evidence of her activism.

[Read more...]

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