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The Caging of America

Why do we lock up so many people?

by Adam Gopnik

The New Yorker (January 30 2012)


Six million people are under correctional supervision in the US – more than were in Stalin’s gulags.
Photograph by Steve Liss / American Poverty

A prison is a trap for catching time. Good reporting appears often about the inner life of the American prison, but the catch is that American prison life is mostly undramatic – the reported stories fail to grab us, because, for the most part, nothing happens. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich is all you need to know about Ivan Denisovich, because the idea that anyone could live for a minute in such circumstances seems impossible; one day in the life of an American prison means much less, because the force of it is that one day typically stretches out for decades. It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates. The inmates on death row in Texas are called men in “timeless time”, because they alone aren’t serving time: they aren’t waiting out five years or a decade or a lifetime. The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.

That’s why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia – anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded. “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard, / Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards”, Dylan sings, and while it isn’t strictly true – just ask the prisoners – it contains a truth: the guards are doing time, too. As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won’t let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment. For American prisoners, huge numbers of whom are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the civilized world – Texas alone has sentenced more than four hundred teen-agers to life imprisonment – time becomes in every sense this thing you serve.

For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today – perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system – in prison, on probation, or on parole – than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America – more than six million – than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state”, in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.

The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men – a full house at Yankee Stadium – wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise”. (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic – more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year – that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncooperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape – like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows – will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.

How did we get here? How is it that our civilization, which rejects hanging and flogging and disembowelling, came to believe that caging vast numbers of people for decades is an acceptably humane sanction? There’s a fairly large recent scholarly literature on the history and sociology of crime and punishment, and it tends to trace the American zeal for punishment back to the nineteenth century, apportioning blame in two directions. There’s an essentially Northern explanation, focussing on the inheritance of the notorious Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, and its “reformist” tradition; and a Southern explanation, which sees the prison system as essentially a slave plantation continued by other means. Robert Perkinson, the author of the Southern revisionist tract Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire (2010), traces two ancestral lines, “from the North, the birthplace of rehabilitative penology, to the South, the fountainhead of subjugationist discipline”. In other words, there’s the scientific taste for reducing men to numbers and the slave owners’ urge to reduce blacks to brutes.

William J Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law School who died shortly before his masterwork, The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (2013), was published, last fall, is the most forceful advocate for the view that the scandal of our prisons derives from the Enlightenment-era, “procedural” nature of American justice. He runs through the immediate causes of the incarceration epidemic: the growth of post-Rockefeller drug laws, which punished minor drug offenses with major prison time; “zero tolerance” policing, which added to the group; mandatory-sentencing laws, which prevented judges from exercising judgment. But his search for the ultimate cause leads deeper, all the way to the Bill of Rights. In a society where Constitution worship is still a requisite on right and left alike, Stuntz startlingly suggests that the Bill of Rights is a terrible document with which to start a justice system – much inferior to the exactly contemporary French Declaration of the Rights of Man, which Jefferson, he points out, may have helped shape while his protege Madison was writing ours.

The trouble with the Bill of Rights, he argues, is that it emphasizes process and procedure rather than principles. The Declaration of the Rights of Man says, Be just! The Bill of Rights says, Be fair! Instead of announcing general principles – no one should be accused of something that wasn’t a crime when he did it; cruel punishments are always wrong; the goal of justice is, above all, that justice be done – it talks procedurally. You can’t search someone without a reason; you can’t accuse him without allowing him to see the evidence; and so on. This emphasis, Stuntz thinks, has led to the current mess, where accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors and no protection at all against outrageous and obvious violations of simple justice. You can get off if the cops looked in the wrong car with the wrong warrant when they found your joint, but you have no recourse if owning the joint gets you locked up for life. You may be spared the death penalty if you can show a problem with your appointed defender, but it is much harder if there is merely enormous accumulated evidence that you weren’t guilty in the first place and the jury got it wrong. Even clauses that Americans are taught to revere are, Stuntz maintains, unworthy of reverence: the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” was designed to protect cruel punishments – flogging and branding – that were not at that time unusual.

The obsession with due process and the cult of brutal prisons, the argument goes, share an essential impersonality. The more professionalized and procedural a system is, the more insulated we become from its real effects on real people. That’s why America is famous both for its process-driven judicial system (“The bastard got off on a technicality”, the cop-show detective fumes) and for the harshness and inhumanity of its prisons. Though all industrialized societies started sending more people to prison and fewer to the gallows in the eighteenth century, it was in Enlightenment-inspired America that the taste for long-term, profoundly depersonalized punishment became most aggravated. The inhumanity of American prisons was as much a theme for Dickens, visiting America in 1842, as the cynicism of American lawyers. His shock when he saw the Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia – a “model” prison, at the time the most expensive public building ever constructed in the country, where every prisoner was kept in silent, separate confinement – still resonates:

 

 

I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers … I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.

 

 

Not roused up to stay – that was the point. Once the procedure ends, the penalty begins, and, as long as the cruelty is routine, our civil responsibility toward the punished is over. We lock men up and forget about their existence. For Dickens, even the corrupt but communal debtors’ prisons of old London were better than this. “Don’t take it personally!” – that remains the slogan above the gate to the American prison Inferno. Nor is this merely a historian’s vision. Conrad Black, at the high end, has a scary and persuasive picture of how his counsel, the judge, and the prosecutors all merrily congratulated each other on their combined professional excellence just before sending him off to the hoosegow for several years. If a millionaire feels that way, imagine how the ordinary culprit must feel.

In place of abstraction, Stuntz argues for the saving grace of humane discretion. Basically, he thinks, we should go into court with an understanding of what a crime is and what justice is like, and then let common sense and compassion and specific circumstance take over. There’s a lovely scene in The Castle (1999), the Australian movie about a family fighting eminent-domain eviction, where its hapless lawyer, asked in court to point to the specific part of the Australian constitution that the eviction violates, says desperately, “It’s … just the vibe of the thing”. For Stuntz, justice ought to be just the vibe of the thing – not one procedural error caught or one fact worked around. The criminal law should once again be more like the common law, with judges and juries not merely finding fact but making law on the basis of universal principles of fairness, circumstance, and seriousness, and crafting penalties to the exigencies of the crime.

The other argument – the Southern argument – is that this story puts too bright a face on the truth. The reality of American prisons, this argument runs, has nothing to do with the knots of procedural justice or the perversions of Enlightenment-era ideals. Prisons today operate less in the rehabilitative mode of the Northern reformers “than in a retributive mode that has long been practiced and promoted in the South”, Perkinson, an American-studies professor, writes. “American prisons trace their lineage not only back to Pennsylvania penitentiaries but to Texas slave plantations”. White supremacy is the real principle, this thesis holds, and racial domination the real end. In response to the apparent triumphs of the sixties, mass imprisonment became a way of reimposing Jim Crow. Blacks are now incarcerated seven times as often as whites. “The system of mass incarceration works to trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage”, the legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes. Young black men pass quickly from a period of police harassment into a period of “formal control” (that is, actual imprisonment) and then are doomed for life to a system of “invisible control”. Prevented from voting, legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives, most will cycle back through the prison system. The system, in this view, is not really broken; it is doing what it was designed to do. Alexander’s grim conclusion: “If mass incarceration is considered as a system of social control – specifically, racial control – then the system is a fantastic success”.

Northern impersonality and Southern revenge converge on a common American theme: a growing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It’s hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible. No more chilling document exists in recent American life than the 2005 annual report of the biggest of these firms, the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men:

 

 

Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities … The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

 

 

Brecht could hardly have imagined such a document: a capitalist enterprise that feeds on the misery of man trying as hard as it can to be sure that nothing is done to decrease that misery.

Yet a spectre haunts all these accounts, North and South, whether process gone mad or penal colony writ large. It is that the epidemic of imprisonment seems to track the dramatic decline in crime over the same period. The more bad guys there are in prison, it appears, the less crime there has been in the streets. The real background to the prison boom, which shows up only sporadically in the prison literature, is the crime wave that preceded and overlapped it.

For those too young to recall the big-city crime wave of the sixties and seventies, it may seem like mere bogeyman history. For those whose entire childhood and adolescence were set against it, it is the crucial trauma in recent American life and explains much else that happened in the same period. It was the condition of the Upper West Side of Manhattan under liberal rule, far more than what had happened to Eastern Europe under socialism, that made neo-con polemics look persuasive. There really was, as Stuntz himself says, a liberal consensus on crime (“Wherever the line is between a merciful justice system and one that abandons all serious effort at crime control, the nation had crossed it”), and it really did have bad effects.

Yet if, in 1980, someone had predicted that by 2012 New York City would have a crime rate so low that violent crime would have largely disappeared as a subject of conversation, he would have seemed not so much hopeful as crazy. Thirty years ago, crime was supposed to be a permanent feature of the city, produced by an alienated underclass of super-predators; now it isn’t. Something good happened to change it, and you might have supposed that the change would be an opportunity for celebration and optimism. Instead, we mostly content ourselves with grudging and sardonic references to the silly side of gentrification, along with a few all-purpose explanations, like broken-window policing. This is a general human truth: things that work interest us less than things that don’t.

So what is the relation between mass incarceration and the decrease in crime? Certainly, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, many experts became persuaded that there was no way to make bad people better; all you could do was warehouse them, for longer or shorter periods. The best research seemed to show, depressingly, that nothing works – that rehabilitation was a ruse. Then, in 1983, inmates at the maximum-security federal prison in Marion, Illinois, murdered two guards. Inmates had been (very occasionally) killing guards for a long time, but the timing of the murders, and the fact that they took place in a climate already prepared to believe that even ordinary humanity was wasted on the criminal classes, meant that the entire prison was put on permanent lockdown. A century and a half after absolute solitary first appeared in American prisons, it was reintroduced. Those terrible numbers began to grow.

And then, a decade later, crime started falling: across the country by a standard measure of about forty per cent; in New York City by as much as eighty per cent. By 2010, the crime rate in New York had seen its greatest decline since the Second World War; in 2002, there were fewer murders in Manhattan than there had been in any year since 1900. In social science, a cause sought is usually a muddle found; in life as we experience it, a crisis resolved is causality established. If a pill cures a headache, we do not ask too often if the headache might have gone away by itself.

All this ought to make the publication of Franklin E Zimring’s new book, The City That Became Safe (2011), a very big event. Zimring, a criminologist at Berkeley Law, has spent years crunching the numbers of what happened in New York in the context of what happened in the rest of America. One thing he teaches us is how little we know. The forty per cent drop across the continent – indeed, there was a decline throughout the Western world – took place for reasons that are as mysterious in suburban Ottawa as they are in the South Bronx. Zimring shows that the usual explanations – including demographic shifts – simply can’t account for what must be accounted for. This makes the international decline look slightly eerie: blackbirds drop from the sky, plagues slacken and end, and there seems no absolute reason that societies leap from one state to another over time. Trends and fashions and fads and pure contingencies happen in other parts of our social existence; it may be that there are fashions and cycles in criminal behavior, too, for reasons that are just as arbitrary.

But the additional forty per cent drop in crime that seems peculiar to New York finally succumbs to Zimring’s analysis. The change didn’t come from resolving the deep pathologies that the right fixated on – from jailing super predators, driving down the number of unwed mothers, altering welfare culture. Nor were there cures for the underlying causes pointed to by the left: injustice, discrimination, poverty. Nor were there any “Presto!” effects arising from secret patterns of increased abortions or the like. The city didn’t get much richer; it didn’t get much poorer. There was no significant change in the ethnic makeup or the average wealth or educational levels of New Yorkers as violent crime more or less vanished. “Broken windows” or “turnstile jumping” policing, that is, cracking down on small visible offenses in order to create an atmosphere that refused to license crime, seems to have had a negligible effect; there was, Zimring writes, a great difference between the slogans and the substance of the time. (Arrests for “visible” nonviolent crime – for example, street prostitution and public gambling – mostly went down through the period.)

Instead, small acts of social engineering, designed simply to stop crimes from happening, helped stop crime. In the nineties, the New York Police Department began to control crime not by fighting minor crimes in safe places but by putting lots of cops in places where lots of crimes happened – “hot-spot policing”. The cops also began an aggressive, controversial program of “stop and frisk” – “designed to catch the sharks, not the dolphins”, as Jack Maple, one of its originators, described it – that involved what’s called pejoratively “profiling”. This was not so much racial, since in any given neighborhood all the suspects were likely to be of the same race or color, as social, involving the thousand small clues that policemen recognized already. Minority communities, Zimring emphasizes, paid a disproportionate price in kids stopped and frisked, and detained, but they also earned a disproportionate gain in crime reduced. “The poor pay more and get more” is Zimring’s way of putting it. He believes that a “light” program of stop-and-frisk could be less alienating and just as effective, and that by bringing down urban crime stop-and-frisk had the net effect of greatly reducing the number of poor minority kids in prison for long stretches.

Zimring insists, plausibly, that he is offering a radical and optimistic rewriting of theories of what crime is and where criminals are, not least because it disconnects crime and minorities. “In 1961, twenty six percent of New York City’s population was minority African American or Hispanic. Now, half of New York’s population is – and what that does in an enormously hopeful way is to destroy the rude assumptions of supply side criminology”, he says. By “supply side criminology”, he means the conservative theory of crime that claimed that social circumstances produced a certain net amount of crime waiting to be expressed; if you stopped it here, it broke out there. The only way to stop crime was to lock up all the potential criminals. In truth, criminal activity seems like most other human choices – a question of contingent occasions and opportunity. Crime is not the consequence of a set number of criminals; criminals are the consequence of a set number of opportunities to commit crimes. Close down the open drug market in Washington Square, and it does not automatically migrate to Tompkins Square Park. It just stops, or the dealers go indoors, where dealing goes on but violent crime does not.

And, in a virtuous cycle, the decreased prevalence of crime fuels a decrease in the prevalence of crime. When your friends are no longer doing street robberies, you’re less likely to do them. Zimring said, in a recent interview, “Remember, nobody ever made a living mugging. There’s no minimum wage in violent crime.” In a sense, he argues, it’s recreational, part of a life style: “Crime is a routine behavior; it’s a thing people do when they get used to doing it”. And therein lies its essential fragility. Crime ends as a result of “cyclical forces operating on situational and contingent things rather than from finding deeply motivated essential linkages”. Conservatives don’t like this view because it shows that being tough doesn’t help; liberals don’t like it because apparently being nice doesn’t help, either. Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.

One fact stands out. While the rest of the country, over the same twenty-year period, saw the growth in incarceration that led to our current astonishing numbers, New York, despite the Rockefeller drug laws, saw a marked decrease in its number of inmates. “New York City, in the midst of a dramatic reduction in crime, is locking up a much smaller number of people, and particularly of young people, than it was at the height of the crime wave”, Zimring observes. Whatever happened to make street crime fall, it had nothing to do with putting more men in prison. The logic is self-evident if we just transfer it to the realm of white-collar crime: we easily accept that there is no net sum of white-collar crime waiting to happen, no inscrutable generation of super-predators produced by Dewar’s-guzzling dads and scaly MBA professors; if you stop an embezzlement scheme here on Third Avenue, another doesn’t naturally start in the next office building. White-collar crime happens through an intersection of pathology and opportunity; getting the Securities and Exchange Commission busy ending the opportunity is a good way to limit the range of the pathology.

Social trends deeper and less visible to us may appear as future historians analyze what went on. Something other than policing may explain things – just as the coming of cheap credit cards and state lotteries probably did as much to weaken the Mafia’s Five Families in New York, who had depended on loan sharking and numbers running, as the FBI could. It is at least possible, for instance, that the coming of the mobile phone helped drive drug dealing indoors, in ways that helped drive down crime. It may be that the real value of hot spot and stop-and-frisk was that it provided a single game plan that the police believed in; as military history reveals, a bad plan is often better than no plan, especially if the people on the other side think it’s a good plan. But one thing is sure: social epidemics, of crime or of punishment, can be cured more quickly than we might hope with simpler and more superficial mechanisms than we imagine. Throwing a Band-Aid over a bad wound is actually a decent strategy, if the Band-Aid helps the wound to heal itself.

Which leads, further, to one piece of radical common sense: since prison plays at best a small role in stopping even violent crime, very few people, rich or poor, should be in prison for a nonviolent crime. Neither the streets nor the society is made safer by having marijuana users or peddlers locked up, let alone with the horrific sentences now dispensed so easily. For that matter, no social good is served by having the embezzler or the Ponzi schemer locked in a cage for the rest of his life, rather than having him bankrupt and doing community service in the South Bronx for the next decade or two. Would we actually have more fraud and looting of shareholder value if the perpetrators knew that they would lose their bank accounts and their reputation, and have to do community service seven days a week for five years? It seems likely that anyone for whom those sanctions aren’t sufficient is someone for whom no sanctions are ever going to be sufficient. Zimring’s research shows clearly that, if crime drops on the street, criminals coming out of prison stop committing crimes. What matters is the incidence of crime in the world, and the continuity of a culture of crime, not some “lesson learned” in prison.

At the same time, the ugly side of stop-and-frisk can be alleviated. To catch sharks and not dolphins, Zimring’s work suggests, we need to adjust the size of the holes in the nets – to make crimes that are the occasion for stop-and-frisks real crimes, not crimes like marijuana possession. When the New York City police stopped and frisked kids, the main goal was not to jail them for having pot but to get their fingerprints, so that they could be identified if they committed a more serious crime. But all over America the opposite happens: marijuana possession becomes the serious crime. The cost is so enormous, though, in lives ruined and money spent, that the obvious thing to do is not to enforce the law less but to change it now. Dr Johnson said once that manners make law, and that when manners alter, the law must, too. It’s obvious that marijuana is now an almost universally accepted drug in America: it is not only used casually (which has been true for decades) but also talked about casually on television and in the movies (which has not). One need only watch any stoner movie to see that the perceived risks of smoking dope are not that you’ll get arrested but that you’ll get in trouble with a rival frat or look like an idiot to women. The decriminalization of marijuana would help end the epidemic of imprisonment.

The rate of incarceration in most other rich, free countries, whatever the differences in their histories, is remarkably steady. In countries with Napoleonic justice or common law or some mixture of the two, in countries with adversarial systems and in those with magisterial ones, whether the country once had brutal plantation-style penal colonies, as France did, or was once itself a brutal plantation-style penal colony, like Australia, the natural rate of incarceration seems to hover right around a hundred men per hundred thousand people. (That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get lower in rich, homogeneous countries – just that it never gets much higher in countries otherwise like our own.) It seems that one man in every thousand once in a while does a truly bad thing. All other things being equal, the point of a justice system should be to identify that thousandth guy, find a way to keep him from harming other people, and give everyone else a break.

Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures. Most of the time in the history of medicine, the best way to end disease was to build a better sewer and get people to wash their hands. “Merely chipping away at the problem around the edges” is usually the very best thing to do with a problem; keep chipping away patiently and, eventually, you get to its heart. To read the literature on crime before it dropped is to see the same kind of dystopian despair we find in the new literature of punishment: we’d have to end poverty, or eradicate the ghettos, or declare war on the broken family, or the like, in order to end the crime wave. The truth is, a series of small actions and events ended up eliminating a problem that seemed to hang over everything. There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities. Ending sentencing for drug misdemeanors, decriminalizing marijuana, leaving judges free to use common sense (and, where possible, getting judges who are judges rather than politicians) – many small acts are possible that will help end the epidemic of imprisonment as they helped end the plague of crime.

“Oh, I have taken too little care of this!” King Lear cries out on the heath in his moment of vision. “Take physic, pomp; expose thyself to feel what wretches feel”. “This” changes; in Shakespeare’s time, it was flat-out peasant poverty that starved some and drove others as mad as poor Tom. In Dickens’s and Hugo’s time, it was the industrial revolution that drove kids to mines. But every society has a poor storm that wretches suffer in, and the attitude is always the same: either that the wretches, already dehumanized by their suffering, deserve no pity or that the oppressed, overwhelmed by injustice, will have to wait for a better world. At every moment, the injustice seems inseparable from the community’s life, and in every case the arguments for keeping the system in place were that you would have to revolutionize the entire social order to change it – which then became the argument for revolutionizing the entire social order. In every case, humanity and common sense made the insoluble problem just get up and go away. Prisons are our this. We need take more care.

_____

Adam Gopnik, a staff writer, has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1986: http://www.newyorker.com/contributors/adam-gopnik

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/01/30/the-caging-of-america

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Categories: Uncategorized

Did the White House Just Declare War on Russia?

by Darius Shahtamasebi via TheAntiMedia.org

Anti Media (October 21 2016)

Zero Hedge (October 23 2016)

This past week, America’s oldest continuously published weekly magazine, The Nation, asked the question {1}: has the White House declared war on Russia?

As the two nuclear powers sabre-rattle over conflicts within Syria, and to some extent, over the Ukrainian crisis, asking these questions to determine who will pull the trigger first has become more paramount than it was at the peak of the Cold War.

The Nation‘s contributing editor, Stephen F Cohen, reported Vice President Joe Biden’s statement that the White House was preparing to send Vladimir Putin a “message” – most likely in the form of a cyber attack – amounted to a virtual “American declaration of war on Russia” in Russia’s eyes. Biden’s threat is reportedly in response to allegations that Russia hacked Democratic Party offices in order to disrupt the presidential election.

Chuck Todd, host of the “Meet the Press” on NBC, asked {2} Joe Biden: “Why haven’t we sent a message yet to Putin?”

Biden responded, “We are sending a message {to Putin} … We have a capacity to do it, and …”

“He’ll know it?” Todd interrupted.

“He’ll know it. It will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact”, the US vice president replied.

What are the effects of this kind of rhetoric when dealing with international relations? Western media decided to pay little attention to Biden’s statements, yet his words have stunned Moscow. As reported by The Nation:

 

 

… Biden’s statement, which clearly had been planned by the White House, could scarcely have been more dangerous or reckless – especially considering that there is no actual evidence or logic for the two allegations against Russia that seem to have prompted it.

 

 

The statements will not come without any measured response from Russia. According to presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russia’s response {3} is well underway:

 

 

The fact is, US unpredictability and aggression keep growing, and such threats against Moscow and our country’s leadership are unprecedented, because the threat is being announced at the level of the US Vice President. Of course, given such an aggressive, unpredictable line, we have to take measures to protect our interests, somehow hedge the risks.

 

 

The fact that our media refuses to pay attention to the dangers of our own establishment in sending warnings to adverse nuclear powers based on unasserted allegations shows our media is playing a very dangerous game with us – the people. This attempt to pull the wool over our eyes and prepare us for a direct confrontation with Russia can be seen clearly in the battle for Aleppo, Syria.

As The Nation astutely noted:

 

 

Only a few weeks ago, President Obama had agreed with Putin on a joint US-Russian military campaign against “terrorists” in Aleppo. That agreement collapsed primarily because of an attack {4} by US warplanes on Syrian forces. Russia and its Syrian allies continued their air assault on east Aleppo now, according to Washington and the mainstream media, against anti-Assad “rebels”. Where, asks Cohen, have the jihad terrorists gone? They had been deleted from the US narrative, which now accused Russia of “war crimes” in Aleppo for the same military campaign in which Washington was to have been a full partner.

 

 

So where is this conflict headed? A top US general, Marine General Joseph Dunford, told {5} the Senate Armed Services Committee in September of this year that the enforcement of a “no-fly zone” in Syria would mean a US war with both Syria and Russia. Hillary Clinton is well aware of the repercussions of this war, as she acknowledged in a secret speech {6} to Goldman Sachs (recently released by Wikileaks):

 

 

To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk – you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians … So all of a sudden this intervention that people talk about so glibly becomes an American and Nato involvement where you take a lot of civilians.

 

 

This is the same establishment that has been calling out Russia for allegedly committing war crimes in Aleppo even though Clinton’s proposal would result in far more civilian deaths and likely lead to a direct war with Russia.

As the war against Syria transitions into a much wider global conflict that could include nuclear powers Russia and China, our own media is deceiving us by dishonestly reporting on the events leading up to the activation {7} of the doomsday clock.

History doesn’t occur in a vacuum; when the US and Russia confront each other directly, it won’t be because of a mere incident occurring in Syrian airspace.

It will be because the two nuclear powers have been confronting each other with little resistance from the corporate media, which keeps us well entertained and preoccupied with political charades {8}, celebrity gossip {9}, and outright propaganda {10}.

Links:

{1} https://www.thenation.com/article/did-the-white-house-declare-war-on-russia

{2} http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/biden-we-re-sending-a-message-to-putin-786263107997

{3} https://www.rt.com/news/362868-kremlin-cyberattack-threats-us/

{4} http://theantimedia.org/5-times-us-helped-isis/

{5} https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/09/24/syri-s24.html

{6} http://theantimedia.org/hillary-no-fly-zone-civilians-war-russia/

{7} http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/14/heres-how-world-war-three-could-start-tomorrow/

{8} http://theantimedia.org/america-lost-presidential-debate/

{9} http://theantimedia.org/5-stories-ignored-kim-kardashian/

{10} http://theantimedia.org/obama-hypocritical-slam-putin/

http://theantimedia.org/white-house-declare-war-russia/

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-10-23/did-white-house-just-declare-war-russia

Categories: Uncategorized

“America has lost” …

… in the Philippines

by Pepe Escobar

Strategic Culture Foundation (October 26 2016)

CounterPunch (October 26 2016)

“Your honors, in this venue I announce my separation from the United States … both in military and economics also”.

Thus Philippines President Rodrigo “The Punisher” Duterte unleashed a geopolitical earthquake encompassing Eurasia and reverberating all across the Pacific Ocean.

And talk about choosing his venue with aplomb; right in the heart of the Rising Dragon, no less.

Capping his state visit to Beijing, Duterte then coined the mantra – pregnant with overtones – that will keep ringing all across the global South; “America has lost”.

And if that was not enough, he announced a new alliance – Philippines, China and Russia – is about to emerge; “there are three of us against the world”.

Predictably, the Beltway establishment in the “indispensable nation” went bananas, reacting as “puzzled” or in outright anger, dispersing the usual expletives on the “crude populist”, “unhinged leader”.

The bottom line is that it takes a lot of balls for the leader of a poor, developing country, in Southeast Asia or elsewhere, to openly defy the hyperpower. Yet what Duterte is gaming at is pure realpolitik; if he prevails, he will be able to deftly play the US against China to the benefit of Filipino interests.

“The Springtime of our Relationship”

It did start with a bang; during Duterte’s China visit, Manila inked no less than $13 billion in deals with Beijing – from trade and investment to drug control, maritime security and infrastructure.

Beijing pulled out all stops to make Duterte feel welcomed.

President Xi Jinping suggested Manila and Beijing should “temporarily put aside” the intractable South China Sea disputes and learn from the “political wisdom” of history – as in give space to diplomatic talks. After all, the two peoples were “blood-linked brothers”.

Duterte replied in kind; “Even as we arrive in Beijing close to winter, this is the springtime of our relationship”, he told Xi at the Great Hall of the People.

China is already the Philippines’ second-largest trade partner, behind Japan, the US and Singapore. Filipino exports to these three are at roughly 42.7 percent of the total, compared to 22.1 to China/Hong Kong. Imports from China are roughly 16.1 percent of the total. Even as trade with China is bound to rise, what really matters for Duterte is massive Chinese infrastructure investment.

What this will mean in practice is indeed ground-breaking; the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (“AIIB”) will definitely be involved in Philippine economic development; Manila will be more involved in promoting smooth China-ASEAN relations in all sorts of regional issues (it takes the rotating chair of ASEAN in 2017); and the Philippines will be more integrated in the New Silk Roads, aka One Belt, One Road (“OBOR”).

Three strikes; no wonder the US is out. And there’s even a fourth strike, embedded in Duterte’s promise that he will soon end military cooperation with the US, despite the opposition of part of the Filipino armed forces.

Watch the First Island Chain

The build-up had already been dramatic enough. On the eve of his meeting with Xi, talking to members of the Filipino community in Beijing, Duterte said, “it’s time to say goodbye” to the US; “I will not ask but if they (the Chinese) offer and if they’ll ask me, do you need this aid? [I will say] Of course, we are very poor.”

Then the clincher; “I will not go to America anymore … We will just be insulted there”.

The US was the colonial power in the Philippines from 1899 to 1942. Hollywood permeates the collective unconscious. English is the lingua franca – side by side with Tagalog. But the tentacles of Uncle Sam’s “protection” racket are not exactly welcomed. Two of the largest components of the US Empire of Bases were located for decades in the Philippines; Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Base.

Clark, occupying 230 square miles, with 15,000 people, was busy to death during the Vietnam War – the main hub for men and hardware in and out of Saigon. Then it turned into one of those Pentagon “forward operating” headquarters. Subic, occupying 260 square miles, was as busy as Clark. It was the forward operating base for the US Seventh Fleet.

Already in 1987, before the end of the Cold War, the RAND corporation was alarmed by the loss of both bases; that would be “devastating for regional security”. Devastating” in the – mythical – sense of “defending the interests of ASEAN” and the “security of the sea-lanes”.

Translation; the Pentagon and the US Navy would lose a key instrument of pressure over ASEAN, as protecting the “security of the sea-lanes” was always the key justification for those bases.

And lose they eventually did; Clark was closed down in November 1991, and Subic in November 1992.

It took years for China to sense an opening – and profit from it; after all during the 1990s and the early 2000s, the absolute priority was breakneck speed internal development. But then Beijing did the math; no more US bases opened untold vistas as far as the First Island Chain is concerned.

The First Island Chain is a product, over millennia, of the fabulous tectonic forces of the Ring of Fire; a chain of islands running from southern Japan in the north to Borneo in the south. For Beijing, they work as a sort of shield for the Chinese eastern seaboard; if this chain is secure, Asia is secure.

For all practical purposes, Beijing considers the First Island Chain as a non-negotiable Western Pacific demarcation zone – ideally with no foreign (as in US) interference. The South China Sea – which in parts is characterized by Manila as the Western Philippine Sea – is inside the First Island Chain. So to really secure the First Island Chain, the South China Sea must be free of foreign interference.

And here we are plunged at the heart of arguably the key 21st century hotspot in Asian geopolitics – the main reason for the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia.

The US Navy so far counted on the Philippines to oppose the proverbial, hyped up “Chinese aggression” in the South China and East China seas. The neocon/neoliberalcon industrial-military complex fury against “unhinged” Duterte’s game-changer is that containing China and ruling over the First Island Chain has been at the core of US naval strategy since the beginning of the Cold War.

Beijing, meanwhile, will have all the time needed to polish its strategic environment. This has nothing to do with “freedom of navigation” and protecting sea-lanes; everyone needs South China Sea cross-trade. It’s all about China – perhaps within the next ten years – being able to deny “access” to the US Navy in the South China Sea and inside the First Island Chain.

Duterte’s game-changing “America has lost” is just a new salvo in arguably the key 21st century geopolitical thriller. A Supreme Court justice in Manila, for instance, has warned Duterte that, were he to give up sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal, he could be impeached. That won’t happen; Duterte wants loads of Chinese trade and investment, not abdicate from sovereignty. He’d rather be ready to confront being demonized by the hyperpower as much as the late Hugo Chavez was in his heyday.

http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2016/10/25/america-has-lost-in-philippines.html

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/26/america-has-lost-in-the-philippines/

Categories: Uncategorized

The Future Hiding in Plain Sight

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (October 19 2016)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

Carl Jung used to argue that meaningful coincidences – in his jargon, synchronicity – were as important as cause and effect in shaping the details of human life. Whether that’s true in the broadest sense, I’ll certainly vouch for the fact that they’re a constant presence in The Archdruid Report. Time and again, just as I sit down to write a post on some theme, somebody sends me a bit of data that casts unexpected light on that very theme.

Last week was a case in point. Regular readers will recall that the theme of last week’s post was the way that pop-culture depictions of deep time implicitly erase the future by presenting accounts of Earth’s long history that begin billions of years ago and end right now. I was brooding over that theme a little more than a week ago, chasing down details of the prehistoric past and the posthistoric future, when one of my readers forwarded me a copy of the latest Joint Operating Environment report by the Pentagon – JOE-35, to use the standard jargon – which attempts to predict the shape of the international environment in which US military operations will take place in 2035, and mostly succeeds in providing a world-class example of the same blindness to the future I discussed in my post.

The report can be downloaded in PDF form {1} and is worth reading in full. It covers quite a bit of ground, and a thorough response to it would be more the size of a short book than a weekly blog post. The point I want to discuss this week is its identification of six primary “contexts for conflict” that will shape the military environment of the 2030s:

“1. Violent Ideological Competition. Irreconcilable ideas communicated and promoted by identity networks through violence.” That is, states and non-state actors alike will pursue their goals by spreading ideologies hostile to US interests and encouraging violent acts to promote those ideologies.

“2. Threatened US Territory and Sovereignty. Encroachment, erosion, or disregard of US sovereignty and the freedom of its citizens from coercion”. That is, states and non-state actors will attempt to carry out violent acts against US citizens and territory.

“3. Antagonistic Geopolitical Balancing. Increasingly ambitious adversaries maximizing their own influence while actively limiting US influence.” That is, rival powers will pursue their own interests in conflict with those of the United States.

“4. Disrupted Global Commons. Denial or compulsion in spaces and places available to all but owned by none.” That is, the US will no longer be able to count on unimpeded access to the oceans, the air, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum in the pursuit of its interests.

“5. A Contest for Cyberspace. A struggle to define and credibly protect sovereignty in cyberspace.” That is, US cyberwarfare measures will increasingly face effective defenses and US cyberspace assets will increasingly face effective hostile incursions.

“6. Shattered and Reordered Regions. States unable to cope with internal political fractures, environmental stressors, or deliberate external interference.” That is, states will continue to be overwhelmed by the increasingly harsh pressures on national survival in today’s world, and the failed states and stateless zones that will spawn insurgencies and non-state actors hostile to the US.

Apparently nobody at the Pentagon noticed one distinctly odd thing about this outline of the future context of American military operations: it’s not an outline of the future at all. It’s an outline of the present. Every one of these trends is a major factor shaping political and military action around the world right now. JOE-35 therefore assumes, first, that each of these trends will remain locked in place without significant change for the next twenty years, and second, that no new trends of comparable importance will emerge to reshape the strategic landscape between now and 2035. History suggests that both of these are very, very risky assumptions for a great power to make.

It so happens that I have a fair number of readers who serve in the US armed forces just now, and a somewhat larger number who serve in the armed forces of other countries more or less allied with the United States. (I may have readers serving with the armed forces of Russia or China as well, but they haven’t announced themselves – and I suspect, for what it’s worth, that they’re already well acquainted with the points I intend to make.) With those readers in mind, I’d like to suggest a revision to JOE-35, which will take into account the fact that history can’t be expected to stop in its tracks for the next twenty years, just because we want it to. Once that’s included in the analysis, at least five contexts of conflict not mentioned by JOE-35 stand out from the background:

1. A crisis of legitimacy in the United States. Half a century ago, most Americans assumed as a matter of course that the United States had the world’s best, fairest, and most democratic system of government; only a small minority questioned the basic legitimacy of the institutions of government or believed they would be better off under a different system. Since the late 1970s, however, federal policies that subsidized automation and the offshoring of industrial jobs, and tacitly permitted mass illegal immigration to force down wages, have plunged the once-proud American working class into impoverishment and immiseration. While the wealthiest twenty percent or so of Americans have prospered since then, the other eighty percent of the population has experienced ongoing declines in standards of living.

The political impact of these policies has been amplified by a culture of contempt toward working class Americans on the part of the affluent minority, and an insistence that any attempt to discuss economic and social impacts of automation, offshoring of jobs, and mass illegal immigration must be dismissed out of hand as mere Luddism, racism, and xenophobia. As a direct consequence, a great many working class Americans – in 1965, by and large, the sector of the public most loyal to American institutions – have lost faith in the US system of government. This shift in values has massive military as well as political implications, since working class Americans are much more likely than others to own guns, to have served in the military, and to see political violence as a potential option.

Thus a domestic insurgency in the United States is a real possibility at this point. Since, as already noted, working class Americans are disproportionately likely to serve in the military, planning for a domestic insurgency in the United States will have to face the possibility that such an insurgency will include veterans familiar with current counterinsurgency doctrine. It will also have to cope with the risk that National Guard and regular armed forces personnel sent to suppress such an insurgency will go over to the insurgent side, transforming the insurgency into a civil war.

As some wag has pointed out, the US military is very good at fighting insurgencies but not so good at defeating them, and the fate of Eastern Bloc nations after the fall of the Soviet Union shows just how fast a government can unravel once its military personnel turn against it. Furthermore, since the crisis of legitimacy is driven by policies backed by a bipartisan consensus, military planners can only deal with the symptoms of a challenge whose causes are beyond their control.

2. The marginalization of the United States in the global arena. Twenty years ago the United States was the world’s sole superpower, having triumphed over the Soviet Union, established a rapprochement with China, and marginalized such hostile Islamic powers as Iran. Those advantages did not survive two decades of overbearing and unreliable US policy, which not only failed to cement the gains of previous decades but succeeded in driving Russia and China, despite their divergent interests and long history of conflict, into an alliance against the United States. Future scholars will likely consider this to be the worst foreign policy misstep in our nation’s history.

Iran’s alignment with the Sino-Russian alliance and, more recently, overtures from the Philippines and Egypt, track the continuation of this trend, as do the establishment of Chinese naval bases across the Indian Ocean from Myanmar to the Horn of Africa, and most recently, Russian moves to reestablish overseas bases in Syria, Egypt, Vietnam, and Cuba. Russia and China are able to approach foreign alliances on the basis of a rational calculus of mutual interest, rather than the dogmatic insistence on national exceptionalism that guides so much of US foreign policy today. This allows them to offer other nations, including putative US allies, better deals than the US is willing to concede.

As a direct result, barring a radical change in its foreign policy, the United States in 2035 will be marginalized by a new global order centered on Beijing and Moscow, denied access to markets and resources by trade agreements hostile to its interests, and will have to struggle to maintain influence even over its “near abroad”. It is unwise to assume, as some current strategists do, that China’s current economic problems will slow that process. Some European leaders in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler among them, assumed that the comparable boom-bust cycle the United States experienced in the 1920s and 1930s meant that the US would be a negligible factor in the European balance of power in the 1940s. I think we all know how that turned out.

Here again, barring a drastic change in US foreign policy, military planners will be forced to deal with the consequences of unwelcome shifts without being able to affect the causes of those shifts. Careful planning can, however, redirect resources away from global commitments that will not survive the process of marginalization, and toward securing the “near abroad” of the United States and withdrawing assets to the continental US to keep them from being compromised by former allies.

3. The rise of “monkeywrenching” warfare. The United States has the most technologically complex military in the history of war. While this is normally considered an advantage, it brings with it no shortage of liabilities. The most important of these is the vulnerability of complex technological systems to “monkeywrenching” – that is, strategies and tactics targeting technological weak points in order to degrade the capacities of a technologically superior force. The more complex a technology is, as a rule, the wider the range of monkeywrenching attacks that can interfere with it; the more integrated a technology is with other technologies, the more drastic the potential impacts of such attacks. The complexity and integration of US military technology make it a monkeywrencher’s dream target, and current plans for increased complexity and integration will only heighten the risks.

The risks created by the emergence of monkeywrenching warfare are heightened by an attitude that has deep roots in the culture of US military procurement: the unquestioned assumption that innovation is always improvement. This assumption has played a central role in producing weapons systems such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is so heavily burdened with assorted innovations that it has a much shorter effective range, a much smaller payload, and much higher maintenance costs than competing Russian and Chinese fighters. In effect, the designers of the F-35 were so busy making it innovative that they forgot to make it work. The same thing can be said about many other highly innovative but dubiously effective US military technologies.

Problems caused by excessive innovation can to some extent be anticipated and countered by US military planners. What makes monkeywrenching attacks by hostile states and non-state actors so serious a threat is that it may not be possible to predict them in advance. While US intelligence assets should certainly make every effort to identify monkeywrenching technologies and tactics before they are used, US forces must be aware that at any moment, critical technologies may be put out of operation or turned to the enemy’s advantage without warning. Rigorous training in responding to technological failure, and redundant systems that can operate independently of existing networks, may provide some protection against monkeywrenching, but the risk remains grave.

4. The genesis of warband culture in failed states. While JOE-35 rightly identifies the collapse of weak states into failed-state conditions as a significant military threat, a lack of attention to the lessons of history leads its authors to neglect the most serious risk posed by the collapse of states in a time of general economic retrenchment and cultural crisis. That risk is the emergence of warband culture – a set of cultural norms that dominate the terminal periods of most recorded civilizations and the dark ages that follow them, and play a central role in the historical transformation to dark age conditions.

Historians use the term “warband” to describe a force of young men whose only trade is violence, gathered around a charismatic leader and supporting itself by pillage. While warbands tend to come into being whenever public order collapses or has not yet been imposed, the rise of a self-sustaining warband culture requires a prolonged period of disorder in which governments either do not exist or cannot establish their legitimacy in the eyes of the governed, and warbands become accepted as the de facto governments of territories of various size. Once this happens, the warbands inevitably begin to move outward; the ethos and the economics of the warband alike require access to plunder, and this can best be obtained by invading regions not yet reduced to failed-state conditions, thus spreading the state of affairs that fosters warband culture in the first place.

Most civilizations have had to contend with warbands in their last years, and the record of attempts to quell them by military force is not good. At best, a given massing of warbands can be defeated and driven back into whatever stateless area provides them with their home base; a decade or two later, they can be counted on to return in force. Systematic attempts to depopulate their home base simply drive them into other areas, causing the collapse of public order there. Once warband culture establishes itself solidly on the fringes of a civilization, history suggests, the entire civilized area will eventually be reduced to failed-state conditions by warband incursions, leading to a dark age. Nothing guarantees that the modern industrial world is immune from this same process.

The spread of failed states around the periphery of the industrial world is thus an existential threat not only to the United States but to the entire project of modern civilization. What makes this a critical issue is that US foreign policy and military actions have repeatedly created failed states in which warband culture can flourish: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Ukraine are only the most visible examples. Elements of US policy toward Mexico – for example, the “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scheme – show worrisome movement in the same direction. Unless these policies are reversed, the world of 2035 may face conditions like those that have ended civilization more than once in the past.

5. The end of the Holocene environmental optimum. All things considered, the period since the final melting of the great ice sheets some six millennia ago has been extremely propitious for the project of human civilization. Compared to previous epochs, the global climate has been relatively stable, and sea levels have changed only slowly. Furthermore, the globe six thousand years ago was stocked with an impressive array of natural resources, and the capacity of its natural systems to absorb sudden shocks had not been challenged on a global level for some sixty-five million years.

None of those conditions remains the case today. Ongoing dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is rapidly destabilizing the global climate, and triggering ice sheet melting in Greenland and Antarctica that promises to send sea levels up sharply in the decades and centuries ahead. Many other modes of pollution are disrupting natural systems in a galaxy of ways, triggering dramatic environmental changes. Meanwhile breakneck extraction is rapidly depleting the accessible stocks of hundreds of different nonrenewable resources, each of them essential to some aspect of contemporary industrial society, and the capacity of natural systems to cope with the cascading burdens placed upon them by human action has already reached the breaking point in many areas.

The end of the Holocene environmental optimum – the era of relative ecological stability in which human civilization has flourished – is likely to be a prolonged process. By 2035, however, current estimates suggest that the initial round of impacts will be well under way. Shifting climate belts causing agricultural failure, rising sea levels imposing drastic economic burdens on coastal communities and the nations to which they belong, rising real costs for resource extraction driving price spikes and demand destruction, and increasingly intractable conflicts pitting states, non-state actors, and refugee populations against one another for remaining supplies of fuel, raw materials, topsoil, food, and water.

US military planners will need to take increasingly hostile environmental conditions into account. They will also need to prepare for mass movements of refugees out of areas of flooding, famine, and other forms of environmental disruption, on a scale exceeding current refugee flows by orders of magnitude. Finally, since the economic impact of these shifts on the United States will affect the nation’s ability to provide necessary resources for its military, plans for coping with cascading environmental crises will have to take into account the likelihood that the resources needed to do so may be in short supply.

Those are the five contexts for conflict I foresee. What makes them even more challenging than they would otherwise be, of course, is that none of them occur in a vacuum, and each potentially feeds into the others. Thus, for example, it would be in the national interest of Russia and/or China to help fund and supply a domestic insurgency in the United States (contexts 1 and 2); emergent warbands may well be able to equip themselves with the necessary gear to engage in monkeywrenching attacks against US forces sent to contain them (contexts 4 and 3); disruptions driven by environmental change will likely help foster the process of warband formation (contexts 5 and 4), and so on.

That’s the future hiding in plain sight: the implications of US policies in the present and recent past, taken to their logical conclusions. The fact that current Pentagon assessments of the future remain so tightly fixed on the phenomena of the present, with no sense of where those phenomena lead, gives me little hope that any of these bitter outcomes will be avoided.

_____

There will be no regularly scheduled Archdruid Report next week. Blogger’s latest security upgrade has made it impossible for me to access this blog while I’m out of town, and I’ll be on the road (and my backup moderator unavailable) for a good part of what would be next week’s comment cycle. I’ve begun the process of looking for a new platform for my blogs, and I’d encourage any of my readers who rely on Blogger or any other Google product to look for alternatives before you, too, get hit by an “upgrade” that makes it more trouble to use than it’s worth.

_____

John Michael Greer is Past Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {2}, current head of the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn {3}, and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

If you enjoy this blog and can handle discussions of Druidry, magic, and occult philosophy, you might like my other blog, Well of Galabes {4}.

Links:

{1} http://dtic.mil/doctrine/concepts/joe/joe_2035_july16.pdf

{2} http://www.aoda.org/

{3} http://www.druidical-gd.org/

{4} http://galabes.blogspot.com/

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.jp/2016/10/the-future-hiding-in-plain-sight.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Jailing Americans for Profit

The Rise of the Prison Industrial Complex

by John W Whitehead – Attorney, President of The Rutherford Institute, and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People (2015)

The Huffington Post (April 10 2012)

 

 

Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today – perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system – in prison, on probation, or on parole – than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America – more than six million – than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.

– Adam Gopnik, “The Caging of America”

 

 

In an age when freedom is fast becoming the exception rather than the rule, imprisoning Americans in private prisons run by mega-corporations has turned into a cash cow for big business. At one time, the American penal system operated under the idea that dangerous criminals needed to be put under lock and key in order to protect society. Today, as states attempt to save money by outsourcing prisons to private corporations, the flawed yet retributive American “system of justice” is being replaced by an even more flawed and insidious form of mass punishment based upon profit and expediency.

As author Adam Gopnik reports for the New Yorker:

 

 

A growing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It’s hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible.

 

 

Consider this: despite the fact that violent crime in America has been on the decline, the nation’s incarceration rate has tripled since 1980. Approximately thirteen million people are introduced to American jails in any given year. Incredibly, more than six million people are under “correctional supervision” in America, meaning that one in fifty Americans are working their way through the prison system, either as inmates, or while on parole or probation. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the majority of those being held in federal prisons are convicted of drug offenses – namely, marijuana. Presently, one out of every 100 Americans is serving time behind bars.

Little wonder, then, that public prisons are overcrowded. Yet while providing security, housing, food, medical care, et cetera, for six million Americans is a hardship for cash-strapped states, to profit-hungry corporations such as Corrections Corp of America (“CCA”) and GEO Group, the leaders in the partnership corrections industry, it’s a $70 billion gold mine. Thus, with an eye toward increasing its bottom line, CCA has floated a proposal to prison officials in 48 states offering to buy and manage public prisons at a substantial cost savings to the states. In exchange, and here’s the kicker, the prisons would have to contain at least 1,000 beds and states would have agree to maintain a ninety percent occupancy rate in the privately run prisons for at least twenty years.

The problem with this scenario, as Roger Werholtz, former Kansas secretary of corrections, recognizes is that while states may be tempted by the quick infusion of cash, they “would be obligated to maintain these (occupancy) rates and subtle pressure would be applied to make sentencing laws more severe with a clear intent to drive up the population”. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what has happened. Among the laws aimed at increasing the prison population and growing the profit margins of special interest corporations like CCA are three-strike laws (mandating sentences of 25 years to life for multiple felony convictions) and “truth-in-sentencing” legislation (mandating that those sentenced to prison serve most or all of their time).

And yes, in case you were wondering, part of the investment pitch for CCA and its cohort GEO Group include the profits to be made in building “kindler, gentler” minimum-security facilities designed for detaining illegal immigrants, especially low-risk detainees like women and children. With immigration a persistent problem in the southwestern states, especially, and more than 250 such detention centers going up across the country, there is indeed money to be made. For example, GEO’s new facility in Karnes County, Texas, boasts a “608-bed facility still smelling of fresh paint and new carpet stretch[ing] across a 29-acre swath of farmland in rural South Texas. Rather than prison cells, jumpsuits, and barbed wire fencing, detainees here will sleep in eight-bed dormitory-style quarters, wearing more cozy attire like jeans and T-shirts. The facility’s high walls enclose lush green courtyards with volleyball courts, an AstroTurfed soccer field, and basketball hoops, where detainees are free to roam throughout the day.” All of this, of course, comes at taxpayer expense.

“And this is where it gets creepy”, observes reporter Joe Weisenthal for Business Insider, “because as an investor you’re pulling for scenarios where more people are put in jail”. In making its pitch to potential investors, CCA points out that private prisons comprise a unique, recession-resistant investment opportunity, with more than ninety percent of the market up for grabs, little competition, high recidivism among prisoners, and the potential for “accelerated growth in inmate populations following the recession”. In other words, caging humans for profit is a sure bet, because the US population is growing dramatically and the prison population will grow proportionally as well, and more prisoners equal more profits.

In this way, under the pretext of being tough on crime, state governments can fatten their coffers and fill the jail cells of their corporate benefactors. However, while a flourishing privatized prison system is a financial windfall for corporate investors, it bodes ill for any measures aimed at reforming prisoners and reducing crime. CCA understands this. As it has warned investors, efforts to decriminalize certain activities, such as drug use (principally possession of marijuana), could cut into their profits. So too would measures aimed at reducing the prison system’s disproportionately racist impact on minorities, given that the incarceration rate for blacks is seven times that of whites. Immigrants are also heavily impacted, with roughly 2.5 million people having been through the immigration detention system since 2003. As private prisons begin to dominate, the many troubling characteristics of our so-called criminal justice system today – racism, economic inequality, inadequate access to legal representation, lack of due process, et cetera – will only become more acute.

Doubtless, a system already riddled by corruption will inevitably become more corrupt, as well. For example, consider the “kids for cash” scandal which rocked Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, in 2009. For ten years, the Mid Atlantic Youth Service Corporation, which specializes in private prisons for juvenile offenders, paid two judges to jail youths and send them to private prison facilities. The judges, who made over $2.6 million in the scam, had more than 5,000 kids come through their courtrooms and sent many of them to prison for petty crimes such as stealing DVDs from Wal-Mart and trespassing in vacant buildings. When the scheme finally came to light, one judge was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison and the other received 28 years, but not before thousands of young lives had been ruined.

In this way, minor criminals, from drug users to petty thieves, are being handed over to corporations for lengthy prison sentences which do nothing to protect society or prevent recidivism. This is the culmination of an inverted justice system which has come to characterize the United States, a justice system based upon increasing the power and wealth of the corporate-state.

No matter what the politicians or corporate heads might say, prison privatization is neither fiscally responsible nor in keeping with principles of justice. It simply encourages incarceration for the sake of profits, while causing millions of Americans, most of them minor, nonviolent criminals, to be handed over to corporations for lengthy prison sentences which do nothing to protect society or prevent recidivism. This perverse notion of how prisons should be run, that they should be full at all times, and full of minor criminals, is evil.

_____

Follow John W Whitehead on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rutherford_inst

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-w-whitehead/prison-privatization_b_1414467.html

Categories: Uncategorized

The Path to Total Dictatorship

America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup

by John Whitehead

The Rutherford Institute (October 24 2016)

Zero Hedge (October 24 2016)

 

 

Today the path to total dictatorship in the US can be laid by strictly legal means, unseen and unheard by Congress, the President, or the people {1}. Outwardly we have a Constitutional government. We have operating within our government and political system … a well-organized political-action group in this country, determined to destroy our Constitution and establish a one-party state … The important point to remember about this group is not its ideology but its organization … It operates secretly, silently, continuously to transform our Government … This group … is answerable neither to the President, the Congress, nor the courts. It is practically irremovable.

– Senator William Jenner, 1954 speech

 

 

Unaffected by elections. Unaltered by populist movements. Beyond the reach of the law.

Say hello to America’s shadow government.

A corporatized, militarized, entrenched bureaucracy that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country, this shadow government represents the hidden face of a government that has no respect for the freedom of its citizenry.

No matter which candidate wins the presidential election, this shadow government is here to stay. Indeed, as recent documents by the FBI reveal, this shadow government – also referred to as “The 7th Floor Group” {2} – may well have played a part in who will win the White House this year.

To be precise, however, the future president will actually inherit not one but two shadow governments.

The first {3} shadow government, referred to as COG or Continuity of Government, is made up of unelected individuals who have been appointed to run the government in the event of a “catastrophe”. COG is a phantom menace waiting for the right circumstances – a terrorist attack, a natural disaster, an economic meltdown – to bring it out of the shadows, where it operates even now. When and if COG takes over, the police state will transition to martial law.

Yet it is the second shadow government {4} – also referred to as the Deep State – that poses the greater threat to freedom right now. Comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes, this government within a government {4} is the real reason “we the people” have no real control over our government.

The Deep State, which “operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power”, makes a mockery of elections and the entire concept of a representative government.

So who or what is the Deep State?

It’s the militarized police, which have joined forces with state and federal law enforcement agencies in order to establish themselves as a standing army. It’s the fusion centers and spy agencies that have created a surveillance state and turned all of us into suspects. It’s the courthouses and prisons that have allowed corporate profits to take precedence over due process and justice. It’s the military empire with its private contractors and defense industry that is bankrupting the nation. It’s the private sector with its 854,000 contract personnel {5} with top-secret clearances, “a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government”. It’s what former congressional staffer Mike Lofgren refers to as “a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies” {4}: the Department of Defense, the State Department, Homeland Security, the CIA, the Justice Department, the Treasury, the Executive Office of the President via the National Security Council, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a handful of vital federal trial courts, and members of the defense and intelligence committees.

It’s every facet of a government that is no longer friendly to freedom and is working overtime to trample the Constitution underfoot and render the citizenry powerless in the face of the government’s power grabs, corruption and abusive tactics.

These are the key players that drive the shadow government.

This is the hidden face of the American police state that will continue long past Election Day.

Just consider some of the key programs and policies advanced by the shadow government that will continue no matter who occupies the Oval Office.

Domestic Surveillance. No matter who wins the presidential popularity contest, the National Security Agency (“NSA”), with its $10.8 billion black ops annual budget, will continue to spy on every person in the United States who uses a computer or phone. Thus, on any given day, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. Local police have been outfitted with a litany of surveillance gear, from license plate readers and cell phone tracking devices to biometric data recorders. Technology now makes it possible for the police to scan passersby in order to detect the contents of their pockets, purses, briefcases, et cetea. Full-body scanners, which perform virtual strip-searches of Americans traveling by plane, have gone mobile, with roving police vans that peer into vehicles and buildings alike – including homes. Coupled with the nation’s growing network of real-time surveillance cameras and facial recognition software, soon there really will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Global Spying. The NSA’s massive surveillance network, what The Washington Post refers to as a $500 billion “espionage empire” {6}, will continue to span the globe and target every single person on the planet who uses a phone or a computer. The NSA’s Echelon program {7} intercepts and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax and email message sent anywhere in the world. In addition to carrying out domestic surveillance on peaceful political groups {8} such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace and several religious groups, Echelon has also been a keystone in the government’s attempts at political and corporate espionage {9}.

Roving TSA Searches. The American taxpayer will continue to get ripped off by government agencies in the dubious name of national security. One of the greatest culprits when it comes to swindling taxpayers has been the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”), with its questionable deployment of and complete mismanagement of millions of dollars’ worth of airport full-body X-ray scanners, punitive patdowns by TSA agents and thefts of travelers’ valuables. Considered essential to national security, TSA programs will continue in airports and at transportation hubs around the country.

USA Patriot Act, NDAA. America’s so-called war on terror, which it has relentlessly pursued since 9/11, will continue to chip away at our freedoms, unravel our Constitution and transform our nation into a battlefield, thanks in large part to such subversive legislation as the USA Patriot Act and National Defense Authorization Act. These laws completely circumvent the rule of law and the rights of American citizens. In so doing, they re-orient our legal landscape in such a way as to ensure that martial law, rather than the US Constitution, is the map by which we navigate life in the United States. These laws will continue to be enforced no matter who gets elected.

Militarized Police State. Thanks to federal grant programs allowing the Pentagon to transfer surplus military supplies and weapons to local law enforcement agencies without charge, police forces will continue to be transformed from peace officers into heavily armed extensions of the military, complete with jackboots, helmets, shields, batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, assault rifles, body armor, miniature tanks and weaponized drones. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials, no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace, will continue to keep the masses corralled, controlled, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens.

SWAT Team Raids. With more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans by local police for relatively routine police matters and federal agencies laying claim to their own law enforcement divisions, the incidence of botched raids and related casualties will continue to rise. Nationwide, SWAT teams will continue to be employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances including angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Domestic Drones. The domestic use of drones will continue unabated. As mandated by Congress, there will be 30,000 drones crisscrossing the skies of America by 2020, all part of an industry that could be worth as much as $30 billion per year. These machines, which will be equipped with weapons, will be able to record all activities, using video feeds, heat sensors and radar. An Inspector General report revealed that the Department of Justice has already spent nearly $4 million on drones domestically, largely for use by the FBI {10}, with grants for another $1.26 million {11} so police departments and nonprofits can acquire their own drones.

School-to-Prison Pipeline. The paradigm of abject compliance to the state will continue to be taught by example in the schools, through school lockdowns where police and drug-sniffing dogs enter the classroom, and zero tolerance policies that punish all offenses equally and result in young people being expelled for childish behavior. School districts will continue to team up with law enforcement to create a “schoolhouse to jailhouse track” by imposing a “double dose” of punishment: suspension or expulsion from school, accompanied by an arrest by the police and a trip to juvenile court.

Overcriminalization. The government bureaucracy will continue to churn out laws, statutes, codes and regulations that reinforce its powers and value systems and those of the police state and its corporate allies, rendering the rest of us petty criminals. The average American now unknowingly commits three felonies a day, thanks to this overabundance of vague laws that render otherwise innocent activity illegal. Consequently, small farmers who dare to make unpasteurized goat cheese and share it with members of their community will continue to have their farms raided.

Privatized Prisons. States will continue to outsource prisons to private corporations, resulting in a cash cow whereby mega-corporations imprison Americans in private prisons in order to make a profit. In exchange for corporations buying and managing public prisons across the country at a supposed savings to the states, the states have to agree to maintain a ninety percent occupancy rate in the privately run prisons for at least twenty years.

Endless Wars. America’s expanding military empire will continue to bleed the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour). The Pentagon spends more on war than all fifty states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety. Yet what most Americans fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military industrial complex at taxpayer expense.

Are you getting the message yet?

The next president, much like the current president and his predecessors, will be little more than a figurehead, a puppet to entertain and distract the populace from what’s really going on.

As Lofgren reveals, this state within a state, “concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue”, is a “hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose” {4}.

The Deep State not only holds the nation’s capital in thrall, but it also controls Wall Street {4} (“which supplies the cash that keeps the political machine quiescent and operating as a diversionary marionette theater”) and Silicon Valley.

This is fascism in its most covert form, hiding behind public agencies and private companies {4} to carry out its dirty deeds.

It is a marriage {4} between government bureaucrats and corporate fat cats.

As Lofgren concludes:

 

 

The Deep State is so heavily entrenched, so well protected by surveillance, firepower, money and its ability to co-opt resistance that it is almost impervious to change {4} … If there is anything the Deep State requires it is silent, uninterrupted cash flow and the confidence that things will go on as they have in the past. It is even willing to tolerate a degree of gridlock: Partisan mud wrestling over cultural issues may be a useful distraction from its agenda.

 

 

In other words, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People {12}, as long as government officials – elected and unelected alike – are allowed to operate beyond the reach of the Constitution, the courts and the citizenry, the threat to our freedoms remains undiminished.

So the next time you find yourselves despondent over the 2016 presidential candidates, remember that it’s just a puppet show intended to distract you from the silent coup being carried out by America’s shadow government.

Links:

{1} https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_E._Jenner

{2} http://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/17/fbi-releases-100-new-pages-on-clinton-email-probe.html

{3} http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/09/AR2006060900891.html

{4} http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/

{5} http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/

{6} http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/black-budget-summary-details-us-spy-networks-successes-failures-and-objectives/2013/08/29/7e57bb78-10ab-11e3-8cdd-bcdc09410972_story.html

{7} http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/99/05/cyber/articles/27network.html

{8} http://fly.hiwaay.net/%7Epspoole/echelon.html

{9} http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+REPORT+A5-2001-0264+0+DOC+PDF+V0//EN&language=EN

{10} http://www.forbes.com/sites/gregorymcneal/2013/09/28/doj-report-reveals-details-of-domestic-drone-usage/

{11} http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20130927/NEWS03/309279917/1066

{12} http://www.amazon.com/Battlefield-America-War-American-People/dp/1590793099

https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/the_path_to_total_dictatorship_americas_shadow_government_and_its_sile

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-10-24/path-total-dictatorship-americas-shadow-government-and-its-silent-coup

Categories: Uncategorized

The True Costs of Empire

Picking Up a $170 Billion Tab

How US Taxpayers Are Paying the Pentagon to Occupy the Planet

by David Vine

TomDispatch (December 11 2012)

“Are you monitoring the construction?” asked the middle-aged man on a bike accompanied by his dog.

“Ah, sì”, I replied in my barely passable Italian.

“Bene”, he answered. Good.

In front of us, a backhoe’s guttural engine whined into action and empty dump trucks rattled along a dirt track. The shouts of men vied for attention with the metallic whirring of drills and saws ringing in the distance. Nineteen immense cranes spread across the landscape, with the foothills of Italy’s Southern Alps in the background. More than 100 pieces of earthmoving equipment, 250 workers, and grids of scaffolding wrapped around what soon would be 34 new buildings.

We were standing in front of a massive 145-acre construction site for a “little America” rising in Vicenza {1}, an architecturally renowned Italian city and UNESCO world heritage site near Venice. This was Dal Molin {2}, the new military base the US Army has been readying for the relocation of as many as 2,000 soldiers from Germany in 2013.

Since 1955, Vicenza has also been home to another major US base, Camp Ederle {3}. They’re among the more than 1,000 {4} bases the United States uses to ring the globe (with about 4,000 more {5} in the fifty states and Washington DC). This complex of military installations, unprecedented in history, has been a major, if little noticed, aspect of US power since World War Two.

During the Cold War, such bases became the foundation for a “forward strategy” meant to surround the Soviet Union and push US military power as close to its borders as possible. These days, despite the absence of a superpower rival, the Pentagon has been intent on dotting the globe with scores of relatively small “lily pad” bases {6}, while continuing to build and maintain some large bases like Dal Molin.

Americans rarely think about these bases, let alone how much of their tax money – and debt – is going to build and maintain them. For Dal Molin and related construction nearby, including a brigade headquarters, two sets of barracks, a natural-gas-powered energy plant, a hospital, two schools, a fitness center, dining facilities, and a mini-mall, taxpayers are likely to shell out at least half a billion dollars. (All the while, a majority {7} of locals passionately and vocally oppose {8} the new base.)

How much does the United States spend each year occupying the planet with its bases and troops? How much does it spend on its global presence? Forced by Congress to account for its spending overseas, the Pentagon has put that figure at $22.1 billion a year. It turns out that even a conservative estimate of the true costs of garrisoning the globe comes to an annual total of about $170 billion. In fact, it may be considerably higher. Since the onset of “the Global War on Terror” in 2001, the total cost for our garrisoning policies, for our presence abroad, has probably reached $1.8 trillion to $2.1 trillion.

How Much Do We Spend?

By law {9}, the Pentagon must produce an annual Overseas Cost Summary (“OCS” {10}) putting a price on the military’s activities abroad, from bases to embassies and beyond. This means calculating all the costs of military construction {11}, regular facility repairs, and maintenance, plus the costs of maintaining one million {12} US military and Defense Department personnel and their families abroad – the pay checks, housing, schools, vehicles, equipment, and the transportation of personnel and materials overseas and back, and far, far more.

The latest OCS, for the 2012 fiscal year ending September 30th, documented $22.1 billion in spending, although, at Congress’s direction, this doesn’t include any of the more than $118 billion {13} spent that year on the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe.

While $22.1 billion is a considerable sum, representing about as much as the budgets {14} for the Departments of Justice and Agriculture and about half the State Department’s 2012 budget, it contrasts sharply with economist Anita Dancs’s estimate of $250 billion {15}. She included war spending in her total, but even without it, her figure comes to around $140 billion – still $120 billion more than the Pentagon suggests.

Wanting to figure out the real costs of garrisoning the planet myself, for more than three years, as part of a global investigation of bases abroad, I’ve talked to budget experts, current and former Pentagon officials, and base budget officers. Many politely suggested that this was a fool’s errand given the number of bases involved, the complexity of distinguishing overseas from domestic spending, the secrecy of Pentagon budgets, and the “frequently fictional” {16} nature of Pentagon figures. (The Department of Defense remains the only federal agency {17} unable to pass a financial audit {18}.)

Ever the fool and armed only with the power of searchable PDFs, I nonetheless plunged into the bizarro world of Pentagon accounting, where ledgers are sometimes still handwritten {19} and $1 billion can be a rounding error. I reviewed thousands of pages of budget documents, government and independent reports, and hundreds of line items for everything from shopping malls to military intelligence to postal subsidies.

Wanting to err on the conservative side, I decided to follow the methodology {20} Congress mandated for the OCS, while also looking for overseas costs the Pentagon or Congress might have ignored. It hardly made sense to exclude, for example, the health-care costs the Department of Defense pays for troops on overseas bases, spending for personnel in Kosovo, or the price tag for supporting the 550 bases {21} we have in Afghanistan.

In the spirit of “monitoring the construction”, let me lead you on an abbreviated account of my quest to come up with the real costs of occupying planet Earth.

Missing Costs

Although the Overseas Cost Summary initially might seem quite thorough, you’ll soon notice that countries well known to host US bases have gone missing-in-action. In fact, at least eighteen countries and foreign territories on the Pentagon’s own list of overseas bases go unnamed.

Particularly surprising is the absence of Kosovo and Bosnia. The military has had large bases and hundreds of troops there for more than a decade, with another Pentagon report {22} showing 2012 costs of $313.8 million. According to that report, the OCS also understates costs for bases in Honduras and Guantanamo Bay by about a third or $85 million.

And then other oddities appear: in places like Australia and Qatar, the Pentagon says it has funds to pay troops but no money for “operations and maintenance” to turn the lights on, feed people, or do regular repairs. Adjusting for these costs adds an estimated $36 million. As a start, I found:

$436 million for missing countries and costs.

That’s not much compared to $22 billion and chump change in the context of the whole Pentagon budget, but it’s just a beginning.

At Congress’s direction, the Pentagon also omits the costs of bases in the oft-forgotten US territories {23} – Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands. This is strange because the Pentagon considers them “overseas”. More important, as economist Dancs says, “The United States retains territories … primarily for the purposes of the military and projecting military power”. Plus, they are, well, literally overseas.

Conservatively, this adds $3 billion in total military spending to the OCS.

However, there are more quasi-US territories in the form of truly forgotten Pacific Ocean island nations in “compacts of free association” with the United States – the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau. Ever since it controlled these islands as “strategic trust territories” after World War Two, the US has enjoyed the right to establish military facilities on them, including the nuclear test site on the Bikini Atoll {24} and the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site {25} elsewhere in the Marshalls.

This comes in exchange for yearly aid payments {26} from the Office of Insular Affairs, adding another $571 million and yielding total costs of:

$3.6 billion for territories and Pacific island nations.

Speaking of the oceans, at Congress’s instruction, the Pentagon excludes the cost of maintaining naval vessels overseas. But Navy and Marine Corps vessels are essentially floating (and submersible) bases used to maintain a powerful military presence on (and under) the seas. A very conservative estimate for these costs adds another $3.8 billion.

Then there are the costs of Navy prepositioned ships at anchor around the world. Think of them as warehouse-bases at sea, stocked with weaponry, war materiel, and other supplies. And don’t forget Army prepositioned stocks. Together, they come to an estimated $604 million a year. In addition, the Pentagon appears to omit some $861 million for overseas “sealift” and “airlift” and “other mobilization” expenses. All told, the bill grows by:

$5.3 billion for Navy vessels and personnel plus seaborne and airborne assets.

Also strangely missing from the Cost Summary is that little matter of health-care costs. Overseas costs for the Defense Health Program {27} and other benefits for personnel abroad add an estimated $11.7 billion yearly. And then there’s $538 million in military and family housing construction that the Pentagon also appears to overlook in its tally.

So too, we can’t forget about shopping on base, because we the taxpayers are subsidizing those iconic Walmart-like PX (Post Exchange {28}) shopping malls on bases worldwide. Although the military is fond of saying that the PX system pays for itself because it helps fund on-base recreation programs, Pentagon leaders neglect to mention that the PXs get free buildings and land, free utilities, and free transportation of goods to overseas locations. They also operate tax-free.

While there’s no estimate for the value of the buildings, land, and utilities that taxpayers provide, the exchanges reported $267 million in various subsidies for 2011. (Foregone federal taxes might add $30 million or more to that figure.) Add in as well postal subsidies {29} of at least $71 million and you have:

$12.6 billion for health care, military and family housing, shopping and postal subsidies.

Another Pentagon exclusion is rent paid to other countries for the land we garrison. Although a few countries like Japan, Kuwait, and South Korea actually pay the United States to subsidize our garrisons – to the tune of $1.1 billion {30} in 2012 – far more common, according to base expert Kent Calder {31}, “are the cases where the United States pays nations to host bases”.

Given the secretive nature of basing agreements and the complex economic and political trade-offs involved in base negotiations, precise figures are impossible to find. However, Pentagon-funded research {32} indicates that eighteen percent of total foreign military and economic aid goes toward buying base access. That swells our invoice by around $6.3 billion. Payments to Nato of $1.7 billion “for the acquisition and construction of military facilities and installations” and other purposes, brings us to:

$6.9 billion in net “rent” payments and Nato contributions.

Although the OCS must report the costs of all military operations abroad, the Pentagon omits $550 million {33} for counternarcotics operations and $108 million {34} for humanitarian and civic aid. Both have, as a budget document {35} explains about humanitarian aid, helped “maintain a robust overseas presence”, while the military “obtains access to regions important to US interests”. The Pentagon also spent $24 million on environmental projects abroad to monitor and reduce on-base pollution, dispose of hazardous and other waste, and for “initiatives … in support of global basing/operations”. So the bill now grows by:

$682 million for counternarcotics, humanitarian, and environmental programs.

The Pentagon tally of the price of occupying the planet also ignores the costs of secret bases and classified programs overseas. Out of a total Pentagon classified budget of $51 billion {36} for 2012, I conservatively use only the estimated overseas portion of operations and maintenance spending {37}, which adds $2.4 billion. Then there’s the $15.7 billion {38} Military Intelligence Program. Given that US law {39} generally bars the military from engaging in domestic spying, I estimate that half this spending, $7.9 billion, took place overseas.

Next, we have to add in the CIA’s paramilitary {40} budget, funding activities including secret bases in places like Somalia {41}, Libya {42}, and elsewhere in the Middle East {43}, and its drone assassination {44} program, which has grown precipitously since the onset of the war on terror. With thousands dead {45} (including hundreds of civilians), how can we not consider these military costs? In an email, John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org {46}, told me that “possibly a third” of the CIA’s estimated budget of $10 {47} billion may now go to paramilitary costs, yielding:

$13.6 billion for classified programs, military intelligence, and CIA paramilitary activities.

Last but certainly not least comes the real biggie: the costs {48} of the 550 bases {49} the US built in Afghanistan, as well as the last three months of life for our bases in Iraq, which once numbered 505 {50} before the US pullout from that country (that is, the first three months of fiscal year 2012). While the Pentagon and Congress exclude these costs, that’s like calculating the New York Yankees’ payroll while excluding salaries for each year’s huge free agent signings {51}.

Conservatively following the OCS methodology used for other countries, but including costs for health care, military pay in the base budget, rent, and “other programs”, we add an estimated:

$104.9 billion for bases and military presence in Afghanistan and other war zones.

Having started with the OCS figure of $22.1 billion, the grand total now has reached:

$168 billion ($169,963,153,283 to be exact).

That’s nearly an extra $150 billion. Even if you exclude war costs – and I think the Yankees show why that’s a bad idea – the total still reaches $65.1 billion, or nearly three times the Pentagon’s calculation.

But don’t for a second think that that’s the end of our garrisoning costs. In addition to spending likely hidden in the nooks and crannies of its budget, there are other irregularities in the Pentagon’s accounting. Costs for sixteen countries hosting US bases but left out of the OCS entirely, including Colombia {52}, El Salvador {53}, and Norway {54}, may total more than $350 million. The costs of the military presence in Colombia alone could reach into the tens of millions in the context of more than $8.5 billion in Plan Colombia {55} funding since 2000. The Pentagon also reports costs of less than $5 million each for Yemen {56}, Israel {57}, Uganda {58}, and the Seychelles {59} Islands, which seems unlikely and could add millions more.

When it comes to the general US presence abroad, other costs are too difficult to estimate reliably, including the price of Pentagon offices in the United States, embassies, and other government agencies that support bases and troops overseas. So, too, US training facilities, depots, hospitals, and even cemeteries allow overseas bases to function. Other spending includes currency-exchange costs, attorneys’ fees and damages won in lawsuits against military personnel abroad, short-term “temporary duty assignments”, US-based troops participating in exercises overseas, and perhaps even some of NASA’s military functions, space-based weapons, a percentage of recruiting costs required to staff bases abroad, interest paid on the debt attributable to the past costs of overseas bases, and Veterans Administration (“VA”) costs and other retirement spending for military personnel who served abroad.

Beyond my conservative estimate, the true bill for garrisoning the planet might be closer to $200 billion a year.

“Spillover Costs”

Those, by the way, are just the costs in the US government’s budget. The total economic costs to the US economy are higher still. Consider where the taxpayer-funded salaries of the troops at those bases go when they eat or drink at a local restaurant or bar, shop for clothing, rent a local home, or pay local sales taxes in Germany, Italy, or Japan. These are what economists call “spillover” or “multiplier effects”. When I visited Okinawa in 2010, for example, Marine Corps representatives bragged about how their presence contributes $1.9 billion annually to the local economy through base contracts, jobs, local purchases, and other spending. Although the figures may be overstated, it’s no wonder members of Congress like Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison have called for a new “Build in America” {60} policy to protect “the fiscal health of our nation”.

And the costs are still broader when one considers the trade-offs, or opportunity costs, involved. Military spending creates fewer jobs {61} per million dollars expended than the same million invested in education, health care, or energy efficiency – barely half as many as investing in schools. Even worse, while military spending clearly provides direct benefits to the Lockheed Martins {62} and KBRs {63} of the military-industrial complex, these investments don’t, as economist James Heintz {64} says, boost the “long-run productivity of the rest of the private sector” the way infrastructure investments do.

To adapt a famous line from President Dwight Eisenhower {65}: every base that is built signifies in the final sense a theft. Indeed, think about what Dal Molin’s half a billion dollars in infrastructure could have done if put to civilian uses. Again echoing Ike {66}, the cost {67} of one modern base is this: 260,000 low-income children getting health care for one year or 65,000 going to a year of Head Start or 65,000 veterans receiving VA care for a year.

A Different Kind of “Spillover”

Bases also create a different “spillover” {68} in the financial and non-financial costs host countries bear. In 2004, for example, on top of direct “burden sharing” payments, host countries made in-kind contributions of $4.3 billion {69} to support US bases. In addition to agreeing to spend billions of dollars to move thousands of US Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam {70}, the Japanese government has paid nearly $1 billion {71} to soundproof civilian homes near US air bases on Okinawa and millions in damages for successful noise pollution lawsuits. Similarly, as base expert Mark Gillem {72} reports, between 1992 and 2003, the Korean and US governments paid $27.3 million in damages because of crimes committed by US troops stationed in Korea. In a single three-year period, US personnel “committed 1,246 criminal acts, from misdemeanors to felonies”.

As these crimes indicate, costs for local communities extend far beyond the economic. Okinawans have recently been outraged by what appears to be another {73} in a long series of rapes committed by US troops. Which is just one example of how, from Japan {74} to Italy {75}, there are what Anita Dancs calls the “costs of rising hostility” over bases. Environmental damage pushes the financial and non-financial toll even higher. The creation of a base on Diego Garcia {76} in the Indian Ocean sent all of the local Chagossian people into exile {77}.

So, too, US troops and their families bear some of those nonfinancial costs due to frequent moves and separation during unaccompanied tours abroad, along with attendant high rates of divorce {78}, domestic violence {79}, substance abuse {80}, sexual assault {81}, and suicide {82}.

“No one, no one likes it”, a stubbly-faced old man told me as I was leaving the construction site. He remembered the Americans arriving in 1955 and now lives within sight of the Dal Molin base. “If it were for the good of the people, okay, but it’s not for the good of the people.”

“Who pays? Who pays?” he asked. “Noi”, he said. We do.

Indeed, from that $170 billion to the costs we can’t quantify, we all do.

Links:

{1} http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/712

{2} http://www.stripes.com/news/construction-booming-at-vicenza-1.96914

{3} http://www.usag.vicenza.army.mil/sites/local/

{4} http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175338/

{5} http://www.acq.osd.mil/ie/download/bsr/BSR2012Baseline.pdf

{6} http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175568/

{7} http://warisacrime.org/node/36712

{8} http://www.nodalmolin.it/spip.php?article123

{9} http://comptroller.defense.gov/fmr/02b/02b_15.pdf

{10} http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/fy2013_OM_Overview.pdf

{11} http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175617/

{12} http://2010.census.gov/2010census/pdf/2010%20Census%20Federally%20Affiliated%20Overseas%20Count%20Operation%20Assessment%20Report.pdf

{13} http://costofwar.com/about/counters/

{14} http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget

{15} http://www.fpif.org/reports/the_cost_of_the_global_us_military_presence

{16} http://www.publicintegrity.org/2011/10/13/7063/pentagons-accounting-shambles-may-cost-additional-1-billion

{17} http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/10/25/1150275/-Audit-the-Pentagon

{18} http://www.gao.gov/assets/590/585351.pdf

{19} http://www.publicintegrity.org/2011/10/13/7063/pentagons-accounting-shambles-may-cost-additional-1-billion

{20} http://comptroller.defense.gov/fmr/02b/02b_15.pdf

{21} http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175588/

{22} http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/FY2013_OCOTF.pdf

{23} http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/12statab/outlying.pdf

{24} http://www.amazon.com/dp/1557509190/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20

{25} http://www.smdc.army.mil/rts.html

{26} http://www.doi.gov/archive/oia/budget/FY2013_Budget_Justification.pdf

{27} http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/budget_justification/pdfs/09_Defense_Health_Program/VOL_II/Vol_II-Sec_3I_R-2_RDTE_Program_Element_0605013_DHP_PB13.pdf

{28} http://aafes.imirus.com/Mpowered/book/vaar11/i1/p3

{29} http://hqdainet.army.mil/mpsa/

{30} http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/FY13_Green_Book.pdf

{31} http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8557.html

{32} http://books.google.com/books/about/United_States_overseas_basing.html?id=um3fAAAAMAAJ

{33} http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/fy2013_OM_Overview.pdf

{34} http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/fy2013_OM_Overview.pdf

{35} http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/fy2013_OM_Overview.pdf

{36} http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/02/pentagons-black-budget/

{37} https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Anb82yNPJZc0dDVadWM1c0xTZXlfVjRGZUlRQ3pja0E#gid=3

{38} http://www.fas.org/irp/budget/index.html

{39} http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/eo/eo-12333-2008.pdf

{40} http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175188/tomgram:_engelhardt_and_turse,_the_cia_surges/

{41} http://www.thenation.com/article/161936/cias-secret-sites-somalia

{42} http://thinkprogress.org/security/2012/10/11/991231/republicans-reveal-cia-base-libya/

{43} http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/world/middleeast/15yemen.html

{44} http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-10-18/world/35502344_1_qaeda-drone-fleet-cia-drones

{45} http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/category/projects/drone-data/

{46} http://www.globalsecurity.org/

{47} http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/budget/index.html

{48} http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf

{49} http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175588/

{50} http://www.centcom.mil/news/u-s-forces-have-met-all-obligations-in-iraq-general-says

{51} http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/john_rolfe/01/07/yankees.freeagents/

{52} http://forusa.org/blogs/john-lindsay-poland/pentagon-building-bases-central-america-colombia/8445

{53} http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/comalapa.htm

{54} http://www.bic.usmc.mil/Norway.aspx

{55} http://justf.org/files/pubs/111110_cautionary.pdf

{56} http://www.nola.com/military/index.ssf/2012/09/marine_rapid_response_team_sen.html

{57} http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/world/middleeast/us-troops-arrive-in-israel-for-missile-defense-exercise.html

{58} http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/15/world/la-fg-us-uganda-20111015

{59} http://wikileaks.org/cable/2010/02/10PORTLOUIS41.html

{60} http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0710/39625.html

{61} http://www.tomdispatch.com/dialogs/print/costsofwar.org/sites/default/files/articles/26/attachments/Garrett-Peltier%20%20Jobs.pdf

{62} https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2010/04/23-4

{63} http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2011/09/contractor-waste-iraq-KBR

{64} http://costsofwar.org/sites/default/files/articles/31/attachments/Heintz%20military%20assets%20and%20public%20investment.pdf

{65} http://www.npr.org/2011/01/16/132935716/eisenhowers-warning-still-challenges-the-nation

{66} http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/speeches/ike_chance_for_peace.html

{67} http://costofwar.com/tradeoffs/state/US/program/12/tradeoff/0

{68} http://www.amazon.com/dp/0816649537/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20

{69} http://www.defense.gov/pubs/allied.aspx

{70} http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/27/world/asia/japan-us-okinawa/index.html

{71} http://www.amazon.com/dp/0816649537/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20

{72} http://www.amazon.com/dp/0816649537/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20

{73} http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/17/world/asia/2-us-navy-sailors-arrested-in-okinawa-rape.html?_r=0

{74} http://closethebase.org/links/

{75} http://www.nodalmolin.it/

{76} http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/01/AR2007010100698.html

{77} http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/08/homesick-camp-justice

{78} http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/military-divorce_n_1537598.html

{79} http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2005/07/base-crimes

{80} http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2012/Substance-Use-Disorders-in-the-US-Armed-Forces.aspx

{81} http://www.sapr.mil/media/pdf/reports/Department_of_Defense_Fiscal_Year_2011_Annual_Report_on_Sexual_Assault_in_the_Military.pdf

{82} http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2012/06/21/gJQAFB1GvV_story.html

_____

David Vine, a Tom Dispatch regular, is assistant professor of anthropology at American University, in Washington, DC. He is the author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia (2011). He has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and Mother Jones, among other places. He is currently completing a book about the more than 1,000 US military bases located outside the United States. To read a detailed description of the calculations described in this article and view a chart of the costs of the US military presence abroad, visit http://www.davidvine.net.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare (2012).

Copyright 2012 David Vine

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