Highway-piracy and policing for profit

This August marks the 68th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The two bombings meet the classic definition of terrorism, and given their scale, constitute by a wide margin the single greatest acts of terror in history. Of course, that is not how they are remembered in the doctrinal system. The magisterial John Pilger wrote a few years ago about the annihilation of Hiroshima:
http://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/the-lies-of-hiroshima-are-the-lies-of-today/

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of August 6, 1945, she and her silhouette were burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more, then walked down to the river and met a man called Yukio, whose chest was still etched with the pattern of the shirt he was wearing when the atomic bomb was dropped.

He and his family still lived in a shack thrown up in the dust of an atomic desert. He described a huge flash over the city, “a bluish light, something like an electrical short”, after which wind blew like a tornado and black rain fell. “I was thrown on the ground and noticed only the stalks of my flowers were left. Everything was still and quiet, and when I got up, there were people naked, not saying anything. Some of them had no skin or hair. I was certain I was dead.” Nine years later, when I returned to look for him, he was dead from leukaemia.

In the immediate aftermath of the bomb, the allied occupation authorities banned all mention of radiation poisoning and insisted that people had been killed or injured only by the bomb’s blast. It was the first big lie. “No radioactivity in Hiroshima ruin” said the front page of the New York Times, a classic of disinformation and journalistic abdication, which the Australian reporter Wilfred Burchett put right with his scoop of the century. “I write this as a warning to the world,” reported Burchett in the Daily Express, having reached Hiroshima after a perilous journey, the first correspondent to dare. He described hospital wards filled with people with no visible injuries but who were dying from what he called “an atomic plague”. For telling this truth, his press accreditation was withdrawn, he was pilloried and smeared – and vindicated.

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a criminal act on an epic scale. It was premeditated mass murder that unleashed a weapon of intrinsic criminality. For this reason its apologists have sought refuge in the mythology of the ultimate “good war”, whose “ethical bath”, as Richard Drayton called it, has allowed the west not only to expiate its bloody imperial past but to promote 60 years of rapacious war, always beneath the shadow of The Bomb.

The most enduring lie is that the atomic bomb was dropped to end the war in the Pacific and save lives. “Even without the atomic bombing attacks,” concluded the United States Strategic Bombing Survey of 1946, “air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion. Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts, and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that … Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”

The National Archives in Washington contain US government documents that chart Japanese peace overtures as early as 1943. None was pursued. A cable sent on May 5, 1945 by the German ambassador in Tokyo and intercepted by the US dispels any doubt that the Japanese were desperate to sue for peace, including “capitulation even if the terms were hard”. Instead, the US secretary of war, Henry Stimson, told President Truman he was “fearful” that the US air force would have Japan so “bombed out” that the new weapon would not be able “to show its strength”. He later admitted that “no effort was made, and none was seriously considered, to achieve surrender merely in order not to have to use the bomb”. His foreign policy colleagues were eager “to browbeat the Russians with the bomb held rather ostentatiously on our hip”. General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project that made the bomb, testified: “There was never any illusion on my part that Russia was our enemy, and that the project was conducted on that basis.” The day after Hiroshima was obliterated, President Truman voiced his satisfaction with the “overwhelming success” of “the experiment”.


Counterpunch has a well written critique of the ISO, one of the two largest revolutionary left groups in the U.S. (along with the IWW), by someone named Jon Hochschartner.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/05/inserting-democracy-in-the-iso/

“A single Steering Committee member cannot be challenged without offering a whole new slate of a dozen names. As a result, Binh writes, “as far as anyone knows, the ISO has never had a competitive election for its Steering Committee since it was founded in 1977.” ….

Search the archives of SocialistWorker.org, an ISO publication, and you will find the socialist intellectual Noam Chomsky quoted approvingly quite frequently. Yet the range of debate within the ISO is so limited that Chomsky, who has called the Bolshevik Revolution a “coup,” would presumably be drummed out of the group. At the very least he would likely not be allowed to express his views on the matter in ISO publications. And when the most widely-respected, living, anti-capitalist intellectual might not be able to make a home in your organization, that’s a decent indication you’re too sectarian.

That socialists must share an exact interpretation of an historical event that happened nearly a century ago in order to coordinate their class struggle efforts of course makes no sense, as Binh points out. Obviously capitalist parties don’t demand that prospective members accept a specific interpretation of, say, World War I, in order to join the organization. That would be ridiculous.

The ISO’s constant turnover and membership plateau, two things the group itself admits to be problems, should come as no surprise given the organization’s narrow-mindedness and anti-democratic structure. Who wants to belong to what, in many ways, I’m sorry to say, amounts to a cult-like sect, however well-intentioned it may be?”


Institutions in the U.S. retain a degree of perceived legitimacy well above that of your average banana republic. Perceptions of corruption, for instance, are relatively low. A lot of that has to do with defining away corruption as part of the proper working order of the system (e.g. the legalized bribery of politicians which dominates the political system). Although the legal system gives its stamp of approval, corruption is endemic and, importantly, rarely reported as such. This helps to maintain the perceptions of legitimacy.

A piece in the New Yorker by Sarah Stillman shines a light on one aspect of this corruption – the outrageous phenomenon of police robbery of innocent citizens through “civil-asset forfeiture”.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/08/12/130812fa_fact_stillman?currentPage=all

[One innocent family was pulled over on the highway in East Texas on manufactured suspicions and arrested.] The county’s district attorney, a fifty-seven-year-old woman with feathered Charlie’s Angels hair named Lynda K. Russell, arrived an hour later. Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.

“Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.

Later, she learned that cash-for-freedom deals had become a point of pride for Tenaha, and that versions of the tactic were used across the country. “Be safe and keep up the good work,” the city marshal wrote to Washington, following a raft of complaints from out-of-town drivers who claimed that they had been stopped in Tenaha and stripped of cash, valuables, and, in at least one case, an infant child, without clear evidence of contraband. ….

When Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson complained to the county in the hope of retrieving their savings, they got another surprise. Lynda Russell, the district attorney, told them she had warned “repeatedly” that they did not have to sign the waiver, but, if they continued to contest it, they could be indicted on felony charges. “I will contact you and give you an opportunity to turn yourself in without having an officer come to your door,” she wrote in a letter mentioning the prospect of a grand jury. Once again, their custody of the kids was threatened. Boatright and Henderson decided to fight anyway.

As usual, the tactic is targeted particularly at the poor and brown:

Moreira relied on her 2005 Honda Accord to drive from her early-morning job, cleaning Trinity Washington University, to her evening job, cleaning the U.S. Treasury Department. In March, 2012, her son was driving her car when he was pulled over for a minor traffic violation, and, after a pat down, was found to have a handgun. He was arrested, and her car was seized. Moreira, who grew up in El Salvador, explained in Spanish that she received a letter in the mail two months later asking her to pay a bond of one thousand and twenty dollars—which she took to be the fee to get her car back. Desperate, she borrowed cash from friends and family to cover the bond, which is known in D.C. law as a “penal sum.” If she hadn’t, the car would have been auctioned off, or put to use by the police. But all that the money bought her was the right to a complex and slow-moving civil-forfeiture court case.She was left struggling to make her car payments each month as her Honda sat in a city lot, unused and unsheltered from the elements.

The East Texas town of Tenaha is a special hotbed of state theft. Anyone who reads Stillman’s article is unlikely to ever venture near the place. Henderson and Boatright from the first anecdote were ambushed by Tenaha. And Tenaha is also the town that snagged:

…a twenty-seven-year-old man named James Morrow, who worked at a Tyson plant in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, slicing chicken strips for prepared foods. “He told me a pretty startling story,” Guillory recalls. In August, 2007, Tenaha police pulled Morrow over for “driving too close to the white line,” and took thirty-nine hundred dollars from him. Morrow told Guillory that he was on his way to get dental work done at a Houston mall. (The arresting officers said that his “stories of travel” were inconsistent, as was his account of how much money he had; they also said they detected the “odor of burned marijuana,” although no contraband was found in the car.) Morrow, who is black, was taken to jail, where he pleaded with authorities to call his bank to see proof of his recent cash withdrawal. They declined.

“They impounded my car, and they impounded me, too,” Morrow told me, recalling the night he spent in jail. When he finally agreed to sign away his property, he was released on the side of the road with no money, no vehicle, and no phone. “I had to go to Wal-Mart and borrow someone’s phone to call my mama,” he recounted. “She had to take out a rental car to come pick me up.” For weeks, Morrow said he felt “crippled,” unsure of what to do. He says that a Tenaha officer told him, “Don’t even bother getting a lawyer. The money always stays here.” But finally he decided “to shine a big ol’ light on them.”

As Stillman comments, “It was a baroque small-town scandal, but it was also a story with national reach. [A lawyer local to Tenaha] wondered how many people across the country felt “crippled,” as Morrow did, by statutes so little known yet so widely used.”

Stillman’s article is chock full of moving stories of people already at the bottom of society made helpless by this arbitrary theft:

In West Philadelphia last August, an elderly couple named Mary and Leon Adams were finishing breakfast when several vans filled with heavily armed police pulled up to their red brick home. An officer announced, “We’ll give you ten minutes to get your things and vacate the property.” The men surrounding their home had been authorized to enter, seize, and seal the premises, without any prior notice.

The reader can read Stillman’s piece in full to find out how that one ends. The lawyer who investigated the Tenaha cases found that:

Nearly all the targets had been pulled over for routine traffic stops. Many drove rental cars and came from out of state. None appeared to have been issued tickets. And the targets were disproportionately black or Latino. A finding of discrimination could bring judicial scrutiny. “It was a highway-piracy operation,” Guillory said, and, he thought, material for a class-action lawsuit.

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