EXCLUSIVE: As it begins to dawn on everyone that Sony Pictures was the victim of a cyberterrorist act perpetrated by a hostile foreign nation on American soil, questions will be asked about how and why it happened, ending with Sony cancelling the theatrical release of the satirical comedy The Interview because of its depiction of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. One of the issues is this: Why didn’t anybody speak out while Sony Pictures chiefs Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton were embarrassed by emails served up by the media, bolstering the credibility of the hackers’ threat to blow up theaters if The Interview was released?
George Clooney has the answer. The most powerful people in Hollywood were so fearful to place themselves in the cross hairs of hackers that they all refused to sign a simple petition of support that Clooney and his agent, Bryan Lourd, circulated to the top people in film, TV, records and other areas. Not a single person would sign. Here, Clooney discusses the petition and how it is just part of many frightening ramifications that we are all just coming to grips with
DEADLINE: How could this have happened, that terrorists achieved their aim of cancelling a major studio film? We watched it unfold, but how many people realized that Sony legitimately was under attack?
GEORGE CLOONEY: A good portion of the press abdicated its real duty. They played the fiddle while Rome burned. There was a real story going on. With just a little bit of work, you could have found out that it wasn’t just probably North Korea; it was North Korea. The Guardians of Peace is a phrase that Nixon used when he visited China. When asked why he was helping South Korea, he said it was because we are the Guardians of Peace. Here, we’re talking about an actual country deciding what content we’re going to have. This affects not just movies, this affects every part of business that we have. That’s the truth. What happens if a newsroom decides to go with a story, and a country or an individual or corporation decides they don’t like it? Forget the hacking part of it. You have someone threaten to blow up buildings, and all of a sudden everybody has to bow down. Sony didn’t pull the movie because they were scared; they pulled the movie because all the theaters said they were not going to run it. And they said they were not going to run it because they talked to their lawyers and those lawyers said if somebody dies in one of these, then you’re going to be responsible.
On November 24 of this year, Sony Pictures was notified that it was the victim of a cyber attack, the effects of which is the most chilling and devastating of any cyber attack in the history of our country. Personal information including Social Security numbers, email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers and the full texts of emails of tens of thousands of Sony employees was leaked online in an effort to scare and terrorize these workers. The hackers have made both demands and threats. The demand that Sony halt the release of its upcoming comedy The Interview, a satirical film about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Their threats vary from personal—you better behave wisely—to threatening physical harm—not only you but your family is in danger. North Korea has not claimed credit for the attack but has praised the act, calling it a righteous deed and promising merciless measures if the film is released. Meanwhile the hackers insist in their statement that what they’ve done so far is only a small part of our further plan. This is not just an attack on Sony. It involves every studio, every network, every business and every individual in this country. That is why we fully support Sony’s decision not to submit to these hackers’ demands. We know that to give in to these criminals now will open the door for any group that would threaten freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberty. We hope these hackers are brought to justice but until they are, we will not stand in fear. We will stand together.
DEADLINE: That doesn’t sound like a hard paper to sign.
CLOONEY: All that it is basically saying is, we’re not going to give in to a ransom. As we watched one group be completely vilified, nobody stood up. Nobody took that stand. Now, I say this is a situation we are going to have to come to terms with, a new paradigm and a new way of handling our business. Because this could happen to an electric company, a car company, a newsroom. It could happen to anybody.
DEADLINE: You said everyone acts based on self interest. What’s yours?
CLOONEY: I wanted to have the conversation because I’m worried about content. Frankly, I’m at an age where I’m not doing action films or romantic comedies. The movies we make are the ones with challenging content, and I don’t want to see it all just be superhero movies. Nothing wrong with them, but it’s nice for people to have other films out there.
A great day for the long-suffering people of Cuba and a move that may eventually bring about some degree of democracy in the anti-working class Stalinist dictatorship of that benighted island. Obama has shown some real leadership:
By Juan Cole (reblogged from Informed Comment):
I have argued on many occasions that the language of patriotism and appeal to the Founding Fathers and the constitution must not be allowed to be appropriated by the political right wing in contemporary America, since for the most part right wing principles (privileging religion, exaltation of ‘whiteness’ over universal humanity, and preference for property rights over human rights) are diametrically opposed to the Enlightenment and Deist values of most of the framers of the Unites States.
We will likely hear these false appeals to an imaginary history a great deal with the release of the Senate report on CIA torture. It seems to me self-evident that most of the members of the Constitutional Convention would have voted to release the report and also would have been completely appalled at its contents.
The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution is full of prohibitions on torture, as part of a general 18th century Enlightenment turn against the practice. The French Encyclopedia and its authors had agitated in this direction.
Two types of torture were common during the lifetimes of the Founding Fathers. In France, the judiciary typically had arrestees tortured to make them confess their crime. This way of proceeding rather tilted the scales in the direction of conviction, but against justice. Pre-trial torture was abolished in France in 1780. But torture was still used after the conviction of the accused to make him identify his accomplices.
Thomas Jefferson excitedly wrote back to John Jay from Paris in 1788:
“On the 8th, a bed of justice was held at Versailles, wherein were enregistered the six ordinances which had been passed in Council, on the 1st of May, and which I now send you. . . . By these ordinances, 1, the criminal law is reformed . . . by substitution of an oath, instead of torture on the question préalable , which is used after condemnation, to make the prisoner discover his accomplices; (the torture abolished in 1780, was on the question préparatoire, previous to judgment, in order to make the prisoner accuse himself;) by allowing counsel to the prisoner for this defence; obligating the judges to specify in their judgments the offence for which he is condemned; and respiting execution a month, except in the case of sedition. This reformation is unquestionably good and within the ordinary legislative powers of the crown. That it should remain to be made at this day, proves that the monarch is the last person in his kingdom, who yields to the progress of philanthropy and civilization.”
Jefferson did not approve of torture of either sort.
The torture deployed by the US government in the Bush-Cheney era resembles that used in what the French called the “question préalable.” They were being asked to reveal accomplices and any further plots possibly being planned by those accomplices. The French crown would have argued before 1788 that for reasons of public security it was desirable to make the convicted criminal reveal his associates in crime, just as Bush-Cheney argued that the al-Qaeda murderers must be tortured into giving up confederates. But Jefferson was unpersuaded by such an argument. In fact, he felt that the king had gone on making it long past the time when rational persons were persuaded by it.
Bush-Cheney, in fact, look much more like pre-Enlightentment absolute monarchs in their theory of government. Louis XIV may not have said “I am the state,” but his prerogatives were vast, including arbitrary imprisonment and torture. Bush-Cheney, our very own sun kings, connived at creating a class of human beings to whom they could do as they pleased.
When the 5th amendment says of the accused person “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” the word “compelled” is referring to the previous practice of judicial torture of the accused. Accused persons who “take the fifth” are thus exercising a right not to be tortured by the government into confessing to something they may or may not have done.
Likewise, the 8th Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” is intended to forbid post-sentencing torture.
The 8th Amendment was pushed for by Patrick Henry and George Mason precisely because they were afraid that the English move away from torture might be reversed by a Federal government that ruled in the manner of continental governments.
“What has distinguished our ancestors?–That they would not admit of tortures, or cruel and barbarous punishment. But Congress may introduce the practice of the civil law, in preference to that of the common law. They may introduce the practice of France, Spain, and Germany.”
It was objected in the debate over the Bill of Rights that it could be ignored. George Mason thought that was a stupid reason not to enact it:
“Mr. Nicholas: . . . But the gentleman says that, by this Constitution, they have power to make laws to define crimes and prescribe punishments; and that, consequently, we are not free from torture. . . . If we had no security against torture but our declaration of rights, we might be tortured to-morrow; for it has been repeatedly infringed and disregarded.
Mr. George Mason replied that the worthy gentleman was mistaken in his assertion that the bill of rights did not prohibit torture; for that one clause expressly provided that no man can give evidence against himself; and that the worthy gentleman must know that, in those countries where torture is used, evidence was extorted from the criminal himself. Another clause of the bill of rights provided that no cruel and unusual punishments shall be inflicted; therefore, torture was included in the prohibition.”
It was the insistence of Founding Fathers such as George Mason and Patrick Henry that resulted in the Bill of Rights being passed to constrain the otherwise absolute power of the Federal government. And one of their primary concerns was to abolish torture.
The 5th and the 8th amendments thus together forbid torture on the “question préparatoire” pre-trial confession under duress) and the question préalable (post-conviction torture).
That the Founding Fathers were against torture is not in question.
Fascists (that is what they are) who support torture will cavil. Is waterboarding torture? Is threatening to sodomize a man with a broomstick torture? Is menacing a prisoner with a pistol torture?
Patrick Henry’s discourse makes all this clear. He was concerned about the government doing anything to detract from the dignity of the English commoner, who had defied the Norman yoke and gained the right not to be coerced through pain into relinquishing liberties.
Fascists will argue that the Constitution does not apply to captured foreign prisoners of war, or that the prisoners were not even P.O.W.s, having been captured out of uniform.
But focusing on the category of the prisoner is contrary to the spirit of the founding fathers. Their question was, ‘what are the prerogatives of the state?’ And their answer was that the state does not have the prerogative to torture. It may not torture anyone, even a convicted murderer.
The framers of the Geneva Convention (to which the US is signatory) were, moreover, determined that all prisoners fall under some provision of international law. René Värk argues:
“the commentary to Article 45 (3) asserts that ‘a person of enemy nationality who is not entitled to prisoner-of-war status is, in principle, a civilian protected by the Fourth Convention, so that there are no gaps in protection’.*32 But, at the same time, it also observes that things are not always so straightforward in armed conflicts; for example, adversaries can have the same nationality, which renders the application of the Fourth Convention impossible, and there can arise numerous difficulties regarding the application of that convention. Thus, as the Fourth Convention is a safety net to persons who do not qualify for protection under the other three Geneva Conventions, Article 45 (3) serves yet again as a safety net for those who do not benefit from more favourable treatment in accordance with the Fourth Convention.”
Those who wish to create a category of persons who may be treated by the government with impunity are behaving as fascists like Franco did in the 1930s, who also typically created classes of persons to whom legal guarantees did not apply.
But if our discussion focuses on the Founding Fathers, it isn’t even necessary to look so closely at the Geneva Conventions.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The phrase “all men” means all persons of any nationality.
We know what the Founding Fathers believed. They believed in universal rights. And they believed in basic principles of human dignity. Above all, they did not think the government had the prerogative of behaving as it pleased. It doesn’t have the prerogative to torture.
This report comes from the (US) International Socialist Organisation and is the best coverage of the Ferguson protests I’ve yet been able to find:
A grand jury wouldn’t indict Mike Brown’s killer, but the angry protests in Ferguson and beyond show the struggle will go on.report.
DARREN WILSON has gotten away with murder–and the American injustice system sent the message once again that Black lives don’t matter.
It was long after dark on November 24 when St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch marched to the microphone and announced that a grand jury had refused to indict the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer on any charge at all for killing 18-year-old Mike Brown on August 9.
This was the result that millions of people expected, but it was shocking anyway: A white cop who shot more than a dozen bullets at an unarmed African American teenager, killing him, was not only off the hook, but was being portrayed as a victim.
After days of rising tensions as the long-awaited grand jury decision didn’t come, people in Ferguson and around the country erupted in bitter protest. Even while Barack Obama followed McCulloch onto the airwaves to make his own statement urging peace, police fired their first volleys of tear gas and smoke grenades in Ferguson.
The media bemoaned the “violence” in Ferguson when a police car was wrecked and local businesses set on fire–without the slightest recognition of the violence that African Americans living in a city like Ferguson endure on a daily basis, directly at the hands of racist police and indirectly as a result of endemic poverty and unemployment.
Tory Russell, the co-founder of Hands Up United, responded firmly when asked in a CNN interview if he was “urging calm” after the decision. Russell replied, “I am urging calm. I’m urging calm for the police officers to not pepper spray me, tear gas me, mace me and shoot rubber bullets…People need to urge the police to be calm. Stop hurting kids, stop traumatizing our communities.”
The media vultures had their cameras trained on Ferguson, but there were angry demonstrations around the country after the grand jury decision was announced. In Chicago, hundreds of protesters took over Lake Shore Drive. In Oakland, Calif., in the largest protest in the Bay Area, the hastily organized solidarity demonstration drew more than 1,000 people who marched through downtown and later blockaded Interstate 580, one of the major routes through the city. Nearly a thousand turned out to Times Square.
There will be more protests today and in the days to come. We need to make sure everyone who was outraged by Mike Brown’s murder and inspired by the rebellion in Ferguson against racism and police violence raises their voices and sends a message: We won’t forget Mike Brown–and our struggle for justice will continue.
By Rhodri Evans (in the Workers Liberty paper Solidarity)
A “common sense” which has dominated much left thinking since the late 1980s or early 1990s is now breaking down. That’s a good thing.
The old line was to support whomever battled the USA. By opposing the USA, they were “anti-imperialist”, and therefore at least half-revolutionary.
So many leftists backed the Taliban. They sided with Khomeiny’s Iran. They claimed “we are all Hezbollah”.
But Syria’s dictator, Assad? Some leftists have taken the US support for the Syrian opposition, and the US threats to bomb Syria, as mandating them to side with Assad. Most find that too much to swallow.
And ISIS? Leftists who have backed the Taliban are not now backing ISIS. Not even “critically”.
The outcry about ISIS ceremonially beheading Western captives has, reasonably enough, deterred leftists. So has the threat from ISIS to the Kurds, whose national rights most leftists have learned to support.
And so, probably, has the fact that other forces previously reckoned “anti-imperialist” — Iran and its allies, for example — detest ISIS as much as the US does.
The Taliban converted Kabul’s football stadium into a site for public executions, and chopped hands and feet off the victims before killing them. The Taliban persecuted the Hazara and other non-Sunni and non-Pushtoon peoples of Afghanistan.
Now the media coverage of ISIS has focused thinking. But leftists who now don’t back ISIS must be aware that their criteria have shifted.
The old “common sense” was spelled out, for example, by the SWP in a 2001 pamphlet entitled No to Bush’s War.
It portrayed world politics as shaped by a “drive for global economic and military dominance” by a force interchangeably named “the world system”, “globalisation”, “imperialism”, “the West”, or “the USA”.
All other forces in the world were mere “products” of that drive. They were examples of the rule that “barbarity bred barbarity”, “barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism”, or they were “terrorists the West has created”.
The pamplet promoted a third and decisive idea, that we should side with the “counter-barbarism” against the “barbarism”.
It was nowhere as explicit as the SWP had been in 1990: “The more US pressure builds up, the more Saddam will play an anti-imperialist role… In all of this Saddam should have the support of socialists… Socialists must hope that Iraq gives the US a bloody nose and that the US is frustrated in its attempt to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait” (SW, 18 August 1990).
But the idea in the 2001 pamphlet was the same. The SWP talked freely about how “horrifying” the 11 September attacks in the USA were. It refused to condemn them.
“The American government denounces the Taliban regime as ‘barbaric’ for its treatment of women”, said the pamphlet. A true denunciation, or untrue? The SWP didn’t say. Its answer was: “It was the Pakistani secret service, the Saudi royal family and American agents… that organised the Taliban’s push for power”.
Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks? Not his fault. “It was because of the rage he felt when he saw his former ally, the US, bomb Baghdad and back Israel”.
Now Corey Oakley, in the Australian socialist paper Red Flag, which comes from the same political culture as the SWP, criticises “leftists [for whom] ‘imperialism’ simply means the US and its Saudi and Israeli allies.
“Syria, Iran and even Russia, whose strategic interests brought them into conflict with the US, are portrayed as playing a progressive role…
“Events in Iraq… leave such ‘anti-imperialist’ fantasies in ruins. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians while US diplomats negotiate military tactics with their Iranian counterparts… Israel tries to derail a US alliance with Iran while simultaneously considering whether it needs to intervene in de facto alliance with Iran in Jordan.
“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery… is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small…
“The British, Russian, French and US imperialists are no longer the only independent powers in the region. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – though all intertwined in alliances with other countries big and small – are powerful capitalist states in their own right, playing the imperialist game, not mere clients of bigger powers…” (1 July 2014).
The shift signifies an opening for discussion, rather than a reaching of new conclusions.
On ISIS, a frequent leftist “line” now is to deplore ISIS; say that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq contributed to the dislocation from which ISIS surged (true); express no confidence or trust in US bombing as a way to push back ISIS (correct); and slide into a “conclusion” that the main imperative is to campaign against US bombing.
The slide gives an illusion of having got back to familiar “auto-anti-imperialist” ground. But the illusion is thin.
The old argument was that if you oppose the US strongly enough, then you oppose the root of all evil, and hence you also effectively combat the bad features of the anti-imperialist force. But no-one can really believe that the US created ISIS, or that there were no local reactionary impulses with their own local dynamic and autonomy behind the rise of ISIS.
Our statement of basic ideas, in this paper, says: “Working-class solidarity in international politics: equal rights for all nations, against imperialists and predators big and small”. We have a new opening to get discussion on that approach.
Here’s a slightly amended and extended version of a review I’ve written for Just Jazz magazine. I have no commercial interest on this CD:
Hoagy, by the Chris Ingham Quartet
Downhome Records DOH0001
Riverboat Shuffle; Washboard Blues; Old Music Master; Memphis In June; My Resistance Is Low; Lazy Bones; Hong Kong Blues; Dear Bix; How Little We Know; Old Man Harlem; Baltimore Oriole; Old Buttermilk Sky; Skylark; Huggin’ And Chalkin’; Georgia On My Mind; Stardust
Chris Ingham (piano, vocals), Paul Higgs (trumpet), Rev. Andrew Brown (bass), Russell Morgan (drums)
Recorded at Toucan Tango Studios, UK, 13 December, 2013
Hoagland Howard ‘Hoagy’ Carmichael always considered himself to be, first and foremost, a “jazz guy” (his son’s description) and over the years his tunes have brought forth monumental performances from jazz musicians as disparate as Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane, both of whom recorded unforgettable versions of Hoagy’s masterpiece Stardust (Louis with his big band in 1931 and ‘Trane on his Standards album of 1958).
But it was Bix Beiderbecke, of course, who was Hoagy’s first and most enduring musical inspiration, and for whom he wrote his first composition, Riverboat Shuffle. So it’s only right and proper that this delightful album opens with that seminal number, and that trumpeter Paul Higgs paraphrases Bix’s 1927 solo, before launching into his own cool-school interpretation. It is also appropriate that one of the two non-Hoagy compositions on the album should be Dave Frishberg’s heartbreaking Dear Bix.
Leader Chris Ingham, as well as being a fine pianist (considerably better than Hoagy himself, if truth is told), also handles the vocals and stays pretty close to Carmichael’s 1940s Decca recordings. As Mr Ingham writes in his brief but erudite sleeve-notes, “We’ve resisted the temptation to reinvent the wheel here. Get too clever with stuff that’s already clever, you could end up with something stupid.”
Much of Hoagy’s material is, indeed, “clever” – and “whimsical” and “wry” and all those other words that might lead you to write him off as a lightweight. But listen to Stardust (or should it be Star Dust?) and Skylark and you will hear (as the late Richard Sudhalter noted) the melodic shapes, harmonies and sheer beauty of a Bix cornet solo. And when it comes to Washboard Blues, listen to the lyric: Hoagy didn’t write it (he only wrote the tune in this case), but he must have approved of it, and he sang it on several recordings. The lyric (clearly intended to be the thoughts of an impoverished black woman) concludes as follows:
I’m going to that river, going down to that river some day.
Hurry, day. Hurry.
I’s going down to that river, going down to that river some day.
And throw myself, self away.
I’m going to that river, going down to that river some day.
Hurry, day. Hurry, day. Hurry, day. Hurry…
If you’re already familiar with ‘Hoagland’ – small-town Americana, home-spun wisdom and a bittersweet yearning for something better that you somehow know will never come – then this CD will meet all your expectations. If Carmichael’s world is as yet unfamiliar to you, then this is as good a place to start as any.
By a melancholy coincidence, just as this album arrived, the news came through that sultry Lauren Bacall had died. A visit to Youtube’s clips from the 1944 film To Have And Have Not found Bacall singing How Little We Know (yes, it really was her voice, not Andy Williams’), accompanied by Hoagy at the piano. And watching that old classic confirmed the perceptive truth of Mr Ingham’s sleeve-note observation: “Hoagy was always the hippest guy in the room. Coolly apart from the central action, but all-seeing, all-understanding and always on hand to offer pithy philosophies to the hapless protagonists. And when he played his mysterious, dreamy, amusing songs, people stopped for a moment and listened, felt something and changed a little.”
That about sums up Hoagy and his world: to experience just some of it for yourself, buy this CD and be transported to Hoagland.
From Informed Comment:
By Lars Berger
The decision by President Obama to launch missile and air strikes against Islamic State (IS) and the al-Qaeda affiliate “Khorasan” in Syria draws the United States ever closer to yet another prolonged military confrontation in the region.
But there’s a difference this time: the participation of a coalition of Arab states, variously offering diplomatic, intelligence and military support. So far, the partner states have been named as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Jordan.
From Washington’s perspective, the importance of Arab participation is obvious: a synchronised display of high-level multinational cooperation is clearly meant to head off the usual criticism of the often unilateral nature of US foreign policies.
This is of particular importance for President Obama, who has invested considerable capital over the years in distancing himself from the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.
As he put it in his brief statement announcing the strikes: “The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”
The White House clearly hopes that the participation of Arab partners will undermine that radical Islamist narrative of “the West versus Islam”, and instead reframe the conflict as another chapter in the decades-old struggle between the vast moderate Muslim majority and a tiny minority of radicals.
But aside from these explicit American goals, Obama’s new Arab partners have interests of their own.
Regional rivals: Saudi and Qatar
Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia can hope to shift attention away from the criticism for their attitude to Islamist extremism. Over the years, they have been charged not only with supporting radical Islamists in Syria, but also with allowing their religious elites to propagate a version of Islam that is open to easy manipulation at the hands of radical jihadist recruiters.
Both countries will also hope that weakening the radical Islamists of IS will help moderate elements of the Syrian opposition regain the initiative against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Some among the elites of Riyadh and Doha might even be hoping Washington will realise the threat of IS will never be extinguished while Bashar al-Assad’s regime remains in place – and that Obama will see the job is finished.
Finally, Saudi Arabia in particular clearly has to be concerned with preventing the success of an organisation which aims to establish the perfect “Islamic state”.
IS’s claim to ultimate leadership of the world’s Muslim community as put forward by its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is a direct challenge to the Saudi claim for global religious leadership based on King Abdullah’s role as “custodian of the two holy places” in Mecca and Medina.
Saudi authorities are fully aware that al-Baghdadi’s radical Islamist fringe project has attracted followers from Saudi Arabia, with recent estimates putting the number at up to one thousand.
As Nawaf Obaid and Saud al-Sarhan have pointed out, Saudi Arabia is the ultimate target for any “serious” radical Islamist organisation, whether IS now or al-Qaeda in years past.
Al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula (which consists not just of Yemeni Islamists, but also Saudi Islamists), driven out by Saudi counterterrorism measures over the last decade, is now beginning to mutter words of approval and support toward IS, and Riyadh will be deeply concerned about the spectre of being engulfed in an arc of Islamist instability to its south and north. Read the rest of this entry »
From the US Socialist Worker (no longer connected to the UK organisation/publication of the same name):
“IT IS hard to deny just how predictable they are when they finally happen.” That was the conclusion of Merlin Chowkwanyun, a scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a Washington Post op-ed article  comparing the eruption of protest and unrest in Ferguson, Mo. with so many similar upheavals in other cities since the 1960s.
The whole world knows of Ferguson after the murder of Mike Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, by a white police officer who initially confronted him over walking in the middle of the street.
The crime was heinous, but police killings of unarmed Black men are all too common in the U.S.–they take place once every 28 hours, according to a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement . But what’s unique about Ferguson is the continuing mobilization to demand justice for Mike Brown, centered among the African American residents of the St. Louis suburb.
No one would have guessed that Ferguson would be the site of perhaps the most sustained rebellion against police violence in at least two decades. But at the same time, one statistic after another has emerged in the past week and a half to show exactly how predictable that uprising was.
- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
THE CITY of Ferguson, just north of St. Louis, has a population that was, as of the 2010 Census, 67.4 percent Black and 29.3 percent white. Yet whites account for five of Ferguson’s six city council members , and six of seven school board members (the seventh member is a Latino). Out of 53 officers in the Ferguson police department, there are three African American.
The white Mayor James Knowles has a delusional attitude toward race in his city. “We’ve never seen this kind of…frustration, this kind of tension between the races,” he claimed. “I know we’ve always gotten along.”
How can a shrinking minority of whites continue to dominate the political power structure in Ferguson? One answer: In the 2013 municipal election, just 11.7 percent of Ferguson’s voting-eligible residents cast a ballot . The percentage was far lower for African Americans–some 17 percent of eligible white voters participated, compared to 6 percent of eligible Black voters. As a result, according to a Washington Post analysis , whites were actually a larger part of the electorate than Blacks, despite being a much smaller minority in the population.
Liberal media outlets attributed this disparity to the timing of elections, which take place in mid-April. This is certainly a factor, but there are more important reasons. The people I talked to in Ferguson feel they have little political stake in participating in municipal elections. For one thing, because of the governing structures in the St. Louis area, change would have to happen at the countywide level to be meaningful, which would require an electoral movement crossing over the boundaries of many small municipalities.
And there is a deeper disillusionment among African Americans, says Leslie Broadnax, a native of Ferguson  who challenged the incumbent St. Louis County prosecutor in the last election and lost. “I think there is a huge distrust in the system,” said Broadnax. “Many Blacks think: Well it’s not going to matter anyway, so my one vote doesn’t count.”
Here is another statistic that helps capture the economic devastation which, as it does everywhere, hits African Americans disproportionately hard: According to a Reuters report , “Traffic fines are the St. Louis suburb’s second-largest source of revenue and just about the only one that is growing appreciably. Municipal court fines, most of which arise from motor vehicle violations, accounted for 21 percent of general fund revenue and at $2.63 million last year, were the equivalent of more than 81 percent of police salaries before overtime.”
Add to that information the fact that Blacks accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops initiated by Ferguson cops, and it makes you wonder if Officer Darren Wilson had a financial motive in mind when he got out of his patrol car to confront 18-year-old Mike Brown on August 9.
Whatever the case, if you put all these facts and figures together, it’s clear that Ferguson’s long history, bound up with racism and social oppression, helped set the stage for both the murder of Mike Brown–and the powerful upsurge of protest against it ever since.
- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -
IN MANY ways, Ferguson’s history embodies W.E.B. DuBois’s famous assertion that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” It’s clear from all the statistics about Ferguson today that racism structures daily life for the city’s African American population–but it’s also clear this is also nothing new.
Ferguson’s existence as a distinct city from nearby St. Louis has its roots in the failures of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the former states of the Confederacy. The city and county of St. Louis separated their legal connection in 1877 over the issue of the under-representation of city dwellers in county politics–the same year that marked the end of Reconstruction and the federal government’s attempt to “reconstruct” the political systems of the former slave states that had seceded to start the Civil War.
This split sharpened the historical divide between city and county–and as a racist backlash developed following the retreat of Reconstruction, many Black Southerners fled to the cities, including St. Louis. But even if the city offered some protection from the Klan, that hardly meant St. Louis was a beacon of racial progress. The city, in collusion with the county, embarked on a project of segregation that would remain legal for nearly a century.
The state of Missouri passed a law  requiring that: “Separate free schools shall be established for the education of children of African descent; and it shall be unlawful for any colored child to attend any white school, or any white child to attend a colored school.” Another law declared: “All marriages between…white persons and negroes or white persons and Mongolians…are prohibited and declared absolutely void…No person having one-eighth part or more of negro blood shall be permitted to marry any white person.”
Housing was a primary target of the Jim Crow system. Like many of the 91 municipalities surrounding the city of St. Louis, Ferguson was closed off to Black residents by racist housing covenants. Black Missouri residents remained overwhelmingly concentrated in the city while racist terror continued across the countryside.
Within the city, Black workers endured unequal pay, hiring discrimination and the constant degradation that all African Americans faced under Jim Crow. The inability to live outside the city limits restricted their access to better schools, public services, schools and employment. Black neighborhoods were characterized by substandard housing, overcrowding and poor sanitation.
Housing rights became a major focus of civil rights struggle in St. Louis. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelley v. Kraemer , which declared that state enforcement of racially restrictive housing covenants was unconstitutional, revolved around a St. Louis case. Even though the 6-0 decision of the justices was handed down in 1948, it took two more decades of struggle to finally tear down the housing covenants.
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BY THE 1970s, activists had secured the removal of the covenants, and Black residents of the city of St. Louis were able to move out into the municipalities, including Ferguson. In 1980, the population of Ferguson was still 85 percent white and 14 percent Black. Today, those numbers are nearly reversed.
African Americans had scored a major victory in removing the housing covenants, but as the city’s Black population moved out into the suburbs, many whites fled, leaving not only towns like Ferguson, but even the state itself, moving across the river to Illinois–or into concentrated pockets of white wealth, such as nearby Country Life Acres, a tiny municipality that is 96 percent white, with a median household income of $200,000. By comparison, Ferguson’s median annual household income of $37,500.
Today, the St. Louis metro area remains one of the most segregated in the country . That divide extends to unemployment , which is 20 percentage points higher for Blacks than the 6.2 percent jobless rate for whites in white unemployment in the area around Ferguson.
Housing discrimination has continued despite the outlawing of legalized discrimination through the housing covenants. As Bryce Covert wrote for Think Progress :
Racial housing segregation hasn’t just affected community makeups, but their economics. Given that Blacks have been shut out of buying homes, a huge source of wealth, and discriminatory practices depressed the values of those who did manage to buy houses, it’s no surprise that there continues to be a huge racial wealth gap. The average Black household has $75,040 in wealth stored in its home, while the average white one has $217,150. Overall, the gap in wealth between white households and Black ones was $84,960 in 2011. A similar gap is apparent in Ferguson, where the median household income is about $37,500 but in St. Louis County as a whole it’s $58,500.
Thus, persistent, pervasive, structural racism extends far beyond policing. The existence of legally separate but still closely integrated townships has had a clear and inevitable impact. St. Louis County’s mainly Black municipalities have high poverty rates rooted in decades of underinvestment, employment discrimination and more.
In Ferguson itself, the poverty rate of 22 percent , a full 10 percentage points higher than the county average (and 22 percentage points higher than the 96 percent white municipality with the $200,000 median income).
The county structure of many small municipalities over a large metro area exacerbates the effect of poverty. In the poorer ones, schools are underfunded. Resources for public services are scarce compared to the demand. The municipalities compete in a race to the bottom to provide tax incentives for businesses to locate in their town or city–which gives the chain stores lining the streets of Ferguson a subsidy on the backs of poor residents.
The structure of St. Louis County has, in effect, helped lock Black residents without the means to leave the area into highly segregated communities, with disproportionate rates of poverty by any measure–whether the comparison is to the county, the state or the nation.
Emerson Electric, Boeing and Express Scripts all employ large numbers of people in the Ferguson area, but thanks to the fragmented municipalities, these corporate giants not only receive massive tax breaks, but they avoid paying anything into the tax bases that fund the public schools and services their workers rely on.
Ferguson exemplifies the way that segregation, police violence and economic inequality are tightly woven together.
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TWENTY YEARS of disinvestment and impoverishment as Ferguson became a majority Black city have taken a visible toll.
As soon as you pull off the Interstate into town, there is a strip mall that stands completely dark. Payday loan companies have set up shop on almost every corner. The notice for a free adult clinic on Saturday hangs from the sign of a business that has been closed for a while.
The ditches that line the streets to help alleviate flooding from the Mississippi River were carefully built and reinforced with concrete a long time ago, but they’re overgrown with brush thick enough to block adequate drainage–even though the town is just minutes from the riverbanks.
But this is not all there is to know about Ferguson.
The media reports that blame Mike Brown for his own murder, with their focus on a surveillance video released by police that allegedly shows Brown in a confrontation with a store employee, also blame protesters for the discord in their community. But nothing could be further from the truth. The police killed Mike Brown, and they are also trying to destroy the community solidarity built up over the past week and a half.
If you go to Ferguson, stop at the QuikTrip, and you’ll see an inspiring sense of trust and community–something that reminded activists of the occupation of the Wisconsin state Capitol in 2011, among other historic struggles.
The people of Ferguson are proud of their community. The immaculate lawns that most residents keep, many with carefully laid stone gardens and neatly trimmed shrubbery, line roads in desperate need of repair. When we meet Kristian Blackmon, a lifetime Ferguson resident who has been protesting each day since Mike Brown was killed, the pride in her voice is clear when she declares to each person she meets that she is Ferguson “born and raised.”
The history of Ferguson–up to and including the killing of Mike Brown and the rebellion we have witnessed over the last week and a half–has been profoundly shaped by racism and inequality that was embedded in this place from its founding.
As a result, the residents of Ferguson, who have come together to oppose the murder of an unarmed 18-year-old and the reign of police terror in their community, are also challenging other forms of racism and inequality that threaten their lives.
Standing together with them, we will fight to stop the racist killer cops–and know that we’re also fighting against the racism built into the very foundation of Ferguson and every other city in this country.
Above: Fisk says ‘apocalyptic’ talk is “childish”
An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Yazidis driven onto Mount Sinjar to escape genocide; 130,000 other Yazadis fleeing to Kurdistan or Irbil; 100,000 Assyrian Christians in flight for their lives; 20,000 Shia Turkmen residents of Amerli besieged for two months and at risk of massacre and/or starvation; countless women and girls kidnapped, raped and sold into slavery; massacres, beheadings, crucifictions, forced conversions …
… I’d say that was a pretty apocalyptic picture, warranting strong action by those of us who care about human rights and democracy.
But for The Independent‘s Robert Fisk, not only is strong action unwarranted: even strong language is to be deplored.
Yesterday, Fisk’s characteristic combination of sneering and preaching was directed at Obama’s use of language:
‘Foley’s murder [has been turned] into a further reason to go on bombing the Isis “caliphate” . And what else did they provoke from us – or at least from America’s vacationing President/ A battle on strictly religious terms … Yes Barak Obama … informed the world that “No just God would stand for what they [Isis] did yesterday and for what they do every single day.” So there you have it: Obama turned the “caliphate’s” savagery into an inter-religious battle of rival Gods, “ours” [ie the West’s] against “theirs” [the Muslim God, of course]. This was the nearest Obama has yet come in rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 in which he said that “we” are going to go on a “Crusade”.’
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that any serious commentator on Isis would have more important things to fulminate about than Obama’s use of language? Never mind the fact that Fisk’s interpretation of what Obama said and the comparison with Bush’s use of the word “crusade” is plainly nonsense, and even Fisk himself goes on to admit as much in his next paragraph. So what point, exactly, is this so-called “expert” on Middle Eastern affairs trying to make? Who knows, except that it’s all “our” (ie the West’s, the US’s, Britians’s, Europe’s, etc, etc) fault, perhapd because of “our” use of language. But cutting through Fisk’s verbose waffle is a difficult task, and I for one actually prefer the straightforward ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ western self-hatred of, say, Seumas Milne, and the Stop The War Coalition’s simple formula that everything’s the fault of the ‘West’.
And Fisk’s linguistic concerns continue: in today’s Indepenedent he once again deplores the Yanks’ use of strong language when describing Isis/Islamic State:
‘”Apocalyptic.” “End-of-days strategic vision.” “Beyond anything we have ever seen.” “An imminent threat to every interest we have.” “Beyond just a terrorist group.” “We must prepare for everything.”