Sunday, January 4, 2015

01-04-15 Newsletter

Jan. 5, 2015, Issue 212
For email notices  about new items contact us —

1.   The Sony Cyber-Attack: Who Done It?
2.   U.S. Wars Continue in New Year
3.   Big Money and the Elections
4.   Conformity Basic to Human Society
5.   Pope Francis Fights Climate Change
6.   Corporate Tax Theft Hides Multi-Billions
7.   China’s Xi Seeks Course Correction
8.   Speciesism — A License to Kill, Massively
9.   Russia Brands NATO a Threat
10. Why Do We Have Police?
11. The Prison State of America


By the Activist Newsletter
Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader.

The U.S. government’s case against North Korea for allegedly cyber-hacking Sony Pictures appears to be  falling apart — but that hasn’t stopped President Obama from retaliating.

President Obama imposed new sanctions on North Korea Jan. 2 for allegedly masterminding a cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, but many cyber-security experts are not convinced the country is guilty.

The Pyongyang government is purported to have acted in reprisal for a tasteless new Hollywood “comedy” about the assassination of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, featuring a scene in which his head was blown to pieces.

The film, titled The Interview, was released on Christmas and reportedly took in $15 million. Some 2 million people have viewed it free online. We wonder how official Washington would have reacted if the North Koreans produced a similar film with President Obama literally blown to pieces.

Movie ad in South Korea.
North Korea denies FBI allegations it was responsible, and suggested that the two countries join in an investigation of the matter. Obama rejected the offer. The FBI announced it would stand by the charges it first made Dec. 19, although no evidence has been presented so far.

From the time the hacking became public Nov. 24, many knowledgeable sources have voiced their suspicions that a disgruntled Sony Pictures insider was involved.

They argue that the connections between the Sony hack and the North Korean government amount to circumstantial evidence at best. Further, they say the level of the breach indicates an intimate knowledge of Sony's computer systems that could have come from someone on the inside.

News reports this week quote a prominent California cyber-security firm Norse Corp — whose clients include government agencies, financial institutions and technology companies —that  briefed law enforcement officials on evidence it collected that pointed toward an inside job.

“We can't find any indication that North Korea either ordered, masterminded or funded this attack,” said Kurt Stammberger, a senior vice-president at Norse. Although conceding that his findings were not conclusive, Stammberger added: "Nobody has been able to find a credible connection to the North Korean government."

The firm’s evidence reportedly pointed to an employee who worked for Sony for several years before being forced out among a number of firings in May. She is said to be part of the hacker group named Guardians of Peace that probably mounted the attack.

“America was too quick to blame North Korea for the hack attack on Sony,”  wrote the conservative weekly The Economist Jan. 3. “It is sobering to think that the world’s greatest nuclear power and the trigger-happy regime in Pyongyang could be brought into confrontation by a motley array of mischief makers.”


Map of Iraq and Syria. Deep orange is controlled by the Islamic State. Credit Mike King/Institute for the Study of War

By Jack A. Smith, Editor

Militarily, the U.S. is entering 2015 with its hands full.

1.     The U.S. war in Afghanistan known as “Operation Enduring Freedom”  was supposed to have ended after 13 years on Dec. 31, 2014, but it’s still going on under a new name — Operation Resolute Support —and thousands of American troops are continuing in a combat role.

2.     The U.S. war against Iraq ended officially Dec. 31, 2011, but it has now metamorphosed into Washington’s air war against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. There are increasing hints U.S. ground troops may be sent in this year.  (3,000 American military advisers are already there and 1,500 allied troops are expected soon.)

3.     The U.S., British, French war against Libya ended with regime change in 2011, but this oil-rich country is now engaged in civil wars, and is evidently falling apart. In addition, the Islamic State has established a foothold in Libya. It is likely the U.S. covertly or openly will intervene to safeguard its interests.

4.     Washington has supported the regime-change war against Syria for three years, politically and financially. Allied Saudi Arabia and other powerful Sunni countries have paid for the jihadist fighters who lead the struggle. Now, the U.S. needs the Syrian government and opposition to help fight against IS, but the jihadists and their secular allies have joined forces to continue pummeling the Damascus regime. The U.S. has not physically entered the war yet, but key Democrats as well as Republicans have shown interest in doing so.

This accounting does not include President Barack Obama’s drone wars in Yemen, western Pakistan, Somalia or other countries, nor the provocative NATO expansion against Russia and the U.S. military buildup in East Asia against China.

All the wars against Muslim countries listed above have been launched since Sept. 11, 2001 — and each, so far,  has turned out to be either a humiliating failure, a stalemate or has resulted in an undesired conclusion. The war against the IS may not be decided for years and it seems doubtful it will end in a U.S. victory. Following is a look at these events as the new year begins:

1. The Afghanistan War Continues

The 13-year-old Afghanistan war has “ended” as a stalemate for the U.S., if not a defeat. Originally, the Pentagon was supposed to pull out of this terribly poor country entirely by the end of 2014. Several months ago an agreement was reached with newly elected President Ashraf Ghazi to permit some 11,000 American troops to remain until the end of 2015 in “non-combat roles.”

In November, responding to increased fighting by the Taliban, President Obama announced American soldiers would now serve mainly as a combat force augmented by U.S. air power, drones, the CIA and an unspecified number of contractors. It’s ludicrous to claim the war is over. Some 4,000 NATO troops will also remain in Afghanistan.

The conflict is becoming more intense. In 2014, according to the UN, 3,200 Afghan civilians were killed, as were more than 5,000 members of the Afghan security forces, the highest toll since 2001. The fighting is expected to increase considerably this year.

The U.S. had pressured former President Hamid Karzai to allow the troops to remain for 10 more years, but he wouldn’t even agree to one year. It is possible Washington will now work on Ghazi for permission to remain until 2024.

It was unnecessary, in the first place, to invade Afghanistan after al-Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. After all these years there is nothing to show for the war but deaths and destruction, aside from the mystical reincarnation of slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden into the Islamic State’s caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of Obama war number five.

Just before the October 2001 invasion, during a period of  intense national hyper-patriotism, a section of the U.S. left (including this newsletter) strongly opposed launching a war, calling instead for international police action to bring al-Qaeda and its followers to justice. The ANSWER coalition organized a “No War” rally in Washington that attracted 25,000 people just days before President George W. Bush ordered the Oct. 7 bombardment of Afghanistan that began the war. The great majority of Americans first backed the war but that changed in a few years. The national activist left continued its opposition to the Afghan adventure, but in less than two years it was also leading the growing mass opposition to the Bush Administration’s plans to attack Iraq.

Had Bush relied on police action instead of war he would have saved the lives of more than 2,500  U.S. soldiers, 3,248 U.S. contractors, 1,114 allied troops, over 13,000 Afghan military and police plus tens of thousands of civilian lives, and probably over a trillion U.S. dollars — so far. Afghanistan was a troubled country when the U.S. invaded. Now it is a wreck except in a niche agricultural category: it produces 90% of the world’s opium, right under Uncle Sam’s obviously knowing nose despite the fact that opium-derived heroin makes its way as an addictive drug into the thriving U.S. illegal market.

2. The Fiascos In Iraq

Soldiers of the Islamic State.
The U.S.-initiated Iraq War, which lasted from March 2003 until the end of 2011, resulted in a humiliating stalemate for the White House, covered up with Obama’s praise for the role of the U.S. military the day they pulled out. A huge antiwar movement developed in the U.S. and the world months before the invasion but did not prevent the warmongering Bush Administration from launching an illegal and unjust military escapade — with Democratic Party approval, of course.

The neoconservative coterie running the Bush White House actually believed it would not only be victorious in a matter of months but would also pave the way for successful invasions of Syria, Iran and possibly some other Middle Eastern countries. Their pre-war estimates of the cost of invading, defeating, and occupying Iraq were $50-$60 billion. In reality, it cost at least $4 trillion with some estimates 50% higher when all costs are counted, including decades of interest payments.

Compounding this fiasco is the current U.S. war against the Islamic State, a direct derivative of the Iraq war. It is too early to label this conflict a fiasco, but it could well qualify after Obama or his successor sends in the ground troops, which seems inevitable  in time. This is actually America’s third war of choice in Iraq in 24 years — 1990 (the Gulf War), followed by over 12 years of killer sanctions, followed by the 2003-11 conflict.

The U.S. "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad
 in March 2003 ultimately led to the Islamic State
In 2003, Iraq posed no threat to the U.S., had no role in 9/11 and did not harbor even one member of al-Qaeda in the country. But President Bush and his neocon handlers lied repeatedly to the American people about the “imminent danger” they faced from this small and distant country. The invasion and occupation cost the lives of 4,489 U.S. soldiers, 3,455 U.S. contractors, 318 allied troops, 12,096 Iraqi military and police. Up to one million Iraqis lost their lives and four million became internal and external refugees. The country is a shambles. Washington’s divide and conquer occupation strategy was a major factor in the subsequent escalation of the Sunni-Shi’ite religious sectarianism that abounds today.

Early last year, as a direct result of the U.S. stalemate in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (now the Islamic State) captured territory in both Syria and Iraq. This organization broke into the headlines last June when it captured the major Iraqi city of Mosul with a population of a million people. IS confiscated a huge supply of American military equipment and looted the city’s banks, becoming rich overnight. Suddenly the U.S. realized that the Iraq war hadn’t ended at all, especially when IS has continued to seize more land and towns.

Within a couple of months Washington organized a 60-state anti-IS alliance but in the absence of ground troops it may be a mile wide but it’s just an inch deep. None, led by the U.S., wanted to send troops. Obama is desperate for help on the ground from both the Syrian and Iranian governments — which he kept out of the alliance — but will not dare say so publicly.

So far the bulk of the Iraqi army has not played a major role. The U.S. foolishly dissolved the army it defeated in 2003 and decided in effect to build its own new Iraqi army at a cost to American taxpayers of $25 billion over the years in training and equipping. It turned out after the loss of Mosul that the new Iraqi officer corps and military bureaucracy was so extraordinarily corrupt that the army had to be retrained, a process still taking place, although a number of units are now in the field.

Iraqi children of the war zone.
Iraqi Shi’ite militias and Iranian officers and troops have helped hold the fort on the ground. The Iranians are fighting IS in Iraq, but on their own. Both Tehran and Washington have stated they are not working together — a politically necessary decision on both accounts. The New York Times reported Nov. 22 “even American officials acknowledge the decisive role of Iranian-backed militias, particularly in protecting Baghdad from an assault by the Islamic State.... Iran’s increasingly public military role has proved essential in repelling the advances of the Islamic State.”

According to news reports Dec. 9: “Secretary of State John Kerry today called for Congress to keep the door open for ground deployments of troops to fight the Islamic State in not only Iraq and Syria, but also elsewhere in the Middle East.” This report is ambiguous but Pentagon generals have been suggesting the need for U.S. “boots on the ground” in Iraq and Syria. A number of Republicans in Congress, led by Sen. John McCain, support sending U.S. ground troops to fight IS.

3. Libya Is Falling Apart

Over three years ago (as their sham part of the Arab Spring) the U.S. and its NATO partners, backed by reactionary Arab monarchies, decided to bring about violent regime change in oil-rich Libya to establish a government that would far better serve the interests of Western imperialism. Their alleged justification was to rid the country of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, whom they termed a vicious dictator.

In reality, as Patrick Cockburn wrote in the Independent (UK) in March: “The NATO powers that overthrew Gaddafi did not do so because he was a tyrannical ruler, but because he pursued a nationalist policy which was at odds with Western policies in the Middle East.”

Recent IS convoy in Libya.
The U.S., UK and France — each of which repeatedly bombed and strafed the Libyan government and military on behalf of rebel forces supposedly seeking democracy — bragged about bringing “freedom” to the Libyan people when the regime fell and Gaddafi was tortured to death by a mob. What they actually delivered to Libya was the chaos of ethnic warlords, jihadists and racketeers. Libya has been without a functioning government, police force, or army since the Gaddafi regime fell.

The catastrophe resulting from Washington’s war for regime change was made clear in this Dec. 3 report from the BBC:

“Islamic State militants have set up training camps in eastern Libya, the head of the U.S. Africa command says. Gen David Rodriguez said there could be ‘a couple of hundred’ IS fighters undergoing training at the sites. He said the camps were at a very early stage, but the U.S. was watching them "carefully to see how it develops.

“Libya has been in turmoil since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, with various tribes, militia and political factions fighting for power. Several Islamist groups are competing for power in the east of the country, with some militants recently declaring allegiance to IS.... In the aftermath of the revolution that ousted Gaddafi, many rebel fighters left to fight with militant groups in Syria, and some are believed to have returned home.

“The elected government has lost Libya's three main cities amid the political crisis. Benghazi, the country's second city, is in the hands of Islamist fighters, and the internationally recognized parliament is now based in the coastal town of Tobruk in the east.”

Writing Nov. 2 in the Independent, under the headline “The West is silent as Libya falls into the abyss,” Cockburn noted:

“Without the rest of the world paying much attention, a civil war has been raging in western Libya since July 13 between the Libya Dawn coalition of militias, originally based in Misrata, and another militia group centered on Zintan. A largely separate civil war between the forces of retired Gen. Khalifa Haftar and the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries is being fought out in the city. Government has collapsed. Amnesty says that torture has become commonplace with victims being ‘beaten with plastic tubes, sticks, metal bars or cables, given electric shocks, suspended in stress positions for hours, kept blindfolded and shackled for days.’”

Reuters reported Dec. 10: “Almost 50 people have been killed in the past 10 days in fighting between Libyan pro-government forces and Islamist groups in the second-largest city, Benghazi. That brings the death toll to around 450 since army special forces and troops led by Haftar launched an offensive against Islamists in Benghazi.”

There was a seeming incongruity to the strenuous U.S./NATO effort to bring about regime change in Libya. To quote from Wikipedia:

U.S: Always so well intentioned.
Bombs away!
“From 1999 Gaddafi encouraged economic privatization and sought rapprochement with Western nations, also embracing Pan-Africanism and helping to establish the African Union. In December 2003, Libya renounced its possession of weapons of mass destruction, decommissioning its chemical and nuclear weapons programs. Relations with the U.S. improved as a result while UK Prime Minister Tony Blair met with Gaddafi in the Libyan Desert in March 2004. The following month, Gaddafi travelled to the headquarters of the European Union (EU) in Brussels, signifying improved relations between Libya and the EU, the latter ending its remaining sanctions in October.”

Nothing seems to have changed between Washington and Tripoli from that time to 2011 when the U.S. and its partners began bombing Libya to assist the faltering rebel factions who were running out of steam. President Obama, convinced that the new regime would quickly subordinate itself to Washington, suggested that democracy would flourish in the country as soon as the rebels took over. It was one more gross miscalculation.

The U.S. obviously must regret the outcome of its regime-change fiasco and will have little choice but to intervene in one way or another if matters are not resolved to its satisfaction.

4.  Syrian Regime Still Struggles To Survive:

Syrian loyalist  soldiers hold their weapons as they walk in the Handarat area, north of Aleppo, after saying they have regained control of the area, Oct. 4, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/George Ourfalian)
President Obama has been calling for the overthrow of the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad for over three years — another duplicitous attempt to demonstrate Washington’s backing for the Arab Spring when it was fashionable to do so in 2011. In this case, as in others, Obama sought regime change in the guise of democracy to bring about a government considerably more willing to satisfy U.S. regional interests than Assad, a strong ally of America’s two perceived opponents — Iran and Russia.

America’s interest in Syria is geopolitical — maintaining control of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Turkey and other regional Sunni states seek to weaken Shi’ite influence and neutralize Iran by getting rid of Assad’s Alawite regime (a branch of Shia theology).Most of the rebels seek to replace him with a Sunni-led government as religiously fundamentalist as they could get away with in a non-sectarian society where at minimum 35%  were non-Sunni Muslims and Christians.

In the last two years and some months, various jihadist forces took over the bulk of fighting, but the White House still demanded the ouster of Assad. By doing so Obama conveyed the impression Washington supported the jihadist-led rebel campaign. Evident U.S. backing for the civil war further encouraged Saudi Arabia and Turkey, among others, to increase their political and material support for rebel jihadist fundamentalists.

Though somewhat  muted today since going to war with IS last summer, the White House officially remains desirous of ousting Assad, despite the fact that the formidable Islamic State is the leading force in the anti-Assad rebellion as well as fighting to win power in neighboring Iraq. Now that it is preoccupied in a war with the Islamic State, Washington may have postponed the matter of Assad’s overthrow until subduing the religio-fascist IS, a far more formidable antagonist.

The rebel-launched civil war against the Assad government has taken a terrible toll in lives and infrastructure. It is estimated that some 200,000 people have been killed so far. A great many have been civilians. The U.S. government and news media consistently imply that nearly all the deaths are of civilians killed by the Assad regime, which is untrue. Combatants constitute the majority of the deaths.

Syrian refuge children. Two of many  thousands.
Last year marked the highest number of deaths since the war began in March 2011. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 17,790 civilians, including 3,501 children, were killed in 2014. Jihadi and other rebel deaths totaled 32,000 last year, including troops from the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. The number of Syrian soldiers and members of pro-government militias who were killed in the last 12 months amounted to 22,627.

Obama should have ended his ill-advised anti-Assad regime change campaign in Syria as soon as it became obvious two years ago that dozens of big and small jihadi groups had taken over most of the fighting against the regime in Damascus. During these two years IS has become strong enough to control about one third of the territory of both Syria and neighboring Iraq.

In addition to continuing Islamic State attacks on Syrian government installations and territory, various other jihadist groups are continuing the fight to overthrow the Assad regime, even though the U.S. has appealed for them to temporarily postpone the war on Damascus and join the anti-IS fight. Last week Stratfor reported al-Qaeda’s “Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies in Ahrar al-Sham pose one of the biggest threats to loyalist forces.... Al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters have made their way to long-contested Daraa province, where they have maintained relatively friendly ties with operatives of the (U.S.-backed) Free Syrian Army. Together these forces have scored significant battlefield victories, claiming more than 80% of Quneitra province from loyalists.”

What Now?

The years have shown that Obama is a war president and (once again) the Democrats are a war party, not exactly as wretched as the Republican war party but bad enough. Both support a militarist and imperialist foreign policy intended to insure continued American world domination.

There is not even a small hint that the U.S. government intends to modify its war-making ways in 2015 or thereafter. Now that the right wing is about to control both houses of Congress this situation may well worsen. And the 2016 presidential election probably will be worse still with two warhawks competing for the White House.

In the absence of a large, viable progressive third party to fight against the war parties, it is up to the left and progressive movements and NGOs to step up their peace and justice activities.

Where is the U.S. antiwar movement in all of this? It certainly exists in the ANSWER coalition that protested against the new Iraq war and a few months ago organized a score of demonstrations across the U.S. in opposition to war in Gaza that brought out tens of thousands of people. There are a few other national groups, largely of the left, such as World Can’t Wait, and a couple of groups that essentially live online and call occasional conferences. These organizations have opposed all the U.S. wars mentioned in this article — but there’s a problem:

The peace movement was massive during the eight-year Republican Bush Administration, and most of the rank and file were Democrats, even if the national leaderships were frequently aligned with the political left. Tragically, the antiwar movements began to decline markedly when Obama won the November 2008 presidential election and the peace forces virtually collapsed during the first months after he took office.

The Democratic base of the movement stopped attending peace rallies, even though many Democrats retained antiwar sentiments and public opinion turned against the wars. They didn’t want to take public action against a Democratic president, even as he not only continued but expanded Bush’s wars. It is to be hoped that peace Democrats have learned a lesson after these years of war under Obama.

It is certainly time for a revival of the mass antiwar movements. The two establishment parties are pro-war. Unless these movements get big enough to produce a multitude of truly mass protests and other actions including civil disobedience, the Washington warmakers will simply continue going from war to war.


"We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office" - Aesop

By Kenneth P. Vogal, POLITICO Dec. 29, 2014

The 100 biggest campaign donors gave $323 million in 2014 — almost as much as the $356 million given by the estimated 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less, a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance filings found.

And the balance almost certainly would tip far in favor of the mega-donors were the analysis to include nonprofit groups that spent at least $219 million — and likely much more — but aren’t required to reveal their donors’ identities.

[Not included are contributions from labor unions and most corporations, state-level campaigns and political committees, nor, importantly, does it include an increasingly significant subset of national political groups registered under a section of the Tax Code — 501(c) — that doesn’t require them to disclose their donors.]

The numbers — gleaned from reports filed with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service — paint the most comprehensive picture to date of an electoral landscape in which the financial balance has tilted dramatically to the ultra-rich. They have taken advantage of a spate of recent federal court rulings, regulatory decisions and feeble or bumbling oversight to spend ever-greater sums in politics — sometimes raising questions about whether their bounty is being well spent.

Yet their expanded giving power in 2014 was all the more stark, coming against a backdrop of what appears to be a surprising decline in the number of regular Americans contributing to campaigns, as well as a shift in political power and money to outside groups unburdened by the contribution restrictions handcuffing the political parties and their candidates.

Taken together, the trend lines reflect a new political reality in which a handful of super affluent partisans can exert more sway over the campaign landscape than millions of donors of more average means. And that’s to say nothing of the overwhelming majority of voters who never spend so much as a single dime on politics. (The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that only 0.28 percent of American adults donate to campaigns.)

The widening imbalance revealed by POLITICO’s analysis illustrates “the insanity of this system” and is further discouragement to would-be small donors, asserted Larry Lessig, a Harvard professor who this year helped launch a self-described “crowdfunded” super PAC. Called Mayday PAC, it spent $10.6 million from a mix of micro- and mega-donors on a quixotic crusade to elect congressional candidates who it hoped would support policies that empower mom and pop contributors.

“As you see that your democracy is controlled by a smaller and smaller number of funders, you have less and less interest to be engaged in it,” said Lessig.

Yet the power of the ultra-rich was also ironically highlighted by Mayday’s own fundraising. It yielded a total of $3 million from just seven donors, most of whom made POLITICO’s top 100 list — LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman (who ranked No. 64, gave $1 million to Mayday and another $60,000 to various Democratic and liberal committees), Napster co-founder Sean Parker (No. 43; $500,000 to Mayday and $1.1 million to a mix of liberal and conservative committees), Boston investor Vin Ryan (No. 70; $500,000 to Mayday and $400,000 to liberal candidates and groups), billionaire heiress Pat Stryker (No. 52; $300,000 to Mayday and $1 million to liberals) and retired shoe executive Arnold Hiatt (No. 98; $250,000 to Mayday and $500,000 to liberals).

In the end, Mayday PAC suffered embarrassing disappointment in 2014, winning only two out of eight races in which it played. “Obviously, 2014 makes it hard to be optimistic about it in any immediate term,” Lessig said, “but the democracy fails unless we change this system, so I am confident that eventually we’ll figure out how to make this change happen.”

Top conservative donors and their representatives dismissed liberal concerns about the expansion of big money in politics as hypocritical and lacking in context. More than twice as much money was spent on Halloween this year — $7.4 billion — as on federal elections — $3.67 billion — one donor representative pointed out.



Chimpanzee (left) and orangutan. Less conforming?
By the Association for Psychological Science, 10-30-14

From the playground to the board room, people often follow, or conform, to the behavior of those around them as a way of fitting in. New research shows that this behavioral conformity appears early in human children, but isn't evidenced by apes like chimpanzees and orangutans, the closest living relatives to humans.

"Conformity is a very basic feature of human sociality. It retains in-and out-groups, it helps groups coordinate and it stabilizes cultural diversity, one of the hallmark characteristics of the human species," says psychological scientist and lead researcher Daniel Haun of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of Jena (both in Germany).

"This does not mean that conforming is the right thing to do under all circumstances -- conformity can be good or bad, helpful or unhelpful, appropriate or inappropriate both for individuals and the groups they live in. But the fact is that we conform often and that human sociality would look very differently without it," Haun explains. "Our research shows that children as young as 2 years of age conform to others, while chimpanzees and orangutans instead prefer to stick with what they know."

The research, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, is novel in that it provides a direct comparison between apes and humans indicating that the tendency to abandon one's own preferences just in to fit in appears to be particularly pronounced in humans.
In previous research, Haun and colleagues had found that both human children and chimpanzees rely on the majority opinion when they are trying to learn something new, which makes sense if the group has knowledge that the individual doesn't. But other research has shown that human adults sometimes follow the majority even when they already have the relevant knowledge, just so that they don't stand out from the group.

To find out whether very young children and apes would also show this so-called "normative" conformity, Haun and co-authors Michael Tomasello and Yvonne Rekers presented 18 2-year-old children, 12 chimpanzees, and 12 orangutans with a similar reward-based task.

Each participant was shown a box that contained three separate sections, each of which had a hole in the top. By interacting with the box, the participants learned that although the ball could be dropped in any of the three sections, only one of the sections would deliver a treat (peanuts for the apes and chocolate drops for the children).

After familiarizing themselves with the box, the participants then watched while three familiar peers, who had been trained to all strongly prefer the same colored section of the box (different from the participants' preference), deposited their balls.

The tables then turned and the participant had to decide which section to drop his or her own balls into as his or her peers looked on.

The results revealed that children were more likely to adjust their behavior to match that of their peers than were the apes. Whereas the human children conformed more than half of the time, the apes and orangutans almost always ignored their peers, opting instead to stick with the original strategy they had learned.
A second study with a group of 72 2-year-olds showed that children tended to switch their choice more when they made the choice in front of their peers than when they made the choice privately.

Interestingly, the number of peers didn't seem to make a difference in whether children conformed -- children were equally likely to switch their choice whether it was demonstrated by one peer or by three peers.

The clear pattern of conformity among the toddlers suggests that the motivation to fit in emerges very early in humans.

"We were surprised that children as young as 2 years of age would already change their behavior just to avoid the relative disadvantage of being different," says Haun.

The researchers are currently investigating whether environmental factors, such as institutionalized schooling and different child-rearing practices, impact children's tendency to conform.

By Deirdre Fulton, Commondreams, 12-29-14

Pope Francis will take on global warming in 2015, with a lengthy speech on human ecology and climate change to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, an address to the United Nations general assembly, and a summit of the world’s main religions, according to the Observer (UK).

The paper reported Dec. 28: “The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

"Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions," Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. "The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.

[Recent U.S. polling by the Public Religion Research Institute and the American Academy of Religion suggests that most of the nation’s 75 million Catholics seem to agree with the pope that climate change poses a serious threat. “Nearly three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics surveyed agree that climate change constitutes a crisis or a major problem. The same is true for 53% of white Catholic respondents. Of the groups surveyed, Jews are the most concerned about climate change, with nearly 80% calling it a crisis or major problem. On the other end of the spectrum, 54% of white evangelicals see climate change as only a minor problem, or not a problem at all.”

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will issue an “encyclical” on the subject of climate change, urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds. The document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.”

While it remains to be seen exactly how he'll frame his argument, the pope has given some indication of his stance on climate change and how it intersects with other issues of the day.

In October, the pope told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: "The monopolizing of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness."

Earlier this month, in a message to Peru’s environment minster Manuel Pulgar Vidal, who led the climate discussions in Lima, Francis said addressing climate change is a "grave ethical and moral responsibility" and warned that "the time to find global solutions is running out."


By Paul Buchheit

As schools and local governments are going broke around the country, companies who built their businesses with American research and education and technology and infrastructure are paying less in taxes than ever before. Incredibly, over half of U.S. corporate foreign profits are now being held in tax havens, double the share of just 20 years ago. Corporations are stealing from the nation that made them rich.

There are many examples of greed among individual firms, based largely on 2014 SEC documents submitted by the companies themselves:

• Exxon has almost 80% of its productive oil and gas wells in the U.S. but declared only 17% of its income here. The company used a theoretical tax to account for 83% of last year's income tax bill, and paid less than 2% of its total income in current U.S. taxes.

• Chevron has about 75% of its oil and gas wells and almost 90% of its pipeline mileage in the United States, yet the company claimed only 13% of last year's income in the U.S., and paid almost nothing (less than a tenth of a percent. in current U.S. taxes.

• Pfizer had 40% of last year's sales in the U.S., but claimed losses in the U.S. and $17 billion in profits overseas.

• Bank of America, despite making 84% of its 2011-2013 revenue in the U.S., declared just 31% of its profits in the United States.

• Citigroup had 43% of its 2011-2013 revenue in North America but declared less than 3% of its profits in the United States.

• Apple still does most of its product and research development in the United States. Yet the company moved $30 billion in profits to an Irish subsidiary with no employees, with loopholes in place to avoid establishing residency in any country. The subsidiary files no returns and pays no taxes. Apple CEO Tim Cook said, "We pay all the taxes we owe."

• Google's business is based on the Internet, the Digital Library Initiative, and the geographical database of the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet the company has gained recognition as one of the world's biggest tax avoiders.

—Excerpted from ICH, Dec. 19. Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University.


Xi Jinping presides at Communist Party’s Fourth Plenum in late October.
By Iain Mills, Nov. 26, 2014

Since coming to power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has exhibited a more forceful and direct style of governance than his predecessor. That has included an unprecedented domestic anti-corruption campaign, a renewed push at corporate sector reform and a more strident posture in many aspects of foreign policy. Some foreign commentators have interpreted these moves as an attempt to recentralize political power and even re-establish the “cult of personality” around political leaders that prevailed in China for much of the 20th century.

An alternative interpretation is that Xi’s government has acknowledged fundamental problems within the Chinese political economy and is taking meaningful steps to address them. The system of collective rule that has emerged in China since 1978 had become corrupted. There has been a realization in Beijing that more intelligent and transparent governing structures are required to facilitate China’s continued socio-economic development.

Rather than articulating a new brand of triumphalism, China’s Communist Party is in fact engaged in a period of introspection and self-correction. The government seems less focused on propaganda-driven “pomp and ceremony” and more determined to address underlying structural issues. The Fourth Plenum in late October in Beijing, for instance, was the most low-key of such events in recent memory. Moreover, Xi may be centralizing political power, but he is simultaneously devolving many of the functions of power, be it to the market, regional governments or indeed to Chinese citizens.

[On a related matter, the Wall Street Journal commented Oct. 20: “Barely a week after the Communist Party surprised many in Beijing by resurrecting a debate from the 1970s about the usefulness of ‘class struggle’ to contemporary China, President Xi recently dipped even further back into the annals of party rhetoric by advocating ideas about art and literature reminiscent of those Mao Zedong first put forward in the 1940s. The exhumation of these ideological corpses from the Communist Party’s past, coming just ahead of a plenary meeting of the party’s top leadership in Beijing to discuss the role of law, should serve to dampen any lingering expectations for political liberalization in the short-term for China."]

With hindsight, it’s clear that the previous administration of Hu Jintao was deficient in its capacity to transmit and implement policies throughout the political economy. A weak central leadership struggled to impose its will on local elites and vested corporate interests. China’s headline economic growth remained impressive, but at the expense of broader social development. Issues such as regulatory neglect, graft, localism and bureaucratic complexity became increasingly chronic, damaging policy outcomes.

A poster of Chairman Mao Zedong during the Cultural
 Revolution. Three years after he died in 1976 his successors
began to introduce capitalist economics into the system.
In most Western countries, the conventional wisdom holds that only independent oversight can keep political power in check. But Chinese political thinkers still promote the capacity for self-inspection and self-correction. In the context of the modern one-party state, however, the boundaries between power and how power actually functions had become too blurred. Arguably, Xi’s most fundamental change has been to begin unraveling this knot, by recentralizing political power under the presidency while devolving many of the day-to-day functions of power to other agencies.

Viewing Xi’s maneuvers this way may perhaps seem naive. Undeniably, previous anti-corruption campaigns under his predecessors have done little to address the root causes of the problem, with state-owned enterprises emerging unscathed and retaining their monopoly privileges, and systemic improvement in the structures of governance remaining scant. It is also true that the reform momentum appears to have faded in recent months. This soft-pedaling is partly because the tough decisions are getting closer and partly because the agencies that form government policy are now focused on drawing up the 13th Five-Year Plan rather than pushing through any marquee measures in the next 18 months.

There are, however, reasons to believe Xi’s pledge to clean up corruption and reform governance is indeed different. Enforcement of low-level regulations has improved remarkably over the past 18 months. The new government is feeling its way ever further toward real market-based reform. The anti-corruption drive has been relentless, reaching into senior political organizations and patronage systems and even the People’s Liberation Army. Xi’s actions seem less influenced by political allegiances than previous campaigns. Most encouragingly, tentative steps have been taken to increase transparency in the judicial system, while key civil issues such as illegal land transfers, petty rent-seeking by low-ranking officials and state-owned corporate malfeasance have all been significantly reduced.

Another topic of some debate is the evolution of Xi’s public persona as framed both for a domestic and an international audience. Xi’s style is clearly more high-profile than that of his predecessor, Hu. Coupled with his familial background and more populist approach, Xi has been able to engender broad-based support from organs of the state and Chinese citizens—a status that ultimately empowers him to face down vested interest groups that have been able to disrupt previous reform drives. While this has attracted suspicions of the return of the “cult of personality,” in reality Xi’s public relations efforts are not radically different from those pursued by politicians the world over.

Despite this more approachable domestic persona, internationally China’s posture has become notably more robust, particularly with regard to regional territorial issues. Arguably, this was in itself a strategy to cement domestic legitimacy. Beijing’s muscle flexing, especially in the South China Sea, has sent a clear message to other Asian nations, but it is as yet unclear if there has been any strategic gain from this more assertive stance.

Similarly, it is too early to infer whether the “softening” at last month’s APEC summit in Beijing and subsequent G-20 meeting in Brisbane, Australia—including stabilizing relations with Japan, concluding free trade agreements with South Korea and Australia and announcing a landmark agreement with the United States on emission reductions—is really a strategic pivot or just a temporary hiatus in the confrontational narrative of recent months. Ultimately, although China’s political system may be maturing domestically, it seems Beijing is still struggling to strike the right tone in terms of international relations. While state media seems keen to portray Xi as an authoritative but accessible statesman, the most notable feature of his foreign policy in the past two years has been the wholesale deterioration of relations with the rest of East Asia, set against a considerable warming of relations with Russia.

A sympathetic analysis is that Xi is, in a Chinese context, a uniquely modern politician with the political clout and acumen to address critical issues that had coalesced in recent years into a major challenge to the Communist Party’s legitimacy. Far from a new era of triumphalism, Xi is overseeing a top-to-bottom cleansing of the political class and the opaque structures of governance that had given them protection. There is a broad-based recognition among policymakers in Beijing that things have to change domestically. Whether that will also translate into a new approach to foreign policy remains to be seen.

— From World Politics Review, Nov. 24. Iain Mills is an independent China analyst specializing in  energy and commodity markets, financial market development, political evolution and rise in Asia.

By Animal Equality

Over 56 billion farmed animals are killed every year by humans. More than 3,000 animals die every second in slaughterhouses around the world. These shocking figures do not even include fish and other sea creatures whose deaths are so great they are only measured in tons.

Animals are not simply food products, but thinking, feeling individuals who want to enjoy their lives. An animal's life is as important and irreplaceable to them, as ours is to us. But as children we are conditioned to view cows, pigs, chickens, sheep and fish as inferior beings whose reason for existence is to provide us with meat, milk and eggs. This way of seeing other species is known as speciesism — the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals, including brutal violence and continual mass slaughter.

It's time for us to change the way we see the other animals with which we share the planet. We need to stop thinking of them as just resources, and to start viewing them for who they are: individual sentient beings whose lives deserve to be respected and valued.

Studies show that animals, too, experience emotions and sensations that humans do such as anxiety, pleasure, intense pain, fear of dying or boredom and these feelings matter to them just as much as ours do to us. Despite this, other sentient beings are confined and killed for food, their bodies are used in experiments, their skins for clothing, their appearance or behavior for entertainment. Our desire to use them for our benefit is considered more important than their right to their own bodies, and unable to defend themselves, they suffer and die in their billions.


NATO  in Ukraine would  pry open the traditional invasion route to Russia through the  North European Plain since the  days of the Teutonic Knights to World War II. This is Moscow's fear.

[Former Indian diplomat and current international news analyst M. K. Bhadrakumar wrote three articles in late December on Russia on the website Indian Punchline — Russia and NATO, Russia and Obama, and Russia-China relations. We reprint all of part 1, most of 2 and an excerpt from 3, all in one article.] 

By M. K. Bhadrakumar – Dec. 27, 2014

A crisp two-line announcement by the Kremlin on Dec. 26 may have punctuated the run of the quarter-century old post-Cold War era in world politics. It merely said that President Vladimir Putin has approved certain changes (“clarification”) to the Russian Military Doctrine.

Russia’s Security Council has separately amplified that the updates pertained to several developments in the recent period. But, principally, it appears that the revised version highlights the expansion of NATO’s military capabilities as one of the main threats to Russia’s national security.

It flagged that NATO is actively moving toward unfolding a global antiballistic missile system, increasing its military potential, violating norms of international law by arrogating to itself global functions, and deploying its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s border, including through the expansion of the alliance. The thrust of the revised document is on the NATO’s expansion towards Russia’s borders. Once bitten twice shy, as they say. Russia is not leaving anything to chance, given the likelihood that the U.S. is pushing for Ukraine’s membership of the alliance.

Moscow would have reason to suspect the motivations behind the move by the Ukrainian government, which is stacked with pro-US figures (including a finance minister who used to be a former state department official), to pass a resolution annulling the country’s ‘non-aligned’ status. Moscow’s reaction was immediate and strong, warning that Ukraine’s NATO membership would “affect Russia’s national security interests and compel our country to retaliate appropriately.”

U.S. soldier trains Ukrainian military personnel.
In sum, faced with the all-round faceoff with the West, Russia is sharpening its deterrent capabilities and accelerating the modernization of its military. Seventy percent of equipment used by the Russian armed forces and sixty-five percent of its strategic nuclear weapons are to be modernized by 2020 at a cost of nearly $400 billion.

Russia’s characterization of NATO as a threat to its security has profound implications. In the mid-1990s, when Yeltsin’s Russia was ‘persuaded’ to acquiesce with the NATO expansion into Central Europe (violating the assurances given to Mikhail Gorbachev while agreeing to the re-unification of Germany), the sop offered by Bill Clinton (and Strobe Talbott) was that Russia and NATO would independently build the sinews of a cooperative relationship. That has now become history.

Clearly, Russia will not acquiesce any further with NATO expansion. A flashpoint will arise if the NATO moved into Ukraine, which seems likely. Russia is forcing Europe to make a choice: Does it want to tag along with the U.S. agenda on NATO expansion (and provoke Russian retaliation) or cry halt to any further expansion? The Russian decision to formally view NATO as an adversary fundamentally changes the security climate in Europe.

Presumably, Russia has reached the conclusion that the U.S. simply will not allow a resolution of the Ukraine crisis and the pro-American government led by President Petro Poroshenko follows the American script, recent positive trends notwithstanding.

There is a high probability that Russia is possessing incriminating evidence that implicates the US and Ukraine in the shooting down of the Malaysian aircraft MH17 in July. (See my earlier blog Who shot down MH17 in Ukraine?). Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov may be already slowly and steadily tightening the screws on Washington and Kiev. In an interview with Russian state television on Thursday, Lavrov virtually taunted that US and Ukraine have to answer some tricky questions:

“We still have no replies to the questions: Where are the data from the U.S. satellites that monitored the area on that day? Where are the data from US planes that were flying over that area? Where are the testimonies by Dnipropetrovsk air traffic controllers who were responsible for keeping track of flights in that part of Ukraine’s airspace? We have long requested a logbook of all sorties Ukrainian combat planes based on that area flew on that day… We only hear accusations that Russia is to blame for everything, that the militias are to blame for everything, and that our questions are being asked for the sole purpose of misleading the investigation… It is impossible to pretend ignorant on and on when very specific questions are asked again and again. We have opened a criminal case. It will be impossible to ignore this process. The questions will have to be answered.”

For sure, the New Year is set to begin on an acrimonious chapter in the Russian-American relationship. The indications are piling that taking stock of the ‘big picture’ that the U.S. is across the board challenging Russia’s core interests and vital concerns, Moscow is taking the gloves off instead of remaining on a defensive mode as it has been so far. The Xinhua news agency in a Moscow datelined report quoted Russian experts who “believe that further sanctions are likely to be imposed by the West against Russia, while indirect military confrontations are also possible, especially on Ukrainian territories, between Russia and NATO troops.”

On Dec. 26, correspondent Bhadrakumar wrote in an article titled Obama’s Russia Fiasco:

The Cold-War style propaganda against Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Western media may have peaked. So much garbage has been thrown at the Russian leader that the inventory must be getting depleted. But amidst all the mudslinging, Putin himself remains nonchalant, again belying the character sketches of him that he can’t take criticism. Apparently he can.

Besides, Putin’s popularity within Russia itself is soaring above 80% currently. It is doubtful if any world leader can match Putin’s popularity today. And that also probably explains Putin’s indifference to the western media attacks on him. As he told an interviewer once, he was elected, after all, to serve his country and not for being ‘nice’ to Barack Obama.

An American poll conducted by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago has come up with some stunning results:

“Putin is extremely popular among the Russian people, enjoying an approval rating of 81%.... Economic woes are top of mind among the Russian people and they agree western sanctions are hurting the economy, but they do not yet feel a negative impact on their pocketbooks.... Most Russians feel their country is headed in the right direction and are optimistic about their own personal finances in the coming years.... Two thirds of Russians favor supporting the separatist movement in Ukraine.”

.... How should Obama view the startling results of the AP-NORC poll? Evidently, the poll shows that his Russia policy is in a shambles. If the hope was that under the weight of sanctions, Russian economy will pack up and popular disaffection with Putin will cascade and that in turn will be the end of the Russian leader’s political life, well, things are going haywire.

Objectively speaking, the Russian people are pretty much pleased with Putin’s policies. And Obama’s calculation that he is cleverly separating the Russian leader from his people has gone horribly wrong. Putin is actually enjoying a popularity, which is more than double that of Obama’s. Self-styled Russian hands in the US were forecasting cracks in the Russian system. But nothing of the sort happened.

What Obama overlooks is that the Russian people are very different from the average American who is gullible about what goes on in the world outside. The Russian people are literate and politically conscious –  thanks to the Soviet legacy – and they do understand what the U.S. “containment strategy” toward Russia or NATO’s expansion is all about. They understand that Ukraine crisis is an existential struggle for strategic balance with America. So, they want Putin to stay on course.

Putin intends to exploit his popularity to implement something that seems close to his heart, namely, a restructuring of the Russian economy and cutting down its heavy dependence on oil income. It’s a long haul, but reform is in the air. Putin’s address to the council of ministers in the Kremlin on Thursday leaves one in no doubt that Russia is digging in. True, Russian economy is in difficulty, but aside the propagandists in the West presenting apocalyptic visions, no one seriously expects the Russian economy to come down on its knees.

All in all, Obama faces a formidable intellectual challenge here. Does he press ahead with more of the same mindless bluster passing off as Russia policy in the next year too? If that is the case, what is it that he hopes to achieve? By now it is widely accepted by American pundits that Putin doesn’t blink. What does that belated realization mean?

It can only mean that this confrontation, unless ended now, could be about to enter a dangerous escalatory spiral. The dynamic at play is unmistakable. And yet, Obama just signed the bill empowering him to impose further sanctions on Russia and, worse still, to give Ukraine $350 million worth of arms. Putin – and the Russian people – only feel convinced more than ever before that what Obama aims at is a regime change in Russia.

But regime change is, clearly, not something the Russian people want – according to the AP-NORC poll.

On Dec. 22, correspondent Bhadrakumar wrote an article titled Russia, China — Neither Allies nor Rivals. Here is an excerpt:

Presidents Xi and Putin: "Neither allies nor rivals?"
There have been some wild theses lately, including among the Indian pundits and think tankers, that consequent upon Russia’s tensions with the West, Moscow has “pivoted” to China in strategic terms and a Sino-Russian axis is steadily taking shape in world politics and that these two "Eastern" powers are all set to challenge the United States.

Some speculators even went to the extent of fancying that the fate of the American dollar is sealed and it is a matter of months before the Bretton Woods system comes crashing down.

This was of course fantasyland and anyone who has followed the trajectory of Russian-Chinese relations through the past decades would know that there are far too many complexities (and contradictions) involved in this relationship and it can never be the case that they would simply decide one day to embrace each other and become allies.

Paradoxically, the U.S strategy toward Russia and China is itself predicated on the virtual certainty that the latter two can never form an axis in the international system.

Of course, it is in the interests of fostering the tendencies of “polycentrism” in world politics that Russia and China should walk shoulder to shoulder. But then, such a thought will forever remain in the domain of wishful thinking or a pipedream.

China is far too self-centered and “pragmatic” a power to think of joining alliances, and as for Russia, it is fiercely independent in foreign policies and intensely conscious of its proud history. It can never be a junior partner to another power....

President Vladimir Putin asserted only a few weeks ago in his address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow that Russia will never allow itself to be an inferior military power vis-a-vis any country. Which was as much a reference to China as it was to the United States....

Putin made it absolutely clear during his [three-hour annual press annual press conference in Moscow Dec. 18] that Russia intends to tighten its belts and pull through on its own steam through the coming one-year period ahead until the growth of the world economy picks up and in the meanwhile Russia proposes to undertake a much-needed structural reform in terms of reducing the dependence on oil income.

Putin also rebutted the West’s propagandistic reports on the Russian economy. He explained the comfortable position with regard to foreign exchange reserves and stressed that there is going to be no rollback in social sectors or defense expenditure.

With regard to China, he showed no signs of any intention on Moscow’s part to take help from China or even to contemplate such dependence on China....


[The police have a variety of responsibilities, some positive, some negative. This article sheds light on the basic social function of the police in the United States and explains why it is that the poor and African Americans are so frequently their targets. The writer is an Associate Professor of History at the College of DuPage. He authored the book, “The Rise of the Chicago Police Department: Class and Conflict, 1850-1894,” University of Illinois Press.]

By Sam Mitrani

In most of the liberal discussions of the recent police killings of unarmed black men, there is an underlying assumption that the police are supposed to protect and serve the population. That is, after all, what they were created to do. If only the normal, decent relations between the police and the community could be re-established, this problem could be resolved.

Poor people in general are more likely to be the victims of crime than anyone else, this reasoning goes, and in that way, they are in more need than anyone else of police protection. Maybe there are a few bad apples, but if only the police weren’t so racist, or didn’t carry out policies like stop-and-frisk, or weren’t so afraid of black people, or shot fewer unarmed men, they could function as a useful service that we all need.

This liberal way of viewing the problem rests on a misunderstanding of the origins of the police and what they were created to do. The police were not created to protect and serve the population. They were not created to stop crime, at least not as most people understand it. And they were certainly not created to promote justice. They were created to protect the new form of wage-labor capitalism that emerged in the mid to late nineteenth century from the threat posed by that system’s offspring, the working class.

This is a blunt way of stating a nuanced truth, but sometimes nuance just serves to obfuscate.

The badge of the slave patrol.
Before the nineteenth century, there were no police forces that we would recognize as such anywhere in the world. In the Northern United States, there was a system of elected constables and sheriffs, much more responsible to the population in a very direct way than the police are today. In the South, the closest thing to a police force was the slave patrols. Then, as Northern cities grew and filled with mostly immigrant wage workers who were physically and socially separated from the ruling class, the wealthy elite who ran the various municipal governments hired hundreds and then thousands of armed men to impose order on the new working class neighborhoods.

Class conflict roiled late nineteenth century American cities like Chicago, which experienced major strikes and riots in 1867, 1877, 1886, and 1894. In each of these upheavals, the police attacked strikers with extreme violence, even if in 1877 and 1894 the U.S. Army played a bigger role in ultimately repressing the working class. In the aftermath of these movements, the police increasingly presented themselves as a thin blue line protecting civilization, by which they meant bourgeois civilization, from the disorder of the working class. This ideology of order that developed in the late nineteenth century echoes down to today – except that today, poor black and Latino people are the main threat, rather than immigrant workers.

Of course, the ruling class did not get everything it wanted, and had to yield on many points to the immigrant workers it sought to control. This is why, for instance, municipal governments backed away from trying to stop Sunday drinking, and why they hired so many immigrant police officers, especially the Irish. But despite these concessions, businessmen organized to make sure the police were increasingly isolated from democratic control, and established their own hierarchies, systems of governance, and rules of behavior.

Today's militarized police seem ready for war, not merely defending domestic peace.
The police increasingly set themselves off from the population by donning uniforms, establishing their own rules for hiring, promotion, and firing, working to build a unique esprit des corps, and identifying themselves with order. And despite complaints about corruption and inefficiency, they gained more and more support from the ruling class, to the extent that in Chicago, for instance, businessmen donated money to buy the police rifles, artillery, Gatling guns, buildings, and money to establish a police pension out of their own pockets.

There was a never a time when the big city police neutrally enforced “the law,” or came anywhere close to that ideal (for that matter, the law itself has never been neutral). In the North, they mostly arrested people for the vaguely defined “crimes” of disorderly conduct and vagrancy throughout the nineteenth century. This meant that the police could arrest anyone they saw as a threat to “order.” In the post-bellum South, they enforced white supremacy and largely arrested black people on trumped-up charges in order to feed them into convict labor systems.

The violence the police carried out and their moral separation from those they patrolled were not the consequences of the brutality of individual officers, but were the consequences of careful policies designed to mold the police into a force that could use violence to deal with the social problems that accompanied the development of a wage-labor economy.

For instance, in the short, sharp depression of the mid-1880s, Chicago was filled with prostitutes who worked the streets. Many policemen recognized that these prostitutes were generally impoverished women seeking a way to survive, and initially tolerated their behavior. But the police hierarchy insisted that the patrolmen do their duty whatever their feelings, and arrest these women, impose fines, and drive them off the streets and into brothels, where they could be ignored by some members of the elite and controlled by others.

Similarly, in 1885, when Chicago began to experience a wave of strikes, some policemen sympathized with strikers. But once the police hierarchy and the mayor decided to break the strikes, policemen who refused to comply were fired. In these and a thousand similar ways, the police were molded into a force that would impose order on working class and poor people, whatever the individual feelings of the officers involved.

Though some patrolmen tried to be kind and others were openly brutal, police violence in the 1880s was not a case of a few bad apples – and neither is it today.

Ferguson woke people up.
Much has changed since the creation of the police – most importantly the influx of black people into the Northern cities, the mid-twentieth century black movement, and the creation of the current system of mass incarceration in part as a response to that movement. But these changes did not lead to a fundamental shift in policing. They led to new policies designed to preserve fundamental continuities.

The police were created to use violence to reconcile electoral democracy with industrial capitalism. Today, they are just one part of the “criminal justice” system which continues to play the same role. Their basic job is to enforce order among those with the most reason to resent the system – who in our society today are disproportionately poor black people.

A democratic police system is imaginable – one in which police are elected by and accountable to the people they patrol. But that is not what we have. And it’s not what the current system of policing was created to be.

If there is one positive lesson from the history of policing’s origins, it is that when workers organized, refused to submit or cooperate, and caused problems for the city governments, they could back the police off from the most galling of their activities.

Murdering individual police officers, as happened in in Chicago on May 3rd 1886 and more recently in New York on December 20th, 2014, only reinforced those calling for harsh repression – a reaction we are beginning to see already. But resistance on a mass scale could force the police to hesitate. This happened in Chicago during the early 1880s, when the police pulled back from breaking strikes, hired immigrant officers, and tried to re-establish some credibility among the working class after their role in brutally crushing the 1877 upheaval.

The police might be backed off again if the reaction against the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and countless others continues. If they are, it will be a victory for those mobilizing today, and will save lives – though as long as this system that requires police violence to control a big share of its population survives, any change in police policy will be aimed at keeping the poor in line more effectively.

We shouldn’t expect the police to be something they’re not. As historians, we ought to know that origins matter, and the police were created by the ruling class to control working class and poor people, not help them. They’ve continued to play that role ever since.

— From the Labor and Working-Class History Association, Dec. 29, 2014,


By Chris Hedges

Prisons employ and exploit the ideal worker. Prisoners do not receive benefits or pensions. They are not paid overtime. They are forbidden to organize and strike. They must show up on time. They are not paid for sick days or granted vacations. They cannot formally complain about working conditions or safety hazards. If they are disobedient, or attempt to protest their pitiful wages, they lose their jobs and can be sent to isolation cells. The roughly 1 million prisoners who work for corporations and government industries in the American prison system are models for what the corporate state expects us all to become. And corporations have no intention of permitting prison reforms that would reduce the size of their bonded workforce. In fact, they are seeking to replicate these conditions throughout the society.

States, in the name of austerity, have stopped providing prisoners with essential items including shoes, extra blankets and even toilet paper, while starting to charge them for electricity and room and board. Most prisoners and the families that struggle to support them are chronically short of money. Prisons are company towns. Scrip, rather than money, was once paid to coal miners, and it could be used only at the company store. Prisoners are in a similar condition. When they go broke—and being broke is a frequent occurrence in prison—prisoners must take out prison loans to pay for medications, legal and medical fees and basic commissary items such as soap and deodorant. Debt peonage inside prison is as prevalent as it is outside prison.

An increasing number of women prisoners.
States impose an array of fees on prisoners. For example, there is a 10 percent charge imposed by New Jersey on every commissary purchase. Stamps have a 10 percent surcharge. Prisoners must pay the state for a 15-minute deathbed visit to an immediate family member or a 15-minute visit to a funeral home to view the deceased. New Jersey, like most other states, forces a prisoner to reimburse the system for overtime wages paid to the two guards who accompany him or her, plus mileage cost. The charge can be as high as $945.04. It can take years to pay off a visit with a dying father or mother.

Fines, often in the thousands of dollars, are assessed against many prisoners when they are sentenced. There are 22 fines that can be imposed in New Jersey, including the Violent Crime Compensation Assessment (VCCB), the Law Enforcement Officers Training & Equipment Fund (LEOT) and Extradition Costs (EXTRA). The state takes a percentage each month out of prison pay to pay down the fines, a process that can take decades. If a prisoner who is fined $10,000 at sentencing must rely solely on a prison salary he or she will owe about $4,000 after making payments for 25 years. Prisoners can leave prison in debt to the state. And if they cannot continue to make regular payments—difficult because of high unemployment—they are sent back to prison. High recidivism is part of the design.

Corporations have privatized most of the prison functions once handled by governments. They run prison commissaries and, since the prisoners have nowhere else to shop, often jack up prices by as much as 100 percent. Corporations have taken over the phone systems and charge exorbitant fees to prisoners and their families. They grossly overcharge for money transfers from families to prisoners. And these corporations, some of the nation’s largest, pay little more than a dollar a day to prison laborers who work in for-profit prison industries. Food and merchandise vendors, construction companies, laundry services, uniforms companies, prison equipment vendors, cafeteria services, manufacturers of pepper spray, body armor and the array of medieval instruments used for the physical control of prisoners, and a host of other contractors feed like jackals off prisons. Prisons, in America, are a hugely profitable business.

Our prison-industrial complex, which holds 2.3 million prisoners, or 25 percent of the world’s prison population, makes money by keeping prisons full. It demands bodies, regardless of color, gender or ethnicity. As the system drains the pool of black bodies, it has begun to incarcerate others. Women—the fastest-growing segment of the prison population—are swelling prisons, as are poor whites in general, Hispanics and immigrants. Prisons are no longer a black-white issue. Prisons are a grotesque manifestation of corporate capitalism. Slavery is legal in prisons under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. …” And the massive U.S. prison industry functions like the forced labor camps that have existed in all totalitarian states. 

Corporate investors, who have poured billions into the business of mass incarceration, expect long-term returns. And they will get them. It is their lobbyists who write the draconian laws that demand absurdly long sentences, deny paroles, determine immigrant detention laws and impose minimum-sentence and three-strikes-out laws (mandating life sentences after three felony convictions). The politicians and the courts, subservient to corporate power, can be counted on to protect corporate interests.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest owner of for-profit prisons and immigration detention facilities in the country, had revenues of $1.7 billion in 2013 and profits of $300 million. CCA holds an average of 81,384 inmates in its facilities on any one day. Aramark Holdings Corp., a Philadelphia-based company that contracts through Aramark Correctional Services to provide food to 600 correctional institutions across the United States, was acquired in 2007 for $8.3 billion by investors that included Goldman Sachs.
— From TruthDig, Dec 28, 2014.