Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ferguson, Oh Ferguson

The airwaves have been, are still being filled with the news: The Grand Jury empaneled in August to decide whether Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson should be indicted for the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, has made its decision. No, Virginia, there will be no indictment. The decision was announced to the public last evening (7 pm Pacific Time, 9 pm Missouri time), though why the County Prosecutor waited until after dark to announce what he knew would be an inflammatory decision (and it was) is beyond all imagining. A couple of things about the press conference alleged-Prosecutor Robert McCulloch gave in presenting the decision are noteworthy. First, according to the 11/25/14 New York Times, there were 162,500 grand jury cases prosecuted by U.S. attorneys in one year (2009 to 2010), and a grand total of 11 cases ended up without an indictment. Eleven! So this was not quite business as usual for the American justice system. Second, the website Daily Kos pointed out that McCulloch is the son of a police officer killed in the line of duty, so he is not exactly an impartial prosecutor where police shootings are concerned. This helps explain why his presentation made him sound like what he was: the prosecutor not of the murderer, Officer Darren Wilson, but of the victim, slain teenager Michael Brown. In fact, in his presentation the prosecutor sounded more like the defense attorney for the police officer, laying out the probable cause for why he “had” to shoot this menacing teenager whose crime—if there was one—was jaywalking in the middle of the street, or perhaps stealing some cigarillos from a convenience store. There is a great deal of dispute, in fact, about whether Wilson knew of the robbery before he confronted Michael Brown: in the early days after the shooting, the disclosure of Brown’s part in the robbery indicated that Wilson did NOT in fact know about the robbery when he first confronted Brown. But in his presentation, McCulloch made clear that what he presented to the Grand Jury was that Officer Wilson had received the information beforehand, and allegedly confronted Michael Brown as the probable suspect in the robbery—thus presumably justifying his decision to use deadly force on a criminal.
            But in truth, the details of the alleged crime and the killing of the black teenager are not the real core of the story. The core, as it is for most black communities around the nation, is the fact that once again, a white police officer has arrogated to himself the right to act as judge, jury and executioner of a young black man, and the so-called justice system in a society supposedly based on the rule of law and the presumption of innocence until a trial proves otherwise, has judged that police officer, the murderer, innocent—justified in shooting to kill in a situation where he claimed to fear for his life (though how an armed police officer can fear for his life in the face of a supposed threat from an unarmed teenager in broad daylight would seem to defy logic.) And, by default, has judged the unarmed victim guilty. If this were the only such case, it would perhaps not appear so startling. But such a scenario—of white police officers killing young unarmed black men—has become so common as to become one of the defining marks of our society. The situation is always said to be the same: the officer (or self-proclaimed vigilante as in the Trayvon Martin case), felt himself threatened and feared for his life. Therefore, he had no choice but to shoot. And shoot to kill. Very American this—in any situation where police are involved, or where American soldiers in any of our far-flung “police actions” around the world are involved, there is never any choice but the deadly one. We kill at the drop of a hat. Or a shadow. Or a dark face. Often enough these days, in fact, we kill without ever seeing the face. We kill from the air. We kill with robotic messengers of death called drones. We kill anything that looks suspicious on our magic screens thousands of miles away. When I was in the reserves many years ago, I remember how shocked I was at the bayonet training we briefly received: “What’s the motto of the bayonet?” our sergeants would bellow. And we would shout our response: “Kill! Kill! Kill!” It has become an American mantra, only now enforced with far more lethal weaponry than the homely bayonet.
            But of course it’s not just that large percentages of the police forces on our streets get their initial training in weaponry and attitudes in our military (thus does every war eventually come home). It’s also the history. Hundreds of years of slavery—the forced servitude of one group by another, justified by the alleged racial superiority of the one over the darker other—leave their mark. They indelibly brand and warp oppressor and victim alike; the victim, with what Joy DeGruy calls “post-traumatic slavery syndrome;” the oppressor with the never-departed fear that, without invincible shields and ever-more lethal weaponry, the rage their enslaving has instilled will result in mass revolt and the mass slitting of their throats. It lies at the back of every uprising from the 1739 Stono Rebellion in South Carolina to the riots of the 1960s in Watts to the similar riots after the slaying of Martin Luther King on up to those in response to the Rodney King and Oscar Grant verdicts and now the one in Ferguson. And that Stono Rebellion, according to historian Sally E. Hadden, assistant professor of history and law at Florida State University, marked the beginning of what really lies at the base of all our police constabularies since then: slave patrols. Her book bears precisely that title: Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas (Harvard U Press: 2001); and what it points out is that though slave patrols probably stemmed from the laws many sugar-growing (and hence slave-owning) Caribbean islands adopted, and though Virginia had actually adopted slave patrols by 1727, the real impetus to a fully-formed system of slave codes with formal slave patrols to enforce them came in South Carolina after the aforementioned Stono Rebellion. As Hadden put it in an interview about her book, “Slave patrols amounted to an unequivocal manifestation of white fear.” In response to that fear, the new slave codes initially made it mandatory for all white males to do slave patrol duty, punishment being a fine for non-fulfillment of that duty. Eventually, though, with the growth of Southern cities, some slave patrols were replaced by regular full-time police, while other cities simply gave the slave patrols additional police duties such as arresting suspicious characters of any color and capturing those who broke the laws. Of note to anyone interested in language is the fact that the slave patrols were often called “paddyrollers,” a reference to the groups of white men charged to keep slave revolts from happening. This also seems to be the origin of the word “paddywagon;” not, as some have claimed, because early lawbreakers were often Irish or “paddies,” but because the origins of police forces can actually be found in the slave patrols or “paddyrollers.” After the Civil War, of course, most overt slave patrols had to be disbanded, with the result that their functions were split into two: law enforcement was taken over by regular police forces, while the terrorizing, vigilante functions were assumed by groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Nonetheless, we can see clearly that the genesis of modern American policing, like many other aspects of American society, has deep roots in slavery and the fears it generated among those who held, sold, and otherwise abused slaves.
            We can also see this legacy in Ferguson. A majority-black city in Missouri is governed by an all-white administration, and policed by a nearly all-white constabulary. And the same fear seems to operate in the police force as in the original slave patrols. The citizens they must most often police are blacks like Michael Brown, whom Darren Wilson referred to in his testimony as a “demon” (here a literal “demonizing;” in our foreign ventures, a more symbolic demonizing). It would appear that the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, saw the victim through this same lens. It would also appear that a huge percentage of the white police forces in the United States of America shares this same perception, and the resultant corollary: when confronted by a black man, shoot first and ask questions later. Unless and until that perception, that shoot-to-kill mentality is educated or mandated or shamed out of our system, the mass incarceration of as many as one-third of young black men, and the senseless killing of many others, promises to continue.

Lawrence DiStasi

Monday, November 10, 2014

Inmates Control the Asylum

Now that a week has passed since the November 4 election, it may be time to assess the damage and the prospects for the next two years. And of course it’s easy to attribute the debacle to Republican money made possible by Citizens United. For example, everyone on the left knows that the Koch Brothers contributed untold millions to super-pacs that bought tons of TV ads making the Republican victories possible. But what we may not have known until recently is that these same brothers, some of the biggest and dirtiest oil men in the nation, actually have leases on about 1.1 million acres of Canada’s tar sands land, the biggest non-Canadian leaseholder in Alberta (see Washington Post, 3/20/2104). If they can get the Keystone pipeline built (the issue Republicans say is first on their agenda), they stand to double their fortune—from about $100 billion they have now to about $200 billion in a few years. That’s why they’re willing to invest millions into political support for tea-partiers and conservatives in general. (Someone without money, like myself, would have thought that $100 billion might be enough; it could support me and everyone I’ve ever known for a lifetime in unimagined luxury; but not for these guys.)
            But of course it wasn’t just money that the Repugnants used to win the election. They also did everything they could to mess with the vote, suppressing it here, making it impossible to unseat their candidates in safe districts there. In general, this means targeting cities and urban areas (where minorities live) in order to enable rural and suburban areas (where whites live) to dominate the vote. Several methods have been used to achieve this. First, by taking over state houses in key states, they’ve managed to gerrymander voting districts to such an extent that even were the Democrats able to get out their vote, it wouldn’t matter. All the Dems power has been limited to urban zones, while suburban and rural zones have been crazy-quilted in such a way as to vote-proof their conservative candidates. Then these clever fellows instituted voter ID laws that made it almost impossible for minorities to comply—either because getting birth certificates and other IDs were too difficult or expensive, or by making common forms of ID ineligible. Though Republicans routinely allege massive voter fraud, studies in recent years have all given the lie to this dodge; there has been almost no voter fraud in recent years (one study found only 31 incidents nationwide between 2000 and 2014), especially compared to the millions of voters who have been disenfranchised. And finally, some clever lawyer type came up with the scheme known as Crosscheck. Used by 27 states, Crosscheck involves going through huge voter rolls in various states and trying to find name matches—which often occurs with common minority names like Jackson or Kim or Garcia or Patel. Then they claim, on no other basis than a name match, that a Jackson or Lee or Garcia has voted in two different states—an obvious violation of law—and succeed in getting the names thrown off the rolls. In Georgia, this worked to throw 40,000 voters off the state rolls, thus disqualifying a huge percentage of voters that had been newly registered as a result of a campaign by Atlanta’s Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church. (For a summary of these methods, see Juan Thompson’s piece for The Intercept, reprinted 9 Nov. in Reader Supported News [http://readersupportednews.org], where he notes that overall turnout in this election was 36.6%, a modern low.)
            This brings us to the underlying point of this election. Yes, it is surely to get Republicans elected to control the Congress. And yes, it is surely to allow billionaires like the Koch Brothers to control the government. But it’s more specific than that, and it’s not just a bunch of scared white males trying to maintain their positions of privilege, though it’s that too. This is about the deeper fear among conservatives that demographics as well as scientific truth is turning against them and could upend the huge victory they’ve achieved in recent years—convincing the world that free trade, deregulated free market capitalism and globalization are divine edicts from nature and hence the only game in town. I addressed this in a previous blog called Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes’ brilliant summary of the conservative battle to undermine the science of cigarette smoke, CFCs, acid rain, and global warming. Beginning to read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate has buttressed the case even more. Because what Klein does is not simply to cite all the reasons that the science of global warming has become definitive, compelling and truly urgent; she makes clear that the massive threat to human civilization posed by global warming cannot be stopped short of a massive change in our economic system. This is the sense in which she titles a chapter with the counterintuitive slogan, “The Right is Right.” Oreskes actually made a similar point in her book. That is, the right, the tea partiers, the conservative nut jobs who continually make apparently lunatic statements equating liberals with socialists and communists who intend to impose collectivist social controls on freedom-loving individualists like themselves—they actually have a point. And that point is simple. The world has allowed global warming to get so out of hand that amelioration measures that might have worked two or three decades ago can no longer work now. Globalization and its resultant export of the West’s industrial base to Asian countries like Korea and Bangladesh and China and India have exacerbated the problem to the point where now only large, cooperative planetary measures can work. And by “work” is meant keeping global warming below the 2o Celsius target internationally-agreed upon recently. So, if we are to keep overall temperature rise to that 2o C mark or less—and Klein makes clear that the International Energy Agency warns that if we don’t do this by 2017, a mere three years away, our fossil fuel economy will “lock in” truly dangerous, runaway warming—then the measures feared by the right will become mandatory. The CO2-producing methods we’ve been so profligate with until now (indeed, even more profligate since the 1990s when scientists began their dire warnings about the perils involved in continuing to burn fossil fuels) will force governments to impose measures that could well end up ending capitalism and free markets and so-called “free” trade as we know it.
            In truth, Klein makes the case in her book that this result is all but demanded and assured. Here is how she puts it in her Introduction:

…our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature….So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate (Klein, 21-22).

Now we know why the Koch Brothers and Crosscheck and all that Republican energy was put into the recent election. These are the people who know that if the truth about global warming is allowed to reassert itself (Klein points out that as recently as 2007, a Harris poll found 71% of Americans believing that burning fossil fuel alters the climate), they and their whole economic system, their whole wealth system, their whole belief system, their entire worldview, is doomed. As Klein puts it beautifully a bit later, “Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests” (41). And it does; because the threat of global warming demands one thing above all: collective action by the world’s nations, especially the nations that have profited most from burning fossil fuels, Great Britain, Europe in general, and the United States of America. And collective action, regulation, environmentally-based action to preserve the planet from the massive changes to life that excessive warming will unleash, is already unleashing, goes against everything conservatives purport to believe.
            So we understand why Mitch McConnell and John Boehner announced what their preferred agendas would include: putting an end to EPA interference in coal and other energy production (like fracking), passing the laws to enable the Keystone pipeline to bring all that tar sands sludge into the U.S. and through New Orleans, and fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All are intended to energize the energy-wasting, globalized capitalist system which fuels their wealth and success. Naomi Klein is particularly revelatory about how trade rules and the WTO (World Trade Organization) fits into this diabolical system. Recently, a case came before the WTO relating to both trade and solar panels produced in Ontario, Canada. The solar company was/is run by Paolo Maccario, an Italian businessman who moved his solar factory to Ontario in 2010 due to its Green Energy and Green Economy Act to promote the production of renewable energy there. Besides providing subsidies to green companies, the Act ensured that a percentage of the workers and the materials (between 40% and 60%) companies used were local to Ontario. This made sense, especially after the economic crisis that had earlier devastated the province. The plan worked quite well, and by 2012, Ontario was the largest solar producer in Canada, with only one coal-fired plant left.  There was a fly in the ointment, though: the WTO rules about discrimination against outside producers. Japan and then the European Union brought claims against Ontario’s requirement for those percentages to be sourced locally, saying that this requirement would “discriminate against equipment for renewable energy generation facilities produced outside Ontario.” That is, by Japan and the Europeans. And the WTO agreed, ruling against Canada that the buy-local rules were illegal. Ontario then had no choice but to void the local-content rules that were the heart of the program, and Maccario’s solar operation—by common consent producing the best solar panels anywhere—had to pull back and suspend all its plans for expansion.
            Thus, the “national treatment” rules in almost all free-trade agreements (and they will operate in the Trans Pacific Partnership that the Congress wants to vote on right away, and which Barack Obama is even now trying to facilitate on his Asia trip) work directly against local laws that are intended to support green manufacturing to help and heal the environment. It is an absurdity. But that is what the free-marketeers—i.e. the multinational corporations who rule the world these days—have worked day and night to achieve. Trade trumps the planet. That would seem to be their motto. And it is happening in every nation, all the time. Klein cites another example from 2012, when an oil company decided to use NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement so beloved of our politicians) to challenge Quebec’s fracking moratorium, “claiming that it robbed the company of its right to drill for gas in the province” (72). As Klein sums it up,

To allow arcane trade law, which has been negotiated with scant public scrutiny, to have this kind of power over an issue so critical to humanity’s future, is a special kind of madness.

            And it is. Madness. But then, what is one to think of another outcome of the recent Republican victory in the Senate: that, since the majority party selects committee chairmen from its members, the new head of the Senate’s Committee on the Environment and Public Works will be none other than the chief denialist in the U.S. Congress, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Inhofe is the author of the book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. He has said things like “God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous;” and that the temperature increases from global warming “may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” In any country but the United States, putting such a person at the head of such a critical committee would be considered madness indeed. But here we are, with Inhofe poised to take over from Senator Barbara Boxer as head of the committee most responsible for laws related to our environment and the greatest threat to the planet in history.
            So that’s the ultimate skinny on the last election. The most deranged inmates are now in control of the asylum.

Lawrence DiStasi

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Disposable People

In a recent Truthout piece, “The Political Economy of Israeli Apartheid and the Specter of Genocide,” UCSB Professor William Robinson laid out the conditions that are enabling more and more Israelis to contemplate what should have been unthinkable before: the final expulsion of all Palestinians from the land Israel considers Eretz Israel, either by ethnic cleansing, or genocide. That means, in the words of Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked posted on Facebook recently that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy, including its elderly and its women…They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.” He was seconded by an August 1 Times of Israel op-ed by Yochanan Gordon titled “When Genocide is Permissible,” and later comments by Moshe Feiglin, the deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament, urging the Israeli army to “kill Palestinians in Gaza and use any means possible to get them to leave.” Robinson caps his data with the observation that nearly 50% of Israel’s Jewish population supports a policy of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians with almost as many contemplating genocide. Though this has always been the unstated purpose of the Zionist project, Robinson notes that until recent years, it would not have been possible because the Israeli economy relied on Palestinians as a cheap labor force to exploit for the dirty work Israelis could not or would not do. After the 1990s, however, this classic colonial situation changed. Thanks to globalization and Israel’s shift to its role as the major arms and high-tech supplier in its region and beyond, classic Palestinian farm labor was no longer needed. In addition, Israel’s incentives to Jews worldwide, especially the Soviet Union, to immigrate, resulted in as many as 1 million Soviet Jews taking the place of the Palestinian labor force. So did globalization’s displacement of hungry laborers from Africa, Asia and elsewhere, which allowed hordes of cheap transnational labor to fill in for what the new immigrants would not do. The result has been the apartheid wall keeping Palestinians out of Israel, and their resulting marginalization and disposability as a labor force. As was noted during the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza, nearly three-quarters of all Gazans depend on UN and government support to even stay alive, since there are no jobs to be had.
            This leads to William Robinson’s major point: what makes genocide possible is the situation that Israel/Palestine now exemplifies—a powerful nation beset by the claims of a marginalized and helpless population that has outlived its usefulness. As Robinson puts it,
The rise of new systems of transnational labor mobility and recruitment have made it possible for dominant groups around the world to reorganize labor markets and recruit transient labor forces that are disenfranchised and easy to control.

Easier to control, that is, than those troublesome Palestinians who, now no longer needed, would be much better somewhere else—including in the grave.
            It is not hard to see how other such populations in other nations—such as the United States—can fit this same paradigm. As nations around the world become increasingly separated into haves and have-nots, high-tech and poor nations, racial minorities and sub-groups become increasingly marginalized and disposable. This is because with the rise of the indigent transnational labor force, the advanced industrial nations no longer need to rely on their minority groups for labor. In the United States, this was true early on with respect to Native Americans, and is now true even in the high-tech and information sectors such as Silicon Valley, where major corporations have lobbied hard to get work visas for cheaper and often better-educated tech workers. In the area of farm and other high-risk labor, it is the same: migrants from Mexico and other countries in Latin America both legally and illegally provide the labor force that American agriculture needs, and, further, that  cheap labor bastions like China increasingly provide for the secondary preparation and packaging once done in the U.S. The result is that African Americans, especially those in major cities like Detroit and Chicago and Newark, become more and more marginalized and disposable. Where once, especially during and shortly after WWII, they migrated to northern cities en masse where they could find good jobs in factories producing cars and other manufactured commodities, today most cannot find such work because most of the jobs have been shipped overseas. The unemployment rate for young African American men in major cities is nothing short of a national scandal, and leads directly to the equally high and equally scandalous incarceration rate of such young men, many of whom conclude that there is no future for them. They are right. Aside from work in minimum-wage fast-food restaurants, their use to the American economy as it is now developing, has evaporated. They are the new disposables.
            The only question that remains, if things are allowed to continue as they are, is what can possibly happen to whole populations of such disposable people? Clearly, automation and the globalized work force are on a path to increase. Clearly, fewer and fewer of the deprived will be able to afford to educate themselves for the few decent jobs that will remain. What is to become of them? Will they simply join the ranks of the homeless, chased off sidewalks by local police, or the incarcerated? Will they become part of the RV ‘workamper’ force of the aging indigent, migrating to places like Amazon’s warehouses where they can get temp work during the Christmas season? Will the United States, like Israel, finally decide that genocide—even the slow genocide of mass disposability and mass incarceration—is now acceptable? It is a daunting prospect, but one that conditions force into our consciousness. The world population is increasing. More and more of the haves feel more and more encroached upon by desperate have-nots, and more and more fearful of them, with the resulting increase in militarized borders to keep the hordes out, and more draconian “law and order” procedures to control those already inside. Will our accelerating disposition to dispose of mass-produced goods be succeeded by an equally accelerated disposition to dispose of our masses of disposable people as well? Ah Bartleby. Ah disposable humanity.

Lawrence DiStasi

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Merchants of Death

I wonder if you’ve noticed, as I have, a prominent, somewhat new corporate sponsor of the PBS News Hour. It calls itself BAE Systems and it seems to be a rather high-minded tech company with the appealing brand motto “inspired work.” Oh yeah, they’re inspired alright, inspired to produce some of the most deadly machinery on the planet. BAE Systems, that is, used to be British Aerospace and changed to the more mild-sounding BAE Systems in 1999. That would’ve been after 1985 when British Aerospace was involved in the biggest (and perhaps most scandalous) arms deal of all time, the Al Yamamah trade supplying Saudi Arabia with over £43 billion worth of aircraft, specialized naval vessels, missiles, shells, support services and infrastructure.  In return, the Saudis pledged to supply Britain with 400,000 barrels of oil a day. It was the deal that saved British Aerospace, and allowed it to thrive and establish subsidiary companies in the U.S. among other places, including no less than seven sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is the story that Andrew Feinstein tells in his 2011 book, The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade. It’s filled with gems like the story of the Al Yamamah deal, including luscious details about the scandal involving the Saudi Royal Family and a personal slush fund operated for them by BAE, and the massive commissions the dealers (including Maggie Thatcher’s son Mark, who received about £12 million as an agent, and Prince Bandar al Sultan of 9/11 fame) got for greasing the wheels of the deal. According to the story Feinstein cites from Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the principal beneficiary of the slush fund was Prince Turki Bin Nasser, head of the Saudi Royal Air Force, who in addition to about £17 million in personal benefits, (some of which took care of his mistress, Anouska Bolton-Lee), also got gifts for his family: “a $30,000 Mercedes for his daughter, a blue Rolls Royce for his wife (Rolls is one of BAE’s subcontractors), and a £175,000 Aston Martin Le Mans for himself.”  These cars were regularly shipped between Saudi Arabia and Los Angeles on privately chartered airplanes; in 1995, for example, one cargo plane cost $300,000 to carry cars and assorted shopping booty home to Saudi Arabia. So were the members of the royal family, all paid for by BAE’s slush fund—the total, by 2002 amounting to more than 1 million pounds a month and 7 million pounds a year. Gives you an idea of the kind of money involved in the arms trade.
            The shady characters involved are equally staggering. Feinstein begins by charting the origins of a company called Merex. It started with the Nazis, courtesy of U.S. intelligence’s decision to rescue a general named Reinhard Gehlen, who had been chief of Nazi intelligence on the Eastern Front and so knew a lot about the Russians and their industrial plants. So Gehlen and several colleagues were shipped to Washington in a private plane, and then, after supplying lots of intel, were within a year returned to Germany to head a huge German spy ring to monitor the Russians. That led to the ex-Nazi’s promotion to head the West German intelligence agency until his retirement in 1968, but that’s not all. In the 1950s, Gehlen asked one of his old SS associates, Gerhard Mertins, to “act as middleman for German arms sales to the Third World,” which is where the action was and still is. The idea was, Germany could remilitarize if it could sell its old surplus arms stock, and Mertins was to be the agent for the selling. In 1963, he established a new company that he called Merex based in Bonn and Switzerland. Some of Merex’s first deals, aided by one Sam Cummings of the CIA, were selling old Luftwaffe stock to Castro’s Cuba and to Venezuela. It was, and is, typical of such arms dealers to sell fighting equipment to both sides in a conflict, as they did to Pakistan and India. Like BAE, Merex established an American branch in Bethesda Maryland, a convenient location for working with the CIA, as when they managed to ship arms to the CIAs favorite “freedom fighters,” the Nicaraguan Contras. Of course, for the arms merchants in the shadow world, the pedigree of those who want to buy arms never enters the calculation. The motto seems to be, ‘If you got the money, honey, we got the guns, planes, bullets, rockets or whatever suits your fancy.’ Africa after colonialism thus became one of the great illegal arms markets. As Feinstein points out, lovely episodes like the Rwandan genocide could not have happened without the immense influx of arms from unscrupulous arms dealers. Between 1992 and 1994, Rwanda became one of Africa’s major arms importers, spending over $112 million on mainly hand grenades and AK-47s—much of it from former Soviet countries—which amounted to 20 times what it had spent in the entire 1980s. Grenades were so easy to come by “they could be bought from local vegetable markets for $3 apiece.” It was grenades and weapons, not machetes, that were necessary to kill masses of young men in Rwanda’s stadiums. Hence, the genocide.
            What Feinstein makes clear, though, is that unsavory as these foreign arms dealers were and are, it’s in the United States and its pitbull, Israel, where the big money lies (in 2008, over 2/3 of all new arms sales agreements worldwide went to US companies) especially since the bonanza for arms manufacturers known as the War on Terror. In 2003, the US Government issued 3,500 contracts to companies for security, and from then to the end of 2006, the Department of Homeland security issued 115,000 contracts, most on the no-bid basis made possible by the contract initiated by Dick Cheney when he was head of the Pentagon. It’s called LOGCAP (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program) and it invites bids from American companies to supply logistical support for the US military, with NO DOLLAR VALUE in the contract. It's cost-plus: all costs covered plus a guaranteed profit; in short, corporate welfare for the types who regularly inveigh against welfare to the poor—chump change by comparison. Thanks to this kind of largesse, the US Government regularly spends about $550 per household on homeland security alone. And that doesn’t even begin to consider the amount spent on keeping our redoubtable military up to date, as with the Boeing $26 billion contract of 2001 to lease 100 KC-767 in-air-refueling tankers from Boeing over a ten-year period (the CBO determined that buying the damn things outright would have cost $5 billion less!). So corrupt was this deal that the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Darleen Druyun, who oversaw the deal, was charged with ethics violations (she got her son-in-law a job with Boeing and then got herself one), and eventually accepted a plea deal of 9 months in prison and a $5000 fine—though she still collects her government pension. Boeing’s CFO and CEO both resigned, with the CFO sentenced to 4 months in prison, while the company paid a big fine for its chicanery. But probably the best example of ‘price creep’ under LOGCAP involves Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, the most expensive fighter jet in history and one that is considered basically useless in any foreseeable war. The original intent (contract is meaningless here) was to buy 750 planes for a projected cost of $25 billion. By 1999, the cost had ballooned and plans had shrunk to 339 planes at a projected cost of more than $62 billion—i.e. half as many planes for twice the cost! The practice here is known as “buying in”, where the company bids at what it knows is a low price and then jacks up the price later, using “gold plating” or setting ever higher performance requirements after the plane is in development. Moreover, to protect their contracts, companies like Lockheed don’t do what one would normally expect a company to do to minimize risk—that is, build several prototypes to test before starting production. No, they start production based on lies and then simply jack up costs to keep the money flowing.
            There’s more about Lockheed and other military contractors, especially those that made a killing in Iraq (the mother of all military-procurement boondoggles) like Dick Cheney’s company, Halliburton. Just to give a sense of the big bucks involved here, it should surprise no one that Cheney’s personal wealth rose from about $1 million before he became VP to $60 to $70 million when he left office. During his 7 years in office, “Halliburton was awarded with more than $20 billion in contracts,” most of them on the usual no-bid basis. So blatant was their cheating that in the end Halliburton was fined for overcharging the government and using misleading accounting practices. But Dick Cheney seems to have emerged scot-free, wealthy, and with the chutzpah to regularly criticize the current president for failing to live up to the standards set by the Bush administration. Feinstein’s comment provides the real picture: “In the Bush administration the war profiteers weren’t just clamouring to get access to government, they were the government” (209).
            As to Israel, Feinstein devotes an entire chapter to their arms dealing entitled “America’s Shop Window.” By that he means that “Israel is the ‘primary testing ground’ for American weapons…It is, in effect, a shop window for the American weapons industry.” Feinstein goes on to note that in 2008, Israel’s military contracts were worth over $6.3 billion, “the 7th highest of 32 countries for which information is available,” spending no less than 8% of its GDP on the military (the US spends 4.5% while most comparable countries spend only 1% of GDP).  It was also the 11th largest arms importer between 2005 and 2010, when its imports rose 102%. But the real story lies in its arms exports, ranking it as the 4th largest arms exporter to developing countries (always a great market), including “rogue states in Africa, Latin America, and even the Middle East.” One of the reasons Israel ranks so high here is that, given its long experience suppressing Palestinians, its arms industry specializes in “equipment designed to control civilians.” In this regard, the War on Terror was crucial in bolstering—even saving—Israel’s economy. Its sales pitch to arms purchasers highlights its experience in this regard: “We have been fighting a War on Terror since our birth, we’ll show you how it’s done.” When it comes to heavy equipment, of course, Israel 'buys' most of that from its chief sponsor and enabler, the United States: in 2007, the two countries signed a 10-year MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) calling for $30 billion in US military aid. In this, Israel is unique in that it is the only country permitted to use US military aid to build its own military industry, including the development of weapons systems based on US designs, and to fund joint military research and development with its donor, as with its “Iron Dome” anti-missile system. This has allowed Israel to amass an arsenal of 226 F-16 jet fighters, over 600 M-690 tanks, no less than 6,000 armoured personnel carriers, and countless transport planes, attack helicopters, cluster bombs and white phosphorus. Only Saudi Arabia buys more, but it pays for its equipment.
            The story of Israeli arms dealers and deals is too long, and in some ways too well-known to go into here. Suffice it to say that its former officers train security forces all around the world, boasting a

one-stop shop that includes all requirements for riot control, ground forces, homeland security, counter- and anti-terror, K9 dogs, and identification of and protection against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons (385).

Israeli arms dealers dominate the shadow world, according to Feinstein, helped by the citizenship, travel privileges and protection their government provides them. Yossi Melman, an Israeli investigative reporter, is quoted by Feinstein as wryly describing the two wings of the entire Israeli business community thusly: ‘Those who are arms dealers and those who don’t admit they’re arms dealers.’ Perhaps most important, Israel comprises the chief testing ground for weapons the US thinks it might some day need. Feinstein spoke to one army source who testified to using ammunition in recent battles that was not even approved for use in the US:

It came from the American company ALS, where it was still in the testing phase, and thus, not legally usable in the US. But it was being used against people in the occupied territories by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) (393).

Of course, Israel is no laggard when it comes to developing its own high-tech equipment for dealing death to its enemies. It even sets up US subsidiaries so that it can utilize US aid money to buy the latest military equipment from its own companies. It is a leader in drone development, and its notorious separation barrier (some call it an apartheid wall) is similarly outfitted for long-distance monitoring:

The separation barrier is equipped with unmanned, armed observation points that, through personnel in a distant, secure location, identify and fire on anyone who comes too near to the barrier. (394)

Like drones, this amounts to “the creation of a robotic non-culpability for death…” Perhaps all the merchants of death, including the gun dealers and manufacturers in the US, would claim the same non-culpability for themselves: ‘We don’t kill anyone. We just sell them the equipment; what they do with it is not our affair.’

Lawrence DiStasi