Yet Another Unnecessary Death

So far we have only the police story, which goes as follows.

May 10, 2017 23:10
The Portland Police Bureau and East County Major Crimes Team are in the early stages of an officer-involved shooting investigation that occurred early Wednesday evening. No officers were injured in the encounter that left one person deceased.

On Wednesday May 10, 2017, at 7:03 p.m., a caller to 9-1-1 reported that a male in his 20s was threatening people on the TriMet Flavel Street Transit Station. Transit Police Division officers responded to the scene and shortly after arriving were involved in a foot pursuit with the suspect. During the foot pursuit, which led onto a bridge over Johnson Creek on the north side of Flavel Street, there was an encounter with the suspect and one officer discharged his firearm, striking the suspect who fell to the ground.

A cropped photograph of Terrell Johnson, whom the Portland police shot and killed, alleging he was armed with a knife. I do not know why my effort to cut-and-paste produced a cropped image. Sorry.

The Oregonian story repeats this (lack of) information, almost word for word.

Update 11 May 2017, 7:30 pm

From Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, we have the following, citing an update of a Portland Mercury story:

the Portland Mercury’s article which reports both on another shooting that happened this morning– of a pit bull, who lived– and the names of the officer (Samson Ajir #50621) and civilian (Terrell Kyreem Johnson) who were involved in last night’s shooting. Johnson was 24 years old and houseless, and was perhaps living with mental illness. Johnson allegedly “displayed” a utility knife, which does not sound threatening, and even if so, perhaps this is the kind of situation a Taser was created for? The number of people with mental illness and/or in crisis who’ve been shot by the PPB is too great to count, but here’s a short list of persons who were houseless shot and killed by the police and their alleged weapons since 2010:
–Jack Dale Collins, 58 3/22/10, art knife (Xacto blade)
–Thomas Higginbotham, 67, 1/2/11, knife
–Merle Hatch, 50, 2/17/13, broken receiver from a telephone
–Nicholas Davis, 23, 6/12/14, crowbar
–Christopher Healy, 36, 3/22/15, knife
–Terrell Kyreem Johnson, 24, 5/10/17, utility knife

The statement, as Mr Handleman points out, speaks of the display of a utility knife, which, Mr Handelman then personally regards as not sounding threatening.

That’s part of my irritation with Portland Copwatch and Mr Handelman — I really find the death of a homeless man armed with a utility knife to be totally unjustifiable rather than something the police should have used a taser for. I expect the police to surround, restrain, and disarm a mentally challenged suspect who is armed with a utility knife, and not kill him. The death of a suspect in such circumstances ought to result in the termination of the employment of the officer involved.

Posted in Dan Handelman, Fascism, Inequality, John Schweibert, Local government, Police, U.S. Constitution | Leave a comment

The Bombing of Syria, on general principles

A purported picture of the air base near Damascus bombed by the United States on 6 April 2016

I don’t have a lot to say about the most recent American war crime. It does go to show, however, how little it mattered in the 2016 election (you recall, I hope, how in that election, as in every single election in my lifetime, the partisans for the Republicans and Democrats talked of the “most important election in a generation”) whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton won.

In a certain sense, they both did: Trump won the electoral college, and Hillary won the popular vote.

It did not matter. With Hillary as President, there would have been a bombing of Syria yesterday. With Trump as President, we got the same result. The War Party is still in control of the United States and its actions.

Posted in Afghanistan, Bradley Manning, Brian Willson, Dan Handelman, Elections, Empire, Fascism, Iran, Israel, John Schweibert, Ronald Reagan, Saudi Arabia, Spiritual life, U.S. Constitution, Vali Balint, War | Leave a comment

Deaths from Despair

Frequently in this space, a graph is more eloquent than anything I might have to say. Here is the graph from the most recent Deaton-Case study on the death rates, by age cohort, of white with only a high-school education in the United States:

As the birth dates get closer to the present, you can see how steeply the rate of deaths from drugs, alcohol, and suicide increase.

Posted in Economics, Education, Elections, Empire, Fascism, Healthcare, Inequality, Permaculture, Spiritual life | Leave a comment

War on the Poor

There has been, since the 1980s in the United States, an economic war conducted by the wealthy against the lower half of the economic hierarchy.

Thomas Picketty and Emmanuel Saez provide the statistics.

The real success of this war, however, has been the success, by the spokespeople for the wealthy, of the campaign to get everyone to believe that lower taxes will help everyone. In that increasing share going to the very rich we see the ultimate beneficiaries of the constant refrain that taxes are evil.

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Same Old, Same Old

Green Party activists, especially those motivated by anti-war sentiment, have no difficulty demonstrating the alignment between the Republican and Democratic parties, upholders both of the American Empire, through brutal military means.

David Swanson imagines Trump’s budget originating in the thought,

If I cut everything that everybody values out of the budget but move the money to the military, my spineless war-adoring opponents will tie one hand behind their backs before they even try to put up a fight.

The “spineless war-adoring opponents” include the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club, and church leaders:

Here’s Richard Trumka, top labor leader in the United States, opposing Trump’s budget at length, without ever mentioning the existence of the U.S. military. Here’s the Sierra Club, top environmental group, doing the same. Here are 100 Christian “faith leaders” doing the same thing.

The Congressional leaders of the Democratic Party are as silent on the question of military build-up as are the leaders of liberal opinion.

Most of the Democrats in Congress, and even more so the media coverage of them, are following the same line as the liberal organizations. Schumer gives no indication that the military exists at all. Pelosi gives a brief nod to her desire that it remain somewhere around its current gargantuan size, pushing the idea that it’s good for us but that we wouldn’t want to have too much of that good. Sanders has a reasonable statement on his website, but news reports depict him as droning on about tax cuts for billionaires and cuts in services, as if that were what was happening here. Someone should ask Sanders to compare the wealth of U.S. billionaires to the size of U.S. military spending in a single year, and then in 10 years.

There is of course a plain enough reason for this striking anomaly. The liberal Establishment, including most prominently the leaders of the Democratic Party but extending to non-governmental lobbying groups, are not upset with a state of constant warfare, such as we have had continuously since the end of the Second World War. We do not question the American Empire.

Empires have always had to be aggressively expanding, in order to maintain their viability; once they stop expanding, they are subjected to attack. The classic example is Hadrian’s Wall, protecting Roman Britain from the unconquered Picts.

Hadrian’s Wall marked a turning point in Roman Britain. It marked the point at which the Romans first marked a limit to their conquest of Britain. Although the Romans would advance again into Scotland and build the Antonine Wall, the advances were short lived and within a few decades the border was again back on Hadrian’s Wall; where it would stay until the very end of the Roman occupation of Britain.

Where once the historical quiver had to rely on the arrow of the Roman world, the rise of more cosmopolitan interests in the last half century provides a broader perspective. The current issue of Journal of World History includes a long review of Jeroen Duindam’s 2016 survey Dynasties: A Global History of Power:

Duindam . . . surveys the features of the dominant form of political regime that governed the world’s parts and shaped their interactions: heritable monarchies prevailing over large and expanding territories with a common commitment to the promotion of the bonum publicum. It is a majestic work of amalgamation and cross-regional research, weaving an astonishing amount of detail into a narrative of global commonality. Dynasties, for all their vernacular expressions, had some shared features . . . By the end of the story, two themes emerge. One is that dynasties sustained themselves by expanding: pushing outward from Peking, Madrid, Delhi, Tenochtitlan, or Kiev was an important means to externalize tensions; conquering, grabbing, and plundering on the fringes helped to dissolve internecine conflict back home. The aura of indomitable power covered epic intrigue and habits of war-making.

Until and unless we connect the brutal oppression the United States imposes on its subordinate states abroad with the similar oppression practiced upon the lower ranks of our population at home, we will never confront our problems at their roots. No major political figure today does that which Martin Luther King did, back in 1967, or that President Eisenhower did, in 1961.

Posted in Afghanistan, Bradley Manning, Brian Willson, Dan Handelman, Economics, Elections, Empire, Fascism, Gar Alperovitz, Global, Inequality, Iran, Israel, John Schweibert, Marxism, Pacific Green Party, Permaculture, Police, Ronald Reagan, Spiritual life, U.S. Constitution, US Senate, War | Leave a comment

Mass Incarceration Here and Now

February 21, 2014; 18-year old Senior High School student Tyreek Stotts is seen padded down by a Correction Officer at the entering the closed off areas of the Philadelphia Prison System (PPS) in the NorthEast section of Philadelphia. (photo by Bas Slabbers)


My friend Shane Greene, whom I’ve known since we were locked up in Multnomah County Jail last year for months together, came to visit me the other day; he’s been out of state prison for three months now, and he had previously brought me Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow to read.

This is part of the project of which Shane is a leading participant: Liberation Literacy, which honored him in December of last year as being its first graduate.  As its website states,

The program began as a Black History Study Group with inside students at Columbia River Correctional Institution (CRCI) in Portland, Oregon. .   .   .   Our group is comprised of nearly twenty inside/outside students who read a common set of books and meet weekly.

Shane has continued his (and our) study of black history while pursuing employment, education, and career outside of the justice system, as have I.  So we talked, at his visit this 12th of March, about Ms Alexander’s thesis.  This post is, basically, an account of Shane and I sitting at the dinner table talking.

Ms Alexander’s book, which does such a great job of pulling together the arguments that the War on Drugs intentionally initiated a movement to lock up millions of black and brown people for non-violent crimes, rests not upon her own research but a whole library of sources which document each of the steps in her argument.

First we have the clearly irrational growth in the number of incarcerated convicts, beginning, as is evident, in the arrival of Ronald Reagan in the White House.  That’s the War on Drugs, which began, Ms Alexander reminds us, a few years before the so-called Crack Epidemic, itself a hyped-up danger in no real way comparable to the image with which it was presented in our mass media. Then we have the myriad means which have been put in place to deny the usual protections to those arrested in the last 30 years: stopping people at random, stopping people who happen to be black, searching their property without cause, searching a car stopped for a missing taillight for drugs, all have become legal in those years, where they were illegal before.

As a lawyer, Ms Alexander has no trouble showing how unprecedented the rulings of the Supreme Court have been in denying legal redress to unreasonable search and seizure, or racial bias; for one example among many, when the prosecutor makes the decision to select black and brown people for the heaviest of penalties, the Supreme Court has ruled that the defense cannot request records to show prosecutorial bias unless it already has substantial evidence of bias.  The defense has to have evidence, let us say, of the prosecutor saying “I sure hate them blacks” before the prosecutor’s office is required to provide a record of how many blacks have been given heavier penalties than whites in the same circumstances.

Sentences, Ms Alexander shows — this is not difficult — are totally beyond any previous degree of punitive vindictiveness.  A first-time drug offender sentenced to life in prison, was one of her examples; from the post today on The Intercept, we see “Shannon Hurd Got a Life Sentence for Stealing $14, Then He Died in Prison from Untreated Cancer.”  You don’t have to hunt for further examples of insanely brutal treatment of convicts (s0 I won’t).

And, even when the victims of this War on Black Folk get out of prison, we hound and repress them at every turn.  They lose their eligibility for student loans, and for the rest of their lives; they lose the chance to live in government-subsidised housing; they lose in some cases access to food stamps.  Many of these extremely hostile measures were put in place in Bill Clinton’s administration, to the hosannas of liberal commentators, praising the wisdom of the Democrats seizing the “law and order” issue from the Reagan Republicans.  One of the most persuasive points in Ms Alexander’s presentation is, that all these punishing, cruel, vicious actions have been done without any objections from the public intellectuals, indeed, rather the opposite.  She compares this to the way in which, after the Civil War and Reconstruction, a whole host of restrictions, amounting to involuntary servitude, was imposed on black folk in the American South — the first Jim Crow system.

Mass incarceration, a brutal mechanism for repressing minority members within the United States, is a whole system of unfair discrimination put in place within the decade or so following the Civil Rights Era in the United States: it is the New Jim Crow.  Just like the first Jim Crow system, it took some experimentation and tentative steps before settling into place, but it reflects a consensus within the electorate on how to deal with the “problem” of people who are nonwhite.  Find a way to charge them with breaking the law, lock them up, and throw away the key.

Crime is a problem.  But look at the chart shown above From 1925 to 1975 there was crime, perhaps increasingly serious; yet, there is no exponential growth in the number of prisoners.  Since 1990 the rate of crime has dropped, substantially; yet, the number of prisoners in still the highest per capita in the world.

And even where there have been massive numbers of disparate treatment of minor offenders, instead of our country releasing them, we are subjecting them to lifelong discrimination and repression.

Shane Greene had the experience this last February of being told, by his parole officer, that all of his file has disappeared. Not the police records, mind you; his parole file: the answers he made to the charges, the hoops he’s jumped through to show his good faith, the record he’s built of co-operation. Suddenly disappeared.

When I taught school in Oakland, California, I once sent, around 1975, a response to the administration of the school system, regarding their charges of non-cooperation against me (I don’t remember the detail; it was 40 years ago), and when I asked what their answer was, I was informed that there was no record of my statement. I responded that I had proof of having sent it, and the answer was, that it was not the case that they were saying that it was not received, only that there was no record of it existing.

That’s what Shane Greene is having to cope with, and he doesn’t have the option, as I had, of moving to Oregon and getting a good-paying job in a different environment.

How can this country cope with this new, disguised mechanism of brutal repression of a large part of its population? It is much the weakest part of Michelle Alexander’s treatment of the question that she makes no real effort to answer this. But I can suggest a method we could follow.

Think about the various means of protest against Trump that we have seen, here in Portland. There have been marches, attacks on property, demonstrations with thousands of attendees. Of all of these protests I have reservations about each except for one: the protests against the Trump attacks on immigrants. Those protests, and this is true of their nature before Trump was elected as well, do not rely on large numbers; they do not involve smashing things to get attention, nor on having protesters arrested; on the contrary, they abide by the law scrupulously.

Demonstrations in defense of immigrants speak to the humanity, to the individual cases of people who are trying to make their way in the world, and who are our valuable friends and neighbors. They personalize the cases, they rely upon your sympathy for those against whom an injustice is being conducted; they avoid the issue of technical legality.

Just such a protest, I submit, is appropriate for the millions of people locked up and locked out of the present society of the United States. We can publicize the many cases of totally insane sentences, and demand that they be pardoned; we can announce that we will not tolerate the enforcement of vindictive sentences, and have them condemned by city councils and university senates and other social bodies. We can ask that those few people who are released due to their long-overdue finding of innocence get much more publicity that up to now, that they become fawned-over heroes and heroines of our day. The point is, we can redirect the attitude toward the convicts who are victims of the War Against Drugs into a welcome to our neighbors who belong in our community, who deserve a new start, and who can count on our support to get one.

This is exactly the viewpoint, said Shane, of Elizabeth Hinton, the Harvard University professor and author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: the Making of Mass Incarceration in America.

Posted in Bradley Manning, Cameron Whitten, Dan Handelman, Elections, Fascism, Free Speech, Friendship, Inequality, John Schweibert, Local government, Oakland, Police, Ronald Reagan, Spiritual life, U.S. Constitution, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why We Were Attacked

Battleships of the United States Pacific Fleet being bombed on 7 December 1941

Battleships of the United States Pacific Fleet being bombed on 7 December 1941


Despite Donald Trump’s questioning of our condition of endless, eternal warfare during the course of the recent campaign season, we are still fighting a worldwide (the word used to be “global”) War on Terror.  Our plans to co-operate with the Russian bombing in Syria, to add thousands more men to our Afghanistan mission, and even our recent raid by special forces in Yemen, are based, legally, on the Congressional authorization of force, aimed at those who brought us Nine-Eleven.

Moreover, we are fighting, in many ways, the same war of revenge we felt we were fighting in the Second World War, a war forced upon us by a surprise attack.  Both President George W. Bush and President Obama explicitly stated such views; indeed, there had been a call, back in the Bill Clinton Administration, for a “new Pearl Harbor” by neoconservative critics of the peaceful trend of American foreign policy.  Given the fact, then, that the mental framework for our present circumstances emerges from our experience in the December 7, 1941 attack, it might be well-advised to consider the present historical perspective on the genesis of that earlier attack as a means of gaining perspective on the later, more recent one.

There is a literature of conspiracy on Pearl Harbor.  The usually reliable Internet encyclopedia has it:

Several writers, including journalist Robert Stinnett,[5] retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Robert Alfred Theobald,[6] and Harry Elmer Barnes[7] have argued various parties high in the U.S. and British governments knew of the attack in advance and may even have let it happen or encouraged it in order to force America into the European theatre of World War II via a Japanese–American war started at “the back door”.[8][9] Evidence supporting this view is taken from quotations and source documents from the time[10] and the release of newer materials. However, the Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy is considered to be a fringe theory and is rejected by most historians.[11][12][13]

Substantial circumstantial evidence, drawn from primary sources, to summarize, suggests willingness on the part of U.S. leaders to accept a Japanese attack.  That way the U.S. entry into the European war against Germany, which most U.S. citizens opposed but which President Franklin Roosevelt favored, would take place by the momentum of events.

Logically, however, if you wish some foreign power to attack you, you ought to take measures to make the attack as unsuccessful as possible, especially if your largest collection of war-fighting machinery is at risk.  You will need it (not to mention the sailors and pilots involved) to win the subsequent war.  This objection to a conspiratorial view is supported by many contemporary accounts of U.S. underestimation of Japanese Military strength and by U.S. incompetent and disjointed military and civilian command structures.

Thus 76 years after the event the Conspiracy Theory is “rejected by most historians.”  However, the question still remains how the attack happened to take place at all.  Just as, even at the time, thoughtful observers found the “They hate us for our freedoms” explanation for the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon unpersuasive in the terms offered,  so the leaders of Japan could not ever have expected to conquer the United States.  “The prewar Japanese economy was about 8 percent the size of the American,” says Edward Miller in Bankrupting the Enemy.  The U.S. Financial Siege of Japan before Pearl Harbor [Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 2007], on p. xiii.

No, the Japanese decided to attack in defense of a longstanding imperial enterprise, one which the historian David Bergamini traces to Emperor Hirohito in person.  The four decades since publication of that attempt at explanation, however, have tended rather to confirm the position of weakness of the occupant of the Chrysanthemum Throne.  Writing in the American Historical Review in 1974, the anti-militarist Asian history specialist Chalmers Johnson wrote:

For readers more interested in the historical than the systematic role of the Emperor, [the book under review, by David ] Titus is convincing on one of the major controversies of  the postwar world. . . .  The foreigners most knowledgeable about the militarist and wartime periods supported the decision of [Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers] MacArthur to spare the Emperor, but there has always been a grain of suspicion . . .  Titus’s documented conclusion is therefore of considerable interest: the “palace acted as a break [sic –MM] on extremism throughout its prewar existence” (p. 333).

Indeed the 2012 effort by John Koster to explain the Pearl Harbor attack — Operation Snow. How a Soviet Mole in FDR’s White House Triggered Pearl Harbor — (is it just me, or are book titles lengthening to the baroque extent popular back in Queen Victoria’s day?) pictures Hirohito in alignment with the historical consensus, as a monarch threatened both politically and physically by extremists to his right — militarists — and left — communists.  The means the White House used to “trigger” the Japanese attack, an attack that had not been foreseen, and here again the author is in tune with the consensus of historians, by the President, was the freeze on Japanese funds imposed on 26 July 1941 in response to the Japanese occupation of French Indochina.

Miller’s account is full of documented detail of the violation of Roosevelt’s stated intention “to bring Japan to its senses, not its knees”: second-level bureaucrats, he shows, interpreted the freeze of Japanese funds in such an uncompromising manner that it amounted to “strangulation”.

Koster’s “mole” was one of the few U.S. government economists well aware of the sensitivity of the Japanese economy to access to funds held in the U.S. and to credit for purchases of U.S. products and supplies.  He warned in February 1941 that “Japan is particularly vulnerable to the freezing of her assets in the United States,” that is, to just the policy later adopted and enforced without pity.  His name was Harry Dexter White, and his office was found, at the end of wartime activities, to have been infiltrated by a ring of spies.  His voluntary appearance before the House Un-American Affairs Committee did not go well, since he could provide no answer why all the spies uncovered by intelligence investigation were either his subordinates or longtime friends; within three days of the hearing he died of a heart attack.

Koster provides, as decisive proof of White’s nefarious activities, which the Wikipedia entry regards as confirmed by U.S. intelligence intercepts, the relevant passages of the 1996 memoirs of ex-KGB general Vitalii Popv (entitled “Operation Snow” in Russian).  However, the ability of a second-rank U.S. Treasury secretary to initiate conflict with a foreign power is by no means evident.  In fact, Miller’s much more comprehensive account establishes the key figure in the “strangulation” effort to be Dean Acheson, the future Secretary of State to President Truman, and no Soviet mole at all.  In his own account of the affair [Present at the Creation. My Years in the State Department, W.W. Norton, 1969, pp. 48-53] Acheson takes pride in the damage his enforcement of the freeze accomplished.  The Encyclopedia says

Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets merely to disconcert them. He did not intend the flow of oil to Japan to cease. The president then departed Washington for Newfoundland to meet with Churchill. While he was gone Acheson used those frozen assets to deny Japan oil. Upon the president’s return, he decided it would appear weak and appeasing to reverse the de facto oil embargo.

while citing a 2007 biography of Roosevelt to support the statements.  Miller’s work attempts to assess Acheson’s motives, including the possibility that Roosevelt wanted Acheson to act harshly so as to provide FDR with the appearance of leniency as well as the result of rigor, but concludes there is an absence of decisive evidence on the matter.

What we do have, with overstatement on Koster’s side, is a fairly well-accepted consensus, that the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor was a response to a crippling freeze of Japanese assets, one which was seen by the Japanese, for good reason, as an existential threat to their entire empire, in mainland China, Korea, and elsewhere.  This picture is in striking contrast to that of the back-stabbing deceitful Asians of wartime propaganda.

We do know now, how Pearl Harbor happened.  We have yet to find out how September 11th did.  It is likely, I argue, that even in the event of the disproof of any conspiratorial activity, we will be confronted with profound lack of understanding of those who committed the second attack, just as we have found with those who contrived the first.


Posted in Afghanistan, Bradley Manning, Brian Willson, Elections, Empire, Fascism, Global, Inequality, Ronald Reagan, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Constitution, War | Leave a comment