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The Age of Humanism is Ending

Mail Guardian Africa

December 22, 2016

killing-earth

There is no sign that 2017 will be much different from 2016.

Under Israeli occupation for decades, Gaza will still be the biggest open prison on Earth.

In the United States, the killing of black people at the hands of the police will proceed unabated and hundreds of thousands more will join those already housed in the prison-industrial complex that came on the heels of plantation slavery and Jim Crow laws.

Europe will continue its slow descent into liberal authoritarianism or what cultural theorist Stuart Hall called authoritarian populism. Despite complex agreements reached at international forums, the ecological destruction of the Earth will continue and the war on terror will increasingly morph into a war of extermination between various forms of nihilism.

Inequalities will keep growing worldwide. But far from fuelling a renewed cycle of class struggles, social conflicts will increasingly take the form of racism, ultra nationalism, sexism, ethnic and religious rivalries, xenophobia, homophobia and other deadly passions.

The denigration of virtues such as care, compassion and kindness will go hand in hand with the belief, especially among the poor, that winning is all that matters and who wins — by whatever means necessary — is ultimately right.

With the triumph of this neo-Darwinian approach to history-making, apartheid under various guises will be restored as the new old norm. Its restoration will pave the way to new separatist impulses, the erection of more walls, the militarisation of more borders, deadly forms of policing, more asymmetrical wars, splitting alliances and countless internal divisions including in established democracies.

None of the above is accidental. If anything, it is a symptom of structural shifts, which will become ever more apparent as the new century unfolds. The world as we knew it since the end of World War II, the long years of decolonisation, the Cold War and the defeat of communism has ended.

Another long and deadlier game has started. The main clash of the first half of the 21st century will not oppose religions or civilisations. It will oppose liberal democracy and neoliberal capitalism, the rule of finance and the rule of the people, humanism and nihilism.

Capitalism and liberal democracy triumphed over fascism in 1945 and over communism in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed.  With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the advent of globalisation, their fates were disentangled. The widening bifurcation of demo-cracy and capital is the new threat to civilisation.

Abetted by technological and military might, finance capital has achieved its hegemony over the world by annexing the core of human desires and, in the process, by turning itself into the first global secular theology. Fusing the attributes of a technology and a religion, it relied on uncontested dogmas modern forms of capitalism had reluctantly shared with democracy since the post-war period — individual liberty, market competition and the rule of the commodity and of property, the cult of science, technology and reason.

Each of these articles of faith is under threat. At its core, liberal democracy is not compatible with the inner logic of finance capitalism. The clash between these two ideas and principles is likely to be the most signifying event of the first half of a 21st-century political landscape — a landscape shaped less by the rule of reason than by the general release of passions, emotions and affect.

In this new landscape, knowledge will be defined as knowledge for the market. The market itself will be re-imagined as the primary mechanism for the validation of truth.

As markets themselves are increasingly turning into algorithmic structures and technologies, the only useful knowledge will be algorithmic.

Instead of people with body, history and flesh, statistical inferences will be all that count. Statistics and other big data will mostly be derived from computation.

As a result of the conflation of knowledge, technology and markets, contempt will be extended to anyone who has nothing to sell.

The humanistic and Enlightenment notion of the rational subject capable of deliberation and choice will be replaced by the consciously deliberating and choosing consumer.

Already in the making, a new kind of human will triumph.  This will not be the liberal individual who, not so long ago, we believed could be the subject of democracy. The new human being will be constituted through and within digital technologies and computational media.

The computational age — the age of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — is dominated by the idea that there are clean slates in the unconscious. New media forms have not only lifted the lid previous cultural eras had put on the unconscious. They have become the new infrastructures of the unconscious.

Yesterday, human sociality consisted of keeping tabs on the unconscious. For the social to thrive meant exercising vigilance on ourselves, or delegating to specific authorities the right to enforce such vigilance.

This was called repression.

Repression’s main function was to set the conditions for sublimation. Not all desires could be fulfilled. Not everything could be said or enacted. The capacity to limit oneself was the essence of one’s freedom and the freedom of all.

Partly thanks to new media forms and the post-repressive era it has unleashed, the unconscious can now roam free. Sublimation is no longer necessary.

Language has been dislocated. The content is in the form and the form is beyond, or in excess of, the content.

We are now led to believe that mediation is no longer necessary.

This explains the growing anti-humanist stance that now goes hand in hand with a general contempt for democracy.  Calling this phase of our history fascist might be misleading unless by fascism we mean the normalisation of a social state of warfare.

Such a state would in itself be a paradox because, if anything, warfare leads to the dissolution of the social. And yet under conditions of neoliberal capitalism, politics will become a barely sublimated warfare. This will be a class warfare that denies its very nature — a war against the poor, a race war against minorities, a gender war against women, a religious war against Muslims, a war against the disabled.

Neoliberal capitalism has left in its wake a multitude of destroyed subjects, many of whom are deeply convinced that their immediate future will be one of continuous exposure to violence and existential threat.

They genuinely long for a return to some sense of certainty, the sacred, hierarchy, religion and tradition. They believe that nations have become akin to swamps that need to be drained and the world as it is should be brought to an end. For this to happen, everything should be cleansed off. They are convinced that they can only be saved in a violent struggle to restore their masculinity, the loss of which they attribute to the weaker among them, the weak they do not want to become.

In this context, the most successful political entrepreneurs will be those who convincingly speak to the losers, to the destroyed men and women of globalisation and to their ruined identities.

In the street fight politics will become, reason will not matter. Nor will facts. Politics will revert into brutal survivalism in an ultracompetitive environment.

Under such conditions, the future of progressive and future-oriented mass politics of the left is very uncertain.

In a world set on objectifying everybody and every living thing in the name of profit, the erasure of the political by capital is the real threat. The transformation of the political into business raises the risk of the elimination of the very possibility of politics.

Whether civilisation can give rise at all to any form of political life is the problem of the 21st century.

 

 

[Achille Mbembe is based at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research. His new book, The Politics of Enmity, will be published by Duke University Press in 2017.]

Nonprofits: Beware the Hand That Feeds

TeleSUR

January 16, 2016

By Auset Marian Lewis
 TeleSUR article image NPIC
Money comes with strings that can undermine a revolutionary’s mission. | Photo: Reuters

 

Corporations that offer handouts can compromise social change in numerous ways, including using funding to mask corporate malfeasance, controlling activism, diverting public money into their own coffers and leading social movements to aspire to a capitalistic model that benefits their own agenda. 

Injustice is not happenstance. It’s systemic. Police shoot more unarmed black men than white because the slave system put a target on their backs centuries ago that has never been erased. Racism is in America’s DNA. It is a systemic problem built into the American culture ever since black people were counted as chattel and fed from a pig’s trough. Every American institution from prisons to politics, from Yale to Mizzou is laced with the inextricable venom of the slave system. The American system is so infected with racial injustice that even programs funded to mitigate systemic social and economic problems become fruit of the poisonous tree. The Nonprofit Quarterly said it best: The Nonprofit Industry has a Ferguson problem.

People are familiar with the Military Industrial Complex, war for profit, a term coined by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Michelle Alexander in her groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow, gave voice to the Prison Industrial Complex: prison for profit and the incarceration of more black people than were enslaved. Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle CEO Adam Jackson in a recent interview had this to say about the Nonprofit Industrial Complex as outlined in the book, “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.” It is a compilation of essays from activists around the world:

“In the United States there is a structured system set up for white people to profiteer off of the oppression of black folks,” he said. “We call it the Nonprofit Industrial Complex. White corporations make sure that their profits are not taxed because they put profits into nonprofits and foundations and typically they are just extensions of that corporation’s social and political agenda… it’s about systemic inequality and oppression because it insures that you can’t institution build.”

Adam Jackson is native to West Baltimore and leads an independent, community-based organization that accepts no funding from political entities, nonprofits or foundation. They target legislative policy to bring about change. According to Jackson, black people have to build their own institutions so that they can map an agenda accountable to the community they serve. Although the racism in the Prison Industrial Complex is a familiar target for change, the NPIC gets little attention.

The U.S. nonprofit sector of 501c(3) tax-exempt organizations is a 1.3 trillion dollar industry. It is the world’s seventh largest economy funding 1.5 million organizations that range from art museums to think tanks and social justice groups on the right and the left side of the fence.

At least 60 percent of non-profits serve people of color, however 30% of board members are without a single minority representative although minorities are 36 percent of the US population. Eight percent of boards have minority representatives. Chief executives are only seven percent minority and 9.5 of 10 philanthropic agencies are dominated by whites.

According to a Boardsource survey, “63 percent of organizations say that diversity is a core value … the percentage of people of color on nonprofit boards has not changed in 18 years.”

While students from 51 colleges across America protest racist, sexist and homophobic practices, demanding that presidents and professors stand down and dictating courses of action to make schools more representative of minority students, racism in the nonprofit industry flies under the radar. As movements grow and seek funding, they often look to elite foundations to pay their way.

Andrea Smith of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, cautions against building movements on the corporate dole. In “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex,” she writes that a Ford Foundation grant of US$100,000 was pulled from their organization when a board member discovered that they supported the Palestinian liberation struggle.

Smith warns that corporations that offer handouts can compromise social change. They can use funding to mask corporate malfeasance and colonial practices; monitor and control activism; divert public money into their own coffers; manage activist goals to attack symptoms rather than systemic problems; lead social movements to aspire to a capitalistic model that benefits their own agenda.

With dissent bent and compromised to fit a corporate 501c(3) model, the cry for change can be muted and misdirected. To that extent nonprofit models can coopt social justice movements who depend on them for support.

Can we ever depend on big money to fund change?

Increasingly young people are finding money from other sources. In 2014 a group of social activists, We Charge Genocide (WCG), modeled off an earlier group of the same name, brought racial injustice to the United Nations and made a formal charge of genocide against the United States on the world stage. In the ’50s the charges included lynching, police brutality and social and economic inequities. The 21st century WCG activists were out of Chicago responding to the fact that in 2014 23 of 27 police shooting victims were African American. The case of Dominique “Damo” Franklin ignited the organization to action when he was Tasered to death after an alleged petty theft. In Chicago 92% of Taser victims are black or Latino. They took the police brutality crimes of the United States to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland.

WCG did not petition deep pockets to fund their trip. They raised over $21,000 from online donations of ordinary people to fund their UN youth representatives.

This is a difficult time for nonprofits and people taking social action. The industry is still reeling from recession, with increased needs for shrinking funds. In the book, “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded,” they make the point that right wing organizations spend top dollars on funding think tanks. Those think tanks shape the social and political conversations that mold public opinion. Progressive organizations tend to be more issue oriented.

Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner applauded American Billionaire Richarad Mellon Scaife saying, “Right -wing victories started more than twenty years ago when Dick Scaife had the vision to see the need for a conservative intellectual movement in America…. These organizations built the intellectual case that was necessary before political leaders like Newt Gingrich could translate their ideas into practical political alternatives.”

Adam Jackson of LBS has the right idea, creating a think tank to map a course while living in the community that he serves. In order to change racist institutions, people of vision need to build systems that can serve real needs for on the ground problems. When funding sources come from elite billionaires operating in rarefied air out of their own capitalistic and political agendas, they will always protect the systems that they created. We should expect nothing less.

 

[Auset Marian Lewis’ commentary and analysis have been published in over 50 media outlets from coast to coast and abroad. She was the first African American female columnist for a Gannett newspaper in Wilmington, Delaware. Her creative writing has won awards and she has been invited to speak in venues on radio and TV from Yale University to homeless shelters in Baltimore, Maryland. She has written two books: A Settling of Crows and From My Lips to God’s Ear: The Joanne Collins Story. She was the editor of Inspiration in Small Doses by Rev. Michelle Synegal. Currently she is writing political commentary for TeleSUR English and Z Communications. Follow her on Twitter.]

Privatizing Political Power

Public Good Project

March 16, 2015

by Jay Taber

billionairesmeeting

As anyone who follows news from the U.S. Department of Justice knows, Bill Gates is an adherent of monopoly capitalism. His empire, built on privatizing public information and technology, reflects his belief in plutocracy.

Like earlier captains of industry — who used public investment to privatize political power — Gates has harnessed his fortune to evangelize on behalf of privatizing schools, prisons, and plantations. His investments in social engineering have made it possible for Gates to largely avoid public censure.

Gates and Buffett

Along with his close friend Warren Buffett, Gates is now making money shipping Tar Sands bitumen and Bakken Shale crude via tank cars on Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad (owned by Buffett) and Canadian National Railway, of which Gates is the largest shareholder.

 

[As an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal, Jay Taber has assisted indigenous peoples seeking justice at the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations. Since 1994, he has served as creative director at Public Good Project.]

And about those green jobs… Prison Inmates Paid 93 Cents Per Hour to Assemble Solar Panels

WKOG Admin: “The Prison-Industrial Complex is financially lucrative in more ways than one. For example – exploiting prison inmates to build solar panels for 93 cents per hour. Perhaps this is built into “a just transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power” that the Big Greens use to sell their “new economy” dogma.”

Oregon’s Signature Solar Energy Project Built on Foundation of False Hopes and Falsehoods

The Oregonian/OregonLive

February 27, 2015

Gov. John Kitzhaber said the solar project offered cheap power and jobs. He was only half right. (Courtesy Oregon Tech)

Dignitaries gathered on a dry Klamath Falls hillside in August 2011 to celebrate the launch of the largest solar power project ever attempted in Oregon.As then-Gov. John Kitzhaber and others dug their golden shovels into the hard ground, they were adamant that this was not another state-sponsored green energy boondoggle. This $27 million collection of solar arrays would be a boon for the economy as well as the environment.

For nearly $12 million in tax credits, state officials said, taxpayers could expect the project developer to buy local and hire local, creating a virtuous circle of energy savings, reduced greenhouse gases and jobs.

“An economy of innovation is within our reach,” Kitzhaber said, rewarding “efficiency rather than excess.”

Kitzhaber got the efficiency part right. The solar arrays fired up a year ago, generating even more power than expected at Oregon Institute of Technology and Oregon State University.

But those solar arrays rest on a foundation of falsehoods and false hopes, an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive has found.

Interviews and an examination of thousands of pages of documents show that state officials wrongly awarded millions in state tax credits, turning a blind eye to phony documents. The project also was dogged by an international trade war, a bitter corporate rivalry and a stunning twist that traded high-paid Oregon jobs for prison labor at 93 cents an hour.

“The department clearly didn’t follow its own rules,” said Energy Department Director Michael Kaplan when told of the findings of The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Kaplan subsequently asked the Criminal Justice Division of the Oregon Department of Justice to look into the circumstances and whether the state should move to recover the $11.8 million in tax credits.

Chapter 1: A failing company

The state’s energy project initially counted on an out-of-state developer with virtually no experience in solar projects.

Officials at the Oregon University System had big green ambitions. Six years ago, they envisioned 14 solar installations spread over seven campuses. But they had no funding, no practical experience and no in-house talent to develop such a project.

What they did have was access to Oregon’s Business Energy Tax Credit program – the most generous state incentive program in the nation. If the university system could get the array built, they could tap the program and leave Oregon taxpayers with half the cost.

In 2008, the state hired Martin Shain, a Seattle-based renewable energy consultant, to make the project happen. Shain later said on his website that he solicited proposals, selected vendors, negotiated contracts, monitored construction and secured the tax credits.

It did not go smoothly. The university system launched its solar quest in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. At the time, the Legislature was livid at mushrooming costs and weak financial controls in the state Energy Department and was considering killing the tax credit altogether.

Those credits were the linchpin to get other needed financing and to drive down energy costs to make the university project pencil out. In fact, the first developer walked away over worry the credits were in jeopardy.

The state quickly moved on, picking a new developer with no successful solar projects to its name, and a recently failed venture in Needles, Calif.

Renewable Energy Development Corp was founded by Ryan Davies, a nephew of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Davies had job hopped between various startups for years before forming what was known as Redco in 2008. His company was working with Shain on a solar project at the University of Utah when it got the Oregon job.

The university system board approved the deal with Redco in June 2011 and two months later Kitzhaber was wielding his golden shovel in Klamath Falls.

Davies was there, too. State rules for the tax credits required that the project be well underway by then. It wasn’t.

The groundbreaking was a “symbolic event,” Davies said. “Everybody turned over a shovel of dirt. It’s very safe to assume construction was not underway.”

Four months after that, Redco was bankrupt.

Chapter 2: A fraud to get millions

Redco’s bankruptcy should have killed the project. It meant there was little hope of completing it in time to legally claim $11.8 million in state tax credits. Instead, project backers submitted phony and misleading Redco documents to keep the project alive.

By summer of 2011, the business energy tax credit program had become a budget-busting nightmare. Costs were out of control. Applicants were blatantly abusing the rules. Fed up, lawmakers created two new cutoff dates to bring the scandalized program to a close. The primary deadline was that projects had to be done by January 2013.

Projects could get an 18-month extension if they could prove construction started by April 15, 2011. At the end of 2011, there still were no design plans or building permits for the university project. That didn’t deter university officials from trying to establish that construction on the project in fact started in early 2011.

Robert Simonton, then a university vice chancellor, wrote the state Energy Department on June 22, 2012, requesting the extension for the solar array project. He said Shain, the state consultant, would provide the required documentation.

Energy Department records show that a week later, Shain alerted state officials that he had sent the material via email. When Energy Department officials alerted him they didn’t have it, Shain promised to follow up. Two months later, he e-mailed Evan Elias, an Energy Department analyst, saying he was “under heavy pressure” to get the extensions, and would get the documents “in your hands, some way, ASAP so we can move forward.”

Without the extension, the solar project would die.

Shain said in an interview he then hand delivered the documents.

But the Energy Department project files reviewed by The Oregonian/OregonLive contain far less documentation than the agency typically required. Agency officials recently confirmed they acted on insufficient documentation.

Instead, they relied on two documents offered as proof construction on the solar arrays had started in time beat the state deadline.

One was an invoice to Redco for construction work. The Energy Department released it The Oregonian/OregonLive under a public records request.

The date on the invoice is key: Feb, 25, 2011 – or two months ahead of the state’s cutoff to qualify for the $11.8 million in tax credits.

The invoice purports to be from a Redco subcontractor, Solar Foundations Systems. The $14,200 bill itemizes the installation of foundations and fittings at multiple sites on each of the seven university campuses in Oregon.

It was stamped “PAID” on March 10, 2011, authorized by R. Davies, and paid with check number 1091.

Neither Utah nor Oregon has any record of Solar Foundations Systems. The Utah address on the receipt doesn’t exist, and the phone number at one time was a Redco listing. Utah state officials say they have no record of an engineering firm with the state licensing number shown on the invoice.

Redco’s bankruptcy filings do list a check number 1091. But that was written to Capital One, paying a personal debt of Ryan Davies.

Davies, now chief executive of a startup drug company, said in an interview that he has never heard of Solar Foundation Systems and that Redco never owned a stamp like the one used on the invoice.

Moreover, he said he had never before seen the second piece of crucial evidence that higher education officials submitted to the state – a Dec. 20, 2011, letter bearing Davies’ signature.

The letter urged Simonton, the vice chancellor, to seek an extension of the tax credit because of the “complex and tedious construction progress we encountered during Q1 and Q2 of this year.”

The letter stated that Redco’s “direct site and engineering and permitting expenses have exceeded $210,000…the initial construction, racking preparation and foundation work at each of the OUS locations…created additional costs.” Shain was copied on the letter.

Davies said Friday that he resigned from Redco five days before the letter was written. He claims he didn’t write the letter and the signature on it is nothing like his own. He also said Redco didn’t spend anywhere near $200,000 on the project.

“This is obviously some fraudulent behavior on somebody’s part,” he said, adding that he was making his own call to the state Justice Department.

Davies said the project was under the supervision of another Redco manager, Ryan Lambert. Davies said Lambert was friends with Shain and brought the Oregon project to Redco.

Contacted in Utah, Lambert told The Oregonian/OregonLive that any receipts and letters “were a Davies thing.” He also said he never heard of Solar Foundation Systems.

Shain, who provided the document to the state, said he doesn’t recall what was required by the rules or what he delivered to Elias. He said he can no longer locate any salient files. He has since refused to respond to questions.

The letter’s authenticity is also called into question by Redco’s bankruptcy filings. They show no payments at the end of 2011 on construction, permitting or other expenses. The only payment that appears directly related is a November 2011 check for $1,803 to the Energy Department. The agency returned the check because it didn’t know what it was for, according to a letter released as part of a public records request.

Even a cursory review of the submissions by Elias or his supervisors at the Energy Department would have detected problems. Agency files contain no record of any due diligence by Elias.

Instead, the agency sent university officials what they prized most – the extension that kept the $11.8 million in their grasp.

Kaplan said that approval of the tax credit was not driven by pressure to approve a politically popular project. He also said it wasn’t the act of a single employee.

“As far as making any one person accountable for a series of decisions related to the BETC, I don’t think that’s fair. We share that responsibility.  These are organizational issues,” he said.

Chapter 3: And about those green jobs…

Though they saved the tax credits, state university officials didn’t show the same ambition to save the new jobs promised by Kitzhaber.

After the Redco debacle, the university system quickly hired its third developer in the spring of 2012.  SolarCity was no solar rookie. It had been around for five years and billed itself as the largest installer of solar systems in the world.

Under the new contract, SolarCity would do all the engineering, site prep and installation for Oregon. The company would own the project, selling power to the universities to recoup its investment.

Their partner was another seeming solid name in green energy – SolarWorld. The company arrived in Hillsboro in 2007, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a state-of-the-art solar panel factory. Potential new jobs for the company were part of the lure of the university project.

Kitzhaber, taken with the buy-local strategy, authorized a $60,000 state study to assess the project’s impact on the local economy. The study concluded that buying the solar panels in Oregon would generate $10 million in local wages.

It was common knowledge in the solar industry, though, that SolarCity and SolarWorld were bitter rivals in an international trade war.

SolarWorld was building solar panels in the U.S. and took the lead in defending American manufacturing from perceived illegal trade by the Chinese. SolarWorld complained to U.S. and European Union entities that Chinese companies were dumping solar panels in the U.S. below cost to kill competitors.

SolarCity, meanwhile, depended on those low-cost panels for its own business success. Any effort to stanch their flow into the U.S. was a threat. SolarCity and others in the industry mobilized against SolarWorld.

The U.S. Commerce Department stunned the industry when it sided with SolarWorld and imposed stiff tariffs on solar panels from China. It was the first of 10 such wins for SolarWorld, and came just two months after SolarCity started working on the Oregon project.

Despite such victories, SolarWorld struggled in 2011-2012. The solar panel business had become a bloodbath as Chinese firms dominated the industry. At least 14 American solar companies failed or shuttered manufacturing plants.

The company’s $5 million share of the university project was a rare bright spot.

“We were really excited,” said Mukesh Dulani, CEO of SolarWorld Oregon. “A five-megawatt project like this was crucial to us. We weren’t producing big volumes at the time.”

SolarCity quickly took the shine off the contract, telling state officials that they were troubled by SolarWorld’s shaky financial condition. Shain, the state’s project consultant, echoed that view.

“Deep concerns in the financial community about their liquidity are creating very difficult project finance issues,” he said in a Feb. 26, 2013, email to Maureen Bock, the Energy Department incentives program manager.

Industry analysts at the time predicted SolarWorld was headed for insolvency and questioned its decision to manufacture solar panels in the West.

SolarCity also claimed SolarWorld was backing away from its product warranties and wanted an additional $250,000.

Dulani vigorously denied his company demanded revised terms or that it was stepping away from its warranties.

Faced with the threat of cancellation, SolarWorld beseeched state officials to intervene to keep the contract alive.

“This is a travesty and there truly is no good reasons for this, contrary to what you may have been told by SolarCity,” said SolarWorld salesman Matthew Lind in an April 2013 email to OSU Sustainability Director Brandon Trelstad. “We have the industry-leading premium product coming out of Hillsboro and we can meet the price that SolarCity wants to pay, delivery capacity, volume, timing, etc.”

OSU did nothing.

“There was a lot of tension between the two companies,” Trelstad said in an interview. “I expressed interest in staying out of it. I didn’t think it was OSU’s place.”

Trelstad wasn’t the only state official in the loop. Managers of the Energy Department’s incentive programs, including Anthony Buckley, Bock and Elias, also knew SolarWorld was losing the contract.

There is no record anyone in either agency lifted a finger to help.

Layoffs followed at SolarWorld.

“We had to make some hard decisions,” Dulani said. “You have to do that when you lose five megawatts of production. This affected our people and their families. SolarCity screwed us.”

Firing SolarWorld was just business, said Will Craven, SolarCity spokesman.

But if workers in Hillsboro weren’t going to make the state’s panels, who would?

Shain assured state officials that SolarCity had found “alternative modules of U.S. manufacture, and very possible Oregon manufacture.”

SolarCity’s alternative: Prison labor.

What project consultant Shain doesn’t tell state officials is that the alternative modules would be assembled by convicts at the federal prison in Sheridan making 93 cents an hour.

Under a subcontractor, Norcross, Georgia-based Suniva, the panel work went behind the walls at the Federal Correctional Institute in Sheridan. Inmates paid 93 cents an hour assembled the panels. That was in contrast to SolarWorld factory pay — $11 an hour to start.

Craven acknowledged that using inmate labor “may not have been in the spirit” of the tax credit program. He said state officials knew prisoners were involved.

State officials said they were unaware of the inmate component until questioned recently by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

“They used inmates?” Simonton asked. “That’s unfortunate.”

+++

 

[Ted Sickinger: tsickinger@oregonian.com | 503-221-8505 | @tedsickinger]

[Jeff Manning: jmanning@oregonian.com | 503-294-7606 | @JeffmanningOre]

 

 

Learning From Ferguson: The Nature of Police, the Role of the Left [Part I]

Counterpunch

December 9, 2014

by Peter Gelderloos

ferguson_ml_140819_23x15_1600

David Carson—St Louis Post-Dispatch/Polaris

A young black person was killed, many people brave enough to take to the streets in the aftermath were injured and arrested, and the only real consequences the police will face will be changes designed to increase their efficiency at spinning the news or handling the crowds, the next time they kill someone. Because amidst all the inane controversies, that is one fact that no one can dispute: the police will kill again, and again, and again. A disproportionate number of their targets will be young people of color and transgender people, but they have also killed older people, like John T. Williams, Bernard Monroe, and John Adams, and white people too. The Right has seized on a couple cases of white youth being killed by cops, like Dillon Taylor or Joseph Jennings, throwing questions of proportion out the window in a crass attempt to claim the police are not racist.

Essentially, the point being made by right-wing pundits is that the cops are killing everybody, so it’s not a problem. The fact that they can make this argument and still retain credibility with a large sector of the population shows how normalized the role of the police is in our society. The true meaning of the evidence used manipulatively by the Right is that the police are a danger to anyone not wearing a business suit.

In a serious debate, however, it would be hard to deny that the police are a racist institution par excellence. They kill young black, latino, and Native people at a disproportionately higher rate than white youth, and the institution itself descended from the patrols created to capture fugitive slaves in the South and police urban immigrants in the North, as masterfully documented in Kristian Williams‘ landmark book, Our Enemies in Blue. What’s more, the criminal justice system that the police play an integral role in, both feeding and defending the prison-industrial complex, grew directly out of the 13th Amendment’s approval of slavery in the case of imprisonment, illuminating the path by which the United States’ advancing economy could leave plantation slavery behind, first with the pairing of sharecropping and chain gangs, and more recently with the pairing of a precarious labor market on the outside and booming prison industries on the inside.

However, though the police do not affect everyone equally, they do affect all of us. Everyone who is not wealthy can be a target for police violence, and anyone who fights for a freer, fairer world puts themselves directly into the cops’ crosshairs. During the Oscar Grant riots in Oakland or the John T. Williams protests in Seattle, many journalists, closely echoed by progressive spokespersons, denounced the white people who took to the streets angered by police killings. With an underhanded racism, they cast “white anarchists” as the ringleaders of the mayhem, silencing the anarchists of color as well as the many young people of color without any visible ideology who were often the most active at taking over the streets or fighting back against the police. If they really cared about racism and police violence, wouldn’t they have portrayed the young people of color as protagonists, rather than mindless stooges of “white anarchists,” or simply erasing their participation entirely? Instead of discrediting the relatively few white people who did take to the streets, shouldn’t the criticisms have been directed at all the white people who stayed home?

However, with the protests after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, certain entrenched dynamics have started to change. True, the response to the killing of Oscar Grant did spread to other parts of the West Coast, and it was not successfully spun as an issue only affecting black people; but to a far greater degree, the response to the official announcement that the government approved of Michael Brown’s murder spread across the country and included people of all races.

This is a good thing: more people are taking the problem of the police seriously, realizing they need to react, and exploring actions that they can take that will make a difference. The circumstances that forced this necessary step forward are tragic, but they are hardly a surprise to anyone with the slightest sense of history. Police killings and unwavering government support for the cops are an integral part of our society. They are not going away any time soon.

Logically, people would debate: what is to be done? However, this is a debate that mainstream journalists, progressive journalists, protest organizations, and left-wing figureheads have all studiously avoided, maintaining not so much a conspiracy of silence as one of vitriol and marginalization against anyone who challenges their unspoken tenets.

Those tenets are simple: all responses must be peaceful; and the only conceivable goal is piecemeal reform. Within this artificially fixed arena, we are allowed to squabble over all the details we want, from cop-cameras to citizen review boards, but we are never allowed to entertain opinions that transgress those limits. Those who use a wider lens to understand where police violence comes from and what role it plays in our society are ignored. If they are employed as journalists or academics, they have just made a poor career move, and they will quickly be drowned out by the ladder-climbing, cynical hacks who cover up this ongoing tragedy with banal and myopic observations. Those who actually attempt to explore other paths of action and change will be denounced as “thugs,” “criminals,” and “agitators,” FOX and NPR will speak about them in the same terms, police and protest leaders will unite to suppress them.

That is how free speech works in a democracy. Fix the terms of the debate, distract the masses with fierce polemics between two acceptable “opposites” that are so close they are almost touching, encourage them to take part, and either ignore or criminalize anyone who stakes an independent position, especially one that throws into question the fundamental tenets that are naturalized and reinforced by both sides in the official debate. Noam Chomsky was one of several dissidents to reveal this dynamic during the Vietnam War and demonstrate the unanimity of hawk and dove positions in media debates. The media follow the same rules today. In that earlier crisis, the fundamental tenet was that the US government has the right to project its power, militarily or otherwise, across the entire planet. In the current crisis, the unquestionable dogma is that the police have a right to exist, that the police as an institution are an apt instrument to protect us and serve us, and therefore they are a legitimate presence on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

In this debate, the Right claim that the police are working just fine, while the Left claim that changes are needed to get them working better. Both of them are united in preserving the role of police and keeping real people—neighborhoods, communities, and all the individuals affected by police—from becoming the protagonists in the conflicts that affect us. Similarly, we frequently hear leftists claim that “the prisons aren’t working,” exhibiting a willful ignorance as to the actual purpose of prisons. Sadly, for all their distortions and manipulations, the Right is being more honest. The police and the prisons both are working just fine. As per their design, they are working against us.

On the Left, we find a tragic mixture of the unconscionably cynical with the hopelessly naïve. No serious person can claim that any of their proposed reforms will make a real difference; and in fact most have already been tried. Racial sensitivity training only makes the cops better at hiding their racism. It certainly doesn’t touch the underlying hierarchies that police serve to protect. Civilian oversight, at the very best, can lead to a few “bad apples” being forced to resign, and they have rarely even reached that level of potency. No matter; bureaucracies have always know how to make individual personnel expendable so as to protect the greater power structure, and no government in the world has given oversight boards more power than the institutions they are supposed to monitor, not when those institutions are vital to the smooth functioning of authority.

As for cameras, they would only increase the power of police by augmenting the intrusion of government surveillance into our lives. The murders of Eric Garner and Oscar Grant were caught on tape, and nothing changed. The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of murders carried out by cops are perfectly legal. How can this come as a surprise? The same people who benefit from police violence are the ones writing the laws or getting the lawmakers elected. The only real victim of cop-cameras would be people who choose to defend themselves against cops, an action that, no matter how justified, is never legal. If the cops wore cameras, anyone who raised their hand against them would be caught on tape. But the reformers aren’t thinking about self-defense, are they?

And this is the crux of the issue. The question of self-defense against the police is one that we are not allowed to consider, yet it is the only one that makes sense. The police do not exist to protect society from generalized cannibalism and mayhem, as in some paranoid Batman fantasy. They exist to protect the haves from the have-nots, to maintain the State’s monopoly on violence, and to make up for our atrophied capacity for conflict resolution, another of the many prerogatives the State has stolen from us (whether it’s a lack of the ability to knock on our neighbor’s door when they play their music too loud or to draw on a wider network of family and community ties to deal with an abusive relationship).

We can ignore the antagonistic relationship that the police have with anyone who is not trying or not able to make it to the highest tiers of society, but what we cannot do is reform that relationship away. This is why it is necessary to talk about self-defense against the police.

But we are not dealing with a open debate between two equal positions, reform or fight back. First of all, this is because the reformers consistently join in with all the dominant institutions, including the bloody-handed cops they claim to oppose, to silence, marginalize, criminalize, or demonize anyone who chooses to fight back against the police. They do not engage in debate because they could only lose; instead they make use of all the lies, distortions, and the generalized amnesia perpetuated by the media specifically to avoid a debate.

Secondly, the reformers are parasites. They would not exist without those who fight back. No one outside their respective communities would ever have heard about Oscar Grant or Michael Brown were it not for the rioters. The recent nationwide protests were only possible because folks in Ferguson were setting fires, looting, throwing rocks and molotovs, and shooting at cops for ten days in August.

If the reformers were sincere, they would thank those who took to the streets for bringing the problem to the country’s attention, then respectfully differ on the chosen tactics and goals, laying out a historical case for why peaceful tactics and reformist goals are better suited for achieving a real change. But this couldn’t be further from their actual M.O. From parasitic celebrities like Jesse Jackson to an alphabet soup of NGOs, the leftists fly in, put themselves at the head of something they did not start, and work hand in hand with the police to try and calm things down. These professional activists don’t have a program of their own; they are just professional fire extinguishers. And in the case of Ferguson, they are the government’s most valuable tool. Because it wasn’t the police or even the National Guard who succeeded in putting an end to the rioting, but these professional activists.

Their cynicism goes beyond the parasitical, backstabbing relationship they have with those who actually risk themselves fighting to eject police from their neighborhoods, and beyond their racist portrayal of local people of color who are at the frontlines of the fight as either “thugs” or the unwitting pawns of outside agitators. They will even go so far as to use the families of those murdered by police; in fact at this point it seems to be part of their playbook.

If the family calls for peaceful protest, as did the families of John T. Williams or Michael Brown, they lay it down like the law, and marginalize anyone who tries to respond in a more combative manner, maligning them as being disrespectful to the victim, heartless agitators who are taking advantage of tragedy in order to sow chaos. Yet families are not the only ones with a right to respond to police murders. How many of us would want our parents to write our epitaph? How many of us would trust our friends more than our families to know what we would have wanted, if we were killed? Though friendship is not a relationship recognized by law, the friends of a victim have also been directly affected, and they should have a say in what’s the appropriate response. In fact, friends and peers have played an important role in many of the anti-police riots in the last few years, though their participation has been largely hidden by the media and the pacifists alike.

It doesn’t end there. Neighbors and witnesses are also traumatized by a police murder; they also have an undeniable need to respond to outrage and reassert control over their environment, a control that walking in a peaceful protest flanked by cops cannot give. And if we are not dealing with an isolated murder but a systematic problem, as is the case with police killings, then everyone is affected and everyone has a need to respond.

It shouldn’t be necessary to point out that this affects all of us. But the pacifying, paralyzing discourse of the reformers specifically breaks down solidarity. Instead of encouraging us all to feel harm done to another as harm done to ourselves, we are all supposed to take a backseat to “what the family wants.” The level of hypocrisy is infuriating when you realize that the peace-preaching professional activists don’t give a shit for the family of Michael Brown or anyone else murdered by the cops. Family members are just pawns in their agendas.

When Durham teenager, Jesus “Chuy” Huerta was shot to death in the back of a police car one year ago, his family rebuffed the police department’s hollow gestures of reconciliation, and they did not denounce the people who fought with cops in anger over the killing. It’s not a coincidence that local leftists were suddenly silent about what the family wanted. And after the non-indictment, when Michael Brown’s stepfather Louis Head urged a crowd to “burn this motherfucker down!”, how many reformers decided to actually follow his lead? Instead, they have all scrambled over themselves to prove he did not mean it, broadcasting an apology he issued about a week later, a reconciliation that might have been aided by the fact that Head was facing a criminal investigation and had already been demonized in the media for a reaction that, in Ferguson at least, was common sense for thousands of people.

This is a fine example of opinions we are not allowed to hold, and how the legal system, the media, and the Left all work together to punish and erase such opinions. It was a triumph for this triumvirate of social control that most of the protests around the country were tame, legal affairs that successfully quenched people’s anger, but fires, riots, and highway blockades from Oakland to Boston indicate that that control is finally starting to slip. For it to fully fall away, we need to understand the true role of the legal system and the media, and realize the full hypocrisy of the Left.

It is an alarming but historical moment when the Right speaks more truthfully than the Left. While the reformers were talking about bad apples and sensitivity training, cops in Missouri hit the nail on the head when they began distributing and wearing bracelets that said, “We Are All Darren Wilson.

Even leftists who did not openly condemn the rioting fell into a tried and true holding pattern. The only way they could make the rioting palatable was to talk about police brutality against protesters. In fact, for much of the riots, police in Ferguson were remarkably restrained. It became commonplace for protesters to shoot at police with handguns, and in November, assault rifles even made an appearance, yet the cops did not shoot back.

This is an important step forward. In the face of a police institution that has carte blanche to kill, people are beginning to value their own lives over the laws of the elite. Yet for the reformers who cannot conceive of fully opposing any of the existing institutions, this narrative makes no sense. Normal people can only be victims, never protagonists. And criticizing the police means not talking about those moments when cops are actually scared for their lives and do not act with total impunity. The lack of strategic thinking is startling.

As far as governments go, the US is infamous for being particularly heavy handed and unrestrained in obliterating resistance. It militarizes its cops, it metes out sentences far longer than what would be considered just in most other countries, and it does not deign to engage in the balances of compromise and social peace like the social democracies do. To surpass the brutality with which the US government liquidated the black and Native liberation movements in the ’60s and ’70s, you’d have to look to Iran or China. Yet now, in Ferguson, and in many other cities this past November, the cops and their masters were scared enough that when people began rioting, looting, taking guns to protests, and shutting down highways, the authorities did not respond with a police riot or a military clampdown. To a great extent, their hands were tied.

Why? What were they afraid of?

It certainly wasn’t a peaceful protest or a little bad media coverage.

Answering this question more fully, and putting the answers into practice, is the second step towards ending police violence once and for all.

 

 

[Peter Gelderloos is a former prisoner who has participated in Copwatch and other initiatives to surveille the police or push them out of our neighborhoods. He is the author of several books, including The Failure of Nonviolence.]

 

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