Sunday, February 7, 2016

USA Africa Dialogue Series - Fwd: How to Present Your Country Abroad and How Not to Do It

Copied from Another Source by Femi Omoniyi on Facebook

To the rear view mirror mentalists!

You are what you see

When Modi came to town he spoke well about his country men making strides in the British economy through their contribution in business and commerce and requested for improved trade ties with the U.K. He implored the British authorities to improve the existing scientific research programmes so that the pharmaceutical companies can improve expertise in pharmaceutical research and development. He showcased the improvement of Indian medical facilities and hailed the contribution of Indian medical personnel contributing in the Nhs . He applauded his host for creating an environment that nurtures entrepreneurship that encouraged industrialists like Mittal and the Hinduja brothers. He did not mention anything about the rapists and large numbers of fellow country men in UK jails. There is time and place to do that.

In another forum with the Indian community he explained the situation and that the laws are being improved and condemned that culture by Indian men. He said this among his own people.

When Sharif came to town he espoused the academic prowess of his people in UK universities and applauded the efforts of his people performing wonderfully in the commercial sectors in the UK. He discussed how to further the trade and investment links between the UK and Pakistan. By the time he left "Both sides renewed their commitment to increase bilateral trade to £3 billion by 2015. A revised Trade and Investment Roadmap sets out new cooperation between the UK and Pakistan, including four new Trade Champions to progress the business agenda. They agreed to work together to support the Government of Pakistan's implementation of critical economic reforms, particularly to increase the The UK and Pakistan welcomed the launch of UK support to help improve the business environment and increase domestic and international investment in This aims to create up to £400 million in additional economic production, and generate up to 400,000 jobs, half of which will be for women and young people.

Sharif did not mention that the second largest foreign prisoners were Pakistanis.

When Buhari came to town on his own, he did not talk of his people strides in film production, academia, medicine, research and development, charities, nursing, IT, education, legal profession and those engaged in spiritual activities. He chose , without being prompted, spoke of his country men in jails because of their fraudulent activities. On every occasion , it seems in the face of poor comprehension of enquiries, the next thing to say is negatives about the very people he swore an oath to serve.
Of course when you say such awful things about your people, you will never leave with 5p as you have freely told the world that investments will fail and nothing good can happen in a place where the citizens are fraudulent, corrupt and useless. Who would want to invest in a place where they have such a truthful president.

Negative people cannot see positives.

Our mental abilities and capacity determine the way we see things, education is a tool that usually provide a balanced view of how we see things, weigh the implications of what we say and this guided by our experiences thereby allowing for a high level of reasonableness of delivery. This becomes better with age and a commensurate level of self-development as we grow.

This is the reason why it is believed that wisdom comes with age!

I am beginning to doubt that though.


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USA Africa Dialogue Series - After the Black Hawks Arrived: In Somalia, a History of US Meddling Continues

After the Black Hawks Arrived: In Somalia, a History of US Meddling Continues

Sunday, 07 February 2016 00:00 By Jan Wellmann, Truthout | News Analysis
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(Photo: Jan Wellmann)(Photo: Jan Wellmann)

I was a shivering in bed on my first night in Mogadishu. At 3:30 am, I killed the air conditioner. Moments later, the room felt stuffier than a London subway. I got up and paced around, wondering if it was safe to keep the balcony door open.

A few months back, al-Shabab, an al-Qaeda faction, had stormed Jazeera Palace Hotel, where I was currently staying, and sprayed a group of Chinese diplomats with lead. Now the building was secured by a street blockade, a double-gated check-in, blastproof walls, two dozen armed men and Abdullah, the small, wiry gentleman with an AK-47 outside my door.

I took a peek into the corridor and caught Abdullah dozing off. He was balancing on a tiny wooden stool, with the rifle propped between his legs.

View from Hotel Al Jazeera towards the Mogadishu International Airport. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)View from Jazeera Palace Hotel towards the Mogadishu International Airport. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)I was surprised to see his chair begin to gently vibrate, as if tapping Morse code on the cement floor. Seconds later, a set of massive, low-rumble turboprops shook the building. I rushed out to the balcony, expecting to see Con Air crash into the adjoining UN building, but only saw a dark, black shape swoop down to Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport half a mile away. Whoever was piloting the craft had killed all navigation lights.

"What kind of birds drop into Mogadishu at 4 am without lights?" I felt compelled to ask my host, Hassan, the next morning. I was in town with an alternative energy delegation, presenting clean power options to Somali leaders and businessmen. Hassan was in charge of our arrangements and security. He knew Mogadishu inside out and was a fast thinker.

"Ah, you mean Big Brother?" Hassan smiled.

His grin made me curious. The Americans had a peculiar reputation in Mogadishu.

Capturing the White Pearl

Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, was one of the Indian Ocean's principal ports until the early 20th century. Its trading history goes back to ancient Egypt. Mogadishu prospered through its trade in gold, beeswax, ivory and an abundance of fruits, animals and other foods all across the world, providing immense wealth to the native Berbers and Arabs. The city's inhabitants used a fraction of this wealth to build the beautiful pearl-white mosques and cathedrals of Mogadishu.

Today, Somalia is rife with drought, famine and war. Mogadishu lies in rubble. Tribal factions have deconstructed the city block by block, with rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns over a period of two decades. At least 300,000 Somalis were killed in Mogadishu alone during the civil war, and another 1.1 million had to flee the country.

Mogadishu's Bakaara Market or what’s left of it. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mogadishu's Bakaara Market, or what's left of it. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)The city has no sewage system, waste management, energy infrastructure, population registry or ownership records. Random diesel generators provide fractional power to the privileged few. Travel inside Somalia is practically impossible, with much of the roadways, bridges and infrastructure destroyed. Al-Shabab still pops into town for surprise mayhem, forcing us to behold the view from behind bulletproof glass and a convoy of armed guards.

As we drove past the central marketplace, I was at first happy to see one brand new modern structure rise out of the ashes. But then my guide told me it's the National Intelligence and Security Agency headquarters, established in 2013 "under CIA supervision."

The gleaming building is symbolic of the new US influence in the region.

The official reason for the US presence in Somalia is the perennial war against terrorism. The real reason is oil.

Aside from training and building Somalia's intelligence infrastructure, the Americans are building a new, secretive military base 70 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu, without any official arrangement with the Somali government. The base has a capacity to house up to 100,000 troops, according to one source, who wished not to be named. As a result, the locals are seeing an influx of not only US troops, but also private contractors, mercenaries and Big Oil "security."

There are two underground rendition facilities used by the CIA for "counterterrorism operations" that my source calls "underground Guantánamos." (The case of one 25-year-old Kenyan extraordinary rendition victim was exposed in a 2014 article in The Nation by Jeremy Scahill.) One of the facilities is apparently blasted into solid rock at the end of the airport runway, where CIA transport planes drop classified loads on a nightly basis. The other is located under the presidential palace and is known as Godka, "The Hole."

Security precautions near Al Jazaara Palace hotel. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Security precautions near Al Jazaara Palace hotel. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)The official reason for the US presence in Somalia is the perennial war against terrorism. Since 2011, there has been a glut of drone attacks against al-Shabab in Somalia. In June 2011, CIA director John Brennan declared, "From the territory it controls in Somalia, al-Shabab continues to call for strikes against the United States. As a result we cannot and we will not let down our guard. We will continue to pummel al-Qaeda and its ilk."

It's hard to fathom, however, how a ragtag rebel group that can barely hold a village in Somalia could threaten the United States today.

A better rationale for the US presence in Somalia is its geostrategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea, with passage to the Suez Canal and close proximity to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the hotbed of Middle East affairs.

The real reason is oil.

The Energy Equation

Somalia holds some of the world's most underexploited oil and gas reserves in the world. In the 1980s, geologists from the Texas-based Hunt Oil Company (with close ties to the Bush family) predicted a capacity of a billion barrels of oil lodged in an underground rift that stretched from Yemen to Somalia. President George H.W. Bush inaugurated the Hunt Yemen distillery in 1986, with a speech emphasizing "the growing strategic importance to the West of developing crude oil sources in the region away from the Strait of Hormuz."

Mogadishu Lido Beach is part of a 3,300 km long coastline, the longest of mainland Africa and the Middle East. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mogadishu Lido Beach is part of a 3,300-km long coastline, the longest of mainland Africa and the Middle East. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Before the civil war erupted in 1990, nearly two-thirds of Somali energy reserves were already allocated to the US oil giants Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips. But Mohamed Siad Barre, president and military dictator of the Somali Democratic Republic, was not willing to give the entire pie to the Americans.

Siad Barre, or Comrade Siad, came into power in 1969 with a coup d'état. Barre was a military dictator who wanted to reassemble Somalia after half a century of colonialism. He was also a socialist who used cooperatives to build roads and hospitals and reinvigorate local agriculture. He nationalized banks, industries and businesses under the new Somali Democratic Republic. Barre's mission was to build a Greater Somalia to unite ethnic Somalis who had been ripped apart by British, French and Italian troops since 1881, when European powers partitioned more than 90 percent of the African continent.

By the time Barre got into power, the old Somalia was fractured under five independent territories: Italian Somalia (South), French Somalia (Djibouti), Ethiopian Somalia, British Somaliland and Kenyan Somalia (North Eastern Districts). Barre's attempt to reacquire the Ethiopian-controlled Ogaden territory failed in 1977 after the Soviets flipped their support from Barre to Ethiopia. This gave an opening to the Americans, who began to support the Barre government with $100 million per year in "economic and military aid."

While Texans were running around like wily coyotes in the 1980s, tagging Somalia's oil reserves, it became increasingly obvious that Barre would not become their puppet leader. Ergo, the Americans adopted a classic divide-and-conquer strategy, firstly by befriending a rebel group out of Somaliland, the Somali National Movement, which was hell-bent on taking out Barre. Other rebel groups followed suit. Some historic accounts of this time label Barre as a ruthless military dictator, opposed by the people. But the real thrust against him came from tribal groups who fired from every cardinal direction of the compass to create chaos, with CIA backing.

By 1988, Barre was fighting to keep control of Mogadishu. By 1991, he'd been ousted and Somalia was declared "a failed state." The resulting power vacuum intensified the war, collapsing distribution, infrastructure and agriculture. The result was one of the deadliest famines on record. From 1991 to 1992, half of the population of Somalia was starving.

It was the perfect time for the cavalry to come to the rescue.

Black Hawk Down

After a failed attempt in 1991 by UN troops to broker a cease-fire between the tribal groups, the United States offered to lead a "humanitarian operation" headed by the UN Security Council. Their aim was to reach a resolution, utilizing "all necessary means" to ensure relief efforts.

Readily deployed news crews captured the US Marines landing on the beaches of Somalia on December 9, 1992. The operation was code-named "Operation Restore Hope."

Little girl in Bakaara Market, Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Little girl in Bakaara Market, Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Enter Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, Barre's former adviser, intelligence chief and ambassador to India. Educated in Rome and in an elite military institute in Moscow, he was revered by many Somalis as a fiercely nationalistic, charismatic soldier who fought in the trenches and was determined to resist a US-led occupation. As leader of one of the largest opposition groups, the United Somali Congress, Aidid was perfectly positioned to inherit Barre's mantle.

But Aidid's vision was contrary to US interests.

"You are doing God's work," President Bush told his 26,000 Army and Marine troops who were headed to Somalia. "We will not tolerate armed gangs ripping off their own people."

As the only US president in history to visit a sub-Saharan nation during a conflict, Bush spent two nights on the carrier USS Tripoli offshore from Mogadishu, trying to negotiate a deal with Aidid. The attempt was a failure.

Aidid was a diehard for independence and a Greater Somalia. As the main obstacle for US dominance in the region, he quickly landed on top of the US kill list. But due to tip-offs from US Marines of Somali ethnicity loyal to Aidid's ideology, most of the covert attacks against him failed.

In Ridley Scott's film Black Hawk Down, which was based on true events, Aidid the warlord has to be captured because he's starving his people. For the Somalis, the Black Hawks landing in Bakara Market represented a century of colonialism. It was no surprise that 20,000 Somalis or more converged on US Army Rangers with stones, rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. Eighteen Americans and some 3,000 Somalis died in less than one day in the fight for Mogadishu, to the tune of Hans Zimmer.

The bungled operation forced President Bill Clinton to pull out of Somalia in 1993 - but only in official capacity. The real war was just about to begin.

Masters of Chaos

After the US Marines bailed out, Aidid became infamous. He declared himself president in 1995, but despite having enough sway to unite the country, a Western-orchestrated conference in Djibouti elected its own president, Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

Aidid's right-hand man, Osman Ali Atto, who happened to be the manager of a US oil company, allied himself with Mahdi's forces and orchestrated Aidid's defeat. Aidid was fatally wounded in the ensuing battle (Ali Atto later became the biggest land owner in Somalia).

Private guards during a lunch break in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Private guards during a lunch break in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)For the next decade, various rulers were able to control only parts of Mogadishu, while factional fighting continued in the rest of the country. Another record famine took place in 1998. A Transitional National Government was formed in 2000 in Djibouti, but was instantly opposed by Somali Islamists who united under the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). In reaction to the growing influence of the ICU, a group of Mogadishu warlords formed the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counterterrorism (ARPCT) - with CIA funding ($100,000 to $150,000 per month, according to the International Crisis Group).

In 2006, despite CIA support, the ICU defeated the ARPCT in what is known as the "Second Battle of Mogadishu." Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, ICU's chairman, managed to seize Mogadishu, but his progress was quickly reversed when Ethiopian forces - again with US backing - joined the melee against the ICU. When a weaker Sharif began to look for a deal with the transitional government, the extreme factions of the ICU splintered off in the form of al-Shabab. The group's first target was their former leader, Sharif, who proceeded to jump over to the side of the United States. Sharif got a warm welcome from the Americans, with dual residence and education in the United States and the United Kingdom, along with four wives.

US drone operators have, from the beginning, only targeted al-Shabab members who are not aligned with US interests.

Al-Shabab is an evolution of al-Itihaad al-Islamiya (IAIA) - a group of militants originally funded by Osama bin Laden to secure an Islamist state in the Horn of Africa - after the fall of the Barre regime. Extremist IAIA leaders trained young jihadists in Afghanistan and imported them back to Somalia. One of them was Aden Hashi Farah Ayro, who came back to Somalia in 2003 to lead the Somali al-Shabab faction. Ayro was said to have the mentality of Aidid, which would have made him particularly interesting to Americans. In 2008, Ayro was taken out by a US drone in central Somalia, along with up to 30 civilians.

Young Somali's on Mogadishu beach. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Young Somali's on Mogadishu beach. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Yet at the same time, Somali sources claim that al-Shabab was receiving support from Ethiopia via the United States. Why were US drones being so selective?

The answer may once again lie in the mastery of chaos. Impossible to corroborate, yet possible to fathom, US drone operators have, from the beginning, only targeted al-Shabab members who are not aligned with US interests.

Another al-Shabab leader who supposedly failed to cooperate with Americans was Ahmed Abdi Godane, who was also taken out by a drone in 2014. He was replaced by al-Shabab's current leader, Ahmed Omar. Since 2007, there have been about 19 drone attacks in Somalia.

While the war raged on for a second decade, in 2010, Somalia entered its third record famine. By then, an entire generation of Somalis had either fled or died.

Mogadishu has since been repopulated with a predominantly young, once-rural population that fled the countryside to look for any means of survival. Today, the educated class, the leaders and the dreamers are dead, along with the idea of an independent Somalia - an opportune outcome for the masters of chaos and Big Oil.

The Final Grab

On my last night in Mogadishu, another black bird roared over Jazeera Palace Hotel at 4 am. This time, the rumble sounded more somber. I was sleepless again, pacing the room, feeling trapped inside a sardine can - an apt analogy for Somalia's own situation. Maybe the country had been canned purposely, waiting for the right time to be rolled open, I couldn't help wonder.

There were countless clues to support such a containment tactic. All efforts to rebuild had fallen apart for consecutive years, despite several attempts by foreign nations and corporations to help Somalia. Foreign delegations were either rejected or, like the Chinese mission, conveniently became victims of terrorist attacks.

How deep does the wormhole reach down in Somalia today?

Children searching a waste landfill in the center of Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Children searching a waste landfill in the center of Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)The current Somali president is Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a Western favorite who was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, known for his "national reconciliation, anti-corruption measures, socio-economic and security sector reforms." UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the US government have applauded him.

My sources call Mohamud "the most corrupt president in the history of Somalia." The word is that Qatar fleshed out $20 million to put him in power. Qatar, in turn, plays the flute for Big Oil.

Mohamud comes from a small rural town, with a degree in technology and minor training at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In 2011, Mohamud established the Peace and Development Party, and a year later, was promptly elected as the country's president, as if preordained for the position. There hasn't been much peace or development in Somalia since.

The locals have not seen a single cent of the $2 billion in aid promised by the World Bank. An $800 million offer by Malaysia to build a power plant as a relief effort was rejected by the president. While Mohamud is stalling several international relief efforts to help the country, the rumor is that his brother drives around Mogadishu in a black limo, buying real estate properties with bags of cash.

Mother with a baby on a street and our security convoy in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mother with a baby on a street and our security convoy in Mogadishu. (Photo: Jan Wellmann)Mohamud works closely with the Somali National Security Agency, putting him in close quarters with US intelligence. He was also accused of trying to steal $420 million from a Swiss bank account set up by the Barre government. But the Western favorite remains cocooned in power, with the prime minister and cabinet all belonging to his small circle of family, friends and allies.

While the country prepares for a "democratic" election campaign slated for the summer of 2016 - without a population registry, roadways, electricity or communication infrastructure - Western oil interests are completing new seismic surveys off the coast of Somalia.

Most of the Somali entrepreneurs I met during my four-day visit see through the facades. They are exceptionally smart, resilient men and women. They hear the same black birds at night. They know the history. They've lost most of their family and friends. Yet they are driven to try, once again, to build on the ruins.

They remember the Mogadishu that once was, before the black birds arrived.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Jan Wellmann

Jan Wellmann is a startup entrepreneur, filmmaker, investigative journalist and photographer. Follow him on Twitter at @janwe and at

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USA Africa Dialogue Series - Capitalism, Slavery, Racism and Imprisonment of People of Color Cannot Be Separated

Capitalism, Slavery, Racism and Imprisonment of People of Color Cannot Be Separated

Sunday, 07 February 2016 00:00 By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Interview
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The punitive exception clause within the 13th amendment ushered in a system of neoslavery that continues to submit prisoners to conditions that amount to a collectivized situation of living death under the prison industrial complex.The punitive exception clause within the 13th amendment ushered in a system of neoslavery that continues to submit prisoners to conditions that amount to a collectivized situation of "living death" under the prison industrial complex. (Photo: Prison fence via Shutterstock)

Slavery didn't end; it evolved. That's the powerful argument made in Slaves of the State by Dennis Childs. Ever since a clause in the 13th Amendment allowed for enslavement as "punishment for crime," the groundwork has been laid for the prison industrial complex to function as the 21st century equivalent of chattel slavery. Order your copy of this eye-opening book by making a donation to Truthout today!

The following is an interview with Dr. Dennis Childs, author of Slaves of the State: Black Incarceration From the Chain Gang to the Penitentiary.

Mark Karlin: Can you summarize the tragic irony of the 13th Amendment's "exception clause"?

Dennis Childs: Yes, what I describe in the book along these lines is something that prisoners, activists and scholars from Angela Davis to Assata Shakur have spoken about for years - the fact that what is indisputably the most progressive document in US legal history, the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution that freed African slaves, actually reinstituted enslavement through racial, capitalist, misogynist imprisonment. The language of the amendment states, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist in the United States."

"The story of what commonly is called modern 'mass incarceration' has actually been centuries in the making."

This punitive exception represented legal cover for what, in Slaves of the State, I describe as an overall system of public-private neoslavery from the chain gang, to the prison plantation, peonage and the convict-lease system - the last of which represented an outright genocidal system where private corporations such as US Steel would work prisoners in industries ranging from turpentining, to coal and iron mining, to agricultural production. The death rates at convict-lease camps were absolutely staggering, reaching as high as 50 percent per annum. But, as I argue in the book, the exception clause ushered in a system of neoslavery that continues to submit prisoners to conditions that amount to a collectivized situation of "living death," or what Mumia Abu-Jamal defines as "slow death" under the prison industrial complex (PIC).

Let's start historically. How did the "exception clause" allow for the reinstitution of many Black people into slavery through incarceration in the years after the Civil War was over?

Dennis Childs. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)Dennis Childs. (Photo: Courtesy of the author)Speaking historically, it is actually improper to speak of a single exception clause since the punitive exception goes at least as far back as the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 (and since prison slavery itself, going as far back as Roman antiquity). Specifically, the Northwest Ordinance contained a provision outlawing slavery in the territories of modern-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, but also contained a provision allowing for the enslavement of a person upon "due conviction" by law. This punitive exception then extended right up to the eve of the Civil War through various "Black Codes" and "Black Laws" in Northern and border states from Maryland to Indiana to Ohio, all of which allowed for the public auctioning of Africans (both free and slave) for "crimes" such as simply stepping foot in one of these "racially restrictionist" states, fleeing from a master or burning down a jail.

These laws were then propelled into the postbellum period at a federal level in the "emancipation amendment," setting the table for rapid demographic transition of a Southern prison and jail system that had been predominately white (slaves were already imprisoned on plantations) into a predominately "Black" institution. As Alex Lichtenstein points out in his important work, the postbellum move to prison slavery was absolutely fundamental to the process of industrializing the Southern economy after the Civil War. In fact, as I show in the book, Southern lawmakers were very aware of the fact that the exception clause allowed for a refabrication of enslavement under the guise of law and order.

How is the "exception clause" manifested in the prison industrial complex of the contemporary United States, with the highest rate of incarceration in the world - which includes a disproportionate number of people of color?

I'm glad you asked that question. I like to think of the work I do in Slaves of the State as a kind of "history of the present." And by that I mean, I wanted to follow the work of people like Angela Davis, who early in her anti-prison scholarship spoke of the fact that pre-1865 slavery was itself a form of incarceration. From that starting point, I wanted to offer a critical genealogy of today's system of legalized human warehousing, unfree labor and legal kidnapping - what is usually called "the prison system" - by way of tracing its origin points in former systems like the chain gang, the convict-lease system and peonage.

"Anti-Blackness and white supremacy have been at the core of this system since its outset."

What I found is that when we speak of "the" prison industrial complex that now encages well over 2.3 million people, we must also take into account earlier complexes of racial, capitalist, misogynist imprisonment that represent the conditions of possibility for today's PIC. In other words, the complex of private and public re-enslavement found on convict-lease camps, peon camps and prison plantations in the early 1900s was also a prison industrial complex, one that in its white supremacist structure was born of America's original "prisons": the slave ships, slave pens and plantations within which Africans were imprisoned before 1865. In short, the book shows how the story of what commonly is called modern "mass incarceration" has actually been centuries in the making.

Would you expand upon how some crimes came to be punishable for the sole purpose of imprisoning an increased number of Black people?

To clarify, when the Supreme Court of the State of Virginia ruled in Ruffin v. Commonwealth (1871) that the prisoner amounts to a "slave of the state" it was not solely referring to Black prisoners. Indeed the prisoner whose suit led to this horrifying ruling was actually a poor white person. We also need to remember that over 300,000 of today's prisoners are white. While it is vitally important that we recognize the anti-Black nature of today's prison industrial complex, we also need to pay attention to the fact that poor white, Indigenous, Latina and Latino, Asian, Muslim, migrant laborers and others are also caught in that dehumanizing structure. That said, we also definitely need to recognize that anti-Blackness and white supremacy have been at the core of this system since its outset, namely since Black people today represent approximately 12 percent of the country's population and over 40 percent of its prison population.

Back to your question about specific crimes though, the most common early neoslavery "crimes" were in fact hunger- and poverty-induced acts such as "hog stealing" and vagrancy, and other crimes such as public drunkenness, gambling or even giving an "insulting gesture" to a white person on a street. Black prisoners (and many poor white prisoners) were subsequently submitted to torturous regimes of unfree labor and punishment without any legal recourse, given that the very amendment that had offered de jure freedom contained a rhetorical trapdoor of re-enslavement. However, this does not tell the whole story. In the book, I speak of how prison slaves resisted these practices through outright rebellion, fugitive flight and acts of testifying to the crime of their re-enslavement through song, testimony and other forms of captive performance. I also look at novels by writers such as Toni Morrison and Chester Himes to see how this history has been reimagined in Black art.

How is the state of incarceration related to the Middle Passage (that is to say, chained and entombed boat passage from Africa to US slave markets)?

In part, what I define as the "Middle Passage Carceral Model" in the book suggests an interplay between racial and spatial terror. By this I mean that if you look at the diagrams of slave ships you see that they were literal prison architectures with what in modern prison architectural terms would be called a "tiering" of human beings. So I compare the architectonics of spaces like the slave ship, barracoon and slave pen to those of a space such as the "chain gang rolling cage," wherein Black people were vertically stacked upon one another and chained down with no room to even sit up straight whenever they were not at work building much of the Southern road, highway and railroad system. For me, the "rolling cage" represented a kind of macabre rebirthing of the Middle Passage, a small-scale slave ship on dry land. Of course, words defy the horror that these spaces enacted on Black captives. But in the book I try to let the neoslave speak for herself through attending to aesthetic forms such as the chain gang song and other modes of neoslave testimony in order to not only exemplify the horror of neoslavery, but also the way in which Black people performed a reclamation of their humanness within spaces of dehumanization.

The upshot that I'd like to point out here is that the book attempts to upset the well-worn narrative of progress in the US by looking at the connection between spaces like the "slave pen" and today's seemingly countless neoslave "pens." In our current moment of "postracial" amnesia, the tendency is to look at the trans-Atlantic slave trade as a kind of dinosaur-age prehistory. The writings of Black prisoners such as Herman Wallace, Assata Shakur, George Jackson, Jalil Muntaqim and Mumia Abu-Jamal disallow this comforting image of slavery's prehistorical demise. I think this is captured vividly in the fact that Assata refers to herself as she sits in revolutionary exile in Cuba as a modern maroon - "a 21st century escaped slave."

What is the similarity to the concept of ownership of the Black body between slavery and contemporary imprisonment?

I use the rubric of what I call "human commodification" as a means of exploring this relationship. When we have phone companies, construction companies, banks, surveillance equipment manufacturers, private prison companies and scores of other industrial operations literally pilfering public funds to the tune of billions of dollars a year, it is not hyperbole to call this a structure of human commodification. I want to be clear here that this system of public investment to the end of "private profit" is not simply about private prison companies like CCA [Corrections Corporation of America] and the GEO Group (though these companies are horrendous). The fact is that most prisoners are entombed within state prisons and county jails. While private companies do gain huge profits from these "public" spaces, so-called public officials like prison guards, DAs, police, judges, legislators [and] governors are in fact "public profiteers" in the PIC bonanza.

In the book, I speak of how a full understanding of this modern system of profiting from collective atrocity cannot be gained without recognition of the foundational role of America's original system of human commodification: chattel slavery. This is not to say that the systems are exactly the same, but that something like a "chattel principle" has infused the Black experience of freedom since its inception. While it is important to attend to the specifics of the prison binge that has occurred since the Reagan era, with a 500 percent increase of prisoners in California alone since that time, it's also important to understand that this legal crime would not have been possible were it not for the foundational role played by slavery as America's original racialized system of incarceration.

Why is Angola so significant in your discussion of the prison "slave plantation" model?

One of the most clear-cut examples of what I describe as a centuries-old complex of human commodification in the book is Angola prison, the state penitentiary of Louisiana. This "prison" is actually an 18,000-acre slave plantation that has never closed for business since the 19th century. It is a place in which Black prisoners (and other poor people) are made to pick cotton, corn and soybeans in the same fields in which their ancestors have been enslaved for centuries. However, I treat Angola and other Southern spaces of neoslavery as constitutive rather than exceptional to US empire. In other words, as we speak, I sit in California, a state that is literally the prison capital of the world, where many prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for decades, and where Black and Brown youth are targeted more as prospective prisoners than prospective university graduates.

So I'm very adamant in the book that the prison system explodes any notion of a North-South binary. Indeed, if you look at the writings and activism of the "Angola 3," for instance - that is Robert King Wilkerson, Albert Woodfox and the late Herman Wallace, three political prisoners who started a chapter of the [Black] Panthers inside Angola prison - you find that some of the most hellish regimes of imprisonment at the neo-plantation are actually "Northern" style solitary confinement cells. But in terms of the specific aspects of modern Angola, the horrific treatment of its current prisoners as instruments of perverse amusement in spectacles such as the prison rodeo - and the fact that visitors to the plantation can purchase handcuff key chains, and prison-stripe shirts, and place their children in mock prison cells - speaks to a long history of turning the scene of enslavement into a resource of racist enjoyment in spaces like Angola.

In this sense, my work extends Saidiya Hartman's discussion of how the enslaved body was used as an instrument of racist pleasure under the pre-1865 plantation system. Again, as we work to help liberate Albert Woodfox who has been in solitary confinement at Angola for over 40 years, I think it's important that we think of Angola as a microcosm of a national rather than sectional prison as plantation system, where the prison slave's "labor" is represented as much in the profits made from his or her warehousing as from being made to pick cotton in a slave plantation field.

Most Northerners like to see racism and slavery as a remnant of the South, but how does Northern policing and mass incarceration represent the insidious embedding of racism in the North?

Great question. I use my chapter on Chester Himes' prison novel, Yesterday Will Make You Cry, to explore this issue in some depth. In it I write about how white supremacy has always been fundamental to a state like Ohio, one that is depicted in Himes' fictionalization of his own experience as a prisoner in the Ohio State Penitentiary in the 1930s. What I found is that at the time of Himes' imprisonment, Black people in the state were imprisoned at a higher rate in Ohio than Alabama. Indeed, on the eve of the Civil War, Black people, whether slave or free, were legally barred from even stepping foot into Ohio (or Indiana or Illinois) at the pain of being sold at auction as an indentured servant.

This is why I argue that in addressing the centrality of racism to the capitalist project of imprisonment it is important to attend to the fact of rather than simply the form of racialized incarceration. As I stated earlier, I try to avoid the tendency of fetishizing a space like Angola, making it exceptional in opposition to a space like Attica in New York, where, as many of your readers may know, one of the most heinous acts of state terror was enacted in 1971, when Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ordered a massacre of 29 prisoners who led an uprising that asked simply that they be treated as "human beings."

As we have this conversation, it is projected that one of every three Black boys born today in the US will spend time in a prison or jail cage, and currently one out of nine Black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are in a cage in a nation that is touted as the most "free" and "democratic" country on the planet. In California, we recently had over 150 Black and Latina women forcibly sterilized in a women's prison. What these atrocious facts represent is the reality of Malcolm X's statement about white supremacy as a national reality: "As long as you are south of the Canadian border, you are south."

How is the US prison industrial complex intertwined with the history of capitalism in the United States?

Like the military-industrial complex, the prison industrial complex represents a system of transferring public wealth over to powerful corporate and political interests that are wreaking harm on an unimaginable scale. But again, in the book, I try to point out the ways in which this modern system of profiting from human misery is grounded in ideologies of white supremacy that make the association of Blackness and criminality as interlocked in the modern white US imagination as "Africanness" and enslavement were before 1865.

In this sense, what the important Black studies theorist Cedric Robinson calls "racial capitalism" is vitally important to my work insofar as it illustrates the degree to which racism is a part of the very structural mainframe of this society. That said, the one social predicament that brings together nearly every one of the over 2.3 million people encaged in the US no matter what their race, ethnicity or religion is poverty - a lack of access to decent housing, fair employment, health care, education etc. I'm sure your readers may have heard that a recent Oxfam study found that the world's 62 most wealthy people now own more that the bottom 50 percent of the global population - which equates to roughly 3.6 billion people.

This unspeakable fact of capitalism, its tendency to eviscerate whole collectives of people and then criminalize them for performing the predictable outcomes of that evisceration, is one of the instrumental pathologies that fuels the production of prisoners as commodities, namely poor people of color. It also informs the fact that since Bill Clinton passed NAFTA over 20 years ago there has been a 500 percent increase of immigration from countries to the south - and the fact that in following the uneven flow of capital northward, the migrant labor population is then criminalized as the most rapidly increasing demographic of prisoners in the US. This is why [President] Obama has been referred to as the "deporter in chief" by migrant activists, as he has overseen the imprisonment and deportation of over 2 million people. I hope that in offering a genealogy of what I call racial, capitalist, misogynist incarceration in the book I help move us further along in our critical approach to dismantling the PIC as both a national and global node in the larger neocolonial and imperialist project that is wreaking havoc the world over, especially in the global South.

In conclusion, can you elaborate on your statement (in the book's introduction) "that racialized prison slavery has little to do with the alleged criminal acts of individual Black people and everything to do with the socially constructed crime of being born Black (or Indigenous or Brown or poor) in apartheid America"?

Yes, as I stated earlier, there has long been something like a racialized self-fulfilling prophecy in the US whereby Black people (and other groups) are structurally injured by patterns of social disinvestment, unequal wealth and land distribution, [and] lack of adequate health care and access to education, and then blamed, jailed and/or killed for living the predictable outcomes of these structural disparities. In this sense, what in modern parlance is described as criminal recidivism, or repeat offense, on the part of the individual Black person branded as "criminal," is in fact a measure of a larger social recidivism, the wholesale repeat offenses of a racially, classed and gendered society that allows certain entities to literally feed on the misery of the society's most vulnerable members. This is what led to someone I speak of in the book named Richard Harris being "sold as a slave" for the "crime" of taking a bushel of wheat over a year after slavery had supposedly been outlawed. The scene of a Black person's structural poverty being used as a mechanism of his criminalization and re-enslavement represents a symbol of Black life since 1865.

That said, the book also attends to the incredible resistive spirit of those such as George Jackson, Assata Shakur, Leonard Peltier, Mutulu Shakur, Ruchell Magee, Mumia Abu-Jamal and many more anonymous prisoners in the face of this racist, classist and sexist system. In doing so, it also follows the words of Zaharibu Dorrough, J. Heshima Denham and Kambui Robinson, three members of the recent 30,000-prisoner hunger strike in California, who state that those of us on the "free" side of prison walls need to take responsibility for the fact that our relative "freedom" rests on the foundation of their unfreedom - that "to stand idly by now would be complicity. You must let the state know that substantive change at every level of society is something that the people demand."

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Mark Karlin

Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout.  He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for ten years before joining Truthout in 2010.  BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards. Karlin writes a commentary five days a week for BuzzFlash, as well as articles (ranging from the failed "war on drugs" to reviews relating to political art) for Truthout. He also interviews authors and filmmakers whose works are featured in Truthout's Progressive Picks of the Week. Before linking with Truthout, Karlin conducted interviews with cultural figures, political progressives and innovative advocates on a weekly basis for ten years. He authored many columns about the lies propagated to launch the Iraq War.

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Toyin Falola
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