John Conyers Jr. is Dean of the House of Representatives, he was first elected to Congress in 1965. He is currently in his 26th term, and is one of only seven people to have served over 50 years in Congress.
Conyers was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rosa Parks served on his staff for over twenty years and he visited Selma to meet with Freedom Riders multiple times in the 1960s. In many ways, his longevity makes him a living link to our past.
Four days after MLK was assassinated, Conyers introduced a bill in Congress to make his birthday a national holiday. It was finally signed into law 15 years later, in 1983. Conyers has been a indefatigable champion for many other progressive causes, chipping away for decades at resistance working to create a breakthrough.
His commitment is exemplified by his determined sponsorship of two bills:
H.R. 40 — Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.
Congressman John Conyers is on DKos and was posting intermittently till 2015. In a remarkable diary in 2008, he republished a 1974 article he’d written for the The Black Scholar. It made the case for Nixon’s impeachment. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Conyers had helped draft the articles of impeachment that were prepared but never voted on, since Nixon resigned. The article begins:
Richard Nixon, like the President before him, was in a real sense a casualty of the Vietnam War, a war which I am ashamed to say was never declared.
Under his chairmanship, the House Judiciary committee issued contempt citations to John Bolton and Harriet Miers for failing to produce documents related to the firing of nine US district attorneys. Committee staff, under his leadership, issued a report on the Bush administration’s rush to war in Iraq, and the scandal surrounding the abuse of prisoners by US soldiers and contractors. It was titled: “The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Coverups in the Iraq War.” He has found opportunities to work across the aisle on certain issues, notably a bill to limit the Patriot Act. As chair of the House Judiciary committee, he argued against prosecuting Wikileaks for publishing documents leaked by Chelsea Manning. In supporting the right of the ordinary Americans to know how their government was using its vast surveillance powers, Conyers stood in opposition to senior Democrats and Republicans who wanted to prosecute.
After graduating from high school, Conyers became a member of the UAW (as his father was). He worked in the Lincoln Car Factory an on the staff at Local 900. Conyers served in Korea for a year and is skeptical of our military adventures. He favors dialog and diplomacy with North Korea (see the placard by the sofa):
Progressive Lion is an occasional series celebrating a politician or activist exemplifying progressive values. The goal is the recognize their achievements and lives. Our initial focus will be on those whose names do not come up frequently here. If you know aspects of their career or work that are not in the diary, please share them in comments.
Meanwhile, in his visit to Saudi Arabia, President Trump did find the time to participate in an elaborate sword dance, but never brought up human rights violations.
The president who spends hours watching TV and tweeting can’t seem to comment on the fact that our close ally is planning to behead men and boys for the crime of attending a rally.
Mr Trump has not yet commented on the case of Mr al-Sweikat. In his speech to the Saudis in May, he said: “America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens.
“We are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.
“Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.” — www.independent.co.uk/…
Perhaps torture and a penchant for bombing other countries the “values” we share with brutal monarchies?
Though it is sobering, none of this should come as a shock to any American. Shawshank Redemption was one of the biggest movies of the 1990s, and it explored, in exhaustive detail, the exploitative system of conscript labor. More recently, the documentary movie 13th covers the many forms of legal exploitation of prisoners embedded in our system of mass incarceration.
Nor should it come as a surprise to anyone with even the slightest familiarity with American history that the powers of the state have been used to exploit and steal labor from people of color, primarily black men. Yet, many of us sometimes fail to recognize what is staring directly at us.
We should also note that low wages for labor can, perversely, condemn people to years of imprisonment. Jimmy Carter (who as governor also had prisoners working for him) describes the damning case of a woman who was sentenced to 7 years or $750. She couldn’t come up with $750 and served 5 years till Carter discovered the circumstances and had her released:
Seen many references today to Hillary Clinton's happy consumption of prison slave labour as First Lady of Arkansas. Jimmy Carter did too btw pic.twitter.com/ygaIyLQieo
I believe that unless you subscribe to a labor-centered ideology, unless you have the principle of a fair wage for labor engrained in you, it is easy to miss these injustices and accept arguments about cost control at face value.
Things have not gotten better in since the 1980s. In an article written in 2000, “Prison labor on the rise in US”, Alan Whyte and Jamie Baker write about the history of prison labor in the US.
US trade union officials have repeatedly denounced China for its use of prison labor, as part of the AFL-CIO’s campaign against the normalization of trade relations with China. At the same time, however, the union officials have virtually been silent about the huge growth of prison labor in the United States. […]
The struggle over prison labor has a long history in the US. In the early 1800s, group workshops in prisons replaced solitary handicrafts, and the increased efficiency allowed prisons to be self-supporting. Entire prisons were leased out to private contractors, who literally worked hundreds of prisoners to death. Manufacturers who lost work to prison contractors opposed the leasing system, but only with the growth of the union movement came effective opposition to prison labor. One of the most famous clashes, the Coal Creek Rebellion of 1891, took place when the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad locked out their workers and replaced them with convicts. The miners stormed the prison and freed 400 prisoners, and when the company filled up work with more prisoners, the miners burned the prison down.
The prison leasing system was disbanded in Tennessee shortly thereafter, but remained in many states until the rise of the CIO and industrial unionism in the 1930s. As a result of this mass movement of workers, Congress passed the 1935 Ashurst-Sumners Act, making it illegal to transport prison-made goods across state lines. However, under the presidency of Democrat Jimmy Carter, Congress passed the Justice System Improvement Act of 1979, which granted exemptions from Ashurst-Sumners for seven “Prison Industry Enhancement” pilot projects. Congress has since granted exemptions to all 50 state prison systems.
More recently, during the general election campaign last year, prisoners went on strike nationwide. Shamefully, our mass media expended hours of TV coverage on typos and gaffes but spent almost no time covering this country-wide strike which touched the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.
The nationwide prison strike that began September 9 has largely wound down. Inmates have returned to work, though some smaller hunger strikes are still taking place. It’sunclear what long-term changes the strike may bring. Yet the protest, timed to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, has made waves: An estimated 24,000 inmates missed work and as many as 29 prisons were affected, according to activists.
It’s also brought renewed attention to our prison labor system. About 700,000 of America’s 1.5 million prison inmates have jobs, and they work for as little as 12 to 40 cents an hour with few workplace protections. “It’s utterly exploitative,” says Heather Ann Thompson, a professor of Afroamerican and African studies and history at the University of Michigan and the author of the new book Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. “Some farms in Nevada are paying 8 cents a day. Some jail workers are paid nothing.” Thompson, who has extensively studied prison labor, says prisoners are expected to work more than they have at any timesince the Civil War, when prisons leased out convicts to private companies.
The hollowing-out of organized American labor has left unions unable to address the many injustices associated with prison labor in a meaningful way. However, prisoners have organized themselves at periodic intervals and demanded their labor be compensated at a fair rate:
In the late 19th and early20th centuries, prison labor was largely regulated or prohibited, due in part to efforts by labor unions to prevent competition with low-paid inmates. But beginning in the 1970s, as the prison population began to rise, businesses lobbied to gut these regulations, says Thompson. In 1979, Congress created a program that gives incentives to private companies to use prison labor. Currently, the federal prison industries program produces items ranging from mattresses to prescription eyewear. Some inmates are employed as call center operators (“It’s the best kept secret in outsourcing!” says the program’s website.) Last year, federal inmates helped bring in nearly $472 million in net sales—but only 5 percent of that revenue went to pay inmates. […]
Heather Thompson: It’s absolutely fair to characterize it as slave labor, since constitutionally that is the only exception made for keeping people in a state of slavery.
That last line should settle the controversy over whether prison labor can be called slave labor. It is treated as such in our constitution. A good rule of thumb is that if you can call it “slave labor” when it happens in China, you should call it slave labor in the US as well.
Vice documented the varied work that prisoners are conscripted to do in the US, including fire-fighting, call centers, rodeo clowning, and yes, picking cotton. On that last note, let’s go back to Louisiana for more on the jarring image that leads this diary.
Crops stretch to the horizon. Black bodies pepper the landscape, hunched over as they work the fields. Officers on horseback, armed, oversee the workers.
To the untrained eye, the scenes in Angola for Life: Rehabilitation and Reform Inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary, an Atlantic documentary filmed on an old Southern slave-plantation-turned-prison, could have been shot 150 years ago. The imagery haunts, and the stench of slavery and racial oppression lingers through the 13 minutes of footage. […]
But there is a second storyline running alongside the first, which raises disquieting questions about how America treats those on the inside as less than fully human. Those troubling opening scenes of the documentary offer visual proof of a truth that America has worked hard to ignore: In a sense, slavery never ended at Angola; it was reinvented. […]
Some viewers of the video might be surprised to learn that inmates at Angola, once cleared by the prison doctor, can be forced to work under threat of punishment as severe as solitary confinement.
There’s a phrase here which is important, “less than fully human”.
Before you can get most people to blindly accept an injustice, you have to dehumanize the victims. We do this consistently with our never-ending wars. We have also been doing it with convicted prisoners.
Here again, ideology can help us avoid falling into such traps and become unwitting instruments of oppression. An ideology that focuses on the shared humanity of all can help us avoid becoming the kind of person who will be swayed by a single “feel good” story:
SILICON VALLEY mavens seldom stumble into San Quentin, a notorious Californian prison. But when Chris Redlitz, a venture capitalist, visited seven years ago, he found that many of the inmates were keen and savvy businessmen. The trip spurred him to create The Last Mile, a charity that teaches San Quentin inmates how to start businesses and code websites, for which they can earn up to $17 an hour. One of the first people it helped was Tulio Cardozo, who served a five-year sentence after a botched attempt at cooking hashish, which also left him with severe burns across half his body. Two years after he was released, he got a job as a lead developer in a San Francisco startup.
Such redemptive stories are the model for what the prison system could be. But they are exceptions—the rule is much drearier.
Taking in the scene of a simulated fruit market in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, a group of tourists ponders whether a poster-size figure of an Arab man holding a cellphone is a threat and should be shot.
The aim of the mock scenario is to teach rapt foreign visitors how to deal with an attack on a market. It is part of a counter-terrorism “boot camp” organized by Caliber 3, a company set up by a colonel in the Israeli army reserves.
Entrance to the gated compound in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc – built on land the Palestinians want for their own state – costs $115 for adults and $85 for children.
Companies specializing in this sort of military tourism, she notes, have experienced a boom in business over the past year. “For a long time, it was popular for Jewish tourists, and especially organized missions, to visit Israeli army bases and meet with the soldiers and watch them during their military exercises,” says Sand, the founder of Travel Composer, a boutique Israeli agency that specializes in luxury tours.
“Often, donations would be handed over in exchange. But last year the army began cracking down after it emerged that these visits were becoming a major disruption. So for those who still want to experience the Israeli army, these for-profit facilities provide a great alternative.” […]
As his [Caliber 3’s owner] instructors like to point out, it’s not only Israeli soldiers who operate according to the army’s “purity of arms” doctrine, which stipulates that soldiers will maintain their humanity even in combat. So do their attack dogs. At a live demonstration, the visitors watch as Zeus lunges at a “terrorist” wielding a knife, forcing him to the ground while tearing into his padded coverall. But once that knife is dropped and the threat is eliminated, Zeus backs off. “Even the dogs in the IDF value human life,” the instructor says.
This statement that the IDF “value human life” is questionable. The IDF has had radical, insurgent elements within it for decades and depending on the government in charge, hard-line factions have been ascendant within the command structure. Lately the religious-nationalist settler movement has gained power within the army. These trends accelerated after Likud first won election and Rafael Eitan was appointed Chief of Staff of the IDF (prior the 1982 Lebanon war).
Caliber 3, which is based in the West Bank and run by a former member of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), calls itself “the premier academy for counter terror and security”. It offers six programs for tourists, including desert “Survival Training”, krav magna martial arts, and “Combat Rappelling” using paintball guns.
Its “Ultimate Shooting Adventure” has raised eyebrows for its use of real guns and simulated terror attacks – with targets dressed up in Palestinian keffiyehs. […]
He [the owner Gat] said that the thought came to him after thinking about the horrors of the Holocaust. “I said to myself that I am going to open this place to the public to show what a long way the Jewish people have come in 75 years,” he said.
“The most shocking part was when they had us shout ‘terrorist’ before getting into shooting position,” he said.
He enjoyed the course and felt it was safe but morally questionable. “It could indoctrinate children with racist beliefs. It was sad to hear young kids express such racism. It makes the likelihood or reaching a peaceful settlement to the (Middle East) crisis seem more difficult.” In the group before his, James said, excited children shouted to their parents about being able to “shoot the Arabs.” […]
But Gat [the instructor] says his course is not just about shooting guns; it also teaches “Zionist values.”
About 10 days ago, the tech blog Recode reported this:
A top Uber executive obtained medical records of a woman who had been raped during a ride in India, according to multiple sources. He is no longer with the company, an Uber spokesperson said.
The executive in question, Eric Alexander, the president of business in the Asia Pacific, then showed the medical records to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael. In addition, numerous executives at the car-hailing company were either told about the records or shown them.
Alexander’s handling of the delicate situation was among 215 claims reported to two law firms — Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling — doing deep investigations into both specific and widespread mismanagement issues at the company, including around allegations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment at Uber. — Recode
Alexander, was not among the round of firings announced on June 6. Recode then contacted the company for a comment on how he obtained confidential medical records that were part of a criminal investigation in India. They told shortly after that Alexander had been fired.
The victim’s medical records were passed by Alexander to the CEO Travis Kalanick and a SVP Emil Michael. It seems they then speculated whether or not the victim had in fact been raped or was colluding with a competitor. Some Uber executives who learned about this were taken aback, noting that none of the three had medical trainingand would not have been able to make any such determination.
On June 13th, Uber announced that Kalanick would be on a leave of absence and that Michael had been dismissed.
A woman sued Uber Technologies Inc on Thursday claiming top executives at the ride-hailing company improperly obtained her medical records after she was raped by a driver in Delhi, according to court documents.
The lawsuit, filed in a California federal court, comes two days after Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said he would take a leave of absence from his troubled company to grieve for his recently deceased mother and to work on his leadership skills. […]
“Uber executives duplicitously and publicly decried the rape, expressing sympathy for plaintiff, and shock and regret at the violent attack, while privately speculating, as outlandish as it is, that she had colluded with a rival company to harm Ubers business,” the lawsuit said.
In a statement on Thursday, Uber said: “No one should have to go through a horrific experience like this, and we’re truly sorry that she’s had to relive it over the last few weeks.” — The Hindu
The driver was convicted and is serving a life sentence for assault. The victim had previously sued Uber over its safety and background check practices in India. That case was settled.
The lawsuit filed on Thursday said shortly after the rape occurred, a U.S. Uber executive “met with Delhi police and intentionally obtained plaintiff’s confidential medical records.” The lawsuit says Uber has retained a copy of those records. — Reuters
The victim currently lives in the US and has not been identified. The story continues to be huge news in India. Recode has a copy of the complaint in their article.
The attorneys are demanding a jury trial, claiming that a few days after the incident Alexander met with Delhi police and obtained the confidential medical records. The victim is suing for intrusion into private affairs, public disclosure of private facts, and defamation. She is seeking damages of an unspecified amount. — Recode
Palestinians have lived for 50 years under a military occupation by a foreign government and there are no signs this will end anytime soon. The Israeli government has been busily dispossessing Palestinians as individuals and as a nation of land and resources. Three generations of Palestinians have lived the bulk of their lives (five decades) with their human and civil rights curtailed by the Israeli government.
[US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki] Haley arrived in Israel to a hero’s welcome one day after warning that the United States might pull out of the U.N. Human Rights Council unless it changes its ways in general and its negative stance on Israel in particular.
Haley, a former governor of South Carolina who often is touted as a future Republican presidential candidate, has focused heavily on what she calls the mistreatment of Israel during her six months at the United Nations. Her efforts have made her a darling of Israeli leaders, and have endeared her to conservative pro-Israel organizations in the United States. […]
“You know, all I’ve done is to tell the truth, and it’s kind of overwhelming at the reaction,” she said. “It was a habit. And if there’s anything I have no patience for it’s bullies, and the U.N. was being such a bully to Israel, because they could.” — WaPo
Israeli policies towards Palestinians have many parallels with our own treatment of Native Americans. There are other parallels to our history too. For much of the 20th century, towns across the US systematically excluded African-Americans from living there.
What Palestinians are allowed to do in the settlements is work, assuming they can pass a rigorous security screening and a get a permit. But the workers — mostly in construction and service jobs — are not allowed to drive in, and they can’t spend the night. During my two weeks in the West Bank, I learned that the best way to estimate the number of Palestinians working in a given settlement at any moment is by counting the cars parked just outside the gate. This underscored one of the ironies of the settlements, which is that Palestinian hands built most of them: their houses and synagogues, their community centers and shopping malls. — Washington Post
Palestinians are often building these houses for settlers on public Palestinian lands which the Israeli government or settlers have encroached on. In other cases, Israeli officials will condemn private Palestinian lands, establishing “nature preserves” which then turn into gardens or farms for Israeli settlers.
Across Israel proper, housing discrimination is pervasive and various types of discrimination are codified into law. Most housing is largely segregated, with Jewish Israelis living in separate towns and communities, from their Arab Muslim or Christian fellow-citizens. Of course, in the occupied territories, the Israeli army enforces such segregation, just as law enforcement and vigilante groups did in the US.
Such discrimination and oppression is only possible if you successfully propagate a supporting narrative through schools and media. Gil Gertel writing in +972mag discusses how the Israeli education system has helped sanitize Palestinian suffering:
In the wake of the 1948 War, the list of people we forgot only got longer — refugees whom we continued not to see. This is what students read about that period from the “Artzi” textbook, published in 1950: “It is very good that we found a desolate and abandoned land. It is good that every piece of land we obtained is for us […] none of those who hate us (and their numbers are great) can complain that we took someone else’s land.
This book was published two years after the Nakba, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes. The Israeli government subsequently razed to the ground hundreds of villages to prevent the inhabitants from ever returning. The JNF began a campaign to plant “forests” to erase evidence of Palestinian villages. Palestinian houses in urban areas were reassigned to Jewish persons.
Students, however, were told it was a “desolate and abandoned land”. In a way, this is analogous to the stories we still tell our students about early European colonization of this country and the impact on Native American peoples.
This is what we teach our children, from a fifth-grade textbook: “In 1967, following the Six-Day War, the territories of Judea and Samaria, which were not yet in Israeli hands, came under its control. Today it is populated by both Arabs and Jews. The Arab population, according to estimates, is comprised of 1.5-2.5 million people, who live mostly in urban areas […] the Jewish population is closer to 400,000, who live in approximately 125 settlements.” (pg. 156). How idyllic: those territories “came under our control,” a real miracle. Jews and and Arabs living side by side — the Switzerland of the Middle East.
Back in March, a bomb dropped from a US aircraft hit a building in Mosul and caused it to collapse. The strike was called in because Iraqi force on the ground saw two snipers in the building. Once the smoke had cleared, neighbors began pulling bodies out of the wreckage and there were reports that 200+ people had perished, including many children. This was the only building in the area with a basement and over a hundred people were sheltering there.
Then, US spokespersons claimed that families had been herded into the building to serve as human shields, by ISIS. Neighbors challenged that claim, saying militia fighting in the region had instead told people to clear the area, but the owner of the building had invited people to shelter in the building, probably believing it was safe. This was the second disputed explanation:
Although the U.S. has no video or eyewitness accounts of IS militants planting the explosives, Isler (the lead Pentagon investigator) said. Enemy fighters warned people in the building next door to leave the area the night before the explosion. IS militants knew there were innocent civilians in the building that collapsed, he said, and possibly gave them the same warning. He said the neighbors refused to leave and, as a result, were told by IS that “what happens to you is on you.” — WaPo
Manhal, who lives across the street from the destroyed house, heard the explosion, as did his father, Sameer. The two deny that the Islamic State moved any explosives into the building, however. Both recalled militants arriving the night before the airstrike, telling those still in their homes to leave before fighting began the next day. The snipers, they said, arrived at the house for the first time the morning of March 17, armed with rifles and little else.
“It was an airstrike,” Manhal’s father said of the incident. “There were no explosives.”
Brig. Gen Mohammed al-Jawari, the civil defense chief for Mosul, also disputed the U.S. report. “We were the first people who went to the site and evacuated all the bodies, and we didn’t find any explosives there, only a few grenades and IEDs that weren’t exploded. . . . What caused that destruction was an airstrike, nothing else,” he said. — WaPo
In its report, the Pentagon said there was no way the 500lb bomb it dropped on the building could have caused the collapse. It also said the 500lb bomb was the “proportionate” and “appropriate” response to two snipers:
The weapon appropriately balanced the military necessity of neutralizing the snipers with the potential for collateral damage. The GBU-38 entered the roof and detonated in the second floor of the structure.
Proportionality. The TEA selected a weapon that balanced the military necessity of neutralizing the two snipers with the potential for collateral damage to civilians and civilian structures. — Executive Summary of report from USAF
This was only one of 81 bombs dropped on the neighborhood of al-Jidada that day. The entire area is about 2 square kilometers, or about 500 acres. That is the size of 92 city blocks in Manhattan or about twice the size of the Washington mall. As per the USAF’s report, these 81 bombs were dropped to “seize the sector from 35-40 ISIS fighters controlling the area”.
The USAF’s characterization of the bomb’s impact on the building is strongly disputed by others.
A U.S. military pilot, who spoke on the condition anonymity because of his active duty status, said the report’s damage estimates for the initial airstrike were low and unrealistic. The pilot, who flew hundreds of combat sorties over Iraq and Afghanistan, said that using a GBU-type bomb on a residential structure ensures that there is an “extremely high probability” that the “entire building will be destroyed and every living entity inside would be killed.” — WaPo
The bits and pieces scattered Saturday through the ruins in Hibhib were the remains of the American airstrike that killed Mr. Zarqawi and five others Wednesday, when a pair of 500-pound bombs obliterated the brick house and left a crater 40 feet wide and deep.
“A big hole, sir,” said Sgt. Maj. Gary Rimpley, 46, of Penrose, Colo., who reached the scene shortly after the bombing. — NY Times
This is the third story presented by the US/Iraqi forces about this airstrike to be questioned by people on the ground. What do the neighbors and relatives actually think about the USAF report?
Idriss said the Pentagon investigation released Thursday that acknowledged 105 civilians were killed in the airstrike is relatively insignificant.
“It’s important to hear the Americans apologize,” he said, “but justice would be the government giving the people of this neighborhood money to rebuild their homes.” From where he stood at least five completely destroyed homes were visible. […]
“It wasn’t only this house where civilians died,” said Hamed Salah, approaching the building struck by the U.S. bomb. “In that house over there, more than 30 were killed and another family up there,” he said pointing down one street and up another.
The Pentagon also said it will no longer confirm which airstrikes that kill civilians were caused by US forces.
As the result of a deal struck among the coalition partners, civilian casualty incidents included in monthly reporting will not be tied to specific countries. That means the United States will in the future no longer confirm its own responsibility for specific civilian casualty incidents either — a move toward greater secrecy that could deprive victims’ families of any avenue to seek justice or compensation for these deaths. — Foreign Policy